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

Verify by Joelle Charbonneau

“The truth is found when men are free to pursue it – FDR…
The truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it but there it is – WC…
Trust, but Verify – RR… Verify”

Imagine a world where paper no longer existed, where everything was run by tablets and words were erased from our world as deemed unnecessary and you were told to just trust what you have been told – any attempt to ‘verify’ could be identified as a rebellion.. Not that far from the real world hey! I thought this book was written very well, easy to follow and cleverly executed. The concept was unsettling but intriguing – what do you do in a world where you know better?

“Sometimes the most frightening leap is one we make in our own minds…”

Meri Beckley lives in a world without lies. When she turns on the news, she hears only the facts. When she swipes the pages of her online textbooks, she reads only the truth. When she looks at the peaceful Chicago streets, she feels the pride everyone in the country feels about the era of unprecedented hope and prosperity over which the government presides.

But when Meri’s mother is killed, Meri suddenly has questions that no one else seems to be asking. And when she tries to uncover her mother’s state of mind in her last weeks, she finds herself drawn into a secret world full of facts she’s never heard and a history she didn’t know existed.

Suddenly, Meri is faced with a choice between accepting the “truth” she has been taught or embracing a world the government doesn’t want anyone to see—a world where words have the power to change the course of a country, and the wrong word can get Meri killed

I enjoyed following Meri, she’s a strong character but not in a “bad ass” way – in dealing with the untimely loss of her mother and her alcoholic father she still finds the strength to carry on with her life and even take on challenges to find the truth in this world and her mother who was an artist painting a picture to expose the truth.. the mystery held my attention as did the characters we met along the way.

“Tablets are just as easy to write on and writing on paper is not only extravagant and unnecessary – it’s selfish”

A great book that demonstrates “words have power” with special thanks to Harper Collins Australia Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-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

Golden Unicorn: Rise of the Mythix Book 1 by Anh Do, illustrated by Chris Wahl

Published by: Allen and Unwin

Some heroes are legends. Some legends are real.

The tyrant known as the Soul Collector hunts down anything that is beautiful, unusual or unique.

Kelly Swift is trying hard to be an average teenager, to fit in. But every day her powers are growing: she can run faster than the wind, she can hear people’s thoughts, she is not normal.

When her mother is taken by the Soul Collector, Kelly can’t linger in the shadows any longer. But who is she really? Can she be the one in the prophecy? Is she…the Golden Unicorn?

The Golden Unicorn, the Minotaur and the Griffin –
Only these three united to a common purpose
can fell him who seeks to triumph over all…

I read this in one sitting! This is the first time I have ever read a MG fantasy book written by Anh Do and wow he nails it! Such a great story and written so well that even targeted for a younger audience, this book can be enjoyed by older readers too. I loved the plot, how the characters developed even the illustrations were very impressive. I found this book helped me for my own MG book writing too (thank you Mr Do) highly recommended to readers from ages 9 and up.. very enjoyable and adventurous.
-Annie

The Wailing Woman by Maria Lewis

Although this is the fourth book released in what I like to call “The Maria Lewis Multiverse”, this book is read as a stand alone. A fast paced, exciting read that delves into the subjugation of women and about one brave woman who is finding her voice – note Maria’s dedication: “This book is dedicated to Mariah Carey… Seriously

Following two perspectives: Sadie Burke and Texas Contos, Sadie has been forced to be a good girl her entire life. As a banshee, she’s the bottom of the ladder when it comes to the supernatural hierarchy. Weak. Condemned. Powerless. Silent. That’s what she and her six sisters have been told their entire lives, since their species was first banished from Ireland. Yet when a figure from her childhood unexpectedly arrives on the scene, Sadie finds it harder than ever to toe the line. Texas Contos on the other hand is the son of their greatest oppressor. He’s also someone she’s inexplicably drawn to, and as they grow closer, Sadie begins to question what banshees have been told for centuries about their gifts.

But the truth comes at a cost. With Sadie and Tex forced to run for their lives, their journey leads them to new friends, old enemies, and finally to her true voice – one that could shatter the supernatural world forever.

Once again, I am in love with the “Maria Lewis Multiverse” but I have to say this one is a personal favourite now. I really enjoyed how Maria develops both characters we follow: Sadie and Texas – how she demonstrates their strengths and flaws so well. I really found Banshees as a creatures in this story interesting as they are very different to other supernatural creatures I have read. Maria did so well in tying characters from her other books in this one, blending them into a new story and referencing their backstories too. Learning about the Askari was also quite interesting and seeing two worlds collide in this book was probably the book’s strength.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and I really couldn’t put the book down. I found it very easy to get into, great plot and great pace. With special thanks to Hachette Publishers for sending me an Advance Review Copy (and manuscript) of this book.
-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

Slay by Brittney Morris: Blog Tour

“Separate is not equal… That doesn’t even come close to leveling the field…”

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

“What kind of noob gets lucky enough to draw the Michael Jordan card and the Michael Jackson card in a single duel?”

I was very excited about this book when I first heard about it at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, YA Con. Having it being pitched as “Black Panther” meets “Ready Player One” I was sold. I like to call this the “Urban Ready Player One” It was an interesting and fast paced read and I really enjoyed following Kiera’s story. I liked her as a character and how she developed the virtual world of “Slay” a place where people of colour could have their own space in an online world. Kiera’s virtual avatar is Emerald and for me it felt like Kiera was more comfortable being Emerald in Slay than Kiera in the real world so her challenge with identity was interesting to me. It always made me question how such talented people can develop an amazing virtual world or explode on stage yet off stage or in front of the screen, they are very reserved.

Keeping Slay under wraps was the thrilling part for me – the case of high stakes secrecy and the thrill of keeping your talent a secret was exhilarating through out the story especially when the secret is out after something sinister happened in real life which was connected to the game. The elements of mystery throughout the book: a case of ‘who done it’ and ‘who is the troll’ was good and the development of the online world was interesting.

The dialogue was very “teen” but what I liked about Kiera was how she would speak like a real teen, be vulnerable in decisions but also have a mature outlook on life. Her sister Steph is quite funny, I liked her too. It was interesting to see how Kiera dealt with her identity, sense of duty/responsibility to others as well as her relationships with family and her boyfriend Malcolm, her friends and change that stem from her own creation ‘Slay’.

A good story that draws parallels to real life: what it’s like to stand out in your own school or community, you just want to be yourself rather than the authority of your own race simply because your skin colour is different to others. I can really see this book hitting the mark within the YA readership.

Special thanks to Date a Book YA for sending me a copy of this book for review and to Aus YA Bloggers for having me on board once again as part of this “Slay” Blog Tour!!!
-Annie