The Magic Misfits #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

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

Supernatural 

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

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Curse of the Forgotten City

It’s been one month since Tor Luna inherited the Night Witch’s power and received a warning that greater threats would come to Emblem Island. Tor and his friends, Melda and Engle, have found the past month to be drearily ordinary, with Engle remarking that he misses a bit of adventure. That is, until a girl named Vesper washes ashore on the beaches of Estrelle proclaiming that a band of evil pirates, called the Calavera, have come to conquer Estrelle and Emblem Island. Before the pirates make their attack, the Calavera are searching for the Pirate’s Pearl, which would give them the power of the sea (and an easy way to crush any resistance from the people of Estrelle). Tor, Melda, and Engle, are determined to find the pearl before that happens.  

Along with Vesper, the four friends find a magical ship in the Night Witch’s castle and set sail. Like their last adventure, the group has a guide, The Book of Seas, which they use to outsmart creatures and curses they encounter on their journey. While tracking down the Pirate’s Pearl, the four also accept Captain Forecastle, a pirate, into their makeshift crew. In addition to battling threats at sea, Melda and Tor distrust Vesper’s secretive nature. They discover that Vesper’s brother is working with the Calavera. Vesper has no intention of helping the pirates but rather wants her brother to be safe. 

During a run-in with the Calavera, Tor, Melda, Engle, and Vesper manage to outsmart the pirates and obtain the Pirate’s Pearl. The group travel back to Estrelle to confront the pirates before they attack Emblem Island. Now that Vesper’s loyalty has been proven, Tor gives Vesper the pearl, which she uses to control the sea and defeat the Calavera. Emblem Island is safe once again. . . but not long after, Tor realizes that a strange mark on his arm has something to do with the Night Witch’s obscure powers.  

Curse of the Forgotten City’s plot twist and villains aren’t as complicated or shocking compared to the first book in the series, Curse of the Night Witch. However, readers will enjoy learning more about Tor’s newfound magical abilities since Tor must master the witch’s powers even though he doesn’t want them. For example, he finds its easier to accept his destiny as the Night Witch’s heir when he stops wishing he didn’t have her abilities and instead tries to use them for good. By embracing his new skills, Tor is able to command the ship that retrieves the Pirate’s Pearl. His willingness to accept something for the sake of others makes Tor a selfless and admirable character. 

Another key aspect in the book is the loyalty between Tor, Engle, and Melda. Their relationship is strained due to the secrets they keep from one another and their mixed opinions on Vesper. However, they find that trusting each other and extending that trust to outsiders is well worth the risk. For example, Tor realizes that he “had been focused on his own pain. His own regret. . . Tor should have realized that [Engle] had been hiding his hurt behind jokes and laughs.” Tor’s decision to be honest helps the friends not feel so alone in their struggles. Additionally, when three friends decide to trust Vesper, she ends up being their most useful ally as she is the one who defeats the Calavera in the end. The story teaches that letting others into our hearts is essential to bringing out our inner strength. Readers who want to jump into another magical world with a strong protagonist should also read Tristan Strong by Kwame Mbalia. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The Book of Seas tells the Calavera’s history. “The Calavera made their ships from the bones of their victims – and there were many. . . They sunk each vessel that dared sail their way, vowing to be the last ships on the sea. And the killings did not stop when they reached land. They docked only to wreak havoc.” The Night Witch decides to stop them by sinking all their ships except one, which is cursed to sail forever without docking.  
  • The story of the blood queen is another story from The Book of Seas. In this story, Mora, a mermaid who unwillingly lost her tail for legs, becomes the blood queen with the help of the Night Witch. Mora “made a deal with the Night Witch. In exchange for being the keeper of keys to the Night Witch’s curses at sea, Mora’s lifeline would lengthen for every person she killed.” Mora has lived for over 200 years.  
  • The blood queen takes Tor’s blood in exchange for information, reopening an old wound he has. The blood queen “swiped a sword-sharp nail across [Tor’s] lifeline. Tor cried out, not just because of the pain, but because of the memory of another person who had done the exact same thing. The wound reopened, and blood came spilling out.” 
  • A giant squid attacks Tor. “Something wrapped around Tor’s chest so tight he gasped. It pulled him back down in a whoosh. . . [Tor] punched its tentacle with all his might, but its skin was tough as leather, its suction cups stuck tightly against him. . . The squid jerked its tentacle – and Tor – forward. Toward its mouth.” 
  • Vesper helps Tor fight the squid. She “jumped over a crumbled part of the balcony, landing on another one of the monster’s tentacles. It whipped her back and forth, but she gripped its skin and stayed on. Tor watched as she took a charm from her bracelet and made it big – a dagger. Then, she aimed for the soft skin in between the beast’s suction cups. It roared as the blade found its mark, and the tentacle around Tor loosened.” Vesper and Tor swim away from the squid without harming it further. It later comes back to attack them again, but no one is hurt. 
  • Bluebraid, a pirate, boards their ship with her crew and hurts Captain Forecastle. Bluebraid “dug her blade hard enough against Captain Forecastle’s throat that it produced a tumbling droplet of blood.”  
  • A pirate who is part of Bluebraid’s crew restrains Tor. He hurts Tor when Tor tries to escape. “The pirate’s scaled arm sliced against Tor’s [arm] as the pirate fought to get ahold of [Tor].” Tor is only scratched. He contracts a disease from the injury called stormscale that is lethal. Later, he’s healed by a magical object. 
  • Tor’s arm breaks when the ship crashes. “Tor hit the side of the ship and bone snapped – his arm erupted in pain, like fireworks going off beneath his skin. . . the bone in his arm stuck out in a strange direction, almost through his skin.”  
  • Captain Forecastle defeats a group of spectrals. A spectral “crumbled to ash as an arrow hit it. Another arrow whizzed right past Tor’s nose, finding its next target. The third remaining spectral . . . threw a mighty beam of purple fire through the air, aiming for where the arrow had come from. But another pierced it, from the opposite direction. And the spectral fell to pieces.” 
  • Vesper cuts her hand to activate a spell with blood. “Vesper made her dagger charm large enough that Tor could see its blade and pierced her hand with it.” 
  • Tor pierces his hand with a quill in order to use his blood to sign a magical contract. “He dug its sharp metal tip into his palm without hesitation. Crimson broke through the skin.” 
  • A Calavera spectral fights Tor, Melda, Engle, Vesper, and Captain Forecastle. “A fiery burst of purple lightning lit up the room, striking Tor right in the chest. . . Captain Forecastle aimed more arrows, one after the other, pushing the spectral back, getting close enough to make a deadly blow. The spectral narrowed its eyes, and, with a whip of his wrist, brought up a new barrier, purple as his fire. The two arrows hit it, then ricocheted and pierced [Captain Forecastle] right through the stomach. He slumped to the floor.” Tor and the Captain are injured in the fight, which lasts two pages. 
  • In the same battle, the spectral kills Vesper’s brother, Calder, who was working with the Calavera. “Before [Calder] could grip [Vesper’s] fingers, the spectral struck [Calder’s] chest with a fistful of purple flame. And he was thrown back through the window, down to the rocks below. Vesper’s scream coincided with another strike of lightning.” 
  • After the battle, Captain Forecastle is gravely injured. “Blood pooled out of Captain Forecastle. Two arrows stuck out of his stomach.” He is later healed and recovers.  
  • Vesper defeats the Calavera by using the Pirate’s Pearl. Vesper “sent giant waves crashing against each Calavera ship, forcing them together, their wood groaning and shattering as they rammed into each other. With the pearl clutched tightly in her fist, she split through two ships with slices of sea that she had honed to cut as sharply as blades. Screams pierced the air as the Calavera fell into the water, their ships falling to pieces around them. The Calavera captain yelled orders, and the shark at the helm of his vessel broke free, then made a path for Vesper. It was five times her size, a monstrous beast that could devour her whole without a single chomp of its teeth. But she controlled the sea. And, with a flick of her wrist, the shark turned, then launched toward its captain instead. The mammoth creature flew out of the water, mouth opened wide to devour him. He fell back, but the shark caught his hand – ripping it clean off before disappearing underwater.” Vesper spares the remaining pirates by making them and their ships so small they fit in a fishbowl. 
  • The Book of Seas tells of a girl named Lune who could control the waves, but accidentally kills people by using her power. Lune “created a wave as tall as a mountain, just to test her abilities. . . Little did she know, a ship sailed not far away. It [the wave] tore the vessel in half, and all were dead before Lune realized what she had done.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Due to Engle’s nightmares, Melda and Tor make an elixir to help him sleep that they secretly put on Engle’s pillow. Engle is upset when he learns Melda and Tor drugged him without his consent, but the friends talk it out and apologize.  
  • Captain Forecastle drinks a bottle of rum. 

Language 

  • Engle says Captain Forecastle is “nuttier than a cashew.” Melda calls him “Captain Cuckoo.” 
  • Captain Forecastle tells someone to have a “good, bloody day!” 
  • Melda asks Captain Forecastle to tell the truth by asking for “no exaggerated hogwash.” 

Supernatural 

  • Most people in the story have two features: an emblem and a lifeline. An emblem is a symbol on the body representing a skill that usually becomes their profession. For example, Tor’s mother, is the town’s chief and has a leadership emblem. The people also have a lifeline, which is a line on the body that shows the high and low points in their life, representing hardships and victories, as well as when that person will die. In this book, Vesper and her people commonly have two emblems and lifelines at sea become too unpredictable to read. 
  • Tor has inherited the Night Witch’s power, which gives him the ability to have multiple emblems. He gains a water breathing emblem that allows him to walk and talk underwater without the need to breathe. Melda has a leadership emblem to inspire others, Engle’s sightseer emblem lets him see long distances, and Vesper has two emblems: water breathing and the ability to change the size of objects, which she uses often. 
  • The world is full of magic creatures, objects, and curses.  
  • The Calavera are a group of pirates that want to take over Emblem Island. They were formerly cursed by the Night Witch to sail forever, however after she passed her power to Tor, the curse was broken. 
  • The group visits the Night Witch’s castle to find items to help them on their journey. They find a ship there that can be controlled by Tor and a magical snowflake that they use to freeze the Calavera ship in the water to buy them time to find the Pirate’s Pearl. 
  • A spectral is a creature that is part of the Calavera crew. One is always with the captain. He is humanoid “without a mouth” and “sickly pale flesh pulled too tightly across his face. His eyes were black, only a dot of bright yellow alive in them.” Another man in the Calavera company uses magic to teleport.  
  • The blood queen tells Tor that he is likely immortal after gaining the Night Witch’s power.  
  • The city Vesper is from, Swordscale, can teleport. It can be accessed by an underwater portal. 
  • Tor can control the ship Vesper finds in the Night Witch’s castle by magically commanding the rigging. 
  • Tor receives a new emblem, a shield. Tor’s “chest burned and he winced. It felt like the skin there had been charred and cut away. He pulled down the top of his shirt and saw something glimmering, fresh and still hot to the touch. A new emblem. A shield.” 
  • Tor talks about dark enchantments. “They were born from pain – usually from forcing someone to enchant an object. And they always required blood.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Best Wishes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

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

Supernatural 

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

Spiritual Content 

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

The Big Freeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None

Supernatural 

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

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair

Polly and her magic book, Spell, have all kinds of adventures together because whatever Polly writes in Spell comes true! But when Polly and Spell join forces to make the school fair super spectacular, they quickly discover that what you write and what you mean are not always the same. 

Polly Diamond focuses on a spunky protagonist who loves to learn new words. When a new word is introduced, the text explains the definition as well as a word’s multiple meanings. The story also briefly explains syllables, alliterations, adjectives, similes, puns, and palindromes. While Polly gives examples of each type of word, readers will most likely not remember all the lessons because they are not reinforced throughout the story. However, with an adult’s help, Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair would be a great educational tool. 

