Sunday, August 09, 2020

Fantasy Books

Fifteen years ago, I had a huge number of very devoted fantasy reader. They loved Brian Jacques Redwall, Barron's Lost Years of Merlin, and would read two or three fantasy books every week! The librarian whom I replaced had stocked the library well with all sorts of fantasy books as well. Now, it's a tough sell. Sure, Harry Potter does well, and similar books like Black and Clare's The Magisterium circulates, but few of my students ask for fantasy. There are a LOT of fantasy books published, though; I just can't buy that many.

Student populations are always changing, and it can be tough to keep up with what readers request. For example, my 6th graders last year really seemed to enjoy historical fiction, so I started buying a bit more of that than I had in the past. Until I see an uptick in readers for fantasy, I probably won't purchase these two titles, but if your library has those readers, definitely investigate these books!

Harrison, Michelle. A Pinch of Magic
August 4th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Betty, Fliss and young Charlie live with their grandmother in the inn and tavern that she runs. Their mother died when Charlie was born, and their father is imprisoned nearby. Betty is tired of her grandmother making her work so much and not allowing her to have much fun, so she decides to sneak off to a nearby fair on Halloween. She and Charlie take the ferry, and are shocked when their grandmother shows up and demands the ferry turn around. Was she really on the ferry the whole time? When they return home, their grandmother tells them that the sisters can't leave Crowstone because of a family curse that has persisted for over 100 years; they will die if they are away past sundown. Fliss has been given a magic mirror when she turned 16; it allows her to see people who are far away. This is one of the magical implements that accompanies the curse. Betty is in control of a set of nesting dolls that can make her invisible, and Charlie will eventually get the carpet bag that the grandmother currently wields. Betty is determined to defeat the curse, and starts her investigation into this process by traveling to the prison to visit someone who is NOT their father. Colton claims he knows how to defeat the curse, but the grandmother is unwilling to meet his demands. With Charlie's help, Betty breaks Colton out of the jail, but only after mistakenly also releasing another prisoner. Betty manages to uncover more of the family history, but it is Charlie who decides to harness the carpet bags powers to travel into the past to free the sisters once and for all. Will they really be able to overturn the curse and make it back to their own time?
Strengths: This has an interesting setting; it was modern enough that there were automobiles, but clearly not quite anywhere in the real world. There is a helpful map at the beginning. I loved the idea of the magical objects, and the girls are all able to hold onto them even after they solve the curse. Charlie is a great example for why younger children shouldn't have magical powers. This is a great choice for readers who like sisters who learn magic, as in Meriano's Love Sugar Magic series, and it also had a bit of a feel like Morrigan Crowe as well.
Weaknesses: Like Rushby's The Mulberry Tree, the girls manage to change something in the past that drastically changes the present. In both books, it seemed odd to me that there weren't more implications for having done this. I guess I'm a big believer in the butterfly effect.
What I really think: This was a solid tale, and if this were a stand alone, I might purchase it, but A Sprinkle of Sorcery and A Tangle of Spells are already in the works. I just don't have the readers.

Abe, Julie. Eva Evergreen: Semi Magical Witch
August 4th 2020 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Evalithimus Evergreen is eager to pass her novice quest, but her powers aren't strong and she is worried that she won't live up to her mother's expectations. Along with her companion, a flamefox named Ember, she ends up in the town of Auteri to prove herself, and she sets up a magical repair shop to hone her skills and find a way to help out the town. She meets Yuri, who has the Seafoam Sweets shop, Davy and his father, who are struggling after the disappearance of Davy's mother, and Charlotte, who lives at the local orphanage. There is a festival of lights coming up, and Eva has offered to help with that, but the real test will be if she can help the town when it is faced with the Culling, a storm that periodically affects the area. Eva manages to strengthen her powers bit by bit, learn new skills, and gain confidence, but will her powers be strong enough to save Auteri and for her to be recognized as a novice?
Strengths: Auteri is an interesting setting, and the touches of Japanese culture and the pastries and sweets are absolutely charming. Eva is a determined protagonist who tries hard to not only work on her powers, but to help those around her as well. The fact that her mother is the grandmaster makes this story even more compelling. This was a bit like Nichol's The Apprentice Witch, but with a more exotic setting and more compelling problem to be solved along with the magical one. 
Weaknesses: I wanted more explanation about why her powers weren't strong; couldn't her mother have helped more?
What I really think: There is certainly a sequel to this, given the cliffhanger ending. Again, if I had readers I would buy this one, but I just don't.
Everyone seems to love this one, including DelphReads and MG Book Village. I just felt like I was missing something.

Kadono, Eiko. Translated by Emily Balistrieri. Kiki's Delivery Service.
July 7th 2020 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Kiki is a witch who lives with her mother, who knows plant magic and can fly on a broom, and her father, who studies witches. Magic is slowly dying all over Japan, but when Kiki turns 13, she is prepared to do what all witches do for their coming of age project-- move to another town all by herself and make a life. Her parents are okay with this, but her mother is a little controlling about the broom she takes, the dress she wears, and the type of town she should chose. Kiki is fairly lucky; when she stops to investigate a town, she meets Osono and offers to run an errand for her on her broom. Osono, who is very pregnant, is intrigued by the idea of having a witch nearby, and offers her flour house for Kiki to occupy and use to run her delivery business. Kiki slowly manages to get customers, and is soon off on many adventures involving traveling around to deliver things for many quirky people, like the older woman who knits belly bands for everyone. She makes friends, including Tombo, and settles into her life nicely. At the end of the year, she travels home to visit her parents, as is traditional, but soon wants to return to the new life she has created.
Strengths: The original novel was written in 1985, was made into a movie, and appears to have graphic novel versions, so this is a very influential work. It certainly made Eva Evergreen: Semi Magical Witch make a LOT more sense. I can see the appeal of this for tween readers; Kiki has slight powers, is able to go off on her own, and has lots of adventures. This reminded me a little bit of Ruth Chew's books about witches in every day life.
Weaknesses: This feels a bit dated; Kiki writes letters and only occasionally phones, which is good for her independence. Today, she could call her mother every day! The language seemed aimed at a very young audience; perhaps something was lost in translation.
What I really think: I don't think I will purchase this,  but it was fascinating to read. There are a lot of authors whose formative years were in the 1980s, when I was in college and paid no attention to popular culture! Next, I need a novelization to help me understand Sailor Moon.

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