Sabriel (The Old Kingdom #1) by Garth Nix

Sabriel Cover

Sabriel is the daughter of the Mage Abhorsen. Ever since she was a tiny child, she has lived outside the Wall of the Old Kingdom–far away from the uncontrolled power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who won’t stay dead.

But now, her father is missing and Sabriel is called upon to cross into the world to find him, Leaving the safety of the school she has known as home, Sabriel embarks upon a quest fraught with supernatural dangers, with companions she is unsure of–for nothing is as it seems within the boundary of the Old Kingdom. There, she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life, and comes face to face with her hidden destiny.

My Thoughts

Sabriel (Abhorsen, #1)Sabriel by Garth Nix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really didn’t think that I was going to like this. I don’t know why but I fully expected to hate it. Just shows that I shouldn’t be too quick to judge because I ended up really enjoying it!

There were a couple of things that did disappoint me. I didn’t feel like the old kingdom was fully realised, the author skirted around the edges of it and I never felt fully immersed. I liked what I did see, the author did world building well when he bothered with it which is why I was disappointed that there wasn’t more of it.

Sabriel was a bit too out of touch for someone that was supposed to have come from there – how could she know so little? Surely she would have asked for more from her father? Or seen a bit of the world when she went back to visit? I get hung up on details sometimes and this just bugged me.

It was some of the little touches that made the book for me. I loved the paper aeroplanes and the villain and his minions manage to be genuinely scary. Characters were done so well they almost leapt off the pages. Even those that were only in for a couple of pages I felt like I knew and I became very attached to Mogget.

Sabriel was a strong lead character and I loved her magic! She has an affinity for death and can pass through the gates to travel into the land of the dead. A skill that comes in very handy more than once in her quest to find what has happened to her father.

I very much enjoyed reading this, it’s nothing new in terms of plot but it has excitement and enough about it to put its own stamp on a common story. I would definitely read the sequel.

Sabriel
The Old Kingdom
Garth Nix
Young Adult Fantasy
May 6th 2003
Paperback
367

When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall

When the floods came cover

A taut, gripping novel set in the future, when the lives of a family existing on the margins of a dramatically changed society are upset by a mysterious stranger.
In a world prone to violent flooding, Britain, ravaged 20 years earlier by a deadly virus, has been largely cut off from the rest of the world. Survivors are few and far between, most of them infertile. Children, the only hope for the future, are a rare commodity.

For 22-year-old Roza Polanski, life with her family in their isolated tower block is relatively comfortable. She’s safe, happy enough. But when a stranger called Aashay Kent arrives, everything changes. At first he’s a welcome addition, his magnetism drawing the Polanskis out of their shells, promising an alternative to a lonely existence. But Roza can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to Aashay than he’s letting on. Is there more to life beyond their isolated bubble? Is it true that children are being kidnapped? And what will it cost to find out?

My Thoughts

When the Floods CameWhen the Floods Came by Clare Morrall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the Floods Came felt very realistic – both the tech and the world. The UK population has been desolated by a virus. Most people have flocked together to create a community in Brighton but there are still people like Roza’s family who live isolated but still in contact through the online world. They are very secretive about their home and where they live which makes sense because they are isolated and quite vulnerable. Roza works remotely for a company overseas – the virus never crossed the seas so the rest of the countries in the world survived and now send aid to the UK.

I loved the first part of the book, finding out about the world and what has happened to leave this family so isolated. But when Aashay turns up it moves away into more of a psychological thing. Though I can’t understand why they were so taken in – Aashay’s charming personality does not come across on paper at all and neither does his scary, dark side.

The part about the missing children and the way the family had “adopted” a child never went anywhere. It always seemed like it was building up to something sinister but by the end, this thread had been dropped. It’s a shame because this was more interesting than the story about

If this had stayed a story about a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where children are in danger of being kidnapped I probably would have loved it but I wasn’t sold on the addition of Aashay.

When the Floods Came
Clare Morrall
Sci-Fi
February 11th 2016
Paperback
352

A Pinch of Magic (A Pinch of Magic #1) by Michelle Harrison

a pinch of magic cover

Three sisters trapped by an ancient curse.

Three magical objects with the power to change their fate.

Will they be enough to break the curse?

Or will they lead the sisters even deeper into danger?

My Thoughts

A Pinch of MagicA Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got off to a rocky start with this one because I found the writing very clunky and awkward. It put me off reading it so I dipped in and out of it and it just took me ages to get into it. I also couldn’t work out if it was set in the modern day or in a ‘ye olde’ fantasy world. It sounds daft but it really threw me that I couldn’t work it out.

I am glad I persevered with it though because the story is actually rather lovely. It’s about 3 sisters who find that they are living under a curse – if they leave the island where they grew up they will be dead within a day. Not particularly nice, but they also have a gift of magic objects – normal, everyday items that enable them to move vast distances in the blink of an eye, become invisible and talk to anyone they want whenever they want.

The bond between the sisters and the way they work together whilst bickering and falling out made this book for me. It brings back memories of growing up with my sister and having adventures together even though we didn’t always get on.

After about the first half of the book, the story starts to flow better and even the writing improved. It’s also quite dark at times and I was pleased that it didn’t try to sugar coat the world – I don’t think that ever works, even in children’s books. We’re all of us smarter than to be taken in by that.

So if you’re looking for a children’s book that is full of adventure and sisters supporting each other you could do much worse than this.

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

A Pinch of Magic
A Pinch of Magic
Michelle Harrison
Children's Fantasy
February 7th 2019
Kindle
352

The Bone Magician (Tales From The Sinister City #2) by F.E. Higgins

March 7th 2008)

Pin Carpue is on his own in the world. His mother is dead and his father is missing after being labeled a suspect in a rash of murders. Pin finds a job working for the local undertaker as a body watcher, making sure people are really dead before they’re buried. The body he’s supposed to be watching tonight is currently surrounded by three people engaged in a most unusual ceremony. An old man, a bone magician, and his young female assistant are waking a woman so her grieving fiancé can have one last goodbye with her. Pin can’t believe it will work, but then the dead woman sits up and speaks.

Pin is determined to discover how the magic works. He cannot believe they are raising the dead. He cannot believe his father is a murderer. Then Pin himself nearly becomes the killer’s next victim.

As this mysterious tale unfolds with delicious creepiness, Pin will learn more about the bone magician, the girl Juno, and a hideous creature called the Gluttonous Beast that is kept in a local tavern where people pay for a glimpse.

My Thoughts

The Bone Magician (Tales From The Sinister City, #2)The Bone Magician by F.E. Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“A corpse on the cusp of putrefaction could hardly be considered the most entertaining company on a winter’s evening, but Pin Carpue didn’t do what he did for the conversation. He did it for the money”

I’m being slightly generous by giving this 3 stars but I did enjoy the author’s sense of humour and it’s a fun read.

The plot relies too much on coincidences to push the mystery forward. Sure, it’s a children’s book and maybe they won’t notice? But personally, I think children deserve a bit more respect and a plot that’s better thought out.

It’s the second in a series, I think maybe the first one explains some of the things in this book that go unexplained. This can read as a stand-alone but I wasn’t entirely sure what the story was supposed to be about – Pin’s father’s murder, the silver apple killer, or the bone magician. I think some parts of the plot could be explained by reading the first book and I wouldn’t have been wondering the whole time when it would be explained. Because I hadn’t there was too much going on and it felt like it kept jumping back and forth between two or three completely different stories. I don’t know why I didn’t read the first book first, I even have it on my shelves somewhere.

Anyway, this ended up not being about the bone magician at all, despite the title. He’s barely in it.

I didn’t like the journal entries, they felt out of character for Pin, too mature and too posh. Also, they were really hard to read because they are all in italics with a dark background! I got really irritated by them.

It’s clearly heavily influenced by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and his Ankh Morpork city. This is not a bad thing, and F.E. Higgins manages to bring the sense of silly in the right way humour that’s needed and even put her own spin on it. She brings her city to life, I especially loved the descriptions of the river!

But it delights in being ghoulish and light-hearted and fun and that makes up for a lot. There’s a lot of the macabre in the story – Pin works in an undertakers and his job is to watch the corpses to make sure they are really dead.

Lots of interesting characters keep it all moving and the plot is lively and fun even if it is crammed with too much. It kept me entertained for a while and it’s not hard to read.

Give this a go if you are looking for a ghoulish and fun children’s book, but don’t expect too much from it.

The Bone Magician
Tales From The Sinister City
F.E. Higgins
Children's Fantasy
March 7th 2008)
Paperback
304

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

heartshaped box cover

Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals…a used hangman’s noose…a snuff film. An ageing death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can’t help but reach for his wallet.

I will “sell” my stepfather’s ghost to the highest bidder…

For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn’t afraid. he has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts–of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What’s one more?

But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It’s the real thing.

And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door, seated in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang, standing outside his window, staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting–with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand.

My Review of Heart-Shaped Box

Heart-Shaped BoxHeart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first 100 pages or so were creepy and made me not want to turn the light out but then the tension faded away and after that, it was not scary at all.

I don’t think it’s really supposed to be a ghost story, it’s more about a not particularly nice man becoming a better person.

Judas Coyne is an ageing rock star on a self-destructive downward spiral. He purposefully pushes people away and has lost all interest and joy in his music. The ghost starts to destroy his quiet hideaway and Judas has to go on a journey physically and mentally to fight for his life.

The women in the book feel like they are present just to suffer through traumatic events so that Judas can feel all the emotions and grow as a person. By helping them he ends up saving himself, coming to terms with the childhood abuse he suffered and dealing with the death of his bandmates, and he learns how to form proper, caring relationships with the people left in his life.

I feel a bit cheated because it’s sold as a ghost story but it’s really not. In itself the story is interesting and it held my interest to the end but I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care about Judas, he seems a generally unpleasant person.

It’s not a bad book but it’s kinda predictable and the ghost isn’t anywhere near scary enough.

Heart-Shaped Box
Joe Hill
Horror
February 13th 2007
Paperback
406

The Bees by Laline Paull

the bees cover

Enter a whole new world, in this thrilling debut novel set entirely within a beehive.

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen.

My Review of The Bees

The BeesThe Bees by Laline Paull
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the idea and the glimpse of life inside a beehive but I wasn’t convinced by the way the bees have human emotions and such human social structures.

I also didn’t like the way that Flora was always at the forefront of events. She was a bit too perfect to be likeable, she was always the first to jump into a fight and always the one to have the discussions with outsiders and be the saviour of the beehive. She didn’t care at all for herself or her own safety, just for the hive as a collective and for her children. A Mary-Jane in bee form!

It’s well written though and easy to read – it would make a good summer holiday novel. I can’t help thinking that because the story is quite simple but requires a rather large suspension of disbelief it would have been better as a children’s book.

The story is certainly something different though and it has made me think (worry!) more about bees and especially how they must be suffering this year after all the flowers have died in the long, hot summer.

So, it’s interesting but didn’t hit the mark for me, it was just too forced – the story felt like it fit around the events the author wanted to happen and not the other way round.

The Bees
Laline Paull
Fantasy
January 1st 2015
Paperback
352

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

the lie tree cover

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy – a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder – or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

My Review of The Lie Tree

The Lie TreeThe Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Lie Tree is set in the time when the Origin of the Species was rocking faith in creationism. Faith’s father is a vicar and a scientist who is a firm creationist supporter. The family has good social standing and an easy life until a scandal causes him to lose his job and his reputation. All of a sudden the family have to uproot themselves and move to a remote island.

When Faith’s father dies Faith finds his notes that tell of a plant he is cultivating that can show you the truth, but only if you feed it lies. The lie tree is supposed to show the truth but I think Faith realises that it only shows us visions of things we already know to be true but we just didn’t want to face.

Her father is horrible! I hate to say it but I was willing him to hurry up and get written out. He was a nasty character and I thoroughly hated him.

Faith irritated me for most of the book. She was very naive, she didn’t look past appearances. She hero-worshipped her horrible father and she didn’t think much at all of her mother, who was the one trying to hold the family together with the only tools women in Victorian times had – charm and manipulation of the men. Faith believed that other women were weak and useless, spending their time gossiping and worrying about social status. She thought herself the only smart and useful woman, she couldn’t recognise that other women were smart too and very clever at surviving in the world the only way they could.

But the author does very well at bringing to life the awkward stage the time between child and adult. Faith was stuck between both worlds, existing in neither and both at the same time. The Lie Tree is more a coming of age story than anything else: Faith loses her father which makes her look outside herself and she starts to see behind appearances. She has some nasty shocks that show her that what you see isn’t always what you get and people aren’t always what they pretend to be.

I have to admit that she redeems herself in the end. My favourite part of the whole book is when Faith realises how blind she has been accepting standard beliefs about women. She is not the only woman that does not fit in.

“I’m not like other women but neither are other women”

I thought the whole thing about the Lie Tree was a bit daft. I don’t know if it was supposed to be magic or magical realism but it wasn’t convincing either way. The danger Faith was supposed to be in didn’t feel real either. I enjoyed the coming of age theme about Faith waking up to the world but it just didn’t make for a very exciting story.

The Lie Tree
Frances Hardinge
Young Adult Fantasy
May 7th 2015
Paperback
410

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

elanor Oliphant Cover

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than…fine?

My Review of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I loved Eleanor as a character but her backstory was traumatic and chilling. It’s not the warm, funny book people say it is.

We’re supposed to find Eleanor awkward and quirky and socially awkward, but mostly a funny character; like Sheldon in the big bang theory. But her quirks were there because she had suffered abuse as a child. It’s not funny when someone is a bit odd because of trauma.

I understand from the interview in the back that the author was trying to write about modern loneliness but why did Eleanor have to have such a traumatic history just as a reason to be lonely? It made the story become about childhood abuse, not loneliness, and I’m not convinced the author knows enough about that subject and how people deal with it to be writing about. It felt thrown in there to give Eleanor a backstory to make her socially awkward.

As a lighthearted romance that touches on loneliness, I would have enjoyed this. It was very easy to read and I cared about the characters. I just don’t think it did justice to the child abuse and mental health issues that were raised.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Gail Honeyman
Fiction
January 25th 2018
Paperback
383

Exodus (Raging Earth #1) by Julie Bertagna

exodus cover

In a drowned world, can refuge be found?

Less than a hundred years from now, the world as we know it has disappeared beneath the sea. Only fifteen-year-old Mara has the vision and the will to lead her people in search of a new beginning in this harsh, unfamiliar world.

Exodus (Exodus, #1)Exodus by Julie Bertagna
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Exodus is enjoyable, intelligent and sometimes kinda dark. It’s a young adult sci-fi about what happens when the ice caps melt and the world is flooded. How does humanity survive when there is no land left on Earth?

I liked the writing style: I could imagine Mara’s storm swept island home, the refugee camp was far too real and the glass and hi-tech city in the sky felt very realistic. The dialogue was believable and the characters, even minor ones, were given personality. The world really came to life for me.

I also like that the author wasn’t scared to make the story darker – Mara loses her whole family and sees some absolute horrors in the refugee camp. It almost made me want to cry I was so scared for her. And the bit where she faces off against Tony Rex – I did not expect that! You know that’s gonna come back to bite her later on.

Environmental issues are handled sledgehammer style though. It became a bit more about making a point than about Mara’s story. And it didn’t have anything new to say about the issues (though it is over 10 years old, maybe it was more original back then?).

My other issue with Exodus is that everything was a bit too convenient. If Mara had a problem to solve solutions popped up very easily. Someone appeared to help her almost every time she was in trouble.

I would recommend this to people that like young adult sci-fi stories; probably best for the younger end of the young adult age range.

Exodus
Raging Earth
Julie Bertagna
Young Adult Sci-Fi
April 30th 2003
Paperback
320

Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick

Electric Dreams Cover

The stories that inspired the original dramatic series, premiered January 12, 2018.

Though perhaps most famous as a novelist, Philip K. Dick wrote more than one hundred short stories over the course of his career, each as mind-bending and genre-defining as his longer works. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams collects ten of the best. In “Autofac,” Dick shows us one of the earliest examples (and warnings) in science fiction of self-replicating machines. “Exhibit Piece” and “The Commuter” feature Dick exploring favourite themes: the shifting nature of reality and whether it is even possible to perceive the world as it truly exists. And “The Hanging Stranger” provides a thrilling, dark political allegory as relevant today as it was when Dick wrote it at the height of the Cold War.

Strange, funny, and powerful, the stories in this collection highlight a master at work, encapsulating his boundless imagination and deep understanding of the human condition.

My Review of Electric Dreams

Philip K. Dick's Electric DreamsPhilip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Electric Dreams is a collection of short stories that were the influence for the episodes in the recent tv series based on Philip K. Dick’s work.

The social and cultural side of a lot of them make the stories feel dated. A lot of the sci-fi is the standard stuff that was doing the rounds in the 50s / 60s – human style service robots etc. I don’t mind this, I love Arthur C. Clarke and Issac Asimov but I found it irritating here. Maybe because he’s touted as super modern and way ahead of his time? Also annoying is that the women are treated like daft bits of fluff that get in the men’s way.

He does have some very interesting ideas though and some of the stories I liked a lot. Autofac is one of my favourites, the idea of AI that runs away with itself due to thoughtless programming is so relevant to tech today that it’s chilling to read.

The Hanging Stranger is another one I liked. The suspense and the feeling of confusion the main character feels are spot on.

So some I liked and some I didn’t. Overall it’s an interesting read, especially to see where a lot of modern stories get their influences from.

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams
Philip K. Dick
Sci-Fi
November 14th 2017
Paperback
224