Skip to content

Young Adult Novel Review – Something Close to Magic

 

SOMETHING CLOSE TO MAGIC

Written by Emma Mills

(Atheneum BYR; $19.99, Ages 12+ )

 

Something Close to Magic cover

 

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

 

If you enjoy food and fantasy, Emma Mills’s Something Close to Magic will satisfy those cravings. In seventeen-year-old Aurelie’s world, people avoid magic because there are supposedly too many bad consequences: eating food prepared magically is said to later increase your hunger twofold. Once Aurelie seemed to have abilities and studied the supernatural at school. Now she’s alone in the world, serving unending days in an unpaid apprenticeship. Magic is far from her mind until a dashing stranger named Iliana walks into Basil’s Bakery and stirs things up. Iliana is a Finder (bounty hunter) and needs Aurelie’s abilities as a Seeker to help locate the people she’s tracking.

The teens soon set off on an adventure along with Quad (a troll who often steals the show with her clever lines delivered in a deadpan manner) and Prince Hapless (who seems to live up to his surname—assigned to royalty according to their personality traits). All four main characters are delightful in their unique ways. The story’s twists take the reader to interesting places as we peel back layers of deception. I appreciated how the budding romance with Prince Hapless plays out. Quad may be my all-time favorite troll!

Share this:

Young Adult Fantasy – A Hunger of Thorns

 

A HUNGER OF THORNS

 by Lili Wilkinson

(Delacorte Press; $19.99, Ages 14+)

 

 

A Hunger of Thorns cover

 

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Be swept away by a lush, witchy tale about forbidden magic and missing girls who don’t need handsome princes to rescue them. Perfect for fans of The Hazel Wood.

REVIEW:

Lili Wilkinson’s A Hunger of Thorns is a fairy tale and coming-of-age story for today’s teens. Maude, a daughter of witches, lost her magic four years ago when she got her period. She’s a talented storyteller: “telling a story felt exactly like doing magic—reaching for invisible threads and weaving them together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.” But now that she can no longer pull mettle and animate objects, the fragile hold she had over her unruly BFF, Odette, crumbles. When Odette goes missing, Maude knows how these stories work: she must be a hero and save her.

Though lovingly raised by her grandmothers, Maude still aches to know what really happened when her mother went “bad” and the details surrounding her death. Witches have their magic controlled, directed toward inane things like making enchanted stockings that will not run or self-heating instant dinners. Maude’s world, of course, has a handsome prince and a terrifying beast (the Tatterdemalion), however, both are reimagined into something unexpected.

In this carefully crafted story, females are told how to act, what’s right and what’s wrong, and what happens when you push or break those societal boundaries. Wilkinson’s characters are complex and likable which made me root for them as they’re pressured to be neat and presentable, to lead a mundane life seemingly for the greater good. But what of our true natures? As the dedication says, this book is for “every good girl who has a wild girl inside.” An amazingly creative tale about finding forgotten things and remembering who we once were.

Listen to a sample by clicking here.

 

Share this:

Middle-Grade Fantasy Novel Review – Legends of Lotus Island Book #1

 

LEGENDS OF LOTUS ISLAND:
The Guardian Test

Written by Christina Soontornvat

Illustrated by Kevin Hong

(Scholastic Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

Legends of Lotus Island cover book one heroine running

 

 

In Legends of Lotus Island: The Guardian Test, the first book in a new middle-grade series by Christine Soontornvat with illustrations by Kevin Hong, young Plum lives on a remote part of the Santipap Islands. An orphan, she lives with her grandparents and helps them tend their home and gardens. Plum is able to communicate with plants and animals and, as a result, the family’s gardens thrive. Seeing this, her grandfather secretly submits an application for her to the elite Guardian Academy on Lotus Island. Guardians are able to transform into magical creatures and are tasked with protecting the natural world.

When she learns that she has been accepted to the Academy, Plum is stunned by her grandfather’s actions. She doesn’t believe that she is that special or magical. Nevertheless, her grandparents convince her to accept the Academy’s invitation and, reluctantly, she leaves her beloved home for an uncertain future.

Once at the Academy, Plum, and the other students are trained in meditation, fighting skills, communicating with animals, and learning how to transform. As the students train, their natural, magical abilities emerge. Based on that, the Masters are then able to assign students to one of the three groups of Guardians: Hand (fast and strong), Heart (healers), and Breath (calming).

However, Plum struggles: she is bullied by another student (who may have a hidden agenda), she can’t focus during meditation, is not much of a fighter, and is unable to transform. The Masters are not sure which Guardian group she belongs in. If Plum wishes to advance to Novice, she must pass the first test which is transformation. Plum’s fears grow –will she be able to pass the test? Or will she fail and be sent home?

Soontornvat fills her short book with a fascinating and lush world, populating it with fantastic creatures, hints of political intrigue, and mysterious ancient legends. The author also does not sacrifice character development. Plum, a kind but unsophisticated girl, blooms into a strong and confident figure. Other students share similar growth, which may be encouraging to readers struggling with their own self-confidence. Along with occasional black and white illustrations, this first in a series is an enticing and accessible read for younger readers who are not yet ready for longer fantasy titles.

Visit the author here for a brief book talk and watch the book trailer here. Watch this short video if you’re not sure how to pronounce Soontornvat’s name. Kids can read an excerpt from the book here.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
Share this:

Picture Book Review – The Tempest

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE THE TEMPEST

Retold by Georghia Ellinas

Illustrated by Jane Ray

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

 

The Tempest retold cover

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

 

Introducing classics such as William Shakespeare’s The Tempest to young kids seems both important and, well, hard. Let’s face it, adults sometimes need a synopsis when seeing one of his plays. However, this lovely picture book by Georghia Ellinas successfully conveys the heart of the story without overwhelming young kids. Told from Ariel’s viewpoint, the book opens with the irresistible line, “Can you do magic?” The androgynous Ariel goes on to explain that they are a spirit of the air and made of magic—how awesome is that?!

 

TheTempest int.1
THE TEMPEST. Text copyright © 2019 by the Shakespeare Globe Trust. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Jane Ray. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

Boosted by Jane Ray’s lovely watercolor images, this retelling comes to life. We feel for Ariel when they are imprisoned in a tree and crying out for help. The scene with Miranda and Caliban delights me the most. Monstrous Caliban’s moping darkness is offset by Miranda as a young girl, brightly dressed and playing in a tree.

 

The Tempest int.2
THE TEMPEST. Text copyright © 2019 by the Shakespeare Globe Trust. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Jane Ray. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

Though full of lively images and fantasy, The Tempest’s key message remains “forgiveness is greater than revenge,” an important reminder for an audience this age who may struggle with conflict resolution. I’m happy to see Candlewick is continuing with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, another favorite, out in April 2021 by this same talented writer and illustrator duo. Available for pre-order now.

 

Share this:

Kids Picture Book Review – Have You Seen My Blankie?

HAVE YOU SEEN MY BLANKIE?
Written by Lucy Rowland
Illustrated by Paula Metcalf
(Nosy Crow; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

 

Have You Seen My Blankie cvr

 

Princess Alice always takes her soft, warm and snuggly blankie to bed until one day it goes missing in Have You Seen My Blankie? The picture book, told in rhyme, is written by speech and language therapist Lucy Rowland, with colorful full-page illustrations by Paula Metcalf.

The book opens to Princess Alice’s bedroom with purple walls, a large canopy bed and more toys than most kids would know what to do with. But the toys aren’t as important to Alice as her white and orange blankie she is shown cuddling on her bed. “This blankie was so cuddly! So soft and warm and snuggly!”

 

have you seen my blankie int2
HAVE YOU SEEN MY BLANKIE?. Text copyright © 2019 by Lucy Rowland. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Paula Metcalf. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

“But one day … it went missing!” Metcalf shows Princess Alice searching under her bed, the piano, the couch pillows, and even inside the toilet (she stands on a stool for this drawing!) Each illustration shows her princess crown on top of her head which I found adorable. Princess Alice hurries to the palace door and asks her brother, who is upside down swinging on a tree (but his crown doesn’t slip), “Do you have my blankie, Jack?” Jack explains that after he used her beloved blankie as a curtain, a giant took it from him and wouldn’t give it back! Rowland offers some laugh out loud brother sister dialogue kids will love.

Princess Alice’s search begins as she tracks down Giant Jim who says, “Yes, I had your blankie but I used it as a hankie.” Each illustration depicts beautiful detail of the scene. We know Giant Jim is a chef by the apron he is wearing, and the rolling pin in his hand. His outdoor table is set for tea, and his smile shows the reader he is a nice giant.

 

have you seen my blankie int3
HAVE YOU SEEN MY BLANKIE?. Text copyright © 2019 by Lucy Rowland. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Paula Metcalf. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

Page by page Princess Alice continues her search for her beloved blankie. “But then she saw her blankie with a dragon who looked cranky.” Alice felt a little scared. “That’s my blankie she declared.”

Alice has an idea and works with the dragon to find him a replacement, so he will return her blankie. The detailed drawings and fun rhymes, take the listener into an imaginary world of magical kingdoms, giants and snuggly teddy bears. Princess Alice shows love and compassion for the dragon who took her blankie. Knowing how important it is to sleep with something soft and warm, she wipes away his tears. strokes his head, and promises she will find something that’s just right.

This sweet story teaches children about kindness and compassion, even for someone who may have caused them harm. They’ll be happy when two unlikely characters become friends: ” … inside a royal palace lives a young princess named Alice. And now there is a dragon who will often come to stay!” Have You Seen My Blankie? is a comforting bedtime story for any child who, while still needing a security blanket or stuffed animal to cuddle, will feel reassured to learn that even a big dragon needs a snuggle at bedtime.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

Read another picture book review by Ronda here.

 

Share this:
Back To Top