Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade

Enola Holmes, the much younger sister of Sherlock, is now living independently in London and working as a scientific perditorian (a finder of persons and things). But that is not the normal lot for young women in Victorian England. Young women fall under the near absolute control of their nearest male relative until they reach adulthood. Such is the case of Enola’s friend, Lady Cecily Alastair. Twice before, Enola has rescued Lady Cecily from the unpleasant designs of her caddish father, Sir Eustace Alastair, Baronet. And when Enola is brusquely turned away at the door of the Alastair home, it soon becomes apparent that Lady Cecily once again needs her help.

Affecting a bold escape, Enola takes Lady Cecily to her secret office only to be discovered by the person Lady Cecily’s mother hired to find her daughter – Sherlock Holmes himself. But Lady Cecily has already disappeared again, now loose on her own in the unforgiving city of London.

Even worse, Lady Cecily has a secret that few know. She has dual personalities. One is left-handed, independent, and competent; the other is right-handed, meek, and mild. Now Enola must find Lady Cecily before one of her personalities gets her into more trouble than she can handle, and before Sherlock can find her and return her to her father. Once again, for Enola, the game is afoot. 

Enola is a truly admirable character who comes up with unconventional ways to help Cecily escape her father’s cruel treatment. While trying to help, Enola digs into Cecily’s father’s past. Enola gets into plenty of mischief along the way. With secret rooms, a dangerous slide down a coal chute, and a daring rescue, Enola’s story is entertaining. However, in this installment Enola doubts her abilities and often scolds herself for not being able to come up with new ideas to discover Sir Eustance’s secrets. This interferes with the story’s enjoyment, especially because it’s out of character for Enola.   

Readers will not relate to the dubious activities of Sir Eustance, as they are tied in with the story’s time period and are not relevant to today’s readers. Enola discovers that Sir Eustance had been selling his deceased servants’ bodies to “dissecting rooms.” While not strictly illegal, “it would be a dreadful scandal if it came out.” Enola uses this information to blackmail Sir Eustance into treating his wife and daughter better. However, Cecily and her mother make such a short appearance that readers will not feel connected to them, making the end of their plight anticlimactic.  

While Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade has some flaws, mystery-loving readers will find a lot to like in the Enola Holmes Series. Enola is a head-strong girl who clearly loves solving a good mystery. Her unexpected ways of solving mysteries lead Enola into humorous situations and her interactions with Sherlock add an interesting dynamic. However, the series is best suited for strong readers because of the advanced vocabulary which includes words such as fulminated, iconoclasm, phrenologist, protuberant, and exigency. Despite this, Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade gives an interesting view into the late nineteenth century and readers will enjoy trying to decode Cecily’s pigpen cipher. Readers who enjoy the Enola Holmes Series and would like another book with a strong female protagonist should add The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi to their reading list. 

Sexual Content 

  • Cecily was taken by a “charismatic kidnapper.” When she was returned home, most of society considered Cecily “soiled, stained, ruined matrimonial goods.”  
  • During a dinner conversation, a group of women are discussing a woman who bore her husband eight children. A woman says, “One of us should have slipped her a diaphragm.”  
  • While trying to discover Cecily’s father’s secrets, Enola wonders if “he had dallied with brazen ladies of the theatre. . . run wild in his youth. . . succumbed to hard liquor or worse. Perhaps he had even been known to frequent opium dens.” 

Violence 

  • After facing Cecily’s father, Sir Eustance, Enola tries to flee, but the butler “jumped in front of me to bar the door, I was able. . . to whip my dagger out of my bodice and raise it—not truly menacing; I had no intention of taking his life.” The butler moves out of the way. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Sherlock likes to smoke “shag tobacco.” 

Language   

  • Sir Eustance asks Enola, “Who the blasted blazes do you think you are?” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • During this time period, being left-handed was considered “the mark of the devil.” 

Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing

Attention: Junior Secret Agent 

Now that these top-secret files have fallen into your hands, you have in your possession everything you’ll need to know about making and breaking codes and ciphers. From everyday codes and pictographs to encryption and concealment methods used throughout history, this handbook proves the necessary tools for a budding cryptographer. And as you’ll see, a duo of seasoned, sneaky spies is on the case to illustrate how it all works. 

Your mission: Reading this book! 

Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing gives many examples of ciphers, including ones from literature such as Poe’s ciphers in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” For each coded message, the answers are in the back of the book, which allows readers to try to figure out the message without peeking at the answers. In addition to ciphers, the book includes information on code-breaking. There are several coded messages that readers will have fun trying to decipher. Readers will also learn about different liquids they can use to make invisible ink. 

Many examples of historical codes are scattered throughout the book, and the end of the book has a chapter titled the “Codemakers and Codebreakers Hall of Fame.” This chapter gives more examples of historical people, such as Benedict Arnold, who used ciphers. Many of the people who created ciphers did so to hide military secrets. However, no bloody battle scenes are described. Instead, the book uses a down-to-earth tone that will appeal to readers. In addition, every one to three pages has some type of graphic element—a practice code, a list, or a black and white illustration. Most of the illustrations are humorous, such as a spy running away from an angry pig.  

Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing uses an entertaining format to introduce the art of spying. Through historical examples, readers will learn many interesting facts about codemaking, ciphers, codebreaking, and concealment. Anyone who has ever wondered how spies pass secret messages must read this book. To learn more about the Culper Spy Ring, grab a copy of George Washington’s Spies by Claudia Friddell as well.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Mary Queen of Scots used a substitution cipher, but “it was the discovery and deciphering of this system by her enemies that caused her to lose her head to the executioner when she was convicted of plotting to overthrow Queen Elizabeth.” 
  • An ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, would send messages to his generals. Herodotus found a servant with poor eyesight and then “shaved the slave’s head, then branded a message on his scalp! When the hair grew in, the master told the servant that his eyesight would be better when he had his head shaved at a camp some miles away.” 
  • During England’s civil war, several Puritans were captured and “made the long walk to the gallows.” 
  • Benedict Arnold betrayed the colonies by spying for the enemy. “After a midnight meeting with Arnold, André was captured. . . he was hanged in 1780.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Kelsey the Spy

Kelsey can’t resist collecting secrets in her spy notebook just like her hero, Harriet the Spy. When she learns Leo has been hiding something from the group, she writes his secret in her notebook as well. But when the notebook goes missing, everything she’s collected about classmates, friends, and family could be revealed to the world! After receiving a ransom note, Kelsey tries to solve the mystery on her own. But soon she realizes she needs help from everyone in the Curious Cat Spy Club in order to rescue her notebook, help a homesick 130-year-old Aldabra tortoise, and unmask a thief. 

When Kelsey’s notebook of secrets disappears, she is consumed with fear that the secrets will be revealed and someone will be hurt. When one of her secrets goes public, Kelsey is convinced that the thief must be stopped. Kelsey’s fear and worry drive much of her actions, but the constant reminders of the dangers of keeping secrets becomes annoying. While Kelsey’s concerns are justified, Kelsey’s inner monologue may frustrate readers. 

The story’s focus is on Kelsey’s stolen notebook, which doesn’t allow room for the other subplots to be adequately explored. For example, a lost dog that Kelsey is hoping to find only appears twice and the encounter is so short that it does nothing to add to the story. Part of the story includes interesting facts about an Aldabra tortoise, but animal-loving readers will wish that more time was devoted to the tortoise. Even though the animal aspect of Kelsey the Spy reinforces the theme of not keeping secrets, the subplot lacks depth.  

Readers will relate to Kelsey’s friendship problems. As Kelsey struggles with finding the notebook thief, she also has a difficult time with the changing nature of her friendships. When Kelsey’s friends are too busy to spend time with her, Kelsey gets frustrated. Kelsey finally talks to her friends about how she feels, which allows them to work through their problems. In the end, she realizes that friendships change, “rising and falling, then coming back together stronger than ever.” 

Kelsey the Spy has an inquisitive protagonist who helps put on a fundraiser for a local shelter. Kelsey is a typical preteen that many readers will relate to. However, the plot tackles too much—Kelsey’s brother who is sneaking around, a lost dog, the missing notebook, and the tortoise who needs a new home. Because of the many subplots, the story jumps around a lot. Kelsey the Spy does have some fun elements to keep readers engaged. Plus, it teaches important lessons about teamwork, friendship, and the dangers of keeping secrets. Even though Kelsey the Spy is the third book in the series, it can also be read as a standalone. Middle-grade mystery-loving readers should also read the Friday Barns Series by R.A. Spratt. 

Sexual Content 

  • While spying on her brother, Kelsey sees her friend’s mom. “The sheriff and Mrs. Morales are both divorced and went to high school together so they’re good friends. . . the sheriff kisses her—a big, fat kiss on the lips that lasts a very long time.” 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • OMG is used often. Oh my god is used once. 
  • Kelsey says drat three times. 
  • Kelsey’s friend calls a classmate a “slimy snake.” Later she calls someone else a jerk. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Anna Strong and the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring

Travel back in time to the American Revolution in this thrilling third book of the Spy on History series. Discover the secret Culper Ring, a network of American spies fighting against the British redcoats. Meet historical figures like George Washington and the soon-to-be-infamous Benedict Arnold. Also meet Anna Strong, an unsung heroine who found ingenious ways to communicate top-secret messages to her fellow spies—helping to free the American colonies from British rule.

Your mission: Decode Anna Strong’s hidden message and discover the secret assignment she undertook for the Culper Ring. There are clues embedded in the book’s text and illustrations, plus spy craft materials, including a cipher wheel in an envelope at the beginning of the book. 

Anna Strong and the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring allows readers to step back into history and play the part of a Culper spy. The story focuses on Anna and her role as a spy during the Revolutionary War. Even though Anna was often fearful, her bravery allowed George Washington to receive important wartime intelligence that was critical in winning the war. Focusing on Anna allows the reader to see how the war affected men, women, and children.  

Anna’s story is fast-paced, full of suspense, and jam-packed with historical information. In addition, the book’s format is visually appealing. Every page has a graphic element, including pictures that are drawn in black, white, and red. Plus, most of the pages have a quote set apart from the other text. These quotes are printed in large fonts and help break up the text. The graphic elements are essential because hidden in the pictures and text are clues and codes. Readers will use a cipher wheel, a pigpen code, and other methods to decipher Anna’s letter to Caleb Brewster, another spy. 

Readers will enjoy using the spy tools and finding clues throughout the story. However, the lack of direction makes this task difficult. The first page of the book has a map of the Culper Spy Ring. The top of the map has a coded question that is easy to miss. Without the essential question, the clues are just a collection of random words. Parents may want to read the answer key that appears at the end of the book so they can assist young readers in finding and understanding the clues.   

Anna Strong and the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring will appeal to readers who love ciphers, history, spies, and mystery. Plus, it gives recognition to many of the spies who helped win the American Revolution. The well-written story will keep readers’ attention and the hidden clues will make them feel like they are a part of history. Readers who want to learn more about women’s role in the Revolutionary War should also read Susanna’s Midnight Ride by Libby Carty McNamee. If you’re looking for more historical facts about the Culper Spies, George Washington’s Spies by Claudia Friddell will give you the inside scoop.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • British soldiers knock on Anna’s door in the middle of the night. Anna and her children watched as “one of the soldiers stepped behind her husband and roughly bound his hands.” Anna’s husband was arrested and taken prisoner on a prison ship. 
  • Anna goes to see her husband on the prison ship. When she gets there, the ship smelled “of death. The eyes of the prisoners were sunken, and their faces were taut with hunger.” When Anna sees her husband, “his hands and feet [were] in iron shackles, she saw the same look of starvation and mistreatment beginning to hollow his features.” 
  • Nathan Hale was spying for George Washington. When he got caught, “Nathan was identified as a spy within days and executed almost immediately after he was captured.”  
  • Benedict Arnold was sent into a battle where he “received a terrible leg wound.” 
  • One night, a British soldier is caught sneaking around outside of Anna’s house. Caleb, Anna’s friend, sees him and, “Just as [the soldier] began to dismount from his horse, Caleb burst from the hedge. . . Anna heard a series of thumps as Caleb struck the man, blow after blow.” Anna was afraid Caleb “was going to kill him” but the soldier runs off.  
  • John André, a British soldier, was captured. “André was charged and hanged as a spy.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • One of the spies would go into the city and, when passing the British checkpoints, he bribes the solders with liquor. 
  • When a group of patriots took over a fort, the men helped “themselves to the fort’s liquor stores.” 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Spy Files: Codes and Ciphers

Sneak into the secret lives of spies with this fascinating series about the world’s security services—with agent profiles, information on technology, and events that changed the world. Codes and Ciphers is packed full of interesting information beginning with the difference between a code and cipher, and how they were first developed.  

Codes and Ciphers uses a fun format that breaks up information into small, manageable parts. Each two-page spread changes topics and each page has only one to three short paragraphs plus photo captions. Each page has illustrations including historical photos, drawings, and illustrations of spy technology. Plus, some pages have an infographic titled “Top Secret” which gives additional information on spying. While the format will appeal to many readers, the large font and short paragraphs don’t allow each topic to be explored in detail. Readers who want to learn more in-depth information about codes and ciphers should check out Top Secret by Paul B. Janeczko. 

The wide range of spy information, which includes a lot of historical stories such as information on the World War II Navajo Code Talkers, is extremely interesting. Plus, readers will learn how to make their own codes, ciphers, and invisible ink. The book ends with a two-page glossary and an index. Codes and Ciphers will entertain readers and introduce many interesting facts. Spy-loving readers who want to add a little spy humor to their reading should sneak to the library and search for the Mac B. Kid Spy Series by Mac Barnett. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit

Deer Creek is a small town whose only hope for survival is the success of the Founders’ Day Festival. But the festival’s main attraction, a time capsule that many believe holds the town’s treasure, has gone missing.   

Twelve-year-old Randi Rhodes and her best friend, D.C., are Bruce Lee-inspired ninjas and local detectives determined to solve the case. Even if it means investigating a haunted cabin and facing mean old Angus McCarthy, who is the prime suspect. The future of their whole town is at stake! Will these kids be able to save the day?  

Randi is a plucky heroine who isn’t afraid to jump into danger if it means solving a case. When her father decides to move the family to Deer Creek, Randi is convinced that she will die of boredom. However, she is soon sneaking around town looking for clues that will reveal who took the town’s time capsule. Along the way, Randi meets D.C. and the two connect over their love of martial arts. As they hunt for clues, they also learn about the importance of friendship. This theme is reinforced when they read a letter written by the town’s founding fathers who wrote, “We were prosperous because our friendship is more precious to us than any riches on earth.”  

Many readers will relate to Randi and her friend D.C., who face real-world conflicts. Randi is not only struggling with the loss of her mother; she also believes her father doesn’t understand her. Randi’s friend D.C. worries about his mother’s financial issues. He also gets frustrated because his mother treats him like a sick little boy because he has asthma. While the story focuses on Randi and D.C., the town is full of interesting people who add both conflict and humor to the story.  

With plenty of action and suspense, The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit will entertain mystery-loving readers. In addition, readers will learn the necessary skills to sleuth on their own. Throughout the story, readers are prompted to go to the appendix and complete a “Ninja Task.” These tasks include how to conduct a stakeout, how to make a footprint cast, how to collect a dusty footprint, etc. The appendix also includes recipes for making caramel apples and ice cream. Another positive aspect of the book is the full-page, black-and-white illustrations that appear, on average, every 24 pages. 

The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit is a fast-paced story that brings the town of Deer Creek alive. Like many stories, the book has a group of bullies, a misunderstood town outcast, and a small-town sheriff. Despite this, Randi’s love of ninja’s, spying, and solving mysteries makes The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit a fun read. Plus, the conclusion adds several surprises that tie up all the story threads and remind readers that friends help each other become better people.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Randi and D.C. go into an abandoned house that is rumored to be haunted. When they hear someone opening the front door, the two kids hide in a bedroom. When someone opens the bedroom door, D.C. kicks the person. “The kick he delivered must have been powerful. The figure rocked backwards and fell.” Once the man is down, the kids run from the house. 
  • When Randi and D.C. go back to the abandoned house, two bad guys appear. The kids overhear a man saying, “Next time you should drag the little brats out and take them back to the caves. There are places down there where no one would ever find them.” 
  • Randi, D.C., and their friend Pudge follow the bad guys to a cave. While there, Angus appears and a man “crept up behind Angus McCarthy, put an arm around his neck, and trapped the old man in a headlock. . .” 
  • While in the cave, the main henchman orders a man to, “Take Mr. McCarthy away and deal with him. And make sure he won’t be coming back. I don’t want that old coot causing any more trouble.”  
  • In order to help Angus, the kids follow behind the bad man who is hauling Angus deeper into the cave. Randi “tapped the thug on the shoulder. . . When the thug wheeled around to see who was behind him, he was greeted with a lightning-fast punch. . . Once he was down on the ground, Randi delivered a chop to the right side of his head that would make sure he stayed nice and quiet. . .” 
  • The other bad guys see Randi, D.C., and Pudge. When they try to capture the kids, Randi “leaped forward in a gravity-defying jump kick, connecting with the first foe’s abdomen. It was so powerful, it sent him reeling backwards and onto another guy. . . By the time the agents realized what had happened Randi was already spinning and kicking low to the ground, smashing ankles, kicking up dust, and exhibiting textbook form on a tornado kick.” The scene is described over four pages.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Mean girl Amber-Grace often calls people names, including freak, Yankee scarecrow, idiot, and a loser. 
  • Amber-Grace calls D.C. a “little deaf punk.” 
  • Randi thinks that Amber-Grace is an “obnoxious brat.”  
  • A man asks, “You think I was the one who took the durn capsule?” 
  • A woman calls someone a “miserable old coot.” 
  • D.C. is hard of hearing. While D.C. was working at his mom’s fruit stand, a boy “wriggled his fingers as if using sign language. ‘Didn’t you hear me, deaf boy?’”  
  • A group of kids ambush D.C. and start making fun of him. One boy refers to D.C. as Bruce Wee. The boy says, “You know why Bruce Wee’s belt is yellow and not black? It’s ‘cause he’s’ so scared to fight that he pees in his pants.” Randi jumps in to help and she tells the boy, “Well, anyone who’s earned a yellow belt wouldn’t have any trouble kicking a bloated butt like yours.” 
  • Darn is used once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy

Created by the founding executive director of the International Spy Museum, who is also a former operative in the CIA’s Clandestine Service, this is the official handbook for kids who dream of one day becoming a spy or working in the intelligence field.

Have you ever wondered what spies really do? What kind of training is involved? Do you have to go to a special school or take a polygraph test? How do you live your “cover?” How does your work life affect your relationships with your friends and family? Is there danger involved?

This fascinating, fact-filled book answers these questions and more while providing a historical timeline, definitions of key terms, suggestions for further reading, an index, quizzes, and exercises to see if you have the right spy stuff. 

The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy is packed full of interesting information about the spy world and it explains why spies are important. “Every country wants to know what other countries—both friends and enemies—are doing and how it might affect their national interests.” Readers will learn about the world of spies through fun infographics that include spy terms, job descriptions, true stories, and quizzes. Readers will also learn about common spy myths and what a spy’s life is really like.  

Readers will also learn about other jobs within the spy world, such as people who create spy science and technology, a case officer, and an intelligence analyst. In addition, the book explains what qualities spies need and what steps to take in order to become a spy. While a spy’s life isn’t as exciting as James Bond portrays it, readers will still enjoy learning about dead drops, listening devices, and ciphers. After taking the quizzes, readers will know if a spy’s life is for them.   

The book’s conversational tone and graphic elements give the story an interesting flair. Every page has some type of graphic element including black and white illustrations, “Spy Speak” glossaries, lists, and/or bold red titles. Breaking up the text with these graphic elements makes the reading more enjoyable and presents facts in a way that makes them easy to remember. Even though the book’s topic is serious and the importance of intelligence gathering is highlighted, the book will not fail to entertain readers interested in the world of spies.  

As a former CIA operations officer and the founding executive director of the International Spy Museum, Peter Earnest uses his knowledge to teach readers about becoming a spy. By the end of reading The Real Spy’s Guide to Becoming a Spy, readers will have a better understanding of the spy world and if they have what it takes to go undercover. Readers who want to jump into the exciting, but the fictional world of a group of young spies should read the City Spies Series by James Ponti.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • A timeline titled “How Long Have Spies Been Around?” includes spies who were executed for espionage. For example, “Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in the United States for espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. . . The Rosenbergs were members of an atomic spy ring whose espionage helped the USSR develop its own nuclear bomb.” 
  • “A defector from Russian intelligence dies of radiation poisoning in London.” The defector believed the Russian president planned his assassination. 
  • Sometimes countries kill enemy leaders. “This is called targeted killing, rather than assassination.” 
  • In order to stop terrorist attacks, President Bush declared “war on terror. . . Armed drones have also been used to attack terrorist strongholds and kill terrorist leaders. The terrorists also rely on their own intelligence capabilities and covert tradecraft to plan and carry out their deadly activities.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • When the KGB suspected that one of its operatives was working for the British, they gave him a truth serum.  

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Missing Prince

Will Treaty and his apprentice, Maddie, have been urgently summoned to Castle Araluen. When they arrive, they learn a shocking truth: the Prince of Gallica is missing—and the King of Gallica has asked for help. All reports suggest that the young prince has been taken prisoner by the dangerous and powerful Baron Joubert de Lassigny. King Duncan knows that sending troops to Gallica to rescue the prince could start a war, as could openly helping Gallica resolve internal conflict. But there’s another way to save the prince: the Ranger Corps.

Soon, Will and Maddie are on the road to rescue the missing prince, disguised as father and daughter jongleurs. Maddie will have to use her knife throwing skills to keep up her disguise, and her ranger’s apprentice training to complete the mission. But going undercover is dangerous—and the road presents its own hazards. Can she and Will use all of their talents to save the prince, or will the arrogant Baron uncover their plans and put their lives– and their kingdom– at risk?

