Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses Book Review

 Author: Ron Koertge. Illustrator: Andrea Dezs√∂. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Candlewick. ISBN: 9780763644062.

Annotation: This short collection of free verse poems  and creepy illustrations features macabre retellings of classic fairy tales from “Hansel and Gretel” to “Rumpelstiltskin.”
Personal thoughts: I am a fan of fairytale retellings, so when I heard about this creepy collection, and saw the very grim cover, I made sure to pick it up. Although I did enjoy the book, I found myself thinking as I was reading it, “Wow. This isn’t really for teens.” A lot of the stories are based on more obscure fairy tales, there is definitely some very adult language and imagery in them, and a lot of the humor and irony is very subtle. That’s not to say that I don’t think many teen readers would be able to understand the poems, they just seem to me that they would appeal much more to an adult audience. I would have trouble recommending this collection to teens who are simply interested in reading fairy tale retellings, as I feel there are many more appropriate and enjoyable books for the age group. To older teens and adults who want a taste of the macabre, however, I would suggest giving this one a try.  
Plot summary: Written in free verse, this macabre collection of poems and creepy illustrations includes twenty-three retellings of classic fairy tales. Featured tales range from “Cinderella,” told from the perspective of the stepsisters, “Hansel and Gretel,” who want revenge against the father that allowed them to be abandoned in the woods, and a monologue from “Red Riding Hood” who is relaying what happened to her mother once she is home safe from Grandma’s house.  
Review: Seasoned young adult author and poet Ron Koertge delivers a chilling set of retold fairy tales in Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses. The collection is brief and can easily be read in one sitting, although many readers might want to go through some of the chapters twice so as not to miss any gruesome details. In terms of enjoyment, some of the tales fare better than others. Although the book is marketed for the young adult audience, only some of Koertge’s retellings will appeal to teen readers. Teens will likely enjoy tales like “Red Riding Hood, Home at Last, Tells Her Mother What Happened,” “Hansel and Gretel,”  and “Memoirs of the Beast,” all grim but witty retellings of stories that younger readers will undoubtedly be familiar with. Other chapters, such as “Godfather Death,” “The Little Match Girl” and “The Robber Bridegroom” are taken from tales that aren’t as well-known, and are far more grisly, making them less likely to resonate with the young adult audience. In fact, when factors like language, characterization and imagery are taken into account, this collection seems more appropriate for an adult audience. At most, it will entertain very sophisticated teen readers who will understand all the nuances in each retelling and be familiar with the original tales they are derived from. Overall, Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses is an enjoyable and entertaining journey into the creepiness of fairy tales, but one that is likely to appeal more to adults than to teens.
Genre:  Short Stories/Poetry
Reading level: Grade 9+
Similar titles: Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross, Sweetly and Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Twisted: Tales to Rot Your Brain Vol. 1 by Nora Thompson, A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.   
Themes:  Fairy tales, poetry, macabre, irony, humor.   
Awards/Reviews:  Starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and The Horn Book, positive review from School Library Journal.
Series Information: N/A  
Discussion questions:
-        What is your favorite chapter in this collection? Why?

-       Were there any fairy tales featured in this collection that you weren’t familiar with? Which ones?

-        Do you think that the illustrations enhance the collection? Why or why not?

-         The author describes this collection as being written in “free verse.” What is free verse? Have you ever read anything else in this style of writing?

-        If you had to create your own creepy retelling of a classic fairy tale, which story would you choose?




Gilt Book Review

Author: Katherine Longshore. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Viking Juvenile. ISBN: 9780670013999.

Annotation: In 1539 England, Katherine “Kitty” Tylney lives in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household, along with many other young women but, most importantly, her best friend, the beautiful and popular Catherine “Cat” Howard. After Cat is sent to live in the royal court and catches the eye of King Henry VIII, however, how will their friendship survive as Cat seems more and more destined to become the next Queen of England?
Personal thoughts: I love all things related to Henry VIII and his six wives (I’ve read bunches novels on the subject, watched every episode of The Tudors, have seen all the movies…I’m a hardcore fan!) When I saw that a young adult novel had been published about the life of Catherine Howard, I was very excited and, not surprisingly, enjoyed reading Gilt quite a bit. I’ve always thought that Catherine Howard’s story would make a great novel for teens because she herself was a teenager, thrust into a royal life with little education or knowledge of what to expect. I liked reading from Kitty’s perspective, especially since it gave the opportunity to portray Catherine as a 1539 version of Regina George. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the series and am happy that Katherine Longshore is re-telling this exciting period of history for the young adult audience.
Plot summary: In 1539 England, Katherine “Kitty” Tylney and her best friend Catherine “Cat” Howard live together, along with dozens of other young ladies, in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Forgotten by their poor but aristocratic families, Kitty and Cat and the rest of the girls spend their time flirting with the male servants of the household. Cat, the most vivacious and popular of the girls, rules over the maidens’ chamber, deciding who does what, who is in favor, and who is to be shunned. Even though she is awkward, shy, and not nearly as beautiful and bewitching as Cat, Kitty enjoys a certain level of social protection in the maidens’ chamber as Cat’s closest friend and confidante. Everything changes, however, when the Duke of Norfolk decides to send Cat to live in the royal court as a maid servant to Anne of Cleves, King Henry VII’s latest wife. Kitty and the rest of the ladies mourn the loss of their leader, and life quiets down in the household of the Dowager Duchess until Cat writes to invite Kitty and two other ladies, Joan and Alice, to join her at court. It seems that King Henry has fallen under Cat’s spell, and is intent upon marrying her. As the best friend of the Queen, Kitty is suddenly thrust into a life of fancy gowns, parties and men. But no secret is safe in the court of Henry VIII, and idle gossip can lead to a date with the executioner. Will Kitty be able to survive a life in service to a Queen like Cat, or is she destined to fall like so many in King Henry’s court?
Review: The story of Catherine Howard, the young, beautiful, bubbly and ultimately ill-fated fifth wife of King Henry VIII has been retold by countless authors over the years. In Gilt, however, author Katherine Longshore has successfully adapted the history into a novel for young adults, something that is actually quite fitting considering that Catherine herself was only a teenager when she became Queen. The author portrays Cat as something of a “mean girl.” Popular, charismatic and charming, Cat rules over the other girls in the household of the Dowager Duchess like a high school queen bee. Although Kitty is considered by all to be Cat’s best friend, it is clear from the start that their friendship is not equitable. Kitty is at the mercy of her friend, and it seems that their relationship is strongest when Kitty does Cat’s bidding, regardless of what danger it puts her in. Many readers will be able to identify with this, especially those who have had experiences with friends like Cat who seem to use friendships for their own gain. After Cat goes to court and eventually wins the heart of the King, the relationship between Kitty and her best friend becomes even more strained. The novel is an excellent jumping off point to spark interest in this time period for young adult readers. The author does a good job of relaying the history while making the story intriguing and relatable for teens. Gilt is the first in a series of books about life in Henry VIII’s court. The second novel, Tarnish, takes place twenty years before the events of Gilt and is set to be released in June 2013.
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory, The King’s Rose by Alisa M. Libby, The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn.  
Themes:  Catherine Howard, the Tudors, King Henry VIII, England, royalty, friendship, secrets.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Booklist, Kirkus and VOYA.  
Series Information: First novel in The Royal Circle series. Second novel, Tarnish, set to be released June 2013.  
Discussion questions:
-         What did you know about Catherine Howard and King Henry VIII before reading Gilt? Did reading the novel make you want to learn more?

-       Do you think Cat was a true friend to Kitty? Why or why not?

-       Why do you think Kitty couldn’t bring herself to tell anyone about what she saw in the woods?

-       Do you think it was a good idea for Kitty to come to court?

-      Why do you think Cat insisted upon having a romance with Thomas Culpepper? Do you think Kitty did the right thing in helping them meet?

-        What do you think lies ahead for Kitty at the end of the novel? What do you hope happens to her?




Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Born Wicked Book Review

Author: Jessica Spotswood. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Putnam Juvenile. ISBN: 9780399257452.

