Thorn by Intisar Khanani

At the beginning of the month, I was working on my monthly recap for April when I realized that I only finished reading one novel for the whole month. Instead of doing a recap, I thought I might as well just write a review for Thorn by Intisar Khanani. Thorn is one of those titles that I would never have discovered if it hadn’t been recommended through the blog. I was immediately curious when I found out about the premise of this book since it’s a retelling of The Goose Girl fairy tale. The only retelling of The Goose Girl that I’ve read prior to this one was Shannon Hale’s which is one of my favorite books so of course, I wanted to find something similar.

ThornHere’s the 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.

I read Thorn in bits and pieces, while traveling from one place to another. I can’t tell if it was because of this that I didn’t enjoy Thorn as much as I was expecting. I wonder if I would have liked the book better if I was able to read it in one go. I thought the writing was beautiful, I felt that it had a fairy tale feel to it. I also liked Thorn as a character and I was curious about her and what would happen after she loses her place as a princess. In spite of that, I felt that I wasn’t as invested in the story as much as I would have wanted. None of the other characters, except maybe for Falada the talking Horse, stood out for me. I would have wanted to care more for the prince and maybe even the king. I definitely wanted more of the thief Red Hawk. Maybe there were too many characters in the story, which made me feel that there wasn’t enough character development for most of them. The tone of the book is also a bit bleak and dark, with several characters having to endure so much but I was fine with that since the original story isn’t exactly a light and fun read. I just felt that some of the problems weren’t properly addressed towards the end of the novel. Maybe I’ll have a more positive reaction if I get to reread Thorn. I’m glad I gave it a try since The Goose Girl retellings are hard to come by. I would still be interested in checking out the author’s other books.

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Retro Friday: Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I enjoy reading retellings because I like seeing how authors adapt the foundations of an older story and make it their own. I especially like reading fairy tale retellings because I’m a sucker for fairy tales in general. My favorite retelling of Sleeping Beauty is Orson Scott Card’s Enchantment. It’s been a while since I last read it but I still have fond memories of my reading experience. Isn’t it nice when a story stays with you months or even years after you’ve read it? I thought it’s the perfect title for a Retro Friday review – an old favorite that I recommend other readers to pick up.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

EnchantmentThe moment Ivan stumbled upon a clearing in the dense Carpathian forest, his life was forever changed. Atop a pedestal encircled by fallen leaves, the beautiful princess Katerina lay still as death. But beneath the foliage a malevolent presence stirred and sent the ten-year-old Ivan scrambling for the safety of Cousin Marek’s farm.

Now, years later, Ivan is an American graduate student, engaged to be married. Yet he cannot forget that long-ago day in the forest – or convince himself it was merely a frightened boy’s fantasy. Compelled to return to his native land, Ivan finds the clearing just as he left it.

This time he does not run. This time he awakens the beauty with a kiss… and steps into a world that vanished a thousand years ago.

I liked so many things about Enchantment. I found the storyline so interesting – what if Sleeping Beauty woke up in the modern world? There’s a nice blend of modern and medieval in the setting of the story – it was fascinating to see how a medieval character reacts to the modern world and vice versa. Both Katerina and Ivan are pretty much clueless when it came to exploring the other person’s world and they had to rely on each other. As much as I love reading medieval fantasy, I never realized the inconveniences in living in that time period until I read about them in Enchantment. I also really liked the Russian folklore weaved into the story because I’ve only read a handful of books that have a Russian flavor to them. I’m always curious about stories based on mythologies, folktales or legends that I’m not familiar with.

“The old tale of Sleeping Beauty might end happily in French or English, but he was in Russia, and only a fool would want to live through the Russian version of any fairy tale.”

