Cinder

For Cinder, a reluctantly adopted half-cyborg, daily life has always been a constant struggle toward belonging and acceptance. Inside her home, Cinder is nothing more than the orphan she was as a child, though she can never forget the scientist that rescued her. However, his untimely death has left her with little knowledge of her former life. Unable to know the motivations of the person who initially saved her, Cinder now faces the wrath of a stepmother who uses her as a common mechanic and breadwinner for Cinder’s two stepsisters. Outside her home, Cinder faces an entirely different sort of ill-will; as part-cyborg, Cinder faces endless forms of discrimination from her community in the Eastern Commonwealth of New Beijing, a society that is more than willing to give up any of their cyborg citizens for the purposes of scientific experimentation.

New Beijing faces its own onslaught of problems. Once a powerful and prosperous development, the royal state now faces threats of war from the Lunars, a magical dictatorship residing on Earth’s moon.  Crippled under the wrath of a plague known as letumosis, New Beijing fears that its only hope of survival may rest in its Prince Kai’s ability to marry the Lunar Queen Levana—or else find a cure for the disease that currently holds a 100% casualty rate.

Cinder gratefully avoids both issues of the letumosis plague and New Beijing’s political instability, focusing instead on her own efforts to escape her present living conditions. However, when Cinder’s stepsister, Peony, falls to the disease, Cinder is opted up for a cyborg draft that aims to find a letumosis cure, and is thus driven into the conflicts of her nation head-on. In facing experimentation, Cinder finds not only a connection with Prince Kai, but also faces the truth behind her childhood. In encountering her past, Cinder must now ask: does she think she can change the fate of her world? And, if she loves and accepts herself—her own power—will others accept her as well?

Cinder is a sci-fi fantasy that works to retell the classic story of Cinderella from the lens of an imaginative society filled with political intrigue and social commentary pertinent to our community today. In weaving together the personal struggles of Cinder, the strategic plans of Prince Kai, the wrath of the Lunar population, and the welfare of New Beijing as a collective, Meyer presents a story that keeps readers on the very edge of their seats. Though there are subtle nods towards Cinderella throughout the narrative, Cinder is presented as her own, dynamic character with unique conflicts and struggles.

As a longer narrative with more complex diction, Cinder is a story for junior high and high school readers. It is also important to note that, as a narrative that presents explicit descriptions of death and disease, the narrative may not be suitable for younger readers, particularly considering our present struggles with the COVID pandemic. However, for those readers wanting a thrilling, action-packed, and innovative piece of speculative fiction that works to bring real world conflict to an imagined world, this is the perfect book! Cinder will especially capture the attention of any readers looking to dive into sci-fi fantasy for the first time, as the narrative holds an easily digestible, yet intricate, world that serves as a perfect introduction to the genre. In following Cinder’s journey, readers can also truly see the way invented worlds speak to issues of discrimination, classism, ethics, and power within our present world.

By confronting New Beijing’s societal conflicts as the result of a history that speaks to her own past, Cinder also rises to accept where she has come from—as both New Beijing citizen and cyborg mechanic power—to sculpt her own path in the world with newfound agency. When fate arises, and the wellbeing of a community rests in her hand, Cinder truly shows all readers that empowering themselves is the first step towards empowering their surroundings.

Sexual Content

  • When Dr. Erland praises Cinder for the way her technology falls perfectly in line with her central nervous system, Cinder sarcastically replies, “I’m sure I’ll feel much more grateful when I find a guy who thinks complex wiring in a girl is a turn-on.”
  • Fascinated by Queen Levana’s projected beauty, Kai hesitates when meeting her. Instead, he stares “at the pale, translucent skin, wondering if just touching her was all it would take to destroy a man’s mind.”
  • To stop Prince Kai from announcing his marriage to Queen Levana, “Cinder wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him . . . Though Cinder had intended for it to be a short kiss, she found herself lingering. Hot tingles coursed through her body, surprising and scary but not unpleasant, surging like electricity through her wires . . . the desperation melted and, for the briefest of moments, the ulterior motives were gone. She found herself kissing him for no other reason than she wanted to.”
  • After seeing Cinder kiss Prince Kai, Queen Levana says, “You must misunderstand my culture. On Luna, we consider monogamy to be nothing more than archaic sentimentality. What do I care if my husband-to-be is in love with another . . . woman?”

Violence

  • At the beginning of Cinder, Cinder watches as a baker named Chang Sacha realizes that she has caught the plague. As a result of this discovery, Chang Sacha’s son is taken from her, and a screaming Chang Sacha is led to quarantine by officials. Following this, Cinder realizes that officials are “going to burn Chang-ji’s booth.” Authorities burn the booth until “The baker’s booth had been reduced to rubble and the skeleton of a portable oven.” The scene is described over five pages.
  • While introducing Queen Levana, the queen of the Lunar race, it is mentioned that the queen “murdered her older sister, Queen Channary, so she could take the throne from her. [Rumors from the Eastern Commonwealth community] said [Queen Levana] had her own husband killed too so she would be free to make a more advantageous match. They said she had forced her stepdaughter to mutilate her own face because, at the sweet age of thirteen, she had become more beautiful than the jealous queen could stand. They said she’d killed her niece, her only threat to the throne. Princess Selene had only been three years old when a fire caught in her nursery, killing her and her nanny.” This is the extent of the description concerning the violence incited by Queen Levana.
  • Cinder’s youngest stepsister, Peony, catches the disease that is described when Cinder finds, “a splotch of red, rimmed with bruise purple” on Peony’s collarbone. Peony screams, and cries, before an emergency hover and med-droids take her away to quarantine. At this time, a med-droid tests Cinder for the disease by inserting a needle in her right wrist and drawing blood.
  • In light of Peony’s sickness, Cinder’s stepmother Adri donates Cinder to the cyborg draft (a system where a family’s cyborgs can opt themselves up, or have their family guardians donate them, as bodies for plague testing). In an argument with Cinder, Adri slaps Cinder’s cheek with the back of her hand. In order to escape the droids trying to take her, Cinder swings her toolbelt—known as a magbelt—“against the android’s cranium.” Cinder then smashes the lens of the second android. The last android finally catches Cinder before she escapes and electrocutes her until she falls to unconsciousness. This scene lasts five pages.
  • When unconscious, Cinder has a dream described as this: “Flames. Smoke. Blisters burbling across her skin. Her leg and hand were gone, leaving stumps where the surgeons had attached her protheses. Dead wires dangled from them. She tried to crawl but was as useless as an upended turtle . . . she was surrounded. Other crippled victims writhed among the coals, moaning, begging for water. They were all missing limbs. Some were nothing more than a head and a torso and a mouth, pleading.” This image is described over two pages.
  • Against her will, Cinder is tested at the king’s hospital. In this scene, an android pins her head to the side of a stretcher she is strapped to and uses prongs at the back of her neck to scan her system and note the percentage of “machine” Cinder truly is. The android then proceeds to inject Cinder with the plague. This scene lasts six pages. After being given the virus, a description of the android drawing Cinder’s blood lasts two pages.
  • Attempting to escape the testing lab, Cinder tries to attack the leading scientist on the royal letumosis research team, Dr. Erland. Cinder raises a wrench at his temple, but after speaking to the doctor, she decides against this action.
  • To test Cinder’s system, Dr. Erland pinches a vertebra above her shoulders. At this moment, “Fire and pain ruptured her spine, flooding her veins. She cried out and fell off the table, crumpling to the floor.”
  • Cinder visits her sister Peony in the quarantine section. The setting is described with “the stench of excrement and rot.” Flies fill the room with buzzing, while the patients are “sleeping or staring blankly up at the ceiling, their skin covered in a blue-black rash.” Peony is described with “purplish blotches” all over her arms, “just this side of death.”
  • In the hospital, Cinder also sees Chang Sacha again. Sacha has bluish pigment and a pungent odor. She grasps Cinder’s hand with yellowed fingernails. She asks Cinder to look for her son Sunto, before “the life dulled in Sacha’s black eyes.” Sacha’s death is described over two pages.
  • Following Sacha’s death, Cinder watches as a med-droid arrives and pulls out a scalpel. “Cinder watched, mesmerized and disgusted, as the android pressed the blade into Sacha’s wrist. A stream of blood dripped down Sacha’s palm . . . The med-droid traded the scalpel for tweezers, and Cinder heard the subtle click of metal on metal. She grimaced as the android extracted the small chip. Its protective plastic coating glistened scarlet.”
  • Dr. Erland warns Cinder that she must leave the royal research lab as “Queen Levana will stop at nothing to ensure her control, to terminate any resistance. That means killing those who could resist her—people like you. . . If she were to see you, she would kill you.”
  • Dr. Erland speaks on the murder of his daughter at the hands of Queen Levana. None of the details are described, except that she was killed because she was a “shell,” a Lunar without magic.
  • Cinder returns to quarantine to visit Peony. During this visit, Peony’s “face was ashen, her lips peeling. The dark splotches on her neck had begun to fade to lavender beneath the surface of her ghostly skin. Eyes on Cinder, she pulled her arm out from beneath the blanket and spread out her fingers, displaying their blue-black tips and the yellowish tinge of her nails.” When Cinder tries to raise Peony to administer an antidote, her body goes “limp,” and Cinder “stared into Peony’s empty eyes. Eyes looking past her, through her.” The description of Peony’s death lasts four pages.
  • To stop a med-droid from taking Peony’s ID chip, Cinder “wrenched the scalpel from [the med-droid’s] glove and jammed it into the android’s sensor. . .Cinder barreled over the bed and slammed her fist into the android’s head.”
  • Cinder pulls the chip from her sister herself. Cinder “asked for hurried forgiveness while she grasped her sister’s fragile wrist. She spliced the scalpel into the soft tissue. Blood dribbled out of the wound and onto her glove, mixing with years of grime. Peony’s fingers twitched when Cinder hit a tendon, making her jump. When the cut was wide enough, she peeled it open with her thumb, revealing bright red muscle. Blood . . she dug the tip of the blade in as carefully as she could, easing up the square chip.” This description lasts a page.
  • In a tense conversation with Queen Levana, Kai tries to loosen his grip on a chopstick, “lest he accidentally leap across the table and jab a chopstick into the witch’s eye.”
  • After assuming she was disrespected by a server, Queen Levana orders the servant to turn a blade towards herself, aiming it at the corner of her eye. This interaction ends here, as Kai stops the Queen before she can force the servant to hurt herself.
  • Angered by the new income Cinder has gained from the royal research department, Adri violently mangles and dismantles one of Cinder’s droid friends, Iko. She also asks Cinder to take off her new, machine-made, foot as payment for Peony’s funeral. This interaction lasts two pages.
  • Upon seeing Cinder at the ball, Adri raises a hand over her shoulder to strike Cinder, but Kai stops her with a hand firmly wrapped around her wrist.
  • Knowing that Cinder is Lunar, Queen Levana orders her arrest. A “Lunar guard stepped out of the crowd . . .Without warning, he grasped Cinder’s wrists, pinning them behind her.” Queen Levana then forces Cinder to lift the barrel of the gun to her own temple. When Cinder’s finger pulls down on the trigger, she manages to evade the Queen’s brainwashing just enough to force the gun away from her head. The gunshot shatters a chandelier above. Cinder then pulls the gun at the Queen and pulls the trigger, but a red-haired guard steps up to block the blow. This scene lasts about 15 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Cinder’s stepmother Adri maintains full, albeit reluctant, guardianship of Cinder following the death of her husband. As a cyborg, Cinder faces cruel discrimination and punishments under her stepmother’s control. For instance, Adri often threatens to sell Cinder off “as spare parts.”
  • Pearl, Cinder’s stepsister, also throws cruel taunts Cinder’s way. For instance, on mention of the cyborg draft, Pearl says, “I know a cyborg who could volunteer for plague testing . . . They reimburse the volunteers’ families, wire-head.”
  • In a discussion on whether to marry Queen Levana, the prince of New Beijing, says, “My plan is to not marry her. Diplomacy be damned.”
  • Following Peony’s death, Cinder shouts into her body, “Dammit. Dammit. Peony!”
  • Angered by the fact Prince Kai gifted Cinder a pair of white gloves, Pearl says, “Did you think the prince—no– the emperor would find it in his heart to overlook all your. . . ‘shortcomings’?”
  • One of the girls working for Queen Levana’s attendants, upon meeting Cinder, exclaims, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m an evil, worthless, wretched girl.”

Supernatural

  • At the beginning of the novel, another society known as the Lunars are introduced, with the line, “everything about Lunars was eerie and superstitious.” According to Cinder, Lunars were a society that evolved from an Earthen moon colony, but no longer became human. They contain supernatural powers that allow them to be able to “alter a person’s brain—make you see things you shouldn’t see, feel things you shouldn’t feel, do things you didn’t want to do. Their unnatural power had made them a greedy and violent race.”
  • Describing the Lunar people further, Dr. Erland says, “Lunars have the unique ability to not only detect bioelectricity in others, but to also control it. They can manipulate it so that people see what the Lunar wishes them to see, and even feel what the Lunar wishes them to feel. A glamour is what they call the illusion of themselves that they project into the minds of others.”
  • Upon Queen Levana’s arrival to Earth, an angry protest goes to the palace, but as soon as Queen Levana steps upon the balcony, they quiet. “Slowly, as if sleepwalking, the crowd began to depart . . . So, this was the effect of the Lunar glamour, the spell to enchant, to deceive, to turn one’s heart toward you and against your enemies.”
  • During a discussion about Queen Levana building an army, Prince Kai is given a picture taken on the moon, showing rows of creatures with wide hunched shoulders described as “a cross between man and beast. Their noses and jaws protruded awkwardly from their heads, their lips twisted into perpetual grimaces. White spots erupted from their mouths—Kai could not see them clearly, could not tell for sure, but they gave him the distinct impression of fangs.” These creatures are also thought to hold magic.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

The Wicked King

Jude, a mortal living in Faerieland, finds herself pulling the strings behind a puppet king she has created. With Cardan, the High King of Elhame, bound to follow her every command, Jude feels that she has finally bested the faeries who have tormented her for her entire childhood. However, she only has this control for a year and a day, and five months have already passed leaving Jude scrambling for a method to hold on to her power. It seems that the entire world is against Jude. Her twin sister, Taryn, is marrying a man who Jude dislikes, the advisory council refuses to take her word into account, and she is warned that someone that she trusts has betrayed her.

There’s an uprising occurring with the Undersea, a kingdom that had previously forged an alliance with Cardan’s dad, but that now wants independence and power. Orlagh, the Queen of the Undersea, teams up with Cardan’s brother, Balekin, who is responsible for the past king’s death. During Taryn’s wedding, the Undersea strikes, kidnapping Jude and holding her hostage. Cardan makes enormous sacrifices to bring Jude back, and the two begin to recognize that they have feelings for each other and that the intense hatred between them has faded.

Things go terribly awry when Cardan throws a party to make peace with the people whose land he sacrificed to the Undersea. Cardan is poisoned by his brother, Balekin, and Balekin tries to pin the blame on Jude. Jude and Balekin duel and Jude emerges victorious, killing Balekin. Jude and Cardan marry in secret, cementing her as the High Queen of Elfhame. However, as a punishment for Balekin’s murder, the Undersea demands that Jude be exiled to the mortal lands. Though exiled, Jude begins to hatch a plot to return home.

Told from Jude’s point of view, this fast-paced sequel to The Cruel Prince provides hidden depth to the characters, as well as develops a plot that’s full of twists and turns, with betrayal around every corner. Despite some of Jude’s questionable decisions, it seems impossible not to root for her. Jude is a strong female character that many girls will be able to relate and look up to. She doesn’t let her shortcomings stop her in her quest for power and glory. She is able to overcome every hurdle, which makes her even stronger. Although the reader is privy to her inner thoughts, she never seems to falter in her strength, which makes her a positive female role model.

Black creates a mystical, magical world that is both fantastical and terrifying, drawing the reader into the story and its world.  The book emphasizes the danger of an abundance of ambition, and how power has the ability to corrupt individuals. It also establishes a romantic relationship between Cardan and Jude that feels satisfying and believable, as the two finally begin to view themselves as equals. All of these elements come together to form an intricately woven story about power, love, and betrayal.

Sexual Content

  • When made to play a cruel game at a party, Jude “pull[s] the dress [she] is wearing over [her] head,” standing “in the middle of the party in [her] underwear.”
  • Cardan seduces Jude. Cardan “presses his mouth to my ear, kissing me there. . .He doesn’t kiss me as though he’s angry; his kiss is soft, yearning.” Jude notes, “I try to stop myself from making embarrassing noises. It’s more intimate than the way he’s touching me, to be looked at like that.”
  • Jude describes a night with Cardan, “trad[ing] kisses in the darkness, blurred by exhaustion. I don’t expect to sleep, but I do, my limbs tangled with his.”

Violence

  • While visiting Balekin in prison, Jude is slapped by a guard, leaving her “cheek stinging and furious.”
  • Jude stabs a prison guard with “a little pin I keep hidden in the lining of my doublet.”
  • Someone shoots Cardan with a crossbow, and his wound is depicted as “a stripe of raw skin along his side.” Another faerie was hit with a bolt in the leg, and the wound is not described.
  • Jude threatens Locke, Taryn’s fiancé, putting her “foot on his chest, pressing down a little to remind him that if [she] kicked hard, it could shatter bone.”
  • Jude notes that Locke knows “I stabbed Valerian once, but he doesn’t know I killed him, nor that I have killed since then.”
  • While in the woods, Jude is shot with an arrow, and is “unable to bite back a cry of pain.”
  • The Undersea attacks and knights are killed, which is not depicted. Jude enters the scene after the attack and notes that “all their eyes have been replaced with pearls. Drowned on dry land.”
  • When speaking to Madoc, Jude reveals her troublesome past as a mortal in Faerie. She says, “You’ve let Folk hurt me and laugh at me and mutilate me.” Then, she holds up “the hand with the missing fingertip, where one of his own guards bit it clean off. Another scar is at its center, from where Dain forced me to stick a dagger through my hand.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Cardan is often depicted as drunk. At one party, “He calls again and again for his cabochon-encrusted goblet to be refilled with a pale green liquor. The very smell of it makes [Jude’s] head spin.”
  • Jude purposefully poisons herself in a process called mithridatism, “by which one takes a little bit of poison to inoculate oneself against a full dose of it.” She notes that because of this, “My eyes shine too brightly. The half-moons of my fingernails are bluish, as though my blood doesn’t get quite enough oxygen. My sleep is strange, full of too-vivid dreams.”
  • Jude explains what the different poisons of faerie do. “The blusher mushroom, which causes potentially lethal paralysis . . . deathsweet, which can cause a sleep that lasts a hundred years. . . wraithberry, which makes the blood race and induces a kind of wildness before stopping the heart . . . of everapple—faerie fruit—which muddies the minds of mortals.”
  • Jude notes going to a party in the mortal world, and “being allowed little sips of Shiraz.”
  • When Jude is hurt, a fellow spy gives her an ointment with the “scent of strong herbs.”
  • At a party, Cardan is poisoned by his brother in an attempt for the crown, but Cardan is quickly given an antidote.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The Faerie world is full of different types of faeries, such as a boy who has “the lower half of a deer.” Another faerie is described as being “grass-haired,” and having dark green skin.
  • Jude reminisces about her past. “Sometimes Jude longed for her bike, but there were none in Faerie. Instead, she had giant toads and thin greenish ponies and wild-eyed horses slim as shadows. And she had weapons.”
  • In Faerie, the King/Queen’s health is directly tied to the land in a magical way. “They are the lifeblood and the beating heart of their realm in some mystical way,” and when Cardan “becomes drunk, his subjects become tipsy without knowing why. When his blood falls, things grow.” All of Cardan’s actions seem to have a direct impact on the land and his subjects, and if he bleeds on the ground, new life sprouts from it.
  • Grimsen, a faerie blacksmith, is described as imbuing his works with magical qualities. He is the one who “made the Blood Crown for Mab and wove enchantments into it. It’s said he can make anything from metal, even living things—metal birds that fly, metal snakes that slither and strike. He made the twin swords, Heartseeker and Heartsworn, one that never misses and the other that can cut through anything.”
  • A faerie is described as, “A hag—old and powerful enough that the air around her seems to crackle with the force of her magic. Her fingers are twiggy, her hair the color of smoke, and her nose like the blade of a scythe.”
  • Cardan receives a gift of fabric woven from “spider silk and nightmares. A garment cut from it can turn a sharp blade, yet be as soft as a shadow against your skin.”
  • It is revealed that along with a physical gift of woven fabric, an old faerie had presented Cardan with “a geas, allowing you to marry only a weaver of the cloth in my hands. Myself—or my daughter.”
  • Faerie marriages are different than mortal ones in that, “unlike the mortal until death do us part, they contain conditions like ‘until you shall both renounce each other’ or ‘unless one strikes the other in anger’ or the cleverly worded ‘for the duration of a life’ without specifying whose.”
  • Pixies are described as having “iridescent wings shining in the candlelight.”
  • A faerie guard is described as “a large, hairy creature . . . wearing beautifully wrought plate armor, blond fur sticking out from any gaps.”
  • Jude describes a group of faeries, “a boy with sparrow wings, three spriggans, a sluagh girl.”
  • A forest, Milkwood, is described as a place “where black-thorned bees hum in their hives high in the white-barked trees. The root men are asleep. The sea laps at the rocky edges of the isle.”
  • Jude asks a fellow spy if he was a happy child, to which he replies, “’I was magic. How could I fail to be?’”
  • When Taryn comes to Jude offering help, Jude begins to doubt her intentions, noting that, “Faerie runs on debt, on promises and obligations. Having grown up here, I understand what she’s offering—a gift, a boon, instead of an apology.”
  • Jude depicts a couple of faeries she sees at a party, “a boy and a girl—one with ram’s horns, the other with long ears that come to tufted points, like those of an owl.”
  • Nicasia, the sea princess’s, hair is described as being “the many colors of the sea.”
  • One of Jude’s fellow spies is described as a “hob-faced owl.”
  • Jude describes the Council of the King: “the Unseelie Minister, a troll with a thick head of shaggy hair with pieces of metal braided into it; the Seelie Minister, a green woman who looks like a mantis; the Grand General, Madoc; the Royal Astrologer, a very tall, dark-skinned man with a sculpted beard and celestial ornaments in the long fall of his navy-blue hair; the Minister of Keys, a wizened old hob with ram’s horns and goat eyes; and the Grand Fool, who wears pale lavender roses on his head to match his purple motley.”
  • Jude finds an “enchanted orb” that allows her to see video-like memories.
  • A fellow spy tells Jude that when she was a thief in the mortal world, she was mostly “using glamour to hide [her] mistakes.”
  • There is a game in faerie in which a group of faeries, “Steal away a mortal girl, make her drunk on faerie wine and faerie flattery and faerie kisses, then convince her she is being honored with a crown—all the time heaping insults on her oblivious head.”
  • If a mortal dances with faeries, they find themselves unable to stop. When this happens to Jude, she thinks, “I cannot stop myself from dancing, cannot stop my body from moving even as my terror grows. I will not stop. I will dance through the leather of my shoes, dance until my feet are bloody, dance until I collapse.”
  • Jude describes a faerie who could tell the future, “The hag was given to prophecy and divined futures in eggshells.”
  • When Heather visits Faerie, Jude warns her, “Listen, the Folk can glamour things to look different than they do. They can mess with your mind—charm you, persuade you to do things you wouldn’t consider normally. And then there’s everapple, the fruit of Faerie. If you taste it, all you’ll think of is getting more.”
  • When visiting a blacksmith to get a gift for her sister’s wedding, the blacksmith offers “a necklace of tears to weep so that she won’t have to? A pin of teeth to bite annoying husbands?” A pair of earrings that, “make someone more lovely than they were, painfully lovely.” He takes many forms of payment, such as “a year of your life. The luster of your hair. The sound of your laugh.”
  • The blacksmith offers to make Cardan “armor of ice to shatter every blade that strikes it and that will make his heart too cold to feel pity. Tell him I will make him three swords that, when used in the same battle, will fight with the might of thirty soldiers.”
  • When someone is cursed, “her ears have grown furred and long, like that of a cat. Her nose is differently shaped, and the stubs of whiskers are growing above her eyebrows and from the apples of her cheeks.”
  • When Jude is captured by the Undersea, she notes that Nicasia’s feet have been “replaced by a long tail.”
  • Jude describes a merman, “His hair is a kind of striped green, and the same stripes continue down his body. His large eyes flash in the indifferent light.”
  • Nicasia attempts to glamour Jude, trying to convince her that her stone room actually contains a “four-poster bed, wrapped in coverlets. And the cunning little side tables and your own pot of tea, still steaming. It will be perfectly warm and delicious whenever you try it.”
  • Jude eats soup that “tastes of a memory I cannot quite place, warm afternoons and splashing in pools and kicking plastic toys across the brown grass of summer lawns.”
  • Orlagh, the queen of the Undersea is described. “Her skin is covered in shiny silvery scales that seem both to be metallic and to have grown from her skin. A helmet of bone and teeth hides her hair.”
  • Cardan is depicted as magical and being able to call on the land. “He stretches out his hand, and something seems to rise to the top of the water around us, like a pale scrum. Sand. Floating sand.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

The Raven Boys

The predictions from Blue Sargent’s house on 300 Fox Way never seem out of the ordinary for her. Blue’s mother Maura Sargent and the other women living in 300 Fox Way—Persephone, Calla, and Orla—are all psychics who weave their predictions throughout the town of Henrietta, Virginia so regularly that for Blue it seems like second-nature. Unlike the rest of her family, however, Blue can only amplify the psychics’ powers, without seeing any of that power herself. Other truths— such as the identity of Blue’s father, or the reason why her aunt Neeve comes to town after success as a TV psychic— also remain hidden from Blue.

Despite this, there is one conclusion clearly given to Blue, over and over throughout her life, in runes, in palm readings, decks of tarot and tea leaves: the prediction that if Blue were to kiss her true love, he would die.

Blue decides to never fall in love, casting this prediction aside like a fantasy. But when she arrives, Neeve tells Blue this is the year Blue will fall in love. And on St. Mark’s Eve, the day when Maura and Blue record the names of the spirits set to die in twelve months, Blue sees a boy from the Aglionby Acadamy. A boy named Gansey.

Blue usually avoids the boys at the wealthy Aglionby Academy. Rich boys, she says, “think they’re better than us.” However, after St. Mark’s Day, an encounter with the living Gansey and his friends—Ronan, Adam, and Noah— at the diner where she works draws Blue towards this group of boys as they sweep her into their continuous search for a sleeping Welsh king among the ley lines of Henrietta. As the ley lines form a pattern between significant supernatural quirks and historical signifiers, they also begin to show Blue and the Raven Boys an uncanny world hidden deep below this Virginian town’s mundane surface.

The story moves between the perspectives of Blue, Gansey, Adam, and an Aglionby Latin teacher known as Barrington Whelk. The Raven Boys grounds legends of the Welsh King Glendower and whimsical, otherworldly fantasy within a small town sheerly divided by class. Settings that branch everywhere from a room full of mirrored worlds, the well-worn upholstery of a bright orange Camaro, and the Latin whispers of a forest called Cabeswater will transfix readers as they plunge into a narrative rich with intricately detailed plot twists.

However, the real magic in Stiefvater’s writing lies in her ability to present each character in The Raven Boys as realistic characters with their own, individual sense of what’s right and what’s necessary in the challenges they face. Each character holds their own trajectories: Blue struggles to reconcile how to define her own unique power and with the idea, she might someday kill Gansey. Gansey holds a desperate need to define himself beyond his family’s wealth through his hunt for Glendower. Ronan fiercely battles with his brother’s supervision following the death of their father. Adam strives to be self-sufficient with a free will that stands apart from his abusive father and Gansey’s money. Noah is cold because, as he says, “I’ve been dead for seven years.” All characters hold their own journey throughout the narrative, which influences the way they interact with each other in compelling ways. Readers will truly fall in love with The Raven Boys characters as they each find the balance between self-reliance and trust in others, the power in realizing self-worth, the beauty of remembering things often overlooked, and the peace of understanding that things aren’t always what they may seem. In evoking the magic of Henrietta, Virginia, Stiefvater shows every reader the complicated path towards finding the place you truly feel like you belong.

Sexual Content

  • When Gansey offers to pay Blue to talk to Adam, Blue says, “I am not a prostitute. . . clearly you pay most of your female companions by the hour and don’t know how it works with the real world.”

Violence

  • Aglionby Academy’s Latin teacher, Mr. Whelk, recalls a time when he was younger and a friend was, “on the ground. Not dead, but dying. His legs still pedaled on the uneven surface behind him. His face was just. . . done.” This describes the moment when Mr. Whelk kills his friend Czerny.
  • In the parking lot, Ronan and Declan meet and get into a fist fight. This fight lasts about four pages, in which Declan and Ronan exchange blows, and Gansey tries to grab Ronan’s arms and catches a punch from Declan instead. The physical fight ends when, “with a neat flick of his wrist, Ronan smacked Declan’s head off the driver’s side door of the Volvo. It made a sick, wet sound.”
  • After doing a reading for Mr. Whelk, Calla tells Blue that if she sees Mr. Whelk again, “Kick him in the nuts. Then run the other way.”
  • One day, Adam is absent from school, and the next time Gansey sees him, Adam has a bruise across his cheek. Speaking about Adam’s father, Gansey says, “So you won’t leave because of your pride? He’ll kill you . . . why don’t you let Ronan teach you to fight?” In response, Adam says, “Because then he will kill me . . . he has a gun.”
  • Mr. Whelk orders Gansey to show him to the forest Cabeswater. To get him to comply, Mr. Whelk holds a gun to Gansey’s head. Gansey escapes by punching Whelk.
  • One scene depicts Adam’s father, Robert Parrish, violently accusing Adam of lying to him about how much money he makes at his job. Robert Parrish takes Adam’s chin and then hits his face. Adam falls and hits the stair railing of his house. Right as Robert picks him up again, Adam’s friend Ronan—who had just dropped Adam off at his house— gets out of his car and smashes his fist into Robert’s face. Ronan and Robert fight. “The fight was dirty. At one point Ronan went down and Robert Parrish kicked, hard, at his face. Ronan’s forearms came up, all instinct, to protect himself. Parrish lunged in to rip them free. Ronan’s hand lashed out like a snake, dragging Parrish to the ground with him.” The scene of abuse, and the fight following, lasts about five pages.
  • Trying to wake the ley line herself, Neeve Tasers ties Mr. Whelk into the back of her car. She plans to take him to the forest Cabeswater in order to kill him as a sacrifice, but he manages to escape.
  • Adam has a vision of the trees in Cabeswater. In this dream, “There was blood everywhere. Are you happy now, Adam? Ronan snarled. He knelt beside Gansey, who convulsed in the dirt.”
  • When Mr. Whelk escapes Neeve, he “selected a fallen branch and crashed it down on [Neeve’s] head with as much force as he could muster . . . Neeve moaned and shook her head slowly, so Whelk gave her another blow for good measure.” Whelk then ties up Neeve and drags her into the center of the pentagram.
  • To convince Whelk to untie Neeve, Adam draws a gun on Mr. Whelk. Whelk stops him by threatening to “cut [Neeve’s] face off.” When Neeve disappears from the clearing, Whelk runs towards the pentagram but Ronan “hurled himself toward Whelk at the same moment that Whelk rose with the gun. Whelk smashed the side of it into Ronan’s jaw.” After this, the fight dies down as Whelk points the pistol at Gansey. This interaction lasts about four pages.
  • After Adam sacrifices himself to the forest, Mr. Whelk points his gun at Adam and pulls the trigger, but Adam remains unharmed. When “a tremendous rippling herd of white-horned beasts” erupts from the forest floor, Adam manages to take hold of the gun and keep Whelk away from the pentagram-marked circle, a space the beasts were avoiding. Mr. Whelk ends up trampled by the beasts.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Gansey is seen drinking in the St. Agnes church one night.

Language

  • Profanity is used often throughout the book, mainly the words damn, fuck, goddamn, bitch, bastard, shit, and hell. These words are mainly used by Blue, Gansey, Ronan, and Adam, and are most often spoken to each other.
  • There are some instances where both Blue and Adam are referred to as “white trash” by peers at their school and at one point by Gansey’s sister.

Supernatural

  • Blue, her mother Maura, and her aunt Neeve go to an abandoned church in Henrietta on St. Mark’s Eve in order to talk to the spirits that will die that year. The spirits walk along the ley line as Maura and Neeve ask for their names. This is also when Blue sees an apparition of a future Gansey about to die.
  • Blue is known to amplify the power of spirits and her family’s psychic powers “like a walking battery.”
  • Blue feels tired after St. Mark’s Eve because, as Maura says to her, “you let fifteen spirits walk through your body while you chatted with a dead boy.”
  • Gansey and a professor named Malory talk about ley lines as if they are underground spirit roads, charged with energy.
  • Mr. Whelk recalls the time he tried to search for signs of supernatural activity along the ley line, and performed a ritual with his friend, Czerny, as a way to give sacrifice to the ley line. This ritual results in Mr. Whelk killing Czerny.
  • Finding a slanting, green-carpeted field outlined in a pale fracture of lines that look like a raven, Gansey, Ronan, Blue, and Adam find the forest Cabeswater, a mystical forest that performs fantastical things including: speaking in Latin, changing the color of fish in its streams, warping time, and giving each of the kids a vision when they step into the cavity of one of its trees.
  • When searching Neeve’s room, Calla and Persephone tell Blue not to step between the pair of mirrors set there. When asked why, Calla says, “Who knows what she’s doing with them. I don’t want my soul put in a bottle in some other dimension or something.”
  • Because Blue’s family are all psychics, the women tell fortunes. Blue “had her fingers spread wide, her palm examined, her cards plucked from velvet-edged decks . . . thumbs were pressed to the invisible, third eye that was said to lie between everyone’s eyebrows. Runes were cast and dreams interpreted, tea leaves scrutinized and séances conducted.”
  • Maura, Calla, and Persephone do a Tarot reading for Gansey, Adam, and Ronan.
  • Neeve tries to figure out more about Gansey by scrying—this process involves attempting to foretell the future or understand the future through a reflective surface (Neeve uses a bowl of cran-grape juice). This process is described as dangerous because the person scrying can often lose their way and end up lost in this other reality they are scrying to.
  • Blue notices that Neeve is doing a ritual of deep scrying. She describes the setting as “a five-pointed star marked around the beech tree. One point was the candle, and another the pool of dark water. An unlit candle marked the third point and an empty bowl the fourth… Neeve was the final point.” Neeve’s voice is described as distant and far away. Neeve says she is “on the corpse road.” Blue sees something rising out of the water before she breaks Neeve from her trance.
  • Neeve makes a pentagram in Cabeswater in order to sacrifice Mr. Whelk.
  • Neeve is said to disappear from the pentagram in Cabeswater right as Gansey, Blue and Ronan arrive to face Whelk.
  • Adam ends up waking up the ley line by digging his fingers into the soft mossy turf in the center of the pentagram on the forest floor and saying, “I sacrifice myself . . . I will be your hands . . . I will be your eyes.” At this moment, the ground begins to roll, and “a tremendous rippling herd of white-horned beasts” erupts from the forest.

Spiritual Content

  • Ronan and his brothers are all known as regular churchgoers, as it is well known that, “all of the Lynch brothers went to St. Agnes every Sunday.”
  • One night, Neeve advises Blue, “Watch for the devil. When there’s a god, there’s always a legion of devils.”
  • Blue, Ronan, and Gansey bury the bones of Czerny at the old ruined church. Blue says at this time, “No one will bother them here . . . and we know it’s on the ley line. And it’s holy ground.”

by Hannah Olsson

 

Submerge

Lia and Clay’s love has broken the Little Mermaid’s curse, but their ever after may not be as happy as they planned. Lia is adamant about staying on land with Clay for her senior year despite her family’s opportunity to move to the new, sparkling capital city below the waves. But before any decision about the future can be made, her family must endure Melusine and her father’s trial, where new revelations will have far-reaching consequences that threaten what Lia holds most dear.

The verdict will shake Lia’s world, calling into question her future with Clay, her feelings for Caspian, and the fate of all Merkind. As she wonders who to trust, Lia sets out on a treacherous path that will lead her away from her sheltered Malibu home to a remote and mysterious school for Mermaids—Mermaids who may hold the secret to an ancient magic Lia can use to get back all she’s lost.

As a “princess,” Lia must learn about Mer politics. However, much of Lia’s teaching is dry and boring. In class, Lia learns about “magic having unintended political consequences.” Even though the story introduces the Mer world, Lia explores very little of it. Instead, her only focus is on restoring Clay’s memory so they can be together. Lia is so focused on herself that she never notices anyone else’s needs. Unfortunately, Lia’s single-minded focus on Clay becomes tedious.

The first part of Submerge is a retelling of the events from the first book in the series. The repetition is long-winded and readers will quickly lose interest in the court proceedings. In addition, a Mer teacher, Ondine, is introduced. Instead of adding interest to the story, Lia’s trust in Ondine is unbelievable, and Ondine’s betrayal, predictable. To make matters worse, Caspian is suddenly in love with Lia, which adds another unbelievable element to the story. The conclusion doesn’t wrap up any of the story’s threads and reinforces the idea that Lia cannot think past her own wants. Readers who love Disney’s Little Mermaid will want to throw the Mer Chronicles into the ocean and watch it sink to a watery grave.

Sexual Content

  • Mers get their legs during puberty because they need legs “for mating.”
  • Lia and her boyfriend kiss. Lia describes the kiss. “I let my eyes flutter shut. Let myself taste Clay’s lips against mine. Get lost in the richness of every touch, every press of his tongue and graze of his cheek.”
  • When Lia shows Clay her tail, he kisses her. “Slow and sweet and swirling to different depths. I forget everything else.” The kiss is interrupted when Clay’s mother walks in on them.
  • Clay and Lia kiss often. For example, while swimming in the ocean, “strong arms grab me and pull me against him, my wet body pressing against his. . . Droplets of water from his face collide with mine as he takes my mouth in a kiss as sweeping as the sea breeze itself.”
  • Clay and Lia discuss the trial. Then they kiss. “Now he does pull me in, pressing my body flush against his and seizes my mouth violently with his. There’s a wildness, a fervor, in his kiss I’ve never felt before. . . So I push back with equal ferocity.”
  • Clay is preparing to take a potion that will take away some of his memories when Lia and Clay decide to have sex for the first time. “Clay’s eyes close as he bites the bottom of my lip. When he opens them again, desire darkens the hazel. I’ve never seen such naked hunger.” Clay stops kissing her so they can go somewhere private.
  • Before Clay takes the potion, Lea wants to give Clay a memory that he will not forget so they have sex for the first time. Clay’s “palms skim up and down my arms, leaving streaks of exhilarating tingles in their wake from shoulder to wrist. My fingers twine into his hair as our mouths latch together, more lasting and leading than ever before. . . He grabs what he needs from the nightstand (and there’s something that seems both so comforting and so momentous about that small, foil packet), and then he moves toward me. . .Time surges and crests, and we move with it, holding each other close. . .”
  • After Clay loses his memory, Lia’s sister tells her, “A rebound hookup can be totally hot.”
  • In the middle of the night, Lia and Clay show up at Clay’s father’s house, which is on a military base. His father gets upset and says, “I got you security clearance so you could feel at home here, not so you could . . . score with girls.”
  • After Lia fights against ancient magic and wins, Lia and Clay kiss. “Clay’s lips are on mine the instant the door clicks shut. Hands run up my bare arms and tangle in my hair as biceps cloaked in thin cotton press against my eager palms. His tongue welcomes me, drawing me in until I’m utterly lost in his kisses, drowning in the sensations of soft lips and rough stubble. . . ”

Violence

  • A Mermaid describes her mother’s death. When her mom went shopping, raiders “cut her throat. Left her to die.”
  • Someone tells Lia a story about a siren who wanted revenge “so she used the siren bond she shared with him to sense when he was alone and to call him to her so she could murder him in cold blood after making him—”
  • In order to manipulate Lia, Ondine binds Caspian. “The ropes tighten more and more until Caspian, so strong and stoic, can’t help but scream.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lia’s sisters are looking forward to college keg parties.
  • A mermaid, who was a siren, is given a potion that will not allow her to speak in the human world.
  • The Mer Tribunal gives Clay a potion that takes away all of his memories of Lia. “The potion works by constructing extremely powerful wands that completely block Clay’s mind from accessing certain memories.”
  • Clay is given antidepressants because of his depression; however, he doesn’t know if he should take them.

Language

  • Several different forms of damn are used occasionally.
  • During a trial, Lia watches the defendant and wonders, “What the hell does he have to smile about?”
  • When the Mermaid that tried to kill Clay and Lia testifies, Lia thinks, “That bitch starts talking. I don’t trust myself not to snap.”
  • God is used as an exclamation twice.
  • Pissed is used twice. For example, Lia thinks, “The last thing I want to do is piss off the psycho with raging powers . . .”
  • Clay says “eff that” and later he says, “I was so goddamn helpless and you needed me!”

Supernatural

  • Most Mer do not use ancient magic, but they do utilize potions. Much of the story revolves around Lia learning how to use magic.
  • At the trial, Caspian explains how the defendant used runes. The runes, “mapped out coordinates. It was part of a spell—marking Clay’s bedroom with the place under the sea where he would sleep forever.”
  • Because Lia “sirened” Clay, they have a special bond and can feel each other. Lia “can trace him, feel him, no matter how far away he is.” Lia can also use this bond to tell what Clay is thinking and feeling.
  • In order to perform ancient magic, Lia’s palm is cut and she shares her blood with other Mermaids. “Only through blood magic can we forge new links to fully access new power.” The Mermaids then use their combined power to restore Clay’s memories.
  • Ondine forces Lia to take a potion so she can siren humans.
  • Lia uses magic to break Ondine’s hold on her. “The rope of magic grows impossibly brighter. Blinding! I can feel it sizzle and it scares me. It scares me more than anything that has ever scared me. I grab on to it—and scream. . . Even as her power sears through me, scalding me from the inside, I pull hard.” Lia’s magic is able to overcome Ondine, and Ondine disappears. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Lia releases Ondine’s power into the sea. Lia’s “body tingles with burning ice as the magic picks up speed, cycloning through my chest, down my arms, and out my palms. I crash to my knees as all flows out of me and disappears beneath the waves.”

Spiritual Content

  • Ondine takes Lia to “a sacred space. . . a place where magic itself is worshiped.”

Burn

Sarah Dewhurst’s life in 1957 changes the moment her father’s hired help arrives at their small farm in Frome, Washington. Instead of a local farmhand looking for extra cash, her father hires a blue dragon with a thick Russian accent who believes Sarah is destined to cause the end of the world.

The first half of the book follows the two main characters—Sarah Dewhurst, a farmer’s daughter, and Malcolm, a trained cult assassin—as they try to prepare for the day of reckoning. Through the dragon’s cryptic messages, Sarah learns she is destined to start a war between dragons and humans.

Malcolm travels from a Believer compound in Canada to Frome. He is sent by the cult’s goddess, Mitera Thea, to kill Sarah. As tensions rise and the two storylines converge, Malcolm activates an old dragon relic, plunging him and Sarah into a world where dragons do not exist. The second half of the novel follows the characters in the new world, where they must race against the clock to prepare a final battle before the entire world is destroyed.

The two characters who have the most growth are Sarah and Mitera Thea, the cult goddess. Sarah, who has spent her whole life fighting racism, doesn’t believe in herself, but she still stands up and fights when her world is threatened. Mitera Thea takes her human-hating tendencies to a whole new level once she turns into a dragon, and sets her sights on destroying the world. But in her final moments, Mitera Thea sees how interesting humans can be when pushed to the limit.

Burn covers several difficult topics such as racism (Sarah is a mixed raced female and her best friend Jason is the son of Japanese immigrants), homophobia (Malcolm falls in love with a young man, Nelson, during his travel to Frome), and abuse (Sarah, Jason, and Nelson all receive abuse from community members). Another tough topic that is touched on is cult worship—Malcolm was raised from his elementary years with the sole mission to kill Sarah Dewhurst. These topics are not described in graphic detail but Burn highlights why racism, homophobia, and cult worship are bad.

Patrick Ness fits seemingly random ideas into his novels and makes them work. However, dimension-hopping alongside Cold War era dragons becomes hard to follow. The build-up for doomsday is rushed and once the mini climax is revealed and the characters are transported to another world, the book begins to lose its luster and becomes confusing. While Ness tackles sensitive topics in ways that fit the setting, the week-long plot and dimension-hopping fall flat.

Sexual Content

  • Deputy Sheriff Kelby calls Sarah a slut.
  • Kelby tries to assault Sarah. Kelby “moved the baton down to the hem of her skirt and started to raise it. ‘No,’ she said.” Someone intervenes before Kelby can do anything else.
  • Malcolm and Nelson huddle for warmth in the truck and are intimate with each other. “Nelson’s fingers didn’t stop at Malcolm’s waistline, where the tattoos did.”
  • “[Love] was not in the preparations Malcom had been given. He’d been warned of predatory men and women who might seek this in exchange for favors, favors like rides to the border.”
  • Because of lies that Nelson was told, he believed LGBTQ sex “would have to be rough. And violent. And full of shame.”
  • Agent Woolf, as a dragon, finds herself pregnant. “Agent Woolf had been very much a virgin. She hated humans far too much to touch any one of them in that way.”
  • Malcolm tries to convince his double in the other world that he is Malcolm. The other Malcom says, “’you’re the first man I’ve ever kissed.’ He frowned, “that’s kinky.’”

 Violence

  • Sarah describes the racist deputy sheriff in town. “Kelby had thoughts on these issues [of Sarah driving illegally]. Deputy Kelby would be only too happy to find Sarah Dewhurst, daughter of Gareth and Darlene Dewhurst, illegally behind the wheel of a farm truck, and what might he do then?”
  • Sarah recalls the tension between nations. “Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union, threatening to annihilate them pretty much every week these days.”
  • Malcolm faces off against Mounties in Canada. “The first gunshot took out the side flap of [Malcom’s] hat and the middle of his left ear. The bullet reached him before the sound did.”
  • The fight between Malcom and the Mounties takes a drastic turn when a dragon steps into the fight. The mountain police, “exploded in a wash of fire and blood that Malcolm stepped back behind a tree to avoid, not incidentally stepping out of the line of sight of the first man’s gun. He still caught a wave of blood across the side of his face.”
  • Kelby attacks Jason and Sarah in a racially charged fight. “Kelby’s baton lashed out so fast Jason didn’t even have a chance to duck. It hit him on the throat, and he fell to his knees, coughing as if to choke.” Sarah is attacked and “[Kelby] swung the gun, hitting her jaw.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • Malcolm befriends a gay man, Nelson, who tells the story of how his parents kicked him out of the house. “His father had beat him; his mother had told him to never come back.”
  • Dernovich, a detective who is following Malcom, is shot. “The man lay on the floor of the motel room, astonishment on his face along with the blood bubbling on his lips.” He dies from his injury.
  • As both plot lines converge, there is a scuffle and a gun fight involving Sarah, Jason, the sheriff, Malcolm, and Sarah’s dad. “There was so much shouting, [Sarah] didn’t even hear the gunshot, only saw the pistol flip out of Jason’s hand, saw the blood erupt from his wrist. Then a second eruption from his back as he turned from the force of the first.”
  • Sarah’s father is shot. “He also didn’t know he had been shot until he slumped to one knee.” Her father dies from his wound.
  • Malcom and Agent Woolf have a gun and knife fight. “The gun went off as [Malcolm] cut [Agent Wolff], sending the shot astray, his blade going so deep he severed her forefinger altogether.” The fight is described over four pages.
  • Woolf wakes up as a dragon and goes on a rampage, destroying cities, including Seattle. “The first building exploded, her fire blasting out the entire ground floor and bringing down the eight floors above it in an almost slow-motion tumble.” The destruction goes on for seven pages.
  • The ultimate battle between the main group of characters and the first dragon starts. It goes on for twelve pages; most of it is dialogue with violence including gun shots, firebreath, and impalement. Nameless soldiers are killed by fire. Agent Wolff, the dragon, is impaled in the end. “As [Agent Wolff] took in her breath to destroy them, Jason Inagawa, unheard under the artillery, drove a truck directly into her belly, his family’s steel plow attached to the hood. She cried out. Instead of a blast of pure fire, a rush of acid spilled from her mouth.” Her death scene continues for half a page.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Dernovich observes a teen and thinks “he couldn’t be more than seventeen, disappearing into the trees that lined the river, probably to smoke, or whatever Believer teens did to rebel.”

 Language

  • Hell is used once.
  • Fruit, a slur toward gays, is used three times. Queer as an insult is used once.
  • Damn is used four times.
  • Someone says “that little fucker” and “we’re fucked.”
  • Shit/shitbag is used four times. For example, someone says, “the murdering little shitbag.”

 Supernatural

  • Dragons exist during Cold War era America.

 Spiritual Content

  • A major plot point within Burn is the cult of the Believers. They are a group that believe that humans are a nuisance to dragons and that dragons should once again rule the earth. They worship their main priestess, Mitera Thea, who is their “Mother Goddess.”
  • Another major plot point is a half-transcribed prophecy that foretells the end of the world. The location of the catalyst is in Frome, Washington, on Sarah’s farm.
  • Malcolm is a worshiper of the Believers. He was raised within one of their cells in Canada. He prays to Mitera Thea to aid him on his journey. He considers himself a servant to her.
  • The dragons also believe in a goddess. They call the first dragon the Goddess, the one who created and then tried to destroy the dragons with her chaotic magic. They destroyed her dragon form and turned her into a human.
  • A dragon realizes the Believer’s version of the prophecy is interpreted differently than the dragon’s version. “The Believers thought they were giving the world to dragons. A world without humans. They didn’t know what doom they had started.”
  • God and Christ are mentioned four times; the Bible once. “What in God’s name?” and “Christ” are used as an expletive. The Bible is compared to the Believer’s prophecy.
  • Nelson is called “an abomination against God” because of his sexual orientation.
  • Sarah’s dad mentions an old wives’ tale about dragons: “An animal without a soul is still an animal, no matter how many words it’s learned to lie with.”
  • Sarah talks about how kids used to be scared of dragons. Sarah “knew kids at school who prayed every night that they’d wake up in the morning.”
  • Sarah’s dad mentions another tale: “Just because the devil gave [dragons] the gift of speech doesn’t mean you’re talking to anything more than a mostly undomesticated predator.”
  • Malcolm tries to explain aspects of his religion. “Faith is belief without proof. It is a leap, an act of bravery.”
  • The Spur of the Goddess is the talon of the first dragon. It is believed to be a weapon of destruction. It is also a holy symbol.
  • Agent Woolf tries to kill a dragon because “sometimes one must commit even the vilest blasphemy for the greater good. . . ”
  • Malcolm hitchhikes and meets various drivers, “one of them tries to convert him to Christianity.”

by Signe Nettum

Cinderella is Dead

King Manford rules Lille as a tyrant. He ensures women have no rights and are completely under the power of men. Cinderella has been dead for two hundred years and history has twisted her story to make it seem as though she found true love at the ball with Prince Charming. King Manford uses this story to ensure that each 16-year-old girl attends an annual ball where men choose a woman to wed. Many girls grow up looking forward to this day, where they think they will get their chance to find their own Prince Charming.

But sixteen-year-old Sophia is not like other girls. She has always rebelled against the rules and does not have faith in the story of Cinderella. Most importantly, Sophia does not want to marry a man. Instead, Sophia desires to run away with her best friend Erin. Since homosexual relationships are banned under King Manford’s rule, Sophia and a gay man, Luke, attempt to partner up at the ball. But the king discovers their plan, resulting in devastating repercussions for Luke.

Sophia narrowly escapes and goes on an adventure to take down King Manford. Along her journey, she meets and falls for Constance, the last living descendant of Cinderella’s family. Together they discover the fairy godmother, who is actually an evil witch. They also uncover the lies that have been spread about Cinderella, King Manford, and the rules that hold everyone in this patriarchal hierarchy.

Bayron twists a beloved fairytale into an empowering story where women get to decide their own fate and do not need to wait for their Prince Charming to come and save them. Cinderella is Dead is both captivating and moving as Sophia witnesses a seemingly picture-perfect fairytale crumble around her. In order to create a society where girls have the same freedoms as men, Constance says, “we need to burn the whole thing to the ground and start over. The entire system, the ideals that have been woven into society. It all has to go.”

Sophia is a powerful LGBTQ+ woman of color who works to overthrow a corrupt system. Sophia empowers all readers who have been pushed aside by society, making this novel a must-read for any queer teenager. Bayron’s story exemplifies how standing up for yourself and refusing to be shoved aside can truly benefit all people. Sophia’s adventure touches on many difficult subjects such as domestic violence and homophobia. However, these challenges are told in a sensitive way that will help introduce high school readers to the real difficulties and challenges of the world. Sophia is a powerful and personable character that readers will love, root for, and ultimately feel her pain as she attempts to create a just world.

Sexual Content

  • Sophia is upset the carriage ride to the ball would be the last time she would see Erin. Sophia reminisces, thinking that Erin was “the first and only person I’ve ever kissed.”
  • Sophia is harassed by an old man at the ball who “leans in and presses his lips to mine. I try to pull away, but he holds me close. He smells like wine and sweat, and all I want to do is get away from him.” Sophia fought him back as she “steps back and brings her knee up as hard as she can between his legs.” This causes an uproar, allowing Sophia the opportunity to escape.
  • Sophia and Constance share an intimate moment that Sophia describes. “Before I have a chance to overthink it, I press my lips to hers. Her hands move to my neck and face. A surge of warmth rushes over me as she pressed herself against me. There is an urgency in her kiss, like she’s trying to prove to me how much she cares, and I yield to her, unconditionally.”
  • Constance embraces Sophia when she returns from a trip. “Constance presses her lips against mine as she winds her arms around my neck.”
  • When she has to go to the winter cotillion, Sophia says goodbye to Constance. “I lean forward and kiss her, wrapping my arms around her, breathing her in and hoping this isn’t the last time.”
  • Sophia and Constance embrace. “Tears come again, but she wipes them away with the tip of her fingers, kissing my hand and pulling me close.”

Violence

  • Morris, Luke’s schoolmate, makes fun of Luke for being gay, which angers Luke. “Luke’s fist connected with Morris’s right cheek, sending spittle and at least two teeth flying.”
  • At the annual ball, the guards detain Luke. Sophia sees Luke getting “punched in the ribs and doubling over.”
  • A guard makes fun of Sophia’s friend, saying, “I would have offed myself, too, with a face like that.”
  • The local seamstress is falsely accused of helping Sophia escape at the annual ball. She is publicly executed and her head is cut off with an ax. Sophia saw “the seamstress’ head roll into the dirt.”
  • A local man harasses Constance and Sophia which leads to Constance fighting him. “Constance raises her knife and brings the hilt down on top of the man’s head, sending a loud crack! echoing through the alley. He falls face-first onto the ground.”
  • When Sophia plans to murder the king, she says, “I’m going to have to let him get close to me, so I can put a dagger in his neck.”
  • At the cotillion, a man attempts to flirt with Sophia, and a guard attacks him as a result. “As I turn, a guard sweeps in and strikes him on the top of the head with the hilt of his sword. The man collapsed into a heap.”
  • Sophia tries to assassinate King Manford. “In one quick move I plunge the dagger into his neck. I twist the blade the way Constance showed me. He blinks. Standing upright, he staggers, clutching his throat. I jump back, pulling the blade out. I smile at him. I’ve done it. I’ve ended him. Constance said that if I killed him, he would probably collapse into a heap. King Manford doesn’t move. She told me blood would rush from the wound. He doesn’t bleed.” As King Manford is no longer human, there is simply a gaping hole in his neck, but it did not cause him any pain as the hole slowly closed itself.
  • After Sophia’s attempt to kill King Manford, the guards restrain her. “Someone yanks my arm so hard it feels like my shoulder might come out of its socket.”
  • Sophia escapes her cell by attacking a guard. The guard “blinks, confused, as I bring the candlestick down with all the strength I can muster. It impacts his head with a sickening thud, and he falls into a pile, his knees and elbows jutting out in an unnatural way.”
  • Sophia continues attacking guards with her candlestick as she helps others escape the prison. The other prisoners cheer her on saying, “Hit him again!”
  • Amina, the fairy godmother, betrays Sophia and Constance. Constance stabs Amina for her betrayal. “The tip of Constance’s dagger sticks out of Amina’s chest as Constance grips the hilt behind Amina’s right shoulder.”
  • Sophia realizes King Manford is kept alive through magic and sees a bright core in him where the magic resides. She stabs the bright, magical center. “Bright, hot, and crimson like a heatless flame, the light in his chest erupts out of his mouth and engulfs the king’s entire head as he rears back, his hands clutching wildly at the air. A sound escapes his throat, the cries of a dying animal. What is left of his skin begins to shrivel and crack like burned paper.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Sophia considers Helen, a local potion maker, to be a hoax. Sophia thought, “Her potions were probably watered-down barley wine.”
  • Sophia describes the Bicentennial Celebration where every night of the week, “before curfew, people crowd the square to make music and drink.”
  • As Sophia and Erin ride to the annual ball, Erin speculates, “I hear they have tables and tables of food and wine.”
  • Amina, the fairy godmother, frequently smokes from a pipe. “She puffs away on her pipe, a wreath of earthy-smelling smoke encircling her head.”
  • The evil king, King Manford, meets Sophia at the cotillion. Sophia describes him. “From his smell, a mixture of wine and smoke, to the predatory look in his eyes, everything about him repels me.”
  • Amina describes the guilt she felt for betraying Cinderella, Sophia, and Constance. Amina felt “a twinge of guilt about Cinderella, but it’s nothing that can’t be stifled with a full pipe and a stiff drink.”

Language

  • Damn is used occasionally. For example, Sophia’s mother is frustrated with Sophia’s behavior and says she wishes Sophia “would sit down and stop trying to get herself arrested like some damned fool.”
  • Shit is used a couple of times. When Luke sees Morris, his classmate who always bullies him, he says “shit.”

Supernatural

  • Sophia walks past Helen’s Wonderments and thinks about the different potions Helen claims to brew up. The sign outside Helen’s store reads, “Find a Suitor, Banish an Enemy, Love Everlasting.”
  • Amina, the fairy godmother, explains how she learned magic. “All my life I’ve practiced magic. My mother raised me in the craft, taught me from the time I was young.”
  • Amina, Constance, and Sophia plan to use necromancy to raise Cinderella from the dead so Cinderella can help fight the king. Constance explains necromancy as, “It’s when you communicate with the dead.” Amina corrects Constance by explaining, “You have to call the spirit back to communicate with them.”
  • In order to see the future, Amina, Constance, and Sophia complete a divination ritual. In Sophia’s vision she sees Cinderella and the king. Then, the king’s “face transforms into something horrid and rotting – something dead. A ball of white-hot light erupts between us, pulling at the center of my chest. I cry out.”
  • Amina uses a spell to make the guards sleep. Amina describes the spell as “a little sleeping dust to send them to dreamland. . . It brings nightmares. . . The kind you never forget. The kind that haunt you even in your waking hours.”
  • Amina describes a special stone that allows the holder to see into the future. Amina explains, “An alternative to the kind of divination we used at the pond. An enchanted stone, polished up like a mirror. It can be used to see all sorts of things – the future, the present – but they are exceedingly rare.”
  • Amina raises Cinderella from the dead. Sophia describes the emotions of seeing Cinderella as, “A literal ghost is speaking to us, it takes everything I have not to give in to the little voice in my head that is screaming at me to run.”
  • Amina uses magic to create a gown for Sophia. Sophia describes the experience. “The same strange luminescence that clings to it clings to me. I hold my breath as a dress of shimmering silver materializes around me.”
  • Sophia realizes how the king has stayed alive for hundreds of years. When Sophia is imprisoned, the girl in the cell next to her explains, “He siphons the life from your very soul. There is a light, a pull, and whatever he takes from you, he uses to make himself young, to live as long as he so chooses.”
  • Sophia finds Cinderella’s journal which also explains how King Manford used magic to stay alive. Cinderella had written, “A channel opened between us, a connection. I could see right into his blackened heart. Something invisible, something unnatural, surrounds the source of the light. And now I know that there is no hope for me. Or for anyone.”
  • King Manford attempts to draw the life out of Sophia. Sophia describes the experience saying, “I’m dying. I feel the life being pulled out of me in long, rasping draws. A fire ignites in my chest, burning away any feelings of hope or love or happiness. Something tugs hard at my waist, and suddenly I’m sliding backward across the ballroom floor.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Paige Smith

 

 

War Storm

In the splintered Kingdom of Norta, freedom for Reds and newbloods is closer than ever before. Torn between the two princes and the feuding noble Silver Houses, Norta is ripe for the taking. All the Scarlet Guard has to do is clean up the mess Maven Calore made, and create the type of nation that will never discriminate against Reds and newbloods. The first step is to rip the crown from Maven’s head.

In order to change the world, Mare Barrow must ally with Cal, the boy who chose the crown over her. Cal’s betrayal nearly broke Mare, but now she must fight alongside him if she wants any chance at winning freedom. If she doesn’t, Maven will surely overrun them all, and capture her for himself. Maven’s obsession with Mare runs deep, and he’ll stop at nothing to have her again.

For the Reds to rise, they must first go through a war storm. Scurrying from nation to nation and striking deep into the heart of Norta is only the beginning, and there are endless battles in sight. Are Mare and the Scarlet Guard willing to sacrifice everything to achieve the impossible? Or will Maven crush them and their dreams?

War Storm is the final entry in Aveyard’s Red Queen Series, and the story will not disappoint readers. As Mare and the Scarlet Guard are about to secure a future for themselves, they fight intense battles. The action-packed series features different combinations of Silver and newblood abilities, which makes every battle feel unique and fresh. Readers will love how each battle plays out differently than the last.

Of course, all those battles support the theme of war, as nearly the entire continent gets dragged into the civil war between Cal and his brother, Maven. Maven brokers alliances with the powerful nation of the Lakelands, as well as the smaller nation of Piedmont. While Cal allies with the free country of Montfort, the only nation known that allows equality for Reds, newbloods, and Silvers.

The characters in War Storm are strong and interesting. Mare has grown into a girl that’s strong enough to handle whatever is thrown at her. Another fascinating character is Evangeline Samos, Mare’s former enemy, who begins the long journey to overcome her Silver-born prejudices. These strong characters will keep readers on the edge of their seats. While not every main character gets the most satisfying ending to their arc, the ending ties up most of the loose ends and will leave readers happy. Warm Storm is a satisfying conclusion to Aveyard’s Red Queen Series.

Sexual Content

  • Evangeline is in love with her brother’s wife, Elane. Evangeline thinks, “It breaks my heart to know she isn’t really mine.”
  • Evangeline’s brother, tells her that their mother wants grandchildren. “Prodding after grandchildren. She escorts Elane to my rooms every night. I think she might even stand guard outside the door.”
  • Davidson, the leader of Montfort, shares a kiss with his husband, Carmadon. “They embrace quickly, touching foreheads and kissing, before Carmadon backs away.”

Violence

  • During an attack on a military transport, Mare sees Evangeline lift a vehicle. Mare watches as Evangeline “hisses as she raises the heavy transport off the road, revealing twisted limbs and a few flattened skulls seeping brain like popped grapes leaking juice.”
  • During a battle, Kilorn, Mare’s best friend, is thrown off a building. Mare thinks, “The crack and thud of Kilorn hitting the railing below makes me sick.” Minutes later, when Mare gets to Kilorn, he “jolts and hacks, painting the steps with his own blood.”
  • Mare gets revenge on the Silvers that threw Kilorn, killing them with lightning, “I have to look away from the charred remains. Only their buttons and guns remain intact, smoking with heat.”
  • When Iris meets with Cal’s grandmother, Iris pictures, “her grip changing, shifting, and then my skull exploding open, spewing brain and bone all over the transport interior.”
  • Just before being ambushed, Mare sees pine needles floating in the air. One pine needle, “sprouts before my eyes, a sapling growing in midair. It spears a soldier before any of us can react.
  • During an ambush, Tyton kills a lot of raiders with his ability to control lightning. Tyton, “blinks once, twice. Killing anyone within his reach, leveling them with a fury of electricity in their skills.”
  • Iris thinks about the man who killed her father. The man “cut his throat. Attacked him from behind like some honorees dog.
  • Mare kills a man who attacked her. She strikes him with her lightning and “then his face explodes; shards of bone and torn flesh arc forward. His body follows the momentum, slumping over me, and the thunderous touch of electricity returns as quickly as he falls.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • During a dinner party, wine is served. Mare watches as her friend, Farley, “barely nods in thanks when Carmadon fills her glass with rich, almost black wine. She drinks deep.”

Language

  • Damn is used frequently. Mare thinks about Cal’s marriage to Evangeline, “Like us, Volo needs him. Needs his name, needs his crown, and needs his damn hand in that damn marriage to his damn daughter.”
  • Maven called Elane “Evangeline’s whore.”

Supernatural

  • Silvers and Newbloods have unique powers.
  • Mare is an electricon, a type of newblood that can manipulate lightning. Mare thinks, “I hardly know the depths of my own abilities. It’s the same for all newbloods I’ve met and helped train.”
  • Ella, another electricon, “used her own storm to strike the central, furious blue lightning cracking stone.”
  • Mare thinks about her ability to manipulate lightning, “I know what it is to pour lightning into a person, to sense their nerves sparking off and dying. It feels like a small death of your own, an ending you can never forget.”
  • Prince Bracken is a mimic. Iris thinks about his abilities, “If he were to touch me, he would be able to use my nymph abilities, albeit only for a time, and to a lesser extent. The same goes for any Silver.”
  • Jidansais is a telky. Iris thinks about Jidansa, “She used her talky ability to amuse Ti and me as children, juggling our shoes or toys with her mind.”
  • Evangeline is a magnetron, who can manipulate metal. After lifting a military transport, “Evangeline lowers the transport again. With a twitch of her fingers, she rips off one of the doors, allowing those inside to tumble out.”
  • Shadows can manipulate light. Mare sees, “The work of shadows, no doubt, manipulators of light. It sends harsh light and harsher darkness dancing across us all.”
  • Nymphs can manipulate water. Evangeline sees the signs of a nymph attack, “‘Nymph strike!’ I manage to scream as another towering wave crashes—backward.”
  • Evangeline recounts her first time teleporting, “It feels like being squeezed down to my marrow, all my organs twisting, my balance thrown off, my perception turned on its head.”
  • Windweavers can manipulate wind and air. Mare sees, “On the opposite side of the chamber, Radis gestures to Davidson, flicking out one hand. As he does so, a sudden breeze rustles through the Gallery.”

Spiritual Content

  • In the Lakelands, the people worship gods that don’t have faces.
  • Iris thinks it’s a blasphemy to speak for the gods.
  • Iris tries to get her betrothed, Maven, to accept her gods. When he refuses, she thinks, “Nonbelievers are not my problem. I can’t open their eyes, and it isn’t my job to do so. Let him meet the gods in death and see how wrong he was before he enters a hell of his own making.”
  • In Archeon, the capital of Norta, Iris tries to maintain her beliefs. She has, “a small temple—a shrine, more than anything—filled with candles and worn emblems of the nameless gods.”
  • In the Lakelands, the nameless gods are everywhere. Iris sees, “Worn faces, bland in their features, both strange and familiar, look down from the ceiling and walls. Our gods have no names, no hierarchy. Their blessings are random, their words sparse, their punishments impossible to predict.”

by Jonathan Planman

Shadowcaster

Alyssa ana’Raisa, the reluctant heir to the Gray Wolf Throne, must overcome the impossible. After suffering the loss of her sister, brother and father, as well as an attempt on her own life, she wants nothing more than to end the war that’s consumed her world for decades. To protect her mother and her friends, Lyss will do whatever it takes to strike a blow against Arden.

Halston Matelon is simply trying to survive the king of Arden’s wrath. Once Hal’s father betrays the king, a target is put on Hal’s back, forcing him into dire situations that could end his life. But when Hal’s captured by an enemy commander, he must confront his own prejudices, as well as a budding, forbidden love for the woman who bested him.

Breon d’Tarvos has stayed far away from the front lines of the war. Performing as a street musician for a little bit of coin, Breon has managed to survive on the streets. Yet that all comes to an end when he’s pulled into an assassination attempt on Princess Alyssa. Now Breon is on the run, hoping to escape to a safe haven on the coast. But nothing is ever that easy.

Shadowcaster is a great follow-up to Chima’s first entry in the Shattered Realms series, Flamecaster. Following three main characters, Lyss, Hal, and Breon, the story unfolds in the northern Queendom of the Fells. Whereas the first book focused on the fanatical religious state of Arden, its prejudices against wizards, and the political intrigue of King Gerard’s court, the sequel explores the different cultures of the north, where wizards are both respected and free, and where many cultures co-exist.

Each of the main characters is linked to the various themes present within the story. For instance, Lyss’ storyline explores dealing with grief. Throughout the novel, Lyss’s motivation stems from the deaths of her family, and she’s forced to confront the pain of finding out her brother may still be alive.

The theme of confronting prejudice is squarely placed in Hal’s storyline. When Hal is captured by Lyss, he is forced to see the northerners as people, and he even falls in love with her. This opens Hal’s eyes to the idea that his prejudices are wrong.

Breon’s story focuses on struggling to survive. As a poor street musician, Breon fights to get food on a daily basis. He also struggles with addiction to a drug known as “leaf.” With little money, no home, and few friends, Breon represents the civilians who are trying to survive amidst a war. Each of these themes is well written, and each is powerful in its own right.

Lyss, Hal, and Breon are all likable, relatable characters. Lyss is relatable because she struggles to fit into people’s expectations of a princess. Rather than lead, Lyss wants to continue as a soldier, fighting for what she believes in. Both Hal and Lyss want to protect their family. Plus, Hal is fiercely loyal to his men, wanting to protect them in dire situations. Breon, while suffering from drug addiction, is likable for his desire to make honest coin and to live with his sweetheart, Aubrey. These three, combined with some thrilling battle scenes, will keep readers on the edge of their seats. In addition, the romance between Hal and Lyss will leave readers wanting more. Their romance sets a fun, exciting pace that ends in a cliffhanger. Readers will look forward to continuing this epic story continues in the third book, Stormcaster.

Sexual Content

  • Lyss has a crush on her friend, Finn. Later on, she admits to herself, “She’d had a crush on Finn sul’Mander since she was eleven years old.”
  • When Finn gets engaged to Julianna, they were “blushing and Finn was smiling. Julianna held up their joined hands to display her engagement ring.” Later on, Lyss watches as “He kissed Julianna again. And again.”
  • The diplomat tells Lyss, “You’re not the beauty that your mother is, or your sister, Hana, may she rest in peace, or your cousin Julianna—such a lovely girl—but there’s a lot can be done with the proper staging.”
  • Hal overhears Bosley, a member of Lyss’ squad, talking about his conquest of Lyss. Hal thinks, “Bosley had described a series of recent trysts with her in embarrassingly graphic detail. Maybe customs were different here in the north, but it seemed crude and dishonorable to share that.”
  • Hal thinks, “If Bosley was sleeping with his commanding officer, the last thing Hal wanted was to get caught in that crossfire.”
  • Hal and Lyss begin a short romance. After falling on top of her by accident, Hal thinks, “it took everything that was in him not to finish their match with a kiss.” Later, Hal thinks, “The truth was, he wanted to kiss this northern girl, and go on from there. He wanted her more than any woman he’d ever known.”

Violence

  • In a battle between squadrons, Lyss sees Hal “lean down from his horse and scoop up a soldier who was staggering around aimlessly, blood pouring from a head wound.”
  • In the Clans, a group residing in the Fells, the amount of braids one has indicates how many people they’ve killed. Less notices “The many braids in Shadow’s hair were evident that he rarely said no to a fight, and that he usually came away with a kill.”
  • Hal thinks back on the people he’s killed. “Several times in the past, Hal had discovered that the man he’d just killed was actually a woman.”
  • When thinking of his friends, Breon thinks, “And Goose? He’d cut your throat for a wad of leaf, but other than that he’d always been a harmless sort.”
  • In an assassination attempt on Lyss, one of her squad is hit with an arrow. Lyss “ran her hand over his uniform tunic until she found the arrow shaft embedded in his right lower back.” Just after that, she’s attacked again. An assassin strangles her, and “his fingers didn’t loosen until Lyss’s shiv transfixed his throat and blood spilled over her leathers.”
  • In the city of Delphi, the residents have been fighting back against Arden’s occupation. The former mayor “was found dead in an alley, his throat cut, his body wrapped in an Ardenine flag.”
  • When arguing with Hal, Lyss tells him, “When Princess Hanalea was murdered, your king sent her head to her mother in a golden casket with a note, in case she didn’t give credit where credit is due.”
  • Sasha tells Breon that he’ll be executed for the attack on Lyss. She says, “But two of her escorts were killed in the attack. That ought to be enough to hang you.”
  • Someone says, “Whenever Montaigne got a little down, he just murdered a few people, and that set him to rights.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Breon and his friends often use leaf, which is a street drug. Breon thinks, “People said that leaf fried the brain, and maybe that was true. He could quit anytime, and maybe he should.”
  • On a trip to the coast, Breon thinks, “Or maybe it just seemed longer because Breon has passed much of the trip in a pleasant haze of leaf.”

Language

  • Ass is used several times. For example, when trying on a pair of pants, Breon thinks, “he had to cinch in the breeches to keep them from sliding down his bony ass.”
  • Asshole is used several times. Lyss tells off someone, saying “At least that’s fixable. Being an asshole isn’t.” Asshole is used a few times in the novel.
  • Hell and damn are used a few times. For example, when asked if he’s a wizard, Breon retorts, “Damn right I am.”
  • Sasha tells Breon, “Poke me, and I’ll poke you back, you scaly, scum-sucking sneaksby.”

Supernatural

  • Flashcraft refers to magical items that are created by the Clans in the Fells. Lyss receives a flash craft locket. “When she touched it, the portraits would shift, displaying first one person and then another.
  • In Arden, wizards are called mages and are typically slaves.
  • Hal, who is from Arden, believes witches like Lyss can turn humans into animals. However, this isn’t true.
  • Mystwerk is a school where wizards learn magic.
  • In the Fells, the ruling line of Queens can see wolves that bring prophetic dreams and visions. Less tells Ash, “I just keep having these dreams, where everyone’s dead and I’m all alone on Hanalea Peak, just me and the wolves.” Just after that, Ash tries to soothe her with his magic. Lyss snaps at him, “Stop soothing me!”
  • While Breon is imprisoned someone threatens to use magic on him to get him talking. Breon thinks, “What did he mean by persuasion? Magic? Torture? Hypnosis? Could this mage really make him tell the truth?”

Spiritual Content

  • A dedicate at a temple hands out food to those who need it. Breon notices “The dedicate offered a blessing along with the bread and fruit.
  • The Church of Malthus is the state religion of Arden. Lyss asks Hal, “Is there any way your war-weary people and your bloodthirsty church would allow them to live?”

by Jonathan Planman

 

 

 

Glass Sword

Mare, Cal, and the members of the Scarlet Guard are ready to regroup and find a way to fight back against the newly crowned King Maven. No matter how strong Mare and Cal may be, they cannot fight against a legion of Silver warriors alone. They need stronger allies to help the Scarlet Guard’s rebellion.

Mare’s only option is to find the newbloods, a group of Reds with powerful abilities like their Silver rulers. They are scattered throughout the Kingdom of Norta. They are the key to creating an army that can stand against Maven’s legions and level out the playing field.

Yet, Maven won’t just let Mare do as she pleases. For every newblood she saves, Maven imprisons or kills two more. With Maven breathing down her neck, Mare begins to feel the pressure of transitioning into a leader for the Scarlet Guard. Her relationships become strained. Her decisions are questioned at every turn. Worst of all, Maven haunts her every step. Will Mare be able to overcome Maven’s manipulations and create an army of newbloods? Or will the pressure shatter her?

Glass Sword is an underwhelming sequel to the first book in Aveyard’s Red Queen series. Whereas the first book had political intrigue between the Silvers in the royal court and a daring espionage mission by Captain Farley of the Scarlet Guard, the second book doesn’t have any of that. Instead, the book focuses on exploring how Mare comes to terms with her actions from both the past and present. While there are plenty of missions into different parts of Norta to find newbloods, very few of these missions feel truly dangerous to Mare and her friends.

The story is weighed down mainly by Mare’s growing unlikable characteristics. Away from the immediate danger of Maven and his Silver underlings, Mare is forced to find a new role for herself as a leader of the Scarlet Guard. However, this only makes Mare more selfish. She prioritizes her own life over others, and she is willing to sacrifice anyone but herself. In the end, Mare gets a wake-up call from Cal, the former crown prince, and Kilorn, her best friend. This forces her to examine herself; ultimately, she sacrifices herself for them when Maven captures them.

Betrayal is once again a main theme as Mare finds herself betrayed many times over the course of the story. Another major theme is about turning into a monster; Mare changes from a girl trying to save lives into someone willing to murder and throw lives away whenever she sees fit. The action scenes, in which Mare and her friends infiltrate cities and towns, are fun, interesting, and help to move the story along. The introduction of the newbloods is also a plus since their new, unique abilities and the growing cast of characters add more layers. Overall, Glass Sword is a sequel that introduces fun, new elements to the already interesting world of Norta. Yet the story is bogged down by the unlikable main character and the many predictable moments where she falls into obvious traps. Nonetheless, Glass Sword sets up the backdrop for the next book in the series, King’s Cage.

Sexual Content

  • Mare changes her clothes in front of Kilorn, her childhood friend. Mare thinks, “He shouldn’t blush, having seen me in various stages of undress for many summers, but his cheeks redden anyway.”
  • On Tuck, the Scarlet Guard’s island, Mare finds out Kilorn has been flirting with another girl. “To think, he’s been spending his time flirting while I’ve been unconscious and Shade lies wounded and bleeding.”
  • Mare has an ongoing romance with Cal. When she brushes his arm, “Cal smells like blood, his skin is ice, and I tell myself I don’t want to taste him ever again.” Mare tries to convince herself not to love Cal. Mare thinks, “I must freeze my heart to the one person who insists on setting it ablaze.” Later, she kisses him “because I am weak, I press my lips to his, searching for something to make me stop running, to make me forget.”
  • At one point, Mare and Cal start sleeping in the same bed together. “From that day on, his bedchamber becomes ours. It is a wordless agreement, giving both of us something to hold on to.”
  • Gisa, Mare’s younger sister, has a crush on Kilorn. Mare watches as “He listens intently, and she bites her lip, pleased by his attention. I guess her little crush hasn’t gone away just yet.”
  • Kilorn quotes Maven’s public speech when he confronts Mare about her relationship with Cal. He says, “‘Mare Barrow seduced the prince into killing the king.’ It’s shocking to know he’s half right.”
  • When Kilorn and Mare have an emotional discussion, Mare thinks, “A friendly marriage to the fish boy with green eyes, children we could love, a poor stilt home. It seemed like a dream back then, an impossibility. And it still is. It always will be. I do not love Kilorn, not the way he wants me to.”

Violence

  • While discussing his younger brother, King Maven, Cal says, “Maven will still kill you. In a cell or on the battlefield, he won’t let any of us live.”
  • Mare and her brother, Shade, are running for their lives from an army when Mare realizes “a bullet meant for me catches him in the meat of his upper arm, while another strafes his leg.”
  • After seeing three bodies crushed by debris, Mare thinks, “It isn’t hard to let people die when their deaths give life to someone else.”
  • Before she’s put in a cell, Farley, a member of the Scarlet Guard, fights back. Farley “slams the [guard] into the passage wall, crushing his neck between her elbow and the window of another cell.”
  • Mare remembers when she killed a Silver. “Ryker Rhambos, electrocuted on the sand of the arena, reduced to nothing more than his blackened flesh.”
  • Mare remembers the Scarlet Guard attacking the royal ball. Mare says, “The Scarlet Guard kills children. The Scarlet Guard must be destroyed.”
  • While looking for more newbloods, Mare discovers a dead baby in a tavern. “In the basket is a baby, no more than a few days old. Dead. And not from abandonment or neglect. The rag is dyed in its blood.”
  • Mare punches a younger girl who talks back to her. “When my fist collides with her jaw, I expect to see sparks spread over her skin. There’s nothing but my bruised knuckles.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Someone calls Nix, a newblood, “that Silver bastard.”
  • Cal calls the Colonel, a leader of the Scarlet Guard, a “sack of scum.”
  • Mare tells Kilorn, “I’m sorry you can’t stop being an ass for two minutes so you can see exactly what’s going on here.” Right after that she says, “You heard what the Colonel called me. A thing. A freak.”
  • Gareth, a newblood, calls someone “the Silk Bitch.”

Supernatural

  • Silvers are people with silver blood and supernatural abilities. There are many abilities, including controlling fire, manipulating metal, mind control, etc.
  • Newbloods are Reds with supernatural abilities. Mare explains, “Newbloods are born with the mutation that enables our own…abilities.”
  • When Mare meets Nix, a newblood, she thinks, “Stoneskin echoes in my head, but this man is no such thing. His skin is ruddy and smooth, not gray or stony. It is simply impenetrable.”
  • Stoneskins, a type of Silver, have super strength and skin that resembles stone.
  • Magnetrons are a type of Silver that can manipulate metal. For example, before a building collapses on Mare and Cal, “Gravity and fire made the structure fall, but the might of magnetrons stop it from shielding us.”
  • Mare’s brother, Shade, a fellow newblood, can teleport. Nix says, “Two days ago, around midnight, Shade popped up on the porch. I mean actually popped.”
  • Mare can manipulate and create lightning and electricity. Mare’s lightning “is more powerful than any magnetron, any green warden, any gun. It is everywhere.”
  • One young boy, Luther, is a newblood with the ability to steal life. For example, “he takes the fern by the stem, holding it in his small fist. And slowly, the fern curls beneath his touch, turning black, folding into itself—dying.”
  • Another newblood can shapeshift. For example, “an old woman who has everyone call her Nanny, seems to be able to change her physical appearance. She gave us all quite the fright when she decided to waltz through the camp disguised as Queen Elara.”
  • Harrick, another newblood, can create images out of thin air. “He can create illusions, mirages, make people see what isn’t there. And he has hidden us all in plain sight, making us invisible in our empty cart.”
  • One newblood can manipulate gravity. Mare thinks, “Gareth manipulated the forces of gravity holding me to the earth. If we had been standing in the open, I probably would have ended up in the clouds.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jonathan Planman

A Court of Wings and Ruin

In this thrilling third installment of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, Feyre has infiltrated the spring court and must play a deadly game to gather information on Tamlin’s movements and learn how to defeat the King of Hyburn. After a failed attack on Hyburn, Feyre was forced to return to the spring court with Tamlin. What Tamlin did not know was that he was bringing back the Queen of the night court. Now Feyre is on a mission to take down Tamlin and his court from the inside. She is determined to save her mate, her sisters, and her court.

As Feyre spies on Tamlin, she is also scheming to turn the court against him. When Feyre learns of the King’s true plans for the war, she knows she must get back to the night court to warn her family before it is too late. As war approaches, Feyre must navigate the politics of the high lords and learn who can be trusted. Will Feyre be able to stop the King’s plans before it’s too late? Can she maneuver the high lords and win this war against Hyburn? The harrowing saga continues as Feyre gets closer to the truth, figures out how to use her own powers to stop the King of Hyburn, and saves both the human and faerie worlds.

Feyre has mastered her powers and proves to be a strong leading lady throughout the novel. The story focuses more on Feyre and her sisters and how their relationship heals and evolves. The motif of sister relationships is important, as it portrays the family working through their problems to become even closer and stronger. A Court of Wings and Ruin shows the evolving friendships and details how the characters learn to work with different courts to defeat the King together. The characters are funny, witty, and are what keep readers coming back for more.

Prythian is set in a magical world, but this fantasy brings the reader into a different world filled with imagination and excitement. This novel has a great representation of strong female characters and healthy friendships and relationships. This series is at times funny, romantic, sad, and exciting, so it has something for every reader.

A Court of Wings and Ruin will leave fans satisfied because it does not leave any loose ends. It brings the suspense to a peak as the war that has been brewing begins. The war shows both the politics behind it and the battles themselves, but these repetitive scenes can become tiresome. Despite this, every scene adds meaning to the story. The complicated plot brings in new characters and shows brutal fighting. In this third installment of Sarah J. Maas’s series, the characters delve into war, heartbreak, love, and friendship to save the world together.

Sexual Content

  • Feyre and Rhys are reunited after months of being apart and have an intimate moment that lasts for about three pages. Feyre’s “hands shot into his [Rhys’s] hair, pulling him closer as I answered each of his searching kisses with my own, unable to get enough, unable to touch and feel enough of him. Skin to skin, Rhys nudged me towards the bed, his hands kneading my rear as I ran my own over the velvet softness of him, over every hard plane and ripple.”
  • Feyre and Rhys have a flirty moment together. “His hand began a lethal, taunting exploration up my thigh, his fingers grazing along the sensitive inside. Rhys leaned in again, kissing my neck – that place right under my ear – and then he was gone.”

 Violence

  • Rhys has a flashback to the first war when he had to check the corpses to make sure they were not his friends. “A half-shredded Illyrian wing jutted out from a cluster of High Fae corpses, as if it had taken all six of them to bring the warrior down. My aching, bloodied fingers dug into dented armor and clammy, stiff flesh as I heaved away the last of the High Fae corpses piled atop the fallen Illyrian soldier.”
  • While in the forest, Feyre finds “what was left of three bodies, their shredded pale robes like fallen ashes through the small clearing.” They were killed by two of Highburn’s soldiers. Their murder was not described.
  • Feyre and Tamlin get into a fight and his power “explodes” with his anger. “Furniture splintered and went flying, windows cracked and shattered. The worktable slammed into me [Feyre] throwing me against the bookshelf, and every place where flesh and bone met wood ached.”
  • Tamlin whips one of his soldiers for “losing the keys” to the gatehouse. “As he [Tamlin] drew back the whip, the thunderous crack as it cleaved the air snapped through the barracks, the estate.”
  • Feyre finds Ianthe, the high priestess, harassing Lucien and uses her mind control powers to make Ianthe smash her own hand with a rock. “Ianthe brought the stone up. The first impact was a muffled, wet thud. The second was an actual crack. The third drew blood.”
  • In order to escape, Feyre and Lucien fight off two soldiers, Dragdan and Brannagh. Lucien kills Brannagh as “a tremor shuddered through the clearing—like some thread between the twins had been snipped as Brannagh’s dark head thudded onto the grass.” Feyre ends up killing Dragdan with a knife that she “punched into his eye, right into the skull behind it.” This fight lasts for two pages.
  • Feyre and Lucien flee to the autumn court where they are attacked by three of Lucien’s brothers. One of his brothers, Eris, backhands Feyre “so hard her teeth went through her lip.” “He struck again before I could even fall, a punch to my gut that ripped the air from my lungs. Beyond me, Lucien had unleashed himself upon his two brothers.” The fight continues for three pages.
  • Rhys tells the story of one of his priestesses, Clotho, who was attacked by a group of males. “They cut out Clotho’s tongue so she couldn’t tell anyone who had hurt her. And smashed her hands so she couldn’t write it.”
  • Feyre and a friend fight off some Hyburn soldiers by “tearing through them with a sizzling wall of fire” and “beheading them as they come near.” This fight scene is described over a chapter.
  • There is a battle scene that Feyre describes as a “blood drenched mud pit” where soldiers were being “taken down with steel.” This battle lasts for one chapter.
  • The King of Hyburn tortures Cassian in front of Feyre and her sisters. “The King brought his foot down on one of Cassian’s wings and he screamed.” The King was stopped by Feyre’s sister, who kills the King by “ramming her sword to the hilt through the back of the King’s neck.”

 Drugs and Alcohol   

  • At a dinner meeting, someone says, “I think we’re going to need a lot more wine.”

 Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes: damn, bitch, and hell.
  • While fighting, someone calls Feyre a “little bitch.”

 Supernatural

  • Feyre’s food is drugged with faebane that was “grown and tended in the King’s personal garden.” Faebane makes Feyre’s powers useless.
  • Feyre fights off Lucien’s brother, Eris, with “a wall of fire.”
  • Feyre removes her glamour to reveal “smooth skin that had been adorned with swirls and whorls of ink. The markings of a new title—and my mating bond. I [Feyre] was High Lady of the night court.”
  • Feyre visits the Bone Carver, a powerful magical creature, to see if he will help them in the war. He asks her to bring him the Ouroboros, a magical mirror. The Bone Carver says, “that is my price and I’m yours to wield.”
  • Feyre goes into Lucien’s mind to hear his thoughts. Feyre thinks, “Perhaps it made me the lowest sort of wretch, but I cast my mind toward them, toward him [Lucien]. And then I was in his body, in his head.”
  • Amren tells the story of what alien creature she used to be and how she confined herself to her human body. Amren says, “I was a soldier-assassin for a wrathful god who ruled a young world. I did not feel how you do. How I do now. Some things—loyalty and wrath and curiosity—but not the full spectrum. I had to give something up. I had to give me up. To walk out, I had to become something else entirely, so I bound myself into this body.”
  • Feyre asks for help from a supernatural creature. She never sees the creature but describes it as having “a voice both young and old, hideous and beautiful. I could feel no body heat, detect no physical presence but I felt it behind me.”
  • One of the characters is a seer who begins getting visions of the future. However, she doesn’t understand the visions.
  • A character has “an unearthly power” that allows her to “blast the trees into cinders.”
  • There is a cauldron that creates Fae life that Feyre must destroy to end the war. When she touches the cauldron, it becomes a “living bond” between them and attempts to take her life. Feyre “could not move [her] hand. I could not peel my fingers away. I was being shredded apart slowly.”
  • Amren uses Feyre to do an “unbinding spell on her to unleash the alien creature she used to be and end the battle.”

Spiritual Content

  • Ianthe, a high priestess, leads a solstice ceremony where the sunrise is supposed to “bless her and the land.” “During the ceremony, Ianthe’s back arched, her body a mere vessel for the solstice’s light to fill, and what I could see of her face was already lined in pious ecstasy. The crowd began to murmur, not at Ianthe, but at me [Feyre]… resplendent and pure in white, beginning to glow with the light of day as the sun’s path flowed directly over me instead.”

by Adeline Garren

Flamecaster

Set in the world of Chima’s critically acclaimed Seven Realms series, Flamecaster is the beginning of an exciting new series full of suspense, magic, love, and danger. War has overtaken the realm, leaving two young, yet determined characters on their own in their fight against the cruel king of Arden.

Ash wants nothing more than to get back at the king that murdered his father. But after he’s forced into hiding, that goal only gets farther out of reach. Once he gets close to his father’s murderer, will he succeed in getting revenge? Or will he sacrifice his life for nothing?

Ash isn’t alone in his hunt for revenge. For as long as she’s known, Jenna Bandelow has had a strange magemark on the back of her neck. When the King’s Guard begins hunting for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna must figure out why she’s being hunted. Does it simply have to do with the fact she’s been fighting against the king of Arden? Or is it something more? Danger lurks around every corner, and Ash and Jenna will need each other if they are to survive.

Flamecaster, a fantastic first book in the Shattered Realms Series, follows Ash’s and Jenna’s quest to take down the ruthless King Gerard. The engaging story is full of wizards, intrigue, revenge, and multifaceted characters. Both Ash and Jenna are interesting, complex characters who become King Gerard’s victims and lose those they love. Told from both Ash’s and Jenna’s point of view, it’s easy to understand each of their motivations as they grow and become obsessed with killing King Gerard. Both are angry and hateful after King Gerard kills people they love, which fuels their desire for revenge. While working towards their ultimate goal, each finds themselves alone, yet determined. Flamecaster weaves a compelling mystery, but doesn’t conclude with a typical resolution. Instead, some of the story arc is left with unanswered questions which will leave the reader eager to read the next book in the series, Shadowcaster.

 Chima’s expert storytelling allows the story to unfold gradually and with humor. Even though the story pairs Ash and Jenna as lovers, the focus remains on survival and intrigue. Another positive aspect of Flamecaster is the world-building, which builds on the previous series, the Seven Realms series. This is constantly in the background, as the war personally impacts both Ash and Jenna. Through the war, religious and cultural differences between the two nations emerge. This highlights how in the Fells wizards are free and help rule over the Queendom, yet in Arden wizards are enslaved and distrusted. Overall, the backdrop serves well to push the story forward.

The theme of revenge is prevalent, as both Ash and Jenna are fueled by their desire to get revenge against King Gerard. Luckily this theme isn’t overbearing, and is paired well with the theme of hope. The universal theme of hope wins out in the end, as Ash and Jenna learn to overcome their doubts and survive their time in Arden. Flamecaster is both fast paced and engaging, a story that will entertain both Chimas’s loyal fans as well as readers new to the fantasy series.

Sexual Content

  • Ash was in a relationship while attending an academy. He thinks, “Suze was a plebe at Isenwerk. She and Ash had walked out together for a few months, but had recently called it quits. At least he had.”
  • In the past, King Gerard attempted to marry the Queen of the Fells. Ash’s father says, “Your mother rejected him in a very public way.”
  • Ash comes to buy poisons from Taliesin, his mentor. She tells him, “Other young men your age come to me seeking love potions. I suppose you’re not in need of those.”
  • During a staged fortune-telling, a seer tells a young man the fortune, “says, ‘I’m not going to sleep with you anymore, you faithless bastard.’”
  • Someone says “The northerners spend their days picking wildflowers and dreaming and their nights fornicating under the stars.”
  • Ash and Jenna share a romance. After making love, Jenna tells Ash, “It’s just—in Bruinswallow, I think we’d be considered married.” The love making isn’t described, only implied. Later, Ash thinks about his feelings for Jenna, “I am in love with this girl.”

Violence

  • In a confrontation with King Gerard, Ash sees him die. Ash, “flattened himself against the tower wall to avoid being struck as the king screamed past him like a falling star. The screaming ended abruptly when he hit bottom.”
  • While battling priests, Ash kills some of them. Ash attacks one priest and “immolated him before he hit the floor.”
  • Ash is a trained killer. Ash thinks that he is “good with poisons, garrotes, and the small daggers known as shivs. Poisons were his weapons of choice.” Later, Ash tells someone, “Consider how many premature deaths I’m preventing. The lives I take are balanced by those I save.”
  • A young boy throws some sort of powder in Ash’s eyes. “When the trailing edge of it caught him [Ash] in the face and in the eyes, it was as if someone had taken a torch to him.”
  • Ash is forced to put down a horse. Ash, “insisted on doing it himself, by using magic to stop the blood as it rushed through the great artery in his neck. It was a painless death, as far as he could tell, but that didn’t make it any easier.”
  • In a conversation about Delphi, Clermont, a Guard Captain, says, “When things get really bad, I just kill a few Delphian rats. That never fails to raise my spirits.”
  • During a royal party, one of the king’s thanes kills some of the king’s guard. The thane “turned, a blade in each hand, and cut the throats of the blackbirds nearest to him.”
  • King Gerard has his mistress killed. Ash remembers, “But Estelle was dead—killed for the crime of hosting an assassination attempt on the king.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a tavern at an academy, Lila sees a fellow student drunkenly fall into a chair. She watches as, “He all but fell into it, clunking his mug down on the table. It was nearly empty.”
  • Ash thinks about Lila, his classmate. “Drunk or sober, Lila didn’t miss much.” Just after that, Lila says, “A girl can learn a lot from a drunken southerner.”
  • After a fire breaks out in the palace kitchens, Ash, “realized that Hamon was blaming himself and his drinking for the fire.”
  • Destin notices that “The more Clermont drank, the louder he talked.”

Language

  • Lila calls a fellow student, “Ardenine swine.”
  • Ass is used frequently. For example, someone tells Ash, “You have to keep moving or grow a crop of moss on your ass.”
  • King Gerard calls his queen, “You stupid slut of Tamron.”
  • Clermont, a guard captain in the city of Delphi, cusses out a waitress. He says, “You tell that insolent whey-faced tavern rat. . .”
  • Marin Karn, Destin’s father, talks about Lila. He says, “The bitch has a mouth on her that’s going to cost her if she isn’t careful.”

Supernatural

  • Wizards, also known as mages, are commonplace. They are not welcomed in every country. Ash Hanson and Destin Karn are wizards. Ash thinks, “Wizards were arrogant by nature.”
  • Wizards often see a glow around other wizards. Ash notes, “Western wizards glowed a cool bluish-white. Strangward’s aura came closest to that. He lit up the entire room with a brilliant white glow. The other delegates glowed a faint red, like dying coal.”
  • Talismans often are used as protection against magic. When Lilia is interrogated by a mage, “The Talisman at her neck sizzled against her skin. Protection against magic.”
  • Talismans are usually created by the Clans in the Fells. Lila thinks, “Crafted of rowan, ebony, and ivory, it had been given to her by her clan friend and sometime partner, Shadow Dancer.”
  • Dealing with a wounded ankle, Ash thinks, “A wizard can’t use his gift to heal himself.”
  • In Arden, Wizards are shunned and are generally considered to be demons. When King Gerard confronts Ash about being a “demon,” Ash says, “Hang on—you think I’m an actual demon?”
  • Destin often uses magic to interrogate people. Destin thinks, “That made torture unnecessary for the most part, unless he was dealing with other mages, who could resist his mind magic.”
  • When trying to interrogate a boy, Destin “released magic into him, let if flow as if to fill him up, then reached through it to find the boy’s mind. And couldn’t. He tried again, and it was like searching an empty room.”
  • Jenna has a unique ability to speak to dragons. When Flamecaster, a dragon, speaks to her, she thinks, “At first, she thought he [the dragon] was asking for help, but then she realized that it was offering help.”

Spiritual Content

  • Arden is heavily influenced by the Church of Malthus, the dominant religion. God is the main deity of the Church of Malthus.
  • The Maker is the main god of the Fells, a nation to the north. Jenna Bandelow tells her father, “The Maker helps those who help themselves, isn’t that what you said?”
  • King Gerard asks of one of his subjects, “Are you saying that you will not submit to the command of your sovereign, anointed by God?”
  • Ash saves the palace cook, Hamon, from a fire. Hamon says, “They say it was a miracle. Come here, my boy, so I can feel of you, for surely you were the instrument of Holy Malthus in this.”
  • The Church of Malthus paints mages as demonic. Someone says, “Magic, my lord? I want nothing to do with that. The Fathers say that mages are idolators and devils.”
  • Priests of the Church of Malthus are often referred to as crows. Someone says, “Those black-robed crows of Malthus can prattle on about martyrdom and Paradise all they want. I’m not signing on.”

by Jonathan Planman

My Lady Jane

According to the history books, Lady Jane Grey became the Queen of England for nine days before quite literally losing her head. But according to authors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, there is definitely more to the story.

Edward hasn’t done very much in his lifetime. Sure, he’s been the King of England since he was a child, but he’s never even kissed a girl—and now he’s caught a deadly illness known as “the affliction,” which means he’ll be dead within a year. Unable to trust either of his sisters to take the throne, Edward decides to rewrite the line of succession, leaving the throne to the future male heir of his cousin, Lady Jane Grey.

Sixteen-year-old Jane would love nothing more than to escape from her life. Her nagging mother and a never-ending string of unfortunate engagements are positively boring compared to the adventures she reads about in her favorite books. She might want her life to be more exciting, but getting married to a complete and total stranger was not what she had in mind.

The stranger in question, Gifford Dudley (please call him G), isn’t too thrilled to be getting married either. Every morning G transforms into a horse and stays that way until sunset. He’s gotten used to the fact that he’s cursed, but he’s not totally sure how to explain that to his pretty new wife.

My Lady Jane is a fascinating alternate history adventure; it is set in a world where people called Eðians have the ability to transform themselves into animals. Despite being based on 16th-century British nobility, Edward, Jane, and Gifford all read as super-relatable to a modern teenager. Stubborn, bookish Jane and sweet, clueless Gifford certainly don’t know how to make a relationship work, let alone run a kingdom. Edward might have been the King of England, but that can’t protect him from being totally awkward around the girl that he likes.

Serious history buffs might not appreciate the extreme liberties that the authors take with the timeline, but the story will definitely appeal to open-minded historical fantasy fans and anyone looking for a good laugh. The story takes readers on a rollicking adventure across England, complete with attempted regicide, a giant bear, and lots of romance. Jane and Gifford’s slow, often awkward progression from unfriendly strangers to loving partners is equal parts endearing and frustrating. Readers will surely be rooting for the protagonists as they learn that sometimes your heart’s desire can be found in the most unexpected places.

 Sexual Content

  • According to rumor, King Henry’s second wife was an Eðian, “who every so often transformed into a black cat so she could slip down the castle stairs into the court minstrel’s bed.”
  • Edward is described as having “the correct genitalia” to rule England.
  • Edward thinks that if he had been born a commoner, “at least he would have had an opportunity to kiss a girl.”
  • Edward thinks that producing an heir would be fun because it would “definitely involve kissing with tongues.”
  • Edward is reluctant to approve of Jane’s marriage because “in the back of his mind he’d been holding on to the idea that perhaps someday he’d be the one to marry Jane. This was back when it was slightly less frowned upon to marry your cousin.”
  • Edward’s advisor says, “Life would be a lot simpler if I only had to attend to my wife in the hours between dusk and dawn.”
  • Gifford’s father tells Edward that Gifford is “a little too easy on the eye for his own good, I’m afraid. He tends to attract…attention from the ladies.”
  • Gifford’s brother mistakes Jane for one of the women he thinks Gifford has been sleeping with. This causes Jane to panic about her wedding because “Her husband to be was a philanderer. A smooth operator. A debaucher. A rake. A frisker.”
  • Gifford lets his parents believe that he is “carousing with the ladies” so they don’t discover that he’s been spending his time writing and performing poetry.
  • Gifford’s father says that Jane is “as far as can be anticipated” fertile.
  • Jane’s mother explains sex using the euphemism “a very special hug.” She says that although the hug might be unpleasant, “it’s part of the wedding night, and part of your duty as a wife.”
  • At the end of their wedding ceremony, Jane and Gifford kiss. “The kiss came quickly. It wasn’t anything more than a touch of his lips to hers, so light it might not have happened at all.”
  • Gifford says that “not one in twenty men” would find Jane unseemly, and that “the supple pout of her lips” could inspire poetry.
  • Gifford, annoyed at how concerned everyone seems to be with the consummation of their marriage, thinks, “at least the nobility of England no longer required live witnesses to the event.”
  • Edward and Jane seem so close that Gifford thinks they might be “kissing cousins.”
  • Edward says that he saw a “flicker of surprise and definite male interest” in Gifford’s eyes when he first sees Jane at the wedding.
  • As Edward watches Gifford and Jane leave their wedding feast, he thinks, “I am never going to consummate anything. I’m going to die a virgin.”
  • Jane gets angry at Gifford and calls him a “drunken lothario.”
  • After bonding during their honeymoon, Jane and Gifford almost kiss. As they stand alone in the parlor, Jane realizes they’ve gotten quite close and wonders, “Would he kiss her? Part of her hoped he would. A big part maybe. Multiple parts: her butterfly-filled stomach, her thudding heart, and her lips, which remembered the gentle breath of a kiss during their wedding.”
  • When Edward transforms back into a human, he finds himself naked and alone in a strange village, where a woman accuses him of being a pervert. She says, “This was a decent village, you know, before your kind came around spoiling it. Thieves and murderers, the lot of you. Like those dogs that watch me get dressed through the window and then run away. Perverts!”
  • Gracie is an Eðian who can turn into a fox, which is ironic considering how attractive Edward finds her. The narrators take the opportunity to tell the reader that “the term fox, used to convey the attractiveness of a woman, was not invented until Jimi Hendrix sang ‘Foxy Lady’ in 1967.”
  • Edward wants to kiss Gracie but can’t because “he wanted her to want him to kiss her.”
  • Gifford and Jane share a single set of clothing while they are on the run from Mary’s soldiers. Jane describes the situation as an “awkward (and scandalous, though they were married, so did it really count as scandalous?) clothing situation.”
  • Jane reflects on her growing feelings for Gifford. “He teased her, but never with an intent to hurt her feelings. He often held her hand. He called her pet names like ‘my darling’ and ‘my sweet.’ Those things shouldn’t have had such an effect on her, but they did. Being with him made her breath come quicker and her heart pound and her palms get all clammy. It made her wish she could remain human all the time so that they could stay together.”
  • The King of France tells Edward to find a wife and produce some male heirs as soon as possible. The King says, “I have three sons, myself, and a number of bastards. It’s very comforting for me to know that I will never find myself in your predicament. My bloodline is secure.”
  • Edward finally asks Gracie to kiss him by saying, “I’ve never kissed a girl before and I want it to be you. Will you?” She considers it, but ultimately she isn’t able to get past the difference in their stations and runs away.
  • On the morning of a battle, Jane finally kisses Gifford for real. As they were saying goodbye, Gifford “kissed her. Softly at first, but then she pulled him close and pressed her lips harder to his. And that was it. She could feel him giving in by the way his body pressed against hers, the way one of his hands cupped her cheek, and the way the other slid down her arm. She could feel his desire to stay human in the fevered, desperate way he kissed her.” The description lasts about half a page.
  • Gifford reflects on the kiss. “How had a girl like Jane kissed him like that? With her whole heart and her whole body? She’d probably read a dozen books with titles like The Kiss: It’s Not Just About the Lips. The way Jane kissed, it was like an art. She kissed by the book.”
  • After breaking into the castle, Jane and Gifford are reunited. They finally say “I love you” to each other, and Gifford is able to stay a human. “The two lovers embraced, while Edward and your narrators turned their heads to give the lovebirds their moment of blessed union.”
  • After the battle, Edward can’t stop thinking about Gracie. “Because he wanted to tell her that he’d stepped down from the throne and see that surprised look on her face. And (let’s be honest) he still very much wanted to kiss her. He thought about it embarrassingly often.”
  • Edward tells Gracie that he gave up the throne, and they finally kiss. “Edward closed the space between them in two strides. He didn’t really know what he was doing, only that he had to do something right now or he’d explode. Her warm heart-shaped face was in his hands, his fingers caught in her curls. She opened her mouth to say something and he kissed her.” The scene lasts about a page.
  • At Jane and Gifford’s second wedding, “Jane didn’t wait for instructions to kiss. She stood on her toes and wrapped her arms around her husband’s shoulders and kissed him as the guest clapped and clapped.”
  • After the wedding, Jane and Gifford have a conversation that devolves into kissing. “Lips met lips, soft and questioning at first, then suddenly desperate and wanting. And at their first wedding, their wedding-night chamber seemed full of the echoes of strangers eager to have their say, tonight, they were very much alone.” The narrators cut in before it gets too steamy but do assure the readers that “they totally consummated.” The scene lasts for about a page and a half.

Violence

  • At the beginning of the book, the narrators summarize the historical version of what happened to Lady Jane Grey: “She was queen for nine days. Then she quite literally lost her head.”
  • There is a group called the Verities who believe that all Eðians are an abomination, “And because Verities were largely in charge of everything, Eðians were persecuted and hunted until most of them died out or went deep into hiding.”
  • When King Henry discovers his own ability to turn into a lion, he decrees that Eðians aren’t so bad after all. “The head of the Verity Church was not pleased with King Henry’s decision, but every time Rome sent a missive denouncing the decree, the Lion King ate the messenger. Hence the phrase don’t eat the messenger.
  • Edward says one of the things he wants to do before he dies is to beat the weapons master in a sword fight because “[he] was the only person [Edward] knew who forgot to let him win.”
  • Because of rumors of his second wife’s infidelity, “the king had her head chopped off.” It is also briefly mentioned that his fifth wife was beheaded too.
  • Edward says the only time he’s seen his sister Mary enjoying herself was “when some traitor was beheaded or some poor Eðian got burned at the stake.”
  • An Eðian group called the Pack has been “raiding and pillaging from Verity churches and monasteries.”
  • While traveling, Jane and Gifford come upon a group of villagers being attacked by wolves. “A handful of people brandished sticks and pitchforks and various other farming tools, attempting to block the path of the Pack of wolves.” Some of the villagers have been injured and Jane wants to help them, but Gifford stops her. The description of the event lasts about three pages.
  • When his nurse tries to feed him poisoned food, Edward imagines her “less-than-slender form stretched on the rack while he dropped poisoned berries in her mouth.”
  • Edward’s sister, Mary, tells him that when she becomes queen, “We will root out this Eðian infestation, starting with that horrible Pack that everyone’s talking about. I’ll see them all burn.”
  • After Edward refuses to eat his poisoned food, he is attacked by his would-be murderers. “Before he was even fully awake, rough hands were upon him, forcing his arms up painfully. Hooded men loomed all around his bed. Someone had latched one of his wrists to the bedpost.” The description of the scene lasts about three pages.
  • As a bird, Edward kills and eats a mouse. “Edward-the-bird struck the mouse with tremendous force and snatched it from the face of the earth. The poor thing gave a rather awful shriek, which was understandable, and then went quiet.”
  • Edward meets Gracie, a Scottish Eðian and thief who threatens him with a knife. “If he told her who he really was chances were that a) she wouldn’t believe him, and she’d cut his throat, or b) she’d believe him, and because he was the ruler of England and she was Scottish and this was the year 1553, she’d get even more pleasure out of cutting his throat.”
  • Gracie and Edward get into a fight with a farmer. “The bird that was Edward descended on him, talons clawing at the man’s face. The farmer screamed and released his sword. The girl took this opportunity to knee the farmer in the acorns. He dropped to the floor. She kicked him.”
  • Mary and her army show up to take the throne away from Jane. Jane and Gifford refuse to cooperate with her and are ultimately held captive. “[Jane] tried to wriggle away and Gifford snapped and kicked, but then one of the men held a sword to Gifford’s long neck. Someone else pressed a knife to Jane’s throat.”
  • When Gifford transforms into a horse, Mary tells Jane, “In the morning, he will be burned at the stake.” Jane can swear allegiance to Mary and the Verities, or she will be beheaded too.
  • When Gifford and Jane attempt to escape the castle, they are confronted by several guards. “The first guard [Gifford] dispatched quickly in a move that Jane would probably describe as elegant swordsmanship, but he knew was really the result of the sword slipping from his sweaty hand. As he lunged to retrieve it before it hit the goring, he plunged he sword through the heart of a guard who was just rounding the corner.”
  • Gracie bests Edward in a sparring match. Gracie “bashed him in the ribs. If it’d been a real sword in her hand, instead of half of a broken broomstick, he would’ve been done for.” The scene lasts about four pages.
  • Gracie tells Edward about how her family was killed by British soldiers because they were Eðians. “That night I woke to our cottage burning. We were all inside, my ma and dad and brothers—I had two brothers—and they’d blocked the door from the outside, boarded the windows too.”
  • Edward and Gracie come very close to kissing, but they are interrupted by his grandmother. “At that moment we should confess that Edward briefly considered murdering his dear sweet grandmother. And he might have gotten away with it, too, on account of the rest of the world thinking the old lady was already dead.”
  • Gifford, Jane, and Pet get into an altercation with the Pack and Jane gets injured. “All at once [Gifford] became aware of the blood soaking the front of his shirt and how unusually quiet she was. Jane was never quiet. She was hurt.” The description of the fight lasts about three pages.
  • In order to get the Pack to help Edward take back his throne, Edward and Gifford must kill the Great White Bear of Rhyl. When the bear attacks them, Gifford tries to play dead. “The bear sniffed G’s leg. G tried to make his leg look less like food. The bear pushed G’s shoulder and pushed again as though trying to turn him over. G wasn’t sure if complying would make him seem more or less dead.” Ultimately Edward is able to kill the bear. The description of the fight lasts four pages.
  • Edward is concerned about meeting with Mary Queen of Scotts because of the bad end of their engagement. “When King Henry received word that Mary’s regents had accepted another offer of marriage, this one from the King of France, pairing her with the French dauphin, Francis, King Henry had eaten the messenger immediately and remained a roaring lion for days. And then he’d invaded Scotland.”
  • During their siege on the castle, Jane, Edward, and Gifford run into some guards who want to kill them. “The guard on the right re-raised his sword and took a deep breath as if to speak, but he didn’t get a sound out before a loud bang rang out and he dropped like a stone. Jane stood behind the guard, her frying pan raised to where the man’s head had been.” The conflict is described over three pages.
  • As Gifford, Edward, and Jane attempt to break into the castle, Gifford’s father and brother confront them. Gifford “looked at his father’s outstretched hand and it made him sick that he shared the same blood as this man… With a flick of his sword, he cut a gash in Lord Dudley’s palm.” The confrontation lasts about three pages.
  • Gracie tells Edward that she’s the new leader of the Pack because the old leader has died. “He took an arrow to the chest in the first ten minutes of the siege.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At the wedding feast, Gifford gets very drunk because he’s too nervous to tell Jane about his horse curse. “Every time G thought about how to break the news to her, he gulped down a cup of ale. And he thought about it a lot. Every time he looked at his new bride. And he looked at her a lot.”
  • When he turns back into a human, Gifford goes to a tavern attached to a brothel to steal some clothes because “There it was easy to grab clothes strewn about, the owners of which would be too sloshed to care.”

Language

  • When he learns he’s going to die from the affliction, Edward says, “bollocks,” twice.
  • Damn is used once. Gifford tells Jane she should abdicate, “Well tell them thank you so much for the very kind offer of running the country, but no thank you. I have no desire to honor my cousin, the king’s, wishes. Now where are my damn books?”
  • During a sparring match, Gracie and Edward trade insults, including “Lilly-livered scutt” and “beef-witted varlet.”
  • Edward calls Mary a “poisonous bunch-backed toad.”

Supernatural

  • The book is set in an alternate world where certain people, known as Eðians, have the ability to turn into animals. “Certain members of the general public could turn themselves into cats, which greatly increased the country’s tuna fish population, but also cut down on England’s rat population. (Then again, other individuals could turn into rats, so nobody really noticed.)”
  • King Henry VIII was an Eðian, who “during a fit of rage transformed into a great lion and devoured the court jester.”
  • There’s a rumor that Jane’s mother is an Eðian, which caused Jane and Edward to try to uncover their own Eðian forms. “Jane had read in a book that Eðians often manifested into their animal forms when they were upset. They’d cursed each other and slapped each other’s faces, and Jane had even gone so far as to throw a stone at Edward, which actually did rile him, but they had remained stubbornly humanly human throughout the whole ordeal.”
  • Edward’s dog, Pet, reveals herself to be an undercover Eðian. “Pet stood up, then lifted her front paws to the edge of Edward’s bed, her neck thrown back like she was stretching. There was a flash of light, as painful as if Edward had accidentally glanced into the sun, and he closed his eyes. When he opened them again there was a naked girl standing at the foot of his bed.”
  • Jane is locked up in a tower, hopelessly anticipating her upcoming execution, when she finally unlocks her Eðian powers and turns into a ferret. “A brilliant white light flared about her, making her blink back stars. When she could see again, everything was different. The room was bigger, for one, and she felt…funny. Shorter, which was saying something, but oddly long.”
  • Edward’s grandmother tries to teach Jane, Gifford, and Edward how to use their Eðian powers. She tells them that the secret to changing into your animal form is to know your heart’s desire. Edward’s grandmother says, “If, in the moment you want to change, you do not know why you want to become a bird or ferret or horse or human, then you will stay exactly as you are.”
  • When Edward shows up to take his throne back, Mary gets so angry that she turns into a mule. “Then Mary let out a bellow of rage and barreled toward Bess with outstretched hands, as if she would choke the life from her sister. But before she could reach Bess, a light flashed. The onlookers gave a collective gasp. Where Mary had been standing, there was now a chubby mule.”

Spiritual Content

  • Edward believes he was “designed by God” to be the king of England.
  • Jane’s mother says that her Eðian form is unnatural, but Jane disagrees. “In one of my books about Eðians, the author said that long ago, in ancient times, all people were able to change into their animal form. Everyone was Eðian. It was considered their true nature. It was considered divine.”
  • Edward feels bad about having bad-mouthed women, thinking, “He’d only said what Bess had told him to say, and besides, it was true, wasn’t it? Women were the weaker sex were they not? Wasn’t that even written in the Holy Book?”
  • While Jane is breaking into the castle, Gifford says several prayers. “He closed his eyes and sent a quick prayer to the heavens that he would see her again. He prayed Edward would keep her from harm. He prayed if Edward failed, she would turn into a ferret and hide. He prayed if she was discovered she would slip from the soldier’s clumsy fingers. And that if she couldn’t escape, they would kill her quickly.”

by Evalyn Harper

Eclipse

Now that Edward is back, Bella wants things to go back to the way they were…but too much has changed. Her best friend Jacob happens to be a werewolf, the mortal enemy of vampires. She is desperate to keep her friendship with Jacob, but she isn’t sure how that will be possible. Edward actively stops her from seeing Jacob, and Bella is constantly hurting her best friend by not loving him the way he wants her too.

Even worse, old enemies are on the prowl. The Vulturi will be a threat until Bella is changed into a vampire. She wants to change immediately, but Edward’s family insists on waiting until after her high school graduation. To Bella, it seems a terrible time to remain human, especially as Victoria is back, and more elusive than ever on her quest for revenge.

Eclipse spins out a heartbreaking love triangle among constant danger and suspense, which forces Bella to decide how much sacrifice love is worth. This installment in the Twilight Series will captivate readers of both Team Edward and Team Jacob, and it will leave them in breathless suspense until the end. As the series hurtles towards its final book, Bella will make a heartbreaking decision that will decide the trajectory of her life.

Eclipse combines Edward’s family and their enemies from Twilight with the werewolves introduced in New Moon. The interactions between these two sets of immortals will excite readers and keep them turning the pages long into the night. Parents may not like that Bella pushes to sleep with Edward, but they will appreciate that Edward says no – he will not sleep with her until they are married. Overall, Eclipse continues to uphold the quality of this engaging series.

Sexual Content

  • Bella and Edward kiss several times. Some are described in detail, such as “My arms locked behind his neck . . . One hand slid down my back, pressing me tighter against his stone chest . . . Making the most of my last seconds, I crushed myself closer, molding myself to the shape of him. The tip of my tongue traced the curve of his lower lip.” Other kisses are briefly described, such as, “He interrupted me with a quick kiss,” or “then he pulled the helmet off so that he could kiss me.”
  • When Bella’s dad tries to talk to her about being safe “when you’re physically involved,” Bella exclaims, “Please tell me you are not trying to have a sex talk with me.” When her father refuses to drop the subject, she says, “I really wish you were not forcing me to say this out loud, Dad. Really. But . . . I am a . . . virgin, and I have no immediate plans to change that status.”
  • Angela and Ben, two friends from Bella’s school, are dating. Ben “threw his arm around Angela’s neck and pulled her face down to his height so that he could kiss her enthusiastically.”
  • Edward kisses Bella to make Jacob jealous. “I turned my face up for a goodbye peck, but Edward took me by surprise, fastening his arms tightly around me and kissing me with as much enthusiasm as he had in the garage—before long, I was gasping for air.”
  • Jacob thinks Bella is in love with him, and to prove it he kisses her. Jacob’s “lips crushed mine, stopping my protest. He kissed me angrily, roughly, his other hand gripping tight around the back of my neck making escape impossible . . . Acting on instinct, I let my hands drop to my side, and shut down. I opened my eyes and didn’t fight, didn’t feel . . . It worked. The anger seemed to evaporate, and he pulled back to look at me. He pressed his lips softly to mine again, once, twice . . . a third time. I pretended I was a statue and waited.”
  • Edward and Bella make out in bed. “His hand curved around my elbow, moving slowly down my arm, across my ribs, and over my waist, tracing along my hip and down my leg, around my knee. He paused there, his hand curling around my calf. He pulled my leg up suddenly, hitching it around his hip . . . he rolled to the side, pulling me on top of him.”
  • Bella wants to sleep with Edward, but he insists they be married first.
  • Bella kisses Jacob twice. The first time, “my lips were moving with his in strange, confusing ways they’d never moved before – because I didn’t have to be careful with Jacob, and he certainly wasn’t being careful with me.” Then, Jacob’s “hands were soft on my face and his warm lips were gentle, unexpectedly hesitant. It was brief, and very, very sweet.”

Violence

  • Two vampires, Victoria and Riley, attack Bella. Edward and Seth, a werewolf, defend her. “Riley was on his feet again, looking misshapen and haggard, but he was able to fling a vicious kick into Seth’s shoulder. I heard the bone crunch . . . Riley took a swipe at him with one mangled hand . . . Riley bellowed and launched a massive backhanded blow that caught Seth full in his broad chest. Seth’s huge body soared ten feet and crashed into the rocky wall over my head with a force that seemed to shake the whole peak.” The fight takes place over eight pages.
  • Edward and Seth dismember and burn the bodies of the two vampires that attacked them. “Swift and coolly businesslike, [Edward] dismembered the headless corpse . . . I didn’t have time to recover before both he and Seth were back . . . Seth was carrying a large chunk – the torso – in his mouth.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Rosalie tells a story about her former fiancé. “I’d never seen him drink before. A toast, now and then, at a party. He’d told me he didn’t like champagne. I hadn’t realized that he preferred something much stronger.”

Language

  • Damn is used several times. When Bella discovers her friend Jacob isn’t aging, she says “Damn it! What kind of world is this?” Another time, when Jacob hurts himself he says, “Damn it! Ouch!”
  • Crap is used several times. Bella tells Edward, “Screw the protecting me crap, please.”
  • Hell is used a few times. Once, Bella demands, “What the hell is all this?” Later when Jasper is telling a story, he says, “All hell broke loose.”
  • Pissed is used once. Jacob thinks, “Pissed as I was, I still felt guilty when I watched the spasm of pain shoot across her face.”

Supernatural

  • Edward and his family are vampires, and Bella meets other vampires that pass through Forks. Unlike most vampires, Edward and his family survive off the blood of animals, so they do not have to murder people.
  • Some vampires have special abilities. Edward can read minds; his brother Jasper can control the emotions of those around him; his sister Alice can see bits and pieces of the future.
  • Jacob and his tribe can transform into giant wolves. “With another sharp tearing sound, Jacob exploded, too. He burst out of his skin—one second it was Jacob diving into the air, and then it was the gigantic, russet brown wolf—so enormous that I couldn’t make sense of its mass somehow fitting inside Jacob.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Morgan Lynn

New Moon

Bella always knew Edward was too good to be true, and her worst fears come to fruition when he tells her that he is leaving Forks—and he doesn’t want her to come with him. He promises it will be “like he never existed.” But the hold he has on her heart isn’t something that fades with time. As the months stretch out without Edward, Bella succumbs to a mind-numbing depression where time passes, but she doesn’t really live.

Bella doesn’t expect things will ever change until she runs into Jacob, an old friend from the nearby reservation. Jacob becomes her best friend. He is so warm and kind that she begins to think of Jacob as her own personal sun, burning away the dark clouds that have surrounded Bella for so long. Bella knows that Jacob longs for their relationship to move forward, but is her damaged heart even capable of that kind of healing? To make matters worse, there’s a cult on the reservation that’s sucking in many of the teenage boys. When Jacob suddenly vanished from her life and starts hanging around with the very people he had been scared of before, Bella decides she has to help her friend break free. But the bonds that tie Jacob may be deeper and more permanent than Bella could possibly imagine.

In New Moon, Bella struggles to move on after losing her one true love. At first, she wallows in depression, trying to put on a brave face for the world outside, but eventually she learns that she isn’t fooling anyone. Once Jacob enters her life, she begins to heal, but she also clings to the memory of Edward. Her inability to let go of the past prevents her from moving forward as she grapples with questions such as, is it possible to have more than one love in one lifetime? And is it right to give herself to Jacob, when a part of her still mourns for Edward?

The second installment of the Twilight series takes a shocking turn, but it will not disappoint. Readers need not worry that Edward’s absence for most of the novel will detract from its entertainment factor. Bella’s trauma over the loss of Edward, his family, and her life as a vampire keeps that storyline very much alive, as does the reappearance of an old enemy. Jacob, his father Billy, and Jacob’s friends on the reservation breathe life into the story, bringing new, lovable characters into the mix. These characters are well-developed, and Jacob will steal the heart of all but the strongest Edward supporters. The end of New Moon comes in an exhilarating rush that will either leave readers rejoicing or will break their hearts. Either way, make sure to have the next book, Eclipse, nearby!

Sexual Content

  • Bella and Edward kiss several times. “He leaned closer and pressed his icy lips against mine . . . His mouth lingered on mine, cold and smooth and gentle, until I wrapped my arms around his neck and threw myself into the kiss with a little too much enthusiasm.” Another time, “he sighed, and leaned down to touch his lips to mine. I reached up on my toes to make the kiss last longer when he pulled away.”
  • While in bed, Edward and Bella make out. “The kiss began much the same as usual . . . And then something seemed to change. Suddenly his lips became much more urgent, his free hand twisted into my hair and held my face securely to his . . . His body was cold through the thin quilt, but I crushed myself against him eagerly.”

Violence

  • Bella gets pushed into a table and falls into a pile of broken crystal. “Only now did I feel the searing, stinging pain…Dazed and disoriented, I looked up from the bright red blood pulsing out of my arm.”
  • When Jacob tells Bella that he helped kill “the bloodsucker who was going to kill you,” he says, “I don’t count that towards the whole murder thing . . . Vampires don’t count as people.”
  • Bella gets injured several times while learning to ride a motorcycle.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Hell is used several times. Once, Bell says, “How the hell did Mike Newton end up in this conversation?”
  • Crap is used several times. Bella says, “I did drown. Crap, crap, crap! This is gonna kill Charlie.”
  • Pissed off and damn are used a few times. While drowning, Bella hears Edward’s voice yell, “Damn it, Bella, keep fighting.”

Supernatural

  • Edward and his family are vampires, though they choose to survive on animal blood rather than human blood. They are super strong, fast, and several of them have special abilities like Edward’s ability to hear peoples’ thoughts.
  • Jacob and his friends can transform into giant wolves. “With another sharp tearing sound, Jacob exploded, too. He burst out of his skin—one second it was Jacob diving into the air, and then it was the gigantic, russet brown wolf—so enormous that I couldn’t make sense of its mass somehow fitting inside Jacob.”

Spiritual Content

  • Carlisle says, “Never, in the nearly four hundred years now since I was born, have I ever seen anything to make me doubt whether God exists in some form or the other.” Meanwhile, Edward thinks “God and heaven exist . . . and so does hell. But he doesn’t believe there is an afterlife” for vampires. “You see, he thinks we’ve lost our souls.”
  • When Jacob agrees to help Bella, she thinks, “Jacob was a gift from the gods.”
  • When Edward sees Bella, who he thinks has died, he thinks he is dead also. “Maybe this is hell. I don’t care.”

by Morgan Lynn

The Merciful Crow

In the world of Sabor, the Phoenix Caste reigns supreme, the Hawk Caste does their best to maintain the peace, and the Crow Caste are scorned by all. Fie, a future Crow chief, is a teenage girl who’s roped into helping the Crown Prince Jasimir and his body-double Tavin. Together, all three must outrun Queen Rhusana’s expert trackers and killers.

But what’s supposed to be an easy journey to deliver the Prince into an allied governor’s hands quickly turns into much more than Fie or the rest of her Crows ever expected. Hunted by Queen Rhusana’s handpicked trackers, the Vultures, Fie must summon everything she has to outwit and outrun her pursuers. The conflicts only get harder as she begins to fall in love with Tavin, a love that shouldn’t be possible.

