Review of “Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts (Proper Romance Steampunk Series #4)” by Nancy Cambell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1629727370 | $15.99 USD | 320 pages | Steampunk Romance

Blurb

A steampunk retelling of Cinderella.

Emmeline O’Shea has been an outspoken advocate for the shapeshifter community, which has come under unjust attack from a political body known as the PSRC (Predatory Shifter Regulations Committee), and her robust efforts have landed her a prestigious position as the spokesperson for the International Shifter Rights Organization. She has been selected to give the final address in Scotland before they vote on legislation that will grant protective rights to the shifter community. Because she is fundamentally changing the laws, she is also receiving death threats.

Oliver Reed is a by-the-book detective-inspector who has dealt with Emme’s borderline-illegal activism in the past, and there is little love lost between the two. When his superior tasks Oliver with guarding Emme around the clock to keep her safe until the summit is over, he is frustrated. He has several open cases requiring his attention, and his spare time is occupied with chasing down leads about the whereabouts of his brother, Vincent, a rogue vampire bent on causing trouble in Scotland.

When their airship is hijacked, Emme and Oliver are forced to parachute away before they exit British soil. They take refuge in Emme’s family’s hunting lodge where Oliver is introduced to her abusive stepsisters.

Together the pair must make their way to Edinburgh so as not to miss the summit meeting where Emme will be key in helping to pass legislation that will disband the corrupt PSRC. But between her vindictive sisters and Oliver’s rogue vampire brother, they face danger at every turn, not to mention dealing with their growing attraction for each other.
When Emme is kidnapped – leaving behind only one shoe as evidence – Oliver must find her before it’s too late – and the summit ends at midnight.

In the series

#1 Beauty and the Clockwork Beast

#2 Kiss of the Spindle 

#3 The Lady in the Coppergate Tower

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts is the fourth in Nancy Campbell Allen’s Steampunk series, but it works well as a stand-alone. I did, however, enjoy the other books in the series and their clever spins on fairy tales, and definitely recommend them for that aspect.

And that is one of the things that had me a bit perplexed going into this one. It’s definitely not a traditional Cinderella story, with many of the associated motifs only coming into play late in the game. That’s not a mark against it, as the books have gradually deviated further from the original tales that inspired them. 

That said, the story is still fairly solid, and the characters engaging. I loved Emme’s involvement in the Shifter community, in part because it’s such a unique thing to read about a Shifter rights activist. I like how, in a way, that represented an additional connection between paranormal/steampunk and the Victorian setting, with the background of real life progressive movements, like the suffragettes, going on at the time. 

And, as in real life and in some comparable historical romances, Oliver presents the more traditional, law-abiding opposition, but without being oppressive toward the heroine and her cause to the point that them being together or having feelings for each other feels unbelievable. 

I really enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys steampunk or paranormal romance with a slight fairytale feel. 

Author Bio 

Nancy Campbell Allen is the author of fourteen novels, including Beauty and the Clockwork Beast,Kiss of the Spindle, and The Lady in the Coppergate Tower. She has been a speaker at numerous writing conferences and events. She has a degree in elementary education and is the mother of three children.

Buy links

Bookshop (affiliate link)

The Ripped Bodice

Deseret Book

Amazon 

Barnes & Noble

Review of “Cinderella is Dead” by Kalynn Bayron

Baryon. Kalynn. Cinderella is Dead. New York: Bloomsbury YA, 2020.

ISBN-13; 978-1547603879 | $18.99 USD | 400 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

Wholly original and captivating.” – Brigid Kemmerer, New York Times bestselling author of A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Girls team up to overthrow the kingdom in this unique and powerful retelling of Cinderella from a stunning new voice that’s perfect for fans of A Curse So Dark and Lonely.

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

Review

3 stars

The premise of Cinderella is Dead sounds like so much fun, and is much needed right now. I know a lot of women and marginalized people have had a lot of rage recently toward the patriarchy and the government and whatnot, and what better way to challenge them than by revisiting a classic tale like Cinderella? 

