The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr (9781452159584)
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.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (9781250170972)
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.
The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross (9780062471345)
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.
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (9781484728499)
Released February 6, 2018.
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.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney-Hyperion.
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (9780316439954)
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.)
Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley (9780525428442, Amazon)
Released August 29, 2017.
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.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.
The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby (9780062306937, Amazon)
This first book in a series introduces readers to an alternative New York City, filled with amazing machines built by the Morningstarr twins in the 1800’s. There are servant robots, skyscrapers, elevators that don’t just go up and down, beetle-machines that clean the roads, and many more. The Morningstarrs left behind a cipher to be solved that would lead to treasure, and even though people have worked for cipher for over fifty years, no solution has been found. Tess, Theo and Jaime live in one of the Morningstarr buildings that is unfortunately slated to be torn down. While their families scramble to find somewhere new to live, the three of them discover a potential new cipher that may lead them to the treasure and save the building they love. Now they just have to solve it.
Ruby has beautifully weaved an alternative New York City in this novel. She imagines it filled with amazing technology that has a magical element to it. It’s rather like magic-powered steampunk. She combines this with riddles and ciphers, puzzles to work out and then provides distinct villains to fight as well. The result is a book that is entirely delightful to read and impossible to put down as one new discovery immediately leads to another.
The three main characters are strongly written and offer a diverse cast. Tess keeps up and surpasses the boys at times, offering a strong feminist take on events as she does so. All of them are exceedingly bright in their own way, from being logical and sometimes robotic to looking at the world through art. There is a celebration of different intelligence types here that is great to see.
This mix of magic, technology, mysteries and ciphers is exceptional and just right for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Walden Pond Press.
Rabbit Magic by Meg McLaren
The key to a great magic show is picking the right assistant. Houdini, the white rabbit, was the perfect assistant until an unfortunate magical accident which turned the magician, M. Lapin, into a rabbit. Now it was up to Houdini to carry on with the show and he got so good at it that he became a real star. But even as he created more and more elaborate magic tricks, he realized that the magician was never happy being a rabbit. It may be time for Houdini’s greatest trick of all, giving someone else a turn in the spotlight. Literally.
McLaren uses words very judiciously here, creating a picture book that is marvelously approachable for preschool audiences. The text is used just enough to keep the story flowing forward and to keep the pacing as brisk as any good magic show. There is also plenty of humor throughout the book, keeping readers entertained with rabbit antics and plenty of magic.
The illustrations are such a part of this book. Words appear sometimes as part of the pictures and other times the illustrations are telling the full story. The magic is shown with stars filling the page and transformations are depicted in stages. The style has a wonderful vintage cartoon feel that is warm and nostalgic.
A funny bunny picture book with enough action and magic to keep everyone happy. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter (InfoSoup)
When the nights in Brooklyn seem to be getting longer and longer, lasting almost entire days, Vassa finds herself looking forward to school just not to be home any longer. Part of it is her stepmother and stepsisters and part is pure boredom. It doesn’t help that Erg, the wooden doll that Vassa’s mother gave her before she died, is stealing things from her stepsisters which are then blamed on Vassa. So when one of her stepsisters basically dares Vassa to head to the dangerous local convenience store, Vassa accepts the challenge. She heads to Babs Yagg’s store, the one that dances on chicken legs and that you have to sing down. She makes sure that Erg is with her, as always, and knows that she is in for an unusual experience. What Vassa doesn’t realize is that she is headed straight into her dangerous destiny and will discover an entire magical world that she never knew existed: one with bleeding swans, a dark motorcyclist, severed hands, and beheaded teens.
Inspired by the Russian folktale, Vassilissa the Beautiful, this novel for teens embraces all of the strange and bizarre in that story and takes it even further. Baba Yaga’s home on chicken feet becomes an amazing convenience store filled with some treats that are tempting and others that seem odd and still others that nauseate. The modern Babs Yagg is still very much a witch, and one that toys with her prey in haunting and excruciating ways. There are impossible tasks, the need for plenty of bravery, and real loss and death threatened at every turn.
This is a mesmerizing book, one that is filled with gorgeous writing that stays out of its own way and then rises beautifully to create new moods. Throughout the book the story turns briefly away and into other perspectives like those of the swans themselves or of the attorneys who are after Babs. The language changes and weaves new patterns, creating completely different worlds and experiences and then gently carrying the reader back to the main story. It’s a powerful magic all its own.
Beautifully written, this twist on a folktale is bizarre, wild and extraordinary. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Tor Teen.