BOOK REVIEW: Unhooked – by Lisa Maxwell

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Title: Unhooked
Author: Lisa Maxwell

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling
First published: February 2nd 2016
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Finished reading: January 22nd 2017
Pages: 352
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“Hers might never be calm or easy paintings, but those canvases are the way she keeps herself centered. She needs to create, or she will lose herself bit by bit to her fears and delusions.”

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I had this book by Lisa Maxwell on my radar for a long time, so I was really excited when I saw it was offered as one of the free reads at RivetedLit. I read a sample of Unhooked some time last year and remember being thoroughly impressed by the beginning of this Peter Pan retelling. I was more than excited to be finally continuing this story, but as things advanced and the revamped Neverland worldbuilding was revealed things fell a little flat for me. The beginning was without doubt the strongest part of this book even though it has a minimum amount of ‘magical’ elements. The rest just didn’t live up to expecations… It might be the hint at a love triangle, it might be the whiney main character, but I didn’t enjoy Unhooked as much as I thought I would. The writing style was very enjoyable to read in general; the pace was fast in the beginning, but slowed down considerably later on despite the action scenes. In fact, it took me a lot longer than expected to read it and I barely finished it on the last day the book was available. Such a shame, because it sounded so promising!

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Gwendolyn Allister has been on the run her whole life, all because her mother believes that monsters are hunting them. This time her fear has brought them to London, far away from the life she had trying to build for the last two years, but luckily she will still have her best friend Olivia with her for the summer… Their vacation won’t be what they were expecting though; both Gwen and Olivia end up being kidnapped by shadowy creatures and taken to a world that cannot be real. Has Gwen’s mother been right all this time after all? Gwen finds himself in Neverland, but it’s nothing like the original stories. Will she find a way to rescue Olivia and go back to her own world before it’s too late?

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I have to admit, both the cover, blurb and preview had me literally ‘hooked’. I was really looking forward to continue reading Unhooked, but unfortunately the story started to fall flat for me as I continued reading and discovering more about the revamped Neverland. It’s not that I don’t like the mixed up ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but both the romance and some of the main characters were really starting to get on my nerves. The ending wasn’t really satisfying either… What was a very promising and enjoyable start with a spark, soon started to sizzle out and didn’t manage to convince me in the end.


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ARC REVIEW: Down The Rabbit Hole – by Julia Crane

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Title: Down The Rabbit Hole
Author: Julia Crane

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Romance
First published: December 3rd 2016
Publisher: Valknut Press
Finished reading: December 18th 2016
Pages: 230
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“No one is fully evil. You just have to try harder to be good.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Valknut Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I have to confess it has been 15-20 years since I last read the original Alice In Wonderland, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love reading a good retelling of the story. It’s easy to say I was especially excited to have my wish granted at Netgalley! I was really looking forward to pick up my copy of Down The Rabbit Hole, but I’m sad to say I didn’t live up to expectations. I remember how happy I was when I first found out it was a retelling, but my initial excitement slowly turned into disappointment. The story started out promising enough and Alice is without doubt an interesting character. Down The Rabbit Hole had a lot of potential, but unfortunately it fell flat as soon as Lacie’s character makes her appearance. The POV switches between the two sisters, but the Lacie chapters are weak and I could’t warm up to her character. To make things worse, there are a lot of innecessary romance scenes (including annoying tropes like insta-love and love triangle) included that that didn’t add anything to the plot. I also found the ending a little too ‘weird’ to my taste… Although the general idea behind the story is without doubt intriguing. That said, Down The Rabbit Hole wasn’t what I was expecting at all, and unfortunately not in a good way. If you don’t mind cheesy romance scenes and a little weird, you will probably enjoy it a lot better than I did though.

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Two sisteres are bound by blood, but separated by magick… Alice lives in Wonderland with her so-called mother the Red Queen, and years of pain and illusion have messed with her mind. She is quite unpredictable and can turn out to be very dangerous… She has watched her twin sister Lacie for years with great envy, although Lacie doesn’t even know she exists. Lacie has been living on Earth for all those years unaware of her destiny, but that will change soon as the date of the prophecy comes closer. According to the prophecy, only one of the twin sisters will survive… Who will it be, or do they find a way around the prophecy?

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I really liked the sound of Down The Rabbit Hole and I always enjoy reading a good retelling. The story started out promising enough, but fell flat as soon as Lacie was introduced. From that point the story was basically a bunch of cheesy romance scenes sprinkled with a little magic that wasn’t enough for me to keep my interest. The ending was a little too weird as well, and quite abrupt. I wish I could have enjoyed this story better, but Down The Rabbit Hole definitely wasn’t for me.

BOOK REVIEW: Secret Letters – by Leah Scheier

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Title: Secret Letters
Author: Leah Scheier

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Mystery
First published: June 26th 2012
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Finished reading: August 21st 2016
Pages: 336
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“I really miss the thought of you. I miss the hope that my future could’ve been a brilliant one–that you might have made it so. But I don’t regret the dream even if it’s gone now. And I want to thank you for inspiring it.”

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Secret Letters was actually one of my TBR jar picks even though I have been posponing it for quite some time. I’m not sure why, because I always love Sherlock Holmes retellings and this actually sounded like a very entertaining historical fiction/mystery read. But I guess my instincts were right, because unfortunately this novel by Leah Scheier just didn’t manage to fully convince me. I’m not saying it’s a bad read and the historical setting actually seems to be well done. I’m just not sure if the story itself (and Dora being Sherlock Holmes’ daughter) is all that believable. I know Secret Letters is supposed to be a fictional account, but still… Also, the story had a really slow start and it took me a long time to get a proper feel for it. In fact, I put it on hold various times before I finally decided to finish it. The pace did pick up in the second half of the story as the amount of action increased, and that definitely made it easier to read and more entertaining. I just wish the romance scenes would have been left out. I would still recommend it to those who like the genre though.

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Dora dreams of escaping her protected country life and help solve mysteries in the city alongside Sherlock Holmes. When she finds out the legendary detective might be her biological father, Dora uses her cousin’s ransomed love letters to travel to London and enlist his help in solving the mystery. But when she arrives in the city, she finds out that Sherlock Holmes is dead… And Dora is not sure what to do next. A young and attractive detective offers his help, and Dora is left to rely on her wits and the assistance of the detective to save her cousin’s reputation. But that’s not the only case Dora get’s tangled up in, as a heiress seems to have been kidnapped and the detective asks for her help to solve the case.

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I had high hopes for this Sherlock Holmes retelling, but it just didn’t live up to expectations. It’s not necessarily a bad read and the second part is a big improvement, but I had some problems with the credibility of the plot and the romance scenes. The historical settings seems to have been done very well though and all in all Secret Letters is still quite an interesting read.

BOOK REVIEW: The Neverland Wars – by Audrey Greathouse

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Title: The Neverland Wars
Author: Audrey Greathouse
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling
First published: May 9th 2016
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
Finished reading: July 20th 2016
Pages: 302
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“People think that only the serious is important. They forget how essential it is to remain whimsical.”

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I have to confess I’m confused. Did I miss something and The Neverland Wars is actually the first book of a series? Because I really had the feeling the actual story was still missing after I reached the final page. I mean, for a book that is called the Neverland WARS, there isn’t much explained about this supposed war between the children and adults… And the story kind of ended right when it was starting to become interesting. I have to be honest and say I wasn’t really impressed by this book, and even thought of DNFing it once or twice. The first part had quite a slow pace and the prose/tone really bothered me. For a teenager not wanting to grow up, Gwen sounds awfully dull and ‘adult’. Just to give an example:

“Absorbed in their own antics, the young children did not much care as Gwen slunk away from the table. They continued boisterously, but she crept through the forest, stepping softly with her bare feet.”

Tell me I’m wrong when I say this doesn’t sound like YA appropriate prose. And definitely when it’s supposed to be about a teenager that doesn’t want to grow up… The tone just feels all wrong and the prose is ‘distant’ and doesn’t seem age-appropriate.  I agree things become better once they are in Neverland, but it didn’t stop bothering me. I wasn’t really a fan of Gwen in general, although I liked the general idea behind The Neverland Wars of an older Peter Pan and a teenager being torn between average teenage life and Neverland. I just wish the plot itself would have made more sense; less cliche teenage life and more Neverland magic, and of course more focus on the war itself. I kind of hope there will be a sequel focusing on the war… Because that truly was the most interesting part of this retelling.

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Gwen is just like any normal sixteen-year-old girl with a place on the debate team and a crush on the soon-to-be homecoming king. She doesn’t really want to grow up, but doesn’t really believe in magic either… And she definitely didn’t know her little sister Rosemary could actually run away with Peter Pan, or that magic does really exist. Because that is exactly what  did end up happening, and Gwen soon finds herself chasing after her little sister so she can bring her home safe. But Neverland is without doubt a magical place, and Gwen is starting to like it there even though she feels out of place as a teenager. And her sister doesn’t seem to want to leave either. Gwen will have to make the difficult choice whether to stay in Neverland or return to reality, and the war isn’t making things easier.

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I was really looking forward to this Peter Pan retelling, but unfortunately The Neverland Wars didn’t live up to expectations. I enjoyed the part that was set in Neverland and the descriptions of the fictional place, but I wasn’t too convinced by the plot itself. I wish there would have been more about the war and less about Gwen and her cliche teenage life… Because that is what would have made this read truly interesting. And I think I have already made it clear I wasn’t convinced by the prose/tone either.

BOOK REVIEW: The Straw King – by Danielle Paige

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Title: The Straw King
(Dorothy Must Die #0.5)
Author: Danielle Paige
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling
First published: November 10th 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Finished reading: July 8th 2016
Pages: 156
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“The monkeys ignored him completely as they discussed wind currents and angle of approach, and even the Lion seemed to have forgotten he was there. He might as well be back in that field tied to a post for all the good the Wizard’s gifts were doing him.”

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I haven’t been a big fan of the Dorothy Must Die novellas so far and in a way I’m asking myself why I still continue reading them. The fourth novella was particularly bad, but after being promised that the next two were better I decided to pick up The Straw King anyway. And I agree this one is without doubt a huge improvement from the last one! Not mindblowingly good and I would have liked to see more of the Scarecrow himself in it, but all in all still quite entertaining. This novella reads a lot faster than the previous one and I liked that it gave new information about how Ozma first came to power. The battle scenes were interesting! But like I said, the novella didn’t do much to further develop the Scarecrow’s character. It was more just another random background story where Glinda and the Lion seemd to play a bigger role than the character this novella was named after. Not exactly what I was expecting when I decided to read The Straw King. If you liked the other novellas you will most likely enjoy this one as well… But I can’t say it’s a must-read.

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The Scarecrow only ever wanted to have a brain, but it looks like he got more for his wish than he can handle. What happens to the Scarecrow after he finally gets the gift of a brain from the Wizard and was appointed the new ruler of Oz? The Scarecrow is desperately trying to make up for lost time and reads as many books as possible to learn more about his new kingdom. He has the brains, but he feels he still lacks the information to be a proper ruler… And things take a turn for the worse when his reign is threatened. He is not sure how to handle this situation, since something similar has never happened in Oz before. And the Scarecrow is so desperate that he will turn to anyone who can help, even if that might not be the best thing for his own future.

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I liked this fifth novella a lot better than the previous ones, but I still stand firmly by my opinion that the novellas are nowhere as good as the actual series. Why do I still read them? I guess I already had the copies of the first few and I don’t like leaving a series uncompleted. The Straw King was probably one of the best novellas of the bunch, although the Scarecrow doesn’t exactly plays a big role it. At least it adds some new information to the original series!

BOOK REVIEW: As Red As Blood – by Salla Simukka

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Title: As Red As Blood
(Lumukki Andersson #1)
Author: Salla Simukka
Genre: YA, Mystery, Thriller
First published: February 20th 2013
Publisher: Skyscape
Finished reading: July 4th 2016
Pages: 274
(Originally written in Finnish: “Punainen Kuin Veri”)
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“Do not seek power for revenge. Seek power in order to avoid situations that would make you want revenge.”

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After talking to a good friend of mine the other day (she’s Finnish), I remembered I had this book by the Finnish author Salla Simukka on my TBR shelves. I decided to pick up my copy of As Red As Blood on a whim even though I had heard mixed things about it, and the beginning definitely had me hooked. A few fairy tale references, the main character Lumikki named after Snow White, lots of action and suspense… The start of As Red As Blood had all the signs I was going to enjoy it. BUT: as things slowly got out of hand, I started to doubt the credibility of Lumikki and the plot in general. This novel is not a fantasy story, but the plot sure sounds fantastical at times. Lumikki is able to do and understand things only a ‘superspy’ could without no real explanation how she got those skills.. And why would she agree to help those three in the first place if they are not even friends? She also had too many ‘close calls’ for the story to be credible… I mean, she is just a teenage girl with a complicated past after all. I think this all would have bothered me less if there would have been more fantasy elements and it might just be that something was lost in translation, but I personally didn’t enjoy As Red As Blood as much as I hoped even though it was a fast read.

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When Lumikki Andersson walks into her school’s dark room and finds a stash of wet, blood-stained money drying, she knows she found trouble. The thousands of Euros splattered with someone’s blood left to dry can only mean one thing: someone with access to the schoolgrounds either is a murderer or mixed up with the wrong crowd… But when she goes back after the first period to decide what to do with the money, it’s gone. She doesn’t want to get involved, focusing just on studying and graduating and ignoring the rest, but the blood-stained money changes everything. She follows one of the students to a bar, and when one of the trio recognizes Lumikki she soon finds herself right in the middle of a chain of chaotic events. Events that turn out to be even more deadly and dangerous after there are signs dirty cops and a drug kingpin are involved…

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One of the things I liked of As Red As Blood is the setting: my friend used to live in Tampere as well and the descriptions made it feel like I was walking the streets myself. The pace of the story is fast and there is a lot of action involved, but unfortunately I can’t say the plot and character were really credible. I will still try to read the sequel at some point though!

BOOK REVIEW: Heart Of Tin – by Danielle Paige

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Title: Heart Of Tin
(Dorothy Must Die #0.4)
Author: Danielle Paige
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling
First published: July 28th 2015
Finished reading: June 13th 2016
Pages: 93
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“Think about the first time you really fell in love. No, I mean, really think about it. How it was like your whole life before that moment was a black-and-white movie, and suddenly you stepped into Technicolor.”

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I wasn’t going to read any more Dorothy Must Die prequel novellas because the first three mostly disappointed me (especially the third one), but I decided to give them a go anyway before reading Yellow Brick War. And I don’t like to say this about any book or novella, but reading Heart Of Tin was simply a waste of time. I REALLY didn’t like this sappy romance story where all that happens is that the Tin Woodman pines for Dorothy all the time and tries to win her over…My feelings went between feeling annoyed and wanting to vomit, and honestly I still wish I would have just DNFed it. I will still read the next two novellas though, since various bloggers have confirmed that Heart Of Tin is the worst story of the bunch and the others are a lot better. But if you ask me, definitely stick with just the main Dorothy Must Die series and skip the novellas unless you REALLY love the series in the first place. They don’t actually add a lot to the main plot…

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The Wizard finally gave the Tin Woodman a real heart, but he didn’t live happily ever after just like in the original story. In fact, the new heart of the Tin Woodman has it bad for Dorothy. What was onces a gift now turns into torture as the Tin Woodman pines for Dorothy and she doesn’t seem to return his feelings… And he is determined to do whatever it takes to show his loyalty, win over her heart and make her his. Even if this means ignoring the fact that Dorothy seems to have a completely different agenda since the last time she was in Oz.

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Like I said before, I enjoyed the the actual series a lot better than the prequel novellas, and Heart Of Tin has to be the worst one by far so far. This novella doesn’t add anything new to the main plot and is mostly VERY annoying. There is no real plot and the story is mainly about the Tin Woodman repeating on and on how wonderful Dorothy is, hearing him pine for Dorothy and him feeling rejected when Dorothy doesn’t seem to respond to his feelings. Even if you loved the main series, I would recommend just skipping this novella and continue with the fifth one.