Review: A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer (9781681195117)

This second book in the Cursebreakers series follows A Curse So Dark and Lonely. With the curse broken and Lilith killed, everything is still difficult in Emberfall. Now there are rumors of the legitimate heir, one who should replace Prince Rhen as monarch. Harper is still at Rhen’s side, but Grey has disappeared. Grey is working as a stablehand in a far-off town, trying to keep from being noticed. By the time he is discovered, he has made two life-long friends, one who is captured with him. When Grey refuses to speak the name of the heir, Rhen has him and his friend flogged, which brings Grey’s latent magic bursting forth. On the run for his life, he is joined by Lia Mara, the daughter of the queen of a neighboring land which promises him shelter if he will stand against Rhen. 

I am ever so delighted that this book features Grey prominently rather than Rhen. Even better, Lia Mara is a complex and dark heroine to put at Grey’s side, a woman who has physical strength, moral fortitude, and her own skills at weapons. She is more than a match for him. The characters are deep and interesting, including the secondary characters who will surprise readers by being far more than they may seem. 

This novel moves away from the first’s ties to Beauty and the Beast, making Emberfall and its neighboring lands into a rich tapestry for the fantasy novel. While some contact is made with Harper’s modern world, the vast majority of the book stays in Emberfell and Syhl Shallow, hinting at an even larger world to explore as well. 

Vibrant, rich and marvelously romantic with a slow burn, this novel is a grand sequel to the first. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury.

Review: Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

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Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi (9781250170996)

After returning magic to the world, Zelie and Amari now face the betrayal that happened in the first novel of the series. Amari is determined to take the throne herself now that her entire family lies dead. Zelie discovers that Mama Agba still lives and has created an enclave of powerful magi in the mountains. Zelie joins them as they honor her as the Soldier of Death and quickly rises to become an elder among them. Meanwhile, Inan isn’t dead and neither is the queen. They restore their own grip on the throne and its power. Amari joins Zelie with the magi, determined to try to make peace with her brother though no one agrees with her. The two sides continue to war with one another, battles repeating between the new titans and the magi. As magic in the country continues to evolve and grow, both sides try to harness it for their own victory. But everything is complicated by efforts to forge a new way forward in the midst of the chaos.

Oh my it’s hard to summarize this middle book of a trilogy without tons of spoilers. I’ve tried, offering only spoilers that happen in the first chapters and that I needed to have my summary make any sort of sense. The novel is a strong second book in the series when sophomore books are often the weakest. It does more than serve as a bridge between beginning and ending, moving the entire story of the world forward. It also moves ahead the stories of characters we love, giving them power, loss, grief and love along the way.

The ending of the book is spectacular and worth the bit of meandering pace in the middle. There are moments throughout the book that stand out and offer real insight into the characters and their motivation. The world building is exceptional and becomes even more clear in this second book.

A strong second novel in an outstanding series. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy (9780525518587)

Eva is a princess whose magick is tied to blood and marrow. She’s the first royal with that magick combination since Queen Raina, who massacred thousands of the native populations hundreds of years ago. Because her magick is so rare, Eva hasn’t learned how to use it yet, something that is particularly problematic when you are destined to fight your sister to the death in order to be the next Queen. Eva loves to travel incognito into the city at night to dance and forget her destiny for awhile. But when she is attacked by an assassin, she gets her first taste of her magick really working thanks to the blood she is drenched in. Eva now must find the key to her powers and discovers a legendary Fey warrior who just may have the answers for her. For the first time, she thinks she may just have a chance, but it won’t be easy as those around her become targets for her enemies too. 

Joy’s fantasy novel has strong roots in North Africa. She has created a magical fantasy realm filled with several different races with their own powers. Humans are the interlopers, who killed many on their way to both the throne and coming into their own magick powers. There is a strong sense of justice in the novel, where it is clear that the current Queen and Eva’s sister have never questioned what brought them the lives they have. Eva on the other hand has many questions, mostly about the races of the land but also about her own powers and what they say about her as a potential Queen and the bloodshed that may follow.

This novel is at its best during the action sequences where Eva is battling enemies and trying out her new powers on allies. In these scenes, the writing is tight and weaves a clear image of what is happening with breathtaking speed. The romance scenes are well written and an important element in the overall storyline. Joy focuses on characters and action, not lingering overly long on descriptions of the setting, which makes this a fast and intense read.

Full of bloody battles with a female protagonist who kicks ass, this book is a great read. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

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.

Review: This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews (9781626720534)

At the Autumn Equinox Festival, the town sends paper lanterns down the river. Legend says that the lanterns will drift away and end up floating into the sky and become stars. Ben and his group of friends have a pact to follow the river and see if the legend is actually true. But as their bike ride in the darkness gets longer, the kids start to head back home one-by-one. Finally, it is just Ben and Nathaniel, a boy who has been hanging at the back because he doesn’t fit in. Little do both of them know that this is just the beginning of a huge adventure. It’s an adventure that will take them to meet a fisherman bear who is also following the glowing lanterns, to a potion  maker who is having a very busy night, and into a cave that happens to be filled with starlight.

This graphic novel is amazing. It has a sense of wonder throughout from the very moment the lanterns are set afloat to the final pages of the book. One never quite knows what is going to happen next, which makes for an enticing read. The world building is well done, the different pieces of the story seeming to not fit until they click neatly into place. The characters are well developed and consistent throughout the book, their decisions making sense as the story progresses. The art is luminous and modern, inviting readers into a marvelous world.

A great graphic novel for elementary and middle grades, it is magical. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

Review: The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu (9780062275097)

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.

 

 

Review: The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

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The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle (9781408896884)

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.

Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury.

 

 

Review: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty (
9781338255843)

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.

Review: The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr

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.