Nic Blake and The Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy

Nic Blake has a secret to keep from the rest of the world—she has a magical power called the Gift. This makes her, like her father, a Remarkable. Nic explains her life as a Remarkable in an Unremarkable world, “an Unremarkable . . . doesn’t have the Gift or any supernatural ability.” Nic knows that the majority of people in her town are Unremarkables and that “a majority of Unremarkables don’t know about the Gift or know that Remarkable creatures exist. Though Nic knows she has these powers, she still does not know how to use them. As she is about to have her twelfth birthday, Nic is excited that, “My dad’s gonna teach me how to use the Gift so I can finally be a real Manifestor.” Nic reveals, “Although we Manifestors are born with the Gift inside of us, we still have to learn how to use it, and there are lots of ways to use it, too.”

In Jackson, Mississippi, Nic is happily living with her father, Calvin, and hanging out with her best friend, JP. Her world is about to change, however, when Nic’s mother, who Nic has not seen since she was a baby, suddenly reappears in her life—along with a twin brother, Alex, whom Nic didn’t know she even had. Nic’s twin brother Alex and Nic’s mom reveal that they had to find Nic because her father has been accused of stealing a magical weapon by the Remarkable government. Nic’s mom and her brother have come all the way from the land they call home, Uhuru, a super technologically advanced city where only Remarkables live, to find Nic.

When Nic’s dad is accused of stealing a dangerous, magical weapon, Nic, JP, and Alex must set out on a quest to find the magical weapon and prove that Nic’s father is innocent. Along the way, Nic shows herself to be an extremely insightful Manifestor, even though she doesn’t know how to control the Gift. Throughout the novel, Nic learns more about her powers as well as how they connect with her ancestry. For instance, Nic recalls a story about how some of her ancestors who were caught by slavecatchers were freed by a Manifestor who “whispered ancient words to them, and they remembered who they were . . . They flew off like birds to freedom.” Nic recognizes that the Gift “helps us when we need it,” and gradually learns how to use her powers.   

Nic is an extremely empathetic character, who struggles to comprehend having a mom and brother enter her life unexpectedly. Nic explains, “It feels like my world was made of sand and I didn’t know it, and a gigantic wave has crashed in, wiped it out, and left me with something that doesn’t resemble my life.” Readers will appreciate the sacrifices Nic makes to prove her father’s innocence, even though her family dynamic is completely uprooted. Nic thinks, “I never would’ve thought that my dad would be a wanted criminal . . . it’s hard to believe this is my life.” Nic’s father admits his mistakes in keeping secrets from her. Nic’s dad says, “No matter my reasoning, I kept you from an amazing mom and brother.”  

Another reason readers will love Nic is that she is a very open-minded character and treats each new person she meets with respect, Remarkable or not, because her father has taught her that “some Manfestors like to make sure other Remarkables know that [Manifestors] are the most powerful Remarkables. Dad says it’s silly; that as Black folks we’ve seen people like us get treated as inferior and we shouldn’t do that to others.”

A major theme in Nic Blake and The Remarkables is reconnecting with estranged or lost family. Nic is dealing with a lot: “finding out I was kidnapped, that my dad may be a criminal and that I have a mom and a twin brother.” Throughout the novel, Nic has to learn to trust and rely on Alex to help her navigate through Uhuru. Alex shows Nic how to use Uhuru’s technology. But Nic also helps Alex by demonstrating bravery, such as when she approaches a dragon for help, while “Alex whimpers.” In this way, both Nic and Alex bring something to the table and help each other on their journey. Alex and Nic’s relationship adds a great deal of heart to the story, as they realize that they actually have a lot in common, they even begin to call this “twin telepathy.”

Nic Blake and The Remarkables ends on a cliffhanger, with Nic receiving a threatening message from an anonymous source because she has found and returned the magical weapon. The threat tells Nic, “You think you’re gonna get away with finding what I hid?” This ending will certainly keep readers on their toes and excited to read the next book. Readers who enjoy stories with fantasy, action, and family will find this book absolutely delightful. Nic’s journey leaves readers with an amazing message about trusting in your own abilities. As Nic says, “The power to save myself, it lies within me.” 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Nic’s powers accidentally knock out her Uncle Ty. Nic explains, “Our hands touch, and everything happens in a flash. Uncle Ty’s Glow goes out like a fire doused with water, and a jolt shoots through my palms, making my own aura glow so bright, it blinds me . . . [Uncle Ty] hits the ground with a thud.” Uncle Ty recovers quickly, but Nic feels extremely worried that she accidentally hurt someone.  
  • Nic and her dad visit a Civil Rights Museum when her dad tells her what happened to Emmett Till. Nic explains what her father taught her about the event, saying, “[Emmett] was accused of whistling at a woman. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but Dad said that back then because Emmett was Black and the woman was white, some people did think it was a big deal. The woman’s husband and brother-in-law kidnapped Emmett in the middle of the night and killed him. [Emmett] was fourteen; a kid like me.” 
  • Nic and JP encounter a Boo Hag, which Nic explains is like a vampire except that these creatures “live off breath instead of blood. They climb on victims at night and suck the oxygen from their bodies, and sometimes they steal the person’s skin.” 
  • Nic and her friends encounter a ghost-like creature called a haint. JP asks the haint how he died: “[the haint] points at a tree, hangs his head, and holds his hand up as if it’s a rope. ‘Oh,’ JP murmurs. ‘You were lynched.’” 
  • Based off his interpretation of a prophecy, Uncle Ty believes that he is meant to defeat Nic and attacks her. Nic says, “My brain doesn’t process what he’s said until the lightning bolt whizzes straight for me.” Nic is able to escape Ty with her mom and dad’s help.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Nic’s father gets her a hellhound as a birthday present: “The woods dissolve, revealing my backyard, and that fire-breathing, gigantic hellhound is a tail-wagging little hellhound pup.” 
  • Nic explains the difference between the Gift and magic. “The Gift is an innate power that lives in us Manifestors. Magic, on the other hand, is a corrupt form of the Gift. It’s hard to control and super destructive. Also, magic in real life can only be performed with a wand, and the magic in wands runs out after a while. We Manifestors don’t need wands.” 
  • While Nic is in the kitchen, “a deep growl rattles the door to the basement.” Nic asks, “Is that the demon you caught at the governor’s mansion?” Nic’s dad explains that it is a demon, saying, “I swear, demons can’t stay away from that place.” 
  • Nic can identify other Remarkables. Nic says, “the Remarkables light the place up a bit thanks to the Glow, different-colored auras that tell you the kinda Remarkable they are.” 
  • Nic’s dad creates an illusion of stars on her ceiling. “With the wave of his hand, my ceiling disappears and a night sky takes its place.” 
  • Nic’s father’s best friend, whom she calls Uncle Ty, gives Nic a G-Pen. Uncle Ty explains that the “Gift-Infused technology” can only be bought in Remarkable cities. The G-Pen allows Nic to “write to any [Remarkable person] with it, and they’ll see it wherever they are . . . You simply think about the person and write to them in midair.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • JP has very religious parents. JP’s parents tell him, “Phones are quick access to the Devil.”  
  • Nic’s neighbor, Mr. Zeke, takes a trip to “a Remarkable city or historic site” each year, and this year “he went to Africa to see the Garden of Eden.” 
  • Nic and her friends encounter a woman named DD, but they realize something about her real identity. Nic says, “You’re the Devil’s daughter,” and then Nic hears, “Countless voices wail as a cackle echoes in the distance, sounding as evil as the Devil himself. That’s because it is the Devil himself.” 
  • JP saves Nic from the Devil’s daughter by chanting “Jesus” and “holding a cross made of forks, spoons, and rubber bands like a shield. [JP] points it in DD’s direction. ‘Jeeee-suuus!’ The skeletal hands explode into dust, freeing [Nic].” 

Secret of the Water Dragon

Drake and the Dragon Masters are back in the third installment of the Dragon Masters series. This time, someone’s trying to steal the Dragon Stone. This book centers on Bo and his dragon, Shu, as the group races to find out what happened to the Dragon Stone. The Dragon Masters discover that one of their own might be harboring a dark secret. 

Secret of the Water Dragon hones in on the overarching plot that was introduced in the first two books. This time, the evil wizard Maldred has sent out his dark magic and has put a spell over Bo’s home kingdom. Emperor Song, once kind and just, blackmails Bo into bringing him the Dragon Stone by kidnapping Bo’s family. It is only when Drake and Bo realize that Shu’s dragon powers can help wash away enchantments that Bo’s kingdom is freed from Maldred’s clutches. 

Secret of the Water Dragon helps increase the stakes as the Dragon Masters start to understand that their enemy, Maldred, draws near. They must race against the clock in order to have all the Dragon Masters bonded with their dragons before anything truly terrible arises. At the end of the book,  another wizard, Diego, falls into a deep slumber, and only Shu is able to wake him, thanks to Shu and Bo’s bond. As Diego awakens, he notes that he’s seen yet another dragon, which will have readers eager to read the next book, Power of the Fire Dragon. Young readers will find this plot thread compelling and will want to find out what happens next. However, because the plots build on each other, the books should be read in order. 

Bo’s kingdom is much like Dragon Master Ana’s in the way that they both fulfill certain regional stereotypes. If Ana’s home was like Egypt, then Bo’s is a loose understanding of East Asian countries like Japan and China. The raven guards from Bo’s kingdom who try to steal the Dragon Stone are depicted in the artwork as ninjas. Much like Ana’s story, this is not a very creative way of making Bo’s world, but it falls in line with usual fantasy tropes that are not within King Arthur’s England. 

Family and connections to home have been the most prominent themes in the Dragon Masters Series thus far. Ana, Drake, and Bo have all expressed how much they love and miss their families. Plus, Bo’s loyalty to his friends has been put to the test when his family’s lives are on the line. These books are a good way to present the differences between family by blood and found families, as the Dragon Masters find themselves becoming even closer friends after this incident. For instance, Drake offers to go with Bo to his home kingdom because he wants to help him and doesn’t want him to be alone.  

West’s Dragon Masters are fun and heartwarming books filled with friendship. In addition, the characters have the courage to do the right thing, even in the face of adversity. And of course, there are cool dragons and evil wizards. The Dragon Masters Series takes readers on adventures in fantastical worlds. 

Sexual Content  

  • None 

Violence  

  • The thief who is after the Dragon Stone presumably fights with Simon, the guard who’s watching over the Dragon Stone. The fight scene isn’t shown, but Drake describes, “When they got to Griffith’s office, Simon the guard was conked out on the floor!”  

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • None 

Language  

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • This series deals with magic and dragons. As the opening lines detail, “Griffith [the wizard] and the Dragon Masters were in the Training Room, hidden beneath King Roland’s castle. A magical stone called the Dragon Stone had chosen Drake, Bo, Rori, and Ana to work with dragons. Griffith was their teacher.”  
  • Someone attempted to steal the Dragon Stone. Griffith explains that this would be bad because “someone could use the main stone to control the dragons. Or even to form a dragon army.” 
  • Drake and Griffith catch Bo with the Dragon Stone. “Bo was reading aloud from a book. The words sounded magical, like something a wizard would say.” Griffith uses his powers to stop Bo. “Suddenly, sparks shot out from the corner of the room. They hit the book Bo was holding and it fell to the ground.”  
  • Outside of King Roland’s castle, Rori and Ana encounter one of the Raven Guard, a group of skilled fighters. They report back to Griffith, Bo, and Drake. Rori and Ana speak over each other, saying, “He had a red crystal! And he shone it in our eyes . . . Then he was asking us stuff! And we gave him answers! Somehow he made us tell the truth, even though we did not want to. I think the crystal was magic!” 
  • Each of the Dragon Masters has to bond with their dragons, which comes to a climax when their piece of the Dragon Stone glows and they can finally communicate telepathically with their dragon. Bo experiences this, and he says, “Shu is speaking to me —  inside my head!” 
  • Bo’s dragon, Shu, uses her magical powers to remove the evil spell over Emperor Song’s mind. “A misty blue cloud floated from [Shu’s] mouth. Emperor Song looked up at it, terrified. He froze as a light blue mist rained down on his head. The look on his face changed. He looked peaceful.” This brings Emperor Song back to being a peaceful emperor. Shu explains that she has a special power that can “wash away any spell.” 
  • The evil wizard Maldred’s magical red orbs attack Emperor Song’s palace and guards, as well as the Dragons and their Dragon Masters. The Dragon Masters are fighting against Maldred’s forces and are trying to protect Emperor Song and his people, attempting to break the spell. Drake says, “Another red ball zoomed toward Bo. Bam! The orb burst. Worm had used the power of his mind to destroy them. Blast! Shu tried hitting one of the glowing balls with a jet of water.” This sequence continues for a couple of pages. 

Spiritual Content  

  • None 

The Siren Song

Charlotte Mielswetzski and her cousin, Zachary “Zee” Miller, may appear to be typical middle-school students, but their lives are far from ordinary. Only the realm of Greek Gods is aware of their extraordinary adventures. After successfully saving the Underworld from a coup by a god named Philonecron and restoring the lost shadows of their peers, they are forced to return to their mundane existence. Despite their heroic acts, Charlotte is faced with an indefinite grounding, while Zee is treated with extreme caution as if he is fragile. This lack of recognition for their bravery leaves them feeling unappreciated and misunderstood. However, they find solace in each other as they navigate the complexities of the hidden world they have become part of, and they form a bond that grows stronger with each passing day. 

But their newfound sense of normalcy is disrupted when Zee starts dating her best friend and seems to forget every aspect of their adventures. Charlotte becomes perplexed by her cousin’s sudden change in behavior and struggles to make sense of it all. Meanwhile, she must also contend with the challenges of being grounded, which leads to her feeling trapped and restricted in her everyday life.  

Just when it seems like things couldn’t get more complicated, Charlotte’s parents announce that they will be going on a special cruise for spring break. Initially, this appears to be a haven for Charlotte, a place where she can finally escape from the clutches of Philonecron. However, Charlotte doesn’t know Philonecron is the descendant of Poseidon, a powerful god of water who does not take kindly to being made a fool of. As Charlotte sets sail on the cruise, she unknowingly becomes the target of Philonecron’s and Poseidon’s wrath. The open sea that once seemed like a place of safety now becomes a battleground where Charlotte must face new challenges and dangers. 

While Charlotte is off on the cruise, facing her personal battles and grappling with the repercussions of her recent heroic act, Zee falls victim to a nefarious plot orchestrated by Philonecron and Proteus, a cunning and shape-shifting god. Proteus, in his quest to deceive and manipulate, assumes the form of Zee, ensuring that no suspicions are raised about the true nature of his absence. Under this guise, he cunningly delivers Zee into the clutches of Philonecron. Once in the clutches of Philonecron, Zee is immobilized on Poseidon’s luxurious yacht, a vessel that serves as a symbol of the god’s power. Unbeknownst to Zee, his fate intertwines with that of Charlotte’s, as she unexpectedly stumbles upon the captive duo during her final, climactic showdown with Poseidon himself. 

In a twist of fate and a convergence of destinies, Charlotte must confront not only the wrath of Poseidon but also the treacherous plans of Philonecron, all while navigating the tumultuous waters of her personal struggles. As the tension reaches its peak and the stakes grow higher, Charlotte’s path intersects with that of Zee, leading to a high-stakes battle that tests their courage, resilience, and the depth of their bond. 

If readers didn’t fall in love with Charlotte in the first novel, The Shadow Thieves, they will undoubtedly find themselves deeply enamored with her by the conclusion of The Siren Song. Throughout the story, Charlotte’s character shines as a remarkable embodiment of determination and strength, showcasing unwavering resolve and unyielding fearlessness in the face of adversity. Her unwavering determination and indomitable spirit make her an irresistible character that readers will surely cherish and admire. One of her greatest lines in the novel is when she addresses Poseidon before their final battle and says, “I’m afraid you’re just not that powerful, and now everyone here knows it. I mean, really, you’re all scared of him, but I beat him and I’m only in eighth grade.” 

The Siren Song is a captivating read that seamlessly continues the story of Charlotte and Zee’s thrilling and unforgettable adventures within the mythical world of Greek Gods. With its vivid and descriptive prose, the book effortlessly transports readers to a realm where ancient legends come to life, where the lines between reality and mythology blur, and where the power and allure of the Siren’s song beckons. Whether you are a fan of Greek mythology or simply looking for a captivating and immersive reading experience, The Siren Song is an absolute must-read that will leave you craving for more.   

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Charlotte has recurring nightmares of dying in the River Styx. “Charlotte felt a shuffling around her, and before she could react she was being pushed toward the Styx. She wanted to fight back, to turn, to run, but she had no strength, no will. She could do nothing. She found herself on the banks, the heat from the river hitting her face . . . Charlotte stared at [Hades] as she fell into the River Styx.” 
  • Zee, similar to Charlotte, also is plagued by nightmares from the things they saw in the Underworld. “You would think that after the tenth time you dreamed that Harpies were attacking your family while you were chained to a cliff and forced to watch, it would become less upsetting — but, Zee could tell you, it had not.” 
  • Two men kidnap Zee, but he doesn’t go down without attempting to fight. “As panic welled up inside him, Zee kicked his left foot back as hard as he could toward the knee of the man on his left. Instead of making hard contact, his foot kept going past the plane of the leg, plunging right into the watery body. He heard a rippling sound and felt a strange vibration on his arm, and for a moment, the man’s grip loosened. Zee wrenched his body forward violently, bracing himself to kick the other man, when his eyes caught some sort of strange shifting in front of him. Suddenly the man in the aqua suit was gone, and Zee found himself face to face with — himself. Zee’s whole body went slack, his vision blurred, his stomach turned, his skin turned to ice.” 
  • Poseidon displays his rage by killing or torturing anyone who defies or questions him. A waitress that works for him asks him a question and he becomes enraged. “‘I’ll show you,’ he boomed, lifting the trident. The waitress screamed, and in one fluid motion, Poseidon pointed it directly at her. As Charlotte watched, frozen, a stream of green light came shooting from the trident and hit the women.” Poseidon turned her into a goldfish and left her struggling for air, but Poseidon made all his wait staff immortal so she couldn’t die.
  • Charlotte steals Poseidon’s trident which proves a struggle as she tries to harness the power of one of the strongest gods. It also enrages Poseidon causing a fight between him and Charlotte. Poseidon “stopped and, raising his arms above his head, summoned a spinning column of water from the choppy sea. The column moved rapidly toward Charlotte, who took a single step back, clutching the trident to her chest. Then a tremendous force slammed her into the wall of the ship. Her head hit the wall hard, and that was when everything went black. Charlotte awoke to find the trident lying next to her and a cackling Poseidon galloping toward her… Then a tentacle swopped down and crashed into Poseidon’s chariot . . . While Poseidon’s attention was diverted, Charlotte got up groggily and ran around to the stern to make her stand against the Ketos [another god], clutching the trident.” She is aided in her fight by a giant squid named Sir Laurence and Zee. Together, the three defeat Poseidon and take his trident to save Charlotte’s parents who are trapped on the cruise ship.  
  • The cruise ship that Charlotte’s parents were trapped in drifts off course and the damage to the ship causes a gas leak that renders everyone unconscious. Afterward “the ship’s doctor began examining everyone immediately and discovered that everyone seemed to survive the experience unscathed — everyone except one thirteen-year-old girl [Charlotte]. She had suffered a concussion and a lumbar sprain in her back. She also had big black and green bruises all over her body, tiny lacerations on her face, a sprained wrist, small cuts in her hands and knees, blisters on her hands, and bruised ribs. When questioned, she had no memory of what had happened to her — no one could press her, because they didn’t remember what had happened to them, either.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • The beginning of the book explains how Charlotte and Zee are tied to the world of Greek mythology through their last adventure in the Underworld. “The thing is, a few months before, in order to save all the sick kids, Charlotte and Zee had to sneak down to the Underworld — the Underworld as in the Greek mythology Underworld, which is actually real. In fact, as Charlotte learned last fall, much to her surprise all of Greek myths are real — Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, the whole bit . . . Hades is the god of the Underworld, and a minor god named Philonecron tried to overthrow him, and to make an army he’d stolen and enchanted kids’ shadows.” 
  • Charlotte steers a small lifeboat towards Poseidon’s yacht but encounters the monsters Scylla and Charybdis. Poseidon positioned them to prevent mortals from finding the boat.  “The water was moving, at first slowly and then in a rush, into the cave on a the right, and as Charlotte steered the boat away, she saw that there was a smaller cave inside the first. No, no, not a cave, but a mouth. A huge, gaping mouth, rimmed with pointy yellow teeth. There was a monster in the cave — green and around and the size of a house, with pink eyes on six wavering tentacles and an open mouth that seemed to take up its whole body.” Charlotte escapes death with the help of a friend. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Flirting with Fate

Ava Granados’s family has a magical secret. Ava explains, “All the women in the Granados family had this keen, odd, otherworldly ability to pass along blessings to their female descendants. But here was the catch: they could only do so from their death beds.” When her grandmother is dying, Ava and all her sisters rush to their grandmother’s bedside. Unfortunately, due to a flash flood, Ava gets into a car accident and is too late to receive her Nana’s blessing. While her sisters receive their blessings, including an extremely detailed memory and the ability to persuade others, Ava is devastated to not have received her grandmother’s parting gift.  

When Ava attends the celebration of Nana’s life, she looks up and suddenly sees her recently deceased grandmother looking at her. Ava describes, “A figure emerged from the orchard a mere thirty feet away. Wide-eyed, dimple-cheeked, perfect auburn coif. Nana?” When Nana lay dying, she accidentally gave Ava’s blessing to someone else, but because she is now a ghost, she has no memory of what happened. Nana asks Ava to help her restore the blessing to its proper recipient or Nana “will remain a ghost . . . until this is made right.”  

Ava realizes that Nana’s blessing must have accidentally landed on the boy whose car she crashed into. For guarded Ava, befriending some random boy is the last thing she wants to do. Desperate to help Nana reach peace, Ava must find a way to connect with this mysterious boy, Rion, in order to be able to recapture her Nana’s blessing. Nana encourages Ava to open up to Rion and to look within herself. Nana says, “You can always recognize the love when it belongs to you.” Over the course of the novel, Ava learns to trust in herself and her feelings for Rion.  

Many readers will be able to relate to Ava because she is afraid of being hurt or rejected. Ava begins to spend more time with Rion, all the while trying to figure out how best to get her Nana’s blessing back. Nana encourages Ava to look within herself. Nana says, “You can always recognize the love when it belongs to you.”  

Ava and Rion end up connecting over the loss of a parent. Rion’s parents died in a car accident while Ava’s mom left. However, they both blame themselves for their parents’ absence.  Because Rion is able to share his emotions, Ava is able to truly open up about her feelings. Ava explains, “I used to blame myself for my mom leaving too. She left when I was seven, and I used to think if I had been better, nicer, more, then she would have stayed.” Ava is able to comfort Rion by sharing what she has learned. She tells Rion, “We can’t blame ourselves for things we had no control over.” Ava and Rion’s relationship is extremely impactful as it allows them both to share feelings about things that they previously kept inside.  

Overall, Ava’s journey to opening up her heart and embracing things she never thought possible is extremely compelling. Similar to Cervantes’ other work, Enchanted Hacienda, Cervantes continues exploring the theme of magic being inherited through female descendants. Though there is a romantic relationship brewing between Ava and Rion, there is also a major focus on the importance of family, as Ava’s relationship with her Nana is central. Nana encourages Ava to open her heart, saying, “I gave you the gift of an open heart . . . you keep people at arm’s length; you don’t trust. I don’t want you to go through life closed off from love.” This wonderful novel leaves readers with an important message: trust yourself and open your heart to possibilities.  

Sexual Content 

  • Ava’s sister, Carmen, sees a cute guy at a party. Carmen tells Ava, “Look, there are a lot of boys to kiss in this world.”  
  • Ava explains her negative history with relationships. “Relationships always ended badly, with a goodbye and a broken, unmendable heart . . . at least for someone. But last year [Ava] did kiss Bryce Wellington on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland just to get it over with . . . Sadly, it felt unimpressive.” 
  • Ava’s sisters are watching The Notebook in the living room, and Ava remarks, “Clothes were flying off [the characters] and the last thing Ava wanted to do was stand there with her grandmother’s ghost and a fifteenth-century saint while a monster sex scene played out ten feet away.” 
  • Ava believes she and Rion are having a romantic moment, when suddenly, she realizes she is actually kissing his twin brother, Achilles. Ava says, “His lips brushed against hers. She felt a jolt, an alarm that screamed wrong, wrong, wrong.” After realizing she is actually kissing Rion’s brother, Ava “jerked free, horrified, as she wiped her mouth on the back of her hand.” 
  • After pushing Rion out of the way of a falling tree, they kiss. “She felt her body yielding, falling deeper into Rion. And then their mouths met. And Ava was no longer falling. She was dissolving. The forest and the sky fell silent. The world evaporated. There was only this moment.” 
  • Ava kisses Rion at a party. Ava “reached up, bringing his lips to hers. Allowing herself to be swept away in his trust, his warmth, his love.” 

Violence 

  • When Achilles tricks Ava into kissing him, Rion finds out and tackles Achilles. “The brothers rolled across the dirt, all grunts and curses and years of unspent anger.” They finally stop when Ava yells at them. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Characters occasionally use moderate language like shit, damn, and ass.  
  • When Nana suddenly appears as a ghost, Ava exclaims, “Jesus Christ!” 
  • Nana, in her ghost form, splashes water at Ava’s sisters who exclaims, “Holy Mary, Mother of God!” 

Supernatural 

  • Ava explains an example of a blessing in her family. “Ava’s great-grandmother had graced Nana with an angel’s voice. Before that, Nana couldn’t even sing off-key . . . After the death-bed blessing? It was like listening to a Mexican Pavarotti [Opera star] when [Nana] opened her mouth to sing.” 
  • Ava’s sister, Viv, is given the blessing of persuasion by her grandmother. Viv explains, “It’s not like I can go around making people do anything I want them to. Nana said I would just be able to help others see my side of things.”  
  • Ava’s other sister, Carmen, received the blessing of memory from Nana. Carmen says, “I got the blessing of memory, which I guess means that I can recall details, read or hear or see something once and remember it verbatim . . . it’s weird—like having a camera in my head.” 
  • Ava’s Nana appears to her one last time at the end of the book. Ava explains, “And then, as if by magic, the mist parted, just enough for Ava to see Nana . . . [Nana] was young, beautiful, beaming with joy.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • As Ava drives to get to her grandmother’s bedside, Ava prays that she will make it there in time to say goodbye. Ava says, “Listen, God . . . If you get me home with enough time, I’ll go to confession for. . . I’ll go for a whole week.” 
  • Nana is guided in her ghost form by Saint Medardus. Medardus introduces himself as, “I am the patron saint of weather, vineyards, brewers, captives, prisoners, and teeth . . . I hail from the fifteenth century and am [Nana’s] guide, here to help her.” 
  • Ava attends confession, as she promised to do on the night of her Nana’s passing. Ava is nervous about it and says, “What if I see someone I know? What if the priest laughs at me? What if I get it all wrong?” But she ultimately speaks to the priest and after she confesses, the priest says, “Your penance is to say six Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.” 

Midnight Magic

Princess Teresina of the kingdom of Pergamontio is being haunted by a ghost, and the former magician Mangus is called upon to help solve the mystery. But not all is what it seems in a kingdom that outlaws magic and once convicted Mangus for magic. Now, Mangus’s assistant, Fabrizio, joins his master at the castle to discover what secrets lie within the secret passageways. 

Avi’s Midnight Magic is the second book in the series, though the books do not need to be read in order to be understood. The book’s protagonist and narrator, Fabrizio, sets up the story and explains the context well for those who are unfamiliar with the previous installment. Fabrizio is aiding his master, Mangus the Magician, as the magician tries to solve the mystery of the ghost in the castle. Fabrizio is a likable but naïve boy, who wants to impress his master. Mangus is older and more jaded, and he occasionally mocks his young assistant; however, Mangus does like Fabrizio and praises him when he does well. 

The Kingdom of Pergamontio outlaws magic, and it becomes clear early on that Mangus the Magician is more Sherlock Holmes-clever rather than magical. He doesn’t believe that the princess is being haunted, despite Fabrizio’s clear belief in this supernatural specter. Instead, Mangus uses the power of reasoning to uncover the secrets of the castle. Although magic isn’t used, Fabrizio uses tarot cards throughout the book, something for which Mangus mocks him. Much of the book discusses the way faith and reason interact, leaning heavily on reason and logic being the wisest ways to learn about the world. Fabrizio, despite being overly trusting in others, does note that stories and context link together otherwise meaningless facts. To solve the mystery of the princess’s ghost, faith and reason must work together.  

As he spends time wandering the castle, Fabrizio learns about the royal family and accidentally befriends the princess. He also does his best to avoid the king’s terrifying advisor, Scarazoni, who wants Mangus killed, and who is rumored to have killed the missing prince. Each character’s personality, even the classic stereotypes like the evil advisor and brash, manipulative princess, brings further intrigue into an otherwise twisting mystery. The intrigue is fun and fast-paced, and readers will find themselves unable to put the book down. 

For younger readers, Midnight Magic is a great introduction to both the medieval fantasy and mystery genres because it discusses the real and unreal, and the characters are able to uncover the mystery thanks to their ability to come together and use both logic and faith. The tone of the story is mostly serious, though the inclusion of magic adds a hint of whimsy and wonder that helps bring the story to life. Fabrizio notes that stories, though sometimes fictitious, can speak the truth in spirit and emotion rather than content. To help solve the mystery, Fabrizio is able to seek out context to paint a larger picture; this highlights that there are many pieces to a good story, and sometimes they come from the most unlikely places. 

Sexual Content  

  • None 

Violence  

  • Fabrizio notes that there’s a stick near the doorway. He describes it as “a cudgel with which he was supposed to beat away anyone who tried to enter the house.” 
  • Mangus becomes upset with the impossible task of dealing with a ghost, and he “in a pique of frustration, pushes [Fabrizio] away.” He apologizes after. 
  • Princess Teresina explains that she believes the ghost is her brother. She says, “A few months ago he was sent as an emissary to the pope, in Rome. He never reached the holy city. I believe he was murdered and the ghost we saw is . . . his.” There are no further details about his alleged murder. 
  • Fabrizio overhears the royal advisor, Scarazoni, conspiring with the princess’s tutor. Scarazoni confirms that “the prince was killed. There is no more to say.” 
  • The queen and Fabrizio come across the dead body of the princess’s tutor. No further descriptions of the dead body are given, but it is established that he was murdered. 
  • After Mangus, Princess Teresina, and Fabrizio see the supposed apparition, Mangus alerts the king and Scarazoni of the situation. Scarazoni becomes enraged, wanting to prove the princess wrong. Scarazoni “grabs hold of Mangus’s robe at the throat and shoves the old man hard against the wall.” Scarazoni proceeds to yell at Mangus for answers, and Mangus has difficulty speaking as he’s being held at the throat. This scene lasts for about a page. 
  • Scarazoni raises his hand to hit Mangus, and Fabrizio throws himself between them. Fabrizio describes, “When [his hand] came, [it] struck him down.” 
  • Fabrizio finds the kitchen boy, Rinaldo, in the chapel. “The boy’s clothing was torn in many places and streaked with blood. His face was marked with what also looked like blood. All around him were bits of broken candles. A sword was at his side. What’s more, he was writhing about, clutching his left leg tightly.” It is revealed that Rinaldo is the supposedly murdered prince, alive and well, living in the castle. 
  • Scarazoni’s plot is revealed, and he is sentenced “to be executed.” The reader does not see this execution scene. 

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • None

Language  

  • Fabrizio encounters a soldier who wants to speak with the magician Mangus. Fabrizio has some practiced replies that he uses to deter people, but the soldier responds in a mocking tone, “Well spoken, cur.” 
  • Mangus refers to the princess’s tutor as “a dolt.” 
  • Fabrizio announces that he believes in ghosts, and Mangus, unimpressed, says, “You are the living proof that even someone who reads can be a fool.” 
  • Light language such as stupid and fool is used often. 

Supernatural 

  • In the Kingdom of Pergamontio, there is magic as well as magicians. However, magicians are forbidden in the kingdom. Mangus was, “arrested and brought to trial in that same castello, had, under threat of torture, confessed and repented of being a magician.” The book occasionally uses Italian terms like castello, which in this case means castle. 
  • Fabrizio uses tarot cards to help divine events come. He notes, “These cards, he believed, could fashion the future. Since he could envision no life for himself other than as a servant, it was his master’s fate he wished to shape.” Mangus dislikes tarot cards and says “tarot cards are nothing but ignorant superstition.” 
  • The king’s daughter, Teresina, is being haunted by “a terrifying ghost.” Teresina recounts, “What I saw could not, would not, be felt. My hand passed right through it.” 
  • While wandering through the castle, Fabrizio sees the ghost. “It stood – or rather floated – four feet above the ground, with a fluttering radiance that kept within a specific niche. The more Fabrizio stared at it, the more convinced he grew that the illumination contained the shape of a person.” This is the central mystery of the book, and it is later revealed to be a trick of reflections. 

Spiritual Content  

  • Mangus, when summoned by the king, makes “the sign of the cross over his own heart” and says, “The Lord knows I’ll need all the help I can get.”  
  • When Mangus’s wife, Sophia, hears the ominous news that her husband has been summoned by the king, she exclaims, “God have mercy!” These expressions are used occasionally. 
  • The punishment for witchcraft and wizardry is to be burned at the stake, but Mangus escaped this fate. One government figure named Scarazoni states, “If you dance with the Devil, your feet will feel the heat.” These beliefs are strongly rooted in Christianity, which Mangus notes when he proclaims that “I am not now – nor have I ever been – a dabbler in ways of evil. I seek to be a good Christian.” 
  • After seeing the ghost for the first time, Teresina says that she “hastened to say a prayer.” 
  • After speaking to the princess about the ghost, the princess’s lady-in-waiting “joined a nunnery and [had] taken a sacred vow of silence.”
  • Many characters say prayers, but the prayers themselves are not written out. The text usually states, for instance, “Mangus said a prayer.” Further detail is not given. 
  • In the castle, there is a statue of the Mother Mary. It becomes a focal point as it is where the princess sees the ghost several times. 
  • Mangus prays in front of a “portrait of the Blessed Martyr, Saint Stephano, so pierced with arrows.” 

Sprite’s Secret

Eight-year-old Violet didn’t expect to find a portal to the fairy world in her backyard. And she certainly didn’t think she would have to defend the human world from trickster pixies! With the help of her new fairy friend Sprite, Violet sets out to catch Pix, a lively fairy who just wants everybody to have fun – all the time. When Pix’s playfulness starts to cause serious trouble, it’s up to Violet and Sprite to put an end to his fun and send him back to the fairy world! 

When Violet meets Sprite, her whole world changes. Instead of being a normal eight-year-old, Violet has to help Sprite trick the escaped fairies and send them back to the Otherworld. Violet is a likable character who worries about breaking rules. However, once she sees the dangers the fairies will cause, she jumps in to help Sprite. This gets her into some silly situations. For example, Sprite accidentally transports Violet to the mall, “right in the middle of the wishing fountain! She was standing knee-deep in water. A big statue of a fish squirted water on top of her head.” 

Sprite is new at his job as a Royal Pixie Tricker, which adds suspense since readers never know what Sprite will accidentally do. Even though Sprite hasn’t learned all of the ways to stop fairy magic, Violet is patient with him and she never gets angry. Instead, she does everything in her power to help Sprite. For example, to keep Sprite safe, she hides him in her pocket.  

Newly independent readers who love fairies and magic will enjoy Sprite’s Secret. The story uses easy-to-read text and a fast-paced plot with lots of fairy mischief. Black and white illustrations appear on every page, which will help readers visualize the characters and understand the plot. To help readers know when characters are under Pix’s spell, the characters’ eyes turn into swirls and they have silly facial expressions. 

Sprite’s Secret is a fun story that will keep readers interested until the end. Readers will enjoy learning about the fairies’ magic and the different ways to break the fairies’ spells. Both Sprite and Violet are interesting characters who learn to work together to send the trouble-making fairies back to the Otherworld. While the story isn’t unique, readers will cheer when Sprite and Violet trick Pix and send him back to his world. Readers who love fairies and want to add a little magic to their lives will enjoy the Pixie Tricks Series 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Pix throws balls at Sprite. “Sprite flew all around the yard, trying to dodge the balls. He looked exhausted.”  
  • Pix goes to the city park and taps kids on the head, putting the kids under his spell. “Pix jumped up to pat Violet on the head. She swatted him away. When his feet touched the ground, he pushed Violet. She magically flew through the air and across the playground. She landed on the seesaw.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None

Supernatural 

  • Fairies find their way into Violet’s world. One fairy, named Pix, loves to play. Pix traps Violet in a fairy ring when “he threw the dust into the air. The dust whirled around. It formed a big circle and then surrounded Violet.”  
  • To break the fairy ring magic, Violet “quickly took off her hoodie and turned it inside out. Then she put it back on.” 
  • Pix uses fairy dust to make a jump rope magically appear. “The rope was turning by itself!” When Sprite refuses to play, “Pix made the jump rope twirl like a lasso. . . Then Pix pulled Sprite to the ground.” 
  • If Pix “taps you on the head. Then you’re under his spell. You’ll want to play with him all the time.” Even when it’s no longer fun, you cannot stop playing. 
  • To get somewhere fast, Sprite blew pixie dust over himself and Violet. “Then she felt her body tingle like a million tiny feathers were tickling her skin. Then the lights faded and the tingling stopped.” Violent ends up in a water fountain at the mall. 
  • A fairy named Hinky Pink can control the weather. He makes fog to keep Sprite and Violet from finding Pix. In order to break Hinky Pink’s spell, Violet and Sprite have to say his name backward. They say, “Kniop Yknih. Knip Yknih. Ynip Yknih.” Then “a strong wind came. It blew the fog away.” 
  • To send Pix back to the fairy world, Sprite, and Violet trick him into doing work. “Suddenly, a cold wind kicked up. The wind blew all over the playground. . . The wind formed a tunnel in the air. Right behind Pix. The tunnel closed up. Then it disappeared. Pix was gone!’ 
  • Hinky Pink makes a cloud over Violet’s head. “Cold raindrops fell from the cloud.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Siege and Storm

After narrowly escaping the Darkling and his army, Alina and Mal are on the run. They try to make a new life for themselves in Novyi Zem, but they have to be careful. Alina, the Sun Summoner, is hardly inconspicuous wearing her amplifier made from Morozova’s stag as a collar, and the Darkling has spies everywhere. 

But she and Mal can’t outrun their enemies. They aren’t in Novyi Zem long before the Darkling finds them. He captures them and brings them on a ship led by Sturmhond, a famous privateer. The Darkling intends to drag Alina and Mal back to Ravka and continue expanding the Fold. But first, he is determined to hunt down the sea whip – the second in the triad of Morozova’s legendary creatures that can be used as powerful amplifiers – and force Alina to kill it and claim its scales as a second amplifier. This would magnify her summoning abilities and give the Darkling access to even more of Alina’s power.  

But Sturmhond and his crew are not what they seem. When they turn on the Darkling, Alina finds herself with powerful allies and renewed hope. Her new alliance with Nikolai Lantsov, the ever-witty and incredibly charming second-born prince of Ravka, throws her into Ravkan political dealings. Ravka’s precarious position in world politics means the country cannot be saved with Grisha power alone. Alina begins accompanying Nikolai to war council meetings as Ravka attempts to broker peace treaties with its neighboring countries, and she quickly realizes that Ravka was in much greater danger than she ever imagined. But will all of Alina’s efforts be enough to stand against the Darkling, who remains Ravka’s greatest domestic threat? And can Alina and Mal’s strained relationship survive Alina’s growing power and importance? 

If writing a good first book in a trilogy is hard, then writing a good sequel is even more strenuous. But Siege and Storm electrically picks up Alina’s story right where it left off and keeps the momentum going all the way to the end. The plot involves many twists and turns and never lets readers be lulled into a false sense of security. From heart-stopping action scenes to breathtaking exchanges between characters, there is never a dull moment. 

In Siege and Storm, Bardugo fleshes out her world even more, expanding on Ravka’s function as a country by placing it into a larger “world” context. Readers learn about this complicated history along with Alina, so the new information is masterfully woven throughout the story. Alina is a fascinating narrator, and readers get to experience her thought process and understand how and why she makes her decisions. Alina is not a perfect heroine by any means, but her flaws are what make her relatable. Even when she makes mistakes, she strives to fix them, and her self-awareness, compassion, and perseverance are traits that make her an admirable protagonist.  

Siege and Storm brings back all of the fan-favorite characters from the first book in the series, Shadow and Bone. Plus, several new characters are introduced that are equally quotable and loveable. Bardugo delves even deeper into her characters, forcing them to confront their darkest demons and complicating their relationships with each other. As tensions rise and power dynamics shift, Alina and her friends and allies must fight to remain united in the face of the real threats instead of turning against each other and letting their jealousies and vulnerabilities win. Siege and Storm ends on a dramatic cliffhanger that will leave readers excited beyond measure to get their hands on the next (and final) book in the series, Ruin and Rising.  

Sexual Content 

  • Mal kisses Alina harder than usual when they are in private. “His tone was light, but when his lips met mine, there was nothing playful in his kiss. He tasted of heat and newly ripe pears from the Duke’s garden. I sensed hunger in the slant of his mouth, an unfamiliar edge to his need that sent restless sparks burning through me. I came up on my toes, circling my arms around his neck, feeling the length of my body melt into his. He had a soldier’s strength, and I felt it in the hard bands of his arms, the pressure of his fingers as his fist bunched in the silk at the small of my back and he drew me against him. There was something fierce and almost desperate in the way he held me, as if he could not have me close enough.” 
  • During a fight, Mal tells Alina that he distances himself from her to protect her position as a leader. “‘Why do you think people asked me on the royal hunt? The first thing? They wanted to know about me and you.’ He turned on me, and when he spoke his voice was cruel, mocking. ‘Is it true that you’re tumbling the Sun Summoner? What’s it like with a Saint? Does she have a taste for trackers, or does she take all of her servants to her bed?’” 

