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

The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Sisters Lu and Min have always understood their places as princesses of the Empire. Lu knows she is destined to become the dynasty’s first female ruler, while Min is resigned to a life in her shadow. Then their father declares their male cousin Set the heir instead – a betrayal that sends the sisters down two very different paths. Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu goes on the run but she needs an ally – and an army – if she is to succeed. Her quest leads her to Nokhai, the last surviving wolf shape-shifter. Nok wants to keep his identity secret, but finds himself forced into an uneasy alliance with the girl whose family killed everyone he ever loved.

There can only be one Emperor, and the sisters’ greatest enemy could turn out to be each other.

To be honest, it did take me awhile to really be engaged in this book as the world building was quite slow in the beginning with not a lot happening in the beginning however it did pick up steadily as I read on which helped me stay with the book to the end. It is worth continuing on with the read. What I enjoyed about this book was the mystery between 2 sisters Lu and Min and the one crown. How they had different paths for reasons beyond their own control. There was also a spooky element to Min’s storyline which I found interesting too. It was difficult to choose a favourite sister in this story, both had merits and you couldn’t help but feel for each sister – one was a pawn and made to marry her cousin who was intending to take the throne the other was accused of her own father’s murder hence the empty throne..  The mystery and developing plot throughout the book really paid off in the end.

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

Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye

Work hard… Mischief harder…

From the writer of The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate comes an exciting new fantasy series full of magic, intrigue, betrayal and action!!!

Sora can move as silently as a ghost and hurl throwing stars with lethal accuracy. Her gemina, Daemon, can win any physical fight blindfolded and with an arm tied around his back. They are apprentice warriors of the Society of Taigas—marked by the gods to be trained in magic and the fighting arts to protect the kingdom of Kichona.  As their graduation approaches, Sora and Daemon look forward to proving themselves worthy of belonging in the elite group—but in a kingdom free of violence since the Blood Rift Rebellion many years ago, it’s been difficult to make their mark. So when the pair encounter a strange camp of mysterious soldiers while on a standard scouting mission, they decide the only thing to do to help their kingdom is to infiltrate the group. Taking this risk will change Sora’s life forever—and lead her on a mission of deception that may fool everyone she’s ever loved.

This was interesting book, definitely not what I expect or got used to with this amazing author from her previous books. If like me, you’ve read “The Crown’s Game” and “The Crown’s Fate” cast your mind away from that duology if you wish to tap into this new series. This is very different. It’s a whole new world, whole new playing field.. I enjoyed the cultural fusion in this book that reminded me of Asian and European legends and tales. Although the book did take some time to engage me in the beginning due to slow plot development and world building, the twists that popped up throughout the story and the interesting characters held my attention to the end. The friendship between our two main characters was something I adored so much and there were moments throughout the book that touched my heart. I found this book is something you need to read without any distraction. The world building is detailed and the multiple perspectives can confuse you if you’re not 100% focused on the story. I have faith in this series so I am definitely invested and looking forward to the sequel now.

Special thanks to Harper Collins publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

The Poppy War by R.F Kuang with exclusive mini Q&A

I had the pleasure of engaging in a read along with 2 of my dear friends, Tien of Tien’s Blurb and Maisie of SleepyWiredStudios it was one of the most engaging and engrossing reads I had read in some time, so much so, I suffered a book hangover after reading this book!!!

The Poppy War
Our protagonist is Rin – a war orphan who dwells in the lower socio-economic part of the Empire with a family who is the head of a notorious Opium Trade and believed they’d finally be able to marry Rin off to further their criminal enterprise. However, when Rin aces the Keju (the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to attend elite academies), it was a shock to everyone as it was unheard of for a war orphan from Rooster Province to blitz the test without cheating and a shock to Rin herself, who realised she was finally free of the life dictated to her.  What an amazing surprise that she got into Sinegard: the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising… but surprises aren’t always good… Given Rin’s stature, her time at Sinegard is not a walk in the park as she is singled out and targeted due to her socio-economic status, colour and gender yet before long, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power: an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Rin continues exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a well known yet seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances. As Rin learns of her new found power and that myths are very much real, the Nikara Empire was at peace until it is learnt that a third Poppy War is close at hand….

My Thoughts
This is definitely another book love for 2018, a book that consumed me so much I experienced a book hangover. I had the privilege of doing a read along with 2 of my girlfriends and we were all so mesmerised with the story line. From start to finish, I was engrossed in the plot and what becomes of the main character we follow, Rin. I loved the character development as we learn about her life as an orphan girl then forced into a family who is involved in an Opium trade and her determination to escape the life dictated to her to a life she wants of her own – the journey she takes, the torment she endured and her self discoveries really kept me turning the page!! In addition to Rin, I also loved all the characters that we follow in this story. Whether good or bad – each character was written extremely well and what I enjoyed was regardless of one’s strengths – there was a vulnerability which made it real..

CONTENT WARNING: Yes I should note, this book does come with a content warning as it covers Warfare and the author does not at all sugarcoat it from battle to Prisoner of War (PoW) treatment to torture. It is quite graphic, however I feel the author did a great job in writing these parts as once again, she kept it real despite the world we are reading. Although parts were not easy to read, I realise they would not have been easy to write, but these parts were written so well nonetheless. I had numerous emotional reactions throughout the book: gasping, laughing, cringing, anger – there’s even a part that was a bit of a tearjerker..

I loved this book so much, I loved the characters.. this is not a book I will forget in a hurry!!!

Special thanks to Harper Voyager for sending me a review copy of this book.

 

Mini Q&A with author R.F Kuang

This question is from Maisie: Rin is the main character we follow in this story however we come to meet some wonderful and very unlikeable characters in “The Poppy War” is there a particular character you enjoyed writing more than the other?
I love writing Jiang the most! He’s hilarious and he gets to do whatever he wants. Ramsa was fun too; I’m excited to expand his role in the sequel. 
This question is from Tien: I’ve been searching everywhere for the name of this series but I cannot see it anywhere – is there a name for this series and how many installments could we expect?
It’s The Poppy Wars Trilogy.  
I was curious to know your inspiration behind Rin’s background (like her back story from being an orphan girl to her transition to Sinegard) and inspiration for the militia academy.
Rin’s character arc is almost entirely based on the biography of Mao Zedong. 
How long did it take for you to write “The Poppy War” how different is the finished product from your original draft/idea?
It took me about three months to write the first draft that I sent out on queries. After I got an agent, we revised for two more months before putting it out on submission. Once I signed with Harper, we put it through three more revision stages–mostly final touch-ups at that point. The finished novel is quite close to what I wrote originally. Most of the revision work was to fix continuity problems and pacing issues. 
Outside of writing now: when you’re not writing/reading, what are your hobbies and interests?
Honestly, between schoolwork and writing, I don’t have time for much else. I read a lot–maybe a book every two or three days. 
R.F Kuang also said: “I am often asked about the historical atrocities and inspirations in Act 3, and it is bit difficult for me to have to discuss family trauma over and over. I’ve written two essays on the subject that I always link to interviewers”
-Annie

Snow, Fire, Sword by Sophie Masson

An amazing YA urban fantasy that is set on the backdrop of mythological Indonesia!!! A race against time to the very heart of an explosive secret… the truth about Snow, Fire and Sword. Dewi has never ventured beyond her village in the highlands of Jayangan, where she lives a comfortable life with her father, the respected village healer. But one day while working in the rice fields, she stumbles across Adi, an apprentice sword-maker, alone and hiding from the bloodthirsty bandits who kidnapped his beloved master.

When Dewi’s father also goes missing, she seeks the advice of the powerful tiger-people who watch over her village, but even they can see only so far through the cloud of sorcery that hangs over the kingdom. They leave her with a cryptic message: she and Adi must discover the true meaning of Snow, Fire and Sword before they can find her father and the other missing elders and reveal the truth about the danger that threatens Jayangan.

I had such a personal connection to this book as it was the very first time I managed to find a YA urban fantasy that was set on the backdrop of mythological Indonesia!!! It was the first time I was able to share a book with my Mum as we were able to discuss all the West Javanese legends contained throughout this story. I loved this book so much, I really took my time to read it so I was able to saviour it for as long as I could. A lot of the terminology used, I was able to understand first go but I thought it was fantastic that a glossary was included at the end of this book for the non-Indonesian speaking readers. The story moved at a reasonably quick pace, it allowed me to picture a whole new world that was inspired by true Indonesian landscape – I was able to picture the characters and the traditional Indonesian attire they were wearing so clearly. I highly recommend this to those who enjoy urban fantasies with reference to cultural legends – please note I had to get this book via Print on Demand. I’m so grateful to have this book on my shelf as it was such an immersive read, it is definitely a favourite!!!

-Annie

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts: Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods by Craig Phillips

A fantastic collection of diverse myths and legends from around the world – from Iceland to Poland to Japan, altogether in one graphic novel!!!

Tales include a cobbler girl tricks the Wawel Dragon, after all the king’s knights fail… The Polar Bear King loses his skin… Momotaro, born from a peach, defies the ogres everyone else is too scared to face… Snow White and Rose Red make friends with a bear…

This collection contains 10 tales and are retold as comics that includes adventures with giants, trolls, witches and beasts!!!

The art work is simply amazing, the legends and folktales are so exciting!! It’s one a graphic novel you would read over and over again and keep for collection. This is something I recommend to readers young and old alike who, like me, love myth and legend. I also recommend this for kids storytime – where parents can read to the children. It is pretty easy to follow however some themes may require parental guidance – the artwork is extremely details – such a visual feast!!!

Many thanks to Allen & Unwin Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for my honest review.

-Annie

The Rose & the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh

“It was because they were two parts of a whole. He did not belong to her. And she did not belong to him. It was never about belonging to someone. It was about belonging together.” – The Rose & The Dagger

Book 2 of The Wrath and The Dawn – 4 stars!

Epic and a great ending to the love story of Shazi and Khalid. After reading The Wrath and The Dawn, I was really interested and excited to read the final book and see where it all leads. Without giving away any spoilers, all I can say is that the ending is filled with emotion, twists after twists and a captivating retelling of Arabian Nights. I enjoyed the plot, the sharp biting dialogue between the characters and the magic weaved throughout the story really shined through in this final book. Recommend if you have enjoyed the first book, like strong characters, magic, plot twists and thought-provoking dialogue.

– NJ