Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon Cover

Lagoon Blurb

When a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself.

Told from multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.

‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

My Review of Lagoon

LagoonLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aliens land in the water off the coast of Nigeria in this sci-fi first contact novel. What follows is chaos as the city starts to destroy itself through fear.

There are a lot of different voices in Lagoon, some only for one or two chapters. Normally I would find that confusing but here it worked well as it dropped into different people around Lagos to show events rather than having the main characters be everywhere and see everything. It did make it a bit hard to really connect with or care about any of the characters though as it’s a short book anyway and meant that even less time was spent on telling the main characters stories.

I loved the sci-fi side, there were a lot of fresh ideas that made this really interesting. There are African mythology and magic elements mixed in too, but I don’t know anything about African myths and these weren’t explained enough for them to make sense for me. They seemed to be added at random and not add anything to the main story. I’m also not sure why the main characters had powers, or why they were chosen by the aliens.

It’s very original and ambitious, and overall I enjoyed it. I liked the environmental / feminist / religious themes, but I think maybe there was just a bit too much in one book and I found it hard going at times to keep track of the main story. It’s difficult to get into, but I think it’s worth the effort for the fresh and modern perspective on sci-fi.

Lagoon
Nnedi Okorafor
Sci-Fi
April 10th 2014
Paperback
306

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1) by Renee Ahdieh

flame in the mist

Flame in the Mist Blurb

Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

My Review of Flame in the Mist

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1)Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

My big problem with this book is that I did not like Mariko. She doesn’t have much of a personality. We’re told over and over how intelligent she is, how brilliant a planner she is, but never once does she do anything to show us.

In fact, her actions are often kinda dumb and driven by reacting rather than thinking. Joining a group of male outlaws to prove her honour and virtue? And why does she give her smoke bombs to the people trying to track and kill her brother?

Markio’s loyalty to her family does not last very long. I understand her not wanting to go back there, but she tells us that she does, that her family comes before everything. Her change in attitude is not given enough attention to make it believable.

Neither is her attitude towards the Black Clan. She goes from wanting revenge on them, to wanting to join them, but this about-face isn’t fully fleshed out so it just felt like she changed on a whim.

Literally Mariko’s feelings towards to the Black Clan: “They killed my servants I hate them I want revenge”, “Oh hang on, he’s kinda cute.”, “I want to join them and fight with them, I would die for them.

She has so much potential to be smart and interesting, she’s even an inventor! But for me she falls flat.

The pacing is slow too, Mariko does a lot of thinking about things but the few bits where something happens seem rushed and fuzzily described. I didn’t get a good sense of what was going on.

The magic system is also fuzzy and vague. It looks like it might be expanded on in future books but it didn’t make much sense here and was just confusing.

Another big issue for me is the writing and the awkward, convoluted conversations the characters have. They seem to talk in quotes that could have come straight from one of those quote of the day calendars and don’t make seem to actually be responding to each other. It’s like a dance battle but with quotes instead.

Things I did like though include:

The setting – the forest, the Black Clans camp, the tea house – when an effort is made to describe the setting it’s done well.

Mariko can’t fight – she is smart enough to realise this so she doesn’t even try. It’s nice that her strength is supposed to be in her intelligence rather than her fighting skills. I love female characters than can think their way out of situations.

Interesting characters – Mariko’s brother, the Emperors wives, the men of Black Clan, even Markio herself, they are all interesting and imperfect characters with hidden secrets.

Okami – I really liked his character. He keeps more secrets than Mariko, he has some sort of weird magic power, and he treats Mariko like an equal and doesn’t try to protect her because she is female. He also has the best line in the book: “the only power any man has over you is the power you give him.”.

There is enough I liked in this book that I enjoyed reading it, I certainly finished it fast. It has potential but I just want Mariko to show us that she is as smart as everyone tells us she is.

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

Flame in the Mist
Flame in the Mist
Renee Ahdieh
Young Adult Fantasy
May 16th 2017
Kindle
393

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

black-eyed susans

Black-Eyed Susans Blurb

As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.

Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans just outside her bedroom window. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night.

My Review of Black-Eyed Susans

Black-Eyed SusansBlack-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quick and easy to read. I ended up staying up late to finish it because I had to know who did it.

It switches between the present and main character Tessa’s therapy sessions directly after the attack when she was younger. With the therapy sessions it slowly reveals what happened to Tessa after the attack and when she had to testify in court, but because she has lost her memory we don’t find out much about the abduction itself.

I liked the way it did this because it kept a sense of mystery. Right up until the end secrets were still being revealed and it kept me guessing.

I didn’t get much of a sense of Tessa’s personality. The younger Tessa is much more vivid and real than older Tessa, and I think this was maybe intentional. Older Tessa is quiet and reserved, her daughter Charlie does bring some life to the story, but I found it hard to care about any of the characters.

I’m a bit whatever about the plot. It never goes enough into the past events for me, and the rest of it I found a bit slow, though I did enjoy the end. It doesn’t help that I read Final Girls recently that has a very similar storyline. I might have been more impressed with Black Eyed Susans if I’d read it first. But it’s a quick read, well written and it kept me interested.

Black-Eyed Susans
Julia Heaberlin
Thriller
August 11th 2015
Paperback
354

The Innocent Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker #1) by Karen Miller

The Innocent Mage

The Innocent Mage Blurb

Enter the kingdom of Lur, where to use magic unlawfully means death. The Doranen have ruled Lur with magic since arriving as refugees centuries ago. Theirs was a desperate flight to escape the wrath of a powerful mage who started a bitter war in their homeland. To keep Lur safe, the native Olken inhabitants agreed to abandon their own magic. Magic is now forbidden to them, and any who break this law are executed.

Asher left his coastal village to make his fortune. Employed in the royal stables, he soon finds himself befriended by Prince Gar and given more money and power than he’d ever dreamed possible. But the Olken have a secret; a prophecy. The Innocent Mage will save Lur from destruction and members of The Circle have dedicated themselves to preserving Olken magic until this day arrives. Unbeknownst to Asher, he has been watched closely. As the Final Days approach, his life takes a new and unexpected turn.

My Review of The Innocent Mage

The Innocent Mage (Kingmaker, Kingbreaker, #1)The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story itself was ok, if nothing special. Asher appears to be a down to earth commoner, but he’s actually ‘The Innocent Mage’, a special snowflake who is destined to save the kingdom.

More interesting is Gar, a prince of a race of people all born with magic. Unfortunately, Gar was born without magic and is considered a cripple. He’s not allowed to become ruler and is passed over in the succession in favour of his younger sister.

I think this suffers a bit because I recently read Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy and there are a lot of similarities with it. Both feature a young, naive man who becomes a right-hand man to a prince that cares deeply for his people and is clearly the best person to become the next king.

Robin Hobb’s series is much more subtle and clever than the Innocent Mage, which looks juvenile in comparison. Maybe if I hadn’t just read that I would like this more.

There are other problems with it too though. Karen Miller writes her characters as very obviously ‘good’ or ‘bad’. There are no nuances allowed. Her good characters are kind, caring, and wise. They ignoring their own needs and health to work tirelessly for others.

Bad characters go around shouting and badmouthing everyone and work for their own pride and desires only. Every time a good character tries to do something good, they pop up to try to stop them. They overdress and overeat and in my mind, I couldn’t stop myself picturing them wearing black and wafting dalmatian skin capes around every time they show up to throw a spanner in the works.

Asher irritated me from the first moment he appeared on page. He’s written to be almost perfect, his down to earth nature and lack of regard for authority endure him to everyone he meets. Well, those that are written as ‘good’ characters anyway. He can do no wrong and everyone loves him.

At one point he’s in a javelin competition against a bad guy. The bad guy has been the champion of the javelins every year since he was young. Asher has been training with a javelin for a few weeks, and only learnt to ride a horse a year ago. Guess who wins?

Personally, I think Asher is just rude. He spends the whole book pointing out other people’s faults, and taking offence every time for perceived disrespect every time he has a conversation with someone.

Honestly, by the end of the book, I was rooting for the bad guy to win.

It’s not badly written, it’s 600 pages and I read the whole thing. It could just use a bit more imagination. It looks like the second book will have a lot more magic in it, and if I come across it I would probably buy it.

The Innocent Mage
Kingmaker, Kingbreaker
Karen Miller
September 2007
Paperback
642

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge Blurb

A sharp and funny urban fantasy for “new adults” about a secret society of bartenders who fight monsters with alcohol-fueled magic.

College grad Bailey Chen has a few demons: no job, no parental support, and a rocky relationship with Zane, the only friend who’s around when she moves back home. But when Zane introduces Bailey to his cadre of monster-fighting bartenders, her demons get a lot more literal. Like, soul-sucking hell-beast literal. Soon, it’s up to Bailey and the ragtag band of magical mixologists to take on whatever—or whoever—is behind the mysterious rash of gruesome deaths in Chicago, and complete the lost recipes of an ancient tome of cocktail lore.

My Review of Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Last Call at the Nightshade LoungeLast Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, bartenders are all that stand between us and monsters called Tremens that roam the night, hunting feeding on people.

Luckily the bartenders have a secret weapon – magic powers they can gain by mixing perfect cocktails using specially distilled alcohol.

This definitely reminds me a lot of Buffy the Vampire slayer – a young woman that doesn’t really know where she’s going in life fights monsters while building friendships. That’s a good thing for me, and there are enough unique elements in here to give it it’s own personality.

I loved the diverse mix of characters and they had unique and distinct personalities. They brought the book to life and their interactions with Bailey were often entertaining.

Bailey isn’t the nicest person in the world, she isn’t instantly everyone’s best friend and the people around her don’t think she’s amazing. I kinda love her for this. She’s not a special snowflake and has to prove herself and work at her friendships.

My big problem with this book though is that it doesn’t go in much for explaining things. It’s quite short and mostly action, which makes for a fun read, but a bit of depth would have helped it all feel more real.

Bailey is an overachiever who has left university and lost all direction. It doesn’t go into why Bailey has gone straight home to her parents and not tried to get herself a job. It seems out of character for her, so it could have done with a bit more explanation for her motives for it to make sense.

While working for Vincent, Bailey seems to build a close relationship with him. This happens mostly off page though and it means that events later in the book aren’t as moving as they perhaps could have been.

The Tremens aren’t really explained either, what they are or where they come from. They just appear and the bartenders kill them.

So, in the end, this is a lot of fun, but look at it too closely and it might all fall apart. There is enough good stuff to make up for it though, and it’s well written.

If there’s a sequel I’ll be all over it.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge
Paul Krueger
Urban Fantasy
June 7th 2016
288

The Complete Alien Omnibus by Alan Dean Foster

Alien Cover

The Complete Alien Omnibus Blurb

As the spaceship ‘Nostromos’ glided through the silent reaches of the galaxy, the ship’s scanners detected a garbled distress call from a remote and long dead planet.

But all the technology on board could not protect the ship’s crew from the living nightmare they found there. It was a terror that stalked Ripley, the only survivor of ‘Nostromos’, and came to haunt her again and again.

Read the horrors of ALIEN and you won’t believe that Ripley returned, with a team of death-dealing Marines, right back into the jaws of a threat too monstrous to contemplate.

After the slaughter that was ALIENS, Ripley finds herself on a prison planet worse than anyone’s imagined hell. But the nightmare of ALIEN 3 was only just beginning…

My Review of The Complete Alien Omnibus

The Complete Alien OmnibusThe Complete Alien Omnibus by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love the Alien films so I was very happy when my boyfriend found this at a car boot last weekend!

