MG – A Magic Steeped in Poison

Lin, Judy I. A Magic Steeped in Poison. Feiwel and Friends, 2022. 978-1-250-76708-0. 364 p. $18.99. Grades 5-8.

This debut fantasy novel revolves around a magical competition to find the kingdom’s best Master of the Art of brewing tea. Ning is desperate to compete and win this competition after her mother dies from a poisoned tea and her sister is slowly dying from the same tea. Ning is hopeful that winning the competition will give her access to the antidote to save her sister. However, she becomes caught up in the politics and magic of the kingdom. She is clever and determined to win this competition and save her sister at any cost.

THOUGHTS: This book is for students who are huge fantasy lovers as well as those who love mythology. The characters are well-written, and the action starts slowly but it builds fast. There is a glossary in the back for Chinese terms and pronunciation which was quite helpful while reading.

Fantasy          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

MG/YA – A Forgery of Roses

Olson, Jessica S. A Forgery of Roses. Inkyard Press, 2022. 978-1335418661. $19.99. 384p. Grades 7-12.

Myra Whitlock has a secret: she’s a prodigy. When she paints, she can access her magic, and heal her subjects. Not everyone is accepting of prodigies, especially the governor, but when his wife discovers her secret, she hires Myra to paint her recently deceased son, Will, in the hopes of bringing him back to life. Myra has never resurrected a person before, but the reward is too great to pass up. Money has been tight since her parents’ disappearance, and her sick, younger sister needs to see a doctor, a luxury they no longer can afford. When she arrives at the governor’s house, she befriends the governor’s oldest son, August, and together, they discover that Will’s death was not an accident, and if Myra has any chance of bringing him back, she must first discover the mysterious circumstances of his death and avoid becoming the next victim herself.

THOUGHTS:  A Forgery of Roses is a magical, murder mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end. Although two of the main characters develop feelings for each other, it goes no further than a few embraces and kisses, making this title a good fit for middle school libraries as well as high school ones. Myra is hired to use her magic to bring a person back to life, and the book does contain descriptions of blood and gore among murder victims and within art work. One of the main characters suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, and that’s not always a trait readers get to see in main characters.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – An Arrow to the Moon

Pan, Emily R. X. An Arrow to the Moon. Little, Brown, and Company, 2022. 978-0-316-46405-5. $18.99. 400. Grades 9-12.

Luna Chang and Hunter Yee each come from a family that hates the other, and although they are forbidden to see each other and try to keep their distance, they become friends and then more. As they begin to spend more time together, they notice that each has special, almost supernatural abilities: Luna is followed by a group of fireflies, and her breath can heal Hunter when he’s hurt or having an asthma attack. Hunter has a special relationship with the wind, and when he aims, especially with his bow and arrow, he never misses. As graduation nears, Luna realizes her life is not as perfect as it seems, and Hunter continues to feel trapped within his. Each family has secrets, and as the lies unravel and some dangerous truths are revealed, their world begins to crack and their lives fall apart. Will their love be enough to save them, or will it destroy them?

THOUGHTS: An Arrow to the Moon has been described as a “Romeo and Juliet retelling” mixed with Chinese mythology, specifically the Chinese legend of Chang’e and Houyi. The families are Taiwanese immigrants, although Hunter’s family consider themselves to be simply Chinese. This brings up a conversation between the characters about cultural identities and the struggles of immigration. Readers also may make connections to the characters as they experience family struggles and the realities of growing up. This title falls into the fantasy genre as magical realism, and it would be a perfect suggestion for readers looking for a love story with just a touch of magic.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Vial of Tears

Bishara, Cristin. Vial of Tears. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44641-4. $18.99. 320 p. Grades 9-12.

Sixteen year old Samira is just trying to get by. Her father is missing in action, and her mother has a habit of disappearing for days at a time. When she receives a vase containing antique coins from her great grandfather in Lebanon, Samira and her sister Rima are unwillingly transported to the Phoenician underworld by the owner of one of the coins: a half god named Eshmun. Samira is desperate to get home, but when she is separated from Rima, she must rely on Eshmun and his companion Teth to find her. However, the underworld is a dark realm with dangerous creatures lurking around every corner, and Sam doesn’t know if she can count on anyone to help her and her sister get home. In a world where everyone seems to be after power or wealth, who can you trust?

THOUGHTS: Vial of Tears is another great title to recommend to readers who enjoy reading about mythology, and Phoenician mythology is definitely unique subject matter for young adult fantasy literature. Readers also will enjoy the sibling relationship between Samira and Rima and Sam’s memories of her time with her father.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Gods & Monsters

Mahurin, Shelby. Gods & Monsters. HarperTeen, 2021. 978-0-063-03893-6. $19.99. 624 p. Grades 9-12.

Lou, Reid, Beau, and Coco are looking for allies to defeat Morgane and her clan of dame blanc witches while still heartbroken and recovering from a devastating loss. Lou is not herself, and although Reid recognizes that something is wrong, he cannot understand why he’s repulsed by even her touch, but saving her may take the ultimate sacrifice. As the plot progresses, new friendships are formed, and through the strength of their bond, they prepare to overcome the obstacles that will lead them to a final battle between good and evil. 

THOUGHTS: In this action packed conclusion to Serpent & Dove, Mahurin ties up loose ends and also gives readers a chance to experience Lou and Reid falling in love all over again. Although I would still classify this title as young adult, there are a few scenes between Lou and Reid that almost cross the line into new adult. In the end, this trilogy is a must have in any young adult library collection and a great series for readers who enjoy fantasy and romance.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – A Dark and Starless Forest

Hollowell, Sarah. A Dark and Starless Forest. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-0358424413. $19.99. 368 p. Grades 9-12.

“The flowers that grow from my magic are usually indistinct little things, but those flowers – I knew those flowers. They were mandrake flowers. In legend, mandrakes grow where the blood falls under a gallows.” Derry and her adopted siblings all have one thing in common: they all have magical abilities. Abandoned by their families, the girls live with their caretaker, Frank. In addition to caring for the girls, he teaches them to use their magic and protects them from the dangers of the outside world. He prefers to call them alchemists rather than witches, and over the years, the girls have bonded and consider themselves a family. When Jane, the oldest, disappears, Derry knows she didn’t run away. Desperate to find her, Derry ventures into the dark forest that surrounds their isolated cabin looking for answers. Each night, she’s drawn to the forest, and while her magic begins to grow, darkness takes root within her and she soon discovers that nothing is what it seems. As more of her sisters go missing, protecting her family becomes her most important priority, and she soon realizes that the forest may not be the dangerous presence lurking in the shadows of her life.

THOUGHTS: This is a fantasy novel unlike any that I’ve read before, and by the end, it felt a bit like a horror movie. One of the book’s best features is the diversity and representation among the main characters including sexual orientation, gender identities, race, mental health, body image, and even deafness. Although the book is fantasy, it covers a lot of real world issues like abuse, neglect, and grooming but leaves romance out of the plot. The mystery of the forest and the disappearance of the girls will keep readers hooked and intrigued until the very end.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Gilded

Meyer, Marissa. Gilded. Feiwel & Friends, 2021. 978-1-250-61884-9. $19.99. 512 p. Grades 8-12.

“Sometimes superstitions are all that we have been given by the gods in order to make sense of our world. Superstitions and stories.” Serilda has always been a storyteller. When she was a baby, she was blessed with this gift, or curse, by the god of lies and mischief. When Serilda begins a story, she doesn’t know how it’s going to end, and she’s just as entranced and bewitched as her listeners. Children adore her unique talent, but others simply view her as the untrustworthy and deceptive miller’s daughter who spins stories and lies. When Serilda convinces the fearsome Erlking that she was out of her house on the night of a hunt collecting straw that she spins into gold in order to save two moss maidens hiding nearby, she soon finds herself inside of his dungeon with a spinning wheel, her chance to prove her story was not a falsehood. Just when all hope seems lost, a boy named Gild appears in her cell and agrees to help her, for a price. Serilda begins to realize that she may never be free of the Erlking, even if she can complete this impossible task, and she soon finds herself right in the middle of one of her own fantastical, mysterious, and dangerous tales.

THOUGHTS: Marissa Meyer has created a new world for her retelling of the Rumpelstilskin tale. Unlike the Lunar Chronicles, this new series is not science fiction, nor is it standalone like Heartless. Rather, she brings to life the dark and foreboding atmosphere reminiscent of classic fairy tales where danger lurks around every corner, and happy endings are few and far between. Readers will be drawn into Gilded just as eager listeners are drawn into Serilda’s mesmerizing and spellbinding tales.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Kingdom of the Cursed

Maniscalco, Kerri. Kingdom of the Cursed. Hodder & Stoughton, 2021. 978-0-316-42847-7. $18.99. Grades 12+.

Kingdom of the Cursed picks up with Emilia selling her soul in order to figure out what happened to her sister, Vittoria. Some of the decisions that Emilia made have helped to unlock some secrets and cause her to ask more questions. As this book progresses, the reader sees Emilia trying to figure out if she should trust Wrath as she learns that she can’t trust anyone. Kingdom of the Cursed delves more into the world building of this fantasy world, as well as more character development of Emilia. 

THOUGHTS: Overall, this is a great addition to this series that continues to build on the characters and plot that was laid out in the first book. There are some scenes that are a little more on the explicit side, hence the higher grade level rating. However, this would be a great recommendation for fans of the first book, or fans of the author’s other work. 

Fantasy           Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Grades 10-12+.

After making a deal with the devil, Emilia travels to the seven circles in the Kingdom of the Wicked with Prince Wrath. As the betrothed of Prince Pride, her plan is to infiltrate his court and make it one step closer to avenging the death of her twin sister Vittoria. However, the journey is not easy, and before she meets Pride, she becomes a resident of House Wrath. From Wrath, she learns just how dangerous and deceptive his brothers can be, and he advises her to trust no one. When Emilia slowly begins to unravel the secrets of the past, she realizes that she’ll need the help of magical objects to discover who she really is and if she can really trust Wrath.

THOUGHTS: Kingdom of the Cursed is listed as a young adult title and can be found in the YA section of book stores; however, the romantic scenes between Emilia and Wrath are very descriptive, and I’d go as far to classify this one as new adult for that reason alone. Although it’s heavy on romance that doesn’t always advance the plot, I still enjoyed the book and cannot wait to see how it all ends. I’ll be impatiently waiting for the next installment. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Faith: Greater Heights

Murphy, Julie. Faith: Greater Heights. ‎ Balzer and Bray, 2021. 978-0-062-89968-2. 352 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12. 

Ever a fan of anything Julie Murphy writes, diving into a magical realism book gives pause to some readers. The authentic writing style is descriptive enough to make the reader feel like they’re flying. This  is part two of Faith’s story, and she is fully aware of her superpowers but still not super sure how to deal with her grandmother’s dementia or how to cope with exes. Murphy’s world building and origin story preparation make it pretty clear that we can expect more to come on Faith’s story, with action plugged into scenes when Faith isn’t just trying to figure out normal life.

THOUGHTS: For Julie Murphy fans in general, this book should make its way onto high school shelves as long as book one is already there. While you’re at it, you can make sure you have a few of her other series as well. Murphy has a knack for writing in an inclusive way that feels like how it should’ve always been (spoiler: it should’ve been). Her writing is trustworthy and representative. 

Fantasy           Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – The Legend of Christmas Witch

Murphy, Dan and Plaza Aubrey. The Legend of Christmas Witch. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-593-35080-5. 56 p. $18.99. Grades 2-5.

It’s been a while since a new holiday folklore book hit the shelves! Santa’s twin sister, Kristtōrn, was raised by a witch in the woods. Although it may sound familiar that her magic powers grew just as proficiently as her temper, the storyline leans into fear and persecution of the “other” that existed during the Salem witch trials and occurs in other fashions in the modern day.

THOUGHTS: This story is unusual and far from traditional, but makes space for another tale to be told about the Christmas season. The book is beautifully illustrated and appeals to natural aspects. The ending leaves a lot for the reader to interpret and would be a good project book for older readers. 

Picture Book          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD