Ghost Squad

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jemima Cooke

Forbidden City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 Hunt for Jade Dragon

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

 Language

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

 Supernatural

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

 Spiritual Content

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

by Madison Shooter

Maya and the Rising Dark #1

Maya believes herself to be an ordinary middle-schooler, until she witnesses a tear in reality. Suddenly, the stories her father tells about his travels across the world come true. Maya dreams of a man encased in shadows and is attacked by mythical creatures. In addition, her best friend Frankie discovers she has superpowers.

Maya learns that her father is an orisha, a divine spirit being. Beyond that, her community is a secret haven for orishas, meaning that she, Frankie, and their friend Eli, all have orisha powers. But, the one person Maya wishes to tell about the magic world – her Papa – disappears while repairing the veil, the magical barrier between Earth and the Dark. In his absence, Maya learns from the orisha council that her father is the guardian of the veil, which was created to separate Earth from the Dark and its master, The Lord of Shadows. This evil being with similar orisha-like powers wants to use the tears forming in reality to break through the veil once and for all.

As attacks in the human world become frequent, the orishas prioritize the community instead of sending out a rescue mission for Maya’s father. Maya, Frankie, and Eli decide to take matters into their own hands using Papa’s staff to open a magical gateway into the Dark at Comic-Con. Even though the plan is just as crazy as it sounds, Maya is able to open the barrier, and the three friends journey through the Dark. This sparse and dangerous landscape is populated with creatures of legend and beings called darkbringers, who serve the Lord of Shadows. When the group is forced to fight their way through, Maya realizes the danger that they face. She says, “I hadn’t thought through the consequences of our actions… I knew that our parents would ground us for sneaking out. But that was minor compared to the real consequences. That I might have to hurt many people to get Papa back.”

Before Maya reconnects with her father, she is tested when she is forced to part with her friends, who sacrifice themselves so she can go on. Maya says, “Every kid should be so lucky to have friends who believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself. Friends who accept you exactly the way you are. And help you be brave when you don’t know that you can.” Maya is able to manifest her orisha powers and distract the Lord of Shadows long enough to free her father and return to the human world, where she finds that Eli and Frankie escaped alive and unharmed. But, the crisis is far from over. With the Lord of Shadows still at large, the orisha council declares that Maya will be trained by her father to be a guardian of the veil, marking the beginning of her next journey.

Maya and the Rising Dark is an action-packed fantasy story with diverse characters. The principal at Maya’s school goes by they/them pronouns and Frankie has two moms. Maya’s story is laced with themes of community and sacrifice. While constant fighting scenes can distract from the main plot, Maya is a resilient and thoughtful main character to follow throughout this adventure. There is reverence for the divine orishas, and even for the Lord of Shadows; when he is about to kill Maya’s father, she displays sympathy for his motives, showing her maturity. Maya has to grow up fast when the responsibility of saving the world falls on her shoulders, but she does so while keeping her rebellious personality and her kindness. The story blends the African heritage of the author into a modern-day tale about a girl from Chicago’s south side. Readers that enjoyed Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi and stories blending cultural legend into modern adventure, should pick up this book! Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston is another amazing story that is perfect for readers who love action and adventure.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maya’s father, Papa, tells her a story about elokos – mythical creatures who eat people they lure in with magical bells. Papa describes his encounter with the creatures. “I didn’t come out of my trance until they stopped ringing their bells, but by then, they had strung me up between two trees and lit a fire. They were preparing to cook me with my clothes and all. No matter how much I pleaded, they wouldn’t let me go.” He escapes them by singing, which distracts them.
  • While searching for her father, Maya encounters the Lord of Shadows, who intends to kill her. “The shadows pressed in around me and felt slick against my face. . . When I backed away, something reached out of the dark and grabbed my wrist. Cold seared into my skin. I tried to free myself, but the thing only tugged harder. Shadows like writhing snakes crawled up my arm—and I knew it was him. The man from my nightmare. Come to make good on his threat to kill me. I clawed at the shadows with my other hand, only they slithered up that arm too. I screamed, and the darkness muted my voice. When I kicked, my foot connected with air. Pain shot up my arms. My hands had gone numb. Frost started to creep across my skin. I wriggled my stiff fingers, and the ice crystals cracked and shattered. Then, with all my strength, I closed my hands around the shadows, which felt like thick ropes. I was sure they would turn me into an ice cube, but I gritted my teeth and jerked my arms back even harder. This time it worked. . .” Maya escapes the shadows.
  • Frankie and Maya are attacked by shadows. Maya “jerked back, but not fast enough. The shadow slashed against my cheek. ‘Ahhh,’ I screamed and stumbled out of reach. Frankie wasn’t so lucky. The shadow snapped around her wrist. She shrieked . . .More shadows grabbed Frankie from behind, dragging her away from me. . .” Maya hit the shadows and they “hissed, low and menacing. I kept swinging until they let go and Frankie crashed into my shoulder.”
  • While running from werehyenas, Maya and Frankie are magically protected by a barrier. Still, Frankie gets hurt. “In one quick swipe, [the werehyena] scraped his claws against the force field that separated us from certain death. The noise was sharp, and sparks shot out. Thankfully, the barrier held, but Frankie stumbled back a few steps. She folded over like he had punched her in the belly.”
  • A group of darkbringers disguise themselves as school bullies and force Maya, Eli, and Frankie into a fight. “Winston charged first, and I sprang to action. With Papa’s staff, I blocked his path. Something happened then that I didn’t expect. The staff started to glow, and a warm tingling shot up my arm. The glowing shocked the bullies too because they froze for a moment. . .Winston shoved me in the chest so hard that I almost lost my balance. I twirled the staff fast and hit him across his knuckles. He yelped and drew his hand back . . . even with Papa’s staff, I got kicked and punched more times than I cared to admit. . . I attacked again with the staff, batting away barbed tails that stung when they tore into my skin… I slammed the staff into shoulders, chests, and ribs to keep them back.” No one dies, and the fight is described over two pages.
  • A tear in the veil causes massive panic and destruction on Maya’s street. “Outside was complete chaos. People I’d known my whole life tried to free themselves from writhing shadows. My ex-babysitter, Lakesha, dodged a shadow only to have another one rope around her ankle. She fell down, and LJ, her cousin, stomped the shadow over and over until it let her go. He helped her up, and they ran away. They were the lucky ones. Some shadows wrapped people in cocoons and dragged them toward the tear in the veil—toward the Dark.”
  • During this chaos, a darkbringer attempts to hurt Maya’s mother. “Looking down at Mama, he smiled, revealing pointed teeth. His razor-sharp, barbed tail whipped around in a flash, cutting through the air, aimed straight for her. . . Before the darkbringer knew what hit him, I cracked the staff against his tail. He fell back, howling in pain. . . I barely ducked out of the way as the darkbringer’s claws swiped within striking distance of my face. Going on the offense, I angled the staff up and slammed it into his chest. A burst of light came from Papa’s staff, and the impact sent the darkbringer hurtling through the air.”
  • The Lord of Shadows invades Maya’s dreams and tries to kill her. The Lord of Shadow’s “ribbons snapped at me, and I batted them away with the staff. When the staff connected with the Lord of Shadows, magic jerked me back into the human world. . .My wrist burned where one of his ribbons had touched my arm. It happened on the crossroads, but the pain was real.”
  • Maya suspects that a gateway to the veil will open at Comic-Con, so she goes there with Frankie and Eli to open a portal and find her father. While there, they are attacked by darkbringers. Maya “dodged darkbringers left and right, sweeping the staff along my body in a wide arc. I knocked down two who tried to double-team me. . . The sound of bones breaking made my stomach flip-flop, but I kept pushing. Eli ducked under my staff and rammed his shoulder into a darkbringer. He headbutted another one, and punched a third.” As the fight continues, “Maya caught a blow on my shoulder. Sharp pain shot down my spine, and I bit the inside of my cheek until I tasted blood. My knees shook. . .Then I rammed my staff into [the darkbringers’] stomach. When he bent over, that was the end of it. I knocked him out cold.” The fight is described over four pages.
  • After entering the Dark, Maya, Frankie, and Eli find magical birds called impundulus. After they destroy their nest by accident, “the birds tucked their heads between their hunched shoulders and charged. They ran straight for us, their wings fluttering wildly and their bloody spines fanned out for maximum damage. . . We dove out of the way, and only two of the impundulu collided. . . My stomach lurched seeing the birds tangled up like that. Each impaled on the other’s spines. There was so much blood . . . The two tangled birds fell into a heap of twisted spines and feathers and blood while the other two took to the sky.”
  • During the fight, “an impundulu’s talons raked across my shoulder, and I bit back a scream as searing pain brought me to my knees. The bird shrieked, coming at me again, and I rolled out of the way. I fell on my back and slammed the staff into the impundulu’s side. The impact sent the bird tumbling into a cornstalk.” Maya and her friends knock the birds unconscious. The scene is described over two pages.
  • While in the dark, vines erupt from the ground. “Vines covered in thorns shot up from the ground and whipped around Frankie’s feet. She cried out as she hit the dirt. More vines were sprouting up everywhere, thrashing and wriggling toward us. I slammed the staff into the ground, giving it the order to burn the vines. . . fire flared to life on top of a vine writhing toward me. Before long, the fire had grown into a full raging inferno that burned across the cornfield.” Maya accidentally sends the fire towards a group of darkbringer children. The kids throw stones at them, but none of them hit, and Maya and her friends escape.
  • Maya thinks about how Frankie’s first mother died, implying that something bad happened. Frankie “once told me about her first mom—how one day she’d gone to the store for groceries and never returned. The police said that her mom had died in a car accident. Now that I thought about it, that didn’t add up, especially since she was an orisha. She was immortal—no accident could’ve killed her.”
  • Eli inadvertently kills a darkbringer who was inside a bug-like helicopter. Eli “whipped out the prods he took from the darkbringer at Comic-Con and slammed them into the glass dome. An electrical current flickered down the length of the prods, then shot through the craft. Long cracks spread across the glass. . . The pilot yanked at the controls as the wings flapped wildly. He pulled up but didn’t get very far before the craft crashed a few feet away.”
  • Nulan, the darkbringer army commander, kills one of her men for disobeying her. “Nulan reached into her black vest and removed a slim knife of her own, her eyes on Papa’s staff the whole time. She flipped her wrist so fast that the knife was a silver blur. . . Nulan had aimed the blade for the darkbringer who went against her order. He stumbled and fell to his knees with the knife lodged in his chest. She’d killed him—one of her own men.”
  • Nulan also tries to kill Frankie. “Nulan removed another slim knife from her vest and sent it flying straight for Frankie’s heart. . . Just as the knife was inches from my friend, I leaped in front of her. Everything was a blur as I raised the staff to deflect the knife, but before I could, the ground shook hard beneath our feet, then it opened up and swallowed us whole.” Maya opens a portal and saves her friends before Nulan’s knife hits Frankie.
  • After returning to the Dark, Frankie and Eli sacrifice themselves in a fight with Nulan so Maya can find her father on her “Flashes of light crackling like electricity shoot out of Frankie’s hands. . . The darkbringers broke their flight path to get out of the way. Most moved in time, but two of them got caught in her blast and spiraled out of control… Frankie sent another blast, knocking the fire-breathing darkbringers to the ground. . . But as soon as she said it, Nulan sent a knife straight through Frankie’s shoulder.” Eli stays with Frankie and tends to her while Maya leaves.
  • Later, Nulan confronts Maya as she’s trying to free her father. She tells Maya that she killed her friends and insults her father. Maya lashes out. “I knocked my staff against the gym floor, and a streak of white light shot out. It hit Nulan so hard that she slammed into the line of darkbringers standing behind her. They crumped to the floor in a heap.”
  • Nulan orders her soldiers to attack. Maya and her father then fight the darkbringers. Maya “ducked to miss a club aimed straight for my face. Before the darkbringer could swing again, I cracked the staff against her knees. When she dropped to the ground, I landed another thrash across her head, knocking her out cold. . .Three darkbringers swung their battleaxes, and I thrust out the staff to catch the blows. . . Something as slippery as a snake lashed around my waist and jerked me backwards. My staff fell and hit the floor, then the thing lifted me up high in the air. I clawed at what turned out to be a darkbringer’s tail. . . As the barb drove toward my heart, I grabbed the darkbringer’s tail, stopping it from striking. The tail slammed me into the ground, and pain shot through my body. . .” Papa kills the darkbringer.
  • The fight against the Lord of Shadows is at first a long conversation, but it comes to a climax when he grabs Papa with the ribbons that make up his being. “Some of his ribbons had grabbed Papa by the ankle and dangled him upside down like he was a child. Papa clawed at the shadows, but the color was draining from his face fast. The Lord of Shadows was absorbing him, killing him.” Maya is then attacked by him, but escapes by shining light on him, distracting him until Papa and Maya escape.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After seeing many strange occurrences, Frankie suggests that they are under the effect of a hallucinogen. Frankie says, “Maybe there was some mind-altering drug in the vanilla pudding at school today. My moms say that the government performs secret experiments on people all the time.”

Language

  • Eli and a high schooler have a verbal altercation where the bully raises their middle finger.
  • There is some name-calling such as fiend, half-breeds, and beanstalk.
  • Frankie breaks a twig, giving away the group’s hiding location to the darkbringers. In response, “Eli mouthed a curse that would’ve gotten him grounded for a month had Nana been here.”
  • When the Lord of Shadows appears at the story’s climax, Maya says, “Crap.”
  • The Lord of Shadows attacks Maya, and Maya’s Papa starts to curse at him using “some words I had never heard.”

 Supernatural

  • One of the main conflicts in this story is the rift between the real world and the Dark, a different plane of existence filled with creatures called darkbringers. A veil separates these two worlds, which is frequently damaged. Maya’s father fixes these “tears” in the veil.
  • Magic exists, as well as people who can wield magic. Papa describes this world to Maya, revealing that he is the guardian of the veil. He describes the veil between the worlds. “Think of it as an invisible barrier that keeps our world safe from creatures much worse than werehyenas.”
  • Papa also tells Maya that she encountered the Lord of Shadows in a dream. He father says, “He’s as real as you or I,” Papa explained. “He’s trapped in the Dark, but he can enter our world through dreams—which are crossroads between our two worlds.”
  • Maya’s favorite comic book is about an orisha named Oya. Orishas are spirit beings that have a variety of dominions and powers. Oya has these powers too. “Oya wasn’t like most superheroes. She wasn’t from another planet, and she didn’t have fancy gadgets. She was a spirit goddess, an orisha. She controlled wind, lightning, and storms, and never lost a fight.”
  • Eli, Maya’s friend, is obsessed with ghosts and talks about them often “Did you feel a cold spot?” Eli asked. “Like when there’s a ghost around.”
  • Eli also tells facts about ghosts. “Sometimes ghosts can inhabit the bodies of the living.” Eli believes that ghosts are responsible for many of the strange things happening before he learns about the Dark.
  • Eli also suggests that people’s strange behavior is a result of possession. “Maybe they’re possessed by evil spirits,” Eli offered. “One day they’ll try to turn us into zombies, and we’ll have to spray them with ketchup to snap them out of their trance.”
  • The book deals with a variety of other mythical beings and creatures such as elokos, orishas, and darkbringers. Shadows have the ability to attack. There are also creatures such as werehyenas and giant bugs.
  • Maya talks about kishi in reference to her dad’s stories. “I told Tisha Thomas that my father fought a kishi, a creature with a human face on the front side of his head and a hyena on the back side.”
  • Maya’s father also tells her stories of impundulu, magical birds. Impundulu “were magical giant birds that had sharp spikes like fishbones on their bellies. They hardly ever flew, but when they did, their wings sounded like helicopter blades.” Later, Maya, Frankie, and Eli fight multiple impundulus.
  • Maya and Frankie are cornered by were-hyenas, humanoid hyenas similar to werewolves. “It wasn’t until they stepped out of the shadows that I realized the hyenas had grown bigger. They stood on their hind legs, and their claws looked like curled knives. Their torsos stretched into a shape that was unmistakable and impossible. These were werehyenas, like from Papa’s stories, half hyena, half man.”
  • Maya’s Papa gives her a staff that has magical powers, which she uses to defend herself.
  • Maya learns that she is a “godling,” someone that has the blood of an orisha. This enables her to use magic. Frankie and Eli have orisha blood too. Frankie’s power is to create bursts of light, while Eli’s power is to turn invisible. Maya is unsure of her power until later on in the story where she creates a portal between the Dark and Earth.
  • Maya learns that her neighbor is an orisha when the neighbor saves them from being kidnapped by darkbringers. “A giant bird made of blue light circled the edges of the vortex. It was fast—too fast, enough to make my head spin. From what I could tell, it was causing the disturbance. Some of the darkbringers tried to escape, but it was no use. . .”
  • Maya learns that many people in her community are orishas or their descendants, as it is a secret orisha community. Miss Lucille, Maya’s neighbor, explains that humans don’t know of the existence of the orishas and magical beings because they are kept secret. “The orishas decided that the magical species must keep themselves hidden from humans. Among them are the aziza, woodland fairies wary of outsiders. The elokos, who are forest-dwelling elves with an insatiable appetite. There are also the trickster kishi, with their two faces, and the adze, who are fireflies that feed on blood. And of course, the werehyenas, who, as you’ve seen, can be unpredictable. There are countless more. It’s the orishas’ job to keep magic from interfering with human development, as the universe intended.”
  • A girl in Maya’s town opens a portal by snapping her fingers.
  • Maya attends an orisha meeting that happens in outer space.
  • The commander of the darkbringer army, Nulan, is an aziza. Maya reacts to her in awe. “The commander moved like she owned the sky, and even a flock of birds got out of her way . . . She was brown . . . She was golden. It took me a minute to figure out that she was from the aziza. . . The aziza were faeries notorious for not interacting with outsiders.”
  • Maya thinks about grootslang, a creature from one of her father’s stories. Grootslang “looked like a cross between an elephant and a snake. It had leathery black skin and ivory tusks that were venomous.”

Spiritual Content

  • Orishas are both supernatural and spiritual beings. One can pray to an orisha for good luck or wealth. When Maya attends a council meeting of the orishas, she describes them in detail. “A light flashed in front of us, and high-back golden thrones shimmered into existence. The council members sat on them in their semidivine state. . .”
  • The Lord of Shadows is considered a divine being of similar class to the orishas.
  • After learning that she, Frankie, and Eli, are descendants of orishas, Maya wonders if this gives them divine status. “I thought about how the leader of the werehyenas had called us godlings and wondered what it meant. Was it like being a god, but not? Like a pretend god?”
  • Maya is shocked when she learns that her father is a full-blooded orisha named Elegguá. “My father was an orisha—a spirit god, a celestial, and not human.”
  • Maya’s neighbor, another orisha, explains how the universe began. “The universe started as a vast blank slate. It existed without space, time, mass, or depth. It was endless and boundless and void. No one can say how long it remained that way before becoming aware, but soon after, it grew restless. Once the first sparks of matter and antimatter cropped up, the universe found its purpose. It would create. The universe birthed planets, moons, comets, asteroids, black holes, and stars. The things it made hummed with energy, and in their song came the universe’s first and oldest name, Olodumare…” The story continues for a few pages, but the most important part is that Maya’s father created the veil.

by Madison Shooter

 

Descent

Peak, Zopa, and Joshua Wood’s adventure down the mountain, Hkakabo Razi, continues as the group is pursued by the Chinese government. Picking up immediately where the last book left off, Peak and the gang are running out of time to escape both the mountain and China. Fortunately, Zopa has more tricks up his sleeve as they search for sanctuary in the fabled monastery, Pemako. But with old enemies on their heels, the group will have to move quickly to avoid capture.

As the final installment to Peak’s adventures, Descent is an action-packed ending that wraps up all the loose ends. Although the first half of Descent is slow, the rest of the story is fast-paced with plenty of new elements, including the hidden monastery, Pemako. Peak learns much more about Buddhist beliefs and life in Pemako, thanks in part to Zopa’s increased role.

Despite being on the run from the Chinese government, the main theme that Peak and the other characters drive home is the importance of going out into the world and doing good, even when it may be difficult. An old enemy from the first installment named Captain Shek reappears. While climbing, Peak decides to save Captain Shek because Peak feels that letting the captain fall to his death would be wrong. This decision arises despite Captain Shek’s merciless pursuit of Peak, Zopa, and Joshua Wood, and despite Captain Shek’s aims to capture and imprison Peak and his family. At one point, Captain Shek does capture Joshua and beats him. Regardless, Peak shows Captain Shek humanity and mercy by saving his life, even if Captain Shek has no interest in showing Peak or the others any compassion.

Descent is as much about survival as it is about climbing, though climbing is once again a big part of the book. Although Peak’s climbing adventures do end with this book, Peak takes away important lessons about finding inner peace and being a compassionate person. Throughout the series, Peak has shown time and time again that he is a strong-willed teenager, but he really shines when he consciously decides to be the best person he can be. His talent as a climber is impressive, but even that comes second to his ability to choose humanity over revenge. Descent is a strong conclusion to Peak’s story. Although readers will be sad to see the series end, the lessons learned will outlast even the books themselves.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In Tibet, the Chinese military arrests Josh Wood and beat him. Peak discovers this because Josh’s two eyes are “swollen shut.”
  • Captain Shek’s men catch up to the family that helped Josh, Peak, and Zopa escape. According to the monks at the monastery, Captain Shek and his men questioned them, and the family wasn’t “beaten too badly.”
  • In the monastery/crater called Pemako, many of the monks practice martial arts. Peak describes, “Practicing is a little mild for what I witnessed. They were sparring, full contact, with fists and feet, and tossing each other onto the unpadded floor. Several of the monks were bleeding. Half a dozen others were sitting next to a wall like broken, discarded dolls.”
  • Peak learns a bit about Pemako, like the crime rate. Peak explains, “Crime is rare here, but not unknown. Anyone you ask will tell you about it. There has been one murder, two rapes, and seventeen thefts. I was shocked to hear this until the farmer who told me this added, ‘In the past one hundred years.’”
  • Lightning strikes Josh while he’s climbing a wall. He falls and “he hit the ground a few feet from the rope. Both of his legs were twisted in sickeningly, unnatural angles, shattered.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Josh Wood is arrested and interrogated, Peak is pretty sure they drug Josh as well. Josh is extremely groggy and isn’t always sure of his surroundings.
  • Due to the severe head injury that Ethan sustained in the previous book, Ethan now takes a lot of medications to help him get better. Ethan says that he’s “a zombie most of the time.”
  • One of Shek’s soldiers stops to “smoke a cigarette and answer his two-way.”

Language

  • Light language is used infrequently. Words include: moron and stupid.
  • Ethan calls Peak over the satellite phones and tells Peak to “get his ass out of Tibet.”
  • Peak mentions that Zopa “didn’t give a damn what he looked like when he was climbing.”

Supernatural

  • Peak asks how Zopa was able to find him when he was lost in the jungle. Zopa is evasive, and he says that he reached Peak via “other means.” Peak guesses, “Star Trek transporter? Broom? Quantum shift? Time machine?”

Spiritual Content

  • Peak discusses how documentaries make mountain climbing look so simple. Peak says, “Suddenly, the intrepid, brave climbers appear on the mountain out of nowhere as if God dropped them from the sky.”
  • Zopa gives climbing gear to the hunters who help feed Zopa, Peak, and the others. Zopa says, “It is all about karma. The giving, not the taking.”
  • Zopa mentions that there are women who are monks. Peak is surprised by this, and Zopa replies, “Enlightenment has nothing to do with gender.”
  • In Tibet, Zopa explains that he, Peak, and Josh should head towards Pemako. Zopa describes, “It is the hidden lotus land, the earthly representation of the Tibetan goddess Dorje Pagmo. The mountains and rivers of Pemako are thought to be her body, with her center, or womb, being somewhere in the Tsangpo River Gorge.”
  • Zopa spends some time meditating in the lotus posture, or “padmāsana.”
  • Much like in the other installments, Zopa gives every passerby that aids Peak, Josh, and Zopa a “Buddhist blessing” for safe travels.
  • Peak explains to Zopa that he was under the impression that Buddhist monks didn’t eat meat. Zopa replies, “The big Buddhist food debate. Which has been going on since Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha twenty-five hundred years ago. Buddhists are definitely not allowed to kill animals and are encouraged to be vegetarians, but this does not prevent them from eating animal flesh if that flesh was not expressly killed for their consumption.”
  • One of the monks mentions that “work is prayer.”

by Alli Kestler

 

The Red Fox Clan

Picking up where The Royal Ranger: A New Beginning left off, this next installment continues the story featuring young apprentice Maddie and the student-turned-master, Will Treaty. The time has come for the next generation to assume the mantle and become protectors of the kingdom of Araluen.

After passing her third-year assessment as a ranger’s apprentice, Maddie is called home to Castle Araluen. Forced to keep her ranger training a secret, Maddie feels trapped by her role as a princess of the realm and longs to find a way out. But there are whisperings of a new threat to the kingdom. The mysterious Red Fox Clan, a group of anarchists who don fox masks, have threatened Castle Araluen, and they question Princess Cassandra and Madelyn’s succession to the throne. Will they unseat Cassandra and Madelyn and take the throne for themselves?

In order to set up the conflict, the book’s chapters alternate between different points of view —Madelyn’s, Horace’s, and Gilan’s. In addition, The Red Fox Clan introduces new characters and brings some characters from the Brotherband Series into Madelyn’s world. The introduction of characters and conflict slows the pacing because there is little action. However, readers who have already become fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will enjoy seeing familiar characters from a different perspective.

Like all the Ranger’s Apprentice books, The Red Fox Clan ends with an epic battle. Even though the Araluen must fight the rebel Red Fox Clan, they do not kill for the fun of it. Several times in the battle, the Ranger Gilan has the opportunity to kill enemy fighters, but he chooses not to. After one fierce battle, the rebels begin to retreat and Gilan stops his men from shooting at the fleeing enemy. While men die, the story never glorifies killing others. Instead, Gilan chooses to show mercy to the enemy.

The start of The Red Fox Clan has little action or adventure; however, readers will be glad they continued reading because of the exciting conclusion. The conclusion does not resolve any of the story’s conflicts but instead ends with a cliffhanger. Readers will be eager to read the next book in the series, Duel at Araluen. Despite having 14 books in the original series, readers will find The Royal Ranger Series’ action isn’t stale and repetitious; instead, Maddie’s struggle varies enough that readers will still be guessing what will happen next. Readers who love action, adventure, and noble characters will enjoy The Royal Ranger Series.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maddie and Ingrid are traveling to Castle Araluen when two robbers stop them and demand their valuables. Maddie shoots a lead shot at one of the robbers and hits his bow. “The broken limb flew loose, and then stopped by the string, flicked back and smacked the man across the jaw, raising a bleeding weal there. He cried out and staggered back. . .” The man grabs his knife and Maddie shoots again. The shot “hit him on the point of his shoulder, smashing the bone and bruising the flesh.”
  • One of the robbers “swing[s] wildly with the cudgel” trying to knock Ingrid off the horse. “Ingrid leaned out of the saddle, wielding the riding crop and bringing the heavy stone pommel crashing down on top of his leather cap . . . his eyes glazed and he simply folded up like an empty suit of clothes.” The man is knocked unconscious.
  • When one of the robbers tries to flee, Maggie’s horse “slammed his. . .The impact sent the man tumbling in the grass, rolling over several times before beginning to rise, groggily to his feet.” The man takes out his knife and goes after the horse, so Maddie uses her sling to shoot the man. “The scream was torn from him as the lead shot slammed into his forearm, breaking the bones there.” The men are tied up and taken to the jail of a nearby village. The scene with the robbers is described over 3 ½ pages.
  • The Foxes, a rebel group of men, attack an Araluen army as they forge a river. The Araluen army shoots a volley of arrows. Four of the enemies “screamed and fell. Another volley slammed into the enemy formation. More men fell.” At the end of the battle, the Foxes “were nursing their wounds and reluctant to move from the cover of the trees. . .eleven of their comrades lay where they had fallen.” The attack is described over four pages.
  • The rebels again send men to cross the river. The Ranger Gilan’s “arrow plunged down in a shallow arc and struck the lead swimmer in the right shoulder. The man let out a cry of agony and stopped swimming.” The man survives, but another rebel is “hit in the chest . . . he cried out once, threw up his hands and sank without a further sound.” Another rebel is injured when an arrow hit “his arm with its razor-sharp warhead, and blood started reddening the water around him.” After one man dies and three are injured, the rebels retreat. The skirmish is described over three pages.
  • As the Araluen army flees, the Ranger Gilan stays at the river. When the rebels send a man across the river, Gilan shoots an arrow but the next “arrow was even quicker. It slammed into the unprotected breastplate with the full force of Gilan’s massive bow behind it. . . ripped through the breastplate and into the man’s body.” When Gilan begins shooting “a volley of six arrows” the enemy retreats.
  • The Foxes again attack the Araluen army. Someone shoots at one of the leaders. “The arrow flew in a whimpering paragola, then struck home in the center of the rider’s chest, hurling him backward over the horse’s rump and leaving him lying still on the grass.”
  • During the skirmish, one of the Foxes’ sergeants looks at his men, and “the man next to him fell with an arrow through the top of his leather helmet.” The Foxes quickly retreat into the woods.
  • The Araluen army hides out in an old fort. The rebels stage an attack, trying to climb over the walls. “The bows thrummed with the ugly sound of release, and a few seconds later, six arrows slammed into the men crouched downhill.” As the arrows hit the men, they “cried out in pain and staggered back, clutching at the cruel barbed shafts that transfixed them.”
  • During the attack, Horace and a Fox commander fight. The commander “hacked wildly at Horace. There was a ringing clash of steel on steel as the two blades met. . . Horace’s sword darted out, fast as a striking viper. The super-hardened, razor-sharp blade cut through the man’s chainmail overshirt as if it wasn’t there . . . Horace jerked his sword free and rammed his shield into him. The Fox commander fell backward. . . crashing into the men on the ladder behind him.”
  • As the rebels begin to retreat, “the archers took up their bows again and began to pick them off as they slipped and staggered down the hill. Gilan shook his head wearily, sick of the slaughter.” Gilan orders his men to stop shooting. The battle is described over six pages.
  • Maddie was spying on the Fox Clan. Someone sees her and the men give chase. Maddie runs. As men charged toward her, “a shaggy form burst around the corner of the church, behind the men. Maddie’s horse, Bumper, slammed his shoulder into him and sent him flying. He dealt with a second in the same way, crashing into him with a sickening thud.” Maddie is able to escape.
  • The Red Fox Clan enters the castle through a bridge. “The rider drew his sword and cut left and right, killing them where they stood.”
  • Damon, the Red Fox Clan leader, tries to catch the queen. When the queen sees Damon, he has a “blood stained sword in hand and blood staining his doublet.”
  • In order to protect the queen, Maikeru and two men sword fight. One man “lunged at Maikeru. . . His sword was deflected immediately, and as he staggered slighty, the katana slashed quickly across his neck and he fell, a choked scream rising to his lips. His companion watched in horror. . . Maikeru went on the attack. Once again the deadly katana found its mark and sliced through chain mail and flesh. The second man fell, lifeless to the bridge.”
  • After Maikeru kills several men, the Red Fox Clan leader orders his men to kill him with arrows. “The two bows thrummed almost in the same instant. . . But the other [arrow] slammed into his chest, high on the right side. . . The two men shot again and two more arrows slammed into him, both hitting vital spots.” Even though Maikeru dies, the queen is able to get to safety because of him. The scene is described over three pages.
  • When the queen and her staff are safely closed up in a castle tower, Damon and his men try to smoke them out. When that doesn’t work, a man tries to use a ladder like a bridge to enter the room. Using her sling, Queen Cassandra attacks. “The shot slammed into [the attacker’s] left knee with a sickening crack and smashing bone and tendons.” The man falls to his death. Several men are killed in the same way.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a festival, “barrels of wine and ale were propped up on trestles to ease the collective thirst.”

Language

  • Maddie is upset that a “damn nanny goat nuzzled [her cowl] aside and started chomping.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • A man wants to start a rebellion. He tells the crowd, “For thousands of years, our country was guided by a law that said only a male heir could succeed to the throne. . . And it was a law that respected the will of the gods.” A man wonders why people “accepted so readily the concept that this was a law approved by the gods.”

The Eureka Key

When middle school puzzle master Sam and history wiz Martina win a contest for a summer trip across the U.S., they discover they’ve been drafted into something vastly more extraordinary. Joining another kid on the trip, Theo, a descendant of George Washington himself, they must follow clues to find seven keys left behind by the Founding Fathers.

Together, the keys unlock Benjamin Franklin’s greatest invention – a secret weapon with the intention of defending the country. Each key is hidden in a unique location around the U.S., protected with puzzles, riddles, and traps. This has kept the weapon safe . . . until now! Gideon Arnold, a dangerous descendant of the infamous Benedict Arnold, is on the chase.

Readers of The Eureka Key will enjoy learning about one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, in this fast-paced story. The action begins from the very first page and never stops. To find a weapon hidden by the Founding Fathers, Sam, Martina and Theo must find clues and answer the riddles left by Benjamin Franklin. With the villain’s goons just steps behind them, the kids must focus on deciphering the clues. Similar to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, each new clue can also lead to a potentially deadly trap which makes for some very suspenseful moments. The clues are based on Franklin’s real inventions and readers will attempt to figure out the clues along with the characters.

While the action drives the plot, both Sam and Martina are well-developed but imperfect characters. Girl Scouts has taught the nerdy Martina to always be prepared, and her quirks make her very likable. At first, Sam laughs at everything Martina packs and teases her for her encyclopedic knowledge, but Sam soon realizes that without Martina he wouldn’t have survived the journey. Sam begins as a reckless troublemaker, but after the near-death journey, Sam asks himself, “So which Sam Solomon was he? The one who hacked into school computers to change his friend’s grades, or the one who did his best to save the country from treachery that went back more than two hundred years?” In the end, Sam’s character growth and maturity will please and surprise readers.

The Eureka Key will appeal to a wide range of readers. Those who love mystery, puzzles, history, and action will enjoy The Eureka Key. Even though the story has many historical facts, they are integrated into the story, and they never read like a history textbook. Some of the characters are descendants of historical figures and one character is a descendant of Benedict Arnold. While some believe Arnold was a traitor, his descendant reminds readers, “History sometimes forgets the truth.” Readers interested in learning more about Benedict Arnold should read George Washington’s Spies by Claudia Friddell. The characters, mystery, and history combine to make a highly entertaining story that will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, The Eagle’s Quill.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A man who Sam calls “Aloha” kidnaps Sam, Martina, and Theo. Sam tries to leave clues for others to follow. “A second later, the loudest sound he’d ever heard nearly split his eardrums open. He yelped, and Martina jumped about a foot. . . Aloha was standing behind them with his gun pointed at Sam’s hat, which lay on the ground with a smoking hole through the brim.”
  • Several times someone points a gun at the kids to force them to comply with orders.
  • To find the eureka key, the kids must answer riddles. If they answer incorrectly, a deadly trap awaits them. While trying to figure out a clue, the kids make a mistake and, “The light around them seemed to flare, and Sam stumbled back, blinking madly. . . Then a scream filled the air. It came from Aloha. . .The orange flowers on Aloha’s shirt burst into red flames. He howled in pain, staggering across the plateau, as the fires took hold.”
  • As Aloha is flailing, “Aloha was still holding his gun; it swung toward Theo as the man twisted and wailed. Theo dodged to the side as a bullet cracked in the air, and at the same moment Aloha’s left heel vanished off the edge of the cliff. He toppled and was gone, his screams lengthening.” Aloha dies.
  • The villain, Flintlock, pulls a gun on the kids. When the kids open a secret door, “Theo snapped upright, driving a fistful of rocks into the man’s stomach.” Theo and Martina run, but someone has a hold on Sam. Then, “Something whizzed past Sam’s face, and then Martina’s flashlight cracked his captor right on the bridge of his nose. The hand around Sam’s arm loosened as the man howled.” The kids escape.
  • To escape a trap, Martina connects an electrical circuit to herself. “Martina’s body shook as if she were a puppet with a madman yanking at the strings. . . Martina dropped to the floor as if the puppeteer had tossed her away and lay there—still as death.”
  • The bad guys and the kids are in a room that has a lot of keys hanging from the ceiling. One of the bad guys, Jed, “grabs a key. Sam was sure he could hear electricity leaping from the key to Jed’s hand. The instant his huge fist closed around the key, he was flung across the room, so quickly he didn’t have time to cry out. He crashed to the floor and lay still.”
  • Sam tries to sneak away from the bad guys. Sam “took two steps toward the way out, only to have a bullet blast into the wooden floor in front of him.”
  • A man falls into a mine shaft. “There was a sharp, panicked yell that started loud and got softer and softer. . . until it stopped.” The man dies.
  • During the revolution, Benedict Arnold left one of his contacts to be hanged.
  • One of the villains slaps “Theo across the face. . . Theo stood as solidly as a deeply rooted tree and didn’t make a sound.”
  • To get Sam to comply, one of the thugs grabs Martina. “He grabbed hold of her arm, clamping his other hand over her mouth and nose. He grinned as she made a startled, choking sound.”
  • When Sam makes a smart-aleck remark, “the back of Arnold’s hand smacked into the side of his face.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Oh my God and Oh, Lord are each used as an exclamation once.
  • Sam thinks someone is a jerk.
  • A man calls someone a pinhead.
  • Martina calls Sam a moron.
  • Heck is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Martina tells Sam about Benjamin Franklin. “Franklin said people should try to ‘be like Jesus and Socrates . . . Sacrificing themselves for the common good.’”

Namesake

The second installment of the Fable duology, Namesake, picks up right where the first left off, at the kidnapping of Fable. Fable was taken from her crew onboard the Marigold to become a prisoner of the infamous pirate, Zola. However, Zola doesn’t just want Fable to sit around—she must become part of his crew too. Eventually, Fable finds out Zola’s motive behind forcing her to work for him: he needs her to dredge enough ore to impress Holland, the woman who controls the gem trade in the Narrows.

When Zola’s ship arrives in Bastion, Holland’s home port, Fable quickly discovers there is more to the story. Holland isn’t just a gem trader, she’s also Fable’s grandmother. While Zola wants to get into Holland’s good graces by reuniting Holland with her granddaughter, Holland still bears ill will against Zola since he helped Fable’s mother run away in her youth. Holland expects Fable to follow the path her mother did not, but Fable doesn’t want to be a pawn in anyone’s game. She has her own plans: free the Marigold from her father, Saint’s, control, and reunite with her lover, West.

Things become even more complicated when West shows up at Holland’s house, desperate to bargain for Fable’s freedom. Holland agrees—on the condition that the pair work together to take down Saint. While Fable’s relationship with her father is less than stellar, she still finds it difficult to work against him, even when her life is on the line. However, even though Fable is tested, she always tries her hardest to protect those she cares about.

Fable’s relationship with her family is at the forefront of this book. During her time doing Holland’s bidding, she learns more about her mother, including that she gave up a life of finery for the sea. Fable further develops her skills as a gem sage too, which also brings her closer to her mother. In terms of her father, the story ends with Saint finally claiming Fable as his daughter, which shows how far he and Fable have come. Fable says, by claiming her “he was handing over the sharpest blade to whoever might use it against him.” By being willing to claim each other as family, they create a vulnerability, but it’s a worthy sacrifice because of how much they care for one another. The happily-ever-after ending is somewhat unrealistic for the harsh world the story is set in, but the clichés are a tidy wrap-up to the events and conflicts opened by the first novel.

The story, overall, is more focused on adventure and enjoyment than presenting a lesson to readers. The plot twists and impulsive nature of the characters leave readers wondering what their next moves will be. The violence and sexual content in the story are not overly graphic, yet the Fable books may upset some readers because the characters struggle with the trauma of death, murder, abandonment, and other heavy topics. Namesake emphasizes our bonds to others as something worth protecting, even if they make us vulnerable. Love is worth the pain. In the end, as Fable walks at her father’s side, she says, “For the first time in my life I wasn’t hiding, and neither was he.”

