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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Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chan

It’s Singapore in 1940, war is just around the corner—but twelve-year-old Lizard doesn’t know that. He lives in Chinatown above a tailor’s shop, surviving on his wits and hustling for odd jobs.

When he steals a small teak box containing a Japanese code book from a Raffles Hotel suite, he finds himself in a dangerous world of wartime espionage. Lizard doesn’t know who to trust. How is the mysterious book inside the box connected to his friend Lili, a girl full of secrets and fighting skills? Can he trust her, or will she betray him in the end?

This was an enjoyable and interesting MG that can be embraced by older readers. Set in Singapore, about a year prior to the bombing of Singapore by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force and occupation of Singapore by Japan in WWII, this historical fiction MG follows Lizard, a poor boy who survives on ‘odd jobs’ and unintentionally gets caught up in military intelligence by finding a box he was sent on an errand for. He’s best friends with Lili who is harbouring a secret that can lead to danger for both Lizard and Lili but this mysterious box brings them together for an adventure both of them were not prepared for. With accurate historical referencing intertwined with a thrilling military – spy story, I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it very quick and easy to read. Readers can learn a lot about pre-war Singapore in this book. I really liked the friendship between Lili and Lizard and even admired Lili’s jealousy of Lizard’s new friend Georgina – whilst Lili is tough, smart and fiercely loyal to Lizard despite the prejudice her family gave against Lizard due to caste, her flaws made her human.

An enjoyable book, recommended for both MG + YA readers.

Special thanks to Text Publishing for sending me a review copy of this book.
-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

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

The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

Moving between Imperial China and France during the ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution and inspired by the true story of the quest for a blood-red rose.

Viviane de Faitaud has grown up alone at the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, for her father, the Marquis de Ravoisier, lives at the court of Louis XVI in Versailles. After a hailstorm destroys the chateau’s orchards, gardens and fields an ambitious young Welshman, David Stronach, accepts the commission to plan the chateau’s new gardens in the hope of making his name as a landscape designer.
David and Viviane fall in love, but it is an impossible romance. Her father has betrothed her to a rich duke who she is forced to marry and David is hunted from the property. Viviane goes to court and becomes a maid-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette and a member of the extended royal family. Angry and embittered, David sails away from England with Lord Macartney, the British ambassador, who hopes to open up trade with Imperial China.

In Canton, the British embassy at last receives news from home, including their first reports of the French Revolution. David hears the story of ‘The Blue Rose’, a Chinese fable of impossible love, and discovers the blood-red rose growing in the wintry garden. He realises that he is still in love with Viviane and must find her.

Viviane escapes the guillotine and returns to the ruin of Chateau de Belisima to rebuild her life. David carrying a cluster of rosehips finds her there, and together they decide to grow the fabled red rose of China in France.

This book was so beautifully written and I am so humbled to have received an advance copy of this book which helped me prepare for the in conversation I hosted with Kate the other week. I would rate this 4.5 stars. Once again, Kate weaved an intricate story that blended history with a beautiful fairytale that became a unique tale about overcoming boundaries, acceptance and unconditional love. It was fascinating to learn about the cruelty of the world in 1700 and the parallel between France and China. The connection between our favourite characters David and Vivianne truly warmed my heart.

-Annie

Beautifully written. I loved how all the elements of the story are tied in so well together, from the commonalities between the Imperial France and Imperial China, the French Revolution and the class system, to the characters and their encounters. I felt the storytelling was masterful. In true Kate Forsyth style, this novel drew inspiration from the Blue Rose fairy-tale from China with the central themes of achieving impossible love, freedom and hope through the symbol of the blood red rose. What I enjoyed most about this book is the exploration of freedom and how it is presented in both the ancient fairy-tale and through the French Revolution. In particular, freedom to choose who you love, freedom to live the life you want, and freedom to be who you want to be. It also presents an insight into imperial China. Kate Forsyth has done massive research into Imperial China and has respectfully represented the differences in cultures and understanding, as well as used symbolism to weave a thoughtful and delicate love story set during turbulent times of the French Revolution. The writing is elegant and thoughtful, each chapter engaging and takes the reader on an immersive journey. Highly recommended.
-NJ

With special thanks to Penguin Random House Australia for sending us an Advanced Review Copy of this book.

The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf

**Content warnings: Racism, graphic violence, on-page death, OCD and anxiety triggers.**

“…Your people, my people, our people, they’re everyone. They’re Malaysians. It’s not Malays killing Chinese or Chinese killing Malays. It’s stupid people killing stupid people.”

Melati Ahmad looks like your typical movie-going, Beatles-obsessed sixteen-year-old. Unlike most other sixteen-year-olds though, Mel also believes that she harbors a djinn inside her, one who threatens her with horrific images of her mother’s death unless she adheres to an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping to keep him satisfied.

But there are things that Melati can’t protect her mother from. On the evening of May 13th, 1969, racial tensions in her home city of Kuala Lumpur boil over. The Chinese and Malays are at war, and Mel and her mother become separated by a city in flames.

With a 24-hour curfew in place and all lines of communication down, it will take the help of a Chinese boy named Vincent and all of the courage and grit in Melati’s arsenal to overcome the violence on the streets, her own prejudices, and her djinn’s surging power to make it back to the one person she can’t risk losing.

“How do you expect unity to grow from seeds of self-interest? Look at the riots in Penang last year….”

This book was an incredibly powerful historical fiction that really brings the bloody history of Malaysia in 1969 to life. I was able to relate to it from a cultural and religious perspective as I am part Indonesian and Muslim so the cultural values, language, religious referencing places, food, even the civil unrest is something I was very familiar with. I was engrossed from the first page as the writing was very easy to follow but I agree the story may be difficult for some readers to stomach and as I recommend this book, please note my recommendation comes with a warning. The content in this book is definitely not for a younger audience – it’s definitely an older YA novel.

Our protagonist is Melati Ahmad’s torment and journey really came to life in my mind and it was heart wrenching to read about innocent people trapped in a war zone but aren’t just fighting for survival – they are battling their own demons as well, in this case, the djinn that keeps controlling Melati’s mind in horrific ways. Yes this book is quite confronting and very detailed in bringing out the violence and Melati’s torment. Personally, I was able to handle it as I felt the author really nailed it with her writing and explored these themes very well. I really kept turning the page yearning to know what happens next. I shed tears as I read the epilogue – it was so touching and final. I was convinced to pick this book up sooner than I planned and I wondered why I took so long to read this.

I highly recommend this book to readers who love historical fiction with an element of ‘urban fantasy’ (which I believe is a metaphor in this story) and strong cultural representation. Please note, again, my recommendation comes with a trigger warning. This book contains graphic details and violence, death, racism, war and mental illness and I believe this to be more suited to older readers. Please do not read this book if you feel it may be harmful to you in any way.

Happy to say this is another book love for 2019. Just amazingly written, very insightful, a book I won’t forget anytime soon.

Publisher: Salaam Reads – subsidiary of Simon and Schuster
-Annie

Echantee by Gita Trelease: Blog Tour and Exclusive Q&A

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns.

Although a detailed beginning, this is a debut that really engrosses you and builds to a fast paced ending.. Perfect for readers who enjoy magically infused historical fiction. I believe if you liked “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, you will enjoy this.


Exclusive Q&A with author Gita Trelease

Congratulations on your debut novel “Enchantee”!! 1789 – France: this is a very interesting time and place setting. What moved you to write a story that was based here?
Thank you! I’m drawn to moments in history that I think of as “threshold” moments, and the French Revolution is one of those. The decadent world of the French aristocracy is dying and a new world, shaped by new and sometimes terrifying ideas, is struggling to come into being. It’s a time of great turmoil and change, and that’s very appealing to me as a writer. The French Revolution is also a time when what seems to be right might not actually be right, and I wanted the opportunity to explore complexity.

The family dynamic in this story: Camille, Sophie and Alain (the family we meet in the beginning) is quite interesting, were these characters inspired by a family you knew? Who or what was your inspiration for your characters, particularly Camille and her personality?
There wasn’t any direct inspiration, but like Camille’s Maman, my own mother died when I was fairly young. I think it forced me to become independent very quickly and to assume more responsibility for myself than I was ready for, though for me it was nothing like the pressure her parents’ deaths puts on Camille. Because of that enormous pressure, Camille makes a lot of mistakes—I think that can happen to all of us. I didn’t want to write a “perfect” heroine. She’s a bit like me in other ways, too, though I didn’t realize that when I was writing the book: resourceful but also a bit impetuous. Which is a better trait for a character in a novel than in real life! As for Camille’s siblings, Sophie and Alain, they’re probably a mix of all sorts of experiences I’ve had and people that I’ve met. My only sibling is my younger brother and thankfully he is nothing like Alain!

From having your first idea to first draft, edits to publication – how long did it take for you to get to this point? Was this book always going to be called “Enchantee”?
From the first glimmerings of the idea in the summer of 2014—when the story revolved around the rescue of Marie Antoinette by balloon!—the working title has always been Enchantée. I assumed it would change if I sold the book, because I worried about a French title, but my team all liked it. I started writing the book in January of 2015, and after at least seven drafts, I queried a handful of agents on Bastille Day, July 14, 2017. After that, everything went very quickly: I got several offers of representation in the following weeks and after a whirlwind revision at the
end of September, the book sold at auction in October.

Some authors go to a writer’s retreat to focus on their writing, did you have a special place you retreated to whilst writing “Enchantee”? (Perhaps Paris for inspiration?)
I wish I could have written all of it in Paris! I was lucky enough, though, to visit in the summer of 2015, and the time I spent researching at the Musée Carnavalet (the collection contains artefacts from the French Revolution), strolling through Paris, and wandering the halls and gardens of the Palace of Versailles was incredibly inspiring. I wrote a lot of Enchantée in our apartment in a boys’ dormitory at a boarding school where my husband is a teacher—not a particularly quiet place! We own an old farm house on the coast of Maine that we’ve been fixing up and a little shed I have there is my favorite place to write. It’s very peaceful and I do a lot of absolutely necessary daydreaming there.

When you are not writing or reading, what would you be doing?
I love to be outdoors, especially by the ocean, and I love to take photographs, but if I could do anything, I’d be traveling and exploring new places.

Quick Questions

Ultimate Holiday Destination: Morocco
Guilty pleasure dessert: Pomegranate Pavlova
When I was a child, I wanted to be a ____spy_____ when I grew up.
Famous last words: “I think I know a shortcut we can try…”

With special thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia Publishers for having Read3r’z Re-Vu on board as part of the Echantee Blog Tour, for co-ordinating the interview and for sending a review copy of this book.
-Annie