The Last Windwitch

Author: Jennifer Adam

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: April 13/21

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

This is one of those stories that continues to stay with me after it’s over. I miss it, and wish I could visit Brida and her world again. It’s also one of those stories that I hate to try and review it, because I know my words won’t do it justice.

Brida is an apprentice to a hedgewitch named Magdi, who adopted her an infant. Although she has magic, it doesn’t quite work the way Magdi’s does; she follows her instincts instead. As the weather around Oak Hollow becomes more tumultuous, Brida discover the legendary stormhorses that control it are real, and being pursued for their magic. She desperately wants to protect them, but her magic has drawn the attention of Queen Moira, and she goes into hiding to avoid a summons to the castle. She meets new friends along the way, and discovers a secret about her family that puts her in even greater danger, but she learns she might have the power to defeat the dark magic consuming the land.

What I loved most about this story was how beautifully it was written. The description of the stormhorses, the beauty and decay of the land, the secrets woven into the history of Brida’s family, and the haunting creatures that rose from the ground were so well developed. I felt like I was part of Brida’s journey, travelled the miles along with her, and was invested in her mission to free the stormhorses. I loved watching her begin to understand her magic, and trust her instincts as she ran into situations where she called upon it to help her. I also appreciated that she had to combine her talents with others to make the magic stronger, rather than being the sole heroine of the story, and her tenderness and kind-heartedness endeared her to me even more.

This book was the perfect escape from reality, and though I often have trouble picking up a long book, it’s one I miss now that it’s over. I felt completely immersed in it, without the niggling details that often pull me out a story when they don’t sit right with me. I would definitely recommend this story to fantasy lovers who enjoy a quest rich in detail and adventure, filled with magic, where good strives to triumph over evil.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7

Amari and the Night Brothers

Author: B.B. Alston

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: Jan. 19/21

Length: 431 pages Audio: 11 hours & 12 min.

Reviewer: Laurie

Thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

Amari is a thirteen-year-old living with her mom in a less than desirable neighbourhood. Amari, like her older brother Quinton, attended school on a scholarship, but then Quinton disappears. Quinton was the perfect older brother and called his little sister Amazing Amari, always building her up and instilling confidence in her. After he goes missing, many suspect that perhaps Quinton was not in a summer leadership camp and tutoring kids but got himself mixed up in something that got him trouble and resulted in his disappearance. Amari refuses to believe this, and when a dream allows her to talk to her brother, she discovers that if he went missing, he left her something that will explain everything – a briefcase with a nomination and an address.


Once she makes her way to the address, Amari discovers that she has a one time chance to earn a spot in the Secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, just like her brother. Amari is now determined to find out what happened to her brother and accepts the opportunity to attend the summer camp. There she will compete as a trainee to become a Junior Agent like Quinton, to find him.


Once inside, Amari realizes that just like the world she lived in, dealing with racism and prejudice, this new world presents similar problems. Thrust into a world Amari knows little about compared to her fellow competitors who grew up in the Supernatural world, Amari must quickly adapt and adjust. Upon entering as a trainee, she becomes aware that everyone has a unique ability that gets publically announced, and her talent is illegal – providing even more antagonism.


When the evil magician Moreau threatens the Supernatural World, Amari realizes the connection between Moreau and Quinton. Her brother Quinton was looking for Moreau and knows finding Moreau is the key to finding her brother despite the majority of the Bureau being against her.

There is so much to love about this book. A Black fantasy protagonist for middle grade, giving so many readers a mirror to see themselves! Amari becomes a strong female protagonist by making mistakes but finding the courage to do what she knows to be right. Then there are the friendships that develop between fellow underdog and roommate, Elsie, a weredragon, who is the last of her kind and Dylan, the son of the Director of the Bureau and twin of Amari’s nemesis Lara. The relationships are complicated and believable. The many different career options and departments within the Bureau are imaginative with descriptions that provide readers with a clear picture. The plot twists that kept me reading well into the wee hours of the morning will engage readers of all ages.

Men in Black meets Harry Potter is what first came to mind when I began reading Amari and the Night Brothers. The intricate beings and worlds that exist right in front of our eyes and the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs and its special departments secretly protecting us and those beings – Men In Black. The strong characters, the quests, the friendships that evolve – Harry Potter. Amari and the Night Brothers take the best qualities of the two to provide readers with an exciting new series.