Unlike the other books in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, The Missing Prince is missing action. For most of the story, Will and Maddie are traveling to the castle where the Prince of Gallica is being held captive. Along the way, Will and Maddie face bandits which adds excitement to the story. However, their trip drags and when the two finally reach their destination, the book suddenly ends leaving the reader wondering what will happen in the next book, Escape from Falaise.

Will and Maddie are admirable characters who willingly face danger in an attempt to free the missing prince. However, the book’s slow start focuses more on the political reasons to help the Gallican prince. In addition, Maddie’s mother is reluctant to let Maddie go on a ranger mission. Readers may quickly become bored with the political and parental aspects of the story. Despite this, fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will be happy that Will Treaty plays a major role in The Missing Prince.

Some of the story’s plot feels redundant because Will again disguises himself as a jongleur. Despite this, fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will enjoy Will and Maddie’s relationship and the two working together. Plus, the conclusion has several surprises and leaves readers with several unanswered questions. Even though The Missing Prince lacks the action of other books, the cliffhanger will have readers reaching for Escape from Falaise.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • To stop a band of thieves, Will dresses like an old farmer. When the thieves see Will, they try to stop him. Will shoots an arrow and “Jem was down, rolling in agony on the ground and clutching an arrow that had transfixed his left calf.”
  • One of the bandits, Barton, tries to hit Will, who lifts the man and throws him. “Barton landed with a heavy thud, flat on his back. . . When he recovered, he found himself looking along the blade of a very sharp saxe knife, which pricked the soft skin of his throat.” Will and Maddie take the men to the local law.
  • While Will and Maddie are entertaining, thieves appear and demand everyone’s money. A young man tries to intervene, but “the bandit leader stepped in close to him and swung the butt of the crossbow so that it slammed into Simon’s forehead.” The man is injured.
  • As the thieves are celebrating their newfound wealth, the leader “held his bottle up prior to drinking from it. Will’s arrow smashed through it, showering the drunken bandit chief with wine and shattered fragments of glass, before thudding, quivering into a log lying ready by the fire.” To take down the bandit leader, Maddie “whipped the sling up and over and the lead shot hissed through the air across the clearing, striking Vincent’s skull behind the ear with an ugly thud. The bandit’s eyes glazed, and he let out a sickly little moan. . . he crashed to the forest floor, stunned.” The scene is described over four pages.
  • While Will and Maddie are restraining the bandits, “a man rose onto one knee and leveled the crossbow.” Will sees the movement and “he drew his throwing knife and sent it spinning across the clearing. . .the knife hit him in the center of his chest.”
  • While searching the castle tower for the missing prince, “a burly figure” sees Maddie. When the man grabs her, “she suddenly stepped toward him. . .she grabbed a handful of tunic, bent her legs and shoved her backside into his body.” She then knees him in the groin and runs.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Will and Maddie pose as jongleurs and perform in local taverns. The customers often drink wine and ale. When they eat at the castle, ale and wine are also served.
  • A man who has been following Will and Maddie, goes into a tavern and is “nursing a tankard of ale.”
  • After the thieves rob the townspeople, they hide in the forest. The eight men were “sprawled around the camp. They stole some wine from the tavern last night and they’re all drinking.” The men turn into a “nosy, drunken group.”
  • Will and Maddie see a peddler who had “casks of ale and wine.”

Language

  • A man thinks that the Gallic king is a “pompous prat.”
  • Damn is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Word Travelers and the Taj Mahal Mystery

Eddie and Molly-Jean (MJ) are next door neighbors and best friends. One Saturday, Eddie’s mom sends him up to the attic to get his great-grandpa’s most prized possession (a book, of course). Eddie and MJ are suddenly transported to India where they must use their word knowledge to solve a mystery and help a new friend save his school.  

From an educational standpoint, Word Travelers is an excellent book to use as an introduction to new words, because there are many words defined throughout the story. Each word is shown in bold text and there is a glossary at the end of the book. The vocabulary lessons are mostly integrated into the story. For example, when discussing shampoo, Dev looks up the word and reads “shampoo comes from Hindi. That’s one of the many languages we speak in India.” The readers are also told that “the Hindi word champo originally meant to press or rub, like during a massage. Over time, the word was adopted into English to describe the way we rub our hair when we wash it.” A new word appears every one to five pages, which may be overwhelming for some readers.  

Some readers may be bothered by the unrealistic events. For example, when Eddie and MJ travel to India, they appear in a bedroom. A boy named Dev finds them and instead of acting suspicious of the two strangers, he immediately begins telling them about his problem. Later in the story, Eddie, MJ, and Dev hurry to “board the last dinghy to Sea Palace.” But once they get there, they row the dingy to the palace themselves, which makes no sense. Not only that, but at one point MJ rows the dingy by herself while the two boys sleep. There are several more events that may leave readers scratching their heads. 

Word Travelers has diverse characters who work together to solve a mystery. However, most of the problem-solving comes from a magical book titled Awesome Enchanted Book and takes little effort on the kids’ part. Still, young readers will enjoy the black and white illustrations that appear on almost every page. Plus, the illustrations help readers visualize the story’s events. When the villain appears for the first time, his stereotypical appearance makes it clear that he is the bad guy. Even though there is a clear villain, he is never scary, but instead adds suspense to the story.  

Most young readers will not be able to read Word Travelers on their own. The book is written at a 5.9 reading level, which is higher than most young adult books’ reading level. Readers will need help pronouncing and understanding many of the words that are being introduced. However, Word Travelers is worth reading and discussing with a child because of its educational value. One positive aspect of the book is that occasionally MJ talks about historical people that she admires, such as Mae Jemison, the first Black female astronaut. This may spark readers’ interest in learning more about these historical people. If you’d like a book that teaches about vocabulary but is more accessible to younger readers, The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds and the Polly Diamond Book Series by Alice Kuipers & Diana Toledano would be good choices. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Eddie tells a bad joke. Afterward, MJ says, “As you can see, my best friend is a little kooky in the coconut.”  
  • Heck is used twice. 
  • The villain calls someone a fool.  

Supernatural 

  • Eddie and MJ find the Awesome Enchanted Book which takes them to another place. When they start talking about the origin of the word pajamas, “the Awesome Enchanted Book began floating above their heads, spinning faster and faster, until poof!—the room was filled with a swirling haze of smoke.” 
  • The villain tries to open the Awesome Enchanted Book. He was “trying with all his might to open it. But the book wouldn’t budge.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Eddie exclaims, “Holy cow!” Hearing him, an adult tells him, “In many cultures and religions, people believe cows are holy. And throughout India, people treat cows in that way.”

The Ring of Honor

Middle school geniuses Sam, Martina, and Theo arrive in New York City on a mission. They need to find the third artifact left behind by the Founding Fathers before it falls into the wrong hands. After all, together, these objects unlock a secret weapon designed by Benjamin Franklin. The trio has escaped the forest of Glacier National Park at great cost—Evangeline, their chaperone and friend, was captured by the nefarious and dangerous Gideon Arnold.

Now the three friends must navigate New York City, following clues related to Alexander Hamilton to solve and survive the puzzles and traps they encounter along the way, and uncover the third artifact before Gideon Arnold does. The stakes have never been higher, and Sam, Martina, and Theo might not all make it out alive.

The Ring of Honor takes the reader on another fast-paced and fascinating story that educates readers on Alexander Hamilton, the founder of the United States’ financial system. When the kids meet Hamilton’s descendant, Jack, they are surprised to find an aspiring actor who has no interest in Hamilton’s history. While Jack plays a minor role, his appearance adds humor. While many of the characters reappear—Gideon Arnold, Abby Arnold, and Evangeline—Jack’s appearance gives the story an interesting twist.

While trying to solve Hamilton’s clues, the kids discuss the idea of sacrificing your own well-being for the good of a cause, and they learn facts about how Hamilton died in a duel, and the belief that he developed (shot into the air during the duel). As the kids follow Hamilton’s clues, they must use all their brainpower to analyze historical events and ciphers. Readers will enjoy trying to decipher the clues before they are revealed in the story.

The Ring of Honor is the third and final installment of the Secrets of the Seven Series. While the story of Sam and his friends searching for clues is fast-paced, suspenseful, and entertaining, the conclusion is frustratingly poor because of all the unanswered questions. First, Theo’s mother, who was presumed dead, miraculously reappears under odd circumstances. Evangeline, who is being held captive by Gideon Arnold, fades into the background and is forgotten. Even though Sam and Martina were instrumental in finding three of the founders’ artifacts, Theo’s mother thanks them and sends them home. Plus, Gideon Arnold is still a danger to the kids and to the country. The book’s conclusion negates all of Sam and Martina’s hard work. Instead of leaving the story open-ended, the conclusion leaves the reader wondering why Sam and Martina were dragged into the founder’s problems in the first place.

Secrets of the Seven Series will appeal to readers who love history, puzzles, and ciphers. While readers will thoroughly enjoy the Secrets of the Seven Series, the conclusion is cringe-worthy. Readers who are ready for more advanced and exciting clue-solving mysteries should add the Charlie Thorne Series by Stuart Gibbs and the City Spies Series by James Ponti to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While trying to escape from Gideon Arnold, the kids find a woman “sitting hunched in a corner. One of her wrists was handcuffed to a pipe beside her. . .” The kids try to help the woman, but she tells them to flee before Gideon Arnold finds them.
  • The kids go to see Jack, one of the founders. When they walk into his apartment, “Gideon Arnold, who’d been standing behind the open door, smiled at them like a snake might smile at its dinner. . .. Another man in a dark suit stepped out. . . a gun in his hand, and pointed the weapon straight at Theo.”
  • To escape the villains, Theo “who’d just grabbed his own backpack, swung the arm holding it so his elbow smashed into Dane’s [a thug] already-broken nose. The man doubled over with a roar of pain. . .”
  • As the kids are running, Sam falls. Gideon Arnold’s daughter, Abby, threatens to shoot Sam. “Abby now had the pistol in one hand, and was pointing it up at the sky . . .” Abby shoots and then tells Sam to run.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Marty calls Sam a doofus and an idiot.
  • Sam thinks someone is a slimeball and scum.
  • OMG is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Theo repeats Alexander Hamilton’s last words, “I am a sinner. I look to Him for mercy; pray for me.”

The Hand on the Wall

Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph. She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.

At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles, there must be answers.

Then, another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer.

The final book in the Truly Devious Series continues the fast-paced intriguing story that solves both the Ellingham’s kidnapping and the murders at the Ellingham Academy. Stevie is relentless in her desire to solve both mysteries and in the end, she is able to tie up all of the events in a satisfying manner. Even though the story ends in the typical detective story confrontation with all of the suspects together, the conclusion still has several surprises.

In addition to solving the mysteries, several of Stevie’s friends are able to find evidence of Senator Edward King’s corrupt behavior and come up with an ethical way to stop the senator from running for president. While his son, David, plays a part in King’s demise, David’s erratic behavior throughout the series makes him an unlikeable character who is difficult to relate to. While David had a difficult childhood, his bad behavior is never fully explained. And even though he treats Stevie with contempt and cruelty, in the end, she forgives him in order to give her a happy-ever-after ending.

