Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

“But even in difficult situations, especially in difficult situations, you can’t lose hope. Things change”

FANTASTIC BOOK!!! A story that had me hooked from the first page and I read it in a day..

Life is pretty ordinary for Amal and her village in Pakistan.. Amal is one of the select few girls who can read and write and has a love for poetry and she is busy pursuing her dream to be a teacher however her dreams are momentarily crushed when she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings as it is her duty as the eldest daughter. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope then the unthinkable happens—after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.

Although written for a middle grade audience, I thoroughly enjoyed this as an adult and believe other readers who dive into YA or MG would enjoy it just the same. With themes that cover gender equality, education and social justice, I truly believe this to be an important book for all readers. I love and adore our protagonist Amal and there were times I wished I could just hug her and commend her courage and strength. I really felt her pain and realised my own problems were so small compared to girls/women like Amal. Amal’s character, her journey and her story was so real, raw and honest. I felt her emotion, her confusion, her outrage even her tears whether happy or sad, she’s a character I really love. What resonated with me was the book’s underlying message – to never give up hope..

Honestly, this author Aisha is a true inspiration to me and I intend to continue to follow this path: “We don’t have to make headlines to help change the world for the better. Everything we do in our communities and beyond to impart good is important and matters.”

Special thanks to Text Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book – definitely one of my 2018 favourites!!
-Annie

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Warcross by Marie Lu

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life….

OK.. this book was epic!! Loved it from beginning to end!! I loved our protagonist: Emika (Emi) Chen… a teenage hacker who worked as a bounty hunter to track down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally… Warcross was an online, virtual reality game that took over the world and became a way of life.

I enjoyed Emi’s story – what her life was before she got to where she is now and particularly in the beginning, there was a lot of frustration she was feeling with her struggles. As a reader, you could feel her emotion and you were really with her when she was on her own trying to meet ends meet, plunging further and further into debt then her life suddenly changed… Being a bounty hunter was a competitive business, so in Emi’s desperate attempt to make quick money to pay immediate debts, she took a major risk by hacking into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships – the risk turned out to be life changing due to a glitch that exposed her to the world. As she was convinced this will result in incarceration, Emi was shocked to find that Warcross creator, Hideo Tanaka calls her with a job proposition rather than an arrest warrant. From The U.S to Tokyo, overnight, Emi’s life will never be the same..

This book was such a page turner, I loved it from beginning to end. I loved Emi’s journey, her connection with Hideo Tanaka and the focus on the world building – imagine if VR/online gaming ruled the world? How far away are we from it now? What I also found very interesting was how this world that was owned by Henka Games and the elusive creator Hideo Tanaka even had legislation governing it!!! How it was unlawful to gamble on Warcross and bounty hunters are hired to detain hackers and illegal gamblers. I’m not much of a gamer myself but I really enjoyed this story and how it whisked me into such a unique world!!! The intricate details of virtual reality and gaming kept me hooked to the very end. I especially took a liking to Hideo Tanaka – what an intelligent her mysterious individual he is.. I was wrapped in this fast paced action packed story – and woah.. that twist towards the end!! [not saying any more] I’m going to get into the sequel, Wildcard sooner rather than later!!

Special thanks to Penguin Random House Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

The Three Secret Cities by Matthew Reilly

BOOK 5 IN THE JACK WEST JR SERIES…

HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE FOUR KINGDOMS SCORNED.
THE HUNT FOR JACK WEST JR HAS BEGUN.

A SHADOW WORLD BEHIND THE REAL WORLD

A WORLD WITH ITS OWN HISTORY, RULES AND PRISONS

THAT IS REACHING INTO OUR WORLD … EXPLOSIVELY

We are nearing the end of Matthew Reilly’s amazing septology, we have searched for and found the Seven ancient wonders and the Six sacred stones, discovered the identity of the Five  greatest warriors and fought the battle of all battles during the games of the four legendary kingdoms.

Now, having just arrived home in Australia’s vast outback, battle weary and scarred, all Jack West wants to do is rest and see his wife Zoe and spend time with his friends and family.

But merely three days later, Jack is woken by Zoe.
His new mate from the underworld- Hades, needs his help with the news that ” the world has gone to shit. ”
And so, the adventure and search for the Three secret cities and the three immortal weapons begins.
But Jack and his team are not the only ones searching..as, within the cities are the means for empowering the three weapons used to prevent the Omega event and prevent the worlds complete destruction. And, it is said, he who holds them all, rules the world.

Jack must find them first and prevent life on earth from being completely destroyed in the most unimaginable way.
So together, Jack and his team and his new mates, Hades and Iolanthe from the underworld race around the world in a desperate search for clues to the locations of the three secret cities whilst being terrorised by those who are fueled by greed. Already knowing the whereabouts of one weapon, their first stop is New York city.
For fans of Jack West – buckle up, grab a pillow to punch and some tissues…there will be destruction, there will be casualties – much loved characters will die.

