Book Review: Cinderella: Ninja Warrior by Maureen McGowan

9305414Title: Cinderella: Ninja Warrior
Author: Maureen McGowan
Genre: Adventure, Retold Fairytale, Fantasy, Young Adult
Publication Date: April 1st 2011
Buy The Novel: Book Depository
Rating: 4 stars
Review copy provided by Baker & Taylor Publishing Group through Netgalley.

In this fast-paced story full of adventure and romance, Cinderella is more than just a servant girl waiting for her prince–she’s a tough, fearless girl who is capable of taking charge of a dangerous situation. Seeking to escape the clutches of her evil stepmother, Cinderella perfects her ninja skills and magic talents in secret, waiting for the day when she can break free and live happily ever after. In a special twist, readers have the opportunity to make key decisions for Cinderella and decide where she goes next–but no matter the choice; the result is a story unlike any fairy tale you’ve ever read!

Prior to reading Cinderella: Ninja Warrior, I already read and reviewed the companion novel, Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer. It’s hard to say which one of these novels I liked most. I enjoyed the part of the vampires trying to take over the kingdom in Sleeping Beauty, whereas I thought Cinderella was slightly better written and the plot less predictable. I also preferred Cinderella’s love interest, Ty. On the other hand, Sleeping Beauty focused on a love triangle, which is by its very nature more interesting. It’s a tough choice to make, especially with my undying love for vampires and the likes, but I have to decide that in the end, I enjoyed Cinderella more.

The story starts like the classic fairytale, with a young but fair maiden called Cinderella, who is forced to work 24/7 by her wicked stepmother. The latter also has a keen preference for black magic, and is even more evil in this novel than I remember her to be in the original fairytale. Cinderella also has two stepsisters, Gwendolyne and Agatha. Whereas Agatha is more of a follower, and often shows acts of kindness towards her servant sister, Gwendolyne is the spitting image of her wicked mother. Cinderella only has one true friend, in the form of her loyal and kind cat, Max. Forced to stay inside of the house by day, and expected to garden at night, the young girl is a lonely prisoner in her own home.

When a messenger called Ty appears one day with a letter to invite Cinderella and her sisters to the ball of the Prince, in which His Majesty will choose a suitable wife to marry, he immediately catches the young girl off-guard and befriends her. Cinderella, glad to finally have a friend who isn’t a four-legged animal, is glad with the attention Ty gives her, and actually develops a crush on him. Expressing her disinterest in the Prince of the Kingdom, and saying she would much rather dance with Ty at the ball, the young boy starts to like this strange servant girl as well.

I loved the wicked stepmother. Really, I did. Don’t blame me, alright, but she’s just so extremely hilarious, and I could practically imagine her stalking around the mansion, yelling things like ‘Bibadibabediboo’ at stuff. Yes, I know that line originally belonged to the Fairy Godmother, but whatever. I also really liked the character of Cinderella. Just like in the original fairytale, she doesn’t back down from a challenge and doesn’t suffer in self-pity simply because her life is a living hell. Instead, she finds courage in her own heart, determination in her ninja warrior training and happiness in her magical abilities, which she inherited from her mother, who was known to be a great and powerful magician before she died. Cinderella has all the qualities that make a person interesting: although strong-minded, intelligent and brave, she also doubts herself a lot of times, and she thinks a lot about her deceased parents, daydreaming about how life would have been if they were still alive. But she’s also capable of putting those thoughts aside, of getting past the way her stepmother is treating her, and finding happiness in the smallest of things. That turns her into a very likable, good-natured and charming protagonist who won my heart from the very start.

Although I was a bit confused at first concerning the whole ‘ninja warrior training program’, I loved the magical elements that were mentioned in the novel, from the protective spells the wicked stepmother had cast on the mansion to keep Cinderella locked up, to the difference between magic with a wand and magic with the power of one’s mind, to the power of love. I thought these elements were original, refreshing and made the story a lot more interesting. I also liked how there was not only a ball, but there were also a beauty pageant and a magical tournament.

I probably should have mentioned earlier that this a choose-your-own-adventure novel. The ending stays the same no matter what you choose, but the middle part of the story evolves a little differently. For instance, in one option Cinderella enters the competition for magicians using wands, and loses, although the Royal Magician does congratulate her on her performance. In the other option however, Cinderella trusts her own abilities and the strength of her own heart, and enters the tournament for magicians using only the power of their minds. In that scenario, she actually performs a lot better than in the previous one. After reading the book for the first time, I went back to read the alternative scenarios, and realised that I liked all of them equally as much. I used to love those choose-your-own-destiny novels back in the day (guess they were popular at the beginning of the 1990s or something) because it left me more choices as a reader, and made me feel like I actually played a part in the way the story unfolds. On the downside, what I most preferred with those novels of old, was that the ending was different when you choose other options, which it wasn’t in this novel. Oh well.

I really enjoyed reading Cinderella: Ninja Warrior, but there were some things in the novel that were a bit too obvious for my liking. The prime example of this, was Ty. I knew from the moment he opened that door and stepped in, that Ty was….*SPOILER ALERT* none other than prince Tiberius. Shocker! And I also knew that he would love Cinderella because she alone appreciated him for who he was, and not for his title, money or kingdom. I also knew right away that Cinderella would do well at the magical tournament, but that’s to be expected from any heroine, isn’t it?

The romance between Cinderella and Ty was sweet, unexpectidly realistic and heartwarming. I loved them both, and I loved them even more when they were together. For some strange reason, I also liked Agatha, although she hardly spoke up and merely followed in her sister’s and mother’s footsteps, but I thought she had some undeniable qualities as well. Atleast she wasn’t cruel or vicious.

In my opinion, the ending was a bit too long. As is to be expected, this story ends with an epic battle between Cinderella, Ty and her wicked stepmother. However, the fight lasts well over forty pages, is often interrupted only to restart again, and lasts too long for my preferences. It was the only time during this novel that I actually felt slightly bored, which is never a good sign. However, the rest of the novel was an extremely funny, enjoyable and entertaining read that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and brings a fabulous twist to a well-known fairytale.

Book Review: Evangeline by Gwen Williams

17436884Title: Evangeline
Author: Gwen Williams
Genre: Adult Romance, Retold Fairytale, Gothic Romance
Rating: 3,5 stars
Review copy was provided by Red Sage Publishing.

Paul Rumsfeld, a lonely, rich, widower, seeks Evangeline’s hand in marriage. He is her first real marital prospect, as the entire village considers her damaged goods. Rumors abound about the way Evangeline and her sister Rose Red, serviced the Black Bear who resided at their hearth during one particularly hard, bitter winter. Evangeline did no such thing, but no man pays her court. She accepts Paul’s offer to marry him, while trying to ignore the vile gossipmongers’ talk in the village that Paul’s last four wives died under bizarre-and troubling-circumstances. Is Paul a Bluebeard, or is he an innocent man? Evangeline trusts her husband implicitly, but the rumors are hard to ignore.

They marry and she travels with him to his marvelous villa on the sea. Once there, she is introduced to the household servants, including the grim and reproving Mathilda. Mathilda is a formidable opponent, and it takes all of Evangeline’s guile and resources to outmaneuver the imperious maidservant. Evangeline soon finds herself with child, and with the support of the midwife, she begins to exert her will. Out with the restricting corsets and stays! Evangeline has no desire to confine her body to the dictates of fashion. She wants her baby to be healthy and strong, and the only way to do that is to ensure her own comfort. Mathilda is horrified, but cannot bend Evangeline to her will.

At the same time, Evangeline is attempting to breach the citadel that is her husband’s broken heart. Paul honestly cannot say how it has come to pass that he is the widower of four deceased wives, each one expiring under odd and distressing circumstances. As a result, he has locked down his heart to any further intimacy. He is half-convinced that Evangeline shall also die, and it would be unbearable if he were to allow her into his heart.

Who still remembers the story of Rose Red, Black Bear and her sister – Snow White, in the original fairytale? Well I don’t, at least not completely. I think I was born right after the Rose Red and Snow White fairytale-hype, and I only heard it once or twice and forgot most of the details. I mean, I’m probably born in the generation who thinks of Snow White as the girl who bit in the apple and fell asleep, not the girl who took a big black bear into her house and took care of said animal, who later turned out to be some cursed prince. Evangeline is actually a spin-off of the original fairytale, now featuring Evangeline in the role of Snow White, and focuses on the events that happened after Black Bear left the sisters’ cottage. No man in the entire village wants to marry Evangeline – but that’s alright, because she doesn’t really want the village boys’ interest either. She’d much rather get the attention of Mr. Rumsfeld, an older and lone widower who is wealthier than she could even imagine. However, the town folk know a lot of gossip about dear ol’ Mr. Rumsfeld: turns out he has been married three times, and every time his wife died under peculiar circumstances. Determined not to let old wives tales’ stand in her way of getting the man she desires, Evangeline persues Paul Rumsfeld anyway. But as soon as they are married, the young girl starts to notice strange things: not only about the man she loves, but also about the house they inhabit and the strange creatures that lurk in the darkness.

I love retold fairytales, or spin-offs of original fairytales. I adore gothic horror. But although I found Evangeline an enjoyable read, entertaining and with rather interesting characters; it didn’t really awe me the way I expected it to. Several reasons. First off, I figured out the mystery surrounding the suspicious deaths of Paul’s former wives right away, and to be brutally honest; Paul is quite the idiot for not thinking about this sooner. In fact, his unawareness of the people around him practically blindfolds him, and makes him unable to realise even what’s right in front of his nose. Evangeline isn’t all that much smarter; and I’m pretty sure any self-respecting heroine with some basic intelligence level could have figured out the malicious person in the picture a lot earlier. I think this novel would have been significantly more interesting had the author introduced more characters who could have been responsible for the other wives’ gruesome murders, thus atleast adding some more suspense to the story. It’s no fun reading a gothic horror novel when you know right away who’s responsible for all the bad stuff that keeps happening.

Apart from that, there were parts about the book that I really enjoyed. For instance, the scenery and the decor. An enormous villa by the sea, with gardens you can get lost in and marble statues that seem to move in the sunlight for no apparent reason. Enough to get anyone who loves gothic novels to start drooling. Add an evil presence in the house, murdered wives and a bunch of nightmares, and you have the perfect set up for an impressive gothic horror tale. However, the setting is there as are the characters and the basic plot – it just doesn’t get executed very well. There is no actual tension, there aren’t enough suspects for the murder schemes on Paul’s previous wives, and Paul basically has the IQ of a carrot. I would have liked this novel to go more in the style of Jane Eyre – where you actually get to wonder who or what is behind all the wicked things that keep happening – or more along the lines of Wuthering Heights.

The see-through plot put aside, Evangeline does make for a very enjoyable read. The main characters have very different, rich personalities with their own fears and anxieties. They could have been a bit brighter, and perhaps a bit more courageous – this definately counts for Paul – but maybe their lack of these traits makes them more human and less like the fairytale-heroes they originally were. Gwen Williams does an excellent job of describing the haunting, eerie atmosphere and the dread and terror of her characters. However, this novel didn’t scare me at all – not in the way Jane Eyre does when the girl with the same name is trapped in the Red Room. I don’t even know if it’s meant to be scary, but I would have liked if it managed to atleast make me feel a bit uncomfortable while reading. The author does get the romance point straight on though, and the growing relationship between Evangeline and Mr. Rumsfeld feels real, honest and very loving. All in all, Evangeline is a nice read and if you’re a fan of the genre, I would definately recommend it.

Book Review: Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer by Maureen McGowan

9407790Title: Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer
Author: Maureen McGowan
Genre: Adventure, Paranormal Romance, Retold Fairytale
Rating: 3,5 stars

In this thrilling story full of adventure and romance, Sleeping Beauty is more than just a lonely princess waiting for her prince–she’s a brave, tenacious girl who never backs down from a challenge. With vampire-slaying talents that she practices in secret, Sleeping Beauty puts her courage to the test in the dark of night, fighting evil as she searches for a way to break the spell that has cut her off from her family. In a special twist, readers have the opportunity to make key decisions for Sleeping Beauty and decide where she goes next–but no matter the choice, the result is a story unlike any fairy tale you’ve ever read!

Lucette, the Sleeping Beauty of this retold fairytale, was cursed shortly after her birth, by the evil Vampire Queen Natasha. One day, Lucette will prick her finger, and her blood will set a curse upon the entire Kingdom. She will never awake until night falls, wheras the rest of her Kingdom will only awake while she is asleep. A terrible curse that would force her to spend her entire life alone. The King and Queen do everything in their power to prevent this awful event from happening, each of them in their own way – the King by being overprotective and the Queen by wanting her daughter to learn how to defend herself – but it is of no use. As the vampires, under leadership of their evil Queen Natasha, invade The Kingdom, Lucette is the only one left to defend the palace at night – that is, until she gets help from a vampire, Alex, and from a former crush of hers, Tristan. But there’s one way to break the curse. True love. However, Lucette will soon find out that finding true love might not be that easy afterall.

Do you remember those books from like hundred – alright fine, maybe ten – years ago, with several options you could choose from, several paths throughout the novel and alternative endings? I don’t know about you, but I loved those novels, so I was happily surprised when I discovered this novel fits right under that category! There are three or four times throughout the novel where you get to choose the path of the heroine. The only dissapointing part is that, no matter which path you choose, the ending still remains the same. That was a real setback for me, especially since the pairing I had been cheering for wasn’t the one that made it in the end. Bummer.

The main character, Lucette, was well-written with a deep, multi-layered personality and a witty spirit. Some of the supportive characters are a bit flat, like I would have liked to know more about Alex and Tristan, the two possible love interests of the heroine. Personally I thought that the personalities of the King and Queen were much better developed, with interesting and clashing personalities. However, I’m not entirely sure if the somewhat flat personalities of Alex and Tristan were really that bad, since it did match the fairytale-like feel of the novel. In fairytales there isn’t a lot of focus on character development or personality traits, but more on getting the story forward, and I got the same vibe with this novel.

I loved the story though, the twist to the original fairytale of Sleeping Beauty by turning her into a courageous, determined, vampire-slaying heroine and the upcoming war between the Kingdom of Xandra and the vampire kingdom. Also, the personal relationships between Queen Natasha, and the parents of Lucette, were highly interesting. Ofcourse this novel isn’t the most magnificent and enthralling piece of fiction ever written, but it is an amusing, enjoyable read that doesn’t bore you for a moment. I got through the novel in one single two-hour reading session, so that’s saying something.

I had a lot of trouble actually finding an appropriate rating for this book. On the hand, I wanted to give it a 5 – because for the specific genre this novel is aiming, it was perfect. On the other hand, when compared to other novels, well…this novel isn’t going to change your perspective on the world, and it isn’t going to leave you crying your heart out, or anything else that is emotionally shocking. So eventually I settled on a 3,5. But don’t turn it down simply because of the rating I gave it. If you loved those make-your-own choices novels as much as I did, you will like this novel a lot too. And if you’re just a fan of retold fairytales, then Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer is exactly what you’ve been looking for.