“The Potion Diaries” by Amy Alward

I fell in love with this book the minute the princess of Nova’s love potion turned indigo instead of pink. There’s a lighthearted, whimsical feeling in the details right from the get-go. The princess poisons herself with said indigo potion instead of her crush, and causes a national crisis by falling in love with herself. And now Samantha (Sam) Kemi, an alchemist’s apprentice, is summoned with the rest of the kingdom’s alchemists to compete to find a cure.

Sam has to travel the world to find ingredients for this cure, from the deepest jungles to the highest mountaintops. The world-building in exotic locals and the mythical ingredients from plants to animals always felt well-developed and real. In fact, after reading this book before bed, I sank into a dream full of unusual pink-tinged winged creatures in the forest where Sam found the eluvian ivy. The settings stick with you for awhile.

I also enjoyed the competition between Sam, an alchemist trained in the old ways, and the ZoroAster megapharma company with their synthetic, modern compounds. It reminded me of “Witchworld” by Emma Fischel, which has a similar conflict between ancient and modern magical technology. Of course, in “The Potion Diaries” the conflict wasn’t black and white, mainly because of Sam’s wish to try out the modern laboratory of her rivals and the CEO of ZoroAster’s hot teenage son who greatly admires Sam himself.

“The Potion Diaries” blends magic and romance in a competition that lets one girl try to prove her abilities and help her country. It’s a great read.

“Furthermore” by Tahereh Mafi

“Furthermore” is a middle grade fantasy novel written in the style of such old time classics such as “The Wizard of Oz” or the more recently written “The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.” The author, as an  omniscient narrator leads us through the scenes with gentle and sometimes humourous commentary. Although this point of view has fallen out of fashion recently, it was so refreshing to see it here and really added colour to this fairytale in every sense of the world.

You see, Alice is from the land of Ferenwood where the more colourful you are the more magic you have. As Alice lacks all pigment except for some colour in her eyes, she feels like she is an outcast. During the Surrender, a festival where all twelve-year-olds showcase their talents, Alice places last, confirming that she doesn’t belong in her community.

However, an unusual opportunity presents itself where she teams up with an unlikely ally and sets off on a quest to find her father. The pair have to journey to a strange new land called Furthermore. There, Alice will be forced to accept her unusual form of magic and her identity in order to bring her father home.

This is a beautifully written book that often has a lyrical flow not unlike poetry. The fantastical world is both whimsical and terrifying. “Furthermore” has many uplifting messages about friendship, family and accepting oneself. It is a suitable read for readers both young and old alike.