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

Fire (Engelsfors #2) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren

Fire Cover

The Chosen Ones are about to start their second year in senior high school. All summer they have been waiting for the demon’s next move. But the threat comes from another direction, somewhere they could never have foreseen.

It becomes more and more obvious that something is very wrong in Engelsfors. The past is woven together with the present. The living meet the dead. The Chosen Ones are tied even closer together and are once again reminded that magic cannot make you happy or mend broken hearts.

My Review of Fire
Fire (Engelsfors #2)Fire by Mats Strandberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fire is very Buffy inspired in that it’s as much about dealing with the horrors of high school and adults that think they know better, as it is about dealing with actual demons and magic users intent upon nefarious deeds. It even has a morally dubious magic council trying to police and control the witches powers. But Fire is moving and deep and transcends its Buffy influences by creating a wonderful story all of its own. This is definitely one of my favourite series about high school magic users, up there with the Brooklyn Brujas books by Zoraida Córdova.

I’d say the first 50% of the book there isn’t really any magic in it though, it’s just the girls dealing with life and family and friends. The magic side of the story is a slow burner, building up in the background all the time the girls were dealing with the fallout from Anna Karin’s magic use in the first book. Then when I’d actually stopped caring about the lack of magic because I was just enjoying the story, it all starts to kick off and the magic use amps up!

All through the book, there has been a demon touched witch lurking in the background influencing and controlling the townspeople. The girls kinda brush it to one side whilst they are surviving the magic council’s attentions as the ‘bad’ witch gains more and more power.

Both sides of the story are done well, I wasn’t bored waiting for the magic bits like I would normally find myself with this sort of book. I know what it’s like to be an ‘outcast’ at school and I think Fire captures that feeling so well. The girls are dealing with all sorts of family and relationship issues and then on top of that they have to deal with the magic council turning up too. It’s very realistic in the way it portrays the girl’s personalities and the cliques which exist in high school.

We have Minoo – super shy and retiring, she struggles to make friends and has little confidence in her magic.

Vanessa – a wild child whose self-worth is wrapped up in her boyfriend.

Ida – the school bully who has had her eyes opened to the effect her actions have on other people.

Linnea – an independent loner that tries to deal with everything on her own.

Anna Karin – an overweight outcast who feels that she has no control over herself or her life direction.

There is massive character growth in Fire: these five girls are still almost strangers at the start of the book but by the end, they see the good and the potential in each other. They start to trust their magic circle.

I’m kinda heartbroken by the ending, but I feel hopeful it’s just setting up for a killer storyline in the final book.

Basically, I loved it all! I can’t wait to read the finale.

Fire
Engelsfors
Mats Strandberg, Sara Bergmark Elfgren
Young Adult Fantasy
June 20th 2013
Kindle
687

Ready Player One (Ready Player One #1) by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One Cover

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS.

Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize.

The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the story. It’s interesting, fun, clever and I can totally see why they’ve made it into a film.

I liked the 80’s stuff but didn’t relate to it all because Wade seems to have very different tastes to me. Maybe I was a bit too young in the 80’s; I was into cartoons and toys and I’d watch the films Grease and The Little Mermaid on repeat. The video games we’d play in our house were Sonic or Paperboy, or Mission Impossible on the ZX Spectrum. But also there are no films / music / games by women in this – all male. I can kind of understand since Wade is a teenage boy in the 80s but surely there could have been some 80s female-led references squeezed in there?

The romance could have been left out, it didn’t add anything for me and I think the character of Atr3mis could have been way more awesome. It’s disappointing she’s relegated to ‘the love interest’.

Other than that I found it very entertaining, if slightly daft. The virtual world of OASIS was brilliantly done and the story is a thrill ride, I raced through it! The sci-fi and tech made me very happy.

Ready Player One
Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
Sci-Fi
August 16th 2011
Paperback
374

Legend (Legend #1) by Marie Lu

Legend Cover

From different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths…

Until June’s brother is murdered, and Day becomes the prime suspect.

In a shocking turn of events, the two uncover what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths to which their country will go to keep its secrets.

