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

  • None

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

  • None

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

 

 The Arctic Incident

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Root often smokes “fungal cigars.”

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Morgan Lynn

 

Case of the Sneaky Snowman

Who wears a blue scarf and old rubber boots, and has broccoli for a nose? It’s Sherlock — Nancy, Bess, and George’s snowman! The girls are thrilled to be on winter vacation and take part in all of the season’s activities. Nancy’s friend Deirdre has even transformed herself into Madame Chocolata, a fortune-teller who predicts the future by reading hot cocoa marshmallows!

But the wintry days get a little too chilly after many of Deirdre’s visions come true. Sherlock even goes missing — just as predicted! Can the Clue Crew put a freeze on this mystery before it snowballs out of control?

Case of the Sneaky Snowman is a fast-paced story that will have readers trying to figure out the clues to the mystery. Even though the Clue Crew are trying to discover what happened to their snowman, the story also focuses on Bess’s upcoming skating performance. Madame Chocolata predicts that Bess will fall during the performance. Based on this prediction, Bess worries that she is a “loser” and a “baby” who should drop out of the show. However, in the end, Bess performs without making any mistakes.

Mystery lovers will enjoy keeping track of all of the clues and seeing if they can figure out who the culprit is. Nancy and her friends are able to discover the logical reasons behind all of the mysteries in the story. The conclusion wraps everything up nicely and will leave readers laughing. One positive aspect of the story is that Nancy and her friends stay within the bounds that their parents have set for them. Even though they want to solve the mystery, they don’t rush their investigation or jump to conclusions.

Black and white illustrations appear every 2 to 5 pages, which break up the text and help readers visualize the events in the plot. The last page of the book gives directions for making a snowflake out of beads. This modern version of Nancy Drew will entertain readers. Even though many characters appear throughout the Nancy Drew books, each story can be read as a stand-alone.

Readers should grab a blanket, a cup of hot chocolate, and snuggle up to the Case of the Sneaky Snowman. Readers who want to add more mystery to their reading list should check out the King & Kayla Series by Dori Hillestad Butler and The Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins Series by Holly Webb.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Someone starts throwing snowballs at Nancy and her friends. “Another snowball whizzed over Nancy’s head. It burst on the ground, splattering egg all over the snow. The girls ducked as more eggy snowballs flew by fast and furious.” The snowballs stop flying, but the girls do not know who was throwing them.
  • George throws a snowball at a person dressed as a snowman. George “swung back her arm and hurled it across the street. It hit the snowman on the shoulder with a loud thonk!” The snowman’s head falls off.
  • Someone tries to steal Nancy’s dog.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Bess is worried about messing up during an ice skating show. She says, “I’m such a loser.”

Supernatural

  • Deirdre says, “Some fortune-tellers read palms. Others read tea leaves. But I, Madame Chocolata, read the marshmallows in hot chocolate!” Later, the Clue Crew prove that Deirdre’s predictions do not come true.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Golden Gate

Fourteen-year-old Sydney is a surfer and a rebel from Bondi Beach, Australia. She’s also a field ops specialist and frequent mission leader for the City Spies—a secret team of young agents who work for MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service.

After thwarting a notorious villain at an eco-summit in Paris, the City Spies gear up for their next mission. Operating out of a base in Scotland, this secret team of young agents have honed their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. These skills allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Sydney is excited to learn that she’ll be going undercover on the marine research vessel, the Sylvia Earle. But things don’t go exactly as planned, and while Sydney does find herself in the spotlight, it’s not in the way she was hoping.

Meanwhile, there’s been some new intel regarding a potential mole within the organization, offering the spies a lead that takes them to San Francisco, California. But as they investigate a spy who died at the Botanical Gardens, they discover that they are also being investigated.

Similar to the Charlie Thorne Series, City Spies Golden Gate takes readers on a fast-paced, multi-country mission in a fight between good versus evil. The second installment of the City Spies Series focuses on solving several mysteries, including finding the person who killed a spy. Even though there is less action, the story is immensely interesting because it contains mystery, high-risk undercover work, and gives readers a peek into the inner turmoil of an adolescent spy. Even though all the City Spies have an amazing skill, they make mistakes and have moments of insecurity. Because the characters are multifaceted and imperfect, they are both likable and relatable.

During the City Spies’ mission, Mother is absent. Even though the loveable character is missed, this allows Monty to take a more active role in the mission, which leads to several surprises. Even though much of the story is intense, there are still moments of humor and heart. Plus, readers will get a look inside several of San Francisco’s landmarks, including Muir Woods, Alcatraz, and Fort Point.   

 The complicated plot, the evil villains, and the advanced vocabulary will be difficult for younger readers. However, the City Spies Series will appeal to a vast number of readers because it contains action, adventure, intrigue, and mystery. Readers ready for more mature mysteries will love the City Spies Series. Mystery-loving fans who want to learn some gangster lore will also enjoy Notorious by Gordon Korman.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A terrorist attempts to kidnap two girls from a ship. When the man enters the girls’ room, Brooklynn “put her arms on the upper bunks to brace herself. Then, like a gymnast using parallel bars, she swung up the lower half of her body and executed a perfect scissor kick to the underside of his jaw. He froze momentarily before collapsing into a heap.”
  • While on the ship, Sydney detonates a bomb so that it doesn’t damage the ship.
  • Monty goes into an office to talk to a park ranger. When Monty hears another voice, she “turned toward the voice and saw a gun pointed directly at her.” Brooklyn walks into the room and “her hands were duct-taped. . . she fell onto the floor and landed alongside Monty, their faces right next to each other.”
  • There is “a report of an explosion at Fort Point. . . The explosion went off on the roof. It was designed for minimal damage and maximum visuals.”
  • As Sydney is running from Magpie, a rogue spy, she “tripped over the curb when she reached the parking lot and crashed against the pavement, cutting the palms of her hands and gashing her left knee.” The spy almost reaches Sydney. “Then a blur came from the side, and just like that, Magpie was gone from Sydney’s frame of vision. She heard two loud thuds. . .” The spy is captured.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God and OMG are both used as an exclamation once. For example, while discussing the attempted kidnapping, a girl says, “OMG, tell me everything!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • While being questioned by Parliament, Sydney had to repeat this oath, “I promise before Almighty God that the evidence which I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” And then she lies.
  • A park ranger discusses a man’s death. The ranger says, “You should tell your father that the last images his friends saw were among God’s most beautiful creations.”

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Kids are disappearing all over the world, and that includes seventh-grader Manu “Mars” Patel’s friends, Aurora and Jonas. Aurora disappeared five days ago. During a lockdown, Jonas disappears after leaving the closet Mars and his friend, Caddie Patchett, were hiding in. Jonas and Aurora’s disappearance sparks an investigation by Mars. To help, he is accompanied by his intelligent friend Randall “Toothpick” Lee, Caddie, who is an empath, and JP McGowan, a nonbinary person. Mars’ idol, Oliver Pruitt, a genius tech billionaire, also guides the way for Mars. But as Mars and his friends get closer to the truth, they soon learn that danger follows them and maybe Oliver Pruitt isn’t their ally after all.

Mars gets a message from an unknown person, someone only named Lost in London (LIL). LIL tells Mars about the missing kids. What’s even stranger is that Mars also gets a message from Aurora, saying “Ad astra.” Mars’ desperation to find his friends mounts as his mother threatens to leave Port Elizabeth for Cleveland, Ohio due to Mars’ troublemaking habits. But Mars is so close to discovering the truth. And then, he’s gone without a trace. It’s up to Caddie, Toothpick, and JP, along with some other unexpected allies, to find Mars and bring him home.

