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Book Review: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles)

My oh my, I hear the screws of my head getting hooked on Marissa Meyer from now on! I completely blame my Mad Tea Book Club Co-Founders Krisandryka and Sherry H. Gosh where do I even begin. Let’s start by saying that I am biased towards fairy tale retellings. I love retellings with a fresh perspective and stronger female characters. The first Marissa Meyer book I read was Heartless, which was a retelling of Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I gave that 3 stars because the heroine was just plain annoying at times. Cinder gets 5 stars though!

Synopsis

Cinder is the first book in The Lunar Chronicles. Taking place in New Beijing under the Eastern Commonwealth of Earth, Linh Cinder is a cyborg with a talent for fixing broken things. She has a reputation as the best mechanic in town. This brought Prince Kai (soon to be Emperor Kai) knocking on her booth asking if she could fix his android Nainsi. This first momentous meeting unfolds into a swooping inter-species romance! It’s complete with evil witch Queens, spaceships, and a metal foot in place of the traditional glass shoe.

If you can’t already guess, this is based on the classic Cinderella story crossed with the popular manga Sailor Moon. With that in mind, yes, everything is rather predictable. But the author spins a heck of a fun story anyway, especially if you are a fan of Usagi and her sailor armies. To be honest, this was one of the biggest pulls for me: the fact that it had oriental elements mixed into the narrative. So many fantasies are based on a western point of view, but Cinder had a good mix of eastern and western cultures.

Cinder and Kai

I think this is one of my favorite relationships in young adult fantasy! The two are on par with each other and they treat each other as best as they know how to. Their relationship develops naturally even though there was obvious attraction from the first moment. Cinder kept her level head around the hot young prince, while Kai did not show off his power or status. The young Prince is actually showing himself to be a promising leader with a very responsible mindset.

Supporting characters like Iko the android, Evil Queen Levana of Lunar (who is set out to marry Kai to get control of Earth), and the infamous stepmother Linh Adri were all well proportioned throughout. One of Marissa Meyer’s strongest traits is in creating protagonists that you actually want to hang out and be friends with. Keep your eyes open for the rest of reviews, plus a fanfiction that I decided to write!

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Book Review: Iron Hearted Violet

15/60 books in my Goodreads challenge! 25% of the way, yay to myself. Kelly Barnhill‘s Iron Hearted Violet is exactly my type of reading: young adult fantasy with a strong female heroine. I lapped it up in a couple of hours. The Who Girl Who Drank the Moon also by this author blew me away, so I decided to try this earlier book. Before proceeding: Spoiler Alerts!!!

It’s interesting that you can really note how an author advances in his / her writing, as the prose in Iron Hearted Violet is not as smooth as The Girl Who Drank The Moon. Some changes happened rather quickly without solid reasoning or explanation, and sometimes characters were introduced and re-introduced (the Captain Marda) without a certain reason as to why the special treatment if they were only minor characters.

A Fantasy to Challenge Beauty Ideals

Princess Violet was born ugly, unlike her beautiful Queen mother. But what she lacked in looks she overflowed in wits, energy, and vitality. The country loved her until an old creature called the Nybbas saw an opportunity to use Violet’s looks against herself and everyone else. The schemes of the Nybbas sowed insecurities inside the Princess, and soon our heroine starts to self-destruct. Something worth mentioning is that in the illustrations, Violet looked just fine-she didn’t look ugly at all.

I liked that the ideal of beauty was challenged, but I did not agree with the choice of the challenge. In Iron Hearted Violet, real princesses had to have long beautiful hair. Of course Violet then asked this from the Nybbas, and later found out how annoying it was to have long beautiful hair. I personally don’t have anything against it. In fact, in some Native American and shamanistic cultures, hair was recognized as part of the person’s very soul and energy. That’s why shamans grow out their hair.

A Plethora of Supporting Creatures

The stable boy Demetrius proves a great supporting character, while the Nybbas is truly a villain. There was no gray in-betweens in Iron Hearted Violet. The antagonist was a dirty lying creature to its core. Any sympathy you show the creature will be used against a you-just look at what happened to the Mad King of the Lowlands. His body basically was eaten from within by golden fire breathing lizards that were armies of the Nybbas.

There is an old wise, fairy/leprechaun lady called Auntie who continuously calls another younger fairy/leprechaun “idiot.” This kind of language doesn’t sit right with me, even if I know the context is love. Maybe the word “silly” will do?

The star of the book was, of course, the dragon. The last dragon left in Violet’s mirrored world was ancient, old, broken, and frankly in a deep depression. Violet manages to befriend the dragon and operate a procedure that returns its youth and power. Together, they defeat the Nybbas.

Having just watched Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, I realized how very different are portrayals of dragons in western fantasy literature in comparison to eastern fantasy literature. This fascinating topic deserves a blog post to itself, but suffice it to say for now that anything with girls, dragons, calm reliable supporters, and magic is a recipe I like.

The execution though could have been more polished. My rating is 3/5.

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Book Review: A Wolf for a Spell

That was exactly what Baba Yaga needed. The gray wolf…a wolf who wouldn’t put up a fight.

a wolf for a spell, karah sutton

I discovered this book via Indian book blogger Debjani. I put it on my 2021 fantasy genre reading list because it seemed exactly like the kind of fantasy that I loved. I’m on a Goodreads challenge to read 60 books in 2021, and this is the 3rd book I read.

A Wolf for a Spell is a middle-grade fantasy adventure book by Karah Sutton about a young orphan girl, a female wolf, and an old witch. The story itself is inspired by the author’s Russian heritage.

I Was Delighted By…

  1. Baba Yaga!

Loved this character! The Russian tales of her are already exotic and intriguing-lives in the middle of the woods in a hut on chicken legs. Add to that the grumpy, witty, and slightly lonely personality that Karah Sutton gives to this old figure, creating a beloved and unforgettable Baba Yaga.

2. Wolves

Who doesn’t enjoy wolf literature? The dynamics between Zima (the female wolf) and the other wolves in her pack are very interesting, especially if you’re curious about animal psychology. Wolves are one of the most intelligent animals, and their pack structure is a highly complex social unit. I loved that the author was able to dig into this.

3. Power of the Forest

The forest in which Baba Yaga lives has its own magic. It’s powerful and it’s the real source of Baba Yaga’s powers. I must say, being someone who loves nature, I completely agree with this approach. Honestly, what are we without trees giving us oxygen to breathe?

4. Critique towards the institution of marriage

Did you see this one coming up? If not, it’s a spoiler alert. The charming prince is not so charming on the inside, and what he has to offer isn’t so great after all (read my article on emotionally abusive relationships). I won’t say more, but I’m happy that Karah Sutton weaved this perspective into the tale.

Was It Worth My Investment?

I bought it on Amazon Kindle for USD 10.99. Honestly, I have to say it’s a bit pricy for me. In my defense, I do live in Indonesia where I can get a great meal for 2 dollars. Plus, the currency exchange rate isn’t so hot at the moment. However, there are legal ways to read books for free, especially if you are an avid reader and regular reviewer. (I might even consider doing this myself!)

It was a great read though, so if the price is alright for your budget then A Wolf for a Spell is definitely worth it.

Have you read A Wolf for A Spell? What did you think? By the way, if you are a seasoned book blogger, please share with me any tips you have! I would appreciate it very much.

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Series Review: The Enola Holmes Mysteries

I first heard about Sherlock’s younger sister through the recently released Netflix film: Enola Holmes (September 2020). The film is a must watch. It is utterly delightful with great acting from Millie Bobby Brown who plays Enola. I then discovered the 6-book mystery series by Nancy Springer, of which the film was based upon.

Did I like the books?

YES! Fast paced, action filled, with surprisingly dark mystery themes as befits Victorian London (late 1800s to early 1900s). The author most definitely has an agenda which is to show the massive gap of gender inequality during those times, and how Enola and her mother managed to still make a life for themselves. I especially liked how the corset was used as a continuing imagery to suffocate women, but Enola brilliantly and very practically used it as a tool to hide her most precious belongings (money), including a dagger to protect herself.

How did the film and the books differ?

Films and books always have huge differences. In this case I liked both, although I will say the film tried to appeal to a more “traditional” mindset when they added possible romantic nuance between Enola and Lord Tewksbury. In the books there was no such shimmer. All Enola wanted to do was go to university and make friends with the like minded, strong-willed Lady Cecily. Oh and the ending? No spoilers but the the sixth book punches a much stronger ending.

Is it worth the investment?

The books are about $7 each. The whole set is available on Amazon Kindle for $36, so you can save some money if you buy all six books. They are very fast reading of about 10 -12 hours per book. If strong girl heroines shattering society perceptions are your thing, then this series is definitely worth the time and money.

Have you seen the movie or read any of the books? Let me know what you thought in the comments! If you are looking for more young adult fiction with strong girl heroines, check out my book Nisha.

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Super Heroines of Classic Young Adult Fantasy

Growing up with my nose in books, fictional characters were as real to me as everyday people. Their wits, courage, and attitude facing adversity inspired me during my moments of challenges. Here are five of my favorite super heroines of classic young adult fantasy.

5. Matilda from ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl

Matilda Wormwood is considered a misfit and a failure by her irresponsible parents.

Often neglected, she learns to take care of herself with the resources available to her which included intelligence and telekinetic powers. She also shows some leadership skills when she rallies her classmates to defend their beloved Miss Honey from the evil principal: The Trunchbull.

4. Princess Eilonwy from ‘The Chronicles of Prydain’ by Lloyd Alexander

“I’m Princess Eilonwy. And you’re in bad trouble, aren’t you?”

The headstrong, talkative, kind and brave Princess Eilonwy of Llyr is definitely someone I would want on my team, whatever the adventure is. She is an enchantress by heritage. Her relationship with Taran the Assistant Pig Keeper is interesting because it develops from friendship first and evolves into a romantic relationship as they grow up in the course of the five books.

3. Hermione Granger from ‘Harry Potter’ by JK Rowling

JK Rowling is currently under a lot of heavy criticism about being a transphobe (someone who irrationally fears a transgender).

Her devoted fans have turned against her, including many actors from the movie series. This gives me many mixed feelings, as I literally grew up with the Harry Potter books. In the end, I decided to keep Hermione on this list because she is surely one of the most brilliant witches in the history of magic! On top of that, she is also loyal to her values even when it gets really tough.

2. Miri from ‘Princess Academy’ by Shannon Hale

Miri and her sister Marda come from a small village on Mount Eskel where the community mines for a living.

When the Capital decides the next Queen is to come from the mountains, a temporary school is set up so the mountain girls can be educated. Here Miri learns to read for the first time. Hungry for more, she digs into history and learns some truths that eventually save her village. The heart of the ‘Princess Academy’ trilogy is the importance of education. Freedom is freedom to learn, and a woman can be powerful when she has the necessary knowledge.

1. Sophie Hatter from ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ by Dianne Wynne Jones

I am a huge fan of Diana Wynne Jones. Guess what, so are authors such as Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Robin McKinley, and JK Rowling.

‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is one of her most popular fantasy books, especially after being made into a box office animation by Studio Ghibli. Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three daughters. In the land of Ingary, this means she is cursed to live a dull life at home. She is doubly cursed when the Witch of the Waste turns her into an old woman. Sophie then goes on a journey to find the Wizard Howl to help her lift the curses. In the end, it is Sophie that lifts her own curse while saving Howl in the process.

Who are your favorite fictional heroines? Let me know in the comments!