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

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

Elem./MG – Guidebooks to the Unexplained (Series NF)

Abdo, Kenny. Guidebooks to the Unexplained. Abdo Zoom. 2020. $19.95 each. $119.70 for set of 6. Gr. 2-5

Area 51. 978-1-532-12933-9.
Cryptids.978-1-532-12934-6.
Ghosts. 978-1-532-12937-7
.
Lost Lands. 978-1-532-12935-3.
Men in Black. 978-1-532-12936-0.
Witches. 978-1-532-12938-4.

 

 

Have you ever wondered about the mysterious places and creatures that captivate our media and folklore? Have you ever wondered if these places are actually real or if there is a creature out in the forest or mountain, lurking about? If so, then this series is for you. Guidebooks to the Unexplained takes you on a brief adventure, looking at some of the most famous places and creatures you hear about in stories and movies, providing a information and even more wonderings and questions than you started with!

THOUGHTS: This is a beginner series to these questions that many readers have. This series would be a great way to begin research on a topic!

1.942-398.47 Folklore         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

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

harrypotter

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

 

lablost

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.