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*

Wires and Nerve: A Graphic Novel Review

To preserve the unstable alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko decides to hunt down  rogue wolf-hybrids who have been attacking both planets. As an android Iko is uniquely suited to the task. She’s also determined to do anything to help her friends Cinder and Kai heal the rift between their two planets.

Iko’s hunt takes far from Luna as she tracks the wolf packs across earth with help from other friends including Cress and Thorne. Unfortunately Iko is also saddled with an unwanted sidekick in the form of Kinney, a royal guard who has little use for Iko and androids in general.

As they come closer to the rogue wolf’s Iko will unearth a conspiracy that threatens everyone she cares about–a threat so big she might even welcome Kinney’s help this once in Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 (2017) by Marissa Meyer, illustrated by Douglas Holgate.

Wires and Nerve is a new graphic novel series. It picks up shortly after the conclusion of Winter, the final book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. The graphic novel series focuses on Iko, a character who never got her own book in the prose novels. While readers might appreciate a basic knowledge of the novels, this graphic novel series can be read on its own. (I read Cinder when it first came out and later read recaps of the other books in the series. That combined with Iko’s narrative flashbacks was enough for me.)

Iko’s graphic novel story is surprisingly delightful. In the midst of a cross-planetary hunt for rogue wolves Iko has to grapple with what it means to be an android and how she is treated because of it. She has been erased from the Lunar Chronicle adventures largely because she is “just” an android and even some of her allies (like Kinney) question Iko’s ability to care about anything or anyone when she’s not human.

Holgate’s illustrations are in a blue and white palette that is used to great effect and compliments Meyer’s world. The writing is fast-paced with snappy narration from Iko. This volume also uses the graphic novel format effectively with panels that are well designed to create a cinematic feel to the story (check out the spread on page 197 to see what I mean). Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 is some of the best of what graphic novels have to offer. A great choice for fans of the Lunar Chronicles series as well as readers looking for a new sci-fi comic to enjoy.

Possible Pairings: Dove Arising by Karon Bao, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

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

Journey Across the Hidden Islands: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Twins Li-Jin and Seika are the princesses of the Hundred Islands of Himitsu. Li-Jin has been training at the Temple of the Sun to become an imperial guard and be able to protect her sister Seika who remains at the imperial palace studying under their father, the Emperor.

Li-Jin is thrilled when she completes her training and is able to go home so that she and Seika can spend their twelfth birthday together. But when Li-Jin and Alejan, her winged lion companion, arrive there isn’t much time for a reunion.

Instead the girls soon find themselves embarking on the Emperor’s Journey to travel across the islands of Himitsu to pay respect to the kingdom’s dragon guardian and renew their dragon’s bargain to protect the Hundred Islands.

Nothing on the journey goes right as Li-Jin and Seika encounter earthquakes, foreigners, and monstrous creatures during their travels. Despite their inexperience and doubts, both girls know that Himitsu is relying on them. As they get closer to finding the dragon they will have to rely on each other and trust their instincts to keep their people safe in Journey Across the Hidden Islands (2017) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Durst’s latest middle grade novel is a standalone fantasy set in a richly imagined world filled with magical creatures and unexpected dangers.

Li-Jin and Seika are strong heroines who know their potential even if they sometimes fear too much responsibility has been set on their shoulders. The sisters have a rock solid bond and both bring numerous strengths to their adventure in Journey Across the Hidden Islands.

The Hundred Islands of Himitsu are vividly described both from the ground and above thanks to Li-Jin’s travels on the back of Alejan when he is flying. This story is imbued with Japanese-inspired culture along with inventive world building including magical creatures, ancient tales, and dramatic buildings.

Li-Jin and Seika’s relationship as sisters forms the center of this story as the girls work together to protect, and potentially forever change, their kingdom. Journey Across the Hidden Islands is a fast-paced adventure with not one but two engaging and clever heroines. Recommended for fans of girl power fantasies, inventive worlds, and journey stories.

Possible Pairings: The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, The Keeper Of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

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

You can also check out my interview with Sarah about this book.

Frogkisser!: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

All Anya wants to do is sit in the castle library reading books and learning new spells (but only small ones because she doesn’t want to become an evil sorcerer like her step-step-father Duke Rikard). Unfortunately the Duke seems intent on becoming a completely evil sorcerer and his previously intermittent transformations and threats to Anya and her older sister Morven begin to escalate. Rikard even transforms Prince Denholm, one of Morven’s many suitors, into a frog.

Anya makes a sister-promise to return Prince Denholm to his human form before realizing it will lead to bigger challenges. Soon Anya has to flee the castle before Rikard can strike against her and forced into a Quest with Royal Dog Ardent at her side.

While she tries to gather ingredients for a magical anti-transmogrification lip balm to fix Denholm and Rikard’s sundry other victims Anya realizes there is far more at stake than one sister-promise as she grapples with her privilege and responsibility as a princess while trying to save her kingdom in Frogkisser! (2017) by Garth Nix.

Frogkisser! is a rollicking adventure filled with magical creatures including talking dogs, giant otters, and an enchanted bright orange newt. Along the way Anya also encounters wizards, good robbers, evil sorcerers and more.

Anya faces danger at every turn often leading to bittersweet successes which help to make Frogkisser! all the more gripping. Anya’s contemplation of the advantages she has–and the protection she owes her people–as a ruling princess is realistically handled and an excellent introduction to the concept of social responsibility.

Nix creates a unique world filled with minor kingdoms, magic, and a fair bit of mayhem in this novel. He also includes several wry nods to familiar fairy tale characters like Snow White and Merlin (who are the same person) as well as traditional tropes including the magic of true love’s kiss.

Frogkisser! is a masterful standalone fantasy novel that once again demonstrates Nix’s talent and range as an author. Anya’s young age and a deliberate lack of romance makes this story a great choice for readers who want a story focused on frienship, adventure, and magic. A must-read for fans of fractured fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Princeless Book One: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin, Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Frogs. Royalty. Magic. Humor. 🦄 All Anya wants to do is sit in the castle library and read and learn new spells (but only small ones because she doesn't want to become an evil sorcerer). Unfortunately Anya has to go on a Quest instead. While she tries to gather ingredients for a magical Transmogrification lip balm to transform sundry victims of her step-step-father the duke Anya will grapple with her privilege and responsibility as a princess. This rollicking adventure is filled with magical creatures including talking dogs, wizards, good robbers, evil sorcerers and more. This masterful fantasy is another winner from Nix sure to appeal to fans of fractured fairy tales, adventures like The Princess Bride, and books by Vivian Vande Velde. 🦄 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #frogkisser

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Snow Like Ashes: A Review

Snow Like Ashes by Sara RaaschSixteen years ago the kingdom of Spring invaded Winter. The Winterians were captured and enslaved during the invasion and the kingdom was left without a ruler or the locket that serves as a vessel for its magic.

Eight survivors escaped that day. They have spent the years since hiding, training, and following any clue that might bring them closer to reclaiming their lost kingdom. Meira has lived among the refugees for most of her life. Her memories of Winter come from the stories of her older companions, leaving the ruined kingdom feeling more like a concept than a home.

Meira is determined to prove her worth among her band and show that she can and will do whatever it takes to save Winter and to protect Winter’s heir, Mather–the boy Meira loves even though she knows he will need to forge a powerful alliance for Winter with his marriage to someone more influential and powerful.

When the refugees have a solid lead on part of the Winterian locket, Meira impetuously strikes out to steal it back. The mission doesn’t go as planned thrusting Meira and her friends on a dangerous path toward unknown magic, risky alliances, and a destiny Meira never could have imagined in Snow Like Ashes (2016) by Sara Raasch.

Snow Like Ashes is the first book in Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes trilogy. Meira’s story continues in Ice Like Fire and Frost Like Night.

Meira narrates this novel in first person present tense. The close focus on her perspective leave a lot of room in the narrative for unexpected twists and surprises as the story moves forward. Because of her distance from the events of Winter’s past it also leads to a lot of information being passed along in clunky accounts of memories and past lessons.

Winter is part of a world with eight kingdoms, four seasons and four rhythms which move through all four seasons. While the concept is interesting, it’s never fully explained as Meira spends more time focused on fighting with her chakram and proving herself to the leader of the refugees. Meira is headstrong and often reckless but her heart is in the right place and she’s definitely a strong female character.

It’s worth noting that this novel makes nods to diversity but doesn’t quite meet the mark. Characters from other kingdoms have different coloring but the cast here is overwhelming white including the light skinned Spring citizens and Winterians who are winter pale with white hair.

Snow Like Ashes is a breakneck story filled with intense action, carefully described fights, and lots of battles. Raasch dives right into the action at the beginning of the book and doesn’t let up throughout the novel. Recommended for readers looking for plot driven fantasy above intricate characterization.

Possible Pairings: Frostblood by Elly Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

Caraval: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Caraval by Stephanie GarberScarlett writes to Master Legend every year hoping against hope that he might bring Caraval back to the small island of Trisda in the Conquered Isles.

When tickets to Caraval finally arrive, Scarlett knows she can’t go. Not when being prepared for her upcoming arranged marriage, which can free Tella and herself from their abusive father, is far more pressing. Except impetuous Tella has other plans and recruits a disreputable sailor to help bring Scarlett to the magical show.

Caraval is meant to be a game and a decadent diversion for both players and spectators. But Tella’s disappearance is very real and, Scarlett soon realizes, central to this year’s game.

As Scarlett tries desperately to follow the clues to her sister, the dangers of the supposed show become very real. If she fails to find Tella and win the game, Scarlett risks losing her sister forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval the greatest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you full enter this world, you must remember it’s all a game. What happens beyond the gate may frighten or excite you, but don’t let any of it trick you. They’ll try to convince you it’s real, but all of it is a performance. A world built of make-believe. So while they want you to get swept away, be careful of getting swept too far away. Dreams that come true can be beautiful, but they can also turn into nightmares when people won’t wake up. Are you ready to play? in Caraval (2017) by Stephanie Garber.

Caraval is Garber’s debut novel and the first book in a series. The book is written in close third person following Scarlett’s perspective. Although the epilogue promises  twists and adventures in future installments, this novel functions for the most part as a standalone.

Garber’s vibrant descriptions bring the whimsical and dangerous elements of Caraval to life as Scarlett begins to discover the wonders to be found in a place where secrets can become currency and time can be bought and sold.

Scarlett is a cautious and timid heroine for much of Caraval. She has spent years trying to shelter her sister from their father’s calculated abuse and manipulations. Scarlett’s primary concerns are safety and distance from her father. Love, adventure, and all of the things Tella craves feel secondary if not entirely superfluous in comparison.

Caraval features a varied array of characters and some romance but this novel remains surprisingly introspective in its focus on Scarlett’s own journey toward autonomy and agency. A few predictable twists and some unexpected turns serve as a strong backdrop for Scarlett’s growth as she realizes she is the victim of her father’s abuse, not the cause. As Scarlett moves deeper into the machinations of Caraval she begins to correct her earlier mistakes both in the game and in her own life while learning to trust her instincts.

Caraval is a thrilling and evocative fantasy sure to appeal to readers who enjoy stories imbued with magic and adventure. Intricate world building and the circus-like atmosphere of Caraval lend this novel an extra bit of flair that even Legend would admire.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Two parts of my day here. I finally felt healthy enough to read on my commute and lunch hour at work so I'm diving back into Caraval. Now that I am no longer in the throes of my illness, it's picking up and I'm enjoying it. I like that Scarlett seems to have a form of synesthesia in the way her feelings equate with colors. And I I really like that the colors Garber mentions early on describing Scarlett's arrival in Caraval are referenced in the cover artwork. 🦄 This afternoon I also led a weekly makerspace program for teens. The teens made tangle free headphones while I started this piece of macrame which will either be a bracelet or bookmark depending on how it turns out. It was nice to have a program mellow enough that I had time to make something myself instead of just supervising! 🦄 Who's read Caraval as an ARC? Who's excited for the official publication in a few days? Who does macrame? Let's talk. 🦄 #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #bookaddict

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Like a River Glorious: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Like a River Glorious is the second book in Carson’s Gold Seer trilogy. This review contains spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series start with book one Walk On Earth a Stranger*

“I thought my magic would save us all. But it turns out, all the magic in the world is rubbish compared to good people who take care of their own.”

Like a River Glorious by Rae CarsonOctober 1849: Leah “Lee” Westfall has made it to California along with her new family of misfits, outcasts, and unlikely friends that she met along the trail. But even with her best friend Jefferson and her family by her side, the path to gold and prosperity is not easy–even for a witchy girl like Lee who can sense gold.

Hiram, Lee’s uncle, is still desperate to use her powers for her own gain. Lee was helpless to stop Hiram from killing her parents, she’s determined that he won’t hurt anyone else she cares about.

Lee’s plan to best Hiram backfire leaving Lee vulnerable as her uncle’s captive. Separated from her friends, Lee will need every ounce of her witchy powers, her resilience, and the help of new allies if she wants to free herself from Hiram’s grasp once and for all in Like a River Glorious (2016) by Rae Carson.

Like a River Glorious is the second book in Carson’s Gold Seer trilogy. This review contains spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series start with book one Walk On Earth a Stranger.

Like a River Glorious picks up shortly after the conclusion of book one (which ends right when Lee and her group arrive in California). Lee has found them a gold-rich area to claim and their settlement is well on its way to becoming a town called Glory. Then Uncle Hiram shows up, takes Lee captive, and everything goes to hell.

In order to read this book, it’s important to acknowledge that westerns are inherently problematic. As a genre the western often centers the experience of white characters while ignoring or diminish native experiences. Older westerns (and bad modern ones) romanticize expansion, systemic genocide, and white savior tropes while exoticizing, stereotyping or dehumanizing American Indians. If you want to see critiques of books through a Native lens, definitely check out Debbie Reese’s blog, especially her review of the first book in this series.

Reading Like a River Glorious with the above in mind, there are still some problems inherent to the genre. But in this second installment, Carson does the work on the page to constantly check Leah’s privilege as well as that of the other characters (male privilege for instance). This book also thoughtfully engages with a lot of the racism/biases/stereotypes that Lee encounters.

The scope of this book is much smaller, Lee spends a lot of the story held captive by her uncle. Her world narrows to securing survival and safety for herself and those she cares about. She see the atrocities her uncle is perpetrating in his mad search for gold and she feels helpless in the face of it. Understandably, that makes Like a River Glorious quite bleak but also very important as, through Lee’s first person narration, the novel the problems of westward expansion along with the wonder that pioneers felt as they sought opportunities at the expense of the indigenous populations.

Carson uses this shift in tone to create a more character driven story focused particularly on Lee and Jefferson as the two friends try to reconcile their lifelong friendship with what comes next when Jefferson wants more and Lee wants to maintain her autonomy.

Lee grows up a lot in this installment as she realizes she cannot (and should not) always be the hero. Jefferson remains a perfect counterpoint to Lee as male lead and an excellent character in his own right. Like a River Glorious is a well-researched work of historical fiction with a slow burn a slow burn romance and inclusive cast and a touch of fantasy. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede