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Stepsister

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Stepsister

  1. 4 out of 5

    Emily May

    Everyone said a girl with a strong will would come to a bad end. Everyone said a girl’s will must be bent to the wishes of those who know what’s best for her. Isabelle was young, only sixteen; she had not yet learned that Everyone is a fool. First off, I want to say I really enjoyed this book. There are so many good things I want to say about it (and will), but I also think I have to admit that for the first 25% I thought I was going to love it more than I did. The opening is very strong, the wr Everyone said a girl with a strong will would come to a bad end. Everyone said a girl’s will must be bent to the wishes of those who know what’s best for her. Isabelle was young, only sixteen; she had not yet learned that Everyone is a fool. First off, I want to say I really enjoyed this book. There are so many good things I want to say about it (and will), but I also think I have to admit that for the first 25% I thought I was going to love it more than I did. The opening is very strong, the writing is gorgeous and highly-quotable, and it's got that beautifully eerie dark fairy tale vibe going on. I was thinking an easy five stars. History books say that kings and dukes and generals start wars. Don’t believe it. We start them, you and I. Every time we turn away, keep quiet, stay out of it, behave ourselves. True to the Grimm brothers' version of Cinderella, the book opens at the end of the tale we know with the stepsisters mutilating their own feet to attempt to fit the glass slipper. Of course, this doesn't work out, and Ella and her prince get their happy ending anyway. Here, that's only the beginning. Isabelle and Tavi are left behind with their overbearing mother. Isabelle, especially, is overcome with bitterness. She's angry at a world that renders a woman worthless if she is not deemed beautiful. Donnelly doesn't stop with something that simplistic, though. Almost all the women in this story are sympathetic, and though their actions are not excused, it is clear that the real "villain" behind it all is society and the way in which a girl's worth is determined. Ella is never dismissed as an airheaded beauty, nor is the "evil stepmother" entirely evil. It is interesting and sad how we see the way Maman's fear for her daughters drives her to horrific acts. She is deeply afraid of them being left without husbands and starving when she is gone. It's not an unrealistic fear. “Change is a kiss in the dark. A rose in the snow. A wild road on a windy night,” Chance countered. “Monsters live in the dark. Roses die in the snow. Girls get lost on wild roads,” the crone shot back. Alongside this, there is another part of the story. A fantasy story and a game. One in which Fate, who has determined the course of Isabelle's life, plays against Chance, who wagers that he can change it. These two characters go head-to-head to see that Isabelle takes the path of their choosing. For the most part, it's thrilling, though I think the overlong and convoluted road this aspect of the plot took made it a four instead of a five star book for me. There was a definite part somewhere in the third quarter where it got a little too much. But, ultimately, it's a gorgeously-written feminist fairy tale that unites women instead of demonizing them. I absolutely loved the shout-out to female military leaders of history, and the moments of perfectly-timed humour: “The feeling that you want to own someone body and soul, spirit them away from everyone else, have them all to yourself forever and ever and ever,” Hugo said dreamily. “It’s called love.” “No, it’s called kidnapping,” said Tavi. Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube

  2. 5 out of 5

    Chaima ✨ شيماء

    This book: *is a bold, subversive and startingly original reclamation of one of literature's most reviled women which, by recasting Cinderella's evil stepsister as a hero in her own right, illuminates a known story from a new evolving and multifaceted perspective while eking out depth and redemption and seamlessly grafting concepts of self-discovery and identity to an unrepentant celebration of kindness, courage and forgiveness* Me, completely immune to critical thinking: BE THE UGLY, BITTER AND This book: *is a bold, subversive and startingly original reclamation of one of literature's most reviled women which, by recasting Cinderella's evil stepsister as a hero in her own right, illuminates a known story from a new evolving and multifaceted perspective while eking out depth and redemption and seamlessly grafting concepts of self-discovery and identity to an unrepentant celebration of kindness, courage and forgiveness* Me, completely immune to critical thinking: BE THE UGLY, BITTER AND PETTY SWORD-WIELDING REJECT JENNIFER DONNELLY WANTS YOU TO BE!!!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lola

    This is not a pretty fairytale. The story isn’t pretty. The world isn’t pretty. The characters aren’t pretty. Even the magic isn’t pretty. It’s not a story that will make you dream a thousand beautiful dreams of happily-ever-afters. I’m not saying the contrary applies—that it will give you a thousand nightmares in which you die a thousand different deaths—but it is indeed DARK. I liked it a lot. I believe the world and the stories in it do not need to be one thing only. They can be good and evil, This is not a pretty fairytale. The story isn’t pretty. The world isn’t pretty. The characters aren’t pretty. Even the magic isn’t pretty. It’s not a story that will make you dream a thousand beautiful dreams of happily-ever-afters. I’m not saying the contrary applies—that it will give you a thousand nightmares in which you die a thousand different deaths—but it is indeed DARK. I liked it a lot. I believe the world and the stories in it do not need to be one thing only. They can be good and evil, beautiful and ugly, hopeful and fatal. That’s how people are, aren’t they? You want to believe that someone is all good or all evil because it’ll be easier to predict their reactions and judge whether they are right for us or not. But that’s called being one-dimensional. You don’t want one-dimensional people in your life, do you? And you don’t want to read about one-dimensional characters either, right? No one in this story is just one thing. In the beginning it may seem that way—Cinderella is purely good, Isabelle is pathetically subdued, the stepmother is absolutely evil—but that’s exactly why the author has written this story… To change all of that. It is a well-developed feminist retelling. It’s a powerful and surprising story that asks to be read carefully instead of rushed through to get to the ending. The ending is not at all the most important part. What matters most is the path that leads to the final chapter, and boy oh boy what a hard path Isabelle has to follow. Blog | Youtube | Twitter | Instagram | Google+ | Bloglovin’

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nilufer Ozmekik

    5 ugliest, wittiest, fantastic, anti-fairy tale, bravest ,strongest, applause to the strength of women, Hell yeah stars! Retellings crash into art of war doctrines, feminism thesis and here’s an amazing, smartly written fantasy book! You never thought that you could love this new version of Cinderella story! You already knew the old version of fairy tale before Grimm Brothers rule the stories with their honest reality, the beautiful ones are always kind, good hearted, vulnerable and their faces a 5 ugliest, wittiest, fantastic, anti-fairy tale, bravest ,strongest, applause to the strength of women, Hell yeah stars! Retellings crash into art of war doctrines, feminism thesis and here’s an amazing, smartly written fantasy book! You never thought that you could love this new version of Cinderella story! You already knew the old version of fairy tale before Grimm Brothers rule the stories with their honest reality, the beautiful ones are always kind, good hearted, vulnerable and their faces and appearances are reflections of their genuine hearts! They always get the prince and their HEA! Blah blah blah! So being ugly is equal to being cruel, mean, evil and loser of the stories! What if all the equations could change and beauty would not be the only requirement to get your happy ending. What about being brave, smart, hard-worker, intelligent, sophisticated, determined, skillful, creative, charismatic, game-changer and help you turn into a real leader! Isabelle and Tavi are ugly sisters who tried to ruin Ella’s life and now they were punished, abandoned and abused, harassed by their own town people. Are the biased people who judge them because of their appearance uglier or our misled daughters who only obeyed what their Maman told her and felt guilty because of their actions? Every people has FATE and CHANCE! But do they have to do strictly what their fate lead them or do they have their own free will? This book is about women’s right to reject to be judged by their appearances and choose to transform themselves whoever they want to be! So this is not a random retelling of popular fairy tale. This is witty, encouraging, enlightening version of storytelling about what women deserve in their lives! And I loved the final twist which changes all the facts we learned from fairytales. The beautiful, kind hearted queen of the story can turn into a cruel villanelle if she gets jealous!!!!! Our untraditional heroine Isabelle won my heart with her determination, toughness, honesty, fighting soul! She knows she made mistakes and learns her lesson, accepts who she is and finally she understands she can rule her own fate and chances!!! “ Most people will fight when there’s some hope of winning, no matter how slim. They are called BRAVE! Only a few will keep fighting when all hope is gone. They are called WARRIORS! Isabelle was warrior once but she has forgotten it” This book is wake up call to find yourself and embrace your skills, your inner wolf sleeping inside and tearing you apart if you don’t set your inner wolf free and take any risk, you just accept your fate, let the wolf kill you slowly and painfully! This part of book below is a great summary of the story and characters’ great fears and challenges : “This is world the people in it- my mother, Tantine- they sort us. Put us in crates. You are an egg. You are a potato. You are a cabbage. They tell us who we are. What we will do.What we will be.” “Because they are afraid!Afraid of what we could be” Tavi said. “But we let them do it!” Hugo said angrily. “ Why?” Tavi gave him a rueful smile. “ Because we’re afraid of what we could be, too” So; don’t be afraid who you are! What you’re capable! Embrace yourself! Love yourself! Try to become better version of yourself by finding your life purpose, holding your fate into your hands!!!!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte May

    Did not realise this was written by the same author who wrote A Gathering Light, which I loved. Just treated myself to this one 😊

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jasmine from How Useful It Is

    I started reading Stepsister on 4/19/2019 and finished it on 4/23/2019. This fairy tale retelling is an excellent read! I like that it started out with the Cinderella story and expanded further after Cinderella went off to her happily ever after. I love that this story focus on the stepsister’s perspectives of how it all went. I love that the stepsisters are portrayed as intelligent and brave, more tomboy than girly. There are many types of girls and this book hit straight on the nail’s head by I started reading Stepsister on 4/19/2019 and finished it on 4/23/2019. This fairy tale retelling is an excellent read! I like that it started out with the Cinderella story and expanded further after Cinderella went off to her happily ever after. I love that this story focus on the stepsister’s perspectives of how it all went. I love that the stepsisters are portrayed as intelligent and brave, more tomboy than girly. There are many types of girls and this book hit straight on the nail’s head by including girls who likes to study and girls who likes to do boys stuffs such as playing with swords and strong willed to speak her mind as compared to girls who wear silk dresses and readily agreeable even when she doesn’t want to. Many readers can easily relate to Isabelle because she often feel unsure of herself when she has more and still feel unhappy than those who has less. This book is told in the third person point of view following Isabelle, 16 as she does what her mom wants, to cut off a few of her toes so that her foot can fit into the glass slipper that the Prince of France brought. Isabelle’s mom told her she’s ugly and she thinks if the Prince marries her she’ll be a Princess and someday will be Queen and no one will dare to call her ugly again. Unfortunately that plan didn’t turn out in their favor and instead backfired. The two stepsisters are Octavia, 17 and Isabelle, 16. Ella is 17. The second view is of Chance. He believes he can change the path for Isabelle after her failed attempt at stealing the Prince from Ella. But Fate is in the way because she already has Isabelle’s life mapped out. She thinks Isabelle is selfish and mean and should keep the path chosen for her. Then there’s the fairy queen who comes to Isabelle’s rescue when Isabelle’s heart asked for help. Stepsister is very well written and filled with Fate and Chance that make you think about yourself. Fate tests you with negative feelings of self doubt and Chance gives you the opportunity to think again and try again. I love the humor in this book, especially toward the end with the “sweaty dead dog”. I like when Isabelle is mean to Ella to turn around and experience how it feels when someone else is mean to her. I like that this story is not a smooth ride. There are many ups and downs and opportunities to change the course of life. I like Felix and the bits of romance. It’s cute. This book is definitely a plus and I highly recommend everyone to read it! Pro: fast paced, page turner, humor, stepsisters, fairy tale retelling, adrenaline rush Con: none I rate it 5 stars! ***Disclaimer: Many thanks to Scholastic for the amazing and beautiful book mail. I appreciate the opportunity to read and review. Please be assured that my opinions are honest. xoxo, Jasmine at www.howusefulitis.wordpress.com for more details

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sara (sarawithoutanH)

    Guys, you can tell I liked this book because I wrote a legit review!! Just call me meltotheany 💁🏼♀(jk don’t do that, my reviews would be a disgrace to her name) “Believe that you can make your way. Or don't. Either way, you are right.” Y’ALL ARE SLEEPING ON THIS BOOK. This seriously might be a new favorite of mine! It reminded me a lot of Ella Enchanted - it could be because they’re both Cinderella retellings, but it’s also because they both have deeper messages and generate a feeling of warm Guys, you can tell I liked this book because I wrote a legit review!! Just call me meltotheany 💁🏼‍♀️(jk don’t do that, my reviews would be a disgrace to her name) “Believe that you can make your way. Or don't. Either way, you are right.” Y’ALL ARE SLEEPING ON THIS BOOK. This seriously might be a new favorite of mine! It reminded me a lot of Ella Enchanted - it could be because they’re both Cinderella retellings, but it’s also because they both have deeper messages and generate a feeling of warmth in me. I’m not huge into fairytale retellings, but this one was so special and unique. This takes place after Ella leaves for her happily ever after and follows one of the ugly stepsisters, specifically the one who cut off her toes in an attempt to fit into the glass slipper. The story begins immediately after the ugly stepsisters’ fraudulent attempts to win the prince. After Ella becomes queen, everyone in their town turns against them. The sisters, Isabelle and Tavi, are harassed relentlessly for their actions. A constant theme in this book is internal and external ugliness. Who is worse: the sisters who acted out of shameful jealousy or the people who judge them on looks alone? “Here are the things girls die of: hunger, disease, accidents, childbirth, and violence. It takes more than heartache to kill a girl. Girls are tough as rocks.” Isabelle is our lead and her character development is just *chef’s kiss* so good. She is That Bitch and she Did That!!! Despite constantly being told that she’s ugly, she discovers that she’s brave and beautiful in her own way. The story examines the meaning of beauty and the idea that girls cannot be fit into a singular box. This whole book truly feels like an ode to the strength of women. “The wolves in the woods have sharp teeth and long claws, but it's the wolf inside who will tear you apart.”   One of my favorite things about Isabelle is that she’s not naturally kind or selfless. As she tries to find her way after she’s punished for her treatment of Ella, she discovers that goodness is not her default nature. I love a good complex flawed character and I found Isabelle to be incredibly relatable. She transforms in the story but she doesn’t suddenly become a different person. She’s still flawed but she becomes more self-reflective. She finds a way to be better without changing who she is. “This is world the people in it - my mother, Tantine - they sort us. Put us in crates. You are an egg. You are a potato. You are a cabbage. They tell us who we are. What we will do. What we will be.” “Because they are afraid! Afraid of what we could be,” Tavi said. “But we let them do it!” Hugo said angrily. “Why?” Tavi gave him a rueful smile. “Because we’re afraid of what we could be, too.” This book is just so good! It was funny and character driven. I filled this review with quotes because I loved so much of the writing. I wanted to include about five more quotes, but I thought that’d be overkill. Please read this!! I highly recommend the audiobook! Youtube | Twitter | Instagram

