Review: Never Never by Brianna R. Shrum

Never Never Book Cover Never Never
Brianna R. Shrum

James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up. When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man, James decides he could try being a child - at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children's dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to be a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up. But grow up he does. And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate. This story isn't about Peter Pan; it's about the boy whose life he stole. It's about a man in a world that hates men. It's about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan. Except one.

Review:

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

As a kid, I watched a lot of Disney movies, and although I enjoyed the heroes and princesses, the characters that interested me the most were the villains. I don’t know what this says about me as a person, but I found Ursula, Scar, Hades, and the like far more compelling than their heroic counterparts.

Given my soft spot for fictional antagonists, it’s no surprise that Never Never pleased me as much as it did. It’s the origin story – or, I suppose, the entire life story – of Captain James Hook, Peter Pan’s arch-nemesis.

Much as I loved this book, the two of us didn’t initially get off to an auspicious start. Never Never is very slow at first, beginning with 12-year-old James’ family life in London and detailing how he meets Peter and is tricked into accompanying him to Neverland. The first several chapters are a slog, and it took me ages to get through the entire novel because I kept taking long breaks and having to go back and reread from the beginning. Once I finally made it to the end of the first section, though, I was completely hooked. (Pun intended! 🙂 )

I should warn you in advance: Never Never isn’t exactly what you’d consider an uplifting book. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it grim. Initially lured to Neverland with a promise that he can simply visit “on holiday,” James is dismayed when he realizes that he’s trapped in Peter’s fantasy world and can never return home to his family. Devastated, James joins the ranks of Lost Boys, where he remains until he commits Neverland’s gravest sin – beginning to grow up. Cast out by Pan, James soon realizes that options are limited in Neverland; if you aren’t with Peter Pan, you can only be against him.

“You were selected. So you could come and go from Neverland as you pleased, and so could your dreams…But the ones Peter likes, they stay here forever.”

Shrum does a fantastic job of imbuing James’ story with an air of wistfulness and loss. Lost family, lost home, lost friends, lost innocence…James has been robbed of just about everything good in his life, and the tragic thing is that he knows it. Peter and his Lost Boys wear figurative blinders; they’re childish and self-absorbed and don’t recognize what they’re missing. Nor are they troubled by conscience. In fact, they literally FORGET people and truths that are inconvenient to them and are therefore able to go on happily living in their little fantasy world. In contrast, James remembers everything that happens to him. He’s the only self-aware, memory-burdened person in Pan’s twisted world, and it’s a lonely and terrible thing.

What’s ironic about James is that he has all the makings of a hero…if only this were another world, another story. It’s Peter Pan’s treachery, and the madness that it drives James to, that makes him the villain in Pan’s Neverland. I couldn’t help but sympathize with James, even as I watched grief and bitterness drive him farther and farther down a path that I couldn’t condone. He transforms from James, a bright and noble boy, to Hook, a debauched, arrogant, ruthless pirate, and though it’s fascinating to watch, it’s also painful. He becomes less and less recognizable as he loses himself in revenge, guilt, and rage.

“‘Tell me, pirate,’ she said after he’d been silent for a while, ‘how am I to change what Neverland has willed me to be? You clearly couldn’t.’
Hook recoiled, ripped from his musings, struck by her words. ‘What did you say?’ […]
‘I’m saying that you were not a scoundrel when you came here. You were not a pirate. But it was your destiny, wasn’t it?’”

It’s not just James’ transformation into Captain Hook that makes Never Never so fascinating; it’s also Peter Pan himself. I’ve got to give it to Shrum – in Peter, she’s written a supremely infuriating, hateful little wretch of a character. He’s selfish, irresponsible, and cruel, and I found myself despising him almost as fiercely as James did. The thing about Peter, though, is that he has a strange allure. Neverland is his creation, having been manifested from Peter’s dreams. As a result, everything in his world is compulsively attuned to him. The land itself responds to his moods, which is scary given see how volatile he can be. It makes Neverland a place that is both wondrous and ominous, lovely and sinister.

“It was too beautiful to be real. But, everything in Neverland seemed too something to be real. Too beautiful, too horrible, too fantastic, too savage.”

Peter’s influence over Neverland and its inhabitants makes for great tension in the story. Think about it – what hope does James, Peter Pan’s sworn enemy, have for happiness in a world literally designed for and by Peter Pan? The odds are stacked against him. Even James himself feels the pull of Peter’s magnetism: “[S]omehow, in the darkest depths of him, as Peter was trying to murder him, a piece of James wanted to give him whatever it was that he wanted.”

Between James Hook and Peter Pan, Never Never has everything you need for a captivating story about the rise and fall of a villain. The only thing that might be considered missing is an element of hope and cheer, but I thought Never Never was better without it. The book is haunting and tragic, but that’s the kind of villain origin story that calls to me the most. If you have similar tastes, Never Never is definitely for you.

Blog Tour, Excerpt, and Giveaway: In A Gilded Cage by Mia Kerick

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for In A Gilded Cage, hosted by Xpresso Book Tours! As a fan of fairy tale retellings, I’m happy to be able to share an excerpt from Mia Kerick’s modern twist on the story of Rapunzel, which is set in present day and features a male/male romance. Following the excerpt, at the bottom of the post, you’ll see a Rafflecopter form to enter a giveaway for a $25 Amazon gift card. Enjoy!

About the Book

In a Gilded Cage
Mia Kerick
(Evernight Publishing)
Publication date: October 21st 2016
Genres: LGBTQ+, New Adult, Romance

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.

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Excerpt

Father pushes forward his untouched plate of eggs, toast, and sliced melon. It is rare that he does not break his fast with enthusiasm, and I am further perplexed. “Last night, when I held you, I did not miss the stiffening of your back. You did not relax against me … your hands did not curl into mine.”

He is correct.

“Your behavior … insulted me.” His glare burns the skin of my face. I keep my eyes averted, as is expected.

Again, I am unsure how to reply so I do not.

“Your diet will be severely restricted until I feel that you have changed your attitude.”

Guilt floods my mouth with illicit strawberry sweetness. I swallow deeply. “My attitude, Father?”

“Yes. You will improve your response to … to me … in the same manner you improved your attitude toward your music.” He looks distinctly uncomfortable. “I will provide proper motivation to help you accomplish this.”

We are moving onto disturbing new ground in our relationship. Where controlling my behavior has satisfied Father to this point, he is now making an attempt to manage my emotions. I am shaken by a cruel premonition of what I will be forced to endure in his effort to correct my apathy.

“Can you think of several words of affection to start us on our path toward increased emotional intimacy, son?”

I am literally unable to speak. My throat is dry and parched, and I reach for my glass of water.

“No water. I will tell you when it is time to drink.”
“Yes, sir,” I croak.
“I believe I requested a verbal expression to prove that you are open to making this necessary change in our future interaction.”

I swallow deeply and scramble for words to express that I am eager to be emotionally extorted.

Shall I tell him I missed him when he was away? I did not.

I could assure Father that I enjoy our physical closeness while we sleep. A blatant lie that would likely encourage more of the same.

I search the dark corners of my mind, but come up with nothing that will not further my suffering. My hands tremble on my lap.

“You are finished with breakfast, Lucas.” This is no loss. My plate is nearly full, but I have no appetite for eggs. “Return to your suite and consider what we have discussed.”

A tiny voice in my mind suggests that we had no discussion at all. It tells me that once again, Father has attempted to impose his will upon me, and I have failed to respond appropriately, for which I will pay a high price.

“Yes, Father. Am I excused?”


He nods, but refuses to look at me. I have disappointed him. 

Author Bio

Mia Kerick is the mother of four exceptional children—all named after saints—and five nonpedigreed cats—all named after the next best thing to saints, Boston Red Sox players. Her husband of twenty years has been told by many that he has the patience of Job, but don’t ask Mia about that, as it is a sensitive subject.

Mia focuses her stories on the emotional growth of troubled young men and their relationships, and she believes that sex has a place in a love story, but not until it is firmly established as a love story. As a teen, Mia filled spiral-bound notebooks with romantic tales of tortured heroes (most of whom happened to strongly resemble lead vocalists of 1980s big-hair bands) and stuffed them under her mattress for safekeeping. She is thankful to Dreamspinner Press for providing her with an alternate place to stash her stories.

Mia is proud of her involvement with the Human Rights Campaign and cheers for each and every victory made in the name of marital equality. Her only major regret: never having taken typing or computer class in school, destining her to a life consumed with two-fingered pecking and constant prayer to the Gods of Technology.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

Giveaway

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Back to School: Books for Every Subject

Back To School: Books for Every Subject

Labor Day has come and gone, which means it’s back-to-school time for kids in the United States! To celebrate the new school year, I’ve put together a list of books inspired by the various subjects studied in American schools. Load up your backpacks, pack those lunch boxes, and let’s get ready to read!

Math

Book cover for Flatland by Edwin A. AbbotBook cover for Little Brother by Cory DoctorowBook cover for Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbot: Who would have guessed that a fictional tale of geometric shapes, written as a satire of Victorian society, could be entertaining? Certainly not me, but this little book, narrated by “A. Square,” is actually quite clever.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow: Little Brother is a computer nerd’s dream and a civic student’s nightmare. It’s about teen hackers using technology to protest governmental oppression, and it explains a ton of cool facts about information technology and the mathematics behind it.

Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School by Louis Sachar: I loved the wacky Wayside School stories as a kid, and this particular book is a lot of fun, even though I still can’t wrap my head around the majority of its quirky math puzzles. Here’s a typically goofy quote from the book: “Everyone take out your spelling books,” said Mrs. Jewls. “It’s time for arithmetic.”

Science

Book cover for Catalyst by Laurie Halse AndersonBook cover for Kissing Frogs by Alisha SevignyBook cover for The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson: I don’t remember a ton of details about the plot and characters in Catalyst – it’s been many years since I read it – but many of the science-y facts from the book fortunately stuck with me. In fact, I recall getting really excited in ninth-grade Chemistry because I got the question “What is a catalyst?” on an exam. The only reason I knew the answer was because of this book.

Kissing Frogs by Alisha Sevigny: When Jess Scott starts failing her high school Biology class, her only shot at saving her grade is extra credit – namely, spending her Spring Break in Panama with the school’s Conservation Club, working to protect an endangered species of frog. This novel is light and fun and shares the importance of ecosystems and conservation. (Read my review here.)

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett: Bennett’s book introduced me to a career I never knew existed: medical illustrator. (For some reason I thought medical journals just used photos nowadays.) The book’s protagonist, Bex, spends much of her time drawing careful diagrams of muscles, organs, bones, and more. It’s not a job that I could do – too squeamish – but it’s definitely a cool idea.

Literature

Book cover for The Fall by Bethany GriffinBook cover for For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana PeterfreundBook cover for This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

The Fall by Bethany Griffin: This novel-length retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” is deliciously Gothic and creepy. Griffin fleshes out the story and makes it, in my opinion, even better than the original. (Read my review here.)

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: Persuasion has always been my least favorite of Jane Austen’s books, but this futuristic, quasi-dystopian reimagining brought the tale alive for me in a whole new way.

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel: I’ve never read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but this prequel makes me want to do so quite badly. It introduces a teenage Viktor Frankenstein and shows him taking the first steps on his path to knowledge and power. (Read my review here.)

History

Book cover for Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear ShecterBook cover for Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse AndersonGone With The Wind

Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Shectar: A love story set in Pompeii, this book includes great historical details about what life would have been like in the days leading up to the infamous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson: This fictional account of a true event – a mass breakout of yellow fever in Philadelphia that left more than 5,000 dead – was the first plague book I ever read. It made me supremely grateful for modern medicine!

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell: Mitchell’s tale is a classic not only for its iconic characters and volatile romance, but also for its portrayal of the American Civil War and the profound transformation that war had on the Southern way of life.

Physical Education

Book cover for Whale Talk by Chris CrutcherBook cover for Winger by Andrew SmithBook cover for Summerland by Michael Chabon

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher: An unlikely group of outcasts form a swim team and confront racism, bullying, and injustice in this short but super-special novel.

Winger by Andrew Smith: Although Winger is about so much more than just sports (like first love, friendship, and tolerance, for example), rugby does play a big role in the story, as you might guess from the title. The school rugby team’s camaraderie and pranks are part of what makes this book so much fun to read. (Read my review here.)

Summerland by Michael Chabon: I don’t know much about baseball, but Summerland makes me wish I did. The great “American pastime” lies at the center of this magical tale, which is also full of adventure and faeries and a battle of good vs. evil.

Art

Book cover for David by Mary HoffmanBook cover for I'll GIve You the Sun by Jandy NelsonBook cover for From The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler

David by Mary Hoffman: Hoffman’s book tells the fictional story of the man who supposedly modeled for Michelangelo’s statue of “David.” I love the insight it gives into the relationship between model and artist and the way it showcases the political climate of Italy at the time of the statue’s creation.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: Twins Jude and Noah are best friends turned bitter rivals, bound by their shared love of art yet constantly striving to outdo one another in a bid for their mother’s attention. Art is the lifeblood of this story, from paintings to sketches to sculptures, and as a decidedly non-artistic person I really enjoyed seeing the world from an artist’s point of view.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: In this story, two kids run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eleven-year-old me thought this was the coolest idea ever, and I still entertain fantasies of sleeping in Marie Antoinette’s bed, wandering through the Egyptian galleries, and diving for spare change in the fountains after hours like Claudia and Jamie in the book.

Music

Book cover for Just Listen by Sarah DessenderBook cover for I Heart Robot by Suzanne van RooyenBook cover for Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen: Music aficionados will find a kindred spirit in Owen, the music-obsessed love interest in Just Listen. Music is Owen’s life, and he’s constantly trying to induce Annabel, the book’s protagonist, to explore new musical genres: “Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.”

I Heart Robot by Suzanne van Rooyen: Tyri is a teenage girl torn between her passion for music and her family’s expectations. Quinn is a run-away companion droid who yearns to be human and move people with his music. When the two musicians’ paths intersect at a prestigious orchestra, neither realizes just how big an impact they will have on each other’s lives and on the fight for robot autonomy. (Read my review here.)

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater: When it comes to literary bad boys, musician Cole St. Clair is one of my favorites. He’s one half of the romance in Sinner and the front man of the wildly popular band NARKOTIKA. Brilliant, troubled, and self-destructive, Cole strives to find an outlet for his love of music and performing without giving in to his addictive personality.

What books you would add to the lists for each school subject above? Let me know in the comments section!

Cover Reveal: Love Me, Love Me Not by Alyxandra Harvey

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Welcome to the cover reveal for

Love Me, Love Me Not by Alyxandra Harvey

presented by Entangled Teen Crave!

YA fantasy / fairytale retelling of The Swan Maiden with a blood feud twist like Romeo & Juliet? Say whaaaat?

LoveMeLoveMeNot_1600

Dating isn’t easy when you’re in the middle of a blood feud.

Anastasia Vila’s family can turn into swans, but just once she’d like them to turn into responsible adults.

After hundreds of years, they still cling to the blood feud with the Renard family. No one remembers how it started in the first place—but foxes and swans just don’t get along.

Vilas can only transform into their swan shape after they have fallen in love for the first time, but between balancing schoolwork, family obligations, and the escalating blood feud, Ana’s got no time for love. The only thing keeping her sane is her best friend, Pierce Kent.

But when Pierce kisses Ana, everything changes.

Is what Pierce feels for her real, or a byproduct of her magic? Can she risk everything for her best friend? And when the family feud spirals out of control, Ana must stop the fight before it takes away everything she loves.

Including, maybe…Pierce.

This Entangled Teen Crave book contains language, violence, and lots of kissing. Warning: it might induce strong feelings of undeniable attraction for your best friend.

add to goodreads

Love Me, Love Me Not by Alyxandra Harvey
Publication Date: February 22, 2016
Publisher: Entangled Teen Crave

About-the-Author2

alyxandra-harvey

Alyxandra Harvey lives in a stone Victorian house in Ontario, Canada with a few resident ghosts who are allowed to stay as long as they keep company manners. She loves medieval dresses, used to be able to recite all of The Lady of Shalott by Tennyson, and has been accused, more than once, of being born in the wrong century. She believes this to be mostly true except for the fact that she really likes running water, women’s rights, and ice cream. Aside from the ghosts, she also lives with her husband and their dogs. She likes cinnamon lattes, tattoos and books.

Connect with the author: Website | Twitter | Tumblr | Goodreads

Sign up for the tour!LoveMeLoveMeNotTour

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2016 Retelling Challenge

I’m trying something new this year, something I’m both nervous and excited for: I’m participating in a challenge for the very first time. My Bloglovin’ feed has been overflowing with posts about the various challenges my fellow bloggers will be undertaking in 2016, and when I saw that The Daily Prophecy would be hosting a Retelling Challenge, I couldn’t resist signing up.Retelling Challenge button

The challenge is primarily focused on fairy tale retellings, though mythology, legends, and folk tales are fair game as well. I read a ton of retellings in an average year – in 2015 I devoted an entire month to reimagined fairy tales – so the reading itself shouldn’t be too difficult for me.

The real challenge, as embarrassed as I am to admit it, will be the act of participating, period. I’m a relative newbie when it comes to taking part in the blogging community, so I’m hoping that this challenge will help me get out there and start interacting with other readers and bloggers. I’m also hoping it will help me be a more disciplined blogger by requiring me to post regular updates and get used to tweeting with the #fairytaleRC hashtag. Fingers crossed!

For the Retelling Challenge, I’m aspiring to reach the “Evil Queen” level by reading 10-15 retellings in 2016. Here are a few of the titles on my TBR list:

Book cover for The Crystal Heart by Sophie Masson Book cover for Spirited by Nancy Holder

Book cover for Fairytale ConfessionsBook cover for A Curse of Ash and Iron by Christine NorrisBook cover for Valiant by Sarah McGuireBook cover for Daughter of the Forest by Juliet MarillierBook cover for Stitching Snow by R. C. LewisBook cover for The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy Book cover for Rose and Thunder by Lilith Saintcrow

Book cover for Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher

Book cover for Enchantment by Orson Scott Card