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

MG – ¡¡Manu!!

Fernandez, Kelly. ¡¡Manu!! Graphix, 2021. 978-1-338-26419-7. $24.99. 192 p. Grades 4-7.

Manu is a young girl who was given over by her family at a young age to live at a convent that is known for raising girls who have magical powers. The headmistress of the school believes Manu has very strong powers that could be used to help many, but Manu just wants to have fun with her magic. Fun often turns into mischief as Manu has trouble controlling her incredibly powerful magic. One of her pranks goes seriously wrong, and her friend, Josefina, wishes for Manu’s powers to disappear. They do disappear, and the girls attempt a dangerous spell to have Manu’s powers restored. Will Manu be able to control her magic before it destroys the people Manu loves?  

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel would be a great read for kids who love fantasy and stories about magic. There is an underlying theme of Manu figuring out who she is and if her friendship with Josephina is more than just friendship.  

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick, Abington SD

YA – Wings of Ebony

Elle, J. Wings of Ebony. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1534470675. $19.99. 368 p. Grades 9-12.

Rue has lived in Houston with her mother and half sister for her entire life, but when her mother is murdered outside of their apartment, the sisters are separated. Rue is sent to live with her father, who had previously been absent from her life. Not only is she forced to leave Houston, but discovers her father lives on the hidden island of Ghizon, a home for magic wielders. Rue discovers she has these magical abilities also, and although she makes some friends in Ghizon, she leaves on the anniversary of her mother’s death, hoping to catch a glimpse of her sister Tasha. However, Rue wasn’t supposed to leave the island, and her actions lead to violent consequences. Although Houston and Ghizon are on opposite sides of the world, Rue’s two homes collide, and it’s up to her to save her neighborhood and Ghizon from the violence and corruption that could destroy both.

THOUGHTS: Rue is a strong, African American female protagonist, whose motto is “make a way out of no way” and puts family above all. Wings of Ebony is the perfect blend of fantasy and contemporary, urban fiction, and I would recommend this title to fans of Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, and Tomi Adeyemi. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – The Memory Thief

Anderson, Jodi Lynn. The Memory Thief. Thirteen Witches Book 1. Aladdin, 2021. 978-1-481-48021-5. 325 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Rosie finds great comfort in writing fantasy stories with happy endings, to compensate for her less-than-perfect life with a mother who cannot remember she has a daughter. But when Rosie’s best friend, Gemma, suggests the girls are getting too old for stories, Rosie, shocked and hurt, burns her writings. Later that night, the ghosts come. When a young boy ghost realizes Rosie and Gemma can see them, he takes it up himself to educate Rosie of her family’s heritage. Armed with The Witch-Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, Rosie learns of the existence of 13 witches, who steal the good from inside of people. Her mother, the last known witch hunter, was cursed by the Memory Thief. Now that Rosie has triggered her own sight, the witches will be aware of her existence and will come for her. Anderson, author of the ethereal Midnight at the Electric, creates an equally luminous fantasy for middle grade readers. The main characters are fully nuanced, and the evolution of friendship is a major theme in the story. The layering of the magical world over the ordinary world is an element sure to pull in readers, as they cheer for Rosie and Gemma to succeed in holding off the darkness. This is the first book of the series, and the ending will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next volume. The main characters are presumed white.

THOUGHTS: This is a top-notch fantasy with three dimensional characters to whom readers can relate. There should be a wide audience for the book, beyond fantasy readers.

Fantasy (Magical Realism)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – A Flicker of Courage: Tales of Triumph and Disaster!

Caletti, Deb. A Flicker of Courage: Tales of Triumph and Disaster! Putnam, 2020. 978-1-984-81305-3. 243 p. $13.99, Grades 3-6.

Henry is a nice boy, but quiet and shy with miserable, abusive parents. He longs to have friends, be brave, and be a hero. He gets his chance the morning he hears Apollo, the charming boy next door, shrieking in agony, and discovers Vlad Luxor, the HRM (Horrible Ruler with Magic), has turned Apollo’s younger brother Rocco into a lizard. What, you say, can two young boys do in the face of such terrible evil? Henry has a plan! He is shocked to discover his need to aid Apollo is stronger than his need not to be noticed. The boys, together with the lovely, kind Jo, Pirate Girl and Henry’s dog, Button, look, listen, ponder, and follow their hearts. They learn of their true identities, face down the cruel Vlad Luxor, save the day, and Rocco. This humorous adventure-story spoof, is highly reminiscent of M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series. The third-person omniscient narration rarely allows the characters to show action, resulting in a somewhat stilted style that takes some getting used to. But if you let it grow on you, it’s worth the wait. There is a map! Old photos! Spell-breakers and fights! Fearsome events! And a sequel! This book may require some booktalking and encouragement, as the genre Caletti spoofs belongs to the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew era, but the general silliness and good vs evil plot may draw readers in. Most of the characters are presumed white (and appear so on the book cover), but Jo hints at being Latino.

THOUGHTS: This story, and series, has potential, but it’s hard to tell if this is a book that will appeal more to adults than children. Get it in the hands of the right reader, and it could take off.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Gloom Town

Smith, Ronald. L. Gloom Town.  Clarion Books, 2020. 978-1-328-84161-2. 269 p. $16.99. Grades 5-7.

Smith’s latest work is a mixture of horror and fantasy. Twelve year old Rory lives with his mother in the town of Gloom in Europica. In this seafaring town, the flowers are wilted, and it is always overcast. To help with the family’s dire financial situation, Rory takes a job as a valet in the spooky Foxglove Mansion. He quickly learns that something sinister is going on there after meeting the unfriendly butler Malvonius and the eccentric Lord Foxglove. After hearing mysterious sounds coming from behind a red door in the mansion, Rory begins having dreams about a strange woman’s voice coming from a dark mist, who hungers and thirsts. When the butler learns that Rory has discovered a human heart buried in the garden, he barely escapes from the mansion with his life.  With the help of his friend Izzy, a tarot card reading witch, Rory uncovers the dark secrets that are hidden in the mansion and learns about the diabolical plans that are being devised. And when a huge brigantine ship docks in the harbor, Rory learns something about himself that changes his life forever.

THOUGHTS: This book is a bit of a chameleon. The benign looking cover and the likeable main characters seem to put it in the fantasy genre. However, there are some horrific plot elements in the book, such as two murders, including that of a child, that appear to be out of balance with a fantasy and make the story more creepy. The reader may think that these macabre incidents will all be explained away like a Scooby Doo cartoon, but they are not. The book would benefit from better development of the background of the evil supernatural creatures and their effect on the town, as well as that of a mythic figure named Goldenrod. This is a Junior Library Guild selection. Purchase for middle school libraries where horror stories or books by the author are popular.

Horror, Fantasy          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member