Book Review: SpellBreaker by Charlie M Holmberg

A world of enchanted injustice needs a disenchanting woman in the newest fantasy series by the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Paper Magician.

The orphaned Elsie Camden learned as a girl that there were two kinds of wizards in the world: those who pay for the power to cast spells and those, like her, born with the ability to break them. But as an unlicensed magic user, her gift is a crime. Commissioned by an underground group known as the Cowls, Elsie uses her spellbreaking to push back against the aristocrats and help the common man. She always did love the tale of Robin Hood.

Elite magic user Bacchus Kelsey is one elusive spell away from his mastership when he catches Elsie breaking an enchantment. To protect her secret, Elsie strikes a bargain. She’ll help Bacchus fix unruly spells around his estate if he doesn’t turn her in. Working together, Elsie’s trust in—and fondness for—the handsome stranger grows. So does her trepidation about the rise in the murders of wizards and the theft of the spellbooks their bodies leave behind.

I got this as a freebie on Amazon, and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. This has a world narrative already set up, there is no “I’m going to explain something that is different because I think you’re stupid”. There is some explaining going on, but nothing that patronises the reader – it’s relevant, timely and dealt with appropriately.

London 1895. There are spell makers and there are spell breakers. Every skilled and licenced Spell Maker are called “Master”, even the women. This is a highly regulated field, which usually means that only the rich get to take part. The less rich (but with talent) tend to be unlicenced and therefore effectively practice outside the law.

This is down as a “duology” and therefore not a trilogy. 2 parts, not 3. Ok. Makes a nice change.

This book establishes the world, and the main characters. The narrator is Elsie, who was (apparently) abandoned by her parents and siblings when she was much younger, and the finding her family has been much of her focus. Another part of her focus has been what she calls “the Cowls” i.e. those hidden in the shadows but still directing her spell breaking skills. She is sent on various jobs – unfortunately only realising (often too late) what those tasks meant.

Meanwhile, during one of her early spells, Elsie is found by Bacchus Kelsey, and the two strike a bargain – she breaks some spells for him, and he wont betray her secret.  His mother is Portuguese, his father English, and he is based in Barbados where he spends a lot of his time in the sun, so he’s a lot darker than the locals. Not much is made of this, which is hopefully a good thing. Just enough to remind readers that “not all leading men have to be white, you know?”. I just hope this is not seen as a tokenism thing – there is noone else like Bacchus in the story, more’s the pity.

Whilst most of the story is told from Elsie’s point of view, we get some stories from Bacchus, at least where he attempts to look after his friend’s estate (the whole reason for meeting Elsie), plus his attempt to become a Master Spellmaker – through legal means, of course! If there is a downside to this book, it is that Bacchus and his attempt to become a Master SpellMaker is a tad underused.

Anyway, the threads start to come together in the last third or so of the book and because I don’t do spoilers I wont give away what happens here!. It pulls all the threads together whilst setting up the chance at a second book, which wont me out till 2021 (naturally, lol!). First freebie in ages where I’ve looked up the following book – that says a LOT!



Book Review: A Chieftain’s Wife by Leigh Ann Edwards

As Alainn and Killian O’Brien begin their married life together, Alainn encounters many new and unexpected challenges. Stricken by the disturbing, reoccurring vision of Killian’s death, she desperately seeks a way to prevent it from happening. In hope of providing a normal life for their unborn child Alainn turns from her own magical abilities, but soon realizes that doing so may endanger everyone she cares for. 

Set in 16th century Ireland, A Chieftain’s Wife continues the captivating story of Alainn and Killian’s passionate love. Past indiscretions, deep jealousy, a vindictive witch, and tragic hardships all threaten to disrupt Killian and Alainn’s happiness and future together.

From Netgalley in exchange for a review.

This is the 4th in the series, the 1st I have read, and unfortunately it suffers from what I hate the most about series books – the “here’s what happened in previous books” info dump, especially in the first few chapters. It does get a little better later on in the book – the curse on Killian’s family regarding the birth of healthy children was alluded to well enough to make me consider going back to perhaps reading previous books. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done – why read a previous book, if you’ve already told me everything I need to know in this book?

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Book Review: Aura of Magic: Unexpected Magic Book Four by Patricia Rice

Brighid Darrow, Countess of Carstairs, has endured years of a loveless marriage in order to aid her friends and the people of Northridge. Yet once she is widowed, the village shuns her with accusations of witchcraft—vilifying her unique gift of reading auras. Released from past restraints, Bridey rebelliously embraces her dream of establishing a forbidden school for midwives.
Having spent his life being all that is proper in hopes of earning a title in return for services to the crown, Aaron Pascoe-Ives, illegitimate son of a marquess, is ordered to Northridge to save the royal mines from rioters. Any hope of aid from the beautiful but aloof countess is dashed when his incorrigible twins endanger their young lives by following him, mystifyingly insisting that the Countess of Carstairs is their new mother.
Bridey and Pascoe face ghosts, assassins, and riots—but nothing as perilous as the irresistible attraction between them. With hard-fought goals at risk, they must make the ultimate choice between achieving dreams—or losing each other. 

Received from Librarything, in one of their Early Reviewer Batches. I’ve dipped into this series before, and I think the last attempt was a Did Not Finish (Whisper of Magic). However, even though this is now book 4 in the series, this was easier to read, in part because I’m now getting comfortable with the Malcolms, and all their illegitimate cousins, uncles etc.

Before this book starts, Brighid Darrow has endured years of a loveless marriage in order to the older Carstairs in order to aid her friends and the people of Northridge. When she is widowed (again, before this book has started), the village shuns her with accusations of witchcraft – misunderstanding both her education provided by her Grandfather, as well as her gift of reading auras.  The new Carstairs, a weak and cowardly man that is manipulated by his brother Oliver, incites the hatred even more by claiming that all that has gone wrong on the estate is as a result to Bridey’s talents. With only her brother Fin still living in the area, Bridey looks to embrace her dream of establishing a forbidden school for midwives.

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Book Review: Beelzebelle (Clovenhoof Book 5) by Heide Goody, Iain Grant


To the devil a daughter!

Parenthood can come as a shock to some. It’s especially shocking if you are Satan, the Prince of Hell, and are trying to living a quiet life of semi-retirement in suburban England under the name of Jeremy Clovenhoof.

Clovenhoof quickly finds that being a single parent involves more than lullabies and nappies and has to contend with social disapproval, paternity tests and, possibly, the end of the world.

The fifth novel in the Clovenhoof series, Beelzebelle is an anarchic adventure, featuring a psychotic monkey au pair, runaway coffins, badly stuffed animals, strip dominoes, fire-breathing ferrets, pimped-up prams, well-meaning middle-class mums, apocalyptic floods, the largest act of public nudity Birmingham has ever seen and way too much homebrew Lambrini.

From the Authors in exchange for a review.  I have read several previous books in the series, namely Godsquad and Hellzapoppin. Whilst I have “met” Jeremy (and Nerys!) several times at readings around Birmingham, this is the first book containing him as a character that I’ve read – the other physical books are sitting on my shelves waiting to be read, honest!

The Publisher is Pigeon Park Press, an independent Birmingham based Publisher.

The book starts with Jeremy Clovenhoof, blind and with a helper Capuchin monkey, turning up at Sandra’s house to do some baby-sitting. Of course, nothing ever goes to plan, and Clovenhoof finds himself out on the balcony, with a locked door behind him (watched over by a psychotic monkey), with tomato soup burning his crotch and wearing a badly-done-up Laura Ashley dress that leaves nothing to the imagination……

We go back a few weeks to find out just how Clovenhoof feels paternal, and he seems to have developed a here-to-unknown talent for interacting with babies (something about farting apparently). Nerys has found out just who Jeremy and Michael are, and she finds that this explains a lot about both of them. We find out about SCUM (Sutton Coldfield Union of Mothers), just what the new Consecr8 church will do to the Archangel Michael and his relationship with God; the reaction of the Puritanical to Breastfeeding in public, especially when confronted with militant Feminists; why Jeremy went temporarily blind; how far a grieving, psychotic, Au-Pair monkey will go when its purpose in life is gone; Nerys loses one job, but gains another (in part by becoming a brief Internet sensation); that everyone in Sutton Coldfield seems to be related to everyone else.

We get to know more about Michael and his job in the genetics lab, which leads to some issues when Jeremy’s DNA gets mixed up with the hair from Nerys’ stuffed Yorkie and random other dead animals and then gets brought to life.   Meanwhile, we get to find out why the Consecr8 church has the rather unusual shape that it does, in a final scene that involves a massive boat full of people essentially floating on raw sewage, bouncy castles in the shape of breasts, topless SCUM members staging a protest with an interesting tactic involving baby formula, and a rescue attempt using a crane and a stretch White Transit Van.

It’s difficult to fully describe these books, and the rather British Farce they entail – helped with the fact that two of the central characters happen to be the Goat-shaped, horned Prince of Hell and the holier-than-thou (literally) Archangel Michael who’s current life partner is called Andy.

In writing my book reviews, I have a list of questions to jog my thinking. This list includes:

“Was the Plot believable?”.  Of course not!  Satan living in Sutton Coldfield next door to Archangel Michael? Soho maybe, but Sutton?

“Did the World building make sense?”  Pretty Much. I doubt anything would be normal if you have these two hanging round you.  I would drink too.

“Did the author explain situations well?” Satan, his drunk friends, psychotic monkeys, militant feminists…….What’s there to explain?

“Would you recommend this book to a friend?”  Only to people with a sense of humour, who can deal with surreal and silly British Farce.


Book Review: The Curse of Besti Bori (Nephos Book 2) by Simon Fairbanks

The Curse of Besti Bori

The jungle cloud of Besti Bori is in quarantine. An infection has consumed the cloud, turning its peaceful people into monstrous splicers. Now a team of archers watch over its borders, ensuring nothing enters and nothing leaves.

That is until Sheriff Baran visits for a routine inspection. His sky-horse is mysteriously drugged and he plummets into the darkness of the cursed jungle.

Now, Sheriff Shaula must return from her self-inflicted exile to lead a rescue mission into the most dangerous place in Nephos. Armed only with a team of warrior fairies, Shaula must battle her way through hordes of splicers to retrieve the stranded Baran.

However, Shaula soon learns that splicers are not the only danger lurking in Besti Bori.

I’ve read for Simon before, notably Circ and The Sheriff, and I was asked whether I’d read and review this book as well. As I had enjoyed his earlier work, of course I said yes!  This is the second in the Nephos stories, following on from The Sheriff, and the world is now being established. You don’t have to have read the previous book to pick this up the general sense of the world in this book, but there’s no harm in reading the first to fill in the gaps. (Analogy: it’s like watching the Avengers movies, then going back and watching the first Thor movie and going “ahhhhh…..!”).  I also did an interview with Simon a while ago.

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Book Review: Hellzapoppin by Heide Goody, Iain Grant

clovenhoof #4Life at St Cadfan’s is never dull. There’s the cellar full of unexplained corpses. There’s the struggle to find food when the island is placed under quarantine. And there’s that peculiar staircase in the cellar…

Being a demon in Hell has its own problems. There’s the increasingly impossible torture quotas to meet. There’s the entire horde of Hell waiting for you to slip up and make a mistake. And there’s that weird staircase in the service tunnels…

Brother Stephen of St Cadfan’s and Rutpsud of the Sixth Circle, natural enemies and the most unnatural of friends, join forces to solve a murder mystery, save a rare species from extinction and stop Hell itself exploding.

The fourth novel in the Clovenhoof series, Hellzapoppin’ is an astonishing comedy featuring suicidal sea birds, deadly plagues, exploding barbecues, dancing rats, magical wardrobes, King Arthur’s American descendants, mole-hunting monks, demonic possession and way too much seaweed beer.

I received this from the authors in exchange for a review. This book will be released in October 2015 and is the 4th in the Clovenhoof series. I have read and reviewed books in this series before (published by Pigeon Park Press), most recently Godsquad and this book is very much in the same vein of writing and humour.

Brother Stephen, is cursed with a face that dooms him to forever being called Trevor, despite no one knowing what a Trevor looks like.  He is now a monk living on a small island of the coast of Wales, with a small community of monks, and awaiting the arrival of their new Abbot, Eustace. The community are also trying to make their way in the modern world, faced with being regularly cut off from the mainland by weather (and quarantine laws and, well, the youtube effect).  Things aren’t helped with the deaths of a number of their community in what could best be described as “suspicious” circumstances.

Rutpsud , a demon of the sixth circle, who has an exemplary success rate (according to the most recent feedback survey from his tormented souls) is moved into R&D to figure out more interesting and efficient ways of tormenting the damned. His access to the work of people like C. S. Lewis (who has a thing for building wardrobes) and Escher (whose thing is for building staircases) not only makes parts of Hell look like IKEA, but gives Rutpsud access to  St Cadfan and from this, an unlikely friendship develops between Stephen and Rutpsud.

Both Earth and Hell have their own problems, but by working together Stephen and Rutpsud attempt to make things better, and sometimes even succeed – but not always.   Hell is getting hotter, and Rutpsud is in the firing line to take the blame, and therefore needs to find a way of making things better. The inhabitants of St Cadfan are drinking too much seaweed beer, have spent months on starvation rations, and their only potential source of income is a pair of suicidal birds that have managed to get themselves killed before hatching their chicks. Meanwhile things come to a head in both the earthly and hellish plains, that mean characters confront long held secrets and nothing remains the same……(except where it does).

That’s about as far as I’m going to go with describing the story line. This is in the best tradition of the comic farce, with ridiculous and outrageous events that are usually grounded in some level of reality. It is a specific writing style and level of humour that some people will not get, but many people will, and will enjoy it.

Book Review: The Garden at the Roof of the World by W.B.J. Williams

book review: the garden at the roof of the world To save her brother’s life Gwenaella risks her own in a magical forest to seek a unicorn’s healing magic. But the remedy comes with a steep price. She must commit to a perilous journey through Europe, the Middle East, India, to the high mountains of Tibet, to seek the hidden Garden at the Roof of the World and pluck a fruit that would restore the father of all unicorns to health. Joined by a few trusted followers called by the unicorns’ magic, she will face many dangers on her epic journey. To succeed, Gwenaella must find a balance between faith, friendship, and love and discover the true meaning of sacrifice.

The Garden at the Roof of the World is a stunning debut fantasy epic in a rigorously historical 13th century setting, with vivid characters and a thrilling, romantic story that spans cultures and continents.

From Netgalley in exchange for a review.

I have to admit that I’ve had this book to read and review for a while now, and I’ve finally got around to it. Notes say I started it once before, but abandoned it part way through on the last attempt.

This does scale multi faiths, multiple continents, and people from all social strata – from a street girl to a princess. All are bound together to find the new Garden of Eden, in order to restore the dying father of the unicorns. Each person has to confront their own belief structure during the trip and what the result could possibly mean for themselves, the others in the group and the wider world.

I have to admit that I scanned most of this book. Even on the second (third?) attempt it didn’t grab me. The writing style is simple and uncomplicated, which actually suits the story. Even by early ebook galley standards, the formatting was not great – it might work in paper form, but text was all over the place, there was no standard paragraph changes or conversation markers etc.

I wish I could be more positive about this book, but I simply wasnt engaged with it.

Book Review: Runemarks by Joanne Harris

runemarksRunemarks by Joanne Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seven o’clock, on a Monday morning, five hundred years after the end of the world, and goblins had been at the cellar again…

Maddy Smith was born with a rusty-coloured runemark on her hand – a symbol of the old gods and definitely cause for suspicion. For magic is dangerous. Or so everyone thinks. But Maddy enjoys working magic. Even if it is just to control some pesky goblins. And every time her friend, One-Eye – a good-for-nowt Outlander – comes by, he teaches her more and more about the gods and the runes. Now he wants Maddy to open Red Horse Hill and descend into World Below to retrieve a relic of the old gods. Otherwise it is likely to be the End of Everything.

This is a story of Loki and Odin, old gods and magic, folk and the nameless.

Maddy, 14 years old and always considered by her small community as being *different*, becomes friends with One-Eye. He teaches her small pieces of magic, but one day she gets pulled into a much wider world, where the old gods prove to be real and she finds out why she feels the way she does.

Forget that this is a Joanne Harris book – if you’re expecting another Chocolat, you will be sorely disappointed. Read it for what it is though – a fantasy book by a decent author – and it can help.

I enjoyed reading it. There is the odd bit of humour, the gods are very human like on occasion – pettiness and base human emotions included. In two minds about the Folk, and think they were a little two dimensional, but then again, they were mainly secondary characters.



Book Review: One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde
Jasper Fforde’s exuberant return to the fantastical BookWorld opens during a time of great unrest. All-out Genre war is rumbling, and the BookWorld desperately needs a heroine like Thursday Next. But with the real Thursday apparently retired to the Realworld, the Council of Genres turns to the written Thursday.

The Council wants her to pretend to be the real Thursday and travel as a peacekeeping emissary to the warring factions. A trip up the mighty Metaphoric River beckons-a trip that will reveal a fiendish plot that threatens the very fabric of the BookWorld itself.

Once again New York Times bestselling author Jasper Fforde has a field day gleefully blending satire, romance, and thriller with literary allusions galore in a fantastic adventure through the landscape of a frisky and fertile imagination. Fans will rejoice that their favorite character in the Fforde universe is back.

The BookWorld has been built, there is a ban on travel between OutWorld and Bookworld, and there is a war brewing between many of the genres of Bookworld,many of whom are taking affront to RacyNovel’s attempts to expand and encroach into WomFiction and Romance.

There are several prophetic moments in this, especially around the RacyNovel and (since the publication of this book), the popularity of softporn (such as 50 Shades of Grey) in the real world.

In all this Written Thursday – whom we met in the previous book as a Jurisfiction reject being mentored by the real Thursday Next – is narrating the book in the 1st person. She begins to realise that Real Thursday Next is missing and starts to investigate, thereby alienating a lot of people, and getting herself into trouble.

Not for those who have not read a Next book before. The story in itself is standalone, but the whole structure of the book and who the characters are would be difficult for a new reader to pick up with this book. I wouldn’t say it was the strongest book in the series, though fair play to Fforde for trying to open up the way the story is written in an attempt to keep the series moving forward

Book Review: The Arrival by Nicole MacDonald


Cat, Kassie, Sian and Loi are anything but damsels in distress.
Fed up with a lack of decent male specimens they cast a love spell in the hopes of finding their soul-mates. And inadvertently land themselves on another planet. Oops.

The Arrival, follows the girls’ adventures as they stumble through a foreign and often hostile world where humans are NOT at the top of the food chain.
Friendships are forged and love teeters on the horizon while the threat of civil war looms thanks to the girls’ very unexpected ‘gifts’.
Will the girls master these gifts in time to survive a war in which, not only are they the ultimate weapons, but also the ultimate prize?

Received in ebook format from netgalley and read on an ipad on kindle software. Formatting was generally ok, with correct page breaks etc, but random font size changes which was just mildly annoying.

Premise of the book is good – 4 women in a fairly tight group, all fit and with various skills, including a mixture of archery and martial arts, are fed up with the lack of decent available men (they can beat the ones in their martial arts classes every time), conjure up a spell to find their soul mates.  This takes them to another planet, where they find themselves with magical skills in a world full of sorceress, dragons, griffons, and some men they are immediately attracted to.

The initial day or two when the girls meet the guard goes a bit slow, but when they start heading towards the castle to meet the Elena – who predicted the girls’ arrival – it speeds up.  The rest of the book details the time spent as the girls have a month to learn about and control their new skills as “Elementals” before they fight against the mortal enemy of the realm.  They also have to get used to their attraction to the men identified as their soulmates.

The premise of the book is good, and some of the passages (such as the ball, the visit to the local town) show a lot of potential.  However, as per other reviewers, the multiple POVs (changing 1st person in Catherine, to 3rd party for the rest of the characters), often multiple times within the same chapter, is annoying and distracting, and ultimately slows the book down.  McDonald can write both perspectives well, but doing both this way detracts from the story.

Others have discussed about the ending, and I’m sure that you can find out more if you searched for it.  I wont do a spoiler here, but will say it’s a little disappointing for the story to end where it does.