Sexual Content

  • Fable is reunited with West. “In that moment, I only wanted to feel his rough hands on my skin and swallow the air around him until I could taste him on my tongue. . . His face lowered until his mouth hovered over mine, and he kissed me so gently that the burn of tears instantly erupted behind my eyes. My hands moved down the shape of his back and he leaned into me. . .  His teeth slipped over my bottom lip and the sting resurfaced from where the skin was still healing. But I didn’t care. I kissed him again and his hands reached for the skirts, pulling them up until I could feel his fingers on my legs. His touch dragged up, and when his hand wrapped around the stitches in my thigh . . .”
  • West and Fable kiss. “He pressed his forehead to mine before he parted my lips with his.”
  • Paj and Auster, two boys on the Marigold’s crew, kiss. Auster “pulled Paj toward him until he was low enough to Auster to kiss him.”
  • Fable and West sleep together. West “closed the space between us. . . His mouth hovered an inch above mine. . . His lips parted and the kiss was deep, drawing the air from the room. . . I pulled him toward me. . . his kiss turned hungry; his fingers pulled at the laces of my underdress until it was sliding over my hips. I smiled against his mouth, my bare feet stepping over the pile of silk on the floor as he walked us to the cot. I laid back on the quilts, pulling him with me so I could melt into the heat of him. I hooked my legs around his hips as I tugged at his shirt, finding his skin with my fingertips, and his breath shook on an exhale as he leaned all his weight into me. West’s lips trailed down my throat until the warmth of his mouth pressed to the soft hollow below my collar bone, then to my breast. . . his hands trailed up my thighs so he could take hold of my hips, and he fit me against him, groaning.”
  • West kisses Fable a few times. “He caught my hand when I stepped around him, drawing me back. As soon as I turned, he kissed me. . . West took a step toward me, and when I tipped my head back, he kissed me softly.”

Violence

  • West tells Fable about someone he killed. “I just walked up to him and put my hands around his throat and this quiet came over me. . . He fell out of his chair, and he was kicking and trying to pull my hands away. But I just kept squeezing. I kept squeezing even after he stopped moving.”
  • Fable attacks one of her kidnappers. “As soon as her gaze dropped, I pulled in a sharp breath and launched myself forward. Her eyes went wide as I barreled into her, and she hit the deck hard, her head slamming into the wood. I pinned her weight to the coil of ropes against the starboard side and reached for the knife. . . in the second I took to look over my shoulder, the woman rolled out from under me, catching my side with the heel of her boot. I growled, scrambling toward her until I had hold of her wrist. She tried to kick me as I slammed it into the iron crank that stowed the anchor. I could feel the small bones beneath her skin crack as I brought it down again harder, and the knife fell from her grip.”
  • Zola restrains Fable. “His other hand flew up, finding my throat. His fingers clamped down as he slammed me into the railing and squeezed until I couldn’t draw breath. His weight drifted forward until I was leaning over the side of the ship and the toes of my boots lifted from the deck.”
  • Fable sees Clove, her father’s right-hand man. She wishes he was dead. “In that moment, I had never hated anyone as much as I hated Clove. I’d never wanted so badly to see anyone dead. . . I imagined him in that crate that West dropped into the black sea.”
  • A dredger named Ryland tries to drown Fable. Ryland “yanked hard at my belt, sliding his knife between my tool and my hip, sawing. I kicked as the belt broke free and fell to the seafloor, trying to push him back. But he pinned me with one hand around my throat, holding me to the reef. I clawed at his fingers, screaming under water, and the cutting sting of coral sliced into my leg as I thrashed. . .” Eventually, he lets her go when he sees someone nearby.
  • Fable stitches up her own wound. “I threaded the needle with trembling hands and pinched the deepest part of the cut together. The needle went through my skin without so much as a prick, and I was grateful I was still so cold I could barely feel it. . . tears falling from the tip of my nose as I worked.”
  • Clove sneaks below deck while the crew are asleep. Fable thinks he’s coming to kill her, and she debates how to get him first. “If I was quick enough, I could strike first. Drive the blade of my knife up into his gut before he could get his hands on me. . . If I stabbed him beneath the ribs, catching a lung, it would be enough to keep him from running after me.”
  • Clove kills Ryland. “The glint of a knife shone in the darkness as Clove lifted his hands, reaching into Ryland’s hammock. . . The hammock shook above me [Fable] and something hot hit my face. I flinched, reaching up to wipe it from my cheek, and another drop fell, hitting my arm. When I held my fingers to the light, I went still. It was blood. Clove sheathed his knife before he reached back up and heaved Ryland from inside. I watched in horror as he took him onto his shoulder and his limp hands fell beside my face, swinging. He was dead.”
  • Holland has Zola killed. The guards “stepped into the room without a word, and before Zola even knew what was happening, they had him by the jacket, dragging him into the dark hallway. ‘Wait!’ he shouted. . . Zola’s voice suddenly vanished, and [Fable] heard his weight fall to the floor. . . a trail of fresh, bright blood seeped across the white marble and into the light spilling from the room.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Fable says her first drive “was followed by my first drink of rye.”
  • After nearly drowning, Fable has a few sips of rye to settle her nerves.
  • Occasionally, the characters will be visiting or conversing in a tavern, in which people are drinking rye.

Language

  • When Fable crosses paths with someone who wanted her dead, she exclaims, “shit.” West also says “shit” as an expletive one time.
  • Occasionally, Fable uses the word “bastard” to refer to Clove and Saint.
  • Saint calls Fable a “stubborn ass.”

Supernatural

  • Fable thinks momentarily that the murder of Ryland was “the work of spirits in the dark.”
  • Fable has her father swear on her “mother’s soul.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Maddie Shooter

Daughter of the Pirate King #1

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain, Alosa, deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the daughter of the Pirate King.

Alosa is an interesting protagonist who wants others to think that she has no morals; however, she isn’t a completely vicious pirate. Even though she talks about the countless men she has killed, when she takes the crew of the Night Farer captive, she only kills those who are cruel and depraved. She lets the young pirates go and takes several of the pirates on as crew members. Plus, she doesn’t allow anyone to kill Riden’s brother, Draxen, because she doesn’t want to cause Riden pain.

Alosa’s only weakness is her loyalty to her father, who is cruel beyond measure. She wants to make the Pirate King proud, but her main motivation is her fear of being punished. Alosa’s desire to please her father is implausible especially because his “training” was torturous and cruel. Even though the Pirate King does not appear in Daughter of the Pirate King, his influence continues to guide Alosa’s actions.

Daughter of the Pirate King is a fast-paced story that gives the reader a window into the pirate world. Despite this, none of the pirates are typical. Instead, the cast of characters is unique and shows that even in the pirate world some are despicable, and some are honorable. While Alosa’s female crewmembers do not appear often, they demonstrate the value of honesty, loyalty, and friendship. Plus, Riden adds a dash of romance, and the banter between Alosa and Riden is a lot of fun.

Full of twists, turns, and betrayals, Daughter of the Pirate King will keep readers interested until the very end. However, the pirate’s life is full of violence and the book does not shy away from graphic descriptions of bloody fights. If you’re a swashbuckler ready for adventure, you will have a hard time putting Daughter of the Pirate King down. However, if you’re looking for an excellent pirate book with a little less violence, Piratica by Tanith Lee would be an excellent choice.

Sexual Content

  • When Draxen takes Alosa as a prisoner, he warns her, “‘You will be the only woman on a ship full of cutthroat thieves, and blackhearts who haven’t made port in a good long while. You know what that means?’ Alosa responds, ‘It means your men haven’t been to a whorehouse recently.’”
  • Alosa’s father “bedded” a siren.
  • Alosa goes into a town that has “a tavern on one side of the street, a whorehouse on the other.”
  • Alosa and Riden struggle and Riden throws her on the bed. Alosa “is about to tell him to shove off, but then I feel his lips at my cheek. He’s not kissing me exactly, just touching my cheek with his lips. . .When he does finally kiss me, it’s right below my ear in that sensitive spot. Then he moves lower, trailing his lips down my neck at the side, then back up in the middle. . . I move my lips to his ear. My teeth grave his ear lobe, and his hands tighten in a different way.” The kissing scene is described over two pages.
  • Riden kisses Alosa. She thinks she should stop him but, “Riden’s lips taste even better than I’d imagined. Or because his hands make my skin tingle where they hold the sides of my face. . . When Riden’s lips move down to my neck, I forget all about my father. There’s nothing except heat and chills all at once. . .” Finally, Alosa pushes Riden away.
  • In order to search Draxen, Alosa tries to seduce him. “When I lift my head up to his, he greedily meets me for a kiss. . .But I get no enjoyment out of this. . . I shove Draxen down on the bed and climb on top of him. . . I can feel the lust burning in him. It’s disgusting and wretched, and I want to stamp it out.” Alosa eventually knocks him out. Then she searches his clothes for a map.
  • In order to search Riden, Alosa tries to seduce Riden. “I trace his upper lip with the tip of my tongue. . . Before I know it, he’s got his hand at the back of my head, the other on the side of my thigh. . . Riden knows where to stroke my skin to make me feel more alive. He has me practically panting under the pressure of his lips.” Alosa almost loses herself in Riden’s arms but uses her siren’s ability to put him to sleep. The scene is described over three pages.
  • One of the pirates likes “the company of other men.”

Violence

  • There is an overabundance of violence in the book and not all scenes are described below.
  • Alosa often thinks about her father’s training. “It doesn’t matter that he shot me once to show me the pain of a gunshot wound, to have me practice fighting while injured. . .It doesn’t matter that he would starve me and weaken me, then give me tasks to complete. . .”
  • Alosa intentionally gets “caught” by Draxen, the captain of the Night Farer. Kearan, a pirate, grabs Alosa. She thinks, “I’m done kneeling on the floor like some servant. Bracing my hands against the wooden deck, I extend my legs backward, hooking my feet behind the heels of the ugly pirate standing there. With one yank forward, Kearan topples backward. . . I hear scuffling as Kearan finds his feet. I jerk my elbow backward, connecting with his enormous gut. There’s a large splat as he collapses on the ground again.”
  • When Alosa begins struggling to get free, Draxen “removes his right hand from his belt and reaches down for one of his pistols. As soon as he has it, he points it at the first of my men in line and fires. . .the body of my crewman falls backwards.” Alosa and Draxen continue killing each other’s crew until Riden stops them. Alosa is taken prisoner but the crew is set free. The scene is described over four pages.
  • When Riden gets too close to Alosa, she knees him “right between the legs.” Alosa then locks Riden in a cell.
  • The Night Farer finds a ship that looks abandoned. Riden and Alosa go to check it out and are surprised by three men, who were in a hidden room. Alosa slams her “heel into the foot of the sailor on my right. Then my free hand goes to the other sailor’s throat. I place one hand at the back of each man’s neck. . . it isn’t difficult to connect their heads. Hard.” Then Alosa’s “dagger flies straight and true, finding its place in the sailor’s chest.” Once the ship is safe, the other crew members board it.
  • Shack, one of the Night Farer’s crew members, tortures two prisoners. Later, he finds Alosa alone and grabs her. Alosa struggles to get away and kicks “him in the face with my free foot. His face is a bloody mess now.” Then she stabs him in the stomach. “I don’t wait more than a couple of heartbeats before dislodging the weapon and stabbing again, this time higher, towards the heart… He is dead in seconds.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • Alosa “escapes” from the ship, and Riden finds her. They have a short fight. “I cut him on his arm. Riden is going a bit easy because he doesn’t actually want to hurt me.” Finally, Riden grabs Alosa’s wrist “with his free hand, and raises my sword to my neck. Before I can blink, the hand at my wrist grabs my sword, and he’s pointing both blades at me.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • As punishment, Alosa is put into shackles and hung. “Blood starts to slide down my arms… Every once in a while, I’ll start to regain my strength enough to pull the pressure off my wrist for a brief moment.”
  • Riden explains why he killed his father. Riden’s brother, Draxen “pitched his skill with the sword against our father. . .He [his father] disarmed Draxen and was about to kill him. But I picked up my brother’s fallen sword. And I killed him.”
  • Draxen interrogates Alosa. “Draxen gets behind me and yanks my head backward by my hair. I grimace at the pain. He strikes the side of my face with a closed fist. . . Draxen hits me with his other hand. This one bites more deeply.” Riden steps in and stops Draxen.
  • Alosa and Riden are captured by a pirate named Vordan. Vordan wants to learn about Alosa’s siren abilities. In order to get her to obey, Vordan has someone hurt Riden every time she refuses. A pirate “pulls out his cutlass and rakes it across Riden’s upper arm, cutting through his shirt and sending blood streaming down.” Later, a pirate “steps forward and kicks Riden in the face. Blood trickled out of his nose, staining the sand red… Riden is now unconscious and can’t feel any pain.” During Vordan’s experiments, Riden is injured repeatedly and he is shot twice.
  • Alosa’s crew comes to her rescue. Alosa takes some of the pirates captive and orders her crew to kill the rest. Sorinda “starts stepping behind the men and slitting their throats one after the other. Killing is practically an art for her. The way she moves is magical.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the pirates, Kearan, carries a flask of rum and drinks often. Someone tells Alosa, “He’s an ugly drunk because it takes away the pain. He has no desire to live, yet no desire to die, either. It’s a tough spot to be in.”
  • Riden finds a sleeping tonic hidden in Alosa’s belongings.

Language

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes arse, bastard, bloody, damn, hell, and piss.
  • Alosa thinks Riden is a “cocky bastard.”
  • Someone calls Alosa a whore.

 Supernatural

  • Alosa’s mother is a siren and Alosa is able to “use the gifts my mother gave me.” She uses her song on Riden. “He follows, captured by my spell. I know what Riden wants in life. Love and acceptance. I weave those into the song and command him to sleep and forget that he ever heard me sing.”
  • Alosa explains her parentage, “for a child who is conceived by a siren on land will be more human than not.”
  • When Alosa uses her siren abilities, “I lose myself in others if I’m focused on their feelings and desires too long. They start to become my own, and I forget who I am.”
  • Alosa can read people’s feelings, but “I can’t read minds. . . I never know the whys behind people’s intentions.”
  • Alosa makes Riden and another pirate see things that are not there. “I imagine a magical world full of new colors and sounds. Butterflies with brightly lit wings flutter around me… Riden bears a look of sheer wonder and astonishment. He reaches out in front of him as if to touch the invisible creatures I’ve placed in front of him.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Harriet the Invincible

Harriet Hamsterbone is different from the other princesses in the rodent realm. She’s not good at sighing and looking ethereal in front of guests; she prefers to care for her riding quail, Mumfrey, instead of attending deportment lessons. One day, Harriet’s parents tell her about the curse that a rat placed on her at birth, dooming her to “prick her finger on a hamster wheel and fall into a sleep-like death” on her twelfth birthday. But Harriet is ecstatic—that means she is invincible until she’s twelve! And so, she goes on a two-year adventure with Mumfrey—fighting monsters, saving princesses, and participating in jousts—until her twelfth birthday. The curse then activates in an unanticipated fashion.

Harriet the Invincible uses inspiration from fairy tales to create a wacky, action-packed story that will have readers eagerly turning the pages. When Harriet’s curse backfires on the castle guests, workers, and her parents, Harriet is determined to break the curse, lest neighboring kingdoms snatch the land in her parent’s absence. As she travels the realm to find someone to help her, she must rely on her smarts to solve problems. Ratshade, the rat who cursed Harriet, is more comical than scary, and readers will enjoy reading about how Harriet eventually uses her wits to defeat Ratshade.

On her travels, Harriet convinces Wilbur, a prince, to end the curse. The prince complains that he does not want to break the curse or marry Harriet. To him, “There is entirely too much kissing involved in this curse.” He becomes more confident, inspired by Harriet’s forwardness to end the curse, but still drags his feet, adding to the strangeness of the story. Readers will enjoy the humor of the story and how Harriet breaks the curse without her invincibility.

Purple and white illustrations add to the wackiness of the book. Drawings with dialogue help break up the text and keep the action moving. Harriet the Invincible shows the value of teamwork and will engage even the most reluctant readers. Harriet the Invincible is the first book in the Hamster Princess Series but can be enjoyed as a standalone book. Younger readers who enjoy Harriet the Invincible may also want to try the Princess in Black series by Shannon Hale.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Harriet’s deportment teacher tried to make her walk around with a book on her head to improve her posture. Harriet stuffed “a book. . . in his mouth” because she didn’t want to complete the exercise.
  • During her two-year trip, Harriet fights Ogrecat, an ogre with cat-like qualities. “The Ogrecat flung [Harriet] off with a wild shake of his arms.” Harriet recovered with a “reverse one-handed cartwheel (the other hand was holding the sword).” Then, Harriet “brought the hilt of her sword down on his toes.” The fight is detailed in three pages.
  • When her mother wakes her up to meet the royal court, Harriet drops her “sword on her own foot.”
  •  Harriet defends herself against Ratshade, the god-mouse that cursed her to sleep when she pricked her finger on the hamster wheel. “Harriet whipped her around and around and charged toward the hamster wheel.” Before Ratshade could get another hit in their fight, “Harriet slammed [Ratshade] into the hamster wheel, hard enough to give the wicked fairy a shoulder full of splinters. The curse took. . . but it was the wrong person.” This part of the scene is described over three pages.
  • After Wilbur breaks the curse, Ratshade and Harriet fight. “Ratshade’s spell hit [Harriet] before she could make it ten feet. It felt like somebody clubbed her in the back of her knees.” Next, Ratshade cast a spell that made two of a hydra’s heads crash together, then “two more tied themselves together in a knot.” This scene lasts for two pages.
  • Harriet drops her sword, and the prince throws the sword to Harriet while he distracts the wicked god-mouse. Then, Harriet “swung the sword over her head and down in a great cleaving arc. . . aimed for the stump of Ratshade’s tail.” Furious, Ratshade tries to strangle Harriet with her claws. “Ratshade’s monstrous claws were cutting into [Harriet’s] skin and making it hard to breathe. . . Bright spots were starting to form in front of her eyes.” Finally, Harriet clips a magical clothespin onto Ratshade’s nose. While trying to unclip the magical clothespin, “Ratshade tumbled over [Mumfrey’s tail] and landed on her back.” This scene lasts for six pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The Crone of the Blighted Waste puts “nasty-smelling gunk” on Harriet’s injuries and gave Harriet “a bottle of antiseptic” to continue treating the injuries.

Language

  • While writing a letter to her parents, Harriet says “dang” to her riding quail.
  • Harriet calls the Orgrecat a “foul beast” and a “monster.”
  • After cutting their way through the briars around the castle, Wilbur and Harriet “muttered bad words under their breath.”

Supernatural

  • Ratshade curses Harriet on her christening. “When [Harriet] is twelve years old, she shall prick her finger upon a hamster wheel and fall into a sleep like death!”
  • Three fairy god-mice modify the curse on Harriet. The oldest god-mouse changed the curse so “when the princess falls asleep, she shall not need either food or drink.” The middle god-mouse changed the curse so that “at the moment it takes effect, enormous thorny briars shall grow around the princess’s tower so no one can get in.” The youngest god-mouse changed the curse so “the kiss of a prince” will wake Harriet up.
  • When the curse activates on Ratshade, Harriet “felt [the curse] take, a great wash of cold air that ruffled her fur and pinned her ears back. . . Sparks arced and cracked over the rat’s fur and between her whiskers. . . The cold wind wrapped around them once, twice, three times–and the third time. . .then there was silence.” The curse had spread to the rest of the castle grounds, and except for Harriet, the hamsters around the castle were asleep.
  • Later, the Crone of the Blighted Waste makes the “modifications of the curse [take] effect. . . none of [Harriet’s] people will have to eat or drink while they are asleep, and the brambles seem to have grown around the entire palace quite nicely.”
  • Wilbur, a prince, was cursed to remain on a glass mountain until someone arrived to get him. “Prince Wilbur was wearing a hand-me-down christening gown. . . when the wicked fairy showed up, she thought he was a princess, and… well…”
  • After Wilbur broke the curse on Ratshade, the “pile of ropes exploded.” Ratshade said spells “that make the ropes whip off her like frightened snakes.” There were no ills effects from either spell.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

 

The Madre De Aguas of Cuba

A legendary sea serpent is missing. Can the Unicorn Rescue Society find it and end Cuba’s terrible drought?

A brand-new adventure is ready to unfold as Uchenna, Elliot, and Professor Fauna fly to Havana to search for the Madre de Aguas. Is this missing creature responsible for the drought that has ravaged the island for months? And why are the Schmoke Brothers’ goons driving around Havana, dumping pink sludge into sewers? The Unicorn Rescue Society is ready to save the day—and hopefully not get eaten in the process!

Uchenna, Elliot, Professor Fauna, and a Jersey Devil come together on a fast-paced journey through Havana, where they meet several locals. The Madre De Aguas of Cuba shows how different cultures—Taino, Africans, and Spanish—have combined their traditions. Now the Cubans are like a ceiba tree, “many roots, one tree.” The story seamlessly incorporates the idea that people can have different beliefs and still live in peace.

When Uchenna, Elliot, and Professor Fauna get to Cuba, Yoenis—a Cuban American—gives a lecture on the political situation in Cuba, including commentary on the United States embargo. The history lesson is long-winded and has nothing to do with the story’s plot. Another downside of the book is that several of the characters, including Professor Fauna, speak Spanish. Some of the Spanish passages are long and there are not always enough context clues to understand what is being said.

All the characters are quirky in different ways, which adds humor and suspense. Even though the history of Cuba is introduced, young readers will still enjoy the story because of the humorous tone and the interesting characters. Black-and-white illustrations appear every 1 to 2 pages; the illustrations add humor and help the readers visualize the characters. Most of the text is easy to read because it uses short paragraphs, simple vocabulary, and dialogue.

The Unicorn Rescue Society Series will delight readers who want to learn about mythical monsters. Uchenna, Elliot, Professor Fauna, and a Jersey Devil are loveable characters who appear in each installment, and the interplay between the characters is both humorous and endearing. Readers who enjoy The Madre De Aguas of Cuba should check out Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan as it also mixes humor with monsters.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Uchenna and Elliot are told some of Cuba’s history. “When Columbus first arrived in Cuba, he said it was the most beautiful place on earth, claimed it for Spain, and then he started killing the Taino, the Native People who live here.”
  • When the Europeans came to Cuba, they “began enslaving people in Africa and bringing them across the Atlantic.”
  • The Madre de Aguas uses the pipes to travel to a golden statue that is in a hotel. “Shards of gold and steel shot in every direction, hitting the ceiling and the chandelier, causing glass and plaster to mix with gold and steel to rain down on everyone.” No one is injured.
  • From the hotel window, the Madre de Aguas sees the ocean. “Her body rippled and vibrated with strength, and she tore away from the fountain and plowed through the tables, reducing them to wood chips and tatters of white fabric. . .She burst through the huge window” and escaped.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • The Schmokes brothers use Sure-to-Choke insecticide to poison Cuba’s water supply.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • An older woman explains the importance of the ceiba tree. She says, “The ceiba is sacred to the Taino, the Native People on this island.” The Spanish invaded Cuba in 1519. When they arrived, they gathered under a great ceiba tree and prayed, to give thanks for arriving safely in this land.
  • The Afro-Cubans considered the ceiba tree “the holy tree of Afro-Cubans.”
  • Cuba is suffering from a drought, and many Cubans “pray to Maria and she keeps them safe.”
  • At a gathering of people who work in agriculture, people argue over who is responsible for providing Cuba’s water. Some say, “We can all thank Oshun (daughter of the river) for all the sweet waters in Cuba.” Someone else says, “Every good Catholic knows that we get fresh water from Maria, Mother of God.” Others believe that the Madre de Aguas brings water.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

 

Thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle leaves her boarding school in England to reunite with her family in America. She leaves England a prim and proper lady with a notebook from her father to detail her travels. However, Charlotte quickly discovers that her voyage home is not going to be smooth sailing.

On board The Seahawk, Charlotte fears the majority of the ship’s male crew, including the lone black man Zachariah, who gives her a knife the first time they meet. He warns Charlotte to keep the knife for protection, as “she might need it.” This is the first hint that things aboard The Seahawk aren’t all they seem, but Charlotte’s determined to keep her ladylike composure, especially in front of Captain Jaggery. Jaggery is a refined and educated man, unlike his crew, which prompts a friendship between him and Charlotte. Yet, Charlotte wonders if something more is awry when Jaggery asks that Charlotte become his “informant” and report any talk of rebellion to him.

After her promise, Charlotte discovers that the crew intends to mutiny. When Charlotte reports the threat, Jaggery responds with violence, killing some of the sailors including Zachariah. Suddenly, Charlotte’s journey turns into one of atonement. To fill the gap left by the now dead sailors, Charlotte joins the crew. Then, during a hurricane, the first mate is found with Charlotte’s knife in his chest. After a trial by Jaggery (who now scorns Charlotte because she has sided with the crew), Charlotte is proclaimed guilty, even though she didn’t commit the crime.

In the end, it’s discovered that Zachariah lived through his beating. He helps Charlotte create a plan to rid the ship of Jaggery and prove her innocence. They discover that it was Jaggery who murdered the first mate as a ploy to get rid of Charlotte, whom he hates for being an “unnatural” girl. Charlotte is able to dispatch Jaggery and sail home as a young captain with Zachariah by her side. However, her greatest conflict is the one she faces back on American soil, when her father burns her journal and forces her to be a “lady” again. Charlotte runs away from home when she remembers the words Zachariah once told her: “A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from a safe port. . . but winds have a mind of their own.”

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a thrilling and detailed story for young adults. The book is told from Charlotte’s perspective, and she is a compelling narrator. At first, she’s somewhat difficult to like because she’s stuck in her ways, but the reader will sympathize with her desire to do what is right despite the criticism she faces as a woman. While it is unlikely something like Charlotte’s story ever happened at the time, the story is realistic in the context of the era – such as the behavior of the characters, the dialogue, and the use of religion. The end of the book also includes a glossary of ship terms which the author uses for the reader to feel as if they’re on board a ship just like Charlotte is. The overarching message of this story is to follow one’s own path, even in the face of adversity, and Charlotte is a character that embodies that until the end.

Sexual Content

  • Ewing, one of the crew, kisses Charlotte on the cheeks to say goodbye.

Violence

  • Zachariah gives Charlotte a knife for protection.
  • Charlotte uses the knife to scare an animal. “I heard a sound. I looked across the cabin. A rat was sitting on my journal, nibbling at its spine. Horrified, I flung the dirk at it.” The rat runs off.
  • Zachariah describes a past incident where Captain Jaggery punished one of the crew for not tying a knot properly. “Captain Jaggery said Mr. Cranick’s laboring arm was his by rights. Miss Doyle, Mr. Cranick has but one arm now. He was that much beaten by Captain Jaggery, who, as he said himself, took the arm.”
  • Captain Jaggery shows Charlotte that he keeps guns in his cabin.
  • Charlotte describes Jaggery’s violent behavior. “If provoked sufficiently, the captain might resort to a push or a slap with his own open hand. . . I saw him strike Morgan with a belaying pin, one of the heavy wood dowels used to secure a rigging rope to the pin rail. In dismay, I averted my eyes. The fellow was tardy about reefing a sail, the captain said and went on to catalog further likely threats. Confinement in the brig. Salary docking. No meals. Lashing. Dunking in the cold sea or even keelhauling, which, as I learned, meant pulling a man from one side of the ship to the other – under water.”
  • Charlotte finds a gun in one of the crew member’s chests. Another man, Morgan, who catches her, threatens her so she won’t tell the captain. “He lifted a hand, extended a stiletto like a forefinger, and drew it across his own neck as if cutting A spasm of horror shot through me. He was – in the crudest way – warning me about what might happen to me if I took my discovery to the captain.”
  • Captain Jaggery kills a crew member, who tries to start a mutiny. “Captain Jaggery fired his musket. The roar was stupendous. The ball struck Cranick square in the chest. With a cry of pain and mortal shock he dropped his sword and stumbled backward into the crowd. They were too stunned to catch him, but instead leaped back so that Cranick fell to the deck with a sickening thud. He began to groan and thrash about in dreadful agony, blood pulsing from his chest and mouth in ghastly gushes.”
  • Captain Jaggery has Zachariah whipped for starting the unsuccessful mutiny. The first mate “turned Zachariah so that he faced into the shrouds, then climbed up into these shrouds and with a piece of rope bound his hands, pulling him so that the old man was all but hanging from his wrists, just supporting himself on the tips of his bare toes. . . I turned to look at Captain Jaggery. Only then did I see that he had a whip in his hands.”
  • Jaggery says that the first mate, Mr. Hollybrass, will give Zachariah 50 lashes. “Hollybrass lifted his arm and cocked it . . .with what appeared to be the merest flick of his wrist, the whip shot forward; its tails hissed through the air and spat against Zachariah’s back. The moment they touched the old man’s skin, four red welts appeared. . .” Hollybrass continues to whip Zachariah.
  • Charlotte begs the Captain to make it stop. When Captain Jaggery refuses, Charlotte whips him. “He took another step toward me. In a gesture of defense, I pulled up my arm, and so doing flicked the whip through the air, inflicting a cut across the captain’s face. For an instant a red welt marked him from his left cheek to his right ear. Blood began to ooze. . . When [Captain Jaggery] saw they were bloody he swore a savage oath, jumped forward and tore the whip from my hand, whirled about and began beating Zachariah with such fury as I had never seen.” Later, Charlotte sees the sailors dump a hammock overboard, which is said to contain Zachariah’s dead body.
  • After Charlotte joins the crew, Captain Jaggery punishes her. “He struck me across the face with the back of his hand, then turned and walked away.”
  • Charlotte finds Mr. Hollybrass’s body after he’s been killed. “A knife was stuck in his back, plunged so deeply only the scrimshaw handle could be seen. I recognized the design. . .This was the dirk Zachariah had given me.”
  • Charlotte is accused of murdering Mr. Hollybrass since the knife belongs to her. Captain Jaggery threatens to hang her if she can’t prove who killed him.
  • After Charlotte realizes that Captain Jaggery has killed Mr. Hollybrass, he chased her with a pistol to kill her. Jaggery chases Charlotte out to the bow, where he falls into the sea and drowns.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the sailors, Morgan, has a tobacco pouch.

Language

  • Charlotte describes the sailors as “men recruited from the doormat of Hell.”
  • Captain Jaggery says that the men on the ship are unable to understand kindness. He says, “they demand a strong hand, a touch of the whip, like dumb beasts who require a little bullying.” He also calls the crew, “the dirtiest, laziest dogs” and “a poor set of curs.”
  • When Charlotte tells Jaggery that she suspects a mutiny, Jaggery says, “why the devil did you not tell me before?”
  • Captain Jaggery shouts, “damn you!” once.

Supernatural

  • Charlotte considers that Zachariah might’ve appeared to her as a ghost or an angel.

Spiritual Content

  • References to God, the Bible, and Heaven occur occasionally throughout the text. Captain Jaggery occasionally has a Bible with him, and a church service is held on the ship on Sundays, where Charlotte reads passages from the Bible to the crew. Captain Jaggery sometimes refers to himself as a Christian. “And was ever a Christian more provoked than I?”
  • Zachariah compares God to a ship’s captain. “When a ship is upon the sea, there’s but one who rules. As God is to his people, as king is to his nation, as father to his family, so is captain to his crew.”
  • After Cranick’s death, Zachariah wishes to give him a funeral, but Captain Jaggery wants him thrown overboard. Zachariah says, “Even a poor sinner such as he should have his Christian service.” Captain Jaggery replies, “I want that dog’s carcass thrown over.”
  • Charlotte feels responsible for what happened to the crew and Zachariah since she revealed their plot. She prays to God for forgiveness.
  • During Charlotte’s trial, each man swears on the Bible to tell the truth.
  • Zachariah tells Charlotte an old saying, “the Devil will tie any knot, save the hangman’s noose. That Jack does for himself.”

by Madison Shooter

Exile

 

Sophie is settling in nicely to her new home and her new life in the world of the lost cities. And it helps that living at Havenfield means getting to spend time with rare, precious species—including the first female Alicorn– who shows herself to Sophie and trusts only her.

Sophie is tasked with helping to train the magical creature so that the Alicorn can be revealed to the people of the lost cities as a sign of hope. Sophie wants to believe that the recent drama and anguish are gone for good.

But the secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memories remain, and before long, she’s back in incredible danger, risking everything to find the answers to questions that could save not only her life but the life of someone close to her…

From the first page, Exile jumps into action and takes the reader on an adventure through the elf’s world. The story focuses on the mystery of the Black Swan and Sophie’s unique talents—telepathy, teleportation, understanding all languages, and being able to perform a brain push. The intrigue around Sophie’s beginnings adds danger, suspense, and mystery. The moments between Sophie and her friends also give the story added depth as well as blush-worthy awkward boy scenes. As the narrator, Sophie draws the reader into her life and highlights the dangers of guilt. One councilman tells Sophie, “Guilt is a treacherous thing. It creeps in slowly, breaking you down bit by bit.”

Exile is extremely entertaining, but the complicated plot, the large cast of characters, and the political intrigue make Exile more suitable for strong, middle school readers. Scenes between Sophie and a high-maintenance unicorn add humor and glitter to the story. Sophie’s friends—who don’t always get along with each other—give the story heart. The heartwarming conclusion leaves several questions left unanswered, which will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, Everblaze. However, readers should be warned, Sophie’s adventures will draw you into the action and leave you wanting to read every book in the series, which has 8.5 books (and counting).

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When a man sees Sophie’s family pendant, “He lunged for her. Sophie shrieked and tried to block him, but he pinned her shoulders to her chair with one arm while his other hand tore at her cape.” Sophie is scared, but not injured.
  • Fintan creates a fire. “Flashes of orange thrashed among the yellow flames, and Fintan stumbled to his feet, realizing they were the figures of his friends. . . All he could do was watch their agonized faces as the fire attacked. Then he dropped to his knees and vomited.”
  • While performing a brain push, Alden and Sophie are injured when “a wave of heat shot up Alden’s arm, burning Sophie’s hand. . .” Alden falls to the floor. “Alden lay unconscious, a large gash on his forehead streaking his face red.”
  • By using his power, Bronte inflicts pain on Sophie. “The harder Sophie tried to fight the heat, the hotter it burned. . . Sophie screamed and felt her body collapse as the searing heat raged through her mind like an inferno.” Sophie takes a serum that made it so she “couldn’t feel, couldn’t think, just lay there and soaked up the freedom of being so light, so calm, so completely unburdened.”
  • A group of cloaked people throw a net over Sophie, Keefe, and the Alicorn. “Keefe aimed at the figure who was armed, but before he fired, one of the other figures nailed Keefe in the head with a rock. The melder slipped from his hand. . .” Keefe uses a throwing star and “the silver blades clipped the figures shoulder, tearing his cloak and making him drop his end of the net.” During the struggle, the Alicorn’s wing is broken.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Several times, Sophie is given serums called “Achey Break,” “Fade Fuel,” and another one called “Youth.” When she drinks the Achey Break, “it rushed through her like warm bubbles floating into all the places she’d felt sore.” The water had a special enzyme that helped keep everyone healthy.
  • Alden geos into an unconscious state and is given sedatives to keep him from thrashing.
  • When Sophie is upset, a healer gives her a “salty medicine.” After she takes it, “the room didn’t just become clearer—it became brighter. Lighter. Things weren’t so bad, really. How could they be when there was this cool rush racing through her, filling her with life and energy and lifting her higher. . .”
  • A dwarf gives Sophie a sedative so he can take her to a secret location.

Language

  • Other elves call Sophie a freak.
  • One of the council members calls Sophie’s adoptive parents “two of the world’s most scandalous misfits.” Later, a council member calls Sophie’s adoptive father an “insolent fool.”
  • Several times, a boy calls his brother an idiot.
  • One of Sophie’s friends asks, “Ugh, how do I apologize for being the hugest jerk ever?”

Supernatural

  • Sophie is an elf with many powers including teleportation and understanding all languages. In addition, “Sophie was the only Telepath who could track thoughts to their exact location—and the only one who could read the minds of animals.”
  • Sophie uses a “brain push” that allows her to channel “energy from her core into her legs” so she can run faster.
  • In the elf world, some elves use a crystal to “light leap” to another location. For example, Sophie “stepped into the light, letting the warmth swell under her skin like thousands of tickling feathers as the simmering rush swept her and the alicorn away.”
  • A spectral mirror has a girl in it. Sophie is told the mirror works because of “a clever bit of programming.”
  • Sophie’s adoptive mother, Edaline can “pull things out of thin air.”
  • Sophie’s adoptive father, Grady, is a Mesmer. He says, “I could make anyone do anything they needed. I could mesmerize the entire Council if I wanted to, make them sight any law into effect. I could make them all jump off a cliff if I felt like it.”
  • One of Sophie’s classmates says her special ability will “probably be a Guster like my dad. Controlling the wind—whoop-de-fricking-do.”
  • Dwarves mine a mineral called magsidian. “It has an inherent field that draws things to it, and you can change what it draws by how you carve it.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Battle of the Ampere

After sacrificing himself for the successful destruction of the Starxource plant, Michael is lost in the Peruvian rainforest. He’s rescued by a group of natives named the Amacarra tribe, who are also sheltering another one of Hatch’s electric children: Tessa. From Tessa, Michael learns that the Elgen have a fleet of boats, including the Ampere, where the head of the Elgen corporation resides. Michael’s next goal is to track down Hatch who lived through the destruction of the plant and seized control of the Ampere which is his new base of command. But first, Michael must reunite with the Electroclan if he wants to have any hope of taking Hatch down.

Battle of the Ampere is broken into three parts. The first part follows Michael and Tessa’s journey through the jungle with Jaime, their guide, who works for the unnamed resistance against the Elgen corporation. The resistance is headed by someone who Michael calls “the voice.” The voice wants the Electroclan to sink the Ampere to put a stop to Hatch’s plans.

 The second part of the book details the fate of the remaining Electroclan members. The Peruvian government declared the Electroclan terrorists after the destruction of the Starxource plant left much of Peru without electricity. It’s up to Michael and Tessa to rescue them from prison.

Lastly, the book covers the sinking of the Ampere, which puts a dent in Hatch’s plans. Unfortunately for the Electroclan, Hatch still escapes with his life and the other electric children. This book is an important read because the Electroclan is tested in ways it hasn’t been before: losing one of its members. Wade dies during the group’s escape from the Peruvian army. Michael reflects that “Grief is a powerful force that settles in the heart like a dark, heavy fog.” The group certainly feels the weight of grief as they split up; some of them choose to return home rather than continue to risk their lives to sink the Ampere. Michael says that the split hurts him, “not just because I was losing my friends, but because deep inside I really wanted to go home with them.” Even though the decision is hard, Michael still chooses to do what he thinks is right.

Things look especially grim at the climax of the novel when Hatch locks the Electroclan in the engine room of the Ampere. The group decides to ignite the bomb they have with them, sacrificing themselves so that they can sink the ship and take Hatch down with them. However, at the last moment, they are rescued by other members of the Electroclan who decided not to return home after all. Upon reuniting, Abigail says to Michael, “You said not to regret my decision. I couldn’t. If something had happened to you, I would have regretted it the rest of my life.”

Battle of the Ampere is darker than the last installment, but it highlights a worthwhile message of sticking by loved ones even when the odds are against you. When the Electroclan wants to give up, Michael emphasizes that they should not let Wade die in vain by letting the Elgen win. The story addresses the grief that comes with losing friends, but it also shows how to preserve their memory. At the end of Battle of the Ampere, Hatch escapes once again, but the Electroclan have learned an invaluable lesson: they are stronger together than apart.

Sexual Content

  • Taylor and Michael reunite, they kiss. Michael runs to her. They “hugged, then she pressed her lips against mine.” When they kiss again, someone says, “Get a room.”
  • When Jack and Abi say goodbye, they kiss. Abi, “leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. Then she looked intensely into his eyes, then kissed him on the mouth.”

Violence

  • During their trek through the forest, Michael and Tessa are caught by Elgen guards, who torture them with RESATs (devices that are made to paralyze the children’s electricity). Michael narrates, “Out of my peripheral vision, I could see them cuffing Tessa’s hands as well. She was still crying but not struggling. She looked as if she was having difficulty breathing. The RESAT was set way too high for her.”
  • Jaime is also captured. Michael says, “With some effort I looked over at Jaime. He was so still I wondered if he was dead. . . But they tranquilized him. The Elgen only killed when their foe had no value. Jaime had value. They would torture him. They would break him and learn about the voice.”
  • To kill the guards holding them hostage, Michael activates a sentry gun. Michael says, “I got the remote in my hands and moved it around in my fingers. As the first guard reached me, I pressed the button. The entire campsite exploded with machine gun fire. . . I closed my eyes until the firing stopped, the stench of smoke falling low to the ground. . . I dared not even move my head enough to look around to see if anyone was left. . . The Elgen guards were lying all around me, but no one was moving. I looked back at Tessa. She was shaking. She tried to speak but couldn’t. She was drenched with sweat and her blouse looked as if she had showered in it. The RESAT was set way too high. I was worried that if I couldn’t get it turned off soon that it might stop her heart.”
  • The Electroclan (minus Michael and Tessa) attempt to escape from prison in a van driven by Peruvians, but they are caught. Jack is shot in the process. “The transport veered off the road and everyone bounced around in the back. Bullets tore through the front and side windows of the cab, ripping apart the front of the van. A stray bullet hit Jack in the arm . . . As they lay there, dozens of Peruvian soldiers surrounded the vehicle. Soldiers pulled open the front door of the van, then dragged the bodies of the traitorous soldiers out of the cab. ‘Están muertos.’ [They’re dead].”
  • On board the Ampere, the Elgen council votes to execute Hatch. He attacks them by using the electric children who are still loyal to him. “The corridor lights flickered. Then the lights at the end of the hall went dark. . . both guards drew their weapons, the first a submachine gun, the second a Colt sidearm. Suddenly the second guard dropped his handgun and began screaming. His face was red and he was violently shaking his hands in the air. ‘My hands! They’re burning!’ Then, the first guard also threw his gun to the floor and fell to his knees, pulling off his boots…” The two guards lay on the ground writhing and screaming with pain.
  • The kids continue to abuse the guards before locking them in the ship’s brig. Quentin makes the guards strip down to their underwear even though they’ve been burned. Torstyn orders one to crawl inside the cell. “The guard hurriedly pulled down his slacks, screaming as they brushed against his feet. Then he crawled into the cell, whimpering.”
  • When a hostage board member tries to grab a gun, Hatch throws him out of a window. “The guards lifted the man and threw him out. The sound of his screaming could be heard until a distant splash ended it.”
  • The guards also hurt head chairman Schema on Hatch’s orders. “The captain walked up to Schema and pulled him out of his chair, forcing him to kneel, then kicked him in the stomach. Schema gasped, then fell to his side, coughing fiercely. . . Hatch turned around and said, ‘Captain of the guard, I want former chairman Schema hung upside down by his feet.’” Later, while drunk, Hatch visits Schema. Schema “had been hanging for more than three hours and was unconscious. There was a pool of vomit on the floor beneath him.”
  • Michael, Tessa, and Jaime work together to stop a Peruvian convoy that is transporting the rest of the Electroclan to trial. Michael attacks the soldiers with lightning. Michael makes a ball of lightning and “lobbed it into the truck’s cab. There was a flash of blue light, then the sound of a head hitting the dashboard.”
  • Mercenaries use the attack on the Peruvian convoy to capture Jack and Taylor for ransom money. A few of the men argue over how to split the money. One of men pulls out a gun. “The Australian [mercenary] drew first and shot him twice. Then he shot the man next to him. The other three men put their hands in the air as smoke rose up from the campsite.”
  • Wade is killed in the escape. “Jack was kneeling on the ground holding Wade in his arms. There was blood everywhere. As we got to Jack’s side, he was pressing down on Wade’s abdomen. Blood was rising up between his fingers. Wade was shaking and his skin was pale and waxlike.”
  • Michael reflects on Wade’s death. “Time seemed frozen, disjoined like broken sequences cut out of a horror movie. Jack’s hands and torso were drenched in blood and he was screaming in anguish. . . During it all, one of the guards woke and began shouting at us to let him go.”
  • After Wade dies, Michael walks over to a guard. “When [the guard] saw the fierce anger on my face his own expression turned from anger to fear. I had to control myself so that I only shocked him unconscious. Then Zeus and I dragged him out of the clearing into the jungle, crammed leaves into his mouth, and tied his shirt around his face to keep him from making any more noise. We were doing it for his benefit. In Jack’s current state he would gladly silence him permanently. Then, Zeus, Ian, and I dragged the other guards into the jungle. There was no need to tie up the guard who had shot wade. He hadn’t survived Zeus’s blast.”
  • Taylor informs Michael that Jack intends to “go down when we sink the Ampere.” Jack refers to their mission as “a suicide mission” a few times, reflecting his wish to die when they sink the ship. Michael tells Jaime, “[Jack] blames himself for Wade’s death. Taylor told me she read his mind and he’s not expecting to survive the attack. It’s like he’s just accepted this is going to be a suicide mission.”
  • Jack cuts Wade’s initials into his arm. “Jack walked into the kitchen. His arm was covered with blood. . . He held up his wound. He had a cut a jagged line on his forearm below his tattoo.”
  • After the group infiltrates the Ampere, Michael finds the aftermath of Hatch’s torture of the board members: “Two of the cells were occupied. One had an Elgen guard lying unconscious on the floor in a pool of blood. The other was jammed full of people, with a woman hanging upside down against the bars, her long hair touching the floor.” The woman has died.
  • Taylor reboots someone too hard. “The man screamed out with pain, fell to one knee, then to his side, crying out as he hit the floor.” Ostin tells Taylor that she probably gave the man an aneurysm.
  • After sinking the Ampere, the Electroclan celebrates Wade’s birthday. Taylor reads a post from a blog Wade kept. The blog says, “Today, my grandmother hit me again. She bashed me like a hundred times with a wooden spoon, and then with a tennis racquet. I have cuts and bruises all over. It takes all I have not to just haul off and knock her one, but I know they’ll throw me in jail if I do. The last time I stood up to her she called the police, and when they came she acted like a sweet old lady who got stuck with a low-life juvie… Sometimes I feel like this crummy world is completely stacked against me and I want to give up.”
  • Wade writes about Jack’s history in his blog too. “Jack’s been dealt a bad hand too. His old man’s an alcoholic. His mom left him, and one of his brothers is a drug head and in prison, but Jack never gives up and he never complains. . . If it wasn’t for him, I probably would have just ended it a long time ago.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hatch and the kids drink alcohol in a toast to their future successes. Hatch gets drunk and visits Schema in the brig, but Schema is unconscious.

Language

  • The Australian mercenary calls a few of his men “wankers” and “bloody crook[s]” for being cowards and wanting more money.
  • After the Electroclan escapes to a nearby town, the townspeople recognize them and surround them because they still believe they are terrorists. Ostin calls it, “a freakin’ lynch mob.”
  • Ostin tells Hatch that he is “a skid mark on the underwear of humanity.”

Supernatural

  • There are seventeen electric children in the series. Each one has a different electricity-related power including the ability to create light, heat, magnetism, or lightning. Others can interfere with electrical equipment. Some of the kids can manipulate electrical signals within the body that allow them to read minds, take away pain, and create emotional responses such as fear. For example, Michael can make his body electric and is able to absorb the energy from the other children and concentrate it into lightning he can pulse and throw. Taylor can read minds due to electrical brain signals. Ian is blind and uses electro-location to see through walls and solid objects.
  • Tessa, another one of the electric children, meets Michael in the rainforest. Unlike Michael, she amplifies electricity rather than taking it away.
  • The Amarcarra people believe Dr. Hatch is a Chullanchaqui. Tessa explains, “The natives believe the Chullanchaqui is a demon who lives in the Amazon jungle. It appears as a friend and lures people off into the jungle where they are never heard from again.”
  • The Peruvian people have a similar distrust in the electric children. “Rumors spread quickly through the Peruvian military force that eight teenagers they were hunting in the jungle were more than just young terrorists. They were part of an occult group called the Electroclan and workers of black magic – a rumor that gained credence when it was discovered that some of them actually glowed in the dark.”

Spiritual Content

  • Hatch says, “Fate is an excuse for people who are too stupid or too weak to make their own future.” Later he adds, “You can’t fight destiny.”
  • Hatch and Quentin talk about the Bible. Hatch says, “It’s fabulous fiction, really. Hogwash, of course, rubbish and drivel. But every now and then, the writers got it right. Did you know that it prophesizes of us?”
  • Hatch quotes the Bible, “And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. . . The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.” Hatch thinks “the seven heads and ten horns, the number seventeen, represents the seventeen electric children. And the dragon gave them their power, as I have given you yours. Just as I will give you thrones and great authority. And the people of the world shall fear you and they shall worship me.”
  • When they bury Wade, “Ostin fashioned a small cross from tree branches.”
  • An innkeeper who shelters the Electroclan says, “I will pray to the Virgin Mary for your safety.”
  • Michael is worried that Jack wants to commit suicide. Michael says, “I don’t know what to do when someone loses hope.” Jaime replies, “you pray for them.”

by Madison Shooter

Ascent

In the third installment of Peak’s climbing adventures, Peak Marcello and his friends, Alessia and Ethan, go to Myanmar to climb the isolated mountain, Hkakabo Razi. However, the jungles of Myanmar might prove to be more treacherous than the climb itself. But if anyone is good at getting out of trouble, it’s Peak.

Ascent begins Peak’s Myanmar adventure that takes him on a four-week trek through the rainforest. Peak’s descent down Hkakabo Razi is detailed in the fourth book, Descent. Ascent maintains much of the same cast and includes rock climbing and run-ins with local governments in countries that have histories of civil unrest.

Characters from the first book also make a surprise reappearance in the latter half of the book, including Peak’s biological father, Josh Wood, who is a famous mountaineer and Zopa, the Tibetan monk. Peak’s relationship with Josh continues to grow. Peak is also enormously happy to see Zopa, who rarely reveals his secrets and is always the smartest person on the mountaintop. In this sense, the end of Ascent harkens back to the events on Mount Everest in Peak.

Much of the book takes place in the jungle at the base of Hkakabo Razi. The group encounters corrupt military officials, language barriers, wildlife, and a murderer on the run from the Burmese government. The actual mountaineering is near the end of the book, when they finally make it out of the jungle.

The traumatic events that occurred in The Edge are addressed, in part, in Ascent. Ascent is less intense than The Edge generally. These books should be read in order, for comprehension’s sake. Readers familiar with this series will find their expectations met when it comes to the intensity and graphic nature of the violence. Much like the previous book, Peak doesn’t experience the violence himself, but he does hear about it secondhand.

Ascent is a good continuation to Peak’s adventures and the characters’ development. Although this book moves at a slower pace than the previous two, it sets up the intense action in Descent. Fans of Peak’s adventures will be glad to see old faces reintegrated into the mix and will welcome the new additions. Ascent certainly presents an exciting first half to this two-part portion of Peak’s story, and it will be interesting to see what unfolds for Peak and his friends next.

Sexual Content

  • Peak and Alessia are dating. Peak talks about his feelings for her, saying, “I guess I am in love with her. And I think that she feels the same way about me.”
  • At several points in the book, Peak “kisses [Alessia].” It is never more than a quick peck.

Violence

  • A Burmese guide named Lwin killed an owl “with his slingshot and ate it.”
  • Lwin has a timber elephant named Nagathan, and Lwin tells Alessia, Ethan, and Peak that Nagathan has killed several people. This turns out to be false; it was Lwin himself, who killed those people. Alessia, Ethan, and Peak discover this when soldiers find them in the forest and inform them of the situation.
  • Nagathan trampled Lwin, killing him. Peak and his friends only hear reports about the state of Lwin’s body. Major Thakin, who oversees the soldiers, says that Lwin “was unrecognizable as a human. The forest animals had been feeding on what was left of him for a couple of days. It was too dark to search for remains last night, so the soldiers camped near the crime scene. This morning they searched the area and found a foot, two fingers, and a bloody longyi [pouch] up in a tree.” This description lasts for a few paragraphs.
  • Lwin, who turns out to be alive, tries to take Alessia hostage. Alessia uses the mixed martial arts that Ethan taught her to flip Lwin and break his foot and hand. Peak describes, “There was a loud snap, like a dry stick being broken, and then an unconscious Lwin was lying on the ground and Alessia was holding his [hunting knife] to his neck.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Peak and his friends end up in a bustling town in the middle of the jungle. In it, there are stands selling “animal parts, skins, rubies, and opium.”
  • Nick and Ethan have cold beers when invited to dinner by a man named Mr. Chin, while Alessia and Peak drink lemonade.

Language

  • Light language is used somewhat often. Language includes: crap, fool, damn, crazy, stupid, and weird.
  • Nick, the resident botanist of Peak’s group, says, “Good lord” when a young girl in a village runs up to him and shows him a dismembered monkey’s foot.
  • As Alessia’s bodyguard, Ethan has been teaching Alessia mixed martial arts. Ethan says to Peak, “She can kick your ass.” Later, after Ethan hears that Alessia defended herself against Lwin without an issue, Ethan says, “I told you she could kick your ass.”
  • A cameraman named Zack says, “Oh my God” when Peak tells him how Ethan was injured.

Supernatural

  • Ethan has a single spoon that he’s used during his journeys on all seven continents. He refers to it as his “magic spoon.”
  • Ethan mentions that he saw “a ghost” in the middle of the night. Peak responds that he doesn’t believe in ghosts, and Ethan replies, “Yeah, me neither. Let’s take a look.” They find that there are footprints, and Peak says, “I don’t think ghosts leave footprints.” They discover that Lwin probably faked his own death and has been following them.
  • Peak tells Nick the ghost/Lwin theory. Nick responds that he thinks it’s just a ghost. Nick says, “The forest is filled with spirits and ghosts . . . I’m surprised it took Ethan this long to spot one.”

Spiritual Content

  • Zopa is a monk and sometimes gives blessings to passing porters, hikers, and climbers.
  • Peak survives being buried in an avalanche. Josh calls him “lucky,” and Zopa calls it “karma.”
  • When a helicopter finally shows up in the forest, Alessia says, “Thank God.” Peak responds, “Amen to that.”

by Alli Kestler

A New Beginning

Will Treaty has come a long way from the small boy with dreams of knighthood. Life had other plans for him, and as an apprentice Ranger under Halt, he grew into a legend—the finest Ranger the kingdom has ever known. Yet Will is facing a tragic battle that has left him grim and alone. To add to his problems, the time has come for him to take on an apprentice of his own, and it’s the last person he ever would have expected: Princess Madelyn, the daughter of Princess Cassandra. Will will have to win the trust and respect of his difficult new companion—a task that at times seems almost impossible.

A New Beginning brings the exciting tale of Horace and Cassandra’s daughter, Maddie. Fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will be eager to follow Will Treaty on an epic journey that pits a group of evil slavers against Will and Maddie. The fast-paced story has plenty of adventure and action as well as humorous moments. The first part of the story focuses on Maddie’s Ranger apprenticeship where she not only learns the skills of a Ranger, but also learns to have compassion for the common people. The second part of the story focuses on Will and Maddie as they investigate the kidnapping of children. Both parts expertly merge for a suspenseful conclusion that contains several surprises.

As a princess, Maddie was disrespectful, disobedient, and defiant; however, readers will connect with the spoiled princess who wants adventure and a life of purpose. Being a Ranger’s apprentice allows Maddie to learn important survival skills, such as how to defeat an enemy, why loyalty is important, and the necessity of following orders. Plus, Maddie gets an inside look at the struggles of peasants. The satisfying conclusion shows Maddie’s growth from a spoiled brat to a brave Ranger’s apprentice who helped save children from being sold into slavery.

A New Beginning is not for the faint of heart; an evil villain, bloody battles, and many deaths are all essential parts of the plot. The fighting and deaths are described in detail. Plus, the story focuses on the Stealer, who “is a mysterious spirit, dressed all in black, and wearing a black mask and cloak. He materializes in a village and takes children.”

Although A New Beginning is the beginning of Maddie’s story, those who are new to the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will not understand the significance of some of the people and events that take place. For maximum enjoyment, readers should first read all 12 books in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series. While this may seem like a huge undertaking, each book has a unique new conflict that will capture readers’ attention.

Through the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, Flanagan creates a world where good and evil often clash. By the end of the series, readers will feel like the characters are their friends. While the series often delves into serious topics, the books also reinforce the importance of loyalty, sacrifice, and friendship. Readers who decide to jump into the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will be swept away into a world where knights exist, princesses help save the day, and the Ranger’s apprentices always help overcome evil.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A Ranger questions a wagoner about “the fire that you and Ruhl set in that inn. . . There was a woman killed in that fire, remember? A Courier.” The Ranger explains that the Courier died while saving a child who was trapped in the fire.
  • Later, the fire is described. The Courier, Alyss, was on the second story of the inn when there was “a terrible rumbling crash, the entire section of the roof above and around where she was standing gave way and collapsed in a mass of flames and sparks. . . Alyss never had a chance.”
  • As the Ranger questions the wagoner, the Ranger’s “right hand snatched the dagger from his belt and he swung it in a backhanded strike. . . The wagoner grunted in shock and staggered back. His feet tangled in the bench he’d been sitting on and he stumbled, crashing over to hit the edge of the table, then falling with a thud to the ground.” When the wagoner doesn’t move, someone turns him over. “The wagoner’s eyes were wide-open. The shock of what had happened was frozen on his face. His own dagger was buried deep in his chest.”
  • Someone tries to kill Maddie, who reacts by using her sling to throw a projectile at the attacker. “The shot, with the extra impetus of the sling to propel it, hit its target first. She heard an ugly, meaty smack and a muted cry of pain from her attacker as it struck home.” Maddie kills the attacker.
  • The villain kidnaps a girl. In the process, her brother “pretended to go back to sleep. I told him if he raised the alarm or told anyone what he’d seen tonight, I’d come back for him and cut his eyes out of him.”
  • In an epic, multi-chapter conclusion, Will and Maddie try to save a group of children who were kidnapped. Both Will and Maddie are forced to kill several evil men. When Will sees a guard, he “nooked an arrow, drew back and released, sending a shaft flashing down the cliff face. It struck the crossbowman full in the chest.” The man dies.
  • One of the villains threatens to kill a child. In order to save the boy, Maddie whipped the sling over and forward. The lead ball caught the moonlight, glinting once as it flashed toward its target.” The man is injured, and “he drew in a breath to scream and the action caused him more agony as the jagged pieces of his fractured rib grated together.” The man falls off a cliff and dies.
  • Will draws the enemy away from Maddie. When Will has a chance, he shoots an arrow at “the line of advancing men. . . Enrico cried out in surprise and pain and threw out both arms, staggering back under the impact of the speeding shaft. Then he crashed over on his back, his sightless eyes staring up at the sky.” Will kills three men in a similar manner.
  • The enemy captures Will. One of the men “jerked his head forward and butted Will in the face.” Will is tied up, and the head henchman, Ruhl, plans to burn Will at the stake. “Ruhl made his way up to the beach to where Will stood, trapped against the stake, unable to move. . .”
  • Maddie crawls behind Will, who is tied at the stake. She cuts Will’s binds. Someone notices her, and Maddie’s “first shot smashed into one of his men. . . Maddie’s second shot smashed home. It hit him on the right shoulder, shattering the large bones there, smashing the joint beyond any possibility of repair and sending him reeling.”
  • During the fighting, Maddie is hit. “The evil, barbed head was buried deep in her thigh and she felt the leg give way under her, unable to bear her weight. Blood was coursing down her leg and she fell, causing more agony. . .”
  • During the fighting, Ruhl falls into the fire. “Then the firewood ignited with an explosive WHOOF! Ruhl screamed as the flames shot up, enveloping him instantly, catching his clothes and hair. . . He tried to scream again, but the burning air and flames scorched his throat and lungs, and he made a terrible, inhuman grunting noise.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Several times throughout the book, the adults drink ale. A man who owns a tavern “had drunk far too much ale. As a result, he had staggered off to his bed without bothering to clear away the dirty platters. . .”
  • Maddie is invited to a party where there is a cask of wine. Maddie “took a deep swig of wine. It tasted heavy and somewhat sour.” After drinking too much wine, Maddie looks at her friend who “seemed to be swimming in and out of focus.” The next morning, Maddie has a hangover and decides, “I’m never going to drink again.”
  • While trying to solve a mystery, Will goes into a tavern and orders small ale. “Small ale was ale and water mixed in equal proportions.”

Language

  • Gorlog’s breath is used as an exclamation once. Gorlog is a “very useful Skandian demigod.”
  • Oh god and my god are both used as an exclamation once. When Will talks about his dead wife, he say, “Oh god, how I miss her.”

Supernatural

  • While talking to some village children, Maddie hears about barrow wights. “They’re supposed to be spirits that hang around ancient graves.” Will thinks back into the past. Will had “sensed something then as he rode past some ancient borrows, as the ancient grave mounds were called. It seemed to be some malign presence.”
  • One of the villains scares the children with a story about the Stealer. “The Stealer is a mysterious spirit, dressed all in black, and wearing a black mask and cloak. He materializes in a village and takes children. . . The thing is, the Storyman said if we were ever to see him, we were to say nothing. . . And he said we must never, never tell a grown-up about the Stealer in the Night.”

Spiritual Content

  • Queen Cassandra’s father says, “Thank god for Horace. She couldn’t have chosen a better husband.”

 The Arctic Incident

After years of searching for his father, Artemis Fowl receives a ransom note for him; it’s a nightmare and a relief. Artemis’ father is alive—but Artemis has no idea how to rescue him without being killed himself. At the same time, Holly Short discovers something unthinkable: goblins are trading with humans. Exposure could mean a war between the fairy people and humans, and Holly can think of only one human who could be responsible.

When Holly brings Artemis in for questioning, he sees it as the perfect opportunity. He will help them find out which humans are trading with the goblins, and in return, they will help him rescue his father. For their mission, Holly and Artemis head to the Arctic. However, everything goes sideways when halfway through their rescue mission, their weapons die, and they are ambushed by goblins. The goblins are planning a revolution and they’ve clearly had inside help. The question is, who can Holly and Artemis trust, and will they be able to get back before the goblins take control?

Artemis Fowl and the Artic Incident is an action-packed sequel that will please fans of the original book. Holly Short and Artemis Fowl are hilariously at odds with each other as they are forced to work together. Joined by old friends, including Butler, Commander Root, Foaly, and Mulch, The Arctic Incident is equal parts nerve-wracking and hilarious. Readers will enjoy the bonds the fairies and humans make on their mission and will root for Artemis as he struggles to balance his criminal tendencies with the urge to help his newfound friends.

Told from a variety of different viewpoints, The Arctic Incident allows readers to see what is happening on all sides of the power struggle in a clear and enjoyable way. Readers will want to read the first book in the series before picking up this book, in order to understand the action and interpersonal relationships. Both Holly and Artemis continue their personal growth in a believable and heartwarming manner. Technology, fantasy, and feisty fairies are blended to create a fast-paced and fun story. The Arctic Incident does not disappoint, and readers will eagerly reach for the next Artemis Fowl adventure, The Eternity Code.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Chix is injured by goblins. “Chix was lying on a mound of rubble across the avenue. It didn’t look good. The side of his helmet had been bashed in by the jagged remains of a low wall, rendering his com-set completely useless.”
  • Artemis and his team are attacked. “Several softnose laser bursts bored hissing holes in the snow at their feet.”
  • Artemis and his team are caught in a rock slide. “The air was rent by avalanche thunder, and the packed ice beneath them heaved and split. Thick chunks of rock and ice speared the cave’s opening like bars. Bulter and Root were trapped.” It’s mentioned that one of the enemy goblins is caught in the avalanche and killed. “Lieutenant Poll had handed in his resignation when he’d strayed too close to the avalanche and been swatted by a one-ton pane of transparent ice.”
  • A goblin kills his comrades out of greed. “He shot his comrades from behind. Close range, point blank. They never had a chance.”
  • After healing from an injury that was Artemis’ fault, Holly “whacked Artemis right between the eyes.”
  • The LEP is attacked by goblins, who can lob fireballs. “Trouble heard the filaments in his suit pop as they tried to cope with the heat. Boiling tar sucked at his boots, melting the rubber soles. . . a hail of charges sang through the air around them, pulverizing what was left of the emporium’s shop front. Trouble’s crown lurched forward as a slug flattened itself against his helmet.”
  • Root is injured while being towed to a shuttle. When Holly asks Root where it hurts, “Root coughed, blood splattering his uniform. ‘The general bodily area. Couple ribs gone.’”
  • Holly takes down two goblins. “And that was when Holly’s boot connected with [the goblin’s] chest, slamming him into the wall.”
  • A villain crashes through a plasma panel. “He was fried by a million radioactive tendrils.”
  • As part of a rescue mission, Butler shoots Artemis Senior. “The shot caught Artemis Senior in the shoulder. He spun around, slumping over the startled Vassikin.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Root often smokes “fungal cigars.”

Language

  • Hell is used a few times. Root says, “What the hell is this?”
  • Damn is used once. Root says something “damn near destroyed an entire shuttle port.”
  • D’Arvit is a fairy curse word that is used several times.
  • People call goblins dumb and “dumb as stink worms.”
  • Someone calls Artemis a “pasty-faced mud weasel.”
  • Foaly calls someone a “baboon face.”
  • When a goblin sees Artemis’ massive bodyguard, he thinks, “Oh gods, it’s a troll in clothes!” Another time, a man says, “oh, gods. We’re dead.”
  • A Russian calls Artemis a “devil” and his friend “you crazy devil!”

Supernatural

  • The fairy folk live underground, where they hide from the Mud Men (humans). There are pixies, sprites, centaurs, dwarves, goblins, etc. The first fairy Artemis meets is a sprite. “The fairy’s nose was long and hooked under two slitted golden eyes. Her ears were pointed, and the alcohol addiction had melted her skin like putty.”
  • “A lot of the magic attributed to [fairies] is just superstition. But [fairies] do have certain powers. Healing, the Mesmer, and shielding being among them . . . What fairies actually do is vibrate at such a high frequency that they are never in one place long enough to be seen.”
  • The Mesmer allows fairies to mesmerize humans and force them to do what they want. “When the face began to speak, Luc’s worries slid away like an old snakeskin. How could he have been worried? This person was obviously a friend. What a lovely voice.”
  • Some fairies can heal themselves. After a traumatic injury, Holly’s magic heals her. “Holly shot upright, arms swinging like a puppet. Her legs began to jerk, kicking invisible enemies. Then from her vocal cords came a high-pitched keening that cracked the thinner sheets of ice.”
  • Dwarves “can unhinge their jaws, allowing them to ingest several pounds of earth a second. The material is processed by a super-efficient metabolism, stripped of any useful minerals and . . . ejected at the other end.” This leads to some toilet-related humor. One time, “Mulch let go with a stream of gas, blowing a hole in the rug and propelling himself to the ceiling.”
  • Mulch is a dwarf who uses his pores to climb a building. “Dwarf pores are not just for sweating; they can take in moisture as well. When a dwarf was thirsty, as Much was now, his pores opened to the size of pinholes, and began to suck like crazy. This could be extremely useful, if say, you had to climb up the side of a tall building.”
  • Fairies also have the gift of tongues, meaning they can speak any language. Mulch uses this to speak to guard dogs.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Morgan Lynn

 

Pax

Twelve-year-old Peter regrets when he and his father abandon Pax, his pet fox, in a forest two hundred miles away from home. Pax has been part of their family since Peter lost his mother five years ago, and the two friends were inseparable. To Peter, “leaving Pax hadn’t been the right thing to do” so he sets out to bring Pax home. Not far into his journey, Peter fractures his foot, and Vola, a veteran who lost a leg and knows the cost of war, forces him to stay at her cabin until he can walk again.

Pax, with the help of the local foxes, travels through the forest to find Peter. At first, he struggles with living in the wild, but he befriends Bristle and Runt, who teach him about hunting and survival. However, the foxes get into a tiff with soldiers, including Peter’s father, who is gearing up for an unspecified war. As Peter and Pax try to reunite, they are changed by their experiences.

Each chapter alternates between Peter’s and Pax’s perspectives, which allows the reader to understand their bond. In Pax’s point of view, the foxes speak in italics because “fox communication is a complex system of vocalization, gesture, scent, and expression.” The “dialogue” in italics attempts to translate their eloquent language. Switching the point of view adds interest to the overall narrative as the main characters reflect on the five years they have known each other.

Peter faces his limits but resolves to find Pax amongst a brewing war. Peter’s recovery time with Vola helps him gather his scattered thoughts and focus on finding peace within himself, his relationship with his father, and his relationship with his late mother. Older elementary school readers will relate to Peter, who must consider if he should leave Pax in the forest, effectively putting his childhood behind him, or keep Pax and move forward without knowing their future. By the end of the story, Peter learns that “his fox belonged to [Bristle and Runt]. And they belonged to Pax. Inseparable.”

While Pax has several light-hearted moments, it hits on grim topics, including war, death, grief, and betrayal. The descriptive, violent content may shock sensitive readers. Even though there are minimal effects of war on the humans, the foxes are threatened with violence at every turn. Despite this, the story’s slow pacing gives respect for each character. In the end, Peter has found his peace, and Pax has found another place to belong. The story’s conclusion is bittersweet; nonetheless, it demonstrates the inseparable, yet distanced friendship between Peter and Pax.

Pax is a raw and entertaining story suited for more mature readers. The alternating chapters begin with an illustration of Peter or Pax, and other black and white illusions are clustered in the beginning, middle, and end. The illustrations will help readers visualize the story’s characters and events. Readers looking for a compelling, but tamer story about how war affects animals should read Survival Tails: World War II by Katrina Charman and Judy, Prisoner of War by Laurie Calkhoven.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Gray, an older fox, mentions, “When the war-sick arrive here, [his] family will have to move nearer to those colonies or go north, into the mountains.” The soldiers would come into the forest and clear the land for war. While traveling through the forest, Pax watched “the war-sick spread out along the riverbank, rolling out more wires, digging more holes, and burying more dark boxes under the hot sun.”
  • Throughout the story, the foxes hunt frequently. “In a second, Bristle’s head reappeared, and in her jaws was a wood rat. She leaped clear of the grass, bit through the rat’s neck, then dropped it to the ground.”
  • Pax recalls a story about two foxes. “A mated pair of foxes, struggling with something that reminded Pax of his pen—steel, but with jaws and clamps instead of bars. The steel jaws and the white snowy ground were smeared with blood.”
  • Bristle tells Pax about her parent’s death from a gunshot. Just before Bristle and Runt’s mother reaches the chicken coop, “steel jaws sprang out of the earth with such speed that the air snapped. Our mother screamed. The clamp held her front leg.” Their father tries to help their mother, but “the human raised the stick, and in front of our eyes our mother and father burst into blood and fur and shattered bones spattered over the snow.”
  • Peter steals Vola’s knife because he thought she might kill him. Peter “found the knife she’d left . . . the knife he’d stolen grew heavier across his thigh.” Later, she confronts him about her missing knife and scolds him for thinking she would harm him. “My tools? I have twenty acres of trees to care for. And I’m a wood-carver. You thought they were weapons?”
  • Vola says she has post-traumatic stress disorder from being in a war. “People around me, they called it PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, from being in the war. . . I had forgotten everything that was true about myself.”
  • While in the military, Vola killed someone. “I killed someone. . .  probably killed a lot of people, or at least contributed to their deaths . . .” She regrets killing him, saying, “Even though he had grown up in a different country—we might have had something in common. . . But I’d killed him, so now we would never know. I searched his body, not for weapons, but for clues to who he’d been.”
  • An unnamed fox injures Gray. “The challenger ignored the peaceful greeting and sprang, hitting the old fox hard in the flank and pinning him down, then sank his teeth into Gray’s thin neck. . . The puncture was deep.”
  • An explosion kills Gray. “Gray tripped. Instantly, the scorched-air smell sizzled up from the spot like an earthborn bolt of lightning, and at the same second the riverbank exploded. . .The old fox was still. . . The scent of Gray’s death was on Pax’s fur, but the foxes knew already.”
  • Lightning strikes Bristle and Runt. Bristle’s “beautiful brush was burned to a black crust” and Runt lost a hind leg. “Where Runt’s hind leg should have been, where the neat black-furred leg and the quick white paw should have been, there was only a shredded red mess on the blood-soaked leaves.” Peter finds the hind leg, thinking it belongs to Pax. “Fleshless and singed, but still he knew it was a hind leg. . .” When Peter finds his father, he “pressed the fox leg into his father’s hand.”
  • The towns that Peter walks through are vacant because they had been evacuated due to the impending war. Peter “had traveled on roads though vacant towns, past abandoned schools and playgrounds and neighborhoods spookily silent without their squeaking tricycles, their car radios, their pickup ball games.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • An employee in a hardware store “took a drag on his cigarette” while speaking with Peter. The man “stubbed out his cigarette” when following Peter around the store.
  • Vola says she will give Peter “something for the pain, something that’s legal to give a child. . .a measure of willow bark. . . Aspirin in the wild.”

Language

  • Peter’s mother calls the rabbit that stomped on her tulips a “little devil.”
  • Several times, Vola uses the word “dyableman,” a Haitian Creole word meaning damned.
  • Peter uses “holy dyableman” once.
  • Vola says her first prosthetic “scares the devil out of [her]” and “scares the devil out of the crows, too, apparently.”

Supernatural

  • Peter refers to Vola as “witchy.”

Spiritual Content

  • Peter refers to the baseball field as “holy.”
  • Vola describes her concept. “It’s a Buddhist concept. Nonduality. It’s about one-ness, about how things that seem to be separate are really connected to one another. There are no separations. . . All these things are separate but also one, inseparable.”

by Jemima Cooke

Artemis Fowl #1

Captain Holly Short is a highly skilled elf. However, as the first female officer assigned to her unit in LEP (Lower Elements Police), she has a lot to prove. But with the short-tempered Commander Root breathing down her neck, Holly wonders if she’ll ever be given a fair chance to succeed. If only the fairy folk still lived above ground and had never been driven into hiding by the Mud Men.

Artemis Fowl is a twelve-year-old human genius. His family has a long history of illegal activity, though Artemis’ father had tried to legitimize the family fortune. But when Artemis’ father’s ship sank—along with most of the family fortune—Artemis decides to return to his family’s illegal roots in order to regain his father’s lost wealth. Luckily for Artemis, he is in a unique position. His youth means he still believes in magic, while his genius may allow him to become the first human in history to succeed in stealing fairy gold.

Artemis Fowl is told in the third person with the main points of view being Artemis’s and Holly’s; however, the story often jumps to other characters’ points of view, which helps develop smaller characters and flush out the actions of the large cast of characters. While Holly and Artemis are on opposite sides of his gold-stealing scheme, they are both likable characters. Holly is impulsive, clever, and confident. Artemis is brilliant, socially stunted, and he never goes anywhere without his bodyguard Butler. While Artemis is a criminal mastermind, he learns from his mistakes and grows to realize that kidnapping Holly was wrong (though he still keeps the money).

This first installment of the Artemis Fowl series is fast-paced, hilarious, and action packed. Colfer does an effortless job introducing a myriad of fairy folk in a way that does not feel overwhelming. Each chapter leaves readers on the edge of their seats, as they wonder what will happen next. While there is violence, it is not graphically described. There is also potty humor. For instance, dwarves tunnel much like worms, with dirt going in one end and coming out the other, which allows for plenty of bathroom-related humor. But for readers ready for action and excitement, Artemis Fowl is a delightful read that will leave them reaching for the next book, Artemis Fowl and the Arctic Incident.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While walking through a city, “an unfortunate pickpocket attempted to steal Butler’s wallet. The manservant broke the man’s fingers without looking down.”
  • When Holly sees a dwarf picking pockets, she “gave him a swipe in the backside with her buzz baton. The electric charge singed the seat of his leather pants.”
  • A troll eats a couple of cows. “It was not a pretty sight. Without going into details, let’s just say that there wasn’t much left besides horns and hooves.”
  • Holly stuns a troll before it can kill anyone. “Aiming for the weak point at the base of the skull, she let the troll have a long burst of the concentrated ion ray . . . The troll picked up a table . . . He pulled back a shaggy arm and let fly.” Holly’s gas tank is hit. It “burst into flames like some deadly firework. Most of the gas landed on the troll. So did Holly.” The struggle is described over three pages.
  • Butler picks a fight in order to cause a diversion. “Butler dropped the first with a round house punch. Two more had their heads clapped together, cartoon style. The fourth was, to Butler’s eternal shame, dispatched with a spinning kick.”
  • Artemis lures Commander Root into a trap, then sets off an explosion. Commander Root, “made it. Barely. He could feel the explosion rattling his torso as he threw himself into a reverse loop. Flames latched on to his jumpsuit, licking along his legs. Root continued his maneuver, crashing directly into the icy water.”
  • Butler fights off a squad of LEP officers. “Captain Kelp was the first casualty, a titanium-tipped dart puncturing the neck of his suit . . . Butler continued the swinging motion, driving punishing punches into the chests of two more fairies.” The fight takes place over three pages.
  • A goblin tries to blow a fireball out his nose and hit Mulch. Mulch stuffs his thumbs up the goblin’s nose. “The fireball had nowhere to go. It rebounded on the balls of Mulch’s thumbs and ricocheted back into the goblin’s head. The tear ducts provided the path of least resistance, so the flames compressed into pressurized streams, erupting just below the goblin’s eyes.”
  • When Mulch starts to burrow, Foaly tries to watch. However, “a blob of recently swallowed and even more recently recycled limestone whacked him in the face.”
  • There are several other times where characters are either hit with earth or gas that Mulch ejects from his derriere. For instance, “the constrained wind had built itself up to minicyclone intensity and could not be constrained. And so it exited. Rather abrasively. Blowing open Mulch’s back flap, and slamming into the rather large gentlemen who had been sneaking up behind him.”
  • During her escape, Holly punches her kidnapper, Artemis. “Holly put an extra few pounds of spring in her elbow and whacked her abductor right on the nose.”
  • Butler and Holly fight a troll. Trolls are primal hunters; they have little brain power and kill anything that gets in their path. Butler “squeezed the trigger as rapidly as the Sig Sauer’s mechanism would allow. Two in the chest, three between the eyes . . . scything tusks ducked below Butler’s guard. They coiled around his trunk, slicing through his Kevlar reinforced jacket . . . he knew immediately that the wound was fatal. His breath came hard. That was a lung gone, and gouts of blood were matting the troll’s fur.” Holly joins the fight with the troll. “Her heels caught the beast square on the crown of its head. At that speed, there was at least half a ton of G-force behind the contact. Only the reinforced ribbing in her suit prevented Holly’s leg bones from shattering. Even so, she heard her knee pop. The pain clawed its way to her forehead.” Later, “The human twirled the mace as though it were a cheerleader’s baton, ramming it home between the troll’s shoulder blades. . . Butler planted his foot just above the creature’s haunches and tugged the weapon free. It relinquished its grip with a sickly sucking sound.” Butler defeats the troll but does not end its life, at Holly’s request. The fight takes place over seventeen pages.
  • The fairies send in a blue-rise bomb, which kills all life forms but doesn’t harm anything else. However, Artemis and his friends had already escaped, so the only thing killed are bugs and rats.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Artemis meets a fairy hooked on alcohol. He gives her “a virus that feeds on alcohol,” to purge it from her system. He also mixed a “slight amnesiac” into the injection, so she won’t remember ever meeting him.
  • Artemis secretly slips a fairy holy water, which would have killed her. Then he offers her the antidote as part of a deal.
  • Artemis’ mother is ill. “Nervous tension, the physicians said. Nothing for it but rest and sleeping pills.”
  • Holly is tranquilized with a dart. “Holly felt the dart puncture the suit’s toughened material, depositing its load of curare and succinylcholine chloride-based tranquilizer into her shoulder. The world instantly dissolved into a series of technicolored bubbles.”
  • Root smokes cigars often.
  • Mulch burrows through the earth, into a wine cellar. “Over the centuries, residue seeped through the floor, infusing the land beneath with the wine’s personality. This one was somber, nothing daring here. A touch of fruit, but not enough to lighten the flavor. Definitely an occasion wine on the bottom rack.”
  • Artemis, Butler, and Butler’s sister drink champagne, to celebrate when the ransom is paid. However, Artemis secretly spiked the champagne with a tranquilizer.

Language

  • Holly thinks another officer is “a bimbo. An airhead.”
  • Idiot is used once.
  • D’Arvit is a fairy curse word that is used several times.
  • Two fairy coworkers call each other “half-wit” and “cave fairy.”
  • Mulch says “Oh, gods above” when surprised by something.
  • Damn and hell are used a few times. For example, a sprite says, “Blow the door off its damn hinges.” Holly asks, “What the hell is going on here?”

Supernatural

  • The fairy folk live underground, where they hide from the Mud Men (humans). There are pixies, sprites, centaurs, dwarves, goblins, etc. The first fairy Artemis meets is a sprite. “The fairy’s nose was long and hooked under two slitted golden eyes. Her ears were pointed, and the alcohol addiction had melted her skin like putty.”
  • “A lot of the magic attributed to [fairies] is just superstition. But [faries] do have certain powers. Healing, the Mesmer, and shielding being among them . . . What fairies actually do is vibrate at such a high frequency that they are never in one place long enough to be seen.”
  • Fairies can use their magic to heal. Holly heals Butler during a fight with a troll. “Butler could actually feel his bones knitting and the blood retreating from semicongealed scabs.”
  • Fairies can temporarily stop time over a small area. “Five elfin warlocks would form a pentagram around the target and spread a magic shield over it, temporarily stopping time inside the enchanted enclosure.”
  • Dwarves “can unhinge their jaws, allowing them to ingest several pounds of earth a second. The material is processed by a super-efficient metabolism, stripped of any useful minerals and . . . ejected at the other end.”

Spiritual Content

  • Every fairy carries a book that contains all the rules the fairy folk live by. “It was their Bible, containing . . . the history of their race and the commandments that governed their extended lives.”
  • Sprites are the only fairies with wings, and male sprites are very arrogant about that. It’s said in passing, “Give a fairy a pair of wings and he thinks he’s God’s gift to women.”

by Morgan Lynn

 

 

 

Fable #1

Seventeen-year-old Fable only wants one thing: to reunite with her father, Saint. Even though he abandoned her on an island four years ago after her mother’s death, Fable still wants to earn a place among her father’s crew. The first step is to escape from Jeval, the cutthroat island Fable refuses to call her home. She spends her days scavenging for rare minerals and trading with a helmsman named West in exchange for measly amounts of copper. Eventually, Fable has enough copper to escape Jeval on West’s ship, Marigold, and make her way across the sea—The Narrows—to the city of Ceros where her father’s trading empire has flourished. However, aboard the ship, Fable discovers that there’s more to her story and the ship’s crew than what meets the eye.

Fable learns that the Marigold isn’t West’s ship, rather it belongs to her father. While keeping her identify as Saint’s daughter a secret, she also discovers that West and the rest of the crew have secrets of their own. Willa, the crew’s only other female, is West’s sister. Plus, Paj and Austere are running from a dark past. But West is hiding the most: after Fable is scorned by her father once more, Saint reveals that he made an agreement with West to give Fable money and take care of her from afar. Saint claims this is the best thing he could’ve done for Fable because she would learn to survive the harsh world. Fable narrates that Saint “expected me to be grateful for the hell he’d put me through, so he could take credit for who I was. . . I’d crossed the Narrows for a man who’d probably never even loved me. For a dream that would never come true.”

Even after this disappointment, Fable still finds a reason to go on– she does have a family– but it isn’t one made by blood. Fable realizes that the crew of the Marigold are the ones who have protected and nurtured her. She hopes to use the inheritance given to her by her father to buy the Marigold, so West and the crew can be free from Saint, just like her. The book ends on a cliffhanger when Fable is kidnapped, so readers will be reaching for the next book, Namesake: A Novel, to discover if Fable achieves her goal.

Fable as a story is both entertaining and exciting. The reader is thrown directly into a world with new places, names, jobs, and nautical terminology that may take a while to grasp, but contribute to a fast-paced plot that is still understandable and full of unexpected twists. Sometimes, it can be hard to believe that these young kids are able to fend for themselves like experienced adults, but they also live in a world where they had to grow up fast or they wouldn’t get the chance to grow up at all.

The novel is told through Fable’s point of view and emphasizes the idea of “found family,” a group of individuals pulled together by similar circumstances or experiences that come to trust and care for each other like a blood family. This is especially meaningful because of how Fable’s father is against caring for other people and fails to realize that there is strength in having others around you.

While Fable’s life is vastly different than the lives teens lead today, it’s hard not to root for her because of how passionate she is to find her father. When this dream falls short of her expectations, Fable wins our hearts again when she uses this setback as a learning experience; it’s not a father she wants, it’s a family. Fable’s willingness to trust the crew of the Marigold shows that no matter one’s past, love and acceptance are waiting if we open our hearts.

Sexual Content

  • Fable describes what happens behind the closed doors of taverns. Fable had “seen enough of my father’s crew disappear into taverns with purses full of coin and leave with empty ones. There were only two things strictly forbidden on a ship because both could get you or your shipmates killed: love and drunkenness. Only on dry land could you find someone to warm your bed or empty a bottle of rye into your belly.”
  • The innkeeper thinks that West and Fable are going to have sex. West “dropped three coppers on the counter, and she tucked them into her apron, smiling up at me knowingly. I blushed when I realized what she was thinking. . . The woman winked at me, but West didn’t bother correcting her and I wondered if it was because I wasn’t the first girl he’d brought into the tavern and disappeared up the stairs with.”
  • Willa kisses West platonically on the cheek.
  • Paj and Auster, two male crew members, are in a relationship. They hold hands occasionally. “Auster wound his pale fingers into Paj’s before he brought his hand to his lips and kissed it.”
  • West and Fable kiss underwater while examining a sunken ship. “Before I could even think about what he was doing, his lips touched mine. . . I kissed him again, hooking my fingers into his belt and trying to pull him closer. . . I had wanted to touch West a thousand times.”
  • West and Fable have a long, intimate moment which implies that they have sex. Fable narrates, “I lifted onto my toes, pressing my mouth to his. . . His hand found my hips, and he walked me back until my legs hit the side of the bed. I opened his jacket and pushed it from his shoulders before he laid me down beneath him. His weight pressed down on top of me and I arched my back as his hands caught my legs and pulled them up around him. . . My head tipped back, and I pulled him closer so I could feel him against me. He groaned, his mouth pressed to my ear and I tugged at the length of my shirt until I was pulling it over my head. He sat up, his eyes running over every inch of me. . .”

Violence

  • Fable’s life on Jeval has been cutthroat. She’s had to hurt other people or been hurt by them. She says, “It had been four years since the day I was dumped on the blazing hot beach and left to fend for myself. Forced to scrape hulls in exchange for rotten fish when I was starving, and beaten for diving in another dredger’s claimed territory again and again.”
  • Fable often references a scar on her arm, which was given to her by her father. “He carved into my arm with the tip of his whalebone knife.” She also says, “I had watched in horror as he dragged the tip of his knife through my flesh without so much as a twitch of his hand.” Eventually, she describes the whole scene. “I didn’t know what he was going to do until the tip of the knife had already drawn blood. . . I buried my face into my knees and tried not to scream as he cut into me.”
  • Koy, a sailor who takes Fable out on his boat, attacks her for money. Fable had been diving. “Just as I reached the surface, something caught hold of my arm. . . Koy’s face was looking up at me, his hands clamped tightly around my wrist. I kicked, catching him in the shoulder with the heel of my foot and his fingers slipped from me. I swam as fast as I could toward the light, feeling the darkness creeping over my mind, and when I finally broke through to the air, I choked, my lungs twisting violently in my chest. . . Koy came up in the next breath, launching in my direction. I tried to swim from his reach, but he took hold of my hair and wrenched me back to him. . .I twisted, rearing my elbow back with a snap, and it caught him in the face. . . By the time I reached the [boat’s] hull, he had ahold of my foot. . . I slipped, hitting the side [of the boat] with my face so hard that the light exploded in my head. I found the edge with my fingers again before I pulled myself back up and reached inside, my hand frantically looking for the scull. When I had it, I threw my arm back, hitting Koy in the head with the flat end. He stilled suddenly, falling back into the water. . . Koy’s eyes rolled back into his head as he sank, a stream of red inklike blood spilling from his forehead.”
  • Fable pulls Koy back into the boat. “I stood over Koy, my hands shaking. He was still losing a steady stream of blood, and I hoped he wasn’t breathing. I hoped he was dead. . . I kicked him hard, screaming, before I fell back onto the deck beside him, trying to catch my breath.”
  • Koy says to Fable, “If I ever see your face on this island again, I’ll tie you to the east reef! I’ll watch the flesh rot from your bones!”
  • Willa, the only girl on board the Marigold besides Fable, has a burn on her face. Fable says, “I’d seen wounds like that before—a long knife held over a fire until the blade glowed and pressed to someone’s face to teach a lesson.”
  • In the past, Willa was hurt by a man named Crane. The crew find Crane, seal him in a crate, and toss him overboard. “The man screamed once more as he was raised up and over the side of the ship. At the same moment, every finger slipped from the crate and they let it go. . .” This makes Fable remember the punishments on her father’s ship. “Once, I’d crept onto the deck in the dead of night and saw him cut the hand off a thief with the same knife he used to cut his meat at supper. . . I’d forgotten what the sound of a grown man screaming sounded like.”
  • Fable gets jumped in an alley. A man “leaned in closer, stumbling forward as he reached clumsily for my belt. Before he could right himself, I swiped up in one clean motion, catching the edge of his ear with the knife. . . I lifted the blade, setting it at the hollow of his throat and pressing down just enough to draw a single drop of blood. . . I wanted a reason to hurt him. I wanted an excuse to lean forward until the edge of the steel sunk into his skin.”
  • Willa threatens a barkeep by saying, “I’ll stake your body to that counter.”
  • Someone tries to kill Fable as she’s getting on the Below, a man had hold of the last rung [of the ladder]. He laughed himself up out of the water and grabbed my boot, pulling me back down. I kicked until the heel of my foot caught his jaw and he groaned, but he was already climbing.” West comes to save her. “He reached around my waist, taking the knife from my belt. He swung his arm out wide, bringing the blade from the side, and sank it into the man’s ribs. He screamed, his hands trying to grab ahold of me before he slipped, but West kicked him in the chest, sending him backward.”
  • Willa threatens Fable by saying, “If you get [West] killed, I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep myself from cutting your throat.”
  • West reveals his past to Fable. “The first helmsman I ever crewed for used to beat me in the hull of the ship. . . I’ve killed sixteen men protecting myself, or my family, or my crew.”
  • At the end of the story, Fable is kidnapped. “I reared my foot back and brought my knee up in a snap, driving it between [her attacker’s] legs and he fell forward, a choking sound strangling in his throat. . . As another man came over me, I swung [a knife] out, grazing his forearm. He looked at the blood seeping beneath his sleeve before he reached down, taking my jacket into his hands and the third man wrenched the knife from my grip. When I looked up again, his fist was in the air, and it came down with a crack across my face. Blood filled my mouth and I tried to scream, but before I could, he hit me again.” Fable is knocked unconscious.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Speck, a man on Jeval, is known as a drunk. Fable says, “If Speck weren’t drunk half the time, I’d pay him for a ride to the reef instead of Koy.”
  • Hamish, a crew member, and Saint, smoke pipes.
  • People frequently go to taverns where people are drinking “rye.” One time, Fable has three glasses and gets drunk.
  • In celebration, the crew drinks rye on the ship together.

Language

  • Bastard is used occasionally to refer to other people. In the book’s opening line, Fable says, “That bastard was leaving me again” when Koy, a sailor, tries to leave on his boat without her.
  • Hell, and ass are used rarely, such as when West says, “Get your ass back on the ship.”

Supernatural

  • Some of the legends of the sea include sea demons and dragons, though none appear in the story. However, Fable references them sometimes. For example, “Only a few days after Saint left me, an old man named Fret started a rumor on the docks that I’d been cursed by sea demons.”
  • Fable’s father told her a legend about dead sailors turning into birds. “My father had always told me that seabirds were the souls of lost traders. To turn them away or not give them a place to land or nest was bad luck.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Maddie Shooter

 

Peter and the Sword of Mercy

Life on the island has continued peacefully for many years. With fallen starstuff in the island’s water supply, no one gets sick and no one ages. So Peter is very surprised when Wendy—Molly’s daughter—shows up on the island in desperate need of help.

Wendy grew up with no idea that the starcatchers existed. After Peter and Molly’s adventure in Rundoon, starstuff stopped falling and it was thought that no more of the Others existed. So the starcatchers stopped recruiting new members and faded to a tiny group of mostly elderly members. Needless to say, the starcatchers are not prepared when trouble brews anew. After both of Wendy’s parents disappear, Lord Aster—elderly and bedridden—tells Wendy there is only one person who can help: A very special boy on an island that is very hard to find.

For fans delighted with the Starcatcher series, as well as the fans who were disappointed with the first two sequels, this final installment ends the series with a flourish! Harkening back to the glory of the first book, Peter and the Sword of Mercy has action and mystery galore. Readers will be shocked when encountering old friends who are twenty years older than in the last book. An elderly Lord Aster and a fading starcatchers’ society are a shock to Peter, as is learning that Molly married George and had a daughter named Wendy.

The mix of old and new characters carries the story along at a breakneck pace. Rather than the fractured storylines that made the last installment difficult to relate to, this book returns to the original book’s more streamlined approach. Readers still follow events from several character’s points of view, but by focusing largely on Peter’s point of view. Peter and the Sword of Mercy succeed in emotionally engaging readers. The shifts in point of view are well-done, are never confusing, and allow readers to view events happening with Peter’s friends as well as the events put in motion by the Others.

With non-ending action, a broadcast of colorful characters, and the emotional rollercoaster ride of returning to London after twenty years, Peter and the Sword of Mercy is a glorious ending to a beloved series.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In the year 811 A.D., two warriors battle. “Charlemagne drew his sword, known as Joyeuse. Both men grunted as they swung their weapons, the blades glinting in the firelight, the clash of metal echoing off the chapel’s stone walls . . . Ogier swung his sword, just missing Charlemagne’s jaw but slicing off a piece of the king’s beard.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • When a bobby tries to grab Molly, “she drew back her right foot and kicked him hard on the shin. As he bent over in pain, she yanked her arm free with all her strength, ripping her sleeve but freeing herself. She ran.” She gets away unharmed.
  • A character named the Skeleton is able to cause excruciating pain with the slightest touch. “The Skeleton’s claw-hand moved, ever so slightly. The priest screamed as his body was wracked with searing pain, starting at his neck but suddenly everywhere at once.”
  • Wendy crashes a flying machine called an ornithopter. “Wendy felt a stab of pain as her head struck the ornithopter frame. Before she could hold her breath she was dragged underwater.” She is rescued by porpoises.
  • Peter is hurt when his ship crashes. “Peter and Wendy were hurled sideways, slamming into the passageway wall. Peter’s head hit something, and he fell to the floor, dazed.”
  • A bad man threatens to burn his henchmen. The henchmen obey him immediately because “one time he’d pulled out most of a man’s hair by the roots. He’d reached into another man’s mouth and yanked out a gold tooth. They figured he was perfectly capable of using their bodies as fuel for smoke signals.”
  • A crewman tries to stop Wendy from escaping. She “drew back and kicked out with all her strength. Suddenly her shoe came off in his hand and she fell backward over the railing.”
  • Peter and his friends set off an explosion as a distraction. “Fortunately for them, none of the bobbies were directly in front of the door when it blew, although all of them were thrown violently backward and onto the ground.”
  • Peter pushes a bobby as they try to escape. “The three bobbies, yelping in pain and fear, tumbled after her. Peter had shoved the first from behind; he had taken the other two down, like bowling pins. They sprawled onto the floor, moaning.”
  • The Skeleton hurts Peter with his touch. “And then he [Peter] screamed in pain. Without knowing how he got there, he realized he was on his knees. The awful pain had receded from his body, but it had left him too weak to stand.”
  • The Skeleton hurts a prisoner. “He reached out his claw and touched the shoulder of the man next to James. The man screamed and fell to the floor.”
  • Von Schatten, one of the Others, attacks James. “Von Schatten spun, bringing the sword around. The flat side caught James in the forehead with a sickening sound. James fell to the ground, blood gushing from his head.”
  • James electrocutes von Schatten. Afterward Peter “screamed at the ghastly sight only inches from his face: Von Schatten lay twitching on his back, smoke pouring from his clothes as his flesh burned with a stomach-turning stench. The worst was his face. His eyeglasses had melted, forming two back rivers down his gaunt cheeks. Left exposed were the eyes, which were not eyes at all, but two gaping holes in the center of his skull, revealing nothing inside but a red glow. Wisps of smoke drifted upward from the holes.”
  • As a tunnel collapses, “huge chunks of earth and rock began to fall from the tunnel roof. A roof beam fell on George, knocking him to the ground.”
  • Hook attacks Peter. “He brought the sword down . . . but Peter’s hand was just quick enough as he brought the sword tip up to meet Hook’s downward thrust . . . [then] the porpoise, having launched himself from the water on the starboard side, slammed into Hook’s body, sending him sprawling on deck.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Two ships crash because “the helmsman of the Lucy had also had a bit too much to drink this night. He was half asleep at the wheel.”

Language

  • Imbeciles is used a few times.

Supernatural

  • Starcatchers are “a small group of people . . . There have been Starcatchers on Earth for centuries, Peter. Even we don’t know how long. But our task is always the same: to watch for the starstuff, and to get to it, and return it, before it falls into the hands of the Others.” The Others misuse starstuff to gain power.
  • Starstuff is golden dust that sometimes falls from the sky as meteors and “has amazing power . . . Wonderful power. Terrible power. It . . . it lets you do things . . . It’s not the same for everybody. And it’s not the same for animals as for people.” Starstuff can heal, can make people fly, can make people strong. Larger quantities are more dangerous and can kill a person, or turn a fish into a mermaid, horses into centaurs, and other transformations.
  • Starcatchers have learned the language of some intelligent animals, including bears, porpoises, and wolves. They work together often to find any starstuff that falls. Wendy speaks with a porpoise several times, in their language of clicks and squeaks.

Spiritual Content

  • In a flashback to 811 A.D., a king “prayed for the peace to continue. And, as always, he prayed for forgiveness for his son, now forty, but still a boy in his father’s eyes . . . [he] bowed his head, his lips moving as he recited the Scripture.”
  • During a sword fight, the king from 811 A.D. sees a “face smiling at him, shimmering through the smoke with unearthly beauty.” He thinks it is an angel. The being saves the man’s life, then disappears.
  • The queen of England is sick; a man by her bedside “murmured a prayer.”
  • When the Skeleton tortures a priest for information, the priest’s “lips began to move. He spoke in Latin, praying.”

by Morgan Krueger

Disney After Dark

Have you ever wondered what happens after Walt Disney World is closed at night, when no one is around, and the characters are all alone? When middle schooler Finn Whitman becomes a Disney Interactive Host, a hologram meant to guide guests through the parks, he finds that the answer is a lot more magical and frightening than he ever thought possible. Every night, Finn and his four fellow hosts “crossover” and become a human-hologram hybrid able to explore the parks. Wayne, the Imagineer responsible for creating the DHI program, reveals the hologram hosts were created to become the parks first line of defense against an army of evil characters called the Overtakers. The evil characters want to use the magic that powers the parks to bring darkness to the world. The five hosts must solve Walt Disney’s Stonecutter’s Quill fable, defeat the Overtakers, and restore peace to the “Most Magical place on Earth.”

The hosts are all middle schoolers with starkly different personalities. At first, each character feels alone and afraid, and they do not want to go on the mission. None of the hosts believe they are equipped to take on Maleficent’s black magic, but in the end their teamwork makes saving the park possible. As the book progresses, they each learn to make sacrifices for each other, utilize their individual strengths, and work together to become a powerful team. The book develops the theme that teamwork is necessary to overcome challenges.

The story emphasizes the value of working as a team and maintaining the power of one’s beliefs. Wayne believes the ability for the characters to come to life is powered by the parkgoers who believe the magic in the parks to be real. Finn later discovers that his own thoughts are powerful enough to transform himself from a physical being into light. Pearson shows that the characters’ thoughts and beliefs can alter reality, making that power a significant theme in the book.

In the earlier stages of the text, the characters are hindered by their simple personalities (pretty, smart, athletic, quiet, leader). However, as they learn to work together, they become more likable. The plot of the story, and the setting, create the true magic of this book. Pearson ensures that every corner of the Magic Kingdom is featured, and he fully explains the details that are necessary to feel as if you are traveling around with the characters. He also incorporates some fascinating park history and operational fun facts which offer insight into the parks.

Disney After Dark includes some facts about the park’s operations and may poke holes in the illusion of magic that the parks create. Fans of the Disney Parks may enjoy reading about the hosts’ quest to solve Walt’s fable throughout the Magic Kingdom and MGM Studios. Pearson does not visit every park in this first book, leaving other areas to explore in later additions to the series. He also makes it clear that while Maleficent is certainly a powerful foe, she is not the only villain the five hosts will have to face. This builds anticipation for the following books, while still creating a satisfying end to this story. Much of the book focuses on the children avoiding harm from the hand of the Overtakers, but the violence is fairly mild, with many of the interactions between the villains and the kids resulting in minimal injuries. The effect on the hosts is fear more than anything else. Pearson creates a well-paced story that is just thrilling enough to draw readers into the adventure, using mystery, action, and creative storytelling to bring Disney magic through the pages of this first installment in the Kingdom Keepers series.

Sexual Content

  • Finn develops a crush on his friend Amanda. The first time he sees her, she is stretching in gym class. “Finn wasn’t big on girls, but something about Amanda grabbed and held his attention.” At the same time, his friend Dillard does not think Finn can go talk to her, because “Dillard thought of girls as a separate life-form.”
  • Amanda smiles at Finn’s jokes. Finn thinks she probably did not want to show that she thought he was funny, because “it wasn’t cool for a girl to show she liked a boy any more than the opposite.”
  • Amanda tells Finn that Willa, another host, “said [he was] cute.”
  • When Amanda visits Finn at his house, Finn’s mom tells him to leave the door to his bedroom open.
  • Willa becomes afraid of the witch Maleficent and holds Finn’s hand. Finn is “glad they were all invisible” because “he wouldn’t have wanted to explain their holding hands” to the other hosts.
  • Finn describes Jezebel as beautiful. “Her deep-set gray eyes captivated him, even from a distance.” She frequently charms the boys into doing what she wants. Her ultimate goal is to distract them from completing their tasks.
  • At the Girl Scout car wash, Finn observes Jezebel joining in a water fight while in a bathing suit. She looks at him. His friend notices and asks, “You think she likes you?” Later, when Maybeck, another host, and Jezebel have a water fight, Finn thinks, “for some reason [he] wanted to be at the center of that battle.”
  • When Maybeck expresses wanting to hurry up with a mission, Charlene jokingly asks if he has “a hot date.” Maybeck responds, “Not with you I don’t.” Later, it is discovered that he did have a plan to meet up with Jezebel.
  • Jezebel arrives at the Halloween party dressed in “a skintight black-and-white leotard with black-and-white tights” and “bright red lipstick.” Finn thought, “She looked like a college girl . . . she drew looks from a good number of boys as she passed.” When she approaches Finn, she “stepped up to Finn, standing a little too close” and “spoke softly, privately.” When she makes eye contact and smiles at Finn, his friend coughs and interrupts the encounter. Finn suggests Jezebel may have already put a spell on him after all.
  • Maleficent, Charlene, and Amanda try to draw Finn into a trap. Maleficent says, “If you didn’t care so much about your two girlfriends up there, you wouldn’t have followed us down here.”

Violence

  • A rumor spreads that Finn is going “psycho.” Finn says, “I’m not stabbing girls in showers or anything.”
  • In the Haunted Mansion, a man is depicted “dangled from a noose attached to the ceiling.”
  • Wayne the Imagineer talks about an event that went wrong. The dragon that is meant to be slain by Mickey Mouse rebelled and set Mickey on fire. Wayne says, “Mickey could have . . .” Mickey could have died, but he was able to survive by jumping into water.
  • Finn is approached by some of the animatronic pirates from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. He offends them and they draw swords and knives, though they do not use them. Instead, they use the laser guns from a different ride’s vehicle, which are supposed to be harmless beams of light, to attack Finn. The magic has made the lasers real, and Finn is burned. Finn “smelled burning hair” and skin, realizing what had happened. Later, the burn turns into a painful “pea-size red-and-brown scab with” a “dime-size scarlet circle of flesh that surrounded it.”
  • Maleficent’s presence makes the air incredibly cold. When Finn first feels this effect, he fears the “cold might kill him.” Later, Jezebel uses her magic, making the same cold effect. Finn was touching the surface of the door when ice starts to form. He gets stuck to the door and eventually “tore some skin off the palms of both hands as he pulled away from the icy bar” of the door.
  • While looking for clues in the ride It’s a Small World, the animatronic dolls come to life and attack the hosts. “One bit down onto Finn’s arm, locking its jaw. It drew blood.” Maybeck is able to pick up a doll and throw it against the wall so that “it struck the wall and smashed into pieces.” As the dolls continue to attack, Maybeck suggests using an “automatic weapon” to fight them off, while Charlene prefers a “baseball bat.” Maybeck continues, asking if they could use a “stick of dynamite.” In the end, they tame the dolls with a smile.
  • While floating along Splash Mountain, Finn and fellow-host Philby, face the final drop which Finn is unsure whether to call a “thrill or kill” drop. The current pulls Philby down the drop and he “tumbled through space and water, holding his breath and sucking for air. His lungs burned.” Finn rescues Philby.
  • Maleficent turns herself into a bird and dives after Finn with “talons like dinner forks.” When Finn tries to hide in the water, she turns herself into an eel and “dragged him under. . . It climbed up Finn’s body…and squeezed…He felt the wind being choked out of him.” Before he suffocates, Philby uses his boat’s propeller to “cut the eel like a meat grinder.” Maleficent then let’s go and escapes.
  • A biker chases Amanda and Finn through a skatepark. To stop his pursuit, they clothesline him. He is “thrown to the concrete.”
  • After the Overtakers kidnap Maybeck, Finn recognizes the Overtakers are willing to kill the hosts. He also believes they have been causing the brownouts that make the kids have fainting spells and feel sick.
  • The Overtakers attack and drain an electrical company power station of all its power.
  • Charlene and Willa looked for clues in the Winnie the Pooh ride. They realize their car has stopped and they are trapped in one room. Rain started to fall from the ceiling. “But then it wasn’t simply rain, it was a torrent. Buckets. Both girls gasped for breath . . . it was hard to breathe without coughing.” The danger grows as an increasing number of “electrical wires were submerged.” Willa fears they “could be electrocuted.” The car the girls are on is “pinned with the girls inside it.” They manage to dislodge the bar that is blocking the door.
  • While searching the Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster, a T-Rex skeleton comes to life and chases Finn and Philby. “The dinosaur had all its bones, with no eyes, no skin, no flesh—but all its teeth.” Finn notices “the dinosaur’s jaws clapping open and shut, sounding like a door being slammed.” While the dinosaur gets a piece of Finn’s shirt, the boys remain unharmed. They stop the T-Rex by waiting until the “skeleton’s teeth were a foot away” and then moving so he crashes into the wall. The skeleton’s bones “splintered and snapped at the knee” and the T-Rex landed “with a noisy explosion of broken bones that scattered like tree branches.”
  • Finn and Amanda accidentally run into one another and “they went down hard.” Finn “came to his knees, dazed.”
  • A spell affects Amanda and Charlene, causing them to go weak and faint. Finn thought, “She felt cold, really cold, and stiff, as if she were suffering some kind of seizure.”
  • Maleficent forms a magical version of what she likens to “shock collars” and “wireless fences.”  She puts one on Finn and says, “I don’t advise testing it, but be my guest, if you must.” Later, Finn tries to escape and “he was knocked back off his feet and onto the floor.” The electricity caused him to “[feel] as if he’d been stabbed in the chest.”
  • Maleficent uses magic on Finn, Maybeck, and Philby. On Philby, she uses a spell that makes him “[seem] to lose every bone in his body . . . he fell to the floor in a heap of unwilling limbs and muscle, a lump of flesh.” With Maybeck, Maleficent makes him unable to speak and then suggests she can “add some pain” but does not. For Finn, Maleficent conjures balls of fire which she bowls at him. She “singed his cape” but she fails in hurting Finn. He escapes by using a magic pen on her. When the pen touched Maleficent’s skin, “she [flies] back and [falls] to the stone floor.” He “[stabs] at Maleficent” again, weakening her enough to escape.
  • After Finn uses the magic pen on Maleficent, he describes that “she was either half dead or ready to kill.”
  • Philby uses the pen on Maleficent. He and Finn watch as she is “thrown violently . . . into the heavy black shelves.” She ends up “pinned to the computer shelves, impaled onto a stack of electrical outlets and surge suppressors” but she is alive and gains power from the incident.
  • In order to get stolen papers from Jezebel, Finn “dove at [her], knocked her down, and took the plans back.” She in turn casts a spell on him which causes him to feel “a sharp pain flood through him.”
  • While escaping through a trash shoot, Finn “slammed into some kind of mesh gate.” When Maleficent reaches for him, he “kicked out and pushed her back.” She casts a spell meant to turn him into a rat, but she misses and hits a piece of trash. Finn then “grabbed hold of the clawing rat and threw it at her.”
  • Maleficent is captured and Wayne promises “We don’t kill anything here. Not even witches.” They plan to lock her in a prison instead.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • From afar, Finn sees Tom Sawyer “smoking a pipe with a long stem.”
  • Rather than telling his mom what actually happened with the laser-burn, Finn tells her that a bully burned him with a cigarette. He knows he can’t tell her it was his own cigarette because “Finn had once walked across a restaurant and boldly asked a smoker to put out his cigarette so that his own hamburger didn’t have to taste like an ashtray.” His mom smells his breath just to confirm his story.

Language

  • Finn thinks his teacher’s British accent makes him sound “like a pompous snob.”
  • When Finn says something a bit too confidently, his mom calls him “Mr. Hotshot.”
  • Finn thinks Willa, another host, seems “a little geeky.”
  • When Finn tells his friend, Dillard, about his experiences as a hologram, Dillard says, “You’re going psycho on me.”
  • Amanda tells Finn to “get a life.”
  • Finn notices a variety of tourists including “fat people, sweaty people, smelly people, bald people . . .”
  • Stupid is used several times. For example, a girl student corrects her friend, saying, “It’s not Zoom, stupid.”
  • Philby, a host, tries to distract some pirates saying, “Hey, dog breath!”
  • Philby asks his fellow host Maybeck if he is “a computer freak.”
  • Dumb is used a few times. For example, Amanda makes a reference to “some dumb thing [her] mother” had said. Later Maybeck says, “I can’t go through a dumb wall.” When he realizes he can, he exclaims, “What a dumb jerk!”
  • The pirates use “a roar of rough-sounding words.”
  • Dillard, Finn’s best friend, is described as “big.” He explains that for this reason, “people make fun of him.”
  • Wayne calls himself an “old goat,” a phrase that Finn later uses to describe Wayne.

Supernatural

  • The book is centered around the existence of magic, both good and evil. Inanimate objects and fake characters come to life. People can become holograms. Frequently, witches use spells to fight against the hosts.
  • The Overtakers harness the power of a hurricane, draining its strength. Wayne says it is like “a vampire sucking blood.”
  • Finn thinks the environment in the Splash Mountain ride looks “devilish” in the dark.
  • Finn finds himself rhyming in his thoughts without meaning to, which Amanda explains is a sign of witches.
  • Maybeck tells the group that the Overtakers have the ability to “put thoughts into your head. . .  They’re like orders.”
  • Finn doesn’t speak his fears aloud for fear of jinxing the group and causing something worse to happen.

Spiritual Content

  • Maybeck, another host, “made a point of telling Finn that he was a Baptist.” Maybeck has a Bible on the bedside table.
  • Finn “wasn’t terribly religious.”
  • Finn says he cannot tell his mom the truth because “she’d cart him off to the mental ward, or worse, their minister.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Scorpion Mountain

Hal, his Brotherband crew, and the Ranger Gilan have freed the twelve Araluens sold into slavery. Returning to Araluen, Gilan is given a new mission by King Duncan: protect his daughter’s life. Princess Cassandra has survived one attempt on her life already, and now whispers of a second attempt have reached the kingdom. A deadly sect known as the Scorpion Cult is thought to be behind the assassination threat. Not waiting to see if the knife will strike true, the Brotherband again teams up with Gilan to track down the would-be killers.

Like the other books in the Brotherband series, Scorpion Mountain has nonstop action as Hal and the other Herons travel to a new location. Several characters from the Ranger’s Apprentice Series make an appearance and assist the Herons. The Herons fight in several bloody battles, which are described in more gruesome detail than in the previous books. One member of the brotherband, Ulf, is seriously injured and must be left behind. However, Ulf eventually heals from his wounds and is reunited with the Herons. While much of Ulf and his brother’s bickering was entertaining, many readers will find that they do not miss the brothers’ constant arguing.

As the fifth installment of the series, Scorpion Mountain continues to show the different qualities of the Brotherband Series, however, none of the characters show personal growth. Even though the Herons visit several new locations, the story is predictable and contains few surprises. Like the other books in the series, the crew travel somewhere new, Hal comes up with a brilliant invention, they fight an epic battle and then return home to a celebration. While the interaction between the characters is entertaining, some readers may find the story’s plot tedious rather than exciting.

Fans of the Brotherband Series will find that Scorpion Mountain uses the same formula as the other books in the series. Gilan and the other characters from the Ranger’s Apprentice add interest to the story; however, the characters are not well developed. Despite the story’s predictability, the action and adventure will keep devoted readers interested.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When an assassin tries to kill the princess, Lydia throws a blunt dart at him, knocking him out. He is then tied to a chair and questioned.
  • In order to free a town from raiders, the Herons attack one of their ships. When they get close to the ship, “Lydia’s first dart hit the helmsmen, killing him instantly. He reeled back across the deck, releasing the tiller, then crashing to the planks.”
  • The Herons use the Mangler to throw huge projectiles at the ship. One enemy tried to throw a spear at the Herons but, “He never managed it. An arrow suddenly thudded into his chest.”
  • During the battle, the slave master peeked out of the port and “was caught across the jaw by one of the leaping oar butts. He fell senseless to the deck. Two of the rowers, seeing their chance, leapt on him, drawing the long knife from his scabbard.” The slaves kill the man.
  • The Herons board the ship and Stig uses his ax to kill an enemy. “The man stumbled before falling on his side, a shocked look on his features.” The Herons kill every crew member. The battle is described over 11 pages.
  • The Herons enter a harbor and attack an invading force. “Philip was drawing back the second arrow when he felt a massive impact against his chest. . . The impact was like a hard punch but the area was numb. Then the pain came. Huge waves of it. . . he collapsed to the wharf like a rag doll.”
  • As the Herons enter the town, they are greeted by Invaders. “Thorn’s terrible club-hand rose and fell and swept from side to side, breaking bones, cracking ribs, sending enemies flying.”
  • During the battle, a “man went down, his horse somersaulting beneath him and sending him flying headlong into the rocky ground.” A lot of the enemies are killed and Ulf is seriously injured. The battle is described over 40 pages.
  • A group of cult members attacks the Herons. One man “begun to swing down from the saddle when Lydia’s first dart arrived. It went into his upper arm, slightly above the small circular shield that he wore there, and penetrated through to his body.” The man’s horse spooks and the man is “dragged behind it, one foot still firmly trapped in the stirrup.”
  • A man gets caught in a “ditch concealed by the thornbush.” Thorn “leaned forward and brought a huge, iron-studded war club down on his skull with crushing effect. The attacker’s hoarse war cry was cut short and he fell face-down, suspended on the clinging thornbush.”
  • During the battle, Ingvar hits a man. “The Ishti warrior felt as if a galloping horse had slammed onto his shield. He was hurled back several paces.” The warriors retreat. The battle is described over five pages.
  • The Shurmel, a cult leader, and Gilan fight one-on-one. The Shurmel thrusts his sword and “meeting no solid resistance, the Shurmel staggered forward, off balance, and felt the razor-sharp point of Gilan’s sword as it flicked up to touch his throat. A small runnel of blood came from the spot where it touched.”
  • During the fight, “Gilan went on the attack.” The Shurmel “staggered back clumsily, only just managing to avoid the stroke.” Eventually, Gilan “stepped forward and slammed his axe into the Shurmel’s unprotected ribs, driving the weapon to the hilt. . . The Shurmel’s eyes mirrored shock, then disbelief, then pain, in quick succession. Then his knees gave way under him and his eyes went completely blank as he collapsed to the stone floor.” The fight is described over 5 pages.
  • A group of cult members attempts to attack the Herons’ ship. As a warrior tries to get onto the ship, Thorn’s “heavy club-hand swept down and smashed the man aside. He fell awkwardly, half in the water. . .” The man tries to get back onto the raft causing one of his comrades to stagger. “Thorn’s sword caught him in the middle of the chest and he fell into the sea without another word.”
  • As the enemy tries to board the Heron, “Ingvar let out a bellow of fighting rage and lunged with his voulge over the side. The blade stabbed in and out like a striking cobra, and three of the Ishti fell back from the ship in terror.” Another raft gets close to the Heron and two men board the ship. “One of them went no farther. A heavy dart flashed across along the deck and thudded into his chest.” The scene is described over several chapters.
  • Reinforcements begin boarding a raft. Someone shoots the Mangler, which is a huge crossbow. “It hit the raft at an angle, but the impact was enough to shatter the pottery warhead and send shards of hard clay whirling through the crew. . . the water around the raft turned red with their blood.”
  • Hal sees the warriors and his “land sailor plowed at full speed into the three men, hurling them to either side like so many ninepins.” At the end of the fight, “a third of the Ishti fighters had been killed or wounded . . . The others wasted no time in surrendering.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When a king meets with the Herons, he offers them ale or wine. They decline.
  • Thorn is a recovering alcoholic. He thinks back to a time when “he saw most things over the rim of a brandy tankard.”
  • An assassin shoots a poisoned arrow at the princess.
  • Philip the Bloodyhand is captain of an invading force. When he is woken up, he has a hangover, and “several empty wine flasks and jars [were] scattered around the room.” Phillip orders a man to “get me wine.”
  • A small group of the Herons go to negotiate with a cult leader. When they arrive, the members were chewing something that Gilan assumes is “some kind of drug. Possibly a hallucinogenic or relaxant.”
  • When the Herons return home, the town throws a huge party where ale is served.

Language

  • Occasionally, characters use a name of a Skandian god as an exclamation. For example, “Gorlog’s earwax,” “Hern’s breath,” and “Gorlog’s eyebrows.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The assassin said he is protected by Imrika, the goddess of death.
  • When Gilan kills the cult leader, the Shurmel “realized that this ridiculous foreigner offered him a wonderful opportunity. Truly, he thought, he has a gift from the goddess Imrika. He raised his eyes to the heaven and uttered a silent word of thanks for this gift.”
  • When Gilan runs into an acquaintance, the man says, “It is you! May the almighty one be praised”

Sentinels in the Deep Ocean

Fresh off their expedition on the tundra, Stacy’s supernatural wolves finally have answers about their origins as well as several newly developing powers. Meanwhile, Stacy has a new cat to care for and a mysterious diary to decode. The secrets buried in its pages will send Stacy and her pack on a thrilling race against time, a race across biomes to the farthest reaches of their world: the deep ocean.

The ocean is brimming with mysteries, but the biggest surprise of all is that Stay’s wolves are not as alone in this world as they thought they were. Could a secret from Stacy’s past hold the key to her future in the taiga?

The fourth installment of the Wild Rescuers Series focuses on Stacy and her pack of wolves. As the story progresses, they journey to a new biome and meet another small pack of magical wolves. Since the story has a large cast of characters, some readers may have difficulty remembering each character. In addition, none of the characters are well developed, which makes it difficult to connect with them.

Like the previous books, Sentinels in the Deep Ocean teaches about biomes. Readers will get a peek at an island with mangrove trees, a dying coral reef, and baby turtles. There is a brief lesson on the dangers of ocean trash as well as the importance of taking care of natural resources. While the new biome is interesting, the story could have included more insight into ocean creatures.

Sentinels in the Deep Ocean adds some interesting supernatural wolves, and it focuses on why the wolves live in different packs. Throughout Stacy’s journey, she spends time translating a journal that was found in the previous book. The journal chronicles where the supernatural wolves came from and explains some of their powers. Plus, the journal adds interest to the story and answers some important questions.

Each chapter begins with an illustration of one of Stacy’s animal friends. Other black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the story. The illustrations will help readers visualize the story’s events. Some readers may struggle with the advanced vocabulary, such as cephalopod, chagrin, and epiphany. However, the end of the book has a helpful glossary, plus an interview with a sea turtle scientist!

Because the plot of each book in the series builds on each other, the Wild Rescuers Series must be read in order. Sentinels in the Deep Ocean uses Stacy’s adventure to teach about the environment. While the story is a little predictable, fans of the story will find enough action, mystery, and supernatural events to keep them entertained. Readers who love action and animals should also read the Survival Tails Series by Katrina Charman.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While at the veterinarian, Stacy is told, “Sometimes dogs and cats have to be killed in order to make room for all the other dogs and cats they have coming in.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Stacy’s wolves have powers. For example, “Basil was as fast as ever. Wink was indestructible. Everest could read Stacy’s thoughts and camouflage in the forest.”
  • Stacy and her pack meet other supernatural wolves who have powers such as growing crops instantly, controlling the wind, and healing others.
  • Rigsby can heal others, but it makes him “gaunt—reduced to skin and bones.”
  • Stacy can swim to the bottom of the ocean because Atlas can keep an air bubble around himself and Stacy.

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

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