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

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

The Rules of Magic (Practical Magic #2) by Alice Hoffman

the rules of magic cover

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start, Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City, each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

My Thoughts

The Rules of Magic (Practical Magic)The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s beautifully written and so easy to read. I got drawn in straight away and caught up in their world. But, I felt like it didn’t go anywhere and it was a bit depressing. I expected the aunts to have some wild stories to tell but they didn’t do much at all, had bad luck in their love lives and gave up living in their twenties.

I got the feeling with all the painful things that happened that it set out not to tell the story of the aunts but to make the reader cry.

It didn’t help that I already kinda knew how it ended – we know where the aunts end up this is really just the story of how they got there.

It’s still a beautifully written book I just wanted more out of it.

The Rules of Magic
Practical Magic
Alice Hoffman
Fantasy
October 10th 2017
Paperback
369

Charmed Life (Chrestomanci #1) by Diana Wynne Jones

Charmed life cover

Cat doesn’t mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

My Thoughts

Charmed Life (Chrestomanci, #1)Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Charmed Life is an odd but fun book about two orphan children who go to live in Chrestomanci Castle, home of the most powerful magician in the land and his family.

Cat has no magic of his own but his sister Gwendolen is a very powerful witch and she’s also very impressed with her own ability. When they arrive at the castle though, the adults ignore them and Gwendolen is banned from practising magic. Safe to say she is not pleased by this and she quickly sets out to cause as much mayhem as possible in revenge.

I did enjoy this book but it has what I think is a pretty big plot hole. Cat and his sister are dragged away from their home to live with this Chrestomanci person and no one in their new home will talk to them or explain anything that’s going on. No wonder Gwendolen gets frustrated, I would too!

I spent a good two-thirds of the book being outraged on behalf of Cat and Gwendolen and cheering Gwendolen’s naughtiness on. The adults keep their secrets for far too long for no real reason – they could have sat down and talked to Cat, then everything would have been resolved almost straight away.

Of course, when the truth comes out you realise the adults were actually dealing with everything very carefully. The villain is mean and nasty (and the author doesn’t sugar coat it) and there is real and scary danger to everyone.

The story has a very dark edge to it but then the best children’s books always do. The exciting ending made up for a lot of my issue with Chrestomanci just not talking to the children.

Charmed Life is aimed at children but with enough to it to keep adults interested too. Make yourself a big cup of tea and settle down somewhere cosy to enjoy this one!

Charmed Life
Chrestomanci
Diana Wynne Jones
Children's Fantasy
1977
Paperback
252

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister the Serial Killer Cover

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water.

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach.

This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first.

Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other.

My Thoughts

My Sister, the Serial KillerMy Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this when I read it, but I had to wait for it to get round the rest of the book club before I could review it and now I find that I didn’t remember much of it at all. I admit I had to wait for the other book club members to remind me what had happened before I could write this review!

I do remember that I found the characters frustrating. Korede has serious issues with her sister Ayoola, she has a lot of jealousy and paints her sister as a beautiful woman who has everyone wrapped around her little finger, getting everything she wants. Korede herself is, in her own words, plain and awkward and lost in her Ayoola’s shadow.

As the story progresses Ayoola steals the heart of the man that Korede is in love with. Korede fears for his life but can’t do anything to help him without causing harm or jail time to her sister.

None of the characters are very likeable but their back story is revealed slowly throughout the book and that gives insight into why they are the way they are. I don’t actually mind characters being unpleasant and these two certainly have reason to be the way that they are.

It starts out as a dark story and parts of it are a little disturbing but it doesn’t really stay that way. It could have been much darker and pushed the story more to an extreme. I didn’t find that there was much in the way of humour in it either. It’s well written (especially for a debut) and very readable, I just wanted a bit more from the story.

An enjoyable, dark and a little disturbing short read, well written, but ultimately not very memorable – if I’m being honest I can’t actually remember the ending.

