Witch Hat Atelier, vol 1-9

by Kamome Shirahama
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Content: there is violence, some mention of sexual abuse, and other traumatic events, as well as some mild swearing. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Back in August, my kids sat me down and said, “You would really like Witch hat Atelier”. They then pulled it up on their manga site, and I started reading it. And I’ve been slowly reading it over the past couple of months, a chapter a day. The basic plot is that Coco, who was born a non-magical person, accidentally gets ahold of some magic and turns her mother into stone. A magician, Qifry, who happens to be there takes her under his wing – because magic in the wrong hands is dangerous – and teaches her how to be a witch. of course, this is a long process – there are nine volumes after all – and she has adventures along the way.

There are other young witches in the school – the atelier – whom Coco gets to know, and we all learn their stories. We learn more about the magic world, and Qifrey and his best friend Orugio who run the atelier. You learn about the magic world – which is problematic and complicated – and how magic work – which is fascinating, if a bit complicated.

My kids were right: I am enjoying it a LOT. The art is absolutely gorgeous; some of the spreads are just breathtaking. And while I have an issue sometimes with the rambling episodic nature of the manga, I’m really enjoing the charactesr and plots. So, the lesson learend here: when it comes to manga/anime, my kids know what I’ll like.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

by T. Kingfisher
First sentence: “There was a dead girl in my aunt’s bakery.”
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Content: there is some death by murdering and mild swearing. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Mona doesn’t consider herself a wizard. After all, all she does is small magic – like make bread rise or gingerbread men dance. But when a girl turns up dead in her the kitchen of her aunt’s bakery, she soon discovers that someone is out to get her (and all the other people who do magic in her town). And, since now of the adults in Mona’s life seem to be doing anything, she and her friend (the brother of the dead girl) soon decide to challenge the powers that be and make someone listen.

People have been recommending this to me for a while now, and I guess I just felt that Now was the time to read it. I mean, who doesn’t love a possibly sentient sourdough starter named Bob? But it was also more than that: it was about inclusiveness, about finding one’s power, even if you think it’s small, and about making and keeping friends. It’s very sweet I get why Kingfisher self-published it: it’s not really an adult book, but it’s not really a YA one either. it sits in that publishing no person’s land, where if you like the sort of thing – baking, slight mysteries, magic, etc – you’ll probably love this book.

I fell on the love it side, and I don’t regret that at all.

Forging Silver Into Stars

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “This was supposed to be a peaceful protest.”
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Others in the series (sort-of; it’s a spinoff, but reading these helps):  A Curse So Dark and LonelyA Heart So Fierce and Broken, A Vow So Bold and Deadly
Content: There is some violence and off-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section grades 9+) of the bookstore.

So you know: this book picks up four years after the events in “A Vow So Bold and Deadly”. There will probably be spoilers for the first series.

Friends Jax and Callyn live in a small village, a few hours outside of the main city in Syhl Shallow. They’re just a blacksmith and a baker and are a bit wary of the idea of magic being in their country in the form of the king. so, when an opportunity to earn some silver ones their way, they jump at the chance. Little did they know they were getting into an organized insurrection, one that was determined to overthrow the king. There’s more to the story, one that involves Tycho, who is a friend of the king and a courier between Syhl Shallow and the neighboring country of Emberfall. There’s also some romance, betrayal, and a lot of riding horseback through the country.

I didn’t dislike this book, but I didn’t absolutely love it either. Kemmerer has a good storyteller, but maybe I wasn’t in the mood for this. Even so, i might be interested enough to finish the story when th enext book comes out.

Salt Magic

by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock
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Content: There is some death and it’s mostly adult problems. It’s in the middle grade section of the bookstore because it’s not quite adult either.

It’s 1919, and Vonceil’s older brother Eber has just come home from the war. She thought it would be just like before he left: they would be best buds. But he comes back changed, more serious, and marries his sweetheart right away, which makes Vonceil mad. And then Greda shows up. She’s a woman Eber met in France who has come to pick up what she thought they had When she finds out that Eber is married, she reveals that she’s a witch, and curses their family’s farm. Vonceil realizes that it’s her responsibility to fix the problem, so sets off after Greda to write the wrong.

It’s part historical fiction, Oklahoma in the early 1900s, but it’s mostly a fairy tale as Vonceil learns Greda’s story and faces down witches n her quest to support her family.

It’s a fun graphic novel, and I enjoyed the story. But, I wonder if it’s one that kids will really like? It’s a fairy tale, yes, set in America, which is unique. But it’s also about adults with very adult problems. It also lacks in the diversity department; there’s exactly one non-white character. Maybe it’ll find its audience somewhere. I didn’t dislike it but it wasn’t the best one either.

Mister Impossible

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “When they came to kill the Zed, it was a nice day.”
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Others in the series: Call Down the Hawk
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs.It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I saw a virtual event last fall for Swamp Thing in which Maggie said that writing a graphic novel helped her writing overall, made it tighter and more streamlined. And that it affected the way Mister Impossible was written. And you know what? She’s right. Mister Impossible is a tight, streamlined ride. There is action and tension and mystery and reveals, and maybe she’s not all up in the feels with Ronan and Adam, but it all works. In fact, I would say that this one, while it’s the middle in a series, is one of her best books, overall. (Not my favorite, but definitely one of the best.)

I’m not going to go into the plot because spoilers, but know this: it’s a great book. It’s full of Stiefvater-ness (chapter 13! So many little turns of phrases here and there!) and I love the magical world she’s built. And there’s really no “bad” guy — just competing good intentions. What does one do when your good intention is in conflict with someone else’s?

And the end? Let’s just say that waiting for the last book in this trilogy is going to be agonizing.

I love Maggie’s work, yes, but this one? This one is truly excellent.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

by TJ Klune
First sentence: “‘Oh dear,’ Linus Baker said, wiping sweat from his brow.”
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Content: There are several mild swear words and some illusions to abuse. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section but I’d give it to any kid who doesn’t mind reading about a couple of 40-something men.

Sometimes, you hear about a book for a while before it really seeps into your head that you ought to read it. This was one of those books. I’d seen it around the store — maybe not in hardcover, but definitely in paperback in December. I have to admit it was the cover that first drew me in (well, that and hearing about it on bookish Instagram) but eventually I heard about it enough that I picked it up on a whim. (Read: I needed to shelf a couple of books and there wasn’t enough space, so I bought this one to make space. Bookseller side effects,)

The plot isn’t really what the book’s about: Linus Baker, a case worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, spends his days observing the orphanages that DICOMY has set up to take care of, well, magical youth. He observes the conditions these children are in, and makes his objective recommendations. And then he gets assigned an orphanage with highly classified children out in the middle of nowhere (on an island in the sea, actually). And once Linus has meet Arthur Parnassus, the headmaster, and his six wars, his life will never be the same.

This has all the charm of a Pratchett novel with a heavy Arthur Dent-ish vibe. It was so so so delightful, Watching Linus come out of his shell.. The children. Oh, the children. Silly, hilarious sentences, but with the underlying point: we are all children, we should all be valued for what we are rather than what society wants to see us. It’s got deep themes, but at its heart, this is a deeply, wonderfully, happy, joyful book.

And I am so so glad I finally read it.

Piranesi

by Susanna Clarke
First sentence: “
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Content: There’s some talk of murder, it’s pretty intricate in its writing and there are about a dozen f-bombs at one point. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

I’ll be honest here: I wasn’t going to read this one. I remember reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell when it first came out and thought it was a bit overblown. But, I have to admit, my interest was piqued when Maggie Stiefvater said she loved this one. And then M read it and suggested I give it a try (after I picked it up for her to take back with her).