Annotation: After her mother’s death, sixteen-year-old Cate Cahill must protect herself and her two sisters from the prying eyes of the Brotherhood, the organization that reigns over the country of New England and would throw them in jail or worse if they found out the truth: the Cahill sisters are witches.  
Personal thoughts: This was one of those novels that really made me think. I was trying to figure out the whole time whether it was something along the lines of the movie The Village, where all the townspeople think they’re living in the 19th century but it’s actually the present-day. This was very intriguing to me and almost outplayed the rest of the story. Cate’s struggle to find out the truth about her mother and the Cahill sisters’ powers as witches is interesting, but in picking up the sequel I will be wondering primarily about the nature of the world they live in. I would easily recommend this book to readers who want something dystopian but with a twist. Definitely one to look out for!
Plot summary: Sixteen-year-old Cate Cahill lives in the town of Chatham in the country of New England. Ruled over by the Brotherhood, society in New England is very rigid, women growing up with the expectation that their highest aspiration in life is to be obedient to their husbands and raise healthy children. Cate and her two younger sisters, Maura and Tess, are still struggling to cope with the death of their mother three years earlier. Not only did the loss of their mother leave them without someone to guide them into entering society as proper women, but it meant that no one could instruct them into hiding their most dangerous secret: all three Cahill sisters are witches. The Brotherhood regularly arrests young girls upon suspicion of witchcraft, sending them to asylums, work ships, or worse. Cate wants nothing more than to keep herself and her sisters safe from the prying eyes of the Brotherhood. After a mysterious letter arrives at the Cahill house, however, one that warns of imminent danger to the Cahill sisters, Cate is determined to find out the truth about her mother and their family secret.  
Review: Set in an alternate version of history where North America is divided between Indo-China in the west, Mexico in the south and New England in the east, this debut novel from author Jessica Spotswood marks to beginning of a new series for young adults that combines both fantasy and dystopia seamlessly. It’s unclear what exactly the circumstances are that have lead to the Brotherhood reigning in an iron-fisted theocracy over the “country” of New England. The reader is left wondering if the novel really takes place in the 19th century as it claims, or is actually in the distant future following some terrible post-apocalyptic event. This makes for a very intriguing thread that runs throughout the story: what exactly is the truth? As Cate, both independent and strong-willed, struggles to learn more about her past and what danger the future might hold, the reader begins to discover more about the world Cate is living in. The theme of the Brotherhood fixating on punishing girls, witches or those who display attraction to the same sex in particular, permeates the novel as well, making for some interesting points to think about while reading. Overall, a multi-faceted and thought-provoking start to what appears to be a creative and original series for teens. The second novel, Star Cursed, is set to be released on June 18, 2013.  
Genre:  Science-Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Article 5 by Kristen Simmons, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Eve by Anna Carey and What Happened to Serenity? by PJ Sarah Collins.
Themes:  Witches, witchcraft, sisters, dystopian, duty, secrets, loyalty, romance.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Booklist.
Series Information: First novel in The Cahill Witch Chronicles. Second novel, Star Cursed, set to be released June 18, 2013.
Discussion questions:
-         Do you think Cate took her duty to protect her sisters too seriously? Why or why not?

-         Why do you think the Brotherhood arrested girls for witchcraft, even if they weren’t witches? Does this compare to historical periods you may have learned about (i.e the Salem Witch Trials, etc.)?

-        Why do you think Cate was so reluctant to use her magic and her sisters were more eager to?

-       Do you think Cate loves both Finn and Paul? Why or why not?

-        Do you think Elena was manipulating Maura?

-       Do you think Cate made the right choice in the end of the novel? What do you think will happen to her in the sequel?




Sunday, October 21, 2012

Daughter of the Centaurs Book Review

Author: Kate Klimo. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Random House Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780375869754.

Annotation: When her entire tribe is killed, fifteen-year-old Malora Thora-Jayke leaves the plains she grew up in and travels into the bush with Sky, her father’s prize horse. After Malora and Sky encounter other wild horses, she soon has a whole herd to look after. Worried that she will never meet another one of the People and will spend her life alone in the wild, Malora is stunned when she and her herd attract the attention of Orion, a centaur, and his cousins and servants from the centaur settlement of Mount Kheiron.
Personal thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I really like Greek mythology so the centaur aspect of it was entertaining for me. On the other hand, I am not a horse person, so the very detailed accounts of flanks, muzzles, and whinnies didn’t appeal to me. I think there are some clever ideas in the novel, but they got too muddled down by horse minutia. I would easily recommend this book to someone who loves all things equine. If that wasn’t the case, however, I probably would select something else.
Plot summary: In the distant future, twelve-year-old Malora is the daughter of Thora and Jayke, the leaders of the last tribe of the People. Malora’s tribe relies on their horses to hunt and bring game to feed the People, and no horse is faster than her father’s, Sky. Malora wants nothing more than to learn to become a hunter herself and have her own horse like Sky to look after. Malora’s life changes, however, when Leatherwings, vicious creatures with horrible human heads and large bat-like wings, murder all of the men in the tribe while they are on the hunt. Thora knows that the Leatherwings will return to finish off the rest of the tribe, so she sends Malora and Sky, the only horse that survived the attack, away from the tribe and into the wild. After three years on her own, Malora is now fifteen and the keeper of a large herd of horses thanks to Sky meeting with several wild mares in the bush. Malora knows every horse and protects them from predators, all the while wondering if she herself will ever encounter any other People. One day as Malora and the herd are travelling in the north, they catch the attention of Orion and his cousins, a travelling party of centaurs from the luxurious city of Mount Kheiron. Orion intends to capture the wild herd to serve his father, the leader of Mount Kheiron, in an annual race, and is shocked to discover Malora amongst the horses. None of the centaurs have ever laid eyes on one of the People, who were rumored to be long extinct, and both Orion and Malora are shocked to learn that not only are they able to communicate, but have more in common than they would have ever thought.
Review: Combining fantasy with a post-apocalyptic future, this first installment in a new series for young adult readers will appeal to fans of Greek mythology, but holds particular interest for horse enthusiasts. The author’s love for horses is apparent in every aspect of the novel. Everything about the horses, from the way they eat, to the noises they make, to their general behavior is described in depth. Horse lovers are sure to relish these details. For readers who aren’t equine aficionados, however, the plot of the novel itself might not be as exciting. Malora is a likable if somewhat underdeveloped character. While the story primarily focuses on her, there is little exploration into her personality apart from being a robust and skilled huntress. She shows little vulnerability and it’s unclear if she has romantic feelings for any of the handsome male centaurs she becomes close to in the story. Far more interesting is the centaur civilization of Mount Kheiron, a luxurious but strict city divided into the haves (the Highlanders) and the have-nots (the Flatlanders.) Malora is lucky enough to become the “pet” of Orion, the son of Mount Kheiron’s leader, or Apex, so she has a rags-to-riches experience in the fanciest part of town. Hopefully in the next installments in the series, more about how Mount Kheiron was established will be explained so that the reader will fully understand how the distinction between Highlanders and Flatlanders came about. For horse fans, Daughter of the Centaurs is an enjoyable and different kind of read than they may have experienced. For those who aren’t as excited by things on four legs, this story might be one to pass by. The sequel, A Gathering of Wings, is set to be released May 28, 2013.
Genre:  Science-Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel.
Themes:  Horses, centaurs, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, death, the wilderness, fantasy.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from VOYA and The Bulletin 
Series Information: First novel in Centauriad series. Second novel, A Gathering of Wings, set to be released May 28, 2013.
Discussion questions:
-         Who do you think Malora was closer with: Thora or Jayke? Why?

-         How do you explain the presence of all of the mythical or fantastical creatures in Malora’s future? What other post-apocalyptic observations did you make while reading the novel?

-        Why do you think it was so important for Malora to name her horses?

-        Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?

-         Do you think Orion truly viewed Malora as a pet? Why or why not?

-        What do you think is the significance of Malora's reaction to the scents?

-        Why do you think the Apex denied Malora’s choice for her Hand? Do you think he regretted that decision?

-        What would you like to see happen in the sequel?




Thursday, October 11, 2012

Croak Book Review

 Author: Gina Damico. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Graphia. ISBN: 9780547608327.

Annotation: After spending the last two years constantly getting in trouble at school for fighting, stealing, and cursing, sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby’s parents decide to send her to live with her Uncle Mort in upstate New York for the summer. Upset that she has to spend the next three months on a farm, Lex is surprised when, after arriving in the small town of Croak, she learns that her uncle is actually a Grim Reaper, and he is recruiting her for one unusual summer job.  
Personal thoughts: It’s been awhile since I’ve picked up a book that I loved as much as Croak from start to finish. Gina Damico’s writing style really resonated with me because she is able to accomplish a lot without being clich√©, melodramatic, or attempting to manipulate the reader into feeling a certain way. She simple wrote a good, entertaining and original story with a solid plot and likable characters: a definite recipe for success! Even though I didn’t like her at first, I am now a huge Lex fan and can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel, Scorch. I highly recommend this book to teens, adults, or anyone who simply wants something that is breezily paced and enjoyable.    
Plot summary: For the past two years, sixteen-year-old Lexington “Lex” Bartleby has made it her personal mission to punch, bite, scratch or generally injure her classmates. She used to be a straight-A student and have more friends than just her twin sister, Cordy, but for some reason she has been overcome by an inexplicable rage that makes her lash out at everyone, even her loving parents. Fed up with her bad attitude (and potty mouth), her parents decide to send her to live with her Uncle Mort in upstate New York for the summer. Lex is, of course, beyond angry, but soon finds herself on a bus travelling north to the small town of Croak. After she arrives and meets her motorcycle riding, crazy-haired but strangely likable uncle, she soon realizes that Croak isn’t your average farming town. It’s actually home to the eastern seaboard’s population of Grim Reapers, people who travel instantaneously from place to place, extracting the souls from those who have died and transporting them to the afterlife. Uncle Mort informs Lex that her rage is a normal reaction that arises from those who have the natural ability to be Grims, and that she will be spending the summer reaping along with the other Juniors, teenagers who call Croak home. At first, Lex is excited about her new life in Croak. She gets along well with the other Juniors and even likes her partner in reaping, a guy just a few years older than her named Driggs. But not everything is happy-go-lucky in Croak: it seems that a rogue Grim has been travelling under the radar and killing people who weren’t ready to die. When it appears that this murderer is now targeting other Grims, Lex, Driggs and Uncle Mort must find out who it is before it’s too late.
Review: Funny and original, it is difficult for fans of the young adult genre not to instantly fall in love with Croak, the first novel in a witty new series for teens by Gina Damico. From start to finish, Croak is well-written, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable. One of the most unusual (and ultimately satisfying) parts of the story is that, in the beginning, the reader isn’t compelled to like Lex. She is foul-mouthed, rude, violent, and just plain irritating. She has no reason to be as angry as she is, and, like her parents and sweet twin sister, the reader hopes that Uncle Mort will (literally) knock some sense into her. After she arrives in Croak, however, and begins working as a Grim, she begins to transform into someone readers can root for. This transformation isn’t forced, but is one of the best parts of the story. In addition to this, there are loads of other things readers will love about Croak. The town itself is interesting, with all of the shops having morbid names and equally morbid owners. The mechanics of the Grim system of collecting and transporting souls from those who have died is also very original and not confusing, something that often happens when novels for teens get a bit too scientific in their descriptions of how paranormal things actually work. Supporting characters like Lex’s lovable Uncle Mort, her wise-cracking partner, Driggs, and her other new friends in Croak add a great deal to the story as well. Overall, a fast-paced and fun start to a series that is easy to recommend to both teen and adult readers alike. The sequel, Scorch, was released in September 2012.
Genre:  Science-Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake, Revenants series by Amy Plum, Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent.
Themes:  Grim Reapers, the afterlife, death, anger, friendship, murder, mystery.   
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, Bulletin and Booklist.
Series Information: First novel in Croak series. Second novel, Scorch, released in September 2012. Third novel set to be in 2013.        
Discussion questions:
-         Why do you think Lex was such a bully at her school? Do you think that bullies often have a “rage” like the one Lex described?

-       Were you surprised to learn Uncle Mort’s actual profession and the true nature of the town of Croak? Do you think Lex was?

-      What did you think of the author’s description of the afterlife? Do you think it’s okay to read books like Croak even if your personal or religious beliefs conflict with the story? Why or why not?

-      Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?

-         Why do you think the residents of Croak were so distrustful of Lex? Do you think their opinions changed over time?

-       What would you like to see happen in the sequel, Scorch?




Monday, October 8, 2012

Kill Me Softly Book Review

Author: Sarah Cross. Release date: 2012. Publisher:  Egmont USA. ISBN: 9781606843239.

