Review: The League of Shadows

“‘I’m from here,’ I reminded her for what felt like the zillionth time. This whole thing started back in first grade when we’d been partners for a cultural heritage project…” page 21

Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows (Charlie Hernández #1) by Ryan Calejo.
Aladdin, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, New York, 2018.
Middle grade fantasy, 330 pages including glossary.
Lexile:  780L  .
AR Level:  5.4 (worth 10.0 points)  .

Charlie Hernández has already experienced the worst day of his life – when his home burned to the ground and his parents disappeared.  So when shortly after that he grows horns, then feathers, it’s just baseline awful.  The county is having trouble finding him a temporary guardian, and softball star Alice Coulter tortures him for fun.

Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows cover resized

Although the summary sounds rather bleak, this isn’t an overly dark or negative book.  Charlie is pragmatic and determined, although not unaffected by his situation.  He is grieving his parents, grappling with his own identity, and facing the normal struggles of any middle school student.  Like another speculative fiction book I often recommend, this story also includes realistic microaggressions.

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Review: The Magic Paintbrush

“When Steve grasped the painting, it tingled against his fingertips. He felt as if he had rubbed his shoes fast over a carpet.” p. 19

The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep, illustrated by Suling Wang.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 2000.
Historical fantasy, 90 pages.
Lexile:  530L  .
AR Level:  3.8 (worth 2.0 points)  .

Eight-year-old Steve’s parents and all of his belongings are gone after a tragic fire, and now he shares a single room in Chinatown with his grandfather and Uncle Fong (no relation but a childhood friend of Grandfather’s).  They are so poor that after his paintbrush split in art class, he’s afraid to go home and tell his Grandfather, knowing that a new one is not possible.

The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep cover resized
The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep, illustrated by Suling Wang.

For a book with magic in the title, this book takes a while to get to the fantasy part.  The first chapters are all about establishing the setting – early 1960s San Francisco – and characters.  The tale of a magic paintbrush given to a poor boy who uses it to spread happiness is a Chinese story that has been retold many times, mostly in picture books.  Yep has a unique historical Chinese-American spin to his version though.

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Review: Ghosts of Greenglass House

“It was a little thing, but sometimes the smallest details were far more important than they seemed.” p. 178

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy/mystery, 471 pages including preview of the next book.
Lexile:  800L  .
AR Level:  5.5 (worth 17.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the second book in the Greenglass House series.

It’s Christmastime at Greenglass House again, and except for one pesky visitor, it seems that this year things will be back to normal – a quiet family vacation for 13-year-old Milo and his parents.  Then the bell rings…

Greenglass House 2 cover resized
Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.

Since this is the second book in a mystery series, it will contain some spoilers from the first book.  The synopsis above and my final recommendation at the very end will be spoiler-free.

Kate Milford is back with another successful mystery/fantasy.  This book is far more fantastical than the first installment, although there are still elements of a mystery and secrets to be uncovered.  As previously, there is an ensemble cast, with Milo at the center of the story.  About half the characters are from the previous books, with a whole set of new people descending on Greenglass House from the Liberty, a free space for asylum which some people in the city confuse with a mental asylum.

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Review: Greenglass House

“One of the problems with knowing nothing about the family that you were born into was that you never really stopped wondering about it. At least, Milo didn’t.” p. 53

Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014.
MG mystery/fantasy, 392 pages (including sneak peek at the next book).
Lexile:  800L  .
AR Level:  5.4 (worth 15.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Greenglass House series.

Milo’s parents run, and live in, a smuggler’s inn – running prohibited goods is popular because Nagspeake is practically run by the Deacon and Morvengarde catalog company, and their place used to be the home of notorious smuggler Doc Holystone.  But even a smuggler’s inn is usually quiet during Christmas vacation in heavy snowfall.  So Milo’s understandably perturbed when a surprise guest turns up, and then another, and then another…

Greenglass House cover resized
Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.

I nearly passed over this book when compiling my diverse fantasy list.  First because before reading, I couldn’t easily tell if it even was diverse.  The cover features the eponymous house, and while the blurb describes Milo as adopted, it doesn’t say anything about his race, so I was doubting if it would be a good candidate for this blog.  But lately I’ve been including some books about adoption, fostering, and kinship care, even if they aren’t necessarily otherwise diverse.  Then I got the book and started reading.

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Review: The Real Boy

“He looked at the note. Writing it had taken an eternity, and by all rights the words should have transformed into poetry somehow.” p. 284

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire.
Walden Pond Press Imprint, HarperCollins, New York, 2013.
MG fantasy, 341 pages.
Lexile:  730L .
AR Level:  4.9 (worth 10.0 points)  .

Oscar is content to mix up packages, serve the most powerful magician in the Barrow, avoid the cruel apprentice, and ignore the existence of the city of Asteri and the wealthy patrons who come to seek the magic his master makes.  His world is orderly and known, his thoughts consumed with plants and trees and cats.  Until disaster strikes and upends his life.

The Real Boy by Ursu
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire.

I’ve been wanting to read this book since 2016.  AICL doesn’t have a review, but found it good enough to mention in passing twice, first within the review of another book and then again at the end of this short story review (which reminds me I want to get to that book also).

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Review: Aru Shah and the End of Time

“Words did have power. When she said the word Pandava, all the feelings that came from discovering who she really was uncoiled like a spring jumping to life.” p. 33

Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava Series #1) by Roshani Chokshi.
Rick Riordan Presents, Disney Hyperion, New York, 2018.
MG fantasy, 356 pages including glossary.
Lexile:  630L  .
AR Level:  4.7  (worth 12.0 points)  .

Aru didn’t mean to bring about the end of the universe.  She was just trying to impress the so-called friends who caught her in a lie.  But then it also turns out that she’s been learning all those old folktales from her mom for a reason.

Aru Shah and the End of Time cover

I’m constantly shocked when I go to look up my review for this book and then realize that I’ve never yet reviewed it, although I’ve been referencing it since this May 2018 review.  We’ve actually read it several times already too.  Clearly it’s past time that I review this novel!

Aru Shah was the story that kicked off the much-anticipated Riordan Presents imprint, so it got a lot of buzz.  The first volume was well-received and by this time the third has been announced.  Beyond the obvious critical reviews, our family has also highly enjoyed reading Aru’s adventures.

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Review: The Savage Fortress

“The air turned foggy, and Ash’s sweat turned to ice. He sank to the ground, his body wracked with pain.” page 164

The Savage Fortress (Ash Mistry #1) by Sarwat Chadda.
Arthur A. Levine, Scholastic, New York, 2012.
MG fantasy, 292 pages.
Lexile:  660L  .
AR Level:  4.6 (worth 10.0 points)  .

Ash Mistry is the pudgy video-game-loving Indian mythology nerd we never realized we needed to save the world.  Spending the summer with his sister visiting his aunt and uncle, he gets caught up in a strange archaeological dig, which leads to even stranger events.

Ash Mistry The Savage Fortress resized

This past year, two debut MG fantasy series drawing from Indian culture have gotten a lot of buzz – Aru Shah in the Rick Riordan imprint, and Scholastic’s Kiranmala Chronicles.  But those series are only releasing about one per year, so what’s a fantasy lover to do in the meantime?  Binge this already-completed trilogy, of course!

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