Curse of the Night Witch – Book Review

Emblem Island #1 By: Alex Aster
Published On: June 9, 2020

In The Curse of the Night Witch three kids go on an adventure to find the Night Witch and remove a curse.

On Emblem Island, every individual has a mark on their wrist denoting a specific unique skill. Some marks identify what role you will have in society while others are skills that have a bit of a magical touch to them. Tor was born with the leadership emblem, but he’d much rather be able to breathe underwater. In the hopes that the wish-god can change his emblem, he submits this as a wish on Eve. But instead of a wish he receives a curse that could have only come from the Night Witch.

Part of what makes this book unique is how the story is structured. Emblem Island is full of myths and lore and all the inhabitants grow up learning about these fairy tales in a book called The Book of Cuentos. As Tor and friends seek out the Night Witch the chapters and narrative follows the places that are mentioned in The Book of Cuentos and learn that these so-called fairy tales are a bit more real than expected. In between the chapters is a short version of the lore followed by a chapter specifically relating to that lore. This creates mini-stories, or stories within a story.

The story is fast-paced in that no mini-story is longer than two chapters. This approach is perfect for young readers to help them feel a sense of accomplishment when finishing a mini-story. It also shows a lot of potential in where the series can go. As an adult, I wish these stories within a story had been a little longer so that I could settle in more to the story.

All in all I enjoyed the lore and myths and the overall uniqueness of this island and look forward to the next in the series.

Thanks to Netgalley and SOURCEBOOKS Jabberwocky for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Rating: 4 stars

Description:

On Emblem Island all are born knowing their fate. Their lifelines show the course of their life and an emblem dictates how they will spend it.

Twelve-year-old Tor Luna was born with a leadership emblem, just like his mother. But he hates his mark and is determined to choose a different path for himself. So, on the annual New Year’s Eve celebration, where Emblemites throw their wishes into a bonfire in the hopes of having them granted, Tor wishes for a different power.

The next morning Tor wakes up to discover a new marking on his skin…the symbol of a curse that has shortened his lifeline, giving him only a week before an untimely death. There is only one way to break the curse, and it requires a trip to the notorious Night Witch.

With only his village’s terrifying, ancient stories as a guide, and his two friends Engle and Melda by his side, Tor must travel across unpredictable Emblem Island, filled with wicked creatures he only k

Wizarding for Beginners – Book Review

By: Elys Dolan
Published on: July 7, 2020

The fun never stops with Dave, who is now part of a book club, and Albrecht – Dave’s “trusty steed and life coach.”

In Wizarding for Beginners, Dave and Albrecht are at their book club when a post card is delivered to Albrecht. It is from his family, but is also a sad moment for Albrecht because ever since a wizard put a spell on him giving him the ability to talk he has never been able to communicate with his family. One thing leads to another and soon Dave and Albrecht are off to become wizards themselves, but there are so, so, so many rules about who can be a wizard and what a wizard must or must not do that it becomes a bit too much. What’s even better is when they begin to find all the ways their fellow wizards are either following or not following the rules.

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Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows – Book Review

The Elandrian Chronicles #1 By: J.M. Bergen
Published On: February 2, 2019

“Magic is real, Thomas. No matter what happens, always remember that magic is real.”

Thomas Wildus is living an ordinary life. He has friends, a crush on a classmate, a good relationship with his mother, and is learning Kung Fu. But one day a musical note from an unknown source and a mysterious man lead Thomas to a unique bookstore that changes everything for Thomas. While in the bookstore, the owner gives Thomas the Book of Sorrows, but only after promising to follow a few strict rules. Eager to learn about magic and everything the book has to offer, he starts reading one chapter at a time.

What I was immediately drawn to was how much the world came to life in the background of the story. While Thomas walks down a street, I can almost hear the car horns blaring. He visits his friend Enrique’s house and can feel the liveliness of activity in the home. I can see a chess set waiting for players. All together, it adds to the ambiance of the story that not every middle grade story can capture as well.

The story hums along with Thomas receiving the book, to going to school and interacting with friends, and to learning about magic. The pace is quick and even and before you know it your at the end.

The characters are fun – especially Enrique and Professor Reilly. With Enrique, there was always a wave of activity around him that captured my attention. While Professor Reilly was almost always at the center of a funny scene. Also, Huxley played the part of the enigmatic shopkeeper well with his ‘many rules to agree upon’ before letting Thomas have the book.

