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

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

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

Brother’s Ruin (Industrial Magic #1) by Emma Newman

brothers ruin cover

The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.

But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.

When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.

Brother’s Ruin is the first in a new gaslamp fantasy series by Emma Newman.

My Thoughts

Brother’s Ruin (Industrial Magic, #1)Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“You are one of the very worst examples of a man given too much privilege,” she finally said. “You are one of the most dangerous young women in this city,” he replied calmly.

Utterly wonderful. Emma Newman gets everything about this just pitch perfect.

It’s a novella about a young woman in Victorian London trying to hide her illustration career and her magic abilities from her family and the Royal Society of mages. But she finds out that her father is in serious trouble with debtors and her leaky magic skills have been mistakenly attributed to her brother.

There’s a whole world created in this little novella, London is grim, dirty and dangerous and the Royal Society make sure that they own and control all mages – forcibly taking them away from their family if they don’t give themselves up. Charlotte has the difficult task of saving her father from the debtors whilst keeping herself out of the sights of the society and it makes for an exciting and action-packed short story.

I’m hopeful that this is just the first in a series of short stories about Charlotte’s adventures, there’s so much more of this word that I want to explore and Charlotte has the potential to be a fab character!

It was time for this rude young woman to make a difference.

Brother’s Ruin
Industrial Magic
Emma Newman
Steampunk
March 14th 2017
Kindle
190

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1) by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library Cover

Irene must be at the top of her game or she’ll be off the case – permanently…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library, #1)The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, my 2018 reading came to a cracking finish with this one!

It was a bit heavy on the explanations at first – the stuff about the chaos worlds was overly complicated and didn’t really go in until I’d read the first third of the book. After that though it picks up and gets on with a fun, fast paced and action filled plot.

Irene was an interesting, complicated character, veering between confidence and self-doubt. Her sensibleness and her love of books, especially detective stories made her resonate with me and I found her easy to relate to.

Her assistant Kai was a good character too. Mysterious, attractive, open in his attraction to Irene and respectful of her experience and intelligence. A refreshing change for a romantic interest in this sort of book.

I loved the crazy world Genevieve Cogman has created, with dragons, airships and mind controlled alligators. She’s filled it with lively and interesting characters and it’s madcap but it works.

Altogether it’s just a lot of fun!

The Invisible Library
The Invisible Library
Genevieve Cogman
Steampunk
January 15th 2015
Paperback
329

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 Obsidian Tower (Jewelfire #3) by Freda Warrington

obsidian tower cover

In this final volume of the Jewelfire trilogy, all seems lost for the humans of Aventuria. The shape-changing Bhahdradomen have invaded and Queen Helananthe has been forced to step down or see her mother and brother murdered. Meanwhile Tanthe is attempting to rescue her sister, Ysomir.

My Review of The Obsidian Tower

The Obsidian Tower (The Jewelfire Trilogy #3)The Obsidian Tower by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is not ok to play with my emotions like this Freda Warrington! Excuse me while I go sob in the corner, please.

So, at the start of The Obsidian Tower, everything looks bad. The Bhahdradomen have invaded and taken the throne, Helan, Tanthe and the others are in captivity and Rufryd has been left for dead. Well, things only get worse from here!

I’ve grown to love this series. I wasn’t convinced by the first book but it grew on me and I ended up heavily emotionally invested in it. The writing is lush. The descriptions of the worlds are beautiful: this world is alive in my head, I could almost step into it.

And there is SO much character growth. Characters I hated at the start ended up being my favourites and characters that I thought were going to be the heroes or the villains are anything but. There are no truly good or bad people in the worlds Freda Warrington creates. There are no superheroes and no evil villains. Her characters are very real, often messy and usually contradictory. And don’t get too attached to any of them because Warrington is not averse to killing off the people that seem like the stars of the show. None of them is safe!

The storyline is very, very clever. There are lot’s of different characters and different stories going on but they all weave in together and bring a very satisfying, if bittersweet, resolution with all the different storylines rounded up and finished off.

I got off to a wobbly start with this series but by the end, I’d fallen in love with it. It’s clever, dark and as realistic as high fantasy gets. Give it a go, it’s worth the investment.

The Obsidian Tower
Jewelfire
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
2001
Paperback
708

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

The Silver Tide (The Copper Cat #3) by Jen Williams

The Silver Tide Cover

From Jen Williams, highly-acclaimed author of THE COPPER PROMISE and blistering follow-up THE IRON GHOST, comes the final epic instalment in the Copper Cat trilogy. 

Tales of the Black Feather Three and their exploits abound far and wide, and Wydrin of Crosshaven, Lord Aaron Frith and Sir Sebastian have become sell swords in demand. Having foiled powerful mages and evil magic, they now face a challenge unlike any before – in the form of Wydrin’s mother.

Devinia the Red, notorious pirate and captain of the Poison Chalice, is intent on finding the fabled treasure hidden within the jungles of the cursed island of Euriale. She needs the skills of her daughter Wydrin and her companions to get there, and our heroes cannot resist the lure of coin and adventure. But no explorer has returned from the heart of the island, and it’s not long before the Three find themselves in the clutches of peril. Deep within the island of the gods, there are remnants of forces best left undisturbed.

My Review of The Silver Tide

The Silver Tide (The Copper Cat, #3)The Silver Tide by Jen Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Silver Tide brings to a close a massively fun ride that has been full of magic, gods, dragons and mayhem.

I’ve absolutely loved this series, I tried to read this slowly to eke it out longer but it’s hard when the story is so exciting. I just wanted to turn the world off and cosy up with a big cup of tea and read all day.

The Silver Tide introduces us to Devinia the Red, Wydrin’s mother, who is even more of a loose cannon than Wydrin herself! And when Devinia gets the idea to be the first to reach the centre of a cursed island you just know it’s going to end badly. She enlists the black feather three for help but Wydrin, Frith and Sebastion are still reeling from the events of The Copper Promise. They go along with her plans but as usual for the trio events soon spiral out of their control.

It’s fresh, modern and fun and packed full of action. The story is a riot but there is also a serious side and I don’t want to give too much away about the plot but there is lots of chance for character growth. And an ending that left me happy sad.

Wydrin is one of the best characters in a fantasy series in my opinion. She’s fiery and can hold herself in a fight but she’s not the stereotypical ‘badass’ women. She has flaws and a realness to her that just bring her to life.

Jen Williams has put herself up there as one of my favourite fantasy authors, one of the few I will auto-buy when a new book comes out. She takes the standard fantasy plot and gives it a big kick up the arse.

I love the characters – Wydrin, Frith and Sebastion will always have a special place in my heart. I’m sad to see this series come to an end and I’m tempted to go straight back to the first book and start over.

The Silver Tide
The Copper Cat
Jen Williams
Fantasy
February 25th 2016
Paperback
608

Magonia (Magonia #1) by Maria Dahvana Headley

Magonia Cover

Since she was a baby, Aza Ray Boyle has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

My Review of Magonia

Magonia (Magonia, #1)Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I loved the writing style, it’s almost poetic and a bit dreamy but never too much that it overwhelms the story.

I didn’t like Aza or Jason to start with, every paragraph was about how intelligent and special they are and honestly, it made me hate them a little. And Aza is horrible to everyone, she’s nastily sarcastic and treats everyone like they are idiots. When Aza was kidnapped by the sky people though it’s turned around and she’s the one that has no idea what’s going on. She becomes a lot more likeable when she has no one she can act superior to!

The story is just too far-fetched: birds that live in your lungs and sing magic I could just about believe in, doors in chests, birds that turn into people, air plants? And people on the ground never see any of it? Hmm. I tried to go with it but it’s just too much “how is that even possible? It would never work” for me. It actually felt a lot like watching a pantomime.

In the end, the writing style won me over and I did enjoy reading it. I’m just not sure I want to read more of this daft story – I might look at the other books she’s written and try those instead.

Magonia
Magonia
Maria Dahvana Headley
Young Adult Fantasy
April 28th 2015
Paperback
309