Archive for the ‘Fiction Review’ Category

Review of While Beauty Slept, by Elizabeth Blackwell

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

While Beauty Slept

by Elizabeth Blackwell

Berkley Books, 2014. 456 pages.
Starred Review

I’ve meant to read this book for a very long time, especially once I had a signed copy. But I have a horrible problem with not getting around to reading books I own because they don’t have a due date. Anyway, I finally got this book read on a flight home from Portland – and I’m so glad I did.

I’ve always loved fairy tale retellings. This is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. But usually such retellings are Fantasy. This one takes out the overt magic. There is a possibility of a curse; there is a possibility that the baby’s great-aunt does dark magic. But the story is told as historical fiction, set in medieval times, as something that could have actually happened. (Except that the kingdoms mentioned are still not actual kingdoms from our world, so technically, I’ll have to classify it as Fantasy. But the flavor is Historical.)

Our narrator is an old servant of Queen Lenore, the mother of Rose who became the Sleeping Beauty of the fairy tale. She saw all the events of the tale from start to finish. She’s looking back on her life and telling the story to her great-grandchild.

In the prologue, she’s hears children telling the fairy tale based on the experiences she lived.

Ha! It would be a fine trick indeed to fell a royal daughter with a needle, then see her revived by a single kiss. If such magic exists, I have yet to witness it. The horror of what really happened has been lost, and no wonder. The truth is hardly a story for children.

I was afraid with that line that the book would be too dark for my taste – but the story is beautiful. Yes, there are dark and tragic parts, but it’s woven through with love and with actual human passions and mistakes and foibles.

In the fifty years since those terrible days in the tower, I have never spoken of what happened there. But with my body failing and death in my sights, I have been plagued by memories, rushing in unbidden, provoking waves of longing for what once was. Perhaps that is why I remain on this earth, the only person who knew Rose when she was young and untouched by tragedy. The only one who watched it all unfold, from the curse to the final kiss.

During the course of the tale our narrator, Elise, grows from a child in poverty into a mature adult, living in the castle. She gains perspective and makes hard choices and becomes a guide for young Rose through difficult times. I think that’s why this isn’t a young adult novel. This isn’t a coming-of-age story, but a story of a life lived beside large events, events that affected a kingdom. It’s about love and about choices and about making your way in the world.

And I especially liked the ending.

This is a beautiful book, which I know I’m going to want to read again sometime in the future.

elizabethblackwellbooks.com
penguin.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, which I got at an ALA conference and had signed by the author.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Arabella and the Battle of Venus

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

Arabella and the Battle of Venus

by David D. Levine

Tor (Tom Doherty Associates), 2017. 416 pages.
Starred Review

It took me a long time to get around to reading Arabella of Mars, which meant I could immediately pick up the sequel, for more adventurous fun. A blurb on the back cover calls this “Regency space opera,” and that’s about right. We’ve got an alternate history where sailing ships fly between the planets during the Napoleonic Wars.

In this book, Arabella is still on Mars, but her fiancé has traveled to Venus – and there was captured by the French. He sends Arabella a letter telling her not to worry about him, but of course Arabella comes up with a scheme to try to save him. She hires a privateer to fly her to Venus. Her brother permits this plan as long as she brings along a chaperone, Lady Corey.

This second book isn’t mostly about adventures between the planets, as the first was (though they definitely have some). Instead, the privateer’s ship – and everyone on board – also gets captured by the French and held on Venus. But there’s something big afoot in the shipyard where some of the prisoners are laboring. Now there’s more to do than simply plan a mass escape.

Arabella’s character is so much fun! She’s resourceful and smart. And not slow to act. I was surprised how much I came to enjoy Lady Corey, too.

The science of this interplanetary travel and “interplanetary atmosphere” is iffy, but seems to be consistent with itself. I still roll my eyes a bit at the automata magically gaining personality and coming up with results the programmer doesn’t understand. It can even hear Arabella speak without having ears!

But it’s all in good fun. This is an adventure yarn with a memorable heroine who tries to rescue the man she loves and faces danger, capture, and even dinner with Napoleon.

tor-forge.com

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Review of Arabella of Mars, by David D. Levine

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

Arabella of Mars

by David D. Levine

Tor, Tom Doherty Associates, 2016. 350 pages.
Starred Review

It was a year ago now that my sister Becky recommended this book to me – and in fact I’d had it checked out to read – but then I became a Cybils judge and needed to focus on reading Young Adult Speculative Fiction. I’m not completely sure why this particular book is marketed to adults rather than young adults, since Arabella is 17 years old – but since it’s fiction for grown-ups, I had to put it aside – and just managed to read it before I start reading for the 2019 Newbery Award.

Like my sister told me, this book is simply good fun. The premise is that instead of seeing an apple fall, Isaac Newton watched a bubble rise from his bathtub – and discovered flight. In the 1810s world of the novel, space ships are very like sailing ships, navigating the atmosphere and currents between the planets for interplanetary travel. How this could actually work is rather murky to me – but the implications of this world are a lot of fun.

The book starts with Arabella, who has grown up on Mars, being trained, along with her brother, by her Martian nanny in hunting and fighting and strategic thinking. But alas! A small accident results in a bloody cut on her head, and all is revealed to her mother, who uses this to finally convince Arabella’s father that Mrs. Ashby and her three daughters should go home to England.

Not long after arriving in England, they receive the sad news of Arabella’s father’s death. Then when she is visiting her cousin Simon, she unwittingly gives the cousin the information that at this time the passage to Mars would be at its quickest – so he is going to go to Mars, win her brother’s trust, and kill him for the inheritance of the family plantation, which is entailed on the oldest male heir.

He and his wife lock Arabella in a closet, but she didn’t receive all that training from her Martian nanny for nothing. When she escapes, though, she reasons that she must find passage to Mars and get there before Simon so she can warn her brother. But how to book passage without money? That’s when Arabella decides to disguise herself as a boy, and she gets a position as captain’s boy – because of her skill in working with automata, a passion she shared with her father. The ship she serves on has a mechanical navigator, and she is trained on how it works.

And so her adventures begin. The voyage isn’t at all uneventful. There were times I forgot it was a spaceship, the descriptions were so like a seagoing vessel. She must learn the ropes (literally) and about navigation. Along the way they deal with attack by French corsairs and mutiny, and there are new challenges when they finally land.

Like I said, the science is very iffy, but the story is told with enough confidence, you don’t often notice. I’m skeptical of the automaton acquiring sentience, but the atmosphere and currents between the planets was merely interesting.

This story is a whole lot of fun, and the advantage to being so slow to getting around to reading it is that now I can pick up the sequel.

tor-forge.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Simplicity of Cider, by Amy E. Reichert

Monday, August 21st, 2017

The Simplicity of Cider

by Amy E. Reichert

Gallery Books, 2017. 309 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a nice romance for adults, with interesting story, setting, and characters to go along with the romance.

Sanna Lund has inherited a gift for making cider – she sees the juices of their family’s different apple varieties in different colors. She can mix them by color and know how the finished product will taste. They’ve owned the orchard for generations, but now it’s down to her and her father. They’re going to try to sell Sanna’s cider in larger batches.

But they hit financial snags – and then Sanna’s father gets injured. They have to hire help even in the off-season, but that still may not be enough to pay bills.

The help they hire is Isaac and his 10-year-old son Sebastian (Bass). Isaac is trying to give Bass one last summer to be a kid before he tells him the bad news about Bass’s mother. Sanna gets off to a prickly start with Bass, but Isaac may be exactly what their orchard needs. Meanwhile, Sanna’s brother is urging them to sell to a developer and someone’s harming the heirloom trees that Sanna loves.

Now, the evil developer plot line sometimes veered toward melodrama, but mostly things stayed interesting and realistic. I liked that Sanna is 6 feet 3 inches and as distinctive as that implies. I had to mentally adjust to her point of view in several scenes! All the characters are richly drawn.

The author blurb says she “likes to write stories that end well with characters you’d invite to dinner.” That sums up her books rather well – except that I would be sure her characters were the ones cooking the dinner! This is a thoroughly enjoyable story, and I feel like I have indeed had dinner in the friendly company of these characters.

SimonandSchuster.com
amyereichert.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

by Patrick Rothfuss
illustrated by Nate Taylor

DAW Books, 2014. 159 pages.

This book is set in the world of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle, a short tale of Auri, a mysterious girl who lives deep under the University in dark passages.

In the Author’s Foreword he tells you right up front this isn’t the best introduction to his worlds, and includes other reasons you might not want to read it.

I think it’s only fair to warn you that this is a bit of a strange story. I don’t go in for spoilers, but suffice to say that this one is . . . different. It doesn’t do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do. And if you’re looking for a continuation of Kvothe’s storyline, you’re not going to find it here.

On the other hand, if you’d like to learn more about Auri, this story has a lot to offer. If you love words and mysteries and secrets. If you’re curious about the Underthing and alchemy. If you want to know more about the hidden turnings of my world. . . .

Well, then this book might be for you.

He said it! Patrick Rothfuss’s astonishing ability to write beautiful language is still evident in this book — but this isn’t where you’ll see his ability to craft a plot.

But if you already love his world, here’s an opportunity to spend some time there, and to get inside the mind of the mysterious and broken Auri as she goes about her interesting hidden world, putting things in their proper places.

patrickrothfuss.com
dawbooks.com

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Review of The Reluctant Queen, by Sarah Beth Durst

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

The Reluctant Queen

Book Two of The Queens of Renthia

by Sarah Beth Durst

Harper Voyager, 2017. 360 pages.
Starred Review

The Reluctant Queen begins exactly as a Book Two should do, with a quick summing up that jumps into the action (Don’t read this if you haven’t read Book One!):

Everything has a spirit; the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .

And those spirits want to kill you.

It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.

At age five, Daleina saw her uncle torn apart by a tree spirit for plucking an apple from his own orchard. At age ten, she witnessed the destruction of her home village by rogue spirits. At age fifteen, she entered the renowned Northeast Academy, and at age nineteen, she was chosen by a champion to train as his candidate. She became heir that same year and was crowned shortly after, Queen Daleina of the Forests of Aratay, the sole survivor of the Coronation Massacre. She’d heard at least a half-dozen songs about her history, each more earsplitting than the last. She particularly hated the shrill ballads about her coronation, a day she wished she could forget. Instead she had it hammered into her skull by a soprano with overly enthusiastic lungs.

Six months after her coronation, now that the funerals – and so many of her friends’ graves – weren’t so fresh, all of Aratay wanted to celebrate their new queen, and she was swept along with them. For her part, she planned to demonstrate her sovereignty by healing one of the barren patches created during the massacre and replacing it with a new village tree.

It is, she thought, one of the worst ideas I’ve had in weeks.

Indeed, when she collapses during the effort – and people who came to witness it are killed, Daleina is even more convinced it was a bad idea. Her friend the Healer does test, and tells Daleina that she is dying. She has an incurable sickness that will lead to more and more blackouts and eventually her death. These will get worse the more she uses her power. But what is a Queen of Aratay without using her power?

Even worse, in the last book, when Daleina became Queen, all the other candidates died. There is no one remotely ready to step into her place. But if Daleina dies before an heir is ready – the spirits will destroy Aratay and everyone in it.

So this second book is, once again, about finding someone to be queen. Daleina asks her champions to look for suitable candidates to train. But only very young girls are left in the academies.

That is, except for Naelin. She’s a mother of two young children who has always tried to hide her power. Nothing good can come of getting attention from the spirits! But will she step up for the good of Aratay? How about to protect her own children?

There are two plot threads in this book. One is the training of Naelin. The other is back at the palace, trying to find a cure. And then there are signs of foul play. And candidates start dying. The plot threads come together in an exciting and satisfying showdown.

The first book in this series was nicely self-contained, as I like first books to be. This one? Well, you do need to read the first book first to fully understand this world. Part of me felt like, But we just found a queen! – But I think it helped me feel more fully the tragedy of Daleina coming down with this illness so quickly after her coronation.

And the book ends with new impending dangers. I very much want to read on! My review of the next book will probably give away what happens in this one. Trust me! This is an imaginative series with some awesome world-building, intriguing characters, and plenty of suspense and danger. I am definitely going to want to read on as long as it continues!

sarahbethdurst.com
harpercollins.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, which was sent to me by the author.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Norse Mythology

by Neil Gaiman
performed by the author

HarperAudio, 2017. 6.5 hours on 6 compact discs. Unabridged.

I could listen to Neil Gaiman read the phone book! Although I ended up finding Norse mythology quite strange and wild – I can’t imagine a better way to hear these stories than read by Neil Gaiman. And written by Neil Gaiman doesn’t hurt, either. He captures the magical and mystical feel of the tales.

There’s an explanation at the beginning about Asgard and Midgard and the Land of the Giants and all the rest – It might have been simpler if I’d had that explanation in print to refer back to. Anyway, this way I was caught up in the stories. Most of them had Loki being a trickster and Thor throwing his hammer around to get his way.

There are many stories in this collection, and many of them have more than one chapter. There’s a dizzying array of characters, though usually Neil Gaiman refers back to where we have seen an obscure character before, so it seems quite coherent.

We do learn how Thor gets his hammer and what powers it has. And we find out about many adventures of the gods and goddesses, which so often start by an action that wasn’t terribly wise. And then there are consequences. And gods and giants try to trick others and are tricked themselves. And most of the stories were not familiar to me like Greek myths, so they were all new adventures.

That review seems a little coherent, but here’s the bottom line: Norse mythology explained and retold by Neil Gaiman, and even read by Neil Gaiman. Now that’s worth listening to!

neilgaiman.com
harperaudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Shadow Land, by Elizabeth Kostova

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

The Shadow Land

by Elizabeth Kostova

Ballantine Books, 2017. 478 pages.
Starred Review

When Alexandra Boyd gets off the plane in Sofia, she’s jet lagged, exhausted, and not even thinking straight. She’s in Bulgaria to begin teaching English, but came a month early to do some sight-seeing. First, the taxi driver brings her to a nice hotel, instead of the hostel where she has a room booked – and drives off before she can fix it.

While she’s trying to figure out what to do, she sees an elderly couple and a younger man come out of the hotel. As the younger man is helping the older man in a wheelchair get into a taxi, the older lady stumbles. Alexandra catches her arm and helps her. And then she passes their bags to them and helps them settle in the cab.

The younger man thanks her, and chats with her about her travel plans. She asks if she can take their picture – the first people she’s spoken to in Bulgaria.

Then Alexandra gets into a taxi and heads for her hostel. But as they are driving away, she suddenly notices that she has the tall man’s satchel. When she opens it up, it contains an urn with ashes and a name on the urn, Stoyan Lazarov. She asks the taxi driver to stop and bursts into tears.

When Alexandra opened the urn, she began to cry not because she was afraid of human remains but because it was just too much, the last straw. She was in a strange country, she was exhausted, her plans had already gone awry, and in the dramatic way of the young she felt herself in the grip of something larger — destiny, or some plot that could as easily be evil as good.

Alexandra has the driver, who says she can call him Bobby, take her back to the hotel, but there’s no sign of the people who lost the urn. She goes to the police, which Bobby doesn’t think is a great idea. But the police give her an address to try. First, though, she and Bobby drive to the monastery where the tall man said they’d be traveling.

In the monastery, Alexandra and Bobby get locked into a room, but it turns out Bobby has lockpicking skills.

By now Bobby is interested in Alexandra’s quest, so they continue on the trail of the Lazarov family. Each place they go, they find the family is not there, but get another lead of a place where they might be found. Along the way, they find out more about Stoyan Lazarov as well. But at the same time, as they travel, Bobby’s car is vandalized and they get threatening notes. Someone besides the Lazarov family seems to want the urn.

This book has a chase saga and a mystery, as well as being a story of a young American woman traveling in Europe on her own for the first time. Just when I thought it was especially lovely, pleasant reading, the book starts delving into the history of Bulgaria – particularly Stoyan Lazarov’s time in a prison camp – particularly brutal and awful.

But the overall feeling of the book is hopeful and surviving through art and through love. The story is compelling, as Stoyan Lazarov’s past has repercussions in the present.

This is a very personal story, despite having large themes. Alexandra has some of her own issues to deal with, but she cares about the people she meets along the way, and the reader can’t help but care, too. The author weaves in flashbacks well, never interrupting Alexandra’s story long enough to make us impatient.

I still say it’s a lovely book, even though it has some very hard chapters. The author brings Bulgaria to life so vividly and so lovingly, I wasn’t surprised to read at the back that she’s married to a Bulgarian. The plot is gripping, yet she manages to weave in lots of background material without letting up on the tension. On top of all that, these characters – from Alexandra and Bobby all the way to the man in the urn – are people you come to love.

elizabethkostova.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of My Italian Bulldozer, by Alexander McCall Smith

Friday, May 5th, 2017

My Italian Bulldozer

by Alexander McCall Smith

Pantheon Books, 2017. Originally published in Great Britain in 2016. 232 pages.
Starred Review

I love Alexander McCall Smith’s books! This one has that same gentle philosophy, but I appreciated that, most of the time, the characters did not sound like Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi talking with each other. They were their own distinct people. Though this new main character also takes life as it happens.

Paul Stuart is a successful food writer. This is how we meet him at the beginning of the book:

It was the first time Paul had made duck à l’orange for friends since Becky left him for her personal trainer. Her departure — after four years of living together — had been a surprise, but not as great a shock as the discovery of her new lover’s identity. Looking back on it, Paul realized that all the signs had been there, and might so easily have been spotted. He felt a lingering, slightly reproachful regret: had he been less absorbed by his work, he might have noticed her indifference; had he given her more time, he might have been forewarned by her restlessness, by the occasional guilty, almost furtive look; but even had he picked this up, nothing could have prepared him for her choice of Tommy, the tattooed mesomorph with whom she suddenly went off to live.

“I didn’t want this,” he said to Gloria, his editor, trying as hard as he could to be stoical. “But it’s happened. That’s all there is to it, I suppose. People split up.”

His editor, Gloria, helps Paul make a plan to write his next book about the food of Tuscany – so of course he needs to make a trip there.

But when Paul arrives in Tuscany, there’s a problem with his rental car – a problem that puts him in jail temporarily. If he hadn’t met a helpful Italian on the airplane, things might have gone very badly. But then that new Italian friend puts him in touch with a friend who rents out construction equipment – and Paul ends up renting a bulldozer to drive from Pisa to the hill town of Montalcino.

I love the description as he begins driving the bulldozer.

Now, sitting in the cab of the bulldozer as it trundled along a quiet side road, Paul could enjoy the view that his elevated position afforded him. It had been a surprise to him to discover just how commanding that view was: as cars passed him, he saw only their tops; as he approached a corner, he was able to see around and beyond it; as he drove past walls, he saw into the farmyards or gardens beyond. A couple lying on a lawn in intimate embrace looked up to see Paul waving to them as he went past; a man pruning an apple tree near the roadside, high on his ladder, finding himself eye to eye with Paul as the bulldozer growled by, was able only to open his mouth in surprise. And beyond such unexpected human encounters, there stretched the Tuscan countryside, now plains sloping down to the coast, now rolling hills blue in the distance under the first shimmering of heat haze.

The bulldozer’s slow pace meant that a line of cars would build up behind it, but Paul, being able to see very clearly what was coming, could wave people past when it was safe for them to overtake. They signaled their appreciation by sounding their horns, pleased at the courtesy of this construction worker, bound, they assumed, for some pressing local task of earthmoving but still considerate of those with longer distances to cover. A police car went past, slowed down momentarily, but then sped off again. Nobody imagined that the bulldozer was on such a lengthy and inappropriate journey.

