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Reviews: THE EXTRAORDINARIES & CINDERELLA IS DEAD

 

I’ve got two great YA fantasies to share with you today.  The first is a hilarious new superhero story from T.J. Klune.  This was my first time reading one of Klune’s novels and it did not disappoint! The second is an entertaining and fresh take on the beloved fairytale, Cinderella.

 

Reviews:  THE EXTRAORDINARIES & CINDERELLA IS DEADThe Extraordinaries Goodreads

Author: T.J. Klune

Publication Date: July 14, 2020

Publisher:  Tor Teen

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

T.J. Klune’s YA debut, The Extraordinaries, is one of the most laugh-out loud funny books I’ve read in a long time.  A cross between Marissa Meyers’ Renegades and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, The Extraordinaries follows Nick, a gay teen and popular fanfiction writer who writes stories for the Extraordinaries superhero fandom. Nick’s fanfiction centers around Shadow Star, the Extraordinary he has a major crush on.  Nick dreams of meeting Shadow Star and winning his affections, and Nick’s dream only increases when against all odds, he has a chance meeting with Shadow Star, that leaves him utterly awestruck and formulating a hilarious yet slightly unrealistic plan as to how he too can become a superhero so he and Shadow Star can be a real team and live happily ever after.

Nick and his “adorkableness” are really what made me love this book.  His nerdy crush on Shadow Star is just adorable, as is his passion for his fanfiction.  I think Nick is going to be a character that a lot of readers relate to as well. Nick has an amazing queer friend group that supports his crush and yet has fun mocking him relentlessly over it.  He’s also got an ex-boyfriend that just won’t go away, which makes life interesting yet awkward for everyone.  On a more serious note, Nick has ADHD that he takes medication for to help him stay focused, and he’s also dealing with the loss of his mom, who was killed during a robbery.  One of my favorite parts of the novel is actually Nick’s relationship with his ultra-supportive Dad as they try to navigate their new normal without Nick’s mom in their lives.  As much as I was sitting there giggling right along with Nick’s friends as they gently poke fun at his crush, I also had moments where I just wanted to grab him and give him a big hug because he just needs one every now and then.

I don’t want to say much more because with superheroes, secret identities and even a bit of a mystery thrown in the mix, it’s just way too easy to run into spoilers, but I will say if you’re looking for a read that is as heartwarming as it is funny, The Extraordinaries should be on your must-read list.  I highly recommend it to anyone who loved Renegades and Fangirl and to anyone who enjoys a good friends-to-lovers romance.  The Extraordinaries has something for everyone!  4 STARS

 

 

Reviews:  THE EXTRAORDINARIES & CINDERELLA IS DEADCinderella Is Dead Goodreads

Author: Kalynn Bayron

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Publisher:  Bloomsbury YA

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

 

Those who follow my blog know that I love fairytale retellings, so it was a given that I would want to read Kalynn Barton’s feminist Cinderella retelling, Cinderella is Dead.  As the title states, Cinderella is long dead when this story opens but her story is being used by the King of Lille to control his young female citizens.  Girls are required to commit Cinderella’s tale to memory and they are taught that they should want a happy ending just like Cinderella’s.

There’s a cruel twist to the King’s version of the fairy tale, however.  Once they reach a certain age, the young ladies are required to attend the King’s annual ball.  They are to dress up in the finest gowns and present themselves to potential suitors, who are then charged with selecting a mate.  Girls who aren’t chosen are allowed to return to the ball twice more but then after that, their lives are deemed forfeit and they are never heard from again.  Being chosen isn’t necessarily a happily ever after either as the men in the kingdom view their wives as property and often beat and verbally abuse them.

Sophia, the protagonist, wants no part of this dystopian disaster. She’s not looking for a Prince Charming and in fact would much rather marry her childhood best friend, Erin.  She decides that she will not take part in this sick ritual and makes it her mission to not only escape from the King’s ball, but to also come back once she finds a way to bring the whole patriarchal system crashing down.  I really loved Sophia. She’s bright, fierce, independent, and she’s loyal.  She’s also not perfect, which makes her all the more likeable and relatable.  Once she makes her escape, she meets up with an unexpected member of the Resistance and that’s when the story really takes off and takes turn after unexpected turn to shake up the original Cinderella tale.

