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 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

Troll Or Derby by Red Tash

Troll or Derby Cover

In Troll Or Derby, fifteen-year-old Roller Deb is singled out by town bullies for both her skates, and for being different. When her popular homecoming queen of a sister is kidnapped by a scuzzy drug dealer, Deb must flee the trailer park in which she’s grown up, and rescue her. Along the way, Deb becomes enmeshed in the magical realm of trolls and fairies, and the blood-thirsty version of roller derby at which these beings excel. But spending too much time among the fairies comes with a price. Will Deb choose to save her sister, with the aid of a mysterious troll? Or will she be lost to the lures of roller derby, and the blonde temptress April, forever?

My Review of Troll or Derby

Troll Or DerbyTroll Or Derby by Red Tash
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book so bad but I just didn’t get on with it. I found the story too far-fetched and the characters didn’t grab me.

The idea is fun, a teenage girl doesn’t realise she’s actually a fairy until her sister is kidnapped by a troll but are too many holes in the story and too much that doesn’t make sense. The plot jumps around so fast that the scenes are never filled out and allowed to come to life.

Why was Deb’s sister kidnapped? And why was she left as her protector anyway? That never made sense to me. And as much as I love roller derby it felt very out of place in the story. It was put in there just because.

Deb herself I didn’t find likeable. She didn’t have personality over than she roller skates. And I didn’t get her humour, her jokes I just found irritating.

The saving grace of the whole book is that Harlow is an absolute sweetheart. By far the best character in the book.

So generally just a bit of a mess with too much going on. Though I would read another book about Harlow in a second.

Troll Or Derby
Trollogy
Red Tash
Young Adult Fantasy
June 14th 2012
Kindle
262

Books with Witches in Them

Books With Witches In

Time for another of my favourites – a Halloween book list! Last year I did books with ghosts with them, this year I’ve decided to go for books with witches in.

Please leave your favourites or some additions to the list in the comments!

Brooklyn Brujas Series

I absolutely love this series! Two books are out so far with hopefully another one to follow soon. Brooklyn Brujas follows 3 sisters living in Brooklyn who also happen to be Brujas. It’s a young adult series but it brings fresh ideas and a modern feel to the young adult fantasy world. And check out those beautiful covers!

Labyrinth Lost Cover

Engelsfors Series

Another young adult series, this one seems heavily influenced by Buffy and is set in a high school in a small Swedish town. It has a much grittier feel to it than the Brooklyn Brujas series and it’s slower paced but also more realistic.

The Circle

All the Birds in the Sky

All the Birds in the Sky mixes magic, sci-fi, climate change, other universes and the end of the world. There’s a bit of Jonas Jonasson style farce in and the near future setting reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, with added hipster style. It’s odd and unusual and is a wonderful gem of a book.

All the birds in the sky

The Ghost Wolves Series

Hob Ravani, is a member of a gang of mercenaries who roam around their desert planet on motorcycles doing odd jobs for money while trying to stay clear of the law. Hobb has magic, a “witchyness” that means she can create fire but her powers are feared on her world so she has to keep it hidden. This is a high-octane ride across the sands that’s a lot of fun to read and stands out as something a bit different. Recommended to anyone that likes sci-fi based future fun and action.

Hunger Makes the Wolf cover

Wyrd Sisters

One of the funniest and the best Discworld books, Wyrd Sisters is just a classic. It is loosely based on Macbeth and is wickedly funny and endlessly quotable. This should be on every must-read list going!

Wyrd Sisters Cover

 

The Silver Tide (The Copper Cat #3) by Jen Williams

The Silver Tide Cover

From Jen Williams, highly-acclaimed author of THE COPPER PROMISE and blistering follow-up THE IRON GHOST, comes the final epic instalment in the Copper Cat trilogy. 

Tales of the Black Feather Three and their exploits abound far and wide, and Wydrin of Crosshaven, Lord Aaron Frith and Sir Sebastian have become sell swords in demand. Having foiled powerful mages and evil magic, they now face a challenge unlike any before – in the form of Wydrin’s mother.

Devinia the Red, notorious pirate and captain of the Poison Chalice, is intent on finding the fabled treasure hidden within the jungles of the cursed island of Euriale. She needs the skills of her daughter Wydrin and her companions to get there, and our heroes cannot resist the lure of coin and adventure. But no explorer has returned from the heart of the island, and it’s not long before the Three find themselves in the clutches of peril. Deep within the island of the gods, there are remnants of forces best left undisturbed.

My Review of The Silver Tide

The Silver Tide (The Copper Cat, #3)The Silver Tide by Jen Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Silver Tide brings to a close a massively fun ride that has been full of magic, gods, dragons and mayhem.

I’ve absolutely loved this series, I tried to read this slowly to eke it out longer but it’s hard when the story is so exciting. I just wanted to turn the world off and cosy up with a big cup of tea and read all day.

The Silver Tide introduces us to Devinia the Red, Wydrin’s mother, who is even more of a loose cannon than Wydrin herself! And when Devinia gets the idea to be the first to reach the centre of a cursed island you just know it’s going to end badly. She enlists the black feather three for help but Wydrin, Frith and Sebastion are still reeling from the events of The Copper Promise. They go along with her plans but as usual for the trio events soon spiral out of their control.

It’s fresh, modern and fun and packed full of action. The story is a riot but there is also a serious side and I don’t want to give too much away about the plot but there is lots of chance for character growth. And an ending that left me happy sad.

Wydrin is one of the best characters in a fantasy series in my opinion. She’s fiery and can hold herself in a fight but she’s not the stereotypical ‘badass’ women. She has flaws and a realness to her that just bring her to life.

Jen Williams has put herself up there as one of my favourite fantasy authors, one of the few I will auto-buy when a new book comes out. She takes the standard fantasy plot and gives it a big kick up the arse.

I love the characters – Wydrin, Frith and Sebastion will always have a special place in my heart. I’m sad to see this series come to an end and I’m tempted to go straight back to the first book and start over.

The Silver Tide
The Copper Cat
Jen Williams
Fantasy
February 25th 2016
Paperback
608

The Poison Diaries (The Poison Diaries #1) by Maryrose Wood, The Duchess Of Northumberland

The poision diaries cover

foxglove

oleander

moonseed

belladonna

love

In the right dose, everything is a poison

My Review of The Poison Diaries

The Poison Diaries (The Poison Diaries, #1)The Poison Diaries by Maryrose Wood
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What a weird little book of weirdness. It’s a bit dark and a bit gothic and was hitting just the right note for a book to read at the change of the seasons.

It starts out ok, a story set sometime in the 1700’s about Jessamine, a teenage girl living in a disused chapel with her botanist healer father. Jessamine’s father has a poison garden that she is not allowed into. Of course, that’s the only thing she really wants out of life, to get into this garden and to be allowed to take care of the plants.

Then Weed turns up, a malnourished and shy boy the same age as Jessamine, who has some strange knowledge of plants and their uses. Her father takes him in and Jessamine cares for him and brings him back to health.

The inevitable happens and Jessamine falls in love with Weed. She finds out his secret about the plants, and yes it’s odd, but not that odd, and I’m thinking: ok, I can go with this. Until Jessamine gets sick and then the weirdness is truly unleashed and at that point, it lost me. I skim read the last few chapters because I just couldn’t believe the tangent it had gone off on.

The switches to Weed’s voice just didn’t work for me and the story, in general, went too far into unbelievable silliness.

I loved the Gothic tone of the book but I just can’t get on board with the ending.

The Poison Diaries
The Poison Diaries
Maryrose Wood, The Duchess Of Northumberland
Young Adult Fantasy
May 27th 2010
Paperback
238

The Bees by Laline Paull

the bees cover

Enter a whole new world, in this thrilling debut novel set entirely within a beehive.

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen.

My Review of The Bees

The BeesThe Bees by Laline Paull
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the idea and the glimpse of life inside a beehive but I wasn’t convinced by the way the bees have human emotions and such human social structures.

I also didn’t like the way that Flora was always at the forefront of events. She was a bit too perfect to be likeable, she was always the first to jump into a fight and always the one to have the discussions with outsiders and be the saviour of the beehive. She didn’t care at all for herself or her own safety, just for the hive as a collective and for her children. A Mary-Jane in bee form!

It’s well written though and easy to read – it would make a good summer holiday novel. I can’t help thinking that because the story is quite simple but requires a rather large suspension of disbelief it would have been better as a children’s book.

The story is certainly something different though and it has made me think (worry!) more about bees and especially how they must be suffering this year after all the flowers have died in the long, hot summer.

So, it’s interesting but didn’t hit the mark for me, it was just too forced – the story felt like it fit around the events the author wanted to happen and not the other way round.

The Bees
Laline Paull
Fantasy
January 1st 2015
Paperback
352

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

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

the lie tree cover

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy – a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder – or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

My Review of The Lie Tree

The Lie TreeThe Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Lie Tree is set in the time when the Origin of the Species was rocking faith in creationism. Faith’s father is a vicar and a scientist who is a firm creationist supporter. The family has good social standing and an easy life until a scandal causes him to lose his job and his reputation. All of a sudden the family have to uproot themselves and move to a remote island.

When Faith’s father dies Faith finds his notes that tell of a plant he is cultivating that can show you the truth, but only if you feed it lies. The lie tree is supposed to show the truth but I think Faith realises that it only shows us visions of things we already know to be true but we just didn’t want to face.

Her father is horrible! I hate to say it but I was willing him to hurry up and get written out. He was a nasty character and I thoroughly hated him.

Faith irritated me for most of the book. She was very naive, she didn’t look past appearances. She hero-worshipped her horrible father and she didn’t think much at all of her mother, who was the one trying to hold the family together with the only tools women in Victorian times had – charm and manipulation of the men. Faith believed that other women were weak and useless, spending their time gossiping and worrying about social status. She thought herself the only smart and useful woman, she couldn’t recognise that other women were smart too and very clever at surviving in the world the only way they could.

But the author does very well at bringing to life the awkward stage the time between child and adult. Faith was stuck between both worlds, existing in neither and both at the same time. The Lie Tree is more a coming of age story than anything else: Faith loses her father which makes her look outside herself and she starts to see behind appearances. She has some nasty shocks that show her that what you see isn’t always what you get and people aren’t always what they pretend to be.

I have to admit that she redeems herself in the end. My favourite part of the whole book is when Faith realises how blind she has been accepting standard beliefs about women. She is not the only woman that does not fit in.

“I’m not like other women but neither are other women”

I thought the whole thing about the Lie Tree was a bit daft. I don’t know if it was supposed to be magic or magical realism but it wasn’t convincing either way. The danger Faith was supposed to be in didn’t feel real either. I enjoyed the coming of age theme about Faith waking up to the world but it just didn’t make for a very exciting story.

The Lie Tree
Frances Hardinge
Young Adult Fantasy
May 7th 2015
Paperback
410