The Blue Sword (Damar #1) by Robin McKinley

The blue sword cover

Harry Crewe is an orphan girl who comes to live in Damar, the desert country shared by the Homelanders and the secretive, magical Hillfolk. Her life is quiet and ordinary-until the night she is kidnapped by Corlath, the Hillfolk King, who takes her deep into the desert. She does not know the Hillfolk language; she does not know why she has been chosen. But Corlath does. Harry is to be trained in the arts of war until she is a match for any of his men. Does she have the courage to accept her true fate?

My Review of The Blue Sword

The Blue SwordThe Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this. It’s a fantastic fantasy adventure story, if a familiar one, but it’s full of sensible characters that have tons of personality. Even the horse and the cat creature were interesting in their own right.

The world building is wonderful and detailed. I could picture everything as I was reading and imagine myself there with the characters.

Corlath the hill king is lovely, if not as arrogant as he perhaps should be. I wanted more romance though! It’s aimed at teenagers so it’s probably good that it’s more about Harry growing up and gaining confidence in herself than about Harry being soppy over a man. I do love a good bit of romance though, I would have liked more of Corlath and Harry.

Harry is a special snowflake, but she is humble and kind, and down to earth, so I didn’t really mind that. I think she’s probably a good role model for teenage girls. The only thing I didn’t like is that she single-handedly saves everyone and unites two nations. It was a bit much at the end and pushed my rating down from four to three stars.

Apart from that though this is an intelligent and entertaining young adult fantasy. I wish I had read this when I was a teenager!

The Blue Sword
Damar
Robin McKinley
Young Adult Fantasy
1982
Paperback
256

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation #1) by Vaseem Khan

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra cover

On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.

The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant. As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought. And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs.

My Review of The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A lighthearted and warm story of elephants, mystery and murder, set in the busy Indian city of Mumbai.

Inspector Ashwin Chopra is a man of integrity with a strong sense of morals and honesty. He has to take early retirement because of heart problems but he can’t let his last case as a police officer drop. A boy was drowned and everyone seems to want to accept that it was suicide. Upset that the case is not being treated properly, Chopra starts his own investigation.

To make things more complicated, his uncle has bequeathed him a baby elephant to care for! Not an easy task when Chopra lives in a flat in the middle of Mumbai.

Chopra loves the city he lives in, that much is obvious. He treats us to an exploration of Mumbai, a bustling, lively city that is expanding fast. But Chopra is an honest man, so we also see the darker side of Mumbai, the slums, the criminals and the corruption. The busy, noisy, overcrowded feel didn’t quite come alive for me but it was a decent effort to create the atmosphere.

I like Chopra but my favourite character is by far the elephant, Ganesh. He had the funniest scenes in the book, the part where Chopra’s wife Poppy dresses him up as an elephant god had me laughing!

This is at heart a detective novel, and I fully enjoyed the mystery and Chopra’s investigation. There were a couple of ‘too easy’ or ‘too coincidental’ moments that let it down near the end but he did do a fair bit of footwork and detecting to solve the case.

I didn’t like the female characters in the book. There was the stereotypical harridan mother in law and Chopra’s wife Poppy who was described as confident and taking no nonsense but was actually written as a typical dependent wife. I know the culture in India is different to where I live but I still find it hard to read when the author has the protagonist’s wife tell us, “A woman abandoned by her husband had no value in India. She would become invisible, a ghost that no one wished to associate with.” and there is no criticism, it’s just accepted as normal and ok.

The drama between Chopra and Poppy felt a bit fake, I don’t think it was necessary. They’ve always been close and told each other everything yet suddenly they stop communicating and start keeping secrets? It’s like it was just added in to create a bit of tension for Chopra. I ended up skim reading the bits with Poppy in.

