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

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Monuments by Will Kostakis

“Crafting something, seeing that creation flourish, that is what satiates us, not the size of our followings.” 

All 16-year-old Connor is trying to do is avoid his ex-best friend when he stumbles upon a trapdoor to a secret chamber under his school. But when Sally Rodgers breaks into the same secret chamber looking for an ancient being, things take an unexpected turn . . . and Connor’s life will never be the same again.

Along with the mysterious Sally and, later on, his new friend Locky, Connor discovers the Monuments – gods who have been buried for generations – who created the world and hid themselves away from humanity to keep everyone safe. But now they’re exposed and vulnerable, and Connor isn’t sure who, himself included, can be trusted with the knowledge and the power these gods have.

“Life is not some static thing that is made and left alone, it constantly remakes itself. Life requires attention, nurturing..”

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Having read all of Will’s work to date, I can see how much he has grown as a writer and he’s done so well with this book. From setting the scene and developing the story that started in a school and embarked into a whole new world. Will did really well in bringing out important teen issues that include friendships and fall outs, change, sexuality and coming to terms with your own identity.

The story is full of fast paced, exhilarating adventure that is set in Sydney and intertwined with Greek mythology and suspense. I love mythology so having this as a strong element in the story was awesome. I felt the way the gods are portrayed in this story was clever and different. Will also did very well capturing most of Sydney in this book, particularly western Sydney as it’s an area most often overlooked in literature (GO BLACKTOWN!)

I enjoyed following this story from the protagonist, Con’s perspective but I have to say my favourite character is Locky. I loved his chilled nature and his intellect. I was able to relate to him as he really reminded me of me when I was in high school (wanting to study international relations and politics to work for the Australian public service)

Fast paced and easy to be engrossed in. I highly recommend to YA readers ages 14 years and up who enjoy fast paced adventure with contemporary friendships and romance and strong presence of mythology.

“A life spent running is not one lived…”

Special thanks to Date a Book YA – Hachette Publishers for sending me an advanced review copy of this book.
Due for release: August/September 2019
-Annie

Nullaboo Hullabaloo by Fleur Ferris

In faraway Nullaboo, Gemma Hart’s day isn’t going well. Her family might be evicted from their farm, and her science competition topic is march flies. How can she possibly win against perfect Nina, who gets to study butterflies?

But wait, that’s not a feather in Gemma’s special bug catcher… it’s a fairy!

Janomi the fairy isn’t supposed to talk to humans, but desperately needs help. Her grandfather has been captured by the silver spiders. Gemma agrees to help Janomi, and to keep the fairies’ existence a secret. But her bug catcher has recorded their conversation – and Nina finds it.

With a media frenzy taking over Nullaboo, a secret government agency barges in to take control, and suddenly the fairy colony is under an even bigger threat. Gemma and her kooky family, school and resourceful neighbours must take matters into their own hands in an against-all-odds bid to save the last fairy colony on Earth.

A huge contrast from the first for Young Adult books I have read by Fleur, this book is an amazing magical escapism that is set in an Aussie country town and a book that can be enjoyed by readers as young as 9 years old!! The story was so engaging, the characters were adorable and the adventure was just so much fun. It’s lovely to see magical fairy stores set on farms in Australia and to see rural Australia represented here. So cleverly written. Highly recommended to young readers from 9-12 years old.

With special thanks to Penguin Random House Australia publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir

Andy Weir, author of The MartianArtemis, and The Egg, is back with a graphic novel like no other. What happens to Alice when she comes back from Wonderland? Wendy from Neverland? Dorothy from Oz? This graphic novel is an interesting cross over of three completely different characters from three completely different worlds. A unique story of what becomes of these characters when the worlds we know and have read have come to an end.

I thought this was such a very clever storyline and I liked how this brought three completely different tales and worlds together in a real world setting. It was interesting to see how the characters were initially perceived as mentally ill when disclosing their supernatural and otherworldly experiences. This landed them committed to wards until one day, they all meet at the Cheshire Crossing – a boarding school that acknowledges their experiences as truth and nurtures them to cope with their past experience and harness their magical world-crossing abilities.

This isn’t like anything you would have read before, the underlying storyline for each character is present and acts as a foundation but the characters are very different to what we know in their original stories, making it a humorous and insightful twist. From their attitudes, to their illustrated appearance, to their mannerism, they are all very different to what we remember. In this story, the characters: Alice, Wendy Darling and Dorothy are now teenagers and are not content to sit still in a classroom. Soon they are dashing from one universe to the next – landing in each other’s supernatural worlds and, inadvertently, bringing the Wicked Witch and Hook together in a deadly supervillain love match. This is when it the three need to draw on their abilities to stop destruction from across each universe.

The plot is fast paced and the story flowed quickly, it was easy to follow the dialogue in each box. The illustrations didn’t look extravagant but were simplistic and elegant. The artwork is suitable for a younger audience, however, the dialogue does include course language so please exercise discretion if you choose to read this graphic novel. If you’re a fan of graphic novels that features retellings of the classics then definitely give this one a go!

What happens to Alice when she comes back from Wonderland? Wendy from Neverland? Dorothy from Oz?

The three meet here, at Cheshire Crossing–a boarding school where girls like them learn how to cope with their supernatural experiences and harness their magical world-crossing powers.

But the trio–now teenagers, who’ve had their fill of meddling authority figures–aren’t content to sit still in a classroom. Soon they’re dashing from one universe to the next, leaving havoc in their wake–and, inadvertently, bringing the Wicked Witch and Hook together in a deadly supervillain love match.

To stop them, the girls will have to draw on all of their powers . . . and marshal a team of unlikely allies from across the magical multiverse.

Special thanks to my friends at The Nerd Daily who hooked me up with this graphic novel for review.
-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

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal – with exclusive Q&A with Hafsah Faizal

The epic debut in the Sands of Arawiya Series!!

People lived because she killed.
People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.

Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, We Hunt the Flame is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands

“An idle mind is the devil’s playground…”

As I heard about this book a year ago, I purposely took my time to read this slowly so I really could really immerse myself in the intricate world of Arawiya. What first drew me in was how the world was inspired by ancient Arabia and the story included a strong female character, djinn and ifrit – elements of an epic Arabian inspired tale. The world building in the first quarter of the book did take a bit of time as the world of Arawiya is complex and made up of 6 main lands or kingdoms or sectors that we learn about as we learn about our characters however it was still very engaging.
The way the author really described the landscape really brought back memories of my visit to Arabia as images of the Arabian desert and ancient Arabian villages came to life in my mind. It really triggered my imagination. The characters really came to life too and I kept picturing characters dressed as the cast from an Islamic history movie called “The Message” which is set in 6th Century Arabia. From the clothes to the housing to the Arabian food – the author did an amazing job in bringing everything to life – I actually wanted to go to Arawiya!!
The book is very clever and lyrical. There are multiple story lines that blend together so eloquently and I came to care for the characters we met – particularly Zafira and Nasir. Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, The Sultan. Both have a lot at stake and both are legends of Arawiya.

“The first step in getting anywhere is believing you can…”

This is my book love for 2019 and it is only just released. For me, this book had everything from deep fantasy world building inspired by one of the most exotic places I have come to know to a journey of self-discovery, empowerment and courage. Epic plot twists that lured me deeper and deeper into the story and the way it ended was quite exciting – yes there is a cliffhanger I am really looking forward to but will definitely re-read the finished copy. I am so happy this book is written.
-Annie

First and foremost, a book by a Muslim author set in Arabia with kick-ass characters is already very special, and I completely get the hype around the book. For me, however, the beginning was a bit hard to get through. There was a lot of story building, and the only reason I was able to understand a lot of it was because of my prior knowledge of the Arabic language.
 
Once you get past the first few chapters it becomes much easier to read and immerse yourself in the world the story is set in. What I liked about it was obviously the fierce female protagonist and the very interesting world it was set in, and how the secrets were slowly revealed as you keep reading.
The ending seemed a little rushed, and cliche, but it ended on an interesting cliff hanger that definitely makes you want to get the next book in your hands ASAP!  And I also appreciate Hafsa for making it clear that there is no Muslim representation in the book, and that Arab is not equal to Muslim. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!!!
-Aida

Exclusive Blog Q&A with author of We Hunt the Flame, Hafsah Faizal

The names of your characters are very unique and beautiful. Is there a reason you chose certain names for them?
Yes! Each character name ties into that character’s personality and role in the story—most of the time, anyway. I put a lot of thought into each name, and I love that anyone who analyzes them will be rewarded with an extra treat! The names Zafira and Nasir are both variations on the word “victorious.” There’s something deeply satisfying about two people who seem wholly different being entwined in ways that aren’t obvious at first.

Who is your favourite character and why?
I can never answer this question, because I love Zafira and Nasir equally. I love Altair, too, the general who somehow became a main character without even having a point-of-view of his own! If I had to choose which character’s point-of-view I like best, however, I’d say Nasir, because we get to learn his feelings about Zafira, Altair, and the rest of the cast, and how drastically those views change as the story progresses.

What is your writing process?
I just write! I try not to pause for research and the like when I’m in the thick of it, saving those for before or after a writing session so as not to disrupt the flow. The process itself varies depending on my mood or the scene I’m writing. Sometimes, I have a clear image in my head that’s a breeze to get down. Other times, I’ll have to write a few different versions to see which fits the scene best. One thing I’ve learned: trust the characters. They know what they want, and if it’s not clear at first, I can usually uncover their motives and desires after a few edits!

Where do you go for inspiration and motivation?
Pinterest! Admittedly, finding anything Middle Eastern is hard because it’s so often mixed with South Asia, but there’s always something! For motivation… it depends. Sometimes, when I’m in a rut, I just need to watch an Assassin’s Creed game trailer. Other times, I just need to work on something else, usually design projects.

Why did you choose ancient Arabia or an Arabian nights theme for your debut novel?
This is a long story, but I never set out to write a story inspired by the world of ancient Arabia. We Hunt the Flame started off as a fantasy set in a eurocentric world, but while drafting, I had a nagging sense of something being off, but I couldn’t figure out what. After about thirty-thousand words, I stopped to craft the world’s map when it hit me: the structure of my world matched that of the Mediterranean. Why not go further south—to the world of Arabia—and set the story in a place more familiar to me? It’s a place so often demonized and sometimes exoticized, and I had the chance to make a difference. The rest, as they say, is history!

From initial idea to draft to manuscript to publication, how long did “We Hunt the Flame” take you to write?
I’m not sure when the initial idea for the story occurred, but between the time I started writing We Hunt the Flame until its publication on May 14th, 2019, it took roughly six years. It was going to be my last attempt at publication, so I took it less seriously than I did my other manuscripts. Once I finished the first draft, I became more dedicated to it—between polishing the draft, querying, and auction, it took around six months! Which is the perfect analogy to publishing: things can move excruciatingly slow one moment, and lightning quick the next.

I love the map of Arawiya, I actually printed it and it’s hanging on my desk at work (yes I know, I’m a nerd) I am curious to know how you come up with the landscape/map of Arawiya, did you design it and mark everything yourself or did you have a ‘bookish cartographer’ on hand?
Oh gosh, I adore the map! Virginia Allyn is the mastermind behind the stunning work of art. As I said, I put together a sketch of the world early on. It was very bare bones, with defined borders and locations. When the time came, I sent that sketch, symbolism, and as many details as I could to Virginia, who turned it around with the amazing map we have now. Funny thing, back when being published was a dream I didn’t fully believe in, I used to hoard bookish maps and humor myself that I would have a map half as beautiful one day. Dreams do come true!

What is the best piece of advice you received during your writing journey and what would you pass onto other aspiring writers?
You can’t edit what isn’t there.
I know, it’s such an obvious thing, but when you’re drafting, it’s so easy to feel like the words you’re writing aren’t good enough. It’s easy to get caught up on editing the same passages over and over again, which is hindering, and tends to slow me down drastically, when instead, I could be finishing a draft and getting a better idea of what needs editing. I’m still learning to “just write,” so if you’ve mastered this, you’re a pro already!

Visit her website for more on ‘We Hunt the Flame’ and updates from: Hafsah Faizal

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending us an advanced review copy of this book and for organising our exclusive blog Q&A with the amazing Hafsah Faizal.

ARC read along + Blog Review + Q&A
compiled by Annie and Aida

Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

“Absolute power can corrupt even the purest of hearts. Such is the folly of men…”

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.

With an army of demons and the unlikeliest of allies,  secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself….

“The tiniest pebble, when dropped into a pond, will leave ripples that will grow and spread in ways we cannot comprehend” 

I really enjoyed the read along I experienced with 2 dear friends. This book got me hooked from the first page, so much happened virtually straight away. I loved how the story line explored the Japanese culture and legend and I would recommend this to readers who loved Kylie Chan’s “Dark Heavens” series. It was captivating, action packed and really intriguing.

The only flaw was the confusing switching of perspectives throughout the book. Normally it’s quite clear whose voice we are reading but this one took me a moment or 2 in the next chapter before I realised who we were following. But other than that, it was a great book! A great story with strong Asian cultural representation, so much action particularly from the first chapter that really caught my attention and maintained the pace throughout the book. I particularly loved the ending and I will be investing in the next book.

With special thanks to Book Depository for sending me this book as a thank you for when I engaged in their mini Blogstars project. It’s really worth the read!
-Annie