I like the idea that this is a world where the original Cinderella story as we know was essentially propaganda, and the people alive in the present time the story is set continue to perpetuate that system of power and corruption. 

However, this book does put the importance of the message over character or world development. I can’t think of much that stands out about Sophia or Constance. I can admire them for their devotion to the cause, but I don’t know that I cared about either of them. 

Also, despite being a fantasy, the world building is very thin. There is some discussion of the history as far as the lineages of both the king and the stepsister, but nothing else that really gives a sense of place. I can understand wanting to maintain a bit of the abstract fairy tale quality to the story though, so I don’t hold this aspect against it too much. 

While this book wasn’t a winner for me, I think it’s still worth trying, especially if you love fairy tale retellings (particularly Cinderella), and are looking for a fun, subversive take on it.

Author Bio

Kalynn Bayron is an author and classically trained vocalist. She grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. When she’s not writing you can find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald on loop, attending the theater, watching scary movies, and spending time with her kids. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family.

Buy links

Amazon (affiliate link)

Bookshop (affiliate link)

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Google Play

Apple Books  

Review of “Gwenndolyn and the Three Suitors” (Lady Goosebury’s Tales) by Emma Brady

Brady, Emma. Gwendolyn and the Three Suitors. [United States]: Emma Brady, 2020. 

ASIN: B0856P85C9 | $3.99 USD | Historical Romance

Blurb

Don’t want a man that’s too big. All brawn and no brain.

Don’t want a man that’s too small…minded at least. Focused on money and image, without a purpose.

There has to be someone just right. The man who can lift her up to her dreams, but wrap her warm in his love.

Gwendolyn Fairchild had been a child blessed with beauty, but denied a loving family. Raised by the kind and benevolent Lady Goosebury in her special home for special girls, Gwen grew up humble and hardworking. Now she runs a bakery and is the landlord’s favorite. He decides that one of his two tenant, the butcher or the tailor, should marry her and inherit the entire building. It’s up to them to win her favor, but neither seems to fit quite right.

George Green had long since admire sweet Gwen. He was an orphan too, only he grew up in a poor London orphanage full of rowdy boys. As the landlords bookkeeper, he wasn’t included in the offer for her hand and he didn’t think he could be worthy of it. The other two men could give her a better, more prosperous life. So why do they both seem completely wrong for her? How far off the mark can they be?

One man is wrong, one man is dangerous and one man is just the right kind of warm-hearted love she needs.

In the series

Sleeping Evie by Jessica Cale

The Scoundrel’s New Con by Catherine Stein 

The Piper’s Paramour by Tabetha Waite

Review 

4 stars

Gwendolyn and the Three Suitors is a fun homage to “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” While, like the others, it’s a loose interpretation, emphasizing the concept that the heroine, Gwendolyn, wants something that is just right to her, not something that is anyone else’s ideal of perfection and suitability. 

It’s clear, aside from the obvious romance novel setup designating him the hero, that George is the most worthy, due to him being a longtime friend of hers and valuing her for herself as opposed to the material attributes she can provide him, in spite of his humble origins. The other men are attractive prospects, but they aren’t right for her. But it’s not your typical love triangle (square?) and I liked that.

The ending is a little anticlimactic, and I wanted a bit more from it, maybe an epilogue? But other than that, it’s a solid book, and one I recommend to fans of historical fairy tale tale retellings. 

Author Bio

Emma Brady is an author who loves a hot hero and a happy ending. She writes Historical romance because dukes are awesome. She loves to play with her nephews and her dog when not writing. Her books are available on amazon.​

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link) or read free with KU subscription

Review of “Of Curses and Kisses” (St. Rosetta’s Academy #1) by Sandhya Menon

Menon, Sandhya. Of Curses and Kisses. New York: Simon Pulse, 2020.

eBook | $10.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1534417564 | 380 pages |YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

From the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi comes the first novel in a brand-new series set at an elite boarding school, that’s a contemporary spin on Beauty and the Beast.