Sophia is definitely the shining star of this story, but what I loved most is just how unique and fresh the story is even though it uses so many elements from the original fairytale.  The author will have you questioning every aspect of the tale you thought you knew so well.  Were the stepsisters really evil?  Who was the fairy godmother?  Was Prince Charming all that charming after all?  What really happened to Cinderella?  Did she really have a happy ending?

Cinderella is Dead is a quick and entertaining read that I breezed through in less than a day.  If feminist retellings, queer protagonists, and smashing the patriarchy are your thing, then this is the book for you! 4 STARS.

ARC Review: How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

ARC Review: How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring BlakeHow to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake
Also by this author: Girl Made of Stars
four-stars
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: the Publisher
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Publisher. All opinions are my own..

Goodreads Synopsis:  All seventeen year-old Grace Glasser wants is her own life. A normal life in which she sleeps in the same bed for longer than three months and doesn’t have to scrounge for spare change to make sure the electric bill is paid. Emotionally trapped by her unreliable mother, Maggie, and the tiny cape on which she lives, she focuses on her best friend, her upcoming audition for a top music school in New York, and surviving Maggie’s latest boyfriend—who happens to be Grace’s own ex-boyfriend’s father.

Her attempts to lay low until she graduates are disrupted when she meets Eva, a girl with her own share of ghosts she’s trying to outrun. Grief-stricken and lonely, Eva pulls Grace into midnight adventures and feelings Grace never planned on. When Eva tells Grace she likes girls, both of their worlds open up. But, united by loss, Eva also shares a connection with Maggie. As Grace’s mother spirals downward, both girls must figure out how to love and how to move on.

MY REVIEW

How to Make a Wish is a beautifully written heartfelt story that follows the journey of seventeen year old Grace Glasser as she tries to follow her dreams in spite of the many obstacles placed in her path.  Grace’s dream is to move to New York City after graduation and study piano at the Manhattan School of Music. Cost is, of course, an obstacle, so Grace is counting on performing well enough at her upcoming audition to not only be accepted to the school but also to secure a scholarship.   Grace is a gifted pianist so this is well within the realm of possibility.  The biggest obstacle standing in Grace’s way, however, is actually her mother.  Grace’s mother, Maggie, lost her husband when Grace was just a toddler and has never been able to put the pieces of her life back together.  She has no sense of responsibility whatsoever and basically flits from man to man, moving in with them at the drop of a hat, and dragging Grace along with her.  Because Maggie is so unreliable, the roles in the Glasser household have ultimately become reversed, with Grace acting more like the parent and Maggie acting like the boy crazy irresponsible teen.

When the story opens, Grace has just come back from a two-week music camp and learns that in just those couple of weeks she was gone, Maggie has met yet another man and has packed up everything they own and moved in with him.  As if that wasn’t awkward enough, the man has a teenage son – a teenage son who happens to also be one of Grace’s ex-boyfriends.  Her mother is completely oblivious as to how awkward that’s going to be and pretty much tells Grace that she needs to suck it up because this guy could be “the one.”  As much as Grace wants nothing more than to move out and start living her own life, she’s also terrified of what’s going to happen to her mother if she leaves her alone.

One afternoon Grace is out walking on the beach, thinking about how complicated and messed up her relationship with her mother is, and she comes across Eva, a teenage girl about her own age crying on the beach.  Eva is grieving over the loss of her mother, who has just recently passed away. She has come to Grace’s town to live with her legal guardian and is feeling lost and alone.  She and Grace connect immediately and a beautiful friendship and maybe even a little something more develops between them.  The rest of the novel explores their growing relationship, while at the same time, highlighting the messy relationship between Grace and her mom and how it truly infiltrates every aspect of Grace’s life.  Can Grace break free from her mom’s hold on her so that she can follow her dreams?

