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

YA – A Vow So Bold and Deadly

Kemmerer, Brigid. A Vow So Bold and Deadly. Bloomsbury YA, 2021. 978-1-547-60258-2. 408 p. $18.99. Grades 9 and up.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly picks up right where the previous book left off, with Emberfall in chaos and Prince Rhen pushing everyone away. In Syhl Shallow, Lia Mara is trying to hold onto her kingdom using kindness and compassion, when her subjects are used to fear and intimidation. As the two sides race towards the deadline Grey has set for Prince Rhen, a deadly enemy has reappeared and no one is safe.

THOUGHTS: This was a thrilling conclusion to a great young adult fantasy series (Cursebreakers)! I adored the first two books in this series, and was so excited for the conclusion. I loved how Harper has been portrayed throughout this whole series, and she definitely ended up being my favorite character from the series.

Fantasy          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

MG – Ikenga

Okorafor, Nnedi. Ikenga. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11352-3. 227 p. $16.99. Grades 6-7.

Nnamdi is devastated when his father, the police chief of their Nigerian town, is murdered. He vows to get revenge, but a year later, the murder remains unsolved, and Nnamdi is increasingly frustrated as he sees his mother struggling to support them, especially after she is mugged by one of the brazen petty criminals who torment the town. That is when he encounters his father’s spirit, who gives him a small figurine called an Ikenga. Nnamdi soon discovers that the figure imbues him with superpowers like those of his favorite comic book hero, the Hulk, when he becomes enraged. While Nnamdi means to use his powers for good, taking down various local crooks, it soon becomes evident that Nnamdi has to learn how to harness his superpowers before he seriously harms someone. His alternate ego, known as The Man, is garnering much attention in the town and from the press, but not always positively, After nearly injuring his best friend, Chioma, and a classmate, Nnamdi runs away from home and hides, so he cannot endanger anyone else, or himself. However, Chioma, after an interaction with the spirit of Nnamdi’s father, pieces together what is happening and tracks Nnamdi down. With Chioma’s support, Nnamdi learns to control his abilities, unearths who murdered his father, and faces down the local crime boss. Nnamdi is an engaging character with great big flaws to go with his great big heart. Readers will empathize as he makes mistakes along the way, whether it’s jumping to conclusions or being unable to control his rage when he is The Man. Okorafor skillfully places the reader in Nnamdi’s Nigerian town, through use of local dialect and evocative description. One can easily conjure the sounds and smells of the marketplace or Nnamdi’s home. While most of the plot threads are wrapped up by the end of the book, a few loose ends hint at a sequel, which will be eagerly anticipated.

THOUGHTS: Great for fans of myth-based literature, and ties in superbly with Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong series. Unfortunately, the use of profanity may make its placement in an elementary school library problematic, leaving it with a limited audience.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Legendborn

Deonn, Tracy. Legendborn. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020. 978-1-534-44160-6. $18.99. 498 p. Grades 9 and up.

Briana Matthews tries to get her life together after the tragic and sudden death of her mother, but she does not get off to a great start. On the night before classes in the Early College program at UNC Chapel Hill, she and her best friend Alice attend a cliff-jumping party at a quarry off-campus. There, she encounters Selwyn Kane and experiences odd sensations at his touch, sees Selwyn and another girl destroy a fiery silver mass floating above a drunken fight that breaks out, and overhears bits of mysterious conversation: mentions of magic, King Arthur, and Legendborns. She also has the strange sensation that Selwyn is trying to erase her memory of the sight of the fiery mass that night. When the cops show up to break up the fight, though, Bree has more important things to worry about now that the Dean is threatening to throw her out of the program. She is granted a second chance… and a peer mentor to keep her out of trouble. Turns out that Nick Davis, her peer mentor, only brings more trouble. While walking together on campus, Nick and Bree are attacked by a green-lit wolf-like creature, similar to the one she saw the other night with Selwyn, and Bree is unwillingly pulled into a secret world of which Selwyn and Nick are members. Though she’d love nothing more than to move on from these strange events, memories from the days after her mother’s death start resurfacing, and Bree comes to the startling conclusion that answers to mysteries surrounding her mother’s death might be found within the world of the Legendborn. Now, Bree must decide if joining the Legendborn at the brink of a war is worth finding the answers she seeks.

THOUGHTS: The first book in a series, this urban fantasy puts a new, modern spin on the Arthurian legend with a contemporary setting and characters and by interweaving African American spiritual traditions into the magic. Deonn has created a captivating world and mythology that fantasy readers will surely love. She also tackles serious issues such as grief, trauma, racism, and sexual violence throughout the book. This is a must-have for YA Fantasy collections.

Fantasy          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Elem./MG – Guidebooks to the Unexplained (Series NF)

Abdo, Kenny. Guidebooks to the Unexplained. Abdo Zoom. 2020. $19.95 each. $119.70 for set of 6. Gr. 2-5

Area 51. 978-1-532-12933-9.
Cryptids.978-1-532-12934-6.
Ghosts. 978-1-532-12937-7
.
Lost Lands. 978-1-532-12935-3.
Men in Black. 978-1-532-12936-0.
Witches. 978-1-532-12938-4.

 

 

Have you ever wondered about the mysterious places and creatures that captivate our media and folklore? Have you ever wondered if these places are actually real or if there is a creature out in the forest or mountain, lurking about? If so, then this series is for you. Guidebooks to the Unexplained takes you on a brief adventure, looking at some of the most famous places and creatures you hear about in stories and movies, providing a information and even more wonderings and questions than you started with!

THOUGHTS: This is a beginner series to these questions that many readers have. This series would be a great way to begin research on a topic!

1.942-398.47 Folklore         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

YA – All the Tides of Fate

Grace, Adalyn. All the Tides of Fate. Imprint, 2021. 978-1-250-30781-1. $18.99. Grades 9-12. 

All the Tides of Fate starts right after the events of the previous book, All the Stars and Teeth with Amora’s magic gone and her kingdom in shambles. Amora decides to embark on a journey to find her magic with the help of the same cast of characters from the first book.  Amora’s character development really takes off in this book, and in her quest to get her magic back, she begins to come into her own. The friendships and relationships are more developed in this book, and the author really continues to make you feel as though you are on the ship with the characters. The tension from the first book which was built, is continued in this book with a well planned ending.

THOUGHTS: Overall, this was a solid conclusion to a fantasy duology that was well written and well developed from the first book to the conclusion.

Fantasy            Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – The Queen’s Assassin

De la Cruz, Melissa. The Queen’s Assassin. Penguin Random House, 2020. 978-0-525-51591-3. $18.99. 384p. Grades 9-12.

In the land of Renovia, Shadow of the Honey Glade longs to be an official member of the Guild in which she was raised and become an apprentice to Caledon Holt, the Queen’s Assassin like his father before him. When their paths inadvertently cross and he saves her life, she takes advantage of an opportunity to return the favor. When Cal is sent to Deersia prison to protect his identity as an assassin and await his next assignment from the queen, Shadow helps him escape and convinces him that she was sent to break him out and accompany him on his mission to infiltrate the country of Montrice to discover any plots against Renovia. Shadow is actually disobeying her aunts and mother, members of the Guild, to avoid becoming a lady of the queen’s court, but Cal believes her story, especially since her magic makes her a valuable partner as they travel to Montrice. Posing as brother and sister, Cal and Shadow are quickly swept up into Montrice society, making friends with aristocrats and the king, but as they attend hunts and balls for the sake of their mission, they can’t deny their growing attraction to each other. However, Cal’s life won’t be his own unless he can locate the missing Deian scrolls for the queen, and Shadow’s secrets are preventing her from living the life of an assassin. Will their love be enough without their freedom to choose the lives they want?

THOUGHTS: The Queen’s Assassin is perfect for anyone that enjoys fantasy and romance, and I loved this book for that very reason. The story is told from both Shadow’s and Caledon’s perspectives, and I always enjoy books that have more than one POV. Both main characters are essentially trapped in a life they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves, and that’s one of the reasons they are drawn to each other as they work together throughout the novel. The novel is split into three parts, including a prologue that contains some world building information and an epilogue that sets the scene for book two. This would be a great recommendation for readers who enjoy Throne of Glass and Serpent & Dove.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley 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

YA – Ink in the Blood

Smejkal, Kim. Ink in the Blood. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-1-328-55705-6. 442  p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Celia and Anya were chosen by the Divine. Inked on the ankle with a thin band, a band that appeared out of nowhere, the girls were marked for service. Once a mark appears a child leaves their family, their community, and everything they’ve ever known to answer the Divine’s calling, a life spent inking magical tattoos on strangers that would direct them to their destinies. But this life is not all it’s cracked up to be; there are flaws in the system, loopholes to be exploited, and Celia and Anya must find a way out. When an opportunity arises to escape, to join a close-knit troupe of performers as they travel the land, the girls jump at the chance. Despite a lack of theater skills and nothing to perform, the girls audition using an act featuring an angel and a devil, a performance so good not only will they become members but they’ll eventually incite riots and incur the wrath of the Divine herself.

THOUGHTS: Ink in the Blood is a fantastical tale of the connections that rule our lives, the bonds we form that define us, and the strength it takes to change.

Fantasy (Magic)          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

Elem./MG – Hollow Dolls

Connolly, MarcyKate. Hollow Dolls. Sourcebooks, 2020. 978-1-492-68819-8. 259 p. $16.99. Grades 2-5.

After being trapped for years by the evil Lady Aisling, who held comet-blessed individuals captive to make use of their unique magical abilities, Simone is free. A mind-reader, Simone was particularly prized by Lady Aisling. But while all of her friends are eventually reclaimed by their families, Simone has no one. She is grateful that her best friend, Sebastian, has taken her in, but Simone restlessly pines for a family she cannot remember. When an opportunity arises for Simone to research her family, in hopes of locating them, Simone is ecstatic. However, she becomes concerned when she learns of the existence of a body walker, one who can take over another’s body and will. All too soon the body walker strikes close to home, and the young pair must unmask its identity before it controls them as well. This mildly creepy story is aimed at young readers ready for a slightly more complex story. The plot emphasizes the loyalty Simone and Sebastian have for each other, as well as their continued difficulties overcoming their horrific existence at the hands of Lady Aisling. Connolly brings an interestingly moral viewpoint to possessing magical abilities. While readers may think mind-reading would be a fascinating ability, Simone stresses how overwhelming it can be to hear so many thoughts, and she strives to not accidentally invade an individual’s mental privacy. But when she needs to locate her missing friends and save them from harm, she gladly uses all her abilities. Book one of a duology, readers will be looking for book two to see how Simone and Sebastian’s story ends.

THOUGHTS: Rather like a good bedtime story, Hollow Dolls is just creepy enough for young or more timid readers not ready to dive into Goosebumps-type horror. This is a delightful transition-level book for those readers who want the next step up from early chapter books.

Fantasy (Paranormal)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD