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

YA – Blood & Honey

Mahurin, Shelby. Blood & Honey. HarperCollins, 2020. 978-0-062-87805-2. $18.99. 532 p. Grades 9-12.

Louise and Reid are on the run. In order to escape Lou’s mother, Morgane le Blanc, Reid was forced to make a terrible sacrifice that unintentionally unleashed magic of his own. Hunted by the witches, the king, and the chasseurs, their group splits up. Lou, Coco, and Ansel head to the Dames Rouges in the hopes of gaining allies, while Reid, Beau, and Madame Labelle join a traveling troupe and disguise themselves as performers. As the characters look for allies, they must also learn to trust each other. While Lou begins to unleash more of her powers, Reid desperately tries to suppress his own. As their enemies draw closer, secrets, doubts, regrets, and sorrows cause Lou and Reid to pull away from each other. Will their love be enough to keep them together, or will they remain enemies as a witch and witch hunter?

THOUGHTS: Blood & Honey is the sequel to Serpent & Dove, and while the former focused on the love story of Lou and Reid, the latter explores survival, loss, and sacrifice. After experiencing trauma, both Lou and Reid are trying to discover who they really are, and must decide who they may become. Although this is a fantasy series, many of the themes will still resonate with readers today. For example, Reid has been brought up to hate witches and magic, but through his own experiences, he learns that not all witches are evil, and not all magic is bad. Readers will certainly feel a roller coaster of emotions as they experience the confident, lighthearted Lou descend slowly into darkness, and her golden cord will tug on their heartstrings as Reid stands by to pull her back.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – We Are Blood and Thunder

Lupo, Kesia. We Are Blood and Thunder. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-547-60305-3. 428 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

In a world of magic, the Marked take care of the dead. Ancestors are important in Duke’s Forest, laid to rest, preserved in the crypts that stretch below every house for all eternity. All the while a storm rages topside, a storm that has ravaged and plagued the city for the last six years with no end in sight. The Marked, those with a disability or a physical mark like a birthmark are only fit to work in the crypts, out of sight, preparing the dead for their slumber and keeping out the critters. Lena is a cryptiling, and death is all she has known, the stillness of death, until the dead begin to move. Magecraft is not tolerated in Duke’s Forest, and practicing mages are put to death because one of them has to be the cause of the storm. When the hand of the wrong dead person moves, Lena escapes the quarantined city to find a world where people are taught to use their magic, to control it, and so must she. After all, “She who spins the cloud weaves the storm.”

THOUGHTS: Reminiscent of Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, We Are Blood and Thunder and its clockwork elements is must-add to any fantasy shelf.

Fantasy (Magic)          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

YA – B*Witch

Ohlin, Nancy, and Paige McKenzie. B*Witch. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-368-02876-9. 336. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

All Iris wants is to get through the first day of school without a panic attack and to keep her magical abilities hidden. After all, being a witch in contemporary society is not easy due to the President’s resolve to prosecute all witches and a new bigot gang, Antima, who search for witches all across the United States. Used to hiding her witch identity, Iris is thrilled when she is befriended by Greta who is a coven leader and a witch like her. When Greta’s coven is sent a mysterious magical shadow message, they, and rival coven The Triad, must work together to protect themselves and solve a murder.

THOUGHTS: Lovers of fantasy will enjoy this mysterious novel about magic and friendship told in multiple perspectives. There are plenty of surprises and contemporary references which create excitement and leave the reader eager for a sequel.

Fantasy (Paranormal)    Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

MG – The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez

Cuevas, Adrianna. The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez. Farras, Straus and Giroux, 2020. 978-0-374-31360-9. 278. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

After nine “first-days” at nine different schools, Nestor Lopez knows the drill. Only unpack enough to get himself through a few months until his mother decides to move again, all while his father is deployed in Afghanistan. When Nestor moves for the tenth time, it is to his father’s hometown of New Haven, Texas to live with his Abuela. Not long after, Nestor is intrigued by rumors of a beast that roams the woods and has killed neighboring animals. Fortunately, his secret ability to talk to animals helps Nestor find out what, or who, is behind the killings. After the town starts to suspect his Abuela, Nestor longs to talk with his dad who could help him make sense of the strange town that is starting to feel like home. Can Nestor reveal his secret to his new friends in order to save the animals and his Abuela from whatever is lurking in the woods? And will his mom decide to move again, or will Nestor finally be able to put down roots in his father’s hometown?

THOUGHTS: Middle grade readers will enjoy this action packed fantasy novel about a brave, hispanic american boy who uses supernatural powers to save his family. Readers of Rick Riordan Presents books will appreciate the story as well as educators adding stories with diverse characters to their collections.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

YA FIC – There’s Someone Inside Your House; Forest of a Thousand Lanterns; All the Crooked Saints; Who Killed Christopher Goodman?

Perkins, Stephanie. There’s Someone Inside Your House. Dutton Books, 2017. 978-0-5254-2601-1. 287 p. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.

Makani Young has recently moved from Hawaii to Indiana to live with her grandmother, after being involved in a bullying incident at her last school. Makani has sworn never to tell anyone her shameful past and doesn’t really love living in rural Indiana. In her new town, she has only a few close friends, Darby and Alex, and mainly looks after her grandmother, who has trouble with her memory. Makani also pines for her classmate Ollie, who has a troubled past of his own. When a talented classmate is brutally murdered, the town mourns and tries to move on. But as more and more students begin to die at the hands of an alleged serial killer, Makani and her friends try to discover who is killing, and why, before they become the next victims.  THOUGHTS: Perkins weaves an intriguing story, and at one point every character is a viable suspect. A perfect treat for horror fans that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Horror      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

Dao, Julie C. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. Philomel Books, 2017. 978-1-5247-3829-7. 363 p. $18.99. Gr. 9-12.

Eighteen year old Xifeng has lived with her cruel aunt, Guma, for her entire life and is often beaten for stepping out of line. Xifeng is resentful and often dreams of running away with her secret lover, Wei. While she and Guma embroider for a living, Guma assures Xifeng that her destiny is much greater; she has seen in the cards that Xifeng’s beauty and cunning will one day get her a powerful position in the kingdom, but only if she embraces the dark magic deep inside her. One day after a particularly horrific beating that disfigures her face, Xifeng and Wei set off for the Imperial City hoping that Xifeng can enter the Empress’s services as a lady-in-waiting and eventually fulfil her destiny. As time passes, Xifeng struggles to maintain friendships, navigate the treacherous eunuchs and concubines at the palace, and also with the darkness lurking under her skin. Xifeng is a complex anti-heroine whose character will linger with readers long after the last page. Dao’s debut is a polished and masterful Asian-inspired retelling of Snow White’s Evil Queen. THOUGHTS:  A beautiful, lush story with complex and diverse characters will delight readers. Julie C. Dao has written an engrossing and refreshing fairytale retelling that belongs in all libraries.

Fantasy      Vicki Schwoebel, Friends Central School

 

Stiefvater, Maggie. All the Crooked Saints. Scholastic, 2017. 978-0-545-93080-2. $18.99. 311 p. Gr. 7 and up.

In the small town of Bicho Raro, the primary industry is miracles. The Mexican-American Soria family carries the burden of sainthood, blessed or cursed, with the ability to grant a miracle to each of the pilgrims who wander into the town. However, the miracle the Sorias grant only manifests a pilgrim’s darkness into an external entity. It is then up to the pilgrim to commit the second miracle, and banish the darkness. Lately, however, the pilgrims have not been able to accomplish the second miracle, and the Soria enclave is overflowing with a motley assortment of pilgrims struggling with their manifestations. Young Daniel Soria, the 19-year-old current saint, and his cousin Beatriz, know this situation has to change, but they will have to break the Soria code to do so, which may destroy the family.  Glorious wordsmith Stiefvater has crafted another magnificent story, more tall-tale than fantasy. Populated with a memorable cast of characters, from the Soria clan to pilgrims to the accidental visitors to the town, the book shows us the darkness in all of us, and the miracles needed to banish it.  THOUGHTS:  Stiefaver successfully departs from her myth-based fantasy genre with this beautiful read. The large cast of characters can be challenging to keep straight, but the reward is great.   

Magical Realism      Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Wolf, Allan.  Who Killed Christopher Goodman? Candlewick, 2017.  978-0-7636-5613-3. 269 p.  $16.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Set in the fictional town of Goldsburg, VA, in 1979, this well-written novel follows the intersecting paths of six teenagers leading up to the murder of one of their classmates following the town’s big summer festival.  The perspective alternates among the six teens, each of whom has different relationships with the eventual murder victim and each of whom ultimately reacts to the murder differently, wondering if their actions were at all to blame for the death of Christopher Goodman.  Based on the actual 1979 murder of Edward Charles Disney following Deadwood Days in Blacksburg, VA, this thought-provoking novel will encourage teenagers to think about the reasons behind their actions and how these actions can have rippling effects that may never be entirely known.  THOUGHTS: Reluctant readers, fans of mystery/suspense, and fans of Wolf’s previous release, The Watch that Ends the Night, will enjoy this title.  It might also be interesting to introduce this book in a social studies class.  It could prompt an interesting character study discussion in a psychology course, or U.S. history students could research the actual murder of Edward Charles Disney and compare the real-life events to those in the book.  A solid addition to any high school collection.

Historical Fiction; Mystery      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School