Daughter of the Pirate King #1

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain, Alosa, deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the daughter of the Pirate King.

Alosa is an interesting protagonist who wants others to think that she has no morals; however, she isn’t a completely vicious pirate. Even though she talks about the countless men she has killed, when she takes the crew of the Night Farer captive, she only kills those who are cruel and depraved. She lets the young pirates go and takes several of the pirates on as crew members. Plus, she doesn’t allow anyone to kill Riden’s brother, Draxen, because she doesn’t want to cause Riden pain.

Alosa’s only weakness is her loyalty to her father, who is cruel beyond measure. She wants to make the Pirate King proud, but her main motivation is her fear of being punished. Alosa’s desire to please her father is implausible especially because his “training” was torturous and cruel. Even though the Pirate King does not appear in Daughter of the Pirate King, his influence continues to guide Alosa’s actions.

Daughter of the Pirate King is a fast-paced story that gives the reader a window into the pirate world. Despite this, none of the pirates are typical. Instead, the cast of characters is unique and shows that even in the pirate world some are despicable, and some are honorable. While Alosa’s female crewmembers do not appear often, they demonstrate the value of honesty, loyalty, and friendship. Plus, Riden adds a dash of romance, and the banter between Alosa and Riden is a lot of fun.

Full of twists, turns, and betrayals, Daughter of the Pirate King will keep readers interested until the very end. However, the pirate’s life is full of violence and the book does not shy away from graphic descriptions of bloody fights. If you’re a swashbuckler ready for adventure, you will have a hard time putting Daughter of the Pirate King down. However, if you’re looking for an excellent pirate book with a little less violence, Piratica by Tanith Lee would be an excellent choice.

Sexual Content

  • When Draxen takes Alosa as a prisoner, he warns her, “‘You will be the only woman on a ship full of cutthroat thieves, and blackhearts who haven’t made port in a good long while. You know what that means?’ Alosa responds, ‘It means your men haven’t been to a whorehouse recently.’”
  • Alosa’s father “bedded” a siren.
  • Alosa goes into a town that has “a tavern on one side of the street, a whorehouse on the other.”
  • Alosa and Riden struggle and Riden throws her on the bed. Alosa “is about to tell him to shove off, but then I feel his lips at my cheek. He’s not kissing me exactly, just touching my cheek with his lips. . .When he does finally kiss me, it’s right below my ear in that sensitive spot. Then he moves lower, trailing his lips down my neck at the side, then back up in the middle. . . I move my lips to his ear. My teeth grave his ear lobe, and his hands tighten in a different way.” The kissing scene is described over two pages.
  • Riden kisses Alosa. She thinks she should stop him but, “Riden’s lips taste even better than I’d imagined. Or because his hands make my skin tingle where they hold the sides of my face. . . When Riden’s lips move down to my neck, I forget all about my father. There’s nothing except heat and chills all at once. . .” Finally, Alosa pushes Riden away.
  • In order to search Draxen, Alosa tries to seduce him. “When I lift my head up to his, he greedily meets me for a kiss. . .But I get no enjoyment out of this. . . I shove Draxen down on the bed and climb on top of him. . . I can feel the lust burning in him. It’s disgusting and wretched, and I want to stamp it out.” Alosa eventually knocks him out. Then she searches his clothes for a map.
  • In order to search Riden, Alosa tries to seduce Riden. “I trace his upper lip with the tip of my tongue. . . Before I know it, he’s got his hand at the back of my head, the other on the side of my thigh. . . Riden knows where to stroke my skin to make me feel more alive. He has me practically panting under the pressure of his lips.” Alosa almost loses herself in Riden’s arms but uses her siren’s ability to put him to sleep. The scene is described over three pages.
  • One of the pirates likes “the company of other men.”

Violence

  • There is an overabundance of violence in the book and not all scenes are described below.
  • Alosa often thinks about her father’s training. “It doesn’t matter that he shot me once to show me the pain of a gunshot wound, to have me practice fighting while injured. . .It doesn’t matter that he would starve me and weaken me, then give me tasks to complete. . .”
  • Alosa intentionally gets “caught” by Draxen, the captain of the Night Farer. Kearan, a pirate, grabs Alosa. She thinks, “I’m done kneeling on the floor like some servant. Bracing my hands against the wooden deck, I extend my legs backward, hooking my feet behind the heels of the ugly pirate standing there. With one yank forward, Kearan topples backward. . . I hear scuffling as Kearan finds his feet. I jerk my elbow backward, connecting with his enormous gut. There’s a large splat as he collapses on the ground again.”
  • When Alosa begins struggling to get free, Draxen “removes his right hand from his belt and reaches down for one of his pistols. As soon as he has it, he points it at the first of my men in line and fires. . .the body of my crewman falls backwards.” Alosa and Draxen continue killing each other’s crew until Riden stops them. Alosa is taken prisoner but the crew is set free. The scene is described over four pages.
  • When Riden gets too close to Alosa, she knees him “right between the legs.” Alosa then locks Riden in a cell.
  • The Night Farer finds a ship that looks abandoned. Riden and Alosa go to check it out and are surprised by three men, who were in a hidden room. Alosa slams her “heel into the foot of the sailor on my right. Then my free hand goes to the other sailor’s throat. I place one hand at the back of each man’s neck. . . it isn’t difficult to connect their heads. Hard.” Then Alosa’s “dagger flies straight and true, finding its place in the sailor’s chest.” Once the ship is safe, the other crew members board it.
  • Shack, one of the Night Farer’s crew members, tortures two prisoners. Later, he finds Alosa alone and grabs her. Alosa struggles to get away and kicks “him in the face with my free foot. His face is a bloody mess now.” Then she stabs him in the stomach. “I don’t wait more than a couple of heartbeats before dislodging the weapon and stabbing again, this time higher, towards the heart… He is dead in seconds.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • Alosa “escapes” from the ship, and Riden finds her. They have a short fight. “I cut him on his arm. Riden is going a bit easy because he doesn’t actually want to hurt me.” Finally, Riden grabs Alosa’s wrist “with his free hand, and raises my sword to my neck. Before I can blink, the hand at my wrist grabs my sword, and he’s pointing both blades at me.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • As punishment, Alosa is put into shackles and hung. “Blood starts to slide down my arms… Every once in a while, I’ll start to regain my strength enough to pull the pressure off my wrist for a brief moment.”
  • Riden explains why he killed his father. Riden’s brother, Draxen “pitched his skill with the sword against our father. . .He [his father] disarmed Draxen and was about to kill him. But I picked up my brother’s fallen sword. And I killed him.”
  • Draxen interrogates Alosa. “Draxen gets behind me and yanks my head backward by my hair. I grimace at the pain. He strikes the side of my face with a closed fist. . . Draxen hits me with his other hand. This one bites more deeply.” Riden steps in and stops Draxen.
  • Alosa and Riden are captured by a pirate named Vordan. Vordan wants to learn about Alosa’s siren abilities. In order to get her to obey, Vordan has someone hurt Riden every time she refuses. A pirate “pulls out his cutlass and rakes it across Riden’s upper arm, cutting through his shirt and sending blood streaming down.” Later, a pirate “steps forward and kicks Riden in the face. Blood trickled out of his nose, staining the sand red… Riden is now unconscious and can’t feel any pain.” During Vordan’s experiments, Riden is injured repeatedly and he is shot twice.
  • Alosa’s crew comes to her rescue. Alosa takes some of the pirates captive and orders her crew to kill the rest. Sorinda “starts stepping behind the men and slitting their throats one after the other. Killing is practically an art for her. The way she moves is magical.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the pirates, Kearan, carries a flask of rum and drinks often. Someone tells Alosa, “He’s an ugly drunk because it takes away the pain. He has no desire to live, yet no desire to die, either. It’s a tough spot to be in.”
  • Riden finds a sleeping tonic hidden in Alosa’s belongings.

Language

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes arse, bastard, bloody, damn, hell, and piss.
  • Alosa thinks Riden is a “cocky bastard.”
  • Someone calls Alosa a whore.

 Supernatural

  • Alosa’s mother is a siren and Alosa is able to “use the gifts my mother gave me.” She uses her song on Riden. “He follows, captured by my spell. I know what Riden wants in life. Love and acceptance. I weave those into the song and command him to sleep and forget that he ever heard me sing.”
  • Alosa explains her parentage, “for a child who is conceived by a siren on land will be more human than not.”
  • When Alosa uses her siren abilities, “I lose myself in others if I’m focused on their feelings and desires too long. They start to become my own, and I forget who I am.”
  • Alosa can read people’s feelings, but “I can’t read minds. . . I never know the whys behind people’s intentions.”
  • Alosa makes Riden and another pirate see things that are not there. “I imagine a magical world full of new colors and sounds. Butterflies with brightly lit wings flutter around me… Riden bears a look of sheer wonder and astonishment. He reaches out in front of him as if to touch the invisible creatures I’ve placed in front of him.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

 

Thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle leaves her boarding school in England to reunite with her family in America. She leaves England a prim and proper lady with a notebook from her father to detail her travels. However, Charlotte quickly discovers that her voyage home is not going to be smooth sailing.

On board The Seahawk, Charlotte fears the majority of the ship’s male crew, including the lone black man Zachariah, who gives her a knife the first time they meet. He warns Charlotte to keep the knife for protection, as “she might need it.” This is the first hint that things aboard The Seahawk aren’t all they seem, but Charlotte’s determined to keep her ladylike composure, especially in front of Captain Jaggery. Jaggery is a refined and educated man, unlike his crew, which prompts a friendship between him and Charlotte. Yet, Charlotte wonders if something more is awry when Jaggery asks that Charlotte become his “informant” and report any talk of rebellion to him.

After her promise, Charlotte discovers that the crew intends to mutiny. When Charlotte reports the threat, Jaggery responds with violence, killing some of the sailors including Zachariah. Suddenly, Charlotte’s journey turns into one of atonement. To fill the gap left by the now dead sailors, Charlotte joins the crew. Then, during a hurricane, the first mate is found with Charlotte’s knife in his chest. After a trial by Jaggery (who now scorns Charlotte because she has sided with the crew), Charlotte is proclaimed guilty, even though she didn’t commit the crime.

In the end, it’s discovered that Zachariah lived through his beating. He helps Charlotte create a plan to rid the ship of Jaggery and prove her innocence. They discover that it was Jaggery who murdered the first mate as a ploy to get rid of Charlotte, whom he hates for being an “unnatural” girl. Charlotte is able to dispatch Jaggery and sail home as a young captain with Zachariah by her side. However, her greatest conflict is the one she faces back on American soil, when her father burns her journal and forces her to be a “lady” again. Charlotte runs away from home when she remembers the words Zachariah once told her: “A sailor chooses the wind that takes the ship from a safe port. . . but winds have a mind of their own.”

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a thrilling and detailed story for young adults. The book is told from Charlotte’s perspective, and she is a compelling narrator. At first, she’s somewhat difficult to like because she’s stuck in her ways, but the reader will sympathize with her desire to do what is right despite the criticism she faces as a woman. While it is unlikely something like Charlotte’s story ever happened at the time, the story is realistic in the context of the era – such as the behavior of the characters, the dialogue, and the use of religion. The end of the book also includes a glossary of ship terms which the author uses for the reader to feel as if they’re on board a ship just like Charlotte is. The overarching message of this story is to follow one’s own path, even in the face of adversity, and Charlotte is a character that embodies that until the end.

Sexual Content

  • Ewing, one of the crew, kisses Charlotte on the cheeks to say goodbye.

Violence

  • Zachariah gives Charlotte a knife for protection.
  • Charlotte uses the knife to scare an animal. “I heard a sound. I looked across the cabin. A rat was sitting on my journal, nibbling at its spine. Horrified, I flung the dirk at it.” The rat runs off.
  • Zachariah describes a past incident where Captain Jaggery punished one of the crew for not tying a knot properly. “Captain Jaggery said Mr. Cranick’s laboring arm was his by rights. Miss Doyle, Mr. Cranick has but one arm now. He was that much beaten by Captain Jaggery, who, as he said himself, took the arm.”
  • Captain Jaggery shows Charlotte that he keeps guns in his cabin.
  • Charlotte describes Jaggery’s violent behavior. “If provoked sufficiently, the captain might resort to a push or a slap with his own open hand. . . I saw him strike Morgan with a belaying pin, one of the heavy wood dowels used to secure a rigging rope to the pin rail. In dismay, I averted my eyes. The fellow was tardy about reefing a sail, the captain said and went on to catalog further likely threats. Confinement in the brig. Salary docking. No meals. Lashing. Dunking in the cold sea or even keelhauling, which, as I learned, meant pulling a man from one side of the ship to the other – under water.”
  • Charlotte finds a gun in one of the crew member’s chests. Another man, Morgan, who catches her, threatens her so she won’t tell the captain. “He lifted a hand, extended a stiletto like a forefinger, and drew it across his own neck as if cutting A spasm of horror shot through me. He was – in the crudest way – warning me about what might happen to me if I took my discovery to the captain.”
  • Captain Jaggery kills a crew member, who tries to start a mutiny. “Captain Jaggery fired his musket. The roar was stupendous. The ball struck Cranick square in the chest. With a cry of pain and mortal shock he dropped his sword and stumbled backward into the crowd. They were too stunned to catch him, but instead leaped back so that Cranick fell to the deck with a sickening thud. He began to groan and thrash about in dreadful agony, blood pulsing from his chest and mouth in ghastly gushes.”
  • Captain Jaggery has Zachariah whipped for starting the unsuccessful mutiny. The first mate “turned Zachariah so that he faced into the shrouds, then climbed up into these shrouds and with a piece of rope bound his hands, pulling him so that the old man was all but hanging from his wrists, just supporting himself on the tips of his bare toes. . . I turned to look at Captain Jaggery. Only then did I see that he had a whip in his hands.”
  • Jaggery says that the first mate, Mr. Hollybrass, will give Zachariah 50 lashes. “Hollybrass lifted his arm and cocked it . . .with what appeared to be the merest flick of his wrist, the whip shot forward; its tails hissed through the air and spat against Zachariah’s back. The moment they touched the old man’s skin, four red welts appeared. . .” Hollybrass continues to whip Zachariah.
  • Charlotte begs the Captain to make it stop. When Captain Jaggery refuses, Charlotte whips him. “He took another step toward me. In a gesture of defense, I pulled up my arm, and so doing flicked the whip through the air, inflicting a cut across the captain’s face. For an instant a red welt marked him from his left cheek to his right ear. Blood began to ooze. . . When [Captain Jaggery] saw they were bloody he swore a savage oath, jumped forward and tore the whip from my hand, whirled about and began beating Zachariah with such fury as I had never seen.” Later, Charlotte sees the sailors dump a hammock overboard, which is said to contain Zachariah’s dead body.
  • After Charlotte joins the crew, Captain Jaggery punishes her. “He struck me across the face with the back of his hand, then turned and walked away.”
  • Charlotte finds Mr. Hollybrass’s body after he’s been killed. “A knife was stuck in his back, plunged so deeply only the scrimshaw handle could be seen. I recognized the design. . .This was the dirk Zachariah had given me.”
  • Charlotte is accused of murdering Mr. Hollybrass since the knife belongs to her. Captain Jaggery threatens to hang her if she can’t prove who killed him.
  • After Charlotte realizes that Captain Jaggery has killed Mr. Hollybrass, he chased her with a pistol to kill her. Jaggery chases Charlotte out to the bow, where he falls into the sea and drowns.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the sailors, Morgan, has a tobacco pouch.

Language

  • Charlotte describes the sailors as “men recruited from the doormat of Hell.”
  • Captain Jaggery says that the men on the ship are unable to understand kindness. He says, “they demand a strong hand, a touch of the whip, like dumb beasts who require a little bullying.” He also calls the crew, “the dirtiest, laziest dogs” and “a poor set of curs.”
  • When Charlotte tells Jaggery that she suspects a mutiny, Jaggery says, “why the devil did you not tell me before?”
  • Captain Jaggery shouts, “damn you!” once.

Supernatural

  • Charlotte considers that Zachariah might’ve appeared to her as a ghost or an angel.

