Parks, Amy Noelle. Lia and Beckett’s Abracadabra. Amulet, 2022. 978-1-319-75344-2. 296 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.
Lia is delighted when she receives a letter from her missing grandmother, inviting her to compete in a stage magic competition to be held in Mirror Lake, a retreat for magicians where her grandmother resides. Over the protests of her mother, who wants Lia to do something “meaningful” with her summer, Lia eagerly escapes to Mirror Lake, to practice the tricks her magician grandmother has taught her. Lia is determined to win the competition, make her grandmother proud, and take the prize, the small theater her grandmother has owned for years. Lia definitely wants to keep it out of the hands of the Blackwell boys, grandsons of her grandmother’s ex-husband and magic partner. Lia has been warned to stay away from the Blackwell boys, but while Lia may be great at counting cards and sleight of hand, she wasn’t counting on Beckett Blackwell being so cute, and nice, and good at magic, even though it clearly is not his passion. However, as the competition progresses, Lia realizes there is more at stake than the theater. Additionally, Lia and Beckett team up to exact revenge on Beckett’s cousin, Elliot, a talented mentalist who uses his gifts for nefarious purposes. This addictive rom-com is entertaining from the start. Readers will root for Lia to follow her muse, despite the pressure from her mother, as well as for Lia and Beckett to (inevitably) find each other. The amusing con Lia sets up to crush Elliot adds spice to the pot, and the story rounds out with a feminist punch, as the reparations for the historic dismissal of female magicians ties up the plot. Readers will be left with a big grin on their faces and warm fuzzies in their heart.
THOUGHTS: This delightful book contains everything a good romance should, and makes a solid purchase where romance is popular.
Raman, Akshaya. The Ivory Key. Clarion Books, 2022. 978-0-358-46833-2. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 7-12.
Magic in Ashoka is running out. Vira, the young maharani, is desperate to keep this secret from the rest of the country. Her only hope is to find the Ivory Key and live up to her mother’s legacy. Legend says the key will lead to a new source of magic. However, Vira cannot find the key on her own, and she isn’t the only one who is after it. Vira’s siblings, Ronak, Kaleb, and Riya, embark on this adventure with her, but the siblings have their own plans for the key. For Kalab, his knowledge of the key freed him from his prison cell, and his involvement isn’t so much as a choice as it is a path to freedom. For Ronak, he sees it as his escape from his royal duties and knows others who would pay handsomely for it, and although Riya has returned to her siblings, she believes that all of the people of Ashoka deserve this magic and longs to return to her new family of thieves fighting against the royal family. Four siblings, and one key. If they find it, will this new magic be enough to save both their country and their family?
THOUGHTS: In this Indian inspired fantasy, readers will enjoy the adventure that the four conflicting siblings embark on together as well as the mystery, traps, and puzzles surrounding the ivory key. The surprise ending should leave readers impatiently waiting for the final book in this duology.
Romaro, R.M. The Ghosts of Rose Hill. Peachtree Teen, 2022. 978-1-682-63338-0. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 9-12.
“Maybe sixteen is a curse, a time when everyone is stuck between being a child and being something else.” Ilana is 16, and more than anything else, she wants to be a musician. Her parents, both refugees, want Ilana to pick a different career path, one that offers her more stability in her future. When she travels from her hometown of Miami to Prague to spend the summer with her aunt, she discovers an overgrown Jewish cemetery. As a member of the Jewish faith, she feels the need to uncover the forgotten headstones, and while she spends time clearing the cemetery, she meets a ghost named Benjamin and a mysterious man named Rudolph Wasserman. As she befriends Benjamin, Wasserman encourages her to play her music and follow her heart. As Ilana discovers the truth about Benjamin and his connection to the city, Wasserman offers her a place within his house where she can play music and live forever. Although the offer sounds like a dream, Benjamin reveals it’s really a nightmare, and Ilana must find a way to save him and the other children bound to Wasserman and his magic, even if it means risking everything.
THOUGHTS: The Ghosts of Rose Hill is written in prose and incorporates both Jewish and Prague history into this unique ghost story. In many ways, this story reminded me of Coraline. Rudolph Wasserman lures children into his home with promises of a perfect life away from their families before stealing and hiding their souls.
Saft, Allison. A Far Wilder Magic. Wednesday Books, 2022. 978-1250623652. $18.99. 384 p. Grades 9-12.
Margaret Welty spends most of her time living alone with her dog, Trouble. Her mother, a famous alchemist, spends most of her time traveling, away from home. Weston Winters is desperate to become an official alchemist, and when he arrives at the Welty house looking for the famous alchemist to become her apprentice, Margaret strikes a deal with him: she will allow him to stay until her mother returns if he agrees to join her in the annual hunt to kill the legendary Hala, a mythical and deadly fox that stalks the town until the hunt begins. Margaret knows she has a great shot, but she needs an alchemist as a part of her team in order to enter the competition. These two strangers soon find that they are drawn to each other and have more in common than they know. As the competition looms closer, so does danger, and together they must learn to trust each other in order to survive.
THOUGHTS: This unique, stand alone fantasy takes place in a made up world influenced by the culture and lifestyle of the 1920s. Although fantastical, the story also tackles more serious and relatable issues like prejudice and racism. Readers will be drawn into Saft’s world and the slow romance that builds between Margaret and Weston and the connection they have as outcasts in their communities.
Clayton, Dhonielle. The Marvellers. Henry Holt and Co, 2022. 978-1-250-17494-9. 416 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8.
The Marvellers introduces us to Ella, the first Conjurer to attend the Arcanum Training Academy, which should be the most exciting thing. However Ella’s excitement quickly changes when she learns that her magic is looked at as “unnatural” and “bad.” Ella makes friends with 2 other students who don’t quite fit into the school either, and things seem to be looking up. That’s when the Ace of Anarchy, an extremely dangerous person, escapes prison with the help of a Conjurer. Now Ella is a target of suspicion, and she is forced to try to clear her family’s name and prove that all Conjurers aren’t awful. Will Ella be able to with the help of her friends, or will she be forced to leave the Arcanum Training Academy in shame?
THOUGHTS: This was a highly fast paced middle grade fantasy with some great commentary on society’s opinions of individuals who don’t fit into the “norm.” Readers will enjoy the nods to other popular authors sprinkled throughout the book as characters. This book is a must own for any upper elementary or middle school collection.
Fantasy Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Sebastian, Laura. Castles in their Bones. Delacorte Press, 2022. 978-0-593-11816-0. $18.99. 528p. Grades 9-12.
Sophronia, Daphne, and Beatriz are triplets, and from the time they were young, they have been raised to be the future rulers of Vesteria. Their mother, Empress Margaraux, has had this plan in place since before they were born. At sixteen years old, the sisters are leaving each other for the first time. Each is engaged to a prince so that they may infiltrate the kingdoms from within and use their talents to bring down each monarchy for their mother. However, when the girls arrive at their new homes, they begin to realize that the world is not quite the way described to them by their mother. Will the girls change the plan as they form new relationships and see the struggles of each kingdom, or will they stay faithful to their mother?
THOUGHTS: Castles in their Bones hooked me from the very beginning. Saphronia, Daphne, and Beatriz change so much throughout the novel when they are finally on their own. They have to navigate challenges they never anticipated, and their real personalities start to emerge as they spend more time away from their mother. Thanks to the cliffhanger ending, I’m impatiently waiting for book two in the duology.
Mafi, Tahereh. This Woven Kingdom. HarperCollins, 2022. 978-0-062-97244-6. $19.99. 512 p. Grades 9-12.
In the fantastic world of Ardunia, humans and Jinn are allowed to live among each other, according to the Fire Accords set in place by the current king, as long as they don’t use their powers and lie low. Despite the accords, Alizeh keeps her Jinn identity a secret from everyone around her. Although Alizeh is a powerful Jinn with ice in her veins, she lives a lonely life as a servant, cleaning the home of a duchess and working as a seamstress on the side for extra money. When she accidentally crosses paths with Prince Kamran, both her world and his are turned upside down. Kamran can’t stop thinking about her, even when he discovers her true identity and the prophecy that predicts she’ll be the downfall of his royal family. As their lives continue to intertwine, Alizeh holds onto her secrets while Kamran discovers the ones lurking within his own palace. These two are destined to be enemies, but can they become allies – or something more?
THOUGHTS: This Woven Kingdom is based on Persian mythology; however, it still reminded me of the Cinderella fairy tale. Although Alizeh is working as a servant, she’s actually a princess in disguise. At one point in the story, she’s given an opportunity to attend a ball in honor of Prince Kamran, and Alizeh is dressed and disguised using magic. Alizeh still has a lot of secrets that have yet to be revealed, and I think readers will be waiting impatiently for book two after the cliffhanger ending!
Elder Moke, Jenny. Rise of the Snake Goddess (Samantha Knox #2). Disney-Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-06727-0. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 7 & up.
Desperate to be a part of the prestigious archaeology program at the University of Chicago, Sam Knox embarks on an impulsive trip to the island of Crete. The clues she deciphers lead her to the legendary girdle of the Snake Goddess. Triumphant with her find, Sam plans to use this find as proof she deserves to be admitted to what has always been a “boys club.” However, before she can show her misogynist professor her find, the girdle is stolen and a series of catastrophic earthquakes suddenly begin to hit the island. Sam and friends Joana and Bennet Steeling must find the thief and return the girdle to its rightful place before the magic of the Snake Goddess is fully released upon the island and the world. As the chase brings them deeper into Cretian and Minoan mythology, deadly encounters with legendary creatures abound, including the infamous Minotaur.
THOUGHTS: This is a fantastic follow up to the first Samantha Knox title, Curse of the Specter Queen. Readers will enjoy the friendships, light romance, and adventures that mark popular YA fiction. A quickly-paced novel paying homage to Indiana Jones and The Mummy movie series, Snake Goddess takes readers through the legends of Knossos and Crete while infusing the story with a touch of magic. Knox herself is tempted by the magic of the Snake Goddess, but the story takes readers on an adventure through archaeological digs, swanky boat parties, and the legendary labyrinth.
Adventure Natasha Lewis, Whitehall-Coplay SD
Griffin, Rachel. Wild is the Witch. Sourcebooks Fire, 2022. 978-1-728-22945-4. 320 p. $18.99. Grades & up.
Iris Gray knows witches aren’t welcome in most towns after being involved in a severe magical explosion and being forced to leave her last town. While the Witches’ Council was lenient in their punishment, Iris knows they’re keeping tabs on her. Now settled in Washington, Iris never lets anyone see who she really is; instead, she vents her frustrations by writing curses she never intends to cast. Then, she meets Pike Alder, the witch-hating aspiring ornithologist who interns with her at a wildlife refuge. She creates the perfect curse for Pike – to turn him into a witch. Just as she is about to disperse it, an owl swoops in and steals the curse. If the bird dies, the curse is unleashed, and with the bird being a powerful amplifier, the entire region is in danger of being turned into witches. With the possibility of her magic being stripped from her if her secret is found out, Iris begs Pike to help her track the bird through the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, Iris learns much about Pike and about herself that has her rethinking her coping mechanisms and Pike himself. Griffin’s language is lyrical and cozy, perfectly matching the setting of the Pacific Northwest forests in which Pike and Iris hike to find the bird and save everything.
THOUGHTS: Readers of paranormal fiction with an interest in hedgewitch/nature-focused practice will enjoy this thoughtful take on magic. The dynamic of Iris’ family is refreshing as they recover from events prior to the book. Of course as the tense situation with the owl builds, so does the journey toward truths that Pike and Iris keep from one another. A solid standalone YA paranormal romance pick for 8th grade and up.
Brown, Roseanne A. Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting. Disney Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-06636-5. 400pg. $17.99. Grades 5-8.
Serwa knows that fireflies aren’t just harmless bugs; in her world they are vicious vampires known as adza that come from southeastern Ghana. Serwa and her family are slayers, and they are responsible for protecting the public from these creatures. When her parents get called on a special mission, Serwa knows this is her chance to shine but her parents have other plans and leave her with an aunt and cousin to keep her safe. Serwa now has to navigate the most difficult thing she’s ever had to deal with before… middle school! As things are settling down and Serwa is finding her footing, an adza attacks her school and it is up to her to figure out what is going on and protect the school and community.
THOUGHTS: This is an amazing addition to the Rick Riordan presents books! This book is highly engaging, fast paced, and has wonderful character development throughout the pages. The ending will leave the reader wanting the next book in the series right away. This book is highly recommended for middle school collections.
Fantasy Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy