Mini-Reviews: Thorn, Orange, Duke

Intisar Khanani, Thorn

Despite being a princess, Alyrra is a nobody. Abused and neglected by her family, she has nothing to look forward to except a politically strategic marriage. But when she is betrothed to the prince of a neighboring kingdom whom she has never met, she suddenly finds herself embroiled in intrigue and magic. A sorceress curses Alyrra to switch bodies with her lady’s maid, so no one recognizes her as the true princess and she must work as a goose girl instead. But Alyrra is content with her new life — until she realizes that she has a duty to ensure the good governance of her new kingdom, not to mention protect the life of the prince. Overall, I really enjoyed this book! Alyrra is a sympathetic heroine, and I enjoyed watching her slowly, painfully grow throughout the story as she realizes that she can’t avoid her real life forever. There are some pacing issues and some awkward character introductions that had me flipping backwards to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I also wanted some of the secondary characters to be more fleshed out, particularly Kestrin. But I liked the book despite these issues and will plan to read more by Khanani.

Note: This book was originally self-published in 2012, but it was subsequently rereleased by a traditional publisher. According to the author, the rerelease has “gone through four rounds of professional edition . . . the middle of the book was replotted, and the story overall has grown by about 20,000 words.” So, since I read the original self-published version (which was gifted to me years ago), my comments may not be particularly applicable to the version that’s widely available now! I’d actually like to read the rereleased version and see if the issues I complained about have been addressed.

Ellery Queen, The Chinese Orange Mystery

When Ellery Queen accompanies his friend Donald Kirk to a dinner party at Kirk’s hotel suite, he is shocked to discover a murdered man in the waiting room of Kirk’s office. The crime is bizarre for a number of reasons: not only does no one recognize the corpse, but there is absolutely no identifying information to be found anywhere on or around the dead man. Moreover, everything in the room has been turned backwards or upside-down — furniture, art, even the victim’s clothes. As Ellery’s policeman father investigates the case officially, Ellery also does some sleuthing among Kirk’s friends and family, and he eventually discovers the identity of both the victim and the murderer. I enjoyed this mystery and found the solution very clever; I never would have guessed it, but it does make sense and is fairly clued (although the killer’s motive is a little weak). Even the list of dramatis personae drops a few hints! Recommended for fans of Golden Age mysteries — and even though it’s part of a series, it can definitely be read out of order.

Loretta Chase, Ten Things I Hate about the Duke

This second novel in the Difficult Dukes series focuses on Lucius, Duke of Ashmont, whose wild and rakish behavior is a well-known society scandal. He has no interest in reforming his wicked ways, however, until he crosses paths with strong-minded bluestocking Cassandra Pomfret. I’m not a big fan of the “reformed rake” trope, but I liked that Lucius spends most of the book acknowledging his faults and genuinely making an effort to improve himself. He admires Cassandra’s strength and intelligence, and he supports her without trying to take charge or get in her way. I should say that, while this book can technically stand alone, it does refer back to events in A Duke in Shining Armor. I’m looking forward to the third book now, which looks like it will have a marriage-in-trouble plot…unfortunately, it’s not out yet!  

Review: The Storyteller and Her Sisters

Storyteller and Her Sisters, TheCheryl Mahoney, The Storyteller and Her Sisters

This companion novel to The Wanderers centers around storytelling princess Lyra and her eleven sisters. All their lives, the twelve princesses have known about the enchanted forest beneath their father’s castle. The forest’s trees have silver, gold, and diamond branches, enough wealth to buy their kingdom many times over. But the enchantment is an evil one, corrupting anyone not strong enough to resist its whispers of wealth at any cost — including their father. The king insists that his daughters have the power to access the forest, but Lyra and her sisters steadily resist. Eventually, however, they do enter the forest and find something unexpected: twelve princes who need the girls’ help to break a curse on their faraway kingdom. But when the king suspects that his daughters have entered the forest without him, he claims the girls themselves are cursed and offers a reward to any champion who can break the “curse.” Will Lyra and her sisters be able to save the princes before the king discovers what they’re up to and puts a stop to it for good?

I liked this book, which is a well-told but not particularly original retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Not every character is well developed — several princesses and their corresponding princes aren’t in the story at all, apart from a brief mention of their names — but Lyra and her prince, Dastan, are pretty three-dimensional. Lyra at first defines herself solely as “the sister who like stories,” but she eventually comes to realize that she is unique in other ways, too. The romance was cute, and I liked that Lyra is torn between her love for Dastan and her desire to be independent. As I mentioned above, this novel is a companion to The Wanderers; if you’ve read that book, you’ll remember Jasper and Julie’s involvement with this story, but you won’t be missing anything if you haven’t read it. I found the writing style of this book a little clumsy and choppy at first, but as I got further into the story, I didn’t notice the prose as much. I would recommend this book to fairytale lovers, especially those who don’t mind reading books geared toward the younger end of the YA spectrum.

Review: Flat-Out Love

Flat-Out Love by Jessica ParkJessica Park, Flat-Out Love

When Julie Seagle moves to Boston for college and her housing plans fall through, she desperately needs a new place to stay. An old friend of her mother’s, Erin Watkins, offers her free room and board until she can make other arrangements. Julie is immediately drawn to the Watkins family but is concerned about their daughter Celeste, who clearly has serious psychological issues. The closer Julie grows to the Watkinses, particularly their two sons Finn and Matt, the more attached she becomes. But the key to Celeste’s behavior is a devastating secret that may destroy both the Watkins family and Julie’s newfound romance.

I normally don’t read self-published books, but this one received such a positive review from Janicu that I had to track down my own copy. I have to say, I was very impressed with the quality of my edition (pictured): I’m pretty sure I only spotted one typo! As for the book itself, I really enjoyed it. The love story turned out just like I wanted it to. As for the “shocking” secret, I guessed it long before Julie did, but I was happy to wait for her to discover it for herself. Also, I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed Celeste’s character. Normally precocious children, whether fictional or real, irritate me to no end. In this case, though, I genuinely found her amusing. Overall, I really liked this book and will be interested to see what Jessica Park may write in the future.