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Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, where I highlight an upcoming release I'm excited for. 

This week I'm waiting on…
By Meg Wolitzer
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release Date: September 30, 2014

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still beat home in New Jersey with her sweet British  boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching  old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.

I know Meg Wolitzer from her adult novel The Interestings and I'm curious to read this YA release, based on The Bell Jar.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly event hosted by the Broke and the Bookish

This week's list: Top Ten Characters I'd want with me on a deserted island.

1. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games trilogy. She can hunt, and has fantastic survival skills.

2. Finnick Odair also from The Hunger Games. As portrayed by Sam Claflin

3. Skink from various books by Carl Hiassan, particularly Skink: No Surrender.  This eccentric old man has plenty of survival skills and probably some pretty good stories as well.

4. Hassan from An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. I just find him hilarious.

5. Howl and

6. Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle my favorite couple from one of my favorite books.

7. Hermione from Harry Potter, magic would certainly be useful in this situation. Hopefully she'd bring the bottomless bag from Deathly Hallows. 

8. Sturmhond from Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy. My favorite non-murderous guy from that trilogy. Also has a useful knowledge of boats. 

9. Mogget from the Abhorsen trilogy. A demonic yet adorable cat, because why not.

10. Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files. A nerdy wizard with a quick wit sounds like good company on this island. 



Who are your preferred deserted island companions? 
Monday, July 21, 2014
The Young World
By Chris Weitz
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: July 29, 2014
Rating: ★★★★☆


After a mysterious Sickness wipes out the rest of the population, the young survivors assemble into tightly run tribes. Jefferson, the reluctant leader of the Washington Square tribe, and Donna, the girl he's secretly in love with, have carved out a precarious existence among the chaos. But when another tribe member discovers a clue that may hold the cure to the Sickness, five teens set out on a life-altering road trip to save humankind.

The tribe exchanges gunfire with enemy gangs, escapes cults and militias, braves the wilds of the subway and Central Park...and discovers truths they could never have imagined.


Review:  I had my doubts before starting The Young World, largely because I felt I had read this story before. However,  this fast-paced dystopian adventure story was entertaining and unique enough that I didn’t much mind the somewhat familiar plot elements. Featuring a diverse cast of characters, an action-packed journey through teen-ruled Manhattan, and some reflections on the privileges of modern society, this book is one I tore through in one sitting.

          The story is told through two alternating narrators: Jefferson, who’s half-Japanese, is a thoughtful, socially conscious teen and de-facto leader of his group once his brother succumbs to the virus. His narration adds depth to the novel as he reflects on the various responses to the loss of technology shown by his peers, the many ways pre-virus society was flawed, and the hope of building a better civilization than one lost. He also spends time thinking about his feelings for Donna. In contrast we have Donna, the medic of the group, whose flippant and matter-of-fact narration provides some humor. Despairing and more than a little judgmental, Donna is still overwhelmed by grief for her family, her little brother in particular, and doesn’t feel capable of deeply caring for anyone ever again. While Jefferson is heroic in a movie-lead kind of way, Donna is more flawed but I found her sympathetic. The two POVs are very distinct, both in voice and in displayed font, something I really appreciated. 

         Rounding out the cast is Peter, Donna’s African American gay Christian friend, Brain Box, the genius who discovers the document that may lead to a cure for the disease, and a Chinese American girl nicknamed “SeeThrough” who wants to prove herself to the group and has a relationship with Brain Box. These characters aren’t quite as developed as I would like, due to the fact that we are very much in the heads of the Jefferson and Donna, who characteristically focus on their own issues rather than the state of the group. However each character does have their moments: Peter, for example, saves the day a few times and Brain Box and SeeThrough each have their heroic time to shine
           
           Plot-wise, the story begins after the virus has run its course and the survivors have organized themselves in various ways. This allows the action to pick up right away as the group leaves the home they've built in Washington Square and head uptown to the main branch of the library to obtain answers about the origins of the virus. On the way they must pass through the dangerous territories of other groups, leading to many tense action sequences that bring to mind Mad Max and The Walking Dead. As a New Yorker I particularly enjoyed the accurate details given in describing this journey, including a sequence that includes the poor polar bear from the Central Park Zoo. The writing is serviceable, although a sentence goes wrong occasionally. Example: “We glimpse each other in the meat of our bodies.” p.27. No. Absolutely not.

           The thing I feel elevates The Young World to being more than the sum of its parts is the social commentary present throughout the story. It is my opinion that all good dystopias critique present society in some way. Here, among other things, there is blatant criticism of capitalism present in the description of the violent and exploitive Bazaar created by the Uptowners , children of the 1%. There’s also some reflection on privilege, reliance on technology, and the ubiquitous nature of brands. All of this is slipped in between tense scenes of battles, chases, and a quest to solve a mystery, as well as jokes and more emotional scenes. The Young World is a summer blockbuster of a book with a surprisingly thoughtful center, and I found it to be very entertaining.

*ARC received at BEA
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, where we highlight upcoming releases we're excited for.

This week I'm waiting on…
Snow Like Ashes
By Sara Raasch
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release Date: October 14, 2014

A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

This fantasy looks right in my wheelhouse. I love the cover design.
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly event hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is… Top Ten TV Shows/Movies.

I went in knowing that I can never narrow it down to only ten movies, then said to myself, "Well, I don't watch much TV." After filling two post-it notes with contenders for this list, I realized:
I don't watch TV consistently, there are only certain shows I love.
Ok so I'm a TV addict. Anyway, here are my favorite comedy shows, first in my heart, right before murder mysteries and any show by Bryan Fuller:

1. Beloved, most quotable show of my heart. I own all the seasons on DVD and relate to Liz Lemon to what is probably an unflattering degree.


2. This is a fairly new show with only one season, but it's one that had me laughing out loud with its rather crude humor and awesome central friendship. Also, comedian Hannibal Buress who has some of the best lines:

3. A show that always cheers me up, with some of the best characters ever.

4. Another laugh out loud funny show, everyone is this cast is amazing, yet my favorite has to be Stephanie Beatriz as Detective Rosa Diaz.  My hero: 


5. Every character on this show is a terrible asshole, but the dialogue is so sharp and clever and I love it. 

6. This one tends to be uneven due to various production issues/change of creator/etc. but when it's good it's really good. 

7. A little older than some of my other choices, but I will always love Scrubs.


8. A classic.

Bonus: Two Old Favorites


9. I started watching this show when it first aired in 1997 and I was in middle school, and it meant a lot to me. Watching the DVDs after it ended even helped me bond with my college friends. Legit criticisms can be made of it I'm sure, but I am not really interested in them. Sorry.

10. Another show I loved growing up, as I was the same age as Rory while it aired. Also a very quotable show. 
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights an upcoming release I'm eagerly anticipating. 

This week I'm waiting on...

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future
by A.S. King
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 14, 2014

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities—but not for Glory, who has no plan for what's next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way...until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions—and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying.

A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do everything in her power to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

I've always meant to read A.S. King and this book sounds like a great place to start. 
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
The Queen of the Tearling
By Erika Johansen
Release Date: July 8, 2014
Published by: Harper

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.

Review: The Queen of the Tearling is a novel that includes so many of the things I love reading about: an interesting and active female character with a leadership role, a fantasy world, the importance of literacy, etc. that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. However, I had some issues  that prevented it from being a perfect reading experience.
            
              For me the highlight of the novel was the Queen of the Tearling herself, Kelsea Raleigh. Raised in isolation for her own safety, Kelsea was carefully educated by her guardians to be a strong leader for the good of her country. Her qualities include a strong sense of justice, an appreciation for the value of education, and a refusal to be cowed, even by the men who have been charged with her safety and whose respect she has to earn. Kelsea is flawed: due to her sheltered upbringing she is inexperienced and initially has little knowledge of the state of the kingdom she is meant to rule. She also has a temper, a trait that she eventually learns to turn into an asset. It’s wonderful reading the adventures of a woman in a leadership position who is not conventionally attractive, is smart, tough, and  cares about bettering the lives of her people. There is relatively little romance in this story and I didn’t miss it, as Kelsea, busy putting a stop to the slave trade and preparing for an invasion from the neighboring country, had more important things to deal with.
                        
             The book shifts POV from Kelsea occasionally. Some of the other characters’ perspectives, like Javel the guard and Father Tyler, present complex characters in difficult situations. Other characters, like the Regent, are a waste of time. This is an example of what I found to be the story’s flawed mix of complexity and preachy simplification. There’s a narrative thread involving the civilian cost of going to war and a leader’s responsibility to their people and page time is also given to berating an old woman for caring too much about her appearance.  There is emphasis on the importance of critical thinking and justice is sought for victims of domestic abuse. There are also multiple deus-ex-machinasThe results are a mixed bag of a story, but I do feel there is more good than bad. 
        
