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?

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 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 of Renegades by Thomas Locke

A Recruits Novel

Once again Thomas Locke’s novel entertained on Thomas Lockemultiple levels. He starts right out with a kidnapping, snarling gangsters and rebellious twins at a military academy. From there you know you’re in for an entertaining action adventure. The book begins with two main plot lines in clearly delineated chapters. As with many of Locke’s books, you know they’ll converge so you read on, enjoying the plot set-ups, as you anxiously anticipate their interaction.

The story is heavily testosterone driven with the twins, Sean and Dillon, and the military dudes, Logan and Vance. Female generals’s and a female advocate keeps it modern and adds balance. Although peppered with romance, the romance is a side element to the story, more of an admittance that romance is an element of life than a predominating plot point.

Teleportation and telepathy play a primary role in the main characters. Sean can project his mental vision outward in order to “hunt” for the information he wants, and the twins can both  jump to any location they know. The military team Logan put together, from the ragtag of adepts he assembled from book one, boasts similar powers.

As the second in the Recruits series, Renegades stands on its own nicely. References to the first story provide a little background, but the story doesn’t rely on you having read the first book. Undoubtedly, the first book will prove an equally fun read. I haven’t read it, but expect to enjoy it when I have time.

Thomas Locke’s Social Commentary

As with all good sci-fi the story-line functions as a vehicles for the authors views on life and/or society. Locke writes about things as he would like them to be, in specific, how people get alone, support each other and work together. His views come out in his depiction of interpersonal relationships. Many novels emphasize conflict between characters, in particular within family. Locke depicts the twins, Dillon and Sean, as an examples of how brothers can interact with respect, understanding and support for each other’s individuality.

Military scenes are similar. Interactions among the team Logan put together show how a trusting team can work. It may not be realistic, but that doesn’t distract from the story. In fact it makes it better.

Book Review of Renegades by Thomas LockeRenegades (Recruits) by Thomas Locke
Published by Fleming H. Revell Company on November 7th 2017
Genres: Novella, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Twins Sean and Dillon are using their transit abilities for good--but not everyone sees it that way. Arrested and imprisoned by a clandestine group within the highest reaches of the Human Assembly, Sean and Dillon are forced to choose sides between those who wish to serve and those who seek to rule. At the same time within a distant outpost system, a young soldier is coming into his own. Logan has known since childhood that he possessed a special ability--a distinct form of transiting called ghost-walking. Though ghost-walking has been outlawed for centuries, Logan is secretly drawing together a crew for a risky quest. The fates of these three young men will lead them, along with the entire Assembly, to the brink of destruction in this inventive tale of adventure, honor, and the things worth fighting for.

Review of Splinters by Fiona J. R. Titchenell & Matt Carter

The Prospero Chronicles #1

Fion Titchenell and Matt Carter co-author the Prospero Chronicles. In book one Ben goes to a funeral of an old friend where he becomes an by Fiona Titchenell and Matt Carterunintentional participant in an alien species’ quest to take over the world.

We follow the story from both Ben and Mina’s perspective in 1st person. Each chapter clearly delineates the perspective, so there is not confusion.

The story is often told with tongue-in-cheek humor. In many ways this horror story is wrapped in humor, the young fresh carefree humor of youth.

Fiona Titchenell and Matt Carter Collaboration

Spliters is one of a series of three in the collaboration of Fiona J. R. Titchenell and Matt Carter. An interview on Smashwords with Titchenell describes the process they use to work together.

“When Matt and I are working on a project together, we construct the outline together and then mostly alternate the chapters between us, so we’ll be writing a pair of chapters concurrently, then we’ll trade them, make notes to each other, adjust accordingly, and continue on to the next pair… It usually takes us about four drafts to get a manuscript ready for an outside editor. Draft two fixes major continuity errors and adds in any parts we wanted to include but forgot in draft one. Draft three cuts the fat and smooths emotional continuity, and Draft four is usually down to fine-tuning.”

Bravo for their process and the results of their co-creating.

Chapter 1 Analysis

Many first chapters set up the challenge of the protagonist and give a good sense of the setting.  Splinters provides a solid setting, while it oozes with clues. Some clues may mislead the reader until they dive further into the book. The first chapter end leaves readers with a pile of questions to peak their interest…

An abundant use of commas pepper a multitude of run-on sentences. The commas can be distracting. Short sentences periodically break the run-on sentences up and help create much needed white space, but a cleaner punctuation style might work better.

Review of Splinters by Fiona J. R. Titchenell & Matt CarterSplinters by Fiona J.R. Titchenell, Matt Carter
Series: The Prospero Chronicles #1
Published by Createspace on June 6th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 304

Under normal circumstances, Ben and Mina would never have had reason to speak to each other. He’s an easy-going people person with a healthy skepticism about the paranormal; she’s a dangerously obsessive monster-hunter with a crippling fear of betrayal. But the small Northern California town of Prospero, with its rich history of cryptid sightings, miracles, and mysterious disappearances, has no normal circumstances to offer.

When Ben’s missing childhood friend, Haley Perkins, stumbles out of Prospero’s surrounding woods and right into her own funeral, Ben and Mina are forced to work together to uncover what happened to her. Different as they are, their unlikely friendship may be the only thing that can save the town, and possibly the world, from its insidious invaders.

“A snapping, crackling, popping homage to classic horror.” —Kirkus Reviews.

“Whip-smart dialogue... genuinely terrifying Splinters, the descriptions of which will have fans of monster films utterly enthralled... A promising series opener, this will satisfy those readers who like their scary stories to be as clever as they are chilling." —KQG, the Bulletin of The Center for Children's Books.

“The stakes are high. The action is intense." —Washington Independent Review of Books.

Book Review, The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson

Jaleigh Johnson  gives us an adventurous heroine and a by Jaleigh Johnsonprince who befriends her in this steampunk adventure. Lina, an archivist’s apprentice has a penchant for getting into trouble. Small, agile and inquisitive she wanders the archivist’s underground city where she stumbles upon lost treasures, information and a prince-in-hiding.

Johnson provides a wonderful setting amidst a culture of archivists who study artifacts of unknown origin and puts them in museums. I particularly like the prince’s tour of the archivist’s museum. A magical cat who causes a conveniently-timed fire and a sentient ship named Merlin also provide intriguing twists.

The plot, although thinly veiled beneath Lina’s antics, revolves around a prince deprived of his rightful place in the palace. Simon, a a fellow apprentice, provides Lina clues to the prince’s predicament. Simon’s grudge against her gives him plenty of motive, while his role as lead apprentice gives him the opportunity to spy–or worse. Who is behind the attempted assassinations of the prince remains a mystery until the end.

Jaleigh Johnson writes for Young Teens

Straight-forward language, appropriate for young teens walks readers through each step of action. Johnson covers some details in action sequences too much for my taste. The descriptions can drag scenes, but for those who need or like them they are there.

Point-of-view (POV) plays back and forth between Lina and the prince’s perspectives, sometimes with no chapter delineation. Johnson foregoes the customary chapter change for POV when action within a scene dictates. Sometimes the very next paragraph is from a different point of view. The first time stopped me reader, but I didn’t lose track of the characters and was good-to-go onward.

The power of love appears a prime motivator for Johnson’s characters, including Merlin, the  sentient ship, who remained parted from those of his kind for centuries within the archivists’ mountain.

Book Review, The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh JohnsonThe Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson
Series: World of Solace
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on March 8th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Young Adult
Pages: 384

From Jaleigh Johnson, the acclaimed author of The Mark of the Dragonfly, comes another thrilling adventure in the magical world of Solace.    Lina Winterbock lives in the mountain strongholds of Solace. She’s an apprentice to the archivists, the wise men and women whose lives are dedicated to cataloging, studying, and preserving the objects that mysteriously fall from the sky in the scrap towns.    Lina should be spending her days with books, but the Iron War has changed everything. The strongholds are now a refuge, and the people Lina once counted on no longer have time for her, so she spends her days exploring the hidden tunnels and passages of her home. The strongholds are vast and old, with twisting paths, forgotten rooms, and collapsed chambers, some of them containing objects that have been lost and forgotten even by the archivists.    And in one of the forgotten chambers, Lina discovers a secret.    Hidden deep in a cavern is a half-buried airship like nothing she has ever seen before. She’s determined to dig it out and restore it. But Lina needs help, and she doesn’t know anyone she can trust with her secret.    Then she meets Ozben, a mysterious boy who has a secret of his own—a secret that’s so dangerous it could change the course of the Iron War and the world of Solace forever.