The Last Balfour by Cait Duggan

Iona Balfour’s life is turned upside down when her beloved aunt Grizel is executed for the crime of witchcraft. Before she dies, Grizel appoints Iona as guardian of a precious family bloodstone and tells her she must flee their village and deliver the stone to the mysterious Guild of the Green Lion.

Accompanied by a new friend, Cal, Iona soon realises that she’s awakened the powers of the bloodstone. But it promises to be a perilous journey. The wolf month is no time to be on the road. And there’s a witch hunter on Iona’s trail, who has a strange obsession with the stone.

When a devastating betrayal throws her into the hands of her enemies, Iona soon finds herself in the fight of her life. Will she suffer the same fate as her aunt, or will she escape the witch hunter and fulfil her destiny?

This was a very interesting and insightful historical fantasy story that took me to historical Scotland at a time where witches were burnt at the stake and folk lore was at its peak. It was quite an engaging and interesting story to follow I enjoyed it from beginning to end and I was able to connect with Grizel, our main character and felt her fears, sadness and intensity especially when it came to her sisters Iona and Ishbel. I also enjoyed the clever way the plot unfolded and as well as the characters we met along the way – how their roles intertwined with Scottish folk lore. I can tell thorough research went into the setting, time and legends and it was written very well.

Special thanks to Harper Collins Publishers Australia for sending me a copy of this book for review and for also helping us organise for Cait Duggan to join us as special guest author at our last session, hearing about Cait’s writing journey, Scottish folk-lore and how she managed to blend historical fiction and historical fantasy was truly fascinating. Refer to Read3r’z Re-Vu social media platforms for pics.

Annie

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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

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte + Exclusive Q&A

Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington may seem harmless, but in fact, she’s one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves and a liar. Varin, on the other hand, is an honest, upstanding citizen of Quadara’s most enlightened region, Eonia. Varin runs afoul of Keralie when she steals a package from him, putting his life in danger. When Varin attempts to retrieve the package, he and Keralie find themselves entangled in a conspiracy that leaves all four of Quadara’s queens dead.

With no other choices and on the run from Keralie’s former employer, the two decide to join forces, endeavoring to discover who has killed the queens and save their own lives in the process. When their reluctant partnership blooms into a tenuous romance, they must overcome their own dark secrets in hopes of a future together that seemed impossible just days before. But first they have to stay alive and untangle the secrets behind the nation’s four dead queens.

Told in multi-perspectives, this was an interesting book. Each chapter sent me to a different character’s story which got a bit frustrating as you wanted to know what was happening with the character you were reading but it was all the more for me to keep turning the page.. Looking forward to the next installment I am sure there’s plenty more intrigue where this came from!!

Exclusive Q&A with author Astrid Scholte

Congratulations on releasing your debut novel “Four Dead Queens!” Whilst we can always read the blurb and your book, I would like to know from your own words, how would YOU pitch “Four Dead Queens” to someone who hasn’t read it yet?
Four Dead Queens is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery set in a nation divided into four very distinct regions, ruled by four very different queens. When a 17-year-old thief intercepts a message that shows all four of the queens brutally murdered, she must figure out who did it and why, and not be the next on the murderer’s list.

How did you create the world and ‘sectors’ in your story – did you create a map yourself? Did someone help you construct the world? It’s very creative!
Thank you! This might sound a little cliché, but I had a dream where I was sitting in a horse-drawn carriage when a futuristic silver car flew past. When I woke, I wondered what kind of world would exist with such contrasting technologies and how this would impact the people who lived there. I wanted the regions to be exact opposites of each other, as this always creates great drama! Eonia was the first quadrant that was solidified, with their focus on technology and medicine but with a repressed society. From there, I wanted one quadrant to be contrasting that, which was Ludia, which is the pleasure quadrant who revel in only the lighter things in life. It was a bit of a balancing act, creating enough push and pull between the different quadrant. While I did draw a version of the map, it was no way near as beautiful as Virginia Allyn’s version in the book!

If you could teleport to any realm or sector of your story, where would you want to go and why?
I’d want to go to Ludia. It encompasses all the things I love: literature, art, music, entertainment and much more! I’d love to roam the colorful streets, eat the fluffy pastries (they would have to be gluten-free!) and enjoy the party atmosphere. I’m a big kid at heart, so anything that captures my imagination is where I’d want to be.

Astrid Scholte was a Supa-Star guest at Sydney Supanova, appearing on the “Supanova Bookclub” panel as well as “Writing powerful women in fantasy and horror” and “BIFF – BAM – POW!! Writing kick ass fight scenes”

 Which was your favourite panel to sit on in Sydney Supanova and why?
I loved them all! But “Writing powerful women in fantasy and horror” was probably my favourite as I think it’s important to discuss and highlight women with agency in fiction – something YA does very well!

Why do you believe it is important to have powerful female characters in books?
I think it’s important to see female characters working harmoniously together, rather than at odds with each other, in this current political climate. Many fantasies have mostly male casts, aside from the main character, with kings often in power or an evil queen that needs to be overthrown. If there are multiple female characters, they tend to be at odds with each other—vying over the same crown, or love interest. In Four Dead Queens, I wanted to create a monarchy that was made up of four women, each different and strong in their own way, who supported one another, rather than tearing each other down. While the monarchy of the four concurrent queens is not perfect, it has maintained peace in Quadara for over hundreds of years, and it’s not until the queens begin to be murdered, that the system crumbles.

When you are not writing or reading – what would you be doing?
I love oil painting and can often be found in my “art studio”, also known as my garage!, painting my favourite fictional characters. I also painted the characters from 4DQ, which you can see here: https://www.astridscholte.com/thequeens
I’m also a massive Disney fan, so you’ll often find me daydreaming about my next Disney theme park trip!

Top Ten “This or That?”

1. Tea or Coffee?

Coffee, but it must have lots of chocolate and sugar!

2. E-Books or Paperback?

Paperback

3. Bookstores or Libraries?

Bookstores

4. Summer or Winter?

Summer

5. TV Series or Movies?

TV series

6. Stand alone books or series?

Standalone

7. Flawed or Flawless Heroes/Heroines?

Flawed!!!

8. 90’s Hits or Hits of Today?

Hits of today

9. Books about a stranger coming to town or the protagonist going on a journey?

Protagonist going on a journey

10. Open endings or closed endings?

Closed endings with a few loose threads…

With special thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book and to Astrid Scholte for participating in our exclusive blog Q&A
-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

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 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