The Truly Devious Series is highly entertaining and will keep mystery-loving readers on the edge of their seats. Even though the story revolves around high school students, the content has some gory details, some steamy scenes, and mature content. Readers who are ready for more mature mysteries should grab a copy of The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur or I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga.

Sexual Content

  • Francis and Eddie, two students from 1936, have sex. Francis thinks, “there were certainly other couples who had sex on the Ellingham campus—one or two. Those people did it giddy, bashfully, and wracked with terror. Eddie and Francis came to each other without fear or hesitation.”
  • While walking through the woods, Eddie tells Francis, “Once more. Up against the tree, like an animal.” Francis declines because she is late.
  • Francis hears that Eddie “fathered a baby once and the girl had to be sent away somewhere outside of Boston. . .”
  • At one point, Stevie and David kiss “over and over, each one renewing the last.” Then later, David “leaned down to kiss her, his lips warm against hers.”

Violence

  • The murders from the first two books of the series are summarized.
  • When a detective finds one of the kidnappers, he “punched him in the face, sending him crashing into some trash cans. When he was down, he flipped Jerry on his back and slapped a pair of cuffs on his wrists, pinning his arms behind his back. . .” The detective removes the man’s gun, binds him, and then ties him to the seat of a car.
  • When Ellingham’s wife was kidnapped, she was quiet for days. When a kidnapper let the “kid” play outside, the kid ran and hid. Ellingham’s wife “jumped” the kidnapper. “She jumped on top of me, dug her thumbs into my eyes. I dropped my gun. . . I grabbed a shovel or something from the wall and hit her with it, hard. There was blood, but. . . she was still standing. . .” When the other kidnapper sees what’s going on, he shoots and kills Ellingham’s wife. The scene is described over a page.
  • One of the kidnappers, Jerry, takes a detective, George, to where he left Ellingham’s daughter. The girl was left with a stranger in a remote location, where she died of measles weeks before the detective arrived. When George sees the girl’s grave, he picked “up the shovel, and was shocked by the first blow, which knocked him to his knees. They came fast, a flurry mixed with cries and gulps. The snow splattered with blood.” Then George kills the man who had been caring for the child; the murder is not described.
  • A man explains that when Ellingham died, most of the body wasn’t found. “We found three hands, a leg, a foot, some skin.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While waiting for the birth of a child, a family friend drinks wine.
  • Ellingham’s wife was addicted to cocaine. Her friend noticed her “behavior was changing; she was fickle, impatient, secretive.”
  • Fenton, a professor at a local university was an alcoholic. She died in a suspicious house fire.
  • To help her through panic attacks, Stevie takes Ativan.
  • In 1936, some of the rich girls hid their gin and cigarettes in the walls.
  • At Ellingham’s wife’s funeral, some of the guests drank “countless glasses of champagne.”
  • While trying to track down a suspect, a detective goes into a bar and orders a “glass of whisky.” Later, he shares a drink of whiskey with a friend.

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, bitch, bullshit, damn, goddamn, fuck, hell, holy shit, pissed, and shit.
  • My God, oh my God and Jesus are used as exclamations frequently.
  • There is some name calling including dick, asshole, and jackass.
  • One of the faculty calls the students morons and boneheaded.
  • In a diary entry, a student calls Ellingham a “sanctimonious prick.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • One of Ellingham Academy’s students from 1936, “set up a ring of candles on the ground and drew a pentagram in the dirt. He was always doing things like that—playing at paganism.”

The Agathas

Last summer, Alice Ogilvie’s boyfriend Steve dumped her for her best friend. Then, Alice disappeared for five days. Alice was pretty, rich, and popular. But that all changed when she returned to school. Now Alice’s old friends hate her, and the rest of the school follows their lead and begins treating Alice like she doesn’t belong.  

Then, Alice is paired with fellow classmate, Iris Adams, who agrees to tutor her. Iris is the opposite of Alice—she flies below the radar, she and her mom struggle to make ends meet, and she could care less about popularity. Despite this, Alice and Iris click almost instantly and their bond is strengthened by the untimely disappearance of Brooke Donovan—the very girl Alice’s boyfriend Steve dumped her for. Alice, a fan of mystery author Agatha Christie, and her newfound partner-in-crime, Iris, soon find themselves solving not calculus, but a murder case.  

When Brooke’s body is found, Steve is arrested but Alice and Iris aren’t convinced that Steve is guilty. Both girls have different motives for solving this case. Alice hopes it can win back the favor of her ex-friends and restore her status as the town’s golden girl, while Iris hopes to obtain the hefty cash prize that comes along with solving the case. In order to get the reward and prove Steve’s innocence, the two teens need to figure out who actually killed Brooke. But the town of Castle Cove holds many secrets, and Alice and Iris have no idea how much danger they’re about to walk into. 

Alice’s spunk and Agatha Christie obsession combine with Iris’s ingenuity and resilience to make a frightening yet captivating pair. Alice and Iris must navigate their oblivious teachers and parents, as well as work around an inept police force. At some points, it seems as if everyone is working against them, and readers will find it near impossible to put down the book while reading about how they handle it. The book switches between Alice’s and Iris’s perspectives. Both girls are fun and interesting characters. The reader will experience first hand how the girls interact with each other as well as how they perceive and feel about each other internally.  

Throughout The Agathas, Alice slowly learns what it means to truly have someone on her side. In meeting Iris, Alice finally feels like she has someone she can trust. On the other hand, Iris is carefully navigating a difficult domestic abuse situation at home, struggling with money issues as well as her father’s physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. Despite having a restraining order, Iris’s father still bothers her in person and through text messages. In dealing with her dad and supporting her mom, Iris learns to trust herself and hones her ability to help her and her mother get away from their abuser and lead their own lives.  

Alice and Iris navigate small-town scandal, school, and tumultuous personal lives, creating a thrilling, yet realistic adventure from cover to cover. For a murder mystery, there is a surprising absence of violence and gore, which makes for a wonderfully plot-dependent book instead of a story that relies on shock factor. Though the dramas of high school are largely exaggerated and the absence of parental supervision is unrealistic, The Agathas is an interesting read, featuring the perfect mix of drama, scandal, and the dark and intriguing side of mystery. Mystery fans who want a fast-paced story that shows the dangers of bullying should also read the Jess Tennant Mysteries Series by Jane Casey. 

Sexual Content  

  • Alice’s friend, Kennedy, shows Alice an explicit video of herself with a classmate. Then Kennedy says, “He’s hot! I’m not sorry! I deserve a nice piece of ass once in a while, too, you know.” The video is not described. 
  • Alice and her friends are talking about the “rich people” in town. Alice’s friend says, “Park’s rich and she tried to drug Brooke! Kennedy’s making sex tapes.” Another friend replies, “This is a virgin crowd. Except for Zora.” 
  • Alice and Iris are digging through Brooke’s dad’s things and find nude pictures of female staff. “Peeking out a box in the corner is a boob. A photograph of a boob. A boob… that belongs to the lunch lady, Mrs. Yang.” 

Violence 

  • Iris’s dad frequently abused her and her mother. When Iris was younger, she recalls her parents fighting. Her dad was angry at her mother for seemingly no reason. Iris recalls, “I can feel his hands on my chest, pushing me. I’d wedged myself between them after he’d lunged at her. The snap in my wrist as I hit the linoleum.” 
  • Alice and Iris are working on a school project and researching Henry VIII. Alice says to Iris,  “I don’t want to just sit here and talk about some gross dude who chopped off his wives’ heads.” 
  • A few days after Brooke’s disappearance, Alice discovers her ex-friend’s body at the bottom of a cliff. “There, nestled against the craggy rocks, is a body. A body facedown in a black leather jacket; long brown hair fanned out and floating in the water like seaweed; bare, blueish legs sticking out from a short, pleated cheerleader skirt. Being pelted by hard rain.” 
  • Iris tells Alice about a true crime show, saying, “I once saw a show about a guy who bludgeoned his mother to death in the kitchen and then cooked a full meal of pot roast and mashed potatoes, so anything is possible.” 
  • Brooke’s autopsy report shows that “her skull was fractured, most likely from the fall to the rocks . . . ”  The police speculate that she was pushed off the cliff by Steve after they had fought at a Halloween party. 

Profanity 

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes: ass, shit, fuck, goddammit, and bitch.  
  • Alice calls a character in one of Agatha Christie’s novelsa badass older woman.”   
  • After Alice and Iris find Brooke’s body, a boy says, “Holy shit . . . We have to call the cops.” 
  • Alice’s friend has a difficult relationship with her father. Alice says, “She’s scared shitless of him…He runs everything with a tight fist.”  
  • Alice confronts her friend’s abusive dad, saying, “I am Alice fucking Ogilvie, and I didn’t just solve a murder to run away from some jerk who clearly has been making my friend’s life a living hell.” 
  • When Alice realizes she is talking to Brooke’s murderer, she says “She was my friend, you bitch… We are not the same. I tried to help Steve when he was in trouble. I didn’t murder his fucking girlfriend.”  

 Drugs/Alcohol 

  • Teenagers frequently have high school parties where there is alcohol. “Even kids from neighboring towns came, swanked out and ready to get their drunk on.”   
  • Alice says her friend, Kennedy, “is not known for handling her liquor well.” 
  • At a party, Kennedy mixes ambien in Brooke’s alcohol. When someone else drinks it, Kennedy says, “I wanted her to pass out, that’s all. I didn’t mean for him to drink it.”  
  • Alice goes to Brooke’s house. In order to look for clues, Alice crushes Xanax and puts them in Brooke’s dad’s beer. The Xanax knocks him out. 

Spiritual Content  

  • None  

Supernatural  

  • None  

The Vanishing Stair

The Truly Devious case—an unsolved kidnapping and triple murder that rocked Ellingham Academy in 1936—has consumed Stevie for years. It’s the very reason she came to the academy. But then her classmate is murdered, and her parents quickly pull her out of school. For her safety, they say, she must move past this obsession with crime.

Stevie’s willing to do anything to get back to Ellingham, be back with her friends, and solve the Truly Devious case. Even if it means making a deal with the despicable Senator Edward King. And when Stevie finally returns, she also returns to David: the guy she kissed and the guy who lied about his identity—Edward King’s son.

But larger issues are at play. Where did the murderer hide? What’s the meaning of the riddle Albert Ellingham left behind? And what, exactly, is at stake in the Truly Devious affair? The Ellingham case isn’t just a piece of history—it’s a live wire into the present.

The Vanishing Stairs will keep readers interested as new information is revealed both in Stevie’s personal life and in the Ellingham case she is investigating. Stevie is a sympathetic character, who struggles with panic attacks, isn’t always sure how to interact with others, and is curious enough to dig into the lives of the past. Now that one student has died and one student has disappeared, Stevie is more focused on finding out why Ellingham Academy seems to court danger.

While readers learn some information about the kidnapping of Ellingham’s wife and daughter, they also get a firsthand look into the events of 1936 as the book goes from past to present. Stevie’s investigation is able to shed light on some of the events in the kidnapping, but the crime also unfolds from several different characters’ perspectives which allows the reader to understand all aspects of the events. The crime is more complicated—and has more secrets—than expected.

The second installment in the Truly Devious Series begins right where the first one left off. Despite this, the story quickly and excellently explains the main events and important characters from the previous book. However, in order for readers to have an emotional connection to the characters, the series should be read in order.

The Vanishing Stairs is a fast-paced mystery that readers will not be able to put down. Both the interesting characters and the twisty mystery make this a perfect book to wrap up in a blanket and enjoy. However, be warned The Vanishing Stairs does not downplay violence, or the lengths people will go to hide their secrets.

Sexual Content

  • As Stevie is investigating the Ellingham case, she learns about Francis, who was a student at the school. While Francis does not know this, her biological father was a “handsome barman” that worked at a casino that many of New York’s rich frequented. The casino was where “bored society women like to spend their afternoons sipping drinks. . . and apparently doing other things.”
  • In 1936, two students, Francis and Eddie, meet in the woods where “he pressed her back into a tree. She took his face in both hands and kissed him roughly, running her hands down his back. . .” Both Francis and Eddie were “dirty” and “wild.”
  • Eddie was determined to disappoint his rich family. “There were tales of seducing maids, wandering naked through formal dinners, filling an entire bathroom with champagne.” His bad behavior was why he was sent to Ellingham Academy.
  • While making out with Eddie, the narration explains, Francis “had been with other boys before, but they fumbled. Eddie knew precisely what he was doing. . . He drew her down now and ran his hands along her side inch by inch until she hardly felt like she could bear it.”
  • While in the school cafeteria, someone says Janelle and her girlfriend, Vi, are “about to make out on top of those mugs.” Two other times, someone comments on their public displays of affection.
  • David and Stevie explore a hidden tunnel in the academy. David “ran his fingers down her jawline gently. . . He kept coming closer, slowly, testing his way, until his chest was against hers and she didn’t move. . .When her lips met his, she felt something release inside of her. . . There was something frantic about the way she kissed him, like being with him was the only way she could breathe.” The scene is described over half a page.

Violence

  • Stevie reads an article about Eddie’s death. “Edward Pierce Davenport spent the day consuming opium and violet champagne. . . After toasting the city and the setting sun, he downed a last glass of champagne and swan-dived from the building into the street below. His body landed on a Nazi vehicle, denting the roof.”
  • Dottie’s body was found by a delivery man. “He saw what appeared to be a sack on the ground. . . he realized there were two legs coming from the sack—at least parts of legs. They were discolored, ravaged by weather and wildlife.”
  • David said that his mother had an affair with “a guy in the state legislature who went to Beck’s gym.” During the affair, his mother got pregnant.
  • Ellingham purchased a clock that was reported to be owned by royalty. Ellingham wondered, “When had the murdered princess last looked at it? It had been spared the sight of her death, her head put on a spike and paraded through the streets of Paris. The head had even been displayed at her friend the queen’s prison window, a ghastly puppet.”
  • Stevie is in town when she sees a group of skaters. “One of them was repeatedly punching David in the face. . . There was a gash along his right cheek that was trickling blood. There was another cut above his eye. . . There was a bit of bloody spittle coming out of the side of his mouth.” Later Stevie discovers that David paid the skaters to beat him, but he doesn’t explain why.
  • Ellingham learns who was responsible for kidnapping his wife and child. The person explains how Dottie died. When trying to escape, Dottie “jumped right down into that hole trying to get away. . . I climbed down after her. There was so much blood. She was groaning and trying to crawl, but she couldn’t make it. . . Her skull must have been cracked wide open. . . So I grabbed a pipe. . . and just hit her once and she stopped moving.”
  • To confront the suspect, Ellingham takes the man out on a boat. When the man refuses to tell Ellingham where his daughter is, Ellingham blows up the boat killing both himself and the suspect. “Bits and pieces of boat and human would be found for weeks to come, washing up on the shore.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Ellingham Academy first opened, Ellingham “told the staff to turn the other way when students were caught drinking.”
  • When meeting a university professor at a coffee shop, Stevie notices that the professor has difficult walking alone. Later, at the professor’s house, Stevie sees the recycling full of “many wine bottles, two whisky bottles, a vodka bottle.”
  • When David was seven, his mother went into the bathroom “with a bottle of Chablis and passed out. She was red all over—the water was turned all the way up on the hot side.” When David found his mom, he called 911.
  • While “a little drunk,” David told a friend a secret.
  • While anxious, Stevie takes “one small white pill. The emergency Ativan that she carried ‘just in case.’”
  • It is revealed that Ellingham’s wife had been using cocaine.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes ass, bastard, crap, damn, fuck, holy shit, and shit.
  • Jesus Christ, my God, God, and oh my God are used as exclamations frequently.
  • Stevie thinks Edward King is a “sanctimonious ass.”
  • Stevie calls several people dicks. For example, Stevie comments that a student’s friends are “real dicks.”
  • A security guard says, “Some jackass bought pumpkin-flavored K-Cups.”
  • A security guard tells Stevie, “Edward King is a son of a bitch and his son is a piece of work.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra

After tracking down incredible discoveries by Einstein and Darwin, Charlie is back. This time, the great ruler Cleopatra has left behind an extremely valuable and powerful treasure, its location encoded on an ancient stone tablet.

In 30 BCE, Cleopatra and her husband, Marc Antony, lost their war against Octavian for control of the Egyptian Empire. However, Cleopatra knew Octavian was really after the mysterious item that was the source of all her wealth and influence, so she hid it before committing suicide. She left a series of devious clues behind for her children to find, but they were lost to history. . .until now.

In a breathless adventure that takes her across the globe, Charlie must fight for her life against ruthless enemies, match wits with Cleopatra, and solve the two-thousand-year-old mystery to prevent the most powerful treasure of the ancient world from falling into the wrong hands. 

Because the story revolves around finding Cleopatra’s hidden treasure, the story contains many historical facts about Cleopatra, Caesar, and other important people. The history lessons are not boring; the interesting facts help the reader understand the political issues surrounding Cleopatra and will help readers empathize with Cleopatra, who was misjudged because she was a woman.  

Charlie is an extremely likable character, who is intelligent, capable, and brave. In order to keep Cleopatra’s treasure out of the wrong hands, Charlie puts her trust in her half-brother and CIA agent, Dante, and his partner, Milana. Along the way, they must avoid both the CIA, the Israeli, and the Egyptian agents who are willing to kill to take control of Charlie. Despite being chased around the globe, Charlie is remarkably down to earth. At one point, when the Israelis capture her, she tells the agent, “If you were actually nice people, you wouldn’t have dragged me down into the bowels of the Colosseum to talk to me. You would have taken me out for gelato.” 

Charlie Thorne and the Curse of Cleopatra is best suited for older readers because of the violence, power-hungry villains, and deadly agents who are trying to capture Charlie. The action-packed story has a complicated plot, intense fight scenes, and life-or-death chases. The constant danger makes for an exciting book that readers will not want to put down. The mystery of Cleopatra adds an interesting dimension that will engage readers. Readers who are looking for another fast-paced mystery should check out the City Spies Series by James Ponti and the Secrets of the Seven Series by Sarah L. Thomson.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Charlie sneaks into Ahmet’s office. When he appears, “Charlie tricked him into turning his back on her. Now she clamped the chloroform-soaked rag. . . over his nose and mouth. . . He tried to fight back. . . Charlie simply leapt onto his back as if he were giving her a piggyback ride, wrapping her arms around his head and keeping the rag pinioned directly over his face.” Ahmet collapses to the floor. 
  • While leaving Ahmet’s party, two bodyguards chase after Charlie. Before she can take off on a motorcycle, Charlie “headbutted another man who was trying to catch her.” She escapes the house but is followed. 
  • Hoping to lose her pursuer, Charlie drives into the desert and allows her motorcycle to fly over a sand dune. Then, Charlie sees “the stocky, muscular shape of his body. He was aiming a gun at her.” The man forces Charlie to surrender. The chase scene is described over two chapters. 
  • The men who captured Charlie encounter a roadblock. “And then the shooting started. The snipers were aiming at the tires of the van, and they were extremely accurate. All four tires were blown out within seconds.” Charlie is let go. 
  • The Egyptian secret service questions Charlie’s captor, Semel. When Semel doesn’t answer the questions, “someone clubbed him on the back of the head with the butt of a rifle. Not hard enough to knock him unconscious but close. He saw stars, felt blinding pain, and fell forward in the dirt.” 
  • While interrogating Semel, someone shoots the agent, who “yelped in pain, spun, and fell.” Multiple agents are shot in the leg, and Semel and his men escape.  
  • In order to get Charlie to comply with orders, one of her friends is captured by a man named Lembris. “Lembris stood behind Eva, pressing a crowbar against the front of her neck. Eva was crying.” Eventually, Milana fights Lembris and frees Eva. 
  • The following scenes are described over eleven pages. Ramses has his men surround Charlie, Milana, and Dante. In order to escape, Charlie “reached behind [Ramses’s] back and yanked on the electrical cord that dangled like a vine from the scaffolding above. The power drill attached to it tumbled off the scaffolding and landed squarely on Ramses’s head. . . The heavy drill hit Ramses hard, and he dropped like a stone.” 
  • Then, Milana goes after Ramses’s bodyguard. “She quickly disarmed him, then jabbed him with the sedative she had. . . it was just enough to incapacitate the big man.” 
  • When Ramses begins to get up, Dante “drove the Egyptian’s head down into the marble floor, knocking him out for good.” One of Ramses’s men, Baako, throws a crowbar at Dante. “Pain shot through him, but he could tell no bones were broken.” 
  • Baako and Dante continue to fight. Baako slammed into Dante, driving him backward into the scaffolding so hard that all four stories of it trembled. . .” Eventually the scaffolding falls onto Baako and he “lay unconscious beneath it all.”  
  • After finding one of Cleopatra’s clues, Charlie, Dante, and Milana are ambushed by their own agency, the CIA. Without warning “bullets came from all around. . . Dante sprang from where he’d been crouched and fired back, aiming at where the shots were coming from. There was a cry of pain in the darkness, and then at least one of the shooters stopped.” In order to escape, the group flees separately. 
  • As Charlie runs from the bullets, two cars begin following her. “The second car struck the first again, sending it into a low embankment, where it flipped and landed upside down. The second car was badly damaged as well. Its front axle snapped and it ground to a halt in the plaza in front of Charlie, blocking her escape.”  
  • When the driver of the car attempts to “escape through a shattered window. He was only halfway out when Semel clubbed him on the back of the head with the butt of his gun, knocking him cold. . .” 
  • The chase scene is described over 10 pages. Dante had “a burn across one bicep where a bullet had nicked him. Milana had a gash from a knife in her left arm. . .” 
  • In an epic multi-chapter conclusion, several CIA agents try to take down Dante and Milana, who they believe are rogue agents. Milana “disarmed the stunned CIA operative and threw her to the ground” and then ran into Central Park. Eventually, Milana is able to incapacitate all of the agents. 
  • A rich villain, Ahmet, tries to kill Charlie with cobra venom. “Charlie hated to use the elixir to defend herself, but she had no other choice. The remaining drops of liquid flew through the air, caught Ahmet in the face, and instantly began to react. His flesh smoked and sizzled.” Ahmet’s skin begins to burn. 
  • Despite being injured, Ahmet chases Charlie. “He stepped on the jagged glass of the syringe with his bare foot. It cut into his flesh, and he suddenly realized that, in addition to everything else, the very cobra venom he had brought with him to kill Charlie Throne was now in his system as well.” When Ahmet continues to chase Charlie, she hits him with a helmet made of medieval armor. Ahmet is too injured to continue after Charlie.  
  • Two villains, Israeli agents, Egyptian agents, and the CIA agents all try to capture Charlie, Dante, and Milana. During the chase, several people are injured. One villain lunges at Charlie, trying to poison her with cobra venom. “Charlie hit him with the mace. . . the heavy iron ball struck his forearm, snapping both bones. . . He cursed at Charlie and charged toward her, leaving her no choice but to defend herself. She leapt aside and swung the mace at him once more. . . the iron ball glanced off his head, sending him reeling.” The villain falls off a ledge and “onto the rocks below.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Instead of allowing Octavian to capture her, Cleopatra “drank her poison and imagined how horrified Octavian would be when he learned what she had done.” 
  • At a party full of adults, Charlie talks to a man who “had a glass of scotch in his hand and was slightly unsteady on his feet; this obviously wasn’t his first drink of the evening.” 
  • In order to find one of Cleopatra’s clues, Milana needs to get an archaeologist out of the way, so she drugs her.  
  • Milana uses sedation darts to incapacitate rival agents who are trying to kidnap Charlie.  
  • During dinner, Dante drinks wine. 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Cleopatra’s treasure is the philosopher’s stone which turns “base metals into gold.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • Some people considered Cleopatra “more than human. They thought her to be a goddess, the living incarnation of Isis.” 
  • Isis was “the most important goddess in Egyptian mythology, the goddess of life and magic, and the protector of women and children. Cleopatra sometimes claimed to be Isis in the flesh and a lot of Egyptians believed it.” 
  • During Cleopatra’s time, the Nile flooded almost every year. People believed “a good flood year meant the gods were smiling on the Egyptians.” 

Everything’s Bigger in Texas

Join former US Army rescue dog sergeant, “Rico” Ricochet, and his fellow Pawtriots on this larger-than-life mission as they travel to Texas to rescue a litter of kidnapped puppies. While in Texas, they will have to fight the Seven Pooches Gang, a giant spider, and a flash flood. Is there anyone they can trust in the Lone Star State?

Young readers may be confused by the complicated plot. For example, in order to save her puppies, Daisy lies to the Pawtriot dogs. When they discover Daisy’s lie, Daisy says she didn’t have a choice. The group is upset over the lie and Smither the snake says, “Everyone hasss a choice, you chosss to lie.” However, Rico stands up for Daisy by saying, “The end justifies the means.” While Rico encourages the others to forgive Daisy, he downplays Daisy’s responsibility for leading the group into danger.

The first book in the series, Save the Sanctuary, reinforces Army values in a clear manner. However, Everything’s Bigger in Texas’s message is more complex and may be confusing. For example, when the Pawtriot dogs are in a situation that looks hopeless, Rico thinks “false motivation is better than no motivation.” In addition, Dagr, the leader of the Seven Pooches Gang, runs away from danger. As he is leaving, he says, “Moral superiority doesn’t keep you alive.” While Rico never leaves his friends behind, the story doesn’t expand on Dagr’s comment.

Army sayings and terminology are used throughout the story. For example, when Rico needs the dogs to focus, he says, “‘Lock it up’ . . . That’s Army-talk for ‘be quiet.’” Each time an army word or phrase is introduced, Rico explains what it means. Plus, 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 ultra-big spider that may scare readers.

Even though Pawtriot Dogs is an illustrated chapter book, the story introduces some difficult concepts and explores revenge and body shaming. Revenge is Dagr’s main motivation for kidnapping Daisy’s puppies. Dagr wants to kill Chaps, but when Chaps dies Dagr wants to kill Chaps’ friends instead. One way or the other, the only way Dagr will be satisfied is when someone dies. The story also briefly introduces body shaming. Dagr makes fun of one of the dogs, calling him “tubby pup.” But Rico stops the teasing because he “can’t stand for bullying—especially when it’s about another dog’s body.”

Rico and the Pawtriot dogs face dangers with courage and work as a team in order to help Daisy. When the Pawtriot dogs disagree on helping Daisy, Rico reminds them, “But once you start taking the easy road, it’s almost impossible to ever take the hard one.” In the end, Daisy and her puppies are saved; however, the story ends with a cliff-hanger that will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, Into the Storm.

Sexual Content

  • None

 

Violence

  • Dagr & the Seven Pooches Gang kidnap Daisy’s puppies and hold them for ransom.
  • While on a cargo plane, one of the dogs accidentally opens the cargo hold. The dogs grab hold of a crate that slides out of the plane. “We’re falling through the sky like a rock, hurtling toward the Earth and running out of time. . .I look below me and all I can see is water. It looks like we’re going to crash right into a river. . . We hit water—hard.” All the dogs survive. The scene is described over four pages.
  • An army of armadillos throw cactus arrows at the dogs. Rico wants “to lead a counterattack, but we’re completely exposed. They’re closing in on us. . . I watch as the armadillos snarl with their mouths full of drool as they inch closer to us, just waiting to strike. . .” It turns out that the armadillos cornered Rico and his friends for Dagr and his gang. The scene is described over three pages.
  • Dagr takes the Pawtriot dogs to an old mine shaft where he says a huge spider lives. Dagr says, “I watched three of my buddies get tangled up in a web faster than you could say ‘shoo fly, don’t bother me.’ And let me tell you, that nasty spider is bigger and badder then you could even imagine.”
  • When Penny doesn’t believe Dagr, he “growls and launches at Penny, hitting her like a freight train and tackling her to the ground. . .” Dagr presses down on Penny, but eventually lets her go.
  • The spider comes after the Pawtriot dogs. “The Pawtriots scatter sprinting away in different directions. . . the spider shoots its webbing—a jet stream of sticky liquid silk—at us.”
  • Most of the Pawtriots escape the spider, but “the spider nails [Rico] with a shot of its web, sending me crashing down onto the catwalk below. . .I start crawling back up to safety on the second level.” The spider falls into the depths of the mine and the dogs survive. The scene is described over five pages.
  • Dagr and his gang take Penny. When the Pawtriot dogs find her, they see Penny “who is in the middle of the room and chained to the floor along with Daisy’s three puppies.”
  • Dagr and Rico fight. “Then I turn and charge at Dagr. Without hesitation, he snarls and charges at me. We both leap forward at each other and collide hard in midair. . .Dagr bites down on my ear.” As Dagr talks he “spits my blood out of his mouth.” In the end, Dagr runs away.
  • A flash flood washes Dagr and the Seven Pooches Gang into the Gulf of Mexico. They are “floating on top of a small tree branch. There isn’t enough room for all of them, and they start fighting among themselves . . . they start falling into the muddy water, vanishing. . .” They all die.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Dagr calls Rico a coward and a chicken.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 Pride and Premeditation

Unlike other unmarried women her age, rather than a good husband, seventeen-year-old Lizzie Bennet wants nothing more than to practice law and work in her father’s law office. When there is a murder in high-society London, Lizzie jumps at the opportunity to prove herself worthy of being a litigator.

Although the authorities have charged someone with the crime, Lizzie has her doubts, promising to catch the real killer and clear the name of the man accused of the crime. But many obstacles stand in her way. For example, the man accused of the crime isn’t actually her client and is being represented by Mr. Darcy, a young lawyer and the heir of a prestigious law firm, who has no interest or patience for Lizzie’s antics. In order to uncover the truth and catch the killer, Lizzie pushes the boundaries of social and gender norms in this regency-era murder mystery.

Pride and Premeditation reimagines Jane Austen’s classic characters from Pride and Prejudice with a murder mystery twist. Following in the footsteps of the classic, Price examines gender roles and social standards of 19th century England. Lizzie is often pushing against preconceived sexist notions of what an unmarried, young woman should be doing. Rather than finding a husband of good social standing—as society and her mother tells her to—Lizzie would rather help her father around his office, and study contracts and case law. In conversations with her father or Mr. Darcy, Lizzie questions if she would be treated differently if she “weren’t a young lady.” Headstrong and extremely motivated, Lizzie explains she “will not live [her] life sitting by the side while there are so many men making a mess of things.”

The novel also looks at the classism and the social hierarchy of English society at the time. Lizzie feels as if she is looked down upon by those with higher social standing. The upper class often looks down on Lizzie, judging her based on where she lives or what she wears. But Lizzie, actively aware of this classism, simply sees this as another obstacle she must face in order to prove herself. Furthermore, Lizzie observes how people of her social standing look down on people of a lower class. In one instance, her mother scolds Lizzie for socializing with “street children” (or “urchins” as her mother would say).

Full of witty dialogue, Pride and Premeditation is a fast-paced story centered not only on the murder of a member of high-society London, but also on notions of justice, class, and the role of women in 19th century England. Readers will relate to Lizzie, who struggles with social and familial standards, and the people who are trying to dictate her actions when Lizzie is simply trying to pursue her interests. Readers can learn the importance of unabashedly being oneself and sticking to one’s convictions from Lizzie, no matter the obstacles society attempts to throw at you.

Pride and Premeditation has many familiar characters from Jane Austen, making it a great read for those familiar with Austen’s works (though knowledge of the original characters can make the twists and turns of this mystery slightly more predictable). However, the novel can also be enjoyed as a standalone novel for those unfamiliar with Pride and Prejudice. With a strong female lead, Pride and Premeditation is an inspiring and fun book with just the right mix of mystery, adventure, and a hint of romance, making this book is a must-read.  Readers who enjoy historical fiction and mystery should also read Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer.

Sexual Content

  • Lizzie and Darcy share one kiss. When Lizzie sees Darcy a few weeks later she is “reminded of the warmth of their kiss.”

