Tag Archives: nature

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*

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The Queen of Blood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth DurstThe land of Renthia has always had spirits. Tree spirits help plants grow and flowers bloom. Ice spirits change the seasons. Water, Fire, Air and Earth spirits control the elements. As much as the spirits create, they also yearn to destroy and rid the land of humans whose very existence interferes with nature.

Only women are born with an affinity to control the spirits and even then it is often a weak power commonly found in hedgewitches throughout the villages. Few are strong enough to enter the academies and train to become queen.

Queens in Renthia are incredibly powerful, binding the spirits to their will so that the spirits will not harm humans. Queens rarely have the chance to grow old. With so many threats, and such great need, young women are trained to become candidates and vie for prestigious positions as heirs so that no part of Renthia is ever left without a strong queen.

Daleina rarely lets herself think so far ahead. Instead she focuses on learning enough to use her gift to protect her family and the rest of Aratay. Ven, a disgraced champion, fights the spirits on the outskirts of Aratay as their attacks become bolder and more frequent.

Ven and Daleina are unlikely heroes and strange allies. It will take both of their unique talents to discover the insidious root of the increasing attacks and save Aratay before the spirits’ thirst for blood grows even stronger in The Queen of Blood (2016) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Queen of Blood is the start of Durst’s adult fantasy trilogy, The Queens of Renthia.

Set in the kingdom of Aratay, this story begins when Daleina is a child and follows her through adulthood (she is nineteen by the end) as she learns more about how to control the spirits and chases her dream of protecting Aratay.

Written in close third person point of view, The Queen of Blood mostly focuses on Daleina’s story although other chapters follow Ven and other relevant characters. While there is a subtle romance element, this story primarily focuses on the cost (and threat) of power as well as its incredibly capable heroine.

Durst presents an intricate and well-realized world filled with brutal spirits and villages that sprout from trees in a vast forest. Careful attention to detail and complex characters make this a multi-dimensional and thoughtful high fantasy novel. Durst also avoids the trap of creating an overwhelming white fantasy world with a cast that is as varied and surprising as one would expect from an imagined world.

While the backdrop and plot of The Queen of Blood are immediately engrossing, Daleina remains the true heart of this novel. Unlike many heroines, Daleina has no illusions about her strength and power. She knows that her road to train to become an heir (or even queen) will not be easy. Her power is hard-won and she is not always the best or even the strongest. But, like many young women, Daleina is sincere, kind, and inventive–traits that are not always seen together in one character.

The Queen of Blood is a complex and nuanced high fantasy novel filled with unexpected twists, clever characters, and a rich world. This scintillating series starter is a must-read for fantasy readers who will surely be waiting eagerly for the next installment. 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

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

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

Poetically Speaking with Me (Miss Print) about Undercover (A CLW Review)

poeticallyspeaking1For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to review Undercover by Beth Kephart. Click the icon above to see the rest of this month-long series!

“What I knew wasn’t mine. That’s the thing about being undercover: You know what you know, and you cannot act on it.”

Undercover by Beth KephartElisa Cantor is used to blending into the background. At home she is always in the shadow of her glamorous mother and sister, watching and wandering like her father. At school she is self-conscious and keen to stay invisible.

After all, it’s so much easier to observe things when no one is looking at you. In the woods Elisa is able to observe nature, like her father, as an undercover operative. At school, she can use everything she sees and finds to secretly write love notes for the boys in her school like a modern day Cyrano De Bergerac.

Elisa thinks she is fine with all of that; with being undercover. But when Theo Moses starts asking for notes to win over Lila–a pretty, popular girl who is always ready to remind Elisa that she is neither–Elisa isn’t sure she wants to stay in the shadows anymore.

As she hones her voice writing poems for herself–not pretending to be anyone else–and learns more about Theo, Elisa begins to wonder if there could be more to her life. With her father away on an extended trip and her family crumbling under the weight of his absence, Elisa really needs for there to be something more. When Elisa discovers a hidden pond and a talent for ice skating, she realizes it might be time for her to stop hiding in Undercover (2007) by Beth Kephart.

Undercover is a marvelous novel, partly a retelling of the play Cyrano De Bergerac and partly something entirely unique.

Elisa is a narrator who sees the world not just as it is but also through her own lens, always with a sense of whimsy and wonder. Readers are easily drawn into Elisa’s appreciation for poetry when she discovers new writers and forms and begins to write poems of her own (included throughout the narrative and also in bonus material at the end of the paperback edition).

Kephart uses poetry and prose to tell a layered story about love in all of its forms whether for family, friends, nature or even for words. Elisa’s journey as she learns to love and respect herself is also beautifully told. Undercover is a slim book that has a lot to say about honesty, family and learning who you want to be. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough,  I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

The Midnight Dress: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

themidnightdressRose Lovell doesn’t expect much from the small seaside town of Leonora. Then again, the town doesn’t expect much from her either. Rose has seen towns like this before. She’ll likely see even more when her father’s wanderlust kicks in and they drive off in their caravan again.

In all the towns, in all the schools, Rose has never seen anyone quite like Pearl Kelly. Pearl who thinks everyone is nice. Pearl who writes in highlighter and dreams of Russia. Vivacious, popular Pearl who organizes the high school float for the annual Harvest Festival Parade.

Rose never could have guessed in those first moments that she and Pearl would become friends. She couldn’t have known that Pearl would convince Rose–a lonely hailstorm next to Pearl’s sunshine–to make a dress for the Harvest Parade.

Edie Baker, the supposed town witch, is known for her dressmaking as much as her strange, ramshackle house. Together she and Rose piece together a dress of midnight blue and magic as Edie reveals pieces of her own past to Rose while they bend over the stitches together.

By the time the parade draws near they will have created an unforgettable dress. A dress of mystery and beauty, but also one that will become woven into the fabric of a tragedy that will forever mark the town of Leonora and leave both girls changed in The Midnight Dress (2013) by Karen Foxlee.

The Midnight Dress is a haunting blend of mystery and beauty as the events leading to the Harvest Festival and the aftermath of that night unfold simultaneously. Foxlee expertly knits the two stories together in chapters titled for different stitches.

Lyrical dialogue and poetic descriptions lend a timeless air to this story of an unforgettable friendship between two girls who are lonely and yearning for very different things in a small Australian town in 1987.* Moments from the near and distant past blend seamlessly as Edie’s own story is revealed over the sewing of the dress.

There is something half-wild about the characters in The Midnight Dress. That same sense of dangerous allure and an underlying dignity comes through in Foxlee’s writing as she describes the sometimes brutal town politics and the wonders found in the rain forest bordering the town.

The Midnight Dress is a beautiful story of the many forms love can take and the enduring power of positive thoughts. But at the same time it examines unspeakable loss and the fact that tragedies never leave people unmarred–actions, however small or well-meant, have consequences. It’s hard to call this book a happy one, or even an optimistic one. Many of the characters here are broken; many of them will remain that way for a very long while. At the same time, however, this story offers moments of beauty with deceptively ornate and electric writing.

Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year and highly recommended. Just make sure you have a happy book lined up for right after.

*The time period doesn’t matter ostensibly because this book is largely timeless. I just felt very clever for figuring out the year and wanted to share it.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Moonglass by Jessi Kirby, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Teach Me by R. A. Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Tamar by Mal Peet, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel