Unlove and Marriage… || Cruel Beauty Review

Initial Thoughts:

Honestly, this book was okay at best. There was so much talk about the Hermetic arts but it showed almost NOTHING useful about it. There was a lot of wishy washy magic which I had put aside and tolerated up until the solution at the end was to BLATANTLY REVERSE TIME to when EVERYTHING wasn’t effed up. That’s when I lost my shit.


CRUEL BEAUTY

by Rosamund Hodge
Balzer + Bray, January 2014
YA fantasy, fairy tale retelling
Rated: 2.5 / 5 cookies

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

The Good Bits

For podcasting reasons, I’ve been in a Beauty and the Beast retelling splurge. After I read A Court of Thorns and Roses, I’d scoured reviews just to see what people were writing about regarding that particular fairy tale retelling compared to some others. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge was a common comparison and mention in many of the reviews, so yes, I was very intrigued by the book itself.

Note, I did initially think that Cruel Beauty was also new adult, so my expectation on the romance was a bit…more.

Cruel Beauty started off well enough. You have a dystopian Greek-inspired world, where a Gentle Lord rules a separated and isolated nation of Arcadia. You have an angry girl who is destined to marry said despicable Gentle Lord. Who, by the way, she has been trained to kill from birth.

Pretty damned compelling stuff, if I do say so myself.

And for the most part? It was pretty cool, the premise. I expected things to go wrong the minute Nyx would be married to Ignifex, and it being a rather close retelling to its original source (and the fact that the book jacket summaries SPECIFICALLY FOCUS ON THIS), I knew general YA love hijinks was going to happen. What I overestimated was the amount of chemistry that these two lovebirds were going to have.

As a BatB retelling, though, it was pretty spot on, including the lovely library, a magical ring with a rose emblem on it, and a foreshadowing of the dream-prince/Beast who shows up as a shadow servant of the mysterious Ignifex.

Alright, so Ignifex isn’t a Beast in a purely physical sense (which seems to happen in a friggin’ YA novel)–since he’s supposed to be Rhysand-level kinds of sexy, with black feathery angel wings in the package–but he is a monster in the emotional sense. He keeps Arcadia trapped and rules through his shadow demons. He also is the Gentle Lord, a dealer of wishes and seemingly unfair bargains. That being said, obviously there’s a chink in his armor, and there is something that explains why he’s the Gentle Lord in the first place.

I will admit that’s the best bits of the story. Well, along with the fact that Ignifex is a pretty amusing villain, especially when he knows exactly why Nyx is there and lets her roam the castle anyway.

The Triggery Bits

Unfortunately, cat-and-dog conversation and dystopian fantasy backdrop were pretty much the only things I liked about the story. I wanted to like the rest, but there were several things that drove me nuts. Her family being one of them.

There was no redeeming quality in any of her family members, and I was deeply disappointed in Nyx’s twin sister, Astraea. What could have been a deeply interesting character turned out to be a bland, tropey, vengeance-filled sister with added naivety, which was quite possibly the worst combination of traits in a character EVER. I couldn’t even pick a limelight lady from the bunch of females in the group, because honestly, Nyx was the most interesting female, and she’s already got enough limelight.

On top of that, the magic in the book was frustrating. In the attempt to keep with the timeline and mythological background, the magic used for Nyx and the Resurgandi lies in the Hermetic arts. My problem with this is that there was a lot of talk about Hermetic arts, along with symbols and rules, but nothing ever came out of this type of magic. At the end of the day, the other magic that showed up in Cruel Beauty was something that didn’t have any rules and wasn’t explained all that much. By the end of it, it was all a Deus Ex kind of thing.

AND WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT TIME-FUCKERY AT THE END?

Let’s all just retcon the entire story because the characters are making more mistakes than the plot can handle, and soooo we’ll give them all a clean slate. This was quite possibly the worst copout ever. What was wrong with having characters live through the mistakes they made and try to make up for them? What was wrong with trying to break out of their dark, worldly prison as opposed to having all their experiences rewritten to a happier one? Ugh, this was the most upsetting bit.

But I won’t rant anymore. Otherwise I could go on and on.

2.5 out of 5 cookies! I wish I could have loved this book more…sigh.

How to Survive Cotillion as a Paladin || Rebel Belle Review

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Initial Thoughts

A fun romp of YA fantasy in the Southern U. S. of A. I think it was made even better with the narrator’s lovely accent, though honestly Harper Price pretty much had me after killing a man with a stiletto.

