Review of The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler

First in the Kingfountain Series

The Queen’s Poisoner is one of those books that doesn’t fit a specific age range. While written in the style and level of a YA novel, the main protagonist is only eight years old and adults play the focus to the primary plot-line and most subplots.

A boy goes to court as a hostage to insure his parent’s loyalty to a cruel king. The parents have already failed the King’s tests of loyalty, however, which places the boy at risk of being killed. Old Queen's Poisonerpalace alliances come together–some in efforts to save the child, while others hope to get rid of him. The previous Queen’s Poisoner appears as the boys best hope for survival. With magical powers imparted to her from the Fountain, she plots to trick the king into pledging his allegiance to the child, instead of killing him. The obstacles are many, while the boy’s life remains in the balance.

Although the king holds Owen’s life in his hands, Owen realizes that he is not entirely bad. The king appears selfish and cruel to most people, however, Owen begins to understand that loneliness and issues of trust can impact even the greatest of kings.

Owen develops allies in the Queen’s Poisoner and the king’s spy. An unexpected friendship with another child, Elyzabeth Victoria Mortimer also comes into play. The antics of the two children add comic relief throughout the story. Hurrah for the humane humor Wheeler incorporates. Always welcome in a story.

The Queen’s Poisoner Leaves You Wanting More

By the end of the book we wonder how Owen will use the magical powers he develops in future escapades with Elyzabeth Victoria Mortimer. If you enjoy this story, as I did, you won’t be disappointed that Wheeler followed up with five additional books in the series.

Why do I like this book better than many YA stories of palace intrigue? Wheeler includes enough conflicting motives and plot twists to keep the reader guessing, some funny, some intriguing. I also liked that action, intrigue and complex character motivations didn’t overpower underlying philosophical themes.

Wheeler’s Religious Bent Adds Depth

It was not surprising to find that Jeff Wheeler claims that his religion  and membership in LDS  (Latter-day Saints) are his highest priority. Although Wheeler doesn’t preach his religion, the values he brings from his believes provide depth to the palace intrigue of his stories.

He incorporates an understanding of basic life issues and includes many life lessons in the The Queen’s Poisoner. Love of family and loyalty serves as the thread that holds Owen together. That and the friendship he forges.

Wheeler challenges Owen with lessons in loneliness, his own, as well as the king’s. And through Owen we learn the value of keeping secrets and that we can’t believe everything we hear, especially about other people.

Chapter 1 Analysis

The first chapter of The Queen’s Poisoner introduces Lady Eleanor, and Owen, her youngest child. Lord Kiskaddon soon arrives, anxious because he has betrayed the king in a pivotal battle in which their eldest son died. Now, another child must go to the king as hostage for Lord Kiskaddon’s loyalty.

The chapter ends with a plethora of questions. The primary question however being which of Lady Eleanor’s children will be sent as the hostage.

Chapter 1 presents Lady Eleanor’s point-of-view (POV). Her perspective clearly establishes the bond between her and her son, Owen. Her POV in this chapter however breaks continuity with the rest of the book in which we read from Owen’s POV.

There’s lots of telling rather than showing in the novel, but plenty of amusing action in scenes keep the pace flowing. Long paragraphs often define details of the world and one line paragraphs interspersed periodically provide needed visual and literary relief.

Excerpts by Dominic, a spy in the court, opens most chapters, including the first. The journal entries are written in first person as a diary from the 10,000 foot level. By putting these snippets at the beginning of chapters readers acquire knowledge unavailable to Owen.

Review of The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff WheelerThe Queen's Poisoner (Kingfountain, #1) by Jeff Wheeler
Series: The Kingfountain series #1
Published by 47North on April 1st 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Religious, Young Adult
Pages: 334

King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.

Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth—through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.

Review of The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Book Review by Redd Becker

Although I’m not a fan of horror, I took the opportunity to dive into Rick Yancey’s novel, because it received the Printz Honor Book award. The gruesome is definitely forefront. Each chapter contains monsters by Rick Yanceyand blood and gore and horror. The story is so well written, however, that I understood the American Library Associations choice.

Written in first person, as a sort of diary by Will Henry, we learn about an underground world we only imagine in nightmares. From chapter one, when Will and his mentor receive the bodies of a dead girl and a headless monster who has half eaten her, the story does not let up. The monstrumologist, Dr. Warthrop, sets to work dissecting the dead bodies. The looming issue, however, remains How many  more monsters remain? The unlikely pair contact help and make plans to search out the rest of the clan of Anthropophagus monsters.

There are few monstrumologists and few of them are equipped to help in the pursuit. As a new species to the country that immigrated to New England, they quickly adapt to their circumstances and threaten to eat the entire village. Will Henry and the doctor are on a quest to exterminate the pod of Anthropophagus before the species feed on the entire village and continue to spread.

If you’re squeamish about blood and gore, Rick Yancey’s book isn’t for you, because gore predominates in every chapter.  Written with personality and quick-clipped voicings, the reader stays engaged with the twelve years old protagonist. Will is young for what he’s doing, but reality isn’t a concern as we go with the story anyway.

Rick Yancey Receives Printz Honor

Yancey writes with finesse. Undoubtedly that’s why the American Library Association granted him the Michael Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. The story wouldn’t convince me to read more horror, but I enjoyed Yancey’s interpretation. For those who enjoy horror, I’m sure it would hit the mark.

The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. It is named for a Topeka, Kansas school librarian who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association. For more award winners check out the lists on their web site.

Review of The Monstrumologist by Rick YanceyThe Monstrumologist (The Monstrumologist, #1) by Rick Yancey
Series: The Monstrumologist #1
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on July 20th 2010
Genres: Alternate History, Horror, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 434

These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me.

So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.

A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?

Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill

by Kelly Barnhill

Kelly Barnhill reminds us that updated fairy tales still have a place in Kelly Barnhillyoung adult literature.  She incorporates a plethora of iconic images and arctypes in forming the story. Stars, the moon, a  dragon, a tower prison, a witch in the forest who eats children, orphans, nuns, a mad women and helpless babies. Even a cloud of doom covering the village harkens back to fairytale imagery. A slight tweek to the iconography was a delightful dragon that didn’t grow up.

As with any good fairy tale or fable sprinkled within the story are words of wisdom such as forgiveness, fear of what others tell you, overprotecting those we love and the power of hope.  “It’s awfull to be cut off from your own memories.” “The answer is too easy, my friend. Look deeper.” I found Barhill’s messages about orphans and adoption, however, somewhat idealized.

Barhill sets the story between a village covered in the cloud of doom around a large bog and a forest. Her travels walking in Costa Rica influenced her choice of location and descriptions.

Kelly Barnhill Wins the 2017 John Newberry Medal

Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly BarnhillThe Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
on August 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Magical Realism
Pages: 388

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule -- but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her -- even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.

Audio Book Review of Gemina, The Illuminae #2

by  Amie Kaufman and  Jay Kristoff

Replete with a wormhole, invading forces, computer systems and Geminaspace ship environs Gemina doesn’t let down. Lots of action and fun dialogue keeps the story moving in this sci-fi adventure.

Leading female roles with wit and keen minds played against ruthless adults. Teen characters primarily drove the story and romance of some kind played out in almost every scene. Teen boy’s interested in sex at all costs dominated the banter between Hanna and her suitors. Both the bad boy drug dealer, Nik, and the seemingly straight-laced geek talked as though they wanted the same thing from the heroine.

An interesting set-up of parallel universes during the climax of the novel didn’t go far enough for my tastes. Kaufman and Kristoff left the opportunity to delve into philosophical and emotional implication largely unexplored.

Multiple Voices in Audiobook

Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) listed Gemina as one of the top ten 2017 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults.  Stating that the “full cast production that drops the listener right in the middle of the action”. This is true and I liked the variation of voices, male, female, young and old. Some of the computer voices were a bit creepy however. Still, a great direction for audiobooks to be moving.

As the audiobook industry develops I expect we’ll hear many more books done with multiple voices and sound effects added to fully enjoy the audio experience. For some this will replace reading, for others not, but it’s fun to hear actor’s interpretations of a book.

Audio Book Review of Gemina, The Illuminae #2Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2) by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff, Marie Lu
Series: The Illuminae #2
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Adventure
Pages: 659

The highly anticipated sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller that critics are calling “out-of-this-world awesome.”

Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

Review of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Book Review by Redd Becker

Written in 1988, The Alchemist remains timeless.The Alchemist Coelho wrote it in a traditional story telling style which fits the format of ageless stories created to teach life lessons. Through “the boy’s” journey from shepherd to crystal merchant in Tangier across the African desert to an oasis and beyond to the Egyptian pyramids he learns. We learn with him. We learn about life’s lessons through his actions and the poignant words of those he meets. The importance of listening to your ‘self’ and looking for good omens runs a thread through the story. As does the importance of realizing one’s own “Personal Legend” or your path and purpose of life.

While drilling philosophical messages home, The Alchemist entertains. Coelho brings eclectic characters to life in exotic locations that take us out of ourselves.

Worldwide appeal in Paulo Coelho

Born in Brazil soon after World War II, Coelho grew up in a Catholic family. His 500 mile pilgrimage in Spain gave him experiences and insights that fed his stories. As one of the most important international writers of our times, Coelho writes for everyone interested in stories that impart meaning.

Review of The Alchemist by Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Alan R. Clarke
Published by HarperCollins on May 1st 1993
Pages: 197

Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.

Review of Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith

from Towers Trilogy

Radiant tells a coming-of-age story set in a dystopian world where magic is the Radiantcurrency of power. The heroine’s apparent power, seeing ghosts, gets her more trouble than any food or shelter she could trade for its use. She is shunned by most, even residents of the lower city. This makes her more than just a lonely orphan. She’s desperate. Her deep longing for companionship leads her to defending a ghost who’s powers have lasted beyond death. The ghost’s future may be as a zombie in another person’s body, if Xhea doesn’t help. A powerful high tower in the upper city wants the ghosts magic to run their complex. Xhea willing puts her life on the line for the ghost, Shai. As they work together Shai teaches Xhea how to unlock her power. Dark magic flows through Xhea. Not the type of magic the towers want for good, and not a power Xhea wants used for bad.

Chapter 1 Analysis of Radiant

For those interested in writing: A well turned phrase is a wonderful talent and Karina Sumner-Smith uses plenty of them. Although not flashy, they imbue the narration with her unique style.

Review of Radiant by Karina Sumner-SmithRadiant (Towers Trilogy, #1) by Karina Sumner-Smith
Series: Towers Trilogy #1
Published by Talos on September 30th 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400

Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

With two extremely strong female protagonists, Radiant is a story of fighting for what you believe in and finding strength that you never thought you had.

Book Review: All Systems Red, The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells

A fast paced intriguing novella by Martha Wells takes us into the from the Murderbot Diarieshead of a android, who finds his way free of the Company’s command. When the Company assigned the droid to a human survey team as insurance, Murderbot, as he calls himself, turns off his command module. Acting as a free agent he plans to fulfill his mission, regardless of the danger.

Wells addresses issues of ‘cyber sentience’, ‘droid rights’, and ‘droid consciousness’ in her Murderbot Diaries series. Although an admitted killer, the robot has a sense of rightness, preferences and its commitments are clear.  His personality roughly exhibits aspects of what some may attribute to Asperger’s.


Martha Wells brings her robot to life for readers. It becomes yet another one of her unique characters to root for.

Book Review: All Systems Red, The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha WellsAll Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1) by Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
Published by on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Novella, Science Fiction
Pages: 144

A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that blends HBO's Westworld with Iain M. Banks' Culture books.

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it's up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.