A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings. These are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.

Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.

Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renee Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong.

A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place. From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures and Ameriie’s New York Times–bestselling Because You Love to Hate Me.

This is a fantastic compilation of short stories written by Asian voices!! These short stories are clever, immersive and intriguing retellings of myths and legends from around Asia. Each story was so unique and profound and interestingly at the end of each short story, we get to read the original legend and a piece from each author explaining the legend and what it means to them and why they chose this particular myth or legend as a foundation for their retelling.

It was such a great book to read I thoroughly enjoyed it (as I am a huge fan of cultural myths and legends) and to see them recreated to other short stories with the original tale as an explanation to the story was magical for me. Personally I wish I saw an Indonesian story in there as Indonesian is a land of many myths and legends but I guess it may have to be up to me to write one!

It’s very difficult to choose a favourite as I loved each story and tale equally for different reasons. I highly recommend this to all readers who enjoy legend retellings, particularly in the form of a short stories collection.
-Annie

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Nothing is more important than loyalty.
But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself? With extraordinary world-building and breathtaking prose, Raybearer is the story of loyalty, fate, and the lengths we’re willing to go for the ones we love.

I had the pleasure of reading an Advance Review Copy of this book followed by tuning in to a YA virtual panel that featured this lovely author. Upon reading this book then listening to the author’s inspirations for writing this book and her writing process, I was able to put it altogether and have a great appreciation for this story. Personally, I love reading fantasy fiction where the story line is derived from cultural legends and backgrounds and I believe this author executed this brilliantly in this story. This book is inspired by Nigerian legend and I have only started seeing Nigerian legends represented in fantasy recently which is amazing. I hope to see more – their culture and legends are fascinating to me. The world building of Aritsar was stable and steady to ease me into this complex world and story line from the beginning. Even from the first chapter, I felt enchanted and hooked to the end. I enjoyed Tarisai as a character too, there were times I admired her strength and I also really felt for the tribulations she was enduring.  This book had a bit of everything from steady world building, wonderful friendships, addictive plot, magic, adventure, suspense – even a hint of romance. It was a well rounded book and a fantastic debut.

Recommended to fans of stories with complex worlds and derived from cultural legends, particularly readers who have enjoyed YA books by Tomi Adeyemi and Sabaa Tahir and adult books by S.K Chakraborty. With special thanks to The Nerd Daily for organising an ARC for me.
-Annie

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Release date: 7 July 2020
Publisher: Newsouth Books

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I loved this book so much and feel very privileged to have read the ARC. There was so much depth, uncertainty, irrational feelings and sweet moments. All of the things that make up love in the real world. Love is terrifying and nobody is perfect which is why this book is extremely important. There were some heart breaking moments but the beautiful moments that followed helped me heal from what I previously read. Such a well rounded book, definitely a favourite of 2020 and I hope we see more of Oliver and Luc in the future.

With special thanks to Newsouth Books for an Advanced Reading Copy of this book.
-Tianna

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Pride and Prejudice with a modern twist 

Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on.  Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.

When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.

This book was pitched to me as a Muslim ‘Pride and Prejudice’ retelling – naturally as a Muslim reader and blogger I was intrigued. From the moment I picked up this book, I was HOOKED! I could not put this down. There are so many great things I want to say about this book that I need a moment to collect my thoughts before writing my review. First of all, I want to thank the author for writing such an amazing book because it demonstrated so many things that happens around us that many seem to think is restricted to one particular faith or culture when it’s not. What was also intriguing is how the author referenced Islamic beliefs throughout the book and demonstrated the clash between culture and Islam which is what happens a lot today.

The author also did an amazing job in illustrating various ‘types’ of Muslims whom exist in our community – when I say types I mean.. Ayesha: the character I was able to relate to most, is educated, outspoken, independent but follows her faith and keeps Islam close to her heart, even wears the hijab. She loves poetry and wishes to pursue her career but still holds her family close and does not tend to conform to community expectations. I found her loyalty to family and those who take advantage of her easily was her flaw – for a smart woman she was easily taken advantage of by her own cousin from time to time but that’s what made Ayesha a strong character – whilst she had great qualities, she was still flawed Khalid on the other hand is more conservative with an ideology of arranged marriage and conforming to community expectations instilled in him. Both characters are Muslim yet very different from one another – the supporting characters we meet, Clara (Ayesha’s non-Muslim friend) and Amir (Khalid’s Muslim yet doesn’t practice the faith friend) demonstrated the diversity within friendships and again illustrated an honest picture among our society which is something I adored. I loved the characters in this book – even the horrible characters I wanted to slap! The author did an amazing job in bringing out well defined characters that caused me to have an emotional reaction with their every move.

When I first started reading this book, I was expecting just a romance story between an unlikely couple and whilst that is a foundation in this book, the story is much more intense and involved than a simple love story. The story was not simple – it was complex and intense, an amazing journey of change, harrowing backstories about the multiple characters we come to meet, discrimination and issues Muslims face today, betrayal and heartbreak with well balanced with humour. This incredibly well rounded book with fantastic characters, plot and my constant need to know “what happens next?” kept me enchanted on every page.

With special thanks to Allen and Unwin for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

Jamie Goldberg is cool with volunteering for his local state candidate – as long as he’s behind the scenes. There’s no way he’d ever knock on doors to ask people for their votes…until he meets Maya.

Maya Rehman’s having the worst Ramadan ever. Her best friend is too busy to hang out, her summer trip is cancelled, her parents are separating and now her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing – with some awkward guy she hardly knows …

Going door to door isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, the polls are getting closer – and so are Maya and Jamie. Mastering local activism is one thing. Navigating the cross-cultural crush of the century is another thing entirely.

A real, raw, engaging and important read for all. I was very excited when I first heard about this amazing author collaboration and when I had the pleasure of reading it, I was blown away. Imagine being a person of faith living in a world where political agendas attempt to oppress your way of life right down to how you dress? Oh wait.. that happens now!!

This book was so well written in two perspectives told from a Jewish boy (Jamie) who becomes friends with a Muslim girl (Maya) as they are partnered to go canvassing during an election campaign. It’s not a clash of faiths but a union of teenagers who have the same outlook in life. What they experience during this campaign was not only interesting but real and somewhat disturbing. Sadly I’ve shared some of the experiences Maya goes through.

I enjoyed both Jamie and Maya as characters. Both of them are flawed, have their own family issues and different backstories but draw strength from each other and grow as characters as the story proceeds. I also related to their frustration of being 17, expected to know and understand the world even expected to take interest in politics yet too young to vote.

Above all what I loved was how this book was not a fairytale. It wasn’t sugarcoated it’s was REAL but it shows hope in a world that feels bleak for many and I cannot thank both Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed enough for casting their two brilliant minds together and writing this book.

With special thanks to Simon & Schuster Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao

“Your affinity does not define you… what defines you is how you choose to wield it…”

The first in a new series about a princess hiding a dark secret and a con man she must trust to clear her name for her father’s murder…

“Blood Heir” is Amelie Wen Zhao’s debut and the first instalment in an epic new series that follows the story of Princess Anastacya Mikhailov of Cyrilia who has lived her life in safety, hidden behind palace walls. She is later framed for her father’s brutal murder and must leave behind everything she has ever known to find his killer and prove her innocence.

Alone, on the run, desperate and in danger, there is only one person who could help vindicate the princess. He is Ramson Quicktongue, a cunning, silver-tongued crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld. Though Ramson has sinister plans of his own, he may have met his match in Ana as the princess might just be the most dangerous player of them all.

This particular book was subject to controversy towards the end of 2018 as the author was slammed on Twitter for being offensive. The author was also subject to cyber bulling which led to a decision of retracting this book from publication. I read the blurb and the sample at the time and could not understand the controversy. I was elated, as were my friends, when I heard the book went ahead for publication and we were given the opportunity to be early readers as part of a blogger-buddy read along.

Starting this book on the first day of 2020 was the best start to the new year. “Blood Heir” was a fast paced and interesting read that I could not put down. I would rate this one of the best books we have read in some time. Personally, I felt this book sent me on a wild ride. From beginning to end I was quite impressed with the plot, characterisation and pacing not to mention the mystery surrounding Princess Anastacya’s plight and Ramson’s character. The story is full of twists and turns and is not afraid of being brutal and ripping apart this calm world. Whilst the inspiration of the Russian tale was there, I could see this book standing apart from the original tale.

I enjoyed both Ana and Ramson as characters and found them interesting as they formed an unlikely alliance but were worlds apart in their own minds. I couldn’t determine who to trust more as both blind sided me with their next moves as the story went on. I also really warmed up to the supporting character, May.

Now this book is finally in bookstores, I hope readers get a chance to sink their teeth into this one and enjoy it as much as I did and hopefully be their own judge for this story. Personally I really enjoyed it and I am trying to sit tight for the sequel.

With special thanks to Harper Voyager for sending me an early copy of “Blood Heir” and for supporting our blogger-buddy read along.

-Annie

The Wailing Woman by Maria Lewis

Although this is the fourth book released in what I like to call “The Maria Lewis Multiverse”, this book is read as a stand alone. A fast paced, exciting read that delves into the subjugation of women and about one brave woman who is finding her voice – note Maria’s dedication: “This book is dedicated to Mariah Carey… Seriously

Following two perspectives: Sadie Burke and Texas Contos, Sadie has been forced to be a good girl her entire life. As a banshee, she’s the bottom of the ladder when it comes to the supernatural hierarchy. Weak. Condemned. Powerless. Silent. That’s what she and her six sisters have been told their entire lives, since their species was first banished from Ireland. Yet when a figure from her childhood unexpectedly arrives on the scene, Sadie finds it harder than ever to toe the line. Texas Contos on the other hand is the son of their greatest oppressor. He’s also someone she’s inexplicably drawn to, and as they grow closer, Sadie begins to question what banshees have been told for centuries about their gifts.

But the truth comes at a cost. With Sadie and Tex forced to run for their lives, their journey leads them to new friends, old enemies, and finally to her true voice – one that could shatter the supernatural world forever.

Once again, I am in love with the “Maria Lewis Multiverse” but I have to say this one is a personal favourite now. I really enjoyed how Maria develops both characters we follow: Sadie and Texas – how she demonstrates their strengths and flaws so well. I really found Banshees as a creatures in this story interesting as they are very different to other supernatural creatures I have read. Maria did so well in tying characters from her other books in this one, blending them into a new story and referencing their backstories too. Learning about the Askari was also quite interesting and seeing two worlds collide in this book was probably the book’s strength.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and I really couldn’t put the book down. I found it very easy to get into, great plot and great pace. With special thanks to Hachette Publishers for sending me an Advance Review Copy (and manuscript) of this book.
-Annie