One thing quickly became clear to Paul. As a regular visitor to Italy he had experience of Italian driving. The Italians are not noted for their patience on the road and will make their displeasure known to any driver who holds them up by sticking to the speed limit. For the visitor, this can be alarming, as small and underpowered cars sweep past them at dangerous corners or on blind rises. But Paul noticed none of this now, and realized that the attitude of other drivers to a bulldozer was one of cautious respect. There was no point in driving too close to its rear in an attempt to get it to speed up; not only would the driver of the bulldozer not see you, but should he brake suddenly, he might not even notice the crumpling of metal as your car collided with the hardened steel outer provinces of his vehicle. In the pecking order of the Italian road, then, a bulldozer’s position was evidently not to be questioned.

Now, that’s not all there is to Paul’s adventures. While out driving with the bulldozer, he meets an attractive American woman whose car has gone off the road, and he is able to help. But then Becky wants to talk to him, and comes to Montalcino to do it. And Gloria comes to help him straighten that out. And meanwhile a few uses pop up for the bulldozer that he hadn’t anticipated.

As with Alexander McCall Smith’s other books, this one left me with a smile on my face. Delightful reading.

alexandermccallsmith.com
pantheonbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

The Queen of Blood

Book One of The Queens of Renthia

by Sarah Beth Durst

Harper Voyager, 2016. 353 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Alex Award Winner

Daleina is ten years old when her entire village is destroyed by the spirits – all except her family, who Daleina manages to save. She suddenly discovers in the terror of the destruction that she has an affinity to command the spirits. But she wasn’t strong enough to save the village.

But why didn’t the queen save their village? The queen is supposed to control the spirits and command them all to do no harm.

Ven, a champion who got to the village too late, doesn’t get a satisfactory answer either. In fact, he gets disgraced in return for questioning the queen.

Years pass. Daleina goes to the Academy to be trained to command the spirits. She wants to be chosen to be trained by a champion and then to be one of the heirs. The heirs must be ready in case of the queen’s death. Because then the spirits must be stopped from their instinct to destroy and made to choose a new queen, a new queen who will then harness their energy afresh and keep the people safe.

The people of Aratay lives in the trees. Wood spirits have been compelled to grow homes and bridges in the trees. Fire spirits provide light. Air spirits, ice spirits, water spirits, and earth spirits all work to make life continue in Aratay – even though those spirits would like to feed on human flesh.

This book has some elements of a wizard-in-training novel, and of a young leader learning what qualities are important in a ruler. But there are also elements of corruption in power. There is mystery as to what is going on and how it can be stopped. And, in keeping with the title, there’s a whole lot of death and blood.

The story is compelling. You can’t help but love Daleina. She’s not as skilled as her classmates. Her power is less direct. But she’s loyal and good at bringing teams together. Why does the disgraced champion choose her?

I spent a happy afternoon reading this novel. The world it presents is inventive, and the characters are people you want to spend time with. (I only wished fewer had died.) I’m looking forward to the next installment from the creative mind of Sarah Beth Durst.

Here’s the scene at the start when Daleina meets the champion, after her village has been destroyed, with only her family left:

For a brief instant, she imagined him sweeping her away, taking her to the capital, and proclaiming her his chosen candidate. It happened that way in the tales: a champion would appear in a tiny village, test the children, and pluck one to be trained to become an heir, and the heirs became legends themselves, creating villages, securing the borders, and keeping the spirits in check, in conjunction with the queen. She imagined herself in the palace, a circle of golden leaves on her head, with her family beside her, safe because of her power. Never again huddling afraid in a hut in a tree.

Her story should have begun right then, in that moment. Fate had declared that her power would emerge in her village’s tragedy, and chance had put the champion in the nearby trees at the moment the spirits attacked, too late to save the village but in time to meet Daleina. It should have been the beginning of a legend, the moment he recognized her potential and she embraced her future with both arms.

But it wasn’t.

The champion looked away, across the ruined village and the broken bodies. “Only the best can become queen. And she is not the best.” Daleina felt his words hit like slaps, and then he added the worst blow of all: “If she were, these people would still be alive.”

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