One of the highlights of any good fairy tale for me is the romance and Enchanment had a really good love story. It’s funny how Katerina wasn’t initially impressed with her “prince” but that was mostly because she didn’t know him and wasn’t familiar with a modern person’s way of doing things. It was entertaining to see both Katerina and Ivan get to know each other as they explore the two worlds that they both inhabit. It was also a plus that their families are so involved in their lives and their parents had a stake in the bond that was forming between the couple. I felt like all the elements of Enchantment’s story came together nicely, making it such a delightful read. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy and fairy tale retellings.

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlet is a Robin Hood retelling. I found out about it when trusted book bloggers started giving it positive reviews. I was delighted when this pretty little book showed up in a surprise package that I received a couple of weeks ago. Again, thank you to the lovely ladies – Angie and Holly – for sending me a copy of this. I couldn’t resist reading it right away, you guys know how fond I am of thieves in fiction.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

I can’t get over how gorgeous the cover design for Scarlet is – doesn’t that just draw you in? It’s the kind of cover that would attract my attention even if I knew nothing about the premise. I think Scarlet’s eyes look very expressive and I love that she’s disguised as a boy in the cover, because that’s how she usually is in the book. Few people know that Will Scarlet is actually a girl. Just in case you didn’t know, I also enjoy reading girls in disguise stories. Scarlet is one prickly character. Even though she’s been working with Rob, John and Much for the past couple of years, she still doesn’t fully trust them. She works with them but she still holds a part of herself back, never explaining her past and where she really came from. Which is funny because these boys want to take care of Scarlet. Can I just say that I found it refreshing that there are only four people in Robin’s band in this retelling? It makes it easier to keep track of them and be invested in who they are as characters. Rob is the leader, John the playful charmer and Much is the quiet one. Here’s a funny little quote about the band:

“Of a band with three actual boys, why is it that all the maids lust after the fake one?”

My heart went out to this little group – how they do the best that they could to provide for the people and shelter them from the Sheriff’s cruelty. As much as Scarlet pretends that she only stays with the band because it’s convenient for her, she does it because she cares for the people. Here’s another snippet that I really liked:

“I left little packages in front of the doors; the people looked for them in the morning, and I knew, in some bit of a way, it bucked them up.

I did as much as I could, but it weren’t like I could get everyone something every night. That seemed like the cruelest part. I tried not to think ’bout the people that woke up and rushed to the door and didn’t find nothing; it made my chest hurt.”

You got to love a thief with a conscience. She steals not for herself but for the people. It’s rare for a sneaky thief as good as Scarlet to be afraid of anything but her comrades quickly discover that there’s something about Gisbourne, the Thief Taker, that frightens Scarlet. I liked this air of mystery about her, it made the book a quicker read because I kept going, waiting for Scarlet’s past to be revealed. I also liked the slow burn romance although I’m not a fan of the love triangle. It’s not surprising that more than one guy is interested in our feisty heroine but I did feel like it was unnecessary for her to have more than one love interest. As expected, Scarlet was a really enjoyable read. Highly recommended for fans of Robin Hood retellings, thieves in fiction and girls in disguise. Will I be checking out A.C. Gaughen’s books in the future? Definitely.

Other reviews:
Angieville
Book Harbinger
Bunbury in the Stacks
Emily’s Reading Room
Steph Su Reads

The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz

I can’t remember where I first heard about The Family Fortune by Laurie Horowitz but I do know that I became interested because it’s a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I was glad to find a bargain copy in a Book Sale branch and when I went to the beach for a vacation, I decided to bring this with me because it seemed like the perfect light read. Also, look at that cover, doesn’t that make you want to read this book in a beach setting?

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Jane Fortune’s fortunes have taken a downturn. Thanks to the profligate habits of her father and older sister, the family’s money has evaporated and Jane has to move out of the only home she’s ever known: a stately brick town house on Boston’s prestigious Beacon Hill. Thirty-eight and terminally single, Jane has never pursued idle pleasures like her sibling and father. Instead, she has devoted her time to running the Fortune Family Foundation, a revered philanthropic institution that has helped spark the careers of many a budding writer, including Max Wellman, Jane’s first — and only — love.

Now Jane has lost her luster. Max, meanwhile, has become a bestselling novelist and a renowned literary Lothario. But change is afoot. And in the process of saving her family and reigniting the flames of true love, Jane might just find herself becoming the woman she was always meant to be.

The last time I read Persuasion was in college so the details are a bit fuzzy. So because I can’t remember much of the original, I’m going to review The Family Fortune on its own and won’t be able to compare it to the classic. It was easy to relate to thirty-eight year old Jane Fortune, who is the quiet one in her family. The Fortunes are members of the Boston elite and while her father and sister make the most out of their social circles, Jane is content to curl up at home with a good book. She also manages a literary paper called the Euphemia Review, which is funded by the family’s foundation. Here’s a nice quote from the book that I’m sure all book lovers will appreciate:

“Usually when I enter a bookstore, I feel immediately calm. Bookstores are, for me, what churches are for other people. My breath gets slower and deeper as I peruse the shelves. I believe that books contain messages I am meant to receive. I’m not normally superstitious, but I’ve even had books fall from shelves and land at my feet. Books are my missives from the universe.”

While I did enjoy reading The Family Fortune, there were several things that kept me from loving it. I liked the flashback scenes where Jane shares how she and Max fell in love with each other years ago but I didn’t think there was enough reason for them to break up. Also, I could understand that Jane never really got over Max but it seemed like there wasn’t enough of the present Max to fall in love with in the story. Jane and Max didn’t have enough scenes together for them to reconnect and realize that there’s still something between them. I can’t even remember most of their conversations. The other secondary characters, like Jane’s colleagues in the Euphemia Review felt more fully fleshed out than Max. The romance wasn’t swoon-worthy and that’s an important aspect of the novel. I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second half because it had such a promising start. It’s still a good read if you’re in the mood for something light or if you’re a fan of Austen retellings. Let me know in the comments if there are other Austen retellings that I should check out.

Other reviews:
Steph Su Reads
Book Harbinger
Janicu’s Book Blog
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

I don’t know why I waited so long to read Heart’s Blood because I’ve been a fan of Juliet Marillier ever since I read her Sevenwaters series. Also, this one is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which is my favorite fairy tale and I always enjoy reading retellings of it.

Here’s the summary from Juliet Marillier’s website:

Whistling Tor is a place of secrets, a mysterious wooded hill housing the crumbling fortress of a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the district in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan’s family and his people; the woods hold a perilous force whose every whisper threatens doom.

And yet the derelict fortress is a safe haven for Caitrin, the troubled young scribe who is fleeing her own demons. Despite Anluan’s tempers and the mysterious secrets housed in the dark corridors, this long-feared place provides the refuge she so desperately needs.

As time passes, Caitrin learns there is more to the broken young man and his unusual household than she realised. It may be only through her love and determination that the curse can be lifted and Anluan and his people set free…

Let me just say that I love the cover above showing a girl standing in front of a mirror in a library. The library and mirrors play major roles in the story so it’s an appropriate cover design. Heart’s Blood is a haunting retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I was surprised by how different the whole atmosphere in this one was compared to the Sevenwaters series. This one is much darker with a mysterious curse surrounding the chieftain of Whistling Tor, Anluan. Caitrin discovers the place while she’s running away from her own problems. Desperate to be employed as a scribe, she willingly works for Anluan transcribing family documents. This is a perfect professional set-up for both – Caitrin knows not a lot of people will employ a female scribe and most people are afraid to visit Whistling Tor, let alone live and work there. As she learns the secrets of the area, Caitrin becomes determined to find a way to break the curse. I liked that Caitrin is a scribe, she was trained by her father who had the same profession, which is unusual in a world where women focus on domestic duties. I also liked that Caitrin has a complicated past and in the course of getting to know Anluan, she learns how to deal with her own troubles. This is retelling where Beauty does not just help the Beast but has to overcome other difficulties in her own life. The secondary characters were also well-developed and I liked how they had their own stories but they’re united by their loyalty to Anluan.

