The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones (9780316418416)
Ryn is the daughter of the gravedigger in her small village next to the forest. When her father didn’t return from the mines, she took over his job. But the forest has always been full of legends and now the dead seem to be returning to life. The bone houses, as Ryn calls them, are scoffed at by the others in the village. When Ryn rescues a young man, Ellis, who grew up in the prince’s castle, she finds a new way to bring some coin to her small family. But the bone houses continue to rise, soon becoming a wave of zombies so large no one in the village can deny their existence. Ryn and Ellis set off to find the mythical cauldron that had caused the bone houses to rise. It means heading deep into the dangerous forest and through the mine where Ryn’s father perished. Along the way, they learn about the wonders of the curse, find the pieces of Ellis’s mysterious past, and discover how it and they fit together.
I adored the premise of this book, which is a medieval setting full of mythical creatures who have all vanished that is facing a zombie apocalypse. The weaving of poverty, cruel landlords, stubborn goats, beloved family and newfound friends together is intoxicating. Add in the horrors of the risen dead, and it’s an amazing amalgamation that really works well.
A large part of its success is Ryn herself. She is a determined protagonist who refuses to leave her family’s home behind even with bone houses everywhere. She is fearless as she battles them, gentle with the dead, and full of contradictions. She is opinionated, funny and entirely fabulous even when she is muddy from head to toe. Ellis is also a great character. He has a weak arm which he treats with natural painkillers. It is an issue on their journey but doesn’t ever get used as an excuse for him not being successful as they travel. He is studious, introspective and forever surprising Ryn with what he says. The two are a great pair, and who doesn’t love a woman who can wield both a shovel and an axe with such skill.
A great zombie book with plenty of brains about it. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.
Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin (9780062878021)
Lou lives in the city as a thief, stealing what she needs to survive, feasting when possible on sweets, and dressing herself in costumes from the theater attic where she lives. Because her life depends on it, she tries to never use her witch magic, lest her mother discover where she is. Reid is a witchhunter, raised from an orphaned baby into one of the leaders of the Church Chasseurs. He not only hunts witches but kills them, usually ultimately burning them at the stake if they live that long. When Lou tries to escape Reid by publicly shaming him, they end up being forced to marry one another. As the war between the witches and the church escalates, Reid and Lou find themselves at the center of it just as they discover their increasing feelings for one another.
If you are looking for one amazing teen fantasy novel, you have found it here. Mahurin builds a great world for her characters, one with extensive history that impacts the action in the novel in an understandable and fascinating way. As more of the details of the history are revealed, the cunning nature of the witches’ plans become more clears as well as the motivations of the church. It’s a book that untangles itself in front of the reader and yet leaves plenty of questions to be answered in a future volume.
The book mixes romance and fantasy. It has one of the hottest sex scenes I have read in a teen novel too where details are not skimped on and the woman takes the lead. As with that scene, Lou is not ever one to shrink away from saying what she thinks and needs. She is prickly and jaded, falling for Reid despite all of the guards she has in place. Reid could have simply been the bemused soldier in all of this, but Mahurin has made him Lou’s equal in the book, so that readers understand the damage done by both the witches and the church to society and individuals.
An amazing and gripping fantasy romance. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner (9781534431454)
Moth has always loved everything to do with magic and witches. So when Halloween comes, she dresses up as a witch. That does nothing but encourage some school bullies who tease her in the hall in front of the new kid in town. But something strange happens and Moth’s hands start to glow. It turns out that Moth comes from a family of witches, something her mother had never shared with her. Now it all makes sense why Moth has felt so different from everyone else and struggled to make friends. As Moth learns more about her family and the secret separate magic land her grandmother helped create and still lives in, Moth’s powers grow. She meets a talking cat, makes her first real friend, and then discovers that while witches are real so are those who hunt them!
Steinkellner’s debut graphic novel for youth is a delightful mix of diversity and magic. While comparisons can be made with other teen witches, this book stands entirely on its own. Part of that distinction comes from the unique world that the town’s witch elders created for safety. It is a world of floating islands, crystalline colors and flowing robes. It contrasts dynamically with the world of middle school. Moth is the one who brings both worlds together as her magic begins to take form.
