Ghost Squad

The supernatural has always been a part of Lucely Luna’s life. Her father runs a ghost tour, and her hometown of St. Augustine is known for being the home of Las Brujas Moradas, aka the Purple Coven. And Lucely can see and converse with spirits, notably the spirits of her dead relatives. When her deceased family members aren’t in their human forms, they inhabit the old willow tree in the backyard as firefly spirits. However, her firefly family members recently flickered in and out of view, and then the fireflies began to fade.

Lucely and her friend, Syd, investigate how to revive her deceased family members. After learning more about Las Brujas Moradas, they visit Syd’s grandmother’s shop and steal a spell book that they need to revive Lucely’s family members. But when the two girls recite the spell, they accidentally awaken malicious spirits. The girls fight the ghosts, but all their efforts are for naught. They ask Babette, Sydney’s grandmother, for her help in fighting against the evil ghosts and reversing the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits.

The narrative focuses squarely on Lucely’s perspective. This close view allows the reader to understand the ghosts, magic, and Lucely’s personal life. The narrative’s linear structure, mixed with Babette’s conversations and the occasional inclusion of the school setting, makes the explanations about St. Augustine, the magic, and the Luna family history easy to understand. In addition, the Latino culture is on full display throughout the story, mainly through the mannerisms and the Spanish phrases that Lucely’s family members say to each other. Readers will relate to Lucely and Syd’s friendship and empathize with Lucely as she frets over her family members’ safety.

Lucely also learns about responsibility while getting rid of the evil ghosts. She is responsible for awakening the evil spirits, so she fixes her mistake and takes on more accountability for protecting the town. According to Lucely’s grandmother, their family has been “charged with keeping [St. Augustine] and its inhabitants safe.” By the end of the story, Lucely is assured of her identity and purpose in her community, which is an important lesson for younger readers.

Ghost Squad is a story that focuses on family, friendship, and culture. The story has a few slow moments, mostly spent establishing the town and the Dominican Republic and the Latino aspects of the Luna family. St. Augustine has many interesting characters, such as Syd, Babette, and the firefly spirits. Like the firefly spirits, Las Brujas Moradas and the human spirits are some of the many supernatural elements that add interest to St. Augustine. The story is also chock full of pop culture references, such as Harry Potter and the Ghostbusters, which adds a lot of humor. Readers of all ages will enjoy the story for its lessons on responsibility and friendship. Readers who like Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega will also enjoy The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The mist monster attacks the family tree. but the monster is injured when it claws the tree. “It clawed at the bark and howled, bringing its hand back against its chest as if it were burned.” The monster ran around the tree, growing in size until it became as big as a hurricane. The cocuyos repelled the mist monster with a spell. The monster was thrown back into the brush, but attacks the ghosts with fire: the fire misses, “the fire seemed to extinguish itself as soon as it reached her abuela.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • Babette fights a dragon to distract it from Lucely and Syd. The dragon attacked with a rain of fire, but Babette points her wand at the dragon and says a spell— “Reverse, rearward from whence you came! Back, back! Into the flames!” Violet fire shoots from the wand and hits the dragon in the eye. “It let out one final, bloodcurdling shriek, and then began to burn.” The fight lasts for one page.
  • Lucely and Syd use the Razzle-Dazzlers, which are enchanted flashlights, on the mist monster, causing the mist monster to vanish “in a shriek of pain.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Lucely uses the phrase “God forbid.”
  • Lucely uses the word “God” twice.

Supernatural

  • Ghosts, as in the spirits of humans, take the form of what they looked like when they died. Most ghosts are peaceful and hang around the graveyard or haunt the places where they died. There are also vengeful spirits of the dead that can possess the living.
  • Lucely’s deceased relatives have two forms as spirits; their human forms, and they take the shape of a firefly, dubbed “firefly spirits.”
  • One of Lucely’s deceased cousins floats up to the ceiling and relives his death. Lucely “could almost smell the rubber wafting around her cousin, like a strange and deadly aura.” When he wakes up, the cousin comes back to his senses.
  • The family uses a spell to get rid of the mist monster: “Away, away/We shall not fear/Away, foul beast,/And far away from here!”
  • In order to reanimate the family spirits, Lucely and Syd recite a spell from a scroll. They say, “Lavender, lilies, blossom and bloom,/ I call on the spirits to enter this room…/Rotten and putrid/Beneath the trees,/ I call on the spirits and let them roam free . . . ” Instead, they accidentally unleashed the undead, vengeful ghosts.
  • Syd makes a circle with salt in order to keep the evil spirits away. “The creature crashed into the salt circle and cried out in pain.”
  • Babette says a protection spell over the willow tree.
  • Babette and Lucely attack a storm of spirits using the energy of the spirits of the Las Brujas Moradas and the family spirits respectively. Babette says, “Las Brujas Moradas, hear us tonight./No longer in hiding, no longer in fright./Las Brujas Moradas, come to our call./No longer afraid, to tumble and fall./Las Brujas, Las Brujas, answer our plea./ Come to us now, from land and from sea./Take this demon away, tonight,/ Las Brujas Moradas./Take this demon from sight!” And Lucely says, “A sprinkle of sun,/ A shimmer of light/Turn back the darkness,/ Turn back the fright…I call on the power/of my ancestor’s ghosts/And speak three names, I love most…/Simon Luna, Teresa Luna, and Syd Faires!” A massive gateway forms in the sky and sucks all the bad ghosts into the void.

Spiritual Content

  • According to Lucely, in the Dominican Republic, there is a belief that the “spirits of your dead loved ones [live] on as fireflies.”

by Jemima Cooke

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

Of Mice and Magic

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

 

Cinder

For Cinder, a reluctantly adopted half-cyborg, daily life has always been a constant struggle toward belonging and acceptance. Inside her home, Cinder is nothing more than the orphan she was as a child, though she can never forget the scientist that rescued her. However, his untimely death has left her with little knowledge of her former life. Unable to know the motivations of the person who initially saved her, Cinder now faces the wrath of a stepmother who uses her as a common mechanic and breadwinner for Cinder’s two stepsisters. Outside her home, Cinder faces an entirely different sort of ill-will; as part-cyborg, Cinder faces endless forms of discrimination from her community in the Eastern Commonwealth of New Beijing, a society that is more than willing to give up any of their cyborg citizens for the purposes of scientific experimentation.

New Beijing faces its own onslaught of problems. Once a powerful and prosperous development, the royal state now faces threats of war from the Lunars, a magical dictatorship residing on Earth’s moon.  Crippled under the wrath of a plague known as letumosis, New Beijing fears that its only hope of survival may rest in its Prince Kai’s ability to marry the Lunar Queen Levana—or else find a cure for the disease that currently holds a 100% casualty rate.

Cinder gratefully avoids both issues of the letumosis plague and New Beijing’s political instability, focusing instead on her own efforts to escape her present living conditions. However, when Cinder’s stepsister, Peony, falls to the disease, Cinder is opted up for a cyborg draft that aims to find a letumosis cure, and is thus driven into the conflicts of her nation head-on. In facing experimentation, Cinder finds not only a connection with Prince Kai, but also faces the truth behind her childhood. In encountering her past, Cinder must now ask: does she think she can change the fate of her world? And, if she loves and accepts herself—her own power—will others accept her as well?

Cinder is a sci-fi fantasy that works to retell the classic story of Cinderella from the lens of an imaginative society filled with political intrigue and social commentary pertinent to our community today. In weaving together the personal struggles of Cinder, the strategic plans of Prince Kai, the wrath of the Lunar population, and the welfare of New Beijing as a collective, Meyer presents a story that keeps readers on the very edge of their seats. Though there are subtle nods towards Cinderella throughout the narrative, Cinder is presented as her own, dynamic character with unique conflicts and struggles.

As a longer narrative with more complex diction, Cinder is a story for junior high and high school readers. It is also important to note that, as a narrative that presents explicit descriptions of death and disease, the narrative may not be suitable for younger readers, particularly considering our present struggles with the COVID pandemic. However, for those readers wanting a thrilling, action-packed, and innovative piece of speculative fiction that works to bring real world conflict to an imagined world, this is the perfect book! Cinder will especially capture the attention of any readers looking to dive into sci-fi fantasy for the first time, as the narrative holds an easily digestible, yet intricate, world that serves as a perfect introduction to the genre. In following Cinder’s journey, readers can also truly see the way invented worlds speak to issues of discrimination, classism, ethics, and power within our present world.

By confronting New Beijing’s societal conflicts as the result of a history that speaks to her own past, Cinder also rises to accept where she has come from—as both New Beijing citizen and cyborg mechanic power—to sculpt her own path in the world with newfound agency. When fate arises, and the wellbeing of a community rests in her hand, Cinder truly shows all readers that empowering themselves is the first step towards empowering their surroundings.

Sexual Content

  • When Dr. Erland praises Cinder for the way her technology falls perfectly in line with her central nervous system, Cinder sarcastically replies, “I’m sure I’ll feel much more grateful when I find a guy who thinks complex wiring in a girl is a turn-on.”
  • Fascinated by Queen Levana’s projected beauty, Kai hesitates when meeting her. Instead, he stares “at the pale, translucent skin, wondering if just touching her was all it would take to destroy a man’s mind.”
  • To stop Prince Kai from announcing his marriage to Queen Levana, “Cinder wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him . . . Though Cinder had intended for it to be a short kiss, she found herself lingering. Hot tingles coursed through her body, surprising and scary but not unpleasant, surging like electricity through her wires . . . the desperation melted and, for the briefest of moments, the ulterior motives were gone. She found herself kissing him for no other reason than she wanted to.”
  • After seeing Cinder kiss Prince Kai, Queen Levana says, “You must misunderstand my culture. On Luna, we consider monogamy to be nothing more than archaic sentimentality. What do I care if my husband-to-be is in love with another . . . woman?”

Violence

  • At the beginning of Cinder, Cinder watches as a baker named Chang Sacha realizes that she has caught the plague. As a result of this discovery, Chang Sacha’s son is taken from her, and a screaming Chang Sacha is led to quarantine by officials. Following this, Cinder realizes that officials are “going to burn Chang-ji’s booth.” Authorities burn the booth until “The baker’s booth had been reduced to rubble and the skeleton of a portable oven.” The scene is described over five pages.
  • While introducing Queen Levana, the queen of the Lunar race, it is mentioned that the queen “murdered her older sister, Queen Channary, so she could take the throne from her. [Rumors from the Eastern Commonwealth community] said [Queen Levana] had her own husband killed too so she would be free to make a more advantageous match. They said she had forced her stepdaughter to mutilate her own face because, at the sweet age of thirteen, she had become more beautiful than the jealous queen could stand. They said she’d killed her niece, her only threat to the throne. Princess Selene had only been three years old when a fire caught in her nursery, killing her and her nanny.” This is the extent of the description concerning the violence incited by Queen Levana.
  • Cinder’s youngest stepsister, Peony, catches the disease that is described when Cinder finds, “a splotch of red, rimmed with bruise purple” on Peony’s collarbone. Peony screams, and cries, before an emergency hover and med-droids take her away to quarantine. At this time, a med-droid tests Cinder for the disease by inserting a needle in her right wrist and drawing blood.
  • In light of Peony’s sickness, Cinder’s stepmother Adri donates Cinder to the cyborg draft (a system where a family’s cyborgs can opt themselves up, or have their family guardians donate them, as bodies for plague testing). In an argument with Cinder, Adri slaps Cinder’s cheek with the back of her hand. In order to escape the droids trying to take her, Cinder swings her toolbelt—known as a magbelt—“against the android’s cranium.” Cinder then smashes the lens of the second android. The last android finally catches Cinder before she escapes and electrocutes her until she falls to unconsciousness. This scene lasts five pages.
  • When unconscious, Cinder has a dream described as this: “Flames. Smoke. Blisters burbling across her skin. Her leg and hand were gone, leaving stumps where the surgeons had attached her protheses. Dead wires dangled from them. She tried to crawl but was as useless as an upended turtle . . . she was surrounded. Other crippled victims writhed among the coals, moaning, begging for water. They were all missing limbs. Some were nothing more than a head and a torso and a mouth, pleading.” This image is described over two pages.
  • Against her will, Cinder is tested at the king’s hospital. In this scene, an android pins her head to the side of a stretcher she is strapped to and uses prongs at the back of her neck to scan her system and note the percentage of “machine” Cinder truly is. The android then proceeds to inject Cinder with the plague. This scene lasts six pages. After being given the virus, a description of the android drawing Cinder’s blood lasts two pages.
  • Attempting to escape the testing lab, Cinder tries to attack the leading scientist on the royal letumosis research team, Dr. Erland. Cinder raises a wrench at his temple, but after speaking to the doctor, she decides against this action.
  • To test Cinder’s system, Dr. Erland pinches a vertebra above her shoulders. At this moment, “Fire and pain ruptured her spine, flooding her veins. She cried out and fell off the table, crumpling to the floor.”
  • Cinder visits her sister Peony in the quarantine section. The setting is described with “the stench of excrement and rot.” Flies fill the room with buzzing, while the patients are “sleeping or staring blankly up at the ceiling, their skin covered in a blue-black rash.” Peony is described with “purplish blotches” all over her arms, “just this side of death.”
  • In the hospital, Cinder also sees Chang Sacha again. Sacha has bluish pigment and a pungent odor. She grasps Cinder’s hand with yellowed fingernails. She asks Cinder to look for her son Sunto, before “the life dulled in Sacha’s black eyes.” Sacha’s death is described over two pages.
  • Following Sacha’s death, Cinder watches as a med-droid arrives and pulls out a scalpel. “Cinder watched, mesmerized and disgusted, as the android pressed the blade into Sacha’s wrist. A stream of blood dripped down Sacha’s palm . . . The med-droid traded the scalpel for tweezers, and Cinder heard the subtle click of metal on metal. She grimaced as the android extracted the small chip. Its protective plastic coating glistened scarlet.”
  • Dr. Erland warns Cinder that she must leave the royal research lab as “Queen Levana will stop at nothing to ensure her control, to terminate any resistance. That means killing those who could resist her—people like you. . . If she were to see you, she would kill you.”
  • Dr. Erland speaks on the murder of his daughter at the hands of Queen Levana. None of the details are described, except that she was killed because she was a “shell,” a Lunar without magic.
  • Cinder returns to quarantine to visit Peony. During this visit, Peony’s “face was ashen, her lips peeling. The dark splotches on her neck had begun to fade to lavender beneath the surface of her ghostly skin. Eyes on Cinder, she pulled her arm out from beneath the blanket and spread out her fingers, displaying their blue-black tips and the yellowish tinge of her nails.” When Cinder tries to raise Peony to administer an antidote, her body goes “limp,” and Cinder “stared into Peony’s empty eyes. Eyes looking past her, through her.” The description of Peony’s death lasts four pages.
  • To stop a med-droid from taking Peony’s ID chip, Cinder “wrenched the scalpel from [the med-droid’s] glove and jammed it into the android’s sensor. . .Cinder barreled over the bed and slammed her fist into the android’s head.”
  • Cinder pulls the chip from her sister herself. Cinder “asked for hurried forgiveness while she grasped her sister’s fragile wrist. She spliced the scalpel into the soft tissue. Blood dribbled out of the wound and onto her glove, mixing with years of grime. Peony’s fingers twitched when Cinder hit a tendon, making her jump. When the cut was wide enough, she peeled it open with her thumb, revealing bright red muscle. Blood . . she dug the tip of the blade in as carefully as she could, easing up the square chip.” This description lasts a page.
  • In a tense conversation with Queen Levana, Kai tries to loosen his grip on a chopstick, “lest he accidentally leap across the table and jab a chopstick into the witch’s eye.”
  • After assuming she was disrespected by a server, Queen Levana orders the servant to turn a blade towards herself, aiming it at the corner of her eye. This interaction ends here, as Kai stops the Queen before she can force the servant to hurt herself.
  • Angered by the new income Cinder has gained from the royal research department, Adri violently mangles and dismantles one of Cinder’s droid friends, Iko. She also asks Cinder to take off her new, machine-made, foot as payment for Peony’s funeral. This interaction lasts two pages.
  • Upon seeing Cinder at the ball, Adri raises a hand over her shoulder to strike Cinder, but Kai stops her with a hand firmly wrapped around her wrist.
  • Knowing that Cinder is Lunar, Queen Levana orders her arrest. A “Lunar guard stepped out of the crowd . . .Without warning, he grasped Cinder’s wrists, pinning them behind her.” Queen Levana then forces Cinder to lift the barrel of the gun to her own temple. When Cinder’s finger pulls down on the trigger, she manages to evade the Queen’s brainwashing just enough to force the gun away from her head. The gunshot shatters a chandelier above. Cinder then pulls the gun at the Queen and pulls the trigger, but a red-haired guard steps up to block the blow. This scene lasts about 15 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Cinder’s stepmother Adri maintains full, albeit reluctant, guardianship of Cinder following the death of her husband. As a cyborg, Cinder faces cruel discrimination and punishments under her stepmother’s control. For instance, Adri often threatens to sell Cinder off “as spare parts.”
  • Pearl, Cinder’s stepsister, also throws cruel taunts Cinder’s way. For instance, on mention of the cyborg draft, Pearl says, “I know a cyborg who could volunteer for plague testing . . . They reimburse the volunteers’ families, wire-head.”
  • In a discussion on whether to marry Queen Levana, the prince of New Beijing, says, “My plan is to not marry her. Diplomacy be damned.”
  • Following Peony’s death, Cinder shouts into her body, “Dammit. Dammit. Peony!”
  • Angered by the fact Prince Kai gifted Cinder a pair of white gloves, Pearl says, “Did you think the prince—no– the emperor would find it in his heart to overlook all your. . . ‘shortcomings’?”
  • One of the girls working for Queen Levana’s attendants, upon meeting Cinder, exclaims, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m an evil, worthless, wretched girl.”

Supernatural

  • At the beginning of the novel, another society known as the Lunars are introduced, with the line, “everything about Lunars was eerie and superstitious.” According to Cinder, Lunars were a society that evolved from an Earthen moon colony, but no longer became human. They contain supernatural powers that allow them to be able to “alter a person’s brain—make you see things you shouldn’t see, feel things you shouldn’t feel, do things you didn’t want to do. Their unnatural power had made them a greedy and violent race.”
  • Describing the Lunar people further, Dr. Erland says, “Lunars have the unique ability to not only detect bioelectricity in others, but to also control it. They can manipulate it so that people see what the Lunar wishes them to see, and even feel what the Lunar wishes them to feel. A glamour is what they call the illusion of themselves that they project into the minds of others.”
  • Upon Queen Levana’s arrival to Earth, an angry protest goes to the palace, but as soon as Queen Levana steps upon the balcony, they quiet. “Slowly, as if sleepwalking, the crowd began to depart . . . So, this was the effect of the Lunar glamour, the spell to enchant, to deceive, to turn one’s heart toward you and against your enemies.”
  • During a discussion about Queen Levana building an army, Prince Kai is given a picture taken on the moon, showing rows of creatures with wide hunched shoulders described as “a cross between man and beast. Their noses and jaws protruded awkwardly from their heads, their lips twisted into perpetual grimaces. White spots erupted from their mouths—Kai could not see them clearly, could not tell for sure, but they gave him the distinct impression of fangs.” These creatures are also thought to hold magic.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Haven’s Secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Sexual content

  • None

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

 Language

  • None

 Supernatural

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

Spiritual content

  • None

by Elena Brown

The Red Fox Clan

Picking up where The Royal Ranger: A New Beginning left off, this next installment continues the story featuring young apprentice Maddie and the student-turned-master, Will Treaty. The time has come for the next generation to assume the mantle and become protectors of the kingdom of Araluen.

After passing her third-year assessment as a ranger’s apprentice, Maddie is called home to Castle Araluen. Forced to keep her ranger training a secret, Maddie feels trapped by her role as a princess of the realm and longs to find a way out. But there are whisperings of a new threat to the kingdom. The mysterious Red Fox Clan, a group of anarchists who don fox masks, have threatened Castle Araluen, and they question Princess Cassandra and Madelyn’s succession to the throne. Will they unseat Cassandra and Madelyn and take the throne for themselves?

In order to set up the conflict, the book’s chapters alternate between different points of view —Madelyn’s, Horace’s, and Gilan’s. In addition, The Red Fox Clan introduces new characters and brings some characters from the Brotherband Series into Madelyn’s world. The introduction of characters and conflict slows the pacing because there is little action. However, readers who have already become fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will enjoy seeing familiar characters from a different perspective.

Like all the Ranger’s Apprentice books, The Red Fox Clan ends with an epic battle. Even though the Araluen must fight the rebel Red Fox Clan, they do not kill for the fun of it. Several times in the battle, the Ranger Gilan has the opportunity to kill enemy fighters, but he chooses not to. After one fierce battle, the rebels begin to retreat and Gilan stops his men from shooting at the fleeing enemy. While men die, the story never glorifies killing others. Instead, Gilan chooses to show mercy to the enemy.

The start of The Red Fox Clan has little action or adventure; however, readers will be glad they continued reading because of the exciting conclusion. The conclusion does not resolve any of the story’s conflicts but instead ends with a cliffhanger. Readers will be eager to read the next book in the series, Duel at Araluen. Despite having 14 books in the original series, readers will find The Royal Ranger Series’ action isn’t stale and repetitious; instead, Maddie’s struggle varies enough that readers will still be guessing what will happen next. Readers who love action, adventure, and noble characters will enjoy The Royal Ranger Series.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maddie and Ingrid are traveling to Castle Araluen when two robbers stop them and demand their valuables. Maddie shoots a lead shot at one of the robbers and hits his bow. “The broken limb flew loose, and then stopped by the string, flicked back and smacked the man across the jaw, raising a bleeding weal there. He cried out and staggered back. . .” The man grabs his knife and Maddie shoots again. The shot “hit him on the point of his shoulder, smashing the bone and bruising the flesh.”
  • One of the robbers “swing[s] wildly with the cudgel” trying to knock Ingrid off the horse. “Ingrid leaned out of the saddle, wielding the riding crop and bringing the heavy stone pommel crashing down on top of his leather cap . . . his eyes glazed and he simply folded up like an empty suit of clothes.” The man is knocked unconscious.
  • When one of the robbers tries to flee, Maggie’s horse “slammed his. . .The impact sent the man tumbling in the grass, rolling over several times before beginning to rise, groggily to his feet.” The man takes out his knife and goes after the horse, so Maddie uses her sling to shoot the man. “The scream was torn from him as the lead shot slammed into his forearm, breaking the bones there.” The men are tied up and taken to the jail of a nearby village. The scene with the robbers is described over 3 ½ pages.
  • The Foxes, a rebel group of men, attack an Araluen army as they forge a river. The Araluen army shoots a volley of arrows. Four of the enemies “screamed and fell. Another volley slammed into the enemy formation. More men fell.” At the end of the battle, the Foxes “were nursing their wounds and reluctant to move from the cover of the trees. . .eleven of their comrades lay where they had fallen.” The attack is described over four pages.
  • The rebels again send men to cross the river. The Ranger Gilan’s “arrow plunged down in a shallow arc and struck the lead swimmer in the right shoulder. The man let out a cry of agony and stopped swimming.” The man survives, but another rebel is “hit in the chest . . . he cried out once, threw up his hands and sank without a further sound.” Another rebel is injured when an arrow hit “his arm with its razor-sharp warhead, and blood started reddening the water around him.” After one man dies and three are injured, the rebels retreat. The skirmish is described over three pages.
  • As the Araluen army flees, the Ranger Gilan stays at the river. When the rebels send a man across the river, Gilan shoots an arrow but the next “arrow was even quicker. It slammed into the unprotected breastplate with the full force of Gilan’s massive bow behind it. . . ripped through the breastplate and into the man’s body.” When Gilan begins shooting “a volley of six arrows” the enemy retreats.
  • The Foxes again attack the Araluen army. Someone shoots at one of the leaders. “The arrow flew in a whimpering paragola, then struck home in the center of the rider’s chest, hurling him backward over the horse’s rump and leaving him lying still on the grass.”
  • During the skirmish, one of the Foxes’ sergeants looks at his men, and “the man next to him fell with an arrow through the top of his leather helmet.” The Foxes quickly retreat into the woods.
  • The Araluen army hides out in an old fort. The rebels stage an attack, trying to climb over the walls. “The bows thrummed with the ugly sound of release, and a few seconds later, six arrows slammed into the men crouched downhill.” As the arrows hit the men, they “cried out in pain and staggered back, clutching at the cruel barbed shafts that transfixed them.”
  • During the attack, Horace and a Fox commander fight. The commander “hacked wildly at Horace. There was a ringing clash of steel on steel as the two blades met. . . Horace’s sword darted out, fast as a striking viper. The super-hardened, razor-sharp blade cut through the man’s chainmail overshirt as if it wasn’t there . . . Horace jerked his sword free and rammed his shield into him. The Fox commander fell backward. . . crashing into the men on the ladder behind him.”
  • As the rebels begin to retreat, “the archers took up their bows again and began to pick them off as they slipped and staggered down the hill. Gilan shook his head wearily, sick of the slaughter.” Gilan orders his men to stop shooting. The battle is described over six pages.
  • Maddie was spying on the Fox Clan. Someone sees her and the men give chase. Maddie runs. As men charged toward her, “a shaggy form burst around the corner of the church, behind the men. Maddie’s horse, Bumper, slammed his shoulder into him and sent him flying. He dealt with a second in the same way, crashing into him with a sickening thud.” Maddie is able to escape.
  • The Red Fox Clan enters the castle through a bridge. “The rider drew his sword and cut left and right, killing them where they stood.”
  • Damon, the Red Fox Clan leader, tries to catch the queen. When the queen sees Damon, he has a “blood stained sword in hand and blood staining his doublet.”
  • In order to protect the queen, Maikeru and two men sword fight. One man “lunged at Maikeru. . . His sword was deflected immediately, and as he staggered slighty, the katana slashed quickly across his neck and he fell, a choked scream rising to his lips. His companion watched in horror. . . Maikeru went on the attack. Once again the deadly katana found its mark and sliced through chain mail and flesh. The second man fell, lifeless to the bridge.”
  • After Maikeru kills several men, the Red Fox Clan leader orders his men to kill him with arrows. “The two bows thrummed almost in the same instant. . . But the other [arrow] slammed into his chest, high on the right side. . . The two men shot again and two more arrows slammed into him, both hitting vital spots.” Even though Maikeru dies, the queen is able to get to safety because of him. The scene is described over three pages.
  • When the queen and her staff are safely closed up in a castle tower, Damon and his men try to smoke them out. When that doesn’t work, a man tries to use a ladder like a bridge to enter the room. Using her sling, Queen Cassandra attacks. “The shot slammed into [the attacker’s] left knee with a sickening crack and smashing bone and tendons.” The man falls to his death. Several men are killed in the same way.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a festival, “barrels of wine and ale were propped up on trestles to ease the collective thirst.”

Language

  • Maddie is upset that a “damn nanny goat nuzzled [her cowl] aside and started chomping.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • A man wants to start a rebellion. He tells the crowd, “For thousands of years, our country was guided by a law that said only a male heir could succeed to the throne. . . And it was a law that respected the will of the gods.” A man wonders why people “accepted so readily the concept that this was a law approved by the gods.”

Namesake

The second installment of the Fable duology, Namesake, picks up right where the first left off, at the kidnapping of Fable. Fable was taken from her crew onboard the Marigold to become a prisoner of the infamous pirate, Zola. However, Zola doesn’t just want Fable to sit around—she must become part of his crew too. Eventually, Fable finds out Zola’s motive behind forcing her to work for him: he needs her to dredge enough ore to impress Holland, the woman who controls the gem trade in the Narrows.

When Zola’s ship arrives in Bastion, Holland’s home port, Fable quickly discovers there is more to the story. Holland isn’t just a gem trader, she’s also Fable’s grandmother. While Zola wants to get into Holland’s good graces by reuniting Holland with her granddaughter, Holland still bears ill will against Zola since he helped Fable’s mother run away in her youth. Holland expects Fable to follow the path her mother did not, but Fable doesn’t want to be a pawn in anyone’s game. She has her own plans: free the Marigold from her father, Saint’s, control, and reunite with her lover, West.

Things become even more complicated when West shows up at Holland’s house, desperate to bargain for Fable’s freedom. Holland agrees—on the condition that the pair work together to take down Saint. While Fable’s relationship with her father is less than stellar, she still finds it difficult to work against him, even when her life is on the line. However, even though Fable is tested, she always tries her hardest to protect those she cares about.

Fable’s relationship with her family is at the forefront of this book. During her time doing Holland’s bidding, she learns more about her mother, including that she gave up a life of finery for the sea. Fable further develops her skills as a gem sage too, which also brings her closer to her mother. In terms of her father, the story ends with Saint finally claiming Fable as his daughter, which shows how far he and Fable have come. Fable says, by claiming her “he was handing over the sharpest blade to whoever might use it against him.” By being willing to claim each other as family, they create a vulnerability, but it’s a worthy sacrifice because of how much they care for one another. The happily-ever-after ending is somewhat unrealistic for the harsh world the story is set in, but the clichés are a tidy wrap-up to the events and conflicts opened by the first novel.

The story, overall, is more focused on adventure and enjoyment than presenting a lesson to readers. The plot twists and impulsive nature of the characters leave readers wondering what their next moves will be. The violence and sexual content in the story are not overly graphic, yet the Fable books may upset some readers because the characters struggle with the trauma of death, murder, abandonment, and other heavy topics. Namesake emphasizes our bonds to others as something worth protecting, even if they make us vulnerable. Love is worth the pain. In the end, as Fable walks at her father’s side, she says, “For the first time in my life I wasn’t hiding, and neither was he.”

Sexual Content

  • Fable is reunited with West. “In that moment, I only wanted to feel his rough hands on my skin and swallow the air around him until I could taste him on my tongue. . . His face lowered until his mouth hovered over mine, and he kissed me so gently that the burn of tears instantly erupted behind my eyes. My hands moved down the shape of his back and he leaned into me. . .  His teeth slipped over my bottom lip and the sting resurfaced from where the skin was still healing. But I didn’t care. I kissed him again and his hands reached for the skirts, pulling them up until I could feel his fingers on my legs. His touch dragged up, and when his hand wrapped around the stitches in my thigh . . .”
  • West and Fable kiss. “He pressed his forehead to mine before he parted my lips with his.”
  • Paj and Auster, two boys on the Marigold’s crew, kiss. Auster “pulled Paj toward him until he was low enough to Auster to kiss him.”
  • Fable and West sleep together. West “closed the space between us. . . His mouth hovered an inch above mine. . . His lips parted and the kiss was deep, drawing the air from the room. . . I pulled him toward me. . . his kiss turned hungry; his fingers pulled at the laces of my underdress until it was sliding over my hips. I smiled against his mouth, my bare feet stepping over the pile of silk on the floor as he walked us to the cot. I laid back on the quilts, pulling him with me so I could melt into the heat of him. I hooked my legs around his hips as I tugged at his shirt, finding his skin with my fingertips, and his breath shook on an exhale as he leaned all his weight into me. West’s lips trailed down my throat until the warmth of his mouth pressed to the soft hollow below my collar bone, then to my breast. . . his hands trailed up my thighs so he could take hold of my hips, and he fit me against him, groaning.”
  • West kisses Fable a few times. “He caught my hand when I stepped around him, drawing me back. As soon as I turned, he kissed me. . . West took a step toward me, and when I tipped my head back, he kissed me softly.”

Violence

  • West tells Fable about someone he killed. “I just walked up to him and put my hands around his throat and this quiet came over me. . . He fell out of his chair, and he was kicking and trying to pull my hands away. But I just kept squeezing. I kept squeezing even after he stopped moving.”
  • Fable attacks one of her kidnappers. “As soon as her gaze dropped, I pulled in a sharp breath and launched myself forward. Her eyes went wide as I barreled into her, and she hit the deck hard, her head slamming into the wood. I pinned her weight to the coil of ropes against the starboard side and reached for the knife. . . in the second I took to look over my shoulder, the woman rolled out from under me, catching my side with the heel of her boot. I growled, scrambling toward her until I had hold of her wrist. She tried to kick me as I slammed it into the iron crank that stowed the anchor. I could feel the small bones beneath her skin crack as I brought it down again harder, and the knife fell from her grip.”
  • Zola restrains Fable. “His other hand flew up, finding my throat. His fingers clamped down as he slammed me into the railing and squeezed until I couldn’t draw breath. His weight drifted forward until I was leaning over the side of the ship and the toes of my boots lifted from the deck.”
  • Fable sees Clove, her father’s right-hand man. She wishes he was dead. “In that moment, I had never hated anyone as much as I hated Clove. I’d never wanted so badly to see anyone dead. . . I imagined him in that crate that West dropped into the black sea.”
  • A dredger named Ryland tries to drown Fable. Ryland “yanked hard at my belt, sliding his knife between my tool and my hip, sawing. I kicked as the belt broke free and fell to the seafloor, trying to push him back. But he pinned me with one hand around my throat, holding me to the reef. I clawed at his fingers, screaming under water, and the cutting sting of coral sliced into my leg as I thrashed. . .” Eventually, he lets her go when he sees someone nearby.
  • Fable stitches up her own wound. “I threaded the needle with trembling hands and pinched the deepest part of the cut together. The needle went through my skin without so much as a prick, and I was grateful I was still so cold I could barely feel it. . . tears falling from the tip of my nose as I worked.”
  • Clove sneaks below deck while the crew are asleep. Fable thinks he’s coming to kill her, and she debates how to get him first. “If I was quick enough, I could strike first. Drive the blade of my knife up into his gut before he could get his hands on me. . . If I stabbed him beneath the ribs, catching a lung, it would be enough to keep him from running after me.”
  • Clove kills Ryland. “The glint of a knife shone in the darkness as Clove lifted his hands, reaching into Ryland’s hammock. . . The hammock shook above me [Fable] and something hot hit my face. I flinched, reaching up to wipe it from my cheek, and another drop fell, hitting my arm. When I held my fingers to the light, I went still. It was blood. Clove sheathed his knife before he reached back up and heaved Ryland from inside. I watched in horror as he took him onto his shoulder and his limp hands fell beside my face, swinging. He was dead.”
  • Holland has Zola killed. The guards “stepped into the room without a word, and before Zola even knew what was happening, they had him by the jacket, dragging him into the dark hallway. ‘Wait!’ he shouted. . . Zola’s voice suddenly vanished, and [Fable] heard his weight fall to the floor. . . a trail of fresh, bright blood seeped across the white marble and into the light spilling from the room.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Fable says her first drive “was followed by my first drink of rye.”
  • After nearly drowning, Fable has a few sips of rye to settle her nerves.
  • Occasionally, the characters will be visiting or conversing in a tavern, in which people are drinking rye.

Language

  • When Fable crosses paths with someone who wanted her dead, she exclaims, “shit.” West also says “shit” as an expletive one time.
  • Occasionally, Fable uses the word “bastard” to refer to Clove and Saint.
  • Saint calls Fable a “stubborn ass.”

Supernatural

  • Fable thinks momentarily that the murder of Ryland was “the work of spirits in the dark.”
  • Fable has her father swear on her “mother’s soul.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Maddie Shooter

Harriet the Invincible

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

 

Ravenous 

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jemima Cooke

The Queen of Nothing

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

  • None

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

 

Monstrous

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

  • None

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jemima Cooke

Castle Hangnail

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jemima Cooke

Charmed

The second book in the Fairy Tale Reform School Series revisits Gilly Cobbler and her friends following their triumph against the evil queen Harlow. Now that Gilly has been named a hero by all of Enchantasia, she experiences the praise she has never received before. Plus, her father’s glass slipper making business is booming and everything seems to be going her way.

Just as all is going well, the evil fairy Alva strikes again, breaking Harlow out of the Fairy Tale Reform School (FTRS) and leaving behind a manifesto that leads many reformed students back to villainy. Gilly decides to defend her status as a hero, taking Alva down all alone. Gilly sets off to uncover the identity of a mole at the school who is helping with Alva’s takeover. As Gilly will discover, the path to victory is more complicated than she believes. The lines between good and evil are blurred, and Gilly might just lose herself in the process without the help of her friends.

Charmed engages readers and explores what it means to be a hero. Gilly thinks she can handle Alva on her own, so she abandons the friends who helped her last time. Plus, she becomes overly confident due to the praise she is given. Eventually, Gilly comes to realize that she needs humility and the help of those who truly know and care about her. As her father says, “Sometimes being a hero means being brave. Other times it means knowing when you need help.”

In addition to working with friends, Gilly has to become more open-minded. She must confront her own prejudices about people like the Royal Ladies in Waiting. While she perceives them as evil and silly, she quickly learns that people are not so simple. Gilly must also confront her own behavior. While she sees herself as a hero, she is also capable of doing bad things. She says, “I’m still a little bit bad, a lot good, and a whole lot of other things too. Just as it should be.”
In Charmed the “villains” are given second chances. Even Gilly is misguided at times, and she must learn how to face her own misgivings and the guilt that accompanies them. Charmed allows readers to dive deeper into the overarching theme of recognizing that people are not rigidly good or bad; they are capable of both. Calonita continues to establish the message that people can change. Readers will appreciate how Gilly stumbles but is able to pick herself back up. Gilly learns and grows which leaves readers curious as to what will come next. While the ending is entirely satisfying in itself, the book ends with an open-ended letter from Gilly’s friend, Jax. The letter introduces the conflict for the third book in the series, Tricked, without compromising the characters’ victory.

Gilly leads readers through the story with help from the occasional “Happily Ever After Scroll,” a sort of daily newspaper that provides context for events throughout the story as well as introduces characters. The scrolls allow readers who have not read the first book in the series to easily follow the plot of this installment. Readers who enjoyed the film series Descendents will also enjoy taking a journey into the lives of the students at Fairy Tale Reform School. The high stakes and magical showdowns are captivating from the first page and readers will also be excited to see familiar faces from classic fairy tales.

Sexual Content

  • A professor at the school is said to know “plenty of [sea shanties]” which the Happily Ever After Scrolls take as possible confirmation for former flings with pirates.
  • The Pirate Blackbeard says, “I’ve been swayed by a bonny lass before.”
  • When Gilly goes to a meeting in a dress and with a new hairstyle, Jax, comments on how well she “cleans up.” Gilly is nervous when “Jax touches my pink sash and the pink ribbon wrapped around my uniform waist.”
  • Jax later tells Gilly he misses his “partner in crime” to which she blushes. These moments seem to imply a budding romantic connection between the two characters.
  • Gilly watches Professor Blackbeard put “an arm around” Madame Cleo and then she squeals. Gilly calls this “gross.”

Violence

  • Alva’s goal is to recruit “an army to help her take over the kingdom of Enchantasia.”
  • At the FTRS, the students celebrate “Wand What You Want hour” in which they can cast spells on borrowed wands. When she got her wand, Gilly says her wand looked “like it’s seen a few battles.” Her classmates are using spells. One student turns someone into an ice sculpture. She hears “kids . . . cheering and fighting”.
  • When Gilly and Jax try to leave the school on a magic carpet they are “stunned by an invisible wall” that prevents students from leaving without permission.
  • The students are in FTRS due to their histories as criminals. Gilly and some of her friends were caught stealing, which warrants their sentence in the reform school.
  • On Wand What You Want day, Gilly worries “about what [Kayla] could zap next.” There seems to be a history of harmful accidents with the wands, which is why the students are not permitted to use them regularly. Gilly narrates, “every time someone screws up by zapping off their pinkie or growing their nose to three times its size.”
  • Gilly recognizes that her life consists of “villains . . . trying to kill” her. Gilly and her friends have “kept [their] school from burning down,” thwarting Alva’s plans.
  • Gilly and Jocelyn, who is a witch, fight using magic. Gilly casts a spell at Jocelyn’s dress, leaving “a burn mark” on her “butt” which hurts. Gilly considers what else she could do, including “turn [Jocelyn] into a toad” and locking “her in a tower.” Instead, after more arguing, Gilly drops a pie on Jocelyn’s head. Jocelyn returns the favor, magically throwing “a piece of pudding pie into [Gilly’s] face” with a “Smack”. The food fight expands when Ollie steps in and gets “a wall of dead fish” smacked in his face, which leaves a slimy trail”. Kayla gets welts when “radishes hit [her] in the head.”
  • Interrupting the fun at Wand What You Want day, the students hear a loud “KABOOM.” Both Gilly and Jocelyn rush to the site of the explosion. When Gilly makes it to the school and jumps through the magically changing hallways, she lands “right on top of Jocelyn.” The students “drop to the ground just in time to see a cannonball whiz past [their] heads.”
  • Kayla’s backstory includes being blackmailed into helping the villainous Alva. Kayla’s “whole family was cursed by Alva and turned into a group of trees.”
  • The Pirates arrive on a ship with flags featuring skull and crossbones. Their ship is damaged from cannon fire after “racing away from the Royal Navy after pillaging the gold taxes the navy had collected from a port.” When they dock, the “pirates begin disembarking, swinging their swords menacingly in the air.” They are carrying “chests full of weapons.”
  • Jocelyn threatens Gilly with a “small swirl of purple smoke.” As the girls argue, a “fireball hits a pirate on the gangplank” who “yelps” after being struck.
  • As punishment for their fighting, Professor Blackbeard “grabs Jocelyn and [Gilly] by the backs of [their] uniforms.” He decides to set Gilly and Jocelyn against each other in an in-class duel to “get this aggression out.”
  • While the students are on the ship, they realize that the pirates are not responsible for the cannon fire when “another cannonball comes whirling toward” them. Alva is behind the attack and she brings her gargoyles with her. The gargoyles surround the ship. Ollie defends the students by “hurling radishes in the air.”
  • When Gilly and Jocelyn dash for the school, Gilly uses a magic pocket watch to paralyze Jocelyn temporarily. Gilly watches as “a light bursts from the watch and sends Jocelyn flying backward.” While Gilly is analyzing Jocelyn’s new state, another explosion happens “sending rocks and debris raining down on” them. This causes Gilly’s “right leg [to be] pinned under a piece of wall” and Jocelyn to be “stuck under a fallen wooden door.”
  • When trying to read the manifesto left by Alva, students are “pushing and conjuring spells to move others out of the way.”
  • Gilly watches a group of students “in full armor starting dragon training against a mechanical dragon that shoots real fire.”
  • Blackbeard says his “former occupation” was pillaging and plundering. To be more menacing, he also used to tie “fuses to his hair so they’d give off smoke.”
  • Gilly and Jocelyn are forced to duel. Blackbeard hands them swords, and Gilly thinks “the sheen of the blade” and “the clinking noise” tells her that “those babies are real.” The other students in the room encourage the violence against Jocelyn, saying, “Pummel the witch!” Jocelyn uses magic to send Gilly’s “body [flying] backward, smacking into a pixie and knocking her into Maxine’s hands.” After that, Jocelyn “raises her sword to strike” Gilly, but Gilly rolls out of the way. The fight turns into “the old-fashioned way . . . with name-calling and hair-pulling.” Blackbeard ends it by mummifying them in a sail. The fight is described over 11 pages.
  • Princess Rose says one of her hobbies includes hunting because “it keeps [her] focused.”
  • Kayla relays the information, “There’s been an attack on Royal manor. . . Alva sent her gargoyles to tear things up.” The people survived, but Princess Rapunzel “got knocked out when she tried to fight the gargoyles off.”
  • Gilly explains that “the silver turrets of Royal Manor blind anyone who dares look at them too long.”
  • Ollie ends up stealing pastries in the village, causing a police chase. He escapes by using a “smoke bomb.” Gilly helps distract the police by sending a Pegasi in the direction of a police officer. Gilly puts an apple cart in the street and the police officer is thrown from his horse. Gilly thinks, “I watch him land on a bag of apples and wince.“
  • When they return to the school, Gilly says she and her friends “are lined up like [they’re] about to be sent to the gallows.” Gilly thinks, “Blackbeard’s sword looks particularly menacing hanging from his scabbard.” Blackbeard suggests a “walk on the plank” for the rule-breakers. He adds that they could “put a few sharks in the waters” to encourage better behavior.
  • In the process of being disciplined by the teachers, Gilly and Jocelyn begin to argue again. Gilly narrates, “Jocelyn lunges for me, and Blackbeard extends his sword to keep us both apart.”
  • Gilly trips over a watermelon, landing on her face and smashing the watermelon with her fall. When Jocelyn laughs, Gilly pulls “on Jocelyn’s skirt and [takes] her down. . . Then I take a piece of watermelon and chuck it at her.”
  • When the girls leave the hall from which they were spying on Flora, they “smack” into Princess Rose, sending her “flying backward where she lands on her butt.”
  • Alva’s forces “burned half the village to the ground . . . Villagers were able to get everyone to safety.” Alva left behind another message which says, “Join me or perish.”
  • A final battle between Gilly and her friends and Alva. Several people are paralyzed by magic, and the gargoyles carry off others. The castle crumbles, raining debris on the students and guests.
  • Alva uses her ability to transform into an unkillable Wyvern. “Fire engulfs [Alva] completely. Through the flames, I see one leathery green wing, then another, and a spike-covered tail that whips around so fast that it knocks one gargoyle into a wall and squeezes another ’til it shrieks.”
  • Gilly is burned. She thinks, “I hear the fire before I smell it. The scent of rotting flesh.” She is ultimately okay. The battle is described over 24 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While the fruit punch at the RLW meetings is not actually laced with mind-altering drugs, Jax jokingly implies that it may be when he asks Gilly, “How much pink fruit punch have you had at these meetings?”
  • Several people use gingerroot to magically paralyze someone else. For example, Gilly is given gingerroot and her “legs feel like they’re on fire.”

Language

  • The students frequently wonder if they or their friends have gone crazy.
  • The characters occasionally use exclamations including: geez, holy shipwreck, holy gingerbread, thank goodness, fiddlesticks, for the love of fairies, duh, flapjacks, my heavens, and what the gingerbread.
  • After Jocelyn insults Gilly for her family’s previous inability to “afford pudding,” Gilly makes a pointed statement meant to harm Jocelyn. Gilly says, “. . . you’re an orphan with an evil sister in lockup.”
  • Blackbeard refers to a woman as a wench.
  • Harlow calls the students brats.
  • One student’s mother lovingly calls him Porridge Bottom.
  • Often, characters call each other names such as liar, silly princess wannabes, peasant, thief, wicked, goons, and a pill.
  • Gilly tells Jocelyn she’s “as crazy as [her] sister.”
  • Gilly asks herself if the RLWs are “missing a screw.”
  • Jocelyn calls Gilly “as pigheaded as the Three Little Pigs.”
  • Jocelyn tells Gilly, “Don’t act like Humpty Dumpty!”

Supernatural

  • The book is based on the existence of magic, fairytales, and magical creatures. Many of the characters are magical creatures such as fairies, witches, ogres, living gargoyles, and dwarves.
  • The students are watched over by a magic mirror, which acts as a looking glass to see people in different locations as well as being alive itself with a voice and personality.
  • The school has magic hallways that change throughout the day, making the floorplan of the school variable.
  • The school is also surrounded by a magical barrier that prevents students from escaping.
  • The headmistress makes a deal with Rumpelstiltskin that magically protects the school grounds, though not the students that reside on it.
  • The characters frequently use or encounter spells in their journey to stop the evil fairy, Alva. Often magic is represented with the sound effect of a quick “zap” followed by the spell’s effects. Jocelyn’s magic appears as purple glow before she uses it. One spell that is used most often is the ability to paralyze other people.
  • Jocelyn places an irreversible curse on Gilly which turns a strip of her hair purple.
  • One variation of the paralyzing spell uses a magical pocket watch and the incantation “Houratiempo”.
  • The students occasionally have access to magic wands which are said to have preprogrammed spells in them. The wands allow the students to do things like conjure food, change outfits, and fly on magic carpets.
  • Pegasi exist within the text and are frequently ridden by the students. These creatures are said to have the ability to read minds, which is how Gilly is able to calm Macho the Pegasus without saying a word allowed.
  • The RLW sashes act as mind control tools in the final battle. Everyone who wears one becomes a mindless servant.
  • Alva has the ability to transform into other creatures. In the final battle, she becomes an unkillable, fire-breathing Wyvern.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jennaly Nolan

 

Chain of Gold

Shadowhunters are angelic humans who are responsible for keeping mundanes (humans) safe from demons and other supernatural threats. For many years, London has had a quiet period, where demons have been rare. However, this changes when a new demon, a Manticore, begins killing shadowhunters. James and his sister Lucie, along with his friends, Cordelia, Matthew, Thomas, and Christopher, hatch a plan to stop the murders of their friends and families. They enlist the help of many others, not just shadowhunters, but also warlocks and ghosts, to heal those who have been injured by the Manticore. The group is determined to defeat the Manticore once and for all.

James is the son of Tessa (a warlock), and Will (a great shadowhunter). Due to the presence of demonic blood in his lineage, James often finds himself jumping between the “shadow world,” and the mortal realm. Lucie, his sister, has an unusual ability to speak to ghosts, as well as to command the dead. Cordelia is a strong, independent woman. Matthew provides comic relief. Thomas and Christopher are wholesome, kind men. Together, this band of self-named “Merry Thieves” provides an interesting cast of characters you can’t help but love.

James has been in love with Grace Blackthorn for years, seeing her every summer when on vacation, and keeping up a relationship in secret. However, when Cordelia moves to London, he finds himself drawn to her in ways that he wasn’t expecting, and is torn between the two women. When Grace breaks it off with James, he and Cordelia begin a relationship; however, it is cut short by Grace reentering James’s life using a bracelet that breeds affection. With James hopelessly in love with Grace once more, Cordelia is in an awkward situation.

In order to finally defeat the Manticore, James must journey to Hell to meet his grandfather, a demon. He and Cordelia enter the realm and kill the Manticore, while those still in the mortal realm find a cure for those who have been injured. Although it seems that the Manticore has been defeated, Belial, a Prince of Hell and James’s grandfather, has not been incapacitated to the same effect. The reader is left with a sort of cliffhanger, knowing that there is more trouble to follow.

The book is told from a third-person omniscient point of view, allowing the reader to get inside the heads of the characters, and better understand their actions and motivations. Clare creates a captivating story that’s impossible to put down, with characters who feel real enough to jump off the page. The novel emphasizes the importance of friendship and relying on those around you for help. Family is also an important theme in the novel, especially recognizing those in your family as people, rather than idols of perfection.

The cast is full of characters who are outsiders in a way, be it through sexuality, race, or gender, and the story showcases the importance of being yourself. Altogether, the novel has a fast-paced plot, characters full of depth, and important messages. All of these aspects come together to create a story that is not only entertaining but meaningful as well.

Sexual Content

  • James kisses Grace at her request, and he feels “the cool, soft press of her lips against his.”
  • Cordelia catches her brother, Alastair, kissing Charles. “It was Alastair’s turn to bury his hands in Charles’s hair, to press against Charles’s body and fumble with his waistcoat. Charles’s hands were flat against Alastair’s chest, and he was kissing Alastair hungrily, over and over—”
  • Grace coerces Matthew into kissing her. Matthew “pressed his hungry mouth against her lips and kissed her, and kissed her. She tasted of sweet tea and oblivion. He felt nothing, no desire, no yearning, only an empty desperate compulsion.”
  • In order to keep from getting recognized at a party, James kisses Cordelia. “She knew he was making it look as if they were Downworlders having an assignation in the Whispering Room—but it didn’t matter, nothing mattered except the way he was kissing her, gloriously kissing her.”

Violence

  • James kills a demon, and “let both of his knives fly. One plunged into the demon’s throat, the other into its forehead.”
  • There is a four-page scene in which the Shadowhunters fight a large demon. Particularly violent parts are when “the demon clawed at [someone’s] throat,” and Cordelia brought “Cortana down in a great curving arc, severing [the demon’s] head.”
  • James saves Cordelia from a demon. “The demon screeched, a high and horrible noise, as the knives plunged into its torso. The creature spasmed—it seemed almost to be crumbling, its leathery seedpods pattering to the ground like rain. It gave a last choking hiss and vanished.”
  • Cordelia describes the fight against the Manticore. Cordelia “whipped Cortana [her sword] forward with a slashing motion, shredding the demon in front of her.” The scene is described over four pages.
  • James and Matthew fight a Khora demon, and James throws knives at it. “The knives sank to their hilts in the demon’s skull. It blew apart; one of the other demons screamed.” Then Christopher gets hurt. “The demon’s great clawed hand raked across Christopher’s chest.”
  • James fights the Manticore in the Hell realm, and the Manticore attacks with his claws, “One raked James’s arm; he spun sideways, blade whipping overhead, slashing across the demon’s torso.” The scene is described over 3 pages.
  • Grace says, “I was eight when [my parents] were killed by demons.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Matthew is often portrayed as either drunk or drinking, with eyes that are “suspiciously bright.” He is often holding a flask or alcohol of some kind. Lucie confronts him, saying, “You’re drunk now . . . Matthew, you’re drunk most of the time.”
  • When James is sick with a scalding fever, he is forced to drink a “loathsome potion” to heal.
  • After Grace breaks up with James, he gets drunk. “James unbuttoned the inside pocket and drew out [Matthew’s] silver flask.”
  • Alastair reveals to Cordelia that their father is an alcoholic. Alastair says, “he’s always bloody drunk, Cordelia. The only one of us who didn’t know that is you.”

Language

  • Profanity is rarely used. Profanity includes bloody and hell.

Supernatural

  • When Lucie is exploring the forest outside of her house, she talks about the moss, and how “her father told her it was a pillow for faeries at night, and that the white stars of the flowers that grew only in the hidden country of Idris made bracelets and rings for their delicate hands.”
  • While in the forest, Lucie falls into a pit. Jesse saves her and then says, “This is one of [the faerie’s] pit traps. They usually use them to catch animals, but they’d be very pleased to find a little girl instead.”
  • Jesse tells Lucie that if the faeries catch her, she “could find [her]self serving faerie gentry in the Land Under the Hill for the rest of [her] life.”
  • When James is fighting a demon, “he was suddenly pulled into Hell,” which is often referred to as the “shadow realm,” a dimension James is often taken to without warning.
  • Most of the characters are Shadowhunters/Nephilim, who are “a special race of warriors, descended from an angel, gifted with powers that allowed them to wield weapons of shining adamas and to bear the black Marks of holy runes on their bodies—runes that made them stronger, faster, more deadly than any mundane human; runes that made them burn brightly in the dark.”
  • James fights a demon that is described as having “a ribbed gray body, a curving, sharp beak lined with hooked teeth, and splayed paw-like feet from which ragged claws protruded.”
  • While fighting a demon, James notes something like recognition in its eyes, but goes on to say that “demons, at least the lesser kind, didn’t recognize people. They were vicious animals driven by pure greed and hatred.”
  • Shadowhunters rely on Seraph blades, swords “infused with the energy of angels.”
  • Shadowhunters have runes that allow them to do various things, such as “glamour runes [that] made them invisible to all eyes not gifted with the Sight.”
  • As James and his friends walk through London, “James caught a glimpse of the pale skin and glittering eyes of a vampire.”
  • There are a variety of supernatural beings, referred to as “Downworlders.” One of these groups are warlocks. “Warlocks were the offspring of humans and demons: capable of using magic but not of bearing runes or using adamas, the clear crystalline metal from which steles and seraph blades were carved. They were one of the four branches of Downworlders, along with vampires, werewolves, and the fey.”
  • Both James and Lucie can see ghosts, a trait they note as “not uncommon in the Herondale family.”
  • James describes the shadow realm as having, “charred earth. A similarly scorched sky arced above him. Twisted trees emerged from the ground, ragged claws grasping at the air.”
  • When James is hurt, Matthew draws an “iratze, a healing rune,” on James.
  • Tessa, James’s mother, recalls “attending a vampire frolic once. And some sort of party at Benedict Lightwood’s house, before he got demon pox and turned into a worm, of course—”
  • Cordelia talks about the reason for her father’s arrest, noting that “a nest of Kravyād demons had been discovered just outside the border of Idris,” the home country of Shadowhunters. She notes that her father had been called in to help, but “the Kravyād demons had gone—and the Nephilim had trespassed onto land that a vampire clan believed was theirs.”
  • Matthew talks about a warlock he once knew, “who had three arms. He could duel with one hand, shuffle a deck of cards with the next, and untie a lady’s corset with the third, all at the same time. Now there was a chap to emulate.”
  • Shadowhunters have a light source that they call “witchlight,” which requires no electricity.
  • Jessamine and Jesse, two characters in the book, are ghosts.
  • Cordelia has a sword, Cortana, which her father used when he “slew the great demon Yanluo…They say the blade of Cortana can cut through anything.”
  • While all the young Shadowhunters are at a picnic, “a demon broke the surface” of the lake.
  • A pack of demons are described: “The demons raced like hellhounds across the grass, leaping and surging, utterly silent. Their skin was rough and corrugated, the color of onyx; their eyes flaming black.”
  • Silent Brothers are the healers of the Shadowhunter world, and speak in silent voices, “an echo in [the] head.” They are described in, “Ivory robes marked in red, skin drained of color, scarred with red runes. Most were without hair and worse, had their eyes sewn shut, their sockets sunken and hollow.”
  • Before sneaking into Grace’s house, Lucie and Cordelia “marked themselves carefully with various runes—Strength, Stealth, Night Vision.”
  • Cordelia encounters a demon in the Blackthorn’s greenhouse. “It was a demon, but not like any she had seen before. From a distance it almost seemed a butterfly or moth, pinned to the wall, wings outspread. A second, closer look revealed that its wings were membranous extensions, shot through with pulsing red veins. Where the wings joined together, they rose into a sort of central stalk, crowned by three heads. Each head was like a wolf’s, but with black, insectile eyes.”
  • When the group meets a warlock, Malcolm Fade, Cordelia notes that, “Most warlocks had a mark that set them apart, a physical sign of their demon blood: blue skin, horns, claws made of stone. Malcolm’s eyes were certainly an unearthly shade, like amethysts.”
  • At the Hell Ruelle, a sort of party, Cordelia talks about the guests in attendance: “Vampires stalked by proudly, their faces gleaming in the electric light; werewolves prowled the shadows in elegant evening dress. There was music coming from a string quartet standing on a raised cherrywood stage in the center of the room. Cordelia glimpsed a handsome violin player with the gold-green eyes of a werewolf, and a clarinetist with auburn curls, his calves ending in the hard hooves of a goat.”
  • At a party, Cordelia meets Hypatia Vex, whose pupils “were the shape of stars: her warlock mark.”
  • After Cordelia realizes that someone had tried to poison two warlocks, one of the warlocks confirms this using magic. “Malcolm Fade waved a hand over his own cup. Purple sparks woke and danced in his glass. The red wine stain on the carpet unfurled like a flower and turned to purple smoke.”
  • Ragnor Fell, a warlock, is described as having “an extra joint on each finger,” and Gast, another warlock, has “multiple rows of teeth, like a shark.”
  • At a warlock’s house, a “clearly enchanted fire burned in the grate, the flames silver and blue. The smoke that rose from the fire traced delicate patterns on the air in the shape of acanthus leaves. Its smoke smelled sweet, like attar [a fragrant essential oil] of roses.”
  • The group acquires a Pyxis, used for catching demons, and describes how it works. “When you wish to trap a demon, you first wound or weaken it. Then you place the Pyxis on the ground nearby and speak the words ‘Thaam Tholach Thechembaor,’ and the demon will be sucked into the box.”
  • Cordelia describes the Manticore demon as having “the body of a mangy lion with elongated legs, each one ending in a massive, taloned paw. Its head was snakelike and scaled, with glittering red eyes and a triple row of serrated jaws.”
  • Lucie is revealed to have the power to call the dead, something that Jesse explains to her, saying, “You called the dead, and the dead came. I heard you, across the whole city, calling for someone to help you.”
  • James opens a portal to Hell, which Cordelia describes as “a large archway. It seemed to be made of dark light; it curved with Gothic flourishes, as though it were part of the cemetery, but Cordelia knew it was not. Through it, she could glimpse a swirl of dark chaos, as if she were looking through a Portal into the vastness of black space itself.”
  • Grace is attacked by a demon described as “half-reptilian and half-human, with leathery bat’s wings and a sharply pointed chin like the tip of a knife.”
  • James meets his grandfather, Belial, a Prince of Hell, and he is described as “a Prince of Hell showing himself in his most human form. He looked like a statue carved by a divine hand: his features were ageless, handsome, everything in balance. It was possible to see in his face the terrible beauty of the fallen.”
  • Grace reveals that her “mother invoked black magic to try to bring [her] brother back [from the dead].”
  • Lucie saves James by giving him Jesse Blackthorn’s “last breath,” which had been contained in a locket before he died.

Spiritual Content

  • To enter the Silent City where the Silent Brother’s live, James must answer a riddle. “’Quis ut Deus?’ he said. ‘Who is like God?’ the Angel asks. The answer is ‘No one. No one is like God.’”

by Sara Mansfield

 

Written in the Stars

Naila’s fate always seems to be under her parents’ control, especially when it comes to boys. Following Pakistani tradition, Naila’s parents will choose a husband for her when the time comes. Naila, however, did not grow up in Pakistan and the idea of an arranged marriage seems very old fashioned. Besides, she has fallen in love with a boy named Saif—of whom her parents do not approve– so she must keep him a secret. However, after lying to her parents to attend her senior prom, Naila is caught with Saif and her parents ignore her apologies and explanations.

Believing their daughter has gone astray living in America, Naila’s parents take the family to Pakistan for the summer, causing Naila to miss her high school graduation. At first, Naila enjoys spending time with her family, but she still looks forward to starting college in America where she will finally be with Saif and her best friend, Carla. However, Naila soon discovers her parents are planning a much longer trip. Her cousin, Selma, informs Naila that her parents are planning an arranged marriage. To escape this fate, Naila contacts Saif and plans her escape, which is thwarted by her uncle. Afraid their daughter will try to run away again, Naila’s parents force her into a marriage with Amin without Naila’s knowledge or consent. Naila is met with a choice: accept fate and try to find happiness with her new husband or continue to fight for her true love, Saif.

Despite everything she must endure in Pakistan, Naila is a strong character who never gives up on the possibility of love. While multiple aspects of Pakistani culture are represented in the book, the tradition of arranged marriage is especially prominent. The intent of the novel is to demonstrate that while some arranged marriages have been successful, others can trap men and women into loveless marriages that are more harmful than beneficial. Through Naila’s experience, the novel reveals the importance of having a choice, especially when it comes to love and marriage.

The novel, which takes place mostly in Pakistan, gives poignant depictions of Pakistani culture. Urdu words are used throughout to help capture the setting and culture, and a glossary is provided in the back of the book to aid understanding. The novel also includes mature themes of violence, inter-marital rape, and pregnancy.

Naila is an easy character to root for because, despite the situation she is in, Naila stays true to herself and her beliefs. In addition, Naila discovers that honesty, no matter how hard it can be, is always best. Naila’s conflict is relatable because she wants what anyone else would want—the freedom to have a choice. Although the limitations of her situation sometimes slow the pace of the novel, the tension consistently builds as readers anxiously wait for Naila to be freed and reunited with Saif. If you’re interested in how women are treated in the Middle East, add A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini to your must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • Amin, Naila’s husband, forces her to have sex with him. In an attempt to stop him, Naila tries “to sit up, to reach for the light on the nightstand, but his hands press against my shoulders, pushing me down. I twist my body, trying to wrench free, but I can’t move.” Amin continues to force himself onto Naila. He whispers to Naila to forgive him and “suddenly, I [Naila] scream. Pain envelops me. The world is white, illuminated with pain.” This is all that is described.
  • Naila discovers she is pregnant with Amin’s child. “I tried denying it, I made excuses for my growing fatigue, my delayed period. But when the first wave of nausea overtook me shortly after, I could deny it no more. I’m pregnant.” Later, Naila explains that she lost her baby.
  • When they are reunited in Pakistan, Saif and Naila share a passionate kiss. “Suddenly, he leans down; his lips press against mine. Pull away. But no part of me knows how. . . I run my fingers through his hair, trace the outline of his face—And then I kiss him back.”

Violence

  • When Naila tries to run away, she is caught by her uncle. Her uncle gets on the bus and Naila is “yanked from [her] seat, dragged down the aisle, down the rough metal steps.” To defend herself, Naila tries to “kick, twist [her] wrists to pry [her]self away from him. I bite his arm. He does not let go.”
  • Furious with his daughter for trying to run away, Naila’s father slaps her across the face. She describes the “metallic taste of blood in [her] mouth.”
  • After Amin’s mother, Nasim, discovers Naila is still in love with Saif, she attacks Naila. “Nasim seems possessed by a demon. I try covering myself from Nasim’s feet—she kicks me with each curse.”
  • When Saif arrives to defend Naila, “Amin shoves Saif to the ground.” Amin punches Saif until Saif’s uncle arrives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Naila’s uncle forces water down her throat and “almost instantly, I [Naila] feel hazy. The drink. He’s drugging me, I realize.” Naila is drugged and her parents force her to sign the marriage papers.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • In Pakistan, Naila hears a “melodic sound” she recognizes to be “the call to prayer.”

by Elena Brown

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

 

Thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle leaves her boarding school in England to reunite with her family in America. She leaves England a prim and proper lady with a notebook from her father to detail her travels. However, Charlotte quickly discovers that her voyage home is not going to be smooth sailing.

On board The Seahawk, Charlotte fears the majority of the ship’s male crew, including the lone black man Zachariah, who gives her a knife the first time they meet. He warns Charlotte to keep the knife for protection, as “she might need it.” This is the first hint that things aboard The Seahawk aren’t all they seem, but Charlotte’s determined to keep her ladylike composure, especially in front of Captain Jaggery. Jaggery is a refined and educated man, unlike his crew, which prompts a friendship between him and Charlotte. Yet, Charlotte wonders if something more is awry when Jaggery asks that Charlotte become his “informant” and report any talk of rebellion to him.

After her promise, Charlotte discovers that the crew intends to mutiny. When Charlotte reports the threat, Jaggery responds with violence, killing some of the sailors including Zachariah. Suddenly, Charlotte’s journey turns into one of atonement. To fill the gap left by the now dead sailors, Charlotte joins the crew. Then, during a hurricane, the first mate is found with Charlotte’s knife in his chest. After a trial by Jaggery (who now scorns Charlotte because she has sided with the crew), Charlotte is proclaimed guilty, even though she didn’t commit the crime.

In the end, it’s discovered that Zachariah lived through his beating. He helps Charlotte create a plan to rid the ship of Jaggery and prove her innocence. They discover that it was Jaggery who murdered the first mate as a ploy to get rid of Charlotte, whom he hates for being an “unnatural” girl. Charlotte is able to dispatch Jaggery and sail home as a young captain with Zachariah by her side. However, her greatest conflict is the one she faces back on American soil, when her father burns her journal and forces her to be a “lady” again. Charlotte runs away from home when she remembers the words Zachariah once told her: “A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from a safe port. . . but winds have a mind of their own.”

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a thrilling and detailed story for young adults. The book is told from Charlotte’s perspective, and she is a compelling narrator. At first, she’s somewhat difficult to like because she’s stuck in her ways, but the reader will sympathize with her desire to do what is right despite the criticism she faces as a woman. While it is unlikely something like Charlotte’s story ever happened at the time, the story is realistic in the context of the era – such as the behavior of the characters, the dialogue, and the use of religion. The end of the book also includes a glossary of ship terms which the author uses for the reader to feel as if they’re on board a ship just like Charlotte is. The overarching message of this story is to follow one’s own path, even in the face of adversity, and Charlotte is a character that embodies that until the end.

Sexual Content

  • Ewing, one of the crew, kisses Charlotte on the cheeks to say goodbye.

Violence

  • Zachariah gives Charlotte a knife for protection.
  • Charlotte uses the knife to scare an animal. “I heard a sound. I looked across the cabin. A rat was sitting on my journal, nibbling at its spine. Horrified, I flung the dirk at it.” The rat runs off.
  • Zachariah describes a past incident where Captain Jaggery punished one of the crew for not tying a knot properly. “Captain Jaggery said Mr. Cranick’s laboring arm was his by rights. Miss Doyle, Mr. Cranick has but one arm now. He was that much beaten by Captain Jaggery, who, as he said himself, took the arm.”
  • Captain Jaggery shows Charlotte that he keeps guns in his cabin.
  • Charlotte describes Jaggery’s violent behavior. “If provoked sufficiently, the captain might resort to a push or a slap with his own open hand. . . I saw him strike Morgan with a belaying pin, one of the heavy wood dowels used to secure a rigging rope to the pin rail. In dismay, I averted my eyes. The fellow was tardy about reefing a sail, the captain said and went on to catalog further likely threats. Confinement in the brig. Salary docking. No meals. Lashing. Dunking in the cold sea or even keelhauling, which, as I learned, meant pulling a man from one side of the ship to the other – under water.”
  • Charlotte finds a gun in one of the crew member’s chests. Another man, Morgan, who catches her, threatens her so she won’t tell the captain. “He lifted a hand, extended a stiletto like a forefinger, and drew it across his own neck as if cutting A spasm of horror shot through me. He was – in the crudest way – warning me about what might happen to me if I took my discovery to the captain.”
  • Captain Jaggery kills a crew member, who tries to start a mutiny. “Captain Jaggery fired his musket. The roar was stupendous. The ball struck Cranick square in the chest. With a cry of pain and mortal shock he dropped his sword and stumbled backward into the crowd. They were too stunned to catch him, but instead leaped back so that Cranick fell to the deck with a sickening thud. He began to groan and thrash about in dreadful agony, blood pulsing from his chest and mouth in ghastly gushes.”
  • Captain Jaggery has Zachariah whipped for starting the unsuccessful mutiny. The first mate “turned Zachariah so that he faced into the shrouds, then climbed up into these shrouds and with a piece of rope bound his hands, pulling him so that the old man was all but hanging from his wrists, just supporting himself on the tips of his bare toes. . . I turned to look at Captain Jaggery. Only then did I see that he had a whip in his hands.”
  • Jaggery says that the first mate, Mr. Hollybrass, will give Zachariah 50 lashes. “Hollybrass lifted his arm and cocked it . . .with what appeared to be the merest flick of his wrist, the whip shot forward; its tails hissed through the air and spat against Zachariah’s back. The moment they touched the old man’s skin, four red welts appeared. . .” Hollybrass continues to whip Zachariah.
  • Charlotte begs the Captain to make it stop. When Captain Jaggery refuses, Charlotte whips him. “He took another step toward me. In a gesture of defense, I pulled up my arm, and so doing flicked the whip through the air, inflicting a cut across the captain’s face. For an instant a red welt marked him from his left cheek to his right ear. Blood began to ooze. . . When [Captain Jaggery] saw they were bloody he swore a savage oath, jumped forward and tore the whip from my hand, whirled about and began beating Zachariah with such fury as I had never seen.” Later, Charlotte sees the sailors dump a hammock overboard, which is said to contain Zachariah’s dead body.
  • After Charlotte joins the crew, Captain Jaggery punishes her. “He struck me across the face with the back of his hand, then turned and walked away.”
  • Charlotte finds Mr. Hollybrass’s body after he’s been killed. “A knife was stuck in his back, plunged so deeply only the scrimshaw handle could be seen. I recognized the design. . .This was the dirk Zachariah had given me.”
  • Charlotte is accused of murdering Mr. Hollybrass since the knife belongs to her. Captain Jaggery threatens to hang her if she can’t prove who killed him.
  • After Charlotte realizes that Captain Jaggery has killed Mr. Hollybrass, he chased her with a pistol to kill her. Jaggery chases Charlotte out to the bow, where he falls into the sea and drowns.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the sailors, Morgan, has a tobacco pouch.

Language

  • Charlotte describes the sailors as “men recruited from the doormat of Hell.”
  • Captain Jaggery says that the men on the ship are unable to understand kindness. He says, “they demand a strong hand, a touch of the whip, like dumb beasts who require a little bullying.” He also calls the crew, “the dirtiest, laziest dogs” and “a poor set of curs.”
  • When Charlotte tells Jaggery that she suspects a mutiny, Jaggery says, “why the devil did you not tell me before?”
  • Captain Jaggery shouts, “damn you!” once.

Supernatural

  • Charlotte considers that Zachariah might’ve appeared to her as a ghost or an angel.

Spiritual Content

  • References to God, the Bible, and Heaven occur occasionally throughout the text. Captain Jaggery occasionally has a Bible with him, and a church service is held on the ship on Sundays, where Charlotte reads passages from the Bible to the crew. Captain Jaggery sometimes refers to himself as a Christian. “And was ever a Christian more provoked than I?”
  • Zachariah compares God to a ship’s captain. “When a ship is upon the sea, there’s but one who rules. As God is to his people, as king is to his nation, as father to his family, so is captain to his crew.”
  • After Cranick’s death, Zachariah wishes to give him a funeral, but Captain Jaggery wants him thrown overboard. Zachariah says, “Even a poor sinner such as he should have his Christian service.” Captain Jaggery replies, “I want that dog’s carcass thrown over.”
  • Charlotte feels responsible for what happened to the crew and Zachariah since she revealed their plot. She prays to God for forgiveness.
  • During Charlotte’s trial, each man swears on the Bible to tell the truth.
  • Zachariah tells Charlotte an old saying, “the Devil will tie any knot, save the hangman’s noose. That Jack does for himself.”

by Madison Shooter

A New Beginning

Will Treaty has come a long way from the small boy with dreams of knighthood. Life had other plans for him, and as an apprentice Ranger under Halt, he grew into a legend—the finest Ranger the kingdom has ever known. Yet Will is facing a tragic battle that has left him grim and alone. To add to his problems, the time has come for him to take on an apprentice of his own, and it’s the last person he ever would have expected: Princess Madelyn, the daughter of Princess Cassandra. Will will have to win the trust and respect of his difficult new companion—a task that at times seems almost impossible.

A New Beginning brings the exciting tale of Horace and Cassandra’s daughter, Maddie. Fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will be eager to follow Will Treaty on an epic journey that pits a group of evil slavers against Will and Maddie. The fast-paced story has plenty of adventure and action as well as humorous moments. The first part of the story focuses on Maddie’s Ranger apprenticeship where she not only learns the skills of a Ranger, but also learns to have compassion for the common people. The second part of the story focuses on Will and Maddie as they investigate the kidnapping of children. Both parts expertly merge for a suspenseful conclusion that contains several surprises.

As a princess, Maddie was disrespectful, disobedient, and defiant; however, readers will connect with the spoiled princess who wants adventure and a life of purpose. Being a Ranger’s apprentice allows Maddie to learn important survival skills, such as how to defeat an enemy, why loyalty is important, and the necessity of following orders. Plus, Maddie gets an inside look at the struggles of peasants. The satisfying conclusion shows Maddie’s growth from a spoiled brat to a brave Ranger’s apprentice who helped save children from being sold into slavery.

A New Beginning is not for the faint of heart; an evil villain, bloody battles, and many deaths are all essential parts of the plot. The fighting and deaths are described in detail. Plus, the story focuses on the Stealer, who “is a mysterious spirit, dressed all in black, and wearing a black mask and cloak. He materializes in a village and takes children.”

Although A New Beginning is the beginning of Maddie’s story, those who are new to the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will not understand the significance of some of the people and events that take place. For maximum enjoyment, readers should first read all 12 books in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series. While this may seem like a huge undertaking, each book has a unique new conflict that will capture readers’ attention.

Through the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, Flanagan creates a world where good and evil often clash. By the end of the series, readers will feel like the characters are their friends. While the series often delves into serious topics, the books also reinforce the importance of loyalty, sacrifice, and friendship. Readers who decide to jump into the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will be swept away into a world where knights exist, princesses help save the day, and the Ranger’s apprentices always help overcome evil.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A Ranger questions a wagoner about “the fire that you and Ruhl set in that inn. . . There was a woman killed in that fire, remember? A Courier.” The Ranger explains that the Courier died while saving a child who was trapped in the fire.
  • Later, the fire is described. The Courier, Alyss, was on the second story of the inn when there was “a terrible rumbling crash, the entire section of the roof above and around where she was standing gave way and collapsed in a mass of flames and sparks. . . Alyss never had a chance.”
  • As the Ranger questions the wagoner, the Ranger’s “right hand snatched the dagger from his belt and he swung it in a backhanded strike. . . The wagoner grunted in shock and staggered back. His feet tangled in the bench he’d been sitting on and he stumbled, crashing over to hit the edge of the table, then falling with a thud to the ground.” When the wagoner doesn’t move, someone turns him over. “The wagoner’s eyes were wide-open. The shock of what had happened was frozen on his face. His own dagger was buried deep in his chest.”
  • Someone tries to kill Maddie, who reacts by using her sling to throw a projectile at the attacker. “The shot, with the extra impetus of the sling to propel it, hit its target first. She heard an ugly, meaty smack and a muted cry of pain from her attacker as it struck home.” Maddie kills the attacker.
  • The villain kidnaps a girl. In the process, her brother “pretended to go back to sleep. I told him if he raised the alarm or told anyone what he’d seen tonight, I’d come back for him and cut his eyes out of him.”
  • In an epic, multi-chapter conclusion, Will and Maddie try to save a group of children who were kidnapped. Both Will and Maddie are forced to kill several evil men. When Will sees a guard, he “nooked an arrow, drew back and released, sending a shaft flashing down the cliff face. It struck the crossbowman full in the chest.” The man dies.
  • One of the villains threatens to kill a child. In order to save the boy, Maddie whipped the sling over and forward. The lead ball caught the moonlight, glinting once as it flashed toward its target.” The man is injured, and “he drew in a breath to scream and the action caused him more agony as the jagged pieces of his fractured rib grated together.” The man falls off a cliff and dies.
  • Will draws the enemy away from Maddie. When Will has a chance, he shoots an arrow at “the line of advancing men. . . Enrico cried out in surprise and pain and threw out both arms, staggering back under the impact of the speeding shaft. Then he crashed over on his back, his sightless eyes staring up at the sky.” Will kills three men in a similar manner.
  • The enemy captures Will. One of the men “jerked his head forward and butted Will in the face.” Will is tied up, and the head henchman, Ruhl, plans to burn Will at the stake. “Ruhl made his way up to the beach to where Will stood, trapped against the stake, unable to move. . .”
  • Maddie crawls behind Will, who is tied at the stake. She cuts Will’s binds. Someone notices her, and Maddie’s “first shot smashed into one of his men. . . Maddie’s second shot smashed home. It hit him on the right shoulder, shattering the large bones there, smashing the joint beyond any possibility of repair and sending him reeling.”
  • During the fighting, Maddie is hit. “The evil, barbed head was buried deep in her thigh and she felt the leg give way under her, unable to bear her weight. Blood was coursing down her leg and she fell, causing more agony. . .”
  • During the fighting, Ruhl falls into the fire. “Then the firewood ignited with an explosive WHOOF! Ruhl screamed as the flames shot up, enveloping him instantly, catching his clothes and hair. . . He tried to scream again, but the burning air and flames scorched his throat and lungs, and he made a terrible, inhuman grunting noise.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Several times throughout the book, the adults drink ale. A man who owns a tavern “had drunk far too much ale. As a result, he had staggered off to his bed without bothering to clear away the dirty platters. . .”
  • Maddie is invited to a party where there is a cask of wine. Maddie “took a deep swig of wine. It tasted heavy and somewhat sour.” After drinking too much wine, Maddie looks at her friend who “seemed to be swimming in and out of focus.” The next morning, Maddie has a hangover and decides, “I’m never going to drink again.”
  • While trying to solve a mystery, Will goes into a tavern and orders small ale. “Small ale was ale and water mixed in equal proportions.”

Language

  • Gorlog’s breath is used as an exclamation once. Gorlog is a “very useful Skandian demigod.”
  • Oh god and my god are both used as an exclamation once. When Will talks about his dead wife, he say, “Oh god, how I miss her.”

Supernatural

  • While talking to some village children, Maddie hears about barrow wights. “They’re supposed to be spirits that hang around ancient graves.” Will thinks back into the past. Will had “sensed something then as he rode past some ancient borrows, as the ancient grave mounds were called. It seemed to be some malign presence.”
  • One of the villains scares the children with a story about the Stealer. “The Stealer is a mysterious spirit, dressed all in black, and wearing a black mask and cloak. He materializes in a village and takes children. . . The thing is, the Storyman said if we were ever to see him, we were to say nothing. . . And he said we must never, never tell a grown-up about the Stealer in the Night.”

Spiritual Content

  • Queen Cassandra’s father says, “Thank god for Horace. She couldn’t have chosen a better husband.”

 The Arctic Incident

After years of searching for his father, Artemis Fowl receives a ransom note for him; it’s a nightmare and a relief. Artemis’ father is alive—but Artemis has no idea how to rescue him without being killed himself. At the same time, Holly Short discovers something unthinkable: goblins are trading with humans. Exposure could mean a war between the fairy people and humans, and Holly can think of only one human who could be responsible.

When Holly brings Artemis in for questioning, he sees it as the perfect opportunity. He will help them find out which humans are trading with the goblins, and in return, they will help him rescue his father. For their mission, Holly and Artemis head to the Arctic. However, everything goes sideways when halfway through their rescue mission, their weapons die, and they are ambushed by goblins. The goblins are planning a revolution and they’ve clearly had inside help. The question is, who can Holly and Artemis trust, and will they be able to get back before the goblins take control?

Artemis Fowl and the Artic Incident is an action-packed sequel that will please fans of the original book. Holly Short and Artemis Fowl are hilariously at odds with each other as they are forced to work together. Joined by old friends, including Butler, Commander Root, Foaly, and Mulch, The Arctic Incident is equal parts nerve-wracking and hilarious. Readers will enjoy the bonds the fairies and humans make on their mission and will root for Artemis as he struggles to balance his criminal tendencies with the urge to help his newfound friends.

Told from a variety of different viewpoints, The Arctic Incident allows readers to see what is happening on all sides of the power struggle in a clear and enjoyable way. Readers will want to read the first book in the series before picking up this book, in order to understand the action and interpersonal relationships. Both Holly and Artemis continue their personal growth in a believable and heartwarming manner. Technology, fantasy, and feisty fairies are blended to create a fast-paced and fun story. The Arctic Incident does not disappoint, and readers will eagerly reach for the next Artemis Fowl adventure, The Eternity Code.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Chix is injured by goblins. “Chix was lying on a mound of rubble across the avenue. It didn’t look good. The side of his helmet had been bashed in by the jagged remains of a low wall, rendering his com-set completely useless.”
  • Artemis and his team are attacked. “Several softnose laser bursts bored hissing holes in the snow at their feet.”
  • Artemis and his team are caught in a rock slide. “The air was rent by avalanche thunder, and the packed ice beneath them heaved and split. Thick chunks of rock and ice speared the cave’s opening like bars. Bulter and Root were trapped.” It’s mentioned that one of the enemy goblins is caught in the avalanche and killed. “Lieutenant Poll had handed in his resignation when he’d strayed too close to the avalanche and been swatted by a one-ton pane of transparent ice.”
  • A goblin kills his comrades out of greed. “He shot his comrades from behind. Close range, point blank. They never had a chance.”
  • After healing from an injury that was Artemis’ fault, Holly “whacked Artemis right between the eyes.”
  • The LEP is attacked by goblins, who can lob fireballs. “Trouble heard the filaments in his suit pop as they tried to cope with the heat. Boiling tar sucked at his boots, melting the rubber soles. . . a hail of charges sang through the air around them, pulverizing what was left of the emporium’s shop front. Trouble’s crown lurched forward as a slug flattened itself against his helmet.”
  • Root is injured while being towed to a shuttle. When Holly asks Root where it hurts, “Root coughed, blood splattering his uniform. ‘The general bodily area. Couple ribs gone.’”
  • Holly takes down two goblins. “And that was when Holly’s boot connected with [the goblin’s] chest, slamming him into the wall.”
  • A villain crashes through a plasma panel. “He was fried by a million radioactive tendrils.”
  • As part of a rescue mission, Butler shoots Artemis Senior. “The shot caught Artemis Senior in the shoulder. He spun around, slumping over the startled Vassikin.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Root often smokes “fungal cigars.”

Language

  • Hell is used a few times. Root says, “What the hell is this?”
  • Damn is used once. Root says something “damn near destroyed an entire shuttle port.”
  • D’Arvit is a fairy curse word that is used several times.
  • People call goblins dumb and “dumb as stink worms.”
  • Someone calls Artemis a “pasty-faced mud weasel.”
  • Foaly calls someone a “baboon face.”
  • When a goblin sees Artemis’ massive bodyguard, he thinks, “Oh gods, it’s a troll in clothes!” Another time, a man says, “oh, gods. We’re dead.”
  • A Russian calls Artemis a “devil” and his friend “you crazy devil!”

Supernatural

  • The fairy folk live underground, where they hide from the Mud Men (humans). There are pixies, sprites, centaurs, dwarves, goblins, etc. The first fairy Artemis meets is a sprite. “The fairy’s nose was long and hooked under two slitted golden eyes. Her ears were pointed, and the alcohol addiction had melted her skin like putty.”
  • “A lot of the magic attributed to [fairies] is just superstition. But [fairies] do have certain powers. Healing, the Mesmer, and shielding being among them . . . What fairies actually do is vibrate at such a high frequency that they are never in one place long enough to be seen.”
  • The Mesmer allows fairies to mesmerize humans and force them to do what they want. “When the face began to speak, Luc’s worries slid away like an old snakeskin. How could he have been worried? This person was obviously a friend. What a lovely voice.”
  • Some fairies can heal themselves. After a traumatic injury, Holly’s magic heals her. “Holly shot upright, arms swinging like a puppet. Her legs began to jerk, kicking invisible enemies. Then from her vocal cords came a high-pitched keening that cracked the thinner sheets of ice.”
  • Dwarves “can unhinge their jaws, allowing them to ingest several pounds of earth a second. The material is processed by a super-efficient metabolism, stripped of any useful minerals and . . . ejected at the other end.” This leads to some toilet-related humor. One time, “Mulch let go with a stream of gas, blowing a hole in the rug and propelling himself to the ceiling.”
  • Mulch is a dwarf who uses his pores to climb a building. “Dwarf pores are not just for sweating; they can take in moisture as well. When a dwarf was thirsty, as Much was now, his pores opened to the size of pinholes, and began to suck like crazy. This could be extremely useful, if say, you had to climb up the side of a tall building.”
  • Fairies also have the gift of tongues, meaning they can speak any language. Mulch uses this to speak to guard dogs.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Morgan Lynn

 

The Wicked King

Jude, a mortal living in Faerieland, finds herself pulling the strings behind a puppet king she has created. With Cardan, the High King of Elhame, bound to follow her every command, Jude feels that she has finally bested the faeries who have tormented her for her entire childhood. However, she only has this control for a year and a day, and five months have already passed leaving Jude scrambling for a method to hold on to her power. It seems that the entire world is against Jude. Her twin sister, Taryn, is marrying a man who Jude dislikes, the advisory council refuses to take her word into account, and she is warned that someone that she trusts has betrayed her.

There’s an uprising occurring with the Undersea, a kingdom that had previously forged an alliance with Cardan’s dad, but that now wants independence and power. Orlagh, the Queen of the Undersea, teams up with Cardan’s brother, Balekin, who is responsible for the past king’s death. During Taryn’s wedding, the Undersea strikes, kidnapping Jude and holding her hostage. Cardan makes enormous sacrifices to bring Jude back, and the two begin to recognize that they have feelings for each other and that the intense hatred between them has faded.

Things go terribly awry when Cardan throws a party to make peace with the people whose land he sacrificed to the Undersea. Cardan is poisoned by his brother, Balekin, and Balekin tries to pin the blame on Jude. Jude and Balekin duel and Jude emerges victorious, killing Balekin. Jude and Cardan marry in secret, cementing her as the High Queen of Elfhame. However, as a punishment for Balekin’s murder, the Undersea demands that Jude be exiled to the mortal lands. Though exiled, Jude begins to hatch a plot to return home.

Told from Jude’s point of view, this fast-paced sequel to The Cruel Prince provides hidden depth to the characters, as well as develops a plot that’s full of twists and turns, with betrayal around every corner. Despite some of Jude’s questionable decisions, it seems impossible not to root for her. Jude is a strong female character that many girls will be able to relate and look up to. She doesn’t let her shortcomings stop her in her quest for power and glory. She is able to overcome every hurdle, which makes her even stronger. Although the reader is privy to her inner thoughts, she never seems to falter in her strength, which makes her a positive female role model.

Black creates a mystical, magical world that is both fantastical and terrifying, drawing the reader into the story and its world.  The book emphasizes the danger of an abundance of ambition, and how power has the ability to corrupt individuals. It also establishes a romantic relationship between Cardan and Jude that feels satisfying and believable, as the two finally begin to view themselves as equals. All of these elements come together to form an intricately woven story about power, love, and betrayal.

Sexual Content

  • When made to play a cruel game at a party, Jude “pull[s] the dress [she] is wearing over [her] head,” standing “in the middle of the party in [her] underwear.”
  • Cardan seduces Jude. Cardan “presses his mouth to my ear, kissing me there. . .He doesn’t kiss me as though he’s angry; his kiss is soft, yearning.” Jude notes, “I try to stop myself from making embarrassing noises. It’s more intimate than the way he’s touching me, to be looked at like that.”
  • Jude describes a night with Cardan, “trad[ing] kisses in the darkness, blurred by exhaustion. I don’t expect to sleep, but I do, my limbs tangled with his.”

Violence

  • While visiting Balekin in prison, Jude is slapped by a guard, leaving her “cheek stinging and furious.”
  • Jude stabs a prison guard with “a little pin I keep hidden in the lining of my doublet.”
  • Someone shoots Cardan with a crossbow, and his wound is depicted as “a stripe of raw skin along his side.” Another faerie was hit with a bolt in the leg, and the wound is not described.
  • Jude threatens Locke, Taryn’s fiancé, putting her “foot on his chest, pressing down a little to remind him that if [she] kicked hard, it could shatter bone.”
  • Jude notes that Locke knows “I stabbed Valerian once, but he doesn’t know I killed him, nor that I have killed since then.”
  • While in the woods, Jude is shot with an arrow, and is “unable to bite back a cry of pain.”
  • The Undersea attacks and knights are killed, which is not depicted. Jude enters the scene after the attack and notes that “all their eyes have been replaced with pearls. Drowned on dry land.”
  • When speaking to Madoc, Jude reveals her troublesome past as a mortal in Faerie. She says, “You’ve let Folk hurt me and laugh at me and mutilate me.” Then, she holds up “the hand with the missing fingertip, where one of his own guards bit it clean off. Another scar is at its center, from where Dain forced me to stick a dagger through my hand.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Cardan is often depicted as drunk. At one party, “He calls again and again for his cabochon-encrusted goblet to be refilled with a pale green liquor. The very smell of it makes [Jude’s] head spin.”
  • Jude purposefully poisons herself in a process called mithridatism, “by which one takes a little bit of poison to inoculate oneself against a full dose of it.” She notes that because of this, “My eyes shine too brightly. The half-moons of my fingernails are bluish, as though my blood doesn’t get quite enough oxygen. My sleep is strange, full of too-vivid dreams.”
  • Jude explains what the different poisons of faerie do. “The blusher mushroom, which causes potentially lethal paralysis . . . deathsweet, which can cause a sleep that lasts a hundred years. . . wraithberry, which makes the blood race and induces a kind of wildness before stopping the heart . . . of everapple—faerie fruit—which muddies the minds of mortals.”
  • Jude notes going to a party in the mortal world, and “being allowed little sips of Shiraz.”
  • When Jude is hurt, a fellow spy gives her an ointment with the “scent of strong herbs.”
  • At a party, Cardan is poisoned by his brother in an attempt for the crown, but Cardan is quickly given an antidote.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The Faerie world is full of different types of faeries, such as a boy who has “the lower half of a deer.” Another faerie is described as being “grass-haired,” and having dark green skin.
  • Jude reminisces about her past. “Sometimes Jude longed for her bike, but there were none in Faerie. Instead, she had giant toads and thin greenish ponies and wild-eyed horses slim as shadows. And she had weapons.”
  • In Faerie, the King/Queen’s health is directly tied to the land in a magical way. “They are the lifeblood and the beating heart of their realm in some mystical way,” and when Cardan “becomes drunk, his subjects become tipsy without knowing why. When his blood falls, things grow.” All of Cardan’s actions seem to have a direct impact on the land and his subjects, and if he bleeds on the ground, new life sprouts from it.
  • Grimsen, a faerie blacksmith, is described as imbuing his works with magical qualities. He is the one who “made the Blood Crown for Mab and wove enchantments into it. It’s said he can make anything from metal, even living things—metal birds that fly, metal snakes that slither and strike. He made the twin swords, Heartseeker and Heartsworn, one that never misses and the other that can cut through anything.”
  • A faerie is described as, “A hag—old and powerful enough that the air around her seems to crackle with the force of her magic. Her fingers are twiggy, her hair the color of smoke, and her nose like the blade of a scythe.”
  • Cardan receives a gift of fabric woven from “spider silk and nightmares. A garment cut from it can turn a sharp blade, yet be as soft as a shadow against your skin.”
  • It is revealed that along with a physical gift of woven fabric, an old faerie had presented Cardan with “a geas, allowing you to marry only a weaver of the cloth in my hands. Myself—or my daughter.”
  • Faerie marriages are different than mortal ones in that, “unlike the mortal until death do us part, they contain conditions like ‘until you shall both renounce each other’ or ‘unless one strikes the other in anger’ or the cleverly worded ‘for the duration of a life’ without specifying whose.”
  • Pixies are described as having “iridescent wings shining in the candlelight.”
  • A faerie guard is described as “a large, hairy creature . . . wearing beautifully wrought plate armor, blond fur sticking out from any gaps.”
  • Jude describes a group of faeries, “a boy with sparrow wings, three spriggans, a sluagh girl.”
  • A forest, Milkwood, is described as a place “where black-thorned bees hum in their hives high in the white-barked trees. The root men are asleep. The sea laps at the rocky edges of the isle.”
  • Jude asks a fellow spy if he was a happy child, to which he replies, “’I was magic. How could I fail to be?’”
  • When Taryn comes to Jude offering help, Jude begins to doubt her intentions, noting that, “Faerie runs on debt, on promises and obligations. Having grown up here, I understand what she’s offering—a gift, a boon, instead of an apology.”
  • Jude depicts a couple of faeries she sees at a party, “a boy and a girl—one with ram’s horns, the other with long ears that come to tufted points, like those of an owl.”
  • Nicasia, the sea princess’s, hair is described as being “the many colors of the sea.”
  • One of Jude’s fellow spies is described as a “hob-faced owl.”
  • Jude describes the Council of the King: “the Unseelie Minister, a troll with a thick head of shaggy hair with pieces of metal braided into it; the Seelie Minister, a green woman who looks like a mantis; the Grand General, Madoc; the Royal Astrologer, a very tall, dark-skinned man with a sculpted beard and celestial ornaments in the long fall of his navy-blue hair; the Minister of Keys, a wizened old hob with ram’s horns and goat eyes; and the Grand Fool, who wears pale lavender roses on his head to match his purple motley.”
  • Jude finds an “enchanted orb” that allows her to see video-like memories.
  • A fellow spy tells Jude that when she was a thief in the mortal world, she was mostly “using glamour to hide [her] mistakes.”
  • There is a game in faerie in which a group of faeries, “Steal away a mortal girl, make her drunk on faerie wine and faerie flattery and faerie kisses, then convince her she is being honored with a crown—all the time heaping insults on her oblivious head.”
  • If a mortal dances with faeries, they find themselves unable to stop. When this happens to Jude, she thinks, “I cannot stop myself from dancing, cannot stop my body from moving even as my terror grows. I will not stop. I will dance through the leather of my shoes, dance until my feet are bloody, dance until I collapse.”
  • Jude describes a faerie who could tell the future, “The hag was given to prophecy and divined futures in eggshells.”
  • When Heather visits Faerie, Jude warns her, “Listen, the Folk can glamour things to look different than they do. They can mess with your mind—charm you, persuade you to do things you wouldn’t consider normally. And then there’s everapple, the fruit of Faerie. If you taste it, all you’ll think of is getting more.”
  • When visiting a blacksmith to get a gift for her sister’s wedding, the blacksmith offers “a necklace of tears to weep so that she won’t have to? A pin of teeth to bite annoying husbands?” A pair of earrings that, “make someone more lovely than they were, painfully lovely.” He takes many forms of payment, such as “a year of your life. The luster of your hair. The sound of your laugh.”
  • The blacksmith offers to make Cardan “armor of ice to shatter every blade that strikes it and that will make his heart too cold to feel pity. Tell him I will make him three swords that, when used in the same battle, will fight with the might of thirty soldiers.”
  • When someone is cursed, “her ears have grown furred and long, like that of a cat. Her nose is differently shaped, and the stubs of whiskers are growing above her eyebrows and from the apples of her cheeks.”
  • When Jude is captured by the Undersea, she notes that Nicasia’s feet have been “replaced by a long tail.”
  • Jude describes a merman, “His hair is a kind of striped green, and the same stripes continue down his body. His large eyes flash in the indifferent light.”
  • Nicasia attempts to glamour Jude, trying to convince her that her stone room actually contains a “four-poster bed, wrapped in coverlets. And the cunning little side tables and your own pot of tea, still steaming. It will be perfectly warm and delicious whenever you try it.”
  • Jude eats soup that “tastes of a memory I cannot quite place, warm afternoons and splashing in pools and kicking plastic toys across the brown grass of summer lawns.”
  • Orlagh, the queen of the Undersea is described. “Her skin is covered in shiny silvery scales that seem both to be metallic and to have grown from her skin. A helmet of bone and teeth hides her hair.”
  • Cardan is depicted as magical and being able to call on the land. “He stretches out his hand, and something seems to rise to the top of the water around us, like a pale scrum. Sand. Floating sand.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

Artemis Fowl #1

Captain Holly Short is a highly skilled elf. However, as the first female officer assigned to her unit in LEP (Lower Elements Police), she has a lot to prove. But with the short-tempered Commander Root breathing down her neck, Holly wonders if she’ll ever be given a fair chance to succeed. If only the fairy folk still lived above ground and had never been driven into hiding by the Mud Men.

Artemis Fowl is a twelve-year-old human genius. His family has a long history of illegal activity, though Artemis’ father had tried to legitimize the family fortune. But when Artemis’ father’s ship sank—along with most of the family fortune—Artemis decides to return to his family’s illegal roots in order to regain his father’s lost wealth. Luckily for Artemis, he is in a unique position. His youth means he still believes in magic, while his genius may allow him to become the first human in history to succeed in stealing fairy gold.

Artemis Fowl is told in the third person with the main points of view being Artemis’s and Holly’s; however, the story often jumps to other characters’ points of view, which helps develop smaller characters and flush out the actions of the large cast of characters. While Holly and Artemis are on opposite sides of his gold-stealing scheme, they are both likable characters. Holly is impulsive, clever, and confident. Artemis is brilliant, socially stunted, and he never goes anywhere without his bodyguard Butler. While Artemis is a criminal mastermind, he learns from his mistakes and grows to realize that kidnapping Holly was wrong (though he still keeps the money).

This first installment of the Artemis Fowl series is fast-paced, hilarious, and action packed. Colfer does an effortless job introducing a myriad of fairy folk in a way that does not feel overwhelming. Each chapter leaves readers on the edge of their seats, as they wonder what will happen next. While there is violence, it is not graphically described. There is also potty humor. For instance, dwarves tunnel much like worms, with dirt going in one end and coming out the other, which allows for plenty of bathroom-related humor. But for readers ready for action and excitement, Artemis Fowl is a delightful read that will leave them reaching for the next book, Artemis Fowl and the Arctic Incident.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While walking through a city, “an unfortunate pickpocket attempted to steal Butler’s wallet. The manservant broke the man’s fingers without looking down.”
  • When Holly sees a dwarf picking pockets, she “gave him a swipe in the backside with her buzz baton. The electric charge singed the seat of his leather pants.”
  • A troll eats a couple of cows. “It was not a pretty sight. Without going into details, let’s just say that there wasn’t much left besides horns and hooves.”
  • Holly stuns a troll before it can kill anyone. “Aiming for the weak point at the base of the skull, she let the troll have a long burst of the concentrated ion ray . . . The troll picked up a table . . . He pulled back a shaggy arm and let fly.” Holly’s gas tank is hit. It “burst into flames like some deadly firework. Most of the gas landed on the troll. So did Holly.” The struggle is described over three pages.
  • Butler picks a fight in order to cause a diversion. “Butler dropped the first with a round house punch. Two more had their heads clapped together, cartoon style. The fourth was, to Butler’s eternal shame, dispatched with a spinning kick.”
  • Artemis lures Commander Root into a trap, then sets off an explosion. Commander Root, “made it. Barely. He could feel the explosion rattling his torso as he threw himself into a reverse loop. Flames latched on to his jumpsuit, licking along his legs. Root continued his maneuver, crashing directly into the icy water.”
  • Butler fights off a squad of LEP officers. “Captain Kelp was the first casualty, a titanium-tipped dart puncturing the neck of his suit . . . Butler continued the swinging motion, driving punishing punches into the chests of two more fairies.” The fight takes place over three pages.
  • A goblin tries to blow a fireball out his nose and hit Mulch. Mulch stuffs his thumbs up the goblin’s nose. “The fireball had nowhere to go. It rebounded on the balls of Mulch’s thumbs and ricocheted back into the goblin’s head. The tear ducts provided the path of least resistance, so the flames compressed into pressurized streams, erupting just below the goblin’s eyes.”
  • When Mulch starts to burrow, Foaly tries to watch. However, “a blob of recently swallowed and even more recently recycled limestone whacked him in the face.”
  • There are several other times where characters are either hit with earth or gas that Mulch ejects from his derriere. For instance, “the constrained wind had built itself up to minicyclone intensity and could not be constrained. And so it exited. Rather abrasively. Blowing open Mulch’s back flap, and slamming into the rather large gentlemen who had been sneaking up behind him.”
  • During her escape, Holly punches her kidnapper, Artemis. “Holly put an extra few pounds of spring in her elbow and whacked her abductor right on the nose.”
  • Butler and Holly fight a troll. Trolls are primal hunters; they have little brain power and kill anything that gets in their path. Butler “squeezed the trigger as rapidly as the Sig Sauer’s mechanism would allow. Two in the chest, three between the eyes . . . scything tusks ducked below Butler’s guard. They coiled around his trunk, slicing through his Kevlar reinforced jacket . . . he knew immediately that the wound was fatal. His breath came hard. That was a lung gone, and gouts of blood were matting the troll’s fur.” Holly joins the fight with the troll. “Her heels caught the beast square on the crown of its head. At that speed, there was at least half a ton of G-force behind the contact. Only the reinforced ribbing in her suit prevented Holly’s leg bones from shattering. Even so, she heard her knee pop. The pain clawed its way to her forehead.” Later, “The human twirled the mace as though it were a cheerleader’s baton, ramming it home between the troll’s shoulder blades. . . Butler planted his foot just above the creature’s haunches and tugged the weapon free. It relinquished its grip with a sickly sucking sound.” Butler defeats the troll but does not end its life, at Holly’s request. The fight takes place over seventeen pages.
  • The fairies send in a blue-rise bomb, which kills all life forms but doesn’t harm anything else. However, Artemis and his friends had already escaped, so the only thing killed are bugs and rats.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Artemis meets a fairy hooked on alcohol. He gives her “a virus that feeds on alcohol,” to purge it from her system. He also mixed a “slight amnesiac” into the injection, so she won’t remember ever meeting him.
  • Artemis secretly slips a fairy holy water, which would have killed her. Then he offers her the antidote as part of a deal.
  • Artemis’ mother is ill. “Nervous tension, the physicians said. Nothing for it but rest and sleeping pills.”
  • Holly is tranquilized with a dart. “Holly felt the dart puncture the suit’s toughened material, depositing its load of curare and succinylcholine chloride-based tranquilizer into her shoulder. The world instantly dissolved into a series of technicolored bubbles.”
  • Root smokes cigars often.
  • Mulch burrows through the earth, into a wine cellar. “Over the centuries, residue seeped through the floor, infusing the land beneath with the wine’s personality. This one was somber, nothing daring here. A touch of fruit, but not enough to lighten the flavor. Definitely an occasion wine on the bottom rack.”
  • Artemis, Butler, and Butler’s sister drink champagne, to celebrate when the ransom is paid. However, Artemis secretly spiked the champagne with a tranquilizer.

Language

  • Holly thinks another officer is “a bimbo. An airhead.”
  • Idiot is used once.
  • D’Arvit is a fairy curse word that is used several times.
  • Two fairy coworkers call each other “half-wit” and “cave fairy.”
  • Mulch says “Oh, gods above” when surprised by something.
  • Damn and hell are used a few times. For example, a sprite says, “Blow the door off its damn hinges.” Holly asks, “What the hell is going on here?”

Supernatural

  • The fairy folk live underground, where they hide from the Mud Men (humans). There are pixies, sprites, centaurs, dwarves, goblins, etc. The first fairy Artemis meets is a sprite. “The fairy’s nose was long and hooked under two slitted golden eyes. Her ears were pointed, and the alcohol addiction had melted her skin like putty.”
  • “A lot of the magic attributed to [fairies] is just superstition. But [faries] do have certain powers. Healing, the Mesmer, and shielding being among them . . . What fairies actually do is vibrate at such a high frequency that they are never in one place long enough to be seen.”
  • Fairies can use their magic to heal. Holly heals Butler during a fight with a troll. “Butler could actually feel his bones knitting and the blood retreating from semicongealed scabs.”
  • Fairies can temporarily stop time over a small area. “Five elfin warlocks would form a pentagram around the target and spread a magic shield over it, temporarily stopping time inside the enchanted enclosure.”
  • Dwarves “can unhinge their jaws, allowing them to ingest several pounds of earth a second. The material is processed by a super-efficient metabolism, stripped of any useful minerals and . . . ejected at the other end.”

Spiritual Content

  • Every fairy carries a book that contains all the rules the fairy folk live by. “It was their Bible, containing . . . the history of their race and the commandments that governed their extended lives.”
  • Sprites are the only fairies with wings, and male sprites are very arrogant about that. It’s said in passing, “Give a fairy a pair of wings and he thinks he’s God’s gift to women.”

by Morgan Lynn

 

 

 

Out of Place

Cove Bernstein’s life has gone from bad to worse. After her best friend Nina moves from the island of Martha’s Vineyard to New York City, Cove is bullied more than ever by her classmates, Amelia and Sophie.  Without Nina, Cove has become the center of a bullying campaign. Cove tries to find a way to leave the island, but her mother refuses to leave, saying places outside of Martha’s Vineyard have “the never-ending pressure to be a certain person.”

Cove finds the chance of a lifetime to visit New York by entering herself in a kids-only fashion competition. Cove has little experience in sewing, but her friend in the retirement home, Anna, teaches her the basics. The plot thickens when Jack, a boy from her school, starts appearing wherever she goes. Then, she makes a terrible mistake – one that she thought she could not undo.

Told in an easy-to-read fashion, Out of Place truly captures a long-distance friendship as well as a friendship found in an unexpected place. Many readers will relate to Cove as she starts the school year without many kids to call friends. Despite their distance, Cove and Nina remain friends by writing letters to each other. The letters between Cove and Nina show their enduring friendship and summarize the events in their respective lives, which helps the reader understand the effort needed to keep a long-distance friendship.

Nina is less developed since she primarily appears through letters, but the letters about her life in New York City allow the reader to take a break from Cove’s days at school and to later reengage in the happenings of Cove, back at Martha’s Vineyard. Black-and-white spot art appears at the start of each chapter. The illustrations in Cove’s letters show the influence of the island’s residents on her, which is contrasted by Cove’s desire to leave the island through any means while dealing with Amelia and Sophie’s bullying. The theme of friendship holds stronger than the theme of bullying because the story focuses on Cove’s development into a more self-assured person. One instance of her development is when she wins a “stuffed scarecrow contest” and makes the scarecrow in the art room. As she looks at the finished product, Cove says to herself, “The letters are wobbly and Anna would never approve of the stitches—they’re way too uneven—but the message is clear. Anyone who wants to sit next to [her] scarecrow is more than welcome.”

Unlike many stories, Out of Place deemphasizes the bully’s mean behavior. Cove becomes invested in her passions, not as an escape, but to figure out her place in her hometown. Through the story, readers will come to a better understanding of a subtle approach to standing up against bullies, all while being one’s true self. Out of Place does end with a hopeful happily-ever-after, but perhaps most importantly, the story shows how friends — old and new – can make a difference in a person’s life.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Nina splashes dirty water onto Sophie and Amelia, who have been taunting her and Cove. “There is a moment when the foamy, dirty water floats in the air. Then it lands in Sophie’s and Amelia’s laps. And all I [Cove] hear are screams.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Sophie refers to Cove as “Rover” because Sophie had decided that Cove “looked like a dog.”
  • Many characters use the word “stupid” to describe an unlikable person or situation. For example, in a letter to Cove, Nina writes about the people and situations that she considers “stupid.”
  • Jack helps the art teacher and another classmate stuff straw into a scarecrow’s body. Jack says, “Horses must be pretty freaking tough.”
  • Cove’s mother yells at Cove’s stepfather. She calls him “naive. . . and stupid. And irresponsible.”
  • Cove tells Jonah, a college student, about her bullying. He says, “Damn. . . I forgot how tough growing up can be.”
  • Cove’s stepfather is late to meet Cove’s mother. He says “crap.”
  • Nina writes that the shirt design for Amelia and Sophie’s shirts “totally stinks.”
  • When Cove is practicing her sewing, she says it “stinks.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Cove’s mother believes in spiritual things, mostly that people have a “spirit” and that the events that happen in life affect them. Additionally, she believes in karma and fate.

by Jemima Cooke

Fable #1

Seventeen-year-old Fable only wants one thing: to reunite with her father, Saint. Even though he abandoned her on an island four years ago after her mother’s death, Fable still wants to earn a place among her father’s crew. The first step is to escape from Jeval, the cutthroat island Fable refuses to call her home. She spends her days scavenging for rare minerals and trading with a helmsman named West in exchange for measly amounts of copper. Eventually, Fable has enough copper to escape Jeval on West’s ship, Marigold, and make her way across the sea—The Narrows—to the city of Ceros where her father’s trading empire has flourished. However, aboard the ship, Fable discovers that there’s more to her story and the ship’s crew than what meets the eye.

Fable learns that the Marigold isn’t West’s ship, rather it belongs to her father. While keeping her identify as Saint’s daughter a secret, she also discovers that West and the rest of the crew have secrets of their own. Willa, the crew’s only other female, is West’s sister. Plus, Paj and Austere are running from a dark past. But West is hiding the most: after Fable is scorned by her father once more, Saint reveals that he made an agreement with West to give Fable money and take care of her from afar. Saint claims this is the best thing he could’ve done for Fable because she would learn to survive the harsh world. Fable narrates that Saint “expected me to be grateful for the hell he’d put me through, so he could take credit for who I was. . . I’d crossed the Narrows for a man who’d probably never even loved me. For a dream that would never come true.”

Even after this disappointment, Fable still finds a reason to go on– she does have a family– but it isn’t one made by blood. Fable realizes that the crew of the Marigold are the ones who have protected and nurtured her. She hopes to use the inheritance given to her by her father to buy the Marigold, so West and the crew can be free from Saint, just like her. The book ends on a cliffhanger when Fable is kidnapped, so readers will be reaching for the next book, Namesake: A Novel, to discover if Fable achieves her goal.

Fable as a story is both entertaining and exciting. The reader is thrown directly into a world with new places, names, jobs, and nautical terminology that may take a while to grasp, but contribute to a fast-paced plot that is still understandable and full of unexpected twists. Sometimes, it can be hard to believe that these young kids are able to fend for themselves like experienced adults, but they also live in a world where they had to grow up fast or they wouldn’t get the chance to grow up at all.

The novel is told through Fable’s point of view and emphasizes the idea of “found family,” a group of individuals pulled together by similar circumstances or experiences that come to trust and care for each other like a blood family. This is especially meaningful because of how Fable’s father is against caring for other people and fails to realize that there is strength in having others around you.

While Fable’s life is vastly different than the lives teens lead today, it’s hard not to root for her because of how passionate she is to find her father. When this dream falls short of her expectations, Fable wins our hearts again when she uses this setback as a learning experience; it’s not a father she wants, it’s a family. Fable’s willingness to trust the crew of the Marigold shows that no matter one’s past, love and acceptance are waiting if we open our hearts.

Sexual Content

  • Fable describes what happens behind the closed doors of taverns. Fable had “seen enough of my father’s crew disappear into taverns with purses full of coin and leave with empty ones. There were only two things strictly forbidden on a ship because both could get you or your shipmates killed: love and drunkenness. Only on dry land could you find someone to warm your bed or empty a bottle of rye into your belly.”
  • The innkeeper thinks that West and Fable are going to have sex. West “dropped three coppers on the counter, and she tucked them into her apron, smiling up at me knowingly. I blushed when I realized what she was thinking. . . The woman winked at me, but West didn’t bother correcting her and I wondered if it was because I wasn’t the first girl he’d brought into the tavern and disappeared up the stairs with.”
  • Willa kisses West platonically on the cheek.
  • Paj and Auster, two male crew members, are in a relationship. They hold hands occasionally. “Auster wound his pale fingers into Paj’s before he brought his hand to his lips and kissed it.”
  • West and Fable kiss underwater while examining a sunken ship. “Before I could even think about what he was doing, his lips touched mine. . . I kissed him again, hooking my fingers into his belt and trying to pull him closer. . . I had wanted to touch West a thousand times.”
  • West and Fable have a long, intimate moment which implies that they have sex. Fable narrates, “I lifted onto my toes, pressing my mouth to his. . . His hand found my hips, and he walked me back until my legs hit the side of the bed. I opened his jacket and pushed it from his shoulders before he laid me down beneath him. His weight pressed down on top of me and I arched my back as his hands caught my legs and pulled them up around him. . . My head tipped back, and I pulled him closer so I could feel him against me. He groaned, his mouth pressed to my ear and I tugged at the length of my shirt until I was pulling it over my head. He sat up, his eyes running over every inch of me. . .”

Violence

  • Fable’s life on Jeval has been cutthroat. She’s had to hurt other people or been hurt by them. She says, “It had been four years since the day I was dumped on the blazing hot beach and left to fend for myself. Forced to scrape hulls in exchange for rotten fish when I was starving, and beaten for diving in another dredger’s claimed territory again and again.”
  • Fable often references a scar on her arm, which was given to her by her father. “He carved into my arm with the tip of his whalebone knife.” She also says, “I had watched in horror as he dragged the tip of his knife through my flesh without so much as a twitch of his hand.” Eventually, she describes the whole scene. “I didn’t know what he was going to do until the tip of the knife had already drawn blood. . . I buried my face into my knees and tried not to scream as he cut into me.”
  • Koy, a sailor who takes Fable out on his boat, attacks her for money. Fable had been diving. “Just as I reached the surface, something caught hold of my arm. . . Koy’s face was looking up at me, his hands clamped tightly around my wrist. I kicked, catching him in the shoulder with the heel of my foot and his fingers slipped from me. I swam as fast as I could toward the light, feeling the darkness creeping over my mind, and when I finally broke through to the air, I choked, my lungs twisting violently in my chest. . . Koy came up in the next breath, launching in my direction. I tried to swim from his reach, but he took hold of my hair and wrenched me back to him. . .I twisted, rearing my elbow back with a snap, and it caught him in the face. . . By the time I reached the [boat’s] hull, he had ahold of my foot. . . I slipped, hitting the side [of the boat] with my face so hard that the light exploded in my head. I found the edge with my fingers again before I pulled myself back up and reached inside, my hand frantically looking for the scull. When I had it, I threw my arm back, hitting Koy in the head with the flat end. He stilled suddenly, falling back into the water. . . Koy’s eyes rolled back into his head as he sank, a stream of red inklike blood spilling from his forehead.”
  • Fable pulls Koy back into the boat. “I stood over Koy, my hands shaking. He was still losing a steady stream of blood, and I hoped he wasn’t breathing. I hoped he was dead. . . I kicked him hard, screaming, before I fell back onto the deck beside him, trying to catch my breath.”
  • Koy says to Fable, “If I ever see your face on this island again, I’ll tie you to the east reef! I’ll watch the flesh rot from your bones!”
  • Willa, the only girl on board the Marigold besides Fable, has a burn on her face. Fable says, “I’d seen wounds like that before—a long knife held over a fire until the blade glowed and pressed to someone’s face to teach a lesson.”
  • In the past, Willa was hurt by a man named Crane. The crew find Crane, seal him in a crate, and toss him overboard. “The man screamed once more as he was raised up and over the side of the ship. At the same moment, every finger slipped from the crate and they let it go. . .” This makes Fable remember the punishments on her father’s ship. “Once, I’d crept onto the deck in the dead of night and saw him cut the hand off a thief with the same knife he used to cut his meat at supper. . . I’d forgotten what the sound of a grown man screaming sounded like.”
  • Fable gets jumped in an alley. A man “leaned in closer, stumbling forward as he reached clumsily for my belt. Before he could right himself, I swiped up in one clean motion, catching the edge of his ear with the knife. . . I lifted the blade, setting it at the hollow of his throat and pressing down just enough to draw a single drop of blood. . . I wanted a reason to hurt him. I wanted an excuse to lean forward until the edge of the steel sunk into his skin.”
  • Willa threatens a barkeep by saying, “I’ll stake your body to that counter.”
  • Someone tries to kill Fable as she’s getting on the Below, a man had hold of the last rung [of the ladder]. He laughed himself up out of the water and grabbed my boot, pulling me back down. I kicked until the heel of my foot caught his jaw and he groaned, but he was already climbing.” West comes to save her. “He reached around my waist, taking the knife from my belt. He swung his arm out wide, bringing the blade from the side, and sank it into the man’s ribs. He screamed, his hands trying to grab ahold of me before he slipped, but West kicked him in the chest, sending him backward.”
  • Willa threatens Fable by saying, “If you get [West] killed, I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep myself from cutting your throat.”
  • West reveals his past to Fable. “The first helmsman I ever crewed for used to beat me in the hull of the ship. . . I’ve killed sixteen men protecting myself, or my family, or my crew.”
  • At the end of the story, Fable is kidnapped. “I reared my foot back and brought my knee up in a snap, driving it between [her attacker’s] legs and he fell forward, a choking sound strangling in his throat. . . As another man came over me, I swung [a knife] out, grazing his forearm. He looked at the blood seeping beneath his sleeve before he reached down, taking my jacket into his hands and the third man wrenched the knife from my grip. When I looked up again, his fist was in the air, and it came down with a crack across my face. Blood filled my mouth and I tried to scream, but before I could, he hit me again.” Fable is knocked unconscious.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Speck, a man on Jeval, is known as a drunk. Fable says, “If Speck weren’t drunk half the time, I’d pay him for a ride to the reef instead of Koy.”
  • Hamish, a crew member, and Saint, smoke pipes.
  • People frequently go to taverns where people are drinking “rye.” One time, Fable has three glasses and gets drunk.
  • In celebration, the crew drinks rye on the ship together.

Language

  • Bastard is used occasionally to refer to other people. In the book’s opening line, Fable says, “That bastard was leaving me again” when Koy, a sailor, tries to leave on his boat without her.
  • Hell, and ass are used rarely, such as when West says, “Get your ass back on the ship.”

Supernatural

  • Some of the legends of the sea include sea demons and dragons, though none appear in the story. However, Fable references them sometimes. For example, “Only a few days after Saint left me, an old man named Fret started a rumor on the docks that I’d been cursed by sea demons.”
  • Fable’s father told her a legend about dead sailors turning into birds. “My father had always told me that seabirds were the souls of lost traders. To turn them away or not give them a place to land or nest was bad luck.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Maddie Shooter

 

Somewhere Among

Ema is used to spending her summers in California with Bob and Nana, her mother’s parents. But this year, she and her mother are staying with her father’s parents in Japan, as they expect the arrival of a baby. Her mother’s pregnancy has been shaky, making everyone anxious for her health. Despite her mother’s physical wellbeing, Ema is happy because, finally, there will be someone in her immediate family who understands what it is like to fit in and not fit in at the same time.

Ema’s happiness is dashed when Obaachan, her Japanese grandmother, scolds her for the smallest mistakes. When she and her mother must stay in Japan longer than anticipated, and Ema has to attend a new school, her concerns about not fitting in become bigger. And when the tragedy of 9/11 strikes the United States, Ema and her parents watch the Twin Towers fall and the aftermath of the attack.

Her mother grieves for the United States, her home country. Ema also worries about her mother’s health, which threatens the safety of the baby. Alongside the grief, Jiichan gets ill, which worries Ema. Ema feels lonely, but then Obaachan shows a kinder side of herself and reveals the reason for her sternness—she had done so to prepare for her family for the worst.

As a whole, the story occurs from June 2001 to December 2001. Each month has an illustration relevant to a seasonal theme. Each chapter is told from Ema’s perspective, which helps the reader understand her solitude and the Japanese culture from her point of view. The story is written in free verse and portrays a detailed and orderly environment, with the descriptions grounding the reader in Ema’s headspace and forestalling confusion about Japanese folklore, language, and cultural norms. Though Ema is lonely, she is a happy and optimistic child, always taking part in traditional holidays or outings with her parents.

Since Ema lives with a lot of adults, the story details a lot of current events and the repercussions of historical events. Somewhere Among portrays the Japanese perspective on domestic tragedies, such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the observance of abroad tragedies, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the incidents are a backdrop in Ema’s life and the weight of the tragedy is with the adults in the room. Through these incidences, the story reinforces the importance of having “peace among nations/ peace among peoples/ peace in the heart.”

The story also hits on Ema’s identity as a “hafu,” or a person who is half-Japanese. Middle grade readers will relate to Ema, who is struggling to exist in a foreign country. For example, Ema’s classmates scrutinize her because of her mixed heritage. They make fun of her facial features and her name, and ignore it when Masa, a boy in her class, bullies her. In the end, Ema stands up for herself and feels like she has a place in Japan. The story ends on a light note and shows Ema’s family after the end of their struggles. Readers who would like to read more about historical events in Japan would enjoy reading Somewhere Among.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Obaachan insists Ema’s mother should bathe in warm water, Ema’s mother, tells Ema’s father that “Obaachan is trying to kill us [her and the baby].”
  • Throughout most of the novel, Maribeth “vomits” frequently due to her pregnancy.
  • Updates about the Ehime Maru, “a Japanese fishing ship/ struck and sunk/ by an American submarine” are shown throughout the novel. In July, “its mast will be dynamited/ girded/ and lifted/ from the sea.” Later, US Navy officials explained their “plans to bring/ nine boys and men. . . up from the sea.” After searching for the sunken fishing ship and failing to rescue the crew members, “one hundred and twenty boxes/ of personal items/recovered from victims…are given to their families…to the principal [of Uwajima Fisheries High School]/ the school flag from the ship/ to the captain/ a bell from the steering room.”
  • Five people die from “mudslides/in Japan” after two typhoons go through Japan.
  • Masa, one of Ema’s classmates, “rams [her] thigh with his broom.” At first, her grandparents do nothing, but then Obaachan calls the teacher. Her teacher apologizes for Masa’s behavior but says asking Masa’s mother for an apology “is not possible. . . it cannot be helped.”
  • When they are in the classroom, Masa bullies Ema aggressively. He asks Ema if she “knows how to use a futon” as if she was a baby. Later, he “grabs, crumples and tosses my math homework.” Masa’s bullying occurs six more times throughout the book.
  • On September 11, 2001, Ema and her family watch the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. “We watch the towers go down/ over and over and over…a plane went down in Pennsylvania/ and/ the war department of the United/ States of America/ in Washington, DC is in flames.” Ema’s mother would not believe the attack happened “until the TV is turned on.” The aftermath and the rescue efforts continue for four pages.
  • After 9/11, Nana and Grandpa Bob were scared when they considered traveling to Japan from the United States. “Nana and Grandpa Bob are worried/ about flying./ They don’t say so/ but I know so./ Everyone is/ after seeing planes go through/ buildings/ and down in a field/ on September 11.”
  • Ema’s father mentions that George Harrison, a member of the Beatles, a British rock band, has died. “’He was a man of peace,’ Papa/ says./ ‘He knew how to treat people.’”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Ema’s mother began speaking Japanese, she thought she was saying “Great-Grandfather” to Obaachan’s father, but she was saying “honorable old fart,” because she made a mistake with a vowel.
  • Ema’s classmates say she “looks weird” because of her “upside-down crescent-moon eyes” and her skin color, as Ema is half-white and half-Japanese.
  • Masa teases Ema with a common mispronunciation of her name. Her name, pronounced Eh-ma, sounds like the word “for wishes and prayers” in Japanese, but most foreigners miscall her as Em-ma, which means “God of Hell.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Ema’s name “sounds like the name for shrine prayers”
  • “Tanabata” is a Japanese holiday on July 7, a day that celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi. The traditions for this holiday are described over eight pages.
  • Ema describes her mother as “calm as Buddha.”
  • Obaachan goes to a shrine to “pray for Little Sister and Mom.”
  • On December 7th, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, “Prayers are said/ on all shores.”
  • Maribeth goes to a church with Ema, who has “never been in a church,” to light a candle for the lost lives on 9/11. Jiichan prays for “the dead and the living without incense.”
  • Obaachan and Ema go to a shrine gate. Obaasan shows her the proper way to pray at a gate. “She bows twice, throws a coin,/ pulls the thick rope with two hands,/ claps twice/…bows once.”
  • Ema states that the Americans use the “jack-o’-lanterns/ from pumpkins/ to scare away spirits” during Halloween.

by Jemima Cooke

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