With Cinders & Sparrows, Stefan Bachmann has written a gothic novel for middle grade readers. Given the genre, his book incorporates ghosts, spirits, hauntings, misty woods, gloomy environs, enchanted chambers and staircases, talking trees and a marble bust who claims to be a prince. The novel’s plot revolves around twelve-year-old Zita Brydgeborn and her discovery that she is not an orphan after all but a member of the Brydgeborn family of witches and the heiress to Blackbird Castle. With Mrs. Cantanker as her teacher, Zita receives all sorts of training—some of it oddly questionable. Still, according to Mrs. Cantanker, “A true Blackbird is graced withRead More →

Despite there being few absolutes in this world, the human brain finds comfort in its ability to classify something as good or evil, right or wrong.  The unfamiliar or mysterious makes humans uneasy and fearful.  Shelby Mahurin explores this truth in her recent book Serpent and Dove, a story that takes place in a world of shadows, rituals, and magic. The characters that populate this setting in seventeenth-century France include Coco Monvoisin, a Dames Rouges—a red witch whose blood is a powerful ingredient in most enchantments. Wild, unpredictable, and sometimes dangerous, their magic is not bound by any laws or rules, unlike that of theRead More →

Fans of Alice Hoffman’s Nightbird or Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events will likely enjoy Temre Beltz’s new tweens novel, The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom with its fractured fairy tale elements, its message that words matter, and its invitation to believe in magic. Set in Wanderly, a kingdom that lives “by the book,” Birdie Bloom is a Tragical, an orphan sentenced to live out her days at Foulweather’s Home for the Tragical, “a house full of bad endings” (16).  The children living here have been brainwashed by Mistress Octavia—who manages to put a damper on everything with her sinister plotting—to believe that they are nothing,Read More →