The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

Moving between Imperial China and France during the ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution and inspired by the true story of the quest for a blood-red rose.

Viviane de Faitaud has grown up alone at the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, for her father, the Marquis de Ravoisier, lives at the court of Louis XVI in Versailles. After a hailstorm destroys the chateau’s orchards, gardens and fields an ambitious young Welshman, David Stronach, accepts the commission to plan the chateau’s new gardens in the hope of making his name as a landscape designer.
David and Viviane fall in love, but it is an impossible romance. Her father has betrothed her to a rich duke who she is forced to marry and David is hunted from the property. Viviane goes to court and becomes a maid-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette and a member of the extended royal family. Angry and embittered, David sails away from England with Lord Macartney, the British ambassador, who hopes to open up trade with Imperial China.

In Canton, the British embassy at last receives news from home, including their first reports of the French Revolution. David hears the story of ‘The Blue Rose’, a Chinese fable of impossible love, and discovers the blood-red rose growing in the wintry garden. He realises that he is still in love with Viviane and must find her.

Viviane escapes the guillotine and returns to the ruin of Chateau de Belisima to rebuild her life. David carrying a cluster of rosehips finds her there, and together they decide to grow the fabled red rose of China in France.

This book was so beautifully written and I am so humbled to have received an advance copy of this book which helped me prepare for the in conversation I hosted with Kate the other week. I would rate this 4.5 stars. Once again, Kate weaved an intricate story that blended history with a beautiful fairytale that became a unique tale about overcoming boundaries, acceptance and unconditional love. It was fascinating to learn about the cruelty of the world in 1700 and the parallel between France and China. The connection between our favourite characters David and Vivianne truly warmed my heart.

-Annie

Beautifully written. I loved how all the elements of the story are tied in so well together, from the commonalities between the Imperial France and Imperial China, the French Revolution and the class system, to the characters and their encounters. I felt the storytelling was masterful. In true Kate Forsyth style, this novel drew inspiration from the Blue Rose fairy-tale from China with the central themes of achieving impossible love, freedom and hope through the symbol of the blood red rose. What I enjoyed most about this book is the exploration of freedom and how it is presented in both the ancient fairy-tale and through the French Revolution. In particular, freedom to choose who you love, freedom to live the life you want, and freedom to be who you want to be. It also presents an insight into imperial China. Kate Forsyth has done massive research into Imperial China and has respectfully represented the differences in cultures and understanding, as well as used symbolism to weave a thoughtful and delicate love story set during turbulent times of the French Revolution. The writing is elegant and thoughtful, each chapter engaging and takes the reader on an immersive journey. Highly recommended.
-NJ

With special thanks to Penguin Random House Australia for sending us an Advanced Review Copy of this book.

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Underdog: #LoveOzYA Short Stories edited by Tobias Madden

Short tales from the Australian writers of tomorrow.

Featuring stories by Tobias Madden, Sofia Casanova, Cassi Dorian, Michael Earp, Jes Layton, Sophie L. McDonald, Stacey Malacari, Kaneana May, K.M Stamer-Squair, Sarah Taviani, Vivian Wei and Felicity Martin

#LoveOzYA celebrates the best of new Australian writing for teenage readers. It has grown from a humble hashtag into a movement, reflecting the important role young-adult fiction plays in shaping our current generation of readers. This anthology collects, for the first time, some of the tremendous work from the #LoveOzYA community.

Featuring a foreword by award-winning Australian novelist Fleur Ferris (Risk, Wreck, Black and Found), Underdog celebrates the diverse, dynamic and ever-changing nature of our nation’s culture. From queer teen romance to dystopian comedy, from hard-hitting realism to gritty allegory, this brilliant, engrossing and inspiring collection of short stories will resonate with any teen reader, proving, yet again, why there is just so much to love about #LoveOzYA

I was just so incredibly impressed by all the short stories debuted in this anthology!! Each were written so incredibly well, all of them so exciting and insightful to read and what really impressed me was how diverse this anthology is – no two stories are the same and you can really hear the voice and the passion speaking up through the pages by each contributing author. It was very difficult to choose a favourite as each was so unique I loved each story equally but for different reasons. I believe this book really needs to have a shining light on it and all Aussie readers need to pick this up. Huge congrats to all contributing authors in this book for making a debut with your short story! I’m so excited for this to hit the shelves soon! I really hope there are many more to come!

