The Stone Girl’s Story: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth DurstMayka and her stone family were brought to life by the markings etched into their bodies–symbols that represent who they are and the stories of their live. Mayka’s father was a talented stonemason. He created fish that could swim, rabbits, birds, and even a turtle before he used everything he had learned to create Mayka a girl who lives and thinks even if she does not need to breath or eat the way humans do.

But stone erodes over time and Mayka’s father is no longer alive to tend to his stone creations. Without a stonemason to maintain them, the stone creature’s markings are fading. Unless a stonemason can recarve their markings Mayka and her stone family will cease to live–becoming nothing more than still statues.

Finding a stonemason won’t be easy. It will force Mayka to leave the only home she has ever known high up on her family’s mountain. Off the mountain Mayka discovers that there is more to the magic that brings her to life than Father ever let on. When her search for a stonemason reveals a threat to all stone creatures, Mayka may not have any time left to wait for a stonemason to save her in The Stone Girl’s Story (2018) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Durst’s latest standalone middle grade fantasy is an evocative adventure where, with the right markings, stone can be brought to life. Durst once again brings her imaginative vision to life in a novel whose heroine is as surprising as her world.

Mayka’s stone family consists of herself and a variety of talking animals eager to help in the search for a new stonemason. The high stakes of this mission are offset with the wonder and enthusiasm with which Mayka explores new lands and makes some surprising friends.

The Stone Girl’s Story is an engrossing adventure and a thoughtful commentary on agency as Mayka realizes that the best way to save herself and her friends might be to do it herself. A delightful addition to the author’s extensive body of work.

Possible Pairings: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, Princeless Book One: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin

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

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Author Interview (#11): Sarah Beth Durst on The Stone Girl’s Story

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst, one of my favorite authors, is back today to talk about her latest middle grade novel The Stone Girl’s Story which follows Mayka, a living girl made of stone, as she ventures far from home to find a way to help herself and her friends.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Stone Girl’s Story?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I’m a terrible gardener.  Zero green thumb.  Plants see me coming, and they wither in self-defense, anticipating a horrible death from either too much or too little watering.  But I try.  And I’m always optimistic that next year, I’ll remember to weed/water/whatever often enough to have a lovely flower bed.

One spring, after hearing me talk all winter about flowers, my husband bought me a little stone rabbit for my garden, and I nestled it in between the daffodils.  But by the end of the summer, it was so buried in weeds that I couldn’t find it.  So I joked that it had hopped away to join its other stone friends…

That stone bunny became the inspiration for THE STONE GIRL’S STORY (and you’ll see him hopping around the first chapter as one of Mayka’s friends!).

Mayka is a girl made of living stone.  Forever twelve years old, she has outlasted the father who carved her and engraved her body with the stories that gave her life. But now the magical marks that animate her and her stone friends are fading, and she must leave her home for the first time to find help if she wants her story — and those of her friends — to continue.

At its heart, this is a story about stories — what stories shape who you are, who chooses the stories that define you, who tells the story of your life.

MP: Stone creatures in Mayka’s world are brought to life by markings carved into their bodies that describe various attributes and parts of their lives. If you were a stone creature, what are some markings you would want to include in your story?

SBD: I would want my markings to say how much I love stories — really, I think they’re as essential to life as air, water, and food — and how much I love to tell stories.  And I would want my markings to say how much I love my family.  Those are the two things that are most important to me: writing and my family.

Might also want to add a marking saying how fond I am of chocolate.

MP: Mayka leaves her home to find a new stonemason and gets to see the world beyond her mountain home for the first time. Reading this story I was struck by how vivid the locations and landscapes are as Mayka discovers them. Did any real locations inspire the places that Mayka visits?

SBD: Not intentionally, but the world does seep into you and then come out in your writing.  Things you think are beautiful, things you think are important, things that stick in your memory…  All of those things fertilize the soil of your imagination.

Mayka’s world is born of my imagination, but it’s shaped by my love of this world.

MP: Which scene are you especially excited for readers to get to in The Stone Girl’s Story?

SBD: One of the best things about being a writer is being able to invite people into your worlds, your stories, and your imagination.  I can’t wait for readers to meet Mayka and her friends!  I am especially excited for readers to meet Si-Si, a little stone dragon that Mayka encounters on her quest.

I think all stories need at least one talking dragon.  :)

MP: This is a busy year for you with three novels coming out. Last year was equally jam-packed with your YA novel Drink, Slay, Love’s movie adaptation coming out and the release of your first picture book Roar and Sparkles Go to School. (I love that you literally write for all ages now!) With so many projects going on at once how do you balance everything? What does a typical writing day look like for you?

SBD: I write every day.  I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but I find it helpful for keeping up the momentum of the story.  I don’t have a set time or consistent number of hours that I write each day — basically any time I have two hands free and am near my computer, I’m writing.

