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

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

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

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

Cthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone

Cthulu and Other Monsters

Short tales of horror regarding the Old Ones and their minions by master horror scribe Sam Stone.

Cthulu and Other MonstersCthulu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always love getting my hands on a new Sam Stone book! This one is a collection of short horror stories about monsters and Cthulu.

One thing I like about Sam Stone is that she skips between and combines genres without it being jarring. The stories in this collection are all horror stories but they also combine other genres too. Some are a bit steampunk, and some are more sci-fi, some set in the past and some in the present. She’s clearly full of ideas and there’s a lot of originality in these stories.

My favourites are the steampunk tinged stories. There is one about Arabella, a Victorian lady who moonlights as a thief, and another where Lucy goes down into the sewers to hunt a monster plaguing the city. I loved both of these and I really wanted to see more from these characters!

This is a very adult collection, there’s lots of gore and a fair bit of sex. Things don’t always end well so you’re kept guessing right up to the end.

My only complaint is that sometimes the conversations are there more to give information to the reader than for the characters to communicate with each other. There’s a fair few “as you know” expositions that are thrown in there that feel like they don’t fit the story, and sometimes the characters can be overly formal and stilted. I feel like it could use a good editor as there are a few errors in the text. But it’s a minor complaint and it didn’t stop me enjoying reading this.

I found all of the stories creepy and interesting, and there weren’t any that I didn’t really enjoy. I feel like the author had a lot of fun writing them.

It’s a great little collection of horror stories and it’s just right for the long nights that are approaching.

Cthulu and Other Monsters
Sam Stone
Horror
April 2017
Paperback
287

Wake by Elizabeth Knox

Wake Cover

On a sunny spring morning, the settlement of Kahukura in Tasman is suddenly overwhelmed by a mysterious mass insanity. A handful of survivors find themselves cut off from the world, and surrounded by the dead.

As the group try to take care of one another and survive in ever more difficult circumstances, it becomes apparent that this isn’t the first time that this has happened, and that they aren’t all survivors and victims – two of them are something quite other. And, it seems, they are trapped with something. Something unseen is picking at the loose threads of their characters, corrupting, provoking, and haunting them.

Wake is a book that asks: ‘What are the last things left when the worst has happened?’ It is a book about extreme events, ordinary people, heroic compassion—and invisible monsters.

My Review of Wake

WakeWake by Elizabeth Knox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inventive, original, dark and disturbing. Wake takes what has become a common story – a small group of people survive while everyone around them dies, and makes something unique out of it.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it, and really you just need to read it yourself, but Wake is a mix of horror, thriller and drama, with a touch of sci-fi added in.

Wake has a cast of 14 characters and a large part of the book is about how they interact, how they work together, and how they cope with what happens. With so many of them, a few of them inevitably get a bit lost and don’t feature very much. The action mostly focuses on a core group, these characters are done very well and are believable in the way they act based on their different personalities. I ended up losing track of some of them though and I couldn’t keep who was who straight if they weren’t in the core few.

Sam was by far my favourite character. I didn’t find many of the others likeable, except I did like William, the American, – maybe because he was just honest and open from the start? But Sam was lovely and I think the author did a really good job with her story. Learning about her was my favourite part of the book.

I like the way Elizabeth Knox writes, but I found it more practical and brutal than beautiful or poetic. I know a lot of other reviewers disagree with that though so maybe I just didn’t really understand her style? Sometimes I had to re-read a sentence a few times before I understood what was happening.

The world building was brilliant, and the whole thing was very readable, a few times I only meant to read a chapter then realised an hour had passed without me noticing.

My favourite thing about the book is the sci-fi bit. I wish that was developed a bit more but it wouldn’t be realistic or fit in with the story so I can forgive it.

The way it ended made me happy. I don’t really like when I have to make my own mind up about what is happening in a book, I always feel like what was the point of actually reading the book if I don’t find out what’s going on. There are enough answers in Wake to satisfy me and I like the way it’s revealed slowly with enough pointers that I could try to work it out for myself if I wanted to.

Wake is original and disturbing, and it is a must-read for anyone that likes survivor horror stories.

Wake
Elizabeth Knox
Horror
November 1st 2013
Paperback
443

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng

Under the Pendulum Sun Cover

Catherine Helstone’s brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last, there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon – but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.

My Review of Under the Pendulum Sun

Under the Pendulum SunUnder the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not what I was expecting! This is a dark and twisted tale of Victorian era missionaries who travel to the Faelands of Arcadia to try to convert the fae.

Catherine Helstone’s brother Laon is a missionary who has been sent to the fairy land of Arcadia in an attempt to convert the fae. When he stops replying to her letters she Catherine is so worried about him that she travels to Arcadia in an attempt to find him.

