Truly Devious #1

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: she will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester.

But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

Truly Devious will captivate murder mystery fans as it goes back and forth from the 1936 kidnapping of Ellingham’s wife and daughter and the current students who reside at Ellingham Academy. While Stevie scours the school’s archives for clues to the cold case, she also must navigate typical high school drama, which makes her a more relatable and likable character. While some of the students are a little too quirky to be believable, that doesn’t detract from the book’s entertainment value. Instead, it highlights some of the bizarre behavior of the ultra-rich. The story has the perfect blend of suspense, mystery, and teenage angst. Plus, there’s a mysterious boy Stevie isn’t sure if she should hate or love.

While most of the story revolves around the Ellingham’s school, the reader also gets a look into Stevie’s home life and the conflict between her and her parents. Stevie’s parents have never really understood why she can’t be “normal.” Increasing the conflict, Stevie’s parents also work for Senator Edward King—a rich, corrupt man who Stevie hates. While Senator King plays a small role in Truly Devious, the book hints that the senator will return in the next book in the series, The Vanishing Stairs.

The fast-paced mystery expertly blends the past and the present into an entertaining story that will keep the readers guessing until the very end. While the conclusion partially solves one mystery, the mystery of the Ellingham’s kidnapping ends with an interesting new clue which will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, The Vanishing Stairs. With interesting characters, a suspenseful mystery, and lots of surprising twists, Truly Devious will please mystery buffs who are ready for more mature content. If you’d like a tamer detective story, the Jess Tennant Mysteries Series by Jane Casey is a highly entertaining mystery that will thrill without the graphic images.

Sexual Content

  • Janelle recently broke up with her girlfriend and now has a crush on another student, Vi.
  • When two students disappear, a boy says, “I think they’re going to go back and bone. . .” Later, the students “walked close enough together and looked at each other in a way that made it clear that they had not parted ways right away last night.”
  • After a student dies, David and Stevie go back to her bedroom. After talking for a while, “David pressed his lips to hers. . . He was kissing her very gently, his lips pressing on her neck. . . Her hands were in his hair.” The make-out scene is described over a page. A teacher interrupts them and tells David to leave.
  • David wants to talk to Stevie about them making out. He tells her that her technique “was good. You really like to explore with that tongue. Every part of you is a detective, I guess. . . I like what we did.” After they talk, “she pressed her lips to his. . . Their lips met and they would be tighter for a minute, then they would both stop and stay where they were for another few seconds. . . He was stroking her hair, running his fingers up the short strands. . .” When there is a knock on the door, Stevie hides in the closet. David answers the door and leaves.

Violence

  • Stevie is investigating a murder from 1936. As she investigates, the story flashes back to the events when Dottie was murdered. While trying to escape from a man, Dottie falls, and “her fingers slipped along the rungs of the ladder, but she couldn’t get purchase. She was falling. The floor met her with terrible finality. . . There was an ache that was almost sweet and something pooled around her. . . When the darkness came for Dottie, it was quick and it was total.”
  • After delivering ransom money, Albert Ellingham is knocked out when “something came down on his head, and then all faded to black.”
  • When Ellingham’s wife’s body was found, “she was wrapped in oilcloth and she was in bad shape, real bad shape. . . Iris’s body was found to have three gunshot wounds.”
  • Ellingham and one of his friends die when their boat explodes. The death is not described.
  • A man named Vorachek is standing trial for the kidnapping of Ellingham’s wife and daughter. During the trial, he is shot. The death is not described.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • During prohibition, a secret tunnel was built, and “bottles of wine and liquor of every description” were stored in a hidden area.
  • Stevie has a prescription for Lexapro and Ativan. Twice Stevie takes Ativan while having a panic attack.
  • Ellie, one of the students, sneaks in champagne. When offered it, Stevie “decided to go for it. She had only drunk a few times in her life. . . the champagne was warm and had a hard, mineral taste and fizzed up her nose. It was not unpleasant.” Several times throughout the story, Ellie appears drunk.
  • Ellie tells Stevie that “plenty of people on the street will buy [alcohol] for you for five bucks.”
  • Ellie went to Paris with her mother and her mother’s “lover.” While there they drank wine.
  • Ellie says that a boy spent his time smoking weed and playing video games; later, Stevie finds out that this is untrue.
  • At a school gathering, some of the students pass around a flask. Stevie doesn’t drink from it.
  • After the kidnappers demand more ransom, Ellingham “poured some whiskeys with a shaking hand, giving one to the detective and keeping one for himself.”
  • While reading the Ellingham’s case files, Stevie finds out that a man who was present drank “often and in high quantities.”
  • Stevie and her friends play a drinking game. While playing the game, some of the players drink, while others don’t. “Stevie reached for the bottle and took a very tiny sip, just enough that the wine touched her lips and scent flooded her nose.”

Language

  • Several times a girl says, “It is hot as balls in here.”
  • Oh my God, God, and Jesus are used as exclamations occasionally.
  • Hell is used frequently.
  • Ass, damn, crap, pissed, and shit are used infrequently.
  • Ellie tells Stevie that her parents’ boss, a senator, is an asshole.
  • Stevie says, “I’m not being a dick.”
  • A girl says that a boy’s ex-girlfriend is a bitch.
  • Stevie says that her parents’ employer, a senator, is a “racist, fascist scum.”
  • The f-word is used twice.
  • In a heated situation, goddamnit is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Forbidden City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche

Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of her more famous brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft. But she has all the wits, skills, and sleuthing inclinations of them both. At fifteen, she’s an independent young woman—after all, her name spelled backwards reads “alone”—and living on her own in London. When a young professional woman, Miss Letitia Glover, shows up on Sherlock’s doorstep desperate to learn more about the fate of her twin sister, it is Enola who steps up. It seems her sister, the former Felicity Glover, married the Earl of Dunhench and, per a curt note from the Earl, has died. But Letitia Glover is convinced this isn’t the truth, that she’d know—she’d feel—if her twin had died.

The Earl’s note is suspiciously vague and the death certificate is even more dubious, signed by a John H. Watson, M.D. (who denies any knowledge of such). The only way forward is for Enola to go undercover—or so Enola decides at the vehement objection of her brother. And she soon finds out that this is not the first of the Earl’s wives to die suddenly and vaguely—and that the secret to the fate of the missing Felicity is tied to a mysterious black barouche that arrived at the Earl’s home in the middle of the night. To uncover the secrets held tightly within the Earl’s hall, Enola is going to require help—from Sherlock, from the twin sister of the missing woman, and from an old friend, the young Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether!

The interaction between Sherlock and Enola is humorous and although Enola usually doesn’t include Sherlock in her plans, he does acknowledge her ability to come up with a creative scheme to solve the mystery. Like Sherlock, Enola is a capable character who uses her mind to solve problems. To Sherlock’s dismay, Enola’s unconventional upbringing has allowed her to grow into a spunky, self-sufficient teen. Enola explains, “My mother saw to it that I was not taught to knit, crochet, embroider, or play the piano; she wanted to make quite sure that I would never become domestic or decorative.” Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche is an engaging mystery, and also explores women’s roles during the Victorian Era.

Springer excellently narrates the adventure with old fashion language, British colloquial language, as well as difficult vocabulary such as crepuscular, galvanization, and pulchritude. Despite this, most readers will be able to use context clues to understand unfamiliar words. The different types of language are part of the book’s charm and help distinguish different characters. For example, when Dr. Watson is worried about Sherlock’s behavior, he seeks out Enola. Dr. Watson tells her, “I exhorted him to shave and get dressed as a rudimentary step in exerting himself toward recovery, but to no avail.”

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche takes readers on an action-packed adventure that is pure fun. Readers will fall in love with Enola, who is the story’s narrator. The unconventional character isn’t afraid to take risks, use stealth, or ask for the assistance of others. Even as Enola galivants through England, she takes the time to discuss her fashionable clothing which will delight fashion-conscious readers. Readers who want a delightful mystery should add Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche to their must-read list. More mature readers who enjoy historical mysteries should also read Glow by Megan Bryant.

Sexual Content

  • When Sherlock was investigating a case, he fell into a deep hole. Enola shows up to help and “the Lord of the manor came out with a shotgun and fired upon us!” Both Sherlock and Enola were able to escape.
  • Women could be committed to an insane asylum if they had “adulterous thoughts or tendencies.”
  • When the Earl of Dunhench’s wife is freed from an insane asylum, she says, “I could not cease brooding over Caddie, his infidelities, how he doomed me for not being complaisant. . .”

Violence

  • The Earl of Dunhench and his butler grab Enola and lock her in a bedroom. She is able to escape.
  • Tish dressed up as her sister who was committed to an insane asylum. Mistaking Trish for his wife, the Earl of Dunhench, puts her in a black barouche and sends her back to the asylum. On the way, Tish gets upset with Dawson (a servant). “Tish reacted like a viper striking. Screeching something inarticulate, she coiled, snatched off her sow, and flung it at Dawson’s face.”
  • While Dawson is distracted, Enola comes out from underneath the black barouche’s seat. When Dawson goes to scream, Enola “pounced, clamping my hand over her mouth before she got past her initial squeak. Kneeling on her bosom, with one hand silencing her and the other flourishing my danger, I warned her.”
  • When the driver goes to help Tish out of the carriage, Enola “charged. . . I knocked them both sprawling, Tish back into the carriage on her posterior, and the coachman similarly into a formidable rose bush.”
  • When Sherlock confronts the Earl of Dunhench, Watson “stationed himself at the main entry and stood guard with his pistol in hand.” When the conversation “deteriorated,” Sherlock “pulled out my life preserver—a handy pocket truncheon made of rope and weighted wood—and showed it to him.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Sherlock injured himself falling into a deep hole, Enola tossed “down brandy and bandages.”
  • In order to help Sherlock, Enola lists drugs that help with depression. “Laudanum, belladonna, antimony, all highly efficient if they do not cause your untimely demise.” Sherlock does not take any of the drugs.
  • Enola falls off a horse. As she lay on the ground, she “saw the clodhopper boots of comment men surrounding me and smelled alcohol on the breath of those leaning over me.” The men take Enola into a tavern and offered her “a nip of brandy.”
  • The Earl of Dunhench offers Enola wine, but she “sipped only water.”
  • Enola goes into an insane asylum and is told, “In order to calm them enough for bathing, we must drug them.”

Language

  • Sherlocks gets angry at Enola and says, “Your mission be damned!”
  • Hell is used twice. When Sherlock enters the Earl of Dunhench’s house unannounced, the earl yells, “Who the hell might you be?”
  • A woman calls the Earl of Dunhench a “great parlous pile of pig dun” and a “cad.”

Supernatural

  • When someone dies, mirrors are covered “supposedly so that the soul of the departed might not blunder into one and get trapped inside the house.”

Spiritual Content

  • Enola finds a woman picking fruit on a Sunday. The woman had been stung by a honeybee. She tells Enola, “Some would say it’s what I deserve for working on the Sabbath. But I can’t believe God will mind, being as these will make such good cider.”

She is Not Invisible

Laureth Peak’s father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers—a skill at which she’s remarkably talented. When he goes missing while researching coincidence for a new book, Laureth and her younger brother fly from London to New York and must unravel a series of cryptic messages and frightening clues to find him. The complication: Laureth is blind. Reliant on her other senses and on her brother to survive, Laureth finds that rescuing her father and spotting the extraordinary, and sometimes dangerous, connections in a world full of darkness will take all her skill.

Laureth, a sixteen-year-old blind protagonist, desperately wants to find her father. Laureth’s experiences highlight the difficulties she faces because she is blind. Because of her disability, Laureth takes her seven-year-old brother, Benjamin, to New York to look for her father. The sister-brother relationship is sweet, and it allows the reader to see the different ways Laureth and Benjamin communicate, which allows Laureth to navigate without making her blindness apparent.

While looking for her father, Laureth finds his notebook that has his research notes about coincidences, patterns of the universe, and scientists’ research. For example, he ruminates about the mathematical probability that coincidences happen, synchronicity, as well as some scientists’ obsessions with a meaningful number. The excerpts from the notebook are incredibly boring and they slow down the plot. In the end, Laureth’s father decides to dump all his research and resume writing the same type of funny stories that made him famous. There seems to be no point to the tedious passages about coincidences.

While She is Not Invisible is unique because it focuses on a smart, blind protagonist, Laureth’s story lacks believability. For example, a blind teenager and a seven-year-old boy would not be able to navigate the streets of New York alone. The story concludes with Laureth’s family reuniting, but in the end, none of the clues that Laureth follows help her find her father. Instead, her father just miraculously appears in the hotel’s stairwell just when Laureth needs him most. The conclusion is anticlimactic, and all the pieces of the puzzle come together too easily.

Many teen readers will relate to Laureth, who often doubts herself. Along the journey, she gains confidence and comes to realize that “no one should want to be invisible. To have no one notice you or speak to you. That would be really lonely, in the end.” If you’re looking for a compelling mystery that will be hard to put down, forego reading She is Not Invisible and instead grab a copy of Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards.

Sexual Content

  • Laureth wonders if her dad is “sleeping with someone else.”
  • Laureth and her brother go into a bar in the hopes of finding their father. A man yells, “Take your clothes off.”
  • The bad guy traps Laureth in a dark hotel room. He says, “You and me can still have a good time together. In the dark.”
  • When Laureth’s parents are reunited, she “heard Dad kiss Mum, who giggled like she was young.”

 

Violence

  • Laureth reads a story about a man who “is cannibalized by his shipmates.”
  • A man pulls a knife on Laureth, Benjamin, and a boy named Michael. Michael runs off and finds his brother. Laureth heard “a soft thud and the sound of air coming out of someone all at once… There was another thud, and I heard the Smoke scream.” Later, the police find the man tied to a fence with his own belt.
  • One of the bad men is in Laureth’s hotel room. Laureth leaps onto the bed, “straight across, and felt his hand grab my ankle. . . then I kicked out wildly with my free leg. My heel hit something that was sort of hard and soft at the same time, there was a crunch, and he yelled, really loud.” She manages to escape.
  • Laureth has her brother break all the lights in the hotel’s hallway and the stairs. Laureth runs down the stairs and hears the bad man scream. “It was followed by a series of terrible thuds and thumps as the man fell down to the ground floor.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Laureth overhears her parents arguing about her dad taking pills for his “state of mind.”
  • Sometimes Laureth’s father “has another glass of wine or two.”

Language

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes ass, crap, hell, and damn.
  • Ass is used twice. For example, a blind samurai in a Japanese film is “blind but he still kicks ass.”
  • A man says, “Goddammit. . . Can’t smoke anywhere in this damn city now.”

Supernatural

  • Laureth’s brother Benjamin has a strange effect on electronics which his family calls the “Benjamin Effect.” When Benjamin touches electronics such as cell phones and TV screens, they stop working.

Spiritual Content

  • In Laureth’s father’s book of notes, he writes, “There’s a word for the feeling that we are in touch with something great, something powerful, something outside ourselves, and that word is NUMINOUS. It used to only be used in connection with religion; that feeling that you’re in touch with God.”
  • Einstein said, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
  • Laureth thinks about a poem. “It’s a pious poem about God. It’s about how, although you might try to ignore Him, and turn from Him and even flee Him, He will keep following you, faithfully, like a faithful hound follows its master, all of your life.”
  • Occasionally Laureth prays. For example, when a man says something rude, Laureth “prayed Benjamin didn’t understand.”
  • In his research, Laureth’s father found that George Price, “one of America’s greatest thinkers, gave in and had to admit that God existed.”

Golden Gate

Fourteen-year-old Sydney is a surfer and a rebel from Bondi Beach, Australia. She’s also a field ops specialist and frequent mission leader for the City Spies—a secret team of young agents who work for MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service.

After thwarting a notorious villain at an eco-summit in Paris, the City Spies gear up for their next mission. Operating out of a base in Scotland, this secret team of young agents have honed their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. These skills allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Sydney is excited to learn that she’ll be going undercover on the marine research vessel, the Sylvia Earle. But things don’t go exactly as planned, and while Sydney does find herself in the spotlight, it’s not in the way she was hoping.

Meanwhile, there’s been some new intel regarding a potential mole within the organization, offering the spies a lead that takes them to San Francisco, California. But as they investigate a spy who died at the Botanical Gardens, they discover that they are also being investigated.

Similar to the Charlie Thorne Series, City Spies Golden Gate takes readers on a fast-paced, multi-country mission in a fight between good versus evil. The second installment of the City Spies Series focuses on solving several mysteries, including finding the person who killed a spy. Even though there is less action, the story is immensely interesting because it contains mystery, high-risk undercover work, and gives readers a peek into the inner turmoil of an adolescent spy. Even though all the City Spies have an amazing skill, they make mistakes and have moments of insecurity. Because the characters are multifaceted and imperfect, they are both likable and relatable.

During the City Spies’ mission, Mother is absent. Even though the loveable character is missed, this allows Monty to take a more active role in the mission, which leads to several surprises. Even though much of the story is intense, there are still moments of humor and heart. Plus, readers will get a look inside several of San Francisco’s landmarks, including Muir Woods, Alcatraz, and Fort Point.   

 The complicated plot, the evil villains, and the advanced vocabulary will be difficult for younger readers. However, the City Spies Series will appeal to a vast number of readers because it contains action, adventure, intrigue, and mystery. Readers ready for more mature mysteries will love the City Spies Series. Mystery-loving fans who want to learn some gangster lore will also enjoy Notorious by Gordon Korman.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A terrorist attempts to kidnap two girls from a ship. When the man enters the girls’ room, Brooklynn “put her arms on the upper bunks to brace herself. Then, like a gymnast using parallel bars, she swung up the lower half of her body and executed a perfect scissor kick to the underside of his jaw. He froze momentarily before collapsing into a heap.”
  • While on the ship, Sydney detonates a bomb so that it doesn’t damage the ship.
  • Monty goes into an office to talk to a park ranger. When Monty hears another voice, she “turned toward the voice and saw a gun pointed directly at her.” Brooklyn walks into the room and “her hands were duct-taped. . . she fell onto the floor and landed alongside Monty, their faces right next to each other.”
  • There is “a report of an explosion at Fort Point. . . The explosion went off on the roof. It was designed for minimal damage and maximum visuals.”
  • As Sydney is running from Magpie, a rogue spy, she “tripped over the curb when she reached the parking lot and crashed against the pavement, cutting the palms of her hands and gashing her left knee.” The spy almost reaches Sydney. “Then a blur came from the side, and just like that, Magpie was gone from Sydney’s frame of vision. She heard two loud thuds. . .” The spy is captured.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God and OMG are both used as an exclamation once. For example, while discussing the attempted kidnapping, a girl says, “OMG, tell me everything!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • While being questioned by Parliament, Sydney had to repeat this oath, “I promise before Almighty God that the evidence which I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” And then she lies.
  • A park ranger discusses a man’s death. The ranger says, “You should tell your father that the last images his friends saw were among God’s most beautiful creations.”

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Kids are disappearing all over the world, and that includes seventh-grader Manu “Mars” Patel’s friends, Aurora and Jonas. Aurora disappeared five days ago. During a lockdown, Jonas disappears after leaving the closet Mars and his friend, Caddie Patchett, were hiding in. Jonas and Aurora’s disappearance sparks an investigation by Mars. To help, he is accompanied by his intelligent friend Randall “Toothpick” Lee, Caddie, who is an empath, and JP McGowan, a nonbinary person. Mars’ idol, Oliver Pruitt, a genius tech billionaire, also guides the way for Mars. But as Mars and his friends get closer to the truth, they soon learn that danger follows them and maybe Oliver Pruitt isn’t their ally after all.

Mars gets a message from an unknown person, someone only named Lost in London (LIL). LIL tells Mars about the missing kids. What’s even stranger is that Mars also gets a message from Aurora, saying “Ad astra.” Mars’ desperation to find his friends mounts as his mother threatens to leave Port Elizabeth for Cleveland, Ohio due to Mars’ troublemaking habits. But Mars is so close to discovering the truth. And then, he’s gone without a trace. It’s up to Caddie, Toothpick, and JP, along with some other unexpected allies, to find Mars and bring him home.

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is written in the third person perspective, overseeing the narrative with an omniscient narrator. The formatting is in prose style with small breaks from the typical prose style of narration. These breaks come in the form of snippets from Oliver Pruitt’s podcast and text messages among Mars’ friend group. For example, one of Oliver Pruitt’s podcasts goes:  “Dear listeners: Ever wonder what makes you who you are? Is it the socks you wear? Your favorite band? I believe what makes you YOU is your response when you’re tested. When the odds are stacked against you, are you brave? Generous? A good friend? If someone asks YOU to take the leap, will you hide or will you FLY? To the stars!” With this podcast specifically, Oliver is testing Mars’ friendship with his kidnapped friends, Aurora and Jonas. These small breaks are used to push the plot forward as the podcasts originally serve as an ally to Mars.

The story is a general mystery blended with elements of sci-fi. Through JP, readers will understand how a nonbinary middle schooler may feel when others don’t understand the concept of being nonbinary. JP’s mother tells them, “The world sees everything gendered. We don’t, but they do.” JP isn’t the only outcast, as they are friends with fellow outcast Mars. Mars is called names because he’s a troublemaker and is constantly getting into detention with his friends. Despite that, the story teaches that real friends stick together no matter how far apart they are. Real friends will defend you and real friends are going to support you in any way necessary. A good example is when a teacher, Mr. Q, accidentally misgenders JP. Toothpick corrects Mr. Q, saying, “Are they here, you mean. That’s the pronoun JP uses.”

Middle schoolers will identify with Mars and his friends, who feel the authority figures are out to get them. Mars also realizes that his idol may not be a good person. Mars can also relate to middle schoolers through his friendships. One day they may be perfectly fine, and the next they may be rocked to their core. Middle schoolers who are also questioning their gender identity will relate to JP’s struggle with his gender identity; albeit it’s not a major part of the main plot due to the narrative format. JP’s character also provides much needed representation for nonbinary middle schoolers who wish to see a major character that has fun and is not treated as a token LGBTQIA+ character.

While The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a fun mystery with intriguing twists and turns, the breaks in the narrative format slow the pacing. The story also has strange plot holes that may confuse the reader, such as how a character can have powers but suddenly doesn’t have them anymore. The story also isn’t very clear with its lore. For example, the world is set in a technologically advanced world similar to our own, but Mars and his friends have superpowers when they’re at Pruitt Prep. It is not mentioned previously that they have powers. Overall, The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a fun story about a group of friends trying to solve the mystery of kids’ disappearances.

Sexual Content

  • At the school dance, a girl tells Toothpick, “You look hot!”

 Violence

  • A hate crime is mentioned. “Recently in Seattle, someone beat up a teenager wearing a skirt on a bus because they didn’t look like a girl or a boy. The teenager ended up needing stitches.”
  • Multiple times, drones appear to spy on Mars and his friends. Mars ends up destroying a drone once, and another time the drone even shot at Mars. The drone is used to kidnap Mars as well, which we can suspect is how all the kids were kidnapped.
  • On the ferry to Gale Island to find Mars, a girl throws a shoe at a bodyguard so the rest of the group can get away.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A student named Clyde Boofsky calls Mars “Martian Patel.”
  • Clyde makes many transphobic remarks towards JP, who identifies as nonbinary. He calls JP things such as “boy-girl” and “They-Them.” He purposely misgenders JP, who is AFAB (assigned female at birth). He also mocks JP for “not choosing” which one they are. Clyde says, “Even my dog knows she’s a she. I guess she’s smarter than you, JP.”
  • Clyde’s friend purposefully misgenders JP, saying, “Or we can just call her It?”
  • During the assembly with Oliver Pruitt, the student body begins repeatedly calling Mars a loser.
  • A girl calls JP a “wuss” because they didn’t want to try a chia seed cookie. In response, JP says, “I’d like to wuss you.” JP implies they would like to fight the girl.

 Supernatural

  • Caddie and her friends encounter a large spider that is made of metal. “Never had [Caddie] seen such a thing. Several feet tall, armored, long grotesque legs stretching out in all directions. It was watching them with its many eyes, its mouth sprawled open and ravenous. What she saw was an enormous spider plated in steel.” Caddie and her friends run from the spider.
  • There is a creature in Pruitt Prep named Muffin, who guards the school. She’s described as a “wolf-spider,” but according to Mr. Q, Muffin is a microscopic tardigrade crossbred with a wolf. Mars and his friends meet it after running into Mr. Q, who stops Muffin from eating the children. “In the hallway, the howling creature seemed even larger than before. Its legs were covered in thick fur and its multiple eyes bore down on them like a spider looks at its prey before striking.”

 Spiritual Content

  • None

by Emma Hua

 

The Forest of Stolen Girls

1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister Maewol went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

After five years, Hwani reunites with Maewol on Jeju island. Hwani has crossed the sea to find her father, Detective Jeewoo Min, after he has disappeared while investigating the disappearance of thirteen other girls. She is the older sister whose life plans—to get married and bear children—have come to a halt.

Maewol was called to be a shaman and train under Shaman Nokyung. Unlike Hwani, Maewol despises their father and does not wish for him to be found. When the body of one of the girls is discovered, Maewol and Hwani get sucked into the mystery of the disappearance of the young girls. The sisters realize there’s a possible correlation between the disappearances and their own Forest Incident, an event that left Hwani and Maewol completely changed. As Hwani and Maewol investigate further into the disappearances of the missing girls, they encounter a formidable enemy, the Mask, and the sisters learn that evil comes in different forms.

The entire story of The Forest of Stolen Girls is told in a prose narrative style, in the first person point of view. The story follows Hwani and her turbulent investigation into her father’s disappearance and, into the disappearance of thirteen young girls between the ages of eleven and eighteen. As the reader follows Hwani’s investigation, they will feel what Hwani feels and suspect who Hwani suspects.

The story displays a realistic sisterly relationship. The two sisters they, but are also kind to one another. A majority of the story is spent on the obstacles Hwani and Maewol face as sisters. Hwani is more logical and calculated while Maewol is impulsive and acts upon instinct. Maewol despises her father while Hwani idolizes him; this creates the central conflict. Hwani discovers her father is not as good as he seems and learns to be there for Maewol. Maewol, in turn, learns to forgive her sister even when Hwani has wronged her. At the end of the story, their sisterly bond is what saves Maewol and Hwani.

The Forest of Stolen Girls deals with the brutal history of China’s imperialism over the Korean peninsula. The core of the story relies on the historical fact that in Joseon, Korea, over 2,000 girls were kidnapped from their homes and sent to China as “tribute girls.” The story deals with this intergenerational trauma gracefully and brings to light atrocities committed by both Chinese and Joseon officials alike. The taking of tribute girls results in characters committing heinous actions for the sake of their own daughters. In order to prevent Gahee from being taken as a tribute girl, her father sliced up her face. Though her father did it to protect her, this actions permanently disfigured her and made her an outcast among her own people.

The Forest of Stolen Girls shows class strife and how it correlates with the missing girls. Rich officials of the Joseon government use bribes to keep their daughters from becoming tribute girls. But because the officials need new girls to take the place of their spared daughters, they kidnap girls from poverty.

The story shows the desperation of the poor, such as Convict Baek aiding in the kidnapping of girls in order to feed his daughter. The Forest of Stolen Girls shows readers that no one is truly bad and no one is truly good. It is the system in place that pressures people into continuing this cycle of grief and trauma.

The Forest of Stolen Girls is a beautiful novel that centers around a story of Asian women and the trauma they’ve endured for centuries. The mystery is beautifully woven, with every event, fight and conversation is meant to either aid the investigation, provide a red flag, or add to the characters’ stakes in the mystery. The twist is pulled off excellently and shows realistic motives that reveal the monster in people. The Forest of Stolen Girls is for readers who like murder mysteries, historical fiction, or would like to learn more about East Asian history.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After discovering the body of one of the missing girls, Hwani asks the victim’s older sister, Iseul, some questions. Iseul implies that Hyunok was not raped while captured. Iseul says, “The midwife is my aunt. We knew Magistrate Hong would have her buried without an examination; he is like that. We examined Hyunok, and my aunt concluded that my sister hadn’t been harmed in…that
  • While exploring the forest, Hwani is chased by a man in a white. “The blade flashed as he swung the sword, and I squeezed my eyes, waiting for the slash of pain.” Maewol saves her.
  • While treating her wounds, Hwani recounts how her aunt used to beat her with a stick, thus leaving thin scars on her legs. Her aunt uses corporal punishment as a form of discipline. Her wounds “stung, yet the pain was a mere inch compared to Aunt Min’s beatings. When she was upset, she would wait for Father to leave before striking my calves with a thin stick, and the humiliation of it had made the cuts all the more excruciating.”
  • Maewol tells Hwani that one of their possible suspects, Convict Baek, “ sliced up his daughter’s face when she was only twelve, and no one knows why.”
  • Hwani confronts Convict Baek. Convict Baek shoves Hwani, causing her to fall and hit her head against a low-legged table, hard enough to draw blood. “He took another step and with his large hand he shoved at my shoulder with such strength that I went toppling. My head hit the corner of the low-legged table, my hair coming undone and falling over my face.”
  • After Hwani finds her father, Inspector Yu tells her his cause of death was not poison. “He was stabbed.”
  • Seohyun wants to kill the person who forced her to become a tribute girl. “There was murder in my daughter’s eyes. She told me in riddles what had happened. She and many other girls had been given to Emperor Xuande for her imperial harem. She also told me she was going to kill the person responsible, that she’d found out who it was but she wouldn’t give me a name.”
  • Hwani fights Village Elder Moon in a cave where he was keeping all of the stolen girls. The scene lasts for about three pages. “With all my strength, I continued to cling to the village elder’s robe as we thrashed in a blackness that seemed to leak through my eyes, surging fear into my soul. The village elder’s hands, too, turned desperate. Fingers grappling for anything, grabbing strands of my hair, wrapping tight around my throat as I struggled to hold on. My limbs felt numb and frozen, about to shatter as the cold deepened.”
  • Convict Baek and Village Elder Moon are sentenced to be executed. “Weeks later, when the verdict was made in accordance to the Great Ming Code, Village Elder Moon accepted his fate with a stare as blank as that of the dead. He was to be decapitated for having committed murder. Convict Baek, his accomplice, was to be punished by strangulation.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are multiple mentions of poison, as well as incidents of poisoning. Poisoning was a common method of execution in Joseon, Korea.
  • Hwani gets poisoned twice, once with a poison called kyeong-po buja that Hwani ingested herself, and the second time with arsenic from Village Elder Moon.
  • Hwani’s father is revealed to have been poisoned with arsenic as well. The poison did not kill him.
  • Village Elder Moon’s daughter, Chaewon, commits suicide by poisoning herself because she cannot live with her father’s actions.
  • Hwani pours a bowl full of rice wine onto her father’s grave.

 Language

  • None

 Supernatural

  • None

 

Spiritual

  • There are multiple mentions of spirits and the spirit world. For instance, Maewol describes what she sees when Hwani asks her if she can really communicate with the spirits from the spirit world. “I can’t hear what they say…I can’t really see or hear anything clearly. It’s like seeing shadows through the fog. A very thick
  • Maewol is a shaman, someone who communicates with the spirits.
  • Hwani and Maewol say “gods” rather than God because their religion is polytheistic.
  • There’s a brief mention of witchcraft when the body of Detective Min was discovered in a pristine condition. Village Elder Moon said, “No corpse could be in such a condition, not with the humidity of Jeju. It has to be witchcraft.”

by Emma Hua

 

Witches Don’t Do Backflips

Howie, Eddie, and Melody are convinced that the new gymnastics teacher, Miss Brewbaker, is a witch. When the kids decide to take Prince Diamond to gymnastics, the teacher doesn’t want the dog near her. Then, when Prince Diamond disappears, Eddie is convinced that Miss Brewbaker has turned the dog into a frog.

Eddie and Melody are determined to prove that Miss Brewbaker is a witch. Melody says, “It all adds up: a moving broom, strange rhymes that come true, and flips that look like flying.” Is Miss Brewbaker really a witch? And if she is, how will they find a way to reverse the spell and turn Prince Diamond back into a dog?

Young readers will enjoy trying to piece together the clues to prove Miss Brewbaker is really a witch. Miss Brewbaker looks like a stereotypical witch, with a big nose and a wart. However, she is nice to the kids…that is, until Prince Diamond appears. Miss Brewbaker and her black cat both want to avoid dogs. This leads to some silly speculating among the four friends. None of the clues prove that Miss Brewbaker is a witch, but the kids are still convinced that she has witchy powers.

The kids go to the library to research witches. Then during gymnastics, the kids keep finishing Miss Brewbaker’s rhymes because “the library book said that finishing a rhyme takes away the spell’s power.” In addition, the kids distract Miss Brewbaker so Eddie can look for her spellbook. Afterward, Eddie says, “I found the cookbook, or rhyme book, or spellbook, or whatever you want to call it. Then I said each one backwards. . . I bet it broke every one of Miss Brewbaker’s spells.”

In order to help readers visualize the characters and understand the plot, Witches Don’t Do Backflips has illustrations every 2 to 3 pages. The large black and white illustrations emphasize the characters’ facial expressions to show their emotions. Witches Don’t Do Backflips is perfect for emerging readers who are ready for chapter books because it has easy vocabulary, short chapters, and many illustrations.

Black cats, spells, and a missing dog combine to make a fast-paced story that readers will enjoy. Even though the story focuses on a witch, there are no spooky scenes. Witches Don’t Do Backflips is a fun story that will appeal to many readers and get them in the mood for some fall fun.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Eddie says gymnastic lessons are sissy lessons.
  • When Eddie meets the gymnastics teacher, he says, “Look at the size of her nose. If she sneezes, we’ll end up somewhere over the rainbow. Look, she even has a wart on that huge honker.”
  • Because the gymnastics teacher dresses in all black, Eddie says, “I hope she’s a better teacher than she is a dresser.”
  • The kids call each other names such as chicken, dope, and bunny brains
  • When Carey brags about how good she is at gymnastics, Eddie says, “I’d like to carefully rearrange your face.”
  • The kids are not always nice to each other. For example, when Eddie says black cats are bad luck, Liza says, “You’ve got a hairball stuck in your brain.”

Supernatural

  • Lisa thinks “witches used gingerbread houses to lure and trick kids.”
  • The gymnastics teacher uses rhymes that the kids think are spells. Below are a few examples.
  • Carey doesn’t want to mess up her hair at gymnastics. The teacher says, “Straight or curly / Black or gold / You’ll love tumbling / when all is told!” After the spell, Carey does several cartwheels.
  • Melody has a hard time doing a cartwheel until the gymnastic teacher says this rhyme, “Replace that frown, / No time to cry! / Keep on practicing and / soon you’ll fly.” After the rhyme is spoken, Melody does a perfect cartwheel.
  • Several dogs disappear and frogs show up after Miss Brewbaker says, “Leave us be, / We don’t like dogs. / Especially spotted ones / Like warty frogs!”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Trail of the Ghost Bunny

Kelsey’s family has moved into an old bed-and-breakfast that they’re fixing up, and the property comes with a resident: an adorable bunny named Trixie! But the inn also comes with rumors of a hidden treasure and a ghost. Something strange is definitely going on! Can the Curious Cat Spy Club figure it out and find the treasure before someone else does?

Kelsey, Becca, and Leo—with the help of their new bunny friend—are on the case. The sixth and final book in the Curious Cat Spy Series will satisfy readers.

The Trail of the Ghost Bunny is the perfect blend of spooky suspense and mystery. The story begins with a spooky tale of a dead girl, treasure, and the ghost that haunts her old house. Kelsey is determined to find the treasure, but that doesn’t stop her from helping the local animal shelter with a fundraiser. The story expertly weaves Kelsey’s school life, her home life, and her hunt for treasure.

As Kelsey tries to find the treasure, she must decipher a riddle, follow a rabbit, and gather clues. As she searches, she meets a new friend named Lyric, but soon she wonders if Lyric can be trusted. When Kelsey starts hearing strange noises when no one else is at home, she’s convinced that the ghost is real. The spooky events are mild, but they help build suspense. The conclusion will satisfy readers because it ties up all of the story’s threads and explains all of the mysterious clues.

The Trail of the Ghost Bunny will appeal to both animal lovers and mystery buffs. The story will entertain readers with a likable main character, relatable conflicts, and an interesting cast of characters. Even though the story has a large cast of characters, the unique characters are easy to remember. Whether you’ve read the previous books in The Curious Cat Spy Club, or are reading the series for the first time, The Trail of the Ghost Bunny will entertain you and have you dreaming of finding your own buried treasure.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Dennis was younger, he went into an abandoned haunted house. While trying to run away, he tripped and blacked out. “He woke up the next morning outside, lying by the riverbank. His shirt was ripped and his arms were scratched like he’d been clawed by a wild beast.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Ohmygod” is used once. “OMG” is used four times.

Supernatural

  • An elderly lady tells Kelsey about her nephew’s ghostly sighting. “A strange ghostly shape floated over the staircase. Dennis described it as half animal and half human with glowing eyes and long ears. When it came after Dennis, he tried to run away but tripped and blacked out.”
  • The older lady tells Kelsey, “Both Caroline and her father died there (in the house). Tragedy sinks into the wood of a house and changes it forever.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Bridge of Souls

Where there are ghosts, Cassidy Blake follows . . . Unless it’s the other way around?

Cassidy thinks she might have this ghost-hunting thing down. After all, she and her ghost best friend, Jacob, have survived two haunted cities while traveling for her parents’ TV show. But nothing can prepare Cassidy for New Orleans, a city bursting with old magic, secret societies, and scary seances. And the biggest surprise? An enemy Cass never expected to face: a messenger of death itself. Is Cassidy up to the challenge—and what will she have to lose in order to win?

Readers of City of Ghost and Tunnel of Bones will be eager to follow Cassidy on her new and suspenseful adventure. The Bridge of Souls takes on a more dangerous tone because Cassidy is being hunted by the Emissary, the messenger of death. Plus, Cassidy’s parents talk about historical ghosts who were serial killers. While the story never goes into gory details, the content may give some readers nightmares.

Since each book in the series takes place in a new city, new characters are introduced that help keep the story interesting. Jacob and Lara are central figures that reappear in each book; this allows readers to connect with them. The high-stakes action makes the danger more intense because the Emissary is looking for those who have cheated death—such as Jacob, Lara, and Cassidy. The growing friendship between Cassidy, Jacob, and Lara is one of the best parts of the book and the interplay between the three friends is at times humorous and endearing, which balances out the spooky-scary suspense.

Bridge of Souls will delight readers who love a good ghost story full of adventure, danger, and plot twists. The easy-to-read story will keep readers up late into the night because they will not be able to put the book down. Full of new characters, faithful friends, and paranormal experiences, Bridge of Souls takes readers on a spectacularly spooky trip through New Orleans. Readers who want more ghostly action should add the Shadow School Series by J.A. White to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Cassidy’s parents are filming a show about famous ghosts. While filming, Cassidy’s Mom talks about “the Axeman of New Orleans, who went around chopping people up. . . terrorized the city. He was a serial killer.”
  • Cassidy’s mom says, “a man named Pierre Jourdan bought this property and erected the mansion of his dreams, only to lose the estate in a poker game. Devastated, Jourdan took his own life. . .”
  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, Pierre Jourdan “reaches for my life, and he might have gotten there first if a bucket of poker chips hadn’t hit him in the side of the head. Jacob has excellent aim.”
  • Cassidy learns about LaLaurie, who “stands out for the sheer scope of her cruelty.” When her house caught on fire, everyone got out “or so they thought. And yet, there were voices coming from the burning house. . . LaLaurie had kept slaves locked in the attic. . . They had no way to escape.”
  • When the Emissary finds Cassidy, “Thick black ropes shoot up from the ground, reaching for us, wrapping around our ankles and wrist. . .I [Cassidy] stumble and fall, hitting the bridge hard. . . [Lara] is on the ground, too, fighting as half a dozen ropes try to pin her down. . . .”
  • Jacob tries to help his friends and “lets out a primal shout and flings himself forward at the Emissary. . . He slams into the skull-faced figure, pushing him back. . . Jacob slams his hands against the Emissary’s chest, but this time, instead of stepping back, the Emissary holds its ground, and Jacob’s fist sinks into its front, like quicksand.”
  • When the Emissary has Jacob, Cassidy swings her camera “right at the Emissary’s head. It hits the bone mask with a sound like metal on stone, like breaking pottery. The Emissary loses its hold on Jacob.” Eventually, the Emissary is pushed over the edge of a bridge. The scene is described over 11 pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in the Veil, a ghost tells Cassidy that another ghost, Sam, is “probably drinking gin and listening to jazz in the square.”

Language

  • After Cassidy’s mom tells a ghost story, someone says, “Oh my god!”

Supernatural

  • Cassidy goes into the Veil and sees ghosts who have not moved on. In order to help ghosts move on, Cassidy shows them their reflection in a mirror and says, “Look and listen. See and know. This is what you are.” Then she pulls out their thread of life.
  • Jacob is Cassidy’s “best friend, resident ghost, and constant eavesdropper.” Jacob can hear Cassidy’s thoughts.
  • One of the characters has tattoos such as “the Christian cross on his bicep, the Egyptian eye on his forearm, the pentacle near his elbow. . .” He has these tattoos for “protection” against ghosts.
  • An Emissary is looking for Cassidy. Emissaries are messengers of death. “They’re sent out into the world to hunt for people beyond the Veil. They’re sent out into the world to hunt for people who’ve crossed the line, and come back.”
  • During a séance, a messenger of death takes over a man’s body and gives Cassidy a warning: “We have seen you, little thief. . . But now you cannot hide. We have seen you. And we will find you.”
  • A fortune teller reads a tarot card and uses it to predict Cassidy’s future. While picking a card Cassidy felt, “a pull, right under my fingers. And then my hand stops. There’s a pull, right under my palm, a steady draw, like the Veil rising to meet my fingers.”
  • Cassidy wants to know if voodoo is real. She is told, “Voodoo isn’t just about lighting a candle, or buying a trinket. It’s a trade. A matter of give and take. Nothing gained without something sacrificed.”
  • The Emissary finds Cassidy, and Jacob tries to save her. Jacob flings “himself at the Emissary. But Jacob goes straight through and hits the ground on the other side. He collapses, shivering as if doused in old water.” Another friend pushes over an old crypt. “It doesn’t crush the Emissary, exactly. . .But the fall kicks up a lot of dust and debris, a thin gray cover.” Everyone is able to escape.
  • Philippa is a medium who can see ghosts.
  • In order to break the thread connecting Cassidy to the Emissary, Cassidy and her friends perform a ritual. The supplies include: “A handful of stones, to anchor the circle. A ball of white string, to tether me to the living. A bottle of center oil, to purify, and to burn. And a box of long wooden matches, to strike the flame.” The ritual does not work.
  • Cassidy is given “an evil eye. It won’t do much to stop an emissary, but it might buy you some time. The charm’s designed to break when someone wishes you ill. It should break when danger is near.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

8+  320   5.0   5 worms   AR

City Spies #1

Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City foster care system to expose her foster parents as cheats and lawbreakers. However, instead of being hailed as a hero, Sara finds herself facing years in a juvenile detention facility and banned from using computers for the same stretch of time. Enter Mother, a British spy who not only gets Sara released from jail but also offers her a chance to make a home for herself within a secret MI6 agency.

Operating out of a base in Scotland, the City Spies are five kids from various parts of the world. When they’re not attending the local boarding school, they’re honing their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. These skills allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Before she knows what she’s doing, Sara is heading to Paris for an international youth summit, hacking into a rival school’s computer to prevent them from winning a million euros, dangling thirty feet off the side of a building, and trying to stop a villain…all while navigating the complex dynamics of her new team. No one said saving the world was easy.

City Spies is an action-packed book that delves into the world of spies. Even though the story focuses on Sara, there are multiple interesting and well-developed characters that add depth to the story. One such character, a male spy named Mother, recruits Sara. Mother’s complicated past adds danger to the story as well as a touch of humor. Mother uses memorable sayings to help the kids remember spy skills. One is, “You don’t need any hocus-pocus. All you need to do is focus.”

The story includes many flashbacks that allow the reader to see how each person became part of the team and what their special skills are. While the characters add interest and conflict, the fast-paced plot keeps the readers guessing until the very end. The conclusion ends abruptly; the ending is logical but doesn’t wrap up all of the story’s threads. Instead, the conclusion leaves readers wondering what will happen in the next book, City Spies Golden Gate.

Anyone who loves a good spy book will enjoy City Spies because of its blend of action, mystery, and wonderfully complex characters. Even though the plot twists and turns in interesting directions, the main threads are easy to follow. Like all spy books, people die and are injured. The descriptions of death and injury are mostly told in the past tense without adding gory descriptions; however, this aspect of the story may upset younger readers. Fans of more mature mysteries such as the Theodore Boone Series by John Grisham will find City Spies an equally entertaining story.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Sara was put in a jail cell, other girls start bullying her. Emily stood up for Sara. “With lightning speed, she jabbed her thumbs deep into the sides of the larger girl’s rib cage, making her gasp for air and stagger backward. . . Emily reached over and carefully guided the other girl back to the bench, making sure she didn’t fall.”
  • On an undercover operation, Mother was betrayed by his wife. Mother’s “hands were tied behind his back, his feet were wrapped together with wire, and a rag had been forced into his mouth so he couldn’t scream for help. . . Each breath filled his lungs with smoke and brought him closer to death.” With help, Mother is able to escape.
  • While in boarding school, one of the students caused an explosion that destroyed a statue of the school’s founder. “The head had apparently been blown off in the explosion and now sat upside down in a nearby flower bed. There was still some residual smoke emanating from Mrs. Hobart’s neck.”
  • Two undercover agents are killed. “It was two days until their bodies were discovered floating in the Seine.”
  • Sara’s teammate Rio talks about a suspect. “. . . Carmichael was severely injured in an explosion when he tried to use dynamite to blow up a bulldozer at a logging site.” He died from his injuries.
  • Sara runs away from a bad guy. She tries to enter a secret passageway, but the man follows. The man “took another step, and just as he was about to reach for her, the smile disappeared and his substantial body crumbled to the floor, landing face-first with a loud thump.” Someone shot the man with a tranquilizer gun.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While breaking into her old foster home, Sara worries that “Leonard is sitting in his recliner watching television and drinking beer.”

Language

  • Bloody is used four times. For example, when Sara tricks some of the agents, someone says, “That’s bloody brilliant.”
  • When a girl tries out for the school play, one of the teachers says, “Maybe if you had fewer desserts you’d be more princess and less frog.”
  • Someone says un-freaking-believable.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Sleepy Hollow Sleepover

Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are spending Halloween in Sleepy Hollow, New York, home of the legendary Headless Horseman. They are going to sleep in a cabin, take a haunted hayride, and go to a spooky party near an old graveyard. That’s where some people say they’ve spotted the ghostly horseman. But strange things start happening that don’t seem to be part of the planned Halloween fun. Is there a real Headless Horseman haunting Sleepy Hollow?

Readers looking for a Halloween scare will want to read Sleepy Hollow Sleepover. A little history, a scary setting, and a mystery to solve make Sleepy Hollow Sleepover a fun Halloween read. The three friends use their power of observation to solve the mystery. While investigating, Dink, Josh, and Ruth put themselves in danger by crawling into the back of a truck and getting kidnapped. However, their quick thinking allows the police to find them before the bad guys can get away.

Sleepy Hollow Sleepover‘s short chapters and black and white illustrations make the story accessible to many readers. Large illustrations appear every 2 to 4 pages. Many of the illustrations are one page and help readers understand the plot. Plus, readers can hunt through the pictures to find a hidden message.

The story’s suspense doesn’t just come from the mystery. Bats, a zombie, and other Halloween fun add to the spooky scene. The conclusion explains how the kids solved the mystery and also leaves readers wondering if the kids really did see a Headless Horsemen. Another positive aspect is that the story portrays police officers in a positive manner. However, when the wagons burn, four police officers pack 25 kids into the backseats and some kids are sitting on other’s laps.

Sleepy Hollow Sleepover will get readers’ hearts pumping as they follow the kids on the haunted hayride. Mystery-loving readers will enjoy following the clues as the kids try to find the culprits. Readers who are ready for chapter books will enjoy both the story and the illustrations. Grab a flashlight, turn out the lights, and enjoy Sleepy Hollow Sleepover. Readers who want more fall fun should also read Marley and the Runaway Pumpkin by John Grogan.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Someone intentionally sets the wagons on fire. That person also makes all of the car’s tires flat.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used twice. For example, while on a haunted hayride a boy says, “All this stuff is planned, just to scare the heck out of us.”
  • Jerk is used twice. The kids are talking to a police officer about the person who set the wagons on fire. The police officer says, “whoever it was is a real jerk.”
  • The bad guys call the kids “rats.”

Supernatural

  • The kids think they see the Headless Horseman riding by their cabin. The story leaves the reader wondering if the Headless Horseman is real.
  • During the haunted hayride, the wagon drives by a graveyard. “A hand was rising out of the grave! Then came an arm, covered in filthy rags. A second hand and arm appeared, then a face blotched with dirt. Some of the flesh was peeling off.” The kids know the zombie isn’t real but is part of the hayride.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Detective’s Assistant

Eleven-year-old Nell Warne couldn’t have imagined what awaits her when she arrives on her long-lost aunt’s doorstep lugging a heavy sack of sorrows.

Much to Nell’s surprise, her aunt is a detective, working for the world-famous Pinkreluctanceational Detective Agency! Nell quickly makes herself indispensable to Aunt Kate. . . and not just by helping out with household chores. As her aunt travels around the country solving mysteries, Nell must crack codes, wear disguises, and spy on nefarious criminals.

Nation-changing events simmer in the background as Abraham Lincoln heads for the White House, and Aunt Kate is working on the biggest case of her life. But Nell is quietly working a case of her own: the mystery of what happened the night her best friend left town.

Nell’s adventure paints a picture of life in the 1800s. When she is forced to live with her Aunt Kate, Nell quickly realizes that her aunt isn’t like most women—instead Aunt Kate takes on many disguises while solving mysteries. At first, Aunt Kate doesn’t trust Nell and doesn’t want to give the grieving girl a home, giving readers a small peek into the life of an orphan. The Detective’s Assistant also uses letters between Nell and her friend to delve into the topic of slave hunters. Even though the topic is explored in a kid-friendly manner, sensitive readers may be upset by the death of so many people.

Despite her aunt’s reluctance to give Nell a home, Aunt Kate makes sure Nell learns vocabulary, grammar, and math. Throughout the story, Aunt Kate is always correcting Nell’s speech. For example, Aunt Kate tells Nell, “And the proper word is isn’t, not ain’t. Mind your grammar, even in times of distress.” Nell also learns new vocabulary such as somnambulist. This highlights the importance of getting an education and adds fun to the story.

The Detective’s Assistant is sure to delight readers because of the interesting, complex characters as well as the cases that Aunt Kate and Nell help solve. Since the story is told from Nell’s point of view, the readers get an intimate look at Nell’s emotions. Nell struggles with the death of her family, how the slave trade affected people, and the possibility of being sent to an orphanage. All of these aspects make The Detective’s Assistant a fast-paced story with many surprises. In the end, Nell learns that “family meant taking the folks we’re stuck with and choosing to love them anyway.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A pickpocket takes Aunt Kate’s purse. Nell sees him “and with one swift stomp of my foot, I crashed the heel of my big brown boot onto his toes. The bandit let out a howl and began hopping on one leg.”
  • When others notice their money is missing, the crowd “pounced on the skinny pickpocket like a pack of wolves.”
  • In a letter, Nell’s friend tells her about slaves who were trying to go to Canada so they can live free. “And the next thing Mama knows, her friend’s neck is in a noose hanging from a tree.”
  • Aunt Kate investigates a “murder by poison.” A woman’s “lover has succeeded in putting his wife in a pine box.”
  • While babysitting a young girl, the girl treats Nell poorly. Her “shins ached from unexpected kicks, my arms were sore from vicious pinches, and my pride was wounded from insults to my general appearance and intellect.”
  • Aunt Kate investigates a bank robbery. “A bank teller was murdered in cold blood, and money was stolen.” The bank teller was killed with a hammer and “three blows to the head.” Later the criminal confesses.
  • Slave hunters stole a family and they “got sold off to the highest bidder.” The family was torn apart.
  • Nell’s father, Cornelius, accidentally shoots and kills his brother. Cornelius was helping slaves escape to Canada. At night, “a man came riding up toward us—we could almost feel the hoofbeats. . . [a man] called for us to stop. . . And in a rush of panic that swept over all of us, your daddy fired his gun.”
  • While Cornelius was helping slaves escape, slave hunters killed him. “His body washed up in the Chemung River.”

  Drugs and Alcohol

  • Nell’s father, “saw the jailhouse for drinking and cheating at poker.” Nell’s father is often referred to as a drunk liar who gambles.
  • Nell names her dog Whiskey. Nell “didn’t know a thing about liquor when I named her. But I heard my daddy say whiskey was pure gold.”
  • While walking down the street, “a few menacing drunks pushed past, knocking both Aunt Kate and me off balance.”

Language

  • “Heck and tarnation” is used twice.
  • Darn is used twice
  • Nell calls a bratty girl a “little jackanapes.”
  • Nell thinks that some boys are “dunderheads.”
  • When a rebel starts talking about John Wilkes Booth, Nell thinks the rebel is an “illiterate oaf.”

Supernatural

  • In order to gain a suspect’s trust, Aunt Kate pretends to be a fortune-teller. The suspect believes that “her brother’s ring warned him of storms at sea.”
  • A man thinks the detectives use “voodoo magic to get those criminals to talk.” Others think the detectives use whiskey to get people talking.
  • Nell couldn’t go to a funeral because “Daddy thought it was bad luck to have a child so close to the Grim Reaper.”

Spiritual Content

  • Nell writes to a friend, saying her daddy “is splitting logs with the angels.”
  • Someone asks Nell how her father made it “to the pearly gates of heaven.” Nell replies, “Through prayer, ma’am. Mine mostly, since he wasn’t the praying kind. . .”
  •  Aunt Kate says, “Frugality is a virtue. It says so in the Bible.”

Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper

Wallace and Grace are best friends and partners in the Night Owl Detective Agency who work together to solve mysteries. When Monty the chipmunk’s cupcake is stolen, he thinks Sal the groundhog took it. To find the cupcake thief, Wallace and Grace will need to look for clues and talk to witnesses. But what if the clues lead them to a thief they never expected?

Young readers will enjoy seeing all the forest animals gather to solve the mystery of the missing cupcake. As Wallace and Grace investigate, detective terms are explained. For example, Grace tells the red fox, “Culprit is a big word for cupcake thief.”

To make the story accessible to younger readers, most of the paragraphs are one simple sentence. Also, as the two owls talk about the evidence, the clues are written in a large, bold font to help young readers keep track of them. Four short chapters give Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper a fast pace that will keep young readers interested until the end.

Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper is a fun mystery that uses animal characters to teach the importance of not jumping to conclusions. The charming forest animals are illustrated in large, colorful pictures that appear every 1 to 2 pages. Wallace and Grace rely on facts to solve the case and in the end, Monty forgives the cupcake culprit. Young readers who love mysteries should also read The Princess in Black Series by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Wallace, Grace, and their friends “circle around the fox. . . Two owls, a chipmunk, and a groundhog jumped on top of him.” The fox “karate-kicked” Sal the groundhog.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Gargoyles Don’t Drive School Buses

There are some pretty weird grown-ups living in Bailey City. But could the new bus driver, who looks just like a statue on top of the old library, really be a living gargoyle? Howie, Melody, Eddie, and Liza are determined to find out. As they investigate, the four friends cause havoc in the library and sneak up to the roof. Soon, they learn that the city plans to tear down the gothic-style library and replace it with a new glass and steel building.

Before the city begins demolition, some really strange things begin to happen. A mysterious person replaces an expensive stained glass window and fixes the leaky roof. No one knows who made the repairs in the middle of the night, but the kids think the gargoyles are coming to life at night to make the repairs. Will the kids be able to convince the city to save the building and the gargoyles?

Gargoyles Don’t Drive School Buses will entertain mystery-loving readers. Even though the new school bus driver is a little strange, he isn’t frightening. The fast-paced story never fully reveals whether or not the school bus driver is in fact a gargoyle. Instead, it leaves enough doubt that readers can make the decision on their own. As the kids investigate the library gargoyles, they decide to save the building by gathering signatures and holding a protest. The kids’ peaceful protest is responsible for saving the old library and the gargoyles’ home.

Howie, Melody, Eddie, and Liza are relatable characters who work together to solve the mystery. However, Eddie often makes mean comments. For example, he tells Howie, “There are legends around Bailey Elementary that you’re crazy,” and “your brain is one brick short of a full load.” While Eddie’s comments are typical of some kids, his “joking” is often mean-spirited. Another negative aspect of the story is that Eddie intentionally makes a mess in the library in order to distract the librarian. When the librarian begins cleaning up the mess, the kids sneak onto the library’s roof to investigate the gargoyles.

Gargoyles Don’t Drive School Buses is perfect for emerging readers who are ready for chapter books because it has easy vocabulary, short chapters, and illustrations. The large, black-and-white illustrations focus on the characters and appear every 2 to 3 pages. The illustrations will help readers understand the plot and also show the comparison between the bus driver and the gargoyles.

While parents might not like all of the kids’ behavior, Gargoyles Don’t Drive School Buses will entertain readers and make them excited about reading. With over 80 books in the series, readers will have lots of books to choose from. Readers who love more monster mysteries may also want to check out The Hide-and-seek Ghost by Dori Hillestad Butler and Ghost Attack by David Lubar.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • At one point, Eddie says, “I think this plan is nothing but pigeon poo. . .”

Supernatural

  • The kids talk about “legends that say gargoyles can come to life at night.”
  • Howie says, “Gargoyles are trapped in stone forever. . . unless they are forced to break the spell of stone to fight off great danger.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Vanishing Deep

Seventeen-year-old Tempe was born into a world of water. When the Great Waves destroyed her planet five hundred years ago, its people had to learn to survive living on the water. However, the ruins of the cities lay below. Tempe dives daily, scavenging the ruins of a bygone era, searching for anything of value to trade for Notes. It isn’t food or clothing that she wants to buy, but her dead sister’s life.

For a price, the research facility on the island of Palindromena will revive the dearly departed for twenty-four hours before returning them to death. It isn’t a heartfelt reunion that Tempe is after; she wants answers. Elysea died keeping a terrible secret, one that has ignited an unquenchable fury in Tempe. Tempe knows that her beloved sister was responsible for the death of their parents; now she wants to know why.

But once revived, Elysea has other plans. She doesn’t want to spend her last day in a cold room accounting for a crime she insists she didn’t commit. Instead, Elysea wants her freedom and a final glimpse at the life that was stolen from her. She persuades Tempe to break her out of the facility, and they embark on a dangerous journey to discover the truth about their parents’ death. Every step of the way they are pursued by Lor, a Palindromena employee desperate to find them before Elysea’s twenty-four hours are up—and before the secret behind the revival process and the true cost of restored life is revealed.

The Vanishing Deep takes the reader on a trip into the future, where people live on metal structures on the ocean. The Old World was destroyed due to unsustainable practices because people “always [are] wanting more than we have.” Scholte’s world-building is detailed, realistic, and beautiful. Even though the story shows the importance of caring for the earth, the message is integrated into the story and never feels like a lecture.

The story jumps back and forth between Tempe’s and Lor’s points of view, which helps build suspense. Both characters are suffering from grief, but they each react to the loss of a loved one in different ways. Lor hides from the world and forces himself to pay penance to his friend’s death. On the other hand, Tempe is so shrouded in anger that she hasn’t grieved for her lost sister. By the end of the story, both Lor and Tempe realize they need to deal with their grief. Tempe realizes “anger had been my anchor. It had tethered me to the darkness in the world, to the things I couldn’t control. I had hidden from my grief. It was easier that way. But it wasn’t healthy.”

The Vanishing Deep is a suspenseful story that propels readers into an imaginative world that makes one consider questions about death. Tempe and Lor’s different perspectives show how grief can overtake someone’s life in unexpected ways. The conclusion contains several surprises but also leaves many unanswered questions. Despite this, readers will enjoy the journey through the New World, where people can resurrect a loved one. The story leaves off on a positive note by reinforcing the need for people to go through the grieving process, which includes learning to fully live their lives even though they’ve suffered an incredible loss.

Sexual Content

  • Lor and Tempe kiss. Tempe’s “skin blistered at the touch of him. I wasn’t sure who had ignited who. He tasted like the sea, smoke, and brine. His hand snaked up and into my hair. I breathed him in between kisses, needing him, needing this, needing life.”

Violence

  • When Tempe was younger, kids “would circle me, throw things in my hair and chant, water witch, water witch, water witch, as they ran around me. They wanted protection from the Gods below. Protection from me.”
  • When Tempe and her sister escape Palindromena, Lor goes after them. When Elysea sees him, she yells, “He’s already killed me once! Don’t let him do it again!” The barkeeper “tossed the knife at [Lor]. . . The knife dug into the counter, scratching [Lor’s] arm and pinning [Lor’s] shirt to the wood.” Lor is uninjured.
  • When Lor boards Tempe’s boat, she “Dove toward him, my arms connecting around his middle. . . He slipped on the wet metal hull, and we fell to the deck. . .He had hit his head against the mast when he fell. He was out cold.” Tempe ties Lor to the boat.
  • Lor and his best friend, Calen, were climbing a cliff when they fell into the sea. Lor died and his mother “couldn’t say goodbye to her son, so she killed Calen so Lor could live on.”
  • Tempe, Elysea, and another boy go to an underwater temple where they are ambushed. “Something silver shot past [Tempe’s] shoulder, tearing through my diving skin and into my flesh. I gasped in pain.”
  • While in the temple, a rebel named Qera grabs Tempe. Qera “grabbed my leg and twisted the flipper off. . . I reached for Qera’s wrist. She elbowed me in the face, attempting to tear my dome loose.” The fight is described over five pages. No one is seriously injured.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • After diving, Tempe takes a “recompression pill to neutralize the bubbles that were currently forming in my muscles and bloodstream.”
  • When Tempe goes on land, she is given “two opaque pills” to help with the stationary sickness.
  • There is the occasional mention of drinking rager—“a spirit made from fermented seaweed that hit you in the face like the odor of a month-dead familfish.”
  • A man goes to the bar and asks for a rager. He says, “Thanks, man. Liquid courage.”
  • While at a celebration, Lor drinks rager. Lor takes “a tentative sip. The fermented drink burned my tongue and made my eyes water.” Lor gets drunk.
  • The day before Tempe’s birthday, she goes to a bar with her friend. The worker gives Tempe’s friend “a shot of rager and a half a shot for me.”

Language

  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes ass, bastard, crap, damn, piss, and shit.
  • “Gods below” and “Gods” are both used as an exclamation occasionally.
  • Fuck is used once.

Supernatural

  • Scientists found a way to bring people back to life for 24 hours. Some thought “bringing back the dead was against the Gods’ wishes. Both Old and New.”
  • When a person is revived, he or she is “intrinsically linked through the echolink, tethering to my heartbeat. If she died, I would too.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • The New Gods and the Old Gods are mentioned, but no specific information is given about them.
  • Several times, Tempe prays to the Gods below. For example, she drops stones into the ocean “saying a prayer to the Gods below who took souls from boats in a storm and the air from the lungs of divers.”
  • In the past, “the Old World believed in the Gods above and followed the stars to journey across the land.”
  • Some people believe the “Old Gods had turned away from us and our selfishness.”
  • Tempe “doesn’t believe in luck; I believe in the Gods below and what they determined for my future. Why they had chosen to take my parents and my sister, I wasn’t sure.”
  • When Tempe goes to Palindromena, someone says, “Praise the Gods below for protecting our island.”
  • Tempe asks her sister about death, but her sister doesn’t remember anything. “Those who believed in the Gods below said you would be reunited with your loved ones in a realm beneath the sea. A realm where you could breathe underwater. And those who believed in the Old Gods said you would go to a place in the sky.”
  • When Tempe’s sister suddenly becomes unconscious, Tempe prays. “In all the times I’d prayed to the Gods below, they’d never listened. I begged that they would this time. Just this once.”
  • Lor wants to save Elysea’s life, but he’s not sure how. “For the first time in my life, I whispered words of prayer to the Gods below, not knowing if they existed, listened or cared. But wasn’t that how everyone prayed? With faith that they weren’t alone and no evidence to prove it?”

 

 

 

The Legend of the Shark Goddess: A Nanea Mystery

Ever since the war started, Nanea has done her best to follow all the new rules. When she meets a boy named Mano in her grandparents’ market, Nanea is shocked to hear him admit to breaking some rules—and bragging about getting away with it.

When things start to go missing from the market, Mano is the first person Nanea suspects. Nanea is determined to protect her grandparents, but Mano, whose name means “shark” in Hawaiian, seems to be hanging around the market more and more. What can Nanea do to keep her family safe from this dangerous boy?

Nanea’s story focuses on the effects of World War II in 1941. In a kid-friendly way, The Legend of the Shark Goddess illustrates some of the discrimination that Japanese Americans faced. Even though the story takes place after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the story also revolves around Nanea’s efforts to discover who is stealing from her family. As the mystery evolves, Nanea realizes it is difficult to tell if someone is a “good shark or a bad shark.”

Nanea is obsessed with following the rules, which is one reason she focuses on her first impressions of others. For example, when Nanea meets Mano, she is convinced he is the thief because he breaks curfew. Nanea is so focused on proving that Mano is a thief that she never really considers that anyone else could have taken the items. While most of the suspects are not well developed, the story provides enough mystery to keep readers entertained.

The Legend of the Shark Goddess does an excellent job describing Hawaii during the 1940s. Readers will learn many facts about this time period as well as several life lessons. The story focuses on two main lessons: don’t spread rumors and don’t judge others. The repetition of the lessons is a little tedious, but the conclusion helps reinforce the story’s lesson in a surprising way.

Readers who love mysteries may be disappointed that Nanea doesn’t do much sleuthing and there are no clues to follow or riddles to solve. Instead, the story relies on Nanea’s impressions of others to build suspense. However, Nanea’s story is interesting and many middle school readers will relate to Nanea. At the end of the book, readers will find a glossary of Hawaiian words and facts about Nanea’s world. Even though The Legend of the Shark Goddess lacks mystery, readers will still enjoy spending time in Nanea’s world. Readers who like history with a dash of fantasy should also read The League of Secret Heroes by Kate Hannigan.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Nanea often thinks about the shark goddess Ka’ahupahau, “who guarded the entrance of Pearl Harbor with her brother, Kahi’uka. . . She was born a human with fire-red hair. But as a shark, her body could take many forms. She could become a net, difficult to tear. And with her net body, she captured man-eating sharks that entered her harbor.”

Mayflower Treasure Hunt

The Hunt is on! Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are spending Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They can’t wait to see the sights and have a Thanksgiving dinner just like the Pilgrims would have eaten. Then the kids learn about a sapphire necklace that went missing on the real Mayflower. Could the 400-year-old treasure be hidden somewhere nearby? And will someone else find it before they do?

Mystery lovers will learn history as they follow Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose through the streets of Massachusetts. The three kids’ journey focuses on historical places connected to the Mayflower. The simple plot is fast-paced and contains enough suspense and mystery to keep readers interested. While the three friends do not follow a trail of clues, they use historical information to help solve the case. In addition, when the kids find the necklace, they never consider keeping it for themselves. Instead, they donate the necklace to the local museum.

Mayflower Treasure Hunt’s short chapters and black and white illustrations make the story accessible to readers. Large illustrations appear every 2 to 4 pages. Many of the illustrations are one page and help readers understand the plot. Plus, readers can hunt through the pictures to find a hidden message.

One negative aspect of the story, is that when Dirk believes someone is following him and his friends, they do not seek out adult help. Instead, they try to hide from the person and end up in a situation that could have been dangerous. Parents may want to discuss the importance of seeking an adult if they feel they are in danger.

Mayflower Treasure Hunt will get a peek into the Pilgrims’ world. For instance, readers will be surprised to learn that the Pilgrims had a village jail. “Being lazy, not sharing, not attending church” were all crimes. Stealing a pig or a hen were also jail-worthy crimes. Mystery-loving readers will enjoy the adventurous story. The A to Z Mysteries Series will hook chapter book readers. Plus, the series has over 26 books to keep readers entertained.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • One of the Pilgrims “was in jail in England before the crossing. Oh, he was a mean ‘um. Mudgett used to kick the dogs and the children if they got in his way.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City

Charlie Thorne is a genius. Charlie Thorne is a fugitive. Charlie Thorne isn’t even thirteen.

After finding Einstein’s last equation and going incognito, Charlie’s ready to take it easy in the Galapagos Islands. That is until she’s approached by the mysterious Esmerelda Castle, who’s on the hunt for a legendary treasure and has a code only Charlie can decipher.

In 1835, Charles Darwin diverted the HMS Beagle’s journey to go on a secret solo expedition in South America. When he returned to the ship, he carried a treasure that inspired awe and terror in his crew. And so the treasure vanished, never to be seen again. . . but Darwin left a trail of clues behind for those brave and clever enough to search for it once more.

In a daring adventure that takes her across South America, Charlie must crack Darwin’s nearly two-hundred-year-old clues to track down the mysterious discovery—and stay ahead of the formidable lineup of enemies and CIA agents who are hot on her trail.

In an epic Amazonian adventure, Charlie teams up with Milana and Dante as they try to solve the clues and find Darwin’s “treasure.” They must outmaneuver the Castellos siblings who have teamed up with a Russian spy. The groups try to outsmart each other and the bad guys are willing to use any means necessary to find the treasure. The fast-paced action will have readers at the edge of their seats as they try to guess who will betray who.

Even though Charlie and the others are trying to decipher Darwin’s clues, these messages take a back seat to the story’s action. However, readers will gain insight into some of the Amazon’s plight including the loss of habitat. But the real treasure in Charlie Thorne and the Lost City is the introduction to the Amazon’s flora and fauna. Another interesting aspect of the story is when the group finds a creature that would prove that evolution is a fact. While some believe that the creature should be introduced to society, Charlie believes that the only way to keep the creature safe is to keep its existence a secret.

Middle school readers who are ready for a more realistic mystery that has cruel villains will enjoy Charlie Thorne and the Lost City. While most of the action revolves around Charlie being chased, the villains make it clear that they will kill anyone who stands in their way. The story also explores the idea of evolution. Fans of the Theodore Boone Series by John Grisham will enjoy Charlie’s winding trip through the Amazon and her courage to do what is best for the creatures that remain hidden deep within the Amazon’s depths.

Sexual Content

  • Dante took Charlie’s advice and “kissed Milana Moon.”

Violence

  • When a strange man and police appear looking for Charlie, she sets a booby trap so she can escape. “The resulting explosion blew the policeman off his feet, throwing him across the tiny kitchen. The cabinets all burst open spilling glass and plates, which shatter on the floor.” No one is seriously injured, but one policeman’s “eyebrows had been scorched off his face.”
  • While looking for Charlie, Ivan goes to the Darwin research facility to question an employee. When he doesn’t get the answers he wants, Ivan “spun Luis around, wrenching the young man’s arm behind his back so that he cried out in pain.”
  • Charlie attempts to get out of town unnoticed but Ivan gives chase. Ivan “clipped two cars and sent them skidding. More cars crashed into those, and a terrific jam blossomed instantly.”
  • There is a multi-chapter chase where Charlie’s group tries to avoid being killed by Esmerelda and her brothers. By plane, Esmerelda and her brothers follow Charlie into the Amazon. Esmerelda’s “brothers’ bullets only hit the water. Gianni got caught up in the excitement and lobbed a stick of dynamite as well. . . The blast had been close enough that she, Dante, and Milana had been soaked by the plume of water.”
  • Trying to avoid being shot, Dante was “weaving back and forth across the river. . . Milana had her gun out, ready to fire on the approaching plane.” Milana’s bullet “caught the guy on the pontoon in the arm, making him drop the machine gun, which plunked in the river.” During the chase, Milana is hit with “a piece of red-hot shrapnel” but is not injured badly.
  • Charlie swims to a barge and sets a trap. “As Esmerelda approached the barge, Gianni took the remaining submachine gun, stepped out onto the pontoon, and prepared to shoot. . . Charlie ran as fast as she could while the plane closed in on her. Gianni opened fire. Bullets sparked off the metal skins of the oil tank. . . And then the world erupted into flame.”
  • The tanker explodes. Esmerelda’s “plane was directly above the first tanker when it blew apart like an enormous firecracker. The blast tossed the plane like a toy, while a ball of fire and smoke enveloped it. . .” The plane catches fire. “Esmerelda and her brothers leapt from it, their clothes on fire too. Just after they dove into the water, the plane blew up.” Everyone survives, but Esmerelda and her brothers are “badly burned.”
  • Esmerelda and her brothers join Ivan, a Russian spy. Ivan holds Charlie, Milana and Dante at gunpoint. In order to escape, Dante and Milana “targeted the Castellos first. . . Dante and Milana made quick work of them.” Charlie runs.
  • Milana, Dante, and Charlie try to escape the bad guys in a multi-chapter chase. Each group is trying to capture a creature. Someone shoots the creature, who “shrieked in pain and tumbled across the wet ground, then rolled back to its feet and scampered away into the cover of the rain. . .”
  • After someone shoots a creature, its friends attack. “Then the creatures’ assault was quick and well coordinated. And while their weapons were rudimentary, only rocks and sticks, they wielded them with terrifying skill.” The man shoots and hits a creature. “It crumpled into the mud, whimpering in pain.”
  • Charlie helps a creature. “It was bleeding from it’s leg where Oz’s bullet had struck it and was in obvious pain.”
  • Someone shoots Dante. “Dante turned to see who had shot him, but his vision was already going blurry. His mind was clouding. His strength was ebbing.”
  • A snake attacks one of Esmeralda’s brothers. “It moved with startling speed for such a big creature, first sinking its teeth into Gianni’s torso and then coiling around him. . . He was certainly hurting now—and he was terrified.” When Gianni’s brother tries to help, “the snake responded by wrapping its tail end around Paolo as well.”
  • Esmerelda sees her brothers. “The anaconda had already killed them both. Gianni’s body was floating facedown in the creek, while the giant snake was actually consuming Paolo. It had unhinged its jaw and begun the long process of swallowing her brother headfirst.”
  • Ivan and Esmerelda capture Charlie. In order to escape, Charlie throws a bullet ant at them. “Ivan felt the sting first. . . It felt as though every nerve ending in his body had suddenly caught fire. It was so intense that it leveled him. . . Esmerelda went down next. . . She sank to the floor as well, gripped by convulsions.
  • Charlie and Esmerelda fight. “Charlie intercepted her attack, catching Esmerelda’s arms in her hands. She used her fingernails as a weapon like Milana had told her, digging them deep into Esmerelda’s skin. . .” Charlie had put poison on her nails.
  • Esmerelda “lunged for Charlie with the knife. . . [A creature] slammed into Esmerelda, sending her reeling backward into the cockpit. . .” Charlie escaped but Esmerelda and “the helicopter plummeted into the gorge, crashed into the river. . . and exploded in a ball of fire.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in America, Ivan, a Russian spy, helped support the illegal drug trade.
  • While at a lodge, “The adults were drinking beer” and Dante “had brought another beer back to the room from the bar.”
  • Someone shoots Dante and Milana with a tranquilizer dart.
  • After an expedition into the Amazon, Milana and Dante finally make it back to civilization and they both have a beer.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Darwin makes an incredible discovery, but others think it is “an affront to God.”
  • When a group of creatures attack, they chase a man. “He had to get away from the ones that were chasing him and pray that there weren’t others ahead.”

 

The New Year Dragon Dilemma

Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are in San Francisco, home of the biggest Chinatown outside Asia. Their tour guide, Holden, is going to take them to the famous Chinese New Year parade. Best of all, Holden’s girlfriend, Lily, might be Miss Chinatown. She would get to ride a giant float and wear a crown!

During the parade, Miss Chinatown goes missing, and so does the crown. The police think Holden is behind the crime. Can Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose clear their friend’s name by finding the real crook?

While on vacation, Dink, Josh, and Ruth get to see some of San Francisco’s touristy areas. The kids have positive interactions with their tour guide, Holden. While with Holden, the kids listen to him and stay close by his side. Holden allows the children some freedom, but he is never far from sight. When the police accuse Holden of stealing Miss Chinatown’s crown, the kids are convinced that Holden is innocent and they follow the clues to prove that they are right.

As the kids look for clues to prove Holden’s innocence, they follow a man who they think is the culprit. At one point, Dink follows the man into a warehouse. However, Dink’s friends are nearby and come up with a plan to keep Dink safe. While exploring the city, Josh draws in his sketchbook, paying close attention to his surroundings. In the end, Josh’s power of observation helps solve the mystery.

The New Year Dragon Dilemma will delight young readers who are ready to jump into illustrated chapter books. The story’s short chapters and black and white illustrations make the story accessible to readers. Large illustrations appear every 2 to 4 pages. Many of the illustrations are full page and help readers understand the plot. Plus, readers can hunt through the pictures to find a hidden message.

The New Year Dragon Dilemma gives readers a peek into the Chinese New Year celebration. The festive atmosphere is the perfect backdrop for a mystery. Young sleuths will enjoy following the clues and fitting them together to solve the mystery. While young readers will enjoy the adventurous story, parents will appreciate that the curious kids are well mannered. For more mysteries set in San Francisco, readers should check out The San Francisco Splash by David A. Kelly.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Someone steals Miss Chinatown’s crown. She tells the police, “It was a man wearing a dragon mask. He pulled me down on the floor and took off my mask. Then he sprayed something in my face. It was awful, and it hurt my eyes. . . He put the bag over my head.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Josh teasingly calls Ruth, “Nosy Rosy.”
  • Josh asks, “Where the heck are we?”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

The Only Black Girls in Town

For over a decade, Alberta and her fathers, Elliott and Kadeem, have been the only Black people on their street in the town of Ewing Beach, California. That is, until a new family moves into the bed and breakfast across the street: Calliope Whitman and her daughter Edie. On the surface, it appears Edie and Alberta are opposites. Alberta has grown up in Ewing Beach for most of her life with her two very present dads. While Alberta grew up in a community dominated by White people, Edie grew up in the diverse county of Brooklyn. But these two girls have something they can strictly bond over: their Blackness and being 12, a time when bodies are going through intense and sudden change.

Alberta’s best friend is Laramie, a White girl, but Alberta and Edie share something special. One day while hanging out at the bed and breakfast, the pair discover a series of journals that were written from 1955 to 1968. They decide to uncover the mystery behind the journals and their writer, Constance. While unraveling the mystery, Alberta goes through many crises that center around her femininity, her Blackness, puberty, and friendships that seem to change way too fast.

Each girl in the main cast (Alberta, Edie, and Laramie) has their own issues and these issues are fleshed out with concise writing, giving the story a good pace while upholding the mystery of Constance. Laramie is dealing with the social hierarchy of middle school and her rapidly changing body, even to the extent of getting her first period and growing three inches in one summer. Edie is dealing with her parents separating and her father’s absence alongside his broken promises to see her. Alberta is exploring the complexities of change and confronting her Blackness and the Blackness of other characters such as Constance.

The Only Black Girls in Town is written from the perspective of Alberta, thus making the reader more sympathetic to her struggles as a 12-year-old girl coming of age. It is an amazing story that speaks on the complexities of race and puberty. Many readers will relate to the idea that hitting puberty means learning more about your own race. Colbert does an excellent job weaving themes of Blackness in her characters along with their changing bodies. The author tells readers that they are not alone in their journey of self-discovery, and she provides a diverse look at Black people.

The Only Black Girls in Town explores the theme that the experience with one’s Blackness is not uniform. For example, Black people do not dress uniformly as seen with Edie and Alberta’s clashing fashion sense. Black people come in a variety of shades: dark, light, medium brown, and even fair-skinned. Black people have different hair ranging from kinky curls to dreadlocks to straight. The story emphasizes that there is no mold for the Black experience. The Only Black Girls In Town also explores the subtlety of racism, often hidden in casual language like when the residential mean girl, Nicolette, demeans Alberta’s achievement as the best surfer in surf camp down to being Black or Laramie says Edie is “faking” her goth and punk self because she believes Black people to be monolithic in experience and appearance. While the White characters are not explicitly racist, their implicit bias is shown in dialogue such as Laramie not caring about the fact that Alberta’s new neighbor is Black and not understanding why Alberta is so excited. The book validates Alberta’s feelings of unease and that feeling of “this isn’t racist but feels racist.”

The Only Black Girls in Town is an amazing story that weaves the trials of middle school with the intricacies of race. The story balances lighthearted tones with a suspenseful mystery that heightens the drama between the characters. During a time where race relations have gradually become more complex and subtle, The Only Black Girls in Town is an important novel for all readers regardless of their race. This novel is for readers who would like a fun mystery and who want to learn about/explore the relationship between Blackness and coming of age.

Sexual Content

  • Laramie says, “Gavin tried to kiss me the other day. After school.” This kiss is mentioned two more times.
  • Laramie mentions that Gavin “would look at me different from how he looked at everyone else.”

 Violence

  • In a journal entry, Constance wrote about how she overheard her employers talking about the death of a boy. “They were speaking about the Negro boy who was killed down South.” Edie infers it’s about the historic murder of Emmett Till, who was lynched in 1955.
  • When Laramie talks about the party she went to, she mentions that Gavin “was going to kill Davis for bumping into a table with a sculpture of some old dude.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Because of her goth and punk fashion sense, Edie is called “Wednesday Addams” in reference to the popular character.
  • “Brat” is used a few times. For example, “Stephan McKee. He’s a total spoiled brat . . .”
  • In the journal entries discovered by the girls, the word “Negro(es)” is used multiple times.
  • The word “mulatto” is used once in a journal entry where Constance recalls an interaction with her colleague May who says, “I’m mulatto, Constance.” The term is used in reference to those who are half Black and half White.
  • In a journal entry, the reader can infer that Constance’s employer, Mrs. Ogden, uses a racial slur to describe Black people. “Mrs. Ogden said the Negroes were getting uppity since they won the Supreme Court case to desegregate the schools. But she didn’t use the word Negroes.”
  • There is a lot of language used to emphasize Alberta and Edie’s “otherness” due to being Black. For example, Nicolette tells Alberta, “It’s just that you’re like, different here and different there, but Irene tries to make it special for you. That’s cute.” in order to demean her achievement of being the best surfer in surf camp, given to her personally by their instructor.
  • The school’s vice-principal assumes Edie and Alberta are cousins because they are both Black.
  • Someone says Edie is a “poser” because, as Laramie puts it, they “don’t know a lot of Black people who dress like that.”
  • Weird is used to describe a lot of situations in the novel. For example, Laramie calls Edie’s black lipstick weird.
  • Constance writes “Lord have mercy on me” once.
  • Alberta says, “Oh my god!” once.
  • Alberta calls Nicolette a “barney” (“someone who’s not very good at surfing”).
  • Nicolette spreads a rumor about Laramie having an accident. Alberta says, “She told people you wet the bed?” Laramie reveals it’s about leaking during her period.
  • Edie tells Alberta about how she feels about her father not coming to visit her or call her when he says he would. Alberta says, “That really sucks Edie.”
  • Alberta and Laramie make a pact to never speak Nicolette’s name for the whole year, so Alberta refers to Nicolette as “She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”
  • Nicolette says, “You know, Alberta, you could’ve just worn your regular clothes if you wanted to dress like a dork” when she tries to crash the Halloween party next door.
  • Laramie calls Nicolette a jerk while at Edie’s Halloween party. “Alberta is right. You’ve always been a jerk to her, and we should’ve called you on it a long time ago.”
  • Many times, Nicolette is referred to as “mean” and other varying superlatives.

 Supernatural

  • None

 Spiritual Content

  • None

by Emma Hua

Scream for Ice Cream

Nancy and her friends think there is nothing more fun than ice cream in the summer. So when they find out that the owners of the local ice-cream factory are hosting a contest, the Clue Crew can’t wait to enter! Contestants must come up with brand-new flavors and they can use whatever ingredients they want! Nancy is sure that her entry—Clue Berry—will win.

But when a friend’s secret recipe goes missing, Nancy suspects that someone not-so-sweet is up to no good. Can Nancy and the Clue Crew find out who took the missing recipe?

Nancy and her friends work hard on creating their ice cream flavors, but that doesn’t stop them from encouraging their classmates to enter the contest as well. Even though the contest is important to the Clue Crew, they are more concerned with Deirdre and Kendra’s friendship. When the two are having friendship trouble, the Clue Crew jumps into action. In the end, Deirdre and Kendra’s friendship drama is resolved and the two remain best friends.

Scream for Ice Cream has enough suspects to keep the story interesting without becoming confusing. Readers will enjoy using their powers of observation to see if they can figure out who stole the ice cream before the big reveal at the story’s end. Most of the time the Clue Crew follows the rules as they search for clues. However, they do wait for an employee to be distracted so they can sneak into the ice cream factory.

The story’s conclusion is surprising, but nicely wraps up all of the story’s drama. Young mystery fans will enjoy the mystery as well as the story’s silly moments. Even though the Clue Crew’s ice cream is ruined three times, the girls don’t complain. Instead, they look forward to making more next year.

Black and white illustrations appear every 2 to 5 pages, which break up the text and help readers visualize the events in the plot. The last page of the book gives directions for making coffee-can ice cream. This modern version of Nancy Drew will be an entertaining summer read. After reading Scream for Ice Cream, readers with a sweet tooth will want some tasty ice cream of their own.

 

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Cassidy’s sister grabs someone else’s ice cream and starts eating it, Cassidy yells, “Drop that spoon now, you little pest.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter

Isabel Feeney is one of the few newsgirls working in 1920s Chicago during the era of guns and gangsters. Every day, while she sells copies of the Tribune, she dreams of being a journalist like her hero, the famous crime reporter Maud Collier. So when Isabel stumbles upon a murder scene on her own street corner, she’s determined to solve the case.

Who murdered mobster Charles “The Bull” Bessemer? Was it his beautiful fiancée, Miss Giddings, whose fingerprints were found on the gun? A jealous husband? Or Bessemer’s associate, Al Capone? As Isabel tracks down clues, she finds herself working alongside Maude, who is covering the case.

But as Isabel gets closer to discovering who killed a gangster, someone becomes determined to silence her, too.

Readers will quickly fall in love with Isabel, who is intelligent, observant, and determined to solve the murder mystery. As Isabel follows the clues, she meets several possible suspects and her snooping often gets her into trouble. Along the way, Isabel meets two new friends, Flora and Robert. These friendships add interest because Flora’s family are gangsters, and Robert has a physical disability due to polio.

Even though the fast-paced story takes readers into the violent world of Chicago, none of the crimes are described in gory detail. Instead, Isabel’s journey focuses on finding the true killer by meeting the people in the prime suspect’s life. Isabelle’s new friends include the dead man’s daughter, a famous female reporter, and a police detective. As Isabel searches the city, readers will get a look at Murderess’s Row—a wing of the Cook County Jail.

Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter will appeal to both mystery and history fans. Despite Isabel’s good intentions, she often speaks without thinking and gets herself into potentially dangerous situations. As Isabel follows the clues, she writes them in a notebook, which helps the reader keep track of all the clues. Even though the story is written from Isabel’s point of view, all of the characters are uniquely interesting and well-developed. The conclusion wraps up all of the story threads and will leave the reader smiling. Readers who love a mystery that revolves around a plucky heroine should add The Friday Barnes Series by R.A. Spratt to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After a man is murdered, Isabel is the first person on the scene. The man is “stretched out on the snow, bleeding.” Isabel sees “a puddle of blood near his ear.”
  • Isabel tells a detective, “I’ve had way worse fights with the kid next door—pounded him—but it doesn’t mean I’d kill him.”
  • Isabel thinks about her dad’s death and wonders, “if my father had suffered, like from poison gas the Germans had used, or if he’d gone quickly, like from a bullet. Or if it had been really horrible, from a bayonet.”
  • A reporter tells Isabel, “I’ve trudged through the ash-covered remains of big fires. And waded into the river to get a better look when a corpse was being dredged out. And of course, I’ve stepped over bodies, sometimes several at once, because this is a violent city.”
  • A gangster is called the Nose because his nose got shot off.
  • Isabel mentions how “Mrs. Harq had bumped off her dentist husband . . .”
  • The newspaper has an article about how “Marty Durkin, who’d killed a federal agent in Chicago, had finally been caught after leading police on a wild-goose chase over America.”
  • While walking down an alley, someone hits Isabel over the head. She “stumbled on something—right before everything went black.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Al Capone is mentioned several times. “As everybody in Chicago—even kids—knew, Al Capone was a very dangerous man who’d made millions of dollars selling alcohol, which was illegal because of Prohibition.”
  • Isabel passes a speakeasy. “Secret places where men and women went to listen to jazz music and drink bootleg alcohol, away from the police—until the parties got raided.”

Language

  • Heck, darn, and jeez are used occasionally.
  • Isabel thinks that her friend is a witch.
  • A man calls Isabel a “brat” and a “lying little monster.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Dog-Gone Danger

Kelsey and her friends, Becca and Leo, discover a purebred pug puppy in a run-down barn. Did he run away from home, or did someone intentionally abandon him? It’s another case for the Curious Cat Spy Club.

But before they can figure out the pug’s origins, a bigger mystery appears. Kelsey’s mom has disappeared! Kelsey is worried that it has something to do with her mom’s job as an animal control officer. Her dad and siblings think her mom is just taking a break from the family—after all, she has done this before. But Kelsey’s not convinced that her parents’ marital problems are the cause of her mom’s disappearance. With her two friends by her side, Kelsey vows to discover the truth.

Kelsey and her two friends, Leo and Becca, are all likable characters who want to protect animals. The three friends all have different talents, which add interest to the story. For instance, Leo loves to build gadgets, such as a smell-sniffing robot, while Becca is outgoing and can talk to anyone. Major, a retired search and rescue dog, also joins the Curious Cat Spy Club during their mission. Readers will enjoy looking at the clues to solve the mystery as well as the interplay between the characters.

In addition to the mother mystery, Dog-Gone Danger has some parental drama. Kelsey learns that her parents almost got a divorce. Meanwhile, Becca is frustrated because her mom is dating the sheriff. However, Becca uses this relationship to her advantage by using his personal phone number to call him.

One negative aspect of the story is when Kelsey and her friends sneak into several different buildings, trying to investigate her mom’s disappearance. They meet several potential suspects and learn new clues; however, the story downplays the danger of their actions.

Readers will enjoy the mystery, the dog action, and the friendship between the Curious Cat Spy Club. Dog-Gone Danger will appeal to both mystery fans and animal lovers. The best part of the book is the three friends, who help and support each other. In addition, the plot is easy to follow but has enough complexity to appeal to middle school readers.

Sexual Content

  • Kelsey has a crush on Leo. When Leo asks her to a school dance, Kelsey asks him, “When the dance is over, will you want to kiss me good night?” The embarrassed boy says, “Of course not!”

Violence

  • Kelsey’s mother goes to investigate a report of a biting dog. When the four-year-old girl who owns the dog sees Kelsey’s mom, the girl shoots her with a paintball gun.
  • While Kelsey’s mom is investigating a report, the villain grabs her. Kelsey’s mom says, “. . . I heard barking from the garage. When I went to check it out, someone came up behind me and threw a bag over my head. I was lifted up and shoved down into a dark prison.” She is locked in a bomb shelter, which has food and water.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Darn and drat are both used several times.
  • OMG is used as an exclamation six times.
  • The villain calls her sons imbeciles and idiots.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Latest Reviews