Soul of the Sword (Shadow of the Fox #2) by Julie Kagawa

soul of the sword cover

The Blurb

One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.

Now he has broken free.

Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.

Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

I really struggled to get into this. It felt like there was nothing happening, the story feels like filler – like a setup for the final book. And I’m sick of Yumenko’s running commentary on what her insides are doing, we get details of how her blood is chilling and her stomach is churning, the girl needs to sort out her diet.

I still love the setting and the world – there’s more on the empire and the places and people in it, and more of the monster world too which I found interesting. I could read about the different demons all day and I love how they’re based on Japanese folklore.

I was hoping for more development of the members of Yumeko’s gang too but it felt like that had been skipped over and they just ended up as space-filling caricatures. It spends longer with them but they’re not filled out any more than they were by the end fo the first book. Reika could be such an interesting person, her personality and her skills remind me of Rei from Sailor Moon, but all she does is scowl at everyone and disapprove of everything anyone does. Okame and Daisuke have a relationship building but it felt forced into the story.

The fun side quests and the adventure feel of the first book were also sadly missed. The stakes were definitely upped at the end of the first book and there is more danger and a bigger fight to face but it didn’t get dark enough to make up for the fun feel being ejected.

I also missed the interaction between Yumeko and Tatsumi. The other characters didn’t have the same spark to make up for it and when Yumeko and Tatsumi meet up again at the end it highlights what a big gap their interactions left in the story.

The ending though I loved! No spoilers but it was exciting and unexpected and lived up to the build-up and set the scene perfectly for the next book.

The story is still interesting and even if this book didn’t meet my expectations I still need to see where it goes and how it ends. I’m hopeful for the next book and I will be excited to get my hands on it.

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

Soul of the Sword
Shadow of the Fox
Julie Kagawa
Young Adult Fantasy
June 25th 2019
Kindle
304

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted book cover

The Blurb

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

My Thoughts

3 / 5

Not as much romance as I wanted but I did appreciate the strong theme of friendship running though the story.

After reading the description I was hoping for a fun romance between Agnieszka and Sarkan and it did start out that way with lots of mystery from Sarkan and sarkiness from Agnieszka. But just as I was starting to enjoy the interactions between them and it looked like things were heating up the romance side of the story is just ditched when Agnieszka leaves for the capital.

I loved the first half of the book – it starts out with a lot of banter between them and Agnieszka is struggling with learning the magic basics. You can really see the Beauty and the Beast influence here and it’s fun watching the balance of power between them change as Agnieszka finds her strength in her abilities and her confidence grows.

After the halfway point Agnieszka started to irritate me with her amazing abilities that appear just when she needs them and her lucky escapes. Then Sarkan disappears from the story altogether just as we start to get to know him and the spark and the contrast between that made the story so lively is gone.

The story gets more exciting but it doesn’t feel like anything special. It feels like I’ve seen this story over and over again recently. A young woman is looked down upon and treated like she is a second class citizen but finds that her abilities are super special and she starts to outshine and outwit everyone around her.

What I did appreciate is the way Agnieszka’s confidence grows and she becomes much more sure in herself and her abilities, though it eventually goes too far with this. She forges her own path and isn’t afraid to go against the popular appearance. She is the hero of the story and the removal of Sarkan makes this clear. By the end though she is so amazing and so fantastic and kind and wonderful that it gets a bit grating.

Friendship is a strong theme running through the book, Agnieszka and Kasia are the real stars of the story, I think this should have been the focus all the way through, adding a romance into the story just took away from this. Kasia and Sarkan are never fully realised, dropped in and out when it suits the story and it would have been nice to get to know at least one of them in-depth, and maybe see their side of the story.

The writing is beautifully done though, by far the best thing about the book. And to be fair, Agnieszka was always just the right side of too irritating to live. The way she was written made her more enduring than annoying, but only just.

I expected more after all the hype about it, but it’s an enjoyable coming of age adventure story and it’s very well written.

Uprooted
Naomi Novik
Young Adult Fantasy
May 12th 2016
Paperback
435

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones Cover

The Blurb

For a while, Daisy Jones & The Six were everywhere. Their albums were on every turntable, they sold out arenas from coast to coast, their sound defined an era. And then, on 12 July 1979, they split. Nobody ever knew why. Until now. They were lovers and friends and brothers and rivals. They couldn’t believe their luck, until it ran out.

This is their story of the early days and the wild nights, but everyone remembers the truth differently. The only thing they all know for sure is that from the moment Daisy Jones walked barefoot onstage at the Whisky, their lives were irrevocably changed. Making music is never just about the music. And sometimes it can be hard to tell where the sound stops and the feelings begin.

My Thoughts

3 / 5 stars

Addictive reading but there’s nothing innovative or new in it.

The blurb promised dramatic secrets and explosive events and actually, it was just that someone fancied someone else and there were too many drugs going around. Nothing exciting really.

I liked the interview format, I felt that worked really well with the idea that the book is telling the back story of a 70’s rock n’ roll band. It makes it quick reading too.

It’s really well written though and it brought the atmosphere of 70’s music and glam lifestyle that I wanted from it. If there had been more interesting secrets then I think it would have lived up to the hype.

It’s a fun, holiday-worthy read but I wanted something more dramatic from it.

Daisy Jones and The Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Fiction
March 7th 2019
Hardback
368

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

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