10 Magical Teen Books About Witches

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Who hasn’t wanted magical powers to get them through high school?  These books all feature witches using one sort of magic or another.  I’m including more pictures than usual because a lot of these books have gorgeous covers. (The top image is the TV cover for The Secret Circle)

1.  Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Alex the teen witch does something highly unusual: she attempts to get rid of her powers!  Of course, this sends her, her family, and a couple friends to a parallel universe.  This story is full of adventure, while still keeping things somewhat humorous throughout.

2. The Secret Circle by L.J. Smith

This series is, in my opinion, one of the quintessential teen witch book series.  There’s a small town, an old leather-bound book, drama, and evil powers.  What more could you want?  Having read this in middle school, I’m still slightly disappointed that my high school life didn’t turn out more like this book, with late-night parties, glowing candles, and spooky adventures fighting evil in the woods.

3. Blue is for Nightmares by Laura Faria Stolarz

One of the few boarding-school stories that takes place in the United States, this book is one of the most suspenseful and eerie books I’ve read–although there’s plenty of fun along the way!  The characters feel very real and have great banter.   There are a lot of spells cast and downright mysterious stuff, making it immersive while still having a great plot to flesh out the atmosphere.

4. A Chalice of Wind by Cate Tiernan

Two twins, Clio and Thais, are reunited after years apart.  Meanwhile, a mysterious group of adults makes plans in between the chapters that alternate between the girls’ perspectives.  Not the most suspenseful or interesting story, and the atmosphere leaves something to be desired, but if you’re looking for a quick high-school-drama read, it doesn’t get much better.

5. Spellcaster by Claudia Gray

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Spellcaster has an entertaining and diverse cast that, although a bit cliched, turns the tropes in a whole new direction to make an old storyline original.  Not to mention the spells that Nadia, the main character, casts are a whole new look at witchcraft, in which Nadia mixes together her emotions and memories to make magic.  It’s a bit similar to other books, but like many of the other books on the list, it has a good atmosphere and a plot that promises more in the sequels.  Plus, it has an awesome cover.

6.  Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

This book includes an odd combination of man-like shells with stars for eyes, a talking pangolin, a goofy wooden doll, an evil convenience store, and the process of turning into a dog.  Oh, and Russian folklore.  In New York City.  Trying to describe the plot from there would be like trying to explain how to plug in a random tangle of wires found in a hacker’s basement…which is what makes it so fun.

7. Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

Normally, I try not to get overly opinionated about book covers, but this is, in my humble opinion, one of the best covers on a Garth Nix book I have ever seen.  (The original covers for the Keys to the Kingdom series being a close 2nd through 8th.)  The story isn’t his best work, but it was definitely a cute, funny, historical fantasy read with a bit of disguise/transformation, which is a totally under-utilized trope outside of spy novels and most magical-girl anime.

8. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

I don’t need to tell you to read Harry Potter.  It’s full of witches and wizards and you’ve probably read it five times already.  That being said, it’s another quintessential teen witch read.

9. Sabriel by Garth Nix

This book was a bit dull at first, but it speeds up quickly and the whole concept of the anti-necromancy in this book puts it on the list, especially considering that it’s a great take on the “Hero’s Quest” trope.  I haven’t read the other books in the series, but I’ve heard great things and I definitely recommend this first one.  Unlike Newt’s Emerald, the cover isn’t all that exciting, but that can be forgiven.

10. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

If you want a quick, funny, book about a teen girl with powers who also talks kind of like an actual teenager, this is it.  There’s also a really cute teen vampire girl who reminds me of many of my best friends.  Once you fly through the first book, the sequels Demonglass and Spell Bound make a great conclusion.

Happy (spellbinding) reading!

LM

10 Graphic Novels: Because Books with Pictures Are Fun

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Most people enjoy comic books, manga, picture books, and even stories told in just pictures.  Here are some graphic novels that cover all sorts of genres, from historical fiction to how to make your own graphic novels.

1.  Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang  (Genre: historical fiction)

This fictional account of the Boxer Rebellion is told from two perspectives, in two companion graphic novels.  Boxers features the perspective of a Chinese boy who wants to protect his country from Christian invaders.  Saints features the perspective of a Chinese girl who embraces Christianity and joins a group of Chinese Christians after being shunned by her family.  Both characters face many tough choices on their journeys, and the story will stay with you for a long time.

