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

Peter and the Sword of Mercy

Life on the island has continued peacefully for many years. With fallen starstuff in the island’s water supply, no one gets sick and no one ages. So Peter is very surprised when Wendy—Molly’s daughter—shows up on the island in desperate need of help.

Wendy grew up with no idea that the starcatchers existed. After Peter and Molly’s adventure in Rundoon, starstuff stopped falling and it was thought that no more of the Others existed. So the starcatchers stopped recruiting new members and faded to a tiny group of mostly elderly members. Needless to say, the starcatchers are not prepared when trouble brews anew. After both of Wendy’s parents disappear, Lord Aster—elderly and bedridden—tells Wendy there is only one person who can help: A very special boy on an island that is very hard to find.

For fans delighted with the Starcatcher series, as well as the fans who were disappointed with the first two sequels, this final installment ends the series with a flourish! Harkening back to the glory of the first book, Peter and the Sword of Mercy has action and mystery galore. Readers will be shocked when encountering old friends who are twenty years older than in the last book. An elderly Lord Aster and a fading starcatchers’ society are a shock to Peter, as is learning that Molly married George and had a daughter named Wendy.

The mix of old and new characters carries the story along at a breakneck pace. Rather than the fractured storylines that made the last installment difficult to relate to, this book returns to the original book’s more streamlined approach. Readers still follow events from several character’s points of view, but by focusing largely on Peter’s point of view. Peter and the Sword of Mercy succeed in emotionally engaging readers. The shifts in point of view are well-done, are never confusing, and allow readers to view events happening with Peter’s friends as well as the events put in motion by the Others.

With non-ending action, a broadcast of colorful characters, and the emotional rollercoaster ride of returning to London after twenty years, Peter and the Sword of Mercy is a glorious ending to a beloved series.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In the year 811 A.D., two warriors battle. “Charlemagne drew his sword, known as Joyeuse. Both men grunted as they swung their weapons, the blades glinting in the firelight, the clash of metal echoing off the chapel’s stone walls . . . Ogier swung his sword, just missing Charlemagne’s jaw but slicing off a piece of the king’s beard.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • When a bobby tries to grab Molly, “she drew back her right foot and kicked him hard on the shin. As he bent over in pain, she yanked her arm free with all her strength, ripping her sleeve but freeing herself. She ran.” She gets away unharmed.
  • A character named the Skeleton is able to cause excruciating pain with the slightest touch. “The Skeleton’s claw-hand moved, ever so slightly. The priest screamed as his body was wracked with searing pain, starting at his neck but suddenly everywhere at once.”
  • Wendy crashes a flying machine called an ornithopter. “Wendy felt a stab of pain as her head struck the ornithopter frame. Before she could hold her breath she was dragged underwater.” She is rescued by porpoises.
  • Peter is hurt when his ship crashes. “Peter and Wendy were hurled sideways, slamming into the passageway wall. Peter’s head hit something, and he fell to the floor, dazed.”
  • A bad man threatens to burn his henchmen. The henchmen obey him immediately because “one time he’d pulled out most of a man’s hair by the roots. He’d reached into another man’s mouth and yanked out a gold tooth. They figured he was perfectly capable of using their bodies as fuel for smoke signals.”
  • A crewman tries to stop Wendy from escaping. She “drew back and kicked out with all her strength. Suddenly her shoe came off in his hand and she fell backward over the railing.”
  • Peter and his friends set off an explosion as a distraction. “Fortunately for them, none of the bobbies were directly in front of the door when it blew, although all of them were thrown violently backward and onto the ground.”
  • Peter pushes a bobby as they try to escape. “The three bobbies, yelping in pain and fear, tumbled after her. Peter had shoved the first from behind; he had taken the other two down, like bowling pins. They sprawled onto the floor, moaning.”
  • The Skeleton hurts Peter with his touch. “And then he [Peter] screamed in pain. Without knowing how he got there, he realized he was on his knees. The awful pain had receded from his body, but it had left him too weak to stand.”
  • The Skeleton hurts a prisoner. “He reached out his claw and touched the shoulder of the man next to James. The man screamed and fell to the floor.”
  • Von Schatten, one of the Others, attacks James. “Von Schatten spun, bringing the sword around. The flat side caught James in the forehead with a sickening sound. James fell to the ground, blood gushing from his head.”
  • James electrocutes von Schatten. Afterward Peter “screamed at the ghastly sight only inches from his face: Von Schatten lay twitching on his back, smoke pouring from his clothes as his flesh burned with a stomach-turning stench. The worst was his face. His eyeglasses had melted, forming two back rivers down his gaunt cheeks. Left exposed were the eyes, which were not eyes at all, but two gaping holes in the center of his skull, revealing nothing inside but a red glow. Wisps of smoke drifted upward from the holes.”
  • As a tunnel collapses, “huge chunks of earth and rock began to fall from the tunnel roof. A roof beam fell on George, knocking him to the ground.”
  • Hook attacks Peter. “He brought the sword down . . . but Peter’s hand was just quick enough as he brought the sword tip up to meet Hook’s downward thrust . . . [then] the porpoise, having launched himself from the water on the starboard side, slammed into Hook’s body, sending him sprawling on deck.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Two ships crash because “the helmsman of the Lucy had also had a bit too much to drink this night. He was half asleep at the wheel.”

Language

  • Imbeciles is used a few times.

Supernatural

  • Starcatchers are “a small group of people . . . There have been Starcatchers on Earth for centuries, Peter. Even we don’t know how long. But our task is always the same: to watch for the starstuff, and to get to it, and return it, before it falls into the hands of the Others.” The Others misuse starstuff to gain power.
  • Starstuff is golden dust that sometimes falls from the sky as meteors and “has amazing power . . . Wonderful power. Terrible power. It . . . it lets you do things . . . It’s not the same for everybody. And it’s not the same for animals as for people.” Starstuff can heal, can make people fly, can make people strong. Larger quantities are more dangerous and can kill a person, or turn a fish into a mermaid, horses into centaurs, and other transformations.
  • Starcatchers have learned the language of some intelligent animals, including bears, porpoises, and wolves. They work together often to find any starstuff that falls. Wendy speaks with a porpoise several times, in their language of clicks and squeaks.

Spiritual Content

  • In a flashback to 811 A.D., a king “prayed for the peace to continue. And, as always, he prayed for forgiveness for his son, now forty, but still a boy in his father’s eyes . . . [he] bowed his head, his lips moving as he recited the Scripture.”
  • During a sword fight, the king from 811 A.D. sees a “face smiling at him, shimmering through the smoke with unearthly beauty.” He thinks it is an angel. The being saves the man’s life, then disappears.
  • The queen of England is sick; a man by her bedside “murmured a prayer.”
  • When the Skeleton tortures a priest for information, the priest’s “lips began to move. He spoke in Latin, praying.”

by Morgan Krueger

Disney After Dark

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jennaly Nolan

Room on the Broom

The witch and her hat couldn’t be happier, flying through the night sky on their broomstick—until the wind blows away first the witch’s hat, then her bow, then her wand!

Luckily, three helpful animals find the three missing items and all they want in return is a ride on the broomstick. But is there room on the broom for so many new friends? And when disaster strikes, will they be able to save the witch from the clutches of a hungry dragon?

Room on the Broom portrays a witch in a new way. Instead of being scary and evil, the friendly witch happily makes friends with the animals. The witch’s adventure comes to life through the large illustrations, which use a dark and dreary day to contrast with the bright animals and the red dragon. Young readers will love each illustration’s details, such as a fish jumping out of the river and a bird peeking out of a hole in a tree.

The illustrations are not the only fun aspect of the story. The text uses rhyming, repetition, and imagery that makes Room on the Broom an excellent book to read aloud. The surprising and silly conclusion will leave readers with a smile. In the end, the witch’s new friends save her from a dragon. In return, the witch casts a spell to make a new and improved broom that will keep the new friends together for a long time.

Even though Room on the Broom is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 3 to 6 sentences. Even though some pages are text-heavy, the story will keep readers interested until the very end.

Room on the Broom is a great Halloween story that uses humor to teach about kindness and friendship. The silly plot will delight young readers who will want to read the book again and again. For those looking for another unique witch story, The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches by Alice Low is sure to delight.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A dragon threatens to eat the witch. He says, “witch with French fries tastes delicious to me!” The witch’s friends save her.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The witch says a spell, “Iggety, ziggety, zaggetry, zoom!” The spell makes a “truly magnificent broom” that has enough seats for all of her friends.

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Raven Boys

The predictions from Blue Sargent’s house on 300 Fox Way never seem out of the ordinary for her. Blue’s mother Maura Sargent and the other women living in 300 Fox Way—Persephone, Calla, and Orla—are all psychics who weave their predictions throughout the town of Henrietta, Virginia so regularly that for Blue it seems like second-nature. Unlike the rest of her family, however, Blue can only amplify the psychics’ powers, without seeing any of that power herself. Other truths— such as the identity of Blue’s father, or the reason why her aunt Neeve comes to town after success as a TV psychic— also remain hidden from Blue.

Despite this, there is one conclusion clearly given to Blue, over and over throughout her life, in runes, in palm readings, decks of tarot and tea leaves: the prediction that if Blue were to kiss her true love, he would die.

Blue decides to never fall in love, casting this prediction aside like a fantasy. But when she arrives, Neeve tells Blue this is the year Blue will fall in love. And on St. Mark’s Eve, the day when Maura and Blue record the names of the spirits set to die in twelve months, Blue sees a boy from the Aglionby Acadamy. A boy named Gansey.

Blue usually avoids the boys at the wealthy Aglionby Academy. Rich boys, she says, “think they’re better than us.” However, after St. Mark’s Day, an encounter with the living Gansey and his friends—Ronan, Adam, and Noah— at the diner where she works draws Blue towards this group of boys as they sweep her into their continuous search for a sleeping Welsh king among the ley lines of Henrietta. As the ley lines form a pattern between significant supernatural quirks and historical signifiers, they also begin to show Blue and the Raven Boys an uncanny world hidden deep below this Virginian town’s mundane surface.

The story moves between the perspectives of Blue, Gansey, Adam, and an Aglionby Latin teacher known as Barrington Whelk. The Raven Boys grounds legends of the Welsh King Glendower and whimsical, otherworldly fantasy within a small town sheerly divided by class. Settings that branch everywhere from a room full of mirrored worlds, the well-worn upholstery of a bright orange Camaro, and the Latin whispers of a forest called Cabeswater will transfix readers as they plunge into a narrative rich with intricately detailed plot twists.

However, the real magic in Stiefvater’s writing lies in her ability to present each character in The Raven Boys as realistic characters with their own, individual sense of what’s right and what’s necessary in the challenges they face. Each character holds their own trajectories: Blue struggles to reconcile how to define her own unique power and with the idea, she might someday kill Gansey. Gansey holds a desperate need to define himself beyond his family’s wealth through his hunt for Glendower. Ronan fiercely battles with his brother’s supervision following the death of their father. Adam strives to be self-sufficient with a free will that stands apart from his abusive father and Gansey’s money. Noah is cold because, as he says, “I’ve been dead for seven years.” All characters hold their own journey throughout the narrative, which influences the way they interact with each other in compelling ways. Readers will truly fall in love with The Raven Boys characters as they each find the balance between self-reliance and trust in others, the power in realizing self-worth, the beauty of remembering things often overlooked, and the peace of understanding that things aren’t always what they may seem. In evoking the magic of Henrietta, Virginia, Stiefvater shows every reader the complicated path towards finding the place you truly feel like you belong.

Sexual Content

  • When Gansey offers to pay Blue to talk to Adam, Blue says, “I am not a prostitute. . . clearly you pay most of your female companions by the hour and don’t know how it works with the real world.”

Violence

  • Aglionby Academy’s Latin teacher, Mr. Whelk, recalls a time when he was younger and a friend was, “on the ground. Not dead, but dying. His legs still pedaled on the uneven surface behind him. His face was just. . . done.” This describes the moment when Mr. Whelk kills his friend Czerny.
  • In the parking lot, Ronan and Declan meet and get into a fist fight. This fight lasts about four pages, in which Declan and Ronan exchange blows, and Gansey tries to grab Ronan’s arms and catches a punch from Declan instead. The physical fight ends when, “with a neat flick of his wrist, Ronan smacked Declan’s head off the driver’s side door of the Volvo. It made a sick, wet sound.”
  • After doing a reading for Mr. Whelk, Calla tells Blue that if she sees Mr. Whelk again, “Kick him in the nuts. Then run the other way.”
  • One day, Adam is absent from school, and the next time Gansey sees him, Adam has a bruise across his cheek. Speaking about Adam’s father, Gansey says, “So you won’t leave because of your pride? He’ll kill you . . . why don’t you let Ronan teach you to fight?” In response, Adam says, “Because then he will kill me . . . he has a gun.”
  • Mr. Whelk orders Gansey to show him to the forest Cabeswater. To get him to comply, Mr. Whelk holds a gun to Gansey’s head. Gansey escapes by punching Whelk.
  • One scene depicts Adam’s father, Robert Parrish, violently accusing Adam of lying to him about how much money he makes at his job. Robert Parrish takes Adam’s chin and then hits his face. Adam falls and hits the stair railing of his house. Right as Robert picks him up again, Adam’s friend Ronan—who had just dropped Adam off at his house— gets out of his car and smashes his fist into Robert’s face. Ronan and Robert fight. “The fight was dirty. At one point Ronan went down and Robert Parrish kicked, hard, at his face. Ronan’s forearms came up, all instinct, to protect himself. Parrish lunged in to rip them free. Ronan’s hand lashed out like a snake, dragging Parrish to the ground with him.” The scene of abuse, and the fight following, lasts about five pages.
  • Trying to wake the ley line herself, Neeve Tasers ties Mr. Whelk into the back of her car. She plans to take him to the forest Cabeswater in order to kill him as a sacrifice, but he manages to escape.
  • Adam has a vision of the trees in Cabeswater. In this dream, “There was blood everywhere. Are you happy now, Adam? Ronan snarled. He knelt beside Gansey, who convulsed in the dirt.”
  • When Mr. Whelk escapes Neeve, he “selected a fallen branch and crashed it down on [Neeve’s] head with as much force as he could muster . . . Neeve moaned and shook her head slowly, so Whelk gave her another blow for good measure.” Whelk then ties up Neeve and drags her into the center of the pentagram.
  • To convince Whelk to untie Neeve, Adam draws a gun on Mr. Whelk. Whelk stops him by threatening to “cut [Neeve’s] face off.” When Neeve disappears from the clearing, Whelk runs towards the pentagram but Ronan “hurled himself toward Whelk at the same moment that Whelk rose with the gun. Whelk smashed the side of it into Ronan’s jaw.” After this, the fight dies down as Whelk points the pistol at Gansey. This interaction lasts about four pages.
  • After Adam sacrifices himself to the forest, Mr. Whelk points his gun at Adam and pulls the trigger, but Adam remains unharmed. When “a tremendous rippling herd of white-horned beasts” erupts from the forest floor, Adam manages to take hold of the gun and keep Whelk away from the pentagram-marked circle, a space the beasts were avoiding. Mr. Whelk ends up trampled by the beasts.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Gansey is seen drinking in the St. Agnes church one night.

Language

  • Profanity is used often throughout the book, mainly the words damn, fuck, goddamn, bitch, bastard, shit, and hell. These words are mainly used by Blue, Gansey, Ronan, and Adam, and are most often spoken to each other.
  • There are some instances where both Blue and Adam are referred to as “white trash” by peers at their school and at one point by Gansey’s sister.

Supernatural

  • Blue, her mother Maura, and her aunt Neeve go to an abandoned church in Henrietta on St. Mark’s Eve in order to talk to the spirits that will die that year. The spirits walk along the ley line as Maura and Neeve ask for their names. This is also when Blue sees an apparition of a future Gansey about to die.
  • Blue is known to amplify the power of spirits and her family’s psychic powers “like a walking battery.”
  • Blue feels tired after St. Mark’s Eve because, as Maura says to her, “you let fifteen spirits walk through your body while you chatted with a dead boy.”
  • Gansey and a professor named Malory talk about ley lines as if they are underground spirit roads, charged with energy.
  • Mr. Whelk recalls the time he tried to search for signs of supernatural activity along the ley line, and performed a ritual with his friend, Czerny, as a way to give sacrifice to the ley line. This ritual results in Mr. Whelk killing Czerny.
  • Finding a slanting, green-carpeted field outlined in a pale fracture of lines that look like a raven, Gansey, Ronan, Blue, and Adam find the forest Cabeswater, a mystical forest that performs fantastical things including: speaking in Latin, changing the color of fish in its streams, warping time, and giving each of the kids a vision when they step into the cavity of one of its trees.
  • When searching Neeve’s room, Calla and Persephone tell Blue not to step between the pair of mirrors set there. When asked why, Calla says, “Who knows what she’s doing with them. I don’t want my soul put in a bottle in some other dimension or something.”
  • Because Blue’s family are all psychics, the women tell fortunes. Blue “had her fingers spread wide, her palm examined, her cards plucked from velvet-edged decks . . . thumbs were pressed to the invisible, third eye that was said to lie between everyone’s eyebrows. Runes were cast and dreams interpreted, tea leaves scrutinized and séances conducted.”
  • Maura, Calla, and Persephone do a Tarot reading for Gansey, Adam, and Ronan.
  • Neeve tries to figure out more about Gansey by scrying—this process involves attempting to foretell the future or understand the future through a reflective surface (Neeve uses a bowl of cran-grape juice). This process is described as dangerous because the person scrying can often lose their way and end up lost in this other reality they are scrying to.
  • Blue notices that Neeve is doing a ritual of deep scrying. She describes the setting as “a five-pointed star marked around the beech tree. One point was the candle, and another the pool of dark water. An unlit candle marked the third point and an empty bowl the fourth… Neeve was the final point.” Neeve’s voice is described as distant and far away. Neeve says she is “on the corpse road.” Blue sees something rising out of the water before she breaks Neeve from her trance.
  • Neeve makes a pentagram in Cabeswater in order to sacrifice Mr. Whelk.
  • Neeve is said to disappear from the pentagram in Cabeswater right as Gansey, Blue and Ronan arrive to face Whelk.
  • Adam ends up waking up the ley line by digging his fingers into the soft mossy turf in the center of the pentagram on the forest floor and saying, “I sacrifice myself . . . I will be your hands . . . I will be your eyes.” At this moment, the ground begins to roll, and “a tremendous rippling herd of white-horned beasts” erupts from the forest.

Spiritual Content

  • Ronan and his brothers are all known as regular churchgoers, as it is well known that, “all of the Lynch brothers went to St. Agnes every Sunday.”
  • One night, Neeve advises Blue, “Watch for the devil. When there’s a god, there’s always a legion of devils.”
  • Blue, Ronan, and Gansey bury the bones of Czerny at the old ruined church. Blue says at this time, “No one will bother them here . . . and we know it’s on the ley line. And it’s holy ground.”

by Hannah Olsson

 

 The Prisoner of Cell 25

Michael Vey is a teenager trying to survive high school in Meridian, Idaho. He has Tourette’s syndrome – except that is not all that complicates his survival. Michael also has a secret: he’s electric.

The only person who knows of his electric powers is his best friend Ostin, and his caring mother, Sharon. His mom attempts to protect Michael and keep his secret safe. But a cheerleader at Meridian High School named Taylor, discovers Michael’s powers after he shocks a bully and his gang. Michael realizes there’s more to the picture when Taylor reveals she has powers of her own—she can read and reset minds based on electrical signals.

Michael and Taylor, with the help of Ostin, set out to learn more about Taylor’s and Michael’s powers. The three friends struggle to keep their secrets safe as they navigate high school life. They band together to form a club, the “Electroclan.” The group sets standards for how and when they should use their powers. However, the search for the origin of their abilities entangles the group in a fight for their lives. A mysterious organization called the “Elgen” kidnap Taylor and hold Michael’s mother hostage. In order to rescue them, Michael teams up with Ostin and his ex-bullies from the Elgen’s academy (which is really a laboratory and prison) in Pasadena, California.

The story follows Michael and the other main characters’ limited perspectives, including the manipulative Dr. Hatch, one of the Elgen. Michael learns more about the evil deeds of the corporation that stole his mother and gave him his powers. Hatch tries to convince Michael and Taylor to join him, although Michael doesn’t agree with Hatch’s desire for global domination. Michael is most concerned with protecting those he loves and keeping himself on the right side of history. Despite the changing perspectives, the story’s plot is easy to follow. The Prisoner of Cell 25 also has a host of interesting side characters and unexpected plot twists.

This coming-of-age story is geared towards late middle schoolers and early high schoolers. While this age group may not relate to having superpowers, the Michael Vey series emphasizes staying true to one’s values and being loyal to one’s friends and family. Temptation, torture, and manipulation from the Elgen, the evil side, are common themes in the story. Michael is constantly pressured to choose differently than what he thinks is right, such as when Dr. Hatch wants him to forget his mother and join his academy. The gravity of these themes can be unsettling because the teens in the story are manipulated by an older and more powerful adult: Dr. Hatch. Michael struggles under the responsibility of his power, but all the characters—including the non-electric ones — show that the ability to choose is the greatest power we have.

Sexual Content

  • Ostin thinks Michael’s mom is attractive. He calls her “hot” and “a babe.”
  • Taylor is described as very beautiful. Ostin and Michael both think so. At one point, Ostin says, “Taylor’s really a babe. You know she likes you . . . I read this book on body language. And I was watching her body.” Michael says, “Yeah, I bet you were.” Ostin replies, “for scientific purposes.”
  • Michael has a crush on Taylor. They begin dating towards the end of the story and share a few quick kisses. Michael describes, “She [Taylor] set down the phone and walked over and took my hand… She leaned forward and kissed me on the lips. Then she wrapped her arms around me and we kissed again.”

Violence

  • Because the Elgen are trying to locate Taylor and Michael, there is a bounty placed on them.
  • Michael and Ostin are bullied in school by a gang of boys. “It was the second time I’d been locked in my locker by Jack Vranes and his friends that month. This time they put me in upside down and I nearly passed out . . .” The gang also “pantsed” Ostin.
  • Michael reveals why he left his previous school: “When I was in sixth grade… a bunch of wrestlers put me in the lunchroom garbage can and rolled me across the cafeteria… It took five minutes before I couldn’t take it anymore and I ‘went off,’ as my mother calls it. I wasn’t as good at controlling it back then, and one of the boys was taken to the hospital.”
  • Knowing of Michael’s powers, Ostin suggests that Michael shocks people that pick on him.
  • When they suspect Michael of ratting them out, Jack and his gang beat him up. Michael uses his powers to shock them. Michael will frequently use his powers to defend himself from worse threats. The scene is described over four pages. “Jack grabbed me by the hair and pulled my head around… He smacked me again on the nose, which sent a shock of pain through my body. At that moment something snapped… A surge of anger ran through my body so powerful I couldn’t control it. Suddenly a sharp, electric ZAP! pierced the air, like the sound of ice being dropped onto a hot griddle. Electricity flashes and Jack and his posse screamed out as they all fell to their backs and flopped about on the grass like fish on land. I rolled over to my side and wiped the blood from my nose… I stood above Jack, who was frothing at the mouth. ‘I told you to leave me alone. If you ever touch me again, I’ll do worse.’”
  • When Ostin uses a multimeter to test the levels of Michael’s electricity, he says Michael produced so much electricity that he “could kill someone.”
  • When investigating birth records, the Electroclan discovers that Michael and Taylor’s birthdays coincide with an increased number of infant fatalities at Pasadena General Hospital. Only 17 of 59 children survived. They discover that the incident is related to Elgen.
  • While out to dinner with Ostin, Michael and his mom are held at gunpoint by a robber working for the Elgen corporation. Michael shocks him, but it was a test to see his skills. Dr. Hatch – the head of the Elgen’s facility in Pasadena, California – has one of the other 17 electric children, Zeus, shock Michael’s mother. Nichelle, another electric child who is also present, uses her power on Michael to take away his electricity.
  • Nichelle, one of the electric children, takes pleasure in hurting other people with her powers and frequently does so, even when she’s not under orders by Dr. Hatch. She tortures Michael upon first meeting him: “As the girl neared me I started to feel different… With each step the girl took toward me, my dizziness increased. Then my head began to pound like a bass drum.” She tortures many of the electric children, remarking once of Michael that she “almost killed him.”
  • Dr. Hatch’s elaborate schemes often involve the forced participation of the electric children. He tries to get Taylor and Michael on board by separating them from their families and bribing them to join him. He has a twisted view of reality. When talking about the babies that died, he says, “Accidents are the price of civilization. Blood oils social progress. Sure, it was awful, but was it worth it? Believe me, it was.”
  • Tara, Taylor’s twin sister, can produce fear and reset brain signals. She also uses her powers to torture others because she is loyal to Dr. Hatch, such as making people think snakes are crawling on them. This isn’t described by any of the characters until Michael is in Cell 25.
  • It is implied that the Elgen brought down an airplane, killing the passengers.
  • Dr. Hatch “broke” Tanner, one of the electric children. Hatch tortured Tanner’s little brother in front of him. Hatch says, “The first time I told him to take down a 747 he refused. Until we let him see his little brother getting nearly electrocuted by one of your peers. It only took ten minutes of his screams before he was quite eager to help out.” It is also implied that they killed another girl’s adopted family in an electrical fire.
  • Dr. Hatch pressures Taylor into using her powers to “reboot” people. Rebooting is Taylor’s word for making someone forget what they are doing. Hatch makes her do this to a singer at a concert, making the singer forget her lyrics. Taylor learns that Hatch often forces the students to demonstrate their powers as a test of their loyalty to him.
  • Dr. Hatch punishes the children if they lash out and use their powers on others, such as when Zeus shocks someone at the concert. “Bolts of electricity shot out from Zeus’s fingers. The man cried out and dropped to the ground like a bag of concrete.”
  • Later, Dr. Hatch tries to make Taylor reboot a motorcycle driver, but she refuses because he could crash and die. Instead, Tara reboots the man for her. Taylor argues, “’He asked me to kill someone.’ ‘So what?’ Tara replies. . . ‘They’re just people!’
  • When Taylor refuses to reboot a man, Nichelle tortures her as punishment. Hatch says, “’You have no idea what hurt is. But you will. Nichelle, Miss Ridley needs a little lesson in gratitude—about an hour’s worth to begin with. Oblige me.’ A sadistic smile lit up Nichelle’s face. ‘I’d be happy to.’ Nichelle stepped inside the darkroom and Hatch shut the door behind the girls. He could hear Taylor’s screams even before he reached the other end of the corridor.”
  • Jack and Wade, Michael’s former bullies, agree to drive him and Ostin to Pasadena. Because they formerly did not get along, name-calling and threats are common. Michael learns from Jack about Wade’s upbringing. Wade’s “parents were alcoholics. His old man used to beat the tar out of him until the state took him away. He lived with foster parents until they put him with his grandma, but she doesn’t really want him. She’s not shy about telling him either.”
  • After breaking into the academy, Hatch imprisons Michael. Nichelle uses her power to force Michael into submission. When Michael lunges at Hatch, Nichelle protects the doctor by using her powers against Michael, “Pain seared through my entire body, buckling my knees. I fell to the ground screaming.”
  • Hatch tells Michael that he killed his own father by stopping his heart.
  • Hatch often threatens to use violence because he will use any means necessary to get Michael on his side, including harming Michael’s mother, who they still have imprisoned. Hatch also wants Michael to shock a GP—the name the academy gives to their human guinea pigs, who are kept with shockable collars that don’t allow them to speak.
  • Hatch imprisons Michael in Cell 25, which is supposed to be a form of torture. Later, the reader learns that it is a special type of solitary confinement in which Tara creates fear. Michael stays in Cell 25 for twenty-six days, which is described in a short chapter. “I was suddenly filled with fear like I had never felt before. Something evil was crawling around in the cell… Something frightening beyond words.”
  • After, Michael is still defiant, so Hatch orders Zeus to kill Ostin and Taylor in front of him. However, Michael distracts Zeus and escapes with Taylor and Ostin.
  • The group of electric children that aren’t loyal to Hatch attempt to escape the academy. The kids use their powers to knock out the guards. The non-electric kids often fight with their fists. “Wade hit first, wrapping his arms around the guard’s legs, while Jack knocked him over. The other inmate grabbed the guard around the neck. The guard was flailing around but had no idea who or what had hit him.” The rest of the fighting is not described in great detail.
  • During the escape, Hatch attempts to shoot Michael, but Zeus stops the bullet. “Hatch pulled a revolver from beneath his jacket and pointed it at me. ‘You did this, Vey. Now pay.’ He pulled the trigger. As the gun erupted, lightning flashed across the room and hit the bullet inches in front of me, blowing it into nothing.”
  • The final confrontation is between Michael and Nichelle. He stops her by surging with all he has, which hurts her: “’Stop it!’ Nichelle screamed again, then began convulsing as if she were having a seizure… [She] fell to her knees in agony.” He stops when she’s unconscious.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Jack, Michael’s former bully turned ally, is seen smoking a few times.
  • When Taylor is kidnapped, she “felt as if she’d been drugged.”
  • Jack’s brother is in prison due to a gunfight over drug money. He tells Michael, “He got really messed up on drugs. He and a guy were stealing snowmobiles to get money for drugs when the owner came out. The guy with [Jack’s brother] had a gun and he shot the man. My brother didn’t even know that he had a gun, but the way the laws are, he’s also guilty.”
  • Wade’s parents were alcoholics.

Language

  • Name-calling is frequent, both affectionately and for bullying purposes. Insults include spawn, stupid, wimp, freak, and idiot.
  • Michael is sometimes made fun of for having Tourette’s. Jack calls him “blinky boy.”
  • Ostin is made fun of for his weight. He’s called “doughboy.”
  • Sometimes insults are created to reference powers of the electrical children. For example, Michael is called “glow worm” because the electric children glow in the dark. Ian is called “bat boy” because he uses electrolocation to see, similar to how bats use echolocation.

Supernatural

  • The seventeen electric children have electric-based powers and have a faint glow in the dark. Michael can “shock,” “pulse,” and “surge” electricity.
  • Taylor can “reboot” people by resetting electrical brain signals.
  • Nichelle can cause pain and take away electricity. She calls herself an “electrical vampire.”
  • Zeus can shock others with lightning bolts.
  • Tara can induce fear and other emotions.
  • Bryan can burn through objects.
  • Kylee is similar to a magnet since she can bring metal objects to her and stick to metal surfaces.
  • Mckenna can make light and heat.
  • Abi can take away pain due to stimulating nerve endings.
  • Tanner can interfere with electrical signals, often with aircraft.
  • Ian, who is blind, uses electrolocation to see.
  • Grace works like a computer and can import electric data files into her memory.

Spiritual Content

  • Hatch remarks that fate favored him. He says, “we never dreamed that we’d be so fortunate that she’d [Taylor] lead us to you. In this matter, fate was truly generous.”
  • Michael thinks, “Fate sucks.”

by Madison Shooter

The Cruel Prince

Jude, her twin sister Taryn, and half-sister Vivi lived a normal life until their parents were murdered by Madoc, Vivi’s war general faerie father. Despite killing their parents, Madoc takes the three sisters to live with him at his estate in Faerieland. While Vivi is half-faerie, Jude and Taryn are outsiders to their new world and some of the only well-treated mortals in the land. However, being the high general’s “children” does not grant them respect. At school, Taryn and Jude find themselves the butt of many jokes and are tormented by Cardan (a faerie prince), Nicasia, Locke, and Valerian. Jude often feels powerless against the fae and is subject to their glamours and compulsions. Plus, her mortality makes her vulnerable to their cruel jokes.

However, Jude’s life begins to change when she becomes a spy for Prince Dain, Cardan’s brother and next in line to be the High King of Faerie. Given a geas by the prince, which prevents compulsion, Jude begins to stand up to Cardan and his friends. She also begins a romance with Locke, who is the only one of Cardan’s friends that had ever shown her compassion. Jude’s mortality allows her to slip into Hollow Hall (Prince Balekin’s residence; Dain’s main competition for the throne) unnoticed and gather crucial information for Dain’s cause.

At the coronation, Taryn reveals that she is to be married to Locke, shocking everyone, most notably Jude, who believed herself to be Locke’s girlfriend. While Dain is being crowned, chaos breaks out and Balekin, Dain’s brother, challenges Dain for the throne. Madoc, who is secretly working with Balekin, kills Dain, and shortly after, all of Dain’s siblings have been killed or committed suicide—except for Cardan, who is nowhere to be seen. While scrambling for shelter from the bloodshed, Jude stumbles upon Cardan, and decides to take him hostage and use him as a bargaining chip with Balekin and Madoc. While holding him hostage, Jude discovers Cardan’s reason for hating her, which is that he cannot stop thinking about her and shamefully desires her.

Jude becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and discovers her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Told from Jude’s point of view, The Cruel Prince explores the triumph of an outsider. Although the characters feel believable, at times, it can be difficult to root for them, or even like them, because they are cruel. The novel pushes the point that cruelty only begets more cruelty, and that betrayal and ruthlessness are essential in the pursuit of power. The plot is rather complex, and the book is chock-full of events that all seem to be very important. Although some events seem superfluous at first, their relevance is revealed by the end of the novel. The dialogue, at times, can feel a little convoluted and antiquated, but this seems to fit with the holier-than-thou air of the fae. Altogether, The Cruel Prince is an engaging, fast-paced novel showcasing a strong female lead.

Sexual Content

  • Vivi is revealed to have a girlfriend in the human world. “Vivi is in the photos, her arm draped over the shoulders of a grinning, pink-haired mortal girl. Maybe Taryn isn’t the only one who has decided to fall in love.”
  • Vivi “kisses Heather,” her mortal girlfriend.
  • After being forced to consume faerie fruit, which is like a drug to humans, Cardan and his friends convince Jude to take of her dress, until all she is wearing is “mortal underclothes—a mint-and-black polka-dotted bra and underpants.”
  • Jude begins a romance with Locke, Cardan’s friend. At Locke’s house before a party, she thinks, “I want his mouth on mine, blotting out everything else.”
  • Jude sees Cardan at a party with a girl. “A horned girl I don’t know is kissing his throat, and another, this one with daffodil hair, presses her mouth against the calf of his leg, just above the top of his boot.”
  • While Jude is holding Cardan hostage, she realizes that Cardan desires her. Jude leans “toward him, close enough for a kiss. His eyes widen. The look on his face is some commingling of panic and desire.”
  • After realizing she has power over Cardan, Jude kisses him. “But kissing Locke never felt the way that kissing Cardan does, like taking a dare to run over knives, like an adrenaline strike of lightning, like the moment when you’ve swum too far out in the sea and there is no going back, only cold black water closing over your head . . . Then his hands come up, gentle as they glide over my arms. If I didn’t know better, I’d say his touch was reverent, but I do know better… He doesn’t want this. He doesn’t want to want this…He kisses me hard, with a kind of devouring desperation, fingers digging into my hair. Our mouths slide together, teeth over lips over tongues. Desire hits me like a kick to the stomach. It’s like fighting, except what we’re fighting for is to crawl inside each other’s skin.”

Violence

  • Madoc confronts Jude’s mother who faked her death. Madoc says, “The bones of an earthly woman and her unborn child in the burned remains of my estate were convincing.”
  • Madoc kills Jude’s mother and father as an act of revenge. Madoc is particularly violent when he kills Jude’s father. “The man plunged the sword into Dad’s stomach, pushing it upward. There was a sound, like sticks snapping, and an animal cry.” The scene is described over four pages.
  • When a faerie doesn’t bow to Cardan, he “grabs one of his wings. It tears like paper. The boy’s scream is thin and reedy. He curls up into himself on the ground, agony plain on his face.”
  • Madoc is a redcap, meaning that “after every battle, he ritually dips his hood into the blood of his enemies.” In one scene, the cap is described as, “stiff and stained a brown so deep it’s almost black.”
  • When Jude is awarded a ruby-studded pen from Madoc, one of her classmates becomes angry. “This threw Valerian into such a rage that he cracked me in the back of the head with his wooden practice sword.”
  • When she was a child, Jude was bullied because she is human. Jude mentions that “when I was nine, one of Madoc’s guards bit off the very top of the ring finger on my left hand.”
  • After being catcalled by a human in a visit to the mortal world, Jude attacks the catcaller, “I am turning before I can think, my fist cracking into his jaw. My booted foot hits his gut as he falls, rolling him over the pavement. I blink and find myself standing there, staring down at a kid who is gasping for air and starting to cry. My boot is raised to kick him in the throat, to crush his windpipe.”
  • After answering a question right in school, Jude is harassed and a classmate “slaps [her].”
  • After sneaking into Cardan’s house, Jude sees Cardan and his brother practicing swordplay. “Balekin brings down his staff hard, smacking him in the side of the head. I wince at the sound of the wood against his skull.”
  • After Cardan and his brother spar, Balekin punishes him for failure and has a servant whip him. “The servant strikes twice, the slap of the leather echoing loudly in the still air of the room.”
  • One of Cardan’s friends tries to get Jude to kill herself because she is embarrassing him. Jude retaliates, however, and “pull[s] the knife from my little pocket and stab[s] him in the side. Right between his ribs. If my knife had been longer, I would have punctured his lung.”
  • Jude tries to take a human servant that she had saved back to the human world. However, the servant, Sophie “tilts to one side, let’s go of the steed’s mane, and lets herself fall.” She falls into the ocean after filling her pockets with stones, committing suicide.
  • After finding out that Jude has stabbed Valerian after Valerian attempted to kill her, Dain, Jude’s spymaster, begins to question her loyalty to him because she has revealed her inability to be glamoured, putting the whole operation at risk. Because of this, Dain tells her to stab herself and prove her loyalty. Jude’s eyes were “on him, I slam the knife into my hand. The pain is a wave that rises higher and higher but never crashes.”
  • Angry with Jude for besting him, Valerian sneaks into Jude’s house and attacks her. As he chokes her, Jude retaliates. “Despite his fingers against my windpipe, despite the way my vision has begun to go dark around the edges, I make sure of my strike before I drive my knife into his chest. Into his heart,” killing him.
  • When Jude shoots a faerie spy, “the creature topples over, a flailing arm sending a pyramid of golden apples spilling to the dirt.”
  • At the coronation, while Dain is being crowned, “Madoc thrusts his sword through Dain’s chest with such force that the blade emerges on the other side. He drags it up, through his rib cage, to his heart.”
  • At the coronation, Jude takes Cardan hostage and “press[es] the tip of the knife against his skin so he can feel the bite.”
  • It is revealed that “Dain poisoned his own child, still in the womb.”
  • Locke has been secretly dating both Jude and Taryn. When Jude finds out, she challenges Taryn to a fight. Afterward, Madoc questions Taryn, “Did she thrust a sword into your hand and make you swing it? Do you really think that your sister has no honor, that she would chop you into pieces while you stood by, unarmed?’”
  • Jude challenges Madoc to a duel, and they fight for about 5 pages. Jude feigns “left and then land[s] a clever slice to his side. It’s a shallow hit, but it surprises us both when a line of red wets his coat. He thrusts toward me. I jump to one side, and he elbows me in the face, knocking me back to the ground. Blood gushes over my mouth from my nose.” She knows that she cannot win the fight, but she poisoned Madoc and just has to outlast him until the poison takes effect.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are many instances where people drink wine at faerie parties and also at dinner. At parties, people are described to, “drink themselves sick and numb themselves with poisonous and delightful powders.”
  • At the first revel Jude attends, Cardan is drunk. “His breath is heavy with the scent of honey wine.”
  • At dinner, Madoc and his wife, Oriana, “drink canary wine,” while the children “mix [theirs] with water.”
  • At one party, Jude is glamoured by a faerie to drink. “So [Jude] drank; the grass-green faerie wine slipping down my throat like nectar.”
  • Faerie fruit is dangerous for humans to consume. It “muddles the mind, which makes humans crave it enough to starve themselves for another taste, which makes us pliant and suggestible and ridiculous.”
  • When first introduced to Dain’s spies, Jude is offered a drink. The Ghost, one of Dain’s spies, “pours out four shots.” Then he says, “Have a drink. And don’t worry . . . It won’t befuddle you any more than any other drink.”
  • Jude talks about the various poisons that exist in Faerieland. Jude read “about the blusher mushroom, a pale fungus that blooms with beads of a red liquid that looks uncomfortably like blood. Small doses cause paralysis, while large doses are lethal, even for the Folk. Then there is deathsweet, which causes a sleep that lasts a hundred years. And wraithberry, which makes your blood race until your heart stops. And faerie fruit, of course, which one book called everapple.”
  • Jude begins to poison herself to build up immunity to poisoning. She consumes “a leaf of wraithberry from the palace garden. A petal from a flower of deathsweet. The tiniest bead of juice from the blusher mushroom. From each, I cut away a tinier portion and swallow. Mithridatism, it’s called. Isn’t that a funny name? The process of eating poison to build up immunity. So long as I don’t die from it, I’ll be harder to kill.”
  • While at a party, Jude and Locke “drink pale green wine that tastes of herbs out of massive goblets that Locke finds in the back of a cabinet.”
  • Jude worries about going to a party, but Locke reassures her by saying, “They’ll quickly be too drunk to notice.”
  • While in someone’s study, Jude notices that he has various herbs, and “a few are poisonous, but most are just narcotic.”
  • During Dain’s coronation, Jude sees Cardan, “unsteady on his feet and with a wine-skin in one hand. He appears to have gotten himself riotously drunk.”
  • Jude tricks Madoc into drinking a glass of poisoned wine. Jude gives “him a quick smile, pouring two glasses of wine—one light and the other dark. I am careful with them, sly-fingered. I do not spill a drop. . . I offer them both up for Madoc to choose between. Smiling, he takes the one the color of heart’s blood. I take the other.”
  • While at a coronation, Cardan drinks “directly from the neck” of a bottle of wine.

Language

  • Profanity is used rarely. Profanity includes bitch. For example, when Jude fights a stranger, the stranger’s friend screams, “Bitch. . . Crazy Bitch!”

Supernatural

  • Supernatural elements play a large part in the novel, as it takes place in Faerieland, a place ruled and inhabited by the fae.
  • Vivi, Jude’s half-sister, who is half-fae, is described as having a “split-pupiled gaze” and “lightly furred points of her ears.”
  • Jude describes the precautions that humans must take in Faerieland, and how her housemaid, Tatterfell protected her. “It was Tatterfell who smeared stinging faerie ointment over my eyes to give me True Sight so that I could see through most glamours, who brushed the mud from my boots, and who strung dried rowan berries for me to wear around my neck so I might resist enchantments. She wiped my wet nose and reminded me to wear my stockings inside out, so I’d never be led astray in the forest.”
  • When Tatterfell is doing Jude’s hair, she notes, “’I put in three knots for luck.”
  • One of Madoc’s spies is “a wrinkled creature with a nose like a parsnip and a back hunched higher than her head.”
  • While attending a faeire party, Jude describes the folk who are in attendance. “There are dozens of the Folk here, crowding around the entrance to the vast throne room, where Court is being held—long-nosed pixies with tattered wings; elegant, green-skinned ladies in long gowns with goblins holding up their trains; tricksy boggans; laughing foxkin; a boy in an owl mask and a golden headdress; an elderly woman with crows crowding her shoulders; a gaggle of girls with wild roses in their hair; a bark-skinned boy with feathers around his neck; a group of knights all in scarab-green armor.”
  • Prince Dain, a faerie, has “hooves and deer legs.”
  • Cardan has a tail, “with a tuft on the end! It coils up under his clothes and unfurls like a whip.”
  • As Jude and Taryn walk to school, they “spot mermaids and merrows sunning themselves near craggy caves, their scales reflecting the amber glow of the late-afternoon sun.”
  • The Lake of Masks is a magical lake, that “doesn’t reflect your own face—it shows you someone else who has looked or will look into it.”
  • Jude describes some of the fae. “There are hobs born with lined faces like tiny, hairless cats and smooth-limbed nixies whose true age shows only in their ancient eyes.”
  • Jude is compelled by a faerie to drink and dance at a party. Jude isn’t able to stop of her own accord because a stranger “compelled me to drink, and so I drank; the grass-green faerie wine slipping down my throat like nectar. He danced me around the hill. It was fun at first, the kind of terrifying fun that makes you screech to be put down half the time and feel dizzy and sick the rest. But when the fun wore off and I still couldn’t stop, it was just terrifying. It turned out that my fear was equally amusing to him, though.”
  • Vivi can summon beings called ragwort ponies and, “They look a little like sea horses and will ride over land and sky, according to Vivi’s command, keeping their seeming for hours before collapsing back into weeds.”
  • After rescuing a human servant, Jude explains the world of Faerie. The girl responds, “I always wanted there to be magic. Isn’t that funny? I wanted there to be an Easter Bunny and a Santa Claus. And Tinker Bell, I remember Tinker Bell. But I don’t want it. I don’t want it anymore.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

 

 

 

 

Fablehaven #1

Siblings Kendra and Seth spend the summer visiting their grandparents. The first week of their visit is confined by their grandfather’s strict rules to stay in the yard and not explore the property. Then Kendra uncovers a secret journal with a single note in it, “Drink the milk.”

 Kendra and Seth drink the milk the caretaker leaves out every morning for the butterflies, and suddenly their eyes are opened. The insects surrounding them transform into beautiful fairies and they learn the property, called Fablehaven, is a home for magical, mystical creatures. The siblings are not allowed to explore the property beyond the yard because it is full of dangerous beings. Then, on Midsummer’s Eve, the yard and home’s protections are lifted, and all creatures are allowed to roam free. The terror of the evening leads to a dangerous adventure that will require courage from the young siblings in order to save their family.

Fablehaven highlights the importance of courage, following rules, and loyalty. Seth and Kendra struggle with following rules they feel are unfair, even though the rules are in place to protect them. In the end, the siblings must surmount their fears and face a terrifying situation to overcome evil forces and save their family. The magical fights and demons in the book may be disturbing for some readers, but the scenes are brief and general in their description. However, some readers might find several of the scenes upsetting. For example, during the story, the children see their grandmother naked. Plus, she teaches them how to give a troll a massage, which sends him into a state of ecstasy.

Middle school readers will find they are able to relate to the siblings. Seth is a lovable, mischievous brother whose curiosity tends to get him into trouble. Kendra is more cautious and is frequently led out of her comfort zone by Seth. This novel is entertaining and largely plot-driven, following Seth and Kendra as they mature with their increasing responsibilities and knowledge.

Mull’s story has a slow start but the adventures that follow are worth the wait. The story’s interesting characters include witches, fairies, satyrs, imps, a troll, and a strange chicken. Despite the fantastical characters, Fablehaven’s world needs more descriptions. Still, the novel will leave the reader excited to pick up the next book in the series, Rise of the Evening Star. Readers who want a less upsetting and greatly suspenseful story that takes you into the fairy world, should read The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black.

Sexual Content

  • Fallen fairies, called imps, would be turned back into fairies if they were kissed by a true fairy. “In radiant bursts and sparks, every imp that was kissed transformed into a human-sized fairy!”

Violence

  • Kendra and Seth are warned of the dangers of the property’s pond by Lena, their grandfather’s associate. Lena says, “The pond can be a hazardous place. Return there now, and you would find friendly naiads beckoning you near the water in order to pull you under and drown you.”
  • When demons break into Seth and Kendra’s bedroom, one of the demons touches salt surrounding their bed. The salt causes the demon great pain and “his face and chest were charred.”
  • The siblings’ grandmother explains the necessity of taking a dangerous dart to visit the witch. She says, “This dart will slay any being that was ever mortal, including the enchanted or undead, if I can lodge it in a lethal place.”
  • Grandma Sorenson fires the dangerous dart at the witch. “The arrow took flight. . . Muriel shrieked and toppled back against the net of knotted ropes, a manicured hand covering the front of her shoulder. She rebounded forward, falling on her knees, panting, still clutching her shoulder, black feathers protruding between her slender fingers.”
  • Kendra needs some of the property’s giant cow’s blood for an elixir. She climbs up a ladder to get to its udder and “plunges the weed digger into the spongy flesh. The tool sank almost to the handle, and Viola made a terrified bellow.”
  • Kendra also needs her own blood for the elixir. “Gritting her teeth, she stuck her thumb with the pin and then squeezed two drops of blood into the mixture.”
  • The fairies and demons fight to try and imprison the escaped demon, Bahumat. The fighting begins when, “The winged beasts clawed their smaller opponents, but the fairies adroitly evaded the blows and slashed off their wings.” This violence is described over five pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While the kids are asleep, Grandpa Sorenson has satyrs over for a party. He explains, “It was not a party for young people. As caretaker, your grandfather would never drink, but I can’t vouch for the satyrs.”
  • The satyrs lecture Seth and Kendra for foiling their plan to steal the ogresses’ soup, saying, “If you spoiled our wine, that would be another story.”
  • The satyrs explain they would like batteries for their television. The satyrs say, “Then we can trade for more. Gold, booze, you name it.”
  • Grandma Sorenson warns Kendra against smelling beautiful flowers. Grandma Sorenson says the flowers are “more addictive than most drugs. Sampling a lotus blossom awakens a craving that will never be silenced. Many have wasted their lives pursuing and consuming the petals of those bewitching flowers.”

Language

  • After meeting the satyrs, Seth describes them as “idiots.”

Supernatural

  • Grandpa Sorenson explains the dangers of Muriel, the witch. “Before long, she became enamored with the power of witchcraft. . . Her husband tried to help her, but she was already too demented.”
  • Grandpa Sorenson discusses the dangers of the Society of the Evening Star saying, “members of the Society consort with demons and practitioners of the black arts.”
  • Grandma Sorenson discusses the imprisoned demon. “Long ago, this land was possessed by a powerful demon named Bahumat. . . The natives made whatever offerings the demons seemed to require, but still they lived in fear.”
  • Grandma Sorenson discusses the danger of the witch, saying, “Muriel is a student of evil.”
  • At the end of the battle against the demon, Kendra looks around at the fairies surrounding her and reflects that she “had seen many fairies fall during the battle, but most had been revived and healed by the magic of their comrades.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Paige Smith

Maggie and the Wish Fish

Eight-year-old Maggie isn’t like other girls who live in the Enchanted Forest. She notices magical animals around her that no one else does – like flying pigs and geese that lay golden eggs.

Maggie hasn’t been getting along with her stepmother and stepbrother. It doesn’t help that flying pigs keep messing up her chores and getting her into trouble! One day while she’s near a lake, she catches a magical fish who promises to make her wish come true, but only if she frees him. Maggie wants a new family more than anything, but can she really trust a talking fish?

Even though Maggie works hard, her stepmother keeps punishing her. Every time Maggie gets into trouble, her stepmother withholds food. It’s a good thing there are wild berry bushes in the Enchanted Forest! Maggie’s stepmother is convinced that Maggie is a liar and a thief, so she throws Maggie out into the cold. Like a Disney fairytale, Maggie and the Wish Fish concludes with a happy ending where Maggie has a new home and a new friend.

Maggie and the creatures who live in the Enchanted Forest appear in black and white illustrations. The cute illustrations appear every 2 to 7 pages. Even though the trolls and the goblins are dangerous, they look cartoonish instead of frighteningly scary. One of the characters shares his journal with Maggie. The illustrated journal gives information about the magical animals and their habits. Readers who are not fluent will need help with some of the vocabulary. However, with short paragraphs, large text, and a simple plot, Maggie and the Wish Fish is accessible to readers ready for chapter books.

Young readers will enjoy the fairytale elements of Maggie and the Wish Fish. A mean step-family, arguing goblins, and talking animals combine to make a sweet story. The story contains enough suspense to keep readers interested and a satisfying ending that will leave readers with a smile. Readers who enjoy fairytales should add the Once Upon a Fairy Tale Series by Anna Staniszewski to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Maggie meets a girl who has a goose that lays golden eggs.
  • When goblins see Maggie, she chases them away with a piece of unicorn horn. “Unicorn horns destroyed poison. There was poison in goblins’ blood. Any goblin that even touched a unicorn horn would go poof! and vanish.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Beneath the Citadel

Prophecies have ruled the city of Eldra for centuries. With each new prophecy, the ruling high council tightens their control on the city, crushing any who would rebel against them. For Cassa Valera, the council and their leader, the chancellor, are her number one targets for revenge. After her parents led a rebellion and were killed, Cassa has been looking for a chance to free the city from the council’s clutches. Along with her friends Evander, Alys, Newt, and Vesper, she hatches a plan to infiltrate the mighty citadel where the council resides.

But even if Cassa and her friends are brave enough to fight against the citadel, their plans won’t go smoothly. The council will hound their every step, as they use their diviners to foresee the future. Old friends will betray them. Their loved ones will be in danger. And most of all, their relationships will be strained.

The fight against the council will be a hard one. Yet, with the unexpected help of a stranger, they may just be able to pull it off. That stranger, however, may turn out to be more monstrous than the council. Will Cassa and her friends be able to save the city they love?

Beneath the Citadel is a fun read that follows the main characters Cassa, Evander, Alys, Newt, and Vesper. The story jumps from each character’s point of view. Each character is unique, with their own realistic troubles and fears. For instance, Alys deals with anxiety that affects her everyday life.  Alys’ younger brother, Evander, is afraid he won’t be able to protect his family. Newt was abused by his father, and worries he doesn’t matter to anyone. And Cassa is always afraid that nothing she does will ever matter. But while these characters have flaws and fears, they work to overcome them, making them likable. Readers will root for them to triumph in the end.

While the characters will pull readers in, the plot is strong as well. The plot is simple to understand, but complex enough to make readers think about each character’s actions and decisions. At the start, the group’s goal is simply to take down the citadel, but by the end, each member is fighting against a monster more destructive than the council: a man named Solan. Solan is the main villain who has numerous powers including being able to see the future and steal people’s memories. Readers will enjoy the thrill of watching the four young heroes fight to stop Solan in his tracks before he destroys Eldra.

Overall, Beneath the Citadel has a nice pacing and is a fun read from start to finish. It focuses on the theme of teens dealing with the mistakes of their parents and predecessors, as well as the smaller themes of handling anxiety and discovering a new love. As a standalone novel, everything is neatly wrapped up by the end of the story. Destiny Soria’s novel is a great choice for any reader of YA fantasy fiction.

Sexual Content

  • Before the start of the story, Evander and Cassa were romantically involved. “They had broken off their romance six months ago. It had been a mutual decision and very amicable, but you don’t just forget almost a year of your life being so closely intertwined with another person’”
  • Newt recalls when he first met Evander and Cassa. They were still an item and Newt watched as Cassa turned to Evander and “leaned down and kissed him.”
  • Evander is bisexual and falls head over heels for Newt. “Evander had figured out he was bisexual around the same time he’d figured out what sex was. But Newt held a strange fascination for him, ever since their first chance meeting years ago.”
  • Newt realizes he has feelings for Evander too. “There was a thrill of new energy inside him, a tingling in his fingertips, and the dawning certainty that one day he was going to fall in love with Evander Sera.” When they’re outside of the city walls, Newt and Evander kiss each other. “It wasn’t Newt’s first kiss, but it was the first one that mattered. His thoughts were deliciously hazy. He was kissing Evander Sera. Evander Sera was kissing him.”

Violence

  • Evander recalls being beaten during an interrogation. “He’d already earned a few bruises during the interrogation. It wasn’t supposed to be a painful process, but the sentient who was reading his memories hadn’t appreciated his sense of humor and had called in a burly guard to impart the wisdom of keeping his mouth shut.”
  • Newt can contort his body in order to get in and out of bad situations. “Newt breathed in deeply through his mouth and, with a wince, popped his left thumb out of its socket. It didn’t hurt, but he’d never grown used to the uncanny sensation.” That contortion takes a toll on his body. “He’d never told them about the alarming frequency of sprains when he didn’t use the braces, that while he could bend his body in fantastic fashion, it came at a price.”
  • Alys watches Newt knock out a guard. “She didn’t see Newt until he was only a few feet away from the guard and was swinging something—a lantern—in a high arc toward the back of the man’s head. There was a terrific thump, followed by another thump as the man fell to the floor, his gun clattering beside him.”
  • Alys often thinks she’s dead weight. At one point she thinks, “Maybe it would be better if she just died before they caught up. Maybe it would be better if she died now. Maybe it would be better. Maybe it would.”
  • When Mira, the Blacksmith’s daughter, performs the blood-bonding ritual on Solan, she has to cut open his arm. “Mira leaned in beside Cassa and slit a long, deep line into the inside of Solan’s left arm, a mirror to Evander’s own scar.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The group originally sneaks into the citadel in barrels. “The kitchen workers had unknowingly smuggled all four of them into the basement storerooms in barrels of beer that were only half full.”
  • Cassa talks to Alys about possibly becoming a legend in the streets of Eldra. Cassa then tells Alys, “We’ll get a whole tavern drunk one night and spread the rumor.”

Language

  • Damn, ass and shit are used frequently. For example, when her friends break her out of a prison cell, Cassa says, “Just open the damn door.” Another time, Evander talks to Cassa about her terrible escape plan. “I doubt your half-assed escape plan would work a second time.”
  • Bitch and bastard are both used a few times. For example, the Dream Merchant, a man who buys and sells dreams, tells off Cassa. “This is none of your business, you little bitch.”
  • The Dream Merchant calls Cassa’s parents, “scum parents.”

Supernatural

  • Eldra, and the country it’s a part of, Teruvia, are ruled by ancient prophecies. These prophecies dictate life for the vast majority of people in the city of Eldra. Pretty much everything in Eldra revolves around prophecies, and many characters use these powers to see the future. The Chancellor says, “The teachings laid down by Teruvia’s forefathers tell us that the elder seers saw every thread of the tapestry that is our present and future.”
  • There are official gatherings in Eldra to talk about prophecies. For example, “Most of the citadel’s inhabitants would be at the monthly council session, where any new prophecies were discussed and the fulfillment of old prophecies was speculated on.”
  • Solan uses runes to foresee Cassa and her friends stumbling across him in the dungeons beneath the citadel. Solan has “known for a while that you [Cassa] would be coming. I saw it in the runes.”
  • Bloodbonding is a process by which an individual is magically connected to some metal or other substance. The Chancellor thinks about bloodbonding after meeting with Evander. “With a bloodbond’s complete control over a particular metal, any number of everyday items could become weapons.”
  • Evander is bloodbonded to silver. “He could feel the silver like an extension of himself, moving farther and farther away, the connection weakening more and more.”
  • People who can manipulate other’s memories, or take them, are called Rooks. Vesper is a rook. She thinks about how “Rooks had to be patient and gentle, so very gentle. Memories were fragile. They could be torn or teased out too thin.”
  • When Cassa visits the Dream Merchant, a man who barters in dreams, she’s afraid he’ll take too many of her memories. “She had no doubt that Gaz would try to take far more than the memories she’d offered. And she didn’t know if she’d be able to stop him—or pull away once he’d started.”
  • Those that can magically read a person’s immediate past in their face are called sentients. Newt thinks, “He’d heard that skilled sentients could read so quickly and thoroughly that they might as well be reading someone’s mind instead of just their past.”

Spiritual Content

  • In Eldra, people worship the Slain God. Vesper, in a church, listened as, “The choir began to sing a gentle, haunting requiem in Teruvia’s dead language. The tale of the god who had once cradled Teruvia, protecting it from those who, in envy and greed, would do her harm.” Soon after the choir sings, “The tale of their dying god, who used the last of his strength to scatter his omniscience across Teruvia, a gift for the chosen devout few.”
  • It is believed the Slain God gave a few people his power, allowing them to foresee the future.
  • Before people pass on, they are typically given death rites. Death rites often involve taking one’s memories. Cassa thinks about the practice. “She did know that the devouring of memories was meant to be a cleansing of sorts, a final penitence in honor of the Slain God.”
  • Alys thinks about the typical rituals. “Normally, even if someone died without death rites, a priest would be on hand to talk about how every person’s greatest honor is to join the Slain God in blissful oblivion. Candles would be lit and doused at intervals. Sometimes someone would sing a verse from the Slain God’s requiem.”
  • Solan very much hates the religion of the Slain God. He tells off the chancellor, saying, “What a strange way of describing the duty that your pathetic religion demands of me.”

by Jonathan Planman

Deathcaster

In the Fells, the war with Arden couldn’t get any worse. The Queen is sick and out of the picture. The young Ardenine King, Jarat, is marching his army to the capital of Fells. And the heir to the gray wolf throne, Alyssa ana’Raisa, has been captured by the ruthless Empress Celestine.

For Ash, prince of the Fells, the only way forward is to rescue his sister, Lyss, from the Empress. But now that Celestine is on the war path, her armies ravaging the coast, that isn’t going to be an easy task. To cross the ocean and take on Celestine’s bloodsworn army, he’ll need help from unlikely allies and former enemies.

The rebel Ardenine general Hal wants nothing more than to see Lyss safe and in his arms. Yet to do that, he has to find a way to crush Celestine’s invading army. Between the arrogant King Jarat and his stubborn father, fielding an army to help the Fells drive off Celestine won’t be a walk in the park. Will Hal succeed in freeing Arden and the Fells from Jarat and Celestine’s grasp? Will Ash succeed in bringing his sister home to take her rightful place on the throne? Only time will tell.

Chima’s final entry in the Shattered Realms series is a wonderful conclusion to the saga. Focusing on the epic battles between the three nations and royal families, Deathcaster doesn’t disappoint in its suspense and action. Since this is the final book, the main theme of war is much more prevalent as multiple armies battle each other. These battles are each unique and well thought out, creating exciting and heart-pounding scenes.

The book splits its chapters into many points of view, including all of the main characters such as Ash, Lila, Jenna, Lyss, Hal, Destin, and Evan. While the sheer amount of main characters might appear to be overwhelming, the ease with which each chapter transitions to different points of view will pull readers in and never make them feel overwhelmed. Plus, each character is unique and interesting, with their own problems and personality that will hook readers.

The events of the story are believable, from the civil war in Arden to Ash’s journey across the ocean to save his sister. The ending feels a bit rushed, while some parts of the novel drag on, but overall the story is very well paced. The writing is easy to read and flows well, with each character getting a distinct voice. Overall, Deathcaster is a satisfying final entry to Chima’s Shattered Realms series.

Sexual Content

  • After a year apart, Ash meets Jenna. “There were many kisses but few words. His questions drew brief, vague answers, punctuated with the vivid images she delivered through touch.” Ash and Jenna have sex. “Making love with Jenna Bandelow was a twining of minds as well as bodies, a mingling of imagery and sensation so complete that sometimes it was hard to tell who owned what—who was giving, who receiving.”
  • Jenna tells Ash about dragon mating, “Dragons often mate in flight, so they twine their tails in order to, you know, maintain their—.”
  • Empress Celestine believes Lyss and Breon are lovers, and often tries to break them up. During dinner, Lyss thinks, “Celestine often included some handsome young men for Lyss, and a lovely young woman for Breon, or vice versa. She seemed determined to distract the erstwhile lovers with new options.” Later on, Lyss nearly shouts, “If I go to bed with someone, I want it to mean something.”
  • Samara, Celestine’s attendant, says, “I find that a bout between the sheets stirs my blood and prepares me to shed the blood of others.”
  • Ash gives Evan a massage to help ease the pain in Evan’s body after a fight. Evan then teases Ash, saying, “According to customs here in the drylands we are married now, and you are bound to perform this service every day.”
  • A soldier tells Hal, “There’s a rumor going around that you died at Delphi but the witch queen brought you back to life because she fell in love with your dead body.”

Violence

  • Lyss thinks about the fighting tournaments Celestine holds. “Sometimes the empress would choose two women to fight, or a mixed pair, or three against three. In one case, she blinded two soldiers, and then set them against each other.”
  • Evan and his subordinates are ambushed in his home. “Blood spattered Evan’s face and the floor around him. He lay on his back, helpless, though fully conscious, while the fighting went on around him. He was stepped on at least once.”
  • Hal is told that, “Karn’s disgraced, dead, and hanging from the city walls.”
  • Jenna’s dragon, Cas, attacks a member of the empress’ army. “He struck the bloodsworn, hard, just as he took his shot. The shot went wild and the soldier ended up pinned to the ground, screaming, bleeding from a dozen wounds.”
  • A group of dragons attacks the empress’ fortress city, “They burned everything that was burnable, from the quays to the houses that were tucked into the terraces on the hillside, to the small fishing boats that were all that remained in the harbor.”
  • Lila discovers a dead body in the woods. “It was what was left of one of the Darian Brothers, blood spattered all around. A knife lay in the mud nearby. He looked like he’d been torn apart by wolves.”
  • A servant is killed during a coup. “Before he could get there, the maiden lay dead in a pool of blood, run through by one of the blackbirds.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hal’s younger brother says, “This drunk stumbled up to me, and I thought she was going to ask me for money or something.”
  • Ash and Sasha get drunk on a beach after being stranded at sea. Evan, the only one sober, “got the impression that they’d been at the cider for a while.”

Language

  • Bastard is used several times. A soldier tells Hal about a general’s death. “The scum-sucking bastard’s dead, thank the Maker.”
  • Ass is used frequently. When King Jarat orders Destin to lead a company of mages, Destin thinks, “And I will pull mages out of my ass.”

Supernatural

  • Jenna can see images of a person’s true self. “When Jenna gripped the Commander’s hands, images slid through her mind—a much younger Adam and Alyssa, dressed in elaborately stitched clothing, holding hands, watching a funeral procession, both weeping.”
  • Evan binds his followers to him with a blood ritual. “One dose was enough to bind a person; after that, they had an unquenchable thirst for more.”
  • Ash travels to the dream world, Aediion. “He was swept into a swirling black vortex. Gradually, he rebuilt the scene at Drovers’ Inn from memory.” In Aediion, spirits can meet with the living. Ash meets his father there, and his deceased father says, “Thank the Maker. I was close to giving up.” In Aediion, Ash also meets a demon. “It resembled a demon’s face—thin-lipped, hollow-cheeked in a cowl and prelate’s robes.”
  • When Ash enters Aediion, a demon attacks him with shadows. “It took everything Ash had to stand fast with shades flying into his face, swiping around his body, sliding under his clothes.”
  • Hadley DeVilliers uses her magic to sound proof a room, “Back at Kendall House, Shadow pulled glasses down from the shelf while DeVilliers circled the room, her hand on her amulet, putting up barriers to eavesdroppers.”
  • In Arden, mages are collared to keep them in check. Hal tells a mage about a key that can unlock every collar. “One key opens all of the collars. One key controls all of the collars. Nearly all the mages fighting for the Ardenine king are wearing them now.”

Spiritual Content

  • Magic is viewed as a heresy in Arden. Father Fosnaught condemns a group of mages. “You will burn for this, I promise you. We will wipe the scourge of magic from every corner of the Seven Realms.”
  • The Church of Malthus is the primary religion in Arden. Destin Karn, a spymaster, thinks about a saint, “There was plenty of information about Saint Darian, one of the patriarchs of the Church of Malthus a thousand years ago, and his followers, known as Darian Brothers, who were bent on eliminating the gifted from the Realms.”

by Jonathan Planman

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest, to keep the witch from terrorizing their town. But the witch, Xan, is really kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children left in the woods and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby with moonlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, who she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge with unpredictable consequences, just as it’s time for Xan to go collect another child. Meanwhile, a young man is determined to free his people by killing the witch. And a volcano, dormant for centuries, rumbles within the earth. . .

The Girl Who Drank the Moon has many elements of a classical fairytale. A witch who lives in the woods, a swamp monster who recites poetry, a tiny dragon, and a curious girl filled with magic. Like a classical fairytale, the story is often dark, scary, and teaches a lesson. Despite this, readers may get bogged down in the long, repetitive descriptive passages that often use difficult vocabulary words. Between some of the chapters, there is a one-sided conversation between an anonymous speaker and another person. Because the speaker is unknown, these pages are more confusing than interesting.

The complex story uses an omniscient point of view so the reader can understand all of the characters’ thoughts. However, the story jumps to many characters—Xan, Glerk, Fyrian, Luna, the Madwoman, Sister Ignatia, Antain, Grand Elder Gherland, and Ethyne. While all the stories merge at the end, the large cast of characters and the winding plot make The Girl Who Drank the Moon best for strong readers.

Xan, a beautifully complex witch, shows love through every action. When she collects the abandoned babies and finds them new homes, she truly believes that she is doing what is right. Later she realizes that “I was wrong not to be curious. I was so wrong not to wonder.” Xan’s compassion allows her to understand others’ pain, and her love gives her the strength to fight for others.

The story deals with the difficult topics of death, grief, and political corruption. But beauty is woven into each page as the characters realize that family is not always determined by one’s birth, but by love. Luna’s family—Xan, the swamp monster, and the tiny dragon—is formed by love, loyalty, and the willingness to sacrifice for each other.

Even though The Girl Who Drank the Moon won the Newbery Award, the story may hold more appeal to adults than to middle-grade and teen readers. While the story has some interesting elements, the length of the story, the long descriptive passages, and the slow world-building make the story difficult to complete. Readers looking for a story about a witch that steals children may want to skip The Girl Who Drank the Moon and read Nightbooks by J.A. White instead.

Sexual Content

  • An anonymous speaker dreams about her son. She says, “Last night I dreamed that he waited next to a tree for a girl to walk by. And he called her name, and held her hand, and his heart pounded when he kissed her.”

Violence

  • Every year, the youngest child in the village is sacrificed to a witch. The town Elders take the baby into a clearing in the woods and leave the child there.
  • Paper birds come alive and attack a boy called Antain. “A paper raven swooped across the room, slicing its wing across Antain’s cheek, cutting it open, letting him bleed. . .” The birds permanently disfigure the boy’s face.
  • A man tries to take a sacrificed baby, but Xan stops him. “She could feel her magic rush from the center of the earth. . . like massive waves pushing and pulling the shore. She reached out and grabbed the man with both hands. He cried out as a surge hit him square in the solar plexus, knocking his breath clear away.” Xan turned into a bird and “lifted the baby into the sky.” Both the man and Xan were trying to keep the baby safe, but they did not realize it.
  • Xan turns into a sparrow. She flies over a frightened man. She tries to comfort him. “She fluttered out of her hiding place and circled over the figure. A young man. He screamed, loosed the stone in his hand, and hit Xan on the left wing. She fell to the ground without so much as a peep.” The sparrow’s wing is broken so the man binds the wing and carries the bird with him.
  • The Sorrow Eater feeds off of grief. In order to feed, she finds a starling nest. “She reached in and grabbed a tiny, wriggling nestling. She crushed it in one fist as the horrified mother looked on. The mother sparrow’s sorrow was thin. But it was enough. Sister Ignatia licked her lips and crushed another nestling.”
  • Sister Ignatia threatens Luna. In order to protect the girl, paper birds attack Sister Ignatia. “The birds cut her hands. They cut her forehead. They attacked without mercy.”
  • Sister Ignatia tries to take magical boots off of a woman. Sister Ignatia “balled her hands into two tight fists and raised them over her head. When she swept them back down, uncurling her fingers, they had four sharp knives. Without hesitating she reared back and snapped her hands forward, shooting the knife blades directly for the madwoman’s heart.” The madwoman moves just in time and is not injured.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • The town Elders “grew big and strong on beef and butter and beer.
  • Luna gave “ale to the geese to see if it made them walk funny (it did).”
  • A woman goes mad after her baby is sacrificed. She is given “special potions to keep her calm.”
  • The Elders drink wine with lunch.

Language

  • A monster says, “As the Poet famously said, dear lady: ‘I don’t give a rat’s—‘” The monster stops talking when he is interrupted.
  • “My god” is used as an exclamation once.
  • When Antain asks to see the Elders, which is unusual, his uncle says, “Tradition be damned. The council will be ever so pleased to see you.”

Supernatural

  • Sister Ignatia is a Sorrow Eater, who “spreads misery and devours sorrow.” When someone feels grief, Sister Ignatia’s “tongue quickly darted out and disappeared back into her mouth. She closed her eyes as her cheeks flushed. As though she had just tasted the most delicious flavor in the world.”
  • Xan is a witch and can change forms. She picks up the sacrificed infants and feeds them starlight. “Once it was dark enough to see the stars, she reached up one hand and gathered starlight in her fingers. . . and fed it to the child.”
  • In order to hide from the Elder, Xan “transformed herself into a tree—a craggy thing of leaf and lichen and deep-grooved bark, similar in shape and texture to the other ancient sycamores standing guard over the small grove.”
  • When Luna was an infant, she drank moonlight, which “enmagicked” her.
  • Xan believes that “magic should never be used to influence the will of another person.” Despite this, she uses magic to make Luna sleep. When Luna begins transforming things, such as turning bread dough into a hat, Xan uses a spell to keep Luna from using magic. Xan is afraid Luna will hurt herself or someone else.
  • Xan uses her magic to cure a young woman of headaches.
  • Xan has a memory of protecting people “who lived in a castle. . . She remembered how she put protective spells on each of them—well, each of them but one—and prayed to the stars that each spell would hold as they ran.”
  • A girl is told a story about a witch who had boots that “could travel seven leagues in a single step.” The witch ate “sorrow, or souls, or volcanoes, or babies, or brave little wizards.” Soon, the girl discovers that the witch and the magical shoes are not just a story, but are real.
  • A woman learns how to transform herself into small things such as a cricket, a spider, or a waterbug.
  • Luna discovers a library, where the books are eager to have their voices heard. “Each book and each paper, as it turned out, had quite a bit to say. They murmured and rambled; they talked over one another; they stepped on each other’s voices.”
  • A flock of paper birds helps a “madwoman” escape from prison. The paper birds appear several times in the story.

Spiritual Content

  • A creation story explains how everything came from a bog. “In the beginning there was the Bog. And the Bog covered the world and the Bog was the world and the world was the Bog. . . But the Bog was lonely.” So the Bog created life on earth.
  • Xan remembers another time in her life when “she could remember climbing into her bed and clutching her hands to her heart, praying to the stars that she might have a night free from bad dreams. She never did.”

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