blog tour

Blog Tour: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

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Blog Tour: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

Shadow Of The Fox is one of my favourite YA reads this year, and it is your new YA fantasy addiction. Set in a world of demons and tree-spirits, ghosts and shapeshifters, it follows a girl on her quest to prevent a terrible power from falling into the wrong hands. 

I was delighted to be invited on to the blog tour and I particularly wanted to hear how Japanese mythology had shaped the book. My friend Christina has lived and worked in Japan and knows the language and culture well. When I visited her in October, she introduced me to a whole landscape which I had never known before. Shadow Of The Fox took me further into this landscape and made me hungry for more fantasy inspired by world mythology. 

A big thank-you to Julie Kagawa for taking the time to tell us how mythology shaped your story. birdbreak

About Shadow Of The Fox and Japanese mythology – Julie Kagawa. 

Shadow of the fox’s main protagonist is Yumeko, a girl who is also half-kitsune.  Kitsune are the magical, shapeshifting foxes of Japanese legend, and one of their most beloved creatures of myth.  Kitsune appear everywhere in Japan: in anime and manga, folktales, toys and video games, even in food.  Kitsune udon (noodles) and Inari zushi (tofu sushi) are tied to foxes, as both have a sweet fried tofu pouch that is said to be a kitsune’s favorite food.  Fox statues can be found at Japanese shrines, particularly the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, as kitsune are also messengers of Inari, the god of rice.    

In Shadow of the Fox, Yumeko struggles with the two sides of herself.  She wants to be a good human, but she is also mischievous and loves playing pranks due to her kitsune nature.  Having lived in an isolated temple all her life, she is very innocent and naive to the world, but she has a fox’s intelligence and learns quickly.  Which will come in handy when she flees her home and runs into all manner of Japanese monsters and yokai.  Yumeko isn’t a warrior, but she is kitsune, and will have to use all of her cunning, magic and fox talents if she wants to survive.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

Review: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa. 

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Extract:

‘Take it, Yumenko-chan,’ Master Isao ordered, and held it out to me. ‘It must not fall into the hands of the demons. You must keep it safe at all costs.’ Another boom rattled the beams overhead, and one of the monks behind us drew in a sharp breath. Master Isao’s gaze never wavered from mine. ‘Take the scroll,’ he said again, ‘and leave this place. Run, and don’t look back.’ 

(Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa. P96.) 

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Synopsis:

Every millennium, the great Kami Dragon will rise again to the one who summons him and grant one wish. Such is the dragon’s power that the scroll containing the words needed to summon him was torn in three. The pieces are guarded because if they fell into the wrong hands, the consequences could be disastrous.

Yumenko was raised by the monks of the Silent Winds temple. There she was taught to guard her true nature, for Yuemnko is half-kitsune and her fox-like magic could lead her astray. When the temple is burned and the monks killed, Yumenko is charged with guarding their greatest treasure – the first piece of the scroll.

Kage is a demon-hunter and member of the shadow clan. He is charged with retrieving the scroll at any cost. When he meets Yumenko, the pair form an alliance, but each is hiding a secret from the other.

As darkness rises around them the pair hunt for the next piece of the scroll.

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A classic quest-narrative meets a rich and detailed world, with characters so real you will feel as if you have walked alongside them. Shadow Of The Fox was like seeing anime in novel form.

The story is a duel-narrative – chapters alternate between Yumenko and Kage’s narration. The result is that we see the same world and situation through different eyes, and we’re waiting for a moment when the pair come to a joint resolution.

What I enjoyed most was the influence of Japanese mythology, in particular how Yumenko’s kitsune side means she is drawn towards nature. She’s aware of other shape-shifters. Of tree-spirits and wind witches. This world of magic and warriors hooked me in and I would love to read the myths which inspired the setting. We also learn something about Japanese culture, particularly the social customs.

There are different threats in this world. The main threat comes from a wonderful antagonist, Lady Satomi, and her connection with the demonic forces. Minor threats come from other mythological characters who serve to get in the way of the main quest. Lady Satomi is the perfect antagonist because she believes what she is doing is right and proper. She’s also decidedly creepy, the sort of baddie who comes into your head in the small hours.

Kage is a complex character. He has been taught not to bond with others or to show emotions and holds ideas about the perfect warrior, but his instinct is always to protect Yumenko. Kage is also occasionally influenced by the sword he carries – a sword with demonic powers. His storyline is about the conflict between what he has been made and his inner-nature and I hope his inner-nature wins out by the end of the trilogy.

The ancient magic and high-stakes quest make this novel unputdownable. I would love to investigate Julie Kagawa’s backlist and I look forward to continuing the series.

 

Thanks to Nina Douglas PR and HQ Stories for my copy of Shadow Of The Fox. Opinions my own.

 

If you like quest narratives, check out The Cradle Of All The Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan. 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: City Of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Review: City Of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

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Extract:

I’ve seen people on TV – ‘ghost whisperers’ – talk about crossing over, connecting with the other side like it’s flipping a switch or opening a door. But for me, it’s this – finding the part in the curtain, catching hold of the fabric, and pulling.

Sometimes, when there’s nothing to find, the veil is barely there, more smoke than cloth and hard to catch hold of. But when a place is haunted – really haunted – the fabric twists around me, pulling me through. 

(City Of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab. P13.)

birdbreak Synopsis:

Cass can see through the veil which separates the living from the dead. She’s also best friends with a ghost, Jacob, who has been by her side since he saved her life. If that wasn’t weird enough, her parents are obsessed with ghosts, even though they can’t see them at all.

When Cass’s parents start filming a new TV show, the family relocate to Edinburgh – one of the most haunted places in the world. When Cass meets a girl who shares her gift, she realises how much she doesn’t know about the veil, like what she’s supposed to do there and how dangerous some ghosts can be.birdbreakReview:

If you like ghost stories but don’t want your spirits to be totally bad, this is the book for you. Victoria Schwab (AKA VE Shwab) is one of the best-known YA authors of recent years. Her fantasy novels have attracted a dedicated following. This is the first book of hers I have read, and my immediate impression was that it was written by a fluent and confident storyteller. The story hooked me and I read it in one evening. It was hard to put my finger on exactly why except it was exceptional storytelling. Every chapter opening, every plot point grabs the reader in and keeps them turning the pages.

Cass survived a near-death experience, and since then she has been able to see the veil which separates the living from the undead. She’s also been followed by Jacob – a ghost who has broken all convention and come out into the living world. I loved the constant tip-toeing the pair do around the subject of death. That one of them is living and the other dead is a sensitive issue between the friends. As a survivor, Cass is constantly aware of herself as a living thing. Her experiences were explored with sensitivity and insight.

Edinburgh was the perfect setting for a ghost story and I am excited to think there might be more stories set in other cities around the world. The book really got into the history and folklore of Edinburgh. I love it when stories inspire interest in real places.

There is a ghost causing trouble in Edinburgh, and I did enjoy that story, but what I loved more was the setting – the many ghosts Cass encounters behind the veil and their different stories. I hope we’ll learn more of Jacob’s story. I loved the details about his character, like how he has Cass turning the pages of comic books for him so he can keep up his hobby from beyond the grave. Jacob is incorporated in a clever way – instead of talking in dialogue, Cass hears his thoughts in her head. This makes Jacob feel more otherworldly, for all that he likes the same things as most modern children.

A great start to a new series full of ghost-hunters and creepy historical stories. This would be perfect for any tween or younger teen with a touch of gothic. I look forward to seeing where Cass and her family travel next.

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Knights And Bikes by Gabrielle Kent

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Extract:

‘The knights who left decided that the treasure was cursed. They wanted to return it, but one night the whole castle just disappeared without a trace.

No one knew what happened to it, or the knights, or their pile of treasure. I reckon they all fought each other to little pieces, then they rotted and their eyes fell out and now their skellingtons guard the treasure from anyone who comes looking for it.’

(Knights And Bikes by Gabrielle Kent. P23.)

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Synopsis:

Penfurzy Island is the best home in the world. There’s a scrapyard, a tor and a not-so-busy caravan park where Demelza lives. When another girl appears in the middle of the night, Demelza is determined to prove that exciting things do happen on Penfurzy, starting with the legend of the Penfurzy Knights and their missing treasure.

Then Demelza’s Dad makes a terrible announcement: he is going to sell the caravan park.

Can Demelza, her new friend Nessa and Honkers the goose find the treasure in time to save the caravan park? Who is Nessa anyway, and what is she doing on Penfurzy? Action and adventure and foam swords abound in this Retro-adventure.

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Review:

Remember the games you played between five and eleven-or-so? The ones where you and your friends could take on anything with a weapon (be it a toy sword, invisible ray-gun or silly string), transport (skateboard, bike or scooter) and a pinch of imagination. Knights And Bikes conjures up those games in a way which will make adult readers nostalgic. The best part of all? The Penfurzy Knights are real.

I loved the realistic setting. Lots of quest narratives are about children taken out of the ordinary. Children with special powers or equipment or all-powerful mentors. Nessa and Demelza are ordinary kids with a slice of attitude. They know they can do anything if only they pedal the fastest.

The story is set in the 1980s – a move which will be popular with many parents of current middle-grade readers. Novice writers are often told that children aren’t interested in the recent past. The advice is not to lose sight of modern childhood in favour of your own. I’ve always found this a pity – children are generally receptive and open to stories set in other periods of history and I think it is important for children to be able to place their special adults on a timeline and to understand what made their childhoods different.

I also liked that the nostalgia wasn’t rose-tinted. The bad (see the chain-smoking worker) is shown alongside the brilliant.

Knights Of is a brand-new publisher whose list for 2019 is looking very exciting. They are on a mission to publish voices which are underrepresented in children’s publishing, and they’ve already found some fabulous and exciting stories. Knights And Bikes was longlisted for the Blue Peter award and I’m we’ll hear more from this publisher in the near future.

 

 

Non-Fiction

Review: The Beetle Collector’s Handbook by MG Leonard

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Review: The Beetle Collector’s Handbook by MG Leonard

You’ve read about beetles in the Beetle Boy trilogy. Now you can learn all about them in The Beetle Collector’s Handbook. Beautifully designed and illustrated, the book is packed with information, from how to set out on a search for beetles to facts about the different species. 

When hearing MG Leonard talk in October, I became aware of two things – beetles are more fascinating than I ever realised, and children are curious and interested in the world in a way which adults forget to be. The younger members of the audience that day demonstrated a wide knowledge of our world – the sort of facts which adults dismiss as ‘trivia’. There is so much to learn on any one subject, but children understand instinctively that this is a wonderful thing. 

The handbook would appeal to anybody with an insatiable appetite for fact. It is also a fascinating read – did you know that a wheat weevil can produce over six-thousand young a year? That Bombardier beetles can produce a toxic acid? This would be a brilliant book to start a life-long interest in entomology. 

img_7403In the series a book by this title is used by the main character. This editon is designed to look like the very same copy used by Darkus, complete with his notes scribbled in the margins. This format has a particular charm and will encourage children familiar with the fiction to explore the handbook. There are in-jokes and comments which make sense to readers of the trilogy, but these are not intrusive to anyone just looking to do some research. 

The illustrations and diagrams are not only appealing, they are a good size – there is nothing worse than a non-fiction book with tiny, black-and-white drawings. The pictures draw the reader in as much as the text. More than once I stopped on a page because I saw an illustration and wanted to know more. 

This book was nominated for the Blue Peter Award, and for good reason – it is an attractive guide which links to a loved and respected trilogy. Perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about beetles, who loves facts or for fans of the Beetle Boy trilogy. 

 

Thanks to Antonia Wilkinson and Scholastic UK for my copy of The Beetle Collector’s Handbook. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Secrets Of A Sun King by Emma Carroll

Review: Secrets Of A Sun King by Emma Carroll

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Extract:

How uncanny that Professor Hanawati had guessed that something awful was going to happen to him. It made me more scared for Grandad too, because the letter confirmed that the curse really did exist. So why, after all these years, had it started up again? And what was wrapped in linen, in the bottom of the jar? 

(Secrets Of A Sun King by Emma Carroll. P45.) 

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Synopsis:

London, 1922. Everyone’s talking about Harold Carter, the famous explorer who is closing in on the site of Tutankhamun’s tomb. At the same time, an Egyptologist dies after bursting into flame.

When Lilian’s Grandad is taken ill, she finds a package from the very same Egyptologist addressed to her Grandfather. Inside is an incredible object which holds a story … and possibly a curse.

Lil and her friends set out on an extraordinary journey to return the package to the place it belongs.

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Another triumph from the master of historical fiction Emma Carroll. Some authors have a strong signature. You would know you were inside one of their books even if their name wasn’t on the cover. Emma Carroll is such a writer. From the first word, it is as if you are listening to a storyteller who is relaying the words just for you.

As in Carroll’s other novels, the story looks for a deeper truth. The story we all know about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb was written by the English press – the story of triumph at the last minute and undiscovered treasure ripe for the picking. Even back in 1922, there were concerns in Egypt about Carter’s treatment of the site. Secrets Of A Sun King explores this story from a sideways angle. Lil’s quest – to discover her Grandfather’s connection to the package and to do whatever it takes to keep him alive – hooks the reader. It is as the story unfolds that the themes get deeper.

We also hear Tutankhamun’s story – a scroll found by Lil and her friends tells how the young king died. Hearing this story from Tutankhamun’s sister brings him to life in a way which has rarely been explored. There are many fact files on the young king but the stories around his tomb – the expedition narratives – sometimes mask the fact he was a child and a human being with thoughts and feelings of his own.

Emma Carroll is one of the finest middle-grade writers working today. Her stories go from strength-to-strength and her empathy with people throughout history couldn’t be clearer. Highly recommended.

 

Enjoyed this? Check out Letters To The Lighthouse by the same author. 

Middle Grade Reviews · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Legend Of Sally Jones by Jakob Wegelius

 

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Review: The Legend Of Sally Jones by Jakob Wegelius

About a hundred years ago, a gorilla was born. On that night, gorilla elders prophesied that she would meet with many misfortunes … So begins the story of Sally Jones, heroine of last year’s big hit The Murderer’s Ape. Sally’s journeys take her from Istanbul to Borneo to New York. Her run-in with an infamous jewel thief begins a series of unfortunate events which continue until Sally finds her home on The Hudson Queen.

sallyjones2Sally Jones was possibly my first choice for an origin story. She’s a feminist icon – a skilled engineer, proficient writer and not someone who submits to capture. It was lovely to see her life-story and to learn why she became so fiercely loyal to Koskela, and to find out how she came by her name.

One of the delights of The Murderer’s Ape was the line-drawings. The Legend Of Sally Jones is something between a graphic-novel and a picture book. It plays to Wegelius’s style, and the effect is like looking at cigarette cards. The key moments and turning points of Sally’s life are captured and when you’ve read through once it is as great a pleasure to flick through and pick out individual illustrations.

This book is all about atmosphere – if you love the steam-boats and expeditions and shady characters of 1900s adventure-books, this one is for you. A delightful companion which could be read before or after reading its sister-story.

 

Thanks to Pushkin Press for my copy of The Legend Of Sally Jones. Opinions my own.

Read more about Sally Jones in  The Murderer’s Ape

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: You’re Snug With Me by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry

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Review: You’re Snug With Me by Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry

Mother polar bear leads her cubs out into the world for the first time. As she teaches them about the landscape and their responsibilities to the natural world, she reassures them over and over – you’re snug with me.

img_7109The rhythmic text and kaleidoscopic patterns together produce a mesmerising effect. The reader is caught up in the words so that a story which is very simple becomes something powerful. It would be possible to spend hours lost in the illustrations – the eye follows the shapes until it seems almost as if they are moving. It brings the landscape and animals to life in a way which is very real.

Mother Bear addresses the big questions in life in a very reassuring way. The world has never fallen apart yet and she will remain with her cubs until they are ready to leave. These are the big worries of childhood and the story offers children a safe space to ask those questions of their own loved ones. In the meantime, the refrain comes back as a constant reassurance of an adult’s presence.

I loved the environmental narrative – instead of being hard-hitting, it is simply a mother explaining to her child as a fact that when we are born, we have a responsibility not to take more from the planet than we need. This is a simple fact which often turns into a complex debate. Hopefully, the book will encourage young readers to accept their responsibility to the environment.

As beautiful and special as it’s companion, You’re Snug With Me is a bedtime must-have and it would make a lovely gift for young readers. 

 

Thanks to Lantana Publishing for my copy of You’re Snug With Me. Opinions my own.

craft · Uncategorized

Annual reading challenges – why I won’t be setting targets for 2019.

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A reflection on annual reading challenges

Last December, book-bloggers everywhere set their annual challenges. The GoodReads counter felt obligatory. Beyond that, there were challenges based on Diversity, challenges for fantasy book lovers and challenges for people who wanted to broaden their literary horizons., challenges everywhere. Like every other book blogger, I set my targets and made a page, copying out my bingo-list of books to read in 2018.

Six weeks into the New Year and that page was forgotten.

If you like and enjoy challenges, please understand I think there is space for them. This is not a page to knock book challenges. It is a personal reflection and a post to explore the reason I won’t be signing up for reading challenges in 2019.

What are reading challenges anyway? 

 

I set three challenges last year – to read 100 books, to read eight or more books by an Australian YA author and the Modern Mrs Darcy Challenge. I gave some more consideration than others – the Australian YA came from my enjoyment of Begin, End, Begin, an anthology which showcased the brilliant work of Australian YA authors. One hundred books, now that was arbitrary. It was the figure-I-would-reach-but-not-too-quickly. The Modern Mrs Darcy just ticked a broad range of literary styles. I certainly wanted to include poetry, essays, work in translation etc in my reading diet, although on reflection they were also targets I was going to hit without serious consideration.

This isn’t a space to reflect on my success or failure – this is a space to question whether we should hold ourselves accountable to goals we set at the start of the year.

Every bookworm knows that feeling. The one we get when we walk into a bookshop or a library. I know it – I see a room full of bookshelves and change from woman to book-sniffer. My hunting instincts kick in. With no conscious decision, my walk slows, my eyes become alert and I prowl the shelves. Titles are sized-up and discarded. Covers are scanned, pages read until … something clicks. Certainly, there are times when I go in search of a specific book but on those occasions when I am browsing, I know the right book by instinct.

Subconscious plays an important role in reading. When I say I’ve found the right book, when I say it feels right, I mean I subconsciously know the sort of book I’m looking to read next. This is one of the most magical parts of being a bookworm and I don’t want to ignore it for the sake of a list.

Notice how many ghost stories are published in the autumn? How many light YA romances in the summer? Our reading tastes are shaped by our day-to-day experience and publishers know it. Come the autumn, come the need to cuddle up under a blanket and read by torchlight into the small hours. That’s not to say everyone reads seasonally or we only read ghost stories in the autumn, but seasonal conditions are one of the things which affect our choices without us giving the matter any thought. Likewise a popular documentary or film could put us in the mood for a certain type of story. Hands-up who read lots of fairytale spin-offs when Beauty and The Beast was released?

We absorb the world around us and go in search of more. This is magical and special, like a current flowing through our minds, and I want to ride it.

That’s not to say I won’t be reflective or go in search of particular things. I would certainly like to read more books which represent minorities – books which represent BAME characters, LGBTQA characters, characters from different socio-economic backgrounds and characters with a long-term health condition or disability. Less than one percent of all books published in 2017 featured a BAME main-character, but those which are out there? They are windows into life-experiences and I will pick those books up. I will pick them up because I want every story told and every life represented on the bookshelves, not to tick off a box on an annual challenge.  

What about the social side of challenges? There’s nothing better than talking to other bookish people about specific bookish topics. Maybe I picked the wrong selection of challenges, or maybe I should have kept track of my challenges on social media. Certainly, I didn’t have any additional interaction beyond the comments when I initially wrote the page. I would love more interaction in 2019 and want to talk to all kinds of people – book bloggers, lifestyle bloggers, people who have never written in their lives. I want to take part in chats and receive recommendations. I’m just not certain annual challenges bring that.

With events, readathons and tags throughout the year, there will be opportunities to engage with the blogging community and try out something new. As the New Year approaches I may write a post looking to the year ahead and my commitment to read a wide range of voices. After that I’ll see where 2019 takes me and I will be here to blog about it. 

 

Are you setting challenges this year? How did you find the experience in 2018? Let me know in the comments below. 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Soulbinder by Sebastien De Castell

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Extract:

Reichis was a mean little cuss, but he was my buisness partner. He’d saved my life a dozen times because that’s how it worked between us: we’d fight, and argue and insult each other, but when the chips went down, he was there for me. Always. Now I had to find a way to be there for him. 

(Soulbinder by Sebastien De Castell. P47.)

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Synopsis:

Kellen is searching for the mysterious Ebony Abbey. Legend says it shelters people with the shadowblack, people who would otherwise by killed by a world which fears them. During the search, Kellen is split from his loyal sidekick Reichis.

Meeting a community of shadowblacks brings Kellen closer to the shadow-magic than he has ever come before and# being apart from the world gives Kellen a space to think about the betrayal he has suffered at the hands of his family.

Kellen searches for his identity in this fourth installment of the Spellslinger series. 

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Review:

Regular readers know I am a big fan of the Spellslinger series. The first book was published shortly after I started my blog and it was a firm favourite. The non-conformity and magical kingdoms were always going to be a hit, but added to that was an epic cast of characters. Four books in and I am still caught up in Kellan’s adventures.

This review assumes you are familiar with the series. Although I will do my best not to include spoilers – if you haven’t read book one I recommend this is where you start.

Soulbinder is where Kellan confronts his own experiences and decides how to go forward. It is also the first book where he has been apart from his friends – mentor Ferius and familiar Reichis. This separation forces Kellan to choose what is most important to him. Unfortunately, once he’s made that choice, he is up against two groups of people with their own agendas.

This is a world where many people define themselves by their society, by their race. As someone who has abandoned his hometown, Kellan is an outlaw but he has never fully embraced a new label. Is he an Argosi? A Shadowblack? Has he always been a Jan’Tep, no matter how hard he runs from it?

The Ebony Abbey is one of those settings you will remember for a lifetime. It should be a sanctuary and a place of scholarship – a place where the shadow magic is not only accepted but studied. Unfortunately, as Kellan knows from experience, where there is magic there is someone willing to use it to their own end. 

As in the previous books, old faces mixed with new and we were introduced to another great cast of characters. This time we meet a community of people who, like Kellan, have the shadowblack. It was interesting to see the different ways people responded to the same thing. Until now, we have been familiar with Kellan’s reaction, but after reading Soulbinder I felt as if I had a broader perspective.

I’m looking forward to Queenslayer in 2019 and to the conclusion of the series next autumn. It will be a pleasure to read the series from start to finish and to remind myself how Kellan had developed and grown. These books just get better and better.

 

Thanks to Readers First and Hot Key Books for my copy of Soulbinder. Opinions my own.