‘A Wolf for a Spell’ by Karah Sutton is an engaging fairytale for middle grade readers

“A Wolf for a Spell” by Karah Sutton is a clever story of magic, determination, unlikely alliances, and folktale figures. We first meet Zima, a wolf with a mind of her own. Instead of hating humans and killing an unprotected girl from the nearby village, she shows mercy. But the presence of magic, and the witch Baba Yaga, the wielder of the magic, have thrown the wolves into a state of discomfort. They are determined to protect themselves from the humans who seem out to destroy the forest and its inhabitants. Continue reading

‘Spellbreaker’ by Charlie N. Holmberg is a delightful blend of mystery and fantasy with a touch of romance

I have to begin by admitting that historical novels featuring an alternate fantasy world usually are not my cup of tea. But this novel, an historical/fantasy/mystery with a soupçon of romance set in Victorian England, grabbed me from the start. The main character, Elsie Camden, is a wonderful, complex creation: someone who has lost her family, managed to leave the workhouse where orphans go, and hidden her ability to be a spell breaker in a world where women don’t get to be wizards unless they are aristocrats. Above all, Elsie is a really, really likable character, and her Robin Hood-like tendencies make her even more admirable.

The world in which Elsie lives is in some ways very much like England was; but with the addition of magic spells, somehow it seems even more “British,” in the sense that the aristocrats are still the upper class wealthy, but added to the mix are wizards who, after they complete their testing, may also be eligible for a title, thus transforming them into members of the upper class. Continue reading

‘Fireborne’ by Rosaria Munda is a splendid combination of fantasy, friendship, political intrigue, and bloodshed

“FIreborne” by Rosaria Munda is a young adult fantasy with two main characters who alternately share their narrative. The story takes place nine years after a revolution that is very reminiscent of the Russian revolution, wherein the Czar and his family were executed. In a like manner, the “royalty” of Callipolis were murdered. These rulers were called dragonlords, and had their own dragons that served to terrorize their people, including their serfs, basically slaves, the lowest of the classes. Now, post-revolution, instead of being born into being a dragonrider because of your royal family, children of any class can be chosen by a young dragon to be a rider.

We meet Annie and Lee, two teenagers who met as children at an orphanage, and are now Guardians who ride dragons for Callipolis. We know from Lee’s narrative that he was Leo, and the child of one of the ruling dragonlords, Leon Stormscourge. During the bloody uprising, when the dragonlords and their families were murdered in a bloody coup, Leo was spared at the last minute. He ended up in an orphanage with Annie, who was left an orphan when her family was brutally murdered by Leon Stormscourge during a famine, when they couldn’t pay their share of taxes. Her family was barricaded inside their home and the home was set on fire by Stormscourge’s dragon. Annie was forced to watch.

How then, can Annie and Lee, as he is now known, be best friends? The novel reflects Munda’s ability to demonstrate the development of the relationship between those two rather than just telling us about it. We feel for both children as they depend on each other for moral support and affection. Lee ensures that the cruelest of the other orphans can’t take away Annie’s food or beat her. And when Annie depends on Lee, he feels a connection with another human, and he feels that he’s important to someone. Connections are important — especially since he has no family left. When both Lee and Annie are chosen by dragons to be dragonriders, they both eventually yearn to be the top rider, called the Firstrider. Of course, Lee had wanted that title since he was a young child, as it’s one of the few titles that carried over from pre-revolutionary times. But Annie wants it, too, and for a former serf to be declared Firstrider would be revolutionary.

Many of the other characters are complex and not all they appear to be. We meet Atreus, the First Protector, an intriguing character who seems to have the best of intentions when he foments the uprising and, in the name of justice, kills those who were his friends. He appears kind and noble at the start of the story when he saves the young Leo, but as we learn more about him, we wonder just what motivates him now, after the revolution is over. The other young Guardians who have been chosen by dragons to be riders are also multifaceted characters. The most negative and violent of them, a bully and a snob, turns out to be not quite what he seemed to be at first. Perhaps. As “Fireborne” is just the first in a series, there is much that remains to be determined regarding all the characters.

Will Annie and Lee ever act on their love for each other? As Guardians, they forsake ever having a family, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t fall in love. What will the future bring in terms of those of Lee’s extended family who escaped the country, but who are plotting to retake what they believe is rightfully theirs. This story provides the backdrop and the backstory of the two main characters and their country. And while Munda is a debut author, she has shown with the first book that she is capable of creating not only a fantastic world populated with dragons, but also a world in which all-too-human foibles torment its inhabitants just as happens in our world. And the next book in the series will build on what we’ve learned. I’m personally hoping for more about the dragons and their connection to their riders. We know that Annie has an especially strong connection to her dragon; I want to learn more about it.

Munda ends the first book in a satisfactory manner. There is an ending that gives us closure, but also much to wonder about, all of which will keep us waiting anxiously for the next book. We like Annie and Lee, and we want to know what the next step in their lives will bring. I would love to see this book used in high school or middle school and examined to compare this fictional world with the Russian Revolution and the reasons behind the latter. Obviously, no dragons were involved, but did Munda use details from history to make “her” revolution more real? It would be a fascinating study for readers of “Fireborne,” and they might enjoy the research.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘The Rider’s Reign: A Rose Legacy Novel’ by Jessica Day George is a fitting ending to a lovely middle grade, horse-filled fantasy

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“The Rider’s Reign: A Rose Legacy Novel” is the final book in the trilogy that began with “The Rose Legacy,” the book that is also the title of the three-book series. In it we learn of a world in which some humans can communicate with horses. And any horse-loving human reading this trilogy would only wish that this was, indeed, a real thing. Talking to horses — how amazing would that be?

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‘The One and Only Bob’ by Katherine Applegate; When a dog, a gorilla, and an elephant are best friends

bob

Remember Bob, the scrawny little dog with lots of bravado who was Ivan and Ruby’s buddy in “The One and Only Ivan“? Well, author Katherine Applegate decided that Bob deserved his own story, and “The One and Only Bob” is this survivor’s tale.

First, let’s be clear about one thing: Bob is NOT a good dog. Sure, he’s loving and appreciates his two square meals a day, but don’t expect him to listen or obey commands like “sit” or “leave it.” He’s the first to say that he’s a street dog, and he’s proud of it. His opinion of Hachiko, the dog who waited at the train station for his owner for nine years? “That dog was a ninny. A numskull. A nincompoop.”

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‘Catalyst’ by Sarah Beth Durst is just the middle grade summer fantasy adventure your kids need

catalyst

Sarah Beth Durst loves fantasy, and she loves cats. In “Catalyst,” she combines those loves to create a kitten that grows and grows and grows. When almost twelve-year-old Zoe finds the tiny kitten, she knows her mother won’t let her keep it. She knows because she wasn’t able to keep any of the other animals she rescued, including the last one, a skunk.

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‘Race the Sands’ by Sarah Beth Durst is an amazing accomplishment – her best work that uses a fantasy world to teach us about our own

race the sands

“Race the Sands” is Sarah Beth Durst’s 20th published book, and maybe her best book yet. It’s a lovely fantasy in which women prove their strength not physically, but through mental exertions. The two main characters, Tamra and Raia, each have escaped a tortured childhood in the desert kingdom of Becar. They each end up working with kehoks, monsters who are born with the souls of depraved humans who didn’t deserve to come back in a human or animal body. Once reborn as a kehok, they are destined to be reborn as kehoks forevermore. It’s eternal damnation, and kehoks are monsters. Continue reading

‘Olympig’ by Victoria Jamieson is a fabulous picture book with an important lesson

olympig

“Olympig!” by Victoria Jamieson is the story of Boomer the pig. It’s also a story of determination and desire. And hard work and practice. And it’s a story about reality.

Boomer is determined to win at the Animal Olympic Games. When the newsman, Mr. Hamstring, interviews Boomer, he asks, “The other animals in the Olympics will be faster and stronger than you. Tell me, Boomer, how can you possibly win a gold medal tomorrow?” Continue reading

‘A Flicker of Courage’ by Deb Caletti is a farcical fantasy for middle grade readers

flicker of courage

“A Flicker of Courage” by Deb Caletti is a book that will appeal to children who love extremely fantastic books — fantastic in the sense that everything that happens in this story is either the best or the worst in the world, and Henry Every, the main character, and his four friends will have to vanquish evil and do heroic deeds without being caught or killed themselves. Continue reading