The Last Days of Jack Sparks, by Jason Arnopp

❧ Title: The Last Days of Jack Sparks
❧ Author: Jason Arnopp
❧ Publisher: Orbit
❧ Publication date: 3rd March 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦

Jack Sparks died while writing this book. This is the account of his final days. In 2014, Jack Sparks – the controversial pop culture journalist – died in mysterious circumstances. To his fans, Jack was a fearless rebel; to his detractors, he was a talentless hack. Either way, his death came as a shock to everyone. It was no secret that Jack had been researching the occult for his new book. He’d already triggered a furious Twitter storm by mocking an exorcism he witnessed in rural Italy. Then there was that video: thirty-six seconds of chilling footage that Jack repeatedly claimed was not of his making, yet was posted from his own YouTube account.

Nobody knew what happened to Jack in the days that followed – until now. This book, compiled from the files found after his death, reveals the chilling details of Jack’s final hours

jack sparks❝In A Nutshell❞

✎ Jack Sparks is an asshole who is also a former journalist, who started writing books. Jack Sparks On The Supernatural is the book we’re reading, with (more or less insightful/biased/self-serving asshattery) frequent annotations by his brother, Alistar Sparks, and the occasional piece of additional material from additional sources. Since Jack always wrote his books as he was researching them, that’s why we have a more-or-less finished version of Jack Sparks On The Supernatural.

✎ Jack Sparks does not believe in the supernatural–and he’s about to prove that it’s all one big lie. That’s what this book is: Jack Sparks globetrotting to wave a big flag for Science and tell the world what’s what. Or, at least that’s what he thinks he’s going to do. Instead, Jack finds himself in the middle of the twisted game of a dark entity that wants to teach him a lesson, after Jack inflicts the greatest insult of all during an exorcism: he laughs.

✎ We read through a detailed account of the truth of what happened to Jack Sparks, and the book is literally written as the book Jack himself would have/did written/write. It works really well. Additionally, the audiobook is very effective because of this, especially with the first-person recounting of events.

✎ Diverse 🚫 (unfortunately not: the suggestion of a bi/lesbian character as a throwaway line half used for (I’m assuming??) comedic purposes, however ambiguous, doesn’t count; additionally, seeking out a medium in Hong Kong, who is then white with an Asian sidekick, isn’t really fab)

❝What I loved, aka Jack Sparks is an asshole❞

✎ This is a fact straight off the bat. But the thing is, he’s an entertaining asshole and he writes a pretty good book. But more than that, he’s the kind of asshole that was made and not born. I won’t go in to too much detail, since some of it is vaguely spoilery for later on in the book, but the fact remains: Jack’s a little bit complicated. He covers it all up beneath layers of self-confidence and bravado (fake it until you make it, that was the Jack Sparks’ motto) until there’s not much left of whoever he was before. And since the drugs… Well, he’s probably more of an asshole than he’s ever been before. I picked this book up after attending a panel at NineWorlds Geekfest 2016 and liked the sound of the book, and also thought Jason Arnopp was pretty entertaining and did a good job of selling Jack Sparks to me–and the convention panel sales pitch (so to speak) did not disappoint.

✎ This book feels like it’s written by a guy who is saying, “Hey, guys (to the reader), we know there’s a bit more to the supernatural than just black or white, right? Get a load of this guy–get a load of Jack Sparks. What an idiot. Guy’s a fool right? Let me show you how much of a fool.” The Last Days of Jack Sparks is the “found footage” equivalent of a book, with Jack having written the whole story down, even through (or especially, through) the really, really unbelievable parts of what happens to him, in his, aforementioned, last days. If you buy into to supernatural (I do: bite me) or if you’re even just an intermediate in horror, you’ll recognise all the mistakes Jack makes, even before he makes them, and you’ll see the freaky bits coming a mile away. There’s a sense of foreboding when following Jack around on the writing of his latest (and last) book and it goes deeper than just us knowing that he’s going to shuffle off this mortal coil; it’s almost as though we, the reader, are experiencing something a little bit meta, already knowing how things are going to go, whilst simultaneously wondering how we’re going to get there.

✎ But there’s more to this book than just an asshole amateur ghost-hunter trying to prove that ghosts, in fact, don’t exist. Jack has a lot of issues, and so many of them lead him to this place, right here, pissing off the big evil guy himself and ending up dead. His brother, Alistair, is a first-rate jackass (don’t be fooled by his calm, rational and sometimes over-saccharine footnotes–the guy’s a jerk) and Jack’s childhood was an elongated episode of Dad Left Because Of You and You Don’t Matter. Up grows Jack, issues in tow like a subscription to Vogue and with a desperation to make everything further in his life about him, him, him–about Jack, Jack, Jack. In a sad way, he gets exactly what he wants.

✎ Don’t get me wrong–Jack is an asshole. He’s that me, me, me kind of guy who is casually sexist and assumes he deserves all the space in a room–in a building. Why not the world? He is entirely a product of being ignored as a child and damn, if he ever lets that happen again: Jack Sparks is what he is and he thinks he’s happy with that. And perhaps he is, until Jack Sparks On Drugs and everything started to unravel. And maybe he could have even kept himself together, if not for what came next–if he’d not run away from everything and hidden himself down some dark rabbit hole under the pretence of writing another book.

✎ By the time he gets to even thinking of Jack Sparks On The Supernatual, the deal is already done and Jack is bound for complete failure. It’s almost as if it was inevitable, really. Maybe it was.

❝What I didn’t love❞

✎ Not a lick of diversity. Boo.

✎ White medium in Hong Kong with a Chinese sidekick dealing with a haunting. The other way around would have been more authentic and inclusive. Chinese combat sorcerer and a white sidekick, or, better still, two Chinese ladies to kick some ghost ass.

✎ Awkward dialogue scene between two female characters, with one obviously having asked the other if she’d be interesting in sexy time (jet lag makes her horny) and the other girl being a little confused by the question before saying she hasn’t and sounding perplexed by the question. It honestly felt a bit weird and so either should have been cut altogether, or handled in not so ham-fisted fashion. Since it only lasts literally two or three lines it did not need to be there.

❝If you liked this…❞
… you might like: the upcoming Jack Sparks movie? (Cop-out rec because I don’t read much horror and have no idea what else to suggest!)

[Friday Flash Review] The Blazing Star, by Imani Josey

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❧ Title: The Blazing Star
❧ Author: Imani Josey
❧ Publisher: Wise Ink
❧ Publication date: 6th December 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦.5  (3.5)
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Sixteen-year-old Portia White is used to being overlooked—after all, her twin sister Alex is a literal genius.

But when Portia holds an Egyptian scarab beetle during history class, she takes center stage in a way she never expected: she faints. Upon waking, she is stronger, faster, and braver than before. And when she accidentally touches the scarab again?

She wakes up in ancient Egypt—her sister and an unwitting freshman in tow.

Great.

Mysterious and beautiful, Egypt is more than they could have ever imagined from their days in the classroom. History comes alive as the three teens realize that getting back to the present will be the most difficult thing they’ve ever done. Stalked by vicious monsters called Scorpions, every step in the right direction means a step closer to danger.

As Portia and the girls discover that they’re linked to the past by more than just chance, they have to decide what it truly means to be yourself, to love your sister, and to find your way home.

blazing star❝In A Nutshell❞

 

