Book review: Sorcery of Thorns, by Margaret Rogerson

Rogerson, Margaret. Sorcery of Thorns.  Margaret K. Elderberry Books, 2019. 456 pages. $17.99. ISBN 9781481497619. Ages 14-up.  P8Q8

Orphaned apprentice library clerk Elisabeth lives and works in one of the eight Great Libraries of Austermere, a world where magic is feared and sorcery is considered a path to evil.  Sabotage at the libraries looses the grimoires to become ravaging monsters  of leather and ink, and a series of attacks on the libraries throw Elisabeth into the orbit of sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn and his demon/fairy companion Silas.  Elisabeth is tall, physically strong and one of the world’s innocents—though she learns quickly. Nathaniel is a sardonic bisexual hero prone to nightmares that leak occasionally dangerous magical phenomena.  Their friendship and eventual romance develops realistically over time. Magical battles, flirtations, political intrigue, humor, and sorcerous sabotage create a lovely froth of a high fantasy novel with nods to high society and a steampunk vibe, lacking only steam, nuts, bolts, or rails.

Verdict: Elisabeth is, in many ways, a good match for Garth Nix’s third assistant librarian, Lirael, and I can only hope that the promised series will be a reality.  I fell into the glorious language and whirlwind plot and only emerged when I ran out of the printed words.  Highly recommended for high school and public library young adult and fantasy collections.

September 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

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Book review: The Storm Crow, by Kalyn Josephson

Josephson, Kalyn. The Storm Crow. (Storm Crow series, book 1.) “Advance Reader Copy.” Sourcebooks Fire, to be released July 9, 2019. $17.99. ISBN: 9781492672937. 350 pgs. Ages12+. P8Q7

Princess Anthia of Rhodaire’s life is turned upside down when the neighboring kingdom, Illucia, invades one night and destroys everything, including the Rhodaire’s magical, glorious, elemental crows which are the power behind the kingdom’s success. While deeply depressed by the loss of her mother, who was killed in the invasion, Thia is sent to Illucia (very much against her will) to marry Prince Ericen as a way of salvaging what little is left of her land. Before she leaves, Thia discovers a crow egg in the rubble of the city, and she and her best friend and guard Kiva come up with a plant to hatch the egg and save their country. The story is exciting from the beginning to the end. The female characters are very strong, and the prince Thia is to marry seems like a villain at the beginning, but we see that he may not be what he seems on the surface. This is the first book in a duology, and I look forward to seeing how things end.

VERDICT: Teen readers will like the fast pace, rich descriptions, and interesting characters.  This was an ARC, and will be published on 7/9/2019.

June 2019 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: The Supervillain and Me, by Danielle Banas

Banas, Danielle. The Supervillain and Me. Swoon Reads, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781250154354. 310 pgs. Ages 12+. P8Q7

Morriston is having a crime wave, and the city’s “supers” (superheroes) are doing their best to fight it. High school student Abby’s brother is secretly one- the Red Comet. A new super in town may not be so super- in fact, it looks like the Iron Phantom is behind some serious crimes, including arson. But when he rescues Abby from an attempted mugging and she gets to know him a bit, she isn’t so sure that he’s a villain. The story feels light, witty and romantic, but has some serious themes too. Mind control, the long-term impact of violence on families, and what makes a person special all are important. I really liked the focus on how imperfect the supers are- they’re real people with super powers, but they have the full range of flaws and noble attributes that we all possess.

VERDICT: Whether they are looking for a romantic comedy or a superhero story, teens will enjoy this fast and fun read.

April 2019 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Once and Future, by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Capetta, Amy Rose, and Cori McCarthy. Once & Future.  “Advance reading copy.” Jimmy Patterson Books/Little, Brown and Company, release date March 29, 2019. [368] pages. $18.99. ISBN 9780316449274. Ages 14-up. P7 Q8

If Merlin lives backwards in time—growing younger as the years advance—but  does not change when held in magical stasis, then how long will it be until he is unborn?  Once & Future is the story of Ari, a adopted refugee fugitive from a planet interdicted by the almighty Mercer Corporation.  Ari and her adopted brother Kai live in a space-going lifeboat, always evading capture and trying to find their two mothers imprisoned by Mercer.  During one escape that crash lands the lifeboat on Old Earth, Ari pulls a sword from the trunk of an ancient oak tree, releasing a now teenaged Merlin, the vengeful spirit of Morgause, and becoming the 42nd and first female reincarnation of King Arthur.

This action packed space fantasy cloaks the familiar legends of the Once and Future King with the trappings of space travel and life on multiple planets.  The familiar names—Arthur’s brother Kai, Guinevere, Merlin, Morgause, Percival—are familiar from the many retellings of Arthurian romances, but the characters who take on the action of the story vary.  This reincarnation has a pansexual Arthur/Ari, a woman/woman political marriage between Ari and Guineivere, a young very gay Merlin, and knights who are variously queer, trans, and asexual.  Many of the characters are people of color, including Ari whose homeworld, Ketch, was settled by Arab colonists.

