Category: Coming of Age

Jul 20

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Coming of Age, Post-Apocalyptic Fiction 12

Happy Monday Bookworms!

I know Mondays are a total bummer, but they’re only 24 hours. Every day is, in fact, a gloriously predictable 24 hours. Unless, of course, you live in the world of my latest read, The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. Ever wished there were more hours in a day? Better be careful what you wish for, Bookworms, because in this book, the Earth, for reasons unknown, decides to slow down. An extra hour in the day, then more and more until the days stretch out so long that everyone’s sleep schedule is completely wacky, animals start going extinct, and food ceases to grow reliably. If you ever run across a Monkey’s Paw, you now know exactly what will happen if you wish for more hours in the day. DON’T DO IT!

theageofmiraclesJulia is eleven years old when the Earth’s rotation begins to slow. She tells the story of worldwide catastrophe through the eyes of a middle school girl. Because sixth grade isn’t hard enough, let’s throw an apocalypse in there, right?! I really dug this book, you guys. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve come across while scoping out this book is the fact that despite global calamity, Julia spent lot of time and energy worrying about middle school drama. To the critics, I say, FIE! (I’ve always wanted to say “fie.” I’m going to do it again. FIE!)

Julia is ELEVEN. And her middle school experience, though in the midst of extraordinary circumstances, is spot on. It hit me in the feels, you guys. The friendships and cliques and crushes and pressures and awkwardness took me back in a big way. Sure, I didn’t spend my sixth grade year watching the world slowly deconstruct, but kids are kids. Eleven is awfully young to grasp the hugeness of a worldwide event. How can you concentrate on the end of the world when that cute boy on the skateboard wants to hold your hand? Your eleven year old self knows it’s true.

Other than the fact that I now have an irrational fear of the Earth spontaneously slowing its rotation, The Age of Miracles was full of win for me. If apocalypse novels are your jam and you’ve ever been through middle school, this book is for you.

Let’s chat, Bookworms. I’m kind of fixated on this Monkey’s Paw thing now, which if you’re not familiar with it, is a short story involving wish granting that always turns out hideously. Have you ever wished there were more hours in the day? Do you now feel like you’re tempting fate because of it? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jul 16

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Classics, Coming of Age 13

Howdy Bookworms!

You know those lists? The ones that float around on the internet that tell you which books you ought to have read already and how you suck at life for not meeting an arbitrary milestone? Perhaps you just kind of ignore the smug implications of such lists. I wish I could. List bullies. Anyway. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is one of the books that often pops up on said lists, and I finally got around to reading it. Finally. It sat on my Kindle unread for like 2 years. Oops.

icapturethecastleI Capture the Castle is written from the perspective of a 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain. In 1934, she and her family have fallen on hard times. Her father, once a respected novelist, has the world’s worst writer’s block and as a result, the family is destitute. Ironically, they reside in an actual castle in the English countryside. It’s a dilapidated, leaky affair, but it’s got a moat! Broke, but not without eccentricities, the Mortmain clan’s adventures are recorded in Cassandra’s journals.

I fully expected to love this book. I mean, come on. A ruined castle with a moat full of quirky Brits and a dog named Heloise? You can understand where I’d be under that impression. Unfortunately, I had some issues with it. More specifically, I had some issues with the female characters. Just… Hear me out. (This is probably kind of spoilery, so read at your own risk.)

First, Topaz. She’s married to Cassandra’s father and models for artists. She’s a pretty great character, all artsy and glamorous even while half-starving in those crumbling walls. The problem? She has bounced from starving artist to starving artist seeing herself as a muse of sorts… And she FULLY EXPECTS TO BE ABUSED. Physically, emotionally, whatever. She just assumes it’s part of the deal. Because artsy types can’t help it?! Mortmain isn’t a monster or anything, but she’s almost disappointed by his lack of vitriolic mood swings. Unhealthy, yo.

