Hooky by Miriam Bonastre Tur

Hooky

Information

Goodreads: Hooky
Series: Hooky #1 (implied by ending)
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

When twins Dani and Dorian miss the bus to school, they head to their aunt’s house, hoping she will teach them magic instead. But it seems like their aunt might be in league with some witches intent on reviving an old war between magic workers and the non-magical. So the twins go on the run once again. With a group of friends, they will have to figure out what the witches are up to–and what role they want to play in the approaching conflict.

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Review

Hooky by Miriam Bonastre Tur begins a little rough–perhaps because it started as a web comic and the conventions for setting up background and characterization may be different. However, soon the story hits its stride, bringing together a lovable (and comedic) cast of characters for an exciting magical adventure. Though I initially thought of DNFing the story, by the end I was hoping for the sequel.

The start of Hooky admittedly had me baffled due to a lack of exposition. It begins in media res, with twins Dani and Dorian missing the bus to magical school, saying something about having to hide their identity as witches (even though Dani’s openly flying through the street), and then wandering off to their (obviously evil) aunt’s house, where they unquestioningly do her bidding–down to taking some hapless young man to a secret prison where (for unknown reasons) Dorian attempts to steal a dragon, leading the twins to be branded traitors (why? who knows!). It’s all kind of frenetic, which is compounded by Dani’s (and later other characters’) peppy personalities–illustrated by a lot of enthusiastic yelling and popping up with big grins. The story does not really seem to know where it is going at this point, only that it needs to keep adding exciting scenes (missed bus! evil aunt! stolen dragon!) to keep readers coming back for the next installment.

At some point, however, the story calms down and the background starts to get fleshed out a little more (even though it’s honestly still confusing and even seemingly self-contradictory). What really helps is that the story gets a main goal around which the other events can kind of cluster. Dani and Dorian have heard about a gathering of witches dedicated to taking back the kingdom from the non-magic folk and they want to check it out–whether to join or resist is still up in the air. Their friends, yes, have their own problems, like finding a lost prince and trying to reverse a spell gone awry, but the sense is that finally the story has some sort of plot that is driving the narrative. And it’s a relief.

By the end of the book, I was finally invested in the characters and interested to know what they might do next. The beginning is rough, yes, but the writing and the structure improves–and it can improve still further! The ending leaves room for a sequel and I hope that we get one!

3 Stars

Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen

Garlic and the Vampire

Information

Goodreads: Garlic and the Vampire
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

When a vampire moves into the castle in the woods, Garlic’s friends convince her that only she can confront the threat.

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Review

Garlic and the Vampire is a short graphic novel for the lower middle grade crowd. It follows Garlic (a sentient garlic bulb) when her fellow vegetables volunteer her to confront the vampire who has moved in across the way. Garlic lacks self-esteem and is hesitant and shy, so the thought of having to defeat an evil monster frightens her. However, this is a children’s story so, of course, in the end, mistaken assumptions are corrected and friendship triumphs. There is nothing particularly new or notable about the tale or its message, but the sentient vegetables make the story intriguing if only because readers will have a lot of questions about how sentient vegetables work.

The story here offers nothing fresh; readers know going in that Garlic and the vampire must become friends. And, because the book is so short, not even the “journey” to that friendship proves worth mentioning. Essentially, Garlic just walks up to the vampire’s door, and the vampire introduces himself. He also clarifies that he only snacks on the local wildlife sometimes and that mostly drinks juice. Crisis averted in the span of about two pages. There is zero sense of drama or suspense.

What really interested me about the book is the sentient vegetables. The story opens with the titular Garlic running to the farmer’s market to sell…garlic. Her friend Carrot sells carrots. Tomato sells tomatoes. And so on. Even after the story explains that Garlic and her friends are magical vegetables that have been given life by a witch, it seems more than a little weird. How do the vegetables feel about growing vegetables for other people to eat? Even if those vegetables are (hopefully) not alive? Some readers may find this book cute and winning with its talking vegetables and message of friendship, but the more one thinks about it, the darker the book seems to be.

I read this book in about 15 minutes, so I would not say it is a waste of time to pick it up. I just do not find the book remarkable. There are plenty of stories about unlikely friendships out there, and some of them will likely tug at the heartstrings in the way this one does not. Still, maybe the target audience will enjoy this one more than I.

3 Stars

The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow

Information

Goodreads: The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow
Series: Okay Witch #2
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Now a witch, Moth Hush has no hope that things at school will get any better. Her mom will still let her learn only small spells, and she is not allowed to use magic to make the school bullies stop. Then Moth finds a powerful charm that promises to make her cool and popular. There may be a cost involved, but it is nothing Moth can’t handle, right?

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Review

The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow is a powerful, and empathetic, follow-up to The Okay Witch. Now practicing as a witch with the blessing of her mother, Moth hopes that she can use her powers to make her life at school better. But her friend Charlie and the grown-ups around her just keep telling her to ignore the bullies and to accept herself as she is. For Moth, that is not good enough. So she steals a charm that promises to make her more popular. The result, as readers might expect, instead threatens to erase Moth completely. The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow is a beautiful story about learning to love one’s self, with the support of friends and family along the way.

Stories about accepting one’s self and learning to appreciate one’s friends are common for middle grade, but The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow gives a little twist by making the protagonist a witch. While many characters might wish that they could drastically change themselves, or that they could instantly become popular, Moth actually can. The ultimate lesson is still, of course, that magic cannot solve all of life’s problems. But it is fun to see how magic might try–the scene in the cafeteria where magically popular Moth begins a High School Musical-esque number and gets everyone to join in was amazingly hilarious. A reader starts to wonder if magic might not be a great solution. How else would one get to actually live in a musical for a moment?

The book is filled with moments of humor, from when Moth accidentally “twins” outfits with the dorkiest teacher at school to the scenes where her talking cat gets absorbed in a sitcom about a teenage witch. Though Moth is not happy with her life, readers can see that she is, in fact, surrounded by wonderful people. Even the dorky teacher turns out to be empathetic, sensitive, and, well, pretty cool. (Though it’s probably hard for a preteen to admit that.) Readers will delight in getting to enter into Moth’s world and experience all the loving support she has, if only she would recognize it.

The Okay Witch and the Hungry Shadow is a wonderful read, more effectively executed even than book one. Hopefully, there are yet more of Moth’s adventures to come!

4 stars

Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch by Julie Abe

Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch

Information

Goodreads: Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch
Series: Eva Evergreen #2
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Now a Novice witch, Eva Evergreen is eager to help protect Rivelle Realm from magical weather events known as the Culling–and to prove her worth as a witch. However, she and her mother have recently discovered the true source of the Culling, a powerful wizard who has the trust of the queen. With only a pinch of magic, can Eva defeat the wizard and save the realm?

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Review

Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch is an uneven follow-up to its predecessor. Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch was fun, though notable mainly for its similarities to Kiki’s Delivery Service, as well as its failure to provide any meaningful worldbuilding. This sequel attempts to rectify those mistakes with some sloppy and inconsistent worldbuilding, but loses most of the previous book’s charm along the way. Enthusiastic fans of the first book may enjoy Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch, but ambivalent readers will find little to enchant them in a book where Eva’s friends have all but disappeared, Eva’s unique “pinch of magic” is gone, and the new information about politics and magic are more nonsensical than not.

Despite its many flaws, the first book in the series did have a certain magic to it. Young readers probably would not have minded similarities to other stories, and Eva’s personality made her a winning character in an unoriginal plot. What made Eva original was her “pinch of magic,” her ability to find unconventional solutions to problems because she was forced to–she simply did not possess the power to do the types of spells other wizards and witches took for granted. She soon found friends in her new town precisely because she was creative, earnest, and kind. The book had an uplifting message about accepting one’s self as they are, and appreciating everyone for their unique qualities. In book two, however, many of these aspects of the previous story are gone.

Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch separates Eva from her old friends in Auteri, with Davy and Charlotte only popping up periodically to help when needed. Their friendship does not seem as strong, and Eva is more concerned with finding and stopping the source of the Culling than she is about her relationships. Davy and Charlotte barely seem to have any personality, and I could not really remember why they liked Eva so much, or why they had decided to leave their home for her. She certainly did not seem to care too much about them.

Notably, too, Eva’s “pinch of magic” has disappeared. In an effort to ramp up the drama, the book has the Culling appearing every few days instead of once a year or so. And Eva, though barely qualified to be a witch, is running about the whole of Rivelle stopping it, often single-handedly (apparently). How is unclear, because it took her an entire month in the last book to come up with a viable solution to the Culling–one that was creative, if odd. Readers must simply assume that somehow her magic–which is now described as simply very limited and lackluster, rather than unique–is suddenly enough to save the realm. But the whimsy is gone. Eva is now just a poor witch, rather than an innovative one.

Julie Abe does seek to rectify the limited worldbuilding of the last book in this one, but the results are uneven. For instance, readers know there is a queen (chosen from some training academies located across the realm) who is highly revered. She works with a Council of magic wielders. Though the Council holds much power, they ultimately seem to be more like advisors, with the queen having the final say on matters of importance (the exact power dynamics are unclear, though). However, in practice, members of the Council do things like: burst unannounced into the queen’s private meetings to break them up to advance their own ends, call Council meetings without giving the queen prior notice, speak disrespectfully to the queen in public, let random Novices into secret Inner Council meetings because it advances the plot, and call last-minute show trials so they can get rid of people they don’t like without any actual evidence (with the queen mostly just watching on as it happens). So the politics and power dynamics are very unclear, as is why anyone would respect a queen who lets any of this occur.

The magical background is also disappointing. Book one and book two both have hinted broadly about rogue magic and its dangers. The implication has always been that rogue magic was banned years ago, like in ancient days, because it was so destructive. No one knows anything about rogue magic or how it works, and books on it are almost impossible to find because all mentions of it have been destroyed. People who once researched rogue magic or alternative theories of magic are suspect. Yet. The big plot reveal is that the last big incident of rogue magic was less than ten years ago and is connected to one of the most influential people of the realm. It could not have been a secret because people died. But somehow no one knows about this rogue magic, or suspects that this person could be involved with the new rogue magic threatening the realm. Everyone in the Council, if not Rivelle, should rightly know all about this, but somehow they don’t. I have big problems with books that rely on characters’ stupidity to advance the plot, and this is a prime instance.

Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch has a promising premise, but fails to deliver. The shoddy worldbuilding, as well as the backwards character development, and the lack of meaningful friendships, make this book less than enchanting.

2 star review

Witches of Brooklyn: What the Hex?! by Sophie Escabasse

Witches of Brooklyn What the Hex

Information

Goodreads: Witches of Brooklyn: What the Hex?!
Series: Witches of Brooklyn #2
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Sophie loves exploring her new powers as a witch and, even better, she’s starting to meet the other witches in town. They’re really cool women who do their best to help others! But there’s a new girl at school, and suddenly everyone seems way more interested in her than they are interested in hanging out with Sophie. Can this witch figure out how to save her friendships?

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Review

The sequel to Witches of Brooklyn is an engaging, if not particularly memorable read. Like many middle-grade graphic novels, it focuses on the drama of changing friend groups, though with the added twist of making the protagonist a witch. Sophie, however, does not experience any real struggles with her magic in this installment, thereby lessening much of the drama and keeping the focus on her jealousy towards her friend’s infatuation with the new girl at school. What the Hex?! is a pleasant read, but not the type of story that invites rereading.

What the Hex?! attempts to intertwine two parallel stories, with only partial success. One thread follows Sophie’s anger at her friend for paying more attention to the new girl than to her. Another follows Sophie as she meets more neighborhood witches, and learns about a city corner that seems to be cursed–at least, everyone who goes by seems to meet with bad luck. Predictably, Sophie’s ability to move past her jealousy and reach out is what ultimately enables her to solve the conflict at the corner, as well.

Unfortunately, however, the magic system is somewhat undeveloped, as is the process whereby Sophie solves the problem of the curse. As a result, the ending scene feels a bit rushed or perhaps unearned. Sophie has a random idea about the corner, based on little evidence, that just happens to be right. And then all is solved by the power of friendship! I support messages of friendship, but sometimes just throwing out that love can solve everything seems a bit too facile to be believable. There needs to be work involved, as well.

In the end, I did enjoy What the Hex?!, but the story and the art do not stand out from all the similar titles. Witchy middle-grade books are trending, as are middle school friendship dramas. As are witchy friendship dramas, which is apparently now its own subgenre. What the Hex?! simply is not as strong as the titles it is competing with. And it is not really the kind of book that I see lasting.

3 Stars

Sabrina the Teenage Witch by Kelly Thompson, et al

Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Information

Goodreads: Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Series: Sabrina the Teenage Witch Issues #1-5
Source: Library
Published: 2019

Official Summary

Sabrina is a teen witch who’s struggling with balancing the double life of high school and her burgeoning powers. Newly relocated to Greendale with her aunts Hilda and Zelda (also witches), Sabrina is trying to make the best of being the new girl in town which so far includes two intriguing love interests, an instant rivalry, a couple of misfits that could turn into BFFs, and trying to save the high school (and maybe the world) from crazy supernatural events. NBD!

Sabrina the Teenage Witch collects issues #1-5 of the ongoing series and features bonus content including the first full issue of Archie and Sabrina written by Nick Spencer and Mariko Tamaki, with art by Sandy Jarrell and Jenn St-Onge.

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Review

Reading about The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a supernatural horror take on the teenage witch, initially made me leery of picking up this title. I do not care for books that are too dark, including pacts with demons and other things possibly too terrible to name. I just want a fun witchy tale for Halloween, not something that will give me nightmares. But Kelly Thompson’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch just hit the spot, presenting a Sabrina who is involved in magical mysteries, but absolutely nothing too scary.

The artwork presents Sabrina as a cute, quirky teenager, eager to fit in with her human peers, but also excited to use magic. Her aunts want her to be careful, but a few simple spells can’t hurt, right? Sabrina’s little spells, of course, quickly bring huge trouble as she discovers that her school seems to be some sort of supernatural hotspot. Readers will follow Sabrina’s adventures avidly as she tries to navigate normal parts of high school, like dealing with mean girls, while secretly investigating a magical mystery.

The main weak spot of the story is admittedly its conclusion. The villain is revealed rather hastily, with only vague motivations readers cannot know too much about. And Sabrina ends up saving the day, but only because her aunts happen to have a storeroom of incredibly rare magical artifacts. Sabrina does not really get to show off her powers or what she can do with them. She wins largely because she was better equipped than the bad guy. And this is disappointing.

Even so, I enjoyed Thompson’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch and its mix of the magical with the everyday. I want to know more about Sabrina’s life. I want to see which cute guy she’ll finally choose to go out with. I want to know if she gets to learn more powerful magic. This version of Sabrina is perfect for the reader looking for a book that has witches and magic, but is never very scary.

4 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.

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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

Lilla the Accidental Witch by Eleanor Crewes (ARC Review)

Lilla the Accidental Witch

Information

Goodreads: Lilla the Accidental Witch
Series: None
Source: ARC from publisher
Publication Date: July 6, 2021

Official Summary

Magic is tough. Family is tougher. Boys are a complete mystery. Follow Lilla as she stumbles her way through each of them in Eleanor Crewes’s uniquely illustrated debut middle-grade graphic novel.

Thirteen-year-old Lilla feels she is a bit different. She’s quiet and shy and sometimes feels uncomfortable in the company of boys. She’d much rather spend time by herself drawing and daydreaming. This summer, while staying with her aunt in rural Italy, Lilla discovers a book of magic which reveals that she is a witch with special powers, the magic of ‘Strega’.

But unbeknownst to her, an ancient witch, Stregamama, threatens to ruin more than just her summer. Lilla is soon faced with a choice that could change her life forever.

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Review

Lilla the Accidental Witch is a standard coming-of-age story that brings little new to the table. The titular Lilla discovers an ancient book of magic while visiting her aunt, and eventually learns that she comes from a long line of witches. However, an evil witch roams the forest, seeking an innocent soul who will grant her new life–and she believes Lilla, with her teenage lack of confidence, as well as her confusion about her sexuality, makes the perfect target. Lilla, of course, saves herself (and everyone else) by learning to be true to herself: a magic stronger than any spell that can be learned. I really wanted to like this graphic novel, but it is a story I have read many times before, and nothing about this particular book makes it feel fresh or exciting.

Because this is a graphic novel, the artwork has the potential to make Lilla the Accidental Witch an enchanting read. Of course, however, the ARC version leaves the majority of the illustrations as sketches that have yet to be colored in. This largely had the effect of making me have to squint very hard at each panel, so I could distinguish the characters by their hairstyles, since nothing else was making them stand out from each other. The first few pages were, fortunately, colored in, giving me a taste of what the final book might look like. But while I admit that this greatly improved the ease of the reading experience, the kind of muted color palette did not particularly appeal to me, though it might appeal to others. Ultimately, however, the colors might not matter at all–most middle-grade graphic novels seem to be well-received by the avid comics readers who are in the targeted age range for the book.

The story itself is pretty lackluster simply because I have seen it done so many times before. Witch graphic novels are trending right now, and, of course, the coming-of-age story is perennially popular for the middle grade market. I really wanted to see something new and different, here, but even a talking cat (which I always think makes a story better) could not make the story interesting to me. Even setting the story in Italy didn’t make it more interesting to me.

Ultimately, however, I am but an adult reader reflecting on the similarities I see in many titles being published today. Most tween readers do not seem to worry about such things. Indeed, most of the tween readers whom I know will read anything as long as it comes in a graphic novel format. So this book did not strike me as anything new or exciting, I suspect that it will still do well among its intended market audience.

3 Stars

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch

Information

Goodreads: Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch
Series: Eva Evergreen #1
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2020

Summary

Twelve-year-old Eva Evergreen possesses only a pinch of magic. And that will make passing her Novice Quest incredibly difficult. She has one month to find a town to live in, and then do enough good for the inhabitants that they will recommend her to the Council–otherwise she will lose her magic forever. Eva’s plan is to do small repair magic to help the locals. But the mayor of her new town insists that Eva protect the town from the Culling–a magical storm of unknown origin that even the most power witches and wizards fail each year to contain. Eva has no idea how to succeed, but she certainly means to try.

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Review

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch is proudly recommended on the cover for fans of Kiki’s Delivery Service–and that should come as no surprise. The main premise of Eva Evergreen is precisely the same as that of Kiki. Twelve-year-old Eva must leave her home and live on her own for awhile in a new town, in order to demonstrate that she is a true witch. While there, she has some difficulties making friends, but ultimately proves her worth when tragedy strikes. However, though the premise of the story is the same, Julie Abe adds in extra details to make the book feel worth reading: an antagonistic wizard, rumors of rogue magic, and a series of quests witches must complete in order to keep their powers. Ultimately, Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch is a charming read, sure to appeal to tween readers who love tales of magic that are more cute than scary.

Perhaps the main flaw of this fantasy is not the similarities with Kiki’s Delivery Service, but rather the lack of worldbuilding. This is evident from the first pages, where Abe attempts to start in the middle of the action, without being bogged down by “insignificant” details about Eva’s world. Eva is walking into a magical bookstore to undergo some sort of test in preparation for some other event that will lead to some sort of quest. Information is dropped “organically,” but not explained, making it hard for readers to figure out precisely what is happening. For example, one character compliments another’s cooking (a nod to the fact that Eva’s father is a baker and not a wizard). People are addressed by confusing titles (later explained to be stages of magic one can achieve). And a nemesis is introduced (in order to allude to some sort of magical apprenticeship system that is never clearly described in-depth at all). A lot of it does not immediately make sense, and readers just have to stick with it for awhile in order for the worldbuilding to start being explained. Even after reading the entire book, however, I still find that many important details about magic, politics, and geography are simply lacking. This may not bother readers who enjoy books more for the plot, but readers who prioritize worldbuilding will likely be disappointed.

Aside from the lack of worldbuilding, the story is pleasant enough. No unexpected plot twists occur, and readers will probably be able to predict most of the story’s major events, including the big “reveal” of the villain at the end. Still, it is a nice story about a nice girl trying to do nice things for a nice town. A reader wanting a feel-good book that never gets the pulse racing, but merely charms with descriptions of cute animals, families reunited, and friendships made will enjoy the journey. Because, in the end, a story about a girl with magic who proves her worth despite not being as powerful as the rest of the witches will land well in most cases. Readers do love to cheer for an underdog.

Nothing about Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch particularly stands out. It is a reliable middle-grade fantasy that relies on many familiar plot points, but I do not think the tween readers it is marketed towards will complain about its inherent lack of originality. It’s a fun story, and that is likely what will make it enjoyable to read for many. It is certainly book that I would have loved as a child.

3 Stars

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, Trans. by Emily Balistrieri

Information

Goodreads: Kiki’s Delivery Service
Series: Kiki #1
Source: Library
Published: 1985, translation 2020

Official Summary

Nostalgic fans of the Miyazaki film and newcomers alike–soar into the modern classic about a young witch and her clever cat that started it all!

Half-witch Kiki never runsfrom a challenge. So when her thirteenth birthday arrives, she’s eager to follow a witch’s tradition: choose a new town to call home for one year.

Brimming with confidence, Kiki flies to the seaside village of Koriko and expects that her powers will easily bring happiness to the townspeople. But gaining the trust of the locals is trickier than she expected. With her faithful, wise-cracking black cat, Jiji, by her side, Kiki forges new friendships and builds her inner strength, ultimately realizing that magic can be found in even the most ordinary places.

Blending fantasy with the charm of everyday life, this enchanting new translation will inspire both new readers and dedicated fans.

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Review

Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films, so when I learned that a new translation of the book it is based on would be released in the U.S. in 2020, I immediately put a copy on hold at the library. I was ready to live the magic all over again! To my dismay, however, I found that the book Kiki’s Delivery Service did not enchant me as I expected. The townspeople of Koriko are not nearly as kind or as helpful in the book, and the story is actually episodic, with Kiki not interacting with most of the characters for more than one chapter. I wanted desperately to be charmed by Kiki’s adventures, but instead I found most of them just rather odd.

I had a rather bad feeling about the book as soon as it began, since Kiki and her mother were arguing. One of the things I love most about Miyazaki’s work is that everyone seems so kind–I want to live in his world! But here, from the first pages, Kiki’s mom seemed a bit overbearing and Kiki a bit petulant. I could tell they loved each other, by the dynamic between them was off. And I didn’t get any better relationships from the book–even Osono, the baker who takes Kiki in, seems more standoffish and a bit judgmental. I just wasn’t feeling the love that pervades the film.

I hoped that the story would end up enchanting me more than the characters, but, alas, the book is very episodic, meaning there is no strong arc for either the plot or Kiki, really. Readers will recognize episodes from the film, such as Kiki meeting an artist in the woods, but usually Kiki meets a person, interacts with them briefly, and never sees them again. It is hard to see her growing from her interactions with them, because the interactions do not feel as meaningful.

Tombo is one of the characters who appears more than once. However, his characterization and relationship with Kiki are again very different. Tombo still loves flight, and he is in an aviation club. However, readers first meet him when he is stealing Kiki’s broom to try it out. His next appearance involves a sort of silly invention to get a painting in the air. One could argue that his flying bike in the film is silly, too, but somehow the book invention does not have that same whimsy, just a sense of, “Well, that would obviously never work.” Ultimately, Tombo does not get any significant page time, however, nor any deep character development. The book hints at Kiki having a crush on him, but it is difficult to see why, when she barely knows him. Perhaps their relationship is expanded upon in later installments of the series.

In fairness, I think the translation hindered my enjoyment of the book in a significant way. The book maybe should feel whimsical and charming, but the language feels stilted. So when chapters such as the one about the old lady who makes belly bands for everyone and everything, to keep them from catching cold (yes, she thinks inanimate objects get sick without yarn around them!) happen, they just seem weird. I kept on reading, hoping that at least one episode would catch my imagination, but none did.

I tried to adjust my expectations for Kiki’s Delivery Service because, of course, the book is going to be different from the film–in this case, very different. However, even if I had never seen the film, I do not think I would have enjoyed this book. The prose did not feel very enjoyable, nor did the episodic structure of the book. I am sure many readers have found it magical, but I, unfortunately, could not feel the magic myself.

3 Stars