The characters in this graphic novel really make the book special. Moth moves far beyond middle-school misfit and is a friendly, funny protagonist with a talking cat who is brave and conflicted. Her mother too is complicated in all the best ways.
A great middle-grade graphic novel that is full of magic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin.
The Sunburst Award is given “for excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.” They just announced this year’s winners in both their adult and young adult categories. Here is the winner as well as the books that were in the longlist for the young adult category:
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Antilia: Sword and Song by Kate Story
Black Chuck by Regan McDonell
Children of Daedala by Caighlan Smith
Feeder by Patrick Weekes
North to Benjamin by Alan Cumyn
Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer
The Ruinous Sweep by Tim Wynne-Jones
Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe
Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell
Super! by Jennifer Chen
A World Below by Wesley King
Worldshaper by Edward Willett
Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly (9780062747297)
Lalani lives on the island of Sanlagita during a long drought where all of the plants are dying and water is growing scarcer by the day. The residents of her island pray every day for mercy from the large mountain they live near. There are tales of another mountain across the sea that is on an abundant island where all of your needs are met. So the island sends out ships of their strongest men trying to journey to this other island and mountain. Nothing returns from these journeys but broken pieces of the ships. Lalani is a regular girl inspired by the tale of another island girl who died trying to make her own journey. As Lalani finds herself caught up with a magical exile, she wishes for rain and the unending rain that results brings disaster with it. Shunned by others on the island, Lalani makes the choice to take her own journey across the sea.
Inspired by Filipino folklore, this is an amazing novel by a Newbery-award winning author. The barren and limited world that Lalani lives in is filled with anger, bullying and still love and friendship. The entire society feels tense and on edge, one step from coming to blows. It makes what Lalani finds on her journey all the more incredible. Kelly has created a world of magical and unusual creatures that spring to life. Several of them are given special treatment where the reader is asked to imagine themselves being that creature which is a marvelous invitation to change perspective.
As always, Kelly’s writing is so skillful that one doesn’t even realize it. Her books read so easily and well, this time carrying readers into a fantastical world filled with creatures from dreams and nightmares. Lalani is a great protagonist. She is brave, audacious with just the right amount of regular person mixed in too.
A glorious fantasy from a master storyteller. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (9780525647072)
Jam lives in Lucille, a place cleansed of monsters by the angels who still live among them. There are no monsters in Lucille any more. But just as Jam is learning about the original angels, who looked more like monsters than humans, she accidentally releases a creature from her mother’s painting. The creature is Pet, who has crossed dimensions to hunt a monster. Pet reveals that the monster is living in Jam’s best friend, Redemption’s house. Now Jam must figure out how to enlist Redemption’s help without accusing his family of doing something terrible and harboring a monster. Or perhaps Pet is the real monster as he hunts without remorse? Jam must learn the truth and then get others to believe her.
Wow. What a book! The voice here is what hits you first, unique and strong, it speaks in a Nigerian-laced rhythm that creates its own magic immediately. Add in the power of Jam herself, a black, trans girl who often chooses not to speak aloud but with sign language. Then you have the amazement of Pet, the nightmare creature who hunts for monsters but also explains the importance of not hiding from the truth. Surround it all with families who love and care and are wonderfully different from one another.
Emezi leads readers through this wonder of a book, filled with LGBTQIA+ moments that are so normal they become something very special. They insist that you understand what is meant by a monster and by an angel, that one can be disguised as another, that monsters are normal people, but must not be tolerated. It’s a book about abuse, about standing up, about angels and demons, and about humans.
An incredible middle-grade fantasy full of power, monsters and beauty. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Make Me a World.
The Feather by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (9781760124212)
A giant white glowing feather floats down into a dystopian world where the sky is always gray. Two children find it and take it to the village, amazed by how light it is to carry. The children know it doesn’t belong inside. The adults in the village though want to contain its beauty, but before they can, the feather changes. It becomes dirty and dull, absorbing the weight of their ideas and thoughts. The villagers disperse, angry at being tricked. The children carry the heavy feather back with them, caring for it through the night until in the morning it is brilliant once more. The children decide to set it free, and as the feather floats skyward, it leaves behind a promise of blue skies.
Wild’s story is deep and wondrous, rather like the feather itself. The gigantic nature of the feather, its ability to remind people of blue skies and fresh breezes, makes it magical. And yet, it can be squandered by needing to own that magic, to contain it. The dulling of the feather is a profound answer to that selfishness. The children’s own willingness to care for the feather cleanses it once more. It’s a lovely analogy about selflessness, sharing joy, and finding hope together.
Blackwood’s illustrations are glorious. She creates a feather that is both light and weighty, radiant and white. It lights the world around it, then absorbs the darkness into itself in a way that is heartbreaking. Her vision of the gray world is haunting and aching for a brightening, a possibility.
A picture book that will spark discussion about hope, change and making a difference in your world as a child. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards, illustrated by Eric Barclay (9781524773748)
A very naive king and queen tell their fairy godmother that they want to start a family. They’d like a child that they can place either on the hearth next to a vase or out in the garden by the roses. They say that a boy would be great, but “any kid will do.” So at the next full moon, they open their castle door to discover a baby goat on their doorstep. They reluctantly bring the goat into their perfectly designed home where it immediately starts eating things, butting statues, and even pooping on the floor. When they remove the goat to the garden though, they eventually rush out on a rainy night to rescue it and bring it back home. They think it is only for one night, but soon the goat has lived with them for months. When the fairy godmother returns though, she is surprised about the goat and realizes that a mistake has been made! When the human child is discovered living with a goat family, she abruptly moves the children back to their biological parents. However, families aren’t quite that simple.
This fractured fairytale sets up the scene very quickly and the entire story moves at a wonderful pace. The text is simple and carries the story well, offering just enough detail to create plenty of humor. The chaos of a goat in their perfect lives is just right, eating everything in sight and destroying plenty of the rest. It’s a great metaphor for any new child entering a home and the destruction of the ideal plans that have been made. The resolution of the confusion of the child and kid is very satisfying and will have readers cheering along.
The illustrations by Barclay are wonderfully detailed and rich. He uses a nice mix of simple scenes and then more elaborate ones with some images having elaborate borders and others showing the splendor of the castle. The mix is very successful, always paying attention to leaving enough white space for the eye.
Let’s not kid around, this is a great picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.
We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett (9780316417273)
The war has been going on for years, the Union of the North now scrambling to keep ahead of the flying machines that are being used by the Elda. When her city is firebombed, Revna barely escapes death as she leaves her factory job in her wheelchair. The only reason she survives is that she uses illegal Weave magic to save herself; yet by doing so she reveals her powers. Her father is already in prison, so Revna expects the worst. She is saved by a new program that will teach female pilots to fly using Weave magic. That same program is where Linne finds herself after being discovered to be female while she served in the Union military. The daughter of a Union general, she desperately wants to fight rather than fly. Linne doesn’t trust Revna to be more than a liability thanks to her prosthetic limbs. Still, the two of them form a team in the air, neither of them willing to give up their one chance to fight and fly.
Bartlett weaves fantasy with a military story line that really creates something special on the page. Coming into a war that has been ongoing for years gives the book an immediate fatigue and desperation. It is that backdrop that allows the entire premise of the book to work, and one that is immediately believable. The world building is sound and interesting, based on the Soviet Night Witches who flew in World War II. The naming conventions in the book reflect that Soviet influence as well.
The story is told from the point of view of both main characters. Revna is a young woman who has been scarred by an accident, saved by her father, and then has suffered losses. She makes friends easily, yet is angered when people treat her as if she needs coddling. Linne meanwhile is pure steel, fighting to be taken seriously and always managing to anger the other female pilots along the way. She takes honor very seriously, clinging to the military structure to keep her world aright. Their interactions are difficult and angry, exactly what this book need to set it on fire.
A dramatic and magical look at war, resilience and respect. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.