Wednesday, August 26, 2020

MG Fantasy review of The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher
Format:  E-ARC
Walker Books Us
Number of Pages:  208
September 8th, 2020 
Source:  Netgalley 

Opening Line:  "A clock ticks, frost is white, stars travel through the night."

Seren has been living at the St. Mary's Orphanage, ever since her parents died while they were living abroad in India.  When Seren turned twelve, she had her first glimpse of life with family after a distant aunt took her in.  But that too was short-lived when the aunt suddenly died.  Then news arrived that Seren's godfather had been located, Captain Arthur Jones, and she would be moving to Wales to live with him, his wife and their son Tomos at their mansion, Plas-y-Fran.  While traveling by train to her new home, Seren encounters an odd man also waiting for the train who's fidgety and seems to be afraid, but of what Seren has no idea.  Then the mysterious stranger decides to leave, handing Seren his parcel to guard.  Unable to find him when the train arrives, Seren takes the parcel with her.

On the train, Seren begins to dream of her new life at the mansion.  With Christmas approaching, she makes plans for all the fun things she and Tomos can do together.  She gets excited about how she envisions the mansion being decorated, the presents she hopes to find under the tree, and spending time with her new family.   However, when she arrives at the mansion she learns that the family is away in London and she's been left in the care of the house staff, Mrs. Villiers and Denzil, who are none too happy with their new charges arrival.  Seren is given strict instructions to never go into the attic, not to wander around the grounds, and the topic of Tomos instantly garners angry reprimands about never bringing him up again.  

Seren's hopes are quickly dashed and she becomes very lonely at Plas-y-Fran.  But being a very inquisitive girl it isn't long before she begins to explore and investigate the mansion like her favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes.   First, she opens the parcel from the train and inside finds cogs, springs, and a note warning her not to put the clockwork crow together. Unable to resist the pull of the mechanical parts, she reassembles the pieces and discovers she's in possession of an enchanted crow who desperately wants her help in being unspelled.  Exploring further, Seren also uncovers what the house staff has been hiding from her, that Tomos went missing last year on Christmas Eve after going for a walk, and it's rumored that he was taken by the fairies.  Seren is convinced she can find Tomos, and with a little help from the clockwork crow, she hopes to bring him home in time to celebrate Christmas.

I was instantly enchanted by the cover of The Clockwork Crow.  The snowy feel of the mansion at Christmas time, a little curious about the snowglobe in the boy's hand, and the blue snowglobe shape in the bottom half of the cover.  I also adore stories set in old mansions, envisioning exploring all the nooks and crannies.  The premise of a boy stolen by fairies was also very intriguing and reminded me of The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver.  Both stories take the main character underground on a rescue mission, with the current story having Seren descend a golden staircase to travel to the palace of ice.   

I was looking for some wintery magic when  I picked up this book and couldn't pass up the steampunk aspects of the clockwork crow.  He's quite something, a little full of himself, surly, demanding, you know the crotchety type who thinks you're at their whim.  Still, he's also quite humorous so I'll let his neediness slide.  Now the interesting, unexpected and slightly creepy part of this book was the fey.  I'm kinda used to the tiny creatures flitting about with gossamer wings spreading their magic.  Seren's fairies are of the darker variety, meant to entrap you with their lulling voice and who's frail snowy like hands grasp at your hair refusing to let you leave.  Despite not expecting the creepiness, I did quite enjoy the story. There's a nice blend of mystery and spookiness and I like the classic fairytale-like quality of this book, with the added bonus of a sarcastic clockwork crow for comedic relief.  And the rhyming lines at the beginning of each chapter were really lovely.  There are two more planned books in the series with The  Velvet Fox being released in October 2020.  
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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Blog Tour for BROTHER'S KEEPER by Julie Lee with Excerpt + Giveaway

Today, I'm thrilled to be hosting a spot on the BROTHER'S KEEPER by Julie Lee Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. This looks to be a wonderful historical fiction survival story, I hope you'll check out the excerpt and make sure to enter the giveaway!

About the Book:

Author: Julie Lee
Pub. Date: July 21, 2020
Publisher: Holiday House
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook
Pages: 304
Find it:  GoodreadsAmazonKindle  AudibleB&N / /
Can two children escape North Korea on their own?

North Korea. December, 1950.

Twelve-year-old Sora and her family live under an iron set of rules: No travel without a permit. No criticism of the government. No absences from Communist meetings. Wear red. Hang pictures of the Great Leader. Don't trust your neighbors. Don't speak your mind. You are being watched.

But war is coming, war between North and South Korea, between the Soviets and the Americans. War causes chaos--and war is the perfect time to escape. The plan is simple: Sora and her family will walk hundreds of miles to the South Korean city of Busan from their tiny mountain village. They just need to avoid napalm, frostbite, border guards, and enemy soldiers.

But they can't. And when an incendiary bombing changes everything, Sora and her little brother Young will have to get to Busan on their own. Can a twelve-year-old girl and her eight-year-old brother survive three hundred miles of warzone in winter?

Haunting, timely, and beautiful, this harrowing novel from a searing new talent offers readers a glimpse into a vanished time and a closed nation.

Excerpt from Brother's Keeper

North Korea
June 25, 1950

I didn’t want to step into the river, but I had to. He was floating away.
“Youngsoo!” I stomped in waist- deep, gripping my toes against the sharp- edged clams on the rocky floor. Rushing water swirled around me. I grabbed my little brother’s hand and dragged him back to shore.
“Sorry, Noona,” Youngsoo said, calling me older sister in Korean. “I leaned out too far with my net.” It wasn’t the first time he’d lost his balance and tipped over while fishing, his stomach smacking against the water. He shivered in his wet uniform.
“I told you not to go in too deep. Hold still.” I wrung the ends of his shirt and straightened the red scarf around his neck, then took a step back and frowned. What would Omahni say? I could already feel our mother’s punishment stick snapping against my calves. “How could you have fallen in right before your Sonyondan Club meeting? Your scarf is so wet, it’s almost black!”
“Don’t worry. It’s just a scarf,” he said, looking at his feet.
I stared at him. Everyone knew the red scarf was the most important part of the communist youth club uniform. Red had become sacred. It fluttered in the star of our new North Korean flag. Mothers tied and retied it cautiously around their children’s necks. And red armbands stood out on the white of the villagers’ clothes like a bloodstain.
Youngsoo hung his head low. “I almost caught a fish, Noona. It slipped out of my net.”
“I know, I know,” I said impatiently. “Every day you almost catch a big one.”
But then a pang of regret shot through me, knowing how hard he tried despite always coming home with an empty net.
“I’ll make it up to you tomorrow. What kind of fish do you want? Trout? Salmon? Catfi sh?” He puff ed up his skinny chest like a little man and extended his arm toward the river. “Just name it, and I’ll catch it for you.”
Before I had the chance to give him a stern sideways glance, the kind Omahni always gave me, he smiled earnestly, a piece of black plum skin caught in his teeth. I sighed, wondering if this was how he always kept our mother from staying mad at him too long.
A bell chimed from the schoolhouse on the hill. The teacher, Comrade Cho, stood in front waiting to close the doors, a red band cinched tightly around his upper arm. Stragglers from Youngsoo’s third- grade class sprinted past us as we headed up the slope.
“You can’t be dumber than the fish if you want to catch them!” a boy shouted at us, his red scarf knotted perfectly.
Youngsoo pushed up his sleeves. “At least I’m not dumber than you! And my sister is smarter than everyone! Right, Noona?”
I groaned. Why did he have to drag me into this?
“Your sister can’t be that smart! She doesn’t even go to school anymore!” the boy called back, laughing from the hilltop.
My shoulders stiffened. He was right. When I’d turned twelve two months ago, Omahni had pulled me out of school to look after my little brothers.
I glanced at Youngsoo—so drenched and disheveled. Did he even know how lucky he was?
“You’ll be late.” I couldn’t look at him anymore. “Just go.”
I pushed him up the hill. Omahni said that skipping even one communist youth club meeting meant Youngsoo’s name—no, our family name—would go on a government watch list.
And then terrible things would happen.
“What a beautiful day to labor in this socialist paradise!” Comrade Cho announced as the students approached. “Don’t forget to continue gathering scrap iron for weapons and bullets, or else your parents will have to pay a fi ne. Your work is important in making the Fatherland strong!”
Youngsoo joined the wave of red running up the hill, then disappeared inside the A-frame timber schoolhouse. Looking at it, I felt a twinge of loss.
Not for the Girls’ Sonyondan Club that I no longer attended, joining my parents at grown-up Party meetings instead.
Not for the new teacher, Comrade Cho, who gave candy to students for reporting anything anti- communist their parents said at home.
Not for the kids in class, who were loyal to the Party first and family second, and could never be trusted as friends.
But for all the learning I was missing. Math. Geography. Science.
When I could escape from my chores, I hid behind the willow tree by the school window and eavesdropped on the class.
Today, though, was not a day for escaping chores. I picked up my laundry basket and balanced it on top of my head. The sound of wooden paddles beckoned me back toward the river, and like a funeral marcher, I went.
Downstream, mounds of laundry littered the bank. Women squatted on flat boulders jutting from the sandbars. They scrubbed pants with thick bar soap, their shoulders pumping like pistons, then beat them with fl at paddles as if spanking their children. Without any men nearby, the women gossiped about husbands and mothers-in-law as they lifted their shirts to wipe their faces. I looked away.
Yah, Sora! What are you so embarrassed about?” asked Mrs. Lee, her cheeks ruddy from the sun.
I smiled, tight- lipped, and found an open area to set my basket. My long tan skirt was soaked from saving Youngsoo.
“Why’s your mom sending a girl to do a woman’s job, huh?” a farmer’s wife shouted.
“Who else is she supposed to send—her sons? Anyway, Sora’s not such a little girl anymore, right?” Mrs. Lee said. “Look, she’s even starting to get little breasts now.” She poked me in the ribs, and I jerked like a string puppet.
They laughed heartily. My cheeks burned, and I hunched my back to hide my chest. I gazed up at the schoolhouse as if it might somehow reach down to save me, the straw basket pressing against my shins. But it wouldn’t, and the laundry wouldn’t wash itself.
I took out my brothers’ dirty clothes—Jisoo’s cloth diapers, Youngsoo’s muddy uniform pants—and crouched in the shallows, joining the drumbeat of women. I plunged my raw knuckles into the soapy water, hiding them beneath the cloudy white.
A grandmother came running from around the hill, splashing along the river’s edge toward the rest of us, and I watched the waves ripple over my hands. At first I hardly noticed the whispers, the way the women huddled around her. But their murmurs grew, and I looked up at them—their mouths agape, their brows creased—and suddenly everything felt wrong.
The women started hastily packing unfinished laundry into their baskets. I rushed to rinse Youngsoo’s uniform pants. Something was not right. I needed to go. The last time a message had spread this urgently, the landlord’s son was found floating facedown in the river, his body bloated like a blood sausage. I lifted the basket onto my head and hurried onto the main road through the village center, stumbling past a row of thatched- roof houses, my breath coming fast and hard.
I spun around and saw Youngsoo running along the bank. He stopped short before crashing into me.
“What are you doing here? Were you sent home? Was it the wet scarf? Are they putting us on a list?” I asked, my voice rising with panic.
“No, something amazing happened!” Youngsoo’s eyes shimmered like the river, and he practically sang the words: “We don’t have to go to school anymore!”
My stomach clenched. “What do you mean, Youngsoo? That’s impossible.”
“Comrade Cho told the whole class that ‘because of the current situation, there will be no school until further notice,’ ” he said, carefully repeating his teacher’s words. “He even said that ‘today will be a day to go down in history.’ ” Youngsoo jumped high in the air, hollering and hooting at his sudden change in luck. “No more school! No more school!”
My palms turned cold and clammy.
“We need to go home,” I managed to say. “Come on.”
We walked past streams flowing into rivers, then through plains and pastures until we could see the rice- straw roof of our home. The house was square-shaped to block the bitter winds cascading down the mountains in winter, and it sat squat in the countryside, fifty miles north of Pyongyang, the capital. Although it looked like every other farmhouse in the valley, it was unmistakably home, the rounded edges of the worn, thatched roof hugging the house like a mushroom cap. Around it, fields of corn and millet stirred in the hot wind.
We hurried inside. A broadcaster’s voice and the hiss of static rushed to greet us. I set the basket down and stepped into a pair of house slippers.
Abahji sat as motionless as a rock, leaning in to the radio. Deep lines creased his forehead. I had never seen our father look so grave.
Beside him, Baby Jisoo looked up from a pile of clean clothes, yawned once, then went back to his favorite pastime: pulling socks over each of his feet.
Youngsoo and I sat on the floor beside Abahji. I quieted my breathing to hear, but I couldn’t understand the announcer’s words through the heavy static. I turned to Youngsoo and shrugged, unable to explain Abahji’s pensive face.
All at once, the signal cleared, and Youngsoo’s eyes brightened as if he had just solved a riddle.
That’s what my teacher was talking about. That’s the reason there will be no more school!” he shouted, pointing at the radio. “War! War! Starting today, we are at war!”

About Julie: 

Julie Lee graduated from Cornell University with a degree in history. After working in market research in Manhattan for over ten years, she decided to pursue writing full-time. Currently, Julie lives in Georgia with her husband and three children. When she is not spending time with her family, she is working on her next book while pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Brother's Keeper is her debut novel.

Giveaway Details:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of BROTHER'S KEEPER, US Only.

Tour Schedule:
Week One:
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Sunday, August 23, 2020

MG Review of The Rubicus Prophecy by Alane Adams, illustrations by Jonathan Stroh

The Rubicus Prophecy by Alane Adams, illustrations by Jonathan Stroh
Series:  Book Two of the Witches of Orkney
Format:  Paperback
Publisher:  SparkPress
Number of Pages:  216
Published:  October 15th, 2019
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line: "Hermodan, King of Orkney Isles, stood alone in the center of the Ring of Brogar."

I like how the Prologue touches on the Norse mythology of the series, explaining the connection between Odin and the coven of witches.  How during ancient times one of the covens was entombed to protect mankind from their magic because of a bargain that King Hermodan made with Odin.  The prologue also explains the creation of Orkney and is starting to flesh out more of the witches history.  To really appreciate the series I suggest beginning with the first book of the series,  The Blue Witch.  

The current book of the Witches of Orkney series centers on the Rubicus Prophecy or how  one witchling is destined to one day break Odin's curse.  The story begins with Abigail headed back to Tarkana Witches Academy for her second year and reuniting with Hugo and Calla, who are back from their summer break.   Just as Abigail gets to the gates of the school, she notices a red sunflower has started to grow at the site of the Viken attack she had last year and the witches are convinced that it's a sign that the prophecy is about to come true.  

Abigail starts off her term with visions of a transparent women who seems to be following her around trying to share an important  message with her. She's afraid of the dark magic that seems to be inside her and the ancient spellbook that she received last year continues to taunt her, trying to deceive and entice her to use its spells for revenge, it kind of reminds me of Tom Riddle's diary and the influence that it had over Ginny.    Abigail's anger becomes more uncontrollable and she even lashes out hurting Calla by accident.  

At the same time an Orkadian warship has arrived claiming that Melistra broke a treaty that they have to not use magic against the Orkadian's.  Hugo encounters a young Orkadian boy, Robert Barconian who asks for help in recovering a family heirloom.  And Melistra appears to be gathering elements for a dark spell maybe to harness Odin's power and take control of the coven.  Things have really started to heat up.  

The Rubicus Prophecy has the friends traveling deep into the catacombs beneath the Academy and encountering draugar's or the living dead.  I'm really liking the components of this one.  The scary catacomb, the potential of building up to a huge battle in book three, the broadening of Abagail's friends to include Robert and all the new surprises and revelations.  The black and white illustrations by Jonathan Stroh are just gorgeous, the play of dark shadows and pieces of light that appear in each illustration.  I'm really looking forward to reading Witch Wars next. 

** Thank you to SparkPress for the review copy**

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

MG Fantasy/Paranormal review of Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie

Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie
Format:  E-ARC
Genre:  MG Fantasy/Paranormal
Publisher:  Sourcebooks
Number of Pages: 256
Publishing: September 1st, 2020
Source:  Edelweiss +

Opening lines: "If someone had told me yesterday that I'd be spending my Saturday morning in the aisle of a stuffy bookstore searching for ghost stories, I would've told them they were nuts."

Claire is a scientist, she believes almost everything can be solved by following the science and hardcore facts.  She especially doesn't believe in ghosts, although graveyards, dark alleys, and basements do terrify her.  Claire's beliefs are sometimes at odds with her dad's business of running the local tour bus of creepy Chicago ghost haunting sites.  One night Claire is forced into helping her dad with one of his tours where she encounters a boy at the back of the bus who mysteriously disappears.  Claire can't explain what she saw, and she certainly can't explain any of the other strange occurrences that start happening to her.  Like the scritch scratch noises in her room, the number 396 that appears written on the bathroom wall and the boy who still seems to be following and frightening her.  What she has determined is that the boy wants her to find something so Claire seeks help from her older brother Sam, her friend Casley and a new girl, Emily to unravel the mystery of what the boy wants.                  

I really liked Claire, on the exterior she seems like a practical and logical thinker but she also gets scared and counts aloud as a strategy when she's in scary situations, like walking down a dark alley.  I loved how she used the scientific method as a way to help her solve the mystery of the boy's identity, setting up her experiment, analyzing the data, and drawing a conclusion.  Such fun.  I also really liked Casley.  Claire and Casley's friendship was starting to drift ever since Emily came into the picture.  She's visible hurt by their budding friendship and doesn't really know how to communicate that to Casley so she tries to avoid the situation but Casley (Cas) keeps pulling her back into the fold, which I absolutely loved.  Cas helps Claire realize that you can have more than one friend.  That she shouldn't judge Emily based on appearances.  Everyone has problems, some are not visible or maybe that they just aren't ready to share them yet.  Either way, Casley wanted Claire to give Emily a chance.  I also really liked Claire's older brother Sam.  They may fight and bicker as siblings often do, but Sam really comes through when Claire needs him the most.  The story illustrates the importance of family and sharing our fears.  People may step up and have solutions if we relay our concerns.    

I love spooky stories and Currie is very talented in writing them, giving them just the right amount of tension and scary bits.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the mystery surrounding the identity of the ghost boy that follows Claire home.  I enjoyed the setting of Chicago and the way that Currie wove a historical event like the S.S. Eastland rolling over into the Chicago River into the story.  Scritch Scratch is creepy and spooky which makes this a perfect read for Halloween.       

        **  Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Sourcebooks for the E-ARC.  **     

Monday, August 10, 2020

MG Fantasy review of The Words of the Wandering (The Crowns of Croswald #3) by D.E. Night

The Crowns of Croswald:  The Words of the Wandering by D.E. Night
Publisher:  Stories Untold
Format:  Paperback
Number of pages:  294
Published:  May 30th, 2020
Source: Purchased 

Opening Line:  "The Dark Queen sat shrouded in shadow on her elevated throne."

From Goodreads:  Ivy Lovely needs to look to the future but keeps being pulled back into the past...

As Ivy’s power grows, so does the Dark Queen’s intent to destroy her. Ivy has no idea where to find the third segment of the Kindred Stone, the stone which will restore all her queenly power.   A circus ends in chaos, an enemy turns over a new leaf, a protector can’t be trusted.  Can Ivy work with friends––new and old––to recover what was lost? 

The Worlds of Wandering is the third book in the Crowns of Croswald series, I'd recommend starting with The Crowns of Croswald  and The Girl With the Whispering Shadow before reading D.E. Night's latest book to really appreciate the characters and plot. 

Ivy Lovely is the true Queen, rightful heir to the kingdom of Croswald, but unable to take her place on the throne until she can gather the three pieces of the Kindred Stone and restore her power.  Thus far, Ivy has managed to locate two of the three pieces, but the final piece has been very elusive.   With graduation now complete at the Halls of Ivy, Fyn is off to start his investigator training with the Mattler's and Ivy is headed with Rebecca to Castle Connell until the start of the new term.  With Belzebuthe having been destroyed, there are few places left that are safe from the Dark Queen's watchful eye.  Ivy's summer at the castle is filled with dragon rides, spending quality time with Rebecca and combing for answers within the pages of The Book of Wandering, a book that details the history of her family and the curse that was placed on them many years ago.

When I first saw the new cover, I was really excited about the possibility of Ivy and her friends going to the circus.  Imaging how it would be incorporated into the story.  Sadly the circus doesn't appear until much later in the story, yet I loved that it is the place Fyn takes Ivy to on their first date.  Unfortunately, it doesn't end up being the happy occasion they had hoped for.  

Not to say that I didn't enjoy reading The Words of Wandering, I really did love the story.  Night's books are always so magical.  It's just that the pacing of the Worlds of Wandering was a tad slower.  But I read Night's books for her beautiful style of writing, how she includes all of these rich details into her passages to really immerse you into the magical world of Croswald.  I love reading the details about the classes that Rebecca and Ivy take within the Halls of Ivy and the way that she is able hit all of your senses, from the architecture of the buildings, to the sights and sounds of the castle and Belzebuthe, to the scrumptious sounding foods they eat.   In each book of the series we learn new details about the magical system of Scrivenists, the people who utilize quills, ink and parchment to record the details of events.  And I found myself fascinated by inklink's, teledetecting and Ivy's enlightening trips into a magical bottle or Glanagerie, that felt similar to a penseive.   It's very reminiscent of reading the Harry Potter series for me, well at least gives me that same sort of feeling and  especially enjoyed the slight nod to Dumbleldore's Army with the recruiting for the Quality Quills Club (QQC).  Although the trials for the QQC sounded quite challenging, and especially dangerous.   There's just so much to love here. 

Ivy has come a long way across this series.  She's gaining strength in her magic and getting closer toward her goal, having acquired a new piece of the kindred stone with each new book.  Much of the current story was spent looking into her families past and learning more about her parents.  Some events from earlier books were explained and there were a few especially heartbreaking moments that were challenging for Ivy.  I was worried about her spiraling into a depression, but happy that her friends were able to help her move forward.  Then there's Rebecca, Ivy's best friend, their friendship keeps expanding and she's just the kind of person that Ivy needs, supportive and caring, a shoulder to cry on if you need it.  Overall this has been a lovely series to immerse myself in, though I was a little surprised by the cliffhanger ending, I'm even more eager to read the next book in the series to see what happens next.   

Thursday, August 6, 2020

MG Fantasy review of The Blue Witch by Alane Adams, illustrations by Jonathan Stroh

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The Blue Witch by Alane Adams, illustrations by Jonathan Stroh
Series:  Book One of the Witches of Orkney
Format:  Paperback
Publisher:  SparkPress
Number of Pages:  216
Published:  October 23rd, 2018
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line: "The two riders raced through the woods shrouded in mist and hanging moss."

The prologue begins with a moment reminiscent of the movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone where Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall are worrying over Harry's future.  In The Blue Witch, Odin and Vor, the goddess of wisdom come upon a witch who has been killed and a baby crying in the woods.  Odin sends the baby to Old Nan,  a witch from Creche to keep her safe.   At the age of nine all witchlings of Creche begin their training at the Tarkana Witch Academy.  Abigail is excited to be starting her training and a little concerned because her magic hasn't seemed to come in yet.  Does that mean she might be a Glitch-Witch?  A witch without magic like Calla?  On Abigail's first day at the academy she has a run in with a trio of bullies, Glorian, Nelly and Endera.  Endera is the most horrible of all the witchlings in the coven and she has made it her goal to make Abigail's time at the academy miserable.  She does everything in her power to keep Abigail friendless and will pull every evil trick in her spell book to get her kicked out for good.  Then one day Abigail meets Hugo, a boy scientist from the Balfin School for Boys.  Hugo drops from a tree and intervenes when he see's Endera trying to bully Abigail once again.  The two escape the trio by running into the swamp where they come under attack, to save them Abigail calls upon her magic and is able to protect Hugo.  However, Abigail's magic is unlike any other witches in the Tarkana Witches Academy, her's is blue not the usual emerald-green.  Unsure of what this means, Abigail and Hugo vow to find answers but there search leads them to more questions about just who Abigail's parents are and why her magic is different.               

The Blue Witch is the first book of the prequel to The Legends of Orkney series.  It doesn't appear that you need to have read the Legends of Orkney prior to reading The Witches of Orkney, as some of the events are alluded to in the prologue and provide enough of the backstory to allow you to flow into the current plot easily.  The black and white illustrations by Jonathan Stroh are lovely and really add to the story, the cover is a really good example of his style.      

There are quite a few similarities between The Blue Witch and Harry Potter that I really enjoyed.  There's a magical school, teachers and classes in potions, magical creatures and spells.  Although, I personally would have loved to read more about the classes and the magical system.  There's an orphan who knows nothing about their parents and doesn't have any magical abilities to begin.  There's a prophecy and a hinting at a war to come.  At first you think that the bullies have the upper hand, but then Abigail and Hugo figure out some defense spells.   Abigail struggles with trying to be a good witch, she knows her heart is supposed to be made of stone, but she craves having friends.  Calla's motives at the beginning kind of threw me off at first, I was never really sure whether she wanted to help Abigail or get her into more trouble.  Abigail appears to be destined for great things, and like Harry there's a pull to have her join the dark side.  Abigail learns in the end that she needs to make a choice, what kind of witch does she want to be?  Will she be merciful and kind or slip into performing more dark magic?  I quite enjoyed this introductory book to the series, sure it has Harry Potter vibes, but there's still a whole new set of magical beasts and the subplot with Odin, the prophecy and the revelation of who Abigail's parents were was interesting and kept me wanting to read more.  The story moves along at a good pace, has some hints of Norse mythology and a fun budding friendship between Abigail and her scientist friend Hugo.  I'm looking forward to reading The Rubicus Prophecy next.   ** Thank you to SparkPress for the review copy**

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