I've been trying to catch up on my gigantic TBR pile, so YAY for reading! I even have some grownup books to read, but today is all about speculative fiction!
The first one is a real charmer called The Grace of Wild Things by Heather Fawcett. It's about Grace, an orphan, who is living a fairly bleak existence in an orphanage but at 12 has decided to go and get trained up as a witch. She's pretty sure she has magical powers-her best friend is a crow that she rescued and she can understand him-he likes poetry and helps out when he can. She also can recognize people for what they are so when she approaches the witch, who looks like a friendly grandmother, she can see past her disguise to the evil witch that she truly is, which is what Grace aspires to be. Except that this witch cooks and eats children, so first Grace has to talk her way out of being the evening's main course. After that, Grace gets the witch to agree to take her on as an apprentice, but Grace first has to prove that she actually has magical powers, so the agreement is that Grace will have several months to work all the spells in the witch's grimoire. If she can do that, the witch will train her. If Grace can't manage that, the witch will take all her powers and Grace will just be an ordinary person. To keep up appearances, the witch buys Grace new clothes and enrolls her in school and Grace makes her first friend, Sareena. She also meets her first magical creature, a fairy named Rum, who becomes her slave when Grace rescues him from a magical tree. The whole story is just wonderfully fun-Grace is the opposite of the witch, kind hearted and generous, but with a steely will for justice. Her magical education is less about instruction and more about discovery and so readers will feel opening their own minds to possibilities could lead all sorts of interesting places. The whole story had an Anne of Green Gables or Pollyanna kind of vibe to it but I really liked this book a lot and I think middle grade readers are going to love this one too. It comes out in February 2023.
The next one is magical folkloric coming of age tale. It's called Where the Black Flowers Bloom and it's written by Ronald L. Smith. You might have read some of his other works like Hoodoo or The Mesmerist or The Black Panther: Young Prince. The main character in Black Flowers is Asha, a girl about to move from childhood into adulthood, or at least young adulthood. She lives with a group of traveling performers who took her in as a small child. Suna is the one who looks after her and is like a mother to Asha. Asha feels like she doesn't have any particular talents and is looking forward to the ceremony where she will receive her mark (a symbol on her body that will appear) so that she knows what kinds of things she will do as an adult. Except that the mark that appears on her back is different from anything anyone has seen. Suna isn't quite sure what it means, so she starts sending letters to her contacts but before she hears back, their community is attacked by men disguised as birds. Suna is killed and Asha flees with the only member of her community that she knows survived and together they vow to avenge Suna. Except things are not always what they seem. They pick up a fellow traveler named Sprix who has a secret of his own and then they meet one of Suna's sisters who starts filling in the pieces of Asha's life, the mark on her back and her mission. I don't want to ruin the unfolding of this compelling and exciting story, but let me just tell you, I couldn't put it down. It's very fast paced and gets right to the point of the story so I think the middle kids are going to love this one. It comes out this week! Don't miss it! Isn't this cover stunning?