Into the Storm

After their victory in Texas, the Pawtriots are en route back to their home in Washington, DC. But when a massive storm on the Atlantic Ocean rolls in, Sergeant Rico and his unit are forced to take shelter on a mysterious island in the Caribbean.

While on the island, the Pawtriots meet M—the leader of the island’s animals. M tells them the story of the thrice-cursed pirate Sea Wolf, his crew, and his ship, the Calico Jack. When Sea Wolf and his crew are brought back to life, it’s up to the Pawtriots to defeat the pirates and return peace to the island.

While aboard a Coast Guard Ship, Rico and the Pawtriots meet two brothers: Jet and Jag. While Jag is a “hard-liner” who follows all the rules, Jet breaks rules at every opportunity. The two dogs add interest to the story, but they also give mixed messages. At times rules are followed, but others believe “that some rules are meant to be broken.” Sometimes breaking the rules cause problems, but other times breaking the rules is the only solution.

Rico and the Pawtriots follow Army morals. For example, to save the Pawtriots, Rico agrees to serve Sea Wolf. Rico thinks, “When I was in the Army, there were times when sacrifices had to be made for the greater good and the sake of the mission. This is one of those times.” Because of Rico’s leadership and courage, the Pawtriots are successful in eventually defeating Sea Wolf.

Into the Storm begins by recapping the events from the previous book, Everything is Bigger in Texas. While chapter one is heavy on the military lingo, the sayings are explained. For example, Rico explains that “debrief you” is “Army-talk for ‘getting up to speed on the details of the mission. . . and quickly.’” Despite this, younger readers may struggle with the advanced vocabulary such as makeshift, flotilla, interceptor, and liaison.

Each chapter starts with the location, date, and military time, which makes the timeline easy to follow. Black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 6 pages and show the animals in action as well as some of the dangers they face—including Sea Wolf, the Kraken, and the various characters. The back of the book also includes the Soldier’s Creed, and a glossary of Army terms.

the Pawtriots fight and defeat supernatural pirates, and throughout the story, Rico leads his unit and reinforces the importance of duty, respect, courage, and helping others. As the Pawtriot Dogs Series progresses, readers will have to remember a large cast of characters whose personalities are not well developed. Readers will enjoy Into the Storm because it is a suspenseful story that follows a group of heroic dogs. Dog-loving readers who want more fun adventures should add the Puppy Pirates Series by Erin Soderberg to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sea Wolf throws Jet off a tower. Rico says, “All I can do is watch as she crashes into a cluster of tall trees below, helplessly clawing at the branches in a desperate effort to slow her fall. She hits the ground hard. . .”
  • Sea Wolf commands his crew to attack the Pawtriots. The fight is not described, but Rico is captured and put in chains.
  • The Pawtriots must face a kraken that has “twelve long, slimy tentacles with suction cups that can pull your skin clean off and fangs that will rip you to shreds.” Rico describes how “a tentacle sweeps my legs out from under me. . .the wet rock presses up against my fur. I try to wrestle free from the Kraken’s grip on my tail, but it’s useless.”
  • Someone kills the Kraken to save Rico. Rico sees “Penny, who has Sea Wolf’s sword in her paw. It’s covered in Kraken blood.”
  • The Pawtriots are in a cavern that starts to collapse. Rico is the last to exit. “I am squeezed in between rocks. . . I wiggle my body and shimmy as fast as I can, falling out of the tunnel onto ground just as the tunnel caves in completely.”
  • Sea Wolf makes the Pawtriots walk the plank. As they struggle to remain afloat in the ocean, they are saved.
  • To defeat Sea Wolf, the “Pawtriots don’t hesitate, and in an instant, they’ve swarmed the Cutthroats, engaging them in fierce paw-to-paw combat.” No fighting is described.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Sea Wolf calls someone a “treacherous bilge rat.”
  • Sea Wolf calls his crew, “Yellow-bellied sapsuckers.”
  • Sea Wolf calls his former first mate a “backstabbing traitor.”

Supernatural

  • Rico and the Pawtriots end up on a cursed island. While there, a cat tells the story of the “Thrice-Cursed Pirate Sea Wolf” and his ship, the Calico Jack. Sea Wolf’s sword, ship, and crew were cursed. Sea Wolf’s “very soul was trapped inside the eternal flame. . . If the bell were ever to be run, then Sea Wolf would have until sunset to raise his crew, his ship, and retrieve his sword before the flame dies out and Sea Wolf with it.” Someone rings the bell and reawakens Sea Wolf and his crew.
  • When Sea Wolf reappears, “his eyes are bloodshot, and the moon paints his gray fur with an ominous glow.”
  • Sea Wolf’s “strength grows with each passing minute that his lungs draw breath.”
  • The Sea Wolf’s first mate was cured with immortality. She says, “Being alive forever gets old. I’m tired. Very, very tired. And the only way I can rest is if Sea Wolf rises and falls.”
  • In the end, Sea Wolf is defeated and “Sea Wolf vanishes.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Enchantress Returns

Alex and Conner Bailey have spent a long time waiting to return to the Land of Stories, a magical world they thought only existed in their favorite fairytales. However, after the events of the first story, The Wishing Spell, the twins know that all their favorite stories are true. After they defeated the Evil Queen in the last book, they returned home dreaming of their next adventure. But, their Grandmother, the legendary Fairy Godmother, has been missing for months, cutting off the twin’s contact to the magic realm. Then, their mother is suddenly kidnapped by the evil Enchantress. In order to bring their mother home, the children are forced to return the Land of Stories without their Grandmother’s help. 

Once in the Land of Stories, the twins quickly realize why their Grandmother has been so busy. The Enchantress Ezmia, a wicked sorceress responsible for the former curse on Sleeping Beauty, has returned to take over the fairytale world and the human world. Their only hope to stop her is the Wand of Wonderment, a staff powerful enough to best Ezmia’s magic. The twins must travel through the fairytale kingdoms with their allies in search of magical items to make the Wand, all while avoiding Ezmia and the wrath of other evil beings. Once the staff is assembled, the twins confront the greatest threat of all: Ezmia’s unwavering cruelty. Is magic powerful enough to convince the Enchantress to put an end to her evil plans?  

The thrilling second installment in the Land of Stories Series has just as much action, adventure, and fairytale magic as the first book. The Enchantress Returns will hold the reader’s attention at every turn, and readers will be fascinated by the conclusion. Unlike fairytales and their shallow villains, the evil characters in this series have more depth than the average book, making this story an interesting read. In the final battle against the Enchantress, Alex says, “Ezmia, I’ll never be like you. I would rather have nothing and a big heart, than everything and no heart at all. . . I’ll always have the most powerful magic of all inside me–compassion. And I have enough inside of me even for you.” When Alex forgives the Enchantress, Ezmia loses her power, proving that love can overpower hate, even when it’s difficult to extend sympathy to others. Alex’s willingness to forgive shows that she’s not only kind but powerful, even without the use of magic.  

The Enchantress Returns also emphasizes the need for belonging. The Enchantress never felt like she belonged, so she made others feel powerless. Alex also never felt like she belonged in the human world since other kids didn’t understood her love for fairytales and magic. Even though it’s a hard decision, Alex chooses to stay in the Land of Stories where she doesn’t feel like an outcast. This parallel ending shows that the heroes and villains of the stories aren’t so different, but how they handle their situations shows their true character.  

Readers searching for a funny yet intricate fantasy about the characters from their favorite bedtime stories will find what they’re looking for in The Land of Stories Series. However, there are some scenes that may disturb sensitive readers. Despite this, The Enchantress Returns is an engaging book that teaches important lessons about forgiveness and compassion. Readers who want more fairytale action can jump into an intriguing world where famous villains such as Cinderella’s stepmother and the Big Bad Wolf have changed their ways and become good in the Fairy Tale Reform School Series by Jen Calonita. 

Sexual Content 

  • A kiss wakes Sleeping Beauty. 
  • Sleeping Beauty’s husband kisses her hand.  
  • Alex is in the library secretly looking at books. When Conner finds Alex, he says, that he is also reading, but “I didn’t try to get to first base with any of [the books].”  
  • Mother Goose says she had a “fling” with Leonardo da Vinci. 
  • While drinking, Mother Goose admits, “I haven’t had this much fun since I was so very young – and used to rub-a-dub-dub with the three men in the tub!” 
  • Jack and Goldilocks kiss once. 
  • Red kisses Froggy. “She pulled [Froggy] closer and kissed his slimy green lips.” She also kisses him later “repeatedly all over his big frog head.” 
  • The twins’ mom kisses her boyfriend. 

Violence 

  • Originally, the Enchantress cursed Sleeping Beauty and her entire kingdom to die after pricking her finger on the spinning wheel, but the curse was reformed by the fairies so that everyone fell asleep instead. 
  • The Enchantress causes a thornbush to grow over Sleeping Beauty’s kingdom. “Scattered all across the castle grounds, [Sleeping Beauty] saw soldiers and servants fighting off the rogue thornbushes and vines growing around them. The plants grew straight out of the ground and attacked them, like serpents wrapping around their prey. The vines crept up the sides of the castle, breaking through the windows and pulling people out, dangling them hundreds of feet in the air… [Sleeping Beauty] saw villagers fall victim to the leafy monsters.” 
  • The Enchantress attacks Sleeping Beauty’s carriage and her soldiers. “Sleeping Beauty looked out the window just in time to see a soldier and his horse thrown high into the forest beside the path. A whooshing sound swooped toward them, and another soldier and his horse were thrown into the trees on the other side of the path. Every other second was filled with the terrified cries of the soldiers and horses as they were flung into the forest. . . One final swoop took the remaining horses and soldiers with it; their cries echoed in the night.”  
  • In the same attack, Sleeping Beauty is hurt when her carriage is overturned. “The carriage crashed to the ground, falling on its side and skidding across the ground until coming to a stop. . . Sleeping Beauty crawled through the carriage door. . . she was limping and clutched her left wrist.” 
  • Soldiers attack Bob, the twin’s mother’s boyfriend. “A dozen soldiers dressed in silver armor barged through the door. One slammed Bob hard against the wall. Alex screamed.” No one is injured. 
  • The Enchantress, Ezmia, says that The Evil Queen, Evly, tried to kill her. “Evly laced a small dagger with poison and stabbed me with it. The poison almost killed me; I shriveled down to the state of a dying human.” Ezmia is later nursed back to health. 
  • The Enchantress kidnaps Cinderella’s daughter. Cinderella threatens the Enchantress by saying, “I’ll pull you apart limb from limb if you hurt my daughter.” 
  • Ezmia describes the abusive nature of one of her past affairs with a man she calls The Locksmith. “The Locksmith was a troubled man. A testament to his profession, he liked keeping his properties locked down, and I was no exception. . . He never looked me in the eye and when he touched me, it was rarely out of affection. He definitely left his mark on me – several, actually.” 
  • A polar bear hurts Goldilocks. The polar bear “charged toward Goldilocks. With one swipe of his paw, he knocked Goldilocks to the ground.” Goldilocks is not injured. 
  • Jack is hurt during a battle with the Snow Queen. “The Snow Queen heard [Jack] and pointed her scepter directly at him. A bright icy blast erupted from its tip and hit Jack. He crashed into a pillar. He scrambled to his feet but was hit again by another icy blast from the Snow Queen – this time, a sheet of thick ice pinned his hands and chest to the pillar behind him.” 
  • The Sea Witch’s cave is filled with her past victims. “Dozens of mermaids were hung upside down from their tails across the dome-shaped cave ceiling. They were all weak and frail; some breathed heavily while others didn’t breathe at all; some were just skeletons, while others were close to becoming one.” 
  • The Sea Witch attacks Froggy and the twins. “The Sea Witch threw her cuttlefish and it hit Froggy, wrapping its legs around his face. [The twins and Froggy] frantically fought off the sea creatures attacking them, but it was no use. The crabs pinched and poked the twins, scratching them and drawing blood. Jack ran to the twins’ side and, with two quick blows of his ax, chopped both the crabs in half.” 
  • Jack, Froggy, Goldilocks, Red, and the twins escape the Sea Witch’s lair, but she sends an army of sharks and fish after them. “Jack was quick to punch [a shark] in the nose. . . Froggy kicked another one and it crashed into yet another. . .” Then mermaids come to their rescue and “the twins saw hundreds of mermaids shooting through the ocean and tackling the harmful fish around them.”  
  • While visiting Sleeping Beauty’s Kingdom, the twins see the destruction left by Ezmia. “The twins saw soldiers and servants and villagers spread across the land with vines coiled around them like serpents covering their prey. Some were pinned to the ground, while others were suspended hundreds of feet in the air over the castle.” It’s unclear if they are living or dead. 
  • Ezmia dangles Queen Cinderella’s daughter, Princess Hope, over a fire. “Ezmia snapped her fingers and her vines pulled Princess Hope through the cage. The child was screaming; tears and snot ran down her terrified face. The vines dangled the princess over the flames of the fire.” Hope is not injured and is returned to Cinderella afterwards. 
  • Rumpelstiltskin, who formerly worked for Ezmia, saves Alex’s life. Rumpelstiltskin “came out of nowhere and jumped in front of Alex. The blast [from Ezmia] hit him in the chest and he fell to the ground. . . [Rumpelstiltskin] smiled up at the twins, closed his eyes for the last time, and died in Alex’s arms.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The twins get a dog named Buster who misbehaves often. Conner says, “that dog needs to be on medication.” 
  • Mother Goose seems to be constantly intoxicated, indicated by the thermos she always carries with her. She calls the liquid inside “bubbly.” Conner says, “[Mother Goose] really lets loose after a few sips of whatever she was drinking.” 
  • Mother Goose was friends with Humpty Dumpty before he fell off the wall due to being intoxicated. Mother Goose says, “Humpty had a fall, right there and right then, because poor Humpty couldn’t hold his gin.” 
  • Alex gives Mother Goose a bottle of champagne, which Mother Goose drinks. 

Language   

  • Mother Goose reprimands her flying goose by saying, “Good lord. . . You call that a landing?!” She also calls the goose a “stupid gander,” and a “stupid bird.” 
  • Mother Goose says, “Jack is nimble, Jack is quick, but Jack can be such a —” the rhyme isn’t written, but implied. “[Mother Goose] stopped herself from finishing the thought, perhaps remembering she was talking to thirteen-year-olds.” 
  • Conner says, “what the heck.” 
  • Queen Red Riding Hood calls the twins “brats.” Alex calls Ezmia a brat later on as well.  
  • Queen Red and Goldilocks dislike each other. When Goldilocks visits, Queen Red says, “You bet your porridge-loving indecisive behind you won’t be harming me.” 
  • Conner says, “God, I hate this flipping cat.” 
  • Darn, damn, and crap are all used once. 
  • Conner calls Ezmia a “wench.” 
  • “Good lord” is said once. 
  • Sleeping Beauty says, “Dear God. . . Does the Enchantress have no soul?” 

Supernatural 

  • The Land of Stories is a fairytale world where classic fairytales are real, such as Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood. Talking animals and mythical creatures like unicorns, mermaids, and trolls are also featured in the story. 
  • Contact exists between the fairytale world and the human world (known as the “Otherworld”) due to portals. One portal exists in the Land of Stories storybook that belongs to Alex and Conner’s grandmother. 
  • The twins’ grandmother is the Fairy Godmother. Fairies can teleport and do magic. One fairy has hair that is constantly on fire. 
  • Buster, the twins’ dog, turns out to be a soldier in disguise. He is transformed from a human into a dog by the Fairy Godmother. 
  • Prince Charlie Charming is known as “Froggy” to the kids because he’s been transformed into a walking, talking frog. 
  • Conner sees a ghost, who eventually guides the twins on their journey. 

Spiritual Content 

  • The twins’ father is dead. When they learn their mother is dating someone new (Bob), Conner says, “It’s something I’ve always wondered about people who lose their husbands or wives. But one day, if we’re all in, well, heaven, I guess, isn’t it going to be a little awkward with Bob and Dad there?” 
  • Ezmia collects the souls of people she dislikes and keeps them in jars. 

 Little Red Rodent Hood

Princess Harriet Hamsterbone is a fearsome warrior. To her parents’ disappointment, Harriet takes any reason to leave her home… but this time a quest finds her. Red, a young hamster from the nearby forest, asks Harriet and Wilbur for help. The weasel-wolves have been getting rowdy, and she needs help to put an end to their antics. Harriet is more than willing to take up Red’s request, though Red is pushy.

Red tells Harriet and Wilbur not to talk to any of the weasel-wolves during their trek. Hoping to get another perspective, the two hamsters go behind Red’s back and speak to Grey, a were-hamster and the leader of the forest weasel-wolves. While Grey asks for help, Harriet and Wilbur realize that Red was not as sweet as she let them—well, Wilbur—believe.

Little Red Rodent Hood uses the story elements of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs, to create a humorous and fun adventure that will have readers turning the pages. Harriet goes on the quest, eager to get out of the castle but wary of Red because of the little girl’s indifference to the dangerous weasel-wolves. As Harriet and Wilbur go through the forest, they discover Red has been kidnapping the weasel-wolves for her Grandmother, who sells them to other rodents who want weasel-wolves as pets. Out of all the antagonists that Harriet has faced, Grandmother is one of the scariest, as she is rough and intimidating. However, readers will enjoy seeing how Harriet defeats Grandmother and frees the weasel-wolves.

Throughout Harriet and Wilbur’s time in the forest, there are multiple instances where recurring jokes overstay their welcome. Harriet asks Grey to bite her so she can become a were-weasel. Her request is innocent at first, but her demands get exhausting. This joke plays off Wilbur’s excessive caution and Harriet’s bravery. Still, Harriet goes to the extreme, to the point where she sticks her hand out in front of Grey’s mouth when he tries to get powdered silver out of his eyes. Harriet’s brashness adds a new dynamic to the conversations between her and her friends but distracts from the story because the humor does not add to Harriet’s character or the overall plot.

Blue and white illustrations add to the wackiness of the book. Drawings with dialogue balloons help break up the text and keep the action moving. Despite the lackluster humor, Little Red Rodent Hood shows the value of teamwork and will engage even the most reluctant readers. Little Red Rodent Hood is the sixth book in the Hamster Princess Series but can be enjoyed as a standalone book. Younger readers who enjoy Little Red Rodent Hood may also want to try Ursula Vernon’s other humorous series, Dragonbreath.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Grey tries to catch Red, she throws powdered silver in Grey’s face. “Grey let out a high-pitched yelp and folded up as if he’d struck a wall.” Grey gets drowsy, but the powdered silver burns and stings because were-hamsters and were-weasels are weak against silver.
  • Harriet fights Grandmother so she can take Grandmother back to the castle. “Harriet dealt Grandmother a fearsome blow that would have stopped any lesser monster. . . Harriet blocked claws and teeth with her sword, but now it was Grandmother’s turn to drive her backward, inch by inch.” Grandmother slaps Harriet’s sword out of her hands and whacks Harriet alongside the head. “Harriet crashed down next to Grey. . .” She is dazed because of the blow to the head. Grandmother lifts her clawed hands, but then Red hypnotizes Grandmother, ending the fight. Grandmother is a weasel-wolf and has invincibility, so she does not get hurt from Harriet’s attack. The fight has sections where Wilbur talks to Red or tries to wake up Grey, but the fight itself occurs over eight pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Red was born with “hypnotic eyes” which she uses to hypnotize anyone who makes eye contact with her. Red can make people fall asleep; the victim has temporary double vision if she cannot make them fall asleep.
  • Red uses her hypnotic eyes on Harriet. “Harriet tried to look away, but there was something strange going on. Red’s hypnotic eyes seemed to fill the entire world. Harriet tried to grab her sword, but it felt as if she were moving through molasses.”

Spiritual Content

  • The weasel-wolf packs gather on the first day of the new moon to perform the Howl. “The moon vanishes once a month, you know, during the dark of the moon, and when it comes back, we all howl to greet it.”

by Jemima Cooke

The Angel Experiment

Meet the flock. Max, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, the Gasman, and Angel are six kids who grew up in cages as the School’s most successful test tube experiments. The School is a science lab located in Death Valley, California where the scientists—or whitecoats—experiment on children’s genes. Four years prior, Jeb Batchelder, one of the scientists and the group’s father figure, escaped with the kids and took them to a cabin in Colorado. Two years afterwards, he disappeared, leaving the kids without an adult to care for them.  

These six kids aren’t your average American children. The whitecoats had the flock’s genes spliced with avian DNA, giving them the ability to fly via physical wings attached to their backs, along with some special abilities. Max, self-named Maximum Ride, is the oldest and leader of the flock at 14 years old. She serves as a mother figure even though she is still a kid herself. Fang is four months younger than Max, a sort of second-in-command, and is usually very quiet, “like a dark shadow come to life.” Iggy is younger than Max and blind due to the scientist’s unsuccessful attempt to surgically enhance his night vision. Nudge is an 11-year-old and, according to Max, “is a great kid, but that motormouth of hers could have turned Mother Teresa into an ax murderer.” The Gasman, or Gazzy, is eight years old, named after his ability to produce very rancid farts. He can also mimic any voice or sound. Lastly, Angel is Gazzy’s intelligent six-year-old sister who has the ability to read minds. 

Suddenly, the School’s Erasers capture Angel and plan to return the rest of the flock to the School. Erasers are half-human, half-wolf mutants who are usually armed and bloodthirsty. At first, they look like male models, but they can transform into hairy beings with claws and fangs. Leading the Erasers’ hunt is Ari. The last time Max saw Ari, he was a three-year-old boy. Now he’s a grown Eraser. Terrified about going back, the flock must rescue Angel from the School without getting. However, along the way they discover new things about themselves, their pasts, and the big plans the School has in store for them. 

James Patterson tells a fascinating story filled with science, action, and kids with wings and superhuman abilities. While most of the story is told from Max’s point of view, when the flock is separated, readers get a third-person perspective from a member of each group. The changing points of view allow readers to keep up to date with everyone. Occasionally, Max also addresses the reader using the second person, adding a memoir-like tone to the novel. Max’s voice is very distinct because of her sarcastic and sassy tone. Readers can easily fall in love with everyone in the flock and look forward to joining them in discovering who really they are. 

Some of the more prevalent themes are freedom, family, and fate. The flock hasn’t talked about their experiences and, as Max explains, they prefer to “forget when we were at the mercy of sadistic jerks in a place that’s a total nightmare and ought to be firebombed.” Because of their experiences, the flock values their freedom. In addition, the flock’s relationships show that family is not always formed through blood and that having a strong base of friends can be all the support one needs. Fate also becomes a part of this story as Jeb says, “Max, everything you’ve done, everything you are, everything you can be, is tied into your destiny.” According to Jeb, Max’s fate is predetermined, which makes her question her own autonomy and freedom.  

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment is a strong start to this sci-fi series. The chapters are short, the pacing is fast, and the language is clear and concise. These aspects of the novel match well with a large amount of action and the plot, which can be confusing. Max gives readers a warning in the beginning, saying, “If you dare to read this story, you become part of the Experiment. I know that sounds a little mysterious—but it’s all I can say right now.” So, if you decide to read this book, be prepared to become part of the flock. 

Sexual Content 

  • After a fight, Max went over to Fang to look at his injuries and, “With no warning, I leaned down and kissed his mouth, just like that.” 

Violence 

  • During one of Max’s dreams, she’s running from the Erasers. Her “arms [are] being scratched to ribbons by a briar” and her “bare feet hitting every sharp rock, rough root, [and] pointed stick.” When she comes across a drop-off on the mountain, she “let [herself] fall over the edge of the cliff.” However, one of the Erasers raises his gun and “a red dot of light appeared on my torn nightgown.”  
  • While the flock are picking strawberries, Erasers attack them. Max “landed another blow, then an Eraser punched me so hard that my head snapped around and I felt a burst of blood in my mouth.” While they fight, Max watches as “three other Erasers [were] stuffing Angel, my baby, into a rough sack. She was crying and screaming, and one of them hit her.” The fight ends when Max saw a “huge, black boot come at my head, felt my head jerk to one side, and everything went black.”  
  • After Max wakes up, she immediately thinks of Angel as “horror-filled images flashed through my mind—Angel being chased, being hurt, being killed.” 
  • In order to save Angel, the flock fly to the Humvee carrying Angel. Fang smashes a tree branch into the windshield. “The vehicle swerved, a window rolled down. A gun barrel poked out. Around [Max], trees started popping with bullets.” As a helicopter carries Angel away, Max tries to hang on to the landing skid and someone “picked up a rifle and aimed it at [Max].” 
  • The flock watches as the chopper carries Angel away. Max’s anger gets the best of her and she “made fists and punched the chunky bark of the fir tree hard, over and over, until finally, actual pain seeped into my seared consciousness. I stared at my knuckles, saw the blood, the missing skin, the splinters.” 
  • When the flock returns to the house, “Iggy howled and swept his hand across the kitchen counter, catapulting a mug through the air. It hit Fang in the side of the head.” 
  • At the School, the scientists force Angel to be experimented on. During the experiment, Angel ran on a treadmill for three and a half hours and was zapped by a “stick thing” any time she slowed down or stopped. The stick thing “jolted electricity into her, making her yelp and jump. She had four burn marks already from it.” By the end of the experiment, Angel collapses, and her feet get tangled in the treadmill belt. The scientists do a final scan of her body. As the scientists pull electrodes off of Angel’s skin, “ripping sounds and a new, searing pain on her skin pulled Angel back” from a dream.  
  • While traveling to California, Max sees a girl getting cornered by three guys. She decides to help. One of the men, “was holding a shotgun loosely in the crook of his arm.” Max confronts them and a fight breaks out. Max kicks the first guy and “a blow that would have only knocked Fang’s breath away actually seemed to snap a rib on this guy.” Max grabs the shotgun’s barrel and cracks it against his head. Max then punches the last guy, “feeling his nose break, and there was a slow-motion pause of about a second before it started gushing blood.”  
  • After Max beats up three bullies, one of the guys cocks the gun and runs at her but she flies away. The men start shooting at her and she felt “a sudden, searing pain in my left shoulder. I gasped and glanced over to see blood blossoming on my sleeve.” The bullet grazed her shoulder and nicked the bone of her wing. She also has a scratch on her cheek as well as a black eye.  
  • While Nudge and Fang wait for Max to return, they find nests of ferruginous hawks, the largest raptor in the U.S. They sit down at the mouth of the cave and watch as “one of the hawks had a partially dismembered gopher in its mouth” and gave it to its fledglings. 
  • In between experiments at the School, Angel is kept in a dog crate. The scientists had “taken blood from her arm, but she’d fought them and bit that one guy.” Angel bit a scientist, so he hit her. Then, Angel read the mind of another scientist who was thinking about the incident and the scientist thinks, “If he wrecks this specimen, I’ll kill him.” 
  • Iggy and Gazzy decide to build bombs for protection. They find an Eraser camp nearby and set an oil trap for the Humvees. The Humvees “hit the trees at an angle and went airborne, sailing upside down about fifteen feet before landing with a heavy crunching sound.” 
  • The Erasers ambush Iggy and Gazzy, but Iggy and Gazzy fly away and set off a bomb. In the air, “a fireball ten yards in diameter rose from where the cabin had been.” In the aftermath, Gazzy watches as “one dark body had flown upward in the blast,” and “the other Eraser had crawled a few feet away from the cabin, a burning silhouette that had collapsed, its outlines blurred by flame.” 
  • At the School, Angel runs in a maze that changes each time she finds the exit. “If she slowed down, she got an electric shock so strong it scrambled her brain, or red-hot wires under her feet burned her.” 
  • Angel reads the minds of the scientists around her and there are several mentions of them wanting to dissect her brain. 
  • In Arizona, Nudge and Fang are confronted by Erasers. Ari, an Eraser, and Fang fight each other. “Ari was sitting on Fang’s chest, punching him. Nudge gasped and put her hand over her mouth as she saw blood erupt from Fang’s nose.” Then “Ari roared and brought both hands down onto Fang’s chest with enough force to snap his ribs.” Ari pulled out a gun and a bullet soared by Nudge’s ear as Fang and Nudge flew away. 
  • Erasers ambush Max, Fang, Nudge, Iggy, and Gazzy. When the flock uses a van to escape, Max crashes into a sedan head-on. The airbags give Max a bloody nose. Max tells everyone to run, “then hissed in a breath as my nose took another jarring blow” from an Eraser. The Erasers capture Max, Fang, and Nudge but Gazzy and Iggy escape.   
  • At the School, Max, Fang, Nudge, and Angel are stuck in cages with other mutants. “Sometime in the next half hour, [Max] realized the ‘experiment’ was no longer breathing. It had died, right next to me.” 
  • Ari teases Max through the bars of her cage. Max “leaned over and chomped hard on Ari’s fingers.” Ari yells in pain, and “was shaking my cage, slamming it with his other hand, and my head was getting snapped around like a paddleball.” 
  • Iggy and Gazzy arrive at the School and free the others. Max, “backhanded [a scientist] against the jaw, feeling teeth knock loose.” Fang and Ari fought, and “Fang smashed him sideways with a kick, then punched the side of Ari’s head.” 
  • Several times, Max collapses due to “a blinding, stunning pain [that] exploded behind my eyes.” Nobody knows what causes this pain but after the pain passes, she hears a “Voice” in her head that gives her advice. 
  • While the flock navigates the underground rails of Manhattan, Gazzy asks what a sign saying to stay off the third rail meant. Fang says, “It means the third rail has seven hundred volts of direct current running through it. Touch it and you’re human popcorn.” 
  • In New York, the flock is running from Erasers, and “a heavy clawed hand grabbed [Max’s] hair, yanking me backward, right off my feet.” The Eraser starts to drag Max away when, suddenly, the Eraser “hit the ground with a sickening thud, and [Max] cracked [her] head against the sidewalk so hard [she] saw fireworks.” The Eraser had suddenly died. 
  • The flock was surrounded and grabbed by Erasers. Fang was “locked in battle with Ari, who raked his claws across Fang’s face, leaving parallel lines of red.” Max begged Ari to stop attacking Fang, but “Ari seized Fang’s head and brought it down hard on a rock.” Ari then “cracked Fang with an elbow. Blood sprayed from Fang’s mouth, and again he went down.” The fight ends when someone appears and tells Ari to back off.  
  • Max and Ari fight. While they exchange blows, “Ari punched [Max] again, and I thought I heard a rib crack.” Max then grabbed Ari’s neck and it “slammed against the hard side of the tunnel,” breaking his neck and killing him. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The flock talks to a kid who was kicked out of MIT because he wouldn’t take his Thorazine. He said he didn’t like the Thorazine, “or Haldol, or Melleril, or Zyprexa.” 

Language   

  • God is used several times as an exclamation. 
  • The word hell is spelled out once as “h-e-double toothpicks” and used one other time. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • The flock seeks refuge in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. “As we passed through the door, the air was instantly cooler and scented with something that smelled ancient and churchy and just. . .  religious somehow.” Everyone in the flock starts to pray. 

The Griffin’s Feather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Madison Shooter

This Vicious Grace

Alessa is the latest finestra in a long line of people chosen by the goddess Dea to protect her island. Her powers are supposed to help her save her home, but so far they’ve only managed to kill three suitors simply through her touch. Her suitors, called Fonte, are paired with her in order to hone her power and strengthen their own, but instead, she overwhelms them. Alessa’s running out of time to learn how to use her power and save her people. There are only a few weeks left until the god, Crollo, sends his demons to attack and wipe out all human life from the island.  

In order to keep her safe, Alessa is separated from her family, her old life, and even her name. In order to train, she is locked away. She is lonely. The Fontes she’s paired with are supposed to supply her with a partner, a mate, and a friend, but instead, their unusual deaths have caused an even deeper rift between her and everyone else on the island. Then, a powerful priest begins convincing people that her inability to control her power is evidence that she is a false prophet. He begins to amass a following of very angry, very scared people that are willing to do anything to prevent her from harming others, including kill her. One night, one of Alessa’s own guards even tries to assassinate her. In response, she hires a bodyguard, Dante, to protect her until she can learn how to control her powers and defeat the demons.  

A group of prospective Fonte joins Alessa in order to figure out who, if any of them, can handle her power enough to use it. These Fonte are the only hope Alessa has at defeating the demons. Alessa’s relationship with her new group of prospective Fontes starts off rocky. Because of her failures with the three prior Fontes, the new Fontes are skeptical of her abilities and wary of her motives. When Dante realizes he can handle Alessa’s power, he helps her understand how to wield it. Then, Dante slowly paves the way for Alessa to build a friendship with the new Fontes, and to work alongside them to master her powers.  

This Vicious Grace is told from Alessa’s point of view, and she is a very likable main character. Alessa is a kind, level-headed main character with an affinity for justice. Despite how she’s treated, she still chooses to fight the good fight over and over again and is rewarded for it in the end. Alessa stays true to herself and is a fair and good person who is willing to do whatever it takes to save her people.  

A tale of friendship, overcoming loneliness, and holding out hope despite insurmountable odds, This Vicious Grace is a good novel for readers who enjoy a slow burn romance within a fantasy world filled with gods, demons, and war. This Vicious Grace is Emily Thiede’s debut novel. It includes a lot of references to malevolent gods, vicious demons, and mystical powers and abilities. Though it is a fantasy world, it is not hard to understand the complicated plot and numerous characters. This action-packed book is a fun and interesting read for fantasy lovers. Readers looking for more books set in a fantasy world should also read Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin. 

Sexual Content  

  • While playing a drinking game, Dante asks Alessa, “If you could do anything before Divorando, what would it be?” Alessa replies, “Lose my virginity.” 
  • Dante and Alessa are sleeping in the same bed when Dante starts to kiss and touch her in his sleep. Dante’s “lips brushed the sensitive spot just below her ear, kindling a fire just below her navel. Her thoughts scrambled as his fingers grazed the underside of her breast.” 
  • Alessa kisses Dante outside of her room one night on their way back from rescuing Dante from prison. “Parting her lips, she traced his lips with her tongue, and his control snapped. His hands were everywhere at once—cupping her face, running through her hair, gripping her waist. He pressed her against the door, pressed his mouth to hers, pressed his hips into her. . . ” 
  • Alessa and Dante have sex. There is an intense kissing scene that takes place over two pages prior to this. Dante’s “fingers cupped her bottom, pulling her into him, and she melted, softness yielding to the hard planes of his body. When his hand cupped her breat, she forgot how to breathe . . . He nuzzled her through fabric, his breath warming the bare skin of her thigh . . . ” 

Violence 

  • Alessa’s gift causes her to overwhelm people when she touches them. This causes them severe injury and even death. When she was younger, she almost killed a boy during a race. “She was sitting on his chest. . . she’d touched his forehead and declared ‘you lose’. . . Tendons taut as bowstrings, blood-flecked foam between clenched teeth, he’d spasmed beneath her. He’d nearly bitten his tongue off and still talked with a lisp.” 
  • A masked figure breaks into Alessa’s room and tries to kill her in her sleep. The assassin is convinced that she is a false prophet. She wakes up in her bed to someone choking her. “Something – someone – had her pinned, trapped, crushing her windpipe . . . Hands, encased in thick gloves, tightening around her neck.” 
  • Alessa is in the city and watches two fighters brawl. “The Bear landed his first blow, his fist smashing into the Wolf’s jaw . . . The Wolf landed a punch to the big man’s gut, but the next blow he took sounded like it cracked a few ribs . . . The Wolf slammed a fist into the big man’s cheek and looked about to land a second hit when someone smashed a glass against the bars . . .  The Bear’s opponent’s back was turned, and he slammed his fist into the Wolf’s lower back. He dropped.” The scene continues over two pages. 
  • Alessa unintentionally sneaks up on Dante. Before he sees who it is, he stabs her with his two knives in self defense. “Dante turned so fast she didn’t have time to speak . . . twin fires tore through her abdomen . . . she looked down at his fists, clutching the hilts of his knives, pressed against her . . .blood dripped between his fingers. With a ragged gasp, Dante pulled the knives free.” She begins bleeding out and Dante saves her from the brink of death using healing powers.  
  • Alessa, Dante, and the Fontes fight the demons. When Alessa looks at Dante, “he was already on the ground. A wide gash ran from his chin to one ear, and he was covered in so much blood.” A couple other characters have injuries but none are described, or serious.  

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • After watching a fight in town, Alessa goes to a bar and overhears one of the fighters ordering a whiskey. She orders one for herself as well. “Alessa swirled the glass, watching the whiskey hug the sides and inhaled the sweet heat before she took a sip.”   
  • Alessa and Dante play a drinking game with limoncello in her room. Alessa says, “Truth or challenge . . . if you don’t perform the challenge or answer the question, you take a drink.” 
  • Someone tried to put poison in Alessa’s pastries.   

Language  

  • Profanity is used intermittently. Profanity includes shit, damn, and ass. 
  • Dante and Alessa are talking about how civilians have to pay families to take in their kids in case they die in battle. Alessa says, “It’s not my fault . . . I don’t make the rules I just have to follow them.” Dante replies, “Yeah, well, it’s a bit late to give a shit now.” 
  • Alessa hires Dante to be her bodyguard and they argue about what his duties will be. Dante says, “I don’t half-ass any job. You want me to guard, this is how I do it.”

Supernatural  

  • Demons sent by the malevolent god, Crollo, are the main antagonists in the book. There is no specification on where they come from or whether or not they have powers. They are sent to wipe out humanity because Crollo insists that people are “too flawed and too selfish to endure.” 

Spiritual Content  

  • The book includes God-given magic – the main character Alessa is referred to as a “divine weapon of the gods” throughout the book. There are also frequent references to their religious text, “Holy Verita,” their patron goddess, Dea, and the evil god, Crollo, who sends demons to the island.  
  • The Day of Divorando is a day when demon-like creatures will attack the islands. Kaleb, one of the prosepctive Fonte, says, “On the day of Divorando, we’re supposed to use our powers to ward off the invasion . . . The gods gave us the gifts for defense, so that is what we will use.” 
  • Alessa calls herself a “divinely ordained warrior.” 

The Epic Escape from the Underworld

The gods of Mount Olympus Pet Center are ready to bust out of their habitats and find their next mythological mission. But as it turns out, the newest threat to ancient Greece—an all-seeing monster from another realm—sneaks up on them!

Now Zeus the hamster, Athena the cat, Demeter the grasshopper, Poseidon the pufferfish, Ares the pug, and Hermes the chicken, all face a daring quest that takes them deep into the mystifying world of the Underworld, a realm where nothing is as it seems. Will Zeus and his team succeed on their most otherworldly adventure yet?

In The Epic Escape from the Underworld, everyday objects become relics and monsters of ancient Greece. Boyer uses imagination and comedy to bring Hades and the Underworld to life. A high-action plot, humorous situations, and black-and-white illustrations blend to make a fun series that will keep readers turning the pages. Each illustration shows the Greek gods, which gives the reader a visual and helps them understand the plot and the gods’ emotions. Large illustrations appear every one to five pages.

Readers who aren’t familiar with Greek Mythology will easily understand the book because the pet store owner listens to a podcast called “Greeking Out.” This podcast about Greek myths gives the reader a quick lesson on the mythology that is necessary to fully appreciate the book. Despite this helpful intro, the Olympians do meet a lot of characters, which may confuse some readers, especially since some of the new characters are not mentioned in the podcast.

The fourth installment of the Zeus the Mighty Series has lots of laughs and shows the importance of teamwork. Each Olympian completes a different task based on their strongest traits. Without relying on each other, the Olympians would not have been able to complete their quest. In addition, the book briefly explores the idea of a democracy. The Epic Escape from the Underworld is another fun-filled story that will keep readers flipping the pages. The story ends with more information about myths, the Olympians, Hades, and the Underworld. Readers who love action-packed, humorous stories should also check out Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Zeus takes Hades’s Cap of Shadows. When he does, “[Hades] dropped his rock on Zeus’s toe.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Drat is used once.
  • Hades calls Zeus a fool.

Supernatural

  • Hades has a Cap of Shadows that makes the wearer invisible.

Spiritual Content

  • Hermes tells a snake, “When Greeks want sweet dreams, they pray to me!”

Ogre Enchanted

Evie is content when she is treating people, diagnosing symptoms, and prescribing medications, with the help of her dedicated friend, Wormy. So, when Wormy unexpectedly proposes to her, she kindly declines his offer. She has too much to do as a healer. And besides, she doesn’t think of him as anything more than a friend.  

However, a fairy named Lucinda had been listening in on their conversation, and she doesn’t approve of Evie’s rejection. Suddenly, Evie finds herself changed from a girl into an ugly, hungry ogre. Evie now has sixty-two days to accept another proposal, or else she will be stuck as an ogre forever. But Evie doesn’t forget her human side.  

The close first-person style narrative allows the reader to better empathize with Evie and see how Evie navigates being an ogre. On her travels, Evie deals with the prejudices that humans have towards ogres. Out of fear, most humans attack her or run away from her, unaware that she is a human. For instance, when she returned from treating a patient, the villagers in her hometown attacked her. But Evie also meets people that accept her for who she is on the inside and do not care about her looks. These experiences remind Evie that she needs to take more consideration for people’s thoughts and not evaluate them solely on their physical appearance, afflictions, or first impressions.    

Ogre Enchanted is a fun, delightful book that takes inspiration from the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. The story explores love, particularly romantic love. Several times, Evie thinks someone makes her “tingle” due to her inexperience with romantic feelings. Equally as important is Evie’s time spent with her potential suitors. For example, the merchant Peter wants to marry a noblewoman and isn’t romantically interested in her. He confesses that he “was fond of her family’s position and [her family’s] money” and “[he] made her love [him].” This example teaches that there are people who would choose their romantic partner based on attributes such as social status or wealth and then undervalue the romance in their relationship. Interactions such as these will help readers not only understand the concept of falling in love but also to see what people think about romantic relationships in general.  

If you like fairy tales and stories about romance, then grab a copy of Ogre Enchanted. The story has an interesting take on different views of romantic relationships. Readers will learn lessons about love and compassion as well as the difference between romantic love and platonic love. The story’s romantic aspects lean more towards puppy love than ardor, making the story good for middle-grade readers.  

The implementation of aspects of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, such as Evie’s transformation into a beastly, hideous creature, help highlight many characters’ tendency to judge others based on appearances. Readers will be eagerly flipping the pages to see how Evie finds the one person that accepts her for who she is and proposes to her. Evie quickly becomes comfortable with falling in love, despite her staunch opposition to romance. The external pressure of a proposal makes it hard to believe that Evie would have loved someone romantically had it not been for Lucinda’s intervention. Nonetheless, the topics of love and romance as well as the implementation of a well-known fairy tale makes this story a good introduction to relationships and the fantasy genre.  

Sexual Content 

  • Evie looks at a sleeping, young man. She thinks that he is handsome, his cheekbones are high enough “to speed [her] heart . . .” 
  • There are many instances where someone would make Evie “tingle.” She feels a tingle whenever she sees the merchant Peter because she is charmed by his intelligence and humor. 

Violence 

  • The citizens in Evie’s village shoot arrows at her when she is an ogre. “An arrow bored into the right arm just below my elbow.” A mob of people go into the streets and chase after her. Evie runs away and yanks the arrow out of her arm; she doesn’t feel any pain from her injury.  
  • A band of six ogres attack a giant and start to eat her. One ogre hypnotizes the giant so she will relax and then another ogre “bit into her leg.” 
  • To help the giant, Evie distracts the ogres with sticks of meat and then attacks two of the ogres. “With a healer’s certainty of where to thrust the sword, I stabbed the base of [an ogre’s] skull.” The ogre slumps forward. Then, Evie pierced one of the eyes of another ogre. “[The ogre] fell on his side.”  
  • Another ogre grabs Evie, but Evie slashes him. The remaining ogres rush at her. Evie closes her eyes, then opens her eyes. Two of the ogres are “sprawled on the ground near me, their faces blue.” The last two ogres are eating the giant, when Evie yells at the ogres. The giant grabs the ogres by the throat, “squeezed, then tossed them aside.” The giant sustained many injuries over the course of the fight. This lasts two pages.  
  • Evie, Squire Jerrold, and Peter fight in a joust. Squire Jerrold hurled himself at Evie. “The squire and [Evie] went down, rolling over and over, trying to pin each other.” Peter kicks Evie’s head, but Evie counters. With her “brain reeling, [Evie] grabbed his ankle, pulling him to the ground.”  
  • Both Squire Jerrold and Peter were on top of Evie, so she rolled over them and “rained punches on Squire Jerrold.” In the confusion, someone stabs Peter. “A rapier lay on the ground. Blood spurted from Prince Peter’s thigh.” Peter is injured; Peter had injured himself on purpose, attempting to frame Evie or Squire Jerrold as his attacker. The scene lasts for two pages. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Evie uses a liquid called purpine—also known as dragon urine—to cure illnesses and diseases. 
  • Evie also uses a variety of herbs and poultices to cure people. For example, she uses a “paste of galingale, zedoary, and ginger” to treat an elf boy’s rash. 

Language   

  • Evie thinks “Fie!” once.  
  • Evie calls Wormy an idiot. 
  • Fool is used many times.  

Supernatural 

  • Lucinda transforms Evie into an ogre. Evie’s “mind emptied. The kitchen tiles no longer seemed to be beneath me. Somewhere, fabric ripped. My mind filled again.” Evie has been transformed into an ogre and has sixty-two days to find a suitor and accept his marriage proposal. The side effect is that Evie feels more comfortable as an ogre as time goes on.  
  • Ogres are hideous creatures that are known for their voracious appetite and odiferous smell. They can charm humans by hypnotizing them with their words. When hypnotized, humans are compelled to obey an ogre’s every word and command. It is impossible for a human to break out of a hypnosis. Ogres cannot hypnotize each other. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

Several months have passed since Gregor’s first trip to the Underland. Just as his life is returning to normal, his baby sister Boots is kidnapped by the cockroaches, and Gregor is forced to journey back to the subterranean city of Regalia. Once there, Gregor reunites with the rebellious Luxa and his bat Ares whom Gregor has pledged his loyalty and protection. Gregor soon discovers that the Underlanders have kidnapped Boots because of The Prophecy of Bane. This ancient prophecy implies that if Boots were to be killed, the rats would have the key to power. 

The Underlanders believe that Gregor is the prophesied Warrior who must kill an evil rat cloaked in a coat of white: the Bane, an enormous, snow-white 10-foot rat that threatens to destroy Regalia and subject all of the Underland to his rule. The Prophecy of Bane mysteriously says that the Warrior will be fatally weakened if: “Die the baby die his heart, die his most essential part. Die the peace that rules the hour. Gnawers [another term for rats] have their key to power.” Believing that Boots is the baby spoken of in the prophecy, the rats kidnap her.  

In order to save his sister, Gregor and his companions must embark upon a long and dangerous voyage, sailing into the heart of rat territory.  Gregor is determined to destroy the Bane before the rats can kill Boots. Gregor must learn to fight for those he loves while encountering dangers, close calls, and surprises along the journey. He must also discover what it means to be a warrior. 

Those who read Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane will enjoy its simple yet engaging plot, its pulse-pounding action, and its variety of characters and settings. The character and mythos of the Underland are deepened in this worthy sequel. New and dangerous creatures are introduced, the uncharted, watery depths of the Underland are explored, and at the end of this long voyage lies a mysterious and powerful foe: the Bane. 

Once readers enter the world of the Underland, the quick-moving plot and the dynamic characters will sweep middle school readers up, keeping their minds and imaginations engaged for the entirety of the book. To keep the suspense high, each new chapter introduces a new danger, an exciting development, and an intriguing complication to the plot. The action, often violent and bloody, is kicked up a notch from the first book. However, like the first book in the series, it is often the creatures and not the humans that suffer wounds and death in battle. Despite this, sensitive readers may be upset by the vivid battle descriptions. 

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane is rife with themes of familial love and sacrifice, compassion, friendship, and duty. Gregor will stop at nothing to protect his friends and family. However, Gregor is faced with many difficult situations and moral dilemmas, all of which develop his character. Gregor discovers that he possesses incredible powers as a fighter. In fact, whenever he is near or in the midst of battle, Gregor’s mind enters into “rager mode;” a “rager” is a gifted warrior who possesses fighting abilities that approach the supernatural. Throughout the book, Gregor must learn to harness and control these abilities, lest they control him. The danger of letting his violent, rager instincts overpower his kind nature forces Gregor to consider the nature of violence and how it should be used only to protect and defend. 

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane provides a story that is an incredibly entertaining blend of mystery, travel, and adventure. Every chapter ends on a cliff-hanger, providing ample reason for even the most reluctant of readers to devour it quickly. Furthermore, the ending perfectly sets up the sequel, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods. Readers will not be able to help themselves, they’ll have to immediately reach for the next installment. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The Underlanders practice their swordplay by having a contraption that throws small, golfball-sized balls at them in rapid succession. The Underlanders’ goal is to slice as many balls as possible. These balls are filled with red liquid that mimics blood. Gregor first goes into “rager mode” when training with the blood balls. “He was aware only of the blood balls flying toward him from all directions . . .  He could hear his blade making a whistling sound. Something splattered against his face. . . He could feel liquid dripping off his face and hands. The pounding of his heart was audible. He looked down at the ground. At his feet lay the oozing shells of fifteen balls.” 
  • The verbiage of the Prophecy of Bane itself is somewhat violent. For example, If Under fell, if Over leaped,/ If death was life and Death life reaped,/ Something rises from the gloom,/ To make the Underland a tomb./ Hear it scratching down below,/ Rat of long forgotten snow,/ Evil cloaked in coat of White,/ Will the Warrior drain your light?/ What could turn the Warrior weak?/ What do burning Gnawers seek?/ Just a barely speaking pup / That holds the Land of Under up/ Die the baby, die his heart/ Die his most essential part/ Die the peace that rules the hour,/ Gnawers have their key to power.” 
  • Twitchtip, a rat that aids the humans in their mission, threatens a giant talking firefly, saying “. . . if you don’t stop your incessant babble, that big rat sitting in the boat next to you [referring to herself] will rip your head off.” 
  • While discussing effective ways to kill rats, Ares the bat says, “The neck is vulnerable. The heart, but one must get past the ribs. Through the eyes to the brain. Under the foreleg is a vein that bleeds greatly. If you strike at the belly, you may not kill instantly, but the rat will likely die within days from infection.” 
  • As the group is sailing, they are attacked by a giant squid. Gregor is grabbed by “a slimy red tentacle,” and nearly pulled overboard. However, Ares manages to grab him, and “a tug-of-war ensued, with Gregor as the rope.”  
  • As the battle against the squid continues, Gregor “sank his teeth into the tentacle as deeply as he could” and “slice[d] through a tentacle that had encircled his ankle.” Trying to free Gregor, the humans and bats slice and claw at the tentacles. Gregor enters again into rager mode and, “His sword began to move—not in a premeditative way, but with some instinctive precision and force utterly beyond his control. He hacked away at tentacle after tentacle.”  
  • After the battle, “Four angry red circles, sucker marks, swelled on his forearm” where Gregor was initially grabbed. These sucker marks “begin to ooze pus.” The scene is described over three pages. 
  • Gregor’s tentacle wound worsens. “The whole forearm was badly swollen. The sucker wounds, which had turned a revolting shade of purple, oozed fluorescent green pus. They burned as if they were on fire.” 
  • As Pandora, a bat, flies over a volcanic island, a large cloud of flesh-eating mites emerges from the jungle. “[Pandora] had no time to react. One moment she was darting around eating mites, the next moment they were eating her. In less than ten seconds they had stripped the writhing bat down to the bone. Her white skeleton hung for an instant in the air, then crashed into the jungle below.” Ares barely escapes these flesh-eating mites and is bitten on his tail several times while fleeing. 
  • The group is attacked by large, dinosaur-like serpents. As the monsters attack, large waves wash the rats “into the serpents’ mouths.” Various members of the quest are injured. “One of Mareth’s pant legs was soaked in blood. In front of him, Gregor saw the shuttering heap of wet fur that was Twitchtip. Blood poured from her nose, which appeared to have been smashed in, and oozed from the stump that had been her tail.” 
  • When a serpent tries to eat Twitchtip, Gregor stabs the serpent’s tongue. As a fellow quester is attempting to dress Mareth’s wound, he rips “off the remains of Mareth’s blood-soaked pant leg, revealing jagged flesh around a gaping wound.” 
  • Two rats, Snare and Goldshard, fight each other to the death. “The fighting was vicious . . . Snare lost an eye. Goldshard’s ear dangled from a shred of fur. You could see the bone in Snare’s shoulder. Goldshard’s left front paw was snapped in two. Finally, the gold rat came in on her opponent’s blind side and locked her fangs on his neck. In the final throes of death, Snare got his hind feet between their bodies and slashed open the length of Goldshard’s belly . . . Her intestines spilled out on the ground . . . With a terrible gurgling sound, Snare suffocated in his own blood.” 
  • After returning from their journey, the Regalian crowds that have gathered are outraged to learn that Gregor has not killed the Bane. They begin throwing objects at him and Ares. “Something hit [Gregor] on the side of his head. His hand went up and came away bloody . . . More objects began to rain around him . . . The one thing they had in common was that they were all made of stone . . . he and Ares were being stoned to death.”  
  • Because of his failure to slay the Bane, Gregor and the other Underlanders stand trial for treason. Ares informs Gregor that if convicted, “They will bind my wings and your hands and drop us off a very high cliff to the rocks below.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • In response to the taunting of Ripred (a rat), Gregor says, “Just shut up, okay?” 
  • After the mission’s failure, Ripred offers Gregor a warning saying, “And you know, there will be hell to pay in Regalia.” 

Supernatural 

  • Nerissa, a member of Regalia’s royal family, is a soothsayer, and interprets the Prophecy of Bane. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Curse of the Night Witch

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

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

Drugs and Alcohol 

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

Language   

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

Supernatural 

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

Spiritual Content 

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

Cemetery Boys

Sixteen-year-old Yadriel’s family doesn’t accept his true gender. Despite this, he’s determined to prove to his family that he is a real brujo. Yardriel embarks on a mission to help a spirit cross over to the land of the dead. However, instead of summoning his cousin, Yadriel summons the ghost of his school’s bad boy, Julian Diaz.

Julian agrees to let Yadriel release his spirit, but only after Julian does a few things first. During their time together, the pair grow closer and begin to develop feelings for each other. However, Yadriel, Julian, and his friend, Maritza, slowly begin to realize that Julian’s death might be linked with a series of disappearances across East LA. What could be causing them? Will Yadriel’s family ever fully accept him? And will Yadriel be able to set Julian’s spirit free to the afterlife?

Cemetery Boys is an excellent introduction to the genre of magical realism mixed with a sweet and genuine, if somewhat saccharine, YA love story. The fantastical elements of brujo magic remain consistent throughout the story and helps the reader clearly understand what can be accomplished by magic, but the realistic elements are where Thomas’s writing truly shines. They convey a down-to-earth story of a young man seeking acceptance from his traditional family. In addition, the author interweaves several problems that Latinx teenagers face in East LA.

Julian discusses how his friend, Luca, was sucked into a gang. Julian and his friends “didn’t see [Luca] for weeks and his parents didn’t care . . . By the time we tracked him down, he was living in a drug den and had gotten branded with tattoos.” Julian also talks about how his friend’s parents were deported. His friend was “the only one who’s got parents that actually like him . . . But they got deported . . . They sacrificed everything to get to the US and make sure Omar had a better life than them.” In addition, Julian is incredibly open about his rough relationship with his brother, Rio.

Thomas excellently disperses the more upsetting material among scenes of Yadriel and Julian growing closer. The pair go on an Odyssey of cute moments and teenage shenanigans, which makes them and their relationship both believable and sweet. Because of their relationships, Yadriel gains confidence and learns the importance of accepting himself.

Yadriel and his friends—Julian, and Maritza—are strong role models for teenagers because they do what they believe is right, even if it is not easy or socially acceptable. For example, Yadriel goes against his family’s wishes by investigating the death of his cousin. Maritza sticks to her values as a vegan even though she cannot use her magic abilities effectively, since her healing abilities depend on her using animal blood. Plus, Julian chooses to stay in the land of the living in order to help Yadriel prove himself as a brujo.

Cemetery Boys is deeply rooted within Latin American culture, especially through its supernatural elements. Latin American folktales are also sprinkled throughout the story. Additionally, a lot of Spanish is spoken within the book, especially when Yadriel performs magic. While this novel can be easily enjoyed without being bilingual, having some knowledge of both Latin American culture and the Spanish language enhances the reading experience.

Thomas successfully creates a story within the genre of magical realism that is both heart-wrenching and heartwarming. If your child is interested in urban fantasy or wants to read a book featuring diverse LGBTQ+ characters, Cemetery Boys is an excellent choice.

Sexual Content

  • Yadriel kisses Julian. “Yadriel threw himself against Julian and wrapped his arms around his neck kissing him fervently. He felt Julian’s smile under his lips . . . Someone let out a low whistle.”

Violence

  • Animal blood is used in several of the brujo rituals. For example, when Yadriel performs a ritual to summon Lady Death, “The black Hydro Flask full of chicken blood thumped against Yadriel’s hip . . . the rest of his supplies for the ceremony were tucked away inside his backpack.”
  • Yadriel cuts himself to offer his blood to Lady Death in order to summon her. “Yadriel opened his mouth and pressed the tip of the blade to his tongue until it bit into him.” He then puts this blood into a bowl.
  • When Yadriel attempts to heal an injured cat, the ritual backfires and hurts the cat, causing it to bleed. Yadriel “could still picture the drops of scarlet on his mother’s white skirt. The terrible yowl. The sudden, sharp pain of the poor cat piercing into his head.” The cat is later healed by Yadriel’s mother and survives the encounter.
  • When Julian dies, there is “thrashing and pain on Julian’s face. The blood seeping through his shirt. His gasps for breath.” When Julian’s body is found “right above his heart, was a dagger.” Later, Julian finds out his Uncle Catriz killed Julian to be used in a sacrifice to gain powers offered by Xibalba, a jaguar spirit who seeks human sacrifices in exchange for preserving the world and granting power. Yadriel later resurrects Julian and he makes a full recovery.
  • Catriz kills three other people. When they die, the stone under them is “streaked with dark, dried up blood.” Yadriel resurrects them when he resurrects Julian.
  • Yadriel’s evil uncle is dragged to a hellish realm by Xibalba. The spirit “sank its teeth into Catriz’s shoulder, molten eyes blazing. A scream ripped through Catriz, the whites of his eyes surrounding his dark pupils. With a lurch, the jaguar dragged him down. Catriz’s howls turn to wet gurgles as he was pulled below the surface. Dark blood and water spilled across the floor in a wave.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • In a ritual to call upon Lady Death, Yadriel uses tequila. “Yadriel had nicked a mini bottle of Cabrito tequila from one of the boxes that had been gathered for the Día de Muertos ofrendas.”
  • Yadriel carries alcohol that he uses in rituals. At one point he says, “Last thing I need is to get caught by campus security with alcohol and a knife in my backpack.”
  • Yadriel goes to a bonfire where there are “illegal substances” and alcohol.
  • People spread rumors that Julian’s older brother, Rio, is a drug dealer. These rumors are false.
  • While in the hospital, Julian is put on a sedative which causes, “a thick fog in his head, dulling his senses.”

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes asshole, badass, fuck, hell, and shitty.
  • When Julian sees Yadriel’s cat for the first time, he jokingly says, “Holy shit . . . That’s one messed-up looking cat!”
  • Julian tells his friend, “You got shitty taste in music, by the way.”
  • Someone calls Julian “a real asshole.”
  • After Yadriel questions why Julian doesn’t have a girlfriend, Julian says, “Because I’m gay, asshole.”
  • Julian, a gay man, says “Queer folks are like wolves . . . We travel in packs.”
  • After Julian has an outburst, Yadriel says, “What kind of machismo bullshit was that?”

Supernatural

  • The premise of the novel is centered around summoning ghosts, magical powers, and the idea of an afterlife.  Some rituals include summoning Lady Death, releasing spirits into the afterlife, and healing other people. Many of these rituals involve food and alcohol, and some involve blood.
  • Portajes, either daggers or rosaries, are used to release spirits into the land of the dead or heal people.
  • Quinces, fifteenth birthday celebrations, are when most brujos receive their powers from Lady Death.
  • Yadriel’s aunt tells him a story about Xibalba , a jaguar spirit who seeks human sacrifices in exchange for preserving the world and granting power. “Without human sacrifices to satiate his hunger, he threatened to unmake the land of the living.” Xibalba later enters the mortal plane to receive Catriz’s human sacrifices and, when Catriz fails to provide them, drags Catriz into his domain.

by Mia Stryker

The Nature of Witches

Witches have been in control of the weather for hundreds of years, keeping the atmosphere calm and stable. Each witch has powers based in the seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Shaders, or people without magic, depend too much on the witches to keep the weather steady, pushing the limits of the witches. Thus, shaders have been starting to think that the magic is infinite and, as Clara says, “As if this planet were infinite.” More and more witches are being depleted of their powers and dying, causing the witch community to grow tired.

Clara Densmore is not just any ordinary 17-year-old witch, she is an Everwitch. An Everwitch is a witch that is tied to all four seasons. It is a rare and powerful magic; she can use her magic year-round whereas regular witches can only use their magic during their designated season. However, Clara cannot fully control her magic, which resulted in the deaths of her parents and best friend, Nikki. Clara fears her powers, and she is scared that by using her magic she will hurt other people she loves.

Then, Clara’s mentor and teacher, Mr. Hart, dies. Clara must continue her Everwitch training with two new visitors: a teacher named Mr. Burrows and his assistant, Sang Park, from the Western School of Solar Magic. Sang, a spring witch who has an interest in botany, is tasked as Clara’s primary trainer, and soon becomes Clara’s love interest. As Clara struggles with her Everwitch magic and explores the romantic pull she feels toward Sang, she must decide if she wants to improve her control over her magic or be stripped of her magic.

The Nature of Witches is a riveting story filled with romance, self-discovery, and magic. Readers may become very emotional because they are immersed in Clara’s first-person perspective. The story focuses on Clara, which allows readers to understand her thoughts and actions. Readers watch as Clara switches between wanting to be stripped of her magic and accepting it. Clara’s mental struggle is relatable because she is deciding between what she wants, what would be “easy,” and her duty as the most powerful witch. In the end, Clara realizes that her magic is a part of her and is something she can’t live without. Through her experiences, Clara learns the importance of loving both herself and her powers.

Readers will meet several complex, lovable characters inside the pages of The Nature of Witches. Clara and the other characters are portrayed with depth, showing both their good and bad traits. LGBTQ themes are expressed through Paige’s and Clara’s romantic past; the two girls were friends who became partners. There were no labels put on either person or judgment from anyone, suggesting that it is wholly accepted and integrated into society.

Griffin also includes thought-out and vivid worldbuilding by using mystical and descriptive language. The Nature of Witches is engrossing and easy to read, so readers will fly through the pages. Although the inclusion of witches and magic that controls the atmosphere is highly fictional, the story’s main idea is based on the possibility of snowstorms in June and tornadoes in winter. Climate change has been a hot topic for years and this story serves as a reminder that our world is still suffering, and readers must do something before it’s too late.

The Nature of Witches lets readers know that the first step to help stop climate change is to understand the harmful things humans do that affect the climate. The book does not give specific ways to make changes. However, it implies that people will have to face some type of horrible disaster before they accept that things must change. As Clara points out, “We aren’t in this alone and shouldn’t act like we are; the atmosphere is hurting, and that’s a problem for all of us, witches and shaders alike. The challenge is great, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. But we’re in this together, and if there’s anything I’ve learned this past year, it’s that together is where the magic lies.” At the end of the day, we must communicate with each other and work together to effect change.

Griffin gives readers an earnest, thoughtful, and fantastical story about magic and self-acceptance. Both the characters and plot will keep readers interested. While The Nature of Witches has a timely and important message attached to it, the message is not shoved in readers’ faces. The story’s vivid worldbuilding, the interesting plot, and the lovable characters make The Nature of Witches the perfect book for readers who love fantasy and climate fiction. Readers interested in reading another fantastical story that shows the dangers of climate change should grab a copy of Spark by Sarah Beth Durst.

Sexual Content

  • Clara spends the day with her summer fling Josh. After a long day, needing the comfort of his warm body, she “take[s] Josh’s hand, and he follows me the three steps to the bed. He tugs me close to him, brushes his lips against my neck.” They “fill the darkness with heavy breaths and tangled limbs and swollen lips, and by the time the mood reaches its highest point in the sky, Josh is asleep beside me.”
  • After a training incident with Clara’s ex-girlfriend, Paige, Clara remembers the time when they dated. Paige asked Clara to kiss her. “When our lips touched for the first time, [Clara] knew there was no going back.”
  • Sang, a spring witch, as well as Clara’s trainer and love interest, almost kisses Clara. “‘Clara,’ he says, his voice rough with something that sets my insides on fire. ‘If you don’t want me to kiss you right now, you’re going to have to stop looking at me like that.’ But that’s exactly what I want, I don’t care that his lip is bleeding and I’m out of breath, I want it so badly it doesn’t feel like a want. It feels like a need.” But they do not kiss.
  • Sang tells Clara that he likes her. Clara admits she’s tired of fighting her attraction. They hug and share their first kiss. “He kisses me as if it might never happen again, slow and deep and deliberate. There’s a gentleness to the way he opens his mouth and twists his tongue with mine, the way he traces his fingertips down the sides of my face and onto my neck as if he’s memorizing me.”
  • After Sang and Clara’s kiss, Clara admits, “I couldn’t sleep last night, kept awake by the ghost of Sang’s lips on mine, by the way his hand felt pressed against my lower back.”
  • Clara meets Sang outside a school building before their meeting with their teachers. “I can’t help the way my eyes drift to his lips, the way the back of my hand brushes against his.”
  • Clara walks a campus trail early and goes into the woods. She suddenly hears Sang’s voice coming toward her, but she hides. When she sees him, she confesses, “I want to run to him and wrap my arms around his waist and kiss him beneath the branches of our tree, but something keeps me rooted in place.”
  • While driving, Sang calls Clara impressive. “And before I know what’s happening, he pulls over to the side of the road, and I’m closing the distance between us, crawling onto his lap and wrapping my arms around his neck, I kiss him with the urgency of the water roaring down the mountainside and my magic rushing out to meet it.” They continue to kiss into the night. “His hands find my hips and his lips drift down my neck. My head falls back and I arch into him before returning my mouth to his. I kiss him until the sun sets and the moon rises, until my entire body hums with want.”
  • During one of Clara’s classes, Sang comes in as a special guest. When she looks at him, “My face heats with the memory of his body under mine, his face tilting up to me, his mouth on my neck and his hands in my hair.”
  • Clara hopes Paige can’t tell her heart is racing when she sees Sang. Clara remembers “echoes of his mouth on mine and his fingers on my skin and the way he breathes out when I kiss the notch in his neck flood my mind when I see him.”
  • Sang tucks Clara into bed, and “he gives me a soft, slow, lingering kiss.”
  • During the Spring Fling, Sang and Clara hug and admit how happy they are with each other. “Kissing him under the light of the stars makes me feel as if he is who I was always meant to find.” Clara admits to herself that Sang is magic to her, causing, “My lips [to] part, and the kiss deepens, each of us breathing the other in as if we’re the cool night breeze or the perfect scent of daphne.” When Clara falls backwards, “Sang follows, his mouth back on mine, and I think for a moment how perfect it is that two spring witches are falling for each other in the gardens at night.”
  • When Clara breaks up with Sang, she put “my hands on either side of his face and kiss him through my tears and his.”
  • In the aftermath of the solar eclipse, Sang runs to meet Clara and, “his lips meet mine, and I kiss him without hesitation or fear or worry. He weaves his hands through my hair, and his breaths are heavy, matching my own. I open my mouth and tangle my tongue with his, kiss him deeply, kiss him with greed and desire and longing.”
  • As Sang and Clara lay in bed, “I close my eyes, bend down, and kiss him. He puts his hands on either side of my face and opens his mouth, and I get lost in him, lost in the way his fingers feel on my skin, the way his hair tickles my face, the way his lips are soft and taste like black tea and honey.”
  • When Sang gifts Clara a journal, she thanks him and leans in to kiss him. “He kisses me again, then looks out over the meadow.”
  • Sang summons a small storm in his hand and commands thunder while Clara commands lightning. Sang tells Clara thunder will always follow lightning and they walk up to each other, and Clara describes, “I pull Sang into me and kiss him, greedy, deep, long, and eager, soaking up every drop of him before I leave.”
  • The storms dissipate and Sang and Clara cling to each other as they continue to kiss until the Autumnal equinox starts. “His lips are on my mouth, my neck, my chest, and I hold his face between my hands, run my fingers through his hair and down his back.”

Violence

  • As part of training, Clara and the other summer witches try to put out a fire. Clara is taken aback by the memories of the death of her best friend. Clara thinks, “This is the first time I’ve been involved in a group training session since I was on this same field last year, practicing with my best friend. Since the magic inside me rushed toward her in a flash of light, as bright as the fire in front of me. Since she screamed so loudly the sound still echoes in my ears.”
  • Clara’s teacher asks why she fights against her magic. Clara tells him that he knows the reason, elaborating, “He wasn’t here when my best friend died, when my magic sought her out and killed her in one instant, one single breath. But he’s heard the stories.”
  • Clara is paired with Paige for her training on how to handle storms. Clara recognizes that the storm is unstable and tries to pull Paige away. Clara tries to tackle Paige before the storm hurts her but the lightning strikes Clara and goes toward the gold chain around Paige’s neck. “Paige shakes beneath me. I scramble off her and stay by her side.” Paige ends up with a burn on her neck but is otherwise unharmed.
  • Sang accidentally poisoned his mother after growing a plant that has poisonous seeds that she put on her salad. He says, “She got really ill. Vomiting and pain, so weak she could hardly stand. My dad saw the seeds on her plate. He looked them up and realized they were toxic.”
  • After the Spring Fling dance, Clara, Sang, and some of their peers decide to play the ring of fire – a game where the witches need to keep a lightning bolt alive without it dying or touching them while passing it to each other. During a round where the lightning starts to get too strong, it aims for Sang, and, “lightning enters his chest and shoots down his left arm, exiting out his fingertips. He convulses and is thrown several yards before slamming into the ground, shaking, shaking, shaking.” Sang passes out and “a superficial burn is already forming on his skin, an intricate, fractal-like pattern that’s deep red and looks like the leaves of a fern. It covers all the skin I can see on his chest and neck.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • During the Spring Fling, Clara is talking to Paige. On Paige’s breath is “the sharp smell of alcohol.”

Language

  • Badass is used twice.
  • Shit and fuck are both used once.

Supernatural

  • The book is centered around witches and magic. Below are some, but not all examples of the witch’s magic.
  • Spring magic is calm as “its sole purpose is bringing beauty into the world,” says Clara. It helps plants grow and deals with spring atmospheric occurrences such as tornadoes.
  • Summer magic is intense and bold. Summer witches specialize in thunderstorms and fires. Clara says, “No other season can absorb as much magic from the sun as summers,” making the season strong because witch magic derives from their connection with the sun.
  • Winter magic is aggressive and precise. Witches with winter magic deal with blizzards, wind, the cold, and moisture. According to Clara, “Winters are more straightforward than anyone else. We don’t soften ourselves with indirectness or white lies or fake niceties. What you see is what you get.”
  • Autumn magic is slow and steady, building “on an undercurrent of thankfulness and sorrow.” Since it is a transitional season, it is attuned to its environment and can easily change to accommodate it.
  • Sang picks a fight with Clara, hoping to get her mad so she will use her magic without restriction and to relieve any anger built up between them. They have a small magic fight and by the end of it, Clara has unknowingly pulled spring magic from Sang to create a birch tree. When Clara uses her magic, “The earth shifts as a birch tree shoves through the ground and grows right next to us, tall and white and real. Spring magic heightened to its full strength in the dead of winter.”
  • When Mr. Burrows takes Clara to a field test, she is trapped with a family of shaders. They are stuck in a field surrounded by a wall of rocks and a sunbar, a concentrated wall of sunlight, and triple-digit temperatures. To help the family survive, Clara creates hailstones to keep them cool. Clara is “in a free fall of magic, power bursting from my fingers and into the air, tossing the hail higher and higher as if it’s weightless. I create as much hail as possible, stones dropping out of the sky in rapid succession.”
  • During the Eclipse of the Heart Music Festival, a huge storm breaks and threatens to flood the river. Clara must stop the storm and the river before thousands are flooded. As she tries to stop the storm, she “throw[s] my magic into the storm, and all four seasons follow, tumbling into the cloudburst and taking hold. Winter magic dries out the air, lessening the humidity. Summer focuses on the updraft, pushing down as hard as it can. Spring lines the bank of the river, forcing the water to hold. And autumn cools the air so it can’t rise.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Brynn Jankowski

Remember Me

The day before her seventeenth birthday, Blue Owens wakes up feeling like something is wrong. Her memories are hazy, and everything seems vaguely familiar, yet so foreign. Her friends and family are acting weird and suspicious, tiptoeing around her, as if she will fall and break at any minute. Blue explains, “You ever get the feeling something’s going on and you don’t know what it is?”  

In the back of her closet, she finds a strange note that reads: meet me on the little blue bus at 7:45. Blue has no idea who wrote the note or any idea why someone would want to meet her. But she only has one day to decide what she’s going to do. 

Following her gut, Blue gets on the little blue bus at 7:45 and meets Adam, who seems like a stranger. But as they talk and connect, she is flooded with familiarity; it is as if they have always known each other. Because they have. Adam hesitantly explains that they have dated since the tenth grade. “In fact,” he says, they’ve “done everything together for two years.” Blue discovers that she “canceled” Adam, and chose to erase him from her memory. 

Realizing what she has done, Blue sets out to recover her memories and figure out why she “canceled” them. As she explores deeper into her past, she is faced with painful memories. Should Blue leave her forgotten memories in the past? Should she bring her memories back and experience her grief all over again?  

Set ten years in the future, Remember Me mixes sci-fi and mystery elements with a story about grief and finding yourself. While Blue is a determined, independent, and brave young woman, she is also broken and imperfect, as she is dealing with great tragedies. After Blue’s sister’s tragic death, Blue spirals into a deep depression, waking up “most days [wishing she was] dead.” Blue’s friends and family begin to worry, as she becomes detached, irritable, and overly spontaneous. Blue must decide if she wants to erase all memories of her sister, finding a supposed cure to her pain, or spiral further, hoping one day she will wake up “and be [the] kind of person who glows and has goals and a self that doesn’t torture them.”  

In the end, rather than truly canceling her past, Blue learns to live with her grief. Although “it still hurt[s] whenever” she thinks of her sister, as these memories can “break [her] apart,” Blue is able to “come back together” and be whole. She comes to terms with her past and realizes that memories of her sister, for better or for worse, are still a part of her and make her who she is. 

Remember Me is best for mature readers, as it deals with topics like depression, suicide, death, and grief. It also delves into the effects of divorce on children. Furthermore, it has an explicit sex scene and substantial use of profanity. Overall, Remember Me, is a must-read, with a diverse cast of characters, a strong female lead, and an interesting plot. The story discusses the difficulties of grieving and losing someone you love. Plus, it highlights the importance of learning to live with the painful events of your past and accepting them as a part of who you are. 

Sexual Content 

  • Blue’s friends, Turtle and Jack, are dating and “in love.” They often act intimate with each other in front of others. 
  • Turtle is practicing for a play and has to make out with Kevin, a boy who is gay and uncomfortable kissing a girl. While practicing for the show the two struggle to connect. The teacher who is directing their practice has Turtle and her partner Jack (who is also in show choir) kiss to show them how it’s done. “Kevin is watching, uncomfortably, from the side. Jack leans forward slowly, pulling Turtle flush against their own body, and they melt into a deep kiss.” 
  • In eighth grade, Blue kissed Jacobo Mancini. Blue “let him put his hands in my bikini bottoms. I remember playing a game where I was supposed to be in the closet with Calvin Locus and we were supposed to spend six minutes in there and we didn’t come out for a much longer time.”  
  • While riding the bus with Adam, Blue thinks that she does not “remember kissing [him]. . .  my body does. My body positively writhes with knowing.” 
  • After reuniting, Blue and Adam kiss. “Our lips touch and he presses the middle of my back toward him. I feel like an elevator falling up.” Later, their families pull them apart, Blue thinks “out of nowhere I’m back in that kiss, in the breathlessness that took me over.” 
  • Blue thinks about sex. She thinks, “I’m not so much thinking about sex per se, like me having it but I am thinking about the idea of sex, or why people want to have it.” She then imagines her and Adam together. “And it’s not like I want to have sex with him right away or something. . . But I would like to kiss him. Very much I would like that. I wouldn’t mind running my hands over the skin under his shirt, feeling his breath on my neck, his fingertips on my belly.” 
  • Blue notes that her friend lives in the older part of town, in a crumbling building where you “can hear their neighbors having sex when they’re trying to go to sleep.” 
  • When Blue and Adam first began to date, they spent “hours and hours on end” kissing. Then “the shirts came off. We spent about a month like that . . . then pants got inched down and finally off.” The two become sexually intimate with each other. Blue recounts a moment when Adam had “his head between my legs” for the first time.  
  • Before she cancels him, Blue visits Adam for what is supposed to be the last time. The two kiss. Adam “opens his mouth and it’s hot when he nips at my lips. It’s not a sexy kiss so much as a communication . . . an apology.” 

Violence 

  • Ten years into the future, there is an “international epidemic” of suicide, especially among young people.  
  • There is a bridge in Blue’s town that “people throw themselves off… all the time, and it’s been getting worse.” One instance causes the whole community to come together, when “Taylor Strong chucked himself off the edge”of the bridge. 
  • When Blue arrives at the beach, she sees Adam and explains “my throat drops into my toes… He has V draped across his arm and is swimming ferociously toward the shore. She is limp, head hanging backward, neck tilted back and exposed like she’s offering herself up to the sky.” She imagines V swam “straight to the spot where Dad told us not to go, swims out there vowing to prove that we all underestimate her. She swims straight into a riptide, gets pulled under, flails and kicks but the riptide is too strong for her. She’s carried away screaming when she reaches the surface, until she can’t fight anymore…. By the time the ambulance comes, I am as gone as V…  My sister is dead.” 
  • After her sister dies, Blue explains “most days when I wake up I wish I were dead.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • On her fifteenth birthday, Blue gets drunk. She explains that she “didn’t mean to get drunk but [she’s] such a lightweight that even though [she] only took a couple of sips” she was drunk. 
  • Blue attends a party with her friends and drinks.  
  • Blue observes the “worst my parents do is smoke joints out back after they think I’m asleep.” 
  • After her parents’ divorce Blue wonders if her father is hooking up with “one of those rafting girls he works with, sturdy, beer-drinking, tan, young.” 
  • Blue’s father explains to Blue before she was born, he “drank too much beer and cursed.” 

Language   

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes shit, fuck, bitch, ass, and pussy. 

 Supernatural 

  • None 

 Spiritual Content 

  • Blue and her grandmother attend a funeral. As they walk into the church, Gran “makes the sign of the cross twice, once as we pass the Lady of Guadalupe statue in the courtyard and again when we stumble over the threshold into the actual church.” 
  • Blue describes the funeral service. “A priest says some things about Jesus. . .  I just listen[ed] to the prayers, the talk of God having a place in heaven for Arturo, the God will look over his wife and his children, that Arturo is free now.” 

Storm of Lightning

The Elgen’s plans for world domination begin on the island of Tuvalu when the nefarious Dr. Hatch orders an invasion of the small nation following an unsuccessful attack on the resistance headquarters, the Timepiece Ranch. Meanwhile, the Electroclan return to America with Jade Dragon, the girl they rescued before she fell victim to Dr. Hatch’s schemes. When they learn what happened to the Ranch, Michael and the others rush there to inquire about the safety of their families, who were hiding at the base at the time of the attack.

After checking the Ranch and finding it devoid of survivors, the Electroclan goes on the run again. Their plan is to lie low until news of their families reaches them, but their period of rest ends abruptly with the news that Dr. Hatch has stationed warships from the Elgen fleet in the waters near Tuvalu. The Electroclan heads to Christmas Ranch in Utah, another resistance base, to devise a plan to stop the invasion of Tuvalu.

Meanwhile, the story shows the perspective of Hatch’s loyal electric children (Tara, Bryan, Quentin, and Kylee) as they discuss whether to rebel against Hatch, especially after he tortures Welch, a former Elgen commander, who is close to Quentin. Quentin has been Hatch’s “favorite,” but he no longer knows if Hatch’s plans align with his own.

Hatch successfully overthrows the Tuvaluan government and places Quentin in charge. Hatch offers Quentin advice on his new monarchy: “a divided people is a conquered people. . . Divisions in humanity can always be found. Turn men against women and women against men. Divide the young from the old, the rich from the poor. . . Teach them to shame others and to use shame as a tool to their own ends.” Hatch’s advice illustrates the difference between him and Michael, which is the focus of Storm of Lightning.

There is not much confrontation, and the Electroclan spends most of the book on the move, as the story focuses on Michael’s character and the effects of war. It’s clear that the Elgen and the Electroclan can never coexist, and Michael must be the one to stop them. He struggles with wanting to give up, and the fact that his power has been increasing, possibly leading to his own death. His power also gives him the ability to kill others on a large scale. While this threat has been present from the beginning of the series, Michael grapples with it throughout Storm of Lightning.

While Storm of Lightning is not the most interesting book in the series, the story discloses the next step of the Electroclan and highlights the value of hope – hope that the resistance can overcome the Elgen. While Michael’s role in the war is may be unrelatable to readers, Michael’s inner turmoil is understandable and crucial to the development of his character. Readers should pick up the next story, Fall of Hades, to find out if Michael is able to overcome his fate and confront Hatch once and for all.

 Sexual Content

  • Michael and his girlfriend Taylor kiss occasionally. “After a moment, she leaned into me, and we kissed. Suddenly I felt a current of electricity flowing through our mouths.”
  • Quentin and Tara have a developing romance. They kiss once.

Violence

  • A Mexican gang tries to rob Michael which ends in violence. As Michael “was walking away from them, an empty beer bottle hit me on the side of my head. Fortunately, it wasn’t a direct hit, or it probably would have knocked me out. Instead, it caught me in the back of my jaw, cutting the skin beneath my ear. . . It took every ounce of willpower I had not to fry them to ashes. . .”
  • The gang threatens to cut Michael, so Michael defends himself. “I spun around and pulsed, blasting the little dude so hard that his feet left the ground. He slammed into an adobe wall, and plaster fell around him as he crumpled to the ground, unconscious. . . I spread out my arms and pulsed. The force blew out from me in a shock wave more than fifty feet in diameter. When I looked around, all of the gang members were lying on their backs. Most of them weren’t moving. The tall guy was still conscious, staring at me in fear. As I started toward him, he pulled a gun. . . The guy fired six times, and the bullets flew around me, ricocheting against cars and buildings. One of the bullets hit his buddies. . . When he had used all his bullets. . . I blasted him so hard, his clothes caught on fire. Then I looked around. All of the gang members were still unconscious except for one. . . he had gotten to his feet and now raised a knife at me. . . I produced a lightning ball about the size of a volleyball. . . He weakly raised his hands to block it. It exploded on contact with his flesh, knocking him out with the force.” In the end, Michael is unsure if he killed them or not.
  • Michael sees the aftermath of the Elgen attack on the resistance base. They completely destroyed the area. Michael “could see the bones of a horse in a clearing. Other than that, there was no evidence of life. Or death. It looked like those war pictures from our history books. I had never seen such devastation in real life. I bent over and vomited.”
  • The Electroclan find one survivor from the aftermath – an Elgen soldier. “When I first saw the man, I didn’t recognize him as human. He was grotesque looking. His skin and clothes, which hadn’t been burned off, were charred black, and most of his hair was singed off his head. . . his injuries were so severe, it was difficult to even look at him.”
  • Jack talks briefly about his brother’s service in Afghanistan. “A Taliban soldier tried to stab my brother, but my brother turned the knife on him. While my brother’s squad was waiting for reinforcements, my brother had to sit in the room with the dead man for two hours. He took out the guy’s wallet. The man had a picture of his wife and a little boy. My brother said even though the guy had tried to kill him, it still made him sad.”
  • While staying at a hotel, Michael hears someone trying to break into the room when multiple Electroclan members are inside. They attack when the intruder enters. “Jack grabbed [the intruder] by the front of his shirt, then pulled him forward, slamming him face-forward onto the ground. I pushed the door shut with my foot as I grabbed the man’s leg and pulsed. His body went limp.”
  • Hatch threatens to flog the Tuvaluan people if they disobey his new laws. He also says that the citizens will be sent to “reeducation camps.” Hatch also says that those who don’t accept reeducation will be imprisoned and branded as fools to be publicly humiliated and punished.
  • Due to the former President of Tuvalu refusing to bow to him, Hatch has him punished as a public display. “You will be stripped of your clothing, bound, and your tongue will be cut off; then, for the rest of your life, you will be kept in the central square in a cage with monkeys. . . If you try to take your life, your sons and daughters will take your place.” Hatch follows through on his word. The prime minister is later displayed in front of the people. “Inside the cage were about a dozen bald-faced rhesus macaque monkeys and, in one corner, the naked prime minister huddled in the fetal position. He looked pale and sick; his mouth swollen from the amputation of his tongue.”
  • A man who protests Hatch’s rule is severely punished in front of the crowd. “The protestor was able to knock down just one of the guards before he was tased by three different guns, then beaten nearly unconscious by truncheons. The guards then dragged the man out before the crowd. He was lifted to his knees and pushed up against the pole next to the monkey cage. His arms were bound behind the pole, and a belt was cinched tightly around his waist to hold him up. . . The Elgen squad captain brought out a long, serrated knife and cut off the man’s ears as he screamed in agony.”
  • Hatch punishes Quentin for betraying him. “Hatch slapped Quentin hard enough to knock him back into his bed. A thin stream of blood dropped from his nose. . . Hatch stood, then grabbed Quentin by the foot and dragged him off the bed. Then he kicked him while Quentin tried to protect himself from the blows.” Hatch also punishes Quentin with an improved RESAT device called a RAVE, which inflicts physical pain on the electric children and renders them powerless.
  • Cassy, one of the electric children loyal to the resistance, threatens Schema, a former Elgen chairman, by using her powers on him. “As he stepped out onto the cement floor, he suddenly froze, unable to breathe. For nearly a minute he grasped at his throat; then he fell to his knees, then to his side, unable to even make a sound, his panicked, questioning eyes locked on Cassy. When he was just about to pass out, Cassy released him. Schema loudly gasped for breath, coughing and wheezing.” Cassy says to him, “In case you were feeling bold, I wanted you to know just how easy it is for me to kill you. . . this time, I paralyzed your lungs. If you disappear from my sight, even for a minute, I will stop your heart.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • The group talks about a hot sauce that’s named “hotter than hell.”
  • Tara and Bryan, two kids loyal to Hatch, have an argument in which Tara calls him an “idiot.”
  • Ostin and Michael call Dr. Hatch a “crazy freaking moron.”

Supernatural

  • Many of the youths in the story have electricity related abilities. There are 17 electric children in all. Michael can shock and pulse like an electric eel. Taylor can read minds via electrical signals. Nichelle can drain electrical power, Abi can take away pain, and Mckenna can create light and heat.
  • While staying at a hotel, Nichelle wants to stay in a room that is rumored to have a ghost haunting it. One of the workers says they encountered it when checking a fuse box in the basement. “The hair on the back of my neck rose, and I had this feeling that I was being watched. Then I saw a cloud in the shape of a man come toward me.” Michael, Nichelle, Taylor, and Ostin end up staying in the room and hear strange sounds at night.

 

Spiritual Content

  • When Hatch takes over Tuvalu, he orders the former President to kiss his hand to show his allegiance. The man replies, “I bow only to God.” Hatch replies, “Where is your God in your time of need. I will tell you where your God is. You are looking at him.”

by Madison Shooter

Mean Ghouls

If Megan thought life at her new boarding school was going to be easy, she was dead wrong. Everyone has the same mysterious virus—one that’s slowly turning them all into zombies. The teachers are lifeless and the food stinks. Literally. And worst of all, the clique of popular mean girls who rule the school have already decided that Megan’s dead to them.

All Megan wants is to get back to her old school and her old friends, but until a cure is found, she’s stuck at Zombie Academy. How will she ever survive?

Squeamish readers will want to avoid Mean Ghouls because zombitus causes the students’ body parts to fall off and their teeth to sharpen, among other ailments. Plus, the bloody descriptions are detailed and gross. For example, when the limo driver picks up Megan, she is glad she’d only seen him from the back because “his head was barely attached to his neck. It kept lolling over to one side or the other. One of his eyes was hanging loosely from some kind of oozing stringy stuff. And though she hadn’t noticed from the backseat, whew, the guy stunk!”

Even though Mean Ghouls revolves around zombitus, the story is also a mystery that explores themes of bullying and friendship. When the zombitus cure is stolen, Megan jumps to the conclusion that the mean girls are the culprits. As she sneaks around looking for clues, Megan’s behavior unintentionally hurts her friends. However, the conclusion has several surprises that wrap up all the plot threads.

While none of the characters are well-developed, there’s a host of interesting characters that readers will love and hate. Megan’s brother, Zach, adds a dose of humor because he is totally obsessed with zombies and wishes he was the one that contracted zombitus. Plus, Megan’s high school crush, Brett, also gets infected and is befriended by the mean girls which leads to some comedy. For example, Brett’s zombitus causes him to attempt to eat Megan. “More scared than she’d ever been her whole life, Megan stopped fighting and closed her eyes. If this was the end, to be eaten alive by her first crush, she didn’t want to see it. She hoped it would be quick and painless.” Luckily, a teacher instructs Zach on proper zombie behavior, which doesn’t allow zombies to eat each other.

Fans of R.L. Stine will enjoy Mean Ghouls because the story is surprisingly entertaining with a unique premise that will draw readers in. The story has the perfect blend of action, suspense, and humor. Junior high readers who want an excellent scary story should also read Nightbooks by J.A. White and Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While weaving through a crowded classroom, someone pushes Megan. “While she was picking her way toward her friends, someone shoved her from behind. . . she turned to see who’d pushed her. Brooke gave Megan a sharp-toothed smile.”
  • Brett is upset because eating Megan’s brownie gave him zombitus. Brett chases Megan. “Brett made a grab for the back of Megan’s black T-shirt and she stumbled. Rocks scraped Megan’s hands and knees as she lunged out of Brett’s grasp.” Brett and Megan wrestle until an adult “pulled Brett off of Megan with a strong hand.”
  • Megan thinks a group of girls are hiding the cure for zombitus. During a fashion show, Megan attacks. “Megan shoved Hailey out of the way. Her middle-school classmate stumbled on a spiked heel and fell off the stage. . . Megan grabbed a handful of the small glass tubes and rushed to the side of the stage.”
  • A group of people try to stop Megan’s attack. “Whirling and grunting and grabbing at anything she could, Megan tried to make a run for more of the vials, but Brenda and Betsy blocked her way.” Finally, someone grabs her, and, in the end, Megan finds out she was wrong. The attack scene is described over three pages.
  • Megan and her friend agree to appear in Megan’s brother’s horror movie. Megan’s friend “Rachel pulled out the thing Zach had given her. It was a dart gun. And before the zombies could shuffle away, Rachel fired darts at them.” The darts had the zombitus cure on the tips.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Megan calls her brother a dork numerous times.
  • Darn is used once.
  • An upset boy chases Megan. Megan’s friend causes a distraction and then yells, “You’ll never catch me, Zom-Bonehead!”
  • Megan calls a boy snaggletooth and dork.

Supernatural

  • Transforming into a zombie can take centuries because they are immortal.
  • When zombies have head wounds, they do not heal. Megan’s math teacher “had a huge gash in his head that revealed his brains. Megan was surprised that brains actually did look like the spaghetti that Zach had made for her last breakfast at home. A pink slime coated with gray, thick linking twist.”
  • Jones built the school after he turned into a zombie. “Mr. Jones was drooling blood. Wet, soggy blood stains covered the front of his shirt.”
  • Brooke gets injured. “The cut was small, but deep, and a sliver of her brain was slowly oozing out. Brooke used a tissue to push it back inside her skull. Betsy gave her a disgusted look and handed her a tube of hand sanitizer.”
    Spiritual Content
  • None

Wish Trap

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

Violet and her star animal, a wildcat named Sorrel, must use their special powers to stop the forces of dark magic. But when a run of bad luck hits the local gym team, the Star Friends suspect that dark magic is behind it. Are their Star Magic skills strong enough to hold back the dark magic?

Unlike the first book in the series, Mirror Magic, Wish Trap has a scarier tone. When girls on the gymnastic team start getting injured, the Star Friends discover that a Shade tricked Paige, a girl who didn’t make it onto the gymnastics team, into making a wish. The Shade, who is trapped inside a garden gnome, starts hurting the girls on the gymnastic team. In a multichapter conclusion, the Star Friends try to capture the Shade after it locks two girls in a burning shed. No adults come to help the children escape the locked shed. Unrealistically, the Shade is defeated, and everyone is safe, but the Shade’s vicious behavior gives the story a dark tone that may leave readers with nightmares.

The Star Friends Series is a chapter book series that focuses on four friends—Mia, Lexi, Sita, and Violet—who are illustrated with different skin tones. The cute, black and white illustrations appear every two to seven pages. Even though Wish Trap will appeal to readers who are six and older, younger readers may have a difficult time with the more advanced vocabulary and the descriptions of dark magic.

While Mirror Magic focused on the girls meeting their Star Animal and learning about magic, Wish Trap focuses more on the friends, especially the tension between Mia and Violet. The animals rarely appear, but they are still instrumental in defeating the Shade. Readers will relate to the girls, who use their magic for good. Another positive aspect of Wish Trap is that it highlights the dangers of jealousy. Readers who love animals but want to avoid reading about dark magic should check out the Pet Rescue Adventures Series by Holly Webb and the Zoey and Sassafras Series by Asia Citro.

Sexual Content

  • None

 

Violence

  • A Shade is causing girls on the gymnastics’ team to have accidents and hurt themselves so they can no longer perform. For example, the Shade causes a girl to fall off the monkey bars and hurt her wrist.
  • The Shade spooks a horse that almost runs into Lexi.
  • A garden gnome comes alive. It peeks out of a tree. “Sita screamed as the branches parted and a pottery face grinned down at them. Its eyes glowed red beneath its bobble hat. . . The gnome cackled and jumped hard on the branch he was standing on. CRACK! The branch broke and fell, crashing down right onto Lexi and hitting her head.” Sita uses magic to heal the wound.
  • The Wish Shade locks Lexie and Sita in a shed and sets it on fire. “Violet ran to a water faucet on the side and started to fill a bucket with water to try and douse the bonfire. . .”
  • As the Star Friends try to help Sita and Lexi, the gnome “shoved” Mia. “She fell inside the shed… the door had been slammed shut, and she heard the bolt being pushed across the outside.”
  • When the gnome jumps on the birdbath, Lexi “chucked the apple at the gnome. It shot through the air with perfect accuracy and hit him square on the forehead. . . the gnome lost his balance and fell backward. There was a cracking noise as he broke into pieces.”
  • The Shade tries to get away. Bracken, the fox, “bit the Shade’s leg and hung on tight. The Shade hissed and swiped down with his sharp claws.” The friends grab “the Shade’s bony arms, pinning his hands down.” Violet then commands the Shade to “return to the Shadows.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

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.
  • Mia’s magic has to do with sight. “If she looked into a shiny surface, she could see things that were happening in other places.”
  • Mia and her friends need to fight dark magic. “People who used dark magic could conjure horrible spirits called Shades from the shadows. The Shade would then either be set free to bring chaos and unhappiness wherever it went, or it could be trapped in an object and given to someone whom the person doing dark magic wanted to harm.”
  • Lexi’s magic allows her to heal injuries.
  • Violet can shadow-travel. She “learned to use shadows to travel wherever I want. I just imagine where I want to go, and then I come out in the nearest patch of shadows by that place.”
  • The girls want to fight a Shade, but they’re not sure what kind it is. “There are all different kinds of Shades—Nightmare Shades, Ink Shades, Wish Shades. Some live in mirrors and talk to people and make them do bad things, like that Mirror Shade. Others can bring bad luck or trap people in different ways.”
  • When Mia tries to use her magic to see the Shade, she discovers that “the person using dark magic may have cast a spell so they can’t be seen by magic.”
  • Aunt Carol was Mia’s grandmother’s best friend. Aunt Carol uses crystals to do magic.
  • Paige, who was not chosen to be on the gymnastic team, meets the Shade that is in a gnome. She explains, “I should wish I was on the gymnastics team. I thought it would bring me good luck—I didn’t think he’d bring everyone else bad luck!” The gnome says, “Once a wish has been made, it can’t be stopped.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Scarlet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Curse of the Phoenix

Fraternal twins Zac and Lu live rather estranged lives despite living in the same household. Zac is always indoors due to his asthma and severe allergies. Lu can go outside and hang out with her friends, yet feels burdened by her brother’s medical emergencies. The only thing they have in common is that they both grew up listening to their mother’s stories about the Wildewoods, an imaginary land where mythical beasts roam free. These creatures fill up the pages of Zac’s sketchbooks and inspire Lu’s love of animals.  

When their mother dies, the twins are sent to England to spend the summer with relatives they’ve never met: their aunts Merle and Rowena, their uncle Conrad, and their cousins Penelope and Oliver. It doesn’t take long for the twins to discover the incredible secret hidden in the forest of their ancestral home. Their mother’s stories about centaurs, unicorns, and dragons were not made-up after all. Their family is the keepers of the Wildewoods, the last place on earth where mythical creatures can live safely away from human harm.  

There are many dangers that lie in these lands—and a terrible curse. When Zac and Lu become victims of the curse, their only hope is tracking down the last living phoenix. On their search, they discover family secrets, learn about the magical creatures, and come to terms with their mother’s death.

The chapters alternate between Lu’s and Zac’s perspectives which gives insight into each twin’s point of view. Because Lu is more cautious than her brother, Lu’s perspective focuses on the danger of the Wildewoods and helps the reader understand the lay of the land as well as how the family cares for the creatures. On the other hand, Zac sees the mystique of the magical creatures and is less mindful of their inherent danger to humans. Some readers will relate to the responsibility of an older sibling, and other readers will relate to the joy of discovering and exploring a new place.  

Zac and Lu stumble into danger whenever they venture into the lands and their relatives get hurt while fending off the mythical beasts that the twins stumble upon. For instance, their cousin Penelope fights a manticore to protect the twins but gets a lethal dose of the manticore’s venom, which incapacitates her for the rest of the summer. While the Wildewoods are scary and dangerous, they are portrayed as a traversable place for the family members to explore.  

The Curse of the Phoenix is a fun, magical story that captures the magnificence of magical creatures and depicts the weight of the consequences of one’s actions. This novel has a quick pace, and it seamlessly integrates the Wildewoods into Zac and Lu’s new lives. Questions about the curse are answered early on, giving more chances for the main characters to explore the vast parts of the Wilde, the family’s estate. Throughout the story, the relatives allude to past events, giving the story a sense of mystery. Readers will eagerly flip pages to see if their predictions were correct. This is a must-read book for its unique perspective on humans and their relationships with magical creatures. Readers who like exciting adventures with intriguing mysteries will enjoy Aimée Carter’s Simon Thorn Series as well as Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • On their first visit to the Wildewoods, Zac and Lu come across a dragon. The twins try to escape, but Lu accidently steps on a twig, grabbing the dragon’s attention. Lu tackles Zac into a heap of dirt right as the dragon attacks them with fire. “A plume of fire exploded from the dragon’s snout, missing them by inches.” A bright flash distracts the dragon, but it eventually refocuses on the twins. The dragon tries to attack with fire, but the twins’ Aunt Rowena protects them with a shield.  Then, she drives “the dragon into the trees with a massive shield.” Despite her protective equipment, “she was limping as she moved forward.” The encounter with the dragon lasts for two pages.  
  • Zac goes out to the Wildewoods to find the phoenix with Lu and Penelope in tow. They encounter the manticore. Zac draws its attention by throwing a stick at it. Zac “hurled his stick straight for its hindquarters. And as it made contact with a loud thwack, the monster roared again and whirled around, launching itself directly toward Zac instead.”  
  • To save Zac, Penelope jumps on the manticore’s back, and tries to cut the manticore’s flesh. “Penelope held on, clutching its stunted mane and continuing to press the knife into the manticore’s flesh, but it was too strong.” Penelope’s grip begins to slip, but their cousin Oliver cracks a whip at the manticore to distract it from her. However, the manticore had already stung Penelope and “she was unconscious and deathly pale.” Zac and Lu are uninjured, but Penelope remains bedridden for most of the story. The encounter with the manticore lasts for two pages.  
  • Oliver, using a bow and arrow, tries to shoot the phoenix so he can weaken it and capture it. The phoenix warned Zac about Oliver’s attempt. “That was when [Lu] heard it—a faint whistling sound. In that same instant, as her brother crashed into her, the whistling was punctuated by a loud rip, and Zac’s agonizing cry.” Lu stumbled backward, fighting to hold him up. “To her horror, blood began to stain his sleeve.” The arrow nicked Zac in the arm. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Zac takes Benadryl to stop his allergic reactions and an inhaler to relieve his asthma symptoms. 

Language   

  • One of the twins’ aunts uses the word “bloody” multiple times. “Bloody” is a British slang word that means “very,” but it is considered a swear word in other regions. 
  • Zac thinks of the word “crap” when he tries to hide from Oliver, but accidentally gets Oliver’s attention.  

Supernatural 

  • The phoenix cursed the Wilde family as punishment for their ancestor’s cruel actions against magical creatures. Those born into the Wilde family are forced to stay near the Wildewoods estate. At the age of thirteen or upon entering the Wildewoods before turning thirteen years old, each blood-related family member receives a W-shaped mark on the palm of one of their hands. The marked family members cannot travel too far from the estate or else they will die.  
  • Zac gets occasional visions about the past due to his bond with the phoenix.  
  • The phoenix blood is a powerful healing agent that can heal any injury and cure any illness.  
  • The phoenix willingly gives Zac a drop of phoenix blood so he can heal Lu from an injury. When she drank the blood, “the arrow began to work itself out of her body . . . he wound in her stomach magically [closed] on its own.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Dragon Rider #1

Firedrake, a dragon living in a small valley in Nothern Scotland, is stunned when he learns that humans are about to flood his home. Firedrake consults his family of dragons, who tell him of a time past, where dragons lived in solitude in the far east, in a range of mountains called the Rim of Heaven. Since his fellow dragons are unable to hide from the humans forever, Firedrake, along with his brownie companion Sorrel, set out to find a new home in the Rim of Heaven.

As they travel in search of a mapmaker, they encounter an orphaned human boy, Ben, who they take with them on their travels. At the mapmakers, they learn of the existence of “The Golden One,” a fearsome creature named Nettlebrand, a dragon who hunts other dragons and is armored with impenetrable golden scales. Even with the threat of this mysterious creature, the group is determined to continue their journey and find the Rim of Heaven.

Flying over moonlit lands and sparkling seas, they encounter fantastic creatures, summon up surprising courage – and cross the path of a ruthless villain with an ancient grudge who’s determined to end their quest. Only a secret destiny can save the dragons in this enchanting adventure about the true meaning of home.

Dragon Rider is a tale with many twists and turns as the characters meet many new friends and confront countless setbacks on their way to the Rim of Heaven. The story’s focus on Firedrake’s travels does not allow for any real character development. However, Twigleg undergoes the most change since he develops from a spy to a trusted friend. The remaining cast of characters is entertaining as they do their best to protect one another on their misadventures. Furthermore, the characters’ reactions to situations are entertaining. For instance, the brownie Sorrel is full of insults, but she is also full of wit and concern for friends. The blundering yet cruel persona of Nettlebrand contrasted to his timid servants also earns a few laughs, making this story an overall enjoyable read for its humor and adventure.

Dragon Rider will become some readers’ favorite book because of its thrilling magical aspects. But, the many random encounters with magical creatures does not necessarily add to the plot development and the worldbuilding lacks detail. Despite this, the many funny and interesting characters make this story worthwhile. Another positive aspect of the story is that it highlights the need for one to find a sense of belonging which is reinforced by Firedrake’s desire to protect his kin. In the end, all the characters find themselves a new place to belong, but they never would’ve found it had they not gone looking. Dragon Rider will appeal to readers looking for an entertaining story full of adventure and creatures of legend.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sorrel threatens Rat. “Stop winding us all up like this or I’ll tie a knot in your tail!”
  • Sorrel threatens to hurt another rat, Gilbert. “I’ve got a good mind to shut you in one of your own drawers!” Sorrel later says, “I ought to have tied that silly fat podge to his globe with his own tail.”
  • It is known that Nettlebrand ate eleven of Twigleg’s siblings, but this is not described.
  • Nettlebrand threatens to eat Professor Greenbloom. “Talk away! I’ll eat you any moment now.”
  • To escape the Professor, Gravelbeard, a dwarf, bites his hand. It is not injured.
  • A sea serpent briefly describes a fight with Nettlebrand. She fought with her sister against The Golden One. “We [the serpent sisters] wound our coils around [Nettlebrand’s] armor and kept [Nettlebrand’s] jaws shut with our bodies. But his golden scales were cold as ice and burned us.”
  • Sorrel suspects a raven is a spy, so she strikes the raven with a stone. Since brownie spit is magical, she spits on the stone first, then throws it. “Like lightning, she took aim and hurled the stone into the sky. It flew straight as an arrow to the raven, struck his right wing, and remained stuck to his feathers like a burr. Cawing angrily, the black bird fluttered about, beating his wings violently and lurching around in the sky as if he had lost all sense of direction. Ben watched incredulously as the raven pecked more and more frantically at his wing and finally few unsteadily away.”
  • Twigleg describes the consequences of Nettlebrand’s creation. “The more bored [Nettlebrand] was, the more violent and evil-tempered he grew . . . Nettlebrand, in his rage, ate all my brothers . . . [Nettlebrand] ate our maker too. . . but [Nettlebrand’s] still searching for dragons.”
  • When he finds out that he’s been betrayed, Nettlebrand threatens to kill Twigleg. “I’ll trample him to death! I’ll crack him like a nut! I’ll eat him alive the way I ate his brothers!”
  • Ben is caught by a giant bird who takes Ben to his nest as food for its chick. “Beating his wings vigorously, Firedrake landed on the edge of the nest, as close as possible to where Ben was sheltering. The huge chick retreated in fright. It uttered a hoarse crock and opened its beak menacingly . . . when [the chick] tried lunging at Ben again, the dragon bared his teeth and roared so threateningly that it flinched back in terror.” Ben is rescued before any harm comes to him.
  • No one is hurt in the final stand against Nettlebrand. The friends cover him in brownie spit and breathe dragon fire on him, which makes him turn into his original form, a toad. “The dragons swooped toward him. . . their blue fire licked at him, burning his limbs. Nettlebrand stared down at himself. His armor was melting into a sticky, golden sludge. . . White vapor, damp and cold as ice, surged from his jaws. Hissing, the chill escaped his body until he collapsed like a punctured balloon.” A toad hops out of the puddle of gold, unharmed.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • During a run-in with sand elves, the mischievous creatures toss around sleeping powder, which affects Ben. The next day, Firedrake asks Ben if he has “slept off his elfin hangover.”

Language

  • Sorrel is bad-tempered. She often uses the names of mushrooms in place of expletives such as “festering fungus” and “putrid puffballs.”
  • Some of the characters constantly insult one another. For example, Rosa calls Sorrel a “brainless mushroom-muncher” and says, “What thanks do I get? I have to listen to her silly fur-brained fancies!” Another insult is used later, when someone says, “You leaf-burrowing, mushroom-munching, shaggy-haired brownie.”
  • Sorrel calls many of the characters names such as dimwit, idiot, and stupid.
  • Sorrel also says that humans stick their “nasty furless noses” in places they don’t belong.
  • Sorrel tells Gilbert the rat that he has a “fat little ratty bum.” She also calls him “stuck up.”
  • Nettlebrand frequently insults his armor cleaner, Twigleg. He calls Twigleg a “bone-brained homunculus.” He also calls him “beetle-brain.”
  • Twigleg does not think very highly of Sorrel. He thinks, “The stuck-up, suspicious brownie! Laughing at him for eating flies, then stuffing her own face with those stinking mushrooms!”
  • Twigleg calls sand elves “stupid little things.”
  • Twigleg calls Sorrel a “pig-headed, pointed-eared brownie,” and adds, “Do you only ever open your eyes to tell one mushroom from another?”
  • Nettlebrand curses Twigleg when he finds out that he’s been betrayed. “That stinking flea! That spidery monstrosity! That sharp-nosed birdbrain!”
  • Twigleg calls Burr-Burr-Chan, another brownie, a “great furry fool.”
  • Twigleg also calls Sorrel “a stupid, pointy-eared nitwit.”

Supernatural

  • The book features talking animals such as Rosa Greytail, a talking rat who lives with the dragons. It also includes many mythical creatures including dragons, brownies, elves, dwarves, fairies, and more. An unknown magical force draws magical creatures together and allows them to speak the same language.
  • Dragons in this story are a bit unusual from the typical view of them. They have calm demeanors and live entirely on moonlight. Dragon fire can also cure injuries and bring out the true nature of any creature that has been enchanted by magic.
  • Twigleg, one of the main characters, is a homunculus or manikin, a being that is animated by alchemy.
  • Brownies are fictional cat-like creatures that walk on two legs and have magical saliva. Some have four or six arms, but Sorrel has two.
  • A magical form of communication is used between Nettlebrand and Twigleg in which one of them spits in water and can contact the other.
  • Nettlebrand is a dragon created to hunt dragons, made by an alchemist from indestructible metal. The alchemist used the ivory from dragon horns to make gold, which is why he needed a creature to hunt them.
  • The group meets a four-armed brownie named Burr-Burr-Chan who accompanies them for some time. “He looked almost like Sorrel, except that his coat was paler and thicker. And he had four arms.” Burr-Burr-Chan explains that he is a special type of brownie called Dubidai who protect the dragons.

Spiritual Content

  • The group of adventurers stop at a monastery that worships the dragons. There, Professor Greenbloom talks briefly about reincarnation. “These people [the monks] believe that we all live many lives on this planet. So any one of these children could really be older than the oldest grown-up monk.”
  • The monastery also has a temple to “The Kindly Gods” and one to “The Angry Gods” which are mentioned. The Angry Gods, “are said to keep all evil from the monastery and the village.” The evil includes spirits and natural disasters.

by Maddie Shooter

Legend

Set in the Republic, what was once the western United States, the world of Legend dives into the lives of two intelligent fifteen-year-olds, Day and June, who come from completely different backgrounds. Amid a war splitting the nation apart and a plague spreading throughout the Republic, Day and June must try to navigate the twists and turns of their own lives. 

Day is a wanted criminal from the slum sector who failed his Trials – a test every ten-year-old must take that determines how useful they will be to the government. Despite hiding from the Republic’s military, Day is trying to provide for his brothers and mother. When Day finds out his younger brother Eden has been infected with the plague, he tries to steal medicine and starts to uncover things the Republic wants hidden.  

June is the Republic’s star student, who comes from an upper-class military family and had a perfect score during her Trials. She attends the top university and lives with her brother, Metias, a respected military officer and June’s guardian. However, when Metias is killed, the Republic tasks a grieving June to avenge her brother’s death and find the prime suspect: Day.  

Their missions lead Day and June to meet each other and they unexpectedly discover an inexplicable attraction to each other. The two uncover a truth that the Republic wants to keep hidden. Soon, Day and June realize they must work together to understand the extent the Republic will go to keep its dark secrets. 

Legend is a page-turning dystopian story that stars two quick-witted and strong characters that are trying to figure out who they are in a world of conflict and deceit. Both Day’s and June’s perspectives are told from first-person point of view. To help readers avoid confusion, the text’s fonts and colors change to distinguish the chapter’s speaker. By allowing the reader to experience both sides, they can learn new information alongside the characters. Readers will become more connected with the characters and understand how they feel, making both June and Day relatable and likable. 

The story includes an array of issues such as classism, morality, trust, the effects of standardized testing, and the value of family. The subjects are well-integrated into the plot without being shoved in the reader’s faces. The book clearly lays out and compares the differences between Day’s poor background and June’s wealthy upbringing, exposing the vast inequalities. The Trials are a method of standardized testing split into three parts: the physical exam, the interview, and the written exam. Children take the tests to determine if they will be helpful to the military. While both Day and June are smart in their own ways, Day is not supportive of the Republic so he is ostracized and punished.  

Legend is perfect for dystopian fans who like action, mystery, and a little bit of romance. The story is dramatic, intense, and has good pacing. The plot is understandable and thought-provoking, although some of the twists are a little predictable. The theme that nothing is as it seems shines as the deception of the government and the innocence of Day is revealed. Overall, Legend is a strong start to a trilogy that uses a believable situation to encourage readers to stick to their morals, even when it makes life difficult. Readers looking for more fast-paced dystopian novels will also enjoy the Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie. 

Sexual Content 

  • While roaming the streets, Day wanders into a bar and chats with a bartender. Day thinks, “If I weren’t busy hunting for information, I’d take my time with this girl, chat her up and maybe get a kiss or three out of her.” 
  • After helping June recover from her injuries from a fight, Day studies June. Day thinks, “At this moment all I’m thinking about is what I’d give up for the chance to kiss her or to run my fingers through her dark hair.” 
  • There are several instances that both Day and June are imagining kissing and touching each other. Day says that “nothing good can come out of falling for someone on the streets.” But he admits, “a part of [him] still wants to kiss her, no matter how cracked a move it might be.”  
  • Day and June are talking and drinking nectar wine when they kiss. Day “kisses [her] gently at first and then, as if he’s reaching for something more, he pushes [her] against the wall and kisses [her] harder.” 
  • The following day, Day thinks about kissing June. Day can “still feel her lips against mine, the smooth, soft skin of her face and arms, the slight trembling of her hands.” June says he has kissed lots of girls before her, but that June is different and he “[wants] more.” 
  • A jealous Thomas, a Republic soldier, brings June back to her apartment, asking if Day had kissed her. She says it was for the mission. “Then, before I can protest, one of Thomas’s gloved hands brushes my chin as he leans in to kiss me on the lips.” June is repulsed and pulls away but his hand stays on the back of her neck. 
  • June has a dream. “Day has his arms wrapped around me and is kissing me again and again, his hands running up my arms and through my hair and around my waist, his chest pressed against mine, his breath against my cheeks and neck and ears.” 
  • In the aftermath of their escape, June and Day talk about what happened. They hug and, “she wipes a tear from [his] cheek and kisses [him].” 
  • Day and June discuss a plan to go to The Colonies. Day is appreciative that June wants to stay with him and kisses her while June “wraps [her] arm around his neck and kiss[es] him back.” 

Violence 

  • While soldiers are inspecting the Lake sector for plague-infected people, a woman wanders into the street. A soldier “lifts his gun and aims. A volley of sparks engulfs the infected woman.” 
  • To find a cure for his plague-ridden brother, Day infiltrates the hospital. To make the doctor show him where the cures are stashed, Day “whip[s] out one of [his] knives and hold[s] it close to the man’s throat.”  
  • While Day is escaping from the hospital, soldiers fire at him. “One of the stray bullets scrapes [Day] and searing pain shoots up [his] arm.”  
  • After Day escapes from the hospital, Metias confronts him. Metias tries to take him into custody, but “before he can fire, my knife hits him hard in the shoulder and he falls backward with a thud.”  
  • The Republic soldiers have captured a spy from the Colonies and are torturing him in an interrogation room. “Whenever he thrashes, Commander Jameson stomps on the chain around his neck and chokes him until he stops.”  
  • Day is watching and betting on a Skiz fight between Kaede, the bartender, and another girl. “Kaede strikes early and hard, lunging out and striking the other girl viciously across the face.” After another punch, the girl “crashes to the ground, hitting her head on the cement floor.” This fight scene lasts two pages. 
  • June stumbles into a Skiz fight where viewers bet on two fighters. When someone loses, they are kicked out of the tournament while the winner picks the next contestant. June is fighting Kaede, a fan-favorite fighter. During the fight, “Kaede’s fist punches hard into [her] side, and [she] feel[s] a terrible, sharp pain.” June is stabbed, thinking that, “Only a serrated knife could have torn [her] skin that way.” June ends the fight by ‘twist[ing Kaede’s] arm in a tight hold. In one move, [she] shatter[s] it.” By the end of the fight, June’s side is bleeding. The fight lasts three pages. 
  • While June is trying to escape the crowd who wants her to continue fighting, “Someone grabs [her] leg and yanks hard. [She] hit[s] [her] head hard enough to send the world spinning.” 
  • The Republic military goes to Day’s house to take his family into custody. Thomas, a Republic soldier, kills Day’s mother when he “shoots her in the head.” From June’s perspective, she thinks she’s supposed to “feel the joy of avenging [her] brother’s death.” But she can’t. “The pool of blood underneath the woman is starting to make [her] feel sick.” 
  • The soldiers capture Day and are trying to bring him into headquarters. When he fights back, “one soldier kicks him hard enough to knock him out.” 
  • While Day is in custody, soldiers beat him, and he sustains many injuries. “The girl looks down, then takes a gun from her belt and strikes me hard across the face.” 
  • The Republic is showing the civilians that they caught the infamous criminal Day, but some protesters in the crowd cause a ruckus, irritating soldiers. “One of the soldiers restraining me strikes me in the back with his rifle.” 
  • After Day is taken into custody, June goes to talk to him and observes his injuries. “His lips are so cracked that a little blood has trickled down to his chin.” His leg “is swollen to twice its normal size,” and, “Blood oozes from the edges of the bandage.” 
  • Hundreds of protestors gather outside of Batalla Hall and soldiers are sent to deal with them as they become unruly. Soon enough, “Bullets rain down on the square. People in the crowd collapse like levees in a flood.” Afterward, June scans “the scene of blood and bodies and prisoners. There are 97, 98 dead. No, at least 120. Hundreds more are in custody.” 
  • There is mention of death by execution in several scenes. When a judge announces the verdict for Day’s crimes, he says, “Day is hereby sentenced to death…by firing squad, to be carried out four days from today, on December twenty-seventh at six p.m. . . ” 
  • A soldier, Thomas, goes into Day’s cell to interrogate him. “His left fist hits me hard across the jaw, and my head snaps to the side.” By the end of the fight, Day’s face is bleeding, and it can be assumed that he is badly bruised because, “He hits me again, then one of his knees slams into my stomach.” Thomas also threatens Day’s brothers, saying that Day should, “Watch [his] tongue, unless [he] want[s] to see their bodies lined up next to [his] mother’s.” The confrontation lasts for three pages. 
  • Day attempts to break out of prison. “I swing back down, kicking one soldier in the head with my good leg.” The escape is described over two pages. 
  • After Commander Jameson prevents Day from escaping, she has a violent confrontation with Day. “Before she can stop me, I dart out of her grasp and sink my teeth deep into her hand.”  
  • Day has a flashback to his childhood when he accidentally hit a policeman with a ball while playing with his brother John in the street. The police officer punishes him for it when “he lifts the knife and gets ready to hit [Day] across the face with its handle.” John tries to plead with the police to stop him but, “The knife handle whips [him] across the face. The policeman walks over and kicks [him] in [his] side.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • One night, Day and June talk to one another, and “a bottle of nectar wine sits between us.” 

Language   

  • Hell and damn are both used once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Secret Explorers and the Moon Mission

Meet the Secret Explorers—a band of brainiac kids from all over the world. Everyone in this diverse group of young experts has a specialty, from outer space to dinosaurs, and each story follows a character who gets chosen for a “secret exploration.”

In The Secret Explorers and the Moon Mission, space expert Roshni and geology expert Cheng blast off into outer space on a mission to the moon. There, they must navigate the dangerous terrain to clear up space debris before it can interfere with a lunar mission! Along the way, the Secret Explorers pilot a space buggy and collect important rock samples.  

The Secret Explorers and the Moon Mission has large black-and-white illustrations that break up the text and help readers understand the plot. Characters’ thoughts are easy to distinguish because they are in bold text. While younger readers may struggle with some of the difficult vocabulary and the length of the book, the book’s educational value makes it worth parents’ time to read italoud to their children. The book ends with ten pages of “Roshni’s Mission Notes,” which are a summary of all the scientific facts and discoveries made throughout the story. Plus, the book has fun illustrations, quizzes, and a vocabulary list. 

Readers interested in adventure and space travel will enjoy The Secret Explorers and the Moon Mission and learning about historical people like Buzz Aldren, Michael Collins, Katherine Johnson, and others who helped make going to the moon possible. Plus, the characters are knowledgeable and encouraging. Roshni and Cheng teach about astronomy, space, and different types of rocks. Readers who want to learn more about space travel through non-fiction reading should grab a copy of The Race to Space Countdown to Liftoff by Erik Slader & Ben Thompson and Mae Jemison: Awesome Astronaut by Jill C Wheeler 

 Sexual Content 

  • None 

 Violence 

  • None 

 Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

 Language   

  • None 

 Supernatural 

  • When Roshni is needed for a mission, a compass begins to glow and as “she stepped forward, the wall seemed to ripple and a shiny steel door appeared around the compass symbol. . . As the light faded, she found herself in the Secret Explorers’ headquarters.” 
  • The Exploration Station picks two Secret Explorers for each mission. When the kids’ badges “lit up,” they knew they were chosen to go on the mission. 
  • The Beagle can change into different types of transportation, and magically takes its occupants to where they need to go. 

 Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Trials of Hairy-Clees

Zeus and the other gods at the Mount Olympus Pet Center are finally working together like a well-oiled machine. . . until they discover a multi-headed monster looming over Greece. And on top of that, a pesky new arrival is trying to join the Olympians.

It turns out defeating the monster is only one challenge on a long list of trials. Zeus and his team of gods—Athena, Demeter, Poseidon, and Ares—are facing their toughest quest yet. Even with some unexpected help from a feathered friend, can they succeed? Or have Zeus the Mighty and his Olympians met their match?

The Trials of Hairy-Clees mixes Greek Mythology, animals, and plenty of mayhem into an entertaining story that will have readers laughing out loud. In the third installment of the Zeus the Mighty Series, Hermes (a hen) makes a spectacular entrance. From the start, Ares (a pug) wants to help Hermes, because of her bravery. In a desperate attempt to get Hermes to leave, Zeus tells the hen that she can’t be an Olympian because she’s not immortal. Unfazed, Hermes is determined to complete the labors of Heracles, become immortal, and join the Olympian flock.

Readers who aren’t familiar with Greek Mythology will easily understand the book because the pet store owner listens to a podcast, “Greeking Out,” about the Greek myths; this allows the reader to get a quick lesson on the mythology that is necessary to fully appreciate the book. The book’s plot parallels the information given in the podcast, which helps readers understand key events.

In The Trials of Hairy-Clees, everyday objects become the relics and monsters of ancient Greece. For example, the animals believe a misting fan is the Hydra, a snake with many heads. The high-action plot, humorous situations, and black and white illustrations blend to make a fun series that will keep readers turning the pages. Each illustration shows the Greek gods, which gives the reader a visual and helps them understand the plot and the gods’ emotions. Plus, large illustrations appear every one to five pages.

In the end, Hermes plays a vital role in defeating the Hydra and even Zeus admires Hermes’ bravery and determination. After Hermes’ brave deeds, the Olympians decide to help Hermes complete all Heracles’ labors, which will have readers eager to read the fourth book in the series, The Epic Escape From the Underworld. Readers who love humorous stories about brave characters should put the Zeus the Mighty Series at the top of their must-read list. For more humorous books that put a spotlight on mythology, check out the Odd Gods Series by David Slavin and The Unicorn Rescue Society Series by Adam Gidwitz.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While getting ready to attack the sea monster, “Zeus the Mighty’s world turned black and white. He had been swallowed by what seemed like an endless cloud of dirty white fluff . . . The stuff tickled his nose and poked into his mouth. It was like he was being crushed by a feather duster.” When the hen notices Zeus, she introduces herself.
  • The pet owner saves Hermes the hen from certain death. Hermes “was in line to receive the Kentucky-fried treatment.”
  • Much of the book’s humor and violence comes in the form of the cat, Athena, chasing Hermes. For example, when Athena sees Hermes for the first time, Athena leaps out. “The hen leapt backward with a flurry of wings, just a feather’s breadth from Athena’s claws. . . The cat sunk low, preparing for a second pounce, her tail twitching.” When Demeter yells at Athena, the cat stops the attack and “peered around sheepishly, her eyes no longer wild.”
  • As Zeus and Demeter are talking, they hear “a bloodcurdling hiss . . . Hermes was scrabbling below, her wings held wide, as if she were trying to take flight. Hot on her tail was Athena, claws out.” Hermes is able to escape.
  • In order to complete one of the labors of Heracles, Hermes must take on the Hesperis. Hermes “pulled the small wooden Zeus figure from beneath her wing. She threw it at the lead Hesperis. The flaming creature squealed when it struck her in the chest.” Hermes realizes the Hesperis aren’t as dangerous as they appear, and she is able to complete the task
  • Athena tries to attack Hermes. “Just as Athena was about to crash into her would-be prey, Hermes raised a wing and batted the cat aside. Athena tumbled gracefully, and then rolled to her feet. Her eyes remained focused on Hermes, but they no longer had that crazed look.” When Hermes stops running from Athena, Athena no longer wants to pounce on her.
  • Hermes, the Olympians, and the Amazons work together to kill the Hydra (a fan). “The monster’s five heads raged above [Zeus]. They swiveled to aim their foul fog at the Amazon flock, which was closing in fast. . . One after another, the birds release their payloads. The boulders [tennis balls] sailed through the air toward the Hydra’s chest. . . the five spinning heads slowed. The gale winds decreased.”
  • The fight against the Hydra continues as Zeus “yanked off his cloak and tossed it at the monster’s heads. . . In the next instant, the cloak slipped through the helmet’s bars and dropped directly onto the Hydra’s spinning heads. . .” The Hydra is defeated when it “detached from the wall and crashed to earth.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Athena is put in Ares’s dog crate. When Zeus talks to her, he says that “Ares’s place smells like pug butt.”
  • Poseidon calls someone an oaf.

Supernatural

  • Zeus finds a lion squeaky toy, that Athena thinks is “an incredibly potent relic. . . Whoever wears the hide of the Nemean lion is imbued with its powers. In other words, you’d be indestructible!” Zeus puts the squeaky toy over his head and the toy saves him from harm several times.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Gregor the Overlander

When eleven-year-old Gregor and his two-year-old sister, Boots, fall down an air duct in their laundry room, they find themselves in Underland: an underground world that has remained hidden from the surface dwellers for centuries. Underland is populated by the friendly but fierce Underlanders, who live in the underground city of Regalia. However, Underlanders are not the only ones who live in the dark. Giant, talking animals inhabit this strange place: enormous bats, upon whom the Underlanders ride and fly, cockroaches, spiders, and worst of all, rats.

The rats are the sworn enemies of the people of Regalia and when Gregor arrives, word begins to spread that he may be the warrior spoken of in an ancient Underland prophecy; a warrior who will save Regalia from the rats. Gregor, however, just wants to find his father, who’s been missing for over two years and may be lost somewhere in Underland. On his quest to recover his father, Gregor learns many important lessons about courage, friendship, and perseverance.

Those who read Gregor the Overlander will enjoy its unrelentingly quick pace and action. The peculiar and intriguing world of Underland, the fantastical and dangerous creatures, the mysterious “Prophecy of Gray,” and the hunt for a boy’s lost father are sure to hook the reader for the entirety of the story. The action, while violent and bloody, is not gory. Often, giant bugs or animals are wounded and killed in battle, which some may find more palatable than human violence.

The story is rife with themes that are important for every child to explore, such as family, friendship, sacrifice, courage, and empathy. Throughout the book, Gregor is unceasingly loving, kind, and protective of his little sister, and in the darkest moments of his quest, Gregor finds strength and hope in the thought of reuniting with his father. Gregor is not a perfect character though; he often finds himself losing his temper and judging others too quickly, like the cockroaches Tick and Temp. However, Gregor learns that these humble creatures possess virtues of their own and are deserving of respect and dignity. Gregor also frequently butts heads with two young Underlanders (who also happen to be royalty in Regalia), Luxa and Henry. However, after Luxa rescues Gregor and vice versa the two begin to trust and respect one another, planting the seeds of friendship.

Throughout the story, Gregor expresses doubt that he is in fact the warrior spoken of in the Prophecy of Gray. However, he continually demonstrates courage in the face of danger, surprising both himself and the Underlanders. In the end, Gregor finds that he is willing to sacrifice himself for his friends. Throughout the story, Gregor develops into a courageous, yet thoughtful young man. Though the story is self-contained, it also sets up the sequel, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, quite nicely.

Gregor the Overlander’s unique blend of fantasy, mystery, and adventure combine to create a story that is sure to entice and delight young readers. Plus, readers will find it easy to identify with Gregor and imagine how they would react to the challenges he faces. The fast-paced story with its unique world, its pulse-pounding action, and its compelling characters ensure that readers won’t want to put it down until they’ve finished, after which they’ll quickly reach for the next one, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Gregor tries to escape and return home from Regalia, two rats find him and Boots, intending to eat them. The kids are saved when a squad of Overlanders comes to their rescue, but there are many bloody wounds sustained in the ensuing battle. One of the rats bites the wing and throat of a bat, and an Underlander cuts off a rat’s ear “with one stroke of her sword.” Gregor “thrusts his torch into [the rat’s] face,” causing him to stumble back “right into Henry’s sword.” A bat sprays blood from a wound in its wing, and another rat dies when stabbed through the throat.
  • Luxa, a human Underlander, “crossed the room and struck [Gregor] on the face” for attempting to escape Regalia’s palace.
  • A woman and her bat barge into a meeting, the woman “pressing her hands to her chest to stem the flow of blood [while one of her] bat’s wings folded in, but the other extended at an awkward angle, clearly broken.” The woman delivers a message, then passes out.
  • A giant spider nearly eats Luxa, but she is saved at the last moment: “From above, a jet of silk shot down, encircling Luxa’s sword arm and jerking her from her bat. The pair of striped legs reeled her in like a fish.” Gregor saves Luxa by spraying the spider in the face with a can of soda: “Just as the fangs were about to pierce Luxa’s throat, [Gregor] flew up and popped the soda can top. The stream of root beer shot out and smacked the spider queen right in the face. She dropped Luxa and began to claw at her six eyes.”
  • A brown spider who has been wounded and is “oozing a strange blue liquid” dies. A different spider “began to pump juice into [the dead spider]” and eats him.
  • Henry, a human Underlander, stands over Ripred the rat as he sleeps, “ready to plunge his sword into [Ripred’s] back,” but the rat awakens at the last second. “In the split second Henry drove the blade down, Ripred flipped onto his back and slashed his terrible claws. The sword cut across the rat’s chest as Ripred tore a deep gash along Henry’s arm.” The scene takes place over three pages.
  • Tick, a cockroach, charges a group of rats, sacrificing herself in order to save Boots. She dies when a “rat sprang forward and crushed [her] head in its jaws.”
  • Many rats fall from a bridge after Luxa and Henry sever it with their swords. The rats plunge into a river below where “enormous piranha-like fish surfaced and fed on the screaming rats.”
  • Ripred, a rat ally to Gregor and his quest, “tore out [one rat’s] throat with his teeth while his back feet blinded the second. In another flash, both rats lay dead.”
  • Gorger, king of the rats, using his tail, “slashed poor Gox (a friendly spider) in half.”
  • Gregor jumps off a cliff, and many rats follow him over the edge, as does the Underlander Henry. A bat dives down and saves Gregor, who sees “the rats beginning to burst apart on the rocks below,” and just before Henry hits the rocks, Gregor turns away. The scene is described over three pages.
  • Gregor falls off of a cliff and nearly breaks his nose when caught by Ares the bat: “At that moment, Gregor slammed into something. ‘I’m dead,’ he thought, but he didn’t feel dead because his nose hurt so badly and his mouth was full of fur. Then he had the sensation of rising and he knew he was on Ares’s back.”
  • Gregor attempts to help a wounded bat by stitching its wing. “He cleaned off [the bat’s] wound as well as he could and applied an ointment she told him would numb the area. Then, with great trepidation, he began to sew up the rip. He would have liked to move quickly, but it was slow, careful work mending the wing. Aurora (the bat) tried to sit motionless, but kept reacting to the pain involuntarily. ‘Sorry, I’m sorry,’ he kept saying. ‘No, I am fine,’ she would reply. But he could tell it hurt a lot.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None.

 Language

  • Several times, Boots declares that she has pooped herself and needs to be changed.

 Supernatural

  • Gregor’s neighbor, Mrs. Cormaci, is known to read tarot cards for people.
  • A reference is made to Nostradamus the soothsayer.
  • Central to the plot is a series of ancient prophecies from the half-sane founder of Regalia, Bartholomew of Sandwich. Pertinent to this book is the Prophecy of Gray: “Two over, two under, of royal descent, Two flyers, two crawlers, two spinners assent. One gnawer beside and one lost up ahead. And eight will be left when we count up the dead. The last who will die must decide where he stands. The fate of the eight is contained in his hands. So bid him take care, bid him look where he leaps, As life may be death and death life again reaps.”

 Spiritual Content

  • None

 

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

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