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

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

Golden Unicorn: Rise of the Mythix Book 1 by Anh Do, illustrated by Chris Wahl

Published by: Allen and Unwin

Some heroes are legends. Some legends are real.

The tyrant known as the Soul Collector hunts down anything that is beautiful, unusual or unique.

Kelly Swift is trying hard to be an average teenager, to fit in. But every day her powers are growing: she can run faster than the wind, she can hear people’s thoughts, she is not normal.

When her mother is taken by the Soul Collector, Kelly can’t linger in the shadows any longer. But who is she really? Can she be the one in the prophecy? Is she…the Golden Unicorn?

The Golden Unicorn, the Minotaur and the Griffin –
Only these three united to a common purpose
can fell him who seeks to triumph over all…

I read this in one sitting! This is the first time I have ever read a MG fantasy book written by Anh Do and wow he nails it! Such a great story and written so well that even targeted for a younger audience, this book can be enjoyed by older readers too. I loved the plot, how the characters developed even the illustrations were very impressive. I found this book helped me for my own MG book writing too (thank you Mr Do) highly recommended to readers from ages 9 and up.. very enjoyable and adventurous.
-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

The Dragon Republic by R.F Kuang

“This world is ephemeral, permanence is an illusion…”

R.F Kuang is back with the sequel to my 2018 book love: The Poppy War and it did not disappoint!!!

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.

I felt this book was longer than the first, the story was so intense. I waited for this sequel for some time and I am glad I dived in when I did. Whilst it was just as action packed as the first one which leaves you on the edge of your seat, this one was more set at sea – like a voyage post previous battle then engaged in more war prep and new world building.. I believe this book is really gearing us up for the next and final installment of this amazing series which is really going to go out with a bang.

We still see references to our beloved characters from the first book, I still love Rin as a character and thought it was interesting to see her develop when she didn’t have her powers at hand for awhile. Seeing her in a different light and more vulnerable I found was more interesting – to see how she handled such situations. There were plot twists, there were betrayals, there were moments where I gasped. I am still obsessed with this series.

Warning: strong violent and war content, strong coarse language and themes – restricted to an adult reading audience.

Still recommend this series to those who have yet to tap into it. I am yearning for the finale now to see how it all ends – I don’t know if I am prepared….

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

The Witch who Courted Death by Maria Lewis

“It’s a blessing to be able to live how you really are in this life and one that not everyone gets..”

For some, death is a way of life . . . Considering her status as the world’s most powerful medium, Corvossier ‘Casper’ von Klitzing and her twin brother Barastin had a pretty normal life. Her unrivalled ability to speak with and control the dead had made her a living, made her notorious … and made her a target.

After a horrific incident in her home city of Berlin, Casper’s life is forever changed. The sole survivor, she is consumed with vengeance towards an enemy she doesn’t understand. The only other person ever to escape the legendary Oct was a witch – so Casper is soon on her trail.

But this witch does not want to be found.

Diving headfirst into the supernaturally secretive world of spells, charms and covens, it’s not long before Casper is crossing much more than just the line between the living and the dead . . .

The book took me on an adventure I did not quite expect and I had a lot of fun talking to Maria Lewis when running her panel at Oz Comic Con about her writing process, research and the mechanics of putting this book together. I thought the setting in Berlin (one of Maria’s fav. cities) was an interesting place, particularly Boscastle – a place that I have never heard of before, now put on the map. I enjoyed the sibling dynamic between “Creeper and Casper” and “Opal and Sprinkle” characters you come to know in this book . I was most impressed with the characterisation, how we get to know the characters as we read the book rather than through an info dump in the beginning. I felt the characters growing as I was reading. I also liked the witty and humorous dialogue between the characters that made me chuckle along the way. Maria did such a great job in constructing a story full of diverse characters not just from the human world but all manner of creatures and drawing a parallel between the worlds.

It was very entertaining and insightful with travel and historical reference throughout the book. Recommended to readers who enjoy diverse urban fantasy reads.

Annie

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

“A tailor’s worth is not measured by his fame, but by the happiness he brings..”

This was one of the most anticipated reads of 2019 (for me). This unique story is told by Maia Tamarin, a young girl who strives to her restore her family’s honour through her skill as a tailor.

“Don’t work so hard you become the kite that never flies..”

In a world where only males can be imperial tailors, Maia takes her brother’s place by disguising herself as a boy to embark on a challenge to become A’landi’s master tailor.
With a touch of Mulan and a hint of Aladdin, complimented with action, betrayals, forbidden romance, intensity, demons and adventure, this was one exciting book that kept me turning the page from beginning to end.

“Magic is a wild, untamed energy that exists all around us”

I was engrossed in this book, I loved Maia’s determination to succeed not for glory but for her family, to restore their honour and be their provider. I enjoyed the competitive jealousy among the participants during the initial challenges for the imperial tailor selection process as it really brought out true nature of those who resort to vile acts when they’re so insecure about themselves. As the story progressed, I grew to love the connection Maia had with the Lord Enchanter and the ending has left me invested and yearning for the sequel.

Well written, fun to read and enchanting.

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

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

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