Saturday, April 23, 2016

Review: Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes

Book Description:

Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: May 3rd 2016 by HarperTeen

As Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah’s days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts — and the love of her life.

When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she’s ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It’s up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.

Part epic fantasy, part twisted fairy tale, this dazzling saga will have readers shivering as Dinahs furious nature sweeps Wonderland up in the maelstrom of her wrath.

Familiar characters such as Cheshire, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter make their appearance, enchanting readers with this new, dark take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Reviewer's Copy: ARC

Source: Harper Collins(Thank you!)

My Thoughts:

I am a lover of retellings. I delight every copy of retellings that I could get my hands on. Sometimes retellings are awkward affairs but sometimes, they are amazing masterpieces. Queen of Hearts was one of the latter. Colleen Oakes reimagined Alice in Wonderland and capitalized on its vivid color, whimsy and madness. First of all, the story world was the perfect platform for the story, featuring eerie and alarmingly terrifying trees, a sea of flowers that changes color with the breath of wind and pink snow. Second of all, the characters were greatly reimagined, retaining the core of their characteristics but bearing new personalities. The vibe of Alice in Wonderland was present in Queen of Hearts: Alice in Wonderland has always made me feel like I was stuck in a foreign planet and something bad and interesting was about to happen; this was palpable in the novel. Having said all that, I was quite happy with how Oakes envisioned and made this retelling.

Dinah was a stronger and weaker "Alice" at the same time. She was solid, plowing through everything that life threw at her. She was dark like her mother and fierce like her father. Her looks made her seem exotic and I liked that about her. Based on what I read in the book, she didn't have the natural charisma that usually went with the royal bloodline. She went to her lessons, the functions and avoided her almost-always-fuming father who didn't give her the love and attention that she craved. Dinah simply hoped to go with the flow and wait for the moment when she would be queen and to have her longtime friend, Wardley, as her husband. I found myself hurting for her. It was hard to read about her horrible relationship with her father, the King of Hearts. It was not just and it made me think of how blessed I was to have parents who cared. Although the uncaring parent was a typical element in most fantasy stories, the blow was still effective.

Dinah dipped her toes into politics and social posturing. Since she was a child, she has been exposed to the King's temper and distance. Dinah knew where she stood, what she could possibly do and the little strings she could pull to make things happen. I liked scheming girls and that was exactly what Dinah was. The only fault that she had was that although she planned and schemed, she didn't have the sharpness of mind that was needed with plotting. She lacked in foresight and finesse. This led to particularly difficult times for her.

Wardley was the handsome and loyal best friend. He was a protege of some sort, being trained by the Knave of Hearts to be the next Knave aka Commander/General. I adored how genuine he seemed. Around Dinah, he seemed to have his guard down, never hesitating to be familiar with her and to show her his true self: how his stomach was a bottomless pit and how he always seemed to find something to laugh about to make matters light. I saw him as the guy who shed light and wisdom on Dinah's mind. He gave the practical side, the complete truth, to Dinah's opinion and thoughts.

The core characters of Alice in Wonderland manifested themselves in the book, donning new personalities. The Mad Hatter was Dinah's younger brother. He was born mentally impaired and had a passion for fashion. He made exquisite hats that was all the rage. The White Rabbit was Dinah's tutor and father figure, sweet, kind and always mindful of the time. Cheshire took a turn for the worse, transforming into a cunning and dangerous man. He was the adviser to the King of Hearts. I found him to be the hardest to dissect and understand. Just like all Cheshire-type characters, he was potentially good and bad, depending on his motive and the situation. I am looking forward to his appearance in the sequel. There were also new characters such as the King of Hearts and Vittoire, the illegitimate stepsister. Both were of note and fascinating. Though I would have liked more time with them and more exposure and interaction between the members of the royal family, in order to further observe and understand the family dynamics and personalities.

Queen of Hearts was a promising retelling that delivers Alice in Wonderland coated in a unique flavor. The downsides of the book for me were the following: (1) The book was too short. I think the explanation and detail that I was waiting for would have been given if the book was extended more; (2) Plot and connection. I was looking for more action/events towards the end. I felt like the strings, that would eventually be tied together in the form of an open revelation/direct confrontation, were left dangling. Though do not let these stop you from trying the book itself. It might just be me. There is still a sequel, so I am hoping to see these things revealed there. The ups were interesting characters, beautifully built story world, the fluid storytelling and the exotic vibe of the book itself. I recommend this to fantasy readers and readers who like retellings.


3.5 Cupids = True book love.
Slightly flawed but I liked it!

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Celebrating Debutantes 2016: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum (Author Interview)

Hi everyone! It's April now, which means that Celebrating Debutantes 2016 is now over. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the authors, publicists and publishing houses for helping us with the event. Without their help, Cai and I would never be able to pull this off. Although the event itself is over, there are various giveaways that are still on-going. Click the image below for the full schedule and links to the posts!

But before you go, I want to tell you something:
1. This is just the first wave of Celebrating Debutantes 2016. In this wave, we featured January to June authors. There will be a second wave sometime around August or September. So watch out for that. ;)
2. I'm interviewing our final author for this event - Julie Buxbaum. Apologies Julie, for the late posting, I was so tired yesterday that I couldn't even get on the laptop. YA Contemporary readers, this one is for you!

Jessie and SN met online via email, for an author like you what do you think is the advantage & disadvantage of internet?
Honestly, for me as a writer, it’s a huge disadvantage but not for plot reasons. I find it to be a constant distraction! I’m totally addicted to that immediate gratification of clicking, and can often waste hours in an Internet K-hole. I’ve been using Freedom--which is an app that turns off the Internet for a set period of time, to keep me focused--but even then, I find ways to sneak a peak at Twitter on my phone. Of course, it’s super handy for research.

How's the transition from being a lawyer to a writer?
It seems weird looking back now, but I made the transition from being a lawyer to being a writer as part of a New Year’s Resolution. I always knew I wanted to write a book, and so about nine years ago, on January 1st, I quit my job and sat down to write my first novel which ultimately became The Opposite of Love. The stars ended up aligning for me, and the career jump was incredibly smooth. I can’t imagine going back now.

Does your experience as a lawyer aid you in your writing, in any way? How?
I think being trained as a lawyer has made my writing much simpler and straightforward than it would have been otherwise. Before I went to law school, I was much more indulgent with language, and definitely too flowery. Law school beats those affectations out of you.

Could you tell us a bit about your writing process? Do you have writing rituals?
These days, I work in a writer’s room that I walk to every morning after I get my kids off to school. I pour myself a glass of water and a cup of tea, and after a little while playing around on the Internet, I turn on Freedom. I usually edit the pages I’ve written the day before, and that eases me into creating a new scene and into writing again. I try very hard to treat it like a normal 9 to 5 job, though it’s never really possible. I have some of my best ideas at the worst times. When I’m busy with my kids, just as I’m drifting off to sleep, or in the shower. I’ve learned the hard way that when I have an important idea, I need to write it down immediately or it may be lost forever.

Tell us three things about your novel.
1. I poured a lot of my own experiences with grief into this book, so it might be the most personal of all my novels.
2. I once got an anonymous email that inspired Tell Me Three Things.
3. It’s a story about first loss, but it’s also a story about first love.
What's next for Julie?
I just handed in my next YA novel, which should hit stores April 2017. I’m really excited about it! Thanks so much for asking!

Thank you, Julie!

About the Author:

Julie Buxbaum is the author of the critically acclaimed The Opposite of Love and After You, and her work has been translated into twenty-five languages. Tell Me Three Things is her first young adult novel. Her writing has appeared in various publications, including The New York Times. She is a former lawyer and graduate of Harvard Law School and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two young children, and an immortal goldfish. Visit Julie online at and follow @juliebux on Twitter.

Find Julie: Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram

Book Description:

Hardcover, 336 pages
Expected publication: April 5th 2016 by Delacorte Press

What if the person you need the most is someone you’ve never met?
Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?