MG – Last Fallen Star

Kim, Grace. Last Fallen Star. Disney-Hyperion, 2021. 978-1-368-05963-3. 336 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Riley loves her Korean family and community. Her parents are healers, part of the Gom clan, and Riley longs for the day she can join them, with her almost-twin sister, Hattie. Unfortunately, Riley, an adopted daughter, has failed to show an affinity with any of the five magical witch clans, let alone an indication she is a Gom. However, an offhand comment shows the girls an option, albeit a dangerous one: once Hattie is initiated into the clan, she can cast a spell to share her magic with Riley. But when the girls attempt the spell, truths are revealed that Riley and Hattie never imagined. An appeal to the clan goddess ends with Hattie’s life in peril and Riley pledged to locate the Last Fallen Star. Only she has no idea what it is, let alone where to find it. Luckily, Riley is blessed with a great friend in Emmett, a non-magical member of the Korean community who undertakes the quest with Riley. Along the way, Riley and Emmett locate the sixth witch clan, long outlawed from the other clans, and uncover the truth of the rift between them. This first book in a new series from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint delves into the fascinating world of Korean mythology. All characters are members of the Korean community in Los Angeles. Readers will love the intricacies of the witch clans, their associated skills, and patron goddesses. Riley is a spunky protagonist whose adventurous spirit and deep love for her sister keep the story moving. Kim writes with wit, and the story is often laugh-out-loud funny (the Gostr app to locate spirits is quite humorous). Riley discovers she has more friends than she realized, which is a comfort when she makes a startling sacrifice to save Hattie.

THOUGHTS: This enjoyable action adventure will please readers who cannot get enough of mythology-based series. Purchase where RRP books are popular. Delightfully, the main characters are thirteen years old, making the book potentially attractive for middle school collections.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Kingdom of the Wicked

Maniscalco, Kerri. Kingdom of the Wicked. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 978-0-316-42846-0. $18.99. 448 p. Grades 9-12.

Emilia and Vittoria, twin sisters, are also witches known as streghe. They come from a family of witches who must hide from both humans and The Malvagi, or The Wicked: Princes of Hell who would stop at nothing to capture their souls for themselves. Emilia and Vittoria have grown up hearing stories about the seven Princes of Hell from their grandmother, Nonna, and for protection, each girl wears a cornicello, a horned shaped amulet. According to Nonna, they must never take them off and never put them together because The Malvagi are always watching, and always waiting. When Emilia finds Vittoria murdered, her Nonna’s stories don’t seem so unbelievable anymore, and she finds herself summoning a demon to discover what happened to her sister. When she inadvertently summons Wrath, one of the seven Princes of Hell, she reluctantly accepts his offer to help her find the murderer of her sister and other witches, but from Nonna’s stories, she knows she cannot really trust him or the other princes she meets in her city. However, Wrath is unlike his brothers, and against her better judgement, she starts to rely on their alliance and cannot deny the attraction growing between them. In order to avenge her sister and protect her family, Emilia may just have to make a deal with the devil.

THOUGHTS: Kingdom of the Wicked is a refreshing, new fantasy series that takes place in the 19th century on the Italian island of Sicily. Emilia’s family owns a restaurant called Sea and Vine, and trust me, you’ll be craving some homemade Italian food after finishing this one. Although the time period wasn’t obvious to me when starting the novel, it became more apparent as I continued to read, but to be honest, I had to do a Google search to completely understand the setting of this book. Along with witchcraft, this book introduces the Seven Princes of Hell, referred to as The Wicked, which are basically the embodiments of the seven deadly sins, and they certainly add to the uniqueness and eeriness of this new, historical fantasy.

Fantasy           Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley 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

New MS Fantasy

nightbird

Hoffman, Alice. Nightbird. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2015. 978-0-385-38958-7. 197p. $16.99. Gr. 4-6.

Magical, in the style of Tuck Everlasting or the Bridge to Terabithia, Nightbird is sweet, hopeful, and slightly romantic with characters we would love to have as friends or neighbors. Twig lives with her mother and brother in Sidwell, Massachusetts, a very small town in the densely wooded Berkshire Mountains, where generations of her family have lived before. When a new family moves in next door, Twig is immediately embraced by the Halls, including their daughters, Julia and Agate. But, her situation is complicated by the fact that her brother, James, who lives in her home’s attic, must be kept secret from the world because he has wings; the result of a spell cast on Twig’s family generations earlier by a witch in Julia’s family. When James sneaks out at dusk, Agate sees hi,m and the two begin to meet secretly in the woods. Is Twig able to have a close friendship with Julia given her family’s secret? What will happen if others in town see James? Can James ever be happy? Is it possible to reverse the witch’s spell? Why, when Twig’s family left Brooklyn to move to Sidwell, did her father stay behind? THOUGHTS: This simple tale of two intertwined families destined to navigate their families’ histories is sweet and appealing, and a refreshing addition to middle school literature.

Fantasy    Annette Sirio, Barack Obama Academy of International Studies

When My Heart Was Wicked

wickedheart

Stirling, Tricia. When My Heart Was Wicked. New York: Scholastic Press, 2015. Print. 978-0545695732. 192 p. $17.99. Gr. 9+.

This debut novel packs a lot into a quick 173 pages, but Tricia Stirling succeeds in creating a darkly enchanting tale of one young girl’s quest to define herself. When we first meet Lacey, her beloved father has recently passed away and she is living with Anna, her stepmother. Suddenly, her mother, who had been missing for 3 years, returns and forces Lacey to move back to Sacramento with her. Though unwilling, Lacey complies. Her unwillingness stems from her feeling that she becomes a completely different person when she is in the shadow of her mother- dark, angry, and evil. With her father and Anna she is light, happy, and kind. She knows that this Lacey cannot be sustained when she is living with her unpredictable and dangerous mother. Her mother is some sort of witch (her powers are never clearly defined), and her ability to craft spells has been passed on to Lacey. These skills prove to be useful in her new school in which she is bullied by a group of girls. Lacey is also singled out by a boy with a sketchy reputation, and though warned by one of his prior victims, she falls prey to his advances and becomes the target of his vicious rumors when she refuses to have sex with him.  Lacey begins to perform small spells and have occasional outbursts that make her feel like she is once again turning into the evil daughter of her evil mother. The text occasionally falls into a stream of consciousness narrative, and the reader must keep up with Lacey throughout her rambling thoughts. She jumps back and forth between past events and the present, and the reader is left to pick up the pieces and figure out what it is that makes her both love and hate her mother. This ambiguity works well with the novel’s theme of the difficulties that lie in defining oneself outside of one’s family and friends. Lacey does make friends in her new school, and these relationships keep her grounded amid the fraying relationship with her unpredictable mother. The characters are interesting and realistic, though one wonders how Lacey’s mother can be considered a fit guardian for her daughter. This novel will engage readers who enjoy dark tales with a realistic edge to them.

Realistic (Supernatural) Fiction           Lindsey Myers, Peters Township High School

 

Similar to how the main character struggled to define herself, I struggled to define my feelings about this novel from beginning to end. It is captivating and Lacey has a unique voice, but the interspersing of witchcraft caught me off guard on occasion, possibly because the rest of the novel is typical young adult drama- dealing with a new school and friends, bullying, fighting with parents, etc. The witchcraft did lift it up out of the “general” realistic fiction into something supernatural and dark, which I believe will appeal to teens looking for something more than the standard fare. I am eager to see more from this author.