Category: Fairytale

Fragments of Ash by Katy Regnery

Fragments of Ash by Katy RegneryFragments of Ash by Katy Regnery
Series: A Modern Fairytale, #7
Published by Katharine Gilliam Regnery on 25th September 2018
Pages: 358
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three-stars

My name is Ashley Ellis…

I was thirteen years old when my mother – retired supermodel, Tig – married Mosier Răumann, who was twice her age and the head of the Răumann crime family.

When I turned eighteen, my mother mysteriously died. Only then did I discover the dark plans my stepfather had in store for me all along; the debauched "work" he expected me to do.

With the help of my godfather, Gus, I have escaped from Mosier's clutches, but his twin sons and henchmen have been tasked with hunting me down. And they will stop at nothing to return my virgin body to their father

…dead or alive.

With a flip in gender-roles occurring here, Katy Regnery takes on the Cinderella story with ‘Fragments of Ash’ and starts off with brutality. But then again, the fairy-tales in their original incarnations were morality stories with barely leashed-undertones of violence, which in some way, are well-captured in what Regnery is trying to write. They offer no happy endings but rather, grim and disturbing outcomes. In this case, the loss of innocence—not only sexually—is what these origin tales do indirectly talk about, and Regnery’s portrayal of Ash’s own loss of innocence certainly fits into this particular framework.

As the downtrodden, unwanted heroine, Ashley battles these circumstances, or at least, tries to find her own self-worth as she tries to escape a life of servitude. Her temporary place of refuge brings her to an older, disgraced ex-law-enforcement man, whose experience, in contrast to her naïveté, is as jarring as their decade-old-plus age-gap.

But if this started out deliciously dark and ominous, the story did take a bit of a downward turn thereafter. I couldn’t quite get Julian’s cold-to-hot stance that felt like the flip of a light switch; one moment he was lamenting about how he never trusted women anymore and in the next he was suddenly all in like an alpha-male protector with Ash that it gave me whiplash.

From that point onwards however, there was nothing more in ‘Fragments of Ash’ that resembled the significant bits of the Cinderella story—no ball, no magical meeting with a prince, no lost glass slipper, no country-wide hunt for the rags-to-riches girl. And I guess I was quite disappointed when those bits didn’t show up, even if a retelling is obviously, one that’s expected to veer off course, off the straight and narrow into new paths forged.

The shades of grey were lacking here in any case—given the archetypal nature of the fairy tale—so villains are evil to the core, and the good, well, stay resolutely good, though there were parts where the stylised stereotypes became unwittingly hilarious more than hair-raising.

In short, ‘Fragments of Ash’ turned out to be middling read: it’s good for a day’s worth of escapism at least, as Regnery’s retellings typically are.

three-stars

Ache for You by J.T. Geissinger

Ache for You by J.T. GeissingerAche for You by J.T. Geissinger
Series: Slow Burn #3
Published by Montlake Romance on 6th November 2018
Pages: 362
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one-star

In this fairy tale with a sexy twist, she’s a penniless San Francisco seamstress. He’s the king of Italian couture. Who’s got designs on whom?

Boutique owner Kimber DiSanto has seen better days. She’s been dumped at the altar by Prince Charmless, her business went up in flames (literally), and now she’s stuck in Florence, Italy, with an ice-queen stepmother, to try to save her late father’s failing dress shop. Only one thing could make it worse: another man in her life. The arrogant Italian fashion tycoon offering to buy her father’s shop is as rich as he is sexy, and their attraction is off the charts. But Kimber’s not about to get burned again.

Women don’t say no to Matteo Moretti—and certainly not with Kimber’s stinging precision. With all the heat and fury sparking between them, Matteo can’t resist baiting the gorgeous American. His plan? Win her over one scorching kiss at a time.

Kimber tells herself it’s all just a game. That her broken heart isn’t in danger, and that Matteo’s touch does not make her Lady Land dance with joy. But sometimes it takes the fieriest of enemies to turn a fantasy into a real-life romance.

Down-on-her-luck Kimber—dumped by a wealthy fiancé at the altar—makes it to Italy, though not without more drama following her around, mostly in the form of another rich Italian tycoon. Only to realise that her dying father has remarried a calculative barracuda, left her with 2 stepsisters, and an evil stepmother.

If this rings familiar, that’s because ‘Ache for You’ is a Cinderella tale of sorts from riches to rags and riches again, only that it involves a truly unlikeable heroine and a mysterious Italian fashion magnate who somehow gets turned on by rudeness and a judgemental attitude.

Kimber’s tendency to overreact, her exaggerated hysteria and self-pity pouring through the pages from the start as she makes everything all about her and her misery had me wondering if I’d accidentally stumbled onto a bitchy reality series instead of a reconstructed fairytale romance. Gritting my teeth, I hoped it would get better as I read on but instead, it became more and more farcical to be believable. I just couldn’t get the connection between Kimber and Matteo—are sparks supposed to fly if the latter gets off on being verbally abused?

In essence, as much as fairytales are supposed to be much-beloved archetypes, I thought Geissinger’s own characters felt too ‘locked’ in their stereotypes (the rom-com, first person POV style of writing confirms this) to be anything more than caricatures flitting through the winding plot.

As much as I liked the first book in the series, which did actually seem promising, I’m unfortunately going to count this as a total bust for me: the signs couldn’t be clearer when I found myself simply more exasperated than enthralled just a quarter way through.

one-star

His Beauty by Sofia Tate

His Beauty by Sofia TateHis Beauty by Sofia Tate
Published by Forever (Grand Central Publishing) on May 8th 2018
Pages: 171
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three-stars

She never should have come here. Twice a week, Lily Moore comes to work for me, stealing my breath with her light and beauty and sweetness. She doesn't know the dangerous path she's on. All she knows is that I am a reclusive artist living on a crumbling estate. That I am scarred, broken by life. A beast . . .

Lily ignites a hunger unlike anything I've known, one that could shatter the isolated world I live in. Even as I see the same longing for me in her oh-so-blue eyes, I know she belongs to another---one who does not deserve her. But it's just a matter of time before the tension between us breaks. For this beast will have what he desires. To hell with the consequences. This is my world . . . and I will claim my beauty.

Sucker for fairytale retellings that I am (I can’t ever get enough), I dove into ‘His Beauty’ for what’s probably my favourite tale of all time.

What I’ve always enjoyed isn’t just the meeting of the beauty and the beast, but also the differing contexts and backgrounds (be it a contemporary or a historical spin on the fairytale) in which they meet. ‘His Beauty’ starts out slow, detailing the circumstances under which Lily finds herself at Grayson’s door, painting a picture of the life she leads—a life that’s about to drastically change when she takes on a cleaning job at a recluse’s mansion.

If Disney’s version revolves around books and reading, Sofia Tate’s subject matter here is art. Her characters, which are more mellowed versions of a beauty and beast who don’t go through the same jagged highs and lows that seem par for the course. Instead, ‘His Beauty’ is more slow-going, with a burn that starts from friendship as Lily spends half the story with a fiancé, and while getting a little too…sensitive and emotional when it comes to Grayson (read: fretting and weepy).

I didn’t quite get the angst, or the sharp yearning from both sides that I normally associate with this fairytale; instead, I got increasingly frustrated when Lily kept resolutely wanting to continue with her jerk of her boyfriend to others, thus putting the relationship-development with Grayson on hold.

Consequently, as their attraction comes to a boil only much later in the book, it didn’t feel as though there was a sufficient build-up of the both of them, and I was actually thrown off when the more explicit scenes (and the vocabulary associated with them) came in from almost nowhere after Lily’s fiancé was finally out of the way.

As far as retellings go, if you prefer a slower-paced, less angsty version (with a teeny, teeny bit of suspense), ‘His Beauty’ is one to shelve. There’s an almost-disney-certified HEA, where all’s right with the world, but it’s not quite a ‘yay’ from me, sadly.

three-stars

Burn For You by J.T. Geissinger

Burn For You by J.T. GeissingerBurn for You by J.T. Geissinger
Series: Slow Burn #1
Published by Montlake Romance on October 17th 2017
Pages: 348
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four-stars

The marriage is fake. But for a sassy chef and an arrogant billionaire, the sparks are real…

Jackson “The Beast” Boudreaux is rich, gorgeous, and unbelievably rude to the staff at Chef Bianca Hardwick’s New Orleans restaurant. Bianca would sooner douse herself in hot sauce than cook for Jackson again, but when he asks her to cater his fund-raiser, Bianca can’t refuse, knowing the cash will help pay her mother’s medical bills. Then Jackson makes another outrageous request: Marry me. The unconventional offer includes an enormous sum—money Bianca desperately needs, even if it does come with a contract—and a stunning ring.

The heir to a family bourbon dynasty, Jackson knows the rumors swirling around him. The truth is even darker. Still, he needs a wife to secure his inheritance, and free-spirited, sassy Bianca would play the part beautifully. Soon, though, their simple business deal evolves into an emotional intimacy he’s built walls to avoid.

As the passion heats up between them, Bianca and Jackson struggle to define which feelings are real and which are for show. Is falling for your fake fiancé the best happy ending…or a recipe for disaster?

J.T. Geissinger is an author whose name and books have crossed my feed a fair bit, though I’ve never gotten around to reading any of her works, so ‘Burn for You’ is a fresh start for me. And what an introduction it was.

There can never be enough fairy tale retellings for me—the raunchier the better, the funnier the more cherished and the dirtier, the more I fall to my knees in worship. Geissinger’s ‘Burn For You’ fits all of these categories quite comfortably, so needless to say, I had a good time going through this incredibly spirited Southern version of beauty and the beast.

The enemies-to-lovers trope is one of my favourites, so when ‘Burn For You’ started out with the unbridled antagonism, I simply sat back, waited for the claws to get unsheathed and the knives to start flying. The first chapter didn’t disappoint in its explosive introduction to the battling protagonists, as the very distinctive voice of Bianca Hardwick—filled with that kind of wry, sarcastic humour I love—made Jackson Boudreaux out to be the untamable, hairy devil-beast with the appearance and temper to match. Their locking horns was enjoyable as hell, though I wasn’t disappointed when we moved past that and into the harder bits that slayed me the moment Jackson’s tortured past was revealed.

Written with some ‘historical’ romance kind of flair, a mad amount of slang, and buoyed by a tinge of melodrama, ‘Burn For You’ did go a little weirdly hysterical towards the end, with some over-the-top clichés that had me cringing a bit. Still, I went happily along for the ride—that much invested I was in the story by then—and decided immediately by the end that Geissinger would be on the ‘authors-I sniff’ list.

four-stars

Beauty of the Beast by Rachel L. Demeter

Beauty of the Beast by Rachel L. DemeterBeauty of the Beast by Rachel L. Demeter
Series: Fairy Tale Retellings #1
Published by Rachel L. Demeter on March 15th 2017
Pages: 342
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three-stars

A BEAST LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF HIS PAST
Reclusive and severely scarred Prince Adam Delacroix has remained hidden inside a secluded, decrepit castle ever since he witnessed his family’s brutal massacre. Cloaked in shadow, with only the lamentations of past ghosts for company, he has abandoned all hope, allowing the world to believe he died on that tragic eve twenty-five years ago.
A BEAUTY IN PURSUIT OF A BETTER FUTURE
Caught in a fierce snowstorm, beautiful and strong-willed Isabelle Rose seeks shelter at a castle—unaware that its beastly and disfigured master is much more than he appears to be. When he imprisons her gravely ill and blind father, she bravely offers herself in his place.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Stripped of his emotional defenses, Adam’s humanity reawakens as he encounters a kindred soul in Isabelle. Together they will wade through darkness and discover beauty and passion in the most unlikely of places. But when a monster from Isabelle’s former life threatens their new love, Demrov’s forgotten prince must emerge from his shadows and face the world once more…

Of all the fairytale retellings, the Beauty and the Beast ranks as one of my favourites, which is why I pounced on ‘Beauty of the Beast’, which frankly, feels more like Phantom of the Opera than Disney’s happy version of it.

A deeply-scarred prince, a tragic past, his talent with music…and his search for redemption after 25 long years comes in the form of a not-too innocent woman (thankfully) whom he credits for turning him back from beast to man, even though his physical appearance never changes. By and large however, there isn’t much deviation from Disney’s version as is there some borrowing from the best book I’ve ever read on the [book:Phantom|190507], with a huge (and maybe unnecessary) amount of descriptive prose that pits his suffering against Isabelle’s otherworldly goodness and beauty.

Or maybe I’ve just become a cynical witch in my reading career.

Don’t get me wrong though. It’s not a bad retelling at all – I particularly liked the gritty, edgy bits and the steamy scenes that escape the sanitised version – but the purple prose got to me at times. There’s no enchantress or curse, no rose petal that falls before love is declared, yet there are multiple and heartfelt confessions of love once both Adam and Isabelle get over his scars. The moral of the story is that love still looks beyond the physical and from then on, it’s a matter of straightening the path for their HEA after taking care of the tiresome aristocrat with dad and mum issues. The story nonetheless kept me up late, and though not quite enough for a hangover, it’s still something, right?

three-stars

Don’t Speak by Katy Regnery

Don’t Speak by Katy RegneryDon't Speak by Katy Regnery
Published by Katharine Gilliam Regnery on February 27th 2017
Pages: 318
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four-stars

A fisherman’s daughter.

The governor’s son.

Two very different worlds.

In this modern retelling of The Little Mermaid, a fisherman’s daughter from an Outer Banks island untouched by time, meets the son of North Carolina’s governor at a fancy party where she’s working.

Laire, who wants so much more from life than her little island can offer, is swept away by wealthy, sophisticated Erik, who is, in turn, entranced by her naiveté and charm. The two spend a whirlwind summer together that ends on the knife-point of heartbreak and forces them to go their separate ways.

Years later, when fate leads them back to one another, they will discover the terrifying depth of the secrets they kept from each other, and learn that shattered hearts can only be healed by a love that willfully refuses to die.

Fairytale adaptations have always enraptured me although the quality of retellings have always been varied. And of the numerous adaptations, I’ve almost never read a contemporary retelling of ‘The Little Mermaid’, which made ‘Don’t speak’ immediately a mesmerising standout because it was so different.

Katy Regnery blends the tropes quite seamlessly in a way that makes it the entire tale believable somehow: two contrasting protagonists, quite literally from different worlds with archetypical wicked-parents, yet with the earthy, intense flavour of young love that slips into hate and pain before the HEA that drops rather suddenly. Yet Regnery’s writing is lofty as well, with the elevated, descriptive purple prose that distances her book from the typical NA read as Erik and Laire are fashioned into stylised characters who fall into instant-love. There’s a lot of naïveté present written into them as well too – whether by choice remains unclear – and perhaps never seen more in Laire, whose constant sobbing and inability to stand up for Erik when it mattered most got on my nerves at times.

It’s the secret-baby issue here, that perhaps downed the reading experience for me and the lagging pace that had me struggling to turn the pages. Even though Erik/Laire were kept apart by circumstances beyond their control, I always felt as though Erik was the one who constantly tried to build bridges as Laire wallowed in her islander thinking…until she was forced out of the Banks. Coincidence, or serendipity, is the only thing that brings them back together and their rushed reunion – and tearful confessions that pledged forever love despite the thorny issues that led to a 6-year separation – precipitates a sudden number of events that leads to the rather rushed ending.

That said though, ‘Don’t Speak’ is undoubtedly a memorably read despite its faults, and pretty much one that left me on the verge of a book hangover.

four-stars

Winter by Marissa Meyer

Winter by Marissa MeyerWinter by Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles,
Published by Feiwel and Friends on November 10th 2015
Pages: 824
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four-stars

Princess 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?

This is quite literally, one of the hardest books I’ve ever read, in length, content and narrative. At 600+ pages, I took days to go through it, putting it down when the action and the plot got a little too much, wondering at every turn how the bleak darkness that had somehow crept into this series and when the previous books had sort of ended with a hopeful beat. But in a revolution, there’s always a heavy price to pay and pay them, they did, with a price so heavy that I was actually left horrified when by the time the final battle was over. I was overwhelmed at the amount of violence and bloodshed and the not-quite so happy endings that I thought each ‘fairytale’ couple would have, and this alone aligns ‘Winter’ much closer to the grim(m) morality tales that the fairytales had been in their original forms. Nonetheless, it’s a very good series overall, by Marissa Meyer, even as my heart is still left bleeding out.

four-stars