Annotation: After fifteen-year-old Mirabelle Lively runs away from the home she shares with her two godmothers, she finds herself in Beau Rivage, the town where she was born and where her parents died in a fire at her christening party years earlier. Mira doesn’t know what she will find in the strange town, only that she’s hoping to locate her parents’ graves. Instead, she learns that in Beau Rivage, fairy tales are a reality, and that her’s began the night her parents were killed.
Personal thoughts: I love twists on classic tales, so Kill Me Softly was the perfect book to delight me! I really liked the author’s writing style, I loved how the story had elements of sweetness but also serious creepy undertones as well, and I enjoyed the plot quite a bit. My only small (kind-of) complaint was that I found the sexual relationship between Mira, who is fifteen, and Felix, who is twenty-one, to be strangely accepted by the other characters in the story (save for one mention of her being underage by the guy described as a “beast” throughout the novel.) Are there no police in Beau Rivage who wonder why a fifteen-year-old is buying slinky nightgowns to attract her pedophile boyfriend? I wish this aspect of the story had been either avoided by making the characters different ages, or explained a little bit better. Other than that, however, I really did enjoy the novel and would easily recommend it to older teen readers (and adults!) who want something original and fun!   
Plot summary: All of her life, Mirabella “Mira” Lively was told by her two godmothers, Elsa and Bliss, that her parents died when she was a baby. Now Mira is fifteen, and the story of her mom and dad perishing in a terrible fire at her christening party isn’t adding up. Elsa and Bliss have forbidden Mira from ever returning to Beau Rivage, the town where she was born and where her parents were killed, but Mira is determined to learn the truth. Mira runs away from home and finds herself in Beau Rivage without any money or anywhere to stay. Chance brings her to The Dream, one of Beau Rivage’s many elegant casinos, where she meets the handsome Felix Valentine and his younger brother, Blue. Blue quickly warns Mira that Felix is dangerous and that she should stay away from him, but Mira is enchanted by Felix’s kindness and the mutual attraction between them, so when he offers her a room at the Dream while she searches for her parents’ graves, she jumps at the opportunity to spend more time with him. As Mira gets to know Beau Rivage, she quickly learns that there is something very strange about the town. It seems that in Beau Rivage, fairy tales are a reality, and most of the inhabitants have been cursed to live out the fates of their literary ancestors. Mira has always wondered what the strange wheel shaped birthmark on her back means, and begins to suspect that she, like the rest of Beau Rivage, has a curse of her own. But what does her fate have to do with her blossoming relationship with the seductive Felix, and why does Blue, and everyone else in town, keep insisting she is in danger?
Review: Set in the beautifully creepy town of Beau Rivage, where living a fairy tale isn’t necessarily a good thing, Kill Me Softly, the latest novel from author Sarah Cross, offers a new take on the classic “stories” we thought we all knew. As many readers who pick up Kill Me Softly might already know (or will soon find out), the original versions of most of the well-known fairy tales tend to be quite grim. From Cinderella’s stepsisters slicing off parts of their feet to fit into the glass slipper, to the little mermaid suffering agonizing torture from splitting her tail into legs to be with her prince, there is usually very little that can be identified as “Disney” in these tales. What is, in a morbid way, so enjoyable about Kill Me Softly, is that the town of Beau Rivage operates on the gruesome versions of the fairy tales. After Mira arrives in town, she soon spots a set of sisters walking around with bandaged feet, one of her new friends is constantly coughing up flower petals and jewels, and the guy she finds herself falling in love with seems to have a very dark and deadly secret of his own. Readers will find much to relish in this book, from identifying the incarnations of their favorite fairy tales, to Mira’s quest to find out the truth about her parents. Be advised, however, that while this book is based on tales for children, it is suitable for the older teen audience, as there is a fair amount of cursing and sexual situations (particularly the romance between twenty-one-year-old Felix Valentine and the very underage fifteen-year-old Mira.) For adventurous readers, however, Kill Me Softly is an entertaining read that is sure to satisfy in many ways. A companion novel set in Beau Rivage is set to be released in the near future.
Genre:  Science-Fiction/Fantasy
Reading level: Grade 9+
Similar titles: Sweetly and Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Between the Sea and Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore, Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay, Snow in Summer: Fairest of Them All by Jane Yolen.   
Themes:  Fairy tales, romance, danger, orphans, death, murder, secrets.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Booklist and Kirkus.
Series Information: First novel in Beau Rivage series. Companion novel set to be released in 2013.       
Discussion questions:
-        Do you think Mira running away to Beau Rivage was the right thing for her to do? Why or why not?

-       What do you think Blue meant when he told Mira that Felix “loves orphans?”

-       Do you think Felix truly loved Mira? Blue? Freddie?

-      Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?

-        If you could choose your Beau Rivage “curse,” what would you pick? Why?

-       Sarah Cross has said that she’s writing a companion novel to Kill Me Softly that will contain Viv’s story. What do you think this book will be about? Do you plan to read it? What other characters from Kill Me Softly would like to know more about?