REBEL BELLE

by Rachel Hawkins
Putnam Juvenile, April 2014
YA urban fantasy
Rated: 3 / 5 cookies

rebelbelleHarper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper’s destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts.

Just when life can’t get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she’s charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper’s least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him—and discovers that David’s own fate could very well be to destroy Earth.

Harper Price Has It Made

I don’t think I’d ever seen such a well-put together young woman in high school, let alone the fact that she’s only a junior and already a member–and head–of a gazillion clubs, has the “perfect” boyfriend, a best friend who’s practically awesome, and a bright future ahead of her. Not just because she’s a head cheerleader and the homecoming queen, nope. She’s also pretty darn smart and can word-spar with the academy’s most stalwart journalist.

In short, she’s the type of character you can throw into the Mary Sue bucket.

BUT. And yes, there is a but.

The fact is that she is a Mary Sue and is slowly unraveling at the pressures of her newly begotten Paladin powers. Eventually she ends up losing Aaron Samuels a boyfriend, her friends all think she’s gone off the deep end (so there goes her army of skanks), and her principal, parents, and–in some degree–cotillion matron (or trainer…or whatever they’re called) think she’s lost her shit and going the way of the tragic statistic (which might or might not take care of her “hot body”). At that point she becomes a little more interesting and a little less Mary Sue-ish.

Oh yes. I just went the Mean Girls route.

I will admit, however, that even as a Mary Sue, I kind of liked Harper Jean Price. She’s the epitome of Southern charm and upbringing, valuing family and tradition foremost in her life. The most important event in her life at Rebel Belle is pretty much cotillion, and heck, she’s been preparing for that since she was a little girl.

I do love that I search “cotillion” and it gives me Gossip Girl results. I think Google knows my Netflix history very well…

Up until she gets snogged in the ladies’ bathroom by a janitor. Up until she gets attacked by her history teacher in the same bathroom. Up until she realizes she can fight back. And then she kills the man with a shoe, and honestly, I was already done by that point. Laughing, I tell ya. It was diabolical. It was effing perfect. The fact that the Oracle pretty much sets the cotillion as the “day of doom,” so to speak makes the whole situation with Harper even more insane. How she manages to keep her shit together until cotillion is beyond me. I guess that’s why I may need a few lessons from her.

Now, that is not to say that the book was something I would have picked up if not for the audiobook. The Southern accent did help, and I kept grinning when I heard the narrator talk with Harper’s story voice. It was pretty cool. Honestly I probably wouldn’t have been as entertained if I’d read the text, only because while the first few chapters were a lot of fun, things start getting a bit boring after things got explained to Harper. There’s a lull in the middle of the book where I just wanted cotillion to be over with already, just so we’d get to the end.

And er, I’m not quite sure how the hookup happened, really. It seemed to move too slowly at certain points, and then BAM. Suddenly Harper and her new beau are snogging. It was weird.

All the same, Harper Jean Price did teach me a few things along the way.

How to Survive to Cotillion as a Paladin

  • Learn martial arts. Mostly, learn martial arts whilst wearing a kickass white dress.
  • Don’t drink the punch at cotillion, especially when you know there’s an alchemist on the loose. Plus, it’s not very good anyway.
  • That editor in the newspaper is worth having as a friend and not an enemy. He might even be a good snog if you’re into the whole geek thing (I know I am).
  • Do not throw an evil, deranged mage into the back of the car and expect her to stay there the next time you turn around. She’s a mage, chances are she’ll know how to Apparate.
  • Staplers can be brandished as weapons, but it’s just embarrassing, so don’t bother.
  • Just tell your BFF everything. It’ll save some time later on when shit hits the fan.
  • Need to escape a tail? Drive your car into a fence.
  • Most importantly, don’t forget your damn lip gloss.

So yeah. Rebel Belle was a fun and light read, though pretty slow in the middle with a set of Mean Girl-esque characters that I just didn’t care about. (I mean, honestly, Mary Beth, control yourself.) All in all, I’d recommend it as an audiobook, if only to hear the narrator’s lovely Southern drawl.

3 out of 5 cookies!


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Mini-Reviews: Fairest, Deadman Wonderland

I’m slowly making my way through the manga I’ve borrowed from the library, so here’s another one added in! Also, a mini-review of Fairest, which kind of goes between Marissa Meyer’s Cress and Winter in The Lunar Chronicles. That said, I read Fairest after finishing Winter, so not much was a big surprise (unless you count the stuff with Evret Hayle).

