Saturday, November 16, 2019

New Adult Review of Twinkle, Twinkle (The Sand Maiden #4) by L.R.W. Lee

48404107. sy475 Twinkle, Twinkle (The Sand Maiden Book Four) by LRW Lee
Format: E ARC
Publisher: Woodgate Publishing
Number of Pages: 329
Published: November 15th, 2019
Source: Author in exchange for an honest review
Opening Lines:  "I tried desperately to beat back the dread that longed to overwhelm me as I followed the Empress Rasa." 
Princess Alissandra and Prince Kovis are now in the capital city of Veritas within Wake, far from Ali's father.  For the moment they're safe and planning their next move.  The empire's leaders are about to arrive at the palace and Ali and the royal family are on edge.  The council is unhappy with Empress Rasa's decision to end the biannual 89 competition and for their part, the delegates feel as tho the warriors aren't being valued as they should be.  At the same time, King Ambien continues to manipulate Kennan, placing all of Wake in danger.  He's been amassing an army of creatures that he's plucked from people's nightmares and it seems the King's desire to control all of Wake is becoming closer to reality.  Meanwhile, Ali is searching for answers and is more determined than ever to not let her father succeed. 

Twinkle, Twinkle is the final installment in the Sand Maiden series and truthfully I'm a bit sad, not for the ending mind you, just that the series has come to an end.  From the very first book in the series, I've so enjoyed spending time in the realms of Dream and Wake.  Each has a rather unique magical system and the characters are so lovely.  On Wake, the people wield fire, ice, terra, and metal, while on Dream there are sand people.   I do so love the premise of sand people lulling their charges to sleep, weaving their dreams and watching over them to ensure they don't experience nightmares.  I also adore the two main characters, Alissandra (Ali) and Prince Kovis who over the course of the series have developed such a special bond, one filled with lovely moments of bantering and a closeness that is playful, and romantic.  They make a wonderful couple.  

I so enjoyed this final installment in the series, the way that the story has been building toward a final confrontation between Ali and her father, King Ambien.  A battle that we've seen coming since the moment that Ali left Dream, defying her father to protect Korvis.  We always knew that he wouldn't take her defiance well, but the lengths that he goes to are even more sinister and evil then I initially imagined.   I truly worried about their safety when they separated to divide and conquer during Ambien's final attack.   Kovis battling for the empire, while Ali went up against her father in Dream.   Concerning, to say the least.   I've always disliked Ambien and my initial feelings didn't change much.  If anything I came to dislike him more and so there was a huge part of me that was happy that he gets what is coming to him.  He's such a manipulative person that messes with everyone's heads and I hated the way that he deceives his own children.  How he's made Ali feel to blame for what happened to her sister Velma and caused her self loathing and a multitude of emotions for his own evil deeds.  

And poor Kennan, the mental hold that Ambien had over him, causing him to act in ways that were so hurtful to everyone around him.  Plus the emotional trauma that Ali, Kovis and their siblings endured under both of their father's hands was just heartbreaking.  But what nearly gutted me was the death of a certain beloved character, which was so very sad.   Ali had just begun to develop a closeness with this character.  She'd brought down her barriers and they'd become friends.  Ali exposed a vulnerable side to a character that was usually composed and was helping this character to heal.    It's a loss that I'm still thinking about even after having finished the book.  I guess tho it's just a testament to Lee's writing, she's made me come to love these characters.  Like I said before, I'm sad that this is the last book in the series but I'm sure Lee has plans to continue writing more books in the future and I'm eager to see what she comes up with next.          

* I received an E-ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review **

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

MG Realistic Fiction review of Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson

40500411. sy475 Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson
Format:  E ARC
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
Number of Pages:  240
Publishing:  December 3rd,  2019
Source:  Netgalley

Opening Line:  "Whoever's behind me is coming fast." 

Are you ready for a fast-paced action story? Do you have a craving for adventure?  What about a compelling story of a girl musher competing in the Great Superior Mail Run, a race that follows the route used by dogsledder mail couriers from the late 1800s?  

I was instantly captured by the cover and ended up reading Dog Driven in one sitting.  I know hardly anything about dogsledding, other than what I've previously learned from reading Johnson's Ice Dogs and Sled Dog School.  But her stories are always an exciting read.  They so perfectly capture the atmosphere of winter, the coldness of the snow.  The thrilling feeling of leading a team of dogs in a race across the Canadian wilderness and all the hardships that a race like that entails.  

Dog mushing runs in McKenna's family, her mother used to race dogs, but now that her younger sister Emma has been diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a form of macular degeneration which leads to a progressive loss of vision, Emma's condition has become the central concern of her family.  Then a new dog sled race in Ontario is announced, The Great Superior Mail Run.  Emma is really excited about the race, she really wants McKenna to compete and carry an important message in her mailbag to help improve the awareness of Stargardt disease.  McKenna, however, is really worried.  She has a secret about her own vision that she's been hiding from her friends and family.  Competing in the race is dangerous.  But how can she turn down her kind sweet younger sister? Despite all of the initial excuses she tries to give to Emma about why she can't do it, ultimately she agrees.  Before moving forward with the race, McKenna does confide in her sister about her symptoms, and they make a pact to keep her deteriorating vision from her parents until after the race.  Neither wants their parents to question why she isn't racing or to make them worry.  Will McKenna be able to make the dangerous 200 plus miles across unfamiliar terrain?  And can she lead her dogs across safely?

 McKenna's vision has been deteriorating.  Does she have Stargardt disease like her sister?  So far no one has suspected she has any difficulties.  McKenna is really good at pretending that everything is okay, while silently she fears being found out.  Doing all of this pretending has led her to be isolated from her friends, but she still can participate in her favorite pastime, mushing.  Since Emma was diagnosed with the disease, McKenna has seen how her parents reacted to the news.  Her mother became overly anxious about Emma's diagnosis and both of her parents have been arguing about how to manage things at home.  McKenna doesn't want to add to their burden, and she really doesn't want to give up mushing.  At the same time, McKenna seems to understand that she might be putting her team of dogs at risk if she races.  

 Johnson wonderfully balances the adventuring with the interspersing of information on how McKenna's visual difficulties have been affecting her at school, with her friends and in her day to day life. There are even explanations about how the diagnosis is made and real-life classroom situations that highlight the adaptive vision-enhancing equipment that can be used.    McKenna experiences her share of hardships, worries, and concerns during the race.  Early on she losses her protective eyeglasses and has a startling encounter with an owl losing her mailbag.  Yet, McKenna also takes on each of these challenges with a positive outlook and is determined to persevere and to overcome them.  During the race, McKenna does receive help from two of the other competitors and I so enjoyed the playful competitiveness that she shares with fellow musher Guy.  Although they all are in a race it's nice to see them sharing gear and helping each other out.  Most of all I loved McKenna's ingenuity and the strategy she devises to get her through the last leg of the race.   Dog Driven was an absolutely riveting story.  It makes for a wonderful wintery time read with lots of action, adventure and I highly recommend it.  

Favorite line from the E-ARC:  "I heard once that a dog's nose reveals another world beyond what humans can see."

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

MG Fantasy review of Prince Dustin and Clara: Secrets of the Black Forest by Daniel Lee Nicholson

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Prince Dustin and Clara: Secrets of the Black Forest by Daniel Lee Nicholson 
Format:  Paperback
Publisher:  Fossil Mountain Publishing
Number of Pages:  247
Published:  August 29th,  2019
Source:  Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  

Opening Line: "On a splendid spring day many, many years ago, the remaining snow on the mountain tops finally melted."
Secrets of the Black Forest takes place several months after the events in the first book.  The winter snow has now given way to spring.   Prince Dustin and Princess Sugar Plum have been searching for their parents, who vanished some time ago.  Despite an exhaustive search within the Black Forest, they've come up empty-handed.  Prince Dustin is now due to be crowned as the King of Konfetenburg and just as the coronation is about to begin,  Princess Sugar Plum goes missing.  King Egon, the Mouse King, has kidnapped the princess and is threatening to harm her unless Prince Dustin brings Clara to Niedertrachtig Castle within three days.  To save princess Sugar Plum, Clara and Prince Dustin must venture into the deepest darkest parts of the Black Forest.  A trip that is sure to be filled with many perils and one that will test the adventurer's bravery and courage.

According to its website, Fossil Mountain Publishing has a mission to publish books that include both the performing and fine arts.   Each story is divided into acts, with the inspiration for the first book in the series being The Nutcracker.  Book one, Deep in the Black Forest, according to the notes at the end of the book is a retelling of the Nutcracker fairy tale with a re-imagining of the snow scene.  I do so enjoy the Nutcracker and even though I haven't been to the ballet for quite some time, I do love to listen to the music each year.  I would've probably enjoyed reading the first book but it isn't really necessary to have read it first to follow the current storyline.   Book two, Secrets of the Black Forest includes many of the same characters from the ballet such as Clara, Herr Drosselmeyer, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the Mouse King, it has the feel of a quest or an adventure.  The interior artwork by Luke Ahearn is gorgeous, it's framed and captioned in such a way as to give the appearance that it could be a piece of art hanging in a gallery.  

Secrets of the Black Forest makes me feel nostalgic for my time having lived in Germany.  It's always a treat to find a book that includes German words and names with fantasy elements from the Nutcracker.   I also quite enjoyed reading the many descriptive passages by Nicholson.  For example this one: 

"The sun glowed in soft shades of amber.  Clara was making her bed and fluffing the over-stuffed pillows.  Her bedroom was decorated in ballet pink with white lace accents on the bed skirt and curtains.  A warm breeze from the open window gently blew the curtains in rhythm.  The smell of primroses scented the air." 

It's lovely how the words that an author uses in their passages can conjure up a scene or setting.    Secrets of the Black Forest can definitely be read as a standalone, and if you really enjoy the Nutcracker Ballet I'd encourage you to read the first book, Deep in the Black Forest as well.  Nicholson appears to bring his past experiences performing as solider in the Nutcracker into the storyline and I imagine the first book wonderfully details the snow scene from the ballet.  

The prologue of Secrets of the Black Forest alludes toward something bad or ominous about to happen.  Herr Drosselmeyer and Queen Nordika, the Snow Queen are concerned with visions of upcoming danger.  In the beginning chapters, The Mouse King, Egon has kidnapped the Sugar Plum Fairy and a valiant rescue team was assembled.  Following their departure, the action begins to take off.  I really like that Nicholson set the story in the Black Forest of Germany.  I'm picturing densely wooded areas, mountain ranges and the site of many of Grimm's fairytales.    As Prince Dustin and Clara make their way through the Black Forest, they encounter many magical creatures.  Some kind of silly, like the Knuddeligs , a baby bear-like creature who seems to want to snuggle.  And others that are helpful like the Schmetterling or butterflies.   Yet, the Black Forest maintains its image as a dark place, a place that is best not to venture into.  When the group encounters the Lovely Ladies of Tanzer Lake Island, I never thought they would be able to escape.  So definitely a story filled with action and adventuring.  I'm curious if there are plans for another story in the series and hope to read the first book in the future.