Tuesday, December 31, 2013

{Review} FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

B O O K   T R A I L E R  I:

There are TWO book trailers.
See them now!

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B O O K   T R A I L E R  II:

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O P E N I N G   L I N E:

   Cath looked up at the numer painted on the door, then down at the room assignment in her hand
   Pound Hall, 913.
   This was definitely room 913, but maybe it wasn't Pound Hall--all these dormitories looked alike, like public housing towers for the elderly. Maybe Cath should try to catch her dad before he brought up the rest of her boxes.
   "You Must Be Cather," the boy said, grinning and holding out his hand.
   "Cath," she said, feeling a panicky jump in her stomach. She ignored his hand. (She was holding a box anyway, what did he expect from her?)
   This was a mistake--this had to be a mistake. She knew that Pound was a co-ed dorm.... Is there such a thing as co-ed rooms?
(pg. 4, US hardcover edition)

FANGIRL took me longer to get into than  ELEANOR & PARK. It has a slower start before it gets moving and makes readers become attached to the characters. It's also a longer book, and it was full-on holiday season, so it took me longer than the day it did to read ELEANOR & PARK. But in some ways, I can relate more to FANGIRL because I've experienced several of the same things that Cath goes through. In ELEANOR & PARK, it's easy to slip into Eleanor's shoes and feel her embarrassment and live her life. With FANGIRL, the audience is more secular. I've heard a lot of people complain that FANGIRL seems improbably, that freshmen at college aren't like this, that the scenario is off. ...And yet, Cath is a lot like I was my first year of college. Don't brush off Cath's experience just because it wasn't yours, because it was someone else's.
Cather and her twin sister, Wren, are both freshmen in college. After rooming together all their lives, Wren has decided she wants a new roommate and Cath is on her own. Wren is more social and outgoing; Cath is more of a homebody, content to stay home and write while her sister is out partying. This is a line that begins dividing the sisters as they change and grow in opposite directions. Cath loves writing fanfiction about her two favorite characters from the best-selling Simon Snow series, and while Wren used to write right alongside her, she now thinks it to be babyish and lame.The two girls fell into the world of Simon Snow after their mother left them on 9/11. Yes, that 9/11. They've grown up trying not to care about the abandonment. After all, their mother only had energy to name one child: Catherine. When she found out she was having twins, she just split the name: Cather and Wren. Who does that? They're fine with their lovable dad...but will he be fine on his own in an empty nest? FANGIRL combines the ups and downs of experiencing college for the first time with the meaning of family, and the way we associate with one another.
I liked the inside look at the world of fanfiction. I think that Rainbow Rowell must have come from a background that involved fanfiction. I know I did. In high school, I read a lot of it, wanting more romance/story centered around my favorite couple from a show I enjoyed. I also wrote it a little in high school, but moreso in college. While I haven't written fanfiction in a few years, I love what it gave me. I found life-long friends that I still talk to as time allows. I became a better writer. In fanfiction, you learn to grow a stronger skin fast when it comes to criticism. I truly embrace constructive criticism, even now.
At least two of the fanfiction "greats" I grew up with have become published within the last couple of years, and I'm sure more are on the way (I'm beta-ing for one such friend now as time allows). I had friends who enjoyed writing slash fiction the way Cath does (When two males or females fall in love against the hetero-romance in the actual piece of work). While I always stuck to canon pairings and never saw the appeal of finding other romantic interests because the canon couple was so right for one another, it was great to see Rowell address this sect of fanfiction, and the fans that are out there writing from other perspectives. For them, especially, fanfiction is the only place to embrace and see the couples they love being in love with one another.
 At the same time, there has also been a lot of controversy recently about fanfiction, and whether or not it's plagiarism. This finger-pointing has come more intensely ever since the publication of the wildly popular Fifty Shades of Gray Trilogy by E.L. James. Originally fanfiction, the author cleaned up her story, changed character names, removed all mentions of vampires/werewolves/etc., and submitted it professionally. With it being so successful, many other Twilight fandom authors did the same thing. Before Fifty Shades, Cassandra Clare cleaned up and repackaged her Harry Potter fanfiction as THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS for at least the first book in her bestselling series.
Where do we draw the line? I strongly believe that fanfiction should be free, and never something used for profit. You may have your own unique, highly-developed world and idea that are far away from the original story, but you're still using someone else's characters. The way they interact with one another, their family history, their looks...it isn't yours. You are profiting off of someone else's blood, sweat, and tears, and this is always a sore spot for me. I personally can't read authors who aren't bothered by this.
Rowell sums up my thoughts best in this scene between Cath and her Professor. Both are right. When writing for fun and not profit, Cath is right. But when you start to sell fanfiction and claim it as an original work because you changed character names (and may or may not have changed hair color and location), you're still stealing:

   Bad or good isn't the point." Professor Piper shook her head, and her long, wild hair swayed from side to side. "This is plagiarism."
   "No," Cath said. "I wrote it myself."
   "You wrote it yourself? You're the author of Simon Snow and the Mage's Heir?"
   "Of course not."
   Why was Professor Piper saying this?
   "These characters, this whole world belongs to someone else."
   "But the story is mine."
   "The characters and the world make the story," the older woman said, like she was pleading with Cath to understand.
   "Not necessarily . . ." Cath could feel how red her face was. Her voice was breaking.
   "Yes," Professor Piper said. "Necessarily. If you're asked to write something original, you can't just steal someone else's story and rearrange the characters."
   "It's not stealing."
   "What would you call it?"
   "Borrowing," Cath said, hating that she was arguing with Professor Piper, not ever wanting to make Professor Piper's face look this cold and closed, but not able ot stop. "Repurposing. Remixing. Sampling."
   "It's not illegal." All the arguments came easily to Cath; they were the justification for all fanfiction. "I don't own the characters, but I'm not trying to sell them, either."
(pgs. 107-108, US hardcover edition)

Sorry for going off on a small tangent, but FANGIRL raised a lot of emotions in me. So did the fact that some people were saying that the novel was impractical. I was that girl who would rather write than go out partying with her roommate (Alas, no hot friend/possible love interest like Levi hanging around my room to snag!). I was never a power writer like Cath, though. She wrote so much and had the most well-known fanfic in her fandom. Everyone knew her and her story, and considered it the official story until the real final Simon Snow novel came out. Even a random girl Cath met in a library wearing a Simon Snow shirt knew Cath and her story! I think every fanfic writer would love to become hugely popular like that, but few do. Those that do are celebrated when they become published with their own, fully original novels for real, because everyone knows they can write and is happy to see them profiting off good, new writing. It was also interesting to see the pressure get to Cath. While she still loved writing Simon Snow, she had also lost a lot of the joy that came from writing. It was all about numbers, and she couldn't keep up with it all. It was interesting to think about the pressure that a popular writer goes through even in fandom to remain current, keep fans, find new ones, and publish satisfying works without losing her edge. I really liked the inclusion of that aspect. Cath may be fine now writing just Simon Snow fanfiction and never wanting to create her own stuff, but in time, I'm sure that she'll move on to original works and find love in them, as well. I did, and Cath is so much like me that I have hope she will, too!

If you want a more traditional contemporary novel, you may prefer ELEANOR & PARK, which is more instantly relatable for more people. ELEANOR & PARK is also more traditionally YA. FANGIRL falls more into this "New Adult" genre that has begun emerging in the last couple of years, even though it's classified as YA. If you want a good New Adult, the kind that the genre is really supposed to be rather than what it has become, FANGIRL is a shining example.

If you love writing, or fanfiction, or just seeing what propels and motivates writers, definitely give FANGIRL a try. I'm not convinced it's as secular a read as others would have you believe, especially since it made several Best of the Year lists for 2013 (albeit not as many as ELEANOR & PARK).

Plus, if you ARE a writer, you'll love and appreciate beautiful writing quotes such as:

  "Do you ever feel. ..like you're a black hole...a reverse black hole of words." "So the world is sucking you dry...of language." "Not dry, not yet. But the words are flying out of me so fast, I don't know where they're coming from." "And maybe you've run through your surplus...and now they're made of bone and blood." "Now they're made of breath.""
(pg. 101, US hardcover edition

   "This wasn't good, but it was something. Cath could always change it later. That was the beauty in stacking up words--they got cheaper, the more you had of them. It would feel good to come back and cut this when she'd worked her way to something better."
(pg. 425, US hardcover edition)

  "Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can't quite keep up with gravity. Cath fell and fell, leaving a trail of messy words and bad smiles behind her."
(pg. 426, US hardcover edition)
If you're not a writer, there are still plenty of great quotes to love:

   "Oh, put that away," Cath said with distaste. "I don't want you to get charm all over my sister--what if we can't get it out?""
(pg. 79, US hardcover edition)

  She heard the beginning of a smile in his voice--a fetal smile--and it very nearly killed her."
(pg. 268, US hardcover edition)

Despite the fact that the overuse of he said/she said can get annoying and I wish there was more variety, it's easy to overlook this small nitpick of a detail because Rowell has so many great lines, and so many ways of capturing reader's emotions and making them feel. Her characters are very human and ordinary. They're not super special magical snowflakes like so many other YA characters up there. And that, to me, is the heart of a Rainbow Rowell novel.
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

St. Martin's Press continued the illustrated vibe from ELEANOR & PARK with FANGIRL! 
Once again, we have a main character on the cover depicting a scene from the novel. Cath is plugging away at her Simon Snow fanfiction, and Levi is hanging around trying to get her attention.
It's really cute the way the title FANGIRL looks like Cath's dorm bed. She's sitting on it typing on her laptop, and Levi is leaning against her headboard. Very creative pun!!!
This cover tells you so much about the book's contents while still remaining mysterious. It's very cute!
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Rainbow Rowell
Release Date: Sept. 10, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Received: Borrowed

From the author of the New York Times bestseller ELEANOR & PARK.

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Monday, December 30, 2013

{Review} FIREBLOOD by Trisha Wolfe

I've also reviewed Trisha Wolfe's ASTARTE'S WRATH and OF SILVER AND BEASTS. You can also read an excerpt from Trisha's upcoming sequel OF DARKNESS AND CROWNS here now!

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

   BASKET HOOKED ON ONE ARM, I browse the fruit display of a vendor's stand in Town Square, trying to ignore the white towers of Castle Karm just past the rolling hills of the gated royal village. It's become a constant presence in my weekly errands. An affecting reminder, a monstrosity to be feared and obeyed, even more so than the knights of the Force patrolling the cobbled roadways.
   The day is overcast, and the faint blue lines of the sky are distinct, contrasting against the dark clouds. The grid veils the market in a blue-gray hue. The rows of apples are a sea of bright blue stars, their glassy skins reflecting the dome's gleam.
   A chill prickles my skin, and the hairs on the back of my neck lift up. 
   I'm being watched.
(pg. 5, US e-ARC edition)

Last week when reviewing Kimberly Derting's THE OFFERING, I mentioned that it was rare to see a mix of medieval fantasy elements in a modern society, the way they do in Derting's THE PLEDGE and C.J. Redwine's DEFIANCE. Trisha Wolfe brings one more such series to the mix with the release of her new YA novel, FIREBLOOD, which goes back to the days of Camelot...with modern-day technology!

Of course, no one in society knows that things shouldn't really be this way to the depth they are, that it's all just, in essence, a game. In that sense, it reminds me of a book I used to love called VIOLET EYES by Nicole Luiken (Which I believe might be out of print now). Yet, not quite, either. FIREBLOOD is completely its own entity. I actually think the idea of being able to choose what time period you want to live in and having the whole thing recreated is kind of awesome technology. I wouldn't want the plagues and such from that time to come back, since obviously, we're living with modern technology, but the romance of certain eras keeps us coming back again and again like glutens.

In a way, FIREBLOOD also reminds me of THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass, since it revolves around Zara Dane, a girl selected to marry Prince Sebastian Hart on live TV. She doesn't want to, and hates the royal family. She doesn't have to go through a selection process/competition show, however. In that regards, the TV is more Big Brother, or more like how everything is monitored in THE HUNGER GAMES, even quiet moments in the wild. The camera sees everything, and the king knows all. Zara is terrified of him, especially since she's hiding an enormous secret. Her father has contracted an incurable virus, one which must be reported right away. Only, Zara has been keeping it secret. She doesn't want to have her father taken away. Of course, the moment she is chosen to be a future princess, all eyes turn toward her, and he's removed from her life anyway. Her father was harboring dark, dangerous secrets, one that put Zara in more peril than she could possibly imagine, ones that could sentence her to death were the king to discover them. Upon entering the palace, Zara plays a treacherous game of cat and mouse, especially as she begins falling for, not Prince Sebastian, but the prince's first knight, Sir Devlan Capra...

There are definitely Camelot-esque elements at play. At first, the love triangle between Zara, Prince Sebastian, and Sir Devlan reminded me of the one between King Arthur, Princess Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot, only without the same core set of emotional attachments. All three characters are developed, and it's easy to see multiple sides. On the one hand, you totally want Zara and Devlan to get together because they have immediate chemistry. On the other hand, there's something about Sebastian that has you rooting for him to go against the grain and become this amazing human being who overthrows his father. The will he/won't he aspect keeps readers on the edge of their seats, especially as Zara begins softening toward him. There's also a lot more going on behind the scenes than you might think as readers delve deeper into Zara's world and learn the deadly secrets the king has been keeping. It's downright horrifying, and solidly cements FIREBLOOD as a dystopian fantasy.

Despite being the first in a series, FIREBLOOD has a solidly good, closed ending. No cliffhangers in sight! I would love to see more worlds explored in future books, because the technology of literal world-building is so intriguing to me. At first, it read very strangely to me, but as I became more absorbed in the novel and saw more of what was going on and at stake, I was immersed and really admired such an out-there idea!
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

I *love* that loopy "f" in FIREBLOOD. Excuse me while I stop writing to stare at it! 

Also, the armor, the headpiece, the sword...all of these catch my eye right away! 

His outfit is a little more modern than hers, hmmm, intriguing. You might think it's accidental or on-budget until you realize that the society in which everyone lives is actually quite modern and futuristic!
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Trisha Wolfe
Release Date: Dec. 17, 2013
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Received: For Review

To save a kingdom, Zara must choose between a prince who could be the answer and a rising rebellion that threatens to take control. 

When Zara Dane is chosen to marry Prince Sebastian Hart, son of the man who ordered her father’s capture, Zara knows she must fight to save everything she loves from ruin. 

Being betrothed to the prince means a life trapped behind the towering stone walls of the Camelot-forged realm. Under the watchful eye of the prince's first knight, Sir Devlan Capra, changing her future becomes difficult. 

When an unlikely rebel reveals the truth about the deadly secrets that fuel King Hart’s twisted world, Zara’s path to rescue her father becomes clouded by deception. The Rebels clear her path by forcing Zara’s hand with an ultimatum: sway Prince Sebastian to join the Rebels, convincing him of his father’s evil nature, or they will take him out. 

But Zara is uncertain about a future under the Rebels’ command and where the prince’s heart truly lies. She must decide who to trust, what to believe, and what she’s truly fighting for before the king destroys all of Karm, including her heart.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tour Launch and Holiday Giveaway! MISTRESS OF THE WIND by Michelle Diener

We're Launching...

On Tour with Prism Book Tours

The Tour!

Mistress of the Wind 300Mistress of the Wind
by Michelle Diener
New Adult/Sci-Fi Fantasy
Paperback, 342 pages
Expected publication: December 19th 2013

Bjorn needs to find a very special woman . . . 

The fate of his people, and his own life, depends on it. But when he does find her, she is nothing like he imagined, and may just harbor more secrets than he does himself.

Astrid has never taken well to commands. No matter who issues them . . . 

She's clashed her whole life with her father, and now her lover, the mysterious man who comes to her bedroom in darkness and disappears to guard his mountain by day as a bear, is finding it out the hard way. And when he's taken by his enemies, no one is prepared for Astrid's response. 

It is never wise to anger the mistress of the wind . . . 

A captivating and magical adult retelling of the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

Praise for Mistress of the Wind:
“Diener’s adaptation retains the familiar elements of the original, echoing both the structure and spirit of the classic, but true to form, she puts her own spin both the plot and the narrative, crafting an intricately alluring tale of self-sacrifice, steadfast devotion and enduring love.“ Flashlight Commentary
“The story is fast-paced and never boring, the world a beauty and Michelle’s writing so wonderfully detailed that I felt I was with Bjorn and Astrid on their journey.“ Book Bird Reviews
Author Michelle Diener takes this re-telling to another level. She doesn’t restrict herself to an East of the Sun, West of the moon retelling. Instead we are also given parts reminiscent of Psyche’s quest. Which just allowed for a much more richer story.  Paperback Wonderland

Check out each stop on the tour!

Image of Michelle DienerMichelle Diener writes historical fiction. Her Susanna Horenbout & John Parker series, set in the court of Henry VIII, includes In a Treacherous Court, Keeper of the King's Secrets and In Defense of the Queen.

Michelle's other historical novels include Daughter of the Sky, The Emperor's Conspiracy and Banquet of Lies (loosely connected to The Emperor's Conspiracy).

Michelle's first fantasy novel, Mistress of the Wind, is set for a December 23, 2013, release.

Michelle was born in London, grew up in South Africa and currently lives in Australia with her husband and two children.

International Giveaway:

10 copies of Mistress of the Wind, Kindle or print, winner's choice.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Friday, December 27, 2013

{Review} THE OFFERING by Kimberly Derting

Check out my reviews of 
before moving on to the final book in the trilogy,

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

   UNFLINCHING, THE EXECUTIONER stood on the bloodstained floor facing the prison cells as he wielded an axe with a razor-sharp blade.
   "What's the matter, darling? You're not having second thoughts, are you?" a woman's voice crooned amidst the barbaric scene--the cavernous surroundings, with bars and cells, and echoing all aroudn them the desperate please of prisoners begging for their lives.
   Niko straightened, shifting his gaze away from the executioner. He tried to shake off any last-minute qualms the beautiful but treacherous queen might be able to sense coming from him. Her gossamer green gown was inappropriate for the occasion, as if she'd dressed for a ball rather than a slaughter. But that was typical, he'd come to learn. She was as frivolous as she was deadly.
(pg. 17, US e-ARC edition)

If you previously skipped the first novel in The Pledge Trilogy because people were calling it that now-dreaded word, dystopian, rethink your decision. That word has disappeared, and the series is now full-on fantasy. A lot of people who read THE PLEDGE had a mixed reaction because they don't like their dystopian and fantasy to mix, and they were mixing hardcore in the book. People loved it or hated it, and there was little in-between. If you didn't like Kings and Queens and Kingdoms, you didn't like THE PLEDGE. Readers saw those reviews and stayed away from the book. I personally loved THE PLEDGE. I love Kings and Queens and Kingdoms! Princesses, Knights in Shining Armor, I say bring it on. And, again, this series isn't truly dystopian. The first book just happens to feature a tyrannical ruler. So give it a try, ignore that chatter...you might be surprised!

THE OFFERING is the final book in a trilogy. If you're new to the series, check out my review of THE PLEDGE instead!

Otherwise...you can't blame me for the 
spoilers you're about to encounter!

My one quibble with THE ESSENCE was that it wasn't as action-filled as its predecessor, THE PLEDGE. THE OFFERING, on the other hand, comes out swinging. That opening line you see above? Very, very powerful scene...and that's the book's beginning. While it quiets down early on, the majority of the book sends readers hurtling on a rollercoaster of emotions. There are some characters that just get at you and tear you up. You're always wondering what will and won't happen, and if everyone will survive. You're rooting for Charlie as she finally embraces her role as queen, and you're sick with horror over the lengths some will go to achieve power.

Charlie never wanted to be queen. As Queen Charlaina, liberties she has taken for granted are gone, while others have appeared to her. Some she loves, others she hates. Most of all, she hates the way her change has affected her family and loved ones. She wants to rid herself of Queen Sabara once and for all, and expunge her from using her as a vessel. She no longer wants to live in fear of having her body taken over again. But maybe Sabara can help her, too. She's proven to be treacherous in the past, however, and can she really be trusted? With war looming and uncertain allies easily ready to engage in backstabbing, who can Charlie truly trust?

Charlie has grown so, so much over the course of the series. She never wanted to be queen, but once she embraces her destiny, she is able to do so much good. She gets her hands dirty when she needs to, which she never thought she could, but she still has a pure, strong heart and is ready to do anything to bring peace and prosperity to her country. And Max! Max is back in the picture, though not nearly enough for my tastes. He lights up every page and I'm so glad to have him in Charlie's life. I also really enjoyed seeing the impact all the upheaval had on Charlie's younger sister Angelina, second in line for the throne. She has so much more importance now than she did in the first book, and I liked seeing this change as well. It was also funny to see Charlie with her family, because even though she's queen, she's still a teenager, and still has to listen to her parents. Great moments! There's also a new character introduced that I really love, but I can't say anything more without creating major spoilers. But if Kimberly Derting were to ever revisit this world in new, innovative ways, I wouldn't mind seeing a book from this character's POV!

THE OFFERING doesn't disappoint in tone. It's still a dark, gritty fantasy unafraid to sully its hands. It continues to combine medieval elements with more modern technology, creating a unique setting. (The only other series I've read that combines such elements--and does it well--is The Defiance Trilogy by C.J. Redwine, which I also enjoy reading). It keeps readers guessing and wondering, and creates a powerful story that I'm already eager to go back and re-read.
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

THE PLEDGE is still my favorite cover in the series. Maybe it's the styling of the cloak (Such a thing for cloaked people, IDEK!), maybe it's the way the title repeats and breaks down in the background with fewer letters, maybe it's the coloring. IDK! The first book is my favorite of the three.

This cover looks the least like the other two. In THE PLEDGE, she is cloaked. In THE ESSENCE, she's still cloaked, but she's unmasked now, no longer hiding. The cover is red and angry. 

With THE OFFERING, I guess that could still be a cloak she's wearing, but it's hanging off her now. She no longer needs to hide. But that look of horror on her face? Something is wrong, something isn't right. It doesn't matter that the cover is awash in light and peace, the symbol of breaking away. But she can't tear her eyes away from something, and it lends an immediacy to the cover that will make readers want to know what could be so wrong.
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Kimberly Derting
Release Date: Dec. 31, 2013
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry / Simon & Schuster
Received: For Review

True love—and world war—is at stake in the conclusion to The Pledge trilogy, a dark and romantic blend of dystopia and fantasy. Charlie, otherwise known as Queen Charlaina of Ludania, has become comfortable as a leader and a ruler. She’s done admirable work to restore Ludania’s broken communications systems with other Queendoms, and she’s mastered the art of ignoring Sabara, the evil former queen whose Essence is alive within Charlie. Or so she thinks. 

When the negotiation of a peace agreement with the Queendom of Astonia goes awry, Charlie receives a brutal message that threatens Ludania, and it seems her only option is to sacrifice herself in exchange for Ludanian freedom. 

But things aren’t always as they seem. Charlie is walking into a trap—one set by Sabara, who is determined to reclaim the Queendoms at any cost.