Book Reviews

A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell

A Phoenix First Must Burn by Patrice Caldwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anthologies are always difficult to review, for all that I love reading them. In a really good anthology, there will be stories for everybody, while introducing everyone to new authors and new concepts. In a really great anthology, I will love all the stories.

This was a good anthology. Very nearly great, and when I reread it in ebook form, I might change my mind, but there were a couple of stories that did not translate well for me in the audiobook.

Story by Story:

“When Life Hands You a Lemon Fruitbomb” by Amerie: I loved this one, though it was a little heavy on the info dump at first. I really liked the look into what we consider alien, and how to listen, and how to forgive. Plus I loved the twisty ending.

“Gilded” by Elizabeth Acevedo: This one I liked more, and I don’t usually like magical realism. I think mostly because of the absolute indoctrination of the main character, and how she slowly overcame it. The ending was perfect.

“Wherein Abigail Fields Recalls Her First Death And, Subsequently, Her Best Life” by Rebecca Roanhorse: The title of this one is almost longer than the story itself! But that’s not a bad thing. This was a short gut punch of a story that left me wanting to find all the stuff this author has ever written.

“The Rules of the Land” by Alaya Dawn Johnson: I love selkie style stories, and they are rarely told from the perspective of the children. This one was wonderful!

“A Hagiography of Starlight” by Somaiya Daud: I honestly didn’t finish. Everything was just too much for listening to while I drove. I’ll come back to it in ebook form.

“Melie” by Justina Ireland: Rocking the larger female protag! Also a larger female protag where the point wasn’t about her weight. In fact, it didn’t seem to bother her at all. I loved this one.

“The Goddess Provides” by L.L. McKinney: A murder mystery, palace intrigue, a succession crisis, and a crisis of faith all in one short story. Somehow beautifully played off and excellent. I want more.

“Hearts Turned to Ash” by Dhonielle Clayton: While I loved the ultimate message of this story, about not giving all of yourself to love, so that you lose everything that makes you “you”, I had a little bit of whiplash from expecting a character to be evil when she wasn’t. A story that is better on the second reading than the first.

“Letting the Right One In” by Patrice Caldwell: Meh, I could take it or leave it. I don’t tend to like stories with depressed characters, because I like active characters. But this one managed to engage me for the whole story, at least.

“Tender-Headed” by Danny Lore: Another for the ebook, though I did love listening to it. A retelling of Athena and Arachne with a greater moral, it got a little confusing towards the end as I was listening to memories and reality merge.

“Kiss the Sun” by Ibi Zoboi: Skipped it. Too much information to try and absorb in audio format, and I got confused and bored quickly. I liked the lyrical style of writing, though. I’ll update once I’ve read the ebook.

“The Actress” by Danielle Page: Absolutely loved this. 5 stars, will read again. And again. She caught the tone of a girl unsure about her crush and confusing it with acting perfectly. And the twist is fantastic.

“The Curse of Love” by Ashley Woodfolk: Loved the message of this story. Also love any stories with bargains and the consequences of them. I will be checking out her other stuff.

“All the Time in the World” by Charlotte Nicole Davis: I was prepared not to like this one from nearly the first word, because it’s written in second person. But then the magic happened. And themes of police harassment on a backdrop of the Flint Water Crisis. I was hooked. Then the MC went on a joyous magical tour. I loved it.

“The Witch’s Skin” by Karen Strong: This one seemed to be trying too many things at once. I wanted to know about the Boo Hag, but she kept going on about one of the other story lines. Yes. Multiple story lines in a short story. I got bored. But I did finish it.

“Sequence” by J. Marcelle Corrie: I liked the “what if” nature of this story, which managed to tell me two different perspectives, one after another, without boring me. Definitely a good end to the anthology.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In anticipation of reading Ogre Enchanted I reread this delightful little novel. Any book review has to compare it to the movie. That’s just the world we live in. The book was better. There. That should do it.

For a main character who is curse to obey every order she’s given, Ella has a remarkable amount of agency. She’s tough, doesn’t take things lying down, and tries her best to get rid of her curse. Not only that, she also stays optimistic and kind without being a stereotypical Cinderella.

My only quibble is that, for the majority of the book, she’s trying her best to get someone else to get rid of her curse for her. Mandy, the elves, Lucinda (twice. almost three times.). Every time she’s present with a chance at an easy way out of the curse, she tries to take it. Sometimes with pretty disastrous results.

But that is a very minor quibble of an adult reading a middle grade book for the 20th time…

It’s not like Ella’s not trying on her own to break curse. It’s not until she has more than herself at stake that she’s able to win.

And I loved the romance. I will die on the trope of friends-turned-romance. This one was innocent and delightful and everything I want in a fairytale.

Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A prequel? Nah. Gail Carson Levine? Sign me up!

So I approached this book with a bit of skepticism, because I have been burned by prequels before. To date, I have only liked one series, and then only two books of that trilogy.

But Ogre Enchanted was a delightful prequel to Ella Enchanted. I admit I was thrown a bit at the beginning trying to place it in the timeline, which made the first bit frustrating. But soon I forgot about it in the delight of the story.

I loved how the two halves of Evie battled each other without becoming a stereotypical Gollum/Smeagol argument in her head. Evie was a perfect fusion of ogre and human, and there was a constant struggle the whole book because of it. But it never devolved into an actual two person argument in her head. I really appreciated that.

I liked how she discovered a human-ish side to ogres, and how humans discovered the human within her. The comparison of love (lust? but it’s middle grade) tingle to the tingle of ogre hunger was fantastic.

Speaking of the prequel problem, this was a double edged sword in this novel. I really appreciated the insight into the marriage of Eleanor and Peter, Ella’s parents. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and answered questions I didn’t know I had. That’s hard, because I’ve read Ella’s story so many times.

But on the flip side, Levine seems to have changed the nature of ogre magic, for plot reasons. In Ella Enchanted, the ogres knew exactly why Ella was afraid of them, and went so far as to give orders without bothering to use persuasion. But Evie couldn’t read thoughts as an ogre, so how would she have known of Lucinda’s curse (assuming she was still an orge)?

Very minor quibble. Because I like pointing those things out when I find them. Does not detract from the novel at all. I loved this story, from great beginning to hilarious conclusion.

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