MMGM: HALF UPON A TIME by James Riley

I’m back! I took a couple of weeks off from Marvelous Middle Grade Monday to go on vacation and then catch up, but I do have a review this week. It’s a book I first heard about on Shannon Messenger’s blog. She recently reviewed the final installment in this series, and I had to check it out. Plus, you may have noticed I have a thing for fairy tale retellings. I don’t see myself writing one, but I do love reading them. Here’s the blurb for HALF UPON A TIME by James Riley:

Half Upon A Time by James RileyLife’s no fairy tale for Jack. After all, his father’s been missing ever since that incident with the beanstalk and the giant, and his grandfather keeps pushing him to get out and find a princess to rescue. Who’d want to rescue a snobby, entitled princess anyway? Especially one who falls out of the sky wearing a shirt that says PUNK PRINCESS and still denies she’s royalty. In fact, May doesn’t even believe in magic. Yeah, what’s that about?

May does need help, though–a huntsman is chasing her, her grandmother has been kidnapped, and Jack thinks it’s all because of the Wicked Queen…mostly because May’s grandmother just might be the long-lost Snow White.

Jack and May’s thrillingly hilarious adventure combines all the classic stories–fractured as a broken magic mirror–into one epic novel for the ages.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. Jack – I love this hero. The opening chapter does such a great job capturing Jack’s character and giving hints of who he’ll become come–and how much he needs to change to get there. The book is told entirely from his viewpoint, and yet his insight into the other characters was so clear I felt like I was seeing things from their viewpoints, too. I can’t wait to see what happens to Jack in the sequels.

2. Jack’s perception of the real world – So often books are about how it would be nice to live in a fairy tale. Jack has the opposite perception. He doesn’t know what May’s world is like, and yet when he dreams of a perfect world, it’s like the following:

When he fell asleep, his mind always seemed to wander to the oddest places. Places where magic didn’t work, and there wasn’t any royalty … places where everyone was equal, no one was better than anyone else just because of who their parents were. That’d be nice, a place like that. That’d be some kind of dream world …

I’m not saying all of that is true of the “real world,” but it’s closer than his own reality.

3. The familiar – I know I’ve mentioned this in reviews of other fairy tale retellings, but I enjoy how James Riley weaves in familiar tales and then changes things up. There’s enough familiar to make you think, “Oh, I know what’s coming.” But even when it doesn’t happen exactly the way you expect, it’s ok because of how he’s set it all up.

4. The adventure – It’s what you expect from a fairy tale, right? Well, this has it all–escaping a witch, a giant, a genie, a dragon, and more. The action never stops, and I love the way Jack, May and eventually Phillip bumble through it. Ok, Phillip doesn’t bumble. Jack doesn’t make perfect choices, and yet his actions and reactions all make sense within his character. That poor kid has the worst luck.

5. The twists – I love a good twist and this book has the kind that makes you reconsider everything you’ve assumed throughout the whole book. It’s such a hard thing to do, and James Riley nails it.

I’ve already requested the next book in the series. I can’t wait to see what happens to Jack, May and Phillip next, especially as they all have some prophecies to fulfill. And if you have any other fairy tale retellings to recommend, bring them on. Apparently I can’t get enough of them :).

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About Michelle I. Mason

I'm a full-time writer, focusing mainly on middle grade and young adult fiction with some freelance PR writing and editing on the side. I'm also a wife, mom, Christian, violinist, avid reader and St. Louis Cardinals fan. And I watch way too much TV.
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15 Responses to MMGM: HALF UPON A TIME by James Riley

  1. Deb says:

    This one has long been on my to read list. Too long. Thanks for telling us about it and why you love it. I too am on a blog break but came back to host an interview with an alien lol! Happy MMGM!

  2. Rosi says:

    I remember seeing this one earlier and being intrigued, but then it fell off my radar. Thanks for reminding me to put it on my TBR list. It sounds really cute.

  3. Joanne Fritz says:

    I know what you mean about liking fairy tale retellings even though I don’t write them myself. This sounds great and a lot of fun. Anything with a good twist in it appeals to me.

  4. msyingling says:

    I’m conflicted about fairy tale related books– I love them, but it’s hard to get students to check them out. I’ll have to take a look at this one.

  5. Akoss says:

    I’m glad you checked the series out after the feature on Shannon’s blog. I do plan to do the same soon. I can’t especially after your review. Thanks for the feature.

  6. Jill says:

    First time seeing this and looking forward to requesting it at my library. Thanks for the review!
    Well I know you’ve already read “Rump” “The Hero’s Guide…” and “In a Glass Grimly” right? I’m reading Sarah Mlynowski’s series “Whatever After” now…you might like!!

    (p.s…curious : how do you organize your blog list? feedly or bloglovin’? thanks!!)

  7. Mark Baker says:

    I love this series. So well done and so much fun.

    You’ll enjoy the next two as much as the first.

  8. Pingback: MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley | Michelle I. Mason

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