Review: Queen of the Conquered

Queen of the Conquered is an unusual tale that lives somewhere between historical fiction and fantasy. It’s a slow building, emotionally fraught, politically complex story. At its heart, Sigourney is a strong woman with a huge history of trauma that defines her behavior throughout the story. She is the only woman of color who has risen to the level of royalty in this small group of islands. Islands run by elite white royals who make live extravagantly off the backs of slave labor tending to their sugarcane and tobacco crops. Sigourney’s position is unusual and precarious because she is also gifted with the kraft, a fact that relegates anyone of her color to a death sentence. Her status has exempted her from that fate but has also put her in a position of power over the slaves who are essentially her people. Most of this book is her inner and outer struggles to overcome the fact that she does not belong on either side. She does not agree with the treatment of her people but she capitulates to fit in amongst the royalty – often ordering beatings and executions of her slaves. She aches inside to set her people free and to exact vengence on those who are responsible for not only her family’s deaths but the torture and oppression of her people. She is entirely caught in an endless cycle of politics and power driven by racism and exploitation.

Most of the book you’re trying to figure out who is the big baddie pulling the strings amongst the royalty and slowly killing them off hoping to gain control of both the islands and all of the wealth, including the slaves. Most of the time trying to pin the deaths on Sigourney while she is trying to prove herself worthy to be the regent. That mystery was fun to play along with. My favorite character was not Sigourney but a slave she inherits, his background is as complex as hers as a child of a slave and a master, there are lots of spoilers attached to his story but he added a lot of intrigue. 
I struggled to rate this one because of the way it floats between genres. I would have liked it more if it had no magic and was just a treatise on racism and power in island plantations. Equally I would have liked this book more if there were more magic and vengeance and less internal emotional conflict. To me it hovered in between being really interesting historical fiction and really amazing fantasy but instead hovered in between being mediocre in both categories. That said I will plow forward with the next book because the last chapter was the most interesting one in the whole book! ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Do you like books that mash genres together? Like historical fiction with a little magic?

~ Dana

Review: The Removed

The Removed is a beautiful treatise on grief particularly in regard to the culture and traditions of the Cherokee nation. The Echota family has suffered a grievous loss and none of them have recovered. Each family member is coping in their own way. Most of these are not healthy ways. The chapters alternate between the family members as the anniversary of the death approaches. 

One of their stories is hopeful, another vengeful and one is just lost. They all have traditional Cherokee spiritual elements. I enjoyed each of their stories and perspectives on grief although Edgar’s was quite challenging to understand at times.  We see the impact of the Trail of Tears displacement both through the current narrative and through the narrative of Tsala who lived through that time. There are beautiful tales and myths weaved throughout and although I’m not sure I always got where those fit in, I did enjoy reading them. In addition to the commentary on grief we see the impact systematic racism has had in relation to the actual death, access to health care, domestic violence, drugs and poverty.

I felt like I wanted a hundred more pages and some substance and consequences to come to a few of the characters but, that said, I was satisfied with the more interpretive ending. I flew through the book and barely wanted to put it down. I wanted a little more in Edgar and Wyatt’s endings but I can surmise their fates. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ This one came out yesterday so scoop it up!

Thanks to Netgalley for giving me access to this ARC for my honest review.

What’s your favorite read by an Indigenous author?

~ Dana

Happy Pub Day & Review: The Last Tiara

Sofiya is a young woman living through war in Russia in 1915, she comes from a family of means close to the royal family who is in the process of being deposed. She volunteers her time with the soldiers coming into the hospital and falls for a man with amnesia from his head injury. In this story we learn more about the politics of the time, the horrors of war and rationing and the royal family.

In the 1940’s, Sofia (as she’s now known in America) has died and her daughter, Isobelle, finds the skeleton of a tiara hidden in her mother’s apartment. Her mother left Russia and never looked back, there were no stories for Isobelle to understand who her father was or how she might have come upon this tiara. As Isobelle begins to search she finds herself quickly drawn in by a jeweler whose grandfather helped her mother sell off the gems of the tiara. The two pair up to solve the mystery of the tiara and just who Isobelle’s mother and father may have been.

Two timelines in historical fiction is always a risk, you run the risk of only being truly invested in one character and dragging yourself through the other plot. That happened to me here but interestingly about halfway through which plot I was more invested in switched. First, all I cared about was Sofiya and learning more about the Winter Palace and the war and was shrugging over the modern plotline then about halfway through I became more interested in Isobelle’s quest to uncover her mother’s history. I’m not sure why that flip happened but I think truthfully neither character was well developed, it was the plots I was most invested in.

This novel also suffers from something I hate in historical fiction, men who are completely put together and in control even in the worst circumstances balanced with incapable women who melt with emotion at any challenge. Isobelle was an architect making her way in a career before her time but was the most naïve person when it comes to the real world and relationships. I get that her mother sheltered her but her emotions were reflective of a teenager rather than a full grown adult.

That said, the history was phenomenal and the mystery took a turn I really enjoyed in the end. The twist was one that I figured out but I believe that was because the author laid just the right breadcrumbs along the way. ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Read this one if you enjoyed Gill Paul’s the Lost Daughter or Kristin Hannah’s Winter Garden.

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.

What’s the most priceless piece of jewelry or family heirloom that you own?

~ Dana

January wrap-up

This month I read 20 books. My goal was to work through my backlist books (8), my Netgalley (6) as well as 1 classic re-read per month and I ended up accomplishing 2. 

Binti ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A Twist of Karma ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Dark Tides ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Sadie ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Escaping from Houdini ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Big Lies in a Small Town ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Written in Starlight ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Legendborn ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If I Disappear ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Helena ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reverie ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The End of the Ocean ⭐️⭐️⭐️

A Mother’s Promise ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Clanlands ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Last Tiara ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Queen of the Conquered ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Vox ⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Removed ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

What was your favorite read of the month?

~ Dana

Review: Escaping From Houdini

I am really enjoying the capers of Audrey Rose and Thomas Cresswell, even though this was the most far-fetched of the stories so far. Yeah, I know the last one was about Dracula, but this one seemed a little more over the top for me.


We find the Wadsworth/Cresswell clan upon a boat bound for America, conveniently the ship happens to be hosting a Moonlight Carnival featuring the one and only Houdini, although at this point he is not yet infamous. I liked the idea of the mystery this time being someone on the ship but I do think the carnival thing is a bit over done in YA.

I also felt like the villain was obvious in this particular case. I didn’t peg the exact motive but I found myself pointing my finger in the exact right direction.

Audrey waffling about Thomas yet again with someone she just met and knew little about was a bit off-putting as well.

Not my favorite book of the series and yet I find myself drawn to diving into the next book right away!  

What’s your favorite card game?

~ Dana

Review: Helena

“The Church isn’t a cult for a few heroes. It is the whole of fallen mankind redeemed.”

————————


This one has been on my TBR since our pastor recommended it a few years ago. It is a beautiful fictionalization of the life of an ancient, towering example of a woman. She was responsible for the spread and acceptance of Christianity across the Mediterranean with her finding and venerating of the cross of Jesus. Her and her son had an unusual view of the world and way of comporting themselves for the time they were born.


I enjoyed the snippets of life we saw along the way for Helena, Constantine and Crispus although I would have loved for this story to be 100s of pages longer and given me more detail about her inner thoughts and how she came to see the world as she did. Her faith once present was unwavering and the idea that she had such power in the time she did was so inspiring.


This book was first published in the 1950’s – what’s the last book you’ve read that was published in the previous century?

~ Dana

REVIEW: Sadie

Let me start by saying, I love a good crime podcast. When I saw this was YA, I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as a good crime story. But it gave me everything I was hoping for when I read The Night Swim, which fell short for me. What Sadie had that The Night Swim was missing was a fabulous protagonist. Sadie is a girl who grew up in the worst of circumstances but decided not to let those circumstances define her.
When she goes missing shortly after her sister is found dead, very few people seem to care. One woman from her trailer park doesn’t let it go and when has the opportunity to enlist an eager podcaster to help her solve the mystery, neither one can let up until Sadie is found.

The story alternates between the podcast which is looking for Sadie months after she disappears and Sadie’s own point of view from the time she goes missing. It’s hard to talk about all the things I loved without giving anything away but so many aspects are well done. The topics covered by this story are extremely sensitive and horrific but the author balances giving you the necessary information you need to solve the mystery but without being gratuitous. There are a few times where I’m slightly skeptical of how much high school dropout, nineteen year old Sadie would have actually accomplished in the real world in some of the situations she was put in but if you check that at the door, she’s a fabulous heroine on a great mission.  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If you went missing, what brand would you most likely be wearing in the description that went out?


