Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 11 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

A wad of soft cotton was brought. A fresh white stocking. Brandy. And the glass slipper.
Maman handed it to her. “Put it on. Hurry,” she said.

Isabelle took it. It was heavy in her hands and cold to the touch. As she slid her foot into it, pain bit into her, sharp‑toothed and savage. It moved up her leg and through her body until she felt as if she were being eaten alive. The blood drained from her face. She closed her eyes and gripped the arms of her chair.
And yet, when Maman demanded that she get up, Isabelle did. She opened her eyes, took a deep breath, and stood.
Isabelle could do this impossible thing because she had a gift—a gift far more valuable than a pretty face or dainty feet.
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 is a fool.

First impressions: When I first saw this advertised I wanted to read it…yet I was cautious. I am a massive fan of fairytales and I love retellings. However, I have also been disappointed in the past by retellings that somehow don’t manage t capture the magic of the original. Luckily, Readersfirst were offering the option to read the first three chapters so I felt reassured that I would be able to read them and decide whether or not it would be worth reading…well, wow!

From the first line, let alone the first three chapters, I was blown away!

This is what I wrote then: “The writing is smart, fast-paced and instantly creates characters who the reader can connect with, vividly evoking them in just a few small details. I loved meeting the Fates and Luck/Chance in the prologue, then Isabelle and her sisters in the first chapter. I can just tell that I’m going to love this!”

Unfortunately, this now meant that I had to wait to read the rest of the book so I devoured it as soon as it appeared through my door a few days later.

I am happy to report that my first impressions were accurate and I absolutely adored this book. Both Isabelle and Tavi are interesting, well-rounded characters whereas Cinderella comes across as nice, but a bit bland.

Th story starts with Chance stealing a map from the Fates – each map shows the life of a human and is, at least in theory, unchangeable. Yet Chance wants to give Isabelle the opportunity to change her fate. We meet out main character as she and her sister mutilate their feet to fit the glass slipper…and yet, we all know how the fairytale ends.

The story then picks up in the aftermath of Cinderella leaving with the Prince and everyone finding out how badly she was treated. Isabelle, Tavi and their mother become outcasts and have to try to find their way in a world that has no space for girls who like riding, swordfighting and science.

I loved the message that societl norms are not everything and that girls can be everything they want to be, regardless of what the people around them say.


What I liked: How realistic all the characters are, the feminist messages, Chance and his devil-may-care attitude, Isabelle and her determination – strangely I liked her right from the start, even when she’s not being the most pleasant! I liked the inclusion of the Fairy Queen, Tanquil, and how she is seen almost as a force of nature, neither good nor evil.

Even better if: I didn’t have enough time with the characters! I didn’t want this book to finish!

How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a great addition to any library for teenage readers and would be fun to read and discuss after looking at the ‘original’ fairytale and all the variants of Cinderella from around the world. I would love to use this to discuss themes in fairytales, gender roles and the dichotomy of fate and free will. So many things to get your teeth into when using this book in the classroom!
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This is definitely one of the best retellings I’ve ever read. The story began at the very end of (Cinder)Ella’s tale which gave this novel a fresh and imaginative feel to it as it was a continuation of the story rather than a full turn over of the plot.

All of the characters were superb, Isabelle is the feisty and stubborn main character we all get behind. Tavi the other step sister is bookish and loves maths, I would have liked the opportunity to learn more about Tavi as I felt she was a very relatable character. Sequel, please! Chance and Fate were two very intriguing characters, I was not expecting to read about them in a fairytale story, I will be delighted if there are more instalments planned in this magical world!

I’d have preferred more of an in depth look into how the step mother treated her own daughters and the abuse they suffered but the story was very focused on Isabelle and the journey she was on. A story based on Isabelle’s character progression and redemption, with the interfering workings of Fate and Chance. The author portrayed Isabelle brilliantly, she wasn’t flawless at all, she had many faults but in claiming her flaws she deserved a happy ending!

A wonderful story about finding yourself and learning what means the most to you. About believing in yourself and seeing past the judgement of others, as well as making your own choices and decisions. I really enjoyed this story and I would fully recommend it.
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Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly is retelling of Cinderella's ugly stepsister, Isabelle. It follows the Brother's Grimm tale of Cinderella..
From the very beginning, I was hooked into this dark and twisted tale. I loved the originality of bringing Fate and Chance as powerful characters that tried to interfere with Isabelle's life. It's so well written and it emits the classic dark fairy tale vibe that makes it an enchanting read. What I loved about Jennifer Donnelly's writing was how women in the story had become villainised by society than by their own actions. 
Also, the story doesn't follow the story of Cinderella, it deals with the aftermath of Cinderella becoming the Princess, and eventually, the Queen. Stepsister is not like any other retelling that I have ever read, it's original with an ongoing battle between choice and destiny. Is our lives written for us or do we have a choice in how we live our lives? 
This is a thrilling adventurous book that has humour, family, romance and identity at it's core. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is  a fan of retellings.
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I really wanted to like this book, but for some reason just wasn’t able to get into it. The premise was wonderful, but the writing a bit verbose—I found myself skipping paras to get to the point. What I also liked was how the stepsisters’ were the protagonists, not Cinderella (Ella). The battle between the Fates and Chance was cleverly set up, as was the questioning of useless hetero-patriarchal norms without any proselytising. Frankly, I’m surprised at not being able to read this to the end—I’d think it was just the sort of thing I’d gobble up. 

(Review copy from NetGalley)
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It wasn’t quite what I was expecting but I was pleasantly surprised and I think many readers will enjoy this tale. Full review to come online soon.
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When you are little, you watch a lot of movies. For us girls, life is filled with princesses and happy ever afters. With castles and knights in shining armours. And it’s always that the beautiful girls get their princes. Only beautiful girls get to be happy.
In this book, we get to really see the reality of what I have said above. It is all true. Only beautiful girls get the happy ever after. But beauty doesn’t always mean pretty.
In a world of prejudice and bullying, Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly shows people, especially girls, that it is okay to be different. It is okay to be brave and follow your dreams. It is okay to be wild and strong willed. The people that truly love you, will always be by your side.
Meet Isabelle – Cinderella’s ugly stepsister. The girl that cuts her toes to get into the glass slipper. For those who didn’t know, the original Cinderella story by the Grimm brothers indeed has a scene where both ugly stepsisters cut their heel and toes, just to fit in the slipper and marry the prince.
‘’The little toe was the hardest. Which didn’t come as a surprise. It’s often the small things that hurt the most – a cold glance, a cutting word, laughter that stops when you enter the room.’’

Isabelle has never really wanted to be evil, but jealousy and mum’s pressure have been doing their own thing. When she gets a second chance in life though, she goes for it. She must complete an impossible task to find her happy ever after. And while doing so, she will find her true self.
‘’Most people will fight when there is some hope for 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 a warrior once, though she has forgotten it.’’

Be prepared to feel all emotions, and cheer for Isabelle, when she is fighting against the world. Relive the magic of an amazing retelling and be ready for an unforgettable adventure. What Jennifer has done to bring the Grimm feeling into a powerful story is to be admired. I will admire and cherish this book forever.
I am not a fan of re-reading books, but this will definitely be one book I will always come back to.
‘’Algebra comes from Arabic. From al-jabr, which means ‘’the reunion of broken parts’’. Al-Khwarizmi believed that what’s broken can be made whole again if you just apply the right equation.’’

”If only there was an equation that could do the same for people.”

Thank you to the team at ReadersFirst, for sending me a paperback copy of this book, in exchange for my honest review.
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I struggled to get in to this one at first. Something about the whimsical fairytale style applied to the longer form just jarred with me during the introductory phases, making me wonder if I'd ever be able to settle in to the story. But settle I did, and I enjoyed this twist on the 'they all lived happily ever after' ending.

Stepsister isn't just an exploration of what 'the end' means for the girls who cut off their body parts to fit in their sister's glass slipper. It's an, occasionally heavy handed, feminist exploration of what it means to be a girl - the fairytale lens all the more powerful because really, not all that much has changed. Society still holds strong ideas about what a girl 'should' be. Isabelle is out to defy all those expectations.

The stuff with Fate and Chance did at times feel a little twee, but also a necessary conceit to make the fairytale framework function. Stylistically, the writing bugged me a bit from time to time - again, it sometimes felt a little twee - but overall, this was a fun, feminist story that would appeal to younger teens. Particularly those girls who don't quite fit the mould society would cut off their toes to squash them in to.
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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.
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Stepsister was an amazing book that continues on from the ending of the original Cinderella story with a feminist twist. I particularly enjoyed that Fate and Chance are characters within the story. This book will leave you viewing the Cinderella story from a whole new perspective and I highly recommend that you read it.

Thank you to Bonnier Zaffre and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Women can be strong and defiant, they do not have to fit stereotypes, and this is the premise that this book follows.

Stepsister is a fairy-tale re-telling. You know what happens to Cinderella after she tries on the glass slipper, but what becomes of her stepsisters. 

We follow Isabelle, one of the ‘ugly stepsisters’ who cut off her own toes to try and fit in the glass slipper. Her path, her destiny has already been set by fate, and it is too late for it to change. Or is it? Chances appear and will she take them and change her own destiny. 

I love this book, though I did find it a little slow moving at the beginning. Despite Isabelle and Tavi being the ugly stepsisters, I could not help empathising with them. The characters are well writing and I found myself relating to them. They are not conventionally pretty, and fight against the stereotypes of their time. Solving equations, experimenting, sword fighting and horse riding. 

You will find yourself rooting for Isabelle despite how she treated Cinderella, and want her to redeem herself.
The chapters are short and fats paced. There’s enough description that I could easily picture the characters and their surrounding easily without it being too much or too long-winded.

I really enjoyed this book; it’s my first retelling and probably won’t be my last. I look forward to reading other books by Jennifer Donnelly.
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Thank you to Hot Key Books and Netgalley for this arc in exchange for an honest review.

I really loved this book! I’m not a fan of Cinderella but the synopsis intrigued me and I’m glad that I read this because it was so great!

I really enjoy retellings even when I’m not a fan of the original fairytale and this was no exception. This story made me root for the “ugly” sister, it made me feel for her and hope for a happy ending for her. I think that shows how much I enjoyed it, especially as she is a villain in the original story, tormenting Cinderella.

This book deals with female empowerment and how women should empower other women and not tear them down. How women can be more than what society tells us. They put us in boxes and expect us to stay there. You can only be that one thing that they designate to you and we have to cut away parts of ourselves to fit societies expectations. But this story is about breaking out of these boxes and tearing them down. It’s about being true to yourself and being more than what society tells us to be. And that is what makes us so powerful.

I really liked how fate and chance were personified and how each of them tempted Isabelle to make a choice that could lead her in a completely different direction. Fate told her to play it safe, that change isn’t possible, she made her doubt her own ability. Chance told her to take a stand, to be brave and take that step to take hold of her life and lead it in a different direction, to be who she knows she can be. It made her story feel very real, we all deal with these in our own ways, all the time.

I also loved how the fairy queen came to her just like she did for Ella but Isabelle has to find herself before she can actually realise what her hearts true desire is. At the beginning she thinks it is to be pretty, because everyone tells her she is ugly and therefore won’t amount to anything in life. But her journey of self discovery leads her to who she truly wants to be. It was a hard journey full of self doubt and her having to really look beyond what she was told to be and to truly be who she wanted to be.

Tavi was the other sister and I loved her as much as Isabelle, she’s really smart and doesn’t understand why she has to give up her dream of studying to become a suitable wife. I related to her so much! Why girls have to be the ones to sacrifice an education, that they can’t be too smart, because it will hurt the male ego. It’s something we see throughout the book, Tavi is told that she won’t be able to work out the answers by men, that when she corrects the men they feel insulted.

Even Ella, when we meet her, becomes more than just a pretty girl. And I really loved how the author showed the depth and complexity of each of the girls and how they might not be what we all assume them to be.
Honestly this book is filled with themes that I am so passionate about so it left me with a whirlwind of emotions. I felt angry and sad and hopeful and everything else in between. I highly recommend everyone read this book!
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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.

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.

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.
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*I received this arc in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley & Hot Key Books.

“Challenging the Fates is hard. Eating madeleines is easy. Most mortals choose the madeleines.”

This was a fun and imaginative retelling! I thought initially this was going to be the classic Cinderella story but from the point of view of the Step Sisters. I mean it was initially but this story goes much further than that, and I’m glad of it! I think I enjoyed it a lot more because it did.

This was full of twists and turns like any good story should be, but the thing I loved the most was the character growth in Isabelle. She was imperfect and bitter at the start and she came to accept herself and ended up being beautiful anyway regardless of her looks. 
I enjoyed many characters in this story & many times had a smile on my face from a funny or cheeky (looking at you Chance!) moment. 
The story definitely did have its dark moments - France is at war and you definitely get the feel of that throughout, and there’s some awful things that happen in this in terms of how people treat each other, but the story also had many truths in this - it showed society as it really is - unfortunate that we’re like it but true. 
I think after reading Step Sister I’ll definitely be looking at reading more by Jennifer Donnelly - this was a creative spin on a tale we all know and love and I found it to be a lot of fun to read!
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The description of this book reads “A powerful, feminist retelling of Cinderella” - What a statement, you can see why I was sold on this book straight away!

I love a good fairytale retelling, especially one which has been turned on its head and tells the “villains” side of the story. So I couldn’t wait to read Stepsister which is the story of what became of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters after she goes off to marry the prince. 

Everything about this book appealed to me. I love a good villain and I was intrigued to see if or how the ugly stepsisters could be redeemed. Let’s be honest they’re the Mean Girls of fairytales so they don’t have much going for them. However this book was written so well, and in such a way that you couldn’t help but root for them in the end especially Isabelle.

The writing was fantastic, so fluid and atmospheric. I enjoyed the mix of magic and fantasy, the hint of romance and the fight to be who you are rather than who society think you should be! 

Isabelle was such an inspirational character, she starts off not particularly likeable but she grows more in strength and confidence as the story progresses. You start by feeling sorry for her. I mean she cuts off her toes to try and secure a marriage to the prince, all because her mother forces her to! But you soon realise that you don’t need to feel sorry for her because she is stronger and braver than most girls and is quick to adapt to her new situation. She becomes such a warrior and proves that girls can choose to do or be anything they want, in spite of the gender stereotypes.

I really loved this book. My only criticism is that the ending felt a little rushed. It didn’t stop my enjoyment of it but I would have liked it to have been covered in more detail which is why I’ve rated it 4.5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 (Rounded up to 5)
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3.5 - 4 stars

Steal 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.
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this isn’t the tale of cinderella, about pretty girls who find their prince charming and become a princess; this is the tale of an “ugly” stepsister who preferred to ride horses, climb trees and play pirates!

inhabited by the fairy-tale flourishes and a unique cast of characters, this a beautifully written tale which is so easy to read with twist and turns of the funny and tragic, heartbreaking and hopeful. the writing style is beautiful and the quotes, oh, the quotes! ❤︎ 

a beautiful story of women can be all the things they want to be and being pretty isn't everything!
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I'm a fan of retellings and have a collection in my library. So, I was very eager to read this. I'm so glad it was a very good re-telling. It was entertaining, I loved the characters and the messages in the story. 

The story is a re-telling of the original Grimm Brothers version, not the Disney one, which was great. It's told after the events of Cinderella becoming the Queen marrying the charming Prince. And we follow the 'ugly' step sister, Isabelle de la Paume.
The opening is very impactful and intriguing giving a glimpse of the other characters, Chance and Fates. Fates are creating maps of people's lives, but suddenly Chance walks in to steal these maps.  
Isabelle is miserable after her beautiful and gold-hearted step sister moves to the palace to marry the Prince. She starts questioning herself and how her relationship with her sister changed from their childhood. 

Then, the story becomes richer as Fates, Chance and Fairy Godmother joins the tale. We understand Isabelle even more from her own perspective, and it soon becomes a story of villains. Through this, we follow Isabella in her journey to change her fate, and become who she really wants to.  

I really enjoyed Donnelly's writing, how she creatively built the story in the aftermath of Cinderella. It was an interesting take. I thought the beginning of the book was a bit slow until we get to the part where Fate and Chance joined back. I loved the rest of it, and the fact that it had so many nice quotes and messages all throughout Isabelle's journey. 

I'd definitely recommend this if you like fairy tales, children's or YA books, re-tellings. There are so many out there, but this was very creative and well done. 

Thanks a lot to Netgalley and Bonnier Zaffre for this review copy.
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I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This is the story of the ugly stepsisters and I loved every single second of it. It finally tells a story that makes sense to me, about why they are mean to Ella. I wanted more around the abuse that their mother was obviously putting them through, but other than that, it was glorious.

Isabelle is fierce and wonderful, but also bitter and angry. Tavi actually spoke to me more, as she is seriously into her maths (yay maths nerds! 💙) and doesn’t understand why she should ditch that for a husband. Girl, I hear that! Hehe. But Isabelle is a great lead, and I loved her interactions with Fate, Chance and the fairy queen. Her ending was perfect.

I also loved the play between Fate and Chance, they were so fun. Fate definitely comes across as the “bad guy” but I would have liked it to show a little more that she thinks she’s doing her job, so to speak. Though I liked her ending too. And we do see that a little, but I don’t like how she goes about it. Chance’s free wheeling, happier attitude is great, but actually in contrast to how he ended up in the situation. I liked him realising that actions have consequences and sort of want a whole book on him dealing with that more.

It’s a fun, easy read and one of the best Cinderella retelling I’ve seen. I also love that it starts almost at the end of Ella’s story, so it’s easier for it to work without tripping over reader expectations. Brilliantly done.
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This book has a great introduction and an even greater first chapter where we are reintroduced to the main characters, the ugly stepsister everyone knows from their childhood.
The characters are well developed and the writing is smart and elegant from the stepsister to the Fates and the Marquis of Chance.
We are all used to see beautiful characters being portrayed as good and villains being scarred or even handicapped as if their physical shortcomings were a warning to the others and are interesting to see a book that shows goodness, not as a consequence of beauty but as a fight that we all to wage with ourselves.
This is essentially a feminist book with girls coming into their own power and refusing to be defined by men but the most interesting of all is seeing Isabelle refusing to be the classic heroine and being the classical brooding, uncomprehended hero throughout the entire book.
This is a book that has very short chapters, ideal to be read at night, just like ou old fairytales and I think that was made on purpose, a way to show us that the ideals we live by now are completely different from the ones we had just a few years ago.
My only problem with this book is that it is too long: even though there is no chapter there where nothing matters and Isabelle learns from her mistakes, some of the things that she has to face seem to only be there so we can pity her after all the bad things she did. Even the last few chapters were nice to read but ultimately I could do without them.
Thank you to NetGalley and Scholastic Press for this ARC.
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Fate and Chance intervene in the story of the ugly stepsister, which might not be quite as you think. Not only is the story of Isabelle interesting, but you actually feel and root for her.

This story is about self-awareness, belief in yourself and your potential, determining right from wrong. Playing with the notion of fate, and if there is such a thing, can someone change it? Do our choices weigh in?

This is not a cutesy, happy ever after tale, far from it. Dark, tinged with melancholy, full of imaginative unexpected embellishments so fantastical, but not 'yelling' their presence. A bit of a slow burner, but worth the pay off.

A story about second chances and changing people's preconceived perceptions, a testament to bravery.
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