The Carver and the Queen (Book Review)

The Carver and the Queen (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
cozy fairy tales in cold settings are your cup of tea

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Carver and the Queen

By Emma C. Fox (Check out my interview with Emma.)

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Deep in the Russian mountains, two peasants discover a magical realm. But will this power bring good fortune or bad?

This book hit the spot. I loved it, and I thought it was even better than The Arrow and the Crown. The dual protagonists were lovable. The villains were mysterious and not made of cardboard. I also loved the supporting cast.

This book is based on a fairy tale that I’m not familiar with, so, for me, it read like a story set in a fairy tale world. It didn’t feel strange or contrived in any way, which sometimes happens with a retelling when you aren’t familiar with the source. You don’t NEED to know the source story to enjoy this one.

This is a sweet romance, too! Perfect for teens who want clean, mature romance. No spice, just heart.

I’m very much looking forward to Emma C. Fox’s next book!

Content warnings: None


4.6
The Queen’s Gambit (Book Review)

The Queen’s Gambit (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you enjoyed Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Queen’s Gambit (Book 1 of Imirillia)

By Beth Brower

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Don’t confuse this with Walter Tevis’s chess novel. It’s completely different.

I adored The Q, so I’m making Beth Brower’s books a priority. This one is far less complex (and much shorter) than The Q, but it’s still a worthy read, especially if you love character-driven royal dramas with lots of politics.

The bountiful land of Aemogen is a self-contained country that has little to do with the surrounding nations. When Imirillia, a battle-hardened nation to the north, declares war on the soft Aemogen people, the queen, Eleanor, must figure out how to ready her peaceful farmers for war against a foe that is more numerous and skilled than they can ever hope to be. It’s like The Shire vs. Mordor.

She finds unexpected help when Wil Traveler, a wandering soldier, arrives at court. Asking him to train her troops is a gamble, but she takes the risk.

This book moved slowly, without too much high action. This first installment in the series is more about establishing character dynamics, which, I’m sure set the stage for the second and third books. The characters are good—flawed and riddled with issues. There is also a lot of worldbuilding to clue us in on the traditions and ethos of the two warring nations. I think this is important to know going in.

There’s also a slow-burn romance that is not cheesy. Executing a romantic subplot without cheese on top is no small feat, but I love the way Beth Brower approaches it. You can hand this to any teenager without fear. It’s clean as a whistle without feeling sanitized.

This book doesn’t provide a ton of closure at the end. It doesn’t completely satisfy as a standalone book. The external plot wraps up, but the internal plot is just getting started, so you do feel compelled to read the next book. That’s also important to know going in.

I’m notorious for reading the first book in a series and never continuing. But, I might just keep going with this YA medieval adventure!

4.5
Scythe (Book Review)

Scythe (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re a sucker for dystopias that plumb the deep questions of life

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Scythe

By Neal Shusterman

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

What does it mean to die?

Some of the best YA fiction deals with this question. Here, Shusterman asks his teen readers to grapple with death in a dystopia where almost nobody dies—unless they’re among the minute percentage of Earthlings who must be “gleaned” in order to keep the global population under control.

Who does this gleaning? Scythes. They are the only human-led organization left on the planet. (A mega-technology called the Thunderhead governs the world.)

Scythes must glean a certain number of people per year, and they must do it without malice or bias. But what if they did it with…enjoyment? There’s no law against it. What if Scythes became the celeb rock stars of the world? What if, instead of being feared, they were worshipped?

Shusterman’s dystopia asks big questions about power and mortality/immortality. There is some fantastic potential for discussion here, but many teen readers will need guidance.

The concept of immortality (or, at the very least, a life that could last a thousand-plus years) is what kept jolting me out of the story. How can we even begin to comprehend a life without an imminent end? We value life because it’s fragile and over too soon. But what if we didn’t value life that way? This part of the story was hard for me to grasp and made it feel a tad distanced.

This book does everything so well, though. The writing stands head and shoulders above. Strong, complex characters. A couple of very spicy villains. The plot is perfectly paced, and the ending is a total knockout.

I can’t say that I love this book, but the execution is flawless.

4.4
I Must Betray You (Book Review)

I Must Betray You (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
only the best historical fiction will suffice

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

I Must Betray You

By Ruta Sepetys

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Did you know how bad communism was in Romania in ’89?

Me neither! I had no clue.

To think—while I was eating Cheerios and watching Care Bears and playing Barbies, these families were living off of chicken feet and tiny potatoes, with only black-market access to anything remotely Western. They couldn’t even get proper medical care without bribing people with packs of cigarettes. Electricity and heat were hit or miss. Eating a banana was something that only happened in your dreams. All the while, one corrupt family in power was living the high life. Oooh, shudder.

I almost wanted to categorize this as “dystopian.” I feel like this will hit home with a lot of young adults simply because it really happened—and can happen again.

It brings to spine-tingling life what happens when dictators have absolute power. It portrays the human dilemmas that regular people were shouldering under this inhumane regime. There was forced privation. Constant suspicion of neighbors and even family members. Who is listening? Who saw? Will they tell on me? Talk about anxiety! Also, zero hope that things will get better.

The structure of the book is perfect for YA. Short chapters propel you forward. Action and mystery and dilemmas at every turn.

I also loved the back matter, showing photos of people, places, and objects that figure into the story. I’m impressed by the depth of research that Ruta Sepetys put into this book.

YA historical fiction at its best.

4.6
Snowglobe (Book Review)

Snowglobe (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
Squid Game + The Hunger Games sounds like a thrill-filled funtime

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Snowglobe

By Soyoung Park
Translated by Joungmin Lee Comfort

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Another YA dystopia—is it worthy?

I think that, like most YA dystopias, you’ll either love this or hate it.

Years from now, the world is frozen, and everyone works in power plants to provide the population with the electricity required to sustain life. Everyone works for the power plants, except residents of Snowglobe, a ritzy community sheltered from sub-zero temps by a dome. How can you become one of the chosen few who get to live there? By agreeing to act on TV. Your life is recorded and made into a TV show for the world to see.

If you worked day in and day out at a power plant (riding a bicycle to produce energy) and you got the chance to become a Snowglobe actor, would you take it?

That’s basically what happens to Chobahm, our teenage girl protagonist. But the catch? She’s asked to take the place of a megastar who died. She looks nearly identical to an actress named Goh Haeri, who has achieved Taylor Swift-level fame in Snowglobe. If Chobahm agrees, then her family will receive extra compensation, and she may even get a shot at attaining her lifelong dream of getting accepted to Snowglobe’s famed film school to become a director.

It’s a Faustian bargain with all the teenage trappings that make this book appealing to its target audience. It checks all the boxes for what I hoped to see—mystery, twists, and action.

I did feel like the book could’ve been tighter. I really enjoyed it, but the first and second half were a bit disjointed, with characters from the first half who faded into the background to make way for new characters who took the stage in the second half. I listened on audio, which was a lifesaver for name pronunciation, but I confess that I did have a hard time keeping the characters straight.

Overall, this was a solid YA read, and it was interesting to read this genre set in what I assume is a futuristic South Korea, but I’m not sure I’ll come back for book 2.

Content Warnings (with spoilers): Here are some things that you may want to know before handing this to your teen (or reading it yourself). There is discussion of cloning and its moral implications. There are scenes of violence, but nothing gory or over the top. One character is revealed to be in a same-sex relationship with another character, but this isn’t central to the plot and (I think) becomes more central in the sequel. There are some whiffs of romance for the protagonist, Chobahm, but nothing graphic and no sex scenes.

