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.

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Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

To simply call this a fairytale retelling would do this story an injustice.. This is a uniquely, magical story in its own right…

This would be one of the best books I have read this year… A story of mystery, identity, magical betrayal and intrigue.. A story of one crown – two women: Mina, whose heart is made of glass.. Lynet, who is made of snow.. both brought to life by a magician the kingdom is taught to fear..

A step-mother/step-daughter relationship based in a kingdom in need of only one queen. At sixteen years of age, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees their king for the first time, Mina makes it her mission to win the king’s heart through her beauty to become queen and finally know what love is. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother to Lynet, who at aged fifteen, is the  splitting image of her late mother but one day Lynet discovers why… A magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order but rather than filling the shoes of her late mother, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. What started as a bond between step-mother and step-daughter may soon become a fight to the death for the crown…

 I gave this book a standing ovation. This story takes you into a whole new world of twists, turns and mystery whicht left me gaping, page turning and confused as to which character had my allegiance. This story had fantastic world building and was mildly paced so it allowed me to immerse myself into this new world as well as the character development but the suspensful plot got the heart pumping and captivated me to the very end!!! Such an amazing story and I highly recommend this to fans of fairytale retellings (although I find this book is more than that) and fans of YA Fantasy Fiction… This is on the shelf as one of the best of 2017!!!

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending me a Review Copy in exchange for my honest review.
-Annie

The Book of Pearl by Timothee de Fombelle

Elegant and Sophisticatedly Complex

This would have to be one of the best books I have read this year!!!

A compelling story of a first love that defines a lifetime which is told with an intricate and beautiful writing style.

The main character who we get to know as the story progresses is Joshua Pearl. He is from a world that our own no longer believes in – a world of Fairytale. Pearl knows that his great love is waiting for him in that distant place but he is trapped in our time. As his memories begin to fade, he discovers strange objects, tiny fragments of a story from a long time ago that help in piecing his life back together.

What I liked about this story is how unique it was – the storyline and how it was so cleverly written.  As Joshua Pearl is trying to piece together his memories to circle back to the one he loves after being thrown from his own world to our world, I felt just as confused as Pearl but each chapter develops – each fragment, pieces together a puzzle that guided me to the next part of the story and so on, which finally came together with an answer!!! A tale intertwines fantasy with historical fiction finding you going through the stages of World War II. This was such an absorbing read.

I recommend this to fans of fairytale retellings, historical fiction and YA fantasy.
-Annie

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

The Last Thing She Needs Is a Prince – The First Thing She Needs Is Some Magic

Advanced Review Copy Blog Duet with Annie and Sarah S. rating this book 4.5 Stars!!

Frogkisser!
Princess Anya is forced to live with her evil stepmother’s new husband, her evil stepstepfather. Plagued with an unfortunate ability to break curses with a magic-assisted kiss and forced to go on the run when her stepstepfather decides to make the kingdom entirely his own. Aided by a loyal talking dog, a boy thief trapped in the body of a newt, and some extraordinarily mischievous wizards, Princess Anya sets off on a Quest to hopefully free her land and teach her a thing or two about the use of power.

I have to say, I really enjoyed this fun retelling of “The Tale of the Frog Prince”. The story was full of fun adventure that would instigate the fright, magic and humour of readers of all ages. Frogkisser! starts out with detailed world building that really shapes your understanding of the protagonist, Princess Anya, rightful heiress to the throne, who, like me, would rather spend her days in the library reading and expanding her knowledge however she is approached by her sister, Morven, who begs Anya to help her get her beloved prince back once he was transformed into a frog by their evil stepstepfather who is attempting to usurp the throne. Reluctantly, Princess Anya agrees and what do you know – Princess Anya must embark on a Quest in an attempt to create a lip balm that will give Princess Anya’s lips the strength to kiss frogs back to human life. I loved the imagination the author put into creating such interesting human and non human animals and the way the land was built and told to the reader was so intricate, it really places you there. I also enjoyed the amusing quest Princess Anya had to endure – when focusing on one goal, she’s roped into several.  I also found the story brought back fond memories of my childhood and my love for Fairytales and elements of “The Wizard of Oz”. Frogkisser! is very well written, very imaginative with such innocent adventure, I would most probably read this again. I recommend this to fans of fairytales of all ages!!!
-Annie

Frogkisser covers familiar fantasy ground: an evil step-parent, a princess in a tower, a frog transformed into a prince, a fearsome creature in the castle moat and a threat to the rightful succession of the throne. Fortunately, Garth Nix takes these basic ingredients and transforms them into a surprising and whimsical tale, which thwarts readers’ expectations in nearly every respect. Our protagonist is Anya, the second-oldest princess of Trallonia, who is much concerned with her burgeoning education in sorcery and would like nothing more than some quality time in the library. Anya’s studies are sadly interrupted by a request from her sister (Morven, the crown princess on the cusp of coronation) to turn a frog back into a handsome prince, the result of their evil stepfather’s interference. What should have been the work of an afternoon unfolds into a much larger quest to reunite a divided kingdom and return civil rights to the people. The book offers strong growth of its protagonist as well as welcome and necessary representation of women in traditionally male roles, such as wise wizards, knights, leaders and heralds. Frogkisser is appropriate for audiences from 8-88 years, providing all of the magic, friendship, excitement and charming animal companions any child could ask for. The prose style also has shades of Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynn Jones, and with its many subversions of classic fantasy tropes adult readers will find much to enjoy here.
-Sarah S.

Special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending us an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for our honest review.

Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige

An interesting concept I would like 3.5-4 out of 5 stars

A creative story line that made me think “Girl Interrupted” meets “Frozen” or “The Snow Queen”. The story starts in a mental asylum, where the protagonist, 17 year old Snow, believes she’s a menace to herself and possibly others however she slowly learns that it may not be a mental instability she is suffering but a power she possesses that’s being suppressed by those who are responsible for her. Trapped in the walls of Whittaker Institute, day by day Snow just feels she really does not belong there – she’s experiencing strange dreams and mysterious unexplainable events until one night, an orderly comes to her with an opportunity for self discovery and she has to decide whether to stay in this high security mental asylum or embark on a new adventure that could be the key to her life and possible gifts. 

The prologue captured my attention very quickly and as the story commenced, it was intriguing however I found part way through the plot appeared to be put on pause as Snow was going through her self discovery. Although I read mixed reviews on this book, I personally didn’t think it was a bad read at all. The mystery of who she is and other characters she meets keeps you turning the page.

This book is now available in stores.. Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishers for sending me an Advance Review Copy in exchange for my honest review.

-Annie

Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes

Blog Duet by Annie and Amanda – rating this book 4 stars

This story will take you back to the enchanting place of Wonderland long before Alice fell down the rabbit hole. This story follows Princess Dinah, the heiress to the throne – the future Queen of Hearts – in a place that is ruled under an iron fist by her father, the king. Characters such as Cheshire, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter make their appearance in this fantasy/twisted fairy tale that sets a whole new light on a place we all thought we once knew.

Amanda:
This Alice in Wonderland prequel of sorts was a quick read. There were interesting aspects to this novel, especially seeing how the known characters from the Alice in Wonderland universe fit into this story. Although I enjoyed this story, I couldn’t exactly find a main plot line – it was like reading about the world building of Wonderland, meanwhile there was a dark story lurking within this world. Some parts of this story remain a mystery to me – some I managed to predict – but it has kept me hanging for part 2 where I am hoping my questions will be answered. I see potential with this series so I am interested to read the next one. The read along was fun – Annie and I were texting each other over a few days updating each other on which parts we were up to – we both agree, we absolutely hate the King!!! and we both have theories as to some of the characters which we won’t share here to avoid spoilers.

Annie:
Well I had the pleasure of doing a read along for this book with Amanda and it was quite fun texting with page and chapter number updates – a lot of which included emoticons expressing my shock or anger at particular parts of the story. I have to say, it’s not a bad prequel to Alice in Wonderland and it certainly explains a lot about the Queen of Hearts and how she become what we know her to be in future stories. Although this was a dark retelling/prequel to the story we all know, I felt it was quite creative how the author intricately rebuilt the world of Wonderland. It was also quite funny to see how a deck of cards have such involvement in the ruling of Wonderland – hearts were royal.. clubs were dark military etc. I found this to be a fast paced read, very easy to follow and even with a story full of mystery, twists and turns, there were moments we would “call it” and other times that slapped us in the face. Like Amanda, I see potential for this series so I am looking forward to the subsequent book/s.

Special thanks to Harper Collins Publishers for sending us an Advance Review Copy in exchange for our honest review

A Stolen Kiss by Kelsey Keating

A whimsical fairytale retelling that steals the heart…4.5 stars

“I’m expected to marry a girl I just met and live happily ever after with her. We were supposed to fall in love at first sight, right? But the thing is, I don’t even know if I like her much right now. She attacked me! Look at the bite marks!” 

Reading A Stolen Kiss is like reading a fairytale that broke all the rules; it is vivid, beautiful, thought provoking and unputdownable. Imagine the Prince, Princess, Sorcerer and the Lady’s maid all having multiple dimensions to their personality with weaknesses, self doubt, fears, choices, opinions that’s different to what’s expected in their traditional role in fairytales; where the story turns the traditional tale of “true love’s kiss breaking the swan transformation curse” on its head; the result is a well executed whimsical fairytale retelling with endearing characters. I enjoyed the adventure, character depth/development, magic (an essential ingredient), lots of plot twists and beautiful tender dialogues. This fairytale retelling definitely went above my expectations. It is also empowering to read a fairytale where the characters are self-aware of their role in a traditional fairytale while having choices to be different! Highly recommended for readers of romance, fantasy novels and especially those that like fairytales with a twist.

Other great quotes:

“The one you care for. You don’t care for this version? He’s rather honest, though, isn’t he? Or are his truths like mine—unwanted? You want the pretty package…. the heart of gold. You don’t want the baggage that comes with it.”

“If you focus on your mistakes and your failures, you’ll never grow past them”

“Everyone’s so obsessed with doing the right thing, but if you’re miserable doing it, how can it be the right thing?”

Click here to read the book blurb on Goodreads.

– NJ