The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D Lapinski

Pack your suitcase for a magical adventure!

This as such a charming adventure, one that is suitable for readers aged 8 and up. At the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, each suitcase transports you to a different world. All you have to do is step inside. What I enjoyed most about this was how it starts off in the real world, where we get to know Flick (Felicity) and her life and family at home then we are mesmerised as she stumbles across the Strangeworlds Travel Agency where she meets a quirky character by the name of Jonathan-  the agency’s head custodian which sets them off on several adventures to different worlds via.. a suitcase!! But, unknown to Flick, the world at the very centre of it all, a city called Five Lights, is in danger. Buildings and even streets are mysteriously disappearing. Once Flick realizes what’s happening she must race against time, travelling through unchartered worlds, seeking a way to fix Five Lights before it collapses into nothingness and takes our world with it.

With a hint of Narnia, a touch of Jumanji and a pinch of fairytales, this was a wonderfully adventurous read that made me smile, gasp and laugh. It was a lot of fun to get lost in. A fast paced and very easy to read story, I highly recommend this if you’re looking to get lost on a fun fantastical adventure.

Pitched as perfect for fans of Nevermoor and The Train to Impossible Places… I would have to agree…

-Annie

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

One True Mate by Julie Trettel: Book 1 of the Westin Pack Novels

Kelsey Adams is alone, and has been since childhood. Running away is all she knows and necessary to preserve her deepest, darkest secret. She can not afford for anyone to get close, or know about the monster within. But when she lands a lucrative job as an administrative assistant to Kyle Westin, CEO of the Westin Foundation, her life changes and everything’s at stake. Can she conceal her growing feelings and her true self from this enigmatic, strong willed man, or will her world fall apart?

Kyle Westin, an alpha male who always gets what he wants, has watched and waited for the little she-wolf he knows is his perfect mate to show any signs of recognition. For two years he endures her unnecessary formality and daily rejections with a patience he did not he possessed. But even Kyle has his limits…. Can he make Kelsey notice him as someone other than her boss and break down the walls she built around her heart? Or will Kelsey do what she has always done — run?

I’ve just read this book twice in two days, Yes that’s right – I did an instant re-read it’s that good!. Even though there’s only 283 pages, I felt there wasn’t enough pages in this book and I could see more happening with this story. Wolf shifters, lone wolves, wolf packs and true mates. I really need to track down the second book of The Westin Pack series – because I know that I will be doing multiple re-reads of ‘One True Mate’ followed by the rest.

-Meredith

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

Golden Fortune, Dragon Jade (Novella) by Alan Baxter

The Jade Dragon protected Long-En for centuries – until it was taken.

When the Jade Dragon is stolen from the temple in the quiet village of Long-En, the locals are stunned. The very idea of such a theft is unimaginable. And without the protection of the powerful icon, what awful fate might befall the peaceful hamlet?

Two young cousins, Li Yong Fa, a martial monk recently returned from years of training at the Shaolin Temple, and Li Zi Yi, a potent geomancer, team up to track down the thief, recover the priceless statue, and return it safely to Long-En. Little do they know how far afield they will be taken, and what dangers they will face in strange and inhospitable lands, before they even get close to their goal.

I read this novella in one sitting it was brilliant! Carefully plotted out and clever world building and plotting. I enjoyed the mystery we meet right from the beginning as well as the strong characters that carry this story. The martial arts element of the story was unique but also very insightful as I could tell the author had experience with the martial arts that was written on the page. So easy to get engrossed in this story and I enjoyed how we start from one part of the world and end up in another – a perilous journey to retrieve something very sacred.

Thoroughly enjoyed this one!! Thx for writing it, Alan Baxter!!
-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 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

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“The imagination of mortals shaped the gods, carving their faces and their myriad forms, just as the water molds the stones in its path, wearing them down through the centuries…”

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true. In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld

“There is a bit of the devil in every man, if he may act the part of the saint…”

Having read about this on a blog as an anticipated upcoming release, I wasted no time in getting myself a copy then dropping everything to read it. I am very happy I did this. I found this to be such an intriguing book, a page turner, a story that I was able to immerse myself in about a culture and legend that is often forgotten in the world. Drawing on Mayan mythology and Mexican folk-lore, this was very interesting. Casiopea is our main character and at a time of 1927, she is often noted as outspoken and disobedient when really she is just head strong and knows when to set boundaries. As she unleashes something so unexpected from her Grandfather’s chest, her life changes as she is suddenly affiliated with a god. Her cousin Martin, at first I hated him – but I came to understand his behaviour as the story progressed and found that his character and attitude toward his female cousin was indicative of that time.

Although this was a very intriguing story, I found at times parts of it did drag on, particularly the first 20 pages but if you stick with it, you will find it really is worth your time reading it. I highly recommend this book to those whom, like me, enjoy fantasy fiction with a cultural and mythology infusion. Mayan mythology and Mexican folk-lore is something I have never read before and I was thoroughly impressed.

-Annie

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

“Knowledge is truth, Little Bird. Those who refuse to learn live in a world of falsity…”

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own

This was a solid, fantastic debut. A complex and immersive story that captivated me from beginning to end. The world building was intricate steadily paced but very interesting. The secrets and twists are what I love most about the book. It was written very well and cleverly executed. I was invested in Princess Hesina of Yan, I enjoyed her as a character and I love her loyalty and courage. I found all of the characters had something to offer in this story, whether they were the hero or villain, I was engrossed in the story and really wanted to know what became of them. The element of mystery, the supernatural and the magic weaved a brilliant story on the backdrop of the ancient setting.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, it really was worth waiting for this book to hit Sydney shores – I really look my time with it, it was enchanting.
-Annie