Nocturna (A Forgery of Magic #1) by Maya Motayne

nocturna book cover

Set in a Latinx-inspired world, a face-changing thief and a risk-taking prince must team up to defeat a powerful evil they accidentally unleashed.

To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.

As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.

After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.

But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts.

My Thoughts

Nocturna (A Forgery of Magic, #1)Nocturna by Maya Motayne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I requested Nocturna for review because it’s a fantasy with a thief and a prince accidentally unleashing an evil power, set in a Latinx inspired world – it just sounds amazing.

In reality, it’s ok. Not brilliant but it’s not trash either. It’s lacking in world building and the story and characters are kind childishly done but the writing is ok and there’s a lot of fun ideas. My attention drifted though, I couldn’t focus on it and I put it down about halfway through and read about 6 other books before I found my way back to it.

I liked the idea of the clock tower prison but when it came down to it the intimidation factor it should have had, it wasn’t there. Finn and Alfie got in and out with no issues and the prison feel just wasn’t there. I couldn’t picture it at all.

A lot of the things written into the plot felt like they were there for convenience instead of world building. The duenos in the clock tower for example, they had no real role or place in the story – the rules around their existence weren’t solid enough to be able to understand them. I feel like the author only added them so that Alfie had someone to impersonate.

I love some of the ideas around how the magic works and the way Alfie can see magic as coloured auras. But again, these things didn’t seem consistent. What the characters could do and the way their magic worked changed as the story needed it to.

For what is actually a very dark story a lot of the plot and the characters felt quite childish. The story just wasn’t exciting or real enough and the banter was cringey instead of funny with Alfie, Finn and Luka often sounding like they were all 12 instead of older teenagers.

I appreciate having main characters in the story that aren’t perfect, both of them here are a long way from being the sort of saintly saviours I can’t relate to, but I just can’t stand Finn. She’s not nearly as funny and not half as smart as she thinks she is. Wisecracking smartarses I can deal with but they have to be amusing to read and Finn’s not, she comes across as childish and irritating and for an amazing thief everything she did was a disaster. If I’m supposed to believe she’s a master thief I need to see her being awesome, her character doesn’t work if she has to suddenly start being crap at everything for plot reasons.

Another thing that really annoyed me was the way everyone in it was either full of darkness or full of light. People aren’t that basic; there are shades of grey in everyone and more of that ambivalence would have made this book feel less flat than it does. The dark magician doesn’t seem to have any motivations either, he is just full of darkness and that’s it, he does bad things. I like books where you can get right into the minds of the villains and if not sympathise then at least understand them. They are often more interesting than the good guys and can bring a book like this to life.

There is a lot of good stuff here but it wasn’t enough to hold my attention. I found that I didn’t want to keep reading it and I was picking up other books instead of going back to this one. Altogether it feels rushed like the characters haven’t been fully worked out and the setting isn’t rich and lush or developed enough. It has potential though because the ideas are good and the writing is decent I feel it just needs more time spent on the basics.

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

Nocturna
A Forgery of Magic
Maya Motayne
Young Adult Fantasy
May 7th 2019
Kindle
480

The Secret City (The Alchemist Chronicles #2) by C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld

the secret city cover

Locked away inside the fortified walls of Oxford’s St Wilfred’s College, surrounded by alchemists sworn to protect them, Taylor and Sacha are safe from the Darkness. For now.

But time is short. In seven days Sacha will turn 18, and the ancient curse that once made him invincible will kill him, unleashing unimaginable demonic horror upon the world.

There is one way to stop it.

Taylor and Sacha must go to where the curse was first cast – the medieval French city of Carcassonne – and face the demons.

The journey will be dangerous. And monsters are waiting for them.

But as Darkness descends on Oxford, their choice is stark. They must face everything that scares them or lose everything they love.

My Thoughts

The Secret City (The Alchemist Chronicles #2)The Secret City by C.J. Daugherty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Secret City picks right up where The Secret Fire left off, with Taylor learning how to control her magic while she and Sascha and the alchemists of St Winifred’s are searching for the key to breaking Sascha’s curse.

There’s a lot more action in this one when Taylor and Sascha have to race through France to Carcassone to beat a villain who is trying to raise a demon. It felt like the ending was rushed – they found the solution all at once and then it seemed to be over very quickly but the rest of the book was exciting without moving too fast. There was time to get to know the characters and I loved following them on their journey through France. Their relationship is sweet, they don’t fall in love at first sight, and they are very likeable both separately and together.

The villain though was cartoonish and underwhelming. He wasn’t fleshed out enough, and if I don’t know the villain’s motivations it’s difficult for me to see them as actual people or to find them threatening. He was just something and nothing that popped up every so often to leer at them a bit.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this. It’s interesting and a bit different and exciting enough to hold it’s own against the more obvious series in this genre. I want to know more about the alchemist society though and life at St Winifred’s!

The Secret City
The Alchemist Chronicles
C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld
Young Adult Fantasy
September 1st 2016
Paperback
368

Sabriel (The Old Kingdom #1) by Garth Nix

Sabriel Cover

Sabriel is the daughter of the Mage Abhorsen. Ever since she was a tiny child, she has lived outside the Wall of the Old Kingdom–far away from the uncontrolled power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who won’t stay dead.

