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, Christian fiction

Book review: Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Book cover of Romanov by Nadine BrandesBack cover copy: The history books say I died. They don’t know the half of it. Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her.

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad … and he’s on the other.

My review: I read Romanov by Nadine Brandes for my historical fiction choice in the Read Something New 2021 Book Challenge. It wasn’t the book I originally planned to read for that spot but kept begging me to take it from my ever-growing to-read stack. So I finally gave in – and am glad I did.

Portions of Romanov are based on historical fact. The father, Emperor Nicholas II, was the last czar of Russia. Their family was exiled and later executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918. When the gravesite of the family was found years later, two members were missing: Anastasia and her younger brother Alexei. Rumors persisted for years that they had somehow survived the firing squad and lived out their lives in secret and/or under different identities. Their remains were not found until 2007, buried in a separate grave near the rest of the family.

Romanov adds magical aspects to historical facts to weave a fantastical but believable story. Anastasia is a beginning-level spell master who knows just enough magic to create spells that help relieve the pain and injuries that Alexei experiences because of hemophilia. She is fiercely loyal and feels tremendous responsibility to help him however she can, but the Bolsheviks are hunting down and killing spell masters (in addition to wanting the Romanov family out of their way).

But Anastasia also is a typical teenage girl in many ways – playing pranks, doing things to make her sisters or Alexei laugh, navigating the feelings associated with her first crush, and learning to remain hopeful despite grappling with frustration, anger, and forgiveness.

The characters of Romanov are multi-layered and believable, even the secondary characters and antagonists. That’s part of what kept me reading and enjoying the story.

Faith elements are also strong, despite having magic be such an important element in the story. The family prays together and talks about things related to their faith, plus topics related to living a life of faith (hope, respect, forgiveness, grace) are integral to the story.

Who should read it: Historical fiction fans should enjoy Romanov, though sticklers who might get hung up on the magical aspect might enjoy reading something like I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon more (I read that one a couple years ago and liked it). Romanov is categorized as young adult fiction, but I can see it appealing to readers from middle school to adult. It covers some fairly heavy topics related to the war and violence, but they aren’t too much for a mature middle schooler to handle (and are much less graphic than plenty of other books targeting that age group).

Your turn: Did you read a historical novel for this month’s challenge? If so, tell us which one and what you thought of it! If not, share what you did read – because there had to be something, right?

Coming next month: The February book category for our reading challenge is science fiction or fantasy. Any idea what you’ll read?

Book Love, Just for Fun

First Line Friday: The Story Peddler

Happy Friday, friends!

Welcome to First Line Friday, where book lovers across blogland share the opening line from a nearby book (since we all have books everywhere we turn).

Today I chose The Story Peddler by Lindsay A. Franklin. It’s the first book in the Weaver Trilogy and is my choice for next month’s fantasy/science fiction book in the 2021 Read Something New Challenge. I’ve not read any of her books but they keep popping up in my Instagram feed, so why not give it a try?

Book cover The Story Peddler

First line:

Colored ribbons of light poured from my fingers.

Sets the stage for all sorts of interesting things, I think. Read more at:

Lindsay A. Franklin’s website   |   Goodreads

Your turn: What’s your first line for today? Open the book nearest you and post the first line in the comments. Then hop over to Hoarding Books (the blog I’m joining in this fun) to see what they’re sharing.

Happy reading!

 

Book Love

Book Review: Out With the In Crowd

 

Out With the In Crowd by Stephanie Morrill

It’s senior year, and Skylar Hoyt should be having the time of her life. Instead, she returns to school after a Christmas break unlike any she’s ever had. Her parents are on the verge of breaking up, her younger sister Abbie is nearing the end of pregnancy but doesn’t seem worried about buying diapers or deciding on names, and Skylar’s still trying to figure out how to stay on the right track after rededicating her life to God. She’s learning that God doesn’t just want to be with her at home or at church — He even wants to be part of things she used to not care about at all, like her grades.

At least things are still good with her boyfriend Connor, even though he doesn’t always understand why Skylar is focusing so much on helping Abbie or trying to keep the peace between her parents. Or at least things are still pretty good until Skylar finds out that her former best friend Jodi — the reestablished queen of the ‘in’ crowd now that Skylar has left the partying life — is dating Skylar’s ex Eli. Then Jodi starts working her charms on Connor, nearly sending Skylar over the edge with paranoia.

Skylar doesn’t regret her decision to follow God, but she’s like anyone else who’s ever wished the walk would be a little easier. She struggles to keep her old knee-jerk reactions at bay and to figure out what God wants her to do in life. Most of all, she’s learning how to speak up at the right time and in the right way to help the people she loves.

Although Out With the In Crowd is written for teenagers, it’s a good read even for adults because the themes cross generational and social lines. Skylar and the other characters are super believable teenagers and a few surprises along the way keep the story moving. The only suggestion I would have is that you read the first book in the series, Me, Just Different, before jumping into Out With the In Crowd. Morrill does a good job including enough background to help you know what’s going on, but you’ll enjoy the story a lot more if you know all the details from book 1. Book 3 in the series, So Over It, will be out in July, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Skylar’s story.

Visit Stephanie Morrill’s website

Buy your own copy. If you enjoy good books for teens, you might also want to check out these titles from Jenny B. Jones.