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

YA – The Bright & the Pale

Rubinkowski, Jessica. The Bright & the Pale. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-063-07712-6. 328 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

When Valeria was 17 years old, her village was encased in a magical frost that froze everyone and everything in her village. She is the only survivor. Ever since that happened, she has been hiding from the Czar, who wants to throw anyone who survived, in jail. When the book starts, Valeria is working for the Thieves Guild with her best friend Alik and doing what she can to survive, which all comes crashing down when Alik is murdered. A year later, Valeria finds out that Alik is alive. Now she needs to lead a group of criminals into her home town in order to buy Alik’s freedom.

THOUGHTS: This is a great read for fans of the Grisha trilogy, as it has a similar feel in the mythology and folklore. This is also a great book to read during the winter, with the majority of the book taking place outside with snow.

Fantasy          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Sometimes It’s Bright

Ruygt, Annie. Sometimes It’s Bright. Boyd’s Mill Press, 2021. 978-1-68437-982-8 p. 32. $17.99. Grades K-2.

“What is that magic, sparkling and sheer?”

A very observant little girl and her mother spend the day together. The main character notices the flow in the notes of a street musician, noise from billboards, and flying from the dancers on a stage. Where is this beauty coming from, and how does it shine so bright? The curious little girl learns that there is magic all around her and that when she digs deep, she can find this brilliant magic within herself as well. She can dance, draw, and paint to share art with the world, using everyday magic as glorious inspiration. Sometimes It’s Bright explores our most creative selves and shares the magic and happiness it can bring to others.

THOUGHTS: There is magic inside each child’s imagination, and Sometimes It’s Bright sparks the creative side in each reader. Annie Ruygt, the author, said, “I wish for you to be your whole self because this world is better when we’re all shining bright.” Gentle and straightforward text, with bright and vibrant illustrations- the story is a winner!

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading 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

YA – Realm Breaker

Aveyard, Victoria. Realm Breaker. Harper Teen, 2021. 978-0-062-87262-3. 563 p. $19.99. Grades 8-12.

Aveyard returns with a lush new fantasy series that feels like a cross between King Arthur and Game of Thrones. A new player has come to the Ward, a man with the power to open Spindles, portals between realms. Spindles have not been opened for generations, not since the Immortals traveled into the Ward and found themselves stranded, unable to return to their home. But now Taristan has stolen the sword to create spindles, and begun releasing monsters and undead creatures into the world. Those knights who survived the initial battle between good and evil realize what Taristan is unleashing, yet few rulers care to believe them. The Immortal Domacridhan knows what it will take to stop Taristan – an individual with Corblood, and a Spindlesword – and he sets out to locate 17-year-old Corayne, an illegitimate daughter of the Cor lineage, who yearns for adventures her pirate mother refuses to grant her. The group gradually enlarges to seven unique characters, including a squire who lost his Lord at the first battle; a forger; a bounty hunter; a witch; and Sorasa, an assassin who steals the story. With no support from the monarchs of the Ward, the ragtag group proceeds to try to close the spindles before their world is set ablaze. This first book in the series has a great deal of scene setting to accomplish, and Aveyard evokes a fascinating world of exotic lands and characters of all ethnicities and skin tones. A detailed map on the endpapers assists readers in keeping track of the sprawling territory, and at times the proliferation of characters, locales, and realms can be overwhelming, but the story is gripping and delightfully satisfying. While Corayne seems to be set up as the main character, the story rotates between all the voices, and each character is a well-developed personality: Andry, the 17-year-old squire has nobility ingrained in him, but slowly develops the ruthlessness needed to survive their quest; Dom, the Immortal, does not quite understand mortals; and Sorasa, the female assassin, just might have a heart under her tough persona. There is no shortage of action, battles, monsters, daring escapes, and breathtaking betrayals.

THOUGHTS: Fantasy lovers should flock to this new series and be waiting on the edge of their seats for the sequel.

Fantasy          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Corayne an-Amarat is the daughter of a pirate, but she hasn’t had any adventures of her own. When she discovers that she’s the last of an ancient line, her world is changed forever. Corayne begins a journey along with Domacridhan of Iona, an immortal sworn to protect her, the assassin Sorasa Sarn, squire Andry Trelland, the forger Charlon Armont, bounty hunter Sigil of the Temurijon, and a witch named Valtik. Together, this fellowship sets out to stop Erida of Galland, the queen who chose to ally with villainous Taristan of Old Cor from using spindle magic to tear a rip between worlds, and save the Allward realm from their destruction.

THOUGHTS: This book reminds me of Game of Thrones but for a YA audience. The story is told through the perspective of a large cast of characters. Some of the characters are good and set out to defend their world while others, hungry for power, make questionable decisions that will determine the course of the future. Within the fantastical world of Realm Breaker, readers will experience action, adventure, and ancient magic along with pirates, assassins, and monsters. This also would be a great book recommendation for readers who aren’t looking for a strong love story, and it’s perfect for any fan of the high fantasy genre.

Fantasy           Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD