All tagged Retellings

Mini-Reviews: Two Historical-ish Novels That Didn't Work

​I used to gobble up historical fiction, especially a million years ago when I was a teenager. History piqued my interest from a young age and I loved reading books with these settings. However, as an adult, I've found historical fiction a tougher nut to crack, with it being my most "did-not-finish" genre by a long mile. 

I suspect my lack of engagement with historical fiction has to do with my having read a lot of excellent historical narrative non-fiction in college, graduate school and later. Top-notch works from that genre just grab me in a way that fiction often falters. It may sound snotty, but it's true. 

However, I keep revisiting historical fiction because I want to revisit that love I once had--it used to thrill me to visit a time period other than my own and feel immersed in the experiences inherent to that time. Recently, I tried out a couple more historical novels, both YA, one a realistic novel set in 1938 Los Angeles, the other a historical with fantasy elements set in the pre-Civil War American South. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish either, but on the bright side, I think they both have audiences who will adore them.

Review: Defy the Stars by Stephanie Parent

This is                
warmth all around me.                
a new 

world opening.                
two stars colliding. And I think                
I’m drowning.

The blurb for Stephanie Parent’s self-published novel in verse, Defy the Stars, says that it will appeal to fans of Ellen Hopkins and Lisa Schroeder. While I disagree that this novel will work for fans of Lisa’s gentle style of storytelling, I imagine that the issue-driven, highly-dramatic style of Defy the Stars will appeal to Hopkins’ readers. 

Unfortunately, like Hopkins’ novels, while Defy the Stars was well-written and readable, I never felt engaged with nor sympathetic to the characters. 

Defy the Stars is told from the point-of-view of Julia, a classical piano student headed to a top-notch music conservatory. She meets Reed, whom she describes as a “stoner” in English class where they engage in a debate about Romeo & Juliet and the notion of love at first sight. The two—thanks to a series of coincidental meetings—quickly begin an intense relationship, but like Romeo & Juliet, find that their love is likely impossible.

The biggest obstacle to the couple’s happiness is Reed’s involvement in drug culture and drug abuse.

“Yeah,” I say aloud, “he skulks around like he’s collapsing under the weight of his own personal rain cloud.”

Julia is quickly finds herself drawn into Reed’s world, and experiments with methamphetamines several times. Meanwhile, Reed continues to spiral downward, taking Julia—who’s distracted by the intense relationship—right down with him. As their relationship unfolds, a tragedy changes everything for both teens, leaving them at a crossroads. 

I’m going to say this straight up: I missed that this is a cautionary tale about drug abuse until I was about a quarter into the book.

This isn’t particularly apparent in either the book description or reviews I’ve read. If I had known this, I probably would not have read Defy the Stars, because I don’t care for novels about drug abuse. Hand-in-hand with stories about this subject matter are chapters and chapters of characters making poor decisions, over and over again. Because of Reed’s drug use, I had a very hard time believing in him as a romantic interest, and while I understand the Julia was interesting in him because he’s attractive and a good musician, I just couldn’t root for them, even as Reed appears to make positive changes in his life. 

Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Ironsking by Tina Connelly | A Review on

At times I lazily select a book based on its title or cover with no specific expectation beyond a momentary “um, this looks interesting” thought. My reading of Tina Connolly’s Ironskin was one of these.

I simply thought,

“Heh… interesting title.”

I hadn’t read too far into the book before thinking it had a Jane Eyre quality to it. Admittedly, it’s been many, many years since I’ve read the classic Bronte novel, but there’s a distinct air, no pun intended, to the ambience of the book. So, I called Sarah and mentioned this very-astute observation, and then she informed me that Ironskin is indeed a steampunk retelling of the classic gothic tale.

Unfortunately, while I enjoyed reading Ironskin, I found the retelling a veneer that I discarded as superfluous and the steampunk elements rather pretentious and under-developed.

Like in the source material, Jane comes to work as a governess at a once-elegant house fallen into disrepair; there’s a strangely haunted and despairing man; an odd child; and they’re all waiting to reveal secrets that lie within, both literally and figuratively. 

Ironskin delves into the masks individuals wear to hide from themselves and others. Hiding from reality behind an iron mask to shield her from the power of the fey against whom humans suffered a devastating loss from in a recent war becomes a door to open and release truth and power. Jane’s mask, she comes to realize, is not unlike less obvious ones worn by others. Masks become a motif woven throughout the pages of the novel.

“Perhaps there are more masks like that than we think. A mask you cannot look through…your eyes sealed shut.”

Fey lived in comfortable compatibility with humans furnishing them with technology to power the machinery of their lives. Blue packs flitted from the forest, home of the Fey, into the hands and lives of humans who did not realize that there is a price for everything.

“The forest had a foothold it would not relinquish.”