Charmed Life (Chrestomanci #1) by Diana Wynne Jones

Charmed life cover

Cat doesn’t mind living in the shadow of his sister, Gwendolen, the most promising young witch ever seen on Coven Street. But trouble starts brewing the moment the two orphans are summoned to live in Chrestomanci Castle. Frustrated that the witches of the castle refuse to acknowledge her talents, Gwendolen conjures up a scheme that could throw whole worlds out of whack.

My Thoughts

Charmed Life (Chrestomanci, #1)Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Charmed Life is an odd but fun book about two orphan children who go to live in Chrestomanci Castle, home of the most powerful magician in the land and his family.

Cat has no magic of his own but his sister Gwendolen is a very powerful witch and she’s also very impressed with her own ability. When they arrive at the castle though, the adults ignore them and Gwendolen is banned from practising magic. Safe to say she is not pleased by this and she quickly sets out to cause as much mayhem as possible in revenge.

I did enjoy this book but it has what I think is a pretty big plot hole. Cat and his sister are dragged away from their home to live with this Chrestomanci person and no one in their new home will talk to them or explain anything that’s going on. No wonder Gwendolen gets frustrated, I would too!

I spent a good two-thirds of the book being outraged on behalf of Cat and Gwendolen and cheering Gwendolen’s naughtiness on. The adults keep their secrets for far too long for no real reason – they could have sat down and talked to Cat, then everything would have been resolved almost straight away.

Of course, when the truth comes out you realise the adults were actually dealing with everything very carefully. The villain is mean and nasty (and the author doesn’t sugar coat it) and there is real and scary danger to everyone.

The story has a very dark edge to it but then the best children’s books always do. The exciting ending made up for a lot of my issue with Chrestomanci just not talking to the children.

Charmed Life is aimed at children but with enough to it to keep adults interested too. Make yourself a big cup of tea and settle down somewhere cosy to enjoy this one!

Charmed Life
Chrestomanci
Diana Wynne Jones
Children's Fantasy
1977
Paperback
252

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

My Sister the Serial Killer Cover

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water.

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach.

This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first.

Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other.

My Thoughts

My Sister, the Serial KillerMy Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this when I read it, but I had to wait for it to get round the rest of the book club before I could review it and now I find that I didn’t remember much of it at all. I admit I had to wait for the other book club members to remind me what had happened before I could write this review!

I do remember that I found the characters frustrating. Korede has serious issues with her sister Ayoola, she has a lot of jealousy and paints her sister as a beautiful woman who has everyone wrapped around her little finger, getting everything she wants. Korede herself is, in her own words, plain and awkward and lost in her Ayoola’s shadow.

As the story progresses Ayoola steals the heart of the man that Korede is in love with. Korede fears for his life but can’t do anything to help him without causing harm or jail time to her sister.

None of the characters are very likeable but their back story is revealed slowly throughout the book and that gives insight into why they are the way they are. I don’t actually mind characters being unpleasant and these two certainly have reason to be the way that they are.

It starts out as a dark story and parts of it are a little disturbing but it doesn’t really stay that way. It could have been much darker and pushed the story more to an extreme. I didn’t find that there was much in the way of humour in it either. It’s well written (especially for a debut) and very readable, I just wanted a bit more from the story.

An enjoyable, dark and a little disturbing short read, well written, but ultimately not very memorable – if I’m being honest I can’t actually remember the ending.

My Sister, the Serial Killer
Oyinkan Braithwaite
Fiction
November 20th 2018
Hardback
226

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

The Confessions of Franie Langton Cover

They say I must be put to death for what happened to Madame, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?

1826, and all of London is in a frenzy. Crowds gather at the gates of the Old Bailey to watch as Frannie Langton, maid to Mr and Mrs Benham, goes on trial for their murder. The testimonies against her are damning – slave, whore, seductress. And they may be the truth. But they are not the whole truth.

For the first time Frannie must tell her story. It begins with a girl learning to read on a plantation in Jamaica, and it ends in a grand house in London, where a beautiful woman waits to be freed.

But through her fevered confessions, one burning question haunts Frannie Langton: could she have murdered the only person she ever loved?

My Thoughts

The Confessions of Frannie LangtonThe Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me ages to get through this book because I had to keep taking breaks and reading something else. The pace is very, very slow moving and it tackles some heavy issues but it’s not the most interesting of storylines. So I struggled to read it, I had to keep taking breaks to read something else and then come back and read a bit more.

The story only picked up at the end when it turns to the actual trial but then that is just rushed through in a couple of chapters. Though since the trial itself only lasts a day and a half – a sham trial, the minds of the judge and jurors made up before they enter the room – it’s actually a realistic representation. If there had been more of the events of that night or the things Frannie did when helping Langton with his experiments revealed at points through the book it might have added a bit more interest and life to the story. Most of it focuses on her obsession with Marguerite – something that never felt believable to me.

What I like most about this book is that Frannie is angry. She’s not a kind-hearted, self-sacrificing good girl. She’s angry at the way she’s treated and she doesn’t win people over with the kindness of her heart and you can believe it is quite possible she might actually have murdered her master and mistress.

I also liked that it goes in-depth into the overt sexism and racism prevalent at the time and the viewpoint from the slave feels realistic. I can feel Frannie’s frustration at her situation coming off her in waves. An intelligent woman who would be happy with just a bit of free time to read a book every now and again, she is treated as a savage and a beast, as though she is not human, by everyone around her.

This book has a lot to say and it’s worth reading for its viewpoint on race and slavery alone. I just found it too slow to hold my interest for long periods of reading and it’s also a bit dreary and very depressing.

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

The Confessions of Frannie Langton
Sara Collins
Fiction
April 4th 2019
Kindle
384

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

psychology of time travel cover

1967: Four female scientists invent a time-travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril.

2017: Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future–a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady.

2018: When Odette discovered the body, she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, flesh. But when the inquest fails to answer any of her questions, Odette is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?

My Thoughts

The Psychology of Time TravelThe Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“We’ve done it,” Babara said, “You bloody brilliant women. We’ve done it.”

They hugged, their voices mingling as they spoke over each other, and Babara’s vision blurred with tears. She was so grateful – for Lucielle’s superluminal research, and Grace’s thermodynamics, and Margaret’s utter, unshakeable conviction that they would succeed. The team were pioneers. They were going to be the first people to travel through time.

I loved that it involved a murder mystery – one of my favourite things – and then combined it with a sci-fi story – another of my favourite things! But it kinda disappointingly didn’t go anywhere. Also, it confused me. Maybe I missed something reading it but I didn’t get the whole candy box thing and didn’t get why it was left there and why they knew when to go back.

Another thing I love is that the majority of the scientists and important people were women, as though it was just a normal thing. I didn’t like any of the characters though. As people go these were pretty miserable, selfish group. There were also so many storylines and different themes running that it made it hard to keep track of what was happening to who. I think that contributed massively to my confused feelings reading it.

It’s well written though, there’s enough in this one book to fill three or four different books and I think that if the author had trimmed this back a bit I would have really loved it.

The time travel company was interesting and well thought out – it created its own rules and morals and basically, it’s own eco-system. It set itself apart from the rest of the world as something special because it owned time travel. As another book club member pointed out (hi Mum!) the book seemed to be trying to create a parallel with the Google’s and the Facebook’s of the world – an entity with so much control and power that it thinks itself above the laws.

On the psychology side, the book delves into the ways in which time travel might affect a person. How they become hardened to death and how they deal with romantic relationships and meeting oneself in the future or the past. This was the most interesting aspect of the book for me, I liked seeing the ways the people, and the company itself, dealt with the issues.

I enjoyed reading it and I loved some of the ideas and themes running through it but overall I thought it too messy with too many characters, none of them likeable enough to make me care for them.

The Psychology of Time Travel
Kate Mascarenhas
Sci-Fi
August 9th 2018
Paperback
320

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

When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall

When the floods came cover

A taut, gripping novel set in the future, when the lives of a family existing on the margins of a dramatically changed society are upset by a mysterious stranger.
In a world prone to violent flooding, Britain, ravaged 20 years earlier by a deadly virus, has been largely cut off from the rest of the world. Survivors are few and far between, most of them infertile. Children, the only hope for the future, are a rare commodity.

For 22-year-old Roza Polanski, life with her family in their isolated tower block is relatively comfortable. She’s safe, happy enough. But when a stranger called Aashay Kent arrives, everything changes. At first he’s a welcome addition, his magnetism drawing the Polanskis out of their shells, promising an alternative to a lonely existence. But Roza can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to Aashay than he’s letting on. Is there more to life beyond their isolated bubble? Is it true that children are being kidnapped? And what will it cost to find out?

My Thoughts

When the Floods CameWhen the Floods Came by Clare Morrall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the Floods Came felt very realistic – both the tech and the world. The UK population has been desolated by a virus. Most people have flocked together to create a community in Brighton but there are still people like Roza’s family who live isolated but still in contact through the online world. They are very secretive about their home and where they live which makes sense because they are isolated and quite vulnerable. Roza works remotely for a company overseas – the virus never crossed the seas so the rest of the countries in the world survived and now send aid to the UK.

I loved the first part of the book, finding out about the world and what has happened to leave this family so isolated. But when Aashay turns up it moves away into more of a psychological thing. Though I can’t understand why they were so taken in – Aashay’s charming personality does not come across on paper at all and neither does his scary, dark side.

The part about the missing children and the way the family had “adopted” a child never went anywhere. It always seemed like it was building up to something sinister but by the end, this thread had been dropped. It’s a shame because this was more interesting than the story about

If this had stayed a story about a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where children are in danger of being kidnapped I probably would have loved it but I wasn’t sold on the addition of Aashay.

When the Floods Came
Clare Morrall
Sci-Fi
February 11th 2016
Paperback
352

A Pinch of Magic (A Pinch of Magic #1) by Michelle Harrison

a pinch of magic cover

Three sisters trapped by an ancient curse.

Three magical objects with the power to change their fate.

Will they be enough to break the curse?

Or will they lead the sisters even deeper into danger?

My Thoughts

A Pinch of MagicA Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got off to a rocky start with this one because I found the writing very clunky and awkward. It put me off reading it so I dipped in and out of it and it just took me ages to get into it. I also couldn’t work out if it was set in the modern day or in a ‘ye olde’ fantasy world. It sounds daft but it really threw me that I couldn’t work it out.

I am glad I persevered with it though because the story is actually rather lovely. It’s about 3 sisters who find that they are living under a curse – if they leave the island where they grew up they will be dead within a day. Not particularly nice, but they also have a gift of magic objects – normal, everyday items that enable them to move vast distances in the blink of an eye, become invisible and talk to anyone they want whenever they want.

The bond between the sisters and the way they work together whilst bickering and falling out made this book for me. It brings back memories of growing up with my sister and having adventures together even though we didn’t always get on.

After about the first half of the book, the story starts to flow better and even the writing improved. It’s also quite dark at times and I was pleased that it didn’t try to sugar coat the world – I don’t think that ever works, even in children’s books. We’re all of us smarter than to be taken in by that.

So if you’re looking for a children’s book that is full of adventure and sisters supporting each other you could do much worse than this.

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

A Pinch of Magic
A Pinch of Magic
Michelle Harrison
Children's Fantasy
February 7th 2019
Kindle
352

The Bone Magician (Tales From The Sinister City #2) by F.E. Higgins

March 7th 2008)

Pin Carpue is on his own in the world. His mother is dead and his father is missing after being labeled a suspect in a rash of murders. Pin finds a job working for the local undertaker as a body watcher, making sure people are really dead before they’re buried. The body he’s supposed to be watching tonight is currently surrounded by three people engaged in a most unusual ceremony. An old man, a bone magician, and his young female assistant are waking a woman so her grieving fiancé can have one last goodbye with her. Pin can’t believe it will work, but then the dead woman sits up and speaks.

Pin is determined to discover how the magic works. He cannot believe they are raising the dead. He cannot believe his father is a murderer. Then Pin himself nearly becomes the killer’s next victim.

As this mysterious tale unfolds with delicious creepiness, Pin will learn more about the bone magician, the girl Juno, and a hideous creature called the Gluttonous Beast that is kept in a local tavern where people pay for a glimpse.

My Thoughts

The Bone Magician (Tales From The Sinister City, #2)The Bone Magician by F.E. Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“A corpse on the cusp of putrefaction could hardly be considered the most entertaining company on a winter’s evening, but Pin Carpue didn’t do what he did for the conversation. He did it for the money”

I’m being slightly generous by giving this 3 stars but I did enjoy the author’s sense of humour and it’s a fun read.

The plot relies too much on coincidences to push the mystery forward. Sure, it’s a children’s book and maybe they won’t notice? But personally, I think children deserve a bit more respect and a plot that’s better thought out.

It’s the second in a series, I think maybe the first one explains some of the things in this book that go unexplained. This can read as a stand-alone but I wasn’t entirely sure what the story was supposed to be about – Pin’s father’s murder, the silver apple killer, or the bone magician. I think some parts of the plot could be explained by reading the first book and I wouldn’t have been wondering the whole time when it would be explained. Because I hadn’t there was too much going on and it felt like it kept jumping back and forth between two or three completely different stories. I don’t know why I didn’t read the first book first, I even have it on my shelves somewhere.

Anyway, this ended up not being about the bone magician at all, despite the title. He’s barely in it.

I didn’t like the journal entries, they felt out of character for Pin, too mature and too posh. Also, they were really hard to read because they are all in italics with a dark background! I got really irritated by them.

It’s clearly heavily influenced by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and his Ankh Morpork city. This is not a bad thing, and F.E. Higgins manages to bring the sense of silly in the right way humour that’s needed and even put her own spin on it. She brings her city to life, I especially loved the descriptions of the river!

But it delights in being ghoulish and light-hearted and fun and that makes up for a lot. There’s a lot of the macabre in the story – Pin works in an undertakers and his job is to watch the corpses to make sure they are really dead.

Lots of interesting characters keep it all moving and the plot is lively and fun even if it is crammed with too much. It kept me entertained for a while and it’s not hard to read.

Give this a go if you are looking for a ghoulish and fun children’s book, but don’t expect too much from it.

The Bone Magician
Tales From The Sinister City
F.E. Higgins
Children's Fantasy
March 7th 2008)
Paperback
304

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

heartshaped box cover

Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals…a used hangman’s noose…a snuff film. An ageing death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can’t help but reach for his wallet.

I will “sell” my stepfather’s ghost to the highest bidder…

For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn’t afraid. he has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts–of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What’s one more?

But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It’s the real thing.

And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door, seated in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang, standing outside his window, staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting–with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand.

My Review of Heart-Shaped Box

Heart-Shaped BoxHeart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first 100 pages or so were creepy and made me not want to turn the light out but then the tension faded away and after that, it was not scary at all.

I don’t think it’s really supposed to be a ghost story, it’s more about a not particularly nice man becoming a better person.

Judas Coyne is an ageing rock star on a self-destructive downward spiral. He purposefully pushes people away and has lost all interest and joy in his music. The ghost starts to destroy his quiet hideaway and Judas has to go on a journey physically and mentally to fight for his life.

The women in the book feel like they are present just to suffer through traumatic events so that Judas can feel all the emotions and grow as a person. By helping them he ends up saving himself, coming to terms with the childhood abuse he suffered and dealing with the death of his bandmates, and he learns how to form proper, caring relationships with the people left in his life.

I feel a bit cheated because it’s sold as a ghost story but it’s really not. In itself the story is interesting and it held my interest to the end but I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care about Judas, he seems a generally unpleasant person.

It’s not a bad book but it’s kinda predictable and the ghost isn’t anywhere near scary enough.

Heart-Shaped Box
Joe Hill
Horror
February 13th 2007
Paperback
406

The Bees by Laline Paull

the bees cover

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

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

My Review of The Bees

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bees
Laline Paull
Fantasy
January 1st 2015
Paperback
352