Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

Cover image for Blood Like Magic.

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury (9781534465282)

Voya’s time to get her Calling has finally arrived. While she isn’t excited about the trial that she must undergo, she is thrilled that she will get her witch’s power. Voya hopes that her power will set the course for the rest of her life, likely keeping her close at home with her multigenerational family who live in a house that was magically moved to Canada. When Voya’s hesitation causes her to have to ask her ancestor for another chance, she is given an impossible task: to destroy her first love. If Voya doesn’t succeed, every witch in her family will lose their magic. It also means that Voya’s young sister will die since magic keeps her alive. As Voya tries to get her cousin a great internship, she also meets a boy who is the perfect genetic match for her. The trouble is, they don’t like each other at all and he has no interest in even meeting her again. As Voya struggles to solve the mystery of her Calling, she learns more about her family’s pure magic, the cost of darker magical power, and what duty to her family means.

This book is full of Black magic that is at once both powerful but also marvelously mundane. Sambury brings us into a family of witches who are coming to the end of their power and tied to being pure, meaning that they won’t kill or torture other people to gain power. The family dynamics are beautifully drawn, from divorced parents who are forced to live together under the same roof to a grandmother who controls them all to a group of cousins who are very different from one another but also watch out and help one another constantly. The dialog is well written, full of small touches that bring each character to life.

Voya is an unusual protagonist. First, she has not only her parents but a huge extended family around her all the time. Second, she has trouble making choices that impact her life to the point of grinding to a halt regularly. When given tasks that force her to make decisions, she falters but doesn’t give up. She finds other ways, other paths and asks for help. This is the opposite of a solo protagonist, as she is surrounded by people who love her even if they don’t trust that she will succeed.

Magical, powerful and unique, this novel is fantastic. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by McElderry Books.

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue

Cover image for All Our Hidden Gifts.

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue (9781536213942)

When Maeve finds a deck of tarot cards while clearing out a closet at school during her suspension, she soon realizes that she has a talent for telling people’s fortunes. Maeve isn’t talented in general, not musical or good at school. As she starts to tell everyone’s fortunes secretly at school, she becomes friends with Fiona, perhaps her first real friend after she pushed Lili away. But when she tells Lili’s fortune reluctantly and wishes Lili would disappear, a frightening Housekeeper card appears and soon after, Lili vanishes. Considered a witch by all the students at school, Maeve tries to figure out what happened to Lili and if she is the one who made her leave. Meanwhile, Maeve is growing closer to Lili’s older brother, Roe, who is honest with Lili about being genderqueer. As they try to solve the mystery of Lili’s disappearance, a malevolent force emerges, one who is putting people Maeve loves in direct danger. With growing desperation, Maeve must decide how much she is willing to sacrifice to fix the imbalance she may have created.

Looking for a fantasy book for teens about witches and tarot that is legitimately creepy and not trite in the least? This is the book for you! Free of tropes that plague this sort of teen novel, this Irish read is a dark delight of a novel. Add in the modern issues of women’s rights, racism, hate crimes and the threats against LGBTQ people and this is also a book that looks deeply at our world and insists that Maeve acknowledges her own privilege and bias without scolding.

The three main characters are a marvel. Maeve is the best mixture of lack of self-esteem, witchcraft power and sarcasm. Roe is at first shy and near silent and steadily reveals himself to Maeve and to the reader. The hot kisses are marvelous, particularly as they involve an unapologetic and genderqueer character. Fiona is a talented actress with almost no friends, a huge extended family and a desire to be something more than what society is always assigning to her as a Filipina girl. This is not a cast you see often in teen novels about witchcraft.

Haunting witchcraft with social justice and feminism. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Walker Books.

The Memory Thief by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Cover image.

The Memory Thief by Jodi Lynn Anderson (9781481480215)

The first in the Thirteen Witches trilogy, this fantasy novel tells the story of Rosie Oaks who survived a witch attack as a newborn baby. She was left though with a mother who cannot love her and can barely care for her at all. Rosie has always known her mother to be this way, so she doesn’t expect anything else. Rosie spends her time reading books and writing her own stories until one day she decides that she is too old for them and burns her stories. That triggers the sight, allowing her to see the ghosts that live all around her. Ebb, a ghost boy, shows her the Witch Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, a book her mother hid that contains all she knew about the thirteen witches that control the world. Rosie discovers that her mother has been cursed, her memories stolen by the Memory Thief, a witch who may be the weakest but is also unstoppable. As Rosie learns more about the witches, her mother’s curse, family secrets and friendship, she realizes that she is the one who must now hunt the witch but at what cost?

Anderson has written a unique fantasy novel where witches are profoundly powerful beings, able to steal memories, stop time, and inflict curses. The world building is skillfully crafted, offering a world parallel to our own where a ladder goes to the moon, where ghosts exist and strive to head to the Beyond, and where witch hunters have magical weapons they craft themselves. Through Rosie, readers get to experience the wonder of discovering that world as well as feel the tragedy of her mother’s curse deeply too.

Anderson populates her book with characters who are fascinating and worthy of their own novels. There is Ebb, the ghost boy who has his pet ghost spider and who befriends Rosie when she needs it most. There is Germ, Rosie’s only friend, who loves Rosie and can see ghosts suddenly just like Rosie can. There is the Murderer, an angry ghost with his own tragic story who Rosie discovers holds the secret to her own survival as an infant. The Memory Thief herself is a fascinating mix of tragedy, danger and horror.

A great start to a new fantasy trilogy, this book mixes ghosts, magic and witches into something spectacularly new. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin.

The Poisoned Apple by Anne Lambelet

Cover image for The Poisoned Apple

The Poisoned Apple by Anne Lambelet (9781645670605)

This picture book retells the story of Snow White and the poisoned apple. This version focuses very cleverly on the witch herself. It tells of the hard work she put into creating just one poisoned apple and no more. The witch gets the apple directly into Snow White’s basket, but then her plans go awry as the apple is passed to the dwarves as part of their lunch. Luckily, none of them take a bite, instead sharing the apple with some hungry forest animals, who in turn share it with a squirrel looking for food for her babies. As the squirrel climbs high into the tree, the witch follows, desperate to get the apple back and give it to Snow White. But her plans continue to fail her as the branch snaps from beneath her weight.

Lambelet has very nicely twisted and fractured this retelling of the classic Snow White story. The book will work best for children who know the classic version, as this one quickly moves away from that tale and into a riff of its own. Snow White and the dwarves make appearances, but are not the main focus of the story. The witch herself stays at the center, conniving and evil, making this just right for a witchy Halloween read.

The art is marvelous, full of fine lined details that come together to form dramatic moments that fill the page. From the creation of the poisoned apple itself to the witch’s fall from the tree, these moments are elongated by the art and the format to great effect.

This witch-focused retelling of Snow White is creepy, dark and satisfying. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Page Street Kids.

The Montague Twins: The Witch’s Hand by Nathan Page

The Montague Twins The Witch's Hand by Nathan Page

The Montague Twins: The Witch’s Hand by Nathan Page and Drew Shannon (9780525646761)

Pete and Alastair make money solving mysteries along with their stepsister. When a magical storm appears near the lighthouse, elements of their skills are suddenly revealed. Despite being separated from one another during the storm, all three of the teens meet the witch behind the magic. Soon they are taking new lessons from a student of their guardian, magic power lessons! With three girls missing, including the daughter of the prominent Bradford family, there is a mystery to be solved that will require both their detective skills and their emerging magical powers.

This is the first graphic novel in a planned duology, which is good enough for readers to hope for even more than two! The book is set in the late 1960’s, giving it an engaging original Scooby Doo meets Sabrina vibe. Sprinkled liberally with humor, thanks to the twins, the book offers adults who stand back and let the teens solve mysteries but who also provide solid support and knowledge themselves. It also has a great villain, though untangling who that might be is a big part of the fun.

The art is engagingly 1960’s as well with apparel and cars clearly placing it in time. Using bold colors and classic cartoon boxing, the result is dynamic and engaging with clear nods to comics that have gone before.

A winning new series that offers magic and mystery. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky (9780593124185)

When Lalek and Sanja meet at the marketplace, their lives could not be more different. Lalek is a traveling witch while Sanja works at her family’s market stall. Lalek also sells fake items, which lands her in some trouble. It’s during one of those incidents that the two girls meet, with Lalek taking Sanja hostage and forcing her to teach Lalek how to fight. Soon the two reach an understanding where Lalek won’t use her magic to force Sanja to comply, Lalek will stop cheating people, and Sanja will teach her to fight. The two also come up with a plan on how to make money by challenging the witches in each village to a duel. As the two journey on, Lalek’s tragic story is revealed along with the loss of her real magic. The two bond with one another from the beginning, steadily forming a romantic connection with each other.

Set in a diverse medieval fantasy universe, this graphic novel demands that people of all races and abilities be seen and accepted. The various witches are a marvel of different ages, magic types and races. There are bigots and evil in the world too, some close to home. The book is full of action from the witches’ battles as well as journeys through fascinating lands with interesting features. The development of the two main characters is well done and their romance feels organic and fills the pages with joy.

The art is fresh with nods to manga. It takes time to offer special glances between the two characters before the true romance begins as well as dramatic frames that are quiet yet profound. Zabarsky successfully plays with light and dark in the illustrations, illuminating space with Lalek’s candle.

Perfect for fans of Nimona, this book beautifully shows LGBTQ romance in a magical fantasy world. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon (9781534449671)

Yolanda’s family has lived on the pecan farm for generations, but they aren’t accepted by the townsfolks who call the brujas, or witches. Yolanda herself seems to have not gotten a magical gift though. Her younger sister has hers, with bees flying around her head and the ability to make plants grow and flower. It’s similar to her Wela’s gift with butterflies. Now though, Yolanda’s family is dwindling with only her sister and grandmother left. As her grandmother falls into a strange sleep, Yolanda sets out on a journey across their property. Joining her is her ex-best friend, her sister whom she also isn’t really speaking to, and a boy who may have a big crush on Yolanda. The grass has magically grown over the last few days, obstructing the view across their land, lengthening the journey to several days rather than hours, and putting real dangers in their path. They must all work together, Wela included, to complete the journey and find the answers to their family puzzle.

Impossible to summarize in any way that makes sense, this novel is a marvel of natural magic, connection to a place, and an in-depth exploration of a family. The connection to nature is evident throughout the novel both in the way that characters can work their magic with insects and plants but also through the grass that grows and the way the land stretches to create a world to explore. Throughout the book there is an intensity, a focus that allows the strange world to become solid and real.

A large part of that intensity is Yolanda herself, a character who holds grudges and demands to walk her own path, even if it’s foolish. She has lost contact with the people she had been closest to in the world, her best friend and sister, and had also lost connection with her grandfather before his death. The journey is just as much about her finding a way back to these people as it is about solving the larger family puzzle.

Strange and unique, this magical realism novel is an enticing summer read. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by McElderry Books.

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.

Review: Mooncakes by Wendy Xu

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker (9781549303043)

Nova lives with her grandmothers and helps out in their magical bookshop where they serve witches in the community with potion ingredients as well as spell books. One night, she discovers someone from her childhood in the woods, a werewolf named Tam. Tam has been battling a horse demon in the woods. Nova’s grandmothers head into the woods to capture the demon and discover something with far more power than they expected. Something is out to get Tam and merge werewolf magic with the demon. As Nova and Tam try to figure out the key to accessing Tam’s werewolf powers, they steadily fall for one another too. When the villain targeting Tam is revealed it will take everything they have to defeat them.

This graphic novel is an intoxicating mix of fantasy and romance with strong LGBTQ elements. The characters are layered and complex, something that is more difficult to achieve in a graphic novel format. The childhood connection between Tam and Nova gives them a place to build from in their relationship. The romance is lovely and sweet, progressing naturally as the two become closer. Family elements are also vital to the story from the grandmothers to ghost parents who also have opinions about how Nova is being raised.

Tam uses the pronouns they/them/theirs which is great to see in a graphic novel for teens. The grandmothers are a lesbian couple as well. These elements offered in a matter-of-fact way create a harmonious world full of queer love. The book offers this in a way that makes it simply part of the fabric of life, which is very refreshing.

A fantasy romance graphic novel worth falling for. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.