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is written in the third person perspective, overseeing the narrative with an omniscient narrator. The formatting is in prose style with small breaks from the typical prose style of narration. These breaks come in the form of snippets from Oliver Pruitt’s podcast and text messages among Mars’ friend group. For example, one of Oliver Pruitt’s podcasts goes:  “Dear listeners: Ever wonder what makes you who you are? Is it the socks you wear? Your favorite band? I believe what makes you YOU is your response when you’re tested. When the odds are stacked against you, are you brave? Generous? A good friend? If someone asks YOU to take the leap, will you hide or will you FLY? To the stars!” With this podcast specifically, Oliver is testing Mars’ friendship with his kidnapped friends, Aurora and Jonas. These small breaks are used to push the plot forward as the podcasts originally serve as an ally to Mars.

The story is a general mystery blended with elements of sci-fi. Through JP, readers will understand how a nonbinary middle schooler may feel when others don’t understand the concept of being nonbinary. JP’s mother tells them, “The world sees everything gendered. We don’t, but they do.” JP isn’t the only outcast, as they are friends with fellow outcast Mars. Mars is called names because he’s a troublemaker and is constantly getting into detention with his friends. Despite that, the story teaches that real friends stick together no matter how far apart they are. Real friends will defend you and real friends are going to support you in any way necessary. A good example is when a teacher, Mr. Q, accidentally misgenders JP. Toothpick corrects Mr. Q, saying, “Are they here, you mean. That’s the pronoun JP uses.”

Middle schoolers will identify with Mars and his friends, who feel the authority figures are out to get them. Mars also realizes that his idol may not be a good person. Mars can also relate to middle schoolers through his friendships. One day they may be perfectly fine, and the next they may be rocked to their core. Middle schoolers who are also questioning their gender identity will relate to JP’s struggle with his gender identity; albeit it’s not a major part of the main plot due to the narrative format. JP’s character also provides much needed representation for nonbinary middle schoolers who wish to see a major character that has fun and is not treated as a token LGBTQIA+ character.

While The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a fun mystery with intriguing twists and turns, the breaks in the narrative format slow the pacing. The story also has strange plot holes that may confuse the reader, such as how a character can have powers but suddenly doesn’t have them anymore. The story also isn’t very clear with its lore. For example, the world is set in a technologically advanced world similar to our own, but Mars and his friends have superpowers when they’re at Pruitt Prep. It is not mentioned previously that they have powers. Overall, The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel is a fun story about a group of friends trying to solve the mystery of kids’ disappearances.

Sexual Content

  • At the school dance, a girl tells Toothpick, “You look hot!”

 Violence

  • A hate crime is mentioned. “Recently in Seattle, someone beat up a teenager wearing a skirt on a bus because they didn’t look like a girl or a boy. The teenager ended up needing stitches.”
  • Multiple times, drones appear to spy on Mars and his friends. Mars ends up destroying a drone once, and another time the drone even shot at Mars. The drone is used to kidnap Mars as well, which we can suspect is how all the kids were kidnapped.
  • On the ferry to Gale Island to find Mars, a girl throws a shoe at a bodyguard so the rest of the group can get away.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A student named Clyde Boofsky calls Mars “Martian Patel.”
  • Clyde makes many transphobic remarks towards JP, who identifies as nonbinary. He calls JP things such as “boy-girl” and “They-Them.” He purposely misgenders JP, who is AFAB (assigned female at birth). He also mocks JP for “not choosing” which one they are. Clyde says, “Even my dog knows she’s a she. I guess she’s smarter than you, JP.”
  • Clyde’s friend purposefully misgenders JP, saying, “Or we can just call her It?”
  • During the assembly with Oliver Pruitt, the student body begins repeatedly calling Mars a loser.
  • A girl calls JP a “wuss” because they didn’t want to try a chia seed cookie. In response, JP says, “I’d like to wuss you.” JP implies they would like to fight the girl.

 Supernatural

  • Caddie and her friends encounter a large spider that is made of metal. “Never had [Caddie] seen such a thing. Several feet tall, armored, long grotesque legs stretching out in all directions. It was watching them with its many eyes, its mouth sprawled open and ravenous. What she saw was an enormous spider plated in steel.” Caddie and her friends run from the spider.
  • There is a creature in Pruitt Prep named Muffin, who guards the school. She’s described as a “wolf-spider,” but according to Mr. Q, Muffin is a microscopic tardigrade crossbred with a wolf. Mars and his friends meet it after running into Mr. Q, who stops Muffin from eating the children. “In the hallway, the howling creature seemed even larger than before. Its legs were covered in thick fur and its multiple eyes bore down on them like a spider looks at its prey before striking.”

 Spiritual Content

  • None

by Emma Hua

 

The Forest of Stolen Girls

1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister Maewol went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

After five years, Hwani reunites with Maewol on Jeju island. Hwani has crossed the sea to find her father, Detective Jeewoo Min, after he has disappeared while investigating the disappearance of thirteen other girls. She is the older sister whose life plans—to get married and bear children—have come to a halt.

Maewol was called to be a shaman and train under Shaman Nokyung. Unlike Hwani, Maewol despises their father and does not wish for him to be found. When the body of one of the girls is discovered, Maewol and Hwani get sucked into the mystery of the disappearance of the young girls. The sisters realize there’s a possible correlation between the disappearances and their own Forest Incident, an event that left Hwani and Maewol completely changed. As Hwani and Maewol investigate further into the disappearances of the missing girls, they encounter a formidable enemy, the Mask, and the sisters learn that evil comes in different forms.

The entire story of The Forest of Stolen Girls is told in a prose narrative style, in the first person point of view. The story follows Hwani and her turbulent investigation into her father’s disappearance and, into the disappearance of thirteen young girls between the ages of eleven and eighteen. As the reader follows Hwani’s investigation, they will feel what Hwani feels and suspect who Hwani suspects.

The story displays a realistic sisterly relationship. The two sisters they, but are also kind to one another. A majority of the story is spent on the obstacles Hwani and Maewol face as sisters. Hwani is more logical and calculated while Maewol is impulsive and acts upon instinct. Maewol despises her father while Hwani idolizes him; this creates the central conflict. Hwani discovers her father is not as good as he seems and learns to be there for Maewol. Maewol, in turn, learns to forgive her sister even when Hwani has wronged her. At the end of the story, their sisterly bond is what saves Maewol and Hwani.

The Forest of Stolen Girls deals with the brutal history of China’s imperialism over the Korean peninsula. The core of the story relies on the historical fact that in Joseon, Korea, over 2,000 girls were kidnapped from their homes and sent to China as “tribute girls.” The story deals with this intergenerational trauma gracefully and brings to light atrocities committed by both Chinese and Joseon officials alike. The taking of tribute girls results in characters committing heinous actions for the sake of their own daughters. In order to prevent Gahee from being taken as a tribute girl, her father sliced up her face. Though her father did it to protect her, this actions permanently disfigured her and made her an outcast among her own people.

The Forest of Stolen Girls shows class strife and how it correlates with the missing girls. Rich officials of the Joseon government use bribes to keep their daughters from becoming tribute girls. But because the officials need new girls to take the place of their spared daughters, they kidnap girls from poverty.

The story shows the desperation of the poor, such as Convict Baek aiding in the kidnapping of girls in order to feed his daughter. The Forest of Stolen Girls shows readers that no one is truly bad and no one is truly good. It is the system in place that pressures people into continuing this cycle of grief and trauma.

The Forest of Stolen Girls is a beautiful novel that centers around a story of Asian women and the trauma they’ve endured for centuries. The mystery is beautifully woven, with every event, fight and conversation is meant to either aid the investigation, provide a red flag, or add to the characters’ stakes in the mystery. The twist is pulled off excellently and shows realistic motives that reveal the monster in people. The Forest of Stolen Girls is for readers who like murder mysteries, historical fiction, or would like to learn more about East Asian history.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After discovering the body of one of the missing girls, Hwani asks the victim’s older sister, Iseul, some questions. Iseul implies that Hyunok was not raped while captured. Iseul says, “The midwife is my aunt. We knew Magistrate Hong would have her buried without an examination; he is like that. We examined Hyunok, and my aunt concluded that my sister hadn’t been harmed in…that
  • While exploring the forest, Hwani is chased by a man in a white. “The blade flashed as he swung the sword, and I squeezed my eyes, waiting for the slash of pain.” Maewol saves her.
  • While treating her wounds, Hwani recounts how her aunt used to beat her with a stick, thus leaving thin scars on her legs. Her aunt uses corporal punishment as a form of discipline. Her wounds “stung, yet the pain was a mere inch compared to Aunt Min’s beatings. When she was upset, she would wait for Father to leave before striking my calves with a thin stick, and the humiliation of it had made the cuts all the more excruciating.”
  • Maewol tells Hwani that one of their possible suspects, Convict Baek, “ sliced up his daughter’s face when she was only twelve, and no one knows why.”
  • Hwani confronts Convict Baek. Convict Baek shoves Hwani, causing her to fall and hit her head against a low-legged table, hard enough to draw blood. “He took another step and with his large hand he shoved at my shoulder with such strength that I went toppling. My head hit the corner of the low-legged table, my hair coming undone and falling over my face.”
  • After Hwani finds her father, Inspector Yu tells her his cause of death was not poison. “He was stabbed.”
  • Seohyun wants to kill the person who forced her to become a tribute girl. “There was murder in my daughter’s eyes. She told me in riddles what had happened. She and many other girls had been given to Emperor Xuande for her imperial harem. She also told me she was going to kill the person responsible, that she’d found out who it was but she wouldn’t give me a name.”
  • Hwani fights Village Elder Moon in a cave where he was keeping all of the stolen girls. The scene lasts for about three pages. “With all my strength, I continued to cling to the village elder’s robe as we thrashed in a blackness that seemed to leak through my eyes, surging fear into my soul. The village elder’s hands, too, turned desperate. Fingers grappling for anything, grabbing strands of my hair, wrapping tight around my throat as I struggled to hold on. My limbs felt numb and frozen, about to shatter as the cold deepened.”
  • Convict Baek and Village Elder Moon are sentenced to be executed. “Weeks later, when the verdict was made in accordance to the Great Ming Code, Village Elder Moon accepted his fate with a stare as blank as that of the dead. He was to be decapitated for having committed murder. Convict Baek, his accomplice, was to be punished by strangulation.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are multiple mentions of poison, as well as incidents of poisoning. Poisoning was a common method of execution in Joseon, Korea.
  • Hwani gets poisoned twice, once with a poison called kyeong-po buja that Hwani ingested herself, and the second time with arsenic from Village Elder Moon.
  • Hwani’s father is revealed to have been poisoned with arsenic as well. The poison did not kill him.
  • Village Elder Moon’s daughter, Chaewon, commits suicide by poisoning herself because she cannot live with her father’s actions.
  • Hwani pours a bowl full of rice wine onto her father’s grave.

 Language

  • None

 Supernatural

  • None

 

Spiritual

  • There are multiple mentions of spirits and the spirit world. For instance, Maewol describes what she sees when Hwani asks her if she can really communicate with the spirits from the spirit world. “I can’t hear what they say…I can’t really see or hear anything clearly. It’s like seeing shadows through the fog. A very thick
  • Maewol is a shaman, someone who communicates with the spirits.
  • Hwani and Maewol say “gods” rather than God because their religion is polytheistic.
  • There’s a brief mention of witchcraft when the body of Detective Min was discovered in a pristine condition. Village Elder Moon said, “No corpse could be in such a condition, not with the humidity of Jeju. It has to be witchcraft.”

by Emma Hua

 

Bridge of Souls

Where there are ghosts, Cassidy Blake follows . . . Unless it’s the other way around?

Cassidy thinks she might have this ghost-hunting thing down. After all, she and her ghost best friend, Jacob, have survived two haunted cities while traveling for her parents’ TV show. But nothing can prepare Cassidy for New Orleans, a city bursting with old magic, secret societies, and scary seances. And the biggest surprise? An enemy Cass never expected to face: a messenger of death itself. Is Cassidy up to the challenge—and what will she have to lose in order to win?

Readers of City of Ghost and Tunnel of Bones will be eager to follow Cassidy on her new and suspenseful adventure. The Bridge of Souls takes on a more dangerous tone because Cassidy is being hunted by the Emissary, the messenger of death. Plus, Cassidy’s parents talk about historical ghosts who were serial killers. While the story never goes into gory details, the content may give some readers nightmares.

Since each book in the series takes place in a new city, new characters are introduced that help keep the story interesting. Jacob and Lara are central figures that reappear in each book; this allows readers to connect with them. The high-stakes action makes the danger more intense because the Emissary is looking for those who have cheated death—such as Jacob, Lara, and Cassidy. The growing friendship between Cassidy, Jacob, and Lara is one of the best parts of the book and the interplay between the three friends is at times humorous and endearing, which balances out the spooky-scary suspense.

Bridge of Souls will delight readers who love a good ghost story full of adventure, danger, and plot twists. The easy-to-read story will keep readers up late into the night because they will not be able to put the book down. Full of new characters, faithful friends, and paranormal experiences, Bridge of Souls takes readers on a spectacularly spooky trip through New Orleans. Readers who want more ghostly action should add the Shadow School Series by J.A. White to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Cassidy’s parents are filming a show about famous ghosts. While filming, Cassidy’s Mom talks about “the Axeman of New Orleans, who went around chopping people up. . . terrorized the city. He was a serial killer.”
  • Cassidy’s mom says, “a man named Pierre Jourdan bought this property and erected the mansion of his dreams, only to lose the estate in a poker game. Devastated, Jourdan took his own life. . .”
  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, Pierre Jourdan “reaches for my life, and he might have gotten there first if a bucket of poker chips hadn’t hit him in the side of the head. Jacob has excellent aim.”
  • Cassidy learns about LaLaurie, who “stands out for the sheer scope of her cruelty.” When her house caught on fire, everyone got out “or so they thought. And yet, there were voices coming from the burning house. . . LaLaurie had kept slaves locked in the attic. . . They had no way to escape.”
  • When the Emissary finds Cassidy, “Thick black ropes shoot up from the ground, reaching for us, wrapping around our ankles and wrist. . .I [Cassidy] stumble and fall, hitting the bridge hard. . . [Lara] is on the ground, too, fighting as half a dozen ropes try to pin her down. . . .”
  • Jacob tries to help his friends and “lets out a primal shout and flings himself forward at the Emissary. . . He slams into the skull-faced figure, pushing him back. . . Jacob slams his hands against the Emissary’s chest, but this time, instead of stepping back, the Emissary holds its ground, and Jacob’s fist sinks into its front, like quicksand.”
  • When the Emissary has Jacob, Cassidy swings her camera “right at the Emissary’s head. It hits the bone mask with a sound like metal on stone, like breaking pottery. The Emissary loses its hold on Jacob.” Eventually, the Emissary is pushed over the edge of a bridge. The scene is described over 11 pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in the Veil, a ghost tells Cassidy that another ghost, Sam, is “probably drinking gin and listening to jazz in the square.”

Language

  • After Cassidy’s mom tells a ghost story, someone says, “Oh my god!”

Supernatural

  • Cassidy goes into the Veil and sees ghosts who have not moved on. In order to help ghosts move on, Cassidy shows them their reflection in a mirror and says, “Look and listen. See and know. This is what you are.” Then she pulls out their thread of life.
  • Jacob is Cassidy’s “best friend, resident ghost, and constant eavesdropper.” Jacob can hear Cassidy’s thoughts.
  • One of the characters has tattoos such as “the Christian cross on his bicep, the Egyptian eye on his forearm, the pentacle near his elbow. . .” He has these tattoos for “protection” against ghosts.
  • An Emissary is looking for Cassidy. Emissaries are messengers of death. “They’re sent out into the world to hunt for people beyond the Veil. They’re sent out into the world to hunt for people who’ve crossed the line, and come back.”
  • During a séance, a messenger of death takes over a man’s body and gives Cassidy a warning: “We have seen you, little thief. . . But now you cannot hide. We have seen you. And we will find you.”
  • A fortune teller reads a tarot card and uses it to predict Cassidy’s future. While picking a card Cassidy felt, “a pull, right under my fingers. And then my hand stops. There’s a pull, right under my palm, a steady draw, like the Veil rising to meet my fingers.”
  • Cassidy wants to know if voodoo is real. She is told, “Voodoo isn’t just about lighting a candle, or buying a trinket. It’s a trade. A matter of give and take. Nothing gained without something sacrificed.”
  • The Emissary finds Cassidy, and Jacob tries to save her. Jacob flings “himself at the Emissary. But Jacob goes straight through and hits the ground on the other side. He collapses, shivering as if doused in old water.” Another friend pushes over an old crypt. “It doesn’t crush the Emissary, exactly. . .But the fall kicks up a lot of dust and debris, a thin gray cover.” Everyone is able to escape.
  • Philippa is a medium who can see ghosts.
  • In order to break the thread connecting Cassidy to the Emissary, Cassidy and her friends perform a ritual. The supplies include: “A handful of stones, to anchor the circle. A ball of white string, to tether me to the living. A bottle of center oil, to purify, and to burn. And a box of long wooden matches, to strike the flame.” The ritual does not work.
  • Cassidy is given “an evil eye. It won’t do much to stop an emissary, but it might buy you some time. The charm’s designed to break when someone wishes you ill. It should break when danger is near.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

8+  320   5.0   5 worms   AR

Sentinels in the Deep Ocean

Fresh off their expedition on the tundra, Stacy’s supernatural wolves finally have answers about their origins as well as several newly developing powers. Meanwhile, Stacy has a new cat to care for and a mysterious diary to decode. The secrets buried in its pages will send Stacy and her pack on a thrilling race against time, a race across biomes to the farthest reaches of their world: the deep ocean.

The ocean is brimming with mysteries, but the biggest surprise of all is that Stay’s wolves are not as alone in this world as they thought they were. Could a secret from Stacy’s past hold the key to her future in the taiga?

The fourth installment of the Wild Rescuers Series focuses on Stacy and her pack of wolves. As the story progresses, they journey to a new biome and meet another small pack of magical wolves. Since the story has a large cast of characters, some readers may have difficulty remembering each character. In addition, none of the characters are well developed, which makes it difficult to connect with them.

Like the previous books, Sentinels in the Deep Ocean teaches about biomes. Readers will get a peek at an island with mangrove trees, a dying coral reef, and baby turtles. There is a brief lesson on the dangers of ocean trash as well as the importance of taking care of natural resources. While the new biome is interesting, the story could have included more insight into ocean creatures.

Sentinels in the Deep Ocean adds some interesting supernatural wolves, and it focuses on why the wolves live in different packs. Throughout Stacy’s journey, she spends time translating a journal that was found in the previous book. The journal chronicles where the supernatural wolves came from and explains some of their powers. Plus, the journal adds interest to the story and answers some important questions.

Each chapter begins with an illustration of one of Stacy’s animal friends. Other black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the story. The illustrations will help readers visualize the story’s events. Some readers may struggle with the advanced vocabulary, such as cephalopod, chagrin, and epiphany. However, the end of the book has a helpful glossary, plus an interview with a sea turtle scientist!

Because the plot of each book in the series builds on each other, the Wild Rescuers Series must be read in order. Sentinels in the Deep Ocean uses Stacy’s adventure to teach about the environment. While the story is a little predictable, fans of the story will find enough action, mystery, and supernatural events to keep them entertained. Readers who love action and animals should also read the Survival Tails Series by Katrina Charman.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While at the veterinarian, Stacy is told, “Sometimes dogs and cats have to be killed in order to make room for all the other dogs and cats they have coming in.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Stacy’s wolves have powers. For example, “Basil was as fast as ever. Wink was indestructible. Everest could read Stacy’s thoughts and camouflage in the forest.”
  • Stacy and her pack meet other supernatural wolves who have powers such as growing crops instantly, controlling the wind, and healing others.
  • Rigsby can heal others, but it makes him “gaunt—reduced to skin and bones.”
  • Stacy can swim to the bottom of the ocean because Atlas can keep an air bubble around himself and Stacy.

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

City Spies #1

Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City foster care system to expose her foster parents as cheats and lawbreakers. However, instead of being hailed as a hero, Sara finds herself facing years in a juvenile detention facility and banned from using computers for the same stretch of time. Enter Mother, a British spy who not only gets Sara released from jail but also offers her a chance to make a home for herself within a secret MI6 agency.

Operating out of a base in Scotland, the City Spies are five kids from various parts of the world. When they’re not attending the local boarding school, they’re honing their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. These skills allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Before she knows what she’s doing, Sara is heading to Paris for an international youth summit, hacking into a rival school’s computer to prevent them from winning a million euros, dangling thirty feet off the side of a building, and trying to stop a villain…all while navigating the complex dynamics of her new team. No one said saving the world was easy.

City Spies is an action-packed book that delves into the world of spies. Even though the story focuses on Sara, there are multiple interesting and well-developed characters that add depth to the story. One such character, a male spy named Mother, recruits Sara. Mother’s complicated past adds danger to the story as well as a touch of humor. Mother uses memorable sayings to help the kids remember spy skills. One is, “You don’t need any hocus-pocus. All you need to do is focus.”

The story includes many flashbacks that allow the reader to see how each person became part of the team and what their special skills are. While the characters add interest and conflict, the fast-paced plot keeps the readers guessing until the very end. The conclusion ends abruptly; the ending is logical but doesn’t wrap up all of the story’s threads. Instead, the conclusion leaves readers wondering what will happen in the next book, City Spies Golden Gate.

Anyone who loves a good spy book will enjoy City Spies because of its blend of action, mystery, and wonderfully complex characters. Even though the plot twists and turns in interesting directions, the main threads are easy to follow. Like all spy books, people die and are injured. The descriptions of death and injury are mostly told in the past tense without adding gory descriptions; however, this aspect of the story may upset younger readers. Fans of more mature mysteries such as the Theodore Boone Series by John Grisham will find City Spies an equally entertaining story.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Sara was put in a jail cell, other girls start bullying her. Emily stood up for Sara. “With lightning speed, she jabbed her thumbs deep into the sides of the larger girl’s rib cage, making her gasp for air and stagger backward. . . Emily reached over and carefully guided the other girl back to the bench, making sure she didn’t fall.”
  • On an undercover operation, Mother was betrayed by his wife. Mother’s “hands were tied behind his back, his feet were wrapped together with wire, and a rag had been forced into his mouth so he couldn’t scream for help. . . Each breath filled his lungs with smoke and brought him closer to death.” With help, Mother is able to escape.
  • While in boarding school, one of the students caused an explosion that destroyed a statue of the school’s founder. “The head had apparently been blown off in the explosion and now sat upside down in a nearby flower bed. There was still some residual smoke emanating from Mrs. Hobart’s neck.”
  • Two undercover agents are killed. “It was two days until their bodies were discovered floating in the Seine.”
  • Sara’s teammate Rio talks about a suspect. “. . . Carmichael was severely injured in an explosion when he tried to use dynamite to blow up a bulldozer at a logging site.” He died from his injuries.
  • Sara runs away from a bad guy. She tries to enter a secret passageway, but the man follows. The man “took another step, and just as he was about to reach for her, the smile disappeared and his substantial body crumbled to the floor, landing face-first with a loud thump.” Someone shot the man with a tranquilizer gun.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While breaking into her old foster home, Sara worries that “Leonard is sitting in his recliner watching television and drinking beer.”

Language

  • Bloody is used four times. For example, when Sara tricks some of the agents, someone says, “That’s bloody brilliant.”
  • When a girl tries out for the school play, one of the teachers says, “Maybe if you had fewer desserts you’d be more princess and less frog.”
  • Someone says un-freaking-believable.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Sleepy Hollow Sleepover

Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are spending Halloween in Sleepy Hollow, New York, home of the legendary Headless Horseman. They are going to sleep in a cabin, take a haunted hayride, and go to a spooky party near an old graveyard. That’s where some people say they’ve spotted the ghostly horseman. But strange things start happening that don’t seem to be part of the planned Halloween fun. Is there a real Headless Horseman haunting Sleepy Hollow?

Readers looking for a Halloween scare will want to read Sleepy Hollow Sleepover. A little history, a scary setting, and a mystery to solve make Sleepy Hollow Sleepover a fun Halloween read. The three friends use their power of observation to solve the mystery. While investigating, Dink, Josh, and Ruth put themselves in danger by crawling into the back of a truck and getting kidnapped. However, their quick thinking allows the police to find them before the bad guys can get away.

Sleepy Hollow Sleepover‘s short chapters and black and white illustrations make the story accessible to many readers. Large illustrations appear every 2 to 4 pages. Many of the illustrations are one page and help readers understand the plot. Plus, readers can hunt through the pictures to find a hidden message.

The story’s suspense doesn’t just come from the mystery. Bats, a zombie, and other Halloween fun add to the spooky scene. The conclusion explains how the kids solved the mystery and also leaves readers wondering if the kids really did see a Headless Horsemen. Another positive aspect is that the story portrays police officers in a positive manner. However, when the wagons burn, four police officers pack 25 kids into the backseats and some kids are sitting on other’s laps.

Sleepy Hollow Sleepover will get readers’ hearts pumping as they follow the kids on the haunted hayride. Mystery-loving readers will enjoy following the clues as the kids try to find the culprits. Readers who are ready for chapter books will enjoy both the story and the illustrations. Grab a flashlight, turn out the lights, and enjoy Sleepy Hollow Sleepover. Readers who want more fall fun should also read Marley and the Runaway Pumpkin by John Grogan.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Someone intentionally sets the wagons on fire. That person also makes all of the car’s tires flat.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used twice. For example, while on a haunted hayride a boy says, “All this stuff is planned, just to scare the heck out of us.”
  • Jerk is used twice. The kids are talking to a police officer about the person who set the wagons on fire. The police officer says, “whoever it was is a real jerk.”
  • The bad guys call the kids “rats.”

Supernatural

  • The kids think they see the Headless Horseman riding by their cabin. The story leaves the reader wondering if the Headless Horseman is real.
  • During the haunted hayride, the wagon drives by a graveyard. “A hand was rising out of the grave! Then came an arm, covered in filthy rags. A second hand and arm appeared, then a face blotched with dirt. Some of the flesh was peeling off.” The kids know the zombie isn’t real but is part of the hayride.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Deductive Detective

Someone stole a cake from the cake contest—who could it be? Twelve animal bakers are potential suspects, but Detective Duck uses his deductive reasoning skills to “quack” the case. For instance, the thief left hairs behind, so the thief wasn’t a bird. Follow along as he subtracts each suspect one at a time to reveal who the culprit was.

The Deductive Detective uses humor to introduce simple subtraction, deductive reasoning, and animal facts. Even though the story is packed full of facts, the puns and plays on words will keep readers entertained. Each time Detective Duck eliminates a culprit, a pun is used. For example, when Detective Duck discovers that Cow couldn’t have stolen the cake, Duck says, “So Cow is free to moooo-ve along home.” Detective Duck explains his logic in a kid-friendly way that is easy to understand. Another positive aspect is that each page shows the math that Detective Duck uses during the investigation. When Detective Duck has eliminated all but one suspect, the thief’s confession will make readers giggle.

Readers will enjoy following Detective Duck as he walks through the crime scene. The brightly colored illustrations and adorable animal suspects will immediately grab readers’ attention. When Detective Duck eliminates a suspect, the suspect becomes the focal point of the illustrations. Up to 5 sentences appear on a page; the words are on a solid background that makes the text easy to read.

Even though The Deductive Detective is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. The Deductive Detective is part of Aborale Publishing, and is intended to be a “fun-to-read story and a launch pad for discussions and learning.” The story includes a 2-page “For Creative Minds” section in the back of the book and a 27-page cross-curricular “Teaching Activity Guide” online.

The Deductive Detective uses a fun story to show readers how to use logic in solving a mystery. Young readers will giggle as they learn important skills such as math and comparing and contrasting animals. Parents may also want to check out Wallace and Grace by Heather Alexander, which also teaches problem-solving skills.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Detective’s Assistant

Eleven-year-old Nell Warne couldn’t have imagined what awaits her when she arrives on her long-lost aunt’s doorstep lugging a heavy sack of sorrows.

Much to Nell’s surprise, her aunt is a detective, working for the world-famous Pinkreluctanceational Detective Agency! Nell quickly makes herself indispensable to Aunt Kate. . . and not just by helping out with household chores. As her aunt travels around the country solving mysteries, Nell must crack codes, wear disguises, and spy on nefarious criminals.

Nation-changing events simmer in the background as Abraham Lincoln heads for the White House, and Aunt Kate is working on the biggest case of her life. But Nell is quietly working a case of her own: the mystery of what happened the night her best friend left town.

Nell’s adventure paints a picture of life in the 1800s. When she is forced to live with her Aunt Kate, Nell quickly realizes that her aunt isn’t like most women—instead Aunt Kate takes on many disguises while solving mysteries. At first, Aunt Kate doesn’t trust Nell and doesn’t want to give the grieving girl a home, giving readers a small peek into the life of an orphan. The Detective’s Assistant also uses letters between Nell and her friend to delve into the topic of slave hunters. Even though the topic is explored in a kid-friendly manner, sensitive readers may be upset by the death of so many people.

Despite her aunt’s reluctance to give Nell a home, Aunt Kate makes sure Nell learns vocabulary, grammar, and math. Throughout the story, Aunt Kate is always correcting Nell’s speech. For example, Aunt Kate tells Nell, “And the proper word is isn’t, not ain’t. Mind your grammar, even in times of distress.” Nell also learns new vocabulary such as somnambulist. This highlights the importance of getting an education and adds fun to the story.

The Detective’s Assistant is sure to delight readers because of the interesting, complex characters as well as the cases that Aunt Kate and Nell help solve. Since the story is told from Nell’s point of view, the readers get an intimate look at Nell’s emotions. Nell struggles with the death of her family, how the slave trade affected people, and the possibility of being sent to an orphanage. All of these aspects make The Detective’s Assistant a fast-paced story with many surprises. In the end, Nell learns that “family meant taking the folks we’re stuck with and choosing to love them anyway.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A pickpocket takes Aunt Kate’s purse. Nell sees him “and with one swift stomp of my foot, I crashed the heel of my big brown boot onto his toes. The bandit let out a howl and began hopping on one leg.”
  • When others notice their money is missing, the crowd “pounced on the skinny pickpocket like a pack of wolves.”
  • In a letter, Nell’s friend tells her about slaves who were trying to go to Canada so they can live free. “And the next thing Mama knows, her friend’s neck is in a noose hanging from a tree.”
  • Aunt Kate investigates a “murder by poison.” A woman’s “lover has succeeded in putting his wife in a pine box.”
  • While babysitting a young girl, the girl treats Nell poorly. Her “shins ached from unexpected kicks, my arms were sore from vicious pinches, and my pride was wounded from insults to my general appearance and intellect.”
  • Aunt Kate investigates a bank robbery. “A bank teller was murdered in cold blood, and money was stolen.” The bank teller was killed with a hammer and “three blows to the head.” Later the criminal confesses.
  • Slave hunters stole a family and they “got sold off to the highest bidder.” The family was torn apart.
  • Nell’s father, Cornelius, accidentally shoots and kills his brother. Cornelius was helping slaves escape to Canada. At night, “a man came riding up toward us—we could almost feel the hoofbeats. . . [a man] called for us to stop. . . And in a rush of panic that swept over all of us, your daddy fired his gun.”
  • While Cornelius was helping slaves escape, slave hunters killed him. “His body washed up in the Chemung River.”

  Drugs and Alcohol

  • Nell’s father, “saw the jailhouse for drinking and cheating at poker.” Nell’s father is often referred to as a drunk liar who gambles.
  • Nell names her dog Whiskey. Nell “didn’t know a thing about liquor when I named her. But I heard my daddy say whiskey was pure gold.”
  • While walking down the street, “a few menacing drunks pushed past, knocking both Aunt Kate and me off balance.”

Language

  • “Heck and tarnation” is used twice.
  • Darn is used twice
  • Nell calls a bratty girl a “little jackanapes.”
  • Nell thinks that some boys are “dunderheads.”
  • When a rebel starts talking about John Wilkes Booth, Nell thinks the rebel is an “illiterate oaf.”

Supernatural

  • In order to gain a suspect’s trust, Aunt Kate pretends to be a fortune-teller. The suspect believes that “her brother’s ring warned him of storms at sea.”
  • A man thinks the detectives use “voodoo magic to get those criminals to talk.” Others think the detectives use whiskey to get people talking.
  • Nell couldn’t go to a funeral because “Daddy thought it was bad luck to have a child so close to the Grim Reaper.”

Spiritual Content

  • Nell writes to a friend, saying her daddy “is splitting logs with the angels.”
  • Someone asks Nell how her father made it “to the pearly gates of heaven.” Nell replies, “Through prayer, ma’am. Mine mostly, since he wasn’t the praying kind. . .”
  •  Aunt Kate says, “Frugality is a virtue. It says so in the Bible.”

Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper

Wallace and Grace are best friends and partners in the Night Owl Detective Agency who work together to solve mysteries. When Monty the chipmunk’s cupcake is stolen, he thinks Sal the groundhog took it. To find the cupcake thief, Wallace and Grace will need to look for clues and talk to witnesses. But what if the clues lead them to a thief they never expected?

Young readers will enjoy seeing all the forest animals gather to solve the mystery of the missing cupcake. As Wallace and Grace investigate, detective terms are explained. For example, Grace tells the red fox, “Culprit is a big word for cupcake thief.”

To make the story accessible to younger readers, most of the paragraphs are one simple sentence. Also, as the two owls talk about the evidence, the clues are written in a large, bold font to help young readers keep track of them. Four short chapters give Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper a fast pace that will keep young readers interested until the end.

Wallace and Grace and the Cupcake Caper is a fun mystery that uses animal characters to teach the importance of not jumping to conclusions. The charming forest animals are illustrated in large, colorful pictures that appear every 1 to 2 pages. Wallace and Grace rely on facts to solve the case and in the end, Monty forgives the cupcake culprit. Young readers who love mysteries should also read The Princess in Black Series by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Wallace, Grace, and their friends “circle around the fox. . . Two owls, a chipmunk, and a groundhog jumped on top of him.” The fox “karate-kicked” Sal the groundhog.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Off the Hook

Investigators Mango and Brash are on the hunt for Crackerdile, who has been turned into a bucket of dough. With the help of the plumber who has been combined with a snake, Crackerdile plans to find the perfect secret lair and recruit more villains. But first, Crackerdile must find a way to change forms because “no one’s going to want to join a team led by a soft pile of mush.”

Before Mango and Brash start their investigation, they are given new V.E.S.T.s. However, once outside the science lab, the new V.E.S.T.s cause problems of their own. For instance, Mango and Brash are mistaken for investment bankers and must attend a board meeting, which is a complete bore.

As Brash and Mango are stuck in the meeting, Crackerdile figures out a way to make himself into Waffledile. Then, Waffledile kidnaps a scientist. With the scientist’s help, Waffledile grows to a huge size. But then Waffledile eats Brash. Is there any way to stop Waffledile? And how can Mango free Brash from Waffledile’s stomach?

Off the Hook is a graphic novel that is laugh-out-loud funny. The combination of human and animal characters blends to create a ridiculous story that uses wordplay to add humor. While readers will enjoy all the wordplay, parents might not like the references to butts.

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 help emphasize the characters’ emotions and important aspects of the story. Another positive aspect is that the human scientists are a diverse group of characters with a wide range of skin tones. The end of the book shows how to draw Waffledile and includes a few riddles.

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.

Off the Hook will appeal to even the most reluctant readers because the plot is more silly than serious. Readers may not understand all of the humor regarding investment bankers, but they will still enjoy the silly antics of Brash and Mango. Parents who want their children to read a graphic novel with a more positive message should add the Hilo Series by Judd Winick to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Crackerdile prods Brash with an electric shocker. Then Crackerdile ties up Brash and drops him off a train. Crackerdile blows up the bridge and the train crashes in a puff of smoke. Later, the reader finds out that this five-page scene was a simulation.
  • The plumber tries to hit Brash and Mango, but instead, he breaks a window. The plumber’s snake arm whacks Mango over the head with a stop sign, “Wham Wham Wham.”
  • Waffledile puts an electrical cord around a huge chicken’s neck. He threatens the scientist’s chicken, “You’re going to make me as big as you! Giddy up! Ha Ha! I feel like a cowboy.”
  • The plumber’s snake arm ties Brash and Mango to a pole.
  • Waffledile grows so big that he destroys a roof. The construction workers begin throwing tools and bricks at Waffledile.
  • Waffledile eats Brash. Mango dumps concrete on Waffledile. Then the plumber crashes into the statue of Waffledile and pulls Brash out of its stomach.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None.

Language

  • There is some humor about butts. For example, as a scientist is flushing Brash and Mango down a toilet, she says, “Hold on to your butts.”
  • After Waffledile eats Brash, Waffledile says, “You can’t dump concrete on me and save your partner. But let me go, and I’ll barf Brash back up! Or you know, he could come out the other way.” A reporter on the scene says, “Inquiring minds want to know. Do waffles have butts?”
  • Darn, drat, dang, and dagnabbit are occasionally used as exclamations.
  • The characters sometimes call other people idiots. For example, Crackerdile says his team’s mission would be “the total annihilation of idiot law-doers!”

Supernatural

  • Crackerdile is “a former-agent-turned-radioactive-saltine-cracker.” In this installment of the series, Crackerdile is a bucket of dough.
  • One of the villains is a “plumber whose arm was combined with a snake, giving him grappling hook powers.”
  • Crackerdile is cooked in a waffle iron. He says, “I, Crackerdile, have been reborn as . . . Waffledile!”
  • Dr. Jack Hardbones is a “news helicopter but also a skilled surgeon.” He can change back and forth from a human to a helicopter.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Charlie Thorne and the Lost City

Charlie Thorne is a genius. Charlie Thorne is a fugitive. Charlie Thorne isn’t even thirteen.

After finding Einstein’s last equation and going incognito, Charlie’s ready to take it easy in the Galapagos Islands. That is until she’s approached by the mysterious Esmerelda Castle, who’s on the hunt for a legendary treasure and has a code only Charlie can decipher.

In 1835, Charles Darwin diverted the HMS Beagle’s journey to go on a secret solo expedition in South America. When he returned to the ship, he carried a treasure that inspired awe and terror in his crew. And so the treasure vanished, never to be seen again. . . but Darwin left a trail of clues behind for those brave and clever enough to search for it once more.

In a daring adventure that takes her across South America, Charlie must crack Darwin’s nearly two-hundred-year-old clues to track down the mysterious discovery—and stay ahead of the formidable lineup of enemies and CIA agents who are hot on her trail.

In an epic Amazonian adventure, Charlie teams up with Milana and Dante as they try to solve the clues and find Darwin’s “treasure.” They must outmaneuver the Castellos siblings who have teamed up with a Russian spy. The groups try to outsmart each other and the bad guys are willing to use any means necessary to find the treasure. The fast-paced action will have readers at the edge of their seats as they try to guess who will betray who.

Even though Charlie and the others are trying to decipher Darwin’s clues, these messages take a back seat to the story’s action. However, readers will gain insight into some of the Amazon’s plight including the loss of habitat. But the real treasure in Charlie Thorne and the Lost City is the introduction to the Amazon’s flora and fauna. Another interesting aspect of the story is when the group finds a creature that would prove that evolution is a fact. While some believe that the creature should be introduced to society, Charlie believes that the only way to keep the creature safe is to keep its existence a secret.

Middle school readers who are ready for a more realistic mystery that has cruel villains will enjoy Charlie Thorne and the Lost City. While most of the action revolves around Charlie being chased, the villains make it clear that they will kill anyone who stands in their way. The story also explores the idea of evolution. Fans of the Theodore Boone Series by John Grisham will enjoy Charlie’s winding trip through the Amazon and her courage to do what is best for the creatures that remain hidden deep within the Amazon’s depths.

Sexual Content

  • Dante took Charlie’s advice and “kissed Milana Moon.”

Violence

  • When a strange man and police appear looking for Charlie, she sets a booby trap so she can escape. “The resulting explosion blew the policeman off his feet, throwing him across the tiny kitchen. The cabinets all burst open spilling glass and plates, which shatter on the floor.” No one is seriously injured, but one policeman’s “eyebrows had been scorched off his face.”
  • While looking for Charlie, Ivan goes to the Darwin research facility to question an employee. When he doesn’t get the answers he wants, Ivan “spun Luis around, wrenching the young man’s arm behind his back so that he cried out in pain.”
  • Charlie attempts to get out of town unnoticed but Ivan gives chase. Ivan “clipped two cars and sent them skidding. More cars crashed into those, and a terrific jam blossomed instantly.”
  • There is a multi-chapter chase where Charlie’s group tries to avoid being killed by Esmerelda and her brothers. By plane, Esmerelda and her brothers follow Charlie into the Amazon. Esmerelda’s “brothers’ bullets only hit the water. Gianni got caught up in the excitement and lobbed a stick of dynamite as well. . . The blast had been close enough that she, Dante, and Milana had been soaked by the plume of water.”
  • Trying to avoid being shot, Dante was “weaving back and forth across the river. . . Milana had her gun out, ready to fire on the approaching plane.” Milana’s bullet “caught the guy on the pontoon in the arm, making him drop the machine gun, which plunked in the river.” During the chase, Milana is hit with “a piece of red-hot shrapnel” but is not injured badly.
  • Charlie swims to a barge and sets a trap. “As Esmerelda approached the barge, Gianni took the remaining submachine gun, stepped out onto the pontoon, and prepared to shoot. . . Charlie ran as fast as she could while the plane closed in on her. Gianni opened fire. Bullets sparked off the metal skins of the oil tank. . . And then the world erupted into flame.”
  • The tanker explodes. Esmerelda’s “plane was directly above the first tanker when it blew apart like an enormous firecracker. The blast tossed the plane like a toy, while a ball of fire and smoke enveloped it. . .” The plane catches fire. “Esmerelda and her brothers leapt from it, their clothes on fire too. Just after they dove into the water, the plane blew up.” Everyone survives, but Esmerelda and her brothers are “badly burned.”
  • Esmerelda and her brothers join Ivan, a Russian spy. Ivan holds Charlie, Milana and Dante at gunpoint. In order to escape, Dante and Milana “targeted the Castellos first. . . Dante and Milana made quick work of them.” Charlie runs.
  • Milana, Dante, and Charlie try to escape the bad guys in a multi-chapter chase. Each group is trying to capture a creature. Someone shoots the creature, who “shrieked in pain and tumbled across the wet ground, then rolled back to its feet and scampered away into the cover of the rain. . .”
  • After someone shoots a creature, its friends attack. “Then the creatures’ assault was quick and well coordinated. And while their weapons were rudimentary, only rocks and sticks, they wielded them with terrifying skill.” The man shoots and hits a creature. “It crumpled into the mud, whimpering in pain.”
  • Charlie helps a creature. “It was bleeding from it’s leg where Oz’s bullet had struck it and was in obvious pain.”
  • Someone shoots Dante. “Dante turned to see who had shot him, but his vision was already going blurry. His mind was clouding. His strength was ebbing.”
  • A snake attacks one of Esmeralda’s brothers. “It moved with startling speed for such a big creature, first sinking its teeth into Gianni’s torso and then coiling around him. . . He was certainly hurting now—and he was terrified.” When Gianni’s brother tries to help, “the snake responded by wrapping its tail end around Paolo as well.”
  • Esmerelda sees her brothers. “The anaconda had already killed them both. Gianni’s body was floating facedown in the creek, while the giant snake was actually consuming Paolo. It had unhinged its jaw and begun the long process of swallowing her brother headfirst.”
  • Ivan and Esmerelda capture Charlie. In order to escape, Charlie throws a bullet ant at them. “Ivan felt the sting first. . . It felt as though every nerve ending in his body had suddenly caught fire. It was so intense that it leveled him. . . Esmerelda went down next. . . She sank to the floor as well, gripped by convulsions.
  • Charlie and Esmerelda fight. “Charlie intercepted her attack, catching Esmerelda’s arms in her hands. She used her fingernails as a weapon like Milana had told her, digging them deep into Esmerelda’s skin. . .” Charlie had put poison on her nails.
  • Esmerelda “lunged for Charlie with the knife. . . [A creature] slammed into Esmerelda, sending her reeling backward into the cockpit. . .” Charlie escaped but Esmerelda and “the helicopter plummeted into the gorge, crashed into the river. . . and exploded in a ball of fire.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in America, Ivan, a Russian spy, helped support the illegal drug trade.
  • While at a lodge, “The adults were drinking beer” and Dante “had brought another beer back to the room from the bar.”
  • Someone shoots Dante and Milana with a tranquilizer dart.
  • After an expedition into the Amazon, Milana and Dante finally make it back to civilization and they both have a beer.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Darwin makes an incredible discovery, but others think it is “an affront to God.”
  • When a group of creatures attack, they chase a man. “He had to get away from the ones that were chasing him and pray that there weren’t others ahead.”

 

The New Year Dragon Dilemma

Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are in San Francisco, home of the biggest Chinatown outside Asia. Their tour guide, Holden, is going to take them to the famous Chinese New Year parade. Best of all, Holden’s girlfriend, Lily, might be Miss Chinatown. She would get to ride a giant float and wear a crown!

During the parade, Miss Chinatown goes missing, and so does the crown. The police think Holden is behind the crime. Can Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose clear their friend’s name by finding the real crook?

While on vacation, Dink, Josh, and Ruth get to see some of San Francisco’s touristy areas. The kids have positive interactions with their tour guide, Holden. While with Holden, the kids listen to him and stay close by his side. Holden allows the children some freedom, but he is never far from sight. When the police accuse Holden of stealing Miss Chinatown’s crown, the kids are convinced that Holden is innocent and they follow the clues to prove that they are right.

As the kids look for clues to prove Holden’s innocence, they follow a man who they think is the culprit. At one point, Dink follows the man into a warehouse. However, Dink’s friends are nearby and come up with a plan to keep Dink safe. While exploring the city, Josh draws in his sketchbook, paying close attention to his surroundings. In the end, Josh’s power of observation helps solve the mystery.

The New Year Dragon Dilemma will delight young readers who are ready to jump into illustrated chapter books. The story’s short chapters and black and white illustrations make the story accessible to readers. Large illustrations appear every 2 to 4 pages. Many of the illustrations are full page and help readers understand the plot. Plus, readers can hunt through the pictures to find a hidden message.

The New Year Dragon Dilemma gives readers a peek into the Chinese New Year celebration. The festive atmosphere is the perfect backdrop for a mystery. Young sleuths will enjoy following the clues and fitting them together to solve the mystery. While young readers will enjoy the adventurous story, parents will appreciate that the curious kids are well mannered. For more mysteries set in San Francisco, readers should check out The San Francisco Splash by David A. Kelly.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Someone steals Miss Chinatown’s crown. She tells the police, “It was a man wearing a dragon mask. He pulled me down on the floor and took off my mask. Then he sprayed something in my face. It was awful, and it hurt my eyes. . . He put the bag over my head.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Josh teasingly calls Ruth, “Nosy Rosy.”
  • Josh asks, “Where the heck are we?”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Scream for Ice Cream

Nancy and her friends think there is nothing more fun than ice cream in the summer. So when they find out that the owners of the local ice-cream factory are hosting a contest, the Clue Crew can’t wait to enter! Contestants must come up with brand-new flavors and they can use whatever ingredients they want! Nancy is sure that her entry—Clue Berry—will win.

But when a friend’s secret recipe goes missing, Nancy suspects that someone not-so-sweet is up to no good. Can Nancy and the Clue Crew find out who took the missing recipe?

Nancy and her friends work hard on creating their ice cream flavors, but that doesn’t stop them from encouraging their classmates to enter the contest as well. Even though the contest is important to the Clue Crew, they are more concerned with Deirdre and Kendra’s friendship. When the two are having friendship trouble, the Clue Crew jumps into action. In the end, Deirdre and Kendra’s friendship drama is resolved and the two remain best friends.

Scream for Ice Cream has enough suspects to keep the story interesting without becoming confusing. Readers will enjoy using their powers of observation to see if they can figure out who stole the ice cream before the big reveal at the story’s end. Most of the time the Clue Crew follows the rules as they search for clues. However, they do wait for an employee to be distracted so they can sneak into the ice cream factory.

The story’s conclusion is surprising, but nicely wraps up all of the story’s drama. Young mystery fans will enjoy the mystery as well as the story’s silly moments. Even though the Clue Crew’s ice cream is ruined three times, the girls don’t complain. Instead, they look forward to making more next year.

Black and white illustrations appear every 2 to 5 pages, which break up the text and help readers visualize the events in the plot. The last page of the book gives directions for making coffee-can ice cream. This modern version of Nancy Drew will be an entertaining summer read. After reading Scream for Ice Cream, readers with a sweet tooth will want some tasty ice cream of their own.

 

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Cassidy’s sister grabs someone else’s ice cream and starts eating it, Cassidy yells, “Drop that spoon now, you little pest.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Dog-Gone Danger

Kelsey and her friends, Becca and Leo, discover a purebred pug puppy in a run-down barn. Did he run away from home, or did someone intentionally abandon him? It’s another case for the Curious Cat Spy Club.

But before they can figure out the pug’s origins, a bigger mystery appears. Kelsey’s mom has disappeared! Kelsey is worried that it has something to do with her mom’s job as an animal control officer. Her dad and siblings think her mom is just taking a break from the family—after all, she has done this before. But Kelsey’s not convinced that her parents’ marital problems are the cause of her mom’s disappearance. With her two friends by her side, Kelsey vows to discover the truth.

Kelsey and her two friends, Leo and Becca, are all likable characters who want to protect animals. The three friends all have different talents, which add interest to the story. For instance, Leo loves to build gadgets, such as a smell-sniffing robot, while Becca is outgoing and can talk to anyone. Major, a retired search and rescue dog, also joins the Curious Cat Spy Club during their mission. Readers will enjoy looking at the clues to solve the mystery as well as the interplay between the characters.

In addition to the mother mystery, Dog-Gone Danger has some parental drama. Kelsey learns that her parents almost got a divorce. Meanwhile, Becca is frustrated because her mom is dating the sheriff. However, Becca uses this relationship to her advantage by using his personal phone number to call him.

One negative aspect of the story is when Kelsey and her friends sneak into several different buildings, trying to investigate her mom’s disappearance. They meet several potential suspects and learn new clues; however, the story downplays the danger of their actions.

Readers will enjoy the mystery, the dog action, and the friendship between the Curious Cat Spy Club. Dog-Gone Danger will appeal to both mystery fans and animal lovers. The best part of the book is the three friends, who help and support each other. In addition, the plot is easy to follow but has enough complexity to appeal to middle school readers.

Sexual Content

  • Kelsey has a crush on Leo. When Leo asks her to a school dance, Kelsey asks him, “When the dance is over, will you want to kiss me good night?” The embarrassed boy says, “Of course not!”

Violence

  • Kelsey’s mother goes to investigate a report of a biting dog. When the four-year-old girl who owns the dog sees Kelsey’s mom, the girl shoots her with a paintball gun.
  • While Kelsey’s mom is investigating a report, the villain grabs her. Kelsey’s mom says, “. . . I heard barking from the garage. When I went to check it out, someone came up behind me and threw a bag over my head. I was lifted up and shoved down into a dark prison.” She is locked in a bomb shelter, which has food and water.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Darn and drat are both used several times.
  • OMG is used as an exclamation six times.
  • The villain calls her sons imbeciles and idiots.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Mystery of the Moon Tower

Kyle is a new kid in town who likes to draw. Vic is a cool cheerleader who’s secretly a math whiz. Quiet Beth is a history buff, while goofball Harry likes performing magic tricks with the help of his patient wingman, Nate. These five kids are unlikely to form a team, for sure.

But then they’re thrown together at summer camp, where they watch a grainy old movie about the history of their town (Windrose) and one of its illustrious citizens of a bygone era: the intrepid explorer-inventor Henry Merriweather. He is the one who established their camp. And what is Merriweather’s Camp Pathfinders’ motto? Plus Ultra: more beyond!

The five kids soon find there is indeed “more beyond” in their pokey town with its weird weather and sudden geysers of smelly air. Deciphering a route of historical markers leads them to Merriweather’s old castle, which is lined with ornate, beautiful tiles in hallways that lead to secret rooms full of odd objects—and where time itself is warped!

Kyle, Vic, Beth, Harry, and Nate witness scenes from Merriweather’s past and realize his experiments and eccentricities are pointing toward a path that could lead to the rumored lost treasure of Windrose. The path takes them on a journey through time, through woods, and finally to the looming Moon tower. Will the kids be able to solve the mystery and find the treasure?

Readers who love Scooby Doo mysteries will love the spooky setting that shows the kids lost in a forest, an old castle, and a moon tower. However, unlike Scooby Doo, The Mystery of the Moon Tower’s plot is disjointed and there are a lot of plot holes. The kids hunt for tiles—many of them are attached to plaques detailing historical information—that will lead them to the treasure. However, the historical information is illegible and the characters do not discuss the information on the plaques. In addition, even though the tiles are important in solving the mystery, the reader is still left wondering why they are significant.

The graphic novels’ illustrations will appeal to many readers. The Windrose castle and the woods have wonderful details and the glowing blue light gives the setting a magical feel. The kids are a diverse group both in looks and personalities. Each page has 1 to 6 sentences of dialogue which appear in quote bubbles. The easy-to-read vocabulary makes the story accessible to even the most reluctant readers. Another positive aspect is that the five kids are all introduced at the beginning of the story, which helps the readers understand some of the character’s comments.

Even though The Mystery of the Moon Tower’s plot is underdeveloped, the story sets up what could potentially be an engaging sequel. In addition, the story may spark readers’ curiosity and have them researching Henry Mercer and the Mercer Museum of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The Mystery of the Moon Tower will entertain mystery fans who like a spooky setting that delves into the past.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When he finds a hidden tile, Kyle says, “What the heck?”

Supernatural

  • The five kids see visions from the past.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

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