4
Save the Cat Writes a Young Adult Novel (Book Review)

Save the Cat Writes a Young Adult Novel (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you want a beat-by-beat guide to writing a YA novel (or not)

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Save the Cat! Writes a Young Adult Novel

By Jessica Brody

Information
Inspiration
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Why read this if you’re not a novelist?

It’s a fair question.

I’m not writing fiction, but writing craft books have been catnip for me lately. WHY?

I love the ideas and frameworks that authors use to write fiction. It’s so interesting to me. I enjoy seeing how (and if) well-done books align with these (now iconic) story beats, and how they fall into one or more of the 10 thematic categories that she identifies.

I understand why some people strongly dislike “formulaic” books like these. I’m not a huge fan of big promises like “follow these steps and write a bestseller,” but I’m not wholly unconvinced that this beat sheet isn’t useful to writers, especially new writers. It sure is interesting, I’ll give it that.

Because I’m not an author, I feel serenely removed from this debate, watching from afar on my reader’s couch.

Why did I choose the YA version instead of the original? Because it’s newer, and I wanted to see if Brody revised any of her earlier advice. I don’t think there are any major differences.

4
Once a Queen (Book Review)

Once a Queen (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you, as a kid, hoped with all your heart that doors to other worlds actually existed.

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Once a Queen

By Sarah Arthur

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Secret Garden meets Narnia

After hearing Sarah MacKenzie from Read-Aloud Revival (I love her) interview the author, I was ready and rearin’ to love this book, and maybe my expectations were too high. I liked it but did not love it. Now, I do love the premise: There are portals to other worlds. They exist, just like in fairy tales. All we have to do is find them. That’s a common childhood fantasy, right? But the execution felt a tad off for me.

The protagonist is young Eva, an American who travels with her mom to visit her Grandmother in England for the first time ever. Soon, she realizes that her regal Grandmother was once a queen in fairyland.

Positives: Complex female relationships—whoooo-wheeee. Women. We can be weird. We don’t always treat each other right, and this book is packed with strong females who all seem to have fraught relationships with one another. This didn’t detract from the book at all and was one of the highlights for me.

Negatives: The writing wasn’t as immersive as I’d hoped. The pacing of the plot did drag a bit for me. I found myself wondering more than once, “Where is this going?” Eva was always finding clues and making little discoveries, but they all seemed a tad disjointed. I couldn’t see how the story was building to any sort of climax. The chapter-ending Ternival tales (fictional excerpts from a book of fairy tales) were a little hard to follow. It was a lot of new information to keep track of.

Thank you to NetGalley and WaterBrook for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Content warnings: I wouldn’t hesitate to let any teenager read this. There’s nothing graphically scary or violent, and there is a sweet romance but it’s very much a side note until the end, and even then, there’s just a hint.

3.5
The Breeder Cycle (Book Series Review)

The Breeder Cycle (Book Series Review)

You’ll love it if
you wish you could reread The Hunger Games for the first time

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Breeder Cycle (Breeder, Criminal, Clone)

By K. B. Hoyle

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Here’s a YA dystopia that isn’t bleak

Wow. I inhaled this trilogy, and I’m very picky when it comes to my teen dystopias. This series has a lot in common with The Hunger Games, but it’s much less depressing. In fact, it is incredibly life-affirming. But it’s most definitely for teens—no younger.

So, we’ve got a strong female lead, who lives in a futuristic society that’s tried to rid the world of inequality by making people the same—as “same” as they can get them. All aspects of life are controlled by the powers that be. Our young, female protagonist works as a Breeder. Her job is to birth babies for the new world. You already recognize a slew of elements from other popular YA books, right?

Well, something happens to our main character, Pria. She begins to feel discontented with her “perfect” life. She begins to ask questions—gasp! This puts her in danger, and she must face the truth about her society and the role she plays within it.

The strength of this series is the plot and pacing. It’s tight and effortless to read. There is a satisfying character-driven B plot.

Honestly, if you’ve got a thing for YA dystopia, this series is a really great choice!

4