Fall of Hades

Now that the small island nation of Tuvalu has become the base of Dr. Hatch’s operations, Michael and the Electroclan plan to stop him by taking down the Elgen’s floating treasury, a ship named the Joule. In addition, Dr. Hatch’s remaining loyal electric children have turned against him. Before Hatch can have them executed for treason, Michael wants to rescue them, along with the innocent Tuvaluan citizens who have become prisoners on the island the evil doctor renamed “Hades.”

For Dr. Hatch, it seems like things are finally falling apart due to his number one in command, Welch, disappearing with the help of Quentin, his former favorite electric child. However, Hatch’s feelings change when he learns of the Electroclan’s plans. The Electroclan have enlisted a captain named J.D. to help them sink the Joule – but J.D. is on Hatch’s side. Hatch allows J.D. to go along with the Electroclan’s plan to infiltrate the island so the Electroclan is in his grasp.

A bloody battle ensues at a prison in Hades during an intense storm. A few of the Electroclan, such as Tanner and Gervaso, die in the fight. At the end of the book, Michael climbs a tower to get struck by lightning. The subsequent massive explosion ends the battle, though Hatch escapes from the island. The Joule is destroyed and Hades has fallen, but Michael, the symbol of hope for the resistance, is gone.

This installment of the Michael Vey series dedicates a large amount of time to the story’s minor characters, often skipping from the action to flashbacks or other characters’ dilemmas. While it can be distracting from the main plot, readers who have followed the story until now will want to keep reading to see if Michael can finally defeat Hatch. Because Michael is fighting an all-out war, the events may be difficult to connect to, but readers will likely sympathize with Michael’s motives. Michael believes that the best sacrifice is the one made for others, even if isn’t successful. He says, “I’m fighting a battle for humanity. Of course, I could die and not win any victory, but I think that’s got to be worth something too.”

Though this book ends with Michael’s disappearance, picking up the last book is a must. The most moving part of the story is Michael’s climb up the tower, where he reflects on the journey he has taken with his friends and family. “So many memories. Most of them recent, it seemed. I suppose I had lived more life in the last year than most people live in eighty. That was good. Because I knew mine was coming to an end.” The final book of the series, Michael Vey: The Final Spark explores what motivation remains for the Electroclan once Michael is gone and whether they can keep the fight alive in Michael’s memory.

Sexual Content

  • As part of Welch’s backstory, we learn that he fell in love with a girl named Mei Li despite the Elgen’s rule forbidding romantic relationships. Welch stays with her while he’s on the run, and they kiss.
  • Michael and Taylor are dating. They kiss a few times.
  • When Nichelle is getting a tattoo, the artist says, “What do you need, babe? I have a special for the ladies as long as it’s on lady parts.”
  • Jack recalls a time when he sent a girl a text that got him in trouble. “I sent a text to a girl that said I wanted to kiss her. Her father ended up on my doorstep with the police. The autocorrect had changed my text to I wanted to kill her.”
  • A captain named J.D. who is assisting the Electroclan takes an interest in Taylor. He calls her beautiful and kisses her hand. He says, “I might just have to keep this one for myself.” Michael remarks that Taylor looks uncomfortable with the comment and when he shakes the captain’s hand, he shocks him.
  • When the Electroclan find out that captain J.D. has sold them out, Taylor says, “he sold us all out for money. He wants the million-dollar bounty on Welch, and he asked Hatch if he could own me. As his pet.”

Violence

  • Michael tells a story about a railroad worker who was forced to decide between killing his son or killing innocent people to illustrate his dilemma in fighting the secret war against the Elgen. “There was a man who was in charge of switching the railroad tracks for the train. It was an important job because if the train was on the wrong track, it could crash into another train, killing hundreds of people. One evening, as he was about to switch the tracks for an oncoming train, [the man] suddenly heard the cry of his young son, who had followed him out and was standing on the track he was supposed to switch the train to. This was the dilemma – if he switched the tracks, the train would kill his son. If he didn’t, the people on the train, hundreds of strangers he didn’t even know, might die. At the last moment, he switched the tracks. The people on the train went on by, not even knowing the disaster they had missed or the little boy who had been killed beneath them.”
  • In a flashback about Welch’s past, Welch remembers the time when he was a delivery boy on a job bringing pizza to the Elgen headquarters when he stopped an ex-employee from vandalizing the building. “The vandal sprang from the garden, sprinting diagonally across the building’s front walkway in Welch’s direction. Instinctively, Welch dropped his pizzas and took off to intercept the man… Welch leveled the guy, who was barely half his size, with a waist-high tackle. Then he picked him up by the waist and carried him over to the front entryway, where there were now three security guards rushing out of the building… The [vandal] suddenly tried to free himself from Welch’s grasp. Welch belted him across the face, knocking him out.”
  • Torstyn, one of the electric children, is tortured by Hatch in a cell that is meant to keep him uncomfortable, including lights that are always on. There is also a screen that plays a video of rats devouring animals or humans every 15 minutes. Torstyn also has a RESAT on, a torture device specifically engineered for the electric children. Hatch uses it to cause him pain when he tells Torstyn that he intends to feed him to the rats. Hatch also tells Torstyn how he will die. “If you cooperate with me, I will see that you are anesthetized before going into the bowl. You will not feel those little mouths, bite by bite, eat away your life… I can also promise you that if you don’t cooperate, I will make sure that your vitals are well protected so that the furry little creatures will have to gnaw their way up your body cavity to end your life.” Hatch also says, “It was medieval torture, you know. During the Inquisition, the torturer would place rats in a cage on top of a prisoner’s body, then put hot coals on top of the cage. The rats would burrow through the body to escape the heat… If you fail to help me, you will be terrifyingly aware of every rat’s bite. Your head and eyes will be caged, so you can see your own skeleton as the rodents strip the flesh from your legs and arms to the bones. You will witness your own slow consumption.”
  • When Quentin says that Michael Vey might be able to stop Hatch, Hatch replies by saying that he will feed Quentin Michael’s flesh. Hatch later says, “Today I will feast on my enemy” when he learns that Michael is coming for him.
  • When Quentin is put in a monkey cage like the former Prime Minister, he glimpses the former Prime Minister. “He looked more animal than human. He was pale and ill and had lost enough weight that his ribs seemed to stretch his skin. He was covered with filth and fleas and blood, as he bore dozens of bite marks [from the monkeys].”
  • Taylor’s father, Mr. Ridley, is shot in a confrontation with recreational hunters near the ranch the Electroclan are hiding at. Michael shocks them in retaliation. “I pulsed, and a massive blue-gold wave of electricity exploded, knocking Taylor and all four of the hunters to the ground… In the dark I could see something black around Mr. Ridley’s stomach.” Taylor also uses her powers to hurt the hunters. “The hunters were all on the ground rolling around, moaning in pain… two of them started screaming.”
  • The doctor that arrives at the scene wants Michael to cauterize Mr. Ridley’s bullet wound by shocking it. “I looked down at the mass of blood. The bullet wound was about the diameter of a dime and slightly ragged… I pulsed. Mr. Ridley’s body tensed… I could feel his blood boil against my finger. The pungent stink of burning blood filled the air.”
  • A few of the kids, including Michael, Jack, Ostin, and Nichelle, get mugged on their way back from a tattoo parlor. Michael attacks the mugger. “I blasted him up against the wall of the building behind him. His gun went off from the pressure of my pulse, but the strength of my pulse stopped the bullet in midair. The man fell to the ground.” He is only knocked unconscious.
  • Taylor and Jack punish a guard who hurt McKenna when the Elgen tracked them down. “She closed her eyes, and the man began shaking. When she stopped, he had a blank expression. Suddenly Jack walked up to the man and punched him, knocking him over… Then he walked around punching each of the terrified guards.”
  • When the Electroclan rescues Quentin, they have to dispose of some guards. Michael shocks them. “I reached out and pulsed. A massive wave blurred the air, sizzling with the rain it devoured. Both of the guards were knocked off their feet.”
  • When J.D. reveals that he gave them up, Zeus and Michael want to hurt him. Though they don’t, J.D. says that Hatch intends to kill them and has “special plans” for Michael: Hatch intends to eat him with a special cannibal fork used by the Fiji people called the ai cula ni bokola. J.D. says, “The general plans to serve you for the feast to celebrate the end of the resistance.”
  • A long battle ensues on the island of Tuvalu for control of a prison. Gervaso, the head of the resistance’s military operations, is shot and sacrifices himself in his final moments. “A gun opened fire, hitting Gervaso in the chest and knocking him back onto the dock… Gervaso feebly lifted his handgun but was hit two more times by Elgen bullets as the squad stepped up onto the dock… The front guard, barely older than twenty, walked on the blood-soaked dock until he was next to Gervaso. He pointed his gun at the back of Gervaso’s head. ‘Good-bye, man.’ Gervaso rolled over to look the young guard in the eyes. In his hand Gervaso held a grenade, its pin already pulled. ‘Yeah, good-bye.’ ‘Hit the deck!’ the guard shouted, but it was too late.  The grenade blew, igniting the chain of explosives. The entire dock exploded in a blinding flash.”
  • At another point in the battle, Michael is terrified due to the gruesome scene. “The dark grounds below us were chaos. The screaming of fallen prisoners echoed amid the hellish landscape of rain, smoke, and fire. The Elgen forces flowed in like demon shadows, darkening a courtyard lit only by gunfire or grenades. Occasionally, lightning would strike, illuminating the grounds for a second, like a strobe, capturing the dying and killing in frozen, violent stances.”
  • During the battle, to turn the tide in their favor, Ostin releases the rats who then eat the Elgen soldiers. “The ravenous rats swept across the yard in a powerful, glowing surge, running at guards, drawn to them by the smell of death and meat… The swarm of rats broke against the men like a wave hitting the shore, covering and devouring them, pouring over each other, as the guards were stripped of their flesh… The sounds of screams and machine guns echoed in the distance.”
  • Tanner, one of the electric children, dies in battle when they are being bombed. Michael is with Tanner in his final moments. “Through the smoke I could see Tanner lying on top of a desk against the west wall. His arm was dangling over the side, and I could see blood dripping from his fingers… He was mostly covered in the chalky plaster of the wall, except where the red of his blood had seeped through and stained his clothes and the dust crimson. There were holes all over his body. Shrapnel… Somehow Tanner was still conscious. His chin quivered, and a thin stream of blood fell down from the corner of his mouth… He looked into my eyes. Then his gaze froze and his hand went limp.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hatch occasionally drinks alcohol. He also takes sleeping pills in unhealthy amounts.
  • It is mentioned that Welch’s parents were drug addicts. Later, when asked to drink alcohol, Welch declines. He says, “My biological father was an alcoholic. I figured I inherited his genes.” Eventually, Hatch forces Welch to have a glass of alcohol when he becomes part of the company. He takes a sip of wine.
  • Welch smokes once in the book. Welch says, “I hope I get to die slowly of cancer.”
  • J.D. admits that he gave up the Electroclan because he needs money for drugs. His former friend, Gervaso, calls him a “junkie.” J.D. replies, “After I got shot saving you, they put me on painkillers. I got addicted. When the painkillers stopped working, I needed something stronger.”

Language

  • Occasionally the kids use insults like “stupid,” “freak,” and “idiot.”

Supernatural

  • The focus of the Michael Vey series is on seventeen Electric children with electricity-related powers. A full dossier is available in the front of the book. For example, Michael can pulse like an electric eel, Mckenna can create light and heat, and Taylor can use electrical brain signals to read minds.

Spiritual Content

  • Michael thinks about dying occasionally in the book. “Lately I’ve been wondering where Wade is – you know, the whole death thing. Life after life. Where do we go after we die? Or is this it and when we’re done, we’re done? I don’t know. It’s possible that Wade and my father are hanging out right now, watching us. Cheering us on. Maybe… I guess one day everyone finds out what death is about.”
  • When Hatch finds Welch, he remarks on it spiritually. “Hatch couldn’t believe his good fortune. ‘And to think I said there is no God.’”
  • Jack once says “choke on that karma.”
  • Michael quotes from the Bible. “As we walked off the dock onto the island, I felt a dark, eerie feeling of desolation. A line from the Bible came to me: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
  • When Tanner is dying, he comes to terms with killing others. Michael says, “It wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault. Hatch made you do it.” Tanner replies, “Maybe. . . God will see it that way.”
  • When Michael climbs the tower, he shouts “to the gods of lighting” to strike him. He also says, of getting shocked, “I felt what it feels like to be God. But I’m no god.”

by Maddie Shooter

The Blue Ghost

Liz is staying with her grandmother in her old house in the woods of northern Minnesota when one night a noise awakens her. It is someone calling her name, calling for Elizabeth. Liz opens her eyes. There is a blue ghost in her room! What does the ghost want from her? 

The Blue Ghost pulls readers into the story right from the start. Even though the story focuses on a ghost, the ghost tugs at readers’ curiosity instead of scaring them. When the ghost beckons to Liz, she follows the ghost into the past where Liz meets one of her relatives, a young girl named Elizabeth. When Elizabeth mistakes Liz for a guardian angel, Liz doesn’t correct her, because trying to explain the truth would be confusing. Instead, guided by the ghost, Liz is able to help Elizabeth care for her baby brother who is sick with the croup. Once the baby is out of danger, Liz returns to the present. 

The Blue Ghost isn’t just a ghost story; it is also a story about family connections. Through Gran’s stories, Liz learns about the history of her family. This knowledge helps Liz when she goes back in time. However, Liz is surprised to discover that Elizabeth does not know how to read. While Elizabeth is embarrassed by her inability to read, Liz encourages her by saying, “[You] could learn very quickly.” Once Liz returns to the present, she discovers that Elizabeth not only learned how to read, but she also became a doctor!   

Readers will enjoy the mystery surrounding the blue ghost as well as the sweet relationship between Liz and Gran. Through Gran, Liz learns about her ancestors who built the house and the importance of family connections. While the two have some fun moments, the story’s tone has moments of sadness. However, sadness is not portrayed in a negative light, but as a natural part of life. Gran teaches Liz that “tears are probably the best cure for a touch of sadness. Or the second best, anyway.” According to Gran, the best way to get over sadness is “sharing your bit of sadness” with someone you love.   

Readers who are ready for chapter books will enjoy The Blue Ghost’s format because of the short chapters, large font, and illustrations. This book is part of the Stepping Stones Series that is specifically written for beginning readers. The series allows readers to explore different genres such as history, humor, mysteries, and classics. 

The Blue Ghost is an engaging story that gives readers a peek into the past and shows that it is never too late to learn. The story focuses on Liz, who is a curious and likable protagonist who wants to learn about her family’s past. While Gran takes a secondary role, the relationship between Gran and Liz is endearing and readers will enjoy seeing how Liz is able to help Gran. Unlike many ghost stories, Liz doesn’t keep her experience a secret. Instead, the book ends with Liz sitting down to tell her Gran all about her ghost. The Blue Ghost is a surprising ghost story because there is no scare factor. Instead, readers will be eager to see how Liz’s willingness to follow the blue ghost allows her to help in an important way.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • A ghost appears in Liz’s bedroom. At first Liz sees a blue light. Then, “It seemed to form a person, a woman . . . the woman grew more solid. She floated right over Liz’s head. . . She motioned, as if she wanted Liz to follow. Then she vanished.” 
  • When the ghost appears again, Liz follows her through a wall. Liz “kept expecting to bump into the wall. She didn’t. . . Slowly she opened her eyes and drew in a long, slow breath. . . she was in a log cabin.” When Liz went through the wall, she was transported back in time.

Spiritual Content 

  • The girl in the past believes Liz is an angel because “Mama always told me I had a guarding angel. And here you be!” 

The Girl in the Locked Room

A girl is locked in a room in an old, abandoned house. She has been hiding there for more than a hundred years. Another girl, Jules, arrives at the ruined house and sees a pale face in an upstairs window. Who is up there, she wonders, behind a locked door? 

Jules finds out that a young girl, Lily, has been watching her from the window. Jules is fearful, then fascinated, then eager to befriend—and help—the captive, who is burdened by a chilling secret from the distant past. 

Even though The Girl in the Locked Room is a ghost story that revolves around murder, the story won’t give readers shivery chills. From the start, readers know that Lily’s family was murdered. Since the family’s demise is not described in detail and leaves out any gore, the circumstances surrounding their death add suspense. The mystery of what happened will fill readers with curiosity.  

The story jumps back and forth between Lily and Jules’ perspectives, which allows readers to understand both girls’ feelings. Much of the suspense comes from the characters’ questioning themselves and wondering about each other. At times, the long string of questioning becomes overwhelming as they slow down the pacing.  

While the girls’ feelings are clear, the cause of some of the events is confusing. For example, portions of the family’s murder are played out each night and only Lily and Jules hear the raucous. The idea of multiple dimensions is introduced, which muddies the plot and makes the ending confusing. As far as ghost stories go, The Girl in the Locked Room is an uninspiring story with lackluster characters that will easily be forgotten. If you’re looking for a book that revolves around the supernatural, you should grab a copy of Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega and Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Jules moves into an old house, she learns that the family who used to live there was murdered and the house is haunted. Jules’ friend says, “Lots of kids have seen their ghosts, my brother included—he says if you go inside that house, you never come out.” 
  • At night, ghosts from the past reappear, playing out the past. In one viewing, a group of men finds the murdered bodies of the family. Their bodies are not described.  
  • Jules and her friend, Maisie, go into the old house. Jules thinks, “I knew people had been murdered in these rooms. Blood had stained its floor. Silent screams hung in the air.” 
  • Through multiple scenes, Jules learns what happened to the family. Mr. Bennett fired an employee who had stolen from him. Lily hears “the men’s voices rise. Mama screams and screams again. Lily hears explosions, two, three, maybe more. She recognizes the sound of gunfire. There’s more cursing, more thuds and bangs.” 
  • In the past, one of the women’s husbands was known to hit her and leave bruises “all over her arms.” When the man breaks into the Bennett’s house and his wife tries to stop him, “there’s a loud smacking sound, and Aunt Nellie cries out in pain.” 
  • In a plan to change the past, Lily doesn’t hide in the closet. Instead, when the men arrive, she goes downstairs and a man “grabs Lily and lifts her off her feet. He holds her under her arms as if she’s a dog. His breath smokes with whisky and his eyes are wicked, like the eyes of the old bull Papa keeps in the pasture.” 
  • When Lily breaks free, the man’s gun falls to the ground, and his wife, Aunt Nellie, grabs it. She says, “Stop right now, Charlie or I’ll shoot you dead. Don’t think I won’t.” Charlie’s friend shoots and accidentally hits Charlie. He “falls to the floor. His head is bleeding. A red stain spreads across the carpet.” The scene between Lily’s family and the bad men is described over ten pages.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The men who killed Lily’s family were drunk. 

Language   

  • When men threaten Mr. Bennett, he calls them “drunken fools.” 
  • Oh Lord, for the Lord’s sake, and Lord God Almighty are used several times. 
  • Someone asks, “What the devil’s going on?” 
  • Lily’s mom calls her husband an idiot. 

Supernatural 

  • When Lily’s ghost appears to Jules and her friend, “Jules and Maisie see her as she once was, not as she is now.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Lily’s pastor “told us the world would end in the year two thousand. Judgement Day would come, and the dead would rise from their graves, and we’d be sent to heaven or hell.”  

Cemetery Boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

by Mia Stryker

Long Lost

Eleven-year-old Fiona has just read a book that doesn’t exist. 

When Fiona’s family moves to a new town to be closer to her older sister’s figure skating club—and far from Fiona’s close-knit group of friends—nobody seems to notice Fiona’s unhappiness. Alone and out of place, Fiona ventures to the town’s library, a rambling mansion donated by a long-dead heiress. There she finds a gripping mystery novel about a small town, family secrets, and a tragic disappearance.  

Soon, Fiona begins to notice strange similarities that blur the lines between the novel and her new town. With a little help from a few odd Lost Lake locals, Fiona uncovers the book’s strange history. Lost Lake is a town of restless spirits, and Fiona will learn that both help and danger come from unexpected places—maybe even from the sister she thinks doesn’t care about her anymore. 

While Long Lost focuses on Fiona, the story also jumps back in time to tell the story of two sisters—Hazel and Pearl. Fiona finds a mysterious book that keeps disappearing and reappearing; the book gives her a look into Hazel’s and Pearl’s lives. Fiona’s side of the story starts off slowly as her most pressing conflict is getting a library card, but soon the action picks up and the reader will get hooked on the mystery of what caused Hazel to disappear. Another element that builds suspense is the town’s belief in the Searcher, a mysterious black-draped apparition that steals children. While the plot is interesting, with all the different story elements, the plot may be difficult for some readers to follow. 

While the story contains plenty of mystery, it is also a story about sisters. Both sets of sisters—Hazel and Pearl, and Fiona and Arden—get so angry that they wish the Searcher would take their sibling. However, like all siblings, the girls learn the importance of working out their problems and being supportive of each other. Unfortunately, for Hazel and Pearl, this realization doesn’t happen until after they have died and meet up again as ghosts. 

While the main characters, Fiona, Hazel, and Pearl are not necessarily relatable, they are well-developed and interesting. Anyone who has siblings will understand the girls who often fight, say mean things to each other, and at the same time love each other.  

At times, Long Lost is a spooky story that will have readers’ hearts pounding. Readers will also be trying to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. The one downside of Long Lost is the conclusion, which is rushed and leaves readers with questions. However, the story ends on a hopeful note with Fiona and her sister, Arden, repairing their relationship. Middle-grade readers who love the idea of ghosts, but don’t want the frightening elements of many young adult novels will enjoy Long Lost. If you’re looking for more spooky, fun ghost stories, check out the Shadow School Series by J.A. White. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Pearl comes home alone, one of the servants didn’t recognize her. “The pale, fragile form drifting out from between the trees with trancelike steps, hollowed eyes barely looked alive at all. . . beneath the blue pallor and stunned stare, she recognized Pearl’s familiar face. . . The girl was too cold even to shiver. . . Mud clung to her shins. Scratches and scrapes covered her bare arms.” Later, it is revealed that Pearl jumped into the river trying to find her sister. 
  • While in the woods, Fiona sees the Searcher. “A tall, gaunt, black-draped form. Hunched shoulders. Long, bent spine.” Fiona “didn’t have time to think. She could only whirl around and run.” Fiona is frightened but uninjured. 
  • In the library, after hours, Fiona meets the ghost of Pearl. Then, “The library’s double doors thumped open. . . The Searcher stepped forward. His cloak dragged along the parquet. Its hood was too deep to reveal any hint of a face inside. . . The Searcher took another step. A rush of cold air swept up the staircase, carrying the smell of damp and mud and rot.” Both girl and ghost run. 
  • Fiona runs into the library’s basement. “She was still trapped in the dark with one long-dead girl, a ghost dog, and some silent, lurching thing in a long black cloak.” Later, Fiona discovers that the Searcher is really Hazel’s ghost. 
  • Angry at Hazel, Pearl “lowered her head like a charging bull, and barreled straight into her sister’s stomach. The two of them fell to the ground. . . Pearl lunged forward and snatched the knife from Hazel’s pocket, where it was always kept. As Hazel sat up, trying to grab it back, Pearl kicked her sister in the ribs, knocking her aside. Hazel let out a gasp of pain. . .” The fight is described over two pages. 
  • Hazel drowns, but her death is not described. 
  • Hazel’s ghost tricks Fiona into going into a cistern. Fiona “couldn’t feel hands wrapped around her wrists; there were no fingers, no flesh. But the coldness held on to her, as solid as stone. She couldn’t get up.” Hazel attempts to drown Fiona, but someone rescues her. The scene is described over four pages.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • After Hazel disappears, her mother is “dosed by the doctor.” Her father locks himself up in a room with a “crystal decanter.”  

Language   

  • Fiona calls herself an idiot and Hazel calls her sister an idiot twice. 
  • In her thoughts, Fiona uses the word kook several times. When a boy tells her that a book is cursed, Fiona wonders if he is a kook.  

Supernatural 

  • The town has a rumor about a Searcher who “was a dark being that skulked through these woods, awaiting the moment when it might catch another wanderer alone. According to the tales that wound through the town, any such unlucky wander was never seen again.” When Pearl’s sister is missing, Pearl says the Searcher took her. 
  • Fiona finds a book that tells the story of Pearl and Hazel. The book keeps disappearing and then showing up in a different location. Fiona believes that the book has “been waiting for the right person to come along.”  
  • Fiona meets a boy her age named Charlie. He believes the disappearing book is cursed. “The book is cursed to remain at the library. It’s can’t leave for long. Just like a ghost can’t leave the place it haunts.” 
  • Charlie believes in ghosts. He says, “Ghosts are just parts of the past that haven’t stopped happening. Things are unfinished. Like if you disappeared, and no one found you.”  
  • The ghost of Mrs. Rawlins appears to Fiona.  
  • As Fiona discovers more about Hazel and Pearl, the book mysteriously adds new pages. 
  • While looking for clues in Hazel’s bedroom–which has been preserved as she left it—Hazel’s pocket knife “wobbled on its rounded handle like an egg set on a countertop. . . it spun faster and faster, making several full circles before coming back to a halt.” The knife points to “the spot where a peephole was drilled through the wall.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Ghostology: A True Revelation of Spirits, Ghouls, and Hauntings

Have you been hearing strange footsteps and knocks, whispers, and rattling chains? Perhaps the early twentieth-century author of this newly discovered tome has some secrets to share. Within the book’s weathered pages you’ll hear of a headless French pirate in search of his missing noggin, a vanishing pair of young trickster twins, a ghostly woman who screams for attention, and other communications from the “fun side.” 

Readers who wish to explore the mysteries of the paranormal will find some hands-on challenges to lift their spirits, along with tips on a range of spectral subjects, such as what to pack in a ghostologist’s field kit, how to distinguish different types of ghosts, the best ways to hunt them, and spotting the unfortunate fakes and frauds. Too bad the late author never got to see her guide find its way into the world! But wait—what are those strange and scratchy asides that appear in odd places throughout the book? 

Ghostology is packed full of information about ghosts and explains the different types of ghosts as well as famous hauntings. Readers will be forced to interact with the book because the book is similar to a pop-up book that ask readers to open flaps that appear on some pages. Just because the book has only 30 pages doesn’t mean this will be a quick read. Each page is overloaded with information—definitions, ghostly stories, spells, information about psychics, and much more. 

Each page is a visual joy to behold. Large illustrations, photographs, lists, maps, and other graphic elements are scattered over the pages, which look similar to a scrapbook. While some of the illustrations are full color and beautiful, others are black and white and show ghosts in frightening detail. However, don’t expect to believe everything you see; Ghostology takes a look at some historical “proof” of hauntings and explains why you should or shouldn’t believe the evidence. Either way, you will have to decide if the book is truth or fiction. 

While Ghostology presents all the information as facts, occasionally the book has a fun, tongue-in-cheek tone. For example, toward the end of the book, in font that looks like handwriting, readers will see “Ha! HA! HA! You opened the page. At last I am Free! When darkness falls you’re sure to see . . . Lucinda (R.I.P.)” Be advised: some of the stories are creepy and some pages explain how to bring a spirit into the human world. 

Readers interested in all aspects of ghosts, including learning about historical ghost hunters and how to hunt ghosts, must read Ghostology. This book will give you a host of real ghost hauntings, haunted places, and other facts that you will be eager to learn more about. For those who want to jump into the fictional world of ghosts, The House on Stone’s Throw Island by Dan Poblocki and the City of Ghosts Series by Victoria Schwab are sure to get your heart thumping. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Anne Boleyn’s ghost was “beheaded at the Tower of London in 1536 on the orders of her husband.” Now she “haunts the Tower, where she screams, slams doors, and leaves unsightly bloodstains on the floor on the anniversary of her death.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • The entire book is about different types of ghosts and famous hauntings. The book includes ways to entice spirits to make an appearance. For example, “to make a ghost visible in a mirror, stare at your own reflection in a dark room. . .” Then repeat these words, “Ookie, Wookie, Don’t say boo! Ookie, Wookie, I see you!” 
  • Poltergeist are explained. They can “cause physical disturbances, throwing or levitating objects, knocking at doors, even pinching, hitting, or using their teeth.”  
  • The book explains types of ghosts. The story lists a host of real ghosts such as Anne Boleyn’s ghost, Abraham Lincoln, and “even criminals such as the English highwayman Dick Turpin.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Haunt Me

After years of struggling with her mental health and social life, Erin and her family have moved away to start over. She tries to put on a smile for her parents, reminding herself, “this is all because of me. The least I can do is act grateful.” Life in the beachside town isn’t all that exciting until she discovers a ghost haunting her bedroom. 

Joe was the same age as Erin when he died months ago. He struggles to recall details of his life and how it ended. The bond between Erin and Joe grows and quickly turns into love. Still, she can’t avoid the painful reality that “this isn’t a relationship. It isn’t real. It isn’t life.” Erin soon discovers that though Joe’s family has moved from the house she now calls home, they haven’t gone far. And it isn’t long before she meets his older brother.  

Once an athletic playboy, Olly has been left gutted by his brother’s death. Though he and Erin could not be more different, he is drawn to her and Erin can’t deny that she is drawn to him as well. As her life begins to spiral downward due to a betrayal from one of her new school friends, Erin realizes that there is only one way she could ever be with Joe. She must not only choose between two brothers but life and death. 

The first part of Haunt Me alternates between the perspectives of Erin and Joe, and the setting is mostly confined to her room. This is the part of the book that flows the best, as it’s easy to be charmed by their budding romance. Olly’s perspective is eventually introduced, which muddles the pacing. As Erin and Olly spend more time together, Joe’s perspective becomes less frequent as he spends most of his time alone. This change makes the book feel as if it has become another story entirely, which might disappoint readers who were drawn in by Erin and Joe’s relationship. 

As the protagonist, Erin is easy to sympathize with, but she doesn’t stand out. She is shy, troubled, and likes to write, but it’s difficult to gauge more about her. Readers are told about her struggles, but will rarely experience them with her, and it’s difficult to understand why she falls for Joe, and later Olly, so quickly. Meanwhile, Joe is witty and engaging. His narration easily draws in the reader. On the other hand, Olly is the weakest character; he is sympathetic but isn’t fleshed out. In addition, Erin’s family isn’t notable, and there’s a cliché cast of mean girls that does nothing but cause drama with unrealistic acts of spite. Unfortunately, most of the characters end up being forgettable. 

Besides the clunky pacing and the underwhelming cast, Haunt Me has another major issue: the rushed conclusion. A lot happens over a short period of time, and there is little room to process the events. Joe’s spirit fades and the story would have greatly benefited from a longer goodbye between him and Erin, but it happens so fast that it doesn’t elicit much emotion from the reader. Furthermore, Erin lacks the romantic chemistry with Olly that she had with Joe, and it isn’t satisfying to see them end up together. 

Readers who have struggled with depression themselves will connect with Erin’s struggles. She recounts her experiences with bullying and suicidal thoughts which is heartbreaking, but the book fails to show much of how her issues are being treated. Ultimately, it’s hard not to be let down by the poor execution of the story. While unique in concept, Haunt Me’s flaws ultimately cause it to fall flat. As an alternative to Haunt Me, grab a copy of Nina Moreno’s Don’t Date Rosa Santos which is about a girl who feels cursed and must deal with grief.  

Sexual Content 

  • Joe puts a hand on Erin’s head, and because she cannot yet see him she mistakes this for a large spider. She gets up in a panic and hastily removes her shirt while batting at her head. Joe says, “I can’t help myself. I glance at her as she rips her shirt off. Come on. I might be dead, but I’m still a sixteen-year-old boy.” 
  • Erin muses, “I have been kissed. But I don’t know if two snogs behind the gym and one in the back row of a cinema” counts. Snog is British slang for kissing. 
  • Erin describes kissing Joe as feeling like “nothing even exists except his lips on mine, his arms tightening around my waist . . . [pulling me] so close I am starting to wonder where I end and he begins.” 
  • Olly describes “snogging girls whose names I could barely remember.” 
  • Erin listens to Olly recall a party he went to with his former girlfriend. He says they went upstairs and came down after a bit, and Erin notes, “I don’t ask him what the ‘bit’ entailed. I don’t want to know.” 
  • Erin describes kissing Olly, “his hands in my hair, his lips pressed against mine.” 
  • A popular girl named Zoe confesses that she got to know the substitute gym teacher in eleventh grade and that he “had me working out a lot more than I’m used to.” She later admits this was a lie. 

Violence 

  • A stanza in one of Erin’s poems describes “opening a can of chopped tomatoes and slicing my finger and not knowing which red is mine.” 
  • On her first day of secondary school, Erin describes being hit by a car, saying it “broke my leg in three places and shattered my kneecap.” 
  • Erin finds a silver pendant in the closet. When she reaches for it, she describes, “a bolt of electricity runs through my arm . . . it throws me backward against the wall.” She hits her head and is knocked out. When she wakes, she can see Joe’s ghost. 
  • Erin was bullied at her old school. Her bullies once waved a plastic bag in front of her and “suggested that I put it on my head and tie it tight . . . they were practically begging me to off myself.” Erin says this torment continued for a considerable period, but she didn’t tell anyone. 
  • While a psychic medium is attempting to expel Joe from Erin’s room, Joe feels as if he is being attacked. He describes feeling as though “needles [are piercing] my arms . . . knives [are slashing] at my legs.” The struggle lasts about six pages before he is successfully expelled. 
  • Erin attempts to kill herself by jumping off a beach cliff. Unable to get to her, Joe protests from below. He describes, “she’s letting go, leaning backwards.” Olly arrives just in time and grabs her arm, pulling her back up.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • A stanza in one of Erin’s poems describes “staring at the gray carpet until it blurs . . . a bottle of pills in my hand.” 
  • Erin admits to Joe that she once tried to commit suicide via painkillers she had been prescribed. She says, “I emptied the contents of the bottle in my hand and took them in one go.” Her parents found her and took her to get her stomach pumped. 
  • Olly says his past few years have been filled with “parties, girls . . .  and drugs.” 
  • Olly says that he began taking Joe to parties. At his first party, Joe took ecstasy. Olly reasons that half the people at these parties were “popping pills or sharing spliffs” and that he often smoked weed himself.  
  • While at a party, Joe would take whatever drug he could get his hands on, but usually ecstasy. 
  • At her first sleepover, Erin says she learned, “I quite like hard cider . . . after two pints of it, I think I’m rather good at singing, dancing, and air guitar.” 
  • While at a sleepover, Erin and her friends drink from a bottle of alcohol that one of the girls snuck past the host’s parents. 
  • Joe’s death was caused by a brain aneurysm. He thought he just had a headache. Joe took ecstasy that his brother was in possession of to “get completely wasted and not care about anything.” This caused the aneurysm to be fatal.    

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural Content 

  • Joe is a ghost, confined to Erin’s room. He states. “No one can hear me or see me. Because I’m dead.” Erin can see Joe after touching a silver pendant found inside the closet that gives her a sort-of electric shock. 
  • Joe is unable to touch at first, stating that his hand “goes right through [things].” He begins to realize he can interact with things if his emotions are strong, and he begins making physical contact with Erin more frequently throughout their relationship. 
  • While Erin’s mother is in her room trying to get her to come downstairs, Joe becomes so flustered that his energy causes her mother to be pushed back onto the bed, “the curtains [start] flapping . . . the window starts to rattle. . . [the bed] starts to shake as well.”  
  • After the above occurrence, Erin’s mother becomes convinced the room is haunted, saying that “the room is about ten degrees colder than the rest of the house . . . I’ve been hearing [bumps] for weeks.”  
  • Erin’s mother hires a psychic to expel the spirit. The act is described in detail, and the psychic instructs Erin’s mother to take some “of the sage, light the top of it and repeat after [her].” Joe is successfully expelled from the room, but his spirit is transferred to a cave by the beach. 
  • Joe realizes that his spirit is lingering because he needs to help his brother let go of the guilt he feels regarding his death. He also needs to help Erin find her will to live again. Once this is accomplished, “he melts, as he becomes the sea and the sky and air.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Dead Voices

 

Ollie, Brian, and Coco have had their fill of frightening experiences. After their narrow escape from the smiling man and his sinister scarecrows during their class field trip last fall, they are ready for some fun. Skiing at Mount Hemlock sounds promising, but their enthusiasm quickly dims as a snowstorm traps them at the loge with only their parents and Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, for company.

Strange things start happening. Coco is seeing shadowy figures, Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls, and Brian is positive that the stuffed bear in the lobby was on its hind legs when they arrived—not on all four.

Their fun-filled trip is quickly turning into another terrifying encounter with another dimension. There are ghosts at Mount Hemlock and their voices are demanding to be heard, but the price of listening may be too high.

In this haunting follow-up to Small Spaces, Ollie, Coco, and Brian must rely on their friendship and sharp minds if they are to survive their next harrowing adventure. Readers who are ready to be frightened will enjoy seeing Ollie and her friends go up against the smiling man one more time. However, Dead Voices increases the fear factor because both the living and the dead use deception to try to lure the children into Mother Hemlock’s frosty arms.

Unlike Small Spaces, Dead Voices focuses more on Coco’s point of view. While Ollie plays a main role in the story, Brian disappears early on, leaving Coco responsible for saving Ollie. This shift gives the book a new perspective and allows the reader to see how Coco is often misjudged because of her small size. Because Coco appears childlike, she is underestimated. However, she is a master at chess, which has taught her to look at a problem from many angles. It is this skill that allows Coco to beat the smiling man and free Ollie.

In the first book of the Small Spaces Quartet, Ollie and her friends spent most of their time running from danger. However, Dead Voices increases the suspense by increasing the danger. In addition, the ghosts are more frightening both in appearance and in their actions. Ollie meets a ghost, who appears to be friendly and helpful, but instead leads her into a trap. And when the smiling man makes an appearance, the reader learns that he is capable of completely changing his appearance, which allows him to disguise himself and trick Ollie into being trapped behind the mirror. To make matters worse, the smiling man puts all the other adults into an unwakeable sleep, thus making the kids rely on themselves.

Dead Voices is an action-packed ghost story that includes mystery, ghosts, and a deceptive villain that readers will love to hate. The simple plot leads readers into a creepy world where Mother Hemlock wants to make Ollie sleep forever. Dead Voices is perfect for middle-grade readers who want to be frightened without the graphic images that often appear in YA books. Readers who enjoy scary stories should also read Nightbooks by J.A. White and The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Ollie and her friends meet a ghost named Gretel. While alive, Gretel would wander the orphanage where she lived. One day, Mother Hemlock, “hauled her upstairs, and locked the girl in a closet. . . Gretel was afraid of the dark. She screamed and screamed, but no one came. . . the little girl had died of fright.” Throughout the story, Gretel says she is looking for her bones.
  • After Gretel died, Mother Hemlock “threw herself out the attic window in remorse.”
  • Mother Hemlock grabs Ollie who “thrashed in the thing’s grip, head-butted her, bit her horrible tasting arm, let her legs go limp so that she was dragged across the floor. . . Ollie felt panic starting to choke her.”
  • In order to get away from Mother Hemlock, Ollie lunged “with all her strength, and grabbed a fistful of hot coals. She shoved them up at Mother Hemlock’s grayish, furious face. Mother Hemlock fell back, smoldering, screeching.” Ollie escapes and runs to hide.
  • A dead bear comes alive and chases Ollie. “As Ollie watched, frozen, the dead bear fell to all fours. Licked its chops. Then, creaking, the dead bear charged. . . [Ollie] raced through the dining room. The footsteps of the dead bear sounded close behind her, and she could smell its reek: a combination of dust and formaldehyde.” Later, the bear chases Ollie again.
  • Dead coyotes come alive and chase Brian and Coco. Brian pulls Coco “up the stairs just as howls broke out from every part of the lobby and the shadows seemed, all at once to leap from the stairwell. . . There was a louder clatter of dog nails as dead paws slipped on the lobby floor.” As they are running from the coyotes, the kids get separated.
  • In order to help Ollie, Gabe (a ghost) “had thrown an old sack of some kind over Mother Hemlock’s head. She was groping around in a fury trying to get it off.”
  • Mother Hemlock grabs Ollie. “To her horror, Ollie felt her eyelids growing heavy. . . Frost was stealing up over her eyes, sealing them shut. Ollie screamed when she felt the frost creeping up over her own face.” Ollie falls asleep.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Coco says, “We’re about to have a pretty darn rough night.”
  • Coco calls the smiling man a jerk.

Supernatural

  • Ollie’s dead mother is able to communicate with Ollie through her watch. Ollie explains, “My watch helps me . . . My watch was—it was my mother’s. I think she talks to me with it. I think she’s trying to warn us now.”
  • Ollie and her friends see many ghosts. The main ghost, Gretel, wore “a long white nightgown. Her face was gray-white; her nose was black. Her eyes were frozen open, huge and unblinking.” Gretel says she is looking for her bones.
  • The kids are told that some ghosts “act. They want something. That’s when they’re dangerous, when they want something.”
  • When Ollie looks into a mirror, a ghost is able to grab Ollie’s hand. “A creeping horror started to overtake her: a feeling that if she stayed there long enough, she would become a reflection instead of a girl. She felt herself take an involuntary step toward that dark mirror, then another.” Mr. Voland breaks the connection by breaking the mirror.
  • Voland uses an Ouija board to communicate with the dead. Ollie thinks her mother is using the Ouija board to talk to her; however, Mr. Voland was using the Ouija board to trap Ollie behind the mirror.
  • Ollie looked into a mirror and saw a woman. “She was blue-lipped and black-nosed. . . When she smiled at Ollie, her teeth were sharp. . . Ollie tried to yank away, but black-nailed fingers had curled out of the mirror glass, catching her hand and holding it.” Ollie is pulled into the world behind the mirror.
  • When Coco and Brian get separated, she hears Brian’s voice coming from behind a lot of hallway doors.” Coco doesn’t find Brian, but Ollie’s watch leads her down a steep staircase.
  • Gabe, a ghost, cannot speak because his mouth is frozen shut. However, he uses a Ouija board to talk to Coco and Ollie.
  • Coco and Ollie need to find out how the world behind the mirror is connected to the real world. Ollie thinks, “Gretel is on this side. Gretel’s bones are somewhere on Coco’s side. The ghost and her bones are connected. If Gretel stands in front of a mirror on my side, and her bones are reflected in the same mirror on Coco’s side, then a door will open.” Gretel’s bones are never found, but Coco finds another way to open the door.

Spiritual Content

  • Brian says, “Dead people—they’re gone. We aren’t meant to talk to them.” Because of Brian’s comment, Ollie thinks Brian is Catholic. “It came out at odd moments.”
  • Mother Hemlock is closing in on Coco, who yells for Brain. Coco prayed “that Brian could hear.”

 

Riley’s Ghost

Riley Flynn is alone.  

It feels like she’s been on her own since sixth grade, when her best friend, Emily, ditched her for the cool girls. Cool girls don’t like Riley. They decide one day to lock Riley in the science closet after hours, after everyone else has gone home. 

When Riley is finally able to escape the closet, she finds that her horror story is only just beginning. All the school doors are locked, the windows won’t budge, the phones are dead, and the lights aren’t working. Through halls lit only by the narrow beam of her flashlight, Riley roams the building, seeking a way out, an answer, an explanation. And as she does, she starts to suspect she isn’t alone after all.  

While she’s always liked a good scary story, Riley knows there is no such thing as ghosts. But what else could explain the things happening in the school, the haunting force that seems to lurk in every shadow, around every corner? As she tries to find answers, she starts reliving moments that brought her to this night. Moments from her own life…and a life that is not her own. 

Riley’s Ghost explores the issue of bullying through two girls’ experiences. While the premise is unique—a girl is forced to face her past hurts with the help of a ghost—the story is frustrating because of the frequent flashbacks. Since much of the story is told in the past tense, the story’s pacing is slow and has very few dramatic scenes. When something interesting begins to happen, the story quickly shifts to past events which kills the suspense. While the constant jumps into the past help explain Riley’s behavior, she is not relatable or likable. Riley has often been the target of bullies; however, her own behavior has caused some of her problems.  

The addition of Max, a ghost who is using a half-dissected frog as a vessel, should add interest, but the ghost does not evoke sympathy because he is so awful. Instead of helping Riley, the frog does not want to confront his past. Riley is left to guess at Max’s motives. Even at the end, Max learns nothing and only wants to forget about his past mistakes instead of making amends. Plus, the story’s message is confusing because the story shows that most people pay for their mistakes, but “nobody should have to pay for their past mistakes indefinitely.” 

Riley’s Ghost takes a hard look at the bullying that can take place during middle school and shows how bullying can have a lasting impact on the victims. Unfortunately, the conclusion is confusing and chaotic, and the lesson is unclear. In the end, the story hints that Riley’s life makes a dramatic turn for the better, but the conclusion jumps to a feel-good ending without showing how Riley was able to make changes. For readers who want to explore the issue of bullying further, Out of Place by Jennifer Blecher and Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel would be better book selections.  

Sexual Content 

  • Riley thinks about her teachers. “And rumor had it that Mrs. Brendaker, the choir teacher, was madly in love with Ms. Child, which was bound to be hard on Mr. Brendaker, if and when he found out.” 
  • While in middle school, Heather and her friend kiss. The boy “gave her her first awkward kiss underneath the bleachers by the tennis courts.” 

Violence 

  • In a hallway at school, Grace gets in Riley’s face. “Grace poked Riley just below the collar of her sweatshirt. . . Her chest burned above her heart where Grace’s finger had just been.” Without thinking, “Riley’s right arm, which uncoiled unconsciously, swinging fast, the open hand connected with Grace’s left cheek with such force it made the other girls’ head whip around.”  
  • After Riley slaps Grace, Grace and her friends lock Riley in a supply closet in the science classroom. 
  • When a half-dissected frog begins talking to Riley, she “kicked out with her right foot, sending the creature with its dissected belly and its flopping innards soaring ten feet, straight into a wall, where it hit with a sickening slap.” 
  • Riley gets angry at the frog and tries to stomp him. “Riley chased after the frog frantically leaping down the hall, trying to smash him under her bootheel like a toddler squashing bugs on the blacktop, until she cornered him in the entryway of a classroom, backed against the door.”  She grabs the frog and thinks, “it would be easy to snap his spine, to feel it splinter.”  
  • A ghost leads Riley into the auditorium where Riley sees a vision of the ghost’s life. When Riley sees the ghost’s face in a mirror, she reaches out to touch it. “The mirror shattered at her touch, splintering into a thousand pieces. Riley screamed. . . She felt her feet mysteriously pulled out from under her, a moment of pure weightlessness, a total loss of control.” Riley falls and her “head snapped back, striking the hardwood floor, taking away the last bit of light.” Riley is knocked unconscious. 
  • When Riley was in elementary school, a classmate named Jordan messed up her drawing. Without thinking, she stabbed him with a pencil. “But she had got lucky—or unlucky—catching the soft web of tissue between Jordan’s thumb and forefinger. . . Jordan screamed again. The wound, now free to bleed, burbling up a tiny stream that trickled down the length of his thumb.” Afterwards, Riley had to see a therapist. 
  • When she was in middle school, the ghost Heather, “snuck into the gym, grabbed one of the baseball bats from the supply closet, then she just went crazy. Ballistic. She smashed everything she saw. Windows. Desks. . .” Heather was suspended and never went back to school.  
  • Riley sees visions of Heather’s death. “Her father was driving. . . She wasn’t wearing a seat belt. . . Riley could picture it. The shattered glass. The screech of tires. The body lifted, floating. Head snapping backwards. And then . . . just gone.” 
  • Heather’s classmates locked her in a supply closet. “[Heather] pounds and kicks, she pleads and shouts, she cusses and spits. . . She is afraid. Afraid of being stuck in this place forever. Afraid that no one will ever try to find her.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • While locked in a closet, Riley wishes she could go home and take Advil, then sleep. 
  • One of Riley’s teacher is “the vape master.” 
  • In the nurse’s office, a cabinet is “full of Adderall and Ritalin.” 
  • While on vacation, Riley and her friend planned to “cajole Riley’s father into letting them try a sip of beer.”

Language   

  • Freaking is used in excess. For example, Riley says, “I’m stuck in this freaking school, freezing in the freaking dark, talking to a freaking frog who is also a freaking ghost!” 
  • Profanity is used occasionally. Profanity includes crap, hell, and piss. 
  • Goddam is used once. 
  • Occasionally, Riley calls her classmates names such as a jerk, prick, and “butt-faced jerkwads.” 
  • Riley imagines her classmates texting about her, saying that she “is cray cray.” Another girl says Riley is a “freak.” 
  • A boy tells a girl not to listen to Riley because “she’s a lunatic.” 
  • God, oh my God, and Jesus are used as exclamations rarely.  
  • Riley says, “screw this” and “screw it” several times. 
  • Emily thinks about telling her ex-friend’s mother that her daughter was a “terrible kiss-ass, crowd-following, spineless bystander.” 

Supernatural 

  • The ghost of Heather, a girl who died while in middle school, haunts the school. By making a flashlight blink on and off, the ghost shows Riley where she wants her to go. Riley also sees visions of the ghost’s life.  
  • While locked in the school, Riley hears voices when no one is there, lights go on and off. In addition, Riley hears crying coming from the bathroom stall. Then black letters appear on a mirror, “Nothing to see here.” 
  • A ghost uses a half-dissected frog as a vessel. He tells Riley, “I thought it might be easier for you to handle if you had an actual body to talk to. Something substantial. And this was the best vessel I could get.” 
  • While in a hallway, Riley sees “all the dials on all the lockers started to spin. Up and down the hall. Every locker, all at once, turning one way and then the other in unison.” Then Riley hears people talking, saying that someone is a “freak, a loser, so awkward, so weird.”  
  • Based on her father’s stories, Riley knows that “to vanquish a ghost was to find out what it wanted, what kept it anchored to this world. Find the tie that bound it here and then cut it loose.”  
  • The ghost, Max, wants to destroy some letters that his ex-friend wrote to him. “Riley felt a tickle like a breath on the back of her neck before a current of air picked up the stack of letters . . . the pages shot upward and then fell back down like maple leaves.” Riley saves the letters from being burned.

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Comet Rising

Emmeline, Lucas, and Lucas’s parents escaped from Lady Aisling’s grasp and are hiding away in a house by the sea. They are safe for now. Dar, now imprisoned in a tiny cage, is the only person that is ruining their relatively peaceful seclusion. Dar tells Emmeline that the Cerelia Comet is coming sooner than expected, but Emmeline doesn’t believe her. The Cerelia Comet comes every 25 years, and it’s been 13 years since its last appearance. However, upon seeing the comet soar through the night sky, it becomes clear that Lady Aisling has a sky shaker on her side who moved the comet’s orbit so it could arrive 12 years earlier. Lady Aisling could add more talents to her collection.

Lucas’s parents tell the other families about the comet’s arrival. Eventually, Lady Aisling finds their house by the sea and tries to capture everyone. Lucas’s parents tell Emmeline and their son that they will meet them at an old friend’s house but are caught by Lady Aisling’s soldiers. It is up to Emmeline and Lucas to find more talented children to join in the fight to stop Lady Aisling. But when Emmeline accidentally frees Dar, they find out that the children they seek have already been captured. Now, Emmeline and Lucas know that they must fight for their lives and the lives of talented children just like them.

Comet Rising starts where Shadow Weaver ended, pulling the reader into an action-focused adventure that builds upon the last. The story includes more details about talented people and the land of Zinnia, but those facts do not muddle the story. Once again, the narrative focuses on Emmeline’s point of view, which is concise and optimistic, making the events easy to follow. She becomes more self-assured as she and Lucas find more talented children, but as the story continues, she grapples with how she wants to defeat Lady Aisling. Readers will relate to the weight of Emmeline’s newfound responsibility and her being peer pressured, like when she refuses a friend’s suggestion to weaponize her shadows. In the end, she accomplishes her goal without compromising her values.

Emmeline also learns about forgiveness and becomes more willing to forgive Dar for her betrayal. Dar had tricked her into releasing her from the cage. She went off on her own to defeat Lady Aisling because of a personal grudge. Dar has eluded Emmeline and also done a lot of bad things to Emmeline, like impersonating her while traveling on her own. But after all is said and done, and Lady Aisling is no longer a threat, Emmeline forgives Dar because “everyone deserves a second chance.”

Comet Rising is a story that draws upon the fantastical and magical. The story has plenty of action and also answers questions asked in the previous book. Plus, it expands upon the characters, including the villain. Younger readers will enjoy reading the spellbinding descriptions of magic as well as learning about trust, forgiveness, and responsibility. Readers who liked Comet Rising by MarcyKate Connolly may want to read similar books like Jinxed by Amy McCulloch and The Revenge of Magic by James Riley.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Lady Aisling uses her magic to wrap vines around Dar’s neck and body. Her vines “begin to squeeze. Dar thrashes, but the choking vines won’t let up.” Dar’s face begins to “turn blue” while she tries to free herself with her shapeshifting, but the vines constrict her even more. Lucas crafts a sword and frees Dar from the vines.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The Comet bestows magic upon people every 25 years, blessing those born in the year of the comet with a magical gift.
  • Emmeline is a shadow weaver; she morphs shadows into different objects, animals, and silhouettes. “[The shadows] dodge and twirl at my command.” She can make the shadows tangible and cover herself. Emmeline does not get any ill effects from her shadow weaving.
  • Lucas is a light singer; when he sings, he can bend the light. At first, he can use his light to bake bread, but then he can use his light to make tangible objects such as bands and orbs of light. He can also craft a sword. He does not get any ill effects from his light singing.
  • Simone can read people’s minds and use telepathy. She has no ill effects when she reads or detects someone’s mind, but it is painful for her to use telepathy due to Lady Aisling tampering with her ability.
  • Pearl is a spot hopper. She can “move between two points instantly regardless of the distance” if she’s seen the destination or if she’s with someone who has seen the destination. She can take people with her if they hold onto her. There is a tingling sensation that goes away when she hops from spot to spot, but there are no ill effects when she uses her ability on herself or other people.
  • Noah is a talent taker. He can take talents away from gifted people by physical contact. “He puts a hand on my shoulder and closes his eyes. At first, I don’t feel anything much as my shadows dissipate. but after a moment, a tingling sensation begins to burn through my shoulder.” At first, he could nullify a talent. Eventually, he can permanently erase talents.
  • Lady Aisling is a magic eater. She can steal gifted people’s gifts and then use them. Lady Aisling’s gift does not work on regular people. She will become sick and weak if she does not devour a talent often.
  • Dar can shapeshift into anything and anyone.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

Gallant

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for Girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home; it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile, or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now, Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

As a gothic, ghost story Gallant is surprisingly dull and unexciting. While Olivia can see “ghouls” and communicate with them through her thoughts, none of the ghouls she encounters are developed in detail. Instead of being interesting, the ghouls fade into the background and they evoke little emotion. Even though Olivia learns that she can communicate with ghouls, she doesn’t try to initiate a conversation with her dead uncle, who obviously killed himself. She also doesn’t try to communicate with her dead mother, who could answer many of her questions. Because of this, Olivia’s gift is not fully developed or explored.

Olivia is an interesting and unique protagonist, who is non-verbal and communicates only through sign language. This caused her childhood to be lonely and unpleasant. Not only does she have to struggle with being abandoned at Merilance, but she also has to deal with the other children who are cruel, and the matrons who are indifferent. Because of this, Olivia is willing to go to Gallant, even though her mother has warned her to stay away.

While the story has some interesting story threads—what happened to Olivia’s parents, why should she stay away from Galant, why can she see ghouls—none of them are well developed. Even though Olivia encounters the personification of Death, his soldiers, and other ghouls, the story only evokes mild curiosity, contains little suspense, and little scare factor. In addition, the conclusion is lackluster and depressing. In the end, the reader is left wondering why Olivia would stay at Gallant. Readers who are looking for an exciting paranormal story should read Schwab’s other series, The Archived, or The Breathless by Tara Goedjen.

Sexual Content

  • Sometimes boys would “linger at the edge of the gravel moat,” trying to get the girls’ attention. One day, Olivia goes to talk to a boy and “he kissed her, she waited to feel whatever her mother had felt for her father the day they met, the spark that lit the fire that burned their whole world down. But she only felt his hand on her waist. His mouth on her mouth. A hollow sadness.”

Violence

  • Anabelle, a girl at Merilance, tears pages out of Olivia’s mother’s journal. Olivia “fell on Anabelle, finger wrapped around her throat. Anabelle yelped, and Olivia squeezed until the girl could not speak, could not breathe, and then the matrons were there, pulling them apart.”
  • To get back at Anabelle, Olivia “went down into the cellar. . . she managed to fill the jar with beetles, and spiders, and half a dozen silverfish. She added a handful of ash from the head matron’s hearth.” Olivia dumps the content on Anabelle’s head.
  • Olivia cannot yell and she wonders if pain could free her voice, so she cuts herself. “The cut was deep. Blood welled and spilled onto the counter, and heat screamed up her arm and through her lungs, but only a short, sharp gasp escaped her throat, more emptiness than sound.”
  • In a dream, Olivia witnesses her uncle’s death. “The gun swings up against his temple. . .” then Olivia wakes up.
  • While in Death’s world, a ghoul pushes Olivia away. “And then a blade sings through the ghoul’s back, and it staggers, and Olivia knows the ghoul cannot die, knows it is already dead, but the sight of the metal spilling out of its chest, its knees buckling silently to the dirt, still sends a shock of horror through her bones.”
  • In order to get out from behind the wall, someone killed Matthew’s brother. “The door on the other side was soaked with blood. There was so much of it. Too much. Someone had painted the door with my brother’s life. Covered every iron inch . . . But that thing slaughtered my brother for nothing. Only a Prior’s blood can open the door, but it has to be willingly given.”
  • Olivia goes behind the wall, hoping to find Matthew’s brother. When she sees Death, “Olivia spins, drawing the blade. She doesn’t wait, but twists and drives the knife into his chest.” The knife doesn’t hurt Death.
  • Death tries to subdue Olivia, who “fights like a girl set loose on the world with nothing and everything to lose. But it’s not enough. A gauntlet closes over her wrist, flinging her into a plated chest, and the last thing she sees is the gleam of an armored shoulder as the third shadow looms.”
  • Olivia takes a piece of bone and “the sliver of bone becomes a beak, becomes a skull, becomes a crow, muscle and skin and feathers.” Olivia tells the crow to attack Death. “Olivia is on her feet, racing toward the door, even as she hears him pluck the bird from the air, the brittle snap of its neck. . .”
  • In a multi-chapter conclusion, Olivia and Matthew fight Death. Death captures Olivia. “His embrace tightens until she cannot move, cannot breathe. Her bones groan, and she lets out a stifled gasp.” Matthew comes through the door to help Olivia.
  • One of Death’s soldiers goes after Matthew, who “slashes out with his blade, but the wolfish soldier dodges lithely and kicks him in the chest. He collapses to his hands and knees, gasping for breath . . . The soldier lowers the dagger to his throat.”
  • One of Death’s soldiers grabs Olivia, “she writhes and tries to breathe, tries to think and time slows down. . . She slams her head back into the soldier.” Olivia is able to free herself and grab one of the soldier’s weapons. “The soldier rears back, but Olivia is already swinging, bringing the sword down a third time, carving deep into his shoulder. The collarbone comes free. . . he is already falling back into dust as the bone hits the grass.”
  • In order to save Olivia’s life, Matthew “pushed her out of the way the instant before the sword cut down. Matthew, who leans in the doorway, the blade driven through, the point jutting like a thorn from his back.” Matthew dies.
  • When death finds a way into the living world, Edgar “aims at Death a second time and fires, the bullet melting in the air above his floating cloak.”
  • Olivia calls on the ghouls, who “close over [Death] like ivy, their edges dissolving into one teeming mass of shadow as they force him back through the garden, back through the open door, back beyond the wall.” Then Olivia seals the door with her blood.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the matrons at Merilance hides a bottle of brandy in a drawer.
  • In order to help Matthew sleep, Edgar drugs him.

Language

  • Damn is used once.

Supernatural

  • Olivia can see “ghouls.”
  • There is a stone wall at the back of Gallant’s garden. At night, a person can walk around the wall, but they end up in a different world—a world where Death lives. Olivia’s mother once went around the wall and saw Death “with his four shadows and his dozen shades, all silent in the bones of the ruined house.”
  • When Olivia crosses the wall, she sees “the shriveled remains of a garden. Withered limbs and wilting blooms, their petals, pale, their leaves devoid of color. . . And there, at the top of the ruined garden, sits another Gallant.”
  • In Death’s world, Olivia has the ability to give life. When Olivia picks up a tooth, it “jumps. Shudders like a bee against her palm. . . by the time it hits the ground, it is not a writhing bit of bone, but a mouse.”
  • Olivia meets Death. “His skin is not creased, yet here and there it peels away, the polished bone beneath showing through like stone under thinning ivy. And that is how she sees that there are pieces of him missing. . . The joint of one finger. The edge of one cheek. . .”
  • Death watches a group of people dancing. Death dances with a woman. And then, “the dancer crumbles against him, her body sagging into ash and he sighs. . . A pale white fragment shines on the wooden floor where the dancer stood . . . then it rises and tucks itself against the tear along his jaw, and she realizes it was a shard of bone.” Then other bones return to Death’s body and flesh regrows over the bones.
  • Matthew explains how his family, the Priors made the demon go back beyond the wall. The Priors “put the wall back up. And this time, they soaked it edge to edge in their blood and swore that nothing would ever cross that gate without their blessing.”

Spiritual Content

  • At Merilance, Olivia “was told to kneel and knit her fingers and speak to a God she couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t touch. . . She never believed in higher powers.” But when she meets death, she prays to the ghouls for help and they come.

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever

Fifteen-year-old Justin and his friends Bobby and Gabe are amateur filmmakers . . . very amateur filmmakers. Their previous horror movies have gone unnoticed on YouTube (aside from a few derisive online comments) and no one seems particularly interested in their filmmaking endeavors. But after a minor setback during the trio’s recent vampire movie, Justin decides it’s time to pursue something new. Something ambitious. Something like making the Greatest Zombie Movie Ever.

Although Bobby and Gabe are immediately along for the ride, Justin’s plan to write, produce, and shoot the best feature length zombie movie of all time quickly hits a few roadblocks. For one thing, the trio has only a month to finish the project before Gabe leaves for the summer. Plus, they have no budget—just a highly dubious script that they cobbled together over two sleepless nights. But the boys’ luck turns around when they are able to get Alicia Howtz—the most popular girl in school and Justin’s longtime crush—to play the movie’s lead zombie-hunter Veronica Chaos, as well as secure a $5000 investment from Justin’s surprisingly cutthroat (and possibly mafia-affiliated) grandmother.

Despite a number of problems on set, the crew pushes forward with making the movie. With the help of a colorful cast of characters—including Bobby, Gabe, Alicia, Bobby’s Uncle Clyde, some extras in zombie makeup, and a twelve-year-old documentarian named Spork—Justin gives the film everything he has. It’s a noble effort, but in the end, Justin doesn’t complete this task the way he originally intended. When he is caught trespassing on school property, his principal threatens to suspend him unless he can get A’s on all his final exams. This puts his film on hold as Justin desperately scrambles to avoid repeating a grade. Five months later, when he does eventually complete the movie, it’s seventeen minutes long and mostly voiceover.

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever is told from Justin’s perspective and, as a result, it’s a film nerd novel through and through. The text is punctuated by references to famous zombie movies and tropes, that Justin takes inspiration from. George A. Romero, director of Night of the Living Dead, comes to Justin in a vision to assure him that his scheme to film the final half hour of his movie in one shot will work. Additionally, Justin and his friends argue about whether they should include “fast zombies” or “slow zombies” in the movie; then they list good and bad zombie movies that have included each type. While non-zombie-appreciators might not understand these references, their placement does not detract from the story.

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever deals primarily with the themes of sticking to your goals and persevering in the face of adversity, but this novel also explores when it’s time to call it quits. Throughout the book, Justin emphasizes the importance of finishing his zombie movie, but he also makes it clear that he has other priorities. After a problem with production, Justin worries that the only way to complete the movie is if “everybody was willing to skip school for two weeks. . .They weren’t . . .Nor was he.” Justin ends up sidelining the movie when he’s forced to choose between it and his education. However, he does eventually finish his film, even if the final product is much different from what he originally planned.

While the plot of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever is not especially heavy on depth, this teen horror-comedy is a wildly entertaining exploration of zombie filmmaking, with a unique cast of characters and a heavy helping of relatively harmless comical mayhem. It’s the perfect book for teens who want a light read, especially if they are interested in zombie movies.

Sexual Content

  • During auditions, a student asks if her shirt will stay on in the movie.
  • The script includes a romantic relationship between Alicia’s character and a male lead. Justin is somewhat jealous of the two actors’ chemistry due to his own crush on Alicia, but a friend reminds Justin “it’s not like they’re slobbering all over each other through the whole movie. There’s one kiss at the very end, and they’re both covered in guts, so Alicia probably won’t be that into it.”
  • While on set, Gabe asks out Alicia’s friend, Daisy, but she turns him down because she “only dates directors.” Gabe dejectedly alerts Justin of Daisy’s availability, but Justin scoffs at this idea and reaffirms his crush on Alicia. When Gabe still insists, Justin says, “It doesn’t matter right now because unlike one of us, I’m here to make a movie, not a baby.”
  • Two actors share “a gentle kiss” at the end of the movie. Due to technical difficulties and much to Justin’s chagrin, this scene has to be refilmed several times, and the crew notes that Alicia and the male lead’s shots are especially “passionate.”
  • After he promises to complete the movie, Alicia gives Justin a kiss on the cheek.

Violence

  • Justin threatens to grab a friend “by the ears” and “bash [his] head into the floor” if he doesn’t take Alicia off speakerphone.
  • In the opening scene of his prospective script, Justin describes a helicopter crash “crushing dozens of zombies” and “leaving a thick smear of squished zombies in its path.”
  • In another scene, Justin writes that the protagonist punches a zombie in the face and then headbutts another zombie whose head “shatters like glass.”
  • During a sleepless night, Justin hallucinates his bed threatening to “bite” him “right in half” with “sharp, glistening fangs.”
  • During auditions for the movie, a student mimes swinging a shovel into a zombie’s face while repeatedly shouting “Die!”
  • While filming a scene in a park, Bobby accidentally drops the boom mic on Alicia, hitting her infected eyebrow piercing. In response, she “charge[s]” at him “knocking him to the ground.” Then, Alicia “pick[s] up the boom mic” before repeatedly smacking him in the face with it.
  • When he accidentally runs in front of a driveway, Justin is hit by a car. He wakes up in a hospital bed with both a concussion and a “mangled” arm.
  • During a heated exchange, Bobby throws a carton of chocolate milk at a school bully named Zack. It “douse[s] him like a water balloon.” In response, Zack “raise[s] his fist and step[s] forward.” The situation is diffused before anything more can happen.
  • Due to a misunderstanding, one of the cast members is tased by an elderly woman.
  • Justin’s principal, Ms. Weager, stumbles upon the crew trespassing in the school at night and is so startled by the zombified cast that she falls to the ground screaming. But she quickly stands up again and begins “knocking zombie heads together.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Uncle Clyde uses an e-cigarette.
  • At one point, the crew visits Uncle Clyde’s house to pick up the zombie effects. When he doesn’t immediately answer the door, Justin speculates that he is “probably drunk and unconscious.”

Language

  • Bobby says that he won’t let Justin “wuss out” on offering Alicia a part in their movie.
  • Justin’s boss frequently yells at his employees, and his tirades are often punctuated by the word “dang.”
  • At one point, Justin calls Gabe a “jerk.”

Supernatural

  • Many of Justin’s films center around supernatural creatures such as zombies, vampires, and werewolves.

Spiritual Content

  • A woman in the park tells Justin he should “spend a little less time thinking about zombies” and “a little more time thinking about the Lord.” She later refers to his cast and crew as “cultists.”

by Naomi Brenden

Small Spaces Quartet #1

At night they will come for the rest of you. It’s with this ominous warning that eleven-year-old Ollie and her two friends, Coco and Brian, set out on a chilling adventure in the woods with nightfall fast descending and the ever-watchful eyes of scarecrows on their backs.

What began as an unremarkable school trip to a nearby farm soon becomes a frightening journey into the world behind the mist. In order to survive and not remain trapped there forever, Ollie and her friends need to be quick on their feet as they work to unravel a hundred-year-old mystery, save their classmates, and beat the villainous smiling man at his own game.

When night falls, Ollie and her friends must find small spaces to hide from the scarecrows, who follow the smiling man’s commands. During the daylight hours, the three friends search for a way back into their world. Along the way, they meet several ghosts, who were unwilling to leave their loved ones who the smiling man turned into scarecrows. However, before Ollie meets the ghosts, she finds Beth Webster’s book where she chronicled the story of her family and explains how the smiling man was able to turn her husband into a scarecrow.

Beth Webster’s story connects to Ollie’s own story. In Beth’s story, her mother-in-law was distraught over her son’s disappearance. In order to appease his grieving mother, Beth’s husband Johnathan makes a deal with the smiling man. The smiling man brings Johnathan’s brother back to life, but Johnathan then becomes the smiling man’s servant. Similar to Beth, Ollie is also grieving the loss of a loved one—her mother. However, Ollie doesn’t let her grief overshadow her life. When the smiling man offers to bring Ollie’s mom back to life, Ollie doesn’t accept the deal. Instead, she gives up the deepest desire of her heart in order to break the curse and restore her classmates.

While Small Spaces is predominantly a ghost story, it also touches on the theme of grief. Through her experiences, Ollie learns that her mother’s words and advice will continue to help her navigate life. Even though Ollie still grieves her mother’s loss, she is learning to find joy in life again.

Small Spaces will appeal to readers who want a creepy, scary story without bloodshed and gore. The easy-to-read story keeps readers on edge as the smiling man’s secrets are revealed. The story’s conclusion is a little confusing as it tries to piece together the stories of the past with the stories of the present.

While Ollie and her friends are not well-developed, they are an interesting group that learns to appreciate each other’s differences. If you’re looking for a fast-paced ghost story that will keep you guessing, then grab a copy of Small Spaces. Beware: when you get to the end, you will want to find out what happens in the next book, Dead Voices, in which Ollie and her friends get trapped in a haunted snow lodge.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After school, Mike takes Coco’s notebook and begins taunting her. When Brian does nothing to help Coco, Ollie threw a rock that “caught Brian squarely in the back of the head, dropped him thump onto the grass, and turned everyone’s attention from Coco Zinter to her.” Then Ollie gets on her bike and races home.
  • At the farm, the kids were going to learn about “slaughtering hogs (cut the throat and then hang it up to drain).”
  • Before the book begins, Ollie’s mother died in an airplane crash. “Ollie dreamed of the crash, even though she hadn’t seen it. She hadn’t seen the firs afterward, or the bits of broken plane stuck in a tree, the things that haunted her nightmare.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation twice.
  • The first time the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian asks, “What in hell was that?”

Supernatural

  • Ollie reads a book about a brother who makes a deal with the smiling man to bring his brother, Caleb, back to life. Caleb “came back. He was pale and blue-lipped; his eyes were strange and distant. . . It was his voice, his smile. Only the look in his eyes had changed, and he would not say where he was.”
  • Ollie’s teacher tells the class a story about the farm that the class will be visiting. The farm is rumored to be haunted because two brothers wanted to marry the same girl. The teacher says, “The younger brother disappeared. No one ever found traces of either of them. Eventually, the sheriff decided that the younger brother had killed the elder and then been overcome with remorse and thrown himself into the creek. That was when the rumors of hauntings started.”
  • In the past, there was a school at the farm. The schoolhouse “was burned to rubble, of course, right down to the foundation stones. . . The weird things is this: they never found any bodies.”
  • After Ollie’s mother dies, her father gives her her mother’s cracked watch. While running from the scarecrows, the watch gives her a countdown until sunset and tells her what to do. For example, “RUN” and “HIDE.” When Ollie whispers, “Mom? Is that you? Can you hear me?” The watch’s screen reads “ALWAYS.”
  • The scarecrows try to grab Ollie and her friends. They crawl into a small space under some rocks. “A nightmare face turned to Ollie: stitched-on snarl, eyes like two finger sized holes. The rake reached out again. . . A huge, straw-smelling arm thrust itself into the hole. . . Then the arm withdrew.” When the scarecrows realize they can’t reach the kids, they leave.
  • While running from the scarecrows, the kids go into a house where Ollie meets a ghost. Ollie discovers that two of the scarecrows are the ghost’s sons. When the kids leave the house, “Two scarecrows stood outside, one at each window. Somehow, they were not looking into the house anymore, but were watching the kids run, still smiling their wide smiles.”
  • Brian recognizes one of the scarecrows as his friend Phil. Brian says, “It’s wearing Phil’s clothes. Because that’s Phil’s hat and Phil’s hair and kind of Phil’s face—if it were sewn on.”
  • Ollie and her friends go into another house and Ollie sees a ghost. “A hand appeared on the doorframe. A thick, yellow-nail hand. Then a face popped around the edge of the doorframe. . . It was a woman. Or had been. Her skin was sunken in beneath the cheekbones, and when she smiled, her lips stretched too wide, the way a skull smiles.” The ghost tells her that the scarecrows are “neither flesh nor spirit” and that they are now the smiling man’s servants. The ghost says, “the cornfield is the doorway” to another world and the scarecrows hold the door between two worlds open.
  • While talking to the smiling man, Ollie figures out how to save her classmates. Ollie flings “a scattering of drops [of water] at the first scarecrow. . . the scarecrow screamed—a human scream.” The scarecrows that were from the past turned into dust but her classmates turned back into themselves.

Spiritual Content

  • After the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian says, “Deliver us from evil” and then did the sign of the cross. When Ollie and Coco look at him, he says, “I’m not a good Catholic but maybe God is listening.”

Much Ado About Baseball

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

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

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

Malamander

Twelve-year-old Herbie Lemon has always been fond of lost things. After all, as an infant, he was a “lost thing.” Herbie was found and given a home in the town of Eerie-on-Sea, where he was eventually put in charge of the Lost-and-Foundery at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. His job now is to keep track of every lost item in the hotel and, when possible, find its home.

One day, a new kind of lost thing arrives, inspiring quite an eventful case for the young detective-of-sorts. Violet Parma puts Herbie in charge of helping her track down her missing parents, who became “lost” when she was an infant while staying at the Grand Nautilus. Herbie reluctantly takes the case, and the pair works together, discovering that one legend from the town’s past may have more to do with the Parmas’ disappearance than they could have imagined.

The Parma mystery leads the duo to the malamander, a mythic creature that supposedly lives in the water surrounding Eerie-on-Sea. The malamander only comes inland once a year to lay its wish-granting egg. The power of the egg draws a variety of characters into the fray, including a gruff man with a boat hook for a hand. Herbie and Violet must consult the eclectic townspeople and watch their backs as they work to uncover the mysteries which are hidden in the mist of Eerie-on-Sea.

Taylor wonderfully builds the world of Eerie-on-Sea. From the very first chapter, it is clear Eerie-on-Sea is no ordinary island. It is home to ancient legends regarding the existence of sea monsters, which Herbie and Violet discover to be more fact than fiction. The legends– and the people who tell them– are enthralling, and each person is essential to the story being told. By the end of the novel, readers will feel as if they were on the island themselves.

Herbie is a loveable narrator who provides much needed information about the culture of Eerie-on-Sea. Herbie’s friendship with Violet also helps readers understand the mysteries of such a place. She is new to the island, as is the audience, allowing readers to identify with Violet as they learn about the stories which the townspeople know well. The balance between Herbie and Violet is engaging from their first meeting. Violet is a go-getter, who thinks quickly and is strong-willed. Herbie, while confident in some moments, is much quieter and cautious.

The malamander’s egg is central to many of the characters’ motivations, and Taylor’s story touches on the harmful nature of greed that has lasting effects it can have on others. For example, the legend of Captain K demonstrates how the captain’s desire for the egg causes his entire crew to be lost to the malamander. Captain K wishes for eternal life, and while he gets what he wished for, he becomes a shell of a man. Consequently, Captain K’s family spends generations trying to fix his mistakes. On the other hand, Herbie acts as a counter to this greed. Herbie’s job is dedicated to helping others find what they have lost. His decision to help Violet as well as his concern for the townspeople teach readers that selflessness and caring for others can lead to happiness.

The author occasionally uses advanced vocabulary, but the context clues provided make Malamander a good option for children looking to learn new words. Black and white illustrations bring the quirky characters to life; the illustrations are used periodically to aid in the visualization of some of the more significant moments in the story. Young readers who love mysteries and myths will enjoy Malamander as the story creates an interesting setting that has endearing characters and a gripping plot.

Sexual Content

  • Mrs. Fossil, a beachcomber, thinks she has some “beach finds” which would “suit a young man looking for something for that special someone in his life.” She assumes Violet and Herbie are romantically involved.
  • After hugging Herbie, Violet “looks a bit embarrassed and tries to hide it by punching [Herbie] on the arm.”

Violence

  • A man has a “large iron boat hook, ending in a long gleaming spike” for a hand. He is called “Boat Hook Man.”
  • When the Boat Hook Man comes looking for Violet in Herbie’s Lost-and-Foundery, he “shoves [Herbie] against the wall as he pushes past.”
  • Boat Hook Man uses his hook to break into the chest where Violet is hiding. “He raises his spike and brings it down with a sickening thud, driving it deep into the lid of the chest.” When he cannot find her, Herbie says the Boat Hook Man “[goes] berserk.” Herbie narrates, “He starts ransacking my cellar, sweeping his massive arms from side to side.”
  • Violet’s history becomes a large part of the story. She was “found abandoned” as a baby. Her parents left behind only “two pairs of shoes . . . left neatly on the harbor wall.” There were also “footprints in the sand, leading from the harbor wall to the sea.”
  • Herbie’s cap almost never cooperates when he tries to put it on his head. At one point he narrates “the elastic strap pings and nearly takes [his] eye out.”
  • Violet tells Herbie that “a fork bounced off the wall behind [her]” when she ran out of the hotel kitchen, where she was not supposed to be. Herbie knows that these were the actions of the head chef who “guards his kitchen like a fortress.”
  • In Herbie’s lost and found system, if red lines are crossing out a name, that means “the owners were declared dead.” Violet’s parents’ entry is crossed out in red, and Herbie apologizes while giving Violet her parents’ lost belongings.
  • Herbie teases his boss, Mr. Mollusc, to the point that he “is close to bursting a blood vessel.”
  • While walking with Violet, Herbie mentally describes how “the snow is like a swarm of icy bees—stinging [their] eyes and trying to get up [their] noses.”
  • Herbie fears he may have seen “a shadow stepping back into a doorway” when he checks to see if he and Violet are being followed.
  • While eating at the diner, Herbie notes, “Outside, where the sea mist is gathering, someone screams.” Herbie and Violet see Boat Hook Man head for the beach, “his long, hooked spike dangling like a weapon.” However, they never find out where he was going, because instead they find Mrs. Fossil, a townsperson, “clutching one arm and sobbing with pain.” Her clothes are “torn to shreds” and “there are angry red marks on her skin.” She had been bit by something with what she calls “teeth like needles.” She passes out.
  • Boat Hook Man sees Violet on the beach and “grabs Violet by her collar, lifting her in the air.” She has a hard time speaking because of where he grabbed her. She is left “clutching her throat.”
  • Herbie says, “I need to get some work done, or Mollusc will have me stewed and served up as today’s special.”
  • Mrs. Fossil receives treatment for her wound and reports that she “can already move [her] fingers again.”
  • Mrs. Fossil tells the children about the legend of the malamander. She says the creature lays an egg and then “devours it.” Since the egg has the power to grant wishes, she explains, many people have sought it. However, she tells them, “Every single one of them . . . gobbled up by the beastie!”
  • Herbie points out “all that’s left of the battleship Leviathan” is in the sea. He says, “It was wrecked years ago.”
  • Boat Hook Man corners Herbie and Violet in the fish shed. They try to escape using a rope, by jumping from the window to a suspended fishing net. Herbie misses the first opportunity for release and is left “dangling, four stories up.” He thinks, “At this point, I can let go of the rope and probably break both my legs, or I can stay dangling where I am and be filleted like a small lemon-flavored herring in a Lost-and-Foundery’s cap.”
  • Just before Boat Hook Man can use his hook to capture Herbie, Violet “strikes Boat Hook Man in the eye” with her book. Violet and Herbie manage to escape, but they fall before they get all the way to the ground. Herbie notes “the air escaping from [his] lungs with an OOF.” Violet hurts her ankle on impact and needs help running away. This event is described over four pages.
  • Jenny, the bookstore owner, explains how Sebastian Eels and Violet’s father knew each other. They were both authors interested in the malamander, and at one point “they went monster hunting together.”
  • The malamander comes to the museum when Herbie and Violet are there. It “slaps the window right in front of us with such force that it shatters.” Herbie feels “points of pain on my hands and face as the pieces cut in.” Then, the creature tries to “throw itself over the edge” of the museum walls, but Violet grabs its tail. Herbie thinks, “All I can see is that if Violet doesn’t let go, she’ll be pulled over the ramparts too, down onto the toothlike steeples of Maw Rocks, far below.”
  • When trying to save Violet, Herbie is dragged hard against the wall.” He cannot yell, because he feels “the air being crushed out of [his] lungs.” When the creature strikes Violet with its tail, they let go and the malamander falls. Herbie expects “to hear a thud, and maybe the crunch of breaking bone” but the creature simply slithers back to the ocean. This encounter is described over two pages.
  • When Herbie and Violet are caught in the museum by its owner, Dr. Thalassi, Herbie notices, “The folded umbrella [the owner] brandished as a weapon is on the desk, too, like a polite threat.”
  • In anger, Dr. Thalassi attempts to justify his luring of the malamander, which caused the attack on Violet. Herbie exclaims, “An experiment that just slashed off half of Vi’s face!” Herbie knows it’s “an exaggeration” but she was injured by the creature.
  • The museum owner tells the story of the Leviathan and its Captain. The captain led his crew into a cavern where “they found a great stinking mound of seaweed, bones, and shipwreck salvage.” They found the malamander and took its egg, causing it to attack the ship. Dr. Thalassi says, “Many lives were lost defending Leviathan against the creature.” Despite the crew’s use of weapons, the monster kept attacking. Dr. Thalassi explains, “Bullets sparked off its scales, leaving scarcely a mark, and its claws could rend iron.”
  • While the Captain was holding the egg, the malamander “delivered a . . . good, hard bite, which injected stinging venom” that numbed the captain. Then, the creature “with a single snap of its jaws tore his right hand—the hand that held the malamander egg—clean off and swallowed it whole.” The story is recounted in seven pages.
  • Herbie notices in the museum, “Above us the skeleton of a whale hangs suspended, and in the cabinets all around, stuffed and desiccated sea creatures peer out at us through glass eyes.”
  • The hotel’s owner, Lady Kraken, says, “I have no doubt [Violet’s dad] wanted the egg, too, and no doubt that the malamander devoured him for his trouble.”
  • Sebastian Eels plans to carry a weapon to confront the malamander. He claims it “will be for protection only, to scare it away if I’m seen.”
  • When Boat Hook Man is arguing with Eels, Eels says, “Don’t you wave that hook at me.” Boat Hook Man then warns Eels that the malamander will kill him if he goes after its egg. Later, Herbie watches as “Eels brings his fist down on the desk.”
  • Sebastian Eels’ plan for the malamander is to “put a dozen harpoons through its stinking fish guts before it can even spit.” If people come to stop him, he will do the same to them. Eels says, “the sea will quickly dispose of the bodies.”
  • While hiding from Sebastian Eels and Boat Hook Man in Eels’ home, Herbie and Violet are caught. Boat Hook Man goes after them, using his hook as a weapon, though he misses Herbie by inches. Erwin the cat protects them by “attacking the old mariner’s head ferociously, raking at [Boat Hook Man] with his claws.” Herbie watches as “instead of blood, only water spouts from the wounds.”
  • Herbie narrates, “the poor cat is flung to one side” by Boat Hook Man. When trying to escape the building, Sebastian Eels uses his harpoon gun multiple times on the children with one missing and “ricocheting back . . . and clonking Boat Hook Man in the face” causing him to fall. He is not fully human, though, so he is not injured when he hits the ground. Another harpoon makes its target, Violet. The harpoon hit the book in Violet’s pocket, narrowly saving her life. The incident occurs over six pages.
  • Herbie says of Eels, “hopefully the big bully will get himself eaten by the monster.”
  • Eels steals an important paper from Violet. When she tries to fight back, “he picks her up with one hand and throws her out of his way.” Erwin comes to the rescue, “hissing as he claws up [Eels’] legs and sinks his teeth into the man’s hand, making him drop the paper.”
  • Eels throws the cat away, and the cat “hits the corner of a bookshelf and . . . falls limply to the ground.” Eels then “brings his fist down on [Herbie’s] head.” This event is described in one page.
  • Eels retells the story of Achilles and the “arrow in the heel that brought about his death.”
  • Violet says to Eels, “I hope the malamander bites your head off.”
  • Eels promises to “wipe [Violet] out of existence and end [her] misery for good” with the power of the malamander egg.
  • Violet discusses the legend of the malamander, including its annual move “near the town to hunt” and lay its egg, which it then “devours.”
  • Aboard the Leviathan, Herbie thinks, “I shrink back into the darkness, still pulled by Violet, desperately hoping it is Violet pulling me and not some flubbery faceless horror from the deep.” Later, he sees actual sea creatures around him and kicks them off.
  • Herbie observes the malamander open “its cavernous tooth-needle mouth and roars an earsplitting, soul-tearing, nightmarish cry of saurian fury.” This is followed by the creature charging the pair. Herbie wonders “if it’s worth fighting for a moment or two of extra life, or if it’s better to just fall down into the water and hope the end comes quickly.” He then remembers Eels’ comment about bodies being disposed by the sea and thinks it could be true, “especially if the bodies are quite small — and devoured by a folkloric fish man in the belly of a sunken warship.” The malamander passes them over in its search for Eels.
  • Herbie sees “human bones” in the malamander’s nest.
  • Eels threatens to shoot Violet with the harpoon gun but does not.
  • In a flashback to Violet’s parents’ disappearance, her dad comes to believe that Eels could be responsible for the infant Violet’s disappearance. He says to his wife, “He said I’d pay a heavy price if I kept my discoveries from him. But surely he wouldn’t . . .”
  • Eels tries to get the egg from Violet. Eels “grabs the egg with one hand and punches Violet in the face with the other.” She falls into the cold water. Herbie dives in after her and wonders “for a moment if I’ve died without noticing” due to the “cold and dark.” When he finds her, “she gasps and coughs.”
  • The malamander resurfaces. “In its claws it is holding the broken body of Boat Hook Man.” Herbie recognizes Boat Hook Man is not dead, but “he has clearly lost the fight with the monster” as his “face is white and awful”.
  • The malamander tries to get its egg back from Eels, but he “shoots it” first. He repeatedly fires and Herbie hears the “th-TOUM” sound the gun makes. Herbie then sees that “the harpoon has buried itself deep between two of the monster’s scales, where — now that we look closely — a slim opening in its armor can be seen.” This opening is the only way the malamander can be killed. The malamander has been shot “straight through its heart” and “with a gurgling sigh, the malamander twitches one last time and then goes still.”
  • After Boat Hook Man was attacked by the malamander, Herbie describes that the creature’s victim “looks awful, his twisted body half submerged, his skin raked over with great gashes and slashes.”
  • Boat Hook Man tells Eels about his pursuit of the egg. He says, “I lost everything — my ship, my fine men, even my family, in the end.”
  • Eels uses the egg to transform malamander into a tentacle-ridden sea creature to restrain Boat Hook Man. “As we watch, the scaly corpse of the monster quivers and splits, and dozens of fleshy tendrils shoot up from it.” Eels then magically replaces Boat Hook Man’s hook with a crab pincer. Boat Hook Man uses it “to cut through one of the tentacles holding him by using his new claw.” In response, Eels turns Boat Hook Man “into a mass of squid and jellyfish and sea slime.”
  • Trying to get the egg away from Eels, Violet shoves him. She then “lands a kick in the man’s face.” Eels tries to shoot Violet at “point-blank range” but there are no harpoons, so it only makes a “fut! Fut!” sound. When Violet gets the egg, Eels pulls “his knife from its sheath.”
  • Eels gets the egg back, but the malamander’s “mouth, lined as before with tooth needles, closes with a sickening crunch over the hand that holds the egg.” The monster drags him under the water and “there’s a ripple or two . . . then there’s nothing”. The entire fight between the malamander, Herbie, Violet, Eels, and Boat Hook Man aboard the Leviathan takes place over 30 pages.
  • Herbie thinks he has drowned aboard the Leviathan. He thinks, “It’s not cold, though, so I guess being as dead as driftwood has an upside.” However, Herbie is warm because he was rescued. He feels the effects of nearly drowning, his “chest and throat feel as if they’re on fire”.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mrs. Fossil explains that the town doctor has prevented her from “languishing in a hospital bed somewhere, pumped full of goodness-knows-what.”
  • Violet’s cut is treated with “a wad of cotton, soaked in disinfectant.”
  • In Eels’ house, Herbie sees “an empty bottle of whiskey” on the floor near Violet. She insists she did not drink it and asks him, “Do you think I drink whiskey?”

Language

  • Many of the characters use names such as weasel, fool, stupid, and creep. For example, Herbie calls Mollusc a horrible, hideous man, though not to his face.
  • Herbie narrates that “Lady Kraken is almost a recluse.” Herbie thinks, “The way her wrinkly head emerges from her sumptuous silky gown reminds me of a turtle.” He watches her “clawlike hand” and “wizened eye.”
  • Lady Kraken calls Herbie an “incorrigible dunderbrain.” She also asks if he has “cloth for brains.”
  • Lady Kraken exclaims, “Curse the clouds!”
  • Violet refers to the mermonkey cards as “freaky” and “weird.”
  • Herbie mentally describes the mermonkey as “grotesque” and “ugly.”
  • Violet thinks Eels looks “booky” and he gives her the creeps. Herbie calls him “a bit full of himself.”
  • Mrs. Fossil collects “coprolite” which she explains is “doodah…dino turd…petrified poo.”
  • Herbie thinks Boat Hook Man is an “awful man” and “freaky.”
  • Herbie calls Mollusc “old Mollusc breath.” He then refers to him as “that whiny old whinge-bag.”
  • The characters occasionally “swear” to show honesty. Jenny says Violet’s father “swore blind that he saw things” that were supposed to be only legend, not real.
  • Herbie often internally describes the museum owner as having a “Julius Caesar nose” or a “beaky nose.”
  • Mrs. Fossil uses the expression “goodness-knows-what.”
  • Herbie uses the expression “bladderwracks” occasionally.
  • Eels calls himself “just an old daydreamer” in a disparaging way.
  • Eels uses the expression, “Goodness me.”
  • Herbie calls Eels “Eel Face” in conversation with Violet.
  • Violet asks Herbie if he thought Jenny was a bit “shifty.”
  • Herbie calls himself a “ninny.”
  • Herbie says that he and Violet are “freezing [their] cockles off.”
  • In the story of Captain K, the captain calls his men “cowards” for wanting “to turn back.” They later plead, “for the love of grog, give it back its egg!”
  • The captain calls the malamander “just a dumb animal” and a “fiendish creature.”
  • Herbie calls an action in the story of Captain K “bonkers.” The museum owner agrees and says the captain was “drunk with power.”
  • After his encounter with the malamander, the captain is described as becoming “a ruin of a man, ranting and raving.”
  • Herbie asks himself, “How could I have been so stupid?”
  • Lady Kraken calls the museum owner “sly” and Violet “that sneaky little friend of yours.”
  • Damned is used occasionally. For example, Eels says, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that bleeding-heart Peter stand in my way, even from beyond the grave.”
  • Eels tells Boat Hook Man, “It’s not my fault you didn’t have the wit or the will to use the egg properly.”
  • Eels calls the behavior of the malamander “pathetic” and asks, “doesn’t it just make you want to puke?” He also adds, “But also, how very unsurprising that a softy like Peter Parma would be the one to discover such a ridiculous fact.”
  • Herbie assumes Eels believes “no one in their right mind would crawl into such a small and dismal hole.”
  • Hell is used several times. For example, Herbie calls the shipwreck “watery hell.”
  • Violet’s dad uses the expression “dear gods.”
  • Eels calls Violet “wretched, unimaginative child” and “as weak and pathetic as [her] father.”

Supernatural

  • The legend of the malamander is central to the story. According to the townspeople’s beliefs, “It’s a monstrous creature — half man, half fish, half goodness-knows-what” with “rows of quivering spines.” The creature lays a “magical egg” once a year. The egg’s abilities are described as the “grants-you-your-dearest-wish kind.”
  • The malamander can climb walls and swim very well, as well as survive long falls. The malamander “was not invincible . . . it could be killed” by attacking the small opening to its heart. Eels says, “the monster opens its heart when it lays its egg. Quite literally — the armored plates over its heart fold back so that its beatings can be heard in the ocean. That’s how it calls its mate.”
  • The book dispensary has an animatronic mermonkey, a monkey that “has the lower body of a fish” and dispenses the identification code for a book that it feels the reader needs. Jenny, who owns the dispensary says, “It’s the book that chooses you.” Herbie also tells Violet that many believe the machine to have “a sense of humor, too” because Herbie “met a man once who swears he belched in front of the mermonkey and got dispensed a copy of Gone with the Wind.
  • Lady Kraken, the hotel owner, has a mechanism called a “cameraluna” which uses the moon to project “a moving image of the pier at Eerie-on-Sea, seen from above.” She uses it to spy on the townspeople in real time. She can also reverse the recordings, making the “little figures of the townsfolk dart around, walking backward at high speed, as if [Herbie and Lady Kraken] are going back in time.”
  • Herbie explains that the rumor is that the diner owner “came here as a young man and saw a mermaid from the end of the pier. Heard her sing. No one ever recovers from that.”
  • The cat, Erwin, speaks occasionally.
  • The egg can vaguely communicate telepathically with its holder. “In the captain’s wondering mind, a thousand voices seemed to whisper as one: I can make your dreams come true.”
  • Captain K, also known as Boat Hook Man, wished to “live forever” and the egg granted that wish. The egg responds, “But if you lose [the egg], your wish shall become your curse.” Captain K’s “wounds closed up as soon as they opened, and his injuries healed.”
  • Boat Hook Man exists today as half-man, half-water. He arrives in the form of a “cloud of mist” which gathers into a shape.
  • The egg’s power is used multiple times by Eels and Violet. Violet uses it to see her parents’ disappearance in a mist “like a tornado,” which displays images and sound. In addition, the mist “encircles” Boat Hook Man and transforms him into his former self, Captain K. “The boat hook on the end of his right arm evaporates, and a new hand appears there, pink and perfect.”
  • Eels uses the egg to replace Captain K’s hook with a “red crab pincer” and then turns the malamander body into multiple sea creatures. “Captain Kraken’s body trembles and ripples, then collapses into a mass of squid and jellyfish and sea slime.”
  • Violet then uses the egg to make the malamander “miraculously whole again,” raising it from the dead.

Spiritual Content

  • The diner owner says, “In my country, we leave gifts for beings like this, for spirits. Offerings. At night, when I close up, I, too, leave gifts — the fried fish that is left over — outside on the pier. In the morning, it is gone.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Ophie’s Ghosts

Ophelia Harrison used to live in a small house in the Georgia countryside. But that was before the night in November of 1922, and the cruel act that took her home and her father from her– which was the same night that Ophie learned she can see ghosts.

Now, Ophie and her mother are living in Pittsburgh with relatives they barely know. In the hopes of earning enough money to get their own place, Mama has gotten Ophie a job as a maid in the same old manor house where she works.

Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. It is filled with ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others, and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. And as Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help—even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.

Ophie’s Ghosts pulls the reader into the story from the very first page and will keep readers engaged until the very end. While Ophie’s tale shows the harsh realities of living in the 1920s, the story is spun using kid-friendly descriptions. However, younger readers could be disturbed by Ophie’s encounters with ghosts, many of whom died tragically. The ghosts are from every walk of life and include people of all ages and races. While Ophie interacts with many ghosts, none of the ghosts try to harm her. For Ophie, the danger comes from the living.

Readers will empathize with Ophie, who is thrown into servitude at a young age. Through Ophie’s experiences, readers will come to understand the difficulties African Americans faced during the 1920s. The story gives many examples of discrimination and explores the topic of passing as caucasian. In the end, Ophie cries because “girls who believed in happily ever afters could be murdered in attics, and because men who just wanted to have their voices heard could have their words choked off forever.”

Throughout the story, Ireland references people and events of the time. However, the text doesn’t explain the references and most readers will not understand their significance. For example, Ophie’s mother makes several comments about bootleggers, but the term is never explained. In addition, the story uses some difficult vocabulary such as irksome tomes, incandescent, tincture, fluffing, and blotto. Despite this, most readers can use context clues to understand the term.

Through Ophie’s point of view, Ophie’s Ghosts paints a vivid picture of life in the 1920s. Ophie points out the unfair circumstances that rob her of her childhood. However, despite the hardships Ophie faces, she is never bitter. Instead, she thinks about her Daddy. “Daddy had often said that when presented with two choices, a hard thing and an easy thing, the right thing was usually the more difficult one.” Because of her Daddy’s words, Ophie has the courage to listen to the ghosts and help them move on.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction, should also read Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxie and The Player King by Avi. For readers who want to learn about history, but aren’t ready for more mature books, Survival Tails by Katrina Charman and American Horse Tales by Michelle Jabés Corpora would be good choices.

Sexual Content

  • Ophie asks Cook about a woman she saw. Cook replies, “Sometimes Mr. Richard likes to bring home . . . a bit of company, but those girls are not business of yours.”
  • Ophie likes to read romance books. “Mama would have had a fit if she knew her daughter was reading such things, stories of girls who were compromised, whatever that meant, and kissed boys who left them heartbroken.”
  • Sophie asks Clara, a ghost, about her beau. Clara said, “A lady never kisses and tells.”
  • A woman in a dressing room goes into the kitchen. Ophie wonders, “Did Clara know that Richard was having friends over, friends who walked around the house half-dressed after sleeping in most of the day?”

Violence

  • Ophie’s father is murdered because he voted. His death is not described.
  • After killing Ophie’s father, a group of men burn down Ophie’s family home. Ophie and her mother hide from the men. “The snap and crackle of fire slowly grew louder than the voices of the men, a roar of consumption, followed by thick smoke that twined sinuously through the treetops. . .”
  • When a group of men are standing around talking, Ophie thinks, “The men who were in her yard, yelling and laughing, were the kind of white men who had beat up Tommy Williams just because he accidentally looked the wrong way at a white lady from Atlanta. After they’d pummeled Tommy, they’d dropped him off in the woods near Ophie’s house, most likely because they’d figured no one would find him.”
  • Even though Ophie is young, she still understands that “Colored folks who’d broken some unspoken rule, gotten uppity and acted above their station, paid the price for such an error with their lives.”
  • Sophie meets a ghost who is just a boy. He has “bloody welts crisscrossing his back.”
  • When Ophie tries to help her cousin with her homework, “the result had been a vicious slap without any kind of warning.”
  • Caruther tells about a boy who was whipped “until the white meat showed.”
  • A man is hit by a trolley. “He boarded the trolley right through the closed door, his suit torn and bloody, his hat missing entirely. . . his gray suit and pale skin made the blood dripping from his head all the more vivid.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses Penelope’s body. Clara goes after Penelope’s murderer with a pair of scissors. To prevent another death, Ophie throws salt. “The container burst into a shower of salt as it hit the girl in the chest. There was a sound like the room was inhaling, the air grew thick . . . Clara crumbled to the floor.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ophie sees a ghost who was “still wearing his service uniform and drinking to numb the pain of a heart broken by a war fought in trenches.” Later, Ophie finds out that the ghost died because of his drinking.
  • After Mrs. Caruther has a “fit,” “the doctor gives her laudanum.”
  • A ghost asks Ophie, “Do you think you could get your hands on a bottle of gin. Spirits for the spirit!”
  • One of Mrs. Caruther’s servants “snuck drinks from a flask tucked into her garter when she thought no one was looking.”
  • Caruther’s son has friends over to the house and they “spent most of their time all blotto.”
  • When Mrs. Caruther’s son announces his engagement, he serves champagne. One of the guests has red wine.

Language

  • Ophie’s cousins call her stupid and “a dope.”
  • Caruther calls a servant a “jigaboo.”
  • Ophie’s mother says she misses her husband “every damn day.”

Supernatural

  • Ophie and her aunt can both see and communicate with ghosts.
  • Ophie’s Aunt Rose tells her not to trust the dead. “You keep iron and salt in your pockets at all times. That way they can’t take hold of your body, which some of the more powerful ones will try to do.”
  • Aunt Rose educates Ophie about ghosts. Aunt Rose says, “Ghosts are attracted to feelings—sadness and happiness, and all the other betwixt and between.”
  • Ophie wonders if ghosts are “too terrible for Heaven.”
  • Aunt Rose tells Ophie about a ghost who was “stealing her husband’s breath, using it to make her stronger.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses a young woman.
  • To keep a ghost out of a room, “someone had placed a thick band of salt across the threshold just inside the bedroom door.”

Spiritual Content

  • While at church, Ophie likes to watch the pastor and his wife. “It made Ophie feel that maybe some of those Bible words were actually true, even if she didn’t entirely believe they were meant for her.”
  • After Ophie’s father dies, the pastor tells her, “Your daddy has gone to heaven to be with Jesus.”
  • Ophie says a quick prayer several times. For example, when Ophie and her mother take a trolley car, Ophie “prayed for the trolley to hurry.”
  • Ophie wonders why Mrs. Caruther is so mean. Ophie thinks about the pastor’s wife who “once talked about sin as a heavy burden that folks carried around: ‘When you carry that sin around, when you let it weigh you down, you want to make sure that everyone around you is suffering as well . . .let Jesus take it and hold that burden so that you can carry on as a light in the world.’”
  • Ophie’s father told her, “The good Lord is always testing us, Ophie, in big ways and small. You do the thing you know to be right, always, no matter what.”
  • Ophie’s teacher told her that it was “the Christian thing to do to turn the other cheek.”
  • When someone steals, Ophie’s mother tells the lady, Jesus will give you yours.”

Breaking Dawn

In Part One of Breaking Dawn, Bella thinks she has her happily-ever-after when she and Edward are married. But halfway through their honeymoon, Bella realizes she is pregnant. A child between a human and a vampire is supposed to be impossible, yet Bella’s pregnancy progresses at an abnormal rate. As the creature inside her threatens her life, Edward is prepared to get it out of her at all costs. But to Bella, this isn’t a monster growing inside her, but a beautiful child. With Rosalie on her side, Bella is determined to have her baby at any cost. Even if that cost is her life.

 Part Two is told from Jacob’s perspective. Jacob never expected to see Bella again—not while she was human. When she returns from her honeymoon with a story about catching a rare disease, Jacob assumes she has become a vampire. Looking for a fight, he goes to the Cullen’s house, only to realize the reality is more horrible than he could ever imagine. Suddenly he finds himself protecting Bella—and the Cullens—against his own pack. But even if Bella and her child survive the pregnancy, this hybrid child may be the only excuse the Volturi need to come and destroy the Cullens. Told again from Bella’s point of view, Part Three ends this exciting quartet.

 Breaking Dawn is a satisfying ending to the Twilight series. Readers will swoon over Bella and Edward’s wedding, and ache for the difficulties that follow. As Jacob fights to protect Bella, he will break the hearts of readers on Team Jacob and threaten to steal the hearts of those on Team Edward. And as the Volturi draw nearer, an entire host of new vampires are introduced in a delightful way.

Breaking Dawn has a lighter tone than the previous books, as Bella thinks she’s finally getting her happily-ever-after. However, danger isn’t done with her yet. While the suspense is lighter in this installment, there are plenty of interesting developments to keep readers engaged. An increase in sexual content and a graphic C-section may unsettle younger readers, but Breaking Dawn ends a whirlwind quartet with several satisfying twists and unexpected turns.

Sexual Content

  • Bella wants to sleep with Edward before she turns into a vampire, because she is worried she will not want Edward in the same way afterward, and she doesn’t want to lose that human experience. “I wanted the complete experience before I traded in my warm, breakable, pheromone-riddled body for something beautiful, strong . . . and unknown. I wanted a real honeymoon with Edward. And, despite the danger he feared this would put me in, he’d agreed to try.”
  • Bella and Edward make out often. On one occasion, Bella “ran [her] hand down his stone chest now, tracing across the flat planes of his stomach, just marveling. A light shudder rippled through him, and his mouth found mine again. Carefully, I let the tip of my tongue press against his glass-smooth lip, and he sighed. His sweet breath washed—cold and delicious—over my face.”
  • Another time, Bella “clutched [her] arms around his neck again and locked [her] mouth with his feverishly. It wasn’t desire at all—it was need, acute to the point of pain.”
  • Bella and Edward have sex multiple times on their honeymoon, but the sex is not described.
  • Edward asked his father what it was like to have sex as a vampire. “Carlisle told me it was a very powerful thing, like nothing else. He told me physical love was something I should not treat lightly. . . I spoke to my brothers, too. They told me it was a very great pleasure. Second only to drinking human blood.”
  • Edward accidentally bruises Bella all over her body the first time they have sex. Afterwards, he says, “I will not make love with you until you’ve been changed. I will never hurt you again.” After that, he keeps Bella, “busy, distracted, so that [Bella] wouldn’t continue badgering him about the sex thing.
  • Bella is willing to stay human longer because she doesn’t want to give up her physical relationship with Edward. Edward says, “Sex was the key all along? Why didn’t I think of that? I could have saved myself a lot of arguments. . . You are so human.”
  • Bella’s period is late. “There was no way I could be pregnant. The only person I’d ever had sex with was a vampire, for crying out loud.” Then she remembers old vampire legends. “They mostly seemed like excuses dreamed up to explain things like infant mortality rates—and infidelity. No honey, I’m not having an affair! That sexy woman you saw sneaking out of the house was an evil succubus. I’m lucky I escaped with my life! . . . There had been one for the ladies, too. How can you accuse me of cheating on you—just because you’ve come home from a two-year sea voyage and I’m pregnant? It was the incubus.
  • When thinking about Bella and Edward’s honeymoon, Jacob thinks “maybe [Edward]’d smashed her like a bag of chips in his drive to get some.”
  • The Cullens had no idea a male vampire could get a human woman pregnant. Edward says, “They’re out there, the sadistic ones, the incubus, the succubus. They exist. But the seduction is merely a prelude to the feast. No one survives.”
  • Edward is worried that carrying his child will kill Bella. He is willing to let her have a child by Jacob if she wants a baby so badly. When Edward asks Jacob, Jacob says, “How? By offering my stud services?” Jacob thinks, “Wrong. Sick. Borrowing Bella for the weekends and then returning her Monday morning like a rental movie? So messed up. So tempting.”
  • Wolves’ clothes do not morph with them. “Nudity was an inconvenient but unavoidable part of pack life. We’d all thought nothing of it before Leah came along. Then it got awkward. Leah had average control when it came to her temper—it took her the usual length of time to stop exploding out of her clothes every time she got pissed. We’d all caught a glimpse. And it wasn’t like she wasn’t worth looking at; it was just that it was so not worth it when she caught you thinking about it later.”
  • During her emergency C-section, “Bella was on a table . . . skin ghostly in the spotlight.” Jacob thinks, “How many times had I imagined her naked? Now I couldn’t look. I was afraid to have these memories in my head.”
  • After Bella becomes a vampire, she and Edward kiss several times. “It was like he’d never kissed me—like this was our very first kiss . . . my breathing sped, raced as fast as it had when I was burning. This was a different kind of fire.”
  • After she turns into a vampire, Bella and Edward make love several times. “My skin was so sensitive under his hands, too. He was all new, a different person as our bodies tangled gracefully into one on the sand-pale floor. No caution, no restraint . . . We laugh together, and the motion of our laughter did interesting things to the way our bodies were connected, effectively ending that conversation.”

Violence

  • Bella has a nightmare where she sees a child in danger. “I sprinted toward the boy. Only to stagger to a halt as I got a clear view of the hillock that he sat upon. It was not earth and rock, but a pile of human bodies, drained and lifeless . . . and directly beneath the adorable boy were the bodies of my father and my mother.”
  • Jacob fights with his packmates a lot, all of whom heal extremely quickly since they are werewolves. In one fight Jacob “lunged. His nose made a very satisfying crunching sound of its own when my fist connected.”
  • When Jacob is depressed, he wonders, “Would a bullet through my temple actually kill me or just leave a really big mess for me to clean up?”
  • When something goes wrong with the pregnancy, “Bella screamed. It was not just a scream, it was a blood-curdling shriek of agony. The horrifying sound cut off with a gurgle, and her eyes rolled back into her head. Her body twitched, arched in Rosalie’s arms, and then Bella vomited a fountain of blood.”
  • Bella has a graphic C-section, during which Edward cuts the baby out with his teeth. Rosalie’s “hand came down on Bella’s stomach, and vivid red spouted out from where she pierced the skin . . . another shattering crack inside [Bella’s] body . . . her legs, which had been curled up in agony, now went limp . . . I glanced over to see Edward’s face pressed against the bulge. Vampire teeth—a surefire way to cut through vampire skin.”
  • Transforming into a vampire is extremely painful. Bella is given morphine, which paralyzes her but does nothing to ease the pain. She thinks, “If I couldn’t scream, how could I tell them to kill me? All I wanted was to die. To never have been born. The whole of my existence did not outweigh this pain. Wasn’t worth living through it for one more heartbeat. Let me die, let me die, let me die.”
  • Caius, one of the Volturi, slaps a vampire named Irina. “Caius closed the distance between them and slapped her across the face. It couldn’t have hurt, but there was something terribly degrading about the action.”
  • Bella hunts and kills several deer and a mountain lion. “My teeth unerringly sought his throat, and his instinctive resistance was pitifully feeble against my strength . . . my teeth were steel razors; they cut through the fur and fat and sinews like they weren’t there.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Bella is given morphine when she transforms into a vampire. It is supposed to numb the pain, but it fails.

Language

  • Pissed is used several times. For example, Bella says, “I’m sort of pissed, actually.”
  • Damn and dammit are used often. For example, when Bella thinks she has food poisoning, she says, “Damn rancid chicken.”
  • Leah and Bella both call Jacob a moron.
  • Hell is used often. When Edward says Jacob has to do something, Jacob says, “The hell I do.” Another time, Jacob tells a packmate “Oh yes you are the hell going to stand behind Sam!”
  • Crap is used often. Once, Jacob asks Edward, “Where is this psycho crap coming from?”
  • Jacob calls vampires parasites and blood suckers.
  • Shut up is used often.
  • Jacob calls someone an idiot.

Supernatural

  • A legend of the indigenous Quileute people “claims that [they] descended from wolves – and that the wolves are our brothers still.” Some members of the tribe are able to transform into wolves.
  • Edward and his family are vampires. Unlike most vampires, Edward and his family survive off the blood of animals, so they do not have to murder people.
  • Some vampires have special abilities. Edward can read minds; his brother Jasper can control the emotions of those around him; his sister Alice can see bits and pieces of the future.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Morgan Lynn

 

Clap When You Land

Camino and Yahaira’s lives are turned upside down when they hear the news, “There have been no survivors found from flight 1112.”

Sixteen-year-old Yahaira lives in New York with her mother and father. Every year, her father returns to his home country – the Dominican Republic. This summer, he was on flight 1112. After Yahaira is told her father died in a plane crash, she is devastated by the news and weighed down by a secret – her father had a wife and a child in the Dominican Republic.

 Sixteen-year-old Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt. After Camino’s mother died, her father moved to New York. Camino’s father returns to the Dominican Republic every summer to spend time with her. Camino is crushed by the loss of her father and the discovery that he had another child, Yahaira, in New York.

Camino works with her aunt as a traditional healer and had aspirations of joining her father in New York to study medicine and become a doctor. Her father pays a local sex trafficker to leave Camino alone so she can focus on her schoolwork. Without her father funding this and her private education, she feels as though her dreams are now out of reach.

Clap When You Land follows Camino and Yahaira on their journey to discover how their lives are interconnected and what it means to be family. They both feel betrayed by their father’s secrets and must learn to cope with the aftermath. Camino and Yahaira learn the world is not always black and white, that maybe their father truly loved both of them. Yahaira comes to terms with her father’s deception saying, “I know now, Papi could not move between two families. When he was here – he was mine, when he was there, he was theirs.”

This spellbinding novel follows the two girls on the cusp of adulthood. Both girls must learn to deal with life’s challenges. Yahaira navigates life in New York as a lesbian, while Camino learns how to follow her dreams despite her circumstances. Clap When You Land will help readers understand the grieving process and how to cope with an immense loss.

The narration is provided in prose, switching between Camino and Yahaira’s voices which provides multiple perspectives on how loss can change someone. Camino and Yahaira’s relationship provides a valuable perspective on sexual assault and what it means to be a survivor. Camino and Yahaira find comfort in leaning on each other as they deal with the emotional and physical trauma they have suffered.

In addition, Clap When You Land discusses health disparities that exist both in the Dominican Republic and in the United States, providing important commentary on health inequities throughout the world. High school-aged readers will find Camino’s and Yahaira’s journey entertaining and captivating. The two young women are relatable characters who impart valuable life lessons.

 Sexual Content

  • As Camino walks to school, she sees “the working girls I once went to school with.” She is referring to girls who had to drop out of school to become sex workers.
  • Camino discusses how her father didn’t need to be strict with her because “I don’t mess with dudes from the barrio who love gossip at the domino bars about the girls that they’ve slept with.” Camino only flirted with the American boys from her school, but “not because they’re cute or interesting – they’re often obnoxious and only want a taste of my gutter-slick tongue and brownness; they act as if they could elevate my life with a taste of their powder-milk-tinged pomp.”
  • Camino discusses the neighborhood sex trafficker saying, “El Cero always gets a first taste of the girls who work for him. Before he gussies them up and takes them by the resort beach in cut-off tanks and short shorts so the men from all over the world who come here for sun and sex can give thumbs-up or -down to his wares.”
  • Yahaira reminisces about when she and her girlfriend, Dre, were intimate for the first time. Yahaira thinks, “The first time Dre touched me without our clothes on, she kept running her hand from waist to hip. And I wanted to write Miami a thank-you text, for giving my body a spot that was made to nest Dre’s head in.”
  • Yahaira describes Dre as saying, “If you tell a dirty joke, Dre will talk about plants that pollinate themselves. If you talk about hoeing around, you’d see Dre blink as her mind goes down a long winding path of tilling dirt.”
  • Camino is worried about El Cero, the local sex trafficker. She thinks, “Even the women, girls like me, our mothers and tias, our bodies are branded jungle gyms. Men with accents pick us as if from a brochure to climb and slide and swing.”
  • Yahaira was sexually assaulted on the train. She says, “When I felt a squeeze on my leg I thought it was an accident and when I felt fingers float up my thighs I thought I must be mistaken and when he palmed me under my skirt openhanded I dropped my trophy but did not scream, did not make a scene did not curse him out there was no strategy no alternate plan no way to win, there was just me stuck, and being felt up on a public train.”
  • Camino said her aunt always answered her questions, “whether it was about sex, or boys, healing or the Saints.”

Violence

  • When Camino learns that no one survived the plane crash, she thinks, “A body means there is no miracle to hope for; dead is dead is dead.”
  • Dre plays Nina Simone’s music when she is dealing with difficult events. Yahaira says, “She will play her when we see videos on social media of another black boy shot, another black girl pulled over, another kid in the Bronx stabbed outside the Bodega. Dre plays Nina when two girls holding hands are jumped.”
  • Yahaira’s mother won’t let her see her father’s remains because “the airline representative mails us a catalog of all the bits of cloth, and bone, and hair, and suitcase things that probably belong to my father.”
  • When a man sexually assaults Camino, she desperately thinks, “kick him back scratch at the eyes mouth open cry cry cry for help.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Camino frequently smokes cigars. “I lift my mouth to the cigar. Inhale. Hold the smoke hard in my lungs until the pain squeezes sharp in my chest.”
  • Camino’s aunt “hauls the honeyed rum.”
  • When they are making an offering to Camino’s dead parents, Camino and her aunt have a drink. “We pour a bit of homemade mamjuana into the water, and Tia doesn’t even stop me when I take a sip from the bottle. I am feeling guilty.”

Language

  • Damn is used occasionally. For example, after Yahaira’s coach calls to give her condolences. Yahaira thinks, “Who knew death must be so damn polite?”
  • Fuck is used sparingly. For example, Camino described how her house was blessed by saints, but “a lot of people don’t fuck with that kind of thing here.”
  • When walking down the street, Yahaira avoids “dog shit.”
  • Yahaira is planning on flying to the Dominican Republic to attend her father’s funeral even though “Miami is dead-ass serious that she isn’t going to the DR funeral.”
  • A man calls Camino an “uppity, ugly bitch.”

Supernatural

  • Yahaira asks Camino if she believes in ghosts. Camino answers, “Of courses, I believe in ghosts. There are spirits everywhere.”
  • Yahaira describes the alter in Camino’s home. “Miami and I have been ignoring the alter in the corner. I don’t know much about Saints or ancestors, only the rumors of sacrificing chickens and how it all relates to voodoo.”
  • Camino and her aunt are traditional healers and frequently call upon spirits. The townspeople say Camino’s aunt “has the Saint’s ear.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Paige Smith

Remarkables

One minute, they’re laughing and having fun at the house next door. The next minute, they’re gone. Like magic. Marin can’t believe her eyes. Who are these teenagers, and how are they able to appear and disappear?

Marin spots the mysterious neighbors the first day after moving to a new house, in a new town. She wonders if she’s the only one who can see the teenagers, but then she meets a boy named Charley, who reluctantly reveals that he knows about them too. He calls them “Remarkables.”

Charley warns her to stay away from the Remarkables—and to stay away from him. Life hasn’t been kind to Charley, and Marin can’t stop thinking about something that happened in her old town. Could the Remarkables help? Or. . . is she supposed to help them? Maybe Marin and Charley can fix everything if they can work together long enough to figure out the mystery of the Remarkables.

Full of mystery, Remarkables is a story about family, friendship, and forgiveness. Readers will relate to the protagonist Marin, who is insecure and wonders if she will be able to make friends in her new town. Because of past friendship drama, Marin wonders if there is something wrong with her. However, by the end of the story, she realizes the importance of communication and forgiveness.

Haddix expertly weaves several plot lines into an easy-to-understand, engaging story. Marin’s family is funny, caring, and a bit overwhelmed with all the changes in their lives. When Marin meets Charley, she learns about a tragic accident that happened in the past and how it still impacts Charley’s present. This connects with an incident that happened to Marin before her move. The conclusion of the story merges all of these subplots and shows that “You can have a good future because the past is over. All you can do is learn from it.”

Remarkables will make readers consider the questions: If you could go back in time and change an event, what would it be? Both Marin and Charley consider the question, and they realize that changing the past could cause unintended consequences. When Marin looks at a past tragedy, she realizes the tragedy ended up inspiring others to do good in the world. The relatable characters, mystery, and message all combine to create a story that is entertaining and thought provoking. The story ends on a positive note as it highlights that despite a past mistake, the future still holds the promise of happiness.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • During a party at the neighbor’s, Charley’s dad put food in the oven and it began to smoke. He didn’t want the fire detector to go off so he removed the batteries. Later that week, a fire broke out and Charley’s friend died. The death is not described.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Charley and his brothers live with their grandmother because his parents are on drugs. His dad “started using drugs. And then my mom did, too. Because he made her unhappy, too. And they wouldn’t stop.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Marin and Charlie see a group of teens. Charlie thinks the teens are time travelers from the past. Marin thinks the teens are from the future.
  • At one point, Marin wonders if “it was a message from God—a vision, like the kind Marin heard about in church.”
  • Charlie “decided that [a dead girl’s] psychic energy lingered in the place where she’d died. . . Her way of haunting people was to show them good things they needed to see.”

Spiritual Content

  • Marin goes to church with her family. When they go to a new church, Marin is afraid no one will like her. She prays, “Please, God. Please, please, please don’t let me start crying here in front of everyone. . .”
  • During church, the pastor starts “reading a Bible passage, one about Jesus being tempted in the desert. ‘So I’m going to hear about even Jesus messing up?’ Marin thought.”
  • Marin’s father prays that the baby begins to sleep through the night.
  • Marin and her friends were having a sleepover. The girls had a fight so Marin went to sleep in the guest room. While there, she prayed, “Please let someone come and I’ll apologize. Please.”
  • One of Marin’s friends was sick. When Marin asked, “Did she have cancer?” Her father replied, “Thank God, no.”
  • Marin’s father has a difficult time finding a job. He tells Marin, “I will quit whining about how my life isn’t going the way I planned it, and I will get back out of bed and try something new! And. . . I’ll accept that God is maybe trying to send me a sign that he needs me in a different place than I thought, and I’ll quit fighting that message. . .”

The Unbound

In the sequel to Victoria Schwab’s The Archived, Mackenzie Bishop’s adventures as a Keeper of the Archive continue. At the same time, she must balance going back to school and figure out her relationship with Wes, her best friend, and fellow Keeper. But Mackenzie is still haunted by Owen Chris Clarke, the History who almost killed her and nearly brought the end of the Archive. Owen frequently visits her all-too-realistic dreams, and Mackenzie starts to question her sanity as the Archive’s other mysteries close in around her.

But her dreams aren’t the only things haunting Mackenzie. A string of disappearances follows her path, where she was the last person to interact with each of the missing persons. Plus a mysterious man keeps watching her while she’s traveling to and from school. As if that wasn’t enough, she keeps blacking out and waking up with no recollection of what happened. Is a lack of sleep, or something more sinister haunting Mackenzie?

The Unbound is shades darker than The Archived both in atmosphere and content, which helps to enhance the mystery of the Archive and its employees. As the stakes rise, it becomes clear that the reader knows little more than Mackenzie, who struggles with the trauma of almost dying and being manipulated by Owen in the last installment. Some plot points revolve around Mackenzie’s parents, who fear that Mackenzie is depressed, self-harming, and acting out. However, much of the trouble that Mackenzie encounters is because of the Archive and her nightmares. By the end of the novel, Mackenzie is ready to heal her relationships with her parents, Wes, and, most importantly, herself.

The back-to-school setting helps balance the darkness of the Archive and Mackenzie’s nightmares. Although school is not a completely safe location for Mackenzie, school is the one truly normal place that she and Wes experience. At times, their friends provide comic relief and tell Mackenzie more about Wes, who is notoriously secretive.

School also helps bring Mackenzie out of her inner world and the world of the Archive. In many ways, having friends and going to school pulls Mackenzie back into the realm of the living. In both The Archived and The Unbound, Mackenzie spends her time straddling the line between living and dead, between the real and imagined. But in this installment, Mackenzie becomes a more seasoned Keeper while also learning how to live her life.

The Unbound is an exciting follow-up to the darkly magical The Archived. The end neatly wraps up this book and provides a bridge to a potential third book. This book does continue the adventures from The Archived, so The Archived needs to be read first. This book is a must-read because Schwab’s creative prose wonderfully captures the world of the Archive and Mackenzie’s journey, through interesting discussions about grief, trauma, and the scars that we all carry. The dead never truly leave us, but as Mackenzie learns, sometimes it’s necessary to let go and embrace the living as tightly as we can.

Sexual Content

  • Mackenzie and another Keeper, Wes, are friends who spend a lot of time haplessly flirting, though Mackenzie insists that they aren’t dating. However, they do act like they’re dating and Wes sleeps in Mackenzie’s bed. Mackenzie narrates, “I catch his hand, music flaring through me as I draw him to the bed.” They do not have sex.
  • Since Mackenzie and other Keepers have the power to “read” people and objects, another person’s touch tends to be really noisy and overwhelming for Mackenzie. Wes kisses her regardless, and she describes, “The way his lips smiled against my jaw, his now-familiar noise—that cacophony of drum and bass—pressing through me with his touch before I could find the strength to tell him no.”
  • Cash kisses Mackenzie. She says, “His lips are warm and soft, and my head fills with jazz and laughter; for an instant, it feels sweet and safe and simple. But my life is none of those things, and I realize as the kiss ends that I don’t want to pretend it is, and that there is only one person I want to kiss me like this.”
  • Wes and Mackenzie kiss again. Mackenzie describes, “I kiss him, not gently but desperately.” The description lasts for a page.

Violence

  • Mackenzie has frequent nightmares about Owen, the History who tried to kill her in the previous novel. Mackenzie says, “I dream of him dragging the jagged side of his blade across my skin as he murmurs that the ‘real’ Mackenzie Bishop must be hidden somewhere under all that flesh.” This nightmare happens often, and he usually stabs her in the dream, “[driving] the knife forward into [her] chest.”
  • Mackenzie’s little brother Ben “was killed last year on his way to school” in a hit-and-run. His death plagues the family.
  • Wes has a rough home life, and Cash describes Wes’ parents’ divorce as “brutal.” When Wes retreated for a year, not contacting his friends at all, and then returned, Cash gave him a “black eye” for abandoning them. They are still good friends.
  • Mackenzie dislikes the family therapist because she assumes incorrect things about Mackenzie and she convinced Mackenzie’s mother to throw out Ben’s stuff after he died. Mackenzie recalls once that “the one time we met face-to-face, she saw a scratch on my wrist from a pissed-off History and was convinced I did it to myself to feel things.”
  • On her way home from school, two guys attack Mackenzie with a pipe and a knife. She blacks out and wakes up to the two men laying on the ground, “covered in blood.” Mackenzie has no recollection of what she’s done. She notes that one man’s “nose is broken. Blood is gushing down his face, and one of his legs looks like it’s bent at the wrong angle.”
  • Mackenzie runs over a jogger with her bike by accident. “The collision is a tangle of handles and wheels and limbs, and we both go down hard on the concrete.” Other than scrapes and scratches, both are ok.
  • A girl named Bethany goes missing, and Mackenzie learns from her classmates that Bethany’s home life was rough. Her mom had remarried and the situation was turbulent. One girl notes that “sleazy dude [the stepfather] has been there all of a week when he’s home alone with Bethany and takes a go at her . . . She did what any self-respecting Hyde schoolgirl would do. She punched him in the face. But when she tried to tell her mom what happened, she said it was Bethany’s fault.”
  • Someone attacked Cash, and he shows up to school with a “cut beside his eye [and] a bruise darkening his jaw.”
  • Owen, the History that tried to kill Mackenzie in the previous novel, is back, though Mackenzie doesn’t know how. He attacks her at school and kills a passerby. Mackenzie describes, “I hit the ground and roll over and up onto my feet again as he lunges forward and I lunge back. Or at least I mean to, but I misjudge the distance and the toppled shelves come up against my shoulders an instant before he forces the bat beneath my chin.” This continues for several pages.
  • Owen kills one of the Crew, another Archive employee, at the dance. The Crew “crumples, and before he can recover, Owen takes his head in his hands and snaps his neck.” A fight scene with Owen, Wes, Mackenzie, and several other Crew continues for several pages after this death.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mackenzie takes medication for her headache and then promptly blacks out. When she wakes, “the drinking glass is lying in glittering pieces on the counter, my hand wrapped around the largest shard. Blood runs between my fingers where I’ve gripped it and down my other arm where I’ve carved a single deep line.” She has no recollection of what happened.
  • Mackenzie’s mother drugs Mackenzie to make her sleep. Mackenzie describes the moment when she realizes that her mom slipped a sleeping pill into her drink. She says, “At first I think I’m about to have another blackout, but those happen fast, and this is slow like syrup.”

Language

  • Dallas, the therapist, says to one Crew member, “I’d tell you not to be such an ass, Zachary, but it would be a waste of my breath.”

Supernatural

  • Mackenzie is a Keeper who returns wandering Histories, or ghosts, back to the Archive. The Archive is “a library of the dead, vast and warm, wood and stone and colored glass, and all throughout, a sense of peace.” Mackenzie travels between worlds and encounters quite a few dead people.

Spiritual Content

  • none

by Alli Kestler

The Other Side of the Wall

It’s Christmas break. Tess and Max are in London staying at the posh Sanborn House with their Aunt Evie. As they wait for their parents to arrive, there is an unusual snowstorm that makes the city seem as if it’s caught in a snow globe. It’s the perfect weather for an adventure in Hyde Park. But when Max, Tess, and Aunt Evie leave to search for a cab, they find a horse, carriage, and driver curiously waiting for them at the curb. And that’s just the beginning…

Soon Tess is charmed by a mysterious boy named Colin who lives at the hotel all year round—on the 8th floor. Max is sure the elevator only had 7 floors the day before. How come everyone at the hotel seems to ignore Colin? Things seem to get stranger and stranger. There’s a 1920s costume party in Colin’s parents’ apartment, a marble that seems to be more than it appears, and a shadow that passes mysteriously by Tess and Max’s hotel window.

Tess wants to figure out what’s going on, but she finds only more questions. Is it just a coincidence that Colin’s last name is Sanborn, the same as the hotel? Why does the cat’s-eye marble look eerily similar to the crystal at the top of their hotel room key? And, most importantly, what happened in that hotel one Christmas long, long ago?

Tess and Max are realistic characters who travel back in time. The world building is beautiful, but some readers will quickly become bored because the beginning of the story lacks action. When Tess and Max meet Colin, they are slow to realize that he is a danger. When Colin possesses Max, Tess begins calling him “the person who used to be Max.” This phrase was used too often, and the repetition is annoying. Despite this, Tess’s dedication and love for her brother is both realistic and enduring.

Unlike traditional Christmas stories, The Other Side of the Wall is both mysterious and creepy. The story takes the reader back in time and ends with the sad death of Colin. Readers who have not read the first two books in the series will be slightly confused. Even though the story hints that Tess sometimes sees things that are not really there, her behavior is never explained. The Other Side of the Wall ends abruptly leaving many unanswered questions.

Anyone who wants to add a little fright to their Christmas night will want to read The Other Side of the Wall. The unique story replaces jingle bells for spooky spirits. However, if you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure, you will want to leave The Other Side of the Wall on the library shelf. For those looking to put a little scare into the holiday season, you might want to ask Santa to put Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story by R.L. Stine into your stocking.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Tess and Max go into the hotel’s lobby. “There were two young men in the library (which also had a fully stocked serve-yourself bar in a small room adjacent to it).”
  • Tess’s aunt tells her that, “My friend Bobbie rang up and asked if I’d run down the road to a pub for a holiday drink.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Tess and Max go to a party where they meet a seer. She tells them, “I ask the question, or you do, but it’s the cards that tell me the answer. I’m not much more than a conduit.”
  • Tess and Max meet a boy named Colin. When Colin begins to go pale, “Max reached out to touch him, but it was as if his hand seemed to go right through Colin’s arm. As if he had become transparent or he wasn’t really there, as if. . .” When Max moves away, Colin “started to walk towards Max, purposefully, step by step, directly to him, almost as if Colin was playing chicken or else he wanted to whisper something to Max. . . But then there was the most startled look on Max’s face. . . as Colin walked directly into him and simply disappeared.” Colin takes over Max’s body.
  • Tess pets a terrier. The dog suddenly vanishes “and Adele the psychic was standing in front of her.” Tess wonders how the dog could transform into Adele.
  • Max walks “straight through the wall. . . and simply disappeared.” Frightened Tess runs out of the room and talks to a man. “But before she could finish the sentence, she saw the gentleman’s face begin to crack and tiny pieces start to break away, first his cheek and then part of his nose as if he was made of plaster.”
  • Tess follows Max into a dark hallway where orange vectors appear. As Max walks on the vectors, Tess follows.
  • Following Max, Tess jumps in a carriage. The horse, Comet, raced so quickly, “it was as if Comet was able to, levitate would be the right word, or simply fly just off the ground, carrying the carriage behind her through mid-air, cold air, spectacularly dotted with snow. . .”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Ghosted

When Ellie entered junior high, she promised herself that she would never look weak. She became the smartest, prettiest, best-dressed, and most popular kid at Lincoln Heights Middle School. She is also the most feared. Ellie has figured out that the more horrible she is, the more people fear her, and the more they respect her. Ellie has perfected the ability to manipulate people through fear.

The night of her junior high winter dance, Ellie has a terrible accident. As she lays unconscious, a ghost takes Ellie on a trip to her own past, present, and future. Ellie is forced to relive her parents’ divorce, her struggles with school, and the loss of her best friend, Marley. Can what Ellie sees, inspire her to change her ways?

From the first chapter, the story focuses on Ellie’s mean, manipulating ways. While the reader comes to understand the events that lead Ellie to become such a horrible person, it is hard to relate to her. When Ellie’s parents first divorced, Ellie was surrounded by her best friend Marley and Marley’s two dads. Instead of being comforted by their supportive presence, Ellie focused on what she didn’t have and “let those feelings of hurt and sadness fester into something ugly.” For the reader, Ellie’s ugliness overshadows every other aspect of the story.

Margolis clearly shows the dangers of Ellie’s meanness – both for Ellie and the people she encounters. However, some of the events are unrealistic and portray preteens as sheep who follow the most popular person out of fear. None of Ellie’s peers have the strength of character to stand up to Ellie, even when Ellie makes them do outrageous things. In reality, parents and teachers would have stepped in and protected Ellie’s classmates from her cruelty.

Ghosted follows the same format as The Christmas Carol, and like Scrooge, Ellie changes her ways. Ellie learns and finally admits that “making other people feel bad and weak distracts me from my own pain. And it props me up.” Ellie chooses to own up to her mistakes and apologize; however, the conclusion has several plot holes that readers will notice. For example, while at school Ellie falls and is unconscious for 15 minutes; however, the students do not get a teacher, and they call off the ambulance because when Ellie comes to, she feels fine. In addition, the story glosses over the hurt and pain that Ellie caused others and hints that all will be forgiven.

The story moves at a fast pace. The ghost, who is sarcastic and mean herself, adds interest. Although the message is pertinent to middle school readers, Ellie’s cruelty makes it hard to root for her. Readers looking for another story inspired by the Christmas Carol should pick up Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story by R. L. Stine. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for a Christmas story that will leave you with a warm glow and a positive message, add the Celebrate the Season series by Taylor Garland to your must-read list.

 Sexual Content

  • Ellie takes a video of Marley, who is joking around. Marley pretends that she is boy crazy and says, “I have never kissed a boy, but sometimes at night I practice by kissing my old American Girl doll. I cut the hair off so she looks like a boy.”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • On Christmas Eve, Ellie and her mom have dinner with friends. Ellie’s mom drinks a glass of wine.

Language

  • Ellie thinks that her classmates have “marshmallows-for-brains” and are morons.
  • The ghost calls Ellie stupid and a dummy.
  • Ellie thinks the ghost and her dad are both jerks.
  • OMG is used as an exclamation three times.
  • My God is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • After a fall, a ghost shows Ellie her past, present, and future self. The ghost can also read Ellie’s mind.
  • The ghost drags Ellie “from place to place, year to year, shrinking you down to fit into the snow globe, changing your regular outfit into a bikini for the fish tank, only to go and transform you back into your regular size.”
  • The ghost takes Ellie to different places. One of the places is a mural that some classmates made. Another place Ellie is transported to is a tunnel in a loaf of bread.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Young Scrooge: A Very Scary Christmas Story

Rick Scroogeman hates Christmas. He can’t stand the carols or the pageants. He doesn’t like the lights or the mistletoe. But the worst part about the season is having to watch the old movie version of A Christmas Carol, especially since all of his classmates have started calling him Scrooge.

When Rick finds out that he didn’t get a part in the school play, he’s determined to get revenge. When Rick’s terrible prank successfully ruins Christmas for his classmates, he feels victorious. But when three ghosts appear, Rick realizes what he thought was just a nightmare might become real. Can anyone teach Rick the true meaning of Christmas?

Rick is truly a terrible boy. He thinks being mean is funny. He enjoys stomping on people’s feet, taking his brother’s jelly beans, and getting revenge. Rick bullies his way through life and doesn’t understand why so many people don’t understand his humor. When the Christmas ghosts appear, Rick learns how it feels to be bullied. Even though Rick learns how it feels to be bullied, the ending is ambiguous enough to make the reader wonder if Rick will change his horrid ways.

In Young Scrooge, Rick tells his own story. His snarky comments and ungrateful attitude show he is completely unaware of others’ feelings. When the ghosts take him to different realities, Rick is put on the receiving end of a bully. Yet for the majority of the story, Rick is more concerned with getting home and getting his Christmas gifts. Even though Young Scrooge is based on A Christmas Carol, the ending won’t give the readers a warm fuzzy feeling.

Readers who want to put a little horror into the holidays will find this ghost spooky but not scary. The story’s short chapters and easy vocabulary make the story easy to read. Even though the story shows the harmful effects of bullying, the story is never preachy. Although parents might find Young Scrooge lacking, younger readers will enjoy the fresh twist on A Christmas Carol. Young Scrooge will never become a Christmas classic, but it will entertain readers and would be a great conversation starter on bad behavior.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Rick splashes water on Davey. Rick thinks it’s funny because “everyone will see the dark spot on the front of his pants and think he had an accident.” When Davey gets mad, Rick slaps “him hard on the back. He goes sprawling into the yellow tile wall.”
  • When Jeremy asks Rick, “What do you want, Scrooge?”, it makes Rick angry so he tromps “down on the top of his sneaker as hard as I can with the heel of my shoe. . . That must hurt. He starts to hop up and down on one foot.”
  • When Rick walks into one of his classes, he sees Lucy. “First, I take my thumbs and smear the lenses on her glasses. Then I take both hands and ruffle her hair as hard as I can.”
  • Rick makes fun of a boy that stutters, then, “[he picks] him up by his waist and lifted him into his locker. And then [Rick] closed the locker door with him inside.”
  • While walking to the front of the class, Rick “tromped really hard on Josh Cratchit’s foot as I passed by him. I couldn’t believe how loud he screamed.” When Rick returns to his seat, he “gave it another good hard stomp as I passed.”
  • Josh sees Billy O’Brian, who is fat. Instead of calling Billy by his name, Rick calls him Belly O’Beast. Rick likes “to grab his big belly with both hands, jiggle it up and down, and shout, “‘Earthquake!’ especially when there are girls watching. Belly’s fat face always turns bright red.”
  • When Rick finds out that the kids did not want him to be in the play, Rick puts ants in their costumes. “Some kids sprawled on their backs, scratching. Others were frantically pulling off their costumes. I saw ants scurry out of the clothes and over the stage. Ants crawled all over Belly’s cheeks and forehead.”
  • When Rick gets home, he sees his brother Charlie. “I dropped my backpack on the floor. Then I grabbed both of his ears and tugged them as hard as I could.”
  • When Christmas carolers come to Rick’s house, he throws snowballs at them.
  • Rick is taken to a school in the past. A kid “raised his big boot and tromped his heel down as hard as he could on top of my right sneaker. . . pain shot up my leg, up my entire body. . . The pain was unbearable.”
  • When a girl laughs at Rick, he “grabbed the back of her hair and gave it a tug. You know. Playful. Not too hard.” The girl then dumps ink on Rick’s head.
  • A boy “stuck his foot out and tripped [Rick]. [Rick] stumbled into the big globe. Landed on top of it. And the globe and [Rick] rolled across the floor.”
  • While building snowmen with Ashley, Rick “grabbed up a big handful of snow and molded it into a snowball. . . and smashed it into Ashley’s face. [Rick] held it there, rubbing it over her cheeks and eyes.”
  • While in the future, Rick is taken to his grave. When he peers in it, he sees some of the kids from Dead Middle School. “They were huddled in my grave—and I could see right through them! They were transparent, all in shades of gray. No color. And now they raised their arms. All at once, they shot their arms up out of the hole. Hands wrapped around my feet. Two guys floated up and wrapped their arms around my waist.” Rick is able to pull himself free, but “One of the arms holding my waist fell off. The arm ripped off at the shoulder and fell to the dirt.” The scene is described over five pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Rick thinks most of the kids in his school are losers.
  • Mr. Pickwick didn’t give Rick a part in the play. Rick thinks it is because the teacher is a jerk.
  • When a girl dumps ink over Rick’s head, the other students laugh. Rick thinks, “I felt like a total jerk.”
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Rick to his friends’ Christmas party. Rick overhears the kids saying he was a “total jerk.”

Supernatural

  • Rick sneaks into his attic looking for his Christmas presents. The attic door closes and the lights go out. Then, Rick sees “an eerie green-yellow mist swirling at the other end of the closet. . .It curled up on itself like a snake. [Rick] stared without breathing, without moving as the mist curled and uncurled, up to the closet ceiling, then down again.” The mist is replaced by a man. “His nose came to a sharp point. His eyes glowed red like burning coals.” The man is the ghost of Marly. The ghost discovers that he is in the wrong house and leaves.
  • After the ghost of Marly disappears, another one appears. “His long gray robe reached the floor, covering his whole body. It billowed like drapes at an open window, and I heard a sound like rushing wind. . . He turned toward me and I could see into the hood. I saw only blackness in there. No face. No face at all.” The ghost is the ghost of Christmas Past.
  • The ghost of Christmas Past touches Rick, then “The wind picked up again. . . [Rick] covered both of [his] ears with [his] hands as the blast sent [him] flying off the floor. Flying into a deep blackness.” When Rick opens his eyes, he is in the past.
  • After being in the past, the Ghost of Christmas Present appears and transports Rick to his time. “We plunged down, then started to slow. Colors swirled up in the gray, bright flashes of green and blue and red. So bright, I shut my eyes.” When he appears, Rick discovers he is now part of a different family.
  • While trying to leave his new family, two snowmen stop him. “I lowered my head and tried to swerve around it. But it moved quickly, silently gliding over the snow, staying close, pushing its big bulk in front of me. . . I pulled my arm back and shot my fist as hard as I could into my snowman’s frozen head” When another snowman comes near, Rick hits it as well. “The snowman didn’t seem to feel it. I tugged myself back—but now both hands were stuck in its icy grip. I pulled and pulled again, leaning as far back as I could, but I couldn’t free them.” One of the snowmen transforms into the Ghost of Christmas Present.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Future appears in the form of a robot and takes Rick to “Dead Middle School” where everyone is dead.
  • Rick hides in a closet. “And then I felt a puff of cold wind. I opened my eyes in time to see the closet fill with a purple light. . . The closet began to shake. The shelves rattled.” Rick is transported home.

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Archived #1

Contrary to the popular adage, the dead do in fact tell tales. Many of them. The dead, or Histories, are kept in a place hidden from the living world called the Archive, where only the Librarians can access them. But sometimes they wake, and they make it into the Narrows (the world between) and some are willing to kill to get back to the living world. Keepers are tasked with returning the lost Histories back to the Archive, and sometimes things get . . . messy.

When Da brought his twelve-year-old granddaughter, Mackenzie Bishop, into the Archive to have her take his place as Keeper, she quickly became a young, ruthless prodigy. After a tragedy, Mackenzie starts to see her brother in the eyes of the Histories that she has to return to the Archive. Mackenzie must confront the lines that separate the living and the dead. With the increases in disturbances in the Archive and someone erasing Histories, Mackenzie uncovers the secrets that keep the Archive in one piece.

Mackenzie and the other characters are extremely realistic, despite their fantastical stories. Headstrong and fiercely independent, Mackenzie struggles with grief over her brother’s death and the secrets about the Archive that she must keep from her family. She shows strength in her ability to own up to and correct her mistakes. Mackenzie’s struggles are wide-reaching and she is a sympathetic character. Her relationships with other characters, including the Librarian Roland and fellow Keeper Wes, help her improve as a person and bring some light to an otherwise somber story.

Despite the gothic nature of the titular place, the Archive itself is beautiful. Housing and tracking the Histories of the dead is a macabre business, and as one of the main locations in the novel, the Archive ironically has a life of its own. With a curious cast of Librarians and other personnel working within the structure, at times the Archive seems more alive than the outside world.

The Archived presents strong themes about grief, memories, and the line that separates life and death. Mackenzie, being only a teenager, tackles these topics that haunt all the characters—young, old, dead, and alive. The various ways her parents deal with death versus the ever-secretive Librarians’ ways of dealing with the dead serves to enhance the discussion about death and memories in particular. All the characters have regrets and push the line between the world of the living and the Archive, and their stories are ultimately determined by their abilities to deal with grief and the past.

Victoria Schwab paints an atmosphere that is equal parts magical and spooky in The Archived. Readers who want a darker book will be delighted by Schwab’s prose and wildly inventive world. The Archived sets up an interesting series with much to discover. In the sequel, The Unbound, more secrets are revealed through Mackenzie’s next adventures. The Archived shows that the dead never really leave us, as long as their memories live on in those that they loved.

Sexual Content

  • Mackenzie dreams of being normal, and in her dreams, she “kisses a boy.”
  • Mackenzie’s very elderly neighbor confuses Mackenzie for a kiss-a-gram. Mackenzie eventually tells him, “Sir, I’m not here to kiss you.”
  • One of the escaped Histories kisses Mackenzie. She says, “as his lips press against my skin, the silence flares in my head, blotting something out. Heat ripples through my body, pricking my senses as the quiet deadens my thoughts. He kisses my throat, my jaw. Each time his lips brush my skin, the heat and silence blossom side by side and spread, drowning a little bit of pain and anger and guilt, leaving only warmth and want and quiet in their place.” The description continues for a couple of pages, and this situation happens a couple of times.
  • Fellow Keeper Wes kisses Mackenzie. Mackenzie describes, “I’m about to speak, about to tell him that, tell him everything, when he brings his hand to the back of my neck, pulls me forward, and kisses me . . . all I can think is that he tastes like summer rain. His lips linger on mine, urgent and warm. Lasting.”

Violence

  • Mackenzie’s little brother Ben was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Mackenzie describes the accident. “It was a normal day, right up until the point a car ran a red light two blocks from Ben’s school just as he was stepping from the curb. And then drove away.” Later, she recalls a memory. “The cops are talking to Dad and the doctor is telling Mom that Ben died on impact, and that word—impact—makes me turn and retch into one of the hospital’s gray bins.”
  • Some Histories, or ghosts from the Archive, are called “Keeper-Killers, the Histories who manage to get out through the Narrows and into the real world.” As the name suggests, these Histories kill Keepers to escape.
  • Mackenzie had to face trials to become a Keeper. In a memory, Mackenzie narrates, “Da told me to be ready for anything, and it’s a good thing he did, because between one moment and the next, [the examiner’s] posture shifts . . . I dodge the first punch, but he’s fast, faster even than Da, and before I can strike back, a red Chuck connects with my chest.” This sequence continues for a couple of pages.
  • One of the Histories has a knife and attacks Mackenzie. She saw metal, “and jump[ed] back just in time, the knife in his hand arcing through the air, fast.” Other Histories escape and attack Mackenzie as well.
  • Da taught Mackenzie how to fight. In her memory, she recalls, “You take me out into the summer sun to show me how to fight. Your limbs are weapons, brutally fast. I spend hours figuring out how to avoid them, how to dodge, roll, anticipate, react. It’s get out of the way or get hit.”
  • With her Archive-granted ability to see into the past, Mackenzie sees the memory of a guy murdering a girl in a hotel. The guy swipes “a large shard of glass from the floor . . . He’s on top of her, and they are a tangle of glass and blood and fighting limbs, her slender bare feet kicking under him as he pins her down. And then the struggle slows. And stops . . . I can see her, the lines carved across her arms, the far deeper cut across her throat.”
  • A series of deaths occurred within months of each other, some look like suicides and some look like accidents. Mackenzie learns that the circumstances for each death are fuzzy at best. She wonders, “Did he jump or was he pushed? Did Marcus hang himself? Did Eileen trip?”
  • A History stabs Wes. Mackenzie watches as “Wes throws another fist, and Owen catches his hand, pulls him forward, and plunges the knife into his stomach.” Wes is severely injured but survives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Da smokes “a cigarette.” He is a lifelong smoker.
  • Mackenzie can “read” objects by touching them. When she’s reading a bloodstained floor in the hotel, she sees a boy who “judging by his feverish face and the way he sways, he’s been drinking.”
  • Mackenzie’s very elderly neighbor shows up and “a thin stream of smoke drifts up from his mouth, where a narrow cigarette hangs.”

Language

  • Profanity is occasionally used. Profanity includes damn, ass, bastard, and hell.

Supernatural

  • Mackenzie is a Keeper who returns wandering Histories, or ghosts, back to the Archive, which is “a library of the dead, vast and warm, wood and stone and colored glass, and all throughout, a sense of peace.” Mackenzie travels between worlds and encounters quite a few dead people.

Spiritual Content

  • Da shows that he’s somewhat superstitious/spiritual, and Mackenzie has the same superstitions. Before entering the Narrows, Mackenzie says, “I pull Da’s key from around my neck, running a thumb over the teeth the way he used to. For luck, Da used to rub the key, cross himself, kiss his fingers and touch them to the wall—any number of things. He used to say he could use a little more luck.”
  • Wes refers to his dad’s new fiancée as “Satan in a skirt.”
  • Wes reads part of Dante’s Inferno. He says, “When you think about it, the Archive is kind of like a Hell.”

by Alli Kestler

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