Sword in the Stars (#2) by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Published: 7th April 2020 (print)/ 7th Apr 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Rock the Boat/Bolinda audio
Pages: 355/10 Hours 48 min
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

In this epic sequel to Once & Future, to save the future, Ari and her Rainbow knights pull off a heist…thousands of years in the past.

Ari Helix may have won her battle against the tyrannical Mercer corporation, but the larger war has just begun. Ari and her cursed wizard Merlin must travel back in time to the unenlightened Middle Ages and steal the King Arthur’s Grail—the very definition of impossible.

It’s imperative that the time travellers not skew the timeline and alter the course of history. Coming face-to-face with the original Arthurian legend could produce a ripple effect that changes everything. Somehow Merlin forgot that the past can be even more dangerous than the future…

After the first book I was expecting a lot from this sequel and a lot of answers and it certainly delivers. The old problems and new problems, as well as the world threatening and personal issues all coincide as each character makes their move through history and plays their roles.

Once again the creativity these authors show with creating a whole new, fantastically complex and stunning story but entwined seamlessly into the established Arthurian myth is something to marvel. These rich, flawed characters are in depth and unique and their complicated relationships with one another are never trivialised.

The diversity of the characters are highlighted further as they step into the past and I loved how the characters manage and reflect on their surroundings as a result. There’s conversations, so casual and important at the same time about identity. Coming from the future, even our future, it shows how far their society has come that this is such an everyday thing it isn’t even a big deal. Discussions about pronouns and having to be misgendered in the middle ages with the danger of hiding gender for protection – female and nonbinary knights are a hurdle but one that isn’t brushed over as a minor inconvenience. The characters talk openly about how it feels awful to be misgendered all day and how it wears them down. Capetta and McCarthy use the characters to remind us how whitewashed and male dominated this story has become over the centuries and how the middle ages were a lot more diverse than what has been told, even with the constraints of misogyny and sexism.

One of the things I loved, and it’s something that didn’t need to be included but I am so glad it did, was how the story breaks the fourth wall in a way with wonderful references to how the Arthurian legend has survived. Completely in narrative but the references are real with in jokes about the various versions of the legend told and retold throughout history in TV shows, movies, and other various books and retellings.

There’s so much contained within this story and it all works so well. There’s heart-warming romance, suspense and tension, action and drama all within a story of magic, time travel, space, and capitalism. I would love nothing more than to read more about this world and these characters but I also love that it’s confined to two books because those two books pack a punch I don’t know if I could handle another.

The conclusion is positively amazing. The way it fills in details and gaps, answers questions you didn’t even know were being asked and becomes a fabulous rich and complicated set of circumstances makes it the perfect story. This is the Arthurian retelling I didn’t know I needed but it one I will absolutely cherish.

You can purchase Sword in the Stars via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Long Lost Review: Strange the Dreamer (#1) by Laini Taylor

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 28th March 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 532
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★  ★  ★ – 4 Stars

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around – and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

I picked this up back in 2017 because someone I followed on Twitter was completely obsessed with book and her excitement got me to read it and I will admit it was quite good. It was interesting and I loved this new world I was exploring and how the rules worked. The story is beautifully written, it is eloquent and poetic at times, Taylor creating wonderful and vivid descriptions that bring the story to life in your mind.

Lazlo is a genuinely good person. His simple upbringing means he cherishes what he has got and when more is offered to him he still reveres it as a humble and restrained pleasure. I loved learning about things through his eyes and Taylor does a great job weaving his obsession with the story around him that helps drive the story as well as inform the reader.

It is a generous 500+ page book, but by the time you’ve gotten to that last page, every part of it is as important as the last. There is a sequel which I have yet to read. It’s curious because I was amazed by this world and this story so much, and yet I’ve yet to find the impulse to read the second book and see where it was all heading. Maybe soon when I have a spare moment I can revisit this world with another journey through the beautiful narrative Taylor has created.

You can purchase Strange the Dreamer via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Once & Future (#1) by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Published: 26th March 2019 (print)/29th August 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 336/10 hrs and 54 mins
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.

First and foremost this story is phenomenal! It’s the King Arthur legend, set in the future, set in space, with a female Arthur and a fabulous, beautifully constructed time loop of curses and legends and a beautiful cast of diverse characters that you will fall in love with.

The world building is definitely something to love – the world that’s been created is incredibly clever and diverse, not only in the planets and their various structures but in the community and the characters as well. Honestly the detail throughout is a constant delight every time something else pops up and the way the original characters and established mythology is woven into this entirely new story is brilliant. It is the myth we all know but it also has a new story unfolding too which was amazing to read about.

The reimagining of Arthur and his legend is incredible; the fact that it feels like a completely new story but also a well told one at the same time is a credit to the imagination and writing skill of these authors. There’s intricate, complicated magic and age old magic being used alongside new players and it’s in these overlaps that you see the remnants of the old stories come through and the mythology stand out in this new construction.

The characters are such a huge part of the magic of this story as well. Ari and her brother, their sibling dynamics as well as their bond over being fugitives is a solid connection. I loved the other bonds between characters and how even with Merlin as the newcomer he fits into this established group really well. There’s a beautifully fluid introduction of the characters and their relationships to Ari are well understood, often with their own backstories seamlessly included. The dialogue and casual conversations never felt clunky or forced, this is a huge benefit of setting the story in the future, it normalises conversations and makes debatable things in the present day feel like outdated issues. There was no need for explanations, things just were and it is well understood.

There is so much I could gush about in regards to this story. Truly from start to finish I was captivated; I was in awe, and I was blown away by how beautiful and smart and funny this entire book was. Even the conclusion was perfect. This is only book one in a duology but the way details and gaps in the story are filled and how answers are given for questions you didn’t even know were being asked is astounding, and the absolute majesty of how it becomes a fabulously rich and complicated set of circumstances makes it a perfect story and one I could reread until the end of time.

You can purchase Once & Future via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Dorothy Must Die (#1) by Danielle Paige

Published: 1st April 2014 (print)/1st April 2014 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Harper Collins/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 452/14 hours 12 minutes)
Narrator:  Devon Sorvari
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado – taking you with it – you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little bluebirds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a yellow brick road – but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm – and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.

I’ve been trained to fight.

I have finally gotten around to reading this book and it is brilliant! This isn’t quite a reimagining of a classic, what it is instead is a look at what happened after the story has finished and the original narrative comes to a close.

There is so much to love about this story. I think Paige has been very clever in playing with the known story of Dorothy and Oz and she has transformed it into a new story in its own right while still connecting to its origins. It is dark and funny and fascinating to read about just how far Oz has fallen since we last saw it and what happened to the golden girl who saved a world.

Set in the present day we are introduced to Amy Gumm, a girl who lives in Kansas in less than ideal circumstances with her neglectful mother. When a hurricane hit their trailer, Amy is transported to Oz where you soon discover things are not quite right. Originally you think this is a simple reference to how Dorothy first got to Oz, but as the story goes on you learn it may not have been entirely an accident which adds more questions and theories to a story already filled with them.

I enjoyed Amy’s character, she knows the story she has entered into but she doesn’t know it inside out, she also doesn’t fall into the frustrating trap of accepting her surroundings instantly where after a day or two gets the hang of things. Paige retains the part where Amy is out of her comfort zone, and while she is adaptable, at times she also defies rules and logic to do what she things is right based on her real world knowledge.

There are some repetitions and some moments where Amy’s character frustrates you, but these moments are few and for the most part not too disruptive. I enjoyed her exploration of the world and how we’re never sure who we are meant to trust. Everyone has their own motives and with Amy a newcomer, she has often no choice to trust who she can or trust no one.

The pace is gradual but the story moves along with ease. Paige doesn’t jump time unnecessarily and each day plays out but never feels drawn out or boring. No part of this book felt boring; the surprises are unexpected and there are numerous mysteries to keep your mind turning over. I loved how twists came from nowhere and I never found myself predicting things, or if I did I was so far off base it didn’t count.

I loved the contrasts between the characters we know and love and what they have all become in Dorothy’s new Oz, and I love the exploration of the surrounding Oz area and the new characters we interact with. This is one reason to drive you into the rest of the series because I need answers about how this happened and what happened to end up with the world we’re introduced to. If you have been thinking about reading this book I promise it will be worthwhile, and if you love classic stories getting reimagined then this story is for you.

You can purchase Dorothy Must Die via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository Audible

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond | QBD

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey (plus some nail art!)

Published: 28th April 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Hachette Australia (ATOM)
Pages: 361
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
★   ★   ★  ★   ★  – 5 Stars

For readers of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

I loved this book from start to finish, from the enchanting beginning where worlds cross over in the dark quiet of a library at night to an explosive story that is filled with amazing characters who you love and hate and understand so wonderfully. From page one Grey’s words take hold of you and bring you into this mysterious world filled with mystical races and an ancient war looming in the background. There is a great mixture of both modern and magical elements and Grey blends the fantasy and the real together extremely well.

With amazing skill Grey has created an exciting and well-rounded world, not just about the Avicen people and their history and feuds, but how their world blends into the real world and the structure of their society. The creativity she has shown, even in the minute detail, is marvellous and the build up is enthralling. As you read it makes you yearn for more, to see more, and learn and hear more about the adventures and past events discussed. Being an introduction to a new world, Grey incorporates descriptions and depicts the world beautifully and through character’s eyes people and places are described and established without ever feeling out of place or clunky. In doing so characters are introduced and described and an understanding of the rules and the society is comprehensible without needing a long explanation. This balance works perfectly and there is never a moment where the story jars or you’re taken out of the narrative due to misunderstandings or confusion.

Echo is a brilliant character, she has the right amount of spark and uniqueness without it being her sole quality and it isn’t something that defines her. Her personality is not what makes her different, Echo is just herself and this is what makes her brilliant. I loved that her tough nature, street smarts and cheekiness did not make her special, what makes her special is being human among Avicens and even then this difference is not that dominating. All of the other characters are just as wonderful though. They are vibrant, colourful, and unique and they really are their own people, not just supporting characters. One thing Grey excels at is able to give a feeling of completeness to her characters, even with just the briefest encounters.

The narrative was compelling from the early pages but by the final few chapters Grey has built up your excitement and fervour so much that as you read your heart is pounding, you are on the edge of your seat with anticipation and you wish you had the next book in the series to pick up the second you finished that final page. I loved the thrill in the final chapters when there are not many pages left and your mind races with trying to work out how the narrative can be resolved with so little space but Grey manages to bring it to a brilliant ending.

There are surprises and mysteries that make you wonder and even when the answers suddenly become clear Grey still manages to surprise you and add another element to what you thought you had already figured out. What makes this another level of brilliant is that things that seem innocent have much more meaning that they appear and when everything falls into place it makes so much sense and it is an incredible experience and realisation.

I seriously cannot praise this story enough, it was an absolute joy to read this book and I wait with eager anticipation for the remaining books in the series. If this book is anything to go by the rest will be just as spectacular and Melissa Grey is definitely an author I will be paying a lot of attention to in the future.

 You can purchase The Girl At Midnight via the following when released (some have preorder!)

Hachette Australia   |     Waterstones

Amazon UK     |     Barnes and Noble

Amazon US/CA     |     Kobo

Amazon Aust     |     Other

Nail art time!

Hachette/Date a Book is running a The Girl at Midnight nail art competition for reviewers which is being judged by the skilled and talented The Bookish Manicurist. My lines are a little wobbly, but it was fun!

Book and nails

Close up of the feather

Nail close up

Nail polish art is not my forte, nor am I much of a nail polish wearer but nevertheless this was quite fun, I may need to attempt it at another point in the future. With a tiny paint brush at my disposal (with no detail brush handy) and an accent nail that’s currently annoyingly short, it isn’t perfect, but not that bad for my first attempt I must say!