Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy

Cammie is not over her breakup with Josh, and after the winter break, all she wants is for things to go back to normal. But her mother is keeping secrets, the East Wing of the school is closed off, and an unwelcome intruder on a Covert Operations assignment leaves Cammie and her friends on edge.

It should be mentioned that the Gallagher Academy is an all-girls spy school, so Cammie and her friends are less than prepared when it is revealed that an all-boys spy school exists and—even worse—some of those boys will be attending the Gallagher Academy in an exchange program. Suddenly, Cammie, Bex, Liz, and Macey find themselves at odds with their strange new classmates. Why are the boys really here? Why won’t any of them talk about their own school, Blackthorne? And is Zach just a boy spy on an innocent exchange program who happens to like Cammie, or is something more sinister at hand? When Cammie is blamed for a security breach at the mansion, she knows something is not right. But will Cammie and her friends discover the truth about their male counterparts in time to stop whatever nefarious schemes are underfoot?

Despite being a well-trained spy who could incapacitate a person in under eight seconds, Cammie remains a relatable and lovable character who embodies the awkwardness of a typical girl. Readers will fall in love with Cammie, who has impressive spy skills and yet is completely baffled by boys. At one point, Cammie thinks, “Boys! Are they always this impossible? Do they always say cryptic, indecipherable things?” Because the story is told from Cammie’s point of view, readers will get an inside look at her thoughts and feelings, which makes Cammie an endearing character. At times, Cammie’s jumbled emotions will make readers hurt along with her. Especially when Cammie sneaks off alone and wonders if “maybe crying is like everything else we do—it’s best if you don’t get caught.”

Luckily, Cammie has a group of friends that always has her back. Bex is fiercely loyal, while Liz’s optimistic outlook is a welcome relief. Macey adds a little humor with her boy translations. By the end of the book, readers will feel as if the Gallagher Girls are friends. However, that doesn’t mean that Zach is not a welcome addition to Cammie’s life. While his charm is confusing to Cammie, it’s hard not to fall in love with his tough-boy attitude.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy continues the series in a satisfying way, bringing back favorite characters from book one with the welcome addition of the Blackthorne boys. In typical Ally Carter style, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy begins with suspense and leaves the reader turning pages until the very end. Through first-person narration, Carter creates a fun story full of relatable characters and explores teen romance in a wholesome way that is perfect for younger readers. If you haven’t bought the entire series yet, you will want to. Even though there are six books in the series, each book will have readers ready to jump back into the Gallagher Girls’ world.

Sexual Content

  • Zach leans in to kiss Cammie, but they are interrupted. “His hands were warm on the back of my neck; his fingers laced through my hair, and he tilted his head and he moved in. I closed my eyes. And I heard, ‘Oh my gosh! Cammie, is that you?’”
  • Zach kisses Cammie. “The last thing I expected was to feel his arms sliding around me, to sense the whole world turning upside down as Zach dipped me in the middle of the foyer and pressed his lips to mine.”

Violence

  • In P.E. class, Cammie “hauled off and kicked the heavy [punching] bag—hard—and it flew back and hit [Zach] in the stomach. For a second he stood there, doubled over, trying to catch his breath.”
  • Cammie and her friends find their teacher, who had been injured by a thief. “Our teacher fell into their arms. Blood stained the side of his face, and his voice was faint as he lay on the floor and said, ‘He got it.’”
  • Cammie reacts when Zach grabs her. “Without stopping to think, I stepped back into my attacker, tried to flip him over my head, but he countered his weight at that precise time, stopping my momentum.”
  • During what turns out to have been a test of their skills, the Gallagher Girls fight to stop a thief and his guards. “For a moment it seemed to be raining Gallagher Girls. All around me fists flew, kicks landed . . . I’d knocked a guard to the ground and was struggling with a Napotine patch . . . the next time I saw [Liz] she was jumping from the cab, landing on the back of a guard who had been chasing Eva.” The fight continues over four pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Cammie remembers how her “mom gave Josh some tea that’s supposed to wipe a person’s memory blank” to make him forget what he knew about the Gallagher Academy.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Team BFF: Race to the Finish!

Sophia and her friends are BFF’s. Together they work on coding projects, eat cookies, and have impromptu dance parties. They are excited to participate in their first robot hackathon. They hope to show off their coding skills. But when Sophia’s parents need her to babysit instead of attending the hackathon, everything may change. Without Sophia, the team will be disqualified. When Sofia tells her friends, will they have her back or will it destroy their friendship?

The second installment of the Girls Who Code series focuses on Sophia’s struggle with balancing home responsibilities with her coding club responsibilities. Readers will be able to relate to Sophia’s struggle to tell her friends bad news—she won’t be able to participate in the hackathon. The friends in the story not only brainstorm how to build a robot, they also show the importance of helping each other. The diverse cast of characters are young girls who have a variety of interests (cooking, drama, and fashion), but come together because of their love of coding.

Team BFF, Race to the Finish is told from Sophia’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand Sophia’s feelings of not being noticed by her family. The reader will get a small glimpse into the life of a large, Hispanic family. Sophia’s family not only makes traditional Spanish food but also uses Spanish in their everyday interactions.

Sophia is also struggling to understand her feelings for a boy. She has a crush but is tongue-tied every time she sees the boy. As Sophia and the boy interact, she wonders how to navigate a boy-girl relationship. Team BFF, Race to the Finish is an easy to read story that shows smart girls in everyday situations. Sophia’s struggle is highly relatable, interesting, and will capture many readers’ interest.

Sexual Content

  • Sophia has a crush on a boy and when they talk, Sophia talked even though “butterflies in my stomach were zooming around like crazy. . . It was silly to feel weird around him.”
  • While walking with Sophia, Sammy “reached for my hand. I let him take it, even though it was a sweaty mess—but his was too.”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Silver

Rachel dreams of racing huskies, just like her father. So when she gets a tiny puppy for her birthday, she names him Silver for his shiny coat and vows that he will be the fastest lead dog in Alaska. But one day, Silver disappears. Rachels sets out to find him, following the tracks of a large animal into the forest. Snow begins to fall. An eerie howling breaks the silence. Then Rachel realizes she is tracking a wolf, that she is all alone, and that night is falling. 

Silver brings the harsh Alaskan winter to life. Through Rachel’s daily life, readers will be able to imagine the winter weather, the isolation, and the importance of huskies. Since the story is told from Rachel’s point of view, there is little suspense or action. Even though dogsledding is an important part of Rachel’s life, there is very little action pertaining to the dogs. The pace doesn’t pick up until the end of the book when Rachel realizes that Silver is missing. Since there is so little action, some readers may struggle to read the entire book.  

While Silver was written for young readers, the difficult vocabulary and mature tone may make Silver difficult for some readers. However, the format will appeal to readers because of the short chapters, large font, and black and white illustrations that appear on almost every page. The Stepping Stones Series is specifically written for young readers and the books allow readers to explore different genres such as history, humor, mysteries, and classics.  

Readers interested in dog sledding or learning more about Alaska will enjoy Silver. While the story lacks action, Rachel is a caring girl who loves dogs and takes good care of Silver. Plus, her two-parent family is shown in a positive light. Readers craving a more action-packed book that features dog sledding may want to check out Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre. Those interested in learning more facts about dogs and how they help humans should add Dog Heroes by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce to their must-read list. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Best Wishes

Becca Singer is having the worst day ever. Her best friend, Harper, dumped her, and Becca is totally friendless and alone. Then a box arrives in the mail. 

Inside the box? One bracelet, plus a mysterious note telling Becca to make a wish. So Becca puts on the bracelet—why not, right?—and wishes to have friends. Lots of friends. So many friends. 

And just like that, the magic works. Suddenly, EVERYONE wants to be Becca’s BFF, from all the kids at school, to the teachers, to her own mom. As things spin out of control, Becca starts to wonder: Is this wish really a curse? 

Best Wishes’ super cute cover will cause readers to pick up the book, while the engaging story will keep them entertained until the very end. Readers will relate to Becca’s conflicts—growing apart from a best friend, uncertainty about how to make friends, and the desire to fit in. When Becca’s wish comes true, she takes advantage of the situation in order to get a cell phone, a manicure, and eat pizza. At first, Becca is thrilled to have so much attention and to always have people tell her yes, but soon she realizes that “all the attention and nice things people were saying felt kind of . . . empty.”  

The theme of friendship runs throughout the story and will leave readers with many questions to ponder: Is having a lot of friends important? How can you be surrounded by friends and still be lonely? What makes someone a true friend? Through Becca’s experiences, she comes to the realization that “the most important part of friendship was showing you cared.”   

Suspense is added when a mysterious woman tries to get Becca to sell the magical bracelet to her. Even though Becca refuses, the woman keeps appearing. Once Becca realizes that her wish is more like a curse, she tries to take off the bracelet, but can’t—even with the help of this mysterious woman. Eventually, the woman attempts to steal the bracelet from Becca and a surprising hero jumps in to rescue the bracelet from the woman’s grasp. 

Not only is Best Wishes an engaging story with a positive message, but it is also a story that will appeal to many readers. The story uses simple vocabulary and short paragraphs which makes the text easy to read. There are also adorable black and white illustrations every two to ten pages. The illustrations will help readers understand the plot and Becca’s emotions. For example, while at school Becca has an embarrassing moment and the illustration shows her trying to hide in her pencil box. Since one of the characters talks about the Dork Diaries Series, this may spark readers’ desire to read even more.  

Best Wishes should be on every child’s reading list, not only because it’s an engaging book but also because it teaches the reader about friendship. The story portrayed Becca’s family in a positive manner even though they are not perfect. In the end, Becca learns the true meaning of friendship and grows as a person. Strong readers interested in reading another beautiful book about friendship should add Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee and Wish by Barbara O’Connor to their must-read list.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • OMG is used frequently. 
  • Omigod is used once. 
  • At one point, Becca wonders why her brother has so many friends. She thinks, “If making friends was so easy for my brother, why was he usually such a jerk to me?” 

Supernatural 

  • Becca receives a magical bracelet with instructions to make a wish. Becca wishes that “everyone wanted to be my friend.” After she makes the wish, “The bracelet tightened around my wrist. The lights in the classroom flickered, and a rush of air hit my skin. Suddenly, my whole body felt like it was glimmering. Sparkling.” Becca’s wish is granted.  

Spiritual Content 

  • Becca and her family are Jewish. They are “not very religious but they try to stay kosher.”  
  • Becca’s family observes the Sabbat, and they have a traditional Sabbat which includes lighting candles, a Hebrew prayer, and eating a “special braided bread loaf.”  

Unplugged

Jett Baranov is the son of one of the wealthiest tech moguls in the world and has just been dubbed “Silicon Valley’s Number One Spoiled Brat” by the tabloids. As much as that title may seem cute and funny, Jett’s father finds it to be anything but, and he decides Jett needs some time away from the privileged world he knows all too well.  

In comes Oasis, the center for wellness and all things naturalism, where Jett will be spending the summer. There is just one catch . . . Oasis is completely unplugged and therefore Jett must surrender every piece of technology he has in order to ensure he can truly immerse himself in the experience. Without his phone, Jett has no idea how he is going to entertain himself for the whole summer or what he will eat since the camp is fully vegetarian. That is until he finds himself joining together with fellow campers: Grace, Tyrell, and Brooklyn, to raise a mysterious lizard named Needles. Soon, the group dubbed Team Lizard find themselves taking late night trips to a small island off the coast of the Oasis to get fresh meat for Needles and to enjoy a few non-vegetarian meals themselves.  

Finally, with help from Needles and Team Lizard, Jett starts to feel that the summer spent at Oasis may just be bearable. But something suddenly seems to be going wrong with the other patrons at the Oasis, one of them being Jett’s babysitter, Matt. All the patrons are beginning to take private meditation sessions with the Oasis’s second in command, Ivory. But Jett can’t seem to figure out why everyone raves about Ivory. And why are they donating large sums of money to her? Whatever the reason may be, Jett and Team Lizard must figure it out immediately!  

As the team works to uncover the secrets of the Oasis and its workers, they find themselves in more trouble than they know what to do with. Solving the secrets of the wellness center will take them everywhere from a creepy mansion that sits on a small island near the Oasis to an alligator infested swamp. As Team Lizard take on each new mystery, they find that sometimes the friends you always needed can be found where you never expected them to be. 

Each chapter is narrated by a different member of Team Lizard and provides the reader with more insight into the inner thoughts of each character. This format of storytelling adds a fun twist and makes the plot more intriguing than if it had been told through Jett’s perspective alone. In addition, each member of Team Lizard was brought up in different circumstances which changes the way each member views challenges. For example, Jett grew up never needing to obey the word no, and he therefore refuses to stop digging for clues to solve the mystery of the Oasis, even when the rest of Team Lizard tells him to stop. While Jett and Grace are sometimes annoying, they eventually evolve into more mature individuals. Jett finally understands that not every problem in life can be solved through technology and Grace comes to terms with the fact that sometimes our initial perception of someone can be wrong.  

Unplugged is the perfect novel for readers who want a simple and fun read. While the novel may be lacking in heavy-hitting topics, it does reinforce valuable lessons in friendship and courage. For example, Jett begins the novel unable to complete any small task without the use of his phone and by the end, he is setting out on a dangerous mission by himself for the sake of saving others. Jett and Team Lizard set out to solve the mystery of the Oasis and to save the other attendees showcasing that courage is within all of us; it just takes one small moment for courage to shine through.  

A story of friendship, laughter, and mystery, Unplugged is the perfect feel-good book for those that want a little bit of mystery mixed with a coming-of-age story of friendship. The reader will actively feel as though they are in the novel, solving mysteries with Team Lizard and growing in friendship with each character. The friendships formed between the characters of Team Lizard allow for this novel to be one that radiates love and that content feeling that comes from having a friend that knows you better than you know yourself.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Jett bites down on his tongue in order to stop himself from telling Ivory about his illegal candy bar business. “I bite down on my own tongue hard enough to taste blood. The sudden spasm of pain jolts me from my trance. I lash out and smack that pen from Ivory’s hands.” 
  • Brandon talks of wanting to punch Jett because Jett is lying about his secret candy stash. “Jett pops the last piece into his mouth, chews, swallows, and has the nerve to demand, ‘What snickers?’ I unfold the wrapper and hold it about an inch away from his face. ‘The one that came from this?’ He looks me right in the eye. ‘I never saw that before in my life.’ The urge to punch him is almost irresistible.” 
  • Needles, the pet alligator, bites Brandon’s finger and causes it to bleed. “[Grace] joins the tug-of-war on my finger, and between the two of them, they manage to get the jaws apart. I whip my hand away and grab Jett by the front of his shirt. That’s when I see that my finger is covered in blood. My anger disappears in a wave of queasiness and I have to sit down on the floor and keep my head at knee level so I won’t pass out.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • While talking about Jett, Brandon says, “Jett’s such a loser that he needs an extra guy whose whole job is to make sure that his life is smooth and happy. Who gets that? Not me, that’s for sure.”  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Sky is Full of Stars

On a clear, dark night, go outside and look at the stars. They may all look alike to you at first. But soon you will notice differences. Some stars are brighter than others, some have colors and some stars even seem to form pictures. You can find these constellations whatever the season and wherever you live if you just know where to look for them.

Anyone who wants to learn more about stars should read The Sky is Full of Stars. The illustrated book shows a diverse group of kids and a cat, who all decide to go stargazing. Not all of the pages have illustrations. However, many pages have an illustration and include 2-5 sentences. The book explains not only what the constellations are, but also the history behind them. The book has many illustrations of the night sky that show constellations. The Sky is Full of Stars’ illustrations also include some fun elements such as a cat that appears in many of the illustrations.

The Sky is Full of Stars includes directions for an art project that will allow readers to create their own constellation. The book is packed full of interesting information that is presented in a kid-friendly manner. Through both text and illustrations, readers will learn how to find the constellations in the night sky and understand why stars move.

Readers will enjoy learning both the history and the science behind the stars. Readers may have difficulty pronouncing the stars’ names. The book explains that “some of the names of stars sound strange to us. That is because they are not English words. Hundreds of years ago the Arabs and Persians named many of the stars. Today we still use many of those names.” The Sky is Full of Stars is designed for primary-grade readers who are ready to explore more challenging concepts. The Sky is Full of Stars uses an entertaining format that helps readers understand more about science.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Wrinkle in Time

Meg’s father is a physicist. Or at least he was, before he disappeared. While her mother insists that he will come back, Meg and the rest of the town doubt he’ll ever return. It doesn’t help that Meg is having trouble at school and thinks that her curls, glasses, and braces make her a “moron.” In fact, Meg is convinced that her life will be terrible forever–until Mrs. Whatsit blows into her kitchen one stormy evening.

Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which definitely aren’t from Earth, and Meg doesn’t trust them. But her little brother Charles says they’re alright, and Charles has always been able to see below the surface of people. When Mrs. Whatsit says they can help the children find their father, Meg doesn’t care what they are, as long as they can help. Suddenly Meg finds herself traveling to other planets with Charles and their friend Calvin. Together will the three of them be able to rescue Meg and Charles’ father? Or will they too become lost?

A Wrinkle in Time has memorable characters that will quickly find their way into readers’ hearts. Meg is very relatable to young readers, as she deals with her fears, her braces, and with not fitting in at school. Watching Meg struggle, grow, and find her inner strength will leave readers cheering for her. The beautiful, imaginative planets that Meg journeys to will awe and delight.

Throughout A Wrinkle in Time, Meg will glimpse a cosmic battle between good and evil, light and darkness, and knowledge and ignorance. While rescuing her father is just a tiny piece of this battle, Meg’s journey is filled with gravitas. Numerous lessons are learned along the way: Meg learns how to be brave, how to take responsibility rather than blaming others, and she discovers the one thing that the Shadow doesn’t have: love.

Sexual Content

  • The rumor is that Meg’s father “left your mother and [went] off with some dame.”
  • When Meg has to go into mortal danger to save her brother, she says goodbye to Calvin. “Calvin came to her and took her hand, then drew her roughly to him and kissed her. He didn’t say anything, and he turned away before he had a chance to see the surprised happiness that brightened Meg’s eyes.”

Violence

  • Charles thinks a man is a robot, so he “darted forward and hit the man as hard as he could.” When he realizes the man is not a robot, he says, “I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
  • The mind in charge of a planet that has been lost to the Dark Thing tells Meg, “We let no one suffer. If it is so much kinder simply to annihilate anyone who is ill . . . Rather than endure such discomfort they are simply put to sleep.”
  • When Charles is hypnotized, Meg tries to knock him back to his senses. “She hurled herself at him. But before she could reach him his fist shot out and punched her hard in the stomach. She gasped for breath.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Charles says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
  • Moron is used often. The town thinks Charles is a moron because he never talks, and Meg calls herself a moron several times. When Charles speaks to Calvin, Calvin is surprised. “Aren’t you the one who’s supposed to be the moron?”
  • Calvin calls Charles and Meg “dope” several times as an affectionate nickname. “Look, dope. I just want to get things straight.”
  • Ass is used once. Mrs. Who says, “And old ass knows more than a young colt.”

Supernatural

  • Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which are not from earth, though they can appear in human form. It’s never directly stated what they are, but it’s mentioned that Mrs. Who is a “paltry few billion years” older than Mrs. Whatsit, and that Mrs. Which is even older.
  • At one point, Mrs. Whatsit morphs into a new form. “Outwardly Mrs. Whatsit was surely no longer a Mrs. Whatsit. She was a marble white body with powerful flanks, something like a horse but at the same time completely unlike a horse, for the magnificently modeled back sprang a nobly formed torso, arms, and a heard resembling a man’s but a man with a perfection of dignity and virtue.”
  • The children tesser across space (a form of faster than light travel) several times with Mrs. Which. “All light was gone. Darkness was complete . . . Just as light and sound had vanished, she was gone, too. The corporeal Meg simply was not . . . She was lost in a horrifying void.” They visit several different planets and meet the occupants of those planets.
  • The children visit the “Happy Medium,” a very happy woman who can see the entire universe through a crystal ball.
  • The children visit a planet that has been lost to the Shadow. There, they find a man who is possessed by IT, the mind in charge. “His eyes were bright and had a reddish glow. Above his head was a light, and it glowed in the same manner as the eyes, pulsing, throbbing, in steady rhythm. Charles Wallace shut his eyes tightly. ‘Close your eyes . . . He’ll hypnotize you.’ ”
  • The children finally meet IT and realize, “It was a brain. A disembodied brain. An oversized brain, just enough larger than normal to be completely revolting and terrifying. A living brain. A brain that pulsed and quivered, that seized and commanded.”

Spiritual Content

  • On one of the planets they visit, centaur-esque creatures are singing a song of pure joy. Mrs. Whatsit tries to translate the song into words: “Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles; and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift their voice; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory onto the Lord!” When Meg hears the song, she “felt a pulse of joy such as she had never known before.”
  • The children learn their father was taken prisoner while fighting the Dark Thing. Meg sees the Dark Thing, a huge shadow stretched across space. “What could there be about a shadow that was so terrible that she knew that there had never been before or ever would be again, anything that would chill her with a fear that was beyond shuddering, beyond crying or screaming, beyond the possibility of comfort?” When they ask what it is, Mrs. Which says, “Itt iss Eevill. Itt iss thee Ppowers of Ddarrkknesss!”
  • The children realize that many people have fought the darkness on Earth for years. Mrs. Whatsit says, “They’ve been lights for us to see by.” They include Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach, Pasteur, Madame Curie, Einstein and more.
  • Meg’s father said, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
  • When struggling to describe Mrs. Whatsit to aliens, Calvin says they are “Angels! Guardian angels! Messengers! Messengers of God!”
  • Before Meg goes to confront It, Mrs. Who tells her, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble men are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are.”

by Morgan Lynn

 

 

The Program

Suicide has become an epidemic, affecting one out of three teenagers. The government and parents are scrambling trying to understand, but are unable to find a source. The Program is considered the only cure. With a 100% success rate, parents think it’s an incredible gift. But teenagers don’t view it the same way, because once you go through The Program, you come back without your memories. You’re happy, but you’re no longer you.

Sloane and her boyfriend James depend on each other to keep up each other’s spirits. They pretend that everything is okay. But after their friend commits suicide, James falls apart and is taken into The Program. Sloane quickly follows, when her mother betrays her by calling the handlers. Once inside The Program, Sloane is determined not to lose her memories. But the drugs the facility use keep her in a constant haze and start whittling away at who she is. Will Sloane be able to keep a hold on who she is? Or is she doomed to become just another happy, vacant shell?

While The Program centers around suicide, it does not go into possible causes of suicide, such as social media or familial issues. In The Program, suicide is like a contagious disease. If someone you know has committed suicide or is depressed, then you’re infected and are likely to follow. While suicide isn’t encouraged, it is dramatized in a way that may concern parents. Multiple teenagers in the story commit suicide not only because they are depressed, but also because they feel like they lack control over their lives. Suicide is how they take their power back. Given that teenagers often struggle with such feelings, portraying suicide in such a manner may be concerning.

The Program contains a copious amount of profanity and questionable sexual content. For example, when Sloane feels like she is losing her boyfriend, her solution is to give him a blowjob. During the blowjob she thinks, “I know I have him back—even if only for a second.” Sloane also trades a sexual favor for a memory and knows it was the right thing to do.

The Program will entertain younger readers, but more advanced YA readers will find several plot developments implausible, which may detract from the story’s enjoyment. The teenagers in The Program are well-developed, but the parents and adults in the book are not. While Sloane is a well-developed character, she lacks the ability to make her own decisions. At first, she is utterly dependent on James. Then, when Sloane loses James, she quickly becomes dependent on another boy character rather than finding her own footing. All in all, The Program is one YA series that may be better left unread.

Sexual Content

  • Sloane kisses her boyfriend, James, frequently. Some kisses are not graphic, such as when Sloane leaned “forward to press my lips to his, letting him have me in a way that only he can.” Another example is when, “And so I whisper that I love [James], then climb onto his lap and kiss him, as if it’s the last one we’ll ever have.”
  • Sometimes James sneaks into Sloane’s room at night. “When he’d stay over, he’d show up in my room at three in the morning, kissing me quietly while everyone slept.”
  • Sloane feels like she’s losing her boyfriend, so she gives him a blow job in an attempt to get him back. Sloane “kiss[es] softly at his lips, nearly stopping when he doesn’t respond. Then I kiss his neck, his chest. I undo his button as I kiss his stomach and then lower. And it isn’t until I feel his hand in my hair and hear him murmur my name breathlessly that I know I have him back—even if only for a second.”
  • After a camping trip, “James told [Sloane] that when he touched me, when I looked at him, he got a hard-on.”
  • Sloane remembers losing her virginity to James. She closes her eyes, “remembering how warm James’s mouth was on mine, how his tongue touched my lips before I opened them, letting him in. Letting him lay me back on the blanket as his mouth found mine, again and again, always gentle, yet urgent.”
  • A handler in The Program insinuates he can save one of Sloane’s memories if she gives him a sexual favor. “His eyes narrow deviously then, scanning over my body. . .” Sloane tells him no at first, then changes her mind. “He grabs me roughly. . . His mouth is on mine, wet and strong. . . I can feel how turned on he is as he presses against me. I whimper and try to move back as his tongue licks my lips.”
  • Later, when Sloane is angry, the handler says, “I think you’d be a little too feisty to trust with any of my naked parts now.”
  • It’s mentioned that “somehow James talked me into a game of strip poker, only he lost.” During the game, James says, “Sloane, when winning means getting you naked, you better believe I’m going to try my damnedest to win.”
  • Sloane kisses a boy named Realm four times. “Realm’s lips are soft but unfamiliar. Warm but not hot. My hands hesitate on the sides of his face. . . His hand slides down to pull my thigh over his hip. We could do anything right now; no one is bothering us. He lays me back in the bed, lying between my legs as he trails kisses down my neck.” Another time, “I get on my tiptoes and press my lips firmly to his. Realm responds immediately, surprising me by backing me against the wall, his tongue eagerly finding mine as if he’s been waiting to do this since I got here.”
  • A girl teases Sloane, “That’s James Murphy who you’re currently eye-humping.”
  • James and Sloane go to a place that “looks like a place where unsuspecting teenagers come to have sex and get murdered.”
  • Realm and Sloane almost have sex. “Realm rolls me off the couch, getting on top of me as we lie on the carpet. He’s kissing my neck, his hands searching my body. . . Realm’s hand slides away from my breast.”
  • James and Sloane have sex. “We climb into the backseat, yanking at each other’s clothes, tongues tangling in a heat that I know I could never have with anyone else.”

Violence

  • When handlers come to take Kendra to The Program, she fights them. “Kendra jumps up to run and the handler lunges for her, his closed fist connecting with her face. The shot sends her into Mrs. Portman’s podium before knocking her to the ground. . . Kendra’s top lip is split wide open and leaking blood all over her gray sweater . . . she tries to hold on to anything within her reach, but instead she’s leaving a trail of blood along the floor.”
  • In Sloane’s world, “teen suicide was declared a national epidemic—killing one in three teens—nearly four years ago. It always existed before that, but seemingly overnight handfuls of my peers were jumping off buildings, slitting their wrists—most without any known reason.”
  • Sloane remembers when her friend showed up with “a black eye, cuts up and down her arm” because a guy she was dating “had pushed her out of the passenger door—while the car was still moving.” When Sloane tells James what happened, he finds the guy and “beat[s] the hell out of him.”
  • Sloane can’t let her parents know that she’s sad. So when the tears start to spill over, she purposefully burns herself on the stove to give herself an excuse to cry. “I turn over my arm, the tender part exposed, and stick it into the fire. The burn is immediate and I scream out in pain. . . I decide that I like it. I like the pain and distraction.”
  • James had tattoos of the names of people he has lost. When his best friend kills himself, he says he can’t wait for ink and carves Miller’s name “jaggedly into his flesh. Blood is everywhere.”
  • Sloane’s brother jumps off a cliff and kills himself. “Then I saw Brady—he was floating, facedown. . . I screamed again, pointing toward him as I watched his body slam into a rock, and then another.”
  • Sloane jumps off a cliff trying to kill herself, then decides she doesn’t want to die. “Just then my body slams against a rock, hoisting me half-way out of the water. I hold on to it, vomiting up river until I’m sure I’ll pass out and die anyway. My throat burns, my lungs ache. My arm is numb and I think it may be broken.”
  • When The Program comes for her, Sloane hurts herself because she’s angry. “Then, just because this is my last moment of having a real emotion, I tighten my grip on my scissors. And I slash my wrist.”
  • Sloane punches one of her handlers. “I swing out my arm, punching the left side of his jaw. He immediately recovers and twists my hand up behind my back, cursing under his breath as he slams me against the wall.”
  • Realm goes after a handler for bothering Sloane. “Realm has got his forearm to Roger’s throat, pinning him to the wall. . . [Roger] winks, and then gets up to hobble away.” Later Realm attacks the handler again. “He cocks back his arm and decks Roger, sending him flying over the desk. . . Realm grabs Roger’s right arm and yanks it so hard behind his back the snap is audible.”
  • It’s mentioned in passing that Sloane’s mom hit her. “Mother slapped me that night.”
  • Sloane slaps Realm when she finds out he is part of The Program. “I cross the room and slap him . . . A red handprint is obvious on his face.”
  • Outside a community center, Sloane sees a guy die after drinking QuikDeath. “Liam coughs again, spitting blood onto the patio. Red streaks his lips. He’s going to die. . . his eyes momentarily roll back in his head before he focuses on me again. His body convulses. And then he collapses against the door, sliding to the ground.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The leading theory for the suicide epidemic is “that the oversupply of antidepressants changed the chemical makeup of our generation, making us more susceptible to depression.” The Program is the only cure; a facility that erases peoples’ memories via a series of pills. If patients refuse to take the pills, the medication is given to them via shots instead.
  • QuikDeath is mentioned several times throughout the book. Sloane’s friend tries to kill himself with QuikDeath. After taking it, he calls Sloane to say goodbye. “‘It’s too late,’ he says, sounding far away. ‘I took it ten minutes ago. But I couldn’t leave without saying good-bye.’”
  • Sloane meets a girl who tried to kill herself with QuikDeath and now has short-term memory loss.
  • A girl in Sloane’s class jokes that “Maybe a coffee spiked with QuikDeath would help you focus on the pain.”
  • When James hurts himself, Sloane goes “through his dad’s medications until [she] thinks [she] find[s] something that will calm him down.”
  • While in The Program, Sloane is sedated often. They give her different colored pills without telling her what they do. If she refused to take the pills, they give her a shot.
  • When talking to her father, Sloane realizes “the faint smell of alcohol clings to him. I wonder when he started drinking.”
  • Realm drinks a beer.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: goddamn, ass, and pissed. For instance, when Sloane gets hurt James says, “Goddamn it.” Another time James tells Sloane, “I’m going to kick your ass tomorrow.”
  • God, hell, damn, and bullshit are used constantly.
  • Once when James is teasing her, Sloane says, “Oh my God, shut up.”
  • Sloane often thinks “Oh God,” like “Oh God, I miss him” or “God, I just want him back.”
  • James says, “Holy hell, you really were checking me out.”
  • After James and Sloane first kiss, James says, “Well, damn, Sloane.”
  • While in The Program, Sloane and her friends often play the game Bullshit and call bullshit on each other.
  • Sloane thinks, “We’ve seen it before, how someone will piss off their friends or start sleeping around when depression takes hold.” Another time, Sloane tells her therapist “I’m pissed. I want my life back.”
  • Smartass, shithead, asshole, shit, and dick are all used several times throughout the book. James tells Realm, “We want to know, shithead.” James also says, “I can be a total shithead” and “I’m a dick.”
  • While in The Program, Realm says, “That asshole! What’s he giving you?” Realm also says, “Shit Sloane, I thought this would cheer you up.”
  • Bitchy and fuck are used a few times. Sloane tells her therapist to fuck off several times. “I’m not taking the fucking pill, okay.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Teenagers suffering from depression are sent to The Program, but once Sloane turns eighteen, she says, “It’s my God-given right to off myself if I so please.”
  • Sloane’s parents say, “Thank God for The Program. It’s saving so many lives.”

by Morgan Lynn

Serpent & Dove #1

In the city of Cessarine, the war between magic-wielding witches and holy men of the Church known as Chasseurs has raged for centuries. At the very heart of this war lays Louise, a Dame Blanche witch who has decided to hide in Cessarine to keep her estranged mother from finding her.

But her days skulking around dressed as a man, secretly squatting above a theater and stealing to survive come to an abrupt end when Reid, a Chasseur captain, discovers her thieving ways. After an embarrassing encounter in which Louise frames Reid as a sexual predator in front of a theater audience, the two must quickly keep themselves both from being reprimanded in the only way they can: by marrying each other.

Marriage changes both Louise’s and Reid’s lives forever. For Louise, she never meant to get this close to her Chasseur enemies, and she plays a dangerous game by keeping her true witch nature hidden while developing her relationship with Reid. For Reid, not only did he love another noble girl, but Louise is wild, untamed, and a heathen: she goes against every aspect of society’s proper female image. Yet, the longer the two are around each other, the more they fall in love. And the more dangerous their relationship becomes, the closer Louise’s mother gets to finding her. Yet, their love will overcome any obstacles that stand in their way.

Mahurin’s Serpent & Dove is a fun, exciting story from beginning until the end. Focusing on characters in a similar Romeo & Juliet styled story, Mahurin skillfully develops a story about old grudges, fanatical warriors, and love that overcomes even death. The main characters are very believable and are relatable because of how they can’t control their emotions despite realizing how complicated those emotions might make their lives. The story is fast-paced and full of surprises, twists, and heart-pounding scenes that will keep readers wanting to know what happens next. And even though many of those twists may be somewhat predictable, those secrets are revealed in very satisfying ways.

Serpent & Dove themes also come through naturally, and are built into the story’s backdrop. Louise and Reid learn that centuries-old grudges need to be overcome in order to find love and happiness. In the beginning, both Louise and Reid believe the other is one-dimensional and evil. By the end of the story, both Louise and Reid are willing to sacrifice everything for one another. The story also highlights the dangers of recognizing one’s faults, as seen in the Dames Blanches and the Chasseurs.

Overcoming prejudice is the novel’s main crux and it’s incorporated into the story quite charmingly. Watching Louise and Reid follow their hearts and find lives worth living is heartwarming. Serpent & Dove is a great story because of how well this point is executed, and because it truly does feel like at any moment their love could be torn apart by every other character. The story is thrilling from the moment Louise and Reid meet until the very end of the novel. Mature readers who enjoy a good mix of action and romance will want to add this book to the top of their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • Near the beginning of the novel, Louise and her friend visit a brothel in order to learn the whereabouts of a magical object. Louise comments on the working ladies at the brothel, “To be fair, however, many of them weren’t wearing corsets. Or anything at all.”
  • Many characters often give each other compliments on their looks. Babette, a courtesan working at the brothel, gives Coco a compliment, “Cosette, you look ravishing, as usual.”
  • Louise and Reid constantly think about the other’s sex appeal. Louise thinks Reid is, “Irritatingly I couldn’t help but stare. Thick lashes framed eyes the precise color of the sea.”
  • Bas, a thief friend of Louise, notices Louise’s sex appeal often. “He leaned forward, dark eyes setting on my lips.” Louise thinks Bas is “handsome enough to court. Certainly handsome enough to kiss. From across the cramped table, I eyed the dark line of his jaw.” She also thinks he has “such a tight little ass.” Yet since Bas only saw her as a friend-with-benefits, Louise thinks, “Perhaps that was why I’d stopped loving him.”
  • Madame Labelle, the owner of the brothel, kisses a man. “Grasping Tremblay’s arms with a wide smile, Madame Labelle kissed both his cheeks . . .”
  • When Louise and Coco are confronted by two men, Andre and Grue, at the brothel, Louise thinks, “I dreaded to think what they would do with immediate access to anything. Especially sex and violence.”
  • After Coco gives Louise her favorite food, Louise thinks, “I could’ve kissed her.”
  • When Louise wants free food from a pastry chef, she flirts with the chef, Johannes Pan. “Most days I only had to bat my lashes. Others I had to get slightly more. . . creative.”
  • One of the witches’ Goddesses “represents fertility, fulfillment and sexuality.” Similarly, Adam and Eve are mentioned. “Eve seduced Adam into sin.”
  • Reid’s fellow Chasseurs gossip about Louise, “I heard she’s a whore.”
  • When Louise and Reid finally make love to each other, Louise thinks, “The time for games was done.” And then she says, “I wanted him to touch me. I wanted him to become my husband in every sense of the word.” And, later in the same scene, it’s revealed that “Reid had never had sex. He was a virgin.” And, once again, later in the same scene, “I watched his throat bob, heard his breath hitch.”

Violence

  • There’s frequent violence throughout the novel, including the sight or mention of corpses. For instance, Reid says, “Thirteen bodies had been found throughout Belterra over the past year.”
  • Witches are commonly burned on pyres, as well as anyone who might conspire with witches. “But the flames come first with the Church. Questions second.” Estelle, a witch after Louise, is caught by Reid and burned alive. Louise thinks, “Though tears clouded my vision, I forced myself to watch the flames lick up Estelle’s dress. I forced myself to hear her screams.”
  • A young noblewoman was found with her throat slashed.
  • Louise is willing to get her hands dirty when her life is threatened. Babette, a courtesan, threatens Louise with blackmail if she doesn’t become a courtesan, “If Babette wasn’t careful, she’d soon learn just how wretched and violent we could be.” Louise kills two thugs after her life. “Gritting my teeth, I seized Andre’s knife and plunged it into his throat, slashing through skin and tendon and bone.” After that fight, Louise tries to clean herself up: “Deep purple bruises had seeped beneath my eyes, and dried blood spattered my cheeks. I scrubbed at it with the cold water from the tap, rubbing my skin until it was pink and raw.”
  • Witches use their magic to create havoc and bloodshed. While attacking the royal family during a parade, the witches were“Laughing as bodies fell around them with the simplest flicks of their fingers.”
  • Children are also harmed by witches. Reid says, “Last month, a child had been found without its eyes. . . More than twenty bodies circled the air around the witches now—some unconscious, heads lolling, and others painfully awake.”
  • When Louise uses magic, she has to give something in return, typically meaning she has to harm herself. “Though I bit my lip hard enough to draw blood, a small groan still escaped as I snapped a second finger.”
  • Several times, Louise is threatened by two guys that hold a grudge against her. A man, Grue, “smash[ed] my face into the ground. My nose cracked, and blood spurted sickeningly into my mouth.” When defending herself, Louise “exploded beneath him in a blur of limbs and nails and teeth, clawing and biting and kicking every bit of him I could reach.”
  • Reid displays a desire to attack and kill witches quite frequently, especially towards Morgane, Louise’s mother: “And Morgane—never before had I longed to kill a witch as I did now, to plunge a knife into her throat and sever her pale head from her body.”
  • Later, Reid also kills his foster father. “A small, pleading noise escaped him, but he could do little else before I fell upon him. Before I drove my knife home in his heart.”
  • The Chasseurs will kill any witch, even children and babies. “They showed no mercy, cutting through woman and child alike without hesitation.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Aristocrats in Cessarine drink alcohol at social parties. Louise notes, “Judging from the loud, slurred voices of the aristocrats nearest me, they’d been hitting the bubbly for hours.” While at the King’s social party celebrating Reid’s heroics, Louise “grabbed a flute of champagne from a passing servant and down[ed] it in one swallow.” Louise thinks, “After a few moments, delicious warmth spread through my body.”
  • When Morgane, Louise’s mother, sends witches after Louise, the witches inject her with drugs in order to capture her. When a needle is stabbed into Louise’s neck, she“had no physical strength left to give, and my mind was too drug-saturated to distinguish patterns.”
  • After Louise runs from Reid, Louise’s friend defends her, “She was drugged and obviously injured.”
  • When Morgane has finally captured Louise, Morgane says, “Extraordinary, those little injections. When Monsieur Bernard brought one to me, I perfected the medicine.” Morgane’s injections mess with Louise’s ability to use her magic, “Panicked, I focused on bringing a pattern forth—any pattern—but the gold winked in and out of focus, blurred and disjointed from the drug.”
  • After days of being injected with her mother’s drug, Louise thinks, “Though the drug paralyzed my body, it did nothing to dull the ache in my bones.” Later on, Louise “scowled and focused on the burning sensation in [her] hands and feet—the first indicator of the drug waning.”
  • When speaking with one of her fellow witches, Louise tells the witch about how she feels being under the drug. “If I could move, I’d puke all over your lap.” The witch calls the drug a medicine, and Louise responds, “Is that what you call it? Medicine? That’s an interesting word for poison.”
  • At the end of the novel, Louise discovers that she shares a connection with Prince Beau of Cessarine. Louise comments, “It would seem we frequent the same pubs.”

Language

  • Ass and shit are used frequently. For example, aristocrats and other haughty characters are often referred to as “pompous ass.”
  • Fucking appears a few times in the novel. A thug, Andre, verbally abuses Louise, saying “I’m going to cut you into fucking pieces.”
  • Damn, hell, and whore are each used a few times. For example, Louise tells Babette, “You are a goddamned hound.”
  • A noble insults a courtesan. The noble says, “it’s locked away in my townhouse, you salope ignorante—”
  • Louise calls someone a “twit.”
  • A pastry chef is called a “halfwit.”
  • When talking about someone possibly betraying Louise and Coco, Coco says, “That bastard will renege as soon as he’s out of sight.” Bastard is used frequently.
  • Similarly, Louise calls someone a “worthless coward.”
  • Louise says, “Nature could piss off.”

Supernatural

  • Magic is a common theme and backdrop for this novel. The main conflict stems from a fanatical group of witches, the Dame Blanches, attempting to overthrow the royal family of Cessarine to win back their land and free themselves from persecution. Witches within Cessarine hide in plain sight, “Any one of us could be a witch.” Many believe, “The witches are vicious.”
  • When Louise witnesses the parade of the Royal family, she feels magic in the air. Louise “recognized the faint brush of energy against my skin, the familiar thrumming in my ears. Magic.”
  • Magic typically has a smell that “always followed the witches. Sweet and herbal, yet sharp—too sharp. Like the incense the Archbishop burned during Mass, but more acrid.”
  • There are magical objects as well. Some are even trafficked in the black market, “But while Filippa might’ve had no enemies, her pompous ass of a father had accumulated plenty while trafficking magical objects.”
  • Angelica’s Ring, a magical object, is sought after by Louise because “it renders the user immune to enchantment. Sort of like the Chasseur’s Balisardas.”
  • Louise is a witch herself, the daughter of Morgane, the leader of the Dames Blanche witches. When Louise has a conversation with a thief, she thinks, “The ancient feud between the Church and witches didn’t affect me anymore—not since I’d left the world of witchcraft behind.”
  • Dame Blanches use magic by seeing golden patterns in the air.
  • Dame Rouges, another coven of witches, use blood magic instead of seeing golden patterns in the air.
  • Some believe that basic remedies will keep witches away. “Please, monsieur, return home. Salt your doors and windows.”
  • Witches can use their magic to control others, even controlling corpses. When attacking the royal family during a parade, “The witches cackled and continued contorting their fingers in unnatural ways. With each twitch, a helpless body rose. Puppeteers.”
  • Most witches are viewed as demons, as Reid says, “But witches weren’t human. They were vipers. Demons incarnate.” Witches are also commonly referred to as “it.”

Spiritual Content

  • The Christian Church and its teachings are a main backdrop of this novel. Mass is mentioned, but never directly put in any scene.
  • The Archbishop makes several appearances.
  • The Chasseurs are the holy warriors of the church. Only men can be Chasseurs. “Sworn to the Church as huntsmen, Chasseurs protected the kingdom of Belterra from the occult—namely, the Dames Blanches, or the deadly witches who haunted Belterra’s small-minded prejudices.”
  • Chasseurs wield Balisardas, weapons that negate magic. For Balisardas, “Each had been forged with a molten drop of Saint Constantin’s original holy relic, rendering us immune to the witches’ magic.”
  • Biblical references are common. When Reid watches his best friend and fellow Chasseur, Reid notices, “Though he also wore no uniform, the crowd still parted for him like the Red Seas for Moses.”
  • God is mentioned frequently throughout the story. For example, the Archbishop said, “May God have mercy on your soul.” The Archbishop says, when talking about the Triple Goddess, “As if God could be a woman.”
  • Hell is mentioned several times. Just before a witch escapes from Reid’s grasp, he laments, “before I could unsheathe my blade and send her back to Hell where she belonged.”
  • The Bible, scripture, and other religious sayings are quoted frequently throughout the book. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Another is, “Witches do not worship our Lord and Savior, nor do they acknowledge the holy trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They glorify another trinity—an idolatrous trinity. The Triple Goddess.”
  • The Triple Goddess is also mentioned several times, either in the form of the Maiden, the Mother, or the Crone. The Triple Goddess is worshipped by the witches; it’s considered “Triple” because the witches use it to mock the Trinity.
  • The Garden of Eden is mentioned.
  • Many of the characters, especially the Chasseurs, often pray. Others, like Louise or witches, use prayers to mock holy men and women. Witches generally mock every part of Christianity.

by Jonathan Planman

 

Lost and Found

Fourteen-year-old Ezekiel Blast is an outcast. No one at his school talks to him. All of his classmates think he is a thief because no one understands his unique talent for finding things. It’s not a superpower—it’s a micropower. But Ezekiel’s micropower has done nothing helpful because when Ezekiel returns a lost item to its owner, the owner assumes he is the one who must have stolen it.

Everything changes after Ezekiel meet Beth. Beth believes his power might be useful. When the two friends are invited to join a group of other teens with micropowers, Ezekiel realizes he is not alone. With Beth’s encouragement, Ezekiel begins testing his micropower and trying to discover how it works.

When a police detective appears at Ezekiel’s house, desperate for any help that will lead to a missing little girl, Ezekiel is determined not to help him. He doesn’t understand his micropower and is afraid of the cops. But when tragedy strikes, Ezekiel knows that he must use his talent to find what matters most.

Ezekiel is a character that jumps off the page and grabs the reader’s attention. Lost and Found is told from Ezekiel’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand his fear, his hurt, and his unusual talent. Beth, a proportional dwarf, befriends Ezekiel and encourages him to join a support group for those who have unusual powers. The interesting premise and the unusual characters will keep the reader’s attention. However, towards the middle of the story it suddenly takes a disturbingly dark turn.

When Ezekiel decides to help find the missing girl, the police officer tells him of disturbing cases of young girls who have been taken, put on a pedophilia pornography website, and then are murdered on screen. When Ezekiel’s friend Beth is kidnapped, Ezekiel is truly motivated to use his micropower to find her. During this time, Ezekiel also wrestles with feelings for Beth. Because Beth is a proportional dwarf and looks like a child, he worries that his romantic feelings for Beth will make him look “like the kind of guy who likes little girls.”

Another disturbing plot twist is when Ezekiel learns that Beth’s mother had died, and Beth hid her mother’s death in order to avoid being put in a foster home. Lost and Found gives the reader insight into the nature of friendship, but the dark content of the book may give readers nightmares. Readers may find many of the facts unbelievable and the long passage of the support group sessions tiring. Fans of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game will be disappointed that Lost and Found is disjointed, and while Ezekiel is a likable character, this story isn’t as expertly crafted as Ender’s Game.

Sexual Content

  • When Ezekiel is called into the counseling office, he thinks that the counselors “all had little windows in the doors so that students couldn’t claim they were molested or abused by a counselor.”
  • When a police officer tries to talk to Ezekiel, Ezekiel walks away. When the officer follows him, Ezekiel says, “If you follow me another step, I’ll go on Facebook and tell everybody about the cop who followed me to school and tried to touch me inappropriately.”
  • Ezekiel’s friend wants to know why he doesn’t return lost items. He gives a hypothetical situation where he goes to a girl’s house to return a scrunchie. Ezekiel says that her parents would “want me on the sex offender registry for stalking their daughter.”
  • Beth tells Ezekiel that girls with “huge boobs” don’t run because they will give themselves a black eye. Then Beth says, “I’ve ruined big busted women for you.” Their conversation about boobs goes on for a page.
  • Beth won’t let Ezekiel inside her house. Ezekiel wonders, “What was the terrible secret she was hiding. That her mother was shacked up with some live-in boyfriend. . . That Beth was the unwed mother of a huge baby that ate whatever it could, including the feet and ankles of visitors?”
  • A police officer tells Ezekiel about girls who have been kidnapped. “The girls these guys kidnap show up right away on child-pornography websites, the ugliest stuff. It gets uglier and uglier and then they get killed on camera. We estimate the whole process takes a week, and then the girl is dead.”
  • Ezekiel is upset that he might have feelings for Beth because “she looks like a six-year-old for heaven’s sake. If by some ridiculous fluke I actually had feelings for her, I’d look like some kind of. . . I’d look like the kind of guy who likes little girls.”
  • When talking about Beth, Ezekiel tells his father, “She may be short, but she was starting to get boobs. . .I wasn’t staring but I’d have to be brain-dead or completely not-male to miss that.”
  • While talking about Beth, a boy tells Ezekiel, “So touch yourself . . .bet you have plenty of practice.”
  • Ezekiel’s father tells a Bible story about Joseph and Potiphara. Potiphara’s wife “got the hots for him and when her husband was out inspecting the troops, she suggested to Joseph that they might do a little hanky. Or panky, the book of Genesis isn’t clear. Joseph said no. She tore her cloak and began to scream that Joseph tried to rape her.”

Violence

  • When he was small, Ezekiel’s mother was killed. He thinks back to her death as, “it was wham, car hits Mom, Mom flies through the air and then lies in a shape no human should ever be in and he knew right then that she would never come back, not even as a cripple.”
  • When Ezekiel was younger, he found a kid’s bike and returned it. He says, “I knew where it belonged because the connection was so strong. Took it back and got the crap beat out of me and the cops were called and they didn’t charge the kid or his dad for the beating I got. . .”
  • The woman who helped kidnap a little girl is found dead. She “was dead on the kitchen floor, stabbed with the big kitchen knife that she probably picked up to try to defend herself. All the blood was hers, though, and so were all the prints. . .”
  • Beth kicked one of the kidnappers, who fell to his death. When Ezekiel finds Beth, he looks at the kidnapper’s body. “And he could see that there was no possibility that his spinal cord was attached to his brain anymore. Which was a moot point because the man’s head had landed on a pile of cinderblocks and much of his brain was a lumpy smear.” Later, Ezekiel thinks how hard it would be for Beth to kill a man, even if he was trying to hurt her. “The kicking, the falling, nearly dying herself, but then seeing the man sprawled there, neck broken, skull spilling out brains and blood.”
  • Ezekiel’s father used to work in a slaughterhouse. “One at a time they [animals] come up the ramp to his position and he kills them and they flop over and slide down to where the process of skinning and gutting them began, other guys turning them from a once-living body into a side of beef.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in an abandoned building, Ezekiel’s father says, “I’m surprised there isn’t a bunch of discarded drug paraphernalia here.” Ezekiel replies, “Most crack dens are more conveniently located, aren’t they?”
  • Beth says that the men who kidnapped her also drugged her. Later she tells another kidnap victim, “I can tell you that the drug they gave us made all the food taste like licking a bicycle tire.”
  • Ezekiel thinks Beth “could probably buy cigarettes and beer without showing i.d.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: ass, asshole, bastard, crap, bitch, damn, hell, pissed, prick, and shit.
  • When Ezekiel told his father that kids were moving to the other side of the street in order to avoid him, his father said, “chalk it up to coincidence, you narcissistic bonehead.”
  • People call others “idiot” occasionally. For example, Ezekiel’s father said, “An expert is just an idiot who used to be pert.”
  • Someone tells Ezekiel, “You’re a jerk.”
  • Ezekiel tells his dad that he wants to go trick-or-treating. His father says he can go, but Ezekiel will look “like a pathetic, greedy teenage moron.”
  • Ezekiel’s father tells him, “stop being a language nazi.”
  • Ezekiel calls a girl in his group, “Juh-anus.”
  • Ezekiel tells a police officer, “I’m a bastard.”
  • Someone calls Beth’s dad a “flaming frankfurter.”

Supernatural

  • Ezekiel meets with a group of kids who have different abilities. For example, one kid’s skin neutralizes odor, while another kid can make people yawn.
  • A boy in Ezekiel’s group can sense spiders. He tells the group, “There are always dozens of spiders within a hundred yards. I’m actually aware of spiders much further off, but it’s more vague.” He can also tell if someone intentionally or accidentally killed a spider.
  • When Ezekiel finds lost objects, he can tell who they belong to and how to find them. During the book, he tries to figure out how his power works.
  • When trying to figure out how to help Beth, Ezekiel thought about Beth and suddenly “he could feel himself falling.” He can feel what Beth was doing and feeling. “He could feel how raw and painful his muscles were, he could see how the skin had been scraped and abased on his arm from the struggle, from trying to grip the rough concrete of the floor.”

Spiritual Content

  • When Ezekiel’s mom was killed, Ezekiel wanted to know where his mother was. Ezekiel’s father said, “‘We didn’t know much about heaven but some part of us lived on after death yadda yadda.’ Ezekiel had listened when Mother took him to church so he was familiar with the idea, and that was not what he was asking.”
  • Ezekiel and his father have a conversation about God. Ezekiel’s father says he believes in God even though he doesn’t go to church. Ezekiel’s father says, “I believe in life after death. I believe the soul goes on.” Ezekiel’s father also keeps the commandments and prays. When the conversation shifts to prayer, Ezekiel’s father says, “If your definition is showing God the yearning of my soul, then yes, I’m praying right now.” Ezekiel’s father says that he prays to be a good father; he says, “I pray about other things. For nobody to lose any body parts while cutting meat. For the strength to not be as snotty with customers as you are with me. And no, that wasn’t a criticism. . .” The conversation lasts for about three pages.
  • When Ezekiel’s father wakes him up early, Ezekiel says, “Dad, God doesn’t wake up this early on a Saturday.”
  • When Ezekiel helps find a kidnapped girl, his father wants him to go to church. His father says, “I also had the crazy idea that you might want to say ‘thank God’ in a house of God.” Ezekiel and his father have a short conversation about God. His father tells him, “I spent a lot of time being enraged with God for not saving your mother. But then I realized that it was my whole family there on the sidewalk, my wife and my only child. I thought about what had been saved for me instead of what had been taken.”

Odd Gods

Oddonis may be the son of Zeus, but he’s a little bit odd for a God. He’s so odd, in fact, that he’s not sure if he has any powers at all. And if that isn’t enough, his twin brother Adonis is the most popular, most athletic, and most otherworldly handsome God of them all.

Oddonis’s future at Mount Olympus Middle isn’t looking bright, especially when he makes the last-minute decision to run against Adonis to be class president. With the help of his friends Mathena (Goddess of math and poultry), Germes (God of all things sniffling and snotty), Puneous (the smallest God of them all), and Gaseous (enough said?), Oddonis is determined to win the race, prove that his friends are as good as any Greek God, and maybe, just maybe, find out what his true powers really are.

Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider will relate to Oddonis, who is not handsome, strong, or amazing like his brother, Adonis. Oddonis’s tale features other misfits, including Gaseous, who farts his way through the story. Unfortunately, Gaseous’s farts smell like “feta cheese, a wet ferret, and feet.” Later at an assembly “Gaseous lets out one of those loud, long, air-going-out-of-a-balloon farts, and the auditorium goes crazy.” In the end, Gaseous uses his fart-power to help Oddonis.

Odd Gods has easy vocabulary, short paragraphs, and humorous black-and-white illustrations on every page. Despite the juvenile humor, Odd Gods has several positive messages about the importance of liking yourself (flaws and all). Even though Oddonis was bullied and called names, he realizes that it’s okay not to be perfect. In the end, Oddonis looks at his reflection and thinks, “I maybe even like what I see. . . And that makes me smile.”

Throughout the story, Oddonis finds a unique group of friends, who were often criticized by others. When Oddonis decides to run against his brother, his friends use their unique talents to help Oddonis. Through their experiences, the reader will learn the importance of friendship, forgiveness, and working together. The message is clear: people who are different should be proud of their differences. Even though Odd Gods has gross humor, readers will enjoy the ridiculously humorous story as well as learn some valuable lessons.

Sexual Content

  • Adonis is the “God of beauty and desire.”

Violence

  • On the school chariot, Poseidon “opens his mouth, a tidal wave comes out” and drenches Oddonis and his friend. The illustration shows Oddonis and his friend swimming with fish and crabs, while other gods laugh at them.
  • On the first day of school, Oddonis, Gaseous, and Puneous are in the hall when “Ares and Apollo pick the three of us up, stuff us in an open locker, and slam the door shut.”
  • When Oddonis sticks up for another kid, “Hercules slams his mighty fists down on our table, and before I can say, ‘Where are we going’ –I’m FLYING UP IN THE AIR!” And it’s not just me—Gaseous, Puneous, Mathena, and Clucky and Ducky are flying, too!” The group ends up in the dumpster.
  • While in the dumpster, Gaseous farts and “Boom!!! WHAM!!! Back we land, right at our table, right where we were sitting before.”
  • Adonis, Poseidon, and Hercules are racing towards Oddonis in a chariot. When the chariot gets close, one of Oddonis’s friends “grabs a level next to the steering wheel and pulls hard. One side of the dumpster drops down and empties its putrid payload. . . right on Adonis’s chariot!” The three gods are “coated with stinky slimy slop! (The cafeteria’s ‘Tuna Surprise’ never looked better!)”
  • Oddonis looks in his brother’s backpack and sees a picture of himself being hung on a noose.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Someone calls Gaseous “Fire Butt.”
  • “Oh My Gods” is used as an exclamation twice and also OMG is used twice.
  • The story contains a lot of name calling, including apes, birdbrain, fish face, jerk, weirdos, idiot, dummy, doofus, bonehead, stupid, halfwit, dimwhit, blockhead, and nincompoop.
  • “What the—” is used twice.
  • Heck is used three times.
  • When Oddonis tells Echo, “But now what do I do, do, do?” Echo giggles and says, “You said doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Puneous comes back from a spying mission, Oddonis says, “Thank Gods you’re okay!”

The Unbelievable Oliver and the Four Jokers

Oliver wants to learn magic, but he’s struggling to master a simple card trick. Even though Oliver can’t perform a simple card trick, his two best friends the twins, Teenie and Bea, have gotten him invited to a classmate’s birthday party as the paid entertainment. Desperate for help, he visits the Great Zoocheeni’s Magic Emporium. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have enough money to pay for any new magic paraphernalia. Dejected, Oliver leaves with only a moth-eaten top hat.

Oliver is surprised when he finds a wisecracking rabbit named Benny living inside the top hat. Benny agrees to help Oliver wow the audience. Oliver reluctantly goes to the birthday party, but soon he’s accused of stealing one of the birthday boy’s gifts. Is there any way for Oliver to prove his innocence? And will Benny be able to help Oliver wow the crows with their grand finale?

The Unbelievable Oliver and the Four Jokers blends magic, mystery, and a group of mean boys to create an entertaining story. The large text, simple vocabulary, and the black and purple comic illustrations that appear on almost every page make the story accessible to all readers. The text explains the meaning of several words and idioms that readers may not understand. The story uses slapstick scenarios, some bathroom jokes, puns, and a worldly rabbit to create humor. Even though the story focuses on a group of mean boys who love to bully others, the tone is humorous instead of serious. Although Oliver prevails, the reader will not learn any positive lessons about the dangers of bullying.

Although the talking rabbit is funny, younger readers may not understand all of the humor. Benny’s speech is peppered with slang, idioms, and references to his Las Vegas days. The rabbit is running from gambling debts and fears that bounty hunters are after him. While hiding, the rabbit thinks, “Could he be blamed for betting all his money on a horse named Turnip Thunder? Turnip was his favorite root vegetable!” Even though Benny would like to skip town, he stays with Oliver to the very end.

Anyone who has ever felt left out will relate to Oliver. Readers will enjoy the fast-paced story, the funny illustrations, and the conclusion that leaves Oliver victorious. Although The Unbelievable Oliver and the Four Jokers doesn’t teach a moral lesson, it does gives directions on how to perform Oliver’s card trick. The story is perfect for readers who want to relax with a fun, entertaining mystery.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A boy dumps trash over Oliver’s head.
  • The birthday party has an inflatable castle bounce house. Maddox didn’t want to play with Teenie, so he tells his friend to “get her out of here.” His friend “picked up Teenie and tossed her straight into the moat. She slid all around the castle and back to the entrance, where the other children had left their shoes.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Maddox calls Oliver a loser.
  • Darn is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

A Sassy Surprise

Big Apple Barn hasn’t always been Happy Go Lucky’s home. Since coming to Big Apple Barn, she has learned how to make friends and how to be a school pony. When a new pony, Sassafras Surprise, comes to live at the barn, Happy has a new set of worries. Everyone seems to be interested in Sassafras Surprise. Happy worries that Ivy will want to ride Sassafras Surprise instead of her.

A Sassy Surprise jumps into the theme of friendship and how a new horse (or person) can change the dynamics of a friendship. When Sassafras Surprise moves into the barn, Roscoe begins avoiding Happy, which adds suspense to the story. In the end, Happy, Roscoe, and Sassafras Surprise learn to talk about their feelings, which allows them to become better friends.

Like the previous books in the series, A Sassy Surprise has a simple plot, which is easy to read. To help beginning readers, the author uses short sentences and dialogue that give the horses personality. Black and white illustrations help break up the text and keep readers engaged. Although A Sassy Surprise is the third book in the series, readers can understand the events without having read the first two books.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You

Cammie doesn’t just feel invisible, she is trained to be invisible. After all, when a girl goes to spy school, blending into a crowd is an art as well as a talent. However, when Cammie catches the eye of a gorgeous boy—a normal, not-spy boy—being invisible isn’t an option anymore. Cammie quickly discovers that navigating the world of romance and relationships is much harder than mastering fourteen different languages and advanced encryption at school.

Cammie puts all her spy skills to the test as she tries to keep her true identity hidden from her boyfriend and her boyfriend a secret from her spy school. She knows that she will never be able to reveal that the Gallagher Academy, which most people think is a school for rich snobs, is really a school for spies. Yet for the first time in her life, Cammie is getting a glimpse of what it means to be normal.

Although Cammie and her friends are geniuses when it comes to chemical warfare and breaking CIA codes in computer class, they are completely clueless when it comes to boys.  A new roommate, a new teacher, and a covert operation class lead to laugh-out-loud situations that are simultaneously filled with suspense. Through first-person narration, Carter creates a fun, sweet story and a unique setting in which to explore the well-known troubles teens have in understanding the opposite sex.

Carter successfully creates a believable world where girls can accomplish just about anything. The characters are lovable while still being grounded in reality. Additionally, the story is full of action and explores teen romance in a wholesome way that is perfect for younger readers.

 Sexual Content

  • When talking about an attractive teacher’s tone of voice, the narrator said, “We all heard, I think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world, and I’d be honored if you’d bear my children.”
  • A CIA member, “once sweet-talked a Russian dignitary into dressing in drag and carrying a beach ball full of liquid nitrogen under his shirt like a pregnant lady.”
  • The girls wonder if the gorgeous guy is a “honey pot” and then struggle to explain what a honey pot is.
  • A friend asks the narrator if she has, “been to second base yet?”
  • The narrator receives her first kiss, and then later kisses her boyfriend so he will stop talking.
  • A boy talks about mooning the girls at the Gallagher Academy.

Violence

  • A teacher throws a letter opener at another teacher’s head, which they stop with a book.
  • In a fit of anger, a student grabs a classmate’s arm, puts it behind her back, and rips out her diamond nose ring.
  • During a mission debriefing, a student is shown a picture of her friend’s bloody and swollen face. The teacher explains that during torture, what hurts most is, “listening to her friend scream…she will be screaming for about six hours, until she becomes so dehydrated she can’t form sounds.” After the lesson, her friend walks in unharmed.
  • As part of a final test in the covert class, Cammie is “kidnapped” and a fight ensues. She is locked in a room, blindfolded, and tied to a chair.
  • When the narrator meets a girl who she thinks might be her competition, the narrator thinks about her ability, “to kill you in your sleep and make it look like an accident, you silly vapid, two bit. . .”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • It is mentioned that as part of an interrogation tactics class, the students are, “under the influence of sodium pentothal,” and Cammie mentions being a wiz at poison-concocting.
  • A student smokes a cigarette.
  • When her friend announces she has bad news about Cammie’s crush, the narrator wonders if the bad news is that, “he’s taking drugs that will prepare him for a sex change operation.”
  • A student wonders if her first covert mission is going to be, “busting up a drug cartel that’s operating out of a night club.”

Language

  • A class is described as, “damn hard.”
  • When getting assigned a mission, the narrator said it’s like getting, “a gold-freaking-star.”
  • A student uses the phrase, “bloody hell.”
  • A student calls another student a “b—” and mentions the “B word.”  The B word is implied but never spoken.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Although religion isn’t discussed directly, Cammie pretends to be homeschooled for religious reasons. Cammie also wears a cross and carries a What Would Jesus Do? ink pen in her bag because it helps her cover story.
  • There is a conversation about how the Bible says people have free will, but a character doesn’t feel like that applies to his life because of his parents’ expectations.

Haze

Seb does not understand people. He prefers numbers and computers. His parents don’t get him. When he’s at school, Guzzle is his only friend. But Guzzle isn’t always around to protect Seb from the bullies who harass him.

Things begin to change when he makes friends with Krisite, Madeline, and Jen. And things get even better when a new computer teacher, Miss Adonia, shows up. However, Guzzle doesn’t think Seb can trust Miss Adonai. Soon Seb is mixed up in a web of computer fraud, and he must turn to someone for help. But who should he trust?

Seb must also worry about Guzzle who is struggling to find peace in his life. Although Guzzle is popular at school, he does not enjoy his classes or the friends his popularity brings. To add to his misery, his mother is in an abusive relationship. Despite his struggles, Guzzle is a loyal friend to Seb.

Haze is an easy-to-read story that has loveable characters. There is enough mystery and suspense to keep the reader interested in the plot. The author adds drama to Guzzle’s life by showing his mother in an abusive relationship without adding violent detail. Part of the story revolves around a possible love interest, with a sweet ending.

The author teaches about Asperger Syndrome through Seb’s thoughts and actions. The information about Asperger Syndrome never seems preachy, but comes across in a natural and interesting way. Although Seb’s new friends don’t understand him, they are willing to stick by him, and as they learn about Seb’s Asperger Syndrome, the reader does as well.

Younger readers will be able to enjoy Haze because of the easy reading level as well as the fact that there is no violence. However, there are sexual references, cursing, and mention of drugs and alcohol that may make this book inappropriate for younger readers.    

Sexual Content 

  • When Seb is worried about going on a date, Guzzle said, “Go to the movies or something. You don’t have to talk and if she lets ya, you can touch her up in the dark.” Guzzle goes on to explain that touch her up means, “grab her boobs.”
  • When Guzzle sees Miss Adonia at a hotel with an older man, a group of her students speculate that they are “lovers” or maybe their teacher is a “sex slave.” Then a girl says, “maybe he’s her sex slave! She seems to like to be in control.”
  • Guzzle tells Seb that Kaziah is “easy” but a “bitch at times.” When Seb asks what easy means, Guzzle says, “shit, mate, sometimes you’re such a kid. She lets me touch her you know, do things.” When Seb asks if Guzzle has, “done it, all the way,” Guzzle says, “not yet. Close but.”
  • When Seb is kissed on the cheek, he thinks, “She kissed him. No fuss. No slobbery saliva. No expectations that he do anything. His first kiss. Not quite up to Guzzle’s standard. But this was better. He wouldn’t swap the world for that kiss.”

Violence 

  • On the way to school a group of boys beats up Seb. One boy tells the others that he feels, “like kickin’ butt” and he then begins to hit Seb. “Seb rarely felt the kicks and punches…but he felt humiliated. The futile anger. Couldn’t understand why they hated him so much. Didn’t know how to make them stop.”
  • When Seb gets upset at school he, “hit a couple of kids and then smashed a window with his bare fist.”
  • When Guzzle tells Seb he is leaving home, Guzzle says, “I’m pissing outta here.” Then later Guzzle explains why he is leaving, “Anus beat the shit outta mum last night. I wish she’d leave him. But she won’t. Says she still loves him.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Guzzle goes to the park at night. Later Seb asks Guzzle if he was drinking. Guzzle replies, “A bit. Gotta live up to me name, don’t I?”
  • Guzzle goes down to the park and shares his last beer with Kaziah. “One kid was smoking cones through a cut up coke bottle. Kaz breathed deep on a joint, but Guzzle stuck to his cigs.”
  • Guzzle gets “rolling drunk” and talks about going to the shed, “where kids smoked, and teachers avoided duty.”
  • Guzzle says that Kaziah’s friends like to, “smoke dope and beat up anything they can get their hands on.”

Language 

  • The words “shit” and “damn” are spoken by characters.
  • When Seb tries to call someone in the middle of the night, a man answers the phone and says, “Goddam, who the hell is this?”
  • When Jen gets angry at Seb she yells, “Who the hell do you think you are?”
  • One of the characters asks her mother if she can go out with a group of people which includes boys. Her mother gets angry and says, “I knew that sleepover was a bad idea…Twenty four hours in some slut’s house and all your values fly at the window.”
  • When Guzzle’s mother’s boyfriend hits her, he yells, “filthy bitch…useless…deserve this…”

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Endangered: A Death on a Deadline Mystery

Hayley isn’t a typical teenage girl. Rather than caring about prom or worrying about not getting her high school diploma, she spends her time working for her father’s newspaper.

While listening to a police scanner, she gets her first big scoop. Her hope is to discover whose blood is splattered all over a remote cabin. But instead of looking for clues, Hayley’s father forces her to participate in a research project to earn credits she needs to graduate high school.

Instead of investigating a possible murder, Hayley finds herself stuck on a boat doing research with only Ms. Cameron, a biology teacher, and Ernest, a social outcast, for company. Hayley and her group find the rare turtle they’re hunting for, but with it they find people illegally hunting it. When Hayley and Ernest try to protect the turtle, they find their lives are in danger. Now Hayley has two mysteries to deal with-and twice the danger.

Endangered: A Death on a Deadline Mystery is an enjoyable book. While the ending is no surprise, the story is engaging and interesting. Even though the bad guy is predictable, the ending is still satisfying and will make the reader smile.

Hayley is a loveable, realistic character the reader can bond with. Hayley has abandonment issues because her mother left her as a baby. She doesn’t do the “dating scene” because she’s not sure how to handle guys. She doesn’t have a normal family life. But when it comes to reporting, she is assertive and sure of herself.

Between the mystery, the hunt for an elusive turtle, and Hayley’s personal story, the book has a lot to love. Even though the story revolves around a possible death, the violence is not detailed or graphic. However, there are many references to drugs and alcohol that may be inappropriate for younger readers.

Sexual Content

  • Hayley is at work and wonders about her friends who attended prom. She was, “checking Facebook every ten minutes to see which of my friends were making out, breaking up, or getting hammered.”
  • When talking about a Herpetofaunal research project, Hayley thinks, “It sounded like a sexually transmitted disease.”
  • Hayley tells a boy she isn’t into the dating scene because, “You go to a club, or a party, and you’re out there dancing, and suddenly a guy you don’t even know comes up behind you and starts groping you. When did that become socially acceptable?” Later in the same scene, she says, “The point is, that’s what guys always say: ‘What’s the problem, baby? Why are you so uptight? It doesn’t mean anything.’ And then they expect you to have sex with them because, if it doesn’t mean anything, why should you say no. . . . And maybe it does mean something. The point is, why do guys think that they get to decide if it’s meaningful or not? When they’re not even the ones who are going to get pregnant if something goes wrong.”
  • When talking about when a girl really likes a guy, Hayley says, “Because then you sleep with him, and you put your heart into it, and half the time he doesn’t really care, he’s just using you.”
  • Hayley thinks about her father not being at home when she was little. “Dad was out chasing stories and whatever else grown men chase when they don’t have a wife at home . . . he never brought a girlfriend home. But he was late often enough. Let’s just say, it wouldn’t have surprised me.”
  • While Hayley is drinking at a bar, one of the men she is with leans toward her. “His hand, warm and heavy, landed on my thigh. I felt a throb go through my body—a throb I didn’t want to feel, not for Trevor. A burning sensation flushed from my legs through my pelvis, my breast, my neck, my lips…My body wanted to throw itself at Trevor-Forever.” Trevor kisses Hayley’s earlobe and then her lips. Drunk and upset, Hayley runs, grabs a cab, and goes home.
  • Ernest’s mother left him when he was eight. When Hayley sees Ernest’s father’s green lawn Hayley thinks, “Given the way his wife had left him for a life of probiotic lesbian farming, he probably felt sweet revenge every time he blasted a dandelion.”
  • When Alex’s thigh touches Hayley’s thigh, “a warmth spread through my leg that was more than just body heat.”
  • When Alex touches Hayley’s hand she thinks, “Every part of him I saw, I wanted to touch: the short, soft hairs at the nape of his neck, the stubble on the line of his jaw, the hair that fell in a fringe over his left eyebrow, the muscles that rippled in two long, smooth ridges down his back, on either side of his spine. I wanted to trace those ridges from the curve of his shoulders down to his hips…”
  • Alex kisses Hayley. “He cupped my cheek with his hand. His lips touched mine with a warmth that made my heart roll over and surrender.”

Violence

  • Hayley goes to the scene of a crime where “some cops had found a blood-splattered shack.” The story revolves around Haley trying solve the crime.
  • At one point Hayley thinks that the crime could have happened when a fight broke out because “someone was drunk or high or something.”
  • Hayley and Ernest get into a fight over a drill. They, “went tussling over the sand like a deranged parody of a teenage beach movie…I twisted my body to keep his pelvis away; the last thing I wanted was to feel Ernest’s groin pressed against mine.” Hayley then bites Ernest, who lets go of her.
  • Ernest and Hayley are scuba diving when they see a fishing boat trying to illegally catch a turtle. While Ernest is trying to cut the net to free the turtle, someone shoots at him. “Fragments of shot pelted through the froth. A red cloud tinted the water . . .His other arm dangled limp at his side, a ribbon of red streaming out from a spot a few inches below his shoulder.”
  • Hayley talks about covering stories about “near-fatal bar stabbings” and “drunk-driving accidents.” She said her father’s philosophy was that “if I saw the stupid tragedies that people got into with drugs and alcohol abuse, I’d be smart enough to avoid them.”
  • A woman describes how Tyler was killed. “I can hear Snake telling Gill how he just killed some kid down at the cabin…he just wanted to beat him up, teach him a lesson, and now the kid’s dead, and he needs to get rid of the body before the cops find out.”
  • An illegal exchange was taking place when two people accidently walk in. Snake is shot before he can kill anyone. “There on the flagstones beside the pickup truck, lay the drug dealer Snake. He was face-up on the ground and a dark stain spread over his chest. A handgun lay on the ground beside his outstretched arm as though it had been flung from his grasp as he fell.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Part of the story revolves around Hayley’s emotional issues because her mother was a drunken party girl and she, “couldn’t wait to get back to the party scene once I was born.”
  • When Hayley talks to two boys who saw the scene of the crime, the boys tell her, “we were kinda drinking.”
  • Tyler Dervish wanted to be part of the popular crowd, so he decided to sell drugs. One of the cops asks if Tyler sold, “E? Oxy? Coke? Weed?”
  • Hayley talks about being in a band with a couple of friends. The band fell apart when her friends, “discovered the joys of getting trashed after our gigs on vodka and party drugs.”
  • A fisherman said his grandfather, “made more money running rum. Prohibition times, it was.” He then goes on to explain how his grandfather got away with selling liquor during that time period.
  • While on a boat, Hayley thinks, “the wrong wave and it would throw us at the rockface, like a drunk smashing a beer bottle against the wall in a bar fight.”
  • Hayley goes to a bar to meet a young cop and his friend. The guys have a pitcher of beer and Hayley has a mixed drink. When one of the guys starts flirting with her, she flirts back. “The alcohol had apparently cut off my rational mind from the instinctual part of my brain.”
  • Hayley’s friend says, “I need a joint.” Hayley replies, “You need to get off that shit.” Hayley notices this friend has a mark on her arm that could be from a drug needle.
  • When going to the bad side of town, Hayley sees, “used condoms lay in the dirt beneath them. There were probably needles in there, too, but I didn’t stop to check.”

Language

  • As Hayley is trying to get information from a young cop she gives him a smile like, “Hey, I get it, my editor’s just as hard-ass as your partner.”
  • An angry fisherman tells Hayley, “You write this in your goddamn newspaper.” Later on in the story, the same fisherman uses the word “goddamn” again.
  • After getting drunk and flirting with Trevor, Hayley thinks, “Why did I have to go and make an ass of myself last night?”
  • When two boys found the crime scene they were scared “shitless.”
  • A woman calls her boyfriend a “bastard.”
  • When a fisherman tells someone that a turtle shouldn’t be taken out of the ocean, the man replies, “God, another fucking tree-hugger.”
  • Snake tells someone, “You heard him lady. Get the fuck inside!”
  • Profanity is used throughout the book, occasionally in Hayley’s thoughts, but mostly when the characters are in a stressful situation. The profanity includes holy shit, hell, shit, bullshit, goddamn, and bastard.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Hider, Seeker, Secret Keeper

Lana has never been able to tame her rebellious streak, so she’s not surprised when she is not chosen to go on tour with the Bolshoi ballet company. Then her friend is in an accident and Lana believes her luck has changed. But when she gets to New York, Lana’s life takes an unexpected turn.

Georgi, an old friend of Lana’s mother, requests to see her. Although Lana does not trust him, Georgi is her only chance to discover why her mother refuses to talk about her past. Lana is tired of feeling as if she’s been living in the dark. And when Georgi and his young bodyguard, Roma, tell Lana that they know who her father is, Lana can’t resist being drawn into Georgi’s web. Despite assurances that Georgi can be trusted, when another dancer ends up hospitalized, Lana isn’t sure if she can trust Georgi or anyone else.

 Hider Seeker, Secret Keeper is a fast-paced story that leaves the reader guessing. However, the book revolves more around Lana’s life and the mystery behind her mother’s past than around ballet. For those who pick up the book in the hopes of learning about the life of a ballerina, they will be disappointed.

Sexual Content

  • When Lana is retelling the history of Russian ballet, she describes the tabloids’ stories.  “Sure, a lot of it is sensational nonsense—like the story about Pavel Vartukh’s secret gay lover who came back from a sex-change operation in Belgrade ready to become a prima ballerina.”
  • A man approaches Lana on the street corner and tells her that his boss would like to take her to dinner, she tells the man, “I don’t know how long it takes for a Russian boy to grow American balls, but I really don’t want to see yours.”
  • Lana goes into a saloon and sees her artistic director tipsy. She explains, “It’s usually an occasion for hands a bit too low on the back, a nuzzle behind the ear. A suggestive joke. Dancers my age are expected to respond with a blush and light push. More senior dancers know to expect a straightforward proposition.”
  • Lana meets a boy. After they get to know each other better, “he takes my face again, this time in both his hands. It’s not even my face he wants now, though. He wants my lips. They’re his.”  Then later in the scene, he kisses her, “long enough to bring back the heat wave.”

Violence

  • At the beginning of the story, two characters are run over by a motorcycle. Although the accident is not described, the wounds are described.
  • Lana’s friend is hospitalized after she is given an old prescription drug in order to kill her. Her “recovery is uncertain.”
  • Lana gets into a confrontation with a man. She begins hitting him. In order to get Lana to stop, the man grabs her. “He has me by both arms. My head is on his chest. There is a deep scratch down his neck. His helmet and his gloves are in the gutter ten feet away.”
  • Georgi hired a man to scare a ballerina, but the man ended up hitting her with a motorcycle.  In a conversation afterward, Georgi said, “You get some money to that girl’s family or you can expect some new friends in prison who will teach you a thing or two about making mistakes in the dark.” The man replies, “—Da, Georgi Ivan-oh-bitch.”
  • Georgi tries to explain why someone was trying to frame Lana. “Anna figured a dead girl in New York would be more convincing than a roughed-up one in Moscow. She could pin one on you and one on your mother.”
  • Lana finds out that her grandfather shot Georgi, then held a gun to a girl’s head. Lana’s father killed her grandfather in order to save the girl.
  • Anna grabs Lana and drags her outside. Then Anna tries to push Lana’s mother into the path of an oncoming motorcycle.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lana goes to a party that has “booze.” She tells her friend that she will go to the party and, “will drink two glasses of wine.”
  • Lana finds an article that suggests that her grandmother was an alcoholic and mentally disturbed.
  • A ballerina is given Dinitrophenol, a supplement that, “burns fat by turning your body into a furnace.”
  • In several scenes, the artistic director is drunk.
  • Georgi recounts a story about seeing someone in the airport. The guard was drinking, so he was able to talk to the man. “He tells me that Arkhipova’s the one who ratted Marina. I was impressed, if you wanna know. I underestimated that snake with tits . . .”

Language

  • Profanity is used often throughout the character’s conversations as well as in Lana’s thoughts. The profanity used includes: hell, damn, piss, bitch, limp dicks, jackass, bullshit, shit, crap, asshole, and fucking.
  • When Lana is thinking she uses words such as, “God-damn,” and, “Oh my God.”
  • Someone tells a joke. “What jumps higher than a man in tights? A man in tights with a BMW up his ass.”
  • In one scene, Lana tells her mother. “Ma, I don’t care about whoever he [her father] was . . . So I’m a bastard.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Lana’s friend and another man are injured, she thinks, “It seems unlikely that God had much to do with it. Daniela is maimed, and Pavel Vartukh, artistic director and serial womanizer, will wave at the paparazzi and go back to work. That doesn’t strike me as divine will.”
  • When chosen to perform a dance routine, Lana gives the background of the dance. “. . . it’s meant to be the Chosen One dancing for her elders…And we know perfectly well that in pagan rituals, the Chosen One would have been a maiden—a virgin.”
  • Lana describes the Russians as, “God-fearing, blasphemous creatures.”

Landry Park

Madeline has lived a life of comfort and luxury; however, she has been given little control over her life. Life in the United States is ruled by the rich gentry, and the seventeen-year-old is expected to find a rich husband and run the family estate. Only Madeline has no desire to marry. Her one desire is to attend university.

When one of Madeline’s friends is attacked at a party, Madeline is determined to discover the truth behind it. As Madeline leaves the family estate, she discovers that people are not always what they seem, and the life of the servant class, the Rootless, is not what she envisioned.

As Madeline tries to secretly help the Rootless, she accidently discovers that gentry boy David Dana has secrets of his own. Although she is attracted to him, he is promised to another—but that doesn’t stop Madeline’s heart from wanting.

Soon rumors of war and rebellion break out, and Madeline finds herself in a dangerous web of secrets and lies—and David may be the only person who can help.

Landry Park takes the reader into a world where slavery still exists. The gentry want to keep the Rootless under their control, and anyone who tries to help the Rootless have a better life is seen as a threat to the Gentry. Madeline is trapped between her desire for a comfortable life and her desire to help the Rootless. As the reader enters the world of the Rootless, there are some graphic scenes of sickness and death.

Although the story is interesting, Madeline’s desire to have her comfortable life and her unwillingness to take necessary risks make her less likable. The ending has a few surprises that will delight the reader.  However, because of the disturbing themes of death, slavery, and marriage, this book is not suitable for younger audiences.

Sexual Content

  • When Madeline and her mother are discussing marriage, her mother tells her she can’t marry Jamie because he’s too poor. Madeline thinks, “Jamie wasn’t interested in marriage. At least, not with me or any other girl.”
  • Madeline reflects on a childhood friend who, “dared a servant boy to kiss her on the mouth and then watched without emotion when the boy and his family were removed to a distant farm.”
  • Madeline explains that “gentry boys and girls dated—and often did more than just that—before their debuts, but strictly speaking, both parties were expected to arrive at the marriage bed untainted and untouched.”
  • Madeline’s father has a mistress. Madeline’s mother and father fight and the mother yells, “How dare you skulk around with Christine when it was my family’s money that kept your precious estate alive? My money is the reason you didn’t marry that whore and then you went and wasted it all away.”
  • Madeline has a crush on David and when he looks at her she thinks, “I felt the ghost of his kiss on my lips, felt the ghost of all the kisses I had craved and desired, and all the kisses I had yet to dream of, and then his mouth parted slightly and I wondered if he was dreaming of those phantom kisses, too.”
  • At her debut, Madeline kisses her date, Jude. “He took my whole face in his hands, so gently that his fingertips tickled my jaw, and kissed me harder, his mouth firm and warm. It felt nice, in a distant, premeditated sort of way. I wished I was kissing David.” Later as they are dancing, Jude kisses her again.
  • Madeline discovers her friend, “pressed against the wall, kissing someone with ferocious intensity.”
  • A character describes how, “no matter how many women I bedded or how much I drank, I felt as if this life were tenuous.”

Violence

  • In the beginning of the book, a girl was attacked and the girl’s screams are heard. Madeline tries to discover the truth behind the “attack.” Later in the story, Madeline discovers that Cara was attacked by her mother. “She hit me and I fell into the brambles nearby. She hit me again and again.”
  • A character talks about when he realized the servant class, the Rootless, had terrible lives.  He talks about how the penalty for stealing gentry trash is death. “And the bodies strung up on the estates numbered in the hundreds.”
  • There is a battle between the military and the Rootless. David describes his experience. “. . . I’ll tell you what it’s like to watch the man next to you blown to bits and to see your friend’s hand shot off by an armor-piercing round and to have a mouth so full of char and dirt that you can’t taste food for weeks.”
  • In a later scene, David describes the battle with the Rootless. “There was one man, good as dead, holding his innards and trying to crawl to safety. I thought he was an Easterner, so I left him behind. But when we collected the bodies, I recognized him. He was one of ours and I had left him there to dies like a beast in the mud.”
  • When Madeline’s father threatens to make a child swallow “gibbet food,” a radioactive tablet that will kill him, the Rootless attack. Madeline’s father is attacked and, “they [the rootless] pinned him down and forced the gibbet food inside his mouth for several minutes. Not enough to kill him, but enough to burn his mouth. Enough to give him severe radiation poisoning and probably cancer. . . the lower half of his face was unrecognizable—dark brown with blisters covering his lips and tongue. Bloody ulcers were beginning to form at the corners of his mouth. . .”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Throughout the book, the characters are seen smoking opium. In one scene, Madeline talks about how the Gentry boys, “spent most of their days playing golf or tennis while working their way through hundreds of dollars of whisky and opium.”
  • When a girl is attacked, a doctor gives her sedatives.
  • At parties, the characters drink whisky and spiced wine.

Language

  • Cara says she feels “like shit.”
  • Hell is used several times. For example, when Madeline accuses a boy of hurting Cara, he asks, “Why the hell do you think I would do something like that?”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Crossed

Cassia has risked everything.  The Society sent Ky to the outer providence, and Cassia is determined to find him.  When the chance comes, she sneaks onto an air ship to be used as a decoy in a war against an unnamed enemy.  However, Cassia and another girl, Indie, are soon able to escape, and they go on a dangerous trek through the Carving to search for Ky and the Rising.

Ky will fight for life and for his chance to find his way back to Cassia.  When the society takes him back to the land of his childhood, he runs for the Carving.  However, he is not alone. He has his friend Vick, a young boy named Eli, and an enemy chasing him.  Ky knows the Society is his enemy, but are the inhabitants of the Carving enemies as well?

As Ky and Cassia search to find each other, the point of view changes back and forth between the two characters.  Even though the top of each chapter is labeled with the character’s name, the characters’ voices aren’t distinct.  Instead of hearing the characters, the reader only hears the author’s voice.

Unlike the first book, Crossed is not as suspenseful or enjoyable.  The Society is clearly fighting an enemy; however, there is very little action.  The reader only sees the fighting through the dead bodies left behind.  Besides having little action, it is not clear who the enemy is or what they want, which makes it hard to decide if the enemy is someone to feel sympathy for or to hate.

Cassia gave up everything to find Ky—her family, her home, her place in society—yet Ky still doubts her love for him.  Ky has a secret about Xander that he thinks will make Cassia reevaluate her love for both of them.  He worries that she still loves Xander even though she has proven that she will go to any lengths to be with him.  Instead of creating suspense, the love triangle feels forced.

In the end, Ky and Cassia must split up to make it to the Risings Camp.  Even though Ky is only days behind Cassia, when he arrives he finds Cassia has joined the Rising and been sent back into the Society so she can help their cause.  It seems unrealistic that Cassia would leave Ky after having risked everything to be with him. Instead of leaving the story with a satisfying ending, the author sets it up for another sequel.

Sexual Content

  • There are several scenes with kissing.

Violence

  • Air ships come to kill the inhabitants. The deaths of the people are not described in detail.
  • Ky teaches the Aberrations how to use gun powder in their guns. When the air ships come, they fight back. This is when Ky and two others decide to run to the canyons and try to escape.  The fighting is not described in detail, but they hear the others scream.
  • Ky thinks back to the time the air ships came and killed his entire village.
  • Ky remembers how the Officials came to take him from Patrick and Aida. He had to be gagged.  He remembers having, “blood in my mouth and under my skin in bruises waiting to show.  Head down, hands locked behind me.”
  • In the previous book, an Anomaly killed Ky’s cousin. His death is referred to, but the details are not discussed.
  • An air ship sends bombs into a river, damming it. They then inject poison into the water.  During this time, one of Ky’s friends is killed.  “Whatever fell hit with such impact that it looked like it sent Vick flying; his neck was broken.  He must have died instantly…I look at those empty eyes that reflect back the blue of the sky because there is nothing left of Vick himself.”
  • One of the characters talks about how many people in his village have died. “People died that way. They dropped like stars.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The teen and adult citizens must always carry a “tablet container,” which holds three pills. The green pill makes people feel calm.
  • The society has told people that the blue pill gives nourishment if they need to go without food for some reason; however, it contains something that will, “stop you. If you take one, you’ll slow down and stay where you are until someone finds you or you die waiting.  Two will finish you outright.”
  • The red pill people only take when the government tells them to; the citizens do not know what it does, because it wipes people’s memories.  They do not remember the last 12 hours of their day, which includes the part of them taking the pill.
  • Xander stole blue pills to give to Cassia in the hopes that if she were hungry, she would be able to use the pills to survive.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Ky buries a body he thinks, “part of me wants to believe that the flood of death carries us someplace after all. That there’s someone to see at the end.”
  • Ky and Cassia find a picture that they think shows angels. Ky said, “Some of the farmers still believed in them.  In my father’s time anyway.”
  • One of the characters recites a poem.  “. . . They perished in the Seamless Grass-/No eye could find the place-/But God can summon every face/On his repealless-list.”  He then goes on to say that some of the villagers believed in life after death; however, he does not.

Matched

Every aspect of Cassia’s life is perfectly planned out for her—her profession, her future husband, her dwelling. If she follows the path the Officials have planned she will be happy.  Or so she thought.

During Cassia’s matching ceremony, she is ecstatic to find out that her perfect match is her best friend Xander.  But in a strange twist of events, when she opens a file that is supposed to contain facts about her matched, Xander, another’s face appears. The face of a boy named Ky, her first matched, who was discarded by the Officials as an aberration. It only takes an instant to plant doubt into Cassia’s mind about whom she will choose to love—Xander or Ky?

As Cassia struggles to choose between Xander, who will give her a perfect life, and Ky, who can give her passion, she begins to question the foundation of her society.  Is it as perfect as it appears?  And can she live in a world where every choice and every freedom—including the freedom to choose love—is taken away?

 Matched is an entertaining book that revolves around Cassia’s discovery that her society is not all that appears.  She soon discovers that although she loves Xander, she feels a passion for Ky that cannot be matched.  The book also incorporates Cassia’s relationship with her parents into the story.  It is clear that Cassia’s parents love her and want what is best, even if that means going against the Officials.

Cassia struggles with her conflicted feelings for Ky and Xander, which is a topic that teens will be able to relate to.  Because Cassia generally cares for both boys, her decision is that much harder to make.  However, the plot does not only revolve around Cassia’s love triangle.  Instead, the author includes Cassia’s family’s and friend’s experiences to show that the Society isn’t always what it appears. Unlike many teen books, Match portrays a two-parent family that is not dysfunctional. They genuinely care for each other.   The violence in the book is not described in detail, which makes this book suitable for younger readers.

 Sexual Content

  • There are several scenes with kissing. In one, Cassie can, “feel is arms around me and the smoothness of the green silk as he presses his hand against the small of my back and pulls me closer, closer . . . his lips meet mine, at last.  At last.”

Violence

  • In the past a boy was murdered. Although how it happened is discussed, it is not detailed or graphic.  However, Cassia wonders if they, “let that Anomaly (murderer) out on purpose? To remind us?”
  • There is film that shows a, “sinister black aircraft appear in the sky and the people run screaming away . . . One of the actors falls on the ground dramatically. Garish red bloodstains cover his clothing.”  Some of the viewers laugh, and it isn’t until later that Cassia finds out that the scene was footage of an actual event.
  • When a boy is taken away from his family, his adoptive parents make a scene. The father tells people, “the war with the Enemy isn’t going well.  They need more people to fight.  All the original villagers are dead.  All of them.” Then two officials pin their arms behind their backs, gag them, and take them away.  Afterwards, the officials make the citizens take a pill that erases the entire scene from their memory.
  • One of the characters draws the scene of how his village was wiped out by ammunition falling from the sky. “His parents died. He saw it happen.  Death came from the sky, and that’s what he remembers every time it rains.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When people turn eighty years old they die. Most people do not realize that the reason they die at that age is because their food is poisoned.
  • The teen and adult citizens must always carry a “tablet container” which holds three pills. One pill makes people feel calm.  One pill gives nourishment if people need to go without food for some reason. The other pill people only take when the government tells them too; the citizens do not know what it does, but later in the story Cassie finds out that it wipes people’s memories.
  • When a character has an anxiety attack she takes her friend’s “green tablet” because she had already used her own. “Almost immediately, her body relaxes.”
  • In a dream, Cassia’s friend takes a green tablet, then a blue tablet. Cassie then gives her friend a red tablet.  Her friend falls down dead.  “Her body makes a heavy sound when it falls, in contrast to the lightness of eyes fluttering shut…”
  • Cassia considers taking the green table to calm herself down, but she decides against it.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Cassie thinks about how the Society doesn’t have the death penalty, but they kill the elderly, she thinks that people survive because of natural selection, “with the help from our gods, of course—the Officials.”
  • When Cassie has a choice to make regarding another person she thinks, “If I get to play God, or angel, then I have to do the best I can for Ky.”

Reached

The Rising was supposed to be the answer.  It was supposed to be the cure for the Society’s ills.  It was supposed to bring Cassia, Xander, and Ky choice.  But so far, all the Rising has brought the Society is a deadly plague that has the power to kill millions.

Cassia still seeks to find her way back to Ky.  However, her main goal is to show others that they have something of worth—the ability to paint, to sing, or to write.  As Cassie tries to find her way back to Ky, she struggles to know who to trust.

Xander is quarantined in a hospital, trying to treat those affected by the plague as well as trying to help find a cure.  However, time is running out. The plague has mutated, and the cure that the Rising was supposed to deliver is no longer working.  People are dying and Xander is determined to help them.

Ky and Indie are piloting a plane, taking the cure to those in need. However, Ky wonders if the Rising can be trusted and if he will ever be reunited with Cassia. The rebellion has started.  But will it change Society for the better or destroy everything?

 Reached jumps from three different character’s points of view: Cassia, Xander, and Ky.  As the point of view changes, the reader is able to see all sides of the rebellion.  Although it is clear that Xander cares for people, he still has very little medical training, which makes it is hard to believe that the Rising comes to rely so heavily on him to find the cure for the plague.

Xander still hopes to win Cassia’s heart.  This part of the plot seems forced, especially since Cassia made the decision to love Ky in book one.  Xander knows this and yet, he still wonders if they will end up together. The conclusion of Reached, leaves the reader with more questions than answers.  However, the book is good for junior high readers because most of the violence is not described and the sexual content contains only brief kissing.

Sexual Content

  • Two teenagers are having an argument when “over his shoulder he says something crude to Indie—what he’d do to her and with her if she weren’t crazy.”
  • Indie kisses Ky. “Her hand slides into my hair, her lips press against mine.  Nothing like Cassia.  I pull back, breathless…”

Violence

  • When a man discusses his job, an Army officer comes in and drags him away. “His mouth is gagged and his words unintelligible, and above the cloth his eyes meet mine.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the characters describes disease-proofing tablets that are given to babies when they are seven days old. The tablets keep the babies safe from illness and infection.
  • The Society has a red pill that is given to its citizens to make them forget the last 12 hours. Cassia and a group of workers are given one to swallow.
  • The Society has been affected by a plague; Xander, as well as others, are giving patients medicine and hoping to find the cure.

Language

  • Ky thinks, “I have to keep running in this damn cure even if it means I can’t get to Cassia as soon as I like.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Ky wonders about what happens when people die. “I don’t know what happens when we die.  It doesn’t seem to me like there can be much past this.  But I suppose I can conceive that what we make and do can last beyond us.”
  • Ky thinks, “long ago people used to say what they wanted out loud and hoped that someone would give it to them. They called it praying.”
  • The Society stores DNA samples of its citizens in the hopes that one day they will have the technology to bring people back to life.

See How They Run

Finding the truth about her mother’s murder was supposed to bring Grace peace. But the past still haunts her. Grace realizes that her mother carried secrets of her own, but there are those who want those secrets to stay buried. And there is someone who is willing to kill to make sure the truth never comes out.

Grace knows there are century-old secrets surrounding her family. The only thing she doesn’t know is who to trust in her search for the truth. And when a U.S. citizen is murdered on Adria soil, Grace realizes that death is just a tool that a powerful person isn’t afraid to use.

Full of suspense and intrigue, the second installment of the Embassy Row series will captivate readers and pull them into the mystery surrounding Grace. See How They Run focuses less on Grace’s friends, and their absence makes the story less interesting. Grace doesn’t trust her own decision-making skills, and often refers to her “crazy” nature. Her complicated character adds suspense to the story. The addition of Adria’s history and the murder of a royal family creates an eerie atmosphere.

For those who enjoyed the Gallagher Girls series, See How They Run will not disappoint. However, See How They Run focuses on the death of a royal family and the murder of a young man. Even though the violence is not described in detail, the story makes it clear that someone is willing to kill innocent people.

Sexual Content

  • At a party, a boy kisses Grace. “He is leaning closer and closer. I close my eyes and feel his lips brush mine.” The kiss ends when she shoves him back.
  • Alexei and Grace kiss. The first time they kiss, Grace thinks, “Spence kissed me. But this is more. More intimate. More gentle. More emotion pounds through my veins than anything any boy has ever made me feel.”

Violence

  • An integral part of the plot revolves around a revolt that happened 200 years ago. During the revolt, “The king, the queen, two princes and a baby girl who wasn’t even a month old yet. Five of them. They pulled them from their bed, and they killed them.” The family was murdered and their bodies were hung from the palace.
  • When Alexei finds out that Spence kissed Grace, Alexei “turns and pulls back his arm in one smooth motion, dropping Spence to the ground with a single blow. . . They tumble and twist and brawl closer and closer to the party.” The fight lasts over several pages, but no one is seriously hurt.
  • When Jamie finds out that his friend kissed Grace, he “doesn’t say a word of warning. He just hits him.” Spence’s head jerks but he stays on his feet. The boy doesn’t hit back and Jamie leaves him with a warning to leave his sister alone.
  • During the festival, a drunk man recognizes Alexei. Then a mob of people attacks him and Grace. “The first fist that hits Alexei knocks him nearly off his feet. He doesn’t see it coming. . . I can feel myself getting pushed, almost knocked to the ground. I lash out, kicking a man in the knee as he lunges at Alexei. But two other men are already upon him.” During the attack, Grace is stabbed in the side.
  • Someone bombs a car. It is unclear if the driver was killed in the explosion or if the vehicle was unoccupied.
  • Someone stabs Jamie. “. . . I see blood that covers Jamie’s shirt. He’s trying to press against the wound with his free hand, but it’s not working. My brother is going to bleed to death, die right in front of me.” A helicopter arrives to take him to an Army hospital in Germany. It is unclear if he will survive his wounds.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • In the past, Grace has been given medication for anxiety. When she has a bad dream, she blames it on “the meds that I’m not taking.”
  • During a festival, a man walks by Grace and her friends. She comments that the drunk’s “breath smells like liquor.”
  • When Grace is stabbed, someone tends to the wound and then gives her “a small glass bottle” with medicine in it to help with the pain.
  • Grace does not want Alexei to turn himself into the authorities, so she drugs him. “His hand goes limp . . . His legs wobble. But thankfully we are out of view of the street by the time he passes out completely and falls, sprawling on the weeds.”

Language

  • A character, “mumbles something that I think must be the Russian equivalent to Oh my freaking goodness.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

All Fall Down

Three years after her mother’s death, Grace is sent to live with her grandfather, a powerful ambassador who is too busy to spend any time with her. Thrust into a new situation, Grace isn’t sure who to trust. Grace has never been close to her childhood companion, Megan, and wonders why she would want to help her. Her new friend Noah claims to want to be her best friend. Her brother’s best friend Alexei says he’s watching out for her out of obligation. Are they really her friends or do they have other motivations for staying close to Grace?

Grace wants to keep out all thoughts of her mother’s death, but visions of her mother keep appearing.  While Grace’s grandfather wants her to put on a pretty dress and attend functions at his side, Grace doesn’t seem to be able to stay out of trouble. When the mysterious Scared Man from her past appears, Grace overhears his plans to kill. Convinced that the Scared Man is responsible for killing her mother, Grace goes on a mission to stop him from killing again.

Grace narrates her own story, which allows the reader to see into her troubled mind and understand her terror. Grace believes that others think she is crazy because she witnessed her mother’s death; despite appearing completely normal, she struggles with panic attacks and visions of her mother. Grace saw her mother being shot in the chest, so why does everyone say the death was an accident?

Full of suspense, interesting characters, and plot twists, All Fall Down is an entertaining story that will leave the reader reaching for the next book in the series. For those who enjoyed the Gallagher Girls series, All Fall Down will not disappoint. However, All Fall Down has a more serious tone with more violence. Although the violence is not described in gory detail and is appropriate for younger audiences, Grace’s mother’s death is described in a detailed flashback. Even though the book is written for readers as young as twelve, as the series progresses there are some readers that will not be ready for the more mature themes.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Feeling overwhelmed, Grace runs from the house. As she backs out of the door, a “hand grabs me from behind” and she lashes out. “A cry rises up my throat, primitive and raw, and then I’m pushing and lunging. Falling. As I land in the rosebushes, I can feel the thorns of a rosebush tearing into my skin, clinging to my clothes.” In her panic, she hit the Russian ambassador, giving him a bloody nose.
  • While Grace is sleeping, a boy sneaks into her room and tries to wake her up. Startled, “I wrench the boy’s hand farther back, holding his thumb with my other hand.” After they talk, they sneak out of the house to attend a party.
  • Grace is told a story about a royal family that was murdered. The person speaking says, “The people stormed the palace and dragged Alexander and his family from their beds.” No other description is given.
  • Grace thinks that the Scared Man is going to kill the Russian president so she jumps off a balcony. When she jumps, “everyone is watching as I hurl myself over the railing. Even the U.S. Secret Service can do nothing but watch as I fly through the air and crash onto the Scared Man’s back.” Later she finds out that the Scared Man was holding a cell phone, not a gun.
  • Someone tries to kill Grace. “There’s a fence at my back. I can’t move any farther, and that is when the prime minister lunges for me, grabbing my arms in his massive hands, squeezing like a tourniquet. . . I can’t think anymore, so I just start kicking, screaming.” She struggles with her attacker, “when my elbow makes contact with his nose, I hear a sickening snap and feel the warm gush of blood on the back of my neck.”
  • Grace witnessed her mother’s death. “. . . I am standing there, watching my mother fall, bloody and broken. . .” The person who tried to help her was injured. “Blood rains down his face. His left eye is swollen shut. And the skin on his left cheek is almost black with blood, singed skin, and a rugged cut that runs from brow to jaw.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Grace takes prescription pills that help her deal with anxiety. Several times she refers to the pills. When she has a panic attack she doesn’t want anyone to find out because, “It will be just like after (her mother’s death). With the pills and the shrinks and the looks.”
  • After Grace jumps off a balcony and lands on the Scared Man, she is given more medication. The medication makes her act differently. The medicine makes Grace shake “my body like a pendulum that can never quite stop moving.”
  • Someone drugs Grace so that she will go to sleep. After she takes the drugs, she thinks, “I want to argue and demand answers, but it is all I can do to focus on the glass that is falling, shattering on the floor. Two seconds later, I follow.”
  • Grace’s grandfather “pours himself a drink, I can tell it isn’t the first of the night. The way things are going, it almost certainly won’t be his last.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Hide and Seek

Unapologetically curious—that’s Jess Tennant. So when her classmate, Gilly Poynter disappears, Jess decides she must investigate. With only Gilly’s diary as a clue, Jess finds out that Gilly’s home life wasn’t happy, and her social life was a mess. As Jess tries to find out what happened to Gilly, she discovers that the police and her boyfriend want her to keep clear of the case. But Jess is convinced that she can help find Gilly and unlock the secrets that want to remain hidden.

Although most of Hide and Seek revolves around the mystery of Gilly’s disappearance, it also delves into the complicated relationships between people. Jess’s boyfriend is back in town for Christmas break, but instead of spending time together, they are arguing. To add conflict to the story, Jess’s dad is in town trying to win over his ex-wife, which Jess is hoping doesn’t happen.

Jess Tennant is a charismatic character who has the reader running with her from the start. Hide and Seek contains mystery, suspense, and complicated relationships that keep the reader guessing. The characters in the book are complicated and real.

For teens who like mysteries, Hide and Seek tells a good story without adding graphic images of sex and violence. Instead, the author creates interesting characters that drive the action and keep the reader interesting.

Sexual Content

  • One of the characters is seen kissing his girlfriend. “She grabbed hold of him and kissed him back, pressing her body into his. One of his hands slid down her back, his fingers spreading, digging into her flesh.”
  • Jess’s boyfriend’s father lectures her on, “taking the appropriate precautions.” Jess is upset by the talk because, “it wasn’t even relevant, currently. We hadn’t. We hadn’t even talked about it.”
  • Jess kisses her boyfriend several times throughout the book. In one scene, “his mouth tasted of cinnamon and his hand was warm on my neck. His thumb stroked the skin just under my ear and I shut my eyes, lost in him.” Another time, Jess “found myself pinned against the wall. He kissed me, hard, and my heart took off, fluttering in my chest like a hummingbird.”
  • In her diary, Gilly described having sex with someone in the disabled toilet near the staff room. “We ended up on the floor . . . And it felt amazing. . . But the main thing is that it felt RIGHT.” Later it is revealed that the person Gilly had sex with was her history teacher.
  • When Jess was trying to figure out who Gill had sex with, another character goes through a list of possible people. Jess “thought of quite a large group she’d left out. The girls.”
  • Nessa talks about how her parents think she is a lesbian, but she hasn’t made up her mind yet. Later someone defends Nessa asking, “Why do you care if Nessa likes girls anyway? Why does it threaten you?”
  • The teacher kisses Gilly twice. He “turned his head and kissed her, his tongue probing her mouth.”

Violence

  • At a party, a group of girls confronts Gilly. One girl grabbed onto Gilly’s wrist. Then Gilly grips her glass so hard that it breaks. “Liquid started to seep between her fingers—wine mixed with oozing red blood that trickled down the backs of her hands and slid along her forearm, branching out as if her veins were suddenly, shockingly, on the outside of her body.”
  • Jess sees blood in Gilly’s trash can and assumes it was cutting. “I knew plenty of girls who did it, slashing their skin to ribbons in neat lines down arms or thighs, because physical pain was better than the emotional kind.”
  • A girl attacks another character. “Nessa grabbed him by the throat . . . Max was choking, his face red, and Nessa let go . . . I couldn’t tell if it was planned or not, but her knee collided with his nose. He jerked his head back, and a spray of blood splattered the fake snow . . .”
  • Two of the boys fight and the description lasts for several pages. “It wasn’t a pretty fight. It was punching and shoving and gouging eyes. It was a kick to the thigh that wrung a string of curses from Will.” Will’s father shows up and breaks up the fight.
  • Gilly and the teacher tie Jess to a latter and then lock her in a house that is about to be crushed by incoming waves.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Jess goes to a party where alcohol is served.
  • Jess goes to talk to Gilly’s mother who was acting strange. “I didn’t know if she’d been drinking or if she’d taken something, but there was no way she was sober.” Later Jess discovers that Gilly’s mother had been drugged.
  • Jess used to live in North London, “where you could buy pretty much any drug you wanted just outside the train station.”
  • One of the character’s wife is ill. He tells Jess that she, “just stays in her room, popping pills and waiting for the end.”
  • Gilly wrote in her diary that she wished she were like everyone else, “getting drunk, having fun.”

Language

  • Hell is used several times. For example, when Jess thinks someone is spying on her, she asks, “What the hell are you doing?”
  • When Will’s father breaks up a fight, he asks, “Do you want to tell me why you and this idiot are hitting seven kinds of crap out of each other?”
  • When Jess is asking too many questions, she is told to “piss off.”
  • One of the characters calls someone a “twisted little dyke” and later someone refers to another character as a “dick.”
  • In her diary, Gilly uses, “Oh my God, OMFG, and F*****G.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

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