A derivative take on the magical boarding school novel that offers little entertainment.

READ REVIEW

Hazelwood Academy

FRESHMAN YEAR

From the Hazelwood Academy series , Vol. 1

In this YA fantasy novel, students attend a magical boarding school where they learn spells, play Mageball, and contend against evil forces.

Soon after Greg Warren’s birth, his parents received letters informing them that he was gifted and would receive private school scholarships. Greg and his friends—Annie Petersen, Zach Talbut, and Annabelle “Belle” Blue—are in their last semester at Bourdinbaugh Preparatory Middle School in Milwaukee. Upon graduation, they’re chosen for the prestigious Hazelwood Academy. When the new school year begins, they travel by a special train, in which Greg and his friends learn that magic exists. Outside the Academy is Hazelwood Village, where shops selling magical items line the cobblestone streets; the school itself is “like a castle…and like a modern commercial high-rise,” with a surrounding forest. The luxurious, co-ed dorm rooms include four-poster, canopied beds and other perks. The foursome meets other students, some friendly, some less so, such as “Magical-Born” Alec Sterling, who sneers at those born to “Normals,” like Greg. As the students learn and practice magic, choose a “Magical Focus” (an “Elemental Spirit” connected with an object), and play Mageball, an evil cabal is hatching a plot against the magical world. Meanwhile, Greg goes on a quest to help strengthen his Magical Focus. In his debut novel, Bandor owes many obvious debts to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, with elements similar to the Hogwarts Express, Hogwarts itself, Hogsmeade, Quidditch, Muggles, and more. Bandor does elaborate more on just how magic works; for example, humans have an “ætherial” core, but need an elemental spirit to amplify it, and this ties in well with the story. However, these explanations are dull, and Bandor lacks Rowling’s lightness of touch; there’s much leaden jollity, and Bandor’s adolescents blush and giggle with tiresome frequency. The style, too, lacks grace, as when Greg explains a cheese grater to Annie, who blushes (of course) and notes “the efficiency with which Greg utilized the grater.”

A derivative take on the magical boarding school novel that offers little entertainment.

Pub Date: March 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5232-9041-3

Page Count: 402

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

MEXICAN GOTHIC

Moreno-Garcia offers a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror, set in 1950s Mexico.

Inquisitive 22-year-old socialite and anthropology enthusiast Noemí Taboada adores beautiful clothes and nights on the town in Mexico City with a bevy of handsome suitors, but her carefree existence is cut short when her father shows her a disturbing letter from her cousin Catalina, who recently married fair-haired and blue-eyed Virgil Doyle, who comes from a prominent English mining family that built their now-dwindling fortune on the backs of Indigenous laborers. Catalina lives in High Place, the Doyle family’s crumbling mansion near the former mining town of El Triunfo. In the letter, Catalina begs for Noemí’s help, claiming that she is “bound, threads like iron through my mind and my skin,” and that High Place is “sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment.” Upon Noemí’s arrival at High Place, she’s struck by the Doyle family’s cool reception of her and their unabashed racism. She's alarmed by the once-vibrant Catalina’s listless state and by the enigmatic Virgil and his ancient, leering father, Howard. Nightmares, hallucinations, and phantasmagoric dreams of golden dust and fleshy bodies plague Noemí, and it becomes apparent that the Doyles haven’t left their blood-soaked legacy behind. Luckily, the brave Noemí is no delicate flower, and she’ll need all her wits about her for the battle ahead. Moreno-Garcia weaves elements of Mexican folklore with themes of decay, sacrifice, and rebirth, casting a dark spell all the way to the visceral and heart-pounding finale.

Fans of gothic classics like Rebecca will be enthralled as long as they don’t mind a heaping dose of all-out horror.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-62078-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more