PAST REVIEWS: CHRISTINA HENRY EDITION

Before creating this blog, I was prone to the odd goodreads or bookstagram review here and there, which of course is what inspired this whole journey. So, I thought it might be fun to compile all of my reviews from the past year or so that haven’t made an appearance on this blog, no matter how long or short, and have them all in a nice and tidy little space. There will be a lot, so I’ll be doing a series of posts just to fill in spaces, but hopefully there’ll be a bit of inspiration along the way, and maybe it’ll be a way to drum up conversations about our favourite books, or introduce you lovely readers to some new, exciting material!


To kick off, this is going to be a Christina Henry edition, in which I share my reviews for all of her fairytale retellings.


Book: Lost Boy
Author: Christina Henry
Date read: December 31st 2017
Star rating: 5/5 stars
Revised rating: 4/5 stars

Review:

I gave this a five star rating but purely because I couldn’t give it a 4.5, lol. Not that it wasn’t great, but in parts it was definitely quite grim and gritty. It had a few particularly tough, dark aspects that made it quite hard reading and tricky to push through for me personally, but everyone’s different. Though, I know that that’s quite typical to Christina Henry’s writing from what i’ve heard. I know this won’t be for everyone, but I did really enjoy it. I love Peter Pan and I love a good retelling, and this one was just really gripping for me. I particularly enjoyed how she managed to remain faithful to the original characterisation of Peter, while still adding her own twist to the story and putting her own mark on it. I really enjoyed a lot of the dynamics within the book, too, and found myself growing steadily attached to characters and relationships within the first few pages. Anyway, overall, I enjoyed it and I’m glad I picked it up!


Book: Alice
Author: Christina Henry
Date read: July 6th 2018
Star rating: 4/5 stars
Revised rating: 4/5 stars

Review:

