The Evil Wizard Smallbone, by Delia Sherman (Candlewick, September 13, 2016)! Do likewise if in general you enjoy stories of boys apprenticed to eccentric (evil?) wizards, surreptitiously learning more than they are being taught, and having to face an enemy far above their pay grade,
12 year old Nick has run away from his uncle's home. He had planned to do this, but the moment came sooner than he'd thought it would, and he's left wandering around in the middle of a Maine blizzard. Chance takes him to the home of the Evil Wizard Smallbone, who takes him in (and turns him into a spider almost immediately). When he's a boy again, Nick finds that he's Smallbone's minion, cooking and looking after the animals. Smallbone appears to have no interest in teaching him magic, and in fact Nick lied and said he couldn't read.
But Smallbone's home is a bookstore (Evil Wizard Books), and the books know that Nick can read just fine, and so when he's ready, they give him just the right books that awaken his own gifts of magic (and teach him useful life skills, like focus and perseverance, and also forcing him to do a lot of thinking about who he himself really is). And it's a darn good thing the bookstore does this, because the Smallbone's enemies, lead by the formidable ancient werewolf Fidelou, are pressing hard against the magical boundaries of the town (and a very peculiar town it is) that Smallbone is sworn to protect. The boundaries are weakening, Smallbone isn't getting any younger, and finally Nick must throw the weight of his own magic into Smallbone's camp, even though Smallborn is, of course, an evil wizard.....
Or perhaps not that evil? This is one of the most interesting things about the book--Smallbone does some questionable things to Nick, and in the past has done some truly awful things, but he's rather likeable, even though he's basically keeping Nick hostage as a minion.....So it's nicely twisty that way.
But what is really really really fun is to see the bookstore teaching Nick magic. The books talk back to him (in text), and it is tremendously entertaining! The premise of the whole thing is also very enjoyable, and there are good supporting characters to round things off.
Highly recommend to not just DWJ fans but to anyone who likes the same sort of books I do!
and now I get to check to see if Kirkus agrees with me....
"Though Fidelou and his crew of biker werewolf minions add some dramatic distraction, it is Nick’s evolution into a young wizard that commands attention. Readers journey with Nick as he stumbles through what was real in his world, his grief at losing his mother, into a magical world that gives him a sense of purpose.
Fans of fantasy will be captivated—and hoping for a sequel."
So yes. There you go. Although I don't think this actually Needs a sequel, because it ends beautifully with an Ending, and is a standalone story. And the things that make this one so much fun (the snarky books and the ambiguioty of Smallbone) are done, so I'm not sure I'd like the sequel as much. But I do know for sure that I want more MG fantasy from Delia Sherman!
disclaimer: review copy received with conviction at ALA and I have been saving it for months even though I really wanted to read it immediately and it was a great distraction during a stressful week.