Tag Archives: magic

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao. November 6, 2018. Philomel Books, 384 p. ISBN: 9781524738327.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This fairy tale retelling lives in a mystical world inspired by the Far East, where the Dragon Lord and the Serpent God battle for control of the earthly realm; it is here that the flawed heroine of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns finally meets her match. An epic fantasy finale to the Rise of the Empress novels.

Princess Jade has grown up in exile, hidden away in a monastery while her stepmother, the ruthless Xifeng, rules as Empress of Feng Lu. But the empire is in distress and its people are sinking into poverty and despair. Even though Jade doesn’t want the crown, she knows she is the only one who can dethrone the Empress and set the world right. Ready to reclaim her place as rightful heir, Jade embarks on a quest to raise the Dragon Lords and defeat Xifeng and the Serpent God once and for all. But will the same darkness that took Xifeng take Jade, too? Or will she find the strength within to save herself, her friends, and her empire?

Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with breathtaking pain and beauty, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is filled with dazzling magic, powerful prose, and characters readers won’t soon forget.

Sequel to: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Part of Series: Rise of the Empress (Book #2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Grotesque imagery, Harsh realities of war, Mild sexual themes, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 6))
Grades 9-12. Dao continues and completes her East Asian–inspired retelling of Snow White, incorporating historical, cultural, and folkloric elements for a stand-alone sequel that will likely inspire new readers to find the first volume. Princess Jade, raised by her devoted Amah in a secluded monastery, is turning 18 and is summoned back to court by her stepmother, Empress Xifeng, whose story was told in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (2017). Jade’s father, Emperor Jun, is in failing health, and the Empress wants Jade close by—not necessarily to inherit the kingdom. Wren, Amah’s granddaughter, and Koichi, son of former Ambassador Shiro on neighboring Kamatsu, are among the rebels and allies determined to see the empress’ reign of terror end and Jade established as rightful ruler. Dao’s characters are complex and intriguing; villains are admirably drawn so the reader sees their paths to unfortunate decisions. Battles, military strategy, and romance blend with stories within stories as Dao brings this richly embroidered saga to a satisfying close. A detailed and comprehensible cast of characters easily situates new readers.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2018)
A young princess finds the courage to usurp an evil queen. Upon Empress Xifeng’s dark and violent rise to power, Princess Jade was sent to a monastery to be raised in meditative simplicity. Pure-hearted Jade is the daughter of Emperor Jun’s first wife and a descendant of the Dragon King—in other words, a constant threat to her evil stepmother’s rule—and is summoned back to the Imperial City for her 18th birthday celebration. Jade quickly discovers her stepmother’s plot to poison the emperor and murder Jade using blood magic from the sinister Serpent God. Disguised as a commoner, Jade escapes with the help of her beloved Amah (nursemaid) and a handful of servants still loyal to the true heir. Thus begins a quest to save the kingdoms of Feng Lu, following crumbs from Amah’s moral tales and a legend that prophesies that “the one who reunites the relics will bring peace to Feng Lu once more.” In this sequel to A Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (2017), Dao marries Chinese history with Western folklore, which will entrance some readers, but the well-trodden paths involving forbidden poisoned apples, legendary swords, and magic invisibility cloaks will frustrate those who enjoyed the rich characterizations in Book 1, Xifeng’s descent into villainy in particular. A grand adventure for fans of fairy tales, fables, and legends coupled with the vibrant history of Chinese dynasties. (Fantasy. 12-16)

About the Author

Julie C. Dao  is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author.  Julie lives in New England.

Her website is www.juliedao.com

Teacher Resources

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix on Common Sense Media

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King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo. January 29, 2019. Imprint, 528 p. ISBN: 9781250142283.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

The Grishaverse will be coming to Netflix soon with Shadow and Bone, an original series!

Face your demons…or feed them.

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war―and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried―and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

Part of Series: King of Scars (Book #1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 11))
Grades 9-12. Though the nation of Ravka survived a brutal civil war, it was left ravaged and scarred, and no one knows this better than its king. Infected with traces of dark magic at the end of Ruin and Rising (2014), the concluding volume to Bardugo’s first foray into the Grishaverse, Nikolai Lantsov weathers uncontrollable transformations in this duology starter, as he, charming king by day, becomes without warning a vicious beast in the night. With Ravka in desperate need of stabilization and delegations of princesses—potential brides—on their way, Nikolai and his Grisha general, the unshakable Zoya Nazyalensky, set off on a journey that, futile though it may be, takes them deep into the history of their country as they search for a cure. Meanwhile, in Fjerda, to the north, Grisha soldier Nina Zenik is on a mission of her own, one that’s part spy assignment on Nikolai’s orders, part a deeply personal journey through grief. This is Bardugo’s third series in the Grishaverse, and while it draws from both the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology, both Bardugo’s skill and Nikolai’s appeal are such that readers new to the world should have no problem joining in. Deadly clever political intrigue, heart-stopping adventure, memorable characters, and several understated, hinted-at romances (how will we wait?!) come together in one glorious, Slavic-folklore-infused package. Bardugo’s star continues to rise.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2019)
In this Grishaverse novel, King Nikolai struggles to keep his kingdom afloat in a destabilized, rapidly changing world. Though Ravka’s civil war ended three years ago, Ravka still faces threats both domestic—pretenders to the throne, policies that are popular with commoners but anger nobility—and external—old enemies like Fjerda, debts owed to Kerch. Worse, for the past 6 months Nikolai has been struggling with an enemy inside himself: The monstrous curse thought ended by the death of the Darkling re-emerges when he sleeps, posing a danger to his people, crown, and soul. With traveling becoming too risky given his secrets, Nikolai and his inner circle hatch a display of strength that will bring the other powers to him for diplomacy, using the cover of his seeking a queen. Meanwhile, in the months since the end of Crooked Kingdom (2016), grieving Nina has returned to Fjerda on a mission to rescue and recruit Grisha. Following the call of her changed abilities, she’s drawn to an area with poisoned waters and a mysterious factory holding dark secrets. Multiple romantic storylines among the multiethnic cast develop organically and don’t pull the focus away from keeping up with the plots. Strategically-deployed backstory makes already likable characters even more compelling; international political developments (especially with Grisha experimentation) are woven seamlessly in with the epic themes. Will leave readers begging for the sequel. (cast, maps) (Fantasy. 14-adult)

About the Author

Leigh Bardugo is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University, and has worked in advertising, journalism, and most recently, makeup and special effects. These days, she’s lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be elated if you visited her web site.

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Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk. July 31, 2018. Graphix, 272 p. ISBN: 9781338139228.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Lexile: 340.

Sixth grade was SO much easier for Danielle. All her friends were in the same room and she knew what to expect from her life. But now that she’s in seventh grade, she’s in a new middle school, her friends are in different classes and forming new cliques, and she is completely lost.

When Danielle inherits a magical sketchbook from her eccentric great aunt Elma, she draws Madison, an ideal best friend that springs to life right off the page! But even when you create a best friend, it’s not easy navigating the ups and downs of relationships, and before long Danielle and Madison are not exactly seeing eye-to-eye.

To make matters worse, Danielle has drawn the head of her favorite (and totally misunderstood) cartoon villain, Prince Neptune. He’s also come to life and is giving her terrible advice about how to make people like her. When she rejects him and he goes on a rampage during a school pep rally, Danielle and Madison have to set aside their differences to stop him!

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cartoon violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Dany is an awkward seventh-grader navigating her way through the perilous world of middle school when she stumbles upon her great-aunt’s enchanted sketchbook; suddenly, her talent for drawing gives her the amazing ability to create friends out of thin air. But Dany’s creations start to turn on her; first her perfectly engineered best friend, Madison, begins to search for meaning in her own life. Then Prince Neptune (the disembodied head of the handsome villain of Dany’s favorite show, the Sailor Moon-esque Solar Sisters) plots his evil reign over Connecticut. At once cringeworthy and delightfully absurd, Making Friends, much like middle school itself, is somewhere between teenage cynicism and a childlike mastery of fantasy. Although Gudsnuk’s characters are sometimes suspiciously wise beyond their years, and her stylized visual references perhaps a bit too meta-referential for some younger readers, they will certainly recommend this story to readers for whom middle school is a distant and painful memory. Middle-schoolers, meanwhile, will appreciate Gudsnuk’s light touch in bringing an empathetic, joyful, and judicious treatment to those tough in-between years.

Kirkus Reviews (May 15, 2018)
Making friends is tough in a new school; could a magical notebook be the answer? Seventh grade is not beginning well for Dany; her two besties are not in any of her classes, and not only is she having a tough time making new friends, she is also being bullied. One day, Dany inherits an unusual sketchbook from her recently deceased great-aunt. While sketching her favorite evil prince from the beloved anime Solar Sisters, she discovers that anything she draws in the notebook becomes real. Dany then creates for herself the perfect best friend: Madison Fontaine, a trendy new girl from New York City who is knowledgeable about trends, sassy, and fun. However, Dany soon learns that even if you tailor-make your own BFF, how you treat them still matters. This charming graphic novel features full-color, manga-inspired illustrations and a breezy plot that blends wish fulfillment and fantasy with an approachable and contemporary storyline. With a broad brush, Gudsnuk hits many of the angst-y issues of middle school, including popularity, bullying, family relationships, body image, and fandom, creating appeal for a large swath of readers. Main character Dany is white and seemingly comfortably middle-class, as is her creation, Madison. Secondary characters offer a bit more inclusivity, portraying different races, ethnicities, and orientations. A nifty pastiche of middle school matters. (Graphic fantasy. 7-12)

About the Author

Kristen Gudsnuk is a comics writer and illustrator. She got her start with the webcomic Henchgirl, which was later published by Scout Comics in single issue and Dark Horse Comics as a collection. Her newest works include the middle grade graphic novel Making Friends, from Scholastic Books, and Modern Fantasy, a miniseries from Dark Horse (written by Rafer Roberts). Gudsnuk also illustrated the VIP series by Jen Calonita, published by Little, Brown. Originally from Shelton, CT, she now lives in Queens, NY with her boyfriend and dog.

Her website is kristengudsnuk.com

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The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta. October 30, 2018. Viking Books for Young Readers, 352 p. ISBN: 9780451478443.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.

All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas–wielders of magic–are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.

Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son–not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.

Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country–and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong sexual themes, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Teodora understands what it takes to protect her family. Powerful people have powerful enemies, and she will do anything to keep her family safe, even using her strega magic to transform those enemies into decorative objects. Even keeping that magic a secret from everyone, including her dearest siblings. But when the ruler of Vinalia poisons Teodora’s father, along with the heads of the other four most powerful families, and demands that each family sends a son to the capital, Teodora uses her magic to take her brother’s place as her family’s representative. On her journey, she meets Cielo, another strega capable of transformative magic. Cielo can become man or woman, human or animal—and as the two grow closer, they learn more about the depths of their powers, the secrets of their country, and the truth of their feelings for each other. This first in a duology is a luminously imagined, Italian-inspired fantasy that thoughtfully speaks to ideas of gender perception and identity. A rich world, with much left to be explored in the next volume.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2018)
In the face of war and family destruction, a young strega fights to claim her power. For olive-skinned Teo di Sangro, daughter of a high lord of Vinalia, “family is fate.” As a girl, she stands no chance at inheriting her father’s title, but she protects her family from the shadows in a way neither of her brothers can. No one knows about Teo’s magic, which she unleashes on anyone who dares to challenge di Sangro power. Teo longs for her father’s acknowledgment, but she also yearns to control her secret abilities. When a pale-skinned, black-haired, genderfluid shape-shifter named Cielo appears in the mountains on the same day as an assassination attempt on Teo’s father, she gets swept up in a dangerous plot of murder and politics. Capetta (Echo After Echo, 2017, etc.) captures readers’ attention with alluring first-person prose and a protagonist who does not shy away from ruthlessness to achieve her goals. As Teo struggles with her place in her family and society, she also explores her sexuality and gender identity. Her interaction with Cielo, who contains a shifting balance of both boy and girl, helps her realize that she too may not always “fit inside the boundaries of the word girl.” Through shape-shifting and in her romance with Cielo, Teo discovers the meaning of wholeness and ownership over her body. A delicious and magical intrigue too tempting not to devour. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

About the Author

Amy Rose Capetta studied theater at the Stella Adler Studio as a teenager before spending four years in a Shakespeare troupe. Echo After Echo is her first book with Candlewick Press.

Amy Rose Capetta lives in Michigan. Her website is amyrosecapetta.com.

 

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Crown of Thunder by Tochi Onyebuchi

Crown of Thunder by Tochi Onyebuchi. October 16, 2018. Razorbill, 336 p. ISBN: 9780448493930.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In the sequel to the acclaimed Beasts Made of Night, Taj has escaped Kos, but Queen Karima will go to any means necessary—including using the most deadly magic—to track him down.

Taj is headed west, but the consequences of leaving Kos behind confront him at every turn. Innocent civilians flee to refugee camps as Karima’s dark magic continues to descend on the city. Taj must return, but first he needs a plan.

With Arzu’s help, Taj and Aliya make it to the village of her ancestors, home of the tastahlik—sin-eaters with Taj’s same ability to both battle and call forth sins. As Taj comes to terms with his new magic, he realizes there are two very different groups of tastahlik—one using their powers for good, the other for more selfish ends.

Aliya is struggling with her own unique capabilities. She’s immersed in her work to uncover the secret to Karima’s magic, but her health begins to mysteriously deteriorate. With the help of a local western mage, Aliya uncovers her true destiny—a future she’s not sure she wants.

As Taj and Aliya explore their feelings for each other and Arzu connects with her homeland, the local westerners begin to question Taj’s true identity. Karima is on his heels, sending dark warnings to the little village where he’s hiding. Taj will have to go back and face her before she sends her mostly deadly weapon—Taj’s former best friend, Bo.

Sequel to: Beasts Made of Night

Part of Series: Beasts Made of Night (Book #2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Discrimination, War, Violence, Alcohol, Criminal culture, Gore

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 3))
Grades 7-10. Taj, Aliya, and Arzu have fled their ruined city of Kos in the wake of now Queen Karima’s betrayal and violence, eventually ending up in Arzu’s home village, where aki (sin-eaters) are revered as public servants. Being honored instead of reviled makes Taj reluctant to turn back to his lost home, until the body count rises so high he realizes he has no choice. While he grapples with his violent feelings, Aliya is trying to survive the gifts of the Unnamed (God) and learning to write the world in algebraic proofs. Together their talents may be enough to overthrow the woman who seems to have harnessed everything evil in nature. Readers will want to start with Beasts Made of Night (2017) to better follow the story line, and the naming conventions are a mouthful at times. Taj continues his first-person narration of this rich stew of street smarts, myth, and almost nonstop action. The tie to mathematics is appealing for STEM programs, although the “proofs” are figuratively, rather than literally, presented.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
After having escaped Kos and the clutches of Karima, Taj is on the run. With the help of other aki (sin-eaters) and some Mages, including Aliya, Taj finds himself having to come to terms with the fallout of leaving his city. Karima will do anything, including destroying innocent lives, to find Taj. With each step away from Kos, he learns just how far she is willing to go—including turning his former best friend, Bo, against him. Grappling with feelings of remorse, survivor’s guilt, and conflict over how to use his powers, Taj finds himself at a pivotal crossroads—choose self or choose to fight for one’s people. With the help of Arzu, Taj and Aliya make it to a village that has other aki, the tastahlik. Unlike Taj and his ilk in Kos, they are revered for their powers and have honed them to use for selfless and selfish reasons alike. Taj discovers that he can learn how to control and develop his talents, but he must decide what purpose he wants them to serve. Aliya also comes to terms with her own powers, though her path to knowledge and mastery takes a severe toll. Following the lauded Beasts Made of Night (2017), Onyebuchi’s tale carries us on a journey of forgiveness, growth, and sacrifice. The action is fast-paced and captivating, but transitions at times feel a bit rushed as a result. A satisfying sequel. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

About the Author

Tochi Onyebuchi is a writer based in Connecticut. He holds a MFA in Screenwriting from Tisch and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. His writing has appeared in Asimov’s and Ideomancer, among other places. Beasts Made of Night is his debut.

 

 

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Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore. October 9, 2018. Fiewel + Friends.  375 p. ISBN: 9781250162717.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 760.

The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.

The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. Sisters Blanca and Roja del Cisne have grown up understanding their family’s curse. Long ago, their ancestor bargained with the swans for a daughter. Every generation, the Del Cisnes have two daughters, but eventually, the swans always take one back. Roja, fierce and willful, has always believed she’d be the sister turned into a swan, while graceful, compliant Blanca would remain a girl. But if there’s anything Blanca is willing to fight for, it’s her sister. As their days together wane, two boys with curses of their own enter their lives. Barclay Holt, once the son of a wealthy, treacherous family, who has been trapped for a year in the body of a bear; and his best friend, Page Ashby, child of apple farmers, who identifies as a boy but finds that the pronouns she and her fit comfortably as well. As the four come closer together, their fates may become unalterably linked. In her fourth novel, McLemore (Wild Beauty​, 2017) is at her finest; she twines Latino folklore through the fairy tales of Swan Lake and Snow White & Rose Red to create a story that is wholly original. She writes openheartedly about families found and families given, the weight of expectation and the price of duty, and in the end offers up something that’s vibrant, wondrously strange, and filled to the brim with love of all kinds.

Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2018)
Blanca and Roja, the del Cisne sisters, have grown up knowing their family is cursed as a result of a bargain made generations ago, and that eventually either Blanca or Roja will be trapped in the body of a swan and live among them. Blanca, fair-haired and sweet, and Roja, flame-haired and difficult, spend their lives trying to become more like each other so that they will be intertwined and ultimately impossible to separate when the swans finally arrive to claim their due. When a bear who is also a boy called Yearling arrives on their doorstep, followed by his friend Page (who uses both he and she pronouns), their story becomes more complicated and their fates much less clear. This tale reimagines Snow White and Rose Red as young Latinx women, and it mixes their stories with details and themes from “The Ugly Duckling,” Swan Lake, and “The Wild Swans.” Depth of character is sometimes sacrificed in order to incorporate so many threads (e.g., Yearling’s story of dealing with family corruption is less well drawn than other narrative elements). But McLemore’s vivid descriptions create a tale rich with visual detail, and readers will be compelled to keep reading to find out the fate of these sisters. christina l. dobbs

About the Author

Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, raised in the same town as the world’s largest wisteria vine, and taught by her family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. Her debut novel The Weight of Feathers was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults book, and a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award.

Her website is author.annamariemclemore.com.

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For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig

For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig. September 25, 2018. Greenwillow Books, 512 p. ISBN: 9780062380814.  Int Lvl: YA.

A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader.

The first book in a new trilogy from the acclaimed Heidi Heilig blends traditional storytelling with ephemera for a lush, page-turning tale of escape and rebellion. For a Muse of Fire will captivate fans of Sabaa Tahir, Leigh Bardugo, and Renée Ahdieh.

Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick—a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood.

But ever since the colonizing army conquered their country, the old ways are forbidden, so Jetta must never show, never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad Emperor has a spring that cures his ills—and could cure Jetta’s, too. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues her.

But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away.

Heidi Heilig creates a vivid, rich world inspired by Asian cultures and French colonialism. Her characters are equally complex and nuanced, including the bipolar heroine. Told from Jetta’s first-person point-of-view, as well as with chapters written as play scripts and ephemera such as telegrams and letters, For a Muse of Fire is an engrossing journey that weaves magic, simmering romance, and the deep bonds of family with the high stakes of epic adventure.

Part of Series: For a Muse of Fire (Book #1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Grotesque imagery, Harsh realities of war, Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities, Racism

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. Jetta has lost much since her people, the Chakrans, were colonized by the Aquitans. After her brother, conscripted for an Aquitan war, disappeared, Jetta grew closer with her parents as they traveled across the country, putting on shadow-puppet shows. That Jetta’s puppets seem almost supernaturally independent is something the family must be coy about: Jetta can bind the souls of the dead, old magic that the Aquitans despise. Jetta hopes to use her skill to win a cure for her mental illness. But unrest simmers, and, as she makes her way through a treacherous, darkly fantastical world, joining forces with a smuggler who has motives of his own, Jetta learns more about her family, her powers, and the place she inhabits. This series starter is action-packed, sometimes overly so; it’s occasionally hard to keep up with the many twists and turns. Still, a girl dealing with bipolar disorder is a welcome heroine in a fantasy novel, and theatrical elements, rich world building, and loose ties to the French colonization of Southeast Asia add fascinating depth.

Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2018)
Sixteen-year-old shadow puppeteer Jetta Chantray performs with her family’s traveling troupe, the Ros Nai. The dark-skinned, dark-haired Chakrans have been colonized by the pale, blond Aquitans who prize their sugar and sapphires, and their shadow theater too. But Jetta has a secret—instead of sticks and strings, she binds souls with blood magic and tucks them inside her puppets. Jetta is desperate to impress the Aquitan general and win passage to Aquitan, where she hopes to find a cure for her mental illness. When the Ros Nai collides with Chakran guerrillas, Jetta and her family are plunged into the chaos of the rebellion. Thus begins an action-packed journey that takes readers from a sultry cabaret to a subterranean tunnel, tropical jungle, putrid midden, shining city, and stone prison. Jetta discovers the dark side of her gift, long-held family secrets, and truths about the horrors and lies of war. There’s a somewhat thin romance with a mixed-race smuggler, and the plot occasionally gets tangled in the weeds of imagery. But readers will be rewarded with vividly drawn settings reminiscent of Hawaii and Southeast Asia, exciting action scenes, and a complex protagonist who contends not only with her malheur, but also ambition, anger, and family loyalty. Ephemera, including telegrams, letters, and scenes from plays, enhance the story. A brooding fantasy with a diverse cast, rarely-seen setting, and compelling heroine who struggles with bipolar disorder. (author’s note) (Fantasy. 14-18)

About the Author

Heidi grew up in Hawaii where she rode horses and raised peacocks, and then she moved to New York City and grew up even more, as one tends to do. Her favorite thing, outside of writing, is travel, and she has haggled for rugs in Morocco, hiked the trails of the Ko’olau Valley, and huddled in a tent in Africa while lions roared in the dark.

She holds an MFA from New York University in Musical Theatre Writing, of all things, and she’s written books and lyrics for shows including The Time Travelers Convention, Under Construction, and The Hole. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her son and their pet snake. Her website is www.heidiheilig.com

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Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton. September 18, 2018. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 389 p. ISBN: 9781534402089.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Once, a witch made a pact with a devil. The legend says they loved each other, but can the story be trusted at all? Find out in this lush, atmospheric fantasy novel that entwines love, lies, and sacrifice.

Long ago, a village made a bargain with the devil: to ensure their prosperity, when the Slaughter Moon rises, the village must sacrifice a young man into the depths of the Devil’s Forest.

Only this year, the Slaughter Moon has risen early.

Bound by duty, secrets, and the love they share for one another, Mairwen, a spirited witch; Rhun, the expected saint; and Arthur, a restless outcast, will each have a role to play as the devil demands a body to fill the bargain. But the devil these friends find is not the one they expect, and the lies they uncover will turn their town—and their hearts—inside out.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Grotesque imagery, Strong sexual themes, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
Grades 9-12. In the town of Three Graces, death is a knowable thing. The crops do not fail, childbirth happens free of incident, and injuries heal quickly and without infection. And every seven years when the Slaughter Moon rises, a boy runs into Devil’s Forest as a sacrifice. Local folklore says that this is part of a bargain, forged when the Devil fell in love with a witch. But the Slaughter Moon has risen four years early, and the bargain may be weakening. Rhun has always known he would be the anointed saint; he just thought he had more time. Mairwen, a witch, feels the pull of the forest as well, as does Arthur, a boy whose mother raised him as a girl so he would never be a saint. The three go into the forest, and neither they nor it will be the same. Gratton neatly sidesteps a love triangle by putting her trio on equal footing: this is a polyamorous love story as much as it is an eerie, consuming tale of sacrifice and faith. Haunting and unique.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2018)
When the needs of the many require the deaths of a few, three friends defy tradition. Idyllic, isolated Three Graces has enjoyed good health and harvests…in exchange for sending their “best boy” into the Devil’s Forest every 7 years. Few survive to return; all are venerated as saints. Now the sacrifice is coming due too early, and bighearted 17-year-old Rhun Sayer is favored as the saint while 17-year-old Arthur Couch (initially raised by his mother as a girl in an effort to protect him from being chosen) insists on proving his masculinity. But 16-year-old witch’s daughter Mairwin Grace is determined to keep her friends alive. Rather than a tortured love triangle, Gratton (The Queens of Innis Lear, 2018, etc.) treats their evolving, polyamorous relationship sincerely and sensitively. The fantastical elements are described in gorgeous and grotesque detail, their vividness overcoming the generic setting—a vaguely medieval northern European enclave peopled primarily by white citizens (such as blond Arthur and brunette Mairwin), with some who are brown-skinned with curling black hair (Rhun and his mother, a refugee). Told in present tense with the hypnotic cadence of fairy tales and Norse sagas, muddled by amnesia, and illuminated by flashbacks, the elaborately nonlinear narrative obscures a relatively thin plot. Although action-packed, violent, and macabre, this is ultimately a love story. Horrifying, heartbreaking, and heartwarming, a lush fairy tale rooted in a moral quandary. (Fantasy. 14-adult)

About the Author

Tessa Gratton has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. Alas, she turned out too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for a someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in Gender Studies, then settled down in Kansas with her partner, her cats, and her mutant dog. She now spends her days staring at the sky and telling lots of stories about magic.

Her website is tessagratton.com

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The Flower Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

The Flower Kingdom by Gigi D.G.. October 9, 2018. First Second, 240 p. ISBN: 9781250162953.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 3.9.

What’s in a name?

In order to defeat the Nightmare Knight, legend dictates that the Dream Sword must be autographed by seven princesses. But things get a bit complicated when our heroes discover that the Flower Kingdom has no royalty! Luckily, the “king” of fashion, Mr. R is on the hunt for the new face of his style empire, and whoever catches his eye will be named… (wait for it…) “Princess R”!

Sequel to: The Melody Kingdom

Part of Series: Cucumber Quest (Book #4)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Violence

 

About the Author

Gigi D.G. is a comic artist from Southern California who does concept work for animation and video games. She started creating Cucumber Quest in 2011, and it is her first published work. Her website is cucumber.gigididi.com

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The Melody Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

The Melody Kingdom by Gigi D.G.. May 29, 2018. First Second, 240 p. ISBN: 9781250159830.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 3.8; Lexile: 390.

Now with Princess Nautilus as part of their entourage, Cucumber and Almond travel to Trebleopolis to warn Princess Piano that Noisemaster, second of the Nightmare Knight’s minions, might be after her! Unfortunately, they arrive just in time for Queen Cymbal’s birthday and the Queen refuses to stop the festivities . . . that is until Noisemaster succeeds in capturing Princess Piano and threatens to destroy the city.

Adapted from the popular webcomic series of the same name, Gigi D.G.’s Cucumber Quest: The Melody Kingdom is the third book of a clever, adorable, and hilarious four-volume heroic adventure that is sure to make you hungry for sweets and action.

Sequel to: The Ripple Kingdom

Part of Series: Cucumber Quest (Book #3)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (March 15, 2018)
In this third series installment, a band of unlikely heroes embarks upon a quest in a magical, musical land.Hailing from the Doughnut Kingdom, rabbit-eared, magic wand–wielding Cucumber and his fierce and feisty sister Almond are on a crusade to save their world from the impending devastation of the Nightmare Knight. Their most recent adventure took them to the Ripple Kingdom, where they met Princess Nautilus and retrieved the Dream Sword, which needs to be signed by six more princesses. Now the gang has ventured to the Melody Kingdom in search of Princess Piano, but soon they discover they must face an array of not-so-nefarious foes: the psychedelic Noisemaster, the Mutemaster, and vainglorious Count Legato. In this adaptation of a former webcomic designed entirely in Photoshop, D.G.’s illustrations utilize an arresting palette of enthralling Day-Glo tones. While each offering recounts a complete quest, the action in this volume seems propelled by a confused silliness rather than intentional plotting, leaving the eventual salvation of the realm feeling like a frustrating impossibility. In each volume, maps of each individual kingdom are provided, but readers may long for a map of the whole realm as well. Those familiar with the offbeat humor of cartoons like Adventure Time will be easy converts and should feel at home in this kooky world. It’s visually engaging as always, but it’s not the strongest offering in the series. (Graphic fantasy. 7-11)

About the Author

Gigi D.G. is a comic artist from Southern California who does concept work for animation and video games. She started creating Cucumber Quest in 2011, and it is her first published work. Her website is cucumber.gigididi.com

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The Melody Kingdom on Amazon

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The Melody Kingdom Publisher Page