The Reluctant Queen: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Reluctant Queen is the second book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood*

“Everything has a spirit. … And those spirits want to kill you.”

Daleina spent years preparing to protect the people of Aratay as a Candidate and Heir. She was never the strongest, but she was one of the smartest and most determined. After the Coronation Massacre she was also the only Heir left alive to to take the throne. In the wake of the massacre that killed so many of her friends, Daleina is doing her best to be a good queen.

But there’s a problem.

Daleina is dying and as her health deteriorates so does her control over the spirits. All of Aratay is in danger until suitable Heirs can be chosen but after the massacre most of the candidates are perilously young and unprepared.

Naelin is neither of those things. She is powerful enough to be an Heir and the next Queen. She has also spent the past years at pains to make sure no one knows the full extent of her power–especially the spirits who would kill her for it. She has no desire to remove herself from her quiet life as a woodswoman with her husband and two young children.

Champion Ven found Daleina and believed in her abilities when no one else did, knowing that she would one day be a great Queen. He knows that the same is true for Naelin if only he can get her to see herself the way he does. As time runs out, both Daleina and Naelin will have to accept that saving everyone they love will require both women to risk everything in The Reluctant Queen (2017) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Reluctant Queen is the second book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy which began with The Queen of Blood (a 2017 Alex Award winner). This story starts several months into Daleina’s reign as Queen of Aratay when the kingdom should be calm. Instead, Daleina learns that she is fatally ill and has become her own kingdom’s greatest threat.

Durst expands the world of Renthnia in this story as Naelin and Daleina explore new parts of Aratay and look beyond its borders to Semo. The viewpoints in the story are also expanded with more from familiar characters like Ven as well as new characters like Naelin and her children.

This series is thick with action and tension. The stakes have never been higher for Daleina and Naelin (or for Aratay) as time runs out to find a cure for Daleina and prepare Naelin for everything being Queen requires. In this installment Durst thoughtfully explores the push and pull between duty to family versus larger responsibilities as Naelin tries to resign herself to her future as an Heir. Her dynamic with Daleina–Naelin’s opposite in many ways–adds an interesting dimension to the story as both women realize there is no right or easy way to wield power.

Durst has outdone herself with The Reluctant Queen. Its dramatic final act will leave readers anxious to see what the Queens of Renthia will face next. The Reluctant Queen effectively confirms that this series is a must for any and all high fantasy readers. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this book!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Author Interview #10: Sarah Beth Durst on The Reluctant Queen

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is one of my favorite authors. It’s hard to pick just one of her books to have as my absolute favorite but I have to say The Reluctant Queen might be it. This book is the second in Sarah’s award winning Queens of Renthnia series which starts with The Queen of Blood. Today Sarah is here for our tenth interview to talk a little more about The Reluctant Queen.

Miss Print (MP): When we last talked about The Queen of Blood you explained that the Queens of Renthia series originally started with The Reluctant Queen as the first book before you made a switch and started the series with Daleina’s path to the throne. What was it like going back to this story after shifting the beginning in that way? Did The Reluctant Queen have any big changes because of the shift?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Starting with book two, then creating book one, and then returning to book two made for a surprisingly fantastic writing experience.  It was nothing I could have planned or predicted, but it turned out to be the best thing for me.

The entire time I was working on THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, I had the story for THE RELUCTANT QUEEN churning in the back of my mind.  So when it was time to write book two, I knew the world, the story, and the characters so well that it felt like coming home.

Well, “home” if home were a massive forest with cities high up in the trees and tons of bloodthirsty nature spirits eager to destroy humanity…

MP: As its title suggests, this story focuses on a woman who doesn’t want to be queen. Naelin is very powerful and, as one character describes her, “deeply committed to living a forgettable life” and never attracting the attention of the spirits. Naelin’s lack of ambition and focus on her family is often in stark contrast to Daleina’s own position as Queen and her deliberate choices to take up that role. If you were in Renthia, whose path would you be more likely to understand and follow yourself?

SBD: I love writing about brave heroes like Daleina — she’s not particularly powerful (in fact, she’s at best a mediocre student, lacking the innate talent and skill of her classmates), but she’s determined to protect her family and save her world anyway.

I do consider myself to be determined (being a writer requires a certain amount of pig-headed stubbornness), but I’m not very brave.  Daleina ziplines all around her forest and faces down vicious spirits.  I, on the other hand, can’t even handle a nice, placid bike ride without being terrified, and I’m afraid of skunks.

So I’d probably chose Naelin’s path.

Actually, I agree with many of Naelin’s life choices.  She has immense power but chooses not to use it out of a (very, very reasonable) fear that she’ll leave her children motherless.

MP: The Reluctant Queen shows readers several new parts of Aratay including a much more in-depth view of the palace in Mittriel. What was your favorite room or place to showcase in this book? Which are you most excited for readers to discover?

SBD: My favorite room is the Chamber of the Queen’s Champions, even though Daleina isn’t as fond of it as I am:

Carved into the top of the palace tree, the Chamber of the Queen’s Champions was known far and wide as a marvel. It was said to have been created by one hundred tree spirits, working together under the command of a long-ago queen, in a mere instant. It was enclosed by arches of curled wood—living wood with leaves that whispered together when the wind blew. Sunlight poured into the center of the chamber, illuminating the queen’s throne in a perfect star pattern. The champions’ chairs circled it, each chair alive, budded from the tree. Higher than the surrounding trees, the only way to reach the chamber without using spirits was to climb the stairs that spiraled up from the palace on the outside of the tree’s vast trunk.

 

It was indisputably impressive, but today Queen Daleina hated it. She also hated the nameless long-ago queen who’d thought it was a grand idea to construct so many stairs.

MP: Since Renthia is filled with spirits that want to kill humans, we have already seen a lot of them by the time this book starts. What struck me while reading about the spirits is how unique they are. What inspired your vision for the spirits in Renthia? How do you make sure they are all distinct?

SBD: I wish I could tell you I’ve developed some fancy, professional-sounding writerly technique for creating the spirits… but honestly, I just try to make them as awesome as I can.  My personal favorite is an air spirit that is essentially a giant ermine with bat wings.  It looks kind of like Falcor from The Neverending Story.  (That’s the spirit on the cover of THE RELUCTANT QUEEN.  The cover artist is the amazing Stephan Martiniere.)

MP: In this book readers meet new characters like Naelin and her children Erian and Llor while also learning more about some of the familiar characters from book one including Daleina’s sister Arin, Healer Hamon, and Champion Ven. This book features quite a few more perspective shifts as the story unfolds from several points of view. Did you always know that this series would feature multiple perspectives? How did you go about balancing that aspect of your storytelling in your outlines and drafts?

SBD: That’s one of my favorite things about writing epic fantasy.  I love deciding whose turn it is to tell the story.  It feels like conducting an orchestra.

Mostly, I chose the POV character based on who is most affected by the upcoming scene, but I also color-code my outline to make sure that all characters have the appropriate amount of screen-time and that everyone has enough time to complete their character arc.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

SBD: Right now, I’m working on my next middle-grade novel.  It’s called THE STONE GIRL’S STORY, and it’s about a girl made of stone, forever twelve years old, who has outlasted the father who carved her and gave her life.  But now the magical marks that animate her are fading, and she must leave home and find help, if she wants her story to continue.  It will be out in spring 2018 from HMH/Clarion Books.  I’m so excited about it!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also check out our previous interviews discussing Sarah’s other novels here on the blog.

If you want to know more about The Reluctant Queen be sure to check out my  review.

Week in Review: July 22

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

This weekend was nice and quiet. I got a haircut, did some laundry, cooked, and make no-bake oreo truffles.

Here’s my latest from Instagram:

I'm pretty excited about my new sale finds from Alex and Ani. The first picture is my new scarab spoon ring which symbolizes protection, destiny and emerging. It's totally adjustable and a great match for the scarab necklace and bracelet I already have. Also super happy with how well these Sally Hansen nail polish strips are holding up. I've gotten so many compliments and talked the nail polish strips up so much that I'm tempted to ask for a commission! If you swipe over you can see my amazing raven key necklace which is even nicer than I expected from the photos. I have a pretty substantial collection of key necklaces and am happy to add this one to the group! #jewelry #ring #necklace #manicure #nails #alexandani #sallyhansen #scarab #raven #key #nailpolish #nofilter #latergram #treatyoself

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If you you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my July Reading Tracker.

How was your week? What are you reading?

Let’s talk in the comments.

Lucky in Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Maddie doesn’t believe in luck. She believes in working hard and being realistic. She’d love to dream big like her Stanford-bound best friend but dreams like that have no place in Maddie’s reality.

When her eighteenth birthday turns into a total bust, Maddie decides to indulge in a little self-pity and a lot of whimsy when she buys a lottery ticket. Much to her dismay, the ticket wins big.

Before her win Maddie’s family is struggling with debt and barely managing with her overworked mother and unemployed father constantly fighting about money while Maddie’s older brother has taken time off from college to pay some of the loans he has already accrued. Maddie’s lottery money and her natural caregiver tendencies should solve all of their problems but, as Maddie learns, money can’t fix everything–especially people who may not want to be fixed.

Maddie also learns the hard way that money has the potential to change everyone she’s ever met as acquaintances and even strangers start asking for loans, friends question her behavior, and rumors start flying about her in the tabloids. Maddie’s one refuge is the zoo where her coworker Seth Nguyen seems to have no idea that Maddie is now a multi-millionaire.

Seth is charming, funny, and perfect the way he is now–when he doesn’t know Maddie’s secret. As they grow closer Maddie knows she has to tell Seth the truth. Soon. The only problem is that being honest with him might also mean losing Seth before he and Maddie have a chance to get closer in Lucky in Love (2017) by Kasie West.

West’s latest standalone contemporary novel is narrated by Maddie as she navigates her sudden change of circumstance along with all of the other uncharted moments that come with being a senior in high school. Her love of animals and work at the local zoo add a fun dimension to Maddie’s character and the plot.

Thanks to the lottery, Maddie learns to put herself first and also accept things she can’t control or change. In the midst of the lottery chaos Maddie also develops a sweet relationship with Seth–her Vietnamese-American coworker at the zoo. He gives her some much-needed perspective with his focus on film making and going with the flow even in the face of disheartening micro-aggressions and more overt discrimination. He remains easygoing and fun even when it feels like Maddie’s life is in chaos. Seth is a sweet and mellow counterpoint to hyper-focused overachiever Maddie.

Lucky in Love strikes the perfect balance between reality and wish fulfillment with a charming story sure to leave readers smiling. Lucky in Love is a winning ticket for any readers looking for a frothy and ultimately cheerful story about growing up and chasing your dreams–with or without a lottery win to back you up. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Library of Fates: A Review

Sikander, the emperor of Macedon, arrives in peaceful Shalingar after conquering Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Bactria, and Persia. Sikander asks Princess Amrita to become his bride as part of a peaceful treaty between the two nations but the negotiations soon end in bloodshed and force Amrita to flee.

Haunted by the loss of her kingdom and everyone she loves Amrita helps Thala, an enslaved oracle, escape imprisonment. Together Thala is certain that she and Amrita can find the Library of All Things and convince the Keeper of the library to allow them to change their own fates.

As Amrita and Thala come closer to changing their fates, Amrita has to come to terms with the fact that her old life may be impossible to reclaim and a new life can only be found through sacrifice in The Library of Fates (2017) by Aditi Khorana.

Khorana’s sophomore novel is a standalone fantasy imbued with elements from Indian folklore and Hindu mythology combined with elements of the author’s own invention including a giant magical spider that allows characters to travel through time and space.

This story is hampered by anachronistic phrases and details that fail to coalesce into a coherent world or logical magic system. Basically all of background suggests that this story is set around 300BC which fits with the inclusion of Macedon and other countries that are mentioned. In spite of that Amrita and her friends continuously use words and phrases that have origins in the 1800s. Because of this the dialogue feels especially English/American which makes sense given the author being American but also rings untrue as the characters themselves are not (and in fact are probably speaking the fictitious Shalingarsh language throughout). Of course, The Library of Fates would always be read in English by English readers but the offhand linguistic choices often serve to draw readers out of the story.

As a narrator Amrita is an uneasy blend of naive and impetuous while also being seemingly the only character in the novel unaware of her true connection to a mythical goddess called Maya the Diviner. Every character Amrita knows in the palace has been aware of this connection since her birth and kept it from her. Literally. Every. Character.

Despite the inherent tension of an early love triangle, relationships remain underdeveloped save for the endearing if abrupt friendship between Amrita and Thala. As Amrita ponders her odious marriage arrangement with Sikander, she suddenly and completely falls for Arjun, her best friend since childhood. This forbidden love is dropped when Amrita is forced to leave Shalingar without him. A new love interest is introduced for a dramatic star-crossed love story that is largely toothless because the second love interest appears in about ten pages total of the entire book–and that only after the story hits the halfway mark.

Interesting concepts including the Library of All Things itself are bright spots in this otherwise unfocused story where many of the most exciting moments are related in asides or flashbacks. A serviceable if not well-realized fantasy that will appeal to fans of The Wrath and the Dawn and The Star-Touched Queen.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the June 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

Week in Review: July 15

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

I had a lot going on this weekend (Seeing The Great Comet with Nicole! Laundry! Getting a new phone!) and completely forgot that I didn’t have this post scheduled to go up. Curses!

Here’s my latest from Instagram (check out my other photos for more beautiful flower pics!):

I also have several posts up for Scholastic’s I Read YA week if you want to see more bookstagram photos:

Vivian is tired of the toxic sexism and systemic misogyny at her Texas high school but she also isn't sure what she can do about. That changes when she finds her mom's old Riot Grrrl zines. Suddenly Vivian has a way to speak out and her own zine, Moxie, is born. ✏️ In the pages of Moxie Vivian calls out sexist jokes, harassment, and unfair dress codes and asks girls at the school to join her in protests. As the zine gains momentum the Moxie movement takes on a life of its own. No one knows who started Moxie and as the stakes rise for what the zine and the Moxie girls are fighting for Vivian has to decide how far she's willing to go for what she believes in. ✏️ This powerful book proves that the pen can be mightier than the sword and that girls are always stronger when they're united. A must read for everyone but especially young women who have had to apologize on behalf of boys, girls whose ideas only gain validity when a boy shares them, and anyone who's has the moment of realization that some people will never understand what it's like to walk down a dark street alone. ✏️ In the first issue of Moxie, Vivian asks readers to draw hearts and stars on their hands so likeminded students can find each other at school. You can watch for Moxie on shelves this September but if you want to find your people and your voice, you can add stars and hearts to your hands right now. And always remember: Moxie Girls Fight Back! ✏️ #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #bookstagramit #yalit #yastandsfor #moxiegirlsfightback #jennifermathieu #uppercasebox #owlcrate #feminism

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I’m also selling an iPhone 6 and a bunch of accessories and things on eBay right now if you or someone you know might be interested in that: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Apple-iPhone-6-16GB-Space-Gray-Verizon-Smartphone-/152626849997?hash=item238944e8cd:g:5yAAAOSwajRZa-oE

If you you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my July Reading Tracker.

How was your week? What are you reading?

Let’s talk in the comments.

COMICS EXTRAVAGANZA: A Q&A with Scott Westerfeld

I’m excited to be part of First Second’s Comics Extravaganza Blog Tour!

All week you can follow the blog tour (click to see the full schedule) for interviews with authors talking about their own comics, what they love about the genre, and more.

Today I’m hosting a Q&A with Scott Westerfeld, author of Spill Zone. Scott Westerfeld is the author of the worldwide bestselling Uglies series and the Locus Award–winning Leviathan series, and is co-author of the Zeroes trilogy. His other novels include the New York Times bestseller AfterworldsThe Last Days,Peeps, So Yesterday, and the Midnighters trilogy.

Tell us your first memory of reading a comic or graphic novel.
Scott Westerfeld (ST): My first little-kid comics were Casper the Friendly Ghost. He’s the ultimate visual character, thanks to the weird physics of his incorporeal body. I don’t think you could do those gentle but highly disconcerting sight-gags in any other medium. (If you don’t know what I mean, google “Casper Ghost Physics.”)
What’s your favorite comic or graphic novel, and what do you love about it?
ST: I love all deconstructions of comics, so I was tempted to say The Boys or something gritty like that. But really, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the best self-aware meta-comic going right now. The writing and art are crisp and sharp, the perfect combination of sweet and knowing.
Tell us a little about your latest graphic novel. 
ST: Spill Zone is set three years after a strange event destroyed the hometown of 20-year-old Addison Merritt. Nobody knows what the Spill even was, but it took her parents and left her little sister silent. (Except for psychic conversations with a creepy doll.) Now Addison supports them both by sneaking into the Zone to take photographs, which sell as a mysterious, voyeuristic outsider art. And then one of her collectors offers her a million dollars to bring more than photographs out of the Zone. (My elevator pitch: Stranger Things with motorcycles.)
What comic or graphic novel are you reading now? 
ST: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. An amazing immigrant family memoir, stretching from the bloody division of Viet Nam to blue-sky California in only a few decades. An amazing look at how history imprints itself across generations.
Remember, check out the other tour stops for more interviews. I’ll leave you with some more information about Spill Zone:
SPILL ZONE
by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

Three years ago an event destroyed the small city of Poughkeepsie, forever changing reality within its borders. Uncanny manifestations and lethal dangers now await anyone who enters the Spill Zone.

The Spill claimed Addison’s parents and scarred her little sister, Lexa, who hasn’t spoken since. Addison provides for her sister by photographing the Zone’s twisted attractions on illicit midnight rides. Art collectors pay top dollar for these bizarre images, but getting close enough for the perfect shot can mean death—or worse.

When an eccentric collector makes a million-dollar offer, Addison breaks her own hard-learned rules of survival and ventures farther than she has ever dared. Within the Spill Zone, Hell awaits—and it seems to be calling Addison’s name.