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

As Fast as I Can by Penny Tangey Blog Tour

One girl. One dream. A few hurdles.

Ten-year-old Vivian is determined to win a medal at the Olympic Games one day. Problem is, she hasn’t found a sport she’s any good at yet. But everyone says if you work hard enough you can achieve anything, right? So when Vivian discovers she has a talent for cross country running, finally, her Olympic dream might actually come true.

But then a family illness is uncovered and all of Vivian’s plans begin to unravel.

Can she keep her dream alive?

Or will she be stopped in her tracks?

First of all, I need to say that this book made me feel old (lol) as it brought back memories of my school days – particularly the sports carnivals. I as never much of an athlete but I was a fairly good long distance runner and even made it to district/regional competitions. Although I didn’t aspire to become an athlete, as children, we all have dreams and what really touched my heart about this story was our main character – Vivian – and her dream to make it big in the Olympics only to have it snatched away from her on account of her chronic illness. I don’t normally enjoy books that feature illnesses as it is too harrowing for me to read at times but I felt the author really covered this important theme very well and weaved it into a beautiful and engaging story.

The story was easy to follow, touching and the character was very likeable.  I feel this story can be enjoyed by readers of all ages whether still in school or whether they farewelled those days long ago – it brings back a lot of memories (and understanding – imagine if this was you).  Although this was left with an opening ending, I feel it was still a good story and hey – that’s how life can be, this story is regarding a portion of someone’s life, our futures remain an open pathway.

With special thanks to Aus YA Bloggers + UQP Books Publishers for having me on board for this Blog Tour.
-Annie

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

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

Release date: 7 July 2020
Publisher: Newsouth Books

Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I loved this book so much and feel very privileged to have read the ARC. There was so much depth, uncertainty, irrational feelings and sweet moments. All of the things that make up love in the real world. Love is terrifying and nobody is perfect which is why this book is extremely important. There were some heart breaking moments but the beautiful moments that followed helped me heal from what I previously read. Such a well rounded book, definitely a favourite of 2020 and I hope we see more of Oliver and Luc in the future.

With special thanks to Newsouth Books for an Advanced Reading Copy of this book.
-Tianna

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Pride and Prejudice with a modern twist 

Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on.  Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.

When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.

This book was pitched to me as a Muslim ‘Pride and Prejudice’ retelling – naturally as a Muslim reader and blogger I was intrigued. From the moment I picked up this book, I was HOOKED! I could not put this down. There are so many great things I want to say about this book that I need a moment to collect my thoughts before writing my review. First of all, I want to thank the author for writing such an amazing book because it demonstrated so many things that happens around us that many seem to think is restricted to one particular faith or culture when it’s not. What was also intriguing is how the author referenced Islamic beliefs throughout the book and demonstrated the clash between culture and Islam which is what happens a lot today.

The author also did an amazing job in illustrating various ‘types’ of Muslims whom exist in our community – when I say types I mean.. Ayesha: the character I was able to relate to most, is educated, outspoken, independent but follows her faith and keeps Islam close to her heart, even wears the hijab. She loves poetry and wishes to pursue her career but still holds her family close and does not tend to conform to community expectations. I found her loyalty to family and those who take advantage of her easily was her flaw – for a smart woman she was easily taken advantage of by her own cousin from time to time but that’s what made Ayesha a strong character – whilst she had great qualities, she was still flawed Khalid on the other hand is more conservative with an ideology of arranged marriage and conforming to community expectations instilled in him. Both characters are Muslim yet very different from one another – the supporting characters we meet, Clara (Ayesha’s non-Muslim friend) and Amir (Khalid’s Muslim yet doesn’t practice the faith friend) demonstrated the diversity within friendships and again illustrated an honest picture among our society which is something I adored. I loved the characters in this book – even the horrible characters I wanted to slap! The author did an amazing job in bringing out well defined characters that caused me to have an emotional reaction with their every move.

When I first started reading this book, I was expecting just a romance story between an unlikely couple and whilst that is a foundation in this book, the story is much more intense and involved than a simple love story. The story was not simple – it was complex and intense, an amazing journey of change, harrowing backstories about the multiple characters we come to meet, discrimination and issues Muslims face today, betrayal and heartbreak with well balanced with humour. This incredibly well rounded book with fantastic characters, plot and my constant need to know “what happens next?” kept me enchanted on every page.

With special thanks to Allen and Unwin for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

Jamie Goldberg is cool with volunteering for his local state candidate – as long as he’s behind the scenes. There’s no way he’d ever knock on doors to ask people for their votes…until he meets Maya.

Maya Rehman’s having the worst Ramadan ever. Her best friend is too busy to hang out, her summer trip is cancelled, her parents are separating and now her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing – with some awkward guy she hardly knows …

Going door to door isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, the polls are getting closer – and so are Maya and Jamie. Mastering local activism is one thing. Navigating the cross-cultural crush of the century is another thing entirely.

A real, raw, engaging and important read for all. I was very excited when I first heard about this amazing author collaboration and when I had the pleasure of reading it, I was blown away. Imagine being a person of faith living in a world where political agendas attempt to oppress your way of life right down to how you dress? Oh wait.. that happens now!!

