YA – Sing Me Forgotten

Olson. Jessica S. Sing Me Forgotten. Inkyard Press, 2021. 978-1-335-14794-3. $19.99. 336 p. Grades 8-12.

Isda has lived inside an opera house since she was a baby. She was born with a magical ability to extract the memories of others, and since these magic wielders are feared and easily recognized by their facial differences, she was left in a well at birth to die, standard practice for any baby born with this rare, but dangerous gift. Isda was saved by Cyril, and the only world she knows is the one that he tells her he saved her from. If she was ever discovered, both her and Cyril would be executed. Isda longs to share her own voice and music with the world, just as the opera singers are able to do, and when she meets Emeric, an aspiring performer, she decides to befriend him and become his tutor, hiding her own identity behind a mask. While he sings, Isda is able to use her ability to explore Emeric’s memories and soon discovers that the world may not be as Cyril has told her. Her friendship with Emeric motivates her to explore and expand her abilities and plan for a potential escape from her lonely and unfulfilling existence in the darkness, but a life in the light may require Isda to become the monster the world fears that she is.

THOUGHTS: Sing Me Forgotten is a twist on The Phantom of the Opera, but it also reminds me of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In this retelling, the “phantom” is a young girl who has lived alone her entire life, but when she learns the truth about the world around her, this angel of music quickly becomes a monster and walks a fine line between being a hero and becoming a villain. Readers will finish this one with tears in their eyes, a craving for warm caramel candies, and perhaps a desire to watch an adaptation of the original tale that inspired this new, stand alone fantasy.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – Jeanie & Genie: The First Wish

Granted, Trish. Jeanie & Genie: The First Wish. Little Simon. 2021. 978-1-5344-7466-6. $17.99. Grades K-4.

Jeanie Bell likes things to be simple, logical, and easy to understand. It makes life, after all, simple, logical, and easy to understand! All is well until there is a new girl at school, Willow Davis, who is the exact opposite of those things! Willow, while nice, is more free-spirited and creative while Jeanie likes to follow the rules. The girls become unlikely friends, which only becomes more amazing when Jeanie finds out that Willow is a genie and can grant wishes! Willow hopes to become an amazing genie and does not wish to lose her powers, so she is training to be the best genie she can be! Can these girls have a magical friendship or is this secret too big to hold onto?

THOUGHTS: A delightful beginning to a fun reading series. For readers who may want to start a fantasy novel, but may not be sure how to, this is a nice beginner book with fantasy-elements!

Fantasy          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred 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 – Once Upon A Broken Heart

Garber, Stephanie. Once Upon A Broken Heart. Hodder and Stoughton, 2021. 978-1-529-38044-6. 403 pg. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Evangeline believes in true love; however, life throws a wrench in her plans when the love of her life is going to marry someone else. In a desperate moment, Evangeline makes a deal with the Prince of Hearts; however, that does not go as planned! As she goes through with his deal she learns there is more to the Prince than meets the eye. She learns more about herself and what she wants out of life and love as she goes. This is set in the same world as Stephanie Garber’s Caraval series; however, the reader does not need to read that series to understand this one.

THOUGHTS: This was a delightful little book! This was a fun, fast-paced read that will leave the reader craving the next book.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Evangeline Fox grew up in her father’s curiosity shop believing in magic, fairy tales, and true love. When her stepmother announces that her stepsister will marry the man Evangeline loves, she desperately tracks down the Prince of Hearts, Jacks, and asks him to stop the wedding. The price: Three kisses at the time of his choosing. Confident that she made the right choice, she discovers that Jacks turned the wedding party to stone. Feeling guilty, she volunteers to take their place. Luckily, her time as a statue is short lived, and through some miscommunication, she’s hailed a hero since no one, except for Jacks, knew that she was the cause of the disastrous wedding. When Evangeline is given the chance to journey to the north, she accepts and brings her stepsister, hoping it will make up for her ruined wedding and the rumor that she’s a cursed bride. When they arrive at the court of Prince Apollo, who is looking for a wife, Evangeline’s world is turned upside down when Jacks, who is at the ball as well, begins cashing in on their bargain. She fears that her secret will be revealed, realizes that making a bargain with a fate was a huge mistake, and starts to question if true love is worth fighting for after all.

THOUGHTS: Stephanie Garber’s fantastical world, first introduced to readers in Caraval, is filled with eccentric characters, unique fashions, whimsical parties, fairy tale castles, delectable sweets, and curiosities beyond our imaginations. The vivid descriptions will make readers wish they could fall into the pages to experience the magic and wonder for themselves.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Fire with Fire

Soria, Destiny. Fire with Fire. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-0-358-32973-2. $17.99. 432 p. Grades 7-12.

Dani and Eden are sisters, and they have a secret: they come from a long line of dragon hunters and have trained to become slayers since they were young girls. Dani doesn’t take her duties as a slayer as seriously as Eden, but when she comes across a dragon and they become soul bonded, everything Dani thought she knew about her family’s legacy changes in an instant. Although Dani has a change of heart, Eden does not, and instead becomes mixed up with the sorcerers who use magic from dragons to fuel their own powers. Suddenly, the sisters are enemies, and each is trying to save the other from what they believe is a deadly situation, not realizing there is a more dangerous enemy threatening to destroy them both.

THOUGHTS: This is one of the first contemporary dragon fantasies that I’ve read, and I love that the book’s setting is rural Tennessee rather than a fictional land or kingdom. It’s a nice change from the many high fantasy dragon series, and I think readers will enjoy the relationship and sibling rivalry between Dani and Eden. Although they are dragon slayers, they are still sisters, and looking out for one another comes before all else. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Any Way the Wind Blows

Rowell, Rainbow. Any Way the Wind Blows. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-25433-7. $19.99. 592 p. Grades 9-12.

“Carry On was conceived as a book about Chosen One stories; Any Way the Wind Blows is an ending about endings.”

Simon Snow, a chosen one no longer, struggles to adapt to life after Watford without his magic. Now that Simon, Baz, Penelope, and Agatha are back in England, they each face their own challenges. Does Simon still want to be a part of the World of Mages, and can the new chosen one give him his magic back? Can Baz fix his family issues along with supporting Simon? Why did Penelope agree to let Shepherd, a normal, accompany her back to England, and can she help him break his curse? What does Agatha want to do with her life, and is there a place for her to thrive on her own? Any Way the Wind Blows answers all of these questions and brings each of the characters back to Watford where their adventures began. 

THOUGHTS: Rainbow Rowell gives her fictional, fan-fiction story a fitting end. First introduced in her novel, Fangirl, Simon Snow represents the “chosen one” character that shows up in many YA fictional series, but Rowell chooses to tell the story of what happens after they save the world (of mages). Fans of Harry Potter will appreciate the similarities between Hogwarts and Watford, and I highly recommend the audiobook for all three books in this entertaining and heartwarming series. Readers will feel for both Simon and Baz, and root for them as they discover their place in the world together. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley 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

YA – Down Comes the Night

Saft, Allison. Down Comes the Night. Wednesday Books, 2021. 978-1-250-62363-8. $18.99. 400 p. Grades 9-12.

Wren Southerland is a healer in the queen’s guard, but when she disobeys orders to heal a young man, she’s dismissed from the guard by her aunt, Queen Isabel. This also separates her from the best friend she’s in love with: Una. As a captain of the queen’s guard and Wren’s superior, Una cannot understand why Wren disobeyed orders, and returns to her post in the guard without her. When Wren receives a letter from Lord Lowry asking her to come to his home, Colwick Hall, to heal one of his servants of a mysterious illness, she decides to accept the position rather than head to the mines as the queen commanded. With the hope that this decision will get her back in the good graces of the queen, she travels to Colwick Hall only to discover that the ill servant is actually Hal Cavendish, the enemy of her kingdom. Known as the reaper, Hal has taken many lives, but like Wren, he’s at Colwick Hall looking for redemption, and together, they discover they may be able to stop the war and save both of their kingdoms from destruction.

THOUGHTS: Down Comes the Night is perfect for readers looking for a standalone fantasy. Saft’s tale is also a dark, gothic romance. Wren is grieving the loss of one relationship while discovering another, and even though Wren possesses the power to heal through magic, readers will still be able to connect with her as she struggles to please her aunt while staying true to herself as she discovers her place in the world.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – The Year I Flew Away

Arnold, Marie. The Year I Flew Away. Versify, 2021. 978-0-358-27275-5. 285 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Marie Arnold establishes herself as a gifted storyteller, weaving realistic setting with a magical tale involving a talking rat, wishes, and witches. Ten-year-old Gabrielle Jean’s Haitian family sends her to live with her uncle and aunt in Flatbush, a busy neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, until they can save enough funds to join her. She looks forward to the American Dream, but it doesn’t take long before it is shattered. Classmates make fun of her accent; she feels strange and left out. Though Carmen, a Mexican-American girl, is anxious to be her friend, Gabrielle still feels incredibly lonely and unmoored from her friends and immediate family in Haiti. These bleak feelings motivate her to make a deal with the witch, Lady Lydia, in Prospect Park. Lady Lydia gives Gabrielle three magic mango slices. Each one represents a wish; each wish granted brings Gabrielle closer to Lady Lydia capturing her essence. With the first mango slice, Gabrielle loses her accent, making her better understood and accepted by the other students. The second mango slice is even more powerful. After eating it, Gabrielle not only erases her memories of Haiti but also entails the added consequence of losing her entire Flatbush family. Seemingly, Gabrielle’s wishes have been fulfilled. Her classmates believe they have known Gabrielle forever and believe she was born in America, but, of course, she cannot be happy without her aunt, uncle, the toddler twins, and teen-age cousin. It troubles her that she can no longer communicate in Haitian Creole. Rocky, a rat Gabrielle encounters on the street, nicely translates for her and helps Gabrielle problem solve how she will outwit Lady Lydia (though Rocky has its own unfulfilled wish to be a rabbit). As the school looks forward to Culture Day, Gabrielle tries to resist the last mango and still save her family. She knows she needs the help of a good witch to counteract this bad witch who desires a homogenous Brooklyn where perfection is everyone is the same. Arnold whips up a twenty-first century fairy tale to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion that blends American patriotism, pride in and acceptance of differences, and appreciation of one’s heritage.

THOUGHTS: If Kate DiCamillo is an author who demonstrates the beauty of language, then Marie Arnold is an author who demonstrates the beauty of storytelling. Accessible, genuine, and creative, Ms. Arnold weaves an unusual tale (sometimes I had to stretch my believability especially when Gabrielle cozies up to vermin who wishes to be a rabbit) that builds to a crescendo of patriotism, pride in one’s culture and heritage. Realistically, most sixth grade students may not have the ability to wax eloquently about their backgrounds, yet Arnold has Gabrielle come to the realization that a person can be an immigrant loyal to the country of one’s birth and equally be an American, loyal to a new country. An added bonus is the character of Mrs. Bartell, the solicitous school librarian who happens to be Haitian-American and helps Gabrielle every step of the way.

Fantasy          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Magic Realism

YA – Six Crimson Cranes

Lim, Elizabeth. Six Crimson Cranes. Hodder & Stoughton, 2021. 978-1-529-37026-3. 454 pg. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Shiori has a secret – she has forbidden magic. As the only princess of Kiata, if her secret came to light it would have disastrous implications.  Usually Shiori keeps her secret concealed except on the day of her betrothal ceremony. That day, her stepmother Raikama notices and banishes the young princess with a curse, turning Shiori’s brothers into cranes and for every word she speaks one of her brothers will die.  Shiori is left alone and unable to speak; she sets off to find her brothers and figure out a way to save them. While she is looking for a solution, she discovers there is more to her stepmother’s deceit than meets the eye. Will Shiori be able to save herself, her brothers, and her kingdom?

THOUGHTS: This was amazingly well written, with memorable characters and great pacing throughout. Elizabeth Lim does a great job of weaving in the elements of the original fairy tale while also making the reader feel that they are reading something new. This is a must own for every high school and public library collection, as well as a must read for any fan of fantasy.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy