Four Dead Queens: A Review

cover art for Four Dead Queens by Astrid ScholteFour queens rule Quadara. Together, yet apart just like the country’s four quadrants: Archia, Eonia, Ludia, and Toria.

Keralie is one of the best thieves in all of Toria stealing missives, technology, and  contraband from other quadrants that her employer Mackiel can sell in his black market auctions. It isn’t the life Keralie’s parents’ ever imagined for her, but it is the one she’s been groomed for since she was ten.

Even Keralie’s skills prove insufficient when her latest target–a messenger from Eonia–discovers her theft. If he can’t make his delivery, Varin’s life could be forfeit leaving him with little choice but to follow Keralie to retrieve his stolen goods.

What starts as a simple exchange soon escalates when Keralie and Varin discover a plot to assassinate all of Quadara’s queens. With no one else to trust, Keralie and Varin have to set aside their mutual distrust to form a reluctant alliance if they want to escape Mackiel and capture the assassin in Four Dead Queens (2019) by Astrid Scholte.

Four Dead Queen‘s is a standalone adventure that’s part mystery, part thriller, and part speculative fiction.

Quadara and the individual quadrants have the potential to be fascinating backdrops for this story. Unfortunately Quadara is never situated in a larger world making the tension between the quadrants and outside threats feel forced if not entirely contrived. The politics of succession and Queenly Law (the rules that dictate how the quadrants are divided and ruled) also make very little sense and further underscore the poor development of this world.

Keralie’s first-person narration gives depth to both herself and Varin who is simultaneously her foil and her love interest. Sadly both protagonists stumble through the story without anything resembling agency as they are repeatedly driven from one reactive position to the next. The rest of the characters are exceedingly flat–a problem that is especially obvious with Mackiel the supposedly charming criminal mastermind who never once manages to come across as anything but slimy and manipulative.

Four Dead Queens is suspenseful and well-paced with high action and a deep sense of urgency as Keralie and Varin hunt the assassin. In contrast, the mystery’s resolution is a bitter disappointment as much of the actual intrigue comes more from the author’s deliberate manipulation of the story’s timeline and perspective rather than true plot twists.

It’s no surprise that this story has a body count but it’s both disappointing and problematic that two of the only queer characters characters and two of the only dark-skinned characters (including one raised in secret in two small rooms) are among the first victims. Varin’s position as an Eonian with a premature death date is also troubling and surprising as he comes from a quadrant known for its medical advancements and life-prolonging technologies.

Four Dead Queens is an interesting if sometimes frustrating mystery but the fantasy world framework of Quadara is shoddily built at best. A high-concept story that fails to capitalize on a unique world and instead remains painfully predictable and opaque.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Rule by Ellen Goodlett, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, Divergent by Veronica Roth

Week in Review: February 16: Let me tell you about my week of meetings.

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

All I did at work this week was go to meetings. I got to see a lot of new branches and traverse much of Brooklyn but it was trying. I am not a great subway traveler and the weather was terrible. Here’s what went down:

On Monday I was in an all day leadership training. I’m the branch rep for a YA Network that was created to improve  services to teens in the library. We are looking into ways to make the library more welcoming to teens with improvements to the library’s mental, physical, and digital spaces for teens. The leadership training is a “perk” for participants. It’s very crunchy and kind of silly but some tips on active listening and identifying project stakeholders were helpful.

On Tuesday I had a meeting in the morning for said network where we continued to hammer out details on our plans. I also carried a succulent across Brooklyn to get it to my desk. And I fell in the branch’s lobby. My knee is super bruised now. Fun.

On Wednesday I had a class visit with a yeshiva school that is so Jewish it is named after the Star of David. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was kind of fun. The final score was me earning 30 points for Ravenclaw, silly sixth grade boys: zero. Then I had a quick lunch and headed to another branch for another training. This year I’m working as a facilitator for an initiative called Everyone Serves Youth where staffers travel to different branches (or in my case different divisions in my giant branch) to lead workshops on serving babies, kids, and teens in the library and how all staff can do that. The workshops are starting at the end of February so this meeting was to get more details, paperwork, and practice.

Thursday was my last day of the week (I worked last Saturday so I had this Friday off, it’s weird) and I ended it with a day filled with . . . more meetings!

The morning started with a meeting for the committee I chair to talk about what we’ll be doing at our next training. I showed everyone the summer reading lists (we’ll be booktalking these titles) shared deadlines, and asked about other ideas moving forward. I always feel like I’m probably the most tiresome person to be in charge but it was a good meeting and people seem to not be sick of me (or my copious emails and files) yet. I am also ridiculous and brought chocolate and punny valentines that were hilarious (and possibly underappreciated) for everyone. And I only shamed one committee member for not being goodreads friends. (We’re friends now. Because of the shaming.)

After that meeting I got lunch with some committee members which was a nice change since I usually eat alone at my desk. THEN I had a meeting with a work friend from my writing group and another work friend to help them start building a mini collection of books for their Cookmobile project (traveling cooking programs for teens) looking at fiction and nonfiction with books. I feel totally superfluous to this project but I did actually end up having a lot of book suggestions and input to share on the ordering process. Yay collection development.

Next I had an hour on the reference desk which was also a mini meeting with one of my interns who shadowed me. We talked about his experiences so far and expectations/plans moving forward and he helped me with a few patrons.

THEN I had my last meeting with two people about those Everyone Serves Youth workshops which I was worried about but the meeting didn’t actually help with worries. Go figure.

So that’s how my week of four big meetings in four different meetings over four days shook out.

Here is my favorite post that I shared on Instagram this week:

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Who is your favorite charming con man or con woman? ▪️ Although they aren’t quite conmen, Séverin and his crew are among my favorite incorrigible thieves. (I’m using this specific terminology because it’s actually a tag I use on my blog for reviews.) ▪️ I was so happy to come home from work on Saturday to find these character cards for preordering The Gilded Wolves had arrived. They’re just the best. ▪️ Have you read this one yet? Who is your favorite character? ▪️ #instabooks #currentlyreading #amreading #instareads #bookgram #bookworm #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookstagrammer #bibliophile #booklove #bookphotography #instabook #reading #reader #booktography #bookstagram #beautifulbooks #booksofinstagram #goodreads #prettybooks #bookish #bookishfeature #bookstafeatures #booktalk #readersofinstagram #unitedbookstagram #thegildedwolves #roshanichokshi #uppercasebox

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How was your week? What are you reading?

Author Interview: Tiffany Schmidt on Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy

Tiffany Schmidt author photoBookish Boyfriends is filled with books, humor, and romance all framed around retellings of classic novels. The first installment, A Date With Darcy, follows Merrilee as she starts her sophomore year at Reginald R. Hero High School and discovers that, much to her surprise, the boys at this school might actually be better than her book boyfriends.

I really enjoyed this one and The Boy Next Story is one of my most anticipated sequels coming out in 2019. Today Tiffany Schmidt is here to answer some questions about her new series.

Miss Print (MP): Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy is the first book in your ongoing series. What was the inspiration for the series in general? What was the inspiration for this specific installment?

Tiffany Schmidt (TS): I’ve always been bookish. Even before I could sound out words and read to myself, I’d lug books to my parents and older sister and beg them to read to me. I’ve always wanted to live in the worlds between covers: the Hundred Acres Woods and Narnia and Hogwarts and Uriel and Klickitat Street. The idea for the Bookish Boyfriends series came from that love of stories and my desire to write myself into them. For A Date with Darcy, I specifically wanted to play around with my mis-reading of Romeo & Juliet as a romance when I was young, and also my deep, deep love of all things Austen and Pride and Prejudice. (Mr. Darcy fangirl forever!)

MP: This series blends contemporary romance with loose retellings of classic stories. A Date With Darcy features elements from Romeo and Juliet as well as Pride and Prejudice while The Boy Next Story promises hints of Little Women. How did you decide which stories to draw from for inspiration?

TS: The mentor texts for each of the Bookish Boyfriends novels was a book that was significant for me during my teenage reading years. As a misguided, quixotic middle schooler, I thought Romeo was dreamy. A year later I met my one true love in Mr. Darcy. And Little Women is a book I’ve returned to so many times over the years—seeing my own sister and myself in the March girls. There are so many books that impacted my life as a reader, and it’s such a joy to play with them within the Bookish Boyfriends world.

MP: Merrilee’s English teacher promises to help students find their story and guides Merrilee in particular to a book with life changing consequences. If you had to pick one book that had that kind of impact on you, which would it be?

TS: One book? Man, you’re asking the tough questions—and since there are MANY books that have impacted me, I’m pretty sure I give a different answer to this question each time I’m asked. Today I’m choosing Superfudge by Judy Blume as well as the Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary. I read these in second grade and so identified with young Farley Drexel Hatcher and Ramona Geraldine Quimby and their ability to accidentally get into trouble. The difference between their intentions and the outcomes of their actions resonated so strongly—and it still does. My eight year old twins are reading these books now, and it’s amazing to me how it’s been decades since I read them and I still remember them so vividly. I keep accidentally spoiling things for them. Whoops!

MP: Congratulations on signing on to write more books in this series! Did you always know that you wanted this world to expand to follow multiple characters? How much did you know about the world and the story (or stories) that you wanted to tell when you first started drafting?

TS: I had always hoped to write more Bookish Boyfriends novels, so I’d optimistically planned for it and typed with crossed-fingers. It was never a guarantee, so I am feeling grateful and blessed for the chance to share books three (Eliza’s story- aka, Talk Nerdy to Me) and four (Huck’s story aka Get a Clue). Eliza especially was a character who has demanded her own story from the very first page of book one, so it’s been percolating in my mind for quite a while. Even now, while I’m drafting book four, I’m keeping lists and notes about potential extensions and plots for more characters. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever get sick of writing these books, so as long as they find a readership, I’ll happily keep going

MP: Do you have a favorite character to write in Bookish Boyfriends? Is there any character you are particularly excited for readers to meet?

TS: I’m not going to lie, I had worried that no narrator would top Merrilee because she’s so effervescent and fun to write. But then I started Rory’s story and fell deeply in love with her little sister voice. Rory’s friend Huck was a bit of a surprise. While he has a tiny cameo in book 1 (props if you’ve spotted it!) readers truly meet him early in book two. He was a character that was instantly strong and clear in my head and who would’ve taken over if I hadn’t reined him in. Huck’s become the narrator of book four, Get a Clue, which I’ve only just begun drafting. I’ve got high hopes that he’ll be a reader favorite, because he’s certainly one of mine.

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project? What can readers expect in The Boy Next Story?

TS: The Boy Next Story is about sisters and first loves and finding your own identity outside of others’ expectations or the roles you’ve been assigned within family dynamics. It’s about unrequited love, and art class, and yoga, and Harry Potter, and kombucha, and fresh starts, and math class. And what happens when you outgrow your first crush, but maybe don’t outgrow the boy. And Little Women.

Thanks again to Tiffany for a great interview.

You can see more about Tiffany and her books on her website.

You can also read my review of Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy here on the blog.

Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt

Merrilee Rose Campbell isn’t sure what to expect when she transfers to Reginald R. Hero High as a sophomore along with her best friend Eliza and her younger sister Rory. It will be her first time being in classes with boys since elementary school. Already convinced no real boy can live up to the swoony ones in all of the novels she loves, Merilee’s expectations for her new school are low.

But instead of the annoying mouth breathers she expects, it seems like every boy at Hero High has stepped out of one of Merrilee’s novels. Wherever she turns, she sees a swoon-worthy boy fit to be the romantic lead in his own story complete with all of the brooding mystery that Merrilee ever hoped for.

At first it seems like Merrilee might have found her own romance with Stratford Monroe inspired by the ultimate romantic duo: Romeo and Juliet. But it turns out that story isn’t anything like she thought.

Then there’s the fact that she keeps getting thrown together with Fielding Williams—the stuffy but handsome son of the headmaster–who seems to have a knack for always catching Merrilee at her most awkward and has no qualms about telling her he doesn’t think she’s Hero High material.

First impressions can be deceiving but Merrillee and Fielding might need more than one more chance if Merrilee is going to get over her pride and Fielding is going to let go of his prejudices in Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy (2018) by Tiffany Schmidt.

Bookish Boyfriends: A Date with Darcy is the first book in Schmidt’s latest ongoing series.

With humor and romance in equal measure, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date with Darcy is the rare book that can read up or down with strong appeal for teens of all ages.

It takes a while for the book to get to its Pride and Prejudice retelling subplot while Merrilee figures out how to deal with overly amorous Stratford when his attentions shift from flattering to overbearing. Although it slows down the beginning of the novel, this plot thread is an important conversation starter about consent and boundaries which Schmidt handles well.

This installment also introduces readers to characters they can expect to encounter in future installments including Merri’s surly and artistic younger sister Rory who returns later this year in The Boy Next Story.

Bookish Boyfriends is a fun new series filled with humor, books, and romance in equal measure perfect for readers who are bookish, romantics, or fans of the classics.

Possibles Pairings: A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Last Best Story by Maggie Lehrman, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, From Twinkle, With Love by Sandya Menon, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Tiffany about Bookish Boyfriends.

The Wren Hunt: A Review

cover art for The Wren Hunt by Mary WatsonRaised by her grandfather, Wren Silke has grown up in Kilshamble, Ireland. She knows every inch of the town and the woods. And she knows that every year on Stephen’s Day she will be chased through the woods as part of the annual Wren Hunt.

The Wren Hunt is meant to be figurative–not an actual hunt. But the Judges–a group with magical connections to nature–take the hunt all too seriously chasing Wren until they draw blood. As Augurs–people who can use patterns and connections to see the future–Wren and her community are in the minority in Kilshamble. With Judges controlling most of the nemeta–objects from which both groups draw power–it’s only a matter of time before the Augurs are wiped out entirely.

Eager to help and imagining a future where she won’t be hunted, Wren volunteers to help the Augurs reclaim their advantage (and hopefully some nemeta) by going undercover at Harkness House. But nothing is as it seems among the Judges or the Augurs and soon Wren will have to decide who she can truly trust as she tries to end this bloody feud in The Wren Hunt (2018) by Mary Watson.

The Wren Hunt is Watson’s first foray into YA fantasy.

Wren’s first-person narration is tense and often claustrophobic as Wren tries to stop the latest hunt and only manages to escalate it instead. Her frenzied, stream-of-consciousness style narration is fast-paced and immediate.

Atmospheric descriptions and the eerie opening go far to pull readers into the story and bring Kilshamble to life. Unfortunately the magic system is never explored (or explained) at length making it difficult for readers to keep up with Wren as she is drawn into internal politics and soon caught between both groups in her role as a spy.

The Wren Hunt is a strange and sometimes messy story with an intricate plot set in a complex world. Watson artfully explores themes of agency and loyalty though fails to deliver a truly satisfying fantasy. Recommended for readers who like their books to be part story to absorb and part puzzle to assemble.

Possible Pairings: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox, Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier, Mister Monday by Garth Nix

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

Week in Review: February 9

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

I have a better grip on all the reading I need to do this month but as a result I’m behind (again, forever) on writing blog reviews.

I also haven’t mentioned it much BUT I do have an Etsy shop that I am slowly stocking so if you like handmade jewelry and bookish items, do give it a look: https://www.etsy.com/shop/missprintboutique

Here is my favorite post that I shared on Instagram this week:

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Happy Sunday! I hope you’ve made some time to rest this weekend. ▪️ I got in a lot of reading and relaxing on Saturday and today was my monthly writing group meeting. Since I always leave writing group feeling inspired it seemed like a good day to highlight a book that leaves me feeling inspired every time I think about it. ▪️ It’s been a year since I joined and in that time I’ve written half of a novel manuscript that I’m very proud of and am excited to finish the story this year. ▪️ #instabooks #currentlyreading #amreading #instareads #bookgram #bookworm #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookstagrammer #bibliophile #booklove #bookphotography #instabook #reading #reader #booktography #bookstagram #beautifulbooks #booksofinstagram #goodreads #bookaholic #bookish #bookishfeature #bookstafeatures #bookstagramfeature #readersofinstagram #unitedbookstagram #thecarefulundressingoflove #coreyannhaydu #writinginspiration

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How was your week? What are you reading?

Strange Grace: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Strange Grace by Tessa GrattonA long time ago a witch fell in love with a devil.

The witch gave the devil her heart and a pact was made in the town of Three Graces. Now, nothing is bad and nothing changes. The crops never fail and no one dies before their time. Everything is good.

Every seven year the town’s best boy is anointed as a saint to run through the forest. On the Slaughter Moon he is sent into the forest from sundown to sunrise with nothing but his wits to protect him. His sacrifice renews the bargain every seven years.

That’s the story Three Graces has always known and always told. But can the story be trusted at all? When the bargain needs to be renewed early, Arthur, Mairwen, and Rhun aren’t so sure.

An angry boy, a witch, and a saint run into the forest together. They’ll need each other if they hope to change the shape of the bargain and Three Graces before the next Slaughter Moon in Strange Grace (2018) by Tessa Gratton.

Gratton’s latest standalone novel is a thoughtful commentary on fear, sacrifice, and toxic masculinity wrapped in a page-turning story set in an eerie world where magic has the power to change everything and the forest has teeth.

As the daughter of the current witch Mairwen’s implicit trust in the bargain, in the devil, and in the forest itself is sorely tested as she realizes all is not as it seems in Three Graces.

Rhun has always known he would be the next saint. There is no denying he is the town’s best boy and he is willing to make the sacrifice. But as he prepares to lose everything, Rhun wonders if anyone in town truly knows him.

Arthur has grown up in the shadow of the Slaughter Moon and his mother’s fear of it. Raised as a girl for his first seven years, Arthur is desperate now to prove himself as strong, as good, and as masculine as the other candidates. But even Arthur knows that he is more angry than anything else.

As they prepare for the premature Slaughter Moon, Mairwen, Arthur, and Rhun are haunted by the decisions that have left their lives hopelessly intertwined. Drawn together as much as they are driven apart, none of them know how they can find an ending together when it it is unlikely they’ll all survive the night of the saint’s run.

Strange Grace is a tense blend of fantasy and suspense. Recommended for readers who enjoy their fantasy tinged with horror and old secrets and anyone seeking a polyamorous romance when the chemistry between the characters is undeniable.

Possible Pairings: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson, Last Things by Jacqueline West