And… the less said about the plot, the better, I think. Know Piranesi is a person who lives in a labyrinth a House full of Statues, and who is mostly alone. There is a mystery of sorts, and perhaps the less you know about that, the better. But know that the mystery really isn’t the point of the book (if you do think it’s the point then you are bound to be disappointed at the Big Reveal like I was). The point, as M pointed out when we were talking about it, is that it’s an homage to curiosity and to resistance. And it’s a meditation on being alone versus being lonely. It’s a charming little book with a completely engaging main character.

It’s probably not going to be my favorite book ever, but I’m not sorry I read it.

Legendborn

by Tracy Deonn
First sentence: “The police officer’s body goes blurry, then sharpens again.”
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Content: There is mild swearing, and six f-bombs. There is also some violence and kissing. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d hand it to younger kids who like epic fantasies.

Bree has wanted to get out of her small North Carolina town, and has seen the Early College program and the University of North Carolina as her ticket out. However at the start of the program, she is dealing with the grief from her mother’s death in a car accident, which puts her in a very precarious emotional state. So when, at a party, she starts seeing things — supernatural things — she doesn’t know what to think. Is it real? Is it a hallucination?

Then (after a brief run-in with the dean) she is assigned a peer mentor, Nick. Who happens to be part of this super-secret (all-white) society of magical beings whose job is to protect humanity from the Demons. Bree starts on a path, where she comes to realize that there was a lot more to her mother — and to Bree, herself — than she ever knew.

The question is what will she do with the knowledge she has now?

Oh, this was so good. Seriously worth the hype it was getting. I loved the world that Deonn created, riffing off the Arthurian legend in some really fascinating ways. I was fascinated by the way race and class came into play, and how magic wasn’t limited to just this one society. I liked how Bree disrupted the narrative of this society. Plus the budding romance between her and Nick was amazing. It was some solid storytelling, weaving grief and loss with magic and romance. There have been some comparisons to Cassie Clare, but this is SO much better.

I can’t wait to read the next installment!

Harrow the Ninth

by Tamsyn Muir
First sentence: “Your room had long ago plunged into near-complete darkness, leaving now distraction from the great rocking thump-thump-thump of body after body flinging itself onto the great mass already coating the hull.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Gideon the Ninth
Content: It’s violent, brutal, and doesn’t mince swear words. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

There really is no way to mention the plot without spoiling it; truly the less you know about Harrow going in, the better it will be. Trust me.

Know this: Harrow has been made a Lyctor. The first three-fourth of the book will have you questioning your sanity and wonder what the hell Muir is up to. Stick with it. It is not uninteresting, and Muir will keep you guessing and wondering. The final fourth makes up for everything that went before.

It is awesome and amazing and I can’t wait to see how Muir ends this all.

The Midnight Lie

by Marie Rutkoski
First sentence: “There were warning signs in the War that day that anyone could have seen.”
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Content: There is a lot of emotional abuse and some physical abuse. There is off-screen sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but it’s probably better for the older end of the range (depending on the kid).

Nirrim has grown up as an orphan in the Ward, a place on this remote island where they stick the lowest caste, the Half-Kith. She works for Raven, both in Raven’s tavern and as a forger of passports for Half-Kith to escape the Ward. Then, one day, a rare bird is sighted in the Ward, which Nirrim catches and turns in. Which gets her arrested and thrown in jail to be tithed (they take the blood of the Half-Kith), which is where she meets Sid. And her life completely changes.

The plot is a bit convoluted to get into, but it involves gods and magic and Nirrim waking up to her situation and acting for change. The book is more character and inner-dialogue driven than plot-driven, but it worked for me. Rutoski has written a beautifully worded book (it reminded me of Laini Taylor’s work), that drew me in and kept me turning pages, even when it felt like nothing was happening.

And the love story is gorgeous as well. I enjoyed the push and pull between Sid and Nirrim, how they bring out the best in each other. Though one word of warning: it’s a first book (though it reads like a stand alone) and knowing that may cushion the blow of the brutal ending.

Definitely worth reading.