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

Strain of Resistance by Michelle Bryan

strain of resistance cover

I was 12 years old when the world ended. For eight years I’ve survived in this craphole once known as earth. Fighting the alien parasite that mutated most of the population into blood-thirsty freaks, while the rest of us became the lunch special on their alien menu.

Now things are changing, and not for the better. The parasite is evolving. Becoming smarter, stronger and deadlier.

They’ve already stolen everything from me. My home. My family. Even the man I loved. It’s time for this bullshit to end once and for all.

My name is Bixby and I’m the resistance.

My Review of Strain of Resistance

Strain of Resistance (Strain of Resistance #1)Strain of Resistance by Michelle Bryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A twist on the new adult genre and zombie fiction

Strain of Resistance is a new adult story set in a zombie infested post-apocalyptic world. The zombies in this story are a bit different from the normal, run-of-the-mill zombie. In Strain of Resistance, these zombies have worm / slug-like creatures that grow out of their mouths and have taken over their brains. These worms were implanted in their bodies by a strange fog that settled over the world one morning.

Bixby is one of the few survivors, people that seem to be immune to the fog. She has taken refuge with a group of people living in what was once a five-star hotel and she spends her days risking her life to go out into the zombie-infested world and hunting for supplies.

Now, I kinda hated Bixby. She’s mean, arrogant and generally just unpleasant to everyone around her. But, that also kinda made me love her too. It gets tiresome to read book after book where the heroine is self-sacrificing, cares about everyone and only risks her life to help others. It’s also fun to read a character that doesn’t care about upsetting anyone and just does what she wants.

The plot is fun and well paced. The action is constant and the story and the tension ramps up throughout the book. A little more character growth would have fleshed it out a bit, the relationships between the people in the story are explained very briefly. Just enough to set the scene really.

Interestingly, the main action and conflict at the end don’t come from what is the actual conclusion to the storyline; it happens in what is almost a side plot at the end. A brave choice, but changing things up like this worked well and stopped it being predictable.

Strain of Resistance is fun and exciting and I’ve already put the sequel on my TBR list!

Strain of Resistance
Strain of Resistance
Michelle Bryan
Sci-Fi
March 1st 2016
Kindle
208

The Obsidian Tower (Jewelfire #3) by Freda Warrington

obsidian tower cover

In this final volume of the Jewelfire trilogy, all seems lost for the humans of Aventuria. The shape-changing Bhahdradomen have invaded and Queen Helananthe has been forced to step down or see her mother and brother murdered. Meanwhile Tanthe is attempting to rescue her sister, Ysomir.

My Review of The Obsidian Tower

The Obsidian Tower (The Jewelfire Trilogy #3)The Obsidian Tower by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is not ok to play with my emotions like this Freda Warrington! Excuse me while I go sob in the corner, please.

So, at the start of The Obsidian Tower, everything looks bad. The Bhahdradomen have invaded and taken the throne, Helan, Tanthe and the others are in captivity and Rufryd has been left for dead. Well, things only get worse from here!

I’ve grown to love this series. I wasn’t convinced by the first book but it grew on me and I ended up heavily emotionally invested in it. The writing is lush. The descriptions of the worlds are beautiful: this world is alive in my head, I could almost step into it.

And there is SO much character growth. Characters I hated at the start ended up being my favourites and characters that I thought were going to be the heroes or the villains are anything but. There are no truly good or bad people in the worlds Freda Warrington creates. There are no superheroes and no evil villains. Her characters are very real, often messy and usually contradictory. And don’t get too attached to any of them because Warrington is not averse to killing off the people that seem like the stars of the show. None of them is safe!

The storyline is very, very clever. There are lot’s of different characters and different stories going on but they all weave in together and bring a very satisfying, if bittersweet, resolution with all the different storylines rounded up and finished off.

I got off to a wobbly start with this series but by the end, I’d fallen in love with it. It’s clever, dark and as realistic as high fantasy gets. Give it a go, it’s worth the investment.

The Obsidian Tower
Jewelfire
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
2001
Paperback
708

The Secret Fire (The Alchemist Chronicles #1) by C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld

The Secret Fire Cover

French teen Sacha Winters can’t die. He can throw himself off a roof, be stabbed, even shot, and he will always survive. Until the day when history and ancient enmities dictate that he must die. Worse still, his death will trigger something awful. Something deadly. And that day is closing in.

Taylor Montclair is a normal English girl, hanging out with her friends and studying for exams until she starts shorting out the lights with her brain. She’s also the only person on earth who can save Sacha.

There’s only one problem: the two of them have never met. They live hundreds of miles apart and powerful forces will stop at nothing to keep them apart.

They have eight weeks to find each other.

Will they survive long enough to save the world?

My Review of The Secret Fire

The Secret Fire (The Alchemist Chronicles, #1)The Secret Fire by C.J. Daugherty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sacha is 17, he lives in Paris and he can’t die. Until the day he turns 18 when the curse that protects him will kill him.

Taylor is just a normal English teenager trying to do well in her exams. But she starts getting terrible headaches and odd things start happening around her when she gets upset.

Their teachers ask them to work them together so Taylor can help Sacha with his English but they soon start to realise that it’s not an accidental pairing – Taylor holds some sort of key to breaking the curse that is going to kill Sacha.

I got caught up in the story behind Sacha’s curse. I liked his storyline better than Taylor’s and I liked reading the parts from his point of view more because they felt like they flowed better and were grittier and just more interesting than Taylor’s.

Taylor’s magic is explained as being ‘spiritual alchemy’ – it’s basically a science, where certain people are capable of manipulating atoms with the mind. Erm, no, I don’t think so. I can accept magically manipulating elements and all that but trying to pass it off as ‘just a science thing that some people can do’ just feels daft. It might not make much sense but it just doesn’t work for me.

Everything else about the book I liked though. Taylor and Sacha’s friendship and their trust in each other develop realistically, it wasn’t rushed and they just work well as a couple.

It’s a pretty standard young adult plot but it has enough new ideas and a strong enough personality on its own to make it worth picking up.

It’s easy and fun to read and there’s more than enough magic, action and adventure to keep it interesting. I started the next book as soon as I finished this one!

The Secret Fire
The Alchemist Chronicles
C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld
Young Adult Fantasy
September 3rd 2015
Kindle
424

Jem and the Holograms, Volume 3: Dark Jem

jem volume 3 cover

Something is wrong with SYNERGY! As JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS’ first tour begins, something or someone called SILICA is after them but who, or what, is she? Meanwhile, THE MISFITS need to replace their lead singer fast and maybe even permanently?!?

My Review of Jem and the Holograms, Volume 3: Dark Jem

Jem and the Holograms, Volume 3: Dark JemJem and the Holograms, Volume 3: Dark Jem by Kelly Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m still loving this series!

It’s nice to see this volume drops a lot of the relationship angst, it has an actual storyline!

The Misfits and Pizzaz get some character development and I think that was a very good decision. It keeps things interesting and adds the potential for more inventive storylines. I always preferred The Misfits to The Holograms so it makes me very happy to see that they are treated as more than the ‘bad band’.

The art is as good as ever, the outfits are stunning and the meatier storyline pays off, making this my favourite volume so far.

Jem and the Holograms, Volume 3: Dark Jem
Jem and the Holograms
Kelly Thompson, Ross Campbell
Graphic Novel
August 30th 2016
Paperback
136

The Sapphire Throne (Jewelfire #2) by Freda Warrington

The sapphire throne cover

The war appears to be over. Helananthe, granddaughter of the mad king, Garnelys, has gathered her forces and reclaimed the Amber Citadel of Parione, defeating its evil Bhahdradomen advisers…but matters are never simple. The destinies of Tanthe and Ysomir, sisters whose journeys from their village home of Riverwynde had a massive impact on the war, have driven them apart.

Ysomir is held in the Citadel, accused of killing King Garnelys. Tanthe is pulled through a portal to the realm of the mysterious Aelyr by Auriel – an Aelyr youth who insists he is her brother. And there are yet darker schemes afoot.

Tanthe faces challenges from her human friends and her Aelyr “family”. Rufryd, brother of Ysomir’s dead beloved, rages against the world and becomes Helananthe’s ambassador to the Bhahdradomen on the island of Vexor, where a terrifying fate awaits him. All will be changed forever.

In the second volume of her stunning Jewelfire Trilogy, Freda Warrington explores the machinations of the Bhahdradomen as they creep towards their ultimate aim – complete domination of the Nine Realms.

My Review of The Sapphire Throne

The Sapphire Throne (The Jewelfire Trilogy #2)The Sapphire Throne by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Sapphire Throne is a huge improvement on the first book.

The Amber Citadel introduced so many characters and backstory and such a massive amount of history that the story got bogged down. The Sapphire Throne takes all the setup already done and runs with it!

The story is exciting and well paced and Freda Warrington throws surprises in almost every chapter. She turns the expected fantasy storylines on their heads and writes something a bit different with a strong personality – often sorely lacking in the fantasy realm.

The ending leaves things in such a desperate state I NEED to get my hands on the next book to find out what happens.

I have a serious love / hate relationship with the characters in this series. All of them have things about them I dislike and make me angry but I still care about them. There’s so much less whinging that in the first book that I actually quite like Tanthe and Rufryd, though they still make some very questionable choices (especially Tanthe). It’s a refreshing change to have heroes that are flawed and human instead of humble and self-sacrificing to the point of saintliness.

I’m hooked – can’t wait for the next one!

The Sapphire Throne
Jewelfire
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
2000
Paperback
527

Jem and the Holograms, Volume 2: Viral (Jem and the Holograms #2)

jem cover volume 2

Jerrica and her sisters face their biggest threat yet—success! Meanwhile, the Misfits aren’t taking these upstarts lying down… as they find themselves under new management. Plus, go behind the scenes and see THE HOLOGRAMS and THE MISFITS from a whole new perspective… that of music columnist Rio Pacheco!

Written by Kelly Thompson with art by Emma VieceliCorin Howell and Amy Mebberson with colors by M. Victoria Robado.

Collects issues #7-10, the Outrageous Annual 2015, and the 2015 Holiday Special.

My Review of Jem and the Holograms, Volume 2

Jem and the Holograms, Volume 2: ViralJem and the Holograms, Volume 2: Viral by Kelly Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second volume starts off with a bit of fun! The girls fall asleep watching movies and each of them has a short sequence of their different movie dream!

And then it’s back to the normal programming as Shana angsts over whether to stay in the band or follow her fashion dreams to Italy, The Holograms choose a label to sign with, and The Misfits hatch plans to bring down The Holograms and become more popular.

So business as usual really!

The art is fun, bright, colourful and the outfits are still amazing! There’s a little bit more about the girls and their lives in this one, their personalities come through a lot stronger than in the first volume. The writing and story lines showcase the strength of friendships and it’s nice to read stories about women with strong bonds between them.

My only complaint – I could do with slightly less of the relationship angst between Kimber and Stormer. They are cute together and I wish they would just get on with it.

I absolutely adore the artwork and the costumes and though the story doesn’t bring anything new it’s done well and the dialogue works. I’m loving this series!

Jem and the Holograms, Volume 2: Viral
Jem and the Holograms
Kelly Thompson, Emma Vieceli, Corin Howell, Amy Mebberson, Maria Victoria Robado
Graphic Novel
May 3rd 2016
Paperback
152

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cat's Eye Cover

Elaine Risley, a painter, returns to Toronto to find herself overwhelmed by her past. Memories of childhood — unbearable betrayals and cruelties — surface relentlessly, forcing her to confront the spectre of Cordelia, once her best friend and tormentor, who has haunted her for forty years.

Cat's EyeCat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.”

Cat’s Eye is an in-depth look at the effects of childhood bullying and how it has long-term, lasting effects.

Elaine Risley escaped her bullies and went on to be a successful artist but the buried memories of her childhood still haunt her. It’s only when she returns to Toronto as an adult and reminisces as she visits the places she used to live and her old school that she realises much they still affect her and have harmed her relationships with other people in her life.

A strong theme running through the book is that revenge – an eye for an eye – is a dead end; it hurts everyone involved. Elaine got revenge on her bullies by becoming harder and meaner than them but that had knock-on effects on her relationships with other people. Elaine has to forgive herself for her actions as much as she has to forgive the people who bullied her.

“But I began to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of the other. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water.”

Time changes the way you view things, memories change and you see people and events differently as you age. When Elaine looks back on her childhood she can see that the bullies were trying to compensate for problems in their own life, it wasn’t anything Elaine did that caused it. She realises that her bullies weren’t concerned with her but with themselves. You are never the centre of other people’s stories: they are.

Margaret Atwood has a knack for telling complex and in depth stories in an accessible and easy to understand way. I think she’s brilliant at character observation: she knows exactly what to do to bring her character’s personalities to life. She also has this open and friendly writing style that just makes her stories super readable. I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read by her, and this has to be one of my favourites so far.

I loved reading Elaine’s life story, how she travelled with her family and her experience of growing up in the 40’s and 50’s. Actual events from history are woven in around Elaine’s life, which really helps to ground the story in reality. I’ve never been to Toronto but I was so engrossed in the story I felt like I could imagine myself there with Elaine. Now, I feel a bit like I have actually visited the city itself!

This is another brilliant book by Margaret Atwood. It’s very cleverly done and it’s also very enjoyable. Highly recommended!

Cat's Eye
Margaret Atwood
Fiction
1990
Paperback
421