Of Mice and Magic

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

 

 Hunt for Jade Dragon

After sinking the Ampere, the reunited Electroclan travels to Taiwan to rescue an autistic savant named Jade Dragon, who has solved the Elgen formula for replicating the electric children. The Elgen want to use the formula to create a race of electric superhumans, enslaving the normal human population to do their bidding. Jade Dragon is heavily guarded within the most secure Starxource plant in the world, and the Electroclan has lost their element of surprise. Hatch knows the Electroclan plans to rescue Jade Dragon and has concentrated much of his force in Taiwan to combat them.

Yet, the most challenging aspect for Michael in this book is the repercussions of fighting an all-out war against the Elgen. Sticking to the right choice isn’t so easy when other lives become casualties—like Wade and the crew of the Ampere who died when it sunk. Despite the Electroclan’s efforts to stop Hatch’s evil schemes, they have been branded terrorists. Simon, one of the resistance’s leaders, reminds Michael of a difficult lesson, “As you saw in Peru, you were not celebrated for liberating their country—you were demonized. That is often the way of heroes. Heroes are heroes precisely because they are willing to do what everyone else won’t—oppose the popular voice. But we will know what you have done. And in your heart, so will you.”

Hunt for Jade Dragon is not as action-packed as the previous books. Most of the novel covers the logistics of traveling to Taiwan and rescuing Jade Dragon. The focus on the capture and backup plans may be hard to follow at times. The book takes on a more “war-like” feel as the Electroclan use their powers to take down Hatch’s vast network of soldiers and artillery. This book moves the Electroclan’s battle from a personal scale to a global one, which may make it less relatable to readers.

Nevertheless, the story deepens the character development as the characters continue to reflect on Wade’s death. In addition, the Electroclan makes a stop in California to bring Nichelle with them. Most of them hate her due to the way she used to torment them in the academy, but their willingness to forgive her shows how two enemies can become allies against a greater evil. While Hunt for Jade Dragon can feel like a repeat of the break-in, rescue, break-out plot from the earlier Michael Vey novels, the character development that Michael and the rest of the Electroclan undergo is the true heart of this story.

Sexual Content

  • After they have a makeshift prom, Taylor and Michael kiss. “She leaned forward and we kissed. We must have kissed for a long time because Mrs. Ridley came to the door and neither of us even noticed her until she cleared her throat.”
  • After Jack saves her when she is shot, Nichelle kisses Jack on the cheek.

Violence

  • Jack reflects on a time he went to Wade’s house. “I didn’t get along with his father, so I usually just went around the back and climbed in through Wade’s window. This time, after I climbed inside, I couldn’t find Wade. Then I heard him. He was in his closet. There was blood all over the floor and his face and his eyes were nearly swollen shut. His father had almost beaten him to death.”
  • After Wade’s father beats him, Jack “went out looking for his dad. His father was a little man. He was drunk, sitting on the floor in the hall. The dude came at me with a bottle. I was crazy mad. I knocked him down, then started wailing on him. Then, Wade shouted, ‘Stop! Please stop.’ He had crawled out of his room to save his father. If it wasn’t for Wade, I might have killed that drunk. I was so pumped with adrenaline that I lifted the guy with one hand and shoved him against the wall. I told him if he ever touched Wade again that the next time I wouldn’t stop.”
  • The kids still loyal to Hatch, Torstyn, Bryan, Quentin, and Kylee, talk about the next time they meet Michael. Bryan says, “I’m going to melt his brain into a little puddle that drains out his ears.”
  • Later, the same kids use their powers on innocent people. Kylee sees an overweight man. “The man set his tray on the table, then pulled out a chair to sit. As he began sitting, Kylee reached out. She magnetized, pulling the chair out from under the man. He fell back onto the ground, hitting his head on the chair and pulling the tray on top of himself. The teens laughed.”
  • Trying to one up Kylee, Tara “held up her hand, her palm facing the man, who was now standing back up, his face bright red with embarrassment. Suddenly several women standing next to the man screamed. One fainted. Almost everyone around him ran except a few who held chairs up, as if warding him off. Then people began pelting him with trays and food. The confused man ran from the courtyard.” People were afraid of the man because Tara “made everyone around him think he’s the thing they fear most.”
  • After someone talks with Tara, Torstyn uses his powers on him. “The redhead took one step toward Torstyn, then froze. His mouth fell open and he grabbed his head, which was turning bright red. Then the blood vessels in his eyes began bursting. . . The kid fell to his side, convulsing. Kylee grimaced as the kid vomited.”
  • Elgen soldiers capture the kids with Nichelle’s help. She uses her powers against the kids. Michael and Ian are the first to feel her sapping their energy. Michael fights back. “I began pulsing and pushing against Nichelle until I heard her scream.” Then, the guards tell the kids that they’re going to kill them, starting with Mckenna, because the guards are holding a gun to her head.
  • Guards restrain Michael. “A guard grabbed my wrists and pulled them up while another guard handcuffed me, then strapped a RESAT over my chest and turned it on. So much pain shot through my body that I fell to my side, unable to breathe.”
  • Jack tries to punch Nichelle. “As we walked past Nichelle, Jack lunged at her. One of the guards caught him and slugged him in the stomach. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath.”
  • Taylor’s sister, Tara, takes Taylor to be tortured for information. Taylor reboots her and attempts to escape, but the guards turn on Taylor’s RESAT to stop her. “While Tara was still confused, Taylor lunged at her, pushing her up against the wall. Then they both fell to the floor, wrestling… Taylor suddenly screamed as she fell back from Tara. Her RESAT was squealing and the lights were flashing in rapid succession…. Tara stood, wiping her face. There was blood on her hand. She walked out of the cell, leaving Taylor screaming in pain.”
  • A doctor tortured Michael with needles. “He poked another needle into the skin between my neck and clavicle. It felt as if a live high-voltage electric wire had been inserted through my body. I screamed. The man seemed intrigued by my reaction. . . He inserted another needle near my groin. The electricity created a triangular current that contracted my stomach muscles. I felt as if I was going to vomit. Sweat streamed down the sides of my face, and my hair and skin were completely drenched. My eyes felt locked shut.”
  • When they rescue Jack, it’s evident that he’s been beaten by the soldiers. Michael says, “I was horrified. From my glow I could see that the Elgen guards had severely beaten him. Both of his eyes were swollen and he had a huge contusion under his left eye.”
  • While escaping, Nichelle is shot but survives. “Just then a bullet burst through the center of the boat, grazing Nichelle. She fell down into the water. Jack grabbed her and lifted her as the water around us began to darken with her blood.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

 Language

  • Quentin calls Michael “a twitching little dork.”
  • Ian uses his powers to monitor Nichelle’s heartbeat. Because he can see through her body, Nichelle says, “You watch everything, you pervert.”

 Supernatural

  • There are seventeen electric children in the series. Each one has a different electricity-related power including the ability to create light, heat, magnetism, or lightning. Others can interfere with electrical equipment. Some of the kids can manipulate electrical signals within the body that allow them to read minds, take away pain, and create emotional responses such as fear.

 Spiritual Content

  • Ostin says to Michael, “Something’s really been bothering me. . . I know Hatch is a demon and all that, but what if he’s right about making an electric species. . . Everything evolves. That’s how nature survives. What if an electric species is the natural evolution of humans? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we didn’t have to worry about electricity anymore?” Afterward, Michael wonders, “What if the devil was right?”
  • Hatch says that their global Starxource operation will reduce the population by “biblical proportions.” He continues to describe the plan with this metaphor. “We are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse prophesized to bring about the end of man’s history.”

by Madison Shooter

Maya and the Rising Dark #1

Maya believes herself to be an ordinary middle-schooler, until she witnesses a tear in reality. Suddenly, the stories her father tells about his travels across the world come true. Maya dreams of a man encased in shadows and is attacked by mythical creatures. In addition, her best friend Frankie discovers she has superpowers.

Maya learns that her father is an orisha, a divine spirit being. Beyond that, her community is a secret haven for orishas, meaning that she, Frankie, and their friend Eli, all have orisha powers. But, the one person Maya wishes to tell about the magic world – her Papa – disappears while repairing the veil, the magical barrier between Earth and the Dark. In his absence, Maya learns from the orisha council that her father is the guardian of the veil, which was created to separate Earth from the Dark and its master, The Lord of Shadows. This evil being with similar orisha-like powers wants to use the tears forming in reality to break through the veil once and for all.

As attacks in the human world become frequent, the orishas prioritize the community instead of sending out a rescue mission for Maya’s father. Maya, Frankie, and Eli decide to take matters into their own hands using Papa’s staff to open a magical gateway into the Dark at Comic-Con. Even though the plan is just as crazy as it sounds, Maya is able to open the barrier, and the three friends journey through the Dark. This sparse and dangerous landscape is populated with creatures of legend and beings called darkbringers, who serve the Lord of Shadows. When the group is forced to fight their way through, Maya realizes the danger that they face. She says, “I hadn’t thought through the consequences of our actions… I knew that our parents would ground us for sneaking out. But that was minor compared to the real consequences. That I might have to hurt many people to get Papa back.”

Before Maya reconnects with her father, she is tested when she is forced to part with her friends, who sacrifice themselves so she can go on. Maya says, “Every kid should be so lucky to have friends who believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself. Friends who accept you exactly the way you are. And help you be brave when you don’t know that you can.” Maya is able to manifest her orisha powers and distract the Lord of Shadows long enough to free her father and return to the human world, where she finds that Eli and Frankie escaped alive and unharmed. But, the crisis is far from over. With the Lord of Shadows still at large, the orisha council declares that Maya will be trained by her father to be a guardian of the veil, marking the beginning of her next journey.

Maya and the Rising Dark is an action-packed fantasy story with diverse characters. The principal at Maya’s school goes by they/them pronouns and Frankie has two moms. Maya’s story is laced with themes of community and sacrifice. While constant fighting scenes can distract from the main plot, Maya is a resilient and thoughtful main character to follow throughout this adventure. There is reverence for the divine orishas, and even for the Lord of Shadows; when he is about to kill Maya’s father, she displays sympathy for his motives, showing her maturity. Maya has to grow up fast when the responsibility of saving the world falls on her shoulders, but she does so while keeping her rebellious personality and her kindness. The story blends the African heritage of the author into a modern-day tale about a girl from Chicago’s south side. Readers that enjoyed Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi and stories blending cultural legend into modern adventure, should pick up this book! Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston is another amazing story that is perfect for readers who love action and adventure.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maya’s father, Papa, tells her a story about elokos – mythical creatures who eat people they lure in with magical bells. Papa describes his encounter with the creatures. “I didn’t come out of my trance until they stopped ringing their bells, but by then, they had strung me up between two trees and lit a fire. They were preparing to cook me with my clothes and all. No matter how much I pleaded, they wouldn’t let me go.” He escapes them by singing, which distracts them.
  • While searching for her father, Maya encounters the Lord of Shadows, who intends to kill her. “The shadows pressed in around me and felt slick against my face. . . When I backed away, something reached out of the dark and grabbed my wrist. Cold seared into my skin. I tried to free myself, but the thing only tugged harder. Shadows like writhing snakes crawled up my arm—and I knew it was him. The man from my nightmare. Come to make good on his threat to kill me. I clawed at the shadows with my other hand, only they slithered up that arm too. I screamed, and the darkness muted my voice. When I kicked, my foot connected with air. Pain shot up my arms. My hands had gone numb. Frost started to creep across my skin. I wriggled my stiff fingers, and the ice crystals cracked and shattered. Then, with all my strength, I closed my hands around the shadows, which felt like thick ropes. I was sure they would turn me into an ice cube, but I gritted my teeth and jerked my arms back even harder. This time it worked. . .” Maya escapes the shadows.
  • Frankie and Maya are attacked by shadows. Maya “jerked back, but not fast enough. The shadow slashed against my cheek. ‘Ahhh,’ I screamed and stumbled out of reach. Frankie wasn’t so lucky. The shadow snapped around her wrist. She shrieked . . .More shadows grabbed Frankie from behind, dragging her away from me. . .” Maya hit the shadows and they “hissed, low and menacing. I kept swinging until they let go and Frankie crashed into my shoulder.”
  • While running from werehyenas, Maya and Frankie are magically protected by a barrier. Still, Frankie gets hurt. “In one quick swipe, [the werehyena] scraped his claws against the force field that separated us from certain death. The noise was sharp, and sparks shot out. Thankfully, the barrier held, but Frankie stumbled back a few steps. She folded over like he had punched her in the belly.”
  • A group of darkbringers disguise themselves as school bullies and force Maya, Eli, and Frankie into a fight. “Winston charged first, and I sprang to action. With Papa’s staff, I blocked his path. Something happened then that I didn’t expect. The staff started to glow, and a warm tingling shot up my arm. The glowing shocked the bullies too because they froze for a moment. . .Winston shoved me in the chest so hard that I almost lost my balance. I twirled the staff fast and hit him across his knuckles. He yelped and drew his hand back . . . even with Papa’s staff, I got kicked and punched more times than I cared to admit. . . I attacked again with the staff, batting away barbed tails that stung when they tore into my skin… I slammed the staff into shoulders, chests, and ribs to keep them back.” No one dies, and the fight is described over two pages.
  • A tear in the veil causes massive panic and destruction on Maya’s street. “Outside was complete chaos. People I’d known my whole life tried to free themselves from writhing shadows. My ex-babysitter, Lakesha, dodged a shadow only to have another one rope around her ankle. She fell down, and LJ, her cousin, stomped the shadow over and over until it let her go. He helped her up, and they ran away. They were the lucky ones. Some shadows wrapped people in cocoons and dragged them toward the tear in the veil—toward the Dark.”
  • During this chaos, a darkbringer attempts to hurt Maya’s mother. “Looking down at Mama, he smiled, revealing pointed teeth. His razor-sharp, barbed tail whipped around in a flash, cutting through the air, aimed straight for her. . . Before the darkbringer knew what hit him, I cracked the staff against his tail. He fell back, howling in pain. . . I barely ducked out of the way as the darkbringer’s claws swiped within striking distance of my face. Going on the offense, I angled the staff up and slammed it into his chest. A burst of light came from Papa’s staff, and the impact sent the darkbringer hurtling through the air.”
  • The Lord of Shadows invades Maya’s dreams and tries to kill her. The Lord of Shadow’s “ribbons snapped at me, and I batted them away with the staff. When the staff connected with the Lord of Shadows, magic jerked me back into the human world. . .My wrist burned where one of his ribbons had touched my arm. It happened on the crossroads, but the pain was real.”
  • Maya suspects that a gateway to the veil will open at Comic-Con, so she goes there with Frankie and Eli to open a portal and find her father. While there, they are attacked by darkbringers. Maya “dodged darkbringers left and right, sweeping the staff along my body in a wide arc. I knocked down two who tried to double-team me. . . The sound of bones breaking made my stomach flip-flop, but I kept pushing. Eli ducked under my staff and rammed his shoulder into a darkbringer. He headbutted another one, and punched a third.” As the fight continues, “Maya caught a blow on my shoulder. Sharp pain shot down my spine, and I bit the inside of my cheek until I tasted blood. My knees shook. . .Then I rammed my staff into [the darkbringers’] stomach. When he bent over, that was the end of it. I knocked him out cold.” The fight is described over four pages.
  • After entering the Dark, Maya, Frankie, and Eli find magical birds called impundulus. After they destroy their nest by accident, “the birds tucked their heads between their hunched shoulders and charged. They ran straight for us, their wings fluttering wildly and their bloody spines fanned out for maximum damage. . . We dove out of the way, and only two of the impundulu collided. . . My stomach lurched seeing the birds tangled up like that. Each impaled on the other’s spines. There was so much blood . . . The two tangled birds fell into a heap of twisted spines and feathers and blood while the other two took to the sky.”
  • During the fight, “an impundulu’s talons raked across my shoulder, and I bit back a scream as searing pain brought me to my knees. The bird shrieked, coming at me again, and I rolled out of the way. I fell on my back and slammed the staff into the impundulu’s side. The impact sent the bird tumbling into a cornstalk.” Maya and her friends knock the birds unconscious. The scene is described over two pages.
  • While in the dark, vines erupt from the ground. “Vines covered in thorns shot up from the ground and whipped around Frankie’s feet. She cried out as she hit the dirt. More vines were sprouting up everywhere, thrashing and wriggling toward us. I slammed the staff into the ground, giving it the order to burn the vines. . . fire flared to life on top of a vine writhing toward me. Before long, the fire had grown into a full raging inferno that burned across the cornfield.” Maya accidentally sends the fire towards a group of darkbringer children. The kids throw stones at them, but none of them hit, and Maya and her friends escape.
  • Maya thinks about how Frankie’s first mother died, implying that something bad happened. Frankie “once told me about her first mom—how one day she’d gone to the store for groceries and never returned. The police said that her mom had died in a car accident. Now that I thought about it, that didn’t add up, especially since she was an orisha. She was immortal—no accident could’ve killed her.”
  • Eli inadvertently kills a darkbringer who was inside a bug-like helicopter. Eli “whipped out the prods he took from the darkbringer at Comic-Con and slammed them into the glass dome. An electrical current flickered down the length of the prods, then shot through the craft. Long cracks spread across the glass. . . The pilot yanked at the controls as the wings flapped wildly. He pulled up but didn’t get very far before the craft crashed a few feet away.”
  • Nulan, the darkbringer army commander, kills one of her men for disobeying her. “Nulan reached into her black vest and removed a slim knife of her own, her eyes on Papa’s staff the whole time. She flipped her wrist so fast that the knife was a silver blur. . . Nulan had aimed the blade for the darkbringer who went against her order. He stumbled and fell to his knees with the knife lodged in his chest. She’d killed him—one of her own men.”
  • Nulan also tries to kill Frankie. “Nulan removed another slim knife from her vest and sent it flying straight for Frankie’s heart. . . Just as the knife was inches from my friend, I leaped in front of her. Everything was a blur as I raised the staff to deflect the knife, but before I could, the ground shook hard beneath our feet, then it opened up and swallowed us whole.” Maya opens a portal and saves her friends before Nulan’s knife hits Frankie.
  • After returning to the Dark, Frankie and Eli sacrifice themselves in a fight with Nulan so Maya can find her father on her “Flashes of light crackling like electricity shoot out of Frankie’s hands. . . The darkbringers broke their flight path to get out of the way. Most moved in time, but two of them got caught in her blast and spiraled out of control… Frankie sent another blast, knocking the fire-breathing darkbringers to the ground. . . But as soon as she said it, Nulan sent a knife straight through Frankie’s shoulder.” Eli stays with Frankie and tends to her while Maya leaves.
  • Later, Nulan confronts Maya as she’s trying to free her father. She tells Maya that she killed her friends and insults her father. Maya lashes out. “I knocked my staff against the gym floor, and a streak of white light shot out. It hit Nulan so hard that she slammed into the line of darkbringers standing behind her. They crumped to the floor in a heap.”
  • Nulan orders her soldiers to attack. Maya and her father then fight the darkbringers. Maya “ducked to miss a club aimed straight for my face. Before the darkbringer could swing again, I cracked the staff against her knees. When she dropped to the ground, I landed another thrash across her head, knocking her out cold. . .Three darkbringers swung their battleaxes, and I thrust out the staff to catch the blows. . . Something as slippery as a snake lashed around my waist and jerked me backwards. My staff fell and hit the floor, then the thing lifted me up high in the air. I clawed at what turned out to be a darkbringer’s tail. . . As the barb drove toward my heart, I grabbed the darkbringer’s tail, stopping it from striking. The tail slammed me into the ground, and pain shot through my body. . .” Papa kills the darkbringer.
  • The fight against the Lord of Shadows is at first a long conversation, but it comes to a climax when he grabs Papa with the ribbons that make up his being. “Some of his ribbons had grabbed Papa by the ankle and dangled him upside down like he was a child. Papa clawed at the shadows, but the color was draining from his face fast. The Lord of Shadows was absorbing him, killing him.” Maya is then attacked by him, but escapes by shining light on him, distracting him until Papa and Maya escape.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After seeing many strange occurrences, Frankie suggests that they are under the effect of a hallucinogen. Frankie says, “Maybe there was some mind-altering drug in the vanilla pudding at school today. My moms say that the government performs secret experiments on people all the time.”

Language

  • Eli and a high schooler have a verbal altercation where the bully raises their middle finger.
  • There is some name-calling such as fiend, half-breeds, and beanstalk.
  • Frankie breaks a twig, giving away the group’s hiding location to the darkbringers. In response, “Eli mouthed a curse that would’ve gotten him grounded for a month had Nana been here.”
  • When the Lord of Shadows appears at the story’s climax, Maya says, “Crap.”
  • The Lord of Shadows attacks Maya, and Maya’s Papa starts to curse at him using “some words I had never heard.”

 Supernatural

  • One of the main conflicts in this story is the rift between the real world and the Dark, a different plane of existence filled with creatures called darkbringers. A veil separates these two worlds, which is frequently damaged. Maya’s father fixes these “tears” in the veil.
  • Magic exists, as well as people who can wield magic. Papa describes this world to Maya, revealing that he is the guardian of the veil. He describes the veil between the worlds. “Think of it as an invisible barrier that keeps our world safe from creatures much worse than werehyenas.”
  • Papa also tells Maya that she encountered the Lord of Shadows in a dream. He father says, “He’s as real as you or I,” Papa explained. “He’s trapped in the Dark, but he can enter our world through dreams—which are crossroads between our two worlds.”
  • Maya’s favorite comic book is about an orisha named Oya. Orishas are spirit beings that have a variety of dominions and powers. Oya has these powers too. “Oya wasn’t like most superheroes. She wasn’t from another planet, and she didn’t have fancy gadgets. She was a spirit goddess, an orisha. She controlled wind, lightning, and storms, and never lost a fight.”
  • Eli, Maya’s friend, is obsessed with ghosts and talks about them often “Did you feel a cold spot?” Eli asked. “Like when there’s a ghost around.”
  • Eli also tells facts about ghosts. “Sometimes ghosts can inhabit the bodies of the living.” Eli believes that ghosts are responsible for many of the strange things happening before he learns about the Dark.
  • Eli also suggests that people’s strange behavior is a result of possession. “Maybe they’re possessed by evil spirits,” Eli offered. “One day they’ll try to turn us into zombies, and we’ll have to spray them with ketchup to snap them out of their trance.”
  • The book deals with a variety of other mythical beings and creatures such as elokos, orishas, and darkbringers. Shadows have the ability to attack. There are also creatures such as werehyenas and giant bugs.
  • Maya talks about kishi in reference to her dad’s stories. “I told Tisha Thomas that my father fought a kishi, a creature with a human face on the front side of his head and a hyena on the back side.”
  • Maya’s father also tells her stories of impundulu, magical birds. Impundulu “were magical giant birds that had sharp spikes like fishbones on their bellies. They hardly ever flew, but when they did, their wings sounded like helicopter blades.” Later, Maya, Frankie, and Eli fight multiple impundulus.
  • Maya and Frankie are cornered by were-hyenas, humanoid hyenas similar to werewolves. “It wasn’t until they stepped out of the shadows that I realized the hyenas had grown bigger. They stood on their hind legs, and their claws looked like curled knives. Their torsos stretched into a shape that was unmistakable and impossible. These were werehyenas, like from Papa’s stories, half hyena, half man.”
  • Maya’s Papa gives her a staff that has magical powers, which she uses to defend herself.
  • Maya learns that she is a “godling,” someone that has the blood of an orisha. This enables her to use magic. Frankie and Eli have orisha blood too. Frankie’s power is to create bursts of light, while Eli’s power is to turn invisible. Maya is unsure of her power until later on in the story where she creates a portal between the Dark and Earth.
  • Maya learns that her neighbor is an orisha when the neighbor saves them from being kidnapped by darkbringers. “A giant bird made of blue light circled the edges of the vortex. It was fast—too fast, enough to make my head spin. From what I could tell, it was causing the disturbance. Some of the darkbringers tried to escape, but it was no use. . .”
  • Maya learns that many people in her community are orishas or their descendants, as it is a secret orisha community. Miss Lucille, Maya’s neighbor, explains that humans don’t know of the existence of the orishas and magical beings because they are kept secret. “The orishas decided that the magical species must keep themselves hidden from humans. Among them are the aziza, woodland fairies wary of outsiders. The elokos, who are forest-dwelling elves with an insatiable appetite. There are also the trickster kishi, with their two faces, and the adze, who are fireflies that feed on blood. And of course, the werehyenas, who, as you’ve seen, can be unpredictable. There are countless more. It’s the orishas’ job to keep magic from interfering with human development, as the universe intended.”
  • A girl in Maya’s town opens a portal by snapping her fingers.
  • Maya attends an orisha meeting that happens in outer space.
  • The commander of the darkbringer army, Nulan, is an aziza. Maya reacts to her in awe. “The commander moved like she owned the sky, and even a flock of birds got out of her way . . . She was brown . . . She was golden. It took me a minute to figure out that she was from the aziza. . . The aziza were faeries notorious for not interacting with outsiders.”
  • Maya thinks about grootslang, a creature from one of her father’s stories. Grootslang “looked like a cross between an elephant and a snake. It had leathery black skin and ivory tusks that were venomous.”

Spiritual Content

  • Orishas are both supernatural and spiritual beings. One can pray to an orisha for good luck or wealth. When Maya attends a council meeting of the orishas, she describes them in detail. “A light flashed in front of us, and high-back golden thrones shimmered into existence. The council members sat on them in their semidivine state. . .”
  • The Lord of Shadows is considered a divine being of similar class to the orishas.
  • After learning that she, Frankie, and Eli, are descendants of orishas, Maya wonders if this gives them divine status. “I thought about how the leader of the werehyenas had called us godlings and wondered what it meant. Was it like being a god, but not? Like a pretend god?”
  • Maya is shocked when she learns that her father is a full-blooded orisha named Elegguá. “My father was an orisha—a spirit god, a celestial, and not human.”
  • Maya’s neighbor, another orisha, explains how the universe began. “The universe started as a vast blank slate. It existed without space, time, mass, or depth. It was endless and boundless and void. No one can say how long it remained that way before becoming aware, but soon after, it grew restless. Once the first sparks of matter and antimatter cropped up, the universe found its purpose. It would create. The universe birthed planets, moons, comets, asteroids, black holes, and stars. The things it made hummed with energy, and in their song came the universe’s first and oldest name, Olodumare…” The story continues for a few pages, but the most important part is that Maya’s father created the veil.

by Madison Shooter

 

Save the Sanctuary

Former Army rescue dog, Sgt. Rico, a bomb-sniffing Malinois, is on his first mission in Washington, D.C. to save The Sanctuary animal shelter from the evil Mr. Mocoso. But does Rico have what it takes to lead the Pawtriots to victory and save his fellow canines?

Throughout the story, Army values—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage—are demonstrated through the animals’ actions. In addition, the importance of putting the mission first is reinforced when Chaps, a disabled military dog, gives his life so his friends can escape. In the end, it is the military’s values that allow Rico to become a hero by helping him realize that “soldiers don’t give up on themselves and they don’t’ give up on their fellow animals.”

Army sayings and terminology are used throughout the story. For example, when Rico feels like giving up, another military dog says, “I need you to embrace the suck.” Each time an army word or phrase is introduced, Rico explains what it means. For example, Rico explains that north south is “Army-talk for ‘nodding your head when you understand something.’”

Each chapter starts with the location, date, and military time which makes it easy to follow the timeline. Black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 6 pages and show the animals in action as well as some of the dangers they face—including the villain, rats and crocodiles.

Even though Pawtroit Dog is an illustrated chapter book, it hits on some difficult topics that may upset readers. For example, the dog catchers, which are called “Snatchers,” chase after the animals with the intent to capture and kill them. However, the animals manage to stay safe because they help each other and work as a team. The overall theme that is reinforced repeatedly is “it doesn’t matter if you’re small, young, weak, or even missing a leg—it’s what’s on the inside that counts. You have to have heart! That’s what makes a true Pawtriot.”

Save the Sanctuary is an action-packed story that revolves around two, three-legged military dogs. Readers will enjoy seeing Rico’s growth from a despondent dog to a true hero with a mission. Readers who want a patriotic story that is told from a dog’s point of view should put this highly entertaining story on their reading list. If readers like Pawtroit Dog, they should check out the G.I. Dogs Series by Laurie Calkhoven, which is also told from a dog’s point of view.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While on a mission, Rico accidentally sets off a bomb. “The explosion was so loud that for two weeks all I could hear was ringing in my ears. . . The blast took away my front left leg and my sense of purpose. And worst of all, it took Kris away from me.” The blast is illustrated and shows Rico and Kris being thrown from the impact.
  • Mocoso was angry with his pet monkey, Simon. “He grabbed Simon by the throat and squeezed him so hard that he turned blue. Simon managed to escape and nobody’s heard or seen him since.” Later, Rico finds out that Simon is at the zoo.
  • In order to intimidate Rico, Hans (a dog) approaches Rico and “presses his big wet snout against mine, but I don’t back down. Then he pushes me. I stumble to the ground because I don’t have the balance I used to without a front leg.”
  • The Snatchers “snatch up” the animals from the sanctuary and take them to the pound. Rico watches “as they snatch up each of my fellow animals with pole nets and lock them up in cages, one by one.”
  • While at the pound, “the Snatcher grabs the helpless cat by the scruff of its neck and hauls it away.” Rico realizes that the pound is a “kill shelter. If an animal isn’t adopted in thirty days, then that’s the end of the line.”
  • The animals break out of the pound and run from the Snatchers. The Snatchers finally locate the animals and try to capture them. Rico sees “the Snatchers tear through the woods and start racing towards us. Three of them have hand cannons that shoot nets. A Snatcher fires one at use and I watch it fly through the air.”
  • The animals make mud balls and hurl them at the Snatchers. “Penny quickly sends another one across the field, hitting another Snatcher in the face and sending him tumbling to the ground.” Rico and Sawyer create a diversion. Rico and Sawyer “weave in and out across the field as the Snatchers try to snag us with their nets.” The animals go into the sewers to escape the Snatchers. The scene is described over four pages.
  • While in the sewers, the animals are surrounded by rats until “suddenly a deafening roar breaks the chaos of the chase. . .The ground shakes and the water ripples as a massive reptile, the size of a crocodile, covered in scars and sludge stomps his way towards us.”
  • A dog named Chaps tries to stop the reptile from hurting the others. Rico sees Chaps. “He’s exhausted struggling to catch his breath and has cuts all over his snout.” Chaps gives Rico his prosthetic leg and then Chaps gives Rico “a soldier’s salute and turns to face the Beast. We all watch as he charges right at the massive reptile . . . I knew that was the last time any of us would ever see Chaps. But he went out like a true soldier and put the mission first.”
  • The animals break into Mr. Mocoso’s mansion in order to find a will. When Mr. Mocoso sees them, “Simon swoops down from the chandelier, sending Mr. Mocoso to the ground knocking him out cold.”
  • Mocoso’s Doberman Pinschers surround Rico, but then his friends arrive and surround the Pinschers. Rico tells his friend, “Franny, tie them up so they can’t follow us. And don’t worry, once Mr. Mocoso wakes up, he’ll free them.”
  • When Franny ties up the Pinschers, she uses an electrical wire. The wire starts a fire, and Rico saves Mr. Mocoso and his dogs.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Two mean dogs, Hans and Heinz, call Rico a “three-legged freak.”
  • Heinz calls the animals at the sanctuary knuckleheads.
  • One of the animals calls Mr. Mocoso a jerk.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Red Fox Clan

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

The Search for El Dorado

Towers of gold! Glittering streets! Jewels, coins, and more! Early Spanish explorers heard a story about El Dorado. It was a lost city in the Americans, made of gold. The explorers believed they could find it. Soon the story became a legend, and the legend changed the world. But the city of El Dorado has not been found. . . yet.

The book begins by explaining the Muisca tribe’s traditions and beliefs, which is where the legend of El Dorado most likely started. Then in the 1400s, the Europeans thirst for gold and riches caused explorers to begin searching for the mythical city. In search of a new trade route, Christopher Columbus set sail, looking for a way to get from Europe to Asia. Columbus’s travels inspired others to travel to the Americas in search of gold. The Search for El Dorado explains how the European’s search for gold affected the native people as well as Europeans.

The Search for El Dorado explains the difference between a myth and a legend. “For people who believe, both myth and legends have their own power.” Even though El Dorado has never been found, “El Dorado has become part of our language. It still means something shiny and golden. Mostly, it now stands for an impossible dream that can’t be reached.” Even though El Dorado is a fictional place, the story of El Dorado still inspires people to dream big.

The Search for El Dorado uses short chapters and explains some of the vocabulary, which makes the book accessible to reluctant readers. Large black and white illustrations appear every 5 to 9 pages that show the astronauts in action. Detailed illustrations give readers a glimpse at the time period’s clothing, ships, and people. While the book is easy enough for young, fluent readers, the content will be interesting to older readers as well. The back of the book contains a timeline, additional books to read, and facts about Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela.

As the Europeans expanded into the Americas, greed was the root cause of their travels. The Search for El Dorado explores how the explorers negatively impacted the indigenous people. The book focuses on Christopher Columbus, Sir Walter Raleigh, and other explorers. While the book has many interesting facts, much of the book reads like a history book. The author explains that the search for El Dorado is “a shameful chapter in the history of the Americas.” Anyone who is interested in history or the colonization of the Americas should read The Search for El Dorado. However, others may want to skip this particular book.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Pirates attacked Columbus’s ship. “His ship was burned, and Columbus had to swim to shore.”
  • Sir Walter went in search of El Dorado’s gold. He took his son, Wat, with him. Wat “was a young man and didn’t always think about his actions. He attacked a Spanish fort and was killed.”
  • When Sir Walter returned to England without gold, “the king ordered for him to be killed.”
  • In the search for El Dorado, “so many natives were killed, tortured, and enslaved that it’s difficult to believe. . .The Europeans rode into cities and villages and grabbed what they wanted: not only treasure, but men, women, and children to work for them.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The legend of El Dorado may have started with the Muisca tribe’s culture. When a chief died, a new leader was chosen. Mud and gold dust was smeared all over a young man’s body. “Now he was the Golden man. Would the great god of the lake accept this young man as the next leader?”
  • The Golden Man took a raft to the middle of the lake and “threw jewels into the middle of the lake. These were gifts to the gods.” The Golden Man jumped into the water and dove down. “He went down, down, down to where the gods lived.” If the gods were pleased, the man would swim to the surface. “The gods had accepted him. . . The Golden Man was now chief.”

The Queen of Nothing

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

  • None

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

 

Girl From Nowhere

Ninety-four countries. Thirty-one schools. Two bullets. Now it’s over . . . or so she thinks.

Sophia Hepworth has spent her life all over the world–moving quickly, never staying in one place for too long. She knows to always look over her shoulder, to be able to fight to survive at a moment’s notice. She has trained to be ready for anything.

Except this. Suddenly it’s over. Now Sophia is expected to attend high school in a sleepy Montana town. She is told to forget the past, but she’s haunted by it. As hard as she tries to be like her new friends and live a normal life, she can’t shake the feeling that this new normal won’t last.

Then comes strong and silent Aksel, whose skills match Sophia’s, and who seems to know more about her than he’s letting on . . .

What if everything Sophia thought she knew about her past is a lie?

Sophia is an interesting character, whose parents have taught her many survival skills including how to defend herself, even if that means she must take a life. While Sophia’s conflict isn’t relatable, her story takes the reader on a fast-paced ride through many dangerous situations. Along the way, Sophia meets Aksel, which adds romance and gives Sophia a protector. Eventually, Sophia confides in Aksel and explains how after being kidnapped and tortured, she feels as if she is “tainted.” Aksel helps Sophia realize that she’s not defined by what others did to her.

While Sophia and Aksel are teenagers, they do not act like typical teenagers. Instead, Aksel reveals that he has been secretly training to be an undercover agent. While this explains his advanced skills with weaponry and evasion, readers still may have a difficult time believing that Sophia and Aksel could survive an attack from a trained terror group. The conclusion is one bloody confrontation after another and finally ends with a surprise that has a very little emotional impact. Despite this, Sophia’s story is entertaining and suspenseful, and Aksel is a swoon-worthy protagonist.

Readers who love action-packed, secret agent stories will enjoy Girl from Nowhere. Sophia isn’t portrayed as a helpless girl in need of a man to protect her. Instead, she is a strong character who is intelligent and resilient. Readers who love strong characters, conspiracy theories, and a sprinkle of romance, but don’t want the graphic descriptions of violence should read Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter and Endangered: A Death on a Deadline Mystery by Kate Jaimet.

Sexual Content

  • At a party, Sophia is dancing when Tate “comes up behind me, places his hands on my hips, and sways with me along with the music. . . I elbow him in the chest, right above his second rib.” Then Sophia leaves to line dance with a friend.
  • From the first time Sophia meets Aksel, she feels drawn to him. “His fingers graze mine, igniting flames across my skin.” Often, Sophia thinks about her reaction to Aksel. She wonders, “Why does being around Aksel make my skin feel like it is perpetually on fire?”
  • While out with friends, Tate puts his arm around Sophia’s shoulder. Sophia thinks, “Emma once said memories of kissing Ryan Rice in ninth grade give her the ‘heebie-jeebies.’ This is what I feel when Tate puts his arm around me—the heebie-jeebies.”
  • As Sophia and her friends split up, “Tate slinks his arm around [her] waist.” Tate realizes that he left his keys in the restaurant and leaves Sophia alone.
  • Sophia and Aksel are exploring the wilderness. Sophia’s snowshoe causes her to stumble. Aksel’s “arm is braced firmly around my waist to keep me from falling. He stares down at me, and my cheeks go blistering hot. . .Aksel’s lips press against mine. His fingertips trace my cheek, my jawline, before returning to the nape of my neck. . . Then our lips are meeting again and every nerve in my body is electrified.”
  • After Sophia rejects Tate, a rumor goes around that she “hooked up with Tate outside the Creamery, then hooked up with Aksel hours later.”
  • While swimming, Aksel swims towards Sophia, and “he wraps his large hands around my ankles and stands up in the water. . .Heat spreads like wildfire across my chest and it constricts my airways, like I can’t breathe . . . He outlines my lips with his thumb. He bends forward to kiss me. . .” Aksel stops and asks about a Sophia’s scar.
  • Sophia and Aksel kiss for the first time. They’re at his house when “his hands entwine my waist, resting on the hollow of my lower back. Gently, he pushes me against a wall. . . An intense heat races throughout my body. . .We kiss until he leans away.” The scene is described over a half-page.
  • Sophia and Aksel kiss numerous times. For example, “Aksel’s hands slide across my [Sophia’s] neck, slipping down my back. . . flames of heat surge across my throat. I feel his pulse, flush against my chest. Our lips hover. . . He pulls me in, wraps his strong arms around my waist, and kisses me.”

Violence

  • After being kidnapped, Sophia is home alone when someone breaks into her apartment. She was hiding when “right before he stepped into the kitchen—pop! He slumped to the ground, dead the instant my father’s bullet penetrated the back of his head.”
  • While walking in the forest, a bear attacks Sophia. “Huffing and grunting, she swats my back, violently rolling me over. My skull hits the dirt. She strikes my thigh fiercely with her paw.” Someone shoots a rifle and the bear runs away.
  • Sophia has a flashback that makes her panic. When she was younger, her family charted a sailboat when a group of men began chasing them. Sophia’s parents tell her to hide underwater. Her mother says, “No bubbles. You have to stay hidden, and that’s the only place! Now go!”
  • When the men get close to the sailboat, “gunfire erupted. . .” When Sofia comes up, she sees “four bloodied bodies floating in the water. Facedown.”
  • While attending school in Africa, the class goes on a safari. While the group was exploring, a truck blockades the road. One of the men gropes Anika and “her brother Peter shouted at him. The rebel hit Peter so hard with his rifle barrel, Peter staggered into the bumper, bleeding from his ear. . .”
  • One of the rebels shot the driver, who “crumpled onto the dirt, dead.” The rebels killed another adult, but when they went to shoot some of the children, the gun jammed. Sophia describes, “I reached into my boot, pulled out my 5-7, and fired twice. The commander dropped to the ground. A rebel shot Katu, so I shot him too, a double rap into his stomach. . .” The school group race to the hospital, but the fate of the injured adults isn’t known.
  • While leaving a restaurant, Sophia sees a man who has been following her. The man is standing next to Aksel’s truck, blocking the passenger door. “Abruptly, the man takes a step toward Aksel, like a tiny squirrel provoking a chained dog. Glinting in the man’s hand is the shining, polished edge of a blade. . .” After a short standoff, the man backs down.
  • Sophia tells Aksel about being kidnapped. While in Istanbul, two women ask Sophia for directions. Sophia “turned in time to see the second woman corner me. Her hand shot out like a viper from the folds of her pleated dress, snatching my wrist with a viselike grip. The first woman threw her shawl over my head, muffling my screams as they dragged me into the alley.”
  • After the two women restrain Sophia, a man blindfolds her and takes her someplace where she “was tied to a copper pipe jutting out from between the floorboards. . . I was scared. I knew I would be sold to a terror group, or a wealthy buyer. . .” A man finally unties Sophia and questions her. “When I didn’t answer, he touched my cheek and rubbed his hand against my neck . . . That was worse than when he hit me. And he did. . . often. . . he made me bleed.”
  • While being held captive, a man named Farhad “pulled out a rusty knife and put it next to [Sophia’s] throat.” The man threatened her, “Tell us who your father is or I send him your head.” When Sophia spat in his face, the man cut her, leaving a scar under her chin.”
  • Sophia was able to get the knife from Farhad. She “swung the knife, cutting him from his forehead to the bottom of his cheek.” Then, Sophia was able to escape. The kidnapping is described over four pages.
  • Terrorists surround Aksel’s house in an attempt to capture Sophia. One of the men throws a grenade. “The floor-to-ceiling glass windows shatter. The trim erupts in bright flames, splintering shards of wood across the room. We throw ourselves to the floor. Aksel turns midair, landing on top of me, shielding my body.”
  • The terrorists begin shooting at both Aksel and Sophia. Aksel “fires twice. Both bullets hit a man’s chest. His knees buckle and he drops. Aksel. . . pulls the trigger again. This time he punctures the man’s neck. A geyser of blood sprays across the foyer.”
  • When some of the terrorists enter the house, “Boom! A flash of bright light, the doors burst open. The force of the exploding thrust me [Sophia] across the room. I land hard on my bleeding leg.” Then “a man lunges for Aksel’s neck. Aksel spins hard around, hitting the butt of his rifle into the man’s face with a bone-crunching sound.”
  • A man is able to capture Sophia and “holds my arms behind my back and wraps a cable tie around my wrists. . . I throw my head backwards with as much force as I can. Crack! The Chechen lets go of me. . .” Sophia is able to use a knife to cut the man. “The semiautomatic drops from his hands as he tries to stop blood spurting from the neck.” The bloody scene is described over nine pages.
  • Sophia reads a report about Anton Katranov, who was an undercover spy that worked under Sophia’s father. Sophia’s father, Kent, found Anton “face down on the floor, arms outstretched… behind him were the lifeless bodies of his two boys. And behind them, blocking the entrance to the back bedrooms, lay the crumpled body of Mrs. Katranov.” The deaths are described over two pages.
  • Sophia gets angry at her parents and sneaks off a train. When Sophia realizes she is being followed, she goes into a crowded club and then tries to leave, undetected. She cuts through an alley and sees, “the bald man. I reverse, but two other men approach from behind me. . . Between them is a girl with long, dark hair, and silver hoops in her ears. . . Now, she stares at me, wide eyed. Petrified. Blood is coagulating around a cut in her eyebrow. Her lip is swollen. . .” Sophia gives herself up, so the men will let go of the girl.
  • Sophia is thrown into a car, and her ankles are zip-tied. Despite this, she is able to “curl my knees into my chest, pivot to the left, and rocket my legs out from my body. My blunt heels collide with the back of the driver’s head.” The car swerves and crashes. Sophia escapes.
  • The story concludes with a multi-chapter, extended description of the battle between Sophia, her parents, and the terrorists. Sophia’s father appears out of nowhere and grabs one of the terrorists, Munich Jacket. “Unflinching, my father bends Munich Jacket’s forefinger so far in the wrong direction that the bone snaps in two. . . With a swift swipe of his HK, my father breaks Munich Jackets’ skull.” There is a blood gun battle where many people are killed, including Sophia’s father.
  • As Sophia runs from the terrorists, she runs across a frozen pond. When the men try to follow, “I turn to see the ice dissolve beneath them too. Their bodies plunge into the frigid water.”
  • Bakami, the terrorist who wants Sophia, finally captures her. “Bakami slides his hand around the back of my neck and pinches my spine so savagely between his forefinger and thumb I nearly black out. . . Slowly, I tilt my neck back then ram my head forward. My forehead collides into his face with a hard crunch . . . Blood gushes from his nostrils, soaking the collar of his shirt.”
  • When Sophia continues to talk back to Bakami, he “traces my collarbone with his fingernail. . . with the back of his hand, he swings the weight of his forearm across my jaw. He grips my neck, pinching my esophagus, strangling me.” Bakami points a gun at Sophia, readying to shoot her when, “A gunshot sounds. Followed by another. . . Abramovich [Bakami] crumbles back against the mahogany desk, blood pouring from the silk handkerchief in his pocket.”
  • Sophia and the secret agents follow the terrorists, who set off a bomb. When Sophia comes to, “my skin is on fire. Hot pieces of metal gash my forearms like fiery embers; they singe my shirt, engulfing the pavement and every nearby surface.” While there are several injuries, no deaths are described.
  • When the double agent is discovered, Sophia’s mother “grabs Andrews by her lapel, flings her around, and shoves. Andrews tumbles backward out of the plane, sucked into the sky.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Sophia is injured, she is given an injection of lidocaine.
  • Sophia’s captor drinks vodka.

Language

  • Damn is used twice. Sophia’s father tells her, “Stop being obstinate and get on the damn plane.”
  • One of the terrorists calls Sophia a whore.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Battle of the Ampere

After sacrificing himself for the successful destruction of the Starxource plant, Michael is lost in the Peruvian rainforest. He’s rescued by a group of natives named the Amacarra tribe, who are also sheltering another one of Hatch’s electric children: Tessa. From Tessa, Michael learns that the Elgen have a fleet of boats, including the Ampere, where the head of the Elgen corporation resides. Michael’s next goal is to track down Hatch who lived through the destruction of the plant and seized control of the Ampere which is his new base of command. But first, Michael must reunite with the Electroclan if he wants to have any hope of taking Hatch down.

Battle of the Ampere is broken into three parts. The first part follows Michael and Tessa’s journey through the jungle with Jaime, their guide, who works for the unnamed resistance against the Elgen corporation. The resistance is headed by someone who Michael calls “the voice.” The voice wants the Electroclan to sink the Ampere to put a stop to Hatch’s plans.

 The second part of the book details the fate of the remaining Electroclan members. The Peruvian government declared the Electroclan terrorists after the destruction of the Starxource plant left much of Peru without electricity. It’s up to Michael and Tessa to rescue them from prison.

Lastly, the book covers the sinking of the Ampere, which puts a dent in Hatch’s plans. Unfortunately for the Electroclan, Hatch still escapes with his life and the other electric children. This book is an important read because the Electroclan is tested in ways it hasn’t been before: losing one of its members. Wade dies during the group’s escape from the Peruvian army. Michael reflects that “Grief is a powerful force that settles in the heart like a dark, heavy fog.” The group certainly feels the weight of grief as they split up; some of them choose to return home rather than continue to risk their lives to sink the Ampere. Michael says that the split hurts him, “not just because I was losing my friends, but because deep inside I really wanted to go home with them.” Even though the decision is hard, Michael still chooses to do what he thinks is right.

Things look especially grim at the climax of the novel when Hatch locks the Electroclan in the engine room of the Ampere. The group decides to ignite the bomb they have with them, sacrificing themselves so that they can sink the ship and take Hatch down with them. However, at the last moment, they are rescued by other members of the Electroclan who decided not to return home after all. Upon reuniting, Abigail says to Michael, “You said not to regret my decision. I couldn’t. If something had happened to you, I would have regretted it the rest of my life.”

Battle of the Ampere is darker than the last installment, but it highlights a worthwhile message of sticking by loved ones even when the odds are against you. When the Electroclan wants to give up, Michael emphasizes that they should not let Wade die in vain by letting the Elgen win. The story addresses the grief that comes with losing friends, but it also shows how to preserve their memory. At the end of Battle of the Ampere, Hatch escapes once again, but the Electroclan have learned an invaluable lesson: they are stronger together than apart.

Sexual Content

  • Taylor and Michael reunite, they kiss. Michael runs to her. They “hugged, then she pressed her lips against mine.” When they kiss again, someone says, “Get a room.”
  • When Jack and Abi say goodbye, they kiss. Abi, “leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. Then she looked intensely into his eyes, then kissed him on the mouth.”

Violence

  • During their trek through the forest, Michael and Tessa are caught by Elgen guards, who torture them with RESATs (devices that are made to paralyze the children’s electricity). Michael narrates, “Out of my peripheral vision, I could see them cuffing Tessa’s hands as well. She was still crying but not struggling. She looked as if she was having difficulty breathing. The RESAT was set way too high for her.”
  • Jaime is also captured. Michael says, “With some effort I looked over at Jaime. He was so still I wondered if he was dead. . . But they tranquilized him. The Elgen only killed when their foe had no value. Jaime had value. They would torture him. They would break him and learn about the voice.”
  • To kill the guards holding them hostage, Michael activates a sentry gun. Michael says, “I got the remote in my hands and moved it around in my fingers. As the first guard reached me, I pressed the button. The entire campsite exploded with machine gun fire. . . I closed my eyes until the firing stopped, the stench of smoke falling low to the ground. . . I dared not even move my head enough to look around to see if anyone was left. . . The Elgen guards were lying all around me, but no one was moving. I looked back at Tessa. She was shaking. She tried to speak but couldn’t. She was drenched with sweat and her blouse looked as if she had showered in it. The RESAT was set way too high. I was worried that if I couldn’t get it turned off soon that it might stop her heart.”
  • The Electroclan (minus Michael and Tessa) attempt to escape from prison in a van driven by Peruvians, but they are caught. Jack is shot in the process. “The transport veered off the road and everyone bounced around in the back. Bullets tore through the front and side windows of the cab, ripping apart the front of the van. A stray bullet hit Jack in the arm . . . As they lay there, dozens of Peruvian soldiers surrounded the vehicle. Soldiers pulled open the front door of the van, then dragged the bodies of the traitorous soldiers out of the cab. ‘Están muertos.’ [They’re dead].”
  • On board the Ampere, the Elgen council votes to execute Hatch. He attacks them by using the electric children who are still loyal to him. “The corridor lights flickered. Then the lights at the end of the hall went dark. . . both guards drew their weapons, the first a submachine gun, the second a Colt sidearm. Suddenly the second guard dropped his handgun and began screaming. His face was red and he was violently shaking his hands in the air. ‘My hands! They’re burning!’ Then, the first guard also threw his gun to the floor and fell to his knees, pulling off his boots…” The two guards lay on the ground writhing and screaming with pain.
  • The kids continue to abuse the guards before locking them in the ship’s brig. Quentin makes the guards strip down to their underwear even though they’ve been burned. Torstyn orders one to crawl inside the cell. “The guard hurriedly pulled down his slacks, screaming as they brushed against his feet. Then he crawled into the cell, whimpering.”
  • When a hostage board member tries to grab a gun, Hatch throws him out of a window. “The guards lifted the man and threw him out. The sound of his screaming could be heard until a distant splash ended it.”
  • The guards also hurt head chairman Schema on Hatch’s orders. “The captain walked up to Schema and pulled him out of his chair, forcing him to kneel, then kicked him in the stomach. Schema gasped, then fell to his side, coughing fiercely. . . Hatch turned around and said, ‘Captain of the guard, I want former chairman Schema hung upside down by his feet.’” Later, while drunk, Hatch visits Schema. Schema “had been hanging for more than three hours and was unconscious. There was a pool of vomit on the floor beneath him.”
  • Michael, Tessa, and Jaime work together to stop a Peruvian convoy that is transporting the rest of the Electroclan to trial. Michael attacks the soldiers with lightning. Michael makes a ball of lightning and “lobbed it into the truck’s cab. There was a flash of blue light, then the sound of a head hitting the dashboard.”
  • Mercenaries use the attack on the Peruvian convoy to capture Jack and Taylor for ransom money. A few of the men argue over how to split the money. One of men pulls out a gun. “The Australian [mercenary] drew first and shot him twice. Then he shot the man next to him. The other three men put their hands in the air as smoke rose up from the campsite.”
  • Wade is killed in the escape. “Jack was kneeling on the ground holding Wade in his arms. There was blood everywhere. As we got to Jack’s side, he was pressing down on Wade’s abdomen. Blood was rising up between his fingers. Wade was shaking and his skin was pale and waxlike.”
  • Michael reflects on Wade’s death. “Time seemed frozen, disjoined like broken sequences cut out of a horror movie. Jack’s hands and torso were drenched in blood and he was screaming in anguish. . . During it all, one of the guards woke and began shouting at us to let him go.”
  • After Wade dies, Michael walks over to a guard. “When [the guard] saw the fierce anger on my face his own expression turned from anger to fear. I had to control myself so that I only shocked him unconscious. Then Zeus and I dragged him out of the clearing into the jungle, crammed leaves into his mouth, and tied his shirt around his face to keep him from making any more noise. We were doing it for his benefit. In Jack’s current state he would gladly silence him permanently. Then, Zeus, Ian, and I dragged the other guards into the jungle. There was no need to tie up the guard who had shot wade. He hadn’t survived Zeus’s blast.”
  • Taylor informs Michael that Jack intends to “go down when we sink the Ampere.” Jack refers to their mission as “a suicide mission” a few times, reflecting his wish to die when they sink the ship. Michael tells Jaime, “[Jack] blames himself for Wade’s death. Taylor told me she read his mind and he’s not expecting to survive the attack. It’s like he’s just accepted this is going to be a suicide mission.”
  • Jack cuts Wade’s initials into his arm. “Jack walked into the kitchen. His arm was covered with blood. . . He held up his wound. He had a cut a jagged line on his forearm below his tattoo.”
  • After the group infiltrates the Ampere, Michael finds the aftermath of Hatch’s torture of the board members: “Two of the cells were occupied. One had an Elgen guard lying unconscious on the floor in a pool of blood. The other was jammed full of people, with a woman hanging upside down against the bars, her long hair touching the floor.” The woman has died.
  • Taylor reboots someone too hard. “The man screamed out with pain, fell to one knee, then to his side, crying out as he hit the floor.” Ostin tells Taylor that she probably gave the man an aneurysm.
  • After sinking the Ampere, the Electroclan celebrates Wade’s birthday. Taylor reads a post from a blog Wade kept. The blog says, “Today, my grandmother hit me again. She bashed me like a hundred times with a wooden spoon, and then with a tennis racquet. I have cuts and bruises all over. It takes all I have not to just haul off and knock her one, but I know they’ll throw me in jail if I do. The last time I stood up to her she called the police, and when they came she acted like a sweet old lady who got stuck with a low-life juvie… Sometimes I feel like this crummy world is completely stacked against me and I want to give up.”
  • Wade writes about Jack’s history in his blog too. “Jack’s been dealt a bad hand too. His old man’s an alcoholic. His mom left him, and one of his brothers is a drug head and in prison, but Jack never gives up and he never complains. . . If it wasn’t for him, I probably would have just ended it a long time ago.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hatch and the kids drink alcohol in a toast to their future successes. Hatch gets drunk and visits Schema in the brig, but Schema is unconscious.

Language

  • The Australian mercenary calls a few of his men “wankers” and “bloody crook[s]” for being cowards and wanting more money.
  • After the Electroclan escapes to a nearby town, the townspeople recognize them and surround them because they still believe they are terrorists. Ostin calls it, “a freakin’ lynch mob.”
  • Ostin tells Hatch that he is “a skid mark on the underwear of humanity.”

Supernatural

  • There are seventeen electric children in the series. Each one has a different electricity-related power including the ability to create light, heat, magnetism, or lightning. Others can interfere with electrical equipment. Some of the kids can manipulate electrical signals within the body that allow them to read minds, take away pain, and create emotional responses such as fear. For example, Michael can make his body electric and is able to absorb the energy from the other children and concentrate it into lightning he can pulse and throw. Taylor can read minds due to electrical brain signals. Ian is blind and uses electro-location to see through walls and solid objects.
  • Tessa, another one of the electric children, meets Michael in the rainforest. Unlike Michael, she amplifies electricity rather than taking it away.
  • The Amarcarra people believe Dr. Hatch is a Chullanchaqui. Tessa explains, “The natives believe the Chullanchaqui is a demon who lives in the Amazon jungle. It appears as a friend and lures people off into the jungle where they are never heard from again.”
  • The Peruvian people have a similar distrust in the electric children. “Rumors spread quickly through the Peruvian military force that eight teenagers they were hunting in the jungle were more than just young terrorists. They were part of an occult group called the Electroclan and workers of black magic – a rumor that gained credence when it was discovered that some of them actually glowed in the dark.”

Spiritual Content

  • Hatch says, “Fate is an excuse for people who are too stupid or too weak to make their own future.” Later he adds, “You can’t fight destiny.”
  • Hatch and Quentin talk about the Bible. Hatch says, “It’s fabulous fiction, really. Hogwash, of course, rubbish and drivel. But every now and then, the writers got it right. Did you know that it prophesizes of us?”
  • Hatch quotes the Bible, “And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. . . The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.” Hatch thinks “the seven heads and ten horns, the number seventeen, represents the seventeen electric children. And the dragon gave them their power, as I have given you yours. Just as I will give you thrones and great authority. And the people of the world shall fear you and they shall worship me.”
  • When they bury Wade, “Ostin fashioned a small cross from tree branches.”
  • An innkeeper who shelters the Electroclan says, “I will pray to the Virgin Mary for your safety.”
  • Michael is worried that Jack wants to commit suicide. Michael says, “I don’t know what to do when someone loses hope.” Jaime replies, “you pray for them.”

by Madison Shooter

The Wicked King

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

  • None

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

 Rise of the Elgen

After escaping the Elgen Academy, Michael Vey and his Electroclan return to Idaho to figure out their next step: going to Peru to rescue Michael’s mother who is imprisoned in the Elgen’s Starxource electricity plant. Meanwhile, the evil Dr. Hatch has gone rogue after the Elgen board decides his electric children should be sent back to their normal lives.

In secrecy, Hatch calls thousands of Elgen guards to the plant in Peru in order to brainwash them into becoming his army. His plan is to spread a new form of renewable energy, created by electric rats. Michael quickly deduces, “If the world became dependent on Elgen energy, the Elgen would control the world.” Michael and the rest of the Electroclan aren’t about to let that happen. The confrontation is bound to be shocking.

The second installment of the Michael Vey Series picks up almost immediately after the first. The reader joins Michael and his friends on an action-packed adventure through the Peruvian jungles. This book focuses on loyalty and bravery, as sacrifices and trust are essential in carrying out the rescue plan. In addition, Michael learns that he and his friends are not alone—they have allies that also wish to see the Elgen fall. Nevertheless, the pressure is on Michael and his friends as Hatch continues to hunt them.

Rise of the Elgen is more methodical than The Prisoner of Cell 25 as it focuses on the infiltration plan and multiple escapes from Hatch’s grasp. Because of the risk, sometimes Michael considers that he might die along the way. The threat of death and capture may be difficult for young readers to relate to, although they will admire Michael’s dedication and his loyalty to his friends. Michael thinks, “the only thing worse than dying would be to watch everyone I loved suffer and die too.” Michael’s unfailing selflessness makes the risk worth it – he is willing to die if it means his loved ones and the world can be free from the evil Elgen corporation.

The fast-paced story is thrilling and showcases some of the characters in greater depth, such as Ostin, who gets a few moments to shine with his intellect, and Michael, who struggles with leading the Electroclan into danger. After finishing the story, the reader knows that Michael’s conflicts are far from over. Though he escapes the compound and successfully rescues his mother, Michael is still separated from his friends. Michael fears that the Elgen corporation will keep hunting them until the Electroclan joins their side. Michael’s fight for his friends – and now the world – to live free of the Elgen’s grasp makes this story a must-read. In the face of these odds, Michael is not always a fearless leader, but is often torn between his responsibility to protect his family and his so-called destiny as one of Hatch’s elite electric creations. This conflict makes his character genuine and relatable to anyone who struggles with the pressure of growing up. Though Hatch would say that Michael deserves to rule the world beside him, Michael’s humility and open heart proves that he is just like the rest of us.

Sexual Content

  • Taylor and Michael are dating. They hold hands and kiss a few times. “‘Are you still going to kiss me?’ she asked. . . I leaned forward and kissed her.”
  • When Jack goes on an errand with Abi, a boy suggests they are “probably kissing” and that’s why they are taking so long.
  • The ranchers at the compound use a tube—”the Weekend Express”—to escape. They use it to visit their girlfriends. When the Electroclan uses this tube, Ian lies to a guard saying they are “hooking up” with Raúl’s cousins.
  • A guard remarks that Michael’s mom is good-looking and that he made her “belly dance for a glass of water.”

Violence

  • Low level descriptions of violence, such as knocking out guards or shocking them unconscious are frequent.
  • Ostin is worried about his parents’ reaction after running away to help Michael. Ostin says, “I am so freaking dead . . . My dad’s going to tear off my arms and beat me to death with them.”
  • Upon returning to their apartment building, Michael and Ostin discover that Ostin’s parents have been taken. Jack also finds that the Elgen have burned down his house.
  • A mystery contact helps the Electroclan escape as Hatch zeroes in on them. They give the group two Hummers. Jack says his brother drove one in Iraq, but it was “blown up underneath him by an IED.” His brother survived.
  • While in a safe house, Hatch has the kids kidnapped and put in vans. A guard tortures Zeus, who is shocked every time he touches water. “I caught a glimpse of what he’s taken from the cabinet. It was a child’s plastic squirt gun… [The guard] pulled the trigger and a stream of water showered on Zeus. I heard the crisp sparking of electricity… He sprayed again. There was a louder snap, and Zeus cried out this time. He was panting heavily and moaning in pain… He began pulling the trigger over and over. Zeus let out a bloodcurdling scream.”
  • Jack and Wade learn that the Elgen keep finding them because they have GPS trackers in their arms. To destroy the trackers Michael shocks them. Abigail takes the pain from Wade and Jack, although it hurts her instead, which makes her cry. “Jack’s body heaved and Abigail jumped back with a scream. The spot on Jack’s arm was bright red and there was a blister where my finger had touched him…I put my finger to the spot [on Wade] and immediately pulsed… Abigail cried out as she pulled away, shaking her hand in pain. Tears were rolling down her face.”
  • In one chapter, there are three references to suicide: 1. Hatch has been reading a book on mind control. He enjoys studying hypnosis and suicide cults. 2. Hatch talks to the Elgen board. A man says that of the three missing GPs, two are Jack and Wade, and the other committed suicide. 3. The chapter closes with a phone call informing Hatch that Tanner, one of his electric kids, attempted suicide. “Tanner just tried to kill himself.”
  • One of the electric children uses electricity to microwave things, including a snake. The boy killed the snake “as it was wrapping its coils around me, I looked it in the eyes and cooked it. Its brain exploded out its ears.”
  • Hatch threatens to kill the children by torture if they reveal his secret plans. “The punishment for disclosing a C10 secret is death by torture.”
  • While Hatch and the electric children are on an airplane, Tanner tries to bring down the aircraft. Another child, Torstyn, intervenes and starts to cook Tanner with his powers. “‘Shoot him!’ Hatch shouted to the guard. The guard didn’t move. He just stared, as if frozen. ‘Shoot him before he kills us all. Now!’ The guard still hesitated. Suddenly, Tanner started screaming, ‘I’ll stop! I’ll stop!’ Hatch looked over to see Torstyn, his lip curled in anger, his hand extended towards Tanner.” Tanner is promptly knocked out.
  • Hatch and the kids arrive at the powerplant in Peru, which is fueled by electric rats. The kids are forced to watch the rats’ feeding time, where they strip the meat off the bone of two live bulls in minutes. “Within seconds, the bull was completely covered by the rodents in a wild feeding frenzy…Within three minutes, the bull was reduced to nothing but a skeleton. Even its internal organs were eaten.”
  • The rats are also cannibalistic, eating biscuits made from their dead and ground-up predecessors. “Those tasty little biscuits are called Rabisk. They’re made of ground-up rats: meat, fur, and bonemeal.”
  • The plant has a Re-Education center for rogue guards. Hatch says, “This is where we teach these misguided souls the error of their thinking . . . in the right environment the mind can be molded like clay. Men and women walk in here as enemies and come out as devotees, willing to lay down their lives for our cause.”
  • There is a gruesome “re-ed” process that Hatch describes. “When the prisoners are brought in for re-education, they go through our boot camp, a carefully orchestrated psychological assault guaranteed to drive them to submission or madness… First, they are shown a rat feeding, then told that they will be fed to the rats the next morning. While they await their fate, they enter phase one: They are locked naked in a three-by-three cell without food or water… During the next seventy-two hours, loud music is piped into their cube, nonstop… After those three days comes phase three. The music stops. They are told that due to the mercy of the Elgen and because we believe that they still might be saved, their life has been temporarily spared. This is when their education begins. We start by playing a looped audio presentation we call The Scold. This recording consists of different voices screaming at them…. [after which,] they are usually reduced to whimpering idiots.”
  • Sharon Vey, who is being held in the prison area, is tortured by Tara until she passes out (which we learn via Tara; we do not see it happen).
  • Hatch welcomes the new soldiers to the compound and shows them a video of the guard being fed to the rats. “The image on the screen behind Hatch changed, revealing a close-up of the bowl’s chute… When the chute reached its extremity, the door in the wall opened. A man’s black boot appeared, followed by the rest of his body as he was pushed out and the door shut behind him. The guard was fully dressed in Elgen uniform and bound at his legs and wrists… Within seconds the guard was covered with rats. His amplified screaming echoed through the entire hall for less than a minute, leaving the men silent. After just ninety seconds the man’s skeleton was ejected from the chute.” Hatch makes it clear that this is common practice for insubordination.
  • After the electric kids make it to Peru, their jungle guide, Jaime, shows them a tangarana tree, which has a symbiotic relationship with ants. Jaime explains, “The ants protect the tree and the tree gives them shelter . . . The natives used to tie their enemies to the tree. The ants would eat them alive.”
  • Raúl is a rancher for the Elgen compound and assists the Electroclan in their break-in. He hates the Elgen for stealing his family’s land. He has scars on his back from being whipped by the Elgen guards. “Those scars on his back are from the guards. The Elgen lost some cattle to a jaguar, so the guards whipped [Raúl] as an example to the other ranchers.”
  • When a guard remarks that he made Michael’s mother “belly dance for a glass of water,” Michael shocks him. Michael says that he’s “never shocked someone that hard before.” Ostin says, “Michael, stop it! You’ll kill him!”
  • The Electroclan finds Tanner imprisoned and free him from a device called a RESAT which uses Nichelle’s ability to cause pain and dampen the kids’ electricity. However, Tanner doesn’t want to be saved because he’s a murderer. Tanner says, “Do you have any idea how many people I’ve killed? Thousands.”
  • While escaping, the group runs from the rats that Hatch unleashes on them. To escape, they trigger the sprinkler system, which nearly kills Zeus. Michael describes, “Zeus was completely covered by the rats . . . his skin was severely blistered and blood was streaming down his arms and legs from rat bites.”
  • As the group is escaping the compound, Michael hangs back to create a diversion. “I produced a lightning ball in each hand and simultaneously threw them in the faces of the guards closest to me, dropping them both to the ground. Then I lunged at the captain as he reached for his RESAT. I never made it. Two darts hit me in the back, followed by a third, taking my breath away.”
  • Michael is tortured by the RESAT device after Hatch captures him. “[Hatch] reached over to the box on my chest and turned a knob. Increased pain shot through my body…” Later on, he does it again: “the RESAT buzzed, and pain racked my body. I gasped, my eyes welling up from the pain.”
  • Then, Hatch tells Michael he’s going to feed him to the rats. “This time there will be no one to save you… I’ve seen [the rats] strip a bull to bones in less than two minutes. I can’t imagine the pain, the sheer agony, as a thousand little teeth devour your flesh.”
  • Meanwhile, the others attempt to rescue Michael by blowing up the cooling vent to the plant as well as the backup generators with dynamite. The plan is successful, and Michael enters the space with the rats only to find out that he can absorb their electricity. The power of it kills the rats before they can eat him.
  • As Michael escapes he steals a gun but doesn’t use it. Search helicopters locate him, but Tanner stops them. “The helicopter to my left began to descend when it suddenly started to wobble. It yawed violently to one side, veering directly into the path of another helicopter. Their blades collided and both helicopters exploded. The third and fourth helicopters dropped to the ground.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Jack says his “old man . . .  drinks sometimes.”
  • Michael is struck by darts which reduce his power and make him dazed and in pain.
  • After Tanner tries to commit suicide, Hatch has him heavily sedated and medicated.
  • When Tanner tries to harm others, Hatch says to his doctor, “Sedate the boy until anesthetic flows from his tear ducts.”

Language

  • There is occasional name-calling including words like “loser,” “pretty boy,” and “stupid.”

Supernatural

  • Based on the electric children as models, the Elgen have created electric rats which are used to generate electricity by running on a grid. The rats can grow very large and glow like the children do.
  • The seventeen electric children have electric-based powers and have a faint glow in the dark. We met Torstyn in the second book, who can microwave objects. We also learned about Quentin, who can create EMPs or electromagnetic pulses. For a complete list, read the review for The Prisoner of Cell 25.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Madison Shooter

Fable #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Maddie Shooter

 

Salt to the Sea

Set during the end of World War II, Salt to the Sea follows the story of four refugees seeking shelter from the rampages of war. With the rapid advance of Soviet forces against Hitler’s Reich in Poland, Latvia, East Prussia, and Lithuania, thousands of refugees flood toward the port of Gotenhafen with the dim hope of escape. For these thousands, Gotenhafen is a chance to flee the inevitable onslaught and destruction created by the oncoming Soviets. Amidst this hurried procession of souls are four teenagers who witnessed the innumerable tragedy wrought by war. Each teen is from a different homeland and has a different background, yet all have equally dangerous secrets.

Joana is a nineteen-year-old Lithuanian expatriate who previously spent the entirety of the war as a conscripted nurse, tending to wounded and dying soldiers. Florian is an eighteen-year-old Prussian thief and forgery master wanted by the Nazis because of his shameful past. Alfred, also referred to as “Frick”, is a delusional seventeen-year-old Nazi Kriegsmarine soldier who is attempting to overwrite his troubled past through enlistment. Emilia is a fifteen-year-old Polish refugee running from the destruction of her homeland as both the Nazis and Soviets hunt her and her countrymen. Each character carries their own mysteries, whether shameful or perilous.

Salt to the Sea is told in first person point of view, with the main narrative being split between the four characters. Each chapter shifts from one character’s point of view to another, creating a cleverly knitted narrative that explores the ongoing tumult of their lives. Although each of our four protagonists have their own agendas, the audience can sympathize with each character as they struggle to not only survive but to also find themselves.

Salt to the Sea is a fast-paced, intense, and emotional story that will have readers gripped to the very last page. Sepetys does an incredible job weaving multiple narratives into one effortless adventure. Each chapter provides the reader with an increasingly dark understanding regarding the horrors of war and the vast challenges that refugees must overcome. As this book follows the inevitabilities of war, there are distinct violent moments and deaths which Sepetys has written to be intentionally jarring.

Although distressing and dark, Salt to the Sea tells the hopeful story of refugees fighting for a better future and their personal growth along the way. Salt to the Sea is a must-read for all those interested not only in history but also in the human condition as Sepetys colorfully illustrates the horrors of war.

Sexual Content

  • There are references to rape or other non-consensual sexual content. A passing elderly refugee asks Joana if she carries any poison. The woman says “I understand. But you are a pretty girl. If Russia’s army overtakes us, you’ll want some [poison] too.”
  • While on the boat, Joana kisses Florian. “She stood on her toes, took my face in her hands, and kissed me.”
  • When she was fifteen, Emilia became pregnant when she was raped.

Violence

  • While fleeing through a snow-laden forest, Florian kills a Russian soldier who was harassing Emilia. Florian “stood in the forest cellar, my gun fixed on the dead Russian.” The killing was not described.
  • Multiple references are made to Hitler’s Final Solution. “Hitler aimed to destroy all Poles. They were Slavic, branded inferior. . . Hitler set up extermination camps in German-occupied Poland, filtering the blood of innocent Jews in the Polish soil.”
  • While fleeing westward, Soviet planes drop bombs on top of forests which poses an immediate threat to Joana, Emilia, and Florian. “The bombs began falling. With each explosion, every bone in my body vibrated and hammered, clanging violently against the bell tower that was my flesh.”
  • Joana mentions the wartime atrocities committed by the Soviets. “Women were nailed to barn doors, children mutilated.” In addition to such terrors, Soviet soldiers were infamous for raping and pillaging entire villages, which involved the wholesale slaughter of male populations and the rape of a village’s women.
  • Eva, another refugee, references the potential violent fate of Emilia’s father. Eva says, “The senior professors in Lwów, they were all executed.”
  • While fleeing, Emilia saves Florian by shooting a wandering German soldier. The soldier “had a gun. He was pointing it. [Emilia] jumped up and screamed. Bang.”
  • Joana and a group of refugees stay at a deserted manor. Prior to this, soldiers brutally slaughtered the residents in their sleep. As Joana explores the rest of the manor, she discovers the house’s previous tenants and exclaims, “Dead in their beds. They’re all dead in their beds!” The bodies are not described in detail.
  • On their way to Gotenhafen, another refugee laments that the Soviets “shot his cow.”
  • While approaching the Frauenberg, the Soviet air forces shell the road. “A cluster of human beings behind us exploded with a bomb.”
  • As Joana and her group of refugees cross an icy river, one refugee falls through the ice and joins other unfortunate souls trapped beneath the frozen surface. “The ice in front of Ingrid was red, frozen with blood.”
  • Sepetys makes multiple mentions of refugees and their suffering, such as parents missing their children, or the children being abandoned.
  • Joana, a nurse, cares for the wounded on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Joana “would get these wounded men on the big ship.”
  • The Wilhelm Gustloff is struck by three Soviet torpedoes causing the ship to sink, killing thousands of refugees, including children. As the ship tilted deeper into the water, a passenger said, “The woman was right. We were all going to drown.” As the ship sinks, the ocean is strewn with dead bodies floating amidst the wreckage. “Thousands of dead bodies, eyes wide, floated frozen in life vests.”
  • A mother attempts to throw her child to a lifeboat, yet the baby tragically drowns. “The dark air was full of screams” of thousands of drowning men, women, and children.
  • Alfred attempts to throw Emilia off the raft, yet in doing so accidentally he kills himself. Alfred slams his head against the metal raft and falls into the freezing depths of the surrounding water. “Alfred was sent tumbling, crashing his head against the metal raft with a deafening scream”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Before the start of the book, Florian is wounded with shrapnel which he sterilizes using vodka. Florian “turned the top of the soldier’s flask and raised it to my nose. Vodka. I opened my coat, then my shirt, and poured the alcohol down my side.”
  • Joana and Florian share cigarettes in a moment of respite from danger. Joana “pulled out a cigarette and ran it through my fingers, trying to straighten it.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Daniel Klein

 

Disney After Dark

Have you ever wondered what happens after Walt Disney World is closed at night, when no one is around, and the characters are all alone? When middle schooler Finn Whitman becomes a Disney Interactive Host, a hologram meant to guide guests through the parks, he finds that the answer is a lot more magical and frightening than he ever thought possible. Every night, Finn and his four fellow hosts “crossover” and become a human-hologram hybrid able to explore the parks. Wayne, the Imagineer responsible for creating the DHI program, reveals the hologram hosts were created to become the parks first line of defense against an army of evil characters called the Overtakers. The evil characters want to use the magic that powers the parks to bring darkness to the world. The five hosts must solve Walt Disney’s Stonecutter’s Quill fable, defeat the Overtakers, and restore peace to the “Most Magical place on Earth.”

The hosts are all middle schoolers with starkly different personalities. At first, each character feels alone and afraid, and they do not want to go on the mission. None of the hosts believe they are equipped to take on Maleficent’s black magic, but in the end their teamwork makes saving the park possible. As the book progresses, they each learn to make sacrifices for each other, utilize their individual strengths, and work together to become a powerful team. The book develops the theme that teamwork is necessary to overcome challenges.

The story emphasizes the value of working as a team and maintaining the power of one’s beliefs. Wayne believes the ability for the characters to come to life is powered by the parkgoers who believe the magic in the parks to be real. Finn later discovers that his own thoughts are powerful enough to transform himself from a physical being into light. Pearson shows that the characters’ thoughts and beliefs can alter reality, making that power a significant theme in the book.

In the earlier stages of the text, the characters are hindered by their simple personalities (pretty, smart, athletic, quiet, leader). However, as they learn to work together, they become more likable. The plot of the story, and the setting, create the true magic of this book. Pearson ensures that every corner of the Magic Kingdom is featured, and he fully explains the details that are necessary to feel as if you are traveling around with the characters. He also incorporates some fascinating park history and operational fun facts which offer insight into the parks.

Disney After Dark includes some facts about the park’s operations and may poke holes in the illusion of magic that the parks create. Fans of the Disney Parks may enjoy reading about the hosts’ quest to solve Walt’s fable throughout the Magic Kingdom and MGM Studios. Pearson does not visit every park in this first book, leaving other areas to explore in later additions to the series. He also makes it clear that while Maleficent is certainly a powerful foe, she is not the only villain the five hosts will have to face. This builds anticipation for the following books, while still creating a satisfying end to this story. Much of the book focuses on the children avoiding harm from the hand of the Overtakers, but the violence is fairly mild, with many of the interactions between the villains and the kids resulting in minimal injuries. The effect on the hosts is fear more than anything else. Pearson creates a well-paced story that is just thrilling enough to draw readers into the adventure, using mystery, action, and creative storytelling to bring Disney magic through the pages of this first installment in the Kingdom Keepers series.

Sexual Content

  • Finn develops a crush on his friend Amanda. The first time he sees her, she is stretching in gym class. “Finn wasn’t big on girls, but something about Amanda grabbed and held his attention.” At the same time, his friend Dillard does not think Finn can go talk to her, because “Dillard thought of girls as a separate life-form.”
  • Amanda smiles at Finn’s jokes. Finn thinks she probably did not want to show that she thought he was funny, because “it wasn’t cool for a girl to show she liked a boy any more than the opposite.”
  • Amanda tells Finn that Willa, another host, “said [he was] cute.”
  • When Amanda visits Finn at his house, Finn’s mom tells him to leave the door to his bedroom open.
  • Willa becomes afraid of the witch Maleficent and holds Finn’s hand. Finn is “glad they were all invisible” because “he wouldn’t have wanted to explain their holding hands” to the other hosts.
  • Finn describes Jezebel as beautiful. “Her deep-set gray eyes captivated him, even from a distance.” She frequently charms the boys into doing what she wants. Her ultimate goal is to distract them from completing their tasks.
  • At the Girl Scout car wash, Finn observes Jezebel joining in a water fight while in a bathing suit. She looks at him. His friend notices and asks, “You think she likes you?” Later, when Maybeck, another host, and Jezebel have a water fight, Finn thinks, “for some reason [he] wanted to be at the center of that battle.”
  • When Maybeck expresses wanting to hurry up with a mission, Charlene jokingly asks if he has “a hot date.” Maybeck responds, “Not with you I don’t.” Later, it is discovered that he did have a plan to meet up with Jezebel.
  • Jezebel arrives at the Halloween party dressed in “a skintight black-and-white leotard with black-and-white tights” and “bright red lipstick.” Finn thought, “She looked like a college girl . . . she drew looks from a good number of boys as she passed.” When she approaches Finn, she “stepped up to Finn, standing a little too close” and “spoke softly, privately.” When she makes eye contact and smiles at Finn, his friend coughs and interrupts the encounter. Finn suggests Jezebel may have already put a spell on him after all.
  • Maleficent, Charlene, and Amanda try to draw Finn into a trap. Maleficent says, “If you didn’t care so much about your two girlfriends up there, you wouldn’t have followed us down here.”

Violence

  • A rumor spreads that Finn is going “psycho.” Finn says, “I’m not stabbing girls in showers or anything.”
  • In the Haunted Mansion, a man is depicted “dangled from a noose attached to the ceiling.”
  • Wayne the Imagineer talks about an event that went wrong. The dragon that is meant to be slain by Mickey Mouse rebelled and set Mickey on fire. Wayne says, “Mickey could have . . .” Mickey could have died, but he was able to survive by jumping into water.
  • Finn is approached by some of the animatronic pirates from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. He offends them and they draw swords and knives, though they do not use them. Instead, they use the laser guns from a different ride’s vehicle, which are supposed to be harmless beams of light, to attack Finn. The magic has made the lasers real, and Finn is burned. Finn “smelled burning hair” and skin, realizing what had happened. Later, the burn turns into a painful “pea-size red-and-brown scab with” a “dime-size scarlet circle of flesh that surrounded it.”
  • Maleficent’s presence makes the air incredibly cold. When Finn first feels this effect, he fears the “cold might kill him.” Later, Jezebel uses her magic, making the same cold effect. Finn was touching the surface of the door when ice starts to form. He gets stuck to the door and eventually “tore some skin off the palms of both hands as he pulled away from the icy bar” of the door.
  • While looking for clues in the ride It’s a Small World, the animatronic dolls come to life and attack the hosts. “One bit down onto Finn’s arm, locking its jaw. It drew blood.” Maybeck is able to pick up a doll and throw it against the wall so that “it struck the wall and smashed into pieces.” As the dolls continue to attack, Maybeck suggests using an “automatic weapon” to fight them off, while Charlene prefers a “baseball bat.” Maybeck continues, asking if they could use a “stick of dynamite.” In the end, they tame the dolls with a smile.
  • While floating along Splash Mountain, Finn and fellow-host Philby, face the final drop which Finn is unsure whether to call a “thrill or kill” drop. The current pulls Philby down the drop and he “tumbled through space and water, holding his breath and sucking for air. His lungs burned.” Finn rescues Philby.
  • Maleficent turns herself into a bird and dives after Finn with “talons like dinner forks.” When Finn tries to hide in the water, she turns herself into an eel and “dragged him under. . . It climbed up Finn’s body…and squeezed…He felt the wind being choked out of him.” Before he suffocates, Philby uses his boat’s propeller to “cut the eel like a meat grinder.” Maleficent then let’s go and escapes.
  • A biker chases Amanda and Finn through a skatepark. To stop his pursuit, they clothesline him. He is “thrown to the concrete.”
  • After the Overtakers kidnap Maybeck, Finn recognizes the Overtakers are willing to kill the hosts. He also believes they have been causing the brownouts that make the kids have fainting spells and feel sick.
  • The Overtakers attack and drain an electrical company power station of all its power.
  • Charlene and Willa looked for clues in the Winnie the Pooh ride. They realize their car has stopped and they are trapped in one room. Rain started to fall from the ceiling. “But then it wasn’t simply rain, it was a torrent. Buckets. Both girls gasped for breath . . . it was hard to breathe without coughing.” The danger grows as an increasing number of “electrical wires were submerged.” Willa fears they “could be electrocuted.” The car the girls are on is “pinned with the girls inside it.” They manage to dislodge the bar that is blocking the door.
  • While searching the Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster, a T-Rex skeleton comes to life and chases Finn and Philby. “The dinosaur had all its bones, with no eyes, no skin, no flesh—but all its teeth.” Finn notices “the dinosaur’s jaws clapping open and shut, sounding like a door being slammed.” While the dinosaur gets a piece of Finn’s shirt, the boys remain unharmed. They stop the T-Rex by waiting until the “skeleton’s teeth were a foot away” and then moving so he crashes into the wall. The skeleton’s bones “splintered and snapped at the knee” and the T-Rex landed “with a noisy explosion of broken bones that scattered like tree branches.”
  • Finn and Amanda accidentally run into one another and “they went down hard.” Finn “came to his knees, dazed.”
  • A spell affects Amanda and Charlene, causing them to go weak and faint. Finn thought, “She felt cold, really cold, and stiff, as if she were suffering some kind of seizure.”
  • Maleficent forms a magical version of what she likens to “shock collars” and “wireless fences.”  She puts one on Finn and says, “I don’t advise testing it, but be my guest, if you must.” Later, Finn tries to escape and “he was knocked back off his feet and onto the floor.” The electricity caused him to “[feel] as if he’d been stabbed in the chest.”
  • Maleficent uses magic on Finn, Maybeck, and Philby. On Philby, she uses a spell that makes him “[seem] to lose every bone in his body . . . he fell to the floor in a heap of unwilling limbs and muscle, a lump of flesh.” With Maybeck, Maleficent makes him unable to speak and then suggests she can “add some pain” but does not. For Finn, Maleficent conjures balls of fire which she bowls at him. She “singed his cape” but she fails in hurting Finn. He escapes by using a magic pen on her. When the pen touched Maleficent’s skin, “she [flies] back and [falls] to the stone floor.” He “[stabs] at Maleficent” again, weakening her enough to escape.
  • After Finn uses the magic pen on Maleficent, he describes that “she was either half dead or ready to kill.”
  • Philby uses the pen on Maleficent. He and Finn watch as she is “thrown violently . . . into the heavy black shelves.” She ends up “pinned to the computer shelves, impaled onto a stack of electrical outlets and surge suppressors” but she is alive and gains power from the incident.
  • In order to get stolen papers from Jezebel, Finn “dove at [her], knocked her down, and took the plans back.” She in turn casts a spell on him which causes him to feel “a sharp pain flood through him.”
  • While escaping through a trash shoot, Finn “slammed into some kind of mesh gate.” When Maleficent reaches for him, he “kicked out and pushed her back.” She casts a spell meant to turn him into a rat, but she misses and hits a piece of trash. Finn then “grabbed hold of the clawing rat and threw it at her.”
  • Maleficent is captured and Wayne promises “We don’t kill anything here. Not even witches.” They plan to lock her in a prison instead.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • From afar, Finn sees Tom Sawyer “smoking a pipe with a long stem.”
  • Rather than telling his mom what actually happened with the laser-burn, Finn tells her that a bully burned him with a cigarette. He knows he can’t tell her it was his own cigarette because “Finn had once walked across a restaurant and boldly asked a smoker to put out his cigarette so that his own hamburger didn’t have to taste like an ashtray.” His mom smells his breath just to confirm his story.

Language

  • Finn thinks his teacher’s British accent makes him sound “like a pompous snob.”
  • When Finn says something a bit too confidently, his mom calls him “Mr. Hotshot.”
  • Finn thinks Willa, another host, seems “a little geeky.”
  • When Finn tells his friend, Dillard, about his experiences as a hologram, Dillard says, “You’re going psycho on me.”
  • Amanda tells Finn to “get a life.”
  • Finn notices a variety of tourists including “fat people, sweaty people, smelly people, bald people . . .”
  • Stupid is used several times. For example, a girl student corrects her friend, saying, “It’s not Zoom, stupid.”
  • Philby, a host, tries to distract some pirates saying, “Hey, dog breath!”
  • Philby asks his fellow host Maybeck if he is “a computer freak.”
  • Dumb is used a few times. For example, Amanda makes a reference to “some dumb thing [her] mother” had said. Later Maybeck says, “I can’t go through a dumb wall.” When he realizes he can, he exclaims, “What a dumb jerk!”
  • The pirates use “a roar of rough-sounding words.”
  • Dillard, Finn’s best friend, is described as “big.” He explains that for this reason, “people make fun of him.”
  • Wayne calls himself an “old goat,” a phrase that Finn later uses to describe Wayne.

Supernatural

  • The book is centered around the existence of magic, both good and evil. Inanimate objects and fake characters come to life. People can become holograms. Frequently, witches use spells to fight against the hosts.
  • The Overtakers harness the power of a hurricane, draining its strength. Wayne says it is like “a vampire sucking blood.”
  • Finn thinks the environment in the Splash Mountain ride looks “devilish” in the dark.
  • Finn finds himself rhyming in his thoughts without meaning to, which Amanda explains is a sign of witches.
  • Maybeck tells the group that the Overtakers have the ability to “put thoughts into your head. . .  They’re like orders.”
  • Finn doesn’t speak his fears aloud for fear of jinxing the group and causing something worse to happen.

Spiritual Content

  • Maybeck, another host, “made a point of telling Finn that he was a Baptist.” Maybeck has a Bible on the bedside table.
  • Finn “wasn’t terribly religious.”
  • Finn says he cannot tell his mom the truth because “she’d cart him off to the mental ward, or worse, their minister.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Amari and the Night Brothers

Amari Peters’ brother Quinton is missing. Without tax records or a single piece of evidence to use, authorities look at the Peters’ family address in the Rosewood low-income housing projects and prematurely chalk the disappearance up to “illegal activities.” Then, Amari gets into a fight with bullies at her school. This leaves Amari without a scholarship and without a sense of belonging, but a ticking briefcase in Quinton’s bedroom closet quickly instills tangible hope that Quinton will return. The briefcase leads Amari to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, a secretive organization tasked with hiding all the magicians, fairies, and supernatural creatures of the world. When Amari joins the organization, she again feels like she doesn’t belong among classmates who already have extensive knowledge of magic. Even more intimidating is the fear and bias that her classmates hold towards Amari’s supernaturally enhanced talent—an ability for magic that has commonly been deemed evil in the supernatural world. Will she find friendships here in this other world, or will she again be judged and half-seen?

It is only through battling bullies, outsmarting Junior Agent Tryouts, and overcoming powerful magicians that Amari can find her brother Quinton and regain confidence in her uniquely beautiful power. Even in the midst of facing all of these obstacles, Amari is eventually able to say proudly, “I’m not the girl who gives up. I’m the girl who tries. The girl who fights. The girl who believes. My eyes open with a burning realization. I’m unstoppable.

Amari and The Night Brothers follows Amari’s entertaining, witty, and strong perspective as she contemplates what it means to belong in a community that continually sets out to ostracize her. While the plot is an action-packed, engrossing story of every magical creature you have ever heard of (from magicians to mermaids, to golden lions and Bigfoot), this intricate plot also works to explore issues of race and class discrimination. In defining Amari’s supernatural power of being a “magician” as illegal and dangerous, this story aims at bringing to light the way that prejudices act to divide our society, as well as how we can aim to overturn them. The result is an empowering and wonderful story of power, love, friendship, and the ability to overcome.

Throughout its narrative, Amari and the Night Brothers addresses issues of racism, classism, and prejudice in an easily digestible ways for young readers. Additionally, this book presents captivating scenes and vivid settings which weave together to create a tangible fantasy world filled with every type of supernatural creature that an imaginative kid could hope for. Dragons, vampires, magical forests, and funny dialogue all paint a narrative that stays action-packed, captivating, and evocative until the end. The story ends in a moment of triumph and reaffirmed empowerment for Amari, while also leaving things open for the potential of a sequel. Amari and the Night Brothers is the perfect book for any elementary to junior high fantasy and action fanatic who is searching for a meaningful and magical story.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Early in the novel, Amari gets sent to the principal’s office for giving a classmate “a tiny shove.”
  • Later in the book, Amari tries to shove another bully, Laura, but Laura twists and pushes Amari to the ground instead.
  • In an act of revenge, Laura attacks Amari at a festival. Amari describes this scene by saying, “Laura dashes forward and kicks out her leg. It’s so fast I don’t even have time to react. I just feel my legs get knocked from under me and land hard on my side. Next thing I know, she’s on top of me, pinning both my wrists above my head with one arm. That means she’s still got one hand free.” Amari escapes after this moment.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the Bureau agents tells Amari that the hotel she stays at has a “killer cigar selection.”

Language

  • In a moment of cyber bullying, Amari’s classmates celebrate the loss of her scholarship by writing comments such as, “We finally took out the trash at Jefferson. Never wanted her here. I heard she used to steal from the lockers. All it took was her dumb brother to drop dead.”
  • In another bullying incident, Amari’s bedroom at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs is vandalized. Someone paints an image of “a Black girl with two X’s for eyes and a stake in her heart NO MAGICIANS ALLOWED is written just below it.”
  • At one point, another peer from the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs calls Amari a freak.

Supernatural

  • The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs covers living beings “passing off as myths.” This includes “trolls and sphinxes, mermaids and oddities you could see with your own eyes and still not believe.” Mainly, the term supernatural covers fantastical creatures and magic, thus a lot of the narrative focuses on supernatural elements. This also applies to a group of hybrids (part-human, part-creature) who invade the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs.
  • Amari is deemed a magician when she places her hand on a Crystal Ball and “a plume of black smoke appears, swirling and filling the ball completely. A crack reaches across the surface.” As Amari stands back, a screen behind the Crystal Ball says, “Talent Enhanced to Supernatural Ability: Dormant Magic to Active Magician (Illegal).” It is in this way that Amari realizes that she is a magician, a role that is considered dangerous in the supernatural world.
  • After she touches the Crystal Ball, the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs has Amari step on what they call a “Magic-Meter,” which looks like a small scale. When Amari steps on the Meter it says that she is at 100 percent, meaning that “every drop of this girl’s blood is magical.”
  • When Amari grows angry at being bullied, “anger surges through me. And then, suddenly, a swirling blaze of fire erupts on the table between me and Laura.” Amari creates the fire with her magic.
  • Amari’s best friend, Elsie, is a weredragon (part-human, part-dragon), and can therefore read auras. Because of this, Elsie can read Amari’s emotions based on the color of Amari’s aura.
  • Amari’s classmate explains that there is another type of magician known as the technologist, which is a magician that can manipulate electronics like phones or security devices. The classmate also describes a Weaver, which can weave together new spells.
  • Amari is given a book of spells called The Spells and Musings of Madame Violet, Foremost Illusionist of her Era. This allows Amari to learn how to practice the Dispel spell, which allows a magician to erase any illusions set by other magicians. Among the other spells in this book is also the Solis spell, which allows a magician to create a ball of light with their hands and the darker, Magna Fobia spell, a spell from the “Magick Most Foul” section of Madame Violet’s spell book, which allows the magician to pull the “very darkest fears from an opponent’s mind to craft an illusion around them that they believe is real.”
  • During her final trial in the Junior Agent Program, Amari shows her illusions to the Bureau, and she creates an illusion of the street in her neighborhood. Then she also creates the illusion of a cloudless, starry night sky and the aurora borealis on the ceiling.
  • A boy shows Amari a whole forest that he created as an illusion using magic. Amari creates her own illusory blossom to this forest that they call the “Amari Blossom.”
  • In order to trick the dangerous plant known as “a Mars mantrap,” Amari uses her magic to create an illusion in which she duplicates herself. This becomes Amari’s tactic in fighting powerful magicians later in the novel.
  • Amari’s brother Quinton and his partner at the Bureau are put under a spell which is said to extract someone’s “life essence,” causing them to suffer “a very slow death.”
  • In order to defeat the magicians that have her brother, Amari sends a spell that not only duplicates herself but also puts a cage of lightning around her attackers.

Spiritual Content

  • At one point, Amari goes to visit the Department of Good Fortunes and Bad Omens, and the director of the Department reads the constellations for her. In this scene, the director plucks stars from the sky to place in Amari’s hands, and then has Amari scatter the stars again in order to tell her future based on her unique constellation. The director also speaks to the “spirit” of the stars, stating, “Every natural thing exists in two places, both here and there. If we are physically here, then we are spiritually there. Likewise, if the stars are physically out there, then it only makes sense for them to be spiritually here.”

by Hannah Olsson

Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World

Hundreds of years ago, magic disappeared from Earth. At least…UNTIL NOW. Because suddenly, giant magical beings are appearing and only Gina can see them. Not to mention, Gina can somehow do magic herself. Magic is powerful. But it can also be dangerous. With D.J. and Hilo’s help, can Gina figure out how to protect the magical beings from the creatures who are after them? And can she learn how to use her magic to become who she was always meant to be?

Throughout most of the story, Gina does not want to use magic because she is afraid of the consequences. But when an alien shows up wanting to destroy the Nestors, Gina feels the need to protect the Nestors (even though she knows nothing about them). The story focuses on Gina’s attempt to keep the Nestors safe from other aliens. One of the aliens tells Gina, “You are meddling with forces far beyond your understanding. You will do more damage than good.” Despite this, Gina never questions the aliens to find why they want to destroy the Nestors. Instead, Gina fights the aliens, which allows the Nestors to change Earth’s timeline.

The relationship between Hilo, D.J., and Gina was one of the best aspects of the first six books of the series. Unfortunately, in Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World, Gina is left to fight the aliens alone. Instead of helping Gina, Hilo is trying to figure out his human body. Hilo’s struggle adds some bathroom humor. At one point, Hilo tells D.J., “Holy Mackerel! I just went to the bathroom! Pooping is outstanding.” However, this is not the only bathroom humor. Later, Gina meets another alien and she says, “Wow. . . smells like a possum’s butt.” While the juvenile humor may make younger readers smile, it adds nothing to the plotline.

The graphic novel’s panels are illustrated with bright colors that will capture readers’ attention. The graphic novel’s panels have 1 to 7 sentences which mostly use simple sentences with easy vocabulary. The many fight scenes give the story a fast pace and the many onomatopoeia words add interest because they appear in large, colorful text. Readers must first read the other books in the series or they will be confused, as Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World jumps right into the action and doesn’t explain the relationships between the characters

Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World is a confusing sequel that doesn’t have the same appeal as the first six books in the series. Instead of trying to help Gina fight the aliens, Hilo is more interested in food and his body functions. To make matters worse, the battle scenes are confusing not only because of the many aliens but also because the Nestors are shapeshifters. While Gina’s desire to help the Nestors is admirable, it’s unrealistic that no one tries to find out why the Nestors have come to earth.

While Gina: The Girl Who Broke the World is a disappointing sequel, the book may be worth reading because it sets up what could be an interesting conflict to be explored in the next book. If you’re looking for another humorous and fast-paced graphic novel, check out the Bird & Squirrel Series by James Burks.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A strange blue alien shoots a laser at Gina. The alien puts Gina in a bubble, but she escapes. Gina jumps on the creature’s back. The creature hits a tree and knocks himself out. The fight is illustrated over nine pages.
  • Two alien creatures that look like “furballs” chase Gina. They snap their teeth at her and then throw up an orange substance that covers Gina. Gina finally lassos the creatures and then they disappear. The scene is illustrated over six pages.
  • A strange snapping bird creature chases two small alien rabbits. Gina saves the alien rabbits. The snapping bird creature ties Gina up. The scene is illustrated over 15 pages.
  • The blue alien appears and starts shooting lasers at Gina, who is trying to protect the Nestors. The alien blows up a house. Gina uses her power to chase the alien, who flees.
  • A giant robot-like alien appears wielding a large sword. The alien tries to kill Gina in order to get to the Nestors. Both Gina and the alien use magical powers during the battle. The fighting is illustrated over ten pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Hilo uses the phrase “holy mackerel” several times.
  • Dang it is used one time.
  • Crud is used four times. This includes when Gina uses the phrase “crud and scrambled eggs.”
  • J.’s brother, Dexter, calls his siblings dork and dorkus.

Supernatural

  • At first, Gina is the only person who can see the alien creatures. Gina discovers that she is an enchanter, who “draws magic from the planet itself.”
  • Alien creatures appear on Earth. Hilo explains who the creatures are. “Baba Yaga clan members—or, as I like to call them, Bab Yags!—aren’t natural shape-shifters. They need a magic totem or an amulet that enables them to transmogrify!”
  • Nestors have “the ability to enhance magic. To make spells or powers increase a hundredfold,” which is why they have been held captive on another planet. When the Nestors consume food of this planet, it makes them visible.
  • An alien uses magic to turn Gina into a huge otter.
  • The Nestors change Earth’s timeline. “The Nestors went back in time. They went back to the time before magic left earth. They changed the Earth’s history.” However, Gina was able to “shield” herself and three others from the change. Gina and her friends are the only people who know what the Earth used to be like.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Scorpion Mountain

Hal, his Brotherband crew, and the Ranger Gilan have freed the twelve Araluens sold into slavery. Returning to Araluen, Gilan is given a new mission by King Duncan: protect his daughter’s life. Princess Cassandra has survived one attempt on her life already, and now whispers of a second attempt have reached the kingdom. A deadly sect known as the Scorpion Cult is thought to be behind the assassination threat. Not waiting to see if the knife will strike true, the Brotherband again teams up with Gilan to track down the would-be killers.

Like the other books in the Brotherband series, Scorpion Mountain has nonstop action as Hal and the other Herons travel to a new location. Several characters from the Ranger’s Apprentice Series make an appearance and assist the Herons. The Herons fight in several bloody battles, which are described in more gruesome detail than in the previous books. One member of the brotherband, Ulf, is seriously injured and must be left behind. However, Ulf eventually heals from his wounds and is reunited with the Herons. While much of Ulf and his brother’s bickering was entertaining, many readers will find that they do not miss the brothers’ constant arguing.

As the fifth installment of the series, Scorpion Mountain continues to show the different qualities of the Brotherband Series, however, none of the characters show personal growth. Even though the Herons visit several new locations, the story is predictable and contains few surprises. Like the other books in the series, the crew travel somewhere new, Hal comes up with a brilliant invention, they fight an epic battle and then return home to a celebration. While the interaction between the characters is entertaining, some readers may find the story’s plot tedious rather than exciting.

Fans of the Brotherband Series will find that Scorpion Mountain uses the same formula as the other books in the series. Gilan and the other characters from the Ranger’s Apprentice add interest to the story; however, the characters are not well developed. Despite the story’s predictability, the action and adventure will keep devoted readers interested.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When an assassin tries to kill the princess, Lydia throws a blunt dart at him, knocking him out. He is then tied to a chair and questioned.
  • In order to free a town from raiders, the Herons attack one of their ships. When they get close to the ship, “Lydia’s first dart hit the helmsmen, killing him instantly. He reeled back across the deck, releasing the tiller, then crashing to the planks.”
  • The Herons use the Mangler to throw huge projectiles at the ship. One enemy tried to throw a spear at the Herons but, “He never managed it. An arrow suddenly thudded into his chest.”
  • During the battle, the slave master peeked out of the port and “was caught across the jaw by one of the leaping oar butts. He fell senseless to the deck. Two of the rowers, seeing their chance, leapt on him, drawing the long knife from his scabbard.” The slaves kill the man.
  • The Herons board the ship and Stig uses his ax to kill an enemy. “The man stumbled before falling on his side, a shocked look on his features.” The Herons kill every crew member. The battle is described over 11 pages.
  • The Herons enter a harbor and attack an invading force. “Philip was drawing back the second arrow when he felt a massive impact against his chest. . . The impact was like a hard punch but the area was numb. Then the pain came. Huge waves of it. . . he collapsed to the wharf like a rag doll.”
  • As the Herons enter the town, they are greeted by Invaders. “Thorn’s terrible club-hand rose and fell and swept from side to side, breaking bones, cracking ribs, sending enemies flying.”
  • During the battle, a “man went down, his horse somersaulting beneath him and sending him flying headlong into the rocky ground.” A lot of the enemies are killed and Ulf is seriously injured. The battle is described over 40 pages.
  • A group of cult members attacks the Herons. One man “begun to swing down from the saddle when Lydia’s first dart arrived. It went into his upper arm, slightly above the small circular shield that he wore there, and penetrated through to his body.” The man’s horse spooks and the man is “dragged behind it, one foot still firmly trapped in the stirrup.”
  • A man gets caught in a “ditch concealed by the thornbush.” Thorn “leaned forward and brought a huge, iron-studded war club down on his skull with crushing effect. The attacker’s hoarse war cry was cut short and he fell face-down, suspended on the clinging thornbush.”
  • During the battle, Ingvar hits a man. “The Ishti warrior felt as if a galloping horse had slammed onto his shield. He was hurled back several paces.” The warriors retreat. The battle is described over five pages.
  • The Shurmel, a cult leader, and Gilan fight one-on-one. The Shurmel thrusts his sword and “meeting no solid resistance, the Shurmel staggered forward, off balance, and felt the razor-sharp point of Gilan’s sword as it flicked up to touch his throat. A small runnel of blood came from the spot where it touched.”
  • During the fight, “Gilan went on the attack.” The Shurmel “staggered back clumsily, only just managing to avoid the stroke.” Eventually, Gilan “stepped forward and slammed his axe into the Shurmel’s unprotected ribs, driving the weapon to the hilt. . . The Shurmel’s eyes mirrored shock, then disbelief, then pain, in quick succession. Then his knees gave way under him and his eyes went completely blank as he collapsed to the stone floor.” The fight is described over 5 pages.
  • A group of cult members attempts to attack the Herons’ ship. As a warrior tries to get onto the ship, Thorn’s “heavy club-hand swept down and smashed the man aside. He fell awkwardly, half in the water. . .” The man tries to get back onto the raft causing one of his comrades to stagger. “Thorn’s sword caught him in the middle of the chest and he fell into the sea without another word.”
  • As the enemy tries to board the Heron, “Ingvar let out a bellow of fighting rage and lunged with his voulge over the side. The blade stabbed in and out like a striking cobra, and three of the Ishti fell back from the ship in terror.” Another raft gets close to the Heron and two men board the ship. “One of them went no farther. A heavy dart flashed across along the deck and thudded into his chest.” The scene is described over several chapters.
  • Reinforcements begin boarding a raft. Someone shoots the Mangler, which is a huge crossbow. “It hit the raft at an angle, but the impact was enough to shatter the pottery warhead and send shards of hard clay whirling through the crew. . . the water around the raft turned red with their blood.”
  • Hal sees the warriors and his “land sailor plowed at full speed into the three men, hurling them to either side like so many ninepins.” At the end of the fight, “a third of the Ishti fighters had been killed or wounded . . . The others wasted no time in surrendering.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When a king meets with the Herons, he offers them ale or wine. They decline.
  • Thorn is a recovering alcoholic. He thinks back to a time when “he saw most things over the rim of a brandy tankard.”
  • An assassin shoots a poisoned arrow at the princess.
  • Philip the Bloodyhand is captain of an invading force. When he is woken up, he has a hangover, and “several empty wine flasks and jars [were] scattered around the room.” Phillip orders a man to “get me wine.”
  • A small group of the Herons go to negotiate with a cult leader. When they arrive, the members were chewing something that Gilan assumes is “some kind of drug. Possibly a hallucinogenic or relaxant.”
  • When the Herons return home, the town throws a huge party where ale is served.

Language

  • Occasionally, characters use a name of a Skandian god as an exclamation. For example, “Gorlog’s earwax,” “Hern’s breath,” and “Gorlog’s eyebrows.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The assassin said he is protected by Imrika, the goddess of death.
  • When Gilan kills the cult leader, the Shurmel “realized that this ridiculous foreigner offered him a wonderful opportunity. Truly, he thought, he has a gift from the goddess Imrika. He raised his eyes to the heaven and uttered a silent word of thanks for this gift.”
  • When Gilan runs into an acquaintance, the man says, “It is you! May the almighty one be praised”

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon

Peter’s home is Never Land island, but his Lost Boys are starting to grow up and lose interest in island life. Before Peter can worry too much about what this means, the island is besieged by a tribe of warriors called Scorpions. With Peter wounded and the Mollusk’s defeated by the Scorpions, no one is prepared when Lord Ombra returns to the island, kidnapping Peter and his orphan friends.

Whisked away to Rundoon, the boys wonder what Lord Ombra wants from them. Peter isn’t sure if he even can do what Lord Ombra wants, but with his friends’ lives at stake, he feels he has no choice. Unbeknownst to him, Molly and her father are on their way to help. But will their appearance really be the dramatic rescue they’re hoping for? Or will their appearance actually bring about the end of the world, of light, and of the entire universe?

The third installment continues to jump from perspective to perspective, showing what’s happening from Never Land to Rundoon and places in between. However, unlike the previous books in the series, there is no main storyline to hook readers’ interest. Without one larger perspective shaping the narrative, it may be difficult for readers to become emotionally engaged in the plot.

While there is plenty of action, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, unfortunately, lacks the suspense of the previous installments. On top of this, not all the characters behave in a way that is consistent with their personalities in previous books. For instance, Smee becomes Acting Captain Smee after Captain Hook goes missing. Smee, who in previous books could barely string a sentence together or walk three feet without tripping, suddenly becomes well-spoken in his interactions with Shining Pearl, the Mollusk chief’s daughter.

One aspect parents might want to take note of is that this book continues and expands the theme of children disobeying and being praised for their disobedience. Peter disobeys Fighting Prawn and almost dies from an arrow wound; yet Fighting Prawn says, “you did well, disobeying me.” Continuing from the end of the previous book, Molly consistently throws fits, disobeys her father, and then is praised for disobeying him. These events are painted as though the children knew better, and it is unrealistic that adults would praise the children for their disobedience when it puts them and others in mortal danger.

Casual readers of this series may not want to pick up the next book, but devoted fans of the Peter and the Starcatchers series will pick up the next book, Peter and the Sword of Mercy, with the hopes that it revitalizes the suspense and character development of the first two books, rather than following in the emotionally lackluster footsteps of this one.

Sexual Content

  • Molly kisses Peter goodbye. “And then Molly kissed him on the lips. It was the first time either of them had ever kissed anybody on the lips, and it was a kiss they would both carry in their minds for the rest of their lives.”

Violence

  • A tribe of warriors called Scorpions has scars “caused by the tentacles of a particularly nasty type of jellyfish, the poison of which inflicted agonizing pain. . . its toxic tentacles searing his flesh like fire. Some men crumpled immediately to the ground, screaming; others passed out.”
  • Peter is shot by a poison arrow. “Peter felt it . . . a sharp pain like a bee sting . . . His fear turned to relief when he saw that the arrow had merely grazed him . . . Peter grunted as the muscles in his right leg suddenly contracted in violent cramps.”
  • The Scorpions attack the Mollusks. “Scorpion marksmen returned fire, sending dozens of poison-tipped arrows hissing toward the tops of the palm trees. A cream, then another, then still more—and Mollusk warriors began to fall from their perches.” The battle is described over five pages.
  • Ombra takes control of James and threatens him, in order to force Peter to obey. “‘You know I can make them suffer.’ As he spoke, Ombra/James raised his right hand, dug his fingernails viciously into his own cheek, and raked his face. Parallel trails of blood began to ooze from the wounds.”
  • While escaping from the Scorpions, a ship fires small iron balls from their cannon. It “sent a lethal hail flying across the water. The first three canoes stopped instantly as the paddlers fell backward, most of them wounded, some of them screaming.”
  • Tink helps in a sword fight by providing a bright flash of light. “Leonard and Bakari drew their own swords, and in a moment the stone corridor rang with the clash of steel on steel, swords flashing . . . The two guards screamed, covering their eyes—too late, as they were temporarily blinded. . . Leonard opened his eyes and stepped quickly between the helpless guards . . . clubbing them both unconscious.”
  • Men try to stop Molly and George from stealing a camel. “He grabbed Molly’s leg, jerking it down and back. Molly screamed in pain. George lashed out and kicked the man’s head; he grunted and let go.”
  • A guard clouts Ted. “A clout on the ear silenced Ted.”
  • Tink stops a man chasing Molly. Tink “delivered a kick to his nose that made him yelp in pain and veer sideways, his blade harmlessly slicing the air.”
  • Shining Pearl sees “the body of a pirate . . . an arrow sticking out of his chest, a reminder of the battle that had taken place here when the Scorpions had overrun the fort. Shining Pearl stared at the body. It looked ghastly pale in the moonlight.”
  • A man chases George with a knife. “George, unable to get away, closed his eyes, waiting for the pain of the blade.” George gets away.
  • The boys drop anything they can find on men who are chasing their ship. “The missiles hit two of the men on the head, causing them to fall back into their boat.”
  • When men fire on the boys’ ship, several are hit. “George heard a high-pitched scream and saw Thomas crumple to the deck, holding his leg. He felt a thud in his left arm, as though somebody had punched him; he looked down and saw blood. A second later, he felt the searing pain.”
  • The boys break Molly’s father out of prison with a cannon. “A second cannonball slammed into the dungeon wall directly outside their cell, hurling all three occupants to the ground in a hail of flying stone. . . Blood poured from Leonard’s chin, where he’d been cut by a shard of masonry, but they were otherwise unhurt.”
  • Captain Hook joins in a sword fight. “Bellowing fearsomely and wielding the sword with a pirate’s ruthless efficiency, he began hacking his way through the soldiers.”
  • Zarboff is eaten by his own pet snake. “Zarboff emitted a few panicked cries . . . And then he could no longer breathe; he could only struggle in silent horror as his beloved pet began the slow, relentless process of feeding on him.”
  • When his people are enslaved, Fighting Prawn leads a rebellion. “The three remaining Scorpion guards, clearly stunned by the revolt, at first tried to run toward the tunnel; but, finding their path blocked, had backed against the cavern wall, lashing out with whips and knives while shouting for help. But no help came, and the Scorpions were soon brought down by a hail of rocks hurled by the slaves they had once tormented.”
  • While rebelling against their captors, “Fighting Prawn and his men slammed into the gate, knocking the two Scorpions to the ground. Neither would ever get up again.”
  • Mister Grin, a giant crocodile, eats the Scorpion chief. “Fighting Prawn was knocked sideways by the mighty croc just as it reached the Scorpion chief, who drew his spear back in a desperate effort to defend himself. He had no time to bring it forward. The monstrous maw opened wide, then snapped shut. The Scorpion chief was gone.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When George hears tale of an underwater ship, he says, “I think the dolphins got into the grog.”
  • Molly and George are able to sneak off a ship because “the crew doz[ed] off after a bit too much food and grog.”

Language

  • A man says, “Who the devil are you?”
  • Captain Hook calls people “idjit” several times.
  • Tink calls people “idiots” four times.
  • A monkey tells Tink, “The birds around here are idiots.”
  • Tink calls Molly “a big stupid fish” and a “cow.”

Supernatural

  • Starcatchers are “a small group of people . . . There have been Starcatchers on Earth for centuries, Peter. Even we don’t know how long. But our task is always the same: to watch for the starstuff, and to get to it, and return it, before it falls into the hands of the Others.” The Others misuse starstuff to gain power.
  • Starstuff is golden dust that sometimes falls from the sky as meteors and “has amazing power . . . Wonderful power. Terrible power. It . . . it lets you do things . . . It’s not the same for everybody. And it’s not the same for animals as for people.” Starstuff can heal, can make people fly, or can even make people strong. Molly explains that larger quantities are more dangerous and can kill a person, or turn a fish into a mermaid, horses into centaurs, and other transformations.
  • Starcatchers have learned the language of porpoises, bears, and wolves. They work together often to find and return any starstuff that falls to earth.
  • Some fish on Peter’s island were turned into mermaids by starstuff.
  • Molly’s father turned a bird into a fairy, to watch over Peter. Her name is Tink. She calls herself a “birdgirl.”
  • Peter was exposed to a large quantity of starstuff. As a result, he can fly permanently and will never grow older.
  • A shadow creature called Lord Ombra has many abilities and seems to be more shadow than man. Lord Ombra can read thoughts if he touches a person’s shadow. He can also steal shadows, which allows him to control and/or impersonate that person.
  • Lord Ombra says “There are two conflicting sides in what you call the universe. On one side is creation, being light; on the other side is destruction, nothingness, darkness. . . I am darkness.” Ombra explains that starstuff falling to earth is what makes life grow on earth.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Morgan Lynn

Submerge

Lia and Clay’s love has broken the Little Mermaid’s curse, but their ever after may not be as happy as they planned. Lia is adamant about staying on land with Clay for her senior year despite her family’s opportunity to move to the new, sparkling capital city below the waves. But before any decision about the future can be made, her family must endure Melusine and her father’s trial, where new revelations will have far-reaching consequences that threaten what Lia holds most dear.

The verdict will shake Lia’s world, calling into question her future with Clay, her feelings for Caspian, and the fate of all Merkind. As she wonders who to trust, Lia sets out on a treacherous path that will lead her away from her sheltered Malibu home to a remote and mysterious school for Mermaids—Mermaids who may hold the secret to an ancient magic Lia can use to get back all she’s lost.

As a “princess,” Lia must learn about Mer politics. However, much of Lia’s teaching is dry and boring. In class, Lia learns about “magic having unintended political consequences.” Even though the story introduces the Mer world, Lia explores very little of it. Instead, her only focus is on restoring Clay’s memory so they can be together. Lia is so focused on herself that she never notices anyone else’s needs. Unfortunately, Lia’s single-minded focus on Clay becomes tedious.

The first part of Submerge is a retelling of the events from the first book in the series. The repetition is long-winded and readers will quickly lose interest in the court proceedings. In addition, a Mer teacher, Ondine, is introduced. Instead of adding interest to the story, Lia’s trust in Ondine is unbelievable, and Ondine’s betrayal, predictable. To make matters worse, Caspian is suddenly in love with Lia, which adds another unbelievable element to the story. The conclusion doesn’t wrap up any of the story’s threads and reinforces the idea that Lia cannot think past her own wants. Readers who love Disney’s Little Mermaid will want to throw the Mer Chronicles into the ocean and watch it sink to a watery grave.

Sexual Content

  • Mers get their legs during puberty because they need legs “for mating.”
  • Lia and her boyfriend kiss. Lia describes the kiss. “I let my eyes flutter shut. Let myself taste Clay’s lips against mine. Get lost in the richness of every touch, every press of his tongue and graze of his cheek.”
  • When Lia shows Clay her tail, he kisses her. “Slow and sweet and swirling to different depths. I forget everything else.” The kiss is interrupted when Clay’s mother walks in on them.
  • Clay and Lia kiss often. For example, while swimming in the ocean, “strong arms grab me and pull me against him, my wet body pressing against his. . . Droplets of water from his face collide with mine as he takes my mouth in a kiss as sweeping as the sea breeze itself.”
  • Clay and Lia discuss the trial. Then they kiss. “Now he does pull me in, pressing my body flush against his and seizes my mouth violently with his. There’s a wildness, a fervor, in his kiss I’ve never felt before. . . So I push back with equal ferocity.”
  • Clay is preparing to take a potion that will take away some of his memories when Lia and Clay decide to have sex for the first time. “Clay’s eyes close as he bites the bottom of my lip. When he opens them again, desire darkens the hazel. I’ve never seen such naked hunger.” Clay stops kissing her so they can go somewhere private.
  • Before Clay takes the potion, Lea wants to give Clay a memory that he will not forget so they have sex for the first time. Clay’s “palms skim up and down my arms, leaving streaks of exhilarating tingles in their wake from shoulder to wrist. My fingers twine into his hair as our mouths latch together, more lasting and leading than ever before. . . He grabs what he needs from the nightstand (and there’s something that seems both so comforting and so momentous about that small, foil packet), and then he moves toward me. . .Time surges and crests, and we move with it, holding each other close. . .”
  • After Clay loses his memory, Lia’s sister tells her, “A rebound hookup can be totally hot.”
  • In the middle of the night, Lia and Clay show up at Clay’s father’s house, which is on a military base. His father gets upset and says, “I got you security clearance so you could feel at home here, not so you could . . . score with girls.”
  • After Lia fights against ancient magic and wins, Lia and Clay kiss. “Clay’s lips are on mine the instant the door clicks shut. Hands run up my bare arms and tangle in my hair as biceps cloaked in thin cotton press against my eager palms. His tongue welcomes me, drawing me in until I’m utterly lost in his kisses, drowning in the sensations of soft lips and rough stubble. . . ”

Violence

  • A Mermaid describes her mother’s death. When her mom went shopping, raiders “cut her throat. Left her to die.”
  • Someone tells Lia a story about a siren who wanted revenge “so she used the siren bond she shared with him to sense when he was alone and to call him to her so she could murder him in cold blood after making him—”
  • In order to manipulate Lia, Ondine binds Caspian. “The ropes tighten more and more until Caspian, so strong and stoic, can’t help but scream.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lia’s sisters are looking forward to college keg parties.
  • A mermaid, who was a siren, is given a potion that will not allow her to speak in the human world.
  • The Mer Tribunal gives Clay a potion that takes away all of his memories of Lia. “The potion works by constructing extremely powerful wands that completely block Clay’s mind from accessing certain memories.”
  • Clay is given antidepressants because of his depression; however, he doesn’t know if he should take them.

Language

  • Several different forms of damn are used occasionally.
  • During a trial, Lia watches the defendant and wonders, “What the hell does he have to smile about?”
  • When the Mermaid that tried to kill Clay and Lia testifies, Lia thinks, “That bitch starts talking. I don’t trust myself not to snap.”
  • God is used as an exclamation twice.
  • Pissed is used twice. For example, Lia thinks, “The last thing I want to do is piss off the psycho with raging powers . . .”
  • Clay says “eff that” and later he says, “I was so goddamn helpless and you needed me!”

Supernatural

  • Most Mer do not use ancient magic, but they do utilize potions. Much of the story revolves around Lia learning how to use magic.
  • At the trial, Caspian explains how the defendant used runes. The runes, “mapped out coordinates. It was part of a spell—marking Clay’s bedroom with the place under the sea where he would sleep forever.”
  • Because Lia “sirened” Clay, they have a special bond and can feel each other. Lia “can trace him, feel him, no matter how far away he is.” Lia can also use this bond to tell what Clay is thinking and feeling.
  • In order to perform ancient magic, Lia’s palm is cut and she shares her blood with other Mermaids. “Only through blood magic can we forge new links to fully access new power.” The Mermaids then use their combined power to restore Clay’s memories.
  • Ondine forces Lia to take a potion so she can siren humans.
  • Lia uses magic to break Ondine’s hold on her. “The rope of magic grows impossibly brighter. Blinding! I can feel it sizzle and it scares me. It scares me more than anything that has ever scared me. I grab on to it—and scream. . . Even as her power sears through me, scalding me from the inside, I pull hard.” Lia’s magic is able to overcome Ondine, and Ondine disappears. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Lia releases Ondine’s power into the sea. Lia’s “body tingles with burning ice as the magic picks up speed, cycloning through my chest, down my arms, and out my palms. I crash to my knees as all flows out of me and disappears beneath the waves.”

Spiritual Content

  • Ondine takes Lia to “a sacred space. . . a place where magic itself is worshiped.”

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

Seventh-grader Tristan Strong lost his best friend, Eddie, in a bus accident, and Tristan is dealing with grief as well as guilt because he thinks he could have saved Eddie. Now, all Tristan has left from Eddie is a journal where Eddie was recording a bunch of stories. With the journal and his grief in hand, Tristan’s parents send him to live with his grandparents in Alabama to recover.

Then a creature shows up one night and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan is sent on a chase to the Bottle Tree where he ends up punching a hole in the MidPass, a magical world filled with black American folk heroes. The only way Tristan can get back home is to help the gods find Anansi to seal the hole and end the war in the Alke and MidPass. Easy enough, right?

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky introduces black American folklore like John Henry, High John, and Brer Rabbit, plus older tales such as the story-weaving spider Anansi. In this book, they are gods living in their own world adjacent to Tristan’s world. The mythology includes strong ties to the slave trade and slavery. For instance, the main antagonists, Uncle Cotton and the Maafa, embody greed and enslavement, and monstrous bone ships carry the terrible and haunting memories of enslaved Africans who suffered and died in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The importance of memory and storytelling are key themes that come to life through the folklore and history of this story. Tristan discovers that he is an Anansesem, which means his ability to weave stories is imbued with magical qualities that bring the stories to life. His abilities keep history and mythology alive. History and mythology are intertwined, and readers will see how they influence each other.

Tristan also deals with his own grief over the death of his friend Eddie. Tristan’s memories and Eddie’s journal keep those memories alive. Through Tristan’s memories and Eddie’s ghost, Tristan learns how to cope with his grief. He will always be sad that his best friend is gone, but using the journal and his storytelling abilities, Tristan can continue to live his own life while honoring Eddie’s memory.

Storytelling is one of the most important themes in Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, and it serves as a constant reminder that stories keep histories and memories alive. Oral storytelling is one of the oldest practices, and Mbalia taps into that intensely human need to share experiences in a beautiful and creative way. Tristan’s story encapsulates the fun, adventurous elements of traveling to a new world where gods come to life and mythology runs rampant. The heart of this book, however, is in the memories and experiences that have survived and are now shared through Tristan’s eyes.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Tristan comes from a long legacy of boxers. Boxing-related violence, like punching, happens. For example, Tristan notes that in his first fight, he “got knocked flat on [his] butt. Twice.”
  • Tristan has gotten into several fights at school. Tristan notes, “At least I’d held my own in those school fights.”
  • A legend named Gum Baby threatens Tristan for following her. She says, “If Gum Baby had more time, she’d wear out that hide of [Tristan’s], up one end and down the other.”
  • Gum Baby tries to beat up Tristan. Tristan narrates, “it took everything I had to shield myself as her tiny fists and feet pummeled me.”
  • Tristan tells Gum Baby that if she loses Eddie’s book, he’ll “turn [Gum Baby] into an incense holder.”
  • Tristan accidentally nearly knocks Gum Baby over. In response, she grabs the hood of his sweatshirt and yells, “BUMBLETONGUE, GUM BABY GONNA WHOOP YOU LIKE YOUR BUTT’S ON FIRE!”
  • Tristan uses his boxing abilities to protect himself against magical monsters. Tristan describes that during a fight with the fetterlings or magical shackle-snakes, “I ducked its attack and slammed home an uppercut. Another slithered up and I snapped two quick jabs and a hook.”
  • Other characters use weapons against magical monsters, including staffs and swords. Tristan uses magical boxing gloves gifted to him by John Henry. In one battle, Tristan punches a fetterling, and “it exploded, showering [Tristan] with broken bits of chain and fluff.” These fight sequences often last a few pages.
  • Tristan’s best friend, Eddie, died in a bus crash, and Tristan couldn’t save him. Tristan tells his friend, Ayanna, about the crash. Tristan narrates, “We drove over a bridge and hit a patch of ice . . . We slid into the other lane, right into the path of a truck . . . I saw that the bus was hanging over the edge of the bridge . . . Eddie was in the back corner, trapped between two seats, struggling and failing to free himself. He asked me to save him . . . I still see his hand reaching for me. I didn’t move I was so scared. I was scared of falling, of drowning in the water below. I didn’t wanna die.” Tristan spends several pages telling the full story.
  • Much of the mythology in the book is influenced by the effects of slavery. For instance, Tristan meets two immortal women with wings. He describes, “Nana used to tell me stories about how over in Africa, before the horrors of slavery, people used to fly all the time . . . Then came the chains and ships, and pain and whips, and the people’s wings fell or were torn off.”
  • There is a magical war being waged in Alke, and there are many casualties. Ayanna tells Tristan that she “had to go talk to some of the Midfolk… . . . had to tell some families that we weren’t able to find their loved ones.”
  • Tristan activates a magical statue while being chased. To do this, Tristan picked up Gum Baby and “threw the best spiral [he’d] ever tossed in [his] life. Like, fifty yards, easy. I should’ve played football.”
  • Tristan and his friends go into the mountains looking for the Story Box, but the mountains have several layers of protection against intruders, including laser-shooting rocks. As they fly in on their magical raft, Tristan describes, “Silver and black lightning bolts were being hurled at us by giant black stone towers with jewels at the tops.”
  • The horrors of slavery are baked into the folklore throughout the book. Sometimes, Tristan gets a glimpse at different scenes hinting at this. One of the obvious moments is when the god, High John, shows him, “Old trees and Mississippi suns. Auction houses and Congo landings.” At these images, Tristan says, “I didn’t recognize any of the images and yet I knew them all.”
  • Gum Baby slaps Tristan across the face because, as Gum Baby says, “Ain’t no time for sleep . . . Gum Baby got missions and stuff.”
  • Giant poisonous brand flies swarm the Ridgefolk in the mountain. Tristan describes the scene, saying, “Everywhere a brand fly landed, skin sizzled and welted. Victims tried to peel the flies off, but whatever type of poison those flying iron monsters carried, it was potent. After a few feeble attempts to free themselves, the Ridgefolk crumpled to the floor paralyzed. Fetterlings snapped cuffs around their wrists and ankles and tugged them out the door.” The attack from all the monsters in this scene lasts for a chapter.
  • High John cuts up a massive monster with his magical ax. Tristan describes, “It wasn’t pretty. You ever see a twig get caught beneath a lawnmower? Or tree branches fed into a wood-chipper? Yeah.”
  • The poison from the brand flies infects Tristan’s friend, Ayanna. When they find her again, “she’s not breathing.” They bring Ayanna with them when they flee the mountain. Chestnutt, another companion, is also in a magical coma due to the poison.
  • Tristan and the surviving gods fight the Maafa, a magical entity built upon pain that consumes all that it can. Tristan sees the others fighting and describes, “But the refugees from Midfolk fought, too, for their very right to live, though they were far from home. John Henry, the raft line wrapped around his waist so he could use both hands, swung his hammer like he was back drilling through a mountain. Left and right, up and down, the hammer fell on the fetterlings with the rash of metal on metal. No flourishes, just a steady rhythm.” The battle lasts for several chapters.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Light profanity is used throughout. Profanity includes chumps, sucks, dumb, stupid, idiotic, nimrod, and loudmouth.
  • Tristan calls Gum Baby a “doll baby,” and she attacks him. She calls him a “giant turtle-faced thistle-head.”
  • Tristan’s go-to exclamation is “sweet peaches.”
  • Tristan sees a place called the Golden Crescent from the air. Tristan says, “Holy—” but is cut off by some of his companions.

Supernatural

  • This is a book about mythology, specifically West African mythologies that include “Nyame or Anansi.” There are also many African American folk legends, including “High John, John Henry, and Brer Rabbit.” These legends are gods. Tristan interacts with these immortal beings frequently, and they all do a variety of magic. They also live in magical realms that Tristan visits.
  • Rick Riordan, the author of the Percy Jackson series and head of Riordan Reads, has a preface in this book. Riordan pokes fun at Greek mythology, saying that “you can’t swing a gorgon’s head in any bookstore without hitting at least a dozen Greek-myth-inspired books.”
  • Tristan’s best friend, Eddie, dies before the start of the book, and Eddie leaves Tristan his journal. Eddie’s journal emits an “emerald-green glow” that Tristan realizes only he can see.
  • The first page of the journal is blank when Tristan received it, but Tristan soon notices that “a weird symbol appeared to be stitched” into Eddie’s journal. It is assumed that it appeared out of nowhere.
  • Nana tells many stories about mythology to Tristan. When they arrive on the farm, Nana tells Tristan about haints. She says that they’re “evil spirits . . . Lord knows, plenty of those ramblin’ about.” Haints show up throughout the book.
  • There is a baby doll in Tristan’s room at his grandparents’ house. One night, Tristan hears weird noises, and he turns his flashlight on. When the light hit the baby, it “rotated its head.” The baby doll is a legend called Gum Baby, and she talks to Tristan. In Anansi’s stories, Gum Baby “was a doll Anansi used to trap an African fairy while he was on a quest.”
  • Tristan punches the Bottle Tree, ripping a hole in the sky. “The punch smashed into the large blue bottle near the top, shattering the glass…Out of the corner of [Tristan’s] eye, [Tristan] saw a shadowy shape ooze from what was left of the broken bottle on the ground and creep along the grass…a chasm ripped open at the foot of the tree. A giant sucking sound filled the clearing like air rushing toward a hole.” Tristan and Gum Baby fall through the hole as they try to save Eddie’s journal.
  • Ayanna describes Tristan’s world and her world, Alke, by saying, “Alke is the dream to your world’s reality. The tales, the fables, the things you think are made up, they exist here. We aren’t just stories—we’re real, with hopes and dreams and fears just like you.”
  • Eddie’s spirit comes back through his journal several times throughout the book. Tristan describes, “The journal pages spun and coiled in the air until they formed a humanoid figure.” Eddie saves Tristan from the fetterlings, which are metals snakes with shackles for heads. He also speaks to Tristan occasionally.
  • Tristan is an Anansesem, or a magical storyteller. John Henry explains that when Tristan tells stories, “something special happens.” Tristan is able to bring the stories to life or summon them with his words, and this happens several times throughout the book. For instance, when Tristan tells a story about him and Eddie, the clouds around him “swirled and stretched into a diorama. Two cloud boys—one slightly larger than the other—crept into a large nimbus of a building.”
  • The god High John pulls Tristan’s soul out of his body and brings him into a spirit realm where they can talk privately. They fly on the back of High John’s giant crow, “Old Familiar.”
  • In the popular stories about High John, he would take “slaves’ spirits on trips of happiness and joy and wonder, all while their bodies remained on the plantation and continued to work.”
  • There are forest fairies, the Mmoatia, who know plants and healing remedies. They “have taken a shine to [Tristan].”

Spiritual Content

  • Before a battle, John Henry says, “Give me strength.” Tristan “was confused until [he] realized it was like a prayer before battle, and [Tristan] gulped. When gods prayed, things were about to get real.”
  • Inside the mountain, the council within calls upon their ancestors for guidance. Tristan notes, “I could see through them. ‘They’re spirits,’ I mumbled.”
  • The diviner in the mountain tells the ancestors that Tristan “has the blessing of gods and the spirit of the imbongi . . . I can feel it.”
  • Tristan is afraid of heights, and while flying around on a magical flying saucer he “mumbled prayers in seven different languages.”
  • There’s a legend about High John in which he “fell in love with the devil’s daughter. In order to win her hand, the devil told him he had to clear an enormous field, plant corn, then harvest it, all in one day.”

by Alli Kestler

Don’t Call the Wolf

Lukasz has lived the life of a nomad ever since he and his nine older brothers were forced from their mountain homes. As the last of the famous Wolf-Lords, a group of dragon slayers, they’ve roamed the country hunting dragons, falling in love and being put on display as a distinct race. But one by one, Lukasz’s brothers are called back to their mountain home to slay the beast that forced them out in the first place: the Golden Dragon. Now, two decades later, Lukasz finds himself following the same path, searching for his brother, Franciszek. But when Lukasz starts his journey he encounters a girl that will change everything for him.

That girl is Ren, the queen of the forest. Ren is a shapeshifter, who is able to change into a lynx whenever she needs to. Since monsters have begun to spread throughout the woods, Ren has offered safe haven to all the animals of the forest. Though young, she’s determined to protect her home, no matter what it takes. But, when the Golden Dragon shows up to burn her forest, Ren realizes she can’t fight alone anymore. When she meets Lukasz, she strikes a deal with him: slay the Golden Dragon and she’ll help find Franciszek.

However, that may not be as simple as it sounds. Unlike his brothers, Lukasz has no desire to slay the Golden Dragon. He just wants to find Franciszek and leave. Even if Ren and Lukasz have begun to fall in love with each other, he may very well break her heart in the end.

Don’t Call the Wolf is a standalone novel that’s well-written and well thought out. It’s a story about two worlds, the human world, and the fairy tale world, colliding unexpectedly. Lukasz is a Wolf-Lord, a dragon slayer, both an ally and enemy to Ren and her animal family. Throughout the novel, the disparity between humans and the rest of the natural and magical world is constantly shown, especially the distrust between the two groups. Through this, the novel explores how people can be too quick to judge or be wary of anything different or unfamiliar.

The story’s message of prejudice is where the novel is the strongest, as it weaves together characters that come from a variety of backgrounds and that overcome those prejudices to not only continue their journey but to become friends. A few even go so far as to sacrifice themselves for others. These characters, while not as fleshed out as they could be, are endearing because of this. The main characters, Ren and Lukasz, are the strongest of the cast; each character has flaws as well as realistic fears and desires. For instance, Lukasz can’t read, but this is an endearing flaw that he tries to overcome. Ren deals with being called a monster by the humans that live in her forest, and she must fight against that label.

Don’t Call the Wolf is a retelling of the Polish fairy tale The Glass Mountain. The story is full of adventures in the magical forest, and romance that is excellently paced. The character development is similarly strong, and Ren is fabulously fierce. Don’t Call the Wolf is a great read for anyone looking for a touch of magic in a novel. With a strong setting, elements of a fairy tale, and a theme of overcoming prejudice, fantasy lovers will want to pick up this novel.

Sexual Content

  • Ren watches as Lukasz kisses a monster. “Eyes still locked on Ren, it kissed him [Lukasz]. His arms came up, encircling it. And to Ren’s disgust, he kissed it back.” When thinking about the kiss later, Lukasz thinks it should have been Ren kissing him. “He wished she had been the one to kiss him.”
  • Ren and Lukasz develop a romance. While camping in a forest, Ren “felt a stab of jealousy as Lukasz lowered himself beside Felka to talk. His eye caught hers across the clearing, and Ren turned quickly back to Czarn.” Felka is a human from the only village in Ren’s forest. Later, when Ren is watching Lukasz, she thinks, “Then she ran a hand over the stubble edge of his jaw. She loved his face. She loved that crooked tooth. Ren wondered, suddenly, if she loved more than that.”
  • Lukasz’s older brother, Franciszek, asks Lukasz, “You love this girl [Ren], right?”
  • At the end of the novel, Ren and Lukasz plan to marry. When Lukasz jokes about going to propose to her, Ren says, “No. I think I will.” Then, they kiss. “He leaned down and kissed her. She ran a hand over his cheek, through his hair.”

Violence

  • Throughout the novel, the main characters fight monsters. The first time Lukasz sees one, he notes, “Some were burned beyond recognition, others had whole limbs hacked off. Some had parts of their skulls cleaved away, bits of gray brain and viscous blood spattering their shoulders. Their faces, frozen, still stretched into the tooth-baring, agonized grimaces of death.”
  • While fighting a dragon, Lukasz’s hand is badly burned. “Lukasz screamed. He was on his knees, screaming. Coughing. Tears streaming down his cheeks, dripping off his chin.”
  • As a lynx, Ren attacks a strzygoń, a monster, “Its re-formed limbs could not match the strength of her forelegs. She bit down. Hot blood splashed over her face.” Just after this, Czarn, a wolf loyal to Ren, attacks another strzygoń. “The fight was short. And bloody. One of the bulkier strzygi managed to take a chunk out of Czarn’s ear before the wolf’s powerful jaws closed around its throat and severed its head.”
  • When Ren meets a human girl named Felka, Felka tells Ren, “You ripped his face off!”
  • Koszmar, a soldier that accompanies Lukasz, is startled and shoots a tree branch. “Koszmar shrieked and fired an entire round of bullets into it before realizing it wasn’t another monster.”
  • After Koszmar is killed by a strzygoń, a strzygoń spawns from his corpse, “Then a chest and shoulders emerged, tearing the ribs wide. A head unfurled, with hair congealed in clots. Slick rivers of blood coated naked spine.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After getting his hand burned by a dragon, Lukasz is put in a hospital. He’s given opium for the pain. Doctors “kept him knocked out with opium for a full two weeks. For the pain, the doctor had explained.”
  • When thinking about his brothers, Lukasz thinks, “Rafał lay upon the beds of Miasto tattoo parlors, Eryk bought a vodka distillery, and Anzelm drank most of it.” Later, Lukasz thinks of himself, “Lukasz was twenty, bored, and a little tipsy.”

Language

  • Bastard and bullshit are used a few times. For example, Lukasz talks to a dragon he’s fighting. He says, “Come on, you feathery bastard.”
  • Damn is used frequently. For example, while fighting another dragon, Lukasz thinks, “Where is the damn sword?”
  • Lukasz constantly says “God.” When he is talking with his older brother, he says, “My God, Rafał.”

Supernatural

  • This novel is filled with magical creatures from old European legends.
  • Dragons are all over Lukasz’s country. When Lukasz is hunting a dragon, he sees, “It was huge, orange, covered in feathers and scales. It had a curved beak and a quizzical, birdy look in its eye. It chirped again.”
  • Lukasz is a Wolf-Lord, a famous dragon slayer. During a lecture, a professor describes the Wolf-Lords, “By tooth or by claw, they promised. The Brygada Smoka. The last of the Wolf-Lords, and the greatest dragon slayers in the world.”
  • Ren’s forest is filled with strzygoń, a type of monster that was once human. When Ren encounters one in the forest, she sees, “It stood on all fours, joints locked. With the bulging eyes of a goat, oblong pupils in slate gray, it considered her. It put its head to the side, feathery brows jutting over those terrible eyes. It looked almost like an enormous moth, and again, Ren trembled.” When strzygoń appears in the forest, they crawl out of pits. “A pit opened up, earth crumbling away in its center, ringed with orange flames and twisting roots. It gaped wide in the forest floor.”
  • Ren can shapeshift into a lynx. When she goes to fight a monster, she shifts. While shifting Ren’s “knees shot to her chest and her spine curled up. Her muscles expanded, snapping into place around her limbs. Power tore across her shoulders. Fur raced over her skin.”

Spiritual Content

  • Ren has the power to baptize strzygoń, monsters that were once human. When she encounters a group of strzygoń, she says, “Your time here is finished. I. . . I baptize you.” Once that is said, the strzygoń all crumple and their souls go to either heaven or hell.

by Jonathan Planman

Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes

War between the devas and the demons is imminent, and the Otherworld is on high alert. Fourteen-year-old Aru Shah and her friends are sent on a mission to rescue two “targets,” one of whom is about to utter a prophecy that could mean the difference between victory and defeat. It turns out that the targets, a pair of twins, are the newest Pandava sisters, though the prophecy says one sister is not true.

When the Pandavas fail to prevent the prophecy from reaching the Sleeper’s ears, the heavenly attendants ask them to step aside. Aru believes the only way to put the shine back on their brand is to find the Kalpavriksha, the wish-granting tree that came out of the Ocean of Milk when it was churned. If she can reach it before the Sleeper, perhaps she can turn everything around with one wish.

Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes brings India’s mythology to life in an engaging and suspenseful story that pits good against evil. Readers will meet the constellations, Saturn, a dismembered crocodile, and other deities. As Aru, her Pandava sisters, Aiden, and Rudy (a prince) try to stop the Sleeper from winning a war, they travel through the skies (literally) in a fast-paced adventure that is at times heart-stoppingly suspenseful as well as mixed with humor and heart.

Two new Pandava sisters enter the scene, but they play a secondary role. However, readers will enjoy Nikita’s fashion sense as well as her ability to make plants grow into weapons. Her sister, Sheela, adds interest because of her ability to tell prophecies. Even though the two sisters do not have a starring role, their inclusion adds several fun elements to the story. Because of the large cast of characters and their backstories, Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes should only be read after the first two installments of the series.

Each one of Aru’s group has family issues that make them feel unworthy; some of them also feel unloved. Because Aru’s father gave up his family and became the Sleeper, Aru feels “a terrible ache of loss” as well as a “confusing mix of anger and pity and pain.” While the story explores the hurt of being unloved by a parent, it doesn’t offer platitudes to explain away the pain. By the end of the story, Aru is full of rage, which will leave readers wondering what will happen next.

Even though the characters fight several battles, many of them are won through optical illusions. While the battle scenes are suspenseful, the descriptions are never bloody or gory. While the story is appropriate for younger readers, the complicated plot, large cast of characters, and the mythological gods, goddesses, and monsters make the story best for strong readers.

Anyone who enjoys an excellent adventure should read Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes. Aru and her friends are relatable characters who are willing to enter dangerous situations in order to defeat the Sleeper. The ending doesn’t wrap up any story threads but ends with a surprise twist and a cliffhanger that will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, Aru Shah and the City of Gold.

Sexual Content

  • Aru and her friends are sprinkled with “glittering dust” that “forces out secrets.” Rudy yells, “I’ve never kissed a girl. Once I practiced on a gem, but I choked on it!”

Violence

  • A rakshasa is a demon “with the body of a man and the head of a bull.” The rakshasa tries to take a girl. Aru and Mini attempt to stop the demon, and “he flung out his other hand, and an S-shaped piece of onyx came hurtling toward Aru. The weapon writhed as it flew, emitting shadows that obscured her vision.” A shadow “wrapped itself around Mini’s ankle while another slipped under her sneakers, trying to dislodge her show suckers.”
  • During the attack, the girl is on a Ferris wheel. Using magic, Mini makes the Ferris wheel turn, “slowly, then fast and even faster until its lights blurred. . . The rakshasa’s grip loosened and he tumbled, his bull head knocking against the metal spokes as he dropped from one rung to the next.”
  • When the rakshasa tried to open the door of the Ferris wheel, Aru “let loose. Electricity rippled around the door. . . He howled as a surge of lightning shot through his arm, sending him crumpling to his knees.” Someone trips the demon who “let out a terrifying roar right before he knocked his head on a telephone pole and promptly passes out.” The demon battle is described over six pages.
  • While going over the Yamuna River, Aiden, Brynne, and Rudy drink the water. Later, Aru and Mini see their friends in the river water “swirling in a tight knot, their heads dipping in and out of the water. . . In fact, they seemed, well . . . dead.” Mini saves Aiden, Brynne, and Rudy. However, the goddess erases Aru’s mind so no one knows that Mini saved them all.
  • Two yali try to kill Aru and her friends. “The second yali lunged at them, trying to reach the pillar.” Bryn creates wind that “roared through the air, and the creature hit a pile of stones with a hard thud.” Aru and the others, including the yali, all live. Their bartering and fighting is described over 7 pages.
  • The king of the birds orders the birds to attack Aru and her group. Aru cast a lightning bolt that transformed into a net. A swath of birds is caught in mid-flight. They squawked as they dropped to the forest floor, squirming beneath the mesh.
  • During the battle against the birds, “Aru, Brynne, and Aiden channeled everything they could at the flock—concentrated tornadoes, winnowing electrified blades, and bolts of lightning. When a large percentage of the birds had fallen away, Mini replaced the veil of invisibility with a violet shield.” The force field gives the other birds a “powerful conk to the head.” The fight is described over 6 pages.
  • When Saturn looks directly at something it bursts into flames. When he was looking for a beetle, “his gaze went everywhere at once. One glance and a palm tree hissed as it went up in flames. One blink and the pit of broken musical instruments burst into flames, filling the air with the twanging of popped guitar strings.” No one is injured.
  • A plant bites Aru’s finger.
  • The story ends in a multi-chapter battle. While trying to save Sheela, an invisible enemy threatens the group. “Aiden raised his scimitars only for something to hurl him backward, slamming him against a boulder.” The group attempt to defend themselves. “Nikita spread out her arms, and the fence of roots and thorns exploded outward. Something yelled in pain.”
  • When they find Sheela, she “appeared, gagged with a shadow and bound with silvery ropes. Her eyes looked frantic, but she held up her chin.”
  • When a pair of naga try to “snake toward the group,” Rudy “borrowed one of Aiden’s scimitars and skewered the ends of their tails to the ground. They screamed and hissed, coiling back on themselves.”
  • Trying to protect herself and her friends, “Nikita slammed her palms together. Roses of every size and color cascaded down her body like a ball grown unfurling. Their branches reached for the shadows and grew around the Sleeper, trapping him in a net of thorns.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Oh my gods” and “Oh gods” are both used as an exclamation once.
  • While on a bridge over the Yamuna River, Aru thought, “Gods, she was thirsty.”
  • Heck is used twice.

Supernatural

  • Magic is used often. For example, after catching several rakshasas, Aru and her friends decide to take them to the Court of the Sky. In order to restrain them, Nikita “stretched out her hand and green light radiated from her fingertips. The sidewalk trembled as weeds between the cracks grew taller, multiplied, and spread outward until they had formed four rectangular cushions on the ground. . . Vines snaked out from Nikita’s tiara and grew several feet long before they snapped off and wound around each of the rakshasas, binding them tight.”
  • Aru is given a key that will unlock all things. The key is “in a sense, alive, and it might demand something in return for its services.”
  • Nikita and the other Pandavas meet in each other’s dreams.
  • While crossing the Yamuna River, the river “called to her like a lullaby” making Aru desperately thirsty for its waters. While there, Aru and Mini meet the goddess of the river whose “long black hair was pinned back with fish teeth and dotted with pearls. Around her neck and wrists she wore writhing snakes brighter than any jewels.”
  • Nakita makes clothes with magical elements. She makes Aru pants “where the coiled-up sticky threads were disguised as embroidery.”
  • Aru finds a jewel that is “a receptacle for thoughts, emotions, memories.” The jewel shows Aru her father’s memories. When the stone is pressed on, “something like a hologram emerged from the jewel, rending an eerie sequence of scenes in front of them.”

Spiritual Content

  • Aru is the daughter of thunder and lightning.
  • Aru and the other Pandavas are reincarnated. Nikita and her twin are “the reincarnations of Nakula and Sahadeva, the brothers famous for their beauty, archery and equestrian skills, and wisdom.”

 

Piratica

Art attends a school for proper young ladies. That is, until she bumps her head and remembers her long-forgotten past. Her mother was Piratica, a pirate queen, and Art grew up on her mother’s pirate ship. Art lost her memory not in a mundane accident, but from an exploding pirate ship that claimed her mother’s life! Now that she remembers where she came from, Art quickly takes on her mother’s mantel and runs away to find her mom’s old pirate crew.

Felix was already down on his luck when an unfortunate run-in with Art leaves people thinking he is a famous highway robber. Unable to convince the law that he is innocent, Felix is forced to flee for his life. He ends up on Art’s pirate ship, where he is courteously imprisoned. The pirates promise he will be put ashore when they are far enough from London that he cannot turn the pirates into the law. However, as their adventures continue, Felix finds his utter distaste for pirates warring with a growing admiration for Art’s fearlessness.

Piratica honors bravery, loyalty, and a bit of pirate flair. Art is an inspiring character, who is not immune to doubt, but she is unwilling to let it slow her down for a moment. Determined to will her dream of becoming a pirate into reality, her pirate crew cannot help but be swept along by her vision. With a delightful cast of well-developed supporting characters, every scene carries readers along this swashbuckling tale.

Full of fun, adventure, and a healthy helping of piratical ridiculousness, Piratica is a must-read for anyone who loves adventure, pirates, or strong female characters. The silliness is over-the-top, yet remains believable and thoroughly enjoyable. With plenty of action but not much gore, this is an excellent story for readers looking for more exciting adventures who aren’t mature enough for adult content.

Sexual Content

  • A girl kisses Felix as he escapes from a fight. “She kissed Felix so forcefully it knocked him into the chute.”
  • When the pirates reach Africay, “Slender black locals . . . offered them wives. . . Even Art was offered a wife.”

Violence

  • When one of Art’s pirates slanders her, she slaps him. He “raised his fist . . . but Art had ducked Black Knack’s blow with the perfect weaving motion of the trained fighter. Swimming back, she punched him instead with a sharp thwack on the point of his shaveless jaw. Black Knack’s eyes rolled up. He keeled straight over.”
  • A fight breaks out in a bar. “Cutlasses sparkled and fists flailed. Flying bottles and cuts filled the air . . . Art avoided a descending beer mug and shoved off a fighter who had got carried away and was trying to brain her with a chair.”
  • Art and her pirates capture a ship. When the captain tries to fight, “Art kicked him hard in the leg, and he went to one knee. Behind her at once she heard a scuffle, two or three cries, a series of thuds.”
  • Art and her pirates defend themselves when another ship tries to board them. “She fired. The bullet whizzed, unseen, over the sea between the two ships . . . The bullet struck, as Art had meant it to, a smoke-wreathed barrel of gunpowder left on the forecastle. Which blew up like a firework of pink and primrose.” The fight is described over three pages.
  • A pirate shoots Black Knack. “Then Goldie fired. Fire flash. The silliest sound—like a huge twig snapping. Black Knack seemed to jump—that was all—to jump forward—forward—The jump took him right past the hatch . . . it threw him instead to the lip of the cliff. And over.”
  • Art and Goldie duel. “As she sprang, Art saw Mr. Beast rearing, cutlass and pistol in the way, and landed a fist of ringed knuckles at the base of his nose . . . one of those little knives came zipping out, straight for Art’s throat. Art dodged . . . the knife cut her thinly along the right cheekbone. But Goldie, they now all saw, was bleeding at the temple where the hair had been sliced away.” The fight is described over five pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When running away, Art sees the gate porter “drinking hot gin. He never noticed her, and minutes later she was over the wall.”
  • When a highwaywoman comes to a tavern, the owner says “I’ll take a look at your loot, dear, and we’ll drink some gin.” The highwaywoman responds that she wants sherry because “You know I can’t stand the gin.”
  • Art and her crew visit a tavern with “tall tots of rum and liqueurs.”
  • After a victory, Art’s pirate crew “downed everything—rum, wine, the brandies of Africay, the home-brewed lemon ciders, coffee in which a knife could have stood upright.”
  • For their last meal, Art receives “a bottle of wine.”

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation twice. Art’s dad says, “By God, what’s this?” Another time, Felix says “Oh, God.”
  • Devil is used as part of exclamations. Art’s father exclaims, “Why the devil are you smiling?” A man says, “If a woman did such a thing—she was the devil itself.”
  • Funny exclamations are used often. A few examples include “Cat’s Wallopers,” “Goat’s Gizzards,” “Caterwauling Stars,” “Dastardly Custard,” “by the Sacred Pig of Eira,” and “By the Yak!”
  • Variations of damn are used several times. A man says, “You’re damnably late, sir.” Another man says, “Get your act together, and we’ll be off, dammit innit.”
  • Hell is used as an exclamation several times such as “Hell’s Porcupines,” “By the Blast of Hell,” and “Hell’s Kettles!” Also, a pirate calls Art “a hell of a captain”, and once Art asks, “What the hell could that be?”
  • Poo is used twice. A man says, “And poo to you, too!” Another man says, “Poo to you, sir!”
  • A man calls someone a “pompous asp.”
  • When going into a pitch-black cave, Black Knack tells Ebad, who is black, “Don’t you go in, Ebad. We’ll lose you.” Durk turns and slaps Black Knack in response.
  • Bitch is used twice. Goldie tells her pirates, “You lazy pigs—come here and help me finish this bitch.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • A man exclaims, “By the Lord’s Armchair.”
  • One of Art’s pirates says, “I wish to God Molly were here.”
  • A pirate cries, “Fill ‘em full of lead, by the Lord’s Armchair” and another says, “by the sacred Blue of Heaven.”
  • Ebad says, “It’s Molly. By the Lord God. Our Molly Faith.”
  • The pirate Black Knack tells Art, “You’re no girl. You’re a demon. But—a hell of a captain, I’ll give ye that.”
  • Before supper, a pirate says, “Thank you, God, for the gift of greed.”
  • Art finds a message left by pirates. It reads, “We are the Pirate Kind. We live by blood and murder. We end our days on a rope, or under the pitiless acres of the Sea. After which, we are told, we must suffer forever in the Kingdom of Hell, for our Sins.”

by Morgan Lynn

The Vanishing Deep

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

 

Spiritual Content

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

 

 

 

Latest Reviews