The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

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

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

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

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Into the Storm

After their victory in Texas, the Pawtriots are en route back to their home in Washington, DC. But when a massive storm on the Atlantic Ocean rolls in, Sergeant Rico and his unit are forced to take shelter on a mysterious island in the Caribbean.

While on the island, the Pawtriots meet M—the leader of the island’s animals. M tells them the story of the thrice-cursed pirate Sea Wolf, his crew, and his ship, the Calico Jack. When Sea Wolf and his crew are brought back to life, it’s up to the Pawtriots to defeat the pirates and return peace to the island.

While aboard a Coast Guard Ship, Rico and the Pawtriots meet two brothers: Jet and Jag. While Jag is a “hard-liner” who follows all the rules, Jet breaks rules at every opportunity. The two dogs add interest to the story, but they also give mixed messages. At times rules are followed, but others believe “that some rules are meant to be broken.” Sometimes breaking the rules cause problems, but other times breaking the rules is the only solution.

Rico and the Pawtriots follow Army morals. For example, to save the Pawtriots, Rico agrees to serve Sea Wolf. Rico thinks, “When I was in the Army, there were times when sacrifices had to be made for the greater good and the sake of the mission. This is one of those times.” Because of Rico’s leadership and courage, the Pawtriots are successful in eventually defeating Sea Wolf.

Into the Storm begins by recapping the events from the previous book, Everything is Bigger in Texas. While chapter one is heavy on the military lingo, the sayings are explained. For example, Rico explains that “debrief you” is “Army-talk for ‘getting up to speed on the details of the mission. . . and quickly.’” Despite this, younger readers may struggle with the advanced vocabulary such as makeshift, flotilla, interceptor, and liaison.

Each chapter starts with the location, date, and military time, which makes the timeline easy to follow. Black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 6 pages and show the animals in action as well as some of the dangers they face—including Sea Wolf, the Kraken, and the various characters. The back of the book also includes the Soldier’s Creed, and a glossary of Army terms.

the Pawtriots fight and defeat supernatural pirates, and throughout the story, Rico leads his unit and reinforces the importance of duty, respect, courage, and helping others. As the Pawtriot Dogs Series progresses, readers will have to remember a large cast of characters whose personalities are not well developed. Readers will enjoy Into the Storm because it is a suspenseful story that follows a group of heroic dogs. Dog-loving readers who want more fun adventures should add the Puppy Pirates Series by Erin Soderberg to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sea Wolf throws Jet off a tower. Rico says, “All I can do is watch as she crashes into a cluster of tall trees below, helplessly clawing at the branches in a desperate effort to slow her fall. She hits the ground hard. . .”
  • Sea Wolf commands his crew to attack the Pawtriots. The fight is not described, but Rico is captured and put in chains.
  • The Pawtriots must face a kraken that has “twelve long, slimy tentacles with suction cups that can pull your skin clean off and fangs that will rip you to shreds.” Rico describes how “a tentacle sweeps my legs out from under me. . .the wet rock presses up against my fur. I try to wrestle free from the Kraken’s grip on my tail, but it’s useless.”
  • Someone kills the Kraken to save Rico. Rico sees “Penny, who has Sea Wolf’s sword in her paw. It’s covered in Kraken blood.”
  • The Pawtriots are in a cavern that starts to collapse. Rico is the last to exit. “I am squeezed in between rocks. . . I wiggle my body and shimmy as fast as I can, falling out of the tunnel onto ground just as the tunnel caves in completely.”
  • Sea Wolf makes the Pawtriots walk the plank. As they struggle to remain afloat in the ocean, they are saved.
  • To defeat Sea Wolf, the “Pawtriots don’t hesitate, and in an instant, they’ve swarmed the Cutthroats, engaging them in fierce paw-to-paw combat.” No fighting is described.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Sea Wolf calls someone a “treacherous bilge rat.”
  • Sea Wolf calls his crew, “Yellow-bellied sapsuckers.”
  • Sea Wolf calls his former first mate a “backstabbing traitor.”

Supernatural

  • Rico and the Pawtriots end up on a cursed island. While there, a cat tells the story of the “Thrice-Cursed Pirate Sea Wolf” and his ship, the Calico Jack. Sea Wolf’s sword, ship, and crew were cursed. Sea Wolf’s “very soul was trapped inside the eternal flame. . . If the bell were ever to be run, then Sea Wolf would have until sunset to raise his crew, his ship, and retrieve his sword before the flame dies out and Sea Wolf with it.” Someone rings the bell and reawakens Sea Wolf and his crew.
  • When Sea Wolf reappears, “his eyes are bloodshot, and the moon paints his gray fur with an ominous glow.”
  • Sea Wolf’s “strength grows with each passing minute that his lungs draw breath.”
  • The Sea Wolf’s first mate was cured with immortality. She says, “Being alive forever gets old. I’m tired. Very, very tired. And the only way I can rest is if Sea Wolf rises and falls.”
  • In the end, Sea Wolf is defeated and “Sea Wolf vanishes.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Fall of Hades

Now that the small island nation of Tuvalu has become the base of Dr. Hatch’s operations, Michael and the Electroclan plan to stop him by taking down the Elgen’s floating treasury, a ship named the Joule. In addition, Dr. Hatch’s remaining loyal electric children have turned against him. Before Hatch can have them executed for treason, Michael wants to rescue them, along with the innocent Tuvaluan citizens who have become prisoners on the island the evil doctor renamed “Hades.”

For Dr. Hatch, it seems like things are finally falling apart due to his number one in command, Welch, disappearing with the help of Quentin, his former favorite electric child. However, Hatch’s feelings change when he learns of the Electroclan’s plans. The Electroclan have enlisted a captain named J.D. to help them sink the Joule – but J.D. is on Hatch’s side. Hatch allows J.D. to go along with the Electroclan’s plan to infiltrate the island so the Electroclan is in his grasp.

A bloody battle ensues at a prison in Hades during an intense storm. A few of the Electroclan, such as Tanner and Gervaso, die in the fight. At the end of the book, Michael climbs a tower to get struck by lightning. The subsequent massive explosion ends the battle, though Hatch escapes from the island. The Joule is destroyed and Hades has fallen, but Michael, the symbol of hope for the resistance, is gone.

This installment of the Michael Vey series dedicates a large amount of time to the story’s minor characters, often skipping from the action to flashbacks or other characters’ dilemmas. While it can be distracting from the main plot, readers who have followed the story until now will want to keep reading to see if Michael can finally defeat Hatch. Because Michael is fighting an all-out war, the events may be difficult to connect to, but readers will likely sympathize with Michael’s motives. Michael believes that the best sacrifice is the one made for others, even if isn’t successful. He says, “I’m fighting a battle for humanity. Of course, I could die and not win any victory, but I think that’s got to be worth something too.”

Though this book ends with Michael’s disappearance, picking up the last book is a must. The most moving part of the story is Michael’s climb up the tower, where he reflects on the journey he has taken with his friends and family. “So many memories. Most of them recent, it seemed. I suppose I had lived more life in the last year than most people live in eighty. That was good. Because I knew mine was coming to an end.” The final book of the series, Michael Vey: The Final Spark explores what motivation remains for the Electroclan once Michael is gone and whether they can keep the fight alive in Michael’s memory.

Sexual Content

  • As part of Welch’s backstory, we learn that he fell in love with a girl named Mei Li despite the Elgen’s rule forbidding romantic relationships. Welch stays with her while he’s on the run, and they kiss.
  • Michael and Taylor are dating. They kiss a few times.
  • When Nichelle is getting a tattoo, the artist says, “What do you need, babe? I have a special for the ladies as long as it’s on lady parts.”
  • Jack recalls a time when he sent a girl a text that got him in trouble. “I sent a text to a girl that said I wanted to kiss her. Her father ended up on my doorstep with the police. The autocorrect had changed my text to I wanted to kill her.”
  • A captain named J.D. who is assisting the Electroclan takes an interest in Taylor. He calls her beautiful and kisses her hand. He says, “I might just have to keep this one for myself.” Michael remarks that Taylor looks uncomfortable with the comment and when he shakes the captain’s hand, he shocks him.
  • When the Electroclan find out that captain J.D. has sold them out, Taylor says, “he sold us all out for money. He wants the million-dollar bounty on Welch, and he asked Hatch if he could own me. As his pet.”

Violence

  • Michael tells a story about a railroad worker who was forced to decide between killing his son or killing innocent people to illustrate his dilemma in fighting the secret war against the Elgen. “There was a man who was in charge of switching the railroad tracks for the train. It was an important job because if the train was on the wrong track, it could crash into another train, killing hundreds of people. One evening, as he was about to switch the tracks for an oncoming train, [the man] suddenly heard the cry of his young son, who had followed him out and was standing on the track he was supposed to switch the train to. This was the dilemma – if he switched the tracks, the train would kill his son. If he didn’t, the people on the train, hundreds of strangers he didn’t even know, might die. At the last moment, he switched the tracks. The people on the train went on by, not even knowing the disaster they had missed or the little boy who had been killed beneath them.”
  • In a flashback about Welch’s past, Welch remembers the time when he was a delivery boy on a job bringing pizza to the Elgen headquarters when he stopped an ex-employee from vandalizing the building. “The vandal sprang from the garden, sprinting diagonally across the building’s front walkway in Welch’s direction. Instinctively, Welch dropped his pizzas and took off to intercept the man… Welch leveled the guy, who was barely half his size, with a waist-high tackle. Then he picked him up by the waist and carried him over to the front entryway, where there were now three security guards rushing out of the building… The [vandal] suddenly tried to free himself from Welch’s grasp. Welch belted him across the face, knocking him out.”
  • Torstyn, one of the electric children, is tortured by Hatch in a cell that is meant to keep him uncomfortable, including lights that are always on. There is also a screen that plays a video of rats devouring animals or humans every 15 minutes. Torstyn also has a RESAT on, a torture device specifically engineered for the electric children. Hatch uses it to cause him pain when he tells Torstyn that he intends to feed him to the rats. Hatch also tells Torstyn how he will die. “If you cooperate with me, I will see that you are anesthetized before going into the bowl. You will not feel those little mouths, bite by bite, eat away your life… I can also promise you that if you don’t cooperate, I will make sure that your vitals are well protected so that the furry little creatures will have to gnaw their way up your body cavity to end your life.” Hatch also says, “It was medieval torture, you know. During the Inquisition, the torturer would place rats in a cage on top of a prisoner’s body, then put hot coals on top of the cage. The rats would burrow through the body to escape the heat… If you fail to help me, you will be terrifyingly aware of every rat’s bite. Your head and eyes will be caged, so you can see your own skeleton as the rodents strip the flesh from your legs and arms to the bones. You will witness your own slow consumption.”
  • When Quentin says that Michael Vey might be able to stop Hatch, Hatch replies by saying that he will feed Quentin Michael’s flesh. Hatch later says, “Today I will feast on my enemy” when he learns that Michael is coming for him.
  • When Quentin is put in a monkey cage like the former Prime Minister, he glimpses the former Prime Minister. “He looked more animal than human. He was pale and ill and had lost enough weight that his ribs seemed to stretch his skin. He was covered with filth and fleas and blood, as he bore dozens of bite marks [from the monkeys].”
  • Taylor’s father, Mr. Ridley, is shot in a confrontation with recreational hunters near the ranch the Electroclan are hiding at. Michael shocks them in retaliation. “I pulsed, and a massive blue-gold wave of electricity exploded, knocking Taylor and all four of the hunters to the ground… In the dark I could see something black around Mr. Ridley’s stomach.” Taylor also uses her powers to hurt the hunters. “The hunters were all on the ground rolling around, moaning in pain… two of them started screaming.”
  • The doctor that arrives at the scene wants Michael to cauterize Mr. Ridley’s bullet wound by shocking it. “I looked down at the mass of blood. The bullet wound was about the diameter of a dime and slightly ragged… I pulsed. Mr. Ridley’s body tensed… I could feel his blood boil against my finger. The pungent stink of burning blood filled the air.”
  • A few of the kids, including Michael, Jack, Ostin, and Nichelle, get mugged on their way back from a tattoo parlor. Michael attacks the mugger. “I blasted him up against the wall of the building behind him. His gun went off from the pressure of my pulse, but the strength of my pulse stopped the bullet in midair. The man fell to the ground.” He is only knocked unconscious.
  • Taylor and Jack punish a guard who hurt McKenna when the Elgen tracked them down. “She closed her eyes, and the man began shaking. When she stopped, he had a blank expression. Suddenly Jack walked up to the man and punched him, knocking him over… Then he walked around punching each of the terrified guards.”
  • When the Electroclan rescues Quentin, they have to dispose of some guards. Michael shocks them. “I reached out and pulsed. A massive wave blurred the air, sizzling with the rain it devoured. Both of the guards were knocked off their feet.”
  • When J.D. reveals that he gave them up, Zeus and Michael want to hurt him. Though they don’t, J.D. says that Hatch intends to kill them and has “special plans” for Michael: Hatch intends to eat him with a special cannibal fork used by the Fiji people called the ai cula ni bokola. J.D. says, “The general plans to serve you for the feast to celebrate the end of the resistance.”
  • A long battle ensues on the island of Tuvalu for control of a prison. Gervaso, the head of the resistance’s military operations, is shot and sacrifices himself in his final moments. “A gun opened fire, hitting Gervaso in the chest and knocking him back onto the dock… Gervaso feebly lifted his handgun but was hit two more times by Elgen bullets as the squad stepped up onto the dock… The front guard, barely older than twenty, walked on the blood-soaked dock until he was next to Gervaso. He pointed his gun at the back of Gervaso’s head. ‘Good-bye, man.’ Gervaso rolled over to look the young guard in the eyes. In his hand Gervaso held a grenade, its pin already pulled. ‘Yeah, good-bye.’ ‘Hit the deck!’ the guard shouted, but it was too late.  The grenade blew, igniting the chain of explosives. The entire dock exploded in a blinding flash.”
  • At another point in the battle, Michael is terrified due to the gruesome scene. “The dark grounds below us were chaos. The screaming of fallen prisoners echoed amid the hellish landscape of rain, smoke, and fire. The Elgen forces flowed in like demon shadows, darkening a courtyard lit only by gunfire or grenades. Occasionally, lightning would strike, illuminating the grounds for a second, like a strobe, capturing the dying and killing in frozen, violent stances.”
  • During the battle, to turn the tide in their favor, Ostin releases the rats who then eat the Elgen soldiers. “The ravenous rats swept across the yard in a powerful, glowing surge, running at guards, drawn to them by the smell of death and meat… The swarm of rats broke against the men like a wave hitting the shore, covering and devouring them, pouring over each other, as the guards were stripped of their flesh… The sounds of screams and machine guns echoed in the distance.”
  • Tanner, one of the electric children, dies in battle when they are being bombed. Michael is with Tanner in his final moments. “Through the smoke I could see Tanner lying on top of a desk against the west wall. His arm was dangling over the side, and I could see blood dripping from his fingers… He was mostly covered in the chalky plaster of the wall, except where the red of his blood had seeped through and stained his clothes and the dust crimson. There were holes all over his body. Shrapnel… Somehow Tanner was still conscious. His chin quivered, and a thin stream of blood fell down from the corner of his mouth… He looked into my eyes. Then his gaze froze and his hand went limp.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hatch occasionally drinks alcohol. He also takes sleeping pills in unhealthy amounts.
  • It is mentioned that Welch’s parents were drug addicts. Later, when asked to drink alcohol, Welch declines. He says, “My biological father was an alcoholic. I figured I inherited his genes.” Eventually, Hatch forces Welch to have a glass of alcohol when he becomes part of the company. He takes a sip of wine.
  • Welch smokes once in the book. Welch says, “I hope I get to die slowly of cancer.”
  • J.D. admits that he gave up the Electroclan because he needs money for drugs. His former friend, Gervaso, calls him a “junkie.” J.D. replies, “After I got shot saving you, they put me on painkillers. I got addicted. When the painkillers stopped working, I needed something stronger.”

Language

  • Occasionally the kids use insults like “stupid,” “freak,” and “idiot.”

Supernatural

  • The focus of the Michael Vey series is on seventeen Electric children with electricity-related powers. A full dossier is available in the front of the book. For example, Michael can pulse like an electric eel, Mckenna can create light and heat, and Taylor can use electrical brain signals to read minds.

Spiritual Content

  • Michael thinks about dying occasionally in the book. “Lately I’ve been wondering where Wade is – you know, the whole death thing. Life after life. Where do we go after we die? Or is this it and when we’re done, we’re done? I don’t know. It’s possible that Wade and my father are hanging out right now, watching us. Cheering us on. Maybe… I guess one day everyone finds out what death is about.”
  • When Hatch finds Welch, he remarks on it spiritually. “Hatch couldn’t believe his good fortune. ‘And to think I said there is no God.’”
  • Jack once says “choke on that karma.”
  • Michael quotes from the Bible. “As we walked off the dock onto the island, I felt a dark, eerie feeling of desolation. A line from the Bible came to me: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
  • When Tanner is dying, he comes to terms with killing others. Michael says, “It wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault. Hatch made you do it.” Tanner replies, “Maybe. . . God will see it that way.”
  • When Michael climbs the tower, he shouts “to the gods of lighting” to strike him. He also says, of getting shocked, “I felt what it feels like to be God. But I’m no god.”

by Maddie Shooter

The Ring of Honor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

The Angel Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content 

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

Violence 

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

Drugs and Alcohol 

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

Language   

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

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

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

This Vicious Grace

Alessa is the latest finestra in a long line of people chosen by the goddess Dea to protect her island. Her powers are supposed to help her save her home, but so far they’ve only managed to kill three suitors simply through her touch. Her suitors, called Fonte, are paired with her in order to hone her power and strengthen their own, but instead, she overwhelms them. Alessa’s running out of time to learn how to use her power and save her people. There are only a few weeks left until the god, Crollo, sends his demons to attack and wipe out all human life from the island.  

In order to keep her safe, Alessa is separated from her family, her old life, and even her name. In order to train, she is locked away. She is lonely. The Fontes she’s paired with are supposed to supply her with a partner, a mate, and a friend, but instead, their unusual deaths have caused an even deeper rift between her and everyone else on the island. Then, a powerful priest begins convincing people that her inability to control her power is evidence that she is a false prophet. He begins to amass a following of very angry, very scared people that are willing to do anything to prevent her from harming others, including kill her. One night, one of Alessa’s own guards even tries to assassinate her. In response, she hires a bodyguard, Dante, to protect her until she can learn how to control her powers and defeat the demons.  

A group of prospective Fonte joins Alessa in order to figure out who, if any of them, can handle her power enough to use it. These Fonte are the only hope Alessa has at defeating the demons. Alessa’s relationship with her new group of prospective Fontes starts off rocky. Because of her failures with the three prior Fontes, the new Fontes are skeptical of her abilities and wary of her motives. When Dante realizes he can handle Alessa’s power, he helps her understand how to wield it. Then, Dante slowly paves the way for Alessa to build a friendship with the new Fontes, and to work alongside them to master her powers.  

This Vicious Grace is told from Alessa’s point of view, and she is a very likable main character. Alessa is a kind, level-headed main character with an affinity for justice. Despite how she’s treated, she still chooses to fight the good fight over and over again and is rewarded for it in the end. Alessa stays true to herself and is a fair and good person who is willing to do whatever it takes to save her people.  

A tale of friendship, overcoming loneliness, and holding out hope despite insurmountable odds, This Vicious Grace is a good novel for readers who enjoy a slow burn romance within a fantasy world filled with gods, demons, and war. This Vicious Grace is Emily Thiede’s debut novel. It includes a lot of references to malevolent gods, vicious demons, and mystical powers and abilities. Though it is a fantasy world, it is not hard to understand the complicated plot and numerous characters. This action-packed book is a fun and interesting read for fantasy lovers. Readers looking for more books set in a fantasy world should also read Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin. 

Sexual Content  

  • While playing a drinking game, Dante asks Alessa, “If you could do anything before Divorando, what would it be?” Alessa replies, “Lose my virginity.” 
  • Dante and Alessa are sleeping in the same bed when Dante starts to kiss and touch her in his sleep. Dante’s “lips brushed the sensitive spot just below her ear, kindling a fire just below her navel. Her thoughts scrambled as his fingers grazed the underside of her breast.” 
  • Alessa kisses Dante outside of her room one night on their way back from rescuing Dante from prison. “Parting her lips, she traced his lips with her tongue, and his control snapped. His hands were everywhere at once—cupping her face, running through her hair, gripping her waist. He pressed her against the door, pressed his mouth to hers, pressed his hips into her. . . ” 
  • Alessa and Dante have sex. There is an intense kissing scene that takes place over two pages prior to this. Dante’s “fingers cupped her bottom, pulling her into him, and she melted, softness yielding to the hard planes of his body. When his hand cupped her breat, she forgot how to breathe . . . He nuzzled her through fabric, his breath warming the bare skin of her thigh . . . ” 

Violence 

  • Alessa’s gift causes her to overwhelm people when she touches them. This causes them severe injury and even death. When she was younger, she almost killed a boy during a race. “She was sitting on his chest. . . she’d touched his forehead and declared ‘you lose’. . . Tendons taut as bowstrings, blood-flecked foam between clenched teeth, he’d spasmed beneath her. He’d nearly bitten his tongue off and still talked with a lisp.” 
  • A masked figure breaks into Alessa’s room and tries to kill her in her sleep. The assassin is convinced that she is a false prophet. She wakes up in her bed to someone choking her. “Something – someone – had her pinned, trapped, crushing her windpipe . . . Hands, encased in thick gloves, tightening around her neck.” 
  • Alessa is in the city and watches two fighters brawl. “The Bear landed his first blow, his fist smashing into the Wolf’s jaw . . . The Wolf landed a punch to the big man’s gut, but the next blow he took sounded like it cracked a few ribs . . . The Wolf slammed a fist into the big man’s cheek and looked about to land a second hit when someone smashed a glass against the bars . . .  The Bear’s opponent’s back was turned, and he slammed his fist into the Wolf’s lower back. He dropped.” The scene continues over two pages. 
  • Alessa unintentionally sneaks up on Dante. Before he sees who it is, he stabs her with his two knives in self defense. “Dante turned so fast she didn’t have time to speak . . . twin fires tore through her abdomen . . . she looked down at his fists, clutching the hilts of his knives, pressed against her . . .blood dripped between his fingers. With a ragged gasp, Dante pulled the knives free.” She begins bleeding out and Dante saves her from the brink of death using healing powers.  
  • Alessa, Dante, and the Fontes fight the demons. When Alessa looks at Dante, “he was already on the ground. A wide gash ran from his chin to one ear, and he was covered in so much blood.” A couple other characters have injuries but none are described, or serious.  

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • After watching a fight in town, Alessa goes to a bar and overhears one of the fighters ordering a whiskey. She orders one for herself as well. “Alessa swirled the glass, watching the whiskey hug the sides and inhaled the sweet heat before she took a sip.”   
  • Alessa and Dante play a drinking game with limoncello in her room. Alessa says, “Truth or challenge . . . if you don’t perform the challenge or answer the question, you take a drink.” 
  • Someone tried to put poison in Alessa’s pastries.   

Language  

  • Profanity is used intermittently. Profanity includes shit, damn, and ass. 
  • Dante and Alessa are talking about how civilians have to pay families to take in their kids in case they die in battle. Alessa says, “It’s not my fault . . . I don’t make the rules I just have to follow them.” Dante replies, “Yeah, well, it’s a bit late to give a shit now.” 
  • Alessa hires Dante to be her bodyguard and they argue about what his duties will be. Dante says, “I don’t half-ass any job. You want me to guard, this is how I do it.”

Supernatural  

  • Demons sent by the malevolent god, Crollo, are the main antagonists in the book. There is no specification on where they come from or whether or not they have powers. They are sent to wipe out humanity because Crollo insists that people are “too flawed and too selfish to endure.” 

Spiritual Content  

  • The book includes God-given magic – the main character Alessa is referred to as a “divine weapon of the gods” throughout the book. There are also frequent references to their religious text, “Holy Verita,” their patron goddess, Dea, and the evil god, Crollo, who sends demons to the island.  
  • The Day of Divorando is a day when demon-like creatures will attack the islands. Kaleb, one of the prosepctive Fonte, says, “On the day of Divorando, we’re supposed to use our powers to ward off the invasion . . . The gods gave us the gifts for defense, so that is what we will use.” 
  • Alessa calls herself a “divinely ordained warrior.” 

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

Several months have passed since Gregor’s first trip to the Underland. Just as his life is returning to normal, his baby sister Boots is kidnapped by the cockroaches, and Gregor is forced to journey back to the subterranean city of Regalia. Once there, Gregor reunites with the rebellious Luxa and his bat Ares whom Gregor has pledged his loyalty and protection. Gregor soon discovers that the Underlanders have kidnapped Boots because of The Prophecy of Bane. This ancient prophecy implies that if Boots were to be killed, the rats would have the key to power. 

The Underlanders believe that Gregor is the prophesied Warrior who must kill an evil rat cloaked in a coat of white: the Bane, an enormous, snow-white 10-foot rat that threatens to destroy Regalia and subject all of the Underland to his rule. The Prophecy of Bane mysteriously says that the Warrior will be fatally weakened if: “Die the baby die his heart, die his most essential part. Die the peace that rules the hour. Gnawers [another term for rats] have their key to power.” Believing that Boots is the baby spoken of in the prophecy, the rats kidnap her.  

In order to save his sister, Gregor and his companions must embark upon a long and dangerous voyage, sailing into the heart of rat territory.  Gregor is determined to destroy the Bane before the rats can kill Boots. Gregor must learn to fight for those he loves while encountering dangers, close calls, and surprises along the journey. He must also discover what it means to be a warrior. 

Those who read Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane will enjoy its simple yet engaging plot, its pulse-pounding action, and its variety of characters and settings. The character and mythos of the Underland are deepened in this worthy sequel. New and dangerous creatures are introduced, the uncharted, watery depths of the Underland are explored, and at the end of this long voyage lies a mysterious and powerful foe: the Bane. 

Once readers enter the world of the Underland, the quick-moving plot and the dynamic characters will sweep middle school readers up, keeping their minds and imaginations engaged for the entirety of the book. To keep the suspense high, each new chapter introduces a new danger, an exciting development, and an intriguing complication to the plot. The action, often violent and bloody, is kicked up a notch from the first book. However, like the first book in the series, it is often the creatures and not the humans that suffer wounds and death in battle. Despite this, sensitive readers may be upset by the vivid battle descriptions. 

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane is rife with themes of familial love and sacrifice, compassion, friendship, and duty. Gregor will stop at nothing to protect his friends and family. However, Gregor is faced with many difficult situations and moral dilemmas, all of which develop his character. Gregor discovers that he possesses incredible powers as a fighter. In fact, whenever he is near or in the midst of battle, Gregor’s mind enters into “rager mode;” a “rager” is a gifted warrior who possesses fighting abilities that approach the supernatural. Throughout the book, Gregor must learn to harness and control these abilities, lest they control him. The danger of letting his violent, rager instincts overpower his kind nature forces Gregor to consider the nature of violence and how it should be used only to protect and defend. 

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane provides a story that is an incredibly entertaining blend of mystery, travel, and adventure. Every chapter ends on a cliff-hanger, providing ample reason for even the most reluctant of readers to devour it quickly. Furthermore, the ending perfectly sets up the sequel, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods. Readers will not be able to help themselves, they’ll have to immediately reach for the next installment. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The Underlanders practice their swordplay by having a contraption that throws small, golfball-sized balls at them in rapid succession. The Underlanders’ goal is to slice as many balls as possible. These balls are filled with red liquid that mimics blood. Gregor first goes into “rager mode” when training with the blood balls. “He was aware only of the blood balls flying toward him from all directions . . .  He could hear his blade making a whistling sound. Something splattered against his face. . . He could feel liquid dripping off his face and hands. The pounding of his heart was audible. He looked down at the ground. At his feet lay the oozing shells of fifteen balls.” 
  • The verbiage of the Prophecy of Bane itself is somewhat violent. For example, If Under fell, if Over leaped,/ If death was life and Death life reaped,/ Something rises from the gloom,/ To make the Underland a tomb./ Hear it scratching down below,/ Rat of long forgotten snow,/ Evil cloaked in coat of White,/ Will the Warrior drain your light?/ What could turn the Warrior weak?/ What do burning Gnawers seek?/ Just a barely speaking pup / That holds the Land of Under up/ Die the baby, die his heart/ Die his most essential part/ Die the peace that rules the hour,/ Gnawers have their key to power.” 
  • Twitchtip, a rat that aids the humans in their mission, threatens a giant talking firefly, saying “. . . if you don’t stop your incessant babble, that big rat sitting in the boat next to you [referring to herself] will rip your head off.” 
  • While discussing effective ways to kill rats, Ares the bat says, “The neck is vulnerable. The heart, but one must get past the ribs. Through the eyes to the brain. Under the foreleg is a vein that bleeds greatly. If you strike at the belly, you may not kill instantly, but the rat will likely die within days from infection.” 
  • As the group is sailing, they are attacked by a giant squid. Gregor is grabbed by “a slimy red tentacle,” and nearly pulled overboard. However, Ares manages to grab him, and “a tug-of-war ensued, with Gregor as the rope.”  
  • As the battle against the squid continues, Gregor “sank his teeth into the tentacle as deeply as he could” and “slice[d] through a tentacle that had encircled his ankle.” Trying to free Gregor, the humans and bats slice and claw at the tentacles. Gregor enters again into rager mode and, “His sword began to move—not in a premeditative way, but with some instinctive precision and force utterly beyond his control. He hacked away at tentacle after tentacle.”  
  • After the battle, “Four angry red circles, sucker marks, swelled on his forearm” where Gregor was initially grabbed. These sucker marks “begin to ooze pus.” The scene is described over three pages. 
  • Gregor’s tentacle wound worsens. “The whole forearm was badly swollen. The sucker wounds, which had turned a revolting shade of purple, oozed fluorescent green pus. They burned as if they were on fire.” 
  • As Pandora, a bat, flies over a volcanic island, a large cloud of flesh-eating mites emerges from the jungle. “[Pandora] had no time to react. One moment she was darting around eating mites, the next moment they were eating her. In less than ten seconds they had stripped the writhing bat down to the bone. Her white skeleton hung for an instant in the air, then crashed into the jungle below.” Ares barely escapes these flesh-eating mites and is bitten on his tail several times while fleeing. 
  • The group is attacked by large, dinosaur-like serpents. As the monsters attack, large waves wash the rats “into the serpents’ mouths.” Various members of the quest are injured. “One of Mareth’s pant legs was soaked in blood. In front of him, Gregor saw the shuttering heap of wet fur that was Twitchtip. Blood poured from her nose, which appeared to have been smashed in, and oozed from the stump that had been her tail.” 
  • When a serpent tries to eat Twitchtip, Gregor stabs the serpent’s tongue. As a fellow quester is attempting to dress Mareth’s wound, he rips “off the remains of Mareth’s blood-soaked pant leg, revealing jagged flesh around a gaping wound.” 
  • Two rats, Snare and Goldshard, fight each other to the death. “The fighting was vicious . . . Snare lost an eye. Goldshard’s ear dangled from a shred of fur. You could see the bone in Snare’s shoulder. Goldshard’s left front paw was snapped in two. Finally, the gold rat came in on her opponent’s blind side and locked her fangs on his neck. In the final throes of death, Snare got his hind feet between their bodies and slashed open the length of Goldshard’s belly . . . Her intestines spilled out on the ground . . . With a terrible gurgling sound, Snare suffocated in his own blood.” 
  • After returning from their journey, the Regalian crowds that have gathered are outraged to learn that Gregor has not killed the Bane. They begin throwing objects at him and Ares. “Something hit [Gregor] on the side of his head. His hand went up and came away bloody . . . More objects began to rain around him . . . The one thing they had in common was that they were all made of stone . . . he and Ares were being stoned to death.”  
  • Because of his failure to slay the Bane, Gregor and the other Underlanders stand trial for treason. Ares informs Gregor that if convicted, “They will bind my wings and your hands and drop us off a very high cliff to the rocks below.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • In response to the taunting of Ripred (a rat), Gregor says, “Just shut up, okay?” 
  • After the mission’s failure, Ripred offers Gregor a warning saying, “And you know, there will be hell to pay in Regalia.” 

Supernatural 

  • Nerissa, a member of Regalia’s royal family, is a soothsayer, and interprets the Prophecy of Bane. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Storm of Lightning

The Elgen’s plans for world domination begin on the island of Tuvalu when the nefarious Dr. Hatch orders an invasion of the small nation following an unsuccessful attack on the resistance headquarters, the Timepiece Ranch. Meanwhile, the Electroclan return to America with Jade Dragon, the girl they rescued before she fell victim to Dr. Hatch’s schemes. When they learn what happened to the Ranch, Michael and the others rush there to inquire about the safety of their families, who were hiding at the base at the time of the attack.

After checking the Ranch and finding it devoid of survivors, the Electroclan goes on the run again. Their plan is to lie low until news of their families reaches them, but their period of rest ends abruptly with the news that Dr. Hatch has stationed warships from the Elgen fleet in the waters near Tuvalu. The Electroclan heads to Christmas Ranch in Utah, another resistance base, to devise a plan to stop the invasion of Tuvalu.

Meanwhile, the story shows the perspective of Hatch’s loyal electric children (Tara, Bryan, Quentin, and Kylee) as they discuss whether to rebel against Hatch, especially after he tortures Welch, a former Elgen commander, who is close to Quentin. Quentin has been Hatch’s “favorite,” but he no longer knows if Hatch’s plans align with his own.

Hatch successfully overthrows the Tuvaluan government and places Quentin in charge. Hatch offers Quentin advice on his new monarchy: “a divided people is a conquered people. . . Divisions in humanity can always be found. Turn men against women and women against men. Divide the young from the old, the rich from the poor. . . Teach them to shame others and to use shame as a tool to their own ends.” Hatch’s advice illustrates the difference between him and Michael, which is the focus of Storm of Lightning.

There is not much confrontation, and the Electroclan spends most of the book on the move, as the story focuses on Michael’s character and the effects of war. It’s clear that the Elgen and the Electroclan can never coexist, and Michael must be the one to stop them. He struggles with wanting to give up, and the fact that his power has been increasing, possibly leading to his own death. His power also gives him the ability to kill others on a large scale. While this threat has been present from the beginning of the series, Michael grapples with it throughout Storm of Lightning.

While Storm of Lightning is not the most interesting book in the series, the story discloses the next step of the Electroclan and highlights the value of hope – hope that the resistance can overcome the Elgen. While Michael’s role in the war is may be unrelatable to readers, Michael’s inner turmoil is understandable and crucial to the development of his character. Readers should pick up the next story, Fall of Hades, to find out if Michael is able to overcome his fate and confront Hatch once and for all.

 Sexual Content

  • Michael and his girlfriend Taylor kiss occasionally. “After a moment, she leaned into me, and we kissed. Suddenly I felt a current of electricity flowing through our mouths.”
  • Quentin and Tara have a developing romance. They kiss once.

Violence

  • A Mexican gang tries to rob Michael which ends in violence. As Michael “was walking away from them, an empty beer bottle hit me on the side of my head. Fortunately, it wasn’t a direct hit, or it probably would have knocked me out. Instead, it caught me in the back of my jaw, cutting the skin beneath my ear. . . It took every ounce of willpower I had not to fry them to ashes. . .”
  • The gang threatens to cut Michael, so Michael defends himself. “I spun around and pulsed, blasting the little dude so hard that his feet left the ground. He slammed into an adobe wall, and plaster fell around him as he crumpled to the ground, unconscious. . . I spread out my arms and pulsed. The force blew out from me in a shock wave more than fifty feet in diameter. When I looked around, all of the gang members were lying on their backs. Most of them weren’t moving. The tall guy was still conscious, staring at me in fear. As I started toward him, he pulled a gun. . . The guy fired six times, and the bullets flew around me, ricocheting against cars and buildings. One of the bullets hit his buddies. . . When he had used all his bullets. . . I blasted him so hard, his clothes caught on fire. Then I looked around. All of the gang members were still unconscious except for one. . . he had gotten to his feet and now raised a knife at me. . . I produced a lightning ball about the size of a volleyball. . . He weakly raised his hands to block it. It exploded on contact with his flesh, knocking him out with the force.” In the end, Michael is unsure if he killed them or not.
  • Michael sees the aftermath of the Elgen attack on the resistance base. They completely destroyed the area. Michael “could see the bones of a horse in a clearing. Other than that, there was no evidence of life. Or death. It looked like those war pictures from our history books. I had never seen such devastation in real life. I bent over and vomited.”
  • The Electroclan find one survivor from the aftermath – an Elgen soldier. “When I first saw the man, I didn’t recognize him as human. He was grotesque looking. His skin and clothes, which hadn’t been burned off, were charred black, and most of his hair was singed off his head. . . his injuries were so severe, it was difficult to even look at him.”
  • Jack talks briefly about his brother’s service in Afghanistan. “A Taliban soldier tried to stab my brother, but my brother turned the knife on him. While my brother’s squad was waiting for reinforcements, my brother had to sit in the room with the dead man for two hours. He took out the guy’s wallet. The man had a picture of his wife and a little boy. My brother said even though the guy had tried to kill him, it still made him sad.”
  • While staying at a hotel, Michael hears someone trying to break into the room when multiple Electroclan members are inside. They attack when the intruder enters. “Jack grabbed [the intruder] by the front of his shirt, then pulled him forward, slamming him face-forward onto the ground. I pushed the door shut with my foot as I grabbed the man’s leg and pulsed. His body went limp.”
  • Hatch threatens to flog the Tuvaluan people if they disobey his new laws. He also says that the citizens will be sent to “reeducation camps.” Hatch also says that those who don’t accept reeducation will be imprisoned and branded as fools to be publicly humiliated and punished.
  • Due to the former President of Tuvalu refusing to bow to him, Hatch has him punished as a public display. “You will be stripped of your clothing, bound, and your tongue will be cut off; then, for the rest of your life, you will be kept in the central square in a cage with monkeys. . . If you try to take your life, your sons and daughters will take your place.” Hatch follows through on his word. The prime minister is later displayed in front of the people. “Inside the cage were about a dozen bald-faced rhesus macaque monkeys and, in one corner, the naked prime minister huddled in the fetal position. He looked pale and sick; his mouth swollen from the amputation of his tongue.”
  • A man who protests Hatch’s rule is severely punished in front of the crowd. “The protestor was able to knock down just one of the guards before he was tased by three different guns, then beaten nearly unconscious by truncheons. The guards then dragged the man out before the crowd. He was lifted to his knees and pushed up against the pole next to the monkey cage. His arms were bound behind the pole, and a belt was cinched tightly around his waist to hold him up. . . The Elgen squad captain brought out a long, serrated knife and cut off the man’s ears as he screamed in agony.”
  • Hatch punishes Quentin for betraying him. “Hatch slapped Quentin hard enough to knock him back into his bed. A thin stream of blood dropped from his nose. . . Hatch stood, then grabbed Quentin by the foot and dragged him off the bed. Then he kicked him while Quentin tried to protect himself from the blows.” Hatch also punishes Quentin with an improved RESAT device called a RAVE, which inflicts physical pain on the electric children and renders them powerless.
  • Cassy, one of the electric children loyal to the resistance, threatens Schema, a former Elgen chairman, by using her powers on him. “As he stepped out onto the cement floor, he suddenly froze, unable to breathe. For nearly a minute he grasped at his throat; then he fell to his knees, then to his side, unable to even make a sound, his panicked, questioning eyes locked on Cassy. When he was just about to pass out, Cassy released him. Schema loudly gasped for breath, coughing and wheezing.” Cassy says to him, “In case you were feeling bold, I wanted you to know just how easy it is for me to kill you. . . this time, I paralyzed your lungs. If you disappear from my sight, even for a minute, I will stop your heart.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • The group talks about a hot sauce that’s named “hotter than hell.”
  • Tara and Bryan, two kids loyal to Hatch, have an argument in which Tara calls him an “idiot.”
  • Ostin and Michael call Dr. Hatch a “crazy freaking moron.”

Supernatural

  • Many of the youths in the story have electricity related abilities. There are 17 electric children in all. Michael can shock and pulse like an electric eel. Taylor can read minds via electrical signals. Nichelle can drain electrical power, Abi can take away pain, and Mckenna can create light and heat.
  • While staying at a hotel, Nichelle wants to stay in a room that is rumored to have a ghost haunting it. One of the workers says they encountered it when checking a fuse box in the basement. “The hair on the back of my neck rose, and I had this feeling that I was being watched. Then I saw a cloud in the shape of a man come toward me.” Michael, Nichelle, Taylor, and Ostin end up staying in the room and hear strange sounds at night.

 

Spiritual Content

  • When Hatch takes over Tuvalu, he orders the former President to kiss his hand to show his allegiance. The man replies, “I bow only to God.” Hatch replies, “Where is your God in your time of need. I will tell you where your God is. You are looking at him.”

by Madison Shooter

Gallant

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for Girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home; it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile, or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now, Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

As a gothic, ghost story Gallant is surprisingly dull and unexciting. While Olivia can see “ghouls” and communicate with them through her thoughts, none of the ghouls she encounters are developed in detail. Instead of being interesting, the ghouls fade into the background and they evoke little emotion. Even though Olivia learns that she can communicate with ghouls, she doesn’t try to initiate a conversation with her dead uncle, who obviously killed himself. She also doesn’t try to communicate with her dead mother, who could answer many of her questions. Because of this, Olivia’s gift is not fully developed or explored.

Olivia is an interesting and unique protagonist, who is non-verbal and communicates only through sign language. This caused her childhood to be lonely and unpleasant. Not only does she have to struggle with being abandoned at Merilance, but she also has to deal with the other children who are cruel, and the matrons who are indifferent. Because of this, Olivia is willing to go to Gallant, even though her mother has warned her to stay away.

While the story has some interesting story threads—what happened to Olivia’s parents, why should she stay away from Galant, why can she see ghouls—none of them are well developed. Even though Olivia encounters the personification of Death, his soldiers, and other ghouls, the story only evokes mild curiosity, contains little suspense, and little scare factor. In addition, the conclusion is lackluster and depressing. In the end, the reader is left wondering why Olivia would stay at Gallant. Readers who are looking for an exciting paranormal story should read Schwab’s other series, The Archived, or The Breathless by Tara Goedjen.

Sexual Content

  • Sometimes boys would “linger at the edge of the gravel moat,” trying to get the girls’ attention. One day, Olivia goes to talk to a boy and “he kissed her, she waited to feel whatever her mother had felt for her father the day they met, the spark that lit the fire that burned their whole world down. But she only felt his hand on her waist. His mouth on her mouth. A hollow sadness.”

Violence

  • Anabelle, a girl at Merilance, tears pages out of Olivia’s mother’s journal. Olivia “fell on Anabelle, finger wrapped around her throat. Anabelle yelped, and Olivia squeezed until the girl could not speak, could not breathe, and then the matrons were there, pulling them apart.”
  • To get back at Anabelle, Olivia “went down into the cellar. . . she managed to fill the jar with beetles, and spiders, and half a dozen silverfish. She added a handful of ash from the head matron’s hearth.” Olivia dumps the content on Anabelle’s head.
  • Olivia cannot yell and she wonders if pain could free her voice, so she cuts herself. “The cut was deep. Blood welled and spilled onto the counter, and heat screamed up her arm and through her lungs, but only a short, sharp gasp escaped her throat, more emptiness than sound.”
  • In a dream, Olivia witnesses her uncle’s death. “The gun swings up against his temple. . .” then Olivia wakes up.
  • While in Death’s world, a ghoul pushes Olivia away. “And then a blade sings through the ghoul’s back, and it staggers, and Olivia knows the ghoul cannot die, knows it is already dead, but the sight of the metal spilling out of its chest, its knees buckling silently to the dirt, still sends a shock of horror through her bones.”
  • In order to get out from behind the wall, someone killed Matthew’s brother. “The door on the other side was soaked with blood. There was so much of it. Too much. Someone had painted the door with my brother’s life. Covered every iron inch . . . But that thing slaughtered my brother for nothing. Only a Prior’s blood can open the door, but it has to be willingly given.”
  • Olivia goes behind the wall, hoping to find Matthew’s brother. When she sees Death, “Olivia spins, drawing the blade. She doesn’t wait, but twists and drives the knife into his chest.” The knife doesn’t hurt Death.
  • Death tries to subdue Olivia, who “fights like a girl set loose on the world with nothing and everything to lose. But it’s not enough. A gauntlet closes over her wrist, flinging her into a plated chest, and the last thing she sees is the gleam of an armored shoulder as the third shadow looms.”
  • Olivia takes a piece of bone and “the sliver of bone becomes a beak, becomes a skull, becomes a crow, muscle and skin and feathers.” Olivia tells the crow to attack Death. “Olivia is on her feet, racing toward the door, even as she hears him pluck the bird from the air, the brittle snap of its neck. . .”
  • In a multi-chapter conclusion, Olivia and Matthew fight Death. Death captures Olivia. “His embrace tightens until she cannot move, cannot breathe. Her bones groan, and she lets out a stifled gasp.” Matthew comes through the door to help Olivia.
  • One of Death’s soldiers goes after Matthew, who “slashes out with his blade, but the wolfish soldier dodges lithely and kicks him in the chest. He collapses to his hands and knees, gasping for breath . . . The soldier lowers the dagger to his throat.”
  • One of Death’s soldiers grabs Olivia, “she writhes and tries to breathe, tries to think and time slows down. . . She slams her head back into the soldier.” Olivia is able to free herself and grab one of the soldier’s weapons. “The soldier rears back, but Olivia is already swinging, bringing the sword down a third time, carving deep into his shoulder. The collarbone comes free. . . he is already falling back into dust as the bone hits the grass.”
  • In order to save Olivia’s life, Matthew “pushed her out of the way the instant before the sword cut down. Matthew, who leans in the doorway, the blade driven through, the point jutting like a thorn from his back.” Matthew dies.
  • When death finds a way into the living world, Edgar “aims at Death a second time and fires, the bullet melting in the air above his floating cloak.”
  • Olivia calls on the ghouls, who “close over [Death] like ivy, their edges dissolving into one teeming mass of shadow as they force him back through the garden, back through the open door, back beyond the wall.” Then Olivia seals the door with her blood.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the matrons at Merilance hides a bottle of brandy in a drawer.
  • In order to help Matthew sleep, Edgar drugs him.

Language

  • Damn is used once.

Supernatural

  • Olivia can see “ghouls.”
  • There is a stone wall at the back of Gallant’s garden. At night, a person can walk around the wall, but they end up in a different world—a world where Death lives. Olivia’s mother once went around the wall and saw Death “with his four shadows and his dozen shades, all silent in the bones of the ruined house.”
  • When Olivia crosses the wall, she sees “the shriveled remains of a garden. Withered limbs and wilting blooms, their petals, pale, their leaves devoid of color. . . And there, at the top of the ruined garden, sits another Gallant.”
  • In Death’s world, Olivia has the ability to give life. When Olivia picks up a tooth, it “jumps. Shudders like a bee against her palm. . . by the time it hits the ground, it is not a writhing bit of bone, but a mouse.”
  • Olivia meets Death. “His skin is not creased, yet here and there it peels away, the polished bone beneath showing through like stone under thinning ivy. And that is how she sees that there are pieces of him missing. . . The joint of one finger. The edge of one cheek. . .”
  • Death watches a group of people dancing. Death dances with a woman. And then, “the dancer crumbles against him, her body sagging into ash and he sighs. . . A pale white fragment shines on the wooden floor where the dancer stood . . . then it rises and tucks itself against the tear along his jaw, and she realizes it was a shard of bone.” Then other bones return to Death’s body and flesh regrows over the bones.
  • Matthew explains how his family, the Priors made the demon go back beyond the wall. The Priors “put the wall back up. And this time, they soaked it edge to edge in their blood and swore that nothing would ever cross that gate without their blessing.”

Spiritual Content

  • At Merilance, Olivia “was told to kneel and knit her fingers and speak to a God she couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t touch. . . She never believed in higher powers.” But when she meets death, she prays to the ghouls for help and they come.

Maya and the Return of the Godlings

Training to be a guardian of the veil isn’t easy, but 12-year-old Maya is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps, especially since he hasn’t been the same since their last run-in with the Lord of Shadows, the evil being who controls the Dark. On the brink of an upcoming war between Earth and the Dark, the Lord of Shadows snatches Papa’s soul.  Maya rounds up her friends, fellow “godlings,” Frankie and Eli, for another journey into the Dark to retrieve Papa’s soul and stop the veil from collapsing.

Once back in the Lord of Shadows’ domain, Maya is faced with difficult moral choices. She finds an imprisoned Darkbringer, named Zeran, who doesn’t want a war with the human realm. For the first time, she considers that not all Darkbringers are evil, which makes it harder to fight them since most have been recruited into the Lord of Shadows’ ranks by force. Allied together, Maya, Frankie, Eli, and Zeran continue to the Crystal Palace, the Lord of Shadows’ lair.

In the confrontation between the Lord of Shadows and Maya, she learns her half-sister Eleni is still alive. Not only is Eleni being used by the Lord of Shadows for her power, but she was the one who let the Lord of Shadows into the human realm which allowed him to start a terrible war years ago. Maya wonders if it’s her fate to also open the gateway, which would allow the Lord of Shadows to wage war on the human realm for the second time. Determined to prevent that from happening, Maya steals back Papa’s soul and rescues Eleni. Back on Earth, Maya may have won this battle, but she knows the war is far from over.

Maya’s character is both funny and thoughtful, as she has a penchant for disobeying orders but for the right reasons—she will always save her friends and family even if the world is against her. Her determination to keep people safe is admirable. However, the friends have repeated setbacks because random creatures attack them. These scenes get tiring since they do not add to the plot.

Despite this, Maya and the Return of the Godlings is an interesting read that takes time to develop the characters such as Zeran, a darkbringer rebel. Zeran’s character is interesting because he forces Maya to change her perspective. At first, Maya perceived him to be the enemy, but now she feels a duty to protect him. This is what makes the plot most worth reading: Maya’s unwavering determination to make the world safe for all who wish to do good.

The story has a sense of unpredictability because the plot does not stray away from mentioning the death of past characters, such as Papa’s first family. Plus, the situation in Maya’s world continues to grow in gravity, making it increasingly likely that her friends and family won’t escape unscathed. With a war brewing, Maya and the Return of the Godlings explores dark topics.

Readers who enjoy books with magical worlds and rich cultural ties should also read Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston and Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maya and Papa get attacked by shadows while repairing the veil. Maya explains, “Something whipped out of the tear and snatched my legs from underneath me. . . writhing shadows. I hit the ground hard on my butt, and the staff spun out of my hand. . . Papa lunged for me, but his legs buckled, and he stumbled instead. He reached for the place between his chest and stomach, his face twisted in pain. . . The shadows still had my ankles and were dragging me into the tear. . . Papa stepped into the mouth of the tear. His dark skin glowed silvery-white and pushed back the darkness. The shadows hissed as if they couldn’t stand the light and let go of my legs. I whacked one with my staff before they fled back into the Dark.”
  • Frankie was adopted after her mother, an orisha, was killed. Frankie learns that her mother, Zala, hunted down rogue magical creatures. Maya thinks, “If Frankie’s mom’s death hadn’t been an accident, it meant someone – or something – had killed her.”
  • Zeran, a young darkbringer, deserted the army and is subjected to all sorts of punishment. The guards who have him in custody threaten to send him to the stocks and lock him in a cage with bars that kill on contact.
  • While stealing a map, Maya, Frankie, and Eli are attacked by a darkbringer. “An electric shock hit me in the back. My whole body seized up, and the staff slipped from my hand. I hit the ground hard. The impact knocked the wind out of me, and my teeth tore into my cheek. I couldn’t move as the metallic taste of blood filled my mouth. . . Frankie hit him with a ball of raging energy, but instead of falling back, the darkbringer seemed to absorb her magic. . . the darkbringer advanced on Frankie, and she stumbled back. I screamed inside my head and fought against the electricity winding through my body. My insides were on fire, and sweat stung my eyes. . .” The fight lasts for five pages, ending with Eli knocking the darkbringer out.
  • Maya and Frankie are caught by Nulan, the former commander of the darkbringer army. Nulan fights with the new commander, Rovey, over who gets to kill Maya, Frankie, and Eli. Their fight lasts eight pages. “Rovey locked Nulan in a bear hug, and electricity shot through her. Her whole body shook… Nulan head-butted Rovey. He dropped her and she crashed to the ground. Rovey stumbled back, looking dazed and confused while Nulan gave him a vicious smile. Knives appeared in her hands…” After this point, we don’t see the resolution of the fight because Maya runs away, but Rovey and Nulan live since they come back in the end of the story.
  • Maya, Zeran, Frankie, and Eli get lost in a forest where they are attacked by shadow monsters.  Maya “slammed my staff into the shadows hard. The impact vibrated up my arms into my teeth. My vision was a blur as I twisted and turned to keep out of their grasp. The shadows screamed as white veins of light started to form around the places my staff stuck. After enough hits, they fled into the forest.” The fight lasts four pages, and no one is injured.
  • Zeran quickly disarms Nulan with an anti-magic collar. “Zeran flew straight into Nulan. They crashed and rolled on the floor. One of her magical blades materialized out of thin air, and she aimed it for Zeran’s heart. But he was quicker. He pulled the collar from his neck and snapped it around Nulan’s throat. Her blade instantly disappeared. Nulan clawed at the collar right before Zeran head-butted her and knocked her out cold.”
  • The Lord of Shadows tries to stop Maya from getting her father’s soul. “His ribbons snapped around my ankle. . . searing cold snaked up my leg. The lower half of my body fell still, and I couldn’t move. . . Why was I suddenly so sleepy? I saw a reflection of myself in the glass. My skin had turned ash gray. The Lord of Shadows was draining the life from me!”
  • Maya, Frankie, Eli, and Zeran fight with the school bullies, Winston, Tay, and Candace, who also have orisha powers. “Winston stepped in our path with his friends at his side. Sparks of fire lit up on his arms. Candace grew to pro-wrestler size. Tay cracked his knuckles, and the floor shook beneath our feet. . . Winston jabbed his finger into my chest. Zeran grabbed his hand and twisted. Winston fell to his knees, and Tay sprang into action. Frankie flung out an energy lasso that smacked Tay on the nose. He winced as he grabbed his face, looking annoyed. Candace tripped over Eli’s invisible foot. With the bullies disarmed, Zeran let go of Winston and shoved him back.” The fight ends when they get caught by a teacher.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Papa says, “Mama’s going to skin both our hides if I don’t get you back in time for school.”
  • Maya drops her staff and it hits a passerby. Maya censors the word. “‘What the bleep?’ the man says. Okay, he didn’t say ‘bleep,’ but Mama said that I better not even think of cursing.”
  • A secretary named Clara is annoyed at someone commenting on her instagram posts. She calls that person “a little twit.”
  • Winston, a godling who bullies Maya at school, calls her “guardian of giant turds” after learning of her role as guardian of the veil.
  • Maya says, “Oh crap!”
  • Winston calls Zeran a “freak.”

Supernatural

  • Orishas are celestial spirit beings who are featured prominently in the story. Maya’s father and other community members are orishas. They each have different orisha powers. Some are specialized – like Eli who can turn invisible. Others, like Oshun, the orisha of beauty, have a certain domain.
  • Orishas speak Sekirian, the first language of the universe.
  • Maya and Papa are orishas whose duty is to protect the veil, a magical forcefield made by Papa to separate the human world from the Dark, a parallel universe of magic and evil creatures. Throughout the story, Maya and her father repair “tears” in the veil.
  • Papa and Maya can teleport by bending space. They can also open gateways which create a door between Earth and the Dark.
  • Maya uses a magical staff that acts as a conduit for her power. It magically changes shape into everyday objects like a hair pin or ring.
  • Because of the incoming war, the power of other orishas in Maya’s community manifests. For example, Winston, a school bully, gains the ability to control fire.
  • Papa conjures magical horses to take the godling children to the celestial city Azur. “His magic started to take shape. First a cluster of sparks here and another there. Then lines of light connected the sparks like a constellation of stars. Eli gasped as the magic settled into four winged horses.”
  • Glamour, a special magic, prevents humans from perceiving orishas and other magic. For example, the horses that Papa conjures appear as bikes to humans across the street. Maya explains, “The horses would look like something completely normal to human eyes.”
  • The children and Papa go to Azur, the city of the celestials. “The city sat on a cloud that spanned for miles among the stars. . . Sunlight dances off the buildings made of silver and gold and glass. The whole city glowed.”
  • The city is populated with Azurians, other celestials. Maya describes them. “The Azurians were tall and lanky, short and plump, and every shape and size. Some had skin as smooth as marble or scales and gills. . . Tails swept along the ground. Wings tucked against backs. Long tentacles wiggled among feet. . .” Humans also live there, but a rare type of human that have the natural ability to see magic. Elokos, creatures that eat humans, also live there when they no longer have a taste for human flesh.
  • Frankie meets a kishi while in Azur. “They had two faces – one human and one hyena. In his stories, they were always tricksters who literally had two faces.”
  • The Dark is populated by winged, blue-skinned monsters called darkbringers.
  • The darkbringers use dog-like creatures to hunt down Maya, Eli, and Frankie. “The dogs turned out to be not dogs. Instead of fur, green scales covered their bodies and they had a row of sharp spikes across their backs. What was it with the Dark and its deadly animals? Last time we were here, we had to fight off large birds with needle-like spines on their underbellies.”
  • In the Dark, the kids go to a city where darkbringers live, reminiscent of Chicago but with magical technology. The darkbringers have magical creatures for pets.

Spiritual Content

  • Orishas are celestial spirit beings that are gods in this story. They have certain domains and powers, such as Shangó, the god of lightning. Their children, which have orisha blood, are known as godlings, and they often manifest supernatural powers.
  • Papa’s soul being stolen is one of the major plot points. Obatala, an orisha, and Maya discuss the soul. Obatala explains that orishas’ souls are not replaceable. “For those of us born of the universe, the essence of what we are is complicated. Our soul is our bond to the universe – it is our immortality. We cannot forge a new one.”
  • Eli controls an army of spirits trapped in a bog in the fight against the Lord of Shadows. At one point, he allows a ghost to possess him, sharing its power.

by Madison Shooter

Wish Trap

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

Violet and her star animal, a wildcat named Sorrel, must use their special powers to stop the forces of dark magic. But when a run of bad luck hits the local gym team, the Star Friends suspect that dark magic is behind it. Are their Star Magic skills strong enough to hold back the dark magic?

Unlike the first book in the series, Mirror Magic, Wish Trap has a scarier tone. When girls on the gymnastic team start getting injured, the Star Friends discover that a Shade tricked Paige, a girl who didn’t make it onto the gymnastics team, into making a wish. The Shade, who is trapped inside a garden gnome, starts hurting the girls on the gymnastic team. In a multichapter conclusion, the Star Friends try to capture the Shade after it locks two girls in a burning shed. No adults come to help the children escape the locked shed. Unrealistically, the Shade is defeated, and everyone is safe, but the Shade’s vicious behavior gives the story a dark tone that may leave readers with nightmares.

The Star Friends Series is a chapter book series that focuses on four friends—Mia, Lexi, Sita, and Violet—who are illustrated with different skin tones. The cute, black and white illustrations appear every two to seven pages. Even though Wish Trap will appeal to readers who are six and older, younger readers may have a difficult time with the more advanced vocabulary and the descriptions of dark magic.

While Mirror Magic focused on the girls meeting their Star Animal and learning about magic, Wish Trap focuses more on the friends, especially the tension between Mia and Violet. The animals rarely appear, but they are still instrumental in defeating the Shade. Readers will relate to the girls, who use their magic for good. Another positive aspect of Wish Trap is that it highlights the dangers of jealousy. Readers who love animals but want to avoid reading about dark magic should check out the Pet Rescue Adventures Series by Holly Webb and the Zoey and Sassafras Series by Asia Citro.

Sexual Content

  • None

 

Violence

  • A Shade is causing girls on the gymnastics’ team to have accidents and hurt themselves so they can no longer perform. For example, the Shade causes a girl to fall off the monkey bars and hurt her wrist.
  • The Shade spooks a horse that almost runs into Lexi.
  • A garden gnome comes alive. It peeks out of a tree. “Sita screamed as the branches parted and a pottery face grinned down at them. Its eyes glowed red beneath its bobble hat. . . The gnome cackled and jumped hard on the branch he was standing on. CRACK! The branch broke and fell, crashing down right onto Lexi and hitting her head.” Sita uses magic to heal the wound.
  • The Wish Shade locks Lexie and Sita in a shed and sets it on fire. “Violet ran to a water faucet on the side and started to fill a bucket with water to try and douse the bonfire. . .”
  • As the Star Friends try to help Sita and Lexi, the gnome “shoved” Mia. “She fell inside the shed… the door had been slammed shut, and she heard the bolt being pushed across the outside.”
  • When the gnome jumps on the birdbath, Lexi “chucked the apple at the gnome. It shot through the air with perfect accuracy and hit him square on the forehead. . . the gnome lost his balance and fell backward. There was a cracking noise as he broke into pieces.”
  • The Shade tries to get away. Bracken, the fox, “bit the Shade’s leg and hung on tight. The Shade hissed and swiped down with his sharp claws.” The friends grab “the Shade’s bony arms, pinning his hands down.” Violet then commands the Shade to “return to the Shadows.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

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.
  • Mia’s magic has to do with sight. “If she looked into a shiny surface, she could see things that were happening in other places.”
  • Mia and her friends need to fight dark magic. “People who used dark magic could conjure horrible spirits called Shades from the shadows. The Shade would then either be set free to bring chaos and unhappiness wherever it went, or it could be trapped in an object and given to someone whom the person doing dark magic wanted to harm.”
  • Lexi’s magic allows her to heal injuries.
  • Violet can shadow-travel. She “learned to use shadows to travel wherever I want. I just imagine where I want to go, and then I come out in the nearest patch of shadows by that place.”
  • The girls want to fight a Shade, but they’re not sure what kind it is. “There are all different kinds of Shades—Nightmare Shades, Ink Shades, Wish Shades. Some live in mirrors and talk to people and make them do bad things, like that Mirror Shade. Others can bring bad luck or trap people in different ways.”
  • When Mia tries to use her magic to see the Shade, she discovers that “the person using dark magic may have cast a spell so they can’t be seen by magic.”
  • Aunt Carol was Mia’s grandmother’s best friend. Aunt Carol uses crystals to do magic.
  • Paige, who was not chosen to be on the gymnastic team, meets the Shade that is in a gnome. She explains, “I should wish I was on the gymnastics team. I thought it would bring me good luck—I didn’t think he’d bring everyone else bad luck!” The gnome says, “Once a wish has been made, it can’t be stopped.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Scarlet

Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother has been missing for nearly three weeks. After her pleas to the police are largely ignored, Scarlet resigns herself to focus on the responsibilities at her family’s farm—tending to chickens and selling vegetables at gossip-leaden bars in her small town of Rieux, France. When selling the vegetables, Scarlet suffers under endless taunts from the Rieux townsfolk, all who claim her grandmother to be as crazy as Cinder Linh— the cyborg girl known to have challenged the Lunar Queen Levana. Scarlet finds herself surprisingly defended by a strange man new to the town: an underground fighter is known simply as Wolf. As the two continue to cross paths, Wolf reveals an estranged connection to the gang which kidnapped Scarlet’s grandmother. Desperate to find her grandmother, Scarlet must choose to trust a man connected to the kidnapping, or else never see her grandmother again.

On another part of the globe—in the prison of the Eastern Commonwealth—Cinder is now a disgrace across her nation. Cinder becomes partners with felon Captain Thorne, and the two manage to flee with a spaceship. In hiding the fact Cinder is the lost Lunar Princess Selene—the only royalty savvy enough to overthrow the bloodthirsty Queen Levana—Cinder must decide whether to understand and accept her past or run away from it. As Queen Levana sends wolf-mutants to wreak havoc upon the world, her hold on the Eastern Commonwealth grows ever stronger. Cinder’s outlook on her past may decide the world’s future.

Scarlet continues the sci-fi rendition of the Cinderella story. The story maintains the intricate and clever character development among the characters Cinder Linh, Emperor Kai, and Queen Levana. Meyer also works through the perspectives of new characters Scarlet and Wolf, thereby managing to interweave another Brother’s Grimm fairytale: Little Red Riding Hood. Myer bases the characters on classic stories that a wide spectrum of readers already know. However, Meyer eloquently twists these original tales into a unique narrative of space operatic scale. What results is a set of classic tales so twisted and surprising readers will be kept on the edge of their seats.

Scarlet continually shifts between the perspectives of a multitude of characters. Cinder and Scarlet, as the main characters of the Lunar Series books one and two, are focused upon the most in Scarlet. However, even minor characters like Captain Thorne, Emperor Kai, Wolf, and even the Queen Levana have chapters from their point of view. By giving switching the character’s point of view, Meyer’s is able to transport the reader across the globe according to where, and when, each source of the action takes place. In doing so, Mayer effortlessly sutures the worlds of Cinder and Scarlet together, while also creating an intensely detailed and complex narrative world. Additionally, the shifting perspective of the narration gives readers room to consider the motivations of each character individually, allowing a clearer picture of the compelling politics at play.

While Scarlet may not be suitable for younger middle-grade readers due to its, occasionally intense, descriptions of violence and torture, the narrative is sure to be a captivating start for any mature YA readers interested in stepping into the realm of sci-fi and fantasy fiction. Enough of the narrative from Cinder is explained so readers can pick up Scarlet and be able to easily navigate the world that Meyer describes. (Though of course, starting the Lunar Chronicles from the beginning is still recommended!)

It is also refreshing to find a narrative so heavily lead by two strong female characters. Both Cinder and Scarlet are self-assured and formidable forces who have the ability to handle the intensity of split-second, world-determining decisions. By so confidently and intently working to learn from their past turmoil and losses, Cinder and Scarlet show readers how one can still hold their own agency even during the times when the pressure of the world seems heavy. In Scarlet, Meyer encourages readers to look towards their past, not as something dreadfully out of their control, but as something they have the freedom to sculpt how they wish— even from where they stand in the present. Readers who enjoy the Luna Chronicle should also read the Chemical Garden Series by Lauren DeStefano and the Tin Star Duology by Cecil Castellucci.

Sexual Content

  • When discussing Cinder, a customer at the Rieux Tavern says, “I think she’s kind of cute, pretending to be all helpless and innocent like that. Maybe instead of sending her back to the moon, they should let her come stay with me?” After this comment, another customer replies by saying, “No doubt that metal leg of hers would make for a real cozy bedmate!”
  • When speaking to the fighter about potentially offering him a farmhand job in exchange for food, Scarlet jokes, “After seeing the evidence of your appetite in there, I think I’d lose my shirt with a deal like that.” She then flushes, thinking, “no doubt he was now imagining her with her shirt off.”
  • Carswell Thorne, a current prisoner of New Beijing, recalls convincing a guard to lend him a portscreen (a touchpad of sorts), but concedes that, “this would not have succeeded if the guard wasn’t convinced he was an idiot, incapable of doing anything other than counting the days and searching for naughty pictures of ladies he’d known and imagined.” Thorne then thinks, “he sure did appreciate the suggestively naughty, if heavily filtered, pictures.”
  • Noticing Scarlet holding Wolf’s arm, the announcer in the center of the illegal fighting ring smirks and says, “Looks like the wolf has found himself a tender morsel tonight.” The fighter next to him—the one preparing to fight Wolf, claims, “Think I’ll be taking that one home after I’ve destroyed dog-boy’s pretty face!”
  • Upon reaching Captain Thorne’s stolen ship, Cinder notices that the “seal of the American Republic had been hastily painted over with the silhouette of a lounging naked lady.”
  • After hopping on board a train, Scarlet kisses Wolf. After she pulled away, “Wolf buried one hand into her mess of curls and kissed her back.”
  • When Ran catches Scarlet trying to escape from the Queen’s Special Forces, he says, “If it wasn’t such a repulsive thought, I might take advantage of you here, now that we’re all alone . . . just to see the look on my brother’s face when I told him about it.”

Violence

  • When discussing her grandmother’s disappearance, Scarlet describes how she found her grandmother’s ID (a person’s identification embedded typically inside the arm), “wrapped in cheesecloth spotted red from her blood and left like a tiny package on the kitchen counter.” While detectives attribute this to Scarlet’s grandmother cutting the ID from her arm herself, Scarlet accuses a kidnapper of doing so.
  • Speaking on the news of Cinder at the royal ball in the Eastern Commonwealth, a tavern regular named Roland says, “They [the royal guards] should have put her out of her misery when she fell on those stairs… I’d have put a bullet right through her head. And good riddance.”
  • Many of the customers at The Rieux Tavern argue with Scarlet about the fact that Cinder, “should be executed,” for trying to kill a Union leader.
  • The tavern crowd’s jeers towards TV footage of Cinder at the royal palace, Roland says, “We all know crazy runs in [Scarlet’s] family. First, that old goose [Scarlet’s grandmother] runs off, and now Scar’s defending Lunar rights!” In response, Scarlet “was suddenly halfway over the bar, bottles and glasses scattering, her fist connecting with Roland’s ear.” Scarlet then grabs the front of Roland’s shirt. Scarlet “shoved Roland hard with both hands,” causing him to stumble. When Roland threatens Scarlet, a fighter from the back of the tavern grabs him by the neck, “lifting him clear off the floor.” The fighter chokes Roland until other tavern guests convince him to let go. This scene is described four pages.
  • It is noted that Scarlet keeps a small pistol strapped to her lower back, just in case, “a stranger will want to take you somewhere you don’t mean to go.”
  • Scarlet’s father breaks into her grandmother’s house, in order to rifle through her grandmother’s things. Trying to stop him, Scarlet grabs her father’s arm, and then notices, “The skin was covered in burn marks. Each one a perfect circle and placed in a neat, perfect row. Row upon row upon row, circling his forearm from wrist to elbow, some shining with wrinkled scar tissue, others blackened and blistering. And on his wrist, a scab where his ID chip had once been implanted.” When he is questioned about the marks, Scarlet’s father says, “They made me.” Scarlet’s father said that Scarlet’s grandmother watched him. “They gave me the poker . . . and they brought me to her. And I realized, she was the one with the answers. She was the one with the information. They wanted something from her. But she just watched . . . she just watched me do it, and she cried . . . She let them do this to me.”
  • Scarlet visits a nearby farm, where there is an illegal fighting ring taking place. Scarlet attends in order to find the fighter she met at The Rieux Tavern. The initial scene of this fighting ring is described as follows: “A writhing crowd shouted up at a hastily constructed stage, where one man was beating his opponent in the face, fist flying over and over with sickening steadfastness. Blood started to leak from his opponent’s nose.”
  • Finding the fighter, known as Wolf, at the illegal fighting ring, Scarlet “closed the distance between them and thumped her locked fist into his sternum, ignoring how he towered a full head above her. Her hatred made her feel like she could crush his skull with her bare hands.” While questioning Wolf, Scarlet slams her fist harder and harder into his chest, and when he tries to avoid her, “Scarlet simultaneously grabbed his left wrist and yanked out her gun. She pressed the barrel against his tattoo.” This interaction lasts for a total of three pages.
  • At the illegal fight ring, Wolf fights a man called The Hunter. “Hunter threw the first punch . . .  Wolf ducked easily and skirted out from Hunter’s shadow . . . A series of blows were deflected, until Hunter’s fist finally connected with a sickening crunch . . . Wolf aimed a solid kick to Hunter’s chest . . . Hunter attacked with renewed vigor. Wolf took a punch in the stomach and was crumpled over with a grunt. It was followed by a blow that sent him careening to the edge of the stage.” This exchange continues until, “Hunter fell to his knees and Wolf was behind him in a breath, his face violently contorted, his hands on each side of Hunter’s head.” Wolf makes to snap Hunter’s neck, but, seeing Scarlet in the crowd, he leaps back, letting Hunter slump to the stage. This description lasts for six pages.
  • Captain Thorne is forced to dodge the bullets of the Eastern Commonwealth military as they escape from the Commonwealth in Thorne’s stolen spaceship.
  • After Scarlet sees Wolf in the illegal fighting ring, Wolf shows up on Scarlet’s property. Scarlet and pulls a shotgun on Wolf, but eventually Wolf convinces Scarlet to trust him, and she lowers her weapon.
  • When one of Emperor Kai’s android tutors, Nainsi, tries to introduce Queen Levana to speak with him, the Queen slaps the android across her single blue sensor.
  • When speaking to Emperor Kai, Queen Levana threatens, “One more patronizing comment and I will have you slice off and nail your own tongue to the palace gate.”
  • Ran, Wolf’s brother, catches sight of Scarlet and Wolf on a train to Paris. Ran criticizes Wolf for choosing to leave the gang they are a part of, a group known as the Order of the Pack. In response, Wolf accuses Ran of needing the protection of the gangs leader Jael. With this Ran leaps forward to attack Wolf. A tussle between the two brothers begins, until “Ran’s head landed in the water and Scarlet heard a sickening crunch.” Wolf continues to attack his brother, throwing punches, until Scarlet shoots Wolf in the arm to stop him. The conflict lasts about four pages.
  • Angered by Wolf for not telling her the full truth behind his motivations to lead her to Paris, Scarlet thinks, “If she ever saw him again she would scratch his eyes out. She would throttle him until his lips turned blue.”
  • Scarlet thinks she is finally visiting her grandmother, but quickly realizes it is the Lunar’s thaumaturge who disguised himself as her grandmother to get information from her. When speaking of her true grandmother, the thaumaturge states, “I wonder how lubricated the old lady’s tongue would become if she were to watch as you hammered needles into your own flesh.” Scarlet tries to attack the thaumaturge, lunging to scratch at his face, but she is quickly stopped by the thaumaturge through his Lunar mind control abilities.
  • While searching Scarlet and her grandmother’s house, Cinder realizes that Scarlet’s grandmother housed her in secret. When viewing the room she was healed in, Cinder sees herself as a child, which may be disturbing to some readers. The description is as follows: “It was a photo of a child. what was left of a child. She was wrapped in bandages from her neck to the stump of her left thigh. Her right arm and shoulder were uncovered, showing the skin that was gouged bloody red in spots, bright pink and glossy in others. She had no hair and the burn marks continued up her neck and across her cheek. The left side of her face was swollen and disfigured, only the slit of her eye could be seen, and a line of stitches ran along her earlobe before cutting across to her lips.”
  • When Wolf approaches Scarlet in her cell, she screams and strikes him with her fists five times before he restrains her by holding her arms to her stomach.
  • When Cinder and Captain Thorne are found in a bar in Rieux by Eastern Commonwealth authorities, Thorne punches one of the officers, and gets punched in the gut in return. As Cinder tries to escape the authorities in turn, a man from the corner of the tavern crouches down on all fours, more canine than human, and proceeds to immediately snap the neck of one of the officers. He then bites down on the neck of another officer while the remaining officer shoots in his direction. The man reaches out to fight the remaining officer by clawing at this officer’s face. When the man goes for Cinder, Thorne heaves a chair over his back, and the man then turns to bite into his arm. Cinder is eventually able to tranquilize the man. This fight lasts around twelve pages. There is another description that lasts a page detailing another member of Queen Levana’s forces taking a bite out of the neck of an officer inspecting Cinder’s spaceship before Cinder is able to quiet the canine-like human with another tranquilizer dart.
  • When Scarlet manages to escape her imprisonment, she tries to save her grandmother—who she finds in one of the other cells of the building, bloodied through endless torture. Scarlet is found by Wolf’s brother Ran. Scarlet’s grandmother goads Ran until he rushes at her, grabbing her throat. In an effort to fight back, Scarlet jumps onto Ran’s back, clawing at his eye sockets. Ran drops Scarlet’s grandmother, and her form collapses. Ran then proceeds to clamp his jaws over the grandmother’s neck, killing her, while Scarlet escapes.
  • Trying to escape, Scarlet hides in the shadows. When Ran passes, she swings a wrought-iron candelabra at Ran’s head. When he tries to grab her hood, Scarlet then aims her knee towards Ran’s groin, thus managing to escape him. When Ran next catches up to Scarlet, he “gripped her shirt and lifted her from the ground.” Ran then throws her at a statue in the room. But before he can attack her a second time, Wolf attacks him from a corner of the room, stopping Ran from continuing to hurt Scarlet. With this begins a fight between Ran and Wolf as one tries to tackle and kill the other. Eventually, Wolf kills his brother with a bite to the neck. Controlled by his orders to kill her, Wolf nearly attacks Scarlet as well, before she convinces him to stop. Scarlet’s escape and battle with Ran and Wolf lasts about thirty pages and a total of two chapters.
  • As Cinder, Scarlet, Thorne, and Wolf try to escape, they are caught by Queen Levana’s thaumaturge and the special forces. Scarlet scrambles to Cinder’s Spaceship and manages to mow down a few members of the forces with the ship, including the thaumaturge, granting enough time for Cinder to shoot the thaumaturge in the thigh with her pistol. Scarlet then shoots the thaumaturge with her shotgun.
  • The global attack of the Lunar Queen Levana and her special forces is described by Kai as this: “Bodies littered the square, their spilled blood black beneath the flickering billboards. Most of the corpses were concentrated near the opening of a late-night restaurant, one of the few businesses that had been open and crowded at midnight, when the attack had started.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A location Scarlet delivers goods to, The Rieux Tavern, was popular in her town because “drinking and gossiping were the favorite pastimes.”
  • Scarlet catches her father going through her grandmother’s things. As she talks to him, she notes, “The smell of cognac swirled through the air.”
  • Roland, The Rieux Tavern regular, is known to be a heavy drinker with whiskey heavy on his breath.
  • Scarlet gets a message from a hospital, reporting that her father died from alcohol poisoning. A few pages later, it is revealed that an operative killed Scarlet’s father in a way that would not seem suspicious.

Language

  • While fighting with Wolf, Scarlet calls him a “traitor and a bastard.”

Supernatural

  • Cinder is known to be a Lunar, which means that she holds the power “to control and manipulate the bioelectricity of other living creatures. [Lunars] could trick people into seeing things that weren’t real or experiencing made-up emotions. They could brainwash people into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do.” Cinder uses these powers throughout the book, mainly to escape Queen Levana and the Eastern Commonwealth authorities trying to imprison, and execute, her.
  • In an effort to control Earth, the Lunar Queen Levana created an army known as the Lunar Special forces. These forces are later more clearly described as this: “They appear to be Lunar males whose physical makeup has been combined with the neural circuitry of some sort of wolf hybrid.” The effect is that closest to a werewolf of sorts. Wolf, a member of this army, later describes the phenomenon as this: “Each pack is ruled by a thaumaturge who controls when our animal instincts take over, when all we can think about is killing. They’ve manipulated our Lunar gift and used it to turn us into these monsters instead—with some physical modifications.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Everything’s Bigger in Texas

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

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

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

Army sayings and terminology are used throughout the story. For example, when Rico needs the dogs to focus, he says, “‘Lock it up’ . . . That’s Army-talk for ‘be quiet.’” Each time an army word or phrase is introduced, Rico explains what it means. Plus, each chapter starts with the location, date, and military time which makes it easy to follow the timeline. Black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 6 pages and show the animals in action as well as some of the dangers they face including the ultra-big spider that may scare readers.

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

 

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Dagr calls Rico a coward and a chicken.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

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

Latest Reviews