The Halloween Moon by Joseph Fink

The Halloween Moon

Information

Goodreads: The Halloween Moon
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: July 20, 2021

Official Summary

Esther Gold loves Halloween more than anything in the world. So she is determined to go trick-or-treating again this year despite the fact that her parents think she is officially too old. Esther has it all planned out, from her costume to her candy-collecting strategy. But when the night rolls around, something feels . . . off.

No one is answering their door. The moon is an unnatural shade of orange. Strange children wander the streets, wearing creepy costumes that might not be costumes at all. And it seems like the only people besides Esther who are awake to see it all are her best friend, her school bully, and her grown-up next-door neighbor.

Together, this unlikely crew must find a way to lift the curse that has been placed upon their small town before it’s too late. Because someone is out to make sure Halloween never comes to an end. And even Esther doesn’t want to be trapped in this night forever.

Star Divider

Review

The Halloween Moon is the perfect book to break out for Halloween, whether you’re an actual child or a just a child at heart. With engaging characters, a wild plot, and a setting that transforms magically from Southern California to a Halloween nightmare, the story has everything you could ask for.

I’ve read mysteries and thrillers and books about witches or zombies, but I’ve never before read a book so purely about Halloween itself. The Halloween Moon, while a scary book with a plot focused on adventure and a bit of a mystery (aka WHY ARE ALL THESE SCARY THINGS HAPPENING???) is a celebration of all aspects of the holiday: costumes, scary movies, trick-or-treating, candy, decorating your yard, and more. If you want a book that will truly immerse you in the spooky season, led by a protagonist who loves the holiday deeply herself, this is it.

I love that the book starts out focused on “normal” Halloween things, like Esther’s questions over what costume she should wear to school and whether her best friend will go trick-or-treating with her, and then things begin to take a more sinister shape as Esther starts seeing actual monsters. She loves being scared, but does she love being THIS scared? Isn’t the fun of scares at Halloween knowing that it’s all fake? Esther (and friends, some of them delightfully unexpected) rise to the challenge, however, and soon are fighting to bring back normal Halloween in a fast-paced and exciting plot.

The story also grounds itself in some real-world issues, such as the antisemitism Esther faces and her fears about growing up and going to high school next year. There are times I think the narrative voice might get too in the weeds pontificating on the nature of change and whatnot, but overall it’s very thoughtful.

Truly, this is an excellent read. It will be enjoyable any time of year, but you definitely won’t regret reading it around Halloween itself.

Briana
4 stars

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu (ARC Review)

Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy book cover for Instagram

Information

Goodreads: The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy
Series: None (yet)
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: ARC for review
Publication Date: October 12, 2021

Official Summary

If no one notices Marya Lupu, is likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: that Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.

The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city of Illyria, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in in the kingdom holds the potential for the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread.

For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy–a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.

Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself–things that threaten the precarious balance upon which Illyria is built.

Star Divider

Review

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy jumps into the heart of its problem from the very first page: girls in Marya’s kingdom are given no opportunities. Marya is raised to believe the shortcomings are hers, that’s she’s useless and messes everything up and gets in her brother’s way, but when she’s sent to a school for “troubled girls,” she and her friends begin questioning everything they’ve been taught and unraveling mysteries about their school and their country that have lasted centuries. The result is an immersive, engaging story that both enthralls and enrages.

I always think I’m over stories about the patriarchy and the oppression of girls. It’s an important topic and, of course, a personal one as I’m a woman, but I do get tired of reading books with “Girls aren’t allowed to do anything” as the premise. However, Ursu digs deep into history for her story, and her take on this premise is thoughtful and complex. Indeed, it’s actually very dark at times, as characters try to convince girls they are insane rather than admit they might have knowledge or talents, but Marya’s independence and optimism help readers see the light at the end of the tunnel. Readers believe that Marya will use her wits and bits of women’s knowledge and secrets that have been passed down through generations to get out of her troubles and to find fairness for girls they’ve been denied.

The plot is ever-twisting, and I’m pleased to report that while I was close with some of my predications, I was never 100% correct. Ursu keeps readers on their toes and builds a complex web of lies and clues and magic that will hold its own for readers both young and old. I was excited to find out what would happen next, what Marya and her friends would do and what they would uncover, and I kept turning page after page to find out.

The end of the book feels a bit rushed, but everything gets wrapped up, so The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy can work as a standalone. There’s doom for sequels, and I think a lot of readers will be clamoring to hear more about Marya and her friends and their next adventures, so hopefully a new book contract is in the cards for Anne Ursu.

If you like fantasy and books about tearing down the patriarchy, this will definitely appeal to you.

Briana
4 stars

The Girl and the Witch’s Garden by Erin Bowman

The Girl and the Witch's Garden

Information

Goodreads: The Girl and the Witch’s Garden
Series: None
Source:
Library
Published:
2020

Official Summary

Mallory Estate is the last place twelve-year-old Piper Peavey wants to spend her summer vacation. The grounds are always cold, the garden out back is dead, a mysterious group of children call the property home, and there’s a rumor that Melena M. Mallory—the owner of the estate and Piper’s wealthy grandmother—is a witch.

But when Piper’s father falls ill, Mallory Estate is exactly where she finds herself.

The grand house and its garden hold many secrets—some of which may even save her father—and Piper will need to believe in herself, her new friends, and magic if she wants to unlock them before it’s too late.

Star Divider

Review

The Girl and the Witch’s Garden evokes the feeling of classic children’s fantasy, where old estates hold secret portals to another world. However, while the idea of a hidden garden remains as enchanting as ever, the execution of the plotline shows some weaknesses that prevent the story from being as remarkable as it might have been. I wanted to adore The Girl and the Witch’s Garden because it possesses all the right elements to make my imagination soar. In the end, however, the storyline is rushed and predictable, making this a book one I am not likely to reread.

Like many a classic tale, this one begins with a girl arriving at an old estate said to be owned by a witch. Inside, she finds a number of orphans who are being fostered and who claim to possess magical skills. Their quest? To find their way inside a magic garden and complete a series of trials in order to obtain a legendary object of great power. Initially, the protagonist, Piper Peavey, does not believe them. But when she learns that they seek a potion of immortality, she becomes desperate to claim it for her dad, who is dying from cancer.

This is the kind of plot that normally would move and delight me. I love stories where the magical intersects with the everyday, where enchantment lurks just beyond the corner, if one knows how to look. Unfortunately, however, the rushed plotline made it difficult for me to feel immersed in the story. Piper unlocks her magical ability, learns how to control it, enters the secret garden, and completes the first trial almost immediately. Subsequent trials are passed with equal ease. For a story to grip me, I need there to be challenges to overcome. I need the characters to feel trapped, to sleep on the solution for a few days, to seek outside help because they are absolutely stumped. Having characters solve a puzzle in ten minutes after a failed try or two simply does not provide the same sense of drama. It lowers the stakes and makes it seem as if the garden is a puzzle anyone could solve, as long as they possess the right magical knack.

All this leads up to a climax that is too predictable to be exciting. Because the book spends a lot of time setting up an obvious villain early on, I knew who the the real villain must be and even where they must be. Perhaps the target audience will gasp in surprise at the late revelations, but I merely yawned. Then got annoyed when new powers suddenly came into play at the last moment. A deus ex machina to end the tale? Of course.

I wanted to love The Girl and the Witch’s Garden. This is a book I have eagerly been anticipating since last year, and only managed to read now because of the pandemic and other factors. Unfortunately, however, the magic of the premise did not translate into the execution.

3 Stars

Well Witched by Frances Hardinge

Well Witched

Information

Goodreads: Well Witched
Series: None
Source:
Library
Published:
2007

Official Summary

Ryan and his friends don’t think twice about stealing some money from a wishing well. After all, who’s really going to miss a few tarnished coins?

The well witch does.

And she demands payback: Now Ryan, Josh, and Chelle must serve her . . . and the wishes that lie rotting at the bottom of her well. Each takes on powers they didn’t ask for and don’t want. Ryan grows strange bumps–are they eyes?–between his knuckles; Chelle starts speaking the secrets of strangers, no matter how awful and bloody; and Josh can suddenly–inexplicably–grant even the darkest of wishes, the kind of wishes that should never come true.

Darkly witty, wholly unexpected, and exquisitely sinister, Frances Hardinge’s Well Witched is one well-cast tale that readers didn’t know they were wishing for.

Star Divider

Review

I have loved every book by Frances Hardinge that I have read, so I was more than surprised to discover that Well Witched failed to capture my imagination in the same way as her other stories have. While I associate Hardinge’s work with beautiful prose, as well as with quirky and imaginative stories, Well Witched reads a bit more like a standard middle-grade fantasy than it does a highly original and inventive tale. In the end, I enjoyed Well Witched, but it does not strike me as a read that is memorable, or one that I am likely to read again.

The aspect I enjoyed most about Well Witched is the way that magic intersects with the contemporary world. Often, fantasies tend to be set in pseudo-medieval worlds, alternative worlds, or worlds based on a past time period. Much rarer are those stories that suggest that magic is still around, and that the readers, too, might just be able to catch a glimpse. In Well Witched, the characters receive unwelcome powers after stealing coins from a wishing well. They must then determine what the well witch wants from them, all while hiding their new strangeness from friends and family. I absolutely loved the idea that contemporary characters have to figure out how to accept the presence of magic in their midst, all while hiding the fact from people who might think they are crazy.

The characterization, however, does not reach the standards I have come to expect from Hardinge. What I love about her books is that her protagonists are often conflicted, but also often not very nice. They are not necessarily heroes or people striving to do the right thing, but people striving to survive. In Well Witched, there are echoes of Hardinge’s complex characters, particularly in Josh, the leader of the trio of protagonists, who seems to enjoy his dark new powers a little too much. However, the story is told mainly from the perspective Ryan, who is more of a do-gooder, a little more boring, and a little unobservant for someone the story claims can see things others cannot. One of the main things Ryan misses is his friend Chelle, whom he dismisses as a bubbly, perhaps not too bright, chatterer, just like everyone else. Perhaps it is the presence of three main characters that throws this book off, but each one gets a few defining characteristics, but none really comes alive in the breathtaking way that Hardinge is capable of.

Finally, the plot in Well Witched is not evenly paced, and somehow comes across as less original than it probably is. The story starts off incredibly slowly, and only picks up steam in the final third. By this point, of course, some readers may have already given up. The slow pacing at the start damages the feeling of the story overall. The idea that an ancient spirit of some sorts is now trapped in a modern-day well, granting twisted witches, is a great one! But all the interesting bits that come with this information arrive too late in the tale to feel as meaningful and gripping as they might. I love the concept of Well Witched. I think the execution could be improved.

Well Witched is not a bad story by any means. It is certainly worth a read for fans of Hardinge, and it will probably also appeal to readers who like their tales twisted. Hardinge excels at the creepy, and not many middle-grade authors seem to be willing to go as as dark as she does. We’re talking infanticide (a story from the past–not depicted in the present storyline), souls trapped in some sort of limbo hell, and friends willing to commit murder to keep their powers. Perhaps it is not surprising that some readers prefer to categorize Hardinge’s middle-grade books as YA. But for readers who like a bit of horror, Hardinge delivers.

So would I recommend Well Witched? Certainly, to the right reader. Do I think it is Hardinge’s best work? Probably not. But even Hardinge’s more standard fare is engaging.

3 Stars

Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

Fly by Night

Information

Goodreads: Fly by Night
Series: Fly by Night #1
Source:
Library
Published:
2005

Official Summary

Twelve-year-old Mosca Mye hasn’t got much. Her cruel uncle keeps her locked up in his mill, and her only friend is her pet goose, Saracen, who’ll bite anything that crosses his path. But she does have one small, rare thing: the ability to read. She doesn’t know it yet, but in a world where books are dangerous things, this gift will change her life.

Enter Eponymous Clent, a smooth-talking con man who seems to love words nearly as much as Mosca herself. Soon Mosca and Clent are living a life of deceit and danger — discovering secret societies, following shady characters onto floating coffeehouses, and entangling themselves with crazed dukes and double-crossing racketeers. It would be exactly the kind of tale Mosca has always longed to take part in, until she learns that her one true love — words — may be the death of her.

Star Divider

Review

Fly By Night is a treasure, a book so quick-witted and lively that it seems a marvel it could be Frances Hardinge’s debut. The story breathes with inventiveness on every page, from the floating coffeehouses, to the panoply of kings and queens waiting for a triumphant return to the fractured kingdom, to the fighting goose. Loosely based on 18th-century England, the book is alive with imagined religions, politics, and intrigue. Any lover of fantasy will devour the descriptions of people, places, and things, all told with keen observation, and just a little cheek. Fly by Night is, in short, a fantasy sure to delight readers young and old.

Hardinge immersed me in her world from the very start, when readers learned that Mosca Mye was born into a kingdom where the people pray to the Beloved, gods of sort who each have a dedicated time of day and year, and who are each responsible for a different aspect of life. Readers will know that Hardinge’s work tends to have atheistic underpinnings, so the Beloved, while interesting, are also treated a bit humorously. Their areas of concern can be incredibly specific, and also a little bit strange. However, be that as it may, the people are serious about the Beloved, and the different belief systems of the realm soon becomes important as Mosca and her new guardian find themselves embroiled in city politics. A story that initially seems like a fun fantasy adventure becomes a thoughtful look at the way we use words to shape the world around us, and the way those words can be wielded for good or for ill by both the powerful and the lowly.

Words stand at the center of the story, making Fly By Night a short of homage to the power of words and the power of literature. Mosca initially runs away from home because her father’s books have been burned, and a man of letters represents a chance for a future where she can possess all the words she wants. But Mosca ends up in Mandelion, a city run by the stationers’ guild, and they control what can and cannot be printed. Anything without a stationers’ seal is viewed as corrupt, for it is said that books can make one mad. Mosca’s journey sees her transform from a young girl who believes what everyone around her says, even though it creates tension with her own desire to have all the words she chooses, to a girl who begins to desire the freedom to think for herself. In many ways, Mosca is a heroine with Enlightenment ideals in a realm still focused on the safety of tradition.

Fly by Night is a wondrous tale, one that skips and sings with beautiful words and a passion for stories. It is a book about the stories we tell ourselves, both as individuals and as a society, and the ways in which those stories can transform the world for the better or for the worse. Fantasies that make me think are some of my favorite–they are the ones that make me want to read them again and again, to discover new things, to reflect on issues I may not have thought about before. For now, I hope to return to Mosca’s world through the sequel. But I can definitely see myself reading Fly by Night again.

5 stars

Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Sisters of the Neversea

Information

Goodreads: Sisters of the Neversea
Series: None
Source:
Library
Published:
2021

Official Summary

In this modern take of the popular classic Peter Pan, award-winning author Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek) brilliantly shifts the focus from the boy who won’t grow up to Native American Lily and English Wendy—stepsisters who must face both dangers and wonders to find their way back to the family they love.

Stepsisters Lily and Wendy embark on a high-flying journey of magic, adventure, and courage—to a fairy-tale island known as Neverland.

Lily and Wendy have been best friends since they became stepsisters. But with their feuding parents planning to spend the summer apart, what will become of their family—and their friendship?

Little do they know that a mysterious boy has been watching them from the oak tree outside their window. A boy who intends to take them away from home for good, to an island of wild animals, Merfolk, Fairies, and kidnapped children.

A boy who calls himself Peter Pan.

Star Divider

Review

A Peter Pan retelling from the perspectives of (Tiger) Lily and Wendy promised a magical adventure. Unfortunately, however, a lack of characterization, a turn away from the darkness of the original tale, and a heaping does of heavy-handed moralizing made Sisters of the Neversea a lackluster read for me. The reading experience was so disappointing that, in fact, I almost chose not to finish the book at all. I wish I had better things to say about a book with such an exciting premise, but Sisters of the Neversea is not the retelling for me.

The main draw of the book for readers seems to be that Sisters of the Neversea is a reimagining of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan that emphasizes the female characters and points out many of the flaws the original has in its depictions of Native Americans and women. This is a laudable goal. However, the characterization of the female characters leaves much to be desired. Lily and Wendy are said by the narrator to be very different, one practical and one fanciful, but, in practice, their characters read about the same way. Additionally, the narrator spends a lot of time telling readers that the characters are a particular way, but these supposed traits are never demonstrated by the characters in the story.

Tinker Bell, the other main female character, receives the same treatment; the narrator spends a lot of time telling readers what Tinker Bell thinks and why she is doing things, but does not really let Tinker Bell simply act. The narrator’s input further has the unfortunate effect of making it seem rather as if the readers are assumed not to be intelligent enough to figure out the fairy’s motives, were they not explicitly told. The spelling out of ideas, themes, and lessons is, however, a trademark of the book.

The author’s input is most clearly seen in the explicit moral lessons integrated throughout the story. For example, when Peter Pan calls Lily and her brother a name not used by their tribe, the narrator is sure to tell readers that Peter is rude and presumptuous. When Peter suggests that Wendy engages in traditional feminine roles, Wendy and the narrator make sure that readers know Peter is being a sexist jerk, and that Wendy’s stepmother is an accountant. When Peter assumes some of the Lost Boys are boys, the narrator again interjects to let readers know that Peter is wrong and presumptuous. Readers may rejoice to see that the Peter Pan of Barrie’s original work is being called out. Yet the fact remains that having a narrator spell out moral lessons in the middle of a story is not always great storytelling. The story would flow more effectively if the readers could see the lessons played out by the characters, instead of having an authorial voice interjecting all the time.

My final issue with the work is that, though one might think that calling out the original book’s flaws would result in a story just as dark as the original, Sisters of the Neversea is actually a comparatively tame work, almost as if the story wishes to protect its young readers from anything too scary. Neverland is said to be a dangerous place, yet the only dangerous person on the island is Peter Pan himself–everyone else is trying to stop him, and thus are good allies for the protagonists. Oh, there are hints about the wicked deeds Pan has done, such as making some animals go extinct or feeding people to crocodiles, but one never really feels that Lily and Wendy are in any imminent peril. But the sense of peril is what keeps a fantasy adventure story alive. Without it, the plot just slogs on.

The premise for Sisters of the Neversea is absolutely wonderful. And certainly Native children deserve more accurate representation in literature–something better than what J. M. Barrie gave readers. Yet the premise is not enough to carry this story. The poor characterization, authorial interjections, and lack of peril combine to create an unremarkable tale.

3 Stars

The Nightmare Thief by Nicole Lesperance

The Nightmare Thief

Information

Goodreads: The Nightmare Thief
Series: Nightmare Thief #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: January 2021

Official Summary

Maren Partridge loves working in her family’s dream shop where she can hand-craft any dream imaginable. The shop has only one rule. Dreams cannot be given to a person without their consent. Maren has no problem with this—until her sister, Hallie, has an accident that leaves her in a coma. Maren’s certain she can cure Hallie with a few well-chosen dreams. And when no one is watching, she slips her a flying dream.

But a strange new customer from the shop has been following Maren and knows what she did. Now she’s laid the perfect trap to blackmail Maren into creating custom nightmares for a dark and terrible purpose. As Maren gets drawn further into the sinister scheme, she must make a choice: to protect her family or to protect the town from her family’s magic.

Star Divider

Review

The Nightmare Thief seemed, on the surface, like just my kind of book. A girl with dream magic who ends up creating nightmares for a sinister woman out for revenge? Perfect. Unfortunately, however, I found the worldbuilding and the characterization to be lacking. And no book can rely solely on its premise. So while The Nightmare Thief lured me in with its summary, I ultimately found the experience lackluster.

The delight of many a fantasy is not only the plot, but also the world. I was excited to learn about what appears to be a contemporary American society, complete with regular shops and the internet, that coexists with small types of magic: the ability to send a letter to its recipient at once, a talent for gardening, the creation of singing and sparkling novelty toys. However, I quickly realized that my expectations would remain unfulfilled. The book has very little interest in exploring the different types of magic, how they work, how they interact, and how they are received. Rather, the book name drops a few types of magic, then quickly focuses on the major plot point: a suspicious-looking woman keen to purchase nightmares in bulk.

Sadly, however, the plot is not all that gripping. It is immediately obvious that this evil-looking woman is an old resident out for revenge, and that she is using dream magic to chase people out of town. Yet no one seems to be aware of her nefarious plot, or to care that all the charming magical shops are being transformed into wicked emporiums. Only Maren starts to grasp the overall plan, and she decides her best course of action is to do whatever the villain wants, in the name of protecting not her family (as the book summary states) but rather herself. Because the punishment for sneaking people dreams without consent is never to be allowed in her family’s dream shop again. And apparently sacrificing the whole town is worth being able to go into the shop.

One might hope that the characterization would save the book at this point. If Maren were really sympathetic and the characters all drawn compellingly, the reading experience might have been worth it. Alas, however, Maren is barely fleshed out. Readers basically know that that she loves her sister and she sometimes takes tap dance lessons, and those seem to be her major character traits. She is also having friendship troubles (because this is a middle grade book, after all) because her best friend is hanging out with another boy who is mean to her. But that is all glossed over quickly in the name of recruiting her friend to try to help her defeat the villain. Her friend pretty much has zero personality, though readers know his grandfather is ill and his parents are not together. Indeed, the attempts at creating characters in this book seems to boil down in most cases to associating each person with one or two random tidbits–she dances, he visits his ailing grandfather, and so on. I could not truly describe any of the characters’ personalities.

The Nightmare Thief has plenty of potential–magic shops! vengeful citizens! talking birds! Ultimately, however, the book seems to rely primarily on its premise to capture readers, and barely pays attention to worldbuilding or characterization. Though a sequel is promised, I simply do not care enough to read it.

3 Stars

A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison

A Pinch of Magic book cover

Information

Goodreads: A Pinch of Magic
Series: A Pinch of Magic #1
Source: Library
Published: 2019 (UK), 2020 (US)

Official Summary

All Betty Widdershins wants is an adventure–one that takes her far away from Crowstone, the gloomy island where she’s always lived. But instead of an adventure, Betty and her sisters, Fliss and Charlie, are given of a set of magical objects, each with its own powers: a scruffy carpet bag, a set of wooden nesting dolls, and a gilt-framed mirror. And these magical objects come with their own terrible secret: the sisters’ family is haunted by a generations-long curse that prevents them from ever leaving their island–at the cost of death.

The sisters set out to break the curse and free their family forever. But after stumbling upon a mysterious prisoner who claims to be able to help them, they find themselves in great danger. And in order to break the curse–and stay alive–they must unravel a mystery that goes back centuries, one that involves shipwrecks, smugglers, and sorcery of the most perilous kind. 

Star Divider

Review

I picked up A Pinch of Magic because I love middle grade fantasy, and this one has excellent reviews. However, upon finishing it, I find myself in the awkward spot of not having anything particular to say about it. In the end, it seems like one of those books that’s very solid and leaves me little to complain about — but it’s not so much a standout that I have much to praise either.

The book does everything it sets out to do. Harrison successfully creates the limited world of Crowstone, a group of fairly depressing islands where the protagonists have spent most of their lives. Readers can feel the confines that the children chafe against as they long to explore the world and feel the salty sea hour and the hint of sadness created by living so near to a prison, where everyone seems to have a relative.

The plot is interesting. Three children set out to break a curse, using just a pinch of magic. They get into danger, and things go wrong, and sometimes help unexpectedly pops up. What not to love about that? I enjoyed it; I just wasn’t riveted, dying to know what would happen next.

The best part of the story is definitely the relationship of the three sisters. A lot of books claim they are about siblings, but then the main character’s siblings are barely present. Here, the focus is on Betty because she’s 13 and this is a middle grade book, but her two sisters (16 and 6) are equal parts of the team breaking the curse, and readers actually get some looks into their minds, as well, how older sister Fliss likes to flirt but really wants love and how younger sister Charlie wants to be taken seriously and seen as valuable. The three fight, of course, but they always have each other’s backs, and that’s lovely.

So, I definitely recommend A Pinch of Magic. It’s quite nice. Other fans of fantasy MG will certainly like it. I simply don’t find it memorable, and I think by next year it’s going to be one of those books I kind of forgot I read at all.

Briana
3 Stars

The Tea Dragon Tapestry by Kay O’Neill

Tea Dragon Tapestry

Information

Goodreads: The Tea Dragon Tapestry
Series: Tea Dragon #3
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Official Summary

Over a year since being entrusted with Ginseng’s care, Greta still can’t chase away the cloud of mourning that hangs over the timid Tea Dragon. As she struggles to create something spectacular enough to impress a master blacksmith in search of an apprentice, she questions the true meaning of crafting, and the true meaning of caring for someone in grief. Meanwhile, Minette receives a surprise package from the monastery where she was once training to be a prophetess. Thrown into confusion about her path in life, the shy and reserved Minette finds that the more she opens her heart to others, the more clearly she can see what was always inside.

Told with the same care and charm as the previous installments of the Tea Dragon series, The Tea Dragon Tapestry welcomes old friends and new into a heartfelt story of purpose, love, and growth.

Star Divider

Review

The Tea Dragon Tapestry brings the same quiet charm as the previous installments in the trilogy. No major quests are undertaken. No drama unfolds. Rather, the story focuses on the everyday choices of the protagonists as they seek to determine what they want out of life and how to get there. For Greta, this means choosing a piece to submit as her application to become a blacksmith’s apprentice, while also trying to help her tea dragon Ginseng deal with grief. For Minette, it means finding purpose and passion now that she no longer lives in the monastery. Fortunately, they have friends and family to support them every step along the way. The Tea Dragon Tapestry will have readers wishing they lived in as magical and loving a world as the characters.

Much of the charm of the Tea Dragon series comes, not from its fantasy elements, but from the relationships of the characters. Like a Miyazaki film, the books present communities where the people choose to uplift each other, rather than fight or try to get ahead at another’s expense. The magic is not really that tea dragons (and actual dragons) exist, but that people care about each other. When Greta and Minette question their paths in life, their friends and family are there to offer reassurance, support, and advice. As the books choose to focus on the quieter moments in life, they remind readers that every aspect of life can be quite thrilling. Not everything has to be loud and exciting to be important.

The artwork in The Tea Dragon Tapestry also continues to be just as beautiful and rich as in previous installments. Each panel is so gorgeous, it looks like it ought to be framed. These are not illustrations simply to move the story along, but real works of art, created with love. And Kay O’Neill uses the opportunity to visually represent so much diversity in her characters–something many readers have appreciated over the course of the trilogy.

The Tea Dragon Tapestry is the perfect end to this series, a gift to readers who have fallen in love with the characters, the world, and the art. Saying goodbye is bittersweet, but it is a comfort to know that the books will always be waiting to be opened again.

4 stars

Aster and the Mixed-Up Magic by Thom Pico, Karensac

Aster and the Mixed-Up Magic

Information

Goodreads: Aster and the Mixed-Up Magic
Series: Aster #2
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Official Summary

Magic turned Aster’s life upside-down — and it’s not over! Get ready for more family, more fun, and even more magic in this graphic novel adventure.

Moving to the middle of nowhere has been less of a disaster than Aster expected. Her mom’s science experiments are actually pretty cool; her dad’s cooking has gotten much better; her new dog is possibly the best canine companion anyone could ask for.

And she’s gotten to save the day — and her family — and the whole valley she lives in — from various magical calamities in what even she has to admit were extremely fun adventures. So now she can have a break, right?

Guess what?

Oh no; things get even more interesting.

Star Divider

Review

Thom Pico and Karensac have done it again! Aster and the Accidental Magic was a delightfully quirky romp through a fantasy village where nothing is quite what it seems. In the sequel, Aster and all her magical friends return for yet another series of hilarious adventures, first to head off a sheep rebellion, and then to save the world from a trickster. Perfect for readers who enjoy the absurd!

Explaining the Aster books admittedly can feel like a challenge. How does one describe a book that starts off with a young girl and her talking dog attempting to save a local village from a sheep army? It is just as ridiculous as it sounds, but that is the charm! The books are never serious and certainly not scary. How could one be afraid of sheep more concerned with filling out the proper paperwork for their registered trademarked army name, than in actually taking their revenge upon the village that once scorned them? I laughed out loud several times.

The second half of the book is an entirely separate adventure, one more closely linked to the events of the first volume. In this part, Aster, now a reincarnation of one of the seasons, must travel to another world in order to repair a magical artifact and save her village from a newly unleashed trickster. This segment leans a little more towards the traditional fantasy quest than towards the absurd, but all the fun and joy of the Aster series are still there. I enjoyed watching Aster save the day once again, and I am eager for a new installment in the series.

The Aster books are absolutely delightful, for those who enjoy reads that are more silly than serious, and who do not expect a lot of continuity. Each volume contains two or three distinct story arcs, each one only loosely connected to what came before. This makes each story a bite-size experience, perfect for a reader who just needs a feel-good story with low stakes and plenty of laughs.

5 stars