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

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 Secret City (The Alchemist Chronicles #2) by C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld

the secret city cover

Locked away inside the fortified walls of Oxford’s St Wilfred’s College, surrounded by alchemists sworn to protect them, Taylor and Sacha are safe from the Darkness. For now.

But time is short. In seven days Sacha will turn 18, and the ancient curse that once made him invincible will kill him, unleashing unimaginable demonic horror upon the world.

There is one way to stop it.

Taylor and Sacha must go to where the curse was first cast – the medieval French city of Carcassonne – and face the demons.

The journey will be dangerous. And monsters are waiting for them.

But as Darkness descends on Oxford, their choice is stark. They must face everything that scares them or lose everything they love.

My Thoughts

The Secret City (The Alchemist Chronicles #2)The Secret City by C.J. Daugherty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Secret City picks right up where The Secret Fire left off, with Taylor learning how to control her magic while she and Sascha and the alchemists of St Winifred’s are searching for the key to breaking Sascha’s curse.

There’s a lot more action in this one when Taylor and Sascha have to race through France to Carcassone to beat a villain who is trying to raise a demon. It felt like the ending was rushed – they found the solution all at once and then it seemed to be over very quickly but the rest of the book was exciting without moving too fast. There was time to get to know the characters and I loved following them on their journey through France. Their relationship is sweet, they don’t fall in love at first sight, and they are very likeable both separately and together.

The villain though was cartoonish and underwhelming. He wasn’t fleshed out enough, and if I don’t know the villain’s motivations it’s difficult for me to see them as actual people or to find them threatening. He was just something and nothing that popped up every so often to leer at them a bit.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this. It’s interesting and a bit different and exciting enough to hold it’s own against the more obvious series in this genre. I want to know more about the alchemist society though and life at St Winifred’s!

The Secret City
The Alchemist Chronicles
C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld
Young Adult Fantasy
September 1st 2016
Paperback
368

Before Mars (Planetfall #3) by Emma Newman

Before Mars Cover

After months of travel, Anna Kubrin finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist-in-residence. Already she feels like she is losing the connection with her husband and baby at home on Earth–and she’ll be on Mars for over a year. Throwing herself into her work, she tries her best to fit in with the team.

But in her new room on the base, Anna finds a mysterious note written in her own handwriting, warning her not to trust the colony psychologist. A note she can’t remember writing. She unpacks her wedding ring, only to find it has been replaced by a fake.

Finding a footprint in a place the colony AI claims has never been visited by humans, Anna begins to suspect that her assignment isn’t as simple as she was led to believe. Is she caught up in an elaborate corporate conspiracy, or is she actually losing her mind? Regardless of what horrors she might discover, or what they might do to her sanity, Anna has find the truth before her own mind destroys her.

My Thoughts

Before Mars (Planetfall, #3)Before Mars by Emma Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anna Kubrin is newly arrived on Mars, ready to join the team as a geologist. She has been travelling in a spaceship on her own for 6 months, spending most of her lonely time in mersives – VR memories that are recorded by the chip in a person’s brain, that they can go back and relive any time they want.

When Anna gets to Mars though, things aren’t what she expected them to be. She has instinctive emotions towards the other members of the team she meets on Mars that she doesn’t understand. Little, odd things seem out of place and she starts to think that the base’s AI is lying to her, that it is trying to keep her away from one specific location on the Mars surface.

Anna knows that something is wrong but sometimes she doubts her own sanity, not helped by the base’s resident psychiatrist telling her that she is suffering from too much time spent in mersives.

Anna never wanted children, she feels her husband forced the decision on her and now she appears to be suffering from postnatal depression. Unable to form a connection with her daughter she took the opportunity to travel to Mars as a geologist and artist. Now, she feels guilty for her decision at the same time as feeling glad that she has left the claustrophobic atmosphere of her family.

It’s good to have a main character who is a mother struggling with motherhood. Anna is a flawed, struggling woman who is often hard to like but compelling to read about. Her honesty to us and herself about her issues with her child and her husband are refreshing. They are much needed in a world that likes to present motherhood as a mythical state of enlightenment, something that is inbuilt into a woman’s psyche, as though it’s not difficult and as much a trial and error experience as everything else in this world. We need more women characters like this in fiction.

It’s a very clever, twisty plot, is Anna right or is she imagining things? Should she trust the other team members or is she right to be suspicious of them? It took me back and forth between believing Anna and thinking that she is wrong about it all. It kept me guessing as it built up the suspense.

