I’ve read a lot of YA and middle grade books this summer that can be summed up with the word “magical.” From wonderful plots and characters to actual fantastical elements, all of these books are magical in one way or another. I hope you find one on this list that you will love. (All summaries via Goodreads.com)
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
There’s a murderer on the loose—but that doesn’t stop the girls of St. Etheldreda’s from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.
The students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.
One of the best books I’ve read this year. The girls are all flawed but lovable and interesting, and even when they work together to hide two murders so they can keep their freedom, the book remains funny and lighthearted and sweet (and a bit gruesome). You will enjoy this book if you like books about boarding school, Victorian England, teens solving mysteries, or independent girls.
Rating: Re-read Worthy
It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.
This might actually be my favorite book I’ve read this year so far! It’s stocked with fun, engaging characters, including Milo (a kid whose identity as an adopted child is part, but not all, of the focus of the story) and Meddy (the only other kid in a houseful of strange and mysterious guests), and Milo’s parents, who are kind and trusting and not oblivious (a rare quality for most children’s fiction). If you like books about odd characters and kids solving mysteries, plus the great atmosphere of an old inn at Christmastime, this book is a must read.
Rating: Re-read Worthy
Twelve-year-old Emily is on the move again. Her family is relocating to San Francisco, home of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger, a game where books are hidden all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles. But Emily soon learns that Griswold has been attacked and is in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold and leads to a valuable prize. But there are others on the hunt for this book, and Emily and James must race to solve the puzzles Griswold left behind before Griswold’s attackers make them their next target.
Reminiscent of The Westing Game, this is a fun story about two kids searching for books, solving puzzles, and getting caught up in a game that is much more dangerous than it seems. I’d love to have a real life Book Scavenger game! I’m not sure if I’ll finish reading the series, but I enjoyed this book.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways
Far to the south of the land of Ingary, in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, there lived in the city of Zanzib a young and not very prosperous carpet dealer named Abdullah who loved to spend his time daydreaming. He was content with his life and his daydreams until, one day, a stranger sold him a magic carpet.
That very night, the carpet flew him to an enchanted garden. There, he met and fell in love with the beauteous princess Flower-in-the-Night, only to have her snatched away, right under his very nose, by a wicked djinn. With only his magic carpet and his wits to help him, Abdullah sets off to rescue his princess….
Charmain Baker is in over her head. Looking after Great-Uncle William’s tiny cottage while he’s ill should have been easy. But Great-Uncle William is better known as the Royal Wizard Norland, and his house bends space and time. Its single door leads to any number of places—the bedrooms, the kitchen, the caves under the mountains, the past, and the Royal Mansion, to name just a few.
By opening that door, Charmain has become responsible for not only the house, but for an extremely magical stray dog, a muddled young apprentice wizard, and a box of the king’s most treasured documents. She has encountered a terrifying beast called a lubbock, irritated a clan of small blue creatures, and wound up smack in the middle of an urgent search. The king and his daughter are desperate to find the lost, fabled Elfgift—so desperate that they’ve even called in an intimidating sorceress named Sophie to help. And where Sophie is, can the Wizard Howl and fire demon Calcifer be far behind?
I read Howl’s Moving Castle a while back, and I finally finished the other books in the series. The two books have a very different feel from one another. Castle in the Air is fun, but not quite as good as the other books in the series. It’s almost an Aladdin retelling, complete with magic carpet and an Arabian setting.
House of Many Ways, on the other hand, was wonderful! It’s almost as good as Howl’s Moving Castle–or maybe even better? I loved Great-Uncle William’s wizard house with the many mysterious rooms, and Charmain was a fun character. And Sophie and Howl play a sizable role in this book, which I enjoyed as well.
Rating: Good but Forgettable, Pretty Darn Good
Ghostly Echoes and The Dire King (*spoilers ahead!*)
Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly lady of 926 Augur Lane, has enlisted the investigative services of her fellow residents to solve a decade-old murder—her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, Detective R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancé, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all, and her killer may be far more dangerous than they suspected.
The fate of the world is in the hands of detective of the supernatural R. F. Jackaby and his intrepid assistant, Abigail Rook. An evil king is turning ancient tensions into modern strife, using a blend of magic and technology to push Earth and the Otherworld into a mortal competition. Jackaby and Abigail are caught in the middle as they continue to solve the daily mysteries of New Fiddleham, New England — like who’s created the rend between the worlds, how to close it, and why zombies are appearing around. At the same time, the romance between Abigail and the shape-shifting police detective Charlie Cane deepens, and Jackaby’s resistance to his feelings for 926 Augur Lane’s ghostly lady, Jenny, begins to give way. Before the four can think about their own futures, they will have to defeat an evil that wants to destroy the future altogether.
If you haven’t read the Jackaby series yet, be warned: there are spoilers ahead!
I greatly enjoyed the first two books in this series for their Sherlock-meets-Doctor-Who mysteries, but as we get into the last two books, the feeling turns much more Supernatural. Jackaby and Abigail begin by attempting to uncover the truth behind Jenny’s death, and what they find leads them to a much bigger and more dangerous mystery.
The last book wraps up the series with Jackaby and Abigail, along with their human and non-human allies, fighting the titular Dire King and his army. It was a good ending, but I missed the smaller, cozier mysteries of the early books. Still, if you enjoyed the previous books, you should stick around for the spectacular ending.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good, Good but Forgettable