Browsed by
Month: June 2021

Review: Wendy, Darling by A. C. Wise

Review: Wendy, Darling by A. C. Wise

‘For those that lived there, Neverland was a children s paradise. No rules, no adults, only endless adventure and enchanted forests all led by the charismatic boy who would never grow old. But Wendy Darling grew up. She has a husband and a young daughter called Jane, a life in London. But one night, after all these years, Peter Pan returns. Wendy finds him outside her daughter’s window, looking to claim a new mother for his Lost Boys. But instead of Wendy, he takes Jane. Now a grown woman, a mother, a patient and a survivor, Wendy must follow Peter back to Neverland to rescue her daughter and finally face the darkness at the heart of the island.’

Wendy, Darling is a brilliant and haunting retelling of the Peter Pan story, focusing on what happened to Wendy after her return from Neverland. While her brothers are soon able to put Neverland behind them and begin to dismiss it as a fantasy, this is something that Wendy finds herself unwilling and unable to do, which leads to her eventual admittance to an institution, where she has to learn to survive and what it will take for her to retain some sense of self in the face of those who only want her to conform. When she is eventually brought back into society, her troubles are far from over, for after spending years trying to build a life for herself and her new family, Peter Pan returns. Except, upon discovering her adult self, it isn’t Wendy that he wants. It’s her daughter, Jane, who he steals away to Neverland.

The novel’s re-imagining of Neverland is a dark, twisted and dangerous place, manipulated by a boy who seems to utterly lack empathy and any understanding of the needs of others – or anything that isn’t exactly what he wishes. Here, Peter Pan is transformed from the innocent, fun-loving character that the reader may remember from various childhood stories, and into a creature that feels as if it is made of the grim realities of adulthood and the shadows of the inability to believe in the magic and whimsical realities that children can. To a child’s eyes, Peter Pan is joyful and magical, and Neverland a dreamy escape, while to an adult, Peter Pan – this Peter Pan – is a stealer of children and an invitation to all sorts of dangers. He is manipulative and wilfully ignorant in his supposed innocence, willing to hurt and lash out at anyone who argues with him or is a threat to his fun and games, needing child subjects to be admired by and opportunities to demonstrate his power over them.  He is utterly frightening in this incarnation, simply because the reader can see exactly what he is doing and so many of the lost boys cannot, and though the novel is a retelling, it also feels absolutely as if it isn’t – as if this is the Neverland we simply didn’t notice when we were younger.

Much of the book centres around the idea of family, starting with Wendy’s relationship with her brothers and the trauma they experience owing to Neverland and the reality of war, going from play-fighting to suffering from PTSD in the wake of being very real soldiers. They hardly seem to know how to help themselves, let alone Wendy, and while poor choices are made on her behalf, they appear to be trying to do their best by her – and she is ultimately more forgiving than some may think they deserve. But they are her family, and while not by choice initially, it feels as if she does choose them by the story’s end, just as she chooses who is a part of the family formed by her marriage.

She and her husband, Ned, make the decision to build a friendship in a marriage that wouldn’t have been a first choice for either of them, and are as open as they can be – as much as Wendy can manage – about their relationship and who they are, both as individuals and together. Their family includes Mary, a friend, sister and perhaps more, and their daughter, Jane, who is loved by all of them. While they are happy together, Wendy’s father-in-law is the blight on their lives, his expectations and judgemental nature causing them all to take precautions about being too much of themselves around him. In returning to Neverland to rescue Jane, Wendy brings the facets of herself that society would have her suppress to the fore: her cleverness, her heart and her strength as a woman and a mother, and with them a greater understanding of herself, her relationships and all that she’s endured and wants for herself and those she loves.

Wendy, Darling is a beautiful, fantastically written book, and a powerful story that grabs you and won’t let go. Thank you, Titan Books, for sending me a copy!

Review: Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

Review: Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

‘Waylon Russell Brewer is a fat, openly gay boy stuck in the small West Texas town of Clover City. His plan is to bide his time until he can graduate, move to Austin with his twin sister, Clementine, and finally go Full Waylon so that he can live his Julie-the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music-Andrews truth.

So when Clementine deviates from their master plan right after Waylon gets dumped, he throws caution to the wind and creates an audition tape for his favorite TV drag show, Fiercest of Them All. What he doesn’t count on is the tape getting accidentally shared with the entire school… As a result, Waylon is nominated for prom queen as a joke. Clem’s girlfriend, Hannah Perez, also receives a joke nomination for prom king.

Waylon and Hannah decide there’s only one thing to do: run-and leave high school with a bang. A very glittery bang. Along the way, Waylon discovers that there is a lot more to running for prom court than campaign posters and plastic crowns, especially when he has to spend so much time with the very cute and infuriating prom king nominee Tucker Watson.

Waylon will need to learn that the best plan for tomorrow is living for today… especially with the help of some fellow queens.’

Pumpkin is set is the same universe as Dumplin’ and Puddin’ and follows Waylon, who is a big fan of drag and drag reality TV shows, and is looking forward to the near future in which he feels he can fully embrace who he is, once he and Clementine, his twin sister, leave town for university. But when Clem decides that going to the university that they’ve agreed on isn’t necessarily she wants, his plans and his feelings about the future are thrown into disarray.

The book has a lovely cast of supportive characters, particularly Waylon and Clementine’s parents and their grandmother, and though his uncertainties sometimes lead him to think that that he is being left behind and it sometimes takes others pointing out the positives of the relationships in his life to realise what he has, Waylon quite clearly loves his family and values them, just as they love him. It’s his grandmother who has given him the nickname that he chooses to transform into his drag name, and is a delightfully funny and warm-hearted character. It’s wonderful to see families like Waylon’s in YA literature and the scenes that involved his family were among my favourites of the story. However, while his family may support Waylon in his choices and encourage him to make decisions that are best for him, this is not to say that the novel shies away from exploring the impact of discrimination and the fact that there are those who do not have a supportive family and friends like his. This is handled sensitively, with the discrimination that some of the characters suffer painted plainly for what it is: unacceptable and not to be tolerated.

Waylon’s relationship with his twin sister is a close and supportive one, though it has some of the signs of him being a little too dependent on it at times, and he is heartbroken when he discovers that she has been considering options other than going to the same university as him. He acknowledges that their relationship is co-dependent and doesn’t seem entirely sure what to do about it, and while he says he considers Clem in the decisions that he makes, he is incredibly hurt that she hasn’t shared her feelings about university with him or told him that she has been planning to potentially set aside their plans and follow a path that doesn’t involve him in her life as much as he is now. It takes him some time to come to terms with her decision and why it unsettles him so much, but it’s good to see them eventually start to talk about it properly and see Waylon start to try and figure out what he wants for himself – and whether going to university is actually what he wants, rather than what is ‘expected’ of a student of his age. He acknowledges early on in the story that being in drag feels as if it’s just another part of himself and not a performance, and this is one of several realisations he has about aspects of his life and who he wants to be over the course of the book, and by the novel’s conclusion it really feels as if he is more in touch with his own emotions than he is at its beginning.

Pumpkin is a fun, inclusive and body-positive read that is not only a sweet story, but looks at some of the issues facing young people about to take their steps towards a more independent future. Though it’s part of the Clover City universe and there are the previous two books in the series, it can be read as a standalone, as the characters from the other novels make cameo appearances that don’t require the reader to have a comprehensive understanding of their stories. Thank you, Harper360 YA, for sending me a copy for review!

Review: Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

Review: Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

‘Izumi Tanaka has lived an uneventful seventeen years in her small town, keenly aware of all the ways in which her family is different from most of her classmates’. But then Izumi discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity… and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan.

Soon she’s traveling overseas to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she’s only dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight. Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself-back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?’

Tokyo Ever After is a lovely book with a lot of heart, its dialogue fresh and delightfully real, and while it is a bright and often humorous book, it doesn’t shy away from looking at more serious issues, such as identity, belonging and family. It reads as a fairytale with a hope for a happily ever after from the beginning, which is one of the things that makes it such an enjoyable book and one I would recommend as a perfect summer read.

Izumi’s journey to Japan brings not only her father into her life, but all that being his daughter means, including titles and the need to behave in a particular way in the spotlight, her life suddenly one that is very interesting to a media that is always on the lookout for the most minute of mistakes from the royal family. While her father does have expectations of her, it’s clear from the start that he genuinely cares for Izumi and wants to get to know her – and what’s best for her – and isn’t set on completely transforming her into someone she isn’t. He tries to help her and he is forgiving when she makes mistakes, knowing that she’s trying her best, and ultimately doesn’t want her to leave for any other reason than he would be losing his daughter again. He aims to be a good father even while he’s still learning, and it’s nice to see him and Izumi exploring in what ways their family might not be so typical as expected, and so how their own relationship may not need to be so heavily influenced by protocol and expectations.

This is not to say that the family Izumi meets in Japan is entirely welcoming, for she finds some of them hostile and unyielding when it comes to her identity, determined to prove to her that she isn’t one of them and never will be. However, they are not without troubles of their own and are likewise targets of a media that wants to delight in their failure or suffering. Unfortunately for Izumi, while trying to navigate the politics and relationships of the royalty that is her family, who could be a friend and who might be a foe is never quite clear to her, worried as she is about making bigger mistakes and trying to fit in.

One of the narrative threads that I loved was the idea that Izumi’s father is still in love with her mother and hasn’t ever quite let go of the memory of her. Though he has put his duty to his family and country first, he continues to keep reminders of her close to him, such as the flowers that she loves, and his affection for her is quite clear in what interactions they have. It isn’t that Izumi’s life isn’t full without her parents being together, or that she hasn’t had a proper family, but that her parents might become a couple after so many years apart – time that they have obviously spent still thinking of each other – is another part of the fairytale happy ending that it feels they all deserve. Izumi’s own romance is a sweet story that feels like a natural growing together after moving beyond each other’s defences and finding common ground, and while they may have not known each other for very long, their relationship reads as the beginnings of a solid partnership.

If you’re looking for a modern fairytale with family at its heart and a cast of characters to care for (I hope this isn’t the last we see of them!), Tokyo Ever After should be top of your list for a warm and heartfelt read. Thank you to My Kinda Book for sending me a copy!

Review: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Review: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

‘One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne.

The other is a priestess searching for her family.

Together, they will change the fate of an empire.

Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of powerful magic – but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

Priya is a maidservant, one of several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to attend Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, as long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides. But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled…’

The Jasmine Throne is an excellent read, especially if you enjoy complex politics and the exploration of human nature. None of the characters seem ever to be truly one thing or the other and there is nothing so simple as good and evil in the story (except for Malini’s brother, in my opinion), with actions and intent in shades of grey perceived depending on alliances and beliefs that may or may not survive. Everyone has their secrets and deliberately presents themselves in specific ways to different faces and depending on the situation, to the extent that it feels difficult to trust many of the characters or feel secure in understanding them, which makes for a wonderfully unpredictable journey. To single out one character, it was Bhumika who I found to be a surprise, for though there is clear evidence of her loyalty and strength, I was never certain how far she was willing to go for the cause.

The relationship between the former temple children is a particularly interesting one, especially the shifts in supposed power and what each of them is willing to do to help their people and restore them to how they believe it should be. Bhumika has perhaps played the most strategic game, intent on assisting those that she can by concealing the depth of her strength behind a cultivated kindness and a marriage for which she has surrendered much. It feels as if Priya has almost the least success in concealing her true herself, for though she has managed to hide her gifts, she reads as the most open-hearted of the cast and the most generous with whatever she has to hand, whether that is sacred wood for the children suffering from the rot, or her time and energy. Ashok is presented as the more reckless of them, driven by desperation and fury, and while it seems that he is a threat to his sisters and others, he ultimately doesn’t seem able to navigate the world as well as Bhumika and Priya, his rage something that makes him dangerous and simultaneously only the greatest risk to himself.

Malini is a delightfully complex character and unapologetic about who she is and what she wishes to achieve. She takes no issue with using those around her as and when she can, yet she is not entirely without conscience, as blind to it as she seems very determinedly to be. Those around her are assessed for their usefulness, especially Priya in the first instance, who, being less adept at hiding her feelings, is someone she appears to find easy to read. Even imprisoned and drugged as she is, she refuses to become a victim (though there are times when it seems she is play-acting the part), and is quite plainly biding her time until an opportunity presents itself. Though Priya’s strength of character and her more magical abilities are well established by the time Malini begins to set her newest plan in motion, it’s easy to feel anxious about just what Priya is stepping into by creating her alliance with her. This said, neither of them are entirely honest with each other, unable to afford the risk of unveiling the true extent of their natures, and, as the narrative unfolds, there’s more than one instance that leaves the reader wondering which of them is manipulating the other – and which of them is doing this more successfully.

The Jasmine Throne is a brilliantly immersive read, its world-building rich and tangible, and its politics and societies thoroughly engaging and grounded in an exploration of complex morals and ethics. I very much look forward to the next books in the Burning Kingdoms trilogy and highly recommend it for fans of fantasy and those with an interest in reading about the complexities and impact of conflict. Thank you, Orbit Books, for sending me a proof for review!

Blog Tour: The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery

Blog Tour: The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery

‘Once upon a time, when her dad married Sage’s mom, Daisy was thrilled to get a bright and shiny new sister. But Sage was beautiful and popular, everything Daisy was not, and she made sure Daisy knew it.

Sage didn’t have Daisy’s smarts–she had to go back a grade to enroll in the fancy rich-kid school. So she used her popularity as a weapon, putting Daisy down to elevate herself. After the divorce, the stepsisters’ rivalry continued until the final, improbable straw: Daisy married Sage’s first love, and Sage fled California.

Eighteen years, two kids and one troubled marriage later, Daisy never expects–or wants–to see Sage again. But when the little sister they have in common needs them both, they put aside their differences to care for Cassidy. As long-buried truths are revealed, no one is more surprised than they when friendship blossoms.

Their fragile truce is threatened by one careless act that could have devastating consequences. They could turn their backs on each other again… or they could learn to forgive once and for all and finally become true sisters of the heart.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Stepsisters by Susan Mallery! I really enjoyed this book and its look at family dynamics and the relationship between sisters, and how it isn’t up to marriage, blood or otherwise to define what sisters mean to each other.

The Stepsisters first introduces the reader to Daisy, who is married (before husband, Jordan, decides to suggest otherwise), has two young children, and an inheritance from her late mother that means she is able to live a comfortable life in a large home and employ a housekeeper to look after things when she’s at work or otherwise can’t be at home. This is quite the contrast to the life of her stepsister, Sage, who she meets again after many years apart, and who has a string of divorces and her savings all tied up in expensive designer handbags (for a good reason). Then there’s Cassidy, the youngest of the three, who actively hates Daisy and finds herself forced to live with her to recuperate from serious injuries gained when trying to retreat from human feelings. Having been thrown together as children when Daisy’s father married Sage’s mother, the two have never got along, and while Cassidy – the result of said marriage – is sister to them both, the machinations of some of the adults in their lives has led to her being a real friend to neither.

As the book progresses, it becomes very clear that the damage done to the relationship between Daisy, Sage and Cassidy hasn’t been done by them, but by the adults in their lives who should have known better. In various ways, they have been blaming themselves and each other for the breakdown of their parents’ marriage, and unable to have any sort of relationship with each other because those who should have been more responsible and ultimately better parents were more focused on their own needs and feelings. Daisy’s father seems the more passively responsible for various issues, though this is not to say that he is not manipulative, for even now he continues to try and turn Daisy into the daughter he wants her to be. I could write a lot more about Joanne than I already have a little further on, but, frankly, her treatment of Daisy, Sage and Cassidy is despicable and if there were to be a real villain of the piece, I would say it was her. That the adults in their lives were unable and unwilling to communicate when they were children has had a huge impact on each of the women, particularly in Sage and Cassidy’s inability to deal with emotions and their lack of confidence in themselves in any professional capacity, and it is perhaps their closer proximity to Joanne that has resulted in what read like deeper wounds. This is not to say that Daisy has escaped the situation without harm, as she too likes to sidestep her feelings and constantly compares her physical appears to Sage’s, believing she is less than she is. Combined with a need to serve others, it seems that Daisy is trying to avoid the mistakes of the past with her own children and make up for the breakdown in her relationship with Cassidy when she tried to play mother to her.

I found Jordan’s behaviour towards Daisy incredibly manipulative in what seems like a very deliberate manner from the beginning. He refuses to communicate with his wife and makes decisions based solely on his needs, while blaming her for the choices that he is making. It appears apparent very early on that he is determined to make their inevitable divorce her fault in the eyes of others and is intent on provoking her through a series of accusations, ‘changes of heart’ and trying to tear her down. Rather than address his own feelings and failings, he pushes them onto her, claiming that she should fully understand why he feels as he does without giving her any actual information or explaining himself. Though he claims to care for his children, he has absolutely no problem with hurting their mother and playing games with her state of emotional and mental health, seemingly unable to understand (or too selfish to care) that, by doing so, he also stands to hurt them. His selfishness is echoed in Joanne’s treatment of both her daughters, as she too is unable to put them – or anyone else – first. From the way the story unfolds, it’s easy to forget that Cassidy is her daughter, as there is next to no evidence that she cares for her at all, seeing her perhaps only as a reminder of a marriage that she is still bitterly angry about the breakdown of. She is willing to use Sage as a way to hurt Daisy and her own ex-husband, and is uninterested in the lives of her children, only really paying attention when there might be something that she can gain from their respective situations.

It was lovely to see Daisy, Sage and Cassidy gradually unravel all that happened to them as children and begin to see past their misconceptions of each other (and themselves). Daisy is the most responsible and the one who I would suggest holds the three together, but is also the one who feels that her child self failed and that she is the cause of the divorce of their parents, feelings that have been capitalised on by Sage and Cassidy’s mother. Each of them is envious of the others in more ways than one, whether it be for perceived intellect, lifestyle or appearance, and while I do wish that Daisy had stopped comparing herself to Sage in this last respect, they eventually begin to realise that much of what they think of each other has more to do with what they have been told to think and childhood misunderstandings and immaturities than the truth. Sage’s journey to realising what she wants for herself and who she wants to be feels particularly satisfying, especially as she seems ignorant of her talents for much of the book. To see the sisters becoming sisters by choice and despite the meddling of others is the best feature of the story.

The Stepsisters was published on May 25th and is available now in a variety of formats! Thank you to Mills & Boon for my copies of the book and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!