‘Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook (From APHRODITE to ZEUS, a Profile of Who’s Who in Greek Mythology)

Greek Mythology by Liv Albert

With this compendium of Greek myths, “Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook (From APHRODITE to ZEUS, a Profile of Who’s Who in Greek Mythology)” Liv Albert presents an engaging and comprehensive book that provides information about both the well-known and some lesser-known Greek Gods and demigods and even just Greek royals. The language is very accessible. For example, each chapter begins with the heading “What’s Their Deal?” or “What’s His Deal?” The next part is “The Story You Need to Know” and then “Now You Know.”

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‘Willodeen’ by Katherine Applegate; because Nature knows more than we do

Willodeen by Katherine Applegate

Award-winning author Katherine Applegate’s last series, “Endling,” was about the near-extinction of a species. In her newest magical novel, “Willodeen,” she presents an alternative world with strange, exotic creatures. As in our own world, some creatures in this magical one are cute, and others are not only ugly; they smell atrocious. They are called screechers because of the sound they make at night. Main character and first person narrator Willodeen and her father had enjoyed watching them — from a distance — because if you get too close to them, you smell, too. They both loved creatures, and the yard of their cottage was filled with domestic animals and wild ones, like the “ancient river otter who could no longer swim.” Together, Willodeen and her father observed nature and enjoyed watching animals, both ugly and beautiful, until one of the ever-increasing fire events destroyed Willodeen’s house and killed everyone in her family but her.

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‘Pony’ by R. J. Palacio is a superb new novel about devotion

Pony by R.J. Palacio

While the plot of “Pony” by R. J. Palacio reminded me a bit of another middle grade book about a pony, “Some Kind of Courage” by Dan Gemeinhart, the stories are quite different apart from being historical fiction with both boys having a horse that they love dearly. Each story is beautiful in its own right, and “Pony” is one that will not be quickly forgotten. In “Pony,” Palacio forces us to think about love, loss, and the connections that bind us to each other.

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‘Tips for Magicians’ by Celesta Rimington is a superb middle grade book that deals with overcoming loss, family and friendship

Tips for Magicians by Celesta Rimington

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from “Tips for Magicians,” a new middle grade book by Celesta Rimington. The title sounded cute—but I realized the book is much more than “cute.” It’s a powerful and touching story of a boy who loses his mother in an unexpected accident, and we see that the grief and the resulting damage to his family seems overwhelming. Harrison’s mother was a beautiful classical singer, and she performed all over the world. His father was her stage manager, and since her death he’s been working a lot. We don’t know if he needs to work or wants to be busy to assuage his grief, but he’s gone a lot. Since her death, Harrison’s father can’t stand to hear music in their home, and Harrison has been grieving not only the loss of his mother, but the loss of the music that both he and his mother loved and shared together.

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Spidey stories will entertain your kids and teach them something, too

It’s not often that superhero books are more than light entertainment. I’ll be honest in that I was pleasantly surprised that the Spidey Amazing Friends series of books that I read with my grandson had life lessons in addition to the entertainment value. He’s almost five, and he loves superheroes, so when he saw the Marvel board book and early readers on my coffee table, he excitedly asked me to read them to him. We now read them each time he comes to visit.

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‘Spellmaker’ is the thrilling sequel to ‘Spellbreaker’ by Charlie N. Holmberg

Spellmaker by Charlie N. Holmberg

In an alternative Victorian world filled with magic and spellmakers and spellbreakers, “Spellmaker” by Charlie N. Holmberg gives us the conclusion to the story that began when Elsie Camden, a rogue spellbreaker, came into her own in “Spellbreaker.” It is in the first book that while following the orders of a mysterious group pursuing justice and equality, Elsie is trying to remove a spell on the estate of a wealthy duke, and she runs into Bacchus Kelsey, visiting from his plantation in Barbados. Her life changes, and for the first time she questions this anonymous group and their orders. We learn that Elsie had been abandoned by her family as a child and ended up in a workhouse. From there she ended up working for Ogden Cuthbert, a kind artist who has hidden his own magical talent, and who treated her almost like a daughter.

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‘Even and Odd’ by Sarah Beth Durst is a middle grade fantasy about family, love, and sacrifice

Even and Odd by Sarah Beth Durst

The middle grade fantasy “Even and Odd” adds to Sarah Beth Durst’s shelves of fantasy books—from middle grade to young adult to adult. And in this magical story, sisters Emma and Olivia become the title characters, Even and Odd, because they share their magic. Each gets to have magic on alternating days, so while their nicknames are Even and Odd, it doesn’t always quite work out that way. (Some months have 31 days, as is pointed out in the story.) Even loves magic and works tirelessly to gain control of it while Odd doesn’t really want it at all. She just wants to help at the local animal shelter.

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‘Endling: The Only’ is the magnificent conclusion to a middle grade series about truth, power, and standing up

“Endling: The Only’ by Katherine Applegate

The “Endling” series by Katherine Applegate, of which “The Only” is the conclusion, is her most powerful story yet. And that’s huge. “The One and Only Ivan” is rightly beloved by almost every student in my elementary school, and by children and adults around the world. It’s a story that grabs hearts and connects readers with the characters in a manner that becomes unforgettable. The “Endling” series will also grab hearts, and readers will absolutely connect with the narrator, Byx, a Dairne, and practically the last of her species. But readers will also learn about what happens when greed is allowed to reign supreme and when power becomes more important than humanity. It’s a story that follows one young very human-like narrator in a story that’s not only a coming-of-age story but also an allegory about our world. As with “The One and Only Ivan” and all of Applegate’s novels, we are enthralled with her brilliantly drawn characters and the plot that takes us on an emotional rollercoaster.

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‘The Wild Huntsboys’ by Martin Stewart is a tale of intrepid boys, a girl, and the fairies who want to kill them

The Wild Huntsboys by Martin Stewart

In “The Wild Huntsboys,” Martin Stewart makes sure we understand that fairies are not beautiful, kind, generous magical beings who grant wishes. There is no fairy godmother that will provide a ballgown and carriage. Rather, if you make one misstep, you might be hunted down and killed in a manner almost too gruesome to consider. Those are the fairies that Luka must confront after he fails to do the one thing his sister asked of him before she was evacuated during a war.

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‘Hold Back the Tide’ by Melinda Salisbury is a thrilling, inspiring tale of bravery and things that only come out at night

Hold Back the Tide by Melinda Salisbury

Want a story that will grab you from the first sentence and hold your attention to the last? “Hold Back the Tide” by Melinda Salisbury is just such a read. It begins, “Here are the rules of living with a murderer.” And the suspense grows and grows as we keep reading, desperate to find out how the hero, our feisty, brave, selfless, and intelligent main character, fights to prevail against a life in which the cards all seem to be dealt against her.

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‘The Bone Maker’ by Sarah Beth Durst is a fantasy for those past their prime who still dream of being heroes

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The heroes we see in movies and read about in books are usually striking young people in the prime of their lives. We don’t see what happens to those heroes after time passes and they get wrinkled and older with aches and pains like the rest of us. We especially don’t think about what might happen to those retired and all-but-forgotten heroes if there were a disaster and they were needed. Can middle-aged heroes save the day?

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‘Poisoned’ by Jennifer Donnelly is a beautiful, complex, fractured fairy tale retelling of Snow White

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly’s fairy tale retellings are beautiful in their complexity and their reimagining; but make no mistake, the beauty of the writing doesn’t equate with “beauty” being foremost among the traits of the main characters in her newest fantasy “Poisoned,” or her previous fractured fairy tale, “Stepsister.” Both young adult fairy tales are beautiful in the sense that they take fairy tales in which originally the most important trait of the young women — Snow White and Cinderella — is their beauty and change our concept of what beauty is. Donnelly turns that ideal on its head. And while the Disney cartoon version shows that both fairy tale creations love animals, there isn’t much else about them that has any depth or substance.

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