Majesty

Power is intoxicating. Like first love, it leaves you breathless. One young woman is born with it. After centuries of kings on the throne, Queen Beatrice is the most powerful woman America has ever known. So why does it feel like she’s lost so much?

Her sister is born with less power. Heir, spare, whatever. The American people will always think of Princes Samantha as the part princess. So she might as well play the role, right?

Some are pulled into the Washington’s world. Nina Gonzales longs for a normal life—whatever that is. But disentangling herself from Prince Jefferson’s world isn’t as easy as she’d hoped.

And a few will claw their way in. There is only one crown that can be captured in this generation, and Daphne Deighton is determined to have it. She will take down anything—or anyone—that stands in her way.

American Royals continues the drama of the three Washington children. The story is told from multiple points of view including Beatrice, Samantha, Nina, and Daphne. Each person’s point of view is uniquely different and allows the reader to understand each person’s thoughts, which are often different than their actions. This leads to well-developed characters who are flawed and relatable.

The second and last installment of the American Royals Series focuses more on each character’s love life and less on politics. The story is full of steamy kissing scenes, heated arguments, and the confusion that comes with young love. One character’s story is like Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew with a modern twist. Unlike many romance novels, Majesty doesn’t end with a happy-ever-after for everyone. Instead, the book ends by showing the complicated and messy nature of love. The reader is left with this message: “real love comes from facing life together, with all its messes and surprises and joy.”

If you’ve ever wished a prince would steal your heart, American Royals: Majesty should be on your must-read list. The American Royals Series has well-developed characters, a unique premise, and several plot twists. However, if you’re looking for a book with less alcohol and sexual tension, The Selection Series by Kiera Cass would be a tamer choice.

Sexual Content

  • Even though she is engaged to Teddy, Beatrice kisses Connor. After an argument, Connor “grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her. There was nothing gentle or tender in the kiss. Connor’s body was crushed up against hers, his hands grasping hard over her back as if he was terrified she might pull away.”
  • Ethan declares his love to Daphne. Then Ethan “leaned down to kiss her. . . She felt like she’d been on a torturous low simmer for months, and now she was finally alive again.”
  • Nina and Ethan kiss several times. For example, after eating pizza, Nina and Ethan kiss. “Ethan’s touch grew firmer, his hand moving to trace the line of her jaw, her lower lip. The air between them crackled with electricity. . . Nina leaned deeper into the kiss, her grip tightening over his shoulder.” The scene is described over a page.
  • Samantha and Marshall begin a “fake” relationship. While at a party, they end up in the pool. “One of Marshall’s hands had looped beneath her legs, the other braced behind her back. . . Then he brushed his lips lightly over hers. . . Sam kissed him back urgently, feverishly. She had shifted, her legs wrapped around his torso, her bare thighs circling the wet scratchy denim of his jeans.” The scene is described over a page. After this, they kiss several more times.
  • After spending an evening together, Beatrice “pressed her lips to [Teddy’s]. Perhaps out of surprise, his mouth opened beneath hers, letting her tongue brush up against his. . . She tugged impatiently at his shirt, trying to pull it over his head, but Teddy tore himself away.” Teddy stops Beatrice because she has had too much to drink.
  • After Teddy encourages Beatrice, she kisses him. “She turned and pulled his face to hers, dragging her hands through his blond curls, kissing him with everything that was aching and unsettled in her.”
  • Samantha tells Marshall how she feels about him. Then, “Marshall stood up in the moving carriage, bracing his hands on the wall behind Sam, and closed his mouth over hers. Sam arched her back and leaned up into him.”
  • After Teddy and Beatrice proclaim their love for each other, they kiss. “Beatrice tore her mouth from his only to tug his blazer impatiently from his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. Teddy fumbled a little with her dress, struggling with its tiny hooks. . . His breath caught when he saw her in nothing but her ivory lace underwear.” The scene is described over 1 ½ pages. The two have sex, but it isn’t described.
  • On Beatrice’s wedding day, her first love, Connor, shows up. Beatrice is startled and, “Connor, seeing her parted lips, leaned in to kiss her. She didn’t resist. . . The sheer Connorness of him overwhelmed her senses. . . Then reality crashed back in and she pulled away, her breathing unsteady.”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are many, many events where alcohol is served to both adults and minors. For example, on a spring break trip, Nina and her friends drank “cheap beer.”
  • During boat races, alcohol is available. “Long queues had formed behind the scattered bars that sold mint juleps.”
  • At a museum event, alcohol is served. A worker “was pushing a catering cart, and Sam heard the unmistakable clink of jostling wine bottles.” Sam grabs “a bottle of sauvignon blanc from the cart.” Sam and a man she just met take turns drinking straight from the bottle. “The wine had a crisp tartness that settled on the back of her tongue, almost like candy.”
  • In the past, Daphne “had slipped a couple of ground-up sleeping pills into Himari’s drink.” Her friend, Himari, climbed “a staircase in her dazed, disoriented state—only to fall right back down.” The fall put Himari into a coma.
  • At a party hosted by Jefferson, minors drink alcohol including vodka. Jefferson’s old rowing team shows up, already drunk, shouting that they needed him for a “round of shots.”
  • Teddy takes Beatrice home to meet his parents. Beatrice explains why she usually doesn’t drink, “I can’t afford to get drunk and publicly make a fool of myself.” However, she drinks “the grapefruit thing” and gets slightly drunk.
  • The Russian ambassador told Beatrice, “That while beer and wine muffled and muted your emotions, vodka revealed them.”
  • During a historical reenactment, Marshall talks about his ancestor, the king of Orange joining America. Marshall says politicians from the past, “bickered over terms for weeks. Then, when they finally signed a treaty, they got roaring drunk.”
  • During a celebration, Marshall teaches Samantha about a game. If you lose, as a penalty “you get a choice. You can either sweep the steps of your local post office or buy a round of shots at your local bar.”
  • Jefferson and his best friend “got drunk for the first time together, that night we accidentally had all that port and ended up puking our guts out.”

Language

  • Profanity is seldom used. Each word of the following words is used several times: ass, badass, damn, and hell.
  • Beatrice’s secret boyfriend yells, “When you’re making choices about our future, I want a damn vote!”
  • Nina tells her lab partner, “Not to brag, but I kick ass at assignments.”
  • God and Oh my god are used as examinations a couple of times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • one

Girl From Nowhere

Ninety-four countries. Thirty-one schools. Two bullets. Now it’s over . . . or so she thinks.

Sophia Hepworth has spent her life all over the world–moving quickly, never staying in one place for too long. She knows to always look over her shoulder, to be able to fight to survive at a moment’s notice. She has trained to be ready for anything.

Except this. Suddenly it’s over. Now Sophia is expected to attend high school in a sleepy Montana town. She is told to forget the past, but she’s haunted by it. As hard as she tries to be like her new friends and live a normal life, she can’t shake the feeling that this new normal won’t last.

Then comes strong and silent Aksel, whose skills match Sophia’s, and who seems to know more about her than he’s letting on . . .

What if everything Sophia thought she knew about her past is a lie?

Sophia is an interesting character, whose parents have taught her many survival skills including how to defend herself, even if that means she must take a life. While Sophia’s conflict isn’t relatable, her story takes the reader on a fast-paced ride through many dangerous situations. Along the way, Sophia meets Aksel, which adds romance and gives Sophia a protector. Eventually, Sophia confides in Aksel and explains how after being kidnapped and tortured, she feels as if she is “tainted.” Aksel helps Sophia realize that she’s not defined by what others did to her.

While Sophia and Aksel are teenagers, they do not act like typical teenagers. Instead, Aksel reveals that he has been secretly training to be an undercover agent. While this explains his advanced skills with weaponry and evasion, readers still may have a difficult time believing that Sophia and Aksel could survive an attack from a trained terror group. The conclusion is one bloody confrontation after another and finally ends with a surprise that has a very little emotional impact. Despite this, Sophia’s story is entertaining and suspenseful, and Aksel is a swoon-worthy protagonist.

Readers who love action-packed, secret agent stories will enjoy Girl from Nowhere. Sophia isn’t portrayed as a helpless girl in need of a man to protect her. Instead, she is a strong character who is intelligent and resilient. Readers who love strong characters, conspiracy theories, and a sprinkle of romance, but don’t want the graphic descriptions of violence should read Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter and Endangered: A Death on a Deadline Mystery by Kate Jaimet.

Sexual Content

  • At a party, Sophia is dancing when Tate “comes up behind me, places his hands on my hips, and sways with me along with the music. . . I elbow him in the chest, right above his second rib.” Then Sophia leaves to line dance with a friend.
  • From the first time Sophia meets Aksel, she feels drawn to him. “His fingers graze mine, igniting flames across my skin.” Often, Sophia thinks about her reaction to Aksel. She wonders, “Why does being around Aksel make my skin feel like it is perpetually on fire?”
  • While out with friends, Tate puts his arm around Sophia’s shoulder. Sophia thinks, “Emma once said memories of kissing Ryan Rice in ninth grade give her the ‘heebie-jeebies.’ This is what I feel when Tate puts his arm around me—the heebie-jeebies.”
  • As Sophia and her friends split up, “Tate slinks his arm around [her] waist.” Tate realizes that he left his keys in the restaurant and leaves Sophia alone.
  • Sophia and Aksel are exploring the wilderness. Sophia’s snowshoe causes her to stumble. Aksel’s “arm is braced firmly around my waist to keep me from falling. He stares down at me, and my cheeks go blistering hot. . .Aksel’s lips press against mine. His fingertips trace my cheek, my jawline, before returning to the nape of my neck. . . Then our lips are meeting again and every nerve in my body is electrified.”
  • After Sophia rejects Tate, a rumor goes around that she “hooked up with Tate outside the Creamery, then hooked up with Aksel hours later.”
  • While swimming, Aksel swims towards Sophia, and “he wraps his large hands around my ankles and stands up in the water. . .Heat spreads like wildfire across my chest and it constricts my airways, like I can’t breathe . . . He outlines my lips with his thumb. He bends forward to kiss me. . .” Aksel stops and asks about a Sophia’s scar.
  • Sophia and Aksel kiss for the first time. They’re at his house when “his hands entwine my waist, resting on the hollow of my lower back. Gently, he pushes me against a wall. . . An intense heat races throughout my body. . .We kiss until he leans away.” The scene is described over a half-page.
  • Sophia and Aksel kiss numerous times. For example, “Aksel’s hands slide across my [Sophia’s] neck, slipping down my back. . . flames of heat surge across my throat. I feel his pulse, flush against my chest. Our lips hover. . . He pulls me in, wraps his strong arms around my waist, and kisses me.”

Violence

  • After being kidnapped, Sophia is home alone when someone breaks into her apartment. She was hiding when “right before he stepped into the kitchen—pop! He slumped to the ground, dead the instant my father’s bullet penetrated the back of his head.”
  • While walking in the forest, a bear attacks Sophia. “Huffing and grunting, she swats my back, violently rolling me over. My skull hits the dirt. She strikes my thigh fiercely with her paw.” Someone shoots a rifle and the bear runs away.
  • Sophia has a flashback that makes her panic. When she was younger, her family charted a sailboat when a group of men began chasing them. Sophia’s parents tell her to hide underwater. Her mother says, “No bubbles. You have to stay hidden, and that’s the only place! Now go!”
  • When the men get close to the sailboat, “gunfire erupted. . .” When Sofia comes up, she sees “four bloodied bodies floating in the water. Facedown.”
  • While attending school in Africa, the class goes on a safari. While the group was exploring, a truck blockades the road. One of the men gropes Anika and “her brother Peter shouted at him. The rebel hit Peter so hard with his rifle barrel, Peter staggered into the bumper, bleeding from his ear. . .”
  • One of the rebels shot the driver, who “crumpled onto the dirt, dead.” The rebels killed another adult, but when they went to shoot some of the children, the gun jammed. Sophia describes, “I reached into my boot, pulled out my 5-7, and fired twice. The commander dropped to the ground. A rebel shot Katu, so I shot him too, a double rap into his stomach. . .” The school group race to the hospital, but the fate of the injured adults isn’t known.
  • While leaving a restaurant, Sophia sees a man who has been following her. The man is standing next to Aksel’s truck, blocking the passenger door. “Abruptly, the man takes a step toward Aksel, like a tiny squirrel provoking a chained dog. Glinting in the man’s hand is the shining, polished edge of a blade. . .” After a short standoff, the man backs down.
  • Sophia tells Aksel about being kidnapped. While in Istanbul, two women ask Sophia for directions. Sophia “turned in time to see the second woman corner me. Her hand shot out like a viper from the folds of her pleated dress, snatching my wrist with a viselike grip. The first woman threw her shawl over my head, muffling my screams as they dragged me into the alley.”
  • After the two women restrain Sophia, a man blindfolds her and takes her someplace where she “was tied to a copper pipe jutting out from between the floorboards. . . I was scared. I knew I would be sold to a terror group, or a wealthy buyer. . .” A man finally unties Sophia and questions her. “When I didn’t answer, he touched my cheek and rubbed his hand against my neck . . . That was worse than when he hit me. And he did. . . often. . . he made me bleed.”
  • While being held captive, a man named Farhad “pulled out a rusty knife and put it next to [Sophia’s] throat.” The man threatened her, “Tell us who your father is or I send him your head.” When Sophia spat in his face, the man cut her, leaving a scar under her chin.”
  • Sophia was able to get the knife from Farhad. She “swung the knife, cutting him from his forehead to the bottom of his cheek.” Then, Sophia was able to escape. The kidnapping is described over four pages.
  • Terrorists surround Aksel’s house in an attempt to capture Sophia. One of the men throws a grenade. “The floor-to-ceiling glass windows shatter. The trim erupts in bright flames, splintering shards of wood across the room. We throw ourselves to the floor. Aksel turns midair, landing on top of me, shielding my body.”
  • The terrorists begin shooting at both Aksel and Sophia. Aksel “fires twice. Both bullets hit a man’s chest. His knees buckle and he drops. Aksel. . . pulls the trigger again. This time he punctures the man’s neck. A geyser of blood sprays across the foyer.”
  • When some of the terrorists enter the house, “Boom! A flash of bright light, the doors burst open. The force of the exploding thrust me [Sophia] across the room. I land hard on my bleeding leg.” Then “a man lunges for Aksel’s neck. Aksel spins hard around, hitting the butt of his rifle into the man’s face with a bone-crunching sound.”
  • A man is able to capture Sophia and “holds my arms behind my back and wraps a cable tie around my wrists. . . I throw my head backwards with as much force as I can. Crack! The Chechen lets go of me. . .” Sophia is able to use a knife to cut the man. “The semiautomatic drops from his hands as he tries to stop blood spurting from the neck.” The bloody scene is described over nine pages.
  • Sophia reads a report about Anton Katranov, who was an undercover spy that worked under Sophia’s father. Sophia’s father, Kent, found Anton “face down on the floor, arms outstretched… behind him were the lifeless bodies of his two boys. And behind them, blocking the entrance to the back bedrooms, lay the crumpled body of Mrs. Katranov.” The deaths are described over two pages.
  • Sophia gets angry at her parents and sneaks off a train. When Sophia realizes she is being followed, she goes into a crowded club and then tries to leave, undetected. She cuts through an alley and sees, “the bald man. I reverse, but two other men approach from behind me. . . Between them is a girl with long, dark hair, and silver hoops in her ears. . . Now, she stares at me, wide eyed. Petrified. Blood is coagulating around a cut in her eyebrow. Her lip is swollen. . .” Sophia gives herself up, so the men will let go of the girl.
  • Sophia is thrown into a car, and her ankles are zip-tied. Despite this, she is able to “curl my knees into my chest, pivot to the left, and rocket my legs out from my body. My blunt heels collide with the back of the driver’s head.” The car swerves and crashes. Sophia escapes.
  • The story concludes with a multi-chapter, extended description of the battle between Sophia, her parents, and the terrorists. Sophia’s father appears out of nowhere and grabs one of the terrorists, Munich Jacket. “Unflinching, my father bends Munich Jacket’s forefinger so far in the wrong direction that the bone snaps in two. . . With a swift swipe of his HK, my father breaks Munich Jackets’ skull.” There is a blood gun battle where many people are killed, including Sophia’s father.
  • As Sophia runs from the terrorists, she runs across a frozen pond. When the men try to follow, “I turn to see the ice dissolve beneath them too. Their bodies plunge into the frigid water.”
  • Bakami, the terrorist who wants Sophia, finally captures her. “Bakami slides his hand around the back of my neck and pinches my spine so savagely between his forefinger and thumb I nearly black out. . . Slowly, I tilt my neck back then ram my head forward. My forehead collides into his face with a hard crunch . . . Blood gushes from his nostrils, soaking the collar of his shirt.”
  • When Sophia continues to talk back to Bakami, he “traces my collarbone with his fingernail. . . with the back of his hand, he swings the weight of his forearm across my jaw. He grips my neck, pinching my esophagus, strangling me.” Bakami points a gun at Sophia, readying to shoot her when, “A gunshot sounds. Followed by another. . . Abramovich [Bakami] crumbles back against the mahogany desk, blood pouring from the silk handkerchief in his pocket.”
  • Sophia and the secret agents follow the terrorists, who set off a bomb. When Sophia comes to, “my skin is on fire. Hot pieces of metal gash my forearms like fiery embers; they singe my shirt, engulfing the pavement and every nearby surface.” While there are several injuries, no deaths are described.
  • When the double agent is discovered, Sophia’s mother “grabs Andrews by her lapel, flings her around, and shoves. Andrews tumbles backward out of the plane, sucked into the sky.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Sophia is injured, she is given an injection of lidocaine.
  • Sophia’s captor drinks vodka.

