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 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

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.

Cthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone

Cthulu and Other Monsters

Short tales of horror regarding the Old Ones and their minions by master horror scribe Sam Stone.

Cthulu and Other MonstersCthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always love getting my hands on a new Sam Stone book! This one is a collection of short horror stories about monsters and Cthulu.

One thing I like about Sam Stone is that she skips between and combines 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.

My favourites are the steampunk tinged stories. There is one about Arabella, a Victorian lady who moonlights as a thief, and another where Lucy goes down into the sewers to hunt a monster plaguing the city. I loved both of these and I really wanted to see more from these characters!

This is a very adult collection, there’s lots of gore and a fair bit of sex. Things don’t always end well so you’re kept guessing right up to the end.

My only complaint is that sometimes the conversations are there more to give information to the reader than for the characters to communicate with each other. There’s a fair few “as you know” expositions that are thrown in there that feel like they don’t fit the story, and sometimes the characters can be overly formal and stilted. I feel like it could use a good editor as there are a few errors in the text. But it’s a minor complaint and it didn’t stop me enjoying reading this.

I found all of the stories creepy and interesting, and there weren’t any that I didn’t really enjoy. I feel like the author had a lot of fun writing them.

It’s a great little collection of horror stories and it’s just right for the long nights that are approaching.

Cthulu and Other Monsters
Sam Stone
Horror
April 2017
Paperback
287

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

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Sunshine Cover

There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it’s unwise to walk. But there hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years, and Sunshine just needed a spot where she could be alone with her thoughts. Vampires never entered her mind.

Until they found her…

My Review of Sunshine

SunshineSunshine by Robin McKinley
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Somewhere in here lurks a decent story, but it’s so overwhelmed by the ramblings of Sunshine that it’s almost completely lost. In the first five pages, I know where Sunshine works, where she lives, her Monday movie nights and all about her landlady’s niece, but I still don’t know why she’s all on her own at the lake.

I liked the actual story, but it does start to drag. The vampires are satisfyingly nasty and mean, like in the film Lost Boys.

Sunshine is likeable enough, but by the halfway point I just really wanted her to stop talking. Cut out all the rambling and the repetition (how many times do we need to be told no one ever gets away from vampires?) and the book would be less than half the long 405 pages it actually is.

The author spends so much time explaining the world that it’s hard to believe this was ever intended to be standalone. So many concepts are explained in depth that are then not actually relevant to the story that I’m convinced this was the setup for a longer series, more like True Blood.

After all the long, long build-up, the big fight with the main villain is almost a non-event after all the talking. The villain himself is a moustache-twirling cartoon style villain, with some seriously dodgy dialogue. And he doesn’t do anything. Disappointing.

Could have been good, but needs some serious pruning to remove all the irrelevant rambling.

Sunshine
Robin McKinley
Urban Fantasy
November 30th 2004
Kindle
405

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

Darker than the Storm (Blackbird #5) by Freda Warrington

Darker than the storm cover

The towers of Niankan-Siol soared skywards, all blue and gold and glass, seeming as light as air. Walkways, weightless and swaying, threaded between the pinnacles and spires, while winged creatures and air transports flitted and looped among the glittering heights.

My Reviews of Other Books in the Series

A Blackbird in Silver (Blackbird #1)

A Blackbird in Darkness (Blackbird #2)

A Blackbird in Amber (Blackbird #3)

A Blackbird in Twilight (Blackbird #4)

My Review of Darker than the Storm

Darker than the Storm (Blackbird, #5)Darker than the Storm by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Darker than the Storm is the fifth in the Blackbird series. It’s set between the second and third books but as it’s a self-contained story I think you could read this without having read the other books.

This book tells the story of Ashurek after he has settled down on Ikonus with his wife Silvren and their daughter Mellorn.

Ikonus is a peaceful planet, but Ashurek finds himself restless. Overcome with a strong feeling of depression he breaks the law of Ikonus and opens a way to Jhensit, another planet. He is found out and as punishment Gregardreos, the high master of Iknous, sends him to set to investigate the odd energy that Jhensit is emitting.

Ashurek lands on Jhensit in a city split into two. Nianken-Pel is the main city, Nianken-Siol is a city above the city, a glittering place of blue glass where the ruling class live. They are the Siol, and they have enslaved the Pel, the people of Nianken-Pel and persecuted them for their religious beliefs.

Blaming the Pel for all their problems the Siol are ignoring the real problem: Jhensit is a planet slowly being consumed by a maelstrom, a corrupt energy that warps the land and creates monstrous creatures.

Ashurek only wants to observe and take back information to Ikonus, but he finds himself unwillingly drawn into the conflict. He must face up to his past and make moral choices as he tries to save Jhensit from being destroyed.

Ashurek was a strong but silent type in the first two Blackbird books so I wasn’t sure that he would be able to carry a whole book on his own. But he works well as the main character, he has a dry sense of humour and a compelling voice. He knows his own faults and his strengths and isn’t afraid to take action when needed. He’s interesting to read about!

There was just enough world building to get a sense of Jhensit. I would have preferred a bit more maybe, about the two cities and the contrast between them. Nianken-Siol, the city in the sky, sounds like a beautiful but cold place full of glittering glass and I would have liked to know more about it and the people there.

