A clever, fast-paced story that should delight young readers hungry for magical stories.

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Willamina Mermaid & the Quest for the Crystal of Light

In Kelly’s debut middle-grade adventure, a young mermaid princess returns to save her underwater kingdom years after it was taken over by an evil sorceress.

Shortly before the Witch of Darkness conquers the mermaid kingdom and hurls the ruler, Princess Marri-Anna, to the ocean floor via a whirlpool, Marri-Anna’s human lover, Robbie, smuggles their young baby daughter to safety. Out of necessity, he leaves Willamina in the care of his cruel sisters, Lena and Lottie, before going after the witch himself to save the woman he loves. After telling his sisters that it’s crucial the shell locket around the baby’s neck never be removed, he leaves, shortly thereafter getting captured by the witch. The greedy aunts immediately ignore his warning and remove the necklace, assuming it to be valuable, which instantly turns Willamina from her human form into a mermaid. For the next 12 years, they keep her confined to an upstairs bathroom, never telling her the truth about her origins. Besides the fact that she has a tail and can talk to fish, she has no clue what exactly is “wrong” with her other than that her aunts make her sit in a wheelchair and hide her lower half under a blanket when company visits. On her 12th birthday, a nasty cousin after her inheritance pushes her from her wheelchair into the ocean, where she is reunited with her people and learns the truth from the sea wizard, Merlin, about her destiny and the prophecy that says she’ll be the one to free the kingdom from the witch’s rule. Kelly’s zippy, imaginative tale samples elements from the best of both recent and classic YA fantasies and fairy tales. Willamina’s childhood and horrid aunts are Harry Potter crossed with Roald Dahl but with the refreshing twist of a female protagonist, and there is a great deal of The Little Mermaid, particularly Disney’s version, in the under-the-sea happenings. Some readers might find many of the characters a bit too broadly drawn and over-the-top, though the exaggerated style tends to fit the creative story’s fairy-tale tone.

A clever, fast-paced story that should delight young readers hungry for magical stories.

Pub Date: April 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5030-2405-2

Page Count: 262

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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

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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

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

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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

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