The Mercer Corporation controls delivery of essential materials—water, for instance—to the various planets while working to take control of the known universe.  (I found myself thinking of Mercer as the fictional incarnation of Amazon.com.) Ari’s history and her newfound allies soon come into conflict with the corporation and the battles begin.

Verdict: I have always enjoyed the Arthurian tales, from Thomas Malory to T.H. White’s Once and Future King to the Steinbeck Winchester translation and I just re-read Gerald Morris’s The Squire’s Tale series.  The Arthurian themes running through Once & Future were easy to spot.  Setting the story in space and giving the major characters a queer cast was brilliant.  I enjoyed the tumbling action sequences, but found the instant romance between Ari and Guinevere to be unlikely.  It would have made more sense to me if their earlier relationship had been mentioned before the wedding.  I can hope that the authors and their editors will have a chance to revisit the story before it is actually published.  Still, I think that young adult readers who like space operas will really enjoy this book and I, like they, will look forward to the sequel.  Highly recommended for high school and public libraries.

March 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Dactyl Hill Squad, by Daniel José Older

Older, Daniel José. Dactyl Hill Squad. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 9781338268812. 256 pgs. Ages 8-14. P7Q8

What do you do when you are on your way to the theater with a few fellow orphans, riding in a triceratops wagon, and a riot breaks out? You fight back of course! Thus begins the story of Magdalys, a 12 year old girl from Cuba, orphaned and living in New York City during the Civil War. In this story, dinosaurs and humans coexist, and both the North and the South use the dinosaurs for transportation, to deliver mail, and to fight. Magadalys discovers she can communicate with the dinosaurs, and becomes involved with the war effort. During the Draft Riots, the Colored Orphan Asylum is burned down, and all the orphans who were not on the field trip have been captured by Richard Riker, an evil, white city magistrate. With no home to return to, Magdalys and crew flee to Brooklyn and settle in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood where black and brown New Yorkers have set up an independent community. Knowing they must help their mates, they form the Dactyl Hill Squad. A plan is set to rescue the orphans left behind, and with the help of Magadalys’ dinosaur connection the adventure begins! With historical facts woven throughout the story, this fantasy novel is fun and informational at the same time. By the end of the story the orphans have been safely rescued from Riker and the Kidnapping Club, but a new journey is on the horizon. Magdalys’ brother, Montez, has been injured after joining the Union Army and the Dactyl Hill Squad is heading south to find him.

Verdict: This story has it all! A lively adventure with a brown heroine, set during the U.S. Civil War where dinosaurs still exist! What a great book to read to a middle age classroom to ignite their interests on so many relevant topics. I highly recommend this book for the classroom, for the library, and to have at home.

February 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: The House with Chicken Legs, by Sophie Anderson

Anderson, Sophie. The House with Chicken Legs. Scholastic, 2018. $16.99. 262p. ISBN 978-1-338-20996-9. Ages 9-12. P8Q8

Orphaned Marinka, 12, loves her grandmother, a Yaga who guides the dead into their afterlife, but she wants friends her own age. Doing this is difficult because her grandmother restricts her from going far from the house, and the house keeps going from place to place—on its chicken legs. Anderson has taken the Eastern European folklore of Baba Yaga to create a gentle, loving woman who tries to protect her granddaughter. Marinka’s adventures begin when she breaks Yaga’s rules, leaving the perimeter of the house and trying to make friends in village near the latest house settlement. Her discovery that she is one of the people who came back from the afterlife lead her danger, loss, and the development of relationships as she decides to follow the path that her grandmother chose for her.

Verdict: A beautiful rendition of an old folktale takes the characters throughout different places in the world and shows an acceptance of death. Marinka’s attempt to befriend some of the girls in the village also demonstrates the difficulty of trust and the ability to move on from cruelty. A lovely book to be shared.

February 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Tale of Angelino Brown, by David Almond, illustrated by Alex T. Smith

Almond, David. The Tale of Angelino Brown. Illus. by Alex T. Smith. Candlewick, 2017. $16.99. 258p. ISBN 978-0-7636-9563-7. Ages 8-12. P8Q9

In this delightful tongue-in-cheek tale, a tiny angel lands in the pocket of a grouchy bus driver and changes his life. Bert Brown takes the little creature home to his loving wife, Betty, and she names the angel, makes a bed for him, and the next day takes him to the school where she works in the cafeteria. Although one theme of the book is the way that Angelino brings light into the lives of a couple who have lost their son, young readers will also enjoy the sour attitudes some faculty members have toward him and their other students and the ensuing adventure when villains decide to make money by selling him to the highest bidder—including religious leaders.

Verdict: The funny scenario, the dry humor of the language, and the acceptance from those around Angelino, including his art teacher, provides a great read for middle schoolers. Whimsical pencil drawings extend the understanding of the action and characterization. This would make a wonderful read-aloud.

February 2019 review by Nel Ward.