Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade

Enola Holmes, the much younger sister of Sherlock, is now living independently in London and working as a scientific perditorian (a finder of persons and things). But that is not the normal lot for young women in Victorian England. Young women fall under the near absolute control of their nearest male relative until they reach adulthood. Such is the case of Enola’s friend, Lady Cecily Alastair. Twice before, Enola has rescued Lady Cecily from the unpleasant designs of her caddish father, Sir Eustace Alastair, Baronet. And when Enola is brusquely turned away at the door of the Alastair home, it soon becomes apparent that Lady Cecily once again needs her help.

Affecting a bold escape, Enola takes Lady Cecily to her secret office only to be discovered by the person Lady Cecily’s mother hired to find her daughter – Sherlock Holmes himself. But Lady Cecily has already disappeared again, now loose on her own in the unforgiving city of London.

Even worse, Lady Cecily has a secret that few know. She has dual personalities. One is left-handed, independent, and competent; the other is right-handed, meek, and mild. Now Enola must find Lady Cecily before one of her personalities gets her into more trouble than she can handle, and before Sherlock can find her and return her to her father. Once again, for Enola, the game is afoot. 

Enola is a truly admirable character who comes up with unconventional ways to help Cecily escape her father’s cruel treatment. While trying to help, Enola digs into Cecily’s father’s past. Enola gets into plenty of mischief along the way. With secret rooms, a dangerous slide down a coal chute, and a daring rescue, Enola’s story is entertaining. However, in this installment Enola doubts her abilities and often scolds herself for not being able to come up with new ideas to discover Sir Eustance’s secrets. This interferes with the story’s enjoyment, especially because it’s out of character for Enola.   

Readers will not relate to the dubious activities of Sir Eustance, as they are tied in with the story’s time period and are not relevant to today’s readers. Enola discovers that Sir Eustance had been selling his deceased servants’ bodies to “dissecting rooms.” While not strictly illegal, “it would be a dreadful scandal if it came out.” Enola uses this information to blackmail Sir Eustance into treating his wife and daughter better. However, Cecily and her mother make such a short appearance that readers will not feel connected to them, making the end of their plight anticlimactic.  

While Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade has some flaws, mystery-loving readers will find a lot to like in the Enola Holmes Series. Enola is a head-strong girl who clearly loves solving a good mystery. Her unexpected ways of solving mysteries lead Enola into humorous situations and her interactions with Sherlock add an interesting dynamic. However, the series is best suited for strong readers because of the advanced vocabulary which includes words such as fulminated, iconoclasm, phrenologist, protuberant, and exigency. Despite this, Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade gives an interesting view into the late nineteenth century and readers will enjoy trying to decode Cecily’s pigpen cipher. Readers who enjoy the Enola Holmes Series and would like another book with a strong female protagonist should add The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi to their reading list. 

Sexual Content 

  • Cecily was taken by a “charismatic kidnapper.” When she was returned home, most of society considered Cecily “soiled, stained, ruined matrimonial goods.”  
  • During a dinner conversation, a group of women are discussing a woman who bore her husband eight children. A woman says, “One of us should have slipped her a diaphragm.”  
  • While trying to discover Cecily’s father’s secrets, Enola wonders if “he had dallied with brazen ladies of the theatre. . . run wild in his youth. . . succumbed to hard liquor or worse. Perhaps he had even been known to frequent opium dens.” 

Violence 

  • After facing Cecily’s father, Sir Eustance, Enola tries to flee, but the butler “jumped in front of me to bar the door, I was able. . . to whip my dagger out of my bodice and raise it—not truly menacing; I had no intention of taking his life.” The butler moves out of the way. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Sherlock likes to smoke “shag tobacco.” 

Language   

  • Sir Eustance asks Enola, “Who the blasted blazes do you think you are?” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • During this time period, being left-handed was considered “the mark of the devil.” 

Chester Keene Cracks the Code

Chester Keene takes great comfort in his routines. Afterschool Monday to Thursday is bowling. Friday, the best of days, is laser tag! But Chester has one very special secret—he gets spy messages from his dad. Chester thinks his father must be on covert government assignments, which is why Chester has never been able to meet him.

Then one day, Chester’s classmate Skye approaches him with a clue. They’ve been tasked with a complex puzzle-solving mission! Skye proves to be a useful partner and good company, even if her free-wheeling ways are disruptive to Chester’s carefully built schedule. As Chester and Skye get closer to their final clue, they discover the key to their spy assignment: they have to stop a heist! But cracking this code may mean finding out that things are not always what they seem. 

Chester is used to being alone. Nobody sits by him at lunch. Nobody sits by him on the school bus. And nobody helps him when Marc bullies him. His dad is the only person that Chester can talk to, but he’s never actually met his dad and they only communicate through emails. But in Chester’s greatest time of need, his dad goes silent. So, when a strange clue is left on his door, Chester is convinced that his dad is a spy in danger—and only Chester can help. When Skye approaches Chester with the other piece of the clue, the two are forced to work together even though Chester would prefer to solve the mystery on his own. 

Chester Keene Cracks the Code has a slow start, but once Skye jumps into the story, the story takes off on a fun hunt for clues. Even though Chester is a bit “difficult,” Skye doesn’t let his quirks chase her off. And soon, Chester discovers that he likes having Skye as a friend, even though she is impulsive. While the clues add mystery to the book, Chester and Skye’s developing relationship adds heart and teaches readers the value of friendship. Even though the story is written from Chester’s point of view, readers will be able to relate to Skye’s annoyance when Chester gets difficult. 

Throughout the hunt for clues, Chester thinks his father is leaving the clues. While Chester thinks about the need to solve the clues and help his father, there is no clear reason that explains why Chester believes his father is in danger. Because of this, Chester’s constant thoughts about his father’s danger become a bit tedious. However, many readers will relate to Chester’s feelings of abandonment and his deep desire to meet his father. Chester eventually learns that with or without his father, he is surrounded by people who love him, and that is enough.   

Even though Chester and Skye must solve the clues left for them, the clues are so specific to the characters that the readers don’t have a chance to solve the clues themselves. Despite this, the story contains enough mystery and adventure to keep readers interested. Plus, the story teaches the importance of friendship, family, and speaking up when being bullied. Chester realizes “people make mistakes. . . Perfect—it doesn’t exist.” Overall, Chester Keene Cracks the Code is a fun read that shows the importance of embracing the people in your life and accepting them for who they are. 

Sexual Content 

  • Chester’s mother is dating a man who stays the night at her house. Chester knows that “Mom and Christopher won’t come out of the bedroom until later.” 
  • Skye tells Chester that her dad might marry his girlfriend because he’s “over the moon. They’re all smoochy smoochy all the time.” 
  • After Christopher proposes to Chester’s mom, they kiss. Skye tells them, “Get a room.” 

Violence 

  • After winning a round of laser tag, Marc (the school bully) corners Chester. Marc punches Chester. “A flash of color bursts behind my eyelids. My ears ring with a tinkling sound, or maybe the force of my body being slammed into the change machine. . .” Chester gets a huge black eye. 
  • Marc is standing by Chester’s locker. When Chester approaches, Marc “tosses a casual punch at my shoulder. . . Only, his hand lands hard enough that it throws me off-balance, and my other shoulder collides with the bank of lockers.” Then, Marc grabs Chester. Marc “grips some combination of my shirt, my armpit skin, and my backpack strap, and with tremendous force, whips my entire body around him. . .” Chester ends up on his back “limbs sprawling, neck kinked.” Chester’s shoulders and neck hurt, and his shirt is ripped. The scene is described over two pages.   
  • Chester tells a story about a man who came into the bowling alley and “tried to rob Amanda [the owner] at knifepoint once. She hit him in the head with a bowling ball.” 
  • Four people rob an armored car. Two of the men have “guns raised, they charge on the truck. Boom. The guard flinches like he hit a wall. He grabs his neck, then slumps down.” 
  • When a guard falls, Chester thinks, “Is he dead? But there’s no blood. No terrible explosion. A tiny arrow sticks out of his neck.” 
  • When the robber sees Chester, he grabs him. “My shoulder pops as [he] binds my hands together behind my back. He uses something thin and smooth. It cuts into my skin.” 
  • Skye jumps in to help Chester. A female robber grabs Skye and “she goes down.” The robber says, “Pop ‘em and let’s get out of here.” One of the men refuses to kill them because “they’re just kids.” The robbery is described over five pages. 
  • The school bully, Marc, calls Chester “Salisbury-face” because they were serving it at lunch. Angry, Chester’s “lunch tray geos vertical, smashes straight into Marc’s face. Peas go rolling over his shoulder, down his arms, and onto the floor.” 
  • Marc corners Chester in the bathroom and gives Chester a bruise “exactly the size and shape of a urinal head.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Twice after being punched, Chester goes home and takes Tylenol for the pain. 
  • While having dinner, Chester’s mother and her boyfriend have a beer. 
  • At the bowling alley, a group of adults is drinking beer.  
  • Chester’s mom’s boyfriend serves pizza and beer to other adults. 

Language   

  • Marc calls Chester a loser several times. 
  • When Marc slams into Chester, Chester thinks Marc is a “jerk-face.” 
  • After hitting Marc with his lunch, Chester thinks, “Oh, no. Oh, crud.” 
  • Skye says Marc is a jerk. 
  • Dang it is used three times. 
  • Heck is used four times. 
  • OMG, my God, and oh my God are used as an exclamation a few times. 
  • Skye calls Chester a doofus and a goof.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Escape from Falaise

After their plan to rescue the Prince of Gallica has gone horribly wrong, Will Treaty and his apprentice, Maddie, are being held captive at the Chateau des Falaises in Gallica. The dangerous baron, Lassigny, is intent on keeping them—and the prince—no matter what. But Will and Maddie are determined to escape.

If they ever want to return to their home, they’ll have to find ways to outwit the baron and get outside the locked tower. When friends from home endeavor to find their own way to help, it seems escape is closer than ever. But the dirty tricks of the baron are no laughing matter.

Facing dangerous threats, battles with knights, and a new and risky plot to save the prince, the odds are stacked against them. But the Rangers will use all the tools of their trade to save themselves and save the day.

Escape from Falaise concludes the story arc that began in The Missing Prince. In this installment, Horace and Halt join in the effort to free Maddie and Will. Even though the two Rangers successfully escape the castle, they go back in to finish their mission—free the Gallican prince, Giles. The story highlights the qualities of an honorable leader by using Lassigny and the Gallican king to demonstrate examples of abuse of power. The political intrigue is interesting and introduces a new twist to the Royal Ranger Series.

 One positive aspect of the story is that the Rangers go out of their way to avoid killing someone. For example, Lassigny’s guards use deadly force to try to stop Maddie and Giles from escaping the castle. Despite this, Will and Halt try to incapacitate the guards instead of killing them. Another positive aspect of the story is the camaraderie and respect among the rangers. Even though Maddie is significantly younger than Will and Halt, both men listen to her and take her opinion into consideration. Plus, they trust her to save Giles even though she must do it alone.

Readers who fell in love with the characters in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will enjoy seeing them in a new light. While the story focuses on Maddie’s role as a ranger, Halt, Horace, and Will play a major role in the story’s plot. Because the Royal Ranger Series is an extension of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series readers will want to read it before they jump into Flanagan’s companion series, the Brotherband Chronicles. If you’re looking for a book series with honorable characters who demonstrate loyalty, courage, and perseverance, all of Flanagan’s series will hit the mark.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Armand, one of the king’s senior officers, is “unpopular among the servants” because he “wasn’t above physical punishment for those who attracted his anger. He was free with his fist when it came to the male servants and had been known to lash out at some of the female staff with the short riding whip he always carried.”
  • Armand and Maddie have a duel. Maddie “let fly with two rapid shots, smashing the lead-weighted hardwood arrowhead into the heavy iron helmet. . .” During the fight, Maddie uses her arrows repeatedly. “Three massive blows slammed against Armand’s helmet, deafening him, blurring his sight and hurling him sideways to the right. . .” Maddies’ horse Bumper charges Armand’s roan “shoving him upward and sideways.” Armand falls of the horse, ending the battle.
  • To escape from captivity, Halt, Will and Maddie hide in a stable. When the stablemaster is about to see them, “an iron-hard arm clamped around his throat from behind. The stablemaster gave a short, startled gasp. . .He struggled wildly for a minute or so, but Halt’s grip was relentless, tightening further and further, cutting off the air to the man’s lungs.” When the stablemaster is unconscious, Halt ties him up.
  • While trying to leave the castle, a solider attempts to stop Halt, but his horse Tug “set his shoulder and thudded into the man, knocking the halberd from his grasp, and sending him crashing against the stone wall . . .Fortunately for the guard, he was wearing chain mail and a helmet, as his head slammed into the stonework. His eyes glazed and he slid down the wall, semiconscious.”
  • When Will and Maddie escape, Lassigny gets angry and orders someone to flog several of the soldiers.
  • Maddie sneaks into Lassigny’s castle to free Giles, who is being held captive. While they are sneaking out of the castle, Maddie uses her sling to incapacitate two guards. “The smooth, round stone slammed into the guard’s forehead . . . He gave a startled grunt, threw out his arms and crashed over. . .” Then Maddie throws a stone at the other guard. “The impact of the stone on the man’s head. . . was sickening. Like his comrade, the guard threw out his arms and collapsed backward onto the floor.” Maddie checks the men, who are unconscious but breathing.
  • When Giles is moaning in fear, Maddie “drew back a hand and slapped him hard across the cheek. Instantly, he sat up, his eyes wide-open. . . The moaning stopped.” Later, to escape, Maddie hit Giles again, knocking him unconscious.
  • As Maddie and Giles are escaping the castle, soldiers spot them. Halt shoots at the men. “Maddie saw another guard on the battlement go down.”
  • When Lassigny and his soldiers start leaving the castle, Will and Halt shoot arrows. “The results were devastation. The three riders in the front rank behind Lassigny were plucked from their saddles. Two of them lay where they fell.”
  • Lassigny challenges Horace to a “fair combat.” Lassigny charges Horace. “Lassigny, prepared to resist an upward flick, was caught unprepared for the powerful downward force of Horace’s stroke. The point of his lance was hammered violently down, so that it slammed into the ground. . .Then the lance shaft could bend no further and it shivered into splinters, and he fell, crashing down on his back.”
  • Lassigny recovers and attacks Horace with his sword. When Horace “delivered stroke after stroke,” Lassigny’s arm “was numbed by the impact and his knees buckled beneath him, forcing him to give ground.” After Lassigny gives up, Horace turns his back. Lassigny’s “face was a mask of hatred as he stepped towards Horace’s unprotected back, raising the dagger for a treacherous killing stroke. The three Rangers shot within the same heartbeat. Three arrows thudded into Lassigny, the force of the triple impact hurling him sideways.” The scene is described over five pages.
  • The king orders his brother to be executed for treason.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During a meal, alcohol is served, but “Maddie didn’t drink alcohol, and Will only imbibed sparingly.”
  • At another meal, alcohol is served. “Will signaled that he would have a glass. Maddie opted for water.”
  • When Will and Maddie are being held prisoner in the castle, they are served wine.
  • When Maddie sneaks the prince out of the castle, she waits for two men to move off the stairs. The men “were sitting and passing a flask of wine back and forth.”
  • While eating with the king, wine is served.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Falcon’s Feather

In the exciting follow-up to The Nebula Secret in the seven-book Explorer Academy Series, Cruz, Sailor, and Emmett, along with their new ally Bryndis, embark on their first globe-trotting mission aboard the ship Orion. Cruz jumps right back into school and starts using the latest technology in submersible underwater dives, but is soon reminded of the dangers of exploration when his equipment fails and he almost drowns. Determined to keep his eyes on the prize, Cruz sneaks away to find answers but unknowingly lures his friends into bigger trouble. When a friend of Cruz’s mom meets an untimely end, Cruz’s luck seems about to run out and the questions multiply. What does his mother’s message mean? Where will it lead? Who is following him? And why?  

Cruz’s adventure takes him and his friends to the land of the Norse gods. While there, Cruz and his classmates are introduced to amazing technology that is prominently featured. The technology is interesting and gives The Falcon’s Feather the opportunity to educate readers on several different global threats facing our world, including melting glaciers, endangered whales, and the lack of biodiversity in crops. For example, Cruz and his team go on a mission to save whales trapped in fishing nets. Before they leave, they learn “it’s not uncommon for larger marine animals to get snagged in lines and nets. . . More than three hundred thousand whales, dolphins, and porpoises die this way every year—that’s one every two minutes.” The facts are well-integrated into the story and never feel like a lecture or an encyclopedia. 

The Falcon’s Feather combines a well-written story with maps and illustrations that appear every two to twelve pages. Many of the illustrations are a mix of photographs and drawings, which gives the pictures a touch of realism. Another positive aspect of the book is that the academy encourages cooperation, respect, and honor. While all the students do not necessarily like each other, they are still expected to work together to reach a common goal. Plus, the book includes a section titled The Truth Behind the Fiction, which combines pictures and short blurbs on people featured in the book who have interesting jobs. While this story recaps important plot points from the first book, the series should definitely be read in order. 

As the second installment of the Explorer Academy Series, The Falcon’s Feather ramps up the action and gives readers more insight into the different characters. The large cast of characters that appeared in The Nebula Secret are beginning to feel like friends. Plus, suspense is created because the reader knows there is someone inside the academy who wants Cruz dead. The Explorer Academy Series will appeal to many readers because it has mystery, technology, animals, and an interesting cast of characters. The Falcon’s Feather ends on a cliff-hanger, so readers will be eager to begin the next book in the series, The Double Helix.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Cruz and his friends help whales who are trapped in nets. The group learns that if whales are “unable to break free in time, it can lead to serious injury or even death. The ropes can slice through their skin and cause infection. They can deform bones, cut off part of a tail, and restrict breathing, swimming, and eating.” Many whales die due to nets. 
  • A friend of Cruz’s mom, Nóri, was planning to meet Cruz at a hot spring. When Cruz arrives, he discovers that Nóri was pushed into the hot pools and “badly burned…From the chest down, Nóri was wet and violently shivering.” Nóri dies from his injuries. 
  • While looking for an artifact in an ice cave, Cruz and his friends are cornered. “Cruz was facing two men. One was Officer Wardincorn. The other was Tripp Scarlatos. Both were holding guns.” The two men question the kids and then “Tripp tossed something round and green into the air. . . a massive boom rocked the cave. Ice began raining. Cruz could feel the sting of hundreds of shards pelting his head, neck, shoulders, and back.” No one is seriously injured. 
  • During a phone conversation, one of the villains reveals that his henchman “is dead. Fell into a crevasse.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Dang is used once.  
  • One of Cruz’s friends calls Tripp a jerk. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • When someone knocks on the door to Cruz’s room, his roommate quickly hides a vacuum. Cruz says “a silent prayer of thanks that [his aunt] insisted he bring it.” 

Curse of the Forgotten City

It’s been one month since Tor Luna inherited the Night Witch’s power and received a warning that greater threats would come to Emblem Island. Tor and his friends, Melda and Engle, have found the past month to be drearily ordinary, with Engle remarking that he misses a bit of adventure. That is, until a girl named Vesper washes ashore on the beaches of Estrelle proclaiming that a band of evil pirates, called the Calavera, have come to conquer Estrelle and Emblem Island. Before the pirates make their attack, the Calavera are searching for the Pirate’s Pearl, which would give them the power of the sea (and an easy way to crush any resistance from the people of Estrelle). Tor, Melda, and Engle, are determined to find the pearl before that happens.  

Along with Vesper, the four friends find a magical ship in the Night Witch’s castle and set sail. Like their last adventure, the group has a guide, The Book of Seas, which they use to outsmart creatures and curses they encounter on their journey. While tracking down the Pirate’s Pearl, the four also accept Captain Forecastle, a pirate, into their makeshift crew. In addition to battling threats at sea, Melda and Tor distrust Vesper’s secretive nature. They discover that Vesper’s brother is working with the Calavera. Vesper has no intention of helping the pirates but rather wants her brother to be safe. 

During a run-in with the Calavera, Tor, Melda, Engle, and Vesper manage to outsmart the pirates and obtain the Pirate’s Pearl. The group travel back to Estrelle to confront the pirates before they attack Emblem Island. Now that Vesper’s loyalty has been proven, Tor gives Vesper the pearl, which she uses to control the sea and defeat the Calavera. Emblem Island is safe once again. . . but not long after, Tor realizes that a strange mark on his arm has something to do with the Night Witch’s obscure powers.  

Curse of the Forgotten City’s plot twist and villains aren’t as complicated or shocking compared to the first book in the series, Curse of the Night Witch. However, readers will enjoy learning more about Tor’s newfound magical abilities since Tor must master the witch’s powers even though he doesn’t want them. For example, he finds its easier to accept his destiny as the Night Witch’s heir when he stops wishing he didn’t have her abilities and instead tries to use them for good. By embracing his new skills, Tor is able to command the ship that retrieves the Pirate’s Pearl. His willingness to accept something for the sake of others makes Tor a selfless and admirable character. 

Another key aspect in the book is the loyalty between Tor, Engle, and Melda. Their relationship is strained due to the secrets they keep from one another and their mixed opinions on Vesper. However, they find that trusting each other and extending that trust to outsiders is well worth the risk. For example, Tor realizes that he “had been focused on his own pain. His own regret. . . Tor should have realized that [Engle] had been hiding his hurt behind jokes and laughs.” Tor’s decision to be honest helps the friends not feel so alone in their struggles. Additionally, when three friends decide to trust Vesper, she ends up being their most useful ally as she is the one who defeats the Calavera in the end. The story teaches that letting others into our hearts is essential to bringing out our inner strength. Readers who want to jump into another magical world with a strong protagonist should also read Tristan Strong by Kwame Mbalia. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The Book of Seas tells the Calavera’s history. “The Calavera made their ships from the bones of their victims – and there were many. . . They sunk each vessel that dared sail their way, vowing to be the last ships on the sea. And the killings did not stop when they reached land. They docked only to wreak havoc.” The Night Witch decides to stop them by sinking all their ships except one, which is cursed to sail forever without docking.  
  • The story of the blood queen is another story from The Book of Seas. In this story, Mora, a mermaid who unwillingly lost her tail for legs, becomes the blood queen with the help of the Night Witch. Mora “made a deal with the Night Witch. In exchange for being the keeper of keys to the Night Witch’s curses at sea, Mora’s lifeline would lengthen for every person she killed.” Mora has lived for over 200 years.  
  • The blood queen takes Tor’s blood in exchange for information, reopening an old wound he has. The blood queen “swiped a sword-sharp nail across [Tor’s] lifeline. Tor cried out, not just because of the pain, but because of the memory of another person who had done the exact same thing. The wound reopened, and blood came spilling out.” 
  • A giant squid attacks Tor. “Something wrapped around Tor’s chest so tight he gasped. It pulled him back down in a whoosh. . . [Tor] punched its tentacle with all his might, but its skin was tough as leather, its suction cups stuck tightly against him. . . The squid jerked its tentacle – and Tor – forward. Toward its mouth.” 
  • Vesper helps Tor fight the squid. She “jumped over a crumbled part of the balcony, landing on another one of the monster’s tentacles. It whipped her back and forth, but she gripped its skin and stayed on. Tor watched as she took a charm from her bracelet and made it big – a dagger. Then, she aimed for the soft skin in between the beast’s suction cups. It roared as the blade found its mark, and the tentacle around Tor loosened.” Vesper and Tor swim away from the squid without harming it further. It later comes back to attack them again, but no one is hurt. 
  • Bluebraid, a pirate, boards their ship with her crew and hurts Captain Forecastle. Bluebraid “dug her blade hard enough against Captain Forecastle’s throat that it produced a tumbling droplet of blood.”  
  • A pirate who is part of Bluebraid’s crew restrains Tor. He hurts Tor when Tor tries to escape. “The pirate’s scaled arm sliced against Tor’s [arm] as the pirate fought to get ahold of [Tor].” Tor is only scratched. He contracts a disease from the injury called stormscale that is lethal. Later, he’s healed by a magical object. 
  • Tor’s arm breaks when the ship crashes. “Tor hit the side of the ship and bone snapped – his arm erupted in pain, like fireworks going off beneath his skin. . . the bone in his arm stuck out in a strange direction, almost through his skin.”  
  • Captain Forecastle defeats a group of spectrals. A spectral “crumbled to ash as an arrow hit it. Another arrow whizzed right past Tor’s nose, finding its next target. The third remaining spectral . . . threw a mighty beam of purple fire through the air, aiming for where the arrow had come from. But another pierced it, from the opposite direction. And the spectral fell to pieces.” 
  • Vesper cuts her hand to activate a spell with blood. “Vesper made her dagger charm large enough that Tor could see its blade and pierced her hand with it.” 
  • Tor pierces his hand with a quill in order to use his blood to sign a magical contract. “He dug its sharp metal tip into his palm without hesitation. Crimson broke through the skin.” 
  • A Calavera spectral fights Tor, Melda, Engle, Vesper, and Captain Forecastle. “A fiery burst of purple lightning lit up the room, striking Tor right in the chest. . . Captain Forecastle aimed more arrows, one after the other, pushing the spectral back, getting close enough to make a deadly blow. The spectral narrowed its eyes, and, with a whip of his wrist, brought up a new barrier, purple as his fire. The two arrows hit it, then ricocheted and pierced [Captain Forecastle] right through the stomach. He slumped to the floor.” Tor and the Captain are injured in the fight, which lasts two pages. 
  • In the same battle, the spectral kills Vesper’s brother, Calder, who was working with the Calavera. “Before [Calder] could grip [Vesper’s] fingers, the spectral struck [Calder’s] chest with a fistful of purple flame. And he was thrown back through the window, down to the rocks below. Vesper’s scream coincided with another strike of lightning.” 
  • After the battle, Captain Forecastle is gravely injured. “Blood pooled out of Captain Forecastle. Two arrows stuck out of his stomach.” He is later healed and recovers.  
  • Vesper defeats the Calavera by using the Pirate’s Pearl. Vesper “sent giant waves crashing against each Calavera ship, forcing them together, their wood groaning and shattering as they rammed into each other. With the pearl clutched tightly in her fist, she split through two ships with slices of sea that she had honed to cut as sharply as blades. Screams pierced the air as the Calavera fell into the water, their ships falling to pieces around them. The Calavera captain yelled orders, and the shark at the helm of his vessel broke free, then made a path for Vesper. It was five times her size, a monstrous beast that could devour her whole without a single chomp of its teeth. But she controlled the sea. And, with a flick of her wrist, the shark turned, then launched toward its captain instead. The mammoth creature flew out of the water, mouth opened wide to devour him. He fell back, but the shark caught his hand – ripping it clean off before disappearing underwater.” Vesper spares the remaining pirates by making them and their ships so small they fit in a fishbowl. 
  • The Book of Seas tells of a girl named Lune who could control the waves, but accidentally kills people by using her power. Lune “created a wave as tall as a mountain, just to test her abilities. . . Little did she know, a ship sailed not far away. It [the wave] tore the vessel in half, and all were dead before Lune realized what she had done.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Due to Engle’s nightmares, Melda and Tor make an elixir to help him sleep that they secretly put on Engle’s pillow. Engle is upset when he learns Melda and Tor drugged him without his consent, but the friends talk it out and apologize.  
  • Captain Forecastle drinks a bottle of rum. 

Language 

  • Engle says Captain Forecastle is “nuttier than a cashew.” Melda calls him “Captain Cuckoo.” 
  • Captain Forecastle tells someone to have a “good, bloody day!” 
  • Melda asks Captain Forecastle to tell the truth by asking for “no exaggerated hogwash.” 

Supernatural 

  • Most people in the story have two features: an emblem and a lifeline. An emblem is a symbol on the body representing a skill that usually becomes their profession. For example, Tor’s mother, is the town’s chief and has a leadership emblem. The people also have a lifeline, which is a line on the body that shows the high and low points in their life, representing hardships and victories, as well as when that person will die. In this book, Vesper and her people commonly have two emblems and lifelines at sea become too unpredictable to read. 
  • Tor has inherited the Night Witch’s power, which gives him the ability to have multiple emblems. He gains a water breathing emblem that allows him to walk and talk underwater without the need to breathe. Melda has a leadership emblem to inspire others, Engle’s sightseer emblem lets him see long distances, and Vesper has two emblems: water breathing and the ability to change the size of objects, which she uses often. 
  • The world is full of magic creatures, objects, and curses.  
  • The Calavera are a group of pirates that want to take over Emblem Island. They were formerly cursed by the Night Witch to sail forever, however after she passed her power to Tor, the curse was broken. 
  • The group visits the Night Witch’s castle to find items to help them on their journey. They find a ship there that can be controlled by Tor and a magical snowflake that they use to freeze the Calavera ship in the water to buy them time to find the Pirate’s Pearl. 
  • A spectral is a creature that is part of the Calavera crew. One is always with the captain. He is humanoid “without a mouth” and “sickly pale flesh pulled too tightly across his face. His eyes were black, only a dot of bright yellow alive in them.” Another man in the Calavera company uses magic to teleport.  
  • The blood queen tells Tor that he is likely immortal after gaining the Night Witch’s power.  
  • The city Vesper is from, Swordscale, can teleport. It can be accessed by an underwater portal. 
  • Tor can control the ship Vesper finds in the Night Witch’s castle by magically commanding the rigging. 
  • Tor receives a new emblem, a shield. Tor’s “chest burned and he winced. It felt like the skin there had been charred and cut away. He pulled down the top of his shirt and saw something glimmering, fresh and still hot to the touch. A new emblem. A shield.” 
  • Tor talks about dark enchantments. “They were born from pain – usually from forcing someone to enchant an object. And they always required blood.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Missing Prince

Will Treaty and his apprentice, Maddie, have been urgently summoned to Castle Araluen. When they arrive, they learn a shocking truth: the Prince of Gallica is missing—and the King of Gallica has asked for help. All reports suggest that the young prince has been taken prisoner by the dangerous and powerful Baron Joubert de Lassigny. King Duncan knows that sending troops to Gallica to rescue the prince could start a war, as could openly helping Gallica resolve internal conflict. But there’s another way to save the prince: the Ranger Corps.

Soon, Will and Maddie are on the road to rescue the missing prince, disguised as father and daughter jongleurs. Maddie will have to use her knife throwing skills to keep up her disguise, and her ranger’s apprentice training to complete the mission. But going undercover is dangerous—and the road presents its own hazards. Can she and Will use all of their talents to save the prince, or will the arrogant Baron uncover their plans and put their lives– and their kingdom– at risk?

Unlike the other books in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, The Missing Prince is missing action. For most of the story, Will and Maddie are traveling to the castle where the Prince of Gallica is being held captive. Along the way, Will and Maddie face bandits which adds excitement to the story. However, their trip drags and when the two finally reach their destination, the book suddenly ends leaving the reader wondering what will happen in the next book, Escape from Falaise.

Will and Maddie are admirable characters who willingly face danger in an attempt to free the missing prince. However, the book’s slow start focuses more on the political reasons to help the Gallican prince. In addition, Maddie’s mother is reluctant to let Maddie go on a ranger mission. Readers may quickly become bored with the political and parental aspects of the story. Despite this, fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will be happy that Will Treaty plays a major role in The Missing Prince.

Some of the story’s plot feels redundant because Will again disguises himself as a jongleur. Despite this, fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will enjoy Will and Maddie’s relationship and the two working together. Plus, the conclusion has several surprises and leaves readers with several unanswered questions. Even though The Missing Prince lacks the action of other books, the cliffhanger will have readers reaching for Escape from Falaise.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • To stop a band of thieves, Will dresses like an old farmer. When the thieves see Will, they try to stop him. Will shoots an arrow and “Jem was down, rolling in agony on the ground and clutching an arrow that had transfixed his left calf.”
  • One of the bandits, Barton, tries to hit Will, who lifts the man and throws him. “Barton landed with a heavy thud, flat on his back. . . When he recovered, he found himself looking along the blade of a very sharp saxe knife, which pricked the soft skin of his throat.” Will and Maddie take the men to the local law.
  • While Will and Maddie are entertaining, thieves appear and demand everyone’s money. A young man tries to intervene, but “the bandit leader stepped in close to him and swung the butt of the crossbow so that it slammed into Simon’s forehead.” The man is injured.
  • As the thieves are celebrating their newfound wealth, the leader “held his bottle up prior to drinking from it. Will’s arrow smashed through it, showering the drunken bandit chief with wine and shattered fragments of glass, before thudding, quivering into a log lying ready by the fire.” To take down the bandit leader, Maddie “whipped the sling up and over and the lead shot hissed through the air across the clearing, striking Vincent’s skull behind the ear with an ugly thud. The bandit’s eyes glazed, and he let out a sickly little moan. . . he crashed to the forest floor, stunned.” The scene is described over four pages.
  • While Will and Maddie are restraining the bandits, “a man rose onto one knee and leveled the crossbow.” Will sees the movement and “he drew his throwing knife and sent it spinning across the clearing. . .the knife hit him in the center of his chest.”
  • While searching the castle tower for the missing prince, “a burly figure” sees Maddie. When the man grabs her, “she suddenly stepped toward him. . .she grabbed a handful of tunic, bent her legs and shoved her backside into his body.” She then knees him in the groin and runs.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Will and Maddie pose as jongleurs and perform in local taverns. The customers often drink wine and ale. When they eat at the castle, ale and wine are also served.
  • A man who has been following Will and Maddie goes into a tavern and is “nursing a tankard of ale.”
  • After the thieves rob the townspeople, they hide in the forest. The eight men were “sprawled around the camp. They stole some wine from the tavern last night and they’re all drinking.” The men turn into a “nosy, drunken group.”
  • Will and Maddie see a peddler who had “casks of ale and wine.”

Language

  • A man thinks that the Gallic king is a “pompous prat.”
  • Damn is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

The Iron Tomb

When Sam Force goes to Egypt to spend the summer with his Uncle Jasper, he is ready for the usual vacation filled with museums and lessons about pharaohs and ancient gods. Instead, Sam arrives at the airport and learns that his uncle is missing and wanted by the police.

After narrowly escaping his own arrest, Sam sets off to find his uncle using a series of clues that Jasper left behind. But a group of mysterious men is hot on his trail, and Sam knows they’re willing to do whatever it takes to track down Jasper and whatever he was looking for.

Now all Sam has to do is find him first.

With the help of his new friends, Hadi and Mary, and using knowledge of ancient Egyptian history, Sam makes his way across Egypt determined to find his uncle. And if he does find Jasper before it’s too late, he may also uncover the secret of the Iron Tomb. . . a secret that could change Sam’s life forever.  

The Iron Tomb starts off with instant suspense as Sam gets to Egypt and is forced to hide from the police. Since Sam doesn’t know anyone from Egypt, except for his uncle, he must rely on Hadi and Mary, two teens he just met. Despite just meeting them, Sam puts his full trust in them which is unrealistic considering their unusual behavior. For example, Sam is riding in the back of a delivery truck and the police are hot on his trail. Mary suddenly calls and tells Sam to move to the truck’s roof. Then, Mary and her ‘handler,’ fly over the truck in a helicopter and save Sam. Despite this, Sam doesn’t question Mary’s motives until he overhears a phone conversation where Mary reveals that she is sure Sam can lead them to his Uncle Jasper. 

Even though many of the events are unrealistic, middle-grade readers will enjoy the non-stop action and unexpected twists. Learning about Egyptian history is a bonus. Black and white pictures are scattered throughout the book. The illustrations show maps and clues, and help readers picture some of the complicated plot points. Readers who enjoy ciphers and deciphering clues will enjoy trying to solve the mystery along with Sam.  

Even though The Iron Tomb focuses on the mystery of Jasper’s disappearance, the book doesn’t shy away from bloody violence. For example, when Sam is going through the sewers, two men dump a body into the water and a hoard of rats begins feasting on the corpse. The scene is graphic, bloody, and doesn’t advance the plot. In addition, one man kills another, then drinks his blood in order to survive. The graphic descriptions of violence will upset some readers.  

Despite the book’s flaws, readers eager for a dangerous adventure with plenty of surprises will find The Iron Tomb an entertaining read. While Sam is too trusting, he is also a smart, determined boy who doesn’t give up. Sam’s bravery and determination can be admired even though he often makes mistakes. Even though The Iron Tomb solves the mystery of Jasper’s disappearance, the conclusion clearly sets up another mystery that will take Sam to Belize in the second book of the series, Bones of the Sun God. Readers who want to learn more about Egyptian history should trek to the library and also grab a copy of The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld. Readers who are up for more action-packed adventure should also read Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra by Stuart Gibbs and Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas by Jonathan W. Stokes.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Five years prior to the book, Sam’s parents were murdered “in a hotel room robbery.”  
  • While in his uncle’s apartment, a man grabs Sam. “A thick woolen sweater snaked itself around his chest and wrenched him away from the sink. Sam cried out in surprise as he was pulled back against the body of a large man.” Sam is able to escape. 
  • A man with short hair is following Sam, who tries to hide in a store. When the man finds him, Sam throws jars of olives at him. “The Short-Haired Man laughed as the first one smashed near his boots. . . But the laughing stopped when the second bottle of olives exploded on the wall, showering Sam’s target with olives and shards of glass.” In order to escape, Sam pushes a shelf unit onto the man. “The ceiling-high wall of goods crashed on top of him. . . Sam could hear the man screaming and cursing.” The scene is described over two and a half pages. 
  • To escape the Short-Haired Man, Sam goes into the sewers where a “furry mass” of rats follows him. Sam shoots a rat and then “tiny fangs flashed in the light as the mob attacks their wounded comrade.” 
  • When Sam is in the sewer, someone throws a body into the water. “Sam watched with sick fascination as the rats went to work on their floating buffet.”  
  • One of the men who disposed of the body goes into the water after the man’s wallet. “Using the flashlight as a club, he belted the rats out of the way, grabbed the wallet, and waved it triumphantly. . . The wallet was covered in so much blood it looked like it had been pulled out of the victim’s chest. . .The blood dribbled down the man’s arm as he held his prize in the air.” 
  • When the rats attack the man with the wallet, he “howled and swatted one of his attackers with his flashlight. . .Rats began launching themselves at the terrified Egyptian, who dropped the wallet and began swatting rats. . .” The rat scene is described over two pages. 
  • When Sam tries to escape the sewer, the killers go after him. Sam throws his flashlight at the men. “The thud of metal on flesh triggered a stream of harshly spoken Egyptian, but the figure kept climbing. . .” The man grabs Sam, but Sam is able to escape. 
  • Sam, Bassem, and Mary try to escape two men on motorcycles. “Bassem took one step back and flicked the rod up like a samurai presenting his sword to his opponent. As the first bike came toward him, he swung down and across in one smooth, vicious motion that caught the rider in the middle of his chest.” The man crashes to the ground. Sam and his companions flee. 
  • The other biker continues to follow Sam and his companions, who hide in an open-air market. When the biker is in the middle of the crowd, Bassem throws smoke bombs into the crowd. “Chaos had exploded in the square. High-pitched shrieks from goats, donkeys, and men combined. It was like a bomb going off on Noah’s Ark.” Sam and his companions escape into the desert. 
  • When Sam finds his Uncle Jasper, Jasper looks like a “lifeless, blood-splattered body.” At first, Sam thinks Uncle Jasper is dead, but later Sam finds out the blood was from Jasper’s bloody nose. 
  • The Short-Haired Man slaps Sam. “The lighting-fast slap across the face sounded like a snapping stick in the confines of the dining room. His vision clouded; his eyes watered.” Later, the man slaps Hadi, a boy who works for him. “Hadi eyed his attacker through blood-covered fingers as he tried to stem the gush coming from the pulpy mess that had been his nose.” 
  • In an effort to kill Sam and Uncle Jasper, the Short-Haired Man causes an explosion that leaves Sam and Uncle Jasper buried underground.  
  • Sam finds a letter about how two men—Jason and Thomas—were trapped in a boat that got caught in a storm and buried by sand. The two men fight, and Jason “drove the wooden stake into the jugular vein and watched as his life force spilled out of him. . . A rich red pool, creeping out from his body across the floor. . .” Later, the man confesses that he “fed upon another” and drank the dying man’s blood. 
  • The Short-Haired Man plans to kill Hadi because Hadi knows too much. The man “straightened his arm and took aim at the back of Hadi’s head. The boy’s whimpering died away. . .” Sam distracts the man and saves Hadi’s life. 
  • Sam tries to shoot the Short-Haired Man with an old flare gun. The man mocks him and pulls the trigger several times. When the flare gun doesn’t go off, the man puts the gun in his pants. Then, “Thick and white, the smoke belched from the Short-Haired Man’s jacket, and he began to scream. . . Fat red tongues of flame signaled the second stage of an explosion that was meant to happen hundreds of feet up in the air. The Short-Haired Man was transformed into a fiery ball of flailing arms and legs. . .” The man falls into a shaft. 
  • The Short Haired Man climbs up the shaft, and grabs onto Sam’s ankle. Sam sees “five bloody, burn-ravaged fingers were locked around his ankle . . . hovering in the white smoke coming out of the shaft, was barely recognizable as human—a burnt and swollen head coated in sand made wet by the weeping skin.” Eventually, the man falls into the shaft and is buried by sand. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • After breaking his ribs, Sam is given an “injection” to dull the pain.  

Language   

  • Pissed off is used twice. 
  • The Short-Haired Man calls Hadi “a sewer rat working for money.” 

Supernatural 

  • Sam is given a scarab beetle necklace because “it is good luck and will keep us safe.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Akhenaten was named “the heretic king because he banned the worship of all the gods and decreed there would be only one. Aten, the sun god.” 

Fall of Hades

Now that the small island nation of Tuvalu has become the base of Dr. Hatch’s operations, Michael and the Electroclan plan to stop him by taking down the Elgen’s floating treasury, a ship named the Joule. In addition, Dr. Hatch’s remaining loyal electric children have turned against him. Before Hatch can have them executed for treason, Michael wants to rescue them, along with the innocent Tuvaluan citizens who have become prisoners on the island the evil doctor renamed “Hades.”

For Dr. Hatch, it seems like things are finally falling apart due to his number one in command, Welch, disappearing with the help of Quentin, his former favorite electric child. However, Hatch’s feelings change when he learns of the Electroclan’s plans. The Electroclan have enlisted a captain named J.D. to help them sink the Joule – but J.D. is on Hatch’s side. Hatch allows J.D. to go along with the Electroclan’s plan to infiltrate the island so the Electroclan is in his grasp.

A bloody battle ensues at a prison in Hades during an intense storm. A few of the Electroclan, such as Tanner and Gervaso, die in the fight. At the end of the book, Michael climbs a tower to get struck by lightning. The subsequent massive explosion ends the battle, though Hatch escapes from the island. The Joule is destroyed and Hades has fallen, but Michael, the symbol of hope for the resistance, is gone.

This installment of the Michael Vey series dedicates a large amount of time to the story’s minor characters, often skipping from the action to flashbacks or other characters’ dilemmas. While it can be distracting from the main plot, readers who have followed the story until now will want to keep reading to see if Michael can finally defeat Hatch. Because Michael is fighting an all-out war, the events may be difficult to connect to, but readers will likely sympathize with Michael’s motives. Michael believes that the best sacrifice is the one made for others, even if isn’t successful. He says, “I’m fighting a battle for humanity. Of course, I could die and not win any victory, but I think that’s got to be worth something too.”

Though this book ends with Michael’s disappearance, picking up the last book is a must. The most moving part of the story is Michael’s climb up the tower, where he reflects on the journey he has taken with his friends and family. “So many memories. Most of them recent, it seemed. I suppose I had lived more life in the last year than most people live in eighty. That was good. Because I knew mine was coming to an end.” The final book of the series, Michael Vey: The Final Spark explores what motivation remains for the Electroclan once Michael is gone and whether they can keep the fight alive in Michael’s memory.

Sexual Content

  • As part of Welch’s backstory, we learn that he fell in love with a girl named Mei Li despite the Elgen’s rule forbidding romantic relationships. Welch stays with her while he’s on the run, and they kiss.
  • Michael and Taylor are dating. They kiss a few times.
  • When Nichelle is getting a tattoo, the artist says, “What do you need, babe? I have a special for the ladies as long as it’s on lady parts.”
  • Jack recalls a time when he sent a girl a text that got him in trouble. “I sent a text to a girl that said I wanted to kiss her. Her father ended up on my doorstep with the police. The autocorrect had changed my text to I wanted to kill her.”
  • A captain named J.D. who is assisting the Electroclan takes an interest in Taylor. He calls her beautiful and kisses her hand. He says, “I might just have to keep this one for myself.” Michael remarks that Taylor looks uncomfortable with the comment and when he shakes the captain’s hand, he shocks him.
  • When the Electroclan find out that captain J.D. has sold them out, Taylor says, “he sold us all out for money. He wants the million-dollar bounty on Welch, and he asked Hatch if he could own me. As his pet.”

Violence

  • Michael tells a story about a railroad worker who was forced to decide between killing his son or killing innocent people to illustrate his dilemma in fighting the secret war against the Elgen. “There was a man who was in charge of switching the railroad tracks for the train. It was an important job because if the train was on the wrong track, it could crash into another train, killing hundreds of people. One evening, as he was about to switch the tracks for an oncoming train, [the man] suddenly heard the cry of his young son, who had followed him out and was standing on the track he was supposed to switch the train to. This was the dilemma – if he switched the tracks, the train would kill his son. If he didn’t, the people on the train, hundreds of strangers he didn’t even know, might die. At the last moment, he switched the tracks. The people on the train went on by, not even knowing the disaster they had missed or the little boy who had been killed beneath them.”
  • In a flashback about Welch’s past, Welch remembers the time when he was a delivery boy on a job bringing pizza to the Elgen headquarters when he stopped an ex-employee from vandalizing the building. “The vandal sprang from the garden, sprinting diagonally across the building’s front walkway in Welch’s direction. Instinctively, Welch dropped his pizzas and took off to intercept the man… Welch leveled the guy, who was barely half his size, with a waist-high tackle. Then he picked him up by the waist and carried him over to the front entryway, where there were now three security guards rushing out of the building… The [vandal] suddenly tried to free himself from Welch’s grasp. Welch belted him across the face, knocking him out.”
  • Torstyn, one of the electric children, is tortured by Hatch in a cell that is meant to keep him uncomfortable, including lights that are always on. There is also a screen that plays a video of rats devouring animals or humans every 15 minutes. Torstyn also has a RESAT on, a torture device specifically engineered for the electric children. Hatch uses it to cause him pain when he tells Torstyn that he intends to feed him to the rats. Hatch also tells Torstyn how he will die. “If you cooperate with me, I will see that you are anesthetized before going into the bowl. You will not feel those little mouths, bite by bite, eat away your life… I can also promise you that if you don’t cooperate, I will make sure that your vitals are well protected so that the furry little creatures will have to gnaw their way up your body cavity to end your life.” Hatch also says, “It was medieval torture, you know. During the Inquisition, the torturer would place rats in a cage on top of a prisoner’s body, then put hot coals on top of the cage. The rats would burrow through the body to escape the heat… If you fail to help me, you will be terrifyingly aware of every rat’s bite. Your head and eyes will be caged, so you can see your own skeleton as the rodents strip the flesh from your legs and arms to the bones. You will witness your own slow consumption.”
  • When Quentin says that Michael Vey might be able to stop Hatch, Hatch replies by saying that he will feed Quentin Michael’s flesh. Hatch later says, “Today I will feast on my enemy” when he learns that Michael is coming for him.
  • When Quentin is put in a monkey cage like the former Prime Minister, he glimpses the former Prime Minister. “He looked more animal than human. He was pale and ill and had lost enough weight that his ribs seemed to stretch his skin. He was covered with filth and fleas and blood, as he bore dozens of bite marks [from the monkeys].”
  • Taylor’s father, Mr. Ridley, is shot in a confrontation with recreational hunters near the ranch the Electroclan are hiding at. Michael shocks them in retaliation. “I pulsed, and a massive blue-gold wave of electricity exploded, knocking Taylor and all four of the hunters to the ground… In the dark I could see something black around Mr. Ridley’s stomach.” Taylor also uses her powers to hurt the hunters. “The hunters were all on the ground rolling around, moaning in pain… two of them started screaming.”
  • The doctor that arrives at the scene wants Michael to cauterize Mr. Ridley’s bullet wound by shocking it. “I looked down at the mass of blood. The bullet wound was about the diameter of a dime and slightly ragged… I pulsed. Mr. Ridley’s body tensed… I could feel his blood boil against my finger. The pungent stink of burning blood filled the air.”
  • A few of the kids, including Michael, Jack, Ostin, and Nichelle, get mugged on their way back from a tattoo parlor. Michael attacks the mugger. “I blasted him up against the wall of the building behind him. His gun went off from the pressure of my pulse, but the strength of my pulse stopped the bullet in midair. The man fell to the ground.” He is only knocked unconscious.
  • Taylor and Jack punish a guard who hurt McKenna when the Elgen tracked them down. “She closed her eyes, and the man began shaking. When she stopped, he had a blank expression. Suddenly Jack walked up to the man and punched him, knocking him over… Then he walked around punching each of the terrified guards.”
  • When the Electroclan rescues Quentin, they have to dispose of some guards. Michael shocks them. “I reached out and pulsed. A massive wave blurred the air, sizzling with the rain it devoured. Both of the guards were knocked off their feet.”
  • When J.D. reveals that he gave them up, Zeus and Michael want to hurt him. Though they don’t, J.D. says that Hatch intends to kill them and has “special plans” for Michael: Hatch intends to eat him with a special cannibal fork used by the Fiji people called the ai cula ni bokola. J.D. says, “The general plans to serve you for the feast to celebrate the end of the resistance.”
  • A long battle ensues on the island of Tuvalu for control of a prison. Gervaso, the head of the resistance’s military operations, is shot and sacrifices himself in his final moments. “A gun opened fire, hitting Gervaso in the chest and knocking him back onto the dock… Gervaso feebly lifted his handgun but was hit two more times by Elgen bullets as the squad stepped up onto the dock… The front guard, barely older than twenty, walked on the blood-soaked dock until he was next to Gervaso. He pointed his gun at the back of Gervaso’s head. ‘Good-bye, man.’ Gervaso rolled over to look the young guard in the eyes. In his hand Gervaso held a grenade, its pin already pulled. ‘Yeah, good-bye.’ ‘Hit the deck!’ the guard shouted, but it was too late.  The grenade blew, igniting the chain of explosives. The entire dock exploded in a blinding flash.”
  • At another point in the battle, Michael is terrified due to the gruesome scene. “The dark grounds below us were chaos. The screaming of fallen prisoners echoed amid the hellish landscape of rain, smoke, and fire. The Elgen forces flowed in like demon shadows, darkening a courtyard lit only by gunfire or grenades. Occasionally, lightning would strike, illuminating the grounds for a second, like a strobe, capturing the dying and killing in frozen, violent stances.”
  • During the battle, to turn the tide in their favor, Ostin releases the rats who then eat the Elgen soldiers. “The ravenous rats swept across the yard in a powerful, glowing surge, running at guards, drawn to them by the smell of death and meat… The swarm of rats broke against the men like a wave hitting the shore, covering and devouring them, pouring over each other, as the guards were stripped of their flesh… The sounds of screams and machine guns echoed in the distance.”
  • Tanner, one of the electric children, dies in battle when they are being bombed. Michael is with Tanner in his final moments. “Through the smoke I could see Tanner lying on top of a desk against the west wall. His arm was dangling over the side, and I could see blood dripping from his fingers… He was mostly covered in the chalky plaster of the wall, except where the red of his blood had seeped through and stained his clothes and the dust crimson. There were holes all over his body. Shrapnel… Somehow Tanner was still conscious. His chin quivered, and a thin stream of blood fell down from the corner of his mouth… He looked into my eyes. Then his gaze froze and his hand went limp.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hatch occasionally drinks alcohol. He also takes sleeping pills in unhealthy amounts.
  • It is mentioned that Welch’s parents were drug addicts. Later, when asked to drink alcohol, Welch declines. He says, “My biological father was an alcoholic. I figured I inherited his genes.” Eventually, Hatch forces Welch to have a glass of alcohol when he becomes part of the company. He takes a sip of wine.
  • Welch smokes once in the book. Welch says, “I hope I get to die slowly of cancer.”
  • J.D. admits that he gave up the Electroclan because he needs money for drugs. His former friend, Gervaso, calls him a “junkie.” J.D. replies, “After I got shot saving you, they put me on painkillers. I got addicted. When the painkillers stopped working, I needed something stronger.”

Language

  • Occasionally the kids use insults like “stupid,” “freak,” and “idiot.”

Supernatural

  • The focus of the Michael Vey series is on seventeen Electric children with electricity-related powers. A full dossier is available in the front of the book. For example, Michael can pulse like an electric eel, Mckenna can create light and heat, and Taylor can use electrical brain signals to read minds.

Spiritual Content

  • Michael thinks about dying occasionally in the book. “Lately I’ve been wondering where Wade is – you know, the whole death thing. Life after life. Where do we go after we die? Or is this it and when we’re done, we’re done? I don’t know. It’s possible that Wade and my father are hanging out right now, watching us. Cheering us on. Maybe… I guess one day everyone finds out what death is about.”
  • When Hatch finds Welch, he remarks on it spiritually. “Hatch couldn’t believe his good fortune. ‘And to think I said there is no God.’”
  • Jack once says “choke on that karma.”
  • Michael quotes from the Bible. “As we walked off the dock onto the island, I felt a dark, eerie feeling of desolation. A line from the Bible came to me: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
  • When Tanner is dying, he comes to terms with killing others. Michael says, “It wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault. Hatch made you do it.” Tanner replies, “Maybe. . . God will see it that way.”
  • When Michael climbs the tower, he shouts “to the gods of lighting” to strike him. He also says, of getting shocked, “I felt what it feels like to be God. But I’m no god.”

by Maddie Shooter

The Ring of Honor

Middle school geniuses Sam, Martina, and Theo arrive in New York City on a mission. They need to find the third artifact left behind by the Founding Fathers before it falls into the wrong hands. After all, together, these objects unlock a secret weapon designed by Benjamin Franklin. The trio has escaped the forest of Glacier National Park at great cost—Evangeline, their chaperone and friend, was captured by the nefarious and dangerous Gideon Arnold.

Now the three friends must navigate New York City, following clues related to Alexander Hamilton to solve and survive the puzzles and traps they encounter along the way, and uncover the third artifact before Gideon Arnold does. The stakes have never been higher, and Sam, Martina, and Theo might not all make it out alive.

The Ring of Honor takes the reader on another fast-paced and fascinating story that educates readers on Alexander Hamilton, the founder of the United States’ financial system. When the kids meet Hamilton’s descendant, Jack, they are surprised to find an aspiring actor who has no interest in Hamilton’s history. While Jack plays a minor role, his appearance adds humor. While many of the characters reappear—Gideon Arnold, Abby Arnold, and Evangeline—Jack’s appearance gives the story an interesting twist.

While trying to solve Hamilton’s clues, the kids discuss the idea of sacrificing your own well-being for the good of a cause, and they learn facts about how Hamilton died in a duel, and the belief that he developed (shot into the air during the duel). As the kids follow Hamilton’s clues, they must use all their brainpower to analyze historical events and ciphers. Readers will enjoy trying to decipher the clues before they are revealed in the story.

The Ring of Honor is the third and final installment of the Secrets of the Seven Series. While the story of Sam and his friends searching for clues is fast-paced, suspenseful, and entertaining, the conclusion is frustratingly poor because of all the unanswered questions. First, Theo’s mother, who was presumed dead, miraculously reappears under odd circumstances. Evangeline, who is being held captive by Gideon Arnold, fades into the background and is forgotten. Even though Sam and Martina were instrumental in finding three of the founders’ artifacts, Theo’s mother thanks them and sends them home. Plus, Gideon Arnold is still a danger to the kids and to the country. The book’s conclusion negates all of Sam and Martina’s hard work. Instead of leaving the story open-ended, the conclusion leaves the reader wondering why Sam and Martina were dragged into the founder’s problems in the first place.

Secrets of the Seven Series will appeal to readers who love history, puzzles, and ciphers. While readers will thoroughly enjoy the Secrets of the Seven Series, the conclusion is cringe-worthy. Readers who are ready for more advanced and exciting clue-solving mysteries should add the Charlie Thorne Series by Stuart Gibbs and the City Spies Series by James Ponti to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While trying to escape from Gideon Arnold, the kids find a woman “sitting hunched in a corner. One of her wrists was handcuffed to a pipe beside her. . .” The kids try to help the woman, but she tells them to flee before Gideon Arnold finds them.
  • The kids go to see Jack, one of the founders. When they walk into his apartment, “Gideon Arnold, who’d been standing behind the open door, smiled at them like a snake might smile at its dinner. . .. Another man in a dark suit stepped out. . . a gun in his hand, and pointed the weapon straight at Theo.”
  • To escape the villains, Theo “who’d just grabbed his own backpack, swung the arm holding it so his elbow smashed into Dane’s [a thug] already-broken nose. The man doubled over with a roar of pain. . .”
  • As the kids are running, Sam falls. Gideon Arnold’s daughter, Abby, threatens to shoot Sam. “Abby now had the pistol in one hand, and was pointing it up at the sky . . .” Abby shoots and then tells Sam to run.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Marty calls Sam a doofus and an idiot.
  • Sam thinks someone is a slimeball and scum.
  • OMG is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Theo repeats Alexander Hamilton’s last words, “I am a sinner. I look to Him for mercy; pray for me.”

The Nebula Secret

Adventure, danger, and a thrilling global mission await 12-year-old Cruz Coronado as he joins an elite school for explorers.

Cruz leaves his tranquil home in Hawaii to join 23 talented kids from around the globe to train at the Explorer Academy with the world’s leading scientists. Their goal is to become the next generation of great explorers.  

But for Cruz, there’s more at stake. The moment he arrives at the Academy, he discovers his family has a mysterious past with the organization that could jeopardize his future. In the midst of codebreaking and cool classes, new friends and augmented-reality expeditions, Cruz must tackle the biggest question of all: who is out to get him … and why? 

The Nebula Secret focuses on Cruz, but the third-person narration allows readers to get a glimpse into other characters as well. Due to the large cast of characters, Cruz is the only character that has any depth. As far as the other academy students, most of them are only introduced briefly and readers will have to pay close attention to remember all their names.  

Cruz’s conflict is multifaceted. Someone is trying to kill him, but Cruz doesn’t know who or why. This makes it difficult for Cruz to know which students and teachers to trust. In addition, Cruz’s mother left him clues to decode. The questions behind Cruz’s mother’s death add to the mystery. Plus, the story is interspersed with suspense and high action that keeps readers entertained until the very end. 

The Explorer Academy has high expectations for the students. Despite this, making mistakes is seen as a learning opportunity. While students’ grades are important, getting an A isn’t the priority. Instead, the school encourages integrity, honesty, and compassion. Furthermore, teachers reinforce the importance of teamwork and often require students to work with their classmates. No one is expected to be a perfectionist. In the end, this theme is reinforced when one student’s desire to be perfect leads to him being expelled. 

The Nebula Secret combines a well-written story with maps and illustrations that appear every two to twelve pages. Many of the illustrations are a mix of photographs and drawings, which give the pictures a touch of realism. Another positive aspect of the book is that famous people and places are mentioned, including the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve and Nellie Bly, who said, “Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything.” These references may spark readers’ interest to learn more about these people and places. Plus, the book includes a section titled The Truth Behind the Fiction; these pages combine pictures and short blurbs on people mentioned in the book who have interesting jobs.  

Unfortunately, the conclusion of this story isn’t believable. Instead of wrapping up the story thread, Cruz learns that his mother has left more clues that will lead him to a formula that she invented. Even though Cruz’s mother knew it would endanger her son’s life, she left him these clues that only he can follow. To make matters worse, Cruz will have to find eight different locations to piece the formula together. Not only does this make the scenario difficult to believe, but it also sets up a series that must be read in order. Before you pick up the Explorer Academy Series, make sure you’re willing to invest the time to read all seven books in the series. Readers who aren’t ready to jump into a long series may want to check out the Secrets of the Seven Series by Sarah L. Thomson or the City Spies Series by James Ponti instead. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • While surfing, a scuba diver grabs Cruz and pulls him under water. Cruz “lashed out and his fist hit something smooth and hard. . . His thrashing had knocked the air hose loose from the diver’s tank. Cruz felt a sharp pain in his ankle and then, suddenly, he was free!” Cruz makes it to safety with only a cut ankle. 
  • Cruz was alone in a hallway when “he saw an arm shoot out. Fingers locked on to the front of his shirt and spun him around so fast he nearly went airborne. Cruz’s spine hit cold stone. The person warns Cruz, ‘They killed your mother. They will not hesitate to kill you, too.’” 
  • A man chases Cruz and his friends, who run and hide in a janitor’s closet. “Tendrils of smoke were curling up from under the door. . . His vision blurring, Cruz couldn’t tell if his friends were still conscious.” The students realize that the gas is deadly. With the help of Cruz’s drone, they escape. A teacher finds them and gives them an antidote to the gas.  
  • During a simulated mission, Cruz and his classmate Sailor see men illegally chopping down trees. When the men see the students, they begin shooting. “Cruz had lost the trail, but spotted an opening in the trees ahead of them. The clearing! If they could reach the group, maybe the men would give up chase . . .” The kids become trapped between the men and a waterfall. Cruz says, “We might survive the fall. We won’t survive the gunshots.” They jump over the cliff. “In the simulator, however, the pair had dropped only about 15 feet before landing on a huge inflatable cushion.” 
  • While on a simulated mission, a man corners Cruz. The man tells Cruz that he is going to kill him, but before he can attack “his attacker collapsed at his feet. . . Next to him was a lanky man in a lab coat clutching a giant dinosaur bone.” The attacker is arrested. 
  • The academy’s librarian, Rook, threatens Cruz and his father with a laser. “A red laser beam shot from the device. In seconds, the burst had burned a hole clean through the ceiling. And the roof, too!” 
  • In order to get free from Rook, Cruz “flung the book at Rook, who ducked, but not fast enough. The novel smacked him in the face. . .” Then Cruz’s honeybee drone “zeroed in on Rook, and began poking the librarian. She zipped up and down, left and right, stinging him on the shoulder, the face, the head, the chest, then back to the face.” Rook is arrested. 
  • While struggling with Rook, Cruz is hit with the laser. The doctor tells him, “A few millimeters to the right and it would have burned a hole right through you.” As it was, Cruz’s injury was “starting to blister and ooze.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Occasionally, a student calls another boy a dingleberry. 
  • Heck and darn are both used once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Griffin’s Feather

Life is good for Ben, the dragon rider. Two years after the events of the first book, Dragon Rider, Ben is living in Norway with the Greenbloom family on a remote sanctuary for magical creatures. Firedrake, his dragon friend, is visiting. However, a problem arises when a male Pegasus, one of the last in the world, loses his mate and leaves three unborn Pegasus eggs behind. The magical care needed for them to hatch can only be provided by the mother, so the Greenbloom family rushes to find a solution to keep the foals alive: a griffin feather.

A griffin feather may provide the right magical touch to incubate the eggs, however, numerous problems arise. First, Griffins are fearsome predators and only exist in sparse numbers around the world. Second, the Greenblooms and their friends only have two weeks to convince a griffin to give up a sun feather, a rare feather that only grows after a griffin performs a great deed. Lastly, griffins are the sworn enemy of dragons, and Firedrake won’t be able to accompany Ben on the journey. The odds are stacked against them.

Though Ben is upset to journey without Firedrake, he decides to undertake the adventure with his adoptive father Professor Greenbloom, a troll named Hothbrodd, his old friend Lola, and his constant companion Twigleg. Before the group leaves, Firedrake gives Ben one of his scales as a parting gift, which will allow them to share emotions no matter how far away they are from one another.

The group travels to Indonesia, where Professor Greenbloom believes griffins live. They do find griffins, but to the group’s surprise, the island is embroiled in a griffin civil war headed by the island’s evil ruler Kraa, who is challenged by his nephew Shrii. Before the group can meet the infamous Kraa, Ben and the others are captured by monkeys. Sensing Ben’s distress, Firedrake, Sorrel, and a young dragon named Tattoo, travel to rescue their friends. Together, the group of adventurers defeats Kraa, restoring freedom to the island. Plus, they retrieve the griffin feather necessary to ensure the survival of the Pegasus foals.

The Dragon Rider Series is great for readers with an active imagination. The Griffin’s Feather is rich with fantasy elements and adventure. However, the number of relevant characters and magical creatures may be confusing. The back of the book has an index of the characters, but it is easy to get lost in the multitude of names and species.

Even if the series can be confusing, the willingness of the characters to extend love and care to others makes reading this story worthwhile. At one point, Ben thinks “revenge can even drown out love.” Firedrake has a similar thought when he is so angered that he has trouble suppressing his violent instincts. In addition, the final battle stands as a reminder to care for others, even when they may not deserve it.

The Griffin’s Feather unites the characters from the first installment with new friends who undertake a dangerous journey to save a threatened species. This story will leave readers with a strong desire to do what is right, as all the characters would gladly sacrifice themselves for the good of others and the world. Readers who want to jump into a realm where mystical creatures live should also enter the world of The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black and Rise of the Dragon Moon by Gabrille K. Byrne. Both are excellent books that will be less confusing than the Dragon Rider Series.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Ben remembers his parents, noting that they died in a car crash soon after his third birthday.
  • A parrot warns Ben and Twigleg that if they go to where the griffins live, death awaits them. The parrot says, “[The griffins] will line their nests with your feathers and adorn their treasure chambers with the horn of your beak. They’ll use your bones to skewer their prey, and they’ll feed your beating hearts to their young.”
  • A monkey says all of the travelers are spies. The monkey says, “We ought to throw them into the sea. Or send them back to Kraa dead, like all the others whose bones are bleaching beneath the ruins of our nests.” Later, the monkey thinks that Kraa will kill him and the others for helping the group. The monkey says, “He’ll eat us and line his nest with our skins.”
  • Kraa has many names attesting to his violent nature, such as “Kraa the Merciless,” “Kraa of the Blood-Drenched Feathers,” or “Eater of Hearts.”
  • Twigleg has a nightmare. “It was a dreadful dream. . . [Monkeys] were pulling his master [Ben] to pieces the way children take an insect apart! Crowds of monkeys, screeching and baring their teeth, and [Twigleg] was kneeling in front of the parts trying to put them together again, but he simply couldn’t remember what Ben had looked like.”
  • Kraa’s palace is decorated with drawings, some of which show griffins at war with men and monsters, others where griffins are “perching triumphantly on the dead body of a dragon.”
  • A monkey hopes that a servant dies. The monkey says, “May the jackal scorpions tear him limb from limb! May the jenglots drink his blood—I’m sure it’s even more poisonous than theirs!”
  • Kraa plans Shrii’s demise. “Shrii will be the last [of the prisoners] to die. I’ll clip his claws and wings, and feed him on the gold I get for his servants until he chokes on it. And then I’ll tear his heart out of his colorful breast and eat it. Although it will probably taste as soft and sweet as an overripe melon.”
  • The dragon Tattoo sinks the poachers’ ship. “Their boat was already moving out to sea when Tattoo broke out of the forest. He breathed fire after them, and when the blue flames reached the boat’s hull it sank into the waves with the poachers.”
  • Shrii, Tchraee, and the others fight. During the fight, a human boy “hit [Tchraee] on the chest with the club . . . When Tchraee, striking out desperately with his claws, tore one of Firedrake’s wings open, Tattoo lost his self-control. . . the young dragon began breathing fire. Tchraee was enveloped in pale blue flames. . . Tchraee’s body turned to ash-gray stone and fell from the sky, rigid and petrified. With uncomprehending horror, Tattoo watched as the stone body crashed through the canopy of leaves below them and disappeared.” The battle is described over two pages.
  • Kraa says he wants to “rip out Shrii’s beating heart and eat it, so that everyone on the island will know who is their king.” He also says to Ben that, after he kills Firedrake, he’s going to “dip all my feathers in the blood of your dragon friend.”
  • Kraa, Firedrake, and others fight. “Feathers and scales. Claws and paws. Tawny yellow and silver-gray wings; Kraa’s dreadful beak; Firedrake’s bared teeth . . . But the sounds, if anything, were even worse. The dragon’s roar; the griffin’s screech.” The battle lasts two pages.
  • During the battle, Kraa pecks Sorrel’s hand and his snake tail bites her, but she recovers.
  • Tattoo defeats Kraa. “Tattoo soared into the air and breathed fire down on Kraa. Flames licked around the griffin’s coat and feathers… And when it went out, Kraa had turned into stone.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Sorrel is known to be ill-tempered and she insults creatures and humans frequently, using mushroom names as expletives. For example, “Oh, lopsided liberty caps,” “moldy midgets,” and “mildew fungus of a homunculus.”
  • Other characters also occasionally call each other names such as “idiotic,” “thieving vermin,” “stupid,” “cudgel-swinging fur-faced kidnappers,” and “cowardly moorhen.”
  • Hothbrodd, who is from Norway, curses by referencing Norse mythology. “By Surtr’s flaming sword. . . This island is like an oven. Nifhel on earth.” Surtr is a god and Nifhel is the lowest level of Hell.
  • A monkey calls Kraa a “crook-beaked monkey-murderer.”
  • A character insults griffins. “Plaguey rapacious felines! Brood of snake-tailed robbers!”
  • The poachers refer to a character as an “imp of Satan.”

Supernatural

  • The story is filled with endless mythical creatures. Some are based on legend and others are completely made up. The creatures include dragons, fungus folk, krakens, mist ravens, centaurs, mermaids, elves, and kelpies, among many others. Only some of the creatures are described below.
  • Magical creatures give other creatures, including non-magic ones, the ability to comprehend the same language.
  • Firedrake is a silver dragon; his species lives off of moonlight.
  • Sorrel is a forest brownie, a bipedal, cat-like creature.
  • Twigleg is a homunculus, a small humanoid that was made by alchemy.
  • Hothbrodd is a troll that can make anything out of wood, including machines. He can also communicate with trees. Trolls also have magical spit with healing properties. He has other magical abilities as well.
  • Pegasi are winged horses that come in many colors, and hatch from magical eggs that can’t open unless cracked by the mother. “The egg of the winged horse, Pegasus unicus, is one of the greatest wonders of the world. . . It’s shell . . . resembles the most valuable glass. Yet it is as hard as diamonds. . . If [the mother] comes to any harm, the egg will not grow, and the foal will stifle in the unbreakable shell.”
  • Jenglots are dwarflike zombies who drink blood. Twigleg is often mistaken for one when the group of travelers is in Indonesia.
  • Since magical creatures attract one another, there is no shortage of them appearing in the story. When the group travels through the jungle, they see “a fist-sized spider with a frog’s head let itself down from a teak tree. A cat with fur that shone like molten gold made its way out of the thicket.”
  • Jackal scorpions, scorpions with jackal heads, are under Kraa’s command. Their stingers are made of gold and they eat human flesh. According to Professor Greenbloom, Mesopotamian kings fed their enemies to these scorpions. He also says they “love to tear their victims to pieces with their pincers after paralyzing them with their stingers.”

Spiritual Content

  • The dragons refer to the afterlife as “The Land of the Moon,” and believe that all dragons go there when they die. Additionally, once a dragon dies, it creates new stars.
  • The traveling companions stop at a temple to Garuda, who is a god-like creature from Hindu mythology, the mount of Vishnu. Ben describes him as, “The creature ridden by Vishnu. Thief of immortality and god of the birds.” Birds from all over the world are at the temple to pray to him.
  • A bird insults Twigleg by comparing him to Apasmara, a dwarf in the Hindu faith known for its stupidity and nonsense.
  • Ben thinks that a statue of a griffin with a dish in its hands “reminds [him] of the sacrificial vessels in which bloody gifts to the gods had once been left in ancient temples.”
  • When scared, one of the characters suddenly prays. “He implored whatever god protected homunculi and human boys.”

by Madison Shooter

Curse of the Night Witch

Everyone on Emblem Island has a symbol that decides their fate, but Tor Luna seems like the only person who hates the one he’s been given. While other people can speak with animals, have beautiful singing voices, or culinary talent, Tor’s emblem is for leadership. He expects to live an uneventful life and take over his mother’s position as town chief. On the New Years’ holiday, Eve, the town gathers to send their yearly wishes to the wish god. Tor decides that this Eve he’ll wish for a new emblem. However, rejecting one’s emblem is a sure-fire way to get cursed, which is exactly what happens when Tor wakes up the next day with a curse mark where his leadership emblem once was.  

Tor teams up with his friends, Melda and Engle, to find the legendary Night Witch, a fearsome woman who is said to have hundreds of emblems that she gained from killing their original owners. To find her, the group uses The Book of Cuentos, a storybook that includes legends about Emblem Island’s history that turn out to be more than just stories. Eventually, they reach the Night Witch – but things aren’t as clear-cut as they have been written in the storybook. 

The Night Witch used The Book of Cuentos to frame herself as a villain in order to prevent her from getting her power stolen. She warns Tor that a greater darkness, one that is all evil, is rising and that she has picked Tor as her successor. Tor is unwilling to inherit her abilities, but the Night Witch passes on her power anyway. She picked Tor because the Night Witch believes he won’t abuse her skills. She says: “the best leaders are the ones who don’t want to lead.” The book ends with Tor shouldering the heavy burden of the Night Witch’s abilities with his friends and family at his side to defend Emblem Island from the coming darkness.  

Curse of the Night Witch is steeped in Latin American folklore amplified by the author’s rich imagination. The book is heavy on worldbuilding that is relevant to the plot and is an immersive part of the story’s adventure. The stories from The Book of Cuentos can be unsettling, but they help craft a world where darkness lingers under a colorful exterior. In addition to being a detailed story, Curse of the Night Witch is a coming-of-age story as Tor and his friends undertake a dangerous journey. When Tor thinks the Night Witch is going to kill him, Tor wishes he would’ve been more grateful for what he had. However, he realizes that his journey has taught him to appreciate what he’s gained: Melda and Engle, “two friends he would trust his life with” as well as a deeper respect for his former emblem.  

Tor is a thoughtful and determined main character who will quickly earn the sympathy and respect of readers. His drive to improve himself while still protecting innocent people shows his emotional complexity. The story emphasizes the power of friendship through Melda, Engle, and Tor, who are always ready to support one another and see their journey through until the end, no matter what happens. The plot twists and compelling lore make this an interesting story, however, there is gore and violence that some readers may find disturbing. Readers who want to read another tale that combines a rich cultural world with three friends who will protect each other until the end will enjoy Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The Night Witch has an emblem that allows her to kill people by touching them. She kills her father and other innocent people. The Night Witch “had a gift never seen before. The power to kill with a single touch. And kill she did. One day, the girl emerged from her home, covered in blood, her father’s emblem on her skin. . . [The Night Witch] traveled across the island, leaving only death in her wake, emblems appearing on her arms after each kill, the ones she had stolen from children in their beds and from the poor souls who found themselves alone on a dark night.” 
  • A troll attacks Tor for trespassing in its territory. “A troll reached forward, and Tor screamed as its claw ran down the length of his arm.” The troll also bites him. Tor “screamed. It was like a giant needle had skewered his toes. Sparks of pain ignited in his toes and his entire foot went numb.” This feeling comes from a toxin that dissolves after a few hours, so Tor is not injured.  
  • A pelilarga attacked Melda. “[Melda] screamed as the pelilarga reached up and clawed her ankle, leaving five long, bloody scratches. . . The pelilarga hissed, and Melda winced, like it had scratched her again.” Melda is scratched up, but nothing worse. The attack ends when Melda, Tor, and Engle are able to distract the pelilarga with fireworks so they can escape. 
  • A giantess cuts Tor’s ear with an arrow for trespassing on her tribe’s land. “Tor winced and reached for his ear. His fingers came back covered in blood. The tiniest part of his ear, at the very tip, had been cut away.” Other than the cut, which later heals, Tor is not injured. 
  • The Book of Cuentos describes a mother who tried to kill herself and her children. The children escape, but the woman dies and becomes a monster called “The Woman.” The Woman “walked into the water, holding [her children’s] hands, intending to drown them and herself. But, before they were submerged, her children escaped. . . The Woman roams the island in search of children to take for her own.”  
  • A kidnapper hurts Tor for freeing his prisoners. “The man charged at Tor, managing to grab his arm so tightly Tor was actually afraid the bone might snap in half. . . Tor struggled until the man elbowed him right in the ribs. [Tor] bent over, gasping, the air sucked right out of him.” Engle saves Tor by hitting the kidnapper with The Book of Cuentos. “The kidnapper made a grunting noise, blinked, and fell to the ground. Engle stood there, The Book of Cuentos still held high above his head.”  
  • Emblem thieves are people born without emblems that kill others to steal their emblems. Killing someone allows the murderer to take the emblem of the victim. A group of prisoners caught by the emblem thieves are freed by Melda, Tor, and Engle. The prisoners fight back against their captors. “A woman cried out and leapt forward, taking down a guard in a single motion. . . A teenage girl disappeared right before [Tor’s] eyes, then reappeared after having struck a thief in the head with a bucket. An old man with a telekinesis emblem threw a chair at another.” The battle lasts a few paragraphs and ends when someone with a snowflake emblem freezes the remaining guards. 
  • An old woman in an abandoned town admits she resorted to eating her children to survive. 
  • Engle’s curse mark hurts him when he steps into the Night Witch’s territory. Engle “doubled over, crying out in pain and gripping his arm. . . the skin on Engle’s arm ripped open like the slow tearing of a seam. In a few horrifying moments, blood spilled over the cape Melda had made, and a clear message appeared, carved deep into his skin.”  
  • The same skin-tearing happens to Melda as the group gets closer to the Night Witch. “Then it was Melda’s turn to scream out. She clutched her arm, and loudly ground her back teeth together.” Lastly, it happens to Tor. “[Tor’s] palm suddenly split open. He gasped in pain, blood puddling at his feet.” 
  • Creatures take Engle into the water. After Melda rescues Engle, he’s very close to dying. “Engle’s eyes remained closed, and large gashes had been sliced through his clothes. He was bleeding, everywhere. But he was still breathing.” He lives.  
  • When Tor confronts the Night Witch, she admits that she didn’t kill her father; he was killed by other men. “The men who came [to the Night Witch’s home] were emblem thieves. There to take my father’s alleged two powers. By killing him. Once they realized one of his marks was false, they came back. And found me. But I was ready this time. I killed each one where they stood. My father’s emblem became mine. . . I roamed the island, searching for thieves just like the ones that had killed my father. I killed them before they could end anyone else. And so, my markings grew.” 
  • Tor fights the Night Witch. The witch “raised her hand, and the ground beneath Tor’s feet began to shake. It broke open, and dozens of shards of rock like teeth trapped his legs, then torso. The sharp stone tips pierced his clothes, crimson stains blooming through the fabric in blotches.” The battle lasts two pages and ends with the Night Witch transferring her power to Tor. 
  • Tor wakes in the middle of the night as his first new emblem appears. “He awoke screaming at the top of his lungs, feeling like someone was carving at his arm with a butcher knife, then scrubbing it with sea salt.” Tor learns that the process of getting a new emblem is painful.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Troll bites contain a toxin that induces drowsiness. Engle says, “Troll bites are nothing but annoying. Their teeth release just a bit of a chemical that promotes drowsiness, making it hard for their victims to escape.” 

Language   

  • Melda calls the Plains, a city on the island, “stupid.” 

Supernatural 

  • The Book of Cuentos is an important book of legends that tells the history of Emblem Island, as well as detailing information about the island’s creatures and curses. It is kept by the community’s leader, Tor’s mother, until she passes it on to him. Some of the stories from The Book of Cuentos appear at the end of chapters. They are often dark tales of murder, punishment, and otherworldly beings.  
  • The story takes place on Emblem Island, a place where everyone has two distinct features: an emblem and a lifeline. An emblem is a symbol representing a magical skill somewhere on the body. A lifeline is a line, usually around the hands, that shows high and low points representing hardships and victories. It also shows when the person’s life will end. 
  • People with two or more emblems are known as wicked or a witch. “Witch was a foul name for a person who had been born with multiple emblems.” The people of Emblem Island believe that people with multiple emblems have too much power which drives them to evil deeds. The Night Witch is the most infamous of these witches, as she has hundreds of emblems. 
  • Tor and Melda have leadership emblems, which help them inspire people. Engle has a sightseer emblem, which allows him to see long distances. There are emblems for just about everything, including cooking, talking to animals, and water breathing. 
  • The world is full of magic creatures and objects. Familiar objects, like peaches, grow purple, and some animals have gigantism; a starfish is the “size of a rug.”  
  • Some magical creatures include gnomes, mermaids, trolls, giants, and fairies, among others. 
  • A “barbed malkin” is a cat-like creature with spike-like fur along its back.  
  • The mention of curses or cursed objects is very common. Stories like this are present in nearly every chapter. “Tor knew that touching the Bone Boat’s treasure was strictly forbidden. Doing so would unleash a fury-storm of repercussions: a hundred years of curses, teeth falling from the sky, the sea turning gray, blah blah blah, the same old tales Tor liked to roll his eyes at.” These legends often turn out to be true.  
  • Due to his Eve wish, Tor is cursed. It manifests in the form of an eye on his arm that blinks. Engle touches Tor, and the curse spreads to Engle in the form of a mouth that can speak.  
  • A myth in The Book of Cuentos tells of the creation of a hydroclops, a snake with a head on either end.  
  • Melda has a necklace that contains a “drop of color.” “Drops of color were extremely rare – they could only be extracted from special creatures. The liquid from Melda’s necklace could turn anything in the world that shade of blue.” Colors on Emblem Island are very important and can be stolen or changed with powerful magic.  
  • Captivates, siren-like mermaids, capture Tor, but his friends help him break the spell. 
  • Pelilargas, fantastical women with long hair, have the ability to steal souls, which makes their hair grow longer and stronger.  
  • Goblins are greedy creatures who have the ability to suck color from objects. In exchange for passage on a boat, a goblin takes the color from Melda’s eyes.  
  • A vanor is a creature able to take on the appearance of other people and craft illusions. Tor encounters one. “The [vanor] had no face, only a flesh covered canvas where a face should have been. But he wanted one. All vanors did. They lived to steal faces to add to their collections.”

Spiritual Content 

  • The residents of Emblem Island believe in karma. Melda says, “I’m only helping you [Tor] because I don’t want any bad karma affecting my Eve wish.” 
  • Souls exist. Some creatures, such as pelilargas, have the ability to steal them. 

The Duel at Araluen

King Duncan and Princess Cassandra are trapped in the south tower of Castle Araluen and under near-constant attack from the Red Fox Clan. Sir Horace and Ranger Commandant Gilan are holed up in an old hill fort, surrounded by the enemy. And Ranger’s apprentice, Maddie, is the only one who can save them all.

With the help of Hal, Thorn, and the rest of the Heron brotherband, Maddie will have to break her father and his men out of the hill fort, but will they reach Castle Araluen in time?

As the third installment of the Royal Ranger Series, Duel at Araluen continues the story of the Red Fox Clan who plan to kill King Duncan, Princess Cassandra, and Maddie. Unlike the previous two books in the series, Duel at Araluen describes many skirmishes between the rebels and the Araluens. While the book has less adventure, there is non-stop action as three groups—the Scandians, Horace and his soldiers, and Cassandra and her loyal army—prepare to defeat the Red Fox Clan.

While the book revolves around war, there is never senseless killing. Even though the Red Fox Clan planned to kill Horace and his men, when the rebels are defeated, Horace doesn’t execute the traitors. Instead, Horace orders his men to “leave the tents there for them so they won’t die of exposure. . . We’ll leave them what medical supplies and bandages we can spare and they can take care of one another.” Like the previous books, many people die, but all of the killings are in self-defense.

Duel at Araluen highlights the importance of loyalty, friendship, and bravery. For example, Jesper, one of the Scandians, makes several mean comments to one of his shipmates. Afterwards, Jesper claimed he was just joking. Hal scolds Jasper, saying, “A joke is when everyone can have a good laugh together. But when you do something that’s spiteful and hurtful and causes misery to someone else, that’s not a joke. That’s cruelty.”

Duel at Araluen uses the same format of all The Ranger’s Apprentice books. Even though the format is familiar, readers will be happy to see returning characters such as the Scandians from the Brotherband Series. Seeing the world from Maddie’s point of view gives the setting a fresh outlook. Plus, both Cassandra and Maddie have strong roles that involve leadership, planning, and fighting. Instead of being portrayed as stereotypical damsels in distress, Cassandra and Maddie are well-developed, capable characters who have many admirable traits. Readers who want to explore books with a strong female character and plenty of action should also add the League of Archers Series by Eva Howard to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After the Red Fox Clan took over the castle, the King, Cassandra and a group of loyal soldiers lock themselves in a tower. The Red Fox Clan started throwing projectiles at the tower. In response, Cassandra’s archers shoot arrows at the invading army. “Two of the first three shots found their targets. One man fell away from the windlass, an arrow in his upper body. Another. . . went down with a shaft in his thigh.”
  • The Red Fox Clan builds a trebuchet and uses it to throw rocks at the castle tower. Cassandra’s archers shoot fire arrows at the trebuchet and the invading army. “Two men went down. One of them stayed down. The other one hauled himself to his feet. . . an arrow through his lower leg. . . All the while, the tree archers peppered the trebuchet with arrows, but to no real effect. The only reward for their efforts was a sole figure lying unmoving on the flagstones.”
  • The Red Fox Clan begins throwing fire bladders at the tower. “Cassandra started in fear as the bladder struck the tower. . . Almost instantly, there was a roar of flame as the oil and pitch ignited, and a flood of fire erupted over the balcony, some of it clinging to the walls, while the rest dripped down and spread tendrils of flame over the floor.” No one is injured by the fire bladders.
  • The Red Fox Clan plan to swarm the fort that Horace, Gilan, and their army are hiding. “The light flared up, revealing a mass of some twenty men on the walkway. Instantly, the archers on the east and west walls drew, aimed and shot. A storm of arrows slammed into the attackers as they bunched together. . . more arrows slammed into them as they hesitated.”
  • During the attack, the rebels use ladders to scale the fort’s walls. “Their leader ran to be the first down one of the ladders. But, five spaces short of it, he was struck by an arrow and hurled back against the rough timbers of the palisade.”
  • One of the rebels lunges at Gilan with a sword. “Gilan’s sword, gleaming blood-red in the smoky firelight, struck like a viper, driving the man’s upper body, piercing the chain metal there. The swordsman gasped and stepped back. . . [Gilan] swung in a diagonal overhead cut at the man on his left. The stroke went home and the man fell to his knees, crying out in pain and shock. Then he toppled sideways.” The battle is described over nine pages.
  • After the battle, a man gives a casualty report. The Araluen’s lost two men and three others were injured. The rebels lost at least a dozen men and eight are wounded and cannot flee.
  • Along with the Scandians, the Araluens attack the rebel army. The Araluens use their lances to try to break up the enemy’s shield wall. “Some of the lances penetrated, forcing their way between the shields, hitting bodies, legs, and arms.” The battle is described over eight pages.
  • During the battle, one of the rebels “reared up in agony, clutching vainly at an arrow that had magically appeared between his shoulder blades.”
  • One of the leaders of the rebel army, Trask, steals his own soldier’s horse and tries to flee. But Maddie sees Trask and uses her sling as a weapon. Trask “felt a thundering impact on his helmet, right in the center of his forehead. . . Vaguely, he felt himself topple backward from the saddle and crash onto the soft grass. Then everything went black.”
  • The rebels set a door on fire, trying to chase Cassandra and her army to flee. One of Cassandra’s sergeants goes around the wall and a crossbowman “raised his weapon and shot. . . Then the crossbow bolt hit him and he reared back, falling dead at Cassandra’s feet.”
  • The book ends with a multi-chapter battle between the Araluens and the Red Fox Clan, where many people die. During the battle, one of Cassandra’s archers is stabbed and “with a startled cry of pain, the archer fell back on the steps, his spear clattering on the stonework as he dropped it.” Many men are killed in a similar manner.
  • During the attack, one of the rebels “felt a chill of fear clutch his heart as he realized he was seriously outmatched. . . In total panic, he turned to run, but Hal leaped forward and, reversing his sword, brought the heavy hilt down on the back of the man’s head, sending him sprawling unconscious on the boards of the walkway.”
  • Cassandra and the rebel leader, Dimon, fight. Cassandra injures him. “Blood dripped slowly from Dimon’s left arm, but not in sufficient quantities to weaken him.” At one point, Cassandra “twisted desperately to the right. The blade scored across her ribs, opening a long, shallow slash in her side. Blood welled out instantly, staining her jerkin.” Cassandra kills Dimon. The sword fight is described over five pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of Cassandra’s sergeants was “nursing a mug of ale—a small mug, in view of their limited supply.”

Language

  • Damn is used three times. For example, Dimon says, “I should have thought of this damned tower, should have remembered how impregnable it can be.”
  • Maddie’s horse says, “By Blarney’s perpetual beard, when you sleep, you really sleep, don’t you?”
  • Maddie calls her horse a know-all and a blowhard.
  • Twice a Scandian uses “Orlog’s ears” as an exclamation.
  • The king calls the rebel’s leader scum.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Maddie’s horse makes a comment about Blarney, “a minor Hibernian deity. . .His beard grew constantly down to his feet, no matter how often he cut or shaved it.”

Comet Rising

Emmeline, Lucas, and Lucas’s parents escaped from Lady Aisling’s grasp and are hiding away in a house by the sea. They are safe for now. Dar, now imprisoned in a tiny cage, is the only person that is ruining their relatively peaceful seclusion. Dar tells Emmeline that the Cerelia Comet is coming sooner than expected, but Emmeline doesn’t believe her. The Cerelia Comet comes every 25 years, and it’s been 13 years since its last appearance. However, upon seeing the comet soar through the night sky, it becomes clear that Lady Aisling has a sky shaker on her side who moved the comet’s orbit so it could arrive 12 years earlier. Lady Aisling could add more talents to her collection.

Lucas’s parents tell the other families about the comet’s arrival. Eventually, Lady Aisling finds their house by the sea and tries to capture everyone. Lucas’s parents tell Emmeline and their son that they will meet them at an old friend’s house but are caught by Lady Aisling’s soldiers. It is up to Emmeline and Lucas to find more talented children to join in the fight to stop Lady Aisling. But when Emmeline accidentally frees Dar, they find out that the children they seek have already been captured. Now, Emmeline and Lucas know that they must fight for their lives and the lives of talented children just like them.

Comet Rising starts where Shadow Weaver ended, pulling the reader into an action-focused adventure that builds upon the last. The story includes more details about talented people and the land of Zinnia, but those facts do not muddle the story. Once again, the narrative focuses on Emmeline’s point of view, which is concise and optimistic, making the events easy to follow. She becomes more self-assured as she and Lucas find more talented children, but as the story continues, she grapples with how she wants to defeat Lady Aisling. Readers will relate to the weight of Emmeline’s newfound responsibility and her being peer pressured, like when she refuses a friend’s suggestion to weaponize her shadows. In the end, she accomplishes her goal without compromising her values.

Emmeline also learns about forgiveness and becomes more willing to forgive Dar for her betrayal. Dar had tricked her into releasing her from the cage. She went off on her own to defeat Lady Aisling because of a personal grudge. Dar has eluded Emmeline and also done a lot of bad things to Emmeline, like impersonating her while traveling on her own. But after all is said and done, and Lady Aisling is no longer a threat, Emmeline forgives Dar because “everyone deserves a second chance.”

Comet Rising is a story that draws upon the fantastical and magical. The story has plenty of action and also answers questions asked in the previous book. Plus, it expands upon the characters, including the villain. Younger readers will enjoy reading the spellbinding descriptions of magic as well as learning about trust, forgiveness, and responsibility. Readers who liked Comet Rising by MarcyKate Connolly may want to read similar books like Jinxed by Amy McCulloch and The Revenge of Magic by James Riley.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Lady Aisling uses her magic to wrap vines around Dar’s neck and body. Her vines “begin to squeeze. Dar thrashes, but the choking vines won’t let up.” Dar’s face begins to “turn blue” while she tries to free herself with her shapeshifting, but the vines constrict her even more. Lucas crafts a sword and frees Dar from the vines.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The Comet bestows magic upon people every 25 years, blessing those born in the year of the comet with a magical gift.
  • Emmeline is a shadow weaver; she morphs shadows into different objects, animals, and silhouettes. “[The shadows] dodge and twirl at my command.” She can make the shadows tangible and cover herself. Emmeline does not get any ill effects from her shadow weaving.
  • Lucas is a light singer; when he sings, he can bend the light. At first, he can use his light to bake bread, but then he can use his light to make tangible objects such as bands and orbs of light. He can also craft a sword. He does not get any ill effects from his light singing.
  • Simone can read people’s minds and use telepathy. She has no ill effects when she reads or detects someone’s mind, but it is painful for her to use telepathy due to Lady Aisling tampering with her ability.
  • Pearl is a spot hopper. She can “move between two points instantly regardless of the distance” if she’s seen the destination or if she’s with someone who has seen the destination. She can take people with her if they hold onto her. There is a tingling sensation that goes away when she hops from spot to spot, but there are no ill effects when she uses her ability on herself or other people.
  • Noah is a talent taker. He can take talents away from gifted people by physical contact. “He puts a hand on my shoulder and closes his eyes. At first, I don’t feel anything much as my shadows dissipate. but after a moment, a tingling sensation begins to burn through my shoulder.” At first, he could nullify a talent. Eventually, he can permanently erase talents.
  • Lady Aisling is a magic eater. She can steal gifted people’s gifts and then use them. Lady Aisling’s gift does not work on regular people. She will become sick and weak if she does not devour a talent often.
  • Dar can shapeshift into anything and anyone.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

Maya and the Return of the Godlings

Training to be a guardian of the veil isn’t easy, but 12-year-old Maya is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps, especially since he hasn’t been the same since their last run-in with the Lord of Shadows, the evil being who controls the Dark. On the brink of an upcoming war between Earth and the Dark, the Lord of Shadows snatches Papa’s soul.  Maya rounds up her friends, fellow “godlings,” Frankie and Eli, for another journey into the Dark to retrieve Papa’s soul and stop the veil from collapsing.

Once back in the Lord of Shadows’ domain, Maya is faced with difficult moral choices. She finds an imprisoned Darkbringer, named Zeran, who doesn’t want a war with the human realm. For the first time, she considers that not all Darkbringers are evil, which makes it harder to fight them since most have been recruited into the Lord of Shadows’ ranks by force. Allied together, Maya, Frankie, Eli, and Zeran continue to the Crystal Palace, the Lord of Shadows’ lair.

In the confrontation between the Lord of Shadows and Maya, she learns her half-sister Eleni is still alive. Not only is Eleni being used by the Lord of Shadows for her power, but she was the one who let the Lord of Shadows into the human realm which allowed him to start a terrible war years ago. Maya wonders if it’s her fate to also open the gateway, which would allow the Lord of Shadows to wage war on the human realm for the second time. Determined to prevent that from happening, Maya steals back Papa’s soul and rescues Eleni. Back on Earth, Maya may have won this battle, but she knows the war is far from over.

Maya’s character is both funny and thoughtful, as she has a penchant for disobeying orders but for the right reasons—she will always save her friends and family even if the world is against her. Her determination to keep people safe is admirable. However, the friends have repeated setbacks because random creatures attack them. These scenes get tiring since they do not add to the plot.

Despite this, Maya and the Return of the Godlings is an interesting read that takes time to develop the characters such as Zeran, a darkbringer rebel. Zeran’s character is interesting because he forces Maya to change her perspective. At first, Maya perceived him to be the enemy, but now she feels a duty to protect him. This is what makes the plot most worth reading: Maya’s unwavering determination to make the world safe for all who wish to do good.

The story has a sense of unpredictability because the plot does not stray away from mentioning the death of past characters, such as Papa’s first family. Plus, the situation in Maya’s world continues to grow in gravity, making it increasingly likely that her friends and family won’t escape unscathed. With a war brewing, Maya and the Return of the Godlings explores dark topics.

Readers who enjoy books with magical worlds and rich cultural ties should also read Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston and Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maya and Papa get attacked by shadows while repairing the veil. Maya explains, “Something whipped out of the tear and snatched my legs from underneath me. . . writhing shadows. I hit the ground hard on my butt, and the staff spun out of my hand. . . Papa lunged for me, but his legs buckled, and he stumbled instead. He reached for the place between his chest and stomach, his face twisted in pain. . . The shadows still had my ankles and were dragging me into the tear. . . Papa stepped into the mouth of the tear. His dark skin glowed silvery-white and pushed back the darkness. The shadows hissed as if they couldn’t stand the light and let go of my legs. I whacked one with my staff before they fled back into the Dark.”
  • Frankie was adopted after her mother, an orisha, was killed. Frankie learns that her mother, Zala, hunted down rogue magical creatures. Maya thinks, “If Frankie’s mom’s death hadn’t been an accident, it meant someone – or something – had killed her.”
  • Zeran, a young darkbringer, deserted the army and is subjected to all sorts of punishment. The guards who have him in custody threaten to send him to the stocks and lock him in a cage with bars that kill on contact.
  • While stealing a map, Maya, Frankie, and Eli are attacked by a darkbringer. “An electric shock hit me in the back. My whole body seized up, and the staff slipped from my hand. I hit the ground hard. The impact knocked the wind out of me, and my teeth tore into my cheek. I couldn’t move as the metallic taste of blood filled my mouth. . . Frankie hit him with a ball of raging energy, but instead of falling back, the darkbringer seemed to absorb her magic. . . the darkbringer advanced on Frankie, and she stumbled back. I screamed inside my head and fought against the electricity winding through my body. My insides were on fire, and sweat stung my eyes. . .” The fight lasts for five pages, ending with Eli knocking the darkbringer out.
  • Maya and Frankie are caught by Nulan, the former commander of the darkbringer army. Nulan fights with the new commander, Rovey, over who gets to kill Maya, Frankie, and Eli. Their fight lasts eight pages. “Rovey locked Nulan in a bear hug, and electricity shot through her. Her whole body shook… Nulan head-butted Rovey. He dropped her and she crashed to the ground. Rovey stumbled back, looking dazed and confused while Nulan gave him a vicious smile. Knives appeared in her hands…” After this point, we don’t see the resolution of the fight because Maya runs away, but Rovey and Nulan live since they come back in the end of the story.
  • Maya, Zeran, Frankie, and Eli get lost in a forest where they are attacked by shadow monsters.  Maya “slammed my staff into the shadows hard. The impact vibrated up my arms into my teeth. My vision was a blur as I twisted and turned to keep out of their grasp. The shadows screamed as white veins of light started to form around the places my staff stuck. After enough hits, they fled into the forest.” The fight lasts four pages, and no one is injured.
  • Zeran quickly disarms Nulan with an anti-magic collar. “Zeran flew straight into Nulan. They crashed and rolled on the floor. One of her magical blades materialized out of thin air, and she aimed it for Zeran’s heart. But he was quicker. He pulled the collar from his neck and snapped it around Nulan’s throat. Her blade instantly disappeared. Nulan clawed at the collar right before Zeran head-butted her and knocked her out cold.”
  • The Lord of Shadows tries to stop Maya from getting her father’s soul. “His ribbons snapped around my ankle. . . searing cold snaked up my leg. The lower half of my body fell still, and I couldn’t move. . . Why was I suddenly so sleepy? I saw a reflection of myself in the glass. My skin had turned ash gray. The Lord of Shadows was draining the life from me!”
  • Maya, Frankie, Eli, and Zeran fight with the school bullies, Winston, Tay, and Candace, who also have orisha powers. “Winston stepped in our path with his friends at his side. Sparks of fire lit up on his arms. Candace grew to pro-wrestler size. Tay cracked his knuckles, and the floor shook beneath our feet. . . Winston jabbed his finger into my chest. Zeran grabbed his hand and twisted. Winston fell to his knees, and Tay sprang into action. Frankie flung out an energy lasso that smacked Tay on the nose. He winced as he grabbed his face, looking annoyed. Candace tripped over Eli’s invisible foot. With the bullies disarmed, Zeran let go of Winston and shoved him back.” The fight ends when they get caught by a teacher.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Papa says, “Mama’s going to skin both our hides if I don’t get you back in time for school.”
  • Maya drops her staff and it hits a passerby. Maya censors the word. “‘What the bleep?’ the man says. Okay, he didn’t say ‘bleep,’ but Mama said that I better not even think of cursing.”
  • A secretary named Clara is annoyed at someone commenting on her instagram posts. She calls that person “a little twit.”
  • Winston, a godling who bullies Maya at school, calls her “guardian of giant turds” after learning of her role as guardian of the veil.
  • Maya says, “Oh crap!”
  • Winston calls Zeran a “freak.”

Supernatural

  • Orishas are celestial spirit beings who are featured prominently in the story. Maya’s father and other community members are orishas. They each have different orisha powers. Some are specialized – like Eli who can turn invisible. Others, like Oshun, the orisha of beauty, have a certain domain.
  • Orishas speak Sekirian, the first language of the universe.
  • Maya and Papa are orishas whose duty is to protect the veil, a magical forcefield made by Papa to separate the human world from the Dark, a parallel universe of magic and evil creatures. Throughout the story, Maya and her father repair “tears” in the veil.
  • Papa and Maya can teleport by bending space. They can also open gateways which create a door between Earth and the Dark.
  • Maya uses a magical staff that acts as a conduit for her power. It magically changes shape into everyday objects like a hair pin or ring.
  • Because of the incoming war, the power of other orishas in Maya’s community manifests. For example, Winston, a school bully, gains the ability to control fire.
  • Papa conjures magical horses to take the godling children to the celestial city Azur. “His magic started to take shape. First a cluster of sparks here and another there. Then lines of light connected the sparks like a constellation of stars. Eli gasped as the magic settled into four winged horses.”
  • Glamour, a special magic, prevents humans from perceiving orishas and other magic. For example, the horses that Papa conjures appear as bikes to humans across the street. Maya explains, “The horses would look like something completely normal to human eyes.”
  • The children and Papa go to Azur, the city of the celestials. “The city sat on a cloud that spanned for miles among the stars. . . Sunlight dances off the buildings made of silver and gold and glass. The whole city glowed.”
  • The city is populated with Azurians, other celestials. Maya describes them. “The Azurians were tall and lanky, short and plump, and every shape and size. Some had skin as smooth as marble or scales and gills. . . Tails swept along the ground. Wings tucked against backs. Long tentacles wiggled among feet. . .” Humans also live there, but a rare type of human that have the natural ability to see magic. Elokos, creatures that eat humans, also live there when they no longer have a taste for human flesh.
  • Frankie meets a kishi while in Azur. “They had two faces – one human and one hyena. In his stories, they were always tricksters who literally had two faces.”
  • The Dark is populated by winged, blue-skinned monsters called darkbringers.
  • The darkbringers use dog-like creatures to hunt down Maya, Eli, and Frankie. “The dogs turned out to be not dogs. Instead of fur, green scales covered their bodies and they had a row of sharp spikes across their backs. What was it with the Dark and its deadly animals? Last time we were here, we had to fight off large birds with needle-like spines on their underbellies.”
  • In the Dark, the kids go to a city where darkbringers live, reminiscent of Chicago but with magical technology. The darkbringers have magical creatures for pets.

Spiritual Content

  • Orishas are celestial spirit beings that are gods in this story. They have certain domains and powers, such as Shangó, the god of lightning. Their children, which have orisha blood, are known as godlings, and they often manifest supernatural powers.
  • Papa’s soul being stolen is one of the major plot points. Obatala, an orisha, and Maya discuss the soul. Obatala explains that orishas’ souls are not replaceable. “For those of us born of the universe, the essence of what we are is complicated. Our soul is our bond to the universe – it is our immortality. We cannot forge a new one.”
  • Eli controls an army of spirits trapped in a bog in the fight against the Lord of Shadows. At one point, he allows a ghost to possess him, sharing its power.

by Madison Shooter

Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra

After tracking down incredible discoveries by Einstein and Darwin, Charlie is back. This time, the great ruler Cleopatra has left behind an extremely valuable and powerful treasure, its location encoded on an ancient stone tablet.

In 30 BCE, Cleopatra and her husband, Marc Antony, lost their war against Octavian for control of the Egyptian Empire. However, Cleopatra knew Octavian was really after the mysterious item that was the source of all her wealth and influence, so she hid it before committing suicide. She left a series of devious clues behind for her children to find, but they were lost to history. . .until now.

In a breathless adventure that takes her across the globe, Charlie must fight for her life against ruthless enemies, match wits with Cleopatra, and solve the two-thousand-year-old mystery to prevent the most powerful treasure of the ancient world from falling into the wrong hands. 

Because the story revolves around finding Cleopatra’s hidden treasure, the story contains many historical facts about Cleopatra, Caesar, and other important people. The history lessons are not boring; the interesting facts help the reader understand the political issues surrounding Cleopatra and will help readers empathize with Cleopatra, who was misjudged because she was a woman.  

Charlie is an extremely likable character, who is intelligent, capable, and brave. In order to keep Cleopatra’s treasure out of the wrong hands, Charlie puts her trust in her half-brother and CIA agent, Dante, and his partner, Milana. Along the way, they must avoid both the CIA, the Israeli, and the Egyptian agents who are willing to kill to take control of Charlie. Despite being chased around the globe, Charlie is remarkably down to earth. At one point, when the Israelis capture her, she tells the agent, “If you were actually nice people, you wouldn’t have dragged me down into the bowels of the Colosseum to talk to me. You would have taken me out for gelato.” 

Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra is best suited for older readers because of the violence, power-hungry villains, and deadly agents who are trying to capture Charlie. The action-packed story has a complicated plot, intense fight scenes, and life-or-death chases. The constant danger makes for an exciting book that readers will not want to put down. The mystery of Cleopatra adds an interesting dimension that will engage readers. Readers who are looking for another fast-paced mystery should check out the City Spies Series by James Ponti and the Secrets of the Seven Series by Sarah L. Thomson.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Charlie sneaks into Ahmet’s office. When he appears, “Charlie tricked him into turning his back on her. Now she clamped the chloroform-soaked rag. . . over his nose and mouth. . . He tried to fight back. . . Charlie simply leapt onto his back as if he were giving her a piggyback ride, wrapping her arms around his head and keeping the rag pinioned directly over his face.” Ahmet collapses to the floor. 
  • While leaving Ahmet’s party, two bodyguards chase after Charlie. Before she can take off on a motorcycle, Charlie “headbutted another man who was trying to catch her.” She escapes the house but is followed. 
  • Hoping to lose her pursuer, Charlie drives into the desert and allows her motorcycle to fly over a sand dune. Then, Charlie sees “the stocky, muscular shape of his body. He was aiming a gun at her.” The man forces Charlie to surrender. The chase scene is described over two chapters. 
  • The men who captured Charlie encounter a roadblock. “And then the shooting started. The snipers were aiming at the tires of the van, and they were extremely accurate. All four tires were blown out within seconds.” Charlie is let go. 
  • The Egyptian secret service questions Charlie’s captor, Semel. When Semel doesn’t answer the questions, “someone clubbed him on the back of the head with the butt of a rifle. Not hard enough to knock him unconscious but close. He saw stars, felt blinding pain, and fell forward in the dirt.” 
  • While interrogating Semel, someone shoots the agent, who “yelped in pain, spun, and fell.” Multiple agents are shot in the leg, and Semel and his men escape.  
  • In order to get Charlie to comply with orders, one of her friends is captured by a man named Lembris. “Lembris stood behind Eva, pressing a crowbar against the front of her neck. Eva was crying.” Eventually, Milana fights Lembris and frees Eva. 
  • The following scenes are described over eleven pages. Ramses has his men surround Charlie, Milana, and Dante. In order to escape, Charlie “reached behind [Ramses’s] back and yanked on the electrical cord that dangled like a vine from the scaffolding above. The power drill attached to it tumbled off the scaffolding and landed squarely on Ramses’s head. . . The heavy drill hit Ramses hard, and he dropped like a stone.” 
  • Then, Milana goes after Ramses’s bodyguard. “She quickly disarmed him, then jabbed him with the sedative she had. . . it was just enough to incapacitate the big man.” 
  • When Ramses begins to get up, Dante “drove the Egyptian’s head down into the marble floor, knocking him out for good.” One of Ramses’s men, Baako, throws a crowbar at Dante. “Pain shot through him, but he could tell no bones were broken.” 
  • Baako and Dante continue to fight. Baako slammed into Dante, driving him backward into the scaffolding so hard that all four stories of it trembled. . .” Eventually the scaffolding falls onto Baako and he “lay unconscious beneath it all.”  
  • After finding one of Cleopatra’s clues, Charlie, Dante, and Milana are ambushed by their own agency, the CIA. Without warning “bullets came from all around. . . Dante sprang from where he’d been crouched and fired back, aiming at where the shots were coming from. There was a cry of pain in the darkness, and then at least one of the shooters stopped.” In order to escape, the group flees separately. 
  • As Charlie runs from the bullets, two cars begin following her. “The second car struck the first again, sending it into a low embankment, where it flipped and landed upside down. The second car was badly damaged as well. Its front axle snapped and it ground to a halt in the plaza in front of Charlie, blocking her escape.”  
  • When the driver of the car attempts to “escape through a shattered window. He was only halfway out when Semel clubbed him on the back of the head with the butt of his gun, knocking him cold. . .” 
  • The chase scene is described over 10 pages. Dante had “a burn across one bicep where a bullet had nicked him. Milana had a gash from a knife in her left arm. . .” 
  • In an epic multi-chapter conclusion, several CIA agents try to take down Dante and Milana, who they believe are rogue agents. Milana “disarmed the stunned CIA operative and threw her to the ground” and then ran into Central Park. Eventually, Milana is able to incapacitate all of the agents. 
  • A rich villain, Ahmet, tries to kill Charlie with cobra venom. “Charlie hated to use the elixir to defend herself, but she had no other choice. The remaining drops of liquid flew through the air, caught Ahmet in the face, and instantly began to react. His flesh smoked and sizzled.” Ahmet’s skin begins to burn. 
  • Despite being injured, Ahmet chases Charlie. “He stepped on the jagged glass of the syringe with his bare foot. It cut into his flesh, and he suddenly realized that, in addition to everything else, the very cobra venom he had brought with him to kill Charlie Throne was now in his system as well.” When Ahmet continues to chase Charlie, she hits him with a helmet made of medieval armor. Ahmet is too injured to continue after Charlie.  
  • Two villains, Israeli agents, Egyptian agents, and the CIA agents all try to capture Charlie, Dante, and Milana. During the chase, several people are injured. One villain lunges at Charlie, trying to poison her with cobra venom. “Charlie hit him with the mace. . . the heavy iron ball struck his forearm, snapping both bones. . . He cursed at Charlie and charged toward her, leaving her no choice but to defend herself. She leapt aside and swung the mace at him once more. . . the iron ball glanced off his head, sending him reeling.” The villain falls off a ledge and “onto the rocks below.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Instead of allowing Octavian to capture her, Cleopatra “drank her poison and imagined how horrified Octavian would be when he learned what she had done.” 
  • At a party full of adults, Charlie talks to a man who “had a glass of scotch in his hand and was slightly unsteady on his feet; this obviously wasn’t his first drink of the evening.” 
  • In order to find one of Cleopatra’s clues, Milana needs to get an archaeologist out of the way, so she drugs her.  
  • Milana uses sedation darts to incapacitate rival agents who are trying to kidnap Charlie.  
  • During dinner, Dante drinks wine. 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Cleopatra’s treasure is the philosopher’s stone which turns “base metals into gold.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • Some people considered Cleopatra “more than human. They thought her to be a goddess, the living incarnation of Isis.” 
  • Isis was “the most important goddess in Egyptian mythology, the goddess of life and magic, and the protector of women and children. Cleopatra sometimes claimed to be Isis in the flesh and a lot of Egyptians believed it.” 
  • During Cleopatra’s time, the Nile flooded almost every year. People believed “a good flood year meant the gods were smiling on the Egyptians.” 