Obviously, I already knew I liked the stories, and Ellen Ripley is probably my all time favourite movie character, but I was hoping for a bit more info / background on the plot and characters.

There really isn’t much outside what happens in the films. Extra scenes and conversations are few and far between, and I wasn’t impressed with the bits that are added. We do get to find out what Ripley is thinking, and it makes more of how the events are affecting her psychologically.

Saying that, some bits are made clearer – eg why the ship crashes in the final film.

The writing improved in each book, in the first one it’s a bit overblown, and I felt like the author was trying too hard to be intelligent. By the last book, he’s calmed down a lot and just gets on with telling a story. In fact, Alien 3 is my least favourite of the movies (let’s pretend 4 never happened), but actually it makes the best book. Though I will never approve of the Alien franchise’s habit of killing major characters off between films.

Is this for you? Well, if you love the movies and are happy just reading them in book form then go for it, but if you’re after more insights into the Alien world, then this will just disappoint you.

The Complete Alien Omnibus
Alien
Alan Dean Foster
Sci-Fi
October 14th 1993
649

Aversion (The Mentalist Series, #1) by Kenechi Udogu

aversion cover

Book Blurb

For Gemma Green’s first time, things should have been straightforward. Find your subject, hold their gaze and push a thought into their head to save them from future disaster – Aversion complete. A pretty simple process given that the subject was to have no recollection of the experience.

But Russ Tanner doesn’t seem to want to forget. In fact the more she tries to avoid him, the more he pushes to get to know her. Gemma knows she has a problem but is she facing the side effects of a failed Aversion or has the school’s tennis champ really fallen for her?

My Review of Aversion

Aversion (The Mentalist Series, #1)Aversion by Kenechi Udogu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump the past couple of weeks. I’ve read two book club books, then a rather large fantasy that I didn’t really enjoy, and I’ve found it hard to get going with anything else. I got this ARC of Aversion sent to me recently, and it’s only 133 pages so I thought I’d give it a go as a quick read. I dipped in and out of this and another book at first, but then this caught my attention and I gave up on the other one! It’s just what I needed to get my reading focus back.

Gemma is funny and sweet. Though she’s trying very hard to understand she can’t be a normal teenager it’s clear that she really wants to do the normal things the other girls at her school get to do.

Russ’ personality is a bit less clear. He’s understandably a bit confused about the strange things happening to him, but he’s very supportive of Gemma. We don’t see much of him beyond this, but I got the impression he’s confident, athletic, and generally quite nice.

The way the story was told was a bit like a stream of consciousness from Gemma. It read more like a diary entry than a story, and it left me feeling a bit disconnected from everything. It’s like Gemma got home and was telling someone about what had happened to her.

Gemma does an awful lot of thinking too. Someone says something, and she thinks about it so much that sometimes it was nearly a page before we get the response. It made events feel disjointed and just added to the disconnection I felt.

Because of the way the story is told at first I thought that I wasn’t going to enjoy it. But I found that I kept going back to it, and I got hooked on the story. The characters are sweet and the love interest is refreshingly kind and caring.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, I hope it explains a bit more about the other Averters and how their community works.

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

Aversion
The Mentalist
Kenechi Udogu
Young Adult Fantasy
kindle
133

Broken Branches by M. Jonathan Lee

Broken Branches Blurb

“Family curses don’t exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don’t think so.”

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.

My Review of Broken Branches

Broken BranchesBroken Branches by M. Jonathan Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Broken Branches has a real feeling of unease with a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and a spooky tree overshadowing it, though this could have been played on a bit more. The atmosphere was there at the start of the book, and there were some odd bumps and noises in the house, but it didn’t really build up until near the end. From the description, I was hoping for something a bit creepier.

The story is interesting and the twist at the end is shocking. The pacing is just right and the build up to the end of the story is done brilliantly. I was hooked, and couldn’t put it down.

Some parts of the story are left almost unexplained though. I wanted a bit more info about the family history. Ian’s research didn’t seem to go anywhere. And why did his father and brother not want anything to do with him?

