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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Grim Nora and the Secret of the Skull is a brilliant tale of magic and danger by A.M. Albaugh. Everything changes on Nora's sixteenth birthday: her father dies. Before his death, he gives her a skull shaped pocket watch which catches the attention of the dangerous wizard Kabos. She's placed under the guardianship of an older brother her father never mentioned she had. Her new brother takes her into the care of the wizard Malachi and his apprentice Aidan. As she turns from her old life, she forms a new one with new friends and discovers an infinity for magic. If she stands any chance against Kabos, she needs to keep him away from a dangerous weapon called the Morrigan. When Kabos kidnaps her brother, she knows it's a trap but she's going to do whatever it takes to get him back.
Nora quickly discovers her own abilities and begins to learn about magic under Malachi with the help of Aidan to harness her abilities. While she's betrayed by her old friends, she ends up befriending Malachi's apprentice Aidan and shape-shifting Koneko. Both of her new friends add a spark to her life and help her find who she is now. She has a sweet budding romance with Aidan with a deep friendship bond; the idea of any romance is forbidden as he plans to be a wizard, meaning he is to remain alone. This provides some conflict in their relationship, but their friendship only grows stronger as she turns to him for magical help.
Nora's constantly learning secrets about her family, starting with her older brother and then eventually uncovering her mother's mysterious past. Her family is deeply rooted in secrets and, as she uncovers them, larger and more dangerous secrets are revealed. Nora learns to rely on those around her and to trust them, which helps in her journey to find her strength and power. A.M. Albaugh weaves in fun magical elements with shape-shifting, wizards, curses, and secrets. Grim Nora and the Secret of the Skull is full of adventure with magic and secrets, romance and the bond of family.