Second on the list is Cassandra’s beautiful sister, Rose. Girl’s a gold digger, hardcore. Unfortunately, she’d expected by society and her family to marry for love and nothing more. Love is all well and good when you’re not literally starving in a moldering castle. It’s not like she had a whole heck of a lot of options. Frivilous and flighty, I didn’t much care for Rose, but I couldn’t fault her for making a cash grab. Homegirl’s gotta eat.

Finally. Cassandra. I know you’re 17. But come on. Let’s talk about poor romantic decisions, shall we? Who should one get hung up on? The fellow who is completely unavailable for very good reasons, OR the extraordinarily handsome fellow whose kind generosity in the face of poverty is equaled only by his adoration of you? WTF, Cassandra? Get a grip girl. And make it a grip on Stephen. Swoon.

Good news and bad news, I guess. I can now check another box off on my next judgmental internet quiz, but I didn’t love it. Ah well. Not every book works for everyone. Talk to me Bookworms. How many of you have read I Capture the CastleDid you love it? Hate it? Or are you with me in Ambivalent-ville?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. I’m considering installing a moat in my yard, so, you could help me live the dream.*

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Apr 30

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Audio Books, Coming of Age, Young Adult Fiction 23

Good Day Bookworms,

It’s always a good day when you’ve got an audio book to hand, I think. I don’t typically read/listen to a whole lot of YA literature, but several years ago I read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and it was intense and amazing and fabulous. When I saw that another of her books was on sale via Audible, I snatched it up. Good books, good deals: my vices are few but powerful. And thus, I embarked on my listening journey with The Impossible Knife of Memory.

impossibleknifeOoooh you guys. Laurie Halse Anderson doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff, no siree. The Impossible Knife of Memory tells Hayley Kincain’s story. She’s a teenage girl living alone with her father, an Iraq war veteran suffering from PTSD. They’ve been on the road the last few years, trucking and home schooling, when Andy (AKA Dad) decides they ought to settle down in his hometown so that Hayley can have a more “normal” life.

Hayley’s transition into “normal” isn’t without some bumps in the road, though she does meet a hottie named Finn who has his own bag o’ secrets. Because, you know. It’s not enough to be a teenager and deal with hormones and school and boys. Dealing with the fallout from major psychological trauma on top of all that? It’s enough to make me want to jump through the pages and give the girl a hug!

Thank heaven for Laurie Halse Anderson. I mean, YA literature needs voices that tackle life’s difficult issues. It’s not that I don’t love me some YA dystopian novels, but someone’s got to talk about REAL things. Katniss rocks, but realistically? Nobody’s putting kids in an arena and making them fight to the death. However, there are a lot of REAL veterans out there that are REALLY struggling and a lot of them have REAL families. A book like this can do actual good. Teens going through similar challenges will read it and feel less alone. Teens who aren’t will gain some empathy. Plus, teens reading books? Yep. That right there is a win-win-win situation.

Talk to me Bookworms. Are any of you big into the YA scene? Are there more authors who take on these types of topics, or shall I simply crown Laurie Halse Anderson the queen of awesome? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Mar 19

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Coming of Age, Humor 5

Oi Bookworms!

I am always up for a coming of age novel set in the 1990s with a dollop of rock-n-roll. Seriously, who wouldn’t be? That’s the good stuff, right there, which is why I was rather gleeful when I snagged How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran on sale. (Kindle Daily Deals are my kryptonite.)

howtobuildagirlHow to Build a Girl is the story of Johanna Morrigan. Born into poverty in Wolverhampton, England, she posesses the sort of teenage awkwardness that all but the very lucky deal with at some point. Unfortunately, part of her awkwardness is displayed prominently (and weirdly) on local television, so she decides she’s had ENOUGH of being Johanna and constructs a new identity. Enter “Dolly Wilde,” the hard partying rock-n-roll journalist and resident badass of the London indie rock scene. Between the smoking, drinking, sexcapades, and the brutal reviews she provides for her magazine, Johanna begins to realize that the persona she built may not be the person she wants to be at all.

This book is a no-holds-barred teenage crazy fest. Those that are upset by casual drug usage, dysfunctional family situations, sexual encounters, and instances of self-love, be warned. If you’re not put off by those things, How to Build a Girl is an excellent and thought-provoking coming-of-age story. Johanna’s encounter with The Smashing Pumpkins about did me in with cringe-laughter. That’s a thing, right? Cringe-laughter?

What REALLY hit home for me, though, was Johanna’s writing. She was so intently focused on making a name for herself and getting a reaction that she brutally eviscerated countless bands. As someone who “reviews” books in what I hope is an amusing manner, I found this especially poignant. In reviewing, being nasty is easy. Johanna had the disadvantage (or privilege?) of writing in an era where one could not hide behind the internet. A well placed cocktail to the face led her to the realization that she enjoyed being enthusiastic about what she loved more than being casually cruel about what she didn’t. Now, I will firmly stand behind a person’s right to say what they feel, and there is ABSOLUTELY a place for artistic criticism and personal taste. I’ll tell you what I don’t like and why, but I’m unlikely to suggest that anyone be “buried up to their necks in all their unsold records, then stoned to death by angry peasants.” (That was pure “Dolly Wilde.” Amusing, but so, so mean.)

Talk to me, Bookworms. Do you ever feel that comedy crosses a line into cruelty, or do you think everyone is just too dang sensitive these days?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Oct 27

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

Coming of Age 19

Greetings Bookworms!

Remember high school? I was an angsty teenager and I wouldn’t consider high school my “glory days” by any means. (Have I mentioned the ginormously baggy pants I used to wear?) That said, even when I was in high school, I managed to have fun sometimes. Sure I was rather morose and had questionable taste in cosmetics (I legit glued craft glitter to my eyelids using chapstick), but I certainly didn’t suffer any major trauma. Maybe that’s why Anthony Breznican’s novel Brutal Youth hit me like a ton of bricks. *I received a complimentary copy of this book in conjunction with a blog tour coordinated by Be Books Consulting.*

Brutal Youth CoverBrutal Youth focuses on the lives of three freshman enrolled in a troubled working class Catholic high school. The school has a long standing policy of hazing where the senior class torments the freshmen. Think Dazed and Confused, minus the bell-bottoms and the good-natured untertones. It’s intense.

Peter Davidek finds himself thrown in the tumult of St. Michaels and soon strikes up a friendship with fellow freshmen Noah Stein and Lorelei Paskal. The trio clings together in order to survive. With a culture of systemic bullying and corrupt leadership St. Michael’s is more like the seventh level of hell than the haven of godliness to which the devout parents imagined they were sending their children.

Bullying is such a hot topic these days. Though Brutal Youth was set in the 90s, I was shocked at the idea that a high school would condone any type of a hazing ritual, let alone a full year of cruelty. It’s a work of fiction, but there’s a disturbing truth about it as well. The environment in St. Michael’s is a psychological war zone, the strain of which puts friendships, love, and faith to the test.

Brutal Youth is not an easy read, but it is worthwhile. Of course, if you have kids about to start high school and don’t want to turn into a paranoid mess you should probably hold off on reading this one. (My mom used to watch 20/20 and become convinced that I was into a new dangerous fad every Friday night. She seemed to overlook the fact that I spent so much time in my bedroom brooding over boys who didn’t like me. Where would I have found the TIME for such illicit activities?) If, however, you don’t mind walking on the dark side, Brutal Youth gives you humanity in all its twisted broken glory.

Talk to me Bookworms. What’s the last truly disturbing book you read?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

 

 

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Oct 13

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

Coming of Age, Psychological 7

Greetings Bookworms!

You may have noticed over the past month or so that I’ve been on a little bit of a Native American author kick. Since it’s been such an awesome ride so far, when I was contacted by Open Road Media to check out Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson, I jumped at the offer. *I received a complimentary copy of this book for review consideration. This in no way reflects opinions expressed on the novel.*

monkeybeachMonkey Beach centers on a Native American family in British Columbia. (I can still say Native American when referring to native peoples who reside in what is now Canada, right? I mean, the US kind of bogarted the term “American” despite the fact that there are TWO FULL CONTINENTS who have a claim on it.)

20 year old Lisamarie Hill had a crazy childhood. She finds herself reliving her life’s journey in a speedboat while she travels to meet her parents in the place her brother Jimmy went missing (and is presumed drowned.) The Haisla community Lisa hails from has seen its own share of trials including alcoholism, poverty, domestic violence. and untimely deaths. Lisa’s own predicament is complicated by the fact that she deals not only in the physical world, but the spiritual world as well. She doesn’t understand her “gift” and struggles to reconcile Haisla traditions with contemporary Canadian life.

This book was pretty intense. I mean, what IS IT with the Native American authors bringing the pain? Travelling back and forth between Lisa’s past and present was a bit jarring, but I think it stylistically served to demonstrate how scattered Lisa is feeling while reeling from yet another potential loss. Robinson also has some mad skills with describing scenery. I felt like I could see the beaches and channels and forests described in this novel. Plus the cuisine? I mean, I can’t say that I’m aching to try oolichan grease, but you’ve got to respect a writer who can describe fish grease, soapberry foam, and the intricacies of blueberry picking and make it INTERESTING. Respect.

If you’re looking for a book to break your heart and teach you more than you ever really wanted to know about fish grease, Monkey Beach is where it’s at!

Talk to me Bookworms! What’s the last gut-wrenching book you tackled?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Oct 06

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Audio Books, Coming of Age, Fantasy 25

Pick a card, any card, Bookworms!

Actually, don’t. I would be a hot steaming pile of horrible if I tried to do card tricks. Depressing though it is that I lack actual magical powers as well as the manual dexterity to perform sleight of hand, I still dig books about magic. If it happens to be October, all the better! I listened to the audio version of The Magicians by Lev Grossman to help get me in the spirit of the Halloween season.

The MagiciansQuentin Coldwater is a genius, but at 17, he’s got a serious case of the mopies (I can relate, yo!) He’s obsessed with a series of novels about children who visit a magical land (think Narnia), but he tries to play it off as nostalgia. Quentin is minding his own teen angst business when he finds himself being tested for admittance into a legit, elite, magical college. That’s right. It’s sort of like Hogwarts for the older set. A little less whimsy, a lot more booze, sex, and apathy.

The Magicians had the same darkly mystical tone as The Night Circus (review) which was a delightful surprise. The book was darker than I had anticipated, and it dabbled in some heavy philosophy. When you have immense magical power, the fulfilling stuff of life no longer presents a challenge. Grossman’s magical world doesn’t have the structure that Rowling’s does- magicians are left to their own devices wandering the ordinary world. A few magicians will go in for charitable endeavors or research, but mostly they wander aimlessly searching for meaning, as they have no need for careers to provide them with money or purpose. It was this thoughtful analysis of the human condition that had me loving the first 2/3 of this book.

Then? Grossman went full Narnia on me. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the book now. I’m a little less excited to finish the series, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it. There are a lot of loose ends I would like to have wrapped up, so I’ll probably get to it eventually. It was a mixed bag for me, but if you liked The Chronicles of Narnia, The Night Circus, and His Dark Materials , it’s definitely worth sampling.

One of the major reasons I related to Quentin and his longing for a fictional world is my own (perhaps unhealthy) obsession with Harry Potter. Is there another literary world you desperately wish you could escape into?

*If You make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. Like magic. Only not.*

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Sep 12

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: A Fellowship of the Worms SHOCKER

Book Club, Coming of Age 27

How Now, Bookworms?

smarty-mcwordypants-199x300 The Fellowship of the Worms is back in session! As you know, this month we read We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. It occurred to me that this book title would have been equally appropriate had it been by G. Lockhart, but I can only assume he’s still chilling in St. Mungo’s thanks to his own treachery. Way to be an ass, GILDEROY. WARNING: We will be discussing the WHOLE book. This will no doubt include SPOILERS. If you did not read the book and would like to participate, pick up a copy of We Were Liars and give it a read. This post will be here waiting for you when you finish. Now that the particulars are out of the way, I’ll remind you of the premise here. I’ll pose questions in bold and answer them in regular type.  If you don’t want your opinions influenced by my rantings, stick to the bold first. Feel free to answer them in the comments, or if you’re so inclined, on your own blog. A linky list will be provided at the end of this post for anybody who has reviewed We Were Liars on their own blog, even if it has nothing to do with the following discussion questions. Don’t be shy, please link up! Oh, and since the whole hook of this book is a surprise ending, please remember to issue spoiler alerts to your readers if appropriate.

1. Normally I attempt to work through these questions chronologically, but I simply can’t help myself. Was anybody well and truly shocked by the revelation at the end of this book? Knock, knock. Who’s there? Disappointment. Seriously, you guys. I wrote myself a note when I was 20% of the way through this book saying “the twist had better not be that the other three liars are dead, because that’s not much of a shocker.” I feel like I played a big part in my own disappointment though. If I hadn’t been on such high alert to suss out the shocking ending, maybe I wouldn’t have seen it coming. I mean, I probably still would have, because even hands-off parents don’t allow teenagers a house to themselves with zero family interaction on vacation, particularly if one of the teenagers has recently suffered a traumatic brain injury. Plus, even the most self absorbed youth respond to the emails and texts of their severely injured friends/cousins. Nobody’s that big a jerk. Maybe I should blame pop culture though… I’ve seen The Sixth Sense, and am now abnormally attuned to we were liarsthe details that might give away the secretly dead.

2. That said, do you think Cadence was lying about interacting with dead people? Having full on hallucinations? Or, you know, were there legit ghosts hanging around? I think she was hallucinating. Cadence was troubled, no doubt, and the Sinclairs were a hot mess, but I don’t think she was manipulative enough to have played off memory loss the way she did. And, despite my willingness to embrace the paranormal, I don’t think Cadence was being haunted. Brains do weird things when they experience trauma. Score one for hallucinations.

3. Despite the tragic end of the crime perpetrated by the Liars, did they in any way succeed in their goals? That’s tough to say. I mean, they wanted the family to quit fighting about money. They wanted their grandfather to quit pitting his daughters against each other. In some ways I suppose they were successful, since the Sinclairs were hit with a mega-dose of perspective when they compared the loss of their children to the money squabbling they’d been engaged in. Still though, they didn’t magically become the Cleavers or anything. Moral of the story? Arson is never the answer, kids!

4. Did you like the allusions to King Lear, Wuthering Heights (review), and fairy tales, or did you find them distracting? I love a good literary allusion. When Gat started explaining how he was Heathcliff to Cadence, I was all “YES! Spot on!” He also went on to talk about how Catherine and Heathcliff were horrible characters and in no way an appropriate model for romance (okay, maybe I’m projecting a little…) at which point I wanted to high five him. It made a nice change to want to high five a character instead of punch him. Way to go, Gat.

5. The Sinclairs own their own island and have named all the houses on it. Clairmont, Windmere, Red Gate, and (gag) Cuddledown. Would you ever name your home? I am neither especially wealthy nor especially pretentious, but I have been calling my home “The Gingerbread House” since the day we bought it. Of course, I’m also the sort of person who names cars, house plants, and the occasional penguin statue, so I’m not sure I’m a great case study. Seriously though, at least it’s not “Cuddledown.” I’m of the opinion “cuddle” should only be a part of something’s name if that thing is inherently fluffy. Or especially unfluffy, because irony is fun.

Talk to me Bookworms! What did y’all think of We Were Liars? If you’ve reviewed We Were Liars on your own blog or have answered the discussion questions, please link up! 

[inlinkz_linkup id=442909]

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission. Proceeds will be put toward the “buy Katie an island” fund.*

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Mar 26

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Book Club, Coming of Age, Psychological 24

Hidey Ho, Bookworms!

Remember last month when I got all philosophical about choosing a book for book club because last month’s selection in my neighborhood book club (cleverly named My Neighbors Are Better Than Your Neighbors) hit a sour note? You can click HERE if you’re interested. But you’ll be happy to know that this month’s selection worked out infinitely better for me. This month we read Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight, and WHOA.

ReconstructingAmelia hc c.JPGKate is a high powered lawyer living with her teenage daughter Amelia in Brooklyn. Kate has raised Amelia on her own since unexpectedly finding herself pregnant in law school. Kate has done her best to balance her career and single motherhood, though she feels guilty much of the time that her career has won out. When she’s called to Amelia’s hoity toity private school in the middle of an important meeting, she is frustrated. The situation that awaits her is more tragic than she ever imagined. Amelia fell to her death from the school’s roof.

Because dealing with the death of your child isn’t horrifying enough, Kate begins to get mysterious text messages saying that her daughter didn’t commit suicide. Kate embarks on a journey into investigating what was going on in her daughter’s life leading up to her untimely demise and what she uncovers is a whole lot more than she bargained for.

The hoity toity private school is a hotbed of elitism, secret societies, bullying, and all kinds of psychological warfare. Reading about this school, I have never been so grateful to have been raised thoroughly middle class. I went to high school where nobody gave a crap. Seriously. Heck, my school could barely even muster the energy for a traditional social hierarchy, never mind an elaborate set of secret social clubs.

As you probably know, psychological thrillers and murder mysteries aren’t typically my jam, but the addition of the scandalous school elements, really sucked me in. Two thumbs up, kiddos!

Alright Bookworms, I’ve got to know. Was your high school experience ANYTHING like what you’ve seen in pop culture?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Feb 20

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

Coming of Age, Fairy Tales, Friendship 12

Dearest Bookworms,

Once upon a time, a publisher emailed me with an offer to review a fractured fairy tale. While Beauty Slept
by Elizabeth Blackwell tells a less Disney-fied version of the classic Sleeping Beauty tale. *I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was threatened with zero poisoned spinning wheels.*

while beauty slept

The story begins with a very old Elise telling the story of her life to her great-granddaughter. Elise started her life being raised on a farm in an unspecified medieval-ish time. Her upbringing is poverty stricken- she’s no stranger to hunger… Or to sharing her bed with younger siblings. One day, THE POX attacks. Blackwell doesn’t specify what type of pox it is, so I googled… I think it’s supposed to be smallpox, but I’m not entirely sure if smallpox can theoretically spread from cows to pigs to humans… (Mira Grant and her scientific explanations have RUINED me for other authors’ fictional plagues… Vague poxes will no longer suffice!)

Anyway. The plague wipes out most of Elise’s family and at 14, she takes a position as a servant in the local castle. That’s what you do, if you’re lucky. At least you get fed at regular intervals. If you’re unlucky, you get stuck hanging out with poxy pigs, and nobody’s got time for that! While at court, Elise rises quickly. She’s soon attending to the queen and later the princess, all under the shadow of some seriously bad blood between the royal family and the king’s wicked, wicked aunt, Millicent.

I enjoyed the grittier version of Sleeping Beauty. I love a good plague, and I like when fairy tale re-tellings don’t rely exclusively on a Prince Charming. Elise, Queen Lenore, and Millicent are no shrinking violets. Strong female characters rock. What didn’t rock quite so much for me was the abundance of insta-love. I know it’s a fairy tale, but sheesh. Love at first sight right and left. sleepingbeauty

I also could have done without the really heavy handed foreshadowing. It’s hard to be surprised by a turn of events or a personality change in a critical character when you’re continuously smacked over the head with phrases like, “if only I’d known what she would become” or “it was the last time they would be happy,” etc. I wanted to shake old lady Elise and tell her to get on with the story already! I think you have to be a broody Victorian to make that sort of thing work.

Overall, this book was alright for me. Nothing to prick my finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel over, but a pleasant enough way to pass the time. If fairy tales are your thing, I recommend taking a trip down fairy tale lane with While Beauty Slept

Tell me, Bookworms. What’s your favorite fairy tale?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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