About the author:
It’s no secret how Jen Calonita knows the inside scoop on Hollywood. A former entertainment editor at a teen magazine, Jen started out her career chronicling backstage life at concerts with Justin Timberlake and interviewing Zac Efron on film sets. It was her work in the entertainment world that inspired her first series, Secrets of My Hollywood Life. The six-book series is about a teen starlet named Kaitlin Burke who grows weary of the fame game, but loves being an actress and it’s been published in nine countries.
Jen usually likes to write about worlds she knows so she moved on to camp life in the books Sleepaway Girls and Summer State of Mind (since she was a camp counselor as a teen), then tackled reality TV (which she also covered in magazines) in Reality Check. It wasn’t until she wrote Belles, which is about two polar opposite girls who share one life-altering secret, that she entered a world different from her own.
It was so much fun creating a new world that Jen jumped into a fairy tale one for her first middle grade series, Fairy Tale Reform School. Fans have loved getting to know spunky Gilly and the enchanted reform school she attends run by Cinderella’s formerly wicked stepmother in Flunked and the sequel, Charmed. The third book in the series, Tricked, will be released March 2017. Jen’s other middle grade series is one close to her heart. The VIP series and the first book, I’m with the Band, is a diary-eye look at life on the road with the world’s biggest boy band as told by their number one fan, Mackenzie Lowell. (If you’re wondering where Jen got that idea, go back and reread the first paragraph of this bio!)
About the book:
Sometimes it’s good to be bad…
It takes a (mostly) reformed thief to catch a spy. Which is why Gilly Cobbler, Enchantasia’s most notorious pickpocket, volunteers to stay locked up at Fairy Tale Reform School…indefinitely. Gilly and her friends may have defeated the Evil Queen and become reluctant heroes, but the battle for Enchantasia has just begun.
Alva, aka The Wicked One who cursed Sleeping Beauty, has declared war on the Princesses, and she wants the students of Fairy Tale Reform School to join her. As her criminal classmates give in to temptation, Gilly goes undercover as a Royal Lady in Waiting (don’t laugh) to unmask a spy…before the mole can hand Alva the keys to the kingdom.
Her parents think Gilly the Hero is completely reformed, but sometimes you have to get your hands dirty. Sometimes it’s good to be bad…
Just like with its predecessor (reviewed here), Fairy Tale Reform School: Charmed is a good book featuring a unique and engaging plot, the child of the Harry Potter books and the Once Upon a Time television series. The characters are interesting and likeable. Some of them, as well known heroes or villains from the fairy tale world, are intriguingly familiar yet uniquely different, as author Jen Calonita appropriated each one of them just enough to make them fit into her story while remaining true to their origins.
An engaging, fast paced read, Charmed is light to read despite being chock-full of references to the magic world. Flunked was an introduction into a world that Charmed keeps unravelling, adding information where previously there were only questions. For example, the characters in the book are beginning to gain increasing depth to them
Calonita’s writing is to the point and flows extremely well. There were constant references to the magic world, but because the author explains them so well yet concisely and just inserts them into the text without any fuss or muss, they enhance rather than interrupt one’s reading experience. Throughout Charmed, one feels like the author doesn’t consider her audience as being child-like, but rather one at the threshold of adulthood—which happens to also make the book one that adults will no doubt appreciate.
The story itself continued to build conceptually on the same themes identified in Flunked. One of the main ones continues to be the difference between good and evil. Are all so-called villains in this book actually evil? Is there a “continuum” of evil? If so, who determines where each individual on it is? And are all “good” people completely free from performing evil deeds? Another concept tied into this one is that of the ego and the role it plays between making a choice between becoming a villain and a hero.
The only thing extra I would strongly recommend to keep this highly entertaining book from attaining its full potential as a vehicle for reflection on some very important topics is to create a study guide, perhaps both an individual one and a group one. After all, these concepts are not easy ones to discuss, and a guide would prove quite helpful in aiding a concerted, focused conceptual digging. Furthermore, some well formulated questions would also help many a reader figure out how to apply this new understanding of complex concepts to their day-to-day lives.