Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Disney Noir: City of Villains

City of Villains, Book 1, by Estelle Laure, (Jan. 2021, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781368049382

Ages 12+

Mary Elizabeth Heart is a high school senior and a police department intern for the Monarch City Police Department. Magic, once part of the populace’s lives, has seemingly left the world and taken countless lives with it, leaving denizens of magical families called The Legacies left to fend for themselves against the up-and-coming Narrows families, who seek to gentrify the neighborhood now known as the Scar.  A victim of horrific loss, Mary Elizabeth is Legacy, as are her friends, many with recognizable names: Mally, the withdrawn teen whose pet raven is the only thing who brings her comfort; Ursula, Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend, James and his best friend, Smee. When Legacy teens start disappearing from the Scar, Mary Elizabeth is put on the case, along with detective Bella, but they are in no way ready for what they find once they start digging into what’s really going on in the Scar.

Gritty, with memorable Disney characters and a taut, well-paced storyline, City of Villains is the first in a new YA series that acts as a new origin point for Disney villains. There’s a gritty feel that makes for a perfect noir setting; our favorite villains are goth without being over the top, and I loved every second of their complex backgrounds. The subplot of magical families versus gentrifiers who want magic by association is brilliant fantasy writing that takes storytelling in a fresh direction, and Mary Elizabeth’s traumatic family history sets the stage for bigger reveals in future books. Give this to your teen Disney fans that are ready for some new stories about their favorite villains. Talk this up to any of the teens you’ve been feeding the Twisted Tales books to – they will thank you.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

LOKI YA IS HERE!

Loki: Where Mischief Lies, by Mackenzi Lee, (Sept. 2019, Disney Book Group), $17.99, ISBN: 9781368022262

Ages 12+

Disclaimer: I am a rabid Marvel and Loki fangirl. When I heard that Loki was getting his own YA novel, I shrieked just a little bit, and camped out on NetGalley and Edelweiss until the DRC gloriously appeared. In short, I’ve been really, really, flipping excited for this book! So let’s get the show on the road.

Loki is Thor’s younger brother, and still hoping that his father, Odin, will see that he’s just as capable of heroism – and possibly, the throne of Asgard – as his older, golden brother. He and his best friend, the sorceress-in-training Amora, find themselves in deep trouble when they accidentally destroy a powerful artifact. Amora takes the blame for Loki and finds herself banished to Earth; essentially a death sentence for a magical being, because her powers will wither and die slowly. Fast forward some years later, and Loki is sent to Earth to investigate a series of murders in Victorian London. He joins forces with a watchdog organization that believes otherworldly magic is involved in the murders. Dare Loki hope that Amora is still alive and in London? And if she is… is she connected to the murders? Our (well, my) favorite son of Asgard is at a crossroads in this first adventure.

I thoroughly enjoyed Where Mischief Lies. Mackenzi Lee has given us a delightful mix of Marvel/Tom Hiddleston Loki with a sprinkling of gender-fluid Norse myth Loki. He prefers high-heeled boots, sees Midgardian (Earth) society and its concern with binary sexuality and relationships ridiculous, and he’s got a wonderfully snarky way of interacting with people, especially those he sees as below him, which is… basically, everyone. He is also a vulnerable, often fragile, young man coming into his powers and frustrated by the lack of attention from his father, who prizes only traditional masculinity and strength rather than magic and wisdom. You can see Loki’s trajectory from this story to Earth’s favorite villain in years to come.

The writing is page-turning, with witty dialogue, a creepy whodunit, and slow-burn heartache throughout. My head spun a little bit as I tried to connect the dots from myth Loki to present-day Loki (What about Sigyn? His monstrous children? That whole situation with the cave and the venom?), but Mackenzi Lee deftly maneuvers around these questions with an interesting explanation that works for me.

I’m a fan of Mackenzi Lee’s God of Mischief. I’m looking forward to seeing who else she takes on in the Marvel Universe. A solid must-add to collections.

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

What if Mulan traveled to the Underworld? Reflection tells the story!

Reflection (A Twisted Tale), by Elizabeth Lim, (March 2018, Disney Book Group), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484781296

Recommended for readers 10+

What if Mulan had gone very differently? What if Captain Shang was mortally wounded in his battle with Shan Yu, and was dying? In this latest Disney Twisted Tale, Mulan travels to the Diyu, the underworld, to bargain with ruler King Yama for Shang’s life. ShiShi, the Li family guardian lion, accompanies Mulan, but finding Shang is only part of the quest: they have to make their way through Diyu before dawn, and demons, ghosts, and ancestors are at every turn. Mulan is still disguised as Ping, which causes more stress as Mulan wrestles with her own identity and Shang’s trust.

This is my first Twisted Tale, but it is not going to be my last! I loved this different takes on one of my favorite beloved Disney movies. Author Elizabeth Lim keeps the essence of what makes Mulan such a strong, favorite character: her inner strength is tempered by her introspection and moments of self-doubt, making her at once relatable and inspirational; her daring and confidence and her incredible heart, make her one of the most memorable Disney women in print and on the screen. Shang is along for the ride here, but goes through his own moments of self-awareness. ShiShi is Shang’s guardian and counselor and brings some well-timed humor to the story (Mushu doesn’t play as big a part in Reflection, but he is there!). Reflection has the spectacle of a big-screen release, with the space to bring internal conflict to the fore. I loved it, and so will your Disney readers. Grab the set, if you don’t have them yet, and put them in the hands of your fantasy readers. Let them know that Ursula’s up next, with September’s Part of Your World.

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

The Sanderson Sisters are back in Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel

Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel, by A.W. Jantha, (July 2018, Disney Book Group), $12.99, ISBN: 9781368020039

Recommended for readers 10+

Does everyone know who the Sanderson sisters are? No? Okay, quick recap: they’re three awful witch sisters from the 1993 Disney movie, Hocus Pocus. They had a particular taste for children and a spell that would let them live forever, until a teen named Max, his younger sister, Dani, and his crush, Allison, with the help of a talking cat named Binx. The movie starred Bette Midler, Kathy Najimi, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the Sanderson sisters, and went on to be a huge cult classic that still gets regular play throughout the year in my home. Late last year, news hit the media that the Sandersons were coming back for a sequel, and there was much rejoicing among Hocus Pocus fans. There was talk about a TV movie, either on Freeform or Disney Channel, with the working title Hocus Pocus 2: Rise of the Elderwitch, but that seems to have been squashed. However, just in time for the movie’s 25th anniversary, Disney Books has a book hitting shelves: Hocus Pocus & The All-New Sequel.

Anyway. The anniversary volume has a novelization of the 1993 movie, which is a fun, light, slightly macabre Halloween story about a boy, 2 girls, and a cat against three witches. The All-New Sequel continues the main characters’ story, 25 years later. Teen crushes Max and Allison have grown up and gotten married; they have a gay daughter, Poppy, who’s crushing on school It Girl Isabella. Max teaches at his old high school, and Allison is a lawyer. Neither are fans of Halloween, and their Salem, Massachusetts neighborhood thinks they’re crazy, because they’re super paranoid about witches – particularly the Sanderson history – and Halloween. (Why did they stay in Salem after the events of Hocus Pocus, especially if no one believes them?) Poppy, her best friend, Travis, and Isabella find themselves back at the Sanderson house, with Winifred Sanderson’s spell book and a ouija board, and end up bringing the sisters back from Hell: by swapping Poppy’s parents and Aunt Dani. They have until daybreak to locate the blood moonstone and reverse the spell, or the Sandersons will reign and Poppy’s family is doomed.

Where the original is light and fun, the sequel is darker; it’s more YA to the original’s middle grade. I like the added diversity and LGBTQ vibe that runs through the sequel, and it certainly has its moments; the sisters are fun to read, especially Winifred (Bette Midler’s character), who is as delightfully horrible as ever. It’s missing a bit of the light-heartedness that made the original such fun to watch, but its darker feel makes the humorous moments more welcome. The ending will leave readers wondering if we’re getting a third installment. It’s an additional add for fans of the original movie, and readers who enjoy a good spooky quest.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Aru Shah and the End of Time: Rick Riordan Presents with a strong debut!

Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi, (March 2018, Disney Book Group), $16.99, ISBN: 9781368012355

Recommended for readers 8-12

Rick Riordan introduces his new imprint with Aru Shah and the End of Time, author Roshani Chokshi’s adventure through Indian mythology.

Aru Shah is a 12-year-old Indian girl who has a hard time fitting in at school, so she… embellishes the truth… to keep up with her wealthy classmates. The thing is, they all know she lies, and she’s become a target of derision over it. She lives with her archaeologist mother in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, and tells her friends that there’s a cursed lamp in the exhibits. Naturally, they show up, demanding her to prove it. Ignoring her mother’s advice to never touch the lamp, Aru lights it and unwittingly releases The Sleeper – an ancient demon – who’s going to awaken the Shiva, the god of destruction, if Aru can’t make things right in time. After discovering that Aru is the reincarnation of one of the legendary heroes, the Pandava brothers, she sets off on a mythological adventure where she’ll learn more about herself and her mother than she could ever have imagined.

 

I was so excited to read Aru Shah, especially after finishing Sayantani Dasgupta’s brilliant The Serpent’s Secret a couple of weeks ago. Indian mythology is an area I’ve never read much about, and it’s time that was remedied. Aru is on a quest to save her family and friends, and she’s not alone: she’s got a Pandava sister she meets on the way, and a disgraced god-turned-pigeon to guide her as she seeks out the weapons that will stop the Seeker. There’s great world-building, with humor and a sense of wonder as Aru meets gods and goddesses she thought existed only in myth; the character development is great for people unfamiliar with Indian mythology, as each god, goddess, and demon gets enough of an explanation to keep readers in the story. There’s a glossary at the end to help readers with the origin tales of Indian myths featured in the book.

You know who to give this to: the Percy Jackson/Kane Chronicles/Magnus Chase/Riordan readers who love world mythology; the kids who read Serpent’s Secret and wanted more? Now you can give them Aru Shah and tell them that Rick Riordan Presents has Mayan and Korean mythology coming up next. Aru Shah and the End of Time has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and Kirkus.

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

The Magical Animal Adoption Agency is open for business!

cover66347-mediumThe Magical Animal Adoption Agency, Book 2 The Enchanted Egg, by Kallie George/Illus. by Alexander Bolger (Nov. 2015, Disney Book Group), $14.99, ISBN: 9781423183839

Recommended for ages 8-12

The Magical Animal Adoption Agency is back, and so are Clover, whose gifts with animals surpass any magic she may not have, Mr. Jams, the proprietor, and Dipity, the green magical cat Clover rescued from the witch in the first book. In this second book in the series, Clover must once again keep an eye on the adoption agency while Mr. Jams is away – but a large egg has hatched early, and the newest member of the adoption agency is keeping Clover on her toes!

This series is a feel-good read. Clover is a sweet, gentle soul who learns about herself and what she’s capable of in each book, going from a self-conscious, clumsy girl in the first, to a more confident young girl who realizes that she doesn’t need magic to take care of magical creatures in this book. There are positive messages about self-esteem and caring for others, taking responsibility, and most importantly, the value of being kind.

This is a great series for kids, especially those who love fantasy or just love animals. The first book was well-received at my former library, and I can’t wait to get these two books into my new patrons’ hands. Animal fiction does really well with middle graders, and a series like this, that pairs the fantastic within our everyday world gives readers a necessary spark of magic in their lives.

Magic Tree House fans, Critter Club fans, steer them all to these books. They’ll love you for it.

Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Marvel YA gives us Black Widow: Forever Red

black widowBlack Widow: Forever Red, by Margaret Stohl (Oct. 2015, Disney Book Group), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726433

Recommended for ages 12+

After releasing two YA/new adult romances centering on the X-Men’s Rogue and She-Hulk in 2013, Disney/Marvel upped the ante by tapping YA phenom Margaret Stohl (writer of the Icons series, and co-writer of the Beautiful Creatures series with Kami Garcia) to give readers a story about Black Widow: S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, assassin extraordinaire, and Avenger.

The main story centers on a teen, Ava Orlova, rescued from the infamous Red Room that created Black Widow. Left to languish in a S.H.I.E.L.D. safehouse for years, she escaped and lived on her own in New York until she met Alex Manor – a boy who had been showing up in her dreams – at a fencing competition in New Jersey. When Agent Romanov – the Black Widow – appears on the scene with the news that Ava’s being hunted by her brutal Red Room instructor, Ivan Somodoroff, who has plans for her – and Black Widow, too. As the three go on the run, we learn that Ava and Alex have more to them than meets the eye; we also peel back some of the mystery wrapped around one of the most mysterious of Avengers.

I loved this book. I love Margaret Stohl’s writing style, and she nails Black Widow’s cool, detached exterior, matched with a deep well of memories and emotions inside. We’ve got a similar character in Ava, who’s learning to control her emotions and frustrations, channeling her past into creating a persona of her own. Poor Alex, who’s been dragged along for the ride, finds himself getting answers to questions he’s never known to ask. Both Ava and Black Widow have wonderfully sarcastic tones in their words and even their actions, and Ms. Stohl manages to subtly shift the tone from an agitated adolescent to a battle-tested Avenger with ease. The debriefing sessions between the Department of Defense and the Black Widow break up heavier scenes in the story and move the pacing and narrative along. We also get some cameo appearances from other figures in the Avengers series that provide familiarity and some humor, and they made my Marvel fangirl heart beat that much faster.

I’m thrilled that Natasha Romanov gets to star in her own novel: the “Where’s Natasha” online movement showed merchandisers that women and girls DO read comics and consume pop culture, and we WANT our female superheroes on t-shirts, notebooks, action figures, and perhaps most importantly, in our stories. I would love to read a story about Natasha’s Red Room experiences, or even her assassin days, before S.H.I.E.L.D. Hey, Marvel, I know a really good author with a great YA track record… oh, and so do you.