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#AprilA2ZChallenge complete – for the 11th year!

April A-to-Z Blog Challenge logo. Blogging from A to Z

Every year, I wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with the A2Z Challenge.

Every year, I do recommend a double-handful of new middle grade and young adult books in April that might not be on your radar if you rely on bestseller lists for recommendations.

Every year, a few more folks stop by and comment on the titles I’ve highlighted – welcome!

Thanks again to the #AprilA2Z organizers for providing great graphics, inspiration, and a hub for us bloggers to congregate around as we keep on working to communicate our particular passions to the world.

Now – back to my regular 2-3 times weekly posting schedule, even though there are SO many great new books to recommend!

What was your #AprilA2Z favorite? (Check the tag A2Z for all my April recommendations)
**kmm

W is for weaving & crafting with NETTLE & BONE she must master to stop great evil, by T. Kingfisher (book review) #A2Z

book cover of Nettle & Bone, by T. Kingfisher. Published by Tor | recommended on BooksYALove.com

A kingdom threatened,
no prince as heir,
daughters as pawns… or not.

Third daughter of a king with no sons, 15-year-old Marra is hidden away at a convent, remaining within its walls for years and years, as her older sisters are married in political alliances to save their tiny kingdom.

The weaving and healing skills she learns there will serve her well as now-grown Marra flees the security of Our Lady of Grackles, seeking ways to save her sister from the brutal prince of the Northern Kingdom.

She travels far and then farther to find the powerful dust-wife who communes with the dead and has the magic she needs. The spell requires Marra to make a cloak from nettles and cursed wool, to fashion a dog from bones, and bring moonlight in a jar – three impossible tasks (and she does them).

Away they go to kill the prince – Marra and Bone Dog, the dust-wife and her demon-possessed hen, through enchanted marketplaces and haunted lands, releasing from ensorcelment a man who unwisely slept in a fairy fort.

Secrets of the Northern Kingdom lie deeply buried in the crypts beneath its palace – danger and doom.

Its king lost in madness, the terrible prince rules with an iron fist and paranoia.

How to infiltrate the crypts? How to steer all blame from Marra’s sister? How to escape with their own lives?

A princess exists solely for the kingdom’s benefit, but not Marra…

Just published yesterday (4/26/22) – read the first two chapters on the publisher’s website here, free!

What non-traditional princess story is your favorite?
**kmm

Book info: Nettle & Bone / T. Kingfisher. Tor, 2022. [author info] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

T is for Trix, family secrets & A CONSTELLATION OF ROSES, by Miranda Asebedo (YA book review) #A2Z

book cover of A Constellation of Roses, by Miranda Asebedo. Published by Harper Teen | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Thieving is a gift,
all that Trix has now
since Mom has gone again.

Running away from that foster home wasn’t her best idea, but Trixie knows that if drug-addicted Mom is coming back, she’ll come to this cheap motel – exactly where her social worker finds the 17-year-old and takes her to relatives on her dad’s side, a family she never knew about.

Her aunt Mia bakes amazing pies, almost magical Lucky Lime, Never-Lonely Lemon – all the McCabe women have some kind of gift, according to her great-aunt. Eventually her very quiet teen cousin Ember will tell Trix about her gift, maybe.

What’s a streetwise teen with a gift for undetectable theft going to do in this tiny Kansas country town? Live with her aunt and graduate from high school – or go to prison! Okay… but Trix missed so much school that it’ll take two years to finish now!

She’s sketched since she could hold a stolen pencil, so art class is fine (artistic just like her late father, folks say), and some of the students are okay, like Jasper who helps with pie deliveries.

How did Jasper’s brother die last year?
Why does everyone in Rocksaw have a different story of how her dad died?
What future does her great-aunt see in Trix’s palm?

Putting down roots like the climbing roses at the McCabe house or blowing away with the drifters in the city – Trix thinks and thinks…

What paranormal gift would you choose, if you knew it was in control?
**kmm

Book info: A Constellation of Roses / Miranda Asebedo. Harper Teen, hardcover 2019, paperback 2021. [author site] [publisher site] Personal collection; cover image courtesy of the publisher.

O is for ALL OUR HIDDEN GIFTS with cards, candle, dark waters! by Caroline O’ Donoghue (YA book review) #A2Z

book cover of All Our Hidden Gifts, by Caroline O'Donoghue. Published by Walker Books US | recommended on BooksYALove.com

In-school suspension (again),
Storeroom clean-out (boring),
Tarot card deck…hmmm.

Falling behind in high school, Maeve longs for the days when her four much-older siblings lived at home so she wasn’t Mum and Dad’s only focus.

The tarot cards she found in the school basement storage are more interesting than her classes, for sure, especially as she studies more about them online.

Soon her circle of acquaintances at their all-girls school is asking her to do tarot readings for them, with pal Fiona as scheduler, earning Maeve some pocket money and a tiny bit of popularity.

It all goes bust after a unique card appears in a reading for her former best friend Lily. Maeve doesn’t know what it means, so she left it at home! When quiet, hard-of-hearing Lily says it’s all done just for attention, Maeve snaps that she wishes that Lily would disappear. That’s the last time anyone sees Lily…

The police have questions for Maeve several days later; so does Lily’s big brother Roe whom Maeve began talking to just as this tarot thing began. Of course, the headmistress confiscates the tarot deck.

Days crawl along with no progress, as slow as the river Beg through their Irish city. Maeve’s dreams include gender-fluid Roe and his band, the mysterious Housekeeper on the unique card, and eventually Lily by the river. And the tarot deck brings itself to Maeve’s house.

Is the Housekeeper more than ink on a card?
Who will believe that she has taken Lily?
How can the three teens bring her back without losing themselves?

The power of wishing, the power of hope, the power of learning to love your true self – don’t miss this UK novel brought to American readers by Walker Books US – in hardcover now, paperback release in May 2022 – read the first chapter here, free courtesy of the publisher.

What hidden gift has graced your life as you’ve gotten older?
**kmm

Book info: All Our Hidden Gifts / Caroline O’Donoghue. Walker Books US, 2021. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

M is for THE MAN OF THE MOON AND OTHER STORIES FROM GREENLAND, retold by Gunvor Bjerre & Charlotte Barslund, art by Miki Jacobsen (book review) #A2Z

book cover of The Man of the Moon and Other Stories From Greenland / retold by Gunvor Bjerre; translated by Charlotte Barslund; illustrated by Miki Jacobsen. Published by Inhabit Media | recommended on BooksYALove.com

So many folktales, you’ve heard over and over, with slight variations and “happily ever after” to soothe modern listeners.

Not so with this collection introducing us to long-ago stories from Greenland that most folks nowadays have never encountered.

These stories told by elders and parents during the long, dark Arctic winters reflect the difficulties of living in brutally cold terrain where one mistake during a hunt can doom a whole village.

Many begin with “Once upon a time…” like “The Wild Geese Who Made the Blind Boy See” as they punished his greedy grandmother and “Manutooq, Whose Daughters Drifted to Akilineq on an Ice Floe” after their father abandons them on a hunting trip.

It was dangerous to ignore warnings – don’t shout at a harpoonist hunting in their qajaq (kayak) like “The Old Man Who Trapped Children Inside a Rock” and never be rude toward a shaman or else their helper spirits can’t help you find “The Witch Who Abducted Children in Her Amauti.”

Some stories give the history of why things are, like why the Sun and “The Man of the Moon” are never seen at the same time and “The Great Fire, or How the Mussel Came to Be” a coveted food source.

Hunger and death are frequent visitors, and stories of orphans are common – some grow up to be good hunters who provide for all (even after constant bullying), others don’t survive their childhood (even with the help of supernatural beings).

There’s an Inuktitut-English glossary in the back, and illustrations help us place these stories in their habitat of sea and ice, white bears and seals, rocks and snow.

Inhabit Media is based in Nunavut, the northernmost province of Canada, publishing books in English and languages of the First Peoples.

What’s the most unusual “once upon a time” story that you’ve heard?
**kmm

Book info: The Man of the Moon and Other Stories From Greenland / retold by Gunvor Bjerre; translated by Charlotte Barslund; illustrated by Miki Jacobsen. Inhabit Media, 2016. [artist info] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

I is for the Impossible Task they must complete or stay mere WITCHLINGS forever! by Claribel A. Ortega (MG book review) #A2Z

book cover of Witchlings, by Claribel A. Ortega. Published by Scholastic Press | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Not chosen for a coven,
doomed as a Spare –
or complete the Impossible Task!

Seven Salazar is sure she’ll be placed in the same five-witch coven as BFF Poppy at the Black Moon Ceremony, but instead the 12 year old is left out as a Spare with new girl Thorn and bullying classmate Valley.

When their coven bond doesn’t take, Seven invokes the Impossible Task so the three tweens don’t stay Forever Witchlings with limited magic. Even being outcast Spares in their witchy town would be better than no flying.

Consulting the Oracle, the Town Gran announces their Impossible Task: fell a Nightbeast in 21 days or be toadified!

Soon the vicious monstruo Nightbeast will fully waken from hibernation, fed by its minion cucos darting out of the Cursed Forest, seeking food like Seven’s powerfully magical baby brother.

Their families believe in them (except Valley’s haughty rich parents), and the Town Uncle puts protective spells on their houses.

The girls research in the Ravenskill Library and the bookstore that Thorn’s parents now own, practice useful spells (some unapproved for their level, but desperate times…), and begin to trust one another.

Days tick by, and their plan comes together – they’ll have to be as brave as the Witches of Heartbreak Cove in their favorite book series to make it work!

In the long history of the Twelve Towns, only one group of Spares has completed their Impossible Task and bonded as a coven – can these not-quite-friends succeed or will they become toads forever?

The name given at their birth is sign and prophecy – will Seven, Thorn, and Valley discover their true meaning during this ordeal?

Hurry along to your local library or independent bookstore for this exciting just-published book!

What spell would you learn to fight a huge, hungry monstruo?
**kmm

Book info: Witchlings / Claribel A. Ortega. Scholastic Press, 2022. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Best friends vs. sorcery! BEETLE & THE HOLLOWBONES. by Aliza Layne (Graphic novel review)

book cover of Beetle & the Hollowbones, words & art by Aliza Layne; coloring by Natalie Riess & Kristen Acampora. Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Boring little town,
everything’s the same –
until it’s not!!

As a young goblin-witch, Beetle is apprenticed to her Gran, learning potions and trying to master that dratted flying broom… ho-hum, not real magic like sorcery, is it?

At least the 12 year old sometimes can escape those boring lessons and meet her best friend Blob Ghost, who’s cursed to live forever in the mall. She’s tried so many ways to get them out, of course, but the mall basement always pulls them back.

Oh, great – her former best friend Kat is back from the exclusive Academy, apprenticing to witch Marla Hollowbone who controls so much of their town. Kat has already earned her sorcery stone and is eager to learn more spells and secrets from her powerful aunt.

Ack! Blob Ghost tells her that they’ve learned the mall will soon be torn down – on Marla Hollowbone’s orders!

Can a ghost die twice?
How can Beetle free them from their curse?
Will Kat defy her aunt and help?

Into the depths and into the sky, Beetle will try her goblin-witch best to help her friend, even as Marla threatens her Gran! (Yes, sequels to this strongly colored graphic novel are in the works!)

What’s the scariest adventure that you and your best friend ever had?
**kmm

Book info: Beetle & the Hollowbones / words & art by Aliza Layne; coloring by Natalie Riess & Kristen Acampora. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. [author site] [author interview] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

THE COMING STORM of mayhem & magic – can they stand against it? by Regina M. Hansen (YA book review)

book cover of The Coming Storm, by Regina M. Hansen. Published by Atheneum | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Magic in their music,
mysteries in the sea,
strange things on land, strange…

Fishing families on Prince Edward Island live and die by the rhythms of the sea, so young fiddler Beet isn’t scared of it, but she’s wary of shapeshifters and other mystical things said to live under its waves, waiting…

The teen’s beloved cousin is lost at sea in early 1949, appearing to her that night as a ghost playing their uncle’s violin in one final sad tune, just as his son is born. All the more reason for Beet to practice and become the best fiddler on the island.

Beet and baby Joseph hear a woman’s so-haunting song from just over the next dune, perhaps the same song that her uncles heard in 1918 after they followed a beautiful gray horse, then found Sarah and her dead husband on the beach.

Trying to save their horse in 1900 during a terrible storm got the Doucets swept out to sea, and her niece from the States inherited their place. They say the Mrs. stayed youthful and lovely into her forties, then her health suddenly declined despite all her husband’s money.

It’s Marina Shaw who owns the gray horse that Beet and Joseph start to see when they walk the shore, a fancy-dressed lady who knows more about folks here than a newcomer should.

Can Beet and her friends find out who Marina really is?
What’s hidden on the tiny offshore island?
Where has toddling Joseph gone?

Seventeen years and seventeen years and seventeen years…this lyrical story jumps between time periods as mythic creatures and an evil secret threaten all in their island town, with the smallest chance that music and love can overcome many decades of wrongdoing.

What’s your favorite legendary creature of the sea?
**kmm

Book info: The Coming Storm / Regina M. Hansen. Atheneum, 2021. [author site] [author interview] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

A GLASSHOUSE OF STARS, safe or mysterious? by Shirley Marr (MG book review)

A long journey,
an empty house,
so many changes to face!

The trip from their small rural island to the New Land was planned by Uncle, but he died before they reached his huge city.

Now Meixing has her very own room on the second floor of the tall Big Scary house with all its windows like eyes looking out and a top floor with no stairway up – did its round window wink at her again?

Oh, she does meet Uncle in the greenhouse hidden in the overgrown backyard – how? There he helps the girl plant seeds that sprout as she watches, shows her the wonderful orange trees that he wrote about when he invited her family to live with him, ignores the pink snake behind him…

Ba Ba seeks any kind of work, driving their rattletrap car on traffic-filled streets, as Ma Ma prepares for the new baby to arrive, both hampered by their limited English,.

A kindly neighbor who speaks a different home language brings baby clothes and a uniform for the school that Meixing will attend with her grumpy son Kevin who gets in trouble for not doing his homework.

Meixing has trouble understanding everyone, so she’s glad when they get special English reading and writing classes with Ms. Jardine.

A classmate steals Meixing’s ring – whose story will be believed?
An accident leaves Meixing and Ma Ma alone in the too-big house – what now?
Visiting relatives say this house is haunted – maybe its ghosts are friendly?

The greenhouse and Big Scary begin to share their secrets with Meixing in this magical realism for middle grades, based on the author’s childhood immigration to Australia, written in second-person voice.

What place has spoken to you and revealed its secrets?
**kmm

Book info: A Glasshouse of Stars / Shirley Marr. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

VAMPIRES, HEARTS & OTHER DEAD THINGS in her life, by Margie Fuston (book review)

book cover of Vampires, Hearts & Other Dead Things, by Margie Fuston. Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books | recommended on BooksYALove.com

Vampires are real,
cancer is too-real,
she can solve this…

Pancreatic cancer is stealing away her dad – fellow enthusiast of all things undead, he and Victoria were thrilled when vampires revealed themselves on live TV, both ready to go find one after public outcry forced them back into the shadows. Her big sister and mom never understood their enthusiasm.

He didn’t cancel their graduation trip to New Orleans though, and asks her to go look for vampires and bring him pictures of everything. In Dad’s place will be her classmate Henry, former best friend (former almost-more-than-best friend) so the California teen isn’t there alone.

Victoria has a checklist of places to visit – the Ursulines convent, St. Louis cemetery – anywhere she might glimpse a vampire and convince them to help her. Being undead is better than being dead, right?

Late-night wanderer Carter introduces her to the vampire Nicholas, who gives Victoria a list of challenges to accomplish that will prove she’s ready to give up her life for undeath. Henry is not amused, thinks Carter and Nicholas are frauds, but won’t let her run around the Crescent City alone.

The first message tucked in a poetry book at a quaint shop directs her to eat beignets while wearing black and take as proof. Ah, some words are underlined in the book, too.

Returning to the shop, Victoria finds the next challenge – break into a certain house and steal something? More words underlined in the poem…

How much will Henry actually help her?
Why does she suddenly long to sketch and paint again?
Will Nicholas truly honor his agreement?

Before he got sick, Dad even looked like Bela Lugosi in the classic vampire movies – she would do anything to save him, anything!

While you’re getting this debut novel about hope and grief at your local library or independent bookstore, check out these vampire tales I’ve recommended:

  • The Hunt, series by Andrew Fukuda (my review of book 1)
  • Brass Carriages and Glass Hearts, by Nancy Campbell Allen (more here)
  • Elatsoe, by Darcy Little Badger (loved it!).

What’s your favorite vampire story?
**kmm

Book info: Vampires, Hearts & Other Dead Things / Margie Fuston. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2021. [author site] [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.