While I found the story a fun adventure read there were a few points that bothered me that I am certain the younger me would not have even noticed. To move the narrative along Thomas gets taken without warning by people he trusts. As an adult, it concerned me that no one told him what was going on. How difficult could it have been for those around him to give Thomas a heads-up to keep him from getting scared? Later, these same adults whom Thomas trusts also lock him in a room without warning. As a reader, I understand what was transpiring, but once again couldn’t they have mentioned this part of the plan to Thomas ahead of time? Then last, I found Enrique’s travel explanation a bit implausible considering where he had to travel from and to. Would his mother believe that story and destination? But as I said – the younger middle-grade me would not have noticed any of this at all.

Overall, Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows is an engaging book that kids will find humorous, entertaining, and filled with the wonders of magic.

Description:

Thomas thinks he’s an ordinary twelve year old, but when a strange little man with gold-flecked eyes gives him an ancient text called The Book of Sorrows, the world he knows is turned upside down. Suddenly he’s faced with a secret family legacy, powers he can hardly begin to understand, and an enemy bent on destroying everything he holds dear. The more he reads and discovers, the deeper the danger to himself and the people he loves. As the race to the final showdown unfolds, Thomas must turn to trusted friends and uncertain allies as he seeks to prevent destruction at an epic scale.

The Unready Queen – Book Review

The Oddmire #2 By: William Ritter
Published On: June 23, 2020

To be honest, I was not a big fan of the first book, Changeling. There were moments of action or adventure that I found a little boring or underwhelming. And while I liked most of the characters there was one I didn’t like: Fable. Why am I saying what I didn’t enjoy about the first book? Because I rather enjoyed the second book in this coming of age story featuring Fable.

The Unready Queen starts off soon after the events of the first book. Tinn is receiving Goblin lessons and Fable is receiving magic lessons from her mom. Tinn’s lessons are going well. Fable’s are not. Fable would rather spend time in town with Tinn and Cole and even make new friends, such as Evie. While Fable is spending time in town, odd incidents involving fairy folk/forest creatures begin to manifest in town. Things start to escalate after new townsfolk start cutting down forest trees. As a result, tensions rise between not only the forest creatures and townspeople, but also between the forest inhabitants themselves.

Like the first book, the children’s mothers play a important role. But instead of Annie it is Raina, Fable’s mother, that is more central to this narrative. The story explores the relationship between Raina and Fable and parallels what many mother/daughter relationships struggle with. A mother trying to hold on. A daughter wanting more freedom.

What won me over to this book is how multiple story lines are interwoven together to create an overarching plot about the forest vs townspeople. Instead of a single story like last time, Tinn and Cole begin to have their own separate story lines. Fable begins to spend time outside of the forest and is able to learn more about the world. She is still naive, but the experience can only benefit her personal growth. Then various forest creatures, such as spriggans, take a more prominent role that is sure to continue into the next book.

The story ends with a feeling of foreboding and a cliffhanger that immediately makes you want to grab the next book.

Rating: 4 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

Human and goblin brothers Cole and Tinn are finding their way back to normal after their journey to the heart of the Oddmire. Normal, unfortunately, wants nothing to do with them. Fable, the daughter of the Queen of the Deep Dark, has her first true friends in the brothers. The Queen allows Fable to visit Tinn and Cole as long as she promises to stay quiet and out of sight—concealing herself and her magic from the townspeople of Endsborough.

But when the trio discovers that humans are destroying the Wild Wood and the lives of its creatures for their own dark purposes, Fable cannot stay quiet. As the unspoken truce between the people of Endsborough and the inhabitants of the Wild Wood crumbles, violence escalates, threatening war and bringing Fable’s mother closer to the fulfillment of a deadly prophecy that could leave Fable a most Unready Queen.

The Witches of Willow Cove – Book Review

By: Josh Roberts
Published On: May 26, 2020

Well, this was quite a fun middle grade read. Full of mystery, history, friendships, bullies, jealousy, rivalries and magic. As an adult I enjoyed it. The younger middle-grade me would have devoured it.

What the description doesn’t do justice to is the fact that this is an ensemble cast. While it is true that Abby Shepherd is the main character, it is also true that her best friend Robby – a nonmagical person – plays a significant role as well. Even then there are several others with large ‘screen time’ such as Amethyst, whose hair color matches her name, Zeus, Becca, and Piper just to name a few. The strength of the book lies with these characters and the different avenues they take to learn the truth about recent events and the town’s history. Doing so helps the plotting of the story continually move forward, but the variety of characters also help provide a realistic town and school setting. After all, this is the age where kids start ‘noticing’ each other.