But now, her father is missing and Sabriel is called upon to cross into the world to find him, Leaving the safety of the school she has known as home, Sabriel embarks upon a quest fraught with supernatural dangers, with companions she is unsure of–for nothing is as it seems within the boundary of the Old Kingdom. There, she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life, and comes face to face with her hidden destiny.

My Thoughts

Sabriel (Abhorsen, #1)Sabriel by Garth Nix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really didn’t think that I was going to like this. I don’t know why but I fully expected to hate it. Just shows that I shouldn’t be too quick to judge because I ended up really enjoying it!

There were a couple of things that did disappoint me. I didn’t feel like the old kingdom was fully realised, the author skirted around the edges of it and I never felt fully immersed. I liked what I did see, the author did world building well when he bothered with it which is why I was disappointed that there wasn’t more of it.

Sabriel was a bit too out of touch for someone that was supposed to have come from there – how could she know so little? Surely she would have asked for more from her father? Or seen a bit of the world when she went back to visit? I get hung up on details sometimes and this just bugged me.

It was some of the little touches that made the book for me. I loved the paper aeroplanes and the villain and his minions manage to be genuinely scary. Characters were done so well they almost leapt off the pages. Even those that were only in for a couple of pages I felt like I knew and I became very attached to Mogget.

Sabriel was a strong lead character and I loved her magic! She has an affinity for death and can pass through the gates to travel into the land of the dead. A skill that comes in very handy more than once in her quest to find what has happened to her father.

I very much enjoyed reading this, it’s nothing new in terms of plot but it has excitement and enough about it to put its own stamp on a common story. I would definitely read the sequel.

Sabriel
The Old Kingdom
Garth Nix
Young Adult Fantasy
May 6th 2003
Paperback
367

Enchantée by Gita Trelease

echantee cover

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns.

My Thoughts

EnchantéeEnchantée by Gita Trelease
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Enchantée is about magic, gambling, deception and hot air ballooning, and it has the best love triangle that’s not really a love triangle since the days of Jem and the Holograms.

It’s Paris, 1789, and Camille has lost both her parents to smallpox. She and her sister are struggling to survive, the only way she can earn money is to use her short-lived magic – la magie – to change iron nails into coins for long enough to buy bread. When she finds that she can also use her magic to change the numbers on playing cards she starts gambling to make money to pay the rent. But the glamour of la magie is addictive and it takes a toll on her health as she starts to get sucked into the glittering world of Versailles.

I loved the story, and then to make it even better there was a bit of a side story about a group of hot air ballooning pioneers, one of whom catches Camille’s eye!

I liked Camille because she’s not perfect, she’s doing her best to provide for herself and her sister but she gets addicted to la magie and to the glamour it gives her. She finds that she can’t stop herself and even when she has all the money she needs to take them out of poverty she keeps going back. Camille also has a practical side to her – she wants to be a printer like her father was.

It’s super easy to read and the writing brings the sumptuous world of Versailles and the harsh reality of struggling to survive in Paris vividly to life. The author is a wonderful storyteller and it’s hard to believe this is her debut novel. I also love that it’s a stand-alone and not a series.

Utterly wonderful, I got completely wrapped up in it and I didn’t want it to finish.

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

Enchantée
Gita Trelease
Young Adult Fantasy
February 5th 2019
Kindle
480

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 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 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

Books with Roller Derby in Them

roller derby books

Time for another book list! It’s been too long since I did one of these.

This time, these are books that have my favourite sport roller derby in, in one form or another.

Slam!

Slam is a bright and fun graphic novel about two young women who join a banked track roller derby team. The artwork is wonderful! Bright and bold, and it really captures the different characters personalities. The story is strong and interesting, with good dialogue. and this is all around just a lot of fun.

Whip It

This is the book that was made into the film that has helped roller derby become so popular recently. It’s about a teenager that wants to escape the world of beauty pageants and join a local roller derby team, against her parent’s wishes.

Whip it cover

The Derby Girl

A full-on romance novel where the heroine is a derby girl. There was really no way I wasn’t going to like this, the characters are smart and sassy and the story is cute and fun!

The Derby Girl Cover

Going in Circles

A more grown-up roller derby tale with about a fairly standard story about a woman that joins a roller derby team after her relationship ends and finds her inner strength.  A nice feel-good tale, even if there is nothing much original about it.

going in circles cover

Derby Shorts: The Best New Fiction from the Roller Derby Track

This is a little book full of short stories set in the world of Roller Derby. It’s produced in collaboration with London Roller Girls and the publisher, For Books Sake, is a company that champions women writers. There’s a mix of styles, so something for everyone! My favourites include the super fierce post-apocalyptic story and a quite sweet one about two teenage sisters playing in a junior Roller Derby league.

Derby Shorts Cover

Troll or Derby

Now, I wasn’t hugely keen on this one but a lot of reviews seem to really love it. Debs is a roller skater living in a trailer park with her sister and borderline abusive mother. Her sister disappears kicking off a chain of events that makes  Debs start to realise that she isn’t entirely human.

Troll or Derby Cover