My Sister, the Serial Killer
Oyinkan Braithwaite
Fiction
November 20th 2018
Hardback
226

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

The Confessions of Franie Langton Cover

They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

My Thoughts

The Confessions of Frannie LangtonThe Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me ages to get through this book because I had to keep taking breaks and reading something else. The pace is very, very slow moving and it tackles some heavy issues but it’s not the most interesting of storylines. So I struggled to read it, I had to keep taking breaks to read something else and then come back and read a bit more.

The story only picked up at the end when it turns to the actual trial but then that is just rushed through in a couple of chapters. Though since the trial itself only lasts a day and a half – a sham trial, the minds of the judge and jurors made up before they enter the room – it’s actually a realistic representation. If there had been more of the events of that night or the things Frannie did when helping Langton with his experiments revealed at points through the book it might have added a bit more interest and life to the story. Most of it focuses on her obsession with Marguerite – something that never felt believable to me.

What I like most about this book is that Frannie is angry. She’s not a kind-hearted, self-sacrificing good girl. She’s angry at the way she’s treated and she doesn’t win people over with the kindness of her heart and you can believe it is quite possible she might actually have murdered her master and mistress.

I also liked that it goes in-depth into the overt sexism and racism prevalent at the time and the viewpoint from the slave feels realistic. I can feel Frannie’s frustration at her situation coming off her in waves. An intelligent woman who would be happy with just a bit of free time to read a book every now and again, she is treated as a savage and a beast, as though she is not human, by everyone around her.

This book has a lot to say and it’s worth reading for its viewpoint on race and slavery alone. I just found it too slow to hold my interest for long periods of reading and it’s also a bit dreary and very depressing.

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

The Confessions of Frannie Langton
Sara Collins
Fiction
April 4th 2019
Kindle
384

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

psychology of time travel cover

1967: Four female scientists invent a time-travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril.

2017: Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future–a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady.

2018: When Odette discovered the body, she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, flesh. But when the inquest fails to answer any of her questions, Odette is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?

My Thoughts

The Psychology of Time TravelThe Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“We’ve done it,” Babara said, “You bloody brilliant women. We’ve done it.”

They hugged, their voices mingling as they spoke over each other, and Babara’s vision blurred with tears. She was so grateful – for Lucielle’s superluminal research, and Grace’s thermodynamics, and Margaret’s utter, unshakeable conviction that they would succeed. The team were pioneers. They were going to be the first people to travel through time.

I loved that it involved a murder mystery – one of my favourite things – and then combined it with a sci-fi story – another of my favourite things! But it kinda disappointingly didn’t go anywhere. Also, it confused me. Maybe I missed something reading it but I didn’t get the whole candy box thing and didn’t get why it was left there and why they knew when to go back.

Another thing I love is that the majority of the scientists and important people were women, as though it was just a normal thing. I didn’t like any of the characters though. As people go these were pretty miserable, selfish group. There were also so many storylines and different themes running that it made it hard to keep track of what was happening to who. I think that contributed massively to my confused feelings reading it.

It’s well written though, there’s enough in this one book to fill three or four different books and I think that if the author had trimmed this back a bit I would have really loved it.

The time travel company was interesting and well thought out – it created its own rules and morals and basically, it’s own eco-system. It set itself apart from the rest of the world as something special because it owned time travel. As another book club member pointed out (hi Mum!) the book seemed to be trying to create a parallel with the Google’s and the Facebook’s of the world – an entity with so much control and power that it thinks itself above the laws.

On the psychology side, the book delves into the ways in which time travel might affect a person. How they become hardened to death and how they deal with romantic relationships and meeting oneself in the future or the past. This was the most interesting aspect of the book for me, I liked seeing the ways the people, and the company itself, dealt with the issues.

I enjoyed reading it and I loved some of the ideas and themes running through it but overall I thought it too messy with too many characters, none of them likeable enough to make me care for them.

The Psychology of Time Travel
Kate Mascarenhas
Sci-Fi
August 9th 2018
Paperback
320

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