Violence 

  • Alina has nightmares. “Sometimes she dreamed of broken skiffs with black sails and decks slick with blood, of people crying out in the darkness. But worse were the dreams of a pale prince who pressed his lips to her neck, who placed his hands on the collar that circled her throat and called forth her power in a blaze of bright sunlight.” 
  • The Darkling describes how he will punish Alina if Mal refuses to track the sea whip [a dragon]. “Because every day we don’t find the sea whip, I’ll peel away a piece of her skin. Slowly. Then Ivan will heal her, and the next day, we’ll do it all over again.”
  • The Darkling and Sturmhond’s crew capture and kill the sea whip. “Beads of water flew from [the sea whip’s] mane, and its massive jaws opened, revealing a pink tongue and rows of gleaming teeth. It came down on the nearest boat with a loud crash of splintering wood. The slender craft split in two, and men poured into the sea. The dragon’s maw snapped closer over a sailor’s legs and he vanished, screaming, beneath the waves.” This scene is described over three pages. 
  • After Sturmhond’s crew turn on the Darkling and become Alina’s allies, the Darkling and his army attack them. “Pistol shots rang out. The air came alive with Inferni fire. ‘To me, hounds!’ Sturmhond shouted, and plunged into action, a saber in his hands.” This scene occurs over 10 pages. The following two bullet points happen during this scene. 
  • Ivan, the Darkling’s right-hand man, is killed by Tolya, one of Sturmhond’s crew members: “The fingers of Tolya’s outstretched hand curled into a fist. Ivan convulsed. His eyes rolled up in his head. A bubble of blood blossomed and burst on his lips. He collapsed onto the deck.”  
  • The Darkling unleashes his nichevo’ya, or shadow monsters, on Alina and her allies. “The nichevo’ya reached the masts of the schooner, whirling around the sails, plucking sailors from the rigging like fruit. Then they were skittering down onto the deck. Mal fired again and again as the crewmen drew their sabers, but bullets and blades seemed only to slow the monsters. Their shadow bodies wavered and re-formed, and they just kept coming.” Sturmhond’s crew manages to confuse the nichevo’ya long enough to escape. 
  • Sturmhond tells Alina she needs to be more ruthless, and tells her how he earned the respect of his crew. The first time he ever tried to board an enemy ship, the captain laughed at him and mocked him, so Sturmhond “cut off his fingers and fed them to [his] dog while [the captain] watched.” 
  • Mal spars with other Grisha soldiers in practice fighting matches. “Eskil [a minor character who is Grisha] let out a loud oof as Mal clamped his arms around him, keeping the Grisha’s limbs pinned so that he couldn’t summon his power. The big Fjerdan snarled, muscles straining, teeth bared as he tried to break Mal’s hold. . . Mal tightened his grip. He shifted, then drove his forehead into [Eskil’s] nose with a nauseating crunch. Before I could blink, he’d released Eskil and hammered a flurry of punches into [Eskil]’s gut and sides.” This scene occurs over three pages. 
  • Alina wanders outside the city and encounters the Ravkan peasants who congregate outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of Sankta (or Saint) Alina. They crowd around her, trying to get close to her and touch her. “The bodies pressed tighter, pushing and shoving, shouting at each other, each wanting to be nearer. My feet lost contact with the ground. I cried out as a chunk of my hair was ripped from my scalp. They were going to tear me apart.” Tolya and Tamar, Alina’s bodyguards, rescue her before it’s too late, and Alina is left shaken but uninjured.  
  • The Darkling and his nichevo’ya attack the Grand Palace after Vasily, Ravka’s lazy and arrogant crown prince, double-crosses his brother, Nikolai. Nikolai is Alina’s ally and friend, and he had plans to save both Alina and Ravka. However, many people die in this nichevo’ya attack. Vasily, Alina, and many others are injured. This scene occurs over 13 pages, with several interludes for dialogue.  
  • During the fight, “Vasily lifted his saber high and charged, bellowing with rage. Mal stepped in front of me, raising his sword to block the blow. But before Vasily could bring down his weapon, a nichevo’ya grabbed hold of him and tore his arm from its socket, sword and all. He stood for a moment, swaying, blood pumping from his wound, then dropped to the floor in a lifeless heap.” 
  • Alina attacks the nichevo’ya to save her friends. “Another pack of nichevo’ya descended from the windows, clawing their way toward Nikolai and his mother. I had to take a chance. I brought the light down in two blazing arcs, cutting through one monster after another, barely missing one of the generals who crouched cowering on the floor. People were screaming and weeping as the nichevo’ya fell upon them.” Alina and many of her friends, including Mal, escape, but they don’t know whether or not Nikolai was able to get to safety. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Novyi Zem is the center of the jurda trade. Jurda is a stimulant people use to stay awake. For example, “Zemeni men liked to tuck the dried [jurda] blooms between lip and gum, and even the women carried them in embroidered pouches that dangled from their wrists. Each store window [Alina] passed advertised different brands: Brightleaf, Shade, Dhoka, the Burly.” 
  • When Mal returns from a hunt, he tells Alina about how he and the other Grisha who went on the hunt entertained themselves. “We spent more time every day playing cards and drinking kvas [an alcoholic beverage analogous to beer] than anything else. And some duke got so drunk he passed out in the river. He almost drowned. His servants hauled him out by his boots, but he kept wading back in, slurring something about the best way to catch trout.” 
  • Alina complains about how boring war council meetings are, and Nikolai jokes, “Next time, bring a flask. Every time [Vasily] changes his mind, take a sip.” Alina replies, “I’d be passed out on the floor before the hour was up.” 
  • After missing his guard shift, Mal is found hungover. Alina and Tolya find him the next morning. “[Mal] hadn’t changed his clothes from last night. There was stubble on his chin, and the smell of blood and kvas hung on him like a dirty coat.” 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Siege and Storm involves a magic system known as the Small Science, which is a way of manipulating matter that appears supernatural or magical. Those who can wield the Small Science are known as Grisha; many of the main characters in this novel are Grisha.  
  • The Grisha are split into three orders: Corporalki (the Order of the Living and the Dead), Etherialki (the Order of Summoners), and Materialki (the Order of Fabrikators).  
  • The Darkling and Baghra, Alina’s tutor, are Shadow Summoners, while Alina is a Sun Summoner. These are unique abilities that no other known Grisha possesses. For example, Alina uses her power when Sturmhond steers his ship through the Fold: “Hurriedly, I braced my feet against the deck and threw up my hands, casting a wide golden swath of sunlight around the [ship].” 

Spiritual Content 

  • When she and Mal reach Novyi Zem, Alina prays, “Let us be safe here. Let us be home.” 
  • Ravkans worship Saints, and some have started to worship Alina as a living Saint, calling her Sankta Alina (Saint Alina) and Sol Koroleva (Sun Queen). 
  • Some Ravkan peasants sell relics of Saints, such as fake bones supposedly once belonging to different Saints. Nikolai tells Alina, “There are rumors that you died on the Fold. People have been selling off parts of you all over Ravka and West Ravka for months. You’re quite the good luck charm.” 

The Enchanted Hacienda

Harlow Estrada is an editor who has recently been through a breakup and lost her dream job, as she struggles to decide what her next path in life should be. Harlow’s mother invites her to come to the family farm, referred to as the Estrada Hacienda, and spend time reconnecting with her family and their land.  

Harlow feels out of place, even among her family, as she is the only female member of her family without magical abilities. She explains, “the magic happened to skip me entirely. Unlike my two sisters and pair of primas [cousins] and every other ancestress before me.” Harlow’s mother and aunt decide to leave on a sudden vacation. They leave Harlow to take care of the family’s land, as well as their magical plants. Harlow is determined to use this time to learn more about her family’s legacy and about how she fits into it.  

Harlow is an empathetic character that many readers will be able to relate to, as she struggles to figure out her place in the world, as well as within her family. Harlow emphasizes, “I mean, if I can’t have the Estrada family magic, I still want to feel like there’s significance to my work, my life . . . And now I’m worried I am and always will be unremarkable.” During her return to her family’s farm, Harlow realizes that it is a great opportunity to write something of her own, and she feels deep down that she should write “something magical.” She begins working on a novel inspired by the magic she experiences upon her return to her family’s land. 

Though she’s just experienced a terrible breakup, Harlow happens to run into a mysterious man named Ben, who she later learns is the grandson of Beverly—her late grandmother’s best friend. Tied together by their families and the magic of Harlow’s family farm, Harlow and Ben’s initial spark only grows stronger as they pursue a relationship together. However, their feelings for one another become complicated by Harlow’s important self-discovery, as she realizes she does in fact have magical abilities like the rest of her family. Harlow notices a glimmer in Ben’s eyes when they are kissing and realizes, “Ben Brandt has been magically bonded to me.” 

Desperate to understand how Ben was bonded to her, Harlow returns home to ask her mother for help. Harlow is shocked when her mother tells her, “[Your aunt] and I believe that you are an enchantress,” as Harlow has “lived [her] life believing [she has] no magic.” This exciting revelation leaves Harlow with a difficult decision to make, as she realizes, “I have to break the bond,” and risk magically destroying all of the feelings she and Ben have for one another in the process. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as they wonder what will happen between Harlow and Ben.  

The Enchanted Hacienda is written for adults, many teens will be drawn to it since J.C. Cervantes has written so many young adult novels. Readers who enjoy fantasy, magic, and an immersive setting will love this book, as it heavily focuses on the power of nature and the beauty of Mexico.  

Harlow’s growth throughout the novel provides a reassuring message that everyone has something that makes them special. Through writing her novel, Harlow realizes that her main character is reflective of her own desire to “find her way, to learn to speak the language of the blooms, to unearth the family secret.” Harlow’s writing mirrors her own journey of learning more about herself and her family. Harlow’s completion of her novel and the support of her family emphasizes a major theme in the novel: the strength in family. Harlow summarizes the theme of family when she calls this love, “The kind of love that believes in you, challenges you, walks through fire for you, makes a home for you—the kind of love that transforms you.” 

Sexual Content 

  • When Harlow visits his family’s home in Quebec, Harlow and Ben kiss for the first time. Harlow says, “Drowning in his touch, I drink him in while he kisses me hungrily, urgently like he might never kiss me again.” This passionate kissing scene lasts for about a page.  
  • While waiting out a rainstorm inside an old barn, Ben and Harlow kiss passionately, and it begins to go further. Harlow says, “And then I feel that tug again. Powerful. Alluring. A kinetic spark that ignites every cell in my body . . . Ben’s fingers trace my bare stomach. They hover near my bra, then slip the seam.” Before they go any further, they are interrupted when Ben gets a distressing phone call. 
  • Harlow and Ben spend an intimate afternoon together beside the river.  “I’m [Harlow] still sinking when my hand unhooks the front clasp of my bra. I want to feel his heat against my bare skin.” This scene lasts about two pages, but just before they go further Harlow stops Ben, noticing a magical, “uncommon spark of light” that unnerves her.  
  • Harlow and Ben begin to passionately kiss. Harlow says, “My body is on auto-drive, operating on sheer emotion when I tilt my head back and kiss him. An urgent fiery kiss that is all-consuming.” This scene continues for three pages before Harlow stops Ben, feeling guilty about the bonding magic.  
  • Harlow and Ben are intimate. “We finally break apart near the table, and then [Ben’s] reaching behind me and untying my apron, never taking his gaze from mine as it falls to the floor. I stand perfectly still, savoring the pleasure of his touch.” This scene lasts four pages.  

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Harlow explains that her ex-boyfriend, Chad, is excellent at telling when there is a problem. Harlow explains, “He smells problems like a police dog sniffs out cocaine.” 
  • Harlow is about to attend a party to support Chad, even though she’s just been unexpectedly fired from her dream job. Harlow thinks, “You’re going to pull your shit together . . . pour a glass of merlot, put on a dress, and have the time of your goddamn life.” 
  • After Harlow’s break up, her friend “pulls bottles from her oversize bag and begins to mix a concoction of gin, sugar, champagne, and some red syrupy stuff.” 
  • Harlow enjoys the solitude of the empty hacienda, explaining, “I make a margarita with that aged añejo tequila my mom saves for special occasions before I find a good book in the study.” 
  • While attending a vow renewal of family friends, Harlow sees Ben who “is holding out a champagne flute to me.” 
  • Before Harlow attempts to remove the bonding magic between her and Ben, she takes “a shot of añejo” with her aunt. Harlow says, “’To courage,” and then she “tip[s] the amber liquid back.” 

Language 

  • Harlow and her friend, Laini, often use profanity such as shit, ass, and damn.  
  • Occasionally, Harlow and other main characters use “fuck.” For example, When Chad tells Harlow to wear something “appropriate.” Harlow’s friend says, “I’ll let you go. But only in a dress that screams, ‘Fuck the patriarchy.’” 

Supernatural 

  • Harlow describes her family’s land and how they create magic via plants. “The real family power, though, is in how they combine blooms, or concoct elixirs, using petals, leaves, and stems to create prosperity, love, health, hope, protection, or even to cause separation, doubt, fear, and misery. It’s all so complicated and beautiful and alchemical.” 
  • To help Harlow sleep, her mother uses “dream magic.” Harlow explains, “Then, as I fall back on my pillow and close my weary eyes, I remember that my mother sometimes uses holly for the power of dream magic.” 
  • Harlow discusses how her family is able to use their magic discreetly, explaining, “To the general passerby, it looks like a lovely vintage florist. But to the locals and a select few, this is the spot where you place and pick up your order of magic. After you sign the non-disclosure agreement—that is a modern addition. We operate using a whisper network, whispers carried on the wind of our town, El Viento, named for the goddess who is responsible for its creation.” 
  • To choose which Estrada family member will watch the farm and take care of the magical gardens while Harlow’s mom and aunt are out of the country, Harlow’s mother uses a “white iris petal, known for its faith and virtue.” Harlow’s mom explains, “You will each sleep with this under your pillow tonight. Whoever’s petal turns blue will act as the guardian.” Harlow’s petal turns blue. 
  • Harlow delivers a magical bouquet filled with memory magic that will allow her late grandmother’s friend, Beverly, to magically bond with her husband, William. Harlow explains that the bouquet is infused with memory magic, to help William recapture his memories of his life with Beverly, as he struggles with dementia. Harlow says, “Beverly and William Brandt were bonded at precisely 7:58 p.m. The moon was high, their hands connected, each breathing in the fragrance of the magic as he accepted the bouquet—just as instructed. I knew the moment it happened. [William’s] eyes sparked with flickers of gold, a sure sign that the bonding was complete.” 
  • The bonding bouquet that Harlow delivers to Beverly and William begins to work. Harlow explains, “[William’s] arms around [Beverly] with a familiarity that made me soar with joy and relief and even wonder,” showing that the memory magic has worked.  
  • When Harlow’s mom tells Harlow that she does have magic, Harlow tries magically bringing a flower back to life.  Harlow does “as [mom] says, and in a few seconds, I feel the vibration of life in the hydrangea; slowly I connect a thread of magic to it. The flower pulses as I open my eyes and watch it unfold into a healthy bloom.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Harlow explains the story of how their family gained magical abilities. “The Aztec goddess Mayahuel whispered the given names of each child in the family,” and this instilled their family with power that passed down through the generations.  
  • Harlow says, “A lot of kids learn fairy tales, or stories from the Bible, but in my family? The very first tale you learn and commit to heart is the tale of a young and very beautiful goddess named Mayahuel whose jealous grandmother hid her in the farthest corner of the universe . . . wanting to conceal the goddess’s beauty and power.” 
  • Harlow’s family’s magic began with her great-great-grandmother; “Legend has it that the soil called to my great-great-grandmother when she came through this land on her way to somewhere else. . . the Aztec goddess of agave, Mayahuel, appeared to her and told her that if my great-great-grandmother used the land according to her instructions, the goddess would grant our family’s female descendants an unimaginable magic.” 
  • Harlow reflects on her childhood imagination about her family’s gardens. “I used to imagine the most fantastical night creatures swooping in to pollinate the flowers, to offer their gifts of magic to Mayahuel.” 

The Shadow Thieves

Charlotte Mielswetzski and Zachary Miller are both normal middle schoolers leading different lives. Charlotte is an introvert who finds solace in books and a new kitten. Her cousin Zachary, on the other hand, is a talented soccer player from London who loves living life in the fast lane. 

After people around him start getting sick, Zachary is forced to leave his hometown and move to the United States to live with Charlotte’s family. Charlotte is excited to have her cousin around, but she soon realizes that there is something unusual about him. Strange things keep happening around him, and she is determined to get to the bottom of it. 

One day, when the kids in their town start getting sick with magical illnesses, Zachary finally confides in Charlotte about the phenomenon that seems to be haunting him. Charlotte is both shocked and intrigued by what she hears. She knows that they must take action to stop this mysterious force that is causing so much harm. Together, Charlotte and Zachary embark on a dangerous journey to the Underworld to put an end to the uprising that seems to be at the root of it all. As they navigate through a world of darkness and unknown powers, they learn more about themselves and their capabilities. In the end, Charlotte and Zachary emerge victorious, having saved their town from certain doom. 

The Shadow Thieves is an incredibly captivating and enthralling story that will have readers completely hooked from start to finish. The seamless combination of reality, magic, and Greek mythology creates an immersive and truly unique experience that will transport readers to another world. The author’s masterful use of descriptive language and vivid imagery allows readers to fully visualize the story’s world, making it all the more engaging and enjoyable. 

Furthermore, the author has created a richly detailed world for the characters to inhabit, with vivid descriptions of the landscape, architecture, and culture. The characters themselves are not only expertly crafted but also multi-dimensional, with complex backstories and intricate relationships with one another. This level of depth and complexity enables readers to fully immerse themselves in the story, forming deep connections with each character and becoming fully invested in their individual journeys. For example, Charlotte’s endearing personality and kind heart make her an incredibly lovable character, while Zachary’s fierce determination to save everyone makes him a strong and admirable protagonist. 

The Shadow Thieves is a book that anyone who enjoys a good story filled with adventure, magic, and mythology should read. From the very first page, the reader is immersed in a world that is both intricate and fascinating, with well-developed characters that are easy to connect with. Whether you are a fan of fantasy or simply looking for a great story, The Shadow Thieves is a book that is sure to keep you engaged and invested from beginning to end. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • An older man, named Frank, is mean to a grasshopper by stomping on it. Frank “knew what was about to happen, and he still used all his might to stomp his foot down on the grasshopper with a great thwap. If he hadn’t, perhaps he could have been saved — but he did. So, then and there Frank died killing himself through his own meanness.” His death is not prevalent to the rest of the story but helps to introduce the underworld.  
  • Charlotte’s cousin Zachary, also referred to as Zee, gets a concussion during one of his first soccer games in America. “The goalie for the other team was an All-Metro senior and had a particularly high drop kick, which he aimed at a very burly midfielder, and Zee ran in to make the steal. The two jumped for the ball at the same time, and the midfielder threw his elbows out to push off Zee, headed the ball, then headed Zee. The heads knocked with a sickly thud . . .” This causes Charlotte’s parents to lock Zee inside for a few days.  
  • While Zee is absent, the other school kids come down with a mysterious illness. Nobody knows the cause. “Physical examinations were normal, blood tests were normal, everything was normal. Nothing was wrong with the kids, except they were clearly sick.” 
  • Grandmother Winter, Zee’s grandmother, passed away naturally.  “It would be her last breath, and with it she said two distinct syllables to Zee. . .metos.”  
  • After his grandmother’s death, the kids around Zee get a mysterious illness and he feels as if there is always something following him. One day when he is walking, Zee discovers the strange beings that seem to be the cause of it all. “That’s when he heard the scream. Zee whirled around and ran back around the corner. And then he froze. The boy was no longer alone. Two men, or something very like men, were with him. The man-like men were extremely tall, extremely thin, and extremely pale . . . One of the man-like men were holding the boy, the other was reaching into the boy’s chest, which was giving way like jelly. The boy was screaming. Zee stood, absolutely unable to move, while the second man-like man started pulling out something long and black and flimsy from the boy’s chest. And then the boy stopped screaming and seemed to collapse on the spot.” The boy was now mysteriously ill.  
  • Charlotte and Zee find a man who is being attacked by Harpies. “A man was chained to a cliff, a shirtless man dangling against the rock face, with blood all over his stomach. Three Harpies were circling around his head. And even though she could not see his face,” Charlotte knew that it was Mr. Metos, their teacher. 
  • Philonecron, a god who wanted to control the Underworld, can make Zee do anything he desires because he has some of Zee’s blood. He commands Zee to punch Charlotte. Then Zee “turned toward Charlotte. His face was contorted, his eyes burning, his every muscle clenching. Yet he began to move to her stiffly, slowly, painfully, looking like a very uncomfortable zombie . . . Charlotte could only stare as her cousin stopped right in front of her. He looked at her helplessly, then closed his eyes. Charlotte squirmed again, and the Footman [Philonecron’s creation from Zee’s blood] held her tightly . . . suddenly a truck ran into Charlotte’s stomach, and everything went black for a moment.” Charlotte was okay after the punch but bruised and out of breath. 
  • After taking Zee with him, Philonecron orders the Footman to drop Charlotte in the river Styx. “The Footman stepped forward and death was before Charlotte, and something surged through her veins. She exploded into action. Quick as she could, she leaned over, bit the Footman on the shoulder (gross), kneed him in the stomach (payback) and elbowed him in the neck (for good measure). With a soundless cry of surprise the Footman dropped her . . . She lunged behind him, and with a great breath she pushed, with all her might she pushed, his feet slipped on the rocks, and the Footman went headlong into the Styx.” One of the many Footmen created by Philonecron dies in the Styx and Charlotte escapes.  
  • Zee attempts to kill himself to foil Philonecron’s plan. “If Zee were dead, he couldn’t utter the words of the spell. All he would have to do was run, run as fast as he could. If he could get to the Styx before the Footmen got to him, he could jump in and save the world. . . He was almost there, he was ready to make his break, and then – And then he felt Philonecron’s hand on his shoulder.” Philonecron makes Zee unconscious and uses his power over Zee’s blood to keep him from escaping or killing himself. 
  • Zee realizes that the shadows created by Philonecron have to listen to him because they are bound by his blood. When Philonecron’s shadow army starts to tear down the center of the Underworld to try to overthrow Hades, Zee orders them to attack the Footmen. “Some shadows stretched out like snakes and slithered over [the Footmen], cutting swaths through their bodies. Others grew themselves long legs, which they used to wrap around the Footmen’s waists, and long arms, which they used to pull the Footmen’s arms from their shoulders and smash them to the ground. Others wrapped themselves around the Footmen’s legs and squeezed until the legs fell off.” The Footmen holding Zee captive were destroyed.  
  • Philonecron was not allowed to set foot on the ground near the center of the Underworld because of Hades’ orders. If he does, he will be burned. To get around this, he is carried to Hades’ castle in a chair. In the middle of the fight between the Shadows, Hades, Philonecron, Charlotte, and Zee, Charlotte acts. “Charlotte reached down, picked up the largest rock she could find, held it above her head, and crashed it down as hard as she could on the chair under [Philonecron’s] feet. A great crack splintered through the air – Philonecron’s mouth opened, his eyes bugged, and the chair broke into pieces underneath him. Philonecron went tumbling backward, his bottom hitting the ground, followed by his hands, followed by his feet. A hissing noise emanated from the ground. Philonecron yelled and pushed himself up in the air, ready to dive back onto the litter, but he was too late. His feet started smoking, then they burst into blood-red flame. The fire traveling up to his legs, and screaming, he propelled himself onto the litter — leaving a pile of ash where his legs had once been.” Philonecron’s legs will eventually regenerate, but he is banished to the upper world by Hades. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural  

  • Frank, the older gentleman who died, is brought to the door of the Underworld. “A few moments after Frank’s death the door in the Mall opened. A form slipped through, a messenger of sorts, with winged sandals and a winged hat, and he moves so quickly through the air no one saw him at all . . . He arrived at Frank’s house in moments, where he found the dead man sprawled in his garden . . . And in the blink of an eye Frank and the Messenger were standing in front of the nondescript door.” When they pass through, the door between the two worlds remains open for a short period of time.  
  • Before Zee’s grandmother passed, she had a premonition on what would happen to Zee. “Grandmother Winter took a big breath in, a loud, urgent breath – and then Zee saw something flash in her eyes, and what he did not know was that his grandmother was having her last premonition.” Zee does not know what the premonition is, besides that she told him the word “metos.” 
  • The entirety of chapter nine outlines King Hades, the god of the Underworld. “The underworld was no hell of course; at least Hades didn’t think so. Sure, if you had been really, really bad — like, in the upper one half of one percent of all bad — his department of Eternal Rewards would send you to Tartarus and devise something suitably punitive . . . Hades may have been a Greek god, but that didn’t mean his leadership practices had to be ancient. There were any number of great business minds in the Underworld, and Hades could spend as much time as he wanted picking their brains, sometimes literally.” Under the idea of running the underworld like a business, Hades has different departments and tiers of people who work for him. This allows him to stay in his castle most all the time. 
  • Philonecron, a being of the underworld who wants to create an uprising, notices the shadow of a boy. “Philonecron could not believe what he was seeing. But it was true. There was no denying it. The boy’s shadow was loose.” The shadow being loose, means that Philonecron can steal it and use it. 
  • Philonecron learns he can steal the shadows of children because they are not fully connected to the individual yet. “Philonecron sought out as many children as he could find, Life Essence and all. Much to his delight, he learned that the boy, whom he had begun to think of affectionately as Patient Zero, was no aberration. If shadows were caused by interplay between light and Life, a child’s was still forming. An adult’s was inextricably bound to his body, but a child had a tenuous relationship to his own permanence, and thus, his own shadow.”
  • Mr. Metos, Charlotte, and Zee’s teacher, reveals his true identity so that he may help them in their journey against the Underworld. Mr. Metos says, “I am a descendant of Prometheus . . . We are sworn to protect humans against the whims of their creators. It is quite a task . . . I have Titan blood, yes. A little, though I am mortal. More important, I have the charge of Prometheus. The gods created man but do not help him. They’re like parents who abandon their children. Humanity is nothing but a plaything to them, and now, Philonecron is treating people like lab rats.”  
  • Upon entering the Underworld, Zee and Charlotte find large, bird-like creatures that swoop down at them. “The Harpy – for that is what the woman-faced, eagle-bodied, impossibly enormous, and while we’re at it, quite bad-smelling creature was — was singing a little song to herself.” The Harpies are dangerous and mean-spirited, but they do not ever do any damage to Charlotte or Zee.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Chalice of the Gods

Rick Riordan’s newest installment in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series follows Percy as he navigates applying to college — a college for demigods of course. Percy is a demigod child of Poseidon, which makes him “a child of one of the Big Three” — Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. These three gods were not supposed to “sire any more demigod children.” This means Percy has a “debt . . . for existing” and the Olympian Council of Gods wants Percy to work off this “debt” before he can attend the demigod university, New Rome University. How can he do this? Well, Percy finds out that he needs “three [recommendation letters]. From three different gods.” Percy is frustrated, saying, “I have to do new quests, don’t I?”  

Percy’s first quest for the “divine recommendation letters,” is to help Ganymede, the “cupbearer of the gods,” find his missing chalice. Even though Percy’s quest to find Ganymede’s godly chalice is the ostensible plotline of the book, the novel explores the themes of changing friendship dynamics through the characters of Percy, his girlfriend Annabeth, and his best friend Grover. As Percy and Annabeth begin applying to New Rome University, Grover realizes that he feels left behind. Grover explains to Percy, “I’m worried about you and Annabeth leaving me next summer.” On top of this, Percy discovers that his mom is having a baby, and Percy will be leaving for college soon after his sibling is born. Percy is excited for his mom and stepdad, but he describes, “I was thrilled for mom and Paul . . . But also, it made my own departure seem even more real. I would be leaving just as Mom and Paul were starting a new chapter. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. . . ”  

Percy ultimately decides that he is ready for this next chapter of his life and that leaving for university does not necessarily mean he won’t be able to stay connected with his family and friends back home. Percy reassures Grover that he intends to always keep his best friend in his life. Percy explains to Grover about his dream of growing old: “I told him about the daydream that got me through the wrestling match — of Annabeth and me and him, dozing in the sunshine at a cottage on the seashore.” Percy realizes that, as Annabeth says, “[You’re] never alone . . . We’ll always be here to help you,” even when he ultimately goes away for school. Though Percy is applying to a college specifically for demigods, many readers, especially those in high school, will be able to relate to Percy as he worries about his relationship with his family and friends changing when he goes away for college.  

Overall, The Chalice of the Gods will thrill fans of the original Olympians series, but could also be read alone without confusion. Riordan explains the references to Percy’s previous adventures in a way that allows The Chalice of the Gods to make sense to new readers. For example, Percy references earlier books as he explains how his relationship with his demigod powers has changed. Percy says, “Back when I was ten or eleven, things just happened, and I didn’t understand why. Fountains would come alive. Toilets would explode . . . As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to control my powers, more or less.” 

The Chalice of the Gods emphasizes the importance of acceptance of life’s changes. For instance, Percy and his friends confront Geras, the god of old age, and in order to get back the chalice, Geras tells Percy he must defeat him. Instead of fighting back against Geras, Percy is able to end the battle by hugging Geras instead, explaining, “Getting old might be scary and difficult. It involved things I didn’t want to think about, like arthritis varicose veins, and hearing aids. But if you grew old with people you loved, wasn’t that better than the alternative?” 

Sexual Content 

  • After successfully escaping a dangerous river, Percy kisses Annabeth. Percy explains, “I tried to give [Annabeth] a kiss, but it was difficult, because she started laughing . . . She kissed me back. ‘I love you, too, Seaweed Brain.’” 
  • After Percy obtains the Chalice from Geras, the god of old age, Annabeth “marched up and kissed [Percy].” 
  • At the brunch for the gods at Mount Olympus, Zeus comments while watching Ganymede distribute food and beverages, “I do love watching [Ganymede] walk away . . . ” Hera, a goddess and Zeus’ wife, exclaims, “Could you not at the brunch table?” 

Violence 

  • Percy explains that demigods under eighteen can’t use cellphones because “they attract monsters” who then “show up and eat them.” 
  • Percy sneaks into a river belonging to the river god Elisson and is nearly drowned by the angry god for swimming in his sacred river without permission. Percy explains, “there’s a river god tossing me around at the bottom of his grotto, flushing gunk through my nostrils and mouth, it’s like trying to breathe in a sandstorm. I was blind and disoriented, slamming into rocks, unable to concentrate.” Percy is able to escape by causing the river to shoot him out like a geyser.  
  • Geras, the god of old age and the god who has stolen the chalice, tells Percy that he must “defeat [Geras] in wrestling” or be turned into “a pile of powdered bone.” Percy escapes this fate by embracing Geras and surprising the god.  
  • During the battle, Geras punches Percy. “With his free hand, he punched me in the ribs . . . At least he wasn’t smashing my face into the pavement yet.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Percy’s mom explains, “Why I’m not drinking [wine] tonight.” Then, she reveals that she is pregnant. 

Language 

  • Occasionally, characters exclaim, “Oh, my gods.” 

Supernatural 

  • The ancient Greek gods, heroes, and monsters are all real.  
  • Percy meets the new guidance counselor at his school and realizes she is actually a sea spirit called a nereid. Percy says, “I studied her more closely. Her curled hair was in fact a bed of oysters. Her dress shimmered like a jellyfish membrane.” 
  • Percy explains what is known as “the Mist.” He describes, “It’s weird how the Mist works. Even for demigods who see supernatural stuff all the time, you have to concentrate to pierce the barrier between the human world and the godly one. Otherwise, the Mist kind of just plasters over what you see, making ogres look like pedestrians or a giant drakon look like the N train.” 
  • Percy’s quest is to find a stolen chalice belonging to Ganymede, the cup bearer to the gods. Ganymede explains that the cup cannot fall into the wrong hands because “the goblet makes drinks taste good to the gods. But if a mortal got hold of it . . . one sip from it would grant them immortality.” 
  • Percy and Annabeth communicate through Iris-messages as opposed to using cellphones. Percy explains, “You shine a light through the water vapor to make yourself a rainbow. You throw a coin into it, say a prayer, and voila — you’ve got a shimmering Annabeth sitting next to you.” 
  • Percy uses his demigod abilities as the son of Poseidon. For example, Percy explains how he blasts himself out of a river god’s dangerous river. “My tidal wave had swept the cliff walls right up to Annabeth’s feet, leaving the rock sparkling clean . . . I had apparently given the River Elisson my super-deluxe Poseidon Wash package.”  
  • Percy uses a magical staff from the goddess Iris to fly. Percy explains that the staff can fly him to deliver a message. “Just before the staff had started pulling me upward, I’d been thinking how much I wanted to tell Annabeth I loved her. That was the message.” Percy describes flying via the magical staff: “I wasn’t just flying inside of the rainbow . . . I was becoming part of it, which sounds a lot cooler than it felt. All the molecules in my body dissolved into energy.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • There are references to the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology throughout the book.  

Murder at Midnight

Murder at Midnight presents the story of Mangus the Magician and his newest servant, Fabrizio. The story takes place in the kingdom of Pergamontio, Italy in 1490. Pergamontio is behind the times, and the hapless King Claudio is terribly superstitious in this traditionally Catholic kingdom. When hundreds of identical papers calling for treason against the crown appear overnight, the royal advisor accuses Mangus of witchcraft. Desperate to save his new master’s life, Fabrizio sets out to help prove Mangus’s innocence and discover what created these documents. 

The main protagonist, Fabrizio, is a delightful mix of naïve and brash – he’s never quite sure how he’s going to help Mangus, but he’s determined to try even though he’s likely to make many life-threatening mistakes along the way. In some other characters, this might be trite or annoying, but Fabrizio is ten years old and genuinely doesn’t know any better. He believes in magic wholeheartedly despite Mangus’s repeated explanations about how he’s an illusionist, not a magician. Fabrizio wants nothing more than to save Mangus from certain death – except, maybe, learn magic himself. 

At the start of the novel, Mangus is curmudgeonly and deeply uninterested in Fabrizio, but by the end when Fabrizio and his friend Maria help save his life, he’s just curmudgeonly. Their dynamic involves plenty of Mangus demeaning Fabrizio for not being smart enough, which motivates Fabrizio to want to be a better servant. Mangus is a self-proclaimed philosopher, and he relies on reasoning to make decisions. He serves as a counterweight to Fabrizio whose decisions are motivated entirely by his heart. Although these two never quite see eye-to-eye, they grow a close bond. 

These two characters are well-developed for future installments, and the mystery plot of this first book works well. Fabrizio meets Maria, the daughter of immigrants who bring a printing press to Pergamontio. As the kingdom is somewhat backward, this situation is slowly unveiled through the course of the novel, eventually showing that the scandal runs right to the heart of the king’s inner circle. The plot is interesting with semi-historical elements, and it’s action-packed enough to keep the attention of younger readers. 

Murder at Midnight deals with some light violence as the story is set in 1490s Italy with plenty of intrigue and quite literally backstabbing. The main conflict revolves around Mangus, whose life is threatened since he’s accused of witchcraft and the punishment is death. The book also deals with some Catholic-related themes since Italy is a historically Catholic nation, though the book doesn’t take any stance on religion. Murder at Midnight is a fun introduction to the printing press and censorship. In addition, the dynamic between reason and emotion comes through, showing readers that a balance of the two ideas leads to better outcomes than just reason or emotion separate from each other. Through cooperation and patience, Fabrizio and his various companions can save Mangus and go on with living their peaceful lives – that is, until the next book, Midnight Magic.  

Sexual Content  

  • None 

Violence  

  • When the other servants, Benito and Giuseppe, speak to Fabrizio, they often take swings at him because they don’t like him. For instance, Fabrizio is coerced into telling them secrets from Mangus. When he’s trying to run off, Fabrizio notes that he is “trying to dodge a flurry of blows.” This happens somewhat often. Fabrizio notes that from this particular altercation, he receives bruises from them and nothing more. 
  • The king’s officials, DeLaBina and Scarazoni, threaten to “burn [Mangus] at the stake” and “cut out his heart” if he truly is a magician. Mangus, of course, is not a magician but an illusionist, but the other characters don’t necessarily understand this. 
  • Fabrizio is falsely accused of distributing treasonous papers, and he is taken down to the dungeon to be executed. While there, he nearly trips over a corpse. A soldier asks if the body is dead, and the executioner says, “I hope so. I broke his neck three days ago.”  Fabrizio is not executed, and there is no further discussion about the corpse. 
  • Fabrizio and his new friend Maria find DeLaBina dead in the dungeons. Fabrizio notes, “Beneath lay a man with his head twisted to one side. A ruby-encrusted dagger was sticking out of his back. On the ground, a pool of wet blood was spreading.” This is the extent of the description. 

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • None 

Language  

  • Light language is used frequently. Terms include: fool, stupid, ignorant, blockhead, nasty, ugly, and fat. 

Supernatural 

  • Fabrizio works and lives with Mangus the Magician, who performs, as far as Fabrizio is concerned, “real magic” as well as sleight-of-hand tricks. Much of the book’s main plot deals with how the Kingdom of Pergamontio feels about magic that is rooted in anything other than Christian miracles. Mangus notes that the king “is deeply superstitious” and that he has “outlawed magic.” 
  • One night, Fabrizio watches Mangus perform and decides what is real magic and what is fake, saying that when “a burning candle was pulled from an ear” and “a box changed into a hat” it was for sure “true magic.” 
  • The king of Pergamontio expresses his true fears as to who made the identical treasonous papers that have been distributed throughout the kingdom. He says, “Ghosts? Is that who made the papers? Ghosts can do anything they wish, you know.” DeLaBina expresses that it’s instead magic and someone who “is in league with the devil.” 

Spiritual Content  

  • Since the book is set in 1490 Italy, the characters are notably Catholic. For instance, Mangus notes that “God gave us the gift of reason.” 
  • The kingdom has a curfew, and Mangus tells the crowd that there’s a curfew because “the king loves us and wishes to keep us safe from devils.” 
  • Fabrizio makes an astute comment that catches Mangus’s attention, and Fabrizio attributes it to living on the streets. Fabrizio says, “When you are a homeless orphan – as I was – the teachers God provides are one’s own eyes and ears.” 
  • After seeing a treasonous document, Mangus exclaims, “God protect us!” 
  • Mangus is accused of using magic to make treasonous documents to overthrow the king. As this is 1490 Italy, the king is uncomfortable with modern inventions like the printing press, and identical documents are outside the bounds of imagination. The top prosecutor for the kingdom says, “Such identical replication is impossible for human hands! Not even God – in all his greatness – makes two things alike.” 
  • Fabrizio refers to the treasonous papers against the king as “the devil’s work.” Mangus corrects him that the papers were definitely done by human hands. 
  • The executioner, Agrippa, explains his profession to Fabrizio. Agrippa says that he wanted to be a stonemason, but “the good God willed it otherwise, didn’t he?” 
  • A knock sounds at the door of the execution room, and Fabrizio, who thinks he’s about to be executed, “fell to his knees and began to murmur frantic prayers.”  
  • Fabrizio meets Maria, the daughter of immigrants from Milan who own a printing business and use a printing press. Maria introduces herself as a “printer’s devil” because she’s covered in the black ink she works with, and it’s incredibly hard to scrub off. 
  • When Mangus’s wife, Sophia, learns that her husband has been arrested, she “clasped her hands in brief prayer.” 

Saving the Sun Dragon

Drake and his fellow Dragon Masters are back in the second installment of the Dragon Masters Series. This book follows Dragon Master Ana and her sun dragon Kepri. One day, after witnessing another mysterious magic red orb in the castle, Kepri falls ill. In order to save Kepri, Ana decides to take Kepri to their home. Ana and the Dragon Masters make many discoveries as they journey to Ana’s home, see the pyramids, and fight off a band of thieves, making for an action-packed story! 

The first book in the series, Rise of the Earth Dragon, set up some key plots that are revisited and expanded upon in this book, like the red orbs and King Roland’s unusual obsession with dragons. For instance, the Dragon Masters learn from Griffith and his friend, a fellow wizard named Diego, that the magic red orbs likely come from the evil wizard Maldred. This links the books together and builds tension. West ties up loose ends from book one while still leaving enough inquiry to pique young readers’ interests. However, because the plots build on each other, the books should be read in order.  

The Dragon Master Series bases the characters on common fantasy stereotypes. The Kingdom of Bracken draws information from King Arthur’s England, and in many respects, Griffith is similar to the famed sorcerer Merlin. Likewise, Saving the Sun Dragon follows Ana and her dragon Kepri. This explains their backstories and gives each character more definition. Ana and another Dragon Master, Bo, are the two non-white Dragon Masters. Ana’s background is clearly based on Egypt and shows the pyramids and a desert. These basic cultural differences are not very creative and are typical of the fantasy genre, but young children will find the different landscapes and people interesting. 

Regardless of the backstories, the Dragon Masters still exhibit empathy for each other and for the dragons as they try to figure out the dragons’ magic powers. In addition, they continue to grow as friends. For instance, Ana and Drake both note that when Kepri meets her twin dragon, Kepri is suddenly renewed with energy. The Dragon Masters see Kepri’s struggles and admit that they also miss their own families much like Kepri, and this allows for them to become even better friends. Although the characters come from different places, they are friends and understand each other’s struggles. 

Saving the Sun Dragon is a solid continuation to the Dragon Masters Series. The story continues to unpack the mystery of this fantastical world, and young readers will enjoy the excitement and adventure that West unpacks. The black-and-white illustrations by Graham Howells are fun and help convey the whimsical nature of the world and feature on nearly every page. Young readers will find themselves liking the characters even more as they learn about them. Readers will discover that adventures are wonderful, and homesickness is normal. In addition, the book shows that there are plenty of adventures to experience, but you should never forget your roots. 

Sexual Content  

  • None 

Violence  

  • The Dragon Masters reunite with their Sun Dragon, Kepri, with her Moon Dragon, Wati, when a group of robbers burst into the pyramid and attack. “Wati quickly sprang into action. He shot a black beam of light from his mouth. The beam hit the first robber in the chest and knocked him down.”  
  • During the fight sequence, an arrow is shot at Kepri, and Ana “jumped in the path of the arrow. . . but before [Drake] could reach her, the arrow stopped in midair—inches from Ana’s face.” It is revealed that Worm used his mind powers to stop the arrow. Worm then destroys all the robber’s weapons. 

Drugs and Alcohol  

  • None 

Language  

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Ana and the other Dragon Masters live in the Kingdom of Bracken, and they all have their own dragons and can use magic. They are being taught this magic by the king’s wizard, Griffith, who consistently references the magical entity known as the Dragon Stone. This item presumably gives the dragons and the Dragon Masters their powers. 
  • Griffith the wizard does magic from time to time. For instance, the fire dragon, Vulcan, sets fire to things on occasion. In these situations, Griffith “pointed his finger at the fire. Water flowed from his fingertip, and the flames went out.” 
  • Kepri the Sun Dragon falls ill. Her Dragon Master, Ana, feeds her a magical “healing potion” hoping to make her better. This does not work. Kepri is healed when she is reunited with her Moon Dragon, as she is a Sun Dragon. 
  • Each of the Dragon Masters has a piece of the Dragon Stone around their neck. When Drake’s stone glows, he can mentally communicate with his dragon, Worm. The other Dragon Masters cannot do this magic. Drake’s dream is described: “He dreamed of rivers and big tombs shaped like triangles. Then the desert sky turned green. Drake woke up. The green Dragon Stone around his neck was glowing brightly . . . Then he heard Worm’s voice inside his mind. Come now!” 
  • Worm helps the Dragon Masters teleport.  “Worm’s body began to glow. Drake wasn’t sure why, but he knew just what he had to do. He put one hand on Worm’s snout and one hand on Kepri’s tail. [The Dragon Masters] all laid their hands on Worm.” From there, they disappear in an exploding green light. 
  • Ana’s piece of the Dragon Stone glows, and she hears Kepri’s voice in her head. Ana says, “Kepri wants to come back to be with her brother one day, just like I want to come back to my family. But until then, she wants to stay with me in the kingdom of Bracken.” 

Spiritual Content  

  • None 

The Clockwork Crow

A magical story of snow and stars, The Clockwork Crow is a mysterious gothic tale set in a frost-bound Victorian country mansion. On her way to her new home, orphaned Seren Rhys is given a mysterious package by a strange and frightened man; she reluctantly takes the package with her. The package contains miscellaneous gears and parts that build a small, metal crow. As Seren adapts to her new life at Plas-y-Fran, she is thrust into a mystery about a young boy who vanished on Christmas Eve a year before. The mansion servants refuse to answer Seren’s questions, so she decides to investigate on her own. Who are the family who must not be spoken of, and can Seren find the boy, Tomos, before time runs out? 

Twelve-year-old Seren Rhys has lived in an orphanage for most of her life. After the death of her great-aunt, Seren discovers that she will be moving in with her godparents who have a mansion in Wales. She dreams of a fabulous life with lots of joy and warmth, but that is not the reality awaiting her. The servants of the house speak about the family in hushed whispers, and Seren’s curiosity gets the better of her. With the help of her magical Clockwork Crow, she uncovers a great mystery regarding the youngest boy of the family and decides it’s up to her to save him. Despite being afraid, Seren decides, “I’m not going to let that stop me.” 

The author crafts an elaborate fantasy from deceptively simple language. The book is written in third person and follows Seren’s journey throughout. Many readers will relate to Seren’s curiosity and her desire to learn more about the household’s secrecy. The supporting characters are fascinating yet ambiguous, likely from being poorly revealed. This is perhaps a casualty of the quick pace that the book has. The deadened manor provides the perfect backdrop for magical forces. Together, these elements create an engaging story that draws readers to try to solve the mystery with Seren. 

The importance of belonging is highlighted since Seren has been alone for most of her life and dreams of the “traditional” family that others have. When she arrives at Plas-y-Fran, she discovers that the family has been torn apart following the disappearance of their son, Tomos. Seren reflects that saving him at her expense would be acceptable, because “[Tomos’] mother and father were longing for him. But no one was longing for her. No one would care if she never went back.” She has always felt like an outsider, after living in an orphanage for the beginning of her life and then joining a family that already had a child. Through her adventure, Seren learns the value of belonging and discovers that she is loved.

The Clockwork Crow is enjoyable to read, although the story is a bit rushed. The novel consistently moves forward and never feels stagnated. At the beginning of every chapter, there is a short riddle that is relevant to the chapter, although it is not one that readers can solve. An example riddle is “Beak and wing and eye and claw. I’m not who I was before.” Fans of fantasy and mystery will enjoy The Clockwork Crow, but it can be enjoyed by all readers thanks to its message about self-discovery and found family. Seren feels lonely at times but manages to establish a family with her godparents after finding their son and reuniting the family. This book is the first in the Clockwork Crow trilogy; if readers are interested in continuing the story, they can read The Velvet Fox to follow Seren’s journey.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • The housekeeper consistently calls Seren an “impudent little girl.” She also puts Seren down frequently. For example, the housekeeper says Seren has “appalling manners.”

Supernatural

  • The Clockwork Crow is able to talk and move independently once the key is cranked. The Crow claims to be “as real as [Seren]” when asked if the events were just a dream.
  • The Crow was confined to clockwork when a witch cursed him by saying, “until you give up the one thing that means the most to you, you’ll be a black crow forever and ever.” Prior to the curse, the Crow used to be human.
  • There is a fairy family of “magic, secret creatures, who can never get older, can be beautiful or ugly and twisted.” Every character in the book is afraid of the Fair Family and speaks about them in hushed whispers.

Spiritual Content 

  • The household attends church sermons every Sunday, and the housekeeper tells Seren “this is the Day of the Lord and we must be respectful” regarding the tasks and activities expected of her for the day.

A Fairy’s Gift

No one believes in fairies more than the Never Girls—Kate, Mia, Lainey, and Gabby. The four best friends can visit Never Land anytime and have adventures with Tinker Bell and the rest of the fairies.

But eventually, most people grow up and forget about fairies. And fairies need people—especially children—to believe in them. Without belief, a fairy’s magic cannot exist.

When the girls find out that widespread disbelief is threatening the fairies, they must find a way to make their families and neighbors believe again—and save the magic of Pixie Hollow. But how can they convince people to believe in something they cannot see?

Grab a cup of hot chocolate and curl up with a copy of A Fairy’s Gift, the perfect book to get you into the holiday spirit. When Mia’s cousin, Angie, visits for the holidays, Mia is surprised that her fairy-loving cousin no longer believes fairies are real. The fairies need all the Never Girls’ help, but Mia is spending all her time doing grown-up stuff with Angie. Soon, the other Never Girls wonder if Mia has caught the Disbelief as well!

Two of the fairies join the Never Girls in the Clumsies’ world and learn about the magic of winter—snowball fights, hot chocolate, and toy donations. While the joy of the holidays is apparent, the fairies’ plight adds suspense and increases the worry about Mia’s grown-up behavior. Nevertheless, Mia’s absence allows Gabby, the youngest of the girls, to shine. Gabby is determined to help children believe in fairies, and her optimism is contagious. The happy conclusion will leave readers believing in both Christmas magic and fairy magic. 

The chapter book has ten short chapters. While the short chapters and illustrations make the story accessible to readers, younger readers may need help with the vocabulary. Each page has a festive red border to add more holiday cheer. Cute black and white illustrations appear on every one to four pages, which helps bring the fairy magic to life. Plus, the illustrations will help readers visualize the story’s plot.

A Fairy’s Gift is a fun holiday read that will remind readers that the holidays aren’t about gifts, but about spending time with family and believing in magic. Readers who want to cuddle up with a good book with holiday cheer should also check out these picture books: Bear Stays Up for Christmas and Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • During a snowball fight, a fairy gets hit. “The snowball knocked the fairy clean out of the air. She landed headfirst in the snow. . .” The fairy is not hurt, but she “looked a bit stunned.”
  • One of the fairies goes around and pinches people. The pinch feels like a sting.
  • When the magic of Prilla, one of the fairies, starts to fade, she couldn’t fly as fast and a hawk “caught her. It tore her wing—she was lucky to get away.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • None

Supernatural

  • Prilla can travel to the Clumsies’ world when she blinks. 
  • To stay strong, fairy magic needs children’s belief. Prilla helps “children believe in magic. And in turn, children’s belief is what keeps fairy magic alive.” 
  • When the fairies’ magic begins to fade, Prilla explains that “Every time a child stops believing in fairies, a fairy’s magic fades. Usually more children come along to keep the balance.” When too many children stop believing, the fairies lose their magic and their ability to fly.

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Arazan’s Wolves

When Maddie and Will get a message that dire wolves—huge misshapen changelings, much larger than regular wolves—have been marauding and attacking through the hills and valleys of Celtica, the Rangers are sent on a mission to unravel just who or what is behind these dangerous creatures.

Will isn’t anxious to return to Celtica, especially approaching the Rift. And as they travel, Maddie must grapple with their growing dealings with the spiritual and supernatural. But they are Rangers—and they will do whatever it takes to accomplish their mission.  

After they receive some offers of help from locals, Will and Maddie learn the name of the sorceress behind these strange and dangerous attacks: Arazan. On the way to take her down once and for all, the Rangers must face dire wolves, Wargals, dark magic, and more. As Arazan’s desires have led her to the most evil of powers, Will and Maddie must form a plan of action that can outwit not just the sorceress, but the darkest forces from the beyond. 

Arazan’s Wolves takes Will back to Celtica, where Will battled evil in The Burning Bridge. However, Will has no personal reflections about the previous events nor does he explain the significance of the places he returns to. Thus, the book misses an opportunity to show Will’s personal growth from a young man to a seasoned Ranger. Because of this, readers unfamiliar with The Burning Bridge will not understand how the two books—Arazan’s Wolves and The Burning Bridge—connect.  

Readers who love The Royal Ranger Series because of the action and adventure will be disappointed. Much of the book describes Will and Maddie’s travel to Celtica, which lacks excitement. Along the way, they don’t interact with anyone of significance other than Eveningstar, whose character lacks depth. Eveningstar, despite having magical powers, does little to aid Will and Maddie. Instead of adding interest to the story, Eveningstar leaves the reader questioning her motives and why she didn’t try to defeat Arazan herself. 

Unlike the previous books in The Royal Ranger Series, Arazan’s Wolves includes acts of magic such as summoning demons, pentagrams, and telepathic conversations. This deviation from the action and adventure may take readers by surprise. To make matters worse, for the first time, Will kills a Wargal, not out of necessity, but in order to instill fear in the other Wargals. This is so out of character for Will that some readers may be upset by the events.  

Unfortunately, Arazan’s Wolves has too many plot holes, lacks character development, and includes random supernatural elements. All of this adds up to a story that will disappoint many fans of The Rangers Apprentice Series. Readers ready to move on to another epic adventure should read Rise of the Dragon Moon by Gabrille K. Byrne, The Explorer Academy Series by Trudi Trueit, and The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • A direwolf attacks three brothers. The two younger brothers run, but Owen—the oldest—has difficulties. “His joints were stiff. His muscles were sore and weary after a day of hard labor in the fields. He heard the quick rush of the dread creature behind him as it bounded in pursuit, heard its feet growing closer, claws scrapping and rasping . . . Ahead of him Dai and Gryff heard a long, drawn-out scream from their older brother as the direwolf ran him down, dragging him to the ground. Then the screaming stopped.” 
  • A group of thieves block a road in order to steal from people passing by. They try to stop Will and Maddie, so Maddie uses her sling. “The self-styled guardians of the road heard a brief whizzing sound, then a loud CLANG! as the lead slug slammed into the center of the helmet, just above the nasal. The swordsman staggered back . . . then fell.” Will makes the thieves take off their shoes and clothes before they flee. 
  • A Celtic minder who speaks out against Arazan (a suspected sorceress), ends up dead. “One morning he was found in his cottage, sitting at his table, eyes wide-open and dead as a stone. There wasn’t a mark on him.” The villagers assumed Arazan killed the man. 
  • As Will and Maddie are traveling, a direwolf attacks. “A huge shape appeared at the top of the rock wall to their left and launched itself at Will, snarling and snapping as it came. . .” Will’s horse, Tug, doesn’t panic and instead, “he swerved and bounded sideways toward the attacker, moving under its leap. . . Its jaws, ready to tear Will’s throat and upper body, snapped harmlessly at empty space. . .” 
  • During the attack, Tug fights back. The horse “swung around and delivered a thundering kick with his hind legs. . . His iron shod hooves crashed into the wolf’s side, cracking three ribs and hurling the huge animal across the clearing to smash into the rough rock wall behind it.” The wolf tries to flee, but the horse Bumper “smashed into the wolf’s muzzle, lacerating the skin and breaking bone beneath it.” The fight between the direwolf and the horses is described over three pages. 
  • While searching for Arazan, Will and Maddie are surprised by Wargals. “As the three beasts began to charge forward. . . the two bows came up and each of them snapped off a shot. . . Both shots went home, and the two Wargals tumbled onto the sand track.” 
  • The third Wargal tries to run, but “he screamed in pain as Will’s second shot struck home on the lower leg, causing him to stumble.” The Wargal runs but is followed by Will and Maddie.  
  • At one point, the Wargal “switched tactics and he turns to attack Maddie with his spear. He lunges at Maddie several times and is able to disarm her. The Wargal “bared his fangs again and uttered another blood-chilling snarl. . . He drew his spear back for one final lunge. Then jerked forward, a look of surprise replacing the triumphant snarl on his face as Will’s arrow slammed into his back. . .” The Wargal dies, but Maddie is uninjured. The scene is described over three pages. 
  • Will and Maddie hide from a group of Wargals. As they pass by, Will “drew back and released, before freezing to the side of the rock once more. . . The speeding arrow slammed into the rearmost Wargal, sending him staggering forward with a cry of pain and shock.” The Wargal dies, but the others flee for their lives. Will lets them go because, “I want them frightened. I want them reluctant to search for us and ready to disobey Arazan.” 
  • As Will and Maddie get closer to Arazan’s hideout, they see direwolves. Will shoots one with an arrow. The arrow “slammed into the creature’s chest a second before Maddie’s shot reached its target. The massive impact threw the direwolf back onto its rear legs, rising its body off the ground and laid it open for Maddie’s arrow. . .” The two rangers look at the wolf’s body. “Its eyes were open and glazed, and its tongue lolled out of its mouth over the long, yellow canines.”  
  • Arazan calls up a demon named Krakotomal. The demon had “the body of a serpent, with huge, batlike wings covered in scales. And that dreadful, horrifying face, jaws open to reveal fangs like knives.” When the pentacle becomes broken, Krakotomal is able to attack Arazan. “She cowered back, but there was nowhere for her to go. Krakotomal was upon her in one sudden leap, folding his scaly wings around her and tearing her with the cruel claws on his powerful hind legs. . . Blood was flowing from several deep wounds in her legs . . .” 
  • After Arazan is injured, the demon tries to convince Will to allow him to go through the pentacle. However, Will shoots an arrow that “covered the few meters to Krakotomal in a heartbeat and struck the demon high on his body, punching through the scales that protected him and burying the silver warhead deep in his flesh.” As Will continues to chant the banishing spell, both the demon and Arazan disappear “leaving only a swirl of green smoke and the smell of burned sulfur behind them.” 
  • After Arazan disappears, her minion Marko attacks Will. During the fight, Will’s saxe knife “bit into the hard leather. . . penetrating easily through the leather and then the flesh behind it. Marko felt a savage flare of agony as the saxe went home. . .” Marko dies. The fight is described over two and a half pages. 
  • The last direwolf ambushes Will. “Then the wolf was upon him, driving him back with the force of the huge leap from the rocks, snarling and snapping in rage. . . Using the strength of both arms, Will pushed back against the wolf, forcing its head back away from him. . . It pulled back. . . and provided Maddie with a near-perfect target.” Maddie shoots and the arrow penetrates “deep into its mouth, then reaching further still, severing the spinal column where it reached the brain, killing the wolf instantly.”  

Drugs and Alcohol   

  • Maddie and Will go into a tavern that serves ale. However, the two do not drink any. 
  • After seeing a demon, Maddie is upset and is given an herbal sleeping draft so she can sleep through the night.

Language 

  • When Will and Maddie kill two direwolfs, Will says Arazan will “only have one left, and thank Gorlog for that.” Gorlog is a Scandian god that is referred to in the Brotherband Series

Supernatural 

  • Arazan is a necromancer who tries to make contact with the dead. According to rumor, Arazan “was conducting unholy rituals late at night. They said she was trying to raise the spirit of the Lord of Rain and Night.”  
  • Arazan uses dark magic to try to make contact with a demon.  
  • Eveningstar is a healer who knows how to use herbs, potions, spells, and the black arts. “For the past year or so, she’s been trying to keep Arazan and her vile creatures in check.” Eveningstar can also “conjure up a fog to confuse” others. 
  • Eveningstar uses magic to show Arazan’s behavior to Will and Maddie. Eveningstar “drew a circle in chalk on the flagstone floor . . . Then she handed each of them a bunch of fresh rosemary on a long leather cord, which she instructed them to place around their necks.” Eveningstar sets up a brazier and heats stones. Then she begins chanting, “Ikab bledsr rimanatof. Ibak nimendir bledsr.”  
  • As Maddie stares at the hot coals, “shapes began to appear inside the cloud.” Maddie sees a demon. “The serpent body is black, along with the scale-covered, batlike wings. . . [Its face] was black-green, with glowing, evil eyes and a fringe of broad, triangular spikes around its neck. As she watched in horror, it opened its mouth to reveal huge, blackened fangs set in multiple rows inside its jaw.” 
  • Eveningstar writes down incantations and gives them to Will. “One is a spell of banishment . . . and this one is a shielding spell, to conceal you. . .” Later, Will chants the spell, “Ikab jandlar remko. Ikab jandlar simet. Ikab jandlar, jandlar ikabl” and banishes the demon. 
  • In order for Arazan to control the demons, she needs silver. Eveningstar explains, “Ordinary weapons won’t harm him. But weapons made from silver will be deadly to him.” 
  • Rangers have a unique connection with their horses. This connection lets them communicate. Will explains, “If it’s in my mind, he knows.” 
  • When Will concentrates, he can contact Eveningstar (a sorceress) with his mind. The first time he tried, “he felt, rather than heard, a voice in his mind, like the silken touch of a spider’s web. . .”  
  • Eveningstar gives Will and Maddie rosemary to hang around their necks to ward off evil and to keep Arazan from using her mind to watch them. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None

The Lost Girl

When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark. The twins have always had each other’s back and their bond was so strong that they never felt alone. They shared their looks as well as their thoughts and feelings. Lark was the extension of Iris and vice versa, and they were always better off together. 

However, things change when they are put in separate classes in fifth grade. They are in unfamiliar surroundings without their other half. For the first time, they have to make new friends and acquaint themselves with new teachers, new routines, and new challenges. Despite the grownups telling them that this is the best decision, Iris and Lark do not agree.  

Iris’s heart aches because she misses her sister’s constant presence. She had always been confident with Lark by her side, but now she has to navigate the scary and unfamiliar world of fifth grade alone. Lark, on the other hand, finds herself hiding in a world of her own as she struggles to adapt to the changes. The once inseparable twins now feel the weight of their individuality. 

At the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them. Things both great and small go missing. The girls can’t help but feel a sense of unease as they notice their world changing. When Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it is up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe. Iris starts paying attention to her surroundings and taking note of suspicious activities. With each passing day, Iris becomes more determined to protect her sister and unravel the mystery of the missing things. 

The Lost Girl is an incredibly touching story that celebrates the unbreakable bond of sisterhood, and the beauty of individuality. The story follows two sisters, Iris and Lark, as they navigate the challenges of life, and come out on the other side stronger and more resilient. The reader experiences the twins’ journey and is drawn into the world of Iris and Lark by their intricate relationship. Since the story is told from the third-person perspective, the narrative style creates a sense of mystery around the identity of the speaker, which adds an intriguing element. While this narrative style has its benefits, it can also be confusing at times. For instance, the speaker seems to have knowledge of the girls’ internal thoughts, which can sometimes make it difficult to discern who is thinking or talking. However, black and white pictures appear once each chapter and provide a visual element that helps readers fully immerse themselves in the story. 

Throughout The Lost Girl the reader is reminded of the transformative power of change, and how even the most difficult situations can lead to personal growth and a greater understanding of yourself. However, The Lost Girl could benefit from a more developed and connected plot. The mystery and magic elements are not clearly explained which may cause confusion and disconnect readers. While the beginning seems to crawl along at a snail’s pace, the imbalance between the explanation behind the mystery and the deep development of the main characters leaves the ending feeling rushed.  

The Lost Girl presents a heartwarming tale about the bond of sisterhood and the journey towards self-discovery. While the plot development has some flaws, specifically with the integration of mystery and magic, the novel still offers wonderful life lessons.  Additionally, the themes of individuality, family connection, and the power of friendship are sure to strike a chord with many readers. Readers longing for books similar to The Lost Girl should also read the Legend of Eerie-on-Sea Series by Thomas Taylor and Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Mr. Green, the man who owns the antique shop, invites Iris to stay with him. When she refuses, Mr. Green tries to force Iris to stay. Before anything can occur, Duchess, Mr. Green’s cat, comes to Iris’s aid. “A yowling sound—then Mr. Green yelled, ‘Ow!’ Duchess was at his ankle, biting. Iris wrenched free from his grasp and ran forward, and then heard another yowl, this time in pain. Mr. Green kicked the cat. Then his hand wrapped around her shoulder again, and the next thing she knew, she was being thrown into the doorway marked office.” Duchess and Mr. Green remain mostly unharmed, but Iris is left trapped in the room. 
  •  Mr. Green attempts to get close to Iris because he plans to use magic to transform her into a doll. Iris “dove over to the shelves with the jars of magic, grabbed one, and hurled it at Mr. Green. He yelled and ducked out of the way. The jar exploded on the wall, and the magic inside splattered and oozed and steamed and hissed, and Mr. Green slapped his hands over his face and screamed.” Iris temporarily halts the attack, but wounds Mr. Green with a magic substance.  
  • The girls from Camp Awesome, the after-school camp Iris attends, attempt to save Iris from Mr. Green. Unfortunately, the girls are no match for the size and strength Mr. Green possesses. Mr. Green “swore, then threw Hannah across the room and kicked Lark in the stomach. She stumbled backwards. Iris dove to her.” Hannah and Lark are wounded slightly. The girls are left trapped listening to the demands of Mr. Green. 
  • Iris agrees to go with Mr. Green as long as he allows the other girls to go free. To ensure she doesn’t leave, he binds her to a chair. Mr. Green “growled at her. And then he duct-taped one arm to the chair. Then the other. Then he bound her ankles. And then her mouth.”  
  • The girls continue to fight Mr. Green and they use their intelligence to outwit him. They formulate a plan to shove him into the magic well. “Then several things happened at once. Mr. Green pushed the door open. As he did, Lark jumped backward. A crow let out a cry and dove toward him. He whirled around, and out of nowhere Duchess came barreling forward, right toward his ankles. He bobbled. Lark thrust out her hands and pushed. He slipped backward. And he fell.” The girls defeat Mr. Green and escape. After he falls into the well, it is presumed that he is dead and unable to come back up from the magic water within. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Tommy Whedon, Lark’s sworn enemy, makes fun of Iris in the hallway. “You’re a psycho, you know that?” Iris retaliates by calling him a mole rat and blowfish.  
  • Tommy Whedon became Lark’s enemy when he called her crow girl. “And at recess, Tommy told Iris she was nasty and ugly and bossy and no one liked her, and Lark didn’t talk for the rest of the day. Somehow their parents got wind of the ‘mole rat’ comment and Iris got a talking-to about name calling. Meanwhile people whispered Freak and Crow Girl at Lark for the rest of the year.” This nickname pops up a couple of times.  