Special thanks to Tobias Madden (editor) and Underdog Books for sending me an advance review copy of this book and for having me on board to launch this book in March 2019.
-Annie

A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Release Date: End of January/Early February 2019

“We are all dealt a hand at birth. A good hand can ultimately lose – just as a poor hand can win but we must play all the cards fate deals. The choices we face may not be the choices we want, but they are choices nonetheless”

A contemporary fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast – none like you have ever read before!!!! 

“Fall in love, break the curse… Break the curse, save the kingdom..”

Rhen: It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope…

Harper: Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world…

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. Powerful forces are standing against the land of Emberfall and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people…

This was a fantastically, amazing beauty and the beast retelling!!! None like I have ever read before!!! I enjoyed the dual perspective as it was to distinguish both characters: Rhen and Harper. The story made grow to care for the characters very much. I have to be honest, I found Jake annoying, Noah to be lovely but my heart is with Grey!! From beginning to end, the story traveled and developed at a great pace. I loved how as we progressed, more secrets are unlocked and wow that ending – I honestly did not see it coming!!!

This was the first time I ever read a book either cerebral palsy representation and I feel it was written very well. I did a buddy read for this book with a dear friend who also has cerebral palsy and throughout the reading, I cross referenced what we read and she too agreed an individual with cerebral palsy was represented very well in this book. What I admired was how Harper, who is the character with cerebral palsy, did not have her condition define her. If anything, she is someone who just happens to have cerebral palsy. She is a very head strong, loyal and determined young lady above everything else.

I strongly recommend this book to all who enjoy YA fantasy fiction and story retellings. It is truly one of my 2019 book loves already!

Special thanks to Bloomsbury Publishers for sending me an advance review copy of this book.
-Annie

Michael Jackson: All the Songs – The Story Behind Every Song, Every Video, Every Dance Move by Richard Lecocq and François Allard

The complete, definitive study of Michael Jackson’s artistic legacy.

This is the only book that tells the story behind every single song that the King of Pop ever released – from his formative years with the Jackson Five to his incredible and much-loved output as a solo artist. Over 200 songs, videos and revolutionary dance moves are analysed, uncovering the fascinating stories around their creation and allowing fans the chance to truly understand the artistry behind them.

When this piece of memorabilia turned up on my door step, it was the first time book mail ever reduced me to tears… As a life long fan of Michael Jackson, this book is simply amazing and I agree this is the ultimate encyclopedia for the fans whom now have the opportunity to read the backstory behind every song he ever produced starting from his days as a boy in Steeltown Records to when he and the Jackson 5 hit it big in Mowtown through to his very successful solo career before his untimely death in 2009.. It is so incredibly comprehensive and detailed, just when I thought I knew it all, I learnt something new.  Michael Jackson was indeed one amazing artist taken from us too soon, you really have a piece of him with you in this book. I love and cherish this so much – it’s never leaving the house!!

Special thanks and much love to Hachette Publishers for sending me this beautiful gem for review!!!

Love you always and forever, Michael Jackson…
-Annie

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor returns with the sequel to the wonderful Strange the Dreamer with this gem!!!

If you haven’t read Strange the Dreamer yet, please do not read this review as it may contain spoilers…

Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old.

She believed she knew every horror and was beyond surprise.

She was wrong.

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep. Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the Muse of Nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of. Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this great sequel to Strange the Dreamer!!!

I love this book so much. It’s absolutely everything I hoped for and much more. Laini Taylor weaves a magical story about love, found family and redemption. It has so many great themes and characters that have dimension. I am also really happy about the wonderful universe.
It’s amazing!!!

-NJ

Kidz Korner Round Up of Recommendations for the Younger Read3rz!!!

It’s been a great haul with some wonderful recommendations for our younger readers.. enjoy!!!

The Prince and the Witch and the Thief and The Bears by Alastair Chisholm, Illustrated by Jez Tuya

A bed time story between father and son. A story that keeps getting interrupted by question after question. But the questions are patiently answered by the father.

Even though the father finishes the story to his son, he gets asked another question about the… and the father replies that we find out them tomorrow night. I really want to know.

The witch and her best friend are my favourite characters.

Many thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Meredith

 

The Boy who grew Dragons by Andy Shepard, illustrated by Sara Ogilivie

When Tomas discovers a strange old tree at the bottom of his grandad’s garden, he doesn’t think much of it. But he takes the funny fruit from the tree back into the house – and gets the shock and delight of his life when a tiny dragon hatches! The tree is a dragonfruit tree, and Tomas has got his very own dragon, Flicker.. Tomas soon finds out that life with Flicker is great fun, but also very … unpredictable. Yes, dragons are wonderful, but they also set fire to your toothbrush and leave your pants hanging from the TV aerial. Tomas has to learn how to look after Flicker – and quickly. And then something extraordinary happens – more dragonfruits appear on the tree. Tomas is officially growing dragons – very adventurous and a lot of fun!!!
-Annie

 

Sad, The Dog by Sandy Fussell, Illustrated by Tull Suwannakit

A clever little dog christens himself “Sad” when his humans fail to give him a name. Although they feed him and wash him, they don’t appreciate his many gifts, like his love of singing. When the people move away and leave Sad behind, Sad is heartbroken. But then a new family with a young boy arrives at Sad’s house in a big truck.

A beautiful written story where the illustrations bring the words to life.

I would love to have this puppy as part of the family. Who wouldn’t?

Special thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Meredith

 

The Story Orchestra: The Sleeping Beauty  by Jessica Courtney Tickle

A stunning retelling of the classic ballet story brought to life by music! On each page you press the music button and the sound of Tchaikovsky’s original music plays in the background as you read this beautiful ballet story which features the King and Queen as they throw a party for their new baby, Princess Aurora. But when a terrible guest arrives and places a curse on princess, the kingdom must find the one special person who can defeat it… We have it on good authority that it captivates readers as young as 2 years old!!! It’s such a stunning gift book, special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

 

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra

It’s homework time for the little red chicken, who has just learned about something every good story should have: an elephant of surprise. Or could it be an element of surprise!! As they dive in to story after story, looking for the part that makes a reader say “Whoa! I didn’t know that was going to happen,” Elephant or element, something unexpected awaits Papa in every story, but a surprise may be in store for the little red chicken as well.

A sweet tale of a child who misheard/misunderstood the saying ‘element of surprise’.

An entertaining read for anyone who has ever tried to explain a saying to a young child.

Special thanks to Walker Books for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Meredith

 

Old Hat by Emily Gravett

Harbet likes his comfy knitted hat, but the others keep jeering at him – OLD HAT! OLD HAT! No matter what headwear he buys – be it a towering fruit platter hat, an old-boot-on-the-head hat or a brightly lit traffic cone hat, Harbet cannot keep up with the latest fashions. As soon as he gets a brand new hat it is already an . . . OLD HAT! It seems that Harbet will never fit in. But when one day he decides to go his own way, Harbet discovers just how much more fun it is to stop following others and think for yourself

A fun read for anyone. Where Harbet tries to keep up with the latest hat trends, but always seems to be one step behind.

It takes a little while for Harbet to come into his own. And it’s fun to see his friends trying to match him.

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Meredith

 

Such a great haul- watch this space, more for recommendations for our junior readers coming soon!!!

The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross + exclusive Q&A with author Leife Shallcross

Release Date: May 2018
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Hachette, Australia)

“I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both. I am the Beast. The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time. My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded. My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again. And now I might lose her forever.”

Firstly, we would like to give our special thanks to Hachette Publishers: Date A Book Team for an Advanced Review Copy we received at their exclusive Blogger Nighte and to author Leife Shallcross for being part of our personal read along journey and taking part in our exclusive blog interview. Such an exciting experience as we engaged in a read along with 2 amazing bloggers “Sydney Editor 1” and “Tien’s Blurb” who are also dear friends of ours and the author, Leife Shallcross herself! (Now a dear friend to us all) A lot of fun as we communicated spoiler free updates to each other and Leife sharing her writing experience and inspirations with us as we read along.

Our Thoughts
This was so beautifully written, I felt like I was reading a classical, melodic, fairytale with all the feels that really came to life in my mind!!! An amazing story that developed beautifully, fantastically well-defined characters, the author did such a great job in reimagining the tale that’s old as time and really took us deep into the heart of the beast. This is a story no one has heard before and a must read now. Beautiful writing and language, amazing characters you grow to love and a beast who I just want to hug!  Oh.. the love.. the feels.. for a first time in a very long time, I found this to be a book I needed to take a moment of silence for right at the end, it was that beautiful.
– Annie

This book is so beautifully written, you’ll feel the magic, the intricate storytelling, the love, all the feels that you can expect from a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I love that it’s set around about the 17th-century era, the restraint, the language and politeness all add to the charming storytelling. I love the characters, my fav has to be Marie. I’m also totally in love the Beast too as you’ll see everything from his perspective! This is a wonderful, magical and a timeless book and retelling. I only wish it came in hard copy as I feel I would be re-reading this book anytime I need to escape reality. There are so many parts that hit me right in the heart.
– NJ

Exclusive Q&A with author Leife Shallcross

What is the title of your debut novel and what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always loved fairy tales (I use them a lot in my writing), and I particularly love Beauty and the Beast because the two protagonists actually get to spend time falling in love. But one of the big story problems for me was always the question of how you make a romantic hero out of a man who has done something so awful that someone was compelled to put him under a curse for 100 years. So I wanted to explore that. I also wanted to create a fairy tale world I could just sink into and lose myself. My novel is The Beast’s Heart, and will be published by Hodder & Stoughton (Hachette) in May 2018. It’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast from the Beast’s perspective.

What sort of research goes into writing a book like this and how did you come up with the characters for your story? Were you reading other books or going online to search how one may dress at a particular time?
I did a fair bit of research into the historical details. There were so many little bits and pieces that I had to tweak to make them accurate! For example, in France in the 17th Century, people were usually married on the steps of the church, rather than inside at the altar (I didn’t know that before I started!) I did a lot of my research online, but obviously this means I had to be a bit careful about using reliable sources. Contemporary paintings are a great resource for things like food, clothes and table settings, but I had to bear in mind these were usually painted to hang in the houses of the rich and convey a sense of their wealth. I used original sources where I could (like church registers for names – it’s surprising how many are available on the net). My characters are mostly the ones you find in the usual B&B fairy tale, but I have tried to give them their own personalities, motivations and story arcs. I’ve added a few extra ones of my own devising, though!

If your book became a film adaptation, who would you cast to play your characters?
Such a tricky question! Perhaps Aidan Turner for the Beast. Or Theo James. And maybe Maisie Williams or Lily Collins for my heroine. I think you’d need someone very striking to play the Fairy. Perhaps Tilda Swinton or Eva Green?

Are you a reader yourself? What is your favourite genre and your favourite book?
Of course! I read a lot of fantasy and sci fi, and predictably I particularly love fairy tale retellings. I subscribe to the belief that before you can be a good writer, you have to be a devoted reader. But how am I supposed to choose a favourite book???? Argh! All time favourites include Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne-Jones, Beauty, by Robin McKinley and Red As Blood by Tanith Lee. Recent faves are Uprooted by Naomi Novik and the Shades of Magic series by V E Schwab. I could go on forever…

If you had the chance to create a soundtrack for “The Beast’s Heart” what would the track list look like?
Here’s a few:
-Green, by Alex Lloyd
-1000 Oceans, by Tori Amos
-Heartlines, by Florence & the Machine
-Photograph, by Ed Sheeran
-If Time is All I Have, by James Blunt.

During your writing journey, what was the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Find your writing community (and it can’t just be any old writing community, it has to be the right one. Your writing community. Your tribe. People who are going to get what you’re trying to write.) Writing can be a very lonely business, and it’s not just about being a good writer. You have to know about the industry and how to be professional about your craft. I’ve learned so much invaluable stuff from the wonderful, generous people in my writing community (the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild). I don’t think I’d be here today without them.