Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones:
Usually, when I read stories to the Bachsters at night, we're all one big happy group enjoying a great story together. But with Charmed Life, our oldest just didn't like the book*, so she chose to read by herself in her room while I read it with the other two Bachsters. And I can see her point: it got off to a slow start. But once you get into the story, it just takes off and is most amazing.
A little about the story: in the opening chapters, Cat Chant and his older sister Gwendolen, a witch, become orphans. They go to live with kind Mrs. Sharp, until it is arranged that they live with the very mysterious Chrestomanci and his family in his castle. There, the children are to receive an education, and Gwendolen magical studies. But things don't go smoothly for headstrong Gwendolen, and Cat tags along as she plots and schemes one magical act of revenge after another, until things get out of hand and everyone's lives are changed dramatically.
There are elements of Harry Potter in the story (Charmed Life was published in 1977, so it's like the original Harry Potter): there is a mysterious, powerful figure whom people refuse to utter his real name; there are students receiving magical education (and doing magical hocus pocus); there is a main character who is an orphan who isn't aware of who he really is. I hope I haven't given away too much of the story!
As we started the story, I thought it was interesting, but I could have set it down and been content to start something else. But after a few chapters, the story gets better, and about halfway through, you're hooked. Things all come together in a wonderfully unexpected way. We're along for the ride, and the capable Diana Wynne Jones is our guide. I actually got chills when the character Janet was introduced: our author knows her craft well and is a pleasure to spend time with (check out Howl's Moving Castle for another great Diana Wynne Jones book). I'm getting ready to start the second Chrestomanci book, and am very excited to get back to this magical world.
*DD didn't want to join, but as she heard our excitement about the story, and probably overheard some of it, she couldn't help but ask question after question: so what happened to Gwendolen? Was Chrestomanci good or bad? I might just leave the book in her room, to see if she'll read it after all. I hope she does - I hate to think that she's missing out on the fun!