B.B. Ashton has delivered a debut that has put him on the map for the imaginative, well-developed, fast-pacing, cannot-put-down plot with characters that you are rooting for and secretly wanting justice for those who are not deserving. If you haven’t preordered this debut (out next week) due yourself a favour and gift yourself this gem – I cannot wait for the adventure to continue!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Gr5+

The Last Shadow Warrior

Author: Sam Subity

Publisher: Scholastic Inc.

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

I heard this book referred to as Beowulf meets Percy Jackson, but I have to be honest, I never read Beowulf in school and didn’t know the story. Fortunately, it wasn’t a requirement to enjoy this book. The Last Shadow Warrior is a story that puts a spin on Norse mythology the way that The Lightning Thief puts a spin on Greek mythology, and it’s an excellent book to recommend to those fans.

Abby’s mom was a Viking warrior known as an Aesir, and after her death, Abby held on her to desire to follow in her footsteps. When she is attacked at their home by a creature she suspects is a Grendel, the same monster that killed her mom, she and her dad immediately take off to Minnesota to go into hiding, where Abby can attend the same school her mom did. Unfortunately, they are in an accident just as they arrive, and her dad is seriously injured and taken to the hospital unconscious. As she tries to deal with his condition, she is taken to her new school, Vale Hall, which she quickly discover is not an ordinary school. But no one believes that Grendel’s still exist and are hunting Abby. In fact, the Viking Council plans to make Aesirs obsolete. Abby and her new friends must figure out a way to save Abby’s dad from his mysterious injury, convince the Council that Grendels do exist and are wreaking havoc, before Abby is their next victim.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Abby and her dad. This can be a difficult time for girls to stay close to their dads, and there’s still a strong bond between them that I loved to see. I also really liked Abby’s friends Gwynn and Grimsby, and how they offered support when Abby was suddenly thrust into a world about which so knew so little. There is also a lot of humor in this story, with monsters doing unexpected things (like playing ping pong) that will make readers laugh. Most of all, I love seeing authors take classic stories and find ways to present them to today’s young readers that will pique their interest in the subject. With a mix of engaging characters, an action-packed and humorous storyline filled with monsters and magic, I think this story will find many readers who will enjoy it as much as I did.

I think there’s so much potential for this book to become the start of a series, so I hope readers love it and allow the author to keep telling us Abby’s story.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar

Author: Payal Doshi

Publisher: Mango and Marigold Press

Release Date: May 2021

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to the author and Edelweiss+ for an eARC of this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which is the first book in The Chronicles of Astranthia series by debut author Payal Doshi. Although this book doesn’t come out until May 2021, I’m excited to help spread this word about it and make sure that readers are aware of it.

Rea and her twin brother, Rohan, live in Darjeeling, India with their mother and grandmother. Rea resents the favoritism that Amma and Bajai show toward Rohan, and that Rohan isn’t including her in the secret birthday party he’s planning on THEIR special day. She crashes the midnight cricket party, but discovers the next morning that her brother didn’t make it home and has gone missing. Rea desperately wants to find Rohan, so she enlists the help of her friend, Leela, go with her to visit the fortune teller she knows Amma recently visited in the hope of finding out more about his disappearance. She and Leela are given clues that lead them through a portal into the magical world of Astranthia, where they enlist the help of a barrow boy named Xeranther. Their quest to free Rohan involves battling deadly monsters, finding a missing flower petal, and wielding magic that Rea didn’t even know she possessed to stop the queen from using Rohan in her nefarious plans. But Rea also learns Amma and Bajai have been keeping a very big secret from her and Rohan, and suddenly her entire family, and the future of Astranthia, is in jeopardy.

I love stories that are set in countries different from my own, and seeing characters from different cultures be the heroes of stories. There is a lot of Indian culture that runs throughout this book, while incorporating fantasy elements such as magic, deadly creatures, and the necessity of developing special powers for good to triumph over evil. At the same time, it’s a story about family, friendship, betrayal, and taking risks to protect the people that you love. This story is so immersive because of the world that the author created, and how her descriptions were rich, imaginative, and detailed. I will be anxiously awaiting the next book in the series so I can revisit Astranthia and these wonderful characters.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy the Kiranmala series by Sayantani DasGupta, Aru Shah series by Roshani Chokshi (or any of the Rick Riordan Presents books, although this story is not based on Indian mythology) or anyone who loves reading an adventurous fantasy rooted in culture.

Recommended: Gr. 5-7

The Gilded Girl

Author: Alyssa Colman

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

Although I’ve never read The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the classic story that inspired The Gilded Girl, I was intrigued to start with reading a modern day reimagining of it. I read Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe before I read its inspiration, Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, and enjoyed comparing the original to it rather than the other way around. I thought I’d try something similar with this story, and I enjoyed The Gilded Girl so much that I am eager to read the classic.

In this story, Emma is sent to Miss Posterity’s Academy for Practical Magic in preparation to kindle before her 13th birthday when her magic with otherwise be snuffed out. Her father is wealthy and well-respected, so despite her lack of obvious talent, she is treated as a special student at the school…until her father dies. Once Miss Posterity realizes she will not any more financing from him, she demotes Emma to an unpaid servant to pay back her debuts, and Emma realizes that her status and friends at the school are gone. She is forced is work with Izzy, a servant girl who’s had little use for her, but the pair realizes they have one thing in common…neither girl wants to lose their magic. They create a pact to help each other; Izzy will teach Emma how to be a servant if Emma will teach Izzy everything she’s learned about preparing to kindle. Together, the girls create other alliances to help them gather the knowledge and supplies they need, but when the day to kindle arrives, no one is prepared for the trouble that the winds bring with them.

What I enjoyed most about this story was the character development, especially that of Emma. She went from an entitled girl used to having things done for her, to one with strength and confidence. I also found Izzy inspiring as she grew from a jealous servant girl to a loyal friend who was willing to share her vulnerability and dreams with Emma. I wish the house dragon had played a bigger role in this story, but I will hope that this is a retelling that will have a sequel and pick up where this story left off.

I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

RECOMMENDED: Gr. 4-6

Amari and the Night Brothers

Author: B.B. Alston

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

Release Date: January 19/21

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

The cover of Amari and the Night Brothers is one of my favorites for 2021 so far, and was the first thing that drew me to this book. The second was all the positive buzz I’d heard about it, all of which is deserved. I admit that the 416 page length put me off reading it for a while, but I quickly found myself engaged in the story.

Amari’s brother, Quinton, has been missing, but no one knows what’s happened to him. When she finds a briefcase he left for her in his closet, she discovers that the summer camp he used to attend was a cover for his training at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, and he’s nominated her to try out for a spot there, too. Amari desperately wants to find her brother, but first she has to discover what he was working on, and who might be holding him. She’s thrown into a world of magic, and must compete against other kids who know much more than her in three separate tryouts. On top of that, she has high expectations placed on her, and discovers her supernatural ability is one that’s illegal and makes her even more unpopular. She has to figure out who she can trust, how to get classified information, and battle her own insecurities to save her brother, all while an evil magician is trying to destroy the whole supernatural world.

This high-action story reminded me a lot of Harry Potter, with a main character suddenly thrown into a magical world where many felt she didn’t belong, and with great things expected of her. I loved watching mentors and friends support Amari while she grew in confidence and ability, and the unexpected twists kept me wondering what was coming next. I really loved seeing a female Black character develop her own power, and despite its length, I will definitely by purchasing it to add to my library’s collection.

This is the author’s debut novel, but I’m so glad this is the start of a new series. The second book is slated for release in 2022, with the third following in 2023.

Recommended: Gr. 5-8

#IMWAYR (It’s Monday What Are You Reading?) Nov. 16/20

Another busy week of shovelling as we received more snow and my poor dog got “fixed” as they say, so lots of time devoted to him as adjusted to life with the dreaded cone and therefore not a lot of reading accomplished. Despite that, oh how the books were EXCEPTIONAL!

Last Week

  • Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow #3 by Jessica Townsend, narrated by Gemma Whelan. Ms. Townsend has down it again. Although darker and hitting a little too close to home with a mysterious disease attacking the Wunimals, this series is phenomenal and can stand right alongside Harry Potter. In the third installment, Morrigan Crow, the only Wundersmith in Wunsoc is learning the Wretched Arts. As Morrigan learns more about her abilities and the past Wundersmiths, readers see more of the political side of Nevermoor and how many people have something to gain by using Morrigan. I hope we do not have long to wait for the next book in the series.
  • Dear Justyce by Nic Stone, narrated by Dion Graham: Dear Martin was so incredibly strong, but Nic Stone has raised her game to another level with this book. Written in a similar format to Dear Justyce, we meet Quan, incarcerated for the murder of a police officer. Pleading not guilty, Quan writes to Justyce (the protagonist of Dear Martin)  and details just how systemic racism has landed him where he is in this cell. This was gut-wrenching to read because it is sadly too accurate. Quan will stay with me for a long time. This is a must-read.
  • All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat: I am so so glad that this book #ownvoice author Christina Soontornvat shared this story and provided the details from the Thai perspective. Learning about the Thai Navy SEALS and the work that Thanet and Colonel Singhanat did to divert the water out of the cave and seeing the photos of what they accomplished was incredible. Soontornvat expertly intertwines the expository information as it comes up in the exploration of the cave by the boys or the rescue. Well researched and a personal author note make this a favourite nonfiction read for me this year.

