[ARC] The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale


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It was very hard to comment about this novel. The story begins in the 1907 with Cathy Wray, young and pregnant, escaping home to London to avoid losing her child to strangers. In London she finds work and home in the toy emporium of Papa Jack.

Papa Jack is a grumpy toy maker, able to craft wonderful toys, almost magical, compelling to every child, who see the emporium as a fantastic place to spend winter days.

Up to this point, The Toy Makers seems an innocuous story: Cathy is accepted, loved, we see beautiful games created by Papa Jack and his sons, Kaspar and Emil, both willing to contribute to the emporium activity.

But soon reality slightly creeps into this beautiful atmosphere: there are the memories of the war in Russia and the emigration to England, then the beginning of the first world war and the soldier’s trauma, and the familiar disputes due to jealousy and resentment, but how much is needed to break the emporium magic?

I needed some days to decide that I liked The Toy Makers a lot: the book takes unexpected paths; the apparent lightness of the context (the magical toys, like Emil’s toy soldiers) has instead more profound implications, partly determined by what happens in the world outside the emporium.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me the copy necessary to write this review.

* The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale ★★★★★

*I read this book in english

[ARC] The Girl in the Tower (The Winternight Trilogy #2) by Katherine Arden


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Second installment of the Winternight Trilogy, The girl in the tower story begins a few months after the ending of The bear and the nightingale.

Vasya left her village: despite having fought to save it from the darkness, the villagers say she is a witch, and Vasya struggles for new adventures, so she decides to go and discover the world.

The medieval Russia reserves only a few choices for a woman: nuns of mothers and wives, so Vasya disguises herself as a boy when approaching the villages and cities. In the areas near the capital, the boy Vasya meets the prince and his warriors, and among them her brother  Sasha, who left the village to become a priest.

In the meanwhile, some villages are devastated by bandits’ raids, and all the girls are kidnapped to be sold as slaves, and a dark menace impends on the city of Moscow.

Vasya will end up fighting for the city, her family and her freedom, helped by the folklore spirits and by the frost demon, Morozko.

As in the previous novel, the setting is build up with precision, both folklore and historical elements help in improving the setting and the plot. Here we meet again some characters of The bear and the nightingale, but grown up and changed accordingly to their own story. The plot is engaging and fast paced, a perfect follow-up of the first novel of the series. Now I’m waiting for the last book.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me the copy necessary to write this review.

* The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden ★★★★★

*I read this book in english

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier


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Heart’s blood by Juliet Marillier is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, in which the magic elements (the mirror, the rose) are put in a defined historical context, The XII century Ireland during the Norman invasion.

Caitrin is a young scribe and she is running away from an abusive family, and chooses to propose her service as translator and writer at Whistling Tor, a fortress surrounded by woods, known as malicious.

Whistling Tor, and its chieftain Anluan, are subjected of a malediction lasting for more than one hundred years: the surrounding hills are populated by the dead people come again alive, and only Anluan mental control stops them in devastating the surrounding areas.

Anluan is presented as a resigned character: because of an illness as children he has some physical impairments, and he thinks he is not suited for his role, but the arrival of Caitrin will change the situation and bring hope again.

I found this novel excessively long and obvious: Caitrin keeps on talking about hope, probably in the logic of repetita juvant, and the final turning of events is quite foreseeable.

The love story between the two main characters (Caitrin e Anluan) is thick as a leaf, we are told they are in love, and we have to believe it, despite the fact that they met a couple or times exchanging a few words.

Too bad, because other elements are innovative, like the creepy mirrors, the sorcery operated by one of Anluan’s ancestry, and the historical dimension that was partly exploited.

* Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier ★★☆☆☆

*I read this book in english

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire


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Down Among the Sticks and Bones tells a part of what happened before Every Heart a Doorway, in particular the story of the twin sisters Jack and Jill before them living in the Eleanor West’s house for Wayward Children.

Jacqueline was educated as her mother’s perfect girl: be a little princess, do not get dirty and don’t be noisy.
Jillian, on the opposite, was educated as her father’s son he did not get: a bit of a tomboy, able to play with other boys, never mind the dirt and the noise.

Too bad that both Jacqueline and Jillian were unhappy about this arrangement, so the door that opened them a magic – and a bit horrific – world was the perfect opportunity for an adventure.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a short and compelling novel, that works also as a standalone. The readers who already met the children living in Eleanor West’s house will find here again a mix of magic and horror, an unsettling atmosphere, a delicious dark tale.

* Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire ★★★★☆

*I read this book in english

Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson


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Arriman, evil dark wizard, would like that the prophecy about a darker wizard to take his place would come true, so to leave his works and pursue other hobbies. However, no wizard has come to take his place, and the only option seems to be marring and having an evil wizard child, but how to choose a wife?

Arriman’s secretary, a practical man, determines that the wife should be a witch, skilled in dark magic, and what’s better than a competition to find the skilled witch? All the witches of the area readily join the contest, and within them also Belladonna, a nice and gentle white witch, who would like to be dark and evil.

Which Witch? is an extremely nice book: the protagonists are fun and crazy, but also tremendously evil, and the story mixes positive values with horrible images (the scene with the rats is disgusting).

I always like when children books are not sugary (to stay in theme, it’s impossible to forget The Witches by Roald Dahl).

Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson ★★★★☆

*I read this book in italian

[ARC] Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones


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London, 1818. In a short time Annis has notice of her father’s death and that all the money are gone. The only chance for the girl and her aunt is to leave their London house, to move to the country and to look for work.

Annis discovers to have a magic skill: she can sew glamours, so the dress she creates are able to totally disguise the people wearing them.

She wants to use her talent to help the english spies, also because she is convinced her father was a spy himself. Since at the beginning nobody gives her credit, she impersonates Madame Martine, dressmaker.

The novel has a good potential, but they could have been better exploited, like the idea to mix magic and spionage. Unfortunately, Annis spends most of the time in getting hold of her talent. She has great determination, but the main feature that emerges from the novel it’s her naivete, while minor characters take all the action. In the end I found it boring, because I expected something more.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me the copy necessary to write this review.

* Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones ★★☆☆☆½

*I read this book in english

[ARC] Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott


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Rotherweird is a strange town: it’s in England but it is completely independent administratively, it’s almost inaccessible and it’s forbidden to study history before 1800.

Two external however come into the town: Jonah Oblong, who has to teach modern history to the local school, and Sir Veronal Slickstone, who was allowed to renew the old Manor House.

It’s evident that Sir Veronal has other evil plans, and for this reason some of the town’s inhabitants will have to share old secrets and to discover the old and forbidden history of Rotherweird.

The novel alternates the present events to ones from the past (1500 ca.) that clarify why the town was born and the reason why it is forbidden to study history.

In my opinion the book is engaging from the half, in the beginning I found difficult to sort plot and characters (they have strange names that I found easy to confuse).

Thanks to the publisher for providing me the copy necessary to write this review.

* Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott ★★★☆☆

*I read this book in english

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab


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Third and last novel in the Shades of Magic series (the trilogy begins with A darker shade of magic and continues with A Gathering of Shadows), A Conjuring of Light throws the reader in the full of the action, since the previous novel ended when things began to be interesting. Kell was kidnapped and brought to White London, Lila was going after him and Holland was under the force of black power.

In this novel the city that needs to be saved is Red London, Kell’s home, since the creature born in Black London aims in owing all the magic flowing in the Red city.

Holland, free from the control of the evil power, Kell and Lila, the three Antari, are the only people who seem able to own enough power to face the enemy, that is taking control of the city in the meanwhile.

I avoid further details, not to spoil the story, and I come to my opinion: A conjuring of light is a beautiful novel, fast paced and compelling: there are no boring moments, the characters face adventure in various settings, and the worldbuild and character design is very well done. During the story the author takes time also to develop the characters, that interacts coherently to the premises set till now. I particularly enjoyed the decision to talk a bit more of Holland’s past, since he has been a character mostly driven by events (and I still love Lila, so bold and ironic).

I feared during the whole book to be disappointed by the ending, but it was as good as the rest the novel. I think Shades of Magic is a great series and I suggest it to the lovers of the genre, (moreover the USA books have wonderful covers), as well as other novels by Victoria Shwab, original and engaging readings.

*A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab ★★★★★

*I read this book in english

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1) by Seanan McGuire


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It can happen that a child (probably a girl) finds an unexpected passage, a door to a magical reality.

Some of them never come back, other for some reasons come back to the reality we know about, and some feels melancholic for what they left behind: a world where they can finally be themselves; these desperately try to find a way to go back.

Nancy, white hair with five black locks, spent a few years in the death lord reign, where she learned to stay still as a statue, and she was asked to go back to her life to test her will

“Their love wanted to fix her, and refused to see that she wasn’t broken”

Unable to fit her old life, her parents send them to the Eleanor West’s school for Wayward children, where the owner hosts all the nostalgic children back from other worlds.

Nancy become friend with some of the students, but soon after her arrival tragic events happen, and the school is in great danger.

Every heart a doorway is an engaging book, full of imaginative elements; the most intriguing part – more than the horror / crime one – is the description of the magical lands the children went to, and the creation of a classification system (high logic vs high nonsense, the evil and the good ones,…). The characters are well-developed, both as visitors of enchanted worlds and as normal adolescents.It

The book was able to bring me away from the world we know for a few lovely hours (and there follow-up books are coming!).

* Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire ★★★★☆½

*I read this book in english

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine


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Ella lives in a magical world, and after her birth a fairy gave her a gift: obedience. Hardly to define it a gift, since Ella is now forced to obey every order she receives, otherwise she will suffer great pains.

The girl is very attached to her mother, who dies when Ella is still a girl, and her father – a serious merchant who would do anything for money – begins to see an insufferable rich woman, mother of two insufferable and evil girls.

Ella Enchanted is a smart retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale (it won the Newbery Honor prize) where Ella grows up by facing various situations, even unpleasant ones, and she shows that sometimes a girl is able to save herself, without the need of a saving prince.

The story is well-built: there are evident reference to the original fairy tale, but the story is enriched by other elements, even funny ones, like fairy Lucinda and her dramatic gift, intended for good.

* Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine ★★★★☆

*I read this book in Italian