✎ Time-travel back to Ancient Egypt with magical powers and twins, one of which is very selfish (she is!) and the other constantly pressured into “twinning”. Though the tables are a little flipped/evened out when they are both sent back in time and Portia discovers she has magic. Basically the less “special” twin is cast into the spotlight where she gets to discover more about herself.
✎ Black teenage girls in Ancient Egypt, generally being pretty awesome.
✎ Diverse ☒ (race #ownvoices)
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❝What I loved❞
✎ The setting! Ancient Egypt is one of those settings that is woefully underused, and often when it is visited, it’s usually in movies and ends up being pretty terrible.
✎ The characters. Well, Portia and Selene were my favourites. Seeing Portia claim her own identity and strike out for who she wants to be was one of the best parts of the book. She needs that independence from the twinning and through the events of the book, she begins to realise the courage to go it solo when she wants to.
✎ The plot was engaging and full of intrigue that kept me turning the page. It was fast-paced (for the most part–more on this below) and fun.
✎ Three black girls taking absolute centre stage and owning it and a cast full of women.
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❝What I didn’t love❞
✎ The pacing was great, and then slow and saggy, then great, and then slow and saggy again. There seemed to be whole swathes of the book where nothing happened, then everything happened at once. There was no urgency overall and it made the book less exciting to read than it first started.
✎ The old theme of person gets taken back in time (to Ancient Egypt of all places!) and still keeps up the insistence that there’s some kind of “misunderstanding” or prank going on, instead of actually accepting the rational explanation of, when it looks like you’re in Ancient Egypt, maaaaybe you’re in Ancient Egypt! It didn’t last that long, but long enough to be a little irritating and unrealistic. It felt like a series of scenes from a cliché movie which didn’t work for me.
✎ We’re in Ancient Egypt, but… we could honestly be anywhere else in the world, because I didn’t really feel that we were in Ancient Egypt at all. There seemed to be no descriptions, no depth to the setting. Just costume and occasional set-dressing. I feel that with the short length of the book, we could have really been invited to see more of the setting, especially as that’s what I was looking forward to the most.
✎ The potential love interest/relationship was just… it felt tacked on because, oh, look, gotta have that romance! It didn’t work for me. Not every story needs a romance and this was definitely one of those.
✎ I was inexplicably irked by the constant use of “the freshman” instead of Selene’s name. You don’t just go around referring to someone as the freshman when you know their name. It stuck out in the narrative and was just irritating as heck. You’d say the lieutenant” or “the captain” or even “the priest” etc, but not “the sophomore” or “the freshman” every other word when talking about the character. It happened a lot (or seemed to) which is what made it noteworthy for me. I think it was most annoying because it felt as though a strange distance was being put between Selene and Portia, when that wasn’t expressed in the story itself, so it stood out even more. I mean, it’s a tiny thing, but hey ho.
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❝If you liked this…❞
…then you might also like: Heidi Heilig’s The Girl From Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time. More historical time-travel with great diverse characters, lots of myth and history and so much heart.

[Friday Flash Review] The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black

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❧ Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest
❧ Author: Holly Black
❧ Publisher: Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
❧ Publication date: 13th January 2015
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough

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20958632In A Nutshell

✎ Role reversal twins: soft guy princey type; warrior girl knight. Small town in rural America where the forest is full of dark secrets and danger. Having spent their childhoods in the woods, Ben and Hazel know that things aren’t always as they seem, even if the town of Fairfold is so used to its long history with faeries that the things that happen are simply just accepted as they are.
✎ Queer romance! Changelings! Cursed sleeping faerie princes!
✎ A mysterious faerie, loved by both twins but without much of a lasting, terrible sibling rivalry love triangle (where the straight ship is launched, because isn’t it always if this happens).
✎ A brilliant juxtaposition of contemporary fantasy and fairytale and folklore, with life in Fairfold every bit as normal as any other town in rural America. Except for the faeries, of course. And the occasionally missing tourist, but hey.
✎Diverse ☒ (queerness and secondary characters who are PoC)

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What I loved

✎ Everything. Absolutely everything. This book is enchanting and delightful and reads every bit the way a modern faerie tale should. Ben and Hazel are compelling, interesting characters and they are so well-written as siblings.
✎ Q u e e r  r o m a n c e. I can’t stress this enough, really. Any book that gives me queer romance is automatically going to get bonus points, let alone if its a m/m romance.
✎ Faeries! Anyone who knows me knows that faeries are my thing. I am an actual changeling so really that shouldn’t be a surprise. I eat up stories that involve the fae, whether they’re fantasy or urban fantasy or that grey area between. Basically, faeries.
✎ Black’s writing style is just meant tot write books like this: it’s very gently lyrical whilst being utterly engaging and even “mundane”, but in the best of ways. It’s as though she brings faerie completely to life in a modern setting without losing or compromising on any of the magic and wonder and even terror of what faeries can really be like.
✎ The point that Ben and Hazel’s parents are generally guilty of “benign neglect”. I am always eager to see the various ways in which parents can totally mess up with their kids being displayed: it’s important to demonstrate and explore the fact that violence and/or abuse aren’t the only ways in which parents can hurt or damage their kids. Not being there can be just as damaging and even if the parents themselves are great people that does not mean they’re great at being parents.
✎ Hazel’s strength and bravery and general kick-assness, matched with her brother’s artistic softness.

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If you liked this…

…then you might also like: Holly Black’s other faerie tale books, particularly her Modern Faerie Tales books, Tithe, Valiant and Ironside, as well as the upcoming The Cruel Prince, which the first of a new series called The Folk of the Air and is also about faeries. This is slated for an early 2018 release.

