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
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“The Rift” and exclusive video con with international author Rachael Craw

When The Rift opens… Death follows…

With special thanks to Walker Books Publishers, I had the honour of having a video conference via Whatsapp with international best-selling author from New Zealand, Rachael Craw!!!! It was such a fun conversation, one we were most excited for as we got to know each other and had a lovely chat about her upcoming book in our trackies and in the comfort of our own home.

Best known for her Spark Trilogy: “Spark”, “Stray” and “Shield”, Rachael is back with a new book “The Rift” that is due to hit Sydney bookstores in November 2018!!! This is one story that’s got me very intrigued and a story that is very different from her previous works. Rachael tells me that this was a story that was burning inside for so long and she was inspired to write this just after an awards ceremony when “Stray” received a literary award (kudos!). In her mind, Rachael had many stories flowing however the stories that stuck and formed part of her inspiration to write “The Rift” were stories from Greek Mythology: Greek goddesses Artemus and Eileithiya and an ancient curse that lives on in modern times in a location where there is a gap between time and space and the people in this location must live and deal with the confines of a small island. A place where the coastline boxes you in and technology is really not compatible there. This place is now known as “Blackwater Island” in “The Rift”.

The Rift
Generations of Rangers have guarded the Old Herd against the horrors of The Rift and Cal West, an apprentice Ranger, fights daily to prove he belongs within their ranks. Meg Archer has returned to her childhood home, only to find Black Water Island is facing threat not even the Rangers are prepared for. Meg and Cal cannot ignore their attraction but can they face their darkest fears and save the island from disaster?

A story of an ancient curse, centuries old secret and yes… potentially a forbidden love!!

Rachael had not intended to write another series when she started writing “The Rift” so it should be a stand alone, however, Rachael says never say never because when you read “The Rift” there could be potential for more… I guess we will have to find out!! On the cover of “The Rift” you will see a raven and yes I asked, and yes the raven is key to the story!! Interestingly, when asked about why she chose this particular theme for writing this book, Rachael said the story chose her. Although Rachael had always intended to have a female protagonist, Rachael initially intended to write this story about 2 characters running away – but she could not justify what they were running from and so changed the shape of the story to what’s in “The Rift” now. Written in third person, this is a shared character story between a boy and a girl which is unusual for Rachael as she normally struggles with reading shared character perspectives.

It was so much fun to get to know Rachael, she is so lovely and very easy to talk to and I am really hoping she will visit Sydney, Australia – hopefully in time for her book launch! In addition to talking about “The Rift” I had some burning questions answered. Yes! Rachael lives in New Zealand but no, she has not experienced the exhilaration of bungee jumping… yet… Rachael’s ultimate holiday destination would be Istanbul, Turkey or Prague or somewhere medieval but if she is in the mood for simple relaxation, a tropical getaway would be in order. Her favourite food is Mexican and when Rachael isn’t reading or writing, she loves to binge on Netflix. Most recently she loved watching ‘The Path’ and ‘Vikings’ and I am most excited to say I have convinced Rachael to now start bingeing on my favourite TV show: Grimm!!! Jumanji, Black Panther and Infinity War are listed as her favourite movies of 2018.

Special thanks again to Walker Books Publishers for giving me the opportunity to have this video call with Rachael Craw and of course special thanks to Rachael for her time on a Sunday afternoon, it really was an exciting and fun experience…

Now… to read “The Rift”!!! So watch this space for my review!!!

For further info on Rachael Craw: https://rachaelcraw.com/

-Annie

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

BOOK 1 of the Hex Hall Series

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It’s gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie’s estranged father—an elusive European warlock—only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it’s her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tagalong ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.

My review
If you love Harry Potter then you’ll love this book and will be up until 3am in the morning not wanting to put it down just like I did! Sophie just like Harry Potter grew up in the human world and well it’s an interesting twist with the boarding school she ends up going to where it’s more like juvie for the supernatural, but the things is that Sophie actually doesn’t know how to do any magic yet. Follow on her journey to making friends, making enemies, getting into trouble, saving her friend, dealing with a boy crush on someone she can’t have and let’s not forget the evil groups that want her and her school mates dead. A fun filled series that I’m eager to keep reading about.

Recomendation
I’m going to say ages 8 and up but I think anyone at an age that can understand the imaginary and loves books about magic will love this book. Also great for Harry Potter fans who love stories about teenage witches and even twilight fans will enjoy the vamipire and other mythical beings elements in this book.

– Crystal

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

Earth Boy by Sami Shah

An epic sequel to an epic debut – and a fantastic end to an amazing duology!!!

Once again, Sami Shah does not disappoint with “Earth Boy” due for release: April 2017.

Picking up where we left off in “Fire Boy” we continue with Wahid’s journey – Wahid, the boy from Pakistan who has an unusual talent of seeing what others can’t.. He can see jinn. In a freak accident that he’s been blamed for, it appears jinn have stolen his friend’s soul and it’s up to Wahid to free her from jinn before it’s too late. Towards the end of Fire Boy, Wahid meets an unlikely and untrustworthy ally – The Devil Himself. The book starts with Iblis’ (The Devil’s) story and continues Wahid’s quest to not only save his friend’s soul but to also determine what’s really going on in the jinn world and why are all these unexplained things are happening? In order for Wahid to succeed, Wahid has to learn the true nature of his birth and potentially cross over into the parallel world of jinn.  

Written just as well as the first book, this book had me on the edge of my seat and I truly advise readers to read this during daylight hours. Again, I found the referencing of Islamic belief in this urban fantasy story was accurate which made me enjoy this story even more. Although I finally have closure as to what happens next, I was gaping at Wahid’s story! I highly recommend this to the readers who enjoyed “Fire Boy” as you really wont be disappointed. You will gasp, cringe, gape and laugh throughout this story.  

Many thanks to Fantasica Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for my honest review, it was an honour to read this and I look forward to the finished product when it hits the shelves in April 2017.

-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

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Sevenwaters #1 … 5 stars

I simply cannot put this book down because of its exquisite, sensational writing and engrossing storytelling. Sorcha’s story is a dark magical fairytale where her personal strength plays an essential role in her journey to save her family. This story is one of triumph of the human spirit, faith and belief, and most of all, love. Written in first person narration, it is both raw and heartfelt. Recommended if you like strong female characters that challenges the patriarchal society, fairytale retelling with strong female presence and voice, sensational story steeped in Irish tradition and folklore, magical mysterious characters/circumstances as well as a sweeping love story worthy of a thousand songs.

Click here to read the book blurb on Goodreads.

-NJ