Book Review: The Misadventures of an Amateur Naturalist (Celeste Rossan #1) by Ceinwen Langley

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fantasy Fairytale Retelling
Publisher: Feed the Writer Press
Publication Date: September 1st, 2021
Pages: 365, eBook
Source: Library

Aspiring young naturalist Celeste Rossan is determined to live a life of adventure and scientific discovery. But when her father loses everything, Celeste’s hopes of ever leaving her home town are dashed… until she sees a narrow opportunity to escape to Paris and attend the 1867 Exposition Universelle.

Celeste seizes her chance, but the elements overwhelm her before she can make it five miles. In desperation, she seeks refuge in an abandoned chateau only to find herself trapped inside the den of an unknown species: a predator with an intelligence that rivals any human.

It’s the discovery of a lifetime. Or, it will be, if Celeste can earn the beast’s trust without losing her nerve – or her heart – to her in the process.

The Misadventures of an Amateur Naturalist has some interesting spins on the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, such as Celeste (the Beauty) sacrificing herself to a marriage she doesn’t want in order to save her family, instead of sacrificing herself to the Beast, as well as making her a naturalist/scientist. I did enjoy these takes on the plot beats of the original fairytale. I also liked Celeste well enough as a main character, although I’m not sure she had much of an arc, as such. I felt she was more or less the same character in the end as she was in the beginning of the novel.

The biggest issue is that the pacing is very off. We don’t meet the Beast until close to the 50% mark. The first half is spent on Celeste’s life and the circumstances that lead her to being desperate enough to run away. I’m not opposed to this idea, but we simply spend too much time in it, and as a consequence the story dragged quite a lot. The better choice may have been to shorten this and have Celeste act sooner.

Langley’s choice not to introduce the Beast until nearly halfway in also harmed the progression of Celeste’s relationship with her. Their progression from distrust to trust, to friendship, to love wasn’t as clear cut as I would have liked, and in the end I’m not entirely certain I believed the love between them. Quite literally, Celeste initially spends more time on-page with a barn owl in the castle than she does with the Beast.

At times it felt like Langley suffered from the issue of not really knowing what to have Celeste do in the castle, and instead chose to focus more on scenes with Celeste and the Beast. However then the issue became that there simply wasn’t enough time to develop that relationship as it should have been developed.

Also, if I didn’t know this was the first in a possible series, I would have been very put off by the fact that Celeste doesn’t seem to spend much time thinking about her family in the last chapter. They still believe she’s dead and here she is, going off on an adventure with her wife, and she doesn’t even think about them once. No remorse? No guilt? Maybe this will be handled in the sequel, but it should have had a mention here, in my opinion.

The strongest parts of the novel were the technical writing aspects of it — Langley has a lovely writing style that’s easy to read, and I was able to envision her world easily. Her characters were also strong, and I appreciated that she didn’t go the Gaston route with Celeste’s fiance Etienne. If the issues of pacing were fixed, I would have enjoyed this novel much more. I may still read the sequel (I’m thinking it’ll be a Little Mermaid retelling, given some dialogue in the end).

Book Review: The Russian Cage (Gunnie Rose #3) by Charlaine Harris

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical fantasy
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2021
Pages: 304, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Picking up right where A Longer Fall left off, this thrilling third installment follows Lizbeth Rose as she takes on one of her most dangerous missions yet: rescuing her estranged partner, Prince Eli, from the Holy Russian Empire. Once in San Diego, Lizbeth is going to have to rely upon her sister Felicia, and her growing Grigori powers to navigate her way through this strange new world of royalty and deception in order to get Eli freed from jail where he’s being held for murder.

Russian Cage continues to ramp up the momentum with more of everything Harris’ readers adore her for with romance, intrigue, and a deep dive into the mysterious Holy Russian Empire.

The Russian Cage is the third book in Charlaine Harris’ Gunnie Rose series. As with many of Harris’ heroines, Lizbeth is plainspoken and straightforward. This causes her issues when dealing with the Holy Russian Empire and its wizards. 

Lizbeth receives a letter from her half-sister, who is a student at the grigori school in California. Lizbeth’s lover, Eli, has been arrested, and no one knows why. Lizbeth travels to California, determined to free him, and uncovers a plot that could destabilize the region.

Harris has a simple writing style, not sparse exactly, but told with a minimum of frippery, much like Lizbeth herself. Lizbeth has a strong sense of self, and that contrasts to the other characters, who must hide their true thoughts and feelings in order not to be branded traitors. 

The plot is solid and moves swiftly, but logically. This is a quick, but enjoyable read, and a great addition to the series.

Book Review: Rebel Rose (The Queen’s Council #1) by Emma Theriault

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Genre: Young Adult Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Disney+Hyperion
Publication Date: November 10th, 2020
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Happily ever after is only the beginning as Belle takes on the responsibility of becoming queen and learns to balance duty, love, and sacrifice, all while navigating dark political intrigue-and a touch of magic.

It’s 1789 and France is on the brink of revolution. Belle has finally broken the Enchantress’s curse, restoring the Beast to his human form as Prince Adam, and bringing life back to their castle in the province of Aveyon. But in Paris, the fires of change are burning, and it’s only a matter of time before the rebellion arrives on their doorstep.

Belle has always dreamed of leaving her provincial home for a life of adventure. But now she finds herself living in a palace, torn between her roots as a commoner, and her future as a royal. When she stumbles across a mysterious, ancient magic that brings with it a dire warning, she must question whether she is ready for the power being thrust on her, and if being Queen is more than just a title.

Rebel Rose is the first in the Queen’s Council series, an empowering fairy tale reimagining of the Disney Princesses–and the real history behind their stories–like you’ve never seen before.

Rebel Rose starts off strong, but the middle loses its footing and the book doesn’t seem sure of how to achieve a court intrigue plotline. At times the middle portion of the book felt like it was simply filler material until it could get to the third act.

The ending is tight, and I appreciated the inclusion of a Black queer woman, and the further canonization of LeFou as being a gay man. (I also appreciated that it’s made explicit that Gaston was abusive/a bully towards LeFou as well.) 

However, Belle and the Prince (here called Lio) are only in Paris for a brief few days before returning to their own castle to try to get ahead of the danger. Belle also spends a lot of time inside the castle, so the danger never felt very present or very much like a threat. This is mostly solved in the third act where the danger comes to the castle and Belle actually has to deal with it head on, but it was a little late after the meandering second act.

Still, it’s nice to see that Disney is willing to age up their canon, with Bastille Day being an on-the-page event, and even some of the characters cursing. Though I did find it funny that, while violence and cursing are okay, the book is mostly scrubbed of any intimacy past kissing and has only one real subtle nod to sex. (Not that I think we need to read about Disney characters having on-page sex scenes, but the contrast between a dude getting beheaded on page and the chaste kisses Belle and Lio share was a little off-kilter.)

A problem I find in a lot of these Disney books is that the characters simply don’t sound like the ones we saw in the movies. This is still a problem in Rebel Rose, as sometimes the characterization of Belle and the others slipped. I’m willing to cut a little slack in this case, as it can’t have been easy to strike a balance between the somewhat modern language used in the original movie, and the need to have the characters talk like they actually live in the late 18th century France. Still, Belle came across as surprisingly passive here, especially in the aforementioned troubled middle section.

Overall, I’m not sure I’d recommend Rebel Rose. It has its strengths, but I’m not sure they outweigh the faults.