Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico

Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico

Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico, illustrated by Karensac (9780593124178)

Aster has moved with her family away from the city and to a boring woods on a rural mountain. At first, she thinks they are just there for a brief time as her mother tries to deal with the lethal bird migration, but they have actually moved to the mountain permanently. When her father forces Aster out from in front of her video games, she discovers some oddities about her new home. There’s an old woman who has a herd of woolly dogs. The woman gives Aster one of the dogs, a little one with no wool. After that, Aster and her new pet discover a very strange rock in the middle of the woods, and it turns out to be a trickster that grants wishes. After a series of disastrous wishes, Aster gets things back on track. But things may still be awry, since now the seasons are failing to change, a fox is after a lot of power, and the old woman may have died. It’s up to Aster to figure out how to save the mountain that’s her home.

Pico takes the zany energy of cartoons and channels it into a book filled with twists and turns that are surprising and delightful. The reader never quite knows what is going to happen next. The book has time bubbles that change the way time is perceived, magic power stored in staffs, and talking dogs. It’s chaotic at times but in the best possible way and has a merry tone where one knows things will work out in the end, or perhaps take another twist before that happens.

The art is modern and full of humor. From woolly dogs to mountains with faces to tiny chestnut knights, each one is done with personality to spare. The art captures plenty of action, battles and magical moments.

A thrilling graphic novel with lots of love and laugh with. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

Enchanter’s Child: Twilight Hauntings by Angie Sage

Enchanter's Child Twilight Hauntings by Angie Sage

Enchanter’s Child: Twilight Hauntings by Angie Sage (9780062875143)

The author of the Septimus Heap series returns with a new fantasy world. Alex lives in Luma, where all magic is forbidden. She has a deck of Hex cards that come to life in her hands and show her images of the future. She’s always had them, given to her as a small child by the family that gave her away. But one jealous foster sister decides to name Alex as an enchanter and everything changes. Alex flees with her youngest foster brother into a world designed to hunt her down with magical hauntings. Her step mother is placed in jail for harboring her. As Alex escapes, she still doesn’t believe that she’s an enchanter’s child, though the Hauntings do target her. Meanwhile, her father who used to be an important enchanter, is searching for her. But it’s a large world, full of Hauntings that will kill them both, even though he designed them all.

Sage has a skill for developing entire worlds that click together beautifully as the story continues. Readers will wonder about why people don’t just flee the gloomy streets of Luma out to the countryside, and Sage has built dark and deadly reasons for them to stay behind the walls of the city. The entire world though is also piercingly beautiful with its citrus groves, deep woods, large meadows and turreted cities. Sage takes the time to fully build her world and its logic, allowing young readers to explore it alongside Alex.

Alex herself is a grand protagonist, figuring out that she actually is an enchanter’s child on her journeys. She is brave, forthright and clever. Happily, she is also joined by a large group of secondary characters who are all interesting as well. That includes her father, who was been hiding for years in the woods, eating snakes and spider eggs. He is joined by a person tasked with killing enchanters who just can’t bring himself to do it. Then you also have a family happy to help Alex, who have lost enchanters themselves.

Brilliantly structured, beautifully described settings, and great characters bring this new series fully alive. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.

The Deep Dark Blue by Niki Smith

The Deep Dark Blue by Niki Smith

The Deep Dark Blue by Niki Smith (9780316485982)

When their family is killed in front of them in a political coup, twin brothers Hawke and Grayson are forced into hiding. They become initiates into the Communion of Blue, a society of women who weave the blue thread of reality and can control the strings of power. Disguised as girls, the two must learn new ways of life, including battling unarmed rather than with swords and learning the spinning skills that girls are taught by their mothers. The siblings create their own plan to take back their royal home, using old and new skills. But Grayson, who has hidden as Grayce, is unwilling to leave the first place she’s been allowed to live as a girl.

Smith’s graphic novel has a wonderful edge to it in both story and imagery. The tale is timeless as is the need for vengeance. Yet Smith makes it modern with her art but also the inclusion of a transgender character as one of the main protagonists. Grayce’s identity is handled clearly and with sensitivity, allowing her to become fully herself as the story unfolds.

The art is spectacular, using a palette of blues, purples and pinks, this kingdom comes alive. The Communion of Blue is fascinating to learn more about, visually as well as in the story. The cast of characters is racially diverse as well.

A graphic novel full of magic, familial honor and LGBTQ representation. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (9781250171122)

Snap knows that the witch has taken her dog, probably to use him for a ritual or eat him. So she sneaks into the witch’s house to rescue him. But Snap discovers that Jacks isn’t really a witch after all and was actually trying to save her dog after an accident. Jacks is actually pretty cool, creating skeletons of animals from road kill and selling them online. Jacks also helps Snap when she discovers finds some baby opossums. As the two rear the opossums together, Snap discovers her own love of bones and science. But Jacks still has a surprise herself, real magic, that she can help Snap learn too.

This graphic novel is such a treat of a book. It offers a heroine who is not afraid to be different from the stereotypical girl, exploring death, animals and magic. In the story, Snap gains a best friend, Lou, someone who is exploring their gender. Lou finds support with Snap and her mother, who share clothes and offer a safe space. The story also offers background on Jacks and Snap’s grandmother with a sad tale of love that had to make way, or did it?

The writing is superb, the plotting is clever and clear. The art is phenomenal with race and gender playing major roles. The characters are deep, well conceived and very diverse.

A marvelous and magical graphic novel that includes LGBT, race and gender elements. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver 

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver 

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver (9780062345073)

There are monsters in the world, though few people believe they are actually real. Cordelia and her father help monsters that get hurt, moving them into their house on Cedar Street. The house is bedraggled and unkempt, but the monsters love it, each one finding their own special space inside. The only place that no one is allowed to enter is Cordelia’s mother’s study which has been forbidden since her disappearance nine years ago. Cordelia is used to a house filled with weird noises, so when she awakens to silence one morning she knows that something has happened. Her father and all of the monsters have disappeared. The only ones left are hiding in the oven: a baby dragon and an old filch. As Cordelia sets off to find them, she is joined by Gregory, a boy who lives on the streets and has a monster of his own, a zombie puppy that Cordelia helped save. They must find the monsters and her father, rescue them and perhaps even expose a sinister organization that is targeting monsters of all kinds. It’s a harrowing journey for a girl, a handful of monsters and a new friend. 

The book begins with passages from Cordelia’s mother’s book about monsters which explain the monster themselves and then also link them to how they evolved. This clever use of a book mentioned regularly in the story also allows Oliver to keep the story streamlined and not filled with monster exposition when each new one arrives. The story itself is animated and great fun with wild dashes of action, near catastrophes, kindred spirits and harrowing danger. It’s a story that could feel out of control, but Oliver keeps it pointed in the right direction even when the reader isn’t quite sure which way is up. She also asks larger questions about who the monsters really are and how humans become a true evil monster on the inside. 

The characters are marvelous, each one unique and interesting. Cordelia is brave and creative, nicely solving some of their most dire situations. Gregory is a natural with the monsters and is always willing to lend a hand even if he might get nipped. The monsters are fascinating and varied with just enough similarity to other animals and creatures to be able to be pictured clearly in one’s mind. After all, who wouldn’t want a zombie puppy!

Fast paced fantasy with lots of monsters both wild and human. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

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.