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An Unwilling Heroine, a Ruthless Champion, a Dying Queen . . . and Epicness ⇉ Review of The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

Thursday, August 10, 2017
A world where the very elements of the land are out for human blood? Where young women must put their lives on the line to train to become the next queen that protects humanity? Speak no more and let me read this awesome book in peace.

That's how I started my review of The Queen of Blood. The feelings hold strong for The Reluctant Queen, the second novel in the Queens of Renthia series by Sarah Beth Durst.

Even better? Because the main heroine is new, you don't necessarily have to have read book one to read this one. (But I highly recommend reading it because it is wonderful.) I love books that combine the perspectives of new characters while keeping us in touch with the old. Some series I love that do this include Tamora Pierce's Tortall books and Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles.


WHAT I LIKED


Don't trust the fire, for it will burn you.
Don't trust the ice, for it will freeze you.
Don't trust the water, for it will drown you.
Don't trust the air, for it will choke you.
Don't trust the earth, for it will bury you.
Don't trust the trees, for they will rip you, rend you, tear you, kill you dead.


- a child's chant in Renthia

A Believable World
Sarah Beth Durst does solid work building the world that the people inhabit. It has its lores, its rival countries (well, there's one other country that's beginning to exert itself), and its people and their concerns.

With the introduction of Naelin, we get to learn about people who don't care about the politics of this world and just want to live their lives in peace. And we get to peer, if only for a short while, into the lives of people living on the outskirts. Daleina was in a hurry to start training, so we didn't get to look much into outside life.

Some other new characters are introduced as well (with some old ones returning for a more prominent role). Through them, the story is rounded out even more. I enjoyed seeing how different characters contribute to the plot and keep it moving forward.

An Unwilling Heroine

I love books where characters go on epic quests and do great things for their people. Alanna from Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness and Daleina from The Queen of Blood are two such people. They want to do great things and serve their country. If I personally had to choose, however, I want to keep my peaceful life. I want to make a change in peoples' lives but on a smaller scale in my local community (and possibly farther out through my blog, but that doesn't require leaving the comfort of my home).

Naelin is an unwilling heroine because she doesn't want any fame or glory. From her perspective, such people live short lives, and all she wants to do is live a quiet life with her children. I can relate to Naelin, but I also understand why the country needs her. Our new heroine is another complex character that will appeal to readers.

Another Complex Villain(?) (Who I Actually Want to Like)
This time around, one of our old friends and rivals comes back to haunt us. This is a young woman that I want to like; she's charismatic, and I want her to be a friend. For a while, we're kept guessing as to how the situation will turn out, and I still feel like it could go in several different directions. I understand her situation, and I wish that something can be done to help her while keeping the peace.

THE FAMILY IS STRONG IN THIS ONE!!! (#familygirl)
Longtime readers of the blog know that I love books with strong familial ties. That hasn't changed. Family is so important to who we are. More often than not, people tend to like their family, and it's always been weird to me how family often disappears in novels.

I love how family is such a strong force in this book. We have members from several different families featured in this book, and family influences the decisions of some other characters.

A Breathtaking Cover 
I love the gorgeous artwork that's been done with this series. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, I believe in fantasy covers that showcase the world and give us insight into the world that the people inhabit. I'm looking forward to the cover for the third book!!


WHAT I DISLIKED


Do we really need a guy to make us feel alive?
There's a situation where a character asks her romantic interest to help her feel alive; they start kissing, and it's implied that they have sex. I'm not opposed to romantic relationships, but I do believe that our sense of purpose can't depend on love. If we're in a situation where we feel dead (or fear death), sex isn't going to solve the problem. We need to find purpose elsewhere.

That Plot Armor
The ending felt a bit happy go lucky and cheery for what I'd come to expect following the tragic end to book one. (The outcome is strange and novel.) That said, it does feel like the plot is moving forward, and I'm most definitely interested in seeing where Sarah Beth Durst takes us next.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Things are rushed in this novel, but they have to be given the circumstances. That said, I didn't feel rushed as I did in the first novel, where time would fast forward without warning. Sarah Beth Durst has created an interesting world with characters I want to like (as terrible the deeds they have done are) and a story that is hard to put down until I have read all that I have in my hands. (Where's book three???) The ending has me asking many, many questions that I hope to see answered in the next book.

I recommend this series to fantasy lovers, especially those who enjoy good world building and epic adventures (though we don't travel very far in this one).

★★★★☆


Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .
And those spirits want to kill you.
It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.


Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.

Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.

But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.



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For whom would you lay down your life to protect?



Publication Info
  • The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst
  • Published by Harper Voyager
  • On July 4, 2017
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Pages: 400 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Queens of Renthia
Mature Content
  • Kissing, making out
  • Implied sex
  • Violence & death

When Life Hands You a Heavy Bag of Heartache, Write About It ⇉ Review of Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Thursday, August 3, 2017
I enjoy contemporary novels that feel like they could have taken place "for reals." Like they aren't just a story with drama added for the sake of drama. Letters to the Lost provides just that.

Juliet and Declan are from different walks of life. In another time and place, their paths probably wouldn't have crossed. (Okay, that part is pretty cheesy.) What's pretty neat about this book is that it shows us how death and grief have the power to cross social barriers and unite hurting people. Juliet is more than the girl whose mother died, and Declan is more than the boy who got thrown in jail. They are real, living, breathing humans who are hurting so much that they don't know what to do with their grief except to write about it.

What I don't like so much is how the two become so reliant on their anonymous letters to each other. It's understandable given their age, but it has a cautionary Romeo & Juliet feel (except there is no caution involved). They feel very strong emotions; without another outlet, it all comes pouring out in their letters to each other. I don't think another human can solve all of our problems. When something happens, to whom can we turn?

I do like how family members active players in the characters' lives. The parents in this novel have the power to hurt and to heal. Juliet and Declan also have good friends who are constants in their lives. (They don't disappear!!! Though one is more active than the other.) Many contemporary issues are addressed in this novel as well. These issues cause some drama, but it's done well and, despite some blow ups, the teens handle the end transitions pretty well for their age.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Overall, in spite of some parts with which I don't agree, I enjoyed this novel. It is well written and addresses many contemporary issues that are relevant to teens today. I would recommend this novel to those looking for a darker contemporary that addresses contemporary issues.

★★★★☆


Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.



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CHAT WITH ME


If you were to write a letter to a family member, living or deceased, what would you tell him or her?



Publication Info
  • Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
  • Published by Bloomsbury USA Children's
  • On April 4, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 400 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series
  • N/A
Mature Content
  • Language
  • Alcohol, underaged drinking
  • Death & Grief
  • Fostercare
  • Some violence
  • Kissing
  • Nudity / bed scenes described once - not the teens though

Evocative Imagery and Powerful Allusions . . . But There Were Some Major Dealbreakers ⇉ Review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Thursday, July 27, 2017
I read and loved The Graveyard Book and Coraline. When I mentioned that I wanted to read more Gaiman books, friends highly recommended The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I still love Gaiman's masterful writing, and Ocean is a well-written novel. However, due to several reasons, Ocean is not for me.


WHAT I LIKED


Evocative Imagery
Neil Gaiman is a master with words. His writing is as beautiful and compelling; it lingers in the mind and brings the world to life without extending into long, rambling sentences.

Powerful Allusions
As with the imagery, Gaiman's choice use of allusions brings the world to life quickly and powerfully without needing much to be said.