It all starts on the night certain girls turn 13. That’s when their magical abilities begin to manifest themselves. Some of the magic they experience seems to be person-specific and other types of magic is general to all. While our new magic users are becoming adjusted to this rather huge change two seemingly unrelated individuals mysteriously disappear. There is too much coincidence going on and some of our cast is split on learning spells while others are researching the town’s history.

If there are any issues with the story it would be with how one of our main characters handled a disappearance of someone they knew. While the individual and their parent were upset I felt it was glossed over a bit to help ensure the main story line plot continued to move forward.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Toward the end, we get the hint that perhaps there are more sinister events coming their way, but that will be for a future book.

Rating: 4 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Owl Hollow Press for the reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Seventh grader Abby Shepherd is just getting the hang of it when weird stuff starts happening all around her hometown of Willow Cove. Green slime bubbling to life in science class. Giant snakes slithering around the middle school gym. Her best friend suddenly keeping secrets and telling lies.

Things only begin to make sense when a stranger named Miss Winters reveals that Abby isn’t the only young witch in town—and that Willow Cove is home to a secret past that connects them all. Miss Winters, herself a witch, even offers to teach Abby and the others everything she knows about witchcraft.

But as Abby learns more about Miss Winters’ past, she begins to suspect her new mentor is keeping secrets of her own. Can Abby trust her, or does Miss Winters have something wicked planned for the young witches of Willow Cove? 

Tuesdays at the Castle – Book Review

Castle Glower #1 By: Jessica Day George
Published On: October 25, 2011

Oh! Who wouldn’t want to live in a magical castle, especially one that rearranges its floor plan or creates new rooms whenever it gets bored. Need a slide to get you from one room to another quickly? Castle Glower is for you, especially if the day is Tuesday.

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The Raven: A Modern Retelling – Book Review

By: Elise Wallace
Illustrated By: Linda Silvestri
Published On: October 15, 2019

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

– The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe

My memory of first learning about Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven is sketchy. What I do remember are two things: 1) The poem was rather spooky to me. After all, it has a raven saying over and over again one single word -“Nevermore.” Yes, I think it is safe to say that a raven tapping at your chamber door definitely falls into the creepy category. Yet the use of this raven also enhances the overall otherworldly and melancholy atmosphere the poem presents. At the time, I suspect I found it spookier because I didn’t think raven’s could talk at all. Now that I am older and wiser I know that raven’s can speak even better than parrots since they can mimic the pitch of a woman’s voice vs a man’s. There are many examples on Youtube of talking ravens that are quite fun to listen to.

The second memory is that no matter how much time my teacher took explaining either the themes within it or allegorical parts or whatever else scholars say something is in order to make a story or poem sound important, the poem still never made 100% sense. Apparently, I must not be alone in this.

In The Raven: A Modern Retelling, the authors set out on a quest to help younger children understand the poem’s meaning. The story opens with Heath arriving at his new house. It’s an old house built in the 1800s and he definitely doesn’t like it. His family has moved across the country away from his old school and friend Lenore. He’s sad about leaving behind his friend, when he begins to have dreams about a raven outside his window saying “Nevermore!”.

Although the original poem by Edgar Allan Poe still has some sections to it that can be a little more difficult to follow, I found the retelling to be a decent introduction to the poem as it shows a main character going into a slow madness as he becomes more and more distraught about all these changes that are out of his control. Using an example of a young boy moving away and leaving friends is something just about all of us can understand. The good news is that this book is for younger middle-grade age kids, so there is a happy-ish ending.

The Raven is actually really short at only 32 pages and contains a few colorful pictures. Also included in the story are some book club questions to help guide the discussion surrounding the main points or themes of the story, such as asking them how the tone changes throughout the book or about the raven.

Description:

“Heath and his family have moved from the West Coast to New York. It’s a total culture shock. Everything feels wrong: the cold weather, the new house, even his dreams. But the worst part of the move is Heath is away from his best friend Lenore”–

Gargantis – Book Review

Legends of Eerie-on-Sea Book 2 by: Thomas Taylor
Illustrated by: Tom Booth
Published on: May 26, 2020

No doubt about it, Gargantis is a highly sea-worthy book. Filled with its quirks and oddities, the Eerie-on-Sea series is just what the middle grade fantasy genre needs. Instead of wizards and magic, you get sea monsters and tall tales and legends. So, batten down the hatches because this story brings you a whale of a time!

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