Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse

Information

Goodreads: Witches of Brooklyn
Series: Witches of Brooklyn #1
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Summary

After her mother’s death, Effie goes to live with her aunts in Brooklyn. But they’re a little weird. Could it be they are really witches? And, if they are, could Effie be one, too?

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Review

Witches of Brooklyn is a delightful middle grade graphic novel about a young girl discovering that her aunts may actually be witches! When her mother dies, Effie goes to live with her family she never knew. They’re definitely a bit weird, but she never suspects that their jobs as herbalists and acupuncturists are actually a way to disguise the fact that they have magic powers! But then someone shows up on their doorstep, apparently having been cursed, and Effie’s aunts may not have the solution. Witches of Brooklyn combines the elements of a coming-of-age tale with a bit of magic to create a tale sure to enthrall readers from the start.

One of the great strengths of Witches of Brooklyn is the characters. Some of them may be considered a bit odd, but the book treats each one with dignity and respect. There is room for everyone in Effie’s world and, though the characters may have disagreements, these are never based upon how a character dresses or looks, or what they enjoy. Even the one character who acts like an entitled snob is taken seriously by the others and treated kindly, something which ultimately helps her to learn and grow. I loved how welcoming Effie’s friends and family are! It made me wish I could visit her world.

The illustrations, too, drew me in. They are perfect for the story, having a kid-friendly feeling to them, but also utilizing a color palette that suggests magic and mystery, without being too scary. Illustrations are a large part of what will make me decide to pick up a graphic novel. These did the job of attracting me to the book, and then keeping me glued to the pages.

Finally, the plot kept me engaged. Like Effie, I wanted to figure out what her aunts were all about. And then I became interested in their mystery. Why can’t they figure out how to lift the curse? Who put it there? Will this person be a friend or a foe? Combined with this sense of drama, however, is a sense of whimsy. There’s a talking suit of armor who acts as a librarian. There’s the character who keeps baking for everyone, often with comedic timing. And there’s the babysitter who has unusual fashion sense, but who clearly has a big heart. These light moments balanced out the little bit of darkness that could have stemmed from the idea of someone being cursed, keeping the book more magical than scary.

Witches of Brooklyn is only the first book in a series, but it is the perfect book to get readers hooked! I know I’ll be keeping my eyes out for the sequel.

4 stars

10 Graphic Novels Featuring Ghosts, Witches, and More to Get You in the Mood for Halloween

Graphic Novels for Halloween

Looking for the perfect fall read to get you in the mood for Halloween? Check out these middle grade and young adult graphic novels featuring ghosts, witches, and more!

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The Witches: The Graphic Novel by Roald Dahl, Adapted and Illustrated by Penelope Bagieu

The Witches Graphic Novel Cover

Witches despise nothing more than children, and they will do everything in their power to eradicate every last one from England! When an eight-year-old boy meets the Grand High Witch and learns of her evil plot, it is up to him and his grandmother, along with a new friend, to save the children. A graphic novel adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic novel.

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Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon

The neighborhood kids say the old lady down the way is a witch who eats roadkill. But Snap knows better. Jacks collects roadkill to dry their bones and sell the skeletons online. And, now, Snap is helping. But Jacks possesses more power than she initially lets on. Could it be Jacks really is a witch?

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The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

In Aster’s family, girls grow up to be witches and boys grow up to be shapeshifters.  But Aster wants to be a witch, too, even if  he has to keep spying on the girls’ lessons.  Then the boys starts disappearing.  Can Aster help find them with his witch powers?

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Witchy by Ariel Slamet Ries

Witchy Cover

In Hyalin, the length of one’s hair determines the strength of their power as a witch. But witches with hair too long are burned as enemies of the kingdom. Nyneve’s father was killed because of his fair. Now Nyneve fears the same. When the Witch Guard comes recruiting, Nyneve must decide if she will serve the kingdom that burned her father, or if she will risk her life for freedom.

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Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkinheads

Deja and Josiah are best friends once a year when they both work at the local pumpkin patch.  But now it’s their last day of the season and their last day on the job–both are heading off to college.  Deja wants Josiah to seize the day and finally talk to the girl he’s been crushing on for years.  And she’s on her own mission to eat every autumn snack available at the patch.

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The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch

When thirteen-year-old Moth Hush discovers that she comes from a line of witches, she is ecstatic.  But her mom fears the town’s tradition of witch hunting and refuses to teach Moth how to use her powers.  Can Moth prove that things have changed?  Or is she better off hiding her magic from the world?

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Sheets by Emma Thummler

Thirteen-year-old Marjorie Glatt’s world fell apart the day her mother died. Now, her father can barely leave his room, and Marjorie is left to run the family laundry business by herself. And the detestable Mr. Saubertuck won’t stop sniffing around, trying to sabotage the business so he can have the property.

Wendell is a ghost who cannot accept his own death. He runs away to the land of the living, trying to find himself. When he meets Marjorie, however, his presence might mean the end of the laundry for good.

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All My Friends Are Ghosts by S. M. Vidaurri and Hannah Krieger

All My Friends Are Ghosts

Effie feels like a ghost. She is no longer interested in school and she’s stopped trying. And no one seems to care. Then she meets a real ghost in the woods. The spirits need her help. But does she have the confidence to succeed in her new mission?

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Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

Mooncakes Cover

There is a demon loose in the forest, and werewolf Tam wants to stop it, before it uses their magic against them.  First, however, Tam will need to team up with their girlhood crush, a witch named Nova.

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Little Witch Academia by Yoh Yoshinari, Keisuke Sato

Little Witch Academia Manga

Atsuko “Akko” Kagari has always dreamed of becoming a witch like her idol Shiny Chariot, and now she’s going to attend Luna Nova Witchcraft Academy!  But she comes from  a non-magic family and she’s going to have to prove herself to the other witches.

Of Salt and Shore by Annet Schaap, Trans. by Laura Watkinson (ARC Review)

Of Salt and Shore by Annet Schaap

Information

Goodreads: Of Salt and Shore
Series: None
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
Published: October 13, 2020 by Charlesbridge (first published March 2017)

Summary

Every night, Lampie lights the lighthouse lantern for her father, who has trouble with the stairs due to a bad leg. One night, however, she forgets. The ship that foundered on the rocks will have to be paid for. And so Lampie is placed as a servant in the Black House, a mysterious mansion where a monster is said to live. But the monster is not what Lampie was expecting.

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Review

Of Salt and Shore is a haunting story that imagines what happens after the events of “The Little Mermaid.” Young Lampie, daughter to the lighthouse keeper, is sent to work at the Admiral’s house after one night when the lighthouse lamp is not lit and a ship founders upon the rocks. She fears the monster rumored to live within, but soon discovers that the monster is not what it seems. As she befriends the Admiral’s son and his servants, Lampie starts to bring life back to the house. But not everyone in town is as welcoming as Lampie, and their fear could ruin everything Lampie has worked to gain. Of Salt and Shore is a beautiful tale of processing loss, finding friendship, and creating hope. Lovers of fairy tales will be spellbound by its magic.

It is rare to find a novel based on a fairy tale that feels as enchanting as the original. Annet Schaap, however, has created a story that possesses that ineffable something— that hint of the supernatural, that haunting taste of bittersweet, that feeling that things will never be fully explained and never should be. The magic is in the not knowing. That magic is in what is. Of Salt and Shore pulls readers into a world where mermaids and pirates coexist side by side with ordinary life–and it makes such a world seem both wholly possible and wholly desirable. Who wouldn’t want to return to Lampie’s world again and again?

Laura Watkinson’s effortless translation helps that world come to life. The prose not only flows smoothly, but also feels completely natural. I can imagine many a reader finishing the book without ever realizing it has been translated at all. This is a testament to Watkinson’s skill, of course, but also a great gift to Schaap’s work, helping it reach a wider readership who can fall in love with her story and its characters.

If you love retold fairy tales, if you love mermaids, if you love worlds where the fantastic and the everyday intertwine–then this book is for you. Of Salt and Shore promises magic–and it delivers.

4 stars

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Information

Goodreads: Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl
Series: Mighty Jack #3
Source: Library
Published: 2019

Summary

Jack and Lilly have travelled between worlds and defeated giants. Now the next adventure comes knocking on their door when Zita the Spacegirl arrives with news of an inter-dimensional threat. The giants are ready to wage war and reclaim the Earth. Can the three team up to save the day?

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Review

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl is a crossover event that brings Ben Hatke’s Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl graphic novel series together. One could consider it book three of Jack’s series or book four of Zita’s. That being said, readers should be very familiar with both series, or all the allusions made in this book will likely go over their heads. I, for instance, have not read the Zita books in years, so the repeated references to her old adventures and former friends got tiresome very quickly. On the whole, however, the book is a fun adventure and a solid addition to Hatke’s work.

The greatest strength of the Mighty Jack books is, in my opinion, how wonderfully they feel like old-school adventures. I used to spend my childhood summers reading books like King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Andrew Lang’s fairy tales, and Ben Hatke’s work makes me think he must have done much the same. The Mighty Jack stories give me that same thrill of heroism and wonder.

Still, I do wish that Hatke would make some changes as the series progresses. At times, I think the books feel like an old-school adventure in part because they feel so resistant to changes that have occurred in the publishing world. For example, the cast of characters has not grown any more diverse over the years. And this book features that tired old trope of the two female leads–Zita and Lilly–meeting each other, and Lilly becoming jealous of Jack’s attention. Really? Did our two strong female leads have to fight over a boy? Did that add anything at all to the story? It doesn’t, and I, like many other women, am tired of seeing female characters pitted against each other as rivals for a boy, when they have so much more to offer.

As an added disappointment, the book leads up to a huge fight between the giants and the Earth, which ends up being laughably anti-climatic. [Don’t read farther if you want to be totally unspoiled!] It almost feels like the author worried either 1) that the book was becoming too long and had to be wrapped up pronto or 2) that the author worried the full-scale epicness promised would actually be too violent and/or devastating to depict in its entirety, so instead he chose to gloss over all that. Option 3 is that the book is really supposed to be a message about the power of love, peace, and words and how they triumph over violence. It’s still a disappointment.

Hardcore fans of Zita and Jack will probably love this crossover, especially the tweens to whom the books are primarily marketed. I loved it, too, but I still cannot overlook its flaws. I hope to see more Mighty Jack books, but I also hope that the cast can become more diverse and that we can throw away tired tropes like females fighting over a boy’s attention.

3 Stars

The Flower of the Witch by Enrico Orlandi, Trans. by Jamie Richards (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: The Flower of the Witch
Series: None
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
Published: September 29, 2020

Summary

At the age of ten, Tami left his village on journey to become a man. He has been told that he needs to retrieve the flowers of the witch on the mountain to achieve his quest and return home. But, on his way, he inadvertently angers the spirits, causing them to renew their fighting with a northern village. Now he must decide: will he complete his quest or defend the villagers?

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Review

The Flower of the Witch is a reflective re-imagining of the classic quest story that asks what it really means to grow up. Tami left his village over a year ago, at the age of ten, to go on a journey to become a man. Unfortunately, no one told him what that would entail. He has been fighting monsters and saving princesses, but he still does not think he has fulfilled his quest. Now, he has been told that retrieving the flowers from the witch on the mountain will earn him the honor he needs to return home. But, when he angers the spirits, he must decide what is more important: retrieving the flowers or protecting the people he has endangered. Enrico Orlandi offers a provocative look at what it really means to grow up, and what kind of qualities we value in society.

The classic journey to “become a man” often seems to hinge on some sort of bravery, as exemplified through fighting. The message is that maturity–and masculinity–are defined through physical strength and aggression. Tami has clearly grown up in a culture where this is the norm, as evidenced by his attempts to achieve manhood by fighting monsters and saving damsels in distress. However, over time, Tami reluctantly has to conclude that he has not yet achieved manhood–and he has no idea how to do so. Left without any guidance from a society that seems not to value Tami in and of himself, he is left to wander the wilderness, nearly dying, because he is not considered “worthy” enough to return home.

Tami’s story encourages readers to rethink the classic quest narrative and the values it assumes. Why is physical strength equated with masculinity? Why must boys “prove” themselves to be considered men? What does it actually mean to grow up? And what kind of values should we be instilling in our children? Additionally, why is there such a hurry to grow up at all? Tami himself has to answer these questions and determine what kind of man he would one day like to be.

The beautiful artwork adds to the magic of the story, taking readers on journey to the north where demons still guard the roads and spirits affect the everyday lives of the people. Spirits and witches come alive through the distinctive illustrations, as does the frozen landscape where Tami must learn to survive. Readers who enjoy fantasy comics will find themselves drawn into this one.

The Flower of the Witch is an original twist on the classic coming-of-age story, as well as the fantasy quest. It encourages readers to identify the assumptions they may hold about what it means to “be a man” or to grow up. However, while the message is thought-provoking, it never overtakes the compelling storyline of which it is a part. Tami’s journey will enchant anyone who enjoys a good fantasy quest.

3 Stars

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King Boo Cover

Information

Goodreads: Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
Series: Mighty Jack #2
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

Maddy has been taken by a giant! Now it is up to Jack and Lilly to save her. But, when the two get separated, Jack will have to figure out how to complete his mission on his own.

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Review

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke jumps right into the adventure where book one left off. Jack and Lilly journey across worlds to find Maddy and save her from the clutches of a giant. Along the way, they meet new allies and face new enemies. This action-packed read is sure to thrill readers who love fantasy adventures.

What I love most about the Mighty Jack series is perhaps how classic the books feel. They remind me of curling up on a summer day to read tales of heroes and monsters. They pay homage to fairy tale and fantasy tropes, while creating an original adventure. This is the kind of read that you wish would last just a little bit longer, always just a little bit longer.

My one critique is that Lilly remains a far more interesting–and capable–character than Jack, the titular hero. While Jack is off rushing headlong into fights, and failing to achieve much as a result, Lilly likes to step back, assess the situation, and create a workable plan. She ends up saving Jack more often than not. She also proves to have the true heart of a hero, demonstrating self-sacrificial love in moments when Jack remains focused on his own mission. Truly, the series ought to be named “Incredible Lilly and That Guy She Keeps Saving.”

If you can get past the feeling that the series has been inaccurately named for an incapable male instead of his amazing female friend, the Mighty Jack series is truly enchanting. It contains all the wonderful fantasy elements one could want, from goblins and dragons to magical portals to other worlds. If you enjoy stories like Narnia or King Arthur or fairy tales, the Mighty Jack series might just be for you.

4 stars

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack Cover

Information

Goodreads: Mighty Jack
Series: Mighty Jack #1
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

Jack is not looking forward to an exciting summer. His mom is working two jobs and he will have to stay home to care for his sister Maddy, who never talks. Then, one day, Maddy and Jack trade their mother’s car for a box of seeds. Jack has never seen Maddy so enthusiastic. But the garden they grow is magical–and dangerous. Do they have the courage and the strength to face the garden?

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Review

Mighty Jack is a graphic novel I have seen around for years, but I never felt very interested in reading it. I have read Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl and was not totally in love, as many reviewers seem to be. However, Mighty Jack was available when I was searching for something new, so I decided to give it a chance. I am so glad I did.

Mighty Jack, in many ways, serves mainly as an introduction to what clearly is conceived of as a grander, world-crossing adventure. Jack is stuck at home during the summer so he can watch his sister Maddy while their mom works. He is not initially thrilled about it, but, when they plant some seeds that turn out to to be magical, things get a lot more exciting. The bulk of the book is Jack, Maddy, and their new friend Lilly–a badass, sword-wielding girl who lives down the way–trying to figure out what their new plants do and whether they are life-threatening or just slightly dangerous. Readers will be just as intrigued to see each new seed sprout.

The book is fast-paced and engrossing, even if the world-hopping has not yet begun. It is fun to watch Jack grow in strength and confidence as he faces down each new challenge, always goaded on Lilly who, admittedly, comes off as a bit more heroic than Jack, or at least more skilled. She is the one who can wield a sword and shoot an arrow. She is the one always ready for a new adventure. She is the one who has a real interest in the plants and what they can do. This can be a little awkward, since, at times, one wonders if Lilly should not really be the titular character, rather than Jack. But their friendship is sweet, and Lilly helps draw out the best parts of Jack.

Mighty Jack feels likes some solid childhood fun, with all the adventures of a lazy summer daydream come to life and rolled into one action-packed story. Anyone who has ever dreamed of wielding a sword, finding a magical world, or speaking with a dragon will be enchanted with Ben Hatke’s graphic novel. It feels like a classic adventure. And, thankfully, it’s only the start.

4 stars

The Witches: The Graphic Novel by Roald Dahl, Adapted and Illustrated by Pénélope Bagieu (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: The Witches: The Graphic Novel
Series: None
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
Published: September 1, 2020

Summary

Witches despise nothing more than children, and they will do everything in their power to eradicate every last one from England! When an eight-year-old boy meets the Grand High Witch and learns of her evil plot, it is up to him and his grandmother, along with a new friend, to save the children. A graphic novel adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic novel.

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Review

The Witches: The Graphic Novel is a compelling adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic novel. It embraces the slightly scary, but also funny, tone of the original, delivering a book that is sure to enthrall readers with its brave heroes and their quirky adventures. Readers who may not have picked up a Roald Dahl work on their own may be inspired to see what else he has written after being introduced to his imagination with this beautifully-illustrated adaptation.

One of the aspects of The Witches I have always loved is the relationship between the boy and his grandmother. Many children’s books, of course, simply dispose of the parents altogether, so that the kid protagonists can experience danger and excitement unimpeded. Even the stories with adult authority figures, however, may not focus on grandparents. That Dahl chooses to feature a grandmother is therefore very special–and what a grandmother she is! She clearly loves her grandson dearly, but she does not coddle him, instead warning him of the perils of witches (and thereby possibly scarring him for life), and then allowing him to fight the witches because he believes it is right. She deftly balances her desire to care for him with her knowledge that she has to allow him room to grow.

The grandmother, however, is not merely wise and lovable–she is also hilarious! The Witches is actually rather a creepy book–the titular characters really will do anything to rid the world of children and Dahl does not let his characters get away easily. So it is important that the story adds a bit of levity through the grandmother. She keeps the book from becoming too overwhelming for readers, allowing them to see that, even though there are scary things out in the world, there is also love, and laughter, and fun. She really is the heart of the story.

Pénélope Bagieu’s illustrations are a good fit for Dahl’s story. The color palette is eye-catching and the art style is one that will likely appeal to children, while also maintaining a bit of that quirky edge readers may associate with Dahl. The panels expertly and smoothly guide readers through the story; this is no clunky adaptation, but a work that feels like it could have been written as a graphic novel from the start. Even readers who are not usually attracted to graphic novel adaptations of classic novels may inadvertently be lured in by this one.

The Witches: The Graphic Novel expertly captures the spirit of Dahl’s story and transforms it into a new medium sure to attract a new contemporary audience. Fans of Dahl’s work will want to check this one out, but it stands on its own and will likely find its own readership, as well.

4 stars

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Information

Goodreads: Snapdragon
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: February 2020

Summary

The neighborhood kids say the old lady down the way is a witch who eats roadkill. But Snap knows better. Jacks collects roadkill to dry their bones and sell the skeletons online. And, now, Snap is helping. But Jacks possesses more power than she initially lets on. Could it be Jacks really is a witch?

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Review

I dove into Snapdragon not really knowing what to expect. The summary mentions selling roadkill. The cover image also promises a story that is maybe a tad bit weird. (It did not help that I thought the protagonist had antlers. It turns out that’s just Snap’s hair.) Well, Snapdragon is a little bit weird, if, by “weird” you mean, “Features an old woman who collects roadkill and then dries it out and reassembles the bones to sell online and, oh, yes, she actually does possess magic and she can see ghosts and move with energy.” Having finished the book, I am still not really sure what I think of it. But readers who like their middle grade graphic novels just a little bit odd will surely enjoy Snapdragon.

Initially, I thought Snapdragon was another middle grade graphic novel about the protagonist making friends and finding themselves. Snap’s father is gone, her mother works late, and she does not have any friends at school–not until she meets Lu, who shares her love of horror movies. She is more interested in learning about anatomy from the library and assembling animal skeletons with Jacks, a woman the neighborhood kids claim is a witch, but someone Snap thinks is just living on the fringes of society. Snap is one of those precocious characters who seemingly spends too much time alone due to their unusual, but absorbing hobbies. I figured she was just going to make a new friend and learn to be confident in her weirdness.

So I was a bit surprised when it turns out that Jacks really does possess magic! Maybe I was disappointed by this because I thought I was reading a contemporary middle grade, not a fantasy. But, somehow, Jacks seemed more interesting when she was just misunderstood by society and not, in fact, a witch like everybody said. And the story seemed more interesting when it focused on Snap’s character development, without the aid of magic. Once she learns she can harness energy like Jacks, her problems seem too easily solved–it just takes a wave of the wrist.

I know Snapdragon was one of the most buzzed about graphic novels in early 2020 and that most reviews are highly enthusiastic. However, I just did not connect with the story. It is a solid middle grade offering. I just don’t think it stands out as much as everyone else seems to.

3 Stars

Zatanna and the House of Secrets by Matthew Cody, Yoshi Yoshitani

Information

Goodreads: Zatanna and the House of Secrets
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Summary

Zatanna lives with her father, a professional magician, in a house the neighborhood largely avoids. Still, her biggest worry is actually school. Her best friend seems to be growing up faster than she is and she’s tired of being teased by the school bullies. Then, one day, she returns home to find her house invaded by magical creatures. How did she never realize her house is actually the House of Secrets, full of magic many would dearly love to possess? Now it’s up to her to find her father and save the house.

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Review

Zatanna and the House of Secrets invited me to pick it up with its colorful and, dare I say, adorable artwork. The cartoony style, the soothing color palette, and the playful air Zatanna and her father possess all made me want to dive into what seemed like an exciting new middle grade graphic novel from DC Comics. Only later did I find out that Zatanna is actually a real sorcerer superhero in the DCU–complete with overly sexualized magician outfit. But no matter. In my heart, she will now always be a cute middle school student with her faithful rabbit sidekick Pocus.

The book drew me in from the start, introducing the delightful Zatanna and her equally delightful father–a magician who can make even breakfast amazing by making pancakes disappear! I loved their rapport and was excited to see where the story would take them. Clearly Zatanna was about to find out that maybe her father’s magic is real! Even though he did not appear in the story for long, it was easy to see how much he loves Zatanna and tries to care for her after her mother’s death.

The relationship between Zatanna and her father, unfortunately, ended up being one of the most developed in the book, her father’s disappearance notwithstanding. Her friend she gets teased about for having a crush on and her friend who seems to be growing up too fast are mere side notes, barely relevant to the plot or Zatanna’s character arc. The witch queen and her son who appear to threaten Zatanna and her house are also under-developed. Readers never know who the witch is or why specifically she wants the house’s magic. She’s really just a plot device, a reason for Zatanna to discover the house’s secrets.

Indeed, much of Zatanna’s world remains unexplained. How does magic work? Where is the witch queen from? What other magical creatures are out there? What’s up with Pocus? I love fantasy worlds that are highly developed, explaining the rules of magic–at least to some degree–and making it feel as if the world could be real. However, Zatanna’s world is merely a backdrop, a reason for her to have fun adventures. It does not feel like a world with real rules that someone thought out.

I enjoyed Zatanna and the House of Secrets and I would probably pick up a sequel if one ever appeared. However, I admit it is not my favorite in the DC line, largely because the worldbuilding simply is not there. I loved Zatanna and her dad, and I loved the artwork. But this just isn’t a memorable story that I can see myself recommending to others or rereading.

3 Stars