For me it’s definitely Puma, I probably have at least 15 pairs of Puma shoes and countless hoodies and other Puma gear.

~ Dana

REVIEW: A Mother’s Promise

“Understand: these girls have neither the mental capacity nor the moral fiber with which to manage their lives. Most of them – quite sadly – should have been drowned at birth in a bucket, like so many unwanted kittens.”


————————


This book will break your heart in the same way The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or Radium Girls did. The horrible atrocities that America thrust upon the poor, downtrodden and mentally challenged in the name of eugenics will shock you. As someone who works in clinical trials, human rights is at the forefront of everything I do. The first thing you learn about is the Nuremburg code and what happened in the Tuskegee syphilis study. This little piece of history covered in A Mother’s Promise is one that has been in the shadows for far too long.
You will feel for Ruth Ann at every turn, she is a sweet, young 16 year old girl who is a victim of her circumstances and is trying desperately not to be. Your stomach will turn at every word that comes out of Dr Price’s mouth and you will grow ill at the treatment Mother Jenkins gives the girls in the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded. But this is a book that you must read. If you are someone concerned with social justice and human rights, this story deserves a place in your heart. Ruth Ann’s desire to fight all the way against all odds will impress you.


The outcome of the book and the real case it is based on will floor you. The author’s note at the end explains the truth versus the fiction of this case and frankly I walked away more gobsmacked than ever. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Thanks to Read Forever Pub and Grand Central Pub for a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.


What’s the first thing you think of when you think of your mom?


For me it’s breakfast. Not sure why, but she always made a fabulous breakfast.

~ Dana

Pub Day Review: Written in Starlight

Woven in Moonlight was one of my favorite reads of 2020, I was utterly overwhelmed by the beautiful descriptions of life in Inkasisa and the magic was unlike anything I’d ever read. So of course, Written in Starlight was one of my most anticipated releases of 2021 but unfortunately it just didn’t live up for me.


Catalina, despite being the Condesa, was weak and wishy washy and everything Ximena accused her of. I did not enjoy her as the main character of this journey. She was self-centered, selfish and downright rude to everyone she encountered. For the first 75% of the story she didn’t care at all about anything but her own needs and goals. She wanted her kingdom back and would step on anyone to do it. Hello, 1500’s colonizer mentality, her goals and claims to the throne were the only thing that mattered and she’d sacrifice anyone she could to get there. She does have a lot of character growth in the last 25% but I was already so over her and her nonsense that it didn’t redeem the story for me. Ximena was just a better, more well-rounded character who was more fun to adventure with.

Now, the one thing I will say is that the writing is still breathtakingly beautiful. I felt like I was in the vibrant jungle with Catalina and Manuel on their search for Paititi. The adventure part of the story was entirely thrilling and fun, I was with them through every step of running from jaguars and caiman, escaping blood sucking butterflies and solving temple escape rooms.

The ending was a letdown for me, I was really expecting a stronger tie-in with the first book and that was just not there. The epilogue felt like the editors said, please tie this back to book one, and it was nothing more than a post-it note to remind you that these characters had once known each other. If this story had been written as a stand alone I perhaps would have enjoyed it more but the anticipation of a big meet up of stories one and two left me wanting in the end. ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Thanks to Page Street Kids for an ARC of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.  

What’s the last sequel that just didn’t live up for you?

~ Dana

REVIEW: Legendborn

“Because broken hearts strip vocabularies down to their raw bones…”

—————————————-


Holy amazing endings, Batman! When I started this book, I’ll admit for the first third I thought it was ok YA fantasy but then it really started to pick up steam and by the last third, I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN!
In many fantasy stories we see the good and evil of magic, in the balance of power in this story we see how two cultures interpret the power they are given. The metaphor is a microcosm of those two cultures in the real world – those who acquire power and wealth and will do anything to gather more versus those who want to live in harmony, community and share the blessings given to them.

Bree is a great heroine in that she is completely devastated by her mother’s death and she is grasping for a place to belong, a purpose. When she finds it, it is everything she was hoping for and yet, as she peels back the layers what is revealed it will shatter everything she thinks she knows. But she powers through her uncertainties and that was a great journey to go on with her.
I appreciated that there was a real ending and yet lots of open threads for where the story could go without it being your typical cliffhanger. Absolutely worth a read for any fantasy lover. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


This is my favorite read of 2021 so far – what’s yours?

~ Dana