Unicorn Island by Donna Galanti

Unicorn Island (Volume 1)

Donna Galanti, Author

Bethany Stancliffe, Illustrator

Andrews McMeel Publishing, Feb. 9, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Unicorns, Mythical creatures, Mysterious Island, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Beyond the mist lies a magical secret waiting to be discovered . . .

When Sam arrives in Foggy Harbor, population 3,230, all she can see is a small, boring town that’s way too far from home. And knowing that she’s stuck there all summer with her grumpy Uncle Mitch only makes things worse.

But when Sam discovers a hidden trapdoor leading to a room full of strange artifacts, she realizes Foggy Harbor isn’t as sleepy as it seems. With the help of a new friend, Sam discovers an extraordinary secret beyond the fog: an island of unicorns whose fates are intertwined with hers.

Why I like this book:

Donna Galanti’s Unicorn Island is a compelling contemporary fantasy that is full of wonder, mystery and tension.  It will captivate readers’ imaginations and lure them into a magical world of mythical beasts.

Samantha (Sam) is a curious and resilient protagonist who longs for a place to call home. She moves every six months because of her musician mother’s playing with new orchestras. With an upcoming European tour, she literally dumps Sam on Uncle Mitch’s door step in Foggy Harbor for the summer without asking him. Fortunately Sam quickly becomes best friends with the Tuck, the veterinarian’s son. Uncle Mitch is somewhat stern and elusive at first, but Sam’s first impressions may be wrong.

Galanti’s narrative is engaging and immersive,  Her plot is solid with elements of danger that will keep readers quickly turning pages. The story also has a strong element of realism. This is the first volume with five books to follow. Yes, it ends with some interesting cliffhangers.

Although Unicorn Island is for students 8-12, it will also appeal to younger readers (7-10) who aren’t quite ready for wordy and lengthy MG fantasy novels. The book has a large type face and includes many gorgeous colorful illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe, which add to the magic.  I believe this book would also appeal to reluctant readers and kids with dyslexia.

Make sure you check out the great backmatter at the end of the book. Galanti shares some history on unicorns, wyverns, veterinarians, the pirates of the Carolina’s and Ocracoke and Assateague Islands, where the wild horses and ponies roam free.

Epic partnered with Andrews McMeel, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, to release the series as an illustrated hardcover. The next 5 books in the series come out on Epic, a digital library this May. Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand (Volume 2), will be released in hardcover next winter.

Donna Galanti wanted to be a writer ever since she wrote a screenplay at seven years old and acted it out with the neighborhood kids. She attended an English school, housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). She now lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse and is the author of the middle-grade fantasy adventures Joshua and The Lightning Road and Joshua and the Arrow Realm.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations, 1)

B.B. Alston, Author

Balzer + Bray, Fiction, Jan. 19, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: African American, Heroes, Fantasy, Mythical Creatures, Supernatural talents, Racism

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Why I like this book:

The cover is breathtaking with Black girl magic swirling around and through Amari’s hands. The title is done in beautiful gold lettering. Amari and the Night Brothers will appeal to readers! The book is pitched for fans of Harry Potter, Nevermoor and Men in Black — I’d also add Keeper of the Lost Cities.

B.B. Alston has created a thrilling action-packed adventure that is realistic, magical and humorous. Alston doesn’t shy away from including contemporary themes that address racism and discrimination, which Amari faces at home and at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs.  At home she is an outcast because she is a Black girl from the projects attending a private school. At the bureau she is an outcast because she manifests as a magician, which is the only talent that is illegal in the supernatural world due to the evil Night Brothers — magicians who used dark magic to conquer death. Now she faces prejudice from both adults and peers. Amari doesn’t allow her challenges to define her.

The characters are amazing. Amari is determined, strong-willed and believable. She’s not at the summer camp to stand out, she is on a mission to find her brother, Quinton. She has a courageous spirit and believes that he’s alive somewhere and she’s going to track him down. She befriends her roommate, Elsie who is a technopath/inventor and is also bullied by her peers. Dylan manifests in physics and  technology. His sister, Lara, who bullies Amari, manifests as a superhuman athlete (superhero). Their missing sister Maria was Quinton’s partner. Dylan and Amari become partners as they train hard to make it into the Bureau of Investigations, so they can become junior agents.

The setting is contemporary. The bureau turns smart and talented students into geniuses who they put through a rigorous training programs required by the department they wish to join — and there are many departments like the technology bureau.  The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs resembles a NORAD control center where agents monitor magical creatures — boogie people, fairies, dwarfs, mermaids, witches, werewolves, aliens, Big Foot, the Abominable Snowman, and evil magicians — for their protection and the protection of the world. There are agents monitoring global activities, investigations, and imprisoned criminals. It is amusing when the new president of the United States is briefed by the Bureau about top secret supernatural activities in the world, he passes out.

I highly recommend this book to readers who are looking for an exciting adventure that will keep them glued to the pages and guessing what will happen next. It doesn’t contain an excessive amount of detail and may be perfect for reluctant readers. It is a sparkling read. Yes, there are major surprises. The ending is satisfying, but leaves a lot of room for the next two volumes in the trilogy. Readers will be interested in knowing that Universal Pictures has optioned the rights to Amari and the Night Brothers. So there WILL be a movie!

B.B. Alston lives in Lexington, South Carolina. Amari and the Night Brothers is hi debut middle grade novel. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweet and exploring country roads to see where the lead.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.