Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson

The Healer's Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson is an inspirational fiction fairy tale retelling set in the middle ages.

Rose, a woodcutter's daughter, is fortunate enough to have been apprenticed to the town healer, meaning that she won't be forced to marry just to secure her station in life. When she catches the eye of the duke's sons, her life starts to get extremely complicated. Wilhelm, the older son, is betrothed to a woman he has never met, and has spent years hunting the sorcerer who threatens her safety -- but he can't deny his feelings for Rose. Rupert, the younger son, romances Rose with flowers and jewelry and sweet words, but his love for wealth means that he will need to either marry a rich woman, or take a lucrative position in the church. Will Rose find happiness with either of the two?

I picked this up because I read a favorable review of one of the author's other inspirational fairy tale retellings, and I decided to start with this one because it was the first. The story, very loosely based on Sleeping Beauty, is pleasant enough, and the author ably incorporates her research on life in the middle ages into the book. There are occasionally places where the characters do or say something that seems a bit modern for their time, but those instances are the exception rather than the rule. My main issue with the book was that I found the plot entirely predictable, and not in a good fairy-tale-retelling way. There's a twist at the end, and I saw it coming from a few chapters in. Even the characters saw it coming, but dismissed it for one reason or another. It seemed entirely too obvious, so I kept reading, thinking that perhaps the author would twist it a different way at the last moment and surprise me . . . but she didn't. Also, the main character has a dog named Wolfie, and for some inexplicable reason, that minor detail irked me all the way through. Wolfie. I just can't. (I do give the author credit for not hurting the dog, though -- I always read books where the main character has a close animal companion with a looming sense of dread!) All in all, I think this is the sort of book that I would have enjoyed as a teen, back when I was less picky and read a lot more inspirational fiction. As it was, I found it just okay, and wouldn't recommend it unless the mashup of inspirational fiction and fairy tale really, really appeals to you.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge is a dark and complex retelling of Beauty and the Beast/Cupid and Psyche.

Nyx's father made a deal with the prince of demons, and now the time has come for that deal to be kept. Nyx will wed the Gentle Lord and live with him in his castle until she dies, in return for protection for the land and the life of her lovely twin sister. Nyx has known of her fate for most of her life -- and the bitterness and resentment that has built up within her has not been assuaged by the training her father has given her that may allow her to defeat the Gentle Lord and bring his reign to an end. She will take on the role of obedient wife, all the while searching the castle for the four "hermetic hearts" that hold the castle together. Nyx knows her duty -- but what she does not expect is the attraction she feels for her husband, the way the bitterness and malice within her seem to call out to the darkness and sarcasm in him.

Grounded in mythology and legend, this story hearkens back to the Cupid and Psyche myth that is the root of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Elements of both make this the strongest Beauty and the Beast retelling I have read in quite some time. All of the characters are complex and thought-provoking, none entirely evil or entirely good. While I love a traditional Beauty and the Beast retelling where Beauty's purity of heart enables her to save the day, I found this version fascinating. Readers who enjoy classical mythology, complicated characterization, and new takes on traditional stories should certainly give this book a try.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell is a charming story with an old-fashioned feel.

When the Queen Mary sinks in the middle of the English Channel, a baby is found floating in a cello case. Eccentric scholar Charles Maxim determines to take in the baby and raise her as his own. Baby Sophie thrives on Charles' haphazard parenting style, but when the authorities disagree and plan on putting Sophie in an orphanage, Sophie and Charles must make one desperate attempt to find the person Sophie most wants to meet in the entire world: her mother. The search will take Sophie to the rooftops of Paris, where she will have many strange adventures -- but will she succeed in the one thing that is most important to her?

The writing in this book reminded me a little bit of Noel Streatfeild and a little bit of Roald Dahl, in all the best ways. It's a gentle sort of story, but it's not lacking adventure or humor. It has the quirky, dreamy quality of music and poetry, but it's also grounded in things like skinned knees and sausages cooked over an open fire. This is just the sort of book I would have loved at age eight or nine, and I hope it will find those same enthusiastic readers among today's children.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)