Sunday, June 27, 2021

Grace by Contract - Rachel Rossano

Grace by Contract
Rachel Rossano
Once Upon a Duchy



SPOILER WARNING

Where to Purchase:

Official Blurb:
After her father uproots the family to the northern duchy of Brackenhurst, Grace Eldon and her four younger sisters struggle with a new life of hardship. Desperate to keep a roof over their heads amid mounting debts, she and her youngest sister seek employment in the Duke of Brackenhurst's household despite fearsome rumors.

Scarred and maimed from a terrible fire Silas Isling, Duke of Brackenhurst, buries himself in his work to avoid the stares of pity and fear. When one of the new maids shows no fear at his appearance, he is intrigued. That is until his meddling steward gives her the task of cleaning Silas' bookroom. It is a most unwelcome disruption since he prefers to be alone.

While a thief plagues his castle, an old nemesis reappears, and enemies invade in the guise of guests. Amidst the distractions and chaos, Grace brings some unexpected order. Once convinced his scars had stolen all hope for love, Silas finds his life forever changed by the quiet maid. Could she love a scarred Duke?

As a Retelling:
The basic hallmarks of B&B are here. An attractive young woman by name of Beauty ends up in the castle of a disfigured local lord, and ... wait, no (checks notes again), it's actually her sister, Grace who the Duke falls in love with. They are the daughters of a merchant, though this merchant is ... a bit of a rat, defrauded a bunch of his customers, and is currently allowing a fellow rat to impose upon his very beautiful but mentally challenged daughter, Beauty. Grace seeks employment from the local Duke in order to clear their debt and gain his protection.

There's a lot to this setup that has a definite feel of Pride and Prejudice - Grace's is a family of five sisters, Silas's history with Sir Webb is very Darcy-Wickham, and the head housekeeper plays a very good Catherine de Bourgh. It might have just been the fact that I read this coming right off an actual P&P retelling, but it was quite glaring to me.

Weirdly, combining the two stories in this format lessened rather than intensified the romance's conflict. There's little if any prejudice that drives our couple apart, though Grace does make a lot of noise about their class difference and his favoritism causes her issues with the head housekeeper. His disfiguring injuries are actually what throws them together, since he struggles to read and write due to weakened eyesight and the loss of his dominant hand. She used to keep the paperwork for her father, so the steward gives her the task of reading and writing for the duke.

The climax of the story does parallel the original story, with Grace leaving for home to deal with family issues, and then things quickly growing worse from there.

Arista's Thoughts:
All together, a touching romance between a duke who thinks no one can love him and a servant girl who has the world against her. It's set in Rachel Rossano's greater world that contains most of her books, and it works pretty well. I've seen most of the themes implemented better in other retellings, but they came together well for a very cohesive whole here. I felt the villains were a bit over the top, and I think the author shied a bit too hard away from Sir Webb's vileness and thus made certain aspects a bit confusing, but seeing them go down was satisfying regardless. If you like your retellings without the magic, I definitely recommend this one.

Loose Retelling: Beauty and the Beast
Unintentional Retelling: Pride and Prejudice
Cameo - Wild Swans, Twelve Dancing Princesses
Non-Magical
Indie
Traditional European

Have you read Grace By Contract? If so, leave a comment below with your own short review to help future readers!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Princess Companion - Melanie Cellier

The Princess Companion
Melanie Cellier
The Four Kingdoms


SPOILER WARNING

Where to Purchase: Amazon

Official Blurb:
Danger and romance await a woodcutter's daughter in a royal palace.

One dark and stormy night, lost and alone, Alyssa finds herself knocking on the door of a castle. After a lifetime spent in the deep forest, Alyssa has no idea what to expect on the other side.

What she finds is two unruly young princesses and one very handsome prince. When Alyssa accepts the job of Princess Companion she knows her life will change. What she doesn't know is that the royal family is about to be swept up in unexpected danger and intrigue, and that she just might be the only thing standing between her kingdom and destruction.

This retelling of the classic fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea, reimagines the risks and rewards that come when one royal family goes searching for a true princess.

As a Retelling:
What if the prince's true love was the first to try the bed? What if she just failed to tell anyone that it was insanely uncomfortable, and then she's hired on to be companion to the prince's younger sisters, allowing her to properly get to know and fall in love with the prince? Alyssa is also a woodcutter's daughter instead of being an actual princess. The prince is also the son of Cinderella and her prince, who have fallen out of love due to her feeling like she can't handle the pressure of being queen.

Arista's Thoughts: 
Very sweet romance here, though it was a bit infurating as most of the book's conflict boils down to "lasp in communication." I also was quite disorinted as most of the book was in Alyssa's first person POV, but there were some "extra" scenes that were in Max's and Ava's, also first person. Lily and Sofie were adorable little girls, the showdown in the final act was pretty nice, and the ending was perfect. 

Fairy Tale Romance - The Princess and the Pea
Twisted Tale
Indie
Fallout - Cinderella

Alternative Covers:



Have you read The Princess Companion? If so, leave a comment below with your own short review to help future readers!

Friday, February 5, 2021

Spindle - W.R. Gingell

Spindle
W.R. Gingell
Two Monarchies Sequence #1



SPOILER WARNING

Where to Purchase: Amazon

Official Blurb:

As a Retelling:
This Sleeping Beauty story starts with the kiss, but immediately, nothing is as it should be. First off, Poly knows for certain that she's not the princess, but she can't remember why she's asleep in the princess's bed, wearing the princess's clothes. The story follows a twisted romp as she and her rescuer - a wizard named Luck - meander through the world she's found herself in, and try to figure out What Went Wrong.

Also, she keeps trying to fall back asleep, though her hair (which is now incredibly and annoyingly long), seems to contain the curse and it keeps growing in an effort to protect her. 

Along the way, misadventures happen and they eventually figure out who's to blame and how to break her curse.

Arista's Thoughts:
As a retelling, it's a very clever idea and pretty decently executed. However, there's a lot of meandering between concept and resolution and we're left quite in the dark with Poly as Luck refuses to trust her with any information regarding her curse and she's forgotten how she came to be sleeping in the princess's bed. The romance also suffers as we're told that she likes him, but once we're to his home, she spends more time with decoy love interests instead, both of whom are decent figures (I mean, Melchior's squintable, but at least he's keeping Poly on the same page as him.) Honestly, it was annoying how much of the book was Poly getting into trouble 'cause Luck won't give her vital information. Like, I love how determined she is to fix her own problems, but she keeps getting put in the corner 'cause she's only making the problem worse.

I wish there could have been more proper development to their relationship, because there's pretty much zilch after the one-third point, and we're just expected to believe that she's actually in love with Luck at the end? (I will say, I have a lot of friends who ship 'em hard, but as a kid who grew up in a household with a manchild Dad ... romances like this are hard to sell me on, and this one covered too much time with too little actual development for it to sit right with me)

Onepiece was adorable, though. Would recommend the book just so you can read about him, the precious child. Oh, and for Poly organizing Luck's library. That was amazing.

Happily Ever After Gone Wrong - Sleeping Beauty
Influenced By - Rapunzel
Magical
"I'll Save Myself"
Indie
Traditional European

Alternative Covers:




Have you read Spindle? If so, leave a comment below with your own short review to help future readers!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Ellie and the Prince - J.M. Stengl

Ellie and the Prince
J.M. Stengl
Faraway Castle, #1




Where to Purchase: Amazon

Official Blurb:
 She should resist him . . . but to rescue the unicorn, Ellie needs the prince's help.

Serving as Controller of Magical Creatures at the illustrious Faraway Castle resort, Ellie Calmer knows her place. She is a servant, and she has no business thinking about handsome Prince Omar, a regular visitor at the resort, much less talking to him!

But then a unicorn on the resort grounds attacks a party of riders, frightening the guests, and a band of young and adventurous nobles decide to hunt it down. Suddenly Ellie needs Omar's help. She knows something must be wrong to have driven the unicorn to such desperate extremes. Can she and Omar find the unicorn before it's too late? And will she somehow protect her heart against the irresistible attraction she feels for the kind and gentle prince?

As a Retelling:
This retelling is set at a luxury resort for royalty, and Cinderella is a servant with a talent for calming and understanding animals. The prince is a regular visitor who she's had a crush on for years. Though there's a lot of build-up and meander to get there, the story does eventually arrive at a traditional ball, provided by a Fairy Godmother figure, and there are two girls who fill a step-sister role, though, having no direct relation to Cinderella, have less of an impact on the story. Ultimately, the story does have a different twist to the end, but deepens the outcome rather than chances it.

Arista's Thoughts:
A definite favorite from the moment I read it. There is a small element of convenience to the romance, resulting in a small bit of frustration at the lack of communication it lead to. Also, the unicorn plotline in the blurb seemed more of a side-plot, especially since it was resolved quite a ways before the ending. Not really a complaint, but the blub did have me expecting it to be more of a focus. I did love the story we got, and even though I guessed the ending's plot twist ahead of time, it was really well done and I rather enjoyed it.

True Retelling - Cinderella
Magical
Indie
Medieval Contemporary
Cameo - The Little Mermaid


Have you read Ellie and the Prince? If so, leave a comment below with your own short review to help future readers!

The Princess Test - Gail Carson Levine

The Princess Test
Gail Carson Levine
The Princess Tales, #2




Where to Purchase: Amazon

Official Blurb:
King Humphrey has decided it's time for his son, Prince Nicholas, to marry. But he must make sure the bride is a real princess. So he devises a series of princess tests, designed to weed out the phonies and the fakes. Meanwhile, Nicholas has fallen in love with Lorelei, a mere blacksmith's daughter. She's no princess, but he wants to marry her all the same--but how will she ever pass the terrible tests? 

As a Retelling: This is a retelling that seeks to explain the history behind the poor little princess, caught in the rain. And, turns out, she's not a princess, but a blacksmith's daughter who just happens to be very sensitive, and happens to have caught the prince's eye. His parents are the ones determined that he'll marry a "true" princess, and so she winds up competing alongside several actual princesses.

Arista's Thoughts:
It's a quick, short, and sweet story that turns the fairy tale on its head in a hilarious way. While not my favorite of the collection, I highly recommend it.

True Retelling - The Princess and the Pea
Magical
Traditional European

Have you read The Princess Test? If so, leave a comment below with your own short review to help future readers!

Dagger's Sleep - Tricia Mingerink

Dagger's Sleep
Tricia Mingerink
Beyond the Tales, #1
SPOILER WARNING for "About a Fairy Tale"

Where to Purchase: Amazon

Official Blurb: 
A prince cursed to sleep.
A princess destined to wake him.
A kingdom determined to stop them.

High Prince Alexander has been cursed to a sleep like unto death, a curse that will end the line of the high kings and send the Seven Kingdoms of Tallahatchia into chaos. With his manservant to carry his luggage and his own superior intelligence to aid him, Alex sets off to find one of the Fae and end his curse one way or another.

A hundred years later, Princess Rosanna learns she is the princess destined by the Highest King to wake the legendary sleeping prince. With the help of the mysterious Daemyn Rand, can she find the courage to finish the quest as Tallahatchia wavers on the edge of war?

One curse connects them. A hundred years separate them. From the rushing rivers of Tallahatchia’s mountains to the hall of the Highest King himself, their quests will demand greater sacrifice than either of them could imagine.

As a Retelling:
This story masterfully takes the story of Sleeping Beauty and ups its meaning by swapping the roles of the prince and princess, telling the stories of the two characters side by side - Alex's in the past, Rose's in the future. The spindle is swapped out for a dagger, as the title implies, which was masterfully handled. However, the romance turns out a bit differently from the fairy tale due to the addition of a new and vital character

Arista's Thoughts: 
My thoughts are pretty mixed on this one. I like its setting, tone, conflict, but am slightly annoyed with the ending. Not that I don't like the romance we got - the couple is absolutely adorable - but I find the trend of "the prince and princess don't end up together" in retellings to be a bit annoying, especially with Sleeping Beauty. I feel better about it having read the following books in the series, but I was majorly annoyed when I first read it.

Genderswap - Sleeping Beauty
Magical
Christian
Alternate Ending
Medieval America
Cameo - Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and Rose Red

Alternative Covers:



Have you read Dagger's Sleep? If so, leave a comment below with your own short review to help future readers!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Fairest Son - H.S.J. Williams

Fairest Son
H.S.J. Williams




Where to Purchase: Amazon

Official Blurb: The Fair and Foul courts of the fey folk have long yearned for one to bring them together in peace, but hopes are dashed when the fairest prince and the prophecy concerning him are laid to ruin. Burdened with shame and sorrow, the prince flees to the cold mountains far above the forests and lochs with nothing but animals and goblins for company.

When a human huntress stumbles upon him in her search for a legendary predator, their fates are intertwined. But she hides deadly secrets, and if he dares to trust her, he may risk the doom of both courts to an ancient evil...

As a Retelling: This book masterfully took all of the elements and themes of Snow White and wove them into a new story of courty subterfuge and betrayal. It does largely follow the plot of SW, but it edges into reimaging territory due to a couple points such as (1) use of "hair black as soot, skin white as snow, and lips red as blood, (2) use of the poisoned comb, apple, and deathlike sleep, and (3) the multiple roles that Keeva played in the story. The changes led to a very different climax, but very satisfying and faintly allegorical. Also, it's a genderswap, and brilliantly done.

Arista's Thoughts: This book is gorgeous. I've always been fascinated by fae stories, and I would definitely rank this near the top of my list of favorite Snow White retellings.

Reimagining - Snow White
Genderswap
Indie
Faery Courts

Alternative Cover:



Have you read The Fairest Son? If so, leave a comment below with your own short review to help future readers!