Book Review: Sisters of Sword and Song

Sisters of Sword and Song – Rebecca Ross – HarperTeen – Published 23 June 2020

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Synopsis

After eight long years, Evadne will finally be reunited with her older sister, Halcyon, who has been proudly serving in the queen’s army. But when Halcyon appears earlier than expected, Eva knows something has gone terribly wrong. Halcyon is on the run, hunted by her commander and charged with murder.

Though Halcyon’s life is spared during her trial, the punishment is heavy. And when Eva volunteers to serve part of Halcyon’s sentence, she’s determined to find out exactly what happened. But as Eva begins her sentence, she quickly learns that there are fates much worse than death.

My thoughts

Sisters of Sword and Song is a new book by Rebecca Ross. It is not part of the same world or series as her previous two books. Magic combine with legend of gods and relics infused with power. Hand combat joins magic woven in song to wage war against the evil powers that hold the Queen captive. It is a book about the love between sisters. It is a book about powerful women. It is a story about honour and devotion. It feels as if it has been taken from the pages of history.

Sisters of Sword and Song is set in a world that is reminiscent of Ancient Greece. From the dress and the legends of gods and myths to the rocky setting with olive groves and mountains and the fighting and legions of hoplites, everything feels decidedly ancient. Halcyon and Evadne are sisters. They are due to be reunited when Halcyon, long been training and serving in the army, is set to return to their home. But Halcyon arrives a day early and asks Evadne to help her outrun the commander who follows her and seeks justice for the murder of his son. As Halcyon runs and Evadne learns more about the path that Halcyon has trod, she is drawn into a dangerous war involving magic, battles, spies and deceit and a journey to retrieve ancient, powerful relics.

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Book Review: Seasons of the Storm

Seasons of the Storm – Elle Cosimano – Seasons of the Storm #1 – HarperTeen – Published 23 June 2020

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Synopsis

One cold, crisp night, Jack Sommers was faced with a choice—live forever according to the ancient, magical rules of Gaia, or die.

Jack chose to live, and in exchange, he became a Winter—an immortal physical embodiment of the season on Earth. Every year, he must hunt the Season who comes before him. Summer kills Spring. Autumn kills Summer. Winter kills Autumn. And Spring kills Winter.

Jack and Fleur, a Winter and a Spring, fall for each other against all odds. To be together, they’ll have to escape the cycle that’s been forcing them apart. But their creator won’t let them go without a fight.

My thoughts

Seasons of the Storm is the first book in a new fantasy duology. It’s kind of like Hunger Games meets the folklore of Jack Frost. Fighting, hunting, rebellions, breakouts, romance, teamwork and magical powers connected to nature and the weather combine to make an epic fantasy.

Jack is the embodiment of winter, just one of hundreds of seasons who have been saved from death and given a second life. There are strict rules a season must follow and the only interaction one season has with other seasons is to hunt and kill the season that comes before them and be hunted and be killed by the season that comes after them. But Jack is falling for Fleur, the spring whose job it is to kill him each year, and her reciprocated feelings are causing her to plummet on the rankings board and risk termination. For a chance to be together, Jack and Fleur have to decide if it is worth risking everything to challenge the system, break the cycle and try and find another way to survive.

This book is set on Earth in a very real and recognisable world. The only difference is that seasons, embodiments of the four seasons, walk among us and control the passing and changing of the seasons with their magic. What the seasons do during their season isn’t really explored all that much. The focus is on the times of change over, when Spring comes to kill Winter, and the time spend in stasis and recharging to go back out into the world again. We also have Chronos and Gaia as Father Time and Mother Earth who are father and daughter. Together with Chronos’ guard, they control the seasons, turning the days spent above ground into a sort of game, with rankings, a score board and a system where those who fall below the red line are culled.

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Book Review: The Archer At Dawn

The Archer At Dawn – Swati Teerdhala – The Tiger At Midnight Trilogy #2 – Katherine Tegen Books – Published 26 May 2020

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Synopsis

The Sun Mela is many things: a call for peace, a cause for celebration, and, above all, a deadly competition. For Kunal and Esha, finally working together as rebel spies, it provides the perfect guise to infiltrate King Vardaan’s vicious court.

Kunal will return to his role as dedicated Senap soldier, at the Sun Mela to provide extra security for the palace during the peace summit for the divided nations of Jansa and Dharka. Meanwhile, Esha will use her new role as adviser to Prince Harun to keep a pulse on shifting political parties and seek out allies for their rebel cause. A radical plan is underfoot to rescue Jansa’s long-lost Princess Reha—the key to the stolen throne.

But amid the Mela games and glittering festivities, much more dangerous forces lie in wait. With the rebel Blades’ entry into Vardaan’s court, a match has been lit, and long-held secrets will force Kunal and Esha to reconsider their loyalties—to their country and to each other. Getting into the palace was the easy task; coming out together will be a battle for their lives.

My thoughts

The Archer at Dawn is the second book in the Tiger At Midnight trilogy. It’s packed full of intrigue, planning, action and court politics. There are secret kisses, secret alliances and big secrets revealed. It’s also slightly torturous  as it seems the closer Esha, Kunal and the Blades move toward their goal the more obstacles there are in their paths and the further they are from achieving anything.

As I was drawing near the conclusion of the book I wasn’t sure I was going to be up for reading the third book. So much of this book’s plotting and scheming seemed about to come to nothing. But, at the last minute, one final reveal that comes out of nowhere had me hooked again and wanting to know what comes next. There’s a lot happening in in this book but I was a little disengaged as it seems like the characters aren’t going to achieve anything.

I like the characters. Esha and Kunal are exploring a new romantic relationship, while also testing the boundaries of their alliance and trust, introducing Kunal to the Blades and relying on him and his new found powers to help them complete the next part of the plan for reclaiming their country.

There is also a slight love triangle and Esha is torn between her new feelings for Kunal and the old, unrequited feelings for Harun. Esha is also torn between her desire for revenge on the people who killed her parents and the safety of the Blades’ mission. It means she makes some silly choices, but you can’t deny the depth of her hurt and yearning for recompense.

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Book Review: Nowhere on Earth

Nowhere on Earth – Nick Lake – Knopf Books for Young Readers – Published 26 May 2020

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Synopsis

16-year-old Emily is on the run. Between her parents and the trouble she’s recently gotten into at school, she has more than enough reason to get away. But when she finds a little boy named Aidan wandering in the woods, she knows she needs to help him find his way home. But getting home is no easy matter, especially with Emily finds out that Aidan isn’t even from Earth. When their plane crashes into the side of a snowy mountain, it’s up to Emily to ensure Aidan and their pilot, Bob, make it off the mountain alive. Pursued by government forces who want to capture Aidan, the unlikely team of three trek across the freezing landscape, learning more about each other, and about life, than they ever thought possible.

My thoughts

Nowhere on Earth is one part sci-fi, one part adventure story. I really enjoyed this story of survival – both against the elements and against the bad guys. Rugged terrain and the beauty of an icy Alaska backdrop brings a sense of harshness and danger to the story, while the mystery of Emily’s past and who and what exactly Aidan is, draws the reader in.

Emily is on a mission to save her brother. They have snuck aboard a plane heading from nowhere Alaska to Anchorage. Emily has been wanting to escape since her parents dragged her to Alaska and away from her friends and ballet, wanting also to escape the trouble she is in at school. But when the plane crashes, she, Aidan and the pilot must depend on each other to survive. Emily will do anything to protect Aidan, even if it means fighting off the men who come after them. Because Aidan isn’t from Earth and they want to prevent him from being able to go home.

It’s funny, the fact that there are aliens, spaceships and ‘people’ from another planet is almost a side story in this book, one that isn’t overly explored. Details of how or why or what aren’t explored. If you want to know everything about the aliens, where they come from, what they want, how their technology works or where they live, you won’t find it in this book. Emily readily accepts that Aidan is from another planet, though his spaceship is kind of hard to dispute.

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Book Review: Renegades

Renegades – Marissa Meyer – Renegades #1 – Feiwel and Friends – Published 7 November 2017

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Synopsis

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies — humans with extraordinary abilities — who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone… except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice — and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.

My thoughts

Well. This. Was. AWESOME. Seriously, how have I not read this before? I love superhero novels but I’m really picky and struggle to find good ones. This was just fabulous from beginning to startling end.

Nova is a villain. Has been ever since her uncle, Ace Anarchy took her in when her family was murdered and the Renegades – superheroes- did nothing to save them. When Nova’s attempt on the life of the head superhero, Captain Chromium goes awry, she has to take a new tact for taking down the Renegades – this time from the inside.

Nova is just the kind of character I love. Conflicted, hiding multiple secrets and secret identities, trying to be moral and do the right thing bust also working on the “bad guys” team, industrious and clever and also slightly sarcastic.

Our second main character is Adrian. He is a Renegade Team Captain, adoptive son to the two lead superheroes and a believer in the Renegade justice system. He is also hiding a secret. His prodigy power, to bring anything he draws into reality, has allowed him to create an extra superhero identity. Adrian is the perfect offset to Nova. And they connect almost straight away, after fighting each other in their other identities, of course. As Nova works her way into the Renegade program and onto Adrian’s team, she gathers a lot more information about the Renegades. Maybe they are not all bad, but she is determined to get revenge for her family’s deaths.

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Book Review: This is My Brain In Love

This is My Brain in Love – I.W. Gregorio – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – Published 14 April 2020

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Synopsis

Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn’s father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it’s up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

My thoughts

This is My Brain in Love celebrates family and is a wonderful representation of mental health in YA. From everything from a positive experience of therapy to overcoming the stigma of a diagnosis, cultural and family expectations and denial, this is a positive and inclusive portrayal of anxiety and depression. It’s also a wonderful mix of cultures and the wonderful food that comes with those cultures. If you enjoyed The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling, this is the perfect book for you.

Jocelyn Wu is surprised to learn her family’s restaurant is facing closure. Sure, it’s old and kind of rumpled around the edges, but it’s home. To prevent having to move away from her best friend, she sets out to improve the restaurant, including adding social media pages, new features and employing someone to help out and build them a website. Enter Will Domenici. They click and working together is fun, but both Will and Jocelyn are hiding secrets and saving the family restaurant might not be enough to save their budding romance.

Whoa. That prologue kind of threw me, giving this book a sort-of trigger warning for suicide. And while the narrator tries to reassure the reader, it kind of did the opposite. It certainly had me intrigued and ready to jump straight into the book to find out more.

And, actually, things never get as serious as hinted at at the start and a few times foreshadowed in the book. It’s a light book, despite the overtones of mental health and depression, financial difficulties and the possible failure of a family business.

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Book Review: What I Like About You

What I Like About You – Marisa Kanter – Simon and Schuster – Published 7 April 2020

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Synopsis

There are a million things that Halle Levitt likes about her online best friend, Nash.

He’s an incredibly talented graphic novelist. He loves books almost as much as she does. And she never has to deal with the awkwardness of seeing him in real life. They can talk about anything…

Except who she really is.

Because online, Halle isn’t Halle—she’s Kels, the enigmatically cool creator of One True Pastry, a YA book blog that pairs epic custom cupcakes with covers and reviews. Kels has everything Halle doesn’t: friends, a growing platform, tons of confidence, and Nash.

That is, until Halle arrives to spend senior year in Gramps’s small town and finds herself face-to-face with real, human, not-behind-a-screen Nash. Nash, who is somehow everywhere she goes—in her classes, at the bakery, even at synagogue.

Nash who has no idea she’s actually Kels.

If Halle tells him who she is, it will ruin the non-awkward magic of their digital friendship. Not telling him though, means it can never be anything more. Because while she starts to fall for Nash as Halle…he’s in love with Kels.

My thoughts

What I Like About You is about blogging, a love triangle with only two people, online relationships and friendships, books, cupcakes and more books. It’s also about family, growing up and learning to be a better friend. This reads like a great teen novel. The characters have realistic teen voices, from their integrated use of social media and text speech, to facing the problems of finishing high school. It’s a fun, lighthearted book.

Halle Levitt is better known to her many online followers as Kels, book reviewer, blogger and cupcake baker. When she and her brother move in with their grandfather while their parents go overseas for work, she doesn’t expect to come face-to-face with her online (and overall, let’s be honest) best friend, Nash. Shocked, she doesn’t tell him who she is, just introduces herself as Halle. As she gets to know Nash in real life, becomes friends with his friends and maybe even fall in love with him, it becomes harder for Halle to know how she is going to reveal that she and Kels are the same person.

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Book Review: Don’t Call the Wolf

Don’t Call the Wolf – Aleksandra Ross – HarperTeen – Published 28 April 2020

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Synopsis

When the Golden Dragon descended on the forest of Kamiena, a horde of monsters followed in its wake.

Ren, the forest’s young queen, is slowly losing her battle against them. Until she rescues Lukasz—the last survivor of a heroic regiment of dragon slayers—and they strike a deal. She will help him find his brother, who vanished into her forest… if Lukasz promises to slay the Dragon.

But promises are all too easily broken.

My thoughts

I adored this gorgeous fantasy novel. It feels like a fairytale, but one of the original versions, with truly scary monsters and lots of bloodshed. It also feels like a unique fantasy quest novel, again one that is dark and devious. I loved the characters and loved how they oh so slowly came to like each other and learn to work together. I loved the twist at the end. I loved the magic, the monsters and the evil the characters must face, which brings them all together. But most of all, I loved the world that has been build and the beautiful, descriptive writing that ties it all together and brings it to life.

Ren is Queen of the Forest. With her lynx family and wolf friends, she tries to stave off the ever encroaching press of monsters and darkness that seeks to suck the life out of the forest. They must also avoid humans, who don’t understand them and who cause more harm than good. Lukasz, the youngest of ten brothers is now alone, the last of the Wolf-Lords to traverse the world, fighting monsters and evil. The brothers were exiled from their homeland after the Golden Dragon arrived and over the years, each of the brothers has felt the call to return and try and take their home back from the dragon. Now Lukasz must also return. But as he and Ren reluctantly join forces, they realise their goals are not so different from the other’s.

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Book Review: The Midnight Lie

The Midnight Lie – Marie Rutkoski – The Midnight Lie #1 – Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Published 3 March 2020

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Synopsis

Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colors. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.

Nirrim keeps her head down and a dangerous secret close to her chest.

But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who whispers rumors that the High Caste possesses magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.

My thoughts

As a fan of Marie Rutkoski’s Winner’s Curse series, I was really looking forward to The Midnight Lie, which is based in the same world as the Winner’s series. And it certainly didn’t disappoint. Intrigue and romance (LGBT) drive the plot and the world feels a little like being in a Hunger Games novel – the High Kith world is very reminiscent of the Capitol, while behind the Wall is a little like District 11. The Midnight Lie is a compelling book and will leave readers desperate to get their hands on the next book in the series.

Nirrim lives in a world controlled by what she can’t have or do. She can’t go beyond the wall. She can’t eat sweets or wear colours. She and her fellow Half-Kith only work to produce the goods and food that those above them, the Middlings and the High Kith, can eat, wear or sell. But when an accident leaves her in prison she encounters a traveller from far away who challenges Nirrim to see beyond the restrictions that control her life and seek the magic that is rumoured to originate in her land.

Dystopian, fantasy – The Midnight Lie feels like a little of both. There is magic and a unique world, but the themes of control, segregation, restriction of knowledge and history, and the separate class structures will appeal to fans of dystopian novels.

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Book Review: The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling – Wai Chim – Allen and Unwin – Published 5 August 2019

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Synopsis

Anna Chiu has her hands pretty full looking after her brother and sister and helping out at her dad’s restaurant, all while her mum stays in bed. Dad’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could just be a normal teen.

But when Mum finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as Mum’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.

A nourishing tale about the crevices of culture, mental wellness and family, and the surprising power of a good dumpling.

My thoughts

This book caught my eye (seriously, how could I ignore that gorgeous cover), but I rushed to read it after learning I had the opportunity to meet the author. The Surprising Power of A Good Dumpling celebrates the harsh complexity of family relationships, the love and hurt shared and the determination it takes to carry on. It celebrates community and friendship, the bond between sisters, and food. This book will have you hungry, so I highly recommend you have snacks on hand. It’s a bittersweet read, and one that is as authentic as it is honest and caring.

Anna Chiu cares for her family while her mother can’t bring herself to get out of bed and her father never comes home from working at their family restaurant. It is up to Anna to make sure her little brother gets to school and her sister knows to keep quiet about what happens at home. But the chance to work with her father at the restaurant means she can finally share the cooking skills and ideas she has and gives her the opportunity to get to know the new delivery boy, Rory. But when her mother does get out of bed, things spiral into manic midnight cleaning and angry tirades that Anna feels powerless to control.

This book doesn’t shy away from the authentic, messy details of real life, mental illness or it’s effect on families. It is honest and hopeful. It’s also not an easy book to read, despite it being so readable. It is challenging in parts, confronting and sad in others. But it doesn’t judge. It leaves room for understanding and acceptance.

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