Book Love

Book review: Court of Swans by Melanie Dickerson

Court of Swans by Melanie Dickerson is a reimagining of the Wild Swans tale and the first book in a new series of fairytale retellings set in medieval England. It was my choice for a young adult book for the April installment of the Read Something New in 2021 Book Challenge.

Back cover copy: Delia lives a quiet life as the daughter of an earl in late 14th century England, but that peace is shattered when her seven brothers are betrayed and falsely arrested. Meanwhile, with the Peasants’ Revolt threatening the peace of the kingdom, the king is executing anyone who had anything to do with the uprising. Delia is terrified her brothers will be next, the youngest of whom is only ten years old.

Delia infiltrates the palace as a seamstress so she can be near her brothers in the Tower of London and help them escape. When she runs into Sir Geoffrey, the guard captain who arrested her brothers, she hates him — until she discovers he has been secretly carrying food to her brothers in their prison cell.

Trapped into obeying the orders of his king, Sir Geoffrey is the oldest son of a duke whose estate has been seized by the king and his treacherous advisers. His first mission as captain was to arrest seven brothers for treason, but he had no idea that the brothers were so young or that their sister would be so feisty and beautiful.

In a court where everyone is eager to backstab anyone else to get what they want, how will Geoffrey right this wrong and help Delia and her brothers — especially when Delia hates him? And how will he keep them both from losing their heads to this execution-prone king?

My review: Most of the time when I read a book that’s based around a fairytale, I’m familiar with the original story so have an inkling of how some parts of the book will play out. That wasn’t the case with Court of Swans since I’m not familiar with the tale of the Wild Swans. I enjoyed that while reading because it meant I wasn’t sure what to expect (other than the usual happily ever after ending that’s always part of Dickerson’s books).

Delia and Geoffrey are sweet characters, though a bit shallow for my tastes. Delia is definitely an innocent, which is probably accurate for many young women her age at that time. But even with her innocence, I would have liked to get deeper into her mind and emotions.

Two threads ran throughout the book: Delia’s grappling with the question of why bad things happen to good people and her learning to trust that God was in control of every situation. Those are real world issues that we all face, which is why I would have liked them explored more.

Delia’s love for her brothers and absolute loyalty to them define much of who she is. She is willing to do anything within her power to help prove their innocence and free them from prison. She does make some mistakes along the way, especially because her personal tendencies to take everyone at their word make her an easy target for less-than-honest people.

There are things we can learn from that as readers, questions we can ask ourselves: How far am I willing to go for the people I love? Do I stand by them no matter what? But, at the same time, does my desire to help blind me to things that seem like obvious warning flags to others? Do I pray for — and wait for — God’s guidance or do I plow ahead on my own?

Bottom line: Although the characters and plot didn’t have the complexity I usually look for in a book, Court of Swans was a nice, lighter read.

Who should read it: Dickerson has a lot of adults in her reader fan base, but most of her books are marketed as young adult. Court of Swans fits that bill: the age of the main characters and the sweet romance make it a good choice for anyone but especially teens.

Next up: In May, the challenge is to reread something you enjoyed in middle or high school. I’m going with a classic: Where the Red Fern Grows. What are you reading right now?


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Book Love

Three great YA books for giving (or reading yourself)

YA books have come a long way in the last 10 or so years. Yes, you’ll find some cheesy or cookie-cutter stories that don’t seem connected with today’s world (those still surface in every genre). But the young adult book market has become really competitive – which means higher expectations from publishers and better books for us as readers.

The YA titles on today’s shelves cover any genre you might want. And although a glance at their covers in the local bookstore might make it seem like they all tie in with dark topics, there are plenty that can entertain and challenge you without being something you would have hidden from your mom when you were 15.

Here are three I’ve read lately that are clean reads for teens – or anyone else – who want a great story that pulls you in and keeps you guessing on every page.

Book cover of Nine by Rachelle DekkerNine by Rachelle Dekker

Back cover copy: Some secrets can’t stay hidden. Zoe Johnson has spent most of her life living in the shadows, never drawing attention to herself, never investing in people or places. But when a wide-eyed, bedraggled teenager with no memory walks into the diner where Zoe works, everything changes.

Against her better judgment, Zoe, who has been trying to outrun her own painful memories of the past, finds herself attempting to help a girl who doesn’t seem to have any past at all. With little warning, they must follow the only sure thing they know: a woman hundreds of miles away will either save them … or be the last person to see them alive.

This book grabbed me within the first few pages, when the mother figure in Lucy’s life helps her escape from people who have been controlling her from birth. She sends Lucy to find another woman who can help; Lucy meets Zoe along the way and they both know nothing will be the same. The people who have controlled Lucy are hot on her trail and determined to do whatever it takes to keep her from exposing their work. Lucy and Zoe don’t even know each other, but still realize they can trust each other more than anyone else.

Everything about the story is believable and kept me guessing until the end. Even though I expected twists along the way, the story surprised me several times. And kept me up reading way past my bedtime more than one night.

I already have two more of her books on my to-be-read stack, if that tells you anything about how much I enjoyed Nine.

Book coer of Dust by Kara SwansonDust by Kara Swanson

Back cover copy: The truth about Neverland is far more dangerous than a fairy tale. Claire Kenton believes the world is too dark for magic to be real — since her twin brother was stolen away as a child. Now Claire’s desperate search points to London … and a boy who shouldn’t exist.

Peter Pan is having a beastly time getting back to Neverland. Grounded in London and hunted by his own Lost Boys, Peter searches for the last hope of restoring his crumbling island: a lass with magic in her veins.

The girl who fears her own destiny is on a collision course with the boy who never wanted to grow up. The truth behind this fairy tale is about to unravel everything Claire thought she knew about Peter Pan — and herself.

I’ve read quite a few fairytale retellings over the years and must say it’s hard to keep them from being predictable. Dust is different because it isn’t a new take on the all-too-familiar story of Peter Pan. Instead, it’s a modern-day tale of Peter doing whatever he can to get back to Neverland – and he’s not always the sunny, charming Peter you might expect. The book is written from both Claire’s and Peter’s points of view, so it’s fun to get inside both their heads.

Having a cover this gorgeous sets a high bar for the story – you don’t want to open something that striking and read junk! Fortunately, Dust definitely met the mark for me and I’ll be reading the sequel, Shadow, when it’s published in July 2021.

Book cover of Thirst by Jill WilliamsonThirst by Jill Williamson

Back cover copy: A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Seventeen-year-old Eli McShane and his friends flee the chaos and violence in Phoenix and journey north toward the rumored location of a safe water source. They add several to their number, including a mysterious girl named Hannah, who, unknown to Eli, is being hunted by a dangerous man. Desperation brings out the worst in many of the travelers, infecting even those closest to Eli. When division comes, will he be able to hold his group together or will each fall victim to their own thirst for survival?

I read a couple other books by Jill Williamson several years ago but missed this one when it came out in 2019. I’m glad I came across it a few weeks ago. It’s a good story with believable teenage characters and good lessons about friendship, leadership and growing in your faith. Not in a preachy way, but woven naturally into the story so that the points are made if you take time to stop and think.

Some people might not want to read Thirst right now since it centers on a pandemic, but that didn’t bother me. The follow-up book Hunger will be published next year and I’ll definitely want to read it to learn what happens to Eli and his friends.

 

There are lots of other great YA books I’ve enjoyed and recommend, but they’ll have to wait for another post. Nine, Dust and Thirst are from different categories of YA fiction, but trust me when I say any middle- or high school reader would probably like all three. And any adult, too – because even though they’re labeled as YA fiction, they’re so well written that they prove YA often is not just for kids anymore.

Book Love

What’s On Your Reading Pile?

I’ve been a reader all my life, and always have a stack of books waiting to be my next literary get-away — plus plenty on my haven’t-bought-yet list. I’ll admit it makes me a little crazy and a little sad when I hear people say they don’t like to read. Don’t they know how much they’re missing?!

That’s why I love this quote from J.K. Rowling that I saw online this weekend:

JK Rowling quote
Source: BuzzFeed UK; http://bit.ly/1WZBESB

My sentiments exactly! Whether it’s suspense, romance, sci-fi, dystopian, Western, mystery, historical, or something completely different from the non-fiction part of the world — everyone can find something they enjoy reading if they take time to dig a bit. I’ve said it to plenty of my kids’ friends in the past few years.

TBR pile
What are you reading next?

Me, I’m always looking for another “right” book. Here’s what’s left of my to-read pile at the moment. Since there are only six (two of which I’m partway through), I obviously need to get moving on my haven’t-bought-yet list!

Your turn: I’d love to know what you’re reading or what you want to buy next. Share in the comments and we’ll all have some good books to explore.

Book Love

Book Review: The Healer’s Apprentice

The Healer’s Apprentice, by Melanie Dickerson

Rose is a woodcutter’s daughter in 14th century Germany. Social classes have distinct divisions and expectations, but Rose has been pulled from the lowly life she experienced as a child. She’s been appointed as the apprentice to the town healer, Frau Geruscha, which means she lives on the castle grounds with a hands-on education. She struggles to conquer her uneasiness around blood and to focus on learning the healing arts instead of letting her mind wander to thoughts of Lord Hamlin, the future duke. But her mind and heart refuse to follow her orders. Every encounter with Lord Hamlin increases her respect and affection.

Rose and her friend Hildy dare to dream that Lord Hamlin might return some of Rose’s feelings. But he’s betrothed to the mysterious daughter of another duke, and has been in hiding for years. She can’t come forward to marry Lord Hamlin until he finds and destroys the evil sorcerer who cursed her.

The Healer’s Apprentice is what’s called a fairy tale retelling, because it’s loosely based on the story of Sleeping Beauty. But Dickerson weaves in enough other elements and supporting characters to keep things interesting instead of by-the-book predictable. Yes, some readers might connect the pieces before they all come together in the story, but that shouldn’t spoil the fun. The Healer’s Apprentice was a fun read for me, and I’ve heard that teenage girls especially loved it.

Look for it in your local bookstore or download the ebook version online. Then visit Melanie Dickerson’s website to learn about her other projects, including her next book The Merchant’s Daughter. It’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast and will be available in November. I’m looking forward to reading it, too!