Friday, 9 November 2018

Blog Tour: Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean - Review and Author Q&A

Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Publishing Date: November 6th, 2018
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: 384
Young Adult Historical Fantasy

The Premise from the Publisher: "In a palace of illusions, nothing is what it seems. Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace's enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete-all except yokai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy. Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren't hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yokai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari's fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yokai outcast. Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat YA fantasy" (HMH).

My overall thoughts and review: If you know me, then you will know that at school I primarily study Japanese culture. My focus is more so on contemporary material, but I simply love to read anything inspired by Japanese culture. When I read the premise of this, I was definitely intrigued because it follows various different kami and yokai. To begin with, this is a fantasy inspired by the author's Japanese heritage so I don't think it's meant to take place in a specific time with a fantasy spin. It takes place in a world where there's a palace of illusions with an emperor and every so often there's a competition where girls are thrown into various seasonal rooms, and if they are the last one to survive, then they are made empress. However, this competition is strictly for human girls. We have our main protagonist, Mari, who is a yokai, who plans to enter the competition, marry the prince, and then steal his fortune. Mari comes from a very interesting village of women whose sole purpose is to seduce men and steal their fortune, and they are "free" when they have a daughter afterwards. It's a very rigid structure in which Mari finds herself confined and at the end of the day, the anxieties she feels of wanting to be accepted for who she is and loved for who she is, is very much something that can be related to today. Sure, she resides in a village with strong, independent women, but there are also things expected of her and in a way, she feels she has no choice.

The story also follows two other perspectives: the prince, Taro, who she is supposed to win his affections, and lastly, Akira/The Son of Nightmares, who is other-than-human, with his ghostly like abilities to move. Akira has been with Mari from the beginning and and loves her, but she does not return this love. Whereas, with Taro, she finds herself wanting to actually stay with him if she wins the competition and to make change from there, especially in a world where yokai are collared and have no agency. Taro also has problems in terms of dealing with familial expectations. Though I have to say, I just loved Akira's perspectives and I could easily just read an entire book from his POV alone. I definitely enjoyed the text, but I found it hard at times to suspend my disbelief, and I think that's because it did lull at some parts in the beginning. We have great chapters establishing the character's mindset and anxieties, but then it moves incredibly quickly after that, so I think it's a matter of pacing. Overall, it was a decent fantasy and I definitely enjoyed it more going back after I finished it to reread some passages. The various mythical stories that Jean wove throughout the novel was quite nice because it reminds us that we have a choice and we are not predetermined to walk the same path as those before us.

My rating of the book: ✮✮✮½ (3.5/5 stars)

Available for purchase at:
Chapters/Indigo, Kobo Books, Amazon, and Book Depository (Free Worldwide Shipping)

Author Question and Answer
Q: This book was inspired primarily by your Japanese heritage. I was wondering if there were any particular places in Japan that you looked to for inspiration when you were world building? 
I spent a long time researching castles in Japan. In particular the Palace in Empress of all Seasons is modeled after the Heian Palace.

Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of the book was provided by Raincoast Books for participation in the book tour. All opinions of the book are my own.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

PRHC Kids Fall-I-Day Preview | November 1, 2018

A few days ago was the annual PRHC Fall-I-Day Kids and Teen Preview for booksellers and bloggers. I always love attending events like this because it definitely helps me as a bookseller when they give you great pitches on what to sell for the holiday season, and also to share with you all as a blogger. They mentioned some highlights that were already out and also some upcoming books for 2019 to look forward to. We also had the lovely Susin Nielsen come talk to us about her two new upcoming books Princess Puffybottom ...and Darryl & No Fixed Address! She is definitely one of my favorite authors and I've had the pleasure of meeting her a few times now, so it's always so much fun to hear her talk and share her stories. I can't wait to check out her two new books!

Below are some books that I'm adding to my TBR. Some are already out in the world, some I plan on giving as gifts (so you have to read them first before you gift them ;)), and some I'm super excited for them to release early next year!

Corduroy Takes a Bow by Viola Davis - I absolutely adore Viola Davis as a human being, so if she's writing a kids book, I'm buying it and adding it to my life. 

Princess Puffybottom ...and Darryl by Susin Nielsen and Olivia Chin Mueller (February 5/19) - I'm mostly a dog person, but this story sounds super adorable. I can't wait to read this and see all the illustrations. 

Narwhal's Otter Friend by Ben Clanton (February 5/19) - I love the Narwhal and Jelly books so much. They are hilarious and super cute. Can't wait to meet this new character! ;) 

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier and Douglas Holgate - the folks at PRHC were talking about this series and how the story is really good and the art is amazing. I've always loved graphic novels but I want to read more young readers graphic novels. This apocalyptic setting sounds great! 

Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson - This has been adapted into a netflix show. I watched an episode when I got home from the preview and I really enjoyed it. I'm totally here for a magical girl going on adventures. 

The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer - If you know me, you'll know that The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is my ALL-TIME-FAVORITE book. I own an unhealthy and ridiculous amount of copies of that book. I just love it so much. So when they told me this was a young reader's version inspired by it? I'M SO THERE. 

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier - story about an girl and her monster in a Victorian setting? ALL. THE. YES. I love Auxier's writing and this book was recently named as a winner for the 2018 Governor General's award in young people's literature! *slow clap* 

Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan (November 6/18) - A combination of poetry, short stories, and beautiful artwork. I can't wait to see this blend of writing and surrealist art! 

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen - this story sounds like it's going to be super sweet and also heartbreaking at the same time. It follows Felix and his mother, Astrid, who after losing their apartment in Vancouver must live in a camper van and how they come to terms with that massive change in their life. I love Nielsen's writing so I'm sure this one will be no different. 

The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena (February 26/19) - I read A Girl Like That earlier this year and it is one of my favorite books from 2019. I absolutely loved it and when I heard Bhathena was coming out with a new book, I actually jumped for joy! The story follows Susan who is an artist, and she meets a friend at a fundraiser Syrian Refugees. The premise promises romance, family, and finding yourself. I can't wait to dig in to my copy and start reading it soon! 

Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner (February 26/19) - Jeff Zentner is definitely one of my all time favorite YA authors. The Serpent King will always have a special place in my heart forever. The folks at PRHC promise that this upcoming release by Zentner will have more laughs than tears for the reader. I love YAs that focus on senior year! Can't wait for this! 

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson (November 6/18) - ok, so before you come for me, please know that I have every intention to, but I just haven't. *whispers* I haven't read a Brandon Sanderson book before. *immediately runs and hides* - I will say, I'm also a bit intimidated by some of his series and just the pure length of them. I will however check this one out, because I love starting series as they come out rather than catching up afterwards. This story follows a girl who dreams of being a pilot. Sign me up!! 

Well that's it! Those are the books I've added to my TBR, started pre-ordering, and also begging my local library to stock. What books sounds like your cup of tea? Let me know in the comments below!