From the moment the book begins, it’s an endless adventure that never fails to deliver on the harrowing journey Fie must undertake. With the class-based society Sabor revolves around, the Crows (Fie’s caste) are universally snubbed and hated by the other castes. This is a theme that hits the reader on the head throughout the story. Despite this, Fie, Jasimir, and Tavin are likable protagonists that help to anchor the story.

While the story is similar to Romeo and Juliet, Owen manages to keep The Merciful Crow fresh. The easy-to-read story is written with wonderful pacing that will keep the reader gliding through each chapter. With a good blend of fast-paced action and romance, the book will hook the reader from the beginning until the very end. The Merciful Crow has several surprises and fun twists that add to the quick scenes. Fie’s relationship with Tavin is also a highlight as the two use the journey to grow both as people and as lovers. While the characters feel underdeveloped at times, they are still fun assets to the story.

The Merciful Crow will delight those who want an action-based adventure story set in a troubled fantasy world. The story features a strong female protagonist and has a theme of fighting against prejudice in a hateful world. Even though the plot is not unique—the main protagonists are forced to journey together and eventually fall in love—The Merciful Crow is a fun tale because of the mix of action and love. The Merciful Crow would be a great addition to any young reader’s bookshelf.

Sexual Content

  • Madcap, a Crow, belted “another lewd and anatomically improbable verse of ‘The Lad from Across the Sea’” when dancing with Fie. Madcap is the only Crow with lewd songs, and he sings them another 2-3 times. The actual words of the song itself are never specified.
  • When Fie uses her magic and sees visions of the past. She sees “a lover waiting in the amber-pod gardens”.
  • Fie reminisces about the past when she thinks, “She might have softened her tongue for Hangdog long ago, when the two of them slipped away to more private groves.”
  • When Tavin is trying to distinguish Fie’s preferences, “Madcap made a crude gesture that suggested exactly what they thought Fie trucked with.”
  • When bantering with Tavin, Fie says, “Wager I’ve spent more nights ready to die for my kin than you’ve spent rolling palace girls.” She uses this against Tavin a few more times, often to catch him off guard.
  • Hangdog gets angry at Fie’s relationship with Tavin: “Just because he can’t rut his own women out here doesn’t mean he’s welcome to ours.” Hangdog consistently berates Fie and Tavin in this way. He confronts Fie again: “You’re only good to his kind on your knees.”
  • Another Crow asks of Fie (when it’s only her, Jasimir, and Tavin), “You a-feared of getting with child, too?”
  • Speaking about the Swan Caste: “Swans don’t rut inside the caste…At least, not to conceive.”
  • While wanting to take a bath in a river, Fie thinks, “stripping down in front of lordlings didn’t sit right.”
  • When waking up to find Tavin had gone to wash up in a hot spring, Fie thinks, “The notion of Tavin washing up in a hot spring had an entirely different effect on her.” Jasimir notices Fie’s obvious desire, and says, “I’m not utterly oblivious…But you’re only going to get hurt.”
  • On watch duty with Tavin, Fie kisses him. “He didn’t kiss her back so much as drown himself in her.” She reminisces, as she and Tavin strip down to sleep with each other, that “Before, when she’d lain with Hangdog, it had been matters of urgency, a hasty exchange of services.” She goes on to say, “Tavin too moved with urgency, but it was a curious kind, a need to discover every place that made her shiver…” Afterward, Tavin explains why he never wanted to get anyone pregnant, saying, “Gender’s never mattered to me, but I-I didn’t want to get anyone with child.” This scene takes place over multiple pages.
  • When tempers flare between Jasimir and Tavin as they’re being chased, Jasimir says in regards to Fie, “My condolences if that conflicts with who you want in your bed this week!”
  • Tavin kisses Fie before sacrificing himself to become a decoy. “He pulled Fie to him and pressed a swift, soft kiss to her mouth.”
  • When traveling with only Jasimir, Jas says, “Don’t tell me you’re worried that I’ll get you with child.”
  • When Tavin’s mother asks if anyone has something to say, Fie says, “Tavin and I slept together…Since you’re asking.”
  • When speaking about his father and mother to Fie, Tavin says, “…he’d been drunk enough to command Mother to his bed while Aunt Jasindra was still at the reception.”
  • After coming to terms with each other, Fie says to Tavin, “If I’d known I’d rutted a half prince, probably I would’ve bragged about it more.” Once made up, Tavin “kissed her back, careful at first, then spiraling into dizzy, feverish glee…” Eventually, Fie manages to say, “My room,” telling Tavin to sleep with her again. This scene happens in two pages.
  • When Tavin and Fie are say goodbye to each other at the end, Tavin “opened his mouth, shut it again, and, without a word, pulled her into a long, hard kiss.”

Violence

  • The very first line of the book is, “Pa was taking too long to cut the boy’s throats.” Because of a plague running rampant in Sabor, the Crow Caste – being the only caste immune to the disease – end up being called to mercy kill the plague victims before the plague overcomes the victim. This type of scene is brought up again. In another scene, Fie thinks about what would happen if they didn’t kill the victims. “Two weeks in, the dead would be piled up, the crops blackening in the fields.” When Pa proceeds to kill a plague victim, “There was a savage jerk. The sinner died smiling.”
  • The sight of blood is frequently shown. For example, “Damp red streaked down the front of Pa’s robes. He’d dealt a mercy killing, then.”
  • After bringing the supposedly dead prince out to the cart, Fie wonders “if Phoenix boys burned like any other sinner.” Fie then notices, “Death-stink hadn’t settled on the boys yet, but she still flinched at the crimson stains on their shrouds.” Fie “didn’t intend to punch the boy, but she did all the same.”
  • When Hangdog tries to touch Tavin, he found himself “standing stone-still as a sword point strummed the skin beneath his chin.”
  • When discussing the Crow’s mercy killings, Pa asks Jasimir, “You ever listen to a child die by fire?”
  • When Hangdog, Fie’s former lover and a fellow Crow, attempts to betray the Princes, “An arrow sank, soft and immediate, into Hangdog’s eye.” Hangdog dies, and the Crows (not including Fie, Tavin, and Jasimir) are taken hostage. A Vulture witch tells Fie, “Oldest woman in your kin, caught a few too many arrows from us on the bridge.” That woman is Wretch, and she survives the wounds. After Viimo, the witch, tells Fie about Wretch, Fie destroys Viimo’s hands. “One moment Viimo’s hands were hands; the next they were a tangle of raw red flesh and tattered skin.”
  • When dealing with more hate from a Sparrow butcher, Tavin uses his magic to boil the man. “The butcher crumpled, screaming, as blisters boiled over his blackening flesh.”
  • As Fie, Tavin, and Jas are ambushed, “The rest was a frenzy of noise, steel, and blood. One body fell, then another—”
  • Fie gets angry with Jasimir, “Then she slapped the prince.” To stop Jasimir from giving their position away, Fie tackles Jasimir to the ground and “Fie flipped the broken sword and leveled its jagged, trembling point to Jasimir’s right eye.”
  • When attacked by ghasts, Fie attacked the creature with the broken sword: “It sank to the hilt without a sound, but the flesh round her throat stayed iron-solid.” When Jasimir kills an Oleander in the same scene, “Steel flashed, a thorn darting through torchlight.”
  • While fleeing the Vultures sent by the Queen, Fie and Jasimir are shot at, “Then an arrow sailed over her head and into the trunk of a ghost tree.” Another arrow later hits Fie. “She didn’t feel the arrow when it buried itself in her thigh.”
  • When Fie confronts Tatterhelm and the Vultures chasing after her and Jasimir, they fight. “He slammed her into another wall.” This scene takes place over several pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Fie “smirked up at him, a little jump-drunk from swinging betwixt fear and relief.”
  • When Jas teaches Fie to write letters, she thinks “hers were overlarge and tilting like a drunk.”
  • After hiding from an ambush, Fie and the others find “The supplies they’d abandoned were knocked about the clearing as if a drunkard had bumbled into them…”

Language

  • At the very beginning, Fie says, “Twelve hells,” a saying that pops up very frequently throughout the story.
  • When finding the stray cat, Pa says, “Covenant’s crap she is, Fie, but we’ll talk your share later.”
  • When they first meet, Wretch calls Tavin and Jasimir “royal louts.”
  • Tavin says, early on, “The damn patchouli, that’s what she called it.” Damn pops up occasionally in the book.
  • Hangdog calls Prince Jasimir a “piss-baby.”
  • Jasimir calls Fie a “bone-thief,” a slur aimed at Crow witches. This pops up occasionally in the book.
  • Hangdog, getting mad at Jasimir, says, “When was the last time your powdered ass set foot off the palace grounds?” Ass is used occasionally in the book.
  • An Oleander, a hunter of Crows, calls Fie’s band “filth.”
  • Fie calls Tavin a “bastard boy.” Bastard is used occasionally in the book. Part Three is titled: “Bastards and Gods.” Soon after, as Tavin tries to help her down from a tree, Fie tells him to “get scummed!”
  • Master-General Draga called King Surimir, “gilded dung.”
  • Viimo tells Tavin to “Choke on horseshit.”
  • Jasimir tells Fie after they lose Tavin, “Fuck the oath!”

Supernatural

  • War-witches are witches meant specifically for battle. Fie thinks, “King Surimir fancied the war-witches as his palace guards, warriors who healed wounds just as easily as they tore their foes apart from within.” Tavin is considered a war-witch due to his Hawk caste standing and his job as Jasimir’s bodyguard.
  • Fie thinks about how she and Hangdog had “both been born witches, and for Crows, that meant they were born to be chiefs.” There are only as many witches as there are dead gods, meaning only a thousand are spread throughout Sabor. Witches and magic pop up as the main premise throughout this book, and come in and out of the story very fluidly. Characters like Fie, Hangdog, Pa, Tavin, Viimo, and others unnamed use magic.
  • Fie and other Crow witches use people’s teeth to produce their magic. The teeth allow the Crows to access the Birthrights of the other castes – the special abilities the thousand dead gods once handed down to the people of Sabor. This happens frequently throughout the book, mostly through Fie.
  • Birthrights aren’t specifically mentioned as magic, but they are used in the same way. For instance, the Vulture caste members that are after Fie, Tavin, and Jasimir use their Birthrights alongside their own magic to track the trio. Birthrights are a major theme in the novel, as they call back to the caste system present in Sabor.
  • The Vultures use their magic at some point to create ghasts. Ghasts are essentially the undead. Hangdog’s corpse is eventually used against Fie in the final part of the book.

Spiritual Content

  • Throughout Sabor, a plague is present. People who come down with the plague are called “sinners.” For example, when Fie and Hangdog go to bring out the sinners at the beginning of the book, Fie thinks, “The steward had called the sinner ‘boys’ when he led the Crows in.” This happens frequently, whenever a plague victim is seen of mentioned.
  • The “thousand dead gods,” (or just “dead gods”) are mentioned frequently throughout the book. An early example: “But by the thousand dead gods of Sabor, Fie wagered they were starting to catch on now.” Fie thinks of a saying, “Dead gods be kind.” Very few of these dead gods are mentioned by name.
  • There are shrines the Crow Caste stops at throughout Sabor. These shrines are dedicated to their gods. For example, “The scattering of huts and god-grave shrines by the road eventually yielded to the twist-trunked, lichen-shawled forest.” These shrines pop up frequently, both literally and in conversation.
  • The dead gods gave out the Birthrights – special abilities given to each Caste. For instance, the Phoenix Caste (the ruling caste) was given the Birthright of fire, which allows them immunity to burning or fire-based injuries. Each Caste’s gods handed out Birthrights to their Caste, save for the Crow Gods. “She wondered, too much, why the Crow’s gods had left them no Birthright at all.” Birthrights come up frequently throughout the book.
  • Some Crow Gods are named early on when Fie and her Crows stop at a shrine. “Loyal Star Hama guarding sleeping crows, Crossroads Eyes leading them away from treacherous roads, Dena Wrathful and her hundred-hundred teeth.” Wretch, a Crow, “set on a new walking song, a marching hymn to the dead god Crossroads-eyes.”
  • A Phoenix dead god is named “Ambra, Queen of Day and Night, stood astride the sun, wreathed in gold Phoenix fire.” Fie uses her name against Jasimir saying, “But Ambra help me, you leave who’s bedding out of it, or I swear to every dead god—”
  • It’s mentioned that the “Swan caste had only three dead gods.”
  • It’s thought that every witch in Sabor is the reincarnation of a dead god. Madcap called Fie, “Little Witness: the dead Crow god,” when she was younger.

by Jonathan Planman

Amber House

Sarah had never seen Amber House, the family estate until her family traveled to Maryland in order to sell it. The house has been in the family for three hundred years, but Sarah doesn’t care – that is, until she starts seeing visions of its past. It turns out the women of Amber House have the gift of seeing the home’s echoes, and not all of them are moments for which the family would like to be remembered.

Despite her fear, the lure of hidden diamonds keeps Sarah at Amber House, digging to uncover its secrets. As her family gets closer to selling the estate, Sarah becomes more attached, desperate to save her family’s heritage. But when her little brother gets trapped in the in-between world of spirits and memories, Sarah realizes her family heritage is darker than she had ever imagined.

Filled with beautiful imagery, Amber House is a delight from beginning to end. The constant unraveling of numerous mysteries is complemented by the troubles of a normal teenage girl—parental discord, family drama, and a sprinkle of romance that complements the story while not becoming overbearing. In a surprising feat, the main and supporting cast of characters are all well-developed, creating a story full of people to root and long for.

While this story has a fair amount of violence, it is not graphically described. For a young adult novel, the sexual content and language are also refreshingly mild. The book is a must-read because of the well-developed cast, beautiful imagery, and a delectably unique storyline. Also, the main character, Sarah, is extremely likable. Overall, Amber House is a joy to read and it leaves readers desperately hoping the sequel can live up to its predecessor’s impressive feat.

Sexual Content

  • Sarah’s dad cheated on her mother before the start of the book. “He’d gotten a little too close to Sammy’s overly friendly pediatrician back in Seattle.”
  • It’s mentioned in passing that the founder of John Hopkins Hospital “fell in love with his first cousin, Elizabeth” and that neither one “of this tragic pair ever got married.”
  • Sarah idly flips through a magazine and sees a Cosmo article titled, “Ten Spicy Ways to Do It in the Summer!”
  • At a party, Sarah follows Kathryn “up the carpeted steps, her nearly naked bottom exactly two steps up and directly in front of my face. No cellulite, I noted.”
  • Sarah and Richard kiss several times. “He leaned over, put his finger under my chin. He hesitated a moment, then gave me the softest kiss. I liked it. I liked it a lot.”
  • Richard’s friends go swimming in their underwear. Sarah sits on the side and watches. “Chad stopped undressing when he got down to his boxers. He took a running jump and cannonballed into the pool. Kathryn—now in nothing but a matching bra and panty set—followed.”
  • Sarah’s mom thinks the senator wants something from her. “He may be looking for a – companion. . . Or maybe he’s more ambitious. He’s single, I’m newly wealthy, and he doesn’t seem to like it much when your father is around.”
  • Sarah sees a man and woman kissing in a vision, but the woman seems to see Sarah too. “‘You’re watching, aren’t you?’ she said. ‘What, honey?’ the man said, not stopping, slipping the shoulder of Fiona’s dress down to reveal bare skin. ‘It’s all right,’ she said to the door—to me. ‘Sometimes I watch too.’”
  • Sarah sends her best friend an email. “You will not believe where I am. . .in the bedroom of the Abercrombie model…and no, we’re not doing anything except picking up some party clothes, you filthy-minded hussy.”
  • Sarah and Richard kiss in the garden. “He kissed me again, harder, more urgently, his hands folding my face, and I found myself kissing him hungrily, my fingers in his hair.”

Violence

  • Jackson tells the story of a “car accident when I was three. Burned me pretty bad all over my left side. . . got a head injury and a few broken ribs, but I survived. My parents didn’t.”
  • Sarah sees a young girl trying to drown a baby in a vision. “Oh, God. Two little fists flailing; the dark curls on the top of a small head submerged under roiling water. A black woman ran up, shoved the girl back, and snatched the baby from the tub.” The girl tells the woman, “You can’t save it, you know. The gypsy told Papa it has to die.”
  • Later Sarah sees the same black woman being whipped. “He stopped in front of a black woman, stripped naked to the waist, bound by her wrists to a low branch of the tree. ‘Where’s the child, you damned witch?’ She did not answer. . . and bleeding welts crisscrossed the white stripes of old scars on both sides of her spine. Dark drops sprayed from the blow, and I could see that the crop’s leather was stained wet brown.”
  • A woman and her husband get in a fight. The woman “screamed, turning and swinging the thing in her hand down in an arc. He saw her at the last second and parried the thing with his forearm. Then he swore, reaching for the gem-set handle suddenly protruding from his shoulder…’Lock her in the nursery,’ he said. ‘I never want to see her again.’”
  • Richard punches Jackson when he catches him dancing with Sarah. “I could smell the sour notes of champagne, and I could hear it in his voice…Richard turned and struck him in the face. ‘Shut up!’ Blood beaded on Jackson’s lip, purple-red in the half light.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Sarah overhears someone talking about her deceased grandmother. “I heard her liver failed, but with all poor Ida suffered, it was no wonder she drank.”
  • Sarah’s mother finds “a stash of medical supplies in a narrow cupboard that contained mostly liquor.” She then “came out with a bottle of vodka and poured herself an inch over ice.”
  • Sarah almost falls down after riding a horse for an hour. Richard says, “Woah, Parsons, you look like you’ve been hitting the sauce.”
  • Richard drinks at Sarah’s party. “I noticed a nearly empty champagne flute at his elbow and wondered if it was his. The dealer didn’t seem to question it.”

Language

  • God, hell, and Jesus are used as exclamations.
  • When Sarah bruises her forehead, her mother says, “Oh my God, what the Hell did you do to your face?”
  • Sarah’s mother says, “Jesus, I can’t take this today.”
  • Sarah says that “spending an evening with a hundred strangers is her idea of hell.”
  • A kid says Amber House has “got a damn cemetery right on the property.”
  • When Richard loses a race, Sarah hears him “choking out a few choice four-letter words.”
  • A friend says Sarah made “an ass out of Richard in front of all his friends. . . It was about time someone took him down a peg.”
  • Sarah’s mom says, “You think I’m some kind of conniving bitch because I want to use the senator’s connections?”

Supernatural

  • Sarah sees visions of Amber House’s pasts when she touches certain objects. Some are harmless and fun, but some are frightening. “A woman stood in the shaft of moonlight. . . She might have been carved of stone. A spider ran down a lock of her hair, and air escaped me in the smallest gasp. . . The voice rose almost to a scream. ‘You think you are safe? You think I can’t hurt you? I can. I can get you. I can find you in your dreams.’”
  • Sarah’s visions of Amber House are passed down among the woman of the family. Jackson says, “Ida saw things too. She called them echoes. When she touched certain things, little bits of the past came to life for her. She said they were the house’s memory.”
  • An old woman named Nanga can see visions of the future, allowing her and Sarah to interact on several occasions. “She can see the future. And because I can see the past, we could talk to each other.”
  • A woman in Sarah’s vision tries to stop her husband from burying their dead son. “’He’s not dead,’ she said, horror in her voice. ‘He’s sleeping. I’ve seen him in my dreams. His spirit comes to me. I won’t let you put him in the ground.”
  • Sarah gets her fortune told at her birthday party. She is told, “I have never seen a board that spoke so powerfully of change as this one.”
  • When Sammy goes into a coma, Sarah sees her brother’s face in a mirror. Jackson says, “There’s an old superstition that spirits can be trapped in mirrors.”

Spiritual Content

  • At her grandmother’s funeral, the housekeeper covers all mirrors with black cloths. The housekeeper says it is “just a southern superstition. . . to help the departed’s soul cross over and not get trapped in the looking-glass world. . . People used to believe you could see through to the other side in a mirror. To the place where souls go after death before they move on to their final destination.”
  • Sarah and her mother go to church to socialize. “It had been years since I’d been inside a church. My mother liked religion about as much as she liked anything else supernatural. But she led the way up the steps the next morning.”
  • “I fell asleep still thinking about people watching me, thinking that the eyes in Amber House were kind of like the eyes of God, knowing every failing. Except God could forgive.”

The Stepsister’s Tale

Jane and her sister should live like nobles; they are after all ladies of a once-rich family. Despite their struggle to survive, Jane’s mother refuses to acknowledge the desperate state of the family. Jane and her sister are forced to take care of all the household chores, as well as care for the livestock and garden.

Jane doesn’t think life can get much worse until her mother suddenly appears with a new husband who has a spoiled daughter. Then the unthinkable happens, Jane’s step-father suddenly dies, leaving behind more debt and his demanding daughter. In order to provide enough food for her family, Jane must reach out to a mysterious group of wood people.

With a mother who doesn’t accept reality, two sisters to feed, and winter coming, Jane wonders if hunger will claim her family. When a surprise invitation to a royal ball is delivered, she begins a plan to get rid of her step-sister once and for all. However, this Cinderella story doesn’t end with the typical happy-ever-after.

The Stepsister’s Tale will pull readers into Cinderella’s time period. Although the tale has some similarities to Cinderella’s story, The Stepsister’s Tale is fresh and interesting. Told through the eyes of Jane, the reader can easily empathize with Jane’s struggle and her desire to provide for her family even if it means going against her mother’s idea of how a lady should act.

The ending of the tale is surprising but will leave the reader with a smile. The Stepsister’s Tale would be suitable for junior high readers as well as entertaining for more advanced readers. Because the story is a retelling of Cinderella and is also a unique, tame love story, the Stepsister’s Tale will appeal to a large range of readers.

Sexual Content

  • Jane shakes the hand of a boy, and she wishes the contact would continue. Then the boy “brought her hand to his lips . . . and kissed it gently. It was over so quickly that she thought she must have imagined it.” After he leaves Jane, “lingered in the hall, looking at the back of her hand, which his lips had touched. It didn’t look any different, although it tingled; and when she pressed her own lips to the spot, she tried to imagine what it would have been like if instead of that swift kiss, he had pulled her to him and bent his head to her face and—”
  • While at a fair, a boy kisses Jane. “His lips were on hers, and he was clasping her waist and gently pulling her closer to him . . . He turned his head and kissed her palm and then her forehead, and then each eyelid and then her mouth again.” The kiss ends when some girls see Jane and cruelly make fun of her.
  • When Jane is kissed she thinks, “it felt as though that kiss was something she had been waiting for, and the warm thrill of it made her forget, for a moment at least, the pain in her feet . . . ”

Violence

  • During this time period, poachers are taken by the king’s men. A boy tells how the king’s men try to trick people into poaching. “They slit the back of a deer’s hind leg so that it can do no more than hobble, and leave it near a path.” The king’s men then watch for someone to catch the dear and the poacher is taken away.
  • Isabella has to run away from the king’s men who are chasing her.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The king throws a party where alcohol is served.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • There is a short conversation about fairy-people. A character tries to explain why the fairy people harm people. “If we do something they don’t like, they’ll do something to pay us back, or if they’re bored, they’ll play a trick just to be irritating. Any harm isn’t done on purpose.”
  • There is a brief mention of the fairy people exchanging a human child for a changeling.

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Sin Eater’s Daughter

As a young girl, Twylla is brought to live in the castle because she is the Daunte Embodied, daughter of two gods. As Daunte Embodied, it is Twylla’s duty to bring justice to the kingdom. She is the executioner; anyone that she touches, dies.

Twylla thought life in the castle would be different. But the privileged life she leads is lonely and becomes more a prison than a home to her. The kingdom’s people fear her. The queen demands absolute obedience from her. And Merek, Twylla’s betrothed, confuses her.

Twylla believes her life is set in stone until she is appointed a new guard. This guard doesn’t fear her as so many others do. He sees past her role as Daunte Embodied, and sees her as a person. As they spend more time together, Twylla begins to wonder if there is a different path she could follow. But such a path would go against her loyalty to Merek and the kingdom.

Confused and lonely, Twylla soon learns that the queen has a deadly plan of her own—and Twylla is in the way of the queen getting her desire. Will Twylla be able to survive long enough to choose between two men—one who needs her, and one who claims to love her?

The Sin Eater’s Daughter takes the reader into an interesting world ruled by an evil queen. The queen is the strongest character in the book. She is willing to kill anyone, including her best friend who dared to become pregnant while the queen could not. The king, who appears infrequently, is seen as a kind, but powerless man. Merek, who does not agree with his mother’s cruel ways, seems desperate and unkind, which makes it difficult for the reader to feel sympathy for him. Even Twylla, who is the heroin, is difficult to relate to. Although her situation is difficult, she seems to be content to sit in her tower and feel sorry for herself.

Although the world created in The Sin Eater’s Daughter is interesting, it is often violent and disturbing. Death is seen often and is described in graphic detail. There are many adult topics that appear including the mention of incest, killing a child in the womb, and seduction.

Sexual Content

  • During a sin-eating ceremony a woman’s father, who is under the influence of poppy tears, confesses that “she said no but he [himself] put a baby in her.” The Sin Eater says that when the man dies she will not “take that sin.”
  • Twylla and her guard kiss often towards the end of the book. In one scene she tells him that she loves him and then, “he devours the words right out of my mouth, pressing his own against mine and swallowing my worries. I let him, willing to sacrifice my questions temporarily for the taste of him, for his hands on my waist.”
  • Twylla and her guard plan to run away together. They again kiss. “Our mouths move gently, brushing together, our lips opening and closing against the other’s, our eyes locked. It makes me dizzy and I allow mine to flutter shut, concentrating on the feel of him against me, his tongue dancing gently with mine.”
  • Twylla and her guard have sex several times. The act is not described, but afterward they, “lie with our legs and arms twined, breathing softly, his breaths becoming my breaths. Our skin is damp and we stick together, as though nothing could separate us.” After one time together, the queen finds them in bed together and has them both thrown in jail.
  • The tradition in the kingdom is for the queen to give birth to one boy and one girl, and then the two children are married when they are adults. The goal is to keep the bloodline clean. Because the current queen has only one living child, a male, she plans to kill the king and marry her son.
  • At the end of the story, Twylla discovers that her guard was hired to seduce her.

Violence

  • One of the rituals in the book is when Twylla, as Daunte Embodied, kills condemned people with a touch. “Moments after I’ve touched them, they are slumped against the top of the table, blood streaming from their noses and pooling on the already-stained wood. I watch as thin red rivers flower over the edge, spattering the bolts that pin the chairs to the floor. . .”
  • When the guard and Twylla are found together he is clubbed in the back of the head with a sword. When he falls down, “two of them begin to kick him, bringing their boots back and swinging them into his ribs and spine.” The queen orders the beating to stop when the guard “has stopped moaning and grunting, finally unconscious.”
  • The queen has people killed throughout the book. Her favorite way to have them killed is to send the dogs to rip them apart. In one scene, the queen tells Twylla, “I have a mind to make you watch the dogs eat your lover first . . . Do you think he’ll try to shield you from their jaws when they tear your heart out . . . Do you know what my father used to do? He used to slice across the ankles of the wretches we were hunting. He’d cut them and leave them in the trees. He’d give them an hour to try to escape . . . it might be time to bring it back.”
  • The queen backhands Twylla across the face and threatens to kill her, “for opening your legs to another man while my son planned to wed you.”
  • In the end, the prince tells his mother, “I sentence you to hang by the neck until you are dead.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At dinner, one of the lords becomes drunk and upsets the queen so she has him killed.
  • When someone is sick, they are given poppy tears to help control the pain.
  • When a woman wants to “lose a child” they take an herb that will make them “lose a child.”
  • The queen uses poison to kill her husband.

Language

  • The queen calls Twylla, “a little slut,” a “whore” and a “harlot.”

Supernatural

  • There is a tale of a Sleeping Prince who is an alchemist. The prince was put under a spell that made him sleep forever. The queen has a totem that can call the Bringer, who is said to be able to bring the prince back to life with the death of a young girl. The queen believes that she can control the Sleeping Prince if she has the totem.

Spiritual Content

  • Twylla is told she is Daunte Embodied, the reborn daughter of the Gods. “The world has always been ruled by two Gods: Daeg, Lord of the sun, who rules in the day, and his wife Naeht, Empress of Darkness, who rules the night. . . She (Naeht) hatched a plan and seduced her husband, tiring him so much he couldn’t rise. Then she took the skies for her own and ruled alone, plunging all the world into darkness. Nothing lived, nothing thrived, and death was everywhere without the Lord of the Sun to light the world and give warmth and joy.” The God’s daughter was said to bring Daeg from his sleep and whenever Lomere needed the daughter, she would return as a symbol of hope.
  • As Daunte Embodied, Twylla is taught that she must, “strike down those who would hurt us. You will go and do your duty. You don’t want to anger the Gods do you?”
  • Twylla believes the Gods have chosen her path, and she must, “obey the Gods.”
  • When someone dies, a person’s soul, “will linger near the body for three days and nights after a death. During that time, the Eating must take place so the soul can ascend, otherwise it will drift to the West Woods to join its damned brothers and sisters in the trees. . .” During this time the sin eater must eat a particular food for each sin the person committed.
  • When Twylla’s mother talks about a woman taking an herb to lose a child, Twylla, “shook my head, not understanding. Losing a child wasn’t a sin; everyone knew the Gods could take away as they saw fit and sometimes they called an unborn back to the Eternal Kingdom.”
  • Twylla’s guard tells her that the religious rituals they perform are all lies and that her beliefs are, “just to scare people into obedience.” He explains that “We used to have Gods, too. And now we don’t and yet the country doesn’t falter; it thrives without them…It’s all made up. You are not beloved by the Gods—there are no Gods.”
  • Twylla tries to figure out what she believes and she thinks, “Neither my mother nor the queen have ever said they believed in the Gods. My mother needs them because if there are no gods, then there is no Eternal Kingdom and that makes the Sin Eater nothing more than a prop for mourning. The queen needs them because the fear of death is what makes people obedient, and kind, and good, and sorry.”
  • Twylla’s guard tells her that, “I don’t believe there are any [Gods] at all, but I believe there are men and woman whose lives are made easier by believing someone is watching over them.”

The Stars Never Rise

Soul-consuming demons started a war and almost caused the end of the world. The Church protects the remaining vestiges of humanity, and keeps everyone safe by enforcing strict rules and penance. Nina and her sister chafe under this strict system, and when they discover a horrifying truth, they must decide if the Church is really the hero everyone believes.

The Stars Never Rise has an interesting premise and is well-written, with actions and questions that keep the pages turning. However, the plot follows a lot of Young Adult clichés that hinder the originality of this text. There is a lot of violence that makes this novel inappropriate for young readers. Also, the Church is demonized and religion is shown in an incredibly negative light.

Sexual Content

  • Mel tells her sister, “You’re gonna need some way to work off all that sexual frustration.”
  • Nina thinks, “I didn’t know a single boy who’d ever worn a purity ring. Evidently, their virginity was worth even less than the stolen band of steel around my finger.”
  • Girls are examined by the Church, to determine if they are fit to bear children. “At fifteen years old, I was disqualified for procreation based on a history of allergies, my flat feet, and mild myopia–conditions it wouldn’t be fair to pass along to the next generation . . . Nearly a third of the girls in my class were declared unfit. We were sterilized that afternoon.”
  • Nina’s fifteen-year-old sister gets pregnant with her secret boyfriend. She says, “We tried to stop. We knew it was wrong, but it didn’t feel wrong.” Her mother tells her that, “We’ll fix it. I know someone who can do it safely, but it’s a drive. . .”
  • When Nina is caught shoplifting, the shop owner demands a sexual favor in exchange for keeping quiet. “My teeth ground together as I unbuttoned my blouse. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see him, but I couldn’t avoid hearing the way his breathing changed. The way his inhalations hitched, his exhalations growing heavier and wetter with each button that slid through its hole . . . A second later, his fingers were there, greedy and eager. They pushed at the remaining material, shoving my bra up, squeezing, pinching.”
  • Finn assures Nina that he won’t rape her. ” ‘ If I were planning to . . . you know . . . ‘ He waved one hand at my entire body. ‘I wouldn’t have given you a slab of wood with nails sticking out of it.’ He pointed to the two-by-four still lying next to me within easy reach. ‘I’m as protective of my parts as the next guy’ “
  • Nina and Finn kiss a few times. “His mouth met mine, and I almost choked on surprise . . . I committed to that kiss like I’d committed to little else in life. My fingers brushed over short stubble at the back of his jaw on their way into his hair. He sucked my lower lip into his mouth and I let him have it.”
  • Nina thinks about her “carnal rebellion following [her] sterilization,” when she had a slew of one-night stands.
  • Dale accuses Nina of prostitution. “I caught her several times, here in the store, and she always tried to buy her way out of trouble, if you know what I mean. You know, with the only kind of payment a girl like that understands.”

Violence

  • Nina and her sister avoid their mother as much as possible because their mother angers easily and can get violent.
  • When a seventeen-year-old refused to kneel for worship, “They forced her to her knees on the dais, closed the steel cuffs about her calves, then burned her alive in front of the entire school.”
  • Mel realizes her mother plans to sell her. Her mother says, “You can’t imagine what a young, healthy body is worth to the right people.”
  • Nina discovers she is an exorcist. “The moment my fingers touched her chest, something exploded between us. . . The monster tried to back away but couldn’t disconnect from the fierce light still shining between us . . . the tingling beneath my skin had become the roar of a blaze that should have devoured my fingers but consumed the demon instead.”
  • Nina exorcizes several demons. “We crashed to the ground and I sat on his stomach, then pressed my glowing left hand against his chest. The demon screamed like a wounded cat, and my hand burned and burned and burned.” “He tried to scramble off me, but the fire in my hand had captured him, and the demon was stuck there, convulsing in the throes of death as his rotting flesh fried.”
  • Adam is burned alive. “Fire consumed Adam . . . could not mute his screams or the crackle of his crisping skin, captured by multiple microphones and broadcast all over the country. He hunched forward . . . I choked on the scent of burning flesh and hair.”
  • A demon kills several people. “He lay dead on the ground, blood still pouring through the gaping hole in his throat.” “Blood and liquefied brains exploded into the lobby from the hallway, and I caught a brief glimpse of the carnage already laid out inside.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Nina suspects her mother is doing drugs. “There was a spot of blood on her pillow, and more of it crusted on her upper lip. Another nosebleed. She was killing herself. Slowly. Painfully, from the looks of it.”
  • Finn emerged from the kitchen with a bottle of water in one hand and a clear, unlabeled bottle of amber liquid in the other.”

Language

  • Hell is said often, both in referring to the place and as profanity.
  • Shit and bullshit are said several times. “Oh shit,” Nina thinks. “Oh shitshitshit.”
  • Damn is said often. Nina’s sister says, “If you’re determined to damn yourself to a life of servitude, communal living and celibacy wouldn’t you rather be slaying demons?”
  • The word bitch is used several times. Mel’s mother calls her a “little bitch!”
  • Ass and badass are said a few times. Devi tells Finn, “I swear I’ll exorcise your ass right out of him.”

Supernatural

  • When a demon inhabits a human body for too long, that body turns into a degenerate. “It was bald, with cheekbones so sharp they should have sliced through skin, and ears pointy on both the tops and the lobes. And most–disturbing of all–it was female. Sagging, grayish breasts swung beneath torn scraps of cloth that were once a dress.”
  • Exorcists are the only ones who can send demons back to hell. “his hand against her bony sternum, both glowing with the last of that strange light . . . An exorcist in a hoodie. Where was his long black cassock, his cross, and his holy water?”
  • There is a shortage of souls because the demons ate so many during the war. Therefore there are many stillbirths. Children who do live are usually given a soul by an elder family member. Those that are lucky get a soul from the public registry when someone dies.
  • Some exorcists have extra abilities, like heightened hearing and enhanced strength.
  • The group Nina is rescued by is a group of people who were denounced by the church because they are supposedly suspected of possession.

Spiritual Content

  • Nina’s sister says, “Everything worth doing is a sin.”
  • Nina breaks many Church rules. “So what if deception was a sin? You can’t get convicted if you don’t get caught.”
  • As punishment for blasphemy, “Sister Camilla dragged Matthew onto the stone dais in the center of the courtyard, then forced him to kneel . . . she flipped a curved piece of metal over each of his legs, just above his calves, then snapped the locks into place, confining the five-year-old to his knees in the freezing rain. The posture of penitence.”
  • Finn is a soul without a body, who is able to inhabit other people’s bodies.

 

The Selection

Gorgeous dresses, spectacular meals, a handsome prince, and the chance to become a princess. It was everyone’s dream . . . and one girl’s nightmare.

America Singer only signed up for the Selection to appease her family and boyfriend. She didn’t expect or even want to be chosen. But it no longer matters what America wants. She is taken from her family and forced to join thirty-four other girls in the palace, all of whom are hoping the prince will chose to love and marry her.

America is the only girl in the competition who wants to lose, but as she gets to know Prince Maxon and becomes his friend, her desires become unclear, even to herself.

As the competition drags on, America is exposed to the rebel attacks that are a regular part of the royal family’s existence. While everyone else dismisses the attacks as random acts of violence attempted to usurp the throne, America begins to suspect there is something bigger going on.

America’s personality shines throughout the story. She is strong, funny, and unpredictable. Instead of acting like a love-sick teen, she talks to Prince Maxon as if he were the enemy. And while the other contestants faun over the prince, America stays true to herself. Although there are many predictable parts to this story—the mean girl, girl drama, a love triangle—the plot is still enjoyable. The story has the same premise as the television show The Bachelor, but the book is teen-friendly.

Sexual Content

  • America and her boyfriend kiss several times. In one scene they are lying in bed, fully clothed, kissing, and she thinks, “I was nowhere near ready to stop” and “this is why people got married so young.” Then when America thinks about marriage she worries because only the upper class can, “regulate having children.”
  • When America is told the rules of the Selection, she has to sign a form stating that she is a virgin. She is told that she cannot refuse the prince, no matter what he asks, “dinner, outings, kisses—more than kisses—anything. Do not turn him down.”
  • As part of the Selection, the girls talk about which girls the prince has kissed.
  • Another girl who is part of the Selection asks what someone did to become so popular and then states, “A girl has more than one way she can pay for what she wants.”
  • The queen’s sister tells one of the contestants about the queen having multiple miscarriages.
  • Towards the end of the book, America and her ex-boyfriend are kissing in bed, fully clothed. Afterward she feels bad about cheating on the prince, even though the prince is dating other girls.

Violence

  • When America thinks the prince is going to kiss her, she knees him in the groin.
  • Several times rebels invade the palace and the girls must hide from them. Although the story describes the damage that the rebels cause, little actual fighting is described.
  • During one of the rebel attacks, a maid is terrified when a rebel gets ahold of her, licks her face, and starts dragging her off somewhere. As part of the description, it says, “I’m not sure they (rebels) have very many women with them, if you catch my meaning.”
  • There is some brief mention of the contestants fighting. One girl slaps another across the face, and a girl rips another’s dress.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • America is offered sleep aides because she has trouble sleeping.
  • America is described as running like a drunk.
  • At a banquet, the queen’s sister is drinking alcohol, and one of the contestants talks about how the queen’s sister has had too much to drink.

Language

  • America wonders, “How the hell did I get here?”
  • The word “damn” is used several times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Although religion is not discussed, it is illegal for people to have sex before marriage.

 

5 to 1

Women rule the land. Women are respected. Women built Koyanagar into a country where women could do anything. But to accomplish this, they had to put men into their place.

If they want chance at having a better life, the boys of Koyanagar must compete for a wife. Those who do not have a wife—and do not give their wife a female child—will be forced to guard the wall. Everyone knows once you’re sent to guard the wall, it’s only a matter of time until you end up dead.

Sudasa should feel excited about having young men compete for her hand in marriage. As she watches the test though, she realizes her cousin is among the contestants and has been given an unfair advantage over the others. Someone wants to make sure her cousin is the clear winner of the test.

The only boy who could possibly beat Sudasa’s cousin is Kiren. But there’s a slight problem, as Kiren hopes to gain his freedom by losing the test. Sudasa knows that Kiren may be her only hope in avoiding a marriage to a cousin who she despises. Yet, she also knows that Kiren doesn’t want to win the test and be forced to marry her.  As she wrestles with the right thing to do—for herself and for Kiren—she discovers Koyanagar isn’t based on fairness at all.

5 to 1 is written from both Sudasa’s and Kiren’s point of view. Sudasa’s story is written in verse; however after reading the first page, the reader will be so engrossed in the story that they forget that they are reading poetry. Because Kiren’s point of view is in prose, it is easy to keep track of which character is speaking.

The world of Koyanagar is mesmerizing and unique. The characters come to life and add interest to the story. The two main characters drive the action. Both characters are struggling to do the right thing, and in doing so they capture the reader’s heart.

The only down side of 5 to 1 is the story ended without having the conflict completely resolved. The end of the book is frustrating because Kiran and Sudasa’s fates are unclear.

Sexual Content

  • In a speech, the president talks about when girls were sold, “to the highest bidder.” And some were, “raped, fated for ruin.”
  • One of the contestants tells a guard, “I bet you wish it was still the old country, huh? A man should be able to stick it to his wife whenever he wants, and if she doesn’t like it, he should be able to slap her senseless.”
  • A contestant tells Sudasa, “You’ll be the one sweating in our marriage bed.” When she slaps him, he laughs at her.

Violence

  • Abortion is talked about throughout the book. Before Koyanagar became a country, many families aborted girl children. Now women abort boy children.
  • The president of the country tells the people, “The people took their money and spent it on illegal ultrasounds. If they didn’t hear the words ‘It’s a boy,’ they spent more money on doctors who could quietly made the problem go away. If they couldn’t afford these luxuries, they waited nine months and then took care of things themselves. Some abandoned their baby girls in a park, knowing they would be sold to lands far away. Other used a towel. A pail. And a grave.”
  • There are several references to Agnimar Cliff where young men go to jump off the wall and end their life. Boys who are weak or do not want to be trained to guard the wall jump off Agnimar Cliff.
  • A boy was killed because he, “refused to tell the State where his girlfriend was hiding.”
  • Sudasa’s sister says that she would abort a baby if it was a boy. She would do this even if abortion is illegal. When Sudasa protest, her sister says, “You saw that disabled boy competing for you. Do you think a mother would want a boy like that in her belly?”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • People wanted boy children because they could, “attend their funeral pyres and release their souls to heaven.” A character gives a boy a proper funeral pyre to “free the boy’s soul for rebirth.”
  • Being invited to be a part of the marriage test is supposed to be an honor. “That’s what she keeps saying, as if the mere act of being invited to fight for one’s life is a gift from the gods we’re not supposed to believe in anymore. I don’t believe in them, but not because religion has been banned . . . I just don’t think a being that’s good and fair would lie a place like Koyanagar exist.”

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