  8. 5 out of 5

    Phoebe Jeziel

    Kind of want to read this, but am simutaniously annoyed at how this story is being marketed as if Cinderella wasn’t feminist to begin with. My homegirl survived an abusive household, became queen, snagged herself someone who truly loves her and showed that beauty was always about what’s on the inside. Plot still sounds interesting enough tho lol.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cortney LaScola - The Bookworm, Myrtle Beach

    It took me a little while to get into it, but I LOVED THIS BOOK. The message is so important, so relevant, and it had me in tears more than once. The author did such a wonderful job making the point that not every girl is the same, and we shouldn't all JUST want to be liked and pretty... we're so much more than that. This sentiment is beaten into our heads from the day we can understand, and it shouldn't be that way. Not anymore. Not only is it a beloved story we all grew up knowing, it shows a d It took me a little while to get into it, but I LOVED THIS BOOK. The message is so important, so relevant, and it had me in tears more than once. The author did such a wonderful job making the point that not every girl is the same, and we shouldn't all JUST want to be liked and pretty... we're so much more than that. This sentiment is beaten into our heads from the day we can understand, and it shouldn't be that way. Not anymore. Not only is it a beloved story we all grew up knowing, it shows a different side from the "ugly" stepsisters and what happened after Cinderella rode off into the sunset with Prince Charming. I'm a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, and this one was awesome. Read this book. If you have a daughter, or granddaughter, have them read it too. You won't be disappointed. Girl power!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mary S. R.

    I mean, when you say “a feminist retelling of the darker versions of Cinderella” you should know that now you pretty much own my pocket—and also all the money in it. Seriously. Here. It's all yours! :/ Stepsister takes up where Cinderella's tale ends. We meet Isabelle, the younger of Cinderella's two stepsisters. Ella is considered beautiful; stepsister Isabelle is not. Isabelle is fearless, brave, and strong-willed. She fences better than any boy, and takes her stallion over jumps that grown men I mean, when you say “a feminist retelling of the darker versions of Cinderella” you should know that now you pretty much own my pocket—and also all the money in it. Seriously. Here. It's all yours! :/ Stepsister takes up where Cinderella's tale ends. We meet Isabelle, the younger of Cinderella's two stepsisters. Ella is considered beautiful; stepsister Isabelle is not. Isabelle is fearless, brave, and strong-willed. She fences better than any boy, and takes her stallion over jumps that grown men fear to attempt. It doesn't matter, though; these qualities are not valued in a girl. Others have determined what is beautiful, and Isabelle does not fit their definition. Isabelle must face down the demons that drove her cruel treatment of Ella, challenge her own fate and maybe even redefine the very notion of beauty ... Cinderella is about a girl who was bullied; Stepsister is about the bully. We all root for the victims, we want to see them triumph. But what about the bullies? Is there hope for them? Can a mean girl change? Can she find her own happily ever after? Expected publication: May 14, 2019 “In an ancient city by the sea, three sisters—a maiden, a mother, and a crone—are drawing maps by candlelight. Sombre, with piercing grey eyes, they are the three Fates, and every map is a human life ...”

  11. 4 out of 5

    Hollis

    Holy shit, guys, this book is flying under the radar right now but it shouldn't be!! History books say that kings and dukes and generals start wars. Don't believe it. We start them, you and I. Every time we turn away, keep quiet, stay out it, behave ourselves. I was completely unprepared for how quickly, and how hard, I would fall in love with STEPSISTER. This book immediately opens up with a warning about how this is a darker take on the well-known tale and it is definitely that. But it's not clo Holy shit, guys, this book is flying under the radar right now but it shouldn't be!! History books say that kings and dukes and generals start wars. Don't believe it. We start them, you and I. Every time we turn away, keep quiet, stay out it, behave ourselves. I was completely unprepared for how quickly, and how hard, I would fall in love with STEPSISTER. This book immediately opens up with a warning about how this is a darker take on the well-known tale and it is definitely that. But it's not close your eyes and hide under the cover scary; it's just hammering home the stark truths and unpleasant realities of societal expectations, a woman's fate in this world (and our own), and the bleakness of war. And I mean there's also the fact that the stepsisters lop off pieces of themselves in order to win a prince, which, hey, fun times! "Ella is the beauty. You and I are the ugly stepsister. And so the world reduces us, all three of us, to our lowest common denominator." This is the story of what comes after Cinderella, Ella in this story, gets her prince. What befalls the ugly stepsisters and the wicked stepmother. In this case, it's being shunned. It's being ridiculed. It's shame and regret. It's accepting their choices and living with themselves.. or trying to. It's about a wish to be pretty, thinking it'll solve all your problems, because discovering and facing the truth of oneself is so much harder. How many times had she cut away parts of herself at her mother's demand? The part that laughed too loudly. That rode too fast and jumped too high. The part that wished for a second helping. Donnelly's writing captivated me. It bowled me over. There were passages that made me want to cheer because of the beautiful feminist observations, parts that made me laugh because wow the second stepsister was freaking hilarious, and also parts that made me cry -- embarrassingly one of them had to do with mice. But I own that. "I have that feeling." "What feeling?" "The feeling that you want to own someone body and soul, spirit them away from everyone else, have them all to yourself forever and ever and ever. It's called love." "No, it's called kidnapping." The elements of this story are familiar because we've heard, or watched, the tale. But never from this perspective, never in this way, and there was a freshness, a realness, to this retelling that just.. got me. Strength and shame and beauty and wonder and forgiveness. Intelligence and cleverness and agony -- physical and of spirit -- and heartbreak. It seemed to flow effortlessly and honestly the only thing keeping this from being five stars is the big fancy HEA. I don't think it was a wrong choice but maybe it was a little too right, if that makes sense? I would've liked half a step back, I think. "I wanted books. I wanted math and science. I got corsets and gowns and high heeled silk slippers. It made me sad [..]. And then it made me angry. So no, I can't make myself likeable. I've tried. Over and over. It doesn't work. If I don't like who I am, why should you?" I didn't have much in the way of expectations when I picked this up; I had heard of it but not been endlessly beat about the head with hype. And it definitely deserves some. Totally recommend. 4.5 stars ** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. ** --- This review can also be found at A Take From Two Cities.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sophia Triad

    “Go now, girl. Remake the world.”  I never really liked Cinderella.... Review pending

  13. 4 out of 5

    Katie.dorny

    Arc provided in exchange for an honest review. This was another average retelling that has been saturating the market recently. The last 50 pages were better than the rest of the story. I did enjoy the character development but the unnecessary romantic couplings and the writing style just made this novel mediocre overall. It also felt that the author just decided to stick anything into the plot that she felt like. I remember essences of it from my childhood, but the way this trundled along felt li Arc provided in exchange for an honest review. This was another average retelling that has been saturating the market recently. The last 50 pages were better than the rest of the story. I did enjoy the character development but the unnecessary romantic couplings and the writing style just made this novel mediocre overall. It also felt that the author just decided to stick anything into the plot that she felt like. I remember essences of it from my childhood, but the way this trundled along felt like everything was thrown in just for fun.

  14. 4 out of 5

    ;3

    “They cut away pieces of me. But I handed them the knife.” Essential reading for the She Is That Bitch™ and She Did That™ lovers.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Monroe

    3.5 stars “Change is a kiss in the dark. A rose in the snow. A wild road on a windy night.” Stepsister is a standard 300-page novel, but I can't help but feel it would've worked better as a novella/short story. The premise and plot are very simple. Whatever ambiguous morality there is is Disney-like, which means Tavi and Isabella are about as morally grey as Elsa is for accidentally hurting Ana. Villains are villains, and good guys are good guys. The prose has a strong fairy tale vibe, too. It's 3.5 stars “Change is a kiss in the dark. A rose in the snow. A wild road on a windy night.” Stepsister is a standard 300-page novel, but I can't help but feel it would've worked better as a novella/short story. The premise and plot are very simple. Whatever ambiguous morality there is is Disney-like, which means Tavi and Isabella are about as morally grey as Elsa is for accidentally hurting Ana. Villains are villains, and good guys are good guys. The prose has a strong fairy tale vibe, too. It's difficult to describe. But like, when you're reading Grimm Brothers' tales or Hans Anderson, you're absorbed in the story, but you feel emotionally distant from the characters at the same time. You're not meant to slip into the shoes of Cinderella or the Goose Girl. You experience their stories from the outside. With that being said, it's immensely quotable. “Isabelle had a strong will. She did not know that this was a good thing for a girl to have, because everyone had always told her it was a terrible thing. Everyone said a girl with a strong will would come to a bad end. Everyone said a girl’s will must be bent to the wishes of those who know what’s best for her. Isabelle was young, only sixteen; she had not yet learned that Everyone was a fool.” Even though the characters lack moral complexity, I liked that the stepsisters' hatred and cruelty towards Ella was explained. They in a world where beauty is currency; it's understandable that they would envy their beautiful stepsister. They have other strengths. Tavi is clever af, and Isabella is a fierce fighter. Even the stepmother is shown in a sympathetic light rather than a straight-up malicious witch. Stepsister is on the simplistic side but then again, aren’t all fairy tales?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nadhira Satria

    I know I’ve been disappointed a lot by 2019 releases bUT THANK GOD THIS ONE DIDN'T DISAPPOINT. I LOVE RETELLINGS AND BOY OH BOY, A "VILLAIN" RETELLING?? YES PLEASE AND IT TURNED OUT SO GOOD, I LOVE IT

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nenia ⭐ Literary Garbage Can ⭐ Campbell

    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest Fairytale retellings are hard-- ideally, you're taking a story that most people are intimately familiar with and trying to put a spin on it that keeps it fun and fresh, while also reminding people about why they loved the original so much, too. STEPSISTER is interesting, in that it tries to keep to the dark, original retelling. When we first meet Isabelle, our heroine, one of the evil and ugly stepsisters, she is cutting off her toes to fit Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest Fairytale retellings are hard-- ideally, you're taking a story that most people are intimately familiar with and trying to put a spin on it that keeps it fun and fresh, while also reminding people about why they loved the original so much, too. STEPSISTER is interesting, in that it tries to keep to the dark, original retelling. When we first meet Isabelle, our heroine, one of the evil and ugly stepsisters, she is cutting off her toes to fit into the shoe-- Unfortunately, her evil plan is outed by birds that are friends with her sister, Ella. Ella goes off to marry the prince and Isabelle and her sister, Tavi, are left alone, ostracized by the rest of the town for their deeds. Only their mother, who is slowly going mad, will speak to them without anger, and even she is embittered about her daughters' new and lowly state. It seems like Isabelle is doomed to a life of ignominy but Fate and Chance have other plans. I wasn't sure what to expect with STEPSISTER, but it was much more than I had anticipated. Isabelle is a strong, brave heroine with agency. Her sister, Tavi, is bookish and fiercely intelligent. Neither of them are attractive and both of them have done terrible, selfish things-- but so have the other characters in the book. But neither of them get a free pass because they are ugly. The book is all about beauty, forgiveness, and second chances, and what it means to truly redeem yourself. I'm giving this book a three-star rating because I did like it, but it didn't wow me. The plot was great and I liked Isabelle's redemption arc, and how the human manifestations of both Fate and Chance were both fighting over her future as she (maybe) decides to go off and save a kingdom. The story just felt a bit "young" for me, especially with all of the unnecessary sidekicks. I don't think it was badly done, but I have a bias against sidekicks-- that's just my preference. I think for those who are tired of impossibly pretty and perfect heroines, STEPSISTER will be a breath of fresh air. It's a shame my magnificent four-star rating streak has ended, but at least now you now I'm not secretly a bot. Or, if I am, I'm a far more devious bot than you ever imagined. YMMV. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  3 to 3.5 stars

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marquise

    What I liked: The Prose: Jennifer Donnelly definitely knows how to write, her style flows so well. And there's so many quotable passages I lost count! The Fate vs Chance gamble: I wasn't bothered at all by the absurdity of Chance's entourage, even though "slapstick" doesn't usually work so well for me in writing as in visual media, because I was more focused on the larger picture, the high stakes gamble between the Crone and Chance for the future of Isabelle. I think that, without this subplot, St What I liked: The Prose: Jennifer Donnelly definitely knows how to write, her style flows so well. And there's so many quotable passages I lost count! The Fate vs Chance gamble: I wasn't bothered at all by the absurdity of Chance's entourage, even though "slapstick" doesn't usually work so well for me in writing as in visual media, because I was more focused on the larger picture, the high stakes gamble between the Crone and Chance for the future of Isabelle. I think that, without this subplot, Stepsister would be just another "Cinderella" retelling from the stepsister's POV, and, frankly, I've already read that "twist," so for me it'd be utterly dull and unimaginative. Another retelling from Wicked Stepister and/or Wicked Stepmother's side? Not enough. Add something new and you'll catch me. Otherwise, get lost. I don't count "Cinderella" amongst my favourite tales, so . . . Neither do I share the opinion that Isabelle is a puppet totally at the mercy of Fate and Chance, with no agency at all. I think that the very fact that she fights so much against her destiny is precisely the point. Helps that I'm used to Greek tragedy, I suppose, it makes the game a familiar and comfy territory for me. If you want to know what "lack of agency" looks like, read Greek tragedy. They're all powerless pawns of Fate in it. Not here, Donnelly subverts it. The stepsister: I liked her, warts and all. One trick to make a villain or antihero or just a plain ol' unlikable grump is to explain why they became what they are currently, and it worked well for Isabelle: we know her reasons to become the bitter woman we meet. She's relatable in the sense that her motives are things any average person could experience that would sour their character. The redemption arc: The conclusion to the redemptive journey could've been better, but I just can't help be drawn to these kinds of arcs like a bee to flowers. What I didn't like: The ending: Given the grim atmosphere and tone of the story for most of the book, the ending was jarringly and inappropriately cute. It simply doesn't fit with the rest, in my opinion. Sounded more like the author wanted a Happy Ending no matter the cost. I'd have opted for a bittersweet conclusion, far more fitting to the story than the ". . . and everyone got their heart's desire and lived happily ever after" stuff, which didn't even look credible within the plot, because at least one or two of the primary characters shouldn't have got a HEA. Instead, everyone got their cherished wish, not just Isabelle. Her mother got hers, her sister got hers, her beau got his, her stepsister Ella got hers twice, the king got his, etc., etc. Even the horse got his! It's forced, and, for me, it singlehandedly stopped the book from being a perfect 5 stars one. Tanaquill: My impression is that the Fairy Queen is present as much because she's a staple of the tale as a need for a powerful third chess player to counter both Fate's and Chance's power over Isabelle. I didn't like her inclusion, however, as this was the equivalent of the infamous Deus ex machina of the Greeks. The stakes were higher and the gamble more interesting without Tanaquill having to poke her nose in the game between Fate and Chance, and doing so by kicking the chessboard to scatter the pieces for additional annoyance. Isabelle could've got along just fine without the silly magic objects, which she uses in too convenient escapes anyway. She had the guts and the strength. All in all, more in favour than against, so 4.5 stars it is. I'm counting this retelling amongst my top retellings not just for Cinderella (for which it counts as the 2nd most creative to date) but for tale retellings in general. It was that good a story, my first from this author.

  19. 5 out of 5

    TheYALibrarian

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Rating 4.5 Stars I have met Jennifer Donnelly many times and I was truly inspired by her talk about why she was inspired to write this book. As a child she was read and told the story of Cinderella many times. But she really could not connect to Cinderella's character. Cinderella was kind, beautiful, and essentially perfect. Donnelly said she was not usually these things (even thougd I disagree) and I could understand on a deep level as well. So that being said she turned her attention to the ugl Rating 4.5 Stars I have met Jennifer Donnelly many times and I was truly inspired by her talk about why she was inspired to write this book. As a child she was read and told the story of Cinderella many times. But she really could not connect to Cinderella's character. Cinderella was kind, beautiful, and essentially perfect. Donnelly said she was not usually these things (even thougd I disagree) and I could understand on a deep level as well. So that being said she turned her attention to the ugly stepsisters who were neither pretty nor kind. How they were never really given any attention, only being reflected in their cruel actions to Cinderella. So this story was told from the view of one of the ugly stepsisters Isabelle. How she learned that her previous actions do not define nor and neither does beauty for that is just abject and real beauty comes from within. We begin the story with the conversing of the characters Fate and Chance that are key players to this story. They make a wager to see if Isabelle, the ugly stepsister, can be given a second chance. If Chance loses he can no longer interfere with any other mortals fate. With the game set we are transported to the version of Cinderella rarely told. How the stepsisters, forced to cut off their heel or toes in order to fit into the glass slipper. Both attempts failed with undeniable bloom of red on their stockings and right before the prince and the grand duke left Ella was able to appear and confirm that she was the girl the prince was looking for. After that the sisters were not just ugly to others, but ostracized for their cruelty. Left destitute they are forced to work for their neighbor in order to have a place to stay and food to eat. Through this Fate is disguised as an old woman named Tantine that tries to make Isabelle stay on the path that has been paved for her. But Isabelle, fierce and brave, refuses to stay on course. She asks for the fairy queen's help to make her pretty, thinking this will be the way to solve all her problems. But she must find three pieces of her heart then her wish will be granted. Isabelle struggles to find these three pieces but eventually finds them with difficulty. For there's a war raging and a face from the past that Isabelle thought was long gone. But she finds out what these pieces of her heart are, Felix the man she is in love with, her horse Nero, and Ella. With two down she is about to make a visit to her stepsister, now the Queen when she stumbles upon the enemy camp of the war lord that has been destroying towns all over France and slaughtering all it's citizens. Determined to thwart the war lord's plans she fins that the grand duke is the traitor and has captured Ella as a bargaining chip to take down the kinds army. Ella and Isabelle escape where Isabelle and her sister Octavia try to apologize for their cruelty only to find out that even beauties like Ella can be cruel and jealous for due to Ella Felix and Isabelle had been separated. Now with all three pieces of her heart Isabelle makes a different wish to have an army to defeat the war lord, using the small wooden soldiers Felix had carved himself. When they are transformed Isabelle realizes that she is the only one fit for the task of leading the battle to save France. Adorned in armor from the fairy queen's magic she charges into battle and kills the war lord himself. The story ends with a happily ever after, Isabelle being the confident woman now general she was born to be and her sister the scholar she always wanted to be. The two are now free and no longer destitute with a palace to live in and Isabelle has the love of her life beside her. Overall this story was one I enjoyed immensely. I'm obviously a fan of Donnelly's writing style that is usually heavy with metaphors and similes weaved with beautiful descriptions. But I would say the whole thing with Isabelle being an ugly stepsister and a woman was laid on a little thickly. Yes woman were not regarded highly in the eighteenth century but we don't need to be constantly reminded about that from almost every man in this book. There's also some repetition of the whole "beauty is found within" and basic "Love yourself" spiel. A great message but I understood it the first few times. Lastly was the ending was a little unrealistic and far fetched. Isabelle has been well trained in horse riding and swordsmanship but I don't think enough to have the strength to lop off the warlords head but that could be misogynistic of me with her nor being strong enough to defeat a man. Anyway I will read anything this woman writes and I heard there is another fairy tale book in the works and I'm so here for that!!!!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    There has been a whole load of retellings over the past few years changing and subverting age-old tales and in a time when female empowerment is firmly on the agenda, this is a powerful, meaningful and empowering story. In lush, lyrical prose Donnelly rafts a mesmerising and timely tale which takes place immediately after the original concludes. I loved this as it was well thought out, written in a pacy fashion and has a genius cast of characters - fate and chance, and I particularly enjoyed how There has been a whole load of retellings over the past few years changing and subverting age-old tales and in a time when female empowerment is firmly on the agenda, this is a powerful, meaningful and empowering story. In lush, lyrical prose Donnelly rafts a mesmerising and timely tale which takes place immediately after the original concludes. I loved this as it was well thought out, written in a pacy fashion and has a genius cast of characters - fate and chance, and I particularly enjoyed how strong-minded, independent and intelligent Cinders was compared to the classic version. The characters come alive on the page and you live every single second alongside them. Some retellings are mediocre, others abysmal but every now and again, once in a Blue Moon I stumble on a thoroughly entertaining twist on the original, and here, Ms Donnelly redefines the much-loved fairytale, Cinderella. She brings it up to date and takes into account what is happening in the world right now including #metoo demonstrations and the movement as a whole and the way we women have an innate human right to be in complete control of mind and body. The stereotypes from the classic version are gone and replaced with updated characters. I don't want to give too much away, but this is fantastic retelling and is certainly up there with the best I've read. Many thanks to Hot Key Books for an ARC.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Basyirah

    "...the price of forgiveness is forgiving." Rating: 4.5 stars A beautiful tale written about Isabelle, Cinderella's ugly stepsister. Was she ugly? Was she mean? Did she deserve what happened to her? Step Sister started out from where the Cinderella story left off. With Ella riding the royal Carriage with her Prince, leaving behind her step sisters, one bleeding at her heel, Tavi, and another one bleeding at where her toes had been, Isabelle. They're left behind to suffer the consequences, with the "...the price of forgiveness is forgiving." Rating: 4.5 stars A beautiful tale written about Isabelle, Cinderella's ugly stepsister. Was she ugly? Was she mean? Did she deserve what happened to her? Step Sister started out from where the Cinderella story left off. With Ella riding the royal Carriage with her Prince, leaving behind her step sisters, one bleeding at her heel, Tavi, and another one bleeding at where her toes had been, Isabelle. They're left behind to suffer the consequences, with the whole village finding out about what happened. In desperation, Isabelle had unintentionally called out for Tanaquill, the fairy queen. When asked what she most desired, she had said she wanted to be pretty. Despising her on her actions to Ella, Tanaquill said she'd grant her her wish but only if she could find the missing pieces of her heart. She handed her 3 items, saying that those would help Isabelle. Well of course I'm not telling you what the three things were, as it'd spoil the whole plot, but Isabelle's life was meddled by Fate, who was detemined that humans should not be given a choice in life and should only follow what they're fated to do, and by Chance, who was determined that everyone deserved a chance or two in life to change their fates. The plot was okay, it started out fast, then got a little draggy with details that seemed unnecessary to me, but once Isabelle had gotten the hang of what she ought to look for in order to find the lost pieces of her heart, the story picked up its paced again. It was a rather moving story, not quite emotional but still managed to touch my heart. The writing style was good but maybe the author could slow down with the metaphors. Sometimes it could be confusing. The main character, Isabelle, was fierce, strong and brave. I'm not going to justify her behaviours towards Ella, but it was somehow redeemed, given the circumstances. Tavi, on the other hand, was not quite evil. She just despised life so much for being born as a girl who had to conform to society's norms, to dress pretty and entertain men, when all she wanted was proper education and to voice out her opinions without people telling her that she's a girl and she shouldn't have opinions. They're not the usual kind of girls. They have courage and they were bold, and they're ugly not exactly because of their looks, but simply because they're not to be tamed by men. Having sweet, beautiful Ella as a step sister wasn't helping. Perfect Ella who could charm anyone she talked to without causing anger or trouble. But Ella, despite her perfect demeanour, had her ugly side too. One's actions have consequences and this story showed the domino effect of all the choices they made in their lives. This was my first fairy tale retelling so I'm not quite sure if it's the best one out there, but it's good. I enjoyed reading it and I particularly liked the last 50 pages or so of the book. I really thought my heart would be broken but thank God not much damage was inflicted. To all the insecure girls out there, perhaps you can try to read this book and pick up some of the advices in it. Be strong. Be bold. Live bravely. Beauty isn't always pretty. I would like to thank Pansing for this lovely ARC in exchange for my honest review. Step Sister is set to be published in May 2019, and it will be available at all good bookstores.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bookread2day

    A beautiful cover saying read me. When I was younger being very girly I loved reading the Cinderella story and I'm sure that many women now will remember that excitement. Even seeing Cinderella in pantomime is so magical and enjoyable. I found it thrilling for a change to read this fantasy magical powerful fairytale retelling of Cinderella in Stepsister. Just like in Cinderella in the Stepsister the prince searched for the girl who had worn a glass slipper. He had danced all night with a beautif A beautiful cover saying read me. When I was younger being very girly I loved reading the Cinderella story and I'm sure that many women now will remember that excitement. Even seeing Cinderella in pantomime is so magical and enjoyable. I found it thrilling for a change to read this fantasy magical powerful fairytale retelling of Cinderella in Stepsister. Just like in Cinderella in the Stepsister the prince searched for the girl who had worn a glass slipper. He had danced all night with a beautiful girl at a masquerade ball and fallen in love with her, but as we know by the stoke of midnight, the girl had to run away, but a glass slipper had been left behind. And the prince vowed that he would marry the girl who had worn it . Isabelle had a pretty face and dainty feet, if she marrys a prince she will be a princess and then one day a queen. I didn't know that Jennifer Donnelly is the author of thirteen novels and a picture book for children.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lizzy (Bent Bookworm)

    ~*Check out all my reviews over on The Bent Bookworm!*~ “Have you forgotten what I am? I am the heart’s first beat and its last. I am the newborn lamb and the wolf that rips out its throat. I am the bloodsong, crone.” Stepsister is the story of what happens to Cinderella’s family after she marries her prince and leaves them for the palace life. I was SO excited for this book, and I loved the cover, and the premise! So, while I enjoyed it and finished it pretty quickly, this was unfortunately one ~*Check out all my reviews over on The Bent Bookworm!*~ “Have you forgotten what I am? I am the heart’s first beat and its last. I am the newborn lamb and the wolf that rips out its throat. I am the bloodsong, crone.” Stepsister is the story of what happens to Cinderella’s family after she marries her prince and leaves them for the palace life. I was SO excited for this book, and I loved the cover, and the premise! So, while I enjoyed it and finished it pretty quickly, this was unfortunately one of those books where I really felt like I read a different book than what other reviewers read. I saw several reviews that said it was incredibly dark, and gritty, and feminist…and while it definitely tries to be all of those things, it doesn’t quite pull it off. I think one of the main issues I have is that the book is simply too short to successfully BE what it was aiming for. I was quite surprised when it arrived, as it seemed like a very slim volume for the tale I was expecting – it comes in at 352 pages, in a book shorter than your usual hardcover. It feels rushed, and as a result I wasn’t able to fully believe in the characters or their feelings. HOWEVER. I was still extremely curious all the way through, as it isn’t ever exactly clear how Isabelle and Octavia (the other stepsister) will reclaim themselves and their circumstances. I expected a lot more darkness, but to be honest the most horrifying thing happens in the first chapter (and isn’t a surprise) when both sisters mutilate their feet in an attempt to wear the glass slipper. *insert Jeopardy theme song* I kept waiting for something else bloody and awful to happen but it really…didn’t. And yes, I know, what kind of a person does this make me…I’m trying not to think too hard on that. 😛 I also loved the idea of the wolf within, slumbering under the heart of a girl who had been told to be quiet and still and stay in her place. More Things I Liked Both sisters have very unconventional interests (Octavia is a mathemetician, and Isabelle is a tactician) that have been smothered by their mother and society in general. I loved how they grew and blossomed and came into themselves as the story progressed. There are some real zingers in here,too… “The feeling that you want to own someone body and soul, spirit them away from everyone else, have them all to yourself forever and ever and ever,” Hugo said dreamily. “It’s called love.” “No, it’s called kidnapping,” said Tavi.” The bet between Fate and Chance was pretty interesting. I wish there had been a little more explanation of how they came to be in their current form and the mapwriting…etc. THE FAIRY GODMOTHER!!!! OMG. I don’t want to spoil anything but holy crap this is my favorite fairy godmother interpretation of all time. Overall 3.5/5 stars, rounded up. Blog | Twitter | Bloglovin | Instagram |

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Proffitt

    I got bored. Which meant I started picking at things like how it's simultaneously real-world (set in France) but with metaphorical characters (like the Fates and Chance as anthropomorphic personifications) and it takes a better author than this one to pull that off. And how all the really nasty villains are women. And how a pack of mean girls in a rural French village feels like the author is trying too hard. All the asides, flashbacks, and authorial intrusion with heavy-handed metaphor slowed th I got bored. Which meant I started picking at things like how it's simultaneously real-world (set in France) but with metaphorical characters (like the Fates and Chance as anthropomorphic personifications) and it takes a better author than this one to pull that off. And how all the really nasty villains are women. And how a pack of mean girls in a rural French village feels like the author is trying too hard. All the asides, flashbacks, and authorial intrusion with heavy-handed metaphor slowed the pace down to such a crawl that I eventually hit a pause and found myself griping at Melissa who always responds to that impertinence by asking "so why are you still reading this?" To which the answer is almost always "huh. Yeah, I guess I'm done, now." I'm going ahead with one-star for a rating, but want to make explicit that this is likely a personal response and idiosyncratic. Your response will almost certainly vary.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brianna

    3.5 stars

  26. 4 out of 5

    booksneedcaffeinetoo

    “Strange, isn’t it, how stories that are never told are the ones we most need to hear.” 3.5/5 I love how this book gave depth to a previously one dimensional fairytale villain. Just like Disney did with their version of Maleficent Isabelle had cut off her toes, but sometimes she could still feel them. Maman had cut out her heart. Sometimes, she could still feel that, too. I wasn't expecting the book to be so raw and inspiring. I just heard it was about the Ugly Stepsister from Cinderella and wa “Strange, isn’t it, how stories that are never told are the ones we most need to hear.” 3.5/5 I love how this book gave depth to a previously one dimensional fairytale villain. Just like Disney did with their version of Maleficent Isabelle had cut off her toes, but sometimes she could still feel them. Maman had cut out her heart. Sometimes, she could still feel that, too. I wasn't expecting the book to be so raw and inspiring. I just heard it was about the Ugly Stepsister from Cinderella and was like SIGN ME THE FUCK UP but I was like kind of emotional reading it. The wolves in the woods have sharp teeth and long claws, but it’s the wolf inside who will tear you apart. While must of the book tackles guilt, and not feeling worthy, it still has it's funny moments too! “You’re a playwright, sir?” Isabelle asked. “Not one bit,” the marquis said. “Never even put pen to paper before. But I’m always doing things I can’t do. Otherwise, I’d never get to do them.” (pretty much ANY scene with Chance will involve lolololols or this: “Do us a favor, Hugo, don’t think anymore. Just don’t,” she said. “I won’t,” Hugo said fervently. “I promise." OR this: “I have that feeling.” “What feeling is that?” Tavi asked. “The feeling that you want to own someone body and soul, spirit them away from everyone else, have them all to yourself forever and ever and ever,” Hugo said dreamily. “It’s called love.” “No, it’s called kidnapping,” said Tavi. But let's be real, most of the book made me an emotional hot mess: “That’s not the question, Isabelle,” he said softly. “The question is, why do you believe them?” Has a quote ever given you chills? Because this one did: Sometimes it’s easier to say that you hate what you can’t have rather than admit how badly you want it. This book had so many excellent quotable lines. I don't want to reveal the plot, the less you know the more you'll enjoy it, so I'll just leave the review with a few of my favorite quotes: • Fear is the most misunderstood of creatures. It only wants the best for you. It will help you if you let it. • History books say that kings and dukes and generals start wars. Don’t believe it. We start them, you and I. Every time we turn away, keep quiet, stay out of it, behave ourselves. • The wrong thing, the cowardly thing, the easy thing. You do it fast. You put it behind you. It’s over, you tell yourself as you hurry off. You’re finished with it. But it may not be finished with you. • Here are the things girls die of: hunger, disease, accidents, childbirth, and violence. It takes more than heartache to kill a girl. Girls are tough as rocks. Overall, I really enjoyed this. It took me a long time to get through the book, but that's because it was more introspective than action packed. I wish we had more interactions with Chance *sad face* (and Felixxxxxxxxx). I also wasn't the hugest fan of the SUPER short chapters. Sometimes they were perfect because the last sentence would be something beautiful and potent. Other times, it just was slightly annoying. I mean the book has 129 chapters (plus a prologue and epilogue) which is....a lot. I also didn't like how we never got names for the people on Chance's crew. I wanted more backstory about the secondary characters too. The book wasn't perfect, but it has so many quotable, haunting and inspirational, lines and depth to a previously one dimensional villain. Content Warnings: parental abuse, violence, self-harm, mention of suicide, bullying, war, dementia

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    I received this eProof for free from Hot Key Books via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review. Trigger Warning: This book features discussion of considering suicide, threat of sexual assault, dead bodies, and war. I had been so looking forward to reading Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly ever since first hearing about it. A feminist retelling of Cinderella, a sequel from an ugly stepsister's point of view! What could be better?! Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed with this on I received this eProof for free from Hot Key Books via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review. Trigger Warning: This book features discussion of considering suicide, threat of sexual assault, dead bodies, and war. I had been so looking forward to reading Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly ever since first hearing about it. A feminist retelling of Cinderella, a sequel from an ugly stepsister's point of view! What could be better?! Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed with this one. The positives first. Stepsister is very feminist. The reason the stepsisters, Isabelle and Tavi, were cruel to Ella? Jealousy. They all live in a world where women are meant to be good and kind and pretty. All things Ella was and is, and charms the people around her. They adore her. But being into fencing and horse riding and the great generals of the past, like Isabelle is, or into maths and science like Tavi is, isn't very ladylike. Plus, they're not very pretty, and what man is going to want to marry a woman who isn't pretty? Both Isabelle and Tavi have been hurt by the things people say about them because of how they look and their interests, and that they're not particularly feminine, yet see Ella constantly being praised and told how pretty she is, so they took their hurt and anger out on her. Time and again, throughout the novel, Isabelle, and Tavi to a smaller degree, are pretty much told that who they are is wrong, because they are women. Stepsister is all about Isabelle learning to embrace who she is, learning to like who she is, and being herself unapologetically, despite the world trying to force her into a box she clearly doesn't fit in, and, honestly, doesn't really want to fit in. Stepsister took a really interesting look at gender roles, and what beauty actually means, what beauty actually is. I loved how the story is about a fight for Isabelle's life, not just from her, but from one of the Fates and from Chance. The three Fates - the maiden, the mother, and the crone - draw maps for every single person's life, and Isabelle's map is destined to end violently. Chance is a young man who steals Isabelle's map from the Fates, believing that people shouldn't have their lives mapped out for them, ad should be able to decide on their own path. He steals the map to give Isabelle a chance to change her fate, and the crone and Chance bet on how Isabelle's life will end up - and then interfere with her life to get the outcome they want. I've read this kind of story before - where beings take an interest in particular people's lives, and compete with each other, bending the lives of these people who have no knowledge of how their lives are being manipulated, like The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough - but it was really fascinating to see this kind of story melded with a retelling. It was quite an interesting twist. However, Stepsister was written for what felt like a much younger audience, which generally isn't for me. There's not a problem with it, I just don't like MG books, and this felt like, throughout, a book that would make a great MG/YA crossover novel. But then there would be moments where it was quite clear that this was definitely a YA novel. It got quite dark in places; there's a time when Isabelle confronts a thief trying to steal her chickens, and the thief notices her eyeing the rake and trying to figure out how to get to it, and he suggest she should use "my tool" instead, quite threateningly. Stepsister has an omnipresent narrator that talks to the reader; sometimes, they're pointing things out to us that the characters have missed, other times, they're almost advising the audience - and to be honest, it did feel a little heavy handed at times, a little preachy. But there's one point where Isabelle is despairing at the situation she's in, and the narrator talks to the reader, and says, pretty much, if you want to hang yourself, wait to get the rope until the morning, because you might change your mind. And it's so blasé. And it just felt so wrong. The narrator is talking to the reader about the reader hanging themselves! That just really didn't sit right with me at all. Am I over reacting? But this and the threat of sexual assault - making this book very much a YA novel, and potentially a bit older than the younger end of YA - did not fit the way in which the story was written, where Stepsister felt like it was aimed at quite a younger audience. And I just wanted more from the story, I think. In the great scheme of things, not a huge deal actually happens. Perhaps it's because I've read a number of other retellings, but I was expecting a more complex story. And while, yes, Chance and the crone's interfering put obstacles and opportunities in Isabelle's path, apart from the odd time or two, nothing really major happens. And some of the relationships I just didn't find to be that believable. With the romance, it's nothing to write home about; we never really know why the two like each other (not giving names because of spoilers). Hugo, who Isabelle and Tavi have to spend time with, can't stand either of them, but he is like such a child; his problems regarding them are based on what I've said above - neither Isabelle nor Tavi behave the way women are expected to - but how he insults them is just bloody ridiculous. He's like a five-year-old! So the hate to something like friends relationship that develops is just irritating. I couldn't stand him. And then there's Isabelle and Tavi themselves. I mean, Isabelle thinks back over some of thing they have said or done to Ella in the past, and while, yes, they were mean, apart from locking her in her room when the prince came with the glass slipper, they never really did anything that I would consider to be monstrously cruel; it was more like the kind of fights that happen between siblings when they're young. Isabelle and Tavi weren't mean, cruel people - they just had moments where they weren't very nice. But otherwise they're pretty normal? Fairly decent human beings? They're just not the ugly stepsisters I was expecting. I know we get villain origin or sequel stories where they're written so that we come to understand and maybe even sympathise with them as we get the story from their perspective, but they're still the characters we know, we just find out why they are the way they are. Isabelle and Tavi are unrecognisable as the ugly stepsisters we've grown up loathing. So Stepsister turned out to be quite a disappointment, sadly. It really wasn't for me, but it might be for you, so do read a few more reviews before deciding whether or not you'll read it yourself.

  28. 5 out of 5

    ♥ Jx PinkLady Reviews ♥

    Advance copy provided via Netgalley*

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Theis

    👠 I was lucky enough to have an ARC and this is my honest review* This isn't a Cinderella tale, one about sweet pretty girls who, through all the troubles in their lives, find prince charming and become a princess. No, this is the tale of a girl who is brave and strong and defiant, an "ugly" step sister. Isabelle doesn't like to sit by and let the men do all her thinking. She rather ride horses and play pirates and be her own woman. She loses her heart and tries to fit in with the "pretty" women. 👠 I was lucky enough to have an ARC and this is my honest review* This isn't a Cinderella tale, one about sweet pretty girls who, through all the troubles in their lives, find prince charming and become a princess. No, this is the tale of a girl who is brave and strong and defiant, an "ugly" step sister. Isabelle doesn't like to sit by and let the men do all her thinking. She rather ride horses and play pirates and be her own woman. She loses her heart and tries to fit in with the "pretty" women. This is the tale of her finding her heart, changing her destiny and showing the world that beauty has more than one meaning. This was an interesting story, full of magic and feminism. I really enjoyed it and think it's a great read. This was definitely a unique take on the classic Cinderella story. It shows that being pretty isn't everything. "She was fearsome. She was strong. She was beautiful."

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bookphenomena (Micky)

    3.5 - 4 stars Steel your stomach for the start of this book because it delves in all twisted up and the story that ensues is every kind of unexpected. The protagonist of this book, Isabelle, is the kind of character that you have to grow to admire. She's an ugly stepsister with past behaviour and characteristics that speak of inner ugliness. Interestingly, her physical appearance isn't particularly sketched out, leaving the reader to imagine. We meet Isabelle at a late juncture in the traditional 3.5 - 4 stars Steel your stomach for the start of this book because it delves in all twisted up and the story that ensues is every kind of unexpected. The protagonist of this book, Isabelle, is the kind of character that you have to grow to admire. She's an ugly stepsister with past behaviour and characteristics that speak of inner ugliness. Interestingly, her physical appearance isn't particularly sketched out, leaving the reader to imagine. We meet Isabelle at a late juncture in the traditional Cinderella story, from the initial opening you will never be able to guess where this story goes. In fact, the book's biggest strength is the ability to tell a unique story when it is a retelling. Both Isabelle and Tavi, the other stepsister are quirky, determined characters, with Isabelle in particular, showing strength and tenacity. The backdrop for this tale is that France is at war and the battle is getting closer and closer to the main characters' dwelling. There is a clever underlying story of Fate and Chance, two beings with the power to influence the lives of Isabelle, warring over her destiny. This made for interesting manipulation of the story and characters that Isabelle met. Tanaquill, the fairy queen, could not have been less Disney-like if she tried and I loved that aspect and the quest she sent Isabelle on. Whilst my enjoyment of STEPSISTER is clear in this review, I didn't fully connect to the characters outside of Isabelle. Sometimes I struggled with the pacing, but it always picked up again fairly quickly. I am impressed by Jennifer Donnelly's creativity and writing of STEPSISTER and I would definitely be interested in seeking more from her in a similar vein. STEPSISTER will appeal to those readers like myself who like a side of twisted with their fairytales. I voluntarily read an early copy of this book, thank you Hot Key Books. Review is up on the blog here.

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