Some absolutely splendid seasonal reads here courtesy of friends at Penguin Random House Canada! First on the review docket today is the young adult novel All Our Hidden Gifts (All Our Hidden Gifts #1) by Caroline O’Donoghue; second on review is John Martz’s illustrated chapter book Evie and the Truth About Witches. Happy spooky reading!
”The story of how I ended up with the Chokey Card Tarot Consultancy can be told in four detentions, three notes sent home, two bad report cards, and one Tuesday afternoon that ended with me locked in a cupboard.” Written by Irish author, journalist (and podcaster!) Caroline O’Donoghue, All Our Hidden Gifts (All Our Hidden Gifts #1), is a standout young adult urban fantasy novel. When we meet our protagonist and narrator, sixteen year old Maeve Chambers, she has just received an in-school suspension due to throwing a shoe at her teacher. As readers learn, Maeve ”merely hit the board next” to her teacher, she didn’t hurt or hit Mr. Bernard; but she gets these waves of ”frustration and rage” that spark out in uncontrollable, unpredictable waves. As punishment, Maeve is asked to clean The Chokey- “a long deep cupboard” in her private school’s dark, dank, and somewhat dilapidated basement. It is there, when cleaning out The Chokey that Maeve unearths a strangely mesmerizing pack of tarot cards. Never one for tarot before, Maeve is immediately drawn to them, studying the illustrations, their meanings- even going so far as to take the cards home, visit a divination shop, and learn as much as she can about these fantastical cards. What is more, Maeve begins to excel at tarot: so much so that she begins giving out readings (under the administration’s radar) to classmates. After having had a public and dreadful falling out with her best friend Lily O’Callaghan the previous year, Maeve – never popular, never with the in-crowd- has simply existed, coasting along with a few folks. Now, with the help and attention of gorgeous theatre student Fiona, Maeve’s eerily accurate fortunes are in demand. However, when her former best friend Lily confronts Maeve in class for a public tarot reading, venomous, ugly words are exchanged between Maeve and Lily The day after the public incident, Lily O’Callaghan disappears and suspicious eyes turn to Maeve. What begins as an immediately compelling read surrounding drama and loss between ex-friends, school politics and hierarchy and the struggles of a teen adrift then cracks open into a deeply fascinating exploration and dive into first love, the supernatural (and potential magical gifts), gender identity, as well as a fight against a terrifying rise in homophobia and bigotry. Beginning to end, All Our Hidden Gifts is a strongly written, engrossing read- comedic, potent, and magical. A longer teasing out and explanation at the book’s end regarding certain supernatural components and one character’s fate would have been welcome, but in all, O’Donoghue presents a wonderfully atmospheric, layered story of humour, heartache, and intensity; full of beautifully drawn characters in Maeve, her big sister Joanne, and in the main supporting characters Fiona and Roe. Readers can look forward to more adventures with Maeve Chambers in The Gifts That Bind Us, set to release in North America in June of 2022! All Our Hidden Gifts extra credits: Cover art by Lisa Sterle; illustrations by Stefanie Caponie.
“‘I want to be scared,’ said Evie to the shopkeeper. ‘I think you will find what you are looking for,’ said the shopkeeper. Evie looked, and she look, until she finally saw it.” In the fantastically illustrated chapter book Evie and the Truth About Witches by John Martz, a young child named Evie is on the lookout for something that will truly scare her. While perusing in a bookshop, Evie finds what she thinks is the perfect answer: a book called The Truth About Witches. The kindly shopkeeper in the store tells Evie she has made ”an interesting choice” with her book pick, and that she must make a promise “to never…ever…read the last page out loud”. Evie doesn’t appear to pay much attention to the shopkeeper’s oddly adamant request! Instead, Evie waits until late that evening ”after the rest of her family [falls] asleep” to begin her new book. Stories about potions, spells, scary witchcraft and even scarier witches keep Evie up late and she manages to make it to the very, very end of the book! It is then that Evie remembers the shopkeeper’s request that she keep her promise to never dare read aloud the book’s last page. But does Evie heed the advice? I won’t give away much more here, as that would spoil this delightfully spooky (and yes, genuinely scary!) illustrated read. John Martz, an art director who you may also recognize as the author and illustrator of A Cat Named Tim and the illustrator of the wonderful picture book How to Give Your Cat a Bath (by Nicola Winstanley), offers readers of various ages an enticing, thrilling romp, with a memorable knockout of a reveal and ending. The limited colours of the illustrations- with red as the standout against a greyscale palette- adds to the spooky, perfectly uncanny tone of the book. Evie and the Truth About Witches is terrific pick for readers on the lookout for a short and eerie read for the season (or anytime!), and for those who enjoy the work of authors and illustrators such as Bethan Woollvin, Sam Streed, Edward Gorey, Jon Scieszka, or Laura Amy Schlitz.
I received a copy of All Our Hidden Gifts courtesy of Walker Books US/Penguin Random House Canada and Evie and the Truth About Witches courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.