Spiritual Content

  • References to God, the Bible, and Heaven occur occasionally throughout the text. Captain Jaggery occasionally has a Bible with him, and a church service is held on the ship on Sundays, where Charlotte reads passages from the Bible to the crew. Captain Jaggery sometimes refers to himself as a Christian. “And was ever a Christian more provoked than I?”
  • Zachariah compares God to a ship’s captain. “When a ship is upon the sea, there’s but one who rules. As God is to his people, as king is to his nation, as father to his family, so is captain to his crew.”
  • After Cranick’s death, Zachariah wishes to give him a funeral, but Captain Jaggery wants him thrown overboard. Zachariah says, “Even a poor sinner such as he should have his Christian service.” Captain Jaggery replies, “I want that dog’s carcass thrown over.”
  • Charlotte feels responsible for what happened to the crew and Zachariah since she revealed their plot. She prays to God for forgiveness.
  • During Charlotte’s trial, each man swears on the Bible to tell the truth.
  • Zachariah tells Charlotte an old saying, “the Devil will tie any knot, save the hangman’s noose. That Jack does for himself.”

by Madison Shooter

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

Maria and the Plague: A Black Death Survival Story

Years of bad weather and natural disasters have choked Italy’s food supply, and the people of Florence are dying of starvation. Breadlines are battlegrounds, and twelve-year-old Maria must fight for her family’s every loaf. Adding to the misery, the Black Death is rapidly spreading through the country, killing everyone in its path. Maria has already lost her mother and sister. Will she be strong enough to survive the challenges ahead of her?

Maria and the Plague educates readers about the challenges of living during the black plague. Maria mentions the death of her mother and baby sister; however, their deaths took place before the events in the story and are not described. But tragedy follows Maria’s family. When her father is infected, Maria says goodbye to him and then he goes off into the woods to die. With her father gone, Maria is not left alone for long. She soon meets up with a group of survivors and the adults willingly take Maria under their wing.

Even though the story tackles a difficult topic, the engaging tale describes the events in a kid-friendly manner. While Maria makes it clear that some of her loved ones will die, the actual deaths are not described. Although the story doesn’t go in-depth, it does include some interesting facts. For example, the song “Ring Around the Rosie” began during the plague. A “part of the song was about the rash that appeared on people’s skin. It was also about the flowers and herbs we carried near our faces to stop the smell of the sickness.”

Each chapter begins with the date and location, which makes it easy for readers to follow the events which take place between April 13, 1347 and September 10, 1348. Black and white illustrations appear every 7 to 10 pages. The book ends with a note from the author that describes some of her thoughts while writing the story. There is also a glossary, and three questions about the story.

Maria and the Plague will help readers understand the events that revolve around the black plague. Readers will connect to Maria because she is a relatable character who loves her family. Throughout Maria’s ordeal, she shows determination, bravery, and compassion for others. Maria and the Plague is a fast-paced story that will entertain as it educates. Readers who enjoy historical fiction should also check out the Imagination Station Series by Marianne Hering & Paul McCusker.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While Maria was in line for bread, “two people behind me started arguing over who got there first. Their raised voices turned into blows.”
  • After leaving the breadline, a man stops Maria and demands her food. “He wrenched my arm and grabbed for my bag. I kicked him, hard, and ran. As I sped away, I heard his heavy steps pounding after me.”
  • An old woman, who was carrying a basket, walks by Maria’s house. “Two men ran up to her. One of them grabbed her and held her tight. The other wrestled the basket from her hands. . . The men shoved her to the ground.”
  • A group of men tries to steal Maria’s bag. Her dog, Speranza, “launched herself at him. Her jaws clamped down hard on his leg. The thin man howled in pain.” A group of adults intervenes, and the men leave.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A man calls Maria’s dog a “stupid mutt.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Maria’s father says that the plague will not kill any of their family because “The saints will protect us.” Maria’s brother disagrees saying, “The saints are in heaven, not on Earth. We mustn’t rely on them.”
  • As Maria and her Papa are leaving the city, they are “forced to step around the bodies in the road. I [Maria] tried to say a prayer for each person I saw, but I soon lost my voice.”

 

Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter

Isabel Feeney is one of the few newsgirls working in 1920s Chicago during the era of guns and gangsters. Every day, while she sells copies of the Tribune, she dreams of being a journalist like her hero, the famous crime reporter Maud Collier. So when Isabel stumbles upon a murder scene on her own street corner, she’s determined to solve the case.

Who murdered mobster Charles “The Bull” Bessemer? Was it his beautiful fiancée, Miss Giddings, whose fingerprints were found on the gun? A jealous husband? Or Bessemer’s associate, Al Capone? As Isabel tracks down clues, she finds herself working alongside Maude, who is covering the case.

But as Isabel gets closer to discovering who killed a gangster, someone becomes determined to silence her, too.

Readers will quickly fall in love with Isabel, who is intelligent, observant, and determined to solve the murder mystery. As Isabel follows the clues, she meets several possible suspects and her snooping often gets her into trouble. Along the way, Isabel meets two new friends, Flora and Robert. These friendships add interest because Flora’s family are gangsters, and Robert has a physical disability due to polio.

Even though the fast-paced story takes readers into the violent world of Chicago, none of the crimes are described in gory detail. Instead, Isabel’s journey focuses on finding the true killer by meeting the people in the prime suspect’s life. Isabelle’s new friends include the dead man’s daughter, a famous female reporter, and a police detective. As Isabel searches the city, readers will get a look at Murderess’s Row—a wing of the Cook County Jail.

Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter will appeal to both mystery and history fans. Despite Isabel’s good intentions, she often speaks without thinking and gets herself into potentially dangerous situations. As Isabel follows the clues, she writes them in a notebook, which helps the reader keep track of all the clues. Even though the story is written from Isabel’s point of view, all of the characters are uniquely interesting and well-developed. The conclusion wraps up all of the story threads and will leave the reader smiling. Readers who love a mystery that revolves around a plucky heroine should add The Friday Barnes Series by R.A. Spratt to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After a man is murdered, Isabel is the first person on the scene. The man is “stretched out on the snow, bleeding.” Isabel sees “a puddle of blood near his ear.”
  • Isabel tells a detective, “I’ve had way worse fights with the kid next door—pounded him—but it doesn’t mean I’d kill him.”
  • Isabel thinks about her dad’s death and wonders, “if my father had suffered, like from poison gas the Germans had used, or if he’d gone quickly, like from a bullet. Or if it had been really horrible, from a bayonet.”
  • A reporter tells Isabel, “I’ve trudged through the ash-covered remains of big fires. And waded into the river to get a better look when a corpse was being dredged out. And of course, I’ve stepped over bodies, sometimes several at once, because this is a violent city.”
  • A gangster is called the Nose because his nose got shot off.
  • Isabel mentions how “Mrs. Harq had bumped off her dentist husband . . .”
  • The newspaper has an article about how “Marty Durkin, who’d killed a federal agent in Chicago, had finally been caught after leading police on a wild-goose chase over America.”
  • While walking down an alley, someone hits Isabel over the head. She “stumbled on something—right before everything went black.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Al Capone is mentioned several times. “As everybody in Chicago—even kids—knew, Al Capone was a very dangerous man who’d made millions of dollars selling alcohol, which was illegal because of Prohibition.”
  • Isabel passes a speakeasy. “Secret places where men and women went to listen to jazz music and drink bootleg alcohol, away from the police—until the parties got raided.”

Language

  • Heck, darn, and jeez are used occasionally.
  • Isabel thinks that her friend is a witch.
  • A man calls Isabel a “brat” and a “lying little monster.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Cape

Josie O’Malley’s family is all doing their part in fighting the Nazis. While her father is off fighting in the war, Josie’s mother works two jobs and Josie works at a diner to help pay the rent. Josie wishes she could do more—like all those caped heroes who now seem to have disappeared. Josie can’t fly and control weather like her idol, Zenobia. But when Josie sees an advertisement for puzzlers, she thinks maybe she can put her math smarts to use cracking puzzles for the government.

