Much Ado About Baseball

Twelve-year-old Trish can solve tough math problems and throw a mean fastball. But because of her mom’s new job, she’s now facing a summer trying to make friends all over again in a new town. That isn’t an easy thing to do, and her mom is too busy to notice how miserable she is.

But at her first baseball practice, Trish realizes one of her teammates is Ben, the sixth-grade math prodigy she beat in the spring Math Puzzler Championships. Everyone around them seems to think that with their math talent and love of baseball, it’s only logical that Trish and Ben become friends, but Ben makes it clear he still hasn’t gotten over that loss and can’t stand her.

Ben hasn’t played baseball in two years, and he doesn’t want to play now—but he has to, thanks to losing a bet with his best friend. Once Ben realizes Trish is on the team, he knows he can’t quit and be embarrassed by her again. To make matters worse, their team can’t win a single game. But then they meet Rob, an older kid who smacks home runs without breaking a sweat. Rob tells them about his family’s store, which sells unusual snacks that will make them better ballplayers. Trish is dubious, but she’s willing to try almost anything to help the team.

When a mysterious booklet of math puzzles claiming to reveal the “ultimate answer” arrives in her mailbox, Trish and Ben start to get closer and solve the puzzles together. Ben starts getting hits, and their team becomes unstoppable. Trish is happy to keep riding the wave of good luck . . . until they get to a puzzle they can’t solve, with tragic consequences. Can they find the answer to this ultimate puzzle, or will they strike out when it counts the most?

Much Ado About Baseball is a fast-paced story that teaches about friendship and fitting in using baseball as a backdrop. The story is told from both Ben’s and Trish’s point of view. The alternating points of view allow readers to see how Ben and Trish struggle with conflicting emotions. Middle grade readers will relate to Ben and Trish, who both are trying to fit in with their new baseball team. While the two are often at odds, they learn to work together. As a result, Ben realizes that friendship is about “arranging things so they’re best for the group, and not just for one person.”

While the story has plenty of baseball action, math puzzles also take center stage. Readers will enjoy trying to solve the puzzle before the answer is revealed. In addition, Much Ado About Baseball has a Shakespeare quoting character and magical fairies that need a lesson in cooperation. By combining baseball, puzzles, and Shakespeare, LaRocca creates an imaginative and engaging story that is full of suspense. While the story focuses on friendship, it also shines a light on the importance of honesty and forgiveness. The story’s conclusion is a little too perfect and cheerful. Everything is wrapped up in a positive manner which causes the ending to sound a little preachy. Despite this, Much Ado About Baseball will appeal to sports fans and non-sports fans alike. If you’re looking for another book full of baseball excitement, grab a copy of Soar by Joan Bauer.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Several times someone is referred to as a jerk. For example, Trish thinks a boy is a jerk.
  • Heck is used occasionally.

Supernatural

  • Both Ben and Trish get a magical math puzzle book. When the right answer is written down, “the entire grid turned bright green. . . Then, under the puzzle, a sentence appeared.” The sentence gives help with a problem.
  • After using the magical math book, Ben tells the baseball where to go. The ball, “seemed to slow down. . . it was surrounded by sparkling green light.” Because of this, Ben is able to hit a home run.
  • Ben thinks eating the Salt Shaker snacks makes him better at baseball. His team eats the snacks before every game. “But the kids kept having weird reactions. . .breaking out in purple blotches that disappeared after a few minutes; hiccupping intermittently for an afternoon; even growing fuzzy hair on our forearms that resembled a donkey’s fur.”
  • In Ben and Trish’s world, fairies exist “as much as magic math books and lucky coins.”
  • Ben and Trish go to a part of the forest where fairies are. After a brief conversation, “The mouths surrounded us like a green cloud. When they finally flew away, we were back in my yard.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Wish in the Dark

All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

Beautiful imagery and compelling characters bring the world of Chattana into clear focus. While the story focuses on Pong, the supporting characters add interest and depth. Pong, who was born and raised in prison, believes that his only chance of living a happy life is to flee Chattana. With the help of Father Cham, Pong realizes that he cannot run from his problems. Father Cham explains, “You can’t run away from darkness. It’s everywhere. The only way to see through it is to shine a light.” Because of Father Cham’s wise words, Pong has the strength to stand up for justice and change his world for the better.

A Wish in the Dark shines a light on social issues such as protest, privilege, and justice. However, the book does not preach a particular doctrine. Instead, Pong’s experiences lead him to understand that one mistake or misfortune does not define a person. For example, Pong sees firsthand how people who have been in prison face discrimination. Once they are released, they find it difficult to find jobs and provide for their families. Because Father Cham lives a life dedicated to helping the poor, Pong learns compassion for those who are poor and downtrodden. Father Cham teaches that “desperate people deserve our compassion, not our judgment.”

As a Newbery Honor Book, A Wish in the Dark will leave readers thinking about many of society’s problems. While the story shows the glaring disparities between the wealthy and the poor, it does not give unrealistic solutions. Instead, readers see how “wealth can be as much a curse as a blessing and no guarantee of happiness.” The conclusion doesn’t end with a perfect happy-ever-after, but instead shows that there is hope for the people of Chattana. The story also leaves readers with this question: “Which is better: being safe or having freedom?”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While in prison, two girls beat up Somkit because he won’t give them a mango. Later, “Somkit touched his bruised cheek and winced.”
  • When the mean girls throw Somkit’s food on the ground, Pong “stomped on her bare foot.”
  • Nok, Somkit, and Pong are held captive in a stable. When the guards catch them trying to escape, Nok, “brought the end of it [her staff] down hard on the stable floor. . . The ground shook like an earthquake. . . All four guards lay on their backs on the floor, twitching like fish in the bottom of a boat.” All three run.
  • When a group of over 1,000 peacefully march over a bridge, the Governor orders his men to arrest everyone. “In the Governor’s right palm, a huge ball of light began to swirl, as blindingly bright as the center of a star. It swelled, bigger and bigger. People in the crowd cried out. . .The Governor reared his arm back, as if getting ready to hurl the enormous mass of light forward . . . Pong knew what to do . . . Pong seized the Governor’s wrist and held on. . . As soon as he grabbed the Governor’s wrist, the raw light swirling in the Governor’s right hand went out.”
  • Angry, the Governor “growled like a beast and raised his other fist to strike Pong. As he brought it down, a streak of jet black shot out from the crowd. Nok flew to Pong’s side and crossed her forearms in front of her, blocking the Governor’s fist.” The Governor flees. The protest and the supernatural events (see below) are described over 14 pages.
  • The Governor grabs Pong. “Two hands gripped his shoulders. The last thing Pong saw was the rage in the Governor’s eyes as he yanked Pong toward him, and then hurled him over the side of the bridge.” Someone jumps in after Pong and saves him.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A girl calls her brother a dummy.
  • Somkit tells Pong, “Don’t be a jerk.”
  • A man calls a group of kids “lazy brats.”
  • Crap is used three times. For example, Somkit calls a boat “a piece of crap.”
  • Heck is used five times.

Supernatural

  • Chattana used to have vendors who “sold all manner of magical treats: pears that made you fall in love, cakes frosted with good luck, even a rare fruit shaped like a sleeping baby that would let you live for one thousand and three years if you ate a single bite.”
  • The governor is the only one who can create light that powers the city.
  • Pong is thrown into the river and is drowning when he has a vision. Then, “The white wispy shape formed the body of a man. . . It was Father Cham. . .Pong turned to follow Father Cham’s gaze and saw a pulsing orange glow hovering on the northern horizon. He knew he was seeing another vision from the past: The Great Fire.” In the vision, Father Cham imparts wisdom to Pong. The vision is described over seven pages.
  • During the protest, Pong grabs the Governor’s wrist and “the Gold light flowed into his palm, down his left wrist and into his arm . . . A liquid Gold light flowed, trapped beneath Pong’s skin . . . The lines of light streamed out of his prison mark.”
  • Trying to help his friend, Somkit grabs Pong. “Light flowed from Pong into Somkit’s hand. The same streams of Gold light poured form Somkit’s crossed-out tattoo.”
  • Somkit, Nok, and Pong were “glowing like human lanterns on the dark bridge.” The people come forward and hold hands. “Each person felt the surge of light flow through them and burst out into the darkness.” By the next morning, everyone’s light had disappeared.

Spiritual Content

  • Father Cham, a monk, puts bracelets around Pong’s wrist. As he does, he gives blessings such as, “May you never get food poisoning from a raw chicken” and, “May wasps never sting the palms of your hands or the bottoms of your feet.”
  • Father Cham blesses a baby and says, “may you walk in peace wherever you are in the world.”
  • When Father Cham dies, a monk tells Pong, “You know that Father Cham is merely leaving this life behind and going on to the next.”
  • After Pong leaves Somkit, “not a day had passed at the temple that Pong hadn’t prayed for his friend and wished he could know what he was doing.”

Of Mice and Magic

Princess Harriet is uninterested in brushing her hair, singing duets with forest animals, or any other princess activities. So when a fairy tells a bored Harriet about the curse of the twelve dancing mice princesses, she is more than willing to accept the quest. Armed with the poncho of invisibility and her trusty battle quail, Harriet goes to the Mouse Kingdom and quickly realizes there is more to the curse than meets the eye.

Of Mice and Magic uses the story elements of The Twelve Dancing Princesses to create a wacky, action-packed adventure that will have readers eagerly turning the pages. Harriet takes the quest, knowing full well that her line will fall if she does not help the princesses break their curse. As she travels with the princesses to their ball, she finds help in one of the attendees and one of the princesses. However, the witch who cursed the princesses wants the princesses to dance so they can power her magic. The witch is more funny than scary, and readers will enjoy seeing how Harriet convinces the witch to dispel the curse.

While Harriet is trying to break the curse, she realizes that the Mouse King is a meticulous and irrational person. For instance, he named his daughters by the months of the year, and his entire castle is themed by color. His conflict with Harriet about the princesses, and later the witch, gives hilarity to the adventure. Readers will enjoy reading the conversations between these three characters.

Purple and white illustrations add to the wackiness of the book. Drawings with dialogue help break up the text and keep the action moving. Of Mice and Magic shows the value of teamwork and will engage even the most reluctant of readers. Of Mice and Magic is the second book in the Hamster Princess Series but can be enjoyed as a standalone book. Younger readers who enjoy humorous books should also read the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Series by Julie Falatko

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the twelve mice princesses, under the influence of the curse, must give Harriet a hot chocolate laced with a “sleeping potion” every night that she stays in the princess’ room.

Language

  • One of the mice princesses’ dance instructors calls the mice princesses “crazy” because they had learned every single dance. The dance instructors also call their shoes “freaky.”
  • Harriet tells everyone to “shut up” while thinking of a way to escape the Mouse King’s castle with his daughters.
  • The Mouse King calls his knights “idiots” when they can’t decide to cut the rope or climb down the rope to get to the princesses.

Supernatural

  • Harriet noticed that the old shrew, who was a fairy in disguise, did not have a shadow. The shrew fairy’s shadow had been “cavorting with the flickering shadows of some willow leaves, jumped up and came sliding hurriedly across the grass.” When the shrew fairy’s disguise is discovered, she calls her shadow back, and “It fastened itself to her heels and hunched down, looking sheepish.”
  • The twelve mice princesses are under a curse. “Every night, no matter where the princesses are, a door opens in the floor of their room. Whether they want to or not, the mice must climb down, down, into the underworld beneath the castle.” Later, one of the younger mice princesses says they must dance every night, all night. “We can’t not I mean, we stop for a few minutes . . . but it’s like an itch, and you have to scratch eventually.”
  • The shrew fairy gave Harriet a Poncho of Invisibility. “A Poncho of Invisibility is not quite as good as a Cloak of Invisibility…Harriet had to readjust the folds several times to make sure her feet didn’t become visible.” The only effect of the Poncho was that “there was a nasty bit when the poncho was partway on and partway off where he could see Harriet’s innards.” There are no ill effects with this magical item.
  • Harriet figures out the reason behind the curse. “The princesses are compelled to dance. They have to dance, and when they dance over the symbol, it generates magic. . . and I bet there’s some left over for the witch.”
  • An earthquake, one of the measures to prevent the mice princesses from leaving the mouse kingdom, started when “Hyacinth the quail, carrying Wilbur the prince and August the princess, crossed some invisible line. The earth began to dance.”
  • The shrew fairy gives Harriet a charm, as a thanks for freeing the princesses from their curse. “I grant you [Harriet] a very limited charm. You can cliff-dive again safely.” The charm allows Harriet to fall from large heights without hurting herself. There are no ill effects with this charm.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

 

Mirror Magic

Do you believe in magic? Mia and her friends do! And when they meet the Star Animals, a whole world of magical adventures unfolds in this new chapter book series, accompanied by black and white illustrations throughout.

Mia and her Star Animal, a fox named Bracken, must use their special powers to stop the forces of dark magic. Mia’s older sister has started acting strangely and the Star Animals sense dark magic is at work. Soon Mia discovers that the new compact mirror that her sister, Cleo, has been using must be to blame. Can the girls use their newfound Star Magic to help make things right?

Mirror Magic will appeal to young readers who love animals and magic. The story focuses on Mia, but it also revolves around her two friends, Lexi and Sita. Most of the story centers on the girls meeting the magical animals and learning how to use their own magic. However, Mia’s sister, Cleo, adds suspense and mystery to the story and in the end, the girls discover that a Shade has been manipulating Cleo.

In the story’s climax, the Star Friends and their animals, fight with the Shade. The scene with the Shade is scary and may upset some readers. Despite this, Mirror Magic does an excellent job of introducing the main characters, the magical animals, and the conflict with Violet, who turns out to be a Star Friend too. Mirror Magic sets up a world that is slightly predictable, but also full of mystery and adventure.

Mirror Magic is the first in a chapter book series that focuses on three friends—Mia, Lexi, and Sita—who are illustrated with different skin tones. The cute black and white illustrations appear every two to seven pages. Even though Mirror Magic will appeal to readers who are six and up, younger readers may have a difficult time with the more advanced vocabulary.

Star Friends will appeal to readers who enjoyed The Rescue Princesses Series and The Rainbow Magic Series. The story portrays Mia’s family in a positive manner, and while Mia and her friends are kind, they are not perfect. The girls clearly want to help others and they are even planning a baked food sale with the proceeds going to help an organization that protects endangered animals. The simple plot and sweet characters will appeal to animal loving early elementary readers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mia’s sister had a magical compact with a Shade trapped inside. When Mia looks into the mirror, “The handsome face and sympathetic brown eyes melted away under her gaze, becoming a gray skull with glittering red eyes.” Mia throws the compact on the ground and “gray smoke started to seep out through the cracks in the broken glass. . . The smoke swirled together and formed a very tall, thin figure with gray skin, a skull-like face, and ragged clothes. The figure’s slanted eyes glowed red in his bony face.”
  • When the Shade is set free, he steps towards the Star Friends. Bracken (a magical fox) “growled. . . Darting forward, he grabbed the Shade’s leg with his teeth. At the same moment, Willow [a magical deer] charged and butted the Shade.” The Shade swiped “at them with his long nails.”
  • Mia jumps in to help the animals fight the Shade. “She threw herself at the Shade. He stood his ground and, as she hit his chest, he threw her backward as easily as if she weighed no more than a piece of paper.” The Star Friends and the Shade’s fight is described over four pages.
  • Violet captures the Shade in her phone. “The Shade’s face pulled into a grimace as the camera on her phone flashed. With a scream he dissolved into smoke and was sucked into the screen of the phone.” Violet sends the Shade back into the shadows.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • OMG is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • Magical animals from another world come into the human world looking for a Star Friend. Each animal must “find a human child to be your Star Friend—a child who is kindhearted enough to use magic for good and brave enough to defeat someone using dark magic. When you meet a child. . . speak to him or her with your thoughts. If they are open to magic, they will hear you.”
  • The magical animals can appear and disappear. They also each have a unique magical ability.
  • Dark magic also exists in the world. “It comes from the ground, and it is magic that can be used to hurt people and make them unhappy.”
  • Cleo has a mirror that has a Shade in it. “Bad people can conjure Shades—evil spirits who exist in the shadows.” It brings misery and unhappiness. “It can also be trapped inside an object, like a necklace, book, or toy that the person using the dark magic will give to someone they want to harm in some way.”
  • The Shade in Cleo’s mirror pretends “to be that person’s friend, but then they start twisting their minds, making them jealous and angry.”
  • Mia’s magic allows her to “see what’s happening elsewhere really clearly, and you’ll be able to hear what’s being said and look at the details of a scene.” She can also see the past and future.
  • Sita has the ability to “comfort people and heal them.”
  • Lexi’s magical abilities have to do with agility. “She’ll be able to do things a normal human couldn’t.”
  • Violet is a Spirit Speaker who has “the magic ability to command spirits.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Once Upon a Frog

Abby and her brother, Jonah, need to talk to Maryrose, the fairy that lives in the magic mirror. For some reason, Jonah has Maryrose’s memory. But when Abby, Jonah, and their dog, Prince, go to talk to Maryrose, they inadvertently get sucked into a fairytale.

When they get to the other side of the mirror, they are in the story of The Frog Prince. Only the princess, who’s supposed to transform the cute little frog back into a handsome prince, turns out to be super rude. Abby and Jonah can’t decide if they want to help her. Can they take matters into their own hands and turn the frog into a prince themselves?

In this fun adventure, Abby and Jonah must climb out of a smelly well, canoe over a waterfall, sneak into the palace and kiss a frog! The two siblings hop into the fairytale determined to change the frog, Frederic, into a human. What could possibly go wrong?

Once Upon a Frog introduces readers to the original version of The Frog Prince, but also gives the story a new spin. The beginning of the book starts with Abby’s experience with a school bully, as well as the not-so-nice princess, Coco. Both experiences—the school bully and the mean princess—teach Abby an important lesson: sometimes a nice person will be mean because he/she is upset. In the end, Abby uses this knowledge to have a conversation with the school bully, which gives her new insight into the reasons he is being mean. While Abby and the bully will never be friends, Abby thinks the bully’s mean days are over.

Abby narrates the story and a lot of the conflict comes through Abby’s thoughts. This allows the reader to understand the brother Grimm’s version of the story. Unfortunately, Once Upon a Frog is repetitive and the winding plot may confuse younger readers. Even though Abby learns a lesson, the message is unclear. The prince, who acted nice, ends up being evil and the princess, who acted mean, ends up being nice. This may leave readers wondering who they should trust.

With a high-interest topic, easy vocabulary, and a smattering of magic, Once Upon a Frog allows younger readers to jump into the fairy tale world. With more than 10 books in the Whatever After Series, readers will be able to find a fairytale that interests them. Maggie and the Wish Fish by E.D. Baker is another fairytale-inspired book that fans of the Whatever After Series will enjoy.

Sexual Content

  • In order to change the frog back into a human, Abby kisses him. The frog’s “nose and lips are pretty much all the same. I pucker my lips and give him a quick peck. . . His skin feels like regular skin that’s just coated in something slimy. Like Vaseline.”