  Finally, I have to discuss what may very well be a pet peeve. I had some issues with the Tearling itself. The world building for this novel is sketchy at best. Apparently ships (sailing, not space) brought people escaping a cataclysmic event to a new land. These settlers came from what is ostensibly our modern age at the earliest, as some of the books they chose to bring with them include the Harry Potter series. These people are former citizens of the United States and the United Kingdom, yet they promptly create a society that is analogous to the early Middle Ages, complete with an absolute ruler with an inherited title, various nobles who control the land, and a powerful hierarchical church based on Christianity. There are few doctors in the Tearling as the medical ship was lost in the crossing, yet the neighboring country of Mortmesne has plenty doctors that can perform organ transplants. Also, gunpowder, something first created in the 11TH century, is considered an impossible technology. The arbitrariness of it all annoyed me. Magic somehow exists. The Red Queen has magical powers in abundance, some people have seer abilities, and Kelsea has inherited two problem-solving magical jewels. If the setting was a fantasy world I’d accept all this unquestioningly, but since the Tearling is  stated to be the result of the destruction of modern society I don’t think some elaboration on the whys and hows is too much to ask.  There should a reason things are framed this way, and fundamentals of world building should not be held back to save something for sequels. 

If you’re someone for whom characters and plot are the most important feature of a story, with world building a distant third, you may really love Queen of the Tearling, even more than I did. I do feel Kelsea is an excellent example of an interesting female character, and I am anxious to see where this story goes. My problem with the world building aside, I do recommend this novel.

3 Stars

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Waiting on Belzar by Meg Wolitzer

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, where I highlight an upcoming release I'm excited for. 

This week I'm waiting on…
By Meg Wolitzer
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release Date: September 30, 2014

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still beat home in New Jersey with her sweet British  boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching  old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.

I know Meg Wolitzer from her adult novel The Interestings and I'm curious to read this YA release, based on The Bell Jar.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Deserted Island Edition

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly event hosted by the Broke and the Bookish

This week's list: Top Ten Characters I'd want with me on a deserted island.

1. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games trilogy. She can hunt, and has fantastic survival skills.

2. Finnick Odair also from The Hunger Games. As portrayed by Sam Claflin

3. Skink from various books by Carl Hiassan, particularly Skink: No Surrender.  This eccentric old man has plenty of survival skills and probably some pretty good stories as well.

4. Hassan from An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. I just find him hilarious.

5. Howl and

6. Sophie from Howl's Moving Castle my favorite couple from one of my favorite books.

7. Hermione from Harry Potter, magic would certainly be useful in this situation. Hopefully she'd bring the bottomless bag from Deathly Hallows. 

8. Sturmhond from Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy. My favorite non-murderous guy from that trilogy. Also has a useful knowledge of boats. 

9. Mogget from the Abhorsen trilogy. A demonic yet adorable cat, because why not.

10. Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files. A nerdy wizard with a quick wit sounds like good company on this island. 



Who are your preferred deserted island companions? 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Early Review: The Young World by Chris Weitz

The Young World
By Chris Weitz
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: July 29, 2014
Rating: ★★★★☆


After a mysterious Sickness wipes out the rest of the population, the young survivors assemble into tightly run tribes. Jefferson, the reluctant leader of the Washington Square tribe, and Donna, the girl he's secretly in love with, have carved out a precarious existence among the chaos. But when another tribe member discovers a clue that may hold the cure to the Sickness, five teens set out on a life-altering road trip to save humankind.

The tribe exchanges gunfire with enemy gangs, escapes cults and militias, braves the wilds of the subway and Central Park...and discovers truths they could never have imagined.


Review:  I had my doubts before starting The Young World, largely because I felt I had read this story before. However,  this fast-paced dystopian adventure story was entertaining and unique enough that I didn’t much mind the somewhat familiar plot elements. Featuring a diverse cast of characters, an action-packed journey through teen-ruled Manhattan, and some reflections on the privileges of modern society, this book is one I tore through in one sitting.

