What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra

what the woods keep.jpgTitle: What the Woods Keep

Author: Katya de Becerra

Genre: Young Adult/Speculative Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $16.99

Synopsis:Katya de Becerra’s stunning debut combines mystery, science fiction, and dark fantasy in a twisty story that will keep you mesmerized right up to the final page.

On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home – on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets.

Hayden has tried to put the past behind her, and so far it’s worked. She’s getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and flatmate, Del. But now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade ago, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden’s own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.

As soon as Hayden arrives at her hometown, Del in tow, it begins: neighbours whisper secrets about Hayden’s mother; the boy next door is now all grown-up in a very distracting way; and Hayden feels the trees calling to her. And among them, deep in the woods, Hayden will discover something incredible – something that threatens reality itself.

~*~

What the Woods Kept is the haunting and disturbing, yet intriguing and captivating debut of Katya de Becerra. For ten years, Hayden has lived in Brooklyn with her father, following the disappearance of her mother when she was eight in a town called Promise in Colorado near the woods. But for the past decade, Hayden has been able to put the past behind her, focus on getting into college and hanging out with her flatmate, Del. It all starts on Hayden’s eighteenth birthday, when she inherits an old manor in Promise where she spent her early years. Best friend Del in tow, she ventures into the town – and her past, where she is confronted by her nightmares, and the whispered secrets about Hayden’s mother and many secrets kept by those she thought she could trust. Over the course of a few days, Hayden’s life will go from being completely normal to filled with mysterious myths and legends that hint at a supernatural heritage from her mother that Hayden could never have imagined.

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn a dark fantasy, filled with hints of mythology, science fiction, mystery and magical realism, this is a dark and creepy story for young adults and older readers who enjoy unusual stories, and marks my sixty-eighth book of the year for my Australian Women Writers Challenge and my 134th book overall. It is one that whilst slow to begin with, picks up later on, and using first person perspective, interspersed with reports hinting at Hayden’s troubled past and how events in her childhood were explained. The early reports have a creepy feel about them, where the supernatural ekes in, yet there is also a sense of discomfort, as though there might be a perfectly logical explanation as well that Hayden held back from those writing the reports. It is through these reports, and her trip back to Promise, that Hayden discovers there is no logical explanation, that she’s different in many ways.

This is the crux of the novel – Hayden’s journey to uncovering the truth about her mother, and what happened to her, and Hayden’s own identity and what this means – what her father has been hiding from her all these years. To Hayden, these secrets force to her think about leaving – and ignoring everything in Promise, but something is keeping her and Del there – something that cannot be explained. It is haunting in its plot and execution, with short, sharp chapters that heighten the tension and gives an ebb and flow pace to the story, where, as soon as things seem to calm down, the degree of panic and uncertainty rockets sky high, leaving fates of characters uncertain all the way throughout the novel, and the final revelations are a shock to the reader and characters.

What the Woods Keep it is the first horror-like novel is the first I have read in a while. More mystery, fantasy and speculative fiction than horror, there were elements of several genres woven throughout, but with the primary mystery and mythological connections at the forefront of the novel, and driving the plot and Hayden’s story, to a rather uncertain, and very open conclusion that leaves the reader guessing and stays with you in a haunting way.

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The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes #2) by Nancy Springer

enola holmes 2.jpgTitle: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady (Enola Holmes #2)

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Crime/Mystery, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Enola Holmes might be the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, but she manages to outsmart him at every turn, solving thrilling mysteries in her very own way…

Sherlock Holmes’s sister, Enola, is back on another case! Enola Holmes is being hunted by the world’s most famous detective – her own brother, Sherlock Holmes. But while she is on the run in the world’s biggest, darkest, dirtiest city, she discovers a hidden cache of charcoal drawings and feels as if she is a soul mate to the girl who drew them. But that girl, Lady Cecily, has disappeared without a trace. Braving the midnight streets, Enola must unravel the clues to find this left-handed lady, but in order to save her, Enola risks revealing more than she should. Will she be able to keep her identity a secret and find Lady Cecily, or will the one thing she is trying to save – her freedom – be lost forever?

Author bio:

Nancy Springer has published forty novels for adults, young adults and children. In a career beginning shortly after she graduated from Gettysburg College in 1970, Springer wrote for ten years in the imaginary realms of mythological fantasy, then ventured on to contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and women’s fiction and suspense before turning her attention to children’s literature. Her novels and stories for middle-grade and young adults range from contemporary realism, mystery/crime, and fantasy to her critically acclaimed novels based on the Arthurian mythos, I Am Mordred: A Tale of Camelot and I Am Morgan Le Fay. Springer’s children’s books have won her two Edgar Allan Poe awards, a Carolyn W. Field award, various Children’s Choice honours and numerous ALA Best Book listings. Her most recent series include the Tales of Rowan Hood, featuring Robin Hood’s daughter, and the Enola Holmes mysteries, starring the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes.

~*~

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady is the second in the Enola Holmes series, picking up shortly after the end of the first novel, where Enola has managed to evade Sherlock and Mycroft, and the boarding school they wish to send her to. During her escapades as Ivy Meshle, and under other identities she has crafted for herself using the ciphers her mother left her, Enola, along with her new friend, Joddy, as she hides in London, quite under the nose of Sherlock, and uses tricks he knows against him.

Whilst hiding, she discovers a cache of charcoal drawings, that lead her to a new case – a missing girl named Lady Cecily whom she feels a connection with – but what is that connection? Is it merely the art that connects them, or is there more? As Enola investigates Lady Cecily’s disappearance, clues as to who Lady Cecily is are beginning to fall into place, and Enola discovers that Lady Cecily is left-handed – and begins to ponder the lady’s mysterious disappearance as she wanders the streets in disguise. To find the missing Lady Cecily though, Enola risks revealing who she is, and where she is to her brothers.

In the second instalment of this series, the mystery is just as intriguing, and engaging as the first. I enjoyed that the thread of Enola evading her brothers was continued through, and it would be very fun and interesting to see Enola and Sherlock working together. For now, their mental sparring will have to suffice, with ciphers and codes and games to draw each other out and into the open as Enola works to solve cases on her own, in a world where it is not expected that she should, would or even could do so.  Enola is smart, determined and sneaky – everything you’d expect a sister of Sherlock Holmes to be, in a world where other things were expected of her, yet she flouted them.

These books are exciting because they reveal insight into the Victorian world, and its class and gender divisions specifically, with the backdrop of the dark streets of London traversed by Jack the Ripper, and other nefarious people. They explore the expectations of gender and through Enola, turn these around and become a heroine that girls can aspire to be and look up to. She is a remarkable character with guts and a willingness to do whatever it takes to solve the cases.

I look forward to the next books in the series.

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Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1) by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes 1.jpgTitle: Enola Holmes: The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1)

Author: Nancy Springer

Genre: Mystery/Crime, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th September 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages:240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Enola Holmes might be the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, but she manages to outsmart him at every turn, solving thrilling mysteries in her very own way…

When Enola Holmes, sister to the detective Sherlock Holmes, discovers her mother has disappeared, she quickly embarks on a journey to London in search of her. But nothing can prepare her for what awaits. Because when she arrives, she finds herself involved in the kidnapping of a young marquess, fleeing murderous villains, and trying to elude her shrewd older brothers-all while attempting to piece together clues to her mother’s strange disappearance. Amid all the mayhem, will Enola be able to decode the necessary clues and find her mother?

~*~

When Enola Holmes, the much younger sister of legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes, awakens on her fourteenth birthday to find herself quite alone – her mother has up and left, leaving no clues as to her whereabouts, apart from a book of ciphers that Enola must follow to uncover the truth. In the days following her mother’s disappearance, Enola’s much older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock arrive to make proper arrangements for their sister in London in light of the situation they find her in, where her education befitting a proper lady has been woeful, and the money sent to assist has been spent elsewhere. So, whilst Mycroft prepares his sister for boarding school, and Sherlock returns to his mysterious ways in London, Enola sneaks off and soon finds herself embroiled in disguises, a search for her mother and knowledge of a kidnapped marquess, whom she is determined to track down. At the same time, she must dodge her brothers, so they cannot find her, hide from her murderous villains and help the marquess get home. With all this chaos going on, can Enola maintain her cover and make sure she is undetected?

The Enola Holmes series takes a new look at Sherlock Holmes and his family, and inserts a what if – what if Sherlock and Mycroft had a sister – what would she be like? In this reimagining, she takes more after Sherlock, the detective, than Mycroft, who is the more responsible of the two.   Written in a style akin to the original Holmes stories, but with a feminine twist, the Enola Holmes mysteries looks to be an intriguing series, with books one and two published by Allen and Unwin out today.

Enola is very much like her brother, Sherlock, taking advantage of disguises she picks up along the way and puts together with the clothes Mycroft orders for her to attend boarding school. She is good with ciphers, and manages to elude those pursuing her, and is a master of escapes. Using her skill with ciphers to create new identities for herself, Enola is about to embark on a series of quests and mysteries that will hopefully lead her to her mother, whilst her brother, Sherlock, is hot on her heels – it will be interesting to see whether they eventually team up to defy Mycroft in future books.

What I enjoyed about this book was not only the female lead, but the very different take on the Sherlock Holmes stories and the detective story trope, set in Victorian London with the underlying theme of Jack the Ripper, and other nefarious people weaving in and out of the shadows Enola keeps to, yet fears as she tries to find her mother and solve the mysteries that she stumbles upon along her way.

An excellent start to the series, and my review of book two will be following this one.

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Australian Women Writer’s Challenge Check-in One – books one to fifteen

AWW-2018-badge-rose

All year I have been meaning to write progress posts for every month, or every ten books. Until now, I have woefully neglected this activity, and having read 61 books already, am breaking it up into posts of fifteen – and will continue to do this until the end of the year/early 2019, making the collation of posts for my final wrap up of this challenge easier than last year’s attempt. Each list will be varied, with review books and ones I chose to purchase making up my count – they will be diverse in terms of story, genre, fiction or non-fiction, readership, age and as many other aspects of diversity as I have stumbled across on my reading journey – greatly depending on what I have been able to find, have been sent and what I have access to, but also, I choose books based on what I enjoy as well, and in doing so, I feel like I hit as much diversity in my reading as possible without too much trouble.

These lists – to date so far by today, are a little less than half of my total books logged for the year, which on the 11th of August, stands at 115, and counting. I have well surpassed my goal of fifteen for the challenge – a conservative estimate as I often have a list in mind of upcoming releases and books I own, yet also don’t always know what else will come my way. I find it best to underestimate – and then anything extra becomes bonus points.

So below is my first batch of fifteen out of sixty one, with links to each review.

First fifteen

  1. The Sister’s Song by Louise Allan
  2. The Tides Between by Elizabeth Jane Corbett
  3. Rose Raventhorpe Investigates: Hounds and Hauntings by Janine Beacham
  4. Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner
  5. The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier
  6. The Endsister by Penni Russon
  7. Graevale by Lynette Noni  
  8. Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn 
  9. Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen
  10. The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht and Interview
  11. Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French 
  12. Surf Rider’s Club #2: Bronte’s Big Sister Problem by Mary van Reyk
  13. Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer
  14. Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonya Voumard 
  15. Mayan Mendacity by L.J.M. Owen 

Coming up next, posts sixteen to thirty of the Australian Women Writer’s challenge and at some stage, a Book Bingo wrap up post for both of my rounds of the challenge with Mrs B’s Book Reviews and Theresa Smith Writes.

The Brink of Darkness by Jeff Giles (Edge of Everything #2)

the brink of darkness.jpgTitle: The Brink of Darkness
Author: Jeff Giles
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction, Fantasy.
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: 1st August 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Price: $16.99
Synopsis: Things have changed for seventeen-year-old Zoe ever since the dramatic events that brought her together with the mysterious X. In order to save Zoe and her family, X did the unthinkable – he traded their freedom in exchange for his captivity in the Lowlands forever.

But being back in the Lowlands has its advantages. It gives X the chance to discover his past, which could be the key to breaking the Lords’ hold on him forever. Little does X know that Zoe has her own plan to reunite with him . . . one that risks her life and brings her perilously close to losing all that she and X are fighting for.

Gripping and full of heart, this epic continuation of Jeff Giles’ series–which already has rave reviews from Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson and New York Times bestselling author James Dashner, among numerous others–will bring readers right to the edge of everything.

~*~

X is back in the Lowlands, after trading the freedom of Zoe’s family to live in captivity forever. In Zoe’s world, she must grapple with the death of neighbours, and living with Rufus, who is involved with her mother, as well as protecting her brother Jonah, and hiding X and his secret from her friends, Val and Dallas. Until the three friends are confronted by an angry hunter, and Ripper comes to their rescue, and the story of X and the Lowlands is revealed. From there, Zoe must find a way to help Ripper on her quest, and rescue X from the Lowlands, as well as maintaining her family’s safety and not revealing the truth to them if she can help it. Over several weeks, Zoe will assist Ripper on her quest, and together with Regent, they will help X find his mother and overthrow Dervish, who has been trying to control the Lowlands. But whether Zoe and X will come out unscathed, will be another piece of the puzzle all together.

This follow up to The Edge of Everything, published in February last year, picks up shortly after the death of Zoe’s neighbours and Z’s condemnation to the Lowlands. This follow up feels more X focussed, where he’s on a quest to try and free himself of the Lowlands, and keep Zoe safe, and also, find out where he came from and who his parents are. Through this journey, Ripper, Regent and Zoe help X, whose life has only ever been the Lowlands, until he met Zoe. Whilst Zoe and X are in love, the drive for X to find out who his mother is drives the narrative more as he searches for a sense of self.

The other important relationships are between Zoe and her brother, Jonah, who is always there for his sister, and Zoe and her friends, Val and Dallas, whose presence in Zoe’s life give her some grounding, yet at the same time, is something she pulls against and tries to resist, especially towards the end. It is slightly darker than the last book, however, not overly.

Much like The Edge of Everything, The Brink of Darkness has light and hope as well as darkness and devastation, tying into the themes of life and death, and love in all its forms that permeate the novel. It is filled with family and friends, conflict and resolution, and the fights that families have and then forget when it looks as though the worst may have happened, but they all come together in the end.

The Brink of Darkness read like it wrapped up everything that happened in both this book and the first book, The Edge of Everything, where everything felt settled and tidy, yet with a fairly open ending to imagine what happens next. Throughout the novel there is a sense of unease or foreboding that something nasty is going to happen, but this adds to the suspense and mystery surrounding Zoe and X. Jonah is adorable, and always optimistic – again, my favourite character in the book. Overall, this was enjoyable to read and those eager to find out what happens will not be disappointed.

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Bookshop Girl by Chloe Coles

bookshop girl.jpgTitle: Bookshop Girl

Author: Chloe Coles

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Bonnier/Hot Key/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th July 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Price: $14.99

Synopsis:A hilarious tale of female friendship, bookshops and fighting for a cause – perfect for fans of Holly Bourne and Louise Rennison.

Bennett’s Bookshop has always been a haven for sixteen-year-old Paige Turner. It’s a place where she can escape from her sleepy hometown, hang out with her best friend, Holly. and also earn some money.

But, like so many bookshops, Bennett’s has become a ‘casualty of the high street’ – it’s strapped for cash and going to be torn down. Paige is determined to save it but mobilising a small town like Greysworth is no mean feat.

Time is ticking – but that’s not the only problem Paige has. How is she going to fend off the attractions of beautiful fellow artist, Blaine? And, more importantly, will his anarchist ways make or break her bookshop campaign?

~*~

Paige Turner – her real name, not a pseudonym – is sixteen, and works in her town’s local bookshop, Bennett’s. She’s saving up to go away to university, but the impending closure of Bennett’s threatens to ensure she never gets out of Greysworth. Paige and her friend, Holly, and the rest of the staff plan an intervention – protests, a petition – they undertake a month-long campaign to #SaveBennetts, getting local businesses and authors on board, and garnering support from the local community, starting with neighbouring stores and the art school. Here she meets Jamie, and a fellow artist, Blaine, who works at the local stationery store, and is a bit or an anarchist – she wants his support but at what cost?

Bookshop Girl is exactly my kind of book and Paige is a character that is easy to identify with. She’s not perfect and perky all the time – her flaws show through realistically, and they are acknowledged, as is her family reality and what they are going through. Having a character like Paige, more interested in books and studying rather than looks or a boy is a refreshing sight in Young Adult literature – in fact, it is a refreshing thing to see in literature for any age group and demographic. This is a book about standing up for what you love and doing whatever you can to keep it – be it books, family, whatever your cause is – the activism to save the beloved bookshop is what drives the plot in this book.

Seeing a character like Paige – driven by a passion other than wanting a boyfriend – though she does develop a crush, her bookshop, art, family and best friend Holly are much more important to her – is like a breath of fresh air, ad reminds readers that it is okay that they’re not perfect, that they can be the way they want to be, and that being awkward as a teenager or young adult is okay – you don’t have to be perfect. Embarrassing things happen to Paige – and they are relatable events, from dropping personal items out of a bag, to art class and school, and family – Paige is the kind of character girls need to read about for the very reason that she is so genuine and could be any one of us.

The love of books and bookshops in this debut novel from Chloe Coles is lovely and shows that not everyone needs technology to be happy – it is useful, yes, as is shown in Bookshop Girl, pushing the campaign and ensuring the bookstore remains open – but it does not replace the fabulous feeling of a bookstore and the books to be found within the shelves, and the adventures and friends to find.

A funny, heartfelt book about activism, protests and standing up – first and foremost – for what you love and believe in, and friendship in a world so often dominated by the need to be perfect in everything.

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Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt

embassy of the dead.jpgTitle: Embassy of the Dead #1

Author: Will Mabbitt

Genre: Children’s/Horror/Ghost Stories

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Orion Children’s Books

Published: 12th June 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: The first book in a spookily funny new series, where the living meet the dead and survival is a race against time. Perfect for fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and Who Let the Gods Out.

The first book in a spookily funny new series, where the living meets the dead and survival is a race against time. Perfect for fans of Skulduggery Pleasant and Who Let the Gods Out.

Welcome to the Embassy of the Dead. Leave your life at the door. (Thanks.)

When Jake opens a strange box containing a severed finger, he accidentally summons a grim reaper to drag him to the Eternal Void (yep, it’s as fatal as it sounds) and now he’s running for his life! But luckily Jake isn’t alone – he can see and speak to ghosts.

Jake and his deadly gang (well dead, at least) – Stiffkey the undertaker, hockey stick-wielding, Cora, and Zorro the ghost fox – have one mission: find the Embassy of the Dead and seek protection. But the Embassy has troubles of its own and may not be the safe haven Jake is hoping for . . .

~*~

Embassy of the Dead opens with Jake preparing for a school trip – as he is dealing with the separation of his parents. On his way home one day, he bumps into a ghostly figure called Stiffkey, who mistakes him for someone called Goodmourning – and gives Jake a box to take care of and deliver. When Jake opens the box, he sets forth a series of events that lead him into the world of the dead, and Undoers – set with the task of Undoing a ghost or becoming one himself. Accompanied by Stiffkey, a ghost fox called Zorro, and a ghost from a girl’s school Cora, Jake sets about trying to find a way to save his life so he doesn’t end up on the other side of the Embassy of the Dead.

His spooky journey takes him into the Embassy of the Dead – where the records of the dead are kept before they crossover, and where Undoers and their ghost companions meet and work. The world of the ghosts has rules – in breaking them, Jake has to pay a price, but he also has the finger to worry about, and Goodmourning to find before his time is up, and he has to leave his body and life behind forever. His adventure will take him far from home – further than he ever dreamed that he would go – and is full of fun, fear and laughs along the way.

Reading Embassy of the Dead was very enjoyable, and I think younger readers will enjoy it too. Aimed at early teenage, around eleven and older, it has fun characters and an intriguing plot that moves in ebbs and flows, at a decent pace that allows for the story to unfold continuously and for secrets to be revealed at the right moments, ensuring the mystery within the story is always there, and continues throughout the novel – and is not resolved instantly.

It is a fun, and quick read, and is also engaging for the reader. Will Mabbitt doesn’t talk down to his readers, and in the world that he has created, is unique and has all the hallmarks of a ghost story, but appropriately written for a younger audience, and those not quite into the full-scale horror stories that are available. Embassy of the Dead is a great start to what will be a very fun series.

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