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!

Author Interview #8: Sarah Beth Durst on The Queen of Blood

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is one of my long-time favorite authors to read. She is also one of my favorite authors to interview here on the blog. Today Sarah is talking with me about her latest novel, The Queen of Blood which starts her adult fantasy trilogy, The Queens of Renthia.

The Queen of Blood is a fascinating high fantasy novel set in a world filled with nature spirits who control everything from the change of the seasons to the wind and rain. They also hate humans setting up a dangerous and uneasy balance between these spirits and humanity–particularly the women who use their magic to bind and control the spirits as Queens of Renthia’s various lands.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Queen of Blood?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I fell over at a writing retreat.

Seriously, that was it. I can trace the moment that this book was born to a single moment of supreme klutziness. I’d just arrived at a writing retreat and was walking up to an adorable little cabin in the woods, where I’d be writing for the weekend, and I was looking up at the trees (and not down at my feet) and I tripped and fell on my face. Cut my lip. When I sat down to brainstorm an idea for my next novel, I looked out at the trees, tasted a bit of blood, and… boom, inspiration! Bloodthirsty nature spirits.

THE QUEEN OF BLOOD is the first book in an epic fantasy series from Harper Voyager called THE QUEENS OF RENTHIA, and it’s set in a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits. Only certain women–queens–can control them and keep them from killing all humans.

MP: The Queen of Blood is the start of your Queens of Renthia trilogy. In your acknowledgments you mentioned that your editor is the person who initially suggested that Daleina’s story start the trilogy. Can you talk a bit about that? How did you go about plotting the series? Did you know the arc of all of the books before you began?

SBD: After that somewhat-painful brainstorming session, I wrote about 90 pages of a novel about a queen in danger and a woodswoman with immense power who doesn’t want to use it, for fear she’ll die an early death and leave her children motherless. (A very reasonable fear in Renthia!) I sent it to my agent, who sent it to David Pomerico at Harper Voyager. He said, “This is great, but I have a question…  Can this be book two?” And I said, “Sure!”

I am so grateful to him for that idea, because now that THE QUEEN OF BLOOD is written, I can’t imagine the series starting any other way.

Because I’d already written such a large chunk of book two, I had a very clear idea of where I wanted book one to go. The best part of this was that it made the writing process very smooth. The worst part was that since I knew the fate of all the characters, I ended up falling in love with characters that I knew couldn’t survive!

MP: Renthia is home to a few lands. The Queen of Blood focuses on Aratay where locals live in trees grown and shaped by their Queen with help from the spirits. What kind of research went into bringing Aratay to life? Where did you begin imagining this part of Renthia?

SBD: Renthia is a world filled with the extremes of nature: towering trees, endless glaciers, sky-piercing mountains. THE QUEEN OF BLOOD is set in the forests of Aratay, which is a land filled with massive taller-than-Sequoia trees. The people live in houses grown from the trees themselves, halfway up the trunks. Villages are connected by bridges and ziplines.

Writing this world was such an immersive experience. Every day when I sat down at my laptop, it felt like stepping through a portal.

I love worldbuilding. Always have. As a kid, I used to spend hours drawing maps of imaginary lands. The key is to start with a single decision (in this case, to populate the world with a plethora of very powerful and very active nature spirits) and then follow it through until you’ve played out all the logical implications. It will often cascade into a series of decisions that build on one another until you suddenly have a brand new world, ready to explore.

MP: This book plays out on a grand scale with a story that spans years and a stage the encompasses much of Aratay. How did you go about planning for so many moving parts? How did you decide where and when key plot points should occur?

SBD: I always outline. I don’t always follow the outline, but I do always outline. And for these novels, I’ve actually been color-coding my outlines to make sure that all the storylines are balanced and progressing forward. I also always do one late-stage revision that’s purely technical, making sure all the information is seeded at appropriate intervals and making sure there aren’t any continuity issues.

Revising a novel is a bit like playing with a tapestry–you tug on one string and then see how it all weaves together. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the whole writing process.

MP: Daleina is a great heroine. I really love that she has to work for everything in this story. She isn’t always the strongest or the most powerful but she makes up for it with ingenuity and heart. Daleina knows early on that her road to becoming Queen will not be as easy as it is for others, but she still has the requisite ambition to want to become an Heir or even Queen. How did you go about balancing these aspects of Daleina’s personality?

SBD: I wanted a hero who wasn’t a Chosen One. It’s not Daleina’s destiny to be a hero. She should be living a quiet life in a village, most likely as the local hedgewitch. But she wants to do more than that–she wants to protect her family and save her world. Noble goals, even though she doesn’t have the innate talent or skill to back it up. She has to work and work hard to even be on the same playing field as others.

I wanted to write a character whose true “magic” is her determination. She’s an ordinary person who tries to do extraordinary things.

MP: A big part of becoming a Candidate (and eventually an Heir or even Queen) is being able to control spirits. During her training, Daleina has to learn how to control all types of spirits though she seems to have the most fun with an ermine-like Air Spirit. If you were in Renthia, which type of spirit would be your favorite? Which would you least want to meet?

SBD: Definitely Daleina’s air spirit! I picture him as looking like Falcor from The Neverending Story.  Except this Falcor would most likely try to kill me . . .

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

SBD: The next twelve months will be the busiest of my writing life! In April, I have the release of my next kids book, JOURNEY ACROSS THE HIDDEN ISLANDS, about two princesses, a winged lion, and a whole lot of monsters. In June, my very first picture book comes out. It’s called ROAR AND SPARKLES GO TO SCHOOL, and it’s about dragons on the first day of school. And in July, the second book in THE QUEENS OF RENTHIA series, THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, comes out — this is the book I mentioned earlier, the one I started writing before THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, about a queen in danger and a woodswoman with immense power.  Also in early 2017, my YA novel DRINK SLAY LOVE will premiere as a TV movie on Lifetime!  I’m ridiculously excited about all of this!  And I’m not expecting to sleep very much…  :)

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 Enchanted Ivy, Drink, Slay, Love, Vessel, Conjured, The Lost, Chasing Power, and The Girl Who Could Not Dream.

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

The Girl Who Could Not Dream: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth DurstSophie has always loved her parents’ secret shop, the one hidden below their book shop, where dreams are bought and sold. The business of distilling, bottling and sorting dreams has always been fascinating to Sophie, especially since she never has dreams of her own.

When the dream shop is robbed and her parents go missing, Sophie will have to follow the clues to try and save them. With her best friend–a snarky monster named Monster–at her side, Sophie will have to decide who she can trust and who she can ask for help in order to protect her family and their secrets in The Girl Who Could Not Dream (2015) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Girl Who Could Not Dream has a carefully executed fantasy system that makes sense for the plot and also immediately draws readers into the story. Durst expertly evokes the dream shop run by Sophie’s parents as well as the complex distillation process. Moments of humor and often improbably creatures (ninja bunnies!) blend well with genuinely scary nightmares as Sophie follows the trail to her missing parents.

Sophie is a determined protagonist even as she struggles with trying to make new friends and keeping her family’s secrets. Along the way Sophie also gets help from equally entertaining characters including Monster (her best friend) and Ethan, a classmate who suffers from terrifying nightmares.

The Girl Who Could Not Dream is a charming fantasy novel perfect for readers of all ages. Highly recommended for readers who like their thrills and chills tempered with some good laughs.

Possible Pairings: A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu, The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand, Mister Monday by Garth Nix

*An advance copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

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