This book was so well written in two perspectives told from a Jewish boy (Jamie) who becomes friends with a Muslim girl (Maya) as they are partnered to go canvassing during an election campaign. It’s not a clash of faiths but a union of teenagers who have the same outlook in life. What they experience during this campaign was not only interesting but real and somewhat disturbing. Sadly I’ve shared some of the experiences Maya goes through.

I enjoyed both Jamie and Maya as characters. Both of them are flawed, have their own family issues and different backstories but draw strength from each other and grow as characters as the story proceeds. I also related to their frustration of being 17, expected to know and understand the world even expected to take interest in politics yet too young to vote.

Above all what I loved was how this book was not a fairytale. It wasn’t sugarcoated it’s was REAL but it shows hope in a world that feels bleak for many and I cannot thank both Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed enough for casting their two brilliant minds together and writing this book.

With special thanks to Simon & Schuster 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

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks

“People all sort of look the same to me until I talk to them. That’s when they start to get interesting. That’s when they start to… shimmer…”

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends.

Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.

But this Halloween is different—Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.

Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if—instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut—they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .

What if their last shift was an adventure?

I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel and read it in one sitting. Such a cute, adorable and funny story of 2 friends: Deja and Josiah who are seasonal colleagues at a pumpkin patch and embark on a mission to locate the fudge shoppe girl Josiah has dreamed of since employee orientation. Such a wild and fun adventure, I loved Deja’s and Josiah’s friendship.. I love how they balanced each other out, Deja being strong willed and Josiah being the shy, introvert.. It was so much fun to read and I loved the artwork too.

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers Australia for sending me a review copy of this graphic novel.
-Annie

Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati – Blog Tour

Obstetrician Dr Sophie Savard returns home to the achingly familiar rhythms of Manhattan in the early spring of 1884 to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. With the help of Dr Anna Savard, her dearest friend, cousin, and fellow physician, she plans to continue her work aiding the disadvantaged women society would rather forget.

As Sophie sets out to construct a new life for herself, Anna’s husband, Detective Sergeant Jack Mezzanotte calls on them both to consult on two new cases: the wife of a prominent banker has disappeared into thin air, and the corpse of a young woman is found with baffling wounds that suggest a killer is on the loose.

In New York it seems that the advancement of women has brought out the worst in some men. And soon Sophie and Anna are drawn into a dangerous game of cat and mouse . . .

A well written historical fiction novel and a great sequel to the first book: The Gilded Hour.  At first I was skeptical on whether I would have the time to read this in time for the blog tour but the mystery and the character dynamic between Sophie and Anna are quite impressive. I like how in the time this book is written, both characters are quite smart and strong. I also enjoyed the blend of historical and crime however the plot twists and the depth of the plot really caught my attention. The historical aspect of this book really took me back in time and it was a nice change of pace from what I normally read.

Special thanks to Penguin Random House Australia for sending me a copy of this book for review and for having me on board for the blog tour.

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the first book – this series is definitely worth investing in:

Annie

It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood

“Anything you feel after 10pm is suspect, anything after midnight should be discounted altogether”

Debut YA that is tender, funny, and compulsively readable novel about first love and its confusions, and all of the awkwardness of teen romance.

When her parents announce their impending divorce, Natalie can’t understand why no one is fighting, or at least mildly upset. Then Zach and Lucy, her two best friends, hook up, leaving her feeling slightly miffed and decidedly awkward. She’d always imagined she would end up with Zach one day―in the version of her life that played out like a TV show, with just the right amount of banter, pining, and meaningful looks. Now everything has changed, and nothing is quite making sense. Until an unexpected romance comes along and shakes things up even further.

A fun and quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed. What I found most interesting about this book was just how dramatically times have changed. To see how youth today interact compared to the days I was in senior high school was quite eye opening – significant contrast! This book is a charming contemporary YA that explores issues teenage girls face such as body image and being self-conscious of your appearance – friendships, romance and significant changes to family dynamics that do impact the youth.

As an adult reading this book, I can see adolescence is a sensitive time, it can be difficult – one moment you’re expected to be mature, next you’re a child or you’re deemed incapable by others who try to protect you. I can see a lot of YA readers relating to this book as well as enjoy the entertainment that came with the story.

I found Natalie to be a likeable character – she wasn’t a spoilt, whiny teenager, she is a smart teen who is trying to find her place in the world when she feels like she’s floating in orbit following changes within her own family and friendship group. Change isn’t always easy.

I enjoyed the referencing (particularly with Harry Potter and the 80’s-90’s movies lol) It was easy to read, a lot of fun and insightful. Recommended to those who enjoy contemporary YA – with some of the themes covered in this book I would advise an age rating of 16 years and up.

Special thanks to Text Publishing for an Advanced Review Copy of this book.
-Annie

***MEET NINA KENWOOD!!!***
Annie will be hosting a Q&A with Nina Kenwood to launch “It Sounded Better in my Head” at Dymocks, Sydney on Saturday 17 August 2019 from 11am – come join the fun!!!