Book Recommendations

Diverse Retellings You Need to Read

I love retellings and the last few years we have been getting some amazing diverse retellings and my heart feels so happy. I thought I would share the ones I’ve read and loved because I know lots of other people also love retellings.

So here are some of my favourite ones:

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin – This is one of my favourite books ever! A modern Pride and Prejudice retelling with Muslim characters! It is hilarious and touches upon some really important issues too.

Thorn by Intisar Khanani – I loved this character driven retelling of The Goose Girl. It had wonderful discussions about self worth and being true to yourself.

More to the Story by Hena Khan – This is a beautiful modern middle grade retelling of Little Women with Muslim characters and set in America.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi – Another modern Pride and Prejudice retelling which had it’s own unique twists which made it fresh and unique.

Cinderella and the Glass Ceiling by Laura Lane & Ellen Haun – A short story collections where different fairytales are retold. There was a mix of stories some which I loved more than others.

The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – A hades and Persephone retelling which is written so beautifully and immerses you into the world.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – One of my all time favourite books and a retelling of 1001 Arabian Nights. Beautiful writing and full of Persian culture and a wonderful seductive story.

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C Dao – A Snow White retelling with some unique twists and where Snow White must go on a quest to save her kingdom.

Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavours by Sonali Dev – A really unique retelling of Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth and Darcy’s characters are swapped. This was so much fun!

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon – A modern beauty and the beast retelling set at a boarding school and my favourite BatB retlling I’ve read!

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury – An Aladdin retelling but the genie is a young woman and it’s also told from the point of view of the genie! I really enjoyed this book.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston – A modern nerdy Cinderella retelling partly set at a comiccon and I highly recommend this whole series which are all retellings and perfect for all book nerds!

I know there are lots more retellings but these are some of my favourites. Share some of yours in the comments so we can find some new recommendations!

Diverse Books, YA Books

Kingdom Of The Blazing Phoenix by Julie C Dao – Book Review

I really loved Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and I was finally able to read the sequel and I really loved how everything turned out!

You can read my review of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns here

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Rating: 4/5

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Princess Jade has grown up in exile, hidden away in a monastery while her stepmother, the ruthless Xifeng, rules as empress of Feng Lu. But the empire is in distress and its people are sinking into poverty and despair. Even though Jade doesn’t want the crown, she knows she is the only one who can dethrone the empress and set the world right. Ready to reclaim her place as rightful heir, Jade embarks on a quest to raise the Dragon Lords and defeat Xifeng and the Serpent God once and for all. But will the same darkness that took Xifeng take Jade, too? Or will she find the strength within to save herself, her friends, and her empire?

While book one focused on an origin story for the evil queen, this book is a diverse retelling of snow white. I’m not particularly a fan of snow white but I really loved how Julie took the main themes and elements of the story and made it so much more vivid and fascinating!

We don’t get to see a lot of Xifeng in this story, only as much as Jade interacts with her, but I still loved what we saw of her. She is still ruthless and cunning and will still do what’s necessary for her to stay empress but she has realised that she may have paid a too high price but is too far in to do anything to change that. She is bound to the serpent god now whether she wants to or not.

Jade is a reluctant heroine who only decides to defeat Xifeng because she sees the way that Xifeng is destroying the empire. She is kind and caring and smart which makes everyone instantly like her. She becomes friends with some great characters. Julie does a great job in showing us how Jade would be as empress in the way she interacts with the people she is with and especially those lower in station than her.

I also really loved seeing a great female friendship in this book between Jade and Wren. I loved seeing the female empowerment in this book too especially as we see Wren, who is a fighter and Jade who is so different from her yet they are both shown as empowered.

I really loved seeing the great world building in this book. The first book takes place mainly in the palace and surrounding areas yet Jade travels to lots of different places in her quest for the artefacts, so through her we see the different parts of this world. I also loved that it just felt part of the story and not info dumpy.

I did however feel that during the quest, it felt a little slow at times and things were a little too conveniently put there and I just wanted that little bit more struggle and stakes to get the artefacts. I really enjoyed the ending though and the revelations that we find out! Some I did manage to figure out but others I didn’t. It was an action packed ending and had me on the edge of my seat.

Overall I really enjoyed this duology and do recommend reading them. They are both quite different from each other yet they complement each other. You can also read one without reading the other.

Fiction Books, YA Books

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly – ARC Review

Thank you to Hot Key Books and Netgalley for this arc in exchange for an honest review.

I really loved this book! I’m not a fan of Cinderella but the synopsis intrigued me and I’m glad that I read this because it was so great!

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Rating: 4/5

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.
When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.
Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.
Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.

I really enjoy retellings even when I’m not a fan of the original fairytale and this was no exception. This story made me root for the “ugly” sister, it made me feel for her and hope for a happy ending for her. I think that shows how much I enjoyed it, especially as she is a villain in the original story, tormenting Cinderella.

This book deals with female empowerment and how women should empower other women and not tear them down. How women can be more than what society tells us. They put us in boxes and expect us to stay there. You can only be that one thing that they designate to you and we have to cut away parts of ourselves to fit societies expectations. But this story is about breaking out of these boxes and tearing them down. It’s about being true to yourself and being more than what society tells us to be. And that is what makes us so powerful.

I really liked how fate and chance were personified and how each of them tempted Isabelle to make a choice that could lead her in a completely different direction. Fate told her to play it safe, that change isn’t possible, she made her doubt her own ability. Chance told her to take a stand, to be brave and take that step to take hold of her life and lead it in a different direction, to be who she knows she can be. It made her story feel very real, we all deal with these in our own ways, all the time.

I also loved how the fairy queen came to her just like she did for Ella but Isabelle has to find herself before she can actually realise what her hearts true desire is. At the beginning she thinks it is to be pretty, because everyone tells her she is ugly and therefore won’t amount to anything in life. But her journey of self discovery leads her to who she truly wants to be. It was a hard journey full of self doubt and her having to really look beyond what she was told to be and to truly be who she wanted to be.

Tavi was the other sister and I loved her as much as Isabelle, she’s really smart and doesn’t understand why she has to give up her dream of studying to become a suitable wife. I related to her so much! Why girls have to be the ones to sacrifice an education, that they can’t be too smart, because it will hurt the male ego. It’s something we see throughout the book, Tavi is told that she won’t be able to work out the answers by men, that when she corrects the men they feel insulted.

Even Ella, when we meet her, becomes more than just a pretty girl. And I really loved how the author showed the depth and complexity of each of the girls and how they might not be what we all assume them to be.

Honestly this book is filled with themes that I am so passionate about so it left me with a whirlwind of emotions. I felt angry and sad and hopeful and everything else in between. I highly recommend everyone read this book!

Fiction Books, YA Books

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao – Book Review

I read this book recently after it sat on my shelf for ages! I got this in a previous Fairyloot box and I just never got round to reading it but with the sequel coming out I thought it was time to read it! I’m so glad I finally picked it up because I really loved this book!

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Rating: 4/5

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?
Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

This is an east Asian retelling of the Evil Queen. Her journey to becoming empress and what lengths she will go to, to achieving what she wants. It is dark and twisted and you will quickly get caught up in Xifeng’s story and her rise to power.

“If my beauty is my greatest weapon, vanity is the shield that protects me.”

The story deals with the power of beauty and the lengths people will go to, to keep it. Xifeng is beautiful and she knows it and is willing to use that beauty to get what she wants and won’t let anyone stand in her way. Even though she is clearly the villain in this story I was still rooting for her. She is wonderfully complex and dark and we often see her ugly side, even though she is seen as beautiful, her inner beauty is lacking.

She feels that because of her beauty she deserves the power of wealth of being empress. But she is also smart and cunning. She knows how to play the long game and navigate the politics of living in the emperors palace. I’m glad that we got to see her vulnerable side too, how she second guessed herself at times or how she was torn between getting what she wants and being with the man she loves. It made her a more well rounded character as we get to see different aspects of her.

“She knew her own worth. She would seize her destiny with all the strength and spirit within her, and bend them all to her will: every man kneeling and every woman overshadowed.”

This story has lots of political and court intrigue, we see Xifeng navigate living in the palace with the empress and how she has to balance between all the other characters in power. There is lots of manipulation and deceit that happens in this book, from Xifeng doing the manipulation to Xifeng even being manipulated at times too.

The world that Julie creates is also wonderfully complex, intricate and detailed. I loved the rich imagery that is in the books which makes it so easy to imagine the world. I loved the way the Chinese culture and history is woven into the story.

I think my ownly issue with the book was the pacing. I felt it was a little slow in the middle as it dragged a bit but it is worth it to continue as the ending is much more fast paced and explosive. And I love the way it ended with Xifeng achieving her goal yet there is also the promise of more.

“She was a monster, a bride of the darkness, and she rose to face her destiny as though it were the blood-red sunrise of a new day.”

If you like dark retellings and origin stories of the villains then I’m sure you will love this. It is a fresh and original retelling but still ties in the Evil Queen and Snow White story of ‘who is the fairest of them all’