The Magic Misfits #1

Street magician Carter is used to distrusting everyone because of the trickery and pickpocketing he must pull off in order to survive on the street. He can’t afford to make meaningful connections with anyone besides his Uncle Sly. So, when he runs away from his uncle, he never expects to find new friends in a sleepy New England town. But like a magic spell, his life changes fast when Bosso and his crew arrive and try to steal any valuables they can get their hands on. 

After one fateful encounter with Dante Vernon, the local purveyor of illusions, Carter meets five like-minded illusionists: the escape artist Leila, the inventor Ridley, the violinist Theo, and the comedy duo Olly and Izzy. With magic and teamwork, the six kids will set out to save the town from Bosso’s villainous schemes.   

Magic Misfits focuses on Carter’s point of view, allowing the reader to gain insight into Carter’s love of sleight of hand and how he adjusts to being in a group of like-minded people. Readers will empathize with Carter’s move to a new place and his adjustment to his new life there. In addition, an omniscient, unnamed narrator occasionally interjects with a summary of events that happened in the story or information about the characters. The narrator’s commentary and humor blend in seamlessly with the rest of the narration. Black-and-white pictures scattered throughout the story also aid in the understanding of the action.  

Uncle Sly taught Carter to be wary of people. However, Carter learns to trust people. Leila helps him break down his guard. His other friends not only help in terms of emotional support, but they also help him get settled in his new town. For instance, Theo invites Carter to stay at his house for a few days, highlighting and reinforcing the idea that friends help friends, no matter the situation. 

Another positive aspect of the story is the how-to-magic tricks that are sprinkled throughout the story. These break up the action and include instructions for readers to try the tricks, with a few illustrations as reference points. These tricks, such as rolling coins on your knuckles and making color predictions, are easy to do, but adults are encouraged to help their little ones with these activities.   

Magic Misfits is a fun, entertaining story that draws upon the flare and grandiosity of magicians. The excellent narration and colorful descriptions of the town alongside the pictures make the setting come alive. There is a diverse cast, not just in the main characters but also the supporting characters; notably, Leila has two dads. Readers will enjoy reading about how Carter’s friendships develop as well as the teamwork between him and his new friends. Plus, the inspiring conclusion shows Carter and his friends besting the villains with their talents and with their trust in one another. If you are looking for more stories about magic, friendship, and teamwork, try Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • When finding out that Uncle Sly had rigged the shell game, a passerby yells, “You no-good, dirty cheat!” 
  • Uncle Sly calls one of their neighbors an “old broad.” 

Supernatural 

  • Many of the characters use tricks and illusions, such as Leila’s escape artist tricks or Dante Vernon’s sleight of hand. These are illusions, not supernatural magic.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Bones of the Sun God

After his adventures in Egypt, Sam Force is finding it nearly impossible to return to everyday life at boarding school—especially now that he knows his parents are still alive. However, his Uncle Jasper has banned him from setting off in search of them until he can go with Sam, but Sam’s not sure he can wait that long. When a man turns up at his school—a man he last saw in the Egyptian desert—he knows he can wait no longer.

Sam needs to continue the hunt for his parents. Luckily, his friend Mary Verulam has a plan, and before he knows it, he’s on his way to Belize. However, from the moment he lands, Sam finds himself being followed and threatened. When his research leads him to a local crocodile park and the leader of a mysterious crocodile cult, things become really dangerous. Sam is left to wonder if he’ll ever be able to locate his parents—and if there is anyone he can trust. 

Right from the start, Sam knows he’s going to sneak out of the country to continue the dangerous search for his parents—he just didn’t expect the search for clues to turn deadly. Multiple people warn Sam about the dangers that lay ahead and strongly encourage him to return home. However, the stubborn boy refuses to listen. While Sam’s determination and resourcefulness are admirable, he’s also impulsive and reckless. To make matters worse, Sam isn’t afraid to sneak into places he shouldn’t be, which causes many problems. Despite his dangerous actions, Sam is a likable protagonist that readers will root for.  

Similar to the first book in the series—The Iron Tomb—Bones of the Sun God doesn’t shy away from violence. In book two, a new villain appears—Felix, the crocodile cult leader – who will do anything to keep his secrets safe. This includes plotting Sam’s death, killing his henchmen, and feeding people to his trained crocodiles. The constant threat of being eaten by crocodiles keeps the action high. Plus, readers will be shocked when the crocodile park’s secrets are revealed. 

Bones of the Sun God continues the mystery of the pyramids and of how the Arc of the Covenant is related to them. However, Sam spends much of his time being chased by others and the story lacks the clues that made book one so much fun. Despite this, Bones of the Sun God will entertain readers. Readers will also enjoy the black and white pictures that are scattered throughout the book. The illustrations will help readers imagine some of the complicated plot points.  

Readers who aren’t put off by violence will find Bones of the Sun God highly entertaining because the action-packed story follows a likable protagonist who is willing to jump into danger to discover where his missing parents are. However, the strange crocodile cult and the bloody violence may make the book inappropriate for some readers. For a high-interest, fast-paced adventure with less violence, there are many good options including The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta and Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia. And if you want to discover some Egyptian history in a non-fiction format, check out The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld.   

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • While in a pool of water, a beast attacks a knight. The beast’s “white teeth enveloped his legs. A loud crack echoed across the chamber as powerful jaws slammed together around his waist. With one last effort, he brought his dagger arm down onto his attacker’s skull. . . And then there was only darkness.” The knight dies. 
  • While at a river, a young boy named Elio sees a “crocodile’s jaw open. . . A cloud of white mist bursts from the beast. With the pain came sudden understanding. The boy stared down at the silver dart sticking from his thigh. His eyes felt heavy . . . the last thing he heard as his world went black was the sound of the beast laughing at him.” Elio is kidnapped and taken to the crocodile park. 
  • Sam was cleaning the rowing shed when bullies from his school show up. Sam “aimed the bottle of detergent at Andrew Fletcher and squeezed. The soapy liquid hit him in the eyes, and Andrew howled in pain. Before his two friends could react, Sam swung the foamy jet at them.” Sam is able to get away.  
  • Sam hides with a group of tourists who go to a crocodile park. During a show, a man appears and says, “The guardians of the underworld demand sacrifices.” Then, crocodiles appear and begin attacking people. “Two more [people] went down, the first rammed from the side, the second pushed from behind. Arms flailed, water churned, and then there was only one person left. . . Down at the pool, the woman scrambled back toward the edge, but before she could climb out, her legs were pulled out from under her and she disappeared beneath the surface.” 
  • As the audience watches in horror, another man steps into the pool of water. “Lights in the bottom of the pool switched on, illuminating the crocodiles, who were still holding their human sacrifices.” The man calls on Kinich Ahau and then, “the crocodiles, unburdened by their prey, swam to the far side of the pool and disappeared into the tunnel.” The people who the crocodile attacked walk out of the pool unharmed. The scene is described over three pages. 
  • Two policemen were taking Sam to the airport when they come upon a broken-down car in the middle of the street. “Two men spun toward the police car. They had guns. There were two flashes of light and everything went black. . . A man pulled Sam’s door open and wrenched him out. As Sam was dragged to the old car, the struggling policemen fell silent.” Sam is taken to Felix, the founder of the crocodile park, who locks Sam in a cage. 
  • Sam escapes from the crocodile park and runs towards the forest. Sam falls and “lay there, defenseless. . . he saw the silhouette of the man looming over him. Suddenly, the red [laser] beam hit the man’s face. . . then the man threw his hands to his eyes and howled in pain.” 
  • One of Felix’s henchmen, Azeem, ambushes Sam in the wilderness. Sam throws juice at Azeem’s face and bats attack him. Sam “heard the fluttering of hundreds of pairs of wings as they swept through the forest . . .Sam heard a cry as the first one of the tiny juice-hungry mouths fell on their new meal.” Azeem is not seriously injured.  
  • Sam returns to the crocodile park to save Elio, another boy who is held prisoner. As they try to escape, they see “the body of a large bald man in a white suit.” The man’s skin was a “sickly gray color” and he “had been dead for some time.” Later, Sam discovers that the dead man’s body was stolen from the morgue. 
  • As Sam and Elio run from the crocodile park, a bomb goes off. “The concussion from the blast hit them. Sam saw Elio lifted off the ground and pushed through the air.” Sam has a “nasty cut on his forehead,” but is otherwise uninjured. 
  • Sam finds a hidden entrance into a pyramid. When Sam goes in, he finds Azeem and Felix digging a hole. Felix holds a gun on Azeem, who is at the edge of a pool. Azeem’s “confused look transformed to panic as he heard the noise behind him. . .” Azeem sees a crocodile, but is unable to get out of the pool because “Felix kept the gun aimed down at the Scar-Faced Man.” 
  • As the crocodile gets closer, Azeem panics. “He tried to climb out [of the pool] again, but Felix lashed out with his foot. The kick sent the Scar-Faced Man stumbling backward. . . Azeem went rigid. The water around him became red and his screaming reached new levels of loudness. . . the man was pulled under, his scream cut off. . .” Azeem dies. 
  • After leaving the pyramid, Felix sets off a bomb. Sam and his friend, Mary, run. The explosion “grew to a deafening roar and a howling wind, so powerful Sam and Mary were pushed along the floor of the tunnel. . . Sam felt his exposed skin being stung by the tiny fragments of stone carried along by the explosion. . . He heard Mary screaming.” Afterwards Sam’s “head was throbbing, his ears were ringing from the blast,” but he was otherwise unharmed. 
  • In the pyramid, Sam finds a parchment belonging to a Templar Knight that tells why they built a structure inside the pyramid. While building the structure in a pool, crocodiles appeared. “I shall never forget the look of horror, the pain, as unseen monsters took hold of their legs. Screams were stifled as the men were pulled under…the ugly red stain that spread through the pool left us in no doubt as to the fate of our other two companions.” Later, the knight meets a similar fate. 
  • Sam goes into the pool to retrieve an item. A crocodile “comes out of the tunnel . . . and smashed into [Sam], knocking him back off his feet. . . he went under with his mouth open. The choking sensation triggered a burst of panic that wiped the crocodile from his mind.” Sam survives without injury. 
  • Sam and his friends follow Felix, who is trying to escape in a submarine. “Sam pushed the hatch down, hitting Felix in the head. Stunned, the man let go to the side of the ladder and fell back inside. . . Five feet below, Felix was sprawled in a heap unconscious.” 
  • Sam is trying to get out of the submarine when Felix “grabbed Sam’s pants . . . [Sam] swung his free foot backward, catching Felix in his stomach, then released one hand from the ladder and swung his elbow back, smashing into Felix’s forehead.” The two wrestle with each other for six pages and Sam eventually escapes. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Some believe that the pyramids were “built on key energy points around the world. Powered by Arks, they create an energy field that holds the earth’s crust in place.” The Ark can produce a magical substance known as the philosopher’s stone, “but the Ark will only produce this magical substance if it is taken out of the pyramid.” Some men would like to remove the Arc and become immortal despite the danger to the earth.  

Spiritual Content 

  • The story revolves around Kinich Ahau, the Egyptian sun god and the god of the underworld. 
  • Sam visits Mayan pyramids where the Maya “performed ceremonies and made sacrifices to their gods.”  

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy

Cammie is not over her breakup with Josh, and after the winter break, all she wants is for things to go back to normal. But her mother is keeping secrets, the East Wing of the school is closed off, and an unwelcome intruder on a Covert Operations assignment leaves Cammie and her friends on edge.

It should be mentioned that the Gallagher Academy is an all-girls spy school, so Cammie and her friends are less than prepared when it is revealed that an all-boys spy school exists and—even worse—some of those boys will be attending the Gallagher Academy in an exchange program. Suddenly, Cammie, Bex, Liz, and Macey find themselves at odds with their strange new classmates. Why are the boys really here? Why won’t any of them talk about their own school, Blackthorne? And is Zach just a boy spy on an innocent exchange program who happens to like Cammie, or is something more sinister at hand? When Cammie is blamed for a security breach at the mansion, she knows something is not right. But will Cammie and her friends discover the truth about their male counterparts in time to stop whatever nefarious schemes are underfoot?

Despite being a well-trained spy who could incapacitate a person in under eight seconds, Cammie remains a relatable and lovable character who embodies the awkwardness of a typical girl. Readers will fall in love with Cammie, who has impressive spy skills and yet is completely baffled by boys. At one point, Cammie thinks, “Boys! Are they always this impossible? Do they always say cryptic, indecipherable things?” Because the story is told from Cammie’s point of view, readers will get an inside look at her thoughts and feelings, which makes Cammie an endearing character. At times, Cammie’s jumbled emotions will make readers hurt along with her. Especially when Cammie sneaks off alone and wonders if “maybe crying is like everything else we do—it’s best if you don’t get caught.”

Luckily, Cammie has a group of friends that always has her back. Bex is fiercely loyal, while Liz’s optimistic outlook is a welcome relief. Macey adds a little humor with her boy translations. By the end of the book, readers will feel as if the Gallagher Girls are friends. However, that doesn’t mean that Zach is not a welcome addition to Cammie’s life. While his charm is confusing to Cammie, it’s hard not to fall in love with his tough-boy attitude.

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy continues the series in a satisfying way, bringing back favorite characters from book one with the welcome addition of the Blackthorne boys. In typical Ally Carter style, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy begins with suspense and leaves the reader turning pages until the very end. Through first-person narration, Carter creates a fun story full of relatable characters and explores teen romance in a wholesome way that is perfect for younger readers. If you haven’t bought the entire series yet, you will want to. Even though there are six books in the series, each book will have readers ready to jump back into the Gallagher Girls’ world.

Sexual Content

  • Zach leans in to kiss Cammie, but they are interrupted. “His hands were warm on the back of my neck; his fingers laced through my hair, and he tilted his head and he moved in. I closed my eyes. And I heard, ‘Oh my gosh! Cammie, is that you?’”
  • Zach kisses Cammie. “The last thing I expected was to feel his arms sliding around me, to sense the whole world turning upside down as Zach dipped me in the middle of the foyer and pressed his lips to mine.”

Violence

  • In P.E. class, Cammie “hauled off and kicked the heavy [punching] bag—hard—and it flew back and hit [Zach] in the stomach. For a second he stood there, doubled over, trying to catch his breath.”
  • Cammie and her friends find their teacher, who had been injured by a thief. “Our teacher fell into their arms. Blood stained the side of his face, and his voice was faint as he lay on the floor and said, ‘He got it.’”
  • Cammie reacts when Zach grabs her. “Without stopping to think, I stepped back into my attacker, tried to flip him over my head, but he countered his weight at that precise time, stopping my momentum.”
  • During what turns out to have been a test of their skills, the Gallagher Girls fight to stop a thief and his guards. “For a moment it seemed to be raining Gallagher Girls. All around me fists flew, kicks landed . . . I’d knocked a guard to the ground and was struggling with a Napotine patch . . . the next time I saw [Liz] she was jumping from the cab, landing on the back of a guard who had been chasing Eva.” The fight continues over four pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Cammie remembers how her “mom gave Josh some tea that’s supposed to wipe a person’s memory blank” to make him forget what he knew about the Gallagher Academy.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Chester Keene Cracks the Code

Chester Keene takes great comfort in his routines. Afterschool Monday to Thursday is bowling. Friday, the best of days, is laser tag! But Chester has one very special secret—he gets spy messages from his dad. Chester thinks his father must be on covert government assignments, which is why Chester has never been able to meet him.

Then one day, Chester’s classmate Skye approaches him with a clue. They’ve been tasked with a complex puzzle-solving mission! Skye proves to be a useful partner and good company, even if her free-wheeling ways are disruptive to Chester’s carefully built schedule. As Chester and Skye get closer to their final clue, they discover the key to their spy assignment: they have to stop a heist! But cracking this code may mean finding out that things are not always what they seem. 

Chester is used to being alone. Nobody sits by him at lunch. Nobody sits by him on the school bus. And nobody helps him when Marc bullies him. His dad is the only person that Chester can talk to, but he’s never actually met his dad and they only communicate through emails. But in Chester’s greatest time of need, his dad goes silent. So, when a strange clue is left on his door, Chester is convinced that his dad is a spy in danger—and only Chester can help. When Skye approaches Chester with the other piece of the clue, the two are forced to work together even though Chester would prefer to solve the mystery on his own. 

Chester Keene Cracks the Code has a slow start, but once Skye jumps into the story, the story takes off on a fun hunt for clues. Even though Chester is a bit “difficult,” Skye doesn’t let his quirks chase her off. And soon, Chester discovers that he likes having Skye as a friend, even though she is impulsive. While the clues add mystery to the book, Chester and Skye’s developing relationship adds heart and teaches readers the value of friendship. Even though the story is written from Chester’s point of view, readers will be able to relate to Skye’s annoyance when Chester gets difficult. 

Throughout the hunt for clues, Chester thinks his father is leaving the clues. While Chester thinks about the need to solve the clues and help his father, there is no clear reason that explains why Chester believes his father is in danger. Because of this, Chester’s constant thoughts about his father’s danger become a bit tedious. However, many readers will relate to Chester’s feelings of abandonment and his deep desire to meet his father. Chester eventually learns that with or without his father, he is surrounded by people who love him, and that is enough.   

Even though Chester and Skye must solve the clues left for them, the clues are so specific to the characters that the readers don’t have a chance to solve the clues themselves. Despite this, the story contains enough mystery and adventure to keep readers interested. Plus, the story teaches the importance of friendship, family, and speaking up when being bullied. Chester realizes “people make mistakes. . . Perfect—it doesn’t exist.” Overall, Chester Keene Cracks the Code is a fun read that shows the importance of embracing the people in your life and accepting them for who they are. 

Sexual Content 

  • Chester’s mother is dating a man who stays the night at her house. Chester knows that “Mom and Christopher won’t come out of the bedroom until later.” 
  • Skye tells Chester that her dad might marry his girlfriend because he’s “over the moon. They’re all smoochy smoochy all the time.” 
  • After Christopher proposes to Chester’s mom, they kiss. Skye tells them, “Get a room.” 

Violence 

  • After winning a round of laser tag, Marc (the school bully) corners Chester. Marc punches Chester. “A flash of color bursts behind my eyelids. My ears ring with a tinkling sound, or maybe the force of my body being slammed into the change machine. . .” Chester gets a huge black eye. 
  • Marc is standing by Chester’s locker. When Chester approaches, Marc “tosses a casual punch at my shoulder. . . Only, his hand lands hard enough that it throws me off-balance, and my other shoulder collides with the bank of lockers.” Then, Marc grabs Chester. Marc “grips some combination of my shirt, my armpit skin, and my backpack strap, and with tremendous force, whips my entire body around him. . .” Chester ends up on his back “limbs sprawling, neck kinked.” Chester’s shoulders and neck hurt, and his shirt is ripped. The scene is described over two pages.   
  • Chester tells a story about a man who came into the bowling alley and “tried to rob Amanda [the owner] at knifepoint once. She hit him in the head with a bowling ball.” 
  • Four people rob an armored car. Two of the men have “guns raised, they charge on the truck. Boom. The guard flinches like he hit a wall. He grabs his neck, then slumps down.” 
  • When a guard falls, Chester thinks, “Is he dead? But there’s no blood. No terrible explosion. A tiny arrow sticks out of his neck.” 
  • When the robber sees Chester, he grabs him. “My shoulder pops as [he] binds my hands together behind my back. He uses something thin and smooth. It cuts into my skin.” 
  • Skye jumps in to help Chester. A female robber grabs Skye and “she goes down.” The robber says, “Pop ‘em and let’s get out of here.” One of the men refuses to kill them because “they’re just kids.” The robbery is described over five pages. 
  • The school bully, Marc, calls Chester “Salisbury-face” because they were serving it at lunch. Angry, Chester’s “lunch tray geos vertical, smashes straight into Marc’s face. Peas go rolling over his shoulder, down his arms, and onto the floor.” 
  • Marc corners Chester in the bathroom and gives Chester a bruise “exactly the size and shape of a urinal head.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Twice after being punched, Chester goes home and takes Tylenol for the pain. 
  • While having dinner, Chester’s mother and her boyfriend have a beer. 
  • At the bowling alley, a group of adults is drinking beer.  
  • Chester’s mom’s boyfriend serves pizza and beer to other adults. 

Language   

  • Marc calls Chester a loser several times. 
  • When Marc slams into Chester, Chester thinks Marc is a “jerk-face.” 
  • After hitting Marc with his lunch, Chester thinks, “Oh, no. Oh, crud.” 
  • Skye says Marc is a jerk. 
  • Dang it is used three times. 
  • Heck is used four times. 
  • OMG, my God, and oh my God are used as an exclamation a few times. 
  • Skye calls Chester a doofus and a goof.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Kelsey the Spy

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content 

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

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

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

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Team BFF: Race to the Finish!

Sophia and her friends are BFF’s. Together they work on coding projects, eat cookies, and have impromptu dance parties. They are excited to participate in their first robot hackathon. They hope to show off their coding skills. But when Sophia’s parents need her to babysit instead of attending the hackathon, everything may change. Without Sophia, the team will be disqualified. When Sofia tells her friends, will they have her back or will it destroy their friendship?

The second installment of the Girls Who Code series focuses on Sophia’s struggle with balancing home responsibilities with her coding club responsibilities. Readers will be able to relate to Sophia’s struggle to tell her friends bad news—she won’t be able to participate in the hackathon. The friends in the story not only brainstorm how to build a robot, they also show the importance of helping each other. The diverse cast of characters are young girls who have a variety of interests (cooking, drama, and fashion), but come together because of their love of coding.

Team BFF, Race to the Finish is told from Sophia’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand Sophia’s feelings of not being noticed by her family. The reader will get a small glimpse into the life of a large, Hispanic family. Sophia’s family not only makes traditional Spanish food but also uses Spanish in their everyday interactions.

Sophia is also struggling to understand her feelings for a boy. She has a crush but is tongue-tied every time she sees the boy. As Sophia and the boy interact, she wonders how to navigate a boy-girl relationship. Team BFF, Race to the Finish is an easy to read story that shows smart girls in everyday situations. Sophia’s struggle is highly relatable, interesting, and will capture many readers’ interest.

Sexual Content

  • Sophia has a crush on a boy and when they talk, Sophia talked even though “butterflies in my stomach were zooming around like crazy. . . It was silly to feel weird around him.”
  • While walking with Sophia, Sammy “reached for my hand. I let him take it, even though it was a sweaty mess—but his was too.”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

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

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

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

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Falcon’s Feather

In the exciting follow-up to The Nebula Secret in the seven-book Explorer Academy Series, Cruz, Sailor, and Emmett, along with their new ally Bryndis, embark on their first globe-trotting mission aboard the ship Orion. Cruz jumps right back into school and starts using the latest technology in submersible underwater dives, but is soon reminded of the dangers of exploration when his equipment fails and he almost drowns. Determined to keep his eyes on the prize, Cruz sneaks away to find answers but unknowingly lures his friends into bigger trouble. When a friend of Cruz’s mom meets an untimely end, Cruz’s luck seems about to run out and the questions multiply. What does his mother’s message mean? Where will it lead? Who is following him? And why?  

Cruz’s adventure takes him and his friends to the land of the Norse gods. While there, Cruz and his classmates are introduced to amazing technology that is prominently featured. The technology is interesting and gives The Falcon’s Feather the opportunity to educate readers on several different global threats facing our world, including melting glaciers, endangered whales, and the lack of biodiversity in crops. For example, Cruz and his team go on a mission to save whales trapped in fishing nets. Before they leave, they learn “it’s not uncommon for larger marine animals to get snagged in lines and nets. . . More than three hundred thousand whales, dolphins, and porpoises die this way every year—that’s one every two minutes.” The facts are well-integrated into the story and never feel like a lecture or an encyclopedia. 

The Falcon’s Feather combines a well-written story with maps and illustrations that appear every two to twelve pages. Many of the illustrations are a mix of photographs and drawings, which gives the pictures a touch of realism. Another positive aspect of the book is that the academy encourages cooperation, respect, and honor. While all the students do not necessarily like each other, they are still expected to work together to reach a common goal. Plus, the book includes a section titled The Truth Behind the Fiction, which combines pictures and short blurbs on people featured in the book who have interesting jobs. While this story recaps important plot points from the first book, the series should definitely be read in order. 

As the second installment of the Explorer Academy Series, The Falcon’s Feather ramps up the action and gives readers more insight into the different characters. The large cast of characters that appeared in The Nebula Secret are beginning to feel like friends. Plus, suspense is created because the reader knows there is someone inside the academy who wants Cruz dead. The Explorer Academy Series will appeal to many readers because it has mystery, technology, animals, and an interesting cast of characters. The Falcon’s Feather ends on a cliff-hanger, so readers will be eager to begin the next book in the series, The Double Helix.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Cruz and his friends help whales who are trapped in nets. The group learns that if whales are “unable to break free in time, it can lead to serious injury or even death. The ropes can slice through their skin and cause infection. They can deform bones, cut off part of a tail, and restrict breathing, swimming, and eating.” Many whales die due to nets. 
  • A friend of Cruz’s mom, Nóri, was planning to meet Cruz at a hot spring. When Cruz arrives, he discovers that Nóri was pushed into the hot pools and “badly burned…From the chest down, Nóri was wet and violently shivering.” Nóri dies from his injuries. 
  • While looking for an artifact in an ice cave, Cruz and his friends are cornered. “Cruz was facing two men. One was Officer Wardincorn. The other was Tripp Scarlatos. Both were holding guns.” The two men question the kids and then “Tripp tossed something round and green into the air. . . a massive boom rocked the cave. Ice began raining. Cruz could feel the sting of hundreds of shards pelting his head, neck, shoulders, and back.” No one is seriously injured. 
  • During a phone conversation, one of the villains reveals that his henchman “is dead. Fell into a crevasse.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Dang is used once.  
  • One of Cruz’s friends calls Tripp a jerk. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • When someone knocks on the door to Cruz’s room, his roommate quickly hides a vacuum. Cruz says “a silent prayer of thanks that [his aunt] insisted he bring it.” 

The Right Track (Disney Frozen: Northern Lights)

Anna, Elsa, and their friends from Disney’s Frozen embark on a new adventure with the help of the Northern Lights. The friends travel to Troll Valley to help the trolls celebrate the Crystal Ceremony. Along the way, they meet Little Rock, whose tracking crystal will not glow. The friends encounter other obstacles as well. Will they make it to Troll Valley in time for the celebration? 

Readers will be drawn to The Right Track because it follows Disney’s Frozen characters. The story uses basic vocabulary and short sentences, but is intended for children who are familiar with words on sight and who can sound out new words. Each page has 1 to 3 simple sentences printed in large text. The action is illustrated with large pictures that show the friends’ adventures. The colorful illustrations will help readers understand the story’s plot. 

The Right Track uses familiar characters and full-page illustrations to engage young readers. The story is intended for preschool through kindergarten readers, but older readers will also enjoy the story. The plot is easy to understand. However, readers may be disappointed the story ends before Anna, Elsa, and their friends make it to the Troll Valley, so they don’t get to see if Little Rock is able to light his tracking crystal. Despite this, fans of Frozen will enjoy the winter wonderland and will learn about the importance of helping a friend. Readers who are ready to move up to chapter books will enjoy stepping into another winter wonderland by reading the Diary of an Ice Princess Series by Christina Soontornvat. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Elsa uses her magic. “Elsa waves her arms. She makes a stairway of ice. It stretches across the river.” 
  • When the ice stairway begins “to fall. Elsa uses her magic. She makes ice sleds.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Best Wishes

Becca Singer is having the worst day ever. Her best friend, Harper, dumped her, and Becca is totally friendless and alone. Then a box arrives in the mail. 

Inside the box? One bracelet, plus a mysterious note telling Becca to make a wish. So Becca puts on the bracelet—why not, right?—and wishes to have friends. Lots of friends. So many friends. 

And just like that, the magic works. Suddenly, EVERYONE wants to be Becca’s BFF, from all the kids at school, to the teachers, to her own mom. As things spin out of control, Becca starts to wonder: Is this wish really a curse? 

Best Wishes’ super cute cover will cause readers to pick up the book, while the engaging story will keep them entertained until the very end. Readers will relate to Becca’s conflicts—growing apart from a best friend, uncertainty about how to make friends, and the desire to fit in. When Becca’s wish comes true, she takes advantage of the situation in order to get a cell phone, a manicure, and eat pizza. At first, Becca is thrilled to have so much attention and to always have people tell her yes, but soon she realizes that “all the attention and nice things people were saying felt kind of . . . empty.”  

The theme of friendship runs throughout the story and will leave readers with many questions to ponder: Is having a lot of friends important? How can you be surrounded by friends and still be lonely? What makes someone a true friend? Through Becca’s experiences, she comes to the realization that “the most important part of friendship was showing you cared.”   

Suspense is added when a mysterious woman tries to get Becca to sell the magical bracelet to her. Even though Becca refuses, the woman keeps appearing. Once Becca realizes that her wish is more like a curse, she tries to take off the bracelet, but can’t—even with the help of this mysterious woman. Eventually, the woman attempts to steal the bracelet from Becca and a surprising hero jumps in to rescue the bracelet from the woman’s grasp. 

Not only is Best Wishes an engaging story with a positive message, but it is also a story that will appeal to many readers. The story uses simple vocabulary and short paragraphs which makes the text easy to read. There are also adorable black and white illustrations every two to ten pages. The illustrations will help readers understand the plot and Becca’s emotions. For example, while at school Becca has an embarrassing moment and the illustration shows her trying to hide in her pencil box. Since one of the characters talks about the Dork Diaries Series, this may spark readers’ desire to read even more.  

Best Wishes should be on every child’s reading list, not only because it’s an engaging book but also because it teaches the reader about friendship. The story portrayed Becca’s family in a positive manner even though they are not perfect. In the end, Becca learns the true meaning of friendship and grows as a person. Strong readers interested in reading another beautiful book about friendship should add Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee and Wish by Barbara O’Connor to their must-read list.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • OMG is used frequently. 
  • Omigod is used once. 
  • At one point, Becca wonders why her brother has so many friends. She thinks, “If making friends was so easy for my brother, why was he usually such a jerk to me?” 

Supernatural 

  • Becca receives a magical bracelet with instructions to make a wish. Becca wishes that “everyone wanted to be my friend.” After she makes the wish, “The bracelet tightened around my wrist. The lights in the classroom flickered, and a rush of air hit my skin. Suddenly, my whole body felt like it was glimmering. Sparkling.” Becca’s wish is granted.  

Spiritual Content 

  • Becca and her family are Jewish. They are “not very religious but they try to stay kosher.”  
  • Becca’s family observes the Sabbat, and they have a traditional Sabbat which includes lighting candles, a Hebrew prayer, and eating a “special braided bread loaf.”  

The Big Freeze

The time has come for Princess Lina to choose her magical weather specialty. Her cousin, Jack Frost, makes amazing snowflakes. Her Uncle Lee forms ice caves in glaciers. Her Great-Aunt Sunder creates winter storms on polar seas. Everyone has chosen something so impressive. Lina’s not sure what she’s going to do—but she’s determined to make her mark in a big way! 

To complicate matters, Lina’s teacher has assigned an art project. Lina is disappointed that she can’t use science because she isn’t artistic. Everything Lina tries turns out to be a big mess. After several failed attempts to create art, Lina uses magic to make her project, but she wonders if that is cheating. Lina thinks, “One of Ms. Collier’s rules was that we were supposed to do our projects without any help. But she didn’t say anything about using magic, right?” 

The Big Freeze is told from Lina’s point of view, which helps readers understand her conflicts. Readers will relate to Lina’s difficulty at school and her desire to make her family proud. Lina writes in her diary often, which allows the readers to understand her thoughts and feelings. Lina’s best friend, Claudie, also tries to help Lina by giving advice. The two girls’ friendship is sweet and Claudie’s words are always encouraging and positive. 

One of the reasons Lina has difficulty completing her project is because she wants it to be perfect. In the end, instead of copying someone else’s art form or turning in a project that was made by magic, Lina writes a poem and turns it in late. Lina learns that “there’s no such thing as a perfect piece of art” and that she “needed to cut [herself] some slack.” 

Readers will be drawn into the book because of the cute illustrations that appear in black, white, and light green. The illustrations appear on almost every page and the pictures help readers understand the plot because they show Lina’s activities. The Big Freeze uses simple vocabulary, plus several pages contain a list. The paragraphs contain three or fewer sentences and have a variety of graphic elements to break the text into small portions. The easy-to-read story has relatable conflicts and interesting characters. Lina’s grandfather is a major character, and he has a “big, booming voice [that] can get a little intense.” To emphasize how loud Lina’s grandfather is, his words appear in large green font and all capitals.  

Readers who love princesses and magic will find The Big Freeze to be an entertaining book. The end of the book gives directions on how to make a snowflake that has “the power of patterns.” Both parents and children will be pleased with the kind and encouraging characters who don’t expect each other to be perfect. For more magical reading that has kind characters check out the Candy Fairies Series by Helen Perelman and the Zoey and Sassafras Series by Asia Citro. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None

Supernatural 

  • Everyone in Lina’s family has a magical power. Her mom and grandfather are Windtamers and can control the weather. “Mom’s job is to bring the spring rains. Granddad is the North Wind.” 
  • Lina is a Winterheart, “which means my powers are all about ice and snow.” 
  • Lina uses her magic to make a perfect ice sculpture of herself. She also uses her magic to make it snow.

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Little Reindeer

On the night of Christmas Eve, a young girl named Ollie is awoken by a jingling outside her house. She hurries to her window but sees nothing out of the ordinary. With her reindeer pajamas and red sled, Ollie adventures into the snowy night to find the source of the sound.  

Stepping outside, she hears the sound again. She leaps onto her sled. Speeding down the hill outside her house, the sound becomes clearer. Eventually, Ollie traces the sound to the barren, dark woods outside of her neighborhood. Feeling brave, she runs into the darkness. There, she finds the source of the sound hanging from a tree branch. It is a red collar with silver bells. Ollie smiles and takes the collar but wonders who it belongs to.  

Just then, she hears a new sound –the sound of footsteps crunching through the snow. A real reindeer is approaching. He eyes the collar in Ollie’s hands, and Ollie understands that the collar belongs to him. Ollie kindly returns the collar to the reindeer, who gestures his new friend to climb onto his back. 

Suddenly, the two are soaring above the woods, over Ollie’s town, through the night sky. The reindeer softly lands in front of Ollie’s house. Ollie thanks her friend, but admits that she doesn’t want to say goodbye. However, she understands that this reindeer has a very special job to do tonight. Ollie goes back to her room, lies in bed, and pleasantly dreams of her adventure. Her reindeer friend jingles past her window once more, only this time, he is leading Santa’s sleigh. The next morning, Ollie is gifted a snow globe with a figurine of the reindeer inside. She smiles, knowing that she will always have something to remind her of that magical night and that she’ll see her friend next year. 

The Little Reindeer is a fast and fun read for the Christmas holiday, with one to four short sentences per page. Its illustrations are mostly drawn in black, white, and gray, with red being the only color to stand out. The backgrounds are typically entirely blank or black, with chalk-like dots of snow to enliven the winter spirit. Detail-driven readers can have fun searching for Ollie’s stuffed reindeer hiding in every page. 

Young readers who celebrate Christmas will relate to Ollie’s holiday spirit. However, all young readers will admire Ollie’s sense of adventure, her bravery, and her sparkling curiosity. Through Ollie’s journey, readers can learn that by following their bravery and curiosity, they can form their closest friendships and greatest memories.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Leif and the Fall

Leif is a small green leaf who lives in a tall oak tree. Being a leaf means being attached to a tree, but Leif doesn’t mind. He loves the view from his branch and getting to spend time with his best friend, Laurel. As the breeze gets harsher and the days get shorter, Leif realizes that it’s nearly fall. Leif has never seen fall, but its arrival worries him, as he knows that fall is the time when all leaves fall from their trees. Leif doesn’t want to be like all leaves. With the help of Laurel, he hatches a plan to catch himself. 

Leif and the Fall is a fun and pleasant read for the young reader who doesn’t let others tell them who they are and what they are capable of. It is also a testament to the power of thinking outside the box and surrounding yourself with the right people. While the other leaves mock and discourage Leif’s plan, Leif persists in his goal and chooses to surround himself with supportive friends like Laurel. While none of Leif’s plans work in the way he intended, the story tells a thoughtful message that all your hard work and skills will inevitably help you in some way, as all of Leif’s discarded contraptions form a pile big enough to soften his and Laurel’s fall. 

The book’s short and sweet story is well-matched with simple, charming illustrations.  The leaves are softly colored in shades of green, yellow, brown, and gray. Faces are drawn to personify them, while their stems are drawn as their arms and legs. The pages have blank backgrounds that are either white or colored with muted autumn shades. Readers can enjoy a second read-through to spot all the insects hiding on the tree’s branches. Each page has one to seven short sentences and easy vocabulary that makes it easy to understand for beginning readers.  

Leif and the Fall is an excellent book for young nature lovers and fans of autumn. Apart from being an enjoyable story, it is sure to help younger readers as they learn the importance of creativity, self-expression, and positive friendships. Readers ready to snuggle up with another fall-themed picture book with a positive message should add Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller to their must-read list. 

Sexual Content:

  • None 

Violence: 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol: 

  • None 

Language: 

  • None 

Supernatural: 

  • None 

Spiritual Content: 

  • None

Let’s Play, Crabby!

Plankton wants Crabby to play a game. Plankton tries to get Crabby to play Simon Says, Tag, and Hide-and-Seek. But Crabby does NOT want to play with Plankton. Will Plankton give up? Or will Crabby finally play along?   

Beginning readers will fall in love with Plankton’s enthusiasm and Crabby’s grumpiness. This easy-to-follow, silly plot comes to life in the brightly-colored artwork that appears on every page. The pages are broken into colorful panels, which makes it easy for readers to follow along. Plus, the colorful speech bubbles make it easy to understand who is speaking.  

Let’s Play Crabby is perfect for children who are learning to read. The text uses simple sentences and easy vocabulary, and the speech bubbles are color-coded to distinguish each speaker. Each page contains five or fewer sentences, which makes the story accessible to new readers. 

Let’s Play Crabby is full of humor and has a silly, surprise ending. With easy-to-read text, a comic-story format, and full-color artwork on every page, the book will boost reading confidence and fluency. Readers will laugh their way through the book and will be eager to read another Crabby story. Beginning readers who love Plankton and Crabby can learn more about friendship by reading The Unicorn and Yeti Series by Heather Ayris Burnell.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Unplugged

Jett Baranov is the son of one of the wealthiest tech moguls in the world and has just been dubbed “Silicon Valley’s Number One Spoiled Brat” by the tabloids. As much as that title may seem cute and funny, Jett’s father finds it to be anything but, and he decides Jett needs some time away from the privileged world he knows all too well.  

In comes Oasis, the center for wellness and all things naturalism, where Jett will be spending the summer. There is just one catch . . . Oasis is completely unplugged and therefore Jett must surrender every piece of technology he has in order to ensure he can truly immerse himself in the experience. Without his phone, Jett has no idea how he is going to entertain himself for the whole summer or what he will eat since the camp is fully vegetarian. That is until he finds himself joining together with fellow campers: Grace, Tyrell, and Brooklyn, to raise a mysterious lizard named Needles. Soon, the group dubbed Team Lizard find themselves taking late night trips to a small island off the coast of the Oasis to get fresh meat for Needles and to enjoy a few non-vegetarian meals themselves.  

Finally, with help from Needles and Team Lizard, Jett starts to feel that the summer spent at Oasis may just be bearable. But something suddenly seems to be going wrong with the other patrons at the Oasis, one of them being Jett’s babysitter, Matt. All the patrons are beginning to take private meditation sessions with the Oasis’s second in command, Ivory. But Jett can’t seem to figure out why everyone raves about Ivory. And why are they donating large sums of money to her? Whatever the reason may be, Jett and Team Lizard must figure it out immediately!  

As the team works to uncover the secrets of the Oasis and its workers, they find themselves in more trouble than they know what to do with. Solving the secrets of the wellness center will take them everywhere from a creepy mansion that sits on a small island near the Oasis to an alligator infested swamp. As Team Lizard take on each new mystery, they find that sometimes the friends you always needed can be found where you never expected them to be. 

Each chapter is narrated by a different member of Team Lizard and provides the reader with more insight into the inner thoughts of each character. This format of storytelling adds a fun twist and makes the plot more intriguing than if it had been told through Jett’s perspective alone. In addition, each member of Team Lizard was brought up in different circumstances which changes the way each member views challenges. For example, Jett grew up never needing to obey the word no, and he therefore refuses to stop digging for clues to solve the mystery of the Oasis, even when the rest of Team Lizard tells him to stop. While Jett and Grace are sometimes annoying, they eventually evolve into more mature individuals. Jett finally understands that not every problem in life can be solved through technology and Grace comes to terms with the fact that sometimes our initial perception of someone can be wrong.  

Unplugged is the perfect novel for readers who want a simple and fun read. While the novel may be lacking in heavy-hitting topics, it does reinforce valuable lessons in friendship and courage. For example, Jett begins the novel unable to complete any small task without the use of his phone and by the end, he is setting out on a dangerous mission by himself for the sake of saving others. Jett and Team Lizard set out to solve the mystery of the Oasis and to save the other attendees showcasing that courage is within all of us; it just takes one small moment for courage to shine through.  

A story of friendship, laughter, and mystery, Unplugged is the perfect feel-good book for those that want a little bit of mystery mixed with a coming-of-age story of friendship. The reader will actively feel as though they are in the novel, solving mysteries with Team Lizard and growing in friendship with each character. The friendships formed between the characters of Team Lizard allow for this novel to be one that radiates love and that content feeling that comes from having a friend that knows you better than you know yourself.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Jett bites down on his tongue in order to stop himself from telling Ivory about his illegal candy bar business. “I bite down on my own tongue hard enough to taste blood. The sudden spasm of pain jolts me from my trance. I lash out and smack that pen from Ivory’s hands.” 
  • Brandon talks of wanting to punch Jett because Jett is lying about his secret candy stash. “Jett pops the last piece into his mouth, chews, swallows, and has the nerve to demand, ‘What snickers?’ I unfold the wrapper and hold it about an inch away from his face. ‘The one that came from this?’ He looks me right in the eye. ‘I never saw that before in my life.’ The urge to punch him is almost irresistible.” 
  • Needles, the pet alligator, bites Brandon’s finger and causes it to bleed. “[Grace] joins the tug-of-war on my finger, and between the two of them, they manage to get the jaws apart. I whip my hand away and grab Jett by the front of his shirt. That’s when I see that my finger is covered in blood. My anger disappears in a wave of queasiness and I have to sit down on the floor and keep my head at knee level so I won’t pass out.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • While talking about Jett, Brandon says, “Jett’s such a loser that he needs an extra guy whose whole job is to make sure that his life is smooth and happy. Who gets that? Not me, that’s for sure.”  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Jumper

Blair Scott has been “hell-bent on a career in wildland firefighting” since she was in high school. Being only nineteen, she and her longtime best friend, Jason, don’t expect to be recruited when the Forest Service calls for an additional class of smokejumpers. It’s a particularly rough fire season, though, and they are both accepted. The only thing holding Blair back is type 1 diabetes, and with Jason’s help, she is determined to hide her condition from their instructors.  

Training is strenuous, and both Jason’s and Blair’s families become more insistent that Blair tell the truth. They point out that the medical forms for the job say “‘diabetes may be disqualifying. It’s not an absolute.’” Blair doesn’t want to take any chances. Things are going too well to risk stalling the momentum. Eventually, however, things do begin to spiral out of control. When tragedy strikes, Blair is forced to pick up the pieces and decide where she goes from this point. 

Blair narrates the story, allowing for meaningful insights into her life and why she is so passionate about smokejumping. Also apparent is underlying guilt about Jason having to look after her. He is fiercely protective of her, to the point where Blair wonders if he would even be pursuing a job as a smokejumper if “he weren’t so committed to keeping [her] out of the ER.” This sentiment is most poignantly felt after a tragic accident that leaves Blair struggling to cope.  

The friendship between Blair and Jason is the highlight of the novel. It is refreshing to see Blair, who is a lesbian, enjoy a strong but purely platonic relationship with a man. Their dynamic is very enjoyable. At one point, Blair playfully muses that “Jason and I always fall for the same girls, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s him they want . . . If I were interested in guys, even a little, I’d probably join them.” The reader feels the connection between these two characters very deeply, and, as a result, the experiences Jason and Blair have together are impactful.  

Jumper is not a novel for everyone. The narrative is a slow burn that might be less than engaging for certain readers. A large portion of the story focuses on Blair and Jason’s training, and while it is undeniably an intense process and the risk of Blair having a health emergency looms, this part of the book is largely uneventful. In addition, Blair’s stubborn hotheadedness occasionally makes her difficult to like. Her ambitions are easy to empathize with, but her reckless nature can be frustrating as suspense is built around the danger she is putting herself in. 

Despite the aforementioned flaws, Jumper is a solid story about two friends fighting against the world. Readers who are interested in platonic male-female friendships will get a lot of enjoyment out of Blair’s bond with Jason. Additionally, those who are diabetic will relate to the protagonist’s struggles. The book also contains plenty of interesting information about smokejumping and just how difficult and dangerous the occupation is. The reader will be left with an appreciation for people in this line of work. Readers who enjoy Jumper should also check out the Peak Marcello Adventure Series by Roland Smith which takes readers into the suspenseful world of rock climbing. 

Sexual Content 

  • Blair is attracted to one of the female instructors, and Jason jokes that seeing the two of them run together is “orgasmic or something.” 

Violence 

  • In her childhood, Blair was bullied by a boy, so she retaliated by punching his nose “so hard, he squealed like a pig. Bled like one, too.” 
  • Early on, Blair and the other trainees are informed that a hand crew in Idaho “got caught between two walls of fire . . . there [were] no survivors.” 
  • In the Idaho fire, “members of the shot crew deployed to help clear an exit path sustained serious injuries that [grounded] some of them for the rest of the season.” 
  • Blair’s training is quite strenuous and results in minor injuries along the way, particularly when jumping. Blair describes: “[slamming] down on my already bruised hip . . . everything hurts, but I breathe into the pain. I can handle the pain.” 
  • One of Blair’s trainers stresses the importance of bending one’s knees when landing from a jump. He says, “you may have braces on your ankles. But there’s nothing to keep you from jamming your hip into the socket. I’ve only seen that happen once . . . I’d never heard a human being scream like that.” 
  • During a forest fire, Jason is killed in an avalanche when a boulder hits him in the chest. Blair hears “that meaty thwack of hard meeting soft, of expelled breath and crushed bones . . .  Jason is on the ground . . . There is a peculiar dent in his chest.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • One of the trainers frequently chews Nicorette gum. 
  • After dinner, most of the recruits “head for the bar, while the four of us still underage park it outside the A & W next door.” Fellow underaged recruit Luís suggested joining the guys at the bar, saying “come on, goody-goodies, it’s only beer.” He convinces everyone but Blair to go with him. 
  • Blair uses insulin shots due to her diabetes. 
  • After a particularly rough landing, Blair says that she’ll have Advil with her dinner. 
  • Blair buys a “big bottle of ibuprofen” to lessen the pain caused by injuries sustained during training. 

Language 

  • Damn is said frequently.  
  • Occasionally shit, hell, and variations of ass are used. 
  • Blair says that Jason has a “natural resting-bitch face.” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • A head trainer tells the newly minted smokejumpers, “‘If you’re the praying sort, ask for an early fall and a long, hard winter so we can regroup.’” 
  • During Jason’s funeral, Blair notes the pastor talking about Jason “like he was his favorite altar boy or something . . . Jason wasn’t religious. Why would they bother pretending he was?”

500 Words or Less

Nic Chen doesn’t want to spend her senior year known as the girl who cheated on her lovable boyfriend with his best friend and made him transfer schools. She doesn’t want to continue to be ostracized. She doesn’t want to be stared at as she walks down the hallway or have people write “whore” on her locker in lipstick. So, when an opportunity arises to write a classmate’s college admissions essay, Nic tries to use it as an opportunity to rebrand herself and change her reputation. 

As Nic is asked to write more and more essays, she begins to walk in her classmate’s shoes. But the more essays Nic writes, the more unsure of herself she becomes. Weighed down by the guilt of cheating on her ex-boyfriend and writing other people’s essays, Nic questions the person she is becoming and if she is still the perfect straight A, Ivy League-bound teenager society wants her to be. 

Written in poetic verse, 500 Words or Less is very approachable and is a great introduction to poetry and novels written in verse. Interestingly, Rosario includes the essays that Nic writes for her classmates throughout the book. Told mainly from Nic’s perspective, the reader will see Nic’s journey as she learns to move on from her failed relationship, deals with the heartache of breaking up with her first love, and rebuilds herself knowing she acted terribly wrong. Nic is a complex character. She is a determined, passionate girl, who has admittedly made mistakes. Readers will relate to Nic’s struggles with self-confidence, knowing who she is, and wondering if her actions define her. She explains, “I’m still the girl / who cheated on her boyfriend, / the girl who cheated / on those essays, / the girl who cheated / because maybe / that’s who I am.” Throughout this book, Nic learns to forgive and accept herself as well as forgive the people who have hurt her. 

Through Nic and her classmate’s experiences in their senior year of high school, 500 Words or Less takes a look at the pressures of high school and of getting into the right college. Nic explains that she and her classmates “waited for our lives to change / with a single e-mail / from a university / that wanted us.” Furthermore, Nic explores the pressure she and her classmates receive from their parents to be successful and get into the right school. When Jordan, an old friend, tells Nic he is no longer going to Princeton, he explains, “I was always supposed to go / to Princeton. / Because I was supposed to become / my father, / and my father is an asshole.” In the end, Nic and Jordan end up not going to Princeton. Rather than following their parents’ dreams for them, Nic and Jordan decide to do what’s best for themselves, showing that getting into the perfect college will not make or break someone’s life and that any path after high school is valid. 

500 Words or Less also touches on the topic of sexism. Nic points out that while people began to alienate her and write “whore” on her locker, everybody still likes Jordan, the guy she cheated with. She thinks to herself “was there even a male equivalent / to the word ‘whore?’/ There were words/ but none that carried / the same weight.” While Nic is outcasted, Jordan remains the popular kid, showing the blatant misogyny in the treatment of men and women even when they both make the same mistake. 

The book also touches on racism. When Jordan asks Nic for help on homework in Japanese, Nic says, “You know I’m part Chinese, Jordan.” Jordan responds, “It’s like the same thing- / Chinese, Japanese, Korean.” In another instance, a friend tells Nic that she’s “lucky because / half-Asians were always prettier than/ white girls like her.” Nic feels uncomfortable when her friend tells her this. However, Nic isn’t the only person who feels stereotyped. In a college application essay, an African American classmate writes, “I want to attend [this college] because I want to be more than a football player. In America, this is not what young black men are supposed to do . . . I want to be more than an athlete, more than a black man who has a great arm.” Although people would like to “forget that race exists,” Nic points out the subtle ways racism leaks into society, negatively affecting people of color.  

Furthermore, 500 Words or Less examines classism, as Nic’s school is predominantly full of upper-class students whose parents can afford to “[donate] handsomely to the school” they are applying to. Nic herself comes from a wealthy family. She admits that even though she charges $300 per essay, she doesn’t need the money. However, there are a few students who are lower class and do not have the same opportunities as the richer students. Unlike the rich students who know they can go to college no matter what, to some of these students going to college “means everything” as it is a path to upward social mobility.  

Overall, 500 Words or Less is an engaging book, written uniquely with a diverse cast of characters. However, it’s best for mature readers because of the profanity, alcoholism, and normalized teenage drinking. Readers who are applying to college and figuring out what they want to do after high school will relate to Nic’s story and learn that getting into the perfect school is not everything. Furthermore, 500 Words or Less explains that the choices you make in high school do not define you. If you’re ready to jump into another engaging book with a protagonist who is trying to figure out who she is, grab a copy of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez. 

Sexual Content 

  • At a party Nic throws, she and her boyfriend went into her father’s office to find a drink. Nic remembers she was “drunk / on love / and alcohol. / I ran my fingers along the side of his body. / He squirmed / and smirked / and grabbed my hand in his. / He pulled me closer. / Our lips met.” He begins to tug at “the zipper on my dress, / fumbled with the clasps on my bra. / I unlocked my lips and stepped away.” Nic is worried someone will find them and leads Ben up to her room. She describes, “I untangled my hand from his / and fell on top of my bed . . . / [He] fell on top of me . . .  / [and] this time I didn’t stop him.” 
  • On a date, Nic and her boyfriend stop for a bite to eat. As the two eat, Nic thinks, “I wanted to kiss him.” 
  • At Jordan’s party, Nic and Jordan “ended up / upstairs” and have sex. It is suggested that they have sex once or twice more.  

Violence 

  • Nic’s boyfriend dies in a tragic snowboarding accident. Nic explains “teenagers didn’t die in avalanches/ they died in / car crashes, / drunk-driving accidents, / drug overdoses, / gunshot wounds, / or suicide.” After the accident, Nic heavily researches avalanches to understand how he died. She finds out “the force alone / of snow / sliding down a mountain / can kill you,” or “one suffocates after being trapped / in the snow / for thirty minutes.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • During a family dinner, Nic’s father drinks wine. 
  • Nic’s mother was a heavy drinker. Nic remembers how her mother “couldn’t / French braid / my hair / because she was / drunk.” Her father would often find her mom “slumped in a chair” with “an empty bottle of wine” when he came home from work.  
  • Nic remembers how “Mom poured herself another / from a bottle of chardonnay / on one of the last nights / before she disappeared.”  
  • When Nic and her friend Kitty arrive at a party, they are greeted by the host, who smells like “a pitcher of margaritas.” At this party they find “handles / of cheap vodka, rum, and whiskey / wafting toxic smells on the kitchen counter,” along with a variety of mixers.  
  • At the party, Kitty pours “everything- / and I mean everything, / including the dredges of empty bottles- / into a plastic cup” and takes “a large gulp.” Nic leaves the party without checking on Kitty, leaving her “shit-faced” and extremely “drunk.” 
  • Nic reminisces on the party she threw two years ago where she first reconnected with her boyfriend. “Strangers filled empty spaces, / squeezing by, / finding friends / and a beer.” Nic found him in the kitchen drinking “a Keystone Light/ slowly.” The pair go into Nic’s father’s study and she offers him “whiskey, bourbon, or scotch” and pours the two of them “a glass of Glenrothes 1970 / single-malt whiskey,” which Nic explains is a “five-thousand-dollar bottle / of whiskey.” 
  • In a draft of an essay Nic is writing for someone else, she writes about this person’s mother who “is an alcoholic, which leads me to my biggest fear in college—drinking. . . I go to parties all the time. . . But I don’t drink. I haven’t drank.” 
  • At a barbecue, someone asks Nic to “grab a beer for me.” 
  • Nic reminisces about how it all went wrong with her ex-boyfriend. She thinks, “it was polishing off a bottle of Jameson / with Jordan / last summer, / at his party.” As Nic leaves this party she encounters “stragglers smok[ing] / cigarettes and weed.” 
  • Nic remembers previous Christmases where here mom “drank a bottle of Riesling / and passed out under the tree.” 

Language   

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes whore, shit, bitch, goddamn, fuck, slut, ass, and asshole.  
  • After the school finds out that Nic cheated on her boyfriend, her peers begin to bully her, calling her names like “slut” and repeatedly writing “whore” on her locker.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Way You Make Me Feel

Sixteen-year-old Clara Shin doesn’t take life too seriously, but when she pushes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck the KoBra. Clara was supposed to go on vacation to Tulum to visit her social media influencer mom; she was supposed to spend lazy days at the pool with her buddies. Instead, she is stuck in a sweaty Korean-Brazilian food truck all day, every day? Worse still, she is working alongside her nemesis, Rose Carver. It’s definitely not the carefree summer Clara had imagined.  

But as time goes on, it turns out that maybe Rose isn’t so bad. And maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) who’s crushing on Clara is pretty cute. And perhaps Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means Clara has to leave her old self behind?  

Clara doesn’t mind being the center of attention if she’s carrying out a prank or causing mischief. Because of her bad attitude, Clara is a surprisingly unlikable protagonist who always focuses on herself. Even though Clara befriends Rose and Hamlet, the reader is left wondering why two nice, over-achieving teens would spend time with Clara. When forced to work at her father’s food truck, Clara matures slightly. Unfortunately, Clara’s personal growth doesn’t make up for her poor attitude and her transformation at the end of the book is not believable. 

While there is a host of other characters in the book, none of them are well-developed. Clara’s nemesis, Rose, seems like a well-adjusted teenager, yet she has no friends. Rose’s lack of friends is not believable because it is never explained why she has no friends. Plus, after years of hating each other, the girls quickly become besties, which is a little unrealistic. In addition, Clara’s father ignores his daughter’s outrageous behavior and temper tantrums. Even when Clara travels out of the country to visit her mother without telling him, her father’s reaction is mild. Because Clara is the only character who is well-developed, readers are left confused—why do Rose and Clara’s father act as they do? 

The Way You Make Me Feel has a unique premise that revolves around a food truck; however, most of the conflict comes from Clara and Rose bickering, which becomes tedious. Several times throughout the story, Rose’s old friends appear—however, they are equally unlikable and add little to the story. The lack of character development and the absence of genuine conflict make The Way You Make Me Feel a book that will be quickly forgotten. While The Way You Make Me Feel is a disappointing read, Maureen Goo’s other books—Somewhere Only We Know and I Believe in A Thing Called Love—are excellent books that will make your heart swoon. However, If you’re hungry for a food-related romance, both A Pho Love Story by Loan Le and Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch are sure to please. 

Sexual Content 

  • While at a school dance, Clara and her friends “passed the time by taking Snapchats of people making out or groping one another on the dance floor.” 
  • One of Clara’s neighbors saw Clara “making out with my boyfriend” and doused them with a hose. 
  • Clara tells a friend that she and her boyfriend “made out so many times.” 
  • After Hamlet and Clara go on a date, Clara kisses him. Clara “took a step forward, and tugged him by his shirt until our hips bumped. . . I got up on my tippy-toes to reach his lips, and brushed them over his. . . He drew me in closer until our bodies were pressed against each other, one of my hands still clutching his shirt, the other wrapped around his neck, curling into his hair.” 
  • Hamlet’s mom “bought an American customer-service telemarking company in Beijing but didn’t realize until weeks into it that it was for sex toys.” 
  • After coming back from a trip, Hamlet picks Clara up from the airport. “Then he leaned over and kissed me. Kissing Hamlet felt like coming home, for real. I stood up on my toes to deepen the kiss. . .” They kiss several other times, but it is not described. 

Violence 

  • While at prom, Clara and her friends pull a prank. After being voted the prom queen, one of Clara’s friends dumps a bucket of fake blood on her. Rose, who helped plan the prom, got angry and grabbed onto Clara’s wrist. “Rose growled as she let go of one of my wrists to take another swipe at my crown. . . There were a few people onstage now, dragging us apart.” The two girls slip on the fake blood and knock over a lantern that causes a fire. 

 Drugs and Alcohol 

  • In ninth grade, Clara smoked a cigarette in the school bathroom. It was her first time trying a cigarette, but she got caught and was suspended. 
  • Clara and her friends go to a party and drink beer. 
  • Clara and her mom go to a party. While at the party, Clara “continued to drink—people kept offering me shots and various frosty cupped drinks with fruit in them.” Clara gets drunk and has a hangover the next morning. 
  • The morning after the party, one of Clara’s mom’s friends was drinking a Bloody Mary. 

Language   

  • Clara calls people names including jerk, nutjob, dick, butt-kisser, incompetent clown, and total fascist. 
  • Clara’s dad tells her that she is acting like a “little butthole.” 
  • Oh my God, God, and Jesus are all occasionally used as exclamations.  
  • Profanity is used sometimes. Profanity includes ass, damn, crap, freaking, piss, and WTF.  

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • When Clara’s friend Patrick gets injured, he texts her saying his parents “think Jesus was punishing them for letting me date you.” 

What My Mother Doesn’t Know

When Sophie Stein enters high school, she finds herself falling in love with a boy named Dylan. However, as she goes through some difficult self-discovery, she realizes that she and Dylan are not compatible. Instead of being attracted to Dylan’s intellect, Sophie is only attracted to him physically. Meanwhile, the ups and downs of this romance lead Sophie to chat online with Chaz. At first, Chaz gives Sophie the validation she seeks, but Chaz isn’t prince charming. Instead, Chaz makes sexual comments toward Sophie, who finds herself alone again. 

Then Sophie meets Murphy, an unpopular boy who isn’t conventionally attractive. Despite this, Sophie becomes enamored by him and they start hanging out. Sophie discovers that she has more in common with Murphy than she initially thought, and she eventually falls in love with him. In this relationship, her connection with Murphy is stronger than anything she had previously experienced. However, Sophie has a difficult time telling her two best friends about the romance, since most of the school has spent many years making fun of Murphy.  

Sophie is a relatable character dealing with the average struggles of a teenager. Throughout the novel, she attempts to discover who she is in both her romantic life and family life. She also combats peer pressure and her own insecurities. In the end, Sophie overcomes her fears of becoming unpopular and is no longer afraid to show her affection toward Murphy. One of the big themes of this novel is that attempting to be popular and well-liked should not come above what brings happiness. Another theme is to not judge a book by its cover. At first, Sophie judges Murphy, but when she looks beyond his appearance Sophie forms a beautiful relationship with him. These messages will resonate with many teens. 

The story’s conclusion is predictable because from the first time Murphy appears Sophie finds herself dealing with a strange attraction toward him. Plus, the story lacks conflict and the ending is a bit too happily ever after. Because Sophie is a teenager, she can act a little childish at times. She approaches many things, like romance, for the first time in her life. Therefore, she comes across as a bit naive when dealing with these new situations. Since Sophie focuses a lot on her blooming sexuality and the intense attraction she feels towards the men in her life, only big romance fans will enjoy What My Mother Doesn’t Know 

What My Mother Doesn’t Know is told through a series of poems and diary entries that Sophie writes, making it a quick read. While the novel is told entirely from the perspective of the main character, readers won’t find it difficult to relate to other characters in the book. Not only are Sophie’s romantic interests well-developed, but so are her best friends and parents. Overall, the story is a cute tale of teenage romance.

Sexual Content  

  • After sitting on a guy’s lap in a car, Sophie said it felt like “some R-rated movie and everyone else in the car was just going to fade away and this guy and I were going to start making out.” 
  • Sophie makes sexual references to prove that her father is not actually listening to her. When he asks how her day at school was, she says, “We played strip poker during third period and I lost.” Her dad replies, “‘That’s nice,’ without even looking up from his meatloaf.”  
  • Sophie has to listen to her friend, Grace, “moan about how horny she is.” 
  • Sophie says her “breasts have been growing so fast lately that if [she] were to sit there and watch them for a while . . . [she] could actually see them getting bigger.” 
  • Sophie discusses how her mother has never talked to her about safe sex or birth control, yet her mother is still scared Sophie will “get pregnant or something.” 
  • Sophie and her friends go to the ice cream shop wearing no clothes under their coats: “This afternoon before we put on our raincoats, we took everything else off!” 
  • Sophie talks about how she only really liked Dylan physically, saying, “If Dylan and I had met by chatting on the Net . . . instead of face to face and I hadn’t seen his lips or the way he moves his hips when he does that sexy dance and I hadn’t had a chance to look into his eyes and be dazzled by their size and all that I had seen were his letters on my screen, then . . . I think I would have liked him less.”  
  • Chaz tells Sophie that one of his favorite things to do is “jerk off in libraries.” 
  • While waiting for her mother after the school dance, a boy grabs Sophie’s breast on a dare. “The guy standing closest to me is suddenly bursting out laughing and grabbing my breasts with his slimy paws.” 
  • While having breakfast at a hotel, Sophie imagines “what it would be like to be lying naked underneath a sheet while a strange man rubbed oil all over my body.” 
  • Sophie dreams about having a man “remove every stitch of [her] clothes.” The man in her vision turns into Murphy and she dreams of “how his hands will feel cupping the lace of [her] bra.” 

Violence  

  • When a boy grabs Sophie’s breast after the school dance, she “slams [her] knuckles into his chin” and “smashes [her] foot into his friend’s knee.” 

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • Sophie briefly mentioned how her mother is “stuffing Hershey’s Kisses into her mouth, chain-smoking, watching her soaps, and weeping.”  

Language                                                                                                                                               

  • None 

Supernatural  

  • None 

 Spiritual Content  

  • Sophie flashes back to a confrontation with a group of girls where she is ridiculed for her faith. The girls ask Sophie’s friends, “Don’t you know you aren’t supposed to play with anyone who doesn’t go to church?” 

The Angel Experiment

Meet the flock. Max, Fang, Iggy, Nudge, the Gasman, and Angel are six kids who grew up in cages as the School’s most successful test tube experiments. The School is a science lab located in Death Valley, California where the scientists—or whitecoats—experiment on children’s genes. Four years prior, Jeb Batchelder, one of the scientists and the group’s father figure, escaped with the kids and took them to a cabin in Colorado. Two years afterwards, he disappeared, leaving the kids without an adult to care for them.  

These six kids aren’t your average American children. The whitecoats had the flock’s genes spliced with avian DNA, giving them the ability to fly via physical wings attached to their backs, along with some special abilities. Max, self-named Maximum Ride, is the oldest and leader of the flock at 14 years old. She serves as a mother figure even though she is still a kid herself. Fang is four months younger than Max, a sort of second-in-command, and is usually very quiet, “like a dark shadow come to life.” Iggy is younger than Max and blind due to the scientist’s unsuccessful attempt to surgically enhance his night vision. Nudge is an 11-year-old and, according to Max, “is a great kid, but that motormouth of hers could have turned Mother Teresa into an ax murderer.” The Gasman, or Gazzy, is eight years old, named after his ability to produce very rancid farts. He can also mimic any voice or sound. Lastly, Angel is Gazzy’s intelligent six-year-old sister who has the ability to read minds. 

Suddenly, the School’s Erasers capture Angel and plan to return the rest of the flock to the School. Erasers are half-human, half-wolf mutants who are usually armed and bloodthirsty. At first, they look like male models, but they can transform into hairy beings with claws and fangs. Leading the Erasers’ hunt is Ari. The last time Max saw Ari, he was a three-year-old boy. Now he’s a grown Eraser. Terrified about going back, the flock must rescue Angel from the School without getting. However, along the way they discover new things about themselves, their pasts, and the big plans the School has in store for them. 

James Patterson tells a fascinating story filled with science, action, and kids with wings and superhuman abilities. While most of the story is told from Max’s point of view, when the flock is separated, readers get a third-person perspective from a member of each group. The changing points of view allow readers to keep up to date with everyone. Occasionally, Max also addresses the reader using the second person, adding a memoir-like tone to the novel. Max’s voice is very distinct because of her sarcastic and sassy tone. Readers can easily fall in love with everyone in the flock and look forward to joining them in discovering who really they are. 

Some of the more prevalent themes are freedom, family, and fate. The flock hasn’t talked about their experiences and, as Max explains, they prefer to “forget when we were at the mercy of sadistic jerks in a place that’s a total nightmare and ought to be firebombed.” Because of their experiences, the flock values their freedom. In addition, the flock’s relationships show that family is not always formed through blood and that having a strong base of friends can be all the support one needs. Fate also becomes a part of this story as Jeb says, “Max, everything you’ve done, everything you are, everything you can be, is tied into your destiny.” According to Jeb, Max’s fate is predetermined, which makes her question her own autonomy and freedom.  

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment is a strong start to this sci-fi series. The chapters are short, the pacing is fast, and the language is clear and concise. These aspects of the novel match well with a large amount of action and the plot, which can be confusing. Max gives readers a warning in the beginning, saying, “If you dare to read this story, you become part of the Experiment. I know that sounds a little mysterious—but it’s all I can say right now.” So, if you decide to read this book, be prepared to become part of the flock. 

Sexual Content 

  • After a fight, Max went over to Fang to look at his injuries and, “With no warning, I leaned down and kissed his mouth, just like that.” 

Violence 

  • During one of Max’s dreams, she’s running from the Erasers. Her “arms [are] being scratched to ribbons by a briar” and her “bare feet hitting every sharp rock, rough root, [and] pointed stick.” When she comes across a drop-off on the mountain, she “let [herself] fall over the edge of the cliff.” However, one of the Erasers raises his gun and “a red dot of light appeared on my torn nightgown.”  
  • While the flock are picking strawberries, Erasers attack them. Max “landed another blow, then an Eraser punched me so hard that my head snapped around and I felt a burst of blood in my mouth.” While they fight, Max watches as “three other Erasers [were] stuffing Angel, my baby, into a rough sack. She was crying and screaming, and one of them hit her.” The fight ends when Max saw a “huge, black boot come at my head, felt my head jerk to one side, and everything went black.”  
  • After Max wakes up, she immediately thinks of Angel as “horror-filled images flashed through my mind—Angel being chased, being hurt, being killed.” 
  • In order to save Angel, the flock fly to the Humvee carrying Angel. Fang smashes a tree branch into the windshield. “The vehicle swerved, a window rolled down. A gun barrel poked out. Around [Max], trees started popping with bullets.” As a helicopter carries Angel away, Max tries to hang on to the landing skid and someone “picked up a rifle and aimed it at [Max].” 
  • The flock watches as the chopper carries Angel away. Max’s anger gets the best of her and she “made fists and punched the chunky bark of the fir tree hard, over and over, until finally, actual pain seeped into my seared consciousness. I stared at my knuckles, saw the blood, the missing skin, the splinters.” 
  • When the flock returns to the house, “Iggy howled and swept his hand across the kitchen counter, catapulting a mug through the air. It hit Fang in the side of the head.” 
  • At the School, the scientists force Angel to be experimented on. During the experiment, Angel ran on a treadmill for three and a half hours and was zapped by a “stick thing” any time she slowed down or stopped. The stick thing “jolted electricity into her, making her yelp and jump. She had four burn marks already from it.” By the end of the experiment, Angel collapses, and her feet get tangled in the treadmill belt. The scientists do a final scan of her body. As the scientists pull electrodes off of Angel’s skin, “ripping sounds and a new, searing pain on her skin pulled Angel back” from a dream.  
  • While traveling to California, Max sees a girl getting cornered by three guys. She decides to help. One of the men, “was holding a shotgun loosely in the crook of his arm.” Max confronts them and a fight breaks out. Max kicks the first guy and “a blow that would have only knocked Fang’s breath away actually seemed to snap a rib on this guy.” Max grabs the shotgun’s barrel and cracks it against his head. Max then punches the last guy, “feeling his nose break, and there was a slow-motion pause of about a second before it started gushing blood.”  
  • After Max beats up three bullies, one of the guys cocks the gun and runs at her but she flies away. The men start shooting at her and she felt “a sudden, searing pain in my left shoulder. I gasped and glanced over to see blood blossoming on my sleeve.” The bullet grazed her shoulder and nicked the bone of her wing. She also has a scratch on her cheek as well as a black eye.  
  • While Nudge and Fang wait for Max to return, they find nests of ferruginous hawks, the largest raptor in the U.S. They sit down at the mouth of the cave and watch as “one of the hawks had a partially dismembered gopher in its mouth” and gave it to its fledglings. 
  • In between experiments at the School, Angel is kept in a dog crate. The scientists had “taken blood from her arm, but she’d fought them and bit that one guy.” Angel bit a scientist, so he hit her. Then, Angel read the mind of another scientist who was thinking about the incident and the scientist thinks, “If he wrecks this specimen, I’ll kill him.” 
  • Iggy and Gazzy decide to build bombs for protection. They find an Eraser camp nearby and set an oil trap for the Humvees. The Humvees “hit the trees at an angle and went airborne, sailing upside down about fifteen feet before landing with a heavy crunching sound.” 
  • The Erasers ambush Iggy and Gazzy, but Iggy and Gazzy fly away and set off a bomb. In the air, “a fireball ten yards in diameter rose from where the cabin had been.” In the aftermath, Gazzy watches as “one dark body had flown upward in the blast,” and “the other Eraser had crawled a few feet away from the cabin, a burning silhouette that had collapsed, its outlines blurred by flame.” 
  • At the School, Angel runs in a maze that changes each time she finds the exit. “If she slowed down, she got an electric shock so strong it scrambled her brain, or red-hot wires under her feet burned her.” 
  • Angel reads the minds of the scientists around her and there are several mentions of them wanting to dissect her brain. 
  • In Arizona, Nudge and Fang are confronted by Erasers. Ari, an Eraser, and Fang fight each other. “Ari was sitting on Fang’s chest, punching him. Nudge gasped and put her hand over her mouth as she saw blood erupt from Fang’s nose.” Then “Ari roared and brought both hands down onto Fang’s chest with enough force to snap his ribs.” Ari pulled out a gun and a bullet soared by Nudge’s ear as Fang and Nudge flew away. 
  • Erasers ambush Max, Fang, Nudge, Iggy, and Gazzy. When the flock uses a van to escape, Max crashes into a sedan head-on. The airbags give Max a bloody nose. Max tells everyone to run, “then hissed in a breath as my nose took another jarring blow” from an Eraser. The Erasers capture Max, Fang, and Nudge but Gazzy and Iggy escape.   
  • At the School, Max, Fang, Nudge, and Angel are stuck in cages with other mutants. “Sometime in the next half hour, [Max] realized the ‘experiment’ was no longer breathing. It had died, right next to me.” 
  • Ari teases Max through the bars of her cage. Max “leaned over and chomped hard on Ari’s fingers.” Ari yells in pain, and “was shaking my cage, slamming it with his other hand, and my head was getting snapped around like a paddleball.” 
  • Iggy and Gazzy arrive at the School and free the others. Max, “backhanded [a scientist] against the jaw, feeling teeth knock loose.” Fang and Ari fought, and “Fang smashed him sideways with a kick, then punched the side of Ari’s head.” 
  • Several times, Max collapses due to “a blinding, stunning pain [that] exploded behind my eyes.” Nobody knows what causes this pain but after the pain passes, she hears a “Voice” in her head that gives her advice. 
  • While the flock navigates the underground rails of Manhattan, Gazzy asks what a sign saying to stay off the third rail meant. Fang says, “It means the third rail has seven hundred volts of direct current running through it. Touch it and you’re human popcorn.” 
  • In New York, the flock is running from Erasers, and “a heavy clawed hand grabbed [Max’s] hair, yanking me backward, right off my feet.” The Eraser starts to drag Max away when, suddenly, the Eraser “hit the ground with a sickening thud, and [Max] cracked [her] head against the sidewalk so hard [she] saw fireworks.” The Eraser had suddenly died. 
  • The flock was surrounded and grabbed by Erasers. Fang was “locked in battle with Ari, who raked his claws across Fang’s face, leaving parallel lines of red.” Max begged Ari to stop attacking Fang, but “Ari seized Fang’s head and brought it down hard on a rock.” Ari then “cracked Fang with an elbow. Blood sprayed from Fang’s mouth, and again he went down.” The fight ends when someone appears and tells Ari to back off.  
  • Max and Ari fight. While they exchange blows, “Ari punched [Max] again, and I thought I heard a rib crack.” Max then grabbed Ari’s neck and it “slammed against the hard side of the tunnel,” breaking his neck and killing him. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The flock talks to a kid who was kicked out of MIT because he wouldn’t take his Thorazine. He said he didn’t like the Thorazine, “or Haldol, or Melleril, or Zyprexa.” 

Language   

  • God is used several times as an exclamation. 
  • The word hell is spelled out once as “h-e-double toothpicks” and used one other time. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • The flock seeks refuge in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. “As we passed through the door, the air was instantly cooler and scented with something that smelled ancient and churchy and just. . .  religious somehow.” Everyone in the flock starts to pray. 

Halloween Is Coming!

Halloween Is Coming! follows three unnamed friends delighting in the early signs of Halloween. Together, the friends enjoy the fall weather, hayrides at their town fair, picking pumpkins to carve into Jack-o’-lanterns, dressing up for their school parade, and several other activities. Finally, they make their own costumes to wear for trick-or-treating. Then, the long-anticipated night arrives. 

This sweet and short book is a celebration of autumn and Halloween, clearly written and illustrated by lifelong Halloween enthusiasts. Halloween Is Coming! is a great pick for younger readers who are looking for a story that captures Halloween’s fun side, while staying away from its scarier side. 

Most illustrations are spread across two pages, with monsters, ravens, and other symbols of the holiday hidden in the background. Typically using shades of orange and yellow, the illustrations feature multicolored trees, candy store windows brimming with detail, and unique costumes for every character. Younger readers will enjoy the characters’ diverse and elaborate variety of costumes, ranging from checkerboarded jesters to scaly dinosaurs. The narration is a passionate love letter to Halloween, told in rhyme and limiting itself to one to three sentences per page. 

Although the book does not follow a traditional story, readers will still detect themes of friendship, enthusiasm, and creativity. The relationship shared by the three main friends will teach kids that Halloween should be less of a day dedicated to scaring, and more of an opportunity for you to express your creative, unique self alongside the people closest to you. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Friendly ghosts and monsters appear in the background of several pages, but none are threatening.

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Fitz and Cleo Get Creative

Cleo is a ghost who loves books. She wants to be like the characters in her books because they have awesome adventures, daring escapes, and epic battles. After watching a movie, she and her ghost brother Fitz decide to make a movie of their own—with their cat Boo’s help. First, they must write the movie script, which is really hard. Then they will need a band, artists, and actors. Will Fitz and Cleo be able to put all the pieces together and create movie magic? 

Readers will fall in love with the two ghosts, who are friendly, adorably cute, and make every day an adventure. While some of the events are random—such as finding images in clouds—most of the chapters focus on Fitz and Cleo making a movie. Through their activities, readers will learn about the movie-making process: making sets, sewing costumes, writing a script, and finding actors. Readers will also be introduced to the Rube Goldberg Machine, which is “a complex mechanical device, where one simple action causes another simple action.” While things don’t always go the way the two ghosts plan, they always encourage each other. 

Readers might miss Boo because he doesn’t play a large role; however, this leaves room for three new characters: a vampire, a werewolf, and a fish creature. Adding Fitz’s and Cleo’s friends adds interest and creates some humor. While all the characters are typically scary creatures, in Fitz and Cleo all the monsters are cute and friendly.  

The siblings’ adventures come to life in large, colorful panels similar to a graphic novel’s panels. The illustrations use bright colors and simple backgrounds that will appeal to young readers. Although the illustrations are simple, the ghosts’ emotions are clearly conveyed. Plus, some of the illustrations are humorous, such as Cleo dressed up like a rock star and Fitz’s mishap that makes him all colors of the rainbow. 

Fitz and Cleo’s chapters range from five to eleven pages. Each page has two to eight short sentences. Unlike the first book in the series, Fitz and Cleo Get Creative isn’t a collection of everyday life. Instead, each chapter relates to the next. While most of the text is easy to read, adults may need to help readers with some of the words such as nigh, nimbostratus, generations, and summon. There are also plenty of silly moments. For example, when Fitz ask Cleo for a pencil, she tells him she doesn’t have one. “But I do have this replica Viking battle-ax! You can carve your ideas into stone.” 

Fitz and Cleo Get Creative will entertain readers because of the relatable conflicts, the friendly ghosts, and new characters. Even though the story revolves around making a movie, young readers will relate to the siblings, who don’t always agree and make mistakes. Even when things don’t go as planned, Fitz and Cleo persevere until they reach their goal—making a marvelous movie. Readers who love Fitz and Cleo can find more ghostly friendship fun by reading Eva Sees a Ghost by Rebecca Elliot.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Together

Unicorn and Yeti make every day adventurous. When they see how the seeds fly and the bugs zoom, they decide to go zip, zigzag, and zoom too. On another day, Unicorn decides it would be fun to copy everything Yeti says. At first, Yeti thinks it’s funny, but then he gets mad. When Yeti gets upset, Unicorn apologizes, saying, “I am sorry. I am being a copycorn. It is not fun for you.” In chapter three, Unicorn and Yeti dress up “fancy” and go to a tea party.  

Unicorn and Yeti is a fun series designed for children who are learning to read. Together contains easy-to-read text. Each page has illustrations and contains no more than four sentences. When each character talks, their words appear in different colored quote boxes. Beginning readers should be able to read the text alone and will enjoy flipping through the story multiple times to look at all the colorful pictures. 

Young readers will be drawn into the book because of the adorable cover art, but they will stay because they are entertained by Unicorn and Yeti’s funny stories. Readers will learn about how seeds move and are replanted, as well as how copying someone can be annoying. One of the best aspects of the story is that Unicorn and Yeti demonstrate positive communication skills and apologize when necessary. Even though the book is short, it packs in positive messages about friendship as it makes readers giggle. Readers who love Unicorn and Yeti will find even more sparkly friendship-themed adventures in Rebecca Elliott’s Unicorn Diaries. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Zombie Dog

Becky’s family has moved right next door to the creepy, abandoned McNally house. Rumors fly around school about the ghosts and monsters that live there, and Becky isn’t sure what to believe. Even her mischievous dog, Bear, stays away from that house. When Becky starts hearing mysterious howls coming from next door, paired with an awful smell, she starts to wonder if the rumors might be true. Snarls and glowing eyes confirm it—something is over there, and it’s not happy. Worse, Becky’s parents are blaming Bear for all the unexplained damage around their property. Can Becky stop this creature before it’s too late? 

While the zombie dog plays a prominent role in Becky’s story, Zombie Dog is also a story about friendship. Two significant events happen to Becky—moving to a new neighborhood and starting junior high. Because of this, Becky spends less time with her best friend, Charlotte. Readers will relate to Becky and Charlotte’s changing relationship as they learn how to keep their friendship alive while also adding new friends to their life. Both girls learn that they can be friends even if they have different interests and don’t spend all their free time together. 

Zombie Dog will appeal to middle-grade readers who want a spooky story with suspense, without being overly scary. Becky discovers the zombie dog was a neighbor’s pet that was brought back to life. However, the dog is confused and in pain. In the end, Becky is able to send the dog back to its grave, where it will be at peace. The neighbor eventually realizes that bringing the dog back to life wasn’t the right choice. Anyone who has ever dealt with a loss will empathize with the neighbor and understand her motives.  

Zombie Dog is a perfect read for a dark and stormy night. With plenty of suspense, a relatable protagonist, and a positive message, Zombie Dog will entertain readers. While the book is part of the Rotten Apple Series, each book has different characters and many are written by different authors, so each book can be read separately. If you enjoy Zombie Dog but haven’t read Mean Ghouls, you will definitely want to grab a copy. The easy-to-read Rotten Apple Series introduces readers to the horror genre but won’t leave readers with nightmares. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • A zombie dog chases Becky. “Despite its limp, the strange little dog was moving fast. . . Its snarl was steady, without it seeming to have to pause for breath. The smell kept getting worse and worse, too. . . Becky was panting and shaking, tears coming down her face, and the little dog was still snarling, its lips drawn back from its teeth, looking ready to bite.” 
  • When the dog tried to bite Becky, she put out a stick. “The Chihuahua’s teeth fastened onto the stick and it held on as she tried to jerk it away. . .the Chihuahua’s eerie green eyes were fixed steadily on her with what seemed like cold anger. Pulling hard, Becky managed to yank the stick from the Chihuahua’s mouth. A slow trickle of what seemed to be black blood ran from the creature’s lip as it crouched down, ready to leap at her.” Becky gets away. The scene is described over four pages. 
  • Becky goes to the zombie dog’s house in order to give her a ball that has been filled with a potion to put the dog to sleep. When the dog appears, “its teeth were bared in a growl, and its eyes were glowing savagely at her. . . Her eyes met the zombie’s, and she saw how angry and confused it was, saw its eyes shift to her neck and imagined it leaping at her throat.” The zombie dog takes the ball and leaves. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • While researching zombies, Becky finds out that “voodoo practitioners would first poison their victims with a paralyzing nerve poison that came from blowfish, which they would secretly put in their targets’ shoes to be absorbed by the sweat glands in their feet.” 
  • Becky reads about how “a paste made out of poppy seeds and cloves can help put a zombie to rest.” 
  • In order to put the zombie dog to sleep, Becky and her friend make an herbal paste that can “put the undead to rest.” The herbal paste has angel’s trumpet flower, poppy seeds, and cloves. The potion is “poisonous.” 

Language   

  • Becky calls her brother a dummy. 

Supernatural 

  • While researching zombies, Becky learns “the kind of zombie that wants something before it goes away, it can’t be put to rest until it gets what it’s looking for. Like, if it lost something important to it.”  
  • Becky sees a zombie dog for the first time. The dog’s “green eyes shining unnaturally in the glow from the streetlights. She realized that it was dragging its left hind leg behind it, moving painfully. . . Becky saw that its fur was matted and full of dirt. One ear hung off at a funny angle, seeming to be attached only by a long strip of ragged flesh.”  
  • Becky’s dog brings her a ball. Later, Becky realizes that the ball belonged to the zombie dog and is the reason the dog is bothering her. Becky finds out that “certain objects important to the walking dead in life can on occasion be buried with them and bring them peace; if these are removed from the dead’s final resting place, they will walk again.” 
  • Becky finds out that the zombie dog was brought back to life by its owner. Her owner was, “horrified at what [the dog] became, and we manage to put her back to rest.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Latest Reviews