Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts #1) by Stacia Kane

Unholy Ghosts cover

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased.

Enter Chess Putnam, a tattooed church witch and ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls.

Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

My Thoughts

Unholy Ghosts (Downside Ghosts, #1)Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark and gothic take on urban fantasy.

Unholy Ghosts stands out for me as being one of the better books in the urban fantasy genre. It’s much darker than most and main character Chess has issues – she’s not perfect at all, not even in the “thinks she’s not but actually is” sort of way.

Chess is a troubled individual who works for the church exorcising ghosts with magic. She’s also a drug addict who finds herself in debt to her local drug dealer, Bump. He calls her in for a favour and Chess finds herself in a whole lot of a mess, having to deal with black magic and human sacrifice while trying to hide her involvement from the church to protect her job.

I know I’m emotionally invested in the story because I get very angry at Chess for some of the bad decisions she makes. I just so badly want her to have a bit more self-respect and look after herself better.

But this is a story that is dark, the ghosts are scary and dangerous and the characters are not heroes.

Potential love interest Terrible is 6 foot plus, described as being not very attractive and a bit rough and is Bump’s main enforcer, doing all the risky dirty work. But his intelligence and kindness balance out his rough edges to make him super interesting and actually really attractive for me. I was rooting for Chess to notice just how lovely he is and how he seems to have a thing for her.

The world building is done in a way that feels unobtrusive but I can still easily imagine myself there. I love when the authors throw in references to the music the characters are listening to, it adds a lot to my mental picture of the world. This is a book that would lend itself to some awesome soundtracks!

So, I thought this was fun, dark, different and I’m left desperate to know what happens next with Chess and Terrible.

Unholy Ghosts
Downside Ghosts
Stacia Kane
Urban Fantasy
May 25th 2010
Paperback
339

The Poison Song (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy #3) by Jen Williams

poison song cover

From Jen Williams, three-time British Fantasy Award finalist comes the electrifying conclusion to the Winnowing Flame trilogy. Exhilarating epic fantasy for fans of Robin Hobb.

Jump on board a war beast or two with Vintage, Noon and Tor and return to Sarn for the last instalment of this epic series where the trio must gather their forces and make a final stand against the invading Jure’lia.

My Thoughts

The Poison Song (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy, #3)The Poison Song by Jen Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was so excited to get my hands on The Poison Song, the last book in The Winnowing Flame trilogy! I’ve been waiting for this for two years now. And happily, it didn’t disappoint.

It shows how much I’ve enjoyed this series that I could remember what happened in the last two books. Normally I forget everything and have to keep checking back, especially if it’s been a while, but the storyline of this series has stayed with me.

And there’s a lot of story that’s been crammed into these three books! It works and it never felt overwhelming or like it was moving too fast but there’s a lot going on. So much so that right up until the last third of the book I couldn’t see how the story could come to a conclusion by the last page. Jen Williams has very cleverly made this intertwined story come together and wrap everything up neatly, but without feeling forced. I don’t know how she’s managed it, the woman is a genius!

So, the storyline I don’t want to talk about too much because I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t read the first two books. But it starts with an event that I’ve been waiting for since the first book when Noon goes back with her warbeast to where she was imprisoned for so long and makes them see the error of their ways (to put it nicely). Aside from that though things are looking bad for the warbeasts and their riders. They are damaged and battered from their fights in the last book and they have lost one of their own but despite all that, they have become a team. They now trust each other and are working together.

The Jure’lia, who I still think are some of the creepiest and scariest villains, are also battered and their Queen is distracted trying to fix the crystal. Hestillion won’t let them give in though and uses her knowledge of her world to give them strategy and make them attack with a purpose, something the Jure’lia have been lacking.

There are some epic battles in this book! Hestillion is scarily clever and the warbeasts and their riders have to pull out all the stops to fight her. Noon and Vintage have their own adventures – I loved Vintage’s storyline in this one. She is by far my favourite character and she was already kinda awesome but I enjoyed watching her out on her own without Noon and Tor to back her up.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. I admire authors that make brave decisions but I also kinda hate it at the same time and I wish it hadn’t ended like that. This is one I need time to recover from.

The Winnowing Flame is modern and fresh fantasy and it’s one of my favourite series of the last few years and it ended super strong with The Poison Song. I hope Jen Williams style starts to influence other fantasy authors.

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

The Poison Song
The Winnowing Flame Trilogy
Jen Williams
Fantasy
May 16th 2019
Kindle
320

The Rules of Magic (Practical Magic #2) by Alice Hoffman

the rules of magic cover

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start, Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City, each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

My Thoughts

The Rules of Magic (Practical Magic)The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s beautifully written and so easy to read. I got drawn in straight away and caught up in their world. But, I felt like it didn’t go anywhere and it was a bit depressing. I expected the aunts to have some wild stories to tell but they didn’t do much at all, had bad luck in their love lives and gave up living in their twenties.

I got the feeling with all the painful things that happened that it set out not to tell the story of the aunts but to make the reader cry.

It didn’t help that I already kinda knew how it ended – we know where the aunts end up this is really just the story of how they got there.

It’s still a beautifully written book I just wanted more out of it.

The Rules of Magic
Practical Magic
Alice Hoffman
Fantasy
October 10th 2017
Paperback
369

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

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

 

Fire (Engelsfors #2) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren

Fire Cover

The Chosen Ones are about to start their second year in senior high school. All summer they have been waiting for the demon’s next move. But the threat comes from another direction, somewhere they could never have foreseen.

It becomes more and more obvious that something is very wrong in Engelsfors. The past is woven together with the present. The living meet the dead. The Chosen Ones are tied even closer together and are once again reminded that magic cannot make you happy or mend broken hearts.

My Review of Fire
Fire (Engelsfors #2)Fire by Mats Strandberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fire is very Buffy inspired in that it’s as much about dealing with the horrors of high school and adults that think they know better, as it is about dealing with actual demons and magic users intent upon nefarious deeds. It even has a morally dubious magic council trying to police and control the witches powers. But Fire is moving and deep and transcends its Buffy influences by creating a wonderful story all of its own. This is definitely one of my favourite series about high school magic users, up there with the Brooklyn Brujas books by Zoraida Córdova.

I’d say the first 50% of the book there isn’t really any magic in it though, it’s just the girls dealing with life and family and friends. The magic side of the story is a slow burner, building up in the background all the time the girls were dealing with the fallout from Anna Karin’s magic use in the first book. Then when I’d actually stopped caring about the lack of magic because I was just enjoying the story, it all starts to kick off and the magic use amps up!

All through the book, there has been a demon touched witch lurking in the background influencing and controlling the townspeople. The girls kinda brush it to one side whilst they are surviving the magic council’s attentions as the ‘bad’ witch gains more and more power.

Both sides of the story are done well, I wasn’t bored waiting for the magic bits like I would normally find myself with this sort of book. I know what it’s like to be an ‘outcast’ at school and I think Fire captures that feeling so well. The girls are dealing with all sorts of family and relationship issues and then on top of that they have to deal with the magic council turning up too. It’s very realistic in the way it portrays the girl’s personalities and the cliques which exist in high school.

We have Minoo – super shy and retiring, she struggles to make friends and has little confidence in her magic.

Vanessa – a wild child whose self-worth is wrapped up in her boyfriend.

Ida – the school bully who has had her eyes opened to the effect her actions have on other people.

Linnea – an independent loner that tries to deal with everything on her own.

Anna Karin – an overweight outcast who feels that she has no control over herself or her life direction.

There is massive character growth in Fire: these five girls are still almost strangers at the start of the book but by the end, they see the good and the potential in each other. They start to trust their magic circle.

I’m kinda heartbroken by the ending, but I feel hopeful it’s just setting up for a killer storyline in the final book.

Basically, I loved it all! I can’t wait to read the finale.

Fire
Engelsfors
Mats Strandberg, Sara Bergmark Elfgren
Young Adult Fantasy
June 20th 2013
Kindle
687

Bruja Born (Brooklyn Brujas #2) by Zoraida Córdova

Bruja Born Cover

Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.

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

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

My Review of Bruja Born

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost Cover

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation – and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland.

My Review of Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1)Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young adult fantasy about a Bruja living in Brooklyn.

The book starts when Alex is living with her mother and sisters in Brooklyn, dealing with school, family, and the emergence of her magic powers. This was my favourite part of the book. The story moves to the world of Los Lagos and though I enjoyed their fairytale-like journey through that land it was the parts set in Brooklyn that felt the most real and the most interesting to me. I’m hoping that the next book in the series will be set in Brooklyn.

I feel like it does take a lot of inspiration from the Mortal Instruments series but it manages to completely have its own personality and actually I enjoyed this a lot more. There’s a lot of original elements in to keep it interesting, the story is fun and fast moving, and I loved the characters. Rishi deserves a book all of her own, and Alex is fun to read.

If I wanted to look for faults with it I could say that the writing is mostly ok but has moments where it’s a bit stale; there’s a fair bit of explaining what’s just happened instead of showing it. The ending felt rushed and the big fight at the end was over almost before I realised it had started, there wasn’t enough of the Labyrinth in it! But these are only minor issues for me, I very much enjoyed reading it and really I just wish it were longer.

Give this one a go, it’s a fun and interesting read with a lot of originality and characters that will get under your skin, in a good way!

Labyrinth Lost
Brooklyn Brujas
Zoraida Córdova
Young Adult Fantasy
September 6th 2016
Kindle
336

Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm

Wizard of the Pigeons Cover

Seattle: a place as magical as the Emerald City.

Subtle magic seeps through the cracks in the paving stones of the sprawling metropolis. But only the inhabitants who possess special gifts are open to the city’s consciousness; finding portents in the graffiti, reading messages in the rubbish or listening to warnings in the skipping-rope chants of children.

Wizard is bound to Seattle and her magic. His gift is the Knowing – a powerful enchantment allowing him to know the truth of things; to hear the life-stories of ancient mummies locked behind glass cabinets, to receive true fortunes from the carnival machines, to reveal to ordinary people the answers to their troubles and to safeguard the city’s equilibrium.

The magic has its price; Wizard must never have more than a dollar in his pocket, must remain celibate, and he must feed and protect the pigeons.

But a threat to Seattle has begun to emerge in the portents. A malevolent force born of Wizard’s forgotten past has returned to prey upon his power and taunt him with images of his obscure history; and he is the only wizard in Seattle who can face the evil and save the city, his friends and himself.

My Review of Wizard of the Pigeons

Wizard of the PigeonsWizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written in the 1980’s Wizard of the Pigeons is an urban fantasy set in Seattle. Wizard, the title character, is living by his wits on the streets, protecting the pigeons and telling the truth when he Knows it. He has no memory of his previous life before he arrived in Seattle and found his magic.

Megan Lindholm is very, very good at world building and creating atmosphere. She brought Seattle in the 80’s to life for me and filled it with such a strong cast of characters. Cassie and Rasputin also have magic – Cassie always has a different appearance and can only be recognised if you have magic and Rasputin is constantly in motion, his hands dancing if he can’t.

There are a lot of layers and hidden meanings in the story, and in the end, it leaves you to make up your own mind – is Wizard a Vietnam vet with a mental health problem imagining his magic powers or is he really a wizard? Is he protecting Seattle from the evil Mir or is the greyness in his own mind? Is Cassie real or does Wizard imagine her in the women that he meets?

Normally I don’t like books where the plot and the ending are ambiguous but I think it gives you enough to be able to decide for yourself one way or the other. The layers and the ambiguity and hidden meanings seem to add to the story rather than make it murky.

It’s a dark and unique urban fantasy story, and I very much enjoyed it. If you like Neil Gainman’s dark and inventive style then I think you would get on with this one.

Wizard of the Pigeons
Megan Lindholm
Urban Fantasy
January 1st 1986)
Paperback
304