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 – 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

YA Fantasy – HP & the Cursed Child; Labyrinth Lost; Ghosts

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Rowling, J.K., John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. New York: Scholastic, Inc, 2016. 978-1-33809-913-3. $29.99. 343 pp. Gr. 6-12.

The eighth book in the Harry Potter series is set nineteen years after the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, taking readers back to the enchanting world of wizards. Harry, Ron and Hermione all work at the Ministry of Magic, balancing careers with their family life; all have children attending Hogwarts. In his first year at Hogwarts, Harry and Ginny’s youngest son, Albus, is sorted into Slytherin, and instantly befriends Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpious. The two seclude themselves from others and grow up mostly as outcasts. As Albus enters his teen years, he struggles with having famous Harry Potter as a father, and Harry struggles to understand his adolescent son. Meanwhile, a time-turner is uncovered at the Ministry of Magic, and Amos Diggory pleads with Harry to travel back and save his son Cedric. Fans of the original series will love the journey back in time, happy to meet old characters and new. THOUGHTS:  The play format might seem sparse to seasoned Harry Potter readers, but fanatics and fans alike will love traveling back to Hogwarts to see what Harry, Ron, and Hermione are up to.

Fantasy        Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

 

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Córdova, Zoraida. Labyrinth Lost. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Fire, 2016. 978-1-4926-2094-5. 324 pp. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

Alejandra just wants to be a normal Brooklyn teenager who hangs out with her friends, goes to concerts, and definitely does not come from a long line of brujas (witches). Instead, she’s a burgeoning encantrix whose Deathday ceremony (a chance to connect with and be blessed by her ancestors) is fast approaching. So Alex, who hates her magic, devises a risky plan to perform a spell that will cast out her powers. When the spell backfires, Alex’s whole family disappears into the spirit realm of Los Lagos. With the help of cute but mysterious Nova, Alex opens a portal to Los Lagos so she can rescue her family. Suddenly, everything depends on the powers she’s never bothered to hone. It’s truly a bruja‘s odyssey, complete with challenges, obstacles, and tricksters. The cliffhanger ending will either frustrate readers or entice them to read the forthcoming sequel. THOUGHTS: Cordova has crafted a fully realized world and a beguiling mythology that more than compensates for the novel’s slightly slow start (Alex’s family doesn’t disappear until nearly a third of the way into the book’s 300+ pages).

Fantasy Fiction        Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library

 

ghosts

Telgemeier, Raina. Ghosts. New York: Graphix, 2016. 978-0-54554-062-9. $24.99. Gr. 6-12.

Cat and her family are moving to Northern California. The salty sea air there is better for her younger sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis. While her family is excited for the change, Cat is sad to leave her friends back in Southern California and anxious about her new town which is said to be very haunted. Cat and Maya’s neighbor, Carlos, takes them on a ghost tour through town, and an encounter with the spirits leaves Maya hospitalized. Cat is determined to keep her sister safely away from the ghosts, but when Maya returns home, she is determined to see them again. Cat is scared, and not just of ghosts; Dia de los Muertos is coming up, and meeting with the many ghosts may be too much for Maya. Telgemeier once again creates an excellent middle grade graphic novel that explores tough issues through relatable text and beautiful illustrations. For those who loved Telgemeier’s previous books Smile, Drama and Sisters, this will be another popular graphic novel in your Middle School. THOUGHTS: An exciting opportunity to incorporate a supplemental text and a graphic novel into a language class that studies Dia de los Muertos. Students really relate to and love Telgemeier’s story and artwork. While relatable to tweens and teens, readers also get a chance to explore cultural traditions they may not be familiar with.

Paranormal Fantasy        Victoria Schoewbel, Friends’ Central School

Trial by Fire…Book 1 of the Worldwalker Trilogy

trialbyfire

Angelini, Josephine. Trial by Fire (Book 1, Worldwalker Trilogy). New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2014. 978-1-250-05088-5. 374 p. $17.99. Gr. 7 and up.

Lily Proctor is literally allergic to the world; she cannot eat most things, handle scents, or experience daily life like most teenagers her age.  Her mother, Samantha, is mentally ill and considered the town “nut” of Salem, Massachusetts, and her father has left leaving Lily and her older sister, Juliet, to care for their mother.  After an embarrassing seizure at her first (and probably last) party, Lily wishes to leave her world and the stress of her life behind.  Little does she know that Lillian, the Salem Witch from a parallel universe, has been watching her and is ready to make her move on Lily.  Soon Lily is in Lillian’s Salem.  Terrified of what has happened, and truly unsure about her new situation, Lily takes off through Salem looking for help and answers, but instead is captured by Lillian’s ex-mechanic, Rowan, and the Outlanders, non-magical people who live outside of the walls of the Thirteen Cities.  Once Lily is able to prove that she is not Lillian, it is up to her to harness her magic to save the Outlanders from Lillian’s wrath and herself from the pyre.  Trial by Fire is the first book in the Worldwalker Trilogy; book two is due out September 2015.

Fantasy    Erin Parkinson, Lincoln Jr/Sr High School

I hated Trial by Fire in the beginning.  I thought it started out strong as realism, but when it transferred into the alternative Salem, the magical element was bizarre and too far away from how the novel began for me, and yet, I could not stop reading it.  I got to the point with Trial by Fire that I refused to put the book down until I finished it.  A novel that I couldn’t stand ended up being one of the best stories I’ve read this year.  Angelini masterfully draws the reader into Lily’s story in such a way that other elements of the story fade into the back, and Lily’s character and relationships become central, not the magic or alternative/parallel universe.  The magic only adds to the importance of the character’s relationships with one another, which are very realistic, and end up being the core of the novel.  This is a great novel (and hopefully series) for readers who enjoy Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy and the continual internal struggles of Alina and Mal.