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Ten Thousand Skies Above You, by Claudia Gray [Firebird#2]

Title: Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date: 3rd November 2015
Rating: ★★.5 / ★★★ – depending on what day you catch me!

17234659Ten Thousand Skies Above You, the second of the Firebird trilogy, by Claudia Gray was a good continuation of the story and a surprisingly, complex sequel to follow after A Thousand Pieces of You. There were elements of the story I loved, and some that felt like pure filler. I keep emphasising “story”—and there’s a reason for that.

Just like A Thousand Pieces of You, I adored the story of this book; I love the revelations we’re given, I love the game-changer at the end of the book that sets up a very, very interesting possibility for the dynamic in the third book.

But, I did not love Marguerite. I feel the girl we knew from the first book is gone. Where? I’m not sure.

We find ourselves plunged back into our time-travel-but-not adventures, with Marguerite fleeing a crowd bent on accusing her family (the scientists Caine) of witchcraft. Hold up—science as magic? We must be in the dark ages or something. Oh, we are. It’s an exciting start to the book, setting a pace that… is never truly realised thereafter. We skip between exposition of what happened before she began travelling again, whilst vaguely taking tiny steps forward into the rest of the subsequent story. The book kicks off rather frantically in a reimagining of medieval Italy, where Marguerite finds herself in hot water whilst on the search for Paul (again…).

As with the first book, Marguerite is forced to do more dimension hopping. Except this time, revenge is far from her mind. This time, she’s trying to save people. Both Theo and Paul need help and, as ever, being the perfect traveller that she is, Marguerite is the only one who can do anything of use.

Unfortunately this time, Paul is little more than a plot device. The reason for Marguerite to travel. It’s a disservice to Paul, because there’s so much character there, if you scratch beneath the surface. I wanted to get to know Paul more. He’s not the most fleshed-out of characters in the first book, and I had hoped for an opportunity to see more of him here. For some reason, we’re denied this. This should have been a book of Paul and Marguerite travelling together.  But moreover, it’s a disservice to Theo, because, through Marguerite’s blinkeredness in Paul’s direction, she completely erases Theo. Never mind the fact that she is convinced that, essentially due to the behaviour of another Theo, her Theo can’t be all good.

Well, newsflash, Marguerite: nobody is all good. This, unfortunately becomes something that our once seemingly well-rounded Marguerite develops some interesting double-standards with. The second someone other than herself does one thing in one dimension, then it must immediately mean that that little fragment of darkness is lurking inside them, because they are essentially all the same people, even though the very nature of the plot and the formula makes it painfully clear that they’re not. People are made by how they live, both the sum of and more than the sum of their experiences, choices and how they have grown throughout their lives.

Except her, of course: she readily forgets the party-girl Meg from the Londonverse, and, refuses to really acknowledge the damage she did in the Russiaverse; instead, using the universe as a refuge during the story, where she literally just barges into her other self’s life (again) and remains there as she pleases (again). Sure, she realises how much she screwed up, but if she was truly sorry and realised just how violating her presence was, she would not have used the universe as if she had the right to; she would have left immediately. But she didn’t. She didn’t want to leave, so she took the right to stay. Unfortunately, Marguerite has selfish sides of herself that turn into hypocrisy through her complete disregard of them, yet her willingness to point them out in others. Such as Theo, and, through this book, others around her, too.

Furthermore, in each world she travels to, Marguerite basically commandeers the lives of Alternative Marguerite and does as she pleases, constantly trying to engineer herself closer to Paul, whether or not she is with Paul in said dimension. It’s selfish and entitled and completely erasing of what her other selves’ lives are like. It’s presumptuous and, when she lands in dimensions where she is actively seeing someone else, completely disregarding and erasing of anyone else’s feelings. Except her own, of course.

Where is my Marguerite gone? Because this isn’t the girl I loved.

And the worlds we travelled to, so varied and exciting in the first book, have become random and even pale in comparison. Where’s my world where Theo and Paul are together? Where’s my world where Marguerite is a lesbian? Where is my world where she and Josie hate one another? Where’s my world where Marguerite doesn’t get on with her increasingly-oh-so-perfect parents? Where’s my world where she has different parents; a different family; a stepparent; adoptive parents; something different? Where Marguerite is biracial; where she’s different? Where is my world where Marguerite and her immediate surroundings aren’t so straight and white and completely unrealistic?

You can’t begin to play with the accepted notion of “infinite possibilities” if you never actually think outside the box, never think outside of straight-white-middle-class. And that’s all we ever, ever see and it’s impossibly dull by this point. Here, we have this exciting plot, far-reaching and overarching—especially with the revelations in this book itself—and yet we tread the same sort of ground, again and again.

Couple this with Marguerite’s selfish erasure of other people’s feelings and her blindness to her own faults, and we have a rather unlikable protagonist in place of our determined, thoughtful and relatable Marguerite. She can so easily flee to another universe where she doesn’t belong and has no need whatsoever to go to “take time away” from an event where someone was hurt by someone she doubted had that kind of violence inside them, when in the first book she was the one hell bent on revenge on Paul.

Never mind the fact that it would be a change to meet Paul and Theo in a universe where one of them wasn’t obsessed with her. That would be good. I know the number of worlds we’ve seen isn’t that high, but that’s precisely my point: you have to make them count.

In addition, the only world in which any manner of different sexuality is mentioned is where a particular character is the bad guy and they sleep with the opposite sex, as well as the same sex (anyone will do!), as a way of hurting more people and not giving a damn. I don’t care if it was accidental: do better. When it’s the only LGBT reference, do better.

I love the plot of these books, I love the formula, the writing, the delivery… but now, I do not like Marguerite. Mostly, her selfishness, her entitled attitude is what finally turned me off towards Marguerite. The fact that she chooses to invade on another of her lives again, entirely by choice and without any fragment of necessity whatsoever, only to go and live in that Marguerite’s shoes for a while, as if staying over in a hotel built for her, even going so far as to willing interact with people in these Alternate Marguerites’ lives (such as a psychiatrist, whom she brazenly uses as a shrink for her own issues instead of just leaving Marguerite to her own life)—just, no.

Furthermore, the topic of grief comes up, however briefly in this book.  She immediately acts as though grief is something that will eventually be worked through and isn’t an excuse for rash or selfish behaviour…

Says the girl who toddled off traveling to get revenge on Paul after the assumed death of her father. Everyone else’s grief is uncomfortable and inconvenient for her. And this was a huge, huge, huge issue for me. Our society is pretty shit at dealing with grief (heck, when the only way we can get in touch, as a society, with grief, is through the catharsis of public grief over a shared figure or person, and otherwise grief is something to be shuttered away and not talked about and dealt with alone, that’s messed up) and to have this exact sentiment reflected in a book for younger/more millennial-minded people, that’s not okay with me.

Ultimately, only her feelings ever matter. And worse, only she is a valid Marguerite and only her feelings matter, above all Marguerites.

I wanted so badly to love this book as much as I’d loved A Thousand Pieces of You, which I’d really, really loved. The problem is, I do still really, really like the story. The dimensions, the travel, the newly-revealed stakes and twists and turns—I loved all of it. Just, not the main character.

If you’re someone who can put up with protagonists you can’t stand, in favour of the story you love, then you’ll get along with this sequel just fine. If, like me, Marguerite has become an entirely different person, one you don’t recognize, but you still do love the story… then you’ll manage and you will still probably, like me, read the third book. Only, it won’t be at the top of my TBR list when it does eventually land.

2-star copyMost of why this book got so low a rating and a rather meh review from me, is entirely down to Marguerite, and a few niggles here and there about things that could have been better. It’s not a terrible book—it’s not even a “meh” book. It’s a book with problems (lowercase; not the big, yicky Problems you really don’t want to find in a book!) and it is lacking in diversity (which, let’s be frank: we shouldn’t even be calling “diversity” as if it’s something special. It should just be called realism), which is something I’m going to start coming down heavily on. Overall, if we’re talking favourably about Ten Thousand Skies Above You, then this was a much-slower paced sequel to what was an exciting, thrilling first book, but a fantastic continuation of the overarching story itself. The ante is upped and things get big, and this is what will keep me reading to the end of the trilogy. But if we’re being candid, then Marguerite almost made me put this book down.

Cover Reveal: Crushed, by Eliza Crewe [Soul Eater #2]

Finally!

Sometimes the books I’m most excited about are the books the lab-bunnies at Strange Chemistry are the most schtum about. This is one of them. Let me cast your mind back to Cracked and the stellar review I gave it, after loving the socks off of this quirky and energetic first installment. It was good. And now we’ve got a cover for Crushed, the second book? Rock on, Strange Chem.

I’m kind of in love with just how wicked this book looks, which is totally fitting for Meda. ψ(`∇´)ψ You remember Meda, right? Just check out these wicked-awesome covers side-by-side and if you’ve not read Cracked yet, you gentle reader, are missing out.

Crushed-144dpi
(Credit: Art by Dominic Harman)
Cracked-144dpi
(Credit: Art by Dominic Harman)

Witch Fire, by Laura Powell [Burn Mark #2]

Title: Witch Fire (Burn Mark #2)
Author: Laura Powell
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication date: 11th April 2013
Rating: 

admin_1-asset-5163f082e3d48Witch Fire, the second Burn Mark novel, tells the story of Lucas and Glory’s next assignment—and it makes me want to petition Laura Powell to write all the books because I had so much fun with this. The second adventure of witch and witch, teen secret agents of WICA, are off out on another case that might turn out to be a thousand times more dangerous than they’d planned for, and reveal more about themselves than either ever thought possible.

Enrolled at a don’t-ask-don’t-tell private school for witches where the law regarding minors and bridling is loose and malleable, Glory and Lucas must put aside their still-differing views and band together in order to uncover a possible intelligence operation bent on recruiting young and disillusioned witches into a terrorist group.

Lucas, still coming to terms with his fae, and Glory, still reeling inside from the events of Burn Mark must try to remain as invisible as possible at this school of so few pupils, where although nobody is enrolled against their will, the discipline is strict and their every action is monitored. It will not be easy to find what they’re looking for. If it’s even there at all.

Unable to practise witchcraft, Glory soon begins to chafe and her temper blossoms into something fiery as she uncovers the secret Lucas has been keeping from her—the secret involving her mother and his own father. Driven away by her own anger and seizing an opportunity to flee to the other side of the world, Glory rushes off, heedless of the consequences of deserting WICA. She’s too mad to think and with Lucas having betrayed her trust…what else is she to do? But whilst on her own, Glory becomes entangled in something even she might not be able to magic her way out of; something that might make the recurrent nightmare of burning at the stake become a reality.

Lucas feels terrible. Struggling with his developing feelings for Glory—and the obviousness of hers for him—Lucas decides he, too, must do what he can to help Glory, by striking out on his own and following after her. WICA be damned, but Glory is too important to let go and wasn’t it his fault that she left the school and their assignment in the first place?

So with their assignment cancelled, Lucas and Glory travel to a small part of South America where witches are not treated in quite the same way as elsewhere in the world; where the Inquisition does not hold power supreme over witchkind. But once landed, so far from home, the two realise that there is a dark underbelly to everything—just as there was with the Inquisition in London and its corrupt Inquisitors, revealed by the events of Burn Mark. Before long, Glory is in deeper than she can handle and it will be up to Lucas to come to her rescue—along with an unexpected ally or two—like she did for him at the hands of Gideon. Only what if Lucas is too late? The plot in which Glory finds herself all tangled up is so big it’s beyond her imagining and she has everything to lose. And what if some thorns are determined to remain in your side, no matter how far away you think they are?

More fun than Burn Mark and with twice as much heart, Witch Fire is an utterly compelling book with unlikely romance, humour and a dark knot tied at its centre; so much will be revealed and take place that it’s impossible to imagine there not being more books starring Glory and Lucas. The ending deliciously mirrored the start and made me a solid fan of Powell’s teen witch-agents. Thrilling and with more than a few surprises, this book is just so good. A hundred times better than the already fantastic Burn Mark, this second adventure was a page-turning thriller of a book that offered everything from spying and magic to danger and deceit. Fun, fast and quirky and in all the right places, I’ve utterly fallen for Glory and Lucas.5-star copy

Pacy and deft and one hell of a ride, there’s little to say about this book other than: read it. Read Powell’s WICA agents and lose yourself in a world so close to home that is so almost the same it’ll make your toes curl in the hope that magic really is real and the next time you look up, you might just spot the blue jackets of WICA agents in training.

Magical, fun and exciting—this can’t be it for these two, can it? Say it ain’t so. A deliciously-developed relationship, both working and otherwise, woven between two books that merge action, intrigue and modern sorcery into one hunk of magnificence. Just brilliant.

Burn Mark, Laura Powell [Burn Mark #1]

Title: Burn Mark (Burn Mark #1)
Author: Laura Powell
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication date: 7th June 2012
Rating: 

image001Burn Mark, by Laura Powell, is an enjoyable, exciting example of taking an old concept, dabbling with alternative history, and making something shiny and new emerge from within the expected. In this world, an almost-real-life world in a time mirroring our own, with England and London as the centre stage, witchcraft is real and has been around since the beginning of time. With power—the fae—drawn from within, witches, both male and female, are now an almost second-class citizen bridled by iron cuffs (sized depended on how much iron is need to impede their fae) and registered with the government. Anyone can become a witch, regardless of their family bloodline, or their history. Anyone. But being a witch means a life of suspicion, of being bridled and being watched closely. The power of witches is not practised openly.

Unless we’re talking about the covens—the illegal crime syndicate groups who work with unbridled and unregistered witches. Imagine the criminal underworld, the mob—but with witches at their side. Of course, not every witch is incredibly powerful. Glory’s aunt, for example, is only a passable witch; nothing at all like her late younger sisters—the Starling twins—and nothing at all like Glory’s mother. They were powerful witches.

But through the campaigning of a charismatic witch invested in promoting both the rights of witchkind and a safer cooperation between witchkind and humans, the lot of witches might be starting to change. Despite the years of terrorism still in the country’s memory, despite the death and destruction, the fear and tension, the situation does seem to be changing. That means little to Glory, since she’s desperate to be a witch and either way, she’s a coven girl—a Starling girl—so she’ll become the head witch in a coven and follow in the legacy of her name. She just would like to do so with her mother there to see and her father not so much a hollow shell of himself, always lost between the incessant beep-beep-beep of his video games. And she would do without the dreams of burning, too.

It’s not every day a witch is burned by the Inquisition—reserved only for the worst witchcrimes—but it happens and it’s a feature of a dream Glory has had for years, and keeps having. Only, in the mirrored reflection she sees in the dream, it’s not her anaesthetised and burning to death—it’s her mother. Gone overnight when Glory was a child and with only a postcard slipped though in her wake, suggesting Glory and her dad forget about her, Glory’s mother has been missing for years. Glory thinks maybe she’s dead—or that she will end up so, burned by the Inquisition. Burnt by the “prickers” who stab witches with iron pins to find their witchmark, their “Devil’s Kiss”, which neither feels pain nor bleeds.

From a less than savoury part of London, with her large hoop earrings and rough, outgoing attitude, Glory is a world away from the life enjoyed by her counterpart.

The son of a very important Inquisitor, Lucas knows he will join the Inquisition; knows he will hunt witches like every other Stearne before him. Except that some plans are never destined to work out. Before he knows it, Lucas finds himself in a situation he knows nothing about, and those who should have been friends, are suddenly more like enemies. With everything changing around him, Lucas practically loses himself, his single purpose in life suddenly snatched away. With his cushy existence, his private school, and money and influence suddenly meaning very little, Lucas must find another way to continue on the spirit of the Stearnes, if not the letter of them.

These two polar opposites will have to band together in order to uncover a plot more sinister and insane than they could have imagined—but this won’t be easy, not with someone out to get Lucas from the start and not with Glory’s delicate situation as an unregistered witch with ties to the infamous Wednesday Coven, where its head enjoys the life (and power) usually afforded celebrities or politicians. If he finds out that Glory is a witch, he will reveal his own plans for her—plans her aunt warns won’t be in her best interests.

Together they must step on delicate ground and strive to unearth the full truth at the heart of the matter—and all before whatever progress has been made on behalf of witchkind is destroyed in an instant. There is a plot afoot and it is up to them and them alone to thwart it.

4-star copyBurn Mark is immensely fun and demonstrates that Powell is a thoughtful and skilled writer. She effortlessly weaves a working relationship between two people from completely different sides of London, with completely different ideas and agendas. Both Glory and Lucas are resistant but determined and despite being so different, they will discover they are more alike than they know and that the other is nothing like they imagined them to be.

An entirely enjoyable and exciting urban fantasy that offers elements of mystery and danger coupled with investigation and the paranormal.  If you like the idea of witches and a teenage secret service, then this one is for you. Bucket-loads of excitement and definitely a thrill-a-minute once the real action starts. Give it a go: it is fun, fast and a little bit different.