Supernatural  

  • Lark is imaginative and believes there is magic in even the most mundane things. Lark believes her teacher to be an ogre because he made fun of her and seems out of place as a fifth-grade teacher. “‘I am pretty sure,’ [Lark] said, voice intent, ‘that Mr. Hunt is an ogre’…To Lark an ogre took great pride in his collection of children’s hearts and when the other ogres would come over for dinner (usually ogres serve yak to guests) he would show his treasure, boasting about how he had the finest collection in the land. He’d take the jar off the shelf and tell the great and glorious story of the capture of the child the heart once belonged to.” This is a thought Lark brings up repeatedly throughout the text and she continues to theorize about why she believes Mr. Hunt is an ogre. 
  • Iris sees a cat, Duchess, travel thorough a clock.  
  • Duchess leads Iris behind a curtain where Iris discovers a whole house. Not only is it almost the size of a mansion, but there are remarkable pieces of art scattered throughout. Mr. Green says, “I told you I had magic. You kept saying it was science.”  
  • Mr. Green use magic to make a compass using water and create a battery out of a potato.  
  • Mr. Green gains power by accessing wells of magic. He shows Iris a new well that is hidden inside his mansion. “Iris shook her head slightly as if to clear it. It was a well of magic. Magic was a thing, something you could scoop up like water.” Iris has a hard time comprehending the magic.  
  • Inside Mr. Green’s office, Iris discovers more magic. “One wall of shelving was lined with wooden carvings, and perched right in front of it was a big shiny black-and-gold sewing machine with a foot pedal. Another was filled with sealed jam jars of shimmering magic.”  
  • Mr. Green explains magic’s power. “The magic is hard to work with, but it does excel at one thing in particular . . . It excels at transformation. This is very useful when you need to walk out of a museum with a painting or take a sculpture the size of a semi-truck out of a public garden. It can also be useful in other ways. And I think, Miss Maguire, I know the best way to keep you. . . Perhaps I can give you as a gift to [my lost sister] after all.” He explains to Iris that he could use the magic to transform Iris into a doll for his sister.  
  • The explanation behind who the narrator is brought full circle and revealed as Mr. Green’s lost sister, Alice. It is learned that Alice turned herself into a crow and that she’s the giant crow following the girls throughout the story. “Iris was right — I did run from you. You locked me in a room, you said it was for my own good, and I pulled all the magic I could from the room and turned myself into a crow. I made a tool to open the latch and flew out the window. Crows are very good with tools. Magic has a cost. You gave your humanity willingly for it. I gave mine, too, but in a different way. I like my way better.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

When the Butterflies Came

Tara Doucet is a twelve-year old who seems to have everything going for her. She comes from one of the oldest families in New Iberia Parish and is a descendant of the original Paris Doucet Family. However, beneath the surface, Tara is struggling with a number of challenges. Her beloved Grammy Claire recently passed away, leaving a void in Tara’s life. Additionally, her mother has become reclusive and is unable to deal with her recent divorce or the looming foreclosure of their family plantation, leaving Tara to shoulder much of the burden. To make matters worse, Tara and her sister have never seen eye-to-eye, causing further tension and conflict within the family. 

Despite these difficulties, Tara’s life takes an unexpected turn for the better when she has a remarkable experience. After Tara’s grandmother’s funeral, a beautiful, velvety purple butterfly visits her, almost as if it were sent by her grandmother. Moments later, Tara receives a letter that sets her on a quest to unlock the mystery surrounding her Grammy Claire’s research with butterflies. As she delves deeper into her grandmother’s past, Tara must confront her own fears and insecurities and learn to embrace the beauty and complexity of life. 

The letter Tara receives from her grandmother leads her on an unexpected adventure to protect the butterflies that her grandmother discovered. Tara’s journey takes her to her grandmother’s house where she finds 10 keys and more letters with cryptic clues; the letters urge Tara to protect the butterflies and trust no one. As Tara progresses from clue to clue, she learns of her grandmother’s amazing scientific discovery. However, the discovery is what put her grandmother’s life and the existence of the butterflies in peril. 

The suspense builds as Tara relies on her wits and follows her heart to find the clues. She risks everything to save her grandmother’s butterflies. Tara’s wondrous tale is narrated in a gripping first-person, present tense, which allows readers to experience the intense range of emotions Tara goes through, including emotions from the depths of grief to the heights of wonder, from gripping fear to overwhelming surprise. As the reader follows Tara’s journey, they will be drawn into the vivid and enchanting landscape that is painted, where the rules of reality are suspended and anything is possible.  

Throughout Tara’s journey, she encounters various obstacles and challenges that she must overcome to succeed in her mission to protect the butterflies. Tara learns more about her grandmother’s life and the scientific discoveries she made. She also uncovers a sinister plot to destroy the butterflies and their habitat. Tara must use all of her skills and intelligence to stop the plot and protect the butterflies.  

However, figuring out who is behind all the danger is not an easy task. Tara must travel to the island of Chuuk, where her grandmother lived and her research began five years ago. There, she dives deep into her grandmother’s research, searching for clues that will help her uncover the truth of who is behind the plot to destroy the butterflies. Her journey to Chuuk reveals a world full of secrets and dangers that Tara never imagined. But with each new challenge, she grows stronger and more determined to complete her mission and protect the butterflies. 

Overall, Tara’s adventure is a thrilling and exciting story that teaches readers about the importance of protecting the environment and the creatures that inhabit it. When the Butterflies Came highlights the importance of perseverance, courage, and intelligence in overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. The story also emphasizes the power of family, even in the face of adversity, and the importance of cherishing the memories of those who have passed on. Tara’s journey is a story of growth and discovery, of facing one’s fears and finding the strength to overcome them, and of the enduring power of love. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Tara is up at two in the morning trying to determine what the seventh key, that her grandmother leaves as a clue towards her secrets of the butterflies, unlocks when she hears someone moving around upstairs. She goes to her Grammy Claire’s laboratory that should have been locked shut. Instead, she finds it unlocked and one of the precious butterflies, crushed on a desk. Tara wonders, “‘What happened here? How did she die?’ And then I started to cry even harder because I know deep in my heart that the Giant Pink butterfly didn’t die of old age. It didn’t have an accident. Its life span didn’t just run out. It was murdered.”  
  • In a letter following the seventh key, Grammy Claire outlines that there is someone who is willing to put their lives in danger for the butterflies. “Someone wants to hurt the [butterflies]. To steal them, and destroy them. I cannot allow that to happen. They are precious. They hold a secret the world is not ready for, but which someone is willing to kill for. I often make myself crazy thinking about each person I know on the island and wondering who wants the butterflies. And who might want me dead.” The letter makes Tara question how her grandmother died. She begins to wonder if her grandmother’s car accident, wasn’t truly an accident.  
  • Tara finds her sister, Riley, splayed out at the bottom of the stairs, which are covered in water and oil. Riley begins to draw conclusions of her own that she shares with Tara. Riley says, “These stairs were just fine last night . . . I think somebody tried to hurt me. Or you.” 
  • While Tara and Riley are attending a barbecue, two gunshots go off. “A second later, there’s two ear-splitting pops that rupture the air. Instantly, the bark of the palm tree I’m sitting next to spurts a shower of splinters. My cheeks sting from flying, razor-like slivers, and then shredded bark sprays over my hair, my lap, and clothes. I’m screaming as I fall to the ground.” Tara is okay, but they find a bullet missed her head by inches. Riley and Tara run to escape. 
  • After finding the final last chest that unlocks the secrets of the butterflies, Riley and Tara try to leave the island when they are intercepted by the individuals who have been after their family the whole time. Tara is suddenly “tackled from behind and flung to the ground. The treasure chest launches out of my arms and I get a mouthful of sand. Then someone huge and strong reaches around and clasps their hand around my mouth.” Tara remains pinned in the sand.  
  • Tara and Riley’s captors talk about how to dispose of them. “‘Rope.’ ‘Nope. Grotto.’ ‘Hmm . . . might be easiest’ ‘. . . found Claire’s hidden chest. Look like they drowned getting it.’” 
  • As Tara and Riley’s captors held their heads over the water, Riley screams out to Tara. Riley’s “voice is instantly muffled as a hand roughly shoves my head under the water. I never get a chance to take a decent breath. Almost immediately, bubbles escape my nose. After twenty more seconds, my eyes bulge, trying to see in the dark water, staring up at the cavern roof. Beams of light flash here and there, squiggly and hazy . . . Now I’m bursting. I am truly drowning. My lungs are on fire. I’m going to die! Die!” Right before Tara’s body can completely give out, the men release because people show up. 

Drugs and Alcohol   

  • None 

Language 

  • In Grammy Claire’s third note, she mentions the importance of nipwisipwis, but Tara doesn’t quite understand what it means. It isn’t until her sister Riley looks up that it is written in another language –Chuukese. “I can barely choke out the words. ‘Nipwisipwis means butterfly!’” Nipwisipwis is utilized frequently for the rest of the book.  
  • ‘Kinnisow’ means ‘thank you’ in Chuukese. Eloni, Grammy Claire’s research assistant, teaches this to Tara so that she may use it while on the island.  

Supernatural   

  • The first butterfly to visit Tara is a small, purple one that floats into her room. It sits and stares into her eyes, making Tara question if there is something special about the butterfly. “This butterfly ain’t no regular butterfly. ‘Are you magic?’ I say real quiet, because I don’t want it to fly away and disappear.” 
  • In Grammy Claire’s second note, she talks about her dear friend who used to help Tara’s mom come out of her bouts of melancholy. To do so, she utilized herbal practices to create a concoction. Tara says, “’I’ll bet Grammy Claire’s talking about the mother of Miz Mirage, the woman who lives in the swamp. The one all the kids at school call a swamp witch. . . Maybe what she does ain’t bad magic at all.’ Words dance in front of my eyes. Herbs. Healing. Prayers. Love.” 
  • Someone shows Tara the magic of the butterflies. Tara begins to realize that the purple ones with a yellow outline can make music of their own.  
  • Upon finding the last chest, Tara and Riley begin to read some of the curious findings that make their grandmother’s work with butterflies so dangerous. “I stare inside the thick envelope, trying to focus. Words jump out at me. Nipwisipwis is written over and over again on every sheet. Giant Pink. Experiments. Turn back time.” 

Spiritual Content   

  • After Grammy Claire dies, Tara receives a letter from her that was written in the event of her death. The letter says, “What does gone mean, after all? Am I six feet under? Floating in the air or dancing on a cloud? Maybe I am having tea with God and making Him answer the long list of questions I’ve been hungering after for decades . . . even if that means I’ll wake up in heaven next time I see you. You can bet I’ll be the first in line to hug you and smother you with kisses.” 
  • In a letter, Grammy Claire tells Tara how she is looking down on her from heaven. “In Chuukese, they call heaven naangenu, the place we came from and the place we return after death. Where I am, I will be with you in spirit. Always” 
  • Eloni, Grammy Claire’s research assistant, tries to comfort Tara. Eloni says Grammy Claire is still looking over them and that Grammy Claire, “is right now watching. From naangenu. . . It means heaven. Where the gods live. And one day, we live there, too.” 

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy

Illyria, a land shrouded in mystery and magic, is home to a kingdom full of potential sorcerers, witches’ curses, and a mysterious mist called “the Dread.” Marya Lupu has always known her place in the kingdom. Her role is to stay quiet and make sure her brother Luka gets the title his family feels he deserves, which is to be a powerful sorcerer. However, on the day that the sorcerer’s guild comes to test Luka’s magical capabilities, Marya finds herself at the root of a chaotic mistake that will change her life forever. As it turns out, Marya’s brother is not a sorcerer after all, and the guild finds Marya to be unfit for the norms of society. Upon the king’s wishes, Marya is sent away to Dragomir Academy, a prestigious school for troubled girls. Although initially hesitant and fearful, Marya soon finds that Dragomir Academy is a place of great opportunity and learning. 

At the academy, Marya is introduced to the values and practices necessary for a lady of Illyria. In the eyes of the kingdom, Marya needs to know etiquette, needlework, music, and literature in order to have value. But Marya also discovers that Dragomir Academy is a place of secrets and intrigue. As she delves deeper into the mysteries surrounding the academy, Marya realizes that her fate is intertwined with Illyria’s fate. And as Marya uncovers the secrets of Dragomir Academy, she realizes her true destiny may be far greater than she ever imagined. 

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is a captivating and thought-provoking novel that delves into the lives of young girls dealing with personal issues such as what their role is inside a patriarchal society and what power they hold. Although the story starts off slowly, it gradually builds momentum as it explores the complexities of Marya’s and the other girls at the academy’s lives. Unlocking the mysteries will leave readers on the edge of their seats. 

As Marya arrives at Dragomir Academy, she is introduced to an entirely new world, one full of challenges and untold secrets. Her journey to unravel these secrets makes the book compelling.  Readers’ hearts will break as they follow Marya through the difficult challenges the ladies of Illyria face. Marya is a character that readers will want to give a hug. She is extremely relatable, especially for young girls who are learning to navigate their way in the world. She is curious, intelligent, and admirable, with a deep sense of empathy that makes her all the more endearing. Readers will find themselves rooting for Marya at every turn, as she overcomes obstacles both big and small on her journey of self-discovery. Her steadfast determination to succeed and strive to find out the truth makes her an inspiration to anyone who has ever faced adversity. Whether she’s exploring new horizons or facing down a challenge head-on, Marya’s spirit and resilience are sure to leave a lasting impression on readers of all ages. 

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy is a powerful book that tells the story of girls who have been told that they are powerless. They have been told to calm down, be proper, and be quiet. This book is about finding strength, friendship, and the power within yourself. It’s about choosing to be strong despite the obstacles in your path. With vivid descriptions of the academy and the girls, the author paints a picture that is both whimsical and heart-wrenching. This is a must-read for anyone looking for an empowering story about young women who refuse to be silenced. However, it is not a read for the faint of heart, as it shows the gravity of how heavy life can be for a woman.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The Dread is a mysterious monster affiliated with the kingdom that causes villages to be lost overnight. The Dread leaves the villagers dead, which is described several times as the Dread leaving corpses without blood or souls. 
  • Marya reflects on the loss of her baby brother, Pieter. “The fever came during the day and he died during the night. She was eight, then. It happened while she was sleeping. She’d tried to stay up to watch him, but she was so tired from the day of trying to get the fever down.” She was heartbroken over the loss of her brother, after his passing her family pretended he didn’t exist.  
  • Two significant girls at Dragomir Academy get “mountain madness.” When the onset occurs, the girls start shrieking and crying because they either see things or feel that there are bugs crawling underneath their skin. Simona, the sixth year in charge of her class, tells Marya of her experience. “Nothing was there. But then it kept happening. Or it would feel like spiders were underneath my skin, scuttling in my veins… I tried to hide it, pretended everything was fine. And then one night when I was sleeping, I dreamed a giant spider was on my chest, tying me up. But it felt so real. So I started screaming and fighting, trying to get it off me.” Mountain madness then becomes a topic of interest for Marya as she feels there is something more to it that the adults are hiding.  
  • A girl’s aunt accidentally harmed a village boy. The girl says her aunt “was practicing witchcraft. Like, some boy who had been pestering her while she was walking, suddenly his hair lit on fire.” The child was okay, but her aunt was sent to an asylum for witches.  
  • High Count Arev, a member of the Sorcerer’s Guild, answers questions about witches. “During the early days of the Witching Wars, we simply put them to death. But of course, that ultimately added to our troubles, for reasons we understand now . . . All the magic of the witches we killed during the Witching Wars either transferred to new witches or appeared somewhere else in the kingdom as an uncontrollable entity and would wreak havoc.”  
  • The headmaster, Headmaster Iagar, of the school, locks Marya in a quarantined cottage. Then, he corners her in the great hall, but Elana, Marya’s friend, helps protect her. “Elana was at the top of the stairs, out of breath, Madame Rosetti, the other teacher at the academy, behind her. The headmaster whirled around, but before he could say anything, Elana lifted her hands and pushed them towards him, the air shimmering with power. He flew backwards, slammed into the wall, and fell to the ground.” He is left unharmed but remains unconscious for several minutes after the blow. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Elana was taken into isolation by the headmaster. “Then I fell asleep again and woke up and I couldn’t remember if it even happened at all, or I’d dreamt it . . . At least, I think that’s what happened. I slept so much. It must have been an enchantment. Or a potion. So I can’t really tell what was a dream and what was real.” Anyone who has “mountain madness” is taken to a quarantined cottage and given a potion that creates a drug-like effect on the user.  

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural  

  • Sorcerers and witches are discussed throughout the entirety of the text as they are the protagonists and antagonists of the society. The Sorcerer’s Guild is made up of the young men of the kingdom who possess the talent to harness magic, while the witches are the enemy that they face. The Sorcerer’s Guild and high-ranking officials repeatedly assure the people of the kingdom that any woman who possesses a witch’s talents are harmful beings and must be stopped at all costs.  
  • The Dread is a monster that attacks the villages. It is “the monstrous force that lived in the forest and roamed to nearby towns to devour them.” The Dread is a misty, purple monster that kills an entire village in one night. It is explained that it is brought on by a curse set forth by the witches.  
  • A letter arrives at the Lupu home about Luka’s upcoming sorcerer’s test. “Representatives from the Council of Magical Protection of Illyria, serving the Sorcerer’s Guild, will be at your home in fifteen days, at noon, to evaluate your son, Luka Lupu, for potential giftedness in the art of sorcery.” Upon the day the guild arrives, Luka, like several other young boys throughout the kingdom, will be tested to see if he possesses the ability to harness magic. If he does, his family will be sent to a rich estate and he will join the Sorcerer’s Guild. If he does not, they will continue to live as they do and work hard to build their way up in society.  
  • Madame Bandu, a local village woman, explains how the magical testing will work for Luka. “The Sorcerer’s Guild has always been able to detect potential sorcerers through some kind of spell. It used to be that all boys would be sent to the estates so that they could be mentored when their time did come in. It’s only in the last few decades that they developed a test that could — with reasonable accuracy — predict which boys would actually come to wield magic.” 
  • Marya is learning about the history of Dragomir Academy and the beliefs many individuals hold about females. “Did people think education would somehow turn these girls into witches?” She believes this to be a ridiculous thought and one that makes her sad for the girls who do not get an opportunity for education. 
  • Madame Szabo, Marya’s teacher at Dragomir, asks them about their knowledge of witches. Marya answers, “Well, they cast spells. Like everyone else in the area would lose their vision at once, or sleep through a harvesting season, or plant catnip instead of turnips . . . Or they would all get fevers that lasted for months and months.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Breadcrumbs

Hazel Anderson and Jack Campbell were inseparable best friends. They shared a unique and magical world of their own creation, filled with wonder and imagination, that no one else could fully understand. It was only together that they found their place within the world. 

But one day, without any warning or explanation, Jack suddenly ceased all communication. Hazel feels bewildered, hurt, and alone, and she’s unable to comprehend why her closest companion had seemingly abandoned her.  

Hazel is devastated and can’t understand why her best friend left without a word. Hazel ponders over Jack’s mysterious behavior until Tyler, a close friend of Jack’s, shares what he believes to be impossible. Jack had been taken into the woods by a white witch on a sled. 

Determined to find out the truth and rescue her friend, Hazel embarks on a perilous journey through the mystical woods, using all of her wits and bravery to navigate the treacherous terrain and overcome many obstacles. Her only hope lies in finding the white witch who is rumored to dwell deep within the woods – the same witch who Hazel believes holds Jack captive. 

Hazel can’t help but wonder if Jack truly wants to be rescued or if he has intentionally chosen to leave her behind. The closer she gets to the truth, the more Hazel’s doubts and uncertainties begin to consume her. She wonders if she’s truly prepared for what she might find and if the truth behind Jack’s disappearance might be more than she can handle. 

Hazel is a character that is easily relatable due to her simple and down-to-earth personality. She has a warm and welcoming demeanor that allows people to feel at ease around her. Additionally, Hazel’s experiences are ones that many can relate to, such as the ups and downs of relationships, the struggles of balancing school and friendships, and the journey of self-discovery. In essence, Hazel is a character that embodies the human experience, making her a truly multi-dimensional and interesting character to explore. As she relies on her wits, bravery, and unspeakable determination to uncover the truth and rescue her friend, readers will be rooting for her the entire way. 

The whimsical story includes fifteen blackandwhite illustrations that are scattered throughout the text. The illustrations are detailed, yet soft and cartoon-like. It helps bring the reader fully into the world within Breadcrumbs. 

Breadcrumbs is a captivating and enchanting story that takes readers on a journey of self-discovery, friendship, and resilience. The story demonstrates that no matter how lost one may feel, it is never too late to find oneself and embrace who you truly are. Hazel, the protagonist, is a shining example of this. She discovers her true worth and identity. Through her journey, Hazel learns the value of true friends who support and encourage one another, even during the most challenging of times. Breadcrumbs also highlights the importance of perseverance and determination in overcoming obstacles and achieving our dreams. Overall, Breadcrumbs is a heartwarming tale that reminds readers of the power of friendship and the resilience of the human spirit. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • After getting upset, Hazel throws a snowball at Jack. A few seconds later, unhurt by the snowball, something else causes him to cry out in pain. “’Ow!’ He yelled. ‘Ow!’ His voice cracked into the sky. His other hand flew to his chest and he fell to his knees.” A snowflake with a shard of cursed glass fell into his eye.  
  • Two classmates, Tyler and Bobby, taunt Hazel as they do most days, but this time she has had enough. She retaliates by throwing a pencil case at Tyler. “In one motion Hazel stood up, grabbed the hard pencil case from her desk, and hurled it at Tyler. There were some yelps, some gasps, and then absolute quiet.” Tyler is hit in the head and left with a large, painful bump. 
  • Hazel meets a woman who stole a swan’s skin. Hazel accidentally discards the skin. The woman scratches  Hazel for throwing away the skin. “‘I see,’ the woman said, running a cold finger down Hazel’s cheek. ‘Actions have consequences, little girl.’ And then there was pain. Stinging, and then searing. The woman had stuck a nail into Hazel’s cheek, and it was like a talon. She dragged her finger down, splitting the skin on Hazel’s face. It traveled down her cheek to her neck.” Hazel is left with a gash that bleeds profusely until a young man comes to aid the wound. She is left with a horrible scar. 
  • The white witch gives Jack a puzzle of broken shards that continually cut his fingers as he moves them. “He looked down at the puzzle shards. They were made of old, jagged angles. He reached a finger out to touch one of the points. He felt nothing, but a small dome of red blood rose out of his finger pad.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language   

  • When Jack abandon’s Tyler and Bobby as friends they blame Hazel. They taunt her with different names such as Crazy Hazy, psycho, and baby. 

Supernatural  

  • The narrator gives background on a goblin, who is only prevalent to the beginning part of the story.  “Mal looks nothing like you can imagine, neither goblin nor troll nor imp nor demon. But neither the goblins nor trolls nor imps nor demons know what Mal is either. For Mal is not any of those one things, but all of them . . .” This character only exists to create an entryway into the magic that exists throughout the rest of the story. 
  • The narrator takes a moment to provide context about the glass that made its way into Jack’s eye. This piece of glass is not anything ordinary, because it is a shard from a cursed mirror. “Mal had just invented something delightful – or at least something he found delightful, for that is an altogether different prospect. On the surface, it looked like an ordinary mirror . . . For the mirror took beautiful things and made them ugly, and took ugly things and made them hideous . . . the mirror shattered into the sky. . . one landed in the eye of a boy.”  
  • After Hazel notices the change in Jack’s behavior, she asks an adult what supernatural options there could be for Jack’s sudden change in personality. The adult says, “There are a few options. Possession is one. Not by a demon, but by something a little more harmless, like a goblin or imp. . . Or an evil disembodied brain thing.  Or there could be some sort of enchantment. By a witch or wizard. Or by a magical item, something that was given to them, or something they acquired, maybe by accident. Or something that’s infected them that causes them to see the world in a skewed way.’” 
  • Tyler tells Hazel about the impossible thing he saw right before Jack’s disappearance. Tyler says, “He wasn’t alone. There was a woman there. She was . . . she wasn’t right. She was tall and weirdly thin. She wasn’t real. She was all white and silver and made of snow . . . like an elf or a witch . . . like a movie.” 
  • Hazel encounters three women in the woods that promise to help her. “[The first woman] picked a long gray string out of the box. It had a puff of wool attached at one end. She passed the string down, puff end first, and the three hooded women stared at it as if it were the most fascinating thing in the world.” The string the women look at represents Hazel’s life. The three women are supposed to represent the Fates who are in charge of the lives of those inside the world. They can see that her fate is yet undetermined and promise to help her if she asks a question. Although upon hearing her questions about the white witch, they send Hazel on her way.  
  • Hazel meets a young boy who lives in a cabin in the woods. His sister has been changed into a bird. The boy explains that a couple “‘said she’d run away. But I saw the bird and I knew. . . ‘ He glanced at the gold cage behind him. ‘It’s just like her. And you always know your sister.’”  
  • As Hazel walks through the woods, she thinks, “There were witches in the woods, they stole beauty from swans and then rotted from the inside. There were couples who wanted to turn girls into pretty little birds. The woods do strange things to people.” 
  • Hazel meets a kind couple that says they want to help, but upon walking Hazel listens to the stories of the flowers. She finds out that the couple has changed the girls into flowers. Hazel runs back into the woods before they can turn her into a rose.  

Spiritual Content 

  • None

Shadow and Bone

Alina Starkov never expected to be anything but ordinary. An orphan from Keramzin, a small village in Ravka, she is a mapmaker in Ravka’s First Army. Her best friend, Mal, is also in the army as a tracker. Alina wants nothing more from life. 

But that changes when her regiment attempts to cross the Fold, a swath of deadly darkness created 400 years ago by the Black Heretic that splits Ravka in half. Alina discovers that she can summon light, making her a Grisha – someone with the ability to practice the Small Science. But Alina is no ordinary Grisha – she is a Sun Summoner, who is prophesied to destroy the Fold for good. 

Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite—and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift. 

Alina begins working with the mysterious Darkling, the only Shadow Summoner and leader of the Grisha. He tells Alina that he seeks to rectify his ancestor’s mistake and unite Ravka once more. The Darkling says Alina is Ravka’s only hope. But the more Alina learns about the Grisha world, and about the Darkling himself, the more she realizes that things are even more complicated than she previously thought. With Ravka’s future on her shoulders, Alina must figure out who her allies are and possibly prevent a catastrophe bigger than the creation of the Fold itself. 

As the first book in a fantasy trilogy, Shadow and Bone has the difficult task of setting up its characters, setting, and plot in an engaging way while still leaving room for the story to develop in subsequent books, and it does not disappoint. The world-building is excellent as it introduces just the right amount of information so that the reader is not confused but is still intrigued to learn more.  Throughout the story, Bardugo expertly weaves in more details as needed. Ravka comes to life through Bardugo’s lush prose that provides just enough description without distracting from the plot so that even the most plot-driven readers will not be able to walk away from this book. 

Another positive aspect of Shadow and Bone is its vast cast of characters. Even minor characters have multiple layers of depth which keeps readers on their toes and makes them constantly examine the characters’ decisions. Alina is an easy character to relate to for anyone who has ever struggled to fit into an unfamiliar environment, and her strength and perseverance make her an admirable protagonist. This is especially evident in her struggle to merge her new life with her old dreams for her and Mal, and readers will root for her as she searches for ways to combine her ordinary past with her extraordinary present. Readers will eagerly devour Shadow and Bone, and delight in learning about the world of the Grisha alongside Alina. 

Sexual Content 

  • A beautiful Grisha girl smiles flirtatiously at Mal. His friends tease him. “‘You know she’ll be staying at camp,’ Mikhael said with a leer. ‘I hear the Grisha tent’s as big as a cathedral,’ added Dubrov. ‘Lots of nice shadowy nooks,’ said Mikhael, and actually waggled his brows.”  
  • Mal taps on Alina’s tent after hours. One of her fellow soldiers hears the knock and giggles, “If it’s that tracker, tell him to come inside and keep me warm.” 
  • The night before their regiment crosses the Fold, Alina and Mal reminisce about their childhoods. They are interrupted and when Mal gets up to leave, he tells Alina to wish him luck. She does, and then thinks sarcastically, “Good luck? Have a lovely time, Mal. Hope you find a pretty Grisha, fall deeply in love, and make lots of gorgeous, disgustingly talented babies together.”  
  • Alina’s friend Genya usually spends her time at the Grand Palace because the Queen and especially the King like to keep her close. It is insinuated that the King treats Genya as if she is a prostitute. Genya later confirms this to Alina, telling her that “the King has his way with lots of servants.” 
  • The Darkling kisses Alina in an empty room at the Little Palace. “I’d been kissed before, drunken mistakes, awkward fumblings. This was nothing like that. It was sure and powerful and like my whole body had just come awake. I could feel my pounding heart, the press of silk against my skin, the strength of his arms around me, one hand buried deep in my hair, the other at my back, pulling me closer.” This scene occurs over two pages. 
  • As Alina wanders the outskirts of the city, a drunk man stumbles out of an inn and grabs Alina by the coat. He says, “Hello, pretty! Have you come to keep me warm?” He makes a few more comments in the same vein; Alina quickly gets away by blinding him with her light powers. 

Violence 

  • When Alina’s regiment attempts to cross the Fold, they are attacked by volcra, deadly creatures who live in the Fold and feed on humans. There are many injuries and casualties, including Alina’s friend Alexei. Alina “gasped as Alexei’s arm was yanked from mine. In a spurt of flame, I saw him clutching at the railing with one hand. I saw his howling mouth, his wide, terrified eyes, and the monstrous thing that held him in its glistening gray arms, its wings beating the air as it lifted him from his feet, its thick claws sunk deep into this back, its talons already wet with his blood. Alexei’s fingers slipped on the railing . . . His screams faded into the sounds of battle as the volcra carried him into the dark. Another burst of flame lit the sky, but he was gone.” This scene occurs over four pages. 
  • When Alina is being taken to the Little Palace by Grisha guards, they are attacked by Fjerdan assassins. Alina “huddled on the floor [of the carriage], clutching the knife’s heavy hilt, my knees to my chest, my back pressed against the base of the seat. Outside, I could hear the sounds of fighting, metal on metal, grunts and shouts, horses whinnying. The coach shook as a body slammed against the glass of the window. I saw with horror that it was one of my guards. His body left a red smear against the glass as he slid from view.” This scene occurs over four pages. Many unnamed people die, and a few are injured.  
  • Alina has a nightmare where she “threw open the door . . . and screamed. There was blood everywhere. The volcra was perched on the window seat and, as it turned on me and opened its horrible jaws, I saw it had gray quartz eyes.”  
  • During a combat training session, Alina spars with Zoya, one of the most powerful Grisha. Zoya “pressed her advantage and lunged forward. That was her mistake . . . I [Alina] stepped to the side, and as she came in close, I hooked my leg around her ankle. Zoya went down hard. . . But before I had a chance to even register my victory, Zoya sat up, her expression furious, her arm slashing through the air. I felt myself lifted off my feet as I sailed backward through the air and slammed into the training room’s wooden wall. I heard something crack, and all the breath went out of my body as I slid to the ground.” 
  • In the woods, thieves attack Alina and Mal. Alina’s training saves them. “Before he could recover, I [Alina] slammed a knee into his groin. As he bent double, I put my hands on the back of his head and brought my knee up hard. There was a disgusting crunch, and I stepped backward as he fell to the ground clutching his nose, blood spurting between his fingers.”  
  • The Darkling kills Morozova’s stag in order to use its antlers to make an amplifier for Alina. The Darkling “strode forward and without hesitating slit the stag’s throat. Blood gushed into the snow, pooling around the stag’s body. I watched as the life left his dark eyes, and a sob broke from my chest.” 
  • Alina has a nightmare. “That night, I dreamed of the stag. I saw the Darkling cut his throat again and again. I saw the life fading from his dark eyes. But when I looked down, it was my blood that spilled red into the snow.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Alina watches a friend “take a swig from the bottle [of kvas] and then lurch forward.” Kvas is the Ravkan equivalent of beer. 
  • While en route to the Little Palace, Alina, the Darkling, and the rest of the Grisha guards sit around a fire and “pass a flask back and forth.”  
  • Genya, Alina’s best friend at the Little Palace and a Grisha servant to the Ravkan King and Queen, describes the King as “probably drunk” and says that he “devotes all his time to hunting, horses, and imbibing.”  

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • This book involves a magic system known as the Small Science, which is a way of manipulating matter. Those who can wield the Small Science are known as Grisha. The Grisha are split into three orders: Corporalki (the Order of the Living and the Dead), Etherialki (the Order of Summoners), and Materialki (the Order of Fabrikators).  
  • The Darkling and Baghra, Alina’s tutor, are Shadow Summoners, while Alina is a Sun Summoner; these are unique abilities that no other known Grisha possess. For example, here is a description of when Alina summons light for the first time on purpose and by herself: “I called and the light answered. I felt it rushing toward me from every direction, skimming over the lake, skittering over the golden domes of the Little Palace, under the door and through the walls of Baghra’s cottage. I felt it everywhere. I opened my hands and the light bloomed right through me, filling the room, illuminating the stone walls, the old tile oven, and every angle of Baghra’s strange face. It surrounded me, blazing with heat, more powerful and more pure than ever before because it was all mine. I wanted to laugh, to sing, to shout. At last, there was something that belonged wholly and completely to me.” The Darkling’s power works in a similar way: “He brought his hands together and there was a sound like a thunderclap. I gasped as undulating darkness spread from his clasped hands, spilling in a black wave over me and the crowd.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • Many Ravkans worship Saints, and consider Alina to be a living Saint because she is the Sun Summoner. 
  • The Apparat, the King’s spiritual advisor, tells Alina, “There is something more powerful than any army. Something strong enough to topple kings, and even Darklings . . . Faith.”  
  • Alina checks the casualty lists every week, looking for Mal’s name, and each time she doesn’t see his name she “gives thanks to all the Saints that Mal was safe and alive.” 
  • When Alina is on the run, she can’t resist slipping into a tiny church to hear the priest say Mass. The priest “offered prayers for the congregation: for a woman’s son who had been wounded in battle, for an infant who was ill with fever, and for the health of Alina Starkov. ‘Let the Saints protect the Sun Summoner,’ intoned the priest, ‘she who was sent to deliver us from the evils of the Shadow Fold and make this nation whole again.’” 
  • Alina describes Genya as “a painted icon of a Saint, her hair a burnished copper halo.” 

Revenge of the Beast

Once upon a very badly behaved time, 511-year-old Ebenezer kept a beast in his attic. He would feed the beast all manner of objects and creatures and in return the beast would vomit him up expensive presents. But then, Bethany arrived.

Now, Ebenezer and Bethany are on track to become do-gooders. Bethany wants to get rid of anything in their 15-story house that was vomited out by the beast. Although Bethany is ready to “de-beastify” the house, Ebenezer is much more hesitant. With every magical object Bethany and Claudette sell in a yard-sale, Ebenezer cringes. From gold-plated cutlery to scooters to pianos, they are all sold. Ebenezer has a hard time letting go as he watches the gifts he has acquired over the past 512 years being taken away. 

Bethany goes to every place in town in hopes of volunteering, however, she finds her search disappointing when no one trusts her. Since her reputation includes pranks like putting animals in Miss Muddles’ candy shop, the town people believe Bethany’s act of “volunteering” is a sneaky way for her to pull pranks. On top of that, the items Ebenezer and Bethany sold are going rogue. The dinnerware turns food moldy, and the scooter throws anyone off who tries to ride it. Bethany feels hopeless, but she is wants to go into the community and right her wrongs. Yet how can she do good if no one gives her a chance? 

Revenge of the Beast is a great sequel. Meggitt-Phillips does a great job foreshadowing. Plus, the beast is brought back in an interesting way that avoids repetition. The reader sees that Bethany and Ebenezer’s previous trials truly impacted their aspirations and valuesBethany more than Ebenezer. Lastly, the ending is a perfect cliff-hanger for the next book. 

Friendship is a theme in Revenge of the Beast due to the gained closeness of Bethany and Ebenezer. Ebenezer even offers to be the beast’s servant without any gifts or request if it meant Bethany would be safe. Ebenezer said, “The thought of not seeing [Bethany] again makes me want to cry, because I’ll miss everything about her.” By letting go of the opportunity to use the beast’s powers, Ebenezer shows how much Bethany’s friendship means to him. The story also teaches that it is better to turn the other cheek. Bethany highlights this when she says, “Being cruel to one’s enemies is like chopping off your arm just so you can hit them with it – in the end, all you do is cause more damage to yourself.”  

Revenge of the Beast has black and white illustrations, which is a fun way for the reader to see settings and characters’ emotions. However, there are more acts of violence in this book than in The Beast and The Bethany, so a more mature audience may be needed. Plus, the plot lines are more complex due to of each characters’ adventures. Still, readers who enjoyed the previous book will not be disappointed because they will enjoy Bethany’s tough attitude and Ebenezer’s protectiveness over Bethany.  

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • When Ebenezer calls the boys in his neighborhood his friends, they respond with, “We’re not your friends, Ebeloooser. I thought we showed you last time what happens when you call us that.” Ebenezer says “Oh yes, that game where you chase me whilst throwing sticks and stones is great fun . . . ”
  • Because of the removal of his beastly gifts, Ebenezer asks Bethany, “Are you trying to kill me or something?” 
  • The boys were throwing rocks at Ebenezer and the beast. Ebenezer’s “pleasure was interrupted by a rock which sailed through the air, whacked his shoulder, and ripped his ruffled shirt.”
  • One of the boys, Nicholas, throws a mud ball at Ebenezer. The ball leaves a mark on his shirt. 
  • After a group of boys throw rocks at Ebenezer, the beast “spread its mouth wide open and vomited out a blaze of fire.” The beast then tells Ebenezer to, “throw me at the one with the unpleasant face if you want to have some fun.” After Ebenezer does this, the beast vomits itching powder on Nicholas. 
  • The beast asks Ebenezer if Ebenezer wants him to “puddle” the bully, Nicholas. “Its three eyes were hungry for revenge” when he said “watch as I melt this child into a puddle. It’s my way of saying thank you.” Ebenezer declines the beast’s offer. 
  • The beast suggests “puddling” Ebenezer’s mother after Ebenezer informs the beast that his mother said Ebenezer will make friends after he stops being annoying. The beast says, “your mother’s a fool. Would you like me to melt her into a puddle?” Ebenezer denies the beast’s request of puddling his mother. 
  • Ebenezer is reluctant to sell diamond cheese boards to a man named Eduardo. Ebenezer “was about to tell Eduardo to take his nostrils elsewhere when he was treated to a furious kick from Bethany – and it was the sort of kick that told him he shouldn’t push his luck any further.”
  • After the children in the orphanage are forced to sew a sequin jacket, they have injuries to their hands. One boy’s hands “were covered with cuts and bandages.” 
  • Gloria is the new girl at the orphanage. She has taken over Bethany’s spot in being the one everyone fears. She loves attention and praise. So, many of her acts of violence are to receive more. After Gloria performs, she “started pulling Harold Chicken’s hair and telling him off for giving Claudette bigger claps.”
  • In one of his flashbacks, Ebenezer returns from Nicholas’ funeral. The beast describes why he died, saying, “my dear boy, I think he would have been a lot more pleased if he hadn’t accidentally impaled himself on his own point stick.”
  • Gloria “aimed the mushed apple at Geoffrey” with a  catapult. Gloria calls this her “acting method” for her show at the theater. Because Geoffrey is the first friend Bethany made in the last book, Bethany suggests Gloria use her catapult for Timothy, the new orphanage director, instead. However, Gloria launches the apple at Geoffrey anyway. 
  • After buying a shirt from Ebenezer, a boy says, “every time I put it on, it either tries to strangle me with an overly tight neckline, or the sleeves make me beat myself up.”
  • As Ebenezer tries to tell Bethany important news, she gets angry about being interrupted. “Bethany picked up one of the forks and threw it at him.” She told him, “If you don’t leave right now, then I’m going to have to start throwing the knives.”
  • Bethany receives a disturbing phone call. “Bethany looked at the phone receiver as if it had just tried to bite her ear off. Then she smashed it against the wall. . .smashing and smashing until there was nothing left but a wire in her hand.”
  • The beast eats a parrot named Claudette. “First, I ate all that was in her belly– that took me a while; she was a fat parrot. At the moment, I’m destroying her kind, hopeful personality by showing her that the world is truly a cruel place. After that, it won’t take me long to gobble through the rest of her.” He then says, “I’ve never eaten someone through their insides before – I should do it more often.”
  • As the beast controls Claudette’s body, he takes Ebenezer to the attic. He keeps Ebenezer there so Ebenezer does not ruin the beast’s plan of eating Bethany and Gloria at the theater. The injuries the beast gives Ebenezer to take him to the attic and keep him there are described. “There were talon marks on his ankles from where the beast had dragged him upstairs, and his neck was swollen with bruises because the shirt had strangled him every time he had tried to call for help or warn Bethany.”
  • The shirt the beast puts on Ebenezer forces him to stay awake. “Every time you close your eyes, the shirt will strangle and squeeze you awake.”
  • Bethany becomes angry with Ebenezer and starts beating up muffins. “As she beat up the muffins, she imagined she was beating him up too.”
  • The beast says Gloria, “even tried strangling me with this silver rope.” The beast then suggests to Bethany that they should “eat her.”
  • The beast uses Claudette’s wings to fly Bethany across town. He drops her but pretends it is a game. However, “the beast likes thinking that Bethany could smash into the ground at any moment.”
  • Two of the children in the audience are “puddled” because they were talking.  The beast “vomited out a large yellow umbrella and sent it flying above Geoffrey’s head. . . The umbrella opened above Geoffrey’s head, sucked up his wriggling body, and closed itself again. A few moments later, it spat out a puddle through its handle.” Then, “The beast wiggled its fingers and brought the big yellow umbrella hovering over the best seat in the house – which happened to be occupied by Eduardo Barnacle. The beast puddled Eduardo right in between his screaming parents.” Luckily, the umbrella brings them both back in the end. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • The man from D.O.R.R.I.S, the undercover agency that captures magical creatures like the beast, puts a special smoke into the air at the theater that allows the audience to fall asleep. The smoke then alters the audience’s memories. 
  • At the prank shop, the owner suggests Bethany use the “demonic dream-lolly.” He describes, “One lick and your victim will have nightmares for weeks.”

Language 

  • The boys Ebenezer knew when he was younger called him “Mr. Ebenoozer Loser.”
  • Bethany calls people “gitface,” “stupid gitface,” and “selfish gits” many times. She also tells others to “bog off.” 
  • Bethany uses “flipping” and “freaking” frequently throughout the book. For example, she calls some people “total flipping Idiots.” She also says, “You’re flipping amazing!” 
  • The beast tells the boys picking on Ebenezer that, “If you or your snotty little friends tell anyone about me, then I will hunt you down.”
  • There is frequent name-calling including calling someone a “beastly brat,” a “weak fart,” a “twit,” an “idiot,” and an “unpleasant blip.”
  • After Nicholas’ funeral, the beast calls Nicholas “a moron, unworthy of mourning.”
  • The words on Claudette’s poster for her performance at the theater says, “Anyone who didn’t buy a ticket would be an ‘UTTER MORON WHO DOESN’T DESERVE TO LIVE.’”

Supernatural

  • Just like in the first book, the beast is told to vomit out special gifts for Ebenezer. Ebenezer thinks of a gift the beast gave: a gold-button shirt that fit whoever wore it perfectly. It was self-cleaning and self-tailoring. 
  • In a flashback, the beast vomits out a memory book for Ebenezer. It shows Ebenezer the person he misses most. In the present day, Ebenezer looks at this memory book often to see the life he used to have with the beast. 
  • The gold-buttoned shirt Ebenezer sold to Eduardo was pulling Eduardo. “He was walking very strangely – with two outstretched arms and a pair of feet dragging along the ground, as if he were being pulled toward Ebenezer’s house by an invisible thread.”
  • Claudette can lay eggs that have any food a person desires. For example, “Claudette laid an egg filled with pains au chocolat for Bethany.”
  • The scooter Bethany uses is controlled by the beast. The scooter drives itself and can go as fast as it pleases. 
  • The silver rope that was vomited out by the beast is used to drag Gloria to the theater. The beast wants her to go to the theater so he can eat her. The rope drags her to the front of the stage where the beast sits. 

Spiritual Content 

  • None

The Door at the End of the World

Lucy Eberslee is a thirteen-year-old girl working as the Gatekeeper’s deputy, a job which she takes very seriously. As the gatekeeper’s deputy, Lucy stamps passports and files travel forms for travelers as they pass through the doorway to another world; her world, Southeast, is one of eight worlds visitors can travel to. One seemingly normal Thursday turns into a chaotic journey when Lucy’s boss disappears.

On top of this, a boy from the Eastern world, Arthur, accidentally leaves his world and enters Lucy’s. Upon trying to open the door to Arthur’s world, Lucy realizes that the door is stuck and that something bigger is going wrong. Lucy and Arthur decide they need to get professionals involved, and so they begin their journey to the Interworld Travel Center to talk to its chief, Mrs. Bracknell.  

Lucy is a sympathetic character who struggles with being overshadowed by the rest of her family. Lucy reveals that her parents work in high positions in The House of Governors, and her older brother, Thomas, “is a member of the Interworld Travel Commission.” Lucy’s job as the Deputy gatekeeper makes her feel less invisible, as she explains, “I’d done well enough in school, but I’d never really stood out. Even my teachers had a habit of not quite remembering I was there unless they read about [my brother] in the news or needed a favor or advice from my father.” By the end of the novel, Lucy’s older brother, Thomas, tells Lucy that she has proven herself to be very brave and inspired him to speak out when something seems wrong.  

Arthur is an equally sympathetic character because of his willingness to help Lucy, even though he has just met her. Arthur and Lucy bond over their feelings of being invisible. When Lucy asks him if his family will notice he is missing, Arthur says, “After a month or so it might occur to my father that I haven’t come downstairs for dinner in a while. He’s got eight sons, though, so he won’t mind misplacing one.” Arthur’s perspective allows the reader to feel that they are learning about all the worlds right alongside him and they will enjoy Arthur’s excitement when experiencing new things as he explores all eight of the worlds. 

As Lucy and Arthur investigate who is really behind the closing of the worldgates, they realize they need respected adults to help. The conclusion involves an extremely chaotic, but entertaining, scene in which the villain is revealed. Because of her adventure, Lucy demonstrates personal growth, especially when it comes to speaking her mind and standing up for herself. In the exciting conclusion, Lucy is put in charge of “the team that’s opening up all of the worldgates again.” Lucy begins to recognize her own talents and abilities, as she says, “It’s going to be total chaos to organize . . . but I think I’ll be good at it.”  

Readers who enjoy fantasy, magical creatures, and reading about different universes will love The Door at the End of the World. Overall, the story highlights important messages like having confidence in yourself, appreciating what makes you special, and speaking up when something is wrong. Readers looking for more magical adventures should also read the Explorer Academy Series by Trudi Trueit and the Wizard for Hire Series by Obert Skye. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Lucy’s boss, the Gatekeeper, does not enjoy spending time with another gatekeeper called Bernard. The Gatekeeper explains, “I’d rather have my ears nibbled off by a thistle-backed thrunt [a spiky, destructive, dangerous creature that tears everything it encounters to shreds] than have to spend the day with Bernard.” 
  • When a man, Mr. Silos, finds out that Lucy is affiliated with Interworld Travel, he feels that he is being threatened for his illegal interworld smuggling deals. Lucy notices, “Mr. Silos turned back to look at me and Arthur, studying us . . . His right hand crept towards his gun.” He does not actually shoot at them.  
  • The thrunt “munched the floorboards” in front of Lucy and Arthur. Lucy says, “There was no point in trying to escape; I couldn’t sprint half as fast as the thrunt could move. What would it feel like, I thought in a panic, to be eaten from the toes up?” Luckily, Arthur and Lucy are rescued.  
  • Rosemary, a girl who at first pretends to be another deputy gatekeeper like Lucy, but later admits she is a smuggler of interworld goods, kills the thrunt; “a beam of golden light shot out from the doorway, there was a loud sizzling noise, and the thistle-backed thrunt split neatly in two.” 
  • Rosemary offers Arthur and Lucy her “InterCom cards” to use as communication. Rosemary threatens them about losing the devices, saying, “You’d better not lose them, or Pa will sell your ears on the black market to make up for it.” Rosemary later admits that she’s joking.  
  • Lucy and Arthur are horrified to discover that when they left their room at Interworld Travel, someone poisoned their magical bees. “[Lucy] heard a thin, frantic hum. The floor of the closet was carpeted in bees. They were moving, but barely; some crawled listlessly toward my feet . . . I wasn’t any sort of an expert when it came to bees, but even I could tell something was badly wrong.” 
  • The bees spell out “FLOWERS,” indicating that someone brought poisonous flowers into their room to kill them. Sadly, some have died. “The [bees] who died must have come closest to the flowers; the rest were still doing poorly, but when I placed a little saucer of sugar water on the floor, they perked up enough to shuffle over and taste it.” Rosemary tells Lucy she thinks someone poisoned the bees as “a warning.” 
  • Lucy worries that the head of Interworld Travel, Mrs. Bracknell, has killed all the gatekeepers. Lucy explains, “If Mrs. Bracknell had harmed my own frizzy-haired, heavy-footed Gatekeeper, I didn’t want to think about it.” 
  • Mrs. Bracknell tries to flee, but the kids discover her plan. Rosemary explains, “[Mrs. Bracknell] cut that awful hole in the ground and said that if I tried to warn [Lucy and Arthur] to stay away, she’d push me through it.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Characters occasionally exclaim, “Oh, worlds!” 

Supernatural 

  • A swarm of bees follows Lucy. The bees can spell out words. Lucy explains to the bees that she thinks the Gatekeeper has gone missing. “The bees huddled together over my head, humming to each other. After a minute or so, they spread out to form foot-high letters against the backdrop of the sky. SPARE KEY?” 
  • While researching the magical gatecutters that are able to cut open entrances to other worlds, Lucy and Arthur are attacked by a “thistle backed thrunt.” The “thrunt” “can chew through almost any substance and travel as fast as an automobile. It has four rows of teeth, a powerful jaw, and an insatiable appetite. If an unprepared traveler stumbled across a thrunt, however, he will surely be devoured.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Mummies in the Morning: The Graphic Novel

In the pyramid, a real-life mummy is waiting. . . .The magic tree house has whisked Jack and Annie to ancient Egypt. Inside a pyramid, Jack and Annie find a long-dead queen who needs their help solving a centuries-old riddle. If only they can find their way through the pyramid’s maze!

Fans of the Magic Tree House Series will enjoy seeing the same stories in a graphic novel format. The illustrations use bright colors that help bring the adventure to life. Even though the story includes a picture of a mummy and a ghost, the story isn’t frightening. Instead, the sibling’s journey is full of adventure as it teaches about the Ancient Egyptians’ world. 

The graphic novel is accessible to even the most reluctant reader because of the easy vocabulary and the simple sentences. Some of the pages tell the story without any text, while other pages have up to nine sentences. Readers who are unfamiliar with the Magic Tree House may have difficulty following the plot because so much of the original text has been cut out. While the short word count will appeal to many readers, they will miss out on some of the joy of reading the longer version.  

If you love to read, reading the original Mummies in the Morning is definitely the way to go because it’s much more in-depth. However, struggling readers will still find the graphic novel format entertaining.  

Readers who want to travel back in time to learn more about Egypt should also read Escape from Egypt by Wendy Mass and Secret of the Prince’s Tomb by Marianne Hering. You can also learn more interesting facts by reading the nonfiction companion Magic Tree House Fact Tracker: Mummies and Pyramids 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Annie opens to a page of a book and says, “I wish we could go to this place.” Magically, the tree house begins to spin. “It spun faster and faster.” When the tree house stops spinning, they are in Ancient Egypt.  
  • Jack and Annie meet the ghost of Hutepi, Queen of the Nile. Hutepi asks Jack and Annie to help her find “the magic spells I need to get through the Underworld.”  
  • Hutepi has not been able to travel to the afterlife because she cannot read due to her bad eyesight. When Jack tries to give her his eyeglasses, Hutepi says, “I fear I cannot wear your glasses, Jack. I am made of air.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs

Solimar, a soon-to-be princess of the kingdom of San Gregorio, is about to celebrate her fifteenth birthday. “After the quinceañera, she would be considered a princess of the world. And she would also officially be crowned Princess Solimar Socorro Reyes Guadalupe of San Gregorio.” 

Solimar’s home is known for its oyamel forest, a sacred place for the monarch butterflies that migrate each year. Solimar decides to watch the new generation of monarchs arrive in the oyamel forest. When Solimar goes to oyamel, she is surrounded by butterflies, who completely cover her arms and her rebozo, or shawl. Afterwards, Solimar notices that her rebozo looks as if it has “butterfly wings embedded in the fabric . . . and they’re shimmering.” The encounter with the monarchs gives Solimar the ability to predict the near future while she is wearing the rebozo and standing in sunlight. 

But then, on the eve of the kingdom’s annual supply trip, Solimar’s brother tells her, “He’s running away from home to join a ship because he doesn’t want to be king anytime soon, or possibly ever.” On top of this, when her father and brother set off on the trip, a neighboring king and his guards invade Solimar’s kingdom and take her mother and abuela hostage. The invading king plans to use Solimar’s mother and the rest of their family as a bargaining tool to force Solimar’s father to give him a thousand acres of their oyamel forest. Solimar hides just in time to escape the notice of the invaders and realizes it is up to her to find a way to warn her father of the invaders and their plans. Solimar, her bird Lázaro, and an enchanted talking doll set off on their quest down the river, in an attempt to “warn her father in time and change the destiny of her kingdom.”

Solimar is a sympathetic and strong female character that readers will connect with due to her determination and willingness to go against the mold. Though she is a soon-to-be princess, Solimar does not believe she needs to look a specific way to be considered royal. She explains that she prefers her hair short, and says, “Where does it say what a princess must look like?” She even argues with her brother and father for reform within the kingdom. She explains, “I wanted to change things in my kingdom. I have ideas about forming a council of men and women who advise the king and allowing everyone in the kingdom to vote,” instead of just men. 

Readers who enjoy fantasy and heroic journeys will love Solimar’s adventure to rescue her kingdom. This book occasionally showcases Spanish words, which can expand readers’ exposure to new vocabulary. The first time the Spanish words are used, they are typically explained in English, but readers will also be able to use context clues to identify the meanings. There is also a map of all the different locations Solimar visits as she journeys through the kingdom of San Gregorio at the front of the novel. 

Readers will sympathize with Solimar as she learns to appreciate her responsibilities to the kingdom. Solimar’s family also shows growth, as they ultimately decide to let their son, the prince, pursue the life of a sailor and “creat[e] a transport fleet for [their kingdom].” Another example of growth is when Solimar is hesitant to put on a crown, fancy shoes, and a gown for her quinceañera. Her dislike of these formalities symbolizes that she is afraid that in becoming a princess she will still not have a voice in making decisions that impact the kingdom. However, by the end of the novel, Solimar grows to appreciate her family, who trust her input and ideas and even appreciate the quinceañera’s formal ceremony. Overall, this book showcases the importance of family, friendship, and finding trustworthy people in tough situations. Readers eager to explore more books about friendship should also read A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi and A Hundred Horses by Sarah Lean.

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • Abuela’s friend who practices enchantments, Doña Flor, tells Solimar what will happen if someone tries to steal the magical rebozo from her. Doña Flor says, “Anyone who tries to break the bond would suffer the wrath of the ancestral spirits,” which means, “Rage, madness, impending doom.”
  • A leader of a rival kingdom breaks into Solimar’s family home. “Mothers called for their daughters. Girls cried. Footsteps scuffled. Chairs tipped over. A man’s booming voice ordered, ‘Be quiet!’” Solimar’s mother, grandmother, and friends are trapped and kept as hostages. “Abuela glanced over her shoulder and caught sight of Solimar. Her eyes filled with alarm, and almost imperceptibly . . .Abuela waved for Solimar to go away.” Solimar stays hidden and escapes.
  • The guards from the rival kingdom surround Solimar’s mother, abuela, and their advisors. “One stepped forward and announced, ‘By order of King Aveno, you all are under house arrest and may not leave the castle.’” When King Aveno enters, he reveals he is holding hostages to “gain the advantage I needed to negotiate for the land I wish to buy” from Solimar’s father, King Sebastián. 
  • Solimar’s friend, Berto, talks about his father who “died five years ago.” Berto does not describe the event in detail. 
  • King Aveno snatches the rebozo from Solimar and suddenly “the sky darkened, and a wind stirred and steadily grew . . . From the forest, a dark, tornado-like cloud raced toward the stage. [The king’s spy] and King Aveno held on to each other in an attempt to withstand the fierce gale. The wind roared.” The tornado “lifted away, growing smaller and smaller until it vanished. When the wind and world quieted, King Aveno and [his spy] were nowhere to be seen. All that remained were their boots and Solimar’s crumpled rebozo.”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • Occasionally, Solimar’s Abuela proclaims “for heaven’s sake.”

Supernatural

  • When Solimar goes to watch the migration of the monarch butterflies, she suddenly is surrounded by them: “A swarm of monarchs descended and swirled around her—a blur of black, orange, and coral—creating an iridescent mist as if she was swaddled in the softest and nicest blanket.” She starts to hear “a rhythmic humming” and is not sure where it is coming from as, “The song persisted, though, and grew louder and louder until it reached a crescendo of haunting voices.”
  • After her encounter with the monarchs, Solimar notices a mystical substance around her. “Glittery specks lingered in the air like suspended jewels” and her shawl, or rebozo, is covered in the magical substance. “One side looks as if the butterfly wings are embedded in the fabric . . . and they’re shimmering.”
  • After Solimar’s encounter with the butterflies, she can predict things, such as when her abuela is about to fall down a hill while searching for a specific herb. Solimar explains, “I’ve never seen that herb before. I just knew where it was and that she would fall. But I don’t know how I knew.”
  • Solimar’s friend Josefina tells Solimar, “[My boyfriend] asked to meet me tonight, but he was so serious and standoffish that I am worried his feelings for me have changed. What will he tell me?” Solimar instantly begins to predict a proposal, “Only that he loves you…” And sure enough, this prediction does come true. 
  • To see if her predictions are only lucky guesses, Solimar asks her friend Maria to, “Ask me something else. Maybe about the expedition. Something I couldn’t already know.” Maria says, “When I talked to [the stable hand] only an hour ago, he mentioned your father had just decided on the horse he would ride in the lead tomorrow. Which stallion will have the honor of wearing the king’s colors?” Solimar answers correctly, confirming she can make predictions while wearing the magical shawl. 
  • Abuela takes Solimar to see a folk healer, “where few dared to travel unless they needed to be rid of a curse or cleansed of evil spirits.”
  • The folk healer, Doña Flor, taught Solimar’s grandma how to use herbs to help heal ailments. Abuela says, “Her enchantment is for good . . . some things at Doña Flor’s house are charmed. Just . . . be accepting. That’s all I ask. Embrace the mystery and the peculiarities.”
  • Doña Flor tells Solimar, “Your rebozo is the swaddle for the butterflies. You are now their protector and inseparably connected to them.” Because of this, Doña Flor reveals that the magic of the butterflies in the shawl “are safely embedded. It’s part of the magic, as is the ability for [Solimar] alone to bear their intuition about the near future and what lies ahead.”
  • Though Solimar is now able to access the magical intuition of the monarchs, she knows “each day that it is sunny, [Solimar] must open the rebozo to warm and strengthen those you carry. Otherwise [the monarchs] will never have the stamina to take leave and cluster in the trees.” In addition, Solimar must avoid people asking her questions in the sun because, “For every question you answer, it drains a little of [the butterflies’] strength. If they lose too much they will surely die.”
  • Doña Flor has enchanted dolls that “begin to chatter.” Doña Flor tells Solimar that “their enchantment is strong, yet they are generous souls and very helpful.”
  • Abuela has tried to use spells. She says, “I tried to make a love potion on [my cat] and the stable cat, hoping to make them compatible. But I wasn’t exactly successful . . . But instead of falling in love with each other, they fell in love with the first inanimate object they touched. In [her cat’s] case, it happened to be that green woolen sock she carries everywhere.”
  • Solimar uses magic to figure out which way to go in the dangerous devil’s river. Solimar “heard the chorus again — mystical and ancient and with such harmony that her arms prickled and tears filled her eyes. A clutch of monarchs lifted from the rebozo, their wings beating in time to the rhythmic song, and trailed after the swarm toward the waterway on the right.”
  • The magic of the monarchs can move a canoe without Solimar paddling it at all. “The canoe glided to the right, following the monarchs’ path.”
  • Solimar uses her predictive abilities to help navigate a perilous labyrinth of caves. She reveals, “The tunnel on the right is navigable, but there is no through passage. The water is stagnant, and the air is foul-smelling. The one in the middle has a rock ceiling that eventually becomes so low that the only way to pass is by swimming beneath it, underwater. The tunnel on the left leads to a long corridor and a bat-filled chamber.” She makes it safely out of the caves. 
  • Solimar and her abuela plan to distract the invading guards with an enchantment. As the invaders sit in the middle of the room waiting for the greedy king’s decision about his hostages, “The awnings above the audience collapsed, spilling all manner of household items into the audience: feather dusters, wooden spoons, tea towels. . . Everyone who had been forewarned about the pastries and had not eaten them laughed as each guard picked up an inanimate object — and immediately fell hopelessly in love with it. At least for a few weeks, they would be as lovestruck and preoccupied as [Abuela’s cat], whose sweetheart was a green woolen sock.”
  • Solimar carries the rebozo and protects the monarchs that are magically embedded inside until they are strong enough to leave. At that point, “A wave of butterflies erupted from the oyamel forest. They dove and swooped around Solimar. . . The ancient song began, beautiful and melodic. The butterflies lifted the fabric, turning it around and around in the sun, and waving it so that it rippled until the creases fell away.” The last butterfly “emerged . . . the last one she protected landed on [Solimar’s] finger, then flew away to join the others in the oyamel forest.”      

Spiritual Content 

  • Solimar’s kingdom is home to “the oyamel forest,” a forest that draws in monarch butterflies. She explains, “Like everyone in the kingdom, Solimar believed that the ancestors of the monarch butterflies inhabited the oyamel forest, and that year after year, their spirits lured a new generation of butterflies to this spot during their migrations.”
  • In Solimar’s kingdom of San Gregorio, “the forest and the monarchs were revered and protected,” and the forest is often referred to as “the sacred place.”
  • Solimar ponders what draws the butterflies to the forest each year. “Isn’t it amazing that the butterflies, that have never been here before, arrive season after season at the same spot as their ancestors? Is it the magnetic pull of the earth or the position of the sun as the scientists suggest? Or do the spirits of their fathers and mothers whisper directions to them in a dream? Is it some magical intuition that allows them to know what lies ahead? . . . it’s a miracle.”
  • The dangerous river that prevents Solimar’s kingdom from trading goods is referred to as “Río Diablo,” or the devil’s river. 
  • When Solimar and her abuela visit Doña Flor for advice on Solimar’s ability to predict things, Doña Flor uses scents and vapors to help her. Doña Flor “stopped and picked a few leaves from one of the dried bouquets hanging from the ceiling and tossed them on the fire. A crisp fragrance, like a muddle of pine and mint, filled the room. Doña Flor waved the vapors toward her and inhaled deeply.” Abuela explains, “The strong scent of eucalyptus helps with remembering.”
  • Doña Flor explains that when any of the monarchs of the oyamel forest are weak, “on those occasions, the ancestral sprits of the monarchs choose a benevolent courier to protect the stragglers until they are strong enough to join the others” on their migration.

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