My Review of The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst

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Info from Goodreads:

(My review follows)

The natural magic of the classic The Island of the Blue Dolphins meets the danger and courage of The Hunger Games in this dazzling, intricate stand-alone fantasy novel set in award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst’s beloved world of Renthia.

Life is precious and precarious on the islands of Belene. Besieged by a capricious ocean full of malicious spirits, the people of the islands seek joy where they can. Mayara, one of the island’s fearless oyster divers, has found happiness in love. But on the day of her wedding to the artist Kelo, a spirit-driven storm hits the island with deadly force.

To save her loved ones, Mayara reveals a dangerous secret: she has the power to control the spirits. When the storm ends, she is taken into custody by the queen’s soldiers and imprisoned with other women like her.

They vary in age and social status, but to many they are heroes who will aide the country or witches that will sacrifice themselves trying. No matter who they are, the women are sent to a terrifying place—an island filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits, and left without food, water, shelter, or any tools except their own instincts and magic. Whoever survives the Island of Testing will be declared heirs to the queen. But no matter if she wins or loses, Mayara knows that the life she dreamed of is gone.

368 pages – Published March 19th 2019 by Harper Voyager

My Review of The Deepest Blue

3/5 stars

It was very difficult for me to rate this book. In part because I’m a fan of this author and her Queens of Renthia trilogy as well as her book Lost (unrelated to this world or series). I think reviewing a book is made even more troublesome when you’ve been anticipating its release and it doesn’t live up to your expectations. That’s what happened here.

While I enjoyed the story, and I already enjoy spending time in Renthia, there are a number of things that felt superficial and missed their mark. I liked the main character Mayara. She’s tenacious and brave, and full of love for the people she cares about. The book opens beautifully on Mayara and Kelo’s wedding day. Right off the bat we get a taste of why Mayara’s family sometimes calls her reckless. We know this protagonist is going to take us on an adventure. For the most part the opening to this story was spot on. There is some spoiling that goes on in the rest of this review, not in detail but enough detail to spoil the story some or a lot.

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But then there were things that started to get to me. For instance, mentioning repeatedly how Mayara gets ready for a deep dive, how she compares so much to getting ready for a deep dive and every time she takes deep breaths we have to remember that that’s what she does when she’s getting ready for a deep dive. *Sigh.*

A major pet peeve of mine when it comes to reading in general, and something I’m trying to remember as I write my own book, is opportunistic writing, as I like to call it. I don’t like when characters are just made to fit because you need them to. Or turns in the story just go that way because the author needs them to, not because they flow naturally. In the case of this story, Mayara’s new found friend Roe has apparently been studying in secret and yet she seems to be no better at controlling the spirits than Mayara? How and why? In this case, if you’re going to make your character be awesome, more awesome than they should be, then build that case for us please. Don’t just say yup there you go, that’s how it is, Mayara is just a natural. Break some scenes down for me. Don’t just tell me oh yeah she’s not so good but then, she’s still got this. What does she figure out that helps her that she didn’t know before? How does she break through what she doesn’t know? Don’t just keep reminding me she’s not practiced but then showing me she’s plenty capable. Show me something in Mayara’s character that makes her special with regard to the scene. Other than her ability to swim and dive. Expand on these things.

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Again, these are notes to myself as I write and to all of us writers in addition to critique of this story. Remember show-don’t-tell is a relevant, worthwhile piece of advice. Even if it’s just a little scene or a little tidbit or even something that isn’t obvious, put it in there to show us this character has an edge. Show me, don’t just tell me they do. And don’t keep telling me about the same quality, that’s not enough to carry me through believing and rooting for her. Yes she’s brave and fearful and that’s real, but go deeper please. Show me how it comes to be that she navigates through these murky waters (pun intended) instead of expecting me to roll with it because she’s the main character, and ya know, that’s how it goes.

The author constantly tells us that Mayara likens every challenge to a deep dive and here’s the ritual that precedes it (please no more). Give us more of her inner character and how she breaks things down to get through them, but please know that once you’ve told us a couple times you don’t have to spell the same thing out every time thereafter. (Have I done it enough with regard to this detail? That’s how it felt reading.) It was things like that by the way that made me wonder if Mrs. Durst wasn’t getting confused with her art of writing middle grade. I’m probably reading into that since I know she writes in different age groups, nevertheless, that’s how I felt, that she at times forgot she was writing for adults.

Back to what I was saying: she tells us about getting ready for deep dives. (OMG, this again, really eLPy?) Tell us more about what’s happening that makes her capable of handling the spirits when, in this part of the world, girls hide their affinity for fear of being found out and sent to the island for testing. They don’t get to explore their affinities on their own or often. And maybe expand on this especially for those of us who have read the other series. What did Mayara miss by not being able to study her affinity? What does everyone miss? Don’t spend so much time on the same elements of love and Kelo and her family. Now she’s face to face with this affinity that she’s had to hide, how does she face it? What does that feel like for her to confront this?

It’s fair to say that we know from the start that this girl is going to be our hero, she’s going to go to the island. But what happens once we get there and even the immediate lead up to their departure feels so forced! She just so happens to be the last girl and now they’re off? So everyone else got to train for some undisclosed amount of time and she’s just shit out of luck? I know I’ve already given some spoilers here but I don’t think they’re too consequential however I won’t go into much detail in terms of other incidences that bothered me once they got to the island. All said and done for me it felt like the author tried too hard by not being creative enough to make Mayara the heroine. How? Why? How? There’s a lot that was opportunistic. Put her in a desperate situation because that’s what these stories do. Right? NO, don’t do that! I mean do it but show us readers how and why, not just because that’s what you think the story needs. Build us a sand castle but show us the tools, the methods, the failed attempts, the learning curves, the successes. Show us that the “it-just-so-happened-that” moments are realistic in your story, they don’t just happen. They happened. Don’t remind me I’m reading a made-up story.

Things like: so and so got injured so ya know, it’s all up to Mayara. Really? I mean, really? How perfect that our heroine has to do it on her own instead of someone more qualified with the spirits. Really? The whole scene on the island was tied up like a bow and way too neat. And I’m sorry but I was really hoping for the diversity of spirits that we saw in the previous trilogy. It’s really an inconsequential thing but I got sort of bored with the spirits seeming to be of the same five or so forms.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a fan of Sarah Beth Durst and I will continue to read her work. I do hope she continues in this world, in fact, I hope she explores the entire world, that whole darn map she drew for us! But please don’t sew them all up so nicely. I love happy endings, I’m not saying leave us with some sour bitter ends, but don’t make the bow so damn perfect!

There were some nice twists in this story, some conclusions that were satisfying but the end result as a whole was very disappointing because it was SO similar to another book she wrote. How did Mayara with her supreme lack of experience and training with spirits wind up in THAT position? I was left shaking my head going “REALLY! HOW?!” At least in one of the Queens of Renthia books the character built up, and worked up to her position. It didn’t “just-so-happen”. There are what should be deep emotional conversations that fall flat and/or feel like they’re written for a younger group. Then these violent scenes that are like whoa, was that for shock and awe, oh yes this is for young adult/adults. All in all, perhaps this book was rushed. It missed its mark for me. I don’t dislike Mayara or the other characters but I’m not connected to her. Do I want to see her again? Meh…sure? But give her some more meat please, more emotion, more depth.

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While you may think I’m a jerk and mean and all that fun stuff at this point – that’s fine – I will say I very much enjoyed the sociopath we met in previous books, Lady Garnah. She is a well-developed character who is both loathsome and likable in the strangest way. I dare say I had to root for her a few times. This character has had time to marinate and she works. She exhibits the difference between rushing a character and/or forcing their story to your will and allowing them to be who they are in the story. She was a welcome surprise and an A+ for me.

At the end of the book Durst explains that she wanted to write a book about someone growing and strengthening from love, not just pain. In her personal experience she grew a lot from her love for her husband and her family. I respect and admire her making this attempt to approach this from a different angle. That said while she didn’t completely miss the mark she kind of did because for me she tried so hard to stay on the love page that it felt like she may have deliberately avoided character and story development that leaned too much towards pain and hardship. I hope if we see Mayara again we get a full pallet of the colors of her personality and a deeper look inside.

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And it is with a heavy heart I give this book 3/5 stars. I have to be review with integrity so there it is. Sarah Beth Durst keep going, I can’t wait to read more, but this one I think IMHO needed more time in the oven especially given the deep philosophy behind what you were attempting.

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Note to myself and all authors, not every main character should be a queen.

Here’s What’s Up Catch Up!

Hello everyone and welcome to a new week! Now I know I’m supposed to do Here’s What’s Up posts on Saturday (cause I said I would) and today is Monday. But meh, I made the rules here so sometimes I break them. I’ve been missing some posts these last few weeks and not talking to ya all too much but I’m here!

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What’s there to say? First, spoiler alert if you haven’t seen Season 7 (the last one) of Game of Thrones or any for that matter. I saw the Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere Sunday night after watching the last two episodes from last season. Man, that battle scene with the Night King and the dragons? Oh lord, I had goosebumps, still can’t believe that happened. As for last night I think it was a good start to what’s bound to be a great season, I mean it’s got to be if it’s the last right? Although I would have liked to see a little more reaction out of everybody when Bran said they’ve got your dragon and it’s one of them. They looked like oh shit and then we moved on. What! Come on you know that would blow your mind.

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Disclaimer by the way, I have not read any of the books. But this epic story is just that, epic. It is a fantastic example of good storytelling. And I love how there is such a diverse cast of characters. We weave in and out of their lives, watching them build, fail and rebuild. All along the way George R.R. Martin and the screenwriters build us up to little pitfalls or triumphs and enormous crescendos and destruction. It’s like you’re watching a real story line in history. My partner said he had to remind himself that this all didn’t really happen, that they never killed that dragon with just one toss of a spear, sending him plummeting onto the ice and into the lake. Gosh…that was too much! There is no one villain or one good guy, and how knows what’s going to happen next because Martin seems to love to “kill his darlings” as they say in writing. Hats off to George R.R. Martin and the production crew behind Game of Thrones! I could do without ALL the nudity but it’s still epic and well deserving of its popularity.

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Okay what else? Here’s What’s Up with Saturday night Boxing. (Another spoiler to follow regarding boxing match Saturday night.) Well I also watched a great fight between two awesome women boxers, Claressa Shields versus Christina Hammer. You might recall that Shields is an Olympic Gold Medalist in boxing and hails from Flint, Michigan. She won gold medals in both the 2012 & 2016 Olympics. She’s the first male or female boxer to win consecutive Olympic medals. She’s also only the 6th boxer, male or female, to hold all four major world titles in boxing. And she just turned 24 this March so she was 17 years old when she won her first Olympic gold in women’s boxing.

Christina Hammer is a very worthy opponent born in Kazakhstan but relocated to Germany soon after her birth. She’s a “multiple-time world champion in two weight classes” and has been named Fighter of the Year and Female Boxer of the Year and won the WBO Diamond Ring for Exceptional Performance.

I wasn’t prepared for Shields to beat Hammer so decisively, I really thought it would be more of a battle between the two. Don’t get me wrong Hammer held up and didn’t exactly do nothing but as the announcers and my partner were saying, she didn’t fight her fight, she fought Shields’ fight. At the end of the night Hammer was looking a little bit stunned by what had just happened herself and Shields was a damn proud woman. Hats off to them both! I hope they have succeeded in catapulting women’s boxing to a new level because they were great to watch. Women’s boxing deserves a lot more attention than it gets. It would be great to see even more qualified fighters in the ring on a regular basis. I would like to see a rematch between these two although I don’t know if it’s in the cards. And come on, Shields vs Hammer, even the title is cool!

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Here’s What’s Up with my Reading

In the world of books, I finished The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst. I will most certainly have a review for you tomorrow but I can say now that while I was really excited to LOVE this book I mostly just liked it. I’m a fan of Durst’s and I really enjoyed her Queens of Renthia series but this stand alone book set on the Islands of Belene, another part of the world Renthia, missed the mark just left of center for me. It was still a worthy read, and I will continue to follow Durst. In fact I really hope she keeps exploring other parts of Renthia and even Belene. But the story itself kind of fell flat. There’s exciting and interesting parts however there were some crucial details that felt like repeats. I’ll tell you more in my review but let’s just say I think I’m giving this 3.5 stars.

I bumped this and some other books up my Spring TBR because I need an ebook to read while I’m on my spin bike or in other instances where reading from my device is just easier than reading an actual book. Have you seen the hardcover edition of Shadow of Night? Very soon I’ll be starting The Voyage of the Basilisk. But first, I just started reading Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness because that’s the book myself and others voted to read in April for the Goodreads group I’m a member of. This second book in the All Souls Trilogy is almost 600 pages long so I need to get reading it! Know then that The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan is up next.

When I look at my TBR on Goodreads I feel so crazy because I want to read so many books like now but I do not have THAT kind of time. Oh well, a girl can dream… In the meantime I’m super stoked because I’ve been doing some impressive brainstorming for my novel. Tonight I plan to start putting these ideas to work on paper. (I brainstorm a lot into a voice recorder. It’s great fun talking to yourself. :D) Writing is an intense act to undertake let me tell you. I have decided to delete a character which means – oh my gosh – I’m going to have to delete a bunch of words I’ve already put together about her. I’ve also found a whole new direction to take things in.

The nature of my story has changed and it feels so right to me! But there’s so much juggling to do. One thing I’m practicing that’s helping me immensely is just getting some thoughts out to see how they look and feel and what branches off of them before I butcher and beat them. I have a heavy handed inner editor and she tries to stop nearly everything before it even comes out of my brain. Well she is getting put in her MF’n place, let me tell you.

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There you have it, Here’s What’s Up With Me! Game of Thrones, Boxing: Shields v. Hammer, The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst, Voyage of the Basilisk, Shadow of Night, and write write write! Woo! Can you tell I’m excited? Oh my gosh I almost forgot that I also got the ebook for The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli, Iscari Book 2. I really enjoyed the first one and this book got bumped up my 2019 TBR to Spring TBR because, like I said, I need some ebooks.

How about you? Do you watch GOT? Did you? What about boxing? Will you now? I tell ya you should check these women out, they are bad asses.

And how’s your reading going? Have you read The Deepest Blue? Voyage of the Basilisk? Shadow of Night? The Caged Queen? Let me know what you think because I would love to have a chat.

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Embarrassed to Read Fiction

Yesterday I was having a conversation with someone about reading. They mentioned that they don’t read much. Fine, no problem, my partner isn’t much of a reader either. I said, it’s one of those “to each their own” kind of things. When she does read she says she prefers biographies, true stories. For a moment my little anxiety brain felt a spark of embarrassment. Am I embarrassed to read fiction? We’re both adults right? She reads true stories, I read fiction. I mean, I read non-fiction too. However, I read more fiction than non-fiction. I mean if you’re a writer you have to read, so even my fiction is for my writing. But still, AM i embarrassed to read fiction? What’s that say about me?

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I shook those thoughts away and shared my thinking, not the entire split-second conversation with myself but the gist of it. In my late 20s I didn’t read fiction for about 5 years. I felt that it was a waste of time. If I’m going to be reading than I should be reading informational stuff or research or news or you know, real life. And if I’m doing anything with fiction it should be me writing my novel (I was working on a different novel/idea back then). That was my protest against reading fiction. Boy am I glad I grew up, and came out of it.

Fiction is not a children’s game. Much like acting is not for children or less serious people. We don’t chide each other for watching movies do we? Do you ridicule someone for going to see a play? Do you laugh at them when they say they have a favorite fictional show on TV? No. Okay depends, but that’s another story. My partner might not read fiction but he sure as heck watches it. Reading fiction is simply a different method of delivery.

Sure it takes a lot more time than watching it; I watched the show “You” on Netflix and will not be reading it, what for, I already watched it? That’s not a slight at anyone who reads and watches shows or movies, again, to each their own. But reading something provides you the opportunity to explore and go on an adventure with someone else inside your own mind. Yes it’s their story, their imagination but I see it like implanting their imagination into yours; they’re driving the car, taking you down their story-road. You’re still putting in work to see and digest what they’re showing you, imagining the characters, the setting, the actions. It’s you tasting their recipe and deciding if you like it. You connect with someone else’s mind behind the scenes and on your own time.

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Reading fiction also gives you perspective into a lot of ‘what’ifs’. The book Binti is science-fiction. She leaves her family and her home land, something that no one else has done, to go to a prestigious university set far away on another planet. Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia series is set in a made up world with vicious spirits that will tear you to shreds should the queen lose control of them. Girls are chosen because of their affinity for spirits to study and train to be a possible heir to the queen should she fall. It’s a story of hope and beating the odds when you don’t think you’re as good as everyone else and yet you know that you have something to offer, even if you don’t yet know where you fit. Both stories are based around themes we experience in non-fiction life.

Sometimes stories don’t have any obvious message. If you read murder mysteries you might not get some charming message to appreciate yourself, but I bet you’ll open your eyes a little wider at night when you’re walking through a dark parking lot. But who’s to say a story has to have a life-altering message? Don’t we just like stories because they play with our imagination? Don’t we think it’s awesome that animals play? Reading is a form of play, whether you see it like that or not is up to you. But it is.

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Even though I might tell you sheepishly that the book I’m reading is a fantasy novel I will remind myself that I am not afraid to let my imagination live and play in this world. I will not harness it from interacting with the arts and entertainment of this world or the next. Of course we should have some kind of filter, there’s a lot of entertainment out there that’s not worth a fly’s spit, if that’s a thing.

Oh and by the way, I was getting my tire fixed when I told grown man at the counter that I would wait in the lobby with my book. He asked what I was reading. Huh? Oh, yeah it’s a fantasy novel. Turns out he likes fantasy. (Yes skeptics my brain goes their too, maybe he just said that to appease me the lady in front of him. Maybe. Maybe not.) He was interested in the series I was reading, Borderline by Mishell Baker. I at the time was reading book two, Phantom Pains, and I’m now reading book 3, Impostor Syndrome (which I’ll finish this weekend). You never know. Sorry to stereotype the guy behind the counter and be surprised he was interested but, isn’t that what we’re talking about? Should a grown man be embarrassed to read fiction?

My Challenge to You: Are you embarrassed to read fiction?

Next time you go somewhere, if you’re reading a physical book, bring it with you. Don’t put it in a bag, carry it in your hand or make it visible. Maybe no one will bother, go somewhere where there aren’t already loads of people reading books. Or heck if there are lots of readers, what are they reading? Maybe someone will notice your book. Or if you don’t have a physical book at the moment, get one. Engage someone you see with a physical book that looks interesting to you. Or if you’re a chatty bloke like me, refer to your book. Make a scene or story out of you and your PHYSICAL book. Have fun with it, be polite and respectful of course, but have fun. Then tell me about it. 😀 Are you embarrassed to read fiction?

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