I was able to predict part of the outcome of the story and as a result, I wasn’t wowed by this story like I was expecting. I’m a fan of unexpected events that blow me away. I also would have loved the interactions between Caitrin and Anluan to have more depth – I felt like the two of them didn’t have enough scenes together and I wasn’t as invested in their love story as I would’ve liked. Though darker than her other books, Juliet Marillier’s writing in Heart’s Blood retains its standard beautiful and lyrical flow. While this book didn’t displace my favorite Beauty and the Beast retelling from its position (the title belongs to Beauty by Robin McKinley), I still enjoyed reading this and I hope that Juliet Marillier will continue to write retellings for other fairy tales. She already has retellings for The Six Swans (Daughter of the Forest) and Twelve Dancing Princesses (Wildwood Dancing) but I’d love to read more. I guess I’m just glad that I still have a couple of books from her backlist to go through. I fell in love with her writing in the Sevenwaters series and I can’t get enough of it, even if I don’t end up loving her other books. Recommended for fans of fairy tale retellings or readers of dark, haunting fantasy.

PS: I loved that The Book Smugglers has a quote on the back cover. Yay Ana and Thea! Here’s a picture:

Other reviews:
The Eager Readers
See Michelle Read
Book Harbinger
The Book Smugglers

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This book is one of my entries in the Once Upon a Time challenge.

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

Song of the Sparrow is based on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, an Arthurian poem about Elaine of Ascolat. I’ve never read a novel in verse before and I thought it would be a good idea to start with this one because I like the premise. I don’t read a lot of Arthurian tales either although I remember reading Le Morte d’Arthur for English back in high school and I love Elizabeth E. Wein’s books. When I saw an inexpensive used copy from Julie’s Sari-Sari Store, I bought it right away. Thanks to Celina for the heads up on where I could find a copy.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Since the days of King Arthur, there have been poems and paintings created in her name. She is Elaine of Ascolat, the Lady of Shalott, and now there is a book all her own. The year is 490 A.D. and 16-year-old Elaine has a temperament to match her fiery red hair. Living on a military base with her father, brothers, and the rest of Arthur’s army, Elaine pines for the handsome Lancelot, and longs for a female friend. But when the cruel, beautiful Gwynivere arrives, Elaine is confronted with startling emotions of jealousy and rivalry. Can Elaine find the strength to survive the birth of a kingdom?

I was swept away by the beautiful writing in Song of the Sparrow. Maybe it’s because of the verse format but it felt like I was reading a fairy tale instead of a historical fiction book. I was easily immersed in the story and I knew right from the start that Elaine and I would get along just fine. Elaine is a girl stuck in a world full of men and she can be described as “one of the boys”. Her father brought her to Arthur’s camp when her mother died and she’s been there ever since. Her father and her two brothers fight alongside the knights of Arthur and she has great respect for all of them. As the only lady in their camp, Elaine’s sewing and healing skills are in great demand. She doesn’t mind because she’s friends with most of the men in their camp and she enjoys the freedom that her lifestyle allows. What I loved about Elaine’s character in this retelling is that she manages to show her strength without picking up a sword or fighting in a battle like other fantasy heroines (not that I don’t love them). Elaine’s infatuation with Lancelot is an integral part of the story because that’s what she’s famous for but I liked how the author provided a background for it – how Lancelot was always there whenever Elaine was lonely as a child and how he comes to the rescue the few times that Elaine needs help. It isn’t a tragic kind of love, which was how it was portrayed by other writers.

I don’t read much poetry so I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to relate to this one but surprise, surprise, the pages just flew by. To get a feel of the writing, check out the excerpt available in Lisa Ann Sandell’s website. The story provided not just a clear picture of Elaine but of other well-known characters like Gwynivere, Lancelot, Tristan and Arthur. I loved seeing how Elaine interacted with all of them, even Gwynivere who is everything Elaine isn’t – beautiful, ladylike, cold and cruel. I made an excellent decision when I chose Song of the Sparrow as my first novel in verse because now I’m curious about books written in a similar format. I wonder if other novels in verse are as lovely as this one. I highly recommend this to fans of Arthurian tales, retellings or novels in verse. Or maybe I should just say, read this if you want to fall in love with an exquisite retelling about Elaine of Ascolat, the Lady of Shalott.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Book Harbinger
See Michelle Read
Persnickety Snark
Inkcrush

Nobody’s Princess by Esther M. Friesner

I’ve had my copy of Esther M. Friesner’s Nobody’s Princess since last year but I haven’t had a chance to read it until recently, when I was craving for a story with a princess who gets to kick some serious butt. I have loved Greek mythology ever since I first discovered kiddie versions of the stories back when I was younger. In high school, we discussed Mythology by Edith Hamilton for English and we even put up a play of The Iliad during my senior year.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

She is beautiful, she is a princess, and Aphrodite is her favorite goddess, but something in Helen of Sparta just itches for more out of life. Not one to count on the gods — or her looks — to take care of her, Helen sets out to get what she wants with steely determination and a sassy attitude. That same attitude makes Helen a few enemies — such as the self-proclaimed “son of Poseidon,” Theseus — but it’s also what intrigues, charms, and amuses those who become her friends, from the famed huntress Atalanta to the young priestess who is the Oracle of Delphi.

I expected Nobody’s Princess to be YA historical fiction but it’s written more for middle grade or younger YA readers. I know I keep saying this for just about every book written for a younger audience that I read but I think I would’ve loved this as a child. I’ve always been interested in learning more about Helen of Troy (she’s still Helen of Sparta in this book) because there must be more to her than just a beautiful face. In this retelling, she’s a headstrong young girl who’s more interested in keeping up with her brothers in sword fights than joining her dainty twin sister Clytemnestra in sewing clothes. Helen’s a pretty child and she was surprised to discover that people tend to treat her better than her sister because of her looks. I liked that even as she found out about her beauty, she didn’t let it get to her head. She wasn’t a spoiled princess. As the years go by, she becomes a typical awkward adolescent and that’s fine by her. Beauty’s not much help in the adventures that she wants to face anyway.

I prefer Esther M. Friesner’s version of Helen because she’s a more fitting princess of Sparta, which is a nation of warriors, than the famed beauty that I remember from The Iliad. It seems like the author was inspired by Tamora Pierce’s Alanna from the Song of the Lioness series in the sense that Helen dresses up as a boy to tag along with her brothers’ lessons. Helen is determined to make her own choices in life and there are times when she tends to be reckless, heading straight into dangerous situations even when the people around her are doing their best to protect her. Good thing she’s a clever girl who always manages to find a way out of the scrapes that she gets into. I recommend this book to anyone who’s curious about historical fiction steeped with Greek mythology. I enjoyed reading this one even if it’s a bit young for my taste, I think I would’ve enjoyed reading about a teen Helen more. If you have other historical fiction recommendations, I’d love to hear them. I feel like I don’t get to read enough books like this.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Reading Vacation
The Story Siren
Squeaky Books

Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan

Like I mentioned in my In My Mailbox post, Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field by Melissa Nathan (originally published as Acting Up) is the first book that I bought this year. It’s a Pride and Prejudice retelling that Janice highly recommends. The only other Pride and Prejudice retelling that I’ve read is Austenland by Shannon Hale.

Here’s the summary from Melissa Nathan’s website:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large ego must be in want of a woman to cut him down to size… Sharp, witty journalist Jasmin lands the role of Elizabeth Bennett in a one-off fundraising play adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Hollywood heartthrob Harry Noble is playing Mr. Darcy, and is every bit as obnoxious as Jasmin could have hoped. This is Jane Austen’s matchless love story with added 21st century fizz.