LIKES

Grace:   Grace is such a complex character and I loved following her as she navigates her way through the obstacles that she encounters throughout the novel.  She’s strong and she’s mature beyond her years because of the situation with her mother, but she’s also simultaneously vulnerable for the same reason.  It’s almost like she has grown up without a mom or a dad even though her mom is right there.  My heart broke for Grace so many times along the way, especially early on when she learns that her mother sold her piano. As a mother, I seriously wanted to grab Maggie and shake her. I mean, seriously, you know your daughter’s main passion in life is music and you also know she has a major audition coming up to get into the school of her dreams and you decide that selling her piano while she’s out of town is a good choice?  What kind of parent does that?

That said, there were moments when Grace frustrated me too though. Most of the time I just wanted Grace to pack her bags and move out because the vibe I was getting from Maggie was that even if Grace didn’t pursue her musical dreams and instead stayed home to play the responsible one and keep her mom out of trouble for the rest of her life, Maggie wouldn’t even appreciate Grace’s sacrifice.  As frustrated as I was, however, I understood why Grace was so conflicted about it.  Maggie is all Grace has in terms of family, so if she walks out on her, she has no one left.  It’s an impossible situation.

Grace’s Relationship with Eva:  This relationship was my favorite part of How to Make a Wish.    Their moments together are just so lovely, sweet, and pure in comparison to the drama that makes up the rest of their lives.  They are the calm in each other’s storm.  I loved their quiet adventures sneaking out late at night and climbing up the local lighthouse together, the stolen moments when Eva would sneak into Grace’s room through the bedroom window whenever she couldn’t sleep, and even their silly moments together snacking on peanut butter straight out of the jar.  As messed up as Grace’s life is because of her mother and as sad as Eva is because of her loss, this relationship cuts through all of that heartache and brings hope for a happy ending with it.

Luca:  Luca is Grace’s best friend and he is seriously the most precious friend a person could have.  He’s loyal to a fault, funny as hell, and just so supportive when it comes to Grace.  He and his mom, Emmy, are really the closest thing to a family Grace has ever had and they would take her into their home in a heartbeat if she ever decided to leave her mom and the drama behind.

Diversity:  Author Ashley Herring Blake does a wonderful job with diversity in How to Make a Wish. Eva is biracial and she also likes girls, while Grace is bisexual.  Blake’s characters are realistically portrayed and do not feel like stereotypes at all. Not only is the growing relationship between Grace and Eva beautifully portrayed, but I also loved how everyone around them readily accepted their attraction to one another and supported them wholeheartedly, no questions asked.   Grace’s mother was completely clueless that her daughter was bisexual, even though Grace had told her before, but this was more a case of Maggie being too wrapped up in Maggie to pay attention to what Grace was saying than her being negative about it.  Once she took a moment to focus on her daughter instead of herself, she got right on board with it too.

DISLIKES

Maggie:  I guess it’s obvious that I didn’t care for Maggie for much of the novel, but even though I didn’t like her, I still think Blake did a marvelous job of  realistically conveying just how complicated a mother-daughter relationship can be.  She captures Grace’s conflicted feelings towards her mom in a way that I think we can all relate to.  No matter how bad things get – how many of Grace’s birthdays Maggie forgets, no matter how many strange guys she brings home, no matter what — Grace still remembers little moments when things were good between her and her mom, like painting their nails together and sitting and talking about wishes. There’s always that hope in the back of Grace’s mind that things will get better and so she gives her mom chance after chance after chance to step up and act like a mother.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I think How to Make a Wish would make the perfect summer read for someone who is looking for a romance but who also likes a story with some layers to it.  The relationship between Grace and Eva by itself made this book worth reading, but I really loved the depth that the mother-daughter relationship added to the overall story.  That dynamic really made the story resonate with me all the more.

RATING:  4 stars

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way impacts my opinion of the book.

 

four-stars

About Ashley Herring Blake

Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and watching Buffy over and over again on Netflix with her friends. She’s the author of the young adult novels SUFFER LOVE and HOW TO MAKE A WISH.