What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra + Blog Post feature from the author!!!

An epic combination of mystery, science fiction, and dark fantasy in a twisty story that captivates you from page one and hooks you to the final page!!!

Our protagonist is Hayden, a young girl who has tried to put her past behind her. She’s living in Brooklyn with her best friend, Del and preparing for her future however on her 18th birthday she inherits her childhood home, The Manor, based in Colorado on the condition that she uncovers its dark secrets. Hayden’s inheritance has opened Pandora’s box as her past has suddenly caught up with her, especially when she goes back to her roots…

I first heard about this book when Publishing House Allen and Unwin hosted their YA Fan Fest and to my delight, I won a copy after participating in one of their activities on stage!! For this, I am forever grateful as this was one creepily, exciting book!!! Where to start? Yes I really enjoyed this book.. What I enjoyed most was the element of mystery that teased me throughout the story – from the beginning I knew and understood that Hayden, was given a task to unlock a dark secret – but what was that secret!? Was it real or a fantasy?? What really happened to Hayden’s mother?? The closer we got to the truth, the creepier the story got – parts of the story even gave me goosebumps (no spoilers – The Manor) I also loved Hayden’s father – a disgraced physicist – who was a mystery himself with his theories we get to read in several of his journal extracts that surfaced throughout the book. Each entry started piecing more jigsaw puzzle pieces together. Even with that underlying mystery, I found the plot to be fast paced and very cleverly written. The author did a great job with starting chapters with text book explanations on various topics like physics for example and it lead us to the next part of the story. The friendship between Hayden and her bestie, Del, would appear to be the most unlikely yet they fit together like a glove and their constant banter made me laugh a lot so I guess it’s true, opposites do attract!!

This is a great debut novel and I recommend this to readers who enjoy a creepy YA fantasy fiction story.. It’s epic!!! Special thanks to Allen & Unwin for giving me an advanced review copy of this book.

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Special feature – blog post by author Katya de Becerra

Setting the Scene: Writing Places into Books and Books into Place

I first read The Catcher in the Rye when I was about thirteen. Though I didn’t get to see New York with my own eyes until many years later, Salinger’s version of the city as seen through the eyes of the book’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield, enthralled me well into my adulthood. Even when I got to visit New York at last, my firsthand impressions of it were tinged by my long-ago memories of first exploring the city on The Catcher’s pages.

As I’ve read more, it became obvious to me that regardless of whether a story is set in a real or fictional place, its setting is as important as the novel’s plot or characters’ development. Sometimes, the aftertaste of a written place stays with you longer than the story itself.

Looking back at how those early literary experiences from my childhood shaped me as a writer today, I can testify that The Catcher’s version of NYC has definitely burrowed itself so deep into my psyche that when I first started drafting what was to become my debut novel, What The Woods Keep, the setting my mind first conjured was, unsurprisingly, New York. Though, as my work progressed and the book’s protagonist, Hayden, revealed herself to me slowly and layer by layer, I understood one of the first key things about this strange story of missing mothers and crackpot scientist fathers I was writing: Hayden was not a native New Yorker. She was a transplant. And while she was well-adjusted to city life, originally she was from elsewhere. More so, she was hiding something, and her New York life was her armour, protecting her from the ghosts of her strange childhood.

But where did she come from? It was the process of answering this question that became crucial to Hayden’s development as the book’s lead character and narrator. The more I fleshed out her place of birth, a fictional town of Promise located in the middle of Colorado woods, the more I fleshed out Hayden herself. For it is in Promise that Hayden’s core was formed once upon a time, long before she came to New York. In its essence, What The Woods Keep is a story of one strange girl’s quest to unearth the truth about her mother’s decade-old disappearance. When Hayden returns to Promise, her faded memories of some disturbing happenings she’s witnessed in the local woods as a child, her dark dreams, and all these things she believes her mind surely made up begin to clash with the atmospheric reality of Promise, eventually spilling into her wakeful world. That moment when the town finally aligns with Hayden’s viewpoint and highjacks her perception was among most thrilling for me to write.

Books settings can profoundly affect us, shape our vision of places we’ve never visited, direct our reading choices and influence our travel aspirations. Just like The Catcher in the Rye was the key catalyst for my long-lasting obsession with New York, I hope that Promise from What The Woods Keep takes hold of my readers’ imagination. I hope that my readers feel the whisper of the woods on their skin and shiver. I hope that Promise, with all its moodiness, its rain and wind, and its unsettling secrets inspires readers to immerse themselves in books and explore places, real or imaginary.

Author Katya de Becerra

Special thanks to Allen & Unwin for giving me an advanced review copy of this book and for having author Katya, share her blog piece with us.

Blog post review by Annie

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And the Ocean was our Sky by Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Rovina Cai

A Moby Dick retelling – told from the whale’s perspective!!!

‘With harpoons strapped to their backs, the proud whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt, fighting in the ongoing war against the world of men. When they attack a ship bobbing on the surface of the Abyss, they expect to find easy prey. Instead, they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself… As their relentless Captain leads the chase, they embark on a final, vengeful hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of both whales and men…’

Beautiful – Lyrical – Interesting…

A thought provoking story with amazing illustrations that really brought this story to life and really makes the reader see things in a different light.. It was an interesting experience to read the story from the whale’s perspective but it does take some time to get your head around it at first as it’s not everyday that your storyteller is a whale. A Moby Dick retelling that takes you into the eyes of a whale who is part of a family that are proud protectors of the ocean and live for the hunt as they are constantly hunted by humans.. The story was so beautifully written and the illustrations really bring the story out – I believe both author and illustrator nailed it with this one, I can definitely see this book shelved as modern classics..

Special thanks to Walker Books for sending me a review copy of this book, it was great!
-Annie

Longbourn: Dragon Entail: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Maria Grace

This is the sequel to Book 1: Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon

In this story, Darcy thought his problems were over when Pemberley hatched and successfully imprinted on humans. But baby dragons prove far more difficult than any dragon lore prepared him for. Only Elizabeth Bennet’s notes offer him any help. Elizabeth, though, has problems of her own. After the Bennet family dragon sent Pemberley away, life at Longbourn was supposed to return to normal… or so they thought..

Dragons.. Dragons and more Dragons..

Misunderstandings got cleared up – Collins got threatened by quite a few dragons in “Longbourn: Dragon Entail”. I am so hoping that they follow through in the next book. Collins is still a massive pain in the arse – please let him get eaten.

Meanwhile, Pemberley is growing up, she’s even started throwing a couple of tantrums.

A great Jane Austen meets Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern.  A must read for fans of Pride and Prejudice and those who love alternate stories and retellings..

-Meredith

Clean Sweep (Book 1 of Innkeeper Chronicles) by Ilona Andrews

Magic, Vampires, Werewolves, the Alpha-Strain, humans (who are completely in the dark about everything), The Innkeeper and The Inn…

On the outside, Dina Demille appears to be normal. She runs a Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast.

But Dina is different as she is the Innkeeper and has revived The Inn she has taken over.  The Inn was in hibernation/stasis for a very long time, until Dina came and woke up the Gertrude Hunt Inn. Her broom is a deadly weapon and The Inn is meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat…  And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night….

Clean Sweep is book one in the Innkeeper Chronicles – I am really looking forward to the next books in the series.

Now that Gertrude Hunt Inn is open for business, let the fun begin!!

-Meredith

Jane Doe and the Cradle of all Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan

“Simple minds fear what is different…”

Indeed this is one unforgettable blockbuster adventure that is one of the best adventures I have read this year. I could really see this book being adapted to film!!!

Our protagonist is Jane Doe, a 14 year old girl who is burdened with a reputation she doesn’t understand, feared by residents of the island of Bluehaven for reasons she doesn’t know, denied basic right of education and was forced to live in a Basement and provide full time care for her ill father who appears to know more than he is letting on. One fateful day, a terrifying earthquake strikes the remote island of Bluehaven and Jane’s father disappears. Without warning or prep, Jane finds herself catapulted into a dangerous quest with the most unlikely of alliances – a pyromaniac, Violet and trickster, Hickory accompanying her to rescue her father who is lost and trapped between worlds – a space of shifting rooms, booby traps and secret gateways.

From the first page, right to the very end, this book was full of nothing but page turning, action packed adventure!! Something was always happening on every chapter – it was never a dull moment. What I also enjoyed were the mysteries that were within the underlying story. I also enjoyed the biggest mystery of all that did leave me gaping in the end who is Jane Doe? where did she come from? why is she here? why do people fear her? At only 14 years old how could all this happen to her? As a character, I admired that even though she was vulnerable, Jane still had the courage and determination to find the truth that will ultimately set her free during this life threatening quest. Throughout the book I read and loved how the plot had elements of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and to my delight, elements of my all time favourite TV show Grimm (yes Grimm – think keys).

I would recommend this readers from aged 10+ as some scenes may frighten younger readers. I would also recommend this book to those who, like me, read and loved Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend. The action pace, the mystery, the intrigue, the magic and the wonder that holds you captive right to the very end that will leave you gaping and wanting to know more.. Yes this book just came out and I need the sequel sooner rather than later!!

Special thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont for sending me a review copy of this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it!!!
-Annie

Legendary by Stephanie Garber

We return to the sinister place of Caraval and this time, the only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win, so Scarlett’s sister, Donatella (Tella) dives into the legendary competition once again and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets… including her own sister’s. Caraval was always just a game, try not to get too swept away.. A game that requires courage and a level head to win however this time, it’s demanding for more and if Tella can’t meet bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything.. maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval may be destroyed forever…

I really enjoyed this book and loved the different perspective we follow.. In Caraval it was Scarlett and like with Caraval, I really dived into Legendary following Donatella’s journey.. I found this to be such an interesting continuation of the series that kept the greatest mystery of all alive but takes a new path in following Tella’s new challenges and new mysteries that kept me guessing to the very end. Scarlett was a great character however I felt Tella brought something unique to the table and made this adventure a series I am so invested in that by the time I read the ending I am sure there will be something else coming..

Many thx to Date a Book YA – Hachette Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book
-Annie

Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon by Maria Grace

For the Jane Austen fans: This is book 1 in Jane Austen’s Dragons Book series

Whilst England is overrun by dragons of all shapes and sizes, most people are blissfully unaware of them and the Pendragon Treaty that keeps the peace between human and dragon kind.  Only those born with preternatural hearing, like Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are able to hear and converse with dragonkind…  Elizabeth shares a unique bond with dragons, stronger than anything Darcy has ever experienced…

Pride and Prejudice and Dragons.. what more can you ask for?

..Meanwhile.. a dragon egg gets stolen and ends up somewhere in Hertfordshire. Darcy and Elizabeth need to find the egg before it hatches. While they are searching, they can’t draw attention to what they are doing. Not all humans can hear dragons talk..

One of my favourites!!

-Meredith