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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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

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

Nothing can prepare you for The Gauntlet…

A board game – made of wood, etched with exquisite images – a palace with domes and turrets, lattice-work windows that cast eerie shadows, a large spider—and at the very centre of its cover, in broad letters, is written: The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand.

Who remembers the classic Jumanji?? Well.. if you are like me and LOVE that movie (original and remake) then this is a book for you!!! The Gauntlet follows a trio of friends from New York City who find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children. It is more than just a game though. It is the most ancient, the most dangerous kind of magic as it holds worlds inside worlds and captures players to be prisoners. It is a race against the sands in the hour glass for this trio escape.

I thoroughly enjoyed this culturally infused fantasy story that may have been inspired by Jumanji and pitched as a Jumanji retelling but is definitely a unique story in its own right. Although the characters are children, I personally found the writing structure and language devices to be better suited to an older audience, say 12 years and up rather than 8 years and up. A fast paced, action packed story line that is a real page turner and full of adventure!!! It was great to see multiculturally diverse characters who become even better friends as they team up when having to face “The Gauntlet”. The Islamic representation was so accurate and it was fun to see a lead character was a hijabi girl!! Very easy to read and well written, I really enjoyed this and recommend it to anyone who wishes to roll the dice and seek a way to temporarily leave their world behind!!!

Publisher: Simon and Schuster – Salam Reads Subsidiary

-Annie

The Poppy War by R.F Kuang with exclusive mini Q&A

I had the pleasure of engaging in a read along with 2 of my dear friends, Tien of Tien’s Blurb and Maisie of SleepyWiredStudios it was one of the most engaging and engrossing reads I had read in some time, so much so, I suffered a book hangover after reading this book!!!

The Poppy War
Our protagonist is Rin – a war orphan who dwells in the lower socio-economic part of the Empire with a family who is the head of a notorious Opium Trade and believed they’d finally be able to marry Rin off to further their criminal enterprise. However, when Rin aces the Keju (the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to attend elite academies), it was a shock to everyone as it was unheard of for a war orphan from Rooster Province to blitz the test without cheating and a shock to Rin herself, who realised she was finally free of the life dictated to her.  What an amazing surprise that she got into Sinegard: the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising… but surprises aren’t always good… Given Rin’s stature, her time at Sinegard is not a walk in the park as she is singled out and targeted due to her socio-economic status, colour and gender yet before long, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power: an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Rin continues exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a well known yet seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances. As Rin learns of her new found power and that myths are very much real, the Nikara Empire was at peace until it is learnt that a third Poppy War is close at hand….

My Thoughts
This is definitely another book love for 2018, a book that consumed me so much I experienced a book hangover. I had the privilege of doing a read along with 2 of my girlfriends and we were all so mesmerised with the story line. From start to finish, I was engrossed in the plot and what becomes of the main character we follow, Rin. I loved the character development as we learn about her life as an orphan girl then forced into a family who is involved in an Opium trade and her determination to escape the life dictated to her to a life she wants of her own – the journey she takes, the torment she endured and her self discoveries really kept me turning the page!! In addition to Rin, I also loved all the characters that we follow in this story. Whether good or bad – each character was written extremely well and what I enjoyed was regardless of one’s strengths – there was a vulnerability which made it real..

CONTENT WARNING: Yes I should note, this book does come with a content warning as it covers Warfare and the author does not at all sugarcoat it from battle to Prisoner of War (PoW) treatment to torture. It is quite graphic, however I feel the author did a great job in writing these parts as once again, she kept it real despite the world we are reading. Although parts were not easy to read, I realise they would not have been easy to write, but these parts were written so well nonetheless. I had numerous emotional reactions throughout the book: gasping, laughing, cringing, anger – there’s even a part that was a bit of a tearjerker..

I loved this book so much, I loved the characters.. this is not a book I will forget in a hurry!!!

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

 

Mini Q&A with author R.F Kuang

This question is from Maisie: Rin is the main character we follow in this story however we come to meet some wonderful and very unlikeable characters in “The Poppy War” is there a particular character you enjoyed writing more than the other?
I love writing Jiang the most! He’s hilarious and he gets to do whatever he wants. Ramsa was fun too; I’m excited to expand his role in the sequel. 
This question is from Tien: I’ve been searching everywhere for the name of this series but I cannot see it anywhere – is there a name for this series and how many installments could we expect?
It’s The Poppy Wars Trilogy.  
I was curious to know your inspiration behind Rin’s background (like her back story from being an orphan girl to her transition to Sinegard) and inspiration for the militia academy.
Rin’s character arc is almost entirely based on the biography of Mao Zedong. 
How long did it take for you to write “The Poppy War” how different is the finished product from your original draft/idea?
It took me about three months to write the first draft that I sent out on queries. After I got an agent, we revised for two more months before putting it out on submission. Once I signed with Harper, we put it through three more revision stages–mostly final touch-ups at that point. The finished novel is quite close to what I wrote originally. Most of the revision work was to fix continuity problems and pacing issues. 
Outside of writing now: when you’re not writing/reading, what are your hobbies and interests?
Honestly, between schoolwork and writing, I don’t have time for much else. I read a lot–maybe a book every two or three days. 
R.F Kuang also said: “I am often asked about the historical atrocities and inspirations in Act 3, and it is bit difficult for me to have to discuss family trauma over and over. I’ve written two essays on the subject that I always link to interviewers”
-Annie

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe: Book 1) by Neal Shusterman

Thou shalt kill

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control. Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

This book is amazingly good! One of my favourite 2018 YA sci-fi read! Imagine a world where we’re so advanced that we cheated death and are immortal but in order to control the population growth, people have to be randomly killed off. The only people with that privilege to kill or grant immunity from death is if you’re a scythe. Therefore being a Scythe is both revered and feared.

This is a jam packed action book following two teenagers Citra and Rowan who became scythe apprentices, they must learning the art of killing but before all that they must learn to understand humanity, morals and humility. There’s politics, friendships and love on the line, and a deadly political competition to determine who will become the new Scythe and who will be gleaned. It’s a morbidly fascinating fast pace read with lots of plot twists. It’s so different to what I had expected!!!

I am now reading the sequel – keep an eye out for it!!

Special thanks to Walker Books Publishers for sending me review copies of these books
-NJ