YA – Wild is the Witch

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.

Fantasy          Natasha Lewis, Whitehall-Coplay SD

Elem. – A Spoonful of Frogs

Lyall, Casey, and Vera Brosgol, Illustrator. A Spoonful of Frogs. Greenwillow Books, 2022. 978-0-062-89029-0. unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Welcome to Bewitching Kitchen, where today’s featured recipe is Frog Soup. This easy and healthy recipe is every witch’s favorite treat! Ingredients include garlic, carrots, fly extract, and a spoonful of frogs for flavor and a “pop of color.” Unfortunately, the frogs in this witch’s kitchen are less than enthusiastic about jumping onto the spoon and into the pot. They outwit an increasingly frazzled witch before leading her on a chase across the street and right into a nearby pond. Luckily, the witch comes up with an acceptable substitute for frogs that saves both the recipe … and the frogs! Young readers will delight in the exaggerated physical comedy as the witch’s composure dissolves amidst the increasing chaos. They also will root for the adorable, wily frogs.

THOUGHTS: Vera Brosgol’s entertaining digital artwork enlivens Casey Lyall’s minimal, action-oriented text. This is a great selection for Halloween as well as introducing the cookbook section. Laughs are guaranteed! 

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Gods & Monsters

Mahurin, Shelby. Gods & Monsters. HarperTeen, 2021. 978-0-063-03893-6. $19.99. 624 p. Grades 9-12.

Lou, Reid, Beau, and Coco are looking for allies to defeat Morgane and her clan of dame blanc witches while still heartbroken and recovering from a devastating loss. Lou is not herself, and although Reid recognizes that something is wrong, he cannot understand why he’s repulsed by even her touch, but saving her may take the ultimate sacrifice. As the plot progresses, new friendships are formed, and through the strength of their bond, they prepare to overcome the obstacles that will lead them to a final battle between good and evil. 

THOUGHTS: In this action packed conclusion to Serpent & Dove, Mahurin ties up loose ends and also gives readers a chance to experience Lou and Reid falling in love all over again. Although I would still classify this title as young adult, there are a few scenes between Lou and Reid that almost cross the line into new adult. In the end, this trilogy is a must have in any young adult library collection and a great series for readers who enjoy fantasy and romance.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Kingdom of the Cursed

Maniscalco, Kerri. Kingdom of the Cursed. Hodder & Stoughton, 2021. 978-0-316-42847-7. $18.99. Grades 12+.

Kingdom of the Cursed picks up with Emilia selling her soul in order to figure out what happened to her sister, Vittoria. Some of the decisions that Emilia made have helped to unlock some secrets and cause her to ask more questions. As this book progresses, the reader sees Emilia trying to figure out if she should trust Wrath as she learns that she can’t trust anyone. Kingdom of the Cursed delves more into the world building of this fantasy world, as well as more character development of Emilia. 

THOUGHTS: Overall, this is a great addition to this series that continues to build on the characters and plot that was laid out in the first book. There are some scenes that are a little more on the explicit side, hence the higher grade level rating. However, this would be a great recommendation for fans of the first book, or fans of the author’s other work. 

Fantasy           Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Grades 10-12+.

After making a deal with the devil, Emilia travels to the seven circles in the Kingdom of the Wicked with Prince Wrath. As the betrothed of Prince Pride, her plan is to infiltrate his court and make it one step closer to avenging the death of her twin sister Vittoria. However, the journey is not easy, and before she meets Pride, she becomes a resident of House Wrath. From Wrath, she learns just how dangerous and deceptive his brothers can be, and he advises her to trust no one. When Emilia slowly begins to unravel the secrets of the past, she realizes that she’ll need the help of magical objects to discover who she really is and if she can really trust Wrath.

THOUGHTS: Kingdom of the Cursed is listed as a young adult title and can be found in the YA section of book stores; however, the romantic scenes between Emilia and Wrath are very descriptive, and I’d go as far to classify this one as new adult for that reason alone. Although it’s heavy on romance that doesn’t always advance the plot, I still enjoyed the book and cannot wait to see how it all ends. I’ll be impatiently waiting for the next installment. 

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – The Legend of Christmas Witch

Murphy, Dan and Plaza Aubrey. The Legend of Christmas Witch. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-593-35080-5. 56 p. $18.99. Grades 2-5.

It’s been a while since a new holiday folklore book hit the shelves! Santa’s twin sister, Kristtōrn, was raised by a witch in the woods. Although it may sound familiar that her magic powers grew just as proficiently as her temper, the storyline leans into fear and persecution of the “other” that existed during the Salem witch trials and occurs in other fashions in the modern day.

THOUGHTS: This story is unusual and far from traditional, but makes space for another tale to be told about the Christmas season. The book is beautifully illustrated and appeals to natural aspects. The ending leaves a lot for the reader to interpret and would be a good project book for older readers. 

Picture Book          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area 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

Elem. – Garlic and the Vampire

Paulsen, Bree. Garlic and the Vampire. Quill Tree Books, 2021. 978-0-062-99509-4. 160 p. $22.99. Grades 2-5.

