Secret of the Water Dragon

Drake and the Dragon Masters are back in the third installment of the Dragon Masters series. This time, someone’s trying to steal the Dragon Stone. This book centers on Bo and his dragon, Shu, as the group races to find out what happened to the Dragon Stone. The Dragon Masters discover that one of their own might be harboring a dark secret. 

Secret of the Water Dragon hones in on the overarching plot that was introduced in the first two books. This time, the evil wizard Maldred has sent out his dark magic and has put a spell over Bo’s home kingdom. Emperor Song, once kind and just, blackmails Bo into bringing him the Dragon Stone by kidnapping Bo’s family. It is only when Drake and Bo realize that Shu’s dragon powers can help wash away enchantments that Bo’s kingdom is freed from Maldred’s clutches. 

Secret of the Water Dragon helps increase the stakes as the Dragon Masters start to understand that their enemy, Maldred, draws near. They must race against the clock in order to have all the Dragon Masters bonded with their dragons before anything truly terrible arises. At the end of the book,  another wizard, Diego, falls into a deep slumber, and only Shu is able to wake him, thanks to Shu and Bo’s bond. As Diego awakens, he notes that he’s seen yet another dragon, which will have readers eager to read the next book, Power of the Fire Dragon. Young readers will find this plot thread compelling and will want to find out what happens next. However, because the plots build on each other, the books should be read in order. 

Bo’s kingdom is much like Dragon Master Ana’s in the way that they both fulfill certain regional stereotypes. If Ana’s home was like Egypt, then Bo’s is a loose understanding of East Asian countries like Japan and China. The raven guards from Bo’s kingdom who try to steal the Dragon Stone are depicted in the artwork as ninjas. Much like Ana’s story, this is not a very creative way of making Bo’s world, but it falls in line with usual fantasy tropes that are not within King Arthur’s England. 

Family and connections to home have been the most prominent themes in the Dragon Masters Series thus far. Ana, Drake, and Bo have all expressed how much they love and miss their families. Plus, Bo’s loyalty to his friends has been put to the test when his family’s lives are on the line. These books are a good way to present the differences between family by blood and found families, as the Dragon Masters find themselves becoming even closer friends after this incident. For instance, Drake offers to go with Bo to his home kingdom because he wants to help him and doesn’t want him to be alone.  

West’s Dragon Masters are fun and heartwarming books filled with friendship. In addition, the characters have the courage to do the right thing, even in the face of adversity. And of course, there are cool dragons and evil wizards. The Dragon Masters Series takes readers on adventures in fantastical worlds. 

Sexual Content  

  • None 

Violence  

  • The thief who is after the Dragon Stone presumably fights with Simon, the guard who’s watching over the Dragon Stone. The fight scene isn’t shown, but Drake describes, “When they got to Griffith’s office, Simon the guard was conked out on the floor!”  

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • None 

Language  

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • This series deals with magic and dragons. As the opening lines detail, “Griffith [the wizard] and the Dragon Masters were in the Training Room, hidden beneath King Roland’s castle. A magical stone called the Dragon Stone had chosen Drake, Bo, Rori, and Ana to work with dragons. Griffith was their teacher.”  
  • Someone attempted to steal the Dragon Stone. Griffith explains that this would be bad because “someone could use the main stone to control the dragons. Or even to form a dragon army.” 
  • Drake and Griffith catch Bo with the Dragon Stone. “Bo was reading aloud from a book. The words sounded magical, like something a wizard would say.” Griffith uses his powers to stop Bo. “Suddenly, sparks shot out from the corner of the room. They hit the book Bo was holding and it fell to the ground.”  
  • Outside of King Roland’s castle, Rori and Ana encounter one of the Raven Guard, a group of skilled fighters. They report back to Griffith, Bo, and Drake. Rori and Ana speak over each other, saying, “He had a red crystal! And he shone it in our eyes . . . Then he was asking us stuff! And we gave him answers! Somehow he made us tell the truth, even though we did not want to. I think the crystal was magic!” 
  • Each of the Dragon Masters has to bond with their dragons, which comes to a climax when their piece of the Dragon Stone glows and they can finally communicate telepathically with their dragon. Bo experiences this, and he says, “Shu is speaking to me —  inside my head!” 
  • Bo’s dragon, Shu, uses her magical powers to remove the evil spell over Emperor Song’s mind. “A misty blue cloud floated from [Shu’s] mouth. Emperor Song looked up at it, terrified. He froze as a light blue mist rained down on his head. The look on his face changed. He looked peaceful.” This brings Emperor Song back to being a peaceful emperor. Shu explains that she has a special power that can “wash away any spell.” 
  • The evil wizard Maldred’s magical red orbs attack Emperor Song’s palace and guards, as well as the Dragons and their Dragon Masters. The Dragon Masters are fighting against Maldred’s forces and are trying to protect Emperor Song and his people, attempting to break the spell. Drake says, “Another red ball zoomed toward Bo. Bam! The orb burst. Worm had used the power of his mind to destroy them. Blast! Shu tried hitting one of the glowing balls with a jet of water.” This sequence continues for a couple of pages. 

Spiritual Content  

  • None 

Treasure Island: Runaway Gold

Three kids. One dog. And the island of Manhattan laid out in an old treasure map.  

Zane is itching for an adventure that will take him away from his family’s boarding house in Rockaway, Queens—and from the memory of his dad’s recent death. Some days it seems like the most exciting part of his life is listening to his favorite boarder, Captain Maddie, recount her tales of sailing the seven seas. 

But when a threatening crew of skater kids crashes the boardinghouse, a dying Captain Maddie entrusts Zane with a secret: a real treasure map, leading to a spot somewhere in Manhattan. Zane wastes no time in riding the ferry over to the city to start the search with his friends Kiko and Jack, and his dog, Hip-Hop.  

Through strange coincidence, they meet a man who is eager to help them find the treasure: John, a sailor who knows all about the buried history of Black New Yorkers of centuries past—and the gold that is hidden somewhere in those stories. But as a vicious rival skateboard crew follows them around the city, Zane and his friends begin to wonder who they can trust. And soon it becomes clear that treasure hunting is a dangerous business . . . 

Treasure Island: Runaway Gold reimagines Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic book Treasure Island. While the books have a similar plot line, many of the original story’s details are changed. Treasure Island: Runaway Gold revolves around Zane and his three friends, who are searching for a lost pirate treasure. Along the way, they meet Captain John, who claims that he wants to help the kids find the treasure but doesn’t want a share of the prize for himself. Right from the start, many red flags show that Captain John cannot be trusted, and Captain John eventually betrays Zane’s trust. However, Captain John was clearly a villain from the start, so his betrayal feels anticlimactic.  

The first chapter jumps right into action and there is never any lull. Fast-paced action scenes dominate the book. Despite this, the book finds time to shine a light on how Black slaves were used to build Wall Street and other important Manhattan buildings. In death, many were buried in a graveyard. However, “colonists didn’t care about a Black cemetery. For centuries, folks kept building over and through their graves.” This historical information blends seamlessly into the story, creating a cohesive mystery that is tied to the pirate treasure.  

Readers who want a story with plenty of action and suspense will quickly be swept away by Treasure Island: Runaway Gold. However, the story’s fast pace doesn’t leave a lot of room for character development, the ending is rushed, and readers will be left with many questions. Despite these flaws, Treasure Island: Runaway Gold uses an interesting premise to teach about Black history.  

A few black-and-white illustrations are scattered throughout the book, which helps bring the events to life. In addition, the back of the book has a glossary of Zane’s skateboarding tricks and an Afterword that explains “how the [enslaved] Black people contributed to New York becoming the economic heart of the world,” as well as how “Thomas Downing, the son of enslaved people,” used his wealth to fund the Underground Railroad. Readers who want to learn more about the Underground Railroad should also read The Underground Abductor: An Abolitionist Tale about Harriet Tubman by Nathan Hale and Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Zane has a friend named Jack, who has an abusive father. Zane explains, “Since second grade, I’ve known the pattern. Dad home, Jack had accidents. Bruises, sprains. A black eye.” Later it is revealed that his father once broke Jack’s arm. 
  • Jack shows up at the skate park with “his body tilting left while his hand holds his side. Kiko says, ‘His dad still thinks he’s a punching bag.’ ” The conversation stops there. 
  • Zane gets home and finds, “it looks like a bomb has hit the dining room. Broken plates, shattered glasses, oatmeal, soft eggs, and crushed toast are on the floor. . .” Zane runs upstairs to find Captain Maddie “passed out cold.” Zane’s mother explains that skater kids and “that nasty boy came in frightening our guests, tearing up the place. Demanding to see Captain Maddie.” 
  • When the doctor comes, Captain Maddie, “is upright, flailing a small knife, slick with blood.” Captain Maddie dies. The doctor says, “The shock was too much for her. Probably an aneurysm.”  
  • During the night, the skater kids come back to Zane’s house. “Six skaters dressed in black, canvassing the house . . . Hip-Hop dives, racing across the grass, and bites someone. A scream. Jack is right behind Hip-Hop, punching right, left. . . Zane and his friends begin throwing baseballs at them . . . Some boys try blocking with their skateboards. Others limp away. Another runs. . .” 
  • Zane, Jack, and Kiko go to Manhattan to look for treasure. The skater crew swarms them. “Brave, ready for a fight, Jack sails into the gang, his board sideswiping other boards, his hands shoving, unbalancing the skater. . . A kid pulls Jack’s arms behind his back. . . [Zane] pull[s] the kid off Jack while Jack punches back at three kids trying to get a hit.” 
  • As the fight continues, “Jack gets pinned, his face against asphalt. I tug one kid off before I’m pounded in the gut and taken down.” At the end of the fight, “bloodred bruises cover his [Jack’s] face and arms. More, I know, are hidden beneath his shirt. He took the brunt of the beating. . .” The fight is described over five pages. No one is seriously injured.   
  • Zane and his friends are on a boat driven by John when the skater boys begin to “tail our boat, edging closer and closer, gunning, then leveling the engine. Almost like he’s going to ram us.” The skater boys’ boat gets so close that “a wall of water rises, slaps, and [Zane] topple[s] overboard.” 
  • John, Zane, and his friends sneak under a restaurant that was used to hide slaves. When men hear them, the men give chase. Zane describes, “The men are closer. Close. I’m not going to make it. . . I kick. The man grunts, stumbles back. . . Jack, beside John, is furiously pitching oyster shells. With a grunt, he throws his weight against a shelf filled with dusty jars, and jugs. The shelf falls, crashing, shattering glass and ceramic.” John, Zane, and his friends slip under the restaurant and escape. 
  • Zane and Kiko sneak into the old Woolworth’s building. A guard sees them entering an elevator and the guard gives chase. Zane shouts, “startling the guard, using my skateboard to whack his hand away.”  
  • One of the skater boys, Findley, grabs Hip-Hop and puts him in a sack. Matt, another boy, grabs Zane. Zane describes how Matt “twist[s] my arm. My knees buckle. He punches, kicks me. I crumple.”  
  • Kiko tries to help Zane. She grabs a cane and “like lightening, the cane flashes down on his arm, swings sideways—whack—slamming into [Matt’s] side. . . [Matt] dashing forward and back. Hopping left, then right. Feigning a punch. . .” Kiko uses the cane to smack Matt who “gasps, drops to his knees. He’s not unconscious, but it’s still a knockout . . .” The scene is described over three pages. 
  • In a multi-chapter conclusion, Jack reveals that when his father beats him, his mother “doesn’t defend me. Never did. Even when I was little, she said, ‘A boy needs to learn how to defend himself.’ When Dad started whaling on me, she left the mobile home.” 
  • John reveals that he is the lead of the skater boys’ gang, and takes Zane and Kiko to his secret hideout. John’s “first mate” Rattler makes sure Zane and Kido can’t escape. “Taunting, Rattler faces me as two pirates pin my arms beneath my back, roping my hands together.” Kiko is also tied up. Afterwards, Zane is hit occasionally. 
  • John’s secret hideout is under the city in an old, abandoned tunnel system. To search for treasure, John has his crew begin dynamiting the ceiling of a tunnel. “Gunpowder with wicks are driven into the tunnel’s sides, its unfinished ceiling.” Petey, who is about eight years old, is tasked with lighting the dynamite. When the dynamite goes off, “Petey tumbles. The torch arcs, twirls like a giant sparkler, landing on Petey’s back. . . Jack’s on it. Kicking aside the torch, he drops, patting Petey’s shirt, smothering flames. . . Petey groans. Beneath his shirt’s jagged burnouts, his skin is red, blistering.” Petey passes out and Kiko administers first aid. 
  • As the skater crew continues to set off explosions, the bones of the people buried there begin to fall. The kids are “tossing skeletons like ordinary sticks. . . ‘Look at this.’ A kid holds a skull and happily throws it to his mate.” Zane is upset that John and his crew are “disturbing graves.” 
  • John taunts Zane by saying, “Zane, a mama’s boy. Worse, a weak, whiny boy missing his dad.” Zane goes “berserk. I’m hitting, kicking, punching John. . . I fall flat, seeing stars. John slapped, shoved me.” When Zane and Kiko refuse to join John’s crew, they make them “walk the plank.”  
  • While in an underground abandoned subway, Zane and Kiko are forced to “walk the plank” which is an old pipe that is dangerously high. Kiko goes first and the crew begin throwing bones at her. “Findley lets a rib bone fly. Others throw rocks. Kiko wabbles, tries to duck low. Arms protecting her head, she shifts forward and back, side to side.” Kiko makes it across the pipe. 
  • As Zane walks the plank, “stones, skeletons fly. Rocks sail wide, especially from younger boys. Others bruise my shoulder and arm.” Zane makes it across the pipe. 
  • Zane and Rattler, one of the skater boys, duel it out by skating. After Zane has a good run, “Rattler leaps toward me, swinging his board at my head.” Kiko jumps in, “Knocking it out of his hands.” The fight ends. 
  • While in an underground tunnel, Zane, Kiko, and Hip-Hop find “hundreds of rats. Rats squeaking, running, crawling over one another. . . In his jaws, Hip-Hop snaps rat after rat. Shaking his head, he breaks their necks. He’s an efficient, killing machine. . . Hip-Hop has made a path—but it’s gross. Limp rats, blood. . .” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Jack’s father spends his money on alcohol instead of food and bills. 
  • John tells Zane that his “best mate” was a woman who would “drink gallons of rum and never spend a day hungover.” 
  • While talking about the history of slaves being used to build Wall Street, John says, “I need a swig. . .Rum helps set the mind straight.”  
  • Jack says, “Alcohol turns my dad into a wild man. . .” 
  • At one point, John is “sauntering off-balance” because he’s drunk. He offers Zane a flask and says, “Rum cures a lot of ills.” 
  • When a young boy is burned, Kiko gives him ibuprofen. 

Language 

  • Occasionally, there is name-calling such as brat, loser, failure, jerk, and traitor. 
  • John opens an old trunk expecting to see treasure. When the trunk is empty, he yells, “Aargh. Damnation.” 
  • John calls one of the skater boys a “gutless swine.” 

Supernatural 

  • Zane sees visions of the past. “Images like photographs. Now they seem like a silent movie. Figures move, stumble. I see a long line of shackled people, some stumbling, some wailing . . .” During the three-page vision, Captain Maddie shows Zane how slaves were used to build Wall Street.  
  • Occasionally Captain Maddie appears, but Zane is the only person who can see her ghost.  
  • Zane has a vision of Thomas Downing, a wealthy Black man who helped hide people who were escaping slavery. The vision guides Zane to the underground room where Thomas hid slaves.

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Heroes of the Water Monster

Edward isn’t sure about this whole “step-brother” thing, especially now that his dad is moving in with his girlfriend and her preteen son, Nathan. Their new place in Arizona may be nice, but relocating is already hard enough due to their family’s Navajo—also known as Diné—heritage. According to the Diné, children lose communication with the Holy Beings once they hit puberty, and Nathan’s already started the process of becoming a man. For most people, this is part of growing older, but Nathan has become the guardian of a young water monster named Dew. Nathan’s ability to see her is fading, so he quickly has to entrust Dew’s care to Edward.  

To make matters more complicated, Dew’s older sister, a powerful water monster named Yitoo, is coming to The Fourth World—Earth—to teach Dew the traditional songs of the water monsters. Having been away in the Third World for nearly 150 years, Yitoo’s return is ruined when she discovers that something is wrong in the Fourth World. The waters from her river are depleted and the environment is suffering. Alongside Dew, Edward, and Nathan, Yitoo travels the length of her river to find the source of the cutoff. To her dismay, the city of Pheonix, Arizona has redirected her river to service the population’s waterparks, golf courses, and sprinkler systems. This frivolous use of her precious resource prompts her to vow revenge on humankind. 

Together, Dew, Edward, and Nathan team up to stop Yitoo from using her water monster power to unleash a massive hurricane on the Phoenix area. They meet other creatures and people from Diné creation stories who give them advice and special gear for their final confrontation. Eventually, the team of friends is able to stop Yitoo before she can punish humanity. As Nathan sees Dew, Yitoo, and the other Holy Beings for the last time before growing up, he and Edward promise to keep their Diné heritage alive and work towards a future where humans treat the natural world with respect.  

Heroes of the Water Monster’s plot is a straightforward save-the-world type of story, but the traveling between different worlds and mythical creatures can be confusing at times. As for the narrators, the story switches between the perspectives of Nathan and Edward. Nathan’s point of view is more mature and forgiving towards others, while Edward is more impulsive and childish. Edward is also half Diné, half white, which creates interesting tension as he struggles with his mixed identity. The difference between the narrators gives a unique perspective on the events of the story, especially when Edward and Nathan disagree on whether or not to help Yitoo. Because Edward and Nathan are both likable and thoughtful narrators, the reader understands why each boy feels the way they do. Despite their different ages, both Edward and Nathan had valuable input and opinions on the story’s events. 

Heroes of the Water Monster is an interesting tale filled with many cultural references. If readers have no prior experience with Navajo/Diné culture, this story may be a bit difficult to read. However, in order to understand the story, some readers may need to use the glossary provided at the end of the book.  

The main theme of Heroes of the Water Monster is generational trauma, which is showcased through the water monster Yitoo. While Yitoo is the villain in the end of the story, she is also Edward and Nathan’s friend. She has lived for hundreds of years, which means that she lived through the forced relocation of the Diné. She exhibits the rage that displaced people experience when they are horribly mistreatment and the destruction of the sacred environment they once called home.  

At first, Edward and Nathan don’t know if they have a right to stop Yitoo, but they realize that they have a shared history, and a shared future, too. While they may not be the legendary Twin Heroes who defeated fearsome creatures of legend in Diné stories, they do have the power to impact the world their descendants will inherit. A Holy Being advises Nathan and Edward that, “It stands to reason that a Modern Enemy would surrender to Modern Heroes.” 

Thus, the modern heroes, Edward and Nathan, work to convince Yitoo and themselves that they can’t hold the current population responsible for what their ancestors did. A better future isn’t achieved through revenge, but by educating and making changes for the better. Edward, Nathan, Yitoo, and Dew all have to grapple with their identity and the painful past that comes with it. In order to heal, they have to accept the past as part of their identity and use their grief in constructive ways. Edward’s father says, “We Diné, like all Indigenous Nations, have a past filled with heartbreak and devastation. But we also have a brilliant, shining future.” 

Sexual Content 

  • Janet, Nathan’s Mom, and Ted, Edward’s Dad, greet each other. “Janet . . . walked into [Ted’s] arms. They kissed.”   

Violence 

  • Occasionally, the Diné’s forced relocation is discussed. These stories mention some of the abuse, murder, torture, and death of the Diné at the hands of the U.S. government. One story mentions two brothers whose parents were killed in front of them. “From the cornfield, the boys saw their dad arguing with a soldier. The other solider pointed their rifles at the mom and dad. . . [They] covered their eyes but still heard the loud shots.”  
  • After killing their parents, the soldiers kill all their livestock and force the boys to walk to Fort Defiance, Arizona where they are imprisoned. They were almost fed poison, but were saved by a handful of nurses who tossed their food on the ground. “[Those] who had eaten the rations became deathly ill. . . The sick were left to die. . . The rest were forced to march in many long lines eastward. . .” 
  • On the trail, there was more hardship and death. Those who fell behind were killed. Elderly, young kids, and even pregnant women. The Diné were also forced to swim across a river, and one of the brothers drowns. “The elderly and the young people around them struggled against the strong current. . . A sound more disturbing than the screaming of the drowning grew. It was silence. Many bodies sank beneath, did not rise again, and drifted downriver. Halfway across, the river took [the] younger brother.” 
  • Yitoo describes her perspective of the aforementioned story: the forced relocation of the Diné crossing her river. “One by one, the Diné walked down the hill and into the river. The elderly and youth struggled around the strong current. Blankets of water smothered them. I did my best to calm the waters. But I couldn’t sing. I was too shocked at everything around me. . . A curtain of bubbles arose from all the violent thrashing of the drowning. Their screams quieted. Their bodies became cold. When I’m alone, I still hear their screams. When I sleep, I dream of the faces of those who sank beneath the river and did not rise again.” 
  • When Nathan and Drew try to stop Yitto from attacking Phoenix, Yitoo attacks them with her water. “A rope of water wrapped around [Nathan’s] waist and Dew’s neck and pulled them into the crater. Warm water invaded every atom of Nathan’s being. . . He couldn’t stop the invisible force yanking his waist. . . Just then, Dew appeared in front of him. With a mighty jaw snap near his belly button, she severed the pull.”  
  • Edward, Nathan, and Dew are attacked by a Guardian when visiting a sacred mountain that takes the shape of a mountain lion. The Guardians are creatures meant to protect the mountains from intruders. “Edward yelled in horror as in seconds a mountain lion with velvet fur, the color of sunflower petals, had already snuck up on them. It leaped into the air and landed in front of them with an earthquaking thud. . .  Its tree-thick tail slammed into Nathan’s chest, sending him flying yards away from them. The Guardian lifted a paw and slapped Dew across her jaw. Dew dizzily walked forward and then was pinned under the Guardian’s other paw. . . Then the most horrifying thing happened. The Guardian bit down into the back of Dew’s neck. Dew squealed a blood-curdling wail that made Edward nauseous. Dew’s body went completely silent and limp.” Dew survives.  
  • The final fight between Edward, Dew, Nathan, and Yitoo lasts nearly 30 pages. Much of the confrontation is conversation, but it does get violent when Yitoo fights back against Edward, Nathan, and Dew. Yitoo has impenetrable armor that protects her for the majority of the fight, but the armor is weakened when the boys use one of the Sacred Arrows against her, and it breaks open a spot in Yitoo’s armor that Edward stabs. “Edward jabbed the tip of the knife against Yitoo. Immediately, ribbons of lightning raced across Yitoo’s body. They covered her entire body from head to tail, shoulders to toes, and entered her throat as she howled in pain. Even if she wasn’t his favorite Holy Being, [Edward] hated hearing how much pain she was in. Still, he held the knife on to her. More and more bolts of lightning raced from the tip of the knife throughout her massive body. But finally, after a few seconds that felt like an hour of seeing Yitoo squirm and spasm, the lightning disappeared and her entire body fell against the ocean, creating one last final wave. . . Yitoo lay limp, and smoke emerged from her mouth.” This does not kill Yitoo, and she is exiled to the Fifth World.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Nathan’s Uncle Jet, who is briefly mentioned, deals with PTSD which led to his alcoholism and depression. He is not shown drinking during the story. 

Language   

  • Yitoo calls the behavior of “The Pale People,” a term for white colonists, “damnable.” 

Supernatural 

  • Water monsters are a type of Holy Being that play a large role in the story. They are creatures of legend that inhabit bodies of water. They have many powers, including controlling water, turning it to ice, using it to travel long distances and more. They use these powers frequently, which is done by singing.  
  • Yitoo and Dew are both water monsters. Water monsters look like lizards. Edward describes Dew as “a tiny Komodo dragon” with “diamond designs like a Diné rug” on her back and stomach. They can also speak.  
  • Nathan learns water monster songs, which gives him some control over water. Water monsters are also able to control their size by taking in or expelling water, such as when Yitoo grows herself into a massive size to create the hurricane.  
  • Yitoo can keep her water as jewelry and unleash it at will.  
  • Nathan has a ring made of turquoise that allows him to communicate with all beings. He uses it to speak to the water monsters. Later, Edward gets one too. 
  • Two Holy Beings called Jet Stone Boy and Jet Stone Girl meet Nathan. They have crystal-like skin and travel on a rainbow. 

Spiritual Content 

  • There are countless references to Diné beliefs. The main ones include creation stories, Holy Beings, and the water monsters. The Diné language is also used frequently, which can be translated using a glossary in the back of the book.  
  • Some of the Holy Beings include Spider Woman, a legendary weaver, Father Sun, who created the universe, Mother Earth, Moon Lady, and Tall Woman. 
  • In addition to the Holy Beings, which are typically good or neutral beings, there are evil beings called Enemies who, in Diné legend, are defeated by the Twin Heroes, two Holy Being brothers who fought the Enemies. Edward gives examples of the Enemies: “Thunderbird, who could summon dangerous lightning storms; and Wild Boar, who could run at unheard-of speeds to hunt humans for hundreds of years.”  
  • One of the references in the story is to the Third World, Fourth World, Fifth World, and Celestial Realm. The Third World is a realm where Holy Beings, such as the water monsters, come from.  
  • Yitoo came from the Third World. She was the first water monster to come into the Fourth World, Earth. “Yitoo was the first one. She’s so powerful that she bit into the ocean of the Third World and brought that water [to the Fourth World].” The Fifth world is a mystical land beyond these worlds that Yitoo travels to when she is exiled. 
  • Diné Bikéyah is the term for the holy land of the Diné, located between the Four Sacred Mountains.  
  • Three times in the story, sweetgrass is discussed. The burning of sweetgrass is a native ritual practice used to purify the spirit. “Nathan asked Yitoo for some of her energizing sweetgrass. She happily provided some from her medicine bag. . . Nathan lit the tips of the sweetgrass and then immediately blew them out. A thin trail of smoke wafted in the air. Both Nathan and Edward inhaled. The delicious smoke flowed into their nostrils. . . The dark shadows underneath Edward’s eyelids disappear[ed] and his posture straighten[ed]” 
  • Edward and Nathan climb one of the sacred mountains, Tsoodził. After sprinkling corn pollen on the ground as a sign of respect, Edward says, “Ted had said that only medicine folk were allowed to set foot on the mountains to gather sacred medicine and sands. The medicine folk had to sing ceremonial songs the entire time they were on the mountain to protect themselves and as a gesture of respect.” Each of the scared mountains are protected by a Guardian, a powerful creature meant to kill intruders.  
  • Edward and Nathan obtain two objects when visiting the Celestial Realm, the Obsidian Armor and Sacred Arrows. The arrows can create various magical effects, such as a bright light or a rainbow, and the Obsidian Armor will protect the wearer against Holy Beings and fit them perfectly.  

Saving the Sun Dragon

Drake and his fellow Dragon Masters are back in the second installment of the Dragon Masters Series. This book follows Dragon Master Ana and her sun dragon Kepri. One day, after witnessing another mysterious magic red orb in the castle, Kepri falls ill. In order to save Kepri, Ana decides to take Kepri to their home. Ana and the Dragon Masters make many discoveries as they journey to Ana’s home, see the pyramids, and fight off a band of thieves, making for an action-packed story! 

The first book in the series, Rise of the Earth Dragon, set up some key plots that are revisited and expanded upon in this book, like the red orbs and King Roland’s unusual obsession with dragons. For instance, the Dragon Masters learn from Griffith and his friend, a fellow wizard named Diego, that the magic red orbs likely come from the evil wizard Maldred. This links the books together and builds tension. West ties up loose ends from book one while still leaving enough inquiry to pique young readers’ interests. However, because the plots build on each other, the books should be read in order.  

The Dragon Master Series bases the characters on common fantasy stereotypes. The Kingdom of Bracken draws information from King Arthur’s England, and in many respects, Griffith is similar to the famed sorcerer Merlin. Likewise, Saving the Sun Dragon follows Ana and her dragon Kepri. This explains their backstories and gives each character more definition. Ana and another Dragon Master, Bo, are the two non-white Dragon Masters. Ana’s background is clearly based on Egypt and shows the pyramids and a desert. These basic cultural differences are not very creative and are typical of the fantasy genre, but young children will find the different landscapes and people interesting. 

Regardless of the backstories, the Dragon Masters still exhibit empathy for each other and for the dragons as they try to figure out the dragons’ magic powers. In addition, they continue to grow as friends. For instance, Ana and Drake both note that when Kepri meets her twin dragon, Kepri is suddenly renewed with energy. The Dragon Masters see Kepri’s struggles and admit that they also miss their own families much like Kepri, and this allows for them to become even better friends. Although the characters come from different places, they are friends and understand each other’s struggles. 

Saving the Sun Dragon is a solid continuation to the Dragon Masters Series. The story continues to unpack the mystery of this fantastical world, and young readers will enjoy the excitement and adventure that West unpacks. The black-and-white illustrations by Graham Howells are fun and help convey the whimsical nature of the world and feature on nearly every page. Young readers will find themselves liking the characters even more as they learn about them. Readers will discover that adventures are wonderful, and homesickness is normal. In addition, the book shows that there are plenty of adventures to experience, but you should never forget your roots. 

Sexual Content  

  • None 

Violence  

  • The Dragon Masters reunite with their Sun Dragon, Kepri, with her Moon Dragon, Wati, when a group of robbers burst into the pyramid and attack. “Wati quickly sprang into action. He shot a black beam of light from his mouth. The beam hit the first robber in the chest and knocked him down.”  
  • During the fight sequence, an arrow is shot at Kepri, and Ana “jumped in the path of the arrow. . . but before [Drake] could reach her, the arrow stopped in midair—inches from Ana’s face.” It is revealed that Worm used his mind powers to stop the arrow. Worm then destroys all the robber’s weapons. 

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • None 

Language  

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Ana and the other Dragon Masters live in the Kingdom of Bracken, and they all have their own dragons and can use magic. They are being taught this magic by the king’s wizard, Griffith, who consistently references the magical entity known as the Dragon Stone. This item presumably gives the dragons and the Dragon Masters their powers. 
  • Griffith the wizard does magic from time to time. For instance, the fire dragon, Vulcan, sets fire to things on occasion. In these situations, Griffith “pointed his finger at the fire. Water flowed from his fingertip, and the flames went out.” 
  • Kepri the Sun Dragon falls ill. Her Dragon Master, Ana, feeds her a magical “healing potion” hoping to make her better. This does not work. Kepri is healed when she is reunited with her Moon Dragon, as she is a Sun Dragon. 
  • Each of the Dragon Masters has a piece of the Dragon Stone around their neck. When Drake’s stone glows, he can mentally communicate with his dragon, Worm. The other Dragon Masters cannot do this magic. Drake’s dream is described: “He dreamed of rivers and big tombs shaped like triangles. Then the desert sky turned green. Drake woke up. The green Dragon Stone around his neck was glowing brightly . . . Then he heard Worm’s voice inside his mind. Come now!” 
  • Worm helps the Dragon Masters teleport.  “Worm’s body began to glow. Drake wasn’t sure why, but he knew just what he had to do. He put one hand on Worm’s snout and one hand on Kepri’s tail. [The Dragon Masters] all laid their hands on Worm.” From there, they disappear in an exploding green light. 
  • Ana’s piece of the Dragon Stone glows, and she hears Kepri’s voice in her head. Ana says, “Kepri wants to come back to be with her brother one day, just like I want to come back to my family. But until then, she wants to stay with me in the kingdom of Bracken.” 

Spiritual Content  

  • None 

Don’t Fear the Creeper

The Mob Squad are the greatest heroes the town of Cornucopia has produced since it was founded: Mal the bold, Lenna the strong, Tok the wise, and Chug the steadfast. And Jarro, who’s renounced his bullying ways to reveal a truly kind heart. Together they’ve journeyed across the Overworld, delved into the Nether, and saved the day for Cornucopia again and again.

So why can’t they get any respect from the adults who run the town? The only one who understands is Nan, Mal’s great-great-great-grandmother, who trained them to be as resourceful and adventurous as she was in her day.

So when Nan gets sick and isn’t getting any better, the kids refuse to just sit by and do nothing. There’s something out there that can help her—an enchanted golden apple that can cure just about anything. And the Mob Squad will stop at nothing to get it.

But as they venture outside the walls of Cornucopia, they aren’t counting on being followed. The kids soon discover a mysterious foe whose motives are as unknown as the face that hides behind a Creeper’s head. If the Mob Squad wants to rescue Nan, they’re going to have to save themselves first.

Don’t Fear the Creeper is a fast-paced adventure with plenty of near-death experiences to keep readers’ hearts racing. As the Mob Squad searches for the golden apple, they travel into the unknown and often end up in unexpected danger. Through it all, each member of the mob squad plays an important role as the kids work together to reach their goal. Their determination and persistence are admirable, even if their actions are often imprudent. The book’s chapters change point of view which allows each member of the Mob Squad to give their perspective. However, the alternating points of view add little to the story and the characters’ voices are not unique, which makes it difficult to keep track of who is telling the story.

While most of the events stay true to the Minecraft game, some readers may be frustrated by the Mob Squad’s careless actions. For example, when going through a cave system, the Mob Squad comes across dark green blocks. Every time someone makes noise, something shrieks. Despite this, the kids are not quiet and end up waking a monster that chases them. While they make it out of the cave safely, they nearly died because they couldn’t stop talking. 

The book’s ending also becomes a little preachy as it focuses on the Elders’ attempt to close off the town. However, Lenna thinks, “There’s value in teaching children they’re not invincible. . . There’s nothing wrong with running away when it’s the best choice.” The ending contains several epilogues that drag on. Still, fans of Minecraft will enjoy the story’s action, adventure, and the Mob Squad’s friendship. If you’re ready to delve into another Minecraft adventure, grab a copy of Minecraft: The Crash by Tracey Baptiste. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • When the Mob Squad sees a goat, Chug approaches it. Jarro sees “the horns lower into position, and I see the horror on Chug’s face, and then Chug is flying through the air like a bird. . .Chug flops onto the ground, his armor clanking. . . [Lenna] takes the goat out with a few shots.” Chug isn’t injured.
  • While underwater, the Mob Squad is attacked by a “drowned” which is an underwater zombie. “When the drowned throws its next weapon, Chug bats it away and goes in for a slice with his sword.” When Chug screams, Jarro draws “my own sword and kick[s] down towards Chug, who’s hurt and having trouble continuing the fight.” The drowned bites Jarro and “the bite burns my arm, and Chug lands a hit while I struggle. . .” Finally, Chug “takes it down.” The scene is described over three pages. 
  • Fish attack the Mob Squad. When Tok sees the first one, he screams and “paddle[s] backward with my hand, but the gigantic fish is right in front of me, and it slams into me, and it feels like getting run over by a horse covered in knives, and I thrash and squeal in panic. . .” When the fish attacks, Tok describes, “a wired beam of purple wavy light burst out of its giant eye and straight for me, and I flail and dodge.” The kids escape. The fish attack is described over four pages. No one is seriously injured.
  • The fish again attacks the Mob Squad. Chug beats “the fish down with my sword, but it gets a few slams in. . . Someone screams behind me and I spin to find Mal being targeted by a fish-eye bubble ray. . . I hit it with my sword from behind, and it spins and comes after me. As I keep fighting it, trying to dodge the spikes, it suddenly feels like my entire body is on fire.”
  • As the fish surround the kids, Chug is “beating on the guardians (the fish) while they’re focused on Lenna. . . I double down on my onslaught, even when one of the guardians turns to face me, spikes out and bristling and big eye shaking like he’s going to start blowing bubbles at me again. . .” The kids escape. The attack is described over six pages.
  • In a previous book, Jarro was kidnapped. When an unknown enemy taunts Jarro, he thinks, “I’m going to end up just the way I did last time, tied up and blindfolded, abandoned in the middle of nowhere. They tied me to a tree and left me to die, alone and without weapons. . .” 
  • While on an island, a zombie appears and “Efram dispatches the zombie in a few quick slashes and moves on. Then an arrow tangs at us from the left, and Lenna takes it down with a few arrows of her own. . .”
  • A man wearing a Creeperhead attacks Tok. Tok explains, “He just hit me, again and again. . . he didn’t say a single word.” Tok was seriously injured and needed a Potion of Healing. 
  • Tok takes a Potion of Swiftness that makes him run super-fast. Lenna thinks he is a Creeper, so she “takes careful aim and lets her arrow fly. . .Tok stands before us, an arrow in his shoulder.”
  • In a multi-chapter battle, a Wither (a three headed skeleton) attacks the kids. Tok jumps into the fight when the Whiter is “headed right for Lenna, and without telling my body to do anything, it’s sprinting toward her, sword out. As the skull nears us, I swing my sword, and it swooshes right past my blade and smacks me in the chest, and the world explodes around me in a flash of white against the dark sky.” Tok is seriously injured. Tok exclaims, “my body doesn’t seem to want to work. My arms are weak, my legs exhausted like I’ve already run a mile.” 
  • The Wither and the Creeperhead appear at the same time and the Creeperhead begins throwing TNT at the kids. The Wither skull hits Mal. “She’s almost limp” and Chug carries her “like a baby back toward the open cave mouth.” 
  • As the Mob Squad fights the Wither and the Creeperhead, the Creeperhead holds a block of TNT over his head. Then, “The TNT block he was holding over his head explodes, throwing him back against the mountain.” He is knocked out and the kids tie him up, but the Creeperhead is not seriously injured.
  • The Wither follows the kids into the cave. Chug sprints “right at the Wither, running it through with my sword. I hit it again and again, so fast that it can’t seem to launch a skull. . .” Then, Tok joins in the fight. “Tok lands hit after hit. It’s perfect for him, really— [the Wither] can’t move and it can’t fight back.” The Wither explodes and its skeletons run away. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Potions are often used. For example, when someone is sick or injured, they are given a Potion of Healing. 
  • In order to breathe underwater, the Mob Squad uses the Potion of Water Breathing. When Jarro drinks the potion, “the funniest feeling comes over me—like I’m inside a bubble and as light as air.”
  • After being attacked by fish, Tok gives his friends “Potions of Regeneration. They should help us heal faster, if we get hurt.” The ingredients include “a ghast tear and some Nether wart.” 
  • One of Tok’s potions uses “fermented spider eye.”
  • When given a golden apple, an elderly lady’s health is restored.

Language   

  • Poppeycock is used once.
  • The town’s people call Lenna “Loony Lenna.”
  • Heck is used once; darn is used twice. 
  • One of the Mob Squad calls someone a jerk four times. 
  • After almost dying in the fish attack, an old man saves the kids. He calls the kids “fools” and “morons.”
  • Tok is injured, but he’s still trying to talk, so Lenna says, “Shut your piehole.” 
  • Lenna calls the guards who won’t open the gates “creeps.”
  • An elderly woman calls one of the town’s elders “the little nincompoop.” 

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Arazan’s Wolves

When Maddie and Will get a message that dire wolves—huge misshapen changelings, much larger than regular wolves—have been marauding and attacking through the hills and valleys of Celtica, the Rangers are sent on a mission to unravel just who or what is behind these dangerous creatures.

Will isn’t anxious to return to Celtica, especially approaching the Rift. And as they travel, Maddie must grapple with their growing dealings with the spiritual and supernatural. But they are Rangers—and they will do whatever it takes to accomplish their mission.  

After they receive some offers of help from locals, Will and Maddie learn the name of the sorceress behind these strange and dangerous attacks: Arazan. On the way to take her down once and for all, the Rangers must face dire wolves, Wargals, dark magic, and more. As Arazan’s desires have led her to the most evil of powers, Will and Maddie must form a plan of action that can outwit not just the sorceress, but the darkest forces from the beyond. 

Arazan’s Wolves takes Will back to Celtica, where Will battled evil in The Burning Bridge. However, Will has no personal reflections about the previous events nor does he explain the significance of the places he returns to. Thus, the book misses an opportunity to show Will’s personal growth from a young man to a seasoned Ranger. Because of this, readers unfamiliar with The Burning Bridge will not understand how the two books—Arazan’s Wolves and The Burning Bridge—connect.  

Readers who love The Royal Ranger Series because of the action and adventure will be disappointed. Much of the book describes Will and Maddie’s travel to Celtica, which lacks excitement. Along the way, they don’t interact with anyone of significance other than Eveningstar, whose character lacks depth. Eveningstar, despite having magical powers, does little to aid Will and Maddie. Instead of adding interest to the story, Eveningstar leaves the reader questioning her motives and why she didn’t try to defeat Arazan herself. 

Unlike the previous books in The Royal Ranger Series, Arazan’s Wolves includes acts of magic such as summoning demons, pentagrams, and telepathic conversations. This deviation from the action and adventure may take readers by surprise. To make matters worse, for the first time, Will kills a Wargal, not out of necessity, but in order to instill fear in the other Wargals. This is so out of character for Will that some readers may be upset by the events.  

Unfortunately, Arazan’s Wolves has too many plot holes, lacks character development, and includes random supernatural elements. All of this adds up to a story that will disappoint many fans of The Rangers Apprentice Series. Readers ready to move on to another epic adventure should read Rise of the Dragon Moon by Gabrille K. Byrne, The Explorer Academy Series by Trudi Trueit, and The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • A direwolf attacks three brothers. The two younger brothers run, but Owen—the oldest—has difficulties. “His joints were stiff. His muscles were sore and weary after a day of hard labor in the fields. He heard the quick rush of the dread creature behind him as it bounded in pursuit, heard its feet growing closer, claws scrapping and rasping . . . Ahead of him Dai and Gryff heard a long, drawn-out scream from their older brother as the direwolf ran him down, dragging him to the ground. Then the screaming stopped.” 
  • A group of thieves block a road in order to steal from people passing by. They try to stop Will and Maddie, so Maddie uses her sling. “The self-styled guardians of the road heard a brief whizzing sound, then a loud CLANG! as the lead slug slammed into the center of the helmet, just above the nasal. The swordsman staggered back . . . then fell.” Will makes the thieves take off their shoes and clothes before they flee. 
  • A Celtic minder who speaks out against Arazan (a suspected sorceress), ends up dead. “One morning he was found in his cottage, sitting at his table, eyes wide-open and dead as a stone. There wasn’t a mark on him.” The villagers assumed Arazan killed the man. 
  • As Will and Maddie are traveling, a direwolf attacks. “A huge shape appeared at the top of the rock wall to their left and launched itself at Will, snarling and snapping as it came. . .” Will’s horse, Tug, doesn’t panic and instead, “he swerved and bounded sideways toward the attacker, moving under its leap. . . Its jaws, ready to tear Will’s throat and upper body, snapped harmlessly at empty space. . .” 
  • During the attack, Tug fights back. The horse “swung around and delivered a thundering kick with his hind legs. . . His iron shod hooves crashed into the wolf’s side, cracking three ribs and hurling the huge animal across the clearing to smash into the rough rock wall behind it.” The wolf tries to flee, but the horse Bumper “smashed into the wolf’s muzzle, lacerating the skin and breaking bone beneath it.” The fight between the direwolf and the horses is described over three pages. 
  • While searching for Arazan, Will and Maddie are surprised by Wargals. “As the three beasts began to charge forward. . . the two bows came up and each of them snapped off a shot. . . Both shots went home, and the two Wargals tumbled onto the sand track.” 
  • The third Wargal tries to run, but “he screamed in pain as Will’s second shot struck home on the lower leg, causing him to stumble.” The Wargal runs but is followed by Will and Maddie.  
  • At one point, the Wargal “switched tactics and he turns to attack Maddie with his spear. He lunges at Maddie several times and is able to disarm her. The Wargal “bared his fangs again and uttered another blood-chilling snarl. . . He drew his spear back for one final lunge. Then jerked forward, a look of surprise replacing the triumphant snarl on his face as Will’s arrow slammed into his back. . .” The Wargal dies, but Maddie is uninjured. The scene is described over three pages. 
  • Will and Maddie hide from a group of Wargals. As they pass by, Will “drew back and released, before freezing to the side of the rock once more. . . The speeding arrow slammed into the rearmost Wargal, sending him staggering forward with a cry of pain and shock.” The Wargal dies, but the others flee for their lives. Will lets them go because, “I want them frightened. I want them reluctant to search for us and ready to disobey Arazan.” 
  • As Will and Maddie get closer to Arazan’s hideout, they see direwolves. Will shoots one with an arrow. The arrow “slammed into the creature’s chest a second before Maddie’s shot reached its target. The massive impact threw the direwolf back onto its rear legs, rising its body off the ground and laid it open for Maddie’s arrow. . .” The two rangers look at the wolf’s body. “Its eyes were open and glazed, and its tongue lolled out of its mouth over the long, yellow canines.”  
  • Arazan calls up a demon named Krakotomal. The demon had “the body of a serpent, with huge, batlike wings covered in scales. And that dreadful, horrifying face, jaws open to reveal fangs like knives.” When the pentacle becomes broken, Krakotomal is able to attack Arazan. “She cowered back, but there was nowhere for her to go. Krakotomal was upon her in one sudden leap, folding his scaly wings around her and tearing her with the cruel claws on his powerful hind legs. . . Blood was flowing from several deep wounds in her legs . . .” 
  • After Arazan is injured, the demon tries to convince Will to allow him to go through the pentacle. However, Will shoots an arrow that “covered the few meters to Krakotomal in a heartbeat and struck the demon high on his body, punching through the scales that protected him and burying the silver warhead deep in his flesh.” As Will continues to chant the banishing spell, both the demon and Arazan disappear “leaving only a swirl of green smoke and the smell of burned sulfur behind them.” 
  • After Arazan disappears, her minion Marko attacks Will. During the fight, Will’s saxe knife “bit into the hard leather. . . penetrating easily through the leather and then the flesh behind it. Marko felt a savage flare of agony as the saxe went home. . .” Marko dies. The fight is described over two and a half pages. 
  • The last direwolf ambushes Will. “Then the wolf was upon him, driving him back with the force of the huge leap from the rocks, snarling and snapping in rage. . . Using the strength of both arms, Will pushed back against the wolf, forcing its head back away from him. . . It pulled back. . . and provided Maddie with a near-perfect target.” Maddie shoots and the arrow penetrates “deep into its mouth, then reaching further still, severing the spinal column where it reached the brain, killing the wolf instantly.”  

Drugs and Alcohol   

  • Maddie and Will go into a tavern that serves ale. However, the two do not drink any. 
  • After seeing a demon, Maddie is upset and is given an herbal sleeping draft so she can sleep through the night.

Language 

  • When Will and Maddie kill two direwolfs, Will says Arazan will “only have one left, and thank Gorlog for that.” Gorlog is a Scandian god that is referred to in the Brotherband Series

Supernatural 

  • Arazan is a necromancer who tries to make contact with the dead. According to rumor, Arazan “was conducting unholy rituals late at night. They said she was trying to raise the spirit of the Lord of Rain and Night.”  
  • Arazan uses dark magic to try to make contact with a demon.  
  • Eveningstar is a healer who knows how to use herbs, potions, spells, and the black arts. “For the past year or so, she’s been trying to keep Arazan and her vile creatures in check.” Eveningstar can also “conjure up a fog to confuse” others. 
  • Eveningstar uses magic to show Arazan’s behavior to Will and Maddie. Eveningstar “drew a circle in chalk on the flagstone floor . . . Then she handed each of them a bunch of fresh rosemary on a long leather cord, which she instructed them to place around their necks.” Eveningstar sets up a brazier and heats stones. Then she begins chanting, “Ikab bledsr rimanatof. Ibak nimendir bledsr.”  
  • As Maddie stares at the hot coals, “shapes began to appear inside the cloud.” Maddie sees a demon. “The serpent body is black, along with the scale-covered, batlike wings. . . [Its face] was black-green, with glowing, evil eyes and a fringe of broad, triangular spikes around its neck. As she watched in horror, it opened its mouth to reveal huge, blackened fangs set in multiple rows inside its jaw.” 
  • Eveningstar writes down incantations and gives them to Will. “One is a spell of banishment . . . and this one is a shielding spell, to conceal you. . .” Later, Will chants the spell, “Ikab jandlar remko. Ikab jandlar simet. Ikab jandlar, jandlar ikabl” and banishes the demon. 
  • In order for Arazan to control the demons, she needs silver. Eveningstar explains, “Ordinary weapons won’t harm him. But weapons made from silver will be deadly to him.” 
  • Rangers have a unique connection with their horses. This connection lets them communicate. Will explains, “If it’s in my mind, he knows.” 
  • When Will concentrates, he can contact Eveningstar (a sorceress) with his mind. The first time he tried, “he felt, rather than heard, a voice in his mind, like the silken touch of a spider’s web. . .”  
  • Eveningstar gives Will and Maddie rosemary to hang around their necks to ward off evil and to keep Arazan from using her mind to watch them. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None

The Lost Girl

When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark. The twins have always had each other’s back and their bond was so strong that they never felt alone. They shared their looks as well as their thoughts and feelings. Lark was the extension of Iris and vice versa, and they were always better off together. 

However, things change when they are put in separate classes in fifth grade. They are in unfamiliar surroundings without their other half. For the first time, they have to make new friends and acquaint themselves with new teachers, new routines, and new challenges. Despite the grownups telling them that this is the best decision, Iris and Lark do not agree.  

Iris’s heart aches because she misses her sister’s constant presence. She had always been confident with Lark by her side, but now she has to navigate the scary and unfamiliar world of fifth grade alone. Lark, on the other hand, finds herself hiding in a world of her own as she struggles to adapt to the changes. The once inseparable twins now feel the weight of their individuality. 

At the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them. Things both great and small go missing. The girls can’t help but feel a sense of unease as they notice their world changing. When Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it is up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe. Iris starts paying attention to her surroundings and taking note of suspicious activities. With each passing day, Iris becomes more determined to protect her sister and unravel the mystery of the missing things. 

The Lost Girl is an incredibly touching story that celebrates the unbreakable bond of sisterhood, and the beauty of individuality. The story follows two sisters, Iris and Lark, as they navigate the challenges of life, and come out on the other side stronger and more resilient. The reader experiences the twins’ journey and is drawn into the world of Iris and Lark by their intricate relationship. Since the story is told from the third-person perspective, the narrative style creates a sense of mystery around the identity of the speaker, which adds an intriguing element. While this narrative style has its benefits, it can also be confusing at times. For instance, the speaker seems to have knowledge of the girls’ internal thoughts, which can sometimes make it difficult to discern who is thinking or talking. However, black and white pictures appear once each chapter and provide a visual element that helps readers fully immerse themselves in the story. 

Throughout The Lost Girl the reader is reminded of the transformative power of change, and how even the most difficult situations can lead to personal growth and a greater understanding of yourself. However, The Lost Girl could benefit from a more developed and connected plot. The mystery and magic elements are not clearly explained which may cause confusion and disconnect readers. While the beginning seems to crawl along at a snail’s pace, the imbalance between the explanation behind the mystery and the deep development of the main characters leaves the ending feeling rushed.  

The Lost Girl presents a heartwarming tale about the bond of sisterhood and the journey towards self-discovery. While the plot development has some flaws, specifically with the integration of mystery and magic, the novel still offers wonderful life lessons.  Additionally, the themes of individuality, family connection, and the power of friendship are sure to strike a chord with many readers. Readers longing for books similar to The Lost Girl should also read the Legend of Eerie-on-Sea Series by Thomas Taylor and Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Mr. Green, the man who owns the antique shop, invites Iris to stay with him. When she refuses, Mr. Green tries to force Iris to stay. Before anything can occur, Duchess, Mr. Green’s cat, comes to Iris’s aid. “A yowling sound—then Mr. Green yelled, ‘Ow!’ Duchess was at his ankle, biting. Iris wrenched free from his grasp and ran forward, and then heard another yowl, this time in pain. Mr. Green kicked the cat. Then his hand wrapped around her shoulder again, and the next thing she knew, she was being thrown into the doorway marked office.” Duchess and Mr. Green remain mostly unharmed, but Iris is left trapped in the room. 
  •  Mr. Green attempts to get close to Iris because he plans to use magic to transform her into a doll. Iris “dove over to the shelves with the jars of magic, grabbed one, and hurled it at Mr. Green. He yelled and ducked out of the way. The jar exploded on the wall, and the magic inside splattered and oozed and steamed and hissed, and Mr. Green slapped his hands over his face and screamed.” Iris temporarily halts the attack, but wounds Mr. Green with a magic substance.  
  • The girls from Camp Awesome, the after-school camp Iris attends, attempt to save Iris from Mr. Green. Unfortunately, the girls are no match for the size and strength Mr. Green possesses. Mr. Green “swore, then threw Hannah across the room and kicked Lark in the stomach. She stumbled backwards. Iris dove to her.” Hannah and Lark are wounded slightly. The girls are left trapped listening to the demands of Mr. Green. 
  • Iris agrees to go with Mr. Green as long as he allows the other girls to go free. To ensure she doesn’t leave, he binds her to a chair. Mr. Green “growled at her. And then he duct-taped one arm to the chair. Then the other. Then he bound her ankles. And then her mouth.”  
  • The girls continue to fight Mr. Green and they use their intelligence to outwit him. They formulate a plan to shove him into the magic well. “Then several things happened at once. Mr. Green pushed the door open. As he did, Lark jumped backward. A crow let out a cry and dove toward him. He whirled around, and out of nowhere Duchess came barreling forward, right toward his ankles. He bobbled. Lark thrust out her hands and pushed. He slipped backward. And he fell.” The girls defeat Mr. Green and escape. After he falls into the well, it is presumed that he is dead and unable to come back up from the magic water within. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Tommy Whedon, Lark’s sworn enemy, makes fun of Iris in the hallway. “You’re a psycho, you know that?” Iris retaliates by calling him a mole rat and blowfish.  
  • Tommy Whedon became Lark’s enemy when he called her crow girl. “And at recess, Tommy told Iris she was nasty and ugly and bossy and no one liked her, and Lark didn’t talk for the rest of the day. Somehow their parents got wind of the ‘mole rat’ comment and Iris got a talking-to about name calling. Meanwhile people whispered Freak and Crow Girl at Lark for the rest of the year.” This nickname pops up a couple of times.  

Supernatural  

  • Lark is imaginative and believes there is magic in even the most mundane things. Lark believes her teacher to be an ogre because he made fun of her and seems out of place as a fifth-grade teacher. “‘I am pretty sure,’ [Lark] said, voice intent, ‘that Mr. Hunt is an ogre’…To Lark an ogre took great pride in his collection of children’s hearts and when the other ogres would come over for dinner (usually ogres serve yak to guests) he would show his treasure, boasting about how he had the finest collection in the land. He’d take the jar off the shelf and tell the great and glorious story of the capture of the child the heart once belonged to.” This is a thought Lark brings up repeatedly throughout the text and she continues to theorize about why she believes Mr. Hunt is an ogre. 
  • Iris sees a cat, Duchess, travel thorough a clock.  
  • Duchess leads Iris behind a curtain where Iris discovers a whole house. Not only is it almost the size of a mansion, but there are remarkable pieces of art scattered throughout. Mr. Green says, “I told you I had magic. You kept saying it was science.”  
  • Mr. Green use magic to make a compass using water and create a battery out of a potato.  
  • Mr. Green gains power by accessing wells of magic. He shows Iris a new well that is hidden inside his mansion. “Iris shook her head slightly as if to clear it. It was a well of magic. Magic was a thing, something you could scoop up like water.” Iris has a hard time comprehending the magic.  
  • Inside Mr. Green’s office, Iris discovers more magic. “One wall of shelving was lined with wooden carvings, and perched right in front of it was a big shiny black-and-gold sewing machine with a foot pedal. Another was filled with sealed jam jars of shimmering magic.”  
  • Mr. Green explains magic’s power. “The magic is hard to work with, but it does excel at one thing in particular . . . It excels at transformation. This is very useful when you need to walk out of a museum with a painting or take a sculpture the size of a semi-truck out of a public garden. It can also be useful in other ways. And I think, Miss Maguire, I know the best way to keep you. . . Perhaps I can give you as a gift to [my lost sister] after all.” He explains to Iris that he could use the magic to transform Iris into a doll for his sister.  
  • The explanation behind who the narrator is brought full circle and revealed as Mr. Green’s lost sister, Alice. It is learned that Alice turned herself into a crow and that she’s the giant crow following the girls throughout the story. “Iris was right — I did run from you. You locked me in a room, you said it was for my own good, and I pulled all the magic I could from the room and turned myself into a crow. I made a tool to open the latch and flew out the window. Crows are very good with tools. Magic has a cost. You gave your humanity willingly for it. I gave mine, too, but in a different way. I like my way better.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Valley of Kings

If Alex and Ren are going to stop the Death Walkers, they must find the powerful Lost Spells. So, they head to the Valley of the Kings, deep in the Egyptian desert — where they discover that Egypt is in the grips of madness. Voices in the air whisper dark secrets and flashes of light burn across the night sky. Plus, their hunt for the Spells keeps getting sabotaged. Every step they take, The Order is hot on their trail. There’s no dodging, no hiding. Is someone leaking their secrets? Is there anyone they can trust?

With the help of his best friend, Ren, and his cousin, Luke, Alex continues his search for his mother. When they get to Egypt, The Order – “a criminal cult that had haunted Egypt for thousands of years” – is on their trail, leading to many action-packed chase scenes. Soon, the three kids are heading to the Valley of Kings. While there, their search for clues proves fruitless.

Along the way, the kids meet King Tut, who is looking for his heart. King Tut’s appearance adds some much-needed humor and teaches about ancient Egyptians. While the kids do fight a Death Walker, most of the story is focused on keeping away from The Order. In the end, the Death Walker’s demise is anticlimactic because he rarely appears and his strange powers are never explained. 

Valley of Kings is a disappointing installment in the TombQuest Series. Alex and his companions spend too much time running away from thugs and not enough time investigating his mother’s disappearance. The Order ramps up the violence and shows that they are willing to kill innocent people to gain power. But by the end of the story, Alex is no wiser and has no new information about his mother or the Order. In addition, there is a shocking betrayal that will leave readers confused and heartbroken. King Tut is the one bright spot in the story. However, readers interested in learning about King Tut and Ancient Egypt’s culture would do better to wrap their hands around The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • A man who works for The Order takes a new employee named Abdel to a warehouse. Abdel opens a door, “releasing a rush of stinking air and a swarm of dark whispers so strong that Abdel could feel them, like snake tongues on his skin.” Abdel sees an “abomination.” The other man pushes Abdel into the room and locks the door.
  • After being locked in a room, Abdel hears “ten thousand whispers combined. . . Unleashed, the heavy whispers cut into him, no longer tongues but teeth! Each one grabbed a piece, tore it off, gobbled it down. It wasn’t his body they were devouring; it was his soul.” The man dies as his body “was torn to bits, devoured.”
  • When Alex and his friends get to Egypt, a cab driver tells them about a doctor who “heard voices and then attacked a patient with a metal crutch.” 
  • When Alex sees an Order thug, he “gripped his amulet tighter with his left hand as his right shot up and unleashed a spear of concentrated wind that knocked the man back against the wall. . . his head hit the bricks and his eyes fluttered closed.” Then, “a flash of crimson light lit the Egyptian dusk and people began to fall to the ground.” Alex and his group run and hide.
  • The Order tries to find Alex and his group. They break down a door and Alex “turned just in time to see the last figure in line glide silently into the house: a very thin woman wearing a pale white mask — the skull of a lioness. . . As she disappeared inside, the doorway lit up red. The Order had followed the wrong trail and someone else had just paid the price.”
  • Peshwar and other members of The Order break into a museum to kidnap Alex and his friends. Tired of running, Alex grabs his amulet and “his right hand shot up, his fingers spread slightly. . . a column of desert air rose up and rushed forward. . . the lioness [Peshwar] staggered backward a few steps. . . A heavy main door slammed shut. A thick crunch and a pitiable wail could just be heard over the shipping winds as the forearm of the man about to enter was pinned in place. . .”
  • Peshwar goes on the offensive. “Alex looked up in time to see a red glow sprout from Peshwar’s closed right hand and form itself into something like an icicle: A jagged, uneven shard of crimson light. . . The glowing energy dagger flew through the air.” To save Ren, Alex jumps in front of her. “The blood-red slice of light pierced the elbow of Alex’s outstretched left arm.” The light causes pain, but no lasting damage. 
  • As Alex and his group flee, Alex hears “the thick whisper of a silencer — Frummp! — and then a bullet plinked off the heavy stone sarcophagus.” No one is hit.
  • Hessan, the museum curator, helps Alex and his friends escape. As a diversion, he goes to fight Peshwar and her group. Alex “heard the sharp sound of a pistol handle to the skull and the dull thump of Hessan’s stocky body hitting the floor.” Alex and his friends escape through a secret tunnel. The chase scene is described over seven pages. 
  • While on a train, The Order drugs Alex and tries to kidnap him. When a man tries to zip tie Alex, Luke “clocked the intruder in the head with a shiny new ten-pound dumbbell . . . the man collapsed heavily to the floor.” The two boys “dragged the guy out into the hall” and push him off the train. “They watched the man tumble limp-limbed down a sandy bank.”
  • Alex and his friends discuss King Tut. “A lot of people think he was murdered. His heart was missing when they found him. And my mom says there was a hole in his head.”
  • Alex and his friends go into an Egyptian tomb and find grave robbers. When Alex questions them, he hears the cock of a gun. The grave robbers threaten them but then leave.
  • In King Tut’s tomb, Alex finds human bones and “scraps of scorched uniforms; the remains of a pistol, its melted barrel drooping down like a water faucet; two skulls, two large rib cages.”
  • While in the Valley of Kings, a Death Walker tries to kill Alex and his friends. “A pulse of pure white light flashed out from the man’s eyes. All three friends called out in pain and surprise. Every inch of exposed skin had been suddenly and severely sunburned. . .” 
  • The kids run from the Death Walker, who creates a “rolling ball of fire” and prepares to throw it at Ren. Alex uses his amulet. “A wind more powerful than Alex expected rose instantly and swept across the floor of the valley. . . Alex saw the glow of the flaming orb smothered completely. . .” The kids escape. The scene is described over eight pages.
  • Peshwar and her goons steal ancient sacred stones. “A few men tried to get in front of the truck as it pulled away. A warning shot was fired in the air. There were angry shouts, but in the end the men moved. . .. “
  • While walking at night, an adult friend of Alex is attacked when by a random man. The man stepped out and “Todtman saw a kitchen knife in his hand. The blade flashed out fast—but not fast enough. The man was already spinning up and away, tossed through the air like a Frisbee. He hit the pole of the streetlight. . .” The man dies.
  • The story ends with a multi-chapter face-off between Alex, his friends, and the Death Walker. The Death Walker, Akhenotra, creates a fire ball. “Alex swung his head back around and flame filled his vision. The Walker had released his fire ball, and it was rocketing toward him. . .” Alex holds up a book which the fire hits. “Alex was left shaking his burned fingers.” 
  • The Death Walker tries to destroy Alex and his friends so he can eat their souls. “Akhenotra’s jaw suddenly dropped open. Flame poured from his open mouth. Alex lurched to the side and tried to fall back out of the way. . .he screamed as he felt the searing flames burn through his shirt and bite into the soft flesh of his left shoulder.”
  • Akhenotra tries to kill Tut by throwing a fire ball at him. “But Tut merely pressed both hands together in front of him as if praying. The flames broke on his hands like a wave splitting against a pier. Tut was shrouded in fire, but uninjured.”
  • During his life, Akhenotra stole Tut’s heart in order to use it as an offering to the sun God. Now, Tut attacks to take his heart back. Tut brought “his sword down hard only to have it blocked by the thick handle of the mace. He brought his sword up and down four more times in quick succession, each blow blocked. . . The heavy curved blade of Tut’s khopesh [sword] cut clean through the handle of the mace and sunk deep into the Death Walker’s chest. Both halves of the mace thunked to the floor.” However, the Death Walker cannot be killed because he’s already dead. 
  • Alex reads a spell from the Book of the Dead. Afterwards, Alex looks up to see “Tut was standing with his own bronze sword buried deep in [Akhenotra’s] chest, the blade no longer aflame but still sizzling slightly. . . And Akhenotra—Alex gazed at the space in front of Tut—Akhenotra wasn’t standing at all.” 
  • When Alex is in Tut’s tomb, “the crack of a rifle and the ping of a bullet jarred him back to brutal reality. . . An energy dagger exploded into the sandy ground at Alex’s feet with a vicious crackle. . . A chorus of rifle fire followed, and the two remaining friends dove for cover.” 
  • Alex and Ren try to hide. Ren sees “the toe of a boot poke out from the side of the altar. One of the gunmen had reached them. . . [Ren] brought the sword up and down. . . blood rushing out the chopped-off end of his boot.”
  • To escape The Order, Luke runs into the desert. “The valley floor in front of him lit up rose-red. . . The energy dagger sank into his back with a dull crackling sound and a pain more intense than he’d ever imagined possible. He fell to the hard desert ground, full-speed and face-first, like a gazelle gunned down mid stride.” Luke dies.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • The Order drugs Alex, who “tried to get up but his body felt so heavy that the best he could do was roll out of his bunk. . . his numb body barely registered the impact.” Both his mind and body become numb.
  • When asked to use her amulet, Ren thinks that it isn’t like “freaking Google!”
  • Luke calls Ren and Alex “nerds” and “Goofball-ese.”
  • The Death Walker calls Alex a “little heretic.”

Supernatural

  • Alex’s amulet “was a symbol of resurrection in ancient Egypt, and his amulet dealt with life, death, and rebirth.” It gives Alex the ability to control wind.
  • While walking in the Valley of Kings, Ren sees a man change. “His loose clothing shimmered and faded away, gone just like the heat haze that had surrounded him. In its place, an ancient outfit: a white tunic laced with golden thread. . . the face beneath it was dark tan . . . and horribly blistered.” The man was a Death Walker. Later, the Death Walker changes shape again.
  • “The ancient Egyptians believed that if they had a statue of themselves built before they died, they could, like, inhabit it in the afterlife. Their spirit could take on its shape.”
  • The Death Walker has the ability to create fire balls.
  • Alex and Ren run through a false doorway that leads into the afterlife and then pop out in some unknown location.

Spiritual Content 

  • The Egyptians believed that after someone dies, they must pass the weighing of the heart ceremony — “a test to get into the afterlife.” The Death Walkers were “beings evil enough that they knew they would fail the test. . . they had clung to the edge of the afterlife, in between life and death, waiting for an opportunity to escape.” 
  • During the heart ceremony “the god Thorth stood by to record the result: Would the heart be weighed down by guilt or Ibe destroyed forever?”
  • After meeting King Tut, Luke describes him as a “total dive.” Alex explains Tut’s behavior: “Pharaohs were told they were living gods. I could see that going to your head.” 
  • King Tut appears in the Valley of Kings. He tries to pet Pai, but when the cat hisses, Tut said, “Fine, you little beast, flea receptacle. All I did was restore the worship of the old gods, your master included. All I did was rebuild their temples.” Later Tut explains that his father “banned the old gods, worshiped the sun — my whole childhood I was sunburned from praying to the thing.”
  • Inside a tomb, the chamber has the Aten on the walls. “The sun disk—the symbol of the pure light religion imposed by Tut’s father.”
  • During mummification, the Ancient Egyptians always left the heart in the body. “Tut was the only pharaoh ever discovered without one. . . Without the heart, Tut couldn’t go through the heart ceremony to gain entrance into the afterlife. He would be forever between worlds.”

The Secret of White Stone Gate

After the events of The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane, Emmy goes home to Connecticut for summer break. Now she has returned to England for the new semester at Wellsworth, but there’s a catch—her mom wants her to spend time with and be under the strict rules of her mom’s cousin, Lucy. On top of this, upon returning to Wellsworth, Emmy begins receiving threats from Jonas, a leader in the Order of Black Hollow Lane, who tried to kill her in the previous book. Jonas wants information about her father and the medallions that she stole from the Order and he is willing to do anything to get what he wants. Emmy realizes the reality of her situation when her friend, Lola, is framed for stealing money from a charity fundraiser causing her to be expelled. Emmy must navigate dealing with the constant threats from the Order. Should she give them what they want so that they stop hurting her friends? Or is there another way?

A major theme in The Secret of White Stone Gate is betrayal. Emmy’s favorite teacher, John Barlowe, discusses betrayal in his class. He says, “Brutus betrayed Caesar during the Golden Age of Rome, Henry the Second betrayed Thomas Becket in the twelfth century, and it goes on and on. Sometimes greed and power become stronger than friendship.” This theme is reflected in Emmy’s discovery that her dad had been friends with Jonas, the leader of the Order, but Jonas betrayed him and now is part of the group of people trying to find and kill her dad. 

Desperation to get what one wants is also a topic since the Order demonstrates they are willing to manipulate children. For example, it is revealed that Emmy’s friend, Jack, has a younger brother named Oliver who the Order forced to frame Lola. Isolation and struggling to make friends, combined with the Order’s manipulation, forced Oliver to frame Lola. However, Emmy and her friends do not get angry or act cruelly toward Oliver because they realize an important lesson, “We’re your friends, and you need to know that the Order isn’t your only option.” Emmy and her friends demonstrate true friendship which in turn teaches Oliver that he doesn’t need the Order for a sense of community. 

At long last, Emmy is able to reconnect with her dad. He reveals that he has been secretly watching her, maintaining disguises all along. He explains, “I knew Jonas would be following you. I had to be there. I had to make sure you were safe. I tried to help [Lola] too, but it wasn’t easy to get to her.” Her dad is able to explain why he left her and her mom all those years ago. He says, “[the Order] knew I had a twelve-year-old American daughter. [The Order] found out I was alive and had a family, but [they] didn’t know your name or where you were. I had to run to keep you safe.” Though at first, Emmy struggles to overcome her anger that her dad left, she realizes that what matters most is that her dad is alive and loves her. 

The story neatly wraps up with the Order believing that Emmy’s father is dead. Emmy finally feels that she and her family are free “since you [Emmy] cannot get what [the leader of the Order] wants, we have decided to pursue other avenues. You are no longer of any interest to the Order.” Knowing that Emmy and her friends are safe leaves Emmy feeling happy that she will finally get a chance to “do all the things normal kids got to do . . . Well, maybe they’d never be totally normal.” 

Readers who enjoyed the first book in this two-part series, The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane, will enjoy the strengthening friendship between Emmy, Lola, and Jack. Overall, The Secret of White Stone Gate will keep readers on the edge of their seats as it shows the importance of enjoying the little moments with your friends and loved ones. Readers who are eager for more fun mysteries should also read Saving Montgomery Sole by Mariko Tamaki and Jada Sly Artist & Spy by Sherri Winston.

Sexual Content 

  • Emmy notices Sam, a new student at Wellsworth. “He pushed some floppy blond hair out of his eyes and smiled at something he was reading. Emmy’s stomach fluttered in a way that it usually only did for famous, good-looking soccer players.”
  • When Sam says hi to Emmy, “Emmy prayed no one would notice her cheeks getting hot.”
  • Emmy and Sam work together to help set up a school charity event. “Every once in a while, if Sam made her laugh or accidentally brushed her hand, she’d feel a giant swoop behind her belly button. Those swoops seemed to have a direct connection to her ears, making them hot and flushed. Thank goodness she could hide her ears behind her hair.”
  • Emmy appreciates that “[Sam] was sacrificing a lot for Lola, even though he barely knew her. She imagined being with Sam, Lola, and Jack, sitting around the fire, just being normal friends. And maybe being more than friends with Sam.”

Violence 

  • Reflecting on events from the previous book in the series, “Emmy shivered. She always did that when talking about the old head of security, Jonas. She had trusted him, but he was the one who had caught her in the tunnels, chased her into the belfry of an old church, and tried to kill her.”
  • Emmy finds a threatening note in her room from Brother Loyola, the head of the group that attempted to kill Emmy in the previous book, “In case you were wondering, I’m always keeping an eye on you.”
  • Emmy’s friend Lola is framed for stealing money from the school’s charity fundraiser. Then Emmy receives a threatening video message from a member of the Order. He says, “Tell us where your father is, or your friend will get far worse than expulsion.”
  • At her new school, Emmy’s best friend Lola is attacked by two students. Lola says, “My face is hurting pretty bad, and my hand is killing me from trying to hit them back . . . I managed to stay off the ground, though, otherwise, it would have been a lot worse.”
  • While Emmy is visiting Lola, Jonas, the leader of the Order, suddenly appears and threatens her and her friends. Emmy is afraid so “her hands started to shake. Should she run? Should she scream? Jonas wouldn’t try to hurt her in broad daylight with all these people around . . . would he?”
  • Jonas threatens Emmy’s friend, Lola. Jonas says, “Such a shame about what happened this week. I hope [Lola] isn’t too banged up. You don’t think that’ll be the end of it, do you . . . we’d always find [Lola].”
  • Jonas tells Emmy, “If you value your dear friend’s life, I’d suggest you try a little harder to find your dear old dad.”
  • When Emmy still refuses to tell Jonas where her dad and the medallions are, he says, “It doesn’t seem like you’re getting the message, so let me make it clear. I hurt [Lola]. I hurt your roommate. Here’s the next person on my list.” He then pulls out a photograph of him with Emmy’s mom and says, “Get me what I want, or I’ll bury her.” 
  • Emmy and her dad are chased by several cars carrying members of the Order. The Order is trying to kill them, and her dad decides the only way for them to escape is for him to fake his own death. He grabs an air tank, “It will let me breathe underwater.” Then as they approach a bridge over a large body of water, “the door flew open and her dad leapt onto the railing. Emmy screamed. He didn’t look back. He just disappeared over the edge.” After he landed in the water, Emmy’s dad was able to safely get away, convincing the Order that he is really dead. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • The characters occasionally use mild insults like git, prat, or stupid.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • The leader of the malicious group threatening Emmy and her dad is referred to as “Brother Loyola,” as one would refer to a priest. 

Mystery of the Egyptian Amulet

When the Nile town of Thebes is threatened by a scarab-amulet eating ghost, Zet is determined to uncover the truth. Meanwhile, Zet’s best friend, a jeweler’s apprentice, is in trouble. Could the ghost and his best friend’s ominous master be connected somehow?

As if he didn’t have enough trouble, special orders have gone missing at Zet’s family pottery stall. With angry customers on his hands, his family’s reputation is going downhill fast. Soon the investigation becomes a race against time. Zet and his sister, Kat, must solve the ever-twisting puzzle before it destroys the people they love. 

Zet is an extremely likable protagonist who isn’t afraid to face danger to help the people around him. When Zet suspects that his best friend, Hui, is in danger, he does what comes to him naturally—he investigates the jeweler’s compound where Hui works. When he investigates, Zet is often impulsive; however, his intentions are always honorable. Zet’s fun personality, his mystery-solving skills, and his bravery make him shine. By the end of the book, readers will be wishing Zet was their best friend.

Mystery of the Egyptian Amulet is an engaging story that will appeal to anyone who likes a fast-paced mystery. Readers will also enjoy learning what life was like in ancient Egypt. Even though Zet is only twelve years old, he is responsible for running his family’s pottery stall as well as providing for his mother and younger brother. Zet takes this responsibility seriously, and while he worries about not being able to care for his family, he never complains about his lot in life. Likewise, even though his sister can be annoying, he treats her kindly and even appreciates her knowledge (although, he doesn’t let her know this!). 

The Mystery of the Egyptian Amulet’s danger and mystery will captivate readers. While they will enjoy trying to solve the clues, the best part of the Kid Detective Zet Series is Zet, an interesting character who has many positive character traits despite being impulsive enough to get into some sticky situations. Even though Zet often runs from thugs, the story is kid-friendly with plenty of suspense without being scary. The story’s short chapters and easy vocabulary also make the book perfect for reluctant readers. The Kid Detective Zet Series is a highly entertaining series that will hook kids on reading. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Zet’s best friend, Hui, is an apprentice for a jeweler. When Zet tries to see Hui, a guard tells Zet to leave. When Zet “didn’t move, the man cracked his meaty fingers. . . . the man grabbed his arm and twisted Zet into a headlock.” The guard says, “Makes a funny noise when your neck breaks. Crunch-like.” The next day Zet shows his sisters the bruises the guard gave him.
  • Hui says he must be careful of the jeweler or, “He’ll make me disappear. I know that’s what happened to his partner.” 
  • The police chief tells Zet to be careful because “a servant was attacked in Khonsu Street and almost killed. He was found unconscious, his head bleeding.” 
  • Zet tries to sneak into the jeweler’s house. When he jumps over a fence, “three large hounds crouched at the open door to the house. The snarling dog bared its teeth. . . They bore down on him in a flash of teeth and fur. . . Teeth caught hold of his ankle. He felt skin tear. He wrenched his leg free. . .” Zet got free and ran. His wound is not described. 
  • Zet knows the jeweler is planning on hiding stolen jewels in bread. To catch the jeweler stealing, Zet dresses like a demon. When he went into town, “people fell back in shock.” People began running which allowed Zet to get close to the cart with the hidden jewels.
  • When Zet begins throwing bread out of the cart, the jeweler’s guard, Snaggletooth, “snatched Zet’s ankle. Meaty fingers took hold of Zet’s oiled skin. Zet wrenched backward. . .” 
  • When Zet crawls into the cart, “someone shoved him hard. . . He flew forward. . . he saw Sanaggletooth’s sword chop down.” Zet is uninjured. The scene is described over three pages. 
  • Another one of the jeweler’s guards tries to get Zet. “The henchman landed a glancing blow against Zet’s leg with his club. Nails scraped down his shin. If it had been any closer, it would have broken Zet’s leg. . .” The injury is not described. 
  • When the jeweler’s guards are detained, Zet finds Hui hidden at the bottom of the bread cart. “Hui’s arms and legs were bound tightly to his side. The medjay [police chief] whipped out his blade and cut the bindings free.” Hui is uninjured.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • When the police chief went to investigate a man’s residence, the man “sat back drinking wine while we turned the place upside-down.” 

Language 

  • Zet sneaks into the jewelry apprentice shop with Kat. When she makes a loud noise, Zet thinks, “Wormsnot and bettledung! He was a complete idiot. . .”
  • Kat uses “by the gods” as an exclamation once. 
  • When surprised, Zet yells, “What in the name of the gods?”

Supernatural

  • There is a rumor that an evil army of spirits is coming to town. A shopkeeper says, “They’re creeping into town. Stirring up trouble. Casting dark dreams.” The spirits are accused of stealing scarab amulets. The man explains, “And you know how important scarabs are to Egypt. They ensure long life. They ensure birth. Creation. Balance.”
  • Kat worries that the rumors are true because of the war. She says, “The Hyksos spirits probably are mad. And you know they can’t be burying the enemy Hyksos soldiers properly, with the war going on.” 
  • When Hui acts strangely, Kat thinks he has been “hypnotized, or worse, possessed.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • When giving the time of day, the text refers to the sun god. For example, when Zet walked to work, “the sun god spilled his rays over the rooftops.” 
  • When splurging on a litter to carry her, Hui’s mom says, “The gods know I don’t indulge in luxury much.”
  • Because of the strange things happening, some people were frightened. While walking, Zet “passed a man painting a protection symbol on his front door, and chanting what sounded like a spell.”
  •  A man opened a new shop. “Protection amulets of every kind swung from his awning. There were oil lamps with strange symbols, Hyksos spirits probably; heady, acrid-smelling incense burned, and he was stirring liquid in a pot and chanting.” 
  • When Zet’s mom travels down river to find out about a missing shipment, Zet prays, “Please, let her have found out about the shipment.” 
  • Hui made his mother “a tiny gold statue of Maat, Goddess of Truth. The goddess looked ready to do her job – to greet people when they arrived in the afterlife.”
  • In his room, Hui had a statue of “Bes – Hui’s family God. . . Sure he protected their household, like all family gods did, but Bes also loved to stir up trouble. Generally of the entertaining kind.”  
  • Zet passes a temple that had a pool of water in front of the doors. Hui thinks, “Everyone knew the temple pools were doorways into the underworld.” He hurries past the temple.
  • When Zet’s mom doesn’t return home as expected, he prays. “Zet went straight to the household shrine. He knelt in front of the statue of Bastet. The cat goddess regarded him with her gold-rimmed eyes. He lit one of the incense for her . . . ‘Please bring Mother and Apu home safe,’ he whispered.” 

The Door at the End of the World

Lucy Eberslee is a thirteen-year-old girl working as the Gatekeeper’s deputy, a job which she takes very seriously. As the gatekeeper’s deputy, Lucy stamps passports and files travel forms for travelers as they pass through the doorway to another world; her world, Southeast, is one of eight worlds visitors can travel to. One seemingly normal Thursday turns into a chaotic journey when Lucy’s boss disappears.

On top of this, a boy from the Eastern world, Arthur, accidentally leaves his world and enters Lucy’s. Upon trying to open the door to Arthur’s world, Lucy realizes that the door is stuck and that something bigger is going wrong. Lucy and Arthur decide they need to get professionals involved, and so they begin their journey to the Interworld Travel Center to talk to its chief, Mrs. Bracknell.  

Lucy is a sympathetic character who struggles with being overshadowed by the rest of her family. Lucy reveals that her parents work in high positions in The House of Governors, and her older brother, Thomas, “is a member of the Interworld Travel Commission.” Lucy’s job as the Deputy gatekeeper makes her feel less invisible, as she explains, “I’d done well enough in school, but I’d never really stood out. Even my teachers had a habit of not quite remembering I was there unless they read about [my brother] in the news or needed a favor or advice from my father.” By the end of the novel, Lucy’s older brother, Thomas, tells Lucy that she has proven herself to be very brave and inspired him to speak out when something seems wrong.  

Arthur is an equally sympathetic character because of his willingness to help Lucy, even though he has just met her. Arthur and Lucy bond over their feelings of being invisible. When Lucy asks him if his family will notice he is missing, Arthur says, “After a month or so it might occur to my father that I haven’t come downstairs for dinner in a while. He’s got eight sons, though, so he won’t mind misplacing one.” Arthur’s perspective allows the reader to feel that they are learning about all the worlds right alongside him and they will enjoy Arthur’s excitement when experiencing new things as he explores all eight of the worlds. 

As Lucy and Arthur investigate who is really behind the closing of the worldgates, they realize they need respected adults to help. The conclusion involves an extremely chaotic, but entertaining, scene in which the villain is revealed. Because of her adventure, Lucy demonstrates personal growth, especially when it comes to speaking her mind and standing up for herself. In the exciting conclusion, Lucy is put in charge of “the team that’s opening up all of the worldgates again.” Lucy begins to recognize her own talents and abilities, as she says, “It’s going to be total chaos to organize . . . but I think I’ll be good at it.”  

Readers who enjoy fantasy, magical creatures, and reading about different universes will love The Door at the End of the World. Overall, the story highlights important messages like having confidence in yourself, appreciating what makes you special, and speaking up when something is wrong. Readers looking for more magical adventures should also read the Explorer Academy Series by Trudi Trueit and the Wizard for Hire Series by Obert Skye. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Lucy’s boss, the Gatekeeper, does not enjoy spending time with another gatekeeper called Bernard. The Gatekeeper explains, “I’d rather have my ears nibbled off by a thistle-backed thrunt [a spiky, destructive, dangerous creature that tears everything it encounters to shreds] than have to spend the day with Bernard.” 
  • When a man, Mr. Silos, finds out that Lucy is affiliated with Interworld Travel, he feels that he is being threatened for his illegal interworld smuggling deals. Lucy notices, “Mr. Silos turned back to look at me and Arthur, studying us . . . His right hand crept towards his gun.” He does not actually shoot at them.  
  • The thrunt “munched the floorboards” in front of Lucy and Arthur. Lucy says, “There was no point in trying to escape; I couldn’t sprint half as fast as the thrunt could move. What would it feel like, I thought in a panic, to be eaten from the toes up?” Luckily, Arthur and Lucy are rescued.  
  • Rosemary, a girl who at first pretends to be another deputy gatekeeper like Lucy, but later admits she is a smuggler of interworld goods, kills the thrunt; “a beam of golden light shot out from the doorway, there was a loud sizzling noise, and the thistle-backed thrunt split neatly in two.” 
  • Rosemary offers Arthur and Lucy her “InterCom cards” to use as communication. Rosemary threatens them about losing the devices, saying, “You’d better not lose them, or Pa will sell your ears on the black market to make up for it.” Rosemary later admits that she’s joking.  
  • Lucy and Arthur are horrified to discover that when they left their room at Interworld Travel, someone poisoned their magical bees. “[Lucy] heard a thin, frantic hum. The floor of the closet was carpeted in bees. They were moving, but barely; some crawled listlessly toward my feet . . . I wasn’t any sort of an expert when it came to bees, but even I could tell something was badly wrong.” 
  • The bees spell out “FLOWERS,” indicating that someone brought poisonous flowers into their room to kill them. Sadly, some have died. “The [bees] who died must have come closest to the flowers; the rest were still doing poorly, but when I placed a little saucer of sugar water on the floor, they perked up enough to shuffle over and taste it.” Rosemary tells Lucy she thinks someone poisoned the bees as “a warning.” 
  • Lucy worries that the head of Interworld Travel, Mrs. Bracknell, has killed all the gatekeepers. Lucy explains, “If Mrs. Bracknell had harmed my own frizzy-haired, heavy-footed Gatekeeper, I didn’t want to think about it.” 
  • Mrs. Bracknell tries to flee, but the kids discover her plan. Rosemary explains, “[Mrs. Bracknell] cut that awful hole in the ground and said that if I tried to warn [Lucy and Arthur] to stay away, she’d push me through it.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Characters occasionally exclaim, “Oh, worlds!” 

Supernatural 

  • A swarm of bees follows Lucy. The bees can spell out words. Lucy explains to the bees that she thinks the Gatekeeper has gone missing. “The bees huddled together over my head, humming to each other. After a minute or so, they spread out to form foot-high letters against the backdrop of the sky. SPARE KEY?” 
  • While researching the magical gatecutters that are able to cut open entrances to other worlds, Lucy and Arthur are attacked by a “thistle backed thrunt.” The “thrunt” “can chew through almost any substance and travel as fast as an automobile. It has four rows of teeth, a powerful jaw, and an insatiable appetite. If an unprepared traveler stumbled across a thrunt, however, he will surely be devoured.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Tombs of Anak

An angry terror lurks at the bottom of a dark pit . . . 

Jay and Lila Cooper are back for another adventure, this time in search of a young treasure-seeker whose ambitions drove him to the bottom of a pit, never to return. In their struggle to understand what happened to him, the Coopers learn of a greedy, man-eating creature known as Ha-Raphah, who terrorizes the locals into worshiping him. Although they are certain he is extremely dangerous, Jay and Lila are determined to uncover the truth.

When an ancient Philistine tomb is discovered, the archeologists enter a vast system of chambers with deadly traps. This setting gives The Tombs of Anak a similar tone to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Along the way, Dr. Cooper, his team, and his children meet the Yahrim people, who worship the cruel god named Ha-Raphah. Dr. Cooper also meets Ben-Arab, a local man who knows more about the Yahrim people than he is willing to admit. As the group investigates, danger lurks around every corner, and much of the action occurs in the dead of the night when Ha-Raphah stalks his prey. 

Even in the face of danger, the Coopers rely on God and refuse to bow down and worship Ha-Raphah. The concept of only worshiping Jesus Christ is reinforced. The story also teaches the dangers of power and greed. Dr. Cooper explains, “Greed is a sin, and lust for power is a sin. . . We might start with just a little bit of greed or just a little bit of power, but that greed and that power just keep growing, and we keep wanting more and more, until finally we can’t control them anymore—they control us.” Even though The Tombs of Anak teaches biblical principles, the lessons are integrated into the story and never seem forced.

In The Tombs of Anak the mystery of the Yahrim, the interesting characters, and the heart-stopping chases will capture readers’ attention from the start and keep them flipping the pages until the very end. In the exciting conclusion, one man steps up to become the Yahrim’s leader and—unlike his predecessor—the man knows his people “need a God who is real, who is loving, who truly cares for them and does not use them for his own gain.” 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • One of Cooper’s men is lowered into a pit in an ancient tomb. He screams and then disappears. Later, they discover the man was killed.
  • While on a trail, the Coopers see a goatherder. “Before Jay and Lila knew what was happening, a tangled blur of skins, rags, hair, and flailing arms dropped on their father, knocking him to the ground . . . The little man swung the staff, and Dr. Cooper ducked it as it whistled over his head once, then twice. On the third try, he was able to grab it, give it a yank, and then trip the little man with a well-placed foot.” The man warns them that his god, Ha-Raphah, eats men “when he is angry.” 
  • While exploring the tomb, the Coopers and a local man named Ben-Arab are chased by the Yahrim holy men, who are dressed as animals and carrying spears. “The Wolf was near the door. He reached up with his spear and threw a lever on the wall. There was a grinding sound. . an immense slab of stone began to drop into the opening. The room would soon be sealed shut. . .” The group escapes the room but is chased. 
  • As the Coopers run from the strange men, they get lost in the tomb. They run into a room. “They had fallen right at the feet of the Hawk, the horned demon, and the Wolf. Hideous, living idols stood all around them, and the points of a dozen deadly spears were right under their noses. . . They were surrounded.” The Coopers are taken to the Yahrim’s leader, Mara the Sorceress. The chase scene is described over four pages.
  • After a brief discussion between Mara the Sorceress and Dr. Cooper, “Sudden terror filled the room like an explosion. With stony indifference and one deadly move, the Hawk grabbed Jay by his hair and held him in his chair with an iron grip. Just as quickly, the Wolf did the same to Lila. . . Then with a droning, metallic ring, the Hawk and the Wolf each drew out a glimmering, razor-sharp sword and brought the edge right up to each child’s throat.” After Dr. Cooper solves two riddles, the kids are set free.
  • While Dr. Cooper is talking to Mara the Sorceress, he “notices the faint nod of the woman’s head and the shadow of the Wolf falling across his chair. The Wolf’s powerful arm took hold of Dr. Cooper’s head as the beast’s sword came at his throat, but Dr. Cooper’s legs flipped up in a flash and clamped around the Wolf’s neck. . . The Wolf sailed over the chair.” No one is injured. 
  • As Lila is gathering firewood, she follows a cry and finds a lamb in a ravine. As she climbs up the ravine, Ben-Arab and Dr. Cooper “saw Lila far below, scrambling up the rocks, fleeing for her life. They could see a huge, black, hideous thing right behind her. . .” The Yahrim “surged like angry waves all around them. Dr. Cooper hurried up the trail, ducking spears and arrows as he carried Lila.” Ben-Arab “fired his rifle this direction, then that, in front, behind, spinning and looking about.” The Yahrim flee. No one is injured. 
  • After Lila saves the sacrificial lamb, Ha-Raphah punishes the shepherd. “Ben-Arab took a look inside the house, and his face immediately twisted with horror and disgust. Jeff [an archeologist working for Dr. Cooper], shocked, slumped against the wall, taking deep breaths to recover. . . Jeff shook his head in horror and amazement. ‘I’ve hunted grizzlies and Kodiaks and never seen any of them that can do this.’”
  • One night, while waiting for Ha-Raphah to appear, Mara the Sorceress is attacked. When Dr. Cooper finds her, she says, “Anak Ha-Raphah. . . He is silent, invisible. . . He carried me like the wind.” Mara the Sorceress dies, but her injuries are not described.
  • As Dr. Cooper and his men search for Ha-Raphah, the Yahrim attack. “Arrows ricocheted off the rocks and skipped end over end along the ground. From above came the angry war cries of the Yahrim archers. . . [Dr. Cooper] scrambled down the trail, crouching, dodging, dashing from cover to cover. . an arrow just nicked his sleeve. Jeff must have seen the archer—his rifle shot echoed and rumbled through the hills.”
  • In a multi-chapter conclusion, Ha-Raphah traps the kids in the underground tunnels of the tombs. Ha-Raphah chases them. “They rose from their hiding place and started quickly and silently down the tunnel in the dark. . . Lila went down hard, and her flashlight clattered across the floor. Jay groped in the dark, trying to find her. She was kicking, crying out, struggling.” Ha-Raphah tries to grab her, but Lila escapes.
  • Ha-Raphah corners Jay and Lila. Jay knocks Lila to the ground right before “the sword came down in a flashing arc. . . They dashed across the room as the sword rose high in the air, held by a menacing, unthinkably huge hand. . . They leaped aside just in time as the sword came down like a bolt from a thundercloud and sparks flew from the rocks.”
  • The Cooper kids trick Ha-Raphah into setting off one of his own traps, and then they climb up a narrow ledge, trying to reach a ventilation shaft. “The monster burst into the room like an angry bull, still wielding that huge sword, but his wound was still bleeding. . . The beast came at them with footsteps that shook the whole room.” The kids slide down the shaft and escape.
  • Ha-Raphah finds the kids in another room. Jay and Lila set off a trip lever that closes the door. “With a sudden roar of ropes and a grinding of stone, the huge slab dropped like an avalanche on the giant’s shoulder driving him to the floor and pinning him there as the big sword clattered out of his hand. . . Anak’s roaming hand found a large rock. . . Jay didn’t see the rock coming. It struck him in the right shoulder and he went tumbling like a tenpin, stunned and senseless, unable to see anything but a spinning blur. . .”
  • When Dr. Cooper finds Ha-Raphah and his kids, he throws a ruby at Ha-Raphah. The giant lunges for the precious stone and “Anak let out a horrible scream and dove headlong after the flying ruby, catching it in his outstretched hand. The pit was waiting for him. His huge body came down like a giant tree. . . .” Ha-Raphah “dropped into the chasm with a final roar of hate.” He is presumed dead.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • Dr. Cooper, his two kids, and the other members of his group are Christians. Throughout the book there are many references to God and the characters pray often. Since the book is Christian fiction, not all the references are mentioned below.
  • The Yahrim people worship Anak Ha-Raphah. Their leader, Mara the Sorceress, explains, “The tombs belong to Anak Ha-Raphah himself, and we are the Yahrim, who fear Anak as one fears death and who worship him in his tombs. He is our fearsome god.” 
  • Mara the Sorceress is a direct descendant of Anak and “his High Priestess, appointed by Ha-Raphah himself . . . As such, my power and rule over the Yahrim is limitless. Ha-Raphah says it is to be, and it is so.” According to Mara the Sorceress, no one is as mighty as Anak. “His spirit is everywhere. . . silent, cunning, more vicious than you can possibly imagine. He watches us all, but is never seen; he kills, and not a sound is heard. We always know where he has been, but never where he will be.”
  • The Coopers go into an ancient Philistine tomb where they unearth “an ancient temple of Dagon, the bizarre half-fish god of the Philistines” where they see “the eerie stone image of Dagon himself, staring down at them with a fiery expression.” 
  • When the Coopers learn about the locals’ belief in a God named Ha-Raphah, Dr. Cooper discusses the biblical story of Joshua. “The lord commanded Joshua to drive out all the ungodly inhabitants of the land. He didn’t want His people coming into contact with this kind of moral and spiritual pollution.” 
  • During the exploration of the tomb, the Coopers find a “ceremonial room. A place for pagan rituals.” On the walls were idols. “They were man-sized images of birds, beasts, pagan gods, and monsters, and every one of them was holding a very deadly-looking spear in their Ha-Raphah hands.”
  • The Yahrim holy men dress like idols. “Their costumes evidently portray different qualities of their god: fierceness, cunning, bravery, terror, those sort of things.”
  • When the Coopers are taken to the Yahrim’s leader, Mara the Sorceress, they refuse to bow to her. Dr. Cooper says, “We bow only before the one true God and His Son, Jesus Christ.” When Ha-Raphah threatens the kids with death if they do not worship him, the kids pray: “Lord Jesus, You’re the only God we’ll ever serve. Please help us out of this mess. Help us to think.” Afterward, the kids come up with an escape plan.

The Great Escape

Back for their third adventure, siblings Peter and Mary journey back in time to Egypt, where Moses fights for the Israelites’ freedom and plagues wreak havoc.

The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls Series follows siblings Peter and Mary and their dog, Hank, as they discover ancient scrolls that transport them back to key moments in biblical history.

In The Great Escape, Peter, Mary, and Hank journey to the pyramid-studded desert of ancient Egypt. When the trio becomes friends with the Pharaoh’s daughter, Princess Shephara, they witness first-hand as Moses petitions the Pharaoh for the Israelites’ freedom. Plagues wreak havoc as the group races to decode the scroll, gets chased by a panther, and battles the Pharaoh’s cunning advisor, the Great Magician.

Peter and Mary’s third adventure into the past is an exciting story because the Great Magician and his panther try to stop God’s plan. Through it all, the Pharaoh’s daughter stays by the siblings’ side, which gives Peter and Mary perspective into the Pharaoh’s reasoning. When the twins are in imminent danger, the angel Michael swoops in to help the kids. Even though the reason for the Pharaoh’s stubborn behavior is unclear, the ultimate message is clear: God is with us even in the midst of our troubles. 

Black and white illustrations will help young readers visualize the story and understand the plagues that affected the Pharaoh’s people. As each day ends, Peter uses a journal to document his activities; this helps readers keep track of the important events. Readers who want to learn more about Pharaoh and the plagues will find a list of related Bible chapters at the end of the book.

Readers who are interested in learning about the Bible will enjoy The Great Escape series. In each book, Satan appears as a different person which may confuse some readers. However, the angel Michael always appears to give the siblings help and guidance, and readers will look forward to the angel’s return. Link to time traveling book. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • The Pharaoh’s magicians turned their staffs into snakes. “Snakes slithered everywhere! . . . The snake rose up and was face-to-face with Princess Shephara. Its forked tongue flicked between sharp fangs. . . Mary spun and kicked the snake in the side of the head. It fell to the floor with a thud!”
  • The captain of the Pharaoh’s army takes Peter’s bag and begins looking through it. “Mary ran straight at the Captain, who was still bending over. She jumped in the air and did a spinning kick right to his backside. . . The Captain fell flat on his face. The sword and the royal dagger slid across the floor.” The kids escape.
  • Peter and Mary are trapped in a room with the Great Magician and his panther, Midnight. “Suddenly, a rushing wind blew through the room, extinguishing the candles. A ball of light flew into the room and slammed into Midnight. The panther slid across the floor. . . The ball of light transformed into Michael.” 
  • Moses explains how, according to God’s plan, “At midnight, all of the firstborn sons in Egypt will die. . .He pointed to a lamb lying dead on a small table. . .Moses picked up a small bowl filled with blood from the lamb.” He paints the door with the lamb’s blood which protects them.
  • The Great Magician tries to follow the Israelites through the Red Sea. When the man takes away Peter’s scroll, “Peter saw a glowing ball in the water. It grew bigger and burst through the wall of water. It flew into the chariot and knocked the wheels off. . . The ball of light became Michael.” Michael saves Mary from the panther and helps Peter get the scroll back. The scene is described over two pages.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • With the help of a scroll, Peter and Mary transport back in time. When the seal is broken, “the walls shook, the floor quaked, and books flew off the shelves. . . The library crumbled around them. Then everything was still, quiet, and hot—very hot.”
  • Moses told the Pharaoh, “The God of Israel said to let his people go.” The Pharaoh wanted to see a miracle so Moses’ brother, “Aaron threw his staff on the ground. It turned into a big slithery snake.” The Great Magician was also able to turn his staff into a snake.
  • When Aaron waves his staff, “frogs flooded out of the river. Thousands of frogs were hopping everywhere.” The Great Magician also waved his staff and “mumbled some mysterious words. . .Two tiny frogs hopped out of the fountain.”

Spiritual Content 

  • The Great Magician teaches Shephara that there are over a hundred gods. But Peter says, “I believe there is only one true God.”
  • The Great Magician believes the Israelites’ God is weak because he has allowed the Israelites to become slaves. Peter says, “God is strong. . . Maybe he is waiting for the right time.”
  • Peter and Mary realize that the Great Magician is Satan.
  • The Great Magician, Satan, mocks Peter and Mary, saying “Where is God? You’re all alone.” Peter is unafraid because he believes, “God is always with us.” 

The Dragon’s Blood

The dense, steamy rainforests of Northern Borne are some of the oldest and most magical in the world. Under the shade of the towering tree canopies majestic elephants and orangutans roam. However, Cruz Coronado is more focused on a tiny leech with a surprisingly painful, slow-healing bite. As the leech inches closer and closer, Cruz wonders if what he discovered at the top-secret Archive is true.   

In The Dragon’s Blood, the sixth installment in the Explorer Academy series, Cruz is still reeling from an explosive revelation. But with Emmett, Sailor, and Lani by his side, he is more determined than ever to track down the next-to-last piece of his mother’s cipher. Nebula is close on their heels, though, and the global hunt for the world-changing serum is riskier than ever. The daring explorers follow clues to an emperor’s tomb, and their studies take them to a rugged island in search of a mysterious animal once thought to be extinct. Just as Cruz feels hopeful about the survival of the species—and his own survival—a voice threatens to make sure his mission hits a dead end. 

The explorers travel to Borneo’s Kinabatangan River Basin in Malaysia where they learn about proboscis monkeys and other animals. Soon after, the explorers travel to the Tasmanian wilderness to place cameras that will capture pictures of the wildlife. However, the wildlife adventures end quickly and the story shifts to focus on Cruz’s search for his mother’s cipher. While Cruz’s travels are full of suspense and surprises, some readers may miss learning more about animals and conservation efforts. 

To find the next piece of the cipher, Cruz and his friends travel to China to search the terracotta soldiers. Similar to the other book, in The Dragon’s Blood the episode with the terracotta soldiers happens too quickly to give readers an in-depth view of China or the history behind the terracotta soldiers. While the travel creates suspense and moves the plot forward, the fast pace doesn’t allow readers to soak up all the places Cruz and his friends travel to. 

The Dragon’s Blood pushes the limit on what readers will find believable. Most of the ciphers have been hidden in elaborate ways that have remarkably remained unfound despite their proximity to heavily visited tourist locations. Some of the ciphers have many layers of protection. Because of this, the speed with which Cruz and his friends find the hidden ciphers does not ring true.  

The Dragon’s Blood begins to reveal some of the pivotal pieces of the plot in an effort to bring the series to an end. Through Cruz’s experiences, the reader will learn valuable lessons. For example, when one of the spies is revealed, readers get a close look at how “hate destroys the hater.” In addition, as Cruz and the other explorers travel the world, their instructors encourage them to face their fears and push their limits. This allows them to work as a team, create new technology, and face difficult. While the Explorer Academy Series is not perfect, it is entertaining and encourages readers to risk making mistakes in the quest to learn. 

Sexual Content 

  • Bryndis “planted a kiss” on Cruz’s cheek. 

Violence 

  • Someone tampered with a rotating room, making it spin uncontrollably while Dr. Fanchon and Cruz were inside. “Cruz tried to get up but couldn’t get his feet under him on the slick floor. Stumbling, he hit his knee on the cabinet and went down. Pain shot down his leg.”  
  • As the room continues to spin, Dr Fanchon falls. “Cruz heard a sharp crack a second before he saw her crumple to the floor next to the wall. . . Cruz knew if he let go of the drawer, like Fanchon, he would be flung into the wall with a force violent enough to break bones. . . Everything was a blur. His ears hurt. His stomach churned.” The scene is described over seven pages. No one is seriously injured. 
  • Two men corner Cruz and his friends in a pit where there are terracotta soldiers. One man threatens them with a laser. “There was a cry. A burst of laser fire. . . Next to Cruz, Scorpion’s partner was out cold. Sailor stood over him, the clay arm of a warrior clutched in her hand.” The kids are able to escape.  
  • While in the lab, Dr. Vanderwick grabs Cruz from behind. “‘Don’t move,’ a digitized voice said into his left ear as icy fingers clamped on to him. . . His back was still to her. Next to his shoulder appeared the end of a metal poker, its rounded tip glowing scarlet. . . Suddenly, a jawbreaker-size orb of flames shot out! Cruz ducked as the fireball whizzed past his ear.” 
  • Dr. Vanderwick tries to shoot Cruz with the laser. Luckily, the lab contained sensotivia gel, which reacts to people’s emotions. When Dr. Vanderwick becomes upset “like two bear paws, the sensotivia gel stretched toward her. . . wrapping its gooey claws around her neck, the sensotivia gel began to cover Dr. Vanderwick.” 
  • Despite being captured by the sensotivia gel, Dr. Vanderwick shoots at Cruz. “Suddenly, a ball of flames was soaring toward him. . . Cruz dropped to the floor, and the fiery orb hit the corner of the wall. In a matter of seconds, the blaze spread. The cabinets were on fire.” The scene is described over seven pages. 
  • Another faculty member, Nyomie, appears to help Cruz. Dr. Vanderwick tells them she planted a “liquid compound I’ve been working on. A few drops did the trick. Once the detonator triggers, it’ll blow a hole in the ship big enough to sink her.”  
  • Nyomie finds the helmet containing the explosive and throws it overboard. “The helmet exploded mere seconds before it would have splashed into the sea. . . [Cruz] felt a wave of heat as the shock rocked the ship.” The scene with Dr. Vanderwick takes place over several chapters. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • A scientist is working on creating an emotion potion. “A cream to improve your mood. Say you’re feeling a bit sad, you rub a little of it into your skin and it’ll help cheer you up. If you’re scared, it’ll give you a boost of confidence.” 
  • Cruz’s mother (and others) use animal toxins to create medicine. 

Language   

  • One of the bad men calls Cruz and his friends “dumb kids.” 
  • Darn is used once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Kitty and the Twilight Trouble

Girl by day. Cat by night. Ready for adventure! In the sixth book of this popular chapter book series, Kitty, a little girl with catlike superpowers, must teach a new friend what it takes to be a true superhero.  

Kitty is looking forward to visiting the carnival with her family and her cat crew. But her feline friend, Pixie, is too busy spending time with Hazel, a new superhero. When near disaster strikes at the carnival, Kitty uses her catlike superpowers to help. But Hazel thinks she can save the day without any assistance from Kitty. Can Kitty show Hazel what being a true superhero means, before someone gets hurt? 

Kitty returns in this fast-action story that focuses on friendship. In this new installment of the series, Kitty and her cat crew experience friendship trouble when Pixie meets a new friend, Hazel. Pixie starts spending all her time with Hazel and ignores everyone else. Even though Kitty and the cat crew are hurt, Kitty tries to be understanding and non-judgmental. When Figaro complains about Hazel, Kitty says, “She might be really nice once you get to know her.” Even though it’s difficult, Kitty doesn’t criticize Hazel.  

But when Kitty finally meets Hazel, Hazel is mean. Hazel tells Kitty, “Pixie is my sidekick now. She doesn’t need you anymore.” Kitty is upset and wonders why Pixie didn’t stick up for her. However, when Hazel and Pixie need help, Kitty doesn’t think twice; she jumps in to rescue the two cats. In the end, Kitty forgives both Hazel’s and Pixie’s bad behavior and even befriends Hazel. Kitty realizes that “being a superhero is more than being brave. It’s about being kind, too, and looking for the best in others—animals and humans.”  

Kitty and the Twilight Trouble has a fast-paced plot that will keep readers engaged until the very end. Each page has illustrations ranging from cat prints to detailed illustrations of Kitty and her activities. The illustrations are black and white with a pop of orange. The beautiful pictures will help readers visualize the story. Although most of the vocabulary is easy, younger readers may need help with some of the words such as harrumphing, clambered, dangerously, and slunk. 

Whether readers are new to the Kitty Series or have read them all, Kitty and the Twilight Trouble will captivate them. Newly independent readers will fall in love with Kitty because she is brave and kind; however, she is not perfect and learns from her mistakes. In the end, the story teaches that friends forgive each other. Both parents and children will love the Kitty Series because Kitty and her cat crew show the importance of being kind and having empathy for others. If you’re looking for another cute cat book that teaches about friendship, check out Pioneer Cat by William Hooks or The Catfish Club by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Hazel calls Kitty a “silly human.” 
  • A cat, Figaro, says, “That Hazel is a menace!” 

Supernatural 

  • Kitty has “catlike” superpowers that allow her to jump and somersault. “With her superpowered senses, she could see in the dark and hear sounds from miles away.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Stern Chase

The Herons are home in Skandia—preparing to celebrate two of their own and working on sea trials in the newly constructed Heron. But during a short excursion, they encounter an Iberian pirate ship raiding the coast of Sonderland, so Hal and his crew take action.

Though the Herons quickly triumph, the Iberians voice their fury at the Herons, vowing to take revenge. And soon they do—raiding the harbor and stealing or destroying as many ships as they can. Though there is little proof the Iberians are behind it, the Herons take their ship—the only one that survived the raid—and race after their enemy in hot pursuit. They will take down these pirates and get justice, no matter what.  

The Stern Chase lives up to its name since the majority of the story focuses on the Skandians chasing the pirate ship. At first, Hal and his crew, The Brotherband, are trying to discover what country the pirates come from. Then, they need to figure out which direction the pirates went. And then, they must find the pirate’s secret hiding spot. Unfortunately, the search lacks action and readers may quickly become bored with the chase. Another of the book’s flaws is that The Stern Chase follows the same format as all the other books in the series, which doesn’t allow any surprises to unfold.  

While the previous books in the Brotherband Chronicle are action-packed and interesting, The Stern Chase is stale. There is little interaction between the characters and none of the characters show any personal growth. The story begins with Invgar and Lydia’s engagement party, however, once the party is interrupted there are few scenes that feature the couple. The Skandian Oberjarl, Erik, also joins the expedition, but he only has a small role. Overall, none of the characters are given a chance to shine.    

One of the best aspects of the Brotherband Chronicles is the sense of comradery among the crew and the action-packed scenes. However, The Stern Chase is missing both of these elements, which will leave readers disappointed. If you’ve sailed through all the Brotherband books, you can find additional excitement and adventure by reading the Starcatchers Series by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson and Lintang and the Pirate Queen by Tamara Moss. 

Sexual Content 

  • When a member of the Brotherband, Thorn, is about to leave to search for pirates, he says goodbye to his girlfriend and kisses “her on the lips. It was a long kiss . . .” 

Violence 

  • Iberians attack a trading ship and the Brotherband jumps in to help. “Thorn charged into the rank of the Iberian crew. His massive club smashed into one man, hurling him to one side, then he swung back again and took another in the chest as the startled pirate turned to face him.” 
  • The battle continues and the ship’s captain “leapt forward, bringing his long-bladed sword down onto the helmet of the pirate captain who had faced him. . . The sword blade sank deep into his helmet, cleaving a deep cut in the metal. The pirate’s last conscious thought was that he had dropped his own sword and was now unarmed and at the mercy of his former prey.” It is implied that the pirate dies. The scene takes place over four pages. 
  • The Brotherband captures the remaining pirates, who are closest to the harbormaster. “The pirates, their hands bound behind them and secured in a line by a rope around their necks, were marched down the quay by the trader’s crew. . . Piracy was a capital crime, and they had been caught red handed.” 
  • Pirates sneak into the Skandia harbor and damage their ships. In the morning, the Skandia guards are discovered dead. One of the guards is, “lying on his back, staring unseeingly up at the sky. . .he had been stabbed.” 
  • The pirates anger a bear that attacks them. “One massive, claw-laden paw swiped at him before he could bring his sword forward. The huge claws opened four red weals across his face. . .” The bear struck the pirate who smashed “into the rock wall behind him. His limp body slid slowly to the ground. The pirates run from the bear, but “the terrible bear snapped and smashed at those nearest it, leaving a trail of broken bodies.” Six men “paid the ultimate price, their bodies hurled to the rocks on either side, or lying still where they fell.”  
  • A sailor describes a pirate attack. His men were outnumbered and were quickly killed and “their bodies thrown overboard.”  
  • The Brotherband meet the pirates on the open sea. The pirates began shooting arrows towards the Brotherband. “An arrow flashed down at Thorn, grazing his arm and leaving a bloody welt.” Thorn “hurled the grapnel overhand back toward the ship behind them. . . Thorn’s blind throw had been effective. A man tumbled off the bow of the big ship, falling into the sea and being driven under by her plunging forefoot.” During the short confrontation, men on both sides are injured. 
  • Several members of the Brotherband spy on the pirates. The Brotherband hears a small party of pirates approaching. Lydia, a member of the Brotherband, throws a dart, and a pirate “felt a jolting impact in his right shoulder. The force of it spun him half around and the impact jarred the sword from his grasp. He staggered. . . then his legs gave way and he sank to the ground, gasping as he felt the first waves of pain seizing his upper body.” The man dies. 
  • The Brotherband tricks the pirates into following them. The Brotherband’s ship, Heron, purposely runs into the other ship’s oars. “The air was filled with the splintering, cracking sound of the oars being smashed and shattered. Lethal splinters of white oak flew above the two ships. . .” Several of the pirates “fell, struck by sharp daggers of white oak. . . Within seconds, a good half of the rowing crew were injured or disabled, lying groaning or unconscious on the rowing benches. . .” 
  • One of the Brotherband sets off “the Mangler,” which throws a giant bolt ball at the pirates’ ship. “It smashed into the men crowded around the mast, cleaving a deadly path through them, throwing bodies left and right before it sailed clear over the side into the sea.”  
  • The Brotherband boards the ship. “Thorn led the way. . . His massive club-hand smashed out to left and right, shattering shields, breaking limbs and fracturing ribs among those who opposed him.” 
  • During the battle, the Skandian Oberjarl, Erik, was wounded “but he seemed impervious to them, ignoring the blood streaking his arms and legs, dealing out quick vengeance to any who struck him. The pile of fallen pirates grew around him as he shattered and smashed his way along the blood-streaked deck.” The bloody battle is described over 12 pages. The pirates started with a crew of forty. After the battle there are “fewer than a dozen left standing.”   

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The Skandians throw an engagement party. During the party, alcohol is put out “so that revelers could fill and refill their tankards as they pleased.” Many of the adults get drunk. 
  • The Brotherband finds a sinking ship that had been attacked by pirates. One of the wounded men is given a “painkilling draft.” 

Language 

  • Oh my Lord and Oh God are both used as an exclamation once. 
  • Gorlog’s beard and Gorlog bite him are both used as an exclamation once.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • The Brotherband gives a sailor from another ship a funeral. Hal wonders how to perform the ceremony because he “wasn’t familiar with whatever gods the Gallicans might pray too, and Skandians weren’t a particularly religious group, regarding their own gods with a kind of affectionate disdain.”  
  • The pirates hear a “low rumbling sound, full of threat and menace, and wonder if such an unearthly sound might come from a djinn or a demon.” A djinn is an intelligent spirit of lower rank than the angels, able to appear in both human and animal forms, that can also possess humans. 
  • When the pirates see a bear, “one of the men. . . let out a yelp of fear, calling on his gods to protect him.”  

Beyond the Kingdoms

Alex and Conner Bailey once lived the fairytale life most kids dream of. They spent the past few weeks in The Land of Stories – a world of kingdoms where fairy tales are true and their friends are famous storybook characters such as Little Red Riding Hood and Mother Goose. However, Alex and Conner aren’t living in a fairytale anymore. Following the death of the twins’ grandmother, the Fairy Godmother, The Land of Stories is threatened by the Masked Man, who is amassing an army to destroy the Land of Stories once and for all. 

The story picks up where A Grim Warning left off, with Alex and Conner hunting down the Masked Man. Alex is desperate to prove that the Masked Man is her late father after seeing him unmasked briefly, but no one believes her. Alex and Conner track him to a tavern where he uses a portal to escape. When the Masked Man vanished, Alex and Conner struggle to find their next clue. Meanwhile, Alex has had trouble with her new role as the Fairy Godmother, as her powers have become uncontrollable. Her unreliable powers lead her to lash out unexpectedly and almost cause harm to her friends. Because of this, the Fairy Council decides to remove her from the position of Fairy Godmother.

Upset, Alex runs away and meets with Mother Goose, who decides to help Alex prove The Masked Man is her father. They discover that The Fairy Godmother had two children, the twins’ father and Lloyd, who grew up despising magic and had ambitions to destroy the Land of Stories. Because of this, the Fairy Godmother killed Lloyd’s magic and had him imprisoned. However, Lloyd has recently obtained a potion and a collection of books from the human world. With these two items, he can travel to other fictional worlds, where he plans to recruit an army. 

With the new information, Alex regroups with Conner. They take their own potion and chase the Masked Man through fictional worlds such as The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, King Arthur, and Robin Hood. Teaming up with famous characters such as Arthur and the Tin Woodman, they make it back to the Fairy World too late – the Masked Man has already started launching attacks on the kingdoms, which sends the fictional world into chaos.

The Land of Stories Series is filled with twists and turns that will keep the reader guessing. While keeping track of the long list of characters is difficult, the series is entertaining because of the modern twists of a classic fairy tales. Conner is a funny and witty character who is dedicated to his sister and provides much-needed comic relief. Meanwhile, Alex is more serious, as she struggles with the responsibility of being the Fairy Godmother and managing her powers. She grows the most as a character, learning to take responsibility for her actions while also moving on. After loosing her position on the Fairy Council, she says, “My biggest fear was disappointing someone, and then after one moment of weakness, I ended up disappointing the entire fairy tale world. But rather than fighting the world that discarded me, I chose to continue saving it. So maybe greatness isn’t about being immortal, or glorious, or popular – it’s about choosing to fight for the greater good of the world, even if the world’s turned its back on you.” 

Though it seems like everyone is against her, Alex follows her heart and trusts that, in time, people will see her point of view. Many of the characters who have been villains in The Land of Stories Series refuse to forgive others and direct their anger back at the world, thinking that will make them happy. But Alex knows this won’t work. To be happy, one must be content with their own decisions. This is why – even when Alex is tempted to stay in one of the other fictional worlds she travels to – she instead returns to the Land of Stories, knowing she would regret not saving the fairy tale world. 

Overall, Alex and Conner stick to their morals and by each other, helping even when things seem grim. The twins and their allies protect the world they love in the face of great odds. The story ends on a cliffhanger as Conner proposes a way to beat the Masked Man. Conner wants to return to the real world to get his own stories, but we’re left wondering how Conner’s writing will help. Readers will have to tune in to the next installment, An Author’s Odyssey, to find out if Alex and Conner can save the Land of Stories before it’s too late. Readers who are ready to jump into another captivating series with lots of action and adventure should also read Keepers of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger.

Sexual Content 

  • Alex kisses Rook, her former boyfriend, on the cheek. 
  • Alex kisses Arthur. “[Alex] leaned over and kissed Arthur more passionately than she had ever kissed anyone. . . Arthur kissed Alex back. . . They lay under the stars and kissed each other” until morning. 
  • Maid Marion and Robin Hood “share a kiss” as Robin Hood sneaks into her bedroom. 
  • Mother Goose and Merlin fall in love. Merlin kisses Mother Goose’s cheek.  

Violence 

  • In the Hall of Dreams (see supernatural), the Fairy Godmother looks at her son’s dream and sees his desire to destroy the Land of Stories. “There was destruction everywhere she looked. Castles and palaces were crumbling to the ground and villages were on fire. The ground was covered in carcasses of every creature imaginable.”
  • The Masked Man slaps a soldier who makes him angry. “The Masked Man backhanded [the soldier] across the face.”
  • With her sword, Goldilocks cuts off a witch’s arm. “[The witch] crawled across the walls like a lizard and lunged for Goldilocks. [Goldilocks] swung her sword and sliced off the witch’s left arm.” The witch’s arm grows back. 
  • Jack is attacked by bugs. “Hundreds of insects crawled out of the witch’s tree-bark skin and attacked him, biting and stinging all over his body.” 
  • Alex uses her powers to choke one of the Masked Man’s soldiers. “The trees around the creek suddenly came to life. They grabbed every person at the creek except for Alex with their branches and held them tightly to their trunks. . . The branches wrapped around [the soldier’s] throat and choked him. . . He was gagging and could barely speak.” Alex lets him go. 
  • In a flashback, the Fairy Godmother kills her son’s magic so that he won’t take over the world. “The boy turned back around and saw his mother pointing her wand at him. POW! Ropes blasted out of the tip of her wand and wrapped her son around a tree. . . The Fairy Godmother pointed her wand at him again and hit her son with a bright blast of light. A few moments later, a sparkling silhouette his exact shape and size fell out of him. The Fairy Godmother waved her wand and chains wrapped around the silhouette. She dragged it into the river and held it under the water. The silhouette squirmed and convulsed as the Fairy Godmother drowned it, splashing water everywhere. . . Little by little, the silhouette faded in the water until it washed away completely.”
  • The Tin Woodman tells the story of how he was made. “The Wicked Witch of the East cast a spell on my axe, causing it to slip out of my hand and cut off my limbs one at a time, eventually severing my head and splitting open my body. A local tinsmith rebuilt me one appendage at a time until I was made entirely of tin.” 
  • Red discovers that the witch, Morina, has been kidnapping children and draining their youth and beauty to make potions that make other people seem younger. Eventually, these children die. 
  • Morina kills another witch. “Morina raised a hand towards [the witch] and she suddenly went as stiff as a board. Her stone skin cracked and chipped away until [the witch] crumbled into nothing but a pile of rocks on the ground.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Mother Goose carries a flask with alcohol or “bubbly” inside, that she occasionally drinks. 
  • While in Wonderland, the caterpillar from the story smokes a hookah. Mother Goose joins him and also smokes from the hookah briefly. 
  • Alex meets Merlin and Mother Goose when they are “three-quarters deep into a large bottle of ale.”

Language   

  • The Masked Man calls one of his soldiers an “idiot.” 
  • Goldilocks is pregnant. After crying, she says “damn these hormones!” 
  • Mother Goose calls the Fairy Council “uppity, colorful know-it-alls.” She later calls a woman a “loon.” 
  • Jack asks, “What the hell happened?” 
  • Red says that she’s going to kill the woman who stole her fiancé, Charlie. “I’m thinking about the day I get Charlie back, and get to slaughter Morina like the cow she is!” 
  • Mother Goose says the biggest “jerk” she’s had a fling with, was Charlemagne.

Supernatural 

  • In the Land of Stories, all fairy tales are real and magic is abundant, from witches casting spells to mythical creatures such as unicorns and mermaids. People use magic for everything, from teleportation to healing injuries.
  • A major aspect of this story is a potion that allows the user to open a portal into any fictional book of their choosing. The Fairy Godmother uses the potion to travel into Frankenstein. “As soon as the third drop [of the potion] made contact, the book illuminated like a gigantic spotlight . . [The Fairy Godmother] clutched her wand and stepped straight into the beam of light.” Other characters throughout the story will use the potion to travel into stories such as Robin Hood, The Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan. 
  • The Fairy Palace, where the Fairy Council lives, has a Hall of Dreams, where each person’s dreams are stored. “[The Fairy Godmother] pushed opened the double doors and stepped into the boundless space and watched the thousands of orbs floating around. Each orb represented someone’s dream.”

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Amulet Keepers

Strange things are happening in London. Red rain is flooding the streets. People are going missing. And someone is opening graves in Highgate Cemetery . . .
 
Only Alex and his best friend, Ren, suspect the truth. A Death Walker, a powerful ancient Egyptian evil, is behind the chaos. Their quest to stop him takes them from New York to London, and from the land of the living to the deep underground tombs of the long dead. Will they stop the Death Walker before he gets too powerful . . . or will the tombs claim them, too

The second installment of the TombQuest Series jumps into action right from the start. Even though the plot is similar to The Book of the Dead, Amulet Keepers ramps up the fear factor, especially since part of the mystery revolves around a missing boy. Amulet Keepers has more violence and may frighten younger readers, especially because the Death Walker steals people’s souls. In order to break up the tense scenes, Alex’s cousin Luke appears several times. Luke adds some humor to the story and his athletic abilities come in handy while fighting several thugs.

Many readers will empathize with Alex, who is desperate to find his missing mother. However, Alex’s short temper occasionally borders on the side of being thoughtless and mean. Nevertheless, Alex’s best friend Ren has Alex’s back, even when she becomes frustrated by his bossy attitude. Despite Alex’s behavior, readers will appreciate how all three characters — Alex, Ren, and Luke — have different strengths that help defeat the Death Walker. Amulet Keepers also introduces a mummified cat to the cast of characters, which adds an interesting twist. 

TombQuest is an exciting series full of action and adventure that will keep readers engaged but might frighten some readers. Readers wanting a fast-paced story where danger — and mummies — lurk around every corner will find Amulet Keepers entertaining. Readers who want an adventure that doesn’t involve the dead coming back to life will find Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger more to their liking.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • A man is walking in his neighborhood when a dead mummy attacks. The man screams, but “the neighbors stayed in their beds, pulling the sheets a little closer. And so none of them saw the powerful figure of one man drag the limp frame of another out of the light at the edge of the village. . .” 
  • While leaving the airport, Alex and Ren are ambushed by Liam, a thug that works for The Order. Alex’s “own heavy suitcase crashed into him. Liam swung the thing like a Ping-Pong paddle, clocking Alex hard on the shoulder and sending him sprawling to the pavement. . . Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Liam bring the suitcase down toward Ren, trying to swat her like a fly.” Ren is “knocked flat.”  Then, Liam puts a zip tie around Alex’s wrists.
  • Liam tries to put Ren and Alex into a van. “As he reached out for Alex, a shoulder slammed hard into Liam’s gut and a pair of arms wrapped up the tops of his thick legs. . . Liam’s mouth formed a perfect round O as he fell backward and his head slammed into the side of the van.” After Alex’s cousin, Luke, incapacitates Liam, the kids escape. The scene is described over three pages.
  • Liam follows the kids to a museum. To get into the parking lot, Liam has to take care of the security guard, Glenn. Liam “grabbed the back of Glenn’s head with one powerful hand as the other one shot up towards the guard’s neck. The gleaming metal point of a large hypodermic needle sank deep into the soft, pale flesh of Glenn’s neck. . . the guard fell still.” The guard was injected with horse tranquilizers and was “lucky to be alive.”
  • When a Death Walker comes after Ren and Alex, Alex grabs the scarab, and “a powerful phantom wind rose up. . . it was enough to slow [the Death Walker] and knock him off balance.” During the fight, Alex shoots a “spear of wind” at the Death Walker, but “the creature opened his mouth wide and ate it. The wind disappeared into a howling vacuum inside.” The creature tries to feed on Ren’s soul. Alex saw “a flicker and a blur as a mirror image of his best friend slowly began to pull away from her body. . .He looked down and saw the same thing happening to him.”
  • Alex uses his scarab’s magic when the Death Walker tries to feed on Alex and Ren. With his eyes, Alex breaks a tree branch. “The Walker looked up in surprise, pointing his open mouth at the falling branch. . . A moment later, the branch crashed down on his oversized frame, knocking the foul man-thing to the ground.” The kids are able to run away from the Walker. The scene is described over four pages.
  • Dr. Aditi, who was helping Alex and Ren, is in a cemetery when the Death Walker sees her. “Two strong hands clamped down on her shoulders. . . The powerful hands dug into her shoulders as he opened his mouth wide and showed her oblivion. The world went cold, and the last thing she saw as her eyes turned white and her lips edged past purple was her very self, slipping away.”
  • While in an isolated part of a museum, Liam corners Ren. “There was nowhere to go, no other exit, but she put the room’s one bench in between her and the towering thug.” Liam takes out a syringe of horse tranquilizer. “He stabbed out with the syringe. . . she screamed as the point of the needle raked across her left arm.”
  • Ren tries to run from Liam, but “he reeled her in like a wriggling trout as the drop of tranquilizer began to take effect and her vision began to blur.” Luke and Alex jump in to help Ren. Alex uses his amulet to push Liam’s lookout down the stairs. Then, Alex “squeezed his fingers into a sharp point and . . . a lance of concentrated air caught Liam directly under his chin, sending him reeling backwards.” Then, Luke “lowered his shoulder and crashed into the back of Liam’s legs, sending the big man toppling over him and onto the floor.” 
  • When Liam tries to take an unconscious Ren, Alex attacks the thug with wind. “As Liam rose onto one knee, his body jerked violently off the floor and spun toward the other two men. His big frame caught them at shoulder level and all three landed in a heap . . . grunting from pain and surprise.” All three kids escape without injury. The scene is described over six pages.
  • After failing to capture Alex and Ren, Liam is taken to the Death Walker. “Liam felt his body lift off the ground, his feet kicking out from underneath him. He could only flap his arms helplessly as he was slammed back down. The back of his head crashed into the hard-packed dirt and knocked him out cold.” Liam is mummified.
  • Alex and Ren are in a series of tunnels under a cemetery when “a massive force struck Alex so hard that he flew sideways into the wall . . . he left an Alex-shaped impression in it as he slumped down to the floor . . . Ren spun around to find the long iron snout of a crocodile mask turned toward her like the barrel of a gun. Her hands wrestled futilely with an unseen force clamping down hard on her throat, cutting off the blood flow.” The Death Walker’s servant, Te-mesah, ties up Alex and Ren.
  • To force Alex to talk, Te-mesah hurts Ren. “Ren gasped with pain and surprise as her bound hands were yanked over her head. . .Ren’s feet were a foot off the ground. . . Her face was a mask of pain and despair.” 
  • Pai, a mummified cat, comes to Ren’s aid. “Pai hissed again, gathered her haunches underneath her, and jumped. . . Te-mesah put his hands up, but it was too late. . . He stumbled backward and smacked into the wall, then . . .attempted to pry the hissing whirlwind from his head.” While Te-mesah is occupied, Ren and Alex escape. The scene is described over three pages.
  • While in the tunnels, Alex and Ren find Willoughby (a Death Walker). Willoughby had Robbie, “a young boy, tied to a stone slab in front of him. The boy turned his tear-streaked face toward them. He screamed for help, but a filthy rag tied over his mouth muffled the words.” 
  • A mummy begins to chase Robbie but he “executed a nifty soccer-field fake. . . the mummy barreled straight ahead, as mummies do. Alex grasped his amulet, raised his right hand, and released the most powerful lance of wind yet. . .The mummy toppled forward at full speed and wiped Willoughby out.” 
  • Willoughby focuses on Alex, deciding “who to kill first. . . [the Death Walker] punched his hand forward again, and Alex’s body convulsed hard on the floor. . .He reached up and wiped his mouth painting a red smear across the back of his hand.”
  • Robbie cuts off Willoughby’s hand. “The metal shears snapped shut, making a grotesque sound as they cut through muscle and old bone. Robbie squeezed with every muscle in his small body – and all the anger in there, too – leaning his chest and all his weight down on the handles. . . Willoughby’s hand dropped to the dirt floor with a dull thud.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • After using his magic, Alex’s head hurts so he “rifled through his stuff for his bottle of headache pills, took two too many, and collapsed onto his bed.” 

Language 

  • When Alex is being mean to Ren, she tells him, “Don’t be a jerk.”
  • Alex calls the Death Walker’s servant a scumbag.
  • Freaking and heck are both used once.

Supernatural

  • In England, it rains blood several times.
  • Alex has a scarab amulet that gives him special powers such as being able to sense the dead and control wind.  
  • Ren befriends the mummy of Bastet. “Part protector and part predator, the cat-headed goddess was both revered and feared in ancient Egypt.” 
  • The mummy of Bastet gives Ren an amulet in the shape of an ibis, “the symbol of Thoth, the god of wisdom and writing.” The amulet gives Ren visions, but she doesn’t understand what they mean.
  • Captain Winfred Willoughby was a tomb raider who was accused of murder. Upon his death Willoughby was mummified, and he comes back to the world of the living as a Death Walker.
  • An archeologist was mummified and brought back to life. “Everything about him was wrong, an abomination. . . The man’s skin was mottled and uneven; in some places it was stretched taut and dry, like a mummy’s, and in others, it hung loose, like a pale old man’s.” To stay alive, the mummy must feed on the souls of the living.
  • To send Willoughby back to the land of the dead, Alex uses his amulet to activate the Book of the Dead. Alex recites, “O thief! O usurper! Get back! Return, for you should know justice. . .” The spell does not work until Ren cuts off Willoughby’s hand, which was the ancient Egyptian’s punishment for stealing.

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Kat Wolfe Takes the Case

When a suspicious death coincides with the exciting discovery of the fossilized bones of a two-hundred-million-year old “dragon” dinosaur, Bluebell Bays’ one and only pet-sitting sleuth, Kat Wolfe, knows this is a case for her and her best friend, Harper Lamb, to dig into. But it’s going to take all of Kat’s focus, and she doesn’t have much to spare. 

For Kat is also fending off accusations that one of her pets is attacking local animals, dealing with a difficult and perhaps dangerous relative, and uncovering clues about a secret society. Can Kat and Harper juggle more than one high-stakes mystery and find a way to save Kat’s pet’s life before it’s too late?

In the second installment of the Wolfe and Lamb Mysteries, Kat’s curiosity and pet-sitting lead her into danger as she tries to solve several mysteries at once. When a famous Hollywood couple comes into town, Kat is soon entrusted to care for both their horse and their temperamental Pomeranian. Even though the couple claim to be in Bluebell Bay for rest and relaxation, their suspicious behavior leaves Kat wondering what the Hollywood duo is up to. Kat’s enthusiasm for solving mysteries is balanced with fun interactions with animals, her friend Harper, and the people from Bluebell Bay.

The discovery of the “dragon” dinosaur adds a unique twist and gives the reader insight into the use of endangered animals in medicine. From the first chapter, readers know that someone with a terminal illness is willing to kill in order to receive a traditional Chinese medicine that uses dragon teeth. While Harper helps her father excavate the “dragon” dinosaur bones, she is able to learn inside information that adds suspense.

Both Kat’s investigative skills and her pet sitting skills lead her into many difficult and sometimes humorous situations. While the first book in the series focused on many of Bluebell Bay’s residents, the second book focuses more on Kat and her relationship with her grandfather, the Dark Lord, who has many secrets. Readers will enjoy the evolving relationship between the two and will wonder what dangerous mission the Dark Lord is caught up in. This storyline also highlights the importance of not making character judgments based on a person’s physical appearance. 

Kat Wolfe Takes the Case has many positive aspects including a wide range of interesting characters, surprising twists, and a unique mystery. The fun animal encounters are an added bonus. However, for maximum enjoyment, the Wolfe and Lamb Mysteries Series should be read in order. Since the story revolves around dinosaur fossils, it may also spark the reader’s interest in another fossil hunter Barnum Brown or in the Ancient Animals Series by Sarah L. Thomson.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • A man with a tire iron breaks into Dr. Liu’s office. The man demands a medicine that contains dragon’s teeth. When Dr. Lui says he does not have any, the man uses a tire iron to destroy “a tray of glass jars, sending splinters flying.” If Dr. Liu doesn’t comply, his son will be killed.
  • When Kat brings an injured dog, Pax, into her bedroom, Kat’s Savannah cat is displeased. “After a nightmarish chase and wrestling match, he’d flown out the high window, leaving Kat and Pax bleeding and enough fur on the floor to stuff a mattress.”
  • When Kat is looking for Tiny, a Savannah cat, she goes into a barn and finds a “man was aiming a high-powered rifle at her. There was a silencer on it. . . he fired. The bullet passed so close to Kat’s cheek that she felt it scorch by like a mini comet.” The man fired a tranquilizer into a lynx so the animal could be relocated safely.
  • When a Pomeranian’s owner threatened Kat, the dog “flew at her mistress and bit her ankle.” The woman has a bloody ankle but is otherwise okay. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Kat sees a college student at a restaurant eating lobster and drinking champagne. 
  • Dragon’s teeth are used in traditional Chinese medicine, because some believe dragon’s bones and teeth “can be used as a sedative to treat insomnia, depression, fever, and liver disease, among other things.”

Language 

  • Damn and darn are both used once.
  • Kat says Ohmigod once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • When Kat’s Savannah cat takes off into the night, Kat goes to look for her. Kat cannot find her, but “she’d prayed that Tiny would be curled up in the crook of her legs when she awoke.” 

Unleashed

One month after the events of Jinxed, Lacey wakes up in a hospital room with no memory of how she got there. With Jinx missing and MONCHA, the company behind the pet robot, threatening her family, Lacey doesn’t know who to turn to for answers.

After Lacey gets expelled and her mother acts strangely from the latest update from MONCHA, Lacey and her friends must get to the bottom of a sinister plot at the heart of the company, one that would ruin the interactions between bakus (pet robots) and their owners. Lacey must use all her skills to stop the corporation from carrying out their plan. But how can she take on the biggest tech company in North America with just a level one baku? 

Without the resources from her school, Lacey relies on her ingenuity and smarts to modify her baku. However, she hadn’t prepared for the company to remove public access to any information about the customization of bakus. Lacey soon learns that MONCHA, now headed by a temporary CEO, wants absolute control over the look and function of all their products, including the beloved pet robots. 

Departing from the action-packed baku battles of the previous book, Unleashed delves into Lacey’s world, which is fascinating and distinctive. Everyone relies on their baku, and each baku can make its owner happy. From copying hairstyles of famous celebrities to competing in races alongside similarly modeled species, bakus give a positive spin on day-to-day life. Yet, Jinx is different than the other bakus. He can feel and perceive things, which allows him and Lacey to converse. Jinx’s standoffish behavior adds tension to their relationship while furthering the suspense. 

Unleashed builds upon the action of the previous novel. In place of the well-known baku battles of the previous book, Lacey’s encounters with MONCHA will keep the reader engaged. Though a few characters are predictable—the incompetent adults; the spoiled rich boy; the corrupt CEO of a tech company—the story never feels stale. On top of that, Lacey’s story gives the reader a realistic look into a world in which everyone is on a device 24/7. The story has a satisfying end, answering any lingering questions the previous book left unresolved. 

Through Lacey’s experiences, readers learn an important lesson about following your dreams. You don’t have to go on a predetermined, well-trodden path to achieve your goals. The message in Unleashed is clear: going a different way doesn’t mean you will fail to reach your destination. If you’d like to go on another adventure with a mechanical animal and an unlikely hero, check out Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye.

Sexual Content 

  • Lacey blushes when Tobias, her crush, touches the back of her arm. 

Violence 

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • While hospitalized, Lacey receives some medication.  

Language   

  • One of Lacey’s classmates texts “OMG” on a group school messaging board.
  • Lacey says “Oh my god” twice.
  • Jinx exclaims “Holy bakus.”
  • One of Lacey’s friends calls Tobias’s brother a jerk

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Race to the Ark

In their second time-traveling adventure, siblings Peter and Mary get sent back to the time of Noah just days before the flood comes. The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls Series follows siblings Peter and Mary and their dog, Hank, as they discover ancient scrolls that transport them back to key moments in biblical history.

In Race to the Ark, Peter, Mary, and their faithful dog Hank travel back to the time of Noah. With only seven days to solve the riddle of the scroll and escape the impending flood, Peter, Mary, and Hank must race to help Noah and his family finish the ark. Along their journey, Peter and Mary evade a group of young ruffians and ultimately come face to face with the Dark Ruler, an evil man who reminds them of a snake they met in the Garden of Eden. Enthralling action and compelling illustrations will have children glued to the pages of this rambunctious Bible-based story.

In Race to the Ark, Peter and Mary see some of the evil that caused the great flood. Instead of trusting in God, people believed it was okay to do whatever they wanted, including steal. The siblings run into a gang of kids that want to steal all their belongings, including their dog Hank. This adds action and suspense to the story. Through their experiences, the twins learn that God will protect them in every situation. When the rain begins to fall, Peter and Mary have an opportunity to find safety on the ark; however, instead of taking this route, the twins trust that God will save them. Through all their hardships, their trust in God never falters.

The book has several aspects that will help readers understand the story’s plot. First of all, in order to help young readers visualize the story’s events, the book includes black and white illustrations that appear every one to three pages. As each day ends, Peter uses a journal to document his activities; this helps readers keep track of important events. Readers who want to learn more about Noah and the flood will find a list of related Bible chapters at the end of the book.

As Peter and Mary learn about Noah’s time period, they must solve the secret of the scroll by translating six Hebrew words. However, the kids do not actively try to solve the secret. During their normal conversation, the kids say one of the missing words from the scroll, and then “the bag glowed. Peter unzipped it and unrolled the scroll. The fourth word glowed and transformed into WILL.” The passage the kids translate helps reinforce the theme, but the kids spend little time actively trying to translate the Hebrew words.

Race to the Ark takes the biblical story of Noah and presents it to young children in a way that is both engaging and easy to understand. The story uses humor to show the difficulties Noah’s family faced while trying to build the ark. The Secret of the Hidden Scrolls Series uses a kid-friendly format that is easy to read to make the Bible’s stories come alive. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Peter almost reveals that he is from the future. “Mary kicked Peter before he could finish saying ‘future.’ Peter rubbed his shin. Mary’s karate lessons were really working.”
  • Durfus and his friends try to steal the twins’ belongings and their dog, Hank. In order to escape, Mary “ran straight at Darfus. She jumped in the air and aimed a spinning kick at his belly. Darfus fell back and rolled across the dusty ground.” Mary and Peter run into the forest and hide from the bullies.
  • When Peter and Mary go into town to buy a hinge, they run into Darfus and his friends. When the twins try to run, “Darfus pulled a net from behind his back and threw it over Hank. . . He yanked a rope from his waist and whipped it around Peter and Mary. . . Peter twisted and turned, but there was no escape.” Darfus takes the kids to the “Dark Ruler.”
  • After talking to the Dark Ruler, Peter, Mary, and Hank are taken to the dungeon. “Darfus pushed them into a damp and smelly jail cell and slammed the gate shut.”
  • The Dark Ruler tries to convince Peter and Mary to join him. When the Dark Ruler threatens to “destroy” the twins, a “lion crashed through the trees and stood face to face with the Dark Ruler. . . The Dark Ruler dropped the scroll and swung his staff at the lion. It sent the lion rolling. . .”
  • The angel Michael defends the kids. “A bolt of lightning sliced through the sky. It hit the Dark Ruler and knocked him back into the woods. . . Michael spread his mighty wings and flew straight at the Dark Ruler. The lion leapt and joined Michael. Sparks flew from Michael’s sword. Branches snapped under the lion’s powerful claws.” As the fight ends, the twins run back to the ark.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • The Dark Ruler calls Noah crazy and an old fool.

Supernatural

  • Peter and Mary are transported back to Noah’s time with the help of a scroll. When Peter opens the scroll’s wax seal, “the walls shook, books fell off the shelves, and the floor quaked. . . The library began to crumble around them and disappeared. Then everything was still and quiet.”
  • The angel Michael tells the kids, “You have to solve the secret of the scroll in seven days or you will be stuck here.” The scroll has six Hebrew words that the siblings must translate.
  • The angel Michael appears as a bolt of lightning and then changes into his angel form. 

Spiritual Content 

  • The story often reminds readers that “God will help us.” For example, when Noah talks about building the ark, he says, “There were times I wondered if I was crazy. I had to learn to always trust God.”
  • When the kids are being chased by bullies, the angel Michael helps by slamming the gate shut. Michael says God helped by sending the wind that caused a dust storm and hid the twins. Michael says, “Remember, God is always with you.”
  • Peter and Mary meet Noah and his family. The siblings also help get ready for the flood. When asked if they are ready for the flood, Noah says, “I don’t know if we’re ready. But God is.”
  • Noah explains why God is sending a flood. “The earth is full of violence, sickness, hate, and greed. It is not what God created it to be. . . The world has gotten so bad that God is sending a flood to wash it clean. To start over.”
  • It took Noah and his family 100 years to build the ark. Noah knew how big to make it because “God told me. He said to build it 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits tall.” 
  • The Dark Ruler says, “There is NO GOD! He is dead.” Then “a bolt of lightning cracked through the sky.” Despite the Dark Ruler’s words, Peter believes “God is alive. He’s going to rescue the animals and Noah’s family.”
  • After the flood, “God made a rainbow in the sky as a promise to never destroy the earth with a flood again.”

Escape from the Island of Aquarius

A rescue mission leads Jay and Lila Cooper to a doomed South Sea island where nothing is as they expected. Instead of a primitive civilization, the Coopers encounter a busy colony with a mysterious leader claiming to be Adam MacKenzie, a missionary once presumed dead. To add to the confusion, someone seems to have pushed the island’s self-destruct button. Earthquakes and erosion are tearing the island apart and every moment is precious in the Coopers’ search for the truth.

The second installment of The Cooper Kids Adventure Series explores the dangers of trusting a false prophet, which gives the story an ominous tone. The Coopers meet Kelno, who is pretending to be Adam MacKenzie. When the Coopers try to leave the island, Kelno orders his men to kill all three of them. Lila watches Dr. Cooper and Jay fall into a deep ravine and she assumes they are dead. Likewise, Lila is thrown into a sacrificial pit as an offering to the Serpent God and her family believes she has died. As a result, Dr. Cooper and Lila both grapple with grief over a loved one’s death. Lila has the added stress of being in a situation where she thinks death is imminent. This causes the Coopers to question God. In the end, they realize that they “belong to Jesus. . . Our lives are His to preserve or to take.” 

One creepy aspect of Escape from the Island of Aquarius is the village leader, Kelno. He uses deception to control the villagers and is willing to kill anyone who goes against him. At first, Kelno pretends to be a follower of Christ, but in reality, he believes Jesus “is only a deception. . . There is no savior except yourself. . . You are all the God you need.” Kelno thinks he is a god and that he has “divine control over the forces” of the island. Even when Kelno faces the Serpent God he worships and death is at Kelno’s door, he still refuses to believe he isn’t in control.

Escape from the Island of Aquarius is an adventure with danger and surprises at every turn. The story has a lot of action packed into 157 pages which doesn’t allow the Coopers to be well-developed. However, unlike the first book in the series, Lila takes a more prominent role in Escape from the Island of Aquarius. As Lila faces death, she stays courageous. While she does not want to die, she finds peace in the fact that in death she will be reunited with her father and brother, who she presumes are dead. While readers will not necessarily relate to Lila’s conflict, her bravery and trust in God are inspiring.

Even though Escape from the Island of Aquarius is an engaging story that teaches biblical principles, the focus on being deceived by a false prophet may disturb some readers, especially because Kelno is willing to sacrifice Lila to the Serpent God. To control the villagers, Kelno encourages them to believe in a deadly, ancient curse. This allows Kelno to murder anyone who goes against his teachings. Although the Coopers discover the real reason behind the supernatural deaths, Kelno’s ruthlessness is frightening. 

If you’re looking for a series that teaches the importance of trusting God without delving into the deadly world of a false prophet, pick up Wild Thing by Dandi Daley MacKall.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • A ship finds a dead man floating on a raft. When the captain finds the man, he says the man was killed by “a curse. . . or a spirit. . . something dark, and although unkind.”
  • A strange man, Dulaney, comes out of the jungle and tries to ask Dr. Cooper for help but is stopped. “Dr. Cooper moved in to help, but suddenly a huge man burst out of the jungle like an angry elephant, holding the thrashing, wriggling Dulaney around the waist and carrying him into the clearing.” 
  • Kelno’s men brought Dulaney into the village and “they aimed their guns at Dulaney and surrounded the screaming man.” Dulaney screams that the island is doomed and then “the guards carried the struggling, screaming Dulaney away.”
  • While in the forest at night, Lila hears a scream and then “something had her by the legs! She grappled, kicked, clawed at the branches and roots. She cried out, but her scream was swallowed up. . . Something heavy had her, pulling her, clamping onto her body. . .” Later, Lila finds out Dulaney was trying to grab her. Eventually, Dulaney dies of “the curse.” The scene is described over three pages. 
  • The Coopers find a “sacrificial pit” that is “littered with dry, sun-bleached bones,” including human bones. Later, the Coopers discover that the villagers sometimes give “human sacrifice to pagan gods, just like the heathen nations in the Old Testament.”
  • When the Coopers try to investigate the strange happenings on the island, guards appear “brandishing their weapons.” The guards put the Coopers in a hut under guard.
  • While in the hut, Dr. Cooper screams. When a guard opens the door, “a knee came up in the guard’s face, and then BONG! A large metal pot struck the guard’s head. The big man sunk to the floor.”
  • The Coopers try to escape from the island. While crossing a rickety bridge, Dr. Cooper sees Lila “being held by a huge thug, and even though she was struggling, he kept his big arms clamped around her.”
  • Before Dr. Cooper and Jay get across, the villagers cut the bridge’s ropes. The bridge “dropped like a broken, writhing necklace into the chasm. Jay was gone. Dr. Cooper was gone.” 
  • Some of the villagers prepare Lila to be sacrificed to Kudoc, “the Lord of All Nature, the Serpent God of the Underworld.” Then, “two big guards whipped some ropes around her, binding her legs and arms close to her body, and then, as a cheer went up from the natives. . .Lila was lowered by a rope into the Pit.”
  • After Lila is thrown into the sacrificial pit, a huge snake appears. “The head itself was as big as a huge alligator’s head, supported on a long, leathery neck the size of a tree trunk. A slimy tongue whipped about in the air, and hot, steamy breath chugged out of the nostrils.” When the snake lunges at Lila, she grabs a piece of bone. Lila “held the bone up. The snake jammed the round end of the bone against the wall and the jagged end into his snout. A hiss of pain exploded from that deep, cotton-white mouth.” One of the natives suddenly appears and helps Lila get out of the Pit. The scene is described over two pages.
  • When Dr. Cooper believes Lila is dead, he goes to confront Kelno. “Dr. Cooper shot across the village square and bounded up the cottage steps before either sentry could even realize what was happening. One thug managed to grab his rifle, but a powerful hand rammed into him and flung his whole body against the wall.” Dr. Cooper goes into the house and grabs Kelno. “An iron fist clamped onto Kelno’s collar so he could not move, and then there was an ominous click. Stuart Kelno was looking down the barrel of a cocked 357 Magnum, and right behind that barrel were the cold blue eyes of a very deadly, very angry, very unkillable enemy.” 
  • When the island begins to break apart, Dr. Cooper leads some of the villagers to safety. Along the way, Kelno and his men begin shooting at the fleeing villagers. “Kelno’s ever-loyal henchmen were still firing at them. The helpless passengers could only huddle in the bottom of the boat and pray that the bullets would miss.” No one is injured. However, several of Kelno’s men fall to their death.
  • Kelno tries to flee the island and ends up in the Pit with the “Great Serpent.” Kelno says, “I have revered you! I have led your people in worship and sacrificed to you. . . You cannot eat me!” When Kelno tries to climb out of the pit, “the Serpent made one quick, lightning-fast lunge and grabbed him by the heel. . . The Serpent threw its head back, and the big throat opened. Stuart Kelno was gone in a gulp.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None

Supernatural

  • On Aquarius, the leader warns his people about a curse that kills. He says the island’s “magic” can kill. “At any rate, we still encounter these forces from time to time, and one such manifestation is a terrible madness, an inescapable curse that sometimes besets people here. The native word is Mon-Kunda; it means the Madness Before Death. It has no known cause, no known cure, and is always fatal.”
  • Kelno tells Dr. Cooper about the supernatural “forces” and “ancient traditions” of the island. Dr. Cooper says, “But surely a man of God like yourself would know there are only two sources of such things: supernatural occurrences are either from God or from Satan.”
  • Kelno has his men wear red scarves to protect themselves from “the curse.” Dr. Cooper says the scarves are “part of his game. The scarves—‘protectors’. . . [are] like amulets, or trinkets, or good luck charms. It’s witchcraft, pure and simple.” 
  • The Coopers witness some of the villagers firewalking. Dr. Cooper explains, “People under demonic power, walking on incredibly hot stones without being burned, and they think they’ll find salvation in that!”

Spiritual Content 

  • Dr. Cooper and his two kids are Christians. Throughout the book there are many references to God and the characters pray. Since the book is Christian fiction, not all references are mentioned below.
  • Dr. Cooper and his kids often pray. For example, while crossing a perilous bridge, Lila prays, “Lord, please don’t let me fall.” 
  • When Lila believes her family has died, she prays, “Dear Lord, why? How could You let this happen? After all the faith we put in You, after we’ve trusted You and seen You protect us for so long, why? Why now?” 
  • Dr. Cooper and his kids look for a missing missionary. Dr. Cooper says, “Missionaries are a special breed. When God calls them, they go, no matter where. Somebody has to spread the gospel to the loneliest place in the world.”
  • When Kelno talks about “the curse,” Dr. Cooper asks, “Have you forgotten about the power of the cross? Have you forgotten the Lordship of Jesus Christ over any tricks of Satan? You don’t need to bow to this!”
  • When Lila believes she is going to die, she prays, “Jesus, I’m ready to be with You. It will all be for the better anyway; I’ll be with Dad and Jay, and that’s what I want most of all. Just. . .please, don’t let it hurt too much.”
  • Dr. Cooper thinks about killing Kelno, but when he confronts the villain, he can’t. Dr. Cooper says, “I gave both my children to the Lord the day they were born. Even my own life doesn’t belong to me. The Coopers belong to Jesus. . . Our lives are His to preserve or to take.”
  • Kelno tells his followers that Jesus “is only a deception. . . There is no savior except yourself. . . You are all the God you need.”

The Taken

Isla and her family are foxes who have always lived in the Graylands, not too far from the furless. She and her brother, Pirie, being young cubs, are slowly learning to survive the many dangers that face them. Suddenly, Isla returns to her family’s home to discover the smell of fire and strange newcomers – and no trace of her family.

Alone and afraid, Isla plunges deep into the world of the furless to search for her family. While dodging danger at every turn, she meets Siffrin, another fox who knows magic and can shapeshift. More importantly, Siffrin is also looking for her brother, but Siffrin won’t explain why. Shrouded in mystery, Isla begins to learn about the world beyond that of the Graylands and seeks to find her brother before the foxes who caused the disappearance find him.

The Taken is the first in the Foxcraft Series and it is an action-packed start to the series. As this is a fantasy world with foxes and other supernatural forces, there are plenty of new terms for readers to take in while reading. For instance, the characters refer to humans as “the furless” and roads as “the deathway.” Fortunately, if readers are confused, there is a glossary of terms at the back and a map of the near the front of the book.

Isla, much like the reader, does not know anything about foxcraft or foxlore, much to Siffrin’s chagrin. The Taken sets up what will follow in the coming books, continuing the mysterious disappearance of Isla’s brother, Pirie. Importantly, it introduces the reader to Isla, whose self-confidence and compassion for others grow as the book progresses. Despite not knowing if her family is alive, she will do anything to get them back and she learns to confront foxes and any other creatures who get in her way. 

Isla, Siffrin, and Pirie are hunted by a dark magical force living in the aptly-named Darklands that can seemingly control foxes that it captures. Iserles is one of the authors from the Warriors Series, and there are similar amounts of fighting in both series. Fans of the Warriors Series will not find the violence upsetting, but some young readers may be upset by the descriptions. For instance, there is a scene in which Isla describes death in gruesome detail, saying, “From where we were perched, I couldn’t see the impact, and the rain distorted the cracking limbs. I was spared the mangle of her broken body.” However, those familiar with other Erin Hunter Series will feel at home in this world and will enjoy the high-octane plot. 

Foxcraft: The Taken is a solid start to this exciting series, which leaves plenty of unanswered questions to stir readers’ excitement for the second book, The Elders. Despite many new terms, it’s relatively easy to fall into the world and understand the various plot points. Isla’s resilience and love for her family drive this book and nicely sets up the character that will lead the rest of this series. Those ready for a fun adventure should absolutely read the Foxcraft Series

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • The dangers of cars and roads are always present. Isla’s grandmother says, “The death river claims more foxes than all other assassins.”
  • A dog attacks Isla, but at the last second, she manages to free herself from the trap she’s in. Isla “flailed and bucked, desperate to free my trapped foreleg. The creature’s great jaws gaped above me; I felt the dampness of his breath.”
  • Some human children throw rocks at Isla. “One of them grabbed a rock and flung it at me. It struck the stone ground by my hind paw, and I sprang back in confusion.”
  • A guard dog announces that she “killed a cat the other night.” 
  • Ilsa’s grandmother, Greatma, tells how foxes have historically been treated, especially by humans. She says, “Our kind has been hunted, tortured, attacked, and turned into pelts to warm the necks of the furless. They have shot us for fun and chased us as a game –  they do not even eat those they kill. By the death river or their casual cruelty; by gas, or dogs, or simple starvation. The land of the furless is full of deaths and each one whispers a fox’s name.”
  • Isla attacks Siffrin, a messenger of the Elders, because he’s been following her. She “bit him hard on his wiry tail. The dog yelped in surprise.”
  • Siffrin shapeshifts to fight the foxes that are hunting him and Isla. Isla “heard the scrape of their claws as they scrambled on stone, and I craned to see what was going on. With a snarl, Siffrin broke free, this time in the form of the mongrel dog. He vaulted into the air, at least at full brush-length, slamming down on the fox that was snapping at his paws. He sent her tumbling onto the deathway.” This fight scene lasts for several pages.
  • Isla learns how to catch a mouse. Isla pounces on it, and “with a bite and a jerk of [her] head, it was dead.”
  • A fot named Karka orders her cronies to capture Isla and Siffrin. Karka says, “Get them or I’ll tear out your filthy throats!”
  • One of Karka’s minions (known as The Taken) jumps across the buildings to chase Isla and Siffrin, but misses the building and lands on the street below. Isla describes, “From where we were perched, I couldn’t see the impact, and the rain distorted the cracking limbs. I was spared the mangle of her broken body.” The description lasts for a paragraph.
  • Siffrin reveals that he watched Karka kill Isla’s family. “When [Siffrin] arrived, it was almost over. Your ma and fa, they were already dead…Your greatma was courageous. She fought hard. [She] was already falling, was already wounded.” The description lasts for around a page and doesn’t describe the specifics of their deaths.
  • Animal control captures Isla and she is scheduled to be euthanized. She talks with another captured fox as they watch an animal be taken to another room by humans. The other fox says, “Another one taken to be killed.” This scene lasts for a chapter.
  • The wolf that Isla freed saves her life by attacking Karka and the Taken. “The great wolf opened his jaws. Karka stayed frozen, held in his thrall. He sprang upon her and threw her down, fastening his deadly fangs around her neck. With a brutal snap he shook her and then dropped her, letting her head roll on the graystone. She stared at him with her single gray eye. Would stare like that forever.” This scene lasts for a couple pages.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • Isla has a confrontation with a wolf. Isla tells the wolf that she eats rats, and the wolf says to Isla, “A thing that eats rats has no right to exist!” He also calls her a “rat-munching coward.”
  • Light language is used often. Terms include: idiot and stupid.

Supernatural

  • The book details the story of Isla and Pirie, who are foxes who think and talk like humans, as do some other animals in the book. Isla meets a wolf who speaks the same language as her, and she’s surprised. Isla says, “He must have been a cub of Canista –  a creature like me – though I could hardly imagine how we might be related.” Canista is the name for the Fox deity from which they come from.
  • Isla has a vision of her brother being captured, being led into the world of the humans. Isla describes her vision, saying, “I was moving with difficulty, my flank throbbing with pain. Up ahead there was a row of tall furless dens. In the front of them was a huge stone yard with a lone furless standing at the center. Her skin was cool gray, her eyes stared blindly, and great wings unfolded from her back. I gazed at her in fear and wonder.” Siffrin explains that this is a rare kind of foxcraft called “gerra-sharm” that can happen between cubs of the same litter.
  • Isla meets a small dog who “cast no shadow.” As Isla learns, he is a “messenger of Jana, one of the Elder Foxes from the Wildlands.” When Isla asks why he is a dog, he says, “I am in wa’akkir. I have assumed a disguise.” It is explained later that wa’akkir is an ancient fox magic called foxcraft.
  • Siffrin, the magic fox messenger, explains foxlore to Isla. He explains how foxes, wolves, and dogs are “cubs of Canista” and that, “Only Fox had the courage to live without rules, without the hierarchies of others – to hunt and survive in freedom and peace. For while Wolf and Dog are so brutalized that they will gladly kill their own kind, Fox avoids conflict at all costs. She does not yearn to control others –  only to live by her own wits.” The history lesson lasts for several pages, as he explains the magical powers they possess, like imitating other animals (“karak”) and invisibility (“slimmering”). These magic powers are used by Siffrin throughout the book, and he teaches Isla to use them as well.
  • Siffrin uses his powers to heal Isla. Siffrin says, “With my touch, I sense you; with my eyes, I heal you. By Canista’s Lights, I share what I have; we are knit together and you are whole.” During this, Isla has a vision of Siffrin as a cub where he was “desperate and starving.” The scene lasts for a page.

Spiritual Content 

  • Siffrin heals Isla using his Maa. He describes to Isla that the Maa is the “essence of every fox,” or the spirit.

Book of the Dead

Nothing can save Alex Sennefer’s life. That’s what all the doctors say, but his mother knows it’s not true. She knows that the Lost Spells of the Egyptian Book of the Dead can crack open a door to the afterlife and pull her son back from the brink. But when she uses the spells, five evil ancients—the Death Walkers—are also brought back to life. 

An ancient evil has been unleashed. Mummies are awakening. New York is overrun with scorpions. And worst of all for Alex, his mom and the Lost Spells have both disappeared. He and his best friend, Ren, will do anything to find his mom and save the world . . . even if that means going head-to-head with a Death Walker who has been plotting his revenge for 3,000 years. 

From the very first sentence, readers will be hooked on Book of the Dead because of the nonstop action that features an ancient Egyptian mummy that comes back to life. Plus, Alex is a likable protagonist who willingly faces dangers in order to find his mom. Along the way, Alex learns that his mom’s scarab amulet has magical powers that could help him defeat the Death Walker. The supernatural aspects of the story add danger and suspense while also incorporating the Egyptian legend of the Stung Man.

The book is broken up into small sections which increases the story’s pacing as well as makes it accessible to readers. Even though the story is packed full of Egyptian lore, Northrop gives just the right amount of information so readers can understand the Egyptian legends without bogging them down in details. The addition of ancient powers adds interest to the story and leaves readers wondering what will happen next. While the story revolves around danger, there are surprising pockets of humor that will leave readers smiling. 

Anyone who is interested in Egypt will love Book of the Dead; it will also appeal to readers who enjoy action and adventure. As the first installment of the TombQuest Series, Book of the Dead sets up an exciting adventure that will have readers quickly reaching for the second book in the series, Amulet  Keepers. Don’t start Book of the Dead unless you have time to finish the entire book in one sitting because you will not want to put it down. Readers who want to learn more about ancient Egypt should also read the nonfiction book, The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • The Stung Man was a thief who was running from the pharaoh’s men. The thief’s “hiding spot was full of scorpions. . . The thief was stung again and again, all over his body; his legs, his torso, his arms, his neck. His face.” When the pharaoh’s men found the thief, he was “swollen past recognition.” The Stung Man comes back to life.
  • During the night, a boy named Hamadi went to fetch water for his sick sister. As he walked, he heard a strange noise and then “a withered hand flashed across his vision like a cobra striking. . . Silence finally fell over the southern desert, and dawn rose. . . In the heart of the village, one family hadn’t slept at all. . . Now they waited for a boy who would never return.”
  • A man wearing a dried hyena face breaks into a museum and confronts the guard. “The man in the mask raised his hand and Oscar felt his fingers crunch, jammed backward as if he’d thrust them into a concrete wall instead of empty air. Gasping from the pain, he tried to pull his hand back but couldn’t.” The guard is frozen in place. 
  • A mysterious man, Al-Dab’u, finds Alex’s mom, Dr. Bauer, alone in the museum. “His right hand shot out, flexing a power much greater than mere muscle. Dr. Bauer’s feet left the ground and her slender frame flew backward and slammed against the wall.” Al-Dab’u kidnaps Dr. Bauer.
  • When running from the Stung Man, Al-Dab’u sees Alex and Ren and orders them to stop. Ren tries to run but, “the man in the mask extended his right hand, palm down, and pressed it toward the floor. A great force hit Alex and Ren and flattened them against the ground.”
  • When the strange man stops the kids from running, he explains that the Stung Man was going to feed on Alex and Ren. The man says, “He may not consume your bodies, but he will certainly take your souls.”
  • When the kids continue to leave the museum, Al-Dab’u uses magic. “Alex and Ren threw themselves on the ground just as a massive display case hurtled over them and landed in a crash of glass and metal.” The museum scene is described over 12 pages.
  • Al-Dab’u helps the Stung Man recreate his tomb. A professor, Todtman, and the kids try to stop them. Al-Dab’u uses his power to begin crushing Todtman and a construction worker runs “with his shovel raised in the air . . . Todtman’s hand already held his falcon amulet. The worker slammed the shovel into Al-Dab’u’s shoulder, sending him reeling.” This scene is described over two pages.
  • The Stung Man tries to kill Alex. “The Stung Man struck out with his left hand. The stinger flew toward Alex on the end of a long, segmented tail. Alex ducked. . . the stinger shot over his shoulder and slammed into the wall behind him.”
  • In order to defeat the Stung Man, Alex uses a spell from the Book of the Dead. “As Alex chanted, the writing seemed to come alive on the page. . .” The Stung Man’s “skin pulled tight on his skull, threatening to split. . . Alex finished the chant. The dried corpse toppled and fell.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • As the kids leave the recreated tomb, they see a group of construction workers “closing in on Al-Dab’u from the left with a raised hammer. Another approaching from the right with a power drill. . . Al-Dab’u extended his hand menacingly as the workers closed in, first twisting one to the floor, then crushing the breath from another, but he was surrounded and couldn’t take them all at once.” Al-Dab’u runs but falls off a platform. The story implies that Al-Dab’u died.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Alex has an unnamed illness that he takes pills for. 
  • After Alex gets into a fight, he sees double so he “took three aspirin.” 
  • One of the adults takes “headache pills” once.

Language 

  • Oh my God is used as an exclamation once. 
  • Heck is used twice.
  • Ren calls Alex an idiot one time.

Supernatural

  • Alex’s mom uses an ancient book, the Book of the Dead, to bring Alex back to life. The Book of the Dead is “a cross between prayers and spells” that are used to help people “cross over into the afterlife.” The words of the spells are not given.
  • When Alex’s mom chants a spell from the Book of the Dead, “The desert breeze became a strong wind, whipping through the little [hospital] room.” She also heard “phantom whispers, dry and raspy, emerging from the air itself and echoing her words.” Alex’s mom feels the “old magic” flow through her and save her son’s life.
  • The ancient Egyptians believed that after one died, their heart was weighed. Alex explains some hieroglyphics that depict a scale with a feather on one side and a heart on the other side. Alex says, “That dude just died, and he’s waiting to see if his heart passes the test. If it’s not weighed down by bad deeds, it will be as light as a feather, and he can enter the afterlife.” If the heart fails, it is fed to “a large, crocodile-headed creature.” 
  • After reciting a spell from the Book of the Dead, ancient Egyptians begin to rise from the dead. Alex and his friend are in the museum when they hear a strange noise. “They both turned and looked back down at the little mummy. She was looking right at them. Her whole body had shifted, and her empty eye sockets gazed blankly up at them.”
  • When the Stung Man comes back to life, his skin “was livid and covered with swollen welts. The Stung Man turned and stared into the room, not with empty eye sockets but with wet, sinister eyes.”  
  • Several of the characters have an amulet that gives them power. A man explains, “All of them can do certain things. Move small objects. . . but mine, well, I can see things quite clearly sometimes. When the power went out, I knew to go straight to the sarcophagus. I can also control people to an extent.”
  • Alex has an amulet that allows him to fight Al-Dab’u and the undead. “Grasping the scarab, Alex punched out his fist. A powerful gust of wind rose up and battered the ragged corpse, who stumbled and faltered against it.”

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Latest Reviews