The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

IMG_4978“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.”

The Reluctant Queen is the second book in the Queens of Renthia trilogy, with the first being The Queen of BloodI read the first novel earlier this year and it quickly became one of my favourite fantasy books, with its beautiful writing and memorable characters. The Reluctant Queen picks up about six months after the events of the first novel as the newly crowned queen has settled into her role, keeping the peace and protecting her people from the spirits that seek to harm them. However, she is hiding a secret that jeopardizes her position and affects the safety of those she is committed to protect; she is dying. Without anyone in line to take her place, the search begins for a new heir, but finding someone gifted and strong enough to take on such a responsibility is no easy task. The search leads to Naelin, who has spent her life denying her power, and who wishes to stay far removed from the business of the palace. The only problem is, she may be the queen’s only hope.

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As with its predecessor, The Reluctant Queen is wonderfully imaginative and inventive. It completely captured my attention from the beginning right to the very last page, leaving me wanting more and eagerly anticipating the next adventure. There is action and a bit of mystery, all of which is fun and enjoyable, but what really propels it all forward is the cast of compelling characters. There are returning favourites from the first novel, as well as new ones that add to the dynamic of the story with amusing dialogue and humorous moments. This is a great second instalment in the Queens of Renthia trilogy, and one I cannot recommend highly enough.

*Book provided by author for an unbiased review. Publication date: July 4, 2017.

Flesh and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma

IMG_4924“… I feel as if I’m flicking through a filing cabinet, reading files written in a language I once knew, but am out of practice in. The language of being young, of knowing nothing. I’m setting these memories out as though they came to me simply. This happened, then this and then this. But that’s not how it is. That’s not how it was.”

Flesh and Bone and Water is the story of André, a man who grew up in Brazil living a life of wealth and privilege as the son of a successful plastic surgeon. The tragic death of his mother leads to a shift in his life and as a restless teenager he daydreams of a life outside of Brazil. Decades later he is living in London with his wife and children, when out of the blue he starts to receive letters from a person from his past, which both startles and takes him back to that critical time in his life; the loss of his mother and the events that led to his departure from Rio. The novel travels back and forth from London to Brazil, revealing a story that André had repressed.

‘Isn’t it funny?… You yearn for things that you didn’t even like at the time.’

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This is a well-written and well-paced debut novel. The story flows smoothly from André’s present in London to his recollections of his life in Brazil after his mother’s death. For a relatively short novel it manages to deal with a lot of topics, primarily those of class, race, and privilege, and it does it well. The author also perfectly encapsulates the restlessness and carelessness of youth, along with that sad nostalgia felt in the present when revisiting the past. As mentioned, the pace of the novel is really well done and I breezed through the story as the truth behind André’s departure comes to light, which is ultimately quite shocking. Flesh and Bone and Water is a strong debut novel and I look forward to seeing more from this author.

When Light is Like Water by Molly McCloskey

BLOG‘It was like enlightenment, it was like being in the truth, which is a funny thing to say about deceit.’

When Light is Like Water is a woman’s reflection on her past self, the decisions she made, and the search for home. As a young woman, Alice left the United States to travel and explore the world, which led her to settle in the West of Ireland. A mix of reasons contributed to that decision, these being a growing relationship with a man named Eddie, as well as a lack of direction for where she saw herself going. She gets married and settles into the married life, which she struggles to adjust to, leading her to embark on an affair. Years later, Alice finds herself back in Ireland, going down memory lane and recounting her life and choices.

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What are we searching for in life? Is it love, a sense of belonging, connection, or maybe even an understanding of ourselves? What lies behind the choices we make? Alice’s look back on her decisions and her time in Ireland examines these questions and provides an interesting retrospective. The character of Alice is a divisive one. At times I liked her and understood her, while other times I was quite frustrated by her and her seeming detachment and dispassion. But these moments themselves in a way fascinated me, giving a sense of realness to the novel and in turn making Alice’s behaviour and decisions more understandable.

The novel is beautifully written and succeeded in making me think about what was being put forward and the way in which the story is told. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy contemplative novels with the focus on character rather than action driven plots.

*Book provided by publisher for an unbiased review.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

IMG_4920‘Do you understand what I’m telling you? When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things. If you learn one thing from me, it should probably be that.’

In The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, a movie legend decides to tell her story to a relatively unknown reporter that she herself chose. What unfolds is a fascinating story of an incredible life, full of high highs and crushing lows, incredible success and painful loss. We learn about Evelyn’s successful career and the seven husbands along the way, while also uncovering a possible connection between the movie star and the reporter chosen for the interview. The result is a gripping tale of ambition and lessons learned along the way, combined with a touch of mystery as the reason for Evelyn’s choice of reporter is revealed.

“It would take me years to figure out that life doesn’t get easier simply because it gets more glamorous. But you couldn’t have told me that when I was fourteen.”

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Taylor Jenkins Reid is truly a talented writer, and that talent is evident in this newest release. While it is a departure from her previous novels, it still has all the components that make her books such compelling and addictive reads. The main one being the brilliant depth and complexity of character that comes across so effortlessly, pulling you into the story and allowing you to experience the range of emotions throughout. Evelyn is an incredibly compelling character and it is difficult to not get completely swept away in her story and way of narrating. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a spellbinding novel that leaves a lasting impression.

‘Oh, I know the world prefers a woman who doesn’t know her power, but I’m sick of all that.’

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

BLOG“The deeds of men, as footprints in the desert.
Nothing under the circling moons is fated to last.
Even the sun goes down.”

A fantasy novel that sets the stage for an epic journey, The Lions of Al-Rassan is the story of a land with a violent past and the individuals whose paths and destiny intersect during a vital time. Al-Rassan is home to three very different cultures and faiths, which has led to years of turmoil and accounted for the violence and brutality of endless battles. Three notable individuals of different faiths find themselves thrown together by circumstance, and their choices have life altering consequences for themselves and the very future of Al-Rassan.

“It’s one thing to make war for your country, your family, even in pursuit of glory. It’s another to believe that the people you fight are embodiments of evil and must be destroyed for that. I want this peninsula back. I want Esperana great again, but I will not pretend that if we smash Al-Rassan and all it has built we are doing the will of any god I know.”

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From the compelling characters to the beautiful writing, I was completely taken with this novel. It is a wonderful fantasy that looks at divided loyalties, the clash between religion and politics, and the price of war. These themes are tackled in a smart and thought-provoking way that really elevates the story. The true heart of this novel are the characters that you can’t help but fall in love with, and who will stay with me for a long time to come. It does take a little time to fall into the rhythm of the story in terms of learning all the characters and where they fit in the overall layout of this conflict, however this did not take away from the enjoyment. The Lions of Al-Rassan is a novel full of humour, wit, tragedy, and a lot of heart. Truly a fantasy worthy of your time.