Language

  • Damn is used twice. Sophia’s father tells her, “Stop being obstinate and get on the damn plane.”
  • One of the terrorists calls Sophia a whore.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 The Rider’s Reign

Anthea and her friends arrive in Kronenhof on a mission. They have two weeks to find the missing Coronami princess—kidnapped by Anthea’s mother and taken to the neighboring land—before Coronam declares war. On top of that, Anthea’s mother has also captured the herd stallion and half a dozen more horses—enough to start her own herd in Kronenhof.

But navigating the court politics of a foreign country proves to be more difficult than Anthea imagined. Will Anthea and her companions be able to outmaneuver her mother, who has always been one stop ahead of them? And what should they do about the rumors of wild horses in Kronenhof’s forest?

The Rider’s Reign focuses less on the horses and more on political intrigue. However, in order to better understand the horse’s emotions, some chapters are told from a specific horse’s point of view. To distinguish the point of view, the horse’s name appears at the top of the chapter and these chapters have grey borders around the page. Anthea and her friends are trying to find the ghosts, a mysterious group of horses that hide in the forest. However, when the ghost horses are found, the scene feels anticlimactic and unimportant because nothing is revealed. Instead, Anthea has a short conversation with the horses and then slips back into the forest.

Anthea and her group travel to Kronenhof and meet some interesting new characters. The main villain, the emperor of Kronenhof, is underdeveloped and unrealistic. Everyone around him, including the two teens who he kidnapped, pretend that they are willing visitors, which makes no sense. Despite this, readers will enjoy the familiar faces of the characters. In addition, the story contains several surprises, and, in the end, the villains get what they deserve.

The Rose Legacy Trilogy has a unique premise that will appeal to readers who love horses. Readers will have to pay close attention to understand the political intrigue and the complicated plot. In addition, the large cast of characters may confuse some readers. While the concluding book, The Rider’s Reign, doesn’t tie up all the loose ends, the conclusion will satisfy middle-grade readers.

If you’re looking for a horse-related book with a strong female character, The Rose Legacy Trilogy will delight you. Anthea is a likable heroine, who is willing to make sacrifices in order to save her friends. Anthea has the strength to stand by her principles, care for the horses, and act when necessary. The Rose Legacy Trilogy is an entertaining series that readers of all ages will enjoy. Horse loving readers will also like the Riders of the Realm Trilogy by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez.

Sexual Content

  • The horse Bluebell says, “My mother’s name is Posey. My father’s name does not matter. I wish to have a foal when we return home. It is time.”

Violence

  • The emperor of Kronenhof kidnaps Prince Adil. Adil says, “I was kidnapped, my tutor killed, and I was brought here. . . As long as I am here, my father will not attack.”
  • Lady Cassandra is afraid of horses because she saw “a sweet young man—a boy really—was trampled by his horse. The creature simply turned on him, for no reason. Every bone in his body must have been broken; if he lived, he surely never walked again!” Cassandra doesn’t know what happened to the man.
  • When the emperor of Kronenhof tried to touch Constantine, the horse “had bitten him, had tried to kick and trample him. The bite, alas, was the only blow that connected. Constantine regretted, too, that he had not bitten the man’s hand clean off.”
  • A soldier was standing by the door guarding Meg. Jilly opens the door and “there was a crack and a thud as the soldier fell on his face. . . Jilly jumped over the soldier’s prone form to Meg.” The girls “drag the unconscious man to the bed and stuff him underneath, pushing with their feet.”
  • The emperor of Kronenhof and Anthea’s mother stole some horses and locked them in a basement. When Anthea finds them, Constantine “had long bloody streaks on his flanks where he had been whipped.” To free the horses, someone creates a diversion by blowing up some vehicles. “The explosion came right as Anthea slid back down the chute. It knocked her sideways off the ramp, and she hit her bruised hip on a coal bin, giving a sharp cry of pain and surprise.”
  • When Anthea and her friends try to free the horses, Anthea’s mother appears. “Elegant, understated, and with a pistol pointed at her daughter.” In order to manipulate Anthea, her mother threatens to shoot the horses.
  • While the emperor of Kronenhof and a large group are traveling through the city, someone throws a grenade. Florin “reared up and dumped the emperor onto the hard cobbles of the street.” The crowds “were screaming, scattering, their faces terrified. . . More gunshots came. The crowd was running in all directions, screaming. . .”
  • During the explosions, a man shoots someone, and “the man dropped like a marionette with its strings cut.”
  • Florin takes Anthea away from the crowds. At the sound of an explosion, “heat and noise slammed into Anthea’s back just seconds after Florin shot down a side street.” The explosions are described over eight pages. One man dies, but there are no other injuries.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Anthea was nervous, she was acting strange. Someone asked her, “Did you sneak some champagne?”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • People who have “the Way” can communicate with horses and feel the horse’s emotions. “The Way wasn’t a language of words so much as images, odors, and feelings.”
  • There are stones around the city that make it so people and horses are not able to use the Way to communicate with each other.

Spiritual Content

  • While imprisoned in Kronenhof Anthea “was sure she wasn’t the only one saying a silent prayer to find the elusive ghosts [horses] soon.”
  • During a parade, the emperor rides a horse. “Anthea prayed that the experience would convince Emperor Wilhelm that he did not want a horse.”

American Royals #1

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washington’s have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life begins to feel stifling. For Princess Samantha, nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

While American Royals follows the lives of the three Washington children, the story is told from multiple characters including Beatrice, Samantha, Nina, and Daphne. Beatrice struggles with the pressure of becoming the future queen. Because Samantha is the “spare,” she feels that no one cares about her, so she has turned into a wild party girl. Nina is Samantha’s best friend, and for a brief time, she dates the prince, Jefferson. While Nina deeply cares about Samantha and Jefferson, she struggles with the media storm that follows her. And then there is Daphne; she wants a crown and is willing to do anything to get it. The four distinct points of view allow the reader to understand the nuances of each character. This allows for rich world-building full of suspense, passion, and surprises.

Even though the story focuses on the monarchy, politics is not a major storyline. However, Beatrice and her father do talk about politics; for example, the King believes that “opposition is critical to government, like oxygen to fire.” These discussions will give readers some political questions to ponder. Plus, these discussions allow the reader to understand how Beatrice is forced to always put the crown before her personal desires.

The dynamics between the Washington family and their friends create an interesting story full of unique characters that draw the reader in. The narration includes some of the characters’ thoughts and feelings, which gives the story depth. While there is a clear villain, some of the suspense comes from not knowing everyone’s motivation. However, in a break from believability, most of the characters do not act like typical young adults. Despite this, many readers will relate to the characters’ fight against social and parental expectations. In the end, American Royals uses American’s fascination with royalty to spin a terrific tale that sheds light on the difficulties of being a prince or princess. However, if you’re looking for a book full of intrigue without the steamy kissing scenes, the Embassy Row Series by Ally Carter is sure to entertain you.

Sexual Content

  • Jefferson’s girlfriend finds him “in bed with another girl.”
  • At the Queen’s Ball, Samantha meets Teddy. She takes him into a coat closet and tells him, “I outrank you, and as your princess, I command that you kiss me.” After a brief conversation, Samantha “grabbed a fistful of his shirt and yanked him forward. Teddy’s mouth was warm on hers. He kissed her back eagerly, almost hungrily.”
  • Daphne, Jefferson’s ex-girlfriend, curtsied. “They both knew there was no reason to greet him like this, except to give him a good view down the front of her dress.”
  • At a graduation party, Jefferson and Nina go to his bedroom and make out. “Nina fell back onto the bed, pulling Jeff down next to her. . .his hand slipped under the strap of her dress, and it forced Nina brutally to her senses.” Nina stops Jefferson before they have sex.
  • Jefferson and Nina kiss four times. After the Queen’s ball, Jefferson kisses Nina. “She felt a sizzle of shock as the kiss ricocheted through her body. This is what she’d been chasing when she’d kissed those boys at school . . . This is how a kiss should feel—electric and pulsing and smokey all at once. . .”
  • Even though Beatrice is dating Teddy, she kisses her guard, Connor, and “the utter rightness of that kiss struck her, deep in her core.” They kiss five times.
  • During a skiing trip, Jefferson kisses Nina. “Nina went still, her eyes fluttering shut. Jeff’s lips were freezing, but his tongue was hot. The twin sensations and the fire sent shivers of longing through her body.” The kiss is described over two paragraphs.
  • Beatrice and Connor get stuck in a snow storm and have to share a room. While there, Connor kisses Beatrice. “He kissed her slowly, with a hushed sense of wonder that bordered on awe.”
  • Teddy is dating Samantha’s sister, Beatrice. Despite this, he kisses Samantha. “The kiss was gentle and soft, nothing like their fevered kisses in the cloakroom that night. . . Sam lifted her hands to splay them over the planes of Teddy’s chest, then draped them over his shoulders.” They kiss several more times after this incident.
  • Daphne wants to get back together with Jefferson. When they meet at a party, she tells him, “This time we don’t have to wait. For anything.” Before, Daphne told Jefferson that she wanted to wait to have sex, but now she’s hoping sex will help her get Jefferson back.
  • Teddy kisses Beatrice “with a quiet reverence. . . Beatrice had sensed that this was coming, and tried not to think about it too closely—not think anything at all. But it took every ounce of her willpower not to recoil from the feel of Teddy’s lips on hers. Just this morning she had been tangled in bed with Connor, their kisses so electrified that they sizzled all way down each of her nerve endings, while this kiss felt as empty as a scrap of blank paper.”
  • Even though Daphne was dating Jefferson, she has sex with Jefferson’s best friend, Ethan. “Suddenly they were tumbling onto the bed together, a tangle of hands and lips and heat. She yanked her dress impatiently over her head. . .She felt fluid, electrified, gloriously irresponsible.” The description stops here.
  • At Beatrice and Teddy’s engagement party, Beatrice kisses Connor. “His mouth on hers was searing hot. . . It felt like she’d been living in an oxygen-starved world and now could finally breathe—as if raw fire raced through her veins, and if she and Connor weren’t careful, they might burn down the world with it.”
  • At Beatrice’s engagement party, Daphne gets a ride with Ethan. Ethan kisses her and “the kiss snapped down her body like a drug, coursing wildly along her nerve endings. Daphne pulled him closer . . . Somehow, she moved to sit atop him, straddling his lap. They both fumbled in the dark, shoving aside the frothy mountain of her skirts.” The make-out scene is described over three paragraphs; the sex is not described.

Violence

  • During a knighting ceremony, Jefferson’s friend remembers “when Jefferson had drunkenly decided to knight people using one of the antique swords on the wall. He’d ended up nicking their friend Rohan’s ear. Rohan laughed about the whole thing, but you could still see the scar.”
  • Jefferson and Samantha have a graduation party at the palace. The guests “all had a lot to drink; the party’s signature cocktail was some fruity mixed thing.” During the party, a girl “tumbled down the palace’s back staircase.” The girl is in a coma after her fall.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are many, many events where alcohol is served to both adults and minors. For example, during the Queen’s Ball alcohol is served, including champagne. Even though Samantha is a minor the bartender gives her “a pair of frosted beer bottles.”
  • Samantha thinks about the difference between Jefferson and herself. “If pictures surfaced of Jeff visibly drunk and stumbling out of a bar, he was blowing off some much-needed steam. Samantha was a wild party girl.”
  • While at a museum, Beatrice looks at Picasso’s paintings. She said, “They always make me feel a little drunk.” Her guard says, “Well, really it’s to make you feel like you’re high on acid. But drunk is close enough.”
  • During the World Series, one of Jefferson’s friends became drunk and “bartered away his shoes for a hot dog.”
  • After a play, Samantha was served “two glasses of wine and a whiskey sour” even though she is only eighteen.
  • At a New Year’s party, Samantha and Daphne get drunk. “For the first time in her life, Daphne was drunk in public. After she and Samantha took that first round of shots, Daphne had insisted on switching to champagne. . . She’d never known how utterly liberating it was, to drink until the edges of reality felt liquid and blurred.”
  • Nina goes to a frat party. “Despite the chilly weather, a few of the houses had kegs and music on their front lawns. . .” When Nina goes inside, she sees, “clusters of students gathered around a plastic table, lining up their cups of beer for a drinking game.”
  • The King’s sister only goes to royal engagements when she’s drunk.
  • At a party, Daphne drinks tequila. She kept hoping that if she drank enough, she might temporarily forget that her hard-won, high-profile relationship was unraveling at the seams. So far it hadn’t worked.
  • Sam tells Teddy about some of her ancestors. King Hardecanute “died of drunkenness at a wedding feast . . . He literally drank himself to death!”
  • At his sister’s engagement party, Jefferson “sat on a gleaming barstool, his body slumped forward, his elbow propped on the bar. An expensive bottle of scotch sat before him . . . He was drinking straight from the bottle.”
  • After Beatrice’s engagement party, her father and she have bourbon. Beatrice takes a glass because it was “liquid courage.”
  • At a graduation party, Daphne puts “ground up sleeping pills” into a girl’s wine. The girl was “visibly drunker, her words louder and more pointed, and then a few minutes later she retreated to a sitting room.”

Language

  • Hell is used occasionally. Damn is used once.
  • God and oh god are used as exclamations occasionally.
  • If Samantha talked back to the paparazzi, she “was a ruthless bitch.”
  • After a picture of Jefferson and Nina kissing appears, people begin attacking Nina. One person posts, “get rid of that skanky commoner.” She is also called a “fame whore” and “a social climber.”
  • Daphne calls Nina a “gold-digging fame whore.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The American Constitution says that “the king is charged by God to administer this Nation’s government.”
  • When Beatrice and Connor get stuck in the snow, she prays “that she could stay here forever, outside time itself.”
  • The King tells Beatrice, “I wish I had someone I could turn to for guidance. But all I can do is pray.”
  • While the king is in the hospital, his mother has “her rosary clicking in her hands as she mouthed her litany of prayers.”
  • When the king dies, “All the prayers that Beatrice had memorized as a child came rushing back, their words filling her throat. She kept reciting them, because it gave her something to occupy her brain, a weapon to wield against her overwhelming guilt. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

Mayflower Treasure Hunt

The Hunt is on! Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are spending Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts. They can’t wait to see the sights and have a Thanksgiving dinner just like the Pilgrims would have eaten. Then the kids learn about a sapphire necklace that went missing on the real Mayflower. Could the 400-year-old treasure be hidden somewhere nearby? And will someone else find it before they do?

Mystery lovers will learn history as they follow Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose through the streets of Massachusetts. The three kids’ journey focuses on historical places connected to the Mayflower. The simple plot is fast-paced and contains enough suspense and mystery to keep readers interested. While the three friends do not follow a trail of clues, they use historical information to help solve the case. In addition, when the kids find the necklace, they never consider keeping it for themselves. Instead, they donate the necklace to the local museum.

Mayflower Treasure Hunt’s short chapters and black and white illustrations make the story accessible to readers. Large illustrations appear every 2 to 4 pages. Many of the illustrations are one page and help readers understand the plot. Plus, readers can hunt through the pictures to find a hidden message.

One negative aspect of the story, is that when Dirk believes someone is following him and his friends, they do not seek out adult help. Instead, they try to hide from the person and end up in a situation that could have been dangerous. Parents may want to discuss the importance of seeking an adult if they feel they are in danger.

Mayflower Treasure Hunt will get a peek into the Pilgrims’ world. For instance, readers will be surprised to learn that the Pilgrims had a village jail. “Being lazy, not sharing, not attending church” were all crimes. Stealing a pig or a hen were also jail-worthy crimes. Mystery-loving readers will enjoy the adventurous story. The A to Z Mysteries Series will hook chapter book readers. Plus, the series has over 26 books to keep readers entertained.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • One of the Pilgrims “was in jail in England before the crossing. Oh, he was a mean ‘um. Mudgett used to kick the dogs and the children if they got in his way.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Masterminds #1

Eli Frieden has never left Serenity, New Mexico…why would he ever want to? Then one day, he bikes to the edge of the city limits and something so crazy and unexpected happens, it changes everything.

Eli convinces his friends to help him investigate further, and soon it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems in Serenity. The clues mount to reveal a shocking discovery, connecting their ideal, crime-free community to some of the greatest criminal masterminds ever known. The kids realize they can trust no one — least of all their own parents.

Masterminds has a slow start as it introduces the many characters and the town of Serenity. However, the story also has some heart-stopping moments, which all revolve around the kids trying to figure out the secret that all of the adults have been hiding. Many of the story’s events and explanations are far-fetched. Because of the unbelievable nature of the plot, readers will have to suspend their disbelief in order to enjoy the story.

The story revolves around five characters—Eli, Malik, Hector, Tori, and Amber—and each chapter changes between these characters’ points of view. The constantly shifting point of view is confusing, especially since the characters’ voices are all similar to each other. However, the changing point of view allows readers to understand some of the individual choices that the characters make. Despite this, when the kids discover the answer to the mystery, some of the characters’ reactions still seem extreme and inconsistent.

Readers who enjoy conspiracy theories and mysteries will enjoy Masterminds. The story has a unique premise and will leave readers debating the scientific question of nature vs. nurture. While not all of the events are believable, the suspense and mystery make Masterminds an interesting story. The conclusion doesn’t wrap up all of the story’s threads, but leaves many unanswered questions which will be explored in the next book, Criminal Destiny. While Masterminds has some slow moments, Criminal Destiny picks up the pace in an exciting sequel. If you’re a mystery fan that would prefer a more logical mystery, the Theodore Boone Series by John Grisham would be a better choice.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While trying to get out of town, a guard grabs Malik. Eli swings “his shovel around and I catch Alexander the Grape between the shoulder blades. He drops like a stone. . .” When another guard named Bryan comes after them, Eli tries to drive away. “There’s a thump on my running board. An indigo-sleeved arm reaches for me. The hand grabs my hair. It hurts.” One of the kids hits Bryan in the head with a hoe and he falls down.
  • Eli’s friends jump from a speeding truck before the truck goes over the edge of a mountain. They are not sure if Hector also jumped or died when the truck went over.
  • The kids catch a ride in a train car. When the cars stop, workers see the kids. When a worker grabs Tori, “Malik springs into action. He snatches up a full Gatorade bottle and bounces it with deadly accuracy off the side of the man’s jaw. The blow knocks him backward into the wall, and he releases Tori.” The kids run. Malik gets stuck under a pallet. Amber “leaps into the cab of the forklift, dislodging the driver.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • As Eli tries to leave town, he gets sick and has to stay home for two weeks. During his time at home, Eli is given pills. He thinks the pills are supposed to make him forget what happened.

Language

  • There is some name calling including, loser, idiot, moron and stupid. The name calling happens infrequently.
  • After reading a note from Randy, Malik says, “Hardaway was always a wing nut. . .What a doofus.”
  • Eli thinks his dad is a doofus.
  • Eli calls Harold “stupid.”
  • “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation once.
  • When Eli discovers he has been cloned from a criminal, he hopes his DNA didn’t come from a bonehead.
  • The kids call some of the factory workers the “Purple People Eaters.” Someone makes names for them like “Alexander the Grape.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • During a thunderstorm, Malik is “praying that it would be over.”
  • When there is a plumbing emergency at Eli’s house, he prays that Hector’s dad can fix it.
  • Eli and his friends discover a scientific research project called Osiris. “Osiris is the Egyptian god of the afterlife.”

War Storm

In the splintered Kingdom of Norta, freedom for Reds and newbloods is closer than ever before. Torn between the two princes and the feuding noble Silver Houses, Norta is ripe for the taking. All the Scarlet Guard has to do is clean up the mess Maven Calore made, and create the type of nation that will never discriminate against Reds and newbloods. The first step is to rip the crown from Maven’s head.

In order to change the world, Mare Barrow must ally with Cal, the boy who chose the crown over her. Cal’s betrayal nearly broke Mare, but now she must fight alongside him if she wants any chance at winning freedom. If she doesn’t, Maven will surely overrun them all, and capture her for himself. Maven’s obsession with Mare runs deep, and he’ll stop at nothing to have her again.

For the Reds to rise, they must first go through a war storm. Scurrying from nation to nation and striking deep into the heart of Norta is only the beginning, and there are endless battles in sight. Are Mare and the Scarlet Guard willing to sacrifice everything to achieve the impossible? Or will Maven crush them and their dreams?

War Storm is the final entry in Aveyard’s Red Queen Series, and the story will not disappoint readers. As Mare and the Scarlet Guard are about to secure a future for themselves, they fight intense battles. The action-packed series features different combinations of Silver and newblood abilities, which makes every battle feel unique and fresh. Readers will love how each battle plays out differently than the last.

Of course, all those battles support the theme of war, as nearly the entire continent gets dragged into the civil war between Cal and his brother, Maven. Maven brokers alliances with the powerful nation of the Lakelands, as well as the smaller nation of Piedmont. While Cal allies with the free country of Montfort, the only nation known that allows equality for Reds, newbloods, and Silvers.

The characters in War Storm are strong and interesting. Mare has grown into a girl that’s strong enough to handle whatever is thrown at her. Another fascinating character is Evangeline Samos, Mare’s former enemy, who begins the long journey to overcome her Silver-born prejudices. These strong characters will keep readers on the edge of their seats. While not every main character gets the most satisfying ending to their arc, the ending ties up most of the loose ends and will leave readers happy. Warm Storm is a satisfying conclusion to Aveyard’s Red Queen Series.

Sexual Content

  • Evangeline is in love with her brother’s wife, Elane. Evangeline thinks, “It breaks my heart to know she isn’t really mine.”
  • Evangeline’s brother, tells her that their mother wants grandchildren. “Prodding after grandchildren. She escorts Elane to my rooms every night. I think she might even stand guard outside the door.”
  • Davidson, the leader of Montfort, shares a kiss with his husband, Carmadon. “They embrace quickly, touching foreheads and kissing, before Carmadon backs away.”

Violence

  • During an attack on a military transport, Mare sees Evangeline lift a vehicle. Mare watches as Evangeline “hisses as she raises the heavy transport off the road, revealing twisted limbs and a few flattened skulls seeping brain like popped grapes leaking juice.”
  • During a battle, Kilorn, Mare’s best friend, is thrown off a building. Mare thinks, “The crack and thud of Kilorn hitting the railing below makes me sick.” Minutes later, when Mare gets to Kilorn, he “jolts and hacks, painting the steps with his own blood.”
  • Mare gets revenge on the Silvers that threw Kilorn, killing them with lightning, “I have to look away from the charred remains. Only their buttons and guns remain intact, smoking with heat.”
  • When Iris meets with Cal’s grandmother, Iris pictures, “her grip changing, shifting, and then my skull exploding open, spewing brain and bone all over the transport interior.”
  • Just before being ambushed, Mare sees pine needles floating in the air. One pine needle, “sprouts before my eyes, a sapling growing in midair. It spears a soldier before any of us can react.
  • During an ambush, Tyton kills a lot of raiders with his ability to control lightning. Tyton, “blinks once, twice. Killing anyone within his reach, leveling them with a fury of electricity in their skills.”
  • Iris thinks about the man who killed her father. The man “cut his throat. Attacked him from behind like some honorees dog.
  • Mare kills a man who attacked her. She strikes him with her lightning and “then his face explodes; shards of bone and torn flesh arc forward. His body follows the momentum, slumping over me, and the thunderous touch of electricity returns as quickly as he falls.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • During a dinner party, wine is served. Mare watches as her friend, Farley, “barely nods in thanks when Carmadon fills her glass with rich, almost black wine. She drinks deep.”

Language

  • Damn is used frequently. Mare thinks about Cal’s marriage to Evangeline, “Like us, Volo needs him. Needs his name, needs his crown, and needs his damn hand in that damn marriage to his damn daughter.”
  • Maven called Elane “Evangeline’s whore.”

Supernatural

  • Silvers and Newbloods have unique powers.
  • Mare is an electricon, a type of newblood that can manipulate lightning. Mare thinks, “I hardly know the depths of my own abilities. It’s the same for all newbloods I’ve met and helped train.”
  • Ella, another electricon, “used her own storm to strike the central, furious blue lightning cracking stone.”
  • Mare thinks about her ability to manipulate lightning, “I know what it is to pour lightning into a person, to sense their nerves sparking off and dying. It feels like a small death of your own, an ending you can never forget.”
  • Prince Bracken is a mimic. Iris thinks about his abilities, “If he were to touch me, he would be able to use my nymph abilities, albeit only for a time, and to a lesser extent. The same goes for any Silver.”
  • Jidansais is a telky. Iris thinks about Jidansa, “She used her talky ability to amuse Ti and me as children, juggling our shoes or toys with her mind.”
  • Evangeline is a magnetron, who can manipulate metal. After lifting a military transport, “Evangeline lowers the transport again. With a twitch of her fingers, she rips off one of the doors, allowing those inside to tumble out.”
  • Shadows can manipulate light. Mare sees, “The work of shadows, no doubt, manipulators of light. It sends harsh light and harsher darkness dancing across us all.”
  • Nymphs can manipulate water. Evangeline sees the signs of a nymph attack, “‘Nymph strike!’ I manage to scream as another towering wave crashes—backward.”
  • Evangeline recounts her first time teleporting, “It feels like being squeezed down to my marrow, all my organs twisting, my balance thrown off, my perception turned on its head.”
  • Windweavers can manipulate wind and air. Mare sees, “On the opposite side of the chamber, Radis gestures to Davidson, flicking out one hand. As he does so, a sudden breeze rustles through the Gallery.”

Spiritual Content

  • In the Lakelands, the people worship gods that don’t have faces.
  • Iris thinks it’s a blasphemy to speak for the gods.
  • Iris tries to get her betrothed, Maven, to accept her gods. When he refuses, she thinks, “Nonbelievers are not my problem. I can’t open their eyes, and it isn’t my job to do so. Let him meet the gods in death and see how wrong he was before he enters a hell of his own making.”
  • In Archeon, the capital of Norta, Iris tries to maintain her beliefs. She has, “a small temple—a shrine, more than anything—filled with candles and worn emblems of the nameless gods.”
  • In the Lakelands, the nameless gods are everywhere. Iris sees, “Worn faces, bland in their features, both strange and familiar, look down from the ceiling and walls. Our gods have no names, no hierarchy. Their blessings are random, their words sparse, their punishments impossible to predict.”

by Jonathan Planman

Spin

Spin centers around the murder of Paris Secord, an up-and-coming musician whose stage name was DJ ParSec. After finding fame and fortune on SoundCloud and YouTube, Paris begins to clash with some of the friends who helped her on her way to the top. When Paris is found dead on top of her signature turntables, her childhood best friend Kya and social media guru Fatimah (“Fuse”) find themselves suspects in the investigation. To clear their name, they set out to solve the murder themselves.

Kya and Fuse are the two main narrators of the story, which switches between their first-person perspectives. As Kya and Fuse delve deeper into Paris’s past, they must come to terms with the bitter fallings-out they had with Paris before she died. While Kya and Fuse start as enemies, they soon bond in their shared efforts to bring justice to Paris. As they investigate, the two encounter a conspiracy involving crazed fans who will do anything to prove themselves loyal members of the ParSec Nation. As Kya and Fuse unravel the mystery, some chapters flash back to Paris’s perspective, which reveals crucial details and reveals how she coped with fame.

 Spin is a fast-paced mystery that introduces readers to music industry concepts, such as ill-intentioned managers and nosy journalists. The story honestly portrays contemporary music culture and rabid fandom. While some of this portrayal comes across as well-researched and genuine, other parts feel forced. Readers might find the narrative’s dialects and buzzwords unnatural. For example, the book often shows tweets from rabid fans, but the style and syntax of the tweets is disingenuous and awkward.

Spin succeeds in its earnest portrayal of class tensions. Kya, Fuse, and Paris all must deal with their families’ financial situations and how their circumstances have shaped their worldviews. For example, Paris set up a bank account for her newfound wealth while trying to keep her grandmother from being evicted. “I learned quickly,” Paris says, “that black-folks rich and rich-rich aren’t the same thing.”

Spin delivers no central lesson about racial injustice. However, Spin is a diverse story set across a backdrop that shows readers how black music and culture evolve. From seeing Paris in the studio to seeing her fans’ blogs and bedrooms, readers will get a close-up look of how people of color influence and lead in the music scene. Readers will also see the anxieties Kya and Fuse experience while dealing with the police, because they are wary that, as people of color, they may become victims of police brutality.

Overall, Spin feels fairly one-dimensional, and readers may guess the ending before the murderer is revealed. The story is strongest in its theme of friendship, and readers will enjoy seeing Kya and Fuse bond as they begin to heal from Paris’s death. Equally important is the way art and culture bring people together, even as fame pushes artists to their breaking points.

Sexual Content

  • An internet troll asks Fuse, “If I hooked jumper cables to a car battery and clamped them onto your fingers and toes…would you blow?”
  • In a flashback, Paris narrates how she meets her boyfriend Shameik, who was “a CUTE-cute boy from my grade. Suddenly him invading my personal space wasn’t such a big deal.”
  • Paris’s boyfriend Shameik “kissed my neck again. It tickled, but I didn’t giggle because I liked acting as if those kisses didn’t affect me so he’d keep trying.”
  • Shameik and Fuse kissed once. It isn’t a big deal to Paris and is never described in detail, but the kiss keeps being brought up.
  • A character says, “If you made me leave so [Shameik and Fuse] could make out, I’m going to need some gas money.”

Violence

  • On the night of Paris’s murder, Kya punches Fuse in the face. “Her punch connected with my left eye. A solid POP! A white explosion of pain that washed out the room for a hot second.”
  • While questioning Fuse about the murder, a police officer “holds his hands at chest level, fingers curled, ready to grab” Fuse. Another cop grabs Fuse “so all I could do was kick, then he lifted me so those kicks only hit air.”
  • Fuse remembers finding Paris’s body. “That sheet of sticky, dark blood over half of ParSec’s [Paris’s] face. How she’d been a rag doll, arms spread wide, across the turntables…Her eyes bulged, the right one deep red where white should be, like something in that side of her head had exploded.”
  • A ParSec fan at school shoves Kya into a locker.
  • Fuse says, “Beyoncé could start the Purge with a tweet if she wanted.” (The Purge is a film about an anarchic period of unhinged murder and violence; the saying “The Purge” has become shorthand for such an event.)
  • Dedicated ParSec fans kidnap Kya and Fuse, zip-tie their hands and ankles together, and put them in the back of a van. Kya’s “turned—too late—to see two [people] rushing at me, duct tape stretched and ready. The first strip pressed hard against my lips while one of my assailants wrapped me [Kya] in a bear hug, pinning my arms.” During the attack a person in a mask “slammed a palm into my [Fuse’s] chest, pushing me back against the van wall.”
  • While they are captive in the van, Fuse is “angry enough to tear a chunk out of Kya” and aims “a two-heeled kick towards Kya’s chest.”
  • Someone tells Kya, “You should calm down. You’ll bust a blood vessel.” Kya responds, “I’ll bust your blood vessels!”
  • Devoted ParSec fans threaten to cut off Kya’s pinkie with garden shears. Later, they claim they were joking.
  • When they find the murderer, a group of ParSec fans deliver him to the police, “tied, gagged, and slightly bruised.” The fans have cut off his pinkie. The murderer’s hand “was heavily bandaged. A splotch of red seeped through.”
  • Fuse threatens Paris’s manager with a stun gun, but never uses it.
  • Fuse’s mother had the stun gun because “these days she preferred pepper spray and the spiked keychain her self-defense teacher gave her.”
  • When confronting a suspect, Fuse expects Kya “to kick the door in, snap this woman’s neck like Jessica Jones, and tear [her] out the house through a load-bearing wall.”
  • Paris’s narration reveals that her murder was an accident. She recounts, “His forearm grazed my chin, and I bit into his denim jacket sleeve. There were layers between my teeth and his flesh…I bit down with all the force in my jaws. He howled, tried to fling me off. He succeeded… The stand my laptop sat on was made of heavy aluminum… the corners were sharp… My temple connected with all the force generated from me and [the murderer]’s combined pain. A solid thunk, then my legs wouldn’t work.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A popular rapper smells “strongly of weed and cologne.”
  • Paris’s boyfriend, Shameik, finds beer bottles in Paris’s apartment and says, “Who was over here drinking beer?” Paris admits to sharing beers with a popular rap group. Shameik says, “My girlfriend’s alone with some drunk old guys, and I’m not supposed to be concerned?”

Language

  • “God,” “crap,” and “Jesus” are used infrequently.
  • “God!” and “Jesus!” are used as an exclamation occasionally.
  • Fuse says that ParSec fans view Paris as “their god.”
  • Paris says that Kanye West is “one of the gods.”
  • Paris’s grandmother sometimes says, “Lord.”
  • Paris says, “I promptly lost my ish [sic]” when she gets 8,000 plays on her SoundCloud.
  • Paris’s manager calls Fuse a “strumpet.”
  • Fuse says, “Screw it,” once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Kya’s mother thanks God for Kya’s safety.
  • Kya attends Paris’s funeral and observes that “The Fifth Street Baptist Church choir should’ve been here. That was [Paris’s grandmother]’s church…where Paris got dragged every Sunday before she could call shots. There was no ‘Amazing Grace,’ no ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow.’”
  • A music journalist finding a lead looks “like someone told him Christmas Eve got rescheduled to today.”

by Caroline Galdi

Six Months Later

In May, Chloe fell asleep in study hall. When she wakes up, snow covers the ground, and she can’t remember the last six months of her life. In the six months she can’t remember, her life has been transformed. Before, she was a struggling student, and college was out of her reach. She also had a hopeless crush on popular jock Blake. Now, Chloe’s SAT scores have given her a chance to attend a top college, and Blake is her boyfriend.

Instead of being disapproving, her mother smiles at her. Instead of hiding a crush, the boy of her dreams is in her arms. Instead of sharing her secrets with her best friend Maggie, Maggie won’t even look at her. Instead of feeling thrilled when Blake wraps his arms around Chloe, she feels revolted. How can Chloe figure out what happened to her? As she looks for the truth, Chloe realizes that remembering the past comes with hidden dangers.

The mystery behind Chloe’s new world will draw the reader in as they follow Chloe’s attempt to discover how she changed so much in just six months. The mystery will capture readers’ attention, but they will keep turning the pages because Chloe is a relatable character who struggles to understand who she is. Chloe and her mother have a turbulent relationship, and although Chloe wants to make her mother proud, she isn’t sure if that is even possible. Teens will understand Chloe’s parental dilemma. Even though Chloe loves her parents, her life’s path cannot be carved out by them.

Six Months Later isn’t just a great mystery, it also has hot romantic scenes. Now that Blake is Chloe’s boyfriend, she doesn’t understand why kissing him feels so wrong. And even though Chloe doesn’t ever remember talking to bad boy Adam, when she looks at him she knows that there is something there. Although a love triangle isn’t a new concept, Six Months Later perfectly weaves the love triangle into the mystery.

With relatable teen conflict, a unique mystery, and a peculiar love interest, Six Months Later will keep readers guessing until the very end. As Chloe unravels the past, she realizes that people’s motives are often complicated and misunderstood. This book will entertain as well as teach about the importance of forgiveness. Six Months Later is a fast-paced story with likable characters that will keep readers up late into the night.

Sexual Content

  • When Blake picks Chloe up for school, she forces herself “to kiss him when he leans in. It’s still stiff and awkward, but it will get better.”
  • When Blake and Chloe kiss, she tips “my head, letting him catch my lips. It’s soft and warm and so damn weird. I feel my shoulders tense, my hands like dead weights at the end of my arms.”
  • Blake and Chloe kiss, but she doesn’t think it feels right. Once when Blake kisses her, she thinks, “I’ve been kissed enough to know when someone’s doing it right. And Blake is technically doing it right, tilting my head just a little. Urging my mouth to open for him. And he’s pressing into me just enough to make things interesting, without mashing his kibbles and bits against my thigh or anything.” When Blake kisses her, Chloe thinks about Adam. “And God, it’s wrongity-wrong-wrong, but for one second, I close my eyes tight and pretend I’m with him. I think of blue eyes and a low laugh and all the things I should never think of now.”
  • After Chloe breaks up with Blake, she kisses Adam. “His lips are soft and hard together, sending electric shocks through every inch of me. I’m heavy and trembling under his kiss, my half-frozen hands fisting in the front of his shirt, soaking in his warmth. My mouth slides open with a sign, and the kiss goes on and on. . . I can’t think about a single thing outside of the feel of his arms and the taste of his mouth against mine.”
  • Adam and Chloe kiss several times. While they are talking, Adam “leans in, kissing me once, long and soft and deep enough that I almost forget where I am.”
  • At lunch, Adam and Chloe sit in his car. Adam “pulls me toward him on the bench seat. And then his lips are trailing along my jay wand I couldn’t spell distracted if someone paid me it feels so good. We kiss until we’re running dangerously close to second base during school hours.”
  • Adam tries to get Chloe to stay away from him. When he does, she tugs “him hard by the lapels of his coat because he’s so tall that going up on tiptoes isn’t going to be enough. I kiss him, and at first his lips are hard and unrelenting. . . I ignore it. . . Adam’s hands drop to my shoulders and then he’s kissing me like he’s absolutely starved for it.”
  • Because of her memory disturbance, Chloe is afraid that she might have had sex. “My stomach does an ugly barrel roll. I take a breath and press my lips together. Could I forget something like that?”
  • When Chloe tells Adam that she loves him, he “pulls me in. His kiss is sweet and lingering, his hands trailing up my back and into my hair. It pushes out all of the cold and the fear of this night, leaving me warm and strong.”
  • When Chloe’s dad stands up for Adam, she thinks, “it’s strange. My dad defending a boy I’m making out with on a regular basis is pretty much a portent of impending apocalypse.”

Violence

  • When Chloe was in elementary school, Ryan teased Chloe’s friend and Chloe hit Ryan in the nose. “I can still practically feel that moment; the sharp, shocking pain in my knuckles and the sickening feeling that went through me when Ryan’s nose spurted blood.”
  • Chloe finds her psychiatrist “slumped over the desk. There’s a giant red-black puddle beneath her, all over the pretty desk planner.”
  • A girl hits Adam. Chloe sees “something flying by my face and then I hear the sickening smack of flesh against flesh. Adam’s jaw whips back, and I cry out as I see blood bloom on his lip.”
  • When someone threatens to hurt Chloe’s friends, she grabs a syringe and explains, “I pull the cap off and lunge. I stab the closest thing I can find and push the plunger hard and fast. . . He roars and slams his hand against my arm, batting me away. The needle still dangles from his neck when he punches at me again. This time I’m faster. I dodge left.” The man is not seriously injured.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Adam’s grandmother is an alcoholic. When Chloe goes to Adam’s apartment, she sees “the row of liquor bottles” on the back counter.
  • When Adam’s grandmother answers the door, Chloe wonders “if the smell of booze coming off her is any indication of how she’s spent her evening.”
  • In the past, Adam broke into a pharmacy and stole drugs. Adam stole drugs for his grandmother because “she gets confused a lot. She had a period when she flushed her medicine down the toilet all of the time.” The insurance wouldn’t pay for more, so he stole more.
  • While making dinner together, Chloe’s dad grabs a Samuel Adams.
  • As a secret study, some teens are given a drug called benzodiazepine, which causes “vivid dreams. Increased cognitive ability. Dry mouth. Excessive thirst. Sleepwalking. Headaches. Paranoid delusions. And my personal favorite—memory disturbances.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, crap, bitch, damn, pissed, hell, freaking, and shit.
  • Fucking is used once. Adam says, “He sold it to me as my only way out of this shit-hole town and I bought it, Chloe. I bought it hook, line, and fucking sinker.”
  • “Oh God” and “God” are frequently used as exclamations.
  • Chloe calls someone a “twisted bastard.”
  • A girl asks Chloe, “Do you think only sluts wear red?”
  • When Chloe wakes up confused, she wonders if a boy is playing a joke on her. Then she thinks, “Blake isn’t into that kind of juvenile crap. He’s on the Bully Patrol, for God’s sake.”
  • When a boy questions Chloe, she thinks, “Oh my God, I’m like a freaking parrot. Words, Chloe. Find some and spit them the hell out!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Chloe says “Thank God” occasionally. For example, when she wakes up confused and finds her cell phone, she thinks, “Thank God.”
  • Chloe and Maggie have a fight and don’t talk for months. Chloe goes to Maggie’s house to talk and says, “I follow her out of the kitchen, praying my knees will stay strong and I will not start trembling like the nervous wreck that I am.”
  • Chloe refers to God occasionally. For example, when Chloe is on an airplane she thinks, “I’m flying two thousand miles, hoping to God to end up right back where I started.”

 

Heartwood Box

Araceli’s parents wanted her to have a normal, American senior year, so they sent her to stay with her Great-Aunt Ottillie. Araceli is supposed to be focusing on school and getting ready for college, but she thinks that her aunt’s old Victorian home may be haunted. Araceli can feel someone watching her, and it doesn’t help that her great-aunt still leaves food out for her husband that has been missing for twenty years.

Araceli’s great-aunt isn’t the only creepy thing in town. Local businesses are plastered with missing posters. The townspeople are watchful and suspicious of each other. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city walls that no one talks about. When Araceli begins getting letters from the past, she thinks someone is playing a nasty joke on her.

When Araceli’s friend disappears, she is determined to find out what is going on. In order to solve the mystery, she must investigate the other disappearances as well as the secretive lab. But someone is willing to go to great lengths to keep their secrets hidden. Can Araceli uncover the conspiracy or will someone make her disappear?

The Heartwood Box is an immensely enjoyable, complicated story that will have readers guessing until the very end. Told from Araceli’s point of view, the creepy town comes alive. Although Araceli isn’t the most relatable character, her story is compelling. The supporting characters are not well-developed but they help move the plot along at a fast pace. For those who love character-driven stories, The Heartwood Box might disappoint.

This story is a mix of science-fiction, mystery, and historical romance. The multiple plots may leave readers confused unless they pay close attention. Not only is Araceli falling in love with a World War I soldier, but she is also trying to fit in at a new school and solve the mystery of the town’s disappearing people. The end of the story ties all of the threads together in a satisfying, if somewhat implausible, conclusion.

Aguirre also throws in the theme of colorism. Several times in the story, Araceli talks about colorism and gives examples of how dark skin people are treated differently than whites. At one point she thinks, “I wish America cared the same about Black and Brown girls, but there’s a lot to do yet.” Even though Araceli is bi-racial, this theme is not well fleshed out.

Readers looking for a unique time travel mystery will enjoy The Heartwood Box, which has several surprising twists at the end. Some of the vocabulary is difficult, but the majority of the story is written in easy to understand language. Although the ending is rushed, the book will captivate readers who enjoyed the Ruby Red series by Kerstin Gier or Passenger by Alexandra Bracken.

Sexual Content

  • When Araceli has a friend over to the house, her aunt says, “You can watch TV in the parlor if you want. I do trust both of you, but it would be disrespectful for you to go upstairs.” Araceli thinks to herself, “Oh my God, if I wanted to hook up with Logan, I’d go across the street. He already said his parents aren’t home.”
  • In a dream, Araceli is able to see soldiers who are on a ship. She hears, “a slick skin-on-skin sound that I identify as a soldier jerking off, trying to be stealthy about it.”
  • While talking to a boy, Araceli thinks, “He’s thirsty for me. I’ve seen the look enough to recognize it, but I pretend not to know. . .”
  • When Araceli is sitting in a car with a boy, her aunt “saves me by flipping the porch light on and peeking out the front door, likely to make sure we’re not getting hot and heavy in her Plymouth.”
  • While in a dream, Araceli meets a soldier and, “I can touch him in this dream, so I do. There’s no reason to hold back. When he drops his weapon and opens his arms, I slide into them like I belong there. . . I stretch up on tiptoe and cup his face in my hands; I feel the heat of his skin, the scruff on his chin and jaw. Then I press my mouth to his, light and soft. He drags me closer and kisses me like our lives depend on it, all heat and desperation. . . We kiss and cling until I can barely breathe.”
  • When Araceli’s aunt and uncle see her sitting in a car with an older man, her uncle asks, “Is there something you need to tell us? We won’t judge you. Grown men who entice young girls should be ashamed.” Araceli tells them that the man was a family friend.

Violence

  • The town sheriff physically abuses his son. The abuse is not described, but Araceli sees the bruises. When the boy gets to school, she “can see his lip is busted, and his face is swollen on one side. At a minimum, someone slapped the shit out of him, and it looks more like he took a few hits to the face.”
  • In a letter, a soldier writes about his experiences. “France has become hell on earth, no way around it. Great tunnels in the dirt, piled high with bodies and you can’t tell a Jerry from a Brit from a Sammy. . . Death makes every soldier the same. Nobody is coming for those men, not to give them services or say a few words or even to bury them. The birds pluck out their eyes. . .” The soldier also writes, “I killed my first Jerry and threw up afterwards. . . My friend John took one in the gut, bad way to go. Took him hours to go west, and we were all freezing next to his body in a trench during that first long hour of hate.”
  • Araceli thinks back to the past. “The kids are protesting, shouting, waving signs. A shot rings out. The student leader goes down, bleeding from his head, and it’s all mayhem, all running and screaming.”
  • Someone tells the county sheriff to kill someone. The sheriff says, “You’re trying to give me a kill order? I can’t believe you think you bought me for fifty thousand.”
  • Araceli and her friends are trying to destroy mechanisms that create the ghost light. A man sees them and Araceli “rush[es] toward him, and everything else is instinct. With the hammer, I knock whatever he has out of his hand, and then I swing again, as hard as I can, right upside his head. His body goes flying, tumbling down the hill and into the water with an ominous splash.” The man dies.
  • Araceli and her friends are chased by guards who shoot at them. Araceli’s “heart thunders in my ears as more bullets spray the area. I get stung on a ricochet and a sharp pain slices across my calf. Shit, it hurts. . .” One of her friends is shot. “His voice comes out liquid with blood and breathy from his struggle for air. . . Jackson gives me a sad smile, his teeth stained with blood. . . He goes limp in my arms. . . Jackson’s blood is all over the soil and the stones, staining my hands and the suit he made to protect us.” The scene takes place over seven pages.
  • After Araceli’s friend dies, she jumps on an ATV and tries to escape. The guards, “snap shots at me as they can, but it’s not as easy from the back of an ATV, firing at a moving vehicle.” She crashes, and a man “twists my arms behind me and binds my wrists with what feels like a zip tie, then drags me out of sight. . .I taste blood from where my lips split against my teeth.” The man gags her and then puts her in a cell. The scene takes place over 4 pages.
  • Over a radio, Araceli hears “the sound of a Taser discharging and the impact of a fist hitting flesh.”
  • As Araceli and Dr. Perry try to get to the lab’s control room, Dr. Perry “slams into three guards coming around the corner. His weapon flies out of his hand. . .” Araceli shoots a guard in the belly and “the guard screams and topples over. . .” Dr. Perry shoots a guard. Later Dr. Perry shoots two more guards “neatly, two chest shots, two clean kills.” Eventually, someone shoots Dr. Perry. “Slugs slam into the blocks, shaking the cement. . . He’s down, bleeding from several wounds. . . He manages to shoot three of the four, and I fire on the last one while he’s reloading. . .” Dr. Perry dies. The scene takes place over four pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • As Araceli goes through town, she thinks about her past homes. “I can’t remember ever living in a freestanding house. There will be no rooftop garden parties here, no barbeques that draw out the neighbors so that we grill whatever’s on hand, and I take beer from the cooler without anyone asking how old I am.”
  • While in the past, Araceli goes to a Halloween party and gets drunk.
  • Araceli goes into a pizza place where some adults are drinking beer.
  • A girl’s mother is put on depression medication after her son disappears.
  • In a letter, a soldier says that while passing through England, they stopped at a town and some men got “puking drunk.”
  • When a boy is teaching Araceli to drive, he tells her, “You’re going really slow. If you’re not careful, you’ll get pulled over. Only people who are slightly high drive this much below the limit.”
  • Araceli is given a document that has information about the Heartwood box. A researcher had an “unfortunate addiction to hallucinogenic drugs.”
  • Araceli sends a note to the past, but wonders if the person receiving it, “was stoned when he got my note, laughed and rolled a joint with it.”
  • A boy’s grandfather only talked about a girl he once loved when he “had a little to drink.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, asshole, bitching, crap, damn, dammit, fricking hell, holy shit, piss, pissed, shit.
  • Araceli meets a boy and thinks that he is “kind of a dick.”
  • When Logan’s father gets home, he yells at his wife and asks, “Where the hell is he? I told him to come straight home from school and look after the fucking yard.”
  • OMG is used twice. Oh my god is used six times. Oh god and Oh Lord are both used once.
  • When her aunt gives her snacks after school, Araceli thinks, “I swear to God, I’m starting to like pretending I’m five. . .”
  • Araceli describes her mood as, “grumpy as hell.”
  • Araceli thinks, “I’ve experienced some shit in my life, but I can’t say I ever lived in a haunted house. Until now.” Later she thinks, “This house is so damn haunted.”
  • A boy is wearing a shirt that says, “Get in line B*tches.”

Supernatural

  • While in her aunt’s house and at school, Araceli feels a chill. She also feels as if someone is watching her.
  • Araceli has vivid dreams where she goes into the past and can interact with a World War I soldier. When she is dreaming, no other people can see or hear her besides the soldier. However, after one dream a picture of World War I changes. When she dreams, she can find the soldier because “there was a tug. . . I feel that same pull now, delicate and tenuous. . .”
  • Araceli goes into the attic, and “before I get to the pull cord, it’s tugged by an invisible hand until the distinctive click, and the light flares on.”
  • Araceli finds a treasure box that allows her to communicate with a World War I soldier. They write letters back and forth. Araceli also puts small objects like mint and antibiotic ointment into the box.
  • The town has “ghost lights” that make people slip into another time.
  • When people disappear, their loved ones leave out food for them, which also disappears.

Spiritual Content

  • When Araceli wakes up after being asleep for days, her aunt says, “Thank God.”
  • Araceli thinks about her parents who “aren’t religious. My mom’s agnostic and my dad is a lapsed Catholic, so I was baptized and that’s about it. . . We go to mass once a year at Christmas, and it’s a somber occasion in most of the countries I’ve lived in.”
  • Araceli goes to church with a friend, but the service is not described. While there, a woman says, “Everyone is welcome in God’s house.”

#Prettyboy Must Die

After his first failed mission, Peter Smith goes undercover at an exclusive school in Colorado. Peter is supposed to be keeping a low profile. When Peter goes out for a late-night run, a classmate snaps a picture of him and posts the caption “See Prettyboy run.” When the picture becomes a viral sensation, Peter knows he’s in trouble. Before the end of the day, Peter’s school is under attack as a terrorist wants revenge. This former-foster-kid turned CIA operative will have to use all of his skills and training to stay alive.

Told from Peter’s point of view, #Prettyboy Must Die starts out with action and intrigue. However, right from the start the plot is over the top and unrealistic. The action continues throughout the story, but there are too many scenes where Peter and his friends unrealistically knock out an adult, professional, or mobster.

Having the story told from Peter’s point of view did not necessarily improve the story’s appeal as he is arrogant and doesn’t believe that others can be an asset. Peter doesn’t think girls can be accomplished and smart, which is shown several times, including when he thinks the hacker cannot be a girl because she is pretty. Girls are portrayed in a negative light once again when a group of girls don’t worry about the danger they face; they just want a picture of #prettyboy.

#Prettyboy Must Die is not a serious spy book, but it is a fast-paced story that leaves the reader wondering who can be trusted. For those looking for an easy-to-read, fun story, #Prettyboy Must Die is a good choice. Even though the violence is not described in detail and is appropriate for younger readers, there is a wide range of profanity that is used often. If you loved Aly Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, you may want to leave #Prettyboy Must Die on the shelf.

Sexual Content

  • Katie changes her clothing in front of Peter. He thinks, “It takes me a second to realize I probably shouldn’t be staring like I’ve just seen the promised land . . . But I can’t help but comment because, you know, Katie. Half-naked. ‘Hey girl, as much as I’d like to, this probably isn’t a good time.’”
  • Peter thinks about a date with Katie, “. . . I remember our one date, our first kiss, and I want to kiss her again. . .” Later in the story, he asks Katie, “Are you sure you didn’t know who I was when I asked you out? Because the way you kissed me. . . I mean, after the movie, in your car—”
  • When Katie sees a black SUV and realizes it has come to pick her up, she kisses Peter. “. . . I damn near forget about Sveta, Rogers, and the entire universe. I hold her like it will be the last time. She kisses me again like it’s only a preview of more to come.”

Violence

  • The CIA raids an arms dealer’s hideout and a man is killed. “Marchuk Sr. is now on the floor three feet inside the house, knocked that far back by the shot that has to have killed him instantly.” The raid is described over four pages. During the raid, Peter is shot.
  • When a classroom is taken hostage, the chemistry teacher tries to tackle Bad Guy #2. The bad guy puts the teacher in a “choke hold. Before I can even process what’s happening, the bad guy is already done with Mr. Valaquez, who he lets slump to the floor, unconscious. Or worse.”
  • Someone kicks one of the bad guys. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where, considering all the moaning.”
  • A bad guy hits a school employee and Peter hears “the sound of a fist hitting bone.” Later in the story, Peter sees a teacher who is hiding, and “I throw a left hook across his face and knock him the hell out. . . I’m pissed he’s in here hiding out instead of heading back to his class. . .”
  • When Peter tricks a bad guy into coming into a classroom. “That’s when I land the steel baton against his pterion, the weakest point on the skull, immediately incapacitating him. Or possibly killing him.” He takes out two other bad guys in the same way.
  • Katie is captured and a bad guy beats her. “. . . Officer Andrews is holding Katie by one arm, or more like holding her up.” Peter is tied to a chair and when he struggles “he hauls off and lands a right cross that feels like a sledgehammer against my face.” Later, as the bad guy is talking to Peter, he hits him in the face. Katie saves the day with, “A brutal kick to his junk . . . she hooks her foot around his ankle, sweeps his legs out from under him, then straddles his back. I’m certain it’s an image I won’t soon forget—girl of my dreams on top of the guy who wants to kill me.”
  • When the bad guy begins to recover from “the ball-kick she (Katie) gave him and is starting to squirm . . . she grabs Marchuk’s hair and slams his face into the floor, knocking him out.”
  • Peter attacks a bad guy. “. . . I land my fist against the side of his head. . .and kick him in the jewels. That brings him to his knees, but I know it won’t be for long.”
  • Peter and Katie go after a bad guy and he threatens to shoot them, but Peter shoots first. “When the bullet hits his left knee, he goes down before he can get off a single round. I hear the sound of metal against bone. Maglite against skull.”
  • Someone tries to use a drone to kill Peter and Katie. “Just as Katie takes off running, I hear a car come over the ridge, followed by a loud thump. I turn back in time to see Sveta on the car’s hood, her phone flying through the air. . . The car screeches to a stop and Sveta slides off and onto the ground, moaning. For a brief moment, I regret that she’s still alive.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A character said, “My layabout son takes nothing seriously, is only concerned about spending my money on women and drink.”
  • Peter gives the principal tickets to the game. After the game, the principal tells Peter, “I damn near went broke on stadium beer, but that’s what I get for celebrating a little too hard.” Later in the story, he tells Peter, “I’d been sick all morning, hungover. . .”
  • When Peter overhears someone say bank robbers are in the school, he thinks, “the average bank robber does so on impulse and out of desperation, usually some loser meth-head needing a hit.”
  • Katie injects several bad guys with carfentanil, a drug that is “ten thousand times stronger than morphine, so it acts quickly, and it only takes a drop or two.”
  • Peter and his friend are captured, and “then the crazy chick starts singing a kid’s chant to figure out which one of us she will shoot first.” Before she can shoot them, “Katie falls through the ceiling and onto the psycho’s back.”
  • When a bad guy crushes a boy’s hand, Katie fires her gun, but the bullet accidently hits Peter. Peter wants to know why he isn’t dead and Katie tells him, “It doesn’t shoot bullets. It was supposed to shoot nerve gas. . .”

Language

  • Profanity is used often and includes: ass, asshole, damn, dickhead, fucking, goddamn, hell, and pissed off.
  • When a teacher sees three incapacitated bad guys, he said, “Jesus H. Christ—are those terrorists?” Then he asks Peter, “Who the hell are you?”
  • “Oh My God” is used as an exclamation several times. For example, a girl says, “Oh my God. I sit two rows over from him in calculus. . . How did I not notice how hot he is?”
  • Peter sees a classmate and thinks, “I see Carlisle’s resident douche.”
  • When a teacher is looking for a bug, Peter thinks, “Despite the crazy that is happening all around us, watching The Douche have a near breakdown is fucking hilarious.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have To Kill You

Cammie doesn’t just feel invisible, she is trained to be invisible. When a girl goes to spy school, blending into a crowd is an art as well as a talent, but when Cammie catches the eye of a gorgeous guy—a normal, not-spy guy—being invisible isn’t an option anymore. Cammie quickly discovers that romance and relationships are much harder than learning fourteen different languages and advanced encryption at school.

Cammie puts all her spy skills to the test as she sneaks around, trying to keep her true identity hidden from her boyfriend and her boyfriend a secret from her spy school.  After all, she will never be able to reveal that the Gallagher Academy, which most people think is a school for rich snobs, is really a school for spies.

Although Cammie and her friends are geniuses when it comes to chemical warfare in science class and breaking CIA codes in computer class, they are completely clueless when it comes to boys.  The author adds a new roommate, a new teacher, and a covert operation class, which leads to laugh-out-loud situations that are simultaneously filled with suspense. Through first-person narration, Carter creates a fun, sweet story and a unique setting in which to explore the well-known troubles teens have in understanding the opposite sex.

Carter successfully creates a believable world where girls can accomplish just about anything. The characters are completely loveable while still being grounded in reality. Additionally, the story is full of action and explores teen romance in a way that is perfect for younger readers.

 Sexual Content

  • When talking about an attractive teacher’s tone of voice, the narrator said, “We all heard, I think you’re the most beautiful woman in the world, and I’d be honored if you’d bear my children.”
  • A CIA member, “once sweet-talked a Russian dignitary into dressing in drag and carrying a beach ball full of liquid nitrogen under his shirt like a pregnant lady.”
  • The girls wonder if the gorgeous guy is a “honey pot” and then struggle to explain what a honey pot is.
  • A friend asks the narrator if she has, “been to second base yet?”
  • The narrator receives her first kiss, and then later kisses her boyfriend so he will stop talking.
  • A boy talks about mooning the girls at the Gallagher Academy.

Violence

  • A teacher throws a letter opener at another teacher’s head, which they stop with a book.
  • In a fit of anger, a student grabs a classmate’s arm, puts it behind her back, and rips out her diamond nose ring.
  • During a mission debriefing, a student is shown a picture of her friend’s bloody and swollen face. The teacher explains that during torture, what hurts most is, “listening to her friend scream…she will be screaming for about six hours, until she becomes so dehydrated she can’t form sounds.” After the lesson, her friend walks in unharmed.
  • As part of a final test in the covert class, Cammie is “kidnapped” and a fight ensues. She is locked in a room, blindfolded, and tied to a chair.
  • When the narrator meets a girl who she thinks might be her competition, the narrator thinks about her ability, “to kill you in your sleep and make it look like an accident, you silly vapid, two bit. . .”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • It is mentioned that as part of an interrogation tactics class, the students are, “under the influence of sodium pentothal,” and Cammie mentions being a wiz at poison-concocting.
  • A student smokes a cigarette.
  • When her friend announces she has bad news about Cammie’s crush, the narrator wonders if the bad news is that, “he’s taking drugs that will prepare him for a sex change operation.”
  • A student wonders if her first covert mission is going to be, “busting up a drug cartel that’s operating out of a night club.”

Language

  • A class is described as, “damn hard.”
  • When getting assigned a mission, the narrator said it’s like getting, “a gold-freaking-star.”
  • A student uses the phrase, “bloody hell.”
  • A student calls another student a “b—” and mentions the “B word.”  The B word is implied but never spoken.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Although religion isn’t discussed directly, Cammie pretends to be homeschooled for religious reasons. Cammie also wears a cross and carries a What Would Jesus Do? ink pen in her bag because it helps her cover story.
  • There is a conversation about how the Bible says people have free will, but a character doesn’t feel like that applies to his life because of his parents’ expectations.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter

As a young girl, Twylla is brought to live in the castle because she is the Daunte Embodied, daughter of two gods. As Daunte Embodied, it is Twylla’s duty to bring justice to the kingdom. She is the executioner; anyone that she touches, dies.

Twylla thought life in the castle would be different. But the privileged life she leads is lonely and becomes more a prison than a home to her. The kingdom’s people fear her. The queen demands absolute obedience from her. And Merek, Twylla’s betrothed, confuses her.

Twylla believes her life is set in stone until she is appointed a new guard. This guard doesn’t fear her as so many others do. He sees past her role as Daunte Embodied, and sees her as a person. As they spend more time together, Twylla begins to wonder if there is a different path she could follow. But such a path would go against her loyalty to Merek and the kingdom.

Confused and lonely, Twylla soon learns that the queen has a deadly plan of her own—and Twylla is in the way of the queen getting her desire. Will Twylla be able to survive long enough to choose between two men—one who needs her, and one who claims to love her?

The Sin Eater’s Daughter takes the reader into an interesting world ruled by an evil queen. The queen is the strongest character in the book. She is willing to kill anyone, including her best friend who dared to become pregnant while the queen could not. The king, who appears infrequently, is seen as a kind, but powerless man. Merek, who does not agree with his mother’s cruel ways, seems desperate and unkind, which makes it difficult for the reader to feel sympathy for him. Even Twylla, who is the heroin, is difficult to relate to. Although her situation is difficult, she seems to be content to sit in her tower and feel sorry for herself.

Although the world created in The Sin Eater’s Daughter is interesting, it is often violent and disturbing. Death is seen often and is described in graphic detail. There are many adult topics that appear including the mention of incest, killing a child in the womb, and seduction.

Sexual Content

  • During a sin-eating ceremony a woman’s father, who is under the influence of poppy tears, confesses that “she said no but he [himself] put a baby in her.” The Sin Eater says that when the man dies she will not “take that sin.”
  • Twylla and her guard kiss often towards the end of the book. In one scene she tells him that she loves him and then, “he devours the words right out of my mouth, pressing his own against mine and swallowing my worries. I let him, willing to sacrifice my questions temporarily for the taste of him, for his hands on my waist.”
  • Twylla and her guard plan to run away together. They again kiss. “Our mouths move gently, brushing together, our lips opening and closing against the other’s, our eyes locked. It makes me dizzy and I allow mine to flutter shut, concentrating on the feel of him against me, his tongue dancing gently with mine.”
  • Twylla and her guard have sex several times. The act is not described, but afterward they, “lie with our legs and arms twined, breathing softly, his breaths becoming my breaths. Our skin is damp and we stick together, as though nothing could separate us.” After one time together, the queen finds them in bed together and has them both thrown in jail.
  • The tradition in the kingdom is for the queen to give birth to one boy and one girl, and then the two children are married when they are adults. The goal is to keep the bloodline clean. Because the current queen has only one living child, a male, she plans to kill the king and marry her son.
  • At the end of the story, Twylla discovers that her guard was hired to seduce her.

Violence

  • One of the rituals in the book is when Twylla, as Daunte Embodied, kills condemned people with a touch. “Moments after I’ve touched them, they are slumped against the top of the table, blood streaming from their noses and pooling on the already-stained wood. I watch as thin red rivers flower over the edge, spattering the bolts that pin the chairs to the floor. . .”
  • When the guard and Twylla are found together he is clubbed in the back of the head with a sword. When he falls down, “two of them begin to kick him, bringing their boots back and swinging them into his ribs and spine.” The queen orders the beating to stop when the guard “has stopped moaning and grunting, finally unconscious.”
  • The queen has people killed throughout the book. Her favorite way to have them killed is to send the dogs to rip them apart. In one scene, the queen tells Twylla, “I have a mind to make you watch the dogs eat your lover first . . . Do you think he’ll try to shield you from their jaws when they tear your heart out . . . Do you know what my father used to do? He used to slice across the ankles of the wretches we were hunting. He’d cut them and leave them in the trees. He’d give them an hour to try to escape . . . it might be time to bring it back.”
  • The queen backhands Twylla across the face and threatens to kill her, “for opening your legs to another man while my son planned to wed you.”
  • In the end, the prince tells his mother, “I sentence you to hang by the neck until you are dead.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At dinner, one of the lords becomes drunk and upsets the queen so she has him killed.
  • When someone is sick, they are given poppy tears to help control the pain.
  • When a woman wants to “lose a child” they take an herb that will make them “lose a child.”
  • The queen uses poison to kill her husband.

Language

  • The queen calls Twylla, “a little slut,” a “whore” and a “harlot.”

Supernatural

  • There is a tale of a Sleeping Prince who is an alchemist. The prince was put under a spell that made him sleep forever. The queen has a totem that can call the Bringer, who is said to be able to bring the prince back to life with the death of a young girl. The queen believes that she can control the Sleeping Prince if she has the totem.

Spiritual Content

  • Twylla is told she is Daunte Embodied, the reborn daughter of the Gods. “The world has always been ruled by two Gods: Daeg, Lord of the sun, who rules in the day, and his wife Naeht, Empress of Darkness, who rules the night. . . She (Naeht) hatched a plan and seduced her husband, tiring him so much he couldn’t rise. Then she took the skies for her own and ruled alone, plunging all the world into darkness. Nothing lived, nothing thrived, and death was everywhere without the Lord of the Sun to light the world and give warmth and joy.” The God’s daughter was said to bring Daeg from his sleep and whenever Lomere needed the daughter, she would return as a symbol of hope.
  • As Daunte Embodied, Twylla is taught that she must, “strike down those who would hurt us. You will go and do your duty. You don’t want to anger the Gods do you?”
  • Twylla believes the Gods have chosen her path, and she must, “obey the Gods.”
  • When someone dies, a person’s soul, “will linger near the body for three days and nights after a death. During that time, the Eating must take place so the soul can ascend, otherwise it will drift to the West Woods to join its damned brothers and sisters in the trees. . .” During this time the sin eater must eat a particular food for each sin the person committed.
  • When Twylla’s mother talks about a woman taking an herb to lose a child, Twylla, “shook my head, not understanding. Losing a child wasn’t a sin; everyone knew the Gods could take away as they saw fit and sometimes they called an unborn back to the Eternal Kingdom.”
  • Twylla’s guard tells her that the religious rituals they perform are all lies and that her beliefs are, “just to scare people into obedience.” He explains that “We used to have Gods, too. And now we don’t and yet the country doesn’t falter; it thrives without them…It’s all made up. You are not beloved by the Gods—there are no Gods.”
  • Twylla tries to figure out what she believes and she thinks, “Neither my mother nor the queen have ever said they believed in the Gods. My mother needs them because if there are no gods, then there is no Eternal Kingdom and that makes the Sin Eater nothing more than a prop for mourning. The queen needs them because the fear of death is what makes people obedient, and kind, and good, and sorry.”
  • Twylla’s guard tells her that, “I don’t believe there are any [Gods] at all, but I believe there are men and woman whose lives are made easier by believing someone is watching over them.”

Haze

Seb does not understand people. He prefers numbers and computers. His parents don’t get him. When he’s at school, Guzzle is his only friend. But Guzzle isn’t always around to protect Seb from the bullies who harass him.

Things begin to change when he makes friends with Krisite, Madeline, and Jen. And things get even better when a new computer teacher, Miss Adonia, shows up. However, Guzzle doesn’t think Seb can trust Miss Adonai. Soon Seb is mixed up in a web of computer fraud, and he must turn to someone for help. But who should he trust?

Seb must also worry about Guzzle who is struggling to find peace in his life. Although Guzzle is popular at school, he does not enjoy his classes or the friends his popularity brings. To add to his misery, his mother is in an abusive relationship. Despite his struggles, Guzzle is a loyal friend to Seb.

Haze is an easy-to-read story that has loveable characters. There is enough mystery and suspense to keep the reader interested in the plot. The author adds drama to Guzzle’s life by showing his mother in an abusive relationship without adding violent detail. Part of the story revolves around a possible love interest, with a sweet ending.

The author teaches about Asperger Syndrome through Seb’s thoughts and actions. The information about Asperger Syndrome never seems preachy, but comes across in a natural and interesting way. Although Seb’s new friends don’t understand him, they are willing to stick by him, and as they learn about Seb’s Asperger Syndrome, the reader does as well.

Younger readers will be able to enjoy Haze because of the easy reading level as well as the fact that there is no violence. However, there are sexual references, cursing, and mention of drugs and alcohol that may make this book inappropriate for younger readers.    

Sexual Content 

  • When Seb is worried about going on a date, Guzzle said, “Go to the movies or something. You don’t have to talk and if she lets ya, you can touch her up in the dark.” Guzzle goes on to explain that touch her up means, “grab her boobs.”
  • When Guzzle sees Miss Adonia at a hotel with an older man, a group of her students speculate that they are “lovers” or maybe their teacher is a “sex slave.” Then a girl says, “maybe he’s her sex slave! She seems to like to be in control.”
  • Guzzle tells Seb that Kaziah is “easy” but a “bitch at times.” When Seb asks what easy means, Guzzle says, “shit, mate, sometimes you’re such a kid. She lets me touch her you know, do things.” When Seb asks if Guzzle has, “done it, all the way,” Guzzle says, “not yet. Close but.”
  • When Seb is kissed on the cheek, he thinks, “She kissed him. No fuss. No slobbery saliva. No expectations that he do anything. His first kiss. Not quite up to Guzzle’s standard. But this was better. He wouldn’t swap the world for that kiss.”

