The Jumbies

 

The Jumbies is the tale of Corinne la Mer and her encounter with the spirits of the forest on the island where she lives with her fisherman father. Corinne’s mother is dead and Baptiste, herself from Trinidad, weaves the Haitian folktale The Magic Orange Tree through the story, with its echoes of Cinderella. With the help of some new friends, little Dru, and orphans Bouki and Malik, Corinne manages to outwit the evil Severine, her would-be stepmother as well as a delightful array of terrifying Jumbies: La Diabless, the Lagahoo, several small and sinister Douens and the fiery Soucouyant. In the battle to save her father from Severine, Corinne, a fiery spirit herself, discovers the truth about her own mother and the Jumbies-the original inhabitants of the island. Delightfully told and genuinely creepy. A great Halloween read for ages 9+. I really hope a UK publisher picks up this book and the sequel, which I haven’t read yet but sounds AMAZING.

 

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Dread Nation

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This book was So Much Fun.

That is if alt-history with strong themes of racial injustice, brilliant worldbuilding and a sickle-wielding badass heroine who kill zombies is your idea of fun. I absolutely loved everything about it from the careful pacing to the plot’s twists and turns.

Jane Mckeene, mixed heritage daughter of a wealthy mother, is at a ‘combat school’ a boarding-school where black girls are sent to learn to fight zombies in order to become Attendants–bodyguards for wealthy white women. After Gettysburg when the dead first rose and began to eat the living, America’s racial injustices prevail but even the wealthy whites now live in garrisoned towns or compounds, fighting off the undead or ‘shamblers’ as they’re known. When Jane messes up, she’s sent out West, a place the East Coast elite know little about and what she finds there is frankly terrifying-even for a girl trained to dispatch the undead with one swing of a blade.

Apparently there’s a sequel, which I look forward to. And what about that amazingly gorgeous cover? 14+, though my husband has already stolen it from me and he’s considerably older.

 

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Children Of Blood And Bone

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When I heard of Tomi Adeyemi’s forthcoming trilogy based on Yoruba religion I was immediately hooked. For those who don’t know, the complex system of beliefs and deities while originating (and still practised) in West Africa spread to the new world with the slave trade, becoming syncretised with other beliefs into religions such as Santeria and Candomble. The dedication and spirituality required to hold on to one’s beliefs when transported as a slave with literally nothing–no texts, no ritual objects, few elders– is incredible.

And Children of Blood and Bone did not disappoint. Adeyemi’s book weaves the existing religion into a new story, one where magi or magicians were once prevalent in Orisha (the name of the land, also of some forms of the religion and its deities). But following strife between magi and non-magi, the ruling king ordered all magi older than thirteen to be killed, thus eradicating magic.

Zelie is one of the magi, her white hair making this obvious. Her mother, who died in the King’s ethnic cleansing, was a Reaper, but Zelie has no magic powers–until at  market, she bumps into Amari, a princess on the run.

Amari has stolen a scroll given to her father the king, to destroy. The scroll promises to bring magic back to Orisha and Zelie is determined to protect it from the King’s guards–even if it means she’s saddled with a princess to protect too.

The pace is thrilling, with dramatic action-filled sequences as Zelie and Amari, joined by Zelie’s brother and pursued by Amari’s brother Inan, the heir to the throne, make their way to a hidden temple, collecting various artefacts required for a ceremony to restore magic to Orisha once and for all.

Zelie has doubts about the powers unleashed by the return of magic–will it really be a force for good? I really liked these hesitations and how she considers the consequences of her actions. Zelie is a strong, loving and vulnerable girl at the same time as being a magician. Amari and Inan, the other point-of-view characters we follow are also well-portrayed, particularly Inan and his character’s moral twists and turns.

An awesome book that fully deserves all the praise heaped upon it.

Did anyone say Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games meets Black Panther yet?

Because if not, I’m going to call it. 11+

 

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Not So Stories

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Kipling is a curious figure, English as afternoon tea but also deeply Indian, unsurprising given that he spent half of his first 24 years there and wrote of Mumbai:

Mother of Cities to me,

For I was born in her gate

Between the palms and the sea

Where the world-end steamers wait.

He had a deep attachment to India, more for the country  than for the colonised or ‘new-caught sullen peoples, half devil and half child.’ Kipling wrote of his ayah and other servants telling him stories and the influence of animal tales from ancient India (the Jataka Tales and the Panchatantra) is clearly seen in the style of the collection of children’s fables known as the Just-So stories.

Not So Stories retell and interprets the original premise in a number of inventive ways.

Few remember now that Kipling was awarded a Nobel, in the presentation speech it was said of him that ‘He has undoubtedly done more than any other writer of pure literature to draw tighter the bonds of union between England and her colonies.’

The time seems right for a reworking of Kipling and this collection, though not for children, would be great for adolescents beginning to reevaluate the English history they’ve been taught, particularly with regard to the relationship with ‘her colonies’

There is a South-east and East Asian emphasis with marvellous tales like The Tree of Wishes, The Man Who Played With the Crab and the astonishing Serpent, Crocodile, Tiger. My favourite tale, The Cat Who Walked By Himself is exquisitely and devastatingly retold here as The Cat Who Walked By Herself.

A fabulous and thought-provoking collection. Jeanette Ng discusses other reclaimed classics here

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The Parker Inheritance

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I was really looking forward to The Parker Inheritance as myself (and my kid) both loved The Great Greene Heist & sequel. And The Parker Inheritance completely surpassed our expectations. The story of Candice, 12, who is returning with her mother to live in her dead grandma’s house in the small town of Lambert for a summer while their home is being renovated, it begins in time-honoured mystery fashion with a letter in the attic. The letter has been left by Candice’s grandma, and in it are a series of clues leading to a treasure–worth $40 million, with 10% going to the finder.

What kid wouldn’t be intrigued by an opener like that?

But there’s a whole lot more to The Parker Inheritance. First of all, Candice’s grandma was sacked and had to leave town after her own fruitless search for the treasure led her to dig up a tennis court…

Second, both Candice, whose parents are divorcing, and Brandon, the kid across the street who joins Candice in the hunt are struggling with issues of their own.

Third, the story of how the mysterious benefactor, James Parker, came to leave the treasure is one involving racial segregation, prejudice and tragedy in Lambert–the very town the kids are living in. The Westing Game (which I haven’t read but will seek out) is referenced in the book, but the book that came to mind was Holes by Louis Sachar. Johnson unfolds the past and makes it come to life with the same skill. The family drama is handled deftly, the mystery is engaging and it’s all wrapped up beautifully. A fabulous book 10+

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The Night Diary

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The Night Diary is the beautifully told story of twelve-year-old Nisha. Nisha’s mother died giving birth to her and her twin brother Amil. They both live with their doctor father. Nisha. Nisha relies on Kazi, their cook and Dadi their grandmother for affection as their father is always so busy. When Nisha receives a diary for her twelfth birthday she begins to write to her dead mother. But the year is 1947, India’s Partition looms and Nisha and her family are Hindu (though her mother was Muslim) and living in what is soon to be Pakistan.

The heart-rending story of the build-up of communal violence, their eventual flight from their home and escape to Jodhpur as refugees unfolds through Nisha’s diary entries, along with her sadness about her dead mother and her worries about her twin who is bullied by schoolmates and belittled by their father. Nisha’s delicate voice is realistically somewhat older than her years given her life and the story ends on a note of hope. A fabulous introduction to Indian and colonial history and a warm tale of family surviving against the odds. 10+

Interview with the author here

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The Serpent’s Secret

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The Serpent’s Secret is the story of Kiranmala, an ordinary kid whose kind parents run a convenience store in New Jersey.

Like all parents, they’re a little weird: her father is freaked out by snakes and has dug a large and muddy trench around the house to keep them at bay, her mother insists on Kiran dressing as a princess every single Halloween and won’t allow curtains in her bedroom so she can ‘bathe in moonlight.’

Pretty common stuff for a third culture immigrant kid, right?

But when Kiran comes home from school to find her parents gone, a gigantic ugly demon destroying her house and two handsome princes on winged horses here to rescue her…

Things are about to change.

We’re whisked off on a winged horse through magical cities, mountains of illusions Rajah’s palaces and the (pretty disgusting) land of the demons or rahkoshs that Kiran, with the help of Princes Neel and Lal, must defeat to get her parents (and herself) home. And what a wild ride it is…

The book I’d liken this rollicking fantasy to most is Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Dasgupta has a similar love for wordplay, puns and rhymes which punctuate the text. But the real world elements, humour and feuding friendship Kiran forms with Prince Neel also bring Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books to mind. I loved all the Indian folktale elements Dasgupta interwove with the (admittedly convoluted) plotline–as a non-Bengali, these were unfamiliar to me. I adored Kiran’s story so much I looked up the original with this link! (Academic journal but free to register for access.)

Wonderful that the journal article begins:

‘This is a transcript of a Bengali folk tale that was once very popular. With Kiranmala now in real danger of being vanquished by Harry Potter, I recorded the tale as it was told by a young, urban woman to her six-year old son’

Well thanks to The Serpent’s Secret, Kiranmala strikes back! Take that Harry!

Fantasy adventure fans of 8+ will loooove this book.

 

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