Magic for Liars

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 04 Jun 2019

Member Reviews

Ivy Gamble is called to investigate a brutal murder at the Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her twin sister teaches, which pulls her into a dark and dangerous world of secrets and incredible power.  I enjoyed the latter half of this read, but it does start of slowly, which may be because the author is setting the foundation for a series.  I would enjoy reading more from the author in the future.
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It starts off slow and kind of dense, but once the action begins, it's hard to resist the story as it drives forward. It reads as a true epic, one that makes you feel the world really has been reshaped as you read it. Would recommend.
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Magic for Liars is a murder mystery set in a private high school for magical students, though it reads a little more noir detective story than Harry Potter-esque fantasy. Ivy Gamble is a PI with a drinking problem and a troubled relationship with her family. She also has no magical ability to speak of – seems her sister Tabitha got all the magic. When a faculty member is found bisected in the library, Ivy is called in by the headmistress who suspects it was more than a theoretical magic spell gone awry…

I’ve seen few reviews of this book and sadly none of them have been particularly glowing. I, on the other hand, really enjoyed this book and found it to be rather touching. Ivy and Tabitha haven’t gotten along for most of their lives – Tabitha manifested magical ability and she was sent away to a prestigious private high school for mages where she absolutely blossomed. Ivy finished out her years at her regular ol’ high school and dealt first hand with stressful family issues that Tabitha dealt with only distantly. Ivy is obviously very resentful of her sister and acutely feels the disparity in their lives from looks to careers. As Ivy investigated the murder of the faculty member (a close friend of Tabitha’s) the sisters make an awkward effort to get to know one another again. Those particular scenes felt so genuine and I wanted so badly for them to get along. 

The actual investigation portion almost was second fiddle to what was going on in Ivy’s headspace. She interviews students and faculty alike and she finds some clues, though since magic is involved (something Ivy is unfamiliar with since Tabitha was so distant from her) she has either has to get assistance or puzzle it out on her own. I thought the book ended well and the resolution was pretty satisfying, though I can’t say I was surprised when the picture finally came together. In a way, I’m glad I could actually guess whodunnit and the author didn’t have to suddenly reveal all this information that the reader wasn’t privy to.

Overall, I thought this was a great, somewhat emotionally touching read, the latter of  which kind of surprised me. I can see why some people may have found this boring. Like I said, the mystery part is almost secondary to what’s going on with Ivy and her sister and even the budding relationship between Ivy and one of the handsome teachers. Despite this (or perhaps because of this) I loved it.
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"Magic for Liars" weaves a standard noir detective novel with magic and fantasy. It avoids the pitfalls of most magical detective stories, and plants enough clues and that the mystery isn't a silly unsolveable mess. But if the story is guilty of anything, it might be packing too much in it - too many tiny backstories that go nowhere, too many clues that lead to the same places, maybe even a little too much noir stereotyping (ahhh, to be an infamously alcoholic detective). Worth a read for sure and engaging from the start, but it may not appeal to everyone.
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I didn't know what to expect when I picked up Magic for Liars but I had a lot of fun reading it. J.K. Rowling meets Tana French? Or maybe Lev Grossman (but I couldn't get into his books so that doesn't quite work). Even that doesn't seem like an accurate way to pin this novel down. Ivy was full of sharp edges but worked as a detective. It was fascinating to see what choices she made and the repercussions from the fall outs. I loved Gailey's magical world building. There are many people I can think of recommending this too and I look forward to reading more of Gailey's work.
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I did not enjoy this book. It had elements that I like: school drama, magic, twins but it was a slog. I didn't really connect with the characters and at times it just seemed silly.
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In short: now I know why readers have been raving about Sarah Gailey.

In long: this tale begins as a murder mystery set in an exclusive, private high school for the magically gifted. The first-person narrator is a private detective who’s wearied of digging into cases of infidelity and embezzlement, and both excited and intimidated by her first murder investigation. So much is not all that astonishingly new territory. But this is where the story gets complex. Ivy is an unreliable narrator, whose unerring sense of the truth shines through her layers of self-deception, guilt, and inadequacy. To make matters worse, Ivy’s brilliant, charismatic, and magically talented sister teaches at the school and was romantically involved with the murder victim.

The unfolding of the mystery parallels Ivy’s exploration of her own past, her relationship to her sister, and who she herself might have been “in another life,” if she and her sister had been close, if she had been magical, if she had gone to a good school, if she were attractive and confident, and so forth. The line between Ivy’s wishful imagination and the possibility that she is in the process of unlocking hidden potential is ambivalent, as it should be, making Ivy a complex and utterly sympathetic character. This subtlety arises from superb narrative skill and deep insight into the human psyche, all within the framework of a fascinating familiar-but-new magical world, all the agonies of revisiting high school, and a murder mystery full of twists and surprises.

Strongly recommended.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to praise it. Although chocolates and fine imported tea are always welcome.
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Magic for Liars is the kind of book that invites you into its world and can’t let go until you’ve made it to the final word. I was mesmerized by Gailey’s take on a magic that feels so realistic. It’s part high school drama, part secret lives of teachers, and part soul-searching as the private investigator protagonist comes to term with her past while perusing the present for answers. I was enthralled and couldn’t put it down.

The sense of realism sparked my imagination throughout. While I love magical fantasies that introduce things like unicorns, magic wands, and mysterious spells, it can be hard to relate to such a world given the mundanity of our own. In Magic for Liars, Gailey brings magic into the real world, along with the many consequences of its use. There are scenes that took my breath away, primarily because of the ease with which they were presented. You can’t snap a finger to fix a broken body. Instead, it requires a fundamental understanding of the human body, of how to piece it back together to make it whole. The various uses of magic are all the more amplified by the seemingly normal setting. It was fascinating to behold.

The combination of genres made for a consistently entertaining read. To start, you have the kind of private investigator fiction that leaves the intense violence at home. This is good, old-fashioned detective work through deduction and interviews. Through this process, we get to know the teachers and students as mostly regular people who just happen to be magical. Drama seeps in heavily when students are involved, adding a glimpse into the messy lives of teenagers trying to understand themselves. We also have the complicated family dynamics between the PI and her sister. They share a painful past and, as it starts to unfold, it holds a key to understanding how each sister grew into themselves. 

Above all, Magic for Liars features exceptional storytelling, marked by personable characters and a mysterious thread that surprises at multiple turns. It’s so easy to immerse yourself in this world, and it leaves you with a feeling of fulfillment that you’ve read something special. 

Review to be published on 8/8:
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Loved this book! Sarah Gailey is one of my new favourite authors. Really enjoy their writing style.

In this book I liked the mystery part and the magic part made it even better. 

Highly recommend!
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Perfect for fans of both crime fiction and the urban fantasy genre. Gaily merges the two in this very unique novel readers of all ages are sure to love. It is easy to be seduced by the universe of this book, so much so that readers are bound to want to return to it again and again – both by re-reading and hopefully watching Gailey expand that world.
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Magic for Liars is a book with both a solid and fun concept – I mean, a murder mystery at a magic school? – but somehow, it never really manages to scratch either your crime or fantasy itch in quite the way you’d hoped.

Noir Meets Magic
The story centres around Ivy, an alcoholic PI who has difficulty getting close to people. While Ivy herself is a regular Joe, her estranged sister Tabitha is a mage and teaches at a secret academy for magical teens (think American high school that just happens to teach magic subjects alongside the regular). When one of the teachers dies under mysterious circumstances, the headmistress hires Ivy to investigate. A murder case seems like the perfect opportunity for Ivy to test her skills and pick up some well-needed cash, but it also means facing Tabitha and somehow getting a bunch of adolescents to tell it to her straight. She has her work cut out for her.

Ivy Gamble, P.I
As a protagonist, Ivy is basically how you’d imagine a standard noir private investigator to be – never far from a bottle, a loner, unresolved family problems, and accustomed to dealing with unsavoury types. However, she’s also very unsatisfied with who she is and because of this, she spends a lot of the novel acting out different (alternate universe) versions of herself e.g. flirty/giggly Ivy or Mage Ivy. At first, it’s fine, as it shows just how much Ivy wishes she could be like the image she has of her sister, attractive, free and special. After a while, it does start to get repetitive and annoying, especially when it predictably blows up in her face. On the upside, the plot does give Ivy a lot of opportunities to showcase that she’s very good at working out people – when they’re lying, what they want, and how best to manipulate them for information. I really enjoyed this side of her, mostly because it showed just how great of an investigator she is.

Let’s Solve a Murder
The murder mystery storyline takes a while to properly warm up. The first part of the novel deals with Ivy taking her time to learn the lay of the land (working out who the main players are & their stories, and attempting to understand relevant magical principals). Aside from a couple of tense moments during character interviews, there isn’t a heap of excitement during the first half. However, once we get over the mid-way hump, some of the little things Ivy picks up on earlier start to show greater relevance and the plot moves along more briskly. By the time events start coming together at the end, the momentum has vastly increased and everything gets dramatic FAST. You’ll likely be able to guess where things are heading, but as it’s both emotionally charged and makes sense within the context of the story, that’s not such a bad thing. I will say, though, that the ending itself does feel somewhat rushed and incomplete in that some big choices are made, especially by Ivy, and we have no idea what the consequences will be.

Red Herrings (Aka. Side Plots)
Magic for Liars involves several side plots. These weave in and out of Ivy’s investigation to varying degrees. There’s Ivy’s flirtation with the hot physical magic teacher, her fractured relationship with Tabitha, a prophecy about a chosen one, and a mysterious student relationship with a potential pregnancy. For the most part, these are designed to provide the overall book with extra colour and the investigation with some red herrings.

-    Ivy’s relationship with Rahul is a cute addition, even though it ends in a rather unsatisfying way. It’s somewhat awkward but sweet to see Ivy try to connect with someone, even if she goes about it very badly.
-    The teen pregnancy story is the most relevant to the overall mystery, but I do wish it had felt a little deeper considering it was dealing with something so emotionally heavy.
-    I really enjoyed the sections of the novel devoted to trying to repair Ivy’s damaged relationship with Tabitha. It’s interesting to see them attempt to overcome their issues with one another and realise that many of them stem from incorrect ideas about the other or a lack of communication. More importantly, this groundwork ended up being essential to the emotional impact of the book’s ending.
-    Of the four, the chosen one plotline is the one I could have done without. It not only feels unnecessary but has a predictable outcome from the moment it’s introduced.

Scientific Magic
Unlike books like Harry Potter, for instance, Magic for Liars tries to take a slightly more scientific approach to magic. In a way, it’s more akin to something like Lev Grossman’s The Magicians but less complicated or fully explained. While I didn’t always understand the terms and principles being thrown around, I still enjoyed the use of magic here and found that it served to ground the story by making the world-building and plot events seem more realistic. Yet, I do wish that we’d gotten to see more of the magical elements instead of having them mostly relegated to the background.
While Magic for Liars wasn’t the epic crossover between the mystery and fantasy genres that I’d hoped for, it still possesses some solid character moments, a mildly intriguing mystery, and a decent approach to world-building that’ll be enough to entertain some readers.

3.5 Stars
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It's like Lily and Petunia Evans enter a Raymond Chandler novel, with Petunia as a private eye. (I've seen it compared to The Magicians meets Tana French, which is also accurate.) The resolution in particular made me think of The Big Sleep. It has that same aching feeling that isn't quite nihilism, but isn't happy, either. When the story is about murder, the unhappy ending has already happened. There's nothing left to hand out but the blame.

Ivy tells herself she never wanted to be magic like her estranged twin, Tabitha. But her resentment and longing at what she can never have are impossible to suppress. Her life as a private investigator is tawdry and banal, so when she gets the chance to solve a murder at a school for magic, the very one her sister works at, there's no question but that she will take the case. Once there, surrounded by the privileged kids who use their gifts to make thunderclouds shaped like dicks, her resentment seems pretty natural. But it drives her to make choices that are...not so great. She's not alone in that. Along the way there's a Prophecy, a Chosen One, and some really ingenious magic.

I love that the library is a grim featured player in the story, with whispering books surrounding the gruesome murder scene. Magic in the story is something like advanced physics, so the list of subjects the library contains makes perfect nonsense: "The shelves of the library were marked with endcap labels that pointed to either side, Dewey decimal numbers and subject matter. I followed Torres past Math and Mathematical Magics; Economics; Fictional Magic and Applications of Magical Fiction; Electricity, Theoretical Electricity, Electricity Manipulations. She paused at Poisons and Theoretical Poisons."