Scarlet

Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother has been missing for nearly three weeks. After her pleas to the police are largely ignored, Scarlet resigns herself to focus on the responsibilities at her family’s farm—tending to chickens and selling vegetables at gossip-leaden bars in her small town of Rieux, France. When selling the vegetables, Scarlet suffers under endless taunts from the Rieux townsfolk, all who claim her grandmother to be as crazy as Cinder Linh— the cyborg girl known to have challenged the Lunar Queen Levana. Scarlet finds herself surprisingly defended by a strange man new to the town: an underground fighter is known simply as Wolf. As the two continue to cross paths, Wolf reveals an estranged connection to the gang which kidnapped Scarlet’s grandmother. Desperate to find her grandmother, Scarlet must choose to trust a man connected to the kidnapping, or else never see her grandmother again.

On another part of the globe—in the prison of the Eastern Commonwealth—Cinder is now a disgrace across her nation. Cinder becomes partners with felon Captain Thorne, and the two manage to flee with a spaceship. In hiding the fact Cinder is the lost Lunar Princess Selene—the only royalty savvy enough to overthrow the bloodthirsty Queen Levana—Cinder must decide whether to understand and accept her past or run away from it. As Queen Levana sends wolf-mutants to wreak havoc upon the world, her hold on the Eastern Commonwealth grows ever stronger. Cinder’s outlook on her past may decide the world’s future.

Scarlet continues the sci-fi rendition of the Cinderella story. The story maintains the intricate and clever character development among the characters Cinder Linh, Emperor Kai, and Queen Levana. Meyer also works through the perspectives of new characters Scarlet and Wolf, thereby managing to interweave another Brother’s Grimm fairytale: Little Red Riding Hood. Myer bases the characters on classic stories that a wide spectrum of readers already know. However, Meyer eloquently twists these original tales into a unique narrative of space operatic scale. What results is a set of classic tales so twisted and surprising readers will be kept on the edge of their seats.

Scarlet continually shifts between the perspectives of a multitude of characters. Cinder and Scarlet, as the main characters of the Lunar Series books one and two, are focused upon the most in Scarlet. However, even minor characters like Captain Thorne, Emperor Kai, Wolf, and even the Queen Levana have chapters from their point of view. By giving switching the character’s point of view, Meyer’s is able to transport the reader across the globe according to where, and when, each source of the action takes place. In doing so, Mayer effortlessly sutures the worlds of Cinder and Scarlet together, while also creating an intensely detailed and complex narrative world. Additionally, the shifting perspective of the narration gives readers room to consider the motivations of each character individually, allowing a clearer picture of the compelling politics at play.

While Scarlet may not be suitable for younger middle-grade readers due to its, occasionally intense, descriptions of violence and torture, the narrative is sure to be a captivating start for any mature YA readers interested in stepping into the realm of sci-fi and fantasy fiction. Enough of the narrative from Cinder is explained so readers can pick up Scarlet and be able to easily navigate the world that Meyer describes. (Though of course, starting the Lunar Chronicles from the beginning is still recommended!)

It is also refreshing to find a narrative so heavily lead by two strong female characters. Both Cinder and Scarlet are self-assured and formidable forces who have the ability to handle the intensity of split-second, world-determining decisions. By so confidently and intently working to learn from their past turmoil and losses, Cinder and Scarlet show readers how one can still hold their own agency even during the times when the pressure of the world seems heavy. In Scarlet, Meyer encourages readers to look towards their past, not as something dreadfully out of their control, but as something they have the freedom to sculpt how they wish— even from where they stand in the present. Readers who enjoy the Luna Chronicle should also read the Chemical Garden Series by Lauren DeStefano and the Tin Star Duology by Cecil Castellucci.

Sexual Content

  • When discussing Cinder, a customer at the Rieux Tavern says, “I think she’s kind of cute, pretending to be all helpless and innocent like that. Maybe instead of sending her back to the moon, they should let her come stay with me?” After this comment, another customer replies by saying, “No doubt that metal leg of hers would make for a real cozy bedmate!”
  • When speaking to the fighter about potentially offering him a farmhand job in exchange for food, Scarlet jokes, “After seeing the evidence of your appetite in there, I think I’d lose my shirt with a deal like that.” She then flushes, thinking, “no doubt he was now imagining her with her shirt off.”
  • Carswell Thorne, a current prisoner of New Beijing, recalls convincing a guard to lend him a portscreen (a touchpad of sorts), but concedes that, “this would not have succeeded if the guard wasn’t convinced he was an idiot, incapable of doing anything other than counting the days and searching for naughty pictures of ladies he’d known and imagined.” Thorne then thinks, “he sure did appreciate the suggestively naughty, if heavily filtered, pictures.”
  • Noticing Scarlet holding Wolf’s arm, the announcer in the center of the illegal fighting ring smirks and says, “Looks like the wolf has found himself a tender morsel tonight.” The fighter next to him—the one preparing to fight Wolf, claims, “Think I’ll be taking that one home after I’ve destroyed dog-boy’s pretty face!”
  • Upon reaching Captain Thorne’s stolen ship, Cinder notices that the “seal of the American Republic had been hastily painted over with the silhouette of a lounging naked lady.”
  • After hopping on board a train, Scarlet kisses Wolf. After she pulled away, “Wolf buried one hand into her mess of curls and kissed her back.”
  • When Ran catches Scarlet trying to escape from the Queen’s Special Forces, he says, “If it wasn’t such a repulsive thought, I might take advantage of you here, now that we’re all alone . . . just to see the look on my brother’s face when I told him about it.”

Violence

  • When discussing her grandmother’s disappearance, Scarlet describes how she found her grandmother’s ID (a person’s identification embedded typically inside the arm), “wrapped in cheesecloth spotted red from her blood and left like a tiny package on the kitchen counter.” While detectives attribute this to Scarlet’s grandmother cutting the ID from her arm herself, Scarlet accuses a kidnapper of doing so.
  • Speaking on the news of Cinder at the royal ball in the Eastern Commonwealth, a tavern regular named Roland says, “They [the royal guards] should have put her out of her misery when she fell on those stairs… I’d have put a bullet right through her head. And good riddance.”
  • Many of the customers at The Rieux Tavern argue with Scarlet about the fact that Cinder, “should be executed,” for trying to kill a Union leader.
  • The tavern crowd’s jeers towards TV footage of Cinder at the royal palace, Roland says, “We all know crazy runs in [Scarlet’s] family. First, that old goose [Scarlet’s grandmother] runs off, and now Scar’s defending Lunar rights!” In response, Scarlet “was suddenly halfway over the bar, bottles and glasses scattering, her fist connecting with Roland’s ear.” Scarlet then grabs the front of Roland’s shirt. Scarlet “shoved Roland hard with both hands,” causing him to stumble. When Roland threatens Scarlet, a fighter from the back of the tavern grabs him by the neck, “lifting him clear off the floor.” The fighter chokes Roland until other tavern guests convince him to let go. This scene is described four pages.
  • It is noted that Scarlet keeps a small pistol strapped to her lower back, just in case, “a stranger will want to take you somewhere you don’t mean to go.”
  • Scarlet’s father breaks into her grandmother’s house, in order to rifle through her grandmother’s things. Trying to stop him, Scarlet grabs her father’s arm, and then notices, “The skin was covered in burn marks. Each one a perfect circle and placed in a neat, perfect row. Row upon row upon row, circling his forearm from wrist to elbow, some shining with wrinkled scar tissue, others blackened and blistering. And on his wrist, a scab where his ID chip had once been implanted.” When he is questioned about the marks, Scarlet’s father says, “They made me.” Scarlet’s father said that Scarlet’s grandmother watched him. “They gave me the poker . . . and they brought me to her. And I realized, she was the one with the answers. She was the one with the information. They wanted something from her. But she just watched . . . she just watched me do it, and she cried . . . She let them do this to me.”
  • Scarlet visits a nearby farm, where there is an illegal fighting ring taking place. Scarlet attends in order to find the fighter she met at The Rieux Tavern. The initial scene of this fighting ring is described as follows: “A writhing crowd shouted up at a hastily constructed stage, where one man was beating his opponent in the face, fist flying over and over with sickening steadfastness. Blood started to leak from his opponent’s nose.”
  • Finding the fighter, known as Wolf, at the illegal fighting ring, Scarlet “closed the distance between them and thumped her locked fist into his sternum, ignoring how he towered a full head above her. Her hatred made her feel like she could crush his skull with her bare hands.” While questioning Wolf, Scarlet slams her fist harder and harder into his chest, and when he tries to avoid her, “Scarlet simultaneously grabbed his left wrist and yanked out her gun. She pressed the barrel against his tattoo.” This interaction lasts for a total of three pages.
  • At the illegal fight ring, Wolf fights a man called The Hunter. “Hunter threw the first punch . . .  Wolf ducked easily and skirted out from Hunter’s shadow . . . A series of blows were deflected, until Hunter’s fist finally connected with a sickening crunch . . . Wolf aimed a solid kick to Hunter’s chest . . . Hunter attacked with renewed vigor. Wolf took a punch in the stomach and was crumpled over with a grunt. It was followed by a blow that sent him careening to the edge of the stage.” This exchange continues until, “Hunter fell to his knees and Wolf was behind him in a breath, his face violently contorted, his hands on each side of Hunter’s head.” Wolf makes to snap Hunter’s neck, but, seeing Scarlet in the crowd, he leaps back, letting Hunter slump to the stage. This description lasts for six pages.
  • Captain Thorne is forced to dodge the bullets of the Eastern Commonwealth military as they escape from the Commonwealth in Thorne’s stolen spaceship.
  • After Scarlet sees Wolf in the illegal fighting ring, Wolf shows up on Scarlet’s property. Scarlet and pulls a shotgun on Wolf, but eventually Wolf convinces Scarlet to trust him, and she lowers her weapon.
  • When one of Emperor Kai’s android tutors, Nainsi, tries to introduce Queen Levana to speak with him, the Queen slaps the android across her single blue sensor.
  • When speaking to Emperor Kai, Queen Levana threatens, “One more patronizing comment and I will have you slice off and nail your own tongue to the palace gate.”
  • Ran, Wolf’s brother, catches sight of Scarlet and Wolf on a train to Paris. Ran criticizes Wolf for choosing to leave the gang they are a part of, a group known as the Order of the Pack. In response, Wolf accuses Ran of needing the protection of the gangs leader Jael. With this Ran leaps forward to attack Wolf. A tussle between the two brothers begins, until “Ran’s head landed in the water and Scarlet heard a sickening crunch.” Wolf continues to attack his brother, throwing punches, until Scarlet shoots Wolf in the arm to stop him. The conflict lasts about four pages.
  • Angered by Wolf for not telling her the full truth behind his motivations to lead her to Paris, Scarlet thinks, “If she ever saw him again she would scratch his eyes out. She would throttle him until his lips turned blue.”
  • Scarlet thinks she is finally visiting her grandmother, but quickly realizes it is the Lunar’s thaumaturge who disguised himself as her grandmother to get information from her. When speaking of her true grandmother, the thaumaturge states, “I wonder how lubricated the old lady’s tongue would become if she were to watch as you hammered needles into your own flesh.” Scarlet tries to attack the thaumaturge, lunging to scratch at his face, but she is quickly stopped by the thaumaturge through his Lunar mind control abilities.
  • While searching Scarlet and her grandmother’s house, Cinder realizes that Scarlet’s grandmother housed her in secret. When viewing the room she was healed in, Cinder sees herself as a child, which may be disturbing to some readers. The description is as follows: “It was a photo of a child. what was left of a child. She was wrapped in bandages from her neck to the stump of her left thigh. Her right arm and shoulder were uncovered, showing the skin that was gouged bloody red in spots, bright pink and glossy in others. She had no hair and the burn marks continued up her neck and across her cheek. The left side of her face was swollen and disfigured, only the slit of her eye could be seen, and a line of stitches ran along her earlobe before cutting across to her lips.”
  • When Wolf approaches Scarlet in her cell, she screams and strikes him with her fists five times before he restrains her by holding her arms to her stomach.
  • When Cinder and Captain Thorne are found in a bar in Rieux by Eastern Commonwealth authorities, Thorne punches one of the officers, and gets punched in the gut in return. As Cinder tries to escape the authorities in turn, a man from the corner of the tavern crouches down on all fours, more canine than human, and proceeds to immediately snap the neck of one of the officers. He then bites down on the neck of another officer while the remaining officer shoots in his direction. The man reaches out to fight the remaining officer by clawing at this officer’s face. When the man goes for Cinder, Thorne heaves a chair over his back, and the man then turns to bite into his arm. Cinder is eventually able to tranquilize the man. This fight lasts around twelve pages. There is another description that lasts a page detailing another member of Queen Levana’s forces taking a bite out of the neck of an officer inspecting Cinder’s spaceship before Cinder is able to quiet the canine-like human with another tranquilizer dart.
  • When Scarlet manages to escape her imprisonment, she tries to save her grandmother—who she finds in one of the other cells of the building, bloodied through endless torture. Scarlet is found by Wolf’s brother Ran. Scarlet’s grandmother goads Ran until he rushes at her, grabbing her throat. In an effort to fight back, Scarlet jumps onto Ran’s back, clawing at his eye sockets. Ran drops Scarlet’s grandmother, and her form collapses. Ran then proceeds to clamp his jaws over the grandmother’s neck, killing her, while Scarlet escapes.
  • Trying to escape, Scarlet hides in the shadows. When Ran passes, she swings a wrought-iron candelabra at Ran’s head. When he tries to grab her hood, Scarlet then aims her knee towards Ran’s groin, thus managing to escape him. When Ran next catches up to Scarlet, he “gripped her shirt and lifted her from the ground.” Ran then throws her at a statue in the room. But before he can attack her a second time, Wolf attacks him from a corner of the room, stopping Ran from continuing to hurt Scarlet. With this begins a fight between Ran and Wolf as one tries to tackle and kill the other. Eventually, Wolf kills his brother with a bite to the neck. Controlled by his orders to kill her, Wolf nearly attacks Scarlet as well, before she convinces him to stop. Scarlet’s escape and battle with Ran and Wolf lasts about thirty pages and a total of two chapters.
  • As Cinder, Scarlet, Thorne, and Wolf try to escape, they are caught by Queen Levana’s thaumaturge and the special forces. Scarlet scrambles to Cinder’s Spaceship and manages to mow down a few members of the forces with the ship, including the thaumaturge, granting enough time for Cinder to shoot the thaumaturge in the thigh with her pistol. Scarlet then shoots the thaumaturge with her shotgun.
  • The global attack of the Lunar Queen Levana and her special forces is described by Kai as this: “Bodies littered the square, their spilled blood black beneath the flickering billboards. Most of the corpses were concentrated near the opening of a late-night restaurant, one of the few businesses that had been open and crowded at midnight, when the attack had started.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A location Scarlet delivers goods to, The Rieux Tavern, was popular in her town because “drinking and gossiping were the favorite pastimes.”
  • Scarlet catches her father going through her grandmother’s things. As she talks to him, she notes, “The smell of cognac swirled through the air.”
  • Roland, The Rieux Tavern regular, is known to be a heavy drinker with whiskey heavy on his breath.
  • Scarlet gets a message from a hospital, reporting that her father died from alcohol poisoning. A few pages later, it is revealed that an operative killed Scarlet’s father in a way that would not seem suspicious.

Language

  • While fighting with Wolf, Scarlet calls him a “traitor and a bastard.”

Supernatural

  • Cinder is known to be a Lunar, which means that she holds the power “to control and manipulate the bioelectricity of other living creatures. [Lunars] could trick people into seeing things that weren’t real or experiencing made-up emotions. They could brainwash people into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do.” Cinder uses these powers throughout the book, mainly to escape Queen Levana and the Eastern Commonwealth authorities trying to imprison, and execute, her.
  • In an effort to control Earth, the Lunar Queen Levana created an army known as the Lunar Special forces. These forces are later more clearly described as this: “They appear to be Lunar males whose physical makeup has been combined with the neural circuitry of some sort of wolf hybrid.” The effect is that closest to a werewolf of sorts. Wolf, a member of this army, later describes the phenomenon as this: “Each pack is ruled by a thaumaturge who controls when our animal instincts take over, when all we can think about is killing. They’ve manipulated our Lunar gift and used it to turn us into these monsters instead—with some physical modifications.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Ratpunzel

Harriet does not like sitting around her house, so when her friend, Prince Wilbur, tells her that he needs help finding his hydra’s stolen egg, Harriet is more than willing to accept the quest. During their search, they come across a friend of Prince Wilbur’s mother, Dame Gothel, and a tower where a rat princess with a long tail lives, named Ratpunzel. While trying to find the stolen hydra egg, the two hamsters try to gain the princess’s trust and find out more about the dame, but there is more than what initially meets the eye when it comes to this quest.

Ratpunzel uses the story elements of Rapunzel to create a humorous and fun adventure that will have readers eagerly turning the pages. Harriet takes the quest, happy to help her friends and leave the castle. As Harriet and Prince Wilbur go on their adventure, they discover that Dame Gothel is an evil witch. Gothel makes Ratpunzel cry and then uses her tears to turn every visitor into a wooden statue so Ratpunzel cannot escape the tower. Ratpunzel’s tears are an important part of Gothel’s magic because they come from a magical maiden “true and fair,” so Gothel keeps the princess close. Gothel is scary yet funny, and the readers will enjoy seeing how Harriet will foil the witch’s plan and get the hydra’s egg back.

On one of the hamsters’ visits to Ratpunzel’s tower, they learn that Ratpunzel cooks food to pass the time, but she does not know that no one likes it since everyone is polite to her. On top of that, she is optimistic about becoming a good chef, despite her odd dishes consisting of “fish-flake ice cream,” “asparagus waffles,” “sugar-and-shrimp pancakes,” and more! Ratpunzel’s interjections about her peculiar cooking add hilarity to the adventure.

Blue and white illustrations add to the wackiness of the book. Drawings with dialogue balloons help break up the text and keep the action moving. Ratpunzel shows the value of teamwork and will engage even the most reluctant readers. Ratpunzel is the third book in the Hamster Princess Series but can be enjoyed as a standalone book. With an unconventional heroine and many hilarious moments, Ratpunzel is a story that delights and amuses.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Weasel-wolves attack Harriet, Wilbur, and the battle quails. Harriet fought a weasel-wolf one on one, but “she didn’t have to do anything. She just held her sword up and the weasel-wolf’s jump carried it right into the pommel, cracking itself in the forehead.” When the weasel-wolf hit the pommel, it “fell on the ground.” The fight continues for two pages.
  • Another weasel-wolf shows up and tries to bite a battle quail, but he ends up with a mouthful of tail feathers. The battle quail spins around and kicks the weasel-wolf. The battle quail’s “legs shot out—one-two—and lifted the weasel-wolf off its feet. It [the weasel-wolf] flew through the air [and] bounced off a tree trunk.” Finally, the weasel-wolf ran away; the rest of the weasel-wolves ran away too. The fight lasts for two pages.
  • Ratpunzel hits Dame Gothel with a hydra eggshell. “WHACK! . . .And then [Dame Gothel] slumped over into the grass, knocked out cold.” Later, Dame Gothel wakes up groggy.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Gothel turns Wilbur into a wooden statue using Ratpunzel’s tears. “Harriet heard a sploosh! a thud! and a very loud SNAP! . . . It was unmistakably Wilbur. It looked like a perfect wooden carving, down to the individual strands of hair and nails on his hands and his alarmed expression.”
  • Gothel traps Harriet with vines. “Green bands were snaking up her legs and were holding her in place. She swatted at the vines with her hands, and they whipped out and twined around her arms.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

The New Olympians

There is a horse named Tornado Warning that’s winning every race he enters—and faster than ever before seen—and Emily thinks the animal looks a lot like Pegasus. Afraid of what this might mean and of what Jupiter might do if he finds out, Emily, Joel, Paelen, Pegasus, and the sphinx Alexis decide to go to Earth to investigate. There they discover a plot to replicate Olympians and Nirads. The CRU has already created dozens of clones. Now they want to create their own Emily clone—and it doesn’t matter to them if the original Emily dies in the process. 

Can Emily and her friends put a stop to the CRU’s plans before Jupiter finds out and follows through on his threat to destroy the Earth? 

The New Olympians’ plot revolves around the CRU’s ability to make clones of the Olympians. The Olympians believe making clones is unnatural and that the humans must be stopped. Emily’s thoughts, the descriptions of the clones, and the Olympian’s views all reinforce the idea that making clones is immoral. To make matters worse, the CRU hopes to use the clones to dominate the world. An agent explains, “One world order isn’t a bad thing, Emily. There will be no more borders, no more wars . . . One language, one people and one country. . . The CRU is going to create Olympus on Earth.” In order to achieve this, the CRU will murder anyone who opposes them. While Emily has no desire to hurt anyone, she has no choice but to destroy the CRU facility and anyone who tries to stop her.  

The New Olympians has a more serious tone and ramps up the violence. Sensitive readers may be upset by the treatment of the clones, some of which have deformities and are kept in cages. While none of the actual deaths are described, the number of people who are injured, killed, and punished may be upsetting.  

One negative aspect of the story is inconsistencies in the characters’ actions. For example, even though the CRU can identify Paelen, he still puts himself and others in danger when he goes to the Las Vegas strip to see the sights. In the first two books, Paelen tries desperately to prove that he is no longer a thief. However, in The New Olympians, he steals several times and acts as if he enjoys the thrill of thievery. In another instance, Emily and her friends’ original goal was to verify that the CRU had indeed made clones. However, instead of reporting back to Jupiter once they’ve confirmed the existence of clones, the group decides to confront the CRU. Despite their knowledge of the CRU’s cruel tactics, the group makes several unrealistic decisions. For example, Agent T, who used to work for CRU, leads the group to a small town close to Area 51. Even though he knows the area is crawling with agents, Agent T thinks the group will go unnoticed. However, Agent T is quickly dispatched. Agent T’s presence doesn’t shed light on any new information which makes that section of the story feel unimportant and a waste of pages. 

Readers who have read the first two books in the series will find The New Olympians frustrating because of the story’s inconsistencies, Emily’s lack of character growth, and events that do not advance the plot. However, readers may enjoy the reappearance of several characters from the previous books. The New Olympians wraps up the main conflict with the CRU’s clone-making abilities, which allows the next book in the series, Pegasus and the Origins of Olympus, to take Emily back in time to the origins of Olympus and to the deadly battle between the Olympians and the Titans. Readers who love traveling to other worlds where pegasi live should also read the Riders of the Realm Series by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez. 

Sexual Content 

  • After Joel scores a winning goal, the sphinx Alexis “brushed back the hair from Joel’s eyes, leaned forward, and kissed him full and long on the lips.” The kiss makes Emily jealous. 
  • The newspaper prints a picture of Tornado Warning, who looks like Pegasus’ twin. One of the Olympians asks Pegasus, “Did you get up to some mischief while you were in Emily’s world?” 

Violence 

  • Emily and her friends break into a house that belongs to Agent T and Earl. When Agent T comes down the stairs, he screams. “Alexis knocked to the floor a long-haired man wearing a brown bathrobe. Emily received her first look at Alexis’s eating teeth as the Sphinx stood on the man’s chest and prepared to kill him. . . Huge, sharp canines filled her mouth as her jaw unhinged to allow her to open her mouth wider than Emily had thought possible.” Joel calms the sphinx down before anything worse happens.  
  • A newspaper article describes a robbery, saying “there was only one survivor of the massacre.” 
  • Another newspaper article describes a boy who broke into a chocolate store. “One witness said he was super strong and tossed everyone around like they weighed nothing.”  
  • When Pegasus sees Tornado Warning, Pegasus attacks him. “Tornado Warning charged out of his stable. Rearing up, the two glowing stallions attacked each other with all the fury they possessed. Pegasus’s wings opened and smashed at Tornado’s head, knocking him into the large open training ring.”  
  • Pegasus’s brother tries to stop the fight, but “all his presence did was to infuriate Tornado Warning further. The gray stallion rose high in the air and came crashing down on Chrysaor with his powerful front hooves. Driven to the ground, the winged boar squealed in pain.” Chrysaor is injured.  
  • Ranch hands hear the horses fighting and go to investigate. “A blast from a shotgun fired at Pegasus alerting the group. . . [Emily] raised her hands in the air. No flame emerged, but the man was lifted over the heads of the fighting stallions and thrown to the opposite side of the stable.” Agent T holds the ranch hands at gunpoint.  
  • The stallions continue to fight. “Pegasus was steadily gaining over Tornado. Despite the racing stallion’s strength, he was no match for the enraged Olympian . . . Tornado Warning was covered in blood from the deep cuts caused by Pegasus’s hooves. His eyes were closed, and he wasn’t breathing.” The fight is described over six pages. 
  • Agent T needs information about Tornado Warning. A ranch hand named Rip refuses to talk, so Agent T “slapped Rip across the face.” Rip is still defiant and Alexis attacks. “Moments later Rip Russell was on the ground, crying in pain and grasping his lower legs. His jeans were torn from Alexis’s claws, and blood was rising to the surface.”  
  • When Rip and some other ranch hands try to grab Emily, Alexis attacks them. Emily closes her eyes, so she doesn’t see the attack, but Agent T tells her, “Keep your eyes shut; you don’t want to see this.” Alexis kills the men who were “going after Emily.” Later, Emily sees blood on her clothes.  
  • When Agent T tries to talk to the CRU, they attack him and Alexis. Alexis’ wings are dislocated. Alexis thinks Agent T is dead, so she runs to warn the others. 
  • The CRU soldiers try to capture Emily and her friends. When the soldiers arrive, “Popping sounds filled the air as they fired. [Emily] felt the stings on her arms and back and realized they were using tranquilizer darts. . . She held up her hand and released the laserlike flame at the nearest military vehicle. It exploded in a brilliant blast.” This causes a chain reaction that blows up the other vehicles.  
  • The CRU also try to capture Tornado Warning. The horse “stopped, spun around, and charged the soldiers who were trying to capture him. . . He instinctively used his wings as weapons. He flapped them and struck the men who were trying to catch him. Others were kicked by his lethal hooves. . . the winged racehorse [was] finally brought down by the countless tranquilizer darts being shot into him.” 
  • During the attack, Joel is shot. In anger, Emily goes after the military helicopters. “Emily focused her eyes on the closest helicopter. . . Emily raised her hands and unleashed the flame.” The story implies that Emily destroys all the helicopters. The attack is described over five pages. 
  • While walking down a Las Vegas street, two men “pulled out weapons and shoved them into Paelen’s and Joel’s backs.” They take Paelen, Joel, and Frankie to their mob boss. After the mob boss threatens to kill them, Joel and Paelen attack the men. “A shot went off and hit Joel’s arm, but the bullet ricocheted off the silver and hit one of the men.” Paelen is shot in the head. “The bullet knocked Paelen backwards. He felt a searing pain in the center of his forehead. . . Joel charged the shooter. . . The tattooed man cried out as the bones in his arm shattered under the impact of Joel’s silver arm.” The scene is described over seven pages. 
  • After subduing the mob boss’ men, Joel tries to get the mob boss to talk. When he refuses, Joel “put his silver hand around the man’s throat and hoisted him up in the air. As the tattooed man squirmed and tried to break free, Joel slammed him hard against the wall.” The man eventually talks. Joel and Paelen then tie up the man and leave. 
  • When Paelen’s clone sees him, the clone attacks. The clone “smashed through the diner door and turned on Paelen. It screeched and roared and charged at him with murderous fury in his eyes. . . The clone lifted Paelen in the air and threw him through the plate-glass window of the diner. . . The clone struck out at Joel with a brutal blow that threw him several meters in the air. Joel landed on the roof of a seller’s pushcart and slipped down to the ground, badly winded.” 
  • As the fight continues, Paelen “tore up a streetlight from the pavement and used the pole like a bat, smashing the clone into a tall, brightly lit casino sign. Lightbulbs burst and sparked as debris poured down into the street.” As Paelen and the clone throw each other around, they start a fire. 
  • Ignoring the fire, Paelen “hurled the clone at the biggest, heaviest thing he could find—a lighted wall of a casino. The casino’s sign exploded with the impact, and the wall crumbled. As the clone fell to the ground, part of the lighted sign collapsed and fell on top of it.”  
  • A police officer raises his weapon at an injured Paelen. When Paelen refuses to stop, the officer shoots a taser. “Electrical current tore through him. He lost control of his muscles and collapsed to the ground, convulsing. The pain was intense, and he couldn’t move.” Paelen passes out and wakes up in jail. The fight scene is described over five pages. 
  • Paelen breaks out of jail, and returns to his hiding place, but the clone is still able to find him. “The clone, caught hold of him and, screaming in rage, lifted him high above its head. Snarling with uncontrolled hatred, it hurled Paelen at the painted window. . .” Paelen falls off the building and is presumed dead.  
  • In order to keep her friends safe, Emily shoots at the military helicopters that are shooting at them. “One by one, the helicopters exploded in the air and rained fire down on the dark desert floor. Soon they were alone.” 
  • In an epic, multi-chapter conclusion, the Olympians, led by Emily, fight the CRU. Emily tries to talk to the CRU soldiers, who shoot her. Emily “felt her body exploding in pain as several bullets found their mark. Thrown backwards, she hit her head on the ground with an explosive impact.” In a panic, Emily accidentally makes Alexis and Pegasus disappear and Emily assumes she has killed them. 
  • When Jupiter finds out what is happening on Earth, he takes his two brothers—Pluto and Neptune—to Earth. To help Joel, the three go to the police station. The police “opened fire on the chariots. Unaffected by their bullets, Jupiter returned fire with his lightning bolts. Suddenly the ground beneath the police exploded as Neptune commanded water to come forth.” 
  • When another police officer shoots at Pluto, “he swept his hand in the air. An instant later, the officer collapsed dead to the ground.” As they talk to the police, helicopters appear. “A second rocket was fired at the Olympians. Jupiter raised his arm, and the rocket shot away from the chariots and tore into the police station. The rocket exploded on impact. . .” Jupiter “fired powerful lightning bolts at [the helicopters]. They burst into flame and crashed down to the street in a heap of burning metal.” 
  • The military continues to shoot weapons at the Olympians, who remain unharmed. The weapons “were defeated by the Olympians’ powers and crashed into a big black pyramid-shaped building. The light at its top went out, the windows exploded, and the building burst into flame.”  
  • The CRU captures the Nirad prince, Toban. They secure him to a table with gold and the gold burns his skin. The gold “scalded him until his skin smoldered, opened, and bled. [Emily] watched scientists extracting fresh black blood and skin samples from the suffering young prince. . . The prince’s eyes were shut as he writhed and howled in pain. The tight gold bands were cutting deep into his smoking, open flesh.” 
  • To destroy the CRU’s ability to make clones, Emily destroys Area 51. “Emily unleashes her power. Laserlike flames rushed from her hands and burned their way into the buildings. . . The sounds of the groaning and crumbling facility filled the air and grew in intensity until they become almost unbearable . . . The dust settled, and where once stood the CRU facility was nothing but an impossibly large crater.” 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Emily meets Tornado Warning, one of the workers tells her, “Tornado Warning is loco. He has killed two riders. No one can touch him unless he is drugged.” In order to control Tornado Warning, the horse is given sedatives.  
  • In order to keep Tornado Warning from fighting with Pegasus, the horse is given “heavy tranquilizers” that make him sleep.  
  • Paelen meets a homeless boy named Frankie. Frankie’s mother abandoned him, and the boy is being cared for by a man who is drunk often. 
  • In order to steal money, Paelen targets a drunk gambler. 

Language   

  • The adults use profanity infrequently. Profanity includes darn, heck, damn, and hell. For example, Agent T asks Emily, “what the hell are you doing back here?” 
  • Oh God and Lord are used as exclamations several times.  

Supernatural 

  • The story includes many Greek Gods, who have supernatural powers, such as the sphinx Alexis who can “read a human’s intentions.” 
  • The sphinx Alexis is given Pluto’s helmet of invisibility so she can travel around Earth without being seen. 
  • Emily can heal others. She also has new, unpredictable powers. She explains, “Sometimes I can move things. Sometimes items disappear and I can never find them again. And sometimes they explode.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • When Emily plans to go to Earth without permission, she “prayed she would be returning to him in Olympus soon with good news.” 
  • When Earl finds out about Tornado Warning, he says, “pray to God he’s just a horse and not an Olympian clone.” 
  • When Emily leads the military away from her friends, Paelen prayed, “Be safe, Emily.” 
  • At Agent T’s request, Jupiter turns him into a willow tree. Jupiter explains that Agent T is a “very happy” tree. “Agent T will never feel pain but can still experience joy. He can think, speak, and live a long and happy life with Alexis.” 
  • In order to punish the CRU staff, Pluto changes them into Prometheus Oak trees. “Being turned into a Prometheus Oak is living torture. He will remain fully conscious and aware of his previous life. He will feel everything. . . His bark is like breaking bones, and when the wind blow through his leaves, you will hear him screaming.” 

Daughter of the Siren Queen

Alosa’s mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he’s under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father’s justice.

When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first . . . after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.

In Daughter of the Siren Queen, Alosa and her crew are only days away from being caught by the Pirate King. Both the Pirate King and Alosa hope to reach a legendary treasure that will allow them to rule the seas. However, Alosa’s crew faces many dangers, including an island of cannibals and the lack of drinking water. During this time, Riden helps Alosa try to understand her siren abilities. Unfortunately, once Riden and Alosa begin to work together, most of their fun banter ends. Instead, Riden becomes a submissive man, who stays mostly in the background.

When Riden fades into the background, Alosa’s crew of fierce, capable women are given center stage. Even though they are ruthless pirates, the crew respects and cares for each other. While Alosa is the captain of the ship, she still has enough confidence to leave others in command when necessary. One of the crew members has a six-year-old daughter, who adds humor and heart to the story. Unlike most pirates who are loyal to whomever has the most gold, Alosa’s crew are loyal to each other because of their friendship. The unique perspective of the women pirates makes Daughter of the Siren Queen interesting and enjoyable.

Readers will also get a look into the siren’s world. Alosa worries that her siren half turns her into a monster. However, when she is introduced to her mother’s world, Alosa realizes that the women are not heartless monsters. Instead, their world is full of beauty and love. Despite this, Alosa never loses her desire to remain in the human world. Alosa loves being a pirate, loves her crew, and loves the human world.

Full of friendship, battles, and complicated relationships, Daughter of the Siren Queen is a fast-paced story that takes readers on an exciting ocean adventure. Bloody battles keep the tension high, but Alosa’s crew balances out the action with friendship and humor. If you’re up for non-stop action, and high-stakes sword fights, then Daughter of the Siren Queen is a must-read. However, if you’re looking to set sail on a pirate ship without bloody fights, jump aboard Lintang and the Pirate Queen by Tamara Moss.

Sexual Content

  • Two of Alosa’s crew see her staring at Riden. A girl says, “he looks delicious.” Her sister replies, “From behind, anyways. Can’t judge the man properly until we see the front.”
  • Two of Alosa’s crew members were “whores.” She explains, “They were forced into that life. I broke them out when I witnessed them fighting off a couple of men who tried to take their services for free after hours.”
  • The Pirate King’s keep has a “brothel.”
  • To distract a pirate, Alosa slides “my hands up his arms to his shoulders. . .He crushes his mouth to mine. All intensity and passion.” As she kisses the pirate, she thinks about Riden, who will “pin me against some hard surface, place his hands on either side of my waist, and lean down until all the air between us is gone.”
  • Alosa gets upset at Riden. When he tries to comfort her, she “lunge[s] at him. . . I place my lips over his so quickly, I think his eyes are still open when I reach him. . . My fingers slide into his hair, silky smooth and wonderful. . .” Riden welcomes Alosa’s touch. “His tongue slides in, completely bathing me in sensations.” The scene is described over one page.
  • Alosa and Riden kiss several times. For example, Riden’s “lips brush my neck as he starts kissing his way up to my hairline. My body shudders, an uncontrollable reaction to him. . . His free hand slides around my waist, pressing me into him.” They stop kissing when they are interrupted.
  • After professing their love, Riden and Alosa kiss. “He kisses me softly, languorously, savoring every time our lips connect. I melt under the pressure but manage to yank at his still damp shirt. He helps me take it off. . .Without breaking the kiss, I start to pull him backward with me, toward my bed.” Riden hears a siren’s song and walks away from Alosa. The scene is described over three pages.

Violence

  • There is an overabundance of violence and not all scenes are described below.
  • Alosa and her crew begin killing the lookouts who are watching over Vordan’s crew. “The sound of [Alosa’s] knife slitting across a throat feels much too loud in the darkness. I catch the pirate before his corpse hits the ground.”
  • Alosa and her crew get into the inn where the pirates are sleeping. Alosa puts three men under her spell so they will fight on her side. Then Alosa rams her “shoulder into the pirate who dared to call me ‘the siren bitch,’ sending him over the railing. He screams until he’s cut off with a loud crunch. . .I’m already thrusting my sword through the belly of the next pirate. He collapses to the floor, and I walk over his twitching body to the next man.”
  • During the battle, Alosa sends her “elbow into the underside of [a pirate’s] chin. His head snaps back, and I cut off his grunt by raking my cutlass across his throat.”
  • Alosa and her girls blow up the inn. “The inn still stands, but it’s burning apart from the inside. . . The pirates still inside are burning husks on the ground.”
  • Alosa has Vordan put in a cage. When he protests, “he’s cut off by Sorinda’s fist slamming into his gut. She gags him and ties his hands behind his back.” The fight scene is described over 10 pages.
  • To get Vordan to talk, Alosa puts him under her siren’s spell and makes him hallucinate. “Vordan holds a knife in his hand. He glances at it in fear before thrusting it down into his own leg, the one that isn’t broken. He screams before changing the sound into an angry grunt.”
  • Alosa gets to her father’s keep, where “dead men dangle by ropes from the top of the tunnel… hooks that have been inserted into the mouths of traitors. They are hung up like captured fish for all to see. . .”
  • When Praxer upsets the Pirate King, the king cuts off Praxer’s hand. “Praxer screams as red sprays the nearby men and tables. . .Praxer has sunk to the floor. He muffles his screams long enough to meet my father’s eyes.”
  • Alosa and some of her crew go to an island where they find cannibals. “Deschel runs towards her sister’s remains. Lotiya’s throat has been ripped out. She’s missing a leg and an arm and so much blood. It’s all over the cave. . . Animal-like shouts and growls sound down the cave and grow closer, alerted to our presence by the gunshots.”
  • The cannibals chase Alosa and her crew. “Riden pours more gunpowder into his pistol, takes aim, and fires. The first cannibal in line falls, tripping those immediately behind. . .Riden is busy blocking the tunnel by himself now while I grasp around frantically for my sword. Eventually, my hand finds something hard and heavy. A human femur, I think. I bring it down on the cannibal’s head, which knocks him out instantly.”
  • When the Pirate King tries to take over Alosa’s ship, cannons are fired and “one blow[s] apart a group of men huddled together while the other nicked the mizzenmast. . . Gunfire ripples through the air on both sides. My girls are well protected behind their barrels, crates, rowboats, and other hiding places.”
  • During the fight, Alosa puts men under her spell and causes them to jump overboard. “Men shriek as the eels circle them. The eels like to toy with their food first.” When several of Alosa’s girls fall into the water, she goes in after them. “I reach for the dagger in my boot, launching myself at the eel from the side. Dagger connects first, then my legs wrap around the creature’s body, just long enough for my feet to connect on the other side of the massive water beast.” Alosa kills the creature and save her friends. The battle is described over eight pages.
  • During the fighting, one of Alosa’s crew dies. “Haeli. She took a bullet to the back.”
  • The book ends in a multi-chapter battle between Alosa’s crew and the Pirate King’s crew. Alosa’s father punishes her by shooting three members of her crew. The Pirate King “pulls the trigger. Niridia’s leg buckles, forcing her to the ground. Blood seeping through a hole in the leggings over her knee. . . Another shot fires. . . He has a new pistol, smoke coalescing from it. Reona, one of my riggers, jerks to the right and falls.”
  • The siren’s sing to the Pirate King’s men. However, the men have wax in their ears, so they remain safe. “Many of the men hold harpoons, waiting until the right moment to fling them into the sea at targets. . . Luminescent bodies float on the surface of the water in a tangle of rich hair and blood-stained skin. . . One siren flings herself out of the water, leaping over the boat as a dolphin might, and plummets into an unsuspecting pirate, knocking him into the sea below her.” Many men and sirens die.
  • Roslyn, a six-year-old, is part of Alosa’s crew. When Alosa and her crew are locked in cells, Roslyn is able to get the key. As she is letting the crew out, “A gunshot explodes through the mostly quiet brig. . . Blood spurts wildly from [Roslyn’s] head. And she falls. . . a pool of blood forms near Roslyn.”
  • Sorinda attacks a pirate who has Alosa cornered. “A sword point rips through his stomach. A labored sigh escapes him as he stares down at the metal. Sorinda doesn’t wait for him to drop before yanking her cutlass back through his gut and moving to the next target.”
  • Roslyn’s father attacks the man who shot her. Roslyn’s father has “got Tylon by the shoulders, and he slams his head into the ground over and over. I don’t know how long Tylon has been dead, but Wallov doesn’t seem to notice anything at all.”
  • The Pirate King captures Alosa’s mother. “She is strapped to a chair with ropes. They bind her shoulders to the chair’s back, her thighs to the seat, her ankles to the chair’s leg. Her wrists are bound together behind her back… her face is lightly swollen, starting to show the signs of the beating Kalligan no doubt gave her.” After capturing the Siren Queen, the sirens join the battle and manage to defeat the Pirate King’s men.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of Alosa’s crew members is “a useless drunk most of the time.” When he realizes a girl cares about him, he goes through withdrawals and then stays sober.

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes bastard, damn, hell, and piss.
  • A pirate calls Alosa a “siren bitch.”
  • Riden is upset that Alosa used her siren abilities on him. When he yells at her, she says, “You’re being a prick. I did nothing wrong.”

Supernatural

  • Alosa’s siren half gives her magical abilities. “I can sing to men and make them do whatever I wish… I can read the emotions of men… I can tell what any man wants in a woman, become it, and use it to manipulate him.”
  • Alosa tries to learn how to control her siren abilities. “When I take in the water, I become a creature with no knowledge of my human existence, no knowledge of those I care about or my human aspirations. I become what I would have been if I’d never known life above the sea.”
  • Alosa meets a charm of sirens, who show her the siren’s treasure. Alosa’s mother explains, “As soon as we knew there was treasure aboard, we sang to the rest of the men, demanding they throw everything valuable overboard. When they were done, we had them toss themselves in afterward. So we could enjoy them.”

Spiritual Content

  • When the mast breaks, Alosa says, “Let’s pray to the stars we can find a suitable trunk ashore.”
  • Pirates believe that “to not be buried at sea is to be damned for eternity, never finding rest with the stars.”
  • When a pirate dies, the crew “let the remains of Lotiya’s body drift off to sea, buried with the fallen pirates before her. When her soul departs from her body, it will follow the lantern light and find the water’s surface. From there, it will be able to see the stars and fly up to the heavens. Every soul parted from this world is a star in the sky.”

 

The Eagle’s Quill

After barely escaping Death Valley, middle school geniuses Sam, Martina, and Theo head to Glacier National Park to find the second of seven artifacts—keys that unlock a secret weapon—left by the country’s Founding Fathers. The clues lead them to look for Thomas Jefferson’s Eagle’s Quill at a Montana ranch on the outskirts of Glacier National Park.

But the dangerous Gideon Arnold, a descendant of the infamous Benedict Arnold, is hot on their trail—or is he one step ahead? Gideon Arnold takes the kids’ chaperone and the ranch owners hostage until the kids deliver the quill. Can Sam, Martina, and Theo, with the help of rancher girl Abby, find a way to save everyone without handing over Jefferson’s artifact? They enter the wilderness to solve riddles and escape traps that have protected the quill for generations…but if they find it, can they keep it away from Arnold?

Arnold captures the kids’ chaperone and Abby’s parents, leaving the kids to follow Thomas Jefferson’s clues alone. Readers will have fun trying to decipher Jefferson’s words; the first clue is a compass that is engraved with “in matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Throughout their journey, Sam relates the founding of America to chess. For example, he thinks, “The important thing about chess wasn’t how powerful you were. It was all about where you were standing and who you were standing with.”

Throughout the story, readers will learn some facts about Thomas Jefferson, who wrote “all men are created equal.” However, the story doesn’t portray Jefferson as perfect. While he was pivotal in helping form America’s government, he also “owned slaves. He’d kept his own children as slaves. And it had probably never occurred to Jefferson, that women—like Marty and Abby, would grow up to be—would like to be considered equal too.” The text is never judgmental of Jefferson, but instead uses a factual tone that will leave readers thinking about some of the unjust aspects of colonial America.

The Eagle’s Quill introduces Abby, who is an interesting addition to the cast of characters. The story is not as fast-paced as the first book in the series, The Eureka Key, because the kids are not being chased by villains. Instead, they are navigating Glacier National Park and running from wild animals. Plus, some of the founder’s traps are unrealistic. Despite this, The Eagle’s Quill draws the reader into the kids’ conflicts and will have them trying to solve the clues. The ending has a surprise twist that will have readers excited to read the last book in the series, Ring of Honor.

 Sexual Content

  • Thomas Jefferson owned a woman, Sally Hemings, and “he had seven children with her. . . And they were slaves in his own house.”

Violence

  • While sleeping, Sam hears an explosion. When he and Theo go to investigate, they find men in black. “Theo stepped forward, pushing Marty behind him. . . instead of running, Theo turned sideways to the oncoming men and thrust one arm out. . . He pretty much ran into Theo’s fist, and he fell to the ground with a groan, clutching at his nose.”
  • As the men try to grab the kids, “it was Abby who stepped forward this time. One leg bent, the knee drawing up. Her leg snapped forward and her foot connected with Jed’s wrist just as his gun was coming forward to point at Theo’s head.”
  • During the attack, Sam “dove for his knees. They both went down, and the back of the man’s head bounced off the wall with a heavy, solid thud. He hit the ground and lay still.” Then Abby points a musket at the two men, who stood “blinking with shock. . .”
  • When the bad guys surround them, Theo uses “his candlestick to crack the one with the bloody nose across the side of the head, knocking him to the floor.” The kids hide in a safe room. The attack scene is described over eight pages.
  • Sam runs from a bear and climbs up a tree to avoid the giant bear. “Less than three feet below him, the bear snarled. Sam’s heart was pounding. . .” Marty chases the bear off with a bear whistle.
  • An injured mountain lion chases the kids. Theo grabs an animal bone. “Then Theo stepped forward and braced himself like a major league batter facing a pitcher with a wicked fastball. He swung his length of bone. It hit the mountain lion in the face, and the animal yowled, flung off balance. It twisted in the air to land on three feet, keeping its front left leg off the ground.” The injured mountain lion slinks into the shadows.
  • Arnold captures the children and his goons “pushed all three kids to the floor. . . one of his men stood guard with a gun while two more made quick work of tying up two more prisoners.” The kids are tied up in the barn, where they find two adults, who have been tied up for days without food or water.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Marty tells Sam, “Don’t be an idiot.” Later, she uses a secret code to write, “SAM IS A DOOFUS.”
  • Marty calls someone a moron.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 Ghost Squad

The supernatural has always been a part of Lucely Luna’s life. Her father runs a ghost tour, and her hometown of St. Augustine is known for being the home of Las Brujas Moradas, aka the Purple Coven. And Lucely can see and converse with spirits, notably the spirits of her dead relatives. When her deceased family members aren’t in their human forms, they inhabit the old willow tree in the backyard as firefly spirits. However, her firefly family members recently flickered in and out of view, and then the fireflies began to fade.

Lucely and her friend, Syd, investigate how to revive her deceased family members. After learning more about Las Brujas Moradas, they visit Syd’s grandmother’s shop and steal a spell book that they need to revive Lucely’s family members. But when the two girls recite the spell, they accidentally awaken malicious spirits. The girls fight the ghosts, but all their efforts are for naught. They ask Babette, Sydney’s grandmother, for her help in fighting against the evil ghosts and reversing the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits.

The narrative focuses squarely on Lucely’s perspective. This close view allows the reader to understand the ghosts, magic, and Lucely’s personal life. The narrative’s linear structure, mixed with Babette’s conversations and the occasional inclusion of the school setting, makes the explanations about St. Augustine, the magic, and the Luna family history easy to understand. In addition, the Latino culture is on full display throughout the story, mainly through the mannerisms and the Spanish phrases that Lucely’s family members say to each other. Readers will relate to Lucely and Syd’s friendship and empathize with Lucely as she frets over her family members’ safety.

Lucely also learns about responsibility while getting rid of the evil ghosts. She is responsible for awakening the evil spirits, so she fixes her mistake and takes on more accountability for protecting the town. According to Lucely’s grandmother, their family has been “charged with keeping [St. Augustine] and its inhabitants safe.” By the end of the story, Lucely is assured of her identity and purpose in her community, which is an important lesson for younger readers.

Ghost Squad is a story that focuses on family, friendship, and culture. The story has a few slow moments, mostly spent establishing the town and the Dominican Republic and the Latino aspects of the Luna family. St. Augustine has many interesting characters, such as Syd, Babette, and the firefly spirits. Like the firefly spirits, Las Brujas Moradas and the human spirits are some of the many supernatural elements that add interest to St. Augustine. The story is also chock full of pop culture references, such as Harry Potter and the Ghostbusters, which adds a lot of humor. Readers of all ages will enjoy the story for its lessons on responsibility and friendship. Readers who like Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega will also enjoy The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The mist monster attacks the family tree. but the monster is injured when it claws the tree. “It clawed at the bark and howled, bringing its hand back against its chest as if it were burned.” The monster ran around the tree, growing in size until it became as big as a hurricane. The cocuyos repelled the mist monster with a spell. The monster was thrown back into the brush, but attacks the ghosts with fire: the fire misses, “the fire seemed to extinguish itself as soon as it reached her abuela.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • Babette fights a dragon to distract it from Lucely and Syd. The dragon attacked with a rain of fire, but Babette points her wand at the dragon and says a spell— “Reverse, rearward from whence you came! Back, back! Into the flames!” Violet fire shoots from the wand and hits the dragon in the eye. “It let out one final, bloodcurdling shriek, and then began to burn.” The fight lasts for one page.
  • Lucely and Syd use the Razzle-Dazzlers, which are enchanted flashlights, on the mist monster, causing the mist monster to vanish “in a shriek of pain.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Lucely uses the phrase “God forbid.”
  • Lucely uses the word “God” twice.

Supernatural

  • Ghosts, as in the spirits of humans, take the form of what they looked like when they died. Most ghosts are peaceful and hang around the graveyard or haunt the places where they died. There are also vengeful spirits of the dead that can possess the living.
  • Lucely’s deceased relatives have two forms as spirits; their human forms, and they take the shape of a firefly, dubbed “firefly spirits.”
  • One of Lucely’s deceased cousins floats up to the ceiling and relives his death. Lucely “could almost smell the rubber wafting around her cousin, like a strange and deadly aura.” When he wakes up, the cousin comes back to his senses.
  • The family uses a spell to get rid of the mist monster: “Away, away/We shall not fear/Away, foul beast,/And far away from here!”
  • In order to reanimate the family spirits, Lucely and Syd recite a spell from a scroll. They say, “Lavender, lilies, blossom and bloom,/ I call on the spirits to enter this room…/Rotten and putrid/Beneath the trees,/ I call on the spirits and let them roam free . . . ” Instead, they accidentally unleashed the undead, vengeful ghosts.
  • Syd makes a circle with salt in order to keep the evil spirits away. “The creature crashed into the salt circle and cried out in pain.”
  • Babette says a protection spell over the willow tree.
  • Babette and Lucely attack a storm of spirits using the energy of the spirits of the Las Brujas Moradas and the family spirits respectively. Babette says, “Las Brujas Moradas, hear us tonight./No longer in hiding, no longer in fright./Las Brujas Moradas, come to our call./No longer afraid, to tumble and fall./Las Brujas, Las Brujas, answer our plea./ Come to us now, from land and from sea./Take this demon away, tonight,/ Las Brujas Moradas./Take this demon from sight!” And Lucely says, “A sprinkle of sun,/ A shimmer of light/Turn back the darkness,/ Turn back the fright…I call on the power/of my ancestor’s ghosts/And speak three names, I love most…/Simon Luna, Teresa Luna, and Syd Faires!” A massive gateway forms in the sky and sucks all the bad ghosts into the void.

Spiritual Content

  • According to Lucely, in the Dominican Republic, there is a belief that the “spirits of your dead loved ones [live] on as fireflies.”

by Jemima Cooke

Forbidden City

Street-smart and agile, Paris is a huge fan of Liverpool F.C., Doctor Who, and chess. He’s also a survival specialist and the oldest member of the City Spies—a secret team of young agents working for M16, the British Secret Intelligence Service.

When M16 sets out to thwart Umbra’s attempts to recruit a prominent North Korean nuclear physicist for their nefarious purposes, the operation calls for Paris to make a covert connection with the scientist’s chess-prodigy son at a pair of tournaments in Moscow and Beijing. Meanwhile, Sydney is embedded as a junior reporter for a teen lifestyle site as she follows the daughter of a British billionaire on tour with the biggest act of her father’s music label.

The band and the billionaire are somehow connected to the scientist and the recent thefts of nuclear material from an old Soviet missile base, and it’s up to the City Spies to figure out how. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and the team will have to work together in perfect harmony in order to succeed on their most dangerous mission yet.

The third installment of the City Spies Series takes its focus off Brooklyn, and instead, Paris takes center stage. On the current mission, Paris and Mother go undercover. As part of their cover, Paris participates in the Around the World Chess Tournament, which allows Paris’s personality to shine. This also allows Mother to show that he truly wants to be a good father to his adopted children. The new dynamic adds interest and allows the story to focus on the common question: “Who am I?” This question gives Mother the perfect opening to share some of his background which gives the story a more sentimental vibe.

While Paris wrestles with the question, who am I, he also makes a decision that he thinks was a huge mistake. These two story threads dovetail perfectly and highlight the fact that everyone makes mistakes, and while some mistakes have devastating consequences, mistakes should be forgiven. In addition, when it comes to mistakes and consequences, we should not “celebrate people’s misfortunes.”

The mission requires part of the City Spies team to travel to both Russia and China which adds adventure and action. However, the team splits up into three groups and the constant back and forth between groups is at times a little overwhelming. Plus, readers who fell in love with Brooklyn will be disappointed by her absence because she sits out most of the mission.

The City Spies Series doesn’t rely on one plot formula, but instead, each book has a new focus that keeps the story interesting. Despite this, for maximum enjoyment, the series should be read in order. While the team must work together to complete the mission, their relationships—like any family’s—are complicated and have conflicts. These conflicts make the characters more relatable and add an interesting dynamic to the spy story. While the City Spies Series will appeal to readers of all ages, the series is perfect for middle-grade readers who love spy mysteries but want to avoid the violence. The Friday Barnes Mysteries Series has a more humorous tone, but will also appeal to middle-grade readers who love mysteries.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While walking down a street, a man says something to two bodyguards, the Sorokins. “In a flash, Sasha grabbed him by the wrist and spun him around, twisting his arm up behind his back as he writhed in pain. . . on the verge of tears, he said something that Sydney assumed was an apology.”
  • When Jin-Sun is kidnapped, the City Spies find where he is being held captive. Sydney puts several smoke bombs down the chimney in the house where Jin-Sun is being held. The man guarding Jin-Sun, Sorokin, comes out of the house and “Sydney jumped on him from above. It was a direct hit, and as he staggered farther into the courtyard, Monty attacks him with a flurry of Jeet Kune Do moves to knock him out cold.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While misleading the China Ministry of State, a spy leads them to an airport where they find her alone on a plane. When they enter the plane, she “took a sip of champagne.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 Hunt for Jade Dragon

After sinking the Ampere, the reunited Electroclan travels to Taiwan to rescue an autistic savant named Jade Dragon, who has solved the Elgen formula for replicating the electric children. The Elgen want to use the formula to create a race of electric superhumans, enslaving the normal human population to do their bidding. Jade Dragon is heavily guarded within the most secure Starxource plant in the world, and the Electroclan has lost their element of surprise. Hatch knows the Electroclan plans to rescue Jade Dragon and has concentrated much of his force in Taiwan to combat them.

Yet, the most challenging aspect for Michael in this book is the repercussions of fighting an all-out war against the Elgen. Sticking to the right choice isn’t so easy when other lives become casualties—like Wade and the crew of the Ampere who died when it sunk. Despite the Electroclan’s efforts to stop Hatch’s evil schemes, they have been branded terrorists. Simon, one of the resistance’s leaders, reminds Michael of a difficult lesson, “As you saw in Peru, you were not celebrated for liberating their country—you were demonized. That is often the way of heroes. Heroes are heroes precisely because they are willing to do what everyone else won’t—oppose the popular voice. But we will know what you have done. And in your heart, so will you.”

Hunt for Jade Dragon is not as action-packed as the previous books. Most of the novel covers the logistics of traveling to Taiwan and rescuing Jade Dragon. The focus on the capture and backup plans may be hard to follow at times. The book takes on a more “war-like” feel as the Electroclan use their powers to take down Hatch’s vast network of soldiers and artillery. This book moves the Electroclan’s battle from a personal scale to a global one, which may make it less relatable to readers.

Nevertheless, the story deepens the character development as the characters continue to reflect on Wade’s death. In addition, the Electroclan makes a stop in California to bring Nichelle with them. Most of them hate her due to the way she used to torment them in the academy, but their willingness to forgive her shows how two enemies can become allies against a greater evil. While Hunt for Jade Dragon can feel like a repeat of the break-in, rescue, break-out plot from the earlier Michael Vey novels, the character development that Michael and the rest of the Electroclan undergo is the true heart of this story.

Sexual Content

  • After they have a makeshift prom, Taylor and Michael kiss. “She leaned forward and we kissed. We must have kissed for a long time because Mrs. Ridley came to the door and neither of us even noticed her until she cleared her throat.”
  • After Jack saves her when she is shot, Nichelle kisses Jack on the cheek.

Violence

  • Jack reflects on a time he went to Wade’s house. “I didn’t get along with his father, so I usually just went around the back and climbed in through Wade’s window. This time, after I climbed inside, I couldn’t find Wade. Then I heard him. He was in his closet. There was blood all over the floor and his face and his eyes were nearly swollen shut. His father had almost beaten him to death.”
  • After Wade’s father beats him, Jack “went out looking for his dad. His father was a little man. He was drunk, sitting on the floor in the hall. The dude came at me with a bottle. I was crazy mad. I knocked him down, then started wailing on him. Then, Wade shouted, ‘Stop! Please stop.’ He had crawled out of his room to save his father. If it wasn’t for Wade, I might have killed that drunk. I was so pumped with adrenaline that I lifted the guy with one hand and shoved him against the wall. I told him if he ever touched Wade again that the next time I wouldn’t stop.”
  • The kids still loyal to Hatch, Torstyn, Bryan, Quentin, and Kylee, talk about the next time they meet Michael. Bryan says, “I’m going to melt his brain into a little puddle that drains out his ears.”
  • Later, the same kids use their powers on innocent people. Kylee sees an overweight man. “The man set his tray on the table, then pulled out a chair to sit. As he began sitting, Kylee reached out. She magnetized, pulling the chair out from under the man. He fell back onto the ground, hitting his head on the chair and pulling the tray on top of himself. The teens laughed.”
  • Trying to one up Kylee, Tara “held up her hand, her palm facing the man, who was now standing back up, his face bright red with embarrassment. Suddenly several women standing next to the man screamed. One fainted. Almost everyone around him ran except a few who held chairs up, as if warding him off. Then people began pelting him with trays and food. The confused man ran from the courtyard.” People were afraid of the man because Tara “made everyone around him think he’s the thing they fear most.”
  • After someone talks with Tara, Torstyn uses his powers on him. “The redhead took one step toward Torstyn, then froze. His mouth fell open and he grabbed his head, which was turning bright red. Then the blood vessels in his eyes began bursting. . . The kid fell to his side, convulsing. Kylee grimaced as the kid vomited.”
  • Elgen soldiers capture the kids with Nichelle’s help. She uses her powers against the kids. Michael and Ian are the first to feel her sapping their energy. Michael fights back. “I began pulsing and pushing against Nichelle until I heard her scream.” Then, the guards tell the kids that they’re going to kill them, starting with Mckenna, because the guards are holding a gun to her head.
  • Guards restrain Michael. “A guard grabbed my wrists and pulled them up while another guard handcuffed me, then strapped a RESAT over my chest and turned it on. So much pain shot through my body that I fell to my side, unable to breathe.”
  • Jack tries to punch Nichelle. “As we walked past Nichelle, Jack lunged at her. One of the guards caught him and slugged him in the stomach. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath.”
  • Taylor’s sister, Tara, takes Taylor to be tortured for information. Taylor reboots her and attempts to escape, but the guards turn on Taylor’s RESAT to stop her. “While Tara was still confused, Taylor lunged at her, pushing her up against the wall. Then they both fell to the floor, wrestling… Taylor suddenly screamed as she fell back from Tara. Her RESAT was squealing and the lights were flashing in rapid succession…. Tara stood, wiping her face. There was blood on her hand. She walked out of the cell, leaving Taylor screaming in pain.”
  • A doctor tortured Michael with needles. “He poked another needle into the skin between my neck and clavicle. It felt as if a live high-voltage electric wire had been inserted through my body. I screamed. The man seemed intrigued by my reaction. . . He inserted another needle near my groin. The electricity created a triangular current that contracted my stomach muscles. I felt as if I was going to vomit. Sweat streamed down the sides of my face, and my hair and skin were completely drenched. My eyes felt locked shut.”
  • When they rescue Jack, it’s evident that he’s been beaten by the soldiers. Michael says, “I was horrified. From my glow I could see that the Elgen guards had severely beaten him. Both of his eyes were swollen and he had a huge contusion under his left eye.”
  • While escaping, Nichelle is shot but survives. “Just then a bullet burst through the center of the boat, grazing Nichelle. She fell down into the water. Jack grabbed her and lifted her as the water around us began to darken with her blood.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

 Language

  • Quentin calls Michael “a twitching little dork.”
  • Ian uses his powers to monitor Nichelle’s heartbeat. Because he can see through her body, Nichelle says, “You watch everything, you pervert.”

 Supernatural

  • There are seventeen electric children in the series. Each one has a different electricity-related power including the ability to create light, heat, magnetism, or lightning. Others can interfere with electrical equipment. Some of the kids can manipulate electrical signals within the body that allow them to read minds, take away pain, and create emotional responses such as fear.

 Spiritual Content

  • Ostin says to Michael, “Something’s really been bothering me. . . I know Hatch is a demon and all that, but what if he’s right about making an electric species. . . Everything evolves. That’s how nature survives. What if an electric species is the natural evolution of humans? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we didn’t have to worry about electricity anymore?” Afterward, Michael wonders, “What if the devil was right?”
  • Hatch says that their global Starxource operation will reduce the population by “biblical proportions.” He continues to describe the plan with this metaphor. “We are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse prophesized to bring about the end of man’s history.”

by Madison Shooter

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