The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

“As they say, war is misery, but its not without its charms…”

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

As a fan of the Hunger Games series, I was really keen to read this prequel, to explore the land of Pandem before the Panem as we know it. I was also keen to know who Snow really was, what his life was like before he became the dictator that ruled Panem with an iron fist. Throughout the book, I felt the author captured him very well. From Snow’s emotions, his thinking, his inner struggles, his motivations – all explored very well. Lucy Gray was a character I loved and adored very much and her interaction with Snow (Coriolanus) was very clever. Her love for poetry added a nice touch to an overall very depressing story. The prequel demonstrated just how far the Hunger Games had come from its first inception. Whilst the concept is so barbaric even in modern day Panem, I was mortified to see how tributes were treated int his prequel, it was illustrated so well that I had an emotional reaction when I read of their treatment.

The book is written very well and well thought out. Some parts of it were slow but it does build up to a plot twist that kept me intrigued to the end. I was mesmerized, simultaneously horrified, in reading Snow’s backstory and I highly recommend this book to all Hunger Games fans – just don’t read it if you’re having a bad day…
-Annie

Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

“Love does not always come in convenient packages…”

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

Although I was a devoted Twilight Saga fan back in the day, I have since moved on from paranormal romance so when I heard this book was coming out, I was keen to read it for the sake of tapping back into an old fandom but I did not have high expectations for this book. I felt this book was released at a good time when the world is enduring a global pandemic, revisiting an old fandom is just what we needed for a reprieve. Whilst I didn’t have high expectations for this book, I must admit the book did not disappoint. I had the pleasure of reading along with a group of friends and was able to share a fun reading experience with them.

First of all, what I enjoyed mostly from this book was how well Edward’s voice was captured. In some books, particularly books with multiple perspectives, it is difficult to distinguish between voices however in this one, I was able to tell straight away that it’s Edward. The way he converses, it clearly demonstrated he is an older person trapped in the role of a 17 year old boy. Admittedly his inner monologue felt like a grind at times but that being said, I understood the inner monologue and why it was constant. Midnight Sun shows us a very different Edward to the one we meet during the Twilight Saga. In Twilight, we see a vampire in control, the one who called the shots in the relationship – a very confident guy. In this book, we meet the real Edward beneath the confidence. He is in fact an individual struggling with his own demons and struggles with everyday choices of maintaining his oath to be a ‘vegetarian vampire’ and succumbing to the temptation of blood.

Midnight Sun also gave us more insight into characters we thought we knew from when we read the Twilight Saga. I was blindsided in learning the true personality of the characters we thought we knew and I was impressed at how cleverly we were able to capture the truth through Edward’s gift of mind reading. Edward’s relationships with his coven (or siblings) was also very interesting as I came to realise that there was so much about Edward and coven that I didn’t know simply because I read the Twilight Saga through Bella’s lens. Whom Edward is closest with, how each sibling came to become the Cullens etc – it was was very well written and intriguing.

Although this book takes place at the same time as Twilight and we follow the same storyline as we did in Twilight just through Edward’s lens, we are blessed with insight into Edward’s history as well as the backstories of his coven – my personal favourite is Carlisle’s backstory. I also found this book filled in a lot of blanks for example when reading a scene in Twilight that features Bella and not Edward, this book showed us what he was doing during those exact times.

Yes it’s over 700 pages long, Yes it’s been over a decade since I was really into this series… BUT… if you were a fan like me back in the day, I recommend this read… it was fun to tap back into this saga, interesting to see the gaps being filled and reading the historical aspects of Edward’s life (though I wish there were a bit more) it’s mostly dialogue so it was very easy to read but overall I enjoyed this reading experience and I was not deflated after the hype. I feel it’s worth the read.

PS: was very excited to be featured in the Sydney Morning Herald in the lead up for this book release…
Who’d of thought my fandom for this series would land me in the paper over a decade later!!!

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

Rebel Gods by Will Kostakis – Book Tour

***contains minor spoilers, if you have not read Monuments by Will Kostakis yet, please do not read any further!!!!***

Newbie gods Connor, Sally and Locky want to change the world, no biggie. When their first attempted miracle doesn’t quite go to plan, they find themselves at odds with their families, the media and each other. To make matters worse, they’re drawn into a centuries old conflict between the gods of Love and Fear that just might destroy the world they’re striving to make better.

I really enjoyed this book and the characters! Like the first one, it was a lot of fun to read however this installment of the duology takes us on more of an emotional adventure as well as the fantasy adventure. I loved how the relationships developed in this book between the characters we met in Monuments: Connor, Sally and Locky… (Locky will always be my personal favourite). I also love the relationship between Connor and his mum and how that changed too not just when Connor comes of age but when he’s acquired his new power and responsibility.

Fast paced, whitty, fun and action packed – over all a great read. I can also see how the author grows each time he writes a new book, it always seems to be a step better than the last although all his books a great. This duology is highly recommended for fans who enjoy fantasy fiction set in a contemporary times with great friendships, mythology and adventure.

With special thanks to Date a Book YA – Hachette Publishers Australia for sending me a copy of this book and for having me on board the Rebel Gods Book Tour.

Full interview with Will Kostakis to celebrate the release of Rebel Gods can be found on Read3r’z Re-Vu Instagram: IGTV
-Annie

Havenfall by Sara Holland

“People can sniff out lies. If you can’t share the whole truth, share whatever little bit of it you can to get people on your side…”

A book that got me out of my reading slump!

Hidden deep in the mountains of Colorado lies the Inn at Havenfall, a sanctuary that connects ancient worlds—each with its own magic. For generations, the inn has protected all who seek refuge within its walls, and any who disrupt the peace can never return.

For Maddie Morrow, summers at the inn are more than a chance to experience this magic firsthand. Havenfall is an escape from reality, where her mother sits on death row accused of murdering Maddie’s brother. It’s where Maddie fell in love with handsome Fiorden soldier Brekken. And it’s where one day she hopes to inherit the role of Innkeeper from her beloved uncle.

But this summer, the impossible happens—a dead body is found, shattering everything the inn stands for. With Brekken missing, her uncle gravely injured, and a dangerous creature on the loose, Maddie suddenly finds herself responsible for the safety of everyone in Havenfall. She’ll do anything to uncover the truth, even if it means working together with an alluring new staffer, Taya, who seems to know more than she’s letting on. As dark secrets are revealed about the inn itself, one thing becomes clear to Maddie—no one can be trusted, and no one is safe…

Starting in the middle of Colorado, “Havenfall” is like the “inn” or “central station” connecting ancient realms however one day, a realm that was sealed off was reopened and the negotiated balance that once was has been called into question – it’s now up to one person, Maddie, to take a stand in her Uncle’s place. I enjoyed how this magical story is set in the real world, as though we are living in a parallel to the magical realms and “Havenfall” is an underground movement. The opening really lured me in, the setting is amazing and the world building was informative yet written in a pace that didn’t lose me as a reader. The characters were also quite interesting too, particularly our protagonist Maddie. I liked how she exhibits strength even when she is not 100% knowledgeable of what’s around her and she feels as thought the weight of the world is resting on her shoulders. Maddie is a likeable character and I admired the way she dealt with her predicament. She was very easy to follow and I enjoyed how she narrated this story.

This book also focused on the world building, the magical system and the mystery – not a lot of romance, which I have to admit, made a pleasant change. I loved the realms one can teleport through and how they interconnected with Havenfall and how a slight mishap such as leaving a door to a portal open when you shouldn’t have can lead to all hell breaking loose. The twists and turns throughout this story really held my attention. I can also see how readers may find this book cut short where there is plenty more to tell – I put this down to the fact that a sequel is coming.

A fast paced contemporary fantasy – I highly recommend to read it.

With many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.

Look out for the sequel: “Phoenix Flame” out March 2021.

 

Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman

From the time she was a little girl, Nia has dreamed up adventures about the Javanese mythical princess, Dewi Kadita. Now fourteen, Nia would love nothing more than to continue her education and become a writer. But high school costs money her family doesn’t have; everything her father earns selling banana fritters at the train station goes to their meager existence in the Jakarta slums―assuming he doesn’t drink it all away first.

But Nia―forced to grow up too soon to take care of her baby brother following their mother’s death during childbirth―is determined to find a way to earn her school fees. After she survives a minibus accident unharmed and the locals say she is blessed with ‘good luck magic,’ Nia exploits the notion for all its worth by charging double for her fried bananas. Selling superstitions can be dangerous, and when the tide turns and she discovers her father’s secret plan to marry her off to a much older admirer, It becomes clear that Nia’s future is being mapped without her consent.

If Nia is to write a new story for herself, she must overcome more obstacles than she could ever have conceived of for her mythical princess, and summon courage she isn’t sure she has

This is such a beautiful book I now hold so close to my heart. As an Indonesian-Australian reader, I related so much to this having been to Jakarta many times in my life, understanding the culture, the language, seeing the chaos in the city traffic, the poverty and even the slum areas. I felt close to the protagonist, Nia and I loved her fierce spirit and sheer determination of wanting to make her life her own. It is true – many girls who grow up in poverty don’t have access to education and they are often thrown into a life that’s not theirs. Nia shows these girls hope – while she accepts her responsibility to care for her younger brother in her parents’ absence, she refused to accept this to be her fate and was determined to go to high school and become a writer.

What also resonates with me is the telling of a well-known Indonesian legend throughout the book. Through the reminiscing of Nia’s mother telling her bedtime stories, to Nia telling the story to her little brother Rudi, to Nia writing her own retellings, the original legend of Nyai Roro Kidul, also known to many as the story of Dewi Kadita, was cleverly intertwined into the main story. This gave the book an element of fantasy/mythology that worked so well in balancing this contemporary (and heart touching) story.

From beginning to end, I couldn’t put this book down. The author did extremely well in bringing the Indonesian culture and legend to page as well as accurately describe chaotic scenes to slum areas of Jakarta streets. The author also did a fantastic job in keeping Bahasa Indonesian alive within the story. When writing for a wide audience, it is often challenging to find the balance between retaining original language and translation as you always lose something in translation however the balance was well done and a glossary is included for non Indonesian speakers to further understand the references.

I was so engrossed in this book and I am so thankful this book has been written – it is difficult for me to find books with Indonesian representation. I believe this book can be enjoyed by readers of all cultures as I feel it is eye opening for those who don’t know that much about Jakarta, Indonesia or Indonesian traditions and life – however it is also relatable for those who share the Indonesian culture as I do. I now want to go to Pelabuhan Ratu to see the very place the legend of Nyai Roro Kidul aka Dewi Kadita (which you read about in this book) is based.

-Annie

Hawk by James Patterson + Gabrielle Charbonnet Blog Tour

A story for a new generation of Maximum Ride fans! Max’s daughter Hawk is growing up hard and fast in gritty, post-apocalyptic New York City. She stays under the radar to survive… until a destiny that’s perilously close to her mother’s forces her to take flight.

Hawk doesn’t know her real name. She doesn’t know who her family was, or where they went. The only thing she remembers is that she was told to stay on that street corner until they came back for her, for as long as it takes.

That was thirteen years ago…

The day that she finally gives up is the moment that her life changes forever because the promise becomes reality: someone is coming for her. But it’s not a rescue. It’s an execution.

As I don’t normally read books by James Patterson, I have to say this was one epic ride.  One that is action packed and keeps you hanging to the very end. It didn’t sink in until recently that this was part of an old series but set much later yet I have been told you don’t need to have tapped into the previous series to enjoy this one – and that’s exactly right. I was able to read this book on its own and really enjoy the action and the story. Although this is post apocalyptic setting, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to the real world with corrupt governments that rule with an iron fist, violence in the streets and the like.  It really was a thrilling adventure and I enjoyed the characters and their fierce determination for survival as well as their witty – humorous dialogue. I think I’ll explore more of James Patterson’s work, this was really a great read – very fast paced, action packed – not a dull moment in sight. If you’re looking for some fast paced action adventure set in a post apocalyptic world? This one is for you!

With special thanks to Penguin Random House Australia for having me on board the Hawk Blog Tour and for sending me a copy of this book.

-Annie

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Nothing is more important than loyalty.
But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself? With extraordinary world-building and breathtaking prose, Raybearer is the story of loyalty, fate, and the lengths we’re willing to go for the ones we love.

I had the pleasure of reading an Advance Review Copy of this book followed by tuning in to a YA virtual panel that featured this lovely author. Upon reading this book then listening to the author’s inspirations for writing this book and her writing process, I was able to put it altogether and have a great appreciation for this story. Personally, I love reading fantasy fiction where the story line is derived from cultural legends and backgrounds and I believe this author executed this brilliantly in this story. This book is inspired by Nigerian legend and I have only started seeing Nigerian legends represented in fantasy recently which is amazing. I hope to see more – their culture and legends are fascinating to me. The world building of Aritsar was stable and steady to ease me into this complex world and story line from the beginning. Even from the first chapter, I felt enchanted and hooked to the end. I enjoyed Tarisai as a character too, there were times I admired her strength and I also really felt for the tribulations she was enduring.  This book had a bit of everything from steady world building, wonderful friendships, addictive plot, magic, adventure, suspense – even a hint of romance. It was a well rounded book and a fantastic debut.

Recommended to fans of stories with complex worlds and derived from cultural legends, particularly readers who have enjoyed YA books by Tomi Adeyemi and Sabaa Tahir and adult books by S.K Chakraborty. With special thanks to The Nerd Daily for organising an ARC for me.
-Annie

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices Edited by S.K Ali and Aisha Saeed

The holy month of Ramadan is the 9th month on the Islamic Calendar. It is the holiest month of the year for Muslims as it was during the month of Ramadan when Islam was born. This is the time Muslims observe the fast during daylight hours to remember those less fortunate and to also reflect on our lives and remember to remain humble. A time for prayer, a time of family and togetherness. Of course, this year – everything has changed but one thing that shows hope during a challenging time is a beautiful collection of short stories called “Once Upon an Eid” A compilation of wonderful short stories composed by Muslim authors from around the world. This was a chance to share our most sacred holiday, Eid, which marks the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan.

Many call this “The Muslim Christmas” and whilst we don’t celebrate a birthday, Eid is the one word that can bring out mixed emotions and memories for the Islamic community. In this particular book, authors share what Eid can mean to them from their own perspectives and cultures. From the sound of frying samosas to the comfort of bean pie or the pleasure of putting on a new outfit for Eid prayers, gift-giving and holiday parties. Whatever it is, Eid is a very special day for Muslims worldwide.

As a Muslim reader and blogger, I was honoured to have received an advance copy to be one of the first readers in Australia to enjoy this amazing book. I was also very elated to see a compilation that brings positive light to our community and faith by telling stories of our most auspicious occasion. I believe this is a compilation that can be enjoyed by both Muslims and non Muslims alike as it’s told in a way that many can relate from family ties to celebration, food and togetherness. The compilation is so cleverly constructed that includes not just short stories but a poem, graphic-novel chapter, and spot illustrations. The emotional responses to each experience shared in this compilation can be summed up in one word: joy

What I loved most about this compilation was how diverse it was. Although the authors were Muslim, each author was of a different culture and each story brought out many different cultures and rituals during Eid. It was amazing to discover different cultures through stories. What I also loved was how not every story was a happy story – realistically not all Muslims have the joy of really celebrating a happy Eid due to family issues, finance or health and this too was beautifully captured in this compilation. The graphic story within the compilation was also a favourite and was quite clever. The editors did an amazing job in putting this together and I truly believe this compilation is an opportunity for Muslims to read something they can relate to as well as reach out and bridge a gap with the wider community.

The full list of Once Upon an Eid contributors include: G. Willow Wilson (Alif the Unseen, Ms. Marvel), Hena Khan (Amina’s Voice, Under My Hijab), N. H. Senzai (Shooting Kabul, Escape from Aleppo), Hanna Alkaf (The Weight of Our Sky), Rukhsana Khan (Big Red Lollipop), Randa Abdel-Fattah (Does My Head Look Big in This?), Ashley Franklin (Not Quite Snow White), Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (Mommy’s Khimar), Candice Montgomery (Home and Away, By Any Means Necessary), Huda Al-Marashi (First Comes Marriage), Ayesha Mattu, Asmaa Hussein, and Sara Alfageeh.

As you can probably tell, this book brought a lot of emotion out of me. I am so thankful this book has been created and I hope the world can share in on this. With special thanks to The Nerd Daily and Amulet Books for sending me an Advance Review Copy of this wonderful book
-Annie

Verify by Joelle Charbonneau

“The truth is found when men are free to pursue it – FDR…
The truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it but there it is – WC…
Trust, but Verify – RR… Verify”

Imagine a world where paper no longer existed, where everything was run by tablets and words were erased from our world as deemed unnecessary and you were told to just trust what you have been told – any attempt to ‘verify’ could be identified as a rebellion.. Not that far from the real world hey! I thought this book was written very well, easy to follow and cleverly executed. The concept was unsettling but intriguing – what do you do in a world where you know better?

“Sometimes the most frightening leap is one we make in our own minds…”

Meri Beckley lives in a world without lies. When she turns on the news, she hears only the facts. When she swipes the pages of her online textbooks, she reads only the truth. When she looks at the peaceful Chicago streets, she feels the pride everyone in the country feels about the era of unprecedented hope and prosperity over which the government presides.

But when Meri’s mother is killed, Meri suddenly has questions that no one else seems to be asking. And when she tries to uncover her mother’s state of mind in her last weeks, she finds herself drawn into a secret world full of facts she’s never heard and a history she didn’t know existed.

Suddenly, Meri is faced with a choice between accepting the “truth” she has been taught or embracing a world the government doesn’t want anyone to see—a world where words have the power to change the course of a country, and the wrong word can get Meri killed

I enjoyed following Meri, she’s a strong character but not in a “bad ass” way – in dealing with the untimely loss of her mother and her alcoholic father she still finds the strength to carry on with her life and even take on challenges to find the truth in this world and her mother who was an artist painting a picture to expose the truth.. the mystery held my attention as did the characters we met along the way.

“Tablets are just as easy to write on and writing on paper is not only extravagant and unnecessary – it’s selfish”

A great book that demonstrates “words have power” with special thanks to Harper Collins Australia Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao

“Your affinity does not define you… what defines you is how you choose to wield it…”

The first in a new series about a princess hiding a dark secret and a con man she must trust to clear her name for her father’s murder…

“Blood Heir” is Amelie Wen Zhao’s debut and the first instalment in an epic new series that follows the story of Princess Anastacya Mikhailov of Cyrilia who has lived her life in safety, hidden behind palace walls. She is later framed for her father’s brutal murder and must leave behind everything she has ever known to find his killer and prove her innocence.

Alone, on the run, desperate and in danger, there is only one person who could help vindicate the princess. He is Ramson Quicktongue, a cunning, silver-tongued crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld. Though Ramson has sinister plans of his own, he may have met his match in Ana as the princess might just be the most dangerous player of them all.

This particular book was subject to controversy towards the end of 2018 as the author was slammed on Twitter for being offensive. The author was also subject to cyber bulling which led to a decision of retracting this book from publication. I read the blurb and the sample at the time and could not understand the controversy. I was elated, as were my friends, when I heard the book went ahead for publication and we were given the opportunity to be early readers as part of a blogger-buddy read along.

Starting this book on the first day of 2020 was the best start to the new year. “Blood Heir” was a fast paced and interesting read that I could not put down. I would rate this one of the best books we have read in some time. Personally, I felt this book sent me on a wild ride. From beginning to end I was quite impressed with the plot, characterisation and pacing not to mention the mystery surrounding Princess Anastacya’s plight and Ramson’s character. The story is full of twists and turns and is not afraid of being brutal and ripping apart this calm world. Whilst the inspiration of the Russian tale was there, I could see this book standing apart from the original tale.

I enjoyed both Ana and Ramson as characters and found them interesting as they formed an unlikely alliance but were worlds apart in their own minds. I couldn’t determine who to trust more as both blind sided me with their next moves as the story went on. I also really warmed up to the supporting character, May.

Now this book is finally in bookstores, I hope readers get a chance to sink their teeth into this one and enjoy it as much as I did and hopefully be their own judge for this story. Personally I really enjoyed it and I am trying to sit tight for the sequel.

With special thanks to Harper Voyager for sending me an early copy of “Blood Heir” and for supporting our blogger-buddy read along.

-Annie