The story is well paced, it moves fast without being confusing and stays interesting. It reminds me a bit of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. They’re quite different stories but it has a similar sort of idea of a floating palace in conflict with the city below, and both of them are beautifully written. Darker than the Storm is a lot older though, it was released in 1992, 25 years ago!

I recommend this to anyone that likes fantasy stories and is looking for something a bit different. It’s crammed full of ideas that all merge into an original and exciting read. I couldn’t put it down!

Darker than the Storm
Blackbird
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1992
Paperback
304

Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra (Zodiac Starforce #1-4) by Kevin Panetta, Paulina Ganucheau (Illustrator)

zodiac starforce Cover

They’re an elite group of teenage girls with magical powers who have sworn to protect our planet against dark creatures… as long as they can get out of class! Known as the Zodiac Starforce, these high-school girls aren’t just combating math tests. They’re also battling monsters – not your typical after school activity! But when an evil force from another dimension infects team leader Emma, she must work with her team of magically powered friends to save herself, and the world, from the evil Diana and her mean-girl minions!

From Kevin Panetta (Bravest Warriors) and Paulina Ganucheau (TMNT: New Animated Adventures, Bravest Warriors), this super-fun and heartfelt story of growing up and friendship, with plenty of magical-girl fighting action, delivers the most exciting new ensemble cast in comics.

Collects Zodiac Starforce #1-#4

My review of Zodiac Staforce: Power of Astra

Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of AstraZodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra by Kevin Panetta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The artwork in this is absolutely stunning. The drawings, the characters, the outfits – everything is perfect! And the colours! Bright and bold and an almost dreamy mix of pinks and purples, yet it’s still vibrant.

This would probably be a four-star rating just because it’s so lovely to look at! Luckily the story and the dialogue lives up to the artwork. It seems very influenced by Sailor Moon. There are extras in the back and one of them is a one-page story with the characters in uniforms that look very much like the Sailor Soldiers. But it’s much more modern, and a lot louder and faster paced than Sailor Moon.

I started reading thinking that this was the first volume, but there must have been one before this that explained the characters and where they got their powers. It keeps referring events that happened two years ago, where they fought a big bad and I think one of the characters lost her mother? So I did kinda feel like I was missing something, but it didn’t impact on understanding the story in this volume.

The characters are well developed and easy to tell apart. They all have their own personality and their own style. My favourite is Kim! I’m also really liking Lily.

My only complaint is that I wish it were longer. I hope there’s more coming soon.

Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra
Zodiac Starforce
Kevin Panetta, Paulina Ganucheau (Illustrator)
Graphic Novel
Dark Horse Books
March 9th 2016
Graphic Novel
136

The War Of The Flowers by Tad Williams

The War of the Flowers Blurb

In the great city, in the dimly lit office of an impossibly tall building, two creatures meet. Gold changes hands and the master of the House of Hellebore gives an order: ‘War is coming, the child must die’.

My review of The War of the Flowers

The War Of The FlowersThe War Of The Flowers by Tad Williams
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s slow, boring and more than a little bit depressing, but the worst thing about it is the main character, Theo. He whines his way through the entire book and gives not a single care about the people around him.

I really disliked him and I can’t understand Poppy falling for him. He thinks about her like she’s a spoiled rich kid, and he treats her that way too. Despite not giving a damn about other people himself he condemns Poppy because without getting to know her he decides that she is like that too. But to be fair Poppy seems to be there only to give Theo a bit of escape from the grinding depression of the rest of the story. She is an extraneous addition to the actual story, only popping up now and again to help Theo show his “kind side”.

If fact, all the women are present only to have things happen to them in order to motivate the male characters. Theo’s mother, his girlfriend cat, Applecore, Eamonn Dowds girlfriend, they all suffer terrible things so that the men in the story have reasons to act.

The story itself moves super slow and consists of 600 pages of Theo thinking “I’m stuck in a world that could kill you at any moment and I know nothing about it” and talking about how he’s a super awesome amazing musician / singer.

Fairyland is not a happy place to be. There are six ruling families with all the power and the money, and the rest of the population are treated as slaves to be used up until they die. The ruling families are fighting amongst themselves and Theo is stuck in the middle running from something trying to kill him with nowhere to go, no idea why he’s been chased, and no one he can trust to help him.

It feels hopeless from the start, Theo does not find anything out, no one will tell him anything. Almost all the characters Theo talks to – “I’m not the one to tell you about this”. But Theo doesn’t really try very hard, and he’s slow to pick up on things when the clues are laid out in front of him. The Clover Effect is mentioned like 50 times through the book, Theo never asks what it is! It’s frustrating to read.

Overall it’s just boring and slow. 

Why did I keep reading? Well, I’m not sure, but at one point dragons showed up and it got interesting for about a minute. Also, Poppy is kinda cool, I was hoping she might get to do something. If the story had been told from her point of view, it could have been good.

Recommended If

You’re too happy and want some relentless grinding depression to bring you down a bit.

The War Of The Flowers
Tad Williams
Fantasy
April 22nd 2003
Paperback
758