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

Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy by Lucas K. Law (editor), Derwin Mak (editor),

Where the stars rise cover

ALL EMOTIONS ARE UNIVERSAL. 

WE LIVE, WE DREAM, WE STRIVE, WE DIE . . .

Follow twenty-three science fiction and fantasy authors on their journeys through Asia and beyond. Stories that explore magic and science. Stories about love, revenge, and choices. Stories that challenge ideas about race, belonging, and politics. Stories about where we come from and where we are going.

Each wrestling between ghostly pasts and uncertain future. Each trying to find a voice in history.

Orphans and drug-smuggling in deep space. Mechanical arms in steampunk Vancouver. Djinns and espionage in futuristic Istanbul. Humanoid robot in steamy Kerala. Monsters in the jungles of Cebu. Historic time travel in Gyeongbok Palace. A rocket launch in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. A drunken ghost in Song Dynasty China. A displaced refugee skating on an ice planet. And much more.

Embrace them as you take on their journeys. And don’t look back . . .

AUTHORS: Anne Carly Abad, Deepak Bharathan, Joyce Chng, Miki Dare, S.B. Divya, Pamela Q. Fernandes, Calvin D. Jim, Minsoo Kang, Fonda Lee, Gabriela Lee, Karin Lowachee, Rati Mehrotra, E.C. Myers, Tony Pi, Angela Yuriko Smith, Priya Sridhar, Amanda Sun, Naru Dames Sundar, Jeremy Szal, Regina Kanyu Wang (translated by Shaoyan Hu), Diana Xin, Melissa Yuan-Innes, Ruhan Zhao.

My Review of Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy

Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and FantasyWhere the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy by Lucas K. Law
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I very much enjoyed this short story collection. The stories are a mix of sci-fi and fantasy and there are some absolute gems in it. I have loads of authors now I want to read more of!

My favourite stories include Back to Myan by Regina Kanyu Wang, Weaving Silk by Amanda Sun, A Star is Born by Miki Dare, The Bridge of Dangerous Longings by Rati Mehrotra and Old Souls by Fonda Lee.

Back to Myan is pure sci-fi. A mermaid on an alien planet whose home world overheats. She is evacuated and her tail replaced with legs so that she can live on other planets.

Weaving Silk is a beautifully written story about two sisters trying to survive in a city after an earthquake killed their parents and cut the city off from the outside world.

In A Star is Born an old lady in a home has found a way to time travel back to earlier points of her life.

The Bridge of Dangerous Longings is an unusual story about a bridge that will kill you if you try to cross it.

Old Souls is a tale about reincarnation, and a young woman who can not only remember her own previous lifes, but also see the past lifes of everyone she comes into contact with.

There are a couple of stories that I didn’t get on with, one that I just couldn’t follow and one that I didn’t get the point of, but overall the quality is very high.

I highly recommend this, it’s an interesting and high quality collection and it’s probably going to be one of my favourite books of this year. I hope they make volume two soon!

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

Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy
Lucas K. Law (editor), Derwin Mak (editor)
Sci-Fi
October 8th 2017
Kindle
352

The Girl in the Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2) by Katherine Arden

girl in the tower cover

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingalecontinues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods.

When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

My Reviews of other Books in the Series

The Bear and the Nightingale (The Winternight Trilogy #1)

My Review of The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2)The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful fantasy, set in a dark Russian winter and full of folklore and magic!

Picking up where the first book left off, Vasilia has left her home in search of adventure. Of course, she quickly gets into trouble and she finds herself saving three young girls from bandits. Because girls aren’t allowed to travel the wilderness and rescue anyone Vasilia then has to pose as a boy to avoid ruining her reputation and getting herself sent off to a convent. She finds that she likes the freedom being a boy brings

Wilful, smart, brave and sometimes foolish, I was 100% rooting for Vasilia to find a space for herself in a world where women are confined to towers or convents. It made me angry to read at times, the way the women were treated as possesions, like a horse or a cow. If they were married they could leave their towers, called terems in the book, only to go to church or visit other women in their towers. I loved the way Vasilia smashed straight through everyone’s expectations of how the women should act, and how she refused to regin in her personality.

Vasilia’s horse Solovey is as much of a character as she is. He’s her best friend and biggest supporter and steals every scene he is in.

It’s much faster paced than the first book, all the build up and the world buiding is done and this gets straight into the action! It still has the atmosphere of cold, darkness and a long, long winter. The fairytales and folklore are still here too, the houshold spirits don’t play as big a part but the winter king is a much bigger player this time around! I must admit I have a soft spot for Morzoko.

I was drawn straight into the story, I couldn’t put it down and finished it in less than a day. I can’t wait to see what Vasilia does next!

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

The Girl in the Tower
The Winternight Trilogy
Katherine Arden
Fantasy
December 5th 2017
Kindle
352

Tanglefoot (The Clockwork Century #1.2) by Cherie Priest

Stonewall Jackson survived Chancellorsville. England broke the Union’s naval blockade, and formally recognized the Confederate States of America. Atlanta never burned.

It is 1880. The American Civil War has raged for nearly two decades, driving technology in strange and terrible directions. Combat dirigibles skulk across the sky and armoured vehicles crawl along the land. Military scientists twist the laws of man and nature and barter their souls for weapons powered by light, fire, and steam.

But life struggles forward for soldiers and ordinary citizens. The fractured nation is dotted with stricken towns and epic scenes of devastation–some manmade, and some more mysterious. In the western territories, cities are swallowed by gas and walled away to rot while the frontiers are strip-mined for resources. On the borders between North and South, spies scour and scheme, and smugglers build economies more stable than their governments.

This is the Clockwork Century.

It is dark here, and different.

My Review of Tanglefoot

Free to read online, Tanglefoot is a short steampunk story set in The Clockwork Century universe. It’s standalone so you don’t need to have read the first book in the series before you read this.

Edwin is a young boy living in hiding in a sanitarium, in the basement lab of an elderly inventor. As the inventor slowly slides into dementia, Edwin becomes more and more lonely, eventually building himself a robot friend that he names Ted.

But robot Ted isn’t as friendly as Edwin hoped it would be.

I love Cherie Priest’s books, and this atmospheric and creepy short story is a good starting point for the Clockwork Century series.

You can read Tanglefoot online for free.

Tanglefoot
The Clockwork Century
Cherie Priest
Steampunk
34

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

Books with Ghosts in Them

books with ghosts in

A Halloween influenced book list this month! These are a few of my favourite books with ghosts in 🙂

The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynn Jones

A ghost story told from the point of view of the ghost! The ghost is one of four sisters but she doesn’t remember which one she is, or how she came to be a ghost.

The characters in this book are brilliantly done, each of the sisters is unique and complex. It’s very well written and the story had me guessing right up to the end.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Eden Moore #1) by Cherie Priest

Eden Moore is a tough young woman who can see ghosts. For most of her life, she has had three dead women who appear when she is in danger and when she starts to investigate who they were she starts uncovering secrets about her past.

This is a moody and atmospheric ghost story from one of my favourite authors. I love the voice of the main character and there are lots of creepy moments, including the investigation of an abandoned and haunted mental hospital.

Cthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone

This one is a collection of short horror stories about monsters and Cthulu.

Sam Stone manages to skip between and combine genres without it being jarring. The stories in this collection are all horror stories but they also combine other genres too. Some are a bit steampunk, and some are more sci-fi, some set in the past and some in the present. She’s clearly full of ideas and there’s a lot of originality in these stories.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is an orphan being raised by the dead in a graveyard. It’s written for children but has more than enough intelligence, humour and pathos for adults to enjoy it too.

If you want a book that’s full of ghosts then The Graveyard Book is it!

Rivers of London (Peter Grant/Rivers of London #1) by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter Grant is a probationary constable in London. When an eyewitness to a crime he’s talking to turns out to be a ghost, Peter uncovers a different side to London where gods, ghosts and magic are commonplace.

This is more of a supernatural police procedural than a spooky, ghostly book. But it’s funny and entertaining and had me gripped as Peter investigates the evil that’s rising in London.

The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding

I loved this book – it’s full of adventure and strong characters and there are plenty of genuinely scary moments. Plus, it has monsters and ghosts and airships! It’s supposed to be a young adults book but it certainly is suitable for grown-ups too.

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

Wake by Elizabeth Knox

Wake Cover

On a sunny spring morning, the settlement of Kahukura in Tasman is suddenly overwhelmed by a mysterious mass insanity. A handful of survivors find themselves cut off from the world, and surrounded by the dead.

As the group try to take care of one another and survive in ever more difficult circumstances, it becomes apparent that this isn’t the first time that this has happened, and that they aren’t all survivors and victims – two of them are something quite other. And, it seems, they are trapped with something. Something unseen is picking at the loose threads of their characters, corrupting, provoking, and haunting them.

Wake is a book that asks: ‘What are the last things left when the worst has happened?’ It is a book about extreme events, ordinary people, heroic compassion—and invisible monsters.

My Review of Wake

WakeWake by Elizabeth Knox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inventive, original, dark and disturbing. Wake takes what has become a common story – a small group of people survive while everyone around them dies, and makes something unique out of it.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it, and really you just need to read it yourself, but Wake is a mix of horror, thriller and drama, with a touch of sci-fi added in.

Wake has a cast of 14 characters and a large part of the book is about how they interact, how they work together, and how they cope with what happens. With so many of them, a few of them inevitably get a bit lost and don’t feature very much. The action mostly focuses on a core group, these characters are done very well and are believable in the way they act based on their different personalities. I ended up losing track of some of them though and I couldn’t keep who was who straight if they weren’t in the core few.

Sam was by far my favourite character. I didn’t find many of the others likeable, except I did like William, the American, – maybe because he was just honest and open from the start? But Sam was lovely and I think the author did a really good job with her story. Learning about her was my favourite part of the book.

I like the way Elizabeth Knox writes, but I found it more practical and brutal than beautiful or poetic. I know a lot of other reviewers disagree with that though so maybe I just didn’t really understand her style? Sometimes I had to re-read a sentence a few times before I understood what was happening.

The world building was brilliant, and the whole thing was very readable, a few times I only meant to read a chapter then realised an hour had passed without me noticing.

My favourite thing about the book is the sci-fi bit. I wish that was developed a bit more but it wouldn’t be realistic or fit in with the story so I can forgive it.

The way it ended made me happy. I don’t really like when I have to make my own mind up about what is happening in a book, I always feel like what was the point of actually reading the book if I don’t find out what’s going on. There are enough answers in Wake to satisfy me and I like the way it’s revealed slowly with enough pointers that I could try to work it out for myself if I wanted to.

Wake is original and disturbing, and it is a must-read for anyone that likes survivor horror stories.

Wake
Elizabeth Knox
Horror
November 1st 2013
Paperback
443

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