When she arrives her brother is not there at Gethsemane, the manor house Queen Mab of the fae provided for him to stay in. Her brother’s staff are vague about his location but assure Catherine that he will return soon. As she waits for him, she hears rumours about the death of the previous missionary, Reverend Roche, but no one will straight out tell her what happened to him. When Catherine finds the dead Roche’s journals full of strange rambling entries and a book written in a language she does not recognise she decides that reading and deciphering them will provide the key to understanding the strange place that she has found herself.

The characters are missionaries, so obviously are going to be religious. I read that the author has studied theology, and it shows. Religion plays a massive part in this story, with discussions around theology making up a lot of the book. Catherine spends a lot of time praying and thinking about God, and pondering whether the fae have souls or not.

There are so many layers to this story. The main story is easy enough to follow but there’s a lot of hidden meanings that as the reader you need to decipher to fully understand what is going on. If you enjoy working out the meaning behind what the author is showing us for yourself, you will love this book! There is a lot to think about or things that if you research a bit will make a lot more sense. Even the name of the manor house Catherine and Laon are staying in has meaning.

Honestly, I struggle with hints and subtle suggestion, I prefer things that are spelt out for me. I like knowing what the author intended without having to make guesses myself. So it took me a while to get into this. It was very slow to start with, and I had no idea where it was going, it took me a while to work out the point of the book, Cathrine spends most of her time reminiscing about her childhood and how wonderful her brother is. But I slowly got caught up in the story telling, and the second half is much better paced.

Queen Mab turns up and throws a (very nasty) winter ball full of clockwork automaton and things start to get more interesting. Then Catherine starts to find out what happened to the Reverend Roche, and why no one will talk about how he died.

I loved the way the fae are cruel and unkind, playing games with the few humans that are allowed into Arcadia. This is fae as they are meant to be! Queen Mab is very, very scary and I can’t understand why Catherine and her brother want to go further into the interior of Arcadia. I’d be running for my life after that Winter Ball.

It’s very twisty and turny, just when I thought I understood what was going on the story changes again. Even though most of the action takes place in Gethsemane, it’s still full of secrets and intrigue and strange and unusual creatures and sights.

Very dark, very gothic, Under the Pendulum Sun is not an easy read. But the writing and the world building are an absolute treat and the story is very original.

I’m wavering between 3 and 4 stars, but the narrator is just too religious and pious for my liking. After a while, she started to grate on me, so I’m going with 3 stars.

I recommend this for readers that like original takes on dark and twisted gothic fairy tales or books with layers and hidden meanings that make you think.

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

Under the Pendulum Sun
Jeannette Ng
Fantasy
October 3rd 2017
Kindle
464

Darker than the Storm (Blackbird #5) by Freda Warrington

Darker than the storm cover

The towers of Niankan-Siol soared skywards, all blue and gold and glass, seeming as light as air. Walkways, weightless and swaying, threaded between the pinnacles and spires, while winged creatures and air transports flitted and looped among the glittering heights.

My Reviews of Other Books in the Series

A Blackbird in Silver (Blackbird #1)

A Blackbird in Darkness (Blackbird #2)

A Blackbird in Amber (Blackbird #3)

A Blackbird in Twilight (Blackbird #4)

My Review of Darker than the Storm

Darker than the Storm (Blackbird, #5)Darker than the Storm by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Darker than the Storm is the fifth in the Blackbird series. It’s set between the second and third books but as it’s a self-contained story I think you could read this without having read the other books.

This book tells the story of Ashurek after he has settled down on Ikonus with his wife Silvren and their daughter Mellorn.

Ikonus is a peaceful planet, but Ashurek finds himself restless. Overcome with a strong feeling of depression he breaks the law of Ikonus and opens a way to Jhensit, another planet. He is found out and as punishment Gregardreos, the high master of Iknous, sends him to set to investigate the odd energy that Jhensit is emitting.

Ashurek lands on Jhensit in a city split into two. Nianken-Pel is the main city, Nianken-Siol is a city above the city, a glittering place of blue glass where the ruling class live. They are the Siol, and they have enslaved the Pel, the people of Nianken-Pel and persecuted them for their religious beliefs.

Blaming the Pel for all their problems the Siol are ignoring the real problem: Jhensit is a planet slowly being consumed by a maelstrom, a corrupt energy that warps the land and creates monstrous creatures.

Ashurek only wants to observe and take back information to Ikonus, but he finds himself unwillingly drawn into the conflict. He must face up to his past and make moral choices as he tries to save Jhensit from being destroyed.

Ashurek was a strong but silent type in the first two Blackbird books so I wasn’t sure that he would be able to carry a whole book on his own. But he works well as the main character, he has a dry sense of humour and a compelling voice. He knows his own faults and his strengths and isn’t afraid to take action when needed. He’s interesting to read about!

There was just enough world building to get a sense of Jhensit. I would have preferred a bit more maybe, about the two cities and the contrast between them. Nianken-Siol, the city in the sky, sounds like a beautiful but cold place full of glittering glass and I would have liked to know more about it and the people there.

The story is well paced, it moves fast without being confusing and stays interesting. It reminds me a bit of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. They’re quite different stories but it has a similar sort of idea of a floating palace in conflict with the city below, and both of them are beautifully written. Darker than the Storm is a lot older though, it was released in 1992, 25 years ago!

I recommend this to anyone that likes fantasy stories and is looking for something a bit different. It’s crammed full of ideas that all merge into an original and exciting read. I couldn’t put it down!

Darker than the Storm
Blackbird
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1992
Paperback
304

Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra (Zodiac Starforce #1-4) by Kevin Panetta, Paulina Ganucheau (Illustrator)

zodiac starforce Cover

They’re an elite group of teenage girls with magical powers who have sworn to protect our planet against dark creatures… as long as they can get out of class! Known as the Zodiac Starforce, these high-school girls aren’t just combating math tests. They’re also battling monsters – not your typical after school activity! But when an evil force from another dimension infects team leader Emma, she must work with her team of magically powered friends to save herself, and the world, from the evil Diana and her mean-girl minions!

From Kevin Panetta (Bravest Warriors) and Paulina Ganucheau (TMNT: New Animated Adventures, Bravest Warriors), this super-fun and heartfelt story of growing up and friendship, with plenty of magical-girl fighting action, delivers the most exciting new ensemble cast in comics.

Collects Zodiac Starforce #1-#4

My review of Zodiac Staforce: Power of Astra

Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of AstraZodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra by Kevin Panetta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The artwork in this is absolutely stunning. The drawings, the characters, the outfits – everything is perfect! And the colours! Bright and bold and an almost dreamy mix of pinks and purples, yet it’s still vibrant.

This would probably be a four-star rating just because it’s so lovely to look at! Luckily the story and the dialogue lives up to the artwork. It seems very influenced by Sailor Moon. There are extras in the back and one of them is a one-page story with the characters in uniforms that look very much like the Sailor Soldiers. But it’s much more modern, and a lot louder and faster paced than Sailor Moon.

I started reading thinking that this was the first volume, but there must have been one before this that explained the characters and where they got their powers. It keeps referring events that happened two years ago, where they fought a big bad and I think one of the characters lost her mother? So I did kinda feel like I was missing something, but it didn’t impact on understanding the story in this volume.

The characters are well developed and easy to tell apart. They all have their own personality and their own style. My favourite is Kim! I’m also really liking Lily.

My only complaint is that I wish it were longer. I hope there’s more coming soon.

Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra
Zodiac Starforce
Kevin Panetta, Paulina Ganucheau (Illustrator)
Graphic Novel
Dark Horse Books
March 9th 2016
Graphic Novel
136

Zombies at Tiffany’s by Sam Stone

zombies at tiffanys cover

Zombies at Tiffany’s Blurb

Kat Lightfoot thought that getting a job at the famed Tiffany’s store in New York would be the end to her problems. She has money, new friends, and there’s even an inventor working there who develops new weapons from clockwork, and who cuts diamonds with a strange powered light. This is 1862, after all, and such things are the wonder of the age.

But then events take a turn for the worse: men and women wander the streets talking of ‘the darkness’; bodies vanish from morgues across town; and random, bloody attacks on innocent people take place in broad daylight.

Soon Kat and her friends are fighting for their lives against a horde of infected people, with only their wits and ingenuity to help them.

A steampunked story of diamonds, chutzpah, death and horror from the blood-drenched pen of Sam Stone.

My Review of Zombies at Tiffany’s

Zombies at Tiffany'sZombies at Tiffany’s by Sam Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Zombies, steampunk and diamonds? I knew when I saw this book at the Sci-Fi weekender that I had to read it!

It’s set at the time of the American civil war where a zombie outbreak starts spreading in New York. Kat Lightfoot, a young woman who has just started working at Tiffany’s, takes refuge from the zombie hordes at work with a mismatched group of her colleagues and customers.

I like that Sam Stone has not followed the usual zombie rules, and has created something different and unexpected here.

The heroine is intelligent and interesting, and I cared about what happened to her.

The mix of steampunk and horror works well and results in a short, exhilarating read that I enjoyed every moment of.

Zombies at Tiffany's
Sam Stone
Steampunk
Telos
2012
Paperback
185