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

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

Run, Riot by Nikesh Shukla

A powerful, gripping book about 4 teens who standing up for themselves and their community.

Hari and Jamal film an unarmed youth from their estate being beaten by police and suddenly they find themselves hunted by the very people who should be protecting them. But as they go on the run with Hari’s twin sister, Taran, and Jamal’s girlfriend, Anna, they soon discover the truth goes much deeper, with terrible personal consequences at hand..

I found this to be a fast paced, action packed thriller of a story that I believe to be The U.K’s answer to “The Hate U Give” (THUG). A story that explores social injustice at the hands of corruption, and rogue police. A story that turns the lives of 4 teens upside down when they become privy to too much information and the decision they need to make – either stay silent and go on the run or take a stand and have justice prevail. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, the dialogue between the characters and I even came to care for the characters we followed. The book’s structure was also well done as it was following a time line (as in time of day) rather than chapters so it really brought the story to life for me. To be honest, I really hope this story is adapted to film as I believe it would be well received by the YA reader community. I recommend this book to readers of YA who enjoy suspense, action and is interested in reading stories that explore deep themes such as social injustice and community.

Special thanks to Date A Book YA (Hachette) Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

A dark tale you wont forget in a hurry

Princess Lira is a siren of royal blood and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. As punishment for this crime, The Sea Queen (Lira’s mother) transforms Lira into a human, robbed of her song and has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever. As for Prince Elian, the ocean is the only place he calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than a hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of the siren kind for good—But can he trust her?

This book felt like reading The Little Mermaid meets Pirates of the Caribbean meets Mr & Mrs Smith (yes please forgive me for doing that). This is definitely a dark fairytale retelling that is written very well and easy to follow even with the dual perspectives as you can easily differentiate between the characters as the story progresses.  It’s reasonably paced and what I enjoy the most is how steady relationships develop throughout the story among the characters. It keeps you engaged from the first chapter. I recommend this book to readers who, like me, enjoy fairytale retellings or love fantasy fiction stories set at sea.

Special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Found by Fleur Ferris

Elizabeth (Beth) Miller is a 17 year old who has lived in the small rural town of Deni her entire life. Just an ordinary girl who just wants to enjoy life, hang out with friends and probably would complain about school, her biggest problem is telling her over protective and fiercely private father that she now has a boyfriend – Jonah. But on the very day Beth is about to bite the bullet and tell her father about Jonah, her father disappears before her without explanation. In a heartbeat, Beth’s life is under threat and turned upside down as she discovers she wasn’t who she thought she was and life in Deni isn’t so simple anymore….

I cannot believe I read this in ONE sitting!!! Once again, Fleur Ferris dazzled me with an engrossing and intense YA thriller!!! A great story with an underlying message that yes the past CAN and WILL catch up with you. Set in a small town, this story is told in a dual perspective following Beth and Jonah. Multi perspective reads can suffer when characters cannot be easily differentiated however in this book, it was very easy to tell them apart, their voices and character were well defined and the story was very easy to follow.  Action packed, fast paced, intense, chilling (at times) even heartbreaking. The ongoing mystery kept me in suspense and I really couldn’t put the book down. When I finally got my answers, my response was an ‘ahh! no way!’. (yes.. out loud in my living room). I also enjoyed how the story kept it real: both characters were thrown into situations where they had to be strong to survive and also deal with the reality of the situation but they were also vulnerable at the same time which makes them human. The moments when both Beth and Jonah were trying to collect their thoughts really put me in their minds as such, I came to care about these characters a lot. I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy suspenseful YA thrillers. Great read!

Special thanks to Penguin Random House Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie