Of Mice and Magic

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

 

Once Upon a Frog

Abby and her brother, Jonah, need to talk to Maryrose, the fairy that lives in the magic mirror. For some reason, Jonah has Maryrose’s memory. But when Abby, Jonah, and their dog, Prince, go to talk to Maryrose, they inadvertently get sucked into a fairytale.

When they get to the other side of the mirror, they are in the story of The Frog Prince. Only the princess, who’s supposed to transform the cute little frog back into a handsome prince, turns out to be super rude. Abby and Jonah can’t decide if they want to help her. Can they take matters into their own hands and turn the frog into a prince themselves?

In this fun adventure, Abby and Jonah must climb out of a smelly well, canoe over a waterfall, sneak into the palace and kiss a frog! The two siblings hop into the fairytale determined to change the frog, Frederic, into a human. What could possibly go wrong?

Once Upon a Frog introduces readers to the original version of The Frog Prince, but also gives the story a new spin. The beginning of the book starts with Abby’s experience with a school bully, as well as the not-so-nice princess, Coco. Both experiences—the school bully and the mean princess—teach Abby an important lesson: sometimes a nice person will be mean because he/she is upset. In the end, Abby uses this knowledge to have a conversation with the school bully, which gives her new insight into the reasons he is being mean. While Abby and the bully will never be friends, Abby thinks the bully’s mean days are over.

Abby narrates the story and a lot of the conflict comes through Abby’s thoughts. This allows the reader to understand the brother Grimm’s version of the story. Unfortunately, Once Upon a Frog is repetitive and the winding plot may confuse younger readers. Even though Abby learns a lesson, the message is unclear. The prince, who acted nice, ends up being evil and the princess, who acted mean, ends up being nice. This may leave readers wondering who they should trust.

With a high-interest topic, easy vocabulary, and a smattering of magic, Once Upon a Frog allows younger readers to jump into the fairy tale world. With more than 10 books in the Whatever After Series, readers will be able to find a fairytale that interests them. Maggie and the Wish Fish by E.D. Baker is another fairytale-inspired book that fans of the Whatever After Series will enjoy.

Sexual Content

  • In order to change the frog back into a human, Abby kisses him. The frog’s “nose and lips are pretty much all the same. I pucker my lips and give him a quick peck. . . His skin feels like regular skin that’s just coated in something slimy. Like Vaseline.”

Violence

  • Brandon, a bully at Abby’s school, grabs a book from Abby and then sneezes on it.
  • Brandon steps “on the backs of Penny’s shoes.” Penny yells at him, “You’re such a pain!”
  • In order to turn Fredric, the frog, back into a human, he is repeatedly thrown against a tree and different walls. The first time, “Jonah throws and Frederic flies in an arc across the sky. . . Frederic screams. His arms and legs are spread-eagle and pointed in all directions and he’s headed right toward the tree.” None of the attempts are successful in changing the frog.
  • When Fredric turns into a human, he takes Coco’s tiaras and tries to leave. Abby’s dog, Prince, “starts barking like crazy and snapping at Frederic’s leg. Without even blinking, Frederic conks Prince on the head with a candlestick.”
  • When Abby tries to stop Fredric from fleeing, “Frederic throws a tiara at my [Abby’s] head and I duck. . . He keeps throwing tiaras at me, and one scrapes across my arm. Ouch.”
  • Fredric tries to kidnap Abby. To avoid him, Abby jumps into a well. Eventually, Abby agrees to go with Fredric.
  • Fredric is caught and taken to the dungeon. In the process, “the soldiers grab Frederic and handcuff him.”
  • In the end, Abby discovers that Fredric, “tried to kill his sister to get the throne!”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • One of Abby’s classmates, Brandon, is a bully. At recess, Brandon goes around bothering the other kids. He calls Abby, “Crabby Abby.” Then he goes around calling other kids names such as stupid and four-eyes.
  • There is some name-calling such as jerk and dumbest of the dumb.
  • Fredric throws a tantrum and yells, “Maryrose is a fairy. And you, little boy, are a liar. A big fat liar! A big fat, lying freak!”
  • Fredric calls Maryrose a “horrible big-chinned fairy freak!”
  • After being thrown against a wall, Fredric yells, “I’m still a stupid frog.”

Supernatural

  • In a previous book, something happened and now Jonah has Maryrose’s memories. “Jonah remembers useless information. Like how Maryrose’s cousin got sick.”
  • Abby and Jonah have a “magic mirror in our basement. When we knock on it three times at midnight, it pulls us inside and whisks us into a fairy tale.” Maryrose is a fairy who’s “trapped inside our mirror. She’s the one who takes me and Jonah into different fairy tales.”
  • A frog tells Abby that he “can talk because I’m actually human—Well, I’m a human trapped inside the body of a frog. . . My own sister, Sophie, who wants the throne for herself, paid the evil fairy to do this to me.”
  • In order to get home, Abby and Jonah must find the ever-changing portal. The portal is a mural painted on the castle wall. “I knock once on the mural. Twice. Three times. The braided rainbow on the wall starts to swirl. . . We step through.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Cinder

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Not Quite Snow White

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted nothing more than to play Snow White in her school’s musical.

Excited, Tameika dances and sings her way through the halls. But on the day of auditions, she overhears some kids suggesting that she is not princess material. Tameika suddenly doesn’t feel quite right enough to play a perfectly poised princess.

Will Tameika let this be her final curtain call?

Readers will instantly connect with Tameika, who loves all types of dance including “a hip-rolling happy dance. . . A stomping mad dance. And a hair-flicking just-because-she-felt-fabulous dance.” At first, Tameika feels confident, until she overhears her peers talking about her. The other kids make comments like, “She can’t be Snow White. She’s too tall! She’s much too chubby. And she’s too brown.” Hearing these words makes Tameika feel self-conscious and doubt her ability.

Not Quite Snow White shows how Tameika’s peers’ whispered words affect her. Tameika’s mother encourages her by saying, “You are tall enough, chubby enough, and brown enough to be a perfect princess.” Parents may want to use Not Quite Snow White as a discussion starter. They could talk about Tameika’s facial expressions and how it feels to be the subject of mean words.

Tameika’s love of dance and music comes to life in adorably cute illustrations that use bright colors.  Some of the illustrations focus on Tameika and her family, who are African American. At school, the children and teachers have a variety of skin tones. Each page has 1 to 4 sentences. Even though the vocabulary isn’t difficult, young readers will need an adult to read Not Quite Snow White to them.

Not Quite Snow White will engage young readers while it teaches the importance of loving yourself. Any child who loves Disney will relate to Tameika, who does not look like the stereotypical Disney princess. Despite what others say, Tamika realizes she can still be a “perfectly poised princess.” Not Quite Snow White reinforces the idea that “you’re just enough of all the right stuff.” Not Quite Snow White may become one of your child’s favorite books not only because of the fun illustrations but also because of the feel-good message.

Parents and teachers who would like to read more books that build a child’s self-confidence should add I Am Enough by Grace Byers and Angus All Aglow by Heather Smith to their must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Beautiful Pretender

The Margrave of Thornbeck, Reinhart, must find a bride– and fast. He invites ten noble born ladies who meet the king’s approval to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks. He’ll use the time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina has only two instructions: keep her true identity a secret and make sure the margrave doesn’t select her as his bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.

Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences.

Like a Hallmark movie, The Beautiful Pretender follows the typical love story plotline. Even though the plotline is predictable, readers will enjoy stepping back into a time when women’s roles were based on their birth. Avelina, a servant in disguise, is a likable character who is learning to express her opinions. Avelina willingly goes into danger to protect others and her courage is an admirable trait. The story has a typical happily-ever-after ending that will leave readers with a warm glow.

Sexual Content

  • Reinhart’s parents “hated each other. . . both of them had lovers.”
  • One of the ladies visiting Reinhart was betrothed to a man who “was given to violent tirades and had impregnated two of his house servants.”
  • Dorothea had a “tryst” with one of her father’s knights. Rumors were that Dorothea was with child.
  • Reinhart talks about his brother who had a servant as a “lover.”
  • Avelina’s maidservant falls in love with another servant. Avelina “wanted to warn Irma that the manservant would break her heart when they had to leave, but she couldn’t imagine Irma would be eager to hear any advice from her.”
  • Reinhart and Avelina hide in a small space behind a bookcase. As they talk, Reinhart thinks, “How good it would feel to turn her face toward him and kiss her.” However, he does not.
  • While Reinhart and Avelina are hiding, she becomes cold and thinks about asking for Reinhart to embrace her. However, she doesn’t because, “Doing such a thing would be an invitation to Lord Reinhart to make her his mistress, and she would never do that.”
  • When Reinhart shows concern for Avelina, “her heart was thumping in a late reaction to wishing she could stand on her tiptoes and kiss him on the lips.”
  • Avelina is dressing Reinhart’s wounds. “She should avert her eyes and not admire his magnificent, broad, powerful-looking chest, and focus only on his shoulder injury.”
  • Before Reinhart surrenders to the enemy, “he took her [Avelina’s] face in his hands, caressing her silken skin with his thumbs. . . He bent and pressed his mouth to hers. He kissed her softly at first, making sure she did not want to pull away. . . Kissing her was achingly sweet.”
  • While locked in the dungeon with Reinhart, Avelina “leaned forward to kiss his cheek, but he turned his head at the last moment and she captured his lips in an intense but brief kiss.”
  • When Avelina agrees to marry Reinhart, “he pressed his lips against hers and kissed her long and thoroughly, not holding anything back.”

Violence

  • Reinhart’s brother, his brother’s lover, and their unborn child die in a fire.
  • One of the ladies ask Avelina to go to the balcony. The lady weakens the balcony railing and Avelina falls. “She flailed out both hands and grabbed the part of the railing still attached to the balcony. . . She clung to the railing with all her strength, her hands gripping the broken railing.” The lady leaves Avelina alone. However, Thornbeck hears screams and saves Avelina.”
  • Avelina and her servant, Irma, leave Thornbeck’s castle during a storm. Once they are away from the castle, “Irma reached out and snatched Avelina’s fur robe off. Then she lifted her leg and kicked Avelina in her side. . . She hit the ground almost before she knew what was happening.” Irma frightens Avelina’s horse, so the horse runs off. Irma leaves Avelina to die.
  • While in the forest, alone, wolves attack Avelina. A wolf “sprang at her, its eyes locked on her neck. She let go of the stick and lifted her arm, crouching at the last moment. The wolf sailed by her shoulder, but its claws raked her forearm as he passed.” Another wolf “sank its teeth into her ankle.”
  • Reinhart hears Avelina’s screams and rushes to help. “He unsheathed his sword and leapt off his horse. The wolf lunged at her throat and Reinhart brought the sword down on its head, knocking it to the ground. . . another wolf caught his sword arm in its teeth. He switched his sword to his left hand and slashed the blade across the wolf’s belly and slung it to the ground.” Both Reinhart and Avelina are injured.
  • A servant, confesses that she killed two lovers and their unborn child because “the duke told me to do it.” Gerhaws says, “I hid in their room, and when they went to sleep, I set their bed curtains on fire.”
  • Gerhaws falls to her death. Her death is not described.
  • While locked in the dungeon, Geitbart mocks Reinhart. “Reinhart lunged at Geitbart. His fist found its mark as it crunched into Geitbart’s nose.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Avelina’s servant, Irma, often appears drunk. One time, Avelina goes to wake up Irma, and “the scent of strong drink assaulted Avelina’s nose.”
  • Reinhart’s brother was drunk the night he died.
  • One of the servants drinks. Someone says, “It is well known that this Gerhaws drinks herself into a stupor in the evenings.” When Avelina sees Gerhaws, the servant “took a small flask out of a pocket in her apron and brought it to her lips.”
  • When Reinhart is in the dungeon, Avelina takes a flask of wine to him.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The older women in Avelina’s community say, “If you dreamed something three times it was bound to come true.”

Spiritual Content

  • Avelina prays to God frequently. The prayers praise God as well as request something from God. For example, when Thornbeck questions Avelina, who is pretending to be Lady Dorothea, Avelina prays, “God in heaven, I am only a maidservant! What am I saying?”
  • Avelina wonders, “What did it matter if one worshipped at a gold altar or a wooden one, so long as one’s heart and mind were focused on God?”
  • During a dinner, Reinhart welcomes the ladies who are present. He says, “I pray you all enjoy yourselves while you are here, and God will show me which worthy lady among you should be my bride.”
  • Reinhart and the women attend church. During service, there is “a brief homily from the priest on the importance of showing kindness as Jesus did. . .”
  • Gerhaws confesses that she killed Reinhart’s brother. Gerhaws says, “I thought if my lord told me to do it, God would not hold me responsible for it. . . The priest told me it was a sin to disobey my lord, so I did it. I killed the margrave.”
  • Avelina believes, “She [is] a human being, created by God to do good works.”
  • While hiding from soldiers with Reinhart, Avelina prays: “I know that You do not always do everything we ask, so I plead with You to save us. Save us precisely because it is impossible, and because You are god.” The prayer goes on for a paragraph.
  • When Reinhart believes he is going to die, he prays: “Dear Jesus and Lord God, forgive my sins and receive my spirit.” He goes on and asks for Avelina’s protection. He says, “She does not deserve to be punished anymore. . . Don’t let her be mistreated. . . by anyone.”

The Thirteenth Fairy

In the quiet and uneventful town of North Pasadena, California, Filomena Jefferson-Cho finds adventure with her favorite book series, Never After, where magic and fairy tale characters exist. On her way to purchase the thirteenth and final book of the Never After series, Filomena discovers strange things have been happening.

First, the author of the series has mysteriously disappeared. Second, Filomena is being followed by a strange boy dressed as Jack Stalker, the main hero of the Never After books. Deciding the boy is just a Never After fan and not a potential murderer or kidnapper, Filomena turns to greet him but is interrupted by the sudden crash of a thunderbolt and the shrieking sound of an ogress. As she flees from danger, Filomena realizes the boy following her is in fact the real Jack Stalker and, Never After, a world full of famous fairy tale characters, is real.

Filomena inadvertently follows Jack and his best friend, Alistair Bartholomew Barnaby, to Never After where she finds the kingdom in a state of distress after the thirteenth fairy, Carabosse, stole Princess Eliana. As a result of Carabosse’s disappearance, the evil ogre queen, Olga has taken over the land.

In her first visit to Never After, Filomena fights ogres and meets the fairy, Zera, who sees a strange resemblance between Filomena and her sister, Carabosse. Zera reveals that Filomena possesses the fairy mark which shines brightly as a crescent moon on Filomena’s forehead. Confused, Filomena rejects her fairy mark and leaves Never After. Although she always wondered about her biological parents, Filomena is reluctant to accept that she is from Never After. However, upon her return to North Pasadena, Filomena finds her Never After books have changed and Filomena returns to Never After to help her friends, even if it means leaving behind the safety of North Pasadena and acknowledging her true identity.

This novel is an exciting book for young, middle-grade readers because it combines fairy tales and reality and mixes familiar characters with new stories. The book follows Filomena’s story, but short prologues are scattered in between chapters to provide context to the history of Never After.

Traveling to and from the magical and mortal world, Filomena and other recognizable fairy tale characters fight trolls, outsmart dragons, ride motorcycles with wolves, and perform spells in their quest to stop the ogres and save Never After.  The Thirteenth Fairy is a fast-paced story full of adventure and inspiring characters. Throughout the book, Filomena learns the importance of friendship, family, and believing in yourself. Before her adventures in Never After, Filomena was unsure of herself and where she belonged. Although she is loved by her adoptive parents, she is an outcast at school, and she is losing faith in herself. However, with help from her new friends, Filomena discovers her inner courage and strength. Filomena learns that you can achieve anything as long you believe in yourself and trust the friends and family who have your back.

Sexual Content

  • Filomena’s mom is a contemporary romance writer, and Filomena is informed by school bullies that “page 157 of Mum’s latest book is exceptionally saucy.”

Violence

  • Filomena says hello to a boy she assumes is a fellow Never After fan, but instead, “the boy suddenly pushes her to the ground” to shield her from the Ogre’s Wrath.
  • Filomena and a strange boy are being attacked by thunderbolts. “More thunderbolts strike the ground around them, but they duck and weave, luckily avoiding being hit.”
  • A group of school bullies grabs Filomena’s backpack and “another grabs at her hair as she tries to regain her footing, knocking her off-balance yet again and yanking her backward.” Filomena “flinches, reaching for her hair.” She is upset, but not badly hurt.
  • Jack tells his friends that his “whole family was killed. I’m the only one left. I saw my brother burning in front of me when the ogres attacked our village.”
  • Filomena remembers ogres “like to roast their victims before eating them.”
  • Filomena, Zera, Jack, and Alistair engage in a battle against the ogres. The four friends watch as “ogres roar as they set cottages on fire, and when the inhabitants run out, they stomp on them.” Eventually, Zera “stabs the ogre general right in the heart.” Most of the ogres retreat, but Alistair “is in the grips of an ogre’s giant fist.” After Alistair has been saved, he claims he hurts “everywhere and after,” but he is alive.
  • In a vision, Princess Eliana is attacked by Olga the ogre queen. There is “blood on the wall. Blood on the floor. Then at last—an ogre fully satisfied.”
  • Filomena and her friends encounter the school bullies who reveal themselves to be trolls. The friends try to outrun the trolls until they are forced to fight. Jack uses his magic vines to trap the trolls, “but the trolls unleash their own weapons — garden shears! —and begin to hack at the vines. Jack falls to his knees, his vines dripping blood.” Then, “a few of the trolls focus their attention on the new combatants, and one of them slashes at Gretel [a Never After friend]’s sweater.” Jack continues to fight the trolls with his vines until they are “choked unconscious.” None of the friends are seriously injured, but a few of the trolls escape and kidnap Alistair.
  • Filomena encounters a hungry ogre in the woods. The ogre “moves first, reaching to stab the fork into Filomena’s stomach.” However, with Filomena’s dragonhide armor, “the fork can’t penetrate her.” While the ogre is confused, Filomena “stabs the ogre with the Dragon’s Tooth, hard and fast in the thigh” and the wolves of the forest chase the ogre away.
  • After the ogre queen is defeated “they discovered that King Vladimir had been killed, his corpse rotting in the middle of the ballroom, where he had tried to kill Olga and save his daughter.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a feast with the Vineland villagers, Zera “raises her goblet of wine and taps the table with her open palms three times, signaling for silence.”
  • When Olga poisoned Queen Rosanna, “the poison spread slowly at first. Rosanna’s flesh flushed, reddening and heating until all her veins burst.” Olga killed Queen Rosanna.

Language

  • Filomena refers to the mean girls at her school as the “troll army.”
  • Posy, a bully, tells Filomena, “For a smart kid you’re pretty stupid.”
  • Posy tells Filomena to “stay away from us, ”
  • After Jack completes the Test of Wills, Alistair declares it was “badass.”

Supernatural

  • Never After is a land of magical creatures from fairies and “towering dragons, their armored scales glittering gold and green, to warty goblins and rambunctious dwarves.”
  • Carabosse is “the thirteenth and most powerful fairy in all of Never After.”
  • A thunderbolt strikes near Filomena, and she wonders, “did I imagine it, or were we just hit with an Ogre’s Wrath?!”
  • Filomena performs a fairy spell to make the lightning stop. She chants, “Ogre, ogre, cloaked in clover, I cease your wrath, three times over!”
  • Filomena discovers the Heart Tree, which is “the portal that connects all lands of Never After to each other.”
  • Frustrated with her peers, Filomena shouts out a spell to make time stop and to her surprise, “everyone is frozen.”
  • Jack has powers that allow him to grow vines and speak to trees.
  • Jack and Alistair explain that, being from timeless fairytales, they are technically immortal. He says, “We never grow old, but we can perish.”
  • Jack contains a Seeing Eye telescope that helps him locate magical items.
  • Desperate for an escape, Filomena “grabs the Pied Pipe from [Jack’s] hands and lifts it to her lips. Without thinking, she plays the first tune that comes to mind: the theme from the movies based on the Never After books, of course. Sure enough, it unlocks the Heart Tree.”
  • Jack reminds Alistair that “Filomena can’t see Zera’s cottage [because] it has the glamour around it.”
  • Filomena performs a spell that makes ogre bones turn to mush; “Ogre be feeble! Ogre be thick! Ogre be sluggish! Ogre be sick! Ogre droop under this limbless kiss, until every bit of you is mush and twist!” Then, the ogre’s “flesh goes formless…what was once nimble becomes numb, the skin sagging into a gloppy substance.” The ogre is presumably dead.
  • Zera recites a spell whispering, “the thirteenth fairy is missing, my sister is she. The thirteenth fairy is hiding, won’t you show her to me?” Then, Filomena sees “on her forehead, underneath the skin, is a luminescent mark: a tiny crescent moon surrounded by thirteen tiny stars.”
  • Filomena notices her favorite book series has magically changed the second time she reads it. “The first book is the story of Jack the Giant Stalker. But somehow, as she rereads it, it’s not.”
  • Magic and magical objects are used all throughout the book. For example, “Filomena stares in disbelief at the Arabian rug floating in the sky.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Elena Brown

Ravenous 

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jemima Cooke

Arthur’s Tractor: A Fairy Tale with Mechanical Parts

One day, Arthur is out plowing the green fields into brown with a mighty tractor. Does he notice that a fair maiden is running for her life right behind him? Not a chance. Does he notice the dragon? Or the knight?

The only thing he does notice is his “broken” tractor! Little does Arthur realize that he is heading for a fairy tale ending himself. With action and details to discover on every page, this picture book will captivate every knight and princess in your kingdom . . . or backyard!

Arthur’s Tractor is the perfect book to read aloud because it’s full of funny dialogue and onomatopoeia. For example, while the princess is under attack, she makes many different sounds such as “EEEK!” Arthur thinks that his tractor is to blame for the odd sounds, and he’s determined to make his tractor as good as new. At one point, Arthur wonders, “Well, bless my blisters, whatever can that THUD THUD THUD be?”

While Arthur inspects his tractor, a battle is going on right behind him. Behind the green and brown fields that Arthur is plowing, there is a princess in pink, a brave knight, and a huge dragon. Plus, several animals, including a frog and a squirrel, are fighting over a golden egg. Readers will love looking at the detailed illustrations that are packed full of action.

In the end, the princess proves that girls can love tractors as much as anyone. After helping Arthur fix the tractor, the princess says, “Now pass me that can, and I’ll oil that coil bolt brandisher before the dang things bangles free.” Each page of the picture book has 1 to 6 sentences. Because of the colloquial language, and complex sentences, young readers will need an adult to read the story to them.

Arthur’s Tractor will appeal to anyone who loves tractors and fairytales. Young readers will laugh at the silly antics of the fairytale characters and enjoy the unique conclusion that shows the princess driving the tractor as “they all lived happily ever after.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Dang” is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Hunted

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. After all, her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering its secrets.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters out of their comfortable home among the aristocracy and back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronesses– or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman.

But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. The Beast.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange creature back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of magical creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin, or salvation.

Fans of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast will love Hunted which takes place in medieval Russia and follows the original Slavic fairytale. Spooner expertly weaves parts of the original folklore while taking an in-depth look at Yeva, who often feels discontent. When Yeva’s father dies and the Beast takes her captive, Yeva’s thoughts often revolve around killing the Beast. Instead of being portrayed as perfect, Yeva’s emotions are more complicated because she feels both hatred and compassion toward the Beast. She is also admirable because, no matter how dire the situation, she never feigns comfort or lies to herself about her circumstances.

Unlike Spooner’s book Sherwood, Hunted has a much slower pace because Yeva spends much of her time alone hunting. Also, when the Beast holds Yeva prisoner in the dungeon, she is alone most of the time. Since much of the conflict comes from Yeva’s inner thoughts, there are few moments that are truly action-packed. Despite this, Hunted is an engaging story that looks at one’s deepest desires. Through Yeva’s experiences, the reader will come to understand that most people have more than one nature and they can take several paths that will lead to happiness.

Hunted will delight readers who like to explore a character’s thoughts and feelings. Even though the story focuses on Yeva, Beast’s emotions are also explored through letters that he’s written. While at the Beast’s castle, Yeva and Beast are alone, which limit’s the story’s perspective. Despite this, Hunted will transport you into a magical world full of danger. Readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings should also read the Once Upon a Con Series by Ashley Poston.

Sexual Content

  • Yeva agrees to marry Solmir. “Solmir freed one hand from Yeva’s grasp and lifted it to take hold of her chin in his fingers. He leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers, the briefest of touches before he pulled away.”
  • After Yeva returns home, she is not invited back into society because “no one quite knew what to make of her, whether she had spent the winter with an unmarried man under a curse or if she’d spent it in the bed of a wicked monster.”
  • When the Beast turns back into his human form, Yeva kisses him.

Violence

  • Yeva’s father invested in a caravan of goods. He gets word that all the men were killed. “Barbarian swords in their guts, heads piled in the wagon and burned. All the goods stolen or destroyed.”
  • Yeva finds her father’s body in the woods. “She uncovered his bow, then a few feet farther she found his pack, the leather torn and the contents strewn about beneath the snow.” She believes the Beast killed her father.
  • When Yeva sees a wolf in the woods, “she swung her father’s bow around and drew it in one smooth movement. The arrow flew straight and true. There was a bone-shaking roar of fury and pain that threw her to the ground with its intensity, and then the shadowy giant bounded off through the wood.”
  • The Beast pretends to be injured, and Yeva prepares to kill him. “The Beast lunged at her, knocking the ax aside with a blow that numbed her from the shoulder down, arm falling uselessly to her side. . . The impact of the Beast’s body hitting hers sent her head snapping forward out of its concealing hood, as it lifted her from her foot.” Yeva is knocked unconscious and taken captive. She wakes up “chained underground with broken ribs and no light.”
  • Yeva tells a story about a young man, Ivan, who had jealous brothers. “They killed Ivan in his sleep and cut his body into pieces.” Later, a wolf “ate his treacherous brothers whole.”
  • Unknowingly the Beast has been kindly caring for Yeva. But when Yeva tries to see the Beast’s face, “something huge flung itself at her, knocking her back onto the ground. Her head struck hard enough to stun her, despite the carpet to cushion it.” When Yeva discovers her helper is the Beast, “Yeva’s hand closed around the knife, and with a scream she brought her arm up in an arc, sinking the knife to its hilt in the Beast’s shoulder.” The Beast is injured, but not critically.
  • Yeva’s dog Doe-Eyes attacks the Beast. The Beast “gave his great body a shake that dislodged the dog and sent her flying. Yeva’s heart shriveled, then snapped as Doe-Eyes collided with a tree and dropped into a heap in the snow, unmoving.”
  • Yeva sneaks into the Beast’s bedroom one night to kill him. “The knife stabbed deep into this throat and hit bone, and Yeva gasped aloud as she jerked the knife sideways, trying to slice. . . There was blood everywhere, blood on the rug and blood spattering the wardrobe. . . A final breath. And then he was still.”
  • A woman who married young discovered that “her husband wasn’t a good man. He hit her when she didn’t do everything exactly to his liking. . . He always hit where it wouldn’t show, until one day he lost his temper and blackened her eye.” The woman stayed with her husband because he made her feel “so special, so loved.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Yeva uses willow bark as a pain reliever.

Language

  • “By God” and “good love” are both used as an exclamation once.
  • When Yeva returns home, she tries to break her engagement with Solmir. He yells, “If you think I give a damn—sorry—about the silly rumors people whisper in the streets, you must not think very highly of me.”

Supernatural

  • The Beast takes Yeva to a magical wood where she meets Lamya, who is both a woman and a dragon. She also “discovered tress that had faces, voices, peeping at her one instant and gone the next.”
  • Yeva meets a fox named Borovoi, who will only answer three of her questions. Borovoi leads her to a frozen pond. When Yeva falls into the pond, she sees “a rotting face loomed out of the blackness at her, boney arms pulling her close.” Yeva almost drowns but is able to pull herself out of the pond. Later, Yeva learns that the pond “belongs to one of the Rusalk, a girl killed long ago by a lover or father or brother. She appears to men as their heart’s desire to lure them to their deaths.”
  • After Yeva kills the Beast, she is surprised when “the Beast’s gaping throat knit itself together neatly, as though she was watching a seam ripping in reverse. His lungs filled with one great, wet, rattling breath, and he coughed more blood onto the rug.” Yeva discovers that the curse will not allow the Beast to die.

Spiritual Content

  • Yeva doesn’t want to tell her sisters the truth about a man’s interest in her. Yeva “prayed they wouldn’t ask her again what she knew, for she couldn’t lie to them.”
  • When Yeva readies herself to leave, she gets Solmir to promise to take care of her sisters. She prayed “he didn’t change his mind.”

The Golden Braid

The one who needs rescuing isn’t always the one in the tower.

Rapunzel can throw a knife better than any man. She paints beautiful flowering vines on the walls of her plaster houses. She sings so sweetly she can coax even a beast to sleep. But there are two things she is afraid her mother might never allow her to do: learn to read and marry.

Fiercely devoted to Rapunzel, her mother is suspicious of every man who so much as looks at her daughter and warns her that no man can be trusted. After a young village farmer asks for Rapunzel’s hand in marriage, Mother decides to move them once again—this time, to the large city of Hagenheim.

The journey proves treacherous, and after being rescued by a knight—Sir Gerek—Rapunzel, in turn, rescues him further down the road. As a result, Sir Gerek agrees to repay his debt to Rapunzel by teaching her to read. Could there be more to this knight than his arrogance and desire to marry for riches and position?

As Rapunzel acclimates to a new city, she uncovers a mystery that will forever change her life. In this Rapunzel story unlike any other, a world of secrets and treachery is about to be revealed after seventeen years of lies. How will Rapunzel finally take control of her own destiny? And who will prove faithful to a lowly peasant girl with no one to turn to?

Other than Rapunzel’s name and long hair, the story’s heroine doesn’t have any of the magical elements of the Rapunzel fairytale. While the beauty of Rapunzel’s hair is discussed throughout the entire book, her hair has no real significance. Gothel has made Rapunzel keep her hair covered because it will attract men, and Gothel has also taught Rapunzel to distrust all men. When Rapunzel meets Gerek, a knight, she thinks, “He was also handsome. But her mother had taught her not to regard fairness of face, especially in men. It was a tool they used to manipulate weak-willed women into giving them what they want.”

Predictably, Rapunzel falls in love with Gerek, the first knight that she meets. When Rapunzel admits that she loves Gerek, a friend tells her about a tragic event and then says, “Only God could heal our pain. . . That is when I began to understand that he [her husband] was only a man—a very good man who loved me, but a man nevertheless. He was not God. So I stopped trying to make him the god of my life, expecting him to bring me healing, and started expecting perfect love and satisfaction from God alone.”

Readers who enjoy Christian Fiction will find the many references to God and the Bible heartening. However, the plot has few exciting moments and instead is a gentle love story. While Rapunzel is a sweet and caring protagonist, she is not necessarily unique or memorable. If you’re looking for an easy-to-read romance, The Golden Braid, will take you into the time of Knights and chivalry. If you love fairytale retellings the Once Upon a Con Series by Ashley Poston may be a better choice.

Sexual Content

  • Rapunzel’s mother always makes her cover her hair. Mother says showing her hair is “indecent… If you go around letting men see your head uncovered, your hair on display, you will see what it will get you. A broken heart and an illegitimate child.”
  • When Mother was young, she fell in love with a man. She explains, “I believed he loved me. But it was all a lie. He got me with child, and then I never saw him again.”
  • A girl suggests that Rapunzel should wear something revealing to attract Gerek’s attention. She says, “He doesn’t have to marry you. If you have his baby and he claims it, you get money out of him, or a nice house, or a position in the church for your child, if it turns out to be a son.”
  • Rapunzel discovers that her mother is “the illegitimate child of Duke Wilhelm’s father.”
  • When Lord Claybrook’s men take over the castle, Rapunzel wonders, “Would Claybrook force Margaretha to say vows and then force himself on her? If he wanted to hurt her, that would be a good way to do it.”
  • While traveling together, Gerek and Rapunzel share a horse. Rapunzel wonders, “His hair was so dark and thick. What would it feel like to touch it? He seemed to be staring at her lips. Was he imagining what it would feel like to kiss her? Because she was.”
  • Gerek wonders what it would feel like to kiss Rapunzel. “What would she do if he put his hands on either side of her face and kissed her lips? Probably slap him.”
  • Gerek professes his love to Rapunzel and then, “He leaned down and hovered, his breath on her temple. Then he pressed his lips to her check.” They kiss several times.

Violence

  • While traveling, two men attack Rapunzel and her mother. “The scarred man clamped his hand over Mother’s face.” Another man “grabbed [Rapunzel’s] face, his fingers biting into her cheek, smothering her screams. . . She had to get free, had to help her mother. She yanked a hand up and slammed her fist into the grinning man’s throat. Next she brought her knee up and struck him between the legs.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • Gerek, a knight, comes to Rapunzel and her mother’s rescue. The attackers saw his “drawn sword and they halted. One man turned and ran left, the other right.” Gerek is able to apprehend one of the men. The scene is described over two pages.
  • While traveling with the prisoner, Gerek’s saddle breaks and his horse falls on him. Gerek is trapped and has a broken ankle. “He twisted around to see the prisoner pull Gerek’s long knife out of his saddlebag. . . The prisoner hovered over Gerek with that strange, angry smile. He raised the dagger, aiming for Gerek’s throat. Something flew past, above Gerek’s head. The hilt of a knife was sticking out of the prisoner’s upper arm.” Rapunzel saved Gerek’s life.
  • Rapunzel kills a chicken for dinner. “She held it as far away from her body as possible, then squeezed as hard as she could and slung the chicken’s body around and around by its neck while counting to ten, breaking the neck and strangling it at the same time.” She chops off the chicken’s head and lets the blood flow onto the ground.” The death is described over a page.
  • While walking to the monastery, the man who attacked her on the road follows her. “The man grabbed her hair and jerked so hard, her feet left the ground and she landed on her back. . . He struggled to get something off his hip, then held up a knife—her knife.” Gerek hears Rapunzel’s screams and comes to her rescue. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Gerek’s father killed his wife and then himself. After an argument, Gerek’s father “hit her, then pushed her down the stairs. She was dead, her neck broken, by the time she reached the bottom.”
  • Gerek is afraid that he will be like his father. “He had a terrible temper. When he was angry, he would hit anyone who got in his way. He killed his favorite hunting dog just because the dog let a fox get away. He beat me, he beat the servants, he beat his wife. And I am his son.”
  • Enemy forces take over the castle. Gerek sees “Two of the men drag the guard’s limp body to a nearby shed. They soon emerged. . .”
  • Rapunzel sees two of the enemy guards walking with one of Duke Wilhelm’s guard, who had a bloody face.
  • A man named Balthasar attacks Rapunzel. “He lunged at her and closed his hands around her throat. Rapunzel raised the knife and sliced across both his forearms.” She locks herself in the linen room. Later, Balthasar threatens Rapunzel with a knife. “He lurched toward her, but she threw herself on the ground and closed her hand over the object, which was indeed the other knife. She brought the blade up as she twisted her body around to face him—just as he threw his body on top of her.” Balthasar dies.
  • Gerek attacks the enemies’ guards. “Gerek roared his battle cry and ran at them. He struck the first one with all of his strength, bringing his sword down and knocking the man’s sword to the ground.” Duke Wilhelm’s guards manage to regain control of the castle.
  • When Gerek finds Rapunzel locked in a tower, he tries to free her. “Gothel lunged at him with the long knife blade. Gerek swung his sword. His blade connected with hers and knocked her knife to the ground. . . Then he grabbed Gothel by the arms and pulled her hands behind her back.”
  • After Gerek restrains Gothel, she tells him, “I stabbed Reginald through the heart, and I’ll do the same to you.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • After being attacked, Gerek gives Rapunzel some red wine. “She took it, and the sharp scent of the red wine filled her nose. . .The taste lingered on her tongue and wasn’t as pleasant as she thought it would be—it was rather like drinking vinegar.”
  • Duke Wilhelm’s servants put poisonous berries in the wine that is served to Lord Claybrook and his men. They become ill, but no one dies.
  • Rapunzel’s mother, Gothel, gives her a sleeping potion and then ties her to a cart. When Rapunzel tries to escape “pain suddenly crashed through the back of her head as if something hit her. Then everything went black.” Rapunzel wakes up locked in a tower with no door.

Language

  • “Oh, heavenly saints” is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Rapunzel often prays to God and thinks about God’s words. For example, when Rapunzel and her mother are attacked, Rapunzel prays, “O Father God, send your angels. Send your archangel with his flaming sword.” When a knight rides up on a horse, Rapunzel thinks he was sent by God.
  • Gerek is left at a monastery. Rapunzel leaves without saying goodbye. A monk tells Gerek, “God will repay her for saving your life.”
  • While recovering from his injuries, Gerek wonders, “Why would God give him a new arm and leg, or even miraculously heal his old ones? They would likely be healed on their own in six weeks. . . Besides, God probably wanted to teach him patience.”
  • A monk asks Gerek to teach Rapunzel to read. Gerek says, “I do not wish to succumb to temptation any more than you do. I have taken a vow of chastity as well, a vow to never know a woman before marriage, and I have promised myself that I will never marry a peasant girl.” Despite his protest, Gerek teaches Rapunzel.
  • Gerek plans to teach Rapunzel to read by using the Bible. She is concerned because “a priest once told me that people who have not said their vows or been consecrated to God should not interpret the Bible for themselves.” Many of the passages that Rapunzel reads appear in the book.
  • Rapunzel memorized the verse, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
  • The Bible teaches Rapunzel that “God was like a loving father. She never had a father, and she’d never thought of God like this. All her life she had heard God described in many terms—holy, almighty, righteous, even vengeful.” Rapunzel contemplates the verse over a page.
  • Gerek is a Christian and he thinks about his “Christian duty. Jesus had given his life for others, and a knight must do the same, and nothing was nobler than saving a young woman.”
  • After Gerek prays, a verse comes into his mind. “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your path straight.”
  • After Rapunzel disappears, Gerek attempts to find her. Unsure where to look, Gerek goes to a church to pray. “When Gerek looked up, the crucifix was glowing.” Then he hears God’s voice. “Take the north road toward Thornbeck and listen for my instructions.”

Thornwood

For years, Briony has lived in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Rosalin, and the curse that has haunted her from birth. According to the curse, on the day of her sixteenth birthday, Briony would prick her finger on a spindle and cause everyone in the castle to fall into a 100-year sleep. When the day the curse is set to fall over the kingdom finally arrives, nothing—not even Briony—can stop its evil magic.

You know the story.

But here’s something you don’t know. When Briony finally wakes up, it’s up to her to find out what’s really going on, and to save her family and friends from the murderous Thornwood. But who is going to listen to a little sister?

Thornwood looks at the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty through the eyes of the little sister. While the villain in the story is clearly the fairy queen who cast the spell, she doesn’t make an appearance until the very end. Instead, the suspense is created by the Thornwood branches that attack the castle’s inhabitants. When Briony and a group of acquaintances try to defeat the Thornwood branches, a fairy tells Briony, “The Thornwood will disappear once Rosalin dies in it.” At one point, Rosalin considers sacrificing herself to the Thornwood to save the people she loves. However, Briony is the true hero of the story because she perseveres until she finds a way to defeat the fairy queen without sacrificing her sister.

Adding Sleeping Beauty’s sister to the story is an interesting premise, however, the sister relationship is spoiled by Rosalin, who has few redeeming qualities. For the most part, Rosalin is too caught up in her looks and the prince to notice her sister. When Rosalin talks, her statements are mean and dismissive. For example, when Briony tries to help Rosalin, Rosalin tells her, “Why don’t you just leave. Nobody needs you here. Go annoy someone else.” Plus, Rosalin constantly makes fun of Briony’s hair describing it “like mud that’s been stirred with bathwater” or “a mass of frizz that’s been hit by a lightning bolt.” Anyone who has been a victim of bullying will be saddened by Rosalin’s behavior, especially because Briony already feels ignored and unimportant. Despite this, Briony never gives up on trying to help her sister.

In the end, the Royal family is not portrayed in a positive light. The parents are clueless fools, Rosalin is self-centered, and the family doesn’t consider the feelings of others. However, by the end, Briony wonders, “Had we even thought about anyone but ourselves? We had acted like this was our story. Like the other people in it—everyone in this castle, and outside it, too—were minor details we didn’t have to pay attention to.” The conclusion has a typical happy ending that attempts to show that your station in life doesn’t determine your worth. However, if you’re looking for a fabulous fairy tale, you should leave Thornwood on the shelf and instead read The Prince Problem by Vivian Vande Velde or the Royal Academy Rebels Series by Jen Calonita.

Sexual Content

  • In order to wake Rosalin, a prince kisses her. Briony sees the kiss and thinks, “I wish I had gotten there thirty seconds later. . . It wasn’t a gross kiss. Just a peck on the lips—polite and distant—and then the prince stepped back from the bed.”
  • The story implies that Rosalin and the prince kiss. Briony “looked pointedly away and caught Edwin doing the same. We both snickered.”
  • When the prince thinks Rosalin is about to die, he professes his love and then kisses her. Briony thinks, “This time, the kissing was gross.”
  • After the castle is free from the Thornwood, Rosalin “claims that she only ‘likes’ the electrician who had been modernizing the castle, and she’s ‘not interested in getting serious with anyone right now.’ I mean, she’s already kissed him more times than she kissed Varian, back when she thought he was her destined husband.”

Violence

  • While Briony searches the castle, the Thornwood grabs her. “Something snapped around my wrist, driving sharp spikes into my skin. . .The branch that had grabbed me yanked back so hard that I was dragged towards the window. . .the branch pulled, slowly and steadily. Thorns dug into my wrist with sharp stabs of fiery pain.” Someone saves her. The scene is described over three pages.
  • When Briony, Edwin, Rosalin, and the prince try to leave the castle, the Thornwood attacks. “The ground around Edwin exploded, clumps of dirt flying as barbed vines broke through the earth. One wrapped itself around his ankle. . . another snapped around his wrist. . . Edwin had been pulled to the ground, and a thorny branch was crawling up his arm over his shoulder.” The Thornwood attacks everyone except for the prince. Rosalin’s fairy godmother saves them, but Edwin is seriously injured. The scene is described over six pages.
  • When the fairy godmother gets Edwin out of the Thornwood, Edwin is a “bruised and bloody creature. . . He was unconscious, his clothes in shreds and stuck to his body with dried blood.”
  • The Thornwood gets into the castle. The branches attack Rosalin. Briony “lunged for them and grabbed the largest, pulling at it with my bare hands. It could have encircled me easily, but it was too busy trying to get to Rosalin.” When they get Rosalin free, Briony, Edwin, and the prince run into a tower.
  • When they get to the tower, “A thorn snagged my [Briony’s] hair and pulled several strands out, with a burst of pain that brought new tears to my eyes. I wrenched myself free, into the golden light.” The tower scene is described over five pages.
  • Briony traps the fairy queen. But then, “She reached out and grabbed me by the throat. . . she lifted me from the floor, and I couldn’t’ breathe. I tried to scream, but couldn’t do that, either. Panic filled me as I struggled to draw air into my lungs and no air came.” Rosalin and Edwin save Briony.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • After sleeping for over 100 years, Rosalin discovers that the castle is surrounded by thorns. “There are some princes that come there [the village] to try to fight their way through the Thornwood and wake the beautiful princess sleeping in the castle. They need a place to sleep. . . and lots of ale.”
  • Before the castle fell asleep, Edwin was apprenticed to the blacksmith. The blacksmith “was not a good man. He got angry a lot, and drunk, and he let the other apprentices—”
  • When Briony goes to the apothecary, she finds it to be a mess. “The pots on the shelves were knocked over sideways or smashed on the floor. . .” Someone suggested that people were looking for wine and didn’t find it.
  • When the prince finds an empty jug that smells like alcohol, he says, “Someone in this castle is very drunk right now.” Later, the royal wizard shows up to the ball drunk. He tells the king and queen, “I have been working great and terrible magics to figure out a way to release us from our plight. I had to partake of wine so I could access the depths of. . . um. . .”
  • The prince offers Rosalin a bite of her birthday cake. When she refuses the cake, he eats it. Then, “his eyes went wide. He fell over sideways, straight as a log. The fork with its remnant of cake flew out of his hand, skittering across the dance floor. . .” The cake had been poisoned.

Language

  • Briony uses “oh curses” as an exclamation once.
  • A boy calls Edwin “sniveler.”
  • Rosalin calls Briony an idiot.
  • Rosalin often makes rude comments about Briony’s hair. For example, Rosalin says, “And fix your hair. You look like a Pegasus caught in a windstorm.”

Supernatural

  • The story takes place in Sleeping Beauty’s magical kingdom, where magic exists.
  • The castle is surrounded by Thornwood, a living plant that tries to trap people. When the branches are cut, “they hissed as if they had been burned.”
  • Briony sees a strange bird that “cocked its head and looked straight at me, and then it wasn’t a bird at all. It was a woman—a creature that looked like a woman—with shimmery dragonfly wings whirring behind her back.”
  • After the curse is broken, the fairy godmother throws a birthday ball. “The doors of the kitchen swung open and a cart rolled out. Rosalin’s birthday cake teetered on top.”
  • The prince says a fairy gave him a magical sword that can help him fight off the Thornwood.
  • Briony trips and puts her hand out to catch herself. “My palm landed right on a thorn. I screamed and pulled back. I expected the branches to wrap around my wrist. Instead, they all arced toward the thorn that had pierced my skin. A drop of blood dripped from the thorn’s tip, and one of the branches, swooped low to catch it.”
  • The tower room has a magic spinning wheel. Briony uses the spinning wheel to create magical, gold thread. The Thornwood “seemed to flinch back from the gold thread.”
  • Rosalin believes that the only way to save the castle from the Thornwood is to sacrifice herself, which she considers. Rosalin says, “It needs my blood. Once it has it, you’ll be free. You’ll all be safe. . . Name your first child after me.” Rosalin “thrust both hands into the thorns. Their hiss rose around us, sharp and sibilant and triumphant.”
  • Briony discovers that her blood repels the Thornwood. She “jabbed [her] palm into the spindle of the spinning wheel. It hurt. It really hurt. For one blinding second, the pain was all there was. Then I blinked out tears and saw that the thorns had drawn back even farther, leaving a larger space around the spinning wheel than they had before. My blood had given the spinning wheel power.”
  • Briony realizes that “No one, no prince, no savior, had come to us through the Thornwood. [The prince] had come from it.” Then Briony uses the magical gold thread. She “brought the thread down over his head and around his neck. I crisscrossed the ends and pulled them, making a noose that tightened against his throat.”
  • When Briony puts the golden thread around the prince, he changes. “His body shimmered; his face lengthened; his eyes grew larger. Two wings, blacker than black, snapped shut over his shoulder blades. He didn’t look like a woman, but he wasn’t a man either. He was a creature. A being. A center of power.” The prince was the fairy queen in disguise.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 The Wishing Spell

Twins, Alex, and Conner Bailey are no longer living in a fairytale. After their father dies in a car accident, their mother struggles to make ends meet, and leaves the twins to fend for themselves on their birthday. Despite struggles in school and trouble making friends, both twins find comfort in the fairytales told to them by their late father and grandmother. A storybook from their grandmother titled, The Land of Stories allows the twins to enter a world of magic where fairytales become reality, but not everything happens as it was written.

In The Land of Stories, Goldilocks is a sword fighting outlaw, Little Red Riding Hood is a self-obsessed queen, and one of their greatest allies is a talking frog. However, as magical as the world may seem, the dangers are just as real, especially since the Evil Queen–from the tale of Snow White–has escaped from prison. To return to the safety of the real world, Alex and Conner need to find the items of “the Wishing Spell,” a legendary incantation that will allow them to wish their way home. But the Evil Queen is after it too. The twins are in a race against the Queen. Who will find the items of the Wishing Spell first? The twins will have to work together to settle their differences if they ever wish to return home.

The Wishing Spell is an entertaining and creative retelling of many classic fairytales including Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella. The Land of Stories is a well-crafted world, filled with many well-known tales that are explored in more depth. Because of that, the fairy tale characters develop intricate personalities, which are an enjoyable part of the book. The complicated plot is explained well, but the large cast of characters may be difficult for readers to remember. As for the main characters, Alex and Conner are opposites–Alex is a diligent, well-read girl with an introverted and idealistic personality, while Conner is a class-clown type character that provides comic relief and serves as a “realist” when needed. Combined, they make an engaging and loveable pair.

In the end, the twins learn that there is more to each story than what meets the eye. Alex and Conner are thwarted by the Queen, resulting in her using the Wishing Spell items before they can. However, they learn about her motives that reveal her to be less evil and more misunderstood, which deepens their compassion for her. As Alex says, “I think what I’ve learned from all this is that villains are mostly just people villainized by circumstance.”

In the end, the Evil Queen dies, and the truth of her motives—to save her lover who is trapped in the magic mirror—die with her. The twins learn that, while “happy ever after” may not be a reality for everyone, genuine kindness and love does exist. The story highlights the importance of treating others with respect and patience so misunderstandings can be prevented. No one can go back in time to save the Evil Queen from her demise, but Snow White concludes that “the best thing we can do now to honor her memory is to live every day with the compassion and understanding no one ever gave her.”

Sexual Content

  • Conner says he remembers the location of a room because of a painting beside it. Conner says, “I remember that portrait of Red being next to the basket room.” Conner pointed to a portrait where Red Riding Hood was barely clothed, with only a wolf-skin coat to cover her. Alex gave Conner a dirty look. “‘What?’ Conner asked with a smirk. ‘It’s memorable.’”
  • Goldilocks and Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk) are in love. They kiss. Jack “reached through the gate and pulled Goldilocks close to him, and they kissed. It was passionate, pure, and long overdue.”
  • To get released from prison, Conner has to kiss a troll. “At a snail’s pace, [Conner] approached Trollbella with his lips extended. He wasn’t going fast enough for Alex, so she pushed him toward the cell door and Trollbella grabbed hold of him through the bars. She planted a big, fat, juicy kiss on him.”
  • When Goldilocks is rescued from the palace wreckage, she and Jack kiss. Goldilocks and “Jack collided into each other’s arms. They shared a kiss so passionate that a few of the soldiers blushed.”

Violence

  • Goldilocks and her horse, Porridge, fight with a pack of wolves. “One wolf tried to pounce on Porridge, but the horse kicked him away with her hind legs. Another wolf tried to bite Goldilocks, but she struck him with her sword, drawing blood, and he whimpered away. . . A wolf leaped and sank his claws into Porridge’s back. The horse bucked to free herself. In one quick slice, Goldilocks chopped one of wolves’ paws off. . . Goldilocks swung [her sword] hard at the wolves closing in on her, leaving large gashes in their muzzles.”
  • The goblins and trolls keep other beings as slaves who dig tunnels for them. They whip and imprison the humans, but it is not described in depth.
  • The twins fight back when they are chased by wolves in a minecart. “A few of the wolves swiped at them with their claws. The twins ducked down as far as they could in the cart, but not before one of them reached Conner and left a bloody scratch on his forearm. Alex kicked another right in the snout, and it whimpered away.”
  • The Evil Queen hits Conner. “She struck him hard across the face with the back of her hand. Conner’s whole body shifted with the blow.”
  • The Evil Queen’s Huntsman tries to kill Jack but ends up getting killed. “The Huntsman began shooting arrows at Jack. . . Jack was trying to block the arrows with the sword. . . He hit one [arrow] perfectly, and it flew behind the Huntsman. The Huntsman grunted and froze. His eyes bulged and he fell flat on his face. The arrow had bounced off the wall behind him and was now sticking out of his back. The Huntsman was dead.”
  • The Huntsman’s daughter, the Huntress, tries to kill Jack in retaliation. “Jack turned around and the Huntress stabbed him in the arm with her dagger. . . He dropped the sword and fell to the ground. . . He was clutching his arm. Blood was everywhere.”
  • To protect him, Goldilocks intervenes and fights the Huntress. “Goldilocks blocked the dagger with her sword. . . [Then Goldilocks] kicked the Huntress in the stomach. The Huntress rolled to the other side of the room and hopped back to her feet. Goldilocks swung her sword at the Huntress and the duel began. . .” The fight lasts five pages and ends with the pair dueling on the palace roof. Jack interferes to save Goldilocks. “He ran over to a cannon and lit it. He wrenched it toward the Huntress’s direction, and it fired. A cannonball soared towards the women and blasted away the section of roof the Huntress was standing on. [The Huntress] fell the entire height of the castle and into the moat, silently screaming the entire way. There was no way she could have survived the fall.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Mrs. Peters, the kids’ teacher, gives a patronizing look. “‘And why is that?’ Mrs. Peters said, as if asking, ‘What on earth could you possibly be confused about, idiot?’”
  • Conner says, “Don’t piss off your neighbors.” He also says “stupid” once.
  • A farmer says, “the damn thing never worked” talking about a magic watering can.
  • Alex calls Conner an “idiot” when Connor screams in surprise at his reflection in a mirror.
  • Conner calls Queen Red Riding Hood a “self-obsessed twit.”
  • Froggy, a talking frog, says “damn you, miserable plants,” when the twins are attacked by vines.
  • Goldilocks insults Red Riding Hood a few times, calling her a “red-hooded harlot” and a “basket carrying bimbo.”
  • When the Evil Queen hits Conner, she calls him a “stupid boy.”

Supernatural

  • The kids use the fictional storybook The Land of Stories to travel to a magical land where all fairytales are true—with varying degrees of truth, such as Goldilocks becoming an outlaw after her run in with the three bears.
  • In The Land of Stories, there are talking animals, fictional creatures such as fairies, and magic.

Spiritual Content

  • Conner wonders why Snow White’s kingdom would have so many tributes to apples because they were what almost killed her. Alex says, “I suppose it’s symbolic for the kingdom. Like a cross in the church.”
  • When Connor and Alex wake up in the Mermaid Kingdom, Conner thinks that they have died. He thinks, “We must be in heaven.” Conner also mistakes the mermaids for angels.

by Maddie Shooter

The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark

“Little fish, little fish, let me come in.” “Not by the skin of my finny fin fin!” “Then I’ll munch, and I’ll crunch, and I’ll smash your house in!” Mama tells her three little fish that it’s time to make their own homes. Jim builds his house of seaweed, but the big bad shark munches it up. Tim builds his house of sand, but the shark crunches it up. It’s smart Kim who sets up house in an old sunken ship!

This reimagined version of the Three Little Pigs has no fear factor and is silly enough to entertain squirmy readers. Young readers will love watching the big bad shark break into the little fish’s house. But Jim, Tim, and Kim all know the importance of sticking together. In the end, “The big bad shark munched, and he crunched but he would not smash the house in and all his teeth fell out!” After losing all his teeth, the shark is seen eating a salad, and “the three little fish were safe at last.”

The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark has plenty of visual appeal. The ocean world comes to life in bright colors. Jim, Tim, and Kim are orange fish that pop out of the blue ocean. Plus, readers will have fun finding the other ocean creatures, such as a crab and a turtle. The giant-sized shark shows all his sharp teeth as he narrowly misses chomping the fish.

Even though The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark 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. Each page has 1 to 3 sentences that appear in oversized text. Since there is little text on each page, the story is a quick read, making it an excellent bedtime story. The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark is a wonderfully creative fairytale retelling that will entertain readers over and over. Shark-loving readers should also read Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Monstrous

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

  • None

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jemima Cooke

Castle Hangnail

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jemima Cooke

Disney at Dawn

The Kingdom Keepers are back together to protect the Disney Parks from the evil fairy, Maleficent, and the Overtakers. But this time, the attack is personal. Amanda’s sister, Jez, has been kidnapped, leaving behind only her journal of clairvoyant sketches to help her friends find her. The search takes the Keepers to Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, where Maleficent is hiding and using mind-controlled animals to do her evil bidding.

Raising the stakes further, Maleficent has set up a second hologram server that only she controls.  If the heroes fall asleep, Maleficent and the Overtakers can force them to “crossover” into their holographic state and be stuck in Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, a coma-like sleep from which you cannot wake up on your own. Finn and the rest of the Kingdom Keepers must go undercover as Animal Kingdom employees to uncover secret meanings in Jez’s clairvoyant drawings, stop Maleficent and the animals from their quest to escape the parks, and find a way to shut down the second server, all before they become unable to stay awake any longer.

This thrilling second installment in the Kingdom Keepers Series keeps readers on their toes with fast-paced action sequences, simultaneous missions, and an exciting new location where the magic of the parks is shown. The book successfully transports readers to Animal Kingdom in the thick of the action. Pearson’s narration once again manages to provide wayfinding tips as well as the necessary descriptions of park attractions, so even those who have never seen Animal Kingdom before will feel as if they are actually there with the Keepers. Pearson also strikes a balance between solo missions for each Kingdom Keeper as well as creating new duos and trios for the action to revolve around. As the teams split off, the characters’ dynamics shine, with each different personality on display for readers to enjoy. They all get the chance to be leaders in their own unique way.

As before, if your young reader enjoys the Disney Parks, or has an interest in the park’s operations, this book offers an exciting “behind the scenes” view from the Kingdom Keepers’ perspective. It balances the presence of technical knowledge of the theme park and its attractions with the fantastical plot that brings animals, animatronics, and evil villains to life. The second book in the series does everything that Disney After Dark does well, but on a bigger scale, with characters that readers now know and are sure to root for.

Sexual Content

  • In the tunnels, Jez and Finn’s “faces were about a foot apart,” when Jez reminds Finn that she has a boyfriend.

 

Violence

  • There are references to the events of the previous book, including Maybeck’s “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome” in which he crossed over into his DHI state against his will and was unable to wake up. The narration describes the severity of the syndrome, saying it “might have killed him.”
  • While trying to stop a man from chasing Finn through a series of booby-trapped tunnels, Finn decides to trigger one of the booby-traps so that they both fall through the chute, effectively throwing off the man’s pursuit. As Finn falls and grabs onto the ledge, “His body smacked into the hanging trapdoor.”
  • Jez is “kidnapped” by the Overtakers, the evil Disney villains trying to take over the park.
  • Finn fears that the weather balloon him and his friends spotted in the sky above the park is meant to “kill him and his friends.” Philby says if that were true, then the man chasing Finn and Philby to the top of the castle would be “suicidal” as he would also be subject to the lightning strike. Finn also imagines that it could be a Frankenstein-like experiment, picturing “some Disney monster strapped to a stainless-steel table with wires attached to his head and heart.”
  • Finn and Philby discover an actress dressed as Tinkerbell tied up in the room of the castle from which she is meant to “fly” by ziplining across the park during the fireworks shows. However, Maleficent has orchestrated this event as her escape. Finn watches as Maleficent “jumps” out the window, though he soon realizes that she is not falling, but flying away.
  • The kids often use an online virtual reality system that allows them to navigate the software that controls the park as well as communicate with other people. Finn remembers how his parents warned him of “stalkers” that preyed on kids “by pretending to be kids themselves.”
  • Finn wondered if his mentor, Wayne, had “died or been captured by the Overtakers” or “been in a coma” since he had not heard from him.
  • Wayne explains that Maleficent wants to put all the DHIs into Sleeping Beauty Syndrome so that they are “out of the way . . . for good.” They can only prevent this by “crashing” the system that the Overtakers will use to put them in the coma. However, if they do this too soon, Wayne says they may never see Jez again.
  • While on the roof of Amanda’s house, Finn slips causing him to fall “face-first.” The narration says that if Amanda had not grabbed his wrists in time, “he was gone.”
  • Amanda says her parents drowned, while Jez’s were possibly overtaken by “real pirates.
  • There is a recap of a time in the previous book in which the DHIs were attacked by the dolls in It’s a Small World as well as other characters.
  • A bat attacks the hosts from the sky. The Keepers turn on lights, knowing that bats have an aversion to it, causing the creature to dive “as if it had been shot.” They capture it and Philby later “suggested doing something to it that wouldn’t have been approved by the SPCA”.
  • Philby, after seeing Jez’s notebook of sketches, asks in a reference to Van Gogh, “At what point did she cut off her ear?”
  • A swarm of birds attack Maybeck. He sees a “pitch-black flurry of wings and beaks and scratching claws.” He escapes, surprisingly, without a scratch.
  • The plot of the safari ride at Animal Kingdom is described. Ride-goers try to prevent a group of poachers from catching a baby elephant.
  • Maleficent uses her powers to create a ball of flame that she intends to throw at Maybeck, but he sprays her with a hose first.
  • Finn pushes over the magically alive broom that is chasing him.
  • Philby thinks a tiger is looking at him as if he was “lunch.” The tiger then jumps to attack Philby, though he is not harmed. It is revealed later that the tiger is a hologram.
  • A few monkeys capture a cast member. They “knocked him over,” tied him up, and gagged him.
  • Maybeck encounters a lizard that he chases through the park. He recalls the amount of times his aunt “beat [lizards] with a broom” in her home. As a kid, he would catch them and pull their tails off, since they would grow back.
  • When being kidnapped by an orangutan, the animal lunges to bite Finn, though Finn pulls away in time.
  • Maybeck recalls when his dog has gotten into dogfights with other pets in the neighborhood. Maybeck thinks about how he “nearly got his hand bitten off.”
  • Finn runs under a trampoline while being chased by an ape. The animal is “crushed by the weight of the acrobat,” but is not seriously harmed.
  • In order to escape capture by orangutans, Finn sprays them in the face with a shower head. He then ties them up. Maybeck “poked it with a hanger that he wielded as a sword.”
  • Amanda is hit by a magical arrow that Maleficent made. She immediately falls unconscious. Finn becomes so angry that he slammed Maleficent against the wall and “was choking the life from her” telling her to bring Amanda back. She eventually agrees.
  • Philby and Wayne’s avatars are attacked on the virtual reality website they are using to navigate the park systems. They use swords to defend against the trolls. Philby is able to “slice the troll’s leg in two at the knee.” He later “severs” the virtual troll’s arm. However, the troll manages to “[chop] off the end of Philby’s right foot.” The attack occurs over three pages.
  • Finn faces multiple monkeys and a tigress. He defends himself with a baseball bat. He watches as the tiger seems to be hunting the monkeys for a “snack.” He also sees the tigress “swiping her huge claws” at other cats, but they do not feel the pain as they are holograms. Then the tigers attack him. He thinks they will “land on him, crushing him, then snap his neck with their powerful jaws and start the feast.” This does not happen. He watches as the monkeys jump to attack him, “and would have torn his head off…had the tigress not sprung.” The attack occurs scattered over 31 pages.
  • Maybeck and Willa are attacked by animatronic dinosaurs. Willa is “nearly beheaded” by a dinosaur tail. Maybeck is injured and felt as though “every joint was separating simultaneously.” He then snaps the pterodactyl’s leg in half. It reacts as if it is in pain, and he wonders if the bird is alive. Maybeck is nearly crushed by the creature and he leaves the attack “bleeding,” though he is alright. This event takes place over six pages.
  • The final showdown between the hosts and Maleficent includes her throwing fireballs at them. Finn realizes that the fireballs never actually hit him and determines that the imagineers who develop the parks would not create a being that could harm people, let alone kill him. Maleficent promises to kill Finn when he’s “no longer of use to” her. Using magic, Amanda lifts Maleficent and then threatens to drop her sixty feet. Finn, meanwhile, must cling to another Disney villain who is fighting alongside Maleficent, Chernabog, “rather than drop to the platform where the creature might squash him like a bug.” The final battle takes place over eight pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Maybeck refers to using the caffeine in Coca-Cola to avoid accidentally falling asleep. Later the kids all use this strategy.

Language

  • Some mean language is used including: stupid, hideous, what the heck, and darn. For example, often the characters use the word “stupid” to describe things they do not like.
  • There is some name calling including: geek, jerk, insane, buggy, nimrod, warped,
  • Occasionally, Maybeck is said to use “a few words that would have gotten him detention.” He later says, “Son of a –.” The book never says what words Maybeck uses, but it makes it clear that he is cursing.
  • Finn is also said to “curse at the screen” of his computer.
  • Maleficent calls Amanda a “little tart.”
  • Maybeck uses the word “bleeping” in place of a curse word.

Supernatural

  • The story takes place in Disney World where magic exists.
  • Maleficent, the evil fairy, often casts spells. No specific words are relayed, but when she does, the narration describes that she “chants.”
  • Maleficent can also fly and transform into different animals.
  • Jez dreams the future. She draws these images in a notebook that become the guide map for her friends and sister’s journey to rescue her throughout the book.
  • Amanda tells Finn that she and Jez are “fairlies,” “as in, fairly human.” She says they are “just kids with unusual abilities” like “spoon-benders, mind readers, clairvoyants” and the ability to cause fires to start mentally.
  • Amanda refers to the incidents of the previous book, in which Maleficent bewitched Jez so she could not recognize Amanda. She then makes Jez do the Overtakers’ bidding.
  • Amanda levitates Finn to the ceiling of a truck they are hiding in so that he is not seen by the security guards.
  • The hosts come to learn that heat is Maleficent’s “kryptonite,” impeding her power’s effectiveness.
  • Maybeck thinks the bat they captured may be able to understand his words. Then he sees a group of birds that appear to be “following him.” These are the first pieces of evidence that the animals are under Maleficent’s control.

Spiritual Content

  • Finn sees that Jez has collected fortunes from fortune cookies in her journal.
  • Willa told her parents she was going to Mass to get them to let her leave the house. Her mother is “no longer a churchgoer.”
  • In Animal Kingdom, the hosts see replicas of Temples. One location has “prayer flags.”
  • Jez says she prayed for help to come when she realized she was trapped in the tunnel, “though [she’s] not very good at praying.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Cold As Ice

Abby and her brother, Jonah, don’t plan to use the magic mirror. But when their dog, Prince, jumps into the mirror, they only have one choice—go in after him.

Abby and Jonah land in a snow-covered winter wonderland. At first, they think they might be in Disney’s Frozen fairy tale. But this fairy tale is nothing like the movie! Instead, they are thrown into the cold world of the Ice Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. This Snow Queen is super creepy and mean, and she turns Prince into a dogsicle!

In this adventure, Abby and Jonah have to defrost their furry friend, ride a very chatty reindeer, learn to ice-skate and escape from a band of robbers. If they’re not careful, they could end up frozen!

The story starts with Abby at school where she has a confrontation with one of her best friends, Robin. Abby is hurt that Robin has been spending time with Penny. Abby gives Robin an ultimatum, “We’re your best friends. Me and Frankie. Not Penny. Penny isn’t nice. . . You can’t be Penny’s best friend and our best friend, too.” The fairy tale world connects to Abby’s school problem. Through Abby’s experiences, she learns that “of course people can have more than one best friend. . . Maybe it wasn’t very fair of me to say that Robin had to choose between us and Penny.”

One negative aspect of the story is that Abby and Jonah have been lying to their parents. Finally, the guilt gets the best of Abby and she realizes, “You’re never supposed to listen to someone who tells you to lie to your parents! Everyone knows that! People who tell you to lie to your parents are always the ones who are up to no good.” However, when Abby finally tells her parents the truth, the fairy in the mirror, Maryrose, erases the parents’ memory.

The two siblings balance each other out nicely. Jonah is impulsive, annoying, silly, and fun, while Abby is bossy, worried, and always wants to have a plan. Anyone who has a sibling will understand how Abby gets frustrated with her brother. The interplay between the two siblings adds a little humor and Abby’s inner dialogue helps keep the conflict in sharp focus. While the story isn’t always logical, younger readers will enjoy the ridiculous aspects of the story. The conclusion ends with a surprise that will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, Beauty Queen.

Most of the Whatever After books use the same formula and may begin to bore older readers. If your child is ready to move on to another fairytale inspired series, both Fairy Tale Reform School and Royal Academy Rebels by Jen Calonita would make an excellent choice.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Abby summarizes the original fairy tale, The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. The Snow Queen kidnaps a boy and puts him under a spell. When Jonah and Abby meet a boy, they know he is under the Snow Queen’s spell because he has “zombie eyes.”
  • Abby and Jonah are kidnapped by a band of robbers. The robbers put them in a basement that is “cold and damp. There’s no furniture. Just a pile of brown blankets in the corner. Water leaking from the ceiling has frozen into threatening-looking icicles.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Abby and her brother Jonah have a magic mirror that allows them to go into the world of fairy tales. “We discovered that when we knock on our basement mirror three times, it takes us into a fairy tale. Well, first the mirror starts to hiss, then it casts a purple light over the room, then it starts to swirl, and then it sucks us into a fairy tale.”
  • While in the fairy tale world, time passes differently. “Sometimes a day in a fairy tale is an hour at home. Sometimes an hour in a fairy tale is an hour at home. The watches we [Abby and Jonah] wear from home keep track of the time back there.”
  • The Snow Queen blows on Abby’s dog, Prince. “With her lips rounded, the Snow Queen looks like she’s blowing a kiss. But it’s not a kiss. I can actually see the air that comes out of her mouth. It’s like steam from a kettle. A tiny white tornado.” When the air hits Prince, “he freezes in mid-motion.”
  • Ralph is a talking reindeer who can fly.
  • The Snow Queen explains how she gained her powers by breaking a magical mirror over her head.
  • Maryrose, the fairy in the mirror, casts a spell erasing Abby’s parents’ memory. Jonah’s memory is also accidentally erased.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Charmed

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jennaly Nolan

 

The Snoring Princess

Princess Rosa is missing! The Princess disappears from her palace on the day a hundred-year sleeping spell is set to end. If Princess Rosa is not back by sunset, the spell will start all over again! Kara and Zed—along with a fairy from the palace—go looking for her. But can they find Princess Rosa before the sun sets?

Kara, Zeb, and a magical pig are off on their next mission—finding Zeb’s missing royal messenger bag. Along the way, they stumble across a tower and discover Princess Rosa is also missing. While The Snoring Princess is an imaginative retelling of Sleeping Beauty, the story is a little disjointed and most of the events do not make sense. For example, Kara and Zeb find Princess Rosa who continues to sleepwalk down a cliff and then float down a river all without hurting herself or waking up. While some of the events are silly, many of them are unbelievable even for a fairy tale.

The Snoring Princess is part of Scholastic’s Branches early chapter books, which have easy-to-read text and illustrations on every page. The story uses short descriptions and dialogue to keep the story moving at a fast pace. Black and white illustrations appear on every page and help break up the text into manageable sections. The engaging pictures will help readers follow the plot. Plus, the book ends with four reading comprehension questions and one activity. Even though The Snoring Princess is part of a series, each book can be read as a stand-alone.

Unfortunately, in The Snoring Princess, Kara and Zeb solve the mystery more by chance than by following the clues. However, young readers who are familiar with the Once Upon a Fairy Tale Series will enjoy seeing Kara and Zeb back in action. In the end, a lying fairy does the right thing by telling the truth. The conclusion reveals an unexpected villain, who isn’t evil. Despite the plot’s flaws, readers who are transitioning to chapter books will enjoy the book’s illustrations and the silly magical pig. If your child loves fairies, check out both the Candy Fairies Series by Helen Perelman and Disney: The Never Girls Series by Kiki Thorpe.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Kara grabs a fairy, the fairy “shot red sparks at Kara’s fingers.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The story takes place in Sleeping Beauty’s world, where magic exists. Sleeping Beauty is “the princess who was cursed by an evil fairy when she pricked her finger on a sewing needle. The curse made her fall into a deep sleep for one hundred years.”
  • Zed and Kara meet a fairy who tells them, “Fairies can actually change shape and size. It’s one of our magic powers.” Later the fairy uses his magic to make a hat. The fairy “raised his hands and wiggled his fingers. Sparks of magic danced between his fingertips. Then a small sun had appeared in Leon’s hands.”
  • The fairy “held his hands over the water and wiggled his fingers again. Sparks began to fly from his fingertips. Slowly, the bottom of a boat appeared. Then the sides. Then the oars. Then the anchor.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Artemis Fowl #1

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Morgan Lynn

 

 

 

Keeper of the Lost Cities #1

Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She is a telepath with the ability to hear the thoughts of everyone around her—something that she’s never known how to explain, and has made her an outcast even in her own family. But everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and can also read minds. She discovers there’s somewhere she does belong, and that staying with her family will only put her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave everything behind and start a new life in a place very different from her own.

Sophie has new rules and skills to learn, and not everyone is thrilled with her “homecoming.” There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory, secrets that other people desperately want. Secrets they might even kill for. . .

Keepers of the Lost Cities is a fast-paced adventure that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Sophie is thrown into the elven world, where she struggles to understand the events around her. Sophie worries about her human family and the intense fires that are raging in the human world. The adults in Sophie’s world don’t want to share valuable information about the fires that are affecting the human world. Despite being told not to worry, Sophie doesn’t stop investigating. However, it soon becomes clear that someone is trying to manipulate Sophie. But who?

Like Sophie, readers will be amazed by the elven world and find wonder around every corner. Besides learning new abilities, Sophie is also surrounded by interesting characters. Even though there are a lot of characters to keep track of, each person is unique and easy to remember. While there are several cute boys that make Sophie blush, Sophie has no romantic feelings for anyone.

Keeper of the Lost Cities has a sweet conclusion but does not resolve all the conflicts. Messenger draws the reader into Sophie’s life and the mystery surrounding her while leaving a lot of unanswered questions that will have the readers reaching for the next book in the series, Exile. Even though Keeper of the Lost Cities is geared towards middle school readers, the plot focuses on universal feelings that readers of all ages can relate to.

Anyone who has ever felt out of place will relate to Sophie, but the true gem in Keeper of the Lost Cities is the unique world and the host of interesting characters. The story has unexpected pockets of humor, such as when the healer tells Sophie that the medicine she needs isn’t so bad and he’s thankful he doesn’t “have to use the yeti pee balm.” Another positive aspect of the story is the full page black and white illustrations scattered throughout the book.

If you’re looking for a fun series that will engage middle school readers, Keeper of the Lost Cities and its sequels need to be on your child’s reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sophie is taken hostage. “A cloth across her lips stifled her cry for help, and a sedative’s sweet aroma stung her nose when she inhaled, making her head spin.” Sophie wonders if she will be killed.
  • Sophia and Fitz are injured during a game called Sploching. Sopia remembers “flying backward through the room. Fitz’s crumbled body.” Both are taken to the Healing Center. They are given something to “ease the pain.”
  • Three elves kidnap Sophie and her friend Dex. “A pair of arms pulled her to her feet and smothered her scream with a meaty hand. She tried to fight back, but a cloaked figure swooped out of the shadows and shoved a cloth over her mouth and nose. Something sickeningly sweet burned her throat and nostrils and her head instantly clouded. . . A third figure had Dex with a viselike grip, and clearly no amount of struggling or fighting would help him escape.”
  • When Sophie has difficulty breathing, a kidnapper removes her gag. “It felt like they pulled off her lips when they ripped the gag away. Her throat was dry and a sick, a sour taste coated her tongue. . .”
  • The kidnappers tie Sophie to a chair. “She was strapped to a chair, bound by her wrists and ankles.”
  • When Sophie refuses to talk, a kidnapper uses his abilities to burn her. Sophie “screamed as the burning increased—like her skin was melting.”
  • Sophie and Dex escape, but the kidnappers find them. “The goon sneered as he tied her ankles. The cold metal wire cut into her skin. . .”
  • In order to help Sophie, Dex channels his energy, and “a beam of energy whizzed past [Sophie]. . . Another blast from the melder missed Dex and he slammed the leader to the ground and knocked the weapon from his hand. The other goon grabbed the weapon and blasted Dex in the chest.” The melder hits Dex several times. “Dex flew backward and collapsed on the ground, his body jerking in seizure.”
  • When the kidnappers hurt Dex, Sophie channels her hate. “It clouded her mind until it consumed her. . . She pushed the anger and darkness out of her mind, needing to be free of it. When the last ounce of hatred was gone, her vision cleared and all three figures were slumped on the ground, holding their heads and writhing in pain.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • In order to make her family forget her, Sophie uses a sleeping gas. However, “the idea of drugging her family made her physically ill.”
  • When an imp is injured, an elf “smeared a yellow salve over the wounds.” The imp is also given water from “a bottle of Youth.”
  • While at home, a man swallowed “his wine in one gulp.”
  • Sophie is injured often and given a vile of medicine to heal.
  • One of Sophie’s friends gave her an elixir that contained limbium, “a rare mineral that could supposedly clear her mind.” When Sophie takes the elixir, she has a severe allergic reaction. The elixir made her head feel “fuzzy,” and made her feel like she was on fire. Then she passes out.
  • Sophie tells the elf doctor about her stay in a human hospital. She had an allergic reaction and the doctors “injected [her] with a bunch of medicines and steroids and told [her]to be more careful.”

Language

  • A classmate calls Sophie a superfreak and a loser.
  • Idiot is used several times. For example, a mean girl calls Sophie an idiot.
  • After Sophie blows up an experiment, she thinks, “I am officially an idiot.”
  • Sophie asks one of her friends, “Why are you being such a jerk?”

Supernatural

  • In Lumenaira, all the other worlds come together including “gnomes, dwarves, ogres, goblins, trolls, and elves.
  • Elves have different powers. (Not all powers are listed.) Some are Empaths and can feel other’s emotions. Some are Banishers who “let light pass through their bodies, so they can turn invisible, even when they move.”
  • Other elves are Flashers that can “manipulate light the way [they] want it.” A Conjurer can move something. An elf explains, “I can bring it here with my mind. It’s kind of like teleporting, but with objects.”
  • Sophie is a Telepath and can hear other people’s thoughts. During a school field trip, “kids’ thoughts were stinging, high-pitched needles—and so many at once was like an angry porcupine attacking her braid.” Eventually, Sophie is taught how “to shield her brain from unwanted human thoughts . . . and how to transmit her thoughts into someone else’s mind.”
  • Sophie discovers that she can use telekinesis. A car swerved and hit a streetlight, which “plummeted toward Sophie. . . Her hand shot up into the air, her mind pulling strength from somewhere deep in her gut and pushing it out through her fingertips. She felt the force collide with the falling lantern. . . The bright blue lantern floated above her, somehow held up by her mind.”
  • Elves use pathfinders to light leap. Using a pathfinder, Fitz and Sophie travel to the elf’s world. To help Sophie travel safely, someone gives her a nexus. In order to travel using a pathfinder, “your body has to break into tiny particles to be carried by the light, and the nexus holds those particles together until your concentration is strong enough to do it for you.
  • Prentice tried to hide Sophie’s location. He “was captured, he sacrificed his sanity to keep [Sophie] hidden. Now he lives in exile, his mind a shattered, useless mess.”
  • Sophie uses a spyball to see her human family. Using the spyball, she sees there are fires and “people are dying. Losing their homes. My family is camped out in an evacuee center right now afraid for their lives.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Peter and the Sword of Mercy

Life on the island has continued peacefully for many years. With fallen starstuff in the island’s water supply, no one gets sick and no one ages. So Peter is very surprised when Wendy—Molly’s daughter—shows up on the island in desperate need of help.

Wendy grew up with no idea that the starcatchers existed. After Peter and Molly’s adventure in Rundoon, starstuff stopped falling and it was thought that no more of the Others existed. So the starcatchers stopped recruiting new members and faded to a tiny group of mostly elderly members. Needless to say, the starcatchers are not prepared when trouble brews anew. After both of Wendy’s parents disappear, Lord Aster—elderly and bedridden—tells Wendy there is only one person who can help: A very special boy on an island that is very hard to find.

For fans delighted with the Starcatcher series, as well as the fans who were disappointed with the first two sequels, this final installment ends the series with a flourish! Harkening back to the glory of the first book, Peter and the Sword of Mercy has action and mystery galore. Readers will be shocked when encountering old friends who are twenty years older than in the last book. An elderly Lord Aster and a fading starcatchers’ society are a shock to Peter, as is learning that Molly married George and had a daughter named Wendy.

The mix of old and new characters carries the story along at a breakneck pace. Rather than the fractured storylines that made the last installment difficult to relate to, this book returns to the original book’s more streamlined approach. Readers still follow events from several character’s points of view, but by focusing largely on Peter’s point of view. Peter and the Sword of Mercy succeed in emotionally engaging readers. The shifts in point of view are well-done, are never confusing, and allow readers to view events happening with Peter’s friends as well as the events put in motion by the Others.

With non-ending action, a broadcast of colorful characters, and the emotional rollercoaster ride of returning to London after twenty years, Peter and the Sword of Mercy is a glorious ending to a beloved series.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In the year 811 A.D., two warriors battle. “Charlemagne drew his sword, known as Joyeuse. Both men grunted as they swung their weapons, the blades glinting in the firelight, the clash of metal echoing off the chapel’s stone walls . . . Ogier swung his sword, just missing Charlemagne’s jaw but slicing off a piece of the king’s beard.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • When a bobby tries to grab Molly, “she drew back her right foot and kicked him hard on the shin. As he bent over in pain, she yanked her arm free with all her strength, ripping her sleeve but freeing herself. She ran.” She gets away unharmed.
  • A character named the Skeleton is able to cause excruciating pain with the slightest touch. “The Skeleton’s claw-hand moved, ever so slightly. The priest screamed as his body was wracked with searing pain, starting at his neck but suddenly everywhere at once.”
  • Wendy crashes a flying machine called an ornithopter. “Wendy felt a stab of pain as her head struck the ornithopter frame. Before she could hold her breath she was dragged underwater.” She is rescued by porpoises.
  • Peter is hurt when his ship crashes. “Peter and Wendy were hurled sideways, slamming into the passageway wall. Peter’s head hit something, and he fell to the floor, dazed.”
  • A bad man threatens to burn his henchmen. The henchmen obey him immediately because “one time he’d pulled out most of a man’s hair by the roots. He’d reached into another man’s mouth and yanked out a gold tooth. They figured he was perfectly capable of using their bodies as fuel for smoke signals.”
  • A crewman tries to stop Wendy from escaping. She “drew back and kicked out with all her strength. Suddenly her shoe came off in his hand and she fell backward over the railing.”
  • Peter and his friends set off an explosion as a distraction. “Fortunately for them, none of the bobbies were directly in front of the door when it blew, although all of them were thrown violently backward and onto the ground.”
  • Peter pushes a bobby as they try to escape. “The three bobbies, yelping in pain and fear, tumbled after her. Peter had shoved the first from behind; he had taken the other two down, like bowling pins. They sprawled onto the floor, moaning.”
  • The Skeleton hurts Peter with his touch. “And then he [Peter] screamed in pain. Without knowing how he got there, he realized he was on his knees. The awful pain had receded from his body, but it had left him too weak to stand.”
  • The Skeleton hurts a prisoner. “He reached out his claw and touched the shoulder of the man next to James. The man screamed and fell to the floor.”
  • Von Schatten, one of the Others, attacks James. “Von Schatten spun, bringing the sword around. The flat side caught James in the forehead with a sickening sound. James fell to the ground, blood gushing from his head.”
  • James electrocutes von Schatten. Afterward Peter “screamed at the ghastly sight only inches from his face: Von Schatten lay twitching on his back, smoke pouring from his clothes as his flesh burned with a stomach-turning stench. The worst was his face. His eyeglasses had melted, forming two back rivers down his gaunt cheeks. Left exposed were the eyes, which were not eyes at all, but two gaping holes in the center of his skull, revealing nothing inside but a red glow. Wisps of smoke drifted upward from the holes.”
  • As a tunnel collapses, “huge chunks of earth and rock began to fall from the tunnel roof. A roof beam fell on George, knocking him to the ground.”
  • Hook attacks Peter. “He brought the sword down . . . but Peter’s hand was just quick enough as he brought the sword tip up to meet Hook’s downward thrust . . . [then] the porpoise, having launched himself from the water on the starboard side, slammed into Hook’s body, sending him sprawling on deck.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Two ships crash because “the helmsman of the Lucy had also had a bit too much to drink this night. He was half asleep at the wheel.”

Language

  • Imbeciles is used a few times.

Supernatural

  • Starcatchers are “a small group of people . . . There have been Starcatchers on Earth for centuries, Peter. Even we don’t know how long. But our task is always the same: to watch for the starstuff, and to get to it, and return it, before it falls into the hands of the Others.” The Others misuse starstuff to gain power.
  • Starstuff is golden dust that sometimes falls from the sky as meteors and “has amazing power . . . Wonderful power. Terrible power. It . . . it lets you do things . . . It’s not the same for everybody. And it’s not the same for animals as for people.” Starstuff can heal, can make people fly, can make people strong. Larger quantities are more dangerous and can kill a person, or turn a fish into a mermaid, horses into centaurs, and other transformations.
  • Starcatchers have learned the language of some intelligent animals, including bears, porpoises, and wolves. They work together often to find any starstuff that falls. Wendy speaks with a porpoise several times, in their language of clicks and squeaks.

Spiritual Content

  • In a flashback to 811 A.D., a king “prayed for the peace to continue. And, as always, he prayed for forgiveness for his son, now forty, but still a boy in his father’s eyes . . . [he] bowed his head, his lips moving as he recited the Scripture.”
  • During a sword fight, the king from 811 A.D. sees a “face smiling at him, shimmering through the smoke with unearthly beauty.” He thinks it is an angel. The being saves the man’s life, then disappears.
  • The queen of England is sick; a man by her bedside “murmured a prayer.”
  • When the Skeleton tortures a priest for information, the priest’s “lips began to move. He spoke in Latin, praying.”

by Morgan Krueger

Heartless

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets a handsome and mysterious jester called Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship. Catherine is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Catherine’s sweet and fiery nature will have readers falling in love with her from the very start. Readers will empathize with her troubles. Catherine desperately wants to make her parents proud, so she often hides her feelings. Catherine wonders, “Was she so afraid to disappoint her parents and the King, that she was willing to put their happiness before her own?” To make matters worse, her domineering mother doesn’t listen even when Catherine tries to be honest, and her mother constantly harasses her about food. At one point, her mother takes away custard and says, “You’ll be mistaken for a walrus at the festival. . . You’ll become an elephant!”

Heartless takes the reader into the imaginative world of Heart, a reflection of the land in Alice in Wonderland—a place with walking cards, magical pumpkins, and hats that give hope. Even though the setting is magical, the story isn’t a sweet love story. Instead, Catherine’s transformation into the Queen of Hearts that we all know from Alice in Wonderland is heartbreaking. Throughout the story, Catherine’s good intentions repeatedly lead to disaster. It doesn’t matter if the characters acted out of love, the results are always disastrous.

If you’re looking for a cheerful Alice and Wonderland based story, Heartless is not the book for you. Heartless is an engaging story with complex characters and sensational surprises. Catherine’s story will have you reflecting on fate and wondering if people have the ability to choose their futures or if their futures are predetermined. Readers will either love or hate Heartless, but either way, the characters will stay with you a long time after you close the book.

Sexual Content

  • Catherine daydreams about Jest’s “arms lowering her onto a bed of rose petals. Fingers tracing the contours of her face. Kisses trailing down her throat. . . And if her dreams were to be believed, he was a very, very good kisser.”
  • Catherine doesn’t want to marry the king. One of her friends suggests, “I’m only saying that you might be the king’s wife, but who is to say you couldn’t also have more clandestine relations with the joker.” Catherine is aghast.
  • While at the theatre, one of the entertainers “peeked up the skirts of the passing actresses.”
  • After Jest declares his feelings of love, he kisses Catherine. Jest “kissed her—soft at first. . . Another kiss, hesitant, growing bolder. . .Catherine grinned, delirious once more, and pulled him down onto the grass.”
  • Jest and Catherine run from Heart. When they think they are safe, Jest “grabbed her suddenly, crushing his mouth against hers. Cath threw her arms around his neck, delighting in the way her heart expanded as if it could consume them both.”
  • Catherine leaves Jest to help a friend. Before she goes, “She threw her arms around him and silenced him with a kiss, digging her hands into his hair. . . His arms drew her closer, melding their bodies together.”

Violence

  • Catherine meets Jack “who had been out of pity after losing his right eye in a game of charades.”
  • A Jabberwock attacks the castle. It “shattered one of the windows and took two of the courtiers right from the ballroom floor. Then it just flew off with them. . .” Later, someone finds pieces of the courtiers.
  • While at a tea party a Jabberwock attacks. “The Jabberwock screamed again. It was followed by the sound of splintering wood and creaking nails. The wall trembled. . .”
  • As the guests flee, a turtle “froze.” Catherine goes to help the turtle. “Every limb tightened and she could see its neck outstretched and its fangs bared and its tongue lolling toward her. . . The Lion threw himself in front of Catherine, one massive paw lifted as if he would bat the Jabberwock out of the sky.” The scene is described over six pages.
  • In the Hatta’s family, everyone goes mad. Hatta says his father “killed himself. With a brim tolliker.”
  • Catherine reads a mock turtle soup recipe. “Begin with a medium-sized mock turtle. . . Using a sharp butcher knife, remove the calf head. Mock turtles die slowly, so be aware that the head will continue to mewl and the body may try to crawl away for some minutes after decapitation.”
  • At a festival, a woman grabs Catherine’s wrist. “She rubbed her wrists, glad that the wounds weren’t deep and had already stopped bleeding, though they stung something dreadful.”
  • The Jabberwock attacks a theatre. “With a gurgle in its throat, the Jabberwock leaped forward, jaws unhinged. Catherine screamed. . . He [Jest] leaped onto the stair’s balustrade and dashed toward the best like running up a marble statue. He rolled in the air, landed on the back of the monster’s long neck, and grabbed one of the spindly whiskers that grew from its head as if he were gripping a leash. . .” The monster flies away. Catherine is injured. The fight scene is described over six pages.
  • Jest talks about where he lives, saying, “I’ve watched so many die on the battlefield. I’ve taken so many lives myself—pawns of the Red Queen, mostly, only for them to be replaced by new soldiers and sent forward again.”
  • While Catherine is trying to free a friend, the Jabberwock “crashed to the ground, blocking her path. The best curled its serpentine neck towards the sky and snorted, its nostrils steaming. . . A scream was ripped from Cath’s throat and she charged forward, swinging the sword as hard as her arms would allow it. The blade made one fast, clean cut. . . The Jabberwock’s head disconnected from her slithering neck. Her body crashed onto the rows of abandoned pumpkins.” The Jabberwock’s attack is described over ten pages.
  • After Catherine kills the Jabberwock, a man attacks Jest. “. . . There was the sound of blood sputtering across the ground. . . Jest. Mutilated. Severed. Dead.”
  • After Catherine becomes Queen of Hearts, Three Sisters magically take her heart. One of the sisters, Lacie “raised the dagger and plunged it into Cath’s chest. Catherine gasped. . . Lacie pulled out the blade. A beating heart was skewered on its tip. It was broken, cut almost clean in half by a blackened fissure that was filled with sawdust.” Catherine still lives, but her only emotion is rage.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Several times throughout the book, adults drink wine. For example, wine is served at a royal ball.
  • Mr. Caterpillar smokes “from a large hookah.”
  • Catherine’s parents drink “cordials.”
  • When Catherine is injured, Jest gives her “treacle.” When she takes the treacle, it “contains mythical healing properties.” Her ankle begins to heal itself. “She hardly felt it. The slow straightening of the joint, the shrinking of the lump, the gradual reduction of her swollen flesh.”

Language

  • A lady yells, “YOU BLOODY BIRD! CAN’T YOU AIM STRAIGHT FOR ONCE?”

Supernatural

  • Catherine’s world is full of magic.
  • Many characters are animals or other strange creatures, such as playing cards.
  • When Catherine dreams, she wakes up to find a lemon tree once, and another time a rose bush climbing her bedpost. Later a vine with “hundreds and hundreds of small, delicate hearts surrounded her—all of them bleeding.”
  • A turtle suddenly begins to change. “Upended on his back, exposing the softer underside of his shell, his arms and legs flailing. He was still groaning and pressing his flippers to his stomach, his voice hoarse with pain, his eyes wide and frightened. . . His screams turned gargled as his head, too, began to morph into something strange, something horrid.” Parts of the turtle’s body change. “His reptilian tail stretched and curled and spouted a tuff of fur on its end. His tail, too, was now that of a young cow.” His transformation is described over three pages.
  • Hatta makes hats from “unique materials” that give them magical properties.
  • Jest can change into a raven. “Jest’s body dissolved—a shadow, a flutter, a wisp of ink-dipped quills.”
  • If someone steps through a magical-looking glass, they are transported to another place.
  • A woman eats magical pumpkins that turn her into the Jabberwock. Later, the pumpkins tell Catherine that she should “run away with your human legs, run away. . .”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Burn

Sarah Dewhurst’s life in 1957 changes the moment her father’s hired help arrives at their small farm in Frome, Washington. Instead of a local farmhand looking for extra cash, her father hires a blue dragon with a thick Russian accent who believes Sarah is destined to cause the end of the world.

The first half of the book follows the two main characters—Sarah Dewhurst, a farmer’s daughter, and Malcolm, a trained cult assassin—as they try to prepare for the day of reckoning. Through the dragon’s cryptic messages, Sarah learns she is destined to start a war between dragons and humans.

Malcolm travels from a Believer compound in Canada to Frome. He is sent by the cult’s goddess, Mitera Thea, to kill Sarah. As tensions rise and the two storylines converge, Malcolm activates an old dragon relic, plunging him and Sarah into a world where dragons do not exist. The second half of the novel follows the characters in the new world, where they must race against the clock to prepare a final battle before the entire world is destroyed.

The two characters who have the most growth are Sarah and Mitera Thea, the cult goddess. Sarah, who has spent her whole life fighting racism, doesn’t believe in herself, but she still stands up and fights when her world is threatened. Mitera Thea takes her human-hating tendencies to a whole new level once she turns into a dragon, and sets her sights on destroying the world. But in her final moments, Mitera Thea sees how interesting humans can be when pushed to the limit.

Burn covers several difficult topics such as racism (Sarah is a mixed raced female and her best friend Jason is the son of Japanese immigrants), homophobia (Malcolm falls in love with a young man, Nelson, during his travel to Frome), and abuse (Sarah, Jason, and Nelson all receive abuse from community members). Another tough topic that is touched on is cult worship—Malcolm was raised from his elementary years with the sole mission to kill Sarah Dewhurst. These topics are not described in graphic detail but Burn highlights why racism, homophobia, and cult worship are bad.

Patrick Ness fits seemingly random ideas into his novels and makes them work. However, dimension-hopping alongside Cold War era dragons becomes hard to follow. The build-up for doomsday is rushed and once the mini climax is revealed and the characters are transported to another world, the book begins to lose its luster and becomes confusing. While Ness tackles sensitive topics in ways that fit the setting, the week-long plot and dimension-hopping fall flat.

Sexual Content

  • Deputy Sheriff Kelby calls Sarah a slut.
  • Kelby tries to assault Sarah. Kelby “moved the baton down to the hem of her skirt and started to raise it. ‘No,’ she said.” Someone intervenes before Kelby can do anything else.
  • Malcolm and Nelson huddle for warmth in the truck and are intimate with each other. “Nelson’s fingers didn’t stop at Malcolm’s waistline, where the tattoos did.”
  • “[Love] was not in the preparations Malcom had been given. He’d been warned of predatory men and women who might seek this in exchange for favors, favors like rides to the border.”
  • Because of lies that Nelson was told, he believed LGBTQ sex “would have to be rough. And violent. And full of shame.”
  • Agent Woolf, as a dragon, finds herself pregnant. “Agent Woolf had been very much a virgin. She hated humans far too much to touch any one of them in that way.”
  • Malcolm tries to convince his double in the other world that he is Malcolm. The other Malcom says, “’you’re the first man I’ve ever kissed.’ He frowned, “that’s kinky.’”

 Violence

  • Sarah describes the racist deputy sheriff in town. “Kelby had thoughts on these issues [of Sarah driving illegally]. Deputy Kelby would be only too happy to find Sarah Dewhurst, daughter of Gareth and Darlene Dewhurst, illegally behind the wheel of a farm truck, and what might he do then?”
  • Sarah recalls the tension between nations. “Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union, threatening to annihilate them pretty much every week these days.”
  • Malcolm faces off against Mounties in Canada. “The first gunshot took out the side flap of [Malcom’s] hat and the middle of his left ear. The bullet reached him before the sound did.”
  • The fight between Malcom and the Mounties takes a drastic turn when a dragon steps into the fight. The mountain police, “exploded in a wash of fire and blood that Malcolm stepped back behind a tree to avoid, not incidentally stepping out of the line of sight of the first man’s gun. He still caught a wave of blood across the side of his face.”
  • Kelby attacks Jason and Sarah in a racially charged fight. “Kelby’s baton lashed out so fast Jason didn’t even have a chance to duck. It hit him on the throat, and he fell to his knees, coughing as if to choke.” Sarah is attacked and “[Kelby] swung the gun, hitting her jaw.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • Malcolm befriends a gay man, Nelson, who tells the story of how his parents kicked him out of the house. “His father had beat him; his mother had told him to never come back.”
  • Dernovich, a detective who is following Malcom, is shot. “The man lay on the floor of the motel room, astonishment on his face along with the blood bubbling on his lips.” He dies from his injury.
  • As both plot lines converge, there is a scuffle and a gun fight involving Sarah, Jason, the sheriff, Malcolm, and Sarah’s dad. “There was so much shouting, [Sarah] didn’t even hear the gunshot, only saw the pistol flip out of Jason’s hand, saw the blood erupt from his wrist. Then a second eruption from his back as he turned from the force of the first.”
  • Sarah’s father is shot. “He also didn’t know he had been shot until he slumped to one knee.” Her father dies from his wound.
  • Malcom and Agent Woolf have a gun and knife fight. “The gun went off as [Malcolm] cut [Agent Wolff], sending the shot astray, his blade going so deep he severed her forefinger altogether.” The fight is described over four pages.
  • Woolf wakes up as a dragon and goes on a rampage, destroying cities, including Seattle. “The first building exploded, her fire blasting out the entire ground floor and bringing down the eight floors above it in an almost slow-motion tumble.” The destruction goes on for seven pages.
  • The ultimate battle between the main group of characters and the first dragon starts. It goes on for twelve pages; most of it is dialogue with violence including gun shots, firebreath, and impalement. Nameless soldiers are killed by fire. Agent Wolff, the dragon, is impaled in the end. “As [Agent Wolff] took in her breath to destroy them, Jason Inagawa, unheard under the artillery, drove a truck directly into her belly, his family’s steel plow attached to the hood. She cried out. Instead of a blast of pure fire, a rush of acid spilled from her mouth.” Her death scene continues for half a page.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Dernovich observes a teen and thinks “he couldn’t be more than seventeen, disappearing into the trees that lined the river, probably to smoke, or whatever Believer teens did to rebel.”

 Language

  • Hell is used once.
  • Fruit, a slur toward gays, is used three times. Queer as an insult is used once.
  • Damn is used four times.
  • Someone says “that little fucker” and “we’re fucked.”
  • Shit/shitbag is used four times. For example, someone says, “the murdering little shitbag.”

 Supernatural

  • Dragons exist during Cold War era America.

 Spiritual Content

  • A major plot point within Burn is the cult of the Believers. They are a group that believe that humans are a nuisance to dragons and that dragons should once again rule the earth. They worship their main priestess, Mitera Thea, who is their “Mother Goddess.”
  • Another major plot point is a half-transcribed prophecy that foretells the end of the world. The location of the catalyst is in Frome, Washington, on Sarah’s farm.
  • Malcolm is a worshiper of the Believers. He was raised within one of their cells in Canada. He prays to Mitera Thea to aid him on his journey. He considers himself a servant to her.
  • The dragons also believe in a goddess. They call the first dragon the Goddess, the one who created and then tried to destroy the dragons with her chaotic magic. They destroyed her dragon form and turned her into a human.
  • A dragon realizes the Believer’s version of the prophecy is interpreted differently than the dragon’s version. “The Believers thought they were giving the world to dragons. A world without humans. They didn’t know what doom they had started.”
  • God and Christ are mentioned four times; the Bible once. “What in God’s name?” and “Christ” are used as an expletive. The Bible is compared to the Believer’s prophecy.
  • Nelson is called “an abomination against God” because of his sexual orientation.
  • Sarah’s dad mentions an old wives’ tale about dragons: “An animal without a soul is still an animal, no matter how many words it’s learned to lie with.”
  • Sarah talks about how kids used to be scared of dragons. Sarah “knew kids at school who prayed every night that they’d wake up in the morning.”
  • Sarah’s dad mentions another tale: “Just because the devil gave [dragons] the gift of speech doesn’t mean you’re talking to anything more than a mostly undomesticated predator.”
  • Malcolm tries to explain aspects of his religion. “Faith is belief without proof. It is a leap, an act of bravery.”
  • The Spur of the Goddess is the talon of the first dragon. It is believed to be a weapon of destruction. It is also a holy symbol.
  • Agent Woolf tries to kill a dragon because “sometimes one must commit even the vilest blasphemy for the greater good. . . ”
  • Malcolm hitchhikes and meets various drivers, “one of them tries to convert him to Christianity.”

by Signe Nettum

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