I liked the jumps into the past where we saw Ian grow up on the farm and the way his family fell apart, but I don’t fully understand why it happened.

Overall, I enjoyed it, it’s well written and easy to read. It’s quite short too and I became so engrossed in it that I finished it in about a day. I would read more by this author.

I also love the cover! It sets the tone for the story perfectly.

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

Broken Branches
M. Jonathan Lee
Fiction

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes #1) by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes Blurb

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realise that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

My review of An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1)An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An Ember in the Ashes is a very dark story that doesn’t shy away from the dark side of human nature. It’s a very harsh world and there’s a lot of death, killing and torture.

I found it easy to get into despite the writing being very dry, the world around the characters isn’t described much. At one point Laia goes to a moon festival at night and it’s all lit up with lanterns. This should have been vibrant and full of life but it felt flat. I couldn’t picture it in my mind.

The speech and behaviour are very modern, which sounds odd in the historical setting.

I do like the way the two different viewpoints of Laia and Elias were written though and I like how it takes a while for them to start being aware of each other. Laia I really enjoyed reading. She starts off quite timid and scared and we get to see how she grows and gets braver.

There’s not much romance, which I liked. There’s a bit too much worrying about who fancies who (and seriously, these people have bigger things to be worrying about), but no proper romance, and definitely no insta-love!

I found it strange how the characters have gone through some very traumatic things but still act like normal teenagers (even though Elias is supposed to 20). Their life experiences don’t seem to have had much emotional impact on them.

The trials Elias goes through are physically and emotionally difficult. They’re aimed at choosing a new Emperor and removing the old one and people die in the process, but somehow it feels like they’re not that big a deal, they’re no more important than a big exam or a job interview. Elias is more worried about if his friend fancies him or not, and does he fancy her back.

The whole thing seems unrealistic, but I would say suspend disbelief if you can because the story is good. It’s full of twists and turns and I didn’t want to stop reading and go to work or to bed. I know I like a book when my other half has to forcibly remove it from my hands.

An Ember in the Ashes
An Ember in the Ashes
Sabaa Tahir
Young Adult Fantasy

The Magician’s Workshop, Volume One by Christopher Hansen

The Magician's Workshop

The Magician’s Workshop blurb

Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is granted the title of magician and is given fame, power, riches, and glory. This volume of books follows the journey of a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop.

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

Follow the adventures of Kai, Layauna, and a boatload of other characters as they struggle to grow up well in this fantastical world.

My review of The Magician’s Workshop

The Magician's Workshop, Volume OneThe Magician’s Workshop, Volume One by Christopher Hansen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Magician’s Workshop has one of the most unusual magic systems I’ve seen. It’s all based on the idea that everyone can create projections – illusions that work on the senses. So you can make people see, hear, feel and taste things.

There’s also the idea that everyone has a colour inside them. A test at age 16 will show if someone has a colour inside them or if they are void.

I’m not entirely sure what the colours are or what they are used for though. There are no big info dumps here, which is great because I hate those, but also it doesn’t really explain things.

The culture and the world took me a while to get to grips with, the magic system was slowly revealed so I was starting to understand that, but there are so many different ideas and story lines going on that it took me the entire book to start feeling like I had a grip on the world.

I think there are about 5 different viewpoints, and it doesn’t spend very long with any of them so the stories didn’t go anywhere. Not much happened, I think the whole of this book was just setting the scene. Hopefully, the story will get going in the next book.

The characters are supposed to be around 16, which for the world it’s set in appears to be when they start to be considered adults. It didn’t fit with the way they acted though, I was fully convinced I was reading about 11 year-olds until the text mentioned their age.

I liked the writing style, and I liked the ideas and the characters, but I would have been happier with fewer viewpoints and more story.

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

The Magician's Workshop, Volume One
The Magician's Workshop
Christopher Hansen
Young Adult Fantasy
November 8th 2016
247