Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

New YA fantasy duology: The Darkening

The Darkening, by Sunya Mara, (July 2022, Clarion Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780358561989

Ages 13+

Set in a fantasy world terrorized by a storm that leaves anyone caught in it cursed, Vesper Vale is the 17-year-old daughter of revolutionaries. Her mother walked into the storm, and her father is on the run from the Wardana, the royal guard, led by the ruler’s heir, the cold-hearted Prince Dalca. Her father is a powerful ikonomancer – a magic user that works with symbols to weave spells – and refuses to teach Vesper; this all changes when the Wardana and Dalca catch up with Vesper’s father and take him prisoner. Determined to save her father, Vesper befriends a mole in the Wardana and weaves an appearance spell that will get her inside Dalca’s inner circle. Once she’s on the inside, she realizes that nothing is as black-and-white as it seems: there is much about her mother’s disappearance that she was never privy to, and she certainly never expected to fall for Dalca – or that he would fall for her, too. Strong worldbuilding sets the tone for this fantasy adventure, which has a good premise but gets in its own way at times. The interaction between characters is delicious, particularly between Vesper and Dalca: such romantic tension! The action is exciting, and the idea of ikonomancy is incredibly interesting; I wanted to learn more. This is the first in a duology, and I’m looking forward to where the story goes, now that we seem to be into the meat of the story. A good investment for your fantasy collections.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A fairy tale retelling of the Japanese “Cinderella” within the Eva Evergreen universe

Alliana, Girl of Dragons, by Julie Abe, (Aug. 2022, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780316300353

Ages 8-12

In a Cinderella-inspired Japanese fantasy tale, Alliana is an orphan living with her cruel stepmother and stepsiblings, with only her Grandmother Mari providing any affection. When Grandmother Mari dies, Alliana is bereft and alone in a hostile home, until she rescues a baby nightdragon and meets Nela, an apprentice witch. Alliana and Nela become fast friends and the nightdragon, whom Alliana names Kabo, give her hope of escaping her home living the life she dreams of: attending the Royal Academy. Alliana, Girl of Dragons is set in the world of Julie Abe’s Eva Evergreen universe and is filled with rich fantasy worldbuilding and elements of Japanese culture. Fairy tale readers will recognize elements of the Cinderella tale, including references to Alliana being a “girl of dust”, a royal ball, and Alliana’s secret attendance. The story explores friendship and found families, resilience, and greed. Readers do not need to be familiar with Eva Evergreen – I wasn’t! – to enjoy this adventure. Filled with dragons and magic, Alliana, Girl of Dragons is a great book to recommend to fantasy readers, readers who enjoy new takes on classic fairy tales, and anime and manga fans, who will also enjoy the manga artwork that sets off every chapter and places readers in Abe’s world.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Just in time for Halloween: Raising the Horseman by Serena Valentino

Raising the Horseman, by Serena Valentino, (Sept. 2022, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781368054614

Ages 12+

The Disney Villains series is one of series I can’t keep on my teen shelves. My library teens devour them and they devour the Disney Twisted Tales series faster than authors can write them, which goes to show you can’t go wrong with the classics, especially when there’s a fun change-up. Serena Valentino, author of the Disney Villains series, takes on the Headless Horseman and the legend of Sleepy Hollow in her newest book, Raising the Horseman. Kat Van Tassel is the latest in a long line of Katrina Van Tassels; the famed heroine of Sleepy Hollow was her many times great-grandmother and every woman in her line has been named for her. She’s straining against that legacy, though: she wants to leave and go to college; she doesn’t want to get married and stay in Sleepy Hollow like every other Katrina, despite her mother’s gentle pushing her toward the very thing. Kat finds herself captivated by a new girl in town just as she’s drifting further apart from her boyfriend, Blake: Isadora Crow challenges Kat to see Blake and his gaslighting behavior and to consider a life beyond expectation. As the 200th anniversary of the Headless Horseman’s rise approaches, Kat’s mother gives her Original Katrina’s diary, and Kat begins unraveling the secrets held within. What really happened that night, so long ago? Valentino gives readers a fun, female-forward twist on the classic spooky story, a smart, bisexual heroine who knows there’s more to life than reliving a legend, and a warning about toxic relationships. There are moments where the story struggles with repetition, but the action is fast-paced and the developing relationship between Kat and Isadora, plus the deftly placed twist in the original Sleepy Hollow story, make this worth the time.

Bottom line? You can’t go wrong with Disney YA. A good purchase.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

New intermediate series: Leo’s Map of Monsters

Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Armored Goretusk, by Kris Humphrey/Illustrated by Pete Williamson, (Aug. 2022, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781684644858

Ages 7-11

Set in a fantasy world where kids receive apprentice Assignments at the age of 9, Leo wakes up on the morning of his ninth birthday and discovers that he’s been given a Top Secret Assignment! The Village Chief appears and whisks Leo off to the curmudgeonly Guardian, who keeps everyone safe from the monsters that lurk in the forest outside the village walls. He hands Leo a map, some magical stones, and a slingshot, and sends him off on his first mission: to draw the Armored Goretusk away from the village. Black and white fantasy artwork with an Edward Gorey-bent features on almost every page; antiquing elements give the appearance of reading an ancient tome. The adventure is light and fun, with a buddy-cop partnership between Leo and Starla, one of the forest residents; the promise of more fantastic beasts to come will keep readers coming back. A map lets readers follow Leo’s adventures; back matter includes stats and descriptions of the creatures he encounters in this first book and a look at the different stones he uses. This one is a fun fantasy series to add to your chapter book/intermediate shelves.

Originally published in the U.K. in 2020, The Armored Goretusk is the first in the Leo’s Map of Monsters series. All four books are available in the States and fantasy fans will want them all, posthaste!

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Fenris and Mott – you’ve never read Norse mythology like this!

Fenris and Mott, by Greg van Eekhout, (Aug. 2022, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062970633

Ages 8-12

Greg van Eekhout’s latest novel is an hilariously adorable spin on Norse mythology starring a tween girl in need of a friend and an adorable dog who is much more than he seems. Mott is a 12-year-old root beer enthusiast, transplanted from Pennyslvania to California, and missing her best friend. She discovers an abandoned puppy in a recycling bin and promises to keep him safe, not realizing that she’s just sworn to protect Fenris, the Norse mythological wolf who will devour the moon, eat Asgardian god Odin, and move the events of Ragnarök – Doomsday – into motion. Aided by a Valkyrie in training, with a supporting cast of Norse gods, Fenris & Mott has laugh-out-loud humor, great dialogue and action, and characters readers will cheer for. Fenris is adorable enough to have readers coo every time he “mweeps”, and will stop readers in their tracks when he opens his gaping maw to devour Viking warriors and moving vehicles. Rick Riordan fans will love this new take on Norse mythology, filled with modern takes on ancient stories. Supporting cast is largely white and Nordic, and Mott is Indonesian and Dutch, and is picture on the cover as a brown-skinned girl. Nonstop action, characters with heart and devotion, and unbearably cute moments with a fluffy puppy make this an essential addition to your fiction collections.

Fenris & Mott has a starred review from Booklist. Visit Greg van Eekhout’s author page for more information about his books and appearances.

Posted in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Traveling through Time via my TBR: Ripped Away by Shirley Vernick

Ripped Away, by Shirley Vernick, (Feb. 2022, Fitzroy Books), $15.95, ISBN: 9781646032037

