Esprit de la Rose by Kaycee Browning
Well, well, well, the collection starts out with a swashbuckling bang! I got a bit of a Pirates of the Caribbean vibe, especially from the cursed sailors; the evil mermaid element was pretty cool (and also served as a tool to bring home several Beauty and the Beast elements); and I just love pirate ships. I don't know why exactly, but those big, beautiful ships with their sails and rigging and adventurous crews just get to me.
Cecilia was a plucky heroine, but it was Captain Pepin who kept me engrossed in the tale. Arrogant, humorous, unpredictable . . . and with more to him than meets the eye, of course. The story's conclusion was a tad on the swift side, but given the limits of the contest, it couldn't really be helped. 4 STARS
Wither by Savannah Jezowski
Okay. This might have been my favorite story of the entire collection--though it's hard to say something so conclusive when all the stories were unique and enjoyable! But something about the writing style really clicked with me. Not to mention the main characters: especially sturdy, spitfire Bet (oh my goodness, such a refreshing heroine) and gruff, hurting Corwin (my poor baby). And Quarrel! I want him as my own pet now.
And I can't go without mentioning the world. In the space of a short novella, we get a rich taste of it--a deep lungful of its smells and sights of its scenery--all without bogging the story down. It's dark and gloomy, a tale populated by bloodthirsty monsters and lonely wraiths, but the chilling backdrop served to make the themes of love and sacrifice shine brighter. Quite the powerful story here. 5 STARS
Stone Curse by Jenelle Schmidt
I found it extra fun to read this one because I've gotten to know Jenelle in the blogging world since this book was published! A very sweet read, slower than the previous tale, yet still twisting Beauty and the Beast in a clever way. I did predict the twist early on, but I enjoyed taking the journey with the unknowing characters as they traipsed through a comfortably familiar fairy-tale world of woods and castles and cozy inns.
Plus the beast is a bear! A big,
Rosara and the Jungle King by Dorian Tsukioka
What a unique twist! Amazonian-type tribes in a jungle setting . . . brutal customs . . . a talking jaguar . . . Who'd have thought? And yet the core themes of Beauty and the Beast transplanted into this unfamiliar setting are immediately recognizable. Rosara is a courageous young lady, and Tupa is a huggable beast. (Sorry, but large predators often look so cuddly and wonderful--it's one reason I adore Aslan.)
I'm not sure what to think about the spiritual aspect of the karawara birds and whatnot. It did fit the tribal aspect of the story and provided for some cool twists, though. This tale is harsher than some of its companions, but it's fast pace kept me flying through the pages. 4.5 STARS
The Wulver's Rose by Hayden Wand
This historical novella was a sweet, satisfying end to the collection. It took a while to get into the Beauty and the Beast elements, but the beginning segment was necessary to set things up and get Bonnie Alleway into the right mindset for future story events. I found her guilt over her mistakes to be done in a real, relatable way.
And it's in Scotland, people! How dreamy is that? I adored the bits where the characters' accents were stronger. And the setting comes through beautifully throughout the story, making it feel like you're in the rolling hills yourself. Oh yes, and the non-romantic relationship between Bonnie and the beast was a nice flip too. 4 STARS
Overall . . .
I give the collection 4.5 stars! It's well-rounded and yet there's still a common feel threading through each story. I found it interesting to see which qualities the various beasts shared, such as at least one lovable quality hidden beneath some kind of monstrousness, whether it was a gruff nature or an ugly appearance. And all the beauty characters were spunky, kind, courageous, sacrificial, and able to see beauty underneath brokenness.
The themes of Beauty and the Beast were highlighted in different ways in each of the stories, which was really neat. The original fairy tale is so powerful. Sacrifice, love, seeing past appearances . . . all beautiful themes that have the potential to make a great impact--which I think this collection accomplished. I'll definitely be rereading it in the future!