‘Race the Sands’ by Sarah Beth Durst is an amazing accomplishment – her best work that uses a fantasy world to teach us about our own

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“Race the Sands” is Sarah Beth Durst’s 20th published book, and maybe her best book yet. It’s a lovely fantasy in which women prove their strength not physically, but through mental exertions. The two main characters, Tamra and Raia, each have escaped a tortured childhood in the desert kingdom of Becar. They each end up working with kehoks, monsters who are born with the souls of depraved humans who didn’t deserve to come back in a human or animal body. Once reborn as a kehok, they are destined to be reborn as kehoks forevermore. It’s eternal damnation, and kehoks are monsters.

These monsters don’t respond to love or kindness. They want to kill and maim and destroy everything because of their monstrosity. Tamra, a former elite kehok rider, is desperate to find a kehok to train and a rider to race the kehok in Becar’s national races and win. It’s the only way she will be able to continue paying her daughter’s tuition at the school for augurs. Augurs are elite citizens, and the only ones who can read your soul (aura), who can tell you what you will be in the next life. It’s all about life, death, and rebirth. And the augurs control it all in Becar, where the emperor has died and his younger brother, Dal, cannot be coronated until his brother’s soul has been located in its new vessel and protected. But the augurs cannot find Zarin, his brother, in whatever new body he was reborn into, and time is running out. The neighboring country is amassing troops to invade, and important decisions cannot be made until there is a ruler.

Raia is running from unloving parents and an unwanted engagement to a man who killed his first wife. She is determined to make her way in the world, and if she can ride a kehok and succeed, so be it. What no one expects is how the newborn kehok Tamra buys, an apparently unmanageable killer, reacts to Raia, and what happens when they begin to race together.

The trainer, Tamra, is an unusual main character. She is not beautiful, but rather scarred and determined. She is a wonderful mother, but she is far from perfect. What she does have is an inner kindness and humanity. While other kehok trainers beat and starve their animals into submission, Tamra controls them with her mind, while treating the kehoks humanely. She is so powerful she can control several kehoks using just her thoughts. Strong women in this book show the men in it that physical strength isn’t always most important.

Durst forces us to question the status quo about religion and government. She opens our eyes about the nature of power and the corrupting forces that power and money can bring. She makes readers realize that no one is better than anyone else because of their position or their title. And that those who would preserve their power at the expense of the freedom of others are monsters.

While kehoks are monsters, they are straightforward monsters. You know by looking at them that they are monsters. Human monsters are a different animal. They walk among us, look like us, and often have power over us, but under their human disguise, they are as ugly and venal as any kehok.

“Race the Sands” will grab you and not let go. While the first few chapters take a slower pace because Durst is building the background and the world of Becar, the pace picks up to the point that this becomes a book you can’t put down, a book that you will savor at the same time you are feverishly turning the pages to find out how it all ends. I actually reread it immediately, looking for and enjoying my favorite parts. The characters and their world will linger in your mind long after the last page has been turned. It’s a perfect book — powerful, thoughtful, heartbreaking, and impactful.

Review first posted at Bookreporter.com.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the author for review purposes.

‘Olympig’ by Victoria Jamieson is a fabulous picture book with an important lesson

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“Olympig!” by Victoria Jamieson is the story of Boomer the pig. It’s also a story of determination and desire. And hard work and practice. And it’s a story about reality.

Boomer is determined to win at the Animal Olympic Games. When the newsman, Mr. Hamstring, interviews Boomer, he asks, “The other animals in the Olympics will be faster and stronger than you. Tell me, Boomer, how can you possibly win a gold medal tomorrow?” Continue reading

‘A Flicker of Courage’ by Deb Caletti is a farcical fantasy for middle grade readers

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“A Flicker of Courage” by Deb Caletti is a book that will appeal to children who love extremely fantastic books — fantastic in the sense that everything that happens in this story is either the best or the worst in the world, and Henry Every, the main character, and his four friends will have to vanquish evil and do heroic deeds without being caught or killed themselves. Continue reading

‘Highfire’ is indeed a dragon; adult fantasy by Eoin Colfer

 

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Folks who worry about a personal lack of imagination need no longer be concerned; they can simply absorb and digest “Highfire” by Eoin Colfer and the gobs of creative delights he offers.

Colfer’s latest novel is a shining example of those delights. Each of the characters is hilarious and sympathetic. The hero, for example, is fifteen-year-old “Cajun-blood” kid Everett (Squib) Moreau, who is impish, sly, and funny; a bad boy and a good person. But he’s not the first character we meet. That’s Vern. He’s a dragon who loves human beings. That is, he loves to eat them. Humans, you see, have destroyed almost the entire universe of dragons. Vern seeks revenge.

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‘A Heart so Fierce and Broken’ by Brigid Kemmerer is everything YA fantasy should be

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“A Heart So Fierce and Broken” is Brigid Kemmerer’s second book, following “A Curse So Dark and Lonely,” a tale of Beauty and the Beast reimagined with lots of violence and a heartstopping ending. It was the story of Rhen, the prince cursed to turn into a beast, and Harper, the tough young girl who is determined to save Rhen and his kingdom, Emberfall. Grey is the loyal Guardsman who risks his life repeatedly to save them.

In this second story, Grey becomes the pivotal character with a new character, Lia Mara, the daughter of the cruel queen of Syhl Shallow, Karis Luran. Lia Mara is not destined to be queen; her sister is. Her sister can be cruel and harsh while Lia Mara prefers to use intellect and persuasion instead of brute strength and fear to create alliances.

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7 Picture books with surprisingly sweet messages

 

Read to children, as much as possible, and repeat. Often. The secret to raising book- loving youngsters is to read fabulous books to them from infanthood and never stop until they go to college. Or maybe high school. But even older children often love reading with parents. Here are some clever and humorous picture books that also have clever and important messages for young readers. Continue reading

‘Winterwood’ by Shea Ernshaw is a bewitching young adult fantasy

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“Winterwood” by Shea Ernshaw is about witches. Specifically it’s about Nora — daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and more — descended from a long line of witches who live and practice their magic along the shore of Jackjaw Lake and in the shadow of the forest outside the town of Fir Haven.

The Walker women came out of the forest back in the days when Fir Haven was a small gold mining town, and ever since, they have lived in a log cabin between the summer cabins and the dark forest. Nora lives there with her mother, now that her grandmother has died, leaving Nora with her moonstone ring. But Nora’s mother has left to sell her honey (charming bees is her particular magic), and Nora is alone in the cabin with only her wolf, Fin, to protect her when a blizzard envelopes the town and cuts off electricity and the roads.

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‘The Beast: A Darkdeep Novel’ by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs is the second in this middle grade horror novel

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The series began with “The Darkdeep,” a horror story by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs, and now the stories of the monsters and the mystery behind the appearance of “The Beast” might just be solved. In the first book, we learn about the quiet town of Timber in the Pacific Northwest, and about several of its teenage residents.

Nico is the son of an environmentalist, and with his friends Opal, Emma, and Tyler, and another teen, Logan, the son of the richest businessman in town, all happen upon a houseboat in the middle of an unnamed island. Strange things happen both in the houseboat and in the waters around it, but in this second book, they learn that the fate of the world may be on their teenage shoulders.

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‘The Shape of Night’ by Tess Gerritsen

 

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How much does our subconscious control our reality? Do our fears and our regrets shape what we see and experience?

In “The Shape of Night,” Tess Gerritsen most definitely does not answer those questions. When food writer Ava Collette rents an historic mansion on the coast in Maine, she is fleeing a horrible decision she made that resulted in tragedy. She leaves her friends and her family to grapple with her feelings of guilt, and she also needs to finish her new cookbook, which is behind schedule.

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‘The Fire Keeper’ is the second ‘Storm Runner’ middle grade fantasy action novel by J.C. Cervantes

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Fans of Rick Riordan’s many fantasy series, like the Percy Jackson series (The Lightning Thief) are sure to love many of the series in the “Rick Riordan Presents” imprint. The “Storm Runner” series takes the idea of young heroes who are the offspring of gods and mortals and moves it to New Mexico, where the gods are Mayan. 

In “The Fire Keeper,” the second in the series, Zane Obispo (don’t you just love the name?) has met his father, the fire god Hurakan, and received a special walking cane/spear/staff from him. While Zane’s limp has always been a source of embarrassment to him, it turns out that the apparent handicap is because of his god blood and is an indication of his power. Zane can control fire — albeit to a very limited degree. He and his family live on a secluded tropical island that is protected by magic from notice of the other Mayan gods, who think he is dead. And that’s the way they prefer it..  Continue reading