Matthew Reilly doesn’t disappoint with this fast paced, action packed adventure- the fifth of his adventure septology. Loved it and if you haven’t already become addicted to Jack West’s adventures, do yourselves a favour and get reading. I couldn’t put much else without spoiling the plot for readers.  And MR fans hate spoilers…

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy of this book.
-Kay

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

This was a book that lured me in and slowly seduced me with its intricate world building and immersive story line.

When a person in an honourable position suddenly dies under suspicious circumstances, you have 2 options – have an open investigation or engage in a covert operation to determine whether or not it was sinister.. Oh.. and you have one clue: poison.

A story of treachery and intrigue that is told in 2 perspectives; a reliable poison proofer and an unreliable understudy. Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he’s a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. Jovan’s sister Kalina is the understudy. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state. But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising…and angry…

Besides the slowly developing story line and trying to determine “who done it” what I enjoyed the most was the imaginative composition of poisons we learn about in each description that started each chapter…

With a steady pace and development, this is a book that is recommended to those who love fantasy fiction and intricate world building.

-Annie

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me, my face changed, my body broken.
But I was not a slave and I was not a spare.
I was my mother’s daughter, and I would survive and endure. I would find my way back home.

This is another book I will be adding to my shelf of “2018 book loves” although a book shelved in the Young Adult section, this is a book that can be thoroughly enjoyed by adults and teens alike. I call this a culturally infused, intergalactic adventure that captivated me from page one right to the very end leaving me yearning for the next installment (whenever that is, as this was just released!)

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon. But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects as Amani is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place. As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death

I fell in love with the world it was set in, the map of all the planets that’s included in this book and I just loved the concept of a village girl being kidnapped to be a stand in body double for a cruel throne. The plot was really fast paced and exhilarating, I found I read this book in just a couple of days. The characters in this book are amazing. Interestingly, the emotional confusion some of the characters felt made me as a reader question how I felt about certain characters too. The cultural references and metaphors used throughout the story was something I was able to relate to and understand which was pretty cool. The twists throughout the book made me gasp, even cringe.

This is a 10/10 debut novel. I definitely recommend this to readers who love fantasy fiction or intergalactic adventure – cultural infusion is an added bonus.

Brilliant.. Unique.. and so many other awesome things I have run out of adjectives for.. please read this!!

Special thanks to Date a Book YA – Hachette Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Legendary by Stephanie Garber

We return to the sinister place of Caraval and this time, the only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win, so Scarlett’s sister, Donatella (Tella) dives into the legendary competition once again and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets… including her own sister’s. Caraval was always just a game, try not to get too swept away.. A game that requires courage and a level head to win however this time, it’s demanding for more and if Tella can’t meet bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything.. maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval may be destroyed forever…

I really enjoyed this book and loved the different perspective we follow.. In Caraval it was Scarlett and like with Caraval, I really dived into Legendary following Donatella’s journey.. I found this to be such an interesting continuation of the series that kept the greatest mystery of all alive but takes a new path in following Tella’s new challenges and new mysteries that kept me guessing to the very end. Scarlett was a great character however I felt Tella brought something unique to the table and made this adventure a series I am so invested in that by the time I read the ending I am sure there will be something else coming..

Many thx to Date a Book YA – Hachette Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book
-Annie

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

Nothing can prepare you for The Gauntlet…

A board game – made of wood, etched with exquisite images – a palace with domes and turrets, lattice-work windows that cast eerie shadows, a large spider—and at the very centre of its cover, in broad letters, is written: The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand.

Who remembers the classic Jumanji?? Well.. if you are like me and LOVE that movie (original and remake) then this is a book for you!!! The Gauntlet follows a trio of friends from New York City who find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children. It is more than just a game though. It is the most ancient, the most dangerous kind of magic as it holds worlds inside worlds and captures players to be prisoners. It is a race against the sands in the hour glass for this trio escape.

I thoroughly enjoyed this culturally infused fantasy story that may have been inspired by Jumanji and pitched as a Jumanji retelling but is definitely a unique story in its own right. Although the characters are children, I personally found the writing structure and language devices to be better suited to an older audience, say 12 years and up rather than 8 years and up. A fast paced, action packed story line that is a real page turner and full of adventure!!! It was great to see multiculturally diverse characters who become even better friends as they team up when having to face “The Gauntlet”. The Islamic representation was so accurate and it was fun to see a lead character was a hijabi girl!! Very easy to read and well written, I really enjoyed this and recommend it to anyone who wishes to roll the dice and seek a way to temporarily leave their world behind!!!

Publisher: Simon and Schuster – Salam Reads Subsidiary

-Annie