Strike Zone

Twelve-year-old star Little League pitcher Nick Garcia has a dream. Several in fact. He dreams he’ll win this season’s MVP and earn the chance to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. He dreams he’ll meet his hero, Yankee pitcher Michael Arroyo. He dreams they’ll find a cure for Lupus so his sister won’t have to suffer. But mostly, he dreams that one day his family can stop living in fear of the government.  

For one kid, it’s almost too much to bear. Luckily, Nick has his two best friends, Ben and Diego, to keep him balanced. But when Nick notices a mysterious man lurking on his street corner, his worst fears are realized. But just when it seems there’s no one they can trust, an unexpected hero emerges and changes everything. 

Baseball-loving fans will instantly connect with Nick Garcia and his baseball ambitions. Nick is a kind protagonist who has a caring support system that includes friends, families, and neighbors. Despite his support system, Nick constantly worries that others will discover his family’s secret—both of his parents are illegal immigrants. This conflict weaves its way into almost every aspect of Nick’s life. At times, the story’s explanations of complex immigration problems including immigration raids, detention centers, and the legal system overshadow the baseball story thread. However through Nick’s experiences, readers will empathize with Nick and his family and learn about the harmful aspects of the immigration system. 

Nick and his two best friends, Ben and Diego, support each other and show readers the positive aspects of being part of a team. During their team’s games, most of the action focuses on Nick’s pitching ability. While this gives the reader an inside view of Nick’s emotions, the book lacks a broader sense of the team working together. There is play-by-play baseball action, but these scenes focus mainly on Nick and the other players are seldom mentioned. The narrow focus on Nick removes some of the joy from the game scenes.  

Strike Zone weaves the different aspects of Nick’s life together, showing how community surrounds Nick and his family in times of trouble. Nick has many trustworthy people in his life; however, he is surprised when his favorite Yankee, Michael Arroyo, steps in to help as well. Readers who have read the book Heat will understand how Michael’s and Nick’s stories connect, but the books don’t need to be read in order to enjoy Strike Zone. Both Michael’s and Nick’s stories show that achieving one’s dream is possible. However, it takes dedication, perseverance, and community.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Nick and his father take his sister Amelia to a free clinic. As they are leaving, a drunk man pushes her. “Amelia lost her balance and almost went down, but Nick caught her by the hip.” 
  • Afterward, the drunk man “swung at Nick’s father. It was a wild swing, one the man had telegraphed, and Nick’s dad easily avoided it. But missing the punch just seemed to make the big man angrier. He clumsily lowered his shoulder and drove into Victor, bringing them both violently to the ground. With Victor Garcia pinned beneath him, the man grunted, throwing punch after punch. . .” Both men are arrested. 
  • When Nick is sliding into home plate, “Eric slapped a hard tag on Nick. Right across the face. Nick’s head snapped to the side, and he immediately cupped his jaw in pain.” Nick has a bruise but is otherwise fine.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Heck is used once.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Nick’s coach tells him, “I honestly believe the good Lord has blessed you with a right arm like Michael Arroyo’s left.”  
  • Nick’s dad tells him, “God gives the heaviest burdens to the strongest backs.” 
  • Nick tells his neighbor about his hardships. She says, “When I was a little girl in Mexico, my mother used to read me a poem. It was about doing the right things to get into heaven so that one day God could answer all our questions about why things in our life happened the way they did.”  
  • Nick’s father talks about being an illegal immigrant. He says, “We have to put our trust in God until my beautiful daughter turns twenty-one.”  

Joseph Stalin

In 1917, Russian workers shocked the world by overthrowing their emperor and ending centuries of tyranny. The leaders of the Russian Revolution proclaimed a new nation—the Soviet Union—and promised to build a just society run by and for the common people.  

Instead, they gave the world Joseph Stalin. 

Stalin turned the Soviet Union into a world power—at an almost unimaginable cost. He uprooted millions of peasants and starved millions more to death. He executed his enemies, real or imagined, and filled a notorious system of prison camps with Soviet citizens. He was more ruthless than any of the previous Russian emperors.  

Joseph Stalin takes readers through Stalin’s life, from his troubled childhood until his death. The book adeptly includes enough detail to provide context and color to each chapter without overwhelming the reader with facts. From Stalin’s childhood to his time as a revolutionary and finally to his span as leader of the Soviet Union, Stalin’s life is fraught with violence. 

Reading about Stalin is not for the faint of heart. From bombs to gulags, mass executions to deliberate starvation, the information in this book—while not described in graphic detail—is disturbing in the extreme. Each chapter contains one to two black-and-white historical photographs. In addition, there is a seven-page photo collection in the middle of the book. While the illustrations are often grainy enough to obscure any gory details, the images of corpses, skeletons, and violence may be disturbing.  

Joseph Stalin is written at a high reading level, with some challenging vocabulary. Each chapter is only four to six pages long, making this a short read for those interested in learning about this dark chapter in history. The story is engaging and quick-paced, perfect for readers who do not want to get bogged down in endless details. Readers don’t need to know much about Stalin in order to understand this non-fiction book, but enough facts are included that those familiar with Stalin’s life will still learn something new. The book ends with a timeline of Stalin’s life and a glossary that includes definitions of both Russian terminology and some of the more difficult vocabulary.  

While the short chapters and illustrations will help readers engage with this disturbing tale, the difficult vocabulary and extremely violent content make this book a good fit for more mature readers. Teaching our youth about dark chapters in history is essential in educating and empowering the next generation; however, this book may give sensitive readers nightmares. Readers who would like to learn more about Stalin’s time period without disturbing details should instead read Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • A flood near Kolpashevo unearths a mass grave. “As the current eroded the riverbanks . . . human skeletons began to tumble from the ground. Half-frozen, mummified bodies surfaced in the layer below the skeletons. Many of the remains slid into the river.” 
  • The secret police “forced local residents to tie weights to the bodies and sink them in the river.” The KGB said the bodies were “military deserters executed after World War II . . . but the people of Kolpashevo knew the truth . . . In the late 1930s, friends, relatives, and neighbors . . . were shot in the back of the head and shoveled into a mass grave” by the local secret police. A black-and-white photograph of a mass grave accompanies this chapter.  
  • When Stalin was a young boy, he “once threw a knife at his father in order to protect his mother from a beating.”  
  • When Stalin was twenty years old, he joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, where “he organized protests, strikes, and riots. At one point, he was suspected of setting a fire in an oil refinery.”  
  • In 1905, during protests across Russia, “peasants lashed out at their landlords, burning their estates to the ground and torching police stations . . . [Stalin] and other revolutionaries created battle squads to harass and kill tsarist troops.” Afterwards, the “tsar allowed vigilante death squads called the Black Hundreds to roam the countryside and crush all signs of public protest.”  
  • When Stalin started working for Lenin and the Bolsheviks, he “took up life as a gangster . . . [he] robbed banks, trains, and mail ships. In one murderous assault, [his] gang blew up two horse-drawn carriages.” Forty people were killed. 
  • The Bolsheviks “sent squads of assassins armed with rifles, pistols, and homemade bombs into Russian cities. Between 1906 and 1909, the Bolsheviks and other revolutionary groups killed more than 2,600 police and government officials.”  
  • There are many references to people being “shot” and “executed,” often “with a bullet to the back of the head.” For example, the NKVD in Stalinabad “ended up shooting more than 13,000 [people].” Not all instances of executions are listed here.  
  • A Red Army newspaper said, “Without mercy, without sparing, [The Red Army] will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them drown themselves in their own blood.”  
  • Lenin (the leader of the Communist revolution in Russia) said, “How can you make a revolution without firing squads? If we can’t shoot [enemy] saboteurs, what kind of revolution is this?” 
  • Stalin had many slave-labor camps called gulags. “Prisoners . . . lived on starvation rations and received little medical care. They were purposely worked to exhaustion. They died by the thousands. . . At least one million would die in the gulags,” the book says, though many think the number is much higher.  
  • Gulag survivor Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about how prisoners “singled out for bad behavior” were thrown into a “bedbug infested box.” When the bedbugs swarmed the victim, “he waged war with them strenuously, crushing them on his body and on the walls, suffocated by their stink. But after several hours, he weakened and let them drink his blood without a murmur.”  
  • Stalin creates a massive famine where “peasants were dropping dead of starvation.” Millions starve, and “once-lively villages [became] ghost towns with skeleton-thin corpses lining the street.”  
  • The famine gets so bad that “reports of cannibalism leaked out from the worst affected regions. In the city of Poltava, children started mysteriously disappearing from the streets. Before long, fresh supplies of meat appeared in the normally barren city markets. Upon inspection, the meat was found to be human flesh.”  
  • Sergei Kirov, a rival of Stalin, is “shot dead in Leningrad by an assassin.” Many suspect “that Stalin had ordered Kirov’s murder to get rid of a dangerous rival.” Trotsky, another rival, was later assassinated by “a blow to the head with an ice pick.”  
  • Two rivals of Stalin are “dragged from their cells and shot. Afterward, the bullets were removed from their brains and kept by NKVD chief Genrich Yagoda as souvenirs.”  
  • Many times during Stalin’s reign, “mass graves were dug.” Several photos of dead bodies and skeletons are included in the book.  
  • During World War II, Red Army officers received orders to “execute deserters and troops who fled from battle. More than 150,000 soldiers were shot in 1941 and 1942 alone.”  
  • The chapter on World War II includes a photograph of two Soviets being hung by Nazis. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Stalin’s father “was an angry man who drank heavily and beat his wife and son.”  
  • It is said that “Georgians had a reputation for drinking hard, singing loud, and settling feuds with punches if not daggers,” and Stalin “fit right in.”  

Language  

  • A politician praises Stalin’s Five-Year Plan, saying, “Damn it all . . . you just want to live and live—really, just look what’s going on.”

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Stalin’s mother was “determined to see [Stalin] wear the long black robes of a Russian Orthodox priest.” Stalin enrolls in Tiflis Spiritual Seminary but is kicked out.  

The Godhead Complex

Sadina and the islanders are up against both man and nature as they navigate their way to Alaska. There, they hope to meet the mysterious Godhead, unsure of what separates myth from truth. But the Godhead, now led by Alexandra, is fractured. Within the cracks of their sacred trinity, secrets are revealed that blur the lines of good and evil forever. 

After a devastating discovery, Isaac and Sadina are forced to split up. Minho holds the rest of the group together, but it’s his beliefs that are slowly falling apart. What once drove Minho to join his sworn enemies is causing him to question everything. When Sadina finds a clue in The Book of Newt, her mission to meet the Godhead becomes even stronger. Isaac and Old Man Frypan come across an enigmatic traveler and learn that the cure isn’t what it once was. They are shaken to the core when they realize that the immunes aren’t as immune as they should be, and the world as a whole is evolving in a dangerous new direction. 

In Alaska, The Godhead and the sacred site of the Maze face something that no generation of Pilgrims before them has ever witnessed. Beliefs will change, futures will be rewritten, and not even the Godhead knows what will happen next. 

Isaac’s best friend, Sadina, has been told that there is a chance her blood may be the Cure to the Flare virus. The Remnant Nation and The Godhead each offers their own plan for a cure for the Flare. Isaac and Sadina feel that “they needed to help end the Flare for good” by “taking Sadina’s blood” and creating a Cure, but Isaac and Sadina don’t know who to trust—The Remnant Nation or the Godhead.  

An important theme in The Godhead Complex is how people in positions of power can manipulate those who are desperate for answers. The Godhead claims to offer a “cure” for the Flare virus that will reshape humankind as we know it: “For the non-infected, the Cure sequenced DNA structures that had been left abandoned in humankind, opening new pathways and abilities whose potential had been lost or never discovered.” These abilities include perfect memory, strength beyond normal human capacity, and even telepathy. Alexandra, a powerful leader in the Godhead, calls herself a goddess and is even willing to kill her counterparts in the Godhead to gain more power for herself. Alexandra tells the public that she has found a cure for the Flare virus and that, “You all will become Gods and Goddesses, if you accept the Cure.” 

One important character is Old Man Frypan, a man who was a test subject in the original Maze experiments decades ago. Frypan is a character from the original Maze Runner Series, set seventy years before this novel, and he constantly offers Isaac and his friends sage advice. For instance, Frypan says, “You trust yourself first, and after that you trust those who trust you.” Frypan explains a main theme in the novel: sometimes people who begin with good intentions can become dangerous. For example, Sadina, Isaac’s best friend, asks, “If [the Godhead] really wants to cure the Flare, that can only be good, right?” Old Man Frypan tells Sadina, “People are manipulative, motivated by power, greed, and things you and I aren’t capable of.” 

The theme of people turning on each other for power is pertinent. The major war that happens centers around two leaders of the Godhead, Alexandra and Mikhail, and their attempts to secretly gain power over each other. For example, Mikhail says, “It was Alexandra’s war within her own mind that made it possible for Mikhail to sneak away so often to the Remnant Nation. To build an army of Orphans solely to defeat her and wipe the Flare from the earth for good.” Both characters are set on destroying each other, even though in the previous novel it appeared that they were both on the same side, with the Godhead. 

Readers who enjoy switching between the points of view of several characters will enjoy the way this book builds suspense by focusing on multiple characters’ perspectives. Readers who enjoy science fiction and action will find this book thrilling, as long as they are not put off by occasional instances of violence. The ending will have readers on the edge of their seats. Isaac and his friends discover that “something about the sequencing that blocks the Flare also blocks reproduction . . . The Evolution [from taking the Cure] will cause our extinction.” The end of book two leaves Isaac struggling to reckon with the truth: “How can [the Cure] save the population while ensuring it ceases to exist. How could both realities be true?” Isaac and his friends decide they only have one option, to go to Alaska and confront the Godhead.  

Sexual Content 

  • Sadina and her long-time girlfriend, Trish, kiss. “They kissed, and Sadina squeezed Trish even tighter, and the cheese-fest might have lasted forever if Dominic didn’t race up to the deck.” 

Violence 

  • In a prologue, the widespread effects of the Flare virus are described: “screams of death” like “souls being cooked from the inside out.”  
  • Isaac’s friend, Sadina, recalls an event from the first book in the series, The Maze Cutter, where Kletter was murdered by two strangers. “Kletter got her throat slit open.” 
  • Mikhail discovers that a fellow member of the Godhead has been murdered: “It took [Mikhail] a handful of seconds to realize what he was looking at—not because his brain was confused, but because he had never before this moment seen a body without a head.” 
  • While sneaking into the Remnant Nation, Mikhail is stabbed. “Before [Mikhail] could even wonder who was behind him, he felt the screaming stab of a knife in his lower back.” However, Mikhail does not die from this wound.  
  • Alexandra witnesses an arrow kill her assistant. “Alexandra stopped at the sight of her faithful servant’s expression, crooked with pain . . . His knees hit the ground, a single red arrow jutting from his neck.” 
  • Mikhail witnesses a group of cranks, people infected with the Flare that turn into zombie-like creatures, “chewing at their own limbs” to escape chains. 
  • When a crank escapes the chains, Mikhail kills it. “[Mikhail] then stabbed the crank in the neck. Right in the artery.”  
  • To protect her friends, Sadina kills a crank. “[Sadina] steadied the gun in both hands then blew a bullet through the crank’s head.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • Occasionally characters will use profanity such as ass, damn, and shit.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Nicholas, a member of the Godhead, says the Cure will make humans into gods. He says, “God is nothing but a complex, we are all gods.” 
  • Alexandra, a leader of the Godhead, refers to herself as “Goddess.”   
  • Alexandra tells the public, “You all will become Gods and Goddesses, if you accept the Cure.” 
  • Roxy, a wise woman who joins Isaac and his friends on their mission tells stories of “the God with the Angels and the Devil.” Roxy says, “Hell is a place you go to after you die, where the Devil rules his little scary kingdom. I don’t believe in it, not literally anyway, but some people do.” 

Nowheresville

Nat is proud of her mom for getting her dream job. But did she have to move them out of Philadelphia and into a small town in rural Pennsylvania? Who would choose to leave behind their friends, favorite falafel spot, and fun block parties for green fields and grazing cows? Nat is convinced there isn’t anything to love about her new hometown. . . but then she meets her cute next-door neighbor and his even cuter horse, Ghost. Can they help Nat embrace her new life as a small-town girl? 

Anyone who has dealt with moving will relate to Nat’s difficulty adjusting to a small town. Like all preteens, Nat worries about meeting new friends and fitting into her new community. It doesn’t take long for Nat to meet Logan, her cute neighbor, or for two mean girls to target her. The two mean girls trick Nat into flirting with Logan. While Nat’s attempt at flirting is embarrassing, Logan kindly tells Nat that he just wants to be friends. Nat’s relationship with Logan is sweet, and Nat realizes “I wasn’t ready for all that boy-girl stuff yet . . . That didn’t mean I wanted to stop hanging out with Logan.” In the end, the two end up developing a friendship through their love of horses.   

Nat is a very likable protagonist. One reason Nat is so likable is because she is an unselfish friend who empathizes with others. When a mean girl tells Nat, “If anyone saw you with Horrid Harper, your reputation would be totally nerfed,” Nat doesn’t allow the girls to influence her decisions. Instead, she quickly returns to her conversation with Harper. In addition to being a good friend, Nat is also a hard worker. When Nat discovers that Ghost is going to be sold, she brainstorms ideas to make enough money to buy Ghost herself. With the help of her new friends and her old friends from Philadelphia, Nat earns enough money to become a horse owner. 

Nowheresville will have wide appeal because of the likable characters, the relatable conflicts, and the cute horses. The easy-to-read story has a straightforward plot that teaches the value of hard work. While none of the supporting characters are well-developed, they’re unique enough to add interest to the story, and they highlight the importance of having strong friendships. Readers will enjoy seeing Nat learn about life in rural America and will fall in love with Ghost alongside her. If you’re looking for more horse stories, try jumping into these books: Hollywood by Samantha M. Clark, Horse Girl by Carrie Seim, and Ride On by Faith Erin Hicks.  

Sexual Content 

  • One of the girls has two moms.  
  • When Nat meets the boy next door, she wonders if he was flirting with her. Nat thinks, “What did flirting look like anyways? I’d heard Johari’s sister talk about it, but I still wasn’t sure.”  
  • In an attempt to embarrass Nat, two mean girls show up at Logan’s barn and ask if Nat and Logan have been kissing.  

Violence 

  • While Nat is caring for the horses, two mean girls show up. After a brief conversation, the girls “were trying to scare the horses through the broken fence! When one of the girls tossed a handful of dirt into the paddock, Belle bolted wildly, bucking and snorting. She kicked out at Ghost as she passed, sending him jumping to one side.” Ghost gets out of the paddock, but Nat is able to calm him down and return him safely.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • A mean girl tells Nat, “If anyone saw you with Horrid Harper, your reputation would be totally nerfed.” 
  • Nat thinks, “What the heck?” 
  • The mean girls give Nat bad advice on purpose. When Nat figures it out, she thinks, “Those rats!” 
  • Nat calls the mean girls jerks.  

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • One of Nat’s friends goes to church on Sundays. 

Scene of the Crime: Tracking Down Criminals with Forensic Science

From the critically acclaimed author of The Book of Chocolate, The Human Body, and From Here to There, comes an all new nonfiction deep dive into forensic science. What is evidence and how do investigators gather it? How do you determine how long a body has been dead? Do fingerprints differ from person to person? How did some of the world’s great fictional detectives, like Sherlock Holmes, further the study of forensics? Packed with lively photos, classroom activities, and engaging prose, budding private eyes and scientists will be eager to find the answers to these and other questions in HP Newquist’s latest, and to learn about everything from the world’s first autopsy in Ancient Rome to the role that DNA plays in solving crimes along the way. 

Scene of the Crime is a fascinating book that takes a deep dive into the science of forensics. From the beginning of time, crime has been a part of the world. This is where Scene of the Crime begins. However, the information is presented in short chapters, making it easy to understand. In addition, the use of illustrations, photography, and other graphic elements break up the oversized text. In order to make the book easier to understand, whole pages are devoted to crime scene vocabulary, and other information such as different eras of society. To engage readers, the book encourages readers to act like a detective by completing activities such as identifying a footprint. The visual elements include illustrations, vocabulary, and activities that will appeal to a large number of readers. 

While much of the book discusses murder investigations, it also includes interesting information about the first detective story written by Edgar Allen Poe as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character Sherlock Holmes. Readers will be fascinated by how Sherlock Holmes helped shape forensic science. For example, because of Sherlock Holmes, police “attempted to reconstruct the crime based on all evidence.”  

Using real crime, Scene of the Crime explains that some crime investigators found ways to process evidence by accident, and other’s used ways to determine guilt and innocence in unconventional ways. For example, Cesare Lombroso was a doctor who believed that “physical features—such as an unusual forehead or large hands—could tell if people were going to be criminals or not.” Readers will recognize many of the scientist mentioned in the book and be surprised at how the scientist helped shape today’s investigations.   

When it comes to forensic science, new methods are still being discovered which causes ethical debates. For example, DNA from genealogy websites was used to catch the Golden State Killer. Even though DNA can be used to identify murders, there is debate about the ethical use of DNA. “If we leave our DNA everywhere—including on door handles and tissues—does that mean the police are free to collect it no matter what? Even if we’re not suspected of committing a crime?” Scene of the Crime also leaves the reader with this question: How will artificial intelligence affect how crimes scenes are investigated?  

Although Scene of the Crime is fascinating, it is not for the faint of heart. While the deaths are not described in gory detail, victims’ wounds are discussed. This includes a segment on how the body decomposes, which is gruesome and disturbing even though it’s described scientifically. There are also several pictures that show decomposing bodies that are being researched at a body farm—facilities that use corpses to study decomposition of the body. Despite this, anyone who is interested in the law enforcement field should read Scene of the Crime. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Because the book is about solving murders and gives examples of real crime scenes, including the condition of the bodies, not all examples from the book are included below.  
  • In the 1500s, torture was used to “get suspects to admit to crimes. . . Speaking out against God, not going to church, or practicing witchcraft were considered among the worst crimes one could commit.” This caused the Spanish Inquisition which used “trial by ordeal” to determine guilt or innocence. “For example, one version of the trial by ordeal was known as the ‘drowning of witches.’ The way to find out if a woman was a witch was to tie her up and throw her in the river. . . If she floated, she was guilty.” Several other examples are given. 
  • When Ceasar died, people wanted to know the cause of death. “Ceasar’s physician examined the ruler’s corpse. . . He made a report. It stated, very succinctly, that ‘Ceasar had been brutally stabbed twenty-three times, but only one of these proved fatal, and that was to his heart.”  
  • In 1784, a man named Edward Culshaw was murdered. “Someone shot him in the head. . . The doctor who examined Culshaw’s corpse removed the bullet from his head. Along with the bullet, the doctor found something strange. Pressed against the bullet—inside Culshaw’s skull—was a small piece of wadded-up newspaper.” The newspaper helped convict the killer and the killer was “taken away to be hanged.”  
  • In 1892, two children “had been stabbed in their beds. [Their mother] accused her neighbor Ramon Velasquez. . . The police—using a technique many police departments did at the time—beat Velasquez in the hopes he would confess. He would not.” They locked him in a jail cell with the bloody corpses of the two children overnight.” He still didn’t confess. 
  • Later, police discovered that the children’s mother, Francisca, killed them. “Francisca had done it because she wanted to be free of the boys in order to marry her new boyfriend, who did not like children.” 
  • A chapter is dedicated to Jack the Ripper, who killed five women. “The five women had their necks cut by a large knife. The killer then opened one of his victims up, as if preparing them for surgery, and removed their internal organs. These were placed around the victim’s body.”  
  • One chapter discusses how Al Capone’s gang violence advanced ballistics testing. Capone’s gang and George “Bugs” Moran’s gang were causing havoc in the streets. Then on Valentine’s Day 1929, “seven of Moran’s men were rounded up and taken to a garage. They were lined up against a wall and shot to death by four gunmen who sprayed them with machine-gun bullets.”  
  • In 1983, “the body of fifteen-year-old Lynda Mann was found raped and strangled in the woods in the rural country. . . There were bodily fluids on her corpse, but no fingerprints.” Three years later another fifteen-year-old was discovered “murdered in a similar fashion.”  
  • The book explains the crimes of the Golden State Killer who “killed at least thirteen people, sexually assaulted more than fifty women, and committed over a hundred burglaries. He killed men and women, broke into their homes, stole their jewelry, and sometimes paused to eat the food in their kitchen.” DNA was used to find the Golden State Killer and he was sentenced to prison.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Mathieu Orfila “was fascinated by chemistry, especially the chemical mysteries that lurked in poison.” Mathieu wrote several books on poison and how to tell if a dead person was killed by poison. In 1840, Marie Lafarge’s husband died after he became sick. “The Lafarges’ maid told police that she had seen Marie mixing arsenic in Charles’ food. . . It came to light that Marie had bought so much arsenic that the local pharmacist stopped selling it to her.” During the trial, Mathieu Orfila used a test and discovered arsenic was “in the body. Charles had been poisoned to death.” 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • In the 1500s, spectral evidence was used. “Witnesses claimed they saw visions of dead people—ghosts. The ghosts helped witnesses identify the criminal.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Mission Manhattan

Thirteen-year-old Rio—known by his cover name, Rafael Rocha—is a skilled street magician who loves all things food and has the ability to charm almost everyone who crosses his path. Such is the case when the City Spies travel to Venice to protect a young environmental activist named Beatriz. Thrilled to meet a fellow Brazilian, Beatriz invites Rafael to her appearance at a nearby United Nations conference. When Rafael spots a bomb on their boat, his quick thinking helps get everyone evacuated safely. Rafael is hailed as a hero and thrust into the spotlight—which is the last thing any spy would ever want. 

With the activist still in danger, the City Spies follow her first to Washington, DC, and then to New York City as she continues to speak out for her cause. Thanks to Rio’s heroic efforts, they have to work extra hard to maintain their cover. And when unforeseen circumstances take both adults, Mother and Monty, out of commission, the spies’ skills are put to the ultimate test. Can they succeed in one of their most complex missions to date, without the adults’ help?   

The fifth installment of the City Spies Series is another fast-paced mystery that will keep readers entertained until the very end. Mission Manhattan and the other books in the series must be read to understand the City Spies’ background and dynamics. In Mission Manhattan, the kids break into two groups. One group must keep Beatriz safe until she speaks to the delegates of the United Nations. The second group must find Mother, who was kidnapped. During the City Spies’ complex mission, they rely on a host of people to assist them. The large cast of characters and the complicated plot add interest, but may be difficult for some readers to follow.  

The City Spies’ job is to keep Beatriz, a young environmental activist, safe. Despite this, Beatriz and her cause are not the main focus. Instead, the City Spies spend much of their time trying to discover who wants to stop Beatriz from speaking to the United Nations. Nevertheless, Beatriz’s message is clear: to protect the environment, young people must speak up. Beatriz says, “The temperature is rising. The oceans are rising. But the young people of the world are rising too. We are rising to our feet to demand action from our leaders.” While the story doesn’t give examples of how readers can help the environment, readers will be inspired by Beatriz, who is determined to make an impact on the world.  

Mission Manhattan highlights the importance of teamwork and the importance of trusting yourself. The book’s conclusion shows the City Spies becoming an even closer family who now fully trust their newest member, Cairo. But be warned! The book ends on a cliffhanger that will leave readers wondering if Cairo’s mother will be the next big threat to the City Spies.  

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Rio and other climate change activists are on a boat, heading to speak to world leaders. Rio finds a bomb and everyone jumps out. “BOOM! Rio was frantically swimming away from the boat, so he didn’t see the explosion. . . a plume of smoke coming from the stern indicated that there was now a fire where they’d been standing moments before.” No one is injured. 
  • After being poisoned, Mother wakes up with “something pinching his wrists and ankles and realized that he was tied to a chair.” His captors had used zip ties, duct tape, and rope. Later, “Mother couldn’t feel his fingertips, and that was troubling. Not only had he been poisoned by Ferreira, but the others had also injected him on two separate occasions with some sort of drugs that knocked him unconscious for a couple of hours.”  
  • Cairo finds Mother and starts to cut him loose. A bad guy, nicknamed Jelly, “raced into the room and tackled Cairo. Cairo and Jelly wrestled on the floor for a moment, yelling and screaming while they did. And then, suddenly Jelly went limp.” Mother had injected Jelly with the poison. 
  • After Jelly is drugged, the City Spies bind and gag him. Then, they take Jelly to the Italian embassy, where he is arrested. 
  • To warn Beatriz of danger, the City Spies must talk to Beatriz alone. To do so, the City Spies purchase tickets to a gala that Beatriz is speaking at. Then, Brooklyn “accidentally” spills tea on Beatriz and they go to the restroom to clean up the mess. When Rio steps out of a bathroom stall, Beatriz “looked like she was about to shriek, but Sydney put a hand over her mouth. . . She went to yell anyway, so Sydney clamped harder, and Beatriz tried to break free.” After a few minutes of struggling, Beatriz decides to trust the City Spies and leaves the gala. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • One of the bad guys, Ferreira, poisons Mother’s tea. Mother’s “speech began to slur, and his vision turned blurry. One of the last things he saw was the empty vial in Ferreira’s hand as the poison took effect.” When Mother wakes up, “there was a throbbing pain in his head and a bitter taste on his tongue. He felt like he was in a fog.” Later, Mother is taken to the hospital to make sure the poison doesn’t have long-lasting effects. 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Sports Illustrated Kids Pro Files: Baseball

Sports Illustrated Kids Pro Files: Baseball is a must-have book for every young baseball fan and player. The book profiles seven of the big leagues’ hottest stars and features SI Kids’ signature content: great writing, fun trivia, amazing statistics, and dynamic photography. But Pro Files: Baseball also delves deeper, providing insider tips from major league coaches on how to hit, pitch, and field just like the stars in the book. Experts help break down each baseball skill so that young players can learn to play like the pros.   

Each player—Albert Pujols, Evan Longoria, Roy Halladay, Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton, Justin Verlander, and Joey Votto—has six pages dedicated to them. The first two-page spread includes an illustration of the player in action and basic facts such as height, weight, hometown, etc. The second two-page spread includes information about their early careers. There are also career stats and random insider information such as the player’s favorite cereal and the athlete they admired as a kid. In addition, readers will learn more about the players’ skills and why they love the game.  

Pro Files: Baseball uses a reader-friendly format similar to a picture book, which will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each page uses bright colors, infographics, and photographs of the players in action. While the book includes a lot of information about the players, each section is broken into small parts with a headline. In addition, most of the sports statistics are put in infographics which make them easy to understand. Best of all, Pro Files: Baseball shows the unique skills that players use for their specific positions, such as what skills make Joey Votto an amazing first baseman.  

Readers who love baseball will want to read Pro Files: Baseball because it’s packed full of interesting facts. Another positive aspect of the book is that it shows the hard work and dedication involved in making it to the major leagues. Plus, Pro Files: Baseball shows obstacles that the players had to overcome on their way to the pros.  

Any reader who wants to learn more about the game of baseball should put Pro Files: Baseball at the top of their reading list. Baseball fans can also learn about one of the most legendary baseball players of all time by reading Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse by David A. Kelly. However, if you’d like to add some more historical fiction to your baseball reading list, The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz is a must-read. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Ground Zero

September 11, 2001, New York City: Brandon is visiting his dad at work, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Out of nowhere, an airplane slams into the tower, creating a fiery nightmare of terror and confusion. And Brandon is in the middle of it all. Can he survive — and escape? 

September 11, 2019, Afghanistan: Reshmina has grown up in the shadow of war, but she dreams of peace and progress. When a battle erupts in her village, Reshmina stumbles upon a wounded American soldier named Taz. Should she help Taz — and put herself and her family in mortal danger? 

Two kids. One devastating day. Nothing will ever be the same. 

Ground Zero focuses on Brandon and Reshmina’s perspectives. Although the time period is different for the protagonists, the chapters switch perspectives every other chapter. This makes both characters’ conflicts feel immediate and allows readers to see the parallels between Brandon and Reshmina’s stories. Even though both of the protagonists are young, they are forced into life-and-death situations that show the evils of terrorism. In addition, both Brandon and Reshmina lose an innocent family member who is killed due to no fault of their own.  

Brandon’s and Reshmina’s stories explore the complicated relations between Afghanistan and America. Neither of the protagonists understands why the violence is happening to them. All they know is that violence has caused death and destruction for those around them. One issue that is briefly discussed is how “big countries made money selling weapons to little countries [Afghanistan]. Who they killed with those weapons wasn’t any of the big countries’ concerns.” In the end, Ground Zero leaves the reader wondering if the United States has become a “bully” to Afghanistan. 

Readers will feel compassion for Reshmina and come away with a new understanding of how girls are treated by the Taliban. Even though Reshmina lives in a village where girls have few rights, she still dreams of becoming an interpreter. This dream propels her to study hard and gives her hope for the future. When Reshmina sees a wounded American soldier, she is reluctant to help. But when the soldier asks for assistance, Reshmina takes him home and her family agrees to give him refuge. This causes a myriad of problems for Reshmina’s family and village. Afterward, Reshmina wonders if helping the soldier is the right thing to do. This experience helps her realize that, “Moving forward was scary. Sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes you take the wrong path. And sometimes, even when you take the right path, things could go wrong. But Reshmina realized that she wanted—needed—to keep moving forward, no matter what.”  

Ground Zero helps readers understand the events of 9/11 and the lasting impact 9/11 had on Afghanistan. While both Brandon’s and Reshmina’s stories are compelling, Reshmina’s side of the story makes readers question the nature of war. Both protagonists describe violence, and some of the descriptions are graphic and disturbing. After reading Ground Zero, readers will be able to visualize what happened in the Twin Towers after the planes crashed into them as well as the destruction of Reshmina’s village. Since Ground Zero explores how 9/11 changed America and Afghanistan, younger readers may have difficulty processing the difficult topic.  

Mature readers will find Ground Zero compelling and thought-provoking. However, readers who are interested in learning more about 9/11 without the graphic images may want to read Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes, Molly and the Twin Towers: A 9/11 Survival Story by Jessika Fleck or I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Because the story focuses on the terror attacks and a war, not all of the book’s violence is described below. 
  • A boy at school brought “these Wolverine gloves to school, like from the X-Men movie. And Stuart Pendleton stole them and wouldn’t give them back!” Brandon hits Stuart Pendleton in the nose. Brandon said, “Once I saw his nose was bleeding, I helped him up and took him to the nurse’s office.” 

World Trade Center, 2001 

  • A group of people are stuck on an elevator that keeps sliding down the shaft. A woman decides to run through a fire to get out of the elevator. “The woman burst into flames. She screamed and beat at her burning hair as she collapsed to the floor. . .” The woman rolled and a man “beat the last of the flames with the wet shirt he carried.” The woman’s “hair was gone, and her hands and arms were burned. Badly. . . The burned woman wept. Blisters were forming all over her body.” The scene is described over two pages.  
  • After the woman gets out of the elevator, it falls. “The four people in it were surely dead.” 
  • Brandon watches as an airplane flies into the South Tower. “Suddenly a bright orange fireball erupted from the side of the South Tower facing them.” This is when people began to realize that it wasn’t an accident, that instead the planes had purposely flown into the towers. 
  • Several times, Brandon mentions people falling to their death. As Brandon is leaving the tower, “Out on the plaza between the North Tower and the South Tower were bodies. And parts of bodies. Broken, bloody things too awful to think about. . . A piece of metal crashed into the plaza—SHANG!—and Brandon flinched. The big beam was immediately followed by something white and blue and brown plummeting down from above, and it hit the ground with a sickening THUMP!” 
  • In the lobby of the tower, Brandon saw “dozens, hundreds of bodies were lined up in rows across the floor. Some of them were missing limbs. Others had open wounds. Paramedics moved the burned, broken, and dying people, doing what they could.”  
  • When the tower falls, “with a roar like a garbage truck, a blast of smoke and dust lifted Brandon off his feet and hurled him into darkness.” 
  • When Brandon gets out of the tower, he sees people falling from the North Tower. “People were still jumping from the tower, falling ninety floors to their deaths. They dropped out of the thick black smoke that engulfed the top of the building with alarming speed, arms and legs flailing. Brandon saw one man reaching, grabbing as he fell, too far from anything to stop himself, his tie sticking straight up in the air above him.”  

Afghanistan, 2019  

  • When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, “the Taliban beat men for not growing beards, massacred families, burned down schools, and put on public executions in the soccer stadium in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. . . [they] beat women who left their houses without a male family member, and sold girls into slavery.”  
  • Reshmina’s sister, who was only 16, is killed on her wedding day by an American drone. Reshmina watched as “something small and black detached from the drone and streaked out toward the front of the parade. Toward her sister in her beautiful wedding dress, surrounded by all her friends. Reshmina remembered the whoosh of the missile, the gray trail of smoke behind it and then—” 
  • The Taliban lures the American army into Reshmina’s village. When the army attacks, Reshmina runs home. “THOOM. The ground rocked from a nearby explosion, and dirt rained down from the ceiling. . . Gunfire erupted close enough nearby to rattle the dishes, and Reshmina and Marizia huddled together against the wall. . . The shooting and explosions didn’t seem to bother the baby. He was already used to it.”  
  • Reshmina gets into an argument with her mother. Afterward, Reshmina’s grandmother explains: “When your mother was six, her father was killed by a missile while he was praying in his backyard. When she was your age, her older brother was killed by the Taliban for no reason that has ever been explained to her. Her husband—your father and my son—had his leg mangled by an old Soviet mine right after they were married. . . . Hila was killed by an American bomb.”  
  • After a battle between the Taliban and the Americans, Reshmina finds an injured American soldier. “His face was charred like a scorched pot, and there were dark, wet spots on his uniform. Blood, Reshmina realized. . .”  
  • When Reshmina’s brother decides to join the Taliban, she follows him in order to stop him. While they are arguing, a helicopter appears. “A rocket streaked from one of the Apache’s wings straight toward the ridge where the Taliban had been standing moments before, and F-THOOM!—the hillside exploded. Boulders broke loose from the mountain and tumbled down toward Reshmina.”  
  • The Taliban shoots at the helicopter. “The helicopter descended, getting closer and closer, and the sound of bullets hitting the hillside got louder and louder. . .” The attack is described over seven pages. It is unclear if anyone died.   
  • Reshmina tries to physically stop her brother, Pasoon, from leaving to join the Taliban. “Pasoon hit her hard on the side of her face with his open palm. The blow was so sudden, so brutal, it sent Reshmina to her hands and knees. Rocks cut into her palm. . . Reshmina tasted blood where she’d bitten her own tongue, and her face burned. . .” Pasoon leaves. 
  • The Taliban and Americans battle in Reshmina’s village. “An assault rifle barked, and another fired back. The villagers screamed. . . Taliban bullets struck the guard, and he fell to the ground, dead. . . Huge blasts rocked the village above them, and three more houses exploded in clouds of rock and splinter.” The villagers hide in a cave while their homes are completely destroyed. The battle is described over six pages.  
  • The Taliban dropped a bomb on the cave and “the whole ceiling fell in . . . Reshmina explored the rockfall, looking for a way through. She stopped when she saw the legs of some poor soul sticking out from under a boulder, the rest of the woman’s body crushed in the cave-in.” Later, Reshmina learns that “a few died,” but most of the village survived the cave-in.   

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Reshmina discovers a field of Poppies. “People didn’t grow poppies for their pretty pink colors. Poopy seeds had a gummy substance that was the raw material for heroin. . . For many Afghans hurt by decades of war, it was the only kind of medicine they could find to erase the suffering—and their awful memories.” 

Language 

  • When the elevator swings back and forth, a man says, “What the hell—.” 
  • When Brandon was trying to find his father, his path is blocked by debris. Brandon repeats “crap” six times. Later, a man says, “Holy crap.” 
  • Oh my God and Good God are used as exclamations several times. 
  • Jesus, damn, and dang are all used once. 
  • Reshmina calls her brother a snake, an idiot, a cowardly worm, stupid, and son of a donkey. 
  • An American soldier has a tattoo that says, “Damn the Valley.” He explains, “This valley [where Reshmina lives]—it kills our friends and ruins our lives.” 
  • An American soldier says, “Dadgum.”  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • While leaving the Twin Towers, a woman says, “God bless you,” to a firefighter. 
  • When the Taliban and Americans fight near Reshmina’s village, Reshmina prays, “Dear God, please keep Baba and Pasoon safe out there.”   
  • When Reshmina finds an injured American soldier, she thinks about leaving him to die. But when the soldier “specifically asked her for help,” Reshmina is conflicted. “Just as Pashtunwali gave her the right for revenge, it also said that when a person asked for help or protection, no Pashtun could refuse—no matter who was asking, friend or foe.” Pashtunwali is the tribal code of the Pushtan people from Afghanistan, which Reshmina follows. Reshmina allows the soldier to follow her home.  
  • A textbook from Reshmina’s school said: “J is for Jihad. Jihad is the kind of war that Muslims fight in the name of God to free Muslims and Muslim lands from the enemies of Islam.” 
  • While hiding from a battle, Reshmina and her brother hide with a group of Nomads called the Kochi. When the Kochi pray, “Reshmina and her brother felt obligated to join them. . . God was forgiving and merciful and would still accept their prayers if He willed it. Better to pray than to not pray, their father always told them.” 
  • As Reshmina prays, she asks, “Please help turn my brother’s heart from revenge. Please show him another path.” 
  • Reshmina asks God for a du’a. “A special request in a time of need. . . God promised to answer a du’a in one of three ways. The first. . . was when God gave you what you asked for. . .The second was to give you what you prayed for, but at some later date. The third was to not give you what you asked for at all, but instead to prevent some other hardship or injury from happening to you.”  
  • After several villagers die, Reshmina’s father says, “To God we belong, and to God we return.”  

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

When Sal Vidón meets Gabi Reál for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared. 

On his very first day at his new school, Sal meets Gabi Reál, “student council president and obviously one of the smartest kids in school,” and Gabi is absolutely set on understanding how Sal performs some of his most difficult magic tricks.  

Sal feels a bit singled out because of his diabetes, and there are a few instances when Sal struggles to manage his blood sugar. But Sal also has a secret, he can reach into other universes. Sal explains, “We are not alone in the universe my friends . . .There are countless other universes above and beneath our own like pages in a book.” Sal has the unique ability “to see these other worlds” and access them.  

After reaching into another universe, Sal realizes, “All the holes I’d made so far usually didn’t last long . . . [This] hole wasn’t gone yet. That was bad. Until a hole was closed, there was a risk that stuff I didn’t intend to bring over from the other universe would come through on its own.” Sal and his new friend, Gabi, discover that she can also see the holes in the universe, and Sal explains, “I’d never met anyone else who could see [the holes].” Sal and Gabi team up, on a mission to learn more about how to close the holes into other universes.  

Though Hernandez’s novel centers around Sal and Gabi learning more about other universes, as well as how it impacts their universe, Sal’s diabetes is an important theme as well. Sal had to go explain his condition to the principal on the first day of school. Sal’s principal admits, “We’ve never had a student with diabetes before,” but that she will instruct her teachers to learn “how to meet [Sal’s] needs.” Readers will likely learn a great deal about diabetes and readers with diabetes will appreciate being represented by Sal.  

Readers will relate to Sal as he starts at a new school and tries to make new friends. Sal is an empathetic character who puts time and effort into his passions, one of which is magic tricks. Sal consistently makes Gabi and other characters in the book laugh when they are feeling down. Sal explains, “I started studying magic when my mami died. It was a way for me to cope with the pain and to try to take back control of my life . . . That’s why I love performing tricks now. I love to see people’s eyes fill with wonder.” Sal always does his best to make other characters feel happy, saying, “Sometimes, when [life’s] too hard, when it hurts too much, only silliness can save us. And I’m all about doing whatever it takes to help people make it to tomorrow.” 

A major theme of the story is coping with the pain of losing a loved one. Sal often reflects on how much he misses his mom. When Sal is struggling with grief, Sal’s dad reveals, “[Mami’s] death was the worst thing that’s ever happened to either of us . . . I thought my life was over when she died . . . I thought it would kill me, you know. Literally stop my heart.” And when Sal asks his dad what helped him keep going while he was grieving, Sal’s dad says, “You, mijo.” Sal and his father’s bond is a positive force throughout the novel, and they are able to support each other after the loss of Sal’s mother. Readers will learn from this novel to “trust in the people that love you,” and this will help you during the hardest times in life.  

Readers who enjoy fantasy, reading about alternate realities, or magic tricks will adore this book. Hernandez showcases a heartwarming and strong friendship between Sal and Gabi. Sal explains that he and Gabi bonded over embracing the nuances of each other’s families: “Months later, [Gabi] told me the way I had met her interesting, complicated family, pleasantly and without judgment. . . made her think I was the most mature seventh grader she had ever met.” This book discusses more sensitive topics such as grief and struggling to manage type one diabetes, but throughout the novel Sal and Gabi showcase strong friendship, humor, and kindness toward others, and in this way the book maintains an uplifting tone.  

The ending perfectly sets up the second book in the series, Sal and Gabi Save the Universe, as Gabi and Sal have used Sal’s ability to reach between universes to save Gabi’s sick, newborn brother—but they do not know what the consequences of this interference will be. Readers will be on the edge of their seats to see what happens in Sal and Gabi’s next adventure. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

 Violence 

  • Sal encounters a bully on his first day at school. The bully, Yasmany, “slapped [Sal’s] diabetes bag out of my hands. It hit the ground with a glassy crunch. My stomach crunched right along with it.” Yasmany does eventually apologize to Sal.  
  • Sal and Gabi discover that Yasmany has run away from home because he feels unsafe. After Sal and Gabi help him and take him to eat and stay with Gabi’s family, Sal asks Gabi, “Is Yasmany’s papi a bad guy?” Gabi reveals, “The bad guy is his mom.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Sal explains a Cuban insult to Gabi, saying, “‘Sapingo’ is a classic Cuban insult. It’s basically how you tell the person whom you are insulting that they’re about as smart as a day-old skid mark.” 
  • At his previous school, the majority of students are white while Sal is Cuban. Sal says, “kids were telling me to ‘go back to brown town’ all the time.”  
  • Sal explains, “‘Cacaseca’ is the word Miami talk-show hosts use instead of BS. It literally means ‘dry poop,’ but it really means ‘Dude, your poop is so played out. Don’t try to play me with your played-out poop.’” 
  • While walking home from school, Sal is nearly hit by a car. Sal explains, “I never even flinched. Not because I am very badass or anything. I was paralyzed. Classic deer-in-headlights syndrome.”  

Supernatural 

  • When doing a magic trick, Sal reaches into another universe and creates a hole. He “made a pretty big rip in the universe inside that locker.” Because of this rip, Sal and Gabi are briefly able to see into another universe, where there is a chicken factory. But the hole does eventually close, and they go back to their own universe.  
  • Because of his ability to reach into other universes, Sal has been able to bring other versions of his Mami into his world. For instance, Sal says, “I had [brought] Mami Muerta back from the dead five times since [her death]. Six including this one.” However, Sal recognizes how each of these versions of Mami is very different from the Mami he knew as a child.  
  • After Sal uses his abilities to reach between universes to save Gabi’s sick, newborn baby brother, Gabi reveals that she thinks her brother has become “a wormhole to another universe.” This sets up the plot for the second book in the series, Sal and Gabi Save the Universe 

Spiritual Content 

  • Sal’s classmate, Gladis, wears a necklace with an “ojo turco.” Sal explains, “An ojo turco is a piece of blue glass with a blue eyeball painted on it. People wear them on necklaces and bracelets to protect them against the evil eye.”  
  • Sal explains that Mami would “tell me stories about how a brujo [witch] could make you sick, make your cows give blood instead of milk, turn your hair white, age you in five seconds, all sorts of stuff.” 
  • When Sal takes Gabi into another universe for the first time, the people living in the other universe think Sal and Gabi are “evil spirits, or devils, or something. She says she is going to kick us in the butt three times and send us back to hell.” Sal and Gabi convince the lady from the other universe that they are “good spirits.” 
  • Even though Gabi’s newborn brother is in the NICU and does not have a positive prognosis, Gabi’s mom says, “I lost my faith for a while, too. Do you know how I got it back. . . God is just another word for ‘goodness.’ Every time we do a good thing, God grows. Inside us.” 

Breaking Stalin’s Nose

Ten-year-old Sasha Zaichik wants nothing more than to join the Soviet Young Pioneers. After all, he has had their laws memorized since he was six years old: 

  • A Young Pioneer is devoted to Comrade Stalin, the Communist Party, and Communism.  
  • A Young Pioneer is a reliable comrade and always acts according to conscience.  
  • A Young Pioneer has a right to criticize shortcomings.  

But the night before Sasha is to join the Young Pioneers, his father is arrested. Sasha knows this is a mistake. His father, after all, is a devoted communist. But as bad turns to worse and events spin out of control, Sasha begins to realize that not everyone’s life is full of faith in Comrade Stalin.  

As Sasha begins to see how the Soviet Union treats those who are not in favor—those with family who have been arrested, those who refuse to be a snitch and give the Secret Police names or those who simply do not obey fast enough or fervently enough—Sasha begins to doubt that he wants to join the Young Pioneers after all.  

Eugene Yelchin’s first-hand experience living in the Soviet Union shines through in this intimate and heart-breaking story about Sasha. The details of daily life in the Soviet Union will fascinate readers: from living in a communal apartment to admiring pictures of Stalin and singing Communist songs. But the heart of the story comes from Sasha’s relationship with his father and his emotional journey once his father is arrested.  

Readers will relate to the deep love and trust Sasha has with his father. When he is arrested, Sasha does not doubt his father for a moment. Sasha knows the arrest was a mistake, and trusts Stalin will soon realize this and release his father. It’s only as events continue to unfold—and new facts come to light—that Sasha begins to lose the rose-colored glasses with which he has been taught to view the world.  

Breaking Stalin’s Nose is a wonderful story that will help readers understand life in the Soviet Union. It provides a glimpse into how fear, propaganda, and glorification of Stalin led so many people to obey the Communist reign. Sasha’s authentic voice and deep love for his father make him a relatable narrator. While Sasha fully believes in Stalin at the beginning of the book, his emotional journey to deciding for himself if it’s right to join the Young Pioneers emphasizes the importance of thinking for oneself and not blindly accepting people in authority.  

In the end, Sasha chooses to follow the path that he feels is right. While the future seems bleak, Sasha is at peace with his decision and has hope that one day there will come a better future for the Russian people. For anyone interested in the Soviet Union, this story is a must-read. Its plot takes place over two days yet is packed with cultural and emotional punch that will stay with readers long after they turn the final page.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • State Security comes to arrest Sasha’s father in the middle of the night. “When I get to the room, Dad is sitting on the floor, holding his ear. The officer’s leather belt creaks as he turns to look at me . . . this close, I see [my father’s] ear is bleeding.”  
  • Sasha tries to get into the Kremlin to ask Stalin to release his father. When the guards see him, one “swears, steam bursts out of his mouth, and he plunges his enormous mitten into my face. I duck under and run. The guard blows a whistle and the other whistles join in. Suddenly, guards are everywhere. One slips and falls, and his pistol goes off like a whip crack.” Sasha is unharmed.  
  • At school, the students gang up on a kid they call “Four-Eyes” during a snowball fight. “Vovka is lifting a snowball, but he doesn’t throw it at me. He throws it at Four-Eyes. Several kids join Vovka and line up into a firing squad. They hurl snowballs at Four-Eyes and he covers his face to protect his glasses.”  
  • Sasha doesn’t feel like throwing snowballs at Four-Eyes, but other kids cry, “Traitor! Enemy of the people!” Vovka declares that “Who’s not with us is against us.” Sasha gives into the pressure and “before I know what I’m doing, I grab the snowball from Vovka’s hand and throw it at Four-Eyes. There’s a loud pop as it hits him in the face. The eyeglasses snap, glass splinters and one shard cuts his cheek.”  
  • Vovka takes a banner from Sasha and “jabs me in the stomach.”  
  • To quiet a crowd, a man “pulls out his pistol, and points it at the ceiling.” He does not fire the weapon.  
  • When the students are walking in a line, Sasha stops and “someone punches me in the back” so that Sasha will “fall in with everybody again.”  
  • After being repeatedly taunted by his teacher—Nina Patrovna—Vovka “flies at Nina Patrovna, grips her by the throat, and begins strangling her. Nina Petrovna’s face turns red and her eyes bulge. She makes gurgling noises and starts kicking up her legs. Nina Petrovna and Vovka knock things to the floor and bump into desks.” Vovka is dragged off to the principal’s office.  
  • While at the principal’s office, Vovka “bumps into Nina Petrovna, who is walking out; she shrieks and leaps back. Vovka gives her a nasty grin and goes in.”  
  • Sasha climbs on a desk with a banner and sings “A Bright Future Is Open to Us.” The teacher chases him, trying to get him to stop. The teacher “tries to grab my foot, but I’m faster. I hop from desk to desk, shouting the song and waving the banner. Nina Petrovna chases after me. Everyone’s laughing. Then I miss a desktop and go down, and right away she’s on top of me, screeching and wrestling the banner out of my hands.”  
  • When the teacher is accused of breaking Stalin’s statue, State Security guards “twist Nina Petrovna’s arms and drag her to the door. She screams and kicks and tries to hold on to nearby kids. They duck under her arms, laughing.”  
  • When Sasha goes to visit his father in prison, a guard yells “Step back!” The guard “aims the rifle at me. He looks like he’d shoot a kid, so I stop.” The guard directs Sasha to get in a line. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The nose is accidentally broken off of a Stalin statue; Sasha imagines the nose is talking to him. “By the window hangs a cloud of tobacco smoke so thick, I can’t see who is talking . . . the smoke drifts away, and now I see who’s sitting in that chair—Comrade Stalin’s plaster nose, and it’s smoking a pipe!”  
  • When speaking to a State Security Senior Lieutenant, Sasha thinks “this close, I can smell him. Tobacco, sweat, and something else. Gunpowder, I decide.”  

Language 

  • When Sasha’s father is awarded the order of the Red Banner, Comrade Stalin calls him “an iron broom purging the vermin from our midst.”  
  • Sasha is called an “Amerikanetz” because his mother was American. The term is considered an insult.  
  • A Jewish kid is mocked and called Four-Eyes. “Four-Eyes is Borka Finkelstein, the only Jewish kid in our class . . .we call him Four-Eyes because he wears eyeglasses. Anybody who’s not a worker or a peasant and reads a lot, we call Four-Eyes.”  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Batboy

Brian is living every baseball kid’s dream: he is a batboy for his hometown Major League team. Brian believes this job is the perfect thing to bring him and his big-leaguer dad closer together. And if that wasn’t enough, this is also the season that Hank Bishop, Brian’s baseball hero, returns to the Tigers for the comeback of a lifetime. The summer couldn’t get much better! But then Hank Bishop starts to show his true colors, and Brian learns sometimes life throws you a curveball. 

While The Batboy revolves around the game of baseball, it also hits on the topic of having an absent father. Brian misses his father, who is in Japan coaching pitchers. Even though both Brian and his father love baseball, their love of the game isn’t enough to create a close relationship. Brian longs for his father’s love and attention; however, Brian eventually realizes that his father isn’t capable of being a present father. This painful realization allows the reader to understand why Brian is so determined to cheer for his hero, Hank, despite Hank’s bad temper and poor performance.  

Brian is a unique protagonist because, unlike many baseball players, he doesn’t dream of making it to the big leagues. Brian is realistic about his baseball talent. Even though Brian knows he’s not big-league material, this doesn’t stop him from doing his best on and off the field. Brian’s enthusiasm for baseball shines through in every baseball scene and makes him a compelling narrator. Yet it is Brian’s hard work, determination, and unwavering support of Hank that make him truly likable.  

The Batboy jumps back and forth between the Tiger’s baseball games and Brian’s little league games, giving the book many play-by-play baseball scenes. In addition, Brian’s job as a batboy gives him and the reader an inside look at what goes on behind the scenes in professional baseball. Occasionally Brian’s home life makes an appearance, but baseball dominates the book, which makes it a perfect read for baseball fans. While Brian is a well-developed character readers will connect to, The Batboy is first and foremost a baseball book that will appeal to readers who already have a basic understanding of the game. Readers who love baseball will find The Batboy an entertaining book that leaves them cheering for Brian both on and off the field. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The use of steroids among baseball players and the “steroid era” is occasionally mentioned.  
  • Brian’s hero, Hank Bishop, was suspended from sports for using steroids. “In the minds of baseball fans, Hank Bishop had committed the two worst possible sins: Not only did he use steroids, he’d gotten caught using them.” 
  • One of Brian’s jobs is to make really “high-test coffee” before the game. “Brian knew enough about major league baseball to know the deal, had read up on how players dealt with the long season. Many of them used to use amphetamines before amphetamines became a banned substance in baseball. . . Brian knew high-test coffee was a kind of substitute now. . .” 
  • Willie, a professional baseball player, says he never tried steroids. Willie says, “I had a big brother got his life all messed up on other kinds of drugs, the worst kind, when I was little. Ended up in jail, even though where they should have sent him was to one of those rehab hospitals. Lordy, when I was growing up, my momma made me more afraid of drugs than the devil.”  
  • When Hank is invited to dinner at Brian’s house, he shows up with a bottle of wine. 

Language 

  • Hank calls Brian an idiot several times. 
  • After Brian made a mistake, he “felt like a jerk.” 
  • Brian calls his friend a freak.  
  • Heck is used once.

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Ada Lovelace

In 1833, Ada Lovelace met mathematician Charles Babbage, the inventor of calculating machines. She went on to devise a way of inputting data into Babbage’s Analytical Machine, and in doing so became the first ever computer programmer. In this biography, kids will learn all about Ada Lovelace’s fascinating life, including her famous father (the celebrated poet Lord Byron), her talent for languages and mathematics, and her predictions for how computers would change our lives.

This biography series from DK goes beyond the basic facts to tell true-life stories of history’s most interesting people. Full-color photographs and hand-drawn illustrations complement the thoughtfully written, age-appropriate text to create an engaging book that children will enjoy. Definition boxes, information sidebars, maps, inspiring quotes, and other nonfiction text features add depth. There is also a reference section and each book includes an author’s introduction letter, a glossary, and an index. 

Readers will enjoy learning about Ada Lovelace. The information allows readers to imagine Ada’s time period, life, and interests. For example, when Ada was a child, she wanted to learn about rainbows. The story explains why Ada was fascinated with rainbows and includes a one-page infographic explaining how rainbows are made. Throughout the book, readers will see the people, things, and events that affected Ada. Not only are the additional facts fascinating but the information is displayed in a way that breaks up the text and makes the book accessible to many readers. Still, struggling readers will most likely need help understanding some of the advanced vocabulary.  

Ada Lovelace packs a large amount of information into the book. However, the large text only allows three or fewer paragraphs per page. Each page has a graphic element and many of the pages have a full-sized illustration. While the book focuses on Ada’s accomplishments, the book may also spark readers’ interest in a variety of topics such as notable scientists, the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the first computer. Because of the vast amount of information, Ada Lovelace is a must-read for anyone who is researching Ada or is interested in computer science. 

Ada’s story is both interesting and educational. In addition, her love of learning and her innate sense of curiosity is inspiring. Ada “is a role model for all girls interested in learning about science and math. Ada grew up in a time when women were expected to be good wives and mothers and not focus on their education—this made her achievements in science so momentous. . . [Ada] constantly proved wrong the people who doubted her abilities.” Reading about Ada will give children the encouragement to try new things and follow their interests.   

Sexual Content 

  • Ada’s father, Lord Byron, “had many love affairs.”  

Violence 

  • Ada’s mother had strict rules. When Ada was young, she would often fidget. Her mother “asked a maid to wrap Ada’s fingers with black cotton bags. Ada bit the maid and was sent to her room as punishment.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands

Ready to get up close with the ocean’s most fearsome and famous predators and the scientists who study them?

A few miles from San Francisco lives a population of the ocean’s largest and most famous predators. Each fall, while the city’s inhabitants dine on steaks, salads, and sandwiches, the great white sharks return to California’s Farallon Islands to dine on their favorite meal: the seals that live on the island’s rocky coasts. Massive, fast, and perfectly adapted to hunting after 11 million years of evolution, the great whites are among the planet’s most fearsome, fascinating, and least understood animals.

In the fall of 2012, Katherine Roy visited the Farallon Islands and stayed with the scientists who study the islands’ shark population. She witnessed seal attacks, observed sharks being tagged in the wild, and got a look at the wildlife refuge which is strictly off-limits to all but the scientists who work there. Neighborhood Sharks creates an intimate portrait of the life cycle, biology, and habitat of the great white shark, based on the latest research and an up-close visit with these amazing animals. 

Neighborhood Sharks uses a picture book format to inform readers about the interesting traits of sharks. While some of the pages only have one sentence, others are text-heavy because they describe specific aspects of the shark such as their eating habits, their body structure, and vision. Each beautiful, full-page picture uses the colors of the ocean. Since the book discusses the shark’s eating habits, several pictures show the shark eating its prey. These pictures do show blood, but they are not gory or graphic. In addition, several pages use infographics to show aspects of the shark, such as how the shark’s body heats its blood. 

Anyone fascinated by sharks should read Neighborhood Sharks. Not only are the illustrations beautiful, but the information is presented in an interesting format. Even though sharks are apex predators, the informational tone of the book doesn’t make sharks seem scary. Instead, readers will be amazed at how the shark is perfectly adapted to its natural habitat.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Here There Be Monsters: The Legendary Kraken and the Giant Squid

Sailors claimed that these faraway places were inhabited by mysterious beasts and sea serpents. To warn of the dangers lurking on land and under the sea, mapmakers wrote words that would chill the hearts of even the bravest explorers: “Here There Be Monsters.” 

One of those monsters that caused fear in sailors all over the world had huge eyes, an enormous head, and a razor-sharp beak. Most terrifying of all were its tentacles and slithering arms, each lined with hundreds of suckers. The creature was strong enough to grab an entire ship and drag it down—along with all the men on it—to the dark depths of the ocean. This monster was the legendary Kraken. 

From ancient Greeks and Phoenicians to the Vikings and even American fishermen, those who sailed the seas hoped to steer clear of the Kraken and the destruction it could wreck. At the same time, this terrifying creature lured artists and scientists into the dark, watery world. Their stories and images of the Kraken have thrilled readers on dry land for centuries. 

In Here There Be Monsters, you will see with your own eyes how long-ago myths about the Kraken transformed into the modern study of Architeuthis dux, the giant squid. Weaving scientific discovery with historical accounts—along with the giant squid’s appearance in film and literature—Here There Be Monsters explores the mystery of this creature in animating details. Readers will find that the monster remains hidden no longer because scientists have finally seen the Kraken with their own eyes . . . alive and rising up out of the sea. 

Whether you’re writing a research paper or are just fascinated by tales of giant squids, you will find Here There Be Monsters to be an engaging and educational book that is hard to put down. The beginning of the book explores sailors’ tales of monsters that live in the deep and includes excerpts from Moby Dick, The Odyssey, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. The book explores the origins of stories about the Kraken and the history of squid stories. The stories are fascinating and include information about the early scientists who studied the giant squid. Here There Be Monsters is packed full of interesting facts that make the non-fiction book hard to put down. 

Since the book uses scientific terminology, readers may struggle with some of the language. However, readers will be able to use context clues to figure out the word’s meaning. Most of the information is explained with easy-to-understand descriptions with pictures and other illustrations used to give readers visuals. Almost every page of the book has a graphic element—maps, photographs, drawings, and illustrations from books—that helps break up the text. The close-up photographs of the giant squid’s tentacles will leave readers with nightmares because “inside the suckers on the clubs of its tentacles are individual hooks—like small tiger claws—that stick out of the suckers. They can each swerve individually, like probing razors.”  

Even though the colossal squid is enormous, there is still very little that is known about the creature. “Humans have been to the moon six times and retrieved more than two thousand rocks. . . Yet scientists have collected only about two dozen specimens of the colossal squid, a creature that lives less than one mile under the ocean.” The giant squid and the colossal squid are both fascinating creatures that readers will enjoy learning about. Plus, readers will be amazed by the pictures of one of the only colossal squid that scientists have been able to study outside the ocean. Here There Be Monsters will also spark readers’ imaginations as they wonder what scientists still have to learn about the ocean creature.  

One of the first works of fiction that described the giant squid was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. For a more modern interpretation of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, check out Fire the Depths by Peter Lerangis—the fiction book will captivate readers by showing them an imaginative tale that takes place deep under the ocean. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • According to a sailor, “the beast would rise up silently from the ocean deep and wrap its arms around a ship, trying to drag it under water. As it struggled, the monster grabbed sailors and tossed them into water, where they would soon become the monster’s food.” 
  • Another sailor said that a giant squid attacked his ship and “the sailors on the ship survived certain death only by hacking off the monster’s arms with swords, knives, and axes.”  
  • Two fishermen were out fishing when a giant squid “fiercely grabbed the boat, pulling it down into the water. The two men were sure to be dragged under and become the thing’s next meal. As the boat tipped over, one of the men grabbed an ax and slashed at the tentacles, hacking at them until he cut them from the monster’s body.”  
  • Researchers were using bait to try to get photographs of a giant squid. The squid “became entangled in the line and the researchers pulled it to the surface. . . The red giant splashed savagely around the boat, fighting against the line. . . it died from the struggle.” 
  • Scientist uses bait to trap a giant squid. “Over the course of four hours, it attempted to get away as it shredded the bait . . . Finally, the Architeuthis pulled the line so hard that it tore its tentacle right off. Then it sank back into the darkness.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Guardian Test

Plum is shocked to discover that she’s been accepted to the Guardian Academy on Lotus Island, an elite school where kids learn how to transform into Guardians, which are magical creatures sworn to protect the natural world. The Guardian masters teach Plum and her friends how to communicate with animals and how to use meditation to strengthen their minds and bodies. The kids also learn to fight, so they can protect the defenseless. 

To her dismay, Plum struggles at school. While her classmates begin to transform into amazing creatures, Plum can’t even seem to magic up a single feather! If she can’t embrace her inner animal form soon, she’ll have to leave school—and lose the first group of real friends she’s ever known.  

In The Gradian Test, Plum narrates her experiences at the Guardian Academy. While there, Plum feels like an outsider who doesn’t belong at the academy. One reason Plum feels this way is because mean girl Rella looks down on her because Plus is from a farming community. Despite the teasing, Plum feels most at home working in the garden, where she talks to the worms and plants. Plum is an extremely likable character whom readers will connect with because of her insecurities and worries. 

Several times throughout the story, the book shows the importance of meditation. In Breath class, students learn to meditate, which is an essential part of transforming into the Guardian form. During class, one of the teachers, Master Sunback, says, “Let the rest of the world fall away until there is nothing left but your breathing.” This is one area that Plum has difficulty mastering because when she closes her eyes, questions begin running through her mind. However, it is only through meditation that Plum can change into her Guardian form. When Plum finally transforms, she “just felt like . . . me.”  

The story reinforces the importance of taking care of the animals and plants that have been entrusted to our care. For example, the Guardians stop a fleet of boats from overfishing because, “The coral reef near Bidibop Island is very fragile, and your fishermen were dropping anchor, destroying coral that had been growing for thousands of years. They were also overfishing, taking far too much in their nets.” While The Guardian Test doesn’t explore this topic in detail, it highlights the importance of caring for our world.  

The Guardian Test is an exciting story that takes the reader into a beautifully imaginative world. While Plum is the only character who is developed in detail, the supporting characters are interesting and readers will look forward to learning more about all of the characters in the next book in the series, Into the Shadow Mist. The plot has enough mystery and suspense to keep readers engaged while still being simple enough that the storyline is easy to follow. In addition, black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the book to give readers a visual of the diverse characters and some of the animals that are unique to Lotus Island. The Guardian Test begins an exciting series that is perfect for fans of The Legend of Zelda 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • During class, Master Drew turned into “a huge muscular jaicat with an inky coat and a pair of short golden horns perched between her ears. She prowled in a slow circle around Cherry [a student] and then—before any of us could blink—she pounced on her, tackling Cherry onto her back.” Cherry is uninjured. 
  • During class, Cherry “threw herself into attacking our teacher. But Master Drew blocked every one of Cherry’s moves with speed and ease. And then, just when it seemed like Cherry was finally going to get in a kick, Master Drew grabbed her ankle and used it to flip Cherry onto the ground.”  
  • While in the forest, a leopard jumps on Plum, knocking her down. “Without even thinking, I popped my hips to knock the leopard off balance. I used my advantage to curl my knees in and push from underneath the beast. The next second I was on my feet and running.” Plum discovers that mean girl Rella is the leopard.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Plum learns to use various plants such as milkfoot and other herbs to heal ailments.  

Language 

  • Dang and heck are both used once.  
  • Rella says that Plum “probably lived in a sheep pen. At least, that’s what she smells like.”  
  • While doing defense drills, Rella and Plum are paired together. Rella says, “Come on, pig farmer. Pretend I’m a bucket of slop you can’t wait to roll in.”  

Supernatural 

  • There are “three types of Guardians: Hand, Heart, and Breath. Hand Guardians are fierce, fast and strong. . . Heart Guardians are the healers. And Breath Guardians are super chill, and they can calm people down.” 
  • Heart Guardians “have the power to mend broken bones, soothe pain, and repair damage.”  
  • The students learn how to turn into mythical creatures such as a fox bat and a gillybear. In order to transform, students need to learn how to meditate. 
  • To show the students how to transform, two Guardians “swooped their arms down, and in an instant they transformed. One became a zorahawk with broad wings and a curved beak. The other was a glister mare with a sparkling mane and powerful legs.”  
  • In a demonstration, one Guardian turns into a buttermoth and the other turns into a raccoon. “Together they knelt at the edge of one of the lotus ponds, where the sun had scorched the lotus pads a patchy brown. The raccoon placed his hand on the damaged leaves while the buttermoth fluttered her wings. Green life flowed back into the pads, healing them completely.” 
  • Two students have a dream amulet. “Parents whisper their dreams for their children into a charm or a stone and give it to them for luck.” Plum’s friend, Sam, breathes on his charm. “When he opened his hand, a soft light, like a tiny ball of starlight, glowed from the ruby gem. He held it up to my ear. I heard the faintest echoing whisper of a woman’s voice: ‘Wealth and power will flow to you like water from a rain.’” 
  • When Plum breathes on her dream amulet, Plum hears her mother’s voice. “Suddenly the white light shot straight out of the shell. It hovered like a twile-fly right in front of my face. Its light pulsed like a heartbeat.” The light leads Plum to some ancient ruins. Then, Plum “opened my fingers. The white light flickered faintly as it drifted up to my shell pendant and back inside.” Plum believes that she had been visited by her mother’s spirit.  
  • A student named Rella finds a chant written on the wall of some ruins. She uses it to transform into a leopard. The chant is “ancient magic from before the Santipapa Islands even existed.” Rella doesn’t know what the words mean, but when she says “them in the proper order, you can tap into the old magic.” When using the chants, the person feels an enormous sense of power. 
  • When Plum uses the chants, “the entire temple flooded with light. The images on the mural burst into motion. . . The tingling in my fingers surged into my arms and legs. I felt so strong like I could run to the top of the mountain or leap over trees.” While saying the chant, Plum partially transforms into her Guardian form.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Mermaid Myths

Are mermaids compassionate beings waiting to save drowning sailors, or vindictive creatures hoping to lure people to their deaths? The answer depends on the lore, which is vast and varied. Throughout the centuries, people around the world have reported seeing mermaids on rocks or bobbing in the sea. Even in the 21st century, people are drawn to the mystery of the mermaids and the folklore surrounding them. 

Mermaid Myths takes a swim through the mythical mermaid world looking at different legends. Readers will find the many mermaid stories and hoaxes in this engaging book entertaining as well as educational. They will learn how different cultures view mermaids and will be surprised at the similarities in the different myths. This exploration of mermaid folklore opens a unique and entertaining window into studies of world culture. 

Many mermaid myths tell of the doomed love between human and mermaid. However, there are many more legends about the deceptive power of mermaids, who sing to men causing their deaths, or lure humans into water to drown. In addition, several mermaid tales explain how a mermaid once turned into a goddess. Despite the repetitious nature of the legends, readers are sure to find new and fascinating information in each. 

The book is both interesting and visually appealing. Each page has large illustrations that include short captions. Each section is broken into smaller snippets based on the country the myth originated from. Another appealing aspect of the story is the fun facts that appear in a graphic that looks like a scroll. Throughout the book, readers will encounter bolded words that may be unfamiliar. However, the words are defined within the text, making the passage easy to understand. 

Mermaid Myths is the perfect book to learn about the history behind mermaid legends. While none of the myths are covered in detail, the book will spark readers’ curiosity and give them different topics they may want to research further. Readers will be surprised to learn how mermaid mythology still fascinates people today and some women are actually professional mermaids! If you love The Little Mermaid, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stronger Tides, or even Mako Mermaid, then Mermaid Myths is a must-read. Those interested in learning more factual information about myths should also read the other Myths Across the Map books.  

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Sirens are “half woman and half bird, and are very dangerous. . .Their singing tricks humans who hear them into thinking the sirens are beautiful. Passing sailors are so enchanted that they sail into the island and crash against the rocks.” 
  • Iara is a malevolent goddess found around the Amazon River. She is known for causing drownings and other accidents. “Her jealous brothers try to kill her. Instead, Iara kills the two men.”  
  • In Japan, legends warn sailors about catching a ningyo. “If the net entangles a ningyo, her distress can cause a tsunami.” 
  • A fisherman caught a ningyo and prepared it “as he would any other fish food. . . It was so good that [his daughter] eats all of it.” She lived for 800 years, “sadly wandering from place to place.” 
  • The goddess Atargatis falls in love and marries a human man, whom she accidentally kills. “Filled with grief, Atargatis throws herself into the sea. The gods see this and do not let her die. They change Atargatis into a mermaid and make her a goddess of the sea.” 
  • A man found a mermaid in his wine cellar. “Frightened, the man shot the mermaid. As she died, the mermaid cursed the man and his family. She said he would never have a son. The curse appeared to come true as the man had seven daughters.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • The book explores different powers that myths and legends report mermaids to have. For example, “Mermaids have the power to control many things. Some use these powers for good. Others, however, use them to bring death or bad luck to humans.” 
  • Mermaids can “cast a spell by singing or by staring at a human. In this way, mermaids lure people into the water to drown.”  
  • “If a mermaid kisses a human, that person can then breathe underwater.” 
  • Naiads and nereids are freshwater nymphs. “As kind and generous goddesses, the nereids are friendly with sea creatures . . . they also protect sailors and fisherman, and rescue those in trouble.” 
  • According to Haitian mythology, La Sirene can “cause violent storms when she is angry. . . If La Sirene takes people under the sea, she keeps them there for seven years. During that time, the mermaid queen teaches her captive humans magic.” 
  • In German mythology, nixes are shapeshifters. “On land, a nixie can turn herself into many things. She might be an old woman, a horse, a snake, or another animal.” 
  • The Inuit people have a myth about Sedna, the water goddess. She married a man who then turned into a bird. “Sedna was very unhappy, and her father came to rescue her. As they made their escape, a storm brewed.” Sedna fell into the water and died. “From then on, Sedna became the goddess of the sea. All the creatures of the sea were born from her body.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

All Tide Up

The unsinkable detectives Mango and Brash are back in InvestiGators: All Tide Up, a high seas adventure that takes the hit series by John Patrick Green into uncharted waters!

When a delirious cruise captain is found drifting at sea, the search begins for his missing passengers and ship. Did it sink? Was it boat-napped? Are supernatural forces at play? And can the InvestiGators unravel this maritime mystery before a second cruise befalls a similarly unfathomable fate? Seas the day and find out in this new nautical adventure! 

When a cruise ship mysteriously disappears, Brash and Mango come face to face with a brand-new villain: the “dread pirate ghost, Willy Nilly.” In addition to Willy Nilly, the InvestiGators also meet new friends along the way. These new characters give the book an interesting twist and keep the reader guessing as to their motives. When a group of pirates board the ship, it allows for new puns as well as some funny suspense. 

Unlike the previous installments of InvestiGators, All Tide Up can be read as a singleton because the book neatly wraps up the mystery of Willy Nilly by the end. Similar to previous installments of the series, a combination of human and animal characters blend together to make a ridiculous story with humorous wordplay. Readers will enjoy the puns and the pirate talk, as well as the mystery of the ghost of Willy Nilly. 

This imaginative story comes alive in brightly colored artwork that shows the characters’ wide range of emotions. The illustrations and unique storyline with Brash and Mango will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each page has three to eleven sentences per page. The sentences range from one word to more complex sentences. The varied sentence lengths add to the humor while keeping the story accessible to all readers. 

Readers familiar with the InvestiGators Series will have a splashing good time with All Tide Up. While the majority of the story can be understood if you haven’t read the other books, there are some small references to previous books that may confuse new readers. While All Tied Up is full of humor, it also reminds readers that friendship is more important than money. In the end, “The real treasure is the friends that you’ve made along the way.” 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Sven, an octopus, was a child, an eel stole his toy. Sven’s cousin, a squid, “could’ve let Sven fight his own battle. But I stepped in, and things got out of hand. . . literally!” Sven loses a tentacle, and it never grows back. 
  • Pirates tie Mango and Brash up, then discuss the InvestiGators’ fate. One pirate says, “I say we stomp ‘em! Then we keelhaul ‘em!” The InvestiGators are forced to walk the plank, but they manage to create a raft out of balloons and eventually, they are rescued. 
  • The owner of a cruise ship tries to escape, but a man stops him by waving a sword at him. Then, Mango and Brash tie him up.  
  • Sword-wielding pirates surround the InvestiGators. A squid jumps to their aid and hits the pirates with his eight legs. In the process, one of the squid’s tentacles is chopped off.  
  • A man delivers a cruise ship to a deserted island so the ghost of Willy Nilly can throw the passengers into a fiery pit. Later, the reader discovers that all of the people are alive and well.  
  • Mango and Brash confront the ghost of Willy Nilly and throw him into the fiery pit.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Name-calling is used infrequently. It includes fool, scum, slimy sea slug, lily-livered scallywag, and bilge rat. 
  • Mango calls a ghost a “spectral scuttlebutt.” 
  • When Pirates take over a cruise ship, they call the captives names such as lily-livered landlubbers. 
  • Dang, darn, and drat are used infrequently.  

Supernatural 

  • The pirate Willy Nilly was cursed, and his ghost comes back 300 years later; this is the time period the book is set in.  
  • According to legend, “Nilly was cursed to pay back the debt by delivering a thousand souls to the island before the three hundred years pass. If he failed, his stolen fortune would disappear forever!” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Escape from Atlantis

The last way that Riley Evans wanted to spend spring break was studying whales on the family sailboat in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. With only her dad, aunt, and annoying cousin Alfie for company. She is so bored staring at the waves that she’s starting to see mermaids between them. But when their boat capsizes during a sudden storm, Riley finds more excitement than she bargained for as she and Alfie are washed ashore with neither of their parents in sight. Where they’ve been shipwrecked is no deserted island, though.

Atlantis is a place beyond imagination, inhabited by both people and incredible creatures ranging from unicorns and gargoyles to talking animals. But not everyone welcomes the cousins’ arrival, and beneath the wonder of this mythical land lurk dangerous secrets—something strange is happening to the inhabitants. What Riley wants more than anything is to find her father and go home. But the closer she gets to this goal, the more the islanders seem determined to keep her from reaching it.

As Riley and Alfie unravel the mystery of Atlantis and its most terrifying part, the Forbidden Zone, they realize that the clock is ticking. If they can’t learn what happened to their parents and find a way off the island soon, it may be too late to leave. 

Even though Riley and Alfie are family, they can’t stand each other and most of the blame lands on Alfie, whose hot temper and mean words make him an unlikable character. Unlike Alfie, the book’s protagonist Riley is a more well-rounded which makes her more relatable. When Riley discovers animal-like creatures called Cloaks living on Atlantis, she is fascinated by them and treats them with respect while the Atlanteans treat the creatures as if they are invisible. Riley’s acceptance of the Cloaks shows the importance of treating others with respect and dignity no matter what they look like.   

While Riley’s acceptance of the Cloaks is admirable, she is also manipulative and dishonest as she tries to leave Atlantis. Her singular focus to find her father and aunt puts others in danger. However, she refuses to give up her quest. When Riley, Alfie and her family finally leave Atlantis, the situation is so dire that readers may have a hard time cheering for Riley’s success.  

Unlike most stories that focus on the mythical island of Atlantis, Escape from Atlantis portrays the legendary city as one full of danger. While this premise is unique, the island’s world-building is murky which leads to confusion. While the Cloaks add mystery and suspense, the details regarding people transforming into Cloaks are unclear—no one knows why people change into animals or how the process works. In addition, no one knows why the sea serpent, the Lavianthan, will not allow anyone to leave the island. 

Readers who love stories with well-defined rules and clear world-building may find Escape from Atlantis a frustrating read. However, readers who are intrigued by mythology and Atlantis may find this unique version interesting. While Riley and Alfie are at times annoying, they show personal growth and perseverance. In addition, the unique characters and the book’s resolution will leave readers with a new appreciation of accepting others—even those who are different than us. If you’d like to read more fast-paced stories that take place in a magical world, read The Revenge of Magic Series by James Riley or The Door at the End of the World by Caroline Carlson. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Riley finds her cousin Alfie reading her diary. She “snatched at her diary, but Alfie kept pulling it away and taunting her with it. . . She hauled back and punched her cousin in the stomach as hard as she could. Alfie dropped the diary, collapsing onto the bunk, gasping for breath.” 
  • A sea serpent attacks the boat Riley and her family are on. “Another violent strike knocked the boat, followed by a rush of water that nearly washed [Riley’s] father away. . .  Riley added her own scream when she saw the dark head of some kind of massive snakelike sea serpent rising out of the water and smashing against the front end of the boat. Its long, scaled body coiled completely around the boat like a snake constricting around its prey.” 
  • Eventually, the sea serpent “was rising itself farther out of the water and climbing high above the ship. It roared once, and then opened its mouth even wider and struck like a viper, biting off the front end of the boat.” A different creature grabs Riley and takes her to an island, where she finds her cousin, but their parents are gone. The scene is described over four pages.  
  • When Riley and Alfie wake up on an island, they meet Bastian, a boy about their age. When Bastian tries to get the cousins to go to his community, “Alfie charged up to Bastian and poked him in the chest.” Alfie walks away. Riley and Bastian follow. They eventually see a Red Cloak who attacks them. “Behind them, Miss Pigglesworth [a huge dog] growled, barked and leaped over and ran straight at the Red Cloak. . . The sights and sounds were sickening at the immense dog and Red Cloak met in a vicious fight. They started rolling in the sand.” When Miss Pigglesworth is injured, Red Cloak runs towards the kids. 
  • The Red Cloak is a creature with a tail named Mada. “All Riley could do was watch as Mada crossed a great distance in a single leap. Right before he landed, two of the unicorns galloped forward. . .” A unicorn touches Mada and then “Mada roared once and then collapsed to the sand, unconscious.” The kids quickly leave. The scene is described over four pages. 
  • Riley and Alfie want to confirm that their parents are dead so they go to dig up their graves. However, a catlike creature attacks. “Suddenly Riley was knocked to the ground by something very large and painfully heavy. Acting on instinct alone, she held up the shovel for protection just as a tooth-filled mouth came toward her. Snarling and hissing, it bit down on the shoved handle instead of her throat. . . As he moved, his rear claws raked Riley’s legs and she cried in pain.” Before the cat can kill her, a gargoyle grabs it and flies away. Riley is injured, but Alfie cares for the wound. The scene is described over four pages. 
  • Riley and her friends are attempting to save an injured gargoyle when Mada appears intending to kill Riley. “As Mada started to charge, the horns on the five unicorns started to blaze brilliantly. They whinnied loudly, and the one that had escorted them reared and slammed down to the sand. . .” Mada runs away.  
  • While swimming to a different part of Atlantis, Riley and Alfie are threatened by the Lavianthan, a huge sea serpent. Galina, a siren, uses her voice on the Lavianthan. “It glided past Riley . . . The leopard roared and howled as the Lavianthan changed directions and dove down into the depths, taking the leopard with it.” 
  • An alligator attacks Alfie. The water “erupted in struggle as Galina was wrapped around the alligator that was holding on to Alfie’s leg and spinning. . . the struggle moved deeper beneath the surface. Moments later, Galina lifted Alfie to the surface. He was unconscious.” Alfie is seriously injured but recovers.  
  • When the Red Moon comes, the tide goes out which allows the dangerous animals to attack the people of Atlantis. The people hide in their ship, the Queen, while Cloaks are left to die. Someone asks Riley, “Haven’t you ever wondered why there aren’t more Blue or Yellow Cloaks here? After all this time, there are only a handful of us. . . There were more. Many more. But because they won’t let us on the Queen during the Red Moon, we are hunted and killed by the wildlings.” 
  • When trying to escape the island, Mada tries to attack Riley, but Riley’s friend Maggie intervenes. “Maggie appeared out of the fog with her cloak off. A sleep leopard jumped onto Mada’s back and knocked him from Riley.” Riley and her friends run, leaving Maggie. Maggie is seriously injured and she may not recover.  
  • Merfolk cause a storm in order to stop Riley, Alfie, and their friends from leaving Atlantis. “Terrifying merfolk” call the Lavianthan in order to stop their boat from leaving. “The Lavianthan made another pass at the yacht. It raised itself high out of the water and came down on the front of the bow. The boat’s back end was lifted out of the water, throwing everyone down to the deck.” Riley’s father talks to the merfolk, who let the yacht pass.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Atlantis uses Memory Berries. “When you eat them, you forget everything. We are a small community and we have to get along. If there is trouble, berries are used, and the trouble stops.” 
  • Alfie is given Memory Berries which completely changes him. “The expression on his face was all wrong. . . The Memory Berries had changed him completely.” Riley puts crushed-up leaves in his soup, which reverses the effect of the berries.  

Language 

  • Riley and Alfie are mean to each other. To annoy Riley, Alfie calls her “shorty” and she calls him “creep.”
  • There is often name calling including stupid, spoiled brat, idiot, chicken, moron, freak, etc. 

Supernatural 

  • Atlantis has magical creatures such as unicorns, sirens, and other intelligent animal-like creatures.  
  • The island has “those in cloaks” who are not supposed to be approached. Riley approaches one and finds a “furry creature. He looked just like a cuddly koala, with a large black noise and rounded ears on the top of his head. But he was bigger and had golden eyes.” 
  • Gargoyles live in Atlantis. Riley describes them: “It was huge and had bat wings and big ears. Its legs like tree trunks.” 
  • The people of Atlantis eventually turn into “wildlings,” but the process isn’t clear. Maggie, who is turning into a feline, explains, “I may stop changing now and stay in this yellow cloak, or perhaps I might turn into a simple cat and be accepted. . . But I may also turn into something more ferocious and not be able to control myself.” 
  • Even though all Atlanteans will change to wildlings, “We don’t know why the transformation happens or how. . . when it starts, we retain our humanity. But some embrace their change and give up what it means to be human. They become a danger to all.” However, “they retain their intelligence, which makes them more dangerous.” 
  • The gargoyle, Gideon, turns to stone and his wing breaks off. If his wing isn’t fixed before the sun comes up, he will die. With Riley and others’ help, Gideon’s wing is fixed before the sun comes up. 

Spiritual Content 

  • Riley prays several times. For example, when Alfie is given the Memory Berries,
    Riley “prayed Gideon’s antidote worked.”  

Summer of the Sharks

When twelve-year-old twins Eric and Susan move in with their aunt, they never dreamed that they would end up on a remote island in the Bahamas for a coral reef restoration project! Susan bubbles over with excitement at the promise of underwater adventures. But the thought of cruising around in a large ocean full of creepy and dangerous creatures scares Eric.  

Eric tries to keep his fear a secret and makes excuses for staying behind. But with expert guidance from Aunt Sally and Uncle Merle, the twins are soon swimming, snorkeling, and SNUBA diving in a dazzling undersea world of wonder and beauty. The living kaleidoscope of swirling colors, lights, and shapes teaches both scientific and spiritual lessons about the Creator—lessons that draw Susan, Eric, and their friend Kevin closer to God. Then one day, an encounter with a monster of the deep thrusts Eric face to face with his deepest fears—and puts his faith to the test. Will Eric trust God to help him overcome his terror and keep him safe from harm?  

Summer of the Sharks focuses on Eric, who is afraid of going underwater in the ocean. Many readers will sympathize with Eric, especially with his desire to keep his fear a secret. Despite Eric’s fear, when his Uncle Merle is injured, Eric jumps up to the plate and helps his aunt with her research. While Eric helps his aunt, he learns more about ocean creatures and realizes he loves taking photographs of them. It is through SNUBA diving that Eric realizes if he stays focused on an ocean creature, he forgets his fear. Likewise, if he focuses on God, Eric will come to trust Him, which will also lessen his fears.  

After staying home alone, Eric goes snorkeling with a neighbor, Mr. Wood—without permission and without telling his aunt where he is going. Afterward, when Eric’s aunt and uncle find out, they remind him of the dangers. “Leaving the house and going off with Mr. Wood was dangerous. You didn’t know what kind of person he is—whether he’s trustworthy or even how skilled a diver he is. . . Praying for God’s presence and care doesn’t mean that we can become careless or irresponsible. We have to act wisely—to do what we can to prevent bad things from happening to us.”  

One theme that is reinforced throughout the book is the necessity of taking a closer look at God. At one point, Susan compares God to shells. She says, “The closer you look, the better He gets.” Later, Eric thinks “that he would get more excited about God by looking closer. And the more he knew about God, the more confidence he would have in Him.” 

Summer of the Sharks is an engaging story that pulls readers underwater, where they will gain a new appreciation for God’s wonders. While Eric’s struggle is relatable, the message is a little hard-hitting and the discussions about God are longwinded. Despite this, the story has enough suspense and wonder to keep readers interested until the end. In addition, anyone who struggles with controlling their fear will gain a new understanding of trusting God. By exploring the ocean, Eric realizes, “If I want less sin of any kind in my life, including being fearful and not trusting God, I need to look closer at Him until I trust Him to take care of me like He promises to do.” Readers who want to read more books with Biblical teaching should also read The Cooper Kids Adventure Series by Frank E. Peretti. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Since the book is in the Christian fiction genre, not all references to God are documented below.  
  • While preparing for a trip to a coral reef, Susan says, “Each creature is like a picture of Jesus. I think I’ll list them in a notebook . . . Then I can write what they are trying to say about God.”  
  • Susan, Eric, and his friend Kevin have a short conversation about sea animals hiding under rocks. Eric thinks, “If I could really believe that Jesus is a safe place for me and trust Him like those tiny creatures trust the rocks, I wouldn’t be so afraid.” 
  • After Eric refuses to go on a trip to the Bahamas, his sister “prayed that [he] would come.” After Eric’s uncle is injured, Eric decides to go to the Bahamas to help. 
  • Aunt Sally and Susan see a shark while snorkeling. After they retell their experience, Uncle Merle thanks God for “looking after his family.” Afterward, Kevin said, “Today I learned the truth about James 4:8: Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”  
  • Susan compares God to shells. “The closer you look, the better He gets.” Later, Eric thinks “that he would get more excited about God by looking closer. And the more he knew about God, the more confidence he would have in Him.”  
  • Eric and his family discuss God removing their sins. Eric asks, “Is it a sin to feel afraid?” Eric’s friends summarize the conversation message, “If I want less sin of any kind in my life, including being fearful and not trusting God, I need to look closer at Him until I trust Him to take care of me like He promises to do.”  
  • After learning how to SNUBA (a type of scuba diving), Eric learns not to be afraid of the ocean. He learns that if you look closely at God, you can trust Him to care for you. Eric’s aunt reminds him, “Feelings aren’t bad. . . But you can’t let them be guides to your choices and behavior unless they come out of your original focus.” Instead of following your emotions, you need to focus “on God’s word and what He says about something.” 
  • When Eric decides to quit baseball, his uncle prays: “Dear God. Thank you for turning Eric’s ship in a new direction. Fill our sails with the wind of the Spirit and guide us like a captain takes hold of a ship’s rudder. Send us off, full of joy, in the right direction. Amen.”

The Accidental Invasion

Kaya, raised in the undersea, high-tech world of Atlantis, has always been fascinated by the legends about life above the water. Despite the government’s insistence that they’re only stories, she can’t help but dream about the Sun People—and when a group of officials known as Erasers move to bury those legends for good, Kaya sets out to the surface to uncover the truth once and for all.

In the world above, where climate change has led to giant tsunamis that threaten Earth’s coasts, all Lewis wants is to spend more time with his scientist father. When he stows away on his dad’s top-secret research trip, he finds himself thrown headfirst into an adventure much bigger than he bargained for. 

Told from alternating perspectives, The Accidental Invasion takes readers on an action-packed adventure under the sea. Kaya introduces readers to her world—Atlantis—where people have evolved and thrived. Despite Atlantis’s advanced technology, the large population is threatened by the pollution caused by the People of the Sun. However, only a select few know that the People of the Sun aren’t just fables. When Kaya meets real Sun People—Hanna, Lewis, and his father—she is determined to keep them safe. Kaya’s determination, courage, and curiosity make her a likable character whom readers will root for.  

When Lewis narrates the story, his voice is unique and readers will have no difficulty distinguishing his narration from Kaya’s. Lewis’s voice adds humor to an otherwise serious book. For example, when Lewis sees Kaya and Naxos for the first time, he wonders, “Should he run? Call for help? Hide under the fold-down kitchen table? Do the Chicken dance? No. Too much pressure. Instead, he shrugged and waved.” While Lewis makes light of many situations, readers will understand his desire to return to his family above the ocean surface. 

The Accidental Invasion gives clear examples of the harm that people have caused the oceans. “You Sun People are poisoning the oceans with your plastics and chemicals. Soon, the oceans will be so ruined that [Atlanteans] won’t be able to feed ourselves. . . We fear the oceans may need decades to recover.” This idea is reinforced when Kaya, Lewis, and Hanna fly over the surface of the ocean. “The ship flew over huge islands of garbage and plastic that stretched for miles.” It is then that Lewis and Hanna realize that the People of the Sun “really were poisoning the seas.”

While the story explains many of the technological advancements of Atlantis, the end of the book also describes the science behind the book as well as the effects of using plastics. In addition, the author encourages kids to take action: “Don’t wait for your parents to make a difference. . . There’s nothing stopping you from putting down TikTok or Instagram, becoming informed, and turning yourself into an ocean ambassador.”  

The Accidental Invasion has interesting and well-developed characters, but it also has wonderful descriptions of Atlantis. The world-building is detailed and inventive while also showing that even in Atlantis, nothing is perfect. The storyline is action-packed and suspenseful while also teaching readers about human’s destructive ocean pollution. The Accidental Invasion is an entreating and thought-provoking book that will have readers eager to read the second book in the series, The Brink of War. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Kaya travels to Edgeland, which is known as “a magnet for criminals.” While there, a man wants to steal Kaya’s gravity suit. “A thick-lipped man had both hands clamped around her ankle now. Whistling, Kaya dialed up the power in the drive and kicked at his hairy knuckles. . . Desperately, Kaya stomped on the man’s face. He grabbed his eye and loosened his grip just long enough for her to plant her foot on his head and push off. . .” Kaya soars away from the man. 
  • Lewis, his father, and Hanna find Atlantis. Once they are close, their subsphere [an underwater submarine] is blasted with a sonic sound that knocks them out. An Atlantean man carries the three unconscious people out of the subsphere. When the man realizes that the “Sun People” are not invaders, he helps them escape.   
  • The Atlanteans have created a sonic blaster, a nonlethal weapon, which is used often in the story. For example, while trying to get the Sun People to safety, Kaya has to get past two workers. “Kaya pulled out her sonic blaster. . . her hands were shaking. The two dockmasters could see she was nervous, too. They stomped forward. . . Her finger pulled the trigger, and they dropped into crumpled heaps on the stone floor.”  
  • When the Erasers find Kaya, they try to capture the Sun People. While trying to escape, “A group of men and women holding deadly trumpets and frightening flutes raced out. . . Lewis watched the muscles in his fingers tense as he aimed his trumpet at their cruiser. The Eraser squeezed the trigger. . . Then his dad fell forward, and Kaya pushed the throttle, rocketing the ship into the darkness.” Lewis’s dad is put in jail. 
  • Naxos, an Eraser who helped the Sun People escape, appears at Kaya’s apartment. It is implied that Naxos was beaten in order to get him to talk. “Naxos’s face was bruised. A cut was swelling over his left eye. . . A thin stream of blood trickled out of the cut above his eye.” When Kaya sees Naxos, she points a sonic blaster at him, but Kaya’s grandmother scolds her and says, “You do not point weapons at people!” 
  • Atlantis has been creating tsunamis because the Sun People “continue to poison and pollute the oceans.” An Atlantean man, Demos, explains that he doesn’t feel bad that “waves ruined homes, towns, entire cities” because “we’re doing it to protect the hundred million people here in Atlantis.” 
  • The Atlanteans do not want people to know they exist. Demos says, “Have you studied the history of your civilization, child? When new lands and peoples are discovered, they are conquered, slaughtered and destroyed.”  
  • Kaya, Naxos, and the kids are trying to escape from the Atlanteans who want to imprison them. “Naxos tackled Kaya to the ground, then pulled her behind a desk. . . A pulse rushed through Kaya, a vibration that rang in her bones. She was shaken but awake.” 
  • To communicate with the Sun People, Atlantis sent a group to the surface. However, the Sun People assumed the vessel was a missile. Kaya explains, “My mother was killed on a peaceful mission to the surface when her ship was destroyed by the People of the Sun.”  
  • In a multi-chapter chase, the Atlanteans give Hanna and Lewis a ship to go to the surface. However, it is a trick because the Atlanteans plan to destroy the ship. Kaya realizes this and swims to the ship. The Atlanteans shoot a missile and it “exploded, sending waves pulsing through the water in all directions. Their warship flipped upside down and then turned over on its side.” 
  • Another missile is fired. “The explosion shook the ship before Lewis could strap himself down. The whole vehicle pulsed as he flew backward. . . His ribs felt busted. The bones in his hands felt like they’d splintered. It hurt to breathe.”  
  • Kaya flies the ship near a dome that contains a massive fleet of ships. When the warships fire, “Lewis turned to try to see the scene below them. The water was roiling. . . Lewis saw three vehicles lying around the base. Or what was left of them, anyway. The ships were shattered. Even the metal hulls were busted into pieces.” 
  • During the battle, enough torpedoes hit the dome that “the weight of four miles of seawater drove the glass, the inner walls, and the thousands of ships below into the depths of what had been the actor’s lower floors. . . Waves rocked their ship; Lewis gripped his seat as they were flipped over at least three times.” Kaya, Lewis, and Hanna escape to the surface. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • While walking through Edgeland, Kaya sees two men singing and she guesses that the men are “deep into their drink.” Atlanteans make a drink from fermented kelp.  
  • In Atlantis, people are imprisoned in glass cells surrounded by deadly toxins. In order to free Lewis and Hanna, Lewis’s father “swam out of the cell to save us.” Naxos flees with Lewis’s father in the hopes of getting him to a doctor. 

Language 

  • Hanna tells Lewis that he and his father are emotional idiots.  
  • Hanna calls Lewis an imbecile once. Later, an Atlantean calls the Sun People imbeciles. 
  • Kaya explains that “Edgeland is [full of] mostly scoundrels and rogues.”  
  • An Atlantean refers to Lewis and Hanna as “things.” Lewis thinks, “No one had ever called him a thing. He’d been called a bug, a donkey, a mother-less goat. . . Someone had called him a walking wedgie once, too. . . But he’d never been referred to as a thing.” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Lewis lies to the Atlanteans saying he is going to send a transmission to the surface. Afterward, Lewis prays. “Normally, Lewis didn’t pray all that much. . . But now Lewis began to pray. Not to any particular god or goddess or ancient spirit. He was begging all of them. The Big Guy, with the beard and the robes and the throne on the clouds, the Greek and Roman gods, the cool Hindu ones, including that really smart elephant—even the Aztec spirit with the hard-to-say name, the one that sort of rhymed with pretzel. He pleaded with any and all mystical beings for help.”  
  • When the Atlanteans give in to Lewis’ demands, he thinks, “The pretzel god had listened. Or the elephant, or one of the Greeks.” 

Magic Marks the Spot

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors. She particularly enjoys defying authority, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let girls join their ranks of scourges and scallywags. 

The world believes that girls belong at Miss Primm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies, learning to waltz, faint, and curtsy. But Hilary and her dearest friend, the gargoyle, have no use for such frivolous lessons. They are pirates! 

To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary answers a curious advertisement for a pirate crew. Suddenly, she finds herself swept up in a seaworthy adventure that may or may not involve a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a rogue governess who insists on propriety, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas. 

Magic Marks the Spot is a fast-paced adventure that focuses on Hilary, a girl who longs to join the The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates (VNHLP). Using the book Treasure Island as her guide, Hilary and her gargoyle set off to join a pirate crew. But before she sets sail, Hilary’s governess tracks her down and insists on joining the crew. The creative cast of characters has plenty of unique quirks that keep the story interesting. Instead of portraying pirates as dishonorable villains, Jasper, captain of the pirate ship Pigeon, is most nearly honorable: he wants to redistribute magic objects to keep high society from abusing their power.   

Adventure-loving readers will find Hilary’s travels fascinating. While there are plenty of pirate fights, the book’s humorous tone continues throughout the action-packed fight scenes. As Hilary learns to be a real pirate at last, readers will root for her as she improves her skills. The fact that Hilary is fighting her evil father, Admiral Westfield, gives each battle an even more satisfying win, especially because Admiral Westfield underestimates Hilary’s abilities and is often patronizing. In the end, Hilary proves that she is a capable pirate and becomes an important part of Jasper’s crew.    

To give readers additional information about Hilary’s world, the book includes excerpts from several newspapers including The Augusta Scuttlebutt, “where high society turns for scandal.” There are also letters and the Official VNHLP guide to help readers understand the complexities of the story. While many of the excerpts are interesting, they slow down the plot, which drags towards the middle. Despite this, most of the world-building creates a clear division between pirates and High Society and allows readers to understand the ridiculous expectations for girls. 

Jump aboard the Pigeon and take a ride into Hilary’s world where you’ll find action, adventure, and some very likable characters. Magic Marks the Spot will entertain readers with humor as it leads readers on a suspenseful trip where danger is behind every corner. Seafaring readers who want even more pirate-related action should also read Lintang and the Pirate Queen by Tamara Moss, Piratica by Tanith Lee, and the Starcatchers Series by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • During dinner, Claire upsets another student, who then uses magic to punish Claire. “The fish sticks on Claire’s plate started to wobble. They squirmed. . . they formed a tidy line. Hilary stared at the regiment of fish sticks in horror as, one by one, they leaped off the plate and smacked themselves against Claire’s forehead. . .By the time the assault reached its end, Claire was dripping with crumbs and smelling quite a bit like Queensport Harbor herself.”  
  • Charlie, one of the pirate crew, is a young boy whose parents were killed. “The navy sank their ship with no apologies.” Later, Claire finds out it was her father who was responsible for sinking the ship. 
  • The queen writes a letter to Admiral Westfield, telling him to take a voyage because the royal treasurer is in the infirmary. “He is confined there for the moment because, as you may be aware, he was bashed over the head with a priceless porcelain vase whilst guarding the Royal Treasury last week.” 
  • Hilary and her friends try to go into a pirate establishment, but the guard refuses to let them enter. When Hilary argues with the man “a wall of air hit Hilary hard in the stomach and sent her staggering back into the street. She landed on the cobblestones a good ten feet from the Scallywag’s Den, and Charlie crashed to the ground beside her.” 
  • Hilary’s father, Admiral Westfield, and his men board a pirate ship that Hilary and her governess are on. Hilary saw, “Miss Greyson clutching her golden crochet hook in one hand and giving a naval officer a swift kick in the pants. . . the officer sailed across the deck and splashed into the sea.” 
  • During a battle, Hilary faces off with a young officer who “was not much better at dueling than Hilary was, but several of his wild blows came dangerously close to her head. . . When the officer’s sword whizzed past her ear again, she clutched her hands to her chest, gave a dramatic gasp, and sank into a simple swoon. . .” The officer put down his sword and Hilary “leaped up and pointed her own blade at his throat.” The man jumps into the sea to escape.  
  • Another officer, Orange Mustache, swipes at Hilary. “Her left cheek stung where the officer’s sword had grazed it . . . As Hilary dodged Orange Mustache’s blade and attempted to whack him with her own, she performed several waltz steps. . . Orange Mustache stood in front of her, with his sword at her throat: he had her cornered . . . Hilary struck him in the head with a well-aimed tin of beets . . . Hilary tossed a second tin at him just to make sure he’d stay unconscious.” When the Admiral discovers that Hilary is on the ship, he orders the pirate to take her back to finishing school. He and his men then leave the ship. The battle is described over six pages. 
  • While on Gunpowder Island, a fight breaks out between Admiral Westfield and a group of pirates. “Many of them didn’t seem to care whose side they were on, and they brandished their weapons at anyone who happened to be within reach.” Hilary, Charlie, and the gargoyle use the diversion to escape and look for treasure. 
  • Miss Primm plants a fake treasure. When Hilary and her friends find the treasure, Miss Primm uses magic to restrain them. “Jasper dropped his sword as though it had burned him. Charlie reached for his own sword in response, but his arm froze in midair, and Miss Greyson muttered a pirate curse as her hand came to a halt. . .” Jasper and Miss Greyson are taken to the dungeon. Charlie and Hilary are taken back to Miss Primm’s finishing school. 
  • When Miss Primm was young, she fell in love with an honest man. Scoundrels wanted to take all Miss Primm’s treasure for themselves, so they went after Miss Primm’s love. “The scoundrels came for him when he was out in his balloon, with no protection to speak of. They conjured up a fearsome wind, and that was the end of it.” Miss Primm’s love died. 
  • Hilary, Claire, and Charlie find hidden treasure. As they debate what to do with it, Admiral Westfield appears. Charlie “grabbed a porcelain-handled letter opener from Miss Pimm’s desk and held it out like a sword as he approached Admiral Westfield. Charlie was quick, but the admiral was quicker: he lunged forward and caught hold of Charlie’s arm, twisting it backward and holding it there until Charlie yelped with pain. . .” 
  • To get help, Claire threatens to scream, but the admiral stops her with magic. “Claire opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She stood quite still for a moment, clenched her fists, and let loose a string of perfectly silent words that Hilary guessed were not at all complimentary to Admiral Westfield.”  
  • When the admiral tries to use the gargoyle’s magic, the gargoyle “sank his teeth into Admiral Westfield’s arm. . .Hilary dove headfirst into Admiral Westfield’s legs. The admiral shouted and cursed, and the three of them crashed to the floor. Charlie pinned Admiral Westfield’s feet down with his good arm, Claire grabbed Admiral Westfield’s hands. . .”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The adult pirates occasionally drink grog. 
  • When Hilary is accepted into the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, Miss Greyson “uncorked her bottle of grog, pouring a glass for herself and a few sips for Hilary.”

Language 

  • Several times, the book refers to someone cursing. For example, Hilary’s father let out “a barrage of nautical-sounding curses.” Later he shouted, “words that were impolite even to think about in high society.” 
  • Pirates are often referred to as scallywags, scoundrels, and rapscallions. Other name-calling includes rat, scum, and fiend. 
  • Blast is used as an exclamation, but not frequently. For example, when the gargoyle bites Admiral Westfield, he yells, “What the devil? Your blasted pet rock sank his fangs into me!” 
  • Drat is used as an exclamation several times. In addition, the gargoyle says, “Would you put down that dratted coin? It’s making my ears tingle. . .” 
  • A pirate calls a group of men “idiots.” 
  • Several times, Admiral Westfield calls a woman a “meddling old biddy.”  

Supernatural 

  • One of the main characters is a magic gargoyle who has been “living on a wall for two hundred years.” The gargoyle is supposed to use his magic to protect people. 
  • Magic items are made from a substance “similar to gold” but “when a piece of magic is held in the hand, it obeys the holder’s spoken request. It is said to draw its power from the user herself, and only a few individuals are powerful enough to use it in great quantities. . .”  
  • Hilary was talking to her father, when suddenly “one of the porthole windows. . . was growing larger and larger. . . It swallowed up the surrounding windows and half the wall besides.” The glass vanishes. “Then, all at once, every drawer in the admiral’s study flew open, and every door burst from its hinges.” As Hilary and her father watch the strange events, suddenly a scroll “traveled out the enormous window and into the waiting, black-gloved hand of the tall person on the lawn. . . Then with a great shudder, the porthole window collapsed back to its proper size.” The thieves get away with the scroll.  
  • A pirate uses magic to conjure costumes to disguise his crew’s identity.  
  • Miss Greyson has a gold crochet hook that can perform magic. For example, she used her “crochet hook to summon a wind.” Later, when a pirate asks for a drink, “a silver serving tray appeared on the deck. In the center of the tray, a pink china teacup perched on a lace doily, accompanied by a small pink bowl of sugar and a small pink pitcher of milk.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

A Tale of Magic

Brystal Evergreen is a young girl who lives in the Southern Kingdom, where strict laws created by the town Justices prohibit women from becoming more than wives and mothers. Brystal and other women aren’t even allowed to read (although Brystal finds herself lost in stories of magic that her brother secretly supplies). Brystal considers herself lucky because in comparison to the other four kingdoms which punish magic users with the death penalty, the Southern Kingdom is praised for its mercy – those found practicing magic are sentenced to a life of hard labor at the miserable Bootstrap Correctional Facility. Brystal never expected to be one of them.  

When Brystal reads a magical incantation, she’s caught by the town guard and swiftly sentenced to life imprisonment by her own father, a Chief Justice. Brystal is sent to the Bootstrap Correctional Facility to be “re-educated.” The future seems bleak for Brystal until she is rescued from the academy by a mysterious woman named Madame Weatherberry, a self-proclaimed fairy who recruits Brystal to start an academy of magic. Madame Weatherberry explains to Brystal that there are two types of magic users, witches (who use dark magic for evil deeds) and fairies (magic users who use their power to do good). By creating the academy, training fairies, and using magic to help others, Madame Weatherberry wants to change the world’s perception of magic.  

Once Brystal accepts her place at the academy, she starts to develop her magic, as well as friendships with the other students. She also develops a close bond with Madame Weatherberry, although her teacher keeps disappearing for long periods to fight an evil witch called The Snow Queen whose growing power threatens to cover the world in snow.  

When Madame Weatherberry disappears, Brystal convinces the other students at the academy – her friends Lucy, Xanthous, Emerelda, Tangerina, and Skylene – to save Madame Weatherberry. The destruction of the north is devastating, shocking Brystal, but that is nothing compared to how surprised she is to discover that Madame Weatherberry and the Snow Queen are one in the same. Madame Weatherberry admits she can’t fight the Snow Queen any longer and asks Brystal to kill her, thus proving to the world that it needs good fairies to protect from evil witches. But Brystal believes that the world isn’t so black and white. Despite the evil and anger in Madame Weatherberry, Brystal chooses to see the good. Brystal says, “I’ll never understand why you chose violence as a road to peace, I’ll never understand why you chose fear as a remedy to hate, but I will not repeat your mistakes.” Brystal convinces Madame Weatherberry to keep fighting and allows her to escape. Brystal returns to her friends with a newfound determination to find a peaceful way to change the world’s perspective on magic. 

A Tale of Magic is a prequel to The Land of Stories Series that details how Brystal Evergreen later becomes Brystal Bailey, the Fairy Godmother. This story’s setting is set solely in The Land of Stories making it easier to read than The Land of Stories Series. If you’ve already read The Land of Stories Series, you should definitely check out this prequel series to learn more about the Fairy Godmother and how the Fairy Council (Brystal’s name for the coalition of fairies bringing about change) is formed. If you haven’t read either series yet, even though this book is a prequel, you should start with the Land of Stories because that book sets up the world in detail. A Tale of Magic is written under the assumption that the reader already knows what the Land of Stories is. Start with The Land of Stories to get the context you need to understand A Tale of Magic.  

A Tale of Magic is narrated by Brystal, who is an empathetic narrator. She cares deeply about others and sees the best in them even when they can’t see it themselves. Even though Brystal’s magic specialty is compassion, Brystal still has moments of anger and doubt, but these make her both relatable and realistic.  

This book’s theme may seem contradictory to Brystal’s character: rebellion. At first, Brystal is afraid to go against the path society has laid out for her. However, Brystal questions what she’s been told and aims to prove the innocence of magic, even if it means turning against the people she loves most. One of the most poignant scenes in the story is when Brystal stands in front of her father—the Justice who sentenced her to the correctional facility—and demands that he change his intolerant ways. Brystal questions her faith, her society’s criminalization of magic, and the patriarchy.  

Madame Weatherberry teaches Brystal that, “Ignorance is a choice. Hatred is a choice. Violence is a choice. But someone’s existence is never a choice or a fault, and it’s certainly not a crime.” People can choose to be intolerant, or they can choose to accept people for who they are. And Brystal chooses to support her friends no matter what. Similarly, Brystal extends this compassion to the world and Brystal ends the story determined to ensure that future generations will have a happy ending. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • In most of the kingdoms, the punishment for witchcraft is death. “In the Northern Kingdom, perpetrators and their families were put on trial and promptly burned at the stake. In the Eastern Kingdom. . . [they are] hung in the gallows. In the Western Kingdom, suspected witches and warlocks were drowned without any trial whatsoever.” 
  • When Brystal is imprisoned for practicing magic, she hears prisoners being tortured: “Bloodcurdling screams of prisoners getting whipped echoed through the halls.” 
  • At the Bootstrap Correctional Facility, the young girls are physically abused. Those who deserve worse punishment are subjected to the “dunker.” This is a well where a girl is repeatedly submerged and eventually drowned. Brystal is sent to the dunker but is saved before she is plunged into the icy water. 
  • Mrs. Edgar, one of the wardens of the Bootstrap Correctional Facility, slaps Brystal when she questions Mrs. Edgar’s perception of the Book of Faith and the nature of the Lord. Brystal said, “’What if you’re wrong about the Lord? . . . What if the Lord invented magic so people could help each other and enrich their own lives? What if the Lord thinks you’re the unholy ones for abusing people and making them believe their existence is a –’ WHACK! Mrs. Edgar slapped Brystal so hard her whole head jerked in a different direction. . . blood dripped from the corner of her mouth.” 
  • Xanthous, one of the academy students, reveals that his father beat him after coming home from the pub where he found Xanthous doing something “unspeakable.” Afterward, Xanthous sets his home on fire, and his father perished. Xanthous explains, “As he was hitting me, I became angry – really angry. I felt all this heat building up inside me like a volcano. . . next thing I knew, there was fire everywhere. . . Our house burned to the ground and my father. . . ”  
  • Emerelda, an academy student, tells a story about the Snow Queen. Emerelda says, “Many years ago, the Snow Queen was just a simple witch with a specialty for controlling the weather. One night, an angry mob found her home and killed her family.” Afterward, the Snow Queen turned evil. 
  • Brystal and her friends witness a fight between trolls and goblins. “Brystal and her classmates watched the brawl in horror—they had never seen such violence in their lives. The creatures ruthlessly bludgeoned and stabbed one another, and when their weapons gave out, they resorted to twisting noses and pulling ears.” Brystal and her friends run away before they see anyone get seriously injured. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The academy students find a bottle of “Fabubblous Fizz” when they break into Madame Weatherberry’s office. Xanthous asks, “There isn’t any alcohol in there, is there?” No one knows the answer. The students only have one sip each. It causes them to be able to blow bubbles out of their mouth. 
  • It is mentioned that Xanthous’ father beats him after coming home from the pub drunk.  

Language 

  • Heck is used twice. For example, when a witch breaks into his castle, the king of the Southern Kingdom says, “Who the heck are you?”  
  • Brystal’s friend, Lucy, plays the tambourine. When Lucy says she’s going to give up magic and go back to playing the tambourine, Brystal calls the tambourine “stupid.” 
  • Lucy insults witches by calling them “gizzard suckers.” 
  • The Snow Queen calls Brystal a “stupid, incompetent girl.” 

Supernatural 

  • In this world, magic can be used for just about everything from everyday tasks to creating storms, talking to animals, healing wounds, and more. It can also be used to turn one item into another; the possibilities are endless. 
  • Some magic users have a specialty, a type of magic or spell that they are very good at. For example, Tangerina, one of Madame Weatherberry’s apprentices, controls bees. Magic users also tend to have physical attributes that represent what they’re good at. For example, Tangerina has a beehive of orange hair that drips honey and is home to a swarm of bees.  
  • Madame Weatherberry can create storms. Her body is frostbitten due to creating powerful snowstorms. 
  • Skylene, one of Madame Weatherberry’s apprentices, controls water and has water for hair that evaporates at her feet. 
  • Madame Weatherberry has a magical carriage made of gold that is pulled by unicorns. Inside, there are plants that produce berries in every color of the rainbow. Madame Weatherberry can make the carriage into a brooch for easy transportation, which she does occasionally throughout the story. 
  • Xanthous, an academy student, controls fire. His power is hard to control, so Madame Weatherberry gives him a medal called a Muter Medal, which allows him to suppress his abilities.  
  • The castle that is home to the academy is magical and expands as needed. When new students arrive, a new bedroom grows in the castle. Madame Weatherberry explains, “The castle grows extra bedrooms based on the number of residents and designs the chambers around the occupant’s specific needs.” For example, Brystal’s room is a library, while Xanthous’ room is fireproof. 
  • A few magical creatures, such as goblins, gryphons, and unicorns, are mentioned in the story.  
  • Horence, a knight who protects the school grounds, is a spirit that can’t speak and rides a three-headed horse. Madame Weatherberry tells Brystal a story of how Horence was created. “Horence was in love with a witch. . . after he was murdered, the witch used witchcraft to bring him back to life. The spell was so dark and vile, the witch died in the process.” 
  • Brystal finds a Tree of Truth that can answer any question. The tree can speak to Brystal in her mind. 

Spiritual Content 

  • The Southern Kingdom’s religion comes from the Book of Faith. The religion is not described in detail but there is a “God” or “Lord” that is referred to occasionally with phrases like, “By God” and “God have mercy.”  
  • Brystal reads in a banned book that the Book of Faith has been rewritten many times to fit lawmakers’ political agendas. “If the Book of Faith was as pure as the monks claim it is, there would be no need to amend it or publish versions over time. However, if you compared a current Book of Faith to one from a hundred years ago, you would discover vast differences between the religion of today and the religion of yesterday.” The book says that the law and faith should be separate, but the Justices of the Southern Kingdom have made the Book of Faith and the law the same, thus “any activity or opinion that questions the government is a sin… The Book of Faith no longer reflects the Lord’s will, but the will of men who use the Lord as a tool to manipulate their people.” 
  • Brystal prays to God by saying, “Please, God, I need more than just faith to keep going. . .”  

The Immortal Fire

Is everything in our lives predetermined, or do we truly possess the ability to make choices? This thought-provoking question delves into the depths of human existence and raises profound philosophical inquiries. It forces us to ponder our agency and contemplate the intricacies of fate versus free will.  

This existential exploration forms the core of the extraordinary journey embarked upon by Charlotte Mielswetski and Zachary Miller. As the two protagonists find themselves unexpectedly transported back to the realm of Greek Gods, they become entangled in a web of divine destiny and mortals’ decisions. The collision of these two worlds sets the stage for an epic narrative of monumental proportions. 

In the wake of their encounter with Poseidon, the divine realm undergoes a chaotic transformation that bewilders even the gods themselves. The enigmatic disappearance of Poseidon, the emergence of terrifying monsters, and the relentless battles among the gods all contribute to the mounting tension that looms over Earth. Mortal lives hang precariously in the balance as the very fabric of existence unravels. 

Once again, the weighty responsibility of restoring order falls upon the shoulders of Charlotte and her beloved cousin Zachary, affectionately known as Zee. Their odyssey takes them on a perilous journey to the sacred Mount Olympus, where they face their most formidable challenge yet—none other than Zeus himself. However, this time, they must confront the mighty ruler of the gods without the aid of the Prometheans. As they grapple with the guilt of leaving behind their families and battle their arch nemesis, Philonecron, Charlotte and Zee embody resilience and determination in their unwavering pursuit of justice. Every ounce of their courage and wit are put to the test as they strive to reestablish harmony and balance. 

Throughout the captivating Cronus Chronicles Trilogy, readers will undoubtedly find themselves deeply enamored with the courageous and relatable protagonist, Charlotte Mielswetski. As they journey through the pages of this extraordinary series, their affection for Charlotte will grow stronger with each passing chapter. However, it is in this final installment of the trilogy that the undeniable connection between readers and Charlotte will be solidified, leaving an indelible mark on their hearts and minds. Brace yourself for an unforgettable conclusion that will leave readers yearning for more, as the remarkable journey of Charlotte reaches its climactic end. 

As readers delve deeper into the story and form a bond with Charlotte, they will also find themselves captivated by Zee. With his unwavering determination, sharp intellect, and deep affection for his cousin, Zee becomes a beloved character who will undoubtedly win readers’ hearts. Throughout the narrative, readers will be filled with anticipation and excitement as they witness Zee fearlessly confront and overcome various challenges that come his way. 

The Immortal Fire is an incredibly captivating and exquisitely crafted piece of literature that will undoubtedly engross readers from the very beginning all the way to the end. With its masterful prose and incredibly vivid descriptions, this truly compelling story takes readers on an unforgettable journey alongside the cousins as they courageously embark on the thrilling and perilous last leg of their epic adventure alongside powerful divine beings. Whether you are a devoted fan of Greek mythology or simply someone who is seeking a truly enthralling and deeply immersive reading experience that will transport you to another world, The Immortal Fire is the perfect choice. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Philonecron, a descendant of Poseidon and the arch-nemesis of Charlotte and Zee, finds himself in possession of the trident. He uses it to change Poseidon into a sea cucumber. This gives Philonecron the courage to continue changing gods, so they are not in his way. Unfortunately, Poseidon’s son Triton is no different.  “Triton gasped, as if to suck in the whole sky, and lifted the horn to his lips. But it never got there, for Philonecron swung the trident forward – he was getting really fast with it now – and where there was once a fish-tailed centaur on a life raft, there was now just a very small, fish-tailed weasel with a tiny conch shell around its neck.” 
  • Philonecron stops to visit the Oracle to see if she can tell him if he is fated to overthrow Zeus. When he is unsatisfied with the Oracle’s answer, he uses the trident against her. Philonecron levels “the trident at her. Within a matter of moments, an enormous, festering pimple appeared right in the center of her forehead. The oracle shrieked, hands flying to her face.” 
  • The Prometheans argue over whether it is right to let Charlotte and Zee escape with a boy named Steve, who is the prophesied son who would overthrow Zeus. Mr. Metos (a descendant of Prometheus and the cousin’s English teacher) and another Promethean, Timons, argue over whether to sacrifice Steve. This leads to an almost deadly battle between Timons and Mr. Metos. “Mr. Metos, turning his arm slightly, flicked his wrist. The dagger moved through the air, spinning balletically, and Timon let out something between a grunt and a yell as it pierced his thigh. [Timons] stumbled and grabbed his leg, the gun dropping to the floor. He seemed to be screaming curses . . . And then Timon had the gun in his hands again, and just as Mr. Metos reached for another dagger, he had leveled it at them, his face contorted in pain and rage. And then everything happened at once. There was an explosion from the gun, and at the same time, Timon screamed and wrenched to the side. A bullet flew through the air, whizzing by. . . hitting the wall. Timon fell to the floor, writhing, another dagger lodged in his shoulder.” Thankfully, no deadly harm is brought to either Promethean, but it is at this point the cousins escape with Steve. 
  • While sneaking around Mount Olympus, Charlotte stumbles upon a room full of gods. While she listens intently to their conversation, she is struck in the back with an arrow. “Charlotte could hear her scream hanging in the air like a big flashing neon arrow. Her heart started beating so fast it seemed it might run right off the rails. Everything seized up, and she was ready to burst off running somewhere, except her whole back stuck with pain, and she felt something cold and deadly begin to spread where the arrow had joined with her flesh. She went green, her skin turned cold.” Charlotte starts to slip into death, but Hera commands Appollo to heal her so that she can be brought before Zeus. 
  • Charlotte and Zee finally face Zeus. Zeus quickly shows his strength by pointing his thunderbolt at Charlotte. “Charlotte yelled and ran at Zeus, fists flailing. Zeus smirked before swinging his thunderbolt, hitting her with the flat of the blade. She let out an inhuman cry as she was flung backward, and she landed in a heap on the floor. She did not move.” Charlotte was again brought close to death, but did not die. 
  • Philonecron and Steve join Charlotte and Zee at the top of Mount Olympus for the final showdown with Zeus. Philonecron manages to separate the thunderbolt from Zeus and confine him with the power of the trident, but Philonecron must hand the trident, thunderbolt, and the power to kill Zeus all over to Steve to make the final decision.  
  • In the meantime, Zee grabs the thunderbolt. “As Philonecron screamed at Steve, Zee aimed the thunderbolt and ran toward him, thrusting the sharp point into the god’s back with all his might. Philonecron screeched and arched backward, the trident falling out of his hand. Zee dove for it as Philonecron fell to the ground. And then Zee was standing over him, trident and thunderbolt poised, as his tormentor howled.” Philonecron does not die, but his memory is wiped and he is transported away by two large black birds that come seemingly out of thin air. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Zee and Charlotte begin to grow frustrated with Mr. Metos. While Mr. Metos aims to support humanity, his tactics are not always considerate which leads Zee to yell at Mr. Metos. “You speak to us of these great dangers to us, but you won’t tell us what is going on, so the next thing I know I’m watching Charlotte be carried off by fluffy the Dragon Kitty while you’re skipping around trying to find its nest. So there will be no more locking us in cars, and there will be no more drugging people. We’re involved like it or not. . . You complain about the gods not taking responsibility, but you won’t let us take any . . . it’s arrogant. . . and pigheaded and . . . cruel. And it isn’t nice!” 

Supernatural 

  • After Charlotte and Zee’s encounter with Poseidon, things start to go awry near that area in the sea. The whole world is beginning to take notice of the unnatural incidents occurring across the world. “Something weird was going on. It wasn’t just the half-mile-wide hole that had suddenly appeared in the Mediterranean Sea or the behavior of the dolphins. Strange reports were coming in from the whole region. A fleet of ships from the Croatian navy had disappeared. Sharks off the coast of Rome had gone psycho, swimming after fishing boats and patrolling the beaches. A whirlpool had suddenly appeared in a shipping lane. The waters of the Aegean Sea had turned so choppy that no ship could travel on it. A several-mile-long swath in the Mediterranean had turned pitch-black and cold, as if it had simply died.” 
  • Charlotte watches these odd events unfolding on television, “A coastal town was being assailed by wind. . . Not a soul was in sight; it was like not a soul existed on Earth — they had all abandoned it to the wind. And then, just like that, the wind stopped. The trees snapped back in relief. All was calm. And then, suddenly, the debris began to stir, and the wind started up again, the trees bowed exhaustedly — in the other direction.”

Spiritual Content 

  • In the story, Greek Gods are real.  

Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World

Since 2012, the organization Girls Who Code has taught computing skills to over 40,000 girls across America. Now, its founder Reshma Saujani wants to inspire you to be a girl who codes!  

Bursting with dynamic artwork, down-to-earth explanations of coding principles, and real-life stories of girls and women working at places like Pixar and NASA, this graphically animated book shows what a large role computer science plays in our daily lives, and how much fun it can be.  

No matter your interests—sports, art, baking, student government, social justice—coding can help you do what you love and make your dreams come true. Whether you’re a girl who’s never coded before or a girl who already enjoys coding, this entertaining book will have you itching to create your own apps, games, and robots to make the world a better place. 

Printed in bold two-color and featuring art on every page, Girls Who Code packs in a lot of information in a fun format that will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Not only is the book visually appealing, but it also breaks up the text by including one or more graphic elements on each page. While the text uses a lot of coding vocabulary, readers can use context clues to figure out the meaning of most words. Many of the coding words appear in large green text to indicate that the word appears in a glossary at the back of the book. Some of the key concepts are further reinforced with quote bubbles. The book also uses a lot of info graphs including timelines, short biographies of real-life women, and comics. In addition, the teens that appear on the pages are a diverse group. 

One of the best aspects of the book is that it explains complicated concepts in ways that are easy to understand. For example, “An algorithm is simply a set of instructions you follow in a certain order to complete a task. A muffin recipe is an algorithm. So is a dance routine. . . your morning routine can be an algorithm.” The book gives multiple examples and includes illustrations to go along with the text. Even though the focus of the book is coding, there are also life lessons such as, “Nobody is perfect. Not even robots.” 

Girls Who Code is an educational book that will appeal to anyone who has wondered about creating computer programs, video games, or other apps. The book’s easy-to-read format and real-life examples make understanding the different aspects of coding easy. In addition, the book mentions many women who have made an impact in technology. Girls who enjoy coding and computer science may also want to read the following fiction books: Click’d Series by Tamara Ireland Stone and Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

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