Violence 

  • On the way to school a group of boys beats up Seb. One boy tells the others that he feels, “like kickin’ butt” and he then begins to hit Seb. “Seb rarely felt the kicks and punches…but he felt humiliated. The futile anger. Couldn’t understand why they hated him so much. Didn’t know how to make them stop.”
  • When Seb gets upset at school he, “hit a couple of kids and then smashed a window with his bare fist.”
  • When Guzzle tells Seb he is leaving home, Guzzle says, “I’m pissing outta here.” Then later Guzzle explains why he is leaving, “Anus beat the shit outta mum last night. I wish she’d leave him. But she won’t. Says she still loves him.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Guzzle goes to the park at night. Later Seb asks Guzzle if he was drinking. Guzzle replies, “A bit. Gotta live up to me name, don’t I?”
  • Guzzle goes down to the park and shares his last beer with Kaziah. “One kid was smoking cones through a cut up coke bottle. Kaz breathed deep on a joint, but Guzzle stuck to his cigs.”
  • Guzzle gets “rolling drunk” and talks about going to the shed, “where kids smoked, and teachers avoided duty.”
  • Guzzle says that Kaziah’s friends like to, “smoke dope and beat up anything they can get their hands on.”

Language 

  • The words “shit” and “damn” are spoken by characters.
  • When Seb tries to call someone in the middle of the night, a man answers the phone and says, “Goddam, who the hell is this?”
  • When Jen gets angry at Seb she yells, “Who the hell do you think you are?”
  • One of the characters asks her mother if she can go out with a group of people which includes boys. Her mother gets angry and says, “I knew that sleepover was a bad idea…Twenty four hours in some slut’s house and all your values fly at the window.”
  • When Guzzle’s mother’s boyfriend hits her, he yells, “filthy bitch…useless…deserve this…”

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Hider, Seeker, Secret Keeper

Lana has never been able to tame her rebellious streak, so she’s not surprised when she is not chosen to go on tour with the Bolshoi ballet company. Then her friend is in an accident and Lana believes her luck has changed. But when she gets to New York, Lana’s life takes an unexpected turn.

Georgi, an old friend of Lana’s mother, requests to see her. Although Lana does not trust him, Georgi is her only chance to discover why her mother refuses to talk about her past. Lana is tired of feeling as if she’s been living in the dark. And when Georgi and his young bodyguard, Roma, tell Lana that they know who her father is, Lana can’t resist being drawn into Georgi’s web. Despite assurances that Georgi can be trusted, when another dancer ends up hospitalized, Lana isn’t sure if she can trust Georgi or anyone else.

 Hider Seeker, Secret Keeper is a fast-paced story that leaves the reader guessing. However, the book revolves more around Lana’s life and the mystery behind her mother’s past than around ballet. For those who pick up the book in the hopes of learning about the life of a ballerina, they will be disappointed.

Sexual Content

  • When Lana is retelling the history of Russian ballet, she describes the tabloids’ stories.  “Sure, a lot of it is sensational nonsense—like the story about Pavel Vartukh’s secret gay lover who came back from a sex-change operation in Belgrade ready to become a prima ballerina.”
  • A man approaches Lana on the street corner and tells her that his boss would like to take her to dinner, she tells the man, “I don’t know how long it takes for a Russian boy to grow American balls, but I really don’t want to see yours.”
  • Lana goes into a saloon and sees her artistic director tipsy. She explains, “It’s usually an occasion for hands a bit too low on the back, a nuzzle behind the ear. A suggestive joke. Dancers my age are expected to respond with a blush and light push. More senior dancers know to expect a straightforward proposition.”
  • Lana meets a boy. After they get to know each other better, “he takes my face again, this time in both his hands. It’s not even my face he wants now, though. He wants my lips. They’re his.”  Then later in the scene, he kisses her, “long enough to bring back the heat wave.”

Violence

  • At the beginning of the story, two characters are run over by a motorcycle. Although the accident is not described, the wounds are described.
  • Lana’s friend is hospitalized after she is given an old prescription drug in order to kill her. Her “recovery is uncertain.”
  • Lana gets into a confrontation with a man. She begins hitting him. In order to get Lana to stop, the man grabs her. “He has me by both arms. My head is on his chest. There is a deep scratch down his neck. His helmet and his gloves are in the gutter ten feet away.”
  • Georgi hired a man to scare a ballerina, but the man ended up hitting her with a motorcycle.  In a conversation afterward, Georgi said, “You get some money to that girl’s family or you can expect some new friends in prison who will teach you a thing or two about making mistakes in the dark.” The man replies, “—Da, Georgi Ivan-oh-bitch.”
  • Georgi tries to explain why someone was trying to frame Lana. “Anna figured a dead girl in New York would be more convincing than a roughed-up one in Moscow. She could pin one on you and one on your mother.”
  • Lana finds out that her grandfather shot Georgi, then held a gun to a girl’s head. Lana’s father killed her grandfather in order to save the girl.
  • Anna grabs Lana and drags her outside. Then Anna tries to push Lana’s mother into the path of an oncoming motorcycle.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lana goes to a party that has “booze.” She tells her friend that she will go to the party and, “will drink two glasses of wine.”
  • Lana finds an article that suggests that her grandmother was an alcoholic and mentally disturbed.
  • A ballerina is given Dinitrophenol, a supplement that, “burns fat by turning your body into a furnace.”
  • In several scenes, the artistic director is drunk.
  • Georgi recounts a story about seeing someone in the airport. The guard was drinking, so he was able to talk to the man. “He tells me that Arkhipova’s the one who ratted Marina. I was impressed, if you wanna know. I underestimated that snake with tits . . .”

Language

  • Profanity is used often throughout the character’s conversations as well as in Lana’s thoughts. The profanity used includes: hell, damn, piss, bitch, limp dicks, jackass, bullshit, shit, crap, asshole, and fucking.
  • When Lana is thinking she uses words such as, “God-damn,” and, “Oh my God.”
  • Someone tells a joke. “What jumps higher than a man in tights? A man in tights with a BMW up his ass.”
  • In one scene, Lana tells her mother. “Ma, I don’t care about whoever he [her father] was . . . So I’m a bastard.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Lana’s friend and another man are injured, she thinks, “It seems unlikely that God had much to do with it. Daniela is maimed, and Pavel Vartukh, artistic director and serial womanizer, will wave at the paparazzi and go back to work. That doesn’t strike me as divine will.”
  • When chosen to perform a dance routine, Lana gives the background of the dance. “. . . it’s meant to be the Chosen One dancing for her elders…And we know perfectly well that in pagan rituals, the Chosen One would have been a maiden—a virgin.”
  • Lana describes the Russians as, “God-fearing, blasphemous creatures.”

Paper Covers Rock

Alex narrates his story through diary entries and poetry. At the beginning of the school year, Alex and his friends are drinking and decide to jump off a tall rock into the river. Thomas, one of Alex’s best friends, dies. With that death comes terror—the terror of someone finding out that they were illegally drinking. The terror that Mrs. Dovecott saw more than she is letting on. The terror that Thomas’s last words will shatter someone’s life.

Alex life is full of secrets. He splits his time between daydreaming about his crush on Mrs. Dovecott and wondering how far Glenn will go to keep their secret. Paper Covers Rock revolves around Thomas’ death and the boys wanting to keep their drinking a secret. Glenn wants Alex to tempt Mrs. Dovecott into kissing him so that she will get fired. And Alex reluctantly goes along with the plan.

The storyline of Paper Covers Rocks does not always ring true. The boys’ lives are full of lies, deception, and sexual content. As Alex paints the story of his life, it is hard to connect with someone who is willing to lie to everyone around him in order to hide the fact that he was drinking when his friend died.

Sexual Content

  • Alex spends a lot of time fantasizing about his English teacher, who he thinks he is in love with. In one scene he thinks, “I wish there were punch, I wish it was spiked, I wish that Mrs. Dovecott would drink a gallon of it and make crazy love to me.”
  • When talking about the culture of the school, the narrator explains that there are not a lot of employees at the school who are hot. “If you want to have a crush on a Burch bitch . . . there are not a lot of options. You’ve got your dining hall employees, but they’re inbred. . .”
  • The narrator mentions that his roommate is, “jacking off every night.”
  • The narrator wonders if his friend is gay. At school there, is no worse label than being gay.
  • One of Alex’s friends tells him, “Your brains are in your crotch.”
  • The boys play a version of Would You Rather. “Would you rather watch Mrs. Davido give a blow job to Buddha or Mr. Lyme? Would you rather watch Miss Dovecott give a blow job to Gaybrook or Everson?” Then they talk about if Mrs. Dovecott could get Gaybrook “off” and if Everson would “sploodge in about two seconds.”
  • Alex is glad that his mom isn’t coming to parents’ weekend because she will be labeled as a FUM, “boarding-school speak for (f^ckable mom).”
  • The boys wonder if a teacher is a lesbian.
  • Alex thinks about how he, “fondled a girl’s breast once. Her nipples were tiny, but her tits were huge . . . She laid the sweater across my crotch and slid a hand underneath it . . . I moaned and came in my shorts.”
  • Someone tells a story about girls kissing another girl’s breast and practicing kissing on each other. “I had heard before that girls practice kissing with one another so that they know what they’re doing when a boy kisses them for real.”
  • Alex thinks about the faculty members’ daughters who are sent away to go to school. He thinks that the girls who stayed would all have sex with his friend Glen, if Glen wanted to have sex with them.

Violence

  • At a dance, someone talks about how a student committed suicide. “This teacher’s theory is that the boy took all those pills because he was struggling with his sexuality . . . He might have been gay.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While drinking, Alex and his friends jump off a rock and into a river. His friend Thomas, who was “shit-faced” from chugging vodka, hits his head on a rock and dies. The boys are afraid that if the school finds out, they will be expelled.
  • There is drinking at a football game that the alums go to.

Language

  • Alex says someone is, “full of shit.”
  • The narrator says that parents pay “shit-loads” of money to send their sons away to boarding school.
  • An “ass-hole” who lived in Alex’s dorm room before he moved in burnt holes in the carpet with cigarettes.
  • Profanity is scattered throughout the book. The profanity includes bullshit, f^ck, smart-ass, and damn.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The school’s reverend, “is a hypocrite. He preaches on the sin of homosexuality at least once a trimester, he quotes the Scriptures, twists it so that it fits his message. . .The good reverend says that we are made in God’s image. God is perfect. Therefore, God is not gay. If you engage in the sin of homosexuality, then you will contract gay cancer and die a very slow, very painful death.”
  • In one sermon the reverend says, “You will come to learn that God shows His mercy in small ways . . . God is with us, and under His watch, all things are good.” Alex doesn’t agree.
  • Alex’s father told him that, “religion was a human invention.” Alex thinks that more educated people don’t, “need religion to make sense of the word.” Therefore Alex does not believe in God.
  • The reverend says Thomas, “did not die in vain; he was part of God’s plan.” Alex thinks, “Even God does not have the power to intervene in a world where centuries of evil have rooted beneath the surface of everything . . . My father is right: humans made god up to satisfy their own needs.
  • Mr. Parks preaches that “God is programmed into our DNA, so He’s there under our skin, biologically there, to connect us to a force larger than ourselves.” Alex wonders if homosexuality is programmed there too.

We Were Liars

Cadence is a Sinclair. A member of the beautiful, blonde American dynasty. No one is depressed, addicted, or a criminal. No one is greedy or drunk. They are the perfect family that spends every summer on their private island, Beechwood. The oldest of the Sinclair grandchildren and their best friend call themselves the liars. The four of them—Cadence, Mirren, Johnny, and Gat—are inseparable every summer. They share secrets, go on forbidden adventures, and uncover mysteries of their family as they grow up together in a world of money and privilege.

But the Sinclairs aren’t perfect. The aunts always fight over their inheritance and drink away their sorrows. Grandad is beginning to lose his mind and can’t cope with the loss of his beloved wife. Cadence herself can’t remember summer fifteen after she wakes up in a hospital with traumatic brain injuries and burns.

Cadence struggles to retain her memories as she returns to the island after two years of absence. Everything seems the same as it always was, but the closer she looks, the more she realizes how much the world she once knew has changed. As Cadence tries to put together the pieces of memories that led to her accident, she discovers that the secrets of summer fifteen might have been better left as they were.

We Were Liars is a gripping novel that will leave readers restless to uncover the truth. Suspenseful and surprising, this book is well worth the read as it is fast-paced and entertaining. The characters are realistic and ask questions that teen readers may also be pondering such as the existence of trust between family members and the necessity of faith. However, the intertwining timelines may be difficult to grasp for some readers, and the story contains some mature content that is not appropriate for younger audiences.

Lockhart’s writing style is also unique and takes some getting used to. The story is told from Cadence’s point of view, and the descriptions make it sometimes difficult to differentiate between imagination and reality.  Careful reading is necessary to determine if the event actually happened to Cadence or if it is a figurative description of her inner emotions.

 Sexual Content

  • Cadence’s parents get divorced because “my father ran off with some woman he loved more than us.”
  • Aunt Carrie’s husband left her with four children to care for, including a baby.
  • When the liars are having a conversation, Johnny asks, “Can’t we talk about sex or murder?”
  • Gat and Cadence fall in love. There are several kissing scenes throughout the novel, but they are never long and their relationship never goes beyond making out. “He touched my face. Ran his hands down my neck and along my collarbone. . . Our kiss was electric and soft, and tentative, and certain, terrifying and exactly right.”
  • Cadence and Gat are anxious to be near one another and often make physical contact. “He touched me whenever he could . . . As long as no one was looking, I ran my finger along Gat’s cheekbones, down his back.”
  • Mirren mentions her boyfriend during a conversation with Cadence. “I have a boyfriend named Drake Loggerhead. . . We have had sexual intercourse quite a number of times, but always with protection.” Their relationship is never described again and later in the story, it is revealed that Mirren made him up.
  • When Cadence and Gat are mad at each other, she longs to be with him. “I reach out and touch him. Just the feel of his forearm beneath the thin cotton of his shirt makes me ache to kiss him again.”

Violence

  • Cadence often describes events in her life figuratively and descriptively. When her father leaves, she says, “Then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed.”
  • When Cadence discovers that Gat has a girlfriend, she punches the shower wall in anger.
  • Cadence often describes her emotional pain as blood dripping from her body. Although she is not actually bleeding, this description conveys the pain she feels inside. No one notices except her beloved Gat. “When blood dripped on my bare feet and poured over the book I was reading, he was kind. He wrapped my wrists in soft white gauze.” Her pain is described in this manner multiple times.
  • As a result of her brain injuries, Cadence feels immense pain that is sometimes depicted in disturbing detail. Her pain is often compared to violent situations in an attempt to help the reader understand what she is going She describes her pain as “a truck is rolling over the bones of my neck and head. The vertebrae break, the brains pop and ooze.” In another instance, a witch, “swings the statue again and hits above my right ear, smashing my skull. Blow after blow she lands, until tiny flakes of bone litter the bed and mingle with chipped bits of her once-beautiful goose.”
  • Aunt Carrie smacks Aunt Bess across the mouth as they are arguing over their inheritance.
  • The liars steal some of Grandma Tipper’s favorite expensive collectibles and smash them to pieces on a dock. They then wipe them away into the sea.
  • Near the conclusion of the novel, the liars decide to burn the Clairmont house (the largest house on the island) down to the ground as they are angry with all that it represents. The burning does not go as planned and several characters die in the fire. Their deaths are not described.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Cadence is anxious, she “drank wine I snuck from the Clairmont pantry. I spun violently into the sky, raging and banging stars from their moorings, swirling and vomiting.” She and the other liars sneak wine from pantries and other places several times throughout the novel.
  • Cadence takes medication to help her deal with pain. If she does not take the prescription medication, she suffers pain so unbearable that it makes her question her will to live. Although the drugs are habit-forming, she claims that she does not have an addiction.
  • The aunts often discuss wine and have chats during cocktail hour. They are also frequently drunk.
  • Cadence’s younger cousins often ask if she is a drug addict. One of them adapts the motto, “Drugs are not your friend.”
  • When making a joke to her aunts, Cadence says, “Nothing wrong with me that a Percocet and a couple slugs of vodka doesn’t cure.”
  • Cadence says that she is “high on Percocet half the time.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently throughout the novel. Profanity includes: damn, God, fucking, good lord, ass, hell, stupid-ass, asshole, assface, bullshit, fuck, shitty, fuckload, and fucked up. The cursing intensifies when the liars get older.
  • Shut up is used several times in a conversation.
  • When attempting to recall her incident, Cadence says, “I suppose that I was raped or attacked or some godforsaken something.”
  • Gat discusses some of Grandad’s negative tendencies and behaviors with the liars. “The point is, Harris doesn’t like Ed’s color. He’s a racist bastard, and so was Tipper.”

Supernatural

  • When thinking about her feelings towards Gat, Cadence says, “I am not talking about fate. I don’t believe in destiny or soul mates or the supernatural.”
  • Cuddletown, one of the cottages on the island, is haunted, as the ghosts of the deceased liars remain there to help Cadence remember the events of summer fifteen.
  • Bonnie has an obsession with vampires and insists that they are real.

Spiritual

  • Cadence and Gat have a conversation on whether or not God exists. When Gat asks, “Do you believe in God?” Cadence responds, “Halfway . . . When things are bad, I’ll pray or imagine someone watching over me, listening . . . But the rest of the time, I’m trudging along in my everyday life.” After listening, Gat asserts that he no longer believes in God after witnessing the horrors of poverty in India.
  • One of Cadence’s aunts says, “Thank God you’re here.”
  • The liars think setting the fire on Clairmont is a semi-spiritual act. They see it as a form of purification as they cleanse their family of its past. Gat refers to the burning as “playing God.”

by Morgan Filgas

Emerald Green

The pieces are starting to come together, and the truth is terrifying. The Count is a powerful man who has killed many people in order to keep his plan in place. Gwen has her hands full stopping him, but her friends and family aren’t helping. Gideon’s behavior baffles and frustrates Gwen, who isn’t sure if she can trust or depend on him. And Charlotte’s jealousy of Gwen might unravel their entire family.

The ghost gargoyle Xamerius is one of the best parts of Emerald Green. Xamerius is realistic, humorous, and much better than a pet.

The trilogy remains strong with this final installment. Gwen is finally getting an idea of what she must do, but that doesn’t hamper the suspense in any way. The stakes are high, and conflicting motives create conflicts that will either bring about the end of mankind or save it.

Sexual Content

  • While Gwen and Gideon are talking, she thinks, “Now kiss me: I want to know if stubble feels prickly.”
  • Gwen and Gideon kiss several times. In one scene, “his left hand was buried in my hair and his right hand began stroking my throat, slowly wandering down.” The mood is interrupted when Gwen’s phone rings.

Violence

  • Gideon and Gwen are trying to escape from a man who intends to kill them. Gideon takes a heavy candleholder off the wall and throws it at the man. “It hit Sir Alfred on the head with a nasty sound, and he dropped to the floor like a stone.” Another man stabs Gwen.
  • When Gideon and Gwen travel back in time, they are in danger of meeting a former version of Gideon. In order to prevent that from happening, Gwen hits him over the head, knocking him out.
  • Someone shoots Gideon. “Gideon’s blood was all over the place. The hem of my dress was sucking it up like a sponge.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Gwen comes up with a plan to go back into the past and vaccinate the boy who is a ghost in her school thereby preventing his death.
  • One of the characters mentions a guard who had a hangover.
  • Several of the adults have a whisky when they are upset. Gwen’s grandfather has two whiskies and later in the book Gwen’s grandmother gives her son-in-law a whisky.
  • One of the characters takes “Alcott’s miraculous potion,” which makes him act strange. He tries to force Gwen to take the potion as well. As he talks, he says, “I’ll wager these lips have never done anything forbidden, am I right? A little of Alcott’s miraculous portion here will change that.” Gideon thinks the potion was opium.
  • After Gideon comes back from his time traveling, he is in shock and the doctor tells someone to get him a whisky.
  • At a teen’s party, someone spikes the punch, and many of the teens attending get drunk.
  • When one of the characters tries to get Gwen to take cyanide, someone hits him over the head with the butt of a pistol.

Language

  • When Gwen finds Gideon lied to her, she wonders, “why the hell she ever fell for the guy in the first place.”
  • The ghost gargoyle Xamerius calls Gideon a “bonehead.” Later, when someone tries to hurt Gwen, Xamerius calls the person a “bastard.”
  • Gwen, who is upset with Gideon, calls him a “bastard.”
  • Gwen tells her friend that she is “shit-scared of falling in love. . .”
  • Xamerius, the ghost gargoyle likes to narrate Gwen’s actions. In one scene he said, “and there was deathly silence in the room. . . All eyes rested on the girl in the piss-yellow blouse. . .”
  • One of Gwen’s friends calls someone an “ass-hole.”
  • Damn, shit, hell, and oh my god are used.

Supernatural

  • A ghost named James stays at Gwen’s school. She is the only one who can see him.
  • Gwen sees a ghost of a gargoyle who used to guard a church.
  • Gwen and Gideon have a gene that makes them time travel. A secret society has a chronograph that allows the two to have control over when and where they travel to.
  • When Gwen is stabbed with a sword, she dies. “I was hovering in the air, weightless, bodiless, rising higher and higher in space.” Later she finds out that her special power is that she cannot be killed by another person. She can only die if she chooses to sacrifice her life for another.
  • A ghost that thinks Gwen is a demon says, “I will never leave the side of this diabolical creature until I have fulfilled my task. I will curse every breath she takes.” Xamerius eats the ghost.

Spiritual Content

  • One of the characters, who is trying to kill Gideon and Gwen said, that the person helping him is doing it because he will gain, “the certainty that the angels in heaven will praise his deeds is worth far more than gold. We must rid the earth of demonic monstrosities like you two, and god will thank us for shedding your blood.”
  • A journal entry recounts a story of a girl who was said to be “with child by a demon.” The person writing the journal thinks the father would, “rather accuse his daughter of witchcraft than accept the fact that she does not comply with his concept of morality.” Later, the journal describes an “exorcism” that caused the girl to, “foam at the mouth, roll her eyes, and speak confusedly in tongues, while Father Dominic sprinkled her with holy water. As a result of this treatment, Elisabetta lost the fruit of her womb that same night.”

Ruby Red

Gwen was supposed to be the ordinary one, and her cousin Charlotte was destined to be extraordinary. When Gwen accidentally time travels, the reversal of fates leads to more trouble than anyone could have imagined. Everyone has their own motives and as Gwen begins to unravel secrets that are hundreds of years old, she begins to wonder if anyone is on her side.

To add to her trouble, Gwen is forced to travel with Gideon—a handsome, but insufferable boy, who doesn’t trust Gwen. As the two travel back in time, Gideon and Gwen must learn to help each other because danger hides behind every corner.

Ruby Red is an enjoyable read with a unique plot. Full of twists and turns, Gwen and Gideon’s journey through time has plenty of mystery, suspense, and adds a dash of romance. This rich story will keep you well up into the night and leave you wanting more. Sporadic violence may not be appropriate for children, but this young adult novel will be perfect for most high school readers.

Sexual Content

  • When Gwen travels into the past, she sees herself kiss a boy. “The girl who looked like me had planted her lips right on the boy’s mouth. He took it passively at first, then he put his arms around her waist and pulled her closer.”
  • Gwen thinks about a boy she dated who “wasn’t into kissing. What he liked was leaving love bites on my throat to distract my attention from his creeping hand . . . I was constantly trying to keep Miles’s hands out of my shirt.”
  • Gideon comes to Gwen’s school to talk to Charlotte. Gwen’s friend wonders if Gideon is gay.  And then they see him kiss Charlotte on the cheek.
  • While in a church confessional, Gideon kisses Gwen. “. . . when his lips touched my mouth, I shut my eyes. Okay. So now I was going to faint.”

Violence

  • Someone uses his mind to hurt Gwen. “Bewildered, I looked from his mouth to his hand. It was more than four yards away from me. How could it be around my neck at the same time? And why did I hear his voice in my head when he wasn’t speaking.” The character scares Gwen but doesn’t hurt her.
  • Gwen and Gideon are attacked and the fighting is described over six pages. The coach driver was shot and, “part of his face was missing and his clothes were drenched in blood. The eye of the undamaged part of his face was wide open, looking into nowhere.” Someone shoots at Gideon and then he has a sword fight with two men. Gwen describes the fighting from her point of view. “The man who’d been hit was now lying on the ground twitching and making horrible sounds.” In the end, the fight is ended when Gwen kills one of the attackers.
  • After the fight, Gideon and Gwen discuss what happened. Gwen was upset and said, “I didn’t expect it to be like . . . like cutting up a cake. Why didn’t that man have any bones?”
  • Gideon holds a gun to a woman’s head because he thinks the woman and her husband are going to try to hurt Gwen. When the butler gets ready to hit Gideon, Gideon and Gwen run away.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Gwen thinks, “I realized how pathetic I sounded—but what the hell, I was feeling pretty pathetic right now.”
  • Gwen is hiding in the bathroom stall at school. The door had scribbles that said, “Malcolm is an ass, life is crap, and other, similar remarks.”
  • “Damn” is used infrequently and “hell” is used several times. The profanity is only used in stressful situations.
  • Gwen thinks “Oh my God” often.
  • When Gideon is holding a gun to his wife’s head, a character calls him a “bastard.”

Supernatural

  • A ghost named James stays at Gwen’s school. She is the only one who can see him.
  • At the end of the book, Gwen sees a ghost of a gargoyle, who used to guard a church.
  • Gwen and Gideon have a gene that makes them time travel. A secret society has a chronograph that allows the two to have control over when and where they travel to.
  • Gwen’s aunt has visions. When trying to explain them, Gwen’s mother says, “I think Aunt Maddy really sees what she says she does. But that doesn’t mean her visions predict the future, not by a long shot. Or that it has to mean anything in particular.”
  • One of the characters can talk into people’s minds and as well as physically hurt them with his mind.
  • Several of the characters talk about Gwen having the “magic of the raven” but no one, including Gwen, knows what the power is.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Sapphire Blue

Gwen keeps hoping things will get easier, but it seems the universe has other plans. She and Gideon kiss, only to be interrupted by a gargoyle demon who imprints on Gwen and insists on following her everywhere she goes. If her new friend wasn’t enough, Gwen runs into her grandfather in 1948. The two bond and hatch a plan that may just keep Gwen alive.

Strong characters keep the Ruby Red Trilogy interesting. Gwen’s best friend Lesley uses the internet to run down leads for Gwen. James, a ghost (who doesn’t know he’s a ghost), teaches Gwen how to survive in the eighteenth century. Gideon is full of contradictions, which frustrates and confuses Gwen.

The second installment of the Ruby Red Trilogy, Sapphire Blue keeps the mysteries coming. Woven into action are dynamic relationships that make the characters seem real. Gwen’s relationships with her gargoyle friend and her grandfather are rich. A count, who could be evil, is thrown into the mix which will keep the reader interested in the story.

Sexual Content

  • Ruby Red ended with Gideon and Gwen kissing, which is where book two begins. Gwen thinks, “Wow, could Gideon kiss! I instantly felt green with jealousy of all the girls he’d learnt to do it with.”
  • When traveling to the past, Gwen tries to explain how in her time period, she’s not too young to kiss a boy. She tells her grandfather that, “All the girls in our class are on the pill but me. . . Oh, and of course Charlotte won’t have anything to do with sex either. That’s why Gordon Gelderman calls her the Ice Queen.” When her grandfather asks, “What kind of pill?” Gwen thinks, “Oh, my God, in the year 1948, they probably had nothing but cow-gut condoms, if that.” They then decide that neither of them wants to talk about sex.
  • Gwen gets upset because she thinks Gideon is “snogging” with Charlotte and her at the same time. At the end of the argument, Gideon kisses Gwen. “His hand began stroking my hair, and then, at last, I felt the gentle touch of his lips . . . It wasn’t a gentle kiss anymore, and my reaction surprised me. I had no idea how, but at some point in the next few minutes, still kissing without a break, we landed on the green sofa, and we went on kissing there until Gideon abruptly sat up. . . ”
  • Charlotte is jealous and tells a boy that Gwen’s best friend isn’t “very discriminating. Particularly when she’s had a drink. She’s done the rounds of almost all the boys in our class and the class above us. I’d rather not repeat what they call her.” The boy asks, “The school mattress?”
  • When Gwen travels back in time to attend a party, a woman talks about Lady Brompton, who is flirting with Gideon. Lady Brompton is a widow who, “found consolation long ago in the arms of the Duke of Lancashire, much to the duchess’s displeasure, and at the same time she’s developed a taste for rising young politicians.”
  • At the party Gwen attended, she is surprised when one of the men, “made a grab for my décolletage from behind.” Later, the same man, “was unashamedly groping Lady Brompton’s bosom, on the pretext that she had a stray hair lying there.”
  • When someone offers Gwen alcohol at a party, she thinks, “My only experience with alcohol date to exactly two years ago.” She then remembers how a drink that consisted of vanilla ice cream, orange juice and vodka. She recounts the different effects it had on different people.
  • At breakfast, Aunt Maddie tells the group, “You can always leave out breakfast and save the calories to invest in a little glass of wine in the evenings. Or two or three little glasses of wine.  The gargoyle ghost replies, “A liking for the bottle seems to run in your family.”
  • Gideon kisses Gwen and she thinks, “the kiss was more intoxicating than yesterday’s evenings punch. It left me weak at the knees, and with a thousand butterflies in my stomach.” Later in the book, Gideon kisses Gwen several more times.
  • One of the characters tells Gwen that Gideon’s goal was to make Gwen fall in love with him. Then the man tells Gwen that Gideon is with Lavinaia who “is one of those delightful women who enjoys passing on the benefit of their experiences to the opposite sex.”

Violence

  • At the beginning of the book, a character kills a man, but the murder is not described.
  • When Gideon goes back in time, someone hits him over the head, but he is not seriously injured.
  • Gideon sees men fighting with swords. When Gideon recognizes one of the men, Gideon jumps in to help him. Gideon, “ran the man through the chest with it. Blood spurted from the wound, flowing profusely. . .” The remaining man runs away.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A journal entry tells Gwen about a time when two people went to a party and, “had unfortunately landed in the goldfish pool after the excessive consumption of alcohol.”
  • In a journal entry, a novice went missing and when he reappeared, “unsteady on his feet and smelling of alcohol, suggesting that although he failed the test, he found the lost wine cellar.”
  • When Gwen and her grandfather pass a sleeping guard, Gwen’s grandfather said, “I’m afraid he’ll never make the grade to Adept if he goes on drinking like a fish. . .”
  • When Gwen travels back in time to attend a party, a woman offers her punch saying, “No one can endure this fully sober.” At first Gwen “sipped the punch hesitantly,” but then she proceeds to get drunk.

Language

  • When running across a river, a character said, “Bloody hell . . .We must run if we don’t want to fall into the middle of the river.”
  • During an argument, Gwen tells Gideon that he is “such a shit.”
  • A gargoyle ghost yells at Gideon, “Leave her alone. Can’t you see she’s unhappy in love, bonehead?”
  • Profanity is used in the book, usually in times of emotion. The profanity includes: hell, damn, and shit.

 

Supernatural

  • Gwen can see ghosts. A gargoyle ghost, Xemerius, explains how he is different than a ghost. “Ghost are only reflections of dead people who for some reason or other don’t want to leave this world. But I was a demon when I was alive. You can’t lump me in with ordinary ghosts.”
  • James is a ghost who Gwen can see. However, James, not realize he is a ghost, thinks he is sick and having “fevered fantasies!”
  • Xemerius gets angry when someone calls him a ghost and yells, “I’m a demon. . . A powerful demon. Conjured up by magicians and architects in the eleventh century, as you reckon time, to protect the tower of a church that isn’t standing any more these days.”
  • When Gwen goes back in time, she opens a book with the picture of “a demon of the Hindu Kush, who brought disease, death and war.” Gwen is surprised when the demon begins talking to her. They have a short conversation. When Gwen turns the page, the demon disappears.

Spiritual Content

  • One of the people that Gwen meets in the past said, “There is nothing the church fears more than the discovery by human beings that God is not sitting far away in heaven, determining our fate, but is within us . . . It is always refreshing to discuss such blasphemous notions with you children of the twenty-first century, who do not bat an eyelash at the thought of heresy.”

All Fall Down

Three years after her mother’s death, Grace is sent to live with her grandfather, a powerful ambassador who is too busy to spend any time with her. Thrust into a new situation, Grace isn’t sure who to trust. Grace has never been close to her childhood companion, Megan, and wonders why she would want to help her. Her new friend Noah claims to want to be her best friend. Her brother’s best friend Alexei says he’s watching out for her out of obligation. Are they really her friends or do they have other motivations for staying close to Grace?

Grace wants to keep out all thoughts of her mother’s death, but visions of her mother keep appearing.  While Grace’s grandfather wants her to put on a pretty dress and attend functions at his side, Grace doesn’t seem to be able to stay out of trouble. When the mysterious Scared Man from her past appears, Grace overhears his plans to kill. Convinced that the Scared Man is responsible for killing her mother, Grace goes on a mission to stop him from killing again.

Grace narrates her own story, which allows the reader to see into her troubled mind and understand her terror. Grace believes that others think she is crazy because she witnessed her mother’s death; despite appearing completely normal, she struggles with panic attacks and visions of her mother. Grace saw her mother being shot in the chest, so why does everyone say the death was an accident?

Full of suspense, interesting characters, and plot twists, All Fall Down is an entertaining story that will leave the reader reaching for the next book in the series. For those who enjoyed the Gallagher Girls series, All Fall Down will not disappoint. However, All Fall Down has a more serious tone with more violence. Although the violence is not described in gory detail and is appropriate for younger audiences, Grace’s mother’s death is described in a detailed flashback. Even though the book is written for readers as young as twelve, as the series progresses there are some readers that will not be ready for the more mature themes.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Feeling overwhelmed, Grace runs from the house. As she backs out of the door, a “hand grabs me from behind” and she lashes out. “A cry rises up my throat, primitive and raw, and then I’m pushing and lunging. Falling. As I land in the rosebushes, I can feel the thorns of a rosebush tearing into my skin, clinging to my clothes.” In her panic, she hit the Russian ambassador, giving him a bloody nose.
  • While Grace is sleeping, a boy sneaks into her room and tries to wake her up. Startled, “I wrench the boy’s hand farther back, holding his thumb with my other hand.” After they talk, they sneak out of the house to attend a party.
  • Grace is told a story about a royal family that was murdered. The person speaking says, “The people stormed the palace and dragged Alexander and his family from their beds.” No other description is given.
  • Grace thinks that the Scared Man is going to kill the Russian president so she jumps off a balcony. When she jumps, “everyone is watching as I hurl myself over the railing. Even the U.S. Secret Service can do nothing but watch as I fly through the air and crash onto the Scared Man’s back.” Later she finds out that the Scared Man was holding a cell phone, not a gun.
  • Someone tries to kill Grace. “There’s a fence at my back. I can’t move any farther, and that is when the prime minister lunges for me, grabbing my arms in his massive hands, squeezing like a tourniquet. . . I can’t think anymore, so I just start kicking, screaming.” She struggles with her attacker, “when my elbow makes contact with his nose, I hear a sickening snap and feel the warm gush of blood on the back of my neck.”
  • Grace witnessed her mother’s death. “. . . I am standing there, watching my mother fall, bloody and broken. . .” The person who tried to help her was injured. “Blood rains down his face. His left eye is swollen shut. And the skin on his left cheek is almost black with blood, singed skin, and a rugged cut that runs from brow to jaw.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Grace takes prescription pills that help her deal with anxiety. Several times she refers to the pills. When she has a panic attack she doesn’t want anyone to find out because, “It will be just like after (her mother’s death). With the pills and the shrinks and the looks.”
  • After Grace jumps off a balcony and lands on the Scared Man, she is given more medication. The medication makes her act differently. The medicine makes Grace shake “my body like a pendulum that can never quite stop moving.”
  • Someone drugs Grace so that she will go to sleep. After she takes the drugs, she thinks, “I want to argue and demand answers, but it is all I can do to focus on the glass that is falling, shattering on the floor. Two seconds later, I follow.”
  • Grace’s grandfather “pours himself a drink, I can tell it isn’t the first of the night. The way things are going, it almost certainly won’t be his last.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

See How They Run

Finding the truth about her mother’s murder was supposed to bring Grace peace. But the past still haunts her. Grace realizes that her mother carried secrets of her own, but there are those who want those secrets to stay buried. And there is someone who is willing to kill to make sure the truth never comes out.

Grace knows there are century-old secrets surrounding her family. The only thing she doesn’t know is who to trust in her search for the truth. And when a U.S. citizen is murdered on Adria soil, Grace realizes that death is just a tool that a powerful person isn’t afraid to use.

Full of suspense and intrigue, the second installment of the Embassy Row series will captivate readers and pull them into the mystery surrounding Grace. See How They Run focuses less on Grace’s friends, and their absence makes the story less interesting. Grace doesn’t trust her own decision-making skills, and often refers to her “crazy” nature. Her complicated character adds suspense to the story. The addition of Adria’s history and the murder of a royal family creates an eerie atmosphere.

For those who enjoyed the Gallagher Girls series, See How They Run will not disappoint. However, See How They Run focuses on the death of a royal family and the murder of a young man. Even though the violence is not described in detail, the story makes it clear that someone is willing to kill innocent people.

Sexual Content

  • At a party, a boy kisses Grace. “He is leaning closer and closer. I close my eyes and feel his lips brush mine.” The kiss ends when she shoves him back.
  • Alexei and Grace kiss. The first time they kiss, Grace thinks, “Spence kissed me. But this is more. More intimate. More gentle. More emotion pounds through my veins than anything any boy has ever made me feel.”

Violence

  • An integral part of the plot revolves around a revolt that happened 200 years ago. During the revolt, “The king, the queen, two princes and a baby girl who wasn’t even a month old yet. Five of them. They pulled them from their bed, and they killed them.” The family was murdered and their bodies were hung from the palace.
  • When Alexei finds out that Spence kissed Grace, Alexei “turns and pulls back his arm in one smooth motion, dropping Spence to the ground with a single blow. . . They tumble and twist and brawl closer and closer to the party.” The fight lasts over several pages, but no one is seriously hurt.
  • When Jamie finds out that his friend kissed Grace, he “doesn’t say a word of warning. He just hits him.” Spence’s head jerks but he stays on his feet. The boy doesn’t hit back and Jamie leaves him with a warning to leave his sister alone.
  • During the festival, a drunk man recognizes Alexei. Then a mob of people attacks him and Grace. “The first fist that hits Alexei knocks him nearly off his feet. He doesn’t see it coming. . . I can feel myself getting pushed, almost knocked to the ground. I lash out, kicking a man in the knee as he lunges at Alexei. But two other men are already upon him.” During the attack, Grace is stabbed in the side.
  • Someone bombs a car. It is unclear if the driver was killed in the explosion or if the vehicle was unoccupied.
  • Someone stabs Jamie. “. . . I see blood that covers Jamie’s shirt. He’s trying to press against the wound with his free hand, but it’s not working. My brother is going to bleed to death, die right in front of me.” A helicopter arrives to take him to an Army hospital in Germany. It is unclear if he will survive his wounds.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • In the past, Grace has been given medication for anxiety. When she has a bad dream, she blames it on “the meds that I’m not taking.”
  • During a festival, a man walks by Grace and her friends. She comments that the drunk’s “breath smells like liquor.”
  • When Grace is stabbed, someone tends to the wound and then gives her “a small glass bottle” with medicine in it to help with the pain.
  • Grace does not want Alexei to turn himself in to the authorities, so she drugs him. “His hand goes limp . . . His legs wobble. But thankfully we are out of view of the street by the time he passes out completely and falls, sprawling on the weeds.”

Language

  • A character, “mumbles something that I think must be the Russian equivalent to Oh my freaking goodness.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Take the Key and Lock Her Up

Death is no stranger to the royal family of Adria. Centuries ago, the royal family was murdered, which changed the political landscape of Adri. However, the infant princess survived and was hidden; those who hid the child wanted her to take her rightful place as queen. Now, two hundred years later, there are still some that believe the princess’ descendent should sit on the throne.

Grace discovers that the princess’s blood runs through her veins. If people find out that Grace is a lost princess, the news could spark a revolution. Some people want to use Grace as a pawn, others want to silence her forever. Grace must figure out a way to save herself and the people she loves. Danger and deceit hide around every corner, and if Grace fails, she will pay with her life.

Take the Key and Lock Her Up is the exciting conclusion to the Embassy Row trilogy. The third book in the series ramps up the suspense because Grace isn’t sure who wants to help her and who wants to kill her. The romance heats up, but the kissing scenes are tame and appropriate for younger readers. Even though the book is written for readers as young as twelve, there are some readers that will not be ready for the more mature themes. For younger readers, the content may be disturbing because there are several scenes that focus on a mental institution and how the drugs affect the patients. In addition, Take the Key and Lock Her Up has more violence than the first two books because there are several factions that want Grace dead. The ending of the story is a bit predictable, but that doesn’t detract from the story’s enjoyment.

Sexual Content

  • Grace and Alexei kiss five times throughout the story. The first time, Grace brings “my free hand up and weave my fingers into Alexei’s dark hair, pull him close, and kiss him. Like maybe it’s the last thing I’ll ever do.”
  • Alexei kisses Grace. “. . . Alexei’s lips are on mine, and I’m not aware of anything anymore. It’s different from the kiss on the bridge. There’s no urgency now. . . This is about now—right now. No future and no past.”
  • Alexei and Grace kiss. “. . . His lips are on mine and my fingers are in his hair and everything fades away, the streets and the darkness. . .”

Violence

  • After Grace is drugged and taken to an unknown location, she escapes. “I just pick up the candlestick and throw it over my head as hard as I can . . . I can hear the chaos behind me, cries of pain and fury and fear.”
  • Someone is trying to capture Grace. In order to help her, Alexei throws a man over a bridge.
  • When a man tries to grab Grace, Alexei fights him. Grace watches “him twist, launching himself over the bigger man, and in a flash Alexei has his arms around his neck and he’s squeezing . . . The orderly slumps as Alexei cuts off his . .” At the same time, an orderly tries to drug Grace, and she throws her “hands up, catching his wrist with both hands, pressing up as he presses down.” She makes the man put the syringe in his own leg, and she and Alexei are able to escape.
  • Grace’s friends blow up a car. “Flaming debris fills the yard. Windshields are smashed. Tires are flattened.” No one is injured.
  • For no reason, a woman attacks the prince. She “slaps him hard across the face and starts kicking and clawing.” Several people pull her off of him.
  • Someone poisons the king, and he “pitches awkwardly forward and crashes down the massive staircase. . . (he) has landed, limp and broken, on the polished parquet floor.”
  • When Grace discovers a secret, someone hits her, knocking her out. Later, this person shoots a man in the chest, “and he drops to the ground.”
  • When a woman attacks Grace, her son shoots her. “The gun is tumbling from his hand as his mother crumbles, blood-soaked, to the floor.” The woman survives.

 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Grace drugs someone’s tea. When Grace drugs the person, “she slumps slowly to the ground, getting mud and grass stains all over her pretty white suit.”
  • A guard drugs Grace. When it happens, she feels “a pinch in my neck. I turn to see a guard behind me holding a syringe.”
  • While walking down the street, Grace passes some drunk people and goes by a café where people are drinking wine.
  • Alexei’s mother was in a mental institution, where she was prescribed drugs. Grace thinks, “I don’t know what they were giving her at that facility, but I can imagine. I know better than anyone that the medicine can be far worse than the disease.”
  • A woman is put in a mental intuition where she is given a vial of medication. Grace thinks that the medicine is “supposed to feel like peace, like bliss. But to me they always felt like your heart was covered with frostbite. They made me so numb I actually burned.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Sanctuary Bay

Sarah thought Sanctuary Bay was her ticket to a better life. She was wrong.

When Sarah receives a scholarship to an elite school, she thinks she’s finally found a place where she can fit in. No longer seen as a foster kid, Sarah is soon initiated into a secret society, the Wolfpack, where she no longer feels like an outsider, but part of the family. Her roommates, Izzy and Karina, who are also members of the Wolfpack, show Sarah that being one of them can lead to a life of luxury—after all, the students who attend Sanctuary Bay come from affluent families. They want Sarah to be one of them.

As the mission becomes more intense, Sarah must ask herself how far is she willing to go to remain part of the group?  When her roommate suddenly disappears, Sarah wonders if she is missing or murdered.  In a race to discover what happened to Karina, Sarah must decide who to trust. And in the end, she discovers that danger and deception hide around every turn.

Suspenseful and full of surprises, Sanctuary Bay’s graphic description brings the setting alive. The reader will be at the edge of their seat wondering how the strange events all come together. The story comes alive because it is told from Sarah’s point of view and the reader gets to experience Sarah’s wonder, fear, and confusion as the plot unfolds.

Set on an isolated island with no contact with the outside world, Sanctuary Bay leaves the reader wondering if this high-tech school could be real. Add into the equation that there is an abandoned WWII POW camp and an abandoned insane asylum, and the reader must work hard to believe some of the aspects of the story. The ending is even more far-fetched than the setting of the story.

The sexual content, language, and violence, which is described in detail, is not meant for the younger reader and many older readers may not be ready for the graphic images in the story.

Sexual Content

  • Sarah was in foster care. She liked her current foster home because “no one tried to slide into bed with her. There’d been no hitting or screaming.” Later, Sarah thinks about when “a foster dad came after her a couple of times when she was seven and another place a foster kid had tried some stuff when she was eleven.” However, nothing else is said about the events.
  • In the cafeteria, Karina’s boyfriend kisses her. “Not just a quick hello. A kiss. It went on so long a couple of guys at the nearby table started to hoot encouragement.”
  • The students get a video sent to them, “At first Sarah thought somebody had managed to send a porn clip to everyone, but then she realized that the woman she was looking at was a teacher she’d seen in the halls. And the other woman getting down and dirty with her was Maya. . . One student comments, “What is it about a freckled ass? It makes me want to play connect-the-dots with my tongue.”
  • As part of a mission, Sarah must kiss Karina’s boyfriend. “Sarah slid her hands up his back and knotted her hands in his hair—so thick and silky—then pulled his head down to meet hers. . . his tongue was already brushing against the seam of her lips, urging her mouth open, then his tongue was inside, tangling with hers, his hands on her waist, pulling her body flush against his.”
  • At a party for the secret society, the students play a game. “Guys grab the end of a strip with a knot in it and tie it around your wrist. Girls do the same, except use the end with no knot. When you find out who’s tied to you—well, you take it from there. . . Girls who want girls, use the green, either end. Guys who want guys, same with the red. Experimentation, as always, is welcome.” Sarah in paired up with Nate. “Sarah knelt behind him, spreading her legs so that she held his body between them. His neck . . . she still hadn’t finished exploring it. She lowered her mouth and ran her tongue across the edge of his hairline, loving the faint taste of his sweat . . . Sarah gave him a little nip, enjoying the give of his flesh under her teeth.” The make-out scene is described in detail in three paragraphs.
  • Karina’s boyfriend strides up to Sarah and, “He didn’t say a word when he reached her. He just grabbed her butt and jerked her tight against him, then bent his head and kissed her.”
  • Sarah and Nate kiss. “He deepened the kiss, his tongue exploring her mouth slowly. It was nothing like the hard, demanding kiss Ethan had given her that night after the movie. . . She let her tongue flick against his, pulling him closer against her.”

Violence

  • Sarah’s parents are killed when she is young. “Mommy on her knees facing the hotel room wall. The finger pulled the trigger of the gun . . . Mommy collapsing on the floor. Red spilling out.”
  • When Sarah spies on her roommates, she sees a group of students burying someone alive. “As they moved across the clearing past Sarah’s hiding spot, she heard a scratching, scrabbling sound, followed by a muted scream. . . Sarah’s eyes darted back to Izzy, Karina, and Nate. They just stood there. No horror on their faces. No cry of protest.” Later Sarah finds out the person that was in the coffin is fine; burying him alive was just a prank.
  • When Sarah is found spying on her roommates, she is gagged, tied up, and thrown into an old underground Nazi prison cell.
  • Sarah is taken into a strange meeting room, where, “One of the maroon-robbed followers approached and held a clay bowl at the base of Sarah’s throat. . . Even when the blade pierced her flesh, and a trickle of her blood ran down her neck and into the bowl, she still didn’t die.” The group then asks Sarah to join a secret society.
  • Izzy tells about a time when she was date-raped. “It was going too fast for me. But he wouldn’t stop . . . I just wanted him to get off of me.” He fell and hit his head on the side of a coffee table. “There was blood everywhere and I couldn’t stop it. It happened so fast. Suddenly he was . . . dead. He was still warm and everything, but his eyes were empty. He was gone.”
  • As punishment for breaking the rules of the secret society, Grayson is branded. “. . . Revealing Grayson Chandler tied down on a filthy mattress. Naked. Her flesh covered with goosebumps, nipples erect. Eyes wide with terror. . . Sarah’s stomach gave a slow, sickening roll as she saw that the rough rope had rubbed away the skin on Grayson’s wrist and ankles, leaving the flesh raw and bleeding. . . hearing the sizzle, from smelling the smoke and the frying-meat scent of Grayson’s burning flesh.”
  • In order to bring the Wolfpack closer together, the group sacrifices one of their own. “Using a strip of black leather, they tied her wrist to an iron ring that had been screwed into the thick, dark trunk, high over her head.” Nate offers a gun to the group, asking who will pull the trigger. Karina’s roommate, “Izzy snatched the pistol. She took a step away from the group, turned toward Karina, raised the gun, and fired. . . Sara stared down into Izzy’s eyes. They were expressionless and empty.”
  • Sarah and Ethan find Izzy strapped down to a hospital bed with a port connected to the back of her head.  When she is released, Izzzy attacks a guard and bites Ethan in an attempt to get away.
  • Nate begins talking to himself. “He pushed his hand into his short dark hair and managed to grab a hunk of it. ‘Stop!’ he yanked his hand away, hair and skin and blood coming with it.” He then steps off a cliff. “Far below, on the jagged black rocks in the water, lay Nate. Blood poured from his head. His body was shattered, limbs protruding from the robe at horrifying angles. He was dead.”
  • As Sarah and Ethan are trying to discover what happened to their friends, they sneak into a secret facility. When a nurse sees them, “Sarah punched her in the face. When the woman hit the floor, Ethan jumped on top of her, covering her mouth with his hand.” They gag the woman, tie her up, and put her outside where someone will find her later.
  • A fire breaks out and Nate and Sarah begin taking the restraints off of the people. “Izzy had gotten free of her restraints, and she was beating a nurse with an IV pole. The guy was on the floor already, and his head was bloody.”
  • A man attacks Nate and Sarah. Izzy soon appears. “Izzy snarled, tearing at him with one hand, stabbing him with the other . . . the scalpel plunged into him again and again, and Sarah stumbled away, Ethan by her side, as blood spurted into the air.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Sarah meets her new roommates, she is offered a cocktail. Sarah turns down the cocktail because she, “didn’t plan on meeting the dean . . . drunk off her ass.”
  • At the school one of the teachers “does impart some insane weed” and there are parties where students drink and make out.
  • During the secret societies events, the members drink “blutgrog” which she is told has, “ground bone from the POW prisoners, and their dried blood.” Sarah’s blood is also added when she is joining the group. The drink magnifies every sensation and makes people lose their inhibitions.

Language

  • When Sarah meets a girl, the girl complains about missing shopping. Sara thinks, “That’s what we call a first-world problem, bitch.”
  • When Sarah sees her new school, she says, “No fucking way.”
  • After seeing the dean, Sarah’s roommate asks, “What kind of shoes was Farrell wearing? She’s such a shoe whore.”
  • Karina is told that her, “boyfriend is kind of an ass. . . Nice butt though.” Later, Sarah wonders, “Why is Karina with this asshole?”
  • When talking about Karina’s boyfriend, her roommate says, “And you’re like one of those battered women who stay with their abusers . . . because you loooove them. All heart and no brain.” Karina gasped and says, “Fuck you, Izzy.”
  • Sarah is watching Karina’s boyfriend and thinks, “goddamn those perfect lips of his.”
  • Sarah thinks about an upcoming Wolfpack ceremony. “Three days before I’m supposed to help kill someone, and I’m drinking a beer at a bonfire. How fucked up is that?”
  • The teens in the story use profanity habitually. The profanity includes: hell, pissed, crap, badass, ass, shit, fuck, and bullshit.

Supernatural

  • Sarah has memory waves where she is back in the memory, but she can remember everything, including taste and smells.

Spiritual Content

  • None

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