Polly Diamond’s format will appeal to beginning readers. The text is broken up with cute black and white illustrations that appear on every page. Occasionally, Polly includes a list. For example, after Polly’s classmate Shaylene is introduced, Polly writes “a list of annoying things about Shaylene.” Another positive aspect of the book is the use of alliteration and onomatopoeias that make reading the story aloud fun. In addition, the back of the book has a two-page list of books that readers might enjoy. 

To add silliness to the story, Polly writes her wishes in her magic book, Spell. Often, Spell comes up with an unexpected interpretation of Polly’s requests. In this story, the students begin turning into different creatures such as dragons and fairies. This creates a bit of chaos that will leave readers smiling. However, some readers might feel overwhelmed because the story’s plot crams in too many words and too many events.  

Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair is a fun book that has many positive attributes. Polly Diamond’s two parent family is portrayed in a positive light. The book introduces new words and will make readers think about how their words can be misinterpreted. Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair will appeal to many readers because it includes a magical book, a funny Sploosh Monster, and a spunky protagonist. If you’re looking for another educational book, the Yasmin Series by Saadia Faruqi explores different topics such as being a superhero, being a writer, and being an explorer.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • One of the students turns into a squirrel. When the squirrel sees Polly, she throws a nut at her. 
  • Spell creates a “splashy, splooshy Puddle Monster…It is HUGE!” Polly tries to get rid of the monster. “I throw myself forward and try to vanquish it. The puddle screams and splooshes away down the block.” 
  • A Puddle Monster shows up at the school. Polly tries to vanquish it again. “I swipe my shiny dictionary from the pile. I swoosh it around my head. . . The Puddle Monster screams and runs away.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • None

Supernatural 

  • Polly Diamond has a magic book. Everything Polly writes in her book comes true. For example, “If I wrote Anna is a muffin in Spell, then, POP!, Anna would turn into a muffin!” 
  • At the school book fair, Polly uses Spell to create fun. Below are some examples. Not all of the magic is listed below. 
  • Polly asks Spell to make a Pop-Open-A-Book-Corn stall. The principal, “Mr. Love, picks up a book and opens it. As he opens the pages, out pops lots and lots of popcorn! Pop. Pop. Pop!” 
  • A student paints a fairy on Polly’s sister’s cheek. “The fairy from my sister’s cheek zings to life.” The student then paints “more little fairies, and they all zip and spark to life and fly around Anna’s head.” 
  • The students begin turning into different creatures based on what they have painted on their faces. For example, Polly’s sister “begins to glow. Anna is turning into a fairy!” A boy starts to glow and then “the scales painted on his face start to glow. . . [He] is turning into a green dragon. . . with TWO HEADS!” Another student turns into a squirrel.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Nature of Witches

Witches have been in control of the weather for hundreds of years, keeping the atmosphere calm and stable. Each witch has powers based in the seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Shaders, or people without magic, depend too much on the witches to keep the weather steady, pushing the limits of the witches. Thus, shaders have been starting to think that the magic is infinite and, as Clara says, “As if this planet were infinite.” More and more witches are being depleted of their powers and dying, causing the witch community to grow tired.

Clara Densmore is not just any ordinary 17-year-old witch, she is an Everwitch. An Everwitch is a witch that is tied to all four seasons. It is a rare and powerful magic; she can use her magic year-round whereas regular witches can only use their magic during their designated season. However, Clara cannot fully control her magic, which resulted in the deaths of her parents and best friend, Nikki. Clara fears her powers, and she is scared that by using her magic she will hurt other people she loves.

Then, Clara’s mentor and teacher, Mr. Hart, dies. Clara must continue her Everwitch training with two new visitors: a teacher named Mr. Burrows and his assistant, Sang Park, from the Western School of Solar Magic. Sang, a spring witch who has an interest in botany, is tasked as Clara’s primary trainer, and soon becomes Clara’s love interest. As Clara struggles with her Everwitch magic and explores the romantic pull she feels toward Sang, she must decide if she wants to improve her control over her magic or be stripped of her magic.

The Nature of Witches is a riveting story filled with romance, self-discovery, and magic. Readers may become very emotional because they are immersed in Clara’s first-person perspective. The story focuses on Clara, which allows readers to understand her thoughts and actions. Readers watch as Clara switches between wanting to be stripped of her magic and accepting it. Clara’s mental struggle is relatable because she is deciding between what she wants, what would be “easy,” and her duty as the most powerful witch. In the end, Clara realizes that her magic is a part of her and is something she can’t live without. Through her experiences, Clara learns the importance of loving both herself and her powers.

Readers will meet several complex, lovable characters inside the pages of The Nature of Witches. Clara and the other characters are portrayed with depth, showing both their good and bad traits. LGBTQ themes are expressed through Paige’s and Clara’s romantic past; the two girls were friends who became partners. There were no labels put on either person or judgment from anyone, suggesting that it is wholly accepted and integrated into society.

Griffin also includes thought-out and vivid worldbuilding by using mystical and descriptive language. The Nature of Witches is engrossing and easy to read, so readers will fly through the pages. Although the inclusion of witches and magic that controls the atmosphere is highly fictional, the story’s main idea is based on the possibility of snowstorms in June and tornadoes in winter. Climate change has been a hot topic for years and this story serves as a reminder that our world is still suffering, and readers must do something before it’s too late.

The Nature of Witches lets readers know that the first step to help stop climate change is to understand the harmful things humans do that affect the climate. The book does not give specific ways to make changes. However, it implies that people will have to face some type of horrible disaster before they accept that things must change. As Clara points out, “We aren’t in this alone and shouldn’t act like we are; the atmosphere is hurting, and that’s a problem for all of us, witches and shaders alike. The challenge is great, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. But we’re in this together, and if there’s anything I’ve learned this past year, it’s that together is where the magic lies.” At the end of the day, we must communicate with each other and work together to effect change.

Griffin gives readers an earnest, thoughtful, and fantastical story about magic and self-acceptance. Both the characters and plot will keep readers interested. While The Nature of Witches has a timely and important message attached to it, the message is not shoved in readers’ faces. The story’s vivid worldbuilding, the interesting plot, and the lovable characters make The Nature of Witches the perfect book for readers who love fantasy and climate fiction. Readers interested in reading another fantastical story that shows the dangers of climate change should grab a copy of Spark by Sarah Beth Durst.

Sexual Content

  • Clara spends the day with her summer fling Josh. After a long day, needing the comfort of his warm body, she “take[s] Josh’s hand, and he follows me the three steps to the bed. He tugs me close to him, brushes his lips against my neck.” They “fill the darkness with heavy breaths and tangled limbs and swollen lips, and by the time the mood reaches its highest point in the sky, Josh is asleep beside me.”
  • After a training incident with Clara’s ex-girlfriend, Paige, Clara remembers the time when they dated. Paige asked Clara to kiss her. “When our lips touched for the first time, [Clara] knew there was no going back.”
  • Sang, a spring witch, as well as Clara’s trainer and love interest, almost kisses Clara. “‘Clara,’ he says, his voice rough with something that sets my insides on fire. ‘If you don’t want me to kiss you right now, you’re going to have to stop looking at me like that.’ But that’s exactly what I want, I don’t care that his lip is bleeding and I’m out of breath, I want it so badly it doesn’t feel like a want. It feels like a need.” But they do not kiss.
  • Sang tells Clara that he likes her. Clara admits she’s tired of fighting her attraction. They hug and share their first kiss. “He kisses me as if it might never happen again, slow and deep and deliberate. There’s a gentleness to the way he opens his mouth and twists his tongue with mine, the way he traces his fingertips down the sides of my face and onto my neck as if he’s memorizing me.”
  • After Sang and Clara’s kiss, Clara admits, “I couldn’t sleep last night, kept awake by the ghost of Sang’s lips on mine, by the way his hand felt pressed against my lower back.”
  • Clara meets Sang outside a school building before their meeting with their teachers. “I can’t help the way my eyes drift to his lips, the way the back of my hand brushes against his.”
  • Clara walks a campus trail early and goes into the woods. She suddenly hears Sang’s voice coming toward her, but she hides. When she sees him, she confesses, “I want to run to him and wrap my arms around his waist and kiss him beneath the branches of our tree, but something keeps me rooted in place.”
  • While driving, Sang calls Clara impressive. “And before I know what’s happening, he pulls over to the side of the road, and I’m closing the distance between us, crawling onto his lap and wrapping my arms around his neck, I kiss him with the urgency of the water roaring down the mountainside and my magic rushing out to meet it.” They continue to kiss into the night. “His hands find my hips and his lips drift down my neck. My head falls back and I arch into him before returning my mouth to his. I kiss him until the sun sets and the moon rises, until my entire body hums with want.”
  • During one of Clara’s classes, Sang comes in as a special guest. When she looks at him, “My face heats with the memory of his body under mine, his face tilting up to me, his mouth on my neck and his hands in my hair.”
  • Clara hopes Paige can’t tell her heart is racing when she sees Sang. Clara remembers “echoes of his mouth on mine and his fingers on my skin and the way he breathes out when I kiss the notch in his neck flood my mind when I see him.”
  • Sang tucks Clara into bed, and “he gives me a soft, slow, lingering kiss.”
  • During the Spring Fling, Sang and Clara hug and admit how happy they are with each other. “Kissing him under the light of the stars makes me feel as if he is who I was always meant to find.” Clara admits to herself that Sang is magic to her, causing, “My lips [to] part, and the kiss deepens, each of us breathing the other in as if we’re the cool night breeze or the perfect scent of daphne.” When Clara falls backwards, “Sang follows, his mouth back on mine, and I think for a moment how perfect it is that two spring witches are falling for each other in the gardens at night.”
  • When Clara breaks up with Sang, she put “my hands on either side of his face and kiss him through my tears and his.”
  • In the aftermath of the solar eclipse, Sang runs to meet Clara and, “his lips meet mine, and I kiss him without hesitation or fear or worry. He weaves his hands through my hair, and his breaths are heavy, matching my own. I open my mouth and tangle my tongue with his, kiss him deeply, kiss him with greed and desire and longing.”
  • As Sang and Clara lay in bed, “I close my eyes, bend down, and kiss him. He puts his hands on either side of my face and opens his mouth, and I get lost in him, lost in the way his fingers feel on my skin, the way his hair tickles my face, the way his lips are soft and taste like black tea and honey.”
  • When Sang gifts Clara a journal, she thanks him and leans in to kiss him. “He kisses me again, then looks out over the meadow.”
  • Sang summons a small storm in his hand and commands thunder while Clara commands lightning. Sang tells Clara thunder will always follow lightning and they walk up to each other, and Clara describes, “I pull Sang into me and kiss him, greedy, deep, long, and eager, soaking up every drop of him before I leave.”
  • The storms dissipate and Sang and Clara cling to each other as they continue to kiss until the Autumnal equinox starts. “His lips are on my mouth, my neck, my chest, and I hold his face between my hands, run my fingers through his hair and down his back.”

Violence

  • As part of training, Clara and the other summer witches try to put out a fire. Clara is taken aback by the memories of the death of her best friend. Clara thinks, “This is the first time I’ve been involved in a group training session since I was on this same field last year, practicing with my best friend. Since the magic inside me rushed toward her in a flash of light, as bright as the fire in front of me. Since she screamed so loudly the sound still echoes in my ears.”
  • Clara’s teacher asks why she fights against her magic. Clara tells him that he knows the reason, elaborating, “He wasn’t here when my best friend died, when my magic sought her out and killed her in one instant, one single breath. But he’s heard the stories.”
  • Clara is paired with Paige for her training on how to handle storms. Clara recognizes that the storm is unstable and tries to pull Paige away. Clara tries to tackle Paige before the storm hurts her but the lightning strikes Clara and goes toward the gold chain around Paige’s neck. “Paige shakes beneath me. I scramble off her and stay by her side.” Paige ends up with a burn on her neck but is otherwise unharmed.
  • Sang accidentally poisoned his mother after growing a plant that has poisonous seeds that she put on her salad. He says, “She got really ill. Vomiting and pain, so weak she could hardly stand. My dad saw the seeds on her plate. He looked them up and realized they were toxic.”
  • After the Spring Fling dance, Clara, Sang, and some of their peers decide to play the ring of fire – a game where the witches need to keep a lightning bolt alive without it dying or touching them while passing it to each other. During a round where the lightning starts to get too strong, it aims for Sang, and, “lightning enters his chest and shoots down his left arm, exiting out his fingertips. He convulses and is thrown several yards before slamming into the ground, shaking, shaking, shaking.” Sang passes out and “a superficial burn is already forming on his skin, an intricate, fractal-like pattern that’s deep red and looks like the leaves of a fern. It covers all the skin I can see on his chest and neck.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • During the Spring Fling, Clara is talking to Paige. On Paige’s breath is “the sharp smell of alcohol.”

Language

  • Badass is used twice.
  • Shit and fuck are both used once.

Supernatural

  • The book is centered around witches and magic. Below are some, but not all examples of the witch’s magic.
  • Spring magic is calm as “its sole purpose is bringing beauty into the world,” says Clara. It helps plants grow and deals with spring atmospheric occurrences such as tornadoes.
  • Summer magic is intense and bold. Summer witches specialize in thunderstorms and fires. Clara says, “No other season can absorb as much magic from the sun as summers,” making the season strong because witch magic derives from their connection with the sun.
  • Winter magic is aggressive and precise. Witches with winter magic deal with blizzards, wind, the cold, and moisture. According to Clara, “Winters are more straightforward than anyone else. We don’t soften ourselves with indirectness or white lies or fake niceties. What you see is what you get.”
  • Autumn magic is slow and steady, building “on an undercurrent of thankfulness and sorrow.” Since it is a transitional season, it is attuned to its environment and can easily change to accommodate it.
  • Sang picks a fight with Clara, hoping to get her mad so she will use her magic without restriction and to relieve any anger built up between them. They have a small magic fight and by the end of it, Clara has unknowingly pulled spring magic from Sang to create a birch tree. When Clara uses her magic, “The earth shifts as a birch tree shoves through the ground and grows right next to us, tall and white and real. Spring magic heightened to its full strength in the dead of winter.”
  • When Mr. Burrows takes Clara to a field test, she is trapped with a family of shaders. They are stuck in a field surrounded by a wall of rocks and a sunbar, a concentrated wall of sunlight, and triple-digit temperatures. To help the family survive, Clara creates hailstones to keep them cool. Clara is “in a free fall of magic, power bursting from my fingers and into the air, tossing the hail higher and higher as if it’s weightless. I create as much hail as possible, stones dropping out of the sky in rapid succession.”
  • During the Eclipse of the Heart Music Festival, a huge storm breaks and threatens to flood the river. Clara must stop the storm and the river before thousands are flooded. As she tries to stop the storm, she “throw[s] my magic into the storm, and all four seasons follow, tumbling into the cloudburst and taking hold. Winter magic dries out the air, lessening the humidity. Summer focuses on the updraft, pushing down as hard as it can. Spring lines the bank of the river, forcing the water to hold. And autumn cools the air so it can’t rise.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Brynn Jankowski

Storm of Lightning

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

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

 

Spiritual Content

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

by Madison Shooter

Comet Rising

Emmeline, Lucas, and Lucas’s parents escaped from Lady Aisling’s grasp and are hiding away in a house by the sea. They are safe for now. Dar, now imprisoned in a tiny cage, is the only person that is ruining their relatively peaceful seclusion. Dar tells Emmeline that the Cerelia Comet is coming sooner than expected, but Emmeline doesn’t believe her. The Cerelia Comet comes every 25 years, and it’s been 13 years since its last appearance. However, upon seeing the comet soar through the night sky, it becomes clear that Lady Aisling has a sky shaker on her side who moved the comet’s orbit so it could arrive 12 years earlier. Lady Aisling could add more talents to her collection.

Lucas’s parents tell the other families about the comet’s arrival. Eventually, Lady Aisling finds their house by the sea and tries to capture everyone. Lucas’s parents tell Emmeline and their son that they will meet them at an old friend’s house but are caught by Lady Aisling’s soldiers. It is up to Emmeline and Lucas to find more talented children to join in the fight to stop Lady Aisling. But when Emmeline accidentally frees Dar, they find out that the children they seek have already been captured. Now, Emmeline and Lucas know that they must fight for their lives and the lives of talented children just like them.

Comet Rising starts where Shadow Weaver ended, pulling the reader into an action-focused adventure that builds upon the last. The story includes more details about talented people and the land of Zinnia, but those facts do not muddle the story. Once again, the narrative focuses on Emmeline’s point of view, which is concise and optimistic, making the events easy to follow. She becomes more self-assured as she and Lucas find more talented children, but as the story continues, she grapples with how she wants to defeat Lady Aisling. Readers will relate to the weight of Emmeline’s newfound responsibility and her being peer pressured, like when she refuses a friend’s suggestion to weaponize her shadows. In the end, she accomplishes her goal without compromising her values.

Emmeline also learns about forgiveness and becomes more willing to forgive Dar for her betrayal. Dar had tricked her into releasing her from the cage. She went off on her own to defeat Lady Aisling because of a personal grudge. Dar has eluded Emmeline and also done a lot of bad things to Emmeline, like impersonating her while traveling on her own. But after all is said and done, and Lady Aisling is no longer a threat, Emmeline forgives Dar because “everyone deserves a second chance.”

Comet Rising is a story that draws upon the fantastical and magical. The story has plenty of action and also answers questions asked in the previous book. Plus, it expands upon the characters, including the villain. Younger readers will enjoy reading the spellbinding descriptions of magic as well as learning about trust, forgiveness, and responsibility. Readers who liked Comet Rising by MarcyKate Connolly may want to read similar books like Jinxed by Amy McCulloch and The Revenge of Magic by James Riley.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Lady Aisling uses her magic to wrap vines around Dar’s neck and body. Her vines “begin to squeeze. Dar thrashes, but the choking vines won’t let up.” Dar’s face begins to “turn blue” while she tries to free herself with her shapeshifting, but the vines constrict her even more. Lucas crafts a sword and frees Dar from the vines.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The Comet bestows magic upon people every 25 years, blessing those born in the year of the comet with a magical gift.
  • Emmeline is a shadow weaver; she morphs shadows into different objects, animals, and silhouettes. “[The shadows] dodge and twirl at my command.” She can make the shadows tangible and cover herself. Emmeline does not get any ill effects from her shadow weaving.
  • Lucas is a light singer; when he sings, he can bend the light. At first, he can use his light to bake bread, but then he can use his light to make tangible objects such as bands and orbs of light. He can also craft a sword. He does not get any ill effects from his light singing.
  • Simone can read people’s minds and use telepathy. She has no ill effects when she reads or detects someone’s mind, but it is painful for her to use telepathy due to Lady Aisling tampering with her ability.
  • Pearl is a spot hopper. She can “move between two points instantly regardless of the distance” if she’s seen the destination or if she’s with someone who has seen the destination. She can take people with her if they hold onto her. There is a tingling sensation that goes away when she hops from spot to spot, but there are no ill effects when she uses her ability on herself or other people.
  • Noah is a talent taker. He can take talents away from gifted people by physical contact. “He puts a hand on my shoulder and closes his eyes. At first, I don’t feel anything much as my shadows dissipate. but after a moment, a tingling sensation begins to burn through my shoulder.” At first, he could nullify a talent. Eventually, he can permanently erase talents.
  • Lady Aisling is a magic eater. She can steal gifted people’s gifts and then use them. Lady Aisling’s gift does not work on regular people. She will become sick and weak if she does not devour a talent often.
  • Dar can shapeshift into anything and anyone.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jemima Cooke

What Were the Salem Witch Trials?

Something wicked was brewing in the small town of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. It started when two girls, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, began having hysterical fits. Soon after, other local girls claimed they were being pricked with pins. With no other explanation available, the residents of Salem came to one conclusion: it was witchcraft! Over the next year and a half, nineteen people were convicted of witchcraft and hanged while more languished in prison as hysteria swept the colony. Author Joan Holub gives readers an inside look at this sinister chapter in history.  

What Were the Salem Witch Trials? will pull readers in with its fun format that has large black-and-white illustrations on every page. The book uses large font, short chapters, and easy vocabulary that make the story easy to read. Plus, each event is explained fully and broken into smaller sections, so readers do not get confused.  

The book doesn’t just cover the witch trials. Scattered throughout the book are sections that give additional information about the people and the times. Topics cover everything from Puritans’ beliefs, superstitions, stories written about the witch trials, Halloween, and even the McCarthy witch hunt. The end of the book includes a timeline, artwork that depicts the time period, and more pictures. 

The book doesn’t just stick to the facts; instead, Holub adds her own theories. For example, while no one knows why the accusers made their accusations, the book speculates that perhaps the girls “were scared.” Maybe if the girls “felt an odd pain, perhaps they wondered if an invisible hand had caused it.” Maybe the girls just want attention. This speculation will help readers put themselves into the accusers’ shoes and make them think about what they would have done in a similar situation.  

Anyone who is interested in the Salem Witch Trials or the Puritans should read What Were the Salem Witch Trials? Even though the book focuses on the trials, readers will also learn about the court system in Salem. “It was up to suspects to prove they were not guilty. . .The suspects in the witch trials were not allowed to have lawyers. They had to defend themselves.” Many came to believe that the trials were unjust, and readers will be surprised to learn the trials still have a lasting impact today. 

What Were the Salem Witch Trials? brings history to life in a format that will appeal to even the most reluctant of readers. Whether you are researching the Salem Witch Trials or just interested in the events, What Were the Salem Witch Trials? will be a helpful and interesting source. Readers who want to learn more about historical events should also check out the I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Sara Good and Sarah Osborne refuse to confess, “they were chained to a wall in jail.” 
  • Other accused people were “tortured to make them confess.” 
  • People convicted of witchcraft were killed. “They were chained to a post, with wood piled around their feet. The wood was set on fire.”  
  • For one woman convicted of witchcraft, “Her hands were tied together and so were her feet. At the end of the rope was a big loop, called a noose. When the noose was put around her neck, her feet were pushed off the ladder so they dangled in midair. The noose slowly choked her to death. It was an extremely cruel way to die.” 
  • Giles Corey refused to confess to being a witch, so he was pressed. Giles was “forced to lie on his back in a field near the jail, heavy stones were set on his chest. . . After two days of pressing, the weight of the stones crushed Giles Corey to death.” 
  • A four-year-old accused of witchcraft spent “eight months in jail and became mentally ill” due to her time in jail. In all, twenty people were executed, “nineteen by hanging and one by pressing.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The Puritans had remedies for illnesses. For example, when one girl became sick her parents might have given her “a dose of parsnip seeds” or “castor oil mixed with amber.” 
  • Some thought that a “witch cake” could cure witchcraft. The recipe instructed: “mix rye flour with some of the girls’ urine to make a sort of dough. Then pat the dough into a cake shape. . . feed it to a dog. While the dog ate the cake, the witch was supposed to feel every bite of its teeth. She would come to the house and beg for the pain to stop.” The witch cake did not work. 

Language   

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Many people were accused of witchcraft, and the book includes specific examples of what people were accused of, such as one woman who “magically sent a wolf to chase [the accuser].” 
  • One woman was accused of being a witch and visiting the victims “in the shape of a bird.” 
  • Puritans believed that witches had “strange marks. . . witches supposedly communicated with certain kinds of spirits, called familiars, through these marks.” 
  • For good luck, some Puritans “might nail a horseshoe by their door. They’d spread bay leaves around the outside of their houses. Some people carried a piece of mountain ash. . .” 
  • In England, leaders “sometimes paid witchfinders to start witch hunts. Witchfinders were people who made deals with the Devil, but then had been cured. They . . . promised they could protect people from it.” 
  • Some speculate that the girls who accused others of being witches became upset after trying to look into the future. The girls “filled a cup with water. Then they dropped the clear part of a raw egg into the water and watched it swirl.” The girls saw a “coffin shape. This was bad news. A sign of death.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Puritans believed that the Bible’s words were law and that “discipline would keep children close to God and far from the Devil. That way, the Devil couldn’t trick them into doing his evil work.” 
  • When some of the girls in the village became sick, others “prayed for the girls to get well.” 
  • Puritans believed someone became a witch when “the Devil came and asked you to become his servant. He made you sign his special book, using your blood as ink.” 
  • In January 1697, “the Massachusetts Bay Colony held an official day of prayer and fasting to ask forgiveness for wrongdoings, especially in the trials.” 

Wish Trap

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

 

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

Gregor the Overlander

When eleven-year-old Gregor and his two-year-old sister, Boots, fall down an air duct in their laundry room, they find themselves in Underland: an underground world that has remained hidden from the surface dwellers for centuries. Underland is populated by the friendly but fierce Underlanders, who live in the underground city of Regalia. However, Underlanders are not the only ones who live in the dark. Giant, talking animals inhabit this strange place: enormous bats, upon whom the Underlanders ride and fly, cockroaches, spiders, and worst of all, rats.

The rats are the sworn enemies of the people of Regalia and when Gregor arrives, word begins to spread that he may be the warrior spoken of in an ancient Underland prophecy; a warrior who will save Regalia from the rats. Gregor, however, just wants to find his father, who’s been missing for over two years and may be lost somewhere in Underland. On his quest to recover his father, Gregor learns many important lessons about courage, friendship, and perseverance.

Those who read Gregor the Overlander will enjoy its unrelentingly quick pace and action. The peculiar and intriguing world of Underland, the fantastical and dangerous creatures, the mysterious “Prophecy of Gray,” and the hunt for a boy’s lost father are sure to hook the reader for the entirety of the story. The action, while violent and bloody, is not gory. Often, giant bugs or animals are wounded and killed in battle, which some may find more palatable than human violence.

The story is rife with themes that are important for every child to explore, such as family, friendship, sacrifice, courage, and empathy. Throughout the book, Gregor is unceasingly loving, kind, and protective of his little sister, and in the darkest moments of his quest, Gregor finds strength and hope in the thought of reuniting with his father. Gregor is not a perfect character though; he often finds himself losing his temper and judging others too quickly, like the cockroaches Tick and Temp. However, Gregor learns that these humble creatures possess virtues of their own and are deserving of respect and dignity. Gregor also frequently butts heads with two young Underlanders (who also happen to be royalty in Regalia), Luxa and Henry. However, after Luxa rescues Gregor and vice versa the two begin to trust and respect one another, planting the seeds of friendship.

Throughout the story, Gregor expresses doubt that he is in fact the warrior spoken of in the Prophecy of Gray. However, he continually demonstrates courage in the face of danger, surprising both himself and the Underlanders. In the end, Gregor finds that he is willing to sacrifice himself for his friends. Throughout the story, Gregor develops into a courageous, yet thoughtful young man. Though the story is self-contained, it also sets up the sequel, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, quite nicely.

Gregor the Overlander’s unique blend of fantasy, mystery, and adventure combine to create a story that is sure to entice and delight young readers. Plus, readers will find it easy to identify with Gregor and imagine how they would react to the challenges he faces. The fast-paced story with its unique world, its pulse-pounding action, and its compelling characters ensure that readers won’t want to put it down until they’ve finished, after which they’ll quickly reach for the next one, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Gregor tries to escape and return home from Regalia, two rats find him and Boots, intending to eat them. The kids are saved when a squad of Overlanders comes to their rescue, but there are many bloody wounds sustained in the ensuing battle. One of the rats bites the wing and throat of a bat, and an Underlander cuts off a rat’s ear “with one stroke of her sword.” Gregor “thrusts his torch into [the rat’s] face,” causing him to stumble back “right into Henry’s sword.” A bat sprays blood from a wound in its wing, and another rat dies when stabbed through the throat.
  • Luxa, a human Underlander, “crossed the room and struck [Gregor] on the face” for attempting to escape Regalia’s palace.
  • A woman and her bat barge into a meeting, the woman “pressing her hands to her chest to stem the flow of blood [while one of her] bat’s wings folded in, but the other extended at an awkward angle, clearly broken.” The woman delivers a message, then passes out.
  • A giant spider nearly eats Luxa, but she is saved at the last moment: “From above, a jet of silk shot down, encircling Luxa’s sword arm and jerking her from her bat. The pair of striped legs reeled her in like a fish.” Gregor saves Luxa by spraying the spider in the face with a can of soda: “Just as the fangs were about to pierce Luxa’s throat, [Gregor] flew up and popped the soda can top. The stream of root beer shot out and smacked the spider queen right in the face. She dropped Luxa and began to claw at her six eyes.”
  • A brown spider who has been wounded and is “oozing a strange blue liquid” dies. A different spider “began to pump juice into [the dead spider]” and eats him.
  • Henry, a human Underlander, stands over Ripred the rat as he sleeps, “ready to plunge his sword into [Ripred’s] back,” but the rat awakens at the last second. “In the split second Henry drove the blade down, Ripred flipped onto his back and slashed his terrible claws. The sword cut across the rat’s chest as Ripred tore a deep gash along Henry’s arm.” The scene takes place over three pages.
  • Tick, a cockroach, charges a group of rats, sacrificing herself in order to save Boots. She dies when a “rat sprang forward and crushed [her] head in its jaws.”
  • Many rats fall from a bridge after Luxa and Henry sever it with their swords. The rats plunge into a river below where “enormous piranha-like fish surfaced and fed on the screaming rats.”
  • Ripred, a rat ally to Gregor and his quest, “tore out [one rat’s] throat with his teeth while his back feet blinded the second. In another flash, both rats lay dead.”
  • Gorger, king of the rats, using his tail, “slashed poor Gox (a friendly spider) in half.”
  • Gregor jumps off a cliff, and many rats follow him over the edge, as does the Underlander Henry. A bat dives down and saves Gregor, who sees “the rats beginning to burst apart on the rocks below,” and just before Henry hits the rocks, Gregor turns away. The scene is described over three pages.
  • Gregor falls off of a cliff and nearly breaks his nose when caught by Ares the bat: “At that moment, Gregor slammed into something. ‘I’m dead,’ he thought, but he didn’t feel dead because his nose hurt so badly and his mouth was full of fur. Then he had the sensation of rising and he knew he was on Ares’s back.”
  • Gregor attempts to help a wounded bat by stitching its wing. “He cleaned off [the bat’s] wound as well as he could and applied an ointment she told him would numb the area. Then, with great trepidation, he began to sew up the rip. He would have liked to move quickly, but it was slow, careful work mending the wing. Aurora (the bat) tried to sit motionless, but kept reacting to the pain involuntarily. ‘Sorry, I’m sorry,’ he kept saying. ‘No, I am fine,’ she would reply. But he could tell it hurt a lot.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None.

 Language

  • Several times, Boots declares that she has pooped herself and needs to be changed.

 Supernatural

  • Gregor’s neighbor, Mrs. Cormaci, is known to read tarot cards for people.
  • A reference is made to Nostradamus the soothsayer.
  • Central to the plot is a series of ancient prophecies from the half-sane founder of Regalia, Bartholomew of Sandwich. Pertinent to this book is the Prophecy of Gray: “Two over, two under, of royal descent, Two flyers, two crawlers, two spinners assent. One gnawer beside and one lost up ahead. And eight will be left when we count up the dead. The last who will die must decide where he stands. The fate of the eight is contained in his hands. So bid him take care, bid him look where he leaps, As life may be death and death life again reaps.”

 Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Much Ado About Baseball

Twelve-year-old Trish can solve tough math problems and throw a mean fastball. But because of her mom’s new job, she’s now facing a summer trying to make friends all over again in a new town. That isn’t an easy thing to do, and her mom is too busy to notice how miserable she is.

But at her first baseball practice, Trish realizes one of her teammates is Ben, the sixth-grade math prodigy she beat in the spring Math Puzzler Championships. Everyone around them seems to think that with their math talent and love of baseball, it’s only logical that Trish and Ben become friends, but Ben makes it clear he still hasn’t gotten over that loss and can’t stand her.

Ben hasn’t played baseball in two years, and he doesn’t want to play now—but he has to, thanks to losing a bet with his best friend. Once Ben realizes Trish is on the team, he knows he can’t quit and be embarrassed by her again. To make matters worse, their team can’t win a single game. But then they meet Rob, an older kid who smacks home runs without breaking a sweat. Rob tells them about his family’s store, which sells unusual snacks that will make them better ballplayers. Trish is dubious, but she’s willing to try almost anything to help the team.

When a mysterious booklet of math puzzles claiming to reveal the “ultimate answer” arrives in her mailbox, Trish and Ben start to get closer and solve the puzzles together. Ben starts getting hits, and their team becomes unstoppable. Trish is happy to keep riding the wave of good luck . . . until they get to a puzzle they can’t solve, with tragic consequences. Can they find the answer to this ultimate puzzle, or will they strike out when it counts the most?

Much Ado About Baseball is a fast-paced story that teaches about friendship and fitting in using baseball as a backdrop. The story is told from both Ben’s and Trish’s point of view. The alternating points of view allow readers to see how Ben and Trish struggle with conflicting emotions. Middle grade readers will relate to Ben and Trish, who both are trying to fit in with their new baseball team. While the two are often at odds, they learn to work together. As a result, Ben realizes that friendship is about “arranging things so they’re best for the group, and not just for one person.”

While the story has plenty of baseball action, math puzzles also take center stage. Readers will enjoy trying to solve the puzzle before the answer is revealed. In addition, Much Ado About Baseball has a Shakespeare quoting character and magical fairies that need a lesson in cooperation. By combining baseball, puzzles, and Shakespeare, LaRocca creates an imaginative and engaging story that is full of suspense. While the story focuses on friendship, it also shines a light on the importance of honesty and forgiveness. The story’s conclusion is a little too perfect and cheerful. Everything is wrapped up in a positive manner which causes the ending to sound a little preachy. Despite this, Much Ado About Baseball will appeal to sports fans and non-sports fans alike. If you’re looking for another book full of baseball excitement, grab a copy of Soar by Joan Bauer.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Several times someone is referred to as a jerk. For example, Trish thinks a boy is a jerk.
  • Heck is used occasionally.

Supernatural

  • Both Ben and Trish get a magical math puzzle book. When the right answer is written down, “the entire grid turned bright green. . . Then, under the puzzle, a sentence appeared.” The sentence gives help with a problem.
  • After using the magical math book, Ben tells the baseball where to go. The ball, “seemed to slow down. . . it was surrounded by sparkling green light.” Because of this, Ben is able to hit a home run.
  • Ben thinks eating the Salt Shaker snacks makes him better at baseball. His team eats the snacks before every game. “But the kids kept having weird reactions. . .breaking out in purple blotches that disappeared after a few minutes; hiccupping intermittently for an afternoon; even growing fuzzy hair on our forearms that resembled a donkey’s fur.”
  • In Ben and Trish’s world, fairies exist “as much as magic math books and lucky coins.”
  • Ben and Trish go to a part of the forest where fairies are. After a brief conversation, “The mouths surrounded us like a green cloud. When they finally flew away, we were back in my yard.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

Mirror Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • OMG is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Haven’s Secret

Twin sisters, Parker and Ellie McFadden, could not be more different. Parker is a firecracker, always bursting with energy, which she channels into her athletic activities. Ellie is gentle and quiet with a big heart for all types of animals, even spiders. Their mom, who was an environmental scientist, inspired the girls’ love for nature and was always traveling for dangerous research projects until one fateful scuba diving mission that led to her death. Before their mom died or abandoned them as Parker likes to believe, she set aside special gifts for each of her daughters to receive on their birthday. This year, they receive two bracelets and two notes reminding them to “listen carefully,” and “sisterhood comes first,” and “the magic will follow.”

Aside from the bracelets, Parker and Ellie get an even bigger surprise when their father informs them they will be spending the summer with their Great Aunt Mabel and Great Uncle George from their mom’s side of the family. Despite Parker’s protests, Mr. McFadden insists this trip will be good for the girls and that their mother had also spent time with her aunt and uncle as a kid. The next day, George and Mabel, an eccentric pair of twins, arrive to take Parker and Ellie to their mountain home which they call Haven.

Since arriving in Haven, Parker and Ellie find strange things happening. Ellie can hear animals’ thoughts and control plants, while Parker can generate fire and heat from her hands and make the ground move. Determined to find answers, Parker and Ellie explore Haven. In their mom’s old room, Ellie finds a box of pictures and notes from her mom and another girl, Sadie. Meanwhile, Parker uses an astrolabe, a special birthday gift from a previous year, to decipher the coordinates of their mom’s last locations before she went away. After demanding information, George and Mabel explain that Haven is no ordinary farm, but a sanctuary that offers protection from The Danger, a harmful force caused by human greed. Those who possess powers, like Parker and Ellie, George and Mabel, and their mother, have the responsibility to work with the environment to restore balance.

Even with this information, Parker and Ellie become suspicious of Haven and its secrets. George and Mabel are obviously withholding information, and Mabel grows increasingly wary of Parker’s strong powers and her inability to control them. Eventually, Mabel confesses that Sadie was their mom’s twin sister, and her thirst for power led to their mom’s death. Mabel expresses concern that Parker will betray Ellie in the same way if her powers are not controlled.

Suspense increases for Parker and Ellie after their dad warns them over the phone that they are in danger and must leave Haven immediately. Suddenly, everything becomes clear when Parker cracks the last astrolabe coordinate and discovers the last place her mom was before her death was Haven. The girls realize Haven is no longer safe and Mabel can’t be trusted. Parker and Ellie must work together and trust in their powers to stop Mabel from disturbing the earth’s balance and letting The Danger win.

Haven’s Secret is the first book in The Powers Series, and the story ends with a cliffhanger teasing more adventure to come. Although the book is written in third person, the chapters go back and forth between focusing on Parker’s and Ellie’s perspective. Because of their unique personalities, readers will be able to relate to either Parker or Ellie. In addition, the novel has strong themes of sisterhood and teamwork as Parker and Ellie realize they are stronger together. The book also has important environmental themes such as practicing sustainability by utilizing recycled materials. The Danger is also a symbol for climate change and environmental neglect, and Parker and Ellie’s powers are used to support environmental activism.

With its environmental themes, Haven’s Secret is an important and timely book. Overall, it is an exciting read with all the twists and secrets Parker and Ellie uncover at Haven. The ending, especially, is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. Although the pacing is a little slow in the beginning, readers will admire Parker and Ellie’s sisterly bond and get inspired to help the environment. If you’d like to read another magical book that has environmental themes, pick up a copy of Spark by Sarah Beth Durst.

 Sexual content

  • None

Violence

  • While running through the forest, “Parker’s foot skidded on the mud a second time and she pitched forward, right into a stupid tree. Face first . . . Her head flooded with pain, grimy water seeped through the knees of her jeans, and something primal rose up within her, overtaking her body and mind.” Parker is hurt.
  • A wounded cow arrives at Haven. “It’s left hind leg had a giant gash in it, almost as if the animal had gotten in a barn fight.” George and Ellie work together to help heal the cow.
  • As part of her powers, Ellie feels the pain of the wounded animals around her. As she walks closer to them, she feels “pain shimmering through every end of her body, until she was doubled over with it.” Ellie has to focus and stay strong in order for the pain to subside.
  • Ellie helps heal an injured wolf that has “a deep gash between his ribs—his blood pooled beneath him.” The animal is hurt by a growing storm caused by The Danger. We do not see exactly when the wolf was injured.
  • To protect her and her sister, Ellie blows a magical whistle their mother had given them, and “Mabel screeched as if the pain of the entire world was upon her.”
  • As Parker and Mabel fight each other, “glass shards skittered across the floor. Parker focused on the rain outside the window, drawing it into her own private tempest, thrusting it against Mabel’s wintry hailstorm. The two storms crashed together above George’s bed, and he lifted a frail arm to shield his face from the deluge of rain and hail.”
  • When Mabel’s storm falters, “the wolf Ellie had healed chose its moment to spring onto Mabel’s back.” As a result, “Mabel shrieked.” Her cries reveal she is in pain, but neither the pain nor the violence is described in detail.
  • Mabel’s rage destroyed Haven. It is implied that George and Mabel were killed in the destruction.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

 Language

  • None

 Supernatural

  • In the prologue, The Danger, a dark, magical force attacks an unknown character. The Danger “made its presence felt in the swirling wind, the bending trees, the keening animals, the shadows cast by the waning moon . . . It filled her, and she let it. It fused to her body from the inside out, banishing all the parts she’d kept hidden and protected for so long.”
  • In a moment of frustration, Parker slams her foot on the ground and “the ground cracked and jolted Parker out of her rage. For a second her whole body rattled like someone was shaking her . . . There, clearly, beneath her sneaker, was a split in the ground.” Before realizing her powers, Parker assumes the crack was caused by an earthquake.
  • After meeting Arlo the dog, who lives at Haven, Ellie discovers she can communicate with animals. After Ellie asked Arlo if he would like to come in inside, she could feel him say yes. “It wasn’t like he had actually spoken, but a strong feeling of ‘yes’ had come out of nowhere.” Ellie continues to hear the thoughts of animals throughout the book.
  • In the forest, Parker “felt as if a million slender tendrils from the forest were fighting to pull her back and eat her alive.” This is The Danger trying to get her.
  • As Ellie walked around Haven, “she noticed buttercups springing up around her feet, almost as if to mark her path.” Later, Ellie discovers that she has some control over plants.
  • Parker produces light from her hands, and “the skin on her palms was briefly translucent, exposing what had just been jumping underneath—a landscape of sparks, a million bright pinpricks, all of them screaming and clawing to get out out out into the world—”
  • Mabel explains to Parker and Ellie that The Danger “is a malevolent, shape-shifting force created by people’s greed.”
  • After getting frustrated with Mabel for not telling the truth, Parker creates a burst of fire and light. “Parker opened her arms wide as the searing heat coursed through her and enveloped the palms of her hands.” As a result, Parker notices the mountain side of the road “was mostly uniform except for a gaping chunk in the middle, the space for the last missing piece of puzzle.” Parker had caused an explosion and shifted bits of the earth. Parker has “the ability to produce light and manipulate the earth’s surface matter.”
  • Ellie comes to realize that “all her life, she had been able to see how people were feeling, sometimes even before they saw it themselves.”
  • When George grew weak after healing animals, Ellie “stepped in and discovered she could heal animals too.”
  • Parker and Ellie notice a mysterious shadow but “light had nothing to do with it. Nothing was casting it. The shadow simply crept of its own accord. And then it was gone.”
  • When a vine begins to choke Ellie, “she visualized the vine receding, herself taming it with merely a thought,” and, “around her neck and shoulders, the vines loosened.”
  • George explains to Parker “that the powers don’t just run in our This is bigger than just us. Lots of other people have powers.”
  • As Mabel becomes more power-hungry, “showers of sparks danced from her irises and arced down to the floor trailing thin ribbons of black smoke.”

Spiritual content

  • None

by Elena Brown

Shadow Weaver #1

Emmeline can control and manipulate shadows, and because of her power, people fear Emmeline. However, they also mock her behind her back. Her parents forbid her from leaving their home, so she doesn’t have any friends except for a shadow named Dar. The shadow has been with Emmeline ever since she was little. She and Dar make mischief all the time. One day, Emmeline’s parents have important guests over, and she is told not to play any of her usual pranks. Emmeline disobeys her parents, and it’s the last straw. Lord Tate convinces Emmeline’s parents to let him and Lady Aisling, a noblewoman, teach Emmeline, in her father’s words, “how to be a proper lady”.

After hearing Emmeline vent her worries, Dar asks Emmeline to let her change Lord Tate’s mind, but Emmeline must help Dar with something in return: Emmeline has to help Dar become a human. Dar was not always a shadow; someone killed her and turned her into a lost soul, but, with Emmeline’s help, she could become flesh again. That night, Dar alters Lord Tate’s mind and accidentally puts him into a coma.

The lord’s nephew, Alden, blames Emmeline for Dar’s actions, so Emmeline runs away and meets a boy named Lucas. His family takes her into their home. At first, Emmeline is wary of the family but trusts them after they misdirect the Zinnian soldiers who are looking for her. At the same time, Emmeline begins to doubt Dar, as Dar craves becoming flesh more and more; however, performing the ritual for Dar is the only way for Emmeline to clear her name. Can Emmeline keep her mistrust a secret from Dar, who is always with her?

The story focuses on Emmeline’s perspective, which lets the reader see Emmeline grow and change her prankish behavior. The reader also sees the magic from her point of view, especially when she talks about her connection with the shadows and darkness. Dar is somewhat endearing due to her struggle of being invisible and intangible. However, her switching between being serious and playful drags the story’s pacing to a crawl and does not allow for character development until the last chapters.

Emmeline also learns how to trust herself as well as other people and she becomes less reliant upon Dar. For instance, she thinks to herself that she can trust Lucas and his family because “Lucas trusted me enough to show me how he works with light. And his parents lied to protect me from those guards.”

Shadow Weaver is a story that draws upon the fantastical and magical. Younger readers will like the spellbinding descriptions of Emmeline’s shadow weaving and the fresh take on magic, betrayal, and secrets. Emmeline can be unlikeable at first because she does not care about her parents or the servants. However, she becomes more likable when she meets Lucas’ family, people who are patient and show affection. This is not a scary story about good versus evil, but a fun and suspenseful story about family. Readers who enjoy Shadow Weaver and would like to read more stories about magic should read the Keeper of the Lost Cities Series by Shannon Messenger.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Dar plays a prank on Kendra, Emmeline’s former best friend. “Dar springs forth, shifting into a giant monster at the last minute.” Kendra drops a laundry basket and lands “awkwardly on one foot and stumbles to her knees.” Kendra injures her foot and cannot move it as well as the other one.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lucas’s mother applies a “poultice” to Emmeline’s injuries.

Language

  • While talking to another servant girl, Kendra calls Emmeline “crazy.” Dar calls Kendra crazy too, but when she and Emmeline are by themselves.
  • Emmeline thinks “drat” to herself when confronted with a problem.

Supernatural

  • The Cerelia Comet bestows magic upon people every 25 years, blessing those born in the year of the comet a magical gift.
  • Emmeline is a shadow weaver; she can shape shadows into different objects, animals, and silhouettes. “Shadows. . . become whatever I wish–tacky, like clay, or as thin as smoke. I can mold them all to my will.” She can make the shadows tangible.
  • Dar and Emmeline prank the servants in Emmeline’s house with magic. Dar shapeshifts into the silhouettes of different people. Emmeline shapes the shadows into either objects or silhouettes.
  • Lucas is a light singer; when he sings, he can bend the light. Lucas “is using light in much the same way I use shadows.” At first, he can use his light to bake bread and make vegetables grow faster, but then can use his light to make tangible objects such as his bands of light and orbs of light.
  • Dar asks Emmeline to perform a ritual for her. Emmeline collects an apple, a rose, a witch hazel, and water touched by the light of the full blood moon.
  • During the ritual, Emmeline puts the apple, the witch hazel, and the water “into the mortar and grind[s] it up into a paste.” Emmeline “accidentally pricks [her] thumb” on one of the roses and it falls into the mortar, but it is part of the ritual. Then, Emmeline adds her tears. Once she adds her hair to the mixture, Emmeline lights the candles and covers Dar’s entire form in her shadows.
  • Dar says the words to the ritual: “Witch hazel, harvested in darkness, stolen fruit, rotten to the core . . . Water, blessed by the full blood moon, roses, pinched from a garden, misbegotten candles, tears of regret, the blood of a thief, and hair from a liar’s head, come together under the full moon . . . and make me whole!” Dar says the words over and over; her shape rises from the ground and gathers into a single spot. “When she finally stops changing shapes and is just a girl coated in mud lying on the ground, she ceases her murmuring.”
  • Simone can read “into people’s minds” and use telepathy. There are no ill effects of Simone getting into people’s minds, but it is painful for her to use telepathy.
  • Dar can shapeshift into anything or anyone.

Spiritual Content

  • People built temples to honor the Cerelia Comet. “Legend tells that the first time the comet flew over our lands, it sprinkled the ground with the first seeds of life, bringing blessings anew every twenty-five years. Many people revere the comet to this day . . .”
  • Emmeline and Dar go inside a temple dedicated to the Cerelia Comet and steal candles from the altar to use for the ritual.

by Jemima Cooke

The Crystal Rose

The snow sisters’ parents have been kidnapped by the Shadow Witch! The only way to save them is to find the orbs containing the magical Everchanging Lights before the witch steals the lights’ power for herself. But the Shadow Witch, Veronika, will do anything to reach the lights first.

On their second quest, the girls face a dark, icy journey to find the crystal rose and the blue orb. Will their magic be strong enough to overcome the Great Glacier and all the dangers hidden there?

The beautiful cover with three sisters and a pet polar bear will draw readers into the story. However, the magical sisters who face non-frightening danger will captivate readers. The second installment of The Snow Sisters Series has the three sisters—Hanna, Ida, and Magda—racing through a dangerous, icy landscape. The girls’ magic helps them stay safe from the Shadow Witch and even Oskar, the girls’ pet polar bear, helps them along their way.

Even though their mother has instructed them to search for the orb, the girls do not tell anyone about their quest. Instead, they sneak out of the castle and borrow horses without permission. At the end of the quest, their governess, Madame Olga, sees the girls coming in from outside. “Madame Olga hadn’t realized they had been out all night. She just thought they’d gotten up early and been out in the garden.” The girls allow Madame Olga to believe the falsehood.

The Crystal Rose has charming black and white drawings that help readers follow the plot. The large illustrations appear every 1 to 4 pages. Throughout their journey, the sisters show bravery and use problem-solving skills. The Snow Sisters Series will entertain young readers who love princesses, magic, and snow.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Magda uses her magic to turn into a mouse. When the cook sees the mouse, she “grabbed a broom and swept it angrily at Magda. . .Magda dodged the broom just in time and turned and ran.”
  • In an attempt to kill the girls, the Shadow Witch causes an avalanche. “Hanna used her magic to lift the thick sheet of ice above them like a roof. . . the thundering snow swept over the top of them, battering at the sheet of ice and the sides of the boulder.” The girls are not injured.
  • While walking through the woods, the Shadow Witches cause the wind to blow and knock ice crystals onto the sisters. A branch “swept through the air and straight toward the little polar bear. . . Ida screamed, and without a second’s thought, she flung herself in front of the cub. The branch hit her full in the chest. . .” Everyone is able to safely get out of the woods.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The magical lights called the Everchanging Lights “kept everything in balance and made the island such a wonderful place to live.”
  • Freya’s sister, Veronika, is trying to steal Freya’s magic. Freya tells her daughters, “She is using spells to try to take my magic. I can feel it!”
  • The Shadow Witch “closed her eyes and began to chant strange words. Images appeared on the surface of the ice.” The Shadow Witch is using her magic to spy on the three sisters.
  • Each of the three sisters has a unique magical talent. “Hanna had discovered she could move things using her mind, Ida had the power to bring objects to life when she drew them, and Magda could transform into any animal or bird that she saw.”
  • Using magic, Freya can communicate with the three girls. “The girls held their breath as an image of their mother’s face gradually formed in the snowflakes.” Freya tells the girls where they can find the missing orb.
  • Oskar is the girls’ pet polar bear. “All Nordovian polar bears had the ability to change size.”
  • Magda uses her magic to change into a bird. The magic felt like “a tingle.” Later, she changes into an arctic fox.
  • Ida uses her magic to create a rope. “The air shimmered, and suddenly a rope appeared just as she had drawn it.”
  • To get the orb, the girls need to open the crystal rose without touching it. Hanna “drew on her magic and felt it welling up inside her. Focusing on the rose, Hanna willed the petals to open. Magic surged through her, strong and powerful and the petals began to peel back. . .”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Castle Hangnail

When twelve-year-old Molly appears on their doorstep claiming to be the new Master of the castle, every minion in Castle Hangnail is doubtful. Molly’s short height and politeness are different from the tall, intimidating Masters of the past. However, the castle needs a Master or else the Board of Magic will decommission the castle, leaving the minions without a home. Molly assures the minions that she is a bona-fide Wicked Witch and begins completing the Tasks required by the Board of Magic, leaving everyone with hope. But Molly has a few secrets—the biggest one being that she is not who she claims to be.

Castle Hangnail uses tropes of old-school baddies to create a humorous story that will leave readers laughing. Molly hides her secrets as she is learning magic, casting magic, and imitating the wickedness of the previous Masters. Majordomo, the head of the minions, finds out that Molly was not the intended Master and confronts her about her claim to Castle Hangnail. When the intended Master, a Sorceress named Eudaimonia, arrives to take the castle by force, Molly and the minions work together to defeat her.

At Castle Hangnail, Molly interacts with many magical creatures, all of which are based on the supernatural and fantastic. To add to the zaniness, stories about the former Masters are sprinkled throughout the book. At one point, Majordomo talks about the previous Vampire Lord, who “liked to keep the hearts in jars in the basement, but he was rather old-fashioned.” Stories about the former Masters and snippets about the magical creatures add levity and humor to the story. Readers will enjoy the humor of the story as well as how Molly finishes the Tasks and defeats Eudaimonia.

Fun black and white illustrations of the characters and scenery add to the hilarity of the book, alongside two-page spreads so readers can visualize the happenings in Castle Hangnail. The blend of text and pictures help to keep younger readers engaged with the story. The beginning is slow because of the initial worldbuilding, but the interactions between Molly, the minions, and the villagers keep the action going. Castle Hangnail shows the value of standing up against bullies and will engage even the most reluctant readers. Although Castle Hangnail is a stand-alone title, readers will be asking for a continuation of Molly’s adventures. Readers who enjoy Castle Hangnail may also want to try Ursula Vernon’s series Dragonbreath.

Sexual Content

  • Lord Edward, an enchanted suit of armor, remarks that Miss Handlebram, the gardener, is a “fine figure of a woman.”

Violence

  • Angus, the son of the cook at Castle Hangnail, suggests that Molly should cause a ruckus for Old Man Harrow because Old Man Harrow “beats his donkey.”
  • After Miss Handlebram stood up for Molly, Eudaimonia “froze Miss Handlebram in ice.” Later, Molly and the rest of the minions defrost Miss Handlebram, so Eudaimonia “zapped Majordomo” because he was the head of the minions and betrayed Eudaimonia’s trust.
  • After seeing Old Man Harrow punch his donkey “between the eyes,” Molly turns the donkey into a dragon by saying, “Accreus Illusus Equine Accomplicia Margle Fandango” while holding a sprig of moonwort. Molly expected the spell to last for a minute, but it lasted for “seven minutes and forty-three seconds.” The dragon “tore at the stack of firewood with its claws” while Old Man Harrow hid in one of the animals’ stalls. Then, the dragon smashed its tail “through an old water trough” and scorched the roof when it learned it could “breathe fire.” Molly grabbed the dragon’s attention, calmed it down by scratching it “behind its ears,” and takes the donkey off “[Old Man Harrow’s] hands.” The scuffle between Old Man Harrow and the dragon lasts for four pages.
  • Freddy Wisteria, a real estate developer, tried to throw a rock into a window but “dropped the rock on his own foot.” He ran away when Molly threatened to turn him to the police for questioning.
  • When comparing the different Masters of Castle Hangnail, a minion comments that “the old Vampire Lord used to drain the blood of villagers.”
  • Gordon, one of Eudaimonia’s minions, knocked over Lord Edward, leaving the suit of armor in “multiple pieces.”
  • To gain the title of Master of Castle Hangnail, Eudaimonia and Molly fight in “a formal challenge.” Throughout the fight, Molly uses the many spells she learned from the Little Gray Book and Eudaimonia shoots bolts “of ice” from her wand, which freezes her targets. First, Molly turns the stone under Eudaimonia’s feet into cheese by yelling, “Grappa Electroi Caseus Formatus” while holding mint leaves. The minions help as well; she transforms Bugbane into a small dragon by reciting, “Accreus Illusus Chiropteran Accomplicia Margle Fandango” as she holds a piece of his fur. Bugbane sets “the bodyguard’s hair on fire” and breathes fire everywhere, but Eudaimonia shoots at the dragon-bat. Molly notices Eudaimonia “keeps using [Molly’s] magic against [her]” and she stops Eudaimonia from taking her magic by picturing “a silver cord coming out of her chest and sliced her hand down across it” while the Clockwork Bees distracted Eudaimonia. Angus “dove between Molly and the blast of ice” but was cold and took a shot. The other minions handle “[Eudaimonia’s] minions”. Finally, Molly uses the shadow spell. The shadow breaks Eudaimonia’s wand and drags Eudaimonia into a large pool of shadows called the “Kingdom of Shadows.” Molly stops the shadow by jabbing a forefinger with a pin. “She held out her hand. A single drop of blood fell onto the mint leaves” and offered the bloodied herbs to the shadow, ending the fight.  The fight lasts for 11 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Majordomo gives a cup of hot milk and “brown flecks” to Gordon, one of Eudaimonia’s minions, to sedate him.

Language

  • When Majordomo admits to the rest of the minions that Molly lied to her parents about where she was going to camp for the summer, Majordomo exclaims, “For the love of Hecate . . .”
  • When Molly’s sister arrives at Castle Hangnail, she remarks, “Hecate’s ghost! She is the good twin, isn’t she?”
  • The Cursed Beastlord, one of the previous Masters of Castle Hangnail, gave Majordomo the name “Wretch.”
  • Miss Handlebram calls Eudaimonia, the intended Master of the Castle, a “nasty girl.” In return. Eudaimonia calls Miss Handlebram an “interfering old Majordomo biddy.”
  • Freddy Wisteria tries to force the townsfolk into selling their homes to him and attempts to buy Castle Hangnail, so Molly calls him a creep.
  • When hearing a noise from downstairs, Majordomo says, “Blast.”
  • Eudaimonia calls Angus “stupid” when he asked about the food for her cockatrices.
  • Eudaimonia refers to Castle Hangnail as a “pathetic run-down little backwater.”

Supernatural

  • To prove herself to the Board of Magic, the association that gives the Masters places to own, Molly must “smite” or use magic to punish people, and “blight” or use magic to harm objects or plants.
  • Molly uses the spells she learned from spell books and from Eudaimonia. She can make a ward by pinning a sprig of rosemary near a door and saying “Zizzible zazzible…watch-and-report.” The smell of rosemary fills her nose when someone steps through the door. In addition, she “could start a fire with her thumbnail…get tangles out of the worst tangled hair…turn a leaf into a teacup, and a teacup into a leaf.”
  • Molly can turn invisible by holding her breath, and the only side effect is light-headedness.
  • Molly casts a spell to allow her to talk to the bats in “the belfry.” To cast the spell, she holds the fur or feather of an animal and says, “Avack! Auilriuan! Arwiggle!” She uses the spell again to speak to the moles. There are no ill effects with this spell.
  • Molly gives some of her magic to Stonebreaker, a mole shaman, so the moles can summon Wormrise, a “great spirit,” for luck and fortune.
  • Eudaimonia and Molly use rosemary in “an alarm spell” to alert them to intruders in Castle Hangnail.
  • Molly gives the power of speech to a statue who “muttered insults. . .in Latin, so they sounded very grand and impressive.”
  • During Eudaimonia and Molly’s formal challenge for Castle Hangnail, Molly turns the goldfish into a “sea serpent.”
  • Molly animates her shadow with a shadow spell by reciting, “Shanks and shadows—up and down—inner and outer and magic unbound!” She can command her shadow to dance; she uses the animated shadow once to intimidate Freddy Wisteria when he is caught breaking and entering and attempting arson on her barn, and once against Eudaimonia during their “formal challenge”.

Spiritual Content

  • Molly’s sister “sings in the church choir.”

by Jemima Cooke

The Snoring Princess

Princess Rosa is missing! The Princess disappears from her palace on the day a hundred-year sleeping spell is set to end. If Princess Rosa is not back by sunset, the spell will start all over again! Kara and Zed—along with a fairy from the palace—go looking for her. But can they find Princess Rosa before the sun sets?

Kara, Zeb, and a magical pig are off on their next mission—finding Zeb’s missing royal messenger bag. Along the way, they stumble across a tower and discover Princess Rosa is also missing. While The Snoring Princess is an imaginative retelling of Sleeping Beauty, the story is a little disjointed and most of the events do not make sense. For example, Kara and Zeb find Princess Rosa who continues to sleepwalk down a cliff and then float down a river all without hurting herself or waking up. While some of the events are silly, many of them are unbelievable even for a fairy tale.

The Snoring Princess is part of Scholastic’s Branches early chapter books, which have easy-to-read text and illustrations on every page. The story uses short descriptions and dialogue to keep the story moving at a fast pace. Black and white illustrations appear on every page and help break up the text into manageable sections. The engaging pictures will help readers follow the plot. Plus, the book ends with four reading comprehension questions and one activity. Even though The Snoring Princess is part of a series, each book can be read as a stand-alone.

Unfortunately, in The Snoring Princess, Kara and Zeb solve the mystery more by chance than by following the clues. However, young readers who are familiar with the Once Upon a Fairy Tale Series will enjoy seeing Kara and Zeb back in action. In the end, a lying fairy does the right thing by telling the truth. The conclusion reveals an unexpected villain, who isn’t evil. Despite the plot’s flaws, readers who are transitioning to chapter books will enjoy the book’s illustrations and the silly magical pig. If your child loves fairies, check out both the Candy Fairies Series by Helen Perelman and Disney: The Never Girls Series by Kiki Thorpe.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Kara grabs a fairy, the fairy “shot red sparks at Kara’s fingers.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The story takes place in Sleeping Beauty’s world, where magic exists. Sleeping Beauty is “the princess who was cursed by an evil fairy when she pricked her finger on a sewing needle. The curse made her fall into a deep sleep for one hundred years.”
  • Zed and Kara meet a fairy who tells them, “Fairies can actually change shape and size. It’s one of our magic powers.” Later the fairy uses his magic to make a hat. The fairy “raised his hands and wiggled his fingers. Sparks of magic danced between his fingertips. Then a small sun had appeared in Leon’s hands.”
  • The fairy “held his hands over the water and wiggled his fingers again. Sparks began to fly from his fingertips. Slowly, the bottom of a boat appeared. Then the sides. Then the oars. Then the anchor.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Chain of Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Sara Mansfield

 

Battle of the Ampere

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Madison Shooter

Ashlords #1

Ever since the Ashlords were gifted phoenix horses by their gods, they’ve raced them into battle, on hunts, and now at the world-renowned Races.

Elite riders from clashing cultures vie to be crowned champion by honing their ability to create and control phoenix horses, which are made of ash and alchemy—they’re summoned to life each sunrise and burst into flames each sunset. But good alchemy only matters if a rider knows how to survive the brutal nights. While murder is outlawed, breaking bones and poisoning the ashes of your competition are legal, even encouraged. Eleven riders will compete in this year’s races, but three of them have more to lose than the rest.

Imelda is a Dividian—too poor to afford the cost of entry until her alchemy videos created a media storm that throws her headfirst into the competition as a fan favorite.

Pippa is an Ashlord—the ruling class—and the expected winner. But when she falls for a competitor, will she ruin her chances of inheriting the crown?

Adrian is a Longhand—known for their vast wealth and failed rebellion. He is a symbol of revolution and the last chance for his people to rise against the Ashlords.

Ashlords is an intense book that questions the role of the ruling class, the Ashlords. The story is told from the point of view of three characters—Imelda, Pippa, and Adrian. While Imelda’s and Adrian’s chapters are written in the first-person point of view, Pippa’s chapters are written in the second-person point of view. While this helps distinguish Pippa from the other characters, using “you” is disconcerting. And even though the reader understands the characters’ motives, none of them are relatable.

In the process of setting up the Ashlords’ world, Reintgen piles on a lot of information about the characters’ complicated society. In addition, there are many references to the Ashlords’ gods helping them win a war, but the backstory isn’t fully developed, which causes confusion. Some readers will struggle with the amount of information that is packed into the first part of the book.

Readers who are drawn to the Ashlords in the hopes of reading a good horse story will be disappointed. Instead of focusing on the horses, the Race’s brutal fight scenes take center stage. The book’s descriptions of the Ashlords’ religion and politics also becomes tedious. While the book discusses class differences, the reason the Longhands want to revolt is unclear. Ashlords focus is on the impending revolution and the violence of the Race. If you want a good horse story without violence and war, Ashlords is not the book for you.

 Sexual Content

  • On Imelda’s birthday, an Ashlord overlord named Oxanos forces Imelda to dance with him. Imelda dances with him but embarrasses him during the dance. She thinks, “He asked for the dance, and we all know how he intended it to go. He wanted to press his hips to mine for a few minutes. He wanted to make my father’s skin crawl, to bury my family’s honor with a smile.”

Violence

  • A group meet in order to plan a rebellion, but Maggie confesses to being a traitor. After Maggie grabs a knife, Adrian brings his “elbow up and across. The blow sends her staggering to the ground. . . I have the sword at her neck. She goes still, her chest heaving, eyes wide and defeated.” Maggie’s fate is not disclosed.
  • Pippa is giving an interview when a viewer takes control of a mannequin. “The mannequin lunges out of its chair. . . Your eyes widen as the metallic hand reaches for your throat. . . The machine’s fail safe system hums to life and the hands hang lifelessly in the air, just a few inches from your neck.”
  • In the past, a Longhand entered the Races but, “He was beaten to death just before the second leg began. A team of Ashlords took their time killing him.” The showman who interviewed the Longhand was also killed.
  • After a rebellion, the Ashlords “purged” the Longhands by killing everyone who fought against them as well as 907 first-born children. Adrian’s mother was a first born who was hiding. Adrian’s father “killed the first Ashlord they sent for her. . . She took the blame when they came back since they were going to take her anyway.” The Ashlords kill her, but the death is not described.
  • The Race is a bloody battle to the finish line. Contestants aren’t allowed to kill each other, but violence is expected. The below excerpts do not contain all of the book’s violence.
  • During the Race, Revel, an Ashlord contestant, attacks Adrian. Adrian’s whip “snakes through the air and snaps along the back of Revel’s neck. Revel cries out in agony.” The horses “collide—our legs smashing between flanks—as my horse rips into the neck of Revel’s phoenix. The impact shoves us back apart, but not without blood. It sprays through the air and my horse trembles with excitement.” Revel slows down and stays behind Adrian.
  • Pippa’s boyfriend, Bravos, kills his phoenix. Bravos “sets a trusting hand on the creature’s neck and puts his full weight into a deadly thrust. Metal bites through muscle and past bone, finding its mark. There’s a single, terrible scream.”
  • During the race, Adrian goes to pass Imelda and he brings “the switch across her temple. It’s far from a killing blow, but more than enough to spin her unconscious to the ground.” When Imelda wakes up, she has “a knot on [her] head that’s the size of an apple. I rub at it and wince. Still light-headed, I stumble over to my ashes. . .” Imelda discovers that her horse’s ashes have been poisoned.
  • A group of Ashlords ride up to Adrian. One of the contestants uses her whip to try to get Adrian to “move me right or left. . . I [Adrian] let the whip catch me across the shoulder as I step into a brutal strike of my own. . . My blow crushes the side of her knee, and there’s enough force behind it to shatter everything. Her screams tear the night in two. . .” The other two Ashlords ignore their fallen comrade and instead, go after Adrian. “Two shots to the ribs, another glancing blow off my shoulder.”
  • The Ashlords and Adrian continue to try to injure each other. The girl is “finally back on her feet, and her eyes go wide when she sees me coming. She thrust her baton up, but I sweep low and smash her knee a second time. She screams.” Finally, Adrian stumbles and the two remaining Ashlords attack him. “A shot to the head, quick and dazing. A second to the ribs, a third to the knee. They can’t swing as hard as I can, but that doesn’t stop them from turning me into something small.” When Adrian can no longer fight back, the Ashlords go to help their friend.
  • Adrian sneaks into a cave where the Ashlords are camping for the night. Adrian attacks the closest one, a boy named Capri. “My lowered shoulder shoves him accidentally toward the edge. He screams and I reach for him in a panic, trying to keep him from falling. . . He vanishes with a scream.”
  • After Capri is out of the way, Adrian attacks the next boy. “I sweep the blow left with my off-hand and punch my own baton into his throat. The wood catches him hard and folds him in on himself. . . I bring the switch down on his knee, then his hip, then his nose. There’s no mercy in the strength of my arm or in the accuracy of each strike.” When the boy is unconscious, Adrian leaves.
  • Imelda leaves the Race route and the Ashlords come after her. But Imelda’s people—a group of desert Dividian’s—appear. Both sides begin shooting at each other. Imelda watches “the desperados break forward, then scatter away from the oncoming Ashlord. Her sword bites down, past a raised spear and sends blood splaying out from the throat. The man dies. . .” The battle is described over several chapters and men on both sides die.
  • While traveling through a cave, Pippa discovers an angry wraith. Pippa brandishes a whip. “A crack sounds as the blow lands just above the wraith’s right eye. It snarls.” Pippa whips the wraith several more times and then “the beast disappears.”
  • When Capri steals Adrian’s purebred phoenix, his horse geos up in flames. Adrian “can hear Capri’s screams. The heat’s so intense that I have to stop well away. All I can do is watch as fire consumes both horse and rider.”
  • While racing to the finish line, Adrian was close to winning. But then, “a girl’s ghostly features darken by a savage growl. I’m helpless as an invisible arm wraps around my neck, and the impact wrenches my feet from the stirrups, and something tears me out of the saddle.” Adrian is not injured, but he loses the Race.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a birthday party, the men drink whiskey.
  • While talking about his wife’s death, Adrian’s father “takes a long swallow of wine.”
  • During a racing event, a stranger gives Adrian a drink. When the man isn’t looking, Adrian switches drinks. After taking a drink of the poisoned drink, the stranger dies.
  • During the Race several of the horse’s ashes are poisoned.

Language

  • Damn and hell are used occasionally.
  • Gods and dear gods are used as an exclamation occasionally.
  • A man asks Adrian, “How are you liking this pisshole?”
  • When Imelda’s horse’s ashes are poisoned, she says, “Wormwood. That jackass used wormwood.”

Supernatural

  • Phoenix horses were gifts from the Ashlords’ gods. The phoenixes are made of ash and alchemy, and people mix different components into the horse’s ashes to bring out specific characteristics. Imelda mixes different components into the phoenix’s ashes and then “sunlight spills over the plain. I take a step back and hear the obvious gasp of a creature coming to life. My pile of ash stirs within movement. . . I see my phoenix starting to take form, a dark inconsistent mass. . . I shield my eyes as a glorious figure staggers free of the storm.”
  • At a birthday party, the Dividian children try to catch a dreamnot. When the dreamnots are touched, they disappear. “Only one of the dreamnots in the room is actually the real one. Tradition says that the child who catches it gets to make a wish.” When someone wishes on a dreamnot, “his wish will not come true unless he sets it free again.”

Spiritual Content

  • The Dividians sailed to the Ashlord’s “land centuries ago, intending to conquer. Only we failed. With the help of their gods, the Ashlords defeated our ancestors.”
  • The Ashlords “bow to the gods,” but the Dividians and the Longhand do not worship the Ashlord gods. The Longhands do not worship the gods because the “Ashlord gods offer many things, freedom is not one of them. It is a relationship of bondage.” The Longhands also refuse to make blood sacrifices to the gods.
  • The Ashlord gods include: Fury, the god of strength and bravery; Curiosity, the god who wakes, watches and whispers; The Butcher, the Hoarder, and the Dread. Plus, the creator of progress, the Striving.
  • The Ashlords believe the “Brightness” is the “people’s link to the gods themselves.”
  • One of the Ashlord gods, The Dread, takes over a priest’s body. Adrian sees “the disturbing scars that start at the base of the priest’s neck. A scaled mast treads directly into the skin. Those protective scales enclose the human head completely.”
  • The Dread offers Adrian a boon. The Dread explains, “The blessing I just offered will bring swift healing. Sturdier bones. Less bleeding. It will keep you alive.”
  • Pippa’s mother wakes her in the dead of the night and takes her though a secret passage. Pippa’s mother makes a blood sacrifice. The god “gives an approving nod as she holds it [her hand] out over the alter. In the light of your candle, blood drips over the stones. The Madness licks his lips, tongue slavering.” Pippa’s mother cuts her and adds her blood to the stones.”
  • Pippa is upset that her mother uses a blood sacrifice. Her mother says, “The gods move between our world and the one below. . . In the underworld, our blood gives them power. They take our sacrifices and use them to rule those forsaken lands. In return, they offer us the powers of their world.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • During the Race, a spirit of a girl appears to Pippa. In exchange for her freedom, the spirit agrees to help Pippa win the race. The spirit can sometimes hear Pippa’s thoughts.
  • After Imelda’s horse is poisoned, Adrian prayed that Imelda “doesn’t get herself killed” by riding the horse.

Even and Odd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

Language

  • None

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

Keeper of the Lost Cities #1

Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She is a telepath with the ability to hear the thoughts of everyone around her—something that she’s never known how to explain, and has made her an outcast even in her own family. But everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and can also read minds. She discovers there’s somewhere she does belong, and that staying with her family will only put her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave everything behind and start a new life in a place very different from her own.

Sophie has new rules and skills to learn, and not everyone is thrilled with her “homecoming.” There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory, secrets that other people desperately want. Secrets they might even kill for. . .

Keepers of the Lost Cities is a fast-paced adventure that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Sophie is thrown into the elven world, where she struggles to understand the events around her. Sophie worries about her human family and the intense fires that are raging in the human world. The adults in Sophie’s world don’t want to share valuable information about the fires that are affecting the human world. Despite being told not to worry, Sophie doesn’t stop investigating. However, it soon becomes clear that someone is trying to manipulate Sophie. But who?

Like Sophie, readers will be amazed by the elven world and find wonder around every corner. Besides learning new abilities, Sophie is also surrounded by interesting characters. Even though there are a lot of characters to keep track of, each person is unique and easy to remember. While there are several cute boys that make Sophie blush, Sophie has no romantic feelings for anyone.

Keeper of the Lost Cities has a sweet conclusion but does not resolve all the conflicts. Messenger draws the reader into Sophie’s life and the mystery surrounding her while leaving a lot of unanswered questions that will have the readers reaching for the next book in the series, Exile. Even though Keeper of the Lost Cities is geared towards middle school readers, the plot focuses on universal feelings that readers of all ages can relate to.

Anyone who has ever felt out of place will relate to Sophie, but the true gem in Keeper of the Lost Cities is the unique world and the host of interesting characters. The story has unexpected pockets of humor, such as when the healer tells Sophie that the medicine she needs isn’t so bad and he’s thankful he doesn’t “have to use the yeti pee balm.” Another positive aspect of the story is the full page black and white illustrations scattered throughout the book.

If you’re looking for a fun series that will engage middle school readers, Keeper of the Lost Cities and its sequels need to be on your child’s reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sophie is taken hostage. “A cloth across her lips stifled her cry for help, and a sedative’s sweet aroma stung her nose when she inhaled, making her head spin.” Sophie wonders if she will be killed.
  • Sophia and Fitz are injured during a game called Sploching. Sopia remembers “flying backward through the room. Fitz’s crumbled body.” Both are taken to the Healing Center. They are given something to “ease the pain.”
  • Three elves kidnap Sophie and her friend Dex. “A pair of arms pulled her to her feet and smothered her scream with a meaty hand. She tried to fight back, but a cloaked figure swooped out of the shadows and shoved a cloth over her mouth and nose. Something sickeningly sweet burned her throat and nostrils and her head instantly clouded. . . A third figure had Dex with a viselike grip, and clearly no amount of struggling or fighting would help him escape.”
  • When Sophie has difficulty breathing, a kidnapper removes her gag. “It felt like they pulled off her lips when they ripped the gag away. Her throat was dry and a sick, a sour taste coated her tongue. . .”
  • The kidnappers tie Sophie to a chair. “She was strapped to a chair, bound by her wrists and ankles.”
  • When Sophie refuses to talk, a kidnapper uses his abilities to burn her. Sophie “screamed as the burning increased—like her skin was melting.”
  • Sophie and Dex escape, but the kidnappers find them. “The goon sneered as he tied her ankles. The cold metal wire cut into her skin. . .”
  • In order to help Sophie, Dex channels his energy, and “a beam of energy whizzed past [Sophie]. . . Another blast from the melder missed Dex and he slammed the leader to the ground and knocked the weapon from his hand. The other goon grabbed the weapon and blasted Dex in the chest.” The melder hits Dex several times. “Dex flew backward and collapsed on the ground, his body jerking in seizure.”
  • When the kidnappers hurt Dex, Sophie channels her hate. “It clouded her mind until it consumed her. . . She pushed the anger and darkness out of her mind, needing to be free of it. When the last ounce of hatred was gone, her vision cleared and all three figures were slumped on the ground, holding their heads and writhing in pain.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • In order to make her family forget her, Sophie uses a sleeping gas. However, “the idea of drugging her family made her physically ill.”
  • When an imp is injured, an elf “smeared a yellow salve over the wounds.” The imp is also given water from “a bottle of Youth.”
  • While at home, a man swallowed “his wine in one gulp.”
  • Sophie is injured often and given a vile of medicine to heal.
  • One of Sophie’s friends gave her an elixir that contained limbium, “a rare mineral that could supposedly clear her mind.” When Sophie takes the elixir, she has a severe allergic reaction. The elixir made her head feel “fuzzy,” and made her feel like she was on fire. Then she passes out.
  • Sophie tells the elf doctor about her stay in a human hospital. She had an allergic reaction and the doctors “injected [her] with a bunch of medicines and steroids and told [her]to be more careful.”

Language

  • A classmate calls Sophie a superfreak and a loser.
  • Idiot is used several times. For example, a mean girl calls Sophie an idiot.
  • After Sophie blows up an experiment, she thinks, “I am officially an idiot.”
  • Sophie asks one of her friends, “Why are you being such a jerk?”

Supernatural

  • In Lumenaira, all the other worlds come together including “gnomes, dwarves, ogres, goblins, trolls, and elves.
  • Elves have different powers. (Not all powers are listed.) Some are Empaths and can feel other’s emotions. Some are Banishers who “let light pass through their bodies, so they can turn invisible, even when they move.”
  • Other elves are Flashers that can “manipulate light the way [they] want it.” A Conjurer can move something. An elf explains, “I can bring it here with my mind. It’s kind of like teleporting, but with objects.”
  • Sophie is a Telepath and can hear other people’s thoughts. During a school field trip, “kids’ thoughts were stinging, high-pitched needles—and so many at once was like an angry porcupine attacking her braid.” Eventually, Sophie is taught how “to shield her brain from unwanted human thoughts . . . and how to transmit her thoughts into someone else’s mind.”
  • Sophie discovers that she can use telekinesis. A car swerved and hit a streetlight, which “plummeted toward Sophie. . . Her hand shot up into the air, her mind pulling strength from somewhere deep in her gut and pushing it out through her fingertips. She felt the force collide with the falling lantern. . . The bright blue lantern floated above her, somehow held up by her mind.”
  • Elves use pathfinders to light leap. Using a pathfinder, Fitz and Sophie travel to the elf’s world. To help Sophie travel safely, someone gives her a nexus. In order to travel using a pathfinder, “your body has to break into tiny particles to be carried by the light, and the nexus holds those particles together until your concentration is strong enough to do it for you.
  • Prentice tried to hide Sophie’s location. He “was captured, he sacrificed his sanity to keep [Sophie] hidden. Now he lives in exile, his mind a shattered, useless mess.”
  • Sophie uses a spyball to see her human family. Using the spyball, she sees there are fires and “people are dying. Losing their homes. My family is camped out in an evacuee center right now afraid for their lives.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Silver Secret

Can the Snow Sisters stop the evil Shadow Witch from turning their world dark forever?

Ida, Magda, and Hanna’s mother, Freya, is the keeper of the magical Everchanging Lights that protect their island. But when a selfish witch curses their mother and tries to steal the power for herself, only the Snow Sisters can find the lights and save their kingdom. Find out if the girls can discover their own powers and recover the pink light before it’s too late!

The Silver Secret employs interesting topics—princesses with a magical power and a magical polar bear—to draw readers into the story. Even though the beginning of the book explains a lot of background information, the story is still fast-paced and interesting. The girls’ mother appears in a magic snow globe and says, “Veronika wants the magic of the Everchanging Lights for herself. . .but I managed to protect it before she could trap me. . . My daughters, you must find these orbs.”

Even though the sisters are used to having servants help them “with everything,” the girls are determined to do the quests on their own, so they sneak out of the castle in the middle of night. Every time the girls are in danger, one of the sisters uses her magic to solve the problem. As they look for the orb, the sisters’ comments often sound snobbish. For example, the girls know their governess would not like them trekking through the snow. Hanna says, “She would demand that Gregor take us to find the snow hawk in Nordovia’s finest sleigh, with hot chocolate breaks every half an hour!”

The sisters find one orb and safely return to the castle. The conclusion sets up the second installment of the series, The Crystal Rose. The Silver Secret has charming black and white drawings that focus on the three sisters. The Snow Sisters Series will entertain young readers who love princesses and magic. However, the Diary of an Ice Princess Series by Christina Soontornvat and the Candy Fairies Series by Helen Perelman would be a better choice if you’re looking for an entertaining story with life lessons.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Veronika, Freya’s sister, uses her magic to ambush Freya and her husband. “Magnus ran to help [Freya], but Veronika stabbed her staff into the ground and shouted a vicious-sounding spell. Instantly, gnarled tree limbs burst out of the snow and weaved themselves around him.”
  • Veronika and a wolf find the girls. “As the wind grew to a harsh cry, a rumble worked its way through Oskar’s throat, and he lunged at the wolf. But he was no match for the beast, and a gigantic paw knocked him flying. Oskar yelped and slumped into a snow drift, dazed.”
  • Gregor comes to the girls’ aid. “Gregor leaped forward and grabbed the wolf’s tail. With a huge effort he began to pull the wolf back by its fur—but with one mighty swing of its body the wolf flung Gregor into a tree.”
  • The girls try to escape from the wolf by climbing a tree “but the wolf’s sharp teeth caught her sister’s boot and began to drag her down.” Magda turns into a snow hawk and escapes.
  • To get the wolf away from her sisters, Magda turns into a squirrel. She “sprang onto the wolf’s back and bit down hard on its ear!” Magda uses her magic to shake snow onto the wolf. “The beast disappeared beneath the snow. . .”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The Snow Sisters’ mother is the Keeper of the Lights. “The magical Everchanging Lights sustained and protected the island.” Their mother also has the ability to “momentarily freeze time.”
  • Veronika uses a curse to “drain Freya’s magic from her.”
  • Freya appears in a snow globe and talks to the girls. The sisters “just listened to their mother’s familiar voice and watched the light pouring from the globe.”
  • Ida can make her drawings come to life. Ida uses her magic to make snowshoes.
  • Oskar, a magical polar bear, is able to “magically grow in size.”
  • Hanna’s magic allows her to move things with her mind.
  • When the girls use their magic, they feel a tingle.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Latest Reviews