Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Fairy Tale Retelling, Romance, Retelling, Fantasy, Magic
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Publisher: Crescent Sea Publishing
I’m so excited to share this highly anticipated release with you all today!
When Stars Are Bright is a YA fairy tale retelling of “Thumbelina” by author, Amber R. Duell. Read on for an exclusive excerpt and a chance to win a paperback copy of the book!
For Lina Holt, a Dutch seventeen-year-old with a flair for singing, 1930 is going to be her year. Her long-time boyfriend is about to propose and her mother will finally realize their relationship isn’t a passing phase. But when a stranger snatches her from her backyard, everything changes.
Lina is thrust into the spotlight of a New York vaudeville show where she’s paired with Nik, a mysterious pianist. The two bond during rehearsals and it doesn’t take long before Nik puts himself at risk to confess a hidden truth. Without Lina, the show is in its last season and there’s no way she’ll be allowed to slip through the owner’s fingers. Not when she carries fairy magic in her blood—an gift that turns her song into a dangerously addictive drug.
If Lina ever wants to return home, she must learn who to trust before she’s forced to remain a prisoner on stage forever.
WHEN STARS ARE BRIGHT is a historical Thumbelina retelling with a touch of magic.
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Amber R. Duell is an award-winning young adult author, Navy wife, and mom of 2 awesome boys. She has been a #WriteMentor mentor since 2018 and is a co-host on the live broadcast show Young Adult Edition. Red Bull keeps her kicking.
There’s a certain thrill in doing something forbidden. Sneaking out past curfew, dancing freely to a jazz band, stealing kisses in a dark corner. Any one of those things will send my mother into hysterics. I’m not sure what she’ll do if she finds out I’m doing them all at once. When she finds out, because she always does.
But, if I want to see Christian, it’s my only choice.
The band electrifies the air with each note they play. At least fifty strangers twist and turn around us in the empty barn, and the lingering scent of hay tickles my nose. Christian doesn’t seem to notice the lack of marble floors or fancy wall sconces. His eyes haven’t left my face since we got here, except for the kissing.
His arms cocoon me near the wall, and I lean into his chest. He’s warm and sturdy against me, and I close my eyes. The soft thump of his heartbeat beneath my palm dulls the sharp edge of missing him, but it never stops cutting. It won’t as long as we’re forced to sneak around behind our parents’ backs.
“Are you tired, Lina?” Christian twists one of my curls around his finger. “We can go.”
“We’ve only been here an hour.” And there’s no telling how long until we can meet again. I stretch up on my toes, the hem of my yellow skirt tickling the back of my knees, and kiss the fine stubble on his cheek. “Come on. I love this song.”
Pulling Christian behind me, I find a free spot in the middle of the barn. Dozens of worn, dusty boots and Mary Jane’s slam down on the planked floor, sending bits of straw and dirt into the air. The music vibrates against my body, and we join the rhythm.
The band wears worn slacks and checkered shirts like the rest of the crowd. Christian’s the only one here without patched clothes or any idea of the work that will go into filling this barn with hay tomorrow. No one will have the energy for dancing after a day of haying. They’ll be lucky to drag themselves to bed before collapsing, my mother and I included, though it will be a different field we work in the morning.
Sweat trickles down Christian’s temple as we kick up dust of our own, and a wide grin breaks out on my face. I’m not the best swing dancer, far from it, but I don’t care. Giving myself over to the music makes me feel weightless. Free. No one pays attention except Christian, and he’s not much better. When the trombone sounds its last note, I laugh and collapse into his arms, breathless.
“Want to get something to drink?” I ask over the start of the next song.
He nods and leads me back through the crowd. His cotton shirt clings to his skin, showing off the muscles in his arms and back, and gray suspenders hang down from his waist. After more than a year together, it’s the most I’ve seen of him, and it would be a lie to say I’m not enjoying it. If we didn’t have to sneak around, I’d make him go dancing every weekend for the view alone.
“Wait here.” He slips under a slanted support beam at the back of the barn, and kisses me. When he steps away, he keeps hold of my hand until he’s too far to reach. “I’ll be right back.”
I scoot farther under the protection of the beam until it grazes my hair, and watch his head bob above everyone else. A lantern burns beside me, casting a warm glow, and the band plays their own version of Puttin’ on the Ritz. There’s no singer tonight, without a microphone it would be impossible to hear one anyway, but I know the words. I hum along with the smooth sound of the saxophone, my foot tapping in time with the bass and, before I realize it, I’m singing.