My Review of Legend

Legend (Legend, #1)Legend by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Legend a lot, it’s very readable and I flew through it. It’s also a bit (ok, a lot) predictable, more than a bit overly dramatic and a bit daft.

I liked the characters, June was intelligent and analytic and for once it actually came across in the writing. She does the Sherlock Holmes thing where she picks up on little details that make her seem almost psychic but it’s done in a subtle sort of way that just works without being too blatant.

Day is a good character too but not as convincing as June. He’s supposed to be able to pull off amazing stunts and thefts but messes up everything he tries during the course of the book. Then the way he is described and the way he acts makes him seem like a child, I would have believed it if he was supposed to be 13 but I think he is supposed to be about 15 / 16. This made the attraction between him and June feel a bit odd. I never felt that they were falling for each other and they went from meeting to falling in love over what felt like one smile. I wasn’t interested really I think it would have been better if it had just been left out, or left to develop in later books.

The rest of the story and the action made up for it though. It’s daft but fun and fast-paced enough that it never gets boring. It is predictable, (you can guess right from the start how it’s going to end) but the character’s voices keep it interesting.

An enjoyable read, it maybe takes itself a bit too seriously but it doesn’t stop it from being fun. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel!

Legend
Legend
Marie Lu
Young Adult Sci-Fi
April 16th 2013
Paperback
305

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost Cover

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation – and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland.

My Review of Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1)Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young adult fantasy about a Bruja living in Brooklyn.

The book starts when Alex is living with her mother and sisters in Brooklyn, dealing with school, family, and the emergence of her magic powers. This was my favourite part of the book. The story moves to the world of Los Lagos and though I enjoyed their fairytale-like journey through that land it was the parts set in Brooklyn that felt the most real and the most interesting to me. I’m hoping that the next book in the series will be set in Brooklyn.

I feel like it does take a lot of inspiration from the Mortal Instruments series but it manages to completely have its own personality and actually I enjoyed this a lot more. There’s a lot of original elements in to keep it interesting, the story is fun and fast moving, and I loved the characters. Rishi deserves a book all of her own, and Alex is fun to read.

If I wanted to look for faults with it I could say that the writing is mostly ok but has moments where it’s a bit stale; there’s a fair bit of explaining what’s just happened instead of showing it. The ending felt rushed and the big fight at the end was over almost before I realised it had started, there wasn’t enough of the Labyrinth in it! But these are only minor issues for me, I very much enjoyed reading it and really I just wish it were longer.

Give this one a go, it’s a fun and interesting read with a lot of originality and characters that will get under your skin, in a good way!

Labyrinth Lost
Brooklyn Brujas
Zoraida Córdova
Young Adult Fantasy
September 6th 2016
Kindle
336

Fragile Things: Short Fictions & Wonders by Neil Gaiman

Fragile things cover

Let me tell you a story. No, wait, one’s not enough.

I’ll begin again?

Let me tell you stories of the months of the year, of ghosts and heartbreak, of dread and desire. Let me tell you of after-hours drinking and unanswered phones, of good deeds and bad days, of breaking down and making up, of dead men walking and missing fathers, of little French ladies in Miami, of trusting wolves and how to talk to girls.

There are stories within stories, whispered in ears in the quiet of the night, shouted above the roar of the day, and played out between lovers and enemies, strangers and friends. But all, all are fragile things made up using just 26 letters arranged and rearranged again and again to form tales and imaginings which, if you let them, will dazzle your senses, haunt your imagination and move you to the very depths of your soul.

My Review of Fragile Things: Short Fictions & Wonders

Fragile Things: Short Fictions & WondersFragile Things: Short Fictions & Wonders by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some stories I liked, some I wasn’t sold on. I do love his imagination and his writing style though, and I think this is a book that will benefit from re-reads.

My favourite story was Instructions – a guide to how to survive in a fairytale! I absolutely love this one and it’s the main reason I went with four stars instead of three.

When you come back, return the way you came.
Favors will be returned, debts be repaid.
Do not forget your manners.
Do not look back.
Ride the wise eagle (you shall not fall).
Ride the silver fish (you will not drown).
Ride the grey wolf (hold tightly to his fur).