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Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Psychics and ley lines and Welsh mythology and rich, private school boys oh my!

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Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that this book was just setting things up for later books, I would have rated it much higher.


THE RAVEN BOYS

by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Inc., July 2013
YA urban fantasy
Series?: Yes (#1 of The Raven Cycle)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 409
Rated: cookieratingcookieratingcookieratingcookiehalfrating / 5 cookies

ravenboysEvery year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them — not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all — family money, good looks, devoted friends — but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

Gifly Thoughts

My initial impression of this book pretty much went along the lines of: “So wait. Girl meets four rich boys and their fates are intertwined in the big picture of things.” Which then made me think of a  favorite J-Drama of mine (Hana Yori Dango) which also consists of one independently-minded girl and four seemingly entitled private school boys. In the case of The Raven Boys, its version of the F4 is more concerned about bigger things than inheritance issues (though that still is a small problem for some) and petty school-bullying tactics. Like magic. And finding magic. And waking up a legendary king for said king to grant one boon.

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Because the Raven Boys and Blue totally have this much swag.

Suddenly the rest of the book itself just crashed into the world of magically awesome.

There were a lot of different plot points happening in the book which sometimes threw me off because I wasn’t sure just which one was the major, “big picture” plot. First off, there’s Blue Sargent, who was told at a very young age that she would kill her true love with a kiss. Blue’s not the type of girl who would easily be put off with such a vaguely predicted future, but she does live with a group of women–her mother and psychic “aunts”–who’ve pretty much confirmed the same prediction throughout the board. And unlike the faux psychics littering the modern world, Blue’s aunts happen to be right.

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Which brings about her avoidance of any boy in general, especially the ones who attend the local prep school, Aglionby. Aglionby boys–raven boys–are apparently trouble. Not to mention self-entitled, snooty, and overly blase about what they’re spending their inheritances on. Certainly this is what Blue’s first impressions are over seeing them at work. And she doesn’t much change her mind even when one of the raven boys has his eyes riveted to her.

But this is really only skimming the top part of the big picture. The raven boys themselves encompass the larger portion of the book.

Which brings me to the R4 (haha, because HYD-play going on here). While much of the POV happening in the book is Blue’s, there’s still a bunch of other characters that are highlighted within. Adam and Gansey being two of them (though I do believe Ronan also features his POV in one scene or other). While Blue provides a more magically-attuned view of ley lines and whatnot, it is the R4 perspective that dragged me in. They were complex characters, all of whom were dealing with a great deal of other things besides finding the magic in the ley lines. Ronan, for instance, struggles with what’s happened to him in the past, all the while lashing out to everyone, even his friends. Adam suffers in his own, prideful way, a scholarship boy living in a tragic familial situation.

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My favorite of the POVs would definitely have to be Adam, mostly because I really felt for him in the writing. Ronan was a close second, because I feel like he’s got more potential for a lot of things in the future books. That ending “revelation” certainly proves so, and I was pretty much stoked for this ability of his. I’m still reserving my judgment on Gansey, because I think he does have moments where he’s a bit adorable, but other times I’m feeling “meh” towards him.

Still, Stiefvater wrote quite a bit of magic in the pages, but mostly they were tidbits here and there. For the most part, the story had been largely driven through character decisions that took place in the past, and then, eventually, the present. Or, erm, the future, because there was some weird time-traveling phenomenon going on at some point.

The end of the book did leave me wanting more, though. I still had several questions gone unanswered (What about Declan’s current girlfriend? Does she become more prominent later on? And don’t even get me started on the questions those last chapters brought up!). There was also a great deal of open-ended problems that needed to be resolved; in fact, the one plot point that had closed off was something minor and more attached to the past than the present, IMO.

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As an introductory book to the rest of The Raven Cycle series, The Raven Boys made fantastic work of character introductions and motivations. I’d love to read more about the characters in the story, especially more of the R4 and Blue and her slightly crazy household. I do want to know how Blue’s going to end up killing her “true love,” though I’m not sure at this rate whether I’m feeling the whole Gansey-Blue thing that’s supposed to be happening. Maybe that’s the point, and their romance is as slow-burn (and slightly amusing) as Makino and Domyouji.

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Now I just want to watch this series again, lmao!

3.5 out of 5 cookies! I do want to read the rest of the series in any case.


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Adam happens to be my favorite raven boy. Who’s yours?

Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

I dread typing this review because this means I have to move on and focus on a different series after this.

(Which is saying a lot, considering I’ve started a number of weighty books lately but have yet the urge to finish any of them, no matter how good they’ve been getting so far.)

(Which is to say that I’m dreadfully close to another book hangover.)

It also doesn’t help that Winter is the end of a very satisfying YA scifi series.

Note: Winter is the fourth and conclusive novel of The Lunar Chronicles series, and as much as I’m trying NOT to post any complete spoilers, this review is armed to the teeth with quotes, character squeeness, and rebels. In the event of low mental constitution and a penchant to avoid any spoilers whatsoever, DO NOT attempt to engage.


WINTER

by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends, 2015
Science fiction, fairy tale, YA
Rated: cookieratingcookieratingcookieratingcookieratingcookierating / 5 cookies

winterPrincess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

Jumbly Thoughts

At the rate Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter were going, I’d have been surprised if they didn’t manage to seize their happily ever afters in the way of amassing an army and kicking thaumaturge ass with a couple weapons (mental and physical), a portscreen, and a titanium limb or two.

And at the rate that Kai, Wolf, Thorne, and Jacin were going, I’d have been surprised if they didn’t go along for the ride.

The plot of the series itself is simple enough to follow: Cinder tries to raise a revolution (with the help of her motley Rampion crew and thensome) in an attempt to overthrow tyrannical Lunar Queen Levana. The plot of Winter adds to it Princess Winter’s storyline, which–if one had looked at the fairy-tale retelling pattern of the previous books–would be the retelling of Snow White. It’s not hard to know what’s going to happen next.

So as far as surprises went, I wasn’t completely taken aback by the overall plot and political atmosphere of the story. It could be construed as a caveat to the wonderfulness of the series, but to be honest, Marissa Meyer had laid quite a bit of groundwork in CinderScarlet, and Cress that it was kind of hard to throw in a super-surprising twist without completely breaking from the consistency of the story.

And yet, and yet…Meyer’s main characters continued to delight–and surprise–me in how they handled themselves.

Those Damn Rebels

princesswinterWinter Hayle – Princess Winter is described as a renowned beauty, and while beauty is often subjective, in this case, the rumors are pretty much true. Sure, she’s got three scars over her face. Sure, she’s refused to use her glamour to make herself any more beautiful in the process. But hot damn, apparently boys and girls are at risk of falling in love with her. And she doesn’t even try. I’m kind of jealous at this, not gonna lie.

The titular character, Winter is probably the least known of the heroines in the series, because she is the last one introduced. As such, it was difficult to warm up to her, and I will admit she was probably my least favorite of the four, if only because I grew attached to the other three girls way before I’d even started reading Winter. That being said, Princess Winter has her moments, and her singular attachment to her childhood best friend–a romance that I was totally on board with–was endearing and sometimes giggle-worthy.

Her disappointment over Jacin not bringing her here to confess his love was more potent than the knowledge her stepmother wanted her dead.

She does have her priorities in the right place. Yep.


jacinclayJacin Clay – Jacin is introduced in Cinder (briefly) as one of Queen Levana’s royal guards. He becomes prominent in Cress as the pilot working under the thaumaturge Sybil, and for a majority of the series, his overall motives are unknown. Turns out, though, that he’s not such a bad guy. I mean, how could he be when he’s holding a flame–and thus, an unwavering loyalty–for his princess?

Unlike Winter, Jacin’s character development started early on, so it was easier to segue into his POV in the last book. It also helped that he’s completely devoted to Winter, and uh, I kind of do have a weakness for the whole “royal falls in love with her bodyguard” thing. I blame countless well-written stories surrounding this trope. Not that I’m complaining or anything.


cress1Cress Darnel – I’ve practically spoken at great length about Cress, so I won’t rehash my squees. Suffice to say that as a master hacker and–IMO–the MVP of Team Cinder, she pretty much takes the cake in all things uncommonly badass. There’s several points in the book where without her whizz computer skills, all would be completely lost. Yet she’s not utterly perfect, and outside hacking, she does get a little lost in translation, as it were.

But that’s okay. Because she’s a fast learner.

 


“You are not discouraged?”

“It’s not in my vocabulary.”

carswellthorneCarswell Thorne – I’ve also pretty much squeed over Thorne since his introduction, but honestly, how could I not? He’s easily one of my favorite characters, because the guy just does not let up. The going could turn to absolutely dire in a singular moment, and yet he constantly thinks on his feet. He doesn’t consider himself a hero, but time and again he has managed to surprise his friends by doing something heroic. It’s admirable how he grows from being a profiteer out for himself to a man who values his friends and loved ones.

“Did you see any rice in there? Maybe we could fill Cinder’s head with it.”

Everyone stared at him.

“You know, to…absorb moisture, or something. Isn’t that a thing?”

“We’re not pouring rice in my head.”

And then, of course, there’s his continued interactions with Cinder.

“Do I have permission to take control of you first? Just your bodies, not your minds.”

“I’ve been waiting for you to admit you wanted my body,” said Thorne.

VIVA LA BRO-SISMANCING!


scarletbenoitwolfScarlet Benoit and Wolf – I’m putting these two together not because they’re one entity, but because I felt like these two could NOT catch a break. For most of Cress, Scarlet is pretty much neutralized. Which meant Wolf is pretty much neutralized as well (because those two suffer the most inane separation anxiety ever–though this is worse on Wolf’s part, since Scarlet has other shit to deal with besides being separated from her friends). While Scarlet returns to help with the revolution in Winter–and she does play an integral part where the wolf-soldiers are concerned–Wolf then proceeds to get himself in a troublesome situation. So it was like these two were pretty much going into a downward spiral of suffering that made me want to cry for their worst luck ever. LEAVE WOLF AND SCARLET ALONE, GUYS.


kaitoEmperor Kaito – Kai doesn’t have much in the way of a skill set, unless you count him being brought up as the leader of the Commonwealth. Which he has. So he’s a downright skilled diplomat. Heck, he can talk anyone into a situation in his sleep, and oftentimes he does just this throughout all four books (well, not exactly in his sleep, but all the same…). He’s a smooth talker, this skill is second nature to him. I suppose it also helps that he’s a good-looking Asian man with an already established fanbase. And a following that encompasses the eastern Earthen nations. Kai is a powerful man, and he has an acute awareness of said power.

Which is why the poor guy is constantly stuck in positions of power play against Levana. Which gives him constant use of his sass. And honestly, that sass just killed me throughout the book.

“You mean she doesn’t intend to blow me up before the ceremony?” said Kai, taking the box. “How disappointing.”

The guard looked like he wanted to crack a smile, but he resisted.

Even amidst his precariously dangerous situation, he DOES NOT RELENT.

“I don’t know,” he said. To provoke her, he added, “That was some marvelous entertainment, by the way. I had high expectations, and you did not disappoint.”

She snarled and he was glad he’d backed away.

There had been at least one point where he employed a bit of violence, and I just downright died inside. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’m still dying just a bit from it.


cinderlinhLinh Cinder – As the overall main character, Cinder is who we all started with from the getgo. Sure, there’s every chance that other characters would become more endearing to readers, but I can’t help see Cinder as my absolute favorite. She undergoes a complete hero’s journey, from insecure cyborg to reluctant revolutionary, she morphs into a confident young woman who–mostly–knows what she wants to get out of her situation. She is focused and determined, and while she harbors a constant love for Kai, she’s willing to put that aside in favor of her goals. She also has a knack for bringing people together, and that in itself is a character trait that makes me admire her.

And to be honest, that one splashy scene in the throne room was effing badass and absolutely perfect.


For Everything Else…

Winter is…a long book (at 800+ pages, even I found myself cringing at the brutal word count). It is a book with a lot of characters, which brings about a lot of POVs (also cringe-worthy, considering my attention span). In all respect, it’s not a book I’d go into in search of light reading. It’s not what I’d expect from a YA book either, though yes, as I said, it was kind of predictable.

Yet taking all of these in mind, I rather enjoyed Winter–and, for that matter, the entire series–from beginning to end.

I loved the characters (honorable mention to Iko, whose unique android personality chip made me want to be her best friend). I loved the story. I loved the adventure and the romance (because ALL THE OTPs). I loved that the girls in the book are strong characters based off of fairy tale damsels, and I loved that while they do have men–and women–saving their asses from time to time, Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter are more than capable of fighting their battles and succeeding in the most amazing manner ever.

5 out of 5 cookies! And talk about that lemon cake satisfying ending. I just cannot.


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