YA – This Wicked Fate

Bayron, Kaylnn. This Wicked Fate. Bloomsbury, 2022. 978-1-5476-0920-8. 307 pg. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

This Wicked Fate starts right where the first book (This Poison Heart) ends, with Briseis trying to find a way to rescue her mother. However, that means that Briseis needs to put together the pieces of the Absyrtus Heart plant, which is deadly. Throughout this book, Briseis gets to know her relatives that she has never really met while there are others who want the heart. What will Briseis do in order to save her mother, as well as those she loves? Will she be able to rescue her mother, or is this a mission that is doomed to fail no matter what?

THOUGHTS: This was a great ending to this duology!! The way the author delves into the family dynamic as well as the interpersonal relationships between these characters is done spectacularly. The character arcs are very well done, and everything feels very natural. This duology would be great for fans of mythology or fans of a fantasy series. 

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy 

YA – Rise of the Snake Goddess

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
Historical Fiction
Fantasy

MG – Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend

Zhao, Katie. Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend. 978-0-593-42657-9. Random House, 2022. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Winnie Zeng has enough pressure: starting middle school, as well as her Chinese parents constantly nagging her to get better grades, practice the piano more, and to always beat her nemesis, David Zuo. She really doesn’t need her pet rabbit, Jade, to start talking to her. Not to worry, says the rabbit, it’s the overspirit of her dead grandmother, Lao Lao. When Winnie uses her grandmother’s old cookbook to bake mooncakes, she unknowingly activates her own shaman powers (which summons Lao Lao), as well as unleashes a class one spirit who promptly possesses her older sister’s boyfriend. Lao Lao explains to Winnie that shaman are responsible for protecting the human world from malevolent spirits that escape into the world. Great! Now she has a supernatural grandmother nagging her as well! What’s a good Chinese daughter to do? Practice the piano for the upcoming competition (and beat David) or practice her shaman skills with her grandmother? To make things even worse, Winnie discovers David is also a shaman-in-training (but doing better than her, of course.) With spirit activity increasing as the Mid-Autumn Festival approaches, Lao Lao and David pressure Winnie to step up her training, but even an obedient Chinese-American daughter can only do so much. Will Winnie choose to save the world or ace the piano competition once and for all? Zhao uses Chinese mythology to frame the plot, but the heart of the story is Winnie’s need to find herself amid the constant drive to please her parents. Winnie is an appealing, laugh-out-loud funny narrator. Students definitely will relate to her exasperation at being expected to do so much at a very high level, and the feeling of never being quite good enough.

THOUGHTS: Readers looking for a humorous book with a likable protagonist definitely will enjoy  Winnie Zeng. While they may not understand her (temporary) choice to focus on school and turn down being a spirit-catching, world-saving shaman, most will relate to her stressed-out feeling of being over-scheduled with activities and expectations, and look forward to the next book.

Fantasy (Mythology)                Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl

Kagawa, Julie. Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl. Disney-Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-06819-2. Grades 4-7.

Shinji, a 13-year-old orphan, is being raised by his globe-trotting Aunt Yui, who is constantly searching for unique artisan products for her store, Lost River Outfitters. While aimlessly wandering a marketplace in a corner of Africa along the Zambezi River, he comes across an unusual, snake-like statue that calls to him. Literally. Shinji no sooner takes possession of the Coatl idol when trouble starts. Armed men attempt to force the Mezoamerican figurine from Shinji, eventually kidnapping the boy and taking him to the headquarters of the Hightower Corporation. There, Shinji makes an ally in Lucy, a computer prodigy his own age and they begin to unravel the mystery of the Coatl, which has turned into a tattoo on Shinji’s arm. They plot their escape and form an alliance with the mysterious Society of Adventurers and Explorers to complete the mission of the Coatl before it drains Shinji’s life away. This action-packed middle grade adventure holds its own in the increasingly crowded field of mythology-based series. Shinji is a relatable character, who wise-cracks at the wrong time and frequently allows his frustration to get the better of him. Lucy provides a cool foil to Shinji, with secrets of her own that propel the story forward. Kagawa deftly spreads suspicion among all the adults, leaving Shinji and the reader not sure who to trust, keeping up the suspense until the end of the book. While the story does have a Disney tie-in, it is minimally invasive. The characters are widely diverse, with Shinji being Asian; Lucy white; and the members of the Society of Adventurers and Explorers cueing as Black, Indian and white, and include a wheelchair Explorer who flies drones.

THOUGHTS: If you don’t object to the minor Disney plug woven into the story, this is a solid choice for a magic-based action/adventure story. Not as heavily immersed in mythology as Percy Jackson, it should entertain readers just looking for a fun story that is hard to put down. Sequels would seem to be forthcoming.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem./MG – Skandar and the Unicorn Thief

Steadman, A. F. Skandar and the Unicorn Thief. Simon and Schuster,  2022. 978-1-665-91500-7. 448 p. $18.99. Grades 4-7.

If you are like most people, you think of unicorns as beautiful, sparkly creatures, possibly with rainbow poop. Skandar knows the truth: unicorns are nasty, carnivorous creatures who would sooner eat you than warmly nuzzle you. Yet Skandar, like all his 13-year-old friends, is anxiously awaiting exam day, the day when Mainlander students find out who will be chosen to go to the Island where the unicorns live, bond with a newly hatched unicorn and become a revered unicorn rider. To Skandar’s horror, everything seems to fall apart the morning of the exam. Yet, that night, a mysterious rider appears at his home, whisking him off to the island under a cloak of secrecy. Skandar successfully hatches a unicorn, begins training, and makes three close friends, but Skandar carries a secret burden he fears will get him exiled from the community. This thrilling, action-packed adventure takes elements of Harry Potter and Star Wars and creates an unforgettable start to a new series. The boarding school setting (the coolest boarding school ever – set in tree houses) provides opportunity for friendship building, as well as the requisite bully to threaten the peace. There is an evil haunting the Island that only Skandar can confront. And then there are the unicorns. Steadman shines with the world building of the unicorns. They are way cooler than traditional unicorns. Scary, dangerous, and potentially evil, but definitely worth the risk. The rider-unicorn bond is to be envied. The conclusion of the book definitely signals sequels. Skandar cues white, but his close friends include brown-skinned Mitchell and Bobby with a Spanish mother. Incidental students are a variety of ethnicities. 

THOUGHTS: This unique fantasy should fly off the shelves. For students too young to read Diana Peterfrund’s Killer Unicorn series, Skandar will be a delightful introduction to less-cutesy creatures. This can’t-put-down epic should be a first purchase where fantasy books are popular. 

Fantasy        Nancy Nadig  Penn Manor SD

YA – The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Oh, Axie. The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea. Hodder and Stoughton, 2022. 978-1-529-39199-2. 321 p. $16.99. Grades 9-12.

Every year in Mina’s town a maiden is sacrificed to the Sea God hoping to stop all the devastating floods and wars that the townspeople think is due to the Sea God being angry. Mina’s older brother Joon is in love with Shim Cheong, a beautiful girl from their village, and one year it is decided that she will be sacrificed to the Sea God. Joon decides to follow and interfere which Mina knows means that he will die. In a split moment decision, Mina throws herself into the water, saving her brother and hoping that she can be the Sea God’s “true bride” and stop all the devastation that is plaguing her town. But when Mina gets to the Spirit Realm, she finds that the Sea God is trapped in an enchanted sleep. Will Mina be able to wake him up and save her town? Or will she be trapped in the Spirit Realm forever?

THOUGHTS: This was a wonderful fantasy stand alone! There are several twists and turns which just add to the overall feel of the story making the reader need to keep turning the pages to see what happens. This book is a great addition to any high school collection!!

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – An Arrow to the Moon

Pan, Emily R. X. An Arrow to the Moon. Little, Brown, and Company, 2022. 978-0-316-46405-5. $18.99. 400. Grades 9-12.

Luna Chang and Hunter Yee each come from a family that hates the other, and although they are forbidden to see each other and try to keep their distance, they become friends and then more. As they begin to spend more time together, they notice that each has special, almost supernatural abilities: Luna is followed by a group of fireflies, and her breath can heal Hunter when he’s hurt or having an asthma attack. Hunter has a special relationship with the wind, and when he aims, especially with his bow and arrow, he never misses. As graduation nears, Luna realizes her life is not as perfect as it seems, and Hunter continues to feel trapped within his. Each family has secrets, and as the lies unravel and some dangerous truths are revealed, their world begins to crack and their lives fall apart. Will their love be enough to save them, or will it destroy them?

THOUGHTS: An Arrow to the Moon has been described as a “Romeo and Juliet retelling” mixed with Chinese mythology, specifically the Chinese legend of Chang’e and Houyi. The families are Taiwanese immigrants, although Hunter’s family consider themselves to be simply Chinese. This brings up a conversation between the characters about cultural identities and the struggles of immigration. Readers also may make connections to the characters as they experience family struggles and the realities of growing up. This title falls into the fantasy genre as magical realism, and it would be a perfect suggestion for readers looking for a love story with just a touch of magic.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

An Arrow To The Moon is a dual perspective young adult novel that follows Luna and Hunter, who both attend the same high school and at the beginning of the novel don’t interact with each other due to their parents being enemies. As the novel unfolds, Hunter and Luna become closer and closer, until they can no longer deny that they are in love with each other. They are able to keep this a secret from their parents, but there are other weird things happening in their town. Luna has fireflies that seem to follow her around, Hunter can aim perfectly with a bow and arrow, and the town has a massive crack going through the middle of it. As the reader follows the characters, the reasons become clear and Hunter and Luna are going to have some hard choices to make that will not only affect them but their families.

THOUGHTS: This is a unique take on a young adult Romeo and Juliet retelling, especially with the addition of Chinese mythology. This book will have the reader rooting for Luna and Hunter from the beginning until the very end. This is a great addition to any high school collection.

Romance          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Vial of Tears

Bishara, Cristin. Vial of Tears. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44641-4. $18.99. 320 p. Grades 9-12.

Sixteen year old Samira is just trying to get by. Her father is missing in action, and her mother has a habit of disappearing for days at a time. When she receives a vase containing antique coins from her great grandfather in Lebanon, Samira and her sister Rima are unwillingly transported to the Phoenician underworld by the owner of one of the coins: a half god named Eshmun. Samira is desperate to get home, but when she is separated from Rima, she must rely on Eshmun and his companion Teth to find her. However, the underworld is a dark realm with dangerous creatures lurking around every corner, and Sam doesn’t know if she can count on anyone to help her and her sister get home. In a world where everyone seems to be after power or wealth, who can you trust?

THOUGHTS: Vial of Tears is another great title to recommend to readers who enjoy reading about mythology, and Phoenician mythology is definitely unique subject matter for young adult fantasy literature. Readers also will enjoy the sibling relationship between Samira and Rima and Sam’s memories of her time with her father.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – Oh My Gods!

Cooke, Stephanie. Oh My Gods! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. 978-0-358-29952-3. $12.99. 202 p. Grades 4-8.

Being a teenager is tough enough, but when Karen’s mom gets the job offer of her dreams, Karen is obligated to move to Greece to live with her Dad, Zed, which means her life is about to get much more complicated. Soon after her arrival, it is clear that living on Mt. Olympus will be a lot different than the life she was used to in New Jersey! Karen quickly meets a group of friends at her new school, and to her they seem normal, but anyone familiar with Greek mythology will immediately realize that the references and similarities to Greek deities mean Karen’s new friends are more than the everyday teenagers they pretend to be. Together, the new friends discover a student turned into a statue in the library one night, and Karen realizes she must solve the mystery of who is turning kids to stone on campus!

THOUGHTS: Fans of fiction featuring Greek mythology, including Rick Riordan fans, will love the multitude of references to gods and goddesses in this book. Students who do not know much about the Ancient Greeks may be inspired to learn more; this would make a great pairing with nonfiction titles like those in the Mythlopedia series. The graphic illustrations are charming and enhance the mystery and quirky humor in the story. Strong themes of friendship and acceptance in this book leave the reader eager to see what the next installment (April 2022) of Karen’s adventures on Mt. Olympus will hold!

Graphic Novel          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem./MG – Tales of Great Goddesses (Series NF)

Greenberg, Imogen, and Isabel Greenberg. Tales of Great Goddesses. Amulet Books, 2021, $14.99 ea. $26. set of 26.78 91 p. Grades 3-6.

Athena: Goddess of War and Wisdom.  978-1-419-74859-2.
Gaia. 978-1-419-74861-5. (July 2022)

From the time Athena emerges from a split in her father’s skull, the goddess is always creating drama on Mount Olympus, whether she tries to or not. Although she is strong and wise, some of the other gods and goddesses on Olympus do not like her, especially her uncle Poseidon. Athena does not much care for him either, especially when he roots against her in a weaving contest against the mortal Arachne and prevents Odysseus, Athena’s favorite hero, from returning home to his wife and child after a long journey at sea. Although he loves his youngest daughter, Zeus becomes frustrated with Athena from time to time. He becomes especially angry when she tries to meddle in mortal business even when they do not ask for her help. Athena must learn to balance helping mortals with the wishes of her father.

THOUGHTS: Although there are countless books on Greek gods and goddesses, this graphic novel about Athena proves even stories that have been told over and over can be fresh again. The Greenberg sisters write and illustrate Athena’s greatest adventures in a way that ties all of her stories together and proves that even goddesses have a lot to learn. Back matter in the book includes a glossary and further reading. While Greek Mythology can sometimes be a bit problematic for younger grades (violence, nudity, etc.), the authors handle the content and illustrations with care. This is a perfect addition to upper elementary and middle grade libraries.

292.2 Mythology           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Graphic Novel