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Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings – Blog Tour Book Review

This post is part of the Zenith blog tour. Do check out the other stops.

Synopsis

WHEN THE UNIVERSE NEEDS SAVING

THERE’S ONLY ONE GIRL FOR THE JOB

Most know Androma as a powerful mercenary whose reign of terror stretches across the Mirabel Galaxy. To those aboard her glass starship, Maurauder, however, she’s just Andi, their friend and fearless leader.

But when a routine mission goes awry, the Maurauder’s all-girl crew is tested as they find themselves in a treacherous situation- and at the mercy of a sadistic bounty hunter from Andi’s past.

As the Maurauder hurtles towards the unknown, and Mirabel hangs in the balance, the only certainty is that in a galaxy run on lies and illusion, no one can be trusted.

What I thought?

Zenith is book one of The Androma Saga and it has definitely whet my appetite to keep reading.

I am not familiar with either author’s other work in terms of either writing or YouTube so it was nice to come to this fresh with no real preconceptions.

What I did find was a book that seemed to be influenced by a lot of other YA and pop culture I’ve loved. The prison break aspect of Six of Crows, a pinch of Divergent, a Ship of Firefly roguishness, even a Handmaid’s tale feel, and a Potter reminiscent team nickname.

The book starts with a Prologue and then continues with chapters each headed up from a different character’s point of view. The characters we hear from are the main series protagonist Androma (Andi aka The Bloody Baroness), Klaren (a historical character), Dex (the Bounty Hunter from the synopsis and Andi’s ex), Lira (Andi’s crewmate and best friend), Nor (The Queen of a planet that holds a tentative peace with the rest of the galaxy) and Valen (the mission!).

Very spacey chapter headers

Here comes my first issue with the book. I was fine with the amount of POV characters given the scale of the story and would have even liked to hear from the other two crew mates. However the book breaks its own rules. It sets up each chapter clearly with whose point of view it’s meant to be from and for some reason in a couple of Dex’s chapters we get a switch to Andi’s point of view that is entirely unnecessary and does momentarily take you out of the story.

The other issues I had were that there was frequent repetition of concepts and thoughts such as Valen’s thirst for vengeance and Andi’s guilt over an event that occurred in the past. Whilst it is true that the more we returned to these thoughts the more the ideas and action behind them became clearer, and it is true that people do become fixated on issues, I think a few incidences could have been edited out. And there was definitely no need to keep stating the colour of Andi’s hair so frequently. White blond with purple – which to be fair does sounds like a pretty cool look. There was also a few clunky phrases such as ‘downing half a bottle in one sip’.

But, equally there was some great use of phrasing including the particularly disgusting reference to ‘palm juice’ which made me feel quite queasy but that really worked in context.

Above all I loved the Maurauders. The relationship between the all-girl crew of Andi, Lira, Gilly and Breck was what I enjoyed most about the book. Gilly is such a firecracker and so young that I was drawn to her story in particular and would love to hear from her point of view in future books. I also thought the blend of femininity and violence within them worked well and that, although the girls were total badasses, they could also get very excited about pretty dresses. The relationships between all of the characters was what drove the plot and what made the issues I had with the book easy to overcome.

I’ve seen reviews saying that the worldbuilding was sloppy but personally I thought this was another strength and I loved the inclusion of the historical perspective from the distant past as well as Andi’s more recent past and the idea that all the characters are running away from things we know they are going to need to face. The whole world history and individual character experience also pull together in a dramatic conclusion. The Zenith of the title takes a while to materialise but when it does you feel its impact.

This book is a great mash up story – a space opera – with such scope for character development. I had a few issues with the editing but the plot is clever, the characters complex and it’s really a lot of fun. I’d love to see it filmed, it’s very cinematic and would make a great tv series. Now can someone tell me when book two is due out?

Zenith book cover

Thanks to HQ for the finished copy for the purposes of this review. Opinions are as ever my own.

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Wicked Like a Wildfire – Lana Popović (2017 Debut Authors Bash)

I am pleased to be hosting an interview by author Lana Popović today. Her debut novel Wicked Like a Wildfire is a sumptuous fantasy that I received a copy of in Fairyloot this year. The writing is exquisite and I loved the female relationships in the story. It also includes LGBT+ rep, flowers and food!

Synopsis

All the women in Iris and Malina’s family have the unique magical ability or “gleam” to manipulate beauty. Iris sees flowers as fractals and turns her kaleidoscope visions into glasswork, while Malina interprets moods as music. But their mother has strict rules to keep their gifts a secret, even in their secluded sea-side town. Iris and Malina are not allowed to share their magic with anyone, and above all, they are forbidden from falling in love.

But when their mother is mysteriously attacked, the sisters will have to unearth the truth behind the quiet lives their mother has built for them. They will discover a wicked curse that haunts their family line—but will they find that the very magic that bonds them together is destined to tear them apart forever?

Interview with the author

Lana studied psychology and literature at Yale University, and law at Boston University. She is a graduate of the Emerson College Publishing and Writing program and works as a literary agent with Chalberg & Sussman, specializing in YA.

Lana was born in Serbia and spent her childhood summers surrounded by the seaside and mountain magic of Montenegro. She now lives in Boston, subsisting largely on cake, eyeliner and aerial yoga. She can be found on twitter as @LanaPopovicLit.

Can you tell us the meaning behind the title?

The book’s original title was Hibiscus Daughter, based on the twin nicknames Iris and Malina’s mother gave her daughters when they were little. However, it’s kind of an unwieldy title (I had a friend who was convinced I was writing something called Seabiscuit’s Daughter for a while, and was astonished that I apparently loved horses so much I was writing young adult lit about them), and when we started kicking alternates around, Stolen Like a Kiss and Wicked Like a Wildfire emerged as the favorites. I personally love all the connotations of “wicked” and the archetypes, positive and negative, that come with it, and given all the fire imagery involved–it could be argued that Iris is a fiery character overall–”wildfire” became the frontrunner.

How important was the setting of Montenegro to the story? You went back to visit, what elements of your visit made it into the book?

Montenegro, and specifically Cattaro (Kotor) and the mountain town of Zabljak, were such integral elements that they evolved into something close to characters. Cattaro is an ancient place, full of stunning imagery, iconic monasteries, and delicious food (the importance of which should never be underestimated), and I wanted to breathe some of the magic I felt there during my childhood summers into the book. All the places Iris and Malina visit, and the relics they see, are entirely real, and even their home is based on the little summer house my grandparents owned there.

In the acknowledgements you mention tweaking local stories and legends. Which one most inspired you?

I love the story behind the tapestry sewed by Jacinta Kunic-Mijovic, which is kept at Our Lady of the Rocks, a sailor’s votice shrine in the tiny fisherman’s city of Perast. The story goes that this sailor’s wife loved her husband so much that she wove an elaborate madonna and child tapestry while he was gone at sea–for 25 whole years, using silver and gold threads, and eventually her own hair. Towards the end, she went blind, and her husband never did come home to her. The fierce love, sacrifice, and ultimate tragedy of that story is woven throughout the sisters’ tale.

The female relationships in WlaW are so complex and imperfect. Which of the relationships was the most difficult to write, and the easiest?

I don’t have a sister myself, so writing a twin sister relationship was a challenging and fulfilling exercise in exploring how two women so closely entwined might relate to each other, both positively and destructively–so while it was technically the most difficult, it was also the most emotionally rewarding for me. I both adore and am heartbroken by fraught mother-daughter relationships (fortunately, not from personal experience!), so Jasmina and Iris’s thorny, almost abusive relationship was the easiest and also the most painful.

Your presentation of witchcraft seems quite unique. Can you explain what is meant by the terms Gleam and also ‘eating the moon’?

The gleam is the form of magic passed down through the girls’ ancient bloodline–the gift/curse of manipulating magic for the purpose of creating seductive beauty. Iris “blooms” gorgeous, fireworks-like fractals out of flowers, Malina sings others’ emotions in triple harmony, and their mother bakes scenery into decadent desserts. Of course, the potential of the gleam in embodying will and agency goes far beyond just making things pretty, as they later discover.

“Eating the moon” is a sweet, fairytale phrase the girls’ mother uses while the twins are little and she’s still training them, to describe the heightened experience of using the gleam together, as their own little coven.

You personify Death, make Beauty a gift or a curse and Love is explored in its pure and corrupted forms. What drew you to explore these three abstracts this way?

Personifying abstract concepts or turning them on their head is an easy way to delve more deeply into how we feel about these massive forces that hold such sway over our lives. Unfortunately, beauty is still a form of currency and power for women growing up in our world, and I wanted to dig into that intellectually while also inviting the reader to simply enjoy its many forms in a sensory way, through evoking enticing scents, tastes, and sights. As to Death, well, I believe it fascinates us all, especially when encountered in something like human form–something closer to what we can understand.

And love, while it may seem like an overused young adult trope, is what most of us build our lives around. I couldn’t imagine a story without it at the center, in all its many forms.

Nature, particularly flowers play a huge part in the story. Are you green-fingered. What flower is your favourite and why?

I wish I were! Alas, so far, my little globe of succulents is about the only plant I’ve ever had that hasn’t died a gory death. I’d love a little garden in the future, so maybe one of my new year’s resolutions will be to learn how to stop killing plants.

Morning glories are my favorite flower–and also my most elaborate tattoo. Their color is so dramatic (purple is also my favorite color), and that pale starburst at the center always makes me think of the divine.

With it being so close to Christmas what do you think Iris and Malina would get each other? And what gift do you least like to receive?

The girls don’t have much to spend on each other–and Christmas isn’t a particularly gift-oriented holiday in Eastern Europe–but they might exchange little tokens of affection; maybe Iris finds the perfect kitschy little locket for Malina at the open air market, while Malina teams up with Luka to buy Iris a rare flower.

The only kind of gift I don’t especially enjoy receiving is a certificate or coupon for something, because I’m eight years old in my soul, and I love the ceremony of gleefully tearing open wrapping paper and opening boxes.

Huge thanks to Lana for an excellent interview. Wicked Like a Wildfire and the conclusion to the duology Fierce Like a Firestorm will be our next year. For US readers only there is a giveaway (a copy of the book and swag pack of a bookmark and a perfume sample). To enter share a link to this interview on twitter tagging in @LanaPopvicLit and @kirstyes and tell us in what way you are Wicked Like a Wildfire. I’ll randomly select a winner on Boxing Day.

Check out the debut author bash schedule here.

Wunderkids by Jacqueline Silvester – Blog Tour – Top Tips for Surviving High School 


Book one of the Wunderkids series sees main character Nikka receive an invite to Wildwood Academy. 


A very secretive and secluded boarding school for the talented. Surviving high school is hard enough without what the students here have to face. 


Author Jacqueline Silvester has written a guest post based on the question: 

“Give your five favorite character’s best tips for surviving high school?”

 

 

• Everything is temporary! I have moved enough times, and changed enough schools to know that the things that seem to matter now might not matter later. You might be upset about losing that one friend or not getting on the swim team, but remember, a lot of it will not matter down the line.

• Find an outlet! High school is hard and we all need an outlet. Mine is art, yours can be art too, or theatre, or sport or anything you want it to be. I have a lot of friends that blog and make videos. We all need an outlet, find one that you enjoy and lose yourself in it.

• Forgive your parents for the little things; they are likely doing the best they can.

• Don’t obsess over your clothes. You’re going to regret all those hours you spent thinking what you should wear to school. No one remembers it anyway.

 

• Early bird gets the worm, literally. Show up to the cafeteria early and you’re likely to have the best (or at least the freshest) selection of food.

• Don’t read at lunch because you will look like a loner; download an audiobook and plug in those headphones- that way you will look like you’re listening to music, and we all know music is ‘cool.’

• The smart ones win out in the end. At least that’s what everyone keeps telling me, although I know a lot of stupid people who ‘have it all’ so the jury is still out on that theory. Fingers crossed though.

• VIDEO GAMES can brighten up even the worst day.

• If a video game can’t fix it try a book. A comic book. A really long comic book. Escapism is underrated. 

 

• Get your driving license as early as possible. You need a car so that you can get away from this hell they call school.

• Learn your teacher’s weaknesses, they will come in handy later.

• Get friendly with the cleaning staff- they know everyone’s secrets and the easiest ways to get off campus without getting noticed.

• Keep everyone at arm’s length; people want what they can’t have and distance makes the heart grow fonder. Etc… etc… Cliché but very true.


• You know that whole standard advice: when you get to your new school, find the toughest kid around and knock him out? Or perhaps it’s advice for prison, either way you know what I mean. Well, that advice rubbish. Find the toughest bloke, trick him into being friends with you, that way if you’re ever in a tough situation you can call on the muscle for help.

• Keep chocolate on you at all times, it’s great for calming people down.

• Get the upperclassmen to give you their notes and exams from the previous year. Teachers can be lazy and are likely to use the same exams and questions year after year.

 

 

• Be yourself.

• Meditate for a few minutes every morning. Teens think meditation is for old people but actually we can benefit from daily meditation. Especially throughout high school which is a time of stress.

• It’s better to have a few friends that like you the way you are than many friends who don’t know the real you.

• Express yourself. High school is going to try and put you in a box. If you want pink hair, do it. If you want to tie-dye everything you own, do it. The time is now!

• Stand up for what you believe in. Get political. Stay interested. Some adults are going to try and make you feel like you are too young to know what’s what, but that not true. You are old enough to stand up for what you believe in.


What I Thought

For some strange reason I think I expected an x-men academy style story with super mutanty talented youngsters. Instead the talents are a little more highly gifted human but the story itself is creepy, teen angsty and thrilling. I found myself reading it in one sitting because I really wanted to know what happened. 

I was very drawn to all of the characters and loved their individual personalities, even when I didn’t like them or their actions. For those that aren’t fond of love triangles be warned there is one here but it’s handled in a very unique way. After reading Holly Bourne’s recent book I’m finding myself being a little more critical of romance and there was the ‘he kisses me until I give into it’ aspect. I’m not sure I’m convinced by either of her choices but I’m really intrigued to see how it moves forward. 

Towards the end this reminded me of Kat Zhang’s What’s Left of Me series (which I adored) and there’s a school nurse to rival Nurse Ratchett from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. 

My main critique is that there was a little repetition in how the kids got out of sticky situations and that I found it went on slightly too long. I was a little confused by Nikka’s closing scene. But OMG the epilogue. I need more now. 

All in all this was a fast paced with a gasp worthy nefarious plot that seems set to be wider that the school. During the tour the title of book 2 will be announced. I can’t wait. 

Wunderkids is out now on Amazon (currently only 99p on kindle!) or you can buy a signed paperback from her website. 

Jacqueline is answering 25 questions across 25 blogs so be sure to check out the rest of the spots on the tour – follow her on Twitter – ‪@Jacky_Silvester ‬- to get links to all the blogs taking part. 

Please note I received a copy of the book from the author for the purposes of review but opinions are all mine. 

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