Violence

  • Brandon, a bully at Abby’s school, grabs a book from Abby and then sneezes on it.
  • Brandon steps “on the backs of Penny’s shoes.” Penny yells at him, “You’re such a pain!”
  • In order to turn Fredric, the frog, back into a human, he is repeatedly thrown against a tree and different walls. The first time, “Jonah throws and Frederic flies in an arc across the sky. . . Frederic screams. His arms and legs are spread-eagle and pointed in all directions and he’s headed right toward the tree.” None of the attempts are successful in changing the frog.
  • When Fredric turns into a human, he takes Coco’s tiaras and tries to leave. Abby’s dog, Prince, “starts barking like crazy and snapping at Frederic’s leg. Without even blinking, Frederic conks Prince on the head with a candlestick.”
  • When Abby tries to stop Fredric from fleeing, “Frederic throws a tiara at my [Abby’s] head and I duck. . . He keeps throwing tiaras at me, and one scrapes across my arm. Ouch.”
  • Fredric tries to kidnap Abby. To avoid him, Abby jumps into a well. Eventually, Abby agrees to go with Fredric.
  • Fredric is caught and taken to the dungeon. In the process, “the soldiers grab Frederic and handcuff him.”
  • In the end, Abby discovers that Fredric, “tried to kill his sister to get the throne!”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • One of Abby’s classmates, Brandon, is a bully. At recess, Brandon goes around bothering the other kids. He calls Abby, “Crabby Abby.” Then he goes around calling other kids names such as stupid and four-eyes.
  • There is some name-calling such as jerk and dumbest of the dumb.
  • Fredric throws a tantrum and yells, “Maryrose is a fairy. And you, little boy, are a liar. A big fat liar! A big fat, lying freak!”
  • Fredric calls Maryrose a “horrible big-chinned fairy freak!”
  • After being thrown against a wall, Fredric yells, “I’m still a stupid frog.”

Supernatural

  • In a previous book, something happened and now Jonah has Maryrose’s memories. “Jonah remembers useless information. Like how Maryrose’s cousin got sick.”
  • Abby and Jonah have a “magic mirror in our basement. When we knock on it three times at midnight, it pulls us inside and whisks us into a fairy tale.” Maryrose is a fairy who’s “trapped inside our mirror. She’s the one who takes me and Jonah into different fairy tales.”
  • A frog tells Abby that he “can talk because I’m actually human—Well, I’m a human trapped inside the body of a frog. . . My own sister, Sophie, who wants the throne for herself, paid the evil fairy to do this to me.”
  • In order to get home, Abby and Jonah must find the ever-changing portal. The portal is a mural painted on the castle wall. “I knock once on the mural. Twice. Three times. The braided rainbow on the wall starts to swirl. . . We step through.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Haven’s Secret

Twin sisters, Parker and Ellie McFadden, could not be more different. Parker is a firecracker, always bursting with energy, which she channels into her athletic activities. Ellie is gentle and quiet with a big heart for all types of animals, even spiders. Their mom, who was an environmental scientist, inspired the girls’ love for nature and was always traveling for dangerous research projects until one fateful scuba diving mission that led to her death. Before their mom died or abandoned them as Parker likes to believe, she set aside special gifts for each of her daughters to receive on their birthday. This year, they receive two bracelets and two notes reminding them to “listen carefully,” and “sisterhood comes first,” and “the magic will follow.”

Aside from the bracelets, Parker and Ellie get an even bigger surprise when their father informs them they will be spending the summer with their Great Aunt Mabel and Great Uncle George from their mom’s side of the family. Despite Parker’s protests, Mr. McFadden insists this trip will be good for the girls and that their mother had also spent time with her aunt and uncle as a kid. The next day, George and Mabel, an eccentric pair of twins, arrive to take Parker and Ellie to their mountain home which they call Haven.

Since arriving in Haven, Parker and Ellie find strange things happening. Ellie can hear animals’ thoughts and control plants, while Parker can generate fire and heat from her hands and make the ground move. Determined to find answers, Parker and Ellie explore Haven. In their mom’s old room, Ellie finds a box of pictures and notes from her mom and another girl, Sadie. Meanwhile, Parker uses an astrolabe, a special birthday gift from a previous year, to decipher the coordinates of their mom’s last locations before she went away. After demanding information, George and Mabel explain that Haven is no ordinary farm, but a sanctuary that offers protection from The Danger, a harmful force caused by human greed. Those who possess powers, like Parker and Ellie, George and Mabel, and their mother, have the responsibility to work with the environment to restore balance.

Even with this information, Parker and Ellie become suspicious of Haven and its secrets. George and Mabel are obviously withholding information, and Mabel grows increasingly wary of Parker’s strong powers and her inability to control them. Eventually, Mabel confesses that Sadie was their mom’s twin sister, and her thirst for power led to their mom’s death. Mabel expresses concern that Parker will betray Ellie in the same way if her powers are not controlled.

Suspense increases for Parker and Ellie after their dad warns them over the phone that they are in danger and must leave Haven immediately. Suddenly, everything becomes clear when Parker cracks the last astrolabe coordinate and discovers the last place her mom was before her death was Haven. The girls realize Haven is no longer safe and Mabel can’t be trusted. Parker and Ellie must work together and trust in their powers to stop Mabel from disturbing the earth’s balance and letting The Danger win.

Haven’s Secret is the first book in The Powers Series, and the story ends with a cliffhanger teasing more adventure to come. Although the book is written in third person, the chapters go back and forth between focusing on Parker’s and Ellie’s perspective. Because of their unique personalities, readers will be able to relate to either Parker or Ellie. In addition, the novel has strong themes of sisterhood and teamwork as Parker and Ellie realize they are stronger together. The book also has important environmental themes such as practicing sustainability by utilizing recycled materials. The Danger is also a symbol for climate change and environmental neglect, and Parker and Ellie’s powers are used to support environmental activism.

With its environmental themes, Haven’s Secret is an important and timely book. Overall, it is an exciting read with all the twists and secrets Parker and Ellie uncover at Haven. The ending, especially, is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. Although the pacing is a little slow in the beginning, readers will admire Parker and Ellie’s sisterly bond and get inspired to help the environment. If you’d like to read another magical book that has environmental themes, pick up a copy of Spark by Sarah Beth Durst.

 Sexual content

  • None

Violence

  • While running through the forest, “Parker’s foot skidded on the mud a second time and she pitched forward, right into a stupid tree. Face first . . . Her head flooded with pain, grimy water seeped through the knees of her jeans, and something primal rose up within her, overtaking her body and mind.” Parker is hurt.
  • A wounded cow arrives at Haven. “It’s left hind leg had a giant gash in it, almost as if the animal had gotten in a barn fight.” George and Ellie work together to help heal the cow.
  • As part of her powers, Ellie feels the pain of the wounded animals around her. As she walks closer to them, she feels “pain shimmering through every end of her body, until she was doubled over with it.” Ellie has to focus and stay strong in order for the pain to subside.
  • Ellie helps heal an injured wolf that has “a deep gash between his ribs—his blood pooled beneath him.” The animal is hurt by a growing storm caused by The Danger. We do not see exactly when the wolf was injured.
  • To protect her and her sister, Ellie blows a magical whistle their mother had given them, and “Mabel screeched as if the pain of the entire world was upon her.”
  • As Parker and Mabel fight each other, “glass shards skittered across the floor. Parker focused on the rain outside the window, drawing it into her own private tempest, thrusting it against Mabel’s wintry hailstorm. The two storms crashed together above George’s bed, and he lifted a frail arm to shield his face from the deluge of rain and hail.”
  • When Mabel’s storm falters, “the wolf Ellie had healed chose its moment to spring onto Mabel’s back.” As a result, “Mabel shrieked.” Her cries reveal she is in pain, but neither the pain nor the violence is described in detail.
  • Mabel’s rage destroyed Haven. It is implied that George and Mabel were killed in the destruction.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

 Language

  • None

 Supernatural

  • In the prologue, The Danger, a dark, magical force attacks an unknown character. The Danger “made its presence felt in the swirling wind, the bending trees, the keening animals, the shadows cast by the waning moon . . . It filled her, and she let it. It fused to her body from the inside out, banishing all the parts she’d kept hidden and protected for so long.”
  • In a moment of frustration, Parker slams her foot on the ground and “the ground cracked and jolted Parker out of her rage. For a second her whole body rattled like someone was shaking her . . . There, clearly, beneath her sneaker, was a split in the ground.” Before realizing her powers, Parker assumes the crack was caused by an earthquake.
  • After meeting Arlo the dog, who lives at Haven, Ellie discovers she can communicate with animals. After Ellie asked Arlo if he would like to come in inside, she could feel him say yes. “It wasn’t like he had actually spoken, but a strong feeling of ‘yes’ had come out of nowhere.” Ellie continues to hear the thoughts of animals throughout the book.
  • In the forest, Parker “felt as if a million slender tendrils from the forest were fighting to pull her back and eat her alive.” This is The Danger trying to get her.
  • As Ellie walked around Haven, “she noticed buttercups springing up around her feet, almost as if to mark her path.” Later, Ellie discovers that she has some control over plants.
  • Parker produces light from her hands, and “the skin on her palms was briefly translucent, exposing what had just been jumping underneath—a landscape of sparks, a million bright pinpricks, all of them screaming and clawing to get out out out into the world—”
  • Mabel explains to Parker and Ellie that The Danger “is a malevolent, shape-shifting force created by people’s greed.”
  • After getting frustrated with Mabel for not telling the truth, Parker creates a burst of fire and light. “Parker opened her arms wide as the searing heat coursed through her and enveloped the palms of her hands.” As a result, Parker notices the mountain side of the road “was mostly uniform except for a gaping chunk in the middle, the space for the last missing piece of puzzle.” Parker had caused an explosion and shifted bits of the earth. Parker has “the ability to produce light and manipulate the earth’s surface matter.”
  • Ellie comes to realize that “all her life, she had been able to see how people were feeling, sometimes even before they saw it themselves.”
  • When George grew weak after healing animals, Ellie “stepped in and discovered she could heal animals too.”
  • Parker and Ellie notice a mysterious shadow but “light had nothing to do with it. Nothing was casting it. The shadow simply crept of its own accord. And then it was gone.”
  • When a vine begins to choke Ellie, “she visualized the vine receding, herself taming it with merely a thought,” and, “around her neck and shoulders, the vines loosened.”
  • George explains to Parker “that the powers don’t just run in our This is bigger than just us. Lots of other people have powers.”
  • As Mabel becomes more power-hungry, “showers of sparks danced from her irises and arced down to the floor trailing thin ribbons of black smoke.”

Spiritual content

  • None

by Elena Brown

Shadow Weaver #1

Emmeline can control and manipulate shadows, and because of her power, people fear Emmeline. However, they also mock her behind her back. Her parents forbid her from leaving their home, so she doesn’t have any friends except for a shadow named Dar. The shadow has been with Emmeline ever since she was little. She and Dar make mischief all the time. One day, Emmeline’s parents have important guests over, and she is told not to play any of her usual pranks. Emmeline disobeys her parents, and it’s the last straw. Lord Tate convinces Emmeline’s parents to let him and Lady Aisling, a noblewoman, teach Emmeline, in her father’s words, “how to be a proper lady”.

After hearing Emmeline vent her worries, Dar asks Emmeline to let her change Lord Tate’s mind, but Emmeline must help Dar with something in return: Emmeline has to help Dar become a human. Dar was not always a shadow; someone killed her and turned her into a lost soul, but, with Emmeline’s help, she could become flesh again. That night, Dar alters Lord Tate’s mind and accidentally puts him into a coma.

The lord’s nephew, Alden, blames Emmeline for Dar’s actions, so Emmeline runs away and meets a boy named Lucas. His family takes her into their home. At first, Emmeline is wary of the family but trusts them after they misdirect the Zinnian soldiers who are looking for her. At the same time, Emmeline begins to doubt Dar, as Dar craves becoming flesh more and more; however, performing the ritual for Dar is the only way for Emmeline to clear her name. Can Emmeline keep her mistrust a secret from Dar, who is always with her?

The story focuses on Emmeline’s perspective, which lets the reader see Emmeline grow and change her prankish behavior. The reader also sees the magic from her point of view, especially when she talks about her connection with the shadows and darkness. Dar is somewhat endearing due to her struggle of being invisible and intangible. However, her switching between being serious and playful drags the story’s pacing to a crawl and does not allow for character development until the last chapters.

Emmeline also learns how to trust herself as well as other people and she becomes less reliant upon Dar. For instance, she thinks to herself that she can trust Lucas and his family because “Lucas trusted me enough to show me how he works with light. And his parents lied to protect me from those guards.”

Shadow Weaver is a story that draws upon the fantastical and magical. Younger readers will like the spellbinding descriptions of Emmeline’s shadow weaving and the fresh take on magic, betrayal, and secrets. Emmeline can be unlikeable at first because she does not care about her parents or the servants. However, she becomes more likable when she meets Lucas’ family, people who are patient and show affection. This is not a scary story about good versus evil, but a fun and suspenseful story about family. Readers who enjoy Shadow Weaver and would like to read more stories about magic should read the Keeper of the Lost Cities Series by Shannon Messenger.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Dar plays a prank on Kendra, Emmeline’s former best friend. “Dar springs forth, shifting into a giant monster at the last minute.” Kendra drops a laundry basket and lands “awkwardly on one foot and stumbles to her knees.” Kendra injures her foot and cannot move it as well as the other one.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lucas’s mother applies a “poultice” to Emmeline’s injuries.

Language

  • While talking to another servant girl, Kendra calls Emmeline “crazy.” Dar calls Kendra crazy too, but when she and Emmeline are by themselves.
  • Emmeline thinks “drat” to herself when confronted with a problem.

Supernatural

  • The Cerelia Comet bestows magic upon people every 25 years, blessing those born in the year of the comet a magical gift.
  • Emmeline is a shadow weaver; she can shape shadows into different objects, animals, and silhouettes. “Shadows. . . become whatever I wish–tacky, like clay, or as thin as smoke. I can mold them all to my will.” She can make the shadows tangible.
  • Dar and Emmeline prank the servants in Emmeline’s house with magic. Dar shapeshifts into the silhouettes of different people. Emmeline shapes the shadows into either objects or silhouettes.
  • Lucas is a light singer; when he sings, he can bend the light. Lucas “is using light in much the same way I use shadows.” At first, he can use his light to bake bread and make vegetables grow faster, but then can use his light to make tangible objects such as his bands of light and orbs of light.
  • Dar asks Emmeline to perform a ritual for her. Emmeline collects an apple, a rose, a witch hazel, and water touched by the light of the full blood moon.
  • During the ritual, Emmeline puts the apple, the witch hazel, and the water “into the mortar and grind[s] it up into a paste.” Emmeline “accidentally pricks [her] thumb” on one of the roses and it falls into the mortar, but it is part of the ritual. Then, Emmeline adds her tears. Once she adds her hair to the mixture, Emmeline lights the candles and covers Dar’s entire form in her shadows.
  • Dar says the words to the ritual: “Witch hazel, harvested in darkness, stolen fruit, rotten to the core . . . Water, blessed by the full blood moon, roses, pinched from a garden, misbegotten candles, tears of regret, the blood of a thief, and hair from a liar’s head, come together under the full moon . . . and make me whole!” Dar says the words over and over; her shape rises from the ground and gathers into a single spot. “When she finally stops changing shapes and is just a girl coated in mud lying on the ground, she ceases her murmuring.”
  • Simone can read “into people’s minds” and use telepathy. There are no ill effects of Simone getting into people’s minds, but it is painful for her to use telepathy.
  • Dar can shapeshift into anything or anyone.

Spiritual Content

  • People built temples to honor the Cerelia Comet. “Legend tells that the first time the comet flew over our lands, it sprinkled the ground with the first seeds of life, bringing blessings anew every twenty-five years. Many people revere the comet to this day . . .”
  • Emmeline and Dar go inside a temple dedicated to the Cerelia Comet and steal candles from the altar to use for the ritual.

by Jemima Cooke

Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs

Mia Mayhem is learning to control her x-ray vision! She can’t wait to see through walls and crack secret codes. There’s only one problem: her glasses are way too big, clunky, and totally not cool! But she knows that if she wants to keep up with her classmates, she’ll have to adjust quickly. Will Mia be able to look past her obstacles and see things through?

A large part of the storyline follows Mia and her classmates as they try their supervision. Mia doesn’t want to admit that she doesn’t have x-ray vision. Instead of being truthful, she lies and says she sees “an elephant with a hot dog.” In the end, Mia learns that she “should have never guessed during the eye exam and pretended to know something when [she] didn’t.”

Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs has a diverse cast of characters which includes a girl who wears prosthetics. In addition, Ben and his seeing-eye dog, Seeker, make an appearance, which gives an added dose of interest. Readers will note how Seeker assists Ben. The story also shows how Ben’s blindness helps him hone his other senses, which in turn helps him with this supervision.

Young readers will enjoy the book’s format which has oversized text and black and white illustrations on every page. The large illustrations are often humorous, and they also help readers follow the story’s plot. Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs has an easy-to-understand plot that is perfect for emerging readers. However, some readers will need help with some of the advanced languages, with words such as connection, recognize, squinting, and officially.

Readers who are ready for chapter books will enjoy the silly storyline in Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs. Mia’s enthusiasm and friendliness make her a fun and likable protagonist. Even though Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs is part of a series, the books do not need to be read in order. While the story doesn’t have any life lessons, the Mia Mayhem Series will make emerging readers excited to see what type of mischief Mia gets into next, and with 12+ books in the series, readers will have plenty of adventure to look forward to.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A boy yells at Mia, “Nice job using your loser vision.”

Supernatural

  • Mia finds out that “super-sight usually kicks in at age eight. . . You’ll soon be able to do awesome things like x-ray through walls and see in absolute darkness.” Later, she stares at a wall and then “a blast of heat lasers came out of my eyes! In just one shot, I burned through five walls. . .”
  • Because Ben is blind, he uses his other super senses such as being able to feel vibrations that lead him to his seeing-eye dog. Ben says, “I may not have regular vision like you, but I’m sensitive to echoes.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Duplex

Ryan wakes up to find his contractor dad building walls to turn their big old house into a duplex. The family that moves into the other side includes Bizzy Horvat, the pretty girl he has a crush on at school. Bizzy claims her mother is a witch with the power to curse people with clumsiness or, in Bizzy’s case, astonishing beauty.

When a bee gets caught in Bizzy’s hair, Ryan acts so quickly and radically to save her from getting stung that he attracts the attention of a group of micropotents—people with micropowers. He soon realizes that Bizzy and her mother also have such powers. It becomes Ryan’s job, with the help of the other micropotents, to protect the Horvats from a group of witch hunters from their native country, who are determined to kill Bizzy, her mother, and all the other “witches”—micropotents—who have gathered to protect them.

Ryan is a loveable, ultra-smart nerd, who will do anything to keep the people he loves safe. Throughout the novel, readers will enjoy seeing Ryan grow and mature. While Ryan is an interesting character, he is not necessarily relatable. For a sixteen-year-old, Ryan doesn’t talk or act like a typical teenager. For example, when Ryan is on a goodbye date with his girlfriend, “Ryan felt like he was catching a glimpse of a whole life that might have been, a life in which he was able to court her, to drive her to the movies and someday to the hospital to give birth to their child, and strap car seats into the back of the car until the kids were old enough to sit up safely on their own. . .”

Throughout the story, Ryan struggles to understand his parents’ separation. He wonders, “How do married people who loved each other so much they moved in together—how do they get so angry that they completely reject the life they built?” Later, Ryan finds out that his parents separated after his mother got an abortion. Ryan’s father says, “I don’t know if I can live with it. What she did. That was my baby too, we decided together, it was ours, and it’s dead now, and we’ll never have another, and I didn’t even get a vote.” While the topic of abortion is not explored in detail, the feelings of each parent are discussed. Ryan’s complicated family life adds interest to the story.

Unfortunately, Duplex spends too much time explaining Ryan and the other micropotents’ powers, which slows down the plot. In addition, once Bizzy and Ryan begin dating, their constant declarations of love become annoying. Plus, Ryan spends too much time explaining how he doesn’t love Bizzy because she’s beautiful, but because she’s an amazing person. While the story has some suspense, the action doesn’t pick up until the end. Readers who have read Card’s other micropowers novel, Lost and Found, will see the similarities; if readers enjoyed Lost and Found, they will also enjoy Duplex. However, if you’re looking for an excellent book about characters with supernatural power, you may want to read Card’s Ender’s Game Quintet or the Michael Vey Series by Richard Paul Evans instead.

Sexual Content

  • When Ryan begins spending time with Bizzy, his mother gets worried. His mother says, “But you are both bags of undifferentiated hormones as volatile as nitroglycerin. So, I’m warning you. Keep your clothes on, buster. Keep your fly zipped. Don’t get that girl pregnant.”
  • Bizzy and Ryan are getting to know each other. “‘I’m going back inside now,’ Ryan said, ‘because what you showed me, and what you’ve been saying—it makes me want to hold you and kiss you and all kinds of stuff that would require me not to be in the friend zone.’”
  • Bizzy kisses Ryan to hide her face. “To Ryan’s disappointment, it only took one kiss to get them to the library. . .Worse yet, Ryan felt like he had wasted their first kiss on what amounted to camouflage.”
  • When Ryan hugs a girl, she says, “If you’re trying to turn me on, it’s not working.”
  • Bizzy and Ryan kiss many times. For example, Bizzy “swiveled to him, grabbed his head, and planted a kiss on him that was so passionate it blew the previous one out of the water.”
  • Bizzy and Ryan become girlfriend and boyfriend. At school, “She kissed him again. This time it was a real girlfriend kiss. Not long, not passionate, just quick. A declaration of ownership.”
  • Bizzy says that some girls “try to do a sexy walk. They end up looking like beginner prostitutes.”
  • Bizzy and Ryan get home late. Ryan is worried about their mothers’ reactions. He says, “The thing is, if I get home at ten, they’ll assume I got you pregnant by nine-thirty.”
  • Ryan’s mom had an abortion. She says, “It was a termination of an unwanted pregnancy, still in the first trimester.”
  • On Halloween, Bizzy and Ryan kiss. “She leaned in to kiss him. . . He did not break the kiss. Not for a good long while.” Later Bizzy, “kept stopping to kiss some unexpected part of his head—ears, nape of the neck, eyelid, cheek, chin. He never thought that having Bizzy kiss him could possibly be annoying, but now he knew that it could. And that she wanted to annoy him.”

Violence

  • Alfred shows up at Ryan and Bizzy’s school posing as an FBI agent. When the man makes a move to shove Ryan, “Ryan didn’t wait for the door to close. . . Ryan struck him in the side of the head with all the force of his open hand and extended arm. Alfred’s head crashed into the metal door frame as if his skull were on a track. A think streak of blood trailed after him.” The man dies.
  • To force Ryan to test his micropower, his best friend, Defense, begins bullying a classmate named Errol. When Defense calls Errol names, Errol kicks him. “Kicked him with all the force of a game-winning field goal. Defense gave a horrible oof! that sounded as if all the air he had ever inhaled was discharged at once. That was followed by a high gasp and then a whine that told Ryan that Defense probably had some broken ribs.”
  • When Errol goes to kick Defense in the head, Ryan leaps up. “He was at exactly the right position to strike Errol on the Adam’s apple. . . The blow landed with Ryan’s full mass behind it. Errol’s body instantly went limp and he fell straight down, with Ryan landing atop him.” The school nurse “performed an emergency tracheotomy and had Errol breathing again.” Both Errol and Defense had to be taken to the hospital.
  • A man tries to get into Bizzy’s house. When Ryan tries to stop him, “The man’s hand flew out toward Ryan’s face. Depending on where he meant to land it, it would have blacked Ryan’s eyes or given him a bloody nose. Instead, though, the man’s hand hit the edge of the Burkes’ storm door, which Ryan had partially closed to bring it right to the place where the man’s fist was going.” The man breaks his hand and leaves.
  • Two men dressed as police officers go to Bizzy’s house. When they enter the house, one of them reached for his gun. “As the fake cop was drawing his gun, which Ryan knew he was going to use to kill Mrs. Horvat and Bizzy, Ryan got his own hand onto the gun and squeezed a shoulder nerve in the guy so that his grip on the pistol suddenly let go. . .Ryan shot the guy square in the shoulder. . . By now the other fake cop had turned around and was drawing his pistol.” The second man falls to the ground. When the cop begins making noise, Ryan’s friend, “kicked this guy really hard in the head.”
  • When two cops are on the ground, another man comes into the house. “The man drew a weapon and began to raise it to aiming position. . . [Ryan] fired his pistol and the man sprouted a hole in his forehead and dropped like a rock.” The man dies.
  • Two more men enter the house. “They dropped to the ground, probably not dead because Ryan’s shots took them in the knees. They were screaming in pain while yawning.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Dahlia, a friend of Ryan’s, has a micropower that makes people yawn. She says, “I’ve done ride-alongs with police guys on patrol, and they found it a lot easier to subdue drunks who were yawning. Even though yawning is sometimes a trigger for vomiting.”
  • On Halloween, Defense calls the police to report a drunk driver. He says, “I’m watching an obviously drunk guy get into his car.”
  • On Halloween, Defense and Ryan see two drunk guys dressed as policemen. Ryan says, “The friendship of drunks who need somebody to lean on must be one of the great blessings of alcoholic life.”

Language

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes ass, bitch, damn, crap, hell, and piss.
  • There is an abundance of name calling including ass-face, bonehead, dimwit, loser, moron, idiot, pervert, psycho bastards, weirdo and whiny baby.
  • Bizzy’s mother calls Ryan an “ass-faced idiot.”
  • A teacher calls Ryan a “rotten little con man.” Another teacher calls Ryan a “sphincter.”
  • A police officer refers to Defense as a “pissant kid.”
  • Ryan’s sister says their mom was being a “fishwife.”

 

Supernatural

  • Ryan joins a group of people who have micropowers. For example, one girl “makes people yawn, which partially incapacities them.” A boy can feel spider’s pain. “I know when they die, and I know whether it was deliberate arachnicide or not.”
  • According to Bizzy, her micropower comes from being cursed. Bizzy explains, “Mother says that when I was a baby, a Gypsy woman got so angry at Mom that she cursed me with something that would cause my mother grief for the rest of her life. . . I’m not just pretty, Ryan. The glamour is one of astonishing beauty. I’m heartbreakingly beautiful.”
  • At first, Ryan cannot see Bizzy’s glamour. “When she was paying no attention to him, he could see how the glamour poked through, stabbing at the hearts of strangers. Unlike people who had resting-angry-face or resting-bitch-face or whatever, Bizzy had resting-beautiful-face. It was all he could see, now that he knew what to look for. Her talent wasn’t that she could make herself beautiful, it was that she could make herself less beautiful. . .”
  • Bizzy believes her mother is a witch. She says, “her micropower is one that would have gotten her burned as a witch in 1680. Because if she mutters a certain formula under her breath, things go wrong for that person for a few days. . . They drop things. Like heavy tools on bare feet. Or the baby they’re carrying. Or the file folder they absolutely have to get to the boss’s desk right . .”
  • Ryan meets Jannis who can heal people. Jannis explains, “I help put things in order. But nothing deep inside the body. I’m good with broken bones just under the skin. . .” She uses her micropower to help Defense and Errol heal.

Spiritual Content

  • Bizzy and Ryan were talking about the different nature of girls and boys. Bizzy says, “Insane boys think God finally got the guy-design right when he made them. But crazy girls think God ran out of good parts and made them out of scrap.”

 

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S.

The Special Undercover Investigator Team has a new plan. “Once we get wind of an evildoer’s schemes to form a team, the Anti-Crime Unit will go undercover as fellow evildoers and follow this simple procedure: pinpoint the possible perpetrator’s position; avoid blowing your cover; neutralize any superweapons; thwart their villainous plan, and stop them from getting away.”

However, the procedure does not go according to plan. When Cilantro (a chameleon) isn’t promoted to an agent, he considers teaming up with other evildoers. When he goes to the New old opera house looking for other evildoers, he feels guilty, but he also discovers important information that will help solve a crime. In the end, Cilantro must decide if he will fight for good or evil.

The mission is made more difficult because Brash is in the hospital, unconscious, and MegaRoboBrash cannot access all Brash’s memories. With the help of a medium, Mango can enter Brash’s mind. While there, Mango discovers that Brash has “regressed into a child as some sort of coping mechanism!” Can Mango discover what is keeping Brash from waking up? Will Mango, Cilantro, and RoboBrash thwart the evil villain?

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S brings back a host of old characters as well as a sprinkle of new characters. While much of the conflict was established in previous books, the addition of giant ants adds humor and interest. Even though Brash is unconscious, he still appears frequently. Brash appears as a small child (which is adorably cute) and later as an adult. The large cast of characters may be confusing, but they help keep the story fresh and interesting.

Even though Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S is laugh-out-loud funny, it still has a positive message. Brash refuses to wake up because he is battling fear. With Mango’s help, Brash decides, “This is my mind. I decide how much space I’ll let my fears take up.” He learns that he must forgive himself and let go of the fear and guilt. The story also highlights the importance of believing in yourself.

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S has many positive aspects. The combination of human and animal characters blend to create a ridiculous story that uses wordplay to add humor. The imaginative story comes alive in brightly colored artwork that shows the characters’ wide range of emotions. The text is large and uses different font sizes, which helps emphasize the characters’ emotions and important aspects of the story.

The illustrations and the unique storyline of Brash and Mango will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each page has 3 to 11 sentences. The sentences range from one word to more complex sentences. The story does an excellent job of giving enough background information so readers who are new to the series will understand the plot. However, for maximum enjoyment, the series should be read in order.

The Investigators Series is immensely enjoyable to read because of the ridiculously silly scenes, the unique characters, and the fun puns. Each story contains plenty of surprises that will keep readers flipping the pages. No matter your age, you will find something in the series to love.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • An evil villain uses the Embiggerner to supersize ants. The ants then attack the city. People run from the ants, but no one is injured. The “savage beasts” are put to sleep with music. The scene is illustrated over six pages.
  • Two villains team up and use the ants to attack the city, destroying many buildings. They also use the Embiggerner to make “ginormous gemstones,” “jumbo shrimp,” and “big money.” The attack is humorous instead of scary.
  • Brash and Mango trick the evil triceratops into charging a red cape. Chameleon trips him and the triceratops ends up with his horns stuck in a sidewalk.
  • Ants attack MegaRoboBrash, who hits them. Then he ties their antennas together and throws them into space. The scene is described over seven pages.
  • A chameleon and a group of ants attack the triceratops so he can be sent back to jail. They use trickery, knitting, and balls of yarn to retain the villainous triceratops. The scene is described over four pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • People who follow the law are referred to as “Idiot Law-doers.”
  • Darn and dang are both used once.
  • A construction worker is called a dummy.

Supernatural

  • Most of the characters are animals such as an octopus, a chameleon, a skunk, etc. There is also a character that is a squash.
  • Mango needs help to find out why RoboBrash cannot access all of Brash’s memories. Dr. Hardbones tells Mango to go to the Séance Factory. Dr. Hardbones says, “the medium there may have some ideas about how to see into Brash’s unconscious mind.”
  • The medium at the Séance Factory is a tick.
  • In a previous book, an agent was “turned into a radioactive saltine cracker.”
  • Hardbones is a skilled brain surgeon who turns into the Action News helicopter.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Soul Riders: The Legend Awakens

According to ancient myths, when the Soul Riders and their horses are gathered together, they will be able to defeat the evil that threatens the island. But Lisa and her friends don’t quite understand this yet. And now that Lisa’s horse, Starshine, has been stolen from Jorvik Stables and her father has disappeared, there’s no time to think about old stories. Together with Alex and Linda, Lisa embarks on a dangerous journey into Jorvik’s magical landscape to save Starshine, and to find the answers they are searching for.

At the same time, Anne is on her own mission. She must find her horse, Concorde, who seems to have been transported to the strange and dangerous world of Pandoria. But someone keeps whispering dark lies into Anne’s head that make her doubt if there’s any hope at all for the four girls. . .

The Legend Awakens explores the nature of good and evil; however, after the four Soul Riders realize they have powers, they are confused as to how to use them. The girls do not understand the mythology of Jorvik, yet they are committed to defeating Garnok. Even as the girls fight Mr. Sands—who Garnok has granted eternal life—they don’t understand who Garnok is. Plus, there are several evil beings who serve Garnok, but it is unclear exactly what they are. While the magical world has some interesting elements, the character’s confusion and lack of knowledge will frustrate readers.

The adults helping the soul riders continuously remind the girls about the importance of working together. Despite this, the girls quickly go off on their own mission and lose touch with each other. The multiple viewpoints, along with the quickly changing perspectives gives the story a fast pace. However, some readers will have a difficult time keeping track of the various plot threads.

The story’s complicated plot, unexplained concepts, and lack of character development make The Legend Awakens a confusing story. Nevertheless, readers who are interested in the supernatural may enjoy The Legend Awakens. If you’re looking for an entertaining series about horses, The Legend Awakens will leave you disappointed. Horse-loving readers who want a fast-paced story that revolves around horses should add The Rose Legacy Series by Jessica Day George to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sands steals Starshine and puts him in an electrified cage. The horse “was tied in place with heavy chains and a shiny stainless steel halter.” When Lisa tries to rescue Starshine, Mr. Sands locks her in a cage next to her horse.
  • Meteor is horse-napped. When Lisa first sees him, she wonders if he is dead. “The crane with Meteor’s lifeless body dangled from the end rolled slowly along. . . He was alive! But he was badly injured. At least one of his hind legs looked broken, and his skin was covered in deep sores.” Lisa uses her magic to heal Meteor.
  • One of the spirit’s horses, Khann, tries to stop Alex and her horse Tin-Can from fleeing. Alex uses her power. Alex “let a bolt of lightning flash out of her and land near him. He whinnied and his black eyes almost rolled into his head. Then he galloped into the woods. . .”
  • When Sabine tries to hurt Linda, Alex attacks with lightening. “The lightning bolts were accompanied by a rumbling noise and a sharp flash of light. . . the lightning hit Sabine but bounced off her like a rubber ball. . . Sabine lifted Linda up by her long, thick braid and spun her around in the air, grinning.” Eventually the lightning effects Sabine and she “fell over the stair railing. Alex heard Sabine curse angrily before she hit the floor with a hard thump, then silence.” The battle is described over three pages.
  • Shadows attack Anne and her horse Concorde. “Concorde whinnied, a prolonged and tormented sound . . . Then came the shadows. They coiled their way around her like a wreath. She realized that the shadow creatures had arms, legs, and big heads that slowly swayed back and forth as they took everything from her that made her who she was. . . And now they were upon her, arms growing, menacing shadows. They tugged at her legs now, groping at Concorde, who desperately tried to rear up and get free. . .” Ann stops fighting and expects to die. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Later, Anne defeats the shadow people. “She took control of the sun, of the clear pink water, of the slowly swaying vines that had made her dizzy before. It all became hers. The ground and the air, and the strange statues that whispered that the world was bigger and more amazing than could have ever suspected.” Anne creates a portal like a “reddish-pink tornado” and leaves the Pandoria and the shadows.
  • Evil beings, including Ketja, chase the four friends into the mountains. Ketja says an incantation and then, “the boulders on the slope were rolling downhill, heading straight for them. . . When the first boulder was only a few seconds away from smashing into them, it exploded. [Anne] closed her eyes and screamed in fear, loudly, a scream that echoed throughout the entire forest.”
  • To escape Ketja and her evil friends, the girls make a bridge collapse. “Anne turned to look back and saw the horses’ legs moving, the riders’ shocked faces as what was left of the bridge gave way underneath them and they all fell, plunging downward along with fragments of the collapsing bridge.” Their pursuers disappear into the ravine. The scene is described over four and a half pages.
  • An owl attacks Anne “ripping at Anne’s hair. . . A big tuff of her long, blonde hair ripped out, caught in the bird’s claws, and she screamed in pain.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Oh my God is used as an exclamation three times.
  • Linda thinks that the people who lived in the 1800s were idiots.
  • Heck and darn are both used once.

Supernatural

  • The Soul Riders are told about Aideen, who “brought light to the island, and life and hope poured forth out of the cold emptiness.”
  • Pandoria is a “world that co-exists with ours. Pandoria’s unreality seeps into our reality and vice versa. That is the essence of magic.”
  • The soul riders are “chosen girls who share a special bond with their horses. Through that bond, they acquire special powers to help them fight against evil.”
  • The girls discover that Mr. Sands has been alive for hundreds of years. Mr. Sands “had met Garnok several hundred years ago and had been granted eternal life then so that he could successfully accomplish just this: the liberation of Garnok.” Garnok is evil; however, it is unclear who or what Garnok is.
  • Jessica is an evil spirit, who has taken a human body. “She hated being stuck in this body. When Garnok was finally set free, she needed to be as well. . . Jessica longed to return to the dark star, back to her life beyond a body, beyond the earth.”
  • One of the girls finds a book titled “Garnok: Truth or Myth.” The book says that Garnok is “a sea monster” that “steals the sailors’ souls.”
  • Later, someone tells the girls that “Garnok is all that is evil. He comes from a place where chaos reigns, and he wants to return there. But before he returns, that chaos and destruction would also be spread through our world.”
  • One of the evil spirits uses the power of her mind to speak into Anne’s consciousness.
  • When an evil spirit chases Linda, Linda hides. “The moonlight flowed into her now and she disappeared in the shade of the far side of the moon. The moon had a back side, and that is a perfect hiding spot.”
  • Fripp is a “cosmic being” that looks like a squirrel. “If you can imagine a blue, slightly overgrown squirrel.”
  • While in Pandoria, Anne uses the sun to help her horse Concorde. “And Anne reached out her hands and took the sun and moved it even deeper into Concorde’s slumbering soul. It was hers to take. She knew that now. It was hot, but it didn’t burn. Nothing could hurt her as long as she had the sun on her side.”
  • While in a swamp, a bright light uses Lisa’s mother’s voice to call to her. “Then she heard it again, the summoning voice. It embraced her heart. She was bewitched by the flickering white flare of light over the dark water. It was so beautiful . . .” Lisa goes into the water. Before she can drown, Alex “shot lightning at the swamp, but the bolts rebounded, veering around in the air with the will-o’-wisps.” Lisa’s friends save her. The scene is described over four pages.
  • Later in the swamp, the horse Calliope falls into the mire. All of the girls “screamed for Calliope now. . . Her legs flailed in panic, creating big ripples in the water, and she screamed, screamed louder than they were screaming, pleading to be rescued.” When Calliope gives up, she “vanished below the surface.”
  • The girls are sent to find a magical apple.

Spiritual Content

  • Linda tries to escape from Sabine, an evil spirit. As she runs, “she locks the door behind her and said a grateful prayer for those extra seconds” which allowed her to avoid Sabine.
  • After being injured, Linda sees Alex and says, “I prayed you would come and you did!”

 

Gargantis

Herbie Lemon and Violet Parma team up once again to solve another Lost-and-Foundery mystery. This time, the outcome of the case has implications on the entire island. Eerie-on-Sea is under attack as a violent storm, nicknamed Gargantis, tears through town, destroying buildings and causing stormquakes (earthquakes caused by the storm).

Amid the chaos, another case presents itself to Herbie. Mrs. Fossil has found a mysterious bottle on the beach. It seems to move on its own and has indecipherable ancient writing on its side. Everyone claims to be the bottle’s rightful owner. Dr. Thalassi and Mrs. Fossil want it for their respective collections. The town’s fishermen say it is theirs due to the presence of their own ancient language on the side. However, a frightening man in a hood makes it clear that he wants the bottle more than anyone and he is willing to sacrifice everyone in Eerie-on-Sea to get it.

Some want to discover what the writing on the bottle means, what fairy-like creature is living inside, and why the man in the hood wants it so badly. They seek the help of Blaze Westerley, a young, outcasted fisherman. Blaze’s uncle was recently lost at sea while investigating the ancient legends of the Eerie fishermen. Soon, Herbie and Violet realize the legends may be more relevant to the case than they initially believed. In fact, if they can crack the case of the fish-shaped bottle, they may be able to save Eerie rock from the terrible Gargantis.

Gargantis shows off the charming relationship between Herbie and Violet as they take on the town’s adults. Blaze Westerley is a welcome addition as he diversifies the group. Blaze is a little unsure of himself, but confident in his uncle’s mission. He, too, is a bit of a “lost thing” like Violet and Herbie were before him. The trio works well together, and each person has skills and knowledge that contribute to solving the mystery.

The book dives a bit deeper into Herbie’s backstory. He must reconcile his fear of the sea with his love of finding homes for lost things. Since the bottle came from the ocean and most of the people who want it are fishermen, Herbie spends a lot of time doing things that scare him, such as being on boats far away from shore. Herbie’s experiences develop the theme that sometimes we must do what scares us in order to help ourselves and others.

The story also highlights how a new perspective can bring the truth to light. Without Blaze’s input or Violet’s seemingly “bonkers” ideas, the mystery would not have been solved. Taylor also applies this idea to Herbie’s book from the mermonkey. Herbie believes that the cover of the book is a message that he will meet his end at the bottom of the sea. However, he never reads the contents, which say something different. In the end, the townspeople gather and give their own interpretation of the cover, none of which end with Herbie drowning. The book, therefore, reinforces the importance of perspective and the value of individuality.

The fast-paced book introduces new characters and interweaving plotlines. For this reason, it is recommended that readers not read Gargantis as a standalone. In addition, the resolution may fall flat for those who did not read the first book, Malamander. Black and white illustrations bring some added visualization to some of the scenes. Plus, the characters are just as charming and quirky as before. If readers enjoyed Malamander, they are likely to enjoy Herbie and Violet’s deep dive into the ancient fishermen’s legends.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A mechanical shell attacks Violet and Herbie. Herbie fends it off by throwing “the bucket at [it], knocking it to the ground.” Violet “wrestles with it” trying to get it to stop.
  • Violet tells Herbie that the fishermen cannot fish in the storm. She explains, “The one motorboat that tried got its engine exploded by lightning.” She then says, “One fisherman has drowned already.”
  • Amid the argument, Herbie fears “some sort of riot is about to break out in the hotel.”
  • Herbie narrates that when Lady Kraken, the owner of the hotel, slaps him “on the back. It feels like being hit with a sock full of dry twigs.”
  • Violet shows Herbie an image in a book that depicts a large creature who “uses its giant flippers to smash the town to pieces, while lots of little medieval people run away screaming.”
  • The book Herbie receives from the mermonkey, a prophetic machination who gives customers a book, has a picture that shows “tiny figures of men and women and children writhe and twist as they sink down, down, down to the depths.” Herbie thinks this describes his fate as well as his unknown family’s. The cover also shows these bodies being received by “the white tentacles, feelers, and claws of the abyssal horrors that lurk at the cold, dark bottom of the sea.”
  • The clockwork crab makes “steel blades slide out from each of [its] four raised arms.” It aims for Herbie. Herbie wonders if there is a rule for his profession about smashing “a lost object to smithereens if it tries to pinch your stuff and then attacks you with swords.” When the clockwork crab attacks, “Herbie experiences a sudden flash of pain” and then a thin line of blood runs down the back of his hand.” Herbie gives “the blasted thing an almighty kick up the trumpet” and knows “with certainty that something has broken” after hearing it land with a “PANG!
  • Herbie keeps a sprightning, a fairy-like creature that can produce lightning, under his cap. He feels “a small explosion” at one point, followed by “smoke and the unmistakable stench of singed hair.”
  • Without a word, the man in the deep hood, nicknamed Deep Hood, threatens Mr. Mollusc, Herbie’s boss. He merely shows him what is under the hood, which is enough to make Mr. Mollusc go “so white he’s almost see-through” and agree to the Deep Hood’s terms.
  • When faced with two difficult possibilities, Herbie outlines his choices. He says he can either “get on the boat — despite the mermonkey’s warning — and run the risk of a watery end on the cold, dark bottom of the sea, or don’t get on the boat, and face the certainty of being nabbed by a bunch of angry fishermen with ropes and knives.” He chooses the boat.
  • Blaze explains that his uncle was once “swept overboard and swallowed into the swirling mouth of the Vortiss,” a whirlpool in the ocean, but he survived. His uncle told his fellow fishermen that he saw “the wrecks of all the ships the Vortiss has gobbled up over hundreds of years. And the skeletons of all the men who were gobbled with them, too.”
  • Blaze explains that his uncle wanted to return to Vortiss to investigate, so he took Deep Hood with him. However, they began to argue. Blaze remembers that his “Uncle had his ax out.” Then, Deep Hood threw something like a bomb. Blaze was “thrown to the deck.” That was the last he saw of his uncle, as the rope connecting the two men to the ship was “cut clean through.”
  • Blaze sees Deep Hood and blames him for his uncle’s fate. Blaze then “leaps forward, the wrench raised like a club.” Deep Hood uses his tentacle to ward the boy off, “smashing Blaze in the face.”
  • Herbie’s sprightning makes his cap explode, shocking Deep Hood’s hand, and causing Deep Hood to be “hurled backward.”
  • When a fisherman, named Lanky Beard, questions Deep Hood’s intentions, Deep Hood’s tentacle “shoots out and strikes Lanky Beard in the face.” It then “[grabs] his beard and [yanks] his head down onto a tabletop.” Finally, the tentacle punches the man’s feet out from under him, causing him to go “down with a sickening crunch, and [stay] down.”
  • Deep Hood is the clockwork crab’s master. He becomes disappointed in it and “kicks the shell… a strong, cruel kick, designed to punish.” Soon other fishermen join in, kicking the shell around in what Herbie describes as a “spiteful game.”
  • The sprightning defends Herbie and Violet by shooting lightning at a fisherman. “The man is thrown off his feet as electricity scorches the moldy wallpaper right down the corridor.”
  • When trying to leave the pub, Deep Hood’s tentacle yanks Violet back. Herbie frees her when he “takes the door in both hands and slams it shut with all [his] force on the tentacle,” which is followed by a “sickening, rubbery crunch—and a roar of pain from Deep Hood.”
  • The sprightning uses its lightning on Mr. Mollusc, sending it “crackling up Mr. Mollusc’s arm and down into his trousers.” This causes him to “go stiff as a board and fall over backward in a puff of smoke.”
  • Deep Hood discovers Herbie and Violet eavesdropping. Herbie sees “Violet’s terrified face as the tentacle shoves her into the open sarcophagus and slams the lid shut.” Herbie also says, “I remember the smashing of glass in the tower as I was pulled out a window and carried away into the night.” He does not remember anything other than that, as he assumes he has been “knocked out.”
  • The fishermen use a rope to restrain Herbie. Herbie narrates, “It’s pulled tight, trapping my arms, and I’m jerked off my feet and out through the metal door.”
  • The fishermen and Deep Hood launch their first attack on Gargantis, using Herbie as bait. Herbie sees the weapons the fishermen and Deep Hood plan to use on Gargantis. It is a gun, “the type once used to hunt whales” with spears as projectiles that have bombs attached. The fishermen fire multiple times at Gargantis. The fishermen continue to attack the creature and use Herbie and the sprightning as bait. Herbie describes that the boat is “struck violently,” but everyone aboard is unharmed. Herbie sees that the fishermen are now armed with “axes and spears.” Herbie observes as “Gargantis attacks” the fishermen’s boat. Herbie thinks that by now all the fishermen are “down to the ocean floor.” It is later discovered that they all survived. This first attack takes place over 22 pages.
  • Herbie, Violet, and Blaze come across a swarm of sprightnings that singe Violet’s hair.
  • Later, Deep Hood attacks Gargantis again. Herbie sees the spear land “in the neck, embedding itself deep,” followed by “a sickening ball of fire that bursts out of the storm fish’s mouth” when the bomb explodes. Gargantis “writhes and twists, shrieking with pain and spouting flame.” This wound is nearly fatal to the monster, and the characters believe she is dead.
  • In response to Gargantis’s injury, the sprightnings “swarm around the iron fishing boat, darting and zapping at the fishermen and running in hot angry arcs across its surface.” The sprightnings’ electricity causes an explosion that results in the loss of the power engines, leaving the fishermen victim to the whirlpool, Vortiss. This second attack takes place over two pages.
  • When both the sprightning and Gargantis are close to death, Deep Hood launches another attack. Deep Hood explains that he wants Gargantis’s “carcass” for his potion. The Westerleys and Deep Hood grow increasingly angry with each other. Deep Hood calls Blaze to fight. Deep Hood “punches Squint in the face” and throws an ax at Herbie and Violet, but misses. In the final moments of this encounter, Gargantis returns, and Deep Hood is swallowed by her. This final attack takes place over six pages.
  • Squint tells the story of what happened on the day he was pulled into Vortiss. He remembers that Eels “threw the bomb . . . at his boat.” That act made Squint realize that Eels “wanted to kill us, so that no one else would know he was here, or how to find the Vortiss”. Later Eels “threw another bomb, right at Gancy’s head” and “seemed desperate to kill her before she could wake.”
  • Herbie identifies the remains of Saint Dismal by the features of the skeleton. He sees that, “On the chin of the skull, attached to scraps of mummified skin, is a long dangling beard that reaches all the way to his bony toes.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The fishermen frequent a pub in which they drink “pints of Clammy Dodger.”
  • Blaze says his uncle was “brought . . . back to life with brandy and a slap.”
  • Herbie describes that in winter, it is normal to see the fishermen at the pub drinking beer and smoking pipes.
  • Violet refers to some “drunken sailors.”
  • Lady Kraken has a “long-stemmed glass with a little golden wine inside.”
  • Dr. Thalassi “prescribed [Lady Kraken] an ointment” for her tentacle growth.
  • Herbie explains how the fishermen’s behavior at the pub changes when the tourists leave for the colder season. He says, “Pipes are smoked once more as sea songs are sung and beer is spilled and fights erupt, and Boadicea Bates presides over it all.”

Language

  • Some of the characters are called ridiculous, crazy, annoying, a fool, and other similar terms.
  • Fishermen often say phrases like, “Bless his Beard,” and, “By Dismal’s beard.”
  • Herbie wants to know why Deep Hood “[had] to be so creepy about” turning in a lost object.
  • Herbie references Deep Hood to Mollusc, calling him one of “the strangest ones.”
  • Herbie thinks only “weirdos and crackpots” would visit Eerie-on-Sea in the winter.
  • Herbie mentally refers to the clockwork crab as a “stupid shell.”
  • Mollusc tells Dr. Thalassi to “take this frightful object away,” which turns out to be Mrs. Fossil caught in a net. He later calls her a “scruffy person.”
  • Lady Kraken calls Herbie a “dunderbrain.”
  • Herbie mishears Lady Kraken when she is brushing her teeth. She says she has yet to “[brush her] backside…the backside of [her] toosh.” She means to say tooth, but due to the foam in her mouth, the joke refers to her bottom.
  • The phrases “how on earth” and “bladderwracks” are used as exclamations.
  • Herbie occasionally uses the word “blasted” as a descriptor for frustrating objects.
  • Herbie’s narration calls Deep Hood the “awful man.”
  • Mrs. Fossil refers to Sebastian Eels as, “That rotter.”
  • Herbie sees a fisherman outside of the bathroom “doing up his fly.”
  • Deep Hood calls Blaze “dim-witted.”

Supernatural

  • Herbie encounters a clockwork crab, a machine that looks like a hermit crab. The crab seems to act autonomously. Herbie says, “I don’t see how a clockwork hermit crab, no matter how complex, can want things for itself.”
  • The book’s plot centers around the legend of Gargantis, a sea storm monster that travels through both the sky and water. The saying goes, “Gargantis sleeps, Eerie keeps . . . Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes and falls into the sea.” Herbie describes the storm as “a vast creature—with the head of an anglerfish and dozens of fins along its sinewy body.” It also “is wreathed in storm clouds and lightning that seems to pour off its fins.”
  • The book revisits the mermonkey contraption from the first installment. The machine picks a book that it feels the customer needs to read. Herbie explains that “some people have only to touch the hat in the creature’s hand to set off the mechanism and be dispensed a book.”
  • The characters encounter a “fish-shaped bottle.” Within the bottle is a creature called a sprightning. The sprightnings are fairy-like creatures who can produce lightning, glow, and fly. Herbie sees that “two electrical arcs flicker out from the figure’s back, forming shapes that look for all the world like wings.”
  • When someone mentions the word “dismal,” “the storm spews lightning and thunder once more.” Herbie thinks the weather is “conjured by these words.”
  • Erwin, the cat, speaks again.
  • Deep Hood has a pink tentacle that he uses to attack his enemies. Deep Hood seems to have a supernatural sense of smell.
  • Lady Kraken is given a gold tincture made from the flesh of Gargantis that heals her incurable legs. Herbie watches as the “golden liquid . . . turns purple and strange.” She drinks it and temporarily can walk.
  • After the language Eerie script is decoded, Violet discovers the remainder of the saying regarding Gargantis and Eerie Rock. It continues, “Gargantis dies, Eerie dies, and all falls into the sea.” It turns out that Gargantis has “been holding [Eerie Rock] up all these years” and that Eerie’s stormquakes have been the result of Gargantis leaving her cavern to try to find her lost sprightning.
  • The sprightnings have the ability to “signal” to Gargantis to help their queen get back to them.
  • Squint explains the relationship between Gargantis and the queen sprightning. “The sprightning gives light to the storm fish, and Gargantis gives the sprightning electrical power in return, so she can breed her swarm. They bind forever and should never be separated for long.” They must reunite the two creatures to save their lives.
  • Once Deep Hood is revealed as Sebastian Eels, he shares that the tincture he offered to Lady Kraken allowed him to regrow the hand he lost in the previous book.
  • Eels has “dozens of little pink feelers” that “clutch at his lips and gums.” He also has gills.
  • Herbie narrates, “There’s a rushing sound as air is drawn into [Gargantis’s] mouth, and I sense her long body inflating and filling the cave beneath Eerie Rock completely.” She returns to her post holding Eerie Rock up.

Spiritual Content

  • The story refers to the legend of Saint Dismal, an Eerie-specific tale of the island’s “first Fisherman.” He is the “patron saint of calamitous weather and first fisherman of Eerie-on-Sea.” He is portrayed as having a “strange and holy light over his head,” which eventually is revealed to be a sprightning. They call this his “Gargantic Light.”
  • Violet reads that the people believed the sprightning to be a “miracle” because it was accompanied by an abundant catch of fish. In addition, the fishermen often use the phrase, “Bless his beard” in reference to their saint.
  • When Erwin, the cat, turns counterclockwise three times, the fishermen believe that a “bad omen” is upon them. The saying goes, “When Eerie cat turns widdershins thrice, ’tis dreary luck for men and mice.”
  • The fishermen are “extremely superstitious. When Herbie asks why the fishermen did not try to stop Erwin from turning, Violet says, “He who touches Bad Luck Cat will nary catch a cod nor sprat!”
  • Blaze explains that the whirlpool Vortiss is said to be “the place where storms are born” and has “strange lights and treacherous winds.” He also says that Saint Dismal talked of an “underwater world beneath Eerie Rock, where lie the wrecks of all the ships the Vortiss has gobbled up over hundreds of years.”
  • Gargantis is “a storm fish from the lost tales of creation” and “a creature from the beginning of the world, who should endure till its end.”

by Jennaly Nolan

The Thirteenth Fairy

In the quiet and uneventful town of North Pasadena, California, Filomena Jefferson-Cho finds adventure with her favorite book series, Never After, where magic and fairy tale characters exist. On her way to purchase the thirteenth and final book of the Never After series, Filomena discovers strange things have been happening.

First, the author of the series has mysteriously disappeared. Second, Filomena is being followed by a strange boy dressed as Jack Stalker, the main hero of the Never After books. Deciding the boy is just a Never After fan and not a potential murderer or kidnapper, Filomena turns to greet him but is interrupted by the sudden crash of a thunderbolt and the shrieking sound of an ogress. As she flees from danger, Filomena realizes the boy following her is in fact the real Jack Stalker and, Never After, a world full of famous fairy tale characters, is real.

Filomena inadvertently follows Jack and his best friend, Alistair Bartholomew Barnaby, to Never After where she finds the kingdom in a state of distress after the thirteenth fairy, Carabosse, stole Princess Eliana. As a result of Carabosse’s disappearance, the evil ogre queen, Olga has taken over the land.

In her first visit to Never After, Filomena fights ogres and meets the fairy, Zera, who sees a strange resemblance between Filomena and her sister, Carabosse. Zera reveals that Filomena possesses the fairy mark which shines brightly as a crescent moon on Filomena’s forehead. Confused, Filomena rejects her fairy mark and leaves Never After. Although she always wondered about her biological parents, Filomena is reluctant to accept that she is from Never After. However, upon her return to North Pasadena, Filomena finds her Never After books have changed and Filomena returns to Never After to help her friends, even if it means leaving behind the safety of North Pasadena and acknowledging her true identity.

This novel is an exciting book for young, middle-grade readers because it combines fairy tales and reality and mixes familiar characters with new stories. The book follows Filomena’s story, but short prologues are scattered in between chapters to provide context to the history of Never After.

Traveling to and from the magical and mortal world, Filomena and other recognizable fairy tale characters fight trolls, outsmart dragons, ride motorcycles with wolves, and perform spells in their quest to stop the ogres and save Never After.  The Thirteenth Fairy is a fast-paced story full of adventure and inspiring characters. Throughout the book, Filomena learns the importance of friendship, family, and believing in yourself. Before her adventures in Never After, Filomena was unsure of herself and where she belonged. Although she is loved by her adoptive parents, she is an outcast at school, and she is losing faith in herself. However, with help from her new friends, Filomena discovers her inner courage and strength. Filomena learns that you can achieve anything as long you believe in yourself and trust the friends and family who have your back.

Sexual Content

  • Filomena’s mom is a contemporary romance writer, and Filomena is informed by school bullies that “page 157 of Mum’s latest book is exceptionally saucy.”

Violence

  • Filomena says hello to a boy she assumes is a fellow Never After fan, but instead, “the boy suddenly pushes her to the ground” to shield her from the Ogre’s Wrath.
  • Filomena and a strange boy are being attacked by thunderbolts. “More thunderbolts strike the ground around them, but they duck and weave, luckily avoiding being hit.”
  • A group of school bullies grabs Filomena’s backpack and “another grabs at her hair as she tries to regain her footing, knocking her off-balance yet again and yanking her backward.” Filomena “flinches, reaching for her hair.” She is upset, but not badly hurt.
  • Jack tells his friends that his “whole family was killed. I’m the only one left. I saw my brother burning in front of me when the ogres attacked our village.”
  • Filomena remembers ogres “like to roast their victims before eating them.”
  • Filomena, Zera, Jack, and Alistair engage in a battle against the ogres. The four friends watch as “ogres roar as they set cottages on fire, and when the inhabitants run out, they stomp on them.” Eventually, Zera “stabs the ogre general right in the heart.” Most of the ogres retreat, but Alistair “is in the grips of an ogre’s giant fist.” After Alistair has been saved, he claims he hurts “everywhere and after,” but he is alive.
  • In a vision, Princess Eliana is attacked by Olga the ogre queen. There is “blood on the wall. Blood on the floor. Then at last—an ogre fully satisfied.”
  • Filomena and her friends encounter the school bullies who reveal themselves to be trolls. The friends try to outrun the trolls until they are forced to fight. Jack uses his magic vines to trap the trolls, “but the trolls unleash their own weapons — garden shears! —and begin to hack at the vines. Jack falls to his knees, his vines dripping blood.” Then, “a few of the trolls focus their attention on the new combatants, and one of them slashes at Gretel [a Never After friend]’s sweater.” Jack continues to fight the trolls with his vines until they are “choked unconscious.” None of the friends are seriously injured, but a few of the trolls escape and kidnap Alistair.
  • Filomena encounters a hungry ogre in the woods. The ogre “moves first, reaching to stab the fork into Filomena’s stomach.” However, with Filomena’s dragonhide armor, “the fork can’t penetrate her.” While the ogre is confused, Filomena “stabs the ogre with the Dragon’s Tooth, hard and fast in the thigh” and the wolves of the forest chase the ogre away.
  • After the ogre queen is defeated “they discovered that King Vladimir had been killed, his corpse rotting in the middle of the ballroom, where he had tried to kill Olga and save his daughter.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a feast with the Vineland villagers, Zera “raises her goblet of wine and taps the table with her open palms three times, signaling for silence.”
  • When Olga poisoned Queen Rosanna, “the poison spread slowly at first. Rosanna’s flesh flushed, reddening and heating until all her veins burst.” Olga killed Queen Rosanna.

Language

  • Filomena refers to the mean girls at her school as the “troll army.”
  • Posy, a bully, tells Filomena, “For a smart kid you’re pretty stupid.”
  • Posy tells Filomena to “stay away from us, ”
  • After Jack completes the Test of Wills, Alistair declares it was “badass.”

Supernatural

  • Never After is a land of magical creatures from fairies and “towering dragons, their armored scales glittering gold and green, to warty goblins and rambunctious dwarves.”
  • Carabosse is “the thirteenth and most powerful fairy in all of Never After.”
  • A thunderbolt strikes near Filomena, and she wonders, “did I imagine it, or were we just hit with an Ogre’s Wrath?!”
  • Filomena performs a fairy spell to make the lightning stop. She chants, “Ogre, ogre, cloaked in clover, I cease your wrath, three times over!”
  • Filomena discovers the Heart Tree, which is “the portal that connects all lands of Never After to each other.”
  • Frustrated with her peers, Filomena shouts out a spell to make time stop and to her surprise, “everyone is frozen.”
  • Jack has powers that allow him to grow vines and speak to trees.
  • Jack and Alistair explain that, being from timeless fairytales, they are technically immortal. He says, “We never grow old, but we can perish.”
  • Jack contains a Seeing Eye telescope that helps him locate magical items.
  • Desperate for an escape, Filomena “grabs the Pied Pipe from [Jack’s] hands and lifts it to her lips. Without thinking, she plays the first tune that comes to mind: the theme from the movies based on the Never After books, of course. Sure enough, it unlocks the Heart Tree.”
  • Jack reminds Alistair that “Filomena can’t see Zera’s cottage [because] it has the glamour around it.”
  • Filomena performs a spell that makes ogre bones turn to mush; “Ogre be feeble! Ogre be thick! Ogre be sluggish! Ogre be sick! Ogre droop under this limbless kiss, until every bit of you is mush and twist!” Then, the ogre’s “flesh goes formless…what was once nimble becomes numb, the skin sagging into a gloppy substance.” The ogre is presumably dead.
  • Zera recites a spell whispering, “the thirteenth fairy is missing, my sister is she. The thirteenth fairy is hiding, won’t you show her to me?” Then, Filomena sees “on her forehead, underneath the skin, is a luminescent mark: a tiny crescent moon surrounded by thirteen tiny stars.”
  • Filomena notices her favorite book series has magically changed the second time she reads it. “The first book is the story of Jack the Giant Stalker. But somehow, as she rereads it, it’s not.”
  • Magic and magical objects are used all throughout the book. For example, “Filomena stares in disbelief at the Arabian rug floating in the sky.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Elena Brown

Harriet the Invincible

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

 

Ravenous 

Traveling on her house with chicken legs, a witch has arrived in the city of Bryre, and she is ravenous for children. While Greta is at the castle of Bryre, the witch captures her bother, Hans. Greta refuses to let the witch have her brother—after her parents disappeared, her brother is the only family she has left—and they strike a deal. The witch will give back Hans if Greta brings her something, a magical item the witch desires.

However, the Bryrian king thinks Greta is lying about her brother. When she ventures out on her own, a village of hybrids captures her, pausing her progress. With the help of a magical half-boy and half-horse named Dalen, Greta travels to Belladoma—a kingdom that once held her captive—to find the magic item. Mercenaries block their path, and the Sonzeeki, an ancient, tentacled sea creature, is getting restless. In the middle of the chaos is a family secret that can help Greta save Belladoma and defeat the Sonzeeki.

Set in the kingdom of Belladoma and its surrounding area, each chapter follows Greta’s perspective. The kingdom of Belladoma overlooks the sea; the streets are dark and depressing due to the mercenaries and the Sonzeeki’s terrorizing of the castle town. The first page of every chapter is decorated with alternating pictures of Greta, the Sonzeeki, Dalen, and the witch, allowing the reader to visualize the characters. While the narration is limited to Greta’s perspective, readers will relate to her determination and wit. Though she is weaker and smaller than the leader of the mercenaries, she uses her “swiftness” and her “ability to not let go” to best him in a fight.

Throughout Ravenous, Greta changes her opinion about Belladoma. She realizes they are her people since they had been affected by the former king’s and the mercenaries’ rule just like she had. She had assumed that Belladoma, and by extension its people, was bad because her captors had taken her there as food for the Sonzeeki; she thought the people were complicit with the captors. The dynamic between Dalen and Greta is lovely. At first, they’re enemies, but they connect over puzzles and stories and become friends. Dalen is one of the people that helped Greta realize that the people of Belladoma are “not bad people. They’re victims too.”

Ravenous is reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel and has elements of Baba Yaga. The story is an original and engaging retelling that adds a spin to the classics. There are a few instances of graphic violence and many acts of magic scattered throughout the story. The way the adults treat Greta is deplorable because they think she is incapable, then change their minds when she defeats them. The mercenaries look down on Greta due to her age, then perceive her as a threat after she wins against their boss, Vincali—to them, she is not “a mere child.” The lesson is this: do not underestimate people because of uncontrollable factors. Readers who enjoy reading Ravenous will also enjoy the companion book, Monstrous.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When the hybrids capture Greta, the lead centaur “yanks [Greta] and pins [Greta’s] arms behind [her] back.” He shoves Greta into the cage.
  • Greta fights Vincali, leader of the mercenaries, for the cornucopia. “Then, I leap to my feet and brandish my weapon at him . . . [the leader of the mercenaries] lunges and tries to knock the sword from my hands . . . I duck and parry, then manage a swipe.” The leader of the mercenaries “comes at me faster. . . I evade the blow again. . . I parry blow for blow.” When they get into the center of town, their fight ends. Their fight lasts for two pages.
  • After rescuing her brother, Greta fights the witch. “One [of the witch’s floating hands] grabs at my cloak and lifts me up.” Then Greta swings “at it with [her] sword and land[s] a glancing blow,” from which, “the hand makes what sounds like a shriek and drops [her].”
  • After figuring out the witch’s weak spot, Greta, “leaps up and grabs one of the legs [of the witch’s house] . . . I take my sword and, swatting at the hand again, jab the blade up into the belly of the house. I twist and turn it until one of the bricks comes loose.” The witch materializes in front of Greta and “squeezes her hands around [Greta’s] neck,” while Greta uses a magic amulet to burn the house. The witch’s house “explodes in a blast of fire, feathers, and blinding light” and the witch burns as well. Her body “turns pitch black with cracks of red fire—then nothing remains but falling ash.” The fight scene lasts for five pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in the castle at Belladoma, Greta sees “two wine glasses.”
  • A couple of girls in the castle were “bringing ale” to the mercenaries, who “get more and more drunk and gamble away their spoils.” The mercenaries drink a lot of ale.

Language

  • One of the mercenaries calls Greta a “fool.”

Supernatural

  • The witch owns a walking house. “The house moves in a pattern, a figure eight that brings it close to the edge of the woods.”
  • In the story, there is a magical item known as the cornucopia. “It is the form of a horn-shaped basket. One merely has to touch it and think about what food one desires, and the meal will appear in the cornucopia.”
  • The witch teleports Greta outside of the walking house. The witch “snaps her fingers and [Greta finds herself] standing outside the chicken hut, watching it retreat into the woods at a breakneck pace . . .”
  • The witch sets part of the village on fire. “She snaps her fingers, and a surge of magic singes the air. In a flash, flames being to devour the great tree in the middle of the village.” A few of the villagers had been burnt and some had fits of coughing after inhaling the smoke.
  • Dalen and Greta must use alchemic symbols to solve a riddle. “Each triangle corresponded to an element and exposing it to that element reveals the real map.” The only effect on the map is revealing more locations where King Ensel hid the cornucopia.
  • Greta uses potions on herself. “Each potion has a purpose. . . but I have no idea whether these even work, let alone what sort of combustible interactions they might have if used together.” The only side effects that Greta has when using the potions are dizziness and feeling more addicted to the magic.
  • The leader of the mercenaries uses an amulet to create fire. “The amulet’s fire goes wide, scorching the brick wall.”
  • Greta sets the witch’s house on fire with the amulet. “The chicken hut erupts into flame, flaring high with an audible pop, reaching up to the tops of the trees in the grove.”
  • The witch throws Dalen with “three disembodied hands that have materialized in the air and hang there, seeming to wait on the witch for instruction.”

Spiritual Content

  • Dalen talks about the creation story of hybrids. “The Phoenix Queen, mother of us all. She cast the spell that allowed our varied species to be created. . . Every fifty years, her mortal form would burst into flames, and she would be reborn from the ashes. . . But the last time she did not come back. Legends says her ashes scattered to the winds, dripping magic across the lands.”

by Jemima Cooke

Hunted

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. After all, her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering its secrets.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters out of their comfortable home among the aristocracy and back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronesses– or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman.

But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. The Beast.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange creature back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of magical creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin, or salvation.

Fans of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast will love Hunted which takes place in medieval Russia and follows the original Slavic fairytale. Spooner expertly weaves parts of the original folklore while taking an in-depth look at Yeva, who often feels discontent. When Yeva’s father dies and the Beast takes her captive, Yeva’s thoughts often revolve around killing the Beast. Instead of being portrayed as perfect, Yeva’s emotions are more complicated because she feels both hatred and compassion toward the Beast. She is also admirable because, no matter how dire the situation, she never feigns comfort or lies to herself about her circumstances.

Unlike Spooner’s book Sherwood, Hunted has a much slower pace because Yeva spends much of her time alone hunting. Also, when the Beast holds Yeva prisoner in the dungeon, she is alone most of the time. Since much of the conflict comes from Yeva’s inner thoughts, there are few moments that are truly action-packed. Despite this, Hunted is an engaging story that looks at one’s deepest desires. Through Yeva’s experiences, the reader will come to understand that most people have more than one nature and they can take several paths that will lead to happiness.

Hunted will delight readers who like to explore a character’s thoughts and feelings. Even though the story focuses on Yeva, Beast’s emotions are also explored through letters that he’s written. While at the Beast’s castle, Yeva and Beast are alone, which limit’s the story’s perspective. Despite this, Hunted will transport you into a magical world full of danger. Readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings should also read the Once Upon a Con Series by Ashley Poston.

Sexual Content

  • Yeva agrees to marry Solmir. “Solmir freed one hand from Yeva’s grasp and lifted it to take hold of her chin in his fingers. He leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers, the briefest of touches before he pulled away.”
  • After Yeva returns home, she is not invited back into society because “no one quite knew what to make of her, whether she had spent the winter with an unmarried man under a curse or if she’d spent it in the bed of a wicked monster.”
  • When the Beast turns back into his human form, Yeva kisses him.

Violence

  • Yeva’s father invested in a caravan of goods. He gets word that all the men were killed. “Barbarian swords in their guts, heads piled in the wagon and burned. All the goods stolen or destroyed.”
  • Yeva finds her father’s body in the woods. “She uncovered his bow, then a few feet farther she found his pack, the leather torn and the contents strewn about beneath the snow.” She believes the Beast killed her father.
  • When Yeva sees a wolf in the woods, “she swung her father’s bow around and drew it in one smooth movement. The arrow flew straight and true. There was a bone-shaking roar of fury and pain that threw her to the ground with its intensity, and then the shadowy giant bounded off through the wood.”
  • The Beast pretends to be injured, and Yeva prepares to kill him. “The Beast lunged at her, knocking the ax aside with a blow that numbed her from the shoulder down, arm falling uselessly to her side. . . The impact of the Beast’s body hitting hers sent her head snapping forward out of its concealing hood, as it lifted her from her foot.” Yeva is knocked unconscious and taken captive. She wakes up “chained underground with broken ribs and no light.”
  • Yeva tells a story about a young man, Ivan, who had jealous brothers. “They killed Ivan in his sleep and cut his body into pieces.” Later, a wolf “ate his treacherous brothers whole.”
  • Unknowingly the Beast has been kindly caring for Yeva. But when Yeva tries to see the Beast’s face, “something huge flung itself at her, knocking her back onto the ground. Her head struck hard enough to stun her, despite the carpet to cushion it.” When Yeva discovers her helper is the Beast, “Yeva’s hand closed around the knife, and with a scream she brought her arm up in an arc, sinking the knife to its hilt in the Beast’s shoulder.” The Beast is injured, but not critically.
  • Yeva’s dog Doe-Eyes attacks the Beast. The Beast “gave his great body a shake that dislodged the dog and sent her flying. Yeva’s heart shriveled, then snapped as Doe-Eyes collided with a tree and dropped into a heap in the snow, unmoving.”
  • Yeva sneaks into the Beast’s bedroom one night to kill him. “The knife stabbed deep into this throat and hit bone, and Yeva gasped aloud as she jerked the knife sideways, trying to slice. . . There was blood everywhere, blood on the rug and blood spattering the wardrobe. . . A final breath. And then he was still.”
  • A woman who married young discovered that “her husband wasn’t a good man. He hit her when she didn’t do everything exactly to his liking. . . He always hit where it wouldn’t show, until one day he lost his temper and blackened her eye.” The woman stayed with her husband because he made her feel “so special, so loved.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Yeva uses willow bark as a pain reliever.

Language

  • “By God” and “good love” are both used as an exclamation once.
  • When Yeva returns home, she tries to break her engagement with Solmir. He yells, “If you think I give a damn—sorry—about the silly rumors people whisper in the streets, you must not think very highly of me.”

Supernatural

  • The Beast takes Yeva to a magical wood where she meets Lamya, who is both a woman and a dragon. She also “discovered tress that had faces, voices, peeping at her one instant and gone the next.”
  • Yeva meets a fox named Borovoi, who will only answer three of her questions. Borovoi leads her to a frozen pond. When Yeva falls into the pond, she sees “a rotting face loomed out of the blackness at her, boney arms pulling her close.” Yeva almost drowns but is able to pull herself out of the pond. Later, Yeva learns that the pond “belongs to one of the Rusalk, a girl killed long ago by a lover or father or brother. She appears to men as their heart’s desire to lure them to their deaths.”
  • After Yeva kills the Beast, she is surprised when “the Beast’s gaping throat knit itself together neatly, as though she was watching a seam ripping in reverse. His lungs filled with one great, wet, rattling breath, and he coughed more blood onto the rug.” Yeva discovers that the curse will not allow the Beast to die.

Spiritual Content

  • Yeva doesn’t want to tell her sisters the truth about a man’s interest in her. Yeva “prayed they wouldn’t ask her again what she knew, for she couldn’t lie to them.”
  • When Yeva readies herself to leave, she gets Solmir to promise to take care of her sisters. She prayed “he didn’t change his mind.”

Thornwood

For years, Briony has lived in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Rosalin, and the curse that has haunted her from birth. According to the curse, on the day of her sixteenth birthday, Briony would prick her finger on a spindle and cause everyone in the castle to fall into a 100-year sleep. When the day the curse is set to fall over the kingdom finally arrives, nothing—not even Briony—can stop its evil magic.

You know the story.

But here’s something you don’t know. When Briony finally wakes up, it’s up to her to find out what’s really going on, and to save her family and friends from the murderous Thornwood. But who is going to listen to a little sister?

Thornwood looks at the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty through the eyes of the little sister. While the villain in the story is clearly the fairy queen who cast the spell, she doesn’t make an appearance until the very end. Instead, the suspense is created by the Thornwood branches that attack the castle’s inhabitants. When Briony and a group of acquaintances try to defeat the Thornwood branches, a fairy tells Briony, “The Thornwood will disappear once Rosalin dies in it.” At one point, Rosalin considers sacrificing herself to the Thornwood to save the people she loves. However, Briony is the true hero of the story because she perseveres until she finds a way to defeat the fairy queen without sacrificing her sister.

Adding Sleeping Beauty’s sister to the story is an interesting premise, however, the sister relationship is spoiled by Rosalin, who has few redeeming qualities. For the most part, Rosalin is too caught up in her looks and the prince to notice her sister. When Rosalin talks, her statements are mean and dismissive. For example, when Briony tries to help Rosalin, Rosalin tells her, “Why don’t you just leave. Nobody needs you here. Go annoy someone else.” Plus, Rosalin constantly makes fun of Briony’s hair describing it “like mud that’s been stirred with bathwater” or “a mass of frizz that’s been hit by a lightning bolt.” Anyone who has been a victim of bullying will be saddened by Rosalin’s behavior, especially because Briony already feels ignored and unimportant. Despite this, Briony never gives up on trying to help her sister.

In the end, the Royal family is not portrayed in a positive light. The parents are clueless fools, Rosalin is self-centered, and the family doesn’t consider the feelings of others. However, by the end, Briony wonders, “Had we even thought about anyone but ourselves? We had acted like this was our story. Like the other people in it—everyone in this castle, and outside it, too—were minor details we didn’t have to pay attention to.” The conclusion has a typical happy ending that attempts to show that your station in life doesn’t determine your worth. However, if you’re looking for a fabulous fairy tale, you should leave Thornwood on the shelf and instead read The Prince Problem by Vivian Vande Velde or the Royal Academy Rebels Series by Jen Calonita.

Sexual Content

  • In order to wake Rosalin, a prince kisses her. Briony sees the kiss and thinks, “I wish I had gotten there thirty seconds later. . . It wasn’t a gross kiss. Just a peck on the lips—polite and distant—and then the prince stepped back from the bed.”
  • The story implies that Rosalin and the prince kiss. Briony “looked pointedly away and caught Edwin doing the same. We both snickered.”
  • When the prince thinks Rosalin is about to die, he professes his love and then kisses her. Briony thinks, “This time, the kissing was gross.”
  • After the castle is free from the Thornwood, Rosalin “claims that she only ‘likes’ the electrician who had been modernizing the castle, and she’s ‘not interested in getting serious with anyone right now.’ I mean, she’s already kissed him more times than she kissed Varian, back when she thought he was her destined husband.”

Violence

  • While Briony searches the castle, the Thornwood grabs her. “Something snapped around my wrist, driving sharp spikes into my skin. . .The branch that had grabbed me yanked back so hard that I was dragged towards the window. . .the branch pulled, slowly and steadily. Thorns dug into my wrist with sharp stabs of fiery pain.” Someone saves her. The scene is described over three pages.
  • When Briony, Edwin, Rosalin, and the prince try to leave the castle, the Thornwood attacks. “The ground around Edwin exploded, clumps of dirt flying as barbed vines broke through the earth. One wrapped itself around his ankle. . . another snapped around his wrist. . . Edwin had been pulled to the ground, and a thorny branch was crawling up his arm over his shoulder.” The Thornwood attacks everyone except for the prince. Rosalin’s fairy godmother saves them, but Edwin is seriously injured. The scene is described over six pages.
  • When the fairy godmother gets Edwin out of the Thornwood, Edwin is a “bruised and bloody creature. . . He was unconscious, his clothes in shreds and stuck to his body with dried blood.”
  • The Thornwood gets into the castle. The branches attack Rosalin. Briony “lunged for them and grabbed the largest, pulling at it with my bare hands. It could have encircled me easily, but it was too busy trying to get to Rosalin.” When they get Rosalin free, Briony, Edwin, and the prince run into a tower.
  • When they get to the tower, “A thorn snagged my [Briony’s] hair and pulled several strands out, with a burst of pain that brought new tears to my eyes. I wrenched myself free, into the golden light.” The tower scene is described over five pages.
  • Briony traps the fairy queen. But then, “She reached out and grabbed me by the throat. . . she lifted me from the floor, and I couldn’t’ breathe. I tried to scream, but couldn’t do that, either. Panic filled me as I struggled to draw air into my lungs and no air came.” Rosalin and Edwin save Briony.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • After sleeping for over 100 years, Rosalin discovers that the castle is surrounded by thorns. “There are some princes that come there [the village] to try to fight their way through the Thornwood and wake the beautiful princess sleeping in the castle. They need a place to sleep. . . and lots of ale.”
  • Before the castle fell asleep, Edwin was apprenticed to the blacksmith. The blacksmith “was not a good man. He got angry a lot, and drunk, and he let the other apprentices—”
  • When Briony goes to the apothecary, she finds it to be a mess. “The pots on the shelves were knocked over sideways or smashed on the floor. . .” Someone suggested that people were looking for wine and didn’t find it.
  • When the prince finds an empty jug that smells like alcohol, he says, “Someone in this castle is very drunk right now.” Later, the royal wizard shows up to the ball drunk. He tells the king and queen, “I have been working great and terrible magics to figure out a way to release us from our plight. I had to partake of wine so I could access the depths of. . . um. . .”
  • The prince offers Rosalin a bite of her birthday cake. When she refuses the cake, he eats it. Then, “his eyes went wide. He fell over sideways, straight as a log. The fork with its remnant of cake flew out of his hand, skittering across the dance floor. . .” The cake had been poisoned.

Language

  • Briony uses “oh curses” as an exclamation once.
  • A boy calls Edwin “sniveler.”
  • Rosalin calls Briony an idiot.
  • Rosalin often makes rude comments about Briony’s hair. For example, Rosalin says, “And fix your hair. You look like a Pegasus caught in a windstorm.”

Supernatural

  • The story takes place in Sleeping Beauty’s magical kingdom, where magic exists.
  • The castle is surrounded by Thornwood, a living plant that tries to trap people. When the branches are cut, “they hissed as if they had been burned.”
  • Briony sees a strange bird that “cocked its head and looked straight at me, and then it wasn’t a bird at all. It was a woman—a creature that looked like a woman—with shimmery dragonfly wings whirring behind her back.”
  • After the curse is broken, the fairy godmother throws a birthday ball. “The doors of the kitchen swung open and a cart rolled out. Rosalin’s birthday cake teetered on top.”
  • The prince says a fairy gave him a magical sword that can help him fight off the Thornwood.
  • Briony trips and puts her hand out to catch herself. “My palm landed right on a thorn. I screamed and pulled back. I expected the branches to wrap around my wrist. Instead, they all arced toward the thorn that had pierced my skin. A drop of blood dripped from the thorn’s tip, and one of the branches, swooped low to catch it.”
  • The tower room has a magic spinning wheel. Briony uses the spinning wheel to create magical, gold thread. The Thornwood “seemed to flinch back from the gold thread.”
  • Rosalin believes that the only way to save the castle from the Thornwood is to sacrifice herself, which she considers. Rosalin says, “It needs my blood. Once it has it, you’ll be free. You’ll all be safe. . . Name your first child after me.” Rosalin “thrust both hands into the thorns. Their hiss rose around us, sharp and sibilant and triumphant.”
  • Briony discovers that her blood repels the Thornwood. She “jabbed [her] palm into the spindle of the spinning wheel. It hurt. It really hurt. For one blinding second, the pain was all there was. Then I blinked out tears and saw that the thorns had drawn back even farther, leaving a larger space around the spinning wheel than they had before. My blood had given the spinning wheel power.”
  • Briony realizes that “No one, no prince, no savior, had come to us through the Thornwood. [The prince] had come from it.” Then Briony uses the magical gold thread. She “brought the thread down over his head and around his neck. I crisscrossed the ends and pulled them, making a noose that tightened against his throat.”
  • When Briony puts the golden thread around the prince, he changes. “His body shimmered; his face lengthened; his eyes grew larger. Two wings, blacker than black, snapped shut over his shoulder blades. He didn’t look like a woman, but he wasn’t a man either. He was a creature. A being. A center of power.” The prince was the fairy queen in disguise.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Firefly Hollow

There are certain things that are taught to the young fireflies and crickets of the Hollow. But Firefly doesn’t only want to learn how to fly—she wants to fly to the moon. And Cricket doesn’t only want to sing about baseball games—he wants to play in one.

Their dreams seem too big for the Hollow, and as Firefly and Cricket chase them beyond the trees, they stumble upon a giant, like the ones they have always been warned about. But this giant is different—he’s miniature, and his name is Peter.

Peter is in need of friends, even small ones, even if his dad thinks they are imaginary. But Firefly and Cricket are actual, not imaginary. And so are their dreams. And sometimes dreams, like friendships, lead to something extraordinary.

In the Hollow, both fireflies and crickets have been warned to stay away from humans, who are dangerous. “The worlds of tiny creatures and humans were unbridgeable, or at least that’s what crickets and fireflies were always told. But every once in a while, there was one—sometimes two—who ventured out of firefly nation, out of the cricket nation, to test the waters on their own.” Despite their fear, Firefly and Cricket leave the hollow and become friends with Peter. In the process, they learn that friends—no matter how small—can come in unlikely places.

Firefly Hollow shows how dreams can come true in unexpected ways. Unlike most of the Hollow’s creatures, Peter doesn’t make fun of Firefly’s and Cricket’s dreams. Instead, he helps them achieve their goals through encouragement and advice. Through the three friends’ experiences, readers will learn that true friends are kindred spirits who accept you as you are. As Vole says, “A kindred spirit is someone who understands the deepest dream of your heart.”

The Hollow is portrayed in a magical way through beautiful illustrations. Both black and white drawings and full-color illustrations appear every 3 to 7 pages. Most of the black and white illustrations focus on the characters. The colored illustrations show the beautiful light from fireflies as well as the scale of Firefly and Cricket compared to their surroundings. While younger readers will love the story, they may need help with the book’s advanced vocabulary which includes words like carapace, heedless, disintegrate, circumnavigated and kindred.

Firefly Hollow is a must-read because it is a beautiful story about friendship that shows the importance of determination, preservation, practice, and trying new things. The story also explores the idea of death by focusing on how people are missed after they die. Even though Firefly and Cricket are bugs, they are completely loveable and relatable. Readers will fall in love with the two friends who remind us that dreams are never too big.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The Museum of Giant Artifacts has items from the human world. In the museum, “the Jar that was especially horrifying to the firefly nation. The Jar! It contained actual firefly corpses!”
  • A cricket named Gloria is injured by a human. “One lollipop stick flung carelessly from the hand of a miniature giant and now there she is—one front leg and one wing permanently damaged.”
  • Vole’s nation was washed away. “The giants who lived upstream had struck down a beaver dam. This caused the river to rise up in fury, swamping the fishing boats of the river voles and sweeping both boats and voles downriver, never to be seen again. All except one. Vole.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Many think that Cricket and Firefly are “nuts” or “crazy.” For example, when Cricket says he’d like to catch a baseball, someone asks, “Are you nuts?”
  • At one point, Peter’s father says that Firefly is insane.
  • A cricket is talking about Cricket when he says, “He’s weird and he’s a pain, but we miss him anyway.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • An elder asks Firefly, “Did you know that when fireflies get very old, they turn into stars? And what that means is that if the day ever comes when I’m not here, I’ll be up in the sky. . .Just remember that,” he said. “Remember that one of the stars in the sky will be me, and I’ll be watching over you.”
  • After crickets die, they “turn into music and we are everywhere. . .They turned into the sound of the wind, rustling the leaves on the trees. The crunch of an acorn in the fall.”

 The Wishing Spell

Twins, Alex, and Conner Bailey are no longer living in a fairytale. After their father dies in a car accident, their mother struggles to make ends meet, and leaves the twins to fend for themselves on their birthday. Despite struggles in school and trouble making friends, both twins find comfort in the fairytales told to them by their late father and grandmother. A storybook from their grandmother titled, The Land of Stories allows the twins to enter a world of magic where fairytales become reality, but not everything happens as it was written.

In The Land of Stories, Goldilocks is a sword fighting outlaw, Little Red Riding Hood is a self-obsessed queen, and one of their greatest allies is a talking frog. However, as magical as the world may seem, the dangers are just as real, especially since the Evil Queen–from the tale of Snow White–has escaped from prison. To return to the safety of the real world, Alex and Conner need to find the items of “the Wishing Spell,” a legendary incantation that will allow them to wish their way home. But the Evil Queen is after it too. The twins are in a race against the Queen. Who will find the items of the Wishing Spell first? The twins will have to work together to settle their differences if they ever wish to return home.

The Wishing Spell is an entertaining and creative retelling of many classic fairytales including Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella. The Land of Stories is a well-crafted world, filled with many well-known tales that are explored in more depth. Because of that, the fairy tale characters develop intricate personalities, which are an enjoyable part of the book. The complicated plot is explained well, but the large cast of characters may be difficult for readers to remember. As for the main characters, Alex and Conner are opposites–Alex is a diligent, well-read girl with an introverted and idealistic personality, while Conner is a class-clown type character that provides comic relief and serves as a “realist” when needed. Combined, they make an engaging and loveable pair.

In the end, the twins learn that there is more to each story than what meets the eye. Alex and Conner are thwarted by the Queen, resulting in her using the Wishing Spell items before they can. However, they learn about her motives that reveal her to be less evil and more misunderstood, which deepens their compassion for her. As Alex says, “I think what I’ve learned from all this is that villains are mostly just people villainized by circumstance.”

In the end, the Evil Queen dies, and the truth of her motives—to save her lover who is trapped in the magic mirror—die with her. The twins learn that, while “happy ever after” may not be a reality for everyone, genuine kindness and love does exist. The story highlights the importance of treating others with respect and patience so misunderstandings can be prevented. No one can go back in time to save the Evil Queen from her demise, but Snow White concludes that “the best thing we can do now to honor her memory is to live every day with the compassion and understanding no one ever gave her.”

Sexual Content

  • Conner says he remembers the location of a room because of a painting beside it. Conner says, “I remember that portrait of Red being next to the basket room.” Conner pointed to a portrait where Red Riding Hood was barely clothed, with only a wolf-skin coat to cover her. Alex gave Conner a dirty look. “‘What?’ Conner asked with a smirk. ‘It’s memorable.’”
  • Goldilocks and Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk) are in love. They kiss. Jack “reached through the gate and pulled Goldilocks close to him, and they kissed. It was passionate, pure, and long overdue.”
  • To get released from prison, Conner has to kiss a troll. “At a snail’s pace, [Conner] approached Trollbella with his lips extended. He wasn’t going fast enough for Alex, so she pushed him toward the cell door and Trollbella grabbed hold of him through the bars. She planted a big, fat, juicy kiss on him.”
  • When Goldilocks is rescued from the palace wreckage, she and Jack kiss. Goldilocks and “Jack collided into each other’s arms. They shared a kiss so passionate that a few of the soldiers blushed.”

Violence

  • Goldilocks and her horse, Porridge, fight with a pack of wolves. “One wolf tried to pounce on Porridge, but the horse kicked him away with her hind legs. Another wolf tried to bite Goldilocks, but she struck him with her sword, drawing blood, and he whimpered away. . . A wolf leaped and sank his claws into Porridge’s back. The horse bucked to free herself. In one quick slice, Goldilocks chopped one of wolves’ paws off. . . Goldilocks swung [her sword] hard at the wolves closing in on her, leaving large gashes in their muzzles.”
  • The goblins and trolls keep other beings as slaves who dig tunnels for them. They whip and imprison the humans, but it is not described in depth.
  • The twins fight back when they are chased by wolves in a minecart. “A few of the wolves swiped at them with their claws. The twins ducked down as far as they could in the cart, but not before one of them reached Conner and left a bloody scratch on his forearm. Alex kicked another right in the snout, and it whimpered away.”
  • The Evil Queen hits Conner. “She struck him hard across the face with the back of her hand. Conner’s whole body shifted with the blow.”
  • The Evil Queen’s Huntsman tries to kill Jack but ends up getting killed. “The Huntsman began shooting arrows at Jack. . . Jack was trying to block the arrows with the sword. . . He hit one [arrow] perfectly, and it flew behind the Huntsman. The Huntsman grunted and froze. His eyes bulged and he fell flat on his face. The arrow had bounced off the wall behind him and was now sticking out of his back. The Huntsman was dead.”
  • The Huntsman’s daughter, the Huntress, tries to kill Jack in retaliation. “Jack turned around and the Huntress stabbed him in the arm with her dagger. . . He dropped the sword and fell to the ground. . . He was clutching his arm. Blood was everywhere.”
  • To protect him, Goldilocks intervenes and fights the Huntress. “Goldilocks blocked the dagger with her sword. . . [Then Goldilocks] kicked the Huntress in the stomach. The Huntress rolled to the other side of the room and hopped back to her feet. Goldilocks swung her sword at the Huntress and the duel began. . .” The fight lasts five pages and ends with the pair dueling on the palace roof. Jack interferes to save Goldilocks. “He ran over to a cannon and lit it. He wrenched it toward the Huntress’s direction, and it fired. A cannonball soared towards the women and blasted away the section of roof the Huntress was standing on. [The Huntress] fell the entire height of the castle and into the moat, silently screaming the entire way. There was no way she could have survived the fall.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Mrs. Peters, the kids’ teacher, gives a patronizing look. “‘And why is that?’ Mrs. Peters said, as if asking, ‘What on earth could you possibly be confused about, idiot?’”
  • Conner says, “Don’t piss off your neighbors.” He also says “stupid” once.
  • A farmer says, “the damn thing never worked” talking about a magic watering can.
  • Alex calls Conner an “idiot” when Connor screams in surprise at his reflection in a mirror.
  • Conner calls Queen Red Riding Hood a “self-obsessed twit.”
  • Froggy, a talking frog, says “damn you, miserable plants,” when the twins are attacked by vines.
  • Goldilocks insults Red Riding Hood a few times, calling her a “red-hooded harlot” and a “basket carrying bimbo.”
  • When the Evil Queen hits Conner, she calls him a “stupid boy.”

Supernatural

  • The kids use the fictional storybook The Land of Stories to travel to a magical land where all fairytales are true—with varying degrees of truth, such as Goldilocks becoming an outlaw after her run in with the three bears.
  • In The Land of Stories, there are talking animals, fictional creatures such as fairies, and magic.

Spiritual Content

  • Conner wonders why Snow White’s kingdom would have so many tributes to apples because they were what almost killed her. Alex says, “I suppose it’s symbolic for the kingdom. Like a cross in the church.”
  • When Connor and Alex wake up in the Mermaid Kingdom, Conner thinks that they have died. He thinks, “We must be in heaven.” Conner also mistakes the mermaids for angels.

by Maddie Shooter

The Queen of Nothing

Jude is a mortal who has grown up in Faerieland, but she has recently been exiled back to the land of her birth. Now, Jude lives in the mortal land with her siblings, Oak, a faerie, and Vivi, who is half-faerie. Jude begins to rely on odd jobs to get by. However, this all changes when Taryn, Jude’s twin sister, seeks refuge with them, telling them that she’s killed her husband. Because they’re identical, Jude and Taryn decide to swap Identities and Jude jumps at the chance to return to her home. However, when Jude returns, her husband, the High King of Elfhame, recognizes she isn’t Taryn, and tells Jude that her exile was all a farce and she could have returned at any time. Jude feels betrayed. Before the two can fully reconcile, however, Madoc, Jude’s adoptive father, swoops in, trying to save Taryn from her interrogation, but takes Jude instead not realizing she and Taryn had switched.

Jude plots against Madoc and confronts him revealing that she isn’t Taryn. The two fight, and Madoc delivers a fatal blow to Jude. Despite the severity of the wound, Jude is able to heal and return to the palace, where she is now the queen due to her marriage to Cardan. At the palace, Madoc and his allies strike, and Madoc challenges Cardan to a duel. Before the duel can take place, Cardan speaks out about the ridiculous manner of the monarchy of Elfhame and makes a show of breaking the crown in half. However, the crown is cursed and Cardan transforms into a giant serpent. It’s prophesized that “only out of his blood can a great leader rise,” so Jude kills the serpent and Cardan is reborn and accepted to be the true High King of Elfhame. Jude and Cardan then fully recognize the love that they have for each other and resume their legal rules in peace.

In the final book of The Folk and the Air Trilogy, Black creates a thrilling read full of suspense. The characters plotting against each other make a gripping story that feels impossible to put down. The ending, where Cardan turns into a snake, seems a little out of place and extremely odd given the rest of the trilogy. Despite this, Black creates a story full of characters who seem believable and relatable, with at least one character the reader will see themselves in.

The Queen of Nothing wraps up loose ends which creates a satisfying ending to Cardan and Jude’s tale. The story tells of the heroic achievements of the underdog and emphasizes the importance of remaining strong throughout adversity. The novel emphasizes the idea of finding allies in unlikely places, as well as the importance of resilience. Altogether, Black creates a series that is highly engrossing and deeply satisfying.

Sexual Content

  • Cardan and Jude kiss. She thinks, “I want him to kiss me. My weariness evaporates as his lips press against mine. Over and over, one kiss sliding into the next.”
  • Before Cardan and Jude have sex, Jude thinks, “When I was a kid, sex was a mystery, some bizarre thing people did to make babies when they got married. Once, a friend and I placed dolls in a hat and shook the hat around to indicate that they were doing it . . . But though I understand what sex is now and how it’s accomplished, I didn’t anticipate how much it would feel like losing myself.”
  • Cardan and Jude have sex. Jude fumbles “into what I think is the right position. Gasp as our bodies slide together. He holds me steady through the sharp, bright spark of pain.”

Violence

  • Prince Dain, Cardan’s brother, shoots a mortal with an arrow. Prince Dain “loosed the arrow . . . It struck the mortal through the throat.” The wound is not described.
  • In a three-page scene, Jude fights Grima Mog, a cannibalistic faerie general. At one point, “Jude swings a metal pipe at Grima Mog’s side with all the strength in [her] body.” Grima Mog is injured, but not severely.
  • Taryn confesses that she killed Locke, her husband. She goes on to explain his death: “There was a jeweled letter opener on the desk and—you remember all those lessons Madoc gave us? The next thing I knew, the point of it was in Locke’s throat.”
  • When Madoc invades the castle to rescue Taryn, many guards are killed. “One of [Cardan]’s guards lies dead, a polearm jutting out of her ribcage.” The fight is not described.
  • Madoc and Jude have a three-page fight, where Madoc stabs her. “His sword sinks into my side, into my stomach.” Although the wound is not described, Jude then goes on to describe when Madoc walks away. “His blade comes free, slick with my blood. My leg is wet with it. I am bleeding out.” Despite incurring such a violent injury, Jude is able to heal.
  • When Jude and Cardan reunite, she slaps him. “It’s a stinging blow, smearing the gold on his cheekbone and causing his skin to redden.”
  • One of Jude’s fellow spies tells Jude, “We caught a few courtiers speculating about assassinating the mortal queen. Their plans got blown up . . . As did they.”
  • Jude kills the serpent that Cardan becomes. “I swing Heartsworn in a shining arc at the serpent’s head. The blade falls, cutting through scales, through flesh and bone. Then the serpent’s head is at my feet.”
  • The Queen of the Undersea, Orlagh is shot by a cursed arrow. Madoc tells Cardan, “’If you will not risk the Blood Crown, the arrowhead will burrow into her heart, and she will die.’”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Madoc drugs Jude with “a cloth smelling of cloying sweetness.” Jude “feel[s] [her] limbs go loose, and a moment later, [she] feel[s] nothing at all.”
  • At parties, there is often drinking, especially of “honey wine.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • At Cardan’s birth, a prophecy is given. “Prince Cardan will be your last born child . . . He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne.”
  • When Cardan is a child, his brother instructs him to shoot a walnut off a mortal man’s head. The mortal is described as “enchanted, of course. No one would stand like that willingly.”
  • While in exile, Jude reminisces on her time in Faerie, thinking, “It’s magic I long for, magic I miss. Maybe I even miss being afraid.”
  • There are many faeries. For example, Oak, Jude’s brother, is described with horns and hoofed feet.
  • Heather, Vivi’s girlfriend, texts her about her time in Faeire, saying, “I want to forget Faerie. I want to forget that you and Oak aren’t human. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. If I asked you to make me forget, would you?”
  • While in the mortal realm, Jude explains that “faeries in the mortal world have a different set of needs than those in Elfhame. The solitary fey, surviving at the edges of Faerie, do not concern themselves with revels and courtly machinations.”
  • Jude’s boss, who provides her with odd jobs, is described as  “a black-furred, goat-headed, and goat-hooved faerie with bowler hat in hand.”
  • Both Grima Mog (a cannibalistic faerie general), and Madoc (Jude’s father) are Redcaps, meaning “they have a cap they dip in the blood of their vanquished enemies, supposedly to grant them some stolen vitality of the slain.”
  • When Jude opens Grima Mog’s fridge to put some leftovers away, “The remains of the Folk she’s killed greet me. She’s collected arms and heads, preserved somehow, baked and broiled and put away just like leftovers after a big holiday dinner.”
  • Heather confides in Jude about her troubles. Heather says, “I have nightmares. About that place. Faerie. I can’t sleep. I look at people on the street, and I wonder if they’re glamoured. . . I don’t need to know there’s a whole other world full of monsters. . . But I also hate that [Oak] and Vee have magic, magic that she could use to win every argument that we could ever have. Magic to make me obsessed with her. Or turn me into a duck.”
  • Jude explains that she “had a geas placed on me. It protects me from glamours.”
  • Grimsen, a Faerie blacksmith, explains that he made Cardan an earring that “allowed him to overhear those speaking just outside of range.” However, “it was cursed. With a word, I could turn it into a ruby spider that would bite him until he died.”
  • Jude explains the importance of the full names of faeries. “Among the Folk, true names are closely guarded secrets. A faerie can be controlled by their true name, surer than by any vow.”
  • As the High Queen of Faerie, Jude wonders if the earth can heal her in a way similar to how the land reacts to Cardan. After sewing her wound shut, she notices that in the ground, where she had bled, “tiny white flowers [are] pushing through the snow.”
  • Nicasia, princess of the Undersea, is described as wearing “armor of iridescent scales.”
  • At Cardan’s old house, there is a magical door “carved with an enormous and sinister face” that can speak.
  • Madoc drives a sword into the floor. “A crack forms on the floor, starting where the blade punctured the ground, the fissure widening as it moves toward the dais, splitting the stone.” The throne is split, and “sap leaks from the rupture like blood from a wound.”
  • Cardan, after being cursed, turns into a giant serpent. “The monstrous thing seems to have swallowed up everything of Cardan. His mouth opens wide and then jaw-crackingly wide as long fangs sprout. Scales shroud his skin… In the place where the High King was, there is a massive serpent, covered in black scales and curved fangs. A golden sheen runs down the coils of the enormous body.”
  • Jude begs the earth to uncurse Cardan. “‘Please,’ I say to the dirt floor of the brugh, to the earth itself. ‘I will do whatever you want. I will give up the crown. I will make any bargain. Just please fix him. Help me break the curse.’”
  • There is a theory that the health of the king is tied closely to the land, so when it storms, Jude thinks, “I can only assume that Cardan, in his cursed form, is cursing the weather as well.”
  • Grimsen, a blacksmith, created a bridle that can “leash anything. In fact, it will fit itself to the creature being restrained.”
  • Jude is able to heal a poisoned man by placing her hand on his ankle and thinking, “Wake…I am your queen and I command you to wake.”
  • The astronomer on the king’s council says the stars are unclear. “When the future is obscured, it means an event will permanently reshape the future for good or ill. Nothing can be seen until the event is concluded.”
  • Once Cardan is uncursed, he heals the land that Madoc had broken, “Cardan spreads his hands, and the earth heals along the seam, rock and stone bubbling up to fill it back in. Then he twists his fingers, and the divided throne grows anew, blooming with briars.”
  • Cardan gifts the spies of his kingdom magical masks, explaining, “When you wear it, no one will be able to recall your height or the timbre of your voice. And in that mask, let no one in Elfhame turn you away. Every hearth will be open to you, including mine.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

 

Monstrous

The city of Bryre suffers under the magic of an evil wizard. All the young girls get sick because of his curse and disappear without a trace. No one is allowed outside at night, but for Kymera, night is the only time she can enter the city. Kymera was a victim of the wizard, but her father brought her back to life, and he replaced her burnt body parts with the remains of other girls and modified her body with animal body parts. According to her father, people would not understand her wings, her claws, or her spiky tail. They would not comprehend her purpose: to rescue the missing girls from the wizard’s prison.

Even though she was cautious, Ren, a boy from the city, sees Kymera and leaves a perfect rose for her every evening. Over time, they become friends, and as they talk, Kymera realizes that Ren knows about the missing girls’ plight, the wizard, and the evil magic encroaching on Bryre. And what he knows will change her life.

Set in, near, and around the cities of Bryre and Belladoma, each chapter follows Kymera’s perspective, and the first page is decorated with shifting side profiles of Kymera, her father, Ren, and Batu, a rock dragon, allowing the reader to visualize the characters. However, each chapter details one or more days in her life, which leads to the unique chaptering of non-consecutive days: the chapter format does not make the story confusing. Instead, the chapter format assists in thoughtfully unveiling the setting as Kymera becomes accustomed to her new body and old memories.

Due to her interactions with Ren, Kymera rethinks everything she had known about herself, her father, and her relations with the city. Though Ren and Kymera have a wonderful friendship, their relationship does not extend from their mutual feelings as allies. At first, she is cautious of Ren because she does not know how he will react to her animal traits. Eventually, Kymera fully trusts Ren as she learns the truth about her mission. Despite her initial ignorance about the city of Bryre, Kymera is a fascinating narrator, but her monologues about her true nature make the story drag.

Monstrous takes pieces from classic fairy tales and uses them to make a compelling, unique story. Readers will take away one lesson from the story—know who you can trust. For instance, the king and queen of Bryre make a deal with a wizard to protect Bryre from an unnamed city but decline to compensate the wizard when he asks for their first-born child as payment. Ten years later, he betrays the king by killing the queen and his first-born child—Rosabel.

Rumpelstiltskin is the inspiration behind their deal; The Pied Piper of Hamelin is the inspiration behind its consequences. Readers will enjoy pointing out the fairy tale inspirations and figuring out the true villain’s identity within Kymera’s limited perspective. There are few scenes with graphic violence and many acts of magic scattered throughout the story. All in all, this debut novel by MarcyKate Connolly stands out as an original story while feeling like a classic. Readers who enjoy reading fairytale-inspired stories will also enjoy Royal Academy Rebels Series by Jen Calonita.

 Sexual Content

  • Ren leaves perfect red roses for Kymera, but her father “would not be happy that a boy is leaving [Kymera] gifts.”
  • When Kymera tests her abilities for the first time, a man approaches her and asks her to take off her cloak. “His gait appears nonchalant, but it is faster than I think. . . Why did he [Father] leave me to face this unsettling man alone?”

Violence

  • Father tells Kymera that a powerful wizard killed her mother. “Your mother attempted to stop him, and the wizard murdered her in the ensuing struggle.” Later, Father elaborates, “The queen [Kymera’s mother] tried to block my path to the princess. I killed her. . . I killed [the princess], too. I took [the princess’s] body and disappeared.”
  • Kymera hunts a rabbit for dinner. “I pounce, my teeth tearing into the soft flesh of its neck.” She does not know if she was meant to kill the rabbit. Then, she returns to her cottage with the “limp, bloody creature.” This scene continues for two pages.
  • There used to be a lot of magical creatures, but several species have been hunted to extinction. Father says, “The last griffin died more than a century ago, and dragons have been hunted to the brink of extinction for their magic powers. . .” When Kymera meets Batu, he adds, “[Wizards] take our blood, they take our magic.” Magical creatures’ extinctions are mentioned throughout the book.
  • Kymera fights a multitude of guards in the wizard’s prison. “Two guards peel off the wall and hurl themselves at me . . . I duck and sting them. . . others succumb to the effects of Father’s weapon. . .” She harms the guards.
  • A corpse of “the sickly girl…lies inside . . . the cold box.” Father said the young girl was buried in Belladoma. Kymera wonders why the sickly girl’s body was in Father’s basement instead.
  • When they see she killed a girl, the townspeople call for Kymera’s murder. “The crowd chants as a tradesman carries the limp body up to a platform in the middle of the square . . .” Oliver, a friend of Ren’s parents, attempts to calm the rioters and clear Kymera’s name. This scene continues for seven pages.
  • When Kymera and Ren are leaving Belladoma, King Ensel and Albin, his captain, fight them. “The blade sings past my [Kymera’s] arm and cuts a few feathers off my left wing.” After the Sonzeeki, an ancient, tentacled sea creature, eats Albin, Kymera hurls the king into the sea, and “the sea catches him in its maw and swallows.”
  • A man abducts Emmy, a missing girl from Bryre, and Kymera chases after him. When she finds him, she swoops down, pins him to the ground, and kills him. “The flame of rage in me explodes into a bonfire. . . My body acts of its own accord.” After she kills him, she finds Emmy dead from a blade embedded in her back. “[The crossbow] must have been set with the blade. . . One flick of his wrist and she was dead.”
  • When the wizard and King Ensel gather their troops in Bryre, Kymera gives chase. She stings King Ensel “until his shirt is shredded and bloody, and his eyes are dull.”
  • Kymera and Batu are fighting the wizard. The wizard kills Batu with vines and “drops of blue, glittering liquid—dragon’s blood—dot the ground. [Batu] stops moving.” Then, Kymera fights the wizard by herself. She kills him by dropping him “into his own funnel cloud. . . Then it spits him out . . . in seconds his body crumbles to dust.” Including the initial encounter, the final fight lasts for twelve pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Kymera’s barbed tail can put “people to sleep.” She frequently uses this function.
  • Kymera uses “vials of sleeping powder” to put the guards to sleep.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Magic is used by wizards and magical creatures, and the most prominent type of magic is dark magic. “Dark magic is the most powerful in shadows and moonlight. . .”
  • The wizard created a curse that only affects young girls and is transmitted like a disease.
  • Batu and Kymera make “a blood oath” so they can protect each other from the dark wizard. The spell prevents Batu and Kymera from mentioning their names and identities in front of individuals outside of their blood oath. Batu says, “We must keep each other secret to keep each other safe.”
  • Besides dragons, a lot of magical creatures exist, such as “centaurs, fauns, and mermaids.”
  • The dark wizard planted vines that would grow all over Bryre. “A huge gnarl of vines and thorns rises in front of us. It appears to be swallowing a building whole.”
  • Kymera’s father set up warding charms to “prevent anyone who would do the city harm from entering.”
  • King Ensel angered an ancient sea creature, the Sonzeeki, and “if he [King Ensel] doesn’t send a young girl off the cliff at the apex of each full moon, the Sonzeeki floods the city.”
  • The evil wizard revives King Ensel without inflicting any ill effects.

Spiritual Content

  • During one of Kymera’s conversations with Batu, he says, “Humans, dragons, hybrids–we are all animals in some form. And we all return to the universe when we pass from this life.”

by Jemima Cooke

Castle Hangnail

When twelve-year-old Molly appears on their doorstep claiming to be the new Master of the castle, every minion in Castle Hangnail is doubtful. Molly’s short height and politeness are different from the tall, intimidating Masters of the past. However, the castle needs a Master or else the Board of Magic will decommission the castle, leaving the minions without a home. Molly assures the minions that she is a bona-fide Wicked Witch and begins completing the Tasks required by the Board of Magic, leaving everyone with hope. But Molly has a few secrets—the biggest one being that she is not who she claims to be.

Castle Hangnail uses tropes of old-school baddies to create a humorous story that will leave readers laughing. Molly hides her secrets as she is learning magic, casting magic, and imitating the wickedness of the previous Masters. Majordomo, the head of the minions, finds out that Molly was not the intended Master and confronts her about her claim to Castle Hangnail. When the intended Master, a Sorceress named Eudaimonia, arrives to take the castle by force, Molly and the minions work together to defeat her.

At Castle Hangnail, Molly interacts with many magical creatures, all of which are based on the supernatural and fantastic. To add to the zaniness, stories about the former Masters are sprinkled throughout the book. At one point, Majordomo talks about the previous Vampire Lord, who “liked to keep the hearts in jars in the basement, but he was rather old-fashioned.” Stories about the former Masters and snippets about the magical creatures add levity and humor to the story. Readers will enjoy the humor of the story as well as how Molly finishes the Tasks and defeats Eudaimonia.

Fun black and white illustrations of the characters and scenery add to the hilarity of the book, alongside two-page spreads so readers can visualize the happenings in Castle Hangnail. The blend of text and pictures help to keep younger readers engaged with the story. The beginning is slow because of the initial worldbuilding, but the interactions between Molly, the minions, and the villagers keep the action going. Castle Hangnail shows the value of standing up against bullies and will engage even the most reluctant readers. Although Castle Hangnail is a stand-alone title, readers will be asking for a continuation of Molly’s adventures. Readers who enjoy Castle Hangnail may also want to try Ursula Vernon’s series Dragonbreath.

Sexual Content

  • Lord Edward, an enchanted suit of armor, remarks that Miss Handlebram, the gardener, is a “fine figure of a woman.”

Violence

  • Angus, the son of the cook at Castle Hangnail, suggests that Molly should cause a ruckus for Old Man Harrow because Old Man Harrow “beats his donkey.”
  • After Miss Handlebram stood up for Molly, Eudaimonia “froze Miss Handlebram in ice.” Later, Molly and the rest of the minions defrost Miss Handlebram, so Eudaimonia “zapped Majordomo” because he was the head of the minions and betrayed Eudaimonia’s trust.
  • After seeing Old Man Harrow punch his donkey “between the eyes,” Molly turns the donkey into a dragon by saying, “Accreus Illusus Equine Accomplicia Margle Fandango” while holding a sprig of moonwort. Molly expected the spell to last for a minute, but it lasted for “seven minutes and forty-three seconds.” The dragon “tore at the stack of firewood with its claws” while Old Man Harrow hid in one of the animals’ stalls. Then, the dragon smashed its tail “through an old water trough” and scorched the roof when it learned it could “breathe fire.” Molly grabbed the dragon’s attention, calmed it down by scratching it “behind its ears,” and takes the donkey off “[Old Man Harrow’s] hands.” The scuffle between Old Man Harrow and the dragon lasts for four pages.
  • Freddy Wisteria, a real estate developer, tried to throw a rock into a window but “dropped the rock on his own foot.” He ran away when Molly threatened to turn him to the police for questioning.
  • When comparing the different Masters of Castle Hangnail, a minion comments that “the old Vampire Lord used to drain the blood of villagers.”
  • Gordon, one of Eudaimonia’s minions, knocked over Lord Edward, leaving the suit of armor in “multiple pieces.”
  • To gain the title of Master of Castle Hangnail, Eudaimonia and Molly fight in “a formal challenge.” Throughout the fight, Molly uses the many spells she learned from the Little Gray Book and Eudaimonia shoots bolts “of ice” from her wand, which freezes her targets. First, Molly turns the stone under Eudaimonia’s feet into cheese by yelling, “Grappa Electroi Caseus Formatus” while holding mint leaves. The minions help as well; she transforms Bugbane into a small dragon by reciting, “Accreus Illusus Chiropteran Accomplicia Margle Fandango” as she holds a piece of his fur. Bugbane sets “the bodyguard’s hair on fire” and breathes fire everywhere, but Eudaimonia shoots at the dragon-bat. Molly notices Eudaimonia “keeps using [Molly’s] magic against [her]” and she stops Eudaimonia from taking her magic by picturing “a silver cord coming out of her chest and sliced her hand down across it” while the Clockwork Bees distracted Eudaimonia. Angus “dove between Molly and the blast of ice” but was cold and took a shot. The other minions handle “[Eudaimonia’s] minions”. Finally, Molly uses the shadow spell. The shadow breaks Eudaimonia’s wand and drags Eudaimonia into a large pool of shadows called the “Kingdom of Shadows.” Molly stops the shadow by jabbing a forefinger with a pin. “She held out her hand. A single drop of blood fell onto the mint leaves” and offered the bloodied herbs to the shadow, ending the fight.  The fight lasts for 11 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Majordomo gives a cup of hot milk and “brown flecks” to Gordon, one of Eudaimonia’s minions, to sedate him.

Language

  • When Majordomo admits to the rest of the minions that Molly lied to her parents about where she was going to camp for the summer, Majordomo exclaims, “For the love of Hecate . . .”
  • When Molly’s sister arrives at Castle Hangnail, she remarks, “Hecate’s ghost! She is the good twin, isn’t she?”
  • The Cursed Beastlord, one of the previous Masters of Castle Hangnail, gave Majordomo the name “Wretch.”
  • Miss Handlebram calls Eudaimonia, the intended Master of the Castle, a “nasty girl.” In return. Eudaimonia calls Miss Handlebram an “interfering old Majordomo biddy.”
  • Freddy Wisteria tries to force the townsfolk into selling their homes to him and attempts to buy Castle Hangnail, so Molly calls him a creep.
  • When hearing a noise from downstairs, Majordomo says, “Blast.”
  • Eudaimonia calls Angus “stupid” when he asked about the food for her cockatrices.
  • Eudaimonia refers to Castle Hangnail as a “pathetic run-down little backwater.”

Supernatural

  • To prove herself to the Board of Magic, the association that gives the Masters places to own, Molly must “smite” or use magic to punish people, and “blight” or use magic to harm objects or plants.
  • Molly uses the spells she learned from spell books and from Eudaimonia. She can make a ward by pinning a sprig of rosemary near a door and saying “Zizzible zazzible…watch-and-report.” The smell of rosemary fills her nose when someone steps through the door. In addition, she “could start a fire with her thumbnail…get tangles out of the worst tangled hair…turn a leaf into a teacup, and a teacup into a leaf.”
  • Molly can turn invisible by holding her breath, and the only side effect is light-headedness.
  • Molly casts a spell to allow her to talk to the bats in “the belfry.” To cast the spell, she holds the fur or feather of an animal and says, “Avack! Auilriuan! Arwiggle!” She uses the spell again to speak to the moles. There are no ill effects with this spell.
  • Molly gives some of her magic to Stonebreaker, a mole shaman, so the moles can summon Wormrise, a “great spirit,” for luck and fortune.
  • Eudaimonia and Molly use rosemary in “an alarm spell” to alert them to intruders in Castle Hangnail.
  • Molly gives the power of speech to a statue who “muttered insults. . .in Latin, so they sounded very grand and impressive.”
  • During Eudaimonia and Molly’s formal challenge for Castle Hangnail, Molly turns the goldfish into a “sea serpent.”
  • Molly animates her shadow with a shadow spell by reciting, “Shanks and shadows—up and down—inner and outer and magic unbound!” She can command her shadow to dance; she uses the animated shadow once to intimidate Freddy Wisteria when he is caught breaking and entering and attempting arson on her barn, and once against Eudaimonia during their “formal challenge”.

Spiritual Content

  • Molly’s sister “sings in the church choir.”

by Jemima Cooke

Once Upon a Camel

Zada is an achy, old camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the ruling Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new lands, led army missions, and outsmarted a pompous mountain lion.

But these stories were before. Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears and a dust storm the size of a mountain take Zada on one more grand adventure – and it could lead to Zada’s most brilliant story yet.

Readers will fall in love with Zada as she protects two kestrel chicks from a windstorm. Zada’s patience is never-ending, and she uses beautiful stories to keep the chicks occupied. However, some readers may become annoyed by the chicks’ constant chirping and complaining. Despite this, the relationship between Zada and the birds is super sweet, and readers will relate to the chicks who are anxious about being separated from their parents.

The wind, which attacks Zada and her friends, is described as a living beast. For example, “As if they were waiting to grab one of the chicks, the willy-willies and the dust devils, the samiels and simoons, danced all around Zada. They swiped at her ankles, raced ahead of her, rose and fell, then rose and fell again, reminding her of ocean waves.” Through the story, readers learn about the weather, which adds depth to the story.

Once Upon a Camel is best suited for advanced readers because of the constant back and forth between present day and the past. Each chapter begins with the name of a place and the year, which will help readers know if the events are one of Zada’s stories or not. Some readers may be confused by the advanced vocabulary and the Turkish words, such as simoons, samiels, muster, escarpment, festooned, denizens, and dissipate. Detailed black and white illustrations appear every 8 to 16 pages, and a one-page glossary appears at the end of the book.

Each story Zada tells is full of magic. Zada demonstrates how stories can help us deal with an array of emotions. Zada’s love for her original country shines, and readers will catch a glimpse of Turkey’s culture through her stories. Even though Zada was born into a caravan of prized racing horses owned by a Turkish pasha, in 1857, she sails the seas and lands in Texas, where she discovers she will be a pack animal for the U.S. Army. Some readers may be disappointed with the lack of details about how the camels helped the army.

While Once Upon a Camel highlights the magic of storytelling, younger readers may struggle with the constantly shifting time period, advanced vocabulary, and Turkish words. By the end of the story, the chicks’ “tap-tap-tap-KICK, tap-tap-tap-KICK,” and “peeppeeppeeppeeppeeppeeppeepeep” becomes frustrating. However, Zada’s point of view is interesting and unique, and she isn’t afraid to jump in a potentially dangerous situation to help those in need. In the end, no matter how difficult a situation is, Zada is determined to “become the brightest star.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Like human siblings, the two baby chicks argue and peck at each other.
  • When the camels traveled to Texas, they upset the horses. “The combination of hollering and gamboling set the resident equines into a frenzy of bucking and snorting. They reared up onto their hind feet, kicked each other, even cracked a bunch of teeth and jawbones.”
  • Pecos de Leon, a mountain lion, would hunt for prey. “He would spot an unsuspecting pack rat from ten feet away, then boom! Four paws off the ground and no more pack rat. Even snakes weren’t safe from his stalking prowess. He liked their spicy flavor.”
  • A group of boys sees Zada and her friend. “The boys and horses surrounded the camels, and for no reason whatsoever, started pelting them with rocks. Whap, whap, whap! Ouch ouch ouch!”
  • A flock of Kestrels attacks a coyote puppy. The puppy “was trying to tuck itself underneath a mesquite bush. Its front paws were covering its eyes, and it was shaking from nose to tail. . .[the birds] swished by and scraped the coyote’s ears with their sharp little talons. The coyote kept yipping and yapping and whimpering. The kestrels kept dive-bombing.” Zada chases the birds away.
  • The birds attack the coyote puppy because it ate some kestrel eggs. “They made a quick breakfast for the hungry pup.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Zada goes to the races and sees amazing things, including travelers who carried wine.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When the birds get separated, the bird’s father Pard thinks his family will be at the mission. Pard “was praying that Perlita [the bird’s mother] was already there.”

Disney at Dawn

The Kingdom Keepers are back together to protect the Disney Parks from the evil fairy, Maleficent, and the Overtakers. But this time, the attack is personal. Amanda’s sister, Jez, has been kidnapped, leaving behind only her journal of clairvoyant sketches to help her friends find her. The search takes the Keepers to Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, where Maleficent is hiding and using mind-controlled animals to do her evil bidding.

Raising the stakes further, Maleficent has set up a second hologram server that only she controls.  If the heroes fall asleep, Maleficent and the Overtakers can force them to “crossover” into their holographic state and be stuck in Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, a coma-like sleep from which you cannot wake up on your own. Finn and the rest of the Kingdom Keepers must go undercover as Animal Kingdom employees to uncover secret meanings in Jez’s clairvoyant drawings, stop Maleficent and the animals from their quest to escape the parks, and find a way to shut down the second server, all before they become unable to stay awake any longer.

This thrilling second installment in the Kingdom Keepers Series keeps readers on their toes with fast-paced action sequences, simultaneous missions, and an exciting new location where the magic of the parks is shown. The book successfully transports readers to Animal Kingdom in the thick of the action. Pearson’s narration once again manages to provide wayfinding tips as well as the necessary descriptions of park attractions, so even those who have never seen Animal Kingdom before will feel as if they are actually there with the Keepers. Pearson also strikes a balance between solo missions for each Kingdom Keeper as well as creating new duos and trios for the action to revolve around. As the teams split off, the characters’ dynamics shine, with each different personality on display for readers to enjoy. They all get the chance to be leaders in their own unique way.

As before, if your young reader enjoys the Disney Parks, or has an interest in the park’s operations, this book offers an exciting “behind the scenes” view from the Kingdom Keepers’ perspective. It balances the presence of technical knowledge of the theme park and its attractions with the fantastical plot that brings animals, animatronics, and evil villains to life. The second book in the series does everything that Disney After Dark does well, but on a bigger scale, with characters that readers now know and are sure to root for.

Sexual Content

  • In the tunnels, Jez and Finn’s “faces were about a foot apart,” when Jez reminds Finn that she has a boyfriend.

 

Violence

  • There are references to the events of the previous book, including Maybeck’s “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome” in which he crossed over into his DHI state against his will and was unable to wake up. The narration describes the severity of the syndrome, saying it “might have killed him.”
  • While trying to stop a man from chasing Finn through a series of booby-trapped tunnels, Finn decides to trigger one of the booby-traps so that they both fall through the chute, effectively throwing off the man’s pursuit. As Finn falls and grabs onto the ledge, “His body smacked into the hanging trapdoor.”
  • Jez is “kidnapped” by the Overtakers, the evil Disney villains trying to take over the park.
  • Finn fears that the weather balloon him and his friends spotted in the sky above the park is meant to “kill him and his friends.” Philby says if that were true, then the man chasing Finn and Philby to the top of the castle would be “suicidal” as he would also be subject to the lightning strike. Finn also imagines that it could be a Frankenstein-like experiment, picturing “some Disney monster strapped to a stainless-steel table with wires attached to his head and heart.”
  • Finn and Philby discover an actress dressed as Tinkerbell tied up in the room of the castle from which she is meant to “fly” by ziplining across the park during the fireworks shows. However, Maleficent has orchestrated this event as her escape. Finn watches as Maleficent “jumps” out the window, though he soon realizes that she is not falling, but flying away.
  • The kids often use an online virtual reality system that allows them to navigate the software that controls the park as well as communicate with other people. Finn remembers how his parents warned him of “stalkers” that preyed on kids “by pretending to be kids themselves.”
  • Finn wondered if his mentor, Wayne, had “died or been captured by the Overtakers” or “been in a coma” since he had not heard from him.
  • Wayne explains that Maleficent wants to put all the DHIs into Sleeping Beauty Syndrome so that they are “out of the way . . . for good.” They can only prevent this by “crashing” the system that the Overtakers will use to put them in the coma. However, if they do this too soon, Wayne says they may never see Jez again.
  • While on the roof of Amanda’s house, Finn slips causing him to fall “face-first.” The narration says that if Amanda had not grabbed his wrists in time, “he was gone.”
  • Amanda says her parents drowned, while Jez’s were possibly overtaken by “real pirates.
  • There is a recap of a time in the previous book in which the DHIs were attacked by the dolls in It’s a Small World as well as other characters.
  • A bat attacks the hosts from the sky. The Keepers turn on lights, knowing that bats have an aversion to it, causing the creature to dive “as if it had been shot.” They capture it and Philby later “suggested doing something to it that wouldn’t have been approved by the SPCA”.
  • Philby, after seeing Jez’s notebook of sketches, asks in a reference to Van Gogh, “At what point did she cut off her ear?”
  • A swarm of birds attack Maybeck. He sees a “pitch-black flurry of wings and beaks and scratching claws.” He escapes, surprisingly, without a scratch.
  • The plot of the safari ride at Animal Kingdom is described. Ride-goers try to prevent a group of poachers from catching a baby elephant.
  • Maleficent uses her powers to create a ball of flame that she intends to throw at Maybeck, but he sprays her with a hose first.
  • Finn pushes over the magically alive broom that is chasing him.
  • Philby thinks a tiger is looking at him as if he was “lunch.” The tiger then jumps to attack Philby, though he is not harmed. It is revealed later that the tiger is a hologram.
  • A few monkeys capture a cast member. They “knocked him over,” tied him up, and gagged him.
  • Maybeck encounters a lizard that he chases through the park. He recalls the amount of times his aunt “beat [lizards] with a broom” in her home. As a kid, he would catch them and pull their tails off, since they would grow back.
  • When being kidnapped by an orangutan, the animal lunges to bite Finn, though Finn pulls away in time.
  • Maybeck recalls when his dog has gotten into dogfights with other pets in the neighborhood. Maybeck thinks about how he “nearly got his hand bitten off.”
  • Finn runs under a trampoline while being chased by an ape. The animal is “crushed by the weight of the acrobat,” but is not seriously harmed.
  • In order to escape capture by orangutans, Finn sprays them in the face with a shower head. He then ties them up. Maybeck “poked it with a hanger that he wielded as a sword.”
  • Amanda is hit by a magical arrow that Maleficent made. She immediately falls unconscious. Finn becomes so angry that he slammed Maleficent against the wall and “was choking the life from her” telling her to bring Amanda back. She eventually agrees.
  • Philby and Wayne’s avatars are attacked on the virtual reality website they are using to navigate the park systems. They use swords to defend against the trolls. Philby is able to “slice the troll’s leg in two at the knee.” He later “severs” the virtual troll’s arm. However, the troll manages to “[chop] off the end of Philby’s right foot.” The attack occurs over three pages.
  • Finn faces multiple monkeys and a tigress. He defends himself with a baseball bat. He watches as the tiger seems to be hunting the monkeys for a “snack.” He also sees the tigress “swiping her huge claws” at other cats, but they do not feel the pain as they are holograms. Then the tigers attack him. He thinks they will “land on him, crushing him, then snap his neck with their powerful jaws and start the feast.” This does not happen. He watches as the monkeys jump to attack him, “and would have torn his head off…had the tigress not sprung.” The attack occurs scattered over 31 pages.
  • Maybeck and Willa are attacked by animatronic dinosaurs. Willa is “nearly beheaded” by a dinosaur tail. Maybeck is injured and felt as though “every joint was separating simultaneously.” He then snaps the pterodactyl’s leg in half. It reacts as if it is in pain, and he wonders if the bird is alive. Maybeck is nearly crushed by the creature and he leaves the attack “bleeding,” though he is alright. This event takes place over six pages.
  • The final showdown between the hosts and Maleficent includes her throwing fireballs at them. Finn realizes that the fireballs never actually hit him and determines that the imagineers who develop the parks would not create a being that could harm people, let alone kill him. Maleficent promises to kill Finn when he’s “no longer of use to” her. Using magic, Amanda lifts Maleficent and then threatens to drop her sixty feet. Finn, meanwhile, must cling to another Disney villain who is fighting alongside Maleficent, Chernabog, “rather than drop to the platform where the creature might squash him like a bug.” The final battle takes place over eight pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Maybeck refers to using the caffeine in Coca-Cola to avoid accidentally falling asleep. Later the kids all use this strategy.

Language

  • Some mean language is used including: stupid, hideous, what the heck, and darn. For example, often the characters use the word “stupid” to describe things they do not like.
  • There is some name calling including: geek, jerk, insane, buggy, nimrod, warped,
  • Occasionally, Maybeck is said to use “a few words that would have gotten him detention.” He later says, “Son of a –.” The book never says what words Maybeck uses, but it makes it clear that he is cursing.
  • Finn is also said to “curse at the screen” of his computer.
  • Maleficent calls Amanda a “little tart.”
  • Maybeck uses the word “bleeping” in place of a curse word.

Supernatural

  • The story takes place in Disney World where magic exists.
  • Maleficent, the evil fairy, often casts spells. No specific words are relayed, but when she does, the narration describes that she “chants.”
  • Maleficent can also fly and transform into different animals.
  • Jez dreams the future. She draws these images in a notebook that become the guide map for her friends and sister’s journey to rescue her throughout the book.
  • Amanda tells Finn that she and Jez are “fairlies,” “as in, fairly human.” She says they are “just kids with unusual abilities” like “spoon-benders, mind readers, clairvoyants” and the ability to cause fires to start mentally.
  • Amanda refers to the incidents of the previous book, in which Maleficent bewitched Jez so she could not recognize Amanda. She then makes Jez do the Overtakers’ bidding.
  • Amanda levitates Finn to the ceiling of a truck they are hiding in so that he is not seen by the security guards.
  • The hosts come to learn that heat is Maleficent’s “kryptonite,” impeding her power’s effectiveness.
  • Maybeck thinks the bat they captured may be able to understand his words. Then he sees a group of birds that appear to be “following him.” These are the first pieces of evidence that the animals are under Maleficent’s control.

Spiritual Content

  • Finn sees that Jez has collected fortunes from fortune cookies in her journal.
  • Willa told her parents she was going to Mass to get them to let her leave the house. Her mother is “no longer a churchgoer.”
  • In Animal Kingdom, the hosts see replicas of Temples. One location has “prayer flags.”
  • Jez says she prayed for help to come when she realized she was trapped in the tunnel, “though [she’s] not very good at praying.”

by Jennaly Nolan

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