The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Power Cover

What if the power to hurt were in women’s hands?

Suddenly – tomorrow or the day after – teenage girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. With this single twist, the four lives at the heart of Naomi Alderman’s extraordinary, visceral novel are utterly transformed.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed The Power, it’s very readable, but not nearly as original or groundbreaking as I was hoping for.

It tries for a very serious style, jumping between people and events in a way similar to World War Z but some of the events come off a little too far fetched and daft to make it really work. It’s not as gritty as it wants to be and sometimes I caught myself thinking ‘that’s so silly how would that work’. It jumps around a lot too, it doesn’t stay with any one person long enough to get to know them so the human side of the story and the emotional impact is almost lost.

It’s a story with a premise that the author could have gone anywhere with, there was so much she could have said in this book but she just wrote about a straight role reversal, the women end up just like the men. I don’t know if maybe she was trying to say something about how power corrupts or how deep down we’re all really the same but if so it didn’t come across very well.

For a speculative sci-fi book it would be ok and an interesting read but it’s got such an attention-grabbing blurb and it’s been so massively hyped that it ends up being disappointing.

The Power
Naomi Alderman
Sci-Fi
April 6th 2017
Paperback
341

The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan

the red tree cover

Sarah Crowe left Atlanta–and the remnants of a tumultuous relationship–to live in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls, she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house’s former tenant–an anthropologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on a desolate corner of the property.

Tied to local legends of supernatural magic, as well as documented accidents and murders, the gnarled tree takes root in Sarah’s imagination, prompting her to write her own account of its unsavoury history.

And as the oak continues to possess her dreams and nearly almost all her waking thoughts, Sarah risks her health and her sanity to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

The Red Tree was a recent choice for the book club I’m in. I enjoyed it but not as much as Drowning Girl by the same author that we also read in the book club recently. Drowning Girl also had a confused narrator who had recently lost a lover that starts to find odd events happening, so they were very similar novels really but that one seemed to work better. The plot in Drowning Girl hung together well and all the narratives came together to make an impactful ending whereas The Red Tree has all the right elements but doesn’t seem as coherent.

From the blurb, I thought the Red Tree would have been a lot spookier and creepier then it was. It needed more then her getting lost in a cellar and then a wood to make it work. I still found the story interesting with lots of odd events and a narrator who was confused herself and trying to make sense of it all. It certainly wasn’t boring! It was just that I was waiting for scary, creepy things to happen and they never really did. I wanted to be nervous about reading it in the house on my own and I just didn’t get that feeling from it.

If I’m being honest I don’t deal well with open endings, I like things explained to me, I can’t stand not knowing the ‘truth’ of what actually happened! But here I think that it works. I enjoyed reading this in general and I think enough hints and clues were dropped by the author that you can make up your own mind about what was going on. Caitlín R. Kiernan is a good storyteller in general and The Read Tree is enjoyable enough all the way through that the lack of a fully explained ending didn’t upset me too much.

Maybe I would have liked The Read Tree more if I hadn’t read Drowning Girl first but I still enjoyed it. I love the way Caitlín R. Kiernan writes though and I’ll be filling up my TBR pile with more of her books!

The Red Tree
Caitlín R. Kiernan
Horror
August 4th 2009
Paperback
385

Atlas Alone (Planetfall #4) by Emma Newman

Atlas Alone Cover

Six months after she left Earth, Dee is struggling to manage her rage toward the people who ordered the nuclear strike that destroyed the world. She’s trying to find those responsible and to understand why the ship is keeping everyone divided into small groups, but she’s not getting very far alone.

A dedicated gamer, she throws herself into mersives to escape and is approached by a designer who asks her to play test his new game. It isn’t like any game she’s played before. Then a character she kills in the climax of the game turns out to bear a striking resemblance to a man who dies suddenly in the real world at exactly the same time. A man she discovers was one of those responsible for the death of millions on Earth.

Disturbed, but thinking it must be a coincidence, Dee pulls back from gaming and continues the hunt for information. But when she finds out the true plans for the future colony, she realizes that to save what is left of humanity, she may have to do something that risks losing her own.

My Thoughts

4 / 5 stars

Atlas Alone is a dark and kinda twisted story with a sting in the tail and an endlessly debatable ending.

Dee is an independent person with a lot of trauma from her past life. She is used to surviving on her own and struggles to connect or open up to people. She is one of the few witnesses of the life-changing event at the end of After Atlas and she feels helpless and lost. She is stuck on a ship with people she doesn’t know and power structures that she doesn’t understand and is finding it very difficult to cope with.

When a mysterious person invades her VR space and offers her the opportunity to take revenge she finds herself forced to face up to the trauma of her past at the same time as her morals and her personality are being tested.

I’m loving Emma Newman’s Planetfall series. I like how each book is its own story, with connections to the others but its own characters and its own story to tell. Atlas Alone follows straight on from the ending of After Atlas but because it’s about a different character it feels like its own, separate story. The setting is still rich in AI and lovely tech details but this one goes much more into the online immersive gaming and social world. It gives this book much more of a cyberpunk feel than the other books in the series.

I had fun trying to guess the identity of Dee’s helper. I did guess it in the end but honestly not that much sooner than Dee did herself and it was an enjoyable bit of mystery mixed in with the sci-fi. I always love a good mystery!

The story is full of suspense and excitement and has a lot of depth to it. There are a lot of parallels in the book with modern slavery, the issues around workers rights and the fears about AI and the way technology is going. Dee finds herself questioning her morals and how far she will go for revenge and to stop the new world society from mistreating their workers. I feel like this would be a good one for a book club discussion! It gets very dark along the way and there are a lot of moral questions.

I loved and hated the ending at the same time. Loved because it worked so well and like I mentioned it raised a lot of moral issues. Hated because I generally like a good happy ending with issues resolved and this was the exact opposite. I got very frustrated with Dee and some of the choices she made, but it all fit the story so I can’t complain too much. You don’t always need a main character that you admire to enjoy or appreciate the story.

Another good entry in the Planetfall series, I’m hoping that the story continues!

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

Atlas Alone
Planetfall
Emma Newman
Sci-Fi
April 16th 2019
Kindle
320

Shadow of the Fox (Shadow of the Fox #1) by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox Cover

A single wish will spark a new dawn. Every millennium, one age ends and another age dawns and whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers holds the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for any one wish. The time is near and the missing pieces of the scroll will be sought throughout the land of Iwagoto.

The holder of the first piece is a humble, unknown peasant girl with a dangerous secret. Demons have burned the temple Yumeko was raised in to the ground, killing everyone within, including the master who trained her to both use and hide her kitsune powers.

Yumeko escapes with the temple’s greatest treasure – one part of the ancient scroll. Fate thrusts her into the path of a mysterious samurai, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan. Yumeko knows he seeks what she has and is under orders to kill anything and anyone who stands between him and the scroll.

My Thoughts

The start was very slow and jumped about between different characters a lot so it took me a while to get going with it. I didn’t like Yumenko or Tatsumi at all at first and I felt like it was going to be another formulaic young adult fantasy book. There was also too much of the characters internal thoughts with not much action going on. But once I managed to get past the first few chapters and really got into it I actually liked this a lot!

I liked that there was a lot of little almost side quests thrown into the story along the way. Tatsumi and Yumeko fight a few demons, help some villages and pick up an assortment of fellow travellers that become part of the story. It reminded me of some of the manga series I’ve read and I thought it made what could have been a dry journey where all that happens is the two of them start falling for each other into something more interesting and unusual. Plus, the sidekicks they picked up were funny and all brought something to the team!

Both Tatsumi and Yumenko grew on me along the way and I liked the way they were together. Tatsumi particularly has to try and fight his attraction and it’s cute how confused and frustrated he gets – he’s had very little positive interaction with other humans so it’s like he is seeing the world for the first time, Yumenko is bringing him slowly to life.

Yumenko I liked a lot more when we were seeing her from Tatsumi’s point of view. In his eyes, she seems a little odd, a bit daft but super funny and sweet. From Yumenko’s own viewpoint though she comes across a lot more serious and thoughtful. It’s a difference I found hard to reconcile to get a real feel for her character and left me feeling strangely disconnected from her. I’m hoping in the next book her personality becomes clearer, I also hope she gets to use more of her magic! I suspect she could be fierce if she wanted to be.

I do think it suffers from the characters and the plot being stereotypical of young adult fantasy at the moment but where this really stands out is in the world it is set in and the atmosphere that is created. The Japanese setting gives this something special and the author has done a great job of making the journey of the characters feel real and full of vibrant life. It feels like there is a lot of Japanese folklore and mythology weaved into the story but it never becomes confusing – it always just felt real to me.

Give this a chance, get past the first few chapters and it’s an exciting story with enough of its own personality to stand out in a sea of young adult fantasies with similar plots. I enjoyed reading this one and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the sequel.

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

Shadow of the Fox
Shadow of the Fox
Julie Kagawa
Young Adult Fantasy
November 1st 2018
Kindle
454

Jem and the Holograms, Vol. 4: Enter the Stingers (Jem and the Holograms #4) by Kelly Thompson, Jen Bartel (Illustrations), Meredith McClaren (Illustrations)

jem cover volume 4

Still reeling from the shattering conclusion to “Dark Jem,” Jem and the Holograms regroup–desperate to find a path forward. Meanwhile, THE MISFITS find themselves with a unique problem one lead singer too many! Plus, a European supergroup takes the U.S. by storm The Stingers! Meet Riot, Rapture, Minx, and… Raya! Collects issues #17-23.”

My Thoughts

Volume 4 of Jem introduces a whole new band! The Stingers are a European band who are ‘the next big thing’ – looks like Jem and the Holograms are old news now.

So The Stingers are biting at their heels, The Misfits are still around to cause trouble and one of their crew is lost when she decides to pursue a career in the fashion industry. Things are not looking good for our girls as it all starts to fall apart around them.

I’m still enjoying the storyline but what let this issue down for me is the artwork. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not Jem. I expect big and bold, big fashion, big hairstyles and lots of gloss – something over the top and fun and the art this time doesn’t allow that to happen. I’ve got the next volume though and that’s back to standard Jem – big loud and right up in your face.

I’m still enjoying the series and the story is solid but the artwork in this volume doesn’t bring the fun.

Jem and the Holograms, Vol. 4: Enter the Stingers
(Jem and the Holograms
Kelly Thompson, Jen Bartel (Illustrations), Meredith McClaren (Illustrations)
Graphic Novel
April 11th 2017
Paperback

The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah

the orphan choir cover

Now, this is what a creepy ghost story should be like. 

Louise is a woman going crazy in her own home. Her neighbour torments her with late-night music and her son has started boarding at his school so that he can be part of the school’s choir. She misses him desperately but everyone keeps trying to tell her it is for the best, that this is an amazing opportunity for him. Louise just feels like he has been stolen from her.

When she starts hearing a choir singing late at night at first she puts it down to her neighbour getting meaner and targeting her where it hurts but she starts to hear it during the day, in places where her neighbour’s music wouldn’t reach, where he couldn’t possibly be causing it.

Is Louise going crazy or is she really hearing a ghost choir singing to her? Is her neighbour targeting her to take revenge because she reported him to the council or is it all in her head?

Her actions are believable. I can understand how annoyed she was by the noise from her neighbour and her husband that acts like a jerk and I was 100% behind her and everything that she did even though I didn’t find her at all likeable.

It’s not the most ghostly of ghost books out there. I loved the ending but the rest of the book is very subtle and wavers between making you think that Louise is actually haunted and then making you think that it is all in her head. I liked the balance of this but if you’re expecting a full on ghost story you might find it disappointing. The end though I found genuinely scary and I thought it worked well after the slow build up.

This is the first time I’ve read a ghost story that’s trying to be scary and actually liked the ending.

If you’re looking for a full on ghost story this might not be for you, the rest of my book club was disappointed by it, but I enjoyed the slow build and the tension caused by trying to decide if it was a haunting or if Louise was imagining it.

The Orphan Choir
Sophie Hannah
Horror
May 9th 2013
Hardback
304

The Masked City (The Invisible Library #2) by Genevieve Cogman

masked city cover

Librarian-spy Irene is working undercover in an alternative London when her assistant Kai goes missing. She discovers he’s been kidnapped by the fae faction and the repercussions could be fatal. Not just for Kai, but for whole worlds.

Kai’s dragon heritage means he has powerful allies, but also powerful enemies in the form of the fae. With this act of aggression, the fae are determined to trigger a war between their people – and the forces of order and chaos themselves.

Irene’s mission to save Kai and avert Armageddon will take her to a dark, alternate Venice where it’s always Carnival. Here Irene will be forced to blackmail, fast talk, and fight. Or face death.

The Masked City (The Invisible Library, #2)The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the first book, I liked this one even more!