I loved the tech in the book, it takes what we have now and pushes it and expands on it making the setting fell very realistic. It mixes in a mystery, which I also love, and throws in a fair bit of a thriller atmosphere and then mixes it all perfectly. This has to be one of my favourite sci-fi books of the last few years.

Emma Newman is a very versatile author. I never would have imagined after reading the Split Worlds fantasy series that she could be such a good sci-fi author. Each book in this series focuses on different events in the same universe and has different themes and a different feel to them. It’s all very cleverly done, I wish more series were built up like this. For me, she is up there with China Mieville in her refusal to being categorised as an author of a specific genre.

Before Mars follows quite closely the second book in the series, the two tales intertwine at points but I don’t think you will need to have read that to read this. I recommend that you do read that though, and the first one as they are both brilliant and will add a lot to the backstory of this one. Like I said though, no specific need to, if you think this sounds like one you really want to read then you won’t have much of an issue if you start here.

I all around enjoyed this one, I sped through it in a few days and I’ve already started on After Atlas, the next book in the series. I highly recommend this series if you like sci-fi.

Before Mars
Planetfall
Emma Newman
Sci-Fi
April 17th 2018
Kindle
352

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color by Nisi Shawl, Rebecca Roanhorse

New Suns Cover

Anthology of contemporary stories by emerging and seasoned writers of many races

There’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns,” proclaimed Octavia E Butler.

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color showcases emerging and seasoned writers of many races telling stories filled with shocking delights, powerful visions of the familiar made strange. Between this book’s covers burn tales of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and their indefinable overlappings. These are authors aware of our many possible pasts and futures, authors freed of stereotypes and clichés, ready to dazzle you with their daring genius.

Unexpected brilliance shines forth from every page.

Including stories by Indrapramit Das, E Lily Yu, Rebecca Roanhorse, Anil Menon, Jaymee Goh and many others. Introduction by Levar Burton.

My Thoughts

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of ColorNew Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color by Nisi Shawl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

News Suns is a book of collected short speculative fiction stories by people of colour. It’s quite an open description and so the stories here are varied in style, linking them is that they all have elements of something unusual, something not quite of this world.

Normally I find short story collections difficult to read because I find myself stopping after every story but with this one I just couldn’t stop reading. The stories are all a bit odd, a bit different and full of atmosphere. I very much enjoyed this collection and I was sad to get to the end.

My favourites included Harvest – a dark and disturbing tale of a woman who would do anything for her lover, The Freedom of the Shifting Sea, an only slight less disturbing tale of a woman that falls in love with a mermaid / sea worm and Deer Dancer, a story that I didn’t understand at all but thought was beautifully done even though it went over my head.

The only one I wasn’t keen on was The Virtue of Unfaithful Translations because it was more historical explanation than a story. I liked the way it tried something new but I didn’t feel connected to the story at all, it was too far removed.

The other stories were:

Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex, about a taxi driver who finds himself in trouble after a passenger jumps out of his cab.

Come Home to Atropos – a very cleverly done story about an advertising campaign to entice rich white people to come to Atropos for euthanasia that feels far too realistic to be comfortable reading.

The Fine Print – about men that exchange their women and children to pay for perfect wives from catalogues.

Unkind of Mercy – a woman that can see invisible beings that inhabit our world.

Burn the Ships – a race of people that are about to be wiped out by alien invaders find a way to fight back.

Three Variations on a Theme of Imperial Attire – an Emporer’s New Clothes retelling.

Blood and Bells – another of my favourites, this is about a young man trying to protect his child and escape the gang world that he lives in.

Give me your Black Wings Oh Sister – I liked this one a lot too, it’s about a young woman that starts to feel strange, uncontrollable urges.

The Shadow we Cast through Time – a story about a world that lives in close contact with demons.

The Robots of Eden – people that have ‘enhanced’ themselves but lost the ability to feel emotions.

Dumb House – a woman that refuses to upgrade to the latest smart houses.

One Easy Trick – about a woman who literally loses her belly fat while walking in the forest.

Kelsey and the Burdened Breath – a world where when people die their souls leave their bodies with their last breath.

A varied and interesting short story collection, I recommend this if you’re looking for something fresh and a bit different.

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

New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color
Nisi Shawl, Rebecca Roanhorse
Sci-Fi
March 12th 2019
Kindle
384

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1) by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library Cover

Irene must be at the top of her game or she’ll be off the case – permanently…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library, #1)The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, my 2018 reading came to a cracking finish with this one!

It was a bit heavy on the explanations at first – the stuff about the chaos worlds was overly complicated and didn’t really go in until I’d read the first third of the book. After that though it picks up and gets on with a fun, fast paced and action filled plot.

Irene was an interesting, complicated character, veering between confidence and self-doubt. Her sensibleness and her love of books, especially detective stories made her resonate with me and I found her easy to relate to.

Her assistant Kai was a good character too. Mysterious, attractive, open in his attraction to Irene and respectful of her experience and intelligence. A refreshing change for a romantic interest in this sort of book.

I loved the crazy world Genevieve Cogman has created, with dragons, airships and mind controlled alligators. She’s filled it with lively and interesting characters and it’s madcap but it works.

Altogether it’s just a lot of fun!

The Invisible Library
The Invisible Library
Genevieve Cogman
Steampunk
January 15th 2015
Paperback
329

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Ayesha at last cover

A big-hearted, captivating, modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice, with hijabs instead of top hats and kurtas instead of corsets.

AYESHA SHAMSI has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been overtaken by a demanding teaching job. Her boisterous Muslim family, and numerous (interfering) aunties, are professional naggers. And her flighty young cousin, about to reject her one hundredth marriage proposal, is a constant reminder that Ayesha is still single.

Ayesha might be a little lonely, but the one thing she doesn’t want is an arranged marriage. And then she meets Khalid. How could a man so conservative and judgmental (and, yes, smart and annoyingly handsome) have wormed his way into her thoughts so quickly?

As for Khalid, he’s happy the way he is; his mother will find him a suitable bride. But why can’t he get the captivating, outspoken Ayesha out of his mind? They’re far too different to be a good match, surely?

My Thoughts

Ayesha at LastAyesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Completely charming, with a cast of sweet and funny characters, and a message about not judging other’s actions – I just loved it!ed it!

Khalid is adorable, kind and honest and trying his best to make his mother happy even though he starts to have doubts about her approach to life and her restrictive views on how to be a Muslim. Ayehsa is intelligent and caring – her family allow her more freedom but she isn’t sure what she wants to do with it.

When Ayesah and Khalid meet at the Bella lounge, Ayesha thinks Khalid is stuffy and Khalid thinks Ayesa is the “wrong” sort of Muslim. But neither of them can deny their attraction to each other.

Add to this a meddling mother, a Shakespeare quoting grandparent, a selfish young cousin, a banished sister and a best friend with her own romantic troubles and the stage is set for a funny and charming tale.

It’s based on Pride and Prejudice – I’ve never read that so I can’t say how faithful an adaptation it is but I have read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (hated it), and there are a few things I can recognise from that story!

There’s a very strong message in this story about not judging others or assuming things about them, and about how there is more than one way to be a good person. Ayesha and Khalid spent a good part of the book with the wrong ideas about each other – they have to see past their pride and their prejudice and learn to stop judging so harshly.

It stays light-hearted and fresh though – the characters are charming and well developed and the plot rollicks along at a fast pace that I just couldn’t stop reading. I very much enjoyed it and it’s hard to believe this is the author’s debut novel. I hope she writes a lot more!

A heartwarming read that I couldn’t put down, I highly recommend this.

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

Ayesha at Last
Uzma Jalaluddin
Fiction
April 4th 2019
Kindle
368

Angel of the Blockade by Alex Wells

Angel of the Blockade Cover

Nata spends her time zipping through the black in her ugly yet bad-ass spaceship, taking pride in being the best smuggler the Imperial regime has never caught. When she takes on an expensive mystery cargo, however, the risk reaches far beyond her pride.

My Thoughts

Angel of the BlockadeAngel of the Blockade by Alex Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The bar smells like old socks, sour beer, and just an edge of mustiness, which means the air filters are probably a couple weeks past due. Starting to go moldy, but not bad enough to actually give anyone a respiratory infection. It almost overwhelms the weird, dirty cinnamon scent that characterizes Corona Nine Station and never leaves the back of your throat once you’ve sucked in your first lungful.”

I loved the setting; Alex Wells has a gift for creating unique and believable worlds and universes and this one is brought to life in the first few paragraphs. It is vaguely reminiscent of Firefly but grittier and more grown up. The writing brings the story to life so much I can picture myself there.

The story is exciting and drew me in straight away. Nata is a brilliant character and I liked the way her situation is explained subtly without us being told about her by info dumps.

The only thing that stopped me from rating this higher is that I felt it tried to fit too much in. The time devoted to setting the scene at the start is probably my favourite part of it because the rest ended up too rushed and crammed in at the end. I got a bit lost with the story and I really wanted more from it. I wish it had been longer!

Give this one a go and if you like it check out the authors Ghost Wolves series, one of my personal favourites.

Angel of the Blockade
Alex Wells
Sci-Fi
September 6th 2017
Online
29

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

cuckoo song cover

The first things to shift were the doll’s eyes, the beautiful grey-green glass eyes. Slowly they swivelled, until their gaze was resting on Triss’s face. Then the tiny mouth moved, opened to speak.

‘What are you doing here?’ It was uttered in tones of outrage and surprise, and in a voice as cold and musical as the clinking of cups. ‘Who do you think you are? This is my family.’

When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out.

Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest find the truth she must travel into the terrifying Underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family – before it’s too late.

My Thoughts

Cuckoo SongCuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cuckoo Song is a dark, creepy fairy tale that comes out like Diana Wynne Jones’ The Time of the Ghost but then twists itself into a very dark and atmospheric fairy tale.

It’s told from the point of view of the ‘monster’ – the fake Triss that is created by magic and made from twigs and ribbons and hair to cover up the kidnap of the real Triss. She doesn’t know what she is at first, she wakes up with no memories and can’t understand why nothing in her life feels quite right and why her little sister hates her.

Underneath the fairy tale story is a story about a family falling apart. Triss’ older brother Sebastion was killed in the war and her parents are devastated, turning all their attention on protecting sickly Triss and ignoring her little sister Pen, who can never behave herself. They are distant and cold and all the love has gone from the family.

I was wary of starting this one after I didn’t like the first Frances Harding book I read, The Lie Tree. I’m glad that I gave it a chance though, in this book the oddness that I couldn’t get to grips with in The Lie Tree was done perfectly with a decent and layered story to back it up.

Frances Harding manages to make me have sympathy for the villain. Ok, he’s crazy scary and way too obsessed with revenge, but the root of his motivation is that he is trying to help his people find a place to live where they won’t be persecuted. As much as I want not-Triss to stop his plans and save real Triss I also understand why he’s done most of what he’s done.

Pen and Violet are two of the best characters I’ve read about all year; Violet is sensible but a total badass and I adore how fierce and wilful Pen is.

I loved it, I loved the characters, I loved the story, I loved everything about it. It’s a strange and dark and odd story and I couldn’t stop reading.

Cuckoo Song
Frances Hardinge
Young Adult Fantasy
May 8th 2014
Paperback
409

The Last Children of Tokyo by Yōko Tawada, Margaret Mitsutani (Translator)

Last Children of Tokyo Cover

Yoshiro celebrated his hundredth birthday many years ago, but every morning before work he still goes running in the park with his rent-a-dog. He is one of the many aged-elderly in Japan and he might, he thinks, live forever. Life for Yoshiro isn’t as simple as it used to be. Pollution and natural disasters have scarred the face of the Earth, and even common foods are hard to come by. Still, Yoshiro’s only real worry is the future of his great-grandson Mumei, who, like other children of his generation, was born frail and grey-haired, old before he was ever young.

As daily life in Tokyo grows harder, a secretive organisation embarks on an audacious plan to find a cure for the children of Japan – might Yoshiro’s great-grandson, Mumei, be the key?

A dreamlike story of filial love and glimmering hope, The Last Children of Tokyo is a delicate glimpse of our future from one of Japan’s most celebrated writers.

My Thoughts

The Last Children of TokyoThe Last Children of Tokyo by Yōko Tawada
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nothing much really happens in this little novella but it felt like it packed more into its few pages than most manage to get into three books.

It’s set in Japan in the near future where older people are living longer lives and enjoying great health. But the children being born are old before their time, they have problems eating and walking and can’t play properly. Their bodies decay quickly and they die young but the children seem wiser and more accepting of their status then the adults do.

I like the slow, contemplative pace. The lives of Yoshiro and his grandson Mumei are examined minutely and laid bare for us to see. As sad and difficult as Yoshiro finds the situation, Mumei just accepts his lot in life and carries on as if it’s normal. And for him, it is.

The message of the book seems to be to encourage us to think about what we are doing now: living it large and using up all the resources and polluting the environment is going to leave future generations with a trashed planet and serious health issues.

I’m not sure that much happens but it feels like it does and it’s all very sad.

The language and the writing is beautiful and encourages a slow contemplation of the world. I read slowly because I was trying to take it all in but I still don’t think I understood everything in it – this is one I think will benefit from rereads. I’m sure I missed things in it.

A beautifully written sad and moving look at a scarily possible future.

The Last Children of Tokyo by
Yōko Tawada
Sci-Fi
June 7th 2018
Paperback
144