Ages 10-14

Abe Pearlman is a kid that who’s a bit of a loner. He’s got a kinda-sorta crush on his classmate, Mitzy Singer, but he doesn’t think she really notices he’s alive. When Abe spots a new fortune teller shop in his neighborhood, he goes in, figuring it’s worth a shot. Zinnia, the fortune teller, tells him he can save a life, and Abe leaves, only to discover that he’s not in his neighborhood anymore: he’s somehow been transported back in time to the slums of Victorian-era London, England! He’s now working as an assistant to a jewelry salesman named Mr. Diemschutz, living with his mom in a tenement apartment, and discovers that Mitzy has been sent back in time, too. She and her mother are living with her deceased father’s brother, in the same tenement building as Abe, and Mitzy is blind. Both were given cryptic clues by Zinnia, and now they have to figure out how to get back to their own place and time… but they also have to try and figure out how their fortunes are connected to Jack the Ripper, who’s on the loose in their neighborhood, and they have to survive the hatred directed toward Jewish refugees, already being accused to stealing jobs and housing from the English, and now being accused of possibly counting The Ripper among their community. Inspired by true events, Ripped Away is a great time-traveling story with a strong historical fiction backbone. Characters are realistic and have strong personalities that extend beyond the main plot; the author brings the history of anti-Semitism in Victorian Europe, particularly in the Jack the Ripper case, to light, and there are great points for further discussion throughout the story, including comparing and constrasting the plights of refugees, anti-Semitism, and family structures, from Victorian England (and further back!) through the present day. Back matter includes an author’s note that touches on the Victorian England, Jack the Ripper, and the anti-Jewish sentiment that gave rise harmful theories about the killer’s identity. An excellent read.

The Forward has an interesting article on Jack Ripper and anti-Semitic hysteria.

Shirley Vernick is an award-winning author. Visit her website for more information about her books and to follow her on social media.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Exciting Afrofuturistic middle grade reading: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, by Tolá Okogwu, (June 2022, Margaret K. McElderry Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781665912617

Ages 8-12

Onyeka is a tween living in the UK with her mom. She’s got a thick head of hair that makes people stop, stare, and whisper, but her best friend, Cheyenne, couldn’t be bothered what other people think, which helps calm Onyeka’s anxiety. When the two head to the pool for some swimming, Cheyenne almost drowns, until Onyeka – or, is it Onyeka’s hair? – saves her. Everything moves quickly from here: Onyeka’s mother reveals that she is Solari, a secret group of people with unique powers, unique to their home in Nigeria. Her scientist father has disappeared while trying to research the Solari, and her mother brings Onyeka to Nigeria, to the Academy of the Sun, a special school – think the X-Men’s school run by Charles Xavier – for Solari, where they are trained to work with their powers. But nothing’s ever that easy; as Onyeka starts learning more about her family and the Rogues, a group of Solari working against the school, she and her new friends have to figure out where they stand.
Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is the first in a new series, written by British-Nigerian author Tolá Okogwu and inspired by a lack of representation in children’s books. The decision to empower Onyeka by channeling her power through her hair is a deliberate move, as she notes in her author’s note: “our hair has never just been hair… the lie we’ve all been fed that Afro textured hair is somehow inferior because it doesn’t conform to the Western standards of beauty”. Onyeka’s hair is incredible: it shields her; it saves Cheyenne’s life; it curls around her to comfort her. The characters are African; the Solari are all Nigerian, and the school is organized into different areas, according to student’s Ike – the Igbo word for “power”. The story moves at a brisk pace while still bringing these characters to life, fully-fleshed out with backstories and personalities. The students will empower and inspire readers, and the family relationships are beautifully realistic, with conflict and love often sharing the same space. A glossary of words and an explanation of Nigerian Pidgin English provides even further depth and educates readers. I can’t wait for the second book.
Give this to your Rick Riordan Presents fans; your Black Panther readers (not just the comics! Remember, Shuri and Black Panther have middle grade novels, and Okoye’s got a YA novel, too!), and your Tristan Strong readers. Give this to any of your readers who love reading about different cultures, and are always up for adventure. It’s awesome.

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is an Indie Next pick.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Great TBR Read-Down: The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass by Anna Priemaza

The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass by Anna Priemaza, (Nov. 2021, Harry N. Abrams), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419752599

Ages 12+

Do not let the cover fool you: The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass is a fantasy mystery that will keep you guessing. Vera Glass is a high school student living in a world where everyone has a magic gift; Vera’s is the ability to open locks, while her mother’s intuition magic makes her a wonderfully empathetic and comforting parent. She lives with her scientist parents and siblings, has a strong faith community, and a solid group of friends, but something just isn’t right. No one can quite voice it, but there’s something missing; something leaving a hole in more and more people’s lives, and Vera is determined to find out what it is. There are a few suspects, including a group of “witches” from the Goth kid group and the organization that Vera’s parents work for. The strength here is in the jarring disappearances that pop up throughout the book: a character is part of the scene, and then they’re just… not. And Vera pauses, trying to remember something just outside of her memory, not able to quite grasp what’s changed; just that there’s an ache she can’t quite shake. Heartbreaking and very readable, Vera is the first-person narrator, written with deep feeling by Anna Priemaza. Vera’s faith doesn’t come across as preachy; it’s a facet of her life, and she has an inclusive group of friends that also includes some atheist representation. The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass examines the feelings we have for those in our lives that go deeper than the surface; deeper than memory.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Middle School Twofer: Lightning Girl by Alesha Dixon

As I continue scaling Mount TBR, I’ve got a fun middle grade two-fer today: the first two books in the Lightning Girl series by British singer, dancer, and Britain’s Got Talent judge Alesha Dixon.

Lightning Girl, by Alesha Dixon & Katy Birchall/Illustrated by James Lancett (June 2020, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 9781684640782

Ages 8-12

Life isn’t always a breeze for 10-year-old Aurora Beam, a biracial British girl living in a UK suburb, but when she discovers that her hands light up, and that her mom is a secret superhero, things get even wilder! Aurora is descended from a long line of female superheroes, and her mom is delighted to start putting her through training exercises. But how can she keep this a secret from her best friend? And how can she navigate her parents’ separation, school life, and her morally ambiguous auntie while learning about her superpowers? Lightning Girl is absolute fun, using superpowers to communicate all the frustrations of being a tween: Aurora is coping with body changes, weird friendship dynamics, school drama, siblings, and parental ups and downs. The dialogue and action move quickly, and the characters are funny and relatable. Black and white illustrations throughout add to the fun. A great entry into a fun middle grade series.

 

Lightning Girl: Superhero Squad, by Alesha Dixon & Katy Birchall/Illustrated by James Lancett (Sept. 2020, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 9781684640799

Ages 8-12

Aurora, aka Lightning Girl, is back and so are her friends, The Bright Sparks! After the events of the first Lightning Girl adventure, Aurora is in high demand: she’s got appearances booked right and left, leaving her almost no time for herself – and the paparazzi is always there to capture her worst moments! Aurora and her family head off to a superhero convention, where she hopes to get away from it all for a little bit, but a crime is committed and all fingers seem to be pointing at her! Can Aurora and the Bright Sparks clear her name, and can she finally get away from the glare of the spotlight? Superhero Squad is Aurora’s second adventure, and takes on the havoc social media can wreak on a person’s reputation and psyche. You don’t need to be a superhero to be bullied on social media; Aurora trying to turn the tide of public opinion is a great discussion point for booktalking and book groups. Themes of friendship and family run strong in this story. Back matter includes stats on the newest members of the Bright Sparks. With a diverse cast and great storytelling, this is a great series to add to your shelves.

There are a total of five Lightning Girl books available.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Bonanza: Adora and the Distance

Adora and the Distance, by Marc Bernardin/Illustrated by Ariela Kristantina, (March 2022, Dark Horse), $14.99, ISBN: 9781506724508

Ages 12+

Like I said, I read a HUGE backlog of graphic novels while I had my little break, so be prepared for some “If you didn’t read it, it’s new to you!” posts. This time, I’ve got Adora and the Distance, by television writer-producer and comic book author Marc Bernardin. Set in a high fantasy world, Adora is a young woman of color living in a world full of adventure: there are pirates, ghosts, a royal family, and a malevolent entity known as The Distance. The Distance devours and destroys, and Adora, connected to The Distance, must leave her home on a mission to stop it.

The artwork is stunning. The colors, the shading, the depth, bring this book to life in a reader’s hands. The story builds to an incredible conclusion that made the world come to a halt around me as I took it all in. Adora and the Distance is a father’s love letter to his daughter in the best way he could reach her; the best way to let her know he sees her. Adora and the Distance is a story of autism, you see; Marc Bernardin’s author’s note at the end of the book  explains his impetus for creating this epic tale. Adora is smart, brave, and full of love.  There’s humor, adventure, family, and forgiveness all here, bound into this story that connects a father to his daughter.

Put Adora and the Distance in your distributor cart, and get it on shelves for your readers. Give it to parents, educators, and caregivers.