Fragile Things: Short Fictions & Wonders
Neil Gaiman
Fantasy
September 25th 2006
Paperback
422

The Iron Ghost (The Copper Cat, #2) by Jen Williams

The Iron Ghost Cover

Beware the dawning of a new mage.

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.

When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin – retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking.

My Review of The Iron Ghost

The Iron Ghost (The Copper Cat, #2)The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved this. It’s fun and fast and Wydrin is brilliant, she’s my new hero. She never thinks, she acts first and leads the way for everyone else.

So the Iron Ghost goes a bit more in-depth with the characters than the first book. Now the scene has been set there’s more time for them to develop beyond the stereotypes and we see more complex personalities come out.

But it also feels more focused and like there is more time given to developing the story. The tone is darker with scarier monsters and a seriously twisted bad mage that thinks he’s actually doing good things. To fight him the Black Feather Three have to do things that make them question their own moral values.

It’s the second in a trilogy but what I like about this series is that they are stand-alone stories. It does help if you’ve read the first book, but the story here has its own beginning and ending. No cliffhangers! *happy face*

It’s super enjoyable, action-packed, and it has a cast of diverse characters. It left me feeling happy when I’d finished it! I already want to go back and re-read it.

The Iron Ghost
The Copper Cat
Jen Williams
Fantasy
February 26th 2015
Paperback
544

Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm

Wizard of the Pigeons Cover

Seattle: a place as magical as the Emerald City.

Subtle magic seeps through the cracks in the paving stones of the sprawling metropolis. But only the inhabitants who possess special gifts are open to the city’s consciousness; finding portents in the graffiti, reading messages in the rubbish or listening to warnings in the skipping-rope chants of children.

Wizard is bound to Seattle and her magic. His gift is the Knowing – a powerful enchantment allowing him to know the truth of things; to hear the life-stories of ancient mummies locked behind glass cabinets, to receive true fortunes from the carnival machines, to reveal to ordinary people the answers to their troubles and to safeguard the city’s equilibrium.

The magic has its price; Wizard must never have more than a dollar in his pocket, must remain celibate, and he must feed and protect the pigeons.

But a threat to Seattle has begun to emerge in the portents. A malevolent force born of Wizard’s forgotten past has returned to prey upon his power and taunt him with images of his obscure history; and he is the only wizard in Seattle who can face the evil and save the city, his friends and himself.

My Review of Wizard of the Pigeons

Wizard of the PigeonsWizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written in the 1980’s Wizard of the Pigeons is an urban fantasy set in Seattle. Wizard, the title character, is living by his wits on the streets, protecting the pigeons and telling the truth when he Knows it. He has no memory of his previous life before he arrived in Seattle and found his magic.

Megan Lindholm is very, very good at world building and creating atmosphere. She brought Seattle in the 80’s to life for me and filled it with such a strong cast of characters. Cassie and Rasputin also have magic – Cassie always has a different appearance and can only be recognised if you have magic and Rasputin is constantly in motion, his hands dancing if he can’t.

There are a lot of layers and hidden meanings in the story, and in the end, it leaves you to make up your own mind – is Wizard a Vietnam vet with a mental health problem imagining his magic powers or is he really a wizard? Is he protecting Seattle from the evil Mir or is the greyness in his own mind? Is Cassie real or does Wizard imagine her in the women that he meets?

Normally I don’t like books where the plot and the ending are ambiguous but I think it gives you enough to be able to decide for yourself one way or the other. The layers and the ambiguity and hidden meanings seem to add to the story rather than make it murky.

It’s a dark and unique urban fantasy story, and I very much enjoyed it. If you like Neil Gainman’s dark and inventive style then I think you would get on with this one.

Wizard of the Pigeons
Megan Lindholm
Urban Fantasy
January 1st 1986)
Paperback
304

The Bitter Twins (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy #2) by Jen Williams

The Bitter Twins Cover

The Ninth Rain has fallen, the Jure’lia have returned, and with Ebora a shadow of its former self, the old enemy are closer to conquering Sarn than ever.

