The author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs returns with a new marvelous read for middle graders. Lark and Iris are twins. It’s the thing that everyone notices about them. They are very different underneath their physical similarities. Iris is rational, protective and always willing to argue. Lark is dreamy, creative and sensitive. When the two girls are separated for the first time into different classrooms at school, Lark retreats into herself. She has several humiliating experiences that Iris can’t find a way to help with. Meanwhile, Iris finds herself being quieter without Lark to speak up for and has difficulty finding her own way. She is drawn to a strange new antiques shop and begins to spend time there reading old books that belonged to a mysterious “Alice.” The man in the shop is extremely odd, talking about magic and collections. Other odd things are happening as well with art disappearing around the city and crows gathering in the trees. When Iris finds herself in real danger, the mysteries begin to make horrible sense, but she isn’t sure that anyone will even care she is gone.
Ursu once again weaves an incredible tale of magic. This one is set in Minneapolis and Ursu beautifully shares elements of the northern Midwest and the Twin Cities in the story. The setting of anchors this tale in reality which works particularly well as the reveal of the magical part of the book is so gradual. The book is nearly impossible to summarize well or concisely because there are so many elements to the story. As you read though, it is a cohesive whole, a world that Ursu builds for the reader with real skill where the elements click together by the end of the book.
While the book is about both Lark and Iris, the focus is primarily on Iris, the more prickly and outspoken sister. Lark is seen through the lens of Iris’ concern for her and Lark’s opinion of her own role with her sister isn’t shared until towards the end of the book. That reveal is one of the most powerful elements of the book, demonstrating how Iris has not been seeing things clearly at all. The narrator voice is just as well done, creating a feeling of a tale within a tale, where magic is real all along.
A grand adventure of a book full of magic and girl power. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Walden Pond Press.
Fionn has never visited his grandfather on Arranmore Island. His mother left and never returned after his father died in a storm. So Fionn is surprised to find that his grandfather is seen as a very important man on the island. He is the Storm Keeper and it is his job to capture memories and weather in candles that are then released when lit. As Fionn learns of the magic of the island itself, he discovers that another boy from a different island family is planning to use up the single wish given to their entire generation. Now Fionn must race him to find the hidden sea cave and make a wish that could save his family. Fionn grows more and more connected to the island as he spends time and explores, but something dark is also reaching out to him, something that wants Fionn’s very soul.
Doyle weaves a complex and intricate tale in this book for middle-grade readers. The island setting of the book is truly a character in the tale since the island is aware and able to control certain things. The island is rough and rugged, a place filled with opportunities, magic and danger. Fionn is connected to the island in a deep way that is revealed throughout the book. Doyle’s writing is fresh and honest. She gives Fionn and the reader a chance to explore for themselves and discover the layers of magic on Arranmore as the story progresses. There is a lot going on in this book with a magical island, a historic mage battle, family problems, dementia, depression and more. But it written in a way that allows readers to steadily take on the information. The book is a complete world rather than a narrow peek inside.
Fionn is a strongly-written character as is his grandfather. Those two are the most robustly drawn characters in the novel. Fionn is a younger sibling, tormented by his older sister most of the time. He is excluded from being with the others his age and spends much of his time alone with his grandfather or out on the island. His tie to his dead father is a major theme, since the islanders know he looks just like him. Fionn’s grandfather is a man steeped in magic. His candles surround him filled with memories even as his own mind fails him. He exudes warmth and charm, working to make sure the next Storm Keeper will succeed against the darkness that is coming. Their relationship is bittersweet, one of lost opportunities with Fionn’s father and a sense of impending loss due to the grandfather’s worsening memory.
Unique and dynamic, this novel is full of magic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Bronte has been raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler since she was a tiny baby. Still, it’s a shock when she discovers at age 10 that her parents have been killed by pirates. Her parents send her on a journey with strict rules and a tight schedule where she will meet all ten of her aunts and then everyone will come together for a party in her parents’ honor. Bronte may even get to meet her maternal grandfather, who lives near where the party will be held. As Bronte sets off on her travels though, they become more and more unique and strange. There are fairies, magicians who can whisper directly into your brain, potions, and spells. Then there is the question of who Bronte herself actually is and whether she will ever discover the truth about herself.
I am not one for travel stories where the protagonist takes all sorts of conveyances through a magical world, and yet this one is so very charming with pieces that click together so beautifully that I could not put it down. Nicely, Moriarty minimizes the travel pieces by often skipping them altogether, something that is downright applause-worthy on its own. Moriarty sets just the right tone here, allowing readers to gather that they are in a magical world slowly and then explore what that means alongside Bronte. Her world building is complex and yet also compact, keeping the story very tightly focused and enjoyable.
Bronte is a marvelous protagonist mostly because she is not the adventurous type and has spent much of her life alone with adults. Moriarty writes her like that throughout the book. She enjoys the company of other children, and yet has a wariness that makes sense given her upbringing and recent loss. As Bronte and the reader slowly piece together the full puzzle, this book really comes into its own, ending up being a grand and magical adventure where each element was necessary and important.
A marvelous fantasy for young readers, this journey is one worth taking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.
When Grisha was a young dragon still learning of the dangers of the world, he is trapped by a magician into the shape of a teapot. He spends decades trapped in that form, decorating the rooms of the emperor and then joining the household of a small family. Luckily, the father of the family knows how to see magic and realizes what Grisha is. When Grisha is finally released from the spell, he is sent to Vienna to join the rest of the world’s dragons there. It is now after World War II and Grisha is one of the lucky dragons who still walks the streets of the city. He meets a very special little girl, Maggie, and they become close friends. But when Grisha starts to remember what happened to the other dragons, the two feel compelled to try to solve the puzzle and rescue the surviving dragons from the magic that binds them. But at what cost?
Weyr has written a very unique fantasy novel for children that is firmly grounded in the real city of Vienna and world history, but adds dragons and other magic as a vibrant layer on top of that foundation. The world building is cleverly done, meshing history and fantasy into something new and very special. The story is accompanied by illustrations done in black and white that are like small framed windows into the story.
The characters of Grisha and Maggie are compelling. Grisha is immediately fascinating partly because he is a dragon who isn’t quite sure of how a dragon should act. Maggie is a character who has grown up very lonely and then makes one of the best friends ever. Throughout the story there is an air of tragedy, of lost years, of forgotten tragedies. This melancholy only grows larger as the end of the book nears. I recommend having a few tissues on hand.
Beautiful, haunting and tragic, this is a special fantasy for young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Zélie has spent most of her life training to fight with a staff, hoping that if her village is attacked again she will be able to defend herself. When she was a little girl, she watched her mother be dragged off and murdered. It was the night the world lost magic and she lost her mother. Now thanks to an accidental meeting with the realm’s princess who is on the run, Zélie has a chance to restore magic to the land. But first she must reunite three magic items together and evade capture by the crown prince who is hunting them down. Zélie must also figure out her own emerging magic just as the crown prince is discovering his own even as he works to destroy magic forever. Traveling through the land, Zélie finds unlikely allies, new enemies and tests the strength of an entire monarchy bent on stopping her.
What an amazing read this is! It is a world that no one has seen before, a world anchored by Black Lives Matter that will echo for fans of Black Panther. It is a book that is incredibly well written, incorporating elements of African culture directly into the fantasy world that is so beautifully rendered here. The world is one that is explored fully, from climbing mountains with surprise fields of flowers to surviving the dangers of the desert to the lush jungles that hide dangers. Throughout this world, there are flares of magic that illuminate the wonder and the possibility of a people refusing to be cowed any longer.
Zélie herself is an amazing protagonist. She is ferocious, loyal and strong. She takes on everything thrown at her, shouldering far more than her own share of every burden. She is inspiring, chosen by the gods and yet still learning to harness her powers. Adeyemi does not hold back in testing her young hero, creating scenes that are excruciating to read. Yet no one will be able to put this novel down until the end and then will crave the next book in the series immediately.
Powerful and strong, this magical read will soon be made into a movie. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.
Brienna has never known who her father is, only that he is from neighboring Maevana. When her grandfather takes her to Magnalia House and has her accepted as a student of passion, Brienna discovers a new home. Among the handful of other students, Brienna discovers sisters as well as her own interest in history. As Brienna gets ready to master her passion for knowledge and leave Magnalia House, her plans go awry and she doesn’t complete the graduation ceremony and find a patron. Instead, her flashbacks of memories from a mysterious ancestor tie her closely to those who would restore a queen to the throne of Maevana and dethrone the imposter king. As war brews, Brienna becomes the linchpin to a plan that takes her into the heart of her homeland of Maevana and the dangers of political intrigue generations in the making.
Ross has deftly woven a story set in medieval times with glimpses of magic. Her story is firmly feminist, calling for queens to sit on thrones, the power of magic in women’s hands, and the ability of women to create plans that are daring and effective. The world created here is tightly drawn, two neighboring nations with differences in cultures that come together in Brienna. Ross also incorporates the fall of a queen and the resulting ramifications of her loss. It’s beautifully drawn, some of it revealed only towards the end of the novel to complete the picture.
Brienna is an incredible protagonist. She is humble and yet clearly bright and gifted, just with different gifts than the school for passion may be looking for. Her ability to plot and plan, learn to use a sword, and adjust her reactions to political turns shows how clever she is. There is a lovely romantic tension in the book as well, kept quite proper and reserved and yet smoldering at the same time.
An intelligent and well crafted teen novel filled with political intrigue and a woman who will lead the way to change. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.
Camellia and her sisters were born Belles. They are children of the Goddess of Beauty and given talents that let them bestow beauty on other people. The people of Orleans are born with gray skin and red eyes and must be transformed by Belles. Each generation, one Belle is chosen to be the Queen’s favorite. Camellia knows that she is destined to be the favorite, just as her mother was. But it is not that simple as one of her sisters is selected over her, because Camellia has refused to be confined by the rules. When the favorite position is offered later, Camellia jumps at the chance to take her sister’s place. But behind all of the beauty and opulence there is darkness, hidden truths and poisonous hatred. Can Camellia survive in court? And if so, how will she be asked to break the rules now?
Clayton has written a stunning first book in a trilogy. She has crafted a claustrophobic world of glitter, dazzle and beauty that is conveyed with fine detail and a sense of wonder. Throughout though, she has laced the story with pain, intrigue, lies and a sense of foreboding of the darkness to come. There is a finely wrought sense of unease even as the Belles make people beautiful.
Camellia is a great heroine, complicated and naive. Seeing the court through her eyes allows readers first to see the beauty only and then steadily as Camellia comes to understand the power struggles in court, to see them along with her. The pacing of the novel is slow at first and then downright breakneck at the end. I look forward to the rest of the series showing us more of the world that Clayton has created.
A mesmerizing first novel from an incredible new talent. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Morrigan has grown up apologizing for her existence because she is a cursed child. Her lifespan is shortened, and she knows she is doomed to die on the midnight before her eleventh birthday. But when that night arrives, Morrigan is rescued and taken away to Nevermoor. There she lives in a vast and magical hotel powered by Wunder with her rescuer, Jupiter North. Jupiter enters Morrigan into a series of trials to gain entrance into the Wundrous Society, but everyone who competes and gets accepted must have a knack. The only knack that Morrigan has is creating disasters with her curse, but Jupiter won’t tell her what her gift is. Soon the police are after Morrigan as a refugee and only passing the trials will keep her alive, if she can survive them.
Townsend has created a gorgeous new world with nods to Harry Potter but entirely its own magical place. Nevermoor is a delight to explore along with Morrigan from the hotel that customizes the rooms the more you stay in them to the holiday season come to life to jumping off of buildings with umbrellas. The details woven into the rollicking story create a world that is vibrant and interesting. Still, there are monsters and secrets and scares too, a delectable mix that keeps the pages turning.
Morrigan is a great heroine. A girl who was doomed to death and never appreciated is suddenly thrust into a world of her dreams. She refuses to change, wearing black when others are in bright colors, figuring things out on her own, and yet also forging strong friendships along the way. The secondary characters are also well drawn and complex, adding even more depth to the book.
Recommend this one to fans of fantasy and Harry Potter, it’s a magical read. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Little Brown.)
This second book from the author of Circus Mirandus takes readers deep into the Okefenokee Swamp. Blue has known his entire life that he is cursed. He can’t win at anything, no matter how hard he tries. His most recent loss was when his arm was broken standing up to a bully at school. Now his father, who always wins, has dropped him off for the summer at his grandmother’s house. The mystical red moon is rising this summer and Blue will have the chance to break his curse if he can reach the golden alligator before anyone else. But it’s complicated as his grandmother may need her curse broken more badly than anyone else and the entire family is there to compete for the right to head into the swamp. Meanwhile, Blue meets Tumble, a girl desperate to be a hero and who wants to save Blue from his delusion of always losing. But is it a delusion or is it ancient magic at work?
Beasley has written a wonderful second novel that tells a fascinating story of greed and sacrifice even as it speaks to the importance of losing sometimes in life. The book reads easily even as it deals with deeper issues of family, betrayal, love and heroism. It is far more complex than readers may expect as different themes weave beautifully together to form the whole tale. The ribbon of clear magic that swirls throughout the book takes it directly into fantasy even as it is firmly rooted in the real world too. It’s a winning mix.
The two main characters are fascinating. Blue struggles with his constant losing and yet never quite gives up to it. He continues to try to run faster, is willing to attempt to break the curse in different ways. He is a hero who is easily related to, taken in by extended family and looking for home. Tumble is a girl who has lived in an RV for most of her life. Her problems becoming a hero are indications that she too may have a curse she has never realized is there. Even though she fails regularly at being a hero, she too perseveres and is resilient in the face of her challenges.
A vibrant and strong story of failure and heroism. Appropriate for ages 9-12.