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

Bruja Born (Brooklyn Brujas #2) by Zoraida Córdova

Bruja Born Cover

Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.

Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister’s newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula’s bruja healing powers can’t fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.

Then a bus crash turns Lula’s world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn’t the only one who’s been brought back.

My Review of Bruja Born

Bruja Born (Brooklyn Brujas)Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loved it. Bruja Born gave me everything I was wanting after reading the promising first book, Labyrinth Lost.

Bruja Born is set in Brooklyn, so it doesn’t have the Alice in Wonderland style of the first book. I think this is a good thing because the bits of the first book that were set in the real world were actually my favourite bits. I like to see magic brought into a real-world setting and it was done almost perfectly here.

This book also had more magic in. Lula is not as powerful a Bruja as her sister Alex is but she uses magic more as part of her everyday life. And I loved the character of Lula. She’s gone from being the perfect older sister that Alex saw her as into a real person with strengths and flaws. She makes some big mistakes and her misuse of her magic has impressively destructive consequences, but it’s her love for her family and friends (and her perfectionist streak) that drives most of her decisions. I was cheering her on inside the whole time I was reading.

The Brooklyn setting is just perfectly suited for the atmosphere of this series. This time around there is so much more world building – it doesn’t feel like the sisters exist in a vacuum anymore. Bringing in the girl’s friends and the other Bruja families makes their world feel real and alive like somewhere I can imagine actually existing.

I liked the style, the atmosphere, the characters and the magic. There are some big surprises that I just did not see coming! Romance is not the focus at all, it’s the love of a family and the strength of sisters looking out for each other that is the main theme running through the story. It’s good to read a young adult book that isn’t all about finding the perfect boyfriend.

I have nothing bad to say about this at all. Bruja Born is fun, it has masses of personality, and I enjoyed it a lot more than that other series about teenagers using magic in Brooklyn! This deserves to become a very popular series and I can’t wait for the next book.

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

Bruja Born
Brooklyn Brujas
Zoraida Córdova
Young Adult Fantasy
June 5th 2018
Kindle
352

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

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

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the birds in the sky

All the Birds in the Sky Blurb

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during middle school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever growing ailments. Little do they realise that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together—to either save the world or plunge it into a new dark age.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the Apocalypse.

My Review of All the Birds in the Sky

All the Birds in the SkyAll the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an unusual book! 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, especially at the start (2-second time machine!). When it jumps to Patricia and Laurence as grown ups the setting reminds me of the world in Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, with added hipster style.

It feels to me like a lot of thought has gone into the near future setting and the technology they have. It felt realistic and vibrant and I loved the mix of magic and science.

There’s a strong sense of humour running through it and I really liked the writing style, but some parts were a little confusing. Nothing is explained at the start, I felt a little like I was thrown into the middle of a story. Most of it slowly started to make sense, but some bits felt unfinished. I’m not sure really what the point of Mr Rose was.

I liked Patricia and Laurence, they seem warm, mostly kind, and very human. They are both outcasts but see the world differently, and they have some very funny observations on life. I liked the diversity of the other characters and they all had distinct personalities.

Five-star rating from me because all the good bits far outweigh the few flaws in it. It’s odd and unusual and truly is a wonderful gem of a book. Normally I like finishing books so I can start the next one and I rush through them, but with this one, I wish it were twice as long.

All the Birds in the Sky
Charlie Jane Anders
Sci-Fi
January 26th 2016
432

The Circle (Engelsfors #1) by Mats Strandberg

The Circle

The Circle Blurb

One night, when a strange red moon fills the sky, six school girls find themselves in an abandoned theme park, drawn there by a mysterious force. A student has just been found dead. Everyone suspects suicide. Everyone – except them.

In that derelict fairground an ancient prophecy is revealed. They are The Chosen Ones, a group of witches, bound together by a power, one which could destroy them all. But they soon learn that despite their differences they need each other in order to master the forces that have been awakened within them.

High school is now a matter of life and death. Because the killing has only just begun

My review of The Circle

The Circle (Hammer)The Circle by Mats Strandberg translated by Sara Bergmark Elfgren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Circle is a Swedish Young Adult novel. Set in the small town of Engelsfor in Sweden, The Circle follows six teenagers at the local high school that find out they have magic powers.

For the first few chapters I was a little confused by all the different characters as the viewpoint jumps between the girls, but by the middle of the book, I had them sorted. They are all very different and there is enough character development to start getting to know each of them.

Not all of the girls were very likeable and they didn’t get on with each other, this conflict and the regular action keeps the book moving nicely.

There wasn’t enough use of their magic powers for me though, for most of the book the girls struggled to understand what they were and had no real idea how to use them. It might be more realistic this way, but I want to see more magic!

It’s long for a young adult book, but it all wraps up nicely at the end, no cliffhangers here! So even though there are sequels this can be read as a one off.

I will be reading the next book though, I want to see them getting the hang of their magic powers and using them a bit more.

The Circle
Mats Strandberg
Young Adult Fantasy
June 7th 2012

Hello, Moto by Nnedi Okorafor

hello moto

There is witchcraft in science and a science to witchcraft. Both will conspire against you eventually.

My Review of Hello, Moto

In Hello, Moto, technology and magic merge into one very interesting short story.

Philo had been in Jos when the riots happened. I knew it was her and her wig. A technology I had created. Neurotransmitters, mobile phones, incantation, and hypnosis- even I knew my creation was genius. But all it sparked in the North was death and mayhem.

It left me with more questions than answers and it’s a massive cliffhanger ending, but I feel like that’s a good thing.

You definitely need to use your own imagination when you’re reading this.

Read for free at Tor.com

Hello, Moto
Nnedi Okorafor
Fantasy
Online Short Story

Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead (ToadWitch #1) by Christiana Miller

Somebody tell aunt tillie shes dead

Book Description

A little magic can go a long way — to really screwing up a girl’s life!

Mara is having the worst month of her life. At least, that’s what her cards tell her and they’ve never been wrong. She’s evicted from her apartment, loses her job and is banned from Beverly Hills. So when the tarot cards predict her imminent demise, she uses a little magic to make her world right.

Suddenly, an aunt she’s never met dies, leaving Mara as her sole heir. But when Mara moves into her inherited home, she discovers Aunt Tillie never moved out. She’s still one pissed-off old lady, even post-mortem, and she blames Mara’s magical meddling for her death.

When Mara accidentally releases a demon and awakens the spirit of the most powerful witch in history, Tillie’s ready to kill her — literally. It’s the only way she can think of to save the girl from herself. The witch and the demon, however, have other plans for Mara’s body.

My Review of Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead

Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She's Dead (ToadWitch, #1)Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead by Christiana Miller
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The cover and the title fooled me into thinking this would be a cosy paranormal romance story, and it sat unread on my kindle for nearly 2 years.

It feels more like urban fantasy to me (cosy urban fantasy?), the ghosts are actually dangerous and there is a fair bit of adult content towards the end.

But even so, the first half I found boring and I nearly gave up on it halfway through. It consists mainly of conversations between Mara and her friend Gus, which I didn’t find interesting.

Gus could have been a good character, but he doesn’t get out of the stereotypical ‘gay best friend’ role. If the author put a bit more thought into his personality he would have been interesting enough to carry most of the book.

When Mara moves into the cottage the story picks up a bit, and Mara gets more likeable. She’s daft and doesn’t think before she does anything, but still I kinda liked her.

I didn’t understand the attraction to the romantic interest, he seems like a bit of an idiot. And then she spends one night with him and suddenly she’s calling him her boyfriend. It was all a bit odd. It could have been left out as it didn’t add anything to the book.

I was happy to get to the end of this, the story never grabbed me and I didn’t really care what happened.

Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She's Dead
ToadWitch #1
Christiana Miller
Urban Fantasy