It’s a cheery tune, but I keep my voice quiet. My mother is the only one who’s heard me sing since I was little, and she insists I keep it that way. Being known as the infant abandoned in a tulip field, I’m used to whispers behind my back. Going steady with the heir to the Van Buren petroleum fortune only makes things worse. I don’t mind being thought of as an unlovable gold digger—not much anyway—but I’m tired of standing out. I especially have no interest in drawing a crowd tonight like I did when I was five. Twelve years later, I still get chills thinking about the people that closed in on me as I hummed in the marketplace.
A heavy man inches along the wall, hunching over to fit beside me. His eyelids droop over dark eyes, and his round face is close enough that I can count the pockmarks. His breath wheezes over the music. “You have a lovely voice. Where did you get it?”
I slam my mouth shut on the last line of the song. Naturally, the one time I sing in public someone’s listening. Though it’s only one person, this is somehow equally unnerving.
“Have you thought about a career?” The strange man leans closer. From his dialect, it’s obvious he’s from a different part of Holland.
“A career?” I shift away, and scan the crowd for Christian. When I don’t see him between here and the water barrel, I step away from the wall.
The man bobs his head up and down, his jowls shaking, swallowing the yellow-stained Marlboro collar. “In show business. With that delicate face of yours, the blond hair and blue eyes, it would be easy to make a name for yourself. I’ve never felt an addictive quality as strong as yours either. Of course it’s rare. Where did you get it?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Keep your secrets, little Symric. Fairy folk always do.” He inches closer still. “But what do you say? You want to make it big in America with me?”
My laugh is quick and high-pitched. Where are you, Christian? “No.”
“She should what?” Christian asks from the opposite direction. He steps up beside me without refreshments and wraps an arm around my shoulders. I lean closer.
*Spoiler free review*
As a fan of retellings, I was excited to jump into When Stars Are Bright as soon as I found out that it was a Thumbelina retelling. I must admit, that’s one fairy tale I don’t see a lot of retellings about – this being the first Thumbelina retelling I’ve read. If each one is as amazing as this one by Duell, I’ll have to make it a point to search them out.
The characters themselves were what pulled me into the story right away. I felt for Lina, being in love with Christian but knowing their families don’t approve. I can’t imagine having to sneak around behind their families’ backs just to spend some time together. Or having to end things because you don’t want to ruin the life of the person you love. I can’t imagine it’d been easy for Christian, thinking that Lina had run away from him for good. Little did he know that Line didn’t run away – she’d been kidnapped.
Of course, the rest of the characters were also able to pull at my heartstrings. It isn’t just Lina that has a heartbreaking past in this tale. When we meet the characters of the troupe it’s quickly apparent that something’s amiss. Learning who she can trust isn’t easy for Lina, but she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get back to her loved ones.
In case it wasn’t clear, I absolutely adored this read. My mind has stayed in the world even after I’ve closed the pages of this story to move on to the next one. This story was compelling and heartbreaking at all the right moments. I might have even cried once – let’s see if you can figure out where.
Win a paperback copy of When Stars Are Bright! Click the link below!
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I don’t want to say too much about this story because I want you to experience the magic by itself. So if you haven’t yet read the book – turn away! You really do want to read this one yourself first!
Okay, you’ve been warned.
OH MY GOD THAT ENDING WAS AMAZING AND PERFECT AND I’M SO HAPPY THAT THINGS WENT DOWN THE WAY THAT THEY DID. (I warned you!)
Not remembering much about the Thumbelina story, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would Lina go back with Christian? Would she end up staying in the US with Nik? Truth be told, I was really hoping that she’d end up with Nik – right up until Duell explained their relationship and wrote the most beautiful ending that she could have. I absolutely adored the fact that Nik ended up telling Lina’s story to Hans Anderson (his neighbour), making sure that he changed enough so that the story couldn’t be tied back to Lina. After having read this ending, I can’t imagine things going any other way. I certainly hope that Christian and Lina had the best life together – that they were able to give each other time and were there when the other needed them. Lina’s never going to be the same after what she went through and I can’t imagine finding out he was a changeling was going to be easy for Christian. While my heart broke a little for Nik, I’m glad that he was able to find his family – to find some semblance of peace in his life.
While this story brought tears to my eyes, it also managed to fill my heart with joy.
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