To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

A dark tale you wont forget in a hurry

Princess Lira is a siren of royal blood and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. As punishment for this crime, The Sea Queen (Lira’s mother) transforms Lira into a human, robbed of her song and has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever. As for Prince Elian, the ocean is the only place he calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than a hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of the siren kind for good—But can he trust her?

This book felt like reading The Little Mermaid meets Pirates of the Caribbean meets Mr & Mrs Smith (yes please forgive me for doing that). This is definitely a dark fairytale retelling that is written very well and easy to follow even with the dual perspectives as you can easily differentiate between the characters as the story progresses.  It’s reasonably paced and what I enjoy the most is how steady relationships develop throughout the story among the characters. It keeps you engaged from the first chapter. I recommend this book to readers who, like me, enjoy fairytale retellings or love fantasy fiction stories set at sea.

Special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

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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

“The Rift” and exclusive video con with international author Rachael Craw

When The Rift opens… Death follows…

With special thanks to Walker Books Publishers, I had the honour of having a video conference via Whatsapp with international best-selling author from New Zealand, Rachael Craw!!!! It was such a fun conversation, one we were most excited for as we got to know each other and had a lovely chat about her upcoming book in our trackies and in the comfort of our own home.

Best known for her Spark Trilogy: “Spark”, “Stray” and “Shield”, Rachael is back with a new book “The Rift” that is due to hit Sydney bookstores in November 2018!!! This is one story that’s got me very intrigued and a story that is very different from her previous works. Rachael tells me that this was a story that was burning inside for so long and she was inspired to write this just after an awards ceremony when “Stray” received a literary award (kudos!). In her mind, Rachael had many stories flowing however the stories that stuck and formed part of her inspiration to write “The Rift” were stories from Greek Mythology: Greek goddesses Artemus and Eileithiya and an ancient curse that lives on in modern times in a location where there is a gap between time and space and the people in this location must live and deal with the confines of a small island. A place where the coastline boxes you in and technology is really not compatible there. This place is now known as “Blackwater Island” in “The Rift”.

The Rift
Generations of Rangers have guarded the Old Herd against the horrors of The Rift and Cal West, an apprentice Ranger, fights daily to prove he belongs within their ranks. Meg Archer has returned to her childhood home, only to find Black Water Island is facing threat not even the Rangers are prepared for. Meg and Cal cannot ignore their attraction but can they face their darkest fears and save the island from disaster?

A story of an ancient curse, centuries old secret and yes… potentially a forbidden love!!

Rachael had not intended to write another series when she started writing “The Rift” so it should be a stand alone, however, Rachael says never say never because when you read “The Rift” there could be potential for more… I guess we will have to find out!! On the cover of “The Rift” you will see a raven and yes I asked, and yes the raven is key to the story!! Interestingly, when asked about why she chose this particular theme for writing this book, Rachael said the story chose her. Although Rachael had always intended to have a female protagonist, Rachael initially intended to write this story about 2 characters running away – but she could not justify what they were running from and so changed the shape of the story to what’s in “The Rift” now. Written in third person, this is a shared character story between a boy and a girl which is unusual for Rachael as she normally struggles with reading shared character perspectives.

It was so much fun to get to know Rachael, she is so lovely and very easy to talk to and I am really hoping she will visit Sydney, Australia – hopefully in time for her book launch! In addition to talking about “The Rift” I had some burning questions answered. Yes! Rachael lives in New Zealand but no, she has not experienced the exhilaration of bungee jumping… yet… Rachael’s ultimate holiday destination would be Istanbul, Turkey or Prague or somewhere medieval but if she is in the mood for simple relaxation, a tropical getaway would be in order. Her favourite food is Mexican and when Rachael isn’t reading or writing, she loves to binge on Netflix. Most recently she loved watching ‘The Path’ and ‘Vikings’ and I am most excited to say I have convinced Rachael to now start bingeing on my favourite TV show: Grimm!!! Jumanji, Black Panther and Infinity War are listed as her favourite movies of 2018.

Special thanks again to Walker Books Publishers for giving me the opportunity to have this video call with Rachael Craw and of course special thanks to Rachael for her time on a Sunday afternoon, it really was an exciting and fun experience…

Now… to read “The Rift”!!! So watch this space for my review!!!

For further info on Rachael Craw: https://rachaelcraw.com/

-Annie

Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely

Publisher: Hachette – Date.A.Book YA

With foreword by James Patterson, this epic Western Dystopian presents a bold new heroine. Meet Serendipity Jones, the fastest sharpshooter in tomorrow’s Wild, Wild West…

Seventeen-year-old Serendipity (Pity) Jones inherited two things from her mother: a pair of six shooters and the perfect aim. set in the West that is now wild post a Second Civil War that breaks what was The U.S, it is now a savage place. When Pity takes a stand for her own freedom, she finds herself in being offered a life of fame and fortune in division called ‘Cessation’ – A glittering city where lawlessness is a way of life.

A wild, western dystopian like none I have ever read before!!! I loved this book!!! So the first couple of chapters are mildly paced to set the scene then suddenly – BAM! – it goes off in chapter 4 and propels forward ever since!! What I loved about this book besides its action packed adventure was the unique setting and the main character we follow, Serendipity “Pity” Jones who takes a stand against the world she once knew and escapes only to find herself on a dangerous path where the one card Pity has up her sleeve is the one card she is hesitant to use: her unbelievable shooting skill. The ever changing plot twist throughout this book kept me guessing, turning the page and towards the end, I was still questioning who can I trust – some shady characters in this story!! A book that is action packed, humorous with mild romance and captivating plot – dystopian fans.. you really should give this one a go!!

-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

The Rise of the Dawnstar by Farah Oomerbhoy

Aurora Firedrake returns in the spellbinding sequel to The Last of the Firedrakes.

The seven kingdoms of Avalonia are crumbling and evil is spreading across the land like a plague. Queen Morgana is close to finding a way to open The Book of Abraxas and it’s only a matter of time until she uses the power trapped inside its pages to enslave the entire world.

BLOODY CLIFFHANGERS!!!

I’m currently using my inside voice as I scream into my pillow over this cliffhanger!!

I am also searching one handed through my books trying to find the next book until I realised that book three has not yet been released (now I am crying into my pillow because I want to know what happens next).

The characters grow and follow the path of getting slightly wiser, as we follow Aurora along, she meets new people, family and comes into her power.

I need the next book!!!

-Meredith

The Continent by Keira Drake

Vaela Sun is a young girl from a prestigious family aspires to be a cartographer. For her sixteenth birthday, Vaela Sun receives the most coveted gift in all the Spire—a trip to the Continent. It seems an unlikely destination for a holiday: a cold, desolate land where two nations remain perpetually locked in combat. Most citizens lucky enough to tour the Continent do so to observe the spectacle and violence of battle, a thing long vanished in the peaceful realm of the Spire however for Vaela, the war holds little interest as she sees the journey as a dream come true: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve upon the maps she’s drawn of this vast, frozen land. But what starts as a sight-seeing adventure soon turns into her fight for survival as she is sucked into the combat between the two nations on The Continent.

I heard about this book some time ago and heard of its controversy. I was later informed this entire book was rewritten and sensitivity readers were hired for the edits. Given the effort applied to this book, I thought I would give this a chance and keep an open mind whilst reading it. I also kept in mind the question I always keep in mind when reading “is it in context”? For example: when a racist remark is in the dialogue between characters – is it portraying a character as racist and are those comments exactly what a racist character would say? etc which brings out the character quite clearly rather than a story just being offensive. What I took from this is it’s about a young girl who dreams to be a cartographer and lives in the Spire, an elite federation and was given a rare opportunity to explore the mysterious continent – a place known for civil disruption and war. What starts off as an expedition soon turns into a struggle for survival. To me, the plot and dialogue made sense and the way in which the protagonist responded to her situation clearly demonstrated how a young girl from an elite federation would respond when trapped in foreign lands and there is a significant language barrier. I found the story had more focus on the character’s feelings, though there is a lot of action (it is quite violent so I would say more suited to an older YA audience) and a relatively detailed pace but not too overly descriptive. The world building was structured well so you can picture all areas in the story.

Special thanks to Harlequin Teen Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.

-Annie