A tale with plenty of spooky trappings and valuable lessons for young people.


In this debut middle-grade adventure, a young witch learns the value of teamwork and sacrifice from his favorite teacher.

Elliott Keene is a third grader in the small, nonmagical town of Wolf’s End. His parents, Greta and Christian, are witches from a magical place called Moonstone. They all live in the ordinary, human world under orders from Enchantra, Moonstone’s ruler, so that they can protect average people from magical harm. Sloan Moonbeam, another guardian witch, is Elliott’s teacher. He begins to suspect that Elliott is psychic, and he warns the boy that he must keep his powers secret, even from his best friend, Lucas. Elliott’s life grows more complicated when Mr. Moonbeam and his parents learn from Syballine, another guardian, that Noir, ruler of Moonstone’s Dark Lands, is hunting for the Halloween crystal—an artifact that would allow him to unleash a horde of monsters and potentially rule both Moonstone and the nonmagical world. Thankfully, Noir can’t enter Wolf’s End, but he has his sights set on kidnapping Syballine’s talented daughter, Sabrina. Mr. Moonbeam takes Sabrina into his care, placing her in his classroom, while the guardians hide the Halloween Crystal. Greta looks into the crystal and sees the Mossy Mansion on Rose Hill, so the magicians go there on a mission—but they seem to encounter Noir’s agents at every turn. Cowan’s middle-grade fantasy celebrates Halloween as both a colorful holiday and as a spiritual event; indeed, the plot revolves around stopping Noir on that night—a time when the “veil between the two worlds is paper thin.” Sabrina is a well-developed, egocentric character who notes that, “I’ve always gotten everything I’ve ever wanted.” But later, when Elliott complains about being an imperfect witch, his teacher says, “Nothing worthwhile comes easy,” a statement that remains valid beyond childhood. Cowan also engagingly reveres the seasons—especially fall: “Life is nature and nature is life.” A dazzling, creature-filled finale leaves possibilities open for further adventures.

A tale with plenty of spooky trappings and valuable lessons for young people.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-09-795277-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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