2.  Skip Beat! Vol. 1 by Yoshiki Nakamura  (Genre: humor, drama)

In this fast-paced graphic novel, a young girl discovers that her boyfriend’s only keeping her around to help support him in his demanding career as a pop star.  So, of course, she has to get her revenge…by trying to become an even more popular pop star!  Any fan of stories about “instant fame” or teen pop stars in general will enjoy this fun story.

3.  The Lumberjanes by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen, and Noelle Stevenson  (Genre: adventure, fantasy, friendship)

If you enjoy summer camp, the show “Gravity Falls,” and/or strong female friendships, you have to read this book.  A group of girls in a program reminiscent of Girl Scouts go on mysterious adventures in the woods of their summer camp, discovering magical secrets and cute, adorable raccoons alike.

4.  A Game For Swallows by Zeina Abirached  (Genre: autobiography)

This story chronicles the author’s childhood during the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980’s.  Although this sounds like a very heavy topic–and is–the book incorporates multiple beloved childhood memories and light-hearted moments beside the harsh realities of war to create an effect similar to watching things happen in front of you.  Of course, visuals are kind of the point of graphic novels, so this book is a massive success in that regard, as well as others.  The images do get a bit monochromatic, putting more emphasis on the story, but the author has a unique art style that suits the story well.

5.  Through the Woods by Emily Carroll  (Genre: horror/fantasy)

The art in this book is beautiful, so you may be surprised to find out that the story is absolutely terrifying.  Fans of the show “Over the Garden Wall” and fairytale retellings will love this collection of four or five interconnected stories about the terrors of the forest.

6.  Hereville by Barry Deutsch  (Genre: fantasy)

This story made me reconsider the shock value of pig action scenes, if that tells you anything.  A young girl decides to fight ogres, and the rest is history.  The story also includes many aspects of Orthodox Jewish religion and culture, in a way that feels natural and introduces readers to a society they may or may not be familiar with.

7.  March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell  (Genre: autobiography, or at least has autobiographical elements)

This graphic novel depicts the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  I probably can’t do it justice in this description given that I haven’t read it in so long, but the narrative is really engaging and the art is really good.  Plus, it’s really historically important.

8.  Graphic Classics Volume 24:  Native American Classics by multiple authors (part of the Graphic Classics series)  (Genre: classic short stories, folklore, social commentary)

If you love books with multiple, diverse perspectives, art styles, and stories, you will greatly enjoy this graphic novel.  Modern Native American artists collaborated to draw graphic interpretations of classic Native American stories from the beginning of the 20th century and earlier, covering topics from traditional legends to colonization.  The book also contains some biographical information about the artists and the original authors of the stories.  (Fun Fact:  One of the authors/editors of the book, Joseph Bruchac, is also the author of the popular young adult book Killer of Enemies, a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel about a Native American girl fighting mutant monsters in the desert which teen readers may also enjoy.)

9.  Making Comics by Scott McCloud  (Genre: nonfiction)

What better way to learn how to make your own comics than in a comic format?  Whether you are a serious artist or simply want to try your hand at panel design, Making Comics is an entertaining, engaging, and totally non-condescending guide to, well, making comics.  McCloud includes chapters on how to incorporate dialogue, perspective, characters, color, and all sorts of other details important to the comic artist.  Even if you’re not much of an artist, the book provides an invaluable glimpse into the creation of graphic media.

10.  Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke  (Genre: science fiction)

This comic has a special place in my heart due to the fact that I, too, was one of the many little girls who dreamed of being a space girl at a young age before realizing my dislike of heights and the fact that I really don’t want to fight aliens for a living.  If you, like me, would rather read about space adventures than experience them, you’ll definitely enjoy this book.  The book combines some common tropes (adventuring girl, quirky aliens, robots) into a humorous tale of exploring the universe.  Plus, the art is incredibly cute.

Happy (graphic) reading!

LM

10 Awesome YA Books With Antihero Protagonists

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I’ve noticed that in most YA discussions of books, we don’t have many antihero protagonists.  Most YA protagonists are known as strong, nice, funny, just, fair, unique, and any number of positive qualities.  They almost never make morally compromising choices.  Meanwhile, these 10 books (all of which I’ve read and promise are good!) have protagonists who are a combination of good and bad–or, even if they mostly land on one side or the other, aren’t afraid to switch back and forth between sides a bit.

1. The Life and Death of Zebulon Finch: At the Edge of Empire by Daniel Kraus  (Genre: historical fiction, fantasy, horror)

If you’re interested in 1920’s gangsters, 19th-century rural life, World War I, old Hollywood, and/or a lot of poor life decisions, you will enjoy this book.  The main character, Zebulon Finch, is far from likeable…but that’s what made me want to keep reading.  You’ll probably switch between feeling sorry for him and enjoying his infinite, infinite suffering.  (Content warning: Although this book is perfectly appropriate for teenagers, being a YA book, there are some scenes of zombie medical gore and violence that some readers may wish to avoid.)

2. This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel (and of course Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)  (Genre: science fiction, horror, retelling)

When I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley for English class, I thought, “If Victor Frankenstein were a teenager, he would be really, really emo.”  Of course, I had to read this book.  Although this book takes place at the time of the original story, the first-person narration portrays the arrogant Frankenstein as your average overconfident teenager, plagued by deep, dark, deathlike solitude and existential conflicts just like most other 15-year-olds.  Really, who hasn’t come up with a plot to conquer death while bored in math class?  If you enjoy this retelling, you’ll definitely enjoy the original novel, in which Victor gets into the whole “creating-a-monster” thing.

3. Heist Society by Ally Carter  (Kat)  (Genre: adventure, friendship)

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live a life of crime, then try to be a normal person, then go right back into living a life of crime?  Kat does just that in this book…and that’s before the story even happens.  With a cast of lovable (and morally questionable) characters, the lines of right and wrong are blurred all over the place.

4. Dark Lord: The Early Years by Jamie Thompson  (Dirk)  (Genre: humor, fantasy)

This protagonist is more of a flat-out villain than an antihero, but he turns out to be a pretty okay guy.  A monstrous warlord from a Dungeons-and-Dragons-like fantasy realm gets sent to Earth–and gets the body of a 12-year-old boy!  “Dirk,” as he comes to be called, is sent to live with a foster family and soon makes friends at his new middle school.  Fans of fantasy RPGs and Lord of the Rings will love this parody of typical fantasy series.

5. H.I.V.E. by Mark Walden  (Genre: action, adventure)

Confession: my 12-year-old self often hoped that I would get called to the office to meet somebody wearing dark sunglasses who would tell me that I qualified to go to some sort of super-spy school.  I’m glad that didn’t happen, though, because I’d much rather go to H.I.V.E., the school for supervillains featured in this awesome book.  Between growing killer plants straight out of “Little Shop of Horrors” and talking to a mysteriously intelligent computer, the awesome characters in this story are quite good at being evil–but are they really?  You’ll have to read to find out.

6. Jackaby by William Ritter (Genre: mystery, fantasy)

Have you ever wanted to investigate supernatural mysteries?  R. F. Jackaby does just that.  He’s a bit of a show-off, and obnoxious, and not very likable, but he’s quite a good detective.  Full of witty, clever banter, this book is the perfect quick read.

7. Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata  (Genre: fantasy, horror, suspense)

Light Yagami, top student stressed out by tests with a strong desire for justice, seems like he could be you, or one of your best friends.  Except for one little thing…he kills people with an evil notebook.  But at the same time, the only people he kills (at first) are violent criminals who torture people for fun.  This antihero story will keep you up late at night pondering morality.  Just don’t write in any strange books you find laying around on the ground!

8. Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan  (Genre: suspense)

This book is one of the few antihero books with a female protagonist (besides Heist Society).  After a tragic boating accident, a victim decides to get revenge.  Once you start reading, you will have to keep reading all day to find out what happens!  I’d explain more, but Daughter of Deep Silence is one of those “suspense” books that you really need to start from the beginning.  You will likely feel a bit sorry for the protagonist…but not really.

9. The Fire Chronicle by John Stephens  (Genre: adventure, fantasy)

This book is the second in the Books of Beginning series, which is technically in the kids’ section at Reston Regional Library.  The first book, The Emerald Atlas, is a prerequisite to understanding the story and is lovely on its own, but the story doesn’t really get good until The Fire Chronicle.  Siblings Kate, Emma, and Michael need to find the second book in a series of three that must be combined to save the world.  Along the way, they meet some very interesting characters–but can they trust them?

10. Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz  (Genre: action)

In the first book in the popular spy series, we meet Alex Rider, a teen superspy…who doesn’t want to be a superspy.  Alex is impulsive, headstrong, and honestly, way, way, too emotionless for a 14-year-old, and he is awfully callous about human life, but his adventures make the story worth the read–and you will sometimes wonder if he’s right about his cynical worldview.

Happy (morally ambiguous) reading!

LM

Ender’s Shadow – Book Review

The oriEnder's_Shadow_Cover_Mainginal book that started it all: Ender’s Game. It tells the story of Ender Wiggin, who’s the best of the best in a school that’s designed to train children to become military commanders. But what Ender’s Game does not tell is the story of Ender’s partner, strategist and best friend – Bean. In the companion novel Ender’s Shadow, Bean’s childhood is unwrapped to reveal his horrifying ancestry and his life growing up homeless. I really enjoyed Ender’s Shadow because while the novel took place at the same time as Ender’s Game, the story was seemingly different because of the different perspective and angle. While Ender’s Game made Ender sound like a kid simply trying to make it through Battle School, Ender’s Shadow depicted Ender as a god, with all the students practically worshipping him for his feats. Ender’s Shadow provides an insanely fresh new outlook on the story of Ender’s Game.

GONE GIRL – REVIEW

By Aaryaman Akhouri

Have you ever read a book that is so good that the moment you finish it, you want to read it again? Have you ever read a book that constantly surprises you with writing as sharp as a tungsten needle? If you haven’t, then I would like to introduce Gone Girl. Before I talk about why Gone Girl is one of the best books ever published, I will go over some background information. Gone Girl is a neo-noir thriller written by Gillian Flynn that was released in 2012.

The book is about the sudden disappearance of the main character’s wife, and how the media and people react to the disappearance. Gone Girl is a book with dark and complex characters, a sophisticated story with many twists and turns, and a jaded tone that acts as icing on a cake. Out of all the modern themes in the book such as deceit, the largest one is gender equality. It gives an ugly yet cerebral portrayal of both men and women. Also, it provides a brilliant satire of the media and the news. Gone Girl is a book that plays with your feelings and consistently makes you feel jumpy and jittery. I’ve said it before, and I’m happy to say it again, Gone Girl is one of the best books ever written and published. I would give it a rating of 9.6/10.  

 

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan- Book review

By Ashley Huang

 

Kami G10866624lass is your average British teenager. She has a best friend named Angela, writes for the school newspaper, and has two rowdy younger brothers who keep her busy after school. But, what makes Kami stand out is that she loves a boy who doesn’t even exist. Jared is a voice that has been in Kami’s head since birth. The pair grew up sharing secrets and telling each other jokes without even knowing what the other looked like. Everything changes the day a strange family from America moves into town, and Kami finds out that Jared is her new neighbor. Now, Kami isn’t sure if she likes Jared anymore. He’s the exact opposite of what Kami thought he’d look like. To make matters worse, Jared and his family radiates an eerie magic that casts fear upon the entire town. Finally, Kami and her best friend Angela team up to write an article that delves down deep into the reason why Jared’s family is so strange, and in the process, Kami learns the deepest, darkest secrets about Jared ever imaginable.

Europe!

By Arpan Nambiar

During my christmas vacation, I travelled Italy and the United Kingdom. In U.K., my dad and I travelled to Scotland to visit my uncle. After that, we went to Rome and visited the Basilica Church, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum. During a guided tour throughout the Colosseum, I learned a little bit about the history of the Colosseum. However, I learned a lot more about the Colosseum by buying a book about Ancient Rome.

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We went to Vatican City the next day. After visiting a museum in Vatican, we moseyed on over to Florence, which is known as Firenze in Italian. After arriving at Florence, we dropped by at Pisa and took a look at  the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then we traveled back to Florence. After that, we swung by Venice.

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I was amazed by the fact that there were only boats in Venice. No cars or trucks. In Venice, we went on a gondola ride. Two days later, we went back to Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. In Edinburgh, we toured Edinburgh museum. It had some pretty cool stuff, such as a late sheep that had gotten cloned (Dolly), and a game where you could create and customize your own Formula One car. About a day later, we went to London.

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I loved London! It was the best. We noticed the interior of Madame Tussauds, which is a wax museum that houses statues of famous personalities there, including film actors, superheroes, and Star Wars characters! There are Madame Tussauds museums active in New York and D.C. as well.  After that, we walked round the Tower of London, rode the London Eye, and saw the Big Ben.

After spending a few days in London, we went back to Scotland, to spend a few days in my Uncle’s place before coming back home, to my beloved United States.