Violence

  • The basis of this novel is the murder of Mr. Hurst, who was “stabbed with a fine penknife.”
  • There is a discussion about the blood spatter on the body, Lizzie notes “when a creature is killed, there is usually a bit more splatter.”
  • As she walks down the street, Lizzie is abruptly grabbed, as “a gloved hand” stops her from screaming and shoves her into a carriage. Lizzie is taken in order to talk to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, someone interested in Lizzie’s investigation, then freed.
  • Lizzie discovers the dead body of Abigail who was left in the river Thames to drown with her hands “bound with rope”.
  • After stumbling upon the ransacked offices of Pemberley and Associates, Darcy and Lizzie are shoved by the assailant “sending them tumbling into the records room.” As the assailant rushes back to the streets, Georgina, Darcy’s younger sister, “opened the door [of the carriage] as he went by and hit him quite hard,” but he gets away.
  • In a heated moment of action, as Lizzie and the others discover what Mr. Wickham has done, he holds Lizzie at gunpoint, digging “the muzzle into her ribs.”
  • Mr. Wickham drags Lizzie out of her house, threatening violence to anyone who interferes. A chase ensues. Lizzie manages to escape the grasps of Wickham, “plung[ing] the sharp end of her brooch into his thigh.” As Lizzie tries to run away Wickham shoots at her, just missing her. The scene lasts over ten pages.
  • Darcy catches up to Wickham and Lizzie and confronts Wickham with a gun. In order to stop them from shooting each other, Lizzie steps in between the two. There is a confrontation between Darcy and Wickham where they talk about Wickham and Darcy’s history. This is interrupted by the mastermind of the murder of Mr. Hurst and Abigail, who shoots Wickham. He “double[s] over …crumpl[ing] to the ground,” falling into the river Thames. This action sequence is described over a chapter.
  • When Lizzie confronts a suspect, he grabs her, but she pulls away, drawing “Darcy’s spare pistol, pointing it at [him] just as he brandished a knife.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Multiple times, Mr. Hurst is referred to as a drunk and he is “always drinking.” The night before he is killed, the man suspected of killing him finds him at a “club,” brings him home, and tells “him to sober up.”
  • There is a delay outside Darcy and Lizzie’s carriage, and the driver blames it on “a drunk.”

Language

  • Mrs. Bennet refers to Fred, Lizzie’s informant, as an “urchin.”
  • Words like “lord almighty,” “for heaven’s sake,” and “bollocks” are used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Mikaela Querido

The Wig in the Window

Sophie Young and Grace Yang are best friends, seventh graders, and wannabe spies. The town of Luna Vista is quite boring, so they make a game out of spying on their neighbors. They even have a map of who and who not to spy on. But their game quickly becomes serious.  On one of their midnight stakeouts, they stumble across a terrifying scene at the home of their eccentric yet demure middle-school counselor Dr. Agford (also known as Dr. Awkward). The school counselor is hacking away at what appeared to be a piece of human flesh. Even though they are proven wrong about what Dr. Agford was chopping, the girls are still convinced that Dr. Agford is hiding a dangerous secret—and are determined to find out what it is.

Sophie and Grace attempt to uncover more about Dr. Agford, but Dr. Agford effortlessly evades the girls’ efforts to trip her up. Dr. Agford, as a respected adult, easily inserts herself into Sophie’s life. She slowly changes the girls’ neighborhood watch into a serious game of cat-and-mouse. As their investigation heats up, Sophie and Grace crack under the pressure. Their friendship, along with their investigative skills, are put to the test.

The narrative squarely focuses on Sophie’s perspective. This point of view helps the reader understand the workings of Luna Vista Middle School and Sophie’s personal life. Older readers will relate to the book’s portrayal of middle school, as the story is realistic in depicting Sophie’s thoughts about her classes, peers, and teachers. Like any preteen, Sophie also openly talks about her obsession: hers is Chinese culture, more so since Grace is Chinese American. Sophie gets “carried away with the traditional Chinese practice of feng shui . . . the idea that you can arrange your space to bring good luck and positive chi” and she takes the teachings of philosopher Sun Tzu as fact. This is notable when Sophie uses Sun Tzu’s tips about deception (when you are near, you must pretend you are far) to make sure she doesn’t reveal any information to Dr. Agford.

The story also covers cultural appropriation and interracial friendships, which is a point of conflict between Sophie and Grace’s relationship. Sophie dislikes that Grace is seemingly unengaged in Chinese culture, and Grace hates that Sophie practices activities relevant to Chinese culture without knowing their cultural significance. Grace accuses Sophie of “being superficial” because she talks about Sun Tzu, arranges her room with feng shui in mind, and practices kung fu. Sophie is performative in her adoration of Chinese culture. To Grace, Chinese culture is who she is. While Sophie never understands its importance to Grace, the two friends make up, but Sophie doesn’t move past her surface-level understanding of Grace’s culture. Through their exchanges, readers will learn the importance of being considerate of other’s cultures.

The Wig in the Window is a suspenseful yet fun story that focuses on relationships between authority figures and friends. The suspense comes from the girls avoiding Dr. Agford’s wrath, as she has a lot of sway in the community. Sophie’s narration about the school and the town gives the story a humorous and light tone. There is some name-calling that is typical of middle schoolers bad-mouthing each other, such as when Sophie’s classmates purposely mispronounce her French name as “AY-NUS” instead of “AN-YES.”

The consequences for the girls’ crimes—spying on their neighbors and breaking-and-entering—are nonexistent for the sake of the plot. Any adults that could stop the girls from investigating criminal activity are equally absent. Still, this book has lessons about appreciating other cultures and a good portrayal of interracial friendship, alongside the masterful way the girls uncover the mystery surrounding Dr. Agford. If readers enjoy the game of cat-and-mouse between Dr. Agford and the girls, and the girls’ friendship, then they should consider reading the City Spies Series by James Ponti.

Sexual Content

  • Grace is in love with one of the boys in their grade. She says “Score. He’s totally hot”
  • Sophie’s brother, Jake, says Sophie’s probably angry because it’s “probably that time of the month.”
  • Jake got busted for not being home. At first, Sophie thinks her brother, “had his own brush of death at his girlfriend’s.” However, upon closer inspection, she notices that “the red welts all over his neck proved to be hickeys.”
  • Sophie thinks of her crush, Rod. “Who cares if people still called him Rod Pimple? He was cute now.”
  • Sophie thinks about Rod’s appearance. “At Luna Vista the guys weren’t allowed to let their bangs hang over their eyes. It made him seem even cuter that he was so adorable and a rebel.”

Violence

  • Agent Stone tackles Sophie to the ground. Sophie “groaned in agony as he pressed his knee against my back and wrenched my arms behind me.” Sophie feels pain on one side of her body for the rest of the night.
  • Sophie gets out of Agent Stone’s grip so she can stop Dr. Agford from hurting Grace. The adults want to get rid of the girls because the girls were going to tell the authorities about their crimes.  “[Sophie] hoisted [her] knee up and rammed [her] foot down over his.” He loosens his grip. Then, Sophie “delivered a swift donkey kick square into his crotch.” He crumples to the ground, groaning. Finally, Sophie pepper sprays the man’s eyes. He “screamed. His hands flew to his face as he stumbled backward.”
  • Agford is trying to drown Grace, so Sophie sneaks up on Dr. Agford. Then, Sophie hits Dr. Agford so she can get Grace out of Dr. Agford’s grasp. “[Sophie] slammed the heel of Grace’s cowboy boot directly into the back of [Dr. Agford’s skull]. She let out a bloodcurdling yell and crumpled to the sand in front of [Sophie].” Dr. Agford is knocked unconscious.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Most kids at Luna Vista Middle School refer to Dr. Agford as “Dr. Awkward.”
  • Grace says “Oh my God” nine times.
  • “Thank God” is used as an exclamation five times.
  • One of Sophie’s friends says “Oh, my lord!”
  • Sophie calls herself a “psycho.”
  • After meeting with Agent Ralston, Sophie comments that the government “sure gives [FBI agents] crappy cars.”
  • When she is trying to figure out why Dr. Agford wasn’t smiling at one of the assemblies, Sophie thinks “for God’s sake.”
  • While watching an episode of Wheel of Fortune, Sophie’s grandfather yells, “Buy a vowel, nitwit!”
  • Grace and Sophie call themselves “crazy” for confronting Dr. Agford.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Sophie is obsessed with Chinese philosophy, and she explains the concept behind the teardrop-shaped half of a yin-and-yang pendant. “According to Chinese philosophy, yin and yang are opposite forces that interact with each other. Yin is dark, quiet, colder energy. Yang is active, bright, and warm energy. The two need to be in balance for harmony.”
  • Sophie’s brother likes to topple some of Sophie’s “Buddha figurines” because he thinks it’s funny to mess with her.

by Jemima Cooke

Dawn Patrol

Luca and Esme have more than monster waves to worry about.

When Kevin disappears, leaving only a cryptic note, his best friends Luca and Esme have no choice but to try and find him. Their journey takes them to the coast of Panama, where they confront monster waves, unfriendly locals and a surfer who seems bent on destroying them. As their hope dwindles and time runs out, Luca and Esme realize they may be in over their heads.

Because of the short length of the book, none of the characters are well-developed. However, the fast-paced mystery will still capture readers’ interest. The main plot focuses on Luca and Esme’s search for their missing friend. As the two friends search for clues, they meet Jose, whose strange behavior puts Luca and Esme on high alert. Between surfing monster waves, looking for clues, and trying to track down Jose, Dawn Patrol keeps the action and mystery high.

The story is told from Luca’s point of view. Readers will connect with Luca because he is an admirable character who is willing to go to great lengths to find his friend. The conclusion ends on a hopeful note but doesn’t wrap up all the story threads. Despite this, Dawn Patrol is a quick and easy read that will engage readers. As part of the Orca Sports collection, Dawn Patrol is perfect for reluctant readers because it uses a high-interest topic that will entertain teens and help them improve their reading skills.

Sexual Content

  • When talking to a girl, Luca tells her that he’s not interested in Esme. “Nor would I be interested in getting together in, um, that way with this Jose guy.”
  • Luca meets Alana and a few days later, “she leaned over and kissed me on the mouth.” Alana and Luca kiss two more times, but the kisses are not described.

Violence

  • While trying to chase down Jose, “a big guy in dark sunglasses ran out of a hut and barreled into us. . .I slipped and fell headfirst into the water. I popped up just in time to see Esme hit the water.”
  • Esme is kidnapped. When Luca finds the hut Esme is being held at, he tries to sneak up to it, but “Jose came out of the trees and tackled me to the ground. . . I was face-first in the dirt. I struggled to get away. Jose had his hand on the back of my head, pushing my face into the sand.” Luca gets away.
  • Kevin, Esme’s boyfriend, holds a knife toward Delgado, the man that kidnapped Esme. “Kevin hit Delgado’s throat with his forearm, dragged him to the ground, and smacked his head. There were tears on his cheeks.” Delgado lets Esme go.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in the village, Esme and Luca pass a group of people who are drinking beer.

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes ass, crap, damn, and hell.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Eagle’s Quill

After barely escaping Death Valley, middle school geniuses Sam, Martina, and Theo head to Glacier National Park to find the second of seven artifacts—keys that unlock a secret weapon—left by the country’s Founding Fathers. The clues lead them to look for Thomas Jefferson’s Eagle’s Quill at a Montana ranch on the outskirts of Glacier National Park.

But the dangerous Gideon Arnold, a descendant of the infamous Benedict Arnold, is hot on their trail—or is he one step ahead? Gideon Arnold takes the kids’ chaperone and the ranch owners hostage until the kids deliver the quill. Can Sam, Martina, and Theo, with the help of rancher girl Abby, find a way to save everyone without handing over Jefferson’s artifact? They enter the wilderness to solve riddles and escape traps that have protected the quill for generations…but if they find it, can they keep it away from Arnold?

Arnold captures the kids’ chaperone and Abby’s parents, leaving the kids to follow Thomas Jefferson’s clues alone. Readers will have fun trying to decipher Jefferson’s words; the first clue is a compass that is engraved with “in matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Throughout their journey, Sam relates the founding of America to chess. For example, he thinks, “The important thing about chess wasn’t how powerful you were. It was all about where you were standing and who you were standing with.”

Throughout the story, readers will learn some facts about Thomas Jefferson, who wrote “all men are created equal.” However, the story doesn’t portray Jefferson as perfect. While he was pivotal in helping form America’s government, he also “owned slaves. He’d kept his own children as slaves. And it had probably never occurred to Jefferson, that women—like Marty and Abby, would grow up to be—would like to be considered equal too.” The text is never judgmental of Jefferson, but instead uses a factual tone that will leave readers thinking about some of the unjust aspects of colonial America.

The Eagle’s Quill introduces Abby, who is an interesting addition to the cast of characters. The story is not as fast-paced as the first book in the series, The Eureka Key, because the kids are not being chased by villains. Instead, they are navigating Glacier National Park and running from wild animals. Plus, some of the founder’s traps are unrealistic. Despite this, The Eagle’s Quill draws the reader into the kids’ conflicts and will have them trying to solve the clues. The ending has a surprise twist that will have readers excited to read the last book in the series, Ring of Honor.

 Sexual Content

  • Thomas Jefferson owned a woman, Sally Hemings, and “he had seven children with her. . . And they were slaves in his own house.”

Violence

  • While sleeping, Sam hears an explosion. When he and Theo go to investigate, they find men in black. “Theo stepped forward, pushing Marty behind him. . . instead of running, Theo turned sideways to the oncoming men and thrust one arm out. . . He pretty much ran into Theo’s fist, and he fell to the ground with a groan, clutching at his nose.”
  • As the men try to grab the kids, “it was Abby who stepped forward this time. One leg bent, the knee drawing up. Her leg snapped forward and her foot connected with Jed’s wrist just as his gun was coming forward to point at Theo’s head.”
  • During the attack, Sam “dove for his knees. They both went down, and the back of the man’s head bounced off the wall with a heavy, solid thud. He hit the ground and lay still.” Then Abby points a musket at the two men, who stood “blinking with shock. . .”
  • When the bad guys surround them, Theo uses “his candlestick to crack the one with the bloody nose across the side of the head, knocking him to the floor.” The kids hide in a safe room. The attack scene is described over eight pages.
  • Sam runs from a bear and climbs up a tree to avoid the giant bear. “Less than three feet below him, the bear snarled. Sam’s heart was pounding. . .” Marty chases the bear off with a bear whistle.
  • An injured mountain lion chases the kids. Theo grabs an animal bone. “Then Theo stepped forward and braced himself like a major league batter facing a pitcher with a wicked fastball. He swung his length of bone. It hit the mountain lion in the face, and the animal yowled, flung off balance. It twisted in the air to land on three feet, keeping its front left leg off the ground.” The injured mountain lion slinks into the shadows.
  • Arnold captures the children and his goons “pushed all three kids to the floor. . . one of his men stood guard with a gun while two more made quick work of tying up two more prisoners.” The kids are tied up in the barn, where they find two adults, who have been tied up for days without food or water.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Marty tells Sam, “Don’t be an idiot.” Later, she uses a secret code to write, “SAM IS A DOOFUS.”
  • Marty calls someone a moron.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Truly Devious #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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Forbidden City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World

Did you know that a dog’s nose is so sensitive that if a human could see as well as a dog could smell, we could be able to see the small letters on an eye chart from four miles away? While your dog may be talented at sniffing out snacks or alerting your family to welcome (or unwelcome) visitors, some dogs are super sniffers who put their noses to work with firefighters, soldiers, and scientists to save lives. These knowing noses can help locate missing people, detect explosives, or even sniff out a tiny, endangered snail species in the middle of a huge forest.

Dog lover and acclaimed science writer, Nancy Castaldo, introduces us to these heroic canines, many of whom were death-row shelter dogs. There’s Cairo, a Belgian Malinois, who is a decorated war hero; Rocky, the German shepherd who wears a bulletproof vest while sniffing for illegal drugs; Alan, a fox red Labrador retriever who detects tiny but life-threatening changes in his owner’s blood sugar levels; and Raider, who searches for disaster victims in piles of rubble. From your own very backyard to danger zones all over the world, hard-working dogs are on the job helping humans every day—eager to please, hoping for love, and always on alert.

Readers will be amazed by the dog’s abilities to use their sense of smell to help people. Sniffer Dogs educates readers about the different jobs that dogs train for including sniffing for bombs, drugs, missing people, and human remains. Sniffer dogs are also used to help people with medical conditions like diabetes. Some Sniffer Dogs are trained specifically to find old bones. For example, “the ghost town, Bodie, was once the fifth-largest town in California in 1859. Today, dogs are locating the unmarked graves of Bodie’s past residents.” Incredibly, other dogs are also trained to help scientists find whale feces in the Atlantic Ocean which allows scientists to study the population of endangered whales.

The book explores the different ways dogs have helped people throughout history. In World War II, “sentries and patrol dogs assisted the troops in battle, and ambulance dogs transported first-aid supplies to wounded soldiers.” Readers who want to learn more about how military dogs have helped people should also read the G.I. Dogs Series by Laurie Calkhoven.

Sniffer Dog’s format will appeal to readers because of the large pictures that appear on almost every page. The book includes information on real Sniffer Dogs and gives specific information on how the dogs have helped. Readers will learn about the dogs’ training, their relationship with their handlers, as well as their incredible sense of smell. While the book is packed full of information, each section is broken into small, manageable sections. However, the advanced vocabulary may be difficult for struggling readers.

Sniffer Dogs will appeal to dog lovers as well as anyone who is interested in science. If you are researching any type of service dog, then Sniffer Dogs is a must-read. If you’re interested in learning more about how dogs are used in the military, grab a copy of Max: Best Friend. Hero. Marine. by Jennifer Li Shotz.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Because dogs are used to help find both living and dead people, many historic events—9/11, the Oklahoma bombing, etc.—are discussed in the book.
  • Eli, a bomb-sniffing black lab, went to Afghanistan with his handler Colton. “On December 6, just a few months after arriving in Afghanistan, Colton was hit by sniper fire while on patrol and was killed. Eli stood guard, crawling on top of his partner’s body, not leaving its side, even when Colton’s fellow soldiers came to retrieve it.”
  • When the Titanic was sinking, Ann Elizabeth Isham, refused to leave her dog. “It is commonly believed that when her Great Dane was denied a place in a lifeboat, she refused to leave without it. Their bodies were both found floating in the sea after the ship sank. Reports say that her frozen arms were wrapped around the dog’s neck. . .”
  • Roselle, a Seeing-Eye dog was with Michael Hingson on 9/11. “Roselle guided Michael Hingson down seventy-eight floors in Tower One after the American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the building just eighteen floors above him.”
  • Dogs trained to find deceased people learn how to “recognize decomposing body odors as the scent drifts away from the body or skeleton. . .”
  • During World War II, “two men, a pilot, and a gunner, were flying on a training mission when their plane went down . . . Sadly, the bodies of the airmen were never recovered.” When the plane’s remains were found, dogs were “able to locate many of the bones of the missing men at the site, including a finger bone with a ring on it.” 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • During World War I dogs carried “cigarettes to stressed-out soldiers in the field.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S.

The Special Undercover Investigator Team has a new plan. “Once we get wind of an evildoer’s schemes to form a team, the Anti-Crime Unit will go undercover as fellow evildoers and follow this simple procedure: pinpoint the possible perpetrator’s position; avoid blowing your cover; neutralize any superweapons; thwart their villainous plan, and stop them from getting away.”

However, the procedure does not go according to plan. When Cilantro (a chameleon) isn’t promoted to an agent, he considers teaming up with other evildoers. When he goes to the New old opera house looking for other evildoers, he feels guilty, but he also discovers important information that will help solve a crime. In the end, Cilantro must decide if he will fight for good or evil.

The mission is made more difficult because Brash is in the hospital, unconscious, and MegaRoboBrash cannot access all Brash’s memories. With the help of a medium, Mango can enter Brash’s mind. While there, Mango discovers that Brash has “regressed into a child as some sort of coping mechanism!” Can Mango discover what is keeping Brash from waking up? Will Mango, Cilantro, and RoboBrash thwart the evil villain?

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S brings back a host of old characters as well as a sprinkle of new characters. While much of the conflict was established in previous books, the addition of giant ants adds humor and interest. Even though Brash is unconscious, he still appears frequently. Brash appears as a small child (which is adorably cute) and later as an adult. The large cast of characters may be confusing, but they help keep the story fresh and interesting.

Even though Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S is laugh-out-loud funny, it still has a positive message. Brash refuses to wake up because he is battling fear. With Mango’s help, Brash decides, “This is my mind. I decide how much space I’ll let my fears take up.” He learns that he must forgive himself and let go of the fear and guilt. The story also highlights the importance of believing in yourself.

Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S has many positive aspects. The combination of human and animal characters blend to create a ridiculous story that uses wordplay to add humor. The imaginative story comes alive in brightly colored artwork that shows the characters’ wide range of emotions. The text is large and uses different font sizes, which helps emphasize the characters’ emotions and important aspects of the story.

The illustrations and the unique storyline of Brash and Mango will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each page has 3 to 11 sentences. The sentences range from one word to more complex sentences. The story does an excellent job of giving enough background information so readers who are new to the series will understand the plot. However, for maximum enjoyment, the series should be read in order.

The Investigators Series is immensely enjoyable to read because of the ridiculously silly scenes, the unique characters, and the fun puns. Each story contains plenty of surprises that will keep readers flipping the pages. No matter your age, you will find something in the series to love.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • An evil villain uses the Embiggerner to supersize ants. The ants then attack the city. People run from the ants, but no one is injured. The “savage beasts” are put to sleep with music. The scene is illustrated over six pages.
  • Two villains team up and use the ants to attack the city, destroying many buildings. They also use the Embiggerner to make “ginormous gemstones,” “jumbo shrimp,” and “big money.” The attack is humorous instead of scary.
  • Brash and Mango trick the evil triceratops into charging a red cape. Chameleon trips him and the triceratops ends up with his horns stuck in a sidewalk.
  • Ants attack MegaRoboBrash, who hits them. Then he ties their antennas together and throws them into space. The scene is described over seven pages.
  • A chameleon and a group of ants attack the triceratops so he can be sent back to jail. They use trickery, knitting, and balls of yarn to retain the villainous triceratops. The scene is described over four pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • People who follow the law are referred to as “Idiot Law-doers.”
  • Darn and dang are both used once.
  • A construction worker is called a dummy.

Supernatural

  • Most of the characters are animals such as an octopus, a chameleon, a skunk, etc. There is also a character that is a squash.
  • Mango needs help to find out why RoboBrash cannot access all of Brash’s memories. Dr. Hardbones tells Mango to go to the Séance Factory. Dr. Hardbones says, “the medium there may have some ideas about how to see into Brash’s unconscious mind.”
  • The medium at the Séance Factory is a tick.
  • In a previous book, an agent was “turned into a radioactive saltine cracker.”
  • Hardbones is a skilled brain surgeon who turns into the Action News helicopter.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

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