After Josie takes the test, the official throws all of the girls’ tests in the trash. Josie is disheartened, but it soon becomes clear that a top-secret agency has been watching Josie, along with two other applicants: Akiko and Mae. The three girls all love superheroes like Fantomah, Zenobia, and the Black Cat. The girls never dreamed that they would have powers like their favorite superheroes. But when a villain sets fire to a building and puts innocent people in danger, the girls step up to help and discover that they have new superhero powers. As the girls’ abilities slowly begin to emerge, they learn that their skills will be crucial in thwarting a shapeshifting henchman of Hitler, and, just maybe, in solving an even larger mystery about the superheroes who’ve recently gone missing.

Readers will fall in love with the endearingly imperfect girls who highlight the importance of helping others. The diverse cast of characters includes Josie, who is Irish, Akiko, who is Japanese, and Mae, who is African American. The diverse characters give the readers a glimpse of the prejudice of the time period. Akiko’s family was put in a Japanese internment camp even though her brother was fighting in the war. When Josie and her friends go into a restaurant, the manager chases them away because they don’t serve “their kind.” It is at this point that Josie realizes that “prejudices were a lot like allergies. They made it hard for us to really see.”

Josie and her friends love to figure out puzzles and secret messages. They give examples of different ciphers and explain how to decipher them. Even though Josie and her friends have the brainpower to solve puzzles, the girls are treated unfairly. At one point, Josie wonders if she really is just a “stupid girl.” However, she soon learns that others, including her Aunt Kate, are using their mathematical minds to help defeat the Nazis. Cape brings the ENIAC Six into the story and shows how the pioneer programmers did important work during World War II.

Even though the story talks about superheroes, the superheroes’ attributes are never fully explained. Despite this, readers will understand how the superheroes helped encourage Josie and her friends to be better people. Cape blends historical facts into an entertaining, action-packed story that teaches that girls can do anything. Themes of prejudice, friendship, and fighting evil are developed using kid-friendly descriptions. Even though some of the story’s elements are not fully explained, readers will still enjoy the story.

Cape might even encourage readers to learn more about World War II, and the story lists recommended resources for readers who want more. The story ends with historical information on the ENIAC Six, the spy ring, radio news reports, and a list of recommended resources. Cape will leave readers with a positive message that “you’re the one who decides what kind of person you’ll be.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A group of bullies steal Josie’s brother’s bikes. Josie tries to get them back. When she sees one of the boys who stole the bikes, she “whipped my broom out ahead of me and caught his feet, I sent him spilling onto the sidewalk. . . I pressed the handle of the broom to his chest, in the little round spot just between his collarbones.”
  • When a bully implies that Josie’s father is dead, she gets upset. Then the boy “shoved me back. I stumbled a few steps but caught myself. Without thinking twice, I dove for him, knocking him to the ground.” When Josie’s friends try to help her, the boy “and the others knocked Akiko to the ground.” One of the boys “kicked at” Mae who then, “stumbled onto the pathway, scraping one of her knees.”
  • Mr. Hisser tries to flee a building, but the Stretcher “reached out to grab Mr. Hisser. His long black arm stretched nearly the whole length of the room! Just as the Stretcher caught hold of Mr. Hisser’s suit collar, the room erupted in a burst of white light. . .” After the smoke clears, Josie “noticed a few sparks sizzling into the smoky air. All that remained of the Stretcher was a pair of black boots, a shimmery black cape, and a black mask.” Someone explains that “This is what we’re up against. . . A force darker than any of us could have imagined. With each attack, another caped hero disappears. Vaporized.”
  • Mr. Hisser set a building on fire. Josie, Akiko, and Mae use their powers to get people safely out of the building. No one is injured. The scene is illustrated over 11 pages.
  • Mr. Hisser and his crew plan to blow up a ship. The men put dynamite in fake rats. The girls attack Mr. Hisser, who turns into a snake and hits the girls with his tail. One of the girls is injured and Mr. Hisser carries her away in his snake mouth. The scene is illustrated over 11 pages.
  • Later, Akiko says she used fire to get away from Mr. Hisser. Although the scene is not described, Josie notices Mr. Hisser’s head, “which was red and blistery from a burn.”
  • Josie tells her brothers a story about their father fighting in the war. Their father was eating breakfast when he heard the air-raid sirens. “. . . Daddy raced upstairs as enemy fire strafed the quarterdeck. Dodging bullets and bombs, he rushed to an injured crewmate and threw him over his shoulder.”
  • A boy and his friends put a rope around a raccoon’s neck. In order to help the raccoon, Mae “unleashed a gale-force wind and knocked Toby and the other bullies to the ground. As they climbed to their feet, Akiko transformed into a bowling ball and knocked Toby out at the knees. Again he fell to the ground, this time scraping the palms of his hands.” During the confrontation, Josie “used a bit of telekinesis—staring at one, two, three, four, five heads, then flicking my eyes—to knock their skulls together.” The boys run away.
  • Mr. Hisser and his gang show up at a top-secret location. When he sees the girls, “Mr. Hisser flicked his dangerous rattlesnake tail and slammed it into the building, just above our heads. Wood and bricks exploded into the air, then crashed down around us. . . Akiko flung fireballs at his henchmen in the street.” During the fight, “his deadly split tongue shot from his mouth and slammed me [Josie] backwards into the lamppost. My head rang like a telephone, but I had to shake it off.” Josie saves some “innocent people,” then notices that she was bleeding. “One of the Hisser’s razor-sharp fangs must have sliced my skin.” Josie picks up a car and “using all the strength I could muster—and with searing pain shooting through my left shoulder—I heaved the car forward. It landed on the Hisser’s deadly tail with a devastating thud.” The action is described over 10 pages.
  • The action continues over 12 illustrated pages. One of the girls hits Hisser with a chair. People are hit with furniture, Hisser is wrapped in chains, and a man is hit over the head with a machine that is like a typewriter. The FBI arrive and arrest Hisser.
  • Hisser escapes. “Hisser’s hideous snake form fled the room, his scaly, serpentine body slithering around and around in a dizzying hypnotic threat. With a whip of his rattlesnake tail, he swatted Harry and the agents. They flew backward, slamming into the blinking black steal of the ENIAC machine.” One of the girls changes into a mongoose, and “she lunged for the Hisser’s throat with her sharp front teeth as Mae and I dodged out of the way.” The scene is described over five pages.
  • Hisser captures three women and attempts to kidnap them. Josie used “all my powers of concentration, I imagined the statue ripping off its pedestal and hurtling into the path of the Hisser’s oncoming car. As soon as I thought it, the statue followed the direction of my eyes and soared through the air, landing just in front of the Hisser’s wagon. Brakes screeched, but there was no time for the Hisser to stop.” Hisser is arrested and the captives are set free.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • The characters call others names. The infrequent use of name-calling includes: marauding meatheads, lunkhead, knucklehead, fleas, dumbbell, knuckleheads, brats, and traitorous scum.
  • Hisser calls the girls names, including: Green Fungus and Emerald Irritant.
  • Several times, one of the characters uses “Hauntima’s ghost” as an exclamation.
  • Someone calls Hisser “demon reptile.”

Supernatural

  • In the story, superheroes exist and have different abilities, such as: flying, super-human strength, shape-shifting, telekinesis, causing weather events (like wind), controlling fire, teleportation, etc.
  • Josie Akiko and Mae link arms. When Josie talks about doing something good, “a beam of golden light burst from the center of our huddle, radiating upward from our connected hands . . . And the air hummed like it was filled with a thousand bumblebees. . . The crackling electrical charge exploded in my ears now, and energy shot through my veins. . .” Then the girls gain super powers, including how to fly. After the three completed their task, their “costumes suddenly morphed back into our regular clothes, right before our eyes.” This process happens several times.
  • When handling a difficult situation, Hauntima’s ghost appears and gives the girls guidance. Sometimes when Hauntima appears, she has an “angry skulled face.”
  • Mr. Hisser can turn into a snake.
  • Josie gets injured, but her injury heals quickly.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Queen’s Secret

Horses have been banned in the country for centuries, and most people believe that horses were carriers of disease. Anthea and her family know the truth—horses are majestic creatures who can share their thoughts with people through the Way. The queen wants to reintroduce horses into the kingdom, but the king has demanded that horses and riders with the Way follow his every command.

When a deadly plague breaks out, people believe that horses are the cause. People’s fear of horses rises as more fall ill and the death toll increases. Anthea and her friends are asked to transport a lifesaving vaccine, but the people fear the medicine that can save their lives. To complicate matters, Anthea learns the queen’s secret—but will revealing the queen’s secret help or hurt their cause?

The second installment of The Rose Legacy series continues to focus on Anthea, who is an extremely likable and strong protagonist. The story introduces a group of all-female scientists that are struggling to understand the disease that is rapidly infecting people. Although the scientists discover a vaccine, the discovery comes because of a chance encounter instead of through their hard work and research. In the end, the story shows women in a variety of roles—the queen, mothers, young girls, and a villain.

Much of the plot revolves around the spread of the disease and people’s fear of both horses and vaccines. Although the plot takes an unexpected direction, the story is fast-paced, interesting, and enjoyable. The story highlights the dangers of allowing fear and misconceptions to overtake reason. Readers will appreciate seeing girls take action and face danger in order to help, even when others doubt their ability. Readers will be eager to read the next book in the series to find out why the villain has kidnapped horses and why the villain seems eager to start a war.

The Queen’s Secret is full of conspiracy theories and intrigue, but what makes the story even more enjoyable is the relationship between horses and their riders, as well as the friendships that Anthea makes. Jessica Day George creates a unique world that builds suspense without graphic violence, romance, or using cliché characters. Anyone who wants to read an engaging horse-related adventure should pick up the Rose Legacy series.

Sexual Content

  • Finn grabs Anthea’s “gloved hands. . . Now both of their faces were red, but it was not from the cold. . . Greatly daring, Anthea leaned forward and gave him a peck on the cheek, then pulled her hand away.”
  • After not hearing from Finn, Anthea finds him and, “she wasn’t even embarrassed to hug him tightly and kiss his cheek. Then she pushed herself away just as he tried to hug her.”
  • Jilly gives an account of her relatives. One relative’s “second wife ran away with a blacksmith.”

Violence

  • The queen tells others about an incident with the Kronenhofers. When two Kronenhofer ships entered the river, the Knonenhofer’s refused to answer guards who “hailed the ship to ask their intent. But the guards didn’t get an answer. Instead, the ship went into battle mode. . . The garrison disabled the Kronenhofer ship. One of them sank, and the other burned almost to the waterline, and there were only a handful of survivors.”
  • An injured man shows up at the farm, and “Anthea nearly fainted at the sight of the flesh underneath: bruised, bloodied, and with a large round hole that seeped more blood with every one of the major’s breaths. The blood looked dark and thick. . .” The man survives.
  • Men shoot at Anthea and two other girls, but they are able to escape unharmed.
  • A strange vehicle enters a village and attacks. “The man was destroyed. The front was simply gone. A gaping hole had been blasted in the beautiful stone façade, and there were flames pouring out of it. . .” During the attack, a princess and some horses were kidnapped.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Sometimes smugglers bring in alcohol. “There are Coronami who enjoy Leanan ale. . . And many Leanans prefer the Coronami wines to their own ale.”
  • Anthea says, “Liquor really is the root of all evil, as Miss Miniver said.”
  • An injured man is given an injection. “Morphine probably.”
  • Anthea is given a glass, “and she tossed back the water like it was whisky and slammed the glass down for emphasis.”

Language

  • Anthea calls a horse a “big idiot.”

Supernatural

  • People who have “the Way” can communicate with horses and feel the horse’s emotions.
  • A village is surrounded by stones that guard the place and helps it stay hidden. People and horses are not able to use the Way to communicate with others outside the village.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Secret in the Stone

Claire and her older sister, Sophie, never imagined that climbing a ladder in a fireplace would take them to another world—Arden. Arden used to be a land of unicorns and magic. Now, the unicorns and the great guardians of magic have disappeared. The sisters, the only descendants of Arden’s royal family, can bring all the unicorns back.

Claire doesn’t think Sophie should be the heir—Sophie is the brave one, but Sophie lacks magic. The two sisters travel to Stonehaven, a Gemmer school on Starscrape Mountain, where Sophie hopes to learn how to be Arden’s heir and harness the magic of stone. The fate of Arden relies on Sophie learning how to wake the legendary moontears and bring back the unicorns. As Claire and Sophie make the treacherous trek to bring back the unicorns, they realize that some allies are traitors in disguise. With danger lurking around every corner, can the sisters unlock the secret of the unicorns before it’s too late?

Secret in the Stone focuses on the complicated sibling relationship between Claire and Sophie. Claire feels inferior to Sophie, who always acts brave, confident, and decisive. Like many siblings, Claire and Sophie do not have a calm relationship, instead they argue and fight. At one point Claire tells Sophie, “I hate you!” However, as soon as Sophie needs her, Claire jumps into danger to help her. The story highlights the girls’ love for each other and their willingness to help each other at all costs.

The story weaves in background information from The Unicorn Quest, which helps the reader keep track of the important events that happened in the previous book. Like the previous book, Secret in the Stone builds an intriguing world that revolves around warring guild villages. The story has a vast cast of characters, many of which only appear for a brief period; this may confuse some readers.

Several themes run throughout the book. Readers will learn the dangers of making assumptions about other people as well as the importance of forgiving each other. Another theme the book reinforces is the importance of thinking about how your actions affect others. Often, even when the characters have good intentions, their actions lead to negative consequences. The story also shows that when evil exists, people must face it. When Claire meets a neutral village, she tells the leader, “It’s not fair—you can’t just keep your eyes shut when the world around you is falling apart! You have to do something! What kind of a safe place is this if you’re ignoring the real problems Arden is facing?”

Secret in the Stone is an engaging story that will keep readers turning the pages. However, the book is a stepping stone to book three. The story doesn’t resolve any of the conflicts, but rather sets the story up for the next book. Readers who expect a book about unicorns will be disappointed because unicorns never appear in the story. Secret in the Stone will delight readers who want to enter a world of magic; however, readers must read The Unicorn Quest first. Readers who enjoy Secret in Stone should add the Sisters of Glass series to their reading list because the book also takes readers to a captivating world where magic exists.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A stone knight comes to life. When it comes close, Sophie swings a “dagger at the stone leg, sparks flying as the blade scraped rock. The knight paused, as though confused about the tiny thing near its feet making such a big fuss. He gave the nuisance a kick, and the dagger spun through the air as Sophie fell on her side.” Before the girls could run, the knight paused, and “slowly the knight unfolded from his crouched position, and rose to a towering height.” The knight then bows to Claire and Sophie.
  • A scholar tells Claire a story about a father who sacrificed his daughter. The king “took his ailing daughter to a glade, and slipped a dagger into his only daughter’s heart. And as her royal red blood spilled onto the grass, a unicorn did finally appear. . . He placed his horn to the daughter’s heart.” The girl then transformed into a unicorn.
  • Claire and Sophie discover that Anvil and Aquila Malchain have been frozen into statues. “Anvil’s ax was raised above his head, looking as if he were about to chop something, his face snarled in an expression of rage. Aquila’s grandmother’s bun had unraveled, and her gray hair streamed out behind her as if she had been running, one hand gripping a knife while the other was clenched into a fist.” A Gemmer had turned their blood to rubies.
  • When a wraith attacks Claire, “a thick darkness flooded all of Claire’s senses—her ears, eyes, nose, mouth. The cold wasn’t just the cold of a winter’s night or the cold of a northern ocean. It was the cold that belonged to those alien, barren stretches of space. It was a cold that wrapped. That suffocated. That dragged her under.” Sophie helps Claire when she “just poked it [the wraith] and it ran, like shadows before light.”
  • Wraiths attack Claire and Sophie. Before they are hurt, riders appear. “Ropes of light crisscrossed across the night sky then snagged on the monsters, pushing them back, pulling them down. . . Each time a rope hit one, it’d scream and rear back.” The riders take Claire.
  • When Claire is taken to a secret village, a man traps her. The man “snapped his fingers and Claire was swept up into the air. The world swung back and forth as a thick net scooped her up into its valley. Its loose edges wove themselves together quickly, anchoring her to the ceiling above. She was trapped in a rope cage.” Sophie saves Claire.
  • When Claire and Sophie try to leave the hidden city, a tree root captures her. The root “reached for her ankle and wrapped around it. . .” Someone helps Claire escape the root.
  • A girl is found guilty of stealing and is sentenced to death.
  • A water plant “drifts around the lake like an animal. It’s called a Gelatinous Fish.” The Gelatinous Fish grabs Claire. Claire “felt what seemed to be rubbery tentacles, or lake weed, wrapping around her ankle, pulling her back into the deeper waters. . . The pain intensified. Black dots swarmed the edges of her vision. The passageway darkened. . .” Someone uses light to chase the fish away.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Someone gives Claire and Sophie a Kompass that is “a rare magic known only to the Malchain family that always pointed toward the one person or thing it was forged to find. In this particular case, it was Aquila.”
  • Claire and Sophie find a ladder in a fireplace. When they climb the ladder, they end up in Arden—a world where magic is real.
  • In Arden, there are four guilds of magic. Forgers work with metal, Gemmers work with rocks and gems, Spinners weave magic from thread, and Tillers work with all that grows from the earth. “Our magic, guild magic, only extends to what’s around us. . . The magic doesn’t come from within us, but from the things around us—plants, rocks, thread, metal. All we do is encourage the magic that naturally exists in those things, to make plants grow bigger and faster and stronger, for instance.”
  • In Arden, people are able to use magic, but “the only magic we have isn’t really magic at all. It’s just the ability to see the potential in each block of stone, medallion of metal, loop of thread, or seed. If someone doesn’t have magic, I think it’s just because she hasn’t learned enough about herself yet.”
  • Wraiths are dangerous creatures that kill humans. Claire describes a wraith as “big and dark and cold. It kind of looked like a skeleton wrapped in shadows.”
  • When Claire uses her Gemmer magic, it feels like a “buzz in her bones—a slight tingle that felt like her fingers were going asleep.”
  • A group uses magic to hide an entire village.
  • Sophie uses magic to make a cloak fly. Sophie and several others use cloaks to escape.
  • While trying to help a friend, Claire and her group run into Thorn, a boy they know. As they are traveling, Nett falls because “wrapped around his ankle was the thin end of a whip, its handle clutched in Thorn’s fist. Thorn gave a slight tug to the whip, and the first foot or so of the cord broke off on its own, binding Nett’s ankles together. . . He cracked the whip in Claire’s direction. She yelped; she felt the cord rush by her, coiling into a mini-Thornado above her head before dropping down.” Sophie uses her magic to free her friends and bind Thorn. “The whip had wrapped carefully around Thorn, binding him mummy-like from his feet and ending right below his nose—allowing him to breathe, but not giving him a chance to yell for help.”
  • An old fortress has Mesmerizing Opals. If people look at the light of the opals, “they would become entranced by the stone and would be no better than puppets, their minds numb and unable to think for themselves.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Not If I Save You First

When they were ten, Maddie and Logan were best friends. Maddie thought they’d be friends forever. Maddie never cared that Logan was the president’s son. But fate dealt their friendship a deadly blow. When her Secret Service Agent father almost dies trying to save the president’s son, everything changes.

After he almost dies, Maddie’s father exchanges the White House for a cabin in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. Maddie had no phone. No internet. No friends. And no Logan. When she first moved to Alaska, Maddie wrote letter after letter to Logan, but he never replied.

Six years later, Logan appears outside of her cabin and Maddie wants to kill him. Before she can take action, an assailant appears, almost killing Maddie and dragging Logan off into the wilderness. Maddie could go back for help, but the weather is treacherous and getting worse. Maddie goes after Logan, but she’s not sure if she’s going to save him or kill him.

In typical Ally Carter style, Not If I Save You First begins with suspense and leaves the reader turning pages until the very end. Maddie is a strong heroine that doesn’t need to rely on a guy—not even the Secret Service men—to save the day. She hides her strength and smarts behind a girly persona, which makes her incredibly likable. Her conflicting emotions regarding Logan add interest and suspense to an action-packed story.

Unlike her other books, Not If I Save You First contains violence that is often described in bloody, but not gory, detail. The storyline revolves around a kidnapping, which is a more realistic storyline than Carter’s previous books. Because of this, readers can put themselves in the character’s situation. The story has several plot twists that will surprise readers and concludes with an epic fight between good and evil. When readers finish Not If I Save You First, they will feel as though Maddie is a new friend.

Sexual Content

  • When Maddie kisses Logan, he wishes he wasn’t in handcuffs because he “couldn’t hold her, touch her, pull her close and keep her near and never, ever let her go.” He’s disappointed when he discovers that she kissed him, so she could give him the keys to the cuffs.
  • Logan and Maddie kiss several times. One time, “he was growing closer and closer and then her lips were on his again, warmer now. She tasted like snow and berries and it was the sweetest thing that Logan and ever known.”
  • When Maddie and Logan are at school, Logan kisses her, “right there in front of their school and his Secret Service detail—right in front of the world. So she kissed him back again. And again. And again.”

Violence

  • Russian terrorists attempt to kidnap the president’s wife. In the process, one of the terrorists shoots at the president’s son. Maddie’s father jumps between the man and the president’s son and shoots at the terrorist. The terrorist, “looked down at his chest, at the place where blood was starting to ooze from beneath his ugly tie, and he dropped to his knees. Then the floor. He didn’t move again.”
  • While trying to protect the president’s wife and son, Maddie’s father is shot. Even though he was hurt, he tries to go help the first lady, and “he was still dragging himself toward the box. Blood trailed behind him. . .” During the altercation, the president’s son was shot too.
  • A man kidnaps Logan and in the process, hurts Maddie. “And Maddie spun just in time to see the butt of a gun slicing towards her. She actually felt the rush of air just before the sharp pain echoed through her face, reverberating down to her spine.” When she tries to get up, the man kicks her, “a sharp pain slammed into her stomach.” The man then pushes her off a cliff and leaves her to die.
  • Logan attempts to escape, knocking the man to the ground. “The two of them rolled, kicked and tangled together. Logan managed to strike the man in the stomach, but it was like he didn’t even feel it.” Logan stops fighting when the man has him pinned down.
  • Logan attempts to escape again. Even though his hands were cuffed, “he slammed them into the man’s gut, pounding like a hammer with both fists. . .” The man pulls a knife and begins “cutting into the soft flesh between his pinkie finger and its neighbor. . . then he saw the bright red drop of blood that bubbled up from his too-white skin.”
  • Logan tries to take a satellite phone from the man. “Logan elbowed him in the ribs, but a moment later he was pinned against the ground. . . Facedown in the mud, the cold seeped up from the ground and into Logan’s bones. . .” When Logan’s face is pushed into the mud, Maddie appears and the fight stops.
  • To prove that he doesn’t value Maddie’s life, the man, “pulled back his hand, and hit her hard across the face. Her head snapped and Logan actually heard the blow. . . His hand was around her throat, fingers not quite squeezing, but close.”
  • The man shoots a ranger. “He fired. Once. Twice. And the ranger fell.”
  • In a plot to escape, Maddie blows up a bridge. “. . . the old ropes and wood exploded in a wave of color and fire and heat. . .”
  • The man recaptures Maddie and, he “jerked Maddie against him, sliding the barrel of the gun along the smooth skin of her cheek like she needed a shave.” Logan tries to help her and the two men fight, so Maddie “kicked Stefan’s shin, right where the bear trap must have caught him, because he howled in pain, dropping the gun and bringing both hands to his legs.”
  • Another bad guy surprises Maddie by grabbing her and “the man pulled her back against him and squeezed her tight, his own gun suddenly pressed to her temple.” Later Maddie, “dropped to the icy ground and kicked at his legs, knocking him off balance. . .” She shoots at the trees causing limbs to break and fall on the man. “. . .When the ice-covered limb landed atop him, he didn’t move again.”
  • The climax takes place over several chapters in which punches are thrown, people are shot, and Maddie’s father has a knife held against his throat. In order to save a life, Maddie throws a knife at a man and, “he looked from the knife in his own hand to the blade that was stuck hilt-deep in his chest, right where his heart would have been if he had one.” The man dies.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Freaking is used twice.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Perfect Scoundrels

Katarina Bishop grew up in a family of criminal masterminds. Her family knows how to stay under the radar. They know how to steal. And Katarina knows that her family has her back. Although Kat’s family welcomes Hale into their lives, Kat was never meant to enter Hale’s ultra-rich world. When Hale’s grandmother dies leaving her billion-dollar corporation to Hale, everything begins to change.

With the death of Hale’s grandmother, Hale’s family gathers around to fight for the family fortune. In Hale’s family, when money is on the line, all bets are off. Everyone wants a piece of the family dynasty. As Hale becomes more entangled in the family drama, Kat realizes that there is no place for her in Hale’s world. When Kat learns that someone might have tampered with his grandmother’s will, she comes up with an elaborate plan to learn the truth. But first, she has to decide if learning the truth is more important than keeping her boyfriend.

Through Katarina’s eyes, Perfect Scoundrels brings Hale’s extremely wealthy world to life. From the outside, Hale’s life seems to be full of freedom that only money can buy, but in reality glamourous, greedy people surround him. Right from the start, the reader will be pulled into Kat’s struggle, as she keeps secrets from Hale in order to help him. As Kat and her family rally around each other to find the truth, their ambitious plot brings intrigue, suspense, and surprises around every corner.

The third installment in the Heist Society series will not disappoint readers. However, this is not a stand-alone novel. Those who have read the first two books in the series will be invested in the lives of the characters, which makes the conclusion even more surprising and satisfying. In typical Ally Carter style, Perfect Scoundrels is appropriate and will be enjoyed by both junior high and high school readers.

Sexual Content

  • After an argument, Kat and Hale are alone, and “Hale’s breath was warm on Kat’s skin. She could feel the rise and fall of his chest, and she wanted to kiss him, hold him, breathe him in . . . For a split second, he looked down at her, and she knew he was feeling that way too.” The moment is lost when Kat apologizes.
  • In order to hide, Kat and Hale go into a closet. While there, “Kat felt Hale’s mouth press against hers. His fingers wove into her hair, holding her close, gripping her tightly. It was the hungriest kiss she’d ever known, and Kat let herself get lost in it.” Hale then apologizes for kissing her.
  • Kat and Hale kiss several times, but the kisses are not described.

Violence

  • Hale’s family lawyer confronts Katarina, and he traps her against a wall. When he grabs her, Kat notices that “his breath was acrid and hot on her cheek. He brushed a finger down the side of her face until his hand rested on her throat. He squeezed gently at first. Then harder.” He then lets her go.
  • Kat and her Uncle Eddie meet up with the family lawyer to make a deal. When the deal goes wrong, Eddie ran at the lawyer and, “in a flash, Eddie was on the lawyer, the lawyer was spinning, striking the old man across the head with the metal briefcase. Blood rushed from Eddie’s mouth and he stumbled, disorient, too close to the edge. . .” Eddie falls over the barrier and a bystander says, “The man’s dead.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While at a corporate event, Hale and another character “got into the liquor cabinet” and got drunk.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Heist Society

Katarina Bishop knows how to steal. She knows how to lie. After all, at the age of three, her parents took her to the Louvre to case it. Katarina’s family—all of her family—is made up of masters at thievery. She had hoped to leave the family business. She had hoped to live a normal life. But when Kat’s friend, Hale, appears, Kat realizes that walking away from her old life and her family may not be possible.

Hale wants Kat to return to her life of crime, and he has a good reason. A powerful mobster’s priceless art collection has been stolen. The mobster is convinced that only one thief could have taken his priceless paintings—Katarina’s father. In order to help her father, Kat goes on a hunt to find the missing paintings. The job would be risky for even the most seasoned thief. Kat is determined to find the paintings. She has two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s history. And in the end, she hopes she can steal back the normal life she left behind.

Is there any way a fifteen-year-old girl can pull off this con?

For a story that revolves around a mobster and the threat of death, Heist Society tells a suspenseful story that will have readers engrossed in Kat’s story. The plot contains twists and turns that will have readers guessing what characters can be trusted. The interplay between the diverse characters makes the story interesting and enjoyable. By the end of the story, readers will wish they could join Kat’s family at the kitchen table and plan a heist of their own.

Similar to Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, Heist Society is appropriate for younger readers but will engage readers of all ages. Heist Society delves into the themes of family, loyalty, and good versus evil.  Fast-paced, easy to read, and just plain fun, Heist Society will allow readers to fall into the world of the super-rich and leave with lessons on artwork stolen during the Holocaust.

Sexual Content

  • Gabrielle’s beauty and short skirts are mentioned several times. When she goes into a museum, “there was something about her that simply demanded the guards’ attention. Some said later it was her short skirt. Others wisely observed that it was more likely the legs that protruded beneath it.”
  • As a distraction, Nick kisses Kat. “. . . She was in Nick’s arms and he was kissing her right there in the middle of the Henley’s hallway.”
  • When Kat dresses for an event, her cousins notice her boobs. Her cousin asks, “Seriously, Kat . . . when did you get boobs?” The conversation about her boobs takes place over two pages.

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the characters pretends to be drunk to distract the museum guards.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Serpent’s Secret

Kiran’s parents are just a bit odd, and she has never really fit in. Even so, she thought she was just a regular sixth grader living in New Jersey. Then, on her twelfth birthday, her parents disappear and a rakkhosh demon crashes through her house to try to eat her.

When two princes show up, trying to rescue her, she realizes that her parents’ stories are really true—she really is a princess that comes from another world. With the help of the two princes, Kiran is taken to another dominion, one with magic, winged horses, moving maps, and annoying talking birds. Before she can save her parents, she must fight demons, unlock riddles, and avoid the Serpent King of the Underworld.

The Serpent’s Secret is an interesting and action-packed retelling of Indian mythology. Filled with riddles, jokes, and a talking bird, the story will entertain middle school readers. Black and white illustrations will help readers visualize the characters. As Kiran learns about her cultural background, she also learns to accept herself. Although there is violence, the scenes are appropriate for younger readers because they are not described in detail and much of the action is running away from demons instead of battling them.

Kiran and the two princes talk like stereotypical teenagers. The main character’s dialogue is filled with slang and idioms such as when Kiran looks at the prince and thinks, “While I got my fill of Lal-flavored eye candy.” There is a lot of creative name-calling throughout the story, which does not involve cursing.

A dynamic story with a strong heroine, The Serpent’s Secret will delight those who like a good adventure story.  For readers interested in adventure stories or India’s mythology, Aru Shah and the End of Time is a must-read.

Sexual Content

  • The king has multiple wives.

Violence

  • A rakkhosh, or demon, swallows Kiran’s parents and then tries to swallow her. When Lal tries to help, the rakkhosh knocks him out. “I shrieked as the monster’s fist managed to connect with Lal’s head. The prince slumped forward, unconscious, and then began to slip off the rakkhosh’s neck.” The fighting takes place over several chapters.
  • A teenager spits at Lal. “The goober hung on a lone blade of grass, shimmering like a disgusting jewel.”
  • The Demon Queen attacks Kiran. “. . . The rakkhoshi ripped a handful of her own hair from her head and threw it at me . . . As soon as the magical hair hit me, I couldn’t move at all.” Neel saves Kiran, but not before the Demon Queen turns Neel’s brother and friend into spheres. The battle lasts over several pages.
  • When Kiran and Neel try to steal a stone that is being protected by a python, the “snake grabbed a hold of Neel, wrapped itself around him, and began to squeeze. . . Neel’s face got redder as the snake squeezed.” The battle scene takes place over a chapter. In the end, the python is defeated. “The python’s giant body lay still, oozing dark blood on the cavern floor. Trying to reach the jewel, it had instead split itself in two on Neel’s sword.”
  • A baby rakkhosh wants to eat Kiran, her parents, and Neel. “That snot-nosed newborn demon transformed himself into a whirlpool.” When the rakkhosh “eats” them, they end up in a cave with a seven-headed snake, who “wrapped Ma, Baba, and even poor terrified Tuntuni in his coils. As a last flourish, he slapped his nasty tail over all their mouths.”
  • The serpent king imprisoned Neel in a flaming sphere. “The prince screamed in pain—a sound that made my blood run cold. He writhed around within the glowing orb, his body twisting in unnatural contortions, as if he were being tortured.”
  • Kiran and the Serpent King battle. “He shot bolt after bolt of green fire, but I met them all with the shimmering, diamond light of my own.” Kiran’s moon mother shows up, and “as he launched the cracking lightning from his hands, the moon shot a white-hot beam at the Serpent King. He glowed an incandescent green, but then began to writhe and decay, his energy going from green to brown to gray to black.” The Serpent King disappears and everyone is safe.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A rakkhosh sings a song, “Hob, gum, goom, geer! Pass the blood! Pass the beer!”
  • A “band of drunken demons” chase Kiran and Neel.
  • Kiran sees a warning sign that reads, “After whisky, fighting demons risky.”

Language

  • A bangle seller says her bracelets are for “generously proportioned and the skinny-butt offspring of slimy snake creatures alike.”
  • The Demon Queen calls Kiran a “snake in the grass” and “cobra dropping.
  • When Kiran is fighting a python, she thinks, “Holy serpent poop.”
  • Kiran thinks that Neel’s “Granny still had some chutzpah left in her.”
  • Kiran calls Neel a “Royal Pain-in-the- Heinie.”
  • Crap is used twice and heck is used once.

Supernatural

  • The story focuses on Indian mythology, including mythological monsters and demons.
  • Kiran’s parents are “swallowed by a rakkhosh and whisked away to another galactic dimension.”
  • Kiran’s father was a serpent king and her mother was a moon maiden. Her adoptive parents found her “in a clay pot floating down the River of Dreams.”
  • Kiran’s biological mother exiled her to New Jersey and put a protection spell over her and her adoptive parents. “Anyway, an expired spell also makes everything around it unstable—in this situation, the boundaries between the various dimensions . . . which is how the rakkhosh came into your world.”
  • Kiran’s tears have healing properties. “I remembered how Tuni had seemed dead, but how he’d come to life in my arms.”
  • Kiran can understand horses. “And then, as clearly as if the horse were speaking to me, I heard his voice in my mind.”

Spiritual Content

  • Kiran explains that her “Baba always tells me we’re all connected by energy—trees, wind, animals, people, everything. . . He says that life energy is a kind of river flowing through the universe.” Neel continues the thought and says, “When our bodies give out, that’s just the pitcher breaking, pouring what’s inside back into the original stream of universal souls . . . so no one’s soul is ever really gone.”

Aru Shah and the End of Time

Aru makes up stories such as having a fancy chauffeur and traveling to Paris. She doesn’t mean to tell lies, she just wants to fit in at her private middle school. While her classmates are vacationing in exotic places, Aru is stuck at home, which just happens to be connected to the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture.

Not all of Aru’s classmates believe her stories. One day, three students show up at Aru’s home hoping to catch her in a lie. Aru told them that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed. When they dare her to light the lamp, Aru doesn’t really believe anything bad will happen.

Aru doesn’t know that lighting the lamp will change her life forever. When the fire touches the wick, it awakens the Sleeper, an ancient demon, who is intent on awakening the God of Destruction.  Now Aru’s mother and her classmates are frozen. Aru must do something to save them, but how is a young girl supposed to defeat an ancient evil?

Aru Shah and the End of Time will captivate readers from the first page. Action, adventure, humor, and interesting places in Indian Mythology come to life. The beautiful descriptions and interesting characters (including a pigeon sidekick) are just some of the reasons readers will fall in love with Aru’s world. Although the story contains many Indian words, the reader can figure out most of them through the story’s context. The back of the book contains a glossary that helps explain the Indian Mythology and terms.

Told from Aru’s point of view, readers will relate to her desire to fit in and her struggle with being truthful. Aru and her companion, Mini, are unlikely, lovable heroines. As the two girls fight to defeat the Sleeper, they discover that one doesn’t have to be perfect in order to accomplish great things, such as saving the world.

Told with compassion and humor, Aru Shah and the End of Time is a must-read for middle school girls. Not only will the story take readers on an amazing adventure, but it also teaches the importance of friendship, working together, and honesty. Because of Aru’s experiences, she realizes the importance of looking at situations from different perspectives. The many lessons in the book are seamlessly integrated into the plot and never feel forced. Once you open the pages of Aru Shah and the End of Time, you will not want to put the book down.

Sexual Content

  • At a school dance, the chaperone yells, “Leave enough room between you for Jesus.” As the dance progressed, she begins yelling, “LEAVING ROOM FOR THE HOLY TRINITY.”
  • When Aru looks into the Pool of the Past, she sees her mother and father. “They were strolling along the banks of a river, laughing. And occasionally stopping to . . . kiss.”

Violence

  • Aru and Mini trick a demon to make herself turn into ash. “The demon’s palm landed with a loud thunk on her own scalp. A horrible shriek ripped through the air. Flames burst around Brahmasura’s hand… Aru covered her face. Her ears rang with the sound of Madam Bee’s screams.”
  • Boo attacks the Sleeper and poops on him. The Sleeper “growled and threw Boo across the room. The pigeon hit a shelf with a loud smack and slumped to the floor.”
  • Shukra becomes consumed with his beauty. Because he spends so much time focusing on himself, his wife stops loving him. Shukra’s wife tells him, “How can I love someone I no longer know?” In anger, he kills her. “I do not remember doing what I did. . . It was only when the red had cleared from my eyes that I saw her corpse.”
  • Memory-stealing snow falls on Aru and Mini. “This time, when the snow landed on Aru, it stung. Because it (the snow) was taking. With every flake another memory was ripped from her.” Later Aru causes someone to lose his memories.
  • Aru, Mini, and the godly mounts plan an ambush. The ambush is described over a chapter. When the Sleeper arrives, he brings demons with him. “Aru ducked under the guest sign-in table as someone’s head (literally) flew past her . . . The seven-headed horse shook its head. Blood and spit flew over the walls . . . Boo acted quickly, and bird droppings rained across the demon’s eyes and forehead.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The story focuses on Indian Mythology and includes gods, demigods, monsters, and demons.  The back of the book includes a glossary of Indian mythology, so the reader can understand who the mythological characters are.
  • Aru lights the Lamp of Bharata and awakens the “Sleeper, a demon who will summon Lord Shiva, the fearsome Lord of Destruction, who will dance upon the world and bring an end to Time.”  When Aru lights the lamp, people are “suspended in time… Their skin was warm. A pulse leaped at each of their throats. But they didn’t move.” The Sleeper is a demon that can take many forms.
  • In order to save Time, Aru and Mini must find the keys to the Kingdom of Death. The first one is found in the hair of a demon—anything that touches the demon turns to ashes.
  • Aru discovers that her mother is a part of a sisterhood. “Five women who are reincarnations of legendary queens from the ancient stories. These days their job is to raise and protect us.”
  • Aru and Mini meat the Seasons, who are tailors. Winter explains, “We dress the world itself. I embroider the earth with ice and frost, the most delicate in the world.” The Seasons give the girls magical gifts that will help them on their journey.
  • Aru and Mini go to a market that has a library of living books.
  • The Sleeper turns the “mounts of the gods” into clay and puts them in a birdcage. Aru uses a magical ball to free them.

 Spiritual Content

  • Aru and Mini are “siblings because you share divinity. You’re a child of the gods because one of them helped forge your soul.”
  • When trying to explain the Otherworld, a character explains, “Many things can coexist. Several gods can live in one universe. It’s like fingers on a hand. They’re all different, but still part of a hand.”
  • Aru’s mother said, “the Hindu gods were numerous, but they don’t stay as one person all the time. Sometimes they were reincarnated—their souls were reborn in someone else.”
  • Aru and Mini go to the Halls of the Dead, where Aru can “hear the final words of people who have died: No, and not yet. . . And I hope someone clears my internet browser. But mostly, Aru heard love. Tell my family I love them. Tell my wife I love her.”
  •  After leaving the Hall of the Dead, Mini remembers, “in Hinduism, death wasn’t a place where you were stuck forever. It was where you waited to be reincarnated. Your soul could live hundreds—maybe even thousands—of lives before you got out of the loop of life and death by achieving enlightenment.” Later in the story, Aru and Mini visit that place where reincarnation takes place. The sign says, “REMAKE, REBUILD, RELIVE! REINCARNATION MANUFACTURING SERVICES.”
  • Aru and Mini go to an office where a character explains karma. The story talks about Chitrigupta, who “kept a record of everything a soul had ever done, both good and bad. This was why karma mattered.” Later, someone explains, “As you live, your good deeds and bad deeds are extracted from karma . . .”

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