The plot is very clever, this one is all about stories within stories as Irene has to travel into a chaos infected alternative version of Venice. Here, the fae can manipulate reality to make themselves the main characters in whatever story they see themselves in. Irene has to go along with it and play her part in such a way that she can manipulate the storyline.

I enjoyed watching Irene work everything out, often in books like this the characters are reactive, solutions fall easily at their feet and all they have to do is follow along. Irene has to reason and be clever about it, thinking her way through and finding her own solutions.

A lot of thought has gone into the characters and their personality, their motivations and feelings, how they would react in all the situations. Irene is brilliant, clever and resourceful and even though she is often unsure she is also confident without being arrogant. Kai isn’t in the story very much, Irene has to act on her own this time and rely on her own wits and reasoning. When she decides to act she doesn’t second guess herself and sees it through.

The train was my most favourite character in this book, and that says something about the talent of the author that she can give something like a train so much personality.

The world of Venice and Carnival is brought to life quite effectively but I would have liked to have seen more of the celebrations and the partying! Obviously, Irene has other things on her mind, she skips through parties but we don’t get much chance to enjoy them. I loved the scenes set in the theatre though.

Suspenseful, exciting, clever and original, this is one I highly recommend to fans of fantasy or steampunk.

The Masked City
The Invisible Library
Genevieve Cogman
Fantasy
Paperback
369

Nocturna (A Forgery of Magic #1) by Maya Motayne

nocturna book cover

Set in a Latinx-inspired world, a face-changing thief and a risk-taking prince must team up to defeat a powerful evil they accidentally unleashed.

To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.

As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.

After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.

But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts.

My Thoughts

Nocturna (A Forgery of Magic, #1)Nocturna by Maya Motayne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I requested Nocturna for review because it’s a fantasy with a thief and a prince accidentally unleashing an evil power, set in a Latinx inspired world – it just sounds amazing.

In reality, it’s ok. Not brilliant but it’s not trash either. It’s lacking in world building and the story and characters are kind childishly done but the writing is ok and there’s a lot of fun ideas. My attention drifted though, I couldn’t focus on it and I put it down about halfway through and read about 6 other books before I found my way back to it.

I liked the idea of the clock tower prison but when it came down to it the intimidation factor it should have had, it wasn’t there. Finn and Alfie got in and out with no issues and the prison feel just wasn’t there. I couldn’t picture it at all.

A lot of the things written into the plot felt like they were there for convenience instead of world building. The duenos in the clock tower for example, they had no real role or place in the story – the rules around their existence weren’t solid enough to be able to understand them. I feel like the author only added them so that Alfie had someone to impersonate.

I love some of the ideas around how the magic works and the way Alfie can see magic as coloured auras. But again, these things didn’t seem consistent. What the characters could do and the way their magic worked changed as the story needed it to.

For what is actually a very dark story a lot of the plot and the characters felt quite childish. The story just wasn’t exciting or real enough and the banter was cringey instead of funny with Alfie, Finn and Luka often sounding like they were all 12 instead of older teenagers.

I appreciate having main characters in the story that aren’t perfect, both of them here are a long way from being the sort of saintly saviours I can’t relate to, but I just can’t stand Finn. She’s not nearly as funny and not half as smart as she thinks she is. Wisecracking smartarses I can deal with but they have to be amusing to read and Finn’s not, she comes across as childish and irritating and for an amazing thief everything she did was a disaster. If I’m supposed to believe she’s a master thief I need to see her being awesome, her character doesn’t work if she has to suddenly start being crap at everything for plot reasons.

Another thing that really annoyed me was the way everyone in it was either full of darkness or full of light. People aren’t that basic; there are shades of grey in everyone and more of that ambivalence would have made this book feel less flat than it does. The dark magician doesn’t seem to have any motivations either, he is just full of darkness and that’s it, he does bad things. I like books where you can get right into the minds of the villains and if not sympathise then at least understand them. They are often more interesting than the good guys and can bring a book like this to life.

There is a lot of good stuff here but it wasn’t enough to hold my attention. I found that I didn’t want to keep reading it and I was picking up other books instead of going back to this one. Altogether it feels rushed like the characters haven’t been fully worked out and the setting isn’t rich and lush or developed enough. It has potential though because the ideas are good and the writing is decent I feel it just needs more time spent on the basics.

I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Nocturna
A Forgery of Magic
Maya Motayne
Young Adult Fantasy
May 7th 2019
Kindle
480

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts #1) by Stacia Kane

Unholy Ghosts cover

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased.

Enter Chess Putnam, a tattooed church witch and ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls.

Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

My Thoughts

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, #1)Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark and gothic take on urban fantasy.

Unholy Ghosts stands out for me as being one of the better books in the urban fantasy genre. It’s much darker than most and main character Chess has issues – she’s not perfect at all, not even in the “thinks she’s not but actually is” sort of way.

Chess is a troubled individual who works for the church exorcising ghosts with magic. She’s also a drug addict who finds herself in debt to her local drug dealer, Bump. He calls her in for a favour and Chess finds herself in a whole lot of a mess, having to deal with black magic and human sacrifice while trying to hide her involvement from the church to protect her job.

I know I’m emotionally invested in the story because I get very angry at Chess for some of the bad decisions she makes. I just so badly want her to have a bit more self-respect and look after herself better.

But this is a story that is dark, the ghosts are scary and dangerous and the characters are not heroes.

Potential love interest Terrible is 6 foot plus, described as being not very attractive and a bit rough and is Bump’s main enforcer, doing all the risky dirty work. But his intelligence and kindness balance out his rough edges to make him super interesting and actually really attractive for me. I was rooting for Chess to notice just how lovely he is and how he seems to have a thing for her.

The world building is done in a way that feels unobtrusive but I can still easily imagine myself there. I love when the authors throw in references to the music the characters are listening to, it adds a lot to my mental picture of the world. This is a book that would lend itself to some awesome soundtracks!

So, I thought this was fun, dark, different and I’m left desperate to know what happens next with Chess and Terrible.

Unholy Ghosts
Downside Ghosts
Stacia Kane
Urban Fantasy
May 25th 2010
Paperback
339

The Poison Song (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy #3) by Jen Williams

poison song cover

From Jen Williams, three-time British Fantasy Award finalist comes the electrifying conclusion to the Winnowing Flame trilogy. Exhilarating epic fantasy for fans of Robin Hobb.

Jump on board a war beast or two with Vintage, Noon and Tor and return to Sarn for the last instalment of this epic series where the trio must gather their forces and make a final stand against the invading Jure’lia.

My Thoughts

The Poison Song (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy, #3)The Poison Song by Jen Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was so excited to get my hands on The Poison Song, the last book in The Winnowing Flame trilogy! I’ve been waiting for this for two years now. And happily, it didn’t disappoint.

It shows how much I’ve enjoyed this series that I could remember what happened in the last two books. Normally I forget everything and have to keep checking back, especially if it’s been a while, but the storyline of this series has stayed with me.

And there’s a lot of story that’s been crammed into these three books! It works and it never felt overwhelming or like it was moving too fast but there’s a lot going on. So much so that right up until the last third of the book I couldn’t see how the story could come to a conclusion by the last page. Jen Williams has very cleverly made this intertwined story come together and wrap everything up neatly, but without feeling forced. I don’t know how she’s managed it, the woman is a genius!

So, the storyline I don’t want to talk about too much because I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t read the first two books. But it starts with an event that I’ve been waiting for since the first book when Noon goes back with her warbeast to where she was imprisoned for so long and makes them see the error of their ways (to put it nicely). Aside from that though things are looking bad for the warbeasts and their riders. They are damaged and battered from their fights in the last book and they have lost one of their own but despite all that, they have become a team. They now trust each other and are working together.

The Jure’lia, who I still think are some of the creepiest and scariest villains, are also battered and their Queen is distracted trying to fix the crystal. Hestillion won’t let them give in though and uses her knowledge of her world to give them strategy and make them attack with a purpose, something the Jure’lia have been lacking.

There are some epic battles in this book! Hestillion is scarily clever and the warbeasts and their riders have to pull out all the stops to fight her. Noon and Vintage have their own adventures – I loved Vintage’s storyline in this one. She is by far my favourite character and she was already kinda awesome but I enjoyed watching her out on her own without Noon and Tor to back her up.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. I admire authors that make brave decisions but I also kinda hate it at the same time and I wish it hadn’t ended like that. This is one I need time to recover from.

The Winnowing Flame is modern and fresh fantasy and it’s one of my favourite series of the last few years and it ended super strong with The Poison Song. I hope Jen Williams style starts to influence other fantasy authors.

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

The Poison Song
The Winnowing Flame Trilogy
Jen Williams
Fantasy
May 16th 2019
Kindle
320