Up Next

  • Skyhunter by Marie Lu narrated by Natalie Naudus: I have enjoyed other books by Ms. Lu, so I was happy that the audiobook came in from the library. Looks to be another dystopian type book – a genre I haven’t read for a while.
  • Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini by Betsy Uhrig: I started this one based on a conversation during the #MGBookChat by @aslan_magic, who was reading it and finding it funny. I wanted something light, and yes, it is quite humorous. Reluctant reader Alex has been asked to help his aunt review a book she has written. It is incredibly dull, so Alex and his friends are providing suggestions with the help of a ghostwriter. Funny and a mystery to solve – a welcome combo.
  • Genius Jolene by Sara Cassidy, illustrations by Charlene Chua: This is a Shining Book nominee, and I am looking forward to reading this one as there are not many chapter books that include LGBTQ+ characters.

Down the Road

Royal Rangers #4 The Missing Prince by John Flanagan: well, I have moved up in the queue for this book but still waiting. 

I want to acknowledge the two that started this all. It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? has changed from becoming a meme for adults to the sharing of children’s’ lit. This idea to include #kidlit came from Unleashing Reader blogger Kellee Moye and Jen Vincent, from the Teach Mentor Texts, blog. They thought there should be a children’s lit focus too and hence a version for #kidlit began! So every Monday, join in on the fun by sharing what you just finished reading, currently are reading, or are anticipating reading. Use the hashtag #IMWAYR on your social media sites to share, follow what others are reading and to show support for #kidlit bloggers by reading and commenting.

Happy reading!

Laurie

 

#IMWAYR (It’s Monday What Are You Reading?) Nov. 9/20

With everything that went on last week and the arrival of winter here yesterday, it is a good thing that I have those graphics made by Canva as my mind is drawing a bit of blank of what I read.

My reading this week and in the next few weeks will be a bit dependent on my holds from my public library as they begin to come in – so what’s in my graphic may change up a bit.

Last Week

  • Hockey Night In Kenya by Eric Walters, and Danson Mutinda, illustrated by Claudia Davila: A chapter book that shares friendship, hockey and books I’m in! Set in Kenya, we meet Kitoo and Nigosi, two friends who live in an orphanage. When Kitoo becomes enthralled with ice hockey after seeing the Canadian men’s hockey team in a book, Nigosi and others from the orphanage and the library support his dream of skating on ice. Although the boys have different interests, they support one another, and that is something that I appreciated. Hockey lovers of all ages will enjoy this feel-good story.
  • High and Dry by Eric Walters and illustrated by Sabrina Gendron: Dylan is living in his grandfather’s cabin with his parents for a year. Now that the summer is over and people have left, he has gotten to know the various wildlife found on the island, in particular a pod of whales. When his parents leave for a gallery show, his grandfather comes back to look after Dylan. One day, when they are out walking along the beach, Dylan hears the whales making strange noises. When he carefully climbs some rocks for a better view, he discovers the young orca he has nicknamed Oreo beached in the small cove. Dylan knows Oreo is in danger and has to keep cool until the tide comes back in. Kids will love this story featuring the whales and Dylan, a kid being the hero.
  • Something to Say by  Lisa Moore Ramée, narrated by Sisi A. Johnson: Jenae is an 11-year-old who has no friends and is content to be invisible both at school and at home. She believes that her thoughts and wishes can change the course of events – but not in a positive way. When new student Aubrey who is the complete opposite of her, decides she is going to be his new best friend, Janae is not sure what to do. Things get even more intense when the two of them are partners for a debate about changing their school name. A story about friendship and finding your voice, I enjoyed the family dynamics and the friendship that developed between Aubrey and Jenae, and I know many readers will identify with trying to fit in and make it through middle school. 
  • Isaiah Dunn is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist: If the title sounds familiar, it may be because you have met Isaiah Dunn in the collection of short stories in Flying Lessons and Other Stories.   In this adapted version from the short story, Isaiah is dealing with the death of his father. The aftermath that comes with that, his mother’s depression and drinking leading to unemployment and homeless, and the harassment at school leads Isaiah down several new paths to honour his dad, look after his kid sister and help his mom. Strong writing and character development I will be talking more about this book!

Up Next

  • Hollowpox The Hunt for Morrigan Crow #3 by Jessica Townsend, narrated by Gemma Whelan. An exceptional fantasy series that I do not seem to hear about a great deal but should be on more reader’s radar. I started this last week, but I am only listening during the day to savour Morg’s latest adventure. If you have not read this series – pick it up. Ms. Whelan’s narration and accent make the audiobook come alive.
  • Dear Justyce by Nic Stone, narrated by Dion Graham: I have been waiting for the sequel to the magnificent Dear Martin audiobook, and it has finally arrived from the library.and. I am very excited to read this one. Nic Stone is one of my favourite YA authors.
  • All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat: Another book from the library – reading in a digital format so I can take in not only Ms. Soontornvat’s writing but the photos.

Down the Road

  • Royal Rangers #4 The Missing Prince by John Flanagan: this is one of the books I am waiting for from the library, and I am looking forward to the latest adventure of Maddie.

I want to acknowledge the two that started this all. It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? has changed from becoming a meme for adults to the sharing of children’s’ lit. This idea to include #kidlit came from Unleashing Reader blogger Kellee Moye and Jen Vincent, from the Teach Mentor Texts, blog. They thought there should be a children’s lit focus too and hence a version for #kidlit began! So every Monday, join in on the fun by sharing what you just finished reading, currently are reading, or are anticipating reading. Use the hashtag #IMWAYR on your social media sites to share, follow what others are reading and to show support for #kidlit bloggers by reading and commenting.

Okay, my shovelling break is over so off I go again while listening to my audiobook! Happy reading!

Laurie

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow

Author: Jessica Townsend

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books

Release: October 15/20

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

Wow, I love this series so much. It’s one of my favorite fantasy series of all times (along with series such as Harry Potter, Magisterium, and The Land of Stories). It’s so well written, detailed, and magical that I wish more young readers would discover this Australian writer. And although this story was a definite 5 stars for me, but I did find it a bit difficult to get given the current events in the world.

Morrigan and her friends are learning more about the Wundrous Society the longer they attend their classes. This year, Morrigan is also hoping she’ll learn more about the Wretched Arts so she can understand her own abilities as Wundersmith. She discovers a new teacher who introduces her to a hidden part of the school that has much to teach her about the past, and of what she’s capable. At the same time, a mysterious illness has started to spread in Nevermoor, and it quickly spread from Wunimal to Wunimal. There is fear, judgment, isolation, and political unrest as the mission to understand Hollowpox and how to cure it becomes of paramount concern. But while Morgan is learning how to use her gifts, there are those who have other plans about how to use her for their own gain, and deals are made that threaten not only Morgan, but Nevermoor itself.

There isn’t a thing about this series that feels weak to me. The plot, characters, and setting are so well-crafted, rich and imaginative. Although the books are quite long, they only allow the author to expand and build this wonderful world and the challenges that face those who live there.

This is a definite must for fantasy lovers, and I highly recommend this series. Check out the first two books in the Nevermoor series, THE TRIALS OF MORRIGAN CROW and WUNDERSMITH: THE CALLING OF MORRIGAN CROW.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

Author: Eiko Kadono

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Release Date: January 7, 2020

Reviewer: Kathie

I’m so grateful for recommendations that come to me from social media, especially when they’re such a delightful story like this one. Although I knew Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe was inspired by a classic story (a story that I really enjoyed this year), it wasn’t until Melissa from Crate Expectations mentioned it on Twitter as the feature book in their monthly subscription box that I took a closer look at it, and found a copy in my local indie. I’m SO glad I did, as it was just the kind of story I love to read.

Originally published in Japan in 1985 as Majyo no Takkyubin, this is the story of 13 year old Kiki, who is sets out to fulfill her mission as a witch and find a new town to call her home. She and her cat, Jiji, travel to the seaside town of Koriko, where she hopes to find a way to use her powers as a flying witch to help the community. But gaining the trust of the locals is a challenge, and Kiki must use her patience and kind heart to win them over, while building her own confidence in herself and what she has to offer.

I often feel that contemporary middle grade stories feel they have something to prove, or must teach a lesson, rather than just being a sweet story to entertain readers. I love heartwarming stories that make me feel good from start to finish, and this is exactly that type of story. Kiki finds support from her neighbor from the moment she arrives, and though not everything is smooth sailing for her, there wasn’t the emotional rollercoaster that you often find in today’s middle grade fiction. The translation was very well done as it flowed fairly smoothly in English, and at only 193 pages I think it will be easy to recommend to my patrons.

The book is also an animated film available on Netflix, so young readers may also watch to check out this version.

RECOMMENDED: Gr. 4 – 6