This is one for someone that enjoys cosy mysteries. It’s lighthearted and fun and the authors love for the city of Mumbai shines through. I didn’t like the female characters but they’re not a big part of the story and I could just skim over those bits.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation
Vaseem Khan
Mystery
September 15th 2015
Kindle
320

The Prophetess by Desy Smith

the prophetess

Fallen from Heaven and forced to live amongst the humans in exile, angel Ezekiel bares the tragic fate of a disgraced angel. Having overheard the rebellious Lucifer’s plans to rise up against the sanctuary of Heaven Ezekiel remains silent. For his inaction he is cast from the pearly gates and into the unforgiving lands of the mortals. Two thousand years pass  and  Ezekiel resigns himself to his fate.

However, in the year 2016 the winds of fate begin to change and Ezekiel is given a chance to return to his home. If Ezekiel can stop Molach from helping Lucifer return he will be welcomed back into Heaven. However, there is more than just a demon in his path. Ezekiel must uncover what else fate has in store for him, including a lovely solitary Prophetess named Isabelle and the endless possibility for joy and whimsy she offers.

My review of The Prophetess

The Prophetess by Desy Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m struggling to give a rating for this one. I enjoyed the story but there are a lot of issues with it.

It’s massively in need of a good editing. There’s a lot of spelling mistakes, and some layout issues that make it difficult to tell which character is speaking. A lot of the action doesn’t flow, it jumps between scenes and things don’t logically follow on from each other. I think it’s self published though so I can forgive things like this, a good editor will sort things like this.

I had major issues with Isabelle. Meant to be 23, she acts like she’s 13. Rude, aggressive, immature and completely unlikable. Branding other women as whores because they give a man their phone number (or for any reason really) is inexcusable. Knowing your own mind and standing up for yourself is good but whinging and throwing insults around doesn’t achieve anything.

Ezekiel is the saving grace in this book. I liked his character, and I enjoyed reading his viewpoint. And I loved the thing with the gold dust from his wings!

There’s a decent story in here too as much as I disliked Isabelle I was enjoying the romance that was building up between the two of them. I genuinely felt a bit angry when the book ended because I wanted to see where it was going! There is some good world building in places, but most of the scenes ended up too focused on Isabelle instead of on what was happening. A lot of chances at creating atmosphere or pulling the reader into the story were missed.

I hated Isabelle but I liked the story and Ezekiel is lovely. I’m think I’m going to have to go with three stars, simply because of the feeling when it ended. Surely that’s the best judge of a book?

I received a free copy from the author in return for an honest review.

The Prophetess
Desy Smith
Urban Fantasy
170

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark Matter Cover

January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely, and desperate to change his life, so when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it.

Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year, Gruhuken, but the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice: stay or go.

Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return–when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible.

Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark.

My Review of Dark Matter

Dark MatterDark Matter by Michelle Paver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of the expedition to the Arctic is interesting and the descriptions are brilliantly done. The characters felt real to me, and I cared about what happened to them.

But I didn’t get enough of a feel for the the isolation or the darkness. Jack is never alone for long, then when he is he’s busy. I liked the journal format and I think it worked, but when Jack writes in it he condenses his day to the interesting bits and the long lonely hours aren’t included.

I did read it in the middle of summer, which didn’t help the atmosphere. I think this book would benefit from being read on a cold, dark evening. If you’re on your own, even better.

The important question: was I scared? Well, sort of, but not really. There was a nice build up, but it went on for too long. The reveal of how the ghost was created was creepy and very dark but felt a bit rushed and crammed in at the end. It feels like the book ends just as the scary things get going.

As a ghost story it falls a bit flat, but as a story about an Artic expedition with some dark, creepy elements then it works really well.

Dark Matter
Michelle Paver
Horror
September 1st 2011
Paperback
288

The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase, Peter Sís (Illustrator)

the wicked wicked ladies in the haunted house

Maureen Swanson is the scourge of the neighbourhood. At age nine, she already has a reputation as a hard slapper, a loud laugher, a liar, and a stay-after-schooler. The other kids call her Stinky. So sometimes when Maureen passes the crumbling (and haunted?) Messerman mansion, she imagines that she is Maureen Messerman–rich, privileged, and powerful.

Then she finds a way into the forbidden, boarded-up house. In the hall are portraits of seven young women wearing elaborate gowns and haughty expressions. Maureen has something scathing to say to each one, but then she notices that the figures seem to have shifted in their frames. So she reaches out her finger to touch the paint–just to make sure–and touches . . . silk!

These seven daughters of privilege are colder and meaner than Maureen ever thought to be. They are wicked, wicked ladies, and Maureen has something they want.

The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted HouseThe Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In which an unpleasant young girl meets her match in seven unpleasant sisters.

Why are the sisters considered so wicked? Because they are heartless? Because they shoplift pretty trinkets? Well, sure that makes them unpleasant but I wouldn’t call them wicked for that. Because they send Maureen back in time and were mean to her? Well, she called them all sorts of names and took Ingrid’s bracelet. The sisters did first go to Maureen’s house and try asking for it back, Maureen lied and said she didn’t have it. so I’d say they were all as bad as each other.

I think this is a book very much of its time. Written in the 60’s when a woman that didn’t care about anyone and wasn’t polite and kind probably was considered wicked.

I didn’t find it scary or spooky at all, maybe children will but I’m not convinced. I’m easy to scare, by contrast children seem to love scary things.

I did enjoy reading it though, it’s a fun adventure story with a non-typical heroine. I would just have liked to have see Maureen keep some of her mischievous ways and not become so much of a “good girl”.

The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House
Mary Chase, Peter Sís (Illustrator)
Children's Fantasy
September 1st 1968
Kindle
128

Sentient (The Mentalist Series #2) by Kenechi Udogu

Sentient Cover

Mastering her Progressive Empath abilities isn’t going as well as Gemma hoped. In fact, months after finding out what she really is, she still has no clue what this truly means. All she can do is wait to see if any new abilities will eventually manifest.

When she is plagued by recurring nightmares, Gemma realises things are changing and knows she has to do something, fast. The arrival of two sets of strangers in town, both offering the much-needed assistance she needs to unearth her powers, escalates the situation even further.

Gemma attempts to decipher whose intentions are genuine, but does she have enough time to figure out who has her best interest at heart?

My Review of Sentient

Sentient (The Mentalist Series, #2)Sentient by Kenechi Udogu
My rating:
3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this sequel to Aversion, though I don’t think it’s perfect. It has the same flaw as the first book in that the story is told in a stream of consciousness from Gemma. It reads like a diary entry, and I found it hard to get a picture of what Gemma’s world is like.

Though saying that, this second book in the series does flesh out a lot of the details around Aversion and the Avertor’s community and politics. In terms of world-building, it is an improvement on the first book, which felt a bit like it was happening in an isolated bubble.

We get some really interesting new characters, and I think where this series really excels is in its character creation and development. Russ and Gemma are both great characters. They are genuine and realistic and they are very sweet together! I like the introduction of Laura and I’d love to see her get more page time in the next book.

Gemma is running the risk becoming a bit of a special snowflake. She has powers that no one has heard of before, and they keep appearing from nowhere with no precedents. It could have been interesting to see how she deals with them but most of the book is about Gemma thinking about her new powers and worrying about them. Her internal narration comes across as genuine and self-deprecating though, and that stops things from getting irritating.

Even with the diary style narration I still found this book easy to get into and enjoyable to read. Just a bit less thinking and a bit more plot next time, please!

I received a free copy from the author in return for an honest review.

Sentient
The Mentalist
Kenechi Udogu
Young Adult Fantasy
October 27th 2013
Kindle
155

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1) by Patricia Briggs

moon called cover

Mercedes Thompson, aka Mercy, is a talented Volkswagen mechanic living in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. She also happens to be a walker, a magical being with the power to shift into a coyote at will.

Mercy’s next-door neighbour is a werewolf. Her former boss is a gremlin. And she’s fixing a bus for a vampire. This is the world of Mercy Thompson, one that looks a lot like ours but is populated by those things that go bump in the night. And Mercy’s connection to those things is about to get her into some serious hot water

My Review of Moon Called

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson, #1)Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Urban Fantasy books like this live or die on their main character. Luckily, Mercy is pretty awesome. She’s independent and a bit cheeky but knows her limits. She works as a mechanic and has her life sorted, and there are hints of possible romances, but she doesn’t fawn over anyone and it’s not a big part of the story.

Mercy has to explain things to us at certain points, but it doesn’t go overboard with this. The world building feels like it happens naturally, with just little additions from Mercy every now and again.

When it’s finally revealed the ‘bad guys’ plot was very convoluted. Up to this point, I was finding Moon Called a fun, light read and I struggled to switch gears and pay attention enough to understand what was going on. I don’t think it helped that it’s all (or mostly) revealed by Mercy sitting and thinking about it. I’m a bit fed up of books where the main character sits and thinks a bit and then makes some big mental leaps to end up right on the truth.

All through the book, there were hints of attraction between Mercy and Adam, and Mercy and Sam (love triangle warning!). It built up some interesting tension between the characters that I was enjoying. I was disappointed that the ending seemed to drop this completely. There are something like 14 books now though, and I have read that nothing really happens on the romance front until book 4, so maybe (hopefully) the tension is brought back in future books.

I think it’s a good start for a series though, I enjoyed it even though the complicated ending knocked it down from 4 stars to 3 for me.

I will be reading the next one for sure!

Moon Called
Mercy Thompson
Patricia Briggs
Urban Fantasy
January 31st 2006
Paperback
317

The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens & Mephisto Mystery, #1) by Elly Griffiths

The Zig Zag Girl Cover

Brighton, 1950.

When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl.

The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men.

Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind.

Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in danger…

My Review of The Zig Zag Girl

The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens & Mephisto Mystery, #1)The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A woman is cut into three and left in boxes in a train station. It’s a gruesome murder, and you might think it’s quite shocking, but in this book it seems to have very little impact.

The Zig Zag Girl is set in 1950’s Brighton, and while not quite a ‘cosy’ murder mystery it certainly comes close. The sense of danger or fear is never there, not in the first scenes of the murder, not when the detective has to look at the dead body, and not even near the end when he is coming close to catching the villain.

Edgar Stephens, the detective investigating the crime, doesn’t have much impact either. The magicians and showgirls around him don’t achieve much sparkle for it’s quite a glum book, but they at least have a sense of life. Ed doesn’t have a distinct personality beyond moping over his lost love, and his investigations are ineffectual.

Another big flaw for me is that I didn’t feel the 1950’s atmosphere was captured, it could easily have been set in the present day.

What it does well is to show us the life of a performing magician in the 1950’s. The sequins and showgirls and the magic tricks on stage mixed with the grime of backstage were interesting enough on their own to keep me involved to the end.

Overall though it didn’t live up to the promise of a thrilling read and it left me underwhelmed.

The Zig Zag Girl
Stephens & Mephisto Mystery
Elly Griffiths
Mystery
November 6th 2014
Paperback
325

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed #1) by Octavia E. Butler

parable of the sower cover

In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighbourhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

My Review of Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1)Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure if this should go under sci-fi or horror. It’s a near-future post-apocalyptic story of an America where people are tearing each other apart in a struggle for survival. One of my least favourite things in books or films is when nasty people do nasty things to each other, and this book has that in spades.

And yet, despite all the nastiness and the gory moments (and there are plenty of those), this is a very intelligent book with a lot to say.

Lauren Olamina’s family lives in one of the very few remaining walled communities. Outside the walls, America is breaking apart and people fight for jobs, food and water. Inside the walls a small group of families have created a stable life for themselves, they grow their own food, some of them have jobs, and working together they manage to get by. But protecting themselves from the chaos outside is getting harder every day.

Lauren knows that their relatively safe lifestyle won’t last. She is very intelligent and very sensible and can see the signs that the others are ignoring. Sooner or later what they have will be too attractive to those that have nothing and it will be taken from them. She starts to plan for the time when she will have to leave and survive outside.

Realising that society will fall apart if people won’t work together and support each other, Lauren starts to develop her own religion. Basically, God is change, and we must work hard and support each other. Lauren is a big thinker, she believes we must first rebuild society starting with small communities following the way of Earthseed, but that ultimately the only way for humankind to survive is to colonise other planets.

The community is eventually overrun and Lauren must leave. She travels north to find a place she can settle, and as she travels she gathers a group of followers around her.

Parable of the Sower doesn’t hold back on how awful people can be, but the violence and gore aren’t there for shock tactics, but to make a point, to show us something. And Octavia Butler has a lot to say in this book. She covers religion, society, race, slavery, corporate greed, politics, environmental devastation and the vulnerability of women, but manages to do it in a way that still comes together with a decent story.

It’s heavy going, but through it she keeps a sense of hope alive, a belief that if people work together than they can create a better future.

For me, it’s a bit too heavy on religion, and a bit too heavy on nastiness. At times I found it so scary that I had to stop reading, though by halfway I found I had become almost immune to all the violence. I like how sensible and intelligent Lauren is, but I found her a little too perfect to be likeable. It certainly made me think though it’s interesting, and Octavia Butler is a good writer. I will be reading more of her books.

Parable of the Sower
Earthseed
Octavia E. Butler
Sci-Fi
January 1st 2000
Paperback
345

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Under the Pendulum Sun Cover

Catherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last, there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.

My Review of Under the Pendulum Sun

Under the Pendulum SunUnder the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not what I was expecting! This is a dark and twisted tale of Victorian era missionaries who travel to the Faelands of Arcadia to try to convert the fae.

Catherine Helstone’s brother Laon is a missionary who has been sent to the fairy land of Arcadia in an attempt to convert the fae. When he stops replying to her letters she Catherine is so worried about him that she travels to Arcadia in an attempt to find him.

When she arrives her brother is not there at Gethsemane, the manor house Queen Mab of the fae provided for him to stay in. Her brother’s staff are vague about his location but assure Catherine that he will return soon. As she waits for him, she hears rumours about the death of the previous missionary, Reverend Roche, but no one will straight out tell her what happened to him. When Catherine finds the dead Roche’s journals full of strange rambling entries and a book written in a language she does not recognise she decides that reading and deciphering them will provide the key to understanding the strange place that she has found herself.

The characters are missionaries, so obviously are going to be religious. I read that the author has studied theology, and it shows. Religion plays a massive part in this story, with discussions around theology making up a lot of the book. Catherine spends a lot of time praying and thinking about God, and pondering whether the fae have souls or not.

There are so many layers to this story. The main story is easy enough to follow but there’s a lot of hidden meanings that as the reader you need to decipher to fully understand what is going on. If you enjoy working out the meaning behind what the author is showing us for yourself, you will love this book! There is a lot to think about or things that if you research a bit will make a lot more sense. Even the name of the manor house Catherine and Laon are staying in has meaning.

Honestly, I struggle with hints and subtle suggestion, I prefer things that are spelt out for me. I like knowing what the author intended without having to make guesses myself. So it took me a while to get into this. It was very slow to start with, and I had no idea where it was going, it took me a while to work out the point of the book, Cathrine spends most of her time reminiscing about her childhood and how wonderful her brother is. But I slowly got caught up in the story telling, and the second half is much better paced.

Queen Mab turns up and throws a (very nasty) winter ball full of clockwork automaton and things start to get more interesting. Then Catherine starts to find out what happened to the Reverend Roche, and why no one will talk about how he died.

I loved the way the fae are cruel and unkind, playing games with the few humans that are allowed into Arcadia. This is fae as they are meant to be! Queen Mab is very, very scary and I can’t understand why Catherine and her brother want to go further into the interior of Arcadia. I’d be running for my life after that Winter Ball.

It’s very twisty and turny, just when I thought I understood what was going on the story changes again. Even though most of the action takes place in Gethsemane, it’s still full of secrets and intrigue and strange and unusual creatures and sights.

Very dark, very gothic, Under the Pendulum Sun is not an easy read. But the writing and the world building are an absolute treat and the story is very original.

I’m wavering between 3 and 4 stars, but the narrator is just too religious and pious for my liking. After a while, she started to grate on me, so I’m going with 3 stars.

I recommend this for readers that like original takes on dark and twisted gothic fairy tales or books with layers and hidden meanings that make you think.

I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Under the Pendulum Sun
Jeannette Ng
Fantasy
October 3rd 2017
Kindle
464