Will the princess save the beast?

For Princess Jaya Rao, nothing is more important than family. When the loathsome Emerson clan steps up their centuries-old feud to target Jaya’s little sister, nothing will keep Jaya from exacting her revenge. Then Jaya finds out she’ll be attending the same elite boarding school as Grey Emerson, and it feels like the opportunity of a lifetime. She knows what she must do: Make Grey fall in love with her and break his heart. But much to Jaya’s annoyance, Grey’s brooding demeanor and lupine blue eyes have drawn her in. There’s simply no way she and her sworn enemy could find their fairy-tale ending…right?

His Lordship Grey Emerson is a misanthrope. Thanks to an ancient curse by a Rao matriarch, Grey knows he’s doomed once he turns eighteen. Sequestered away in the mountains at St. Rosetta’s International Academy, he’s lived an isolated existence—until Jaya Rao bursts into his life, but he can’t shake the feeling that she’s hiding something. Something that might just have to do with the rose-shaped ruby pendant around her neck…

As the stars conspire to keep them apart, Jaya and Grey grapple with questions of love, loyalty, and whether it’s possible to write your own happy ending.

Review

2.5 stars

I love Sandhya Menon’s work for the most part, and was excited by the premise of her Beauty and the Beast retelling, Of Curses and Kisses. But I feel like this one just wasn’t for me.

I did like both Jaya and Grey as characters. Both are dynamic and have arcs that made me root for them throughout. Jaya’s willingness to sacrifice for her sister was admirable, as was Grey’s journey to embracing himself and pulling away from his toxic family legacy. And while I didn’t find the romance earth-shattering, I think they have decent chemistry.

But Menon described this in an answer to a Goodreads question as “a contemporary. But it’s got ‘is it magic or isn’t it’ vibes,” and given I prefer stuff even straddling magic to be more well-defined into the fantasy realm with fairly strong world building and magic rules (although it doesn’t have to be complex), to the point of even rejecting most urban fantasy, I just wasn’t sucked into the presumption of magic she was building up. I did like that there was lore attached to it, but given the direction it ends up going in, I was left a little cold in that department.

And it just doesn’t have the same overall charm for me as her Dimple and Rishi books do. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in that series later this year, but I saw it was announced that there would be two more of these, and while I like the school setting and wanted more of it, I just didn’t latch onto any of the secondary characters enough to care to see more of them.

As I said before, this was just not for me. However, I understand why others like it, and think if you’re into contemporary fairy tale retellings, you’ll love this book.

Author Bio

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of several novels with lots of kissing, girl power, and swoony boys. Her books have been featured in several cool places, including on The Today Show, Teen Vogue, NPR Book Review, Buzzfeed, and Seventeen. A full-time dog servant and part-time writer, she makes her home in the foggy mountains of Colorado.

Buy links:

Amazon (affiliate link)

Bookshop (affiliate link)

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Google Play

Review of “Sherwood” by Meagan Spooner

Spooner, Meagan. Sherwood. New York: HarperTeen, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062422316 | 467 pages | YA Historical Fiction

3.5 stars

I don’t remember where I first heard about Meagan Spooner, but I had her previous fairytale retelling on my radar for a while, then subsequently added Sherwood to my TBR upon its release. While I wasn’t super familiar with the Robin Hood legend beyond the basics, I was intrigued by the twist on the story suggested in the blurb.

And it’s a petty good story, particularly in terms of developing Marian as a character in her own right. I love her taking up the mantle of Robin Hood, in light of Robin’s death and the growing political corruption. And the way it develops an understanding of her and Robin’s bond through flashbacks to their courtship was great, and I wish they had been more frequent, espevially when they dwindled in the latter half.

Unfortunately, the other romance between Marian and her other suitor, Guy of Gisborne, put a bad taste in my mouth. I’m not opposed to her finding another romantic partner on principle, but the fact that he is opposed to everything she stands for and the execution of his supposed defection is handled in a completely unconvincing way made the relationship hard to buy into.

It’s a great attempt at writing a feminist, gender-flipped Robin Hood, but it is still a bit flawed. The writing style is engaging, and the plot is fun, centering on a great characterso I feel like it’s still worth giving a shot if this book appeals to you.

Review of “The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan” by Sherry Thomas

Thomas, Sherry. The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan. New York: Tu Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $19.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1620148044 | 348 pages | YA Historical Fiction

4 stars

I was incredibly excited for The Magnolia Sword, in part because Mulan is one of my favorite Disney Princesses, for all the reasons listed in this video and more, and because I loved hearing about the unique journey Sherry Thomas went on finding out about the original tale and the time period in which it’s believed to be set in, which went beyond even her scope of knowledge as a Chinese immigrant, which she documented during the writing process on social media, also touching on briefly in her author’s note.

And ultimately, her work pays off, sending readers on a similar journey to hers with these book as she presents a story not inspired not only by the “original” Mulan, but also capturing the era of fifth century China in all of its political complexity in an easily digestible way that also pays respect to the historical period, while also making it very much her own with her sensuous and evocative writing style.

I loved delving into Mulan as a character and her place in relation to the familial and gender politics, which play a role in the story. It’s great to see her as a genuinely good fighter from the start, in keeping with the original, yet she also feels like a real person with real flaws, which makes her easy to root for.

While the romance wasn’t the main element, I found myself rather underwhelmed by the “princeling” character. His “secrets” do leave an impact for the broader story, but I just didn’t care for him as a romantic interest, and as much as I love a good romance, I think it would be great for Mulan, of all folktale characters, to end up alone in certain iterations…or at least give her a more interesting love interest, if you must have romance.

This is a wonderful retelling of Mulan, for the most part, and one I recommend to all Mulan fans, whether their entry point was the Disney movie, the original retelling, or something else.

Review of “The Lady in the Coppergate Tower” (Steampunk Proper Romance #3) by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. The Lady in the Coppergate Tower. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629725543 | 354 pages | Steampunk Romance

4.5 stars

I happened to find The Lady in the Coppergate Tower on the shelf at my local bookstore peculiarly early, and despite my initial plans to delay reading it until release week, my dissatisfaction with some of the books I had been considering reading got the better of me, and I was looking for a purely fun, exciting read.

And it is indeed that. A Rapunzel retelling with some elements of Dracula, Allen once again provides an original spin on a classic tale. The way she interweaves the elements of the original, with some of the connections only coming to the forefront at the end, was incredibly satisfying. And while the villain is incredibly obvious, even prior to the full reveal of his intentions and identity, due to all the hints dropped over the course of the story, it did not detract from my enjoyment.

The characters and their arcs are also great, particularly Hazel’s. While she is by no means a naive heroine at the beginning of the book, I love that this experience allows her to grow in terms of her understanding of herself, through her discovery of her long-lost twin sister. And while the story begins with Sam often playing the role of savior, I like that, in true Rapunzel fashion, it is she who saves him at the end.

This is a great book on three counts: a book in its own right, as part of Allen’s Steampunk Proper Romance Fairy Tales series (which I hope she plans to continue), and as a truly engaging and original retelling. I would recommend this to other fans of fairy tale retellings.

Review of “Stepsister” by Jennifer Donnelly

Donnelly, Jennifer. Stepsister. New York: Scholastic Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1338268461 | 342 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

I was intrigued at the idea of a story from Cinderella’s stepsister’s perspective that seemed to subvert our expectations that we had from the original tale, in spite it following in a trend of rewriting fairy tales that has been constant for the last several years in various forms of media.

One of the things I appreciated was it went back to the roots of the original stories, combining elements of both the Perrault and Grimm versions, and also added some much-needed historical context to re-examine these characters and flesh them out, to understand the perceived importance of marriage for all the characters, before working to subverting it.

It was also an interesting choice to see Isabelle as the adventurous one, who didn’t really fit the mold of a proper lady, when some of the other progressive adaptations of Cinderella, like Ever After (which I do still love) paint the Cinderella character as the tomboy.

On that note, I really loved the exploration of Ella’s relationship with Isabelle and Octavia, and how things ended up not being a one-sided jealousy after all. While it is a bit cliche, it was nice to see that Ella is flawed and prone to jealousy too, in spite of her outward beauty and appearance to have it all physically, and this complemented Isabelle’s own journey going from wanting to be pretty to finding out what really matters to her.

This is a wonderful retelling that expands and reworks elements of Cinderella in just the right ways. I would recommend this to other fans of fairy tale retellings.

Review of “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge” by Lisa Jensen

Jensen, Lisa.Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018.
Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0763688806 | 337 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

Trigger warning: This book contains a two-page rape scene rather early on in the book.

Normally, I don’t read books with rape scenes, particularly if the rapist is being presented as the hero of the book. However, the promise that the book put a new spin on Beauty and the Beast made the book almost impossible to pass up. And while I was still prepared for the worst, given the variety of reviews, I ended up absolutely adoring the book.

For one, I love how this story adds layers to the Beast’s past and discusses the duality between the selfish aristocrat and unexpectedly kind Beast in a refreshing new way. In a lot of versions of the story, his true crimes as a cruel prince are glossed over or only discussed briefly and in vague terms, but in this version we get a fuller picture of the vile nature of Jean-Loup, providing a contrast with the sweet natured Beast, as if they are truly different people.

I also love the heroine, Lucie. One of the common features of the original tale and many retellings is that the “Beauty” figure is endlessly good-natured, but Lucie is definitely not that. She is a sympathetic character, but she has a dark side, from being an instrument in an act of revenge against Jean-Loup to thinking petty thoughts about Rose on occasion, and even behaving a bit badly to her at one point (although she is unaware of it). However, it is still easy to root for her, due to the fact that she has this growing love for Beast, and longs to do what is best for him (just as he wants to do what is best for her). While it was a little strange to have quite a bit of the book follow the love story between a beast and a candlestick, I somehow loved it.

I would recommend this to fans of darker fairy tale retellings. Due to the aforementioned trigger warning, it is definitely not for the faint of heart. But if you like retellings that not only turn your favorite stories on their head, but add further moral ambiguity to the mix, then I think you would love this book.

Review of “Forest of a Thousand Lanterns” (Rise of the Empress #1) by Julie C. Dao

Dao, Julie. C. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. New York: Philomel Books, 2017. 

Hardcover | $18/99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524738297 | 363 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stara

I discovered Forest of a Thousand Lanterns completely randomly on the shelves, and was taken by the concept: an Evil Queen origin story reimagined in an East Asian-inpsired setting? Yes, please!

And all my expectations were fulfilled and more. I love Xifeng as a character, and how she starts off on the traditional path we often see in love stories where the oppressive parental figure doesn’t approve of how they’re conducting their life, running away from her vindictive and often abusive aunt, Guma. But over the course of the story, as opposed to rising above this, I love how it is shown how Guma and what she wanted for her haunts her, to the point of sending her on a path where she becomes a completely different person, unafraid to get rid of anyone standing in her way. But it feels like a natural progression. with there still being elements about her that we can root for even at the end of the book, even if we don’t necessarily agree with all her actions.

The secondary characters also felt very real as well, and despite it being a fantasy, I could see parallels between the court environment presented in this book and the intrigue- and betrayal-ridden ancient Chinese courts I had read about in similar books, with lots of backstabbing among the women to get to the top, even if initially some might act friendly.

And with the way things ended in this one, setting up for the actual Snow White story in the next book, I can’t wait to see what comes next. I recommend this book to fans of stories with anti-heroines, or to those who, like me, also love twists on fairy tales.