The Eyes of Tamburah by Maria V. Snyder

Scheduled release date: June 2019

Shyla is a researcher who resides in Zirdai, an underground desert city ruled by the wealthy Water Prince and brutal Heliacal Priestess. Everyone lives below ground as the sun is too fierce above. Although Shyla is sun-kissed (an outcast and considered cursed by the Sun Goddess) she is still renowned for uncovering innumerable archaic facts, lost artifacts, ancient maps, and obscure historical documents. Her quiet life is about to change when Banqui, an archaeologist, enlists her services to find The Eyes of Tamburah: legendary gemstones that bestows great magic to its wielder. These ancient objects can tip the balance of power and give whoever possesses them complete control of the city. Chaos erupts when The Eyes are stolen soon after they’re found and Shyla is blamed for the theft. Forced to flee, with the Prince’s soldiers and the Priestess’ deacons on her trail, Shyla must recover the jewels and clear her name. A quest that will unearth secrets even more valuable than The Eyes of Tamburah themselves.

I have been a fan of Maria’s work for some time. All of her books are great but I have to admit, The Eyes of Tamburah is now a personal favourite. I guess this is due to personal taste in the books I love to read. The setting of this book reminded me of an amazing TV documentary called “Cities of the Underworld”, a show that takes us on a journey back in time to the ancient cities in the Middle East and the Cradle of Civilisation that have since been built up over time. I loved how the characters lived below ground as the sun was too incredibly hot and they have to travel up and down levels to simply move around. What made it interesting is different levels proved to be treacherous for various reasons. I enjoyed Shyla as a character, her job was mesmerising being able to read maps and ancient scrolls as a job but I loved her undying loyalty to her friend that was her motivation to set out on a dangerous journey to retrieve the stolen eyes of Tamburah. Her endurance and her strength made her a likeable character in my view. Her connections between Rendor and Banqui were also very interesting.

The flow of the story was fantastic as the world building and new terminology was easy to learn through the constant dialogue between the characters. Personally I like books that have a lot of dialogue more than descriptions. Makes the story and characters really come to life in my mind. Some of the scenes in this book reminded me of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom which made it even more exciting to read. This book really stands out from the other series I have read. As I adore books that have an easy flow to read with an have an Arabian desert feel to it, this book has earned a special place with my book loves of 2019.

With special thanks to Harlequin Teen Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy of this book.
-Annie

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We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal – with exclusive Q&A with Hafsah Faizal

The epic debut in the Sands of Arawiya Series!!

People lived because she killed.
People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.

Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, We Hunt the Flame is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands

“An idle mind is the devil’s playground…”

As I heard about this book a year ago, I purposely took my time to read this slowly so I really could really immerse myself in the intricate world of Arawiya. What first drew me in was how the world was inspired by ancient Arabia and the story included a strong female character, djinn and ifrit – elements of an epic Arabian inspired tale. The world building in the first quarter of the book did take a bit of time as the world of Arawiya is complex and made up of 6 main lands or kingdoms or sectors that we learn about as we learn about our characters however it was still very engaging.
The way the author really described the landscape really brought back memories of my visit to Arabia as images of the Arabian desert and ancient Arabian villages came to life in my mind. It really triggered my imagination. The characters really came to life too and I kept picturing characters dressed as the cast from an Islamic history movie called “The Message” which is set in 6th Century Arabia. From the clothes to the housing to the Arabian food – the author did an amazing job in bringing everything to life – I actually wanted to go to Arawiya!!
The book is very clever and lyrical. There are multiple story lines that blend together so eloquently and I came to care for the characters we met – particularly Zafira and Nasir. Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, The Sultan. Both have a lot at stake and both are legends of Arawiya.

“The first step in getting anywhere is believing you can…”

This is my book love for 2019 and it is only just released. For me, this book had everything from deep fantasy world building inspired by one of the most exotic places I have come to know to a journey of self-discovery, empowerment and courage. Epic plot twists that lured me deeper and deeper into the story and the way it ended was quite exciting – yes there is a cliffhanger I am really looking forward to but will definitely re-read the finished copy. I am so happy this book is written.
-Annie

First and foremost, a book by a Muslim author set in Arabia with kick-ass characters is already very special, and I completely get the hype around the book. For me, however, the beginning was a bit hard to get through. There was a lot of story building, and the only reason I was able to understand a lot of it was because of my prior knowledge of the Arabic language.
 
Once you get past the first few chapters it becomes much easier to read and immerse yourself in the world the story is set in. What I liked about it was obviously the fierce female protagonist and the very interesting world it was set in, and how the secrets were slowly revealed as you keep reading.
The ending seemed a little rushed, and cliche, but it ended on an interesting cliff hanger that definitely makes you want to get the next book in your hands ASAP!  And I also appreciate Hafsa for making it clear that there is no Muslim representation in the book, and that Arab is not equal to Muslim. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!!!
-Aida

Exclusive Blog Q&A with author of We Hunt the Flame, Hafsah Faizal

The names of your characters are very unique and beautiful. Is there a reason you chose certain names for them?
Yes! Each character name ties into that character’s personality and role in the story—most of the time, anyway. I put a lot of thought into each name, and I love that anyone who analyzes them will be rewarded with an extra treat! The names Zafira and Nasir are both variations on the word “victorious.” There’s something deeply satisfying about two people who seem wholly different being entwined in ways that aren’t obvious at first.

Who is your favourite character and why?
I can never answer this question, because I love Zafira and Nasir equally. I love Altair, too, the general who somehow became a main character without even having a point-of-view of his own! If I had to choose which character’s point-of-view I like best, however, I’d say Nasir, because we get to learn his feelings about Zafira, Altair, and the rest of the cast, and how drastically those views change as the story progresses.

What is your writing process?
I just write! I try not to pause for research and the like when I’m in the thick of it, saving those for before or after a writing session so as not to disrupt the flow. The process itself varies depending on my mood or the scene I’m writing. Sometimes, I have a clear image in my head that’s a breeze to get down. Other times, I’ll have to write a few different versions to see which fits the scene best. One thing I’ve learned: trust the characters. They know what they want, and if it’s not clear at first, I can usually uncover their motives and desires after a few edits!

Where do you go for inspiration and motivation?
Pinterest! Admittedly, finding anything Middle Eastern is hard because it’s so often mixed with South Asia, but there’s always something! For motivation… it depends. Sometimes, when I’m in a rut, I just need to watch an Assassin’s Creed game trailer. Other times, I just need to work on something else, usually design projects.

Why did you choose ancient Arabia or an Arabian nights theme for your debut novel?
This is a long story, but I never set out to write a story inspired by the world of ancient Arabia. We Hunt the Flame started off as a fantasy set in a eurocentric world, but while drafting, I had a nagging sense of something being off, but I couldn’t figure out what. After about thirty-thousand words, I stopped to craft the world’s map when it hit me: the structure of my world matched that of the Mediterranean. Why not go further south—to the world of Arabia—and set the story in a place more familiar to me? It’s a place so often demonized and sometimes exoticized, and I had the chance to make a difference. The rest, as they say, is history!

From initial idea to draft to manuscript to publication, how long did “We Hunt the Flame” take you to write?
I’m not sure when the initial idea for the story occurred, but between the time I started writing We Hunt the Flame until its publication on May 14th, 2019, it took roughly six years. It was going to be my last attempt at publication, so I took it less seriously than I did my other manuscripts. Once I finished the first draft, I became more dedicated to it—between polishing the draft, querying, and auction, it took around six months! Which is the perfect analogy to publishing: things can move excruciatingly slow one moment, and lightning quick the next.

I love the map of Arawiya, I actually printed it and it’s hanging on my desk at work (yes I know, I’m a nerd) I am curious to know how you come up with the landscape/map of Arawiya, did you design it and mark everything yourself or did you have a ‘bookish cartographer’ on hand?
Oh gosh, I adore the map! Virginia Allyn is the mastermind behind the stunning work of art. As I said, I put together a sketch of the world early on. It was very bare bones, with defined borders and locations. When the time came, I sent that sketch, symbolism, and as many details as I could to Virginia, who turned it around with the amazing map we have now. Funny thing, back when being published was a dream I didn’t fully believe in, I used to hoard bookish maps and humor myself that I would have a map half as beautiful one day. Dreams do come true!

What is the best piece of advice you received during your writing journey and what would you pass onto other aspiring writers?
You can’t edit what isn’t there.
I know, it’s such an obvious thing, but when you’re drafting, it’s so easy to feel like the words you’re writing aren’t good enough. It’s easy to get caught up on editing the same passages over and over again, which is hindering, and tends to slow me down drastically, when instead, I could be finishing a draft and getting a better idea of what needs editing. I’m still learning to “just write,” so if you’ve mastered this, you’re a pro already!

Visit her website for more on ‘We Hunt the Flame’ and updates from: Hafsah Faizal

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending us an advanced review copy of this book and for organising our exclusive blog Q&A with the amazing Hafsah Faizal.

ARC read along + Blog Review + Q&A
compiled by Annie and Aida

The Secret Runners of New York by Matthew Reilly

THE COMING END

When Skye Rogers and her twin brother Red move to Manhattan, rumours of a coming global apocalypse are building. But this does not stop the young elite of New York from partying without a care.

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

And then suddenly Skye is invited to join an exclusive gang known as the Secret Runners of New York.
But this is no ordinary clique – they have access to an underground portal that can transport them into the future. And what Skye discovers in the future is horrifying: the rumours about the coming apocalypse are true . . .

RUN! AS FAST AS YOU CAN!

As society crumbles and Skye and Red race to figure out how to use their knowledge to survive the impending annihilation, they soon discover that the chaotic end of the world is a fine time for revenge .

As a long time, die hard fan of Matthew Reilly, I was naturally keen to read his new stand alone novel- the secret runners of New York. Although Matthew doesn’t regard it as a young adult novel himself, it does come across as a Young adult read. Having taken that on board, it is a well written, fast paced novel. Whilst his Jack West Jr. and Scarecrow enthusiast fans may find it disappointing – (no maghooks ), I can assure you there are plenty of gruesome deaths, nasty characters and a new female protagonist in Skye Rogers who gives as good as she gets. And, it is still a heart stopping read that will have your pulse racing with all the trademark Matthew Reilly twists and mayhem. I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this, it is definitely an interesting read that will have you turning pages rapidly. This is classic Matthew Reilly, scaled down so readers of all ages can enjoy it. Loved it!
-Kay

Having never tapped into Matthew Reilly before, this was my introduction to his work. For me the book was easy to follow and very fast paced but the characters annoyed me although the dynamic between the siblings was interesting. I guess I find spoilt rich kids eye roll worthy (lol) the mystery of missing kids in an elite school, the time travel aspect and societal breakdown in New York was what held my attention to the end. This book took me on an adventure I didn’t expect. Overall I enjoyed it and I would like to hear from other Matthew Reilly fans to compare to this book to his previous works. I’m interested in reading more.
-Annie

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending us a review copy of this book.

Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet

From the writer of the Kingmaker Chronicles comes a brand new series..

Nighchaser is the first book in the new Endeavour Series

Captain Tess Bailey and her crew of Robin Hood-like thieves are desperate and on the run. Pursued by a vicious military general who wants them dead or alive, Tess has to decide if she can trust Shade Ganavan, a tall, dark and arrogant stranger with ambiguous motivations.

What Tess and Shade don’t know about each other might get them killed… unless they can set aside their differences and learn to trust each other – while ignoring their off-the-charts chemistry.

Space travel. Theft. Telling your overlord tyrant of a father where to stuff it.

Rebels, Overlord soldiers, Bounty hunters and one hell of a cash reward for Tess Bailey wanted dead or alive (preferably alive).

The show down at the end of the book promises to continue into the next book.

Great Book!!!
-Meredith

Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye

Work hard… Mischief harder…

From the writer of The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate comes an exciting new fantasy series full of magic, intrigue, betrayal and action!!!

Sora can move as silently as a ghost and hurl throwing stars with lethal accuracy. Her gemina, Daemon, can win any physical fight blindfolded and with an arm tied around his back. They are apprentice warriors of the Society of Taigas—marked by the gods to be trained in magic and the fighting arts to protect the kingdom of Kichona.  As their graduation approaches, Sora and Daemon look forward to proving themselves worthy of belonging in the elite group—but in a kingdom free of violence since the Blood Rift Rebellion many years ago, it’s been difficult to make their mark. So when the pair encounter a strange camp of mysterious soldiers while on a standard scouting mission, they decide the only thing to do to help their kingdom is to infiltrate the group. Taking this risk will change Sora’s life forever—and lead her on a mission of deception that may fool everyone she’s ever loved.

This was interesting book, definitely not what I expect or got used to with this amazing author from her previous books. If like me, you’ve read “The Crown’s Game” and “The Crown’s Fate” cast your mind away from that duology if you wish to tap into this new series. This is very different. It’s a whole new world, whole new playing field.. I enjoyed the cultural fusion in this book that reminded me of Asian and European legends and tales. Although the book did take some time to engage me in the beginning due to slow plot development and world building, the twists that popped up throughout the story and the interesting characters held my attention to the end. The friendship between our two main characters was something I adored so much and there were moments throughout the book that touched my heart. I found this book is something you need to read without any distraction. The world building is detailed and the multiple perspectives can confuse you if you’re not 100% focused on the story. I have faith in this series so I am definitely invested and looking forward to the sequel now.

Special thanks to Harper Collins publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Navigating the Stars by Maria V. Snyder

First book in a new Sci-Fi series!!!!

Both NJ and Annie had the privilege of reading Maria’s manuscript then the advanced review copy before it hit the shelves. It was quite an amazing experience to be part of Maria’s journey as her first readers!!!

‘Terra Cotta Warriors have been discovered on other planets in the Milky Way Galaxy. And Lyra Daniels’ parents are the archaeological Experts (yes with a capital E) on the Warriors and have dragged her to the various planets to study them despite the time dilation causing havoc with her social life.  When one of the many Warrior planets goes silent, and looters attack her research base, Lyra becomes involved in discovering why the Warriors were placed on these planets. And, more importantly, by who…’

I really enjoyed Navigating The Stars! If you liked the Inside Out series, you’ll enjoy this one more as the characters are older and the world is bigger. If you have read her other works or is a fan of Maria’s novels, you will continue to enjoy the level of detail she puts into amazing world building, plot twists and characters in this new series.
-NJ

This book was pretty amazing, very fun to read with some hilariously witty dialogue. The premise was what captured my attention first – a story about terracotta warriors set in outer space!! So clever, so unique and I really enjoyed following the protagonist Li-Li (or Lyra) I loved the banter between her and Niall whom she meets on this intergalactic adventure and the storyline was quite fast paced.
-Annie

An exclusive interview with Maria V. Snyder to come – stay tuned!!!

Special thanks to Maria V. Snyder for having us on board as her early readers and to Harlequin Teen Publishers for sending us Advance Review Copies of this book.

 

 

A Curse of Ash and Embers by Jo Spurrier

A dead witch. A bitter curse. A battle of magic.

Some people knit socks by the fire at night – Gyssha Blackbone made monsters. But the witch is dead now, and somehow it’s Elodie’s job to clean up the mess. When she was hired at Black Oak Cottage, Elodie had no idea she’d find herself working for a witch; and her acid-tongued new mistress, Aleida, was not expecting a housemaid to turn up on her doorstep. Gyssha’s final curse left Aleida practically dead on her feet and now, with monsters roaming the woods, a demonic tree lurking in the orchard and an angry warlock demanding repayment of a debt, Aleida needs Elodie’s help and no matter what the old witch throws at her, to Elodie it’s still better than going back home. – the very place she is emotionally abused by her stepfather, unsupported by her mother and denied an education so much she is illiterate… Regardless, Elodie is determined to make this work…

A story of witches – ancient curses – folklore – strong women.. everything I like in a fantasy novel!!!

I really enjoyed this story, with the start making me feel incredibly frustrated with some of the characters – particularly Elodie’s stepfather, the emotional reaction I felt early on told me to strap on, I’m in for a wild ride.. and I was.. I loved how the story grew as we followed a confused character because as the story unfolded for us it unfolded for Elodie and we learnt things along the way – the secrets, Elodie’s real purpose in being hired.. Some parts were quite creepy but it sent me into a world I least expected. An easy read you can get through pretty quickly, immersive and intriguing.

Special thanks to Harper Voyager Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie