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

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A Curse of Ash and Embers by Jo Spurrier

A dead witch. A bitter curse. A battle of magic.

Some people knit socks by the fire at night – Gyssha Blackbone made monsters. But the witch is dead now, and somehow it’s Elodie’s job to clean up the mess. When she was hired at Black Oak Cottage, Elodie had no idea she’d find herself working for a witch; and her acid-tongued new mistress, Aleida, was not expecting a housemaid to turn up on her doorstep. Gyssha’s final curse left Aleida practically dead on her feet and now, with monsters roaming the woods, a demonic tree lurking in the orchard and an angry warlock demanding repayment of a debt, Aleida needs Elodie’s help and no matter what the old witch throws at her, to Elodie it’s still better than going back home. – the very place she is emotionally abused by her stepfather, unsupported by her mother and denied an education so much she is illiterate… Regardless, Elodie is determined to make this work…

A story of witches – ancient curses – folklore – strong women.. everything I like in a fantasy novel!!!

I really enjoyed this story, with the start making me feel incredibly frustrated with some of the characters – particularly Elodie’s stepfather, the emotional reaction I felt early on told me to strap on, I’m in for a wild ride.. and I was.. I loved how the story grew as we followed a confused character because as the story unfolded for us it unfolded for Elodie and we learnt things along the way – the secrets, Elodie’s real purpose in being hired.. Some parts were quite creepy but it sent me into a world I least expected. An easy read you can get through pretty quickly, immersive and intriguing.

Special thanks to Harper Voyager 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

What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra + Blog Post feature from the author!!!

An epic combination of mystery, science fiction, and dark fantasy in a twisty story that captivates you from page one and hooks you to the final page!!!

Our protagonist is Hayden, a young girl who has tried to put her past behind her. She’s living in Brooklyn with her best friend, Del and preparing for her future however on her 18th birthday she inherits her childhood home, The Manor, based in Colorado on the condition that she uncovers its dark secrets. Hayden’s inheritance has opened Pandora’s box as her past has suddenly caught up with her, especially when she goes back to her roots…

I first heard about this book when Publishing House Allen and Unwin hosted their YA Fan Fest and to my delight, I won a copy after participating in one of their activities on stage!! For this, I am forever grateful as this was one creepily, exciting book!!! Where to start? Yes I really enjoyed this book.. What I enjoyed most was the element of mystery that teased me throughout the story – from the beginning I knew and understood that Hayden, was given a task to unlock a dark secret – but what was that secret!? Was it real or a fantasy?? What really happened to Hayden’s mother?? The closer we got to the truth, the creepier the story got – parts of the story even gave me goosebumps (no spoilers – The Manor) I also loved Hayden’s father – a disgraced physicist – who was a mystery himself with his theories we get to read in several of his journal extracts that surfaced throughout the book. Each entry started piecing more jigsaw puzzle pieces together. Even with that underlying mystery, I found the plot to be fast paced and very cleverly written. The author did a great job with starting chapters with text book explanations on various topics like physics for example and it lead us to the next part of the story. The friendship between Hayden and her bestie, Del, would appear to be the most unlikely yet they fit together like a glove and their constant banter made me laugh a lot so I guess it’s true, opposites do attract!!

This is a great debut novel and I recommend this to readers who enjoy a creepy YA fantasy fiction story.. It’s epic!!! Special thanks to Allen & Unwin for giving me an advanced review copy of this book.

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Special feature – blog post by author Katya de Becerra

Setting the Scene: Writing Places into Books and Books into Place

I first read The Catcher in the Rye when I was about thirteen. Though I didn’t get to see New York with my own eyes until many years later, Salinger’s version of the city as seen through the eyes of the book’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield, enthralled me well into my adulthood. Even when I got to visit New York at last, my firsthand impressions of it were tinged by my long-ago memories of first exploring the city on The Catcher’s pages.

As I’ve read more, it became obvious to me that regardless of whether a story is set in a real or fictional place, its setting is as important as the novel’s plot or characters’ development. Sometimes, the aftertaste of a written place stays with you longer than the story itself.

Looking back at how those early literary experiences from my childhood shaped me as a writer today, I can testify that The Catcher’s version of NYC has definitely burrowed itself so deep into my psyche that when I first started drafting what was to become my debut novel, What The Woods Keep, the setting my mind first conjured was, unsurprisingly, New York. Though, as my work progressed and the book’s protagonist, Hayden, revealed herself to me slowly and layer by layer, I understood one of the first key things about this strange story of missing mothers and crackpot scientist fathers I was writing: Hayden was not a native New Yorker. She was a transplant. And while she was well-adjusted to city life, originally she was from elsewhere. More so, she was hiding something, and her New York life was her armour, protecting her from the ghosts of her strange childhood.

But where did she come from? It was the process of answering this question that became crucial to Hayden’s development as the book’s lead character and narrator. The more I fleshed out her place of birth, a fictional town of Promise located in the middle of Colorado woods, the more I fleshed out Hayden herself. For it is in Promise that Hayden’s core was formed once upon a time, long before she came to New York. In its essence, What The Woods Keep is a story of one strange girl’s quest to unearth the truth about her mother’s decade-old disappearance. When Hayden returns to Promise, her faded memories of some disturbing happenings she’s witnessed in the local woods as a child, her dark dreams, and all these things she believes her mind surely made up begin to clash with the atmospheric reality of Promise, eventually spilling into her wakeful world. That moment when the town finally aligns with Hayden’s viewpoint and highjacks her perception was among most thrilling for me to write.

Books settings can profoundly affect us, shape our vision of places we’ve never visited, direct our reading choices and influence our travel aspirations. Just like The Catcher in the Rye was the key catalyst for my long-lasting obsession with New York, I hope that Promise from What The Woods Keep takes hold of my readers’ imagination. I hope that my readers feel the whisper of the woods on their skin and shiver. I hope that Promise, with all its moodiness, its rain and wind, and its unsettling secrets inspires readers to immerse themselves in books and explore places, real or imaginary.

Author Katya de Becerra

Special thanks to Allen & Unwin for giving me an advanced review copy of this book and for having author Katya, share her blog piece with us.

Blog post review by Annie

Run, Riot by Nikesh Shukla

A powerful, gripping book about 4 teens who standing up for themselves and their community.

Hari and Jamal film an unarmed youth from their estate being beaten by police and suddenly they find themselves hunted by the very people who should be protecting them. But as they go on the run with Hari’s twin sister, Taran, and Jamal’s girlfriend, Anna, they soon discover the truth goes much deeper, with terrible personal consequences at hand..

I found this to be a fast paced, action packed thriller of a story that I believe to be The U.K’s answer to “The Hate U Give” (THUG). A story that explores social injustice at the hands of corruption, and rogue police. A story that turns the lives of 4 teens upside down when they become privy to too much information and the decision they need to make – either stay silent and go on the run or take a stand and have justice prevail. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, the dialogue between the characters and I even came to care for the characters we followed. The book’s structure was also well done as it was following a time line (as in time of day) rather than chapters so it really brought the story to life for me. To be honest, I really hope this story is adapted to film as I believe it would be well received by the YA reader community. I recommend this book to readers of YA who enjoy suspense, action and is interested in reading stories that explore deep themes such as social injustice and community.

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

Tattletale by Sarah J. Naughton

A sinister novel about finding justice in revenge, perfect for fans of In a Dark, Dark Wood and I Let You Go…

After years of estrangement from her family, Mags receives a shocking phone call. Her rebellious brother, Abe, is in a coma, and the police suspect he tried to take his own life. But Mags isn’t so sure, and she begins to crack away at the life of the brother she once knew: the dark apartment building, the whispering tenants, and her brother’s mysterious girlfriend, the only witness to the incident, who raises more questions than answers. As Mags picks up where the police left off, she begins to unearth the secrets her brother left behind—and awakens her own talent for revenge. Mags was so ruthless in her pursuit for answers that most of the time I disliked her yet I could see why she would cross a few lines just to find out who really pushed her brother.

-My Review-
This book took me through a number of different emotions with its variety of diverse characters and their backstories. I almost cried a few times during some of the chapters while during others my heart melted with love and heartbreak simultaneously (depending on which of the characters I was reading). Despite how devastating and heartbreaking some of the pages were to read it was worth staying for the final chapters.
-Reader Recommendation-
For mature audiences 16+ who don’t mind a little bit of LGBT and sexual references.
Special thanks to Hachette Publishers, Australia for sending me a copy of this book to read and review.
-Crystal