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

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

Books to Read in the Summer

Books to read in the summer

Time for another book list 🙂

The nights are starting to get shorter and it’s getting towards the last days of summer. One way to make that summer feeling last as long as possible for me is to read books set in hot countries or sunny weather.

I always try to read books that match the season where I am. I don’t like to read wintry books in summer, or autumn books in the spring. I find that I can’t lose myself in the atmosphere of the book as easily.  Does anyone else find that too?

And please share your recommendations! On here or Twitter or Facebook, I’m always looking for new books to read, and I found that my list of summery books isn’t actually that long.

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells

Hunger Makes the Wolf is set on a desert planet, where a young woman is part of a mercenary biker gang. There is magic (space witches!), a rebellion of mistreated workers against the company that controls the planet, and a woman learning to be a leader. What more could you want!

Hunger Makes the Wolf on GoodReads

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

A post-apocalyptic story that starts on a beach that could be in the Caribbean it sounds so perfectly tropical. It’s actually set on America’s Gulf Coast, where teenager Nailer ekes out a living salvaging copper from the wrecks of the shipping industry.

Ship Breaker on GoodReads

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half a Yellow Sun tells the story of Biafra, a State that existed for three years in the sixties during a civil war in Nigeria. Three different narrators show us the human side of war and the effects it has on ordinary people.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a gifted storyteller, the subject matter means it’s not an easy read, but it is very readable, very interesting, and always stays sensitive.

Half of a Yellow Sun on GoodReads

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Another post-apocalyptic story, and one of my favourites, this is set in a world that has heated up due to global warming. Snowman is the last human surviving with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake in a world where it is too hot to go out in the midday sun.

Oryx and Crake on GoodReads

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

A story about a family that has fallen apart. The disappearance of the father of the family slowly starts to bring the family back together. Set during the heat wave of 1976 this is a book full of interesting characters who all have secrets of their own.

Instructions for a Heatwave on GoodReads

Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing

Mara and Dann is set in Africa thousands of years in the future. Mara lives in the last country on Earth that has not been swallowed by ice. But the food is running out and society is breaking down. In search of a better place to live Mara has to travel north, a hard and long journey that will take her to her limits.

Mara and Dann on GoodReads

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

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

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

Advent (Advent Trilogy #1) by James Treadwell

Advent Cover

Advent Blurb

For centuries it has been locked away
Lost beneath the sea
Warded from earth, air, water, fire, spirits, thought and sight.

But now magic is rising to the world once more.

And a boy called Gavin, who thinks only that he is a city kid with parents who hate him, and knows only that he sees things no one else will believe, is boarding a train, alone, to Cornwall.

No one will be there to meet him.

My Review of Advent

Advent (Advent Trilogy #1)Advent by James Treadwell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Seriously, I never thought I’d say this about a book, but this is a story that would have been better without the fantasy and magic.

Gavin is 15 and he sees things that everyone tells him aren’t really there. Mainly a woman he calls Miss Grey. His parents are fed up with him and angry because they think he’s pretending, and when he finally told a teacher about the things he’s being seeing he’s suspended.

Am I being naive but why would his school even suspend him for this? Why wouldn’t they talk to his parents and try to get him to go to the doctors or a psychiatrist?

Anyway, when he gets to Cornwall his aunt has disappeared, and he meets some unusual people while he’s looking for her at the house where she works as a housekeeper or something. What he doesn’t do is go to the police though. Oh no, that would be far too sensible and require some actual action on his part.

It’s very slow moving, we barely cover two days, and it’s a longish book. People were saying random things that didn’t seem to fit with the story, and having long conversations without actually saying anything. There’s a lot of random rhymes dropped all over the place that are supposed to help or provide clues, but actually just waste time. Gavin doesn’t listen to them anyway and he doesn’t actually do anything.

Things just happen to him and even the ending wasn’t anything to do with him. His reason for being in the story is never explained. We’re told that he’s special, but not why, or what he’s supposed to do. We do get a lot of page time spent on him walking around without shoes on though.

My favourite parts were when Gavin was travelling to Cornwall and when he had just arrived. I think the story of Gavin as a teenager who sees things and has been sent away because his family can’t cope with him worked better than when the magic and fantasy were introduced. I like the almost simplistic writing style for this bit, but then when the fantasy side comes in it gets very dramatic and overblown, and kinda confusing.

So overall it’s just a boring, confusing mess. I can’t understand why it’s over 600 pages long when nothing happens.

Advent
Advent
James Treadwell
Young Adult Fantasy
614

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