The Courage of Cat Campbell, by Natasha Lowe (Simon and Schuster, January 2015, middle grade)
Cat Campbell's mother, Poppy, was born with a gift for magic. But Poppy (as described in The Power of Poppy Pendle) didn't want magic. She wanted to bake. And eventually her dream came true, and she was allowed to swap magic school for a bakery....where her own daughter, Cat, is growing up amongst the many many tasty snacks.
Cat, however, doesn't want to bake. She wants magic, and her heart is full of passionate longing as she gazes at the broomstick flying girls of Ruthersfield School, where young witches are trained for great things....Even though no sign that she has magic has manifested by the time she's 11 years old, she still dreams.
Then one day, up in her grandparents' attic, she finds her mother's discarded school books and wand. And to her horror, she also finds a large spider. The kickstart of spider-fear fueled adrenaline brings her latent magic to life! Her dream will come true! Except, not so much. Poppy is horrified at the thought, and for the first time, mother and daughter are at odds. But even more dauntingly, for a late bloomer like Cat, magic is difficult and hard to control....and Ruthersfield only takes the magical crème de la crème. Which isn't Cat.
Nothing if not determined, Cat makes a new plan. The most evil witch ever has escaped from prison, and may be heading to Ruthersfield for revenge. If Cat can capture her with magic, maybe that will be her ticket out of the bakery and onto a broomstick...
And it is all wrapped up pleasingly in the end, especially because Cat DOESN'T turn out to have astounding gifts for magic, but achieves a very satisfying magical job at the end through hard work (and a talent for broom riding). So much more realistic than special child of preternatural talent! And although there is a Bat Witch who must be captured, she's not the primary antagonist; instead, it's a much more true to life story of conflict between parental expectations and what the child wants--something lots of the target audience will doubtless relate too! I also appreciate books in which parents love their kid, and the kid loves her parents, even when they are at odds!
On top of all that, is also a very nice story, with engaging secondary characters, pleasing references to the first book, sprinkles of humor, and lots of baked goods. A fast read, and a tasty one; sort of like a roll of Thin Mints....you wouldn't necessarily offer them to the intelligentsia at a black tie dinner party, but they sure are good when curled up in front of the fire at home.