Received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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My favorite book of 2019 so far. A diverse fantasy that leaves nothing to be desired. Loved it and can’t wait to see more novels from this author.
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Magic For Liars is a brilliant magical noir set at a faux-Hogwarts and dives deep into the millennial psyche. It’s a great murder mystery as well as a powerful examination of the stories we tell about Chosen Ones and magic and siblings. I found myself taking my time with this book, not because it wasn’t absolutely engrossing (it was) but because I found myself confronting some hard truths about my own mindset, my doubts and my fears. I recommend this book often to customers and friends alike, and I will read everything Sarah Gailey writes in perpetuity. 

I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I had high hopes for this one. I felt like it was very intriguing to start, then got really slow, and then eased off until BANG everything happened all at once and not a lot of it made sense.

I felt so-so about the main character and didn't feel like I had enough time to absorb the story- either things should have occurred earlier or it could have used another 30 pages. 

I thought about quitting multiple times, but was really curious (because that's what mysteries do) and I pictured the main character sounding like Julia from The Magicians. Overall, sort of meh?
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Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an early copy, for free, for honest review.
I'm not really sure how I feel about this. I didn't love it as much as I thought I would. I liked it, but it didn't blow me away. The writing was good, it definitely kept me reading. I was just expecting something different because of how much I had hyped it up in my head.
Ivy Gamble kind of reminded me of a mash-up of Aunt Petunia and Jessica Jones. Aunt Petunia, because she's a little bitter about being the normal, non-magical sister. Jessica Jones for the PI profession and heavy drinking. Ivy Gamble does not possess super strength or a Vernon Dursley. So it's a mash-up of specific parts of those two characters, not the whole bag. Ivy is a very somber character, who is kind of heavy on the self-pity. She's not magic and she's got some jealously about that, jealousy that she really can't get over. She's a bit of a loner too. She just doesn't scream happy or contented person.
Throughout the book, Ivy kind of confused me. She kept acting, trying to be somebody else, while doing the job at this magical school. She wasn't secure in just being herself. And the lies she told ended up coming back to bite her. I just don't really understand why she had to lie about herself.
There were also some weird sections in the story where it gave the impression that this was a past event that she was recounting from the future. It only happened a couple of times, but it was a little jarring.
The murder mystery aspect didn't feel the most pressing at times. It didn't have the punch that I was expecting. The victim was almost just a body, and nothing else. And it wasn't hard at all to figure out who-done-it.
The ending of this book is lacking and not very satisfying. The reveal of the murderer didn't shock me. The reason why they did it was like trying to give them a pass. There were no consequences. To me, it was not a conclusion to the story at all. Even the very end of the book wasn't an end. It was unsatisfying.
As far as the magic school setting went, it was very much understated magic. There were some cool bits, but not many. It was pretty much just a regular high school with just little hints here and there of magic. It was more of a gritty tale than a magical one.
I enjoyed Magic For Liars, but I didn't love it. I was expecting something more from it. I enjoyed the premise of it. I enjoyed the writing. It was an easy story to get through. I'd definitely read more from Sarah Gailey. I just wanted an ending that actually felt like an ending. I need closure in my stories. I'm glad I got to read it.

Kind of a Mixed Bag
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This story had incredible potential: A detective story, with magic, that takes place in a boarding school - sign me up! But...the main character reads a little flat, none of the relationships she enters into or otherwise explores feel all that natural or interesting, and, just when the whole thing could have gone off and been The Rook, it didn't.
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You either are magic, or you are not. Ivy was not, but her twin sister was — a fact that came between them so that years later, they’re almost strangers. Ivy’s a private investigator, though, and when approached by the head of the magic school where her twin Tabitha works to help in solving a suspicious death, she jumps at the chance to see a little of what she’s missing. The problem is that she lies, lies and lies again as she tries to live the life she might have led, if only she was magic.

There is one way in which Magic for Liars is just so totally not for me: it relies fairly heavily on miscommunication (deliberate miscommunication, at that). That’s Ivy’s MO here, and it’s what gets her into half the trouble, and I just find that so vicariously embarrassing and so annoying. Ivy’s problems towards the end of the book are 100% caused by herself and her own stupid decision, and that is not a plot line I enjoy, at least not when it’s made quite so explicit, or is so utterly avoidable. Hubris is one thing, but getting caught in a web of your own lies — lies you know to be stupid — is just… gah.

On the other hand, it is a fun read: Gailey does some fun misdirection and plays with the tropes, and her writing is just… When I first came across some of the lines, one comparison immediately jumped to mind, and that’s Raymond Chandler. There’s something fresh about the way she puts things, a sense of ‘that’s perfect, but also new’ that I think I honestly last encountered when I first read Chandler and followed his ‘shop-worn Galahad’ around town. Things like “Monday morning came on like a head cold” — not even the best example, but one of those right, yes, that feeling moments.

(For all his faults, Chandler was one hell of a writer. This is 1,000% a compliment.)

There’s a lot to enjoy about this book, especially if you enjoy the idea of following around a profoundly damaged and self-sabotaging person. What she’s doing to herself is beautifully clear; it’s just not my jam at all.
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The blurb compares this book to The Magician by L. Grossman, and I found it quite accurate, especially if we speak about the general atmosphere. And that should be good, right? Erm… not as much. I mean, it could be great, but I am not a fan of that book, and my main problem with that book was atmosphere’s related so… do we all see a problem here, right?
So yeah… the general atmosphere wasn’t of my liking. But I had other problems with this book too.  In case you missed it, the plot say “Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.” And yes, is ironic. Because our MC, the poor Ivy is so full of resentmen, of envy. She is so hungry for a life that isn’t for her. And her hunger is real. You can feel it while dooze off from the pages. And I mean, is not that she is not entitled to it, from life she got the shorter stick and that’s not right. But in some point in your life you just have to let it go or your entire life would be a sad one. And she choose the sad one.
And in this the author is great, because she did an amazing job depicting this aspect of her character. It’s really hard to live like Ivy, because the hunger and the resentment are so much, but the author portraied it really well. But this is just not my cup of tea, sorry.

What I wrote in the precedent paragraph is about my personal taste. But I had some more problems with this book, and I think that they are more “its fault than mine”.
Ivy is a P.I. and I was really pleased by it. But really, she’s the worst! We didn’t see a lot of investigation going around, just Ivy doing a lot of bad choices after bad choices. Mostly stupid ones. And, in the end, is not her who resolve the case. It’s sort of resolve by itself while a lot of things happens. And I am not happy with her final choice, either. Not just because it’s not making so much sense to me, but because… come on!!!!!!
And then we have the setting. At the beginning was quite cool, we are in a magic school so what could possibly go wrong?? Eh… I have tried to answer that question, and, to be honest, I don’t  have an answer but I know that something happens and we just… lost something. I don’t know how to explain it, but in the beginning we have a lot of possibilities but in the end it’s like any other school. We have also a Chosen One Prophecy going on in there, so I was amazed at the beginning. But in the end it wasn’t so well integrated in the story, it’s just a surplus, something put in there just because it would have been cool, but with no real importance. The story would have worked perfectly even without it. Really.

I was expecting a pleasant reading, but I didn’t enjoyed myself a lot. To be honest this is not an awful book, but it could have been more. Come on: magic school, P.I. and a Chosen One Prophecy and that’s the best you can get? Sorry, but nope. And I gave it a 3 rating because it’s not completely bad, but it’s more a 2.75.
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This book was not what I expected. I thought it might have more of a YA bent because of the setting and the teen characters. I've also seen Sarah Gailey compared to Tana French (whose books I have read--this seems fitting) and Lev Grossman (I haven't read The Magicians, so I can't comment on this one). To me, the result is that this book straddles the YA and adult genres without finding a foothold in either of them.

That being said, I appreciated how dark this book is. It is grittier than I had anticipated, which was a nice surprise. I did get a little fed up with Ivy's "woe-is-me-I-don't-fit-anywhere-because-I'm-not-magic" routine, but I also appreciated the way she navigates her relationship with her sister as she tries to solve the case. The pacing also felt a little off--I thought there would be more urgency in solving a MURDER CASE, but I guess not! 

I think Sarah Gailey's writing is pretty funny and sharp, but she could have mapped out this book a bit more clearly.
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