The Eagle’s Quill

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

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

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

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

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

 Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Mirror Magic

Do you believe in magic? Mia and her friends do! And when they meet the Star Animals, a whole world of magical adventures unfolds in this new chapter book series, accompanied by black and white illustrations throughout.

Mia and her Star Animal, a fox named Bracken, must use their special powers to stop the forces of dark magic. Mia’s older sister has started acting strangely and the Star Animals sense dark magic is at work. Soon Mia discovers that the new compact mirror that her sister, Cleo, has been using must be to blame. Can the girls use their newfound Star Magic to help make things right?

Mirror Magic will appeal to young readers who love animals and magic. The story focuses on Mia, but it also revolves around her two friends, Lexi and Sita. Most of the story centers on the girls meeting the magical animals and learning how to use their own magic. However, Mia’s sister, Cleo, adds suspense and mystery to the story and in the end, the girls discover that a Shade has been manipulating Cleo.

In the story’s climax, the Star Friends and their animals, fight with the Shade. The scene with the Shade is scary and may upset some readers. Despite this, Mirror Magic does an excellent job of introducing the main characters, the magical animals, and the conflict with Violet, who turns out to be a Star Friend too. Mirror Magic sets up a world that is slightly predictable, but also full of mystery and adventure.

Mirror Magic is the first in a chapter book series that focuses on three friends—Mia, Lexi, and Sita—who are illustrated with different skin tones. The cute black and white illustrations appear every two to seven pages. Even though Mirror Magic will appeal to readers who are six and up, younger readers may have a difficult time with the more advanced vocabulary.

Star Friends will appeal to readers who enjoyed The Rescue Princesses Series and The Rainbow Magic Series. The story portrays Mia’s family in a positive manner, and while Mia and her friends are kind, they are not perfect. The girls clearly want to help others and they are even planning a baked food sale with the proceeds going to help an organization that protects endangered animals. The simple plot and sweet characters will appeal to animal loving early elementary readers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mia’s sister had a magical compact with a Shade trapped inside. When Mia looks into the mirror, “The handsome face and sympathetic brown eyes melted away under her gaze, becoming a gray skull with glittering red eyes.” Mia throws the compact on the ground and “gray smoke started to seep out through the cracks in the broken glass. . . The smoke swirled together and formed a very tall, thin figure with gray skin, a skull-like face, and ragged clothes. The figure’s slanted eyes glowed red in his bony face.”
  • When the Shade is set free, he steps towards the Star Friends. Bracken (a magical fox) “growled. . . Darting forward, he grabbed the Shade’s leg with his teeth. At the same moment, Willow [a magical deer] charged and butted the Shade.” The Shade swiped “at them with his long nails.”
  • Mia jumps in to help the animals fight the Shade. “She threw herself at the Shade. He stood his ground and, as she hit his chest, he threw her backward as easily as if she weighed no more than a piece of paper.” The Star Friends and the Shade’s fight is described over four pages.
  • Violet captures the Shade in her phone. “The Shade’s face pulled into a grimace as the camera on her phone flashed. With a scream he dissolved into smoke and was sucked into the screen of the phone.” Violet sends the Shade back into the shadows.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • OMG is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • Magical animals from another world come into the human world looking for a Star Friend. Each animal must “find a human child to be your Star Friend—a child who is kindhearted enough to use magic for good and brave enough to defeat someone using dark magic. When you meet a child. . . speak to him or her with your thoughts. If they are open to magic, they will hear you.”
  • The magical animals can appear and disappear. They also each have a unique magical ability.
  • Dark magic also exists in the world. “It comes from the ground, and it is magic that can be used to hurt people and make them unhappy.”
  • Cleo has a mirror that has a Shade in it. “Bad people can conjure Shades—evil spirits who exist in the shadows.” It brings misery and unhappiness. “It can also be trapped inside an object, like a necklace, book, or toy that the person using the dark magic will give to someone they want to harm in some way.”
  • The Shade in Cleo’s mirror pretends “to be that person’s friend, but then they start twisting their minds, making them jealous and angry.”
  • Mia’s magic allows her to “see what’s happening elsewhere really clearly, and you’ll be able to hear what’s being said and look at the details of a scene.” She can also see the past and future.
  • Sita has the ability to “comfort people and heal them.”
  • Lexi’s magical abilities have to do with agility. “She’ll be able to do things a normal human couldn’t.”
  • Violet is a Spirit Speaker who has “the magic ability to command spirits.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 Hunt for Jade Dragon

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

 Language

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

 Supernatural

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

 Spiritual Content

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

by Madison Shooter

The Eureka Key

When middle school puzzle master Sam and history wiz Martina win a contest for a summer trip across the U.S., they discover they’ve been drafted into something vastly more extraordinary. Joining another kid on the trip, Theo, a descendant of George Washington himself, they must follow clues to find seven keys left behind by the Founding Fathers.

Together, the keys unlock Benjamin Franklin’s greatest invention – a secret weapon with the intention of defending the country. Each key is hidden in a unique location around the U.S., protected with puzzles, riddles, and traps. This has kept the weapon safe . . . until now! Gideon Arnold, a dangerous descendant of the infamous Benedict Arnold, is on the chase.

Readers of The Eureka Key will enjoy learning about one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, in this fast-paced story. The action begins from the very first page and never stops. To find a weapon hidden by the Founding Fathers, Sam, Martina and Theo must find clues and answer the riddles left by Benjamin Franklin. With the villain’s goons just steps behind them, the kids must focus on deciphering the clues. Similar to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, each new clue can also lead to a potentially deadly trap which makes for some very suspenseful moments. The clues are based on Franklin’s real inventions and readers will attempt to figure out the clues along with the characters.

While the action drives the plot, both Sam and Martina are well-developed but imperfect characters. Girl Scouts has taught the nerdy Martina to always be prepared, and her quirks make her very likable. At first, Sam laughs at everything Martina packs and teases her for her encyclopedic knowledge, but Sam soon realizes that without Martina he wouldn’t have survived the journey. Sam begins as a reckless troublemaker, but after the near-death journey, Sam asks himself, “So which Sam Solomon was he? The one who hacked into school computers to change his friend’s grades, or the one who did his best to save the country from treachery that went back more than two hundred years?” In the end, Sam’s character growth and maturity will please and surprise readers.

The Eureka Key will appeal to a wide range of readers. Those who love mystery, puzzles, history, and action will enjoy The Eureka Key. Even though the story has many historical facts, they are integrated into the story, and they never read like a history textbook. Some of the characters are descendants of historical figures and one character is a descendant of Benedict Arnold. While some believe Arnold was a traitor, his descendant reminds readers, “History sometimes forgets the truth.” Readers interested in learning more about Benedict Arnold should read George Washington’s Spies by Claudia Friddell. The characters, mystery, and history combine to make a highly entertaining story that will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, The Eagle’s Quill.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A man who Sam calls “Aloha” kidnaps Sam, Martina, and Theo. Sam tries to leave clues for others to follow. “A second later, the loudest sound he’d ever heard nearly split his eardrums open. He yelped, and Martina jumped about a foot. . . Aloha was standing behind them with his gun pointed at Sam’s hat, which lay on the ground with a smoking hole through the brim.”
  • Several times someone points a gun at the kids to force them to comply with orders.
  • To find the eureka key, the kids must answer riddles. If they answer incorrectly, a deadly trap awaits them. While trying to figure out a clue, the kids make a mistake and, “The light around them seemed to flare, and Sam stumbled back, blinking madly. . . Then a scream filled the air. It came from Aloha. . .The orange flowers on Aloha’s shirt burst into red flames. He howled in pain, staggering across the plateau, as the fires took hold.”
  • As Aloha is flailing, “Aloha was still holding his gun; it swung toward Theo as the man twisted and wailed. Theo dodged to the side as a bullet cracked in the air, and at the same moment Aloha’s left heel vanished off the edge of the cliff. He toppled and was gone, his screams lengthening.” Aloha dies.
  • The villain, Flintlock, pulls a gun on the kids. When the kids open a secret door, “Theo snapped upright, driving a fistful of rocks into the man’s stomach.” Theo and Martina run, but someone has a hold on Sam. Then, “Something whizzed past Sam’s face, and then Martina’s flashlight cracked his captor right on the bridge of his nose. The hand around Sam’s arm loosened as the man howled.” The kids escape.
  • To escape a trap, Martina connects an electrical circuit to herself. “Martina’s body shook as if she were a puppet with a madman yanking at the strings. . . Martina dropped to the floor as if the puppeteer had tossed her away and lay there—still as death.”
  • The bad guys and the kids are in a room that has a lot of keys hanging from the ceiling. One of the bad guys, Jed, “grabs a key. Sam was sure he could hear electricity leaping from the key to Jed’s hand. The instant his huge fist closed around the key, he was flung across the room, so quickly he didn’t have time to cry out. He crashed to the floor and lay still.”
  • Sam tries to sneak away from the bad guys. Sam “took two steps toward the way out, only to have a bullet blast into the wooden floor in front of him.”
  • A man falls into a mine shaft. “There was a sharp, panicked yell that started loud and got softer and softer. . . until it stopped.” The man dies.
  • During the revolution, Benedict Arnold left one of his contacts to be hanged.
  • One of the villains slaps “Theo across the face. . . Theo stood as solidly as a deeply rooted tree and didn’t make a sound.”
  • To get Sam to comply, one of the thugs grabs Martina. “He grabbed hold of her arm, clamping his other hand over her mouth and nose. He grinned as she made a startled, choking sound.”
  • When Sam makes a smart-aleck remark, “the back of Arnold’s hand smacked into the side of his face.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Oh my God and Oh, Lord are each used as an exclamation once.
  • Sam thinks someone is a jerk.
  • A man calls someone a pinhead.
  • Martina calls Sam a moron.
  • Heck is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Martina tells Sam about Benjamin Franklin. “Franklin said people should try to ‘be like Jesus and Socrates . . . Sacrificing themselves for the common good.’”

Soul Riders: The Legend Awakens

According to ancient myths, when the Soul Riders and their horses are gathered together, they will be able to defeat the evil that threatens the island. But Lisa and her friends don’t quite understand this yet. And now that Lisa’s horse, Starshine, has been stolen from Jorvik Stables and her father has disappeared, there’s no time to think about old stories. Together with Alex and Linda, Lisa embarks on a dangerous journey into Jorvik’s magical landscape to save Starshine, and to find the answers they are searching for.

At the same time, Anne is on her own mission. She must find her horse, Concorde, who seems to have been transported to the strange and dangerous world of Pandoria. But someone keeps whispering dark lies into Anne’s head that make her doubt if there’s any hope at all for the four girls. . .

The Legend Awakens explores the nature of good and evil; however, after the four Soul Riders realize they have powers, they are confused as to how to use them. The girls do not understand the mythology of Jorvik, yet they are committed to defeating Garnok. Even as the girls fight Mr. Sands—who Garnok has granted eternal life—they don’t understand who Garnok is. Plus, there are several evil beings who serve Garnok, but it is unclear exactly what they are. While the magical world has some interesting elements, the character’s confusion and lack of knowledge will frustrate readers.

The adults helping the soul riders continuously remind the girls about the importance of working together. Despite this, the girls quickly go off on their own mission and lose touch with each other. The multiple viewpoints, along with the quickly changing perspectives gives the story a fast pace. However, some readers will have a difficult time keeping track of the various plot threads.

The story’s complicated plot, unexplained concepts, and lack of character development make The Legend Awakens a confusing story. Nevertheless, readers who are interested in the supernatural may enjoy The Legend Awakens. If you’re looking for an entertaining series about horses, The Legend Awakens will leave you disappointed. Horse-loving readers who want a fast-paced story that revolves around horses should add The Rose Legacy Series by Jessica Day George to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sands steals Starshine and puts him in an electrified cage. The horse “was tied in place with heavy chains and a shiny stainless steel halter.” When Lisa tries to rescue Starshine, Mr. Sands locks her in a cage next to her horse.
  • Meteor is horse-napped. When Lisa first sees him, she wonders if he is dead. “The crane with Meteor’s lifeless body dangled from the end rolled slowly along. . . He was alive! But he was badly injured. At least one of his hind legs looked broken, and his skin was covered in deep sores.” Lisa uses her magic to heal Meteor.
  • One of the spirit’s horses, Khann, tries to stop Alex and her horse Tin-Can from fleeing. Alex uses her power. Alex “let a bolt of lightning flash out of her and land near him. He whinnied and his black eyes almost rolled into his head. Then he galloped into the woods. . .”
  • When Sabine tries to hurt Linda, Alex attacks with lightening. “The lightning bolts were accompanied by a rumbling noise and a sharp flash of light. . . the lightning hit Sabine but bounced off her like a rubber ball. . . Sabine lifted Linda up by her long, thick braid and spun her around in the air, grinning.” Eventually the lightning effects Sabine and she “fell over the stair railing. Alex heard Sabine curse angrily before she hit the floor with a hard thump, then silence.” The battle is described over three pages.
  • Shadows attack Anne and her horse Concorde. “Concorde whinnied, a prolonged and tormented sound . . . Then came the shadows. They coiled their way around her like a wreath. She realized that the shadow creatures had arms, legs, and big heads that slowly swayed back and forth as they took everything from her that made her who she was. . . And now they were upon her, arms growing, menacing shadows. They tugged at her legs now, groping at Concorde, who desperately tried to rear up and get free. . .” Ann stops fighting and expects to die. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Later, Anne defeats the shadow people. “She took control of the sun, of the clear pink water, of the slowly swaying vines that had made her dizzy before. It all became hers. The ground and the air, and the strange statues that whispered that the world was bigger and more amazing than could have ever suspected.” Anne creates a portal like a “reddish-pink tornado” and leaves the Pandoria and the shadows.
  • Evil beings, including Ketja, chase the four friends into the mountains. Ketja says an incantation and then, “the boulders on the slope were rolling downhill, heading straight for them. . . When the first boulder was only a few seconds away from smashing into them, it exploded. [Anne] closed her eyes and screamed in fear, loudly, a scream that echoed throughout the entire forest.”
  • To escape Ketja and her evil friends, the girls make a bridge collapse. “Anne turned to look back and saw the horses’ legs moving, the riders’ shocked faces as what was left of the bridge gave way underneath them and they all fell, plunging downward along with fragments of the collapsing bridge.” Their pursuers disappear into the ravine. The scene is described over four and a half pages.
  • An owl attacks Anne “ripping at Anne’s hair. . . A big tuff of her long, blonde hair ripped out, caught in the bird’s claws, and she screamed in pain.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Oh my God is used as an exclamation three times.
  • Linda thinks that the people who lived in the 1800s were idiots.
  • Heck and darn are both used once.

Supernatural

  • The Soul Riders are told about Aideen, who “brought light to the island, and life and hope poured forth out of the cold emptiness.”
  • Pandoria is a “world that co-exists with ours. Pandoria’s unreality seeps into our reality and vice versa. That is the essence of magic.”
  • The soul riders are “chosen girls who share a special bond with their horses. Through that bond, they acquire special powers to help them fight against evil.”
  • The girls discover that Mr. Sands has been alive for hundreds of years. Mr. Sands “had met Garnok several hundred years ago and had been granted eternal life then so that he could successfully accomplish just this: the liberation of Garnok.” Garnok is evil; however, it is unclear who or what Garnok is.
  • Jessica is an evil spirit, who has taken a human body. “She hated being stuck in this body. When Garnok was finally set free, she needed to be as well. . . Jessica longed to return to the dark star, back to her life beyond a body, beyond the earth.”
  • One of the girls finds a book titled “Garnok: Truth or Myth.” The book says that Garnok is “a sea monster” that “steals the sailors’ souls.”
  • Later, someone tells the girls that “Garnok is all that is evil. He comes from a place where chaos reigns, and he wants to return there. But before he returns, that chaos and destruction would also be spread through our world.”
  • One of the evil spirits uses the power of her mind to speak into Anne’s consciousness.
  • When an evil spirit chases Linda, Linda hides. “The moonlight flowed into her now and she disappeared in the shade of the far side of the moon. The moon had a back side, and that is a perfect hiding spot.”
  • Fripp is a “cosmic being” that looks like a squirrel. “If you can imagine a blue, slightly overgrown squirrel.”
  • While in Pandoria, Anne uses the sun to help her horse Concorde. “And Anne reached out her hands and took the sun and moved it even deeper into Concorde’s slumbering soul. It was hers to take. She knew that now. It was hot, but it didn’t burn. Nothing could hurt her as long as she had the sun on her side.”
  • While in a swamp, a bright light uses Lisa’s mother’s voice to call to her. “Then she heard it again, the summoning voice. It embraced her heart. She was bewitched by the flickering white flare of light over the dark water. It was so beautiful . . .” Lisa goes into the water. Before she can drown, Alex “shot lightning at the swamp, but the bolts rebounded, veering around in the air with the will-o’-wisps.” Lisa’s friends save her. The scene is described over four pages.
  • Later in the swamp, the horse Calliope falls into the mire. All of the girls “screamed for Calliope now. . . Her legs flailed in panic, creating big ripples in the water, and she screamed, screamed louder than they were screaming, pleading to be rescued.” When Calliope gives up, she “vanished below the surface.”
  • The girls are sent to find a magical apple.

Spiritual Content

  • Linda tries to escape from Sabine, an evil spirit. As she runs, “she locks the door behind her and said a grateful prayer for those extra seconds” which allowed her to avoid Sabine.
  • After being injured, Linda sees Alex and says, “I prayed you would come and you did!”

 

Gargantis

Herbie Lemon and Violet Parma team up once again to solve another Lost-and-Foundery mystery. This time, the outcome of the case has implications on the entire island. Eerie-on-Sea is under attack as a violent storm, nicknamed Gargantis, tears through town, destroying buildings and causing stormquakes (earthquakes caused by the storm).

Amid the chaos, another case presents itself to Herbie. Mrs. Fossil has found a mysterious bottle on the beach. It seems to move on its own and has indecipherable ancient writing on its side. Everyone claims to be the bottle’s rightful owner. Dr. Thalassi and Mrs. Fossil want it for their respective collections. The town’s fishermen say it is theirs due to the presence of their own ancient language on the side. However, a frightening man in a hood makes it clear that he wants the bottle more than anyone and he is willing to sacrifice everyone in Eerie-on-Sea to get it.

Some want to discover what the writing on the bottle means, what fairy-like creature is living inside, and why the man in the hood wants it so badly. They seek the help of Blaze Westerley, a young, outcasted fisherman. Blaze’s uncle was recently lost at sea while investigating the ancient legends of the Eerie fishermen. Soon, Herbie and Violet realize the legends may be more relevant to the case than they initially believed. In fact, if they can crack the case of the fish-shaped bottle, they may be able to save Eerie rock from the terrible Gargantis.

Gargantis shows off the charming relationship between Herbie and Violet as they take on the town’s adults. Blaze Westerley is a welcome addition as he diversifies the group. Blaze is a little unsure of himself, but confident in his uncle’s mission. He, too, is a bit of a “lost thing” like Violet and Herbie were before him. The trio works well together, and each person has skills and knowledge that contribute to solving the mystery.

The book dives a bit deeper into Herbie’s backstory. He must reconcile his fear of the sea with his love of finding homes for lost things. Since the bottle came from the ocean and most of the people who want it are fishermen, Herbie spends a lot of time doing things that scare him, such as being on boats far away from shore. Herbie’s experiences develop the theme that sometimes we must do what scares us in order to help ourselves and others.

The story also highlights how a new perspective can bring the truth to light. Without Blaze’s input or Violet’s seemingly “bonkers” ideas, the mystery would not have been solved. Taylor also applies this idea to Herbie’s book from the mermonkey. Herbie believes that the cover of the book is a message that he will meet his end at the bottom of the sea. However, he never reads the contents, which say something different. In the end, the townspeople gather and give their own interpretation of the cover, none of which end with Herbie drowning. The book, therefore, reinforces the importance of perspective and the value of individuality.

The fast-paced book introduces new characters and interweaving plotlines. For this reason, it is recommended that readers not read Gargantis as a standalone. In addition, the resolution may fall flat for those who did not read the first book, Malamander. Black and white illustrations bring some added visualization to some of the scenes. Plus, the characters are just as charming and quirky as before. If readers enjoyed Malamander, they are likely to enjoy Herbie and Violet’s deep dive into the ancient fishermen’s legends.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A mechanical shell attacks Violet and Herbie. Herbie fends it off by throwing “the bucket at [it], knocking it to the ground.” Violet “wrestles with it” trying to get it to stop.
  • Violet tells Herbie that the fishermen cannot fish in the storm. She explains, “The one motorboat that tried got its engine exploded by lightning.” She then says, “One fisherman has drowned already.”
  • Amid the argument, Herbie fears “some sort of riot is about to break out in the hotel.”
  • Herbie narrates that when Lady Kraken, the owner of the hotel, slaps him “on the back. It feels like being hit with a sock full of dry twigs.”
  • Violet shows Herbie an image in a book that depicts a large creature who “uses its giant flippers to smash the town to pieces, while lots of little medieval people run away screaming.”
  • The book Herbie receives from the mermonkey, a prophetic machination who gives customers a book, has a picture that shows “tiny figures of men and women and children writhe and twist as they sink down, down, down to the depths.” Herbie thinks this describes his fate as well as his unknown family’s. The cover also shows these bodies being received by “the white tentacles, feelers, and claws of the abyssal horrors that lurk at the cold, dark bottom of the sea.”
  • The clockwork crab makes “steel blades slide out from each of [its] four raised arms.” It aims for Herbie. Herbie wonders if there is a rule for his profession about smashing “a lost object to smithereens if it tries to pinch your stuff and then attacks you with swords.” When the clockwork crab attacks, “Herbie experiences a sudden flash of pain” and then a thin line of blood runs down the back of his hand.” Herbie gives “the blasted thing an almighty kick up the trumpet” and knows “with certainty that something has broken” after hearing it land with a “PANG!
  • Herbie keeps a sprightning, a fairy-like creature that can produce lightning, under his cap. He feels “a small explosion” at one point, followed by “smoke and the unmistakable stench of singed hair.”
  • Without a word, the man in the deep hood, nicknamed Deep Hood, threatens Mr. Mollusc, Herbie’s boss. He merely shows him what is under the hood, which is enough to make Mr. Mollusc go “so white he’s almost see-through” and agree to the Deep Hood’s terms.
  • When faced with two difficult possibilities, Herbie outlines his choices. He says he can either “get on the boat — despite the mermonkey’s warning — and run the risk of a watery end on the cold, dark bottom of the sea, or don’t get on the boat, and face the certainty of being nabbed by a bunch of angry fishermen with ropes and knives.” He chooses the boat.
  • Blaze explains that his uncle was once “swept overboard and swallowed into the swirling mouth of the Vortiss,” a whirlpool in the ocean, but he survived. His uncle told his fellow fishermen that he saw “the wrecks of all the ships the Vortiss has gobbled up over hundreds of years. And the skeletons of all the men who were gobbled with them, too.”
  • Blaze explains that his uncle wanted to return to Vortiss to investigate, so he took Deep Hood with him. However, they began to argue. Blaze remembers that his “Uncle had his ax out.” Then, Deep Hood threw something like a bomb. Blaze was “thrown to the deck.” That was the last he saw of his uncle, as the rope connecting the two men to the ship was “cut clean through.”
  • Blaze sees Deep Hood and blames him for his uncle’s fate. Blaze then “leaps forward, the wrench raised like a club.” Deep Hood uses his tentacle to ward the boy off, “smashing Blaze in the face.”
  • Herbie’s sprightning makes his cap explode, shocking Deep Hood’s hand, and causing Deep Hood to be “hurled backward.”
  • When a fisherman, named Lanky Beard, questions Deep Hood’s intentions, Deep Hood’s tentacle “shoots out and strikes Lanky Beard in the face.” It then “[grabs] his beard and [yanks] his head down onto a tabletop.” Finally, the tentacle punches the man’s feet out from under him, causing him to go “down with a sickening crunch, and [stay] down.”
  • Deep Hood is the clockwork crab’s master. He becomes disappointed in it and “kicks the shell… a strong, cruel kick, designed to punish.” Soon other fishermen join in, kicking the shell around in what Herbie describes as a “spiteful game.”
  • The sprightning defends Herbie and Violet by shooting lightning at a fisherman. “The man is thrown off his feet as electricity scorches the moldy wallpaper right down the corridor.”
  • When trying to leave the pub, Deep Hood’s tentacle yanks Violet back. Herbie frees her when he “takes the door in both hands and slams it shut with all [his] force on the tentacle,” which is followed by a “sickening, rubbery crunch—and a roar of pain from Deep Hood.”
  • The sprightning uses its lightning on Mr. Mollusc, sending it “crackling up Mr. Mollusc’s arm and down into his trousers.” This causes him to “go stiff as a board and fall over backward in a puff of smoke.”
  • Deep Hood discovers Herbie and Violet eavesdropping. Herbie sees “Violet’s terrified face as the tentacle shoves her into the open sarcophagus and slams the lid shut.” Herbie also says, “I remember the smashing of glass in the tower as I was pulled out a window and carried away into the night.” He does not remember anything other than that, as he assumes he has been “knocked out.”
  • The fishermen use a rope to restrain Herbie. Herbie narrates, “It’s pulled tight, trapping my arms, and I’m jerked off my feet and out through the metal door.”
  • The fishermen and Deep Hood launch their first attack on Gargantis, using Herbie as bait. Herbie sees the weapons the fishermen and Deep Hood plan to use on Gargantis. It is a gun, “the type once used to hunt whales” with spears as projectiles that have bombs attached. The fishermen fire multiple times at Gargantis. The fishermen continue to attack the creature and use Herbie and the sprightning as bait. Herbie describes that the boat is “struck violently,” but everyone aboard is unharmed. Herbie sees that the fishermen are now armed with “axes and spears.” Herbie observes as “Gargantis attacks” the fishermen’s boat. Herbie thinks that by now all the fishermen are “down to the ocean floor.” It is later discovered that they all survived. This first attack takes place over 22 pages.
  • Herbie, Violet, and Blaze come across a swarm of sprightnings that singe Violet’s hair.
  • Later, Deep Hood attacks Gargantis again. Herbie sees the spear land “in the neck, embedding itself deep,” followed by “a sickening ball of fire that bursts out of the storm fish’s mouth” when the bomb explodes. Gargantis “writhes and twists, shrieking with pain and spouting flame.” This wound is nearly fatal to the monster, and the characters believe she is dead.
  • In response to Gargantis’s injury, the sprightnings “swarm around the iron fishing boat, darting and zapping at the fishermen and running in hot angry arcs across its surface.” The sprightnings’ electricity causes an explosion that results in the loss of the power engines, leaving the fishermen victim to the whirlpool, Vortiss. This second attack takes place over two pages.
  • When both the sprightning and Gargantis are close to death, Deep Hood launches another attack. Deep Hood explains that he wants Gargantis’s “carcass” for his potion. The Westerleys and Deep Hood grow increasingly angry with each other. Deep Hood calls Blaze to fight. Deep Hood “punches Squint in the face” and throws an ax at Herbie and Violet, but misses. In the final moments of this encounter, Gargantis returns, and Deep Hood is swallowed by her. This final attack takes place over six pages.
  • Squint tells the story of what happened on the day he was pulled into Vortiss. He remembers that Eels “threw the bomb . . . at his boat.” That act made Squint realize that Eels “wanted to kill us, so that no one else would know he was here, or how to find the Vortiss”. Later Eels “threw another bomb, right at Gancy’s head” and “seemed desperate to kill her before she could wake.”
  • Herbie identifies the remains of Saint Dismal by the features of the skeleton. He sees that, “On the chin of the skull, attached to scraps of mummified skin, is a long dangling beard that reaches all the way to his bony toes.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The fishermen frequent a pub in which they drink “pints of Clammy Dodger.”
  • Blaze says his uncle was “brought . . . back to life with brandy and a slap.”
  • Herbie describes that in winter, it is normal to see the fishermen at the pub drinking beer and smoking pipes.
  • Violet refers to some “drunken sailors.”
  • Lady Kraken has a “long-stemmed glass with a little golden wine inside.”
  • Dr. Thalassi “prescribed [Lady Kraken] an ointment” for her tentacle growth.
  • Herbie explains how the fishermen’s behavior at the pub changes when the tourists leave for the colder season. He says, “Pipes are smoked once more as sea songs are sung and beer is spilled and fights erupt, and Boadicea Bates presides over it all.”

Language

  • Some of the characters are called ridiculous, crazy, annoying, a fool, and other similar terms.
  • Fishermen often say phrases like, “Bless his Beard,” and, “By Dismal’s beard.”
  • Herbie wants to know why Deep Hood “[had] to be so creepy about” turning in a lost object.
  • Herbie references Deep Hood to Mollusc, calling him one of “the strangest ones.”
  • Herbie thinks only “weirdos and crackpots” would visit Eerie-on-Sea in the winter.
  • Herbie mentally refers to the clockwork crab as a “stupid shell.”
  • Mollusc tells Dr. Thalassi to “take this frightful object away,” which turns out to be Mrs. Fossil caught in a net. He later calls her a “scruffy person.”
  • Lady Kraken calls Herbie a “dunderbrain.”
  • Herbie mishears Lady Kraken when she is brushing her teeth. She says she has yet to “[brush her] backside…the backside of [her] toosh.” She means to say tooth, but due to the foam in her mouth, the joke refers to her bottom.
  • The phrases “how on earth” and “bladderwracks” are used as exclamations.
  • Herbie occasionally uses the word “blasted” as a descriptor for frustrating objects.
  • Herbie’s narration calls Deep Hood the “awful man.”
  • Mrs. Fossil refers to Sebastian Eels as, “That rotter.”
  • Herbie sees a fisherman outside of the bathroom “doing up his fly.”
  • Deep Hood calls Blaze “dim-witted.”

Supernatural

  • Herbie encounters a clockwork crab, a machine that looks like a hermit crab. The crab seems to act autonomously. Herbie says, “I don’t see how a clockwork hermit crab, no matter how complex, can want things for itself.”
  • The book’s plot centers around the legend of Gargantis, a sea storm monster that travels through both the sky and water. The saying goes, “Gargantis sleeps, Eerie keeps . . . Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes and falls into the sea.” Herbie describes the storm as “a vast creature—with the head of an anglerfish and dozens of fins along its sinewy body.” It also “is wreathed in storm clouds and lightning that seems to pour off its fins.”
  • The book revisits the mermonkey contraption from the first installment. The machine picks a book that it feels the customer needs to read. Herbie explains that “some people have only to touch the hat in the creature’s hand to set off the mechanism and be dispensed a book.”
  • The characters encounter a “fish-shaped bottle.” Within the bottle is a creature called a sprightning. The sprightnings are fairy-like creatures who can produce lightning, glow, and fly. Herbie sees that “two electrical arcs flicker out from the figure’s back, forming shapes that look for all the world like wings.”
  • When someone mentions the word “dismal,” “the storm spews lightning and thunder once more.” Herbie thinks the weather is “conjured by these words.”
  • Erwin, the cat, speaks again.
  • Deep Hood has a pink tentacle that he uses to attack his enemies. Deep Hood seems to have a supernatural sense of smell.
  • Lady Kraken is given a gold tincture made from the flesh of Gargantis that heals her incurable legs. Herbie watches as the “golden liquid . . . turns purple and strange.” She drinks it and temporarily can walk.
  • After the language Eerie script is decoded, Violet discovers the remainder of the saying regarding Gargantis and Eerie Rock. It continues, “Gargantis dies, Eerie dies, and all falls into the sea.” It turns out that Gargantis has “been holding [Eerie Rock] up all these years” and that Eerie’s stormquakes have been the result of Gargantis leaving her cavern to try to find her lost sprightning.
  • The sprightnings have the ability to “signal” to Gargantis to help their queen get back to them.
  • Squint explains the relationship between Gargantis and the queen sprightning. “The sprightning gives light to the storm fish, and Gargantis gives the sprightning electrical power in return, so she can breed her swarm. They bind forever and should never be separated for long.” They must reunite the two creatures to save their lives.
  • Once Deep Hood is revealed as Sebastian Eels, he shares that the tincture he offered to Lady Kraken allowed him to regrow the hand he lost in the previous book.
  • Eels has “dozens of little pink feelers” that “clutch at his lips and gums.” He also has gills.
  • Herbie narrates, “There’s a rushing sound as air is drawn into [Gargantis’s] mouth, and I sense her long body inflating and filling the cave beneath Eerie Rock completely.” She returns to her post holding Eerie Rock up.

Spiritual Content

  • The story refers to the legend of Saint Dismal, an Eerie-specific tale of the island’s “first Fisherman.” He is the “patron saint of calamitous weather and first fisherman of Eerie-on-Sea.” He is portrayed as having a “strange and holy light over his head,” which eventually is revealed to be a sprightning. They call this his “Gargantic Light.”
  • Violet reads that the people believed the sprightning to be a “miracle” because it was accompanied by an abundant catch of fish. In addition, the fishermen often use the phrase, “Bless his beard” in reference to their saint.
  • When Erwin, the cat, turns counterclockwise three times, the fishermen believe that a “bad omen” is upon them. The saying goes, “When Eerie cat turns widdershins thrice, ’tis dreary luck for men and mice.”
  • The fishermen are “extremely superstitious. When Herbie asks why the fishermen did not try to stop Erwin from turning, Violet says, “He who touches Bad Luck Cat will nary catch a cod nor sprat!”
  • Blaze explains that the whirlpool Vortiss is said to be “the place where storms are born” and has “strange lights and treacherous winds.” He also says that Saint Dismal talked of an “underwater world beneath Eerie Rock, where lie the wrecks of all the ships the Vortiss has gobbled up over hundreds of years.”
  • Gargantis is “a storm fish from the lost tales of creation” and “a creature from the beginning of the world, who should endure till its end.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Ravenous 

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jemima Cooke

The Madre De Aguas of Cuba

A legendary sea serpent is missing. Can the Unicorn Rescue Society find it and end Cuba’s terrible drought?

A brand-new adventure is ready to unfold as Uchenna, Elliot, and Professor Fauna fly to Havana to search for the Madre de Aguas. Is this missing creature responsible for the drought that has ravaged the island for months? And why are the Schmoke Brothers’ goons driving around Havana, dumping pink sludge into sewers? The Unicorn Rescue Society is ready to save the day—and hopefully not get eaten in the process!

Uchenna, Elliot, Professor Fauna, and a Jersey Devil come together on a fast-paced journey through Havana, where they meet several locals. The Madre De Aguas of Cuba shows how different cultures—Taino, Africans, and Spanish—have combined their traditions. Now the Cubans are like a ceiba tree, “many roots, one tree.” The story seamlessly incorporates the idea that people can have different beliefs and still live in peace.

When Uchenna, Elliot, and Professor Fauna get to Cuba, Yoenis—a Cuban American—gives a lecture on the political situation in Cuba, including commentary on the United States embargo. The history lesson is long-winded and has nothing to do with the story’s plot. Another downside of the book is that several of the characters, including Professor Fauna, speak Spanish. Some of the Spanish passages are long and there are not always enough context clues to understand what is being said.

All the characters are quirky in different ways, which adds humor and suspense. Even though the history of Cuba is introduced, young readers will still enjoy the story because of the humorous tone and the interesting characters. Black-and-white illustrations appear every 1 to 2 pages; the illustrations add humor and help the readers visualize the characters. Most of the text is easy to read because it uses short paragraphs, simple vocabulary, and dialogue.

The Unicorn Rescue Society Series will delight readers who want to learn about mythical monsters. Uchenna, Elliot, Professor Fauna, and a Jersey Devil are loveable characters who appear in each installment, and the interplay between the characters is both humorous and endearing. Readers who enjoy The Madre De Aguas of Cuba should check out Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan as it also mixes humor with monsters.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Uchenna and Elliot are told some of Cuba’s history. “When Columbus first arrived in Cuba, he said it was the most beautiful place on earth, claimed it for Spain, and then he started killing the Taino, the Native People who live here.”
  • When the Europeans came to Cuba, they “began enslaving people in Africa and bringing them across the Atlantic.”
  • The Madre de Aguas uses the pipes to travel to a golden statue that is in a hotel. “Shards of gold and steel shot in every direction, hitting the ceiling and the chandelier, causing glass and plaster to mix with gold and steel to rain down on everyone.” No one is injured.
  • From the hotel window, the Madre de Aguas sees the ocean. “Her body rippled and vibrated with strength, and she tore away from the fountain and plowed through the tables, reducing them to wood chips and tatters of white fabric. . .She burst through the huge window” and escaped.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • The Schmokes brothers use Sure-to-Choke insecticide to poison Cuba’s water supply.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • An older woman explains the importance of the ceiba tree. She says, “The ceiba is sacred to the Taino, the Native People on this island.” The Spanish invaded Cuba in 1519. When they arrived, they gathered under a great ceiba tree and prayed, to give thanks for arriving safely in this land.
  • The Afro-Cubans considered the ceiba tree “the holy tree of Afro-Cubans.”
  • Cuba is suffering from a drought, and many Cubans “pray to Maria and she keeps them safe.”
  • At a gathering of people who work in agriculture, people argue over who is responsible for providing Cuba’s water. Some say, “We can all thank Oshun (daughter of the river) for all the sweet waters in Cuba.” Someone else says, “Every good Catholic knows that we get fresh water from Maria, Mother of God.” Others believe that the Madre de Aguas brings water.

Disney at Dawn

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

 

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jennaly Nolan

Chain of Gold

Shadowhunters are angelic humans who are responsible for keeping mundanes (humans) safe from demons and other supernatural threats. For many years, London has had a quiet period, where demons have been rare. However, this changes when a new demon, a Manticore, begins killing shadowhunters. James and his sister Lucie, along with his friends, Cordelia, Matthew, Thomas, and Christopher, hatch a plan to stop the murders of their friends and families. They enlist the help of many others, not just shadowhunters, but also warlocks and ghosts, to heal those who have been injured by the Manticore. The group is determined to defeat the Manticore once and for all.

James is the son of Tessa (a warlock), and Will (a great shadowhunter). Due to the presence of demonic blood in his lineage, James often finds himself jumping between the “shadow world,” and the mortal realm. Lucie, his sister, has an unusual ability to speak to ghosts, as well as to command the dead. Cordelia is a strong, independent woman. Matthew provides comic relief. Thomas and Christopher are wholesome, kind men. Together, this band of self-named “Merry Thieves” provides an interesting cast of characters you can’t help but love.

James has been in love with Grace Blackthorn for years, seeing her every summer when on vacation, and keeping up a relationship in secret. However, when Cordelia moves to London, he finds himself drawn to her in ways that he wasn’t expecting, and is torn between the two women. When Grace breaks it off with James, he and Cordelia begin a relationship; however, it is cut short by Grace reentering James’s life using a bracelet that breeds affection. With James hopelessly in love with Grace once more, Cordelia is in an awkward situation.

In order to finally defeat the Manticore, James must journey to Hell to meet his grandfather, a demon. He and Cordelia enter the realm and kill the Manticore, while those still in the mortal realm find a cure for those who have been injured. Although it seems that the Manticore has been defeated, Belial, a Prince of Hell and James’s grandfather, has not been incapacitated to the same effect. The reader is left with a sort of cliffhanger, knowing that there is more trouble to follow.

The book is told from a third-person omniscient point of view, allowing the reader to get inside the heads of the characters, and better understand their actions and motivations. Clare creates a captivating story that’s impossible to put down, with characters who feel real enough to jump off the page. The novel emphasizes the importance of friendship and relying on those around you for help. Family is also an important theme in the novel, especially recognizing those in your family as people, rather than idols of perfection.

The cast is full of characters who are outsiders in a way, be it through sexuality, race, or gender, and the story showcases the importance of being yourself. Altogether, the novel has a fast-paced plot, characters full of depth, and important messages. All of these aspects come together to create a story that is not only entertaining but meaningful as well.

Sexual Content

  • James kisses Grace at her request, and he feels “the cool, soft press of her lips against his.”
  • Cordelia catches her brother, Alastair, kissing Charles. “It was Alastair’s turn to bury his hands in Charles’s hair, to press against Charles’s body and fumble with his waistcoat. Charles’s hands were flat against Alastair’s chest, and he was kissing Alastair hungrily, over and over—”
  • Grace coerces Matthew into kissing her. Matthew “pressed his hungry mouth against her lips and kissed her, and kissed her. She tasted of sweet tea and oblivion. He felt nothing, no desire, no yearning, only an empty desperate compulsion.”
  • In order to keep from getting recognized at a party, James kisses Cordelia. “She knew he was making it look as if they were Downworlders having an assignation in the Whispering Room—but it didn’t matter, nothing mattered except the way he was kissing her, gloriously kissing her.”

Violence

  • James kills a demon, and “let both of his knives fly. One plunged into the demon’s throat, the other into its forehead.”
  • There is a four-page scene in which the Shadowhunters fight a large demon. Particularly violent parts are when “the demon clawed at [someone’s] throat,” and Cordelia brought “Cortana down in a great curving arc, severing [the demon’s] head.”
  • James saves Cordelia from a demon. “The demon screeched, a high and horrible noise, as the knives plunged into its torso. The creature spasmed—it seemed almost to be crumbling, its leathery seedpods pattering to the ground like rain. It gave a last choking hiss and vanished.”
  • Cordelia describes the fight against the Manticore. Cordelia “whipped Cortana [her sword] forward with a slashing motion, shredding the demon in front of her.” The scene is described over four pages.
  • James and Matthew fight a Khora demon, and James throws knives at it. “The knives sank to their hilts in the demon’s skull. It blew apart; one of the other demons screamed.” Then Christopher gets hurt. “The demon’s great clawed hand raked across Christopher’s chest.”
  • James fights the Manticore in the Hell realm, and the Manticore attacks with his claws, “One raked James’s arm; he spun sideways, blade whipping overhead, slashing across the demon’s torso.” The scene is described over 3 pages.
  • Grace says, “I was eight when [my parents] were killed by demons.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Matthew is often portrayed as either drunk or drinking, with eyes that are “suspiciously bright.” He is often holding a flask or alcohol of some kind. Lucie confronts him, saying, “You’re drunk now . . . Matthew, you’re drunk most of the time.”
  • When James is sick with a scalding fever, he is forced to drink a “loathsome potion” to heal.
  • After Grace breaks up with James, he gets drunk. “James unbuttoned the inside pocket and drew out [Matthew’s] silver flask.”
  • Alastair reveals to Cordelia that their father is an alcoholic. Alastair says, “he’s always bloody drunk, Cordelia. The only one of us who didn’t know that is you.”

Language

  • Profanity is rarely used. Profanity includes bloody and hell.

Supernatural

  • When Lucie is exploring the forest outside of her house, she talks about the moss, and how “her father told her it was a pillow for faeries at night, and that the white stars of the flowers that grew only in the hidden country of Idris made bracelets and rings for their delicate hands.”
  • While in the forest, Lucie falls into a pit. Jesse saves her and then says, “This is one of [the faerie’s] pit traps. They usually use them to catch animals, but they’d be very pleased to find a little girl instead.”
  • Jesse tells Lucie that if the faeries catch her, she “could find [her]self serving faerie gentry in the Land Under the Hill for the rest of [her] life.”
  • When James is fighting a demon, “he was suddenly pulled into Hell,” which is often referred to as the “shadow realm,” a dimension James is often taken to without warning.
  • Most of the characters are Shadowhunters/Nephilim, who are “a special race of warriors, descended from an angel, gifted with powers that allowed them to wield weapons of shining adamas and to bear the black Marks of holy runes on their bodies—runes that made them stronger, faster, more deadly than any mundane human; runes that made them burn brightly in the dark.”
  • James fights a demon that is described as having “a ribbed gray body, a curving, sharp beak lined with hooked teeth, and splayed paw-like feet from which ragged claws protruded.”
  • While fighting a demon, James notes something like recognition in its eyes, but goes on to say that “demons, at least the lesser kind, didn’t recognize people. They were vicious animals driven by pure greed and hatred.”
  • Shadowhunters rely on Seraph blades, swords “infused with the energy of angels.”
  • Shadowhunters have runes that allow them to do various things, such as “glamour runes [that] made them invisible to all eyes not gifted with the Sight.”
  • As James and his friends walk through London, “James caught a glimpse of the pale skin and glittering eyes of a vampire.”
  • There are a variety of supernatural beings, referred to as “Downworlders.” One of these groups are warlocks. “Warlocks were the offspring of humans and demons: capable of using magic but not of bearing runes or using adamas, the clear crystalline metal from which steles and seraph blades were carved. They were one of the four branches of Downworlders, along with vampires, werewolves, and the fey.”
  • Both James and Lucie can see ghosts, a trait they note as “not uncommon in the Herondale family.”
  • James describes the shadow realm as having, “charred earth. A similarly scorched sky arced above him. Twisted trees emerged from the ground, ragged claws grasping at the air.”
  • When James is hurt, Matthew draws an “iratze, a healing rune,” on James.
  • Tessa, James’s mother, recalls “attending a vampire frolic once. And some sort of party at Benedict Lightwood’s house, before he got demon pox and turned into a worm, of course—”
  • Cordelia talks about the reason for her father’s arrest, noting that “a nest of Kravyād demons had been discovered just outside the border of Idris,” the home country of Shadowhunters. She notes that her father had been called in to help, but “the Kravyād demons had gone—and the Nephilim had trespassed onto land that a vampire clan believed was theirs.”
  • Matthew talks about a warlock he once knew, “who had three arms. He could duel with one hand, shuffle a deck of cards with the next, and untie a lady’s corset with the third, all at the same time. Now there was a chap to emulate.”
  • Shadowhunters have a light source that they call “witchlight,” which requires no electricity.
  • Jessamine and Jesse, two characters in the book, are ghosts.
  • Cordelia has a sword, Cortana, which her father used when he “slew the great demon Yanluo…They say the blade of Cortana can cut through anything.”
  • While all the young Shadowhunters are at a picnic, “a demon broke the surface” of the lake.
  • A pack of demons are described: “The demons raced like hellhounds across the grass, leaping and surging, utterly silent. Their skin was rough and corrugated, the color of onyx; their eyes flaming black.”
  • Silent Brothers are the healers of the Shadowhunter world, and speak in silent voices, “an echo in [the] head.” They are described in, “Ivory robes marked in red, skin drained of color, scarred with red runes. Most were without hair and worse, had their eyes sewn shut, their sockets sunken and hollow.”
  • Before sneaking into Grace’s house, Lucie and Cordelia “marked themselves carefully with various runes—Strength, Stealth, Night Vision.”
  • Cordelia encounters a demon in the Blackthorn’s greenhouse. “It was a demon, but not like any she had seen before. From a distance it almost seemed a butterfly or moth, pinned to the wall, wings outspread. A second, closer look revealed that its wings were membranous extensions, shot through with pulsing red veins. Where the wings joined together, they rose into a sort of central stalk, crowned by three heads. Each head was like a wolf’s, but with black, insectile eyes.”
  • When the group meets a warlock, Malcolm Fade, Cordelia notes that, “Most warlocks had a mark that set them apart, a physical sign of their demon blood: blue skin, horns, claws made of stone. Malcolm’s eyes were certainly an unearthly shade, like amethysts.”
  • At the Hell Ruelle, a sort of party, Cordelia talks about the guests in attendance: “Vampires stalked by proudly, their faces gleaming in the electric light; werewolves prowled the shadows in elegant evening dress. There was music coming from a string quartet standing on a raised cherrywood stage in the center of the room. Cordelia glimpsed a handsome violin player with the gold-green eyes of a werewolf, and a clarinetist with auburn curls, his calves ending in the hard hooves of a goat.”
  • At a party, Cordelia meets Hypatia Vex, whose pupils “were the shape of stars: her warlock mark.”
  • After Cordelia realizes that someone had tried to poison two warlocks, one of the warlocks confirms this using magic. “Malcolm Fade waved a hand over his own cup. Purple sparks woke and danced in his glass. The red wine stain on the carpet unfurled like a flower and turned to purple smoke.”
  • Ragnor Fell, a warlock, is described as having “an extra joint on each finger,” and Gast, another warlock, has “multiple rows of teeth, like a shark.”
  • At a warlock’s house, a “clearly enchanted fire burned in the grate, the flames silver and blue. The smoke that rose from the fire traced delicate patterns on the air in the shape of acanthus leaves. Its smoke smelled sweet, like attar [a fragrant essential oil] of roses.”
  • The group acquires a Pyxis, used for catching demons, and describes how it works. “When you wish to trap a demon, you first wound or weaken it. Then you place the Pyxis on the ground nearby and speak the words ‘Thaam Tholach Thechembaor,’ and the demon will be sucked into the box.”
  • Cordelia describes the Manticore demon as having “the body of a mangy lion with elongated legs, each one ending in a massive, taloned paw. Its head was snakelike and scaled, with glittering red eyes and a triple row of serrated jaws.”
  • Lucie is revealed to have the power to call the dead, something that Jesse explains to her, saying, “You called the dead, and the dead came. I heard you, across the whole city, calling for someone to help you.”
  • James opens a portal to Hell, which Cordelia describes as “a large archway. It seemed to be made of dark light; it curved with Gothic flourishes, as though it were part of the cemetery, but Cordelia knew it was not. Through it, she could glimpse a swirl of dark chaos, as if she were looking through a Portal into the vastness of black space itself.”
  • Grace is attacked by a demon described as “half-reptilian and half-human, with leathery bat’s wings and a sharply pointed chin like the tip of a knife.”
  • James meets his grandfather, Belial, a Prince of Hell, and he is described as “a Prince of Hell showing himself in his most human form. He looked like a statue carved by a divine hand: his features were ageless, handsome, everything in balance. It was possible to see in his face the terrible beauty of the fallen.”
  • Grace reveals that her “mother invoked black magic to try to bring [her] brother back [from the dead].”
  • Lucie saves James by giving him Jesse Blackthorn’s “last breath,” which had been contained in a locket before he died.

Spiritual Content

  • To enter the Silent City where the Silent Brother’s live, James must answer a riddle. “’Quis ut Deus?’ he said. ‘Who is like God?’ the Angel asks. The answer is ‘No one. No one is like God.’”

by Sara Mansfield

 

Exile

 

Sophie is settling in nicely to her new home and her new life in the world of the lost cities. And it helps that living at Havenfield means getting to spend time with rare, precious species—including the first female Alicorn– who shows herself to Sophie and trusts only her.

Sophie is tasked with helping to train the magical creature so that the Alicorn can be revealed to the people of the lost cities as a sign of hope. Sophie wants to believe that the recent drama and anguish are gone for good.

But the secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memories remain, and before long, she’s back in incredible danger, risking everything to find the answers to questions that could save not only her life but the life of someone close to her…

From the first page, Exile jumps into action and takes the reader on an adventure through the elf’s world. The story focuses on the mystery of the Black Swan and Sophie’s unique talents—telepathy, teleportation, understanding all languages, and being able to perform a brain push. The intrigue around Sophie’s beginnings adds danger, suspense, and mystery. The moments between Sophie and her friends also give the story added depth as well as blush-worthy awkward boy scenes. As the narrator, Sophie draws the reader into her life and highlights the dangers of guilt. One councilman tells Sophie, “Guilt is a treacherous thing. It creeps in slowly, breaking you down bit by bit.”

Exile is extremely entertaining, but the complicated plot, the large cast of characters, and the political intrigue make Exile more suitable for strong, middle school readers. Scenes between Sophie and a high-maintenance unicorn add humor and glitter to the story. Sophie’s friends—who don’t always get along with each other—give the story heart. The heartwarming conclusion leaves several questions left unanswered, which will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, Everblaze. However, readers should be warned, Sophie’s adventures will draw you into the action and leave you wanting to read every book in the series, which has 8.5 books (and counting).

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When a man sees Sophie’s family pendant, “He lunged for her. Sophie shrieked and tried to block him, but he pinned her shoulders to her chair with one arm while his other hand tore at her cape.” Sophie is scared, but not injured.
  • Fintan creates a fire. “Flashes of orange thrashed among the yellow flames, and Fintan stumbled to his feet, realizing they were the figures of his friends. . . All he could do was watch their agonized faces as the fire attacked. Then he dropped to his knees and vomited.”
  • While performing a brain push, Alden and Sophie are injured when “a wave of heat shot up Alden’s arm, burning Sophie’s hand. . .” Alden falls to the floor. “Alden lay unconscious, a large gash on his forehead streaking his face red.”
  • By using his power, Bronte inflicts pain on Sophie. “The harder Sophie tried to fight the heat, the hotter it burned. . . Sophie screamed and felt her body collapse as the searing heat raged through her mind like an inferno.” Sophie takes a serum that made it so she “couldn’t feel, couldn’t think, just lay there and soaked up the freedom of being so light, so calm, so completely unburdened.”
  • A group of cloaked people throw a net over Sophie, Keefe, and the Alicorn. “Keefe aimed at the figure who was armed, but before he fired, one of the other figures nailed Keefe in the head with a rock. The melder slipped from his hand. . .” Keefe uses a throwing star and “the silver blades clipped the figures shoulder, tearing his cloak and making him drop his end of the net.” During the struggle, the Alicorn’s wing is broken.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Several times, Sophie is given serums called “Achey Break,” “Fade Fuel,” and another one called “Youth.” When she drinks the Achey Break, “it rushed through her like warm bubbles floating into all the places she’d felt sore.” The water had a special enzyme that helped keep everyone healthy.
  • Alden geos into an unconscious state and is given sedatives to keep him from thrashing.
  • When Sophie is upset, a healer gives her a “salty medicine.” After she takes it, “the room didn’t just become clearer—it became brighter. Lighter. Things weren’t so bad, really. How could they be when there was this cool rush racing through her, filling her with life and energy and lifting her higher. . .”
  • A dwarf gives Sophie a sedative so he can take her to a secret location.

Language

  • Other elves call Sophie a freak.
  • One of the council members calls Sophie’s adoptive parents “two of the world’s most scandalous misfits.” Later, a council member calls Sophie’s adoptive father an “insolent fool.”
  • Several times, a boy calls his brother an idiot.
  • One of Sophie’s friends asks, “Ugh, how do I apologize for being the hugest jerk ever?”

Supernatural

  • Sophie is an elf with many powers including teleportation and understanding all languages. In addition, “Sophie was the only Telepath who could track thoughts to their exact location—and the only one who could read the minds of animals.”
  • Sophie uses a “brain push” that allows her to channel “energy from her core into her legs” so she can run faster.
  • In the elf world, some elves use a crystal to “light leap” to another location. For example, Sophie “stepped into the light, letting the warmth swell under her skin like thousands of tickling feathers as the simmering rush swept her and the alicorn away.”
  • A spectral mirror has a girl in it. Sophie is told the mirror works because of “a clever bit of programming.”
  • Sophie’s adoptive mother, Edaline can “pull things out of thin air.”
  • Sophie’s adoptive father, Grady, is a Mesmer. He says, “I could make anyone do anything they needed. I could mesmerize the entire Council if I wanted to, make them sight any law into effect. I could make them all jump off a cliff if I felt like it.”
  • One of Sophie’s classmates says her special ability will “probably be a Guster like my dad. Controlling the wind—whoop-de-fricking-do.”
  • Dwarves mine a mineral called magsidian. “It has an inherent field that draws things to it, and you can change what it draws by how you carve it.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Battle of the Ampere

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Madison Shooter

 The Arctic Incident

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Root often smokes “fungal cigars.”

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Morgan Lynn

 

Soul Riders: Jorvik Calling

Soul Riders tells the heroic tale of four young girls who have been chosen by destiny to save the world from the ancient demon, Garnok, and his band of dangerous Dark Riders. Lisa is a teenage girl coming to terms with the tragic loss of her mother in a riding accident, who has sworn never to go near a horse again. That is, until she met Starshine, a mysterious blue-maned steed who comes to her in dreams.

New on the island of Jorvik, Lisa befriends Alex, Linda, and Anne. Under the guidance of mystical druids, they discover they each have a special bond to their horses that gives them magical powers. While trying to balance school, family, and friendships, they have to figure out what it means to be a Soul Rider. They are attacked by the Dark Riders and the mysterious Mr. Sands and discover that their horses are in danger. Instead of relying on their combined strength, they decide to split up on their quest to find answers. Will it be too late before they realize their mistake?

Jorvik Calling has a unique premise, but the worldbuilding is choppy and confusing. The story focuses on Lisa. However, the story is told in the first-person point of view, but it jumps from each girl’s perspective. Even though there are four narrators, the girls’ voices are not easy to distinguish from each other. In addition, the perspective often changes within a chapter. The change in perspective adds confusion, breaks up the action, and makes the overall story disconnected.

Even though the book is based on the Star Stable video game, readers who haven’t played the game will enjoy the book. However, the video game players will instantly connect with the book because it gives insight into the lore of Jorvik and the myth of the Soul Riders.

All the girls—Lisa, Alex, Linda, and Anne—are unfamiliar with Jorvik’s lore, which allows the reader to learn about the ancient myth. Because of this, the girls are confused when magic begins coursing through them. Despite this, the girl’s supernatural abilities will capture readers’ attention. The unique blend of horses, magic, and the fight between good and evil will make readers curious about what will happen in the next book in the series, The Legend Awakens.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Some boys were bullying Alex’s brother. One day, “she found her brother tied to one of the goal posts with jump ropes.” When Lisa saw a bigger boy, she gestured to him to stop. “The moment Alex raised her hand, she felt a burst of energy, there was a bright flash and the guy staggered back as though he’d been pushed.” The boy falls, and when he gets back to his feet, he runs away.
  • A man in a van chases Anne and her horse Concorde. “The headlights shone like death rays in her eyes. . . The terror at the thought of being run over had left her numb. She saw a pink glow behind her eyelids. It was seeking her out, that light.” Anne embraces the light and then, “the SUV ran through her and Concorde—but she wasn’t there. It was as though she was standing outside herself, looking on.” Anne and Concorde are able to escape.
  • Lisa’s dad, Carl, eavesdrops on his boss. Then, “Carl could see two long shadows. . . And then they were on top of him. Two burly men grabbed him by the arms and dragged him toward the ramp. . .” Carl’s whereabouts are unknown, but Lisa just thinks he is working on an important project.
  • When Derek was going home, a girl on horseback tries to ride him down. Derek realizes “she was in fact aiming to force him off the road . . .He could feel the horse’s searing heat against his leg.” Alex appears and Jessica grabs her arm. “Lightening exploded from Alex’s palm and hit Jessica, who collapsed on the ground.” Alex is left with a bleeding arm.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Oh my god” is used as an exclamation three times. For example, Lisa’s father almost hits a girl on a horse. The girl says, “Oh my god, I’m sorry. I didn’t think there would be any cars out this early!”
  • God is used as an exclamation once.
  • A man uses “by the light of Aideen” as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • The book begins with a creation story about a girl on horseback. “As she rode slowly across the sea, her horse’s hooves tamed the wild waves beneath her. . .She lay the light down on the island, and life and hope poured out of the cold nothingness.” The island had both light and darkness. “A great darkness hides in the depths of the ocean, biding its time, waiting just a little longer.”
  • Pandoria is a “world that co-exists with ours. Pandoria’s unreality seeps into our reality and vice versa. That is the essence of magic.”
  • The soul riders are “chosen girls who share a special bond with their horses. Through that bond, they acquire special powers to help them fight against evil.”
  • Sabine puts a spell over Herman, who owns the stable. Then Sabine “murmured something, and Lisa’s horse, Starshine, collapses.”
  • When Lisa’s horse, Starshine, collapses, Lisa heals him by placing her hands on him. “She placed them on his clammy neck and lay down with her face next to his. . . The birthmark on her cheek prickled and burned. A melody, at once strange and familiar, flowered through her like a trickling brook.” As she sings, Lisa feels an energy that “shimmered blue, pink and purple.” The energy heals Starshine.
  • Starshine breaks his leg. Lisa thought about calling for help, but “then a glow began to fill the air. . . The strange glow slowly rose through the air in twisting tendrils.” The lights dance in a pattern. “Now a strong light was shining from the palm of her hand. . . Beneath her hand, she could feel Starshine’s leg aligning. There was crackling, trembling, and dancing underneath his skin.” Starshine is completely healed. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Lisa meets a woman in the woods. Afterwards, Lisa hears a voice say, “This is your gift. To heal and care for the injured and sick. Use your gift well.”
  • An evil man can speak to Garnok directly through a portal. The man “wants to see those miserable horses (the Soul Rider’s horses) devoured in the eternal prison of Pandoria.” It is not clear who Garnok is.
  • Lisa and her friends take a night ride where they “were going to ride in Aideen’s footsteps and seek the Flame of Jor, the spark that, according to legend, brought life to the island.” The girls talk about the legend. “During an excavation in the Northern Mountains, carvings showing four riders were found on the cave wall . . . a local historian at Jorvik University later identified [the symbols] as a sun, a star, a moon, and a lightning bolt. The symbols are thought to be the source of the Soul Riders’ power and strength.”
  • Lisa sees a vision of her dead mother. “Lisa ran as fast as she could, but she saw her mother fade away before her very eyes.”
  • Linda, one of the Soul Riders, “had known things she shouldn’t have been able to know. . . [Her aunt] called it a premonition, a gift from the gods.” Later, “a darkness spread through Linda. Suddenly, she was no longer in the warm club room . . . but far out to sea. It was dark and cold.” When her friend calls her name, Linda snaps out of the trance.
  • Alex’s horse, Concorde, becomes transparent and slowly fades away. Later, Alex learns that he is in another realm.
  • Anne meets Fripp. “The creature’s fur was blue and shiny; its eyes were large and almost entirely black. Its tail was big and fluffy. If she had to describe it, she would have said it looked like an unusually big squirrel.”
  • Anne discovers that she can create a portal to Pandoria.
    Spiritual Content
  • The Soul Riders are told about druids. “They’re called the Keepers of Aideen and are philosophers, you might say, with a close relationship with the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. . . They live in the service of the goddess Aideen.”

 

Even and Odd

Sisters Even and Odd are magical on alternating days—they may live in an ordinary corner of Connecticut, but they were born in Firoth, a land of spells and enchantments. Even loves magic and everything about it. Odd just wants to fit in with the volunteers at the local animal shelter. While Odd wishes her magic would go away, Even practices magic every chance she gets, dreaming of the day she’ll be ready to become a hero of Firoth.

When the hidden border between the mundane and magical worlds shuts abruptly, the girls find themselves trapped in Firoth. Anxious to reunite with their parents, and assisted by a young unicorn named Jeremy, they discover a wizard is stealing border magic—and that the results will be catastrophic, not just for them, but for all of Firoth! Someone has to stop the wizard; Even realizes she cannot wait until she feels ready, she must be a hero now.

Even and Odd will please readers because the fast-paced story is full of mystical creatures, and a romp into a land full of magic. The story focuses on Even, a likable character who isn’t afraid of jumping into new situations. Throughout the story, Even spends some time in the form of a skunk. This plot twist leads to humorous situations and also comes in handy in times of danger. The interplay between Even and Odd adds conflict in a sweet, sisterly way.

Jeremy, a unicorn, is a delightful and surprising addition to the cast of characters. Not only does Jeremy add humor to the story, but he is also very relatable. Like most children, Jeremy loves playing games, drinking soda, and “fears getting into trouble with his parents.” Jeremy wants to visit the human, aka the mundane-world, because, “Here, I’m just Shimmerglow—the unicorn kid who panics too easily and babbles too much. There. . . where you come from. . . I’d be different. Better.”

The end of the book drags because Jeremy, Even, and Odd are trusting their parents to solve the main conflict. When the three friends finally realize the adults are in danger, then they jump in to save them. However, readers may not understand the references to bureaucracy, and may not connect the commentary on Firoth’s closed borders to how it applies to today’s refugee crisis.

The magical world of Firoth is a fun world full of wonder that teaches the importance of teamwork, empathy, and helping others. Even though Even always dreamed of being a hero, she didn’t feel ready to confront the villain. But she realizes “‘ready’ didn’t matter as much as she’d thought it did. Maybe what mattered was that you did it anyway.” Even’s actions also reinforce the message that in every difficult situation, instead of worrying, you should think of reasons to be grateful.

Even and Odd is an entertaining story with plenty of action, adventure, and humor. Readers who want to step into another world with magic should add Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Even upsets an elf. Then, Even “felt soft, sticky ropes twining around her. She shrieked as she realized it wasn’t rope at all—it was spiderweb pulled from the plush panda and grown with magic. The webbing wrapped around her fast. . . the toy panda flew off the shelf. One leg stuffed itself into Even’s mouth. . .”
  • A flower fairy bites Odd, who is in the shape of a skunk. Odd “felt a sharp prick of pain. She yanked her paw back and cradled it against her furry chest. It felt like she’d gotten a flu shot right in the soft pad of her paw. A drop of blood welled up.”
  • A dragon shows up out of nowhere and begins chasing Jeremy, Odd, and Even (who is still a skunk). The group try running from the dragon, but then Even “scrambled up onto Odd’s back, stuck her tail in the air, and sprayed as hard as she could behind them as the dragon dove, skimming the fiery meadow. The spray hit the dragon’s mouth as it opened its jaws to breathe more fire. Coughing, it flew upward, away from them.”
  • Lady Vell is holding a group captive. In order to help, Jeremy, Even, and Odd lie to Lady Vell in order to get invited inside her house. When Jeremy gets disruptive, Lady Vell “flicked her wrist, and Jeremy was whooshed off the board and tossed onto a table covered in vines. The vines immediately wrapped around him. He was hoisted into the air.”
  • Lady Vell sends “creepy dolls” to attack Even. The dolls “surrounded her. . . A doll began to climb up her leg. She shook it off as two leaped up to cling to her arm. . .Kicking at the dolls as if she were playing soccer, Even knocked them away.” Even sprays the dolls with soda and “the dolls collapsed.” The creepy doll scene is described over two pages.
  • Lady Vell grabs Even. “Even yelled as she felt Lady Vell’s hand close around her wrist. Her fingers were boney, and she squeezed so tight that it hurt.” Odd changes Even into a skunk. “Lifting up her gloriously fluffy tail, Even sprayed, aiming at Lady Vell’s face.” Lady Vell lets Even go.
  • Jeremey, Even, and Odd set the captive adults free. “The wizard sent her fireball spinning across the room, and the flames wrapped around Lady Vell’s wrists like handcuffs.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Many different types of creatures live in the magic world, including women with antlers, a snake with nine heads, and a green-skinned two-foot-tall man.
  • Even and Odd live in a world where magic exists. When Even annoyed her sister, Odd turned Even into a half skunk, half cat. Throughout the story Even shapeshifts. Occasionally, other people change Even’s form as well.
  • Even can levitate “like an astronaut in zero gravity.”
  • Even and Odd’s father performs an un-cursing. Odd mixed the ingredients: “a quart of water purified by a unicorn, dirt from a dragon mountain, holly leaves (labeled wings of bat), and a can of sprite that had been wrapped in paper labeled with runes to look more magical.”
  • “Soda negated magic. . . it did an excellent job on stuff like cursed amulets, enchanted roses and uncooperative spell books.”
  • Jeremy is a unicorn and can poop cupcakes.
  • For an unknown reason, all the unicorns’ homes switched places with a lake. A goblin explains, “And sometimes your home up and moves on no matter how polite you are.”
  • Even and Odd’s mother takes a house out of storage. The house magically expands when new people arrive.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Malamander

Twelve-year-old Herbie Lemon has always been fond of lost things. After all, as an infant, he was a “lost thing.” Herbie was found and given a home in the town of Eerie-on-Sea, where he was eventually put in charge of the Lost-and-Foundery at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. His job now is to keep track of every lost item in the hotel and, when possible, find its home.

One day, a new kind of lost thing arrives, inspiring quite an eventful case for the young detective-of-sorts. Violet Parma puts Herbie in charge of helping her track down her missing parents, who became “lost” when she was an infant while staying at the Grand Nautilus. Herbie reluctantly takes the case, and the pair works together, discovering that one legend from the town’s past may have more to do with the Parmas’ disappearance than they could have imagined.

The Parma mystery leads the duo to the malamander, a mythic creature that supposedly lives in the water surrounding Eerie-on-Sea. The malamander only comes inland once a year to lay its wish-granting egg. The power of the egg draws a variety of characters into the fray, including a gruff man with a boat hook for a hand. Herbie and Violet must consult the eclectic townspeople and watch their backs as they work to uncover the mysteries which are hidden in the mist of Eerie-on-Sea.

Taylor wonderfully builds the world of Eerie-on-Sea. From the very first chapter, it is clear Eerie-on-Sea is no ordinary island. It is home to ancient legends regarding the existence of sea monsters, which Herbie and Violet discover to be more fact than fiction. The legends– and the people who tell them– are enthralling, and each person is essential to the story being told. By the end of the novel, readers will feel as if they were on the island themselves.

Herbie is a loveable narrator who provides much needed information about the culture of Eerie-on-Sea. Herbie’s friendship with Violet also helps readers understand the mysteries of such a place. She is new to the island, as is the audience, allowing readers to identify with Violet as they learn about the stories which the townspeople know well. The balance between Herbie and Violet is engaging from their first meeting. Violet is a go-getter, who thinks quickly and is strong-willed. Herbie, while confident in some moments, is much quieter and cautious.

The malamander’s egg is central to many of the characters’ motivations, and Taylor’s story touches on the harmful nature of greed that has lasting effects it can have on others. For example, the legend of Captain K demonstrates how the captain’s desire for the egg causes his entire crew to be lost to the malamander. Captain K wishes for eternal life, and while he gets what he wished for, he becomes a shell of a man. Consequently, Captain K’s family spends generations trying to fix his mistakes. On the other hand, Herbie acts as a counter to this greed. Herbie’s job is dedicated to helping others find what they have lost. His decision to help Violet as well as his concern for the townspeople teach readers that selflessness and caring for others can lead to happiness.

The author occasionally uses advanced vocabulary, but the context clues provided make Malamander a good option for children looking to learn new words. Black and white illustrations bring the quirky characters to life; the illustrations are used periodically to aid in the visualization of some of the more significant moments in the story. Young readers who love mysteries and myths will enjoy Malamander as the story creates an interesting setting that has endearing characters and a gripping plot.

Sexual Content

  • Mrs. Fossil, a beachcomber, thinks she has some “beach finds” which would “suit a young man looking for something for that special someone in his life.” She assumes Violet and Herbie are romantically involved.
  • After hugging Herbie, Violet “looks a bit embarrassed and tries to hide it by punching [Herbie] on the arm.”

Violence

  • A man has a “large iron boat hook, ending in a long gleaming spike” for a hand. He is called “Boat Hook Man.”
  • When the Boat Hook Man comes looking for Violet in Herbie’s Lost-and-Foundery, he “shoves [Herbie] against the wall as he pushes past.”
  • Boat Hook Man uses his hook to break into the chest where Violet is hiding. “He raises his spike and brings it down with a sickening thud, driving it deep into the lid of the chest.” When he cannot find her, Herbie says the Boat Hook Man “[goes] berserk.” Herbie narrates, “He starts ransacking my cellar, sweeping his massive arms from side to side.”
  • Violet’s history becomes a large part of the story. She was “found abandoned” as a baby. Her parents left behind only “two pairs of shoes . . . left neatly on the harbor wall.” There were also “footprints in the sand, leading from the harbor wall to the sea.”
  • Herbie’s cap almost never cooperates when he tries to put it on his head. At one point he narrates “the elastic strap pings and nearly takes [his] eye out.”
  • Violet tells Herbie that “a fork bounced off the wall behind [her]” when she ran out of the hotel kitchen, where she was not supposed to be. Herbie knows that these were the actions of the head chef who “guards his kitchen like a fortress.”
  • In Herbie’s lost and found system, if red lines are crossing out a name, that means “the owners were declared dead.” Violet’s parents’ entry is crossed out in red, and Herbie apologizes while giving Violet her parents’ lost belongings.
  • Herbie teases his boss, Mr. Mollusc, to the point that he “is close to bursting a blood vessel.”
  • While walking with Violet, Herbie mentally describes how “the snow is like a swarm of icy bees—stinging [their] eyes and trying to get up [their] noses.”
  • Herbie fears he may have seen “a shadow stepping back into a doorway” when he checks to see if he and Violet are being followed.
  • While eating at the diner, Herbie notes, “Outside, where the sea mist is gathering, someone screams.” Herbie and Violet see Boat Hook Man head for the beach, “his long, hooked spike dangling like a weapon.” However, they never find out where he was going, because instead they find Mrs. Fossil, a townsperson, “clutching one arm and sobbing with pain.” Her clothes are “torn to shreds” and “there are angry red marks on her skin.” She had been bit by something with what she calls “teeth like needles.” She passes out.
  • Boat Hook Man sees Violet on the beach and “grabs Violet by her collar, lifting her in the air.” She has a hard time speaking because of where he grabbed her. She is left “clutching her throat.”
  • Herbie says, “I need to get some work done, or Mollusc will have me stewed and served up as today’s special.”
  • Mrs. Fossil receives treatment for her wound and reports that she “can already move [her] fingers again.”
  • Mrs. Fossil tells the children about the legend of the malamander. She says the creature lays an egg and then “devours it.” Since the egg has the power to grant wishes, she explains, many people have sought it. However, she tells them, “Every single one of them . . . gobbled up by the beastie!”
  • Herbie points out “all that’s left of the battleship Leviathan” is in the sea. He says, “It was wrecked years ago.”
  • Boat Hook Man corners Herbie and Violet in the fish shed. They try to escape using a rope, by jumping from the window to a suspended fishing net. Herbie misses the first opportunity for release and is left “dangling, four stories up.” He thinks, “At this point, I can let go of the rope and probably break both my legs, or I can stay dangling where I am and be filleted like a small lemon-flavored herring in a Lost-and-Foundery’s cap.”
  • Just before Boat Hook Man can use his hook to capture Herbie, Violet “strikes Boat Hook Man in the eye” with her book. Violet and Herbie manage to escape, but they fall before they get all the way to the ground. Herbie notes “the air escaping from [his] lungs with an OOF.” Violet hurts her ankle on impact and needs help running away. This event is described over four pages.
  • Jenny, the bookstore owner, explains how Sebastian Eels and Violet’s father knew each other. They were both authors interested in the malamander, and at one point “they went monster hunting together.”
  • The malamander comes to the museum when Herbie and Violet are there. It “slaps the window right in front of us with such force that it shatters.” Herbie feels “points of pain on my hands and face as the pieces cut in.” Then, the creature tries to “throw itself over the edge” of the museum walls, but Violet grabs its tail. Herbie thinks, “All I can see is that if Violet doesn’t let go, she’ll be pulled over the ramparts too, down onto the toothlike steeples of Maw Rocks, far below.”
  • When trying to save Violet, Herbie is dragged hard against the wall.” He cannot yell, because he feels “the air being crushed out of [his] lungs.” When the creature strikes Violet with its tail, they let go and the malamander falls. Herbie expects “to hear a thud, and maybe the crunch of breaking bone” but the creature simply slithers back to the ocean. This encounter is described over two pages.
  • When Herbie and Violet are caught in the museum by its owner, Dr. Thalassi, Herbie notices, “The folded umbrella [the owner] brandished as a weapon is on the desk, too, like a polite threat.”
  • In anger, Dr. Thalassi attempts to justify his luring of the malamander, which caused the attack on Violet. Herbie exclaims, “An experiment that just slashed off half of Vi’s face!” Herbie knows it’s “an exaggeration” but she was injured by the creature.
  • The museum owner tells the story of the Leviathan and its Captain. The captain led his crew into a cavern where “they found a great stinking mound of seaweed, bones, and shipwreck salvage.” They found the malamander and took its egg, causing it to attack the ship. Dr. Thalassi says, “Many lives were lost defending Leviathan against the creature.” Despite the crew’s use of weapons, the monster kept attacking. Dr. Thalassi explains, “Bullets sparked off its scales, leaving scarcely a mark, and its claws could rend iron.”
  • While the Captain was holding the egg, the malamander “delivered a . . . good, hard bite, which injected stinging venom” that numbed the captain. Then, the creature “with a single snap of its jaws tore his right hand—the hand that held the malamander egg—clean off and swallowed it whole.” The story is recounted in seven pages.
  • Herbie notices in the museum, “Above us the skeleton of a whale hangs suspended, and in the cabinets all around, stuffed and desiccated sea creatures peer out at us through glass eyes.”
  • The hotel’s owner, Lady Kraken, says, “I have no doubt [Violet’s dad] wanted the egg, too, and no doubt that the malamander devoured him for his trouble.”
  • Sebastian Eels plans to carry a weapon to confront the malamander. He claims it “will be for protection only, to scare it away if I’m seen.”
  • When Boat Hook Man is arguing with Eels, Eels says, “Don’t you wave that hook at me.” Boat Hook Man then warns Eels that the malamander will kill him if he goes after its egg. Later, Herbie watches as “Eels brings his fist down on the desk.”
  • Sebastian Eels’ plan for the malamander is to “put a dozen harpoons through its stinking fish guts before it can even spit.” If people come to stop him, he will do the same to them. Eels says, “the sea will quickly dispose of the bodies.”
  • While hiding from Sebastian Eels and Boat Hook Man in Eels’ home, Herbie and Violet are caught. Boat Hook Man goes after them, using his hook as a weapon, though he misses Herbie by inches. Erwin the cat protects them by “attacking the old mariner’s head ferociously, raking at [Boat Hook Man] with his claws.” Herbie watches as “instead of blood, only water spouts from the wounds.”
  • Herbie narrates, “the poor cat is flung to one side” by Boat Hook Man. When trying to escape the building, Sebastian Eels uses his harpoon gun multiple times on the children with one missing and “ricocheting back . . . and clonking Boat Hook Man in the face” causing him to fall. He is not fully human, though, so he is not injured when he hits the ground. Another harpoon makes its target, Violet. The harpoon hit the book in Violet’s pocket, narrowly saving her life. The incident occurs over six pages.
  • Herbie says of Eels, “hopefully the big bully will get himself eaten by the monster.”
  • Eels steals an important paper from Violet. When she tries to fight back, “he picks her up with one hand and throws her out of his way.” Erwin comes to the rescue, “hissing as he claws up [Eels’] legs and sinks his teeth into the man’s hand, making him drop the paper.”
  • Eels throws the cat away, and the cat “hits the corner of a bookshelf and . . . falls limply to the ground.” Eels then “brings his fist down on [Herbie’s] head.” This event is described in one page.
  • Eels retells the story of Achilles and the “arrow in the heel that brought about his death.”
  • Violet says to Eels, “I hope the malamander bites your head off.”
  • Eels promises to “wipe [Violet] out of existence and end [her] misery for good” with the power of the malamander egg.
  • Violet discusses the legend of the malamander, including its annual move “near the town to hunt” and lay its egg, which it then “devours.”
  • Aboard the Leviathan, Herbie thinks, “I shrink back into the darkness, still pulled by Violet, desperately hoping it is Violet pulling me and not some flubbery faceless horror from the deep.” Later, he sees actual sea creatures around him and kicks them off.
  • Herbie observes the malamander open “its cavernous tooth-needle mouth and roars an earsplitting, soul-tearing, nightmarish cry of saurian fury.” This is followed by the creature charging the pair. Herbie wonders “if it’s worth fighting for a moment or two of extra life, or if it’s better to just fall down into the water and hope the end comes quickly.” He then remembers Eels’ comment about bodies being disposed by the sea and thinks it could be true, “especially if the bodies are quite small — and devoured by a folkloric fish man in the belly of a sunken warship.” The malamander passes them over in its search for Eels.
  • Herbie sees “human bones” in the malamander’s nest.
  • Eels threatens to shoot Violet with the harpoon gun but does not.
  • In a flashback to Violet’s parents’ disappearance, her dad comes to believe that Eels could be responsible for the infant Violet’s disappearance. He says to his wife, “He said I’d pay a heavy price if I kept my discoveries from him. But surely he wouldn’t . . .”
  • Eels tries to get the egg from Violet. Eels “grabs the egg with one hand and punches Violet in the face with the other.” She falls into the cold water. Herbie dives in after her and wonders “for a moment if I’ve died without noticing” due to the “cold and dark.” When he finds her, “she gasps and coughs.”
  • The malamander resurfaces. “In its claws it is holding the broken body of Boat Hook Man.” Herbie recognizes Boat Hook Man is not dead, but “he has clearly lost the fight with the monster” as his “face is white and awful”.
  • The malamander tries to get its egg back from Eels, but he “shoots it” first. He repeatedly fires and Herbie hears the “th-TOUM” sound the gun makes. Herbie then sees that “the harpoon has buried itself deep between two of the monster’s scales, where — now that we look closely — a slim opening in its armor can be seen.” This opening is the only way the malamander can be killed. The malamander has been shot “straight through its heart” and “with a gurgling sigh, the malamander twitches one last time and then goes still.”
  • After Boat Hook Man was attacked by the malamander, Herbie describes that the creature’s victim “looks awful, his twisted body half submerged, his skin raked over with great gashes and slashes.”
  • Boat Hook Man tells Eels about his pursuit of the egg. He says, “I lost everything — my ship, my fine men, even my family, in the end.”
  • Eels uses the egg to transform malamander into a tentacle-ridden sea creature to restrain Boat Hook Man. “As we watch, the scaly corpse of the monster quivers and splits, and dozens of fleshy tendrils shoot up from it.” Eels then magically replaces Boat Hook Man’s hook with a crab pincer. Boat Hook Man uses it “to cut through one of the tentacles holding him by using his new claw.” In response, Eels turns Boat Hook Man “into a mass of squid and jellyfish and sea slime.”
  • Trying to get the egg away from Eels, Violet shoves him. She then “lands a kick in the man’s face.” Eels tries to shoot Violet at “point-blank range” but there are no harpoons, so it only makes a “fut! Fut!” sound. When Violet gets the egg, Eels pulls “his knife from its sheath.”
  • Eels gets the egg back, but the malamander’s “mouth, lined as before with tooth needles, closes with a sickening crunch over the hand that holds the egg.” The monster drags him under the water and “there’s a ripple or two . . . then there’s nothing”. The entire fight between the malamander, Herbie, Violet, Eels, and Boat Hook Man aboard the Leviathan takes place over 30 pages.
  • Herbie thinks he has drowned aboard the Leviathan. He thinks, “It’s not cold, though, so I guess being as dead as driftwood has an upside.” However, Herbie is warm because he was rescued. He feels the effects of nearly drowning, his “chest and throat feel as if they’re on fire”.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mrs. Fossil explains that the town doctor has prevented her from “languishing in a hospital bed somewhere, pumped full of goodness-knows-what.”
  • Violet’s cut is treated with “a wad of cotton, soaked in disinfectant.”
  • In Eels’ house, Herbie sees “an empty bottle of whiskey” on the floor near Violet. She insists she did not drink it and asks him, “Do you think I drink whiskey?”

Language

  • Many of the characters use names such as weasel, fool, stupid, and creep. For example, Herbie calls Mollusc a horrible, hideous man, though not to his face.
  • Herbie narrates that “Lady Kraken is almost a recluse.” Herbie thinks, “The way her wrinkly head emerges from her sumptuous silky gown reminds me of a turtle.” He watches her “clawlike hand” and “wizened eye.”
  • Lady Kraken calls Herbie an “incorrigible dunderbrain.” She also asks if he has “cloth for brains.”
  • Lady Kraken exclaims, “Curse the clouds!”
  • Violet refers to the mermonkey cards as “freaky” and “weird.”
  • Herbie mentally describes the mermonkey as “grotesque” and “ugly.”
  • Violet thinks Eels looks “booky” and he gives her the creeps. Herbie calls him “a bit full of himself.”
  • Mrs. Fossil collects “coprolite” which she explains is “doodah…dino turd…petrified poo.”
  • Herbie thinks Boat Hook Man is an “awful man” and “freaky.”
  • Herbie calls Mollusc “old Mollusc breath.” He then refers to him as “that whiny old whinge-bag.”
  • The characters occasionally “swear” to show honesty. Jenny says Violet’s father “swore blind that he saw things” that were supposed to be only legend, not real.
  • Herbie often internally describes the museum owner as having a “Julius Caesar nose” or a “beaky nose.”
  • Mrs. Fossil uses the expression “goodness-knows-what.”
  • Herbie uses the expression “bladderwracks” occasionally.
  • Eels calls himself “just an old daydreamer” in a disparaging way.
  • Eels uses the expression, “Goodness me.”
  • Herbie calls Eels “Eel Face” in conversation with Violet.
  • Violet asks Herbie if he thought Jenny was a bit “shifty.”
  • Herbie calls himself a “ninny.”
  • Herbie says that he and Violet are “freezing [their] cockles off.”
  • In the story of Captain K, the captain calls his men “cowards” for wanting “to turn back.” They later plead, “for the love of grog, give it back its egg!”
  • The captain calls the malamander “just a dumb animal” and a “fiendish creature.”
  • Herbie calls an action in the story of Captain K “bonkers.” The museum owner agrees and says the captain was “drunk with power.”
  • After his encounter with the malamander, the captain is described as becoming “a ruin of a man, ranting and raving.”
  • Herbie asks himself, “How could I have been so stupid?”
  • Lady Kraken calls the museum owner “sly” and Violet “that sneaky little friend of yours.”
  • Damned is used occasionally. For example, Eels says, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that bleeding-heart Peter stand in my way, even from beyond the grave.”
  • Eels tells Boat Hook Man, “It’s not my fault you didn’t have the wit or the will to use the egg properly.”
  • Eels calls the behavior of the malamander “pathetic” and asks, “doesn’t it just make you want to puke?” He also adds, “But also, how very unsurprising that a softy like Peter Parma would be the one to discover such a ridiculous fact.”
  • Herbie assumes Eels believes “no one in their right mind would crawl into such a small and dismal hole.”
  • Hell is used several times. For example, Herbie calls the shipwreck “watery hell.”
  • Violet’s dad uses the expression “dear gods.”
  • Eels calls Violet “wretched, unimaginative child” and “as weak and pathetic as [her] father.”

Supernatural

  • The legend of the malamander is central to the story. According to the townspeople’s beliefs, “It’s a monstrous creature — half man, half fish, half goodness-knows-what” with “rows of quivering spines.” The creature lays a “magical egg” once a year. The egg’s abilities are described as the “grants-you-your-dearest-wish kind.”
  • The malamander can climb walls and swim very well, as well as survive long falls. The malamander “was not invincible . . . it could be killed” by attacking the small opening to its heart. Eels says, “the monster opens its heart when it lays its egg. Quite literally — the armored plates over its heart fold back so that its beatings can be heard in the ocean. That’s how it calls its mate.”
  • The book dispensary has an animatronic mermonkey, a monkey that “has the lower body of a fish” and dispenses the identification code for a book that it feels the reader needs. Jenny, who owns the dispensary says, “It’s the book that chooses you.” Herbie also tells Violet that many believe the machine to have “a sense of humor, too” because Herbie “met a man once who swears he belched in front of the mermonkey and got dispensed a copy of Gone with the Wind.
  • Lady Kraken, the hotel owner, has a mechanism called a “cameraluna” which uses the moon to project “a moving image of the pier at Eerie-on-Sea, seen from above.” She uses it to spy on the townspeople in real time. She can also reverse the recordings, making the “little figures of the townsfolk dart around, walking backward at high speed, as if [Herbie and Lady Kraken] are going back in time.”
  • Herbie explains that the rumor is that the diner owner “came here as a young man and saw a mermaid from the end of the pier. Heard her sing. No one ever recovers from that.”
  • The cat, Erwin, speaks occasionally.
  • The egg can vaguely communicate telepathically with its holder. “In the captain’s wondering mind, a thousand voices seemed to whisper as one: I can make your dreams come true.”
  • Captain K, also known as Boat Hook Man, wished to “live forever” and the egg granted that wish. The egg responds, “But if you lose [the egg], your wish shall become your curse.” Captain K’s “wounds closed up as soon as they opened, and his injuries healed.”
  • Boat Hook Man exists today as half-man, half-water. He arrives in the form of a “cloud of mist” which gathers into a shape.
  • The egg’s power is used multiple times by Eels and Violet. Violet uses it to see her parents’ disappearance in a mist “like a tornado,” which displays images and sound. In addition, the mist “encircles” Boat Hook Man and transforms him into his former self, Captain K. “The boat hook on the end of his right arm evaporates, and a new hand appears there, pink and perfect.”
  • Eels uses the egg to replace Captain K’s hook with a “red crab pincer” and then turns the malamander body into multiple sea creatures. “Captain Kraken’s body trembles and ripples, then collapses into a mass of squid and jellyfish and sea slime.”
  • Violet then uses the egg to make the malamander “miraculously whole again,” raising it from the dead.

Spiritual Content

  • The diner owner says, “In my country, we leave gifts for beings like this, for spirits. Offerings. At night, when I close up, I, too, leave gifts — the fried fish that is left over — outside on the pier. In the morning, it is gone.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Golden Gate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

Disney After Dark

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jennaly Nolan

City Spies #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Morgan Lynn

Sherwood

Robin of Locksley is dead.

Maid Marian doesn’t know how she’ll go on, but the people of Locksley town, persecuted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, need a protector. And the dreadful Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff’s right hand, wishes to step into Robin’s shoes as Lord of Locksley and Marian’s fiancé. Who is there to stop them?

Marian never meant to tread in Robin’s footsteps—never intended to stand as a beacon of hope to those awaiting his triumphant return. But with a sweep of his green cloak and the flash of her sword, Marian makes the choice to become her own hero: Robin Hood.

Marian is a captivating protagonist who struggles with deciding what is right and wrong, just and unjust. As a girl, Marian has always struggled to fit into her society because she would rather wield a sword than wait for a knight-in-shining-armor to save her. Even though Marian’s society expects her to act like a lady, Marian knows she will never fit into the typical female mold. One of the reasons Marian loved Robin of Locksley is because he never asked her “to be someone she’s not.”

Even though Robin of Locksley died in the story’s prologue, his voice is not silent. When Marian first dons Robin’s cloak, Robin’s voice guides her. Flashbacks to Robin’s and Marian’s childhood also develop both characters’ personalities. As the story progresses, Robin’s voice recedes into the background, and Marian wonders if she ever really knew Robin. Despite this, Marian deeply misses Robin’s friendship and appreciates that he never tried to change her.

Sherwood quickly grabs the reader’s attention and keeps the suspense high until the very end. The story is full of sword fights, chases, and secrecy. Spooner creates wonderfully complex characters that cannot be judged based on their appearances or their station in life. Readers will fall in love with Marian’s ragtag group of followers as they fight for justice. Through this fight, the story questions whether the law is just. Gisborne is dedicated to the law, but even he realizes “the law will never be just. Perhaps it can come close—so close the line is hard to see. But laws are written by men, who are imperfect by nature, and justice belongs to something beyond the power of men.”

The action-packed conclusion contains several surprises but also ends with a heartfelt scene that will leave readers in tears. In the end, Sherwood is a story that will stay with readers for a long time after they put down the book. Marian’s story reinforces the idea that each person needs to be true to themselves. Even though you cannot fight today’s problems with a bow and arrow, Sherwood encourages you to make an impact on the people around you.

Sexual Content

  • While confronting Marian (who Gisborne thinks is a man), Gisborne said, “You’re of noble birth. Disgraced one too many times with the household servants or else a bastard son banished when you came of age.”
  • Seild, one of Marian’s friends, is in an unhappy marriage. Seild says her husband “prefers the company of women who are too afraid to refuse him.”
  • Robin Hood tells Seild’s husband, “Only a coward leaves his wife alone while he forces himself on the servants.”
  • After Gisborne shares part of his personal life with Marian, she kisses him. “Her lips met his too strongly, the sudden need for him turning her clumsy. . . He held her a moment longer, eyes falling to her lips—and then he bent his head to kiss her. His mouth met her gently at first, but when she leaned close, when her lips parted, when he slipped an arm around her and felt her back arch, he abandoned gentility as utterly as the rest of the façade he’d worn for so many years. . . Her hips moved, tipping up like a beckoning finger, and when he felt her swell toward him he tore his mouth from hers . . . “ The steamy scene is described over two pages.
  • After Marian and Gisborne jump into a river and survive, Gisborne kisses her. “He was kissing the tears from her cheeks when he realized she was shivering, and not from his touch.”

 

Violence

  • During a war, Robin tries to protect the king. The enemy “must have killed the sentries in silence. . . Something thuds into Robin’s shoulder, sending him off balance, and he whirls, searching for the blade he knows is coming. . . It’s then that he feels the fiery lance of pain racing down his biceps and he gasps, sword dangling uselessly from his shoulder.”
  • Even though he is injured, Robin uses his arrow to save the king. “And then a blade crunches into Robin’s side and he’s knocked down against the stone with the force of the blow. He cannot move, cannot feel anything below his rib cage—there is no pain.” Robin dies. The battle is described over four pages.
  • While in the forest, Marian is attacked. “She saw a thick, blunt branch swinging out of the darkness towards her face. She moved without thought. . .The cudgel came at her again, its wielder a shadowy, wild shape that danced in her half-stunned vision.” When Marian pulls her sword, the man stops because “he was afraid.” Marian realizes that the man is Will.
  • Will and Marian continue to fight. “She dropped the weapon as his body collided with hers, and her world narrowed to a frantic staccato of gasps and grunts. . . And then Will got to his feet, and in his hand was Marian’s sword. . . she ducked easily when he rushed her, twisting so that she could land a jab of her elbow into his arm below the shoulder.”
  • During the fight, Marian “struck out at the back of [Will’s] head, momentum half spinning him so she could ready a second blow. But before she could strike, his knees crumpled and he dropped to the ground. . .” Marian ends up saving Will’s life.
  • Marian goes into the forest looking for Will. Two men see her and try to steal from her. While on horseback, Marian tries to run down the thief. “John, now flailing in the leaves, had dropped his staff – Marian threw herself down and snatched it up. . . She had the staff’s tip against Little John’s throat before he could stand.”
  • While disguised as Robin, Marian meets Gisborne. “But then something kindled in Gisborne’s dark eyes, a flash of decision or ferocity, and her instinct took over. She swung her blade up in time to deflect his blow, the clang of steel on steel bringing her back to herself.” After a brief scuffle, Marian runs.
  • Marian, disguised as Robin, hears fighting in the forest. She finds Little John “surrounded by a swarm of the Sheriff’s men. . . Every so often he landed a blow that sent one reeling back, but there were more men than could gather round him at once. . . Gisborne strode up, holding John’s staff, and swung it in a massive arc at John’s head. John grunted and dropped to his knees, his eyes glazed. . .” John passes out because of his injuries.
  • After Marian helps John, a man leaped out at Marian, and “his fist slammed into her stomach. . . She staggered back, all the air driven from her lungs. . . The world around her grew dim, the green-gold of afternoon fading into a deep velvety gray twilight.”
  • Marian as Robin flees from the castle. However, Gisborne chases her. “. . . A hand shot out of the drizzle and slammed into her shoulder. She skidded backward, breath driven from her lungs as she hit the wall. . . Dazed, ears ringing, she forced her eyes to focus in time to see the hand coming at her again. . . She ducked, and twisted, and grabbed for the arm as it passed her, and threw all her weight against the body the arm was attached to and sent it into the wall with a sickening thud.”
  • Marian plans her own kidnapping. After “Robin” drops off the ransom notice, she tries to escape from Gisborne. Gisborne “was moving, lunging at her with shocking speed. . . and then something wrapped around her throat and hauled her backward, chocking. Gisborne had the edge of her cloak, and with a second heave he flung her down to the ground and rolled on top of her . . .” Robin “swung its hilt with all her strength into the side of Gisborne’s head. . .” Robin escapes. The scuffle is described over three pages.
  • While robbing a wealthy man, Robin and her men cut the horses’ traces so the carriage stopped moving. “Little John felled one of the remaining guards with one sweep of his staff, and by the time the other guard reached for his sword, Marian was standing in front of him, bow drawn, arrow just a breath away from his nose.” No one is seriously injured.
  • Seild’s husband, Owen, raises his hand to strike her. Robin Hood shoots an arrow. “Its point pierced Owen’s hand in the dead center of his palm, causing the man to stagger back and fall with a howl of surprise and pain, clutching his wrist with his good hand.”
  • While fighting a war, Gisborne was scarred. He said, “The Saracens poured oil from a jar down my face and tied me over a lamp so that I could feel its heat rising against my skin, and had to hold myself back against the ties or else be burned. . . they cut the bonds. I was too weak to stop myself from falling against the burning lamp.”
  • Marian accidentally drops her Robin Hood mask and a guard finds it. When the guard pulls his sword, Marian shoots an arrow at him. “The force of the arrow’s impact had knocked him back against the wall, and he stayed leaning there, mouth open. . . he moaned and slumped toward the ground.” The guard dies from his injuries.
  • Robin Hood and his men plan to steal gold, but they end up walking into a trap. When Robin Hood realizes it’s a trap, she yells to the others to flee. “One of the guards screamed a moment later as he fell, bleeding from a shallow cut across his face. . .”
  • Robin Hood is left to fight Gisborne on her own. “She swung hard, with the momentum of her whole body, as Gisborne’s next blow came down at her. The force of her parry knocked him back a step, and Marian scrambled back. . . His sword came down like an elemental force, but Marian saw the shift in his feet and the tension in his arm and she was ready. . . Steel met steel with a clash that numbed Marian’s arm.”
  • When Robin Hood flees, Gisborne shoots an arrow. “The point had broken off when she’d rolled, but when she looked down a bloody, splintered thing protruded from her chest. He’d shot her in the back, and the force of it had driven the arrow straight through her. . . His eyes moved from his hand to her face, and then down to the mess of blood and splintered wood at her chest.” As Gisborne looks at Mariam, “something heavy swung into view and collided with the side of Gisborne’s head, knocking him flat.” The fight scene is described over six pages.
  • When Marian is accused of being Robin Hood, she is sentenced to hang. Her men and Gisborne attempt to free her. “. . . Before Marian could recover, [Gisborne] pulled her sideways and dropped her neatly and abruptly off the edge of the platform and into the mud.” Marian is grabbed and pulled underneath the platform.
  • Gisborne fights the sheriff’s men. “Gisborne flung himself down onto the wood to avoid two more swords, spraying blood onto the planks from a gash in his neck.” Marian jumps in to help Gisborne.
  • While trying to free Marian, the scene turns into chaos, which allows Marian and Gisborne to flee. When their pursuers get close, “a hard body collided with hers and slammed her to the ground. . .” As arrows fly toward them, Marian and Gisborne jump off a cliff into a river. The final escape scene is described over ten pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After Marian is told about Robin’s death, a physician gives her something that makes her sleep. Later her maid gives her “herb-laced wine.”
  • When Marian is upset, her maid gives her a “cup of well-watered ale.” The ale has “draught” that makes Marian sleep.
  • Occasionally the adults have wine or mead. For example, Marian thinks back to when her mother would give her father a “mug of watered ale” to ease his tension.
  • Marian runs into a castle guard that was “slumped on one of the tables . . . drunk, and out of his head.”
  • When robbing a wealthy man, John “had liberated a cask of wine.”

Language

  • Damn is used seven times. For example, the sheriff yells at his men, “Kill him—now, you damned slackwits!”
  • Ass is used once and hell is used twice.
  • “God’s bones,” “God’s knees,” “oh God,” “Christ” and other like phrases are rarely used as an exclamation.
  • “Mary’s tits” is used as an exclamation twice.
  • When Will doesn’t want to help Gisborne escape being hung, Alan says, “He just saved her life. You really do have shit for brains.”

Supernatural

  • Some believe Robin’s spirit has returned; however, it is really Marian in disguise.

Spiritual Content

  • When Robin’s uncle died, Robin was told, “Your uncle was much liked, before he went to be with God.”
  • While engaged, Robin and Marian had “never lain together, both too conscious of the laws of God and man. . .”
  • Occasionally Marian prays. For example, when Marian goes to help a friend, she prays, “God what am I doing? It’s Robin—Robin’s the one who should be here.”
  • When Robin’s mother died, “people kept saying [Robin] should be happy she was with God.” Marian replies, “Or I could be like Father Gerolt and give you a sermon about God’s plan. Don’t despair, my child, for it is not for us to know the will of heaven.”
  • After injuring a guard, Marian prays “to God that he lives.”
  • When Marian goes to see the injured guard, a monk tells her, “Now it only remains to wait, and to pray for God’s mercy. If the wound begins to heal, he may live. If the wound poisons his blood. . . he will go with God.”
  • The monk moves with difficulty. When Marian asks after his health, the monk tells her it is a “test God has granted me.”
  • Gisborne tells Marian, “Because the law will never be just. Perhaps it can come close—so close the line is hard to see. But laws are written by men, who are imperfect by nature, and justice belongs to something beyond the power of men.”

 

Don’t Call the Wolf

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jonathan Planman

Peter and the Shadow Thieves

Peter has been having a grand old time on his island, dubbed Never Land, despite some squabbles with the pirates who live there. However, when a strange ship docks looking for the starstuff, Peter’s peace is shattered. He overhears a strange shadow-like creature threatening Molly, and makes a snap decision to follow the ship to London in order to warn her.

Peter is not prepared when he reaches London. He has to keep Tink, his fairy or birdgirl, hidden. He doesn’t have shoes or a coat, he doesn’t know where Molly lives, or how to survive on the streets of London. Obstacle after obstacle gets in Peter’s way. Will it be too late to save Molly from the shadow thief and its strange powers? And will Peter ever get back to Never Land, to rescue his friends who’ve been captured by the pirates in his absence?

Peter and the Shadow Thieves is packed full of adventure from start to finish. This installment jumps from many different third-person points of view, allowing readers to see what’s happening on Never Land, with Peter and Molly in London and with the bad guys all at once. While the changes in perspective are clear, readers might not enjoy jumping from the main thread with Peter and Molly in England to Never Land every so often, as it reduces the suspense of the main storyline.

While Peter further learns the importance of working together, Molly uncharacteristically throws a tantrum, reveals the starcatchers’ secrets, and nearly ruins her father’s important mission. Despite her childish behavior, her father forgives her and thanks her for her bravery, which is not believable.

However, fans of Peter and the Starcatchers will be pleased with the second installment in the series. Readers will get to see all the beloved characters from the first book, along with some new friends and a frightening new villain. Timid readers may have nightmares about Lord Ombra, the terrifying shadow thief, who can steal shadows and control minds. More adventurous readers will be thrilled at the continuous suspense, twist and turns, and non-stop adventure that is thus far the hallmark of this series.

This book wraps up its major plot points while leaving plenty of questions that will leave readers eagerly reaching for the next book, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon. With plenty of action but not much violence, this is a great series for those readers itching for more exciting adventures who may not yet be ready for more mature content.

Sexual Content

  • When a mermaid kisses someone, they give the person the ability to breathe underwater for a short amount of time. When rescuing one of Peter’s friends, a mermaid kisses him so he can breathe underwater. “A kiss. His first, actually. Soft lips, right on his. Suddenly his lungs stopped burning.”

Violence

  • It’s mentioned in passing that when Mr. Slank was stuck at sea, he had been “forced to kill and eat” the other man he was stuck with “so he could stay alive.”
  • When rescuing his friend, Peter is almost captured by Captain Hook, but Captain Hook is distracted by Tink. Captain Hook, “clapped the hand to his eye, which had just received a hard poke from a tiny but amazingly potent fist.”
  • A man clouts Peter on the ear. “Kremp scuttled over and clouted Peter on the ear. Fortunately for Peter, Kremp was an inexperienced clouter, and it was not too painful.”
  • When escaping prison, “Peter felt a hand grab his left leg; he kicked it free. He turned the key, and the shackle on his right ankle opened . . . Peter kicked with all his strength, heard a loud ‘Ow!’ and a curse below him, and then shot upward, away from the chain and the shackles.”
  • One of Molly’s maids threatens her with a knife. The maid “had crossed the room, bringing the point of the knife to within inches of Molly’s face.” Molly is unharmed.
  • While trying to escape a shadow thief, a man “fell down the steep staircase, his head hitting the stone with a sickening sound.” The man dies on impact.
  • While escaping the men who kidnapped her mother, Molly is grabbed by one of the bad men. Molly “opened her mouth and bit down on [his hand] with all her strength. The hand was yanked away as the owner screamed in pain, and Molly, with a last, desperate wiggle, fell through the hole.”
  • Molly’s friend George tackles a man in her way. “Unfortunately, Magill was considerably taller than George’s usual targets; George had connected, noggin-first, with Magill’s right knee. The collision proved extremely painful for both parties. Magill yelped as he skipped sideways on this left foot, both hands holding his knee. George thudded to the ground, moaning, clutching at his throbbing skull.”
  • Molly’s father is shot. “Molly heard the shots and screamed as she saw her father crumple to the ground.” He survives.
  • When Slank captures Molly, Peter kicks him. “‘Hello, Slank!’ shouted Peter, delivering a high-velocity kick to Slank’s head as he shot past.”
  • A bear named Karl attacks the bad guys. “With a swipe of his enormous paw, he sent the closest of the rifles skidding across the dirt like a twig.”
  • Peter is shot. “UNNNH. Peter did not hear the shot that hit him; only his own grunt as the bullet tore through his left shoulder, hurling him forward onto the trunk. He slid facedown onto the dirt, wondering why he didn’t feel anything . . . His left arm didn’t work. He rolled sideways and the world became a red blur as the pain suddenly shot from his shoulder, surging through his body.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Sailors are fond of grog, an alcoholic drink. A sailor “kept his face turned away . . . fearing the captain would smell the grog that had put him to sleep on his watch.”
  • When a deckhand tells a far-fetched tale, the other sailors “were convinced he must have gone mad, or gotten into the grog.”
  • A sailor thinks he sees something strange, perhaps a bee, though there are no bees at sea. In response, the captain takes “him off his ration of grog. He’s too young for grog if he’s seeing bees.”
  • A homeless drunk tells Peter, “Sometimes, when I has me rum, I sees things that ain’t there.”
  • When they reach London, the captain keeps his sailors on his ship because “once they’d gotten ashore and filled their bellies with grog, it was only a matter of time before they were wagging their tongues about the ship’s strange voyage.”
  • It’s mentioned in passing that, “Most of the crew had gathered forward along the rail to watch a bloody, drunken brawl taking place outside the Jolly Tar, a notorious dockside pub.”
  • It’s mentioned that “some sailors, having overdone the grog, slept against the wall of the Jolly Tar; one was passed out in a wheelbarrow.”
  • A clerk keeps ducking beneath his desk to sneak gulps of alcohol. “The clerk ducked down behind the counter, and Peter heard the sound of liquid being swallowed.” The clerk makes a bargain with Peter. He will mail Peter’s letter if Peter takes his flask to a nearby bar and gets a refill.

Language

  • Captain Hook calls his men “idjit” several times.
  • Tink is a jealous fairy. She calls one of the mermaids a “fat grouper” twice, and she calls Molly a “cow” twice.
  • Captain Hook hatches a plan to catch the boys, and says, “I have you now, you little devils.”
  • When Molly’s friend George smacks his head on a windowsill, Tink comments, “Another idiot.”

Supernatural

  • Starcatchers are “a small group of people . . . There have been Starcatchers on Earth for centuries, Peter. Even we don’t know how long. But our task is always the same: to watch for the starstuff, and to get to it, and return it, before it falls into the hands of the Others.” The Others misuse starstuff to gain power.
  • Starstuff is golden dust that sometimes falls from the sky as meteors and “has amazing power . . . Wonderful power. Terrible power. It . . . it lets you do things . . . It’s not the same for everybody. And it’s not the same for animals as for people.” Starstuff can heal, can make people fly, or can even make people strong. Molly explains that larger quantities are more dangerous and can kill a person, or turn a fish into a mermaid, horses into centaurs, and other transformations.
  • Starcatchers have learned the language of porpoises, bears, and wolves. They work together often to find and return any starstuff that falls to earth.
  • Some fish on Peter’s island were turned into mermaids by starstuff. “Peter could see the tiny figures of a half dozen mermaids sunning themselves on the broad, flat rock they favored.”
  • Molly’s father turned a bird into a fairy, to watch over Peter. Her name is Tink. She calls herself a “birdgirl.”
  • Peter was exposed to a large quantity of starstuff. As a result, he can fly permanently and will never grow older.
  • A shadow creature called Lord Ombra has many abilities and seems to be more shadow than man. Lord Ombra can read thoughts if he touches a person’s shadow. He can also steal shadows, which allows him to control and/or impersonate that person.
  • In an attempt to escape prison, Peter uses his locket of starstuff. The result is that he, the guard, and the other prisoners that Peter is chained to all float into the air and fly for a few minutes before the starstuff wears off. When others hear what happened, “the word ‘witchcraft’ is whispered by the crowd.”

Spiritual Content

  • When a man asks a shadow thief, “Who the devil are you?” the shadow thief responds, “Not the devil, but a good friend of his.”
  • When Molly’s father hears the starcatchers’ mission was a success, he says, “Thank God.”

by Morgan Lynn

Lovely War

In a hotel room in Manhattan in the midst of World War II, the Greek gods Aphrodite and Ares are caught in an affair by Aphrodite’s husband, Hephaestus. Hoping to understand Love’s attraction to War, Hephaestus puts Aphrodite on trial. Her defense is to tell the tale of one of her greatest successes, the intersecting love stories of Hazel Windicott and James Alderidge, and of Aubrey Edwards and Colette Fournier. Aphrodite’s witnesses are Ares (god of war), Apollo (god of music), and Hades (god of death). Each contributes their own different, but overlapping, perspectives to the proceedings.

The story begins as piano player Hazel and soldier James meet at a parish dance and fall into instant, dizzying love, only to be separated three days later when James is sent to the front. Desperate to distract herself from anxiety about her soldier’s well-being, Hazel joins the YMCA where she meets Colette, a singer who lost her whole family in an attack on her home in Belgium. There, they happen upon ragtime musician Aubrey, a Black soldier who desires to make a name for himself on stage and on the battlefield. Aubrey and Colette bond over their music and realize their affections go beyond an appreciation for each other’s talents.

While the story addresses dark and violent subject matter due to its historical period, the frame narrative allows for light moments as well. The banter among the gods, and their respective belief that their part of the story is the most memorable, allows the mood to lift as needed. The darker moments hold meaning within the larger narrative and the smallest joys are heralded as gifts from the gods.

The human characters hold their own amongst their immortal narrators. Each character is likable and humorous in his/her own way. Over the course of the war, Hazel emerges from her meek demeanor, learning to stand for what she sees is right, while not losing her innocence and goodness of heart. James is goofy and sincere, making his experience in combat all the more tragic, as he must reconcile that what he does on the battlefield does not have to mean a loss of himself. Colette is strong-willed and a fierce defender of her friends, though internally she fears that anyone she loves is destined to die. She opens up, however, to the charming dreamer Aubrey. Aubrey’s experiences with racial violence show that the enemy to their happiness is not only the German soldiers they encounter on the battlefield but also those who perpetrate violence and discrimination against black Americans within their own neighborhoods and war camps.

Teenage readers who enjoy romance, Greek mythology, and historical fiction may enjoy this book. It is recommended that readers proceed carefully, as the book does address racism and racial violence as well as the terrors and destruction of war. Despite the hate and violence which surround them, the couples find their way back to love amidst it all. Their fragility as mortals in wartime allows for precious love to shine, as even the impermeable gods come to admire. After Aphrodite reminds Hephaestus that the mortals die, he responds, “They do. But the lucky ones live first. . . The luckiest ones spend time with you.”

Sexual Content

  • Two characters are briefly described as having an affair. “In an instant they are in each other’s arms. Shoes are kicked off, hats tossed aside. Jacket buttons are shown no mercy.” Their kisses are “like a clash of battle and a delicious melding of flesh, rolled together and set on fire.”
  • Athena and Artemis are called, “Those prissy little virgins.”
  • Some of the gods make brief jokes about paying attention to women’s bodies.
  • Hazel’s attraction to James sparks “a series of little explosions” which “began firing throughout her brain and spread quickly elsewhere.”
  • Stéphane admires Colette’s spine and thinks that “he could run his fingers along her back.” He does not act on his thought.
  • Colette is attracted to Aubrey’s musical talent, saying, “It was sexy. And so was its athletic high priest at the piano bench.”
  • During an attack on Aubrey, a racist soldier implies that Aubrey is after white women. Aubrey retorts asking if the man has “ever been with a black girl.” When the soldier laughs, Aubrey “had no illusions about her being a willing participant.”
  • Joey assumes an encounter between Aubrey and Colette was sexual in nature. He asks Aubrey, “Did you . . .?” Aubrey informs him, “It’s not like that,” and then scolds him for presuming that Colette is a “hooker.”
  • Aubrey hides so as not to be seen by a supervisor and realizes “he was free to ogle Colette from the shoulders down just at that moment, and he took advantage of it.”
  • Colette tries to understand Hazel’s fear about meeting up with James. Colette assumes that Hazel’s fear might be due to the possibility of one of them “taking advantage” of the other. Hazel admits that “if anyone found out, there’d be such a scandal.” She explains, “When I’m around James, I do the most outrageous things.”
  • Colette recognizes that being “alone in the dark” could lead to “dozens of ways a young man could try to take advantage of this situation,” although nothing comes of it.
  • A couple says goodbye, and “the brief kiss she gave him at the door was filled with neither passion nor desire, but sweetness, affection, gratitude.”
  • Hazel removes her stockings at the beach, and it is said, “The sight of her bare feet was just about enough to give poor James a stroke there on the spot.”
  • Hazel is pushed into James’ arms and, “The feel of her body pressed against his went through him like an electric shock.” They hold each other for a moment, spinning in circles.

Violence

  • There are multiple instances of racial violence perpetrated against Aubrey and his bandmates. There are also third-party historical sources referenced. Words such as “darkie,” “coon,” “negroes,” and “colored” are frequently used by other characters to address these men. At one point a southern soldier states, “An ape’s an ape.” Other racist comments permeate the experience of the black soldiers at home and abroad.
  • The black soldiers face fears of waking to a “lynch mob.”
  • The narrator describes an instance of police brutality. “A white police officer had entered a black woman’s home without a warrant, searching for a suspect. When she protested, he beat and arrested her, dragging her from her home though she wasn’t fully dressed. When a black soldier saw this and tried to intervene to defend the woman, the white policeman pistol-whipped the black soldier, seriously injuring him.” She then briefly mentions the “shooting that followed” which killed many people.
  • When addressing the possibility of looking at white women, Aubrey states, “No pretty face is worth swinging from a tree.”
  • The “Rape of Belgium” is described in detail over five pages. The narrator notes that German soldiers “pulled men from workplaces and homes and hiding places and executed them in the streets. Women, children, and babies were executed too. As old as eighty-eight. As young as three weeks.” Later, Aphrodite goes on to reference “the stories of women raped, children crucified, nailed to doors, of old men executed. . .”
  • The story frequently finds itself in the midst of trench combat. There are descriptions of the training process, of learning how to kill another man with minimal remorse, and of soldiers often encountering death and the bodies of those lost in battle. The men learn about the effects of gas attacks and how “those poor buggers in the first gas attacks drowned in their own blood.” At one point the trenches are described as “slick with blood.”
  • James imagines his own brother ending up the way his fellow soldiers have. “He saw Bobby’s burnt and blood-soaked body lying in the mud at the bottom of a trench.”
  • The soldiers travel “past live horses and dead horses and trucks and motorcycles.”
  • Multiple racially motivated murders take place in the camps. Two men are “strangled” and the discovery of one body is described over 6 pages. Aubrey and Lieutenant Europe come to the realization that “that was blood on the snow. His head. His face. His bloated, blackened face.” They assume the killers “beat his face in with their rifles.” They note, “You almost wouldn’t know it’s him” and they “gently [close] his gaping lower lip to hide the horribly broken jaw.”
  • Aubrey is held at gunpoint by a racist soldier who says, “We ain’t gonna let you Negroes get a taste for white women.” Aubrey took the man’s gun and “pressed the cold muzzle of the revolver against his victim’s temple.” Then, Aubrey warns his attacker not to mess with the Black soldiers again.
  • The narrator cynically describes how little detail is provided in the notifications of soldiers’ deaths, explaining, “They never said, ‘hung for hours on a barbed wire fence with his bowels hanging out, pleading for rescue, but nobody dared go for fear of hostile fire.’”
  • James partakes in trench warfare. He is a sniper and frequently must shoot German soldiers. After he shoots a man, “a red throat pours blood down a gray uniform.” James actively tries to not think about what he is doing in order to protect his friends.
  • A flamethrower is used in combat. The soldiers try to distinguish the fire, and the narrator notes that “the smell of flesh on fire reminds James of food, of cooking meat.” Ares goes on to narrate that “Chad Browning has stopped his screaming. His clothing is half melted away, half fused to his skin.”
  • Hazel is sexually assaulted by a prisoner of war. The attack is thwarted quickly but not before, “He licked her lips and teeth with his foul tongue, then forced it inside her mouth.”
  • Multiple explosions occur throughout the text. For example, after one explosion “the smoke lifted, and James scrubbed the grit from his eyes, Frank Mason wasn’t there anymore. Just a fire, a helmet, a torn pair of boots, and a little charred prayer book.” It is later implied that there would not be a body to bury.
  • Later, another explosion occurs. “The engine and the first two cars were annihilated. The cars beyond buckled and crashed into one another. Soldiers and war workers were thrown all about the cars. Shards of glass from shattered windows flew like shrapnel. Colette emerged unscathed, for Hazel had thrown her body over her friend’s.” James must treat Hazel’s injuries. Hades goes through the necessary course of action to “apply pressure to the bleeding and summon a medic. Clear airflow, release tight clothing.”
  • Hazel receives a blood transfusion. She notes the “tubes of red blood dangled from jars mounted to a metal frame and ran, Hazel realized, into a needle injected into her arm.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A character jokes about how the soldiers of the 369th “were knocked on their backs by the routine daily allotment of wine for French soldiers.”
  • While under treatment for shell shock, James is given sedatives.

Language

  • The narrator quotes real news articles about the 369th infantry; these include racist comments and one censored use of the n-word.
  • Offensive terms for opposing soldiers are often used. These include “Jerry,” “Russkies,” “Fritz,” and “Boche.” They refer at one point to Kaiser Wilhelm as “Wee Willie Winkie.”
  • Audrey calls the racist behavior of another soldier “shit” twice.
  • A trainer tells soldiers that in the event of a gas attack, “‘If you’ve lost your mask, you still stay calm. If all else fails, piss on a hankie and breathe through that.’” He warns that they will “break out in damnable sores everywhere” and that they “hurt like hell.”
  • Joey calls Aubrey a “jackass.”
  • Men are called “bastards” twice.
  • Aubrey calls his own behavior “damnably stupid.”
  • There is one use of the oath “Chrisssake.”
  • Emile regrets not being injured sooner, saying, “But non, you stayed away, leaving me healthy and sound, so the Germans could piss on me with their shells and bullets year after year…”
  • Aphrodite calls her husband a “blooming ass.”

Supernatural

  • Spirits occasionally observe their loved ones from the afterlife. At one point, James feels Frank’s presence and begins speaking to him. James wonders if he is going mad.

Spiritual Content

  • The story is told from the rotating perspectives of four Greek gods. Their influence and powers are often employed as catalysts for plot developments.
  • Hades comes dressed as a Catholic priest, as that is how he presents himself to humans.
  • Many of the human characters are Christian and are described praying, visiting churches, and lighting votive candles. They also reference Christian stories and practices.
  • After losing everyone she loves to the war, Colette struggles with her faith. She believes herself to be a “plaything to a vindictive god.” She calls god “it” and explains that “a loving god would never allow this. And if there was no god at all, surely chance would occasionally favor me, non?”
  • After standing up to an authority figure, the narrator says that Hazel “wasn’t a Catholic, but at the rate she was going, she probably needed a priest to take her confession. Before she was struck by lightning and cast down to hell.”

by Jennaly Nolan

 

14+    480   4.7   4 worms   AR   hs  (World War I)

Diverse Characters, Strong Female Character

 

 

 

 

 

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