Jasmin Field, known as Jazz to her friends, loves observing other people and criticizing them if they don’t live up to her standards, a trait that is perfect for her job as a journalist. When she gets invited to audition for an on-stage production of Pride and Prejudice for the benefit of cancer patients, she decides to go because it’s a great opportunity to scrutinize other people. Plus, she’ll get the inside scoop on some actors, especially big-time Oscar-winner Harry Noble who will direct the play. Jazz decides to bring her sister George (who’s an actress) and her best friend Mo with her. Things don’t go so well when Jazz overhears Harry describe her as “The Ugly Sister.” As a result, Jazz’s audition becomes impassioned and full of pent-up emotion. It doesn’t hurt that Pride and Prejudice is one of her favorite books so she knows the story well. To everyone’s surprise, including her own, Jazz gets the part of Lizzy Bennet. Interesting encounters ensue.

A modern-day Lizzy Bennet as a journalist is a great idea. I think it’s the perfect occupation for someone smart, funny and isn’t afraid to say what she thinks of other people. I enjoyed reading this retelling probably because I’m a fan of the original Pride and Prejudice. One small problem that I had was that the characters who are supposed to represent the ones from the original also play the same role in the stage production. Jazz is Lizzy in the play and she’s really the Lizzy of the story. Her beautiful sister George, who represents Jane, is cast as Jane in the play and her romantic interest Jack also represents Mr. Bingley and so on and so forth. I think it would’ve been better if more of the characters weren’t part of the play because it would make the premise more believable. Other than that, I enjoyed reading this retelling because I could relate to Jazz. I love that she’s too lazy to exercise and is appalled when Mo suddenly decides to go to the gym regularly. One of my favorite lines in the book is when Jazz was asked by Harry what makes her unhappy and she answers with, “Um. Finishing a bar of chocolate.” It was interesting to see where the author went in terms of variations to the original and how she adapted the story to a modern setting. There were times when we get to see Harry’s perspective and I thought it was funny how he didn’t understand why he found Jazz so intriguing. All in all, a good book to read when you want something light and fun and if you’re curious about Pride and Prejudice retellings. It saddened me to discover that Melissa Nathan passed away in 2006 but I’m interested in looking up the rest of her books. Let me know if you’ve read them and what you think of them. Also, please comment if you have other P&P retellings that you’d like to recommend.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Janicu’s Book Blog
Musings ‘n’ Murmurs

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

I read Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood as part of the The Aussie YA Book Challenge hosted by Nic of Irresistible Reads and Nomes of Inkcrush. It’s also one of the books that I asked my friend who came from Australia to get for me.

Here’s the summary from Fiona Wood’s website:

Fourteen-year-old nerd-boy Dan Cereill is not quite coping with a reversal of family fortune, a mother with a failing wedding-cake business, a just-out gay dad, and an impossible crush on Estelle, the girl next door.

His entire life is a mess, but for now he’s narrowed it down to just six impossible things

Six Impossible Things is a loose Cinderella retelling, written from a guy’s perspective. I don’t think I read enough male POV books and I enjoy reading retellings. As if that isn’t enough to convince me to read this, Aussie book bloggers have been raving about this book in their reviews. Dan feels like his life has fallen apart when his parents split because his gay dad suddenly decides to come out of the closet and admit that the family business is also bankrupt. Dan even wants to say “Guys, please, one life-changing shock at a time.” out loud because of all the changes in his life. The only positive thing is he now lives next door to the unattainable one, Estelle. He even transfers to her school. Dan is determined to change his image at his new school, he doesn’t want to be known as geeky and smart anymore and he wants to hang out with the cool crowd. Things don’t go exactly as he planned.

This is such a quirky and fun novel to read, the writing is beautiful and the characters are so distinct. Dan is utterly charming in an offbeat and nerdy way. He’s smart, sensitive and tries to be as honest and good as he can be. Yay for good guys! It was interesting being inside Dan’s head because like I said, I don’t get to read enough books with male protagonists narrating the story. He’s also an introspective type so he’s more quiet than outgoing. I loved that the book showed his weaknesses like fainting whenever he sees or imagines something gross like raw eggs. Instead of being unfavorable, those vulnerabilities actually added to his charm. Even though things don’t work out the way he wanted them to, he did gain a couple of friends along the way and they’re all unique and original, even Howard the dog. The book isn’t all about the romance even if Dan has a major crush on Estelle although the development of their friendship is a major highlight for me. I love that the attics of their houses are connected and they’re the only ones who know about it. This delightful book is about growing up and changing as you learn how to cope and adapt with the problems that life throws your way. I’ve heard that this book already has a US publisher but there’s no set date on when it’s going to be published. If you can order a book from Australia or have someone buy it for you then I highly recommend that you get this one. It’s a great contemporary YA debut and I can’t wait to read more of Fiona Wood’s work. I just have to worry about how I’ll get it when the time comes.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Inkcrushinterview with Fiona Wood
Persnickety Snark
Irresistible Reads
Hey! Teenager of the Year
The Tales Compendium

The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I’ve never read a book about Robin Hood before. I think that most of what I know about him comes from the cartoons that I used to watch on TV as a kid. I have a vague idea of his story but I don’t know the details. So it was interesting to pick up Robin McKinley’s The Outlaws of Sherwood and read about one of the most popular thieves in fiction. This is an oldie but goodie that I bought from Better World Books. I would’ve probably read it earlier if the book was available here because Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors. Also, Angie has this book on her Beloved Bookshelf and that made me want to read the book more.

Here’s the summary from Robin McKinley’s website:

Robin is an apprentice forester in the woods of Nottingham, but the sheriff’s men harass him at every opportunity. When he accidentally kills a man in self-defense, he flees into Sherwood Forest, knowing he will live the rest of his days as a hunted man.

But his friends believe the disaster is also an opportunity: an opportunity for a few stubborn Saxons to gather in secret under Robin’s leadership and strike back against the arrogance and brutality of the Norman overlords.

Robin McKinley’s Robin Hood surprised me in the sense that he didn’t behave the way I expected someone who leads a band of outlaws to behave. He was very much a reluctant leader from start to finish. I imagined him to be a merry kind of thief, eager to be an outlaw and passionate about leading his people against their oppressors. Instead, we get a Robin who’s very practical and whose primary concern is to protect the people he’s responsible for. When he accidentally kills a man, he was resigned to his fate and he didn’t even want to bring down others with him. But his friends are steadfast and loyal and they insisted on sticking by him. Another surprising thing is that Robin’s not much of an archer in this retelling. Marian is the one who can direct an arrow wherever she wants it to go. Can I just say that I love how there’s always a strong heroine in any McKinley book? This one is no exception and Marian is such a wonderful character. Against Robin’s wishes, she leads a double life as an outlaw in Sherwood Forest and as a lady in the town of Nottingham. Go Marian! Some of the other outlaws – like Little John, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck – are fully developed and their individual stories are highlighted just as much as Robin’s is.

I believe The Outlaws of Sherwood is a good literary introduction to Robin Hood’s story (or maybe I’m just biased because I love Robin McKinley) and I hope more people get to read this. Who wouldn’t love a story about a group of people fighting for a better life by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor? It’s one of the best kinds of stories out there. Yay for thieves who believe in a cause! Thieves in fiction are awesome. There’s also a bit of romance in the book but I think the theme of friendship is much more evident. It’s a quiet kind of story and the writing reminded me of Chalice and Pegasus even if those two are fantasy and this one is historical fiction. I recommend this book to all fans of Robin McKinley, Robin Hood and historical fiction. Sorry for all the Robins in there, I hope it doesn’t create confusion. I already have a copy of Lady of the Forest by Jennifer Roberson on hand and I’m eager to see the similarities and differences between these two Robin Hood retellings.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Angieville
Emily’s Reading Room
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
It’s All About Books
Aelia Reads