Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Toil and Trouble… Tales of witchcraft for YA and beyond

Toil and Trouble, edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood, (Aug. 2018, Harlequin TEEN), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335016270

Ages 13+

Did you love Radical Element, with its historical fiction tales of young women breaking conventions and being amazing? Then you’ll love Toil & Trouble, an anthology loaded with tales of women and witchcraft. And not the Hocus Pocus, “I Put a Spell on You” type of witchcraft, either: these witches are in touch with nature and themselves; they’re multicultural, they’re queer, they’re angry, and they’re very, very human. Wild Beauty‘s Anna-Marie McLemore weaves a story about faith in “Love Spells”; Brooklyn Brujahs author Zoraida Cordova writes about the wisdom of age and the passing of generations in “Divine Are the Stars”. Robin Talley’s “The Legend of Stone Mary” goes the historic route, with the legend of a dead witch haunting a local community. Elizabeth May’s “Why They Watch Us Burn” is a chilling companion story to readers of The Handmaid’s Tale, simmering with rage and rebellion. The women in these stories are never victims, even while others may try to victimize them: they own their power, no matter what the circumstances may hold.

Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe have curated a strong collection of short stories written by strong authors here. There’s something for everyone in this volume, with strong, solitary characters who defend their homes to women who form a collective to survive. There are non-binary, LGBT, and cis characters, and there are characters from world cultures throughout. Characters confront big issues including sexual assault and emotional abuse. As Kirkus writes in its starred review, “No damsels in distress to be found here”. Toil and Trouble has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

Find more books about witches in this great BookRiot feature.

(Note: I watch Hocus Pocus every Halloween; nothing but love for my Sanderson Sisters!)

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Tween Reads

#StarPassage Book 3 Blog Tour and Giveaway: Mercy and Honor

The third book in the StarPassage series is here! The YA paranormal/time travel adventure series by Clark Rich Burbidge hit shelves on June 21st and draws on the power of family and faith.

StarPassage Book 3: Honor and Mercy, by Clark Rich Burbidge,
(June 2018, Deep River Books), $15.99, ISBN: 9781632694782
Ages 9-14

Author Clark Rich Burbidge was kind enough to write a guest post, where he talks about his research process as he wrote StarPassage: Honor and Mercy. Enjoy!

The StarPassage series required a ton of additional research. There is an entirely separate effort with each passage introduced. I want to get the details correct but recognize that there are times when some things are unknowable so I need to take a little literary license. Knowing when to do that is an art. For example I have ridden in a B-17 on four occasions. Each time was exhilarating as it taxied on the runway, began revving up and let loose the brakes for take-off. Sitting in the rough seats with only a seat belt seemed inadequate as we bounded down the runway. Then in the air flying through canyons below the tops of the mountains rising on either side viewing the countryside below. They allow you to move around to all the different stations. The narrow walkway through the bomb bay with bombs hanging on each side (unarmed ones) and crawling from the pilot’s cockpit down through the narrow cave-like passage to the nose where the navigator and bombardier sat was the most interesting. I sat out in the plexiglass bubble where the bomb site was still affixed to its post and looked down thousands of feet and imagined what it would have been like with flak bursting around having to concentrate feeling so exposed. Then it struck me. I was not alone. It felt like the small compartment was crowded with the spirits of those who had actually lived and too often died in this small space during times of conflict. It was a moving experience to sense some small part of their souls. Emotion overwhelmed me and tears ran down my cheeks as I felt these great souls trying to encourage me to tell part of their stories in a way that others living in freedom today would understand. “Help them to know that we did this for them,” I felt them say. “And never forget how dear life is.” It was a powerful and unexpected moment in that crowded space. It isn’t just the research you do in libraries or understanding the times and places one writes about. It is reaching across time and touching the souls who lived it, feeling the spirit of their lives, their emotions, fears and hopes. It is part of understanding why they did it and how they endured such unimaginable torment on a daily basis.

I have also walked the Gettysburg battlefield on three separate occasions. I have stood more than once at the stone marking the end of the Union line on Little Round Top where Joshua Chamberlain’s 20th Maine stood with their line reversed against the furious charges of Oates’ Alabamians. I have crawled through the rock outcropping of Devil’s Den and climbed the hill from the Confederate’s point of view. Again as I stood on Little Round Top and at other places on the battlefield I felt, as many others have reported, the spirits of those long past who stood against incomprehensible ferocity of war with no possibility of retreat. Again, I wondered how any human could bear the stress and fear and remain.

Every person, young and old, should take the opportunity to stand where others stood and reach across the generations to touch them, understand their time and know the real meaning of freedom. Yes, one might say that to effectively write the StarPassage series with its time travel/paranormal theme that I had to engage in time travel/paranormal myself. And so I did. That is where my research took me, far beyond libraries and diaries. It took me through time and space to better understand in some small way the people of that time. Our young generation would be well served by reading the results of my research and then reaching out to understand as well. There is too much wasteful in-the-moment roller coaster riding that take them nowhere and protesting or resisting when they have little personal knowledge of that which they object to or of the real people who lived it. We are all better served by a little personal time travel.

Here’s a brief excerpt from  Chapter 1 of Honor and Mercy. Want a chance to win a copy of your own? Check out this  Rafflecopter giveaway! (U.S. addresses only, please!)

Find StarPassage and Clark Burbidge on social media:




Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Garrison Girl: YA in the Attack on Titan universe!

Garrison Girl: An Attack on Titan novel, by Rachel Aaron, (Aug. 2018, Quirk Books), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-68369-061-0

Ages 12+

Humanity lives in walled cities while giant titans roam the earth. They’re without sense, without intelligence, motivated by a ravenous hunger for human flesh. The military guards the walls, always watching, always waiting. Rosalie Dumarque is the daughter of a wealthy, prominent general; her only purpose in life is to marry well and bring honor to her family, but that’s not going to work for Rosalie. She graduated from military school with honors, and she wants to fight titans, not get married. She convinces her father to let her serve for the six months before her wedding; he sends her to the Wall Rose Garrison in the hopes that she’ll be scared off. With titans wandering too close to the wall, death is always a possibility; under the command of Jax Cunningham, it’s more of a certainty. But Rosalie, along with new friends Willow and Emmett, are determined to stick it out and improve. At first, Rosalie is looked down on as the rich girl, but her commitment to the wall and Rose Garrison quickly makes her part of the team. She even manages to get through to Jax, who starts seeing her as more than a spoiled rich girl. The specter of her engagement looms as a romance blooms between the two, and when Rosalie decides that six months isn’t enough for her, she risks losing her father’s respect and her family’s support. BUT WHO CARES? THERE ARE TITANS, MAN!

Garrison Girl is a YA novel set in the Attack on Titan universe. Look, I’d never seen an episode or cracked open an Attack on Titan manga in my life before Ivy at Quirk sent me this book; I had a vague notion of what the story is about, so that was good enough for me. I finished the book in a day and a half. I refused to put it down, it was so good. These are original characters in a familiar universe, but if you’ve never set foot in that universe before, fear not! The book gets you up to speed pretty quickly with everything you need to know, and the action hits fast, hard, and brutally. I turned to my 14 year-old, who watches anime and reads manga, and said, “HE ATE A GUY!” My son sagely nodded and said, “Yup. Like a carrot.” I threw the book down on the couch in the break room at work and yelled at the end, and had a coworker comment, “You read books like people watch movies”. Well, yes, I do, and if you read this book, you will too. There are characters you will love and want to shield with your own body, and there are characters you will want to punch until a titan walks by and munches on them like potato chips. The book moves fast, the characters are well-thought out and written, and the action and tension are equally high. Fantasy fans, add this to your TBR. Put this on your Attack on Titan displays.

And, Rachel and Ivy? We’re getting more of this, right? RIGHT?

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Crossover YA: The Mermaid by Christina Henry

The Mermaid, by Christina Henry, (June 2018, Berkley Publishing Group), $16, ISBN: 9780399584046

Ages 16+

A mermaid walks out of the sea to live with a man she’s fallen in love with. Years later, the sea takes him away from her. That’s the beginning of the story in Christina Henry’s newest fairy tale for young adults and grownups, The Mermaid. Living in a small seafaring Maine town, most of her neighbors are respectful of Amelia’s – the name her husband gave her – privacy, but rumors have a way of spreading; this time, they spread all the way to New York, and to the ears of none other than The Greatest Showman himself, P.T. Barnum. Barnum dispatches his partner, Levi Lyman, to Maine to talk to the “mermaid” and convince her to become one of Barnum’s spectacles. Amelia, a strong, smart woman in a time when women have no voice, no property, and no agency of their own, she decides – after sending Lyman on his way – to make her way to New York and negotiate with Barnum. She wants to travel the world, and she agrees to work with Barnum on her own terms for six months, in order to be able to finance it. The partnership between the two headstrong characters is tenuous, and Lyman finds himself falling in love with Amelia. The Mermaid is amazing storytelling that has a distinctly feminist voice.

The Mermaid gives us a Barnum that isn’t quite so friendly and fun as Hugh Jackman’s portrayal in The Greatest Showman; this Barnum is concerned with money, who’s paying it out, and how much of it he can make off the back of his “spectacles”. He’s recovering from the backlash of one of his exhibits gone wrong, and trying to recover his reputation; he’s known as a liar and a “humbug” (not exactly untrue); he treats his wife and daughters shabbily, and cares little for anyone outside of himself. That’s enough about him.

Amelia is the star of this story. She’s a real mermaid who touches the lives of those who lay eyes on her. Charity, Barnum’s put-upon wife, resists believing in her at first, but later comes to treasure her friendship with Amelia, finding her own voice to stand up against her bulldozing husband. Caroline, Barnum’s young daughter, is enchanted with the idea of knowing a mermaid, and discovers her own young voice thanks to Amelia. Levi Lyman finds his scruples and love in her stormy eyes. Amelia refuses to be taken advantage of, and demands to be heard. She empowers those around her. She reminds Barnum that at any moment, she can walk away from him and he’ll never find her: she’s a mermaid, for crying out loud, and the Earth is 75% water; good luck finding her. We don’t learn about her family or her people; she is the focus of the novel and the narrative. She stands alone. An adult novel, this can easily cross over into YA/Teen for fantasy readers. There are discussion questions available at the end of the book.

Want more circus and sideshow books? Booktalk and display with Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and H.P. Wood’s Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. Want more of Christina Henry’s fairy tales? Check out her website and learn about her other books.



Water for Elephants

Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

The Mortification of Fovea Munson is hilarious Summer Reading!

The Mortification of Fovea Munson, by Mary Winn Heider/Illustrated by Chi Birmingham, (June 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781484780541

Ages 9-13

From the opening line, “Dead bodies are the worst”, you just know you’re in for a good time with this book. Fovea Munson is the 12-year-old daughter of two doctors: cadaver surgeons. They operate on dead folks, and they teach medical students how to work their craft on dead folks. They’ve got the corniest senses of humor, a never-ending love for Hippocrates, the father of medicine, and they’ve just hired Fovea to be their receptionist for the summer. This is bad enough for a 12-year-old who’s already feeling tragically uncool, but wait: three heads in the cadaver lab start talking to her. Death isn’t necessarily final, after all, and Lake, McMullen, and Andy – the three heads in question – want to start a barbershop quartet, hit a recording studio, and have a release party, and it’s up to Fovea to make it happen. Quickly. Because that receptionist that quit left a lovesick, slightly unhinged cremator, behind, and he’s got information that will ruin Fovea’s family. The heads know something, so it’s a little quid pro quo in action.

Is this madcap? Absolutely! Is it hilarious? Without question! Fovea narrates this laugh-out-loud story of a summer vacation gone sideways with a priceless, put-upon tween voice as she navigates her relationship with her parents, her friends (both dead and living), and her scooter-riding grandmother. There’s an unexpected amount of pathos here as Fovea comes to care for a classmate and the trio of cadaver heads in her care, and a bittersweet realization that some friendships aren’t meant to last. There are black and white illustrations throughout, adding some visual humor to the story, and chapters titles remind us how much Hippocrates has influenced Fovea’s life. The end of the book leaves me hopeful that we’ll get some more fun with Fovea down the road, and an appendix (snicker) includes amusing little in-jokes that readers will get a kick out of.

The Mortification of Fovea Munson is a perfect summer read, especially for kids who think their parents are weird (which is, honestly, most of ’em). Don’t miss it. Add it to your STEM reading – cadavers science is a thing!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

What if Mulan traveled to the Underworld? Reflection tells the story!

Reflection (A Twisted Tale), by Elizabeth Lim, (March 2018, Disney Book Group), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484781296

Recommended for readers 10+

What if Mulan had gone very differently? What if Captain Shang was mortally wounded in his battle with Shan Yu, and was dying? In this latest Disney Twisted Tale, Mulan travels to the Diyu, the underworld, to bargain with ruler King Yama for Shang’s life. ShiShi, the Li family guardian lion, accompanies Mulan, but finding Shang is only part of the quest: they have to make their way through Diyu before dawn, and demons, ghosts, and ancestors are at every turn. Mulan is still disguised as Ping, which causes more stress as Mulan wrestles with her own identity and Shang’s trust.

This is my first Twisted Tale, but it is not going to be my last! I loved this different takes on one of my favorite beloved Disney movies. Author Elizabeth Lim keeps the essence of what makes Mulan such a strong, favorite character: her inner strength is tempered by her introspection and moments of self-doubt, making her at once relatable and inspirational; her daring and confidence and her incredible heart, make her one of the most memorable Disney women in print and on the screen. Shang is along for the ride here, but goes through his own moments of self-awareness. ShiShi is Shang’s guardian and counselor and brings some well-timed humor to the story (Mushu doesn’t play as big a part in Reflection, but he is there!). Reflection has the spectacle of a big-screen release, with the space to bring internal conflict to the fore. I loved it, and so will your Disney readers. Grab the set, if you don’t have them yet, and put them in the hands of your fantasy readers. Let them know that Ursula’s up next, with September’s Part of Your World.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

The Sanderson Sisters are back in Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel

Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel, by A.W. Jantha, (July 2018, Disney Book Group), $12.99, ISBN: 9781368020039

Recommended for readers 10+

Does everyone know who the Sanderson sisters are? No? Okay, quick recap: they’re three awful witch sisters from the 1993 Disney movie, Hocus Pocus. They had a particular taste for children and a spell that would let them live forever, until a teen named Max, his younger sister, Dani, and his crush, Allison, with the help of a talking cat named Binx. The movie starred Bette Midler, Kathy Najimi, and Sarah Jessica Parker as the Sanderson sisters, and went on to be a huge cult classic that still gets regular play throughout the year in my home. Late last year, news hit the media that the Sandersons were coming back for a sequel, and there was much rejoicing among Hocus Pocus fans. There was talk about a TV movie, either on Freeform or Disney Channel, with the working title Hocus Pocus 2: Rise of the Elderwitch, but that seems to have been squashed. However, just in time for the movie’s 25th anniversary, Disney Books has a book hitting shelves: Hocus Pocus & The All-New Sequel.

Anyway. The anniversary volume has a novelization of the 1993 movie, which is a fun, light, slightly macabre Halloween story about a boy, 2 girls, and a cat against three witches. The All-New Sequel continues the main characters’ story, 25 years later. Teen crushes Max and Allison have grown up and gotten married; they have a gay daughter, Poppy, who’s crushing on school It Girl Isabella. Max teaches at his old high school, and Allison is a lawyer. Neither are fans of Halloween, and their Salem, Massachusetts neighborhood thinks they’re crazy, because they’re super paranoid about witches – particularly the Sanderson history – and Halloween. (Why did they stay in Salem after the events of Hocus Pocus, especially if no one believes them?) Poppy, her best friend, Travis, and Isabella find themselves back at the Sanderson house, with Winifred Sanderson’s spell book and a ouija board, and end up bringing the sisters back from Hell: by swapping Poppy’s parents and Aunt Dani. They have until daybreak to locate the blood moonstone and reverse the spell, or the Sandersons will reign and Poppy’s family is doomed.

Where the original is light and fun, the sequel is darker; it’s more YA to the original’s middle grade. I like the added diversity and LGBTQ vibe that runs through the sequel, and it certainly has its moments; the sisters are fun to read, especially Winifred (Bette Midler’s character), who is as delightfully horrible as ever. It’s missing a bit of the light-heartedness that made the original such fun to watch, but its darker feel makes the humorous moments more welcome. The ending will leave readers wondering if we’re getting a third installment. It’s an additional add for fans of the original movie, and readers who enjoy a good spooky quest.