          The story is told through two alternating narrators: Jefferson, who’s half-Japanese, is a thoughtful, socially conscious teen and de-facto leader of his group once his brother succumbs to the virus. His narration adds depth to the novel as he reflects on the various responses to the loss of technology shown by his peers, the many ways pre-virus society was flawed, and the hope of building a better civilization than one lost. He also spends time thinking about his feelings for Donna. In contrast we have Donna, the medic of the group, whose flippant and matter-of-fact narration provides some humor. Despairing and more than a little judgmental, Donna is still overwhelmed by grief for her family, her little brother in particular, and doesn’t feel capable of deeply caring for anyone ever again. While Jefferson is heroic in a movie-lead kind of way, Donna is more flawed but I found her sympathetic. The two POVs are very distinct, both in voice and in displayed font, something I really appreciated. 

         Rounding out the cast is Peter, Donna’s African American gay Christian friend, Brain Box, the genius who discovers the document that may lead to a cure for the disease, and a Chinese American girl nicknamed “SeeThrough” who wants to prove herself to the group and has a relationship with Brain Box. These characters aren’t quite as developed as I would like, due to the fact that we are very much in the heads of the Jefferson and Donna, who characteristically focus on their own issues rather than the state of the group. However each character does have their moments: Peter, for example, saves the day a few times and Brain Box and SeeThrough each have their heroic time to shine
           
           Plot-wise, the story begins after the virus has run its course and the survivors have organized themselves in various ways. This allows the action to pick up right away as the group leaves the home they've built in Washington Square and head uptown to the main branch of the library to obtain answers about the origins of the virus. On the way they must pass through the dangerous territories of other groups, leading to many tense action sequences that bring to mind Mad Max and The Walking Dead. As a New Yorker I particularly enjoyed the accurate details given in describing this journey, including a sequence that includes the poor polar bear from the Central Park Zoo. The writing is serviceable, although a sentence goes wrong occasionally. Example: “We glimpse each other in the meat of our bodies.” p.27. No. Absolutely not.

           The thing I feel elevates The Young World to being more than the sum of its parts is the social commentary present throughout the story. It is my opinion that all good dystopias critique present society in some way. Here, among other things, there is blatant criticism of capitalism present in the description of the violent and exploitive Bazaar created by the Uptowners , children of the 1%. There’s also some reflection on privilege, reliance on technology, and the ubiquitous nature of brands. All of this is slipped in between tense scenes of battles, chases, and a quest to solve a mystery, as well as jokes and more emotional scenes. The Young World is a summer blockbuster of a book with a surprisingly thoughtful center, and I found it to be very entertaining.

*ARC received at BEA

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Waiting on Snow Like Ashes

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, where we highlight upcoming releases we're excited for.

This week I'm waiting on…
Snow Like Ashes
By Sara Raasch
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Release Date: October 14, 2014

A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

This fantasy looks right in my wheelhouse. I love the cover design.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Top Ten Tuesdays: Top Ten TV Shows/Movies

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly event hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is… Top Ten TV Shows/Movies.

I went in knowing that I can never narrow it down to only ten movies, then said to myself, "Well, I don't watch much TV." After filling two post-it notes with contenders for this list, I realized:
I don't watch TV consistently, there are only certain shows I love.
Ok so I'm a TV addict. Anyway, here are my favorite comedy shows, first in my heart, right before murder mysteries and any show by Bryan Fuller:

1. Beloved, most quotable show of my heart. I own all the seasons on DVD and relate to Liz Lemon to what is probably an unflattering degree.


2. This is a fairly new show with only one season, but it's one that had me laughing out loud with its rather crude humor and awesome central friendship. Also, comedian Hannibal Buress who has some of the best lines:

3. A show that always cheers me up, with some of the best characters ever.

4. Another laugh out loud funny show, everyone is this cast is amazing, yet my favorite has to be Stephanie Beatriz as Detective Rosa Diaz.  My hero: 


5. Every character on this show is a terrible asshole, but the dialogue is so sharp and clever and I love it. 

6. This one tends to be uneven due to various production issues/change of creator/etc. but when it's good it's really good. 

7. A little older than some of my other choices, but I will always love Scrubs.


8. A classic.

Bonus: Two Old Favorites


9. I started watching this show when it first aired in 1997 and I was in middle school, and it meant a lot to me. Watching the DVDs after it ended even helped me bond with my college friends. Legit criticisms can be made of it I'm sure, but I am not really interested in them. Sorry.

