Slay by Brittney Morris: Blog Tour

“Separate is not equal… That doesn’t even come close to leveling the field…”

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?

“What kind of noob gets lucky enough to draw the Michael Jordan card and the Michael Jackson card in a single duel?”

I was very excited about this book when I first heard about it at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, YA Con. Having it being pitched as “Black Panther” meets “Ready Player One” I was sold. I like to call this the “Urban Ready Player One” It was an interesting and fast paced read and I really enjoyed following Kiera’s story. I liked her as a character and how she developed the virtual world of “Slay” a place where people of colour could have their own space in an online world. Kiera’s virtual avatar is Emerald and for me it felt like Kiera was more comfortable being Emerald in Slay than Kiera in the real world so her challenge with identity was interesting to me. It always made me question how such talented people can develop an amazing virtual world or explode on stage yet off stage or in front of the screen, they are very reserved.

Keeping Slay under wraps was the thrilling part for me – the case of high stakes secrecy and the thrill of keeping your talent a secret was exhilarating through out the story especially when the secret is out after something sinister happened in real life which was connected to the game. The elements of mystery throughout the book: a case of ‘who done it’ and ‘who is the troll’ was good and the development of the online world was interesting.

The dialogue was very “teen” but what I liked about Kiera was how she would speak like a real teen, be vulnerable in decisions but also have a mature outlook on life. Her sister Steph is quite funny, I liked her too. It was interesting to see how Kiera dealt with her identity, sense of duty/responsibility to others as well as her relationships with family and her boyfriend Malcolm, her friends and change that stem from her own creation ‘Slay’.

A good story that draws parallels to real life: what it’s like to stand out in your own school or community, you just want to be yourself rather than the authority of your own race simply because your skin colour is different to others. I can really see this book hitting the mark within the YA readership.

Special thanks to Date a Book YA for sending me a copy of this book for review and to Aus YA Bloggers for having me on board once again as part of this “Slay” Blog Tour!!!
-Annie

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

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks

“People all sort of look the same to me until I talk to them. That’s when they start to get interesting. That’s when they start to… shimmer…”

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends.

Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.

But this Halloween is different—Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.

Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if—instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut—they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .

What if their last shift was an adventure?

I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel and read it in one sitting. Such a cute, adorable and funny story of 2 friends: Deja and Josiah who are seasonal colleagues at a pumpkin patch and embark on a mission to locate the fudge shoppe girl Josiah has dreamed of since employee orientation. Such a wild and fun adventure, I loved Deja’s and Josiah’s friendship.. I love how they balanced each other out, Deja being strong willed and Josiah being the shy, introvert.. It was so much fun to read and I loved the artwork too.

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers Australia for sending me a review copy of this graphic novel.
-Annie

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“The imagination of mortals shaped the gods, carving their faces and their myriad forms, just as the water molds the stones in its path, wearing them down through the centuries…”

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true. In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld

“There is a bit of the devil in every man, if he may act the part of the saint…”

Having read about this on a blog as an anticipated upcoming release, I wasted no time in getting myself a copy then dropping everything to read it. I am very happy I did this. I found this to be such an intriguing book, a page turner, a story that I was able to immerse myself in about a culture and legend that is often forgotten in the world. Drawing on Mayan mythology and Mexican folk-lore, this was very interesting. Casiopea is our main character and at a time of 1927, she is often noted as outspoken and disobedient when really she is just head strong and knows when to set boundaries. As she unleashes something so unexpected from her Grandfather’s chest, her life changes as she is suddenly affiliated with a god. Her cousin Martin, at first I hated him – but I came to understand his behaviour as the story progressed and found that his character and attitude toward his female cousin was indicative of that time.

Although this was a very intriguing story, I found at times parts of it did drag on, particularly the first 20 pages but if you stick with it, you will find it really is worth your time reading it. I highly recommend this book to those whom, like me, enjoy fantasy fiction with a cultural and mythology infusion. Mayan mythology and Mexican folk-lore is something I have never read before and I was thoroughly impressed.

-Annie

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

“Knowledge is truth, Little Bird. Those who refuse to learn live in a world of falsity…”

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own

This was a solid, fantastic debut. A complex and immersive story that captivated me from beginning to end. The world building was intricate steadily paced but very interesting. The secrets and twists are what I love most about the book. It was written very well and cleverly executed. I was invested in Princess Hesina of Yan, I enjoyed her as a character and I love her loyalty and courage. I found all of the characters had something to offer in this story, whether they were the hero or villain, I was engrossed in the story and really wanted to know what became of them. The element of mystery, the supernatural and the magic weaved a brilliant story on the backdrop of the ancient setting.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, it really was worth waiting for this book to hit Sydney shores – I really look my time with it, it was enchanting.
-Annie

The Astrid Notes by Taryn Bashford

A compelling contemporary YA in the vein of Sarah Dessen and Brigid Kemmerer about finding your true voice in a world of love, loss and lies. Astrid Bell is a dutiful daughter and classically trained singer who yearns to write pop songs and overcome her stage fright when she uncovers a shocking family secret. Jacob Skalicky might be a trust fund kid and talented performer, but after he loses everything, he refuses to sing again.
More than just a love story, Taryn Bashford weaves a narrative that provides a fascinating glimpse into the exclusive world of the professional teen, exploring themes and issues that gifted young adults face when dealing with the demands of pressure.

Having read “The Harper Effect”, Taryn’s debut novel, I have to say I liked this one better than the first. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the first book, it’s just that in this one I can see growth with the author and her writing. The storyline was interesting as it relates to a teenager who is subject to extremely high expectations on account of her mother’s musical talent. A story that rings true to many. However the way it was written was quite easy to follow and I found the connection between Astrid and Jacob beautiful and the underlying message of courage to be who you want to be in life. The characters were written pretty well and the storyline was engaging. It has a little bit of everything and of course like most if not all YA novels, there is the romance that can either make you snort in derision or laugh.

Overall an enjoyable book and recommended to YA readers from the ages of 14 years and up. Additionally recommended to those who love music as a theme to the YA novel.

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers Australia for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

My Father’s Shadow by Jannali Jones

Kaya is completing her Higher School Certificate when she is woken in the middle of the night by her mother. They are to pack immediately and go to their holiday home in the Blue Mountains. Her father is ‘not coming back’. He has been involved in a court case to give evidence against some dangerous criminals.

Months later, they are still in hiding and the mysteries are multiplying. Kaya is not sure who to trust: her mother’s new friend, the policeman or her new friend, Eric, from the local store. She is also recovering from memory loss caused by PTSD after a chilling encounter with the criminals. She is seeing a psychologist in an attempt to recall the evidence she might have to give in a forthcoming trial.

Her best friend, Jemma, has gone overseas and Kaya is trying to make sense of what is really happening.

I am very impressed with this debut novel!! Full of mystery and suspense, from the first page through to the end it was just constant questions and twists – even gave me goosebumps. A story written very well capturing drama, thrill and importance of family. It starts in the middle of the night where Kaya’s life is about to change as they pack their bags and head off to the blue mountains, leaving phones and her life behind her include her father – as she’s told he is never coming back. We know that previously, Kaya’s father is mixed up with the wrong people and Kaya is also a witness in a court case but a lot of her memories have faded and are slowly trickling back. As the story progresses, Kaya is struggling to determine who she can trust.

With the suspense and mystery, we explore the importance of family and indigenous culture which I found quite interesting. It’s fast paced, intriguing and gives you goosebumps – keeps you guessing to the end.

Special thanks to Magabala Books for sending me a review copy of this book and congratulations to Jannali Jones on winning the Black&White! prize and publishing her first novel.
-Annie