witches

Review: Banish, Nicola Marsh

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


BanishBanish (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Nicola Marsh (website)

Rating: ★★★½☆

Alyssa has one week to destroy her enemy, save her spirit… and save her soul. 

After her ex-boyfriend commits suicide and her mum’s alcoholism sparks yet another psychotic episode, seventeen-year-old Alyssa Wood flees her small hometown of Broadwater and heads to New York City to stay with her bohemian aunt — a Wicca High Priestess.

Alyssa revels in the anonymity of a big city and her new life. Her grades climb, she has a new best friend, and a new guy: the sexy geek Ronan — a saxophone player who prefers jazz to pop.

But her newfound peace is soon shattered when she sees a dead body in one of Ronan’s music clips — and she’s the only one who can see it. Worse still, Alyssa recognises the body that has been murdered a week forward!

Alyssa doesn’t believe in the supernatural…despite her family’s Wicca background. So how will she overcome evil when it’s closer than she thinks?

Details

Series: Stand alone (so far)
Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy
Published: Harlequin Teen, August 1, 2013
Pages: 272
My copy: the publisher for review

Paper copies:  Book Depository (pre-order) • Bookworld • Booktopia
E-copies:  Amazon.com

Review

Alyssa’s boyfriend committed suicide just after she dumped him, and on top of her mum’s strange behaviour and alcoholism this is all just too much. She flees to New York City to live with her aunt, who is a Wicca High Priestess. She loves living in the city and she is settling in to her new school. She has even been asked out by the hot music tutor, Ronan. But something strange starts to happen to Alyssa – one of Ronan’s music clips contains footage of a murdered person at the end, and when things relating to her dead ex-boyfriend Noah start showing up, Alyssa is seriously freaked out. Is there someone out to get her, or is there something more supernatural at work?

Banish is a rather creepy paranormal thriller. The story takes a little while to get going, with Alyssa only gradually revealing what happened to her before coming to New York City, but once things get going the tension is high all the way through.

Sadly, the characters annoyed me. Ronan was too perfect and a rather creepy older guy – I kept thinking he would make a great psycho killer, even though it was rather obvious who the real baddie was going to be. Alyssa was just extremely selfish all the way through – she gets back home to find her mother feeling much better than she was before Alyssa left, and rather than be happy for her mum, she feels angry and upset that her mum is doing so much better without her. It’s not until the very end of the story that she matures slightly, enough to realise that the world doesn’t revolve around her and that she might have dealt with things differently. Also, she is a die-hard skeptic, even after paranormal events happen to her. As the child of a Wiccan, even as a supposed non-believer I thought that she might be slightly more open-minded than she was stubbornly being. I dunno, it’s probably just me being rubbed the wrong way!

Despite my character dislikes I did enjoy the overall storytelling style. I don’t know a lot about Wicca as a belief system but the elements of it within this book are well-written. It’s obvious that Nicola Marsh’s previous works are romances – the romantic scenes in Banish are rather swoony. The end of the story is left wide open for a sequel, so there’s a good chance I’ll pick up the next book in the series.

Warnings: Sexual references, violence

About the Author

nicolamarshUSA TODAY bestselling Aussie author Nicola worked as a physiotherapist for thirteen years before she tired of saying “I’m going to write a book one day” and actually did it. She started writing late 2001 and found once she started she couldn’t stop!

Nicola has published 40 books and sold over 4 million copies worldwide with Harlequin Mills & Boon, Entangled Publishing and indie. Her first mainstream contemporary romance, ‘Busted in Bollywood’, (‘Sex and the City’ meets ‘Eat, Pray, Love’) released from Entangled Publishing December 2011 to rave reviews and was a finalist for ROMANTIC BOOK of the YEAR 2012.

Nicola loves the hip, vibrant, cosmopolitan vibe of her home city, Melbourne, where she’s set the bulk of her novels, highlighting fabulous cultural and food havens like Acland Street (St. Kilda), Brunswick Street (Fitzroy) and Lygon Street (Carlton).

When she’s not writing she’s busy raising her two little heroes, sharing fine food with family and friends, cheering on her beloved North Melbourne Kangaroos footy team or her favourite past time, curling up with a good book.

(Bio and image from Goodreads)

Review: The Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanagan

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


The Brides of Rollrock IslandThe Brides of Rollrock Island (Sea Hearts in Australia) (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Margo Lanagan (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Rollrock island is a lonely rock of gulls and waves, blunt fishermen and their homely wives. Life is hard for the families who must wring a poor living from the stormy seas. But Rollrock is also a place of magic – the scary, salty-real sort of magic that changes lives forever. Down on the windswept beach, where the seals lie in herds, the outcast sea witch Misskaella casts her spells – and brings forth girls from the sea – girls with long, pale limbs and faces of haunting innocence and loveliness – the most enchantingly lovely girls the fishermen of Rollrock have ever seen.

But magic always has its price. A fisherman may have and hold a sea bride, and tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she is. He will be equally ensnared. And in the end the witch will always have her payment.

Details

Note: This book was published by Allen and Unwin in Australia as Sea Hearts, but is named The Brides of Rollrock Island overseas. I’m not sure why my library had a UK edition but that’s the one I’m reviewing.

Series: Stand alone
Genre: YA Fantasy/Fairytale
Published: Sea Hearts published Allen and Unwin, February 2012. Published in the UK by David Fickling Books Feb 2012, in the US by Knopf Books September 2012.
Pages: 320
My copy: Library

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

The Brides of Rollrock Island is a dark fairytale concerned with the consequences of dealing with witches. It’s a strange book – rather slow moving, but the writing itself is very beautiful with lyrical descriptions that put you right into an exposed seaside town.

The story is told from several points of view throughout the book. Firstly, the story of the childhood of the sea witch Miskaella is told, and of her discovery of her powers. She is treated terribly by the townsfolk on Rollrock Island and when she discovers a way to bewitch the men of the island, she is delighted. Thus follows the stories of various families of the island as the men-folk succumb to the lure of the beautiful sea wives Miskaella is able to summon. These are no run-of-the-mill mermaids, mind you – these are Selkies, beautiful and ethereal women called to human form from their seal-forms. The men cast aside their own wives, and hide away the seal-skins so that the seal-women cannot return to the sea.

Make no mistake, this is no happy story – just about everyone in the story is desperately sad most of the time, except perhaps for Miskaella and her apprentice Trudle who take an evil delight in everyone else’s misery. The menfolk of the town seem very easily enchanted. Is the magic that strong or is Margo Lanagan trying to show that all men are fickle and weak-willed? Either way, the treatment of the human women on the island did leave a bad taste in my mouth, but I suspect that was the intended reaction.

I first decided to read this after I learned it had won both the Best Young Adult and Best Fantasy categories in this year’s Aurealis Awards over a few other short listed books that I enjoyed. Margo Lanagan has also recently won the Ditmar Award for Best Novel and the Norma K. Hemming Award (for exploration of race, gender, sexuality, class or disability in science fiction or fantasy – wow, that’s a mouthful) for this book. I do believe the awards are well-deserved – the storytelling is exquisite, even if the subject material is rather dark. Here’s a small excerpt from Miskaella’s story:

Time and again I must force myself to see that no actual wind frayed or bent the air. I feared that at any moment I would be caught up bodily and thrown high away, or dissolved grain by grain up into this invisible wind. Surely my mind would break soon from seeing this, from seeing through the skin of things to the flesh and the bone, to the breath gusting through and the blood pouring about? I would die of it, or fall into some kind of terrible fit. For the first time I was seeing life truly, and the truth would overwhelm me; a person couldn’t bear this sight for long – a girl of nine should not be expected to bear it. Look at the power all but bursting from every cobblestone and grain of grit between! See how it was loosed in dribs and drabs so measuredly, moss crawling there in a corner, a schoolboy here running along his lane to join us, his greetings peeping within the roar-that-was-not-a-roar. Oh, the sky! I was glad of the clouds, the glowering light, for they seemed to my timid eyes to contain this ongoing event, though another, fresh-born, braver Misskaella behind those eyes knew that cloud of clearness was nothing to the purposeful flaring. It would leap regardless, pushed on outward by the forces from below.

If you’re looking for an unique and beautifully told fairytale, I do recommend The Brides of Rollrock Island, but perhaps steer clear if you’d rather not read a depressing story!

Warnings: Sexual references but otherwise very clean

About the Author

Margo LanaganMargo Lanagan, born in Waratah, New South Wales, is an Australian writer of short stories and young adult fiction.

Many of her books, including YA fiction, were only published in Australia. Recently, several of her books have attracted worldwide attention. Her short story collection Black Juice won two World Fantasy Awards. It was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and the United Kingdom by Gollancz in 2004, and in North America by HarperCollins in 2005. It includes the much-anthologized short story “Singing My Sister Down”.

Her other fantasy works for younger readers includes the award-winning Tender Morsels.

(Bio from Goodreads)

Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling

hp5Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk J.K. Rowling (website) (twitter)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His best friends Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer and he is desperate to get back to school and find out what has been going on. However, what Harry discovers is far more devastating than he could ever have expected…

Details

Series: Harry Potter #5 of 7
Genre: Children’s fantasy
Published: Bloomsbury, 2003
Pages: 766

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:
Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & Noble

Review

The long summer has dragged on, and despite experiencing a terrible and traumatic event with the death of Cedric and the resurrection of Lord Voldemort at the end of his fourth year, Harry is left horribly isolated with his aunt and uncle at Little Whinging. None of his friends or teachers contacts him or offers him any information about what might be going on in the wizarding world, so it’s not entirely unexpected that Harry, probably suffering from Post-traumatic stress, is incredibly moody and upset at everything in the first half of this book.

To top it all off, not only is the Daily Prophet printing articles calling Harry (and Professor Dumbledore) unhinged and mentally unstable, but the Ministry sends Dolores Umbridge to oversee education at Hogwarts.

Imelda Staunton as Professor Umbridge

Imelda Staunton as Professor Umbridge

Ah yes, Dolores Umbridge. Here is a woman who, despite not being a follower of You-Know-Who, still does an excellent impression of a dark witch – punishing students in horrible and unconventional ways, taking away privileges and has the most outspoken prejudices against “half-breeds” of any villain in the series so far. As she steadfastly refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned and that the fifth-years need to know anything about Defence Against the Dark Arts, the students start up their own group called “Dumbledore’s Army”, taught by Harry himself. This gives them a release from the stresses of their school life and gives readers a great opportunity to see more of characters such as Neville and Luna, who are often pushed aside when the action starts. Even Ginny gets more page-time in this book, even if she does spend most of it with Dean Thomas.

The fifteen-year old students are starting to pair up and Harry finally gets together with Cho Chang, his crush of the past couple of years. It’s such an awkward relationship – Cho is clearly rather depressed about the events of the previous year, and Harry has no clue as to how to comfort her. Being in different houses, they hardly ever get to see each other, so it’s really only a matter of time and an extremely awkward Valentine’s Day lunch to break them up again. Ron and Hermione are still delightfully bickering with each other at every opportunity, but I’m not sure even Harry has realised at this stage just how much these two care for each other.

In my review for the Goblet of Fire I wrote that things start to take a dark turn from this book. While this book is certainly dark at times, it is a surprisingly normal school year. The fifth-years do their mountains of assignment work and take their OWL exams with only a few disruptions. Not sure what I was remembering from previous reads – perhaps the memory of Professor Umbridge overpowered everything else!

The confrontation in the Ministry of Magic is a little confusing with all the rooms, objects and injuries involved but it of course leaves Harry with a fresh grief by taking away the father figure he only recently discovered. I always felt Sirius got a bit of a raw deal in the overall story. He’s barely in any of the action and has to stay at Grimmauld Place – a house containing painful childhood memories for him – almost the entire time, then is unceremoniously dumped out of the story again.

At least at the end of The Order of the Phoenix the wizarding world is left with undeniable proof that Voldemort is back and on the loose. What they choose to do about it remains to be seen.

While I really enjoyed re-reading this instalment and seeing all the details left out of the film, I feel this wasn’t the most enjoyable of the stories. The poor kids are swamped with work the entire time and there’s barely any room for the fun that has permeated the previous stories.

On with the re-read!

The Harry Potter series

Harry Potter 1Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in USA)
(1997)

hp2Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
(1998)

Prisoner of AzkabanHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
(1999)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
(2000)
hp5Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003) hp6Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005) hp7Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)

Review: Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness

Shadow of NightShadow of Night (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Deborah Harkness (website)

Rating: ★★★½☆

Historian Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library,she sparked a struggle in which she became bound to Matthew. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened.

Seeking safety, Diana and Matthew travel back in time to London, 1590. But they soon realise that the past may not provide a haven. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy for Queen Elizabeth, the vampire falls back in with a group of radicals known as the School of Night. Many are unruly daemons, the creative minds of the age, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot.

Together Matthew and Diana scour Tudor London for the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782, and search for the witch who will teach Diana how to control her remarkable powers…

Details

Series: All Souls Trilogy #2
Genre: Historical paranormal romance
Published: Viking, July 2012
Pages: 584
My copy: the publisher via Netgalley

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Please note: This is my review for the second book in this series, and so contains spoilers for the first, A Discovery of Witches. You may wish to read my review for that book instead!


Review

The story of Shadow of Night begins as soon as A Discovery of Witches ended. It has been quite a while since I read the first book and there’s not much in the way of re-setting the scene, so it took a while to get back into Diana and Matthew’s story.

Diana Bishop is a scholar and historian, and is also from a long line of witches. Her magic is different to that of other witches, however – spellbound by her parents as a child before their murder, she has only recently released her power but cannot control it. On top of this dangerous inability to control her powers, she has angered the ruling Congregation by falling in love with a vampire, Matthew Clairmont – a relationship which is forbidden under the covenant binding witches, vampires and demons.

Fearing they are in danger, Diana and Matthew use Diana’s timewalking ability to travel back to 1590, where they are fortunate enough to encounter members of Matthew’s household and family who accept them as time travellers and help them to fit into society. They must find a witch willing to help Diana discover and control her powers, as well as try to locate the mysterious manuscript “Ashmole 782”, which must be kept from falling into the wrong hands.

As with A Discovery of Witches, there was soooo much detail. The detail in the first book was overwhelming at times, but in Shadow of Night, it actually works really well. Diana is discovering the strange new world of the 1590s and even though she has studied that period for a long time, actually being there totally overwhelms her. The detail with which this new world is described is amazing, and the characters of the School of Night, the gathering of witches in London and the individuals like Queen Elizabeth herself are colourful and make the story very enjoyable to read. We don’t quite get to meet Will Shakespeare but there are plenty of other personalities to mingle with.

It took me a long time to read this book for some reason, and I suspect it may be the level of detail that made it a slow read – having to take in every scene and determine what was going on. I wanted so much to love Shadow of Night, and I did love the portrayal of Elizabethan England and Prague, but there were a few things about the story itself that really bothered me and made me enjoy the story less than it probably deserves.

I still love Matthew, even with his melodramatics and brooding rages – such a romantic! I still rather dislike Diana as having a shallow emotional range. There are some quite heart-wrenching events through this story, and she comes through them with a brief mention of being upset but recovers very quickly and gets on with things. I know, some people are really like that, but I thought the story could have been a lot more emotional, both in happy and tragic times.

Apart from the problems I had with Diana’s character there were a few things in the story itself that I found slightly annoyed me. Diana and Matthew are told not to try to change anything in the past, as it could seriously affect the future, but as soon as they arrive they start trying to save witches under trial and affecting other decisions and events. Matthew also seems sure that Diana is keeping secrets from him, for no good reason that I could see. I was slightly confused with the whole time travel mechanics – the Matthew of the past just mysteriously ceased to exist for a year while the “future” Matthew is there, and then after they leave he just pops back into place into a world where quite a lot has happened. It felt like a slightly clumsy way of dealing with being in a time he was in previously.

The story itself moves at quite a pedestrian pace, at least until close to the end when everything comes to a head and it was difficult to put the book down. I just wasn’t as gripped by the story as I wanted to be, especially since I was enjoying reading about life in London and Prague as well as the magic that Diana was learning about.

If you enjoyed A Discovery of Witches, you’ll also enjoy this next instalment in the series. Just be ready for a truckload of details!

Warnings: Sexual situations, torture and some violence

The All Souls Trilogy

Viking cover Shadow of Night Book 3 to be released later in 2013

 

 

What did others think of Shadow of Night?

  • “Anybody else ready to hop a plane to Oxford? I really want to see if there are any more Matthews prowling between the library stacks.” – Sue @ Bookish Temptations
  • “(The All Souls Trilogy) has elements that will appeal to a large audience; history, witchcraft, vampires, daemons, time-travel and romance.” – The Caffienated Book Reviewer
  • “Shadow of Night is a stunning follow-up to ‘Discovery’ – an intelligent and enchanting romp through a world that is inherently supernatural and alien, and yet recognisably factual in its construction of authentic historical figures operating in a tangibly real Tudor setting.” – Lancashire Evening Post

Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk J.K. Rowling (website) (twitter)

Rating: ★★★★★

It’s the summer holidays and soon Harry Potter will be starting his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry is counting the days: there are new spells to be learnt, more Quidditch to be played, and Hogwarts castle to continue exploring. But Harry needs to be careful – there are unexpected dangers lurking …

Details

Series: Harry Potter #4 of 7
Genre: Children’s fantasy
Published: Bloomsbury, 2000
Pages: 636

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:
Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & Noble

Review

The Quidditch World Cup, Mad-Eye Moody, SPEW, The Triwizard Tournament, The Yule Ball, Rita Skeeter, the events after the final challenge…  so much is jammed into the pages of Goblet of Fire that the Goblet of Fire itself doesn’t even make an appearance until over a third of the way in.

Dark dealings start to make an appearance at the Quidditch World Cup, with the torture of a muggle family and the appearance of the Dark Mark. After that though, the Death Eaters keep a low profile as the Triwizard Tournament kicks off at Hogwarts. Students from the other Wizarding schools of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang arrive for the event, and Harry is mysteriously chosen as the fourth champion (no surprise there).

Meanwhile Hermione is busily trying to convince the House Elves to rise up from their slavery and demand payment and holidays from their masters, an idea most House Elves are horrified by. Ron and Harry are rather embarrassed by her continual efforts to get them to join in with her SPEW (Society of the Promotion of Elfish Welfare) schemes, and while Dobby is pleased she is trying to help his fellow elves, Dobby’s friend Winky is very upset about finding herself a Free Elf. It’s a rather heart-wrenching part of the story!

Of course, the third and final challenge doesn’t progress according to plan – Harry and Cedric are whisked off to a strange graveyard where Harry witnesses the return of He Who Must Not Be Named to the flesh. This scene, the ritual to revive Voldemort and the fight that follows is the stuff of nightmares and I seem to remember being totally blown away by it all on my first read. It hasn’t lost its impact – this is the perfect dramatic ending to the story and the beginning of a much darker time in the Wizarding world.

At twice the length of the previous book The Goblet of Fire is no quick read, but I think I have found my new favourite. This is the last bastion of normality at Hogwarts, even though it’s hardly a normal year with the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang staying for the whole year. Things are still relatively normal and I think the “normal” Hogwarts happenings are some of my favourite details about this series. After this book, things start to take a definite dark turn.

I recently saw The Goblet of Fire film on TV again and wow, I’d forgotten how many story elements were changed. They had to to fit the whole year’s worth into two hours forty minutes I suppose, but they really did leave out everything but the most basic of plotlines. Harry doesn’t spend any time at Privet Drive at all, but starts at the Burrow already. The entire SPEW movement was missing, as was all of Fred and George’s “Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes”. Major plot details were changed around but I still thought the film flowed reasonably well, even if it felt a little rushed at times. Not my favourite film of the series, though.

I’m not sure if you’d want to be reading this particular one to the very small, but middle-sized kids and all other ages should love it. On with the series!

The Harry Potter series

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in USA) (1997)
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998)
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999)
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003)
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)

 

Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling

Prisoner of AzkabanTitle: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk J.K. Rowling (website) (twitter)

Rating: ★★★★★

Harry Potter, along with his best friends, Ron and Hermione, is about to start his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry can’t wait to get back to school after the summer holidays. (Who wouldn’t if they lived with the horrible Dursleys?) But when Harry gets to Hogwarts, the atmosphere is tense. There’s an escaped mass murderer on the loose, and the sinister prison guards of Azkaban have been called in to guard the school…

Details

Series: Harry Potter #3 of 7
Genre: Children’s fantasy
Published: Bloomsbury, 1999
Pages: 317

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & Noble

Review

The Prisoner of Azkaban brings on a darker tone to Harry’s story that we see develop and grow over the rest of the series. The Dementors, in particular, lend a particularly terrifying aspect to this book and I think I might think twice before reading this one to the very small.

That said, Rowling is really coming into her own as a storyteller here and this is one of the most complex but enjoyable stories so far. There are elements that were changed a fair bit in the film adaptation, not always for the better.

Here are my thoughts from this re-read.

What I liked

  • Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs – the creators of the Marauder’s Map. In the interest of avoiding spoilers I won’t reveal their identities but I just love this little glimpse into the lives of previous mischief-makers at Hogwarts.
  • The Firebolt – Harry and Ron’s love for Quidditch really comes to the fore here as Harry takes his place as the star of the Gryffindor team. The Firebolt mysteriously appears at Christmas, and I love how everyone is in awe of it.
  • David ThewlisProfessor Lupin <3 My favourite Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher! I’m so glad that Dumbledore decided he wasn’t a risk to the students and that the other teachers supported him. He’s such a lovely character, but as I was reading I just couldn’t help seeing him in my head as in the film, played by David Thewlis.

What I didn’t like so much

  • Dementors – so scary! I remember being chilled by them in my original read and then really terrified when I saw them in the film! Of course, they are a necessary part of the story, I just find them scary.
  • The scene in the Shrieking Shack – It’s been a while since I saw the film, but I didn’t remember this scene being as drawn out as it is in the book. They just all stand around and chat for a while, telling Harry the story of his parents and Pettigrew as though they weren’t about to execute their former friend. It just dropped the tension for me. Incidentally, I thought the section with Harry and Hermione using the time-turner had a lot more continuity in the film as well, even though all the same elements were there. Well done, screenplay writers!

The more I re-read in this series the more I remember why I loved it so much the first time around!

The Harry Potter series

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in USA) (1997)
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998)
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999)
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003)
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)

 

Review: Jinx: The Wizard’s Apprentice, Sage Blackwood

Jinx, Sage BlackwoodTitle: Jinx: The Wizard’s Apprentice (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Sage Blackwood

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s not every day that your evil stepdad abandons you in the deep, dark forest of Urwald. And it’s not every day that a wizard rescues you from the clutches of gnarly trolls. But for Jinx, this isn’t turning out to be a very normal sort of day…

The bubbling cauldrons and coloured potions of the wizard’s house are a world away from the life Jinx has left behind. Even the walls are soaked in magic, and it’s not long before Jinx begins to unlock his own rare powers.

But Simon Magus is no ordinary wizard. He seems to need something from Jinx – something dark. And Jinx begins to wonder: can he trust Simon… at all?

Details

Series: Jinx #1
Genre: Middle-grade fantasy
Published: Quercus, February 2013 (also HarperCollins Childrens Jan 2013)
Pages: 360
My copy: For review via The Book Depository’s review program

Get your copy from Book Depository!

Jinx

Review

Jinx lives with his step-parents in a clearing within the Urwald – a vast forest teeming with nasty creatures and nastier wizards and witches. One day, Jinx’s stepfather decides he can no longer support the boy and takes him out into the forest to abandon him. Unfortunately for Jinx’s stepfather, they cross paths with Simon, an evil wizard. Simon offers to buy the boy instead and takes him home to do chores for him. He doesn’t seem that evil to Jinx, but can he really be trusted?

At first glance you may think that this book is another Harry Potter-ish clone, but while there are similarities, Jinx is quite a different story altogether.

Jinx’s story is told entirely from his ten-year-old point of view, but through his observations of the adult characters in the book, I got the feeling that there is a deeper story here that makes it all the more interesting for an adult reading it. Magic is performed by drawing on power, which can be stored in objects. Evil wizards (or those with less morals) can draw power from the lives of others. As Jinx learns more about magic and how wizards obtain and store power, we’re never quite sure whether all wizards are evil or just various shades of unpleasant. Is Simon, who seems kind enough to Jinx at first, actually performing evil death magic on him?

Jinx is a very determined little boy – he wants to get out and see the world, and feels trapped living with Simon. Once he’s set on his quest, he begins to question everything and must stick to his beliefs and trust in his own power to get through the coming trials. He’s quite a grumpy child at times, but is also quite cheeky and there are some very funny moments as he interacts with the world around him.

The only thing I disliked about Jinx is that a lot of the action seems to happen in dialogue between the characters – a device which doesn’t describe what’s actually going on all that well. Apart from those few occasions, I thought this was a very well-written debut with plenty of scope for future tales.

Jinx is a fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and sets a perfect tone for its intended audience. Highly recommended for the middle-grader in your life, or for anyone to enjoy, for that matter!

Warnings: Violence against monsters.

Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, JK Rowling

hp2Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk J.K. Rowling (website) (twitter)

Rating: ★★★★★

Harry, Ron and Hermione have returned to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for their second year. (But Harry and Ron only just made it-they missed the Hogwarts Express and had to get there in a flying car…!) Soon the threesome are immersed in the daily round of Potions, Herbology, Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, and Quidditch.

But then horrible things start happening. Harry hears evil voices. Sinister messages appear on the wall. But nothing can prepare the three friends for what happens next…

Details

Series: Harry Potter #2 of 7
Genre: Children’s fantasy
Published: Bloomsbury, 1998
Pages: 251

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & Noble

Review

The second Harry Potter story is slightly longer than The Philosopher’s Stone, and so has room for more action. It actually takes Harry quite a while to get to Hogwarts at the start of this one, but once he’s finally there, there’s a lot to enjoy in this story.

Here are my thoughts from this re-read.

What I liked

  • The flying Ford Anglia. What a way to start this story – with an adventure on the way to school!
  • The Basilisk. An excellent baddie – for most of the book we have no idea what it is, just that it whispers things before striking and is able to petrify people. It’s the perfect mixture of creepy and intriguing! I almost feel sorry for it at the end – blinded and destroyed just for protecting its lair.
  • Moaning Myrtle. Poor Myrtle, forced to haunt the girls’ bathroom where she met her demise… Despite her depressing story she is quite a funny character.
  • Gilderoy Lockhart. Such an awesome character, he manages to charm everyone while remaining completely incompetent both as a teacher and as a wizard! I just can’t get the image of Kenneth Branagh out of my head, since he did such a great job of Lockhart in the film.

Harry-Potter-Quotes-Gilderoy-Lockhart

What I didn’t like so much

  •  Harry, Ron and Hermione kept everything to themselves, even when asked expressly by Dumbledore whether there was anything Harry would like to share. At least they were actually on their way to tell a teacher when the final confrontation began, but through most of the story they insisted on finding everything out the hard way, searching through the library and poking around the castle. Of course, it would have been a much more boring story if they had actually told McGonagall or Dumbledore at the start. Perhaps it’s the adult in me being too sensible 😛
  • Ginny. She’s still a squeaky little Harry fan girl in this one, barely making any appearances apart from the scene in the chamber of secrets. I’m looking forward to the more grown up kick-arse Ginny of the later books.
  • To be honest, I don’t have much to list under dislikes for this one. I really enjoyed re-reading it!

This one has to be my favourites of the series – an easy read but still fraught with danger and scary monsters. Bring on The Prisoner of Azkaban!

The Harry Potter series

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in USA) (1997)
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998)
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999)
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003)
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)

 

Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling

Harry Potter 1Title: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk J.K. Rowling (website) (twitter)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable muggle aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s really a wizard, just as his parents were.

But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend Hogwarts school for witchcraft and wizardry and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright.

Details

Series: Harry Potter #1 of 7
Genre: Children’s fantasy
Published: Bloomsbury, 1997
Pages: 223

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & Noble

Review

I first read the Harry Potter books some years ago (maybe… 2005?). Since then I’ve seen all the films numerous times, but I couldn’t remember much about the original book itself. It was a complete delight to discover that it was just as enchanting as I vaguely remembered it being!

There’s no way I could do The Philosopher’s Stone justice in a proper review so I’m going to split it up into the like/not like format. I’m trying to keep in mind that this is the first in a seven-book series, and that it has only 223 pages while later books are a lot longer and have much more complex plots (for example, The Order of the Phoenix paperback has 870 pages!).

What I liked

  • The simplicity. A few middle-grade books I’ve read recently have tried to cram everything from a very detailed world into a few pages. The Philosopher’s Stone gradually introduces the wizarding world to Harry, who has no previous inkling of its existence other than a few odd occurences. The plot is fairly basic and not too challenging, and the characters fairly dark or light in their alignment. That’s just perfect for middle-grade readers.
  • Hogwarts1Hogwarts. There’s something about boarding-school books that appeals to me, even though I’m fairly sure the reality is far from glamorous. It’s something to do with living with your friends 24 hours a day, eating and sleeping all together that my inner tribal-community-self likes the idea of. Hogwarts has it all – it’s a castle, it’s full of wizards and witches learning magic and it has plenty of mysterious secrets. Did I ever tell you about the time I visited the castle at Durham and found out it had been converted into residence halls for Durham University? I was in Hogwarts-fangirl heaven!
  • Meeting the characters for the first time, the antagonism between the boys and Hermione at the start and the gradual bonding throughout the story is delightful. Perhaps it’s because it felt like re-uniting with old friends, but it was great to “meet” the Weasleys, Neville, Hagrid, Ron and Hermione, and of course to be introduced to Voldemort. He is certainly a very scary villain, but this is only hinted at in this first book.

What I didn’t like so much

  • The kids get sent off into danger. I mean, it didn’t help that Harry and co. dive into danger on numerous occasions – I’m not sure what makes them think that three eleven-year-olds are going to be able to save the school from some unknown assailant better than the staff of trained wizards and witches can, but I suppose that’s childhood bravado for you. That doesn’t excuse the fact that Dumbledore gave Harry his father’s old invisibility cloak. He was mysteriously out of the way for much of the action and yet appeared just in the nick of time to save the day. It feels like Dumbledore planned it that way all along. As someone who always thought of Dumbledore as a kindly old Gandalf-esque father figure, this rubbed me up the wrong way on this re-read.
  • The confusion over Snape. Through the whole book, Harry and his friends are sure that he is behind everything and yet at the end it’s someone totally unexpected Harry faces. Harry even finds out that Snape was trying to help him during the Quiddich match, but Snape doesn’t make any more appearances after the climax and we’re left wondering what that was all about. I just felt, as a couple of other Goodreads reviewers have stated, that Snape was targeted too much as the baddie and there could have been a few more hints as to who else might be involved.
  • Magic is very easy. I like a magic system to have consequences, to have transfer of energy of some sort. In Harry’s world you just wave your wand and say a few words and bam, someone’s dead or transfigured or the house is clean. It’s too easy. This is the one gripe I have about the way Harry’s world works.

There are plenty of critical reviews of this book and series, but basically what it boils down to is this: Despite the simple characterisation and storyline, Rowling has picked her audience very well. Even though millions of adults love it, this was meant as a children’s book and I feel it is perfect for middle-grade readers to enjoy. There is plenty of darkness in later books for children to grow into.

A very enjoyable first instalment in this longer tale. I’m looking forward to my Sprout being old enough to want to read this with me!

The Harry Potter series

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Published as Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone in USA) (1997)
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998)
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999)
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000)
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003)
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007)

 

Review: Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth

Bitter GreensTitle: Bitter Greens (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Kate Forsyth (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from court by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. She is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of Bitter Greens …

After Margherita’s father steals a handful of greens—parsley, wintercress and rapunzel—from the walled garden of the courtesan, Selena Leonelli, they give up their daughter to save him from having both hands cut off.

Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1513 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-one years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, growing to womanhood, Margherita sings in the hope someone will hear her. One day, a young man does…

Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic, and the redemptive power of love.

Details

Series: Stand-alone
Genre: Fantasy/historical romantic fairy tale
Published: Vintage Australia, March 2012, tbp Allison & Busby in the UK, 25 February 2013.
Pages: 576

Paper copies: Amazon.co.uk (pre-order) • Book Depository (pre-order) • Booktopia (AU – available!)
E-copies:
Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk (pre-order) • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

Bitter Greens is partly a heart-breaking retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale, and partly historical drama set in 17th-century France. I enjoyed every moment!

Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, a writer and great lover of the salon scene in Paris, has been banished to a convent by the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. The past twenty years of her life at court in Versailles has been filled with scandal and rumours of black magic, and during the course of Bitter Greens we hear about these stories through a series of flashbacks.

While working in the garden at the convent, Charlotte-Rose is told a story by one of the nuns. In Venice during the late 16th Century, a young girl, Margherita, is stolen from her parents by Selena (known as La Strega), a beautiful but dangerous witch. Margherita is locked in a high tower on an island and La Strega only comes to visit once a month with supplies, calling for Margherita to let down her long hair so that she may climb up. Each month, La Strega takes nine drops of blood from Margherita’s wrist and bathes in it to keep herself looking young and beautiful. Margherita longs for someone to rescue her.

The lives, loves and losses of Charlotte-Rose, Margherita and Selena are woven together in Bitter Greens. Each character, setting and emotion are described in such gorgeous detail I almost felt like I was watching a drama on TV rather than reading! I found it very compelling and found myself snatching moments to read whenever I could.

The only thing that put me off slightly at times was the way the story jumps back and forth to the different story arcs after many chapters. One moment I was happily absorbed in the story of Margherita and then was jolted back into Charlotte-Rose’s France. By the end of the book I was used to it, but at first it was a little jarring.

There have been some horrible moments in the histories of France and Venice, and some of that horror has been captured in Bitter Greens – the plagues in Venice that decimated the population, the slaughter of the reformée Huguenots in France and other, earlier persecutions.

Reading about how women were treated in times gone by makes me really grateful to those women who fought for equality during the twentieth century. Women like Charlotte-Rose and Selena did their best to survive and then make a difference in a world dominated by men. Nowadays, we modern women should never take our ability to work, vote and speak our minds for granted.

Bitter Greens is a fairy tale wrapped within a historical drama. With the character of Charlotte-Rose based on a real woman and the settings and events taken straight from history, it is obvious that a great deal of research and effort (and fun!) went into the making of this book. Well done, Ms Forsyth, you have created a masterpiece!


Interested in reading more about the creation of this book? All the Books I Can Read hosted a guest post from Kate about Vampire legends of Venice, and the author Elizabeth Storrs posted an interview with Kate on redroom.com, talking about inspiration and the art of Bitter Greens.

Warnings: Violence including towards children, graphic sexual situations (some abusive)

What did others think of Bitter Greens?

  • Bitter Greens is a stunning novel. I was spell bound from beginning to end by the lush prose, magnificent characters and intriguing story.” – Book’d Out
  • “Forsyth demonstrates her skill as a Fantasy writer, with the storytelling every bit as enchanting as fairytales of old.” – Devoted Eclectic
  • “It’s the sort of novel that has so many elements that it will appeal across the board, to historical fiction fans, fantasy fans, even fans who enjoy a bit of the romance. But ultimately if you like a good story no matter what the particular genre, then this book is definitely for you!” – All The Books I Can Read
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