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Review: Sleep Like Death by Kalynn Bayron

Sleep Like Death by Kalynn Bayron

Sleep Like Death
Kalynn Bayron
Bloomsbury YA
Published June 25, 2024

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About Sleep Like Death

New York Times bestselling author and TikTok sensation Kalynn Bayron returns to fairytales with a lush, thrilling and original YA Snow White retelling that brings a new and exciting voice to this familiar tale. Perfect for fans of Cinderella Is Dead.

Only the truly desperate—and foolish—seek out the Knight, an ancient monster who twists wishes into curses. Eve knows this firsthand: one of her mothers was cursed by the Knight and trapped in the body of a songbird. With the unique abilities to communicate with animals and conjure weapons from nature, Eve has trained all her life to defeat him.

With more and more villagers harmed by the Knight’s corrupt deals, Eve believes she’s finally ready to face him. But when Queen Regina begins acting strangely – talking to seemingly no one, isolating herself, and lashing out at the slightest provocation – Eve must question if her powers are enough to save her family and her kingdom.

My Review

Wow. I wasn’t sure in the first couple chapters of this book how closely it would resemble the fairytale about Snow White, but as the story continued to unfold, so many things fell into place in familiar yet really imaginative, fresh ways.

I was just talking with a group of bloggers about how many stories, especially fairytales, include an evil mom or stepmom, and I want to rush back to the group waving this book. In Sleep Like Death, instead of the usual bad mom, we celebrate motherhood and a community of women who mentor and care for Princess Eve. I love that there are several women Eve feels close to, and each one contributes different things to her life. Her relationship with her mom is especially sweet.

There’s a hint of romance in the story as well, and I liked the way that played out. It’s present but not forefront to the tale. This book is Eve’s adventure from start to finish, and she takes an active role at every step of the way. I love that.

I think Kalynn Bayron has become one of my favorite writers to watch because she constantly amazes me. Reimagined fairytales with fierce women at the center? Yep, she can do that. Quirky, fabulous middle grade? Uh-huh. She’s got that, too. Wild slasher novel that somehow also makes fun of itself? You bet. A reimagined classic set in 1885 London? Check!

She’s amazing, y’all. Truly.

Anyway, this might be my favorite version of Snow White that I’ve ever read. I think it’s a hard story to tell, and this version does it absolutely beautifully. If you like fairytales, definitely don’t miss this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

The main character is Black.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
One instance of mild profanity.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Eve has two moms. A woman confesses to Eve that she is in love with another woman.

Spiritual Content
Some characters have the ability to perform magic. Eve can create magic from nature. For example, she pulls the night sky down and wraps a piece around her like a cloak. A mysterious Knight grants wishes for a price.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Eve and another character hunt and kill a deer. Eve and her allies battle against foes.

Drug Content
References to someone drinking too much while grieving over the loss of a child.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Broken Wish by Julie C. Dao

Broken Wish (The Mirror #1)
Julie C. Dao
Published October 6, 2020

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About Broken Wish

Hanau, Germany

Sixteen-year-old Elva has a secret. She has visions and strange powers that she will do anything to hide. She knows the warnings about what happens to witches in their small village of Hanau. She’s heard the terrible things people say about the Witch of the North Woods, and the malicious hunts that follow. But when Elva accidentally witnesses a devastating vision of the future, she decides she has to do everything she can to prevent it.

Tapping into her powers for the first time, Elva discovers a magical mirror and its owner—none other than the Witch of the North Woods herself. As Elva learns more about her burgeoning magic, and the lines between hero and villain start to blur, she must find a way to right past wrongs before it’s too late.

My Review

BROKEN WISH was not the book I expected it to be. (Not in a bad way!) I thought it might be dark, the way that FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS is. I thought it would be strictly from Elva’s point-of-view.

It’s not nearly as dark as Dao’s debut novel, which didn’t bother me at all. I liked the sort of quaint, small town feel of Hanau, where the story is set. There are a few references to Grimm’s fairy tales, and the setting of the story definitely felt like a place where those tales would happen.

The story isn’t limited to one point-of-view. The early chapters are told from the perspective of Elva’s mother, who befriends a solitary neighbor and later learns that she’s a witch with the power to give her the one thing she desperately wants– the ability to have a child– in exchange for her friendship.

BROKEN WISH then shifts to Elva’s point-of-view, and we learn about her special gift and the struggle she faces: she must either hide her gift forever or risk being exiled, or worse. She’s a sweet girl who wants to believe the best of everyone. I loved her courage and her unwavering commitment to the people she loved.

Another thing that I enjoyed is that BROKEN WISH is mainly a story of female friendships. Agnes (Elva’s mother) and her relationship with Mathilde (the solitary neighbor with magical abilities), and then Elva’s relationship with Mathilde, both as mentor and friend.

On the whole, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I’m really excited to read the rest of the series, which looks like it’ll be four books, each written by a different author. The next book in the series will be SHATTERED MIDNIGHT by Dhonielle Clayton and will be set in New Orleans in 1928.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Major characters are white and German. Mathilde grew up with an aunt and her female partner.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
No profanity. In one scene, a woman makes reference to a group of men saying awful things about her, some of them sexual.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Mathilde and Elva both have magical abilities. Performing magic requires a kind of exchange, and if the exchange is not met, the magic can take an unexpected price.

Violent Content
Children sicken after eating poisoned candy. A group of angry men say cruel things to a woman and call for her to be hanged.

Drug Content
Elva’s parents drink alcohol at a party.

Note: I received a free copy of BROKEN WISH in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog.

Review: Umberland by Wendy Spinale

Wendy Spinale
Scholastic Press
Published on May 9, 2017

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About Umberland
They’re dreadfully fond of beheading people here…

Gwen, Pete, and the others have escaped from Everland. Except the safe haven they hoped to find at Alnwick Castle doesn’t exist. With the Queen of England on her deathbed, Duchess Alyssa has stepped in, but things have gotten worse as the cure Doc created for the Horologia virus has mutated into something even more deadly. The only possible solution he can think of is to go back to the virus’s origin: an extinct poisonous apple.

Legend has it, though, that a tree bearing the apple might be found at the center of an impossible labyrinth hidden deep within Germany. A place no one in their right mind enters. With no other options, Alyssa sets out with only her sword, her wits, and the help of Maddox Hadder, a wild boy who oversees the castle gardens. To get to the center of the maze, she’ll be forced to battle monsters more terrifying than her darkest nightmares.

But can anyone truly survive the madness of the maze? And what if there’s no apple to be found there?

My Review
I’m loving this series so far. I think I was pretty primed to like Maddox Hadder – something about that whole dark and misunderstood boy with a terribly tragic past tends to be irresistible to me – and I really did like him a lot. I think I expected there to be more of a sort of madness about him though? I think that was the only thing I felt was missing about Umberland. The Labrynth was a scary place for sure, but apart from a specific scene, there really wasn’t much of a madness element to it. I think I wanted more of that Wonderland flavor.

Even without that, though, I liked the new characters introduced in the story. And I liked that it carries forward the stories of Jack and Hook as well as Gwen and the Lost Boys. Cat, the heir to the English throne and sort of Cheshire Cat type of character, added a lot of depth to the story with her own plot to save Umberland through a very dangerous alliance.

I think Everland is still my favorite of these two books, but I enjoyed this one a lot, too. The story in Umberland didn’t feel like quite as much of a retelling of Alice in Wonderland as Everland did of Peter Pan. Lots of things were different. And there were also some Snow White-like elements mixed in with the poison apple and wicked queen. All in all, though, I’m glad I read it, and this seems like a fun series for readers looking for dystopian or fairytale mashups.

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Cultural Elements
Major characters are white. Lily is Indian.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
Brief kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
Some situations of peril. Lizard -like people attack the castle where Pete and the others have taken shelter. A gunshot kills one boy. Alyssa and Maddox fight a huge machine.

Drug Content
Maddox and Cat host huge, indulgent parties each night in their garden. Guests with advanced-stage disease consume drugs and alcohol and end their lives at the close of the party. Maddox makes some vague references to sampling opium tea in the past.

Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Julie C. Dao
Philomel Books
Published on October 10, 2017

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

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.

My Review

I picked up this book after hearing a ton of buzz about it on Twitter and review blogs. For some reason, though, I didn’t piece together what it was until I read something in an email when I was about halfway through reading the book. This is a re-imagined origin story about the Evil Queen (Snow White’s stepmother) in mythological Chinese setting. As soon as I realized that, I felt like a light went on for me.

Because wow, it’s so dark. The whole eating hearts thing is super creepy, and I kept thinking why is she doing this? She’s the protagonist! Why isn’t she resisting evil more completely? I kept waiting for her to break away from the dark magic, and was frustrated when she didn’t. Then I realized I didn’t understand the purpose of the story. Once I figured out where it was going, things made a lot more sense and I could enjoy watching the elements of the story unfold and appreciate the clever way certain things were re-invented (already there’s a dwarf character, an ambassador from another country, for instance).

The writing and the story world pretty much blew me away. It’s a much darker story than I realized before picking it up, though. I think fans of Fairest by Marissa Meyer will appreciate Forest of a Thousand Lanterns for its unapologetic, clever spin on one of the most iconic fairy tale villains.Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Cultural Elements
This is an origin story about the wicked queen from the Snow White fairy tale, but reimagined with Chinese characters/setting.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Xifeng has sex with Wei – few details. It says something about them fitting together like interlaced fingers. She definitely uses his love for her and the intimacy they share to try to control him and keep him from leaving her.

Spiritual Content
Guma uses rituals to access the magical ability carried down through her family. One such ritual involves eating a living heart. Xifeng eats the hearts of two rabbits in one scene. Horse-like creatures (also called demons) save Xifeng and her friends from assassins. The demon queen references a great destiny for Xifeng and talks about how there are two forces at war within her: one for evil and one for good. She warns Xifeng about the blood rituals and says there’s a price for them that she doesn’t know, as Xifeng’s aunt only taught her parts of the truth about them. She alludes to the idea that Xifeng’s aunt promised Xifeng to the serpent god in exchange for her power.

Xifeng wrestles with her connection to the serpent god, often finding herself at moments where she must decide to serve him or resist his influence. She recognizes as evil, but he offers her great power, which she craves more than anything.

Violent Content
Guma beats Xifeng when she’s displeased with her. She’s cruel and manipulative. See above regarding the blood rituals for magic.

Xifeng eats the hearts of her enemies to gain magical power. There are some pretty graphic descriptions of her removing a heart from a victim. (This happens several times.)

Drug Content
Xifeng learns someone poisoned an important character.