10. Another show I loved growing up, as I was the same age as Rory while it aired. Also a very quotable show. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Waiting on Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights an upcoming release I'm eagerly anticipating. 

This week I'm waiting on...

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future
by A.S. King
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 14, 2014

Graduating from high school is a time of limitless possibilities—but not for Glory, who has no plan for what's next. Her mother committed suicide when Glory was only four years old, and she’s never stopped wondering if she will eventually go the same way...until a transformative night when she begins to experience an astonishing new power to see a person’s infinite past and future. From ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions—and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying.

A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do everything in her power to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.

In this masterpiece about freedom, feminism, and destiny, Printz Honor author A.S. King tells the epic story of a girl coping with devastating loss at long last—a girl who has no idea that the future needs her, and that the present needs her even more.

I've always meant to read A.S. King and this book sounds like a great place to start. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Release Day Review: The Queen of the Tearling

The Queen of the Tearling
By Erika Johansen
Release Date: July 8, 2014
Published by: Harper

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.

Review: The Queen of the Tearling is a novel that includes so many of the things I love reading about: an interesting and active female character with a leadership role, a fantasy world, the importance of literacy, etc. that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. However, I had some issues  that prevented it from being a perfect reading experience.
            
              For me the highlight of the novel was the Queen of the Tearling herself, Kelsea Raleigh. Raised in isolation for her own safety, Kelsea was carefully educated by her guardians to be a strong leader for the good of her country. Her qualities include a strong sense of justice, an appreciation for the value of education, and a refusal to be cowed, even by the men who have been charged with her safety and whose respect she has to earn. Kelsea is flawed: due to her sheltered upbringing she is inexperienced and initially has little knowledge of the state of the kingdom she is meant to rule. She also has a temper, a trait that she eventually learns to turn into an asset. It’s wonderful reading the adventures of a woman in a leadership position who is not conventionally attractive, is smart, tough, and  cares about bettering the lives of her people. There is relatively little romance in this story and I didn’t miss it, as Kelsea, busy putting a stop to the slave trade and preparing for an invasion from the neighboring country, had more important things to deal with.
                        
             The book shifts POV from Kelsea occasionally. Some of the other characters’ perspectives, like Javel the guard and Father Tyler, present complex characters in difficult situations. Other characters, like the Regent, are a waste of time. This is an example of what I found to be the story’s flawed mix of complexity and preachy simplification. There’s a narrative thread involving the civilian cost of going to war and a leader’s responsibility to their people and page time is also given to berating an old woman for caring too much about her appearance.  There is emphasis on the importance of critical thinking and justice is sought for victims of domestic abuse. There are also multiple deus-ex-machinasThe results are a mixed bag of a story, but I do feel there is more good than bad. 
        
  Finally, I have to discuss what may very well be a pet peeve. I had some issues with the Tearling itself. The world building for this novel is sketchy at best. Apparently ships (sailing, not space) brought people escaping a cataclysmic event to a new land. These settlers came from what is ostensibly our modern age at the earliest, as some of the books they chose to bring with them include the Harry Potter series. These people are former citizens of the United States and the United Kingdom, yet they promptly create a society that is analogous to the early Middle Ages, complete with an absolute ruler with an inherited title, various nobles who control the land, and a powerful hierarchical church based on Christianity. There are few doctors in the Tearling as the medical ship was lost in the crossing, yet the neighboring country of Mortmesne has plenty doctors that can perform organ transplants. Also, gunpowder, something first created in the 11TH century, is considered an impossible technology. The arbitrariness of it all annoyed me. Magic somehow exists. The Red Queen has magical powers in abundance, some people have seer abilities, and Kelsea has inherited two problem-solving magical jewels. If the setting was a fantasy world I’d accept all this unquestioningly, but since the Tearling is  stated to be the result of the destruction of modern society I don’t think some elaboration on the whys and hows is too much to ask.  There should a reason things are framed this way, and fundamentals of world building should not be held back to save something for sequels. 

If you’re someone for whom characters and plot are the most important feature of a story, with world building a distant third, you may really love Queen of the Tearling, even more than I did. I do feel Kelsea is an excellent example of an interesting female character, and I am anxious to see where this story goes. My problem with the world building aside, I do recommend this novel.

3 Stars