I like Christina Henry. I read another one of her books, Lost Boy (a Peter Pan adaptation, of course), and I really enjoyed it. I gave it a good rating, because overall I thought it was a fun adaptation, and above all else I found it especially easy to read. For me, that’s a BIG deal within books at times. I hit slumps quite a lot, whether it’s because I’m just too busy to read, or because I can’t get in the correct frame of mind, but regardless we all know how difficult it can be to push through a book. Especially if the text isn’t easy to follow. With a few exceptions here and there, reading Lost Boy was a joy, and I found myself with few complaints as far as the endgame was concerned. I did have a few issues, but overall I liked it, and the same can be said for Alice. Henry’s writing flows so smoothly, and I never find myself mulling over a sentence for too long, or trying to determine where we are or what is happening. I think, often, that writers are so focused on being flowery and intellectual, that often the meaning or context of a scene can get lost amidst all the flair. Henry’s writing is simple without being mundane.
I understand that a lot of people wouldn’t enjoy Alice on the whole. For me, what intrigued me the most, was how much I enjoyed Hatcher. I didn’t expect to. I have a huge issue as far as male characters, and especially morally corrupt male characters, go. I understand that there are characters who are flawed, but there is definitely a line for me, and when crossed I find it hard to endear myself to a characters, fictional or not. Hatcher, however, put things into perspective a little for me. I found myself conflicted, flitting back and forth between my own feelings for him, before realising that, had this character been placed into another setting, another world entirely, and with a completely different society surrounding him, I’d have loathed him. And yet, within the context of the story, the troubles they were faced with, I found myself pleasantly surprised. With the darkness of his character, and his actions, his attitude towards murder and his evident bloodlust, I felt a strange level of discomfort, in some aspects, that were soon overshadowed by the realisation that all of his actions, his burning desire to kill, was always relevant to his story and his own personal narrative. It doesn’t take long for you to realise that, while heinous, his actions are always in the name of taking down rapists, murderers, and other unsavoury characters. Never does he go after, or harm, innocent people. He’s by no means as compassionate as young Alice, something that often sets the two apart and allows them to share moments in which they can challenge one another, but his actions always seem to be with good intent. Not to mention, his moments of ‘seeing red’ allow Henry to challenge the slightly ‘mad’ side of these characters, and it gives us a chance to delve into the spin that she’s put on each of these beloved and well known counterparts, and gives insight into why both Hatcher and Alice were originally locked in an Asylum to begin with.
This story is exceptionally dark, as I’ve already mentioned. The book opens with both Hatcher and Alice in an insane asylum (for lack of a better phrase), and goes on to frame the ‘We’re all mad here’ concept in an interesting way, with both of them suffering from their own severe levels of trauma. Alice, in particular, is dealing with a lot of her own personal trauma from the different levels of rape, sexual and physical assault, and emotional manipulation that she has endured over the years. We spend the book following their journey together, getting fleeting snippets into the memories that they occasionally recall, while seeing how each decision and each action impacts their current and past selves. When dealing with things such as sexual assault & violence, and rape overall, it’s an incredibly sensitive subject, as well as hard hitting and tough to read. I, for one, find it exceptionally difficult to read such accounts for the most part, and I found myself uncomfortable with how frequent a theme it was within the story, but I understand why Henry went down that route and followed such a path.
Overall, I think it was handled well, and the horror and disgust that was exhibited from both Alice and Hatcher throughout the story, when seeing and hearing the treatment of young women in their world, was something that we can all understand. Nobody likes to hear of such things, and I thought that it was appropriate that they react in the ways that they did, with Alice especially having far more severe reactions than Hatcher – on account of being a young woman herself, as well as her own personal history with sexual assault – and it also allowed us to delve further into her own character, thought process, and relationship with Hatcher.
I don’t necessarily agree with everything that Henry wrote, nor the way she always handles a situation – I think it’s important to note that we live in a society where such topics aren’t always handled with grace, nor are they always understood and given the appropriate treatment, whether intentional or not, and that sometimes a worldview is forced upon us by the society in which we live. I think a lot of that is prevalent in her own writing, and sometimes the way that she portrays women/the treatment of women. It was something that I noticed within Lost Boy, and again in Alice. It didn’t entirely take away from my enjoyment of the book, but I did notice a few aspects that didn’t sit quite well with me that I felt could have been handled better.
This is a tough review to write, as a lot of my time reading this book has been spaced out (due to being busy, and not a lack of enjoyment), as well as the fact that I tend to ramble nonsensically and spout off garbage. I’m trying my hardest not to spoil it, while trying to convey any points that I feel are worth noting, so apologies if this is just a useless ramble of a review. Overall, I really enjoyed the story. I didn’t set the book down and feel as though the story had been wrapped up, or like I wouldn’t care to find out what was going to happen next, but instead found myself eager to pick up the sequel and see where it takes me. I found that Hatcher & Alice’s relationship was enjoyable to read, moving fast and slow at the same time (the two of them having already established a dynamic prior to the start of the book), and left space for development and new experiences in the sequel. While this story wrapped up a lot of the mysteries and issues that the pair of them faced along their journey, Henry has in no way brushed aside the things that they endured, and the trauma (old and new) that they will now have to live with. I’m intrigued to learn more about some of the characters we have to look forward to, to unlock more of the secrets to both Hatcher and Alice’s pasts, and to see what Henry has in store for the sequel!
I think if anyone is interested in picking this up, the most important thing going in is to know that there is a huge trigger warning for physical violence, murder, sexual assault, and rape. To my recollection, those are the only ‘big’ triggers that I can recall off of the top of my head, though the story is very dark and does touch upon some very sensitive topics.


Book: Red Queen
Author: Christina Henry
Date read: October 18th 2018
Star rating: 2/5 stars
Revised rating: 2/5 stars

Review:

** spoiler alert ** Let me start off by saying this: I love Christina Henry and I enjoy her books, and it’s genuinely with a heavy heart that I rate this one so harshly.

So, truthfully, I didn’t enjoy this book even nearly as much as I’d hoped to. I’ve read all of Henry’s fairytale retelling, and as a particular fan of Alice in Wonderland, it was this series that had drawn me in. I loved Alice, the dark and gritty spin that she put on such a classic story. It was hard hitting and a heavy read at times, the tone always dark and never shying away from some of the more heinous and devastating aspects of Alice’s suffering. It was a bit silly and a bit unbelievable, but that’s to be expected. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot, just as I enjoyed her other books.
Red Queen, however, surprised me. I had been looking forward to this one immensely, especially after reading the first book, with high hopes for how the end of Alice and Hatcher’s tale would unfold. I was eager to discover more of Jenny, to find out about the Red Queen, to see the two navigate a new world with new obstacles away from those of which they’d grown accustomed. Unfortunately, this book left me highly disappointed. While I can’t put too much weight on the lack of Hatcher – love him or not, this is Alice’s story after all – I still found myself a little uncertain even when he was present. It’s no secret to any of the readers that Hatcher is unhinged, and certainly not your classic imagining of what a hero or a love interest might be. He’s dark and menacing and riddled with trauma. Even so, the first book managed to capture that essence, while still never crossing a line within his relationship with Alice or his nature towards the innocent. This book, however, and the brief glimpses of him that we had at the start, merely showed a man that even Alice was utterly terrified of. A man who seemed frustrated with her, and not a man in love. Not to mention the unending theme of his ownership over her.
Disappointing, but I pushed on.
What followed was a long road of absolutely nothing. This book consisted of pages and pages of unnecessary blandness, of Alice (and momentarily Hatcher, before his disappearance) doing nothing but walk through fields, tunnels, forests, and more fields, tunnels, and forests once she’d gotten through the first lot. There were lots of inexplicable cut scenes with no explanation as to what had just happened, somehow shifting back and forth between a book that moved at a snails pace, to a book that seemed to rush over any details that might be important or interesting, and back again. In between there seemed to be some vague semblance of a plot, in which Alice refused to even think about her past with the Jabberwocky, and refused to tell anybody of her story and any of what had lead her to where she had come to be, meaning we weren’t really getting much of, well, anything. Nothing of excitement or, it seemed, importance happened, and it wasn’t until page 234 that she finally even reached the castle and the White Queen (yep, the WHITE Queen, not the Red Queen, for whom the book is named). Though the Red Queen certainly comes into play, and has some significance in Alice’s meeting with the White Queen, it doesn’t really feel like either character were deserving of the title.
By the time we finally reached the identity of the White Queen, I was holding onto a tiny thread of hope. Hope that maybe this book might surprise me, that I might be in for an unexpected twist. Alas, it never came. The Jenny/Queen reveal had been as predictable a plot as any. The second the existence of Jenny was revealed in the first book, and with the knowledge of the title of the second, I always anticipated that this would be where Henry took her story. It felt almost as though there was no real punch to this story, in comparison to her first story. I felt bored and tired of the endless stream of nothingness, and underwhelmed by the ‘twists’ that followed. One of my favourite factors of Henry’s ‘Alice’ had always been the Hatcher/Alice dynamic, and to find it warped into such a dangerous and toxic dynamic disappointed me to no end. Alice spends every minute surrounding him scared of him. At the start of the book she’s afraid of him, and when they reunite she’s even more terrified. He attacks her in his wolf form, and even chases and intends to harm he’d in his human form, and we’re told to support and understand and forgive, which doesn’t sit very right with me. The possessiveness and the ownership that seemed prevalent in their relationship, as well as the fear and the aggression depicted in this second book, only reminded me of the sort of romances and relationships that young girls should shy away from, not encourage and romanticise.
If I were to focus on any sort of positives, I will say that the last 15 or so pages of the book endeared me to no end. The dynamic and banter and gentle nature between Alice and the remaining Lost Ones was a nice and refreshing touch, and having enjoyed so much of Christina Henry’s work in the past, it felt like such a shame to not enjoy the vast majority of the book as I had enjoyed those fleeting few pages. I found myself more disappointed in my own lack of enjoyment than I was in the actual content.

A shame, truthfully, as I do tend to enjoy Henry’s work, and held a huge soft spot for both Alice and Hatcher, and I just wish her sequel had lived up to its predecessor. Honestly, as harsh (and nonsensical) as this review has been, it pains me to give it such a low rating. A 2.5 seems the best fit for now, though I’ll certainly be sure to keep an eye out for Henry’s future fairytale retelling all the same.


Book: The Mermaid
Author: Christina Henry
Date read: September 6th 2018
Star rating: 4/5 stars
Revised rating: 4/5 stars

Review:

** spoiler alert ** I really enjoy Christina Henry’s writing. I enjoyed Lost Boy, and the spin she put on the classic story of Peter Pan. I enjoyed Alice, and the way she adapted my most favourite character, and the excitement and eagerness I’ve been feeling to move on to Red Queen. And now, The Mermaid. I loved this in a lot of different ways, and I felt like the story took me on a journey I hadn’t anticipated.
Much like Henry’s other books, it puts an excellent, dark twist on the classic fairytale. And yet, this somehow surpassed her usual ‘fairytale spin’, and added a little something more to catch my attention. With such successes surrounding The Greatest Showman, and the current interest in the likes of PT Barnum, his family, and his business, it’s very easy to have a somewhat warped perception of the showman in question, and it’s very easy to hero-worship someone who, quite honestly, wasn’t a very decent person. This book is a harsh, and well needed, reminder of this fact. Henry took elements of fiction and reality and combined them, giving us a story about a mermaid who is paraded around as a mere exhibition. This combined aspects of the classic The Little Mermaid in that it tells a story of a young mermaid, a mermaid who wants more. A young mermaid who is fascinated by the human world, intrigued by its uniqueness, by its wonder, and eager to explore and discover more. It’s a story of a young mermaid who falls in love on land, and who has to make a choice between the ocean and her love on land. It also takes the elements of Ariel’s silence (as a result of Ursula’s curse), though certainly portrayed in a different way. But it also tells the story of PT Barnum, a retelling of his famous ‘Fiji Mermaid’ hoax. And so Amelia goes from longing for freedom, for adventure, to living through the harsh realities of what humanity really is. This story isn’t the classic love story that some might imagine, but in fact a reminder of the greed and the selfishness that humans exhibit. The theme throughout felt like a sore reminder of how crass and how cruel the human race can be.

A bird in a cage still knows it’s in a cage, even if the bars are made of gold.”

In all honesty, I’ve always felt slight disconnects from each of Henry’s books, even in spite of enjoying them all so immensely. Each one has hooked me from start to finish, and i’ve always felt like there was something, no matter how minuscule, that held me back from praising it for all of eternity. I love fairytale retellings, and I love Henry’s writing, and I think her books are excellent. They are flawed, and there is always something that stands out as being not quite right, for me, and so I understand the array of conflicting reviews regarding this book. However, I still personally found it to be a particularly gripping story. I enjoyed Amelia immensely as a character, her fierceness and her strength. Her dynamics between each and every character were so intriguing to me, and I found myself so interested in seeing how each one progressed.Amelia & Jack opened up the story, and you find yourself reliving the nostalgia of Ariel and Eric’s own story.Amelia & Levi, of course, have a far more in-depth relationship that spans over a multitude of pages and flits between an array of different emotions, leaving you to wonder just what path Henry intended on taking with them.Amelia & Barnum were somehow both predictable and not. It was no surprise that Barnum was going to consistently treat Amelia with such disregard, as though she was just a prized possession of his, and not a living being with her own free thought. But what stood out to me, and what I loved entirely, was Amelia’s insistence on never backing down, on never letting Barnum treat her poorly, and always holding her own.And then, my favourite dynamic of them all, the relationships between Amelia & both Charity and Caroline. All three went on a journey together, both negative and positive, and they hit their own bumps. But in the end, they showed a devotion and love for one another, a sisterhood – with Amelia’s narrative even referring to the woman and her daughter as her sisters – and a connection that would have been impossible to sever.The fact is, this story certainly touches on subjects that are exceptionally sensitive. Given the time frame, it touches briefly on talks of slavery, of natives and their ‘savagery’, and even references Joice Heth and the real PT Barnum’s treatment of her countless time. All of these are, of course, topics that must be handled with care. Henry never really went into depth with any of the topics on hand, but spoke frequently of Amelia’s horror and disgust at such treatment. As an outsider of her own right, someone viewed as an abomination, someone treated as an animal, thrust into a cage and taught that she was nothing but a possession, it allowed for Amelia to gain insight into the human world. Because, after all, “the human world is a mess”, and Amelia soon came to realise the bigotry and the ignorance that prevailed, and just how vicious people could be.Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it didn’t have to be. Amelia was a great main character, and I enjoyed following her on her journey. She was strong and fierce, entirely firm in her resolve to never be a possession, to never allow ownership over herself, and to maintain her freedom. She not only turned heads because of her ‘unnatural’ state as a mermaid, but in her attitude, and how she remained aghast and vocal at the treatment of women, and also minorities, within society. She believed in freedom of all, and never once stood for the hypocrisies of humankind, always standing up even to those she loved dearly.

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