Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Review of Kingston and the Echoes of Magic by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi

Each year, I look forward to reading the books that are nominated for the Cybils Award and this year seemed like such a stealer year for nominations!  Our short-list was probably the longest I've ever seen since I started judging.  Of the 118 books nominated in speculative fiction, I read 100% of 85 books and another 6 to the half-way point.  One year, I hope to be able to read all the nominations.  

For today, I want to focus on a book that came my way in the middle of judging.  I've included a link to my review of the first book, Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found , which also happened to have been nominated for the Cybils.  I hope you'll check it out.  The story was conceived by writer Harold Hayes, Jr. and Craig S. Phillips who co-wrote the book under the pen name Rucker Moses, they were joined by Theo Gangi and wrote the books as a tribute to Benjamin Rucker, aka Black Herman, one of the greatest real-life Black magicians from the early 20th Century.  Excitedly, Disney is also working on a movie based off the first book in the series.      

Kingston and the Echoes of Magic by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi
Format:  Hardcover 
Publisher:  G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Number of pages:  304 
Published:  October 12th, 2021
Source: Publisher via MB Communications

Opening Line:  "I've been here before."

At the end of the first book, Kingston's pops remained trapped in the Realm and his one wish continued to be to find a way to bring him back to Echo City, Brooklyn.  As the sequel opened, Echo City was plagued by blackouts and Kingston was having these lucid dreams, and feelings of deja vu, like he was repeating the same day over and over, to the point that he could predict what would happen next, even what people would say.  Then on a train ride back to Echo City, Vernoica (V) experiences the same moment as Kingston and together they realize that they are stuck in a loop, reliving the same experiences or echos of reality, sort of like in the movie Groundhog Day.  It also appeared Maestro, the magician connected to Kingston's pops disappearance, was up to his old tricks and might be the one responsible for altering their timeline, causing the time loop.   They also uncovered Maestro's plan to send a comet to destroy their reality.  Once again, Kingston, his cousin V and their friend Too Tall will need to return to the Realm, find pops and set things right.

Kingston and the Echoes of Magic moves along at a much faster pace than the first book, which made me love it even more.  I've always liked how the authors included portals and echoes of previous time periods in the story, even if I don't understand all the magic and science behind it, it never took away from my enjoyment.  It was also fun to watch the trio connect with their family in the past and see a younger version of their parents (think something like Back to the Future).  This time they made some surprising discoveries, uncovered new clues, and there were some sweet reunions.  I also really enjoyed learning more about Black Herman, various Italian magicians, the pieces on immortality and especially the way that the Egyptian gods were incorporated into the story. I know I'm being kind of vague, but I don't want to give too much of the story away.  Truthfully, I wish these books were receiving more attention, they're exciting, packed full of magic and I loved the setting of Brooklyn, home to the pizza pie, subway and grand Mercury Theater.  

  ** A huge thank you to G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers and MB Communications for kindly sending me my review copy. **        


Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters

The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters
Format:  E-ARC from Netgalley 
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Number of pages:  256
Publishing:  January 18th, 2022
Source:  Grace Fell from SparkPress 

Opening Lines: "Hello. My name is Logan Foster.  I do not know your name, but if you are reading this, it means I am your big brother.  That is a fact."

Ever since Logan was found wandering an empty airport jetway, his life has revolved between potential foster homes and the El Segundo Transitional Orphanage. Logan hasn't had a successful match yet, mostly because his perspective parents don't understand his eidetic memory, Developmental Coordination Disorder or haven't had any experience with a neurodiverse child.  However, things appear to be looking up when Gil and Margie arrive hoping to be Logan's latest perspective parents (PP).  Logan initially has misgivings about why they want to foster him, but his curiosity about the couple wins him over.  The more time they spend together, the more questions Logan begins to have.  Like why doesn't Gil ever have a meal with them?  And why do they both seem to disappear in the middle of the night without an explanation?  Then just as Gil and Margie are about to have a heart-to-heart talk with him, everything changes, Logan finds out their secret identity and that they work for a secret organization called MASC (Multinational Authority for Superhuman Control), and that they all are being targeted by a supervillain, Necros, who has been behind the devastating earthquakes in Los Angeles.  

One of the things that I loved about The Unforgettable Logan Foster was Logan's voice.  I enjoyed the way he internalizes dialogue and then just says what he's feeling.  There's lots of humor and a sensitivity in that voice.  I also enjoyed the way he made lists to organize information and his love for stating the facts.  Not to mention his incredible memory for details.  When Logan was found on the jetway, the only two pieces of information available were a note attached to his shirt with "L. Foster" and that the t-shirt he was wearing said, "World's Best Big Brother."  It's because of these two facts that he is confident that he has a sibling somewhere out there.  The whole story is written as a letter to his unknown sibling with each chapter timestamped with the date.  Logan tries to highlight the events that his sibling missed out on, while also expressing everything that he is doing to try and find them.  Another thing I truly enjoyed was Logan's tenacity and how he utilizes his innate talents to overcome the obstacles thrown at him by Necros.  Logan is truly a remarkable main character, unforgettable and one I can see children rooting for.  I found myself excited for his newfound family and the potential of learning more about Logan's birth parents and possible sibling in any future book.
**A huge thank you to Madison and Grace Fell from SparkPress for the E- ARC in exchange for a review**           

Saturday, January 1, 2022

2021 Cybils Award Finalist list: Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction


The seven finalists' moving on to the second-round judges have been announced.   Here are the summaries for the books that were selected, and you can see the complete list here.  Happy New Year to you all.  Brenda

Ophie's Ghost 

by Ireland, Justina

Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Darshana Khiani

After a white mob kills her father and burns their home, Ophie and her mother leave the Jim Crow south of the 1920s for Pittsburgh and both find work at the huge home of a wealthy family. It is a house full of ghosts, and Ophie can see and communicate with them. One restless spirit becomes a friend, and Ophie sets out to uncover the mystery of her death. She finds a story of passion, racial prejudice, and, she begins to suspect, murder…and unwittingly she gives the ghost herself the power to take matters into her own (ghostly) hands. But a ghost with power is a danger to everyone around it….and things get scary. This a lovely immersive read, blending ghosts and a gripping murder mystery with the daily life of a very real and relatable girl dealing with the racist realities of her life, her grief over her father, her lost hope for an education, and her worries for her mother.

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Library

Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations, 1)
by Alston, B. B.
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Melissa Fox

This fast-paced, high-stakes story will delight readers as it entertains with wild and complicated magic (and yetis!) while offering myriad moral dilemmas and real-world social critique. Amari, a preteen Black girl, lives in the projects, and when her big brother Quinton goes missing the police assume he’s involved in illegal activities and don’t try hard to find him. Amari can’t believe this, but soon discovers Quinton was hiding his work as a lead agent at the very secretive and selective Bureau of Supernatural Affairs (BSA), and he’d arranged to have Amari try for a place at the BSA school. She leaps at the opportunity, hoping to find her brother. She soon discovers that prejudice, class distinction, and bullies are just as present at the BSA as they are back home. With danger mounting, and with newfound powerful magic of her own, Amari won’t let anything stop her from finding her brother.

Jennifer Miller, Raise them Righteous

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls
by Rivera, Kaela
Nominated by: MPFB

When Cece was seven, she got lost and Tzitzimitl, a criatura, one of the powerful spirits who roam the desert, brought her home. For this kindness, Tzitzimitl was attacked, as the villagers of Tierra del Sol believe that criaturas are evil and that only those that practice dark magic, like brujas, can control them. When Cece sets Tzitzimitl free, the villagers thought she cursed Cece. Years later, on the night of Noche de Muerte, when criaturas are released into the world, CeCe’s older sister Juana is kidnapped by the powerful dark criatura El Sombrerón. In order to save her sister, Cece must enter the Bruja Fights, but only if she can find criaturas who are willing to align with her. Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls is a fast-paced story, inspired by stories the author’s abuelo told her growing up. With its vivid Southwest setting, inclusion of Mexican folklore, and beautiful themes of family, love, friendship, sacrifice and the importance of kindness, Cece will instantly capture the reader’s heart.

Brenda Tjaden, Log Cabin Library

Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom
by Mandanna, Sangu
Viking Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: H Pacheco

When 12-year-old Kiki’s anxiety overwhelms her, she makes drawings of the Indian folklore-inspired world of Mysore. Then the demon god Mahishasura and his demon Asura spring to life, and Kiki must enter her sketchbook and the world she drew to help The Crows, kid rebels of her own invention, defeat Mahishasura. If she fails, Mahishasura will enter the real world and enslave the human race, but if she succeeds, the drawn world and the new friends she makes there will cease to exist. This is a fast-paced, exciting, and hugely imaginative adventure, with wonderful characters, and a heroine who, faced with a terrible choice, is determined to find a way to save everyone but must learn to trust herself and her own strengths in order to do so.

Valinora Troy, Valinora Troy

The Last Cuentista
by Higuera, Donna Barba
Levine Querido
Nominated by: Elinor Isenberg

In this riveting science fiction story about a dystopian future, Petra Peña, a 12-year-old girl from New Mexico who wants to be a storyteller, must set out on a 380 year journey into space when Early is destroyed by a rogue comet. But instead of waking up from stasis a few hundred years later at the planet that will be her new home, with her parents and brother next to her, she wakes up to a dystopian nightmare–the original plans for the mission have been subverted by zealots determined to brainwash all remaining humanity into complete conformity. Only Petra retains any memories of Earth, and she is the last reservoir of its stories. This stunner of a book has big themes of familial love and loyalty, adaptability, resilience, finding your own voice and the power of storytelling throughout history. The vivid writing and compelling plot twists make it hard to put down!

Debbie Tanner, The Book Search

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy
by Ursu, Anne
Walden Pond Press
Nominated by: Reshama

Marya is on fire with the injustice of life–everyone thinks her big brother will one day be a sorcerer, so he’s taught to read and gets fine clothes while she cleans the chicken coop and takes care of the goat. Her only comfort is the village weaver, Madame Bandu, who teaches her of the symbols that women have hidden in their tapestries even as they tell men’s stories. When Marya finds herself ordered to the School for Troubled Girls, in a far-off castle, she’s caught in a mystery involving not just the generations of girls sent to the school, but the magical, and deadly, Dread that is plaguing the kingdom. This Eastern-European inspired fantasy is a lovely, immersive story of undaunted girls using brains and courage to smash magical patriarchies, skillfully showing how strict social roles are damaging for both boys and girls.

Katy Kramp, A Library Mama

Too Bright to See
by Lukoff, Kyle
Dial Books
Nominated by: Terry Doherty

Although middle school can be nerve-wracking and scary for anyone, for eleven-year-old Bug, try adding in a legitimately haunted house and a mysterious dead uncle to contend with, all while deciphering subjects like makeup, friendship, and gender identity. This emotionally rich novel delves into complex topics, such as loss, family, and queerness through the lens of its characters, allowing it to remain wholly accessible and entertaining to its target audience and beyond. The writing is perfect for fans of magical realism, utilizing its supernatural angle to tackle the deepest questions, drawing parallels to how we all can feel at odds with ourselves in a truly haunting way.

Elakya Thirumoorthy