Tuesday, 7 May 2019

The Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 419 
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company  
Released: 9th of April 2019 

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own.

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.

What I Have to Say 

This book was great, but a little overhyped for me. So in this review I'm going to try and be objective and see past the fact that I wasn't blown away by how fantastic it was and focus on the stuff that I did really like. I loved the characters. Hesina was a really deep, well thought out character. Joan He did a fantastic job of showing the pressures that are put on rulers and how much it takes to be a good one. 

The murder mystery element was also a fantastic addition. We need more murder mystery fantasy novels. Especially with the high political stakes that this was had. It was made even better by the twists that were revealed later in the book. There was some stuff I guessed, but wow, there was one very major thing I just did not see coming! 

I liked the different factions, the sooths and those that wanted them gone, the neighbouring countries that are ready to use that to their advantage. I liked how much of Hesina's work was a balancing act between all of it, as well as how she quite clearly had a side despite not being able to show it in her role as queen. 

I really really liked this world and these characters and overall, while I didn't get that feeling of amazement and love that I expected to get from this book, I just want to see more of this world. 

My thanks go to Albert Whitman & Company  and Netgalley for providing me with this free copy for review. 

Friday, 3 May 2019

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 352
Publisher: Hot Key Books 
Released: 14th of May 2019 

'In an ancient city by the sea, three sisters - a maiden, a mother, and a crone - are drawing maps by candlelight. Sombre, with piercing grey eyes, they are the three Fates, and every map is a human life . . .'

Stepsister takes up where Cinderella's tale ends. We meet Isabelle, the younger of Cinderella's two stepsisters. Ella is considered beautiful; stepsister Isabelle is not. Isabelle is fearless, brave, and strong-willed. She fences better than any boy, and takes her stallion over jumps that grown men fear to attempt. It doesn't matter, though; these qualities are not valued in a girl. Others have determined what is beautiful, and Isabelle does not fit their definition. Isabelle must face down the demons that drove her cruel treatment of Ella, challenge her own fate and maybe even redefine the very notion of beauty . . .

Cinderella is about a girl who was bullied; Stepsister is about the bully. We all root for the victims, we want to see them triumph. But what about the bullies? Is there hope for them? Can a mean girl change? Can she find her own happily ever after?

What I Have to Say 

This books was so beautiful, full of feminism, strength and fairy tale scenery, but it felt a little disconnected to the original Cinderella story. I felt that Isabelle should have felt more guilt over how she and the rest of her family treated Ella. She just didn't really think about it that much. I liked the way they showed how her mother had treated her and turned her into a girl who would bully her sister and cut off her own toes in order to win the prince, but if felt like the change back from that was a little abrupt. 

That said, I loved Isabelle's character so much. I loved how both the stepsisters had their own strengths that aren't seen as "feminine" and "attractive". Isabelle being so brave and so fierce, a natural born fighter. You can see her destiny and her strength from really early in the book. The potential to be beautiful. And Tavi, academic and so, so smart. It was so great to see this story changed to bring these other strengths to the forefront, to show how they can be celebrated. 

I was also glad that the book did all that without completely stepping on the girls who are more sweet and gentle. Ella was still seen as a strong woman and while the stepsisters were obviously jealous of her in the original story, they didn't really hate her and managed to find their place alongside her as strong women. 

Anyone who's a fan of fairytales, anyone who wants to see different types of strong women. This is a must read for feminists. 

My thanks go to Hot Key Books for providing me with this free copy for review. 

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Blog Tour: Hold Your Own Faerie Beltane Celebration With Anna McKerrow!

Today we are doubly lucky as it's Beltane AND we have the lovely Anna McKerrow with us to give her tips and advice for how to celebrate this festival. For anyone who's interested in Paganism, beginning to practice, or just more interested in more background culture of the faeries and witches in Daughters of Light and Shadows and Queen and Sea and Stars, this post is for you! 

Tips for a Faerie Beltane

Beltane is one of the eight pagan festivals of the year, and is the pagan name for what’s now in our calendar as May Day, May 1st.  It’s a fertility festival, celebrating the lush fecundity of nature, as well as a fire festival (as celebrated on 30 April in Edinburgh every year).

Faery folk, or the fae, are believed to be an ancient race of people who lived in the British Isles long before the Celts or the Anglo-Saxons arrived. They are believed to have descended from the Tuatha De Danann (the tribe of the goddess Dana), a magickal race who flew into Ireland in ships descending from the clouds on Beltane. They came from the four great magickal cities - Falias, Gorias, Finias and Murias - and brought with them the four great treasures; the Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny), the sword of Lugh, a magic spear, and the cauldron of the Dagda. In Daughter of Light and Shadows and Queen of Sea and Stars, I used these four faery lands as the map of the elemental kingdoms that Faye journeys to from her ordinary modern day existence.

Beltane is one of the best times to connect to faeries because, as spirits of nature, their energy is high at this point of the year. One nice thing to do would be to create a small (or large!) faerie garden or altar in your home or garden. If you don’t have a

garden or outside space, that’s totally fine - creating a space indoors to honour the faeries that might be present in your house, protecting it (and even, according to some legends, tidying up when you’re asleep! I don’t think I have one of those faeries in my house…) is a nice thing to do at Beltane.

You can make this as simple or complicated a job as you like. Indoors, you could use a plant in a pot as the focus of your faerie offering and add in some crystals, a drawing or a picture of the fae, shells, something glittery… check out Faery Craft: Weaving Connections with the Enchanted Realm by Emily Carding or Betwixt and Between: Exploring the Faery Tradition of Witchcraft by Storm Faerywolf for more ideas.

It’s an ancient practice to leave a bowl of milk out for the house faeries in a hearth or on a shelf or something. In Daughter of Light and Shadows, I had my main character Faye help her friend try to placate faeries doing this. You could certainly leave something out for the faeries on Beltane night and thank them for keeping you and your house safe and blessed, and ask for their continuing help.

In outside space, if you have a tree, you could dedicate some space under it. I have a plum tree at the end of the garden which I dedicated as a faery space because there’s a big bush next to it where frogs seem to like to hang out, and frogs are much beloved in faerie. So I cleared a little area and put in a garden goddess type statue that someone had given me as a present. She has a flat lap which is ideal for leaving little offerings for the faeries. I leave shells, flowers, sometimes butter or milk. I say a few words honouring the garden faeries whenever I go there. Once I found a dead frog in the garden so I laid it to rest on the statue’s lap there, which seemed like the right thing to do.

Faeries have links to apple trees, rowan, hawthorn and hazel trees; they also like all manner of flowers and herbs including lavender, verbena, yarroe, thyme, petunia, zinnia, foxglove, primrose, cowslips, pansies, bluebells, clover, St. John's wort, oak, willow, elder, birch, alder, ash, and toadstools. You could plant some of these in an area of your garden you decide will be your faerie space on Beltane.

After planting/organising your space, maybe light a candle and burn some incense. Have a glass of wine, milk or water or some kind of nice treaty soft drink like fizzy elderflower with you. Toast the faery realm, call out to them and welcome them into the space you have created. Ask for their continuing blessings for you, your family and your home over the next year. If you’re outside, pour a little of your drink onto the earth and leave an offering of food, crystals, shells, or something you’ve made, as an offering. Dance under the moon if you like! Have this as something private or make it a nice occasion with friends, and have a feast and dancing afterwards. Enjoy it! The faeries are full of fun, and at Beltane, they might just come and dance with you…
Queen of Sea and Stars: Anna McKerrow Blogtour - 8th April until 1st of May: 8th Rachel's Rambling Reviews, 10th: Reality's a Bore, 13th: Feeling Fictional, 15th: Luna's Little Library, 17th: Lucy Turns Pages, 19th: Organdie, 22nd: YA Under My Skin, 30th: Never Judge a Book By It's Cover
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Daughter of Light and Shadows and Queen of Sea and Stars and both available at all good bookshops and online retailers now! 

Faye Morgan, a hereditary witch, moves away from her tiny coastal village in Scotland to London to be with her new boyfriend, Rav. But though she hopes she can live a normal life in a new city, her blood bond to the realms of faerie can’t be denied. With a faerie war brewing, can Faye realise her destiny and discover who she really is? A tale of faery magic, desire and modern witchcraft. 

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Wolf Light by Yaba Badoe

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 202
Publisher: Zephyr
Released: 4th of April 2019 

A leopard dances under the moon. 
A wolf prowls. 
A red-beaked bird flies free.

Three girls born on the same day in wolf light are bound together to protect the world. They can dazzle or destroy. They have wind-song and fire-fury at their fingertips, but their enemies are everywhere.

From the bleak steppes to the tropical forests of Ghana and the stormy moors of Cornwall, the lands they love are plundered and poisoned. The girls must rally to perfect their skills and prove the strength of sister-magic.

Steeped in elemental myth, Wolf Light is a call to us all to hear the ancient power within us and conserve our heritage.

What I Have to Say 

This is a beautiful coming of age story about three girls, magic and sacred roles of protection. Though it was little too character based for me, being more about the girls developing and growing into their roles and powers, I really enjoyed the premise of the book. I loved the fact that these were three different girls, from three very different cultures and places, with three different forms of power. 

I really liked how much power was connected to nature. How the girls were protecting their particular environment from the people who don't respect it and want to use it for their own gain. I liked the way that each girl's personal bond with the land they were tasked to protect was so seeped in their culture and traditions. 

The other thing that I found really good about this book was how distinct each girl's perspective was. How you could tell which girl was which before they were identified. 

If you like very character driven coming of age stories full of magic, culture and respect for the environment. 

My thanks go to Zephyr and Netgalley for providing me with this free copy for review. 

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Pog by Pádraig Kenny

Synopsis (from Goodreads and Chicken House

Pages: 288
Publisher: Chicken House Books 
Released: 4th of April 2019 

David and Penny arrive in a strange new home in a forest. Other creatures live here – magical creatures – like Pog. He’s one of the First Folk, tasked with protecting the boundary between the worlds. But David is drawn into the forest, lured by a darker entity, who tells him there’s a way he can bring his dead mother back …

What I Have to Say 

Pog was a really well written tale, full of deep themes of grief and loss. I enjoyed it a lot, but not as much as Tin, though I felt this a really fun story. I think Pog is a great character who will appeal a lot to the kids reading this book. He's very quite with an interesting way of talking, but he's also got so many other attributes. He's a fierce protector who quickly grows to care for the family living in the house. He also has his own emotions and history which complement the grief felt by the family a lot. 

David and Penny were also great characters. You could really feel love between the family and between the kids and Pog by the end. You could feel the loss of their mother and how much it was driving them into their own forms of grief. 

I really love Kenny's way of bringing such deep personal issues into a magical adventure story and how he brings everything back to the theme without it seeming like he's pushing the issue. 

It's a very authentic story filled with adventure and emotion. 

My thanks go to Chicken House for providing me with this free copy for review. 

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

The Year After You by Nina de Pass

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 352
Publisher: Ink Road 
Released: 14th of February 2019 

New Years’ Eve, San Francisco. The most promising party of the year ends in a tragic accident. Cara survives. Her best friend Georgina doesn’t.

Nine months later, Cara is struggling, consumed by guilt and grief. Her mum decides a Swiss boarding school will be the fresh start Cara needs. But Cara knows that swapping sunshine for snow won’t make a blind bit of difference. Georgina is gone, and nothing will bring her back.

Up in the Alps, Cara’s old life feels a million miles away. At Hope Hall, nobody knows about her past. And she intends to keep it that way. But classmates Ren and Hector have other ideas. Cara tries to keep her distance, but she’s drawn to the offbeat, straight-talking Hector, who understands her grief better than anyone. Her new friends are determined to break down the walls she has so carefully built up. And, despite it all, Cara wants them to. 

The closer Cara grows to Hector, the more Georgina slips away. Embracing life at Hope Hall means letting go of the past; of her memories of that fatal New Year’s Eve. But Cara is quite sure she doesn’t deserve a second chance. 

What I Have to Say 

Exploring the themes of grief, loss and survivors guilt, this touching novel explores how deep the damage of losing someone in an accident can be. It deals heavily with the responsibility that someone can attribute to themselves when something like this happens and how moving on can feel like betraying the person you lost. 

The best thing about this book for me was how it showed that fears can sometimes not seem logical to an outside viewpoint. Cara is terrified of going in lifts and cars, because her mind tells her that if it crashes then it's her responsibility because she got in the car. This is the way that the mind can twist things based on past experiences, but de Pass when deeper, exploring the fact Cara is completely fine with planes. I've experienced this kind of logic in my own condition with my OCD a lot. People don't understand why this is fine but /this/ isn't. It's something that's hard to understand. So it made me feel really understood to see a similar twisting of logic and fear shown in The Year After You. 

I loved Cara so much as a character. I loved her interactions with Hector and with Ren. It was heartbreaking to see her story and the way that her fears and grief from the past controlled her. It all felt very real and well thought out. 

There's so much more I haven't said in this review, but these are the parts that really touched me.  I really, really recommend getting a copy and seeing Cara's story for yourself. 

My thanks go to Ink Road and Netgalley for providing me with this free copy for review. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 352 
Publisher: Knights Of Media 
Released: 4th of April 2019 

The detective duo everyone is dying to meet! 

Summer in London is hot, the hottest on record, and there's been a murder in THE TRI: the high-rise home to resident know-it-alls, Nik and Norva. Who better to solve the case? Armed with curiosity, home-turf knowledge and unlimited time - until the end of the summer holidays anyway. 

What I Have to Say 

While bringing a beautifully teenage feel to the genre, Jackson created two great characters and a fantastic community that I can tell will create great mysteries to future books. I loved how real the Nik and Norva felt, utilising smart phones for everything. Because why would a modern day teenager have a case book and write everything down when they can just reach for their smart phone and have a document they can edit and update whenever they need? The way that current teen culture was used in this way (and others!) just made it feel really authentic. 

I loved the relationship between Nik and Norva as well. Jackson did well to show how sisters really are, a complex relationship where they love and hate each in equal measures. I really liked the way they bickered and fell out, teased and needled one another but at the end they were there for each other all the time. 

I'm really looking forward to seeing more from the Tri and it's inhabitants in the rest of the series. It's looking like a really great addition to the middle-grade crime genre.