Creative World Building
I love magical realism for its ability to convey a realistic portrayal of the world while slipping in magical elements in such a natural way that it feels believable, like its always been a part of the world. Neil Gaiman does just this in Ocean. The world is creative and, more importantly, believable. This gives more weight to the themes interwoven into the plot.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


Mature Suggestions
The synopsis tells us that frightening, dangerous things happened to the narrator as a child. I was prepared for terrible things, and I agree that terrible things happened to the narrator. That said, I was not prepared for some of the more graphic visuals; I didn't need these details and definitely wouldn't want a child reading them. (There's a reason, besides the theme of hopelessness, that this is classified as an adult novel.)

Themes of Powerlessness and Helplessness
One message that this novel conveys is that we are powerless and helpless to make a difference in some situations. The ending in particular left me wondering if anything could have changed the fates of the characters involved in the events that took place in the narrator's childhood.

In the end, is it better to be left in the narrator's situation forty years after the events of his childhood, or is it better to keep fighting for the optimal situation?

What's the Point in Reading Ocean?
I'm sure there are people who will read this and come up with great themes and messages to apply to our lives. I was left wondering what was the point in reading this book. What am I supposed to get out of this novel? Perhaps that is the point: to get us thinking about the novel is trying to tell us.

Perhaps.


FINAL THOUGHTS


There's no question about Neil Gaiman's mastery of his craft, and I'll likely continue to read his novels. However, I'm not sure that I'm as big a fan of his adult novels as his children's novels. I love the themes of hope to be found in children's novels. This novel was a 180-degree turn into helplessness. That said, this is the first Gaiman adult novel that I've read. I'll give some more of them a try before I come to a final decision on this point.

★★☆☆☆


Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.



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Do you enjoy books with magical realism? Have you read a Neil Gaiman book before? What are your thoughts?



Publication Info
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • Published by William Morrow
  • On June 3, 2014
  • Genres: FantasyMagical Realism
  • Pages: 195 Pages
  • Format: Paperback
Series
  • N/A
Mature Content
  • Domestic violence
  • Nightmarish creatures
  • Suggestive, visual, sexual images in the context of an affair
  • Suicide
  • Violence

Harry Potter Meets The Princess Diaries ⇉ Review of The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night

Thursday, July 20, 2017
Deeply buried secrets. A magical school. A quest to save the kingdom . . .

The Crowns of Croswald is part Harry Potter (with the chosen one and magical school setting) and part The Princess Diaries (with the MC Ivy being a strong heroine in the process of discovering and learning about her special heritage, and also embracing her gender and enjoying a pretty dress).


WHAT I LIKED


A School Life Story
Though it is a story about a heroine learning about her role in saving the world, The Crowns of Croswald is also very much a school story in which the heroine must attend to her role as a student even as she searches for clues to her identity. I love magical stories that take place in a school setting. It's so much fun to learn about the world with the students as they attend class and, of course, sneak off on secret adventures.

A Compelling Mystery
Though Ivy's heritage is pretty apparent from the beginning, there are many mysteries surrounding her situation, and more mysteries continue surfacing as she searches for answers. These mysteries kept me in suspense from start to finish, and even though most of the questions have been answered, there is enough left to keep me in anticipation of the next book in her story.

The Promise of Adventure
The Crowns of Croswald is filled with adventures in and out of class, and it ends with the promise of more to come. I like how this book sets the stage for the next part of Ivy's journey.


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


Un-Memorable Characters
While I have a soft spot for some of the characters, none of them were particularly memorable in the end. They're one dimensional and lack complexity; there are opportunities for the characters to show vulnerability and depth to them, but instead they continue moving forward as they have always done. Ivy, in particular, continues to exude self confidence and charisma in moments when she could have opened herself more to the reader and shown more to her character.

As for the supporting cast, we don't see enough of any of them to get to know them beyond what is their relationship to Ivy (and how she views them). There were lost opportunities to flesh out their characters. An example: As much as we love to hate on Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, he's still endearing—that's because we see more to his character than someone who cares about the purity of a wizard's blood. In comparison, Ivy's "rival" is only portrayed as someone who loves attention as much as she enjoys tormenting Ivy.

A Harry Potter Retelling (for the first half or so)
There were many details in the first half or so of the novel that felt like they came straight out of Harry Potter. (Some examples - highlight to see: the chosen one who never knew he she had magical abilities, ghosts in the dining hall, the magical shopping district, the diminutive professor who needs a stack of books to be seen . . .)

For some time, I wondered if I was reading a Harry Potter retelling or fan fiction. Eventually, the differences did make themselves clear, but I do get a strong Harry Potter vibe from this book. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but there were a few too many strong similarities such that I wonder how large an influence the Harry Potter books were in the writing of this novel.

How or When Did This Happen? (Missing Explanations and Awkward Time Skips)
There are several incidents in which some things seem to happen without cause or an action was missing to explain a situation. There are also some awkward time skips where a summary of events would have helped facilitate the transition through the passage of time. The same awkwardness goes for descriptions of characters and the setting. For the most part, these incidents don't hinder the reader's understanding of the text, but they did make the difference of a star in my final rating.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Though the characters have yet to prove themselves to be particularly memorable, the plot and world building is interesting enough that I'm open to revisiting this world with the next novel in the series. As this is a first novel, there is room for the writing to mature. I look forward to seeing what D.E. Night brings to us next!

★★★☆☆


In Croswald, the only thing more powerful than dark magic is one secret...

For sixteen years Ivy Lovely has been hidden behind an enchanted boundary that separates the mundane from the magical. When Ivy crosses the border, her powers awaken. Curiosity leads her crashing through a series of adventures at the Halls of Ivy, a school where students learn to master their magical blood and the power of Croswald’s mysterious gems. When Ivy’s magic—and her life—is threatened by the Dark Queen, she scrambles to unearth her history and save Croswald before the truth is swept away forever.








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CHAT WITH ME


If you owned a magical crown, what special ability would it allow you to wield? (Possible answers: transform into magical creatures, set things on fire, freeze water. . .)



Publication Info
  • The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night
  • Published by Stories Untold
  • On July 21, 2017
  • Genres: YA Fantasy
  • Pages: ??? Pages
  • Format: Paperback
Series
  1. The Crowns of Croswald
  2. TBD
Content
  • Bullying / Snobbery
  • Someone is locked in a box in a closet (found afterwards)
  • Someone seemingly disperses into gold glitter

A Whimsical Adventure with Family at Its Heart ⇉ Review of The Queen is Coming to Tea by Linda Ravin Lodding + #GIVEAWAY

Thursday, July 13, 2017
The Queen is Coming to Tea is a delightful, whimsical read in which a young girl visits many different countries in search of delicacies to serve the queen at tea. I enjoyed joining Ellie on her journey. It took me back to my childhood days when my brother and I would create new worlds and go on imaginary journeys. Seeing the queen and Ellie together at the end was a sweet moment. I enjoy books that show mother-daughter moments. (highlight to see).

This is a book that mothers will enjoy reading with their daughters. The end suggests that there will be a sequel that fathers can share with their daughters. In a future companion story, I would love to see siblings go on adventures together! Growing up with my brother was an important part of my life.


★★★☆☆


One day there was a knock at Ellie's door. There stood the Queen's Footman. "A message from Her Royal Highness." He offered Ellie a note on a silver tray.
May I please come for tea?
Sincerely yours,
The Queen Herself


When Ellie finds out the Queen is coming to tea, she snaps to attention! After all, the Queen deserves the best: cake from Paris, tea from China, lemons from Italy... "Pish posh," says Ellie. "We can do it!"

But will the Queen patiently wait? And what exactly will be waiting for the Queen?





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Fancy Nancy Tea Parties by Jane O'Connor


CHAT WITH ME


What were some of your favorite moments with your mother (or another parental figure) growing up?


GIVEAWAY


As a part of the tour, we're giving away 2 Ceramic Tea Sets and copies of The Queen is Coming to Tea.
a Rafflecopter giveaway




Publication Info
  • The Queen is Coming to Tea by Linda Ravin Lodding
  • Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
  • On February 7, 2017
  • Genres: Children's Book
  • Pages: 32 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
    Series
    • N/A
      Content
      • N/A


      Friendship Forged and Real-World Issues Explored in the Australian Wild ⇉ Review of The Fallen Star by Tracey Hecht

      Thursday, July 6, 2017
      I loved animal books as a child, so when I had the opportunity to review this series, I knew I was in! For reviews of the first two books, click on the links in the table at the bottom of this post!


      WHAT I LIKED


      Introduces New (Australian!) Animals
      Each book of the The Nocturnals series has introduced new animals that can be found in Australia. I've enjoyed learning more about different kinds of animals. This book provides a good opportunity to research more about Australian animal life with your young reader.

      Enemies That Aren't So Bad After All
      As with the previous two novels, The Fallen Star reveals that individuals can make bad decisions that hurt others for innocent motives, motives with which we can identify. I love how these books show young readers how to consider things from the other party's perspective, forgive wrongdoings, and move forward together.

      Provides a Safe Place to Explore Real World Issues
      As I hinted above, there are real world issues in this book. Because the story is fictional and told through animal life, The Nocturnals books provide a safe place for young readers to explore real world issues. In particular, this book portrays the following: gluttony, keeping secrets, insecurity, friendship, and talking before you think.


      WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE (AS MUCH)


      Bismarck is Still One Rude Marsupial
      Bismarck often gets himself and his friends into tough spots because of his tendency to talk before he thinks. He's rude to those he doesn't like and / or who disagree with him. That said, he's also a good friend and will quickly change attitudes when he realizes there's a problem.

      Superficial Characters
      To a certain extent, the characters are still pretty superficial. We don't get to know the animals outside of the main trio. Dawn is the brave leader and the least developed. Bismarck has some depth in that his brash attitude forces him to learn a lot of lessons the hard way. In this book, Tobin shows more complexity because of his inner conflict. Overall, however, we don't get much complexity. (That said, it's for the most part age appropriate.)

      Where's the Old Cast?
      I realized in writing this review that we don't really see old comrades make an appearance outside of the original trio. While I enjoy meeting new Australian wildlife, I would love to see old friends make a reappearance. It would help connect the books and give a stronger feel of consistency. Thus far, the books feel episodic in nature (which isn't altogether bad—it means you can pick any book after the first book and not worry about having to read the rest of the books—but I would like to check in on old friends).


      FINAL THOUGHTS


      I enjoyed this book much more than the first two books. The conflict was intriguing and had me worried about the fates of the forest animals. It actually felt like they were in danger, and there was a real mystery here. I would recommend this book to young readers who love animals and would be interested in reading an animal book that takes place in a foreign country!

      ★★★☆☆


      In The Fallen Star, Dawn, Tobin, and Bismark awaken one evening to a disaster: all of the forest's pomelos have been mysteriously poisoned! As the Nocturnal Brigade sets out to investigate, they encounter Iris, a mysterious aye-aye, who claims monsters from the moon are to blame. While the three heroes suspect a more earthly explanation, the animals of the valley are all falling ill. And then Tobin gets sick, too! The Nocturnal Brigade must race to find answers, and the cure, before the pomelo blight threatens to harm them all.



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      CHAT WITH ME


      Dawn, Tobin, and Bismarck help other animals who live in their forest. What activities do you enjoy doing with friends?



      Publication Info
      • The Fallen Star by Tracey Hecht
      • Published by Fabled Films Press
      • On May 2, 2017
      • Genres: Animals, Juvenile
      • Pages: 208 Pages
      • Format: Hardback
      Content
      • A deceitful villain uses other animals (lies to some, hypnotizes others).
      • A death is mentioned
      • Some intense scenes in which the heroes are captured and fight for their lives.