Tormalin the Oathless and the Fell-Witch Noon have their hands full dealing with the first war-beasts to be born in Ebora for nearly three hundred years. But these are not the great mythological warriors of old; hatched too early and with no link to their past lives, the war-beasts have no memory of the many battles they have fought and won, and no concept of how they can possibly do it again. The key to uniting them, according to the scholar Vintage, may lie in a part of Sarn no one really believes exists, but finding it will mean a dangerous journey at a time of war…

Meanwhile, Hestillion is trapped on board the corpse moon, forced into a strange and uneasy alliance with the Jure’lia queen. Something terrifying is growing up there, in the heart of the Behemoth, and the people of Sarn will have no defence against these new monsters.

My Review of The Bitter Twins

The Bitter Twins (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy #2)The Bitter Twins by Jen Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The sequel to the brilliant Ninth Rain kicks it up a notch with more action, scarier monsters and a more expansive story.

There’s also a more desperate feel to the story now. The Jure’lia have returned, their ruins are waking up and piecing themselves back together and Hestellion has been kidnapped and taken aboard the Corpse Moon. The War Beasts have also returned but there are only a few of them, they have hatched too early and apart from the dragon bonded with Noon they don’t have their memories of their past lives. They don’t know how to fight and they certainly don’t know how to work together. How can the four of them possibly stop the Jure’lia from wiping out all the human settlements?

The monsters are creepy and visceral and make my skin crawl. The Jure’lia Queen is terrifying! Hestillion is very brave when she is taken hostage by the Queen, then they start to find common ground and Hestillion’s influence makes the Queen act more and more like a human. I think that just makes her even scarier! In this book, her story has become my favourite. She’s conflicted and unsure really of what she is doing, and whose side she wants to be on.

I loved everything with the War Beasts in! They were born without their memories and are not what they should have been. They find it difficult to get on with each other and they struggle to build themselves into a team, working against each other more than with each other. It brings a lot of humour into the book. Then the action scenes where they fight are just awesome.

A few different plot threads are woven together and there’s so much going on another author might have taken 3 or 4 books to cover all this. Mostly it works and it makes an action-packed story but some parts seem to become a little lost in the action. Bern’s visit to his family and Eri’s story could fill whole books by themselves.

Noon and Tor are trying to find a way to make the War Beasts into a fighting team. They find that an Eborean might have kept records of the War Beasts past lives but he left Eboaria hundreds of years ago on a journey searching for the origins of Ysgeril. Noon and Tor are so desperate to get the records and help the war beasts that they decide to follow his route.

I just love Jen Williams’ writing. She creates such complicated and diverse characters and the world she has created is rich and unique. She’s not afraid to write adult stories that can be dark at times; the ending is heartbreaking.

The Bitter Twins is an imaginative and original story with a cast of complex and diverse characters. Modern fantasy at it’s best and I cannot wait for the third book in the series!

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

The Bitter Twins
The Winnowing Flame Trilogy
Jen Williams
Fantasy
March 8th 2018
Kindle
320

The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod

The Night Sessions Cover

The first Enlightenment separated church from state – now the second Enlightenment has separated religion from politics. In this enlightened age there’s no persecution. But the millions who still believe and worship are a marginal and mistrusted minority – and now someone is killing them.

My Review of The Night Sessions

The Night SessionsThe Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A detective story set in Scotland in the near future where religion has been marginalised and robots have started to become self-aware. A priest is murdered and Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson has to solve the crime before the killer strikes again.

I enjoyed this a lot, it has a lot of my favourite things in – a near future setting, self-aware robots and a murder mystery. I loved the setting of a near future Edinburgh. There was a lot of thought put into the tech and the politics and how everything worked and it built a very realistic, familiar but futuristic world.

The mystery and the big reveal weren’t all that amazing but it’s quite dark and it had enough surprises and twists to keep it interesting. All the fun was really in the investigation and all the future tech they were using.

Very readable, The Night Sessions is gritty and dark and it had me hooked. I couldn’t put it down!

The Night Sessions
Ken MacLeod
Sci-Fi
August 7th 2008
324