Written by Karen Olson Smith
“Queen of Hearts” by Colleen Oakes is a tangy mix of the personalities from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with small tastes from the theater production of Wicked. Sprinkled in are shadowy semblances of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” along with noticeable flavors of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”
As the story unfolds, the evil rising in the book’s setting of Wonderland captivates the reader as strongly as the story’s protagonist, Dinah, is held captive by her early lack of confidence. Dinah is introduced as a clumsy and timid child, one who fears her father, the mighty King of Hearts who feels nothing but disdain toward his daughter. Dinah longs for his love and attention. Her world begins to further unravel when her father introduces another daughter. Dinah’s newly discovered half-sibling, Vittiore, is a golden child yet a person Dinah despises, not only because Vittiore has her father’s favor, but because her presence reveals her father’s betrayal of her mother years earlier. Dinah is next in line for her father’s throne since the seat was left vacant by her mother’s death and because her older brother, Charles, is “mad as a hatter,” lost in his own reality. Soon, mysterious happenings relating to Dinah’s father, and clues of such, grow her confidence to act as she comes to understand that her father is an evil man who is hungry for power. Dinah quickly realizes that she must flee the kingdom in order to survive her father’s murderous intent. Of course, Oakes gives Dinah has a love interest. Wardley is a handsome young man, a fearsome warrior who is training to be the next commander of the Heart Cards assigned to protect the royal family and palace. Dinah has long adored Wardley, but will he return Dinah’s affections? Readers are left to ponder.
Written by Lauryn Smith
As promised, I read “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas. You may remember my slightly scathing review of its predecessor, “A Court of Thorns and Roses.” Though I still have some qualms, the second in the “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series exceeded my expectations.
The story picks up right where the first left off. In the aftermath of bad girl Amarantha’s demise, Feyre returns to life in the Spring Court with soon-to-be hubby Tamlin. But things are not all roses and daisies anymore. First of all, she has that tattoo linking her mind to Rhysand’s, as well as Rhysand’s pesky bargain regarding Feyre’s living arrangements, to worry about. Add to that Tamlin’s newly developed overprotective personality, and the fact that all in the Spring Court abide by his command to keep Feyre safe by restraining her to the grounds and limiting her access to information. Feyre used to feel thankful for Tamlin’s protection, but now she feels stifled, bored and unchallenged. She also cannot get over the guilt regarding the crimes she committed in order to save everyone from Amarantha’s wrath. In addition, the more she gleans about how the courts work, the more repelled by the system she becomes. Oh yeah, and she now has all the powers of a High Fae, powers that reflect those of each of the courts’ High Lords.
On the day of Feyre and Tamlin’s wedding, Feyre falls apart. As he did multiple times in “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” Rhysand pops in and saves the day, whisking Feyre away to the dreaded Night Court. That is when everything changes and Feyre’s perspective shifts. Instead of willingly remaining a veiled treasure, Feyre gets her life back on track. She grows familiar with the people, places and politics of the Night Court, trains to control her potent powers and flirts mercilessly with Rhysand. All the while, a new and fiercer evil looms. And once more, Feyre is key in ending it.
Maas again focuses on the good versus evil trope, this time on a dual level, both between the courts and an outside force as well as between individual courts. This is a classic and widely appealing theme, so no complaints there, granted the lack of emphasis on the plot leaves something to be desired. Also again, Maas attempts to make the story grab adult readers by including explicit sex scenes. Maas needs more than said sex scenes to make the novel appropriate for adults. Take them away, and this book is young adult through and through. I will contend, though, that the integration of action and romance is accomplished much better in “A Court of Mist and Fury” than in its predecessor.
Written by Lauryn Smith
Nineties kids rejoice! Jack Thorne, with the help of J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany, has gifted us with a continuation of the “Harry Potter” series—but not in the way you would expect. The three chose to take the story to the stage. Lucky for those of us living in America, the script has been specially bound in book form. (Unfortunately, you can only see the theatrical production at the Palace Theatre in London.)
The next installment, titled “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” takes places 19 years after “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Instead of focusing on the titular character as in the first seven books, we now focus on his son, Albus Severus Potter. The young Potter, who is just beginning his studies at Hogwarts, struggles to live up to The Chosen One and his legacy in the wizarding community. To make matters worse, the Sorting Hat places Albus in the House of Slytherin.
After a dispute between son and father a few years later, Albus becomes fed up with perceived expectations, so he determines to have an impact of his own, despite his father’s ignorance and overprotection. What follows is an epic of good versus evil, light versus dark, that involves Cedric Diggory (yup), House drama, a forbidden Time-Turner and more. Past and present merge, family dynamics are explored, and potential catastrophic darkness looms.
Let’s set something straight from the get-go. This read is a screenplay, descriptions of characters, locations, actions and all. The story is therefore more superficial than the previous books in the series. The 300 pages are reflective of the length of the play, and the detailing is minimal. If you are not used to reading screenplays, you may be a bit disappointed with “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
Written by Lauryn Smith
Remember how I was just saying that it is possible for young adult novels to be both quirky and meaningful? (I recently reviewed one that was just… not.)
I now have proof. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews is an awesome YA novel, one that is both entertaining and artful. It was even made into a movie recently. No, I have not seen the movie adaptation yet; I am abiding by the unspoken rule that you need to read a book before you see its movie. Now that I have read the book, I am all for seeing the motion picture; it is probably awesome, too.
The story is told from the perspective of Greg Gaines, a teenager dealing with the peril that is high school. His philosophy: be friendly to everyone, but make no friends. The logic is that if everyone knows just a little bit about you, they will generally like and accept you. Things are easier that way. The only person Greg defines as a friend is Earl, a gritty guy with a dirty mouth who lives by no rules. The boys’ shared interest is film, both the viewing of and making of. Together, they recreate all kinds of movies, most of which turn out comedic despite the intended genre.
All is well and good until one day Greg’s mom asks him to befriend Rachel, a childhood acquaintance who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. After some trial and error, Greg becomes Rachel’s welcome comedic relief. Despite his reluctance to let anyone see his films, Greg shares them with Rachel, who finds great joy in them. So much joy, that Greg and Earl vow to make a film about Rachel’s life.
Written by Lauryn Smith
I am not likely to win any friends with my review of “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas. Recommended to me by another Reviewer, this book is a Young Adult fan favorite, but I question whether I can get on board.
Before you ask, yes, I kept an open mind while dutifully reading through to the very last page (a necessity, since I swore to read its sequel, which I have been assured is much better than its predecessor).
“A Court of Thorns and Roses” is the first in Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series. An amalgamation of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Twilight,” a touch of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and a pinch of “The Hunger Games,” this book exemplifies fan fiction, and not entirely originally (more on this later).
In it, a teenaged, wholly human diamond in the rough named Feyre kills a fearsome wolf in the woods and soon after is snatched from her derelict home by a handsome and fierce faerie, because, surprise, that wolf was actually a faerie, too. But her captor, Tamlin, is no ordinary faerie. He is a High Fae—a normal faerie but more striking, more magical and more powerful. Now a forced resident of Tamlin’s estate, Feyre learns that the kingdom’s residents are in turmoil and at risk of losing their powers, effects of a curse that was put on the land. Another effect? The faeries all have masquerade masks permanently stuck to their faces. Naturally, Feyre and Tamlin bond and fall in love, and Feyre’s sacrifice on Tamlin’s behalf restores peace to the land.
Written by Lauryn Smith
The first and last graphic novel I read was for a contemporary fiction class in college. From that experience, I learned that there are some things that pictures, or a combination of pictures and text, can better accomplish than text alone. I used to think that graphic novels were only for young readers, but I have since changed my mind—graphic novels can actually be full of meaning. So when Reviewer Beth Winters suggested I read “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson, I agreed.
I was not disappointed.
"Nimona,” which falls in the young adult genre, is a full-color graphic novel based on Stevenson’s web comic of the same name. In this work of fiction, there are heroes and villains and dragons and science and contemporary ideology. Essentially, Stevenson’s story consists of classic premises sprinkled with modernity.
The eponymous character, young in relation to the book’s other characters, one day shows up at the home of bad guy Lord Ballister Blackheart asking to be his sidekick. Reluctantly, Blackheart agrees. He and Nimona, who turns out to be a skilled shapeshifter, make and execute "villainous" plans, one of which leads them to discover that the powerful Institution of Law Enforcement is up to no good. Complicating matters is the fact that Blackheart’s once good friend Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin works for the Institution. Naturally, chaos ensues.
Written by Lauryn Smith
One book, two authors. I must have been living under a rock, because apparently stories written by multiple authors are relatively common.
Case in point: "Nightfall" by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski. (Shout out to G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers for introducing me to "Nightfall," my first dual-authored novel. Thank you for the free copy!)
“Nightfall” is a piece of young adult fiction that portrays the peculiarities of the remote, forested island of Bliss. On the island, Sunrise comes only every 28 years, resulting in 14 years of Day and 14 years of Night. The island's residents spend weeks preparing for Nightfall, completing a number of odd rituals, such as removing locks from houses, leaving doors partially open and strategically rearranging furniture. Come Nightfall, they hitch rides on furrier ships in order to flee to the Desert Lands, where they will live for the 14-year interim.
That is just how things work on Bliss, no questions asked. Any and all reasoning is shrouded in mystery. No one understands or speaks of what happens on the island during the cold years of Night, but everyone knows that the place should be avoided. This Nightfall, however, an unfortunate few are left behind. Once the furrier boats take off, three teens—Marin, her twin brother Kana and their mutual friend Line—are left to their own devices, and they come to understand the mysteries of the island uncomfortably well.
Written by Beth Winters
Yes, it has been a while. But there have been so many new books to choose from that I could barely choose one! No worries, though. I picked. I read. And I… disliked.
I just finished reading “Passenger” by Alexandra Bracken, a book I really wanted to like. “Passenger” has a premise that I thought I was sure to love. It involves time travel, pirates, adventure, musicians—what more could I ask for?
However, so many parts of this book are not what I expected, and not in a good way.
“Passenger” is the first book in a duology. I know that the first book in any series needs to facilitate world-building. That said, though, there is a little too much world-building in this one.
The beginning of Bracken’s story is simple. A musician goes to a concert. A musician ends up time traveling. A musician demands answers. The part where said musician, Etta Spencer, demands answers is about 30 pages in. Then, it feels as though you are reading through 40 pages that detail how Etta and another girl do nothing more than answer each other’s questions.
Written by Lauryn Smith
Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” is an old tale, a children’s story told from a sled dog’s point of view. And it is remarkable.
Writing from the perspective of Buck, an impressive St. Bernard and Shepard mix, London gets readers to feel all the feels as he tells about the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon. To create the piece of historical fiction, he uses the knowledge he gathered during his own year of prospecting gold in the harsh, frigid territory.
London focuses on the life of Buck, who is stolen from his lush California home in order to be sold to prospectors and taken to traverse the icy trails of Alaska and northern Canada. Buck’s journey, which involves beatings with a club, new masters, fights for food, brawls with other sled dogs and struggles for survival, incites in him the instincts of his wild ancestors and calls on his strength of spirit. The trek transforms him from loyal pet to uninhibited, and at times aggressive, animal.
This adventure story, artfully told with beautifully simple language, is definitely appealing to all ages. I can go on and on describing ways in which “The Call of the Wild” is great for young people to read, like its lessons regarding adaptability, inner strength, respect for authority and respect for nature. But this is no cookie cutter kiddy book.
Written by Lauryn Smith and Beth Winters
Harry Potter is to ‘90s kids everywhere what Simon Snow is to Cath and her peers in Rainbow Rowell’s novel “Fangirl.” Cath takes her fandom to the extreme. Simon Snow T-shirts. Simon Snow posters. Simon Snow busts. She even goes so far as to write Simon Snow fan fiction—and she is good at it. Cath’s fanaticism began as a child, when her mother left the family, leaving Cath and her twin sister behind. Now in college, Cath must deal with the trials and tribulations, both old and new, that compose her life. See our thoughts on Rowell’s novel below!
Did you like “Fangirl”? Why or why not?
LS “Fangirl” is definitely a quick read. Sometimes you need a story that does not require a lot of analyzing, and I like “Fangirl” for that reason. Rowell’s novel is void of any hugely remarkable facets. There are no twists, turns or “please tell me what happens next” moments, so it is does not really keep you at the edge of your seat. Rowell tells the story smoothly, and the book is interesting in terms of character development. That said, the story is lacking when it comes to substance. Cath’s college experience seems more like an idealized high school experience. For instance, the difficulties Cath experiences are exemplified lightly and given little acknowledgement. Do we really learn anything regarding how Cath felt when her mother left? Not really. We eventually learn how Cath perceives the situation in retrospect, yet we do not feel the consequences. How does that life-altering event relate to Cath’s love of Simon Snow? Such elaboration would have benefitted Rowell’s story. Maybe such gaps are intentionally left open because Rowell intends the story be geared toward twins or people who can relate to Cath’s apprehensive personality. Or, maybe they are left open to avoid complication, as the book's genre is YA fiction.
About the Nook
The Nook is a collective space where Reviewers share their thoughts on and reactions to the books they have just finished reading. Have something to say in response to a Reviewer's entry? Add a comment! Consider Reviewers your virtual book buds. You can also check out individual Reviewers' diaries to get a sense each one's unique tastes and ideologies.