I typically work on one project at a time.  It takes me a couple days to switch between voices, styles, and worlds, so I prefer to work on one book for a few weeks/months (depending on where it is in the process) and then make the transition to another.

I also always like to know what I’m going to be writing next and will often start a new book on the same day that I finish the prior book.  I don’t like saying goodbye to characters that I’ve grown to love, so it helps if I can immediately say hello to new ones!

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

SBD: Yes!  My next book for adults comes out on May 15th: THE QUEEN OF SORROW, Book Three of The Queens of Renthia.  It’s the final book in my epic fantasy series about bloodthirsty spirits and the queens who can control them.  Very excited for readers to see how it all ends!

In December, my next YA book, FIRE AND HEIST, comes out.  It’s essentially Ocean’s Eleven with were-dragons.  I just posted the gorgeous new cover over on my website (www.sarahbethdurst.com/FireandHeist.htm).

And I’m currently in the middle of revising next year’s MG book (SPARK, about a girl and her lightning dragon) and adult book (THE DEEPEST BLUE, a standalone Renthia novel with a lot of sea monsters).

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 Stone Girl’s Story be sure to check out my  review.

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.

Author Interview #9: Sarah Beth Durst on Journey Across the Hidden Islands

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is here today to talk about her newest middle grade novel, Journey Across the Hidden Islands. This book is a rollicking adventures about twin princesses who have to set out to save their home from a dangerous threat. There are dragons, flying lions, sword fights and lots more.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Journey Across the Hidden Islands?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): One day I said to my husband, “I want to write a book with a winged lion.”

He said, “Great! Um, anything else?”

“Winged lion,” I said.

“Don’t you need, I don’t know, a plot? Characters?”

“Winged lion.”

“Um, okay. Have fun.”

And that’s how this book was born. Everything else–the islands protected by a magical barrier, the monsters that hunt in the sea and sky, the sister princesses, the journey to the dragon–grew from that one solitary idea.

 MP: Your story starts with Ji-Lin who is training at the Temple of the Sun to become an imperial guard while her twin sister, Seika, stays at the palace learning everything she needs to know as the emperor’s heir. What was it like writing this story with two “main” characters? Which sister do you most resemble? If you had a choice would you rather train to be an imperial guard or an emperor?

SBD: The trick to writing two protagonists is that you need to fall in love with both of them. You can’t secretly favor one over the other. Both of them have to carry equal weight in your heart if they’re to shoulder equal halves of the story.

As for me personally… I love imagining I’m like Ji-Lin, fearlessly riding my flying lion to battle monsters. But in reality, I’m more like Seika, better at diffusing battles through words than winning them with swords.

Besides, I’d probably get airsick on a flying lion.

MP: What kind of research and thought process did you use to imagine the Hundred Islands of Himitsu? Were any of the places (and islands) in the story inspired by actual locations?

SBD: I drew my initial inspiration from feudal Japan and Renaissance Italy, specifically Venice. I emptied out those sections of the library, took copious notes, and then put it all away so that the Hundred Islands of Himitsu could grow into its own fantasy land from its birth in that real-world soil. As it developed, a lot of Italy fell by the wayside, though you can still spot traces of it (for example, the gondolas in the imperial city), and new imagined elements blossomed.

It was important to me both that my new world be primarily inspired by a place and time that wasn’t medieval Europe and also that it develop into a distinct fantasy land that isn’t a carbon copy of this world.

MP: In addition to her sister Li-Jin’s companion throughout the novel is Alejan–a winged lion. At what point in your drafting/writing process did Alejan and the other winged lions show up? If you had to choose would you rather hang out with a dragon or a winged lion?

SBD: The winged lions were there from the start. Everyone else joined the party later.

Before writing this book, I would have said I’d rather hang out with a dragon. But now… I want to meet a winged lion! They’ve got it all: the flying, the soft fur, and the personality.

MP: Which scene are you especially excited for readers to get to in Journey Across the Hidden Islands?

SBD: Whenever my husband reads one of my books, he insists on going into the other room, because otherwise I’ll just sit there and stare at him while he reads, watching his reactions. I am so, so, so excited for readers to journey with Ji-Lin and Seika! I can’t wait for them to meet Alejan and Kirro, to flee from the koji, and to see the islands… Okay, I guess that means my answer is “all the scenes.” Basically, I just want to sit and stare at everyone and watch them read. :)

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

SBD: Yes! My first picture book, ROAR AND SPARKLES GO TO SCHOOL, comes out from Running Press Kids in June. It’s about a little dragon named Roar who is worried about his first day of school, and it’s illustrated by the fantastic Ben Whitehouse.

And then THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, Book Two of the Queens of Renthia, comes out from Harper Voyager in July. It’s an epic fantasy for adults set in a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits. I am having the best time writing these books! I’m currently working on book three, which will complete this story arc.

If you’re interested, there’s a bunch more info on my website: www.sarahbethdurst.com

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 my previous interviews with Sarah and reviews of her books.

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.

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!