Garlic has overslept again, and she’s late for her shift at Witch Agnes’s Market Day, where all of the local fruits and vegetables sell their harvest. Meanwhile, smoke drifts from the chimney of a distant castle, alerting the garden helpers that the spooky house isn’t vacant anymore. Witch Agnes reluctantly admits that the castle’s new resident is very likely a vampire. Pointing out that garlic wards off vampires, Celery nominates timid Garlic to visit the castle, and even Carrot (her father figure) agrees that she’s the best one for the job. Hoping to prove her bravery – especially to herself – Garlic agrees to confront the vampire, and in the process discovers the beauty of an unexpected friendship. Author/illustrator Bree Paulsen’s digital artwork is rendered in earthy, woodsy tones that match the story’s setting. Each garden helper’s characteristics are delightfully distinctive: smug Celery, paternal Carrot, and endearingly nervous Garlic.

THOUGHTS: This is a fun graphic novel for young readers who like their spooky stories with plenty of depth and heart.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Larson, Hope. Salt Magic. Margaret Ferguson Books, 2021. 978-0-823-44620-9. 240 p. $21.99. Grades 4-6.

Salt Magic follows our main character Vonceil whose older brother Elber is just home from World War I, and life is not going the way Vonceil pictured it. Elber comes home and marries the girl next door, which seems normal to the rest of his family but not Vonceil. Things get even odder when a woman shows up and claims Elber left her in France. When he denies her, and tells her that he is already married she reveals herself to be a witch who curses his family’s water supply and turns it into salt water. Vonceil then decides to take things into her own hands and solve everything. The illustrations of this graphic novel are wonderful and add to the overall feeling of the book. The story is beautifully woven using the illustrations as well as the language that Hope Larson uses.

THOUGHTS: This is a must own for any middle school library collection.

Graphic Novel    Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Sweet & Bitter Magic

Tooley, Adrienne. Sweet & Bitter Magic. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2021. 978-1-534-45385-2. $19.99. 359 p. Grades 9 and up.

It is Tamsin’s seventeenth birthday, a day which is supposed to bring a monumental life choice: Stay Within and serve the coven of witches in which she’s grown up, or leave them to go Beyond and live with common folk. Tamsin’s fate was already decided for her five years ago though when, after practicing dark magic to try to save her twin sister from death, she was banished from Within and cursed to never again feel love. Now she spends her days healing the common folk’s ailments and taking some of their love as payment, just so she can feel SOMETHING, for as long as that little bit of love lasts. Wren spends her days peddling eggs at the market and caring for her father. Everything she does is for him – including keeping her magic a secret. Wren realized at an early age that she is a source – she houses pure magic and would be very valuable to the coven – but magic tore her family apart when she was young, and so Wren keeps this secret from her father. A chance encounter with Tamsin at the market one morning changes all of that. As a plague born of dark magic spreads throughout their village afflicting her father, Wren reveals her talents to Tamsin in hopes that she’ll take her on the hunt for the source of the plague. Tamsin says she’ll hunt the witch responsible – only if Wren offers her love for her father in return. Wren agrees, and thus begins their journey to Beyond, a dangerous journey filled with twists and secrets and a romantic tension almost as dangerous as the dark magic they’re hunting.

THOUGHTS: Though many of us living in 2021 may not want to read a book involving a plague, this is a magic-induced plague, so it feels just escapist enough to not be particularly upsetting; it feels more like a dark spell being cast. It’s also an excellent addition to YA fantasy collections because in a genre flooded with series and duologies, this is a rare standalone, perfect for readers not looking to commit to reading several books.

Fantasy (Witches)          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Within a world plagued by a curse that takes a person’s memories before eventually taking their lives, a witch named Tamsin offers her healing powers in exchange for love. As an exiled witch, she’s lost the ability to feel and lives off of the love she takes from others and grieves the death of twin sister alone. In the same village, Wren has been her father’s caretaker since her mother left when she was young and hides the fact that she has magic, not as a witch, but as a source. When Wren’s father is affected by the plague and loses all memory of her, she strikes a deal with Tamsin, and together, they set off to stop the witch that caused the plague, forcing Tansin to face her past and Wren to face her future.

THOUGHTS: Although Tamsin and Wren have very different personalities, they are unwittingly drawn to each other. They each manage to bring out the best in the other, and the novel ends in the midst of their brand new relationship. This stand alone fantasy also explores relationships between families, and readers may be left wishing for more of the story as the novel concludes.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA – Ever Cursed

Haydu, Corey Ann. Ever Cursed. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-43703-6. $18.99. 296 p. Grades 9-12.

Five princesses have been cursed, the queen is trapped in a glass box, and the spell is almost turning true. Jane, Alice, Nora, Grace, and Eden have all been cursed by a young witch to be without something: food, sleep, love, memory, and hope. Jane, the oldest, has been without food for five years, and the sisters finally have the opportunity to break their spell before it turns true and becomes permanent. Jane and her sisters are forced to work with the young witch, Raegan, who cursed them five years ago. To break the spell, they must collect a clock from the oldest, a tear from the saddest, a lock of hair from the most beautiful, and a crown from the richest. But, the kingdom of Ever is under a spell far more threatening than any cast by a witch, and the sisters soon discover the terrible truths about their own kingdom and the one person they thought they knew best.

THOUGHTS:  Although Ever Cursed appears to be a fairy tale, this is mainly a book about sexual assault and the abuse of power, and their patriarchal world is not so unlike our own. The beginning of the book includes a content warning for readers explaining that this book may also be triggering for anyone who is currently or previously struggling with an eating disorder. Overall, the strong, female characters in this book have to come to terms with some hard truths, but they are able to work together to expose the real evil plaguing their kingdom.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD