Small Spaces Quartet #1

At night they will come for the rest of you. It’s with this ominous warning that eleven-year-old Ollie and her two friends, Coco and Brian, set out on a chilling adventure in the woods with nightfall fast descending and the ever-watchful eyes of scarecrows on their backs.

What began as an unremarkable school trip to a nearby farm soon becomes a frightening journey into the world behind the mist. In order to survive and not remain trapped there forever, Ollie and her friends need to be quick on their feet as they work to unravel a hundred-year-old mystery, save their classmates, and beat the villainous smiling man at his own game.

When night falls, Ollie and her friends must find small spaces to hide from the scarecrows, who follow the smiling man’s commands. During the daylight hours, the three friends search for a way back into their world. Along the way, they meet several ghosts, who were unwilling to leave their loved ones who the smiling man turned into scarecrows. However, before Ollie meets the ghosts, she finds Beth Webster’s book where she chronicled the story of her family and explains how the smiling man was able to turn her husband into a scarecrow.

Beth Webster’s story connects to Ollie’s own story. In Beth’s story, her mother-in-law was distraught over her son’s disappearance. In order to appease his grieving mother, Beth’s husband Johnathan makes a deal with the smiling man. The smiling man brings Johnathan’s brother back to life, but Johnathan then becomes the smiling man’s servant. Similar to Beth, Ollie is also grieving the loss of a loved one—her mother. However, Ollie doesn’t let her grief overshadow her life. When the smiling man offers to bring Ollie’s mom back to life, Ollie doesn’t accept the deal. Instead, she gives up the deepest desire of her heart in order to break the curse and restore her classmates.

While Small Spaces is predominantly a ghost story, it also touches on the theme of grief. Through her experiences, Ollie learns that her mother’s words and advice will continue to help her navigate life. Even though Ollie still grieves her mother’s loss, she is learning to find joy in life again.

Small Spaces will appeal to readers who want a creepy, scary story without bloodshed and gore. The easy-to-read story keeps readers on edge as the smiling man’s secrets are revealed. The story’s conclusion is a little confusing as it tries to piece together the stories of the past with the stories of the present.

While Ollie and her friends are not well-developed, they are an interesting group who learns to appreciate each other’s differences. If you’re looking for a fast-paced ghost story that will keep you guessing, then grab a copy of Small Spaces. Beware: when you get to the end, you will want to find out what happens in the next book, Dead Voices, in which Ollie and her friends get trapped in a haunted snow lodge.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After school, Mike takes Coco’s notebook and begins taunting her. When Brian does nothing to help Coco, Ollie threw a rock that “caught Brian squarely in the back of the head, dropped him thump onto the grass, and turned everyone’s attention from Coco Zinter to her.” Then Ollie gets on her bike and races home.
  • At the farm, the kids were going to learn about “slaughtering hogs (cut the throat and then hang it up to drain).”
  • Before the book begins, Ollie’s mother died in an airplane crash. “Ollie dreamed of the crash, even though she hadn’t seen it. She hadn’t seen the firs afterward, or the bits of broken plane stuck in a tree, the things that haunted her nightmare.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation twice.
  • The first time the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian asks, “What in hell was that?”

Supernatural

  • Ollie reads a book about a brother who makes a deal with the smiling man to bring his brother, Caleb, back to life. Caleb “came back. He was pale and blue-lipped; his eyes were strange and distant. . . It was his voice, his smile. Only the look in his eyes had changed, and he would not say where he was.”
  • Ollie’s teacher tells the class a story about the farm that the class will be visiting. The farm is rumored to be haunted because two brothers wanted to marry the same girl. The teacher says, “The younger brother disappeared. No one ever found traces of either of them. Eventually, the sheriff decided that the younger brother had killed the elder and then been overcome with remorse and thrown himself into the creek. That was when the rumors of hauntings started.”
  • In the past, there was a school at the farm. The schoolhouse “was burned to rubble, of course, right down to the foundation stones. . . The weird things is this: they never found any bodies.”
  • After Ollie’s mother dies, her father gives her her mother’s cracked watch. While running from the scarecrows, the watch gives her a countdown until sunset and tells her what to do. For example, “RUN” and “HIDE.” When Ollie whispers, “Mom? Is that you? Can you hear me?” The watch’s screen reads “ALWAYS.”
  • The scarecrows try to grab Ollie and her friends. They crawl into a small space under some rocks. “A nightmare face turned to Ollie: stitched-on snarl, eyes like two finger sized holes. The rake reached out again. . . A huge, straw-smelling arm thrust itself into the hole. . . Then the arm withdrew.” When the scarecrows realize they can’t reach the kids, they leave.
  • While running from the scarecrows, the kids go into a house where Ollie meets a ghost. Ollie discovers that two of the scarecrows are the ghost’s sons. When the kids leave the house, “Two scarecrows stood outside, one at each window. Somehow, they were not looking into the house anymore, but were watching the kids run, still smiling their wide smiles.”
  • Brian recognizes one of the scarecrows as his friend Phil. Brian says, “It’s wearing Phil’s clothes. Because that’s Phil’s hat and Phil’s hair and kind of Phil’s face—if it were sewn on.”
  • Ollie and her friends go into another house and Ollie sees a ghost. “A hand appeared on the doorframe. A thick, yellow-nail hand. Then a face popped around the edge of the doorframe. . . It was a woman. Or had been. Her skin was sunken in beneath the cheekbones, and when she smiled, her lips stretched too wide, the way a skull smiles.” The ghost tells her that the scarecrows are “neither flesh nor spirit” and that they are now the smiling man’s servants. The ghost says, “the cornfield is the doorway” to another world and the scarecrows hold the door between two worlds open.
  • While talking to the smiling man, Ollie figures out how to save her classmates. Ollie flings “a scattering of drops [of water] at the first scarecrow. . . the scarecrow screamed—a human scream.” The scarecrows that were from the past turned into dust but her classmates turned back into themselves.

Spiritual Content

  • After the scarecrows come for the kids, Brian says, “Deliver us from evil” and then did the sign of the cross. When Ollie and Coco look at him, he says, “I’m not a good Catholic but maybe God is listening.”

Maya and the Rising Dark #1

Maya believes herself to be an ordinary middle-schooler, until she witnesses a tear in reality. Suddenly, the stories her father tells about his travels across the world come true. Maya dreams of a man encased in shadows and is attacked by mythical creatures. In addition, her best friend Frankie discovers she has superpowers.

Maya learns that her father is an orisha, a divine spirit being. Beyond that, her community is a secret haven for orishas, meaning that she, Frankie, and their friend Eli, all have orisha powers. But, the one person Maya wishes to tell about the magic world – her Papa – disappears while repairing the veil, the magical barrier between Earth and the Dark. In his absence, Maya learns from the orisha council that her father is the guardian of the veil, which was created to separate Earth from the Dark and its master, The Lord of Shadows. This evil being with similar orisha-like powers wants to use the tears forming in reality to break through the veil once and for all.

As attacks in the human world become frequent, the orishas prioritize the community instead of sending out a rescue mission for Maya’s father. Maya, Frankie, and Eli decide to take matters into their own hands using Papa’s staff to open a magical gateway into the Dark at Comic-Con. Even though the plan is just as crazy as it sounds, Maya is able to open the barrier, and the three friends journey through the Dark. This sparse and dangerous landscape is populated with creatures of legend and beings called darkbringers, who serve the Lord of Shadows. When the group is forced to fight their way through, Maya realizes the danger that they face. She says, “I hadn’t thought through the consequences of our actions… I knew that our parents would ground us for sneaking out. But that was minor compared to the real consequences. That I might have to hurt many people to get Papa back.”

Before Maya reconnects with her father, she is tested when she is forced to part with her friends, who sacrifice themselves so she can go on. Maya says, “Every kid should be so lucky to have friends who believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself. Friends who accept you exactly the way you are. And help you be brave when you don’t know that you can.” Maya is able to manifest her orisha powers and distract the Lord of Shadows long enough to free her father and return to the human world, where she finds that Eli and Frankie escaped alive and unharmed. But, the crisis is far from over. With the Lord of Shadows still at large, the orisha council declares that Maya will be trained by her father to be a guardian of the veil, marking the beginning of her next journey.

Maya and the Rising Dark is an action-packed fantasy story with diverse characters. The principal at Maya’s school goes by they/them pronouns and Frankie has two moms. Maya’s story is laced with themes of community and sacrifice. While constant fighting scenes can distract from the main plot, Maya is a resilient and thoughtful main character to follow throughout this adventure. There is reverence for the divine orishas, and even for the Lord of Shadows; when he is about to kill Maya’s father, she displays sympathy for his motives, showing her maturity. Maya has to grow up fast when the responsibility of saving the world falls on her shoulders, but she does so while keeping her rebellious personality and her kindness. The story blends the African heritage of the author into a modern-day tale about a girl from Chicago’s south side. Readers that enjoyed Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi and stories blending cultural legend into modern adventure, should pick up this book! Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston is another amazing story that is perfect for readers who love action and adventure.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maya’s father, Papa, tells her a story about elokos – mythical creatures who eat people they lure in with magical bells. Papa describes his encounter with the creatures. “I didn’t come out of my trance until they stopped ringing their bells, but by then, they had strung me up between two trees and lit a fire. They were preparing to cook me with my clothes and all. No matter how much I pleaded, they wouldn’t let me go.” He escapes them by singing, which distracts them.
  • While searching for her father, Maya encounters the Lord of Shadows, who intends to kill her. “The shadows pressed in around me and felt slick against my face. . . When I backed away, something reached out of the dark and grabbed my wrist. Cold seared into my skin. I tried to free myself, but the thing only tugged harder. Shadows like writhing snakes crawled up my arm—and I knew it was him. The man from my nightmare. Come to make good on his threat to kill me. I clawed at the shadows with my other hand, only they slithered up that arm too. I screamed, and the darkness muted my voice. When I kicked, my foot connected with air. Pain shot up my arms. My hands had gone numb. Frost started to creep across my skin. I wriggled my stiff fingers, and the ice crystals cracked and shattered. Then, with all my strength, I closed my hands around the shadows, which felt like thick ropes. I was sure they would turn me into an ice cube, but I gritted my teeth and jerked my arms back even harder. This time it worked. . .” Maya escapes the shadows.
  • Frankie and Maya are attacked by shadows. Maya “jerked back, but not fast enough. The shadow slashed against my cheek. ‘Ahhh,’ I screamed and stumbled out of reach. Frankie wasn’t so lucky. The shadow snapped around her wrist. She shrieked . . .More shadows grabbed Frankie from behind, dragging her away from me. . .” Maya hit the shadows and they “hissed, low and menacing. I kept swinging until they let go and Frankie crashed into my shoulder.”
  • While running from werehyenas, Maya and Frankie are magically protected by a barrier. Still, Frankie gets hurt. “In one quick swipe, [the werehyena] scraped his claws against the force field that separated us from certain death. The noise was sharp, and sparks shot out. Thankfully, the barrier held, but Frankie stumbled back a few steps. She folded over like he had punched her in the belly.”
  • A group of darkbringers disguise themselves as school bullies and force Maya, Eli, and Frankie into a fight. “Winston charged first, and I sprang to action. With Papa’s staff, I blocked his path. Something happened then that I didn’t expect. The staff started to glow, and a warm tingling shot up my arm. The glowing shocked the bullies too because they froze for a moment. . .Winston shoved me in the chest so hard that I almost lost my balance. I twirled the staff fast and hit him across his knuckles. He yelped and drew his hand back . . . even with Papa’s staff, I got kicked and punched more times than I cared to admit. . . I attacked again with the staff, batting away barbed tails that stung when they tore into my skin… I slammed the staff into shoulders, chests, and ribs to keep them back.” No one dies, and the fight is described over two pages.
  • A tear in the veil causes massive panic and destruction on Maya’s street. “Outside was complete chaos. People I’d known my whole life tried to free themselves from writhing shadows. My ex-babysitter, Lakesha, dodged a shadow only to have another one rope around her ankle. She fell down, and LJ, her cousin, stomped the shadow over and over until it let her go. He helped her up, and they ran away. They were the lucky ones. Some shadows wrapped people in cocoons and dragged them toward the tear in the veil—toward the Dark.”
  • During this chaos, a darkbringer attempts to hurt Maya’s mother. “Looking down at Mama, he smiled, revealing pointed teeth. His razor-sharp, barbed tail whipped around in a flash, cutting through the air, aimed straight for her. . . Before the darkbringer knew what hit him, I cracked the staff against his tail. He fell back, howling in pain. . . I barely ducked out of the way as the darkbringer’s claws swiped within striking distance of my face. Going on the offense, I angled the staff up and slammed it into his chest. A burst of light came from Papa’s staff, and the impact sent the darkbringer hurtling through the air.”
  • The Lord of Shadows invades Maya’s dreams and tries to kill her. The Lord of Shadow’s “ribbons snapped at me, and I batted them away with the staff. When the staff connected with the Lord of Shadows, magic jerked me back into the human world. . .My wrist burned where one of his ribbons had touched my arm. It happened on the crossroads, but the pain was real.”
  • Maya suspects that a gateway to the veil will open at Comic-Con, so she goes there with Frankie and Eli to open a portal and find her father. While there, they are attacked by darkbringers. Maya “dodged darkbringers left and right, sweeping the staff along my body in a wide arc. I knocked down two who tried to double-team me. . . The sound of bones breaking made my stomach flip-flop, but I kept pushing. Eli ducked under my staff and rammed his shoulder into a darkbringer. He headbutted another one, and punched a third.” As the fight continues, “Maya caught a blow on my shoulder. Sharp pain shot down my spine, and I bit the inside of my cheek until I tasted blood. My knees shook. . .Then I rammed my staff into [the darkbringers’] stomach. When he bent over, that was the end of it. I knocked him out cold.” The fight is described over four pages.
  • After entering the Dark, Maya, Frankie, and Eli find magical birds called impundulus. After they destroy their nest by accident, “the birds tucked their heads between their hunched shoulders and charged. They ran straight for us, their wings fluttering wildly and their bloody spines fanned out for maximum damage. . . We dove out of the way, and only two of the impundulu collided. . . My stomach lurched seeing the birds tangled up like that. Each impaled on the other’s spines. There was so much blood . . . The two tangled birds fell into a heap of twisted spines and feathers and blood while the other two took to the sky.”
  • During the fight, “an impundulu’s talons raked across my shoulder, and I bit back a scream as searing pain brought me to my knees. The bird shrieked, coming at me again, and I rolled out of the way. I fell on my back and slammed the staff into the impundulu’s side. The impact sent the bird tumbling into a cornstalk.” Maya and her friends knock the birds unconscious. The scene is described over two pages.
  • While in the dark, vines erupt from the ground. “Vines covered in thorns shot up from the ground and whipped around Frankie’s feet. She cried out as she hit the dirt. More vines were sprouting up everywhere, thrashing and wriggling toward us. I slammed the staff into the ground, giving it the order to burn the vines. . . fire flared to life on top of a vine writhing toward me. Before long, the fire had grown into a full raging inferno that burned across the cornfield.” Maya accidentally sends the fire towards a group of darkbringer children. The kids throw stones at them, but none of them hit, and Maya and her friends escape.
  • Maya thinks about how Frankie’s first mother died, implying that something bad happened. Frankie “once told me about her first mom—how one day she’d gone to the store for groceries and never returned. The police said that her mom had died in a car accident. Now that I thought about it, that didn’t add up, especially since she was an orisha. She was immortal—no accident could’ve killed her.”
  • Eli inadvertently kills a darkbringer who was inside a bug-like helicopter. Eli “whipped out the prods he took from the darkbringer at Comic-Con and slammed them into the glass dome. An electrical current flickered down the length of the prods, then shot through the craft. Long cracks spread across the glass. . . The pilot yanked at the controls as the wings flapped wildly. He pulled up but didn’t get very far before the craft crashed a few feet away.”
  • Nulan, the darkbringer army commander, kills one of her men for disobeying her. “Nulan reached into her black vest and removed a slim knife of her own, her eyes on Papa’s staff the whole time. She flipped her wrist so fast that the knife was a silver blur. . . Nulan had aimed the blade for the darkbringer who went against her order. He stumbled and fell to his knees with the knife lodged in his chest. She’d killed him—one of her own men.”
  • Nulan also tries to kill Frankie. “Nulan removed another slim knife from her vest and sent it flying straight for Frankie’s heart. . . Just as the knife was inches from my friend, I leaped in front of her. Everything was a blur as I raised the staff to deflect the knife, but before I could, the ground shook hard beneath our feet, then it opened up and swallowed us whole.” Maya opens a portal and saves her friends before Nulan’s knife hits Frankie.
  • After returning to the Dark, Frankie and Eli sacrifice themselves in a fight with Nulan so Maya can find her father on her “Flashes of light crackling like electricity shoot out of Frankie’s hands. . . The darkbringers broke their flight path to get out of the way. Most moved in time, but two of them got caught in her blast and spiraled out of control… Frankie sent another blast, knocking the fire-breathing darkbringers to the ground. . . But as soon as she said it, Nulan sent a knife straight through Frankie’s shoulder.” Eli stays with Frankie and tends to her while Maya leaves.
  • Later, Nulan confronts Maya as she’s trying to free her father. She tells Maya that she killed her friends and insults her father. Maya lashes out. “I knocked my staff against the gym floor, and a streak of white light shot out. It hit Nulan so hard that she slammed into the line of darkbringers standing behind her. They crumped to the floor in a heap.”
  • Nulan orders her soldiers to attack. Maya and her father then fight the darkbringers. Maya “ducked to miss a club aimed straight for my face. Before the darkbringer could swing again, I cracked the staff against her knees. When she dropped to the ground, I landed another thrash across her head, knocking her out cold. . .Three darkbringers swung their battleaxes, and I thrust out the staff to catch the blows. . . Something as slippery as a snake lashed around my waist and jerked me backwards. My staff fell and hit the floor, then the thing lifted me up high in the air. I clawed at what turned out to be a darkbringer’s tail. . . As the barb drove toward my heart, I grabbed the darkbringer’s tail, stopping it from striking. The tail slammed me into the ground, and pain shot through my body. . .” Papa kills the darkbringer.
  • The fight against the Lord of Shadows is at first a long conversation, but it comes to a climax when he grabs Papa with the ribbons that make up his being. “Some of his ribbons had grabbed Papa by the ankle and dangled him upside down like he was a child. Papa clawed at the shadows, but the color was draining from his face fast. The Lord of Shadows was absorbing him, killing him.” Maya is then attacked by him, but escapes by shining light on him, distracting him until Papa and Maya escape.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After seeing many strange occurrences, Frankie suggests that they are under the effect of a hallucinogen. Frankie says, “Maybe there was some mind-altering drug in the vanilla pudding at school today. My moms say that the government performs secret experiments on people all the time.”

Language

  • Eli and a high schooler have a verbal altercation where the bully raises their middle finger.
  • There is some name-calling such as fiend, half-breeds, and beanstalk.
  • Frankie breaks a twig, giving away the group’s hiding location to the darkbringers. In response, “Eli mouthed a curse that would’ve gotten him grounded for a month had Nana been here.”
  • When the Lord of Shadows appears at the story’s climax, Maya says, “Crap.”
  • The Lord of Shadows attacks Maya, and Maya’s Papa starts to curse at him using “some words I had never heard.”

 Supernatural

  • One of the main conflicts in this story is the rift between the real world and the Dark, a different plane of existence filled with creatures called darkbringers. A veil separates these two worlds, which is frequently damaged. Maya’s father fixes these “tears” in the veil.
  • Magic exists, as well as people who can wield magic. Papa describes this world to Maya, revealing that he is the guardian of the veil. He describes the veil between the worlds. “Think of it as an invisible barrier that keeps our world safe from creatures much worse than werehyenas.”
  • Papa also tells Maya that she encountered the Lord of Shadows in a dream. He father says, “He’s as real as you or I,” Papa explained. “He’s trapped in the Dark, but he can enter our world through dreams—which are crossroads between our two worlds.”
  • Maya’s favorite comic book is about an orisha named Oya. Orishas are spirit beings that have a variety of dominions and powers. Oya has these powers too. “Oya wasn’t like most superheroes. She wasn’t from another planet, and she didn’t have fancy gadgets. She was a spirit goddess, an orisha. She controlled wind, lightning, and storms, and never lost a fight.”
  • Eli, Maya’s friend, is obsessed with ghosts and talks about them often “Did you feel a cold spot?” Eli asked. “Like when there’s a ghost around.”
  • Eli also tells facts about ghosts. “Sometimes ghosts can inhabit the bodies of the living.” Eli believes that ghosts are responsible for many of the strange things happening before he learns about the Dark.
  • Eli also suggests that people’s strange behavior is a result of possession. “Maybe they’re possessed by evil spirits,” Eli offered. “One day they’ll try to turn us into zombies, and we’ll have to spray them with ketchup to snap them out of their trance.”
  • The book deals with a variety of other mythical beings and creatures such as elokos, orishas, and darkbringers. Shadows have the ability to attack. There are also creatures such as werehyenas and giant bugs.
  • Maya talks about kishi in reference to her dad’s stories. “I told Tisha Thomas that my father fought a kishi, a creature with a human face on the front side of his head and a hyena on the back side.”
  • Maya’s father also tells her stories of impundulu, magical birds. Impundulu “were magical giant birds that had sharp spikes like fishbones on their bellies. They hardly ever flew, but when they did, their wings sounded like helicopter blades.” Later, Maya, Frankie, and Eli fight multiple impundulus.
  • Maya and Frankie are cornered by were-hyenas, humanoid hyenas similar to werewolves. “It wasn’t until they stepped out of the shadows that I realized the hyenas had grown bigger. They stood on their hind legs, and their claws looked like curled knives. Their torsos stretched into a shape that was unmistakable and impossible. These were werehyenas, like from Papa’s stories, half hyena, half man.”
  • Maya’s Papa gives her a staff that has magical powers, which she uses to defend herself.
  • Maya learns that she is a “godling,” someone that has the blood of an orisha. This enables her to use magic. Frankie and Eli have orisha blood too. Frankie’s power is to create bursts of light, while Eli’s power is to turn invisible. Maya is unsure of her power until later on in the story where she creates a portal between the Dark and Earth.
  • Maya learns that her neighbor is an orisha when the neighbor saves them from being kidnapped by darkbringers. “A giant bird made of blue light circled the edges of the vortex. It was fast—too fast, enough to make my head spin. From what I could tell, it was causing the disturbance. Some of the darkbringers tried to escape, but it was no use. . .”
  • Maya learns that many people in her community are orishas or their descendants, as it is a secret orisha community. Miss Lucille, Maya’s neighbor, explains that humans don’t know of the existence of the orishas and magical beings because they are kept secret. “The orishas decided that the magical species must keep themselves hidden from humans. Among them are the aziza, woodland fairies wary of outsiders. The elokos, who are forest-dwelling elves with an insatiable appetite. There are also the trickster kishi, with their two faces, and the adze, who are fireflies that feed on blood. And of course, the werehyenas, who, as you’ve seen, can be unpredictable. There are countless more. It’s the orishas’ job to keep magic from interfering with human development, as the universe intended.”
  • A girl in Maya’s town opens a portal by snapping her fingers.
  • Maya attends an orisha meeting that happens in outer space.
  • The commander of the darkbringer army, Nulan, is an aziza. Maya reacts to her in awe. “The commander moved like she owned the sky, and even a flock of birds got out of her way . . . She was brown . . . She was golden. It took me a minute to figure out that she was from the aziza. . . The aziza were faeries notorious for not interacting with outsiders.”
  • Maya thinks about grootslang, a creature from one of her father’s stories. Grootslang “looked like a cross between an elephant and a snake. It had leathery black skin and ivory tusks that were venomous.”

Spiritual Content

  • Orishas are both supernatural and spiritual beings. One can pray to an orisha for good luck or wealth. When Maya attends a council meeting of the orishas, she describes them in detail. “A light flashed in front of us, and high-back golden thrones shimmered into existence. The council members sat on them in their semidivine state. . .”
  • The Lord of Shadows is considered a divine being of similar class to the orishas.
  • After learning that she, Frankie, and Eli, are descendants of orishas, Maya wonders if this gives them divine status. “I thought about how the leader of the werehyenas had called us godlings and wondered what it meant. Was it like being a god, but not? Like a pretend god?”
  • Maya is shocked when she learns that her father is a full-blooded orisha named Elegguá. “My father was an orisha—a spirit god, a celestial, and not human.”
  • Maya’s neighbor, another orisha, explains how the universe began. “The universe started as a vast blank slate. It existed without space, time, mass, or depth. It was endless and boundless and void. No one can say how long it remained that way before becoming aware, but soon after, it grew restless. Once the first sparks of matter and antimatter cropped up, the universe found its purpose. It would create. The universe birthed planets, moons, comets, asteroids, black holes, and stars. The things it made hummed with energy, and in their song came the universe’s first and oldest name, Olodumare…” The story continues for a few pages, but the most important part is that Maya’s father created the veil.

by Madison Shooter

 

Gargantis

Herbie Lemon and Violet Parma team up once again to solve another Lost-and-Foundery mystery. This time, the outcome of the case has implications on the entire island. Eerie-on-Sea is under attack as a violent storm, nicknamed Gargantis, tears through town, destroying buildings and causing stormquakes (earthquakes caused by the storm).

Amid the chaos, another case presents itself to Herbie. Mrs. Fossil has found a mysterious bottle on the beach. It seems to move on its own and has indecipherable ancient writing on its side. Everyone claims to be the bottle’s rightful owner. Dr. Thalassi and Mrs. Fossil want it for their respective collections. The town’s fishermen say it is theirs due to the presence of their own ancient language on the side. However, a frightening man in a hood makes it clear that he wants the bottle more than anyone and he is willing to sacrifice everyone in Eerie-on-Sea to get it.

Some want to discover what the writing on the bottle means, what fairy-like creature is living inside, and why the man in the hood wants it so badly. They seek the help of Blaze Westerley, a young, outcasted fisherman. Blaze’s uncle was recently lost at sea while investigating the ancient legends of the Eerie fishermen. Soon, Herbie and Violet realize the legends may be more relevant to the case than they initially believed. In fact, if they can crack the case of the fish-shaped bottle, they may be able to save Eerie rock from the terrible Gargantis.

Gargantis shows off the charming relationship between Herbie and Violet as they take on the town’s adults. Blaze Westerley is a welcome addition as he diversifies the group. Blaze is a little unsure of himself, but confident in his uncle’s mission. He, too, is a bit of a “lost thing” like Violet and Herbie were before him. The trio works well together, and each person has skills and knowledge that contribute to solving the mystery.

The book dives a bit deeper into Herbie’s backstory. He must reconcile his fear of the sea with his love of finding homes for lost things. Since the bottle came from the ocean and most of the people who want it are fishermen, Herbie spends a lot of time doing things that scare him, such as being on boats far away from shore. Herbie’s experiences develop the theme that sometimes we must do what scares us in order to help ourselves and others.

The story also highlights how a new perspective can bring the truth to light. Without Blaze’s input or Violet’s seemingly “bonkers” ideas, the mystery would not have been solved. Taylor also applies this idea to Herbie’s book from the mermonkey. Herbie believes that the cover of the book is a message that he will meet his end at the bottom of the sea. However, he never reads the contents, which say something different. In the end, the townspeople gather and give their own interpretation of the cover, none of which end with Herbie drowning. The book, therefore, reinforces the importance of perspective and the value of individuality.

The fast-paced book introduces new characters and interweaving plotlines. For this reason, it is recommended that readers not read Gargantis as a standalone. In addition, the resolution may fall flat for those who did not read the first book, Malamander. Black and white illustrations bring some added visualization to some of the scenes. Plus, the characters are just as charming and quirky as before. If readers enjoyed Malamander, they are likely to enjoy Herbie and Violet’s deep dive into the ancient fishermen’s legends.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A mechanical shell attacks Violet and Herbie. Herbie fends it off by throwing “the bucket at [it], knocking it to the ground.” Violet “wrestles with it” trying to get it to stop.
  • Violet tells Herbie that the fishermen cannot fish in the storm. She explains, “The one motorboat that tried got its engine exploded by lightning.” She then says, “One fisherman has drowned already.”
  • Amid the argument, Herbie fears “some sort of riot is about to break out in the hotel.”
  • Herbie narrates that when Lady Kraken, the owner of the hotel, slaps him “on the back. It feels like being hit with a sock full of dry twigs.”
  • Violet shows Herbie an image in a book that depicts a large creature who “uses its giant flippers to smash the town to pieces, while lots of little medieval people run away screaming.”
  • The book Herbie receives from the mermonkey, a prophetic machination who gives customers a book, has a picture that shows “tiny figures of men and women and children writhe and twist as they sink down, down, down to the depths.” Herbie thinks this describes his fate as well as his unknown family’s. The cover also shows these bodies being received by “the white tentacles, feelers, and claws of the abyssal horrors that lurk at the cold, dark bottom of the sea.”
  • The clockwork crab makes “steel blades slide out from each of [its] four raised arms.” It aims for Herbie. Herbie wonders if there is a rule for his profession about smashing “a lost object to smithereens if it tries to pinch your stuff and then attacks you with swords.” When the clockwork crab attacks, “Herbie experiences a sudden flash of pain” and then a thin line of blood runs down the back of his hand.” Herbie gives “the blasted thing an almighty kick up the trumpet” and knows “with certainty that something has broken” after hearing it land with a “PANG!
  • Herbie keeps a sprightning, a fairy-like creature that can produce lightning, under his cap. He feels “a small explosion” at one point, followed by “smoke and the unmistakable stench of singed hair.”
  • Without a word, the man in the deep hood, nicknamed Deep Hood, threatens Mr. Mollusc, Herbie’s boss. He merely shows him what is under the hood, which is enough to make Mr. Mollusc go “so white he’s almost see-through” and agree to the Deep Hood’s terms.
  • When faced with two difficult possibilities, Herbie outlines his choices. He says he can either “get on the boat — despite the mermonkey’s warning — and run the risk of a watery end on the cold, dark bottom of the sea, or don’t get on the boat, and face the certainty of being nabbed by a bunch of angry fishermen with ropes and knives.” He chooses the boat.
  • Blaze explains that his uncle was once “swept overboard and swallowed into the swirling mouth of the Vortiss,” a whirlpool in the ocean, but he survived. His uncle told his fellow fishermen that he saw “the wrecks of all the ships the Vortiss has gobbled up over hundreds of years. And the skeletons of all the men who were gobbled with them, too.”
  • Blaze explains that his uncle wanted to return to Vortiss to investigate, so he took Deep Hood with him. However, they began to argue. Blaze remembers that his “Uncle had his ax out.” Then, Deep Hood threw something like a bomb. Blaze was “thrown to the deck.” That was the last he saw of his uncle, as the rope connecting the two men to the ship was “cut clean through.”
  • Blaze sees Deep Hood and blames him for his uncle’s fate. Blaze then “leaps forward, the wrench raised like a club.” Deep Hood uses his tentacle to ward the boy off, “smashing Blaze in the face.”
  • Herbie’s sprightning makes his cap explode, shocking Deep Hood’s hand, and causing Deep Hood to be “hurled backward.”
  • When a fisherman, named Lanky Beard, questions Deep Hood’s intentions, Deep Hood’s tentacle “shoots out and strikes Lanky Beard in the face.” It then “[grabs] his beard and [yanks] his head down onto a tabletop.” Finally, the tentacle punches the man’s feet out from under him, causing him to go “down with a sickening crunch, and [stay] down.”
  • Deep Hood is the clockwork crab’s master. He becomes disappointed in it and “kicks the shell… a strong, cruel kick, designed to punish.” Soon other fishermen join in, kicking the shell around in what Herbie describes as a “spiteful game.”
  • The sprightning defends Herbie and Violet by shooting lightning at a fisherman. “The man is thrown off his feet as electricity scorches the moldy wallpaper right down the corridor.”
  • When trying to leave the pub, Deep Hood’s tentacle yanks Violet back. Herbie frees her when he “takes the door in both hands and slams it shut with all [his] force on the tentacle,” which is followed by a “sickening, rubbery crunch—and a roar of pain from Deep Hood.”
  • The sprightning uses its lightning on Mr. Mollusc, sending it “crackling up Mr. Mollusc’s arm and down into his trousers.” This causes him to “go stiff as a board and fall over backward in a puff of smoke.”
  • Deep Hood discovers Herbie and Violet eavesdropping. Herbie sees “Violet’s terrified face as the tentacle shoves her into the open sarcophagus and slams the lid shut.” Herbie also says, “I remember the smashing of glass in the tower as I was pulled out a window and carried away into the night.” He does not remember anything other than that, as he assumes he has been “knocked out.”
  • The fishermen use a rope to restrain Herbie. Herbie narrates, “It’s pulled tight, trapping my arms, and I’m jerked off my feet and out through the metal door.”
  • The fishermen and Deep Hood launch their first attack on Gargantis, using Herbie as bait. Herbie sees the weapons the fishermen and Deep Hood plan to use on Gargantis. It is a gun, “the type once used to hunt whales” with spears as projectiles that have bombs attached. The fishermen fire multiple times at Gargantis. The fishermen continue to attack the creature and use Herbie and the sprightning as bait. Herbie describes that the boat is “struck violently,” but everyone aboard is unharmed. Herbie sees that the fishermen are now armed with “axes and spears.” Herbie observes as “Gargantis attacks” the fishermen’s boat. Herbie thinks that by now all the fishermen are “down to the ocean floor.” It is later discovered that they all survived. This first attack takes place over 22 pages.
  • Herbie, Violet, and Blaze come across a swarm of sprightnings that singe Violet’s hair.
  • Later, Deep Hood attacks Gargantis again. Herbie sees the spear land “in the neck, embedding itself deep,” followed by “a sickening ball of fire that bursts out of the storm fish’s mouth” when the bomb explodes. Gargantis “writhes and twists, shrieking with pain and spouting flame.” This wound is nearly fatal to the monster, and the characters believe she is dead.
  • In response to Gargantis’s injury, the sprightnings “swarm around the iron fishing boat, darting and zapping at the fishermen and running in hot angry arcs across its surface.” The sprightnings’ electricity causes an explosion that results in the loss of the power engines, leaving the fishermen victim to the whirlpool, Vortiss. This second attack takes place over two pages.
  • When both the sprightning and Gargantis are close to death, Deep Hood launches another attack. Deep Hood explains that he wants Gargantis’s “carcass” for his potion. The Westerleys and Deep Hood grow increasingly angry with each other. Deep Hood calls Blaze to fight. Deep Hood “punches Squint in the face” and throws an ax at Herbie and Violet, but misses. In the final moments of this encounter, Gargantis returns, and Deep Hood is swallowed by her. This final attack takes place over six pages.
  • Squint tells the story of what happened on the day he was pulled into Vortiss. He remembers that Eels “threw the bomb . . . at his boat.” That act made Squint realize that Eels “wanted to kill us, so that no one else would know he was here, or how to find the Vortiss”. Later Eels “threw another bomb, right at Gancy’s head” and “seemed desperate to kill her before she could wake.”
  • Herbie identifies the remains of Saint Dismal by the features of the skeleton. He sees that, “On the chin of the skull, attached to scraps of mummified skin, is a long dangling beard that reaches all the way to his bony toes.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The fishermen frequent a pub in which they drink “pints of Clammy Dodger.”
  • Blaze says his uncle was “brought . . . back to life with brandy and a slap.”
  • Herbie describes that in winter, it is normal to see the fishermen at the pub drinking beer and smoking pipes.
  • Violet refers to some “drunken sailors.”
  • Lady Kraken has a “long-stemmed glass with a little golden wine inside.”
  • Dr. Thalassi “prescribed [Lady Kraken] an ointment” for her tentacle growth.
  • Herbie explains how the fishermen’s behavior at the pub changes when the tourists leave for the colder season. He says, “Pipes are smoked once more as sea songs are sung and beer is spilled and fights erupt, and Boadicea Bates presides over it all.”

Language

  • Some of the characters are called ridiculous, crazy, annoying, a fool, and other similar terms.
  • Fishermen often say phrases like, “Bless his Beard,” and, “By Dismal’s beard.”
  • Herbie wants to know why Deep Hood “[had] to be so creepy about” turning in a lost object.
  • Herbie references Deep Hood to Mollusc, calling him one of “the strangest ones.”
  • Herbie thinks only “weirdos and crackpots” would visit Eerie-on-Sea in the winter.
  • Herbie mentally refers to the clockwork crab as a “stupid shell.”
  • Mollusc tells Dr. Thalassi to “take this frightful object away,” which turns out to be Mrs. Fossil caught in a net. He later calls her a “scruffy person.”
  • Lady Kraken calls Herbie a “dunderbrain.”
  • Herbie mishears Lady Kraken when she is brushing her teeth. She says she has yet to “[brush her] backside…the backside of [her] toosh.” She means to say tooth, but due to the foam in her mouth, the joke refers to her bottom.
  • The phrases “how on earth” and “bladderwracks” are used as exclamations.
  • Herbie occasionally uses the word “blasted” as a descriptor for frustrating objects.
  • Herbie’s narration calls Deep Hood the “awful man.”
  • Mrs. Fossil refers to Sebastian Eels as, “That rotter.”
  • Herbie sees a fisherman outside of the bathroom “doing up his fly.”
  • Deep Hood calls Blaze “dim-witted.”

Supernatural

  • Herbie encounters a clockwork crab, a machine that looks like a hermit crab. The crab seems to act autonomously. Herbie says, “I don’t see how a clockwork hermit crab, no matter how complex, can want things for itself.”
  • The book’s plot centers around the legend of Gargantis, a sea storm monster that travels through both the sky and water. The saying goes, “Gargantis sleeps, Eerie keeps . . . Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes and falls into the sea.” Herbie describes the storm as “a vast creature—with the head of an anglerfish and dozens of fins along its sinewy body.” It also “is wreathed in storm clouds and lightning that seems to pour off its fins.”
  • The book revisits the mermonkey contraption from the first installment. The machine picks a book that it feels the customer needs to read. Herbie explains that “some people have only to touch the hat in the creature’s hand to set off the mechanism and be dispensed a book.”
  • The characters encounter a “fish-shaped bottle.” Within the bottle is a creature called a sprightning. The sprightnings are fairy-like creatures who can produce lightning, glow, and fly. Herbie sees that “two electrical arcs flicker out from the figure’s back, forming shapes that look for all the world like wings.”
  • When someone mentions the word “dismal,” “the storm spews lightning and thunder once more.” Herbie thinks the weather is “conjured by these words.”
  • Erwin, the cat, speaks again.
  • Deep Hood has a pink tentacle that he uses to attack his enemies. Deep Hood seems to have a supernatural sense of smell.
  • Lady Kraken is given a gold tincture made from the flesh of Gargantis that heals her incurable legs. Herbie watches as the “golden liquid . . . turns purple and strange.” She drinks it and temporarily can walk.
  • After the language Eerie script is decoded, Violet discovers the remainder of the saying regarding Gargantis and Eerie Rock. It continues, “Gargantis dies, Eerie dies, and all falls into the sea.” It turns out that Gargantis has “been holding [Eerie Rock] up all these years” and that Eerie’s stormquakes have been the result of Gargantis leaving her cavern to try to find her lost sprightning.
  • The sprightnings have the ability to “signal” to Gargantis to help their queen get back to them.
  • Squint explains the relationship between Gargantis and the queen sprightning. “The sprightning gives light to the storm fish, and Gargantis gives the sprightning electrical power in return, so she can breed her swarm. They bind forever and should never be separated for long.” They must reunite the two creatures to save their lives.
  • Once Deep Hood is revealed as Sebastian Eels, he shares that the tincture he offered to Lady Kraken allowed him to regrow the hand he lost in the previous book.
  • Eels has “dozens of little pink feelers” that “clutch at his lips and gums.” He also has gills.
  • Herbie narrates, “There’s a rushing sound as air is drawn into [Gargantis’s] mouth, and I sense her long body inflating and filling the cave beneath Eerie Rock completely.” She returns to her post holding Eerie Rock up.

Spiritual Content

  • The story refers to the legend of Saint Dismal, an Eerie-specific tale of the island’s “first Fisherman.” He is the “patron saint of calamitous weather and first fisherman of Eerie-on-Sea.” He is portrayed as having a “strange and holy light over his head,” which eventually is revealed to be a sprightning. They call this his “Gargantic Light.”
  • Violet reads that the people believed the sprightning to be a “miracle” because it was accompanied by an abundant catch of fish. In addition, the fishermen often use the phrase, “Bless his beard” in reference to their saint.
  • When Erwin, the cat, turns counterclockwise three times, the fishermen believe that a “bad omen” is upon them. The saying goes, “When Eerie cat turns widdershins thrice, ’tis dreary luck for men and mice.”
  • The fishermen are “extremely superstitious. When Herbie asks why the fishermen did not try to stop Erwin from turning, Violet says, “He who touches Bad Luck Cat will nary catch a cod nor sprat!”
  • Blaze explains that the whirlpool Vortiss is said to be “the place where storms are born” and has “strange lights and treacherous winds.” He also says that Saint Dismal talked of an “underwater world beneath Eerie Rock, where lie the wrecks of all the ships the Vortiss has gobbled up over hundreds of years.”
  • Gargantis is “a storm fish from the lost tales of creation” and “a creature from the beginning of the world, who should endure till its end.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Monstrous

The city of Bryre suffers under the magic of an evil wizard. All the young girls get sick because of his curse and disappear without a trace. No one is allowed outside at night, but for Kymera, night is the only time she can enter the city. Kymera was a victim of the wizard, but her father brought her back to life, and he replaced her burnt body parts with the remains of other girls and modified her body with animal body parts. According to her father, people would not understand her wings, her claws, or her spiky tail. They would not comprehend her purpose: to rescue the missing girls from the wizard’s prison.

Even though she was cautious, Ren, a boy from the city, sees Kymera and leaves a perfect rose for her every evening. Over time, they become friends, and as they talk, Kymera realizes that Ren knows about the missing girls’ plight, the wizard, and the evil magic encroaching on Bryre. And what he knows will change her life.

Set in, near, and around the cities of Bryre and Belladoma, each chapter follows Kymera’s perspective, and the first page is decorated with shifting side profiles of Kymera, her father, Ren, and Batu, a rock dragon, allowing the reader to visualize the characters. However, each chapter details one or more days in her life, which leads to the unique chaptering of non-consecutive days: the chapter format does not make the story confusing. Instead, the chapter format assists in thoughtfully unveiling the setting as Kymera becomes accustomed to her new body and old memories.

Due to her interactions with Ren, Kymera rethinks everything she had known about herself, her father, and her relations with the city. Though Ren and Kymera have a wonderful friendship, their relationship does not extend from their mutual feelings as allies. At first, she is cautious of Ren because she does not know how he will react to her animal traits. Eventually, Kymera fully trusts Ren as she learns the truth about her mission. Despite her initial ignorance about the city of Bryre, Kymera is a fascinating narrator, but her monologues about her true nature make the story drag.

Monstrous takes pieces from classic fairy tales and uses them to make a compelling, unique story. Readers will take away one lesson from the story—know who you can trust. For instance, the king and queen of Bryre make a deal with a wizard to protect Bryre from an unnamed city but decline to compensate the wizard when he asks for their first-born child as payment. Ten years later, he betrays the king by killing the queen and his first-born child—Rosabel.

Rumpelstiltskin is the inspiration behind their deal; The Pied Piper of Hamelin is the inspiration behind its consequences. Readers will enjoy pointing out the fairy tale inspirations and figuring out the true villain’s identity within Kymera’s limited perspective. There are few scenes with graphic violence and many acts of magic scattered throughout the story. All in all, this debut novel by MarcyKate Connolly stands out as an original story while feeling like a classic. Readers who enjoy reading fairytale-inspired stories will also enjoy Royal Academy Rebels Series by Jen Calonita.

 Sexual Content

  • Ren leaves perfect red roses for Kymera, but her father “would not be happy that a boy is leaving [Kymera] gifts.”
  • When Kymera tests her abilities for the first time, a man approaches her and asks her to take off her cloak. “His gait appears nonchalant, but it is faster than I think. . . Why did he [Father] leave me to face this unsettling man alone?”

Violence

  • Father tells Kymera that a powerful wizard killed her mother. “Your mother attempted to stop him, and the wizard murdered her in the ensuing struggle.” Later, Father elaborates, “The queen [Kymera’s mother] tried to block my path to the princess. I killed her. . . I killed [the princess], too. I took [the princess’s] body and disappeared.”
  • Kymera hunts a rabbit for dinner. “I pounce, my teeth tearing into the soft flesh of its neck.” She does not know if she was meant to kill the rabbit. Then, she returns to her cottage with the “limp, bloody creature.” This scene continues for two pages.
  • There used to be a lot of magical creatures, but several species have been hunted to extinction. Father says, “The last griffin died more than a century ago, and dragons have been hunted to the brink of extinction for their magic powers. . .” When Kymera meets Batu, he adds, “[Wizards] take our blood, they take our magic.” Magical creatures’ extinctions are mentioned throughout the book.
  • Kymera fights a multitude of guards in the wizard’s prison. “Two guards peel off the wall and hurl themselves at me . . . I duck and sting them. . . others succumb to the effects of Father’s weapon. . .” She harms the guards.
  • A corpse of “the sickly girl…lies inside . . . the cold box.” Father said the young girl was buried in Belladoma. Kymera wonders why the sickly girl’s body was in Father’s basement instead.
  • When they see she killed a girl, the townspeople call for Kymera’s murder. “The crowd chants as a tradesman carries the limp body up to a platform in the middle of the square . . .” Oliver, a friend of Ren’s parents, attempts to calm the rioters and clear Kymera’s name. This scene continues for seven pages.
  • When Kymera and Ren are leaving Belladoma, King Ensel and Albin, his captain, fight them. “The blade sings past my [Kymera’s] arm and cuts a few feathers off my left wing.” After the Sonzeeki, an ancient, tentacled sea creature, eats Albin, Kymera hurls the king into the sea, and “the sea catches him in its maw and swallows.”
  • A man abducts Emmy, a missing girl from Bryre, and Kymera chases after him. When she finds him, she swoops down, pins him to the ground, and kills him. “The flame of rage in me explodes into a bonfire. . . My body acts of its own accord.” After she kills him, she finds Emmy dead from a blade embedded in her back. “[The crossbow] must have been set with the blade. . . One flick of his wrist and she was dead.”
  • When the wizard and King Ensel gather their troops in Bryre, Kymera gives chase. She stings King Ensel “until his shirt is shredded and bloody, and his eyes are dull.”
  • Kymera and Batu are fighting the wizard. The wizard kills Batu with vines and “drops of blue, glittering liquid—dragon’s blood—dot the ground. [Batu] stops moving.” Then, Kymera fights the wizard by herself. She kills him by dropping him “into his own funnel cloud. . . Then it spits him out . . . in seconds his body crumbles to dust.” Including the initial encounter, the final fight lasts for twelve pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Kymera’s barbed tail can put “people to sleep.” She frequently uses this function.
  • Kymera uses “vials of sleeping powder” to put the guards to sleep.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Magic is used by wizards and magical creatures, and the most prominent type of magic is dark magic. “Dark magic is the most powerful in shadows and moonlight. . .”
  • The wizard created a curse that only affects young girls and is transmitted like a disease.
  • Batu and Kymera make “a blood oath” so they can protect each other from the dark wizard. The spell prevents Batu and Kymera from mentioning their names and identities in front of individuals outside of their blood oath. Batu says, “We must keep each other secret to keep each other safe.”
  • Besides dragons, a lot of magical creatures exist, such as “centaurs, fauns, and mermaids.”
  • The dark wizard planted vines that would grow all over Bryre. “A huge gnarl of vines and thorns rises in front of us. It appears to be swallowing a building whole.”
  • Kymera’s father set up warding charms to “prevent anyone who would do the city harm from entering.”
  • King Ensel angered an ancient sea creature, the Sonzeeki, and “if he [King Ensel] doesn’t send a young girl off the cliff at the apex of each full moon, the Sonzeeki floods the city.”
  • The evil wizard revives King Ensel without inflicting any ill effects.

Spiritual Content

  • During one of Kymera’s conversations with Batu, he says, “Humans, dragons, hybrids–we are all animals in some form. And we all return to the universe when we pass from this life.”

by Jemima Cooke

Castle Hangnail

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Jemima Cooke

Malamander

Twelve-year-old Herbie Lemon has always been fond of lost things. After all, as an infant, he was a “lost thing.” Herbie was found and given a home in the town of Eerie-on-Sea, where he was eventually put in charge of the Lost-and-Foundery at the Grand Nautilus Hotel. His job now is to keep track of every lost item in the hotel and, when possible, find its home.

One day, a new kind of lost thing arrives, inspiring quite an eventful case for the young detective-of-sorts. Violet Parma puts Herbie in charge of helping her track down her missing parents, who became “lost” when she was an infant while staying at the Grand Nautilus. Herbie reluctantly takes the case, and the pair works together, discovering that one legend from the town’s past may have more to do with the Parmas’ disappearance than they could have imagined.

The Parma mystery leads the duo to the malamander, a mythic creature that supposedly lives in the water surrounding Eerie-on-Sea. The malamander only comes inland once a year to lay its wish-granting egg. The power of the egg draws a variety of characters into the fray, including a gruff man with a boat hook for a hand. Herbie and Violet must consult the eclectic townspeople and watch their backs as they work to uncover the mysteries which are hidden in the mist of Eerie-on-Sea.

Taylor wonderfully builds the world of Eerie-on-Sea. From the very first chapter, it is clear Eerie-on-Sea is no ordinary island. It is home to ancient legends regarding the existence of sea monsters, which Herbie and Violet discover to be more fact than fiction. The legends– and the people who tell them– are enthralling, and each person is essential to the story being told. By the end of the novel, readers will feel as if they were on the island themselves.

Herbie is a loveable narrator who provides much needed information about the culture of Eerie-on-Sea. Herbie’s friendship with Violet also helps readers understand the mysteries of such a place. She is new to the island, as is the audience, allowing readers to identify with Violet as they learn about the stories which the townspeople know well. The balance between Herbie and Violet is engaging from their first meeting. Violet is a go-getter, who thinks quickly and is strong-willed. Herbie, while confident in some moments, is much quieter and cautious.

The malamander’s egg is central to many of the characters’ motivations, and Taylor’s story touches on the harmful nature of greed that has lasting effects it can have on others. For example, the legend of Captain K demonstrates how the captain’s desire for the egg causes his entire crew to be lost to the malamander. Captain K wishes for eternal life, and while he gets what he wished for, he becomes a shell of a man. Consequently, Captain K’s family spends generations trying to fix his mistakes. On the other hand, Herbie acts as a counter to this greed. Herbie’s job is dedicated to helping others find what they have lost. His decision to help Violet as well as his concern for the townspeople teach readers that selflessness and caring for others can lead to happiness.

The author occasionally uses advanced vocabulary, but the context clues provided make Malamander a good option for children looking to learn new words. Black and white illustrations bring the quirky characters to life; the illustrations are used periodically to aid in the visualization of some of the more significant moments in the story. Young readers who love mysteries and myths will enjoy Malamander as the story creates an interesting setting that has endearing characters and a gripping plot.

Sexual Content

  • Mrs. Fossil, a beachcomber, thinks she has some “beach finds” which would “suit a young man looking for something for that special someone in his life.” She assumes Violet and Herbie are romantically involved.
  • After hugging Herbie, Violet “looks a bit embarrassed and tries to hide it by punching [Herbie] on the arm.”

Violence

  • A man has a “large iron boat hook, ending in a long gleaming spike” for a hand. He is called “Boat Hook Man.”
  • When the Boat Hook Man comes looking for Violet in Herbie’s Lost-and-Foundery, he “shoves [Herbie] against the wall as he pushes past.”
  • Boat Hook Man uses his hook to break into the chest where Violet is hiding. “He raises his spike and brings it down with a sickening thud, driving it deep into the lid of the chest.” When he cannot find her, Herbie says the Boat Hook Man “[goes] berserk.” Herbie narrates, “He starts ransacking my cellar, sweeping his massive arms from side to side.”
  • Violet’s history becomes a large part of the story. She was “found abandoned” as a baby. Her parents left behind only “two pairs of shoes . . . left neatly on the harbor wall.” There were also “footprints in the sand, leading from the harbor wall to the sea.”
  • Herbie’s cap almost never cooperates when he tries to put it on his head. At one point he narrates “the elastic strap pings and nearly takes [his] eye out.”
  • Violet tells Herbie that “a fork bounced off the wall behind [her]” when she ran out of the hotel kitchen, where she was not supposed to be. Herbie knows that these were the actions of the head chef who “guards his kitchen like a fortress.”
  • In Herbie’s lost and found system, if red lines are crossing out a name, that means “the owners were declared dead.” Violet’s parents’ entry is crossed out in red, and Herbie apologizes while giving Violet her parents’ lost belongings.
  • Herbie teases his boss, Mr. Mollusc, to the point that he “is close to bursting a blood vessel.”
  • While walking with Violet, Herbie mentally describes how “the snow is like a swarm of icy bees—stinging [their] eyes and trying to get up [their] noses.”
  • Herbie fears he may have seen “a shadow stepping back into a doorway” when he checks to see if he and Violet are being followed.
  • While eating at the diner, Herbie notes, “Outside, where the sea mist is gathering, someone screams.” Herbie and Violet see Boat Hook Man head for the beach, “his long, hooked spike dangling like a weapon.” However, they never find out where he was going, because instead they find Mrs. Fossil, a townsperson, “clutching one arm and sobbing with pain.” Her clothes are “torn to shreds” and “there are angry red marks on her skin.” She had been bit by something with what she calls “teeth like needles.” She passes out.
  • Boat Hook Man sees Violet on the beach and “grabs Violet by her collar, lifting her in the air.” She has a hard time speaking because of where he grabbed her. She is left “clutching her throat.”
  • Herbie says, “I need to get some work done, or Mollusc will have me stewed and served up as today’s special.”
  • Mrs. Fossil receives treatment for her wound and reports that she “can already move [her] fingers again.”
  • Mrs. Fossil tells the children about the legend of the malamander. She says the creature lays an egg and then “devours it.” Since the egg has the power to grant wishes, she explains, many people have sought it. However, she tells them, “Every single one of them . . . gobbled up by the beastie!”
  • Herbie points out “all that’s left of the battleship Leviathan” is in the sea. He says, “It was wrecked years ago.”
  • Boat Hook Man corners Herbie and Violet in the fish shed. They try to escape using a rope, by jumping from the window to a suspended fishing net. Herbie misses the first opportunity for release and is left “dangling, four stories up.” He thinks, “At this point, I can let go of the rope and probably break both my legs, or I can stay dangling where I am and be filleted like a small lemon-flavored herring in a Lost-and-Foundery’s cap.”
  • Just before Boat Hook Man can use his hook to capture Herbie, Violet “strikes Boat Hook Man in the eye” with her book. Violet and Herbie manage to escape, but they fall before they get all the way to the ground. Herbie notes “the air escaping from [his] lungs with an OOF.” Violet hurts her ankle on impact and needs help running away. This event is described over four pages.
  • Jenny, the bookstore owner, explains how Sebastian Eels and Violet’s father knew each other. They were both authors interested in the malamander, and at one point “they went monster hunting together.”
  • The malamander comes to the museum when Herbie and Violet are there. It “slaps the window right in front of us with such force that it shatters.” Herbie feels “points of pain on my hands and face as the pieces cut in.” Then, the creature tries to “throw itself over the edge” of the museum walls, but Violet grabs its tail. Herbie thinks, “All I can see is that if Violet doesn’t let go, she’ll be pulled over the ramparts too, down onto the toothlike steeples of Maw Rocks, far below.”
  • When trying to save Violet, Herbie is dragged hard against the wall.” He cannot yell, because he feels “the air being crushed out of [his] lungs.” When the creature strikes Violet with its tail, they let go and the malamander falls. Herbie expects “to hear a thud, and maybe the crunch of breaking bone” but the creature simply slithers back to the ocean. This encounter is described over two pages.
  • When Herbie and Violet are caught in the museum by its owner, Dr. Thalassi, Herbie notices, “The folded umbrella [the owner] brandished as a weapon is on the desk, too, like a polite threat.”
  • In anger, Dr. Thalassi attempts to justify his luring of the malamander, which caused the attack on Violet. Herbie exclaims, “An experiment that just slashed off half of Vi’s face!” Herbie knows it’s “an exaggeration” but she was injured by the creature.
  • The museum owner tells the story of the Leviathan and its Captain. The captain led his crew into a cavern where “they found a great stinking mound of seaweed, bones, and shipwreck salvage.” They found the malamander and took its egg, causing it to attack the ship. Dr. Thalassi says, “Many lives were lost defending Leviathan against the creature.” Despite the crew’s use of weapons, the monster kept attacking. Dr. Thalassi explains, “Bullets sparked off its scales, leaving scarcely a mark, and its claws could rend iron.”
  • While the Captain was holding the egg, the malamander “delivered a . . . good, hard bite, which injected stinging venom” that numbed the captain. Then, the creature “with a single snap of its jaws tore his right hand—the hand that held the malamander egg—clean off and swallowed it whole.” The story is recounted in seven pages.
  • Herbie notices in the museum, “Above us the skeleton of a whale hangs suspended, and in the cabinets all around, stuffed and desiccated sea creatures peer out at us through glass eyes.”
  • The hotel’s owner, Lady Kraken, says, “I have no doubt [Violet’s dad] wanted the egg, too, and no doubt that the malamander devoured him for his trouble.”
  • Sebastian Eels plans to carry a weapon to confront the malamander. He claims it “will be for protection only, to scare it away if I’m seen.”
  • When Boat Hook Man is arguing with Eels, Eels says, “Don’t you wave that hook at me.” Boat Hook Man then warns Eels that the malamander will kill him if he goes after its egg. Later, Herbie watches as “Eels brings his fist down on the desk.”
  • Sebastian Eels’ plan for the malamander is to “put a dozen harpoons through its stinking fish guts before it can even spit.” If people come to stop him, he will do the same to them. Eels says, “the sea will quickly dispose of the bodies.”
  • While hiding from Sebastian Eels and Boat Hook Man in Eels’ home, Herbie and Violet are caught. Boat Hook Man goes after them, using his hook as a weapon, though he misses Herbie by inches. Erwin the cat protects them by “attacking the old mariner’s head ferociously, raking at [Boat Hook Man] with his claws.” Herbie watches as “instead of blood, only water spouts from the wounds.”
  • Herbie narrates, “the poor cat is flung to one side” by Boat Hook Man. When trying to escape the building, Sebastian Eels uses his harpoon gun multiple times on the children with one missing and “ricocheting back . . . and clonking Boat Hook Man in the face” causing him to fall. He is not fully human, though, so he is not injured when he hits the ground. Another harpoon makes its target, Violet. The harpoon hit the book in Violet’s pocket, narrowly saving her life. The incident occurs over six pages.
  • Herbie says of Eels, “hopefully the big bully will get himself eaten by the monster.”
  • Eels steals an important paper from Violet. When she tries to fight back, “he picks her up with one hand and throws her out of his way.” Erwin comes to the rescue, “hissing as he claws up [Eels’] legs and sinks his teeth into the man’s hand, making him drop the paper.”
  • Eels throws the cat away, and the cat “hits the corner of a bookshelf and . . . falls limply to the ground.” Eels then “brings his fist down on [Herbie’s] head.” This event is described in one page.
  • Eels retells the story of Achilles and the “arrow in the heel that brought about his death.”
  • Violet says to Eels, “I hope the malamander bites your head off.”
  • Eels promises to “wipe [Violet] out of existence and end [her] misery for good” with the power of the malamander egg.
  • Violet discusses the legend of the malamander, including its annual move “near the town to hunt” and lay its egg, which it then “devours.”
  • Aboard the Leviathan, Herbie thinks, “I shrink back into the darkness, still pulled by Violet, desperately hoping it is Violet pulling me and not some flubbery faceless horror from the deep.” Later, he sees actual sea creatures around him and kicks them off.
  • Herbie observes the malamander open “its cavernous tooth-needle mouth and roars an earsplitting, soul-tearing, nightmarish cry of saurian fury.” This is followed by the creature charging the pair. Herbie wonders “if it’s worth fighting for a moment or two of extra life, or if it’s better to just fall down into the water and hope the end comes quickly.” He then remembers Eels’ comment about bodies being disposed by the sea and thinks it could be true, “especially if the bodies are quite small — and devoured by a folkloric fish man in the belly of a sunken warship.” The malamander passes them over in its search for Eels.
  • Herbie sees “human bones” in the malamander’s nest.
  • Eels threatens to shoot Violet with the harpoon gun but does not.
  • In a flashback to Violet’s parents’ disappearance, her dad comes to believe that Eels could be responsible for the infant Violet’s disappearance. He says to his wife, “He said I’d pay a heavy price if I kept my discoveries from him. But surely he wouldn’t . . .”
  • Eels tries to get the egg from Violet. Eels “grabs the egg with one hand and punches Violet in the face with the other.” She falls into the cold water. Herbie dives in after her and wonders “for a moment if I’ve died without noticing” due to the “cold and dark.” When he finds her, “she gasps and coughs.”
  • The malamander resurfaces. “In its claws it is holding the broken body of Boat Hook Man.” Herbie recognizes Boat Hook Man is not dead, but “he has clearly lost the fight with the monster” as his “face is white and awful”.
  • The malamander tries to get its egg back from Eels, but he “shoots it” first. He repeatedly fires and Herbie hears the “th-TOUM” sound the gun makes. Herbie then sees that “the harpoon has buried itself deep between two of the monster’s scales, where — now that we look closely — a slim opening in its armor can be seen.” This opening is the only way the malamander can be killed. The malamander has been shot “straight through its heart” and “with a gurgling sigh, the malamander twitches one last time and then goes still.”
  • After Boat Hook Man was attacked by the malamander, Herbie describes that the creature’s victim “looks awful, his twisted body half submerged, his skin raked over with great gashes and slashes.”
  • Boat Hook Man tells Eels about his pursuit of the egg. He says, “I lost everything — my ship, my fine men, even my family, in the end.”
  • Eels uses the egg to transform malamander into a tentacle-ridden sea creature to restrain Boat Hook Man. “As we watch, the scaly corpse of the monster quivers and splits, and dozens of fleshy tendrils shoot up from it.” Eels then magically replaces Boat Hook Man’s hook with a crab pincer. Boat Hook Man uses it “to cut through one of the tentacles holding him by using his new claw.” In response, Eels turns Boat Hook Man “into a mass of squid and jellyfish and sea slime.”
  • Trying to get the egg away from Eels, Violet shoves him. She then “lands a kick in the man’s face.” Eels tries to shoot Violet at “point-blank range” but there are no harpoons, so it only makes a “fut! Fut!” sound. When Violet gets the egg, Eels pulls “his knife from its sheath.”
  • Eels gets the egg back, but the malamander’s “mouth, lined as before with tooth needles, closes with a sickening crunch over the hand that holds the egg.” The monster drags him under the water and “there’s a ripple or two . . . then there’s nothing”. The entire fight between the malamander, Herbie, Violet, Eels, and Boat Hook Man aboard the Leviathan takes place over 30 pages.
  • Herbie thinks he has drowned aboard the Leviathan. He thinks, “It’s not cold, though, so I guess being as dead as driftwood has an upside.” However, Herbie is warm because he was rescued. He feels the effects of nearly drowning, his “chest and throat feel as if they’re on fire”.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mrs. Fossil explains that the town doctor has prevented her from “languishing in a hospital bed somewhere, pumped full of goodness-knows-what.”
  • Violet’s cut is treated with “a wad of cotton, soaked in disinfectant.”
  • In Eels’ house, Herbie sees “an empty bottle of whiskey” on the floor near Violet. She insists she did not drink it and asks him, “Do you think I drink whiskey?”

Language

  • Many of the characters use names such as weasel, fool, stupid, and creep. For example, Herbie calls Mollusc a horrible, hideous man, though not to his face.
  • Herbie narrates that “Lady Kraken is almost a recluse.” Herbie thinks, “The way her wrinkly head emerges from her sumptuous silky gown reminds me of a turtle.” He watches her “clawlike hand” and “wizened eye.”
  • Lady Kraken calls Herbie an “incorrigible dunderbrain.” She also asks if he has “cloth for brains.”
  • Lady Kraken exclaims, “Curse the clouds!”
  • Violet refers to the mermonkey cards as “freaky” and “weird.”
  • Herbie mentally describes the mermonkey as “grotesque” and “ugly.”
  • Violet thinks Eels looks “booky” and he gives her the creeps. Herbie calls him “a bit full of himself.”
  • Mrs. Fossil collects “coprolite” which she explains is “doodah…dino turd…petrified poo.”
  • Herbie thinks Boat Hook Man is an “awful man” and “freaky.”
  • Herbie calls Mollusc “old Mollusc breath.” He then refers to him as “that whiny old whinge-bag.”
  • The characters occasionally “swear” to show honesty. Jenny says Violet’s father “swore blind that he saw things” that were supposed to be only legend, not real.
  • Herbie often internally describes the museum owner as having a “Julius Caesar nose” or a “beaky nose.”
  • Mrs. Fossil uses the expression “goodness-knows-what.”
  • Herbie uses the expression “bladderwracks” occasionally.
  • Eels calls himself “just an old daydreamer” in a disparaging way.
  • Eels uses the expression, “Goodness me.”
  • Herbie calls Eels “Eel Face” in conversation with Violet.
  • Violet asks Herbie if he thought Jenny was a bit “shifty.”
  • Herbie calls himself a “ninny.”
  • Herbie says that he and Violet are “freezing [their] cockles off.”
  • In the story of Captain K, the captain calls his men “cowards” for wanting “to turn back.” They later plead, “for the love of grog, give it back its egg!”
  • The captain calls the malamander “just a dumb animal” and a “fiendish creature.”
  • Herbie calls an action in the story of Captain K “bonkers.” The museum owner agrees and says the captain was “drunk with power.”
  • After his encounter with the malamander, the captain is described as becoming “a ruin of a man, ranting and raving.”
  • Herbie asks himself, “How could I have been so stupid?”
  • Lady Kraken calls the museum owner “sly” and Violet “that sneaky little friend of yours.”
  • Damned is used occasionally. For example, Eels says, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that bleeding-heart Peter stand in my way, even from beyond the grave.”
  • Eels tells Boat Hook Man, “It’s not my fault you didn’t have the wit or the will to use the egg properly.”
  • Eels calls the behavior of the malamander “pathetic” and asks, “doesn’t it just make you want to puke?” He also adds, “But also, how very unsurprising that a softy like Peter Parma would be the one to discover such a ridiculous fact.”
  • Herbie assumes Eels believes “no one in their right mind would crawl into such a small and dismal hole.”
  • Hell is used several times. For example, Herbie calls the shipwreck “watery hell.”
  • Violet’s dad uses the expression “dear gods.”
  • Eels calls Violet “wretched, unimaginative child” and “as weak and pathetic as [her] father.”

Supernatural

  • The legend of the malamander is central to the story. According to the townspeople’s beliefs, “It’s a monstrous creature — half man, half fish, half goodness-knows-what” with “rows of quivering spines.” The creature lays a “magical egg” once a year. The egg’s abilities are described as the “grants-you-your-dearest-wish kind.”
  • The malamander can climb walls and swim very well, as well as survive long falls. The malamander “was not invincible . . . it could be killed” by attacking the small opening to its heart. Eels says, “the monster opens its heart when it lays its egg. Quite literally — the armored plates over its heart fold back so that its beatings can be heard in the ocean. That’s how it calls its mate.”
  • The book dispensary has an animatronic mermonkey, a monkey that “has the lower body of a fish” and dispenses the identification code for a book that it feels the reader needs. Jenny, who owns the dispensary says, “It’s the book that chooses you.” Herbie also tells Violet that many believe the machine to have “a sense of humor, too” because Herbie “met a man once who swears he belched in front of the mermonkey and got dispensed a copy of Gone with the Wind.
  • Lady Kraken, the hotel owner, has a mechanism called a “cameraluna” which uses the moon to project “a moving image of the pier at Eerie-on-Sea, seen from above.” She uses it to spy on the townspeople in real time. She can also reverse the recordings, making the “little figures of the townsfolk dart around, walking backward at high speed, as if [Herbie and Lady Kraken] are going back in time.”
  • Herbie explains that the rumor is that the diner owner “came here as a young man and saw a mermaid from the end of the pier. Heard her sing. No one ever recovers from that.”
  • The cat, Erwin, speaks occasionally.
  • The egg can vaguely communicate telepathically with its holder. “In the captain’s wondering mind, a thousand voices seemed to whisper as one: I can make your dreams come true.”
  • Captain K, also known as Boat Hook Man, wished to “live forever” and the egg granted that wish. The egg responds, “But if you lose [the egg], your wish shall become your curse.” Captain K’s “wounds closed up as soon as they opened, and his injuries healed.”
  • Boat Hook Man exists today as half-man, half-water. He arrives in the form of a “cloud of mist” which gathers into a shape.
  • The egg’s power is used multiple times by Eels and Violet. Violet uses it to see her parents’ disappearance in a mist “like a tornado,” which displays images and sound. In addition, the mist “encircles” Boat Hook Man and transforms him into his former self, Captain K. “The boat hook on the end of his right arm evaporates, and a new hand appears there, pink and perfect.”
  • Eels uses the egg to replace Captain K’s hook with a “red crab pincer” and then turns the malamander body into multiple sea creatures. “Captain Kraken’s body trembles and ripples, then collapses into a mass of squid and jellyfish and sea slime.”
  • Violet then uses the egg to make the malamander “miraculously whole again,” raising it from the dead.

Spiritual Content

  • The diner owner says, “In my country, we leave gifts for beings like this, for spirits. Offerings. At night, when I close up, I, too, leave gifts — the fried fish that is left over — outside on the pier. In the morning, it is gone.”

by Jennaly Nolan

Daughter of the Deep

Ana Dakkar is a freshman at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a five-year high school that graduates the best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators, and underwater explorers in the world. Ana’s parents died while on a scientific expedition two years ago, and the only family she’s got left is her older brother, Dev, also a student at HP.

Ana’s freshman year culminates with the class’s weekend trial at sea, the details of which have been kept secret. She only hopes she has what it’ll take to succeed. All her worries are blown out of the water when, on the bus ride to the ship, Ana and her schoolmates witness a terrible tragedy that will change the trajectory of their lives.

But wait, there’s more. The professor accompanying them informs Ana that their rival school, Land Institute, and Harding-Pencroft have been fighting a cold war for a hundred and fifty years. Now, that cold war has been turned up to a full boil, and the freshman are in danger of becoming fish food.

In a race against deadly enemies, Ana will make amazing friends and astounding discoveries about her heritage as she puts her leadership skills to the test for the first time.

In Daughter of the Deep, the books 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island written by Jules Verne are more factual than fictional. One of the teachers explains who the book’s characters are and where they fit into modern society. Ana also discovers that she is a descendant of Captain Nemo who “hated the great colonial powers. . . and had personal reasons to hate imperialism.” While introducing the above topic, both the Land Institute and Harding agree that “turning Nemo’s technology over to the world’s governments, or worse, the world’s corporations, would be disastrous.” Riordan repeatedly reminds readers of the danger of the world’s governments and corporations, who are more concerned with keeping their monopolies than helping citizens. This theme is not well-developed, and most teens will quickly forget these passages.

The story is told from Ana’s point of view. Even though she is the heroine, Ana is not portrayed as a perfect person. After her parents died, Ana dissociates; the narrative explains that Ana has talked to the school counselor regarding her grief. While Ana’s talk of her painful menstrual cycle makes her more relatable, the topic will make some younger readers uncomfortable. After the hostiles destroy Harding-Pencroft Academy, killing anyone on campus, Ana decides that the hostiles will be let free without any consequences. In the story’s conclusion, Ana unrealistically forgives the people who destroyed the school and then tried to kill her and her friends.

The story has a large group of characters who are both racially and religiously diverse. Plus, one character, Ester, has autism and needs an emotional support animal. However, even with readers paying close attention, the large cast of characters is difficult to keep track of. Daughter of the Deep has a unique premise, interesting characters, and fun technology; however, the story leaves the reader wondering if justice was served or if Ana’s opponents will just regroup and come back to continue their killing spree. Before jumping into Daughter of the Deep, readers who are intrigued by Jules Verne’s books should read the Max Tilt Series by Peter Lerangis.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In order to demonstrate a Leyden, Dr. Hewett shoots a student. “The only sound is a high-pressure hiss. For a millisecond, Gem is wrapped in flickering white tendrils of electricity. Then his eyes crossed, and he collapsed in a heap.” Gem recovers quickly.
  • Students from the Land Institute attack the Harding-Pencroft Academy’s yacht. When they board the vessel, they use grenade launchers. “Two fist-size canisters plunk onto our gangway and roll hissing. . . the explosions still leave [Ana’s] head ringing.”
  • A student’s dog helps defend his person. The dog, Top, “joins the party, clamping his jaws around the guy’s throat . . . As it is, he [the attacker] crab-walks backward, screaming and trying to shake off the furious twenty-pound fluff demon attached to his windpipe.”
  • During the attack, “Two hostiles fire their silver weapons. Miniature harpoons impale Elois’s shoulder and Cooper’s leg. White arcs of electricity bloom from the projectiles, both [students] crumple.” When the hostiles continue to fire, “Drue Cardenas shoots another intruder. Unfortunately, the electricity also arcs to Nelinha, who had been in the process of pummeling said intruder with a socket wrench. Both of them go down.” No one is killed, but several are injured. The fight is described over six pages.
  • Caleb, a student from the Land Institute, attempts to kidnap Ana. They are in the ocean when Ana snaps her “head backward and hears the satisfying crunch of Caleb’s nose breaking.” As the two struggle, “help comes from an unexpected direction. Right next to us, a mass of sleek blue-gray flesh explodes out of the sea, and Caleb is body-slammed into oblivion under the weight of a six-hundred-pound bottlenose dolphin.” Ana is able to escape.
  • A huge octopus, Romeo, likes the submarine, the Nautilus. When Ana and Gem first see it, “Gem tackles me and jets me out of the way, but the creature isn’t interested in us. Eight tentacles the size of bridge cables wrap themselves around the Nautilus.” The group manages to safely detach the octopus from the sub.
  • Ana’s brother, Dev, who is captain of the Aronnax, attacks the Nautilus. “The Aronnax’s four torpedoes sail straight over our heads. . .” Before the Aronnax can cause any damage to the Nautilus, “Romeo’s enormous tentacles wrap around the Aronnax, pulling her into an embrace… Romeo snaps the Aronnax like gingerbread. Fire and sea churn together. Giant, silver air bubbles, some with people inside, billow toward the surface.” The Aronnax is destroyed, but everyone survives.
  • There is a multi-chapter confrontation between Dev’s group and Ana’s group. When Ana and Gem try to get back to base, they see “Dev’s skiff is waiting for us. . . a black wedge bristling with weapons like the spines of a porcupine fish. It faces us from only fifty feet away. . . and in the pilot’s seat is my brother. . . We sail over the Dev’s stern . . . Gem shoulders his Leyden rifle and fires two rounds straight into the submersible’s propulsion system.” Once the skiff is out of commission Ana and Gem go to free the hostages.
  • Back at the base, Ana and Gem are attacked before they can get out of the ocean. “The nearest diver jabs [Ana] with his knife. . . The razor-sharp edge rips the fabric and grazes my ribs. . . White spots swim in my eyes. Nevertheless, I use my boots to wrestle my attacker, pushing him backward into one of the pier’s pylons.”
  • In order to get away from her attacker, Ana unsheathes her “blade and stabs him in the BC vest. . . With his vest’s air bladder punctured, my opponent is blinded by bubbles. He starts to sink . . . On his way down, I kick him for good measure.” Socrates, Ana’s dolphin friend, helps in the fight. “While he headbutts the blue-eyed diver into submission, three of the local bottlenose dolphins descend on the other guy . . . The dolphins welcome him to the neighborhood with an extreme tail-fin smackdown.”
  • Gem shoots several of the opponents with non-lethal bullets. The bullets leave them with “nasty red welts in the middle of their foreheads.”
  • When Gem and Ana get to the base, they see their friends “are being held at gunpoint.” Gem uses an alt-tech flash-band and then enters the dining room “but there’s no one left to shoot at. Our friends are still alive, though they’ve looked better. . . All four hostiles are out cold, spread-eagled on the floor, goofy grins frozen onto their faces. . .”
  • Dev finds Ana and Gem. “My brother smacks [Gem] across the head with a ratchet. Gem collapses. . . My brother glares at me. . . He grabs my wrist, slapping the gun from my hand, then steps in and twists, attempting to throw me over his shoulder.” The brother and sister fight until, “[Ana] shoot[s] him three times. The last rubber bullet snaps his head back, raising an ugly red spot right between the eyes.” Dev is taken as prisoner and locked in a room. The casualties from the battle are minor. There were no deaths on either side.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Students from the Land Institute attempt to kidnap Ana. Ana describes, “Someone behind me locks his forearm across my throat. I feel a sharp pain like a wasp sting in the side of my neck.” Ana discovers that she has been injected with sea-snake venom.
  • Ana takes Midol for period pain.

Language

  • God, oh god and my god are all used as exclamations several times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Ana’s school is attacked and destroyed, she prays, “Three-Eyed One, Lord Shiva, who nourishes all beings, may He liberate us from death.”
  • While thinking about her ancestors, Ana thinks, “Ester and I were bound together before we were born. It makes me wonder about reincarnation and karma, and whether our souls might have met at another time.”
  • After Ana realizes that her brother destroyed their school, she said “a prayer for my brother, and for the future.”

Witches Don’t Do Backflips

Howie, Eddie, and Melody are convinced that the new gymnastics teacher, Miss Brewbaker, is a witch. When the kids decide to take Prince Diamond to gymnastics, the teacher doesn’t want the dog near her. Then, when Prince Diamond disappears, Eddie is convinced that Miss Brewbaker has turned the dog into a frog.

Eddie and Melody are determined to prove that Miss Brewbaker is a witch. Melody says, “It all adds up: a moving broom, strange rhymes that come true, and flips that look like flying.” Is Miss Brewbaker really a witch? And if she is, how will they find a way to reverse the spell and turn Prince Diamond back into a dog?

Young readers will enjoy trying to piece together the clues to prove Miss Brewbaker is really a witch. Miss Brewbaker looks like a stereotypical witch, with a big nose and a wart. However, she is nice to the kids…that is, until Prince Diamond appears. Miss Brewbaker and her black cat both want to avoid dogs. This leads to some silly speculating among the four friends. None of the clues prove that Miss Brewbaker is a witch, but the kids are still convinced that she has witchy powers.

The kids go to the library to research witches. Then during gymnastics, the kids keep finishing Miss Brewbaker’s rhymes because “the library book said that finishing a rhyme takes away the spell’s power.” In addition, the kids distract Miss Brewbaker so Eddie can look for her spellbook. Afterward, Eddie says, “I found the cookbook, or rhyme book, or spellbook, or whatever you want to call it. Then I said each one backwards. . . I bet it broke every one of Miss Brewbaker’s spells.”

In order to help readers visualize the characters and understand the plot, Witches Don’t Do Backflips has illustrations every 2 to 3 pages. The large black and white illustrations emphasize the characters’ facial expressions to show their emotions. Witches Don’t Do Backflips is perfect for emerging readers who are ready for chapter books because it has easy vocabulary, short chapters, and many illustrations.

Black cats, spells, and a missing dog combine to make a fast-paced story that readers will enjoy. Even though the story focuses on a witch, there are no spooky scenes. Witches Don’t Do Backflips is a fun story that will appeal to many readers and get them in the mood for some fall fun.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Eddie says gymnastic lessons are sissy lessons.
  • When Eddie meets the gymnastics teacher, he says, “Look at the size of her nose. If she sneezes, we’ll end up somewhere over the rainbow. Look, she even has a wart on that huge honker.”
  • Because the gymnastics teacher dresses in all black, Eddie says, “I hope she’s a better teacher than she is a dresser.”
  • The kids call each other names such as chicken, dope, and bunny brains
  • When Carey brags about how good she is at gymnastics, Eddie says, “I’d like to carefully rearrange your face.”
  • The kids are not always nice to each other. For example, when Eddie says black cats are bad luck, Liza says, “You’ve got a hairball stuck in your brain.”

Supernatural

  • Lisa thinks “witches used gingerbread houses to lure and trick kids.”
  • The gymnastics teacher uses rhymes that the kids think are spells. Below are a few examples.
  • Carey doesn’t want to mess up her hair at gymnastics. The teacher says, “Straight or curly / Black or gold / You’ll love tumbling / when all is told!” After the spell, Carey does several cartwheels.
  • Melody has a hard time doing a cartwheel until the gymnastic teacher says this rhyme, “Replace that frown, / No time to cry! / Keep on practicing and / soon you’ll fly.” After the rhyme is spoken, Melody does a perfect cartwheel.
  • Several dogs disappear and frogs show up after Miss Brewbaker says, “Leave us be, / We don’t like dogs. / Especially spotted ones / Like warty frogs!”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Help! We Have Strange Powers!

Jillian and Jackson are twins having a normal day at the movies until a fortune teller machine changes their lives by zapping them with superpowers. Now Jillian can read minds and Jackson can make objects levitate. The twins are excited to live their new lives as real-life superheroes, but what if superpowers come with super villains?

Scientist Dr. Cranium kidnaps the twins and takes them to a lab. Dr. Cranium wants to drain the twins not only of their powers but of their minds. The twins escape the lab by lying about their powers, but their troubles are not over. They eventually go to HorrorLand, and become trapped in a creepy theme park run by monsters. Will they be able to escape, or are they trapped in HorrorLand forever?

Help! We Have Strange Powers is the tenth book in the Goosebumps HorrorLand series. The first part of the story is interesting as it focuses on Jillian and Jackson’s new powers. However, once the twins are trapped in HorrorLand, the plot becomes confusing because the twins meet all of the characters from the previous books. This will be confusing for readers who have not read the previous books, as there is no explanation for what HorrorLand is or how Jillian and Jackson get there.

Help! We Have Strange Powers is told in the first person from Jillian’s perspective. In true R.L. Stine fashion, each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, making the reader want to continue with the book. Jillian and Jackson are not admirable, as they only use their powers for selfish reasons and to mess with others. The plot is not cohesive and it uses the typical Goosebumps elements. Even though the story is just average, fans of R.L. Stine will enjoy Help! We Have Strange Powers because it is an easy-to-read thriller.

Sexual Content

  • Jillian reads her classmate’s mind. He thought, “Wow. Jillian is looking totally hot today.”
  • Jillian says the gym teacher is “young and tall and very hot. The girls in school all have crushes on him.”

Violence

  • Angry that Artie, an annoying kid, got butter on his sweater, Jackson “wrapped an arm around Artie’s neck and began wrestling with him…The two of them tumbled into the aisle, wrestling, grabbing at each other, punching.”
  • As Jackson reaches into a fortune-telling booth to grab his fortune, the machine shocks him and Jillian. Jillian’s “whole body shook and danced as a powerful shock stung [her]. Jolted [Jillian] hard. And sent pain shooting out over [her] arms and legs.”
  • During a soccer game, Artie kicked the ball, which “crashed into Jackson’s stomach.” Jackson “opened his mouth in a sick groan. His face turned purple, and his eyes nearly goggled out of his head.”
  • Jackson and Artie are playing Wii boxing when Artie’s “punch went wide – and he slammed his fist into [Jackson’s] jaw.”
  • Jillian and Jackson try to see if they can fly. They break into a run and leap up. Jillian “crashed headfirst into the wire fence . . . and staggered backward, struggling to keep [her] balance. Pain shot through [her] body.” Jackson “hit the fence with a loud clang. He bounded off and tumbled onto his butt.”
  • While Dr. Cranium tries to wipe Jillian and Jackson’s thoughts, Jackson uses his powers to crash a mannequin into him. “The mannequin dropped hard and fast. It landed headfirst on top of Cranium, and he crumpled to the pavement.”
  • Jackson uses his powers to crash a chandelier onto the Purple Rage, a superhero who was trying to hurt the kids. “The chandelier crashed onto the superhero’s head and shoulders. The Rage uttered a weak cry. He toppled facedown onto the floor.”
  • Because the Purple Rage is so angry, he “exploded. His body burst apart with a loud splat . . . his purple guts went flying all over the room.”
  • Jillian, Jackson, and a few other kids try to go through a portal in a mirror that leads to Panic Park. It doesn’t work because the mirror turns back into solid glass, and Jillian runs into it. Jillian “screamed as [her] forehead cracked into solid glass.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Jackson and Jillian go see a movie called Butt-Kicker II.
  • Jackson used his powers to hurl a soccer ball at Artie. It missed Artie because he bent down to tie his shoe. Jackson said, “I’m sorry I missed that jerk.”

Supernatural

  • Jillian and Jackson obtain telekinesis and mind-reading abilities after getting zapped by a fortune-telling machine. Jillian can read people’s minds and Jackson can make things levitate. They are kidnapped by Inspector Cranium, who tries to erase their memories by “going into their brains.”
  • Jillian and Jackson eventually end up at a theme park called HorrorLand. The workers there are monsters, and they trap the two siblings and other kids in a basement where superheroes try to hurt them.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Jill Johnson

Gargoyles Don’t Drive School Buses

There are some pretty weird grown-ups living in Bailey City. But could the new bus driver, who looks just like a statue on top of the old library, really be a living gargoyle? Howie, Melody, Eddie, and Liza are determined to find out. As they investigate, the four friends cause havoc in the library and sneak up to the roof. Soon, they learn that the city plans to tear down the gothic-style library and replace it with a new glass and steel building.

Before the city begins demolition, some really strange things begin to happen. A mysterious person replaces an expensive stained glass window and fixes the leaky roof. No one knows who made the repairs in the middle of the night, but the kids think the gargoyles are coming to life at night to make the repairs. Will the kids be able to convince the city to save the building and the gargoyles?

Gargoyles Don’t Drive School Buses will entertain mystery-loving readers. Even though the new school bus driver is a little strange, he isn’t frightening. The fast-paced story never fully reveals whether or not the school bus driver is in fact a gargoyle. Instead, it leaves enough doubt that readers can make the decision on their own. As the kids investigate the library gargoyles, they decide to save the building by gathering signatures and holding a protest. The kids’ peaceful protest is responsible for saving the old library and the gargoyles’ home.

Howie, Melody, Eddie, and Liza are relatable characters who work together to solve the mystery. However, Eddie often makes mean comments. For example, he tells Howie, “There are legends around Bailey Elementary that you’re crazy,” and “your brain is one brick short of a full load.” While Eddie’s comments are typical of some kids, his “joking” is often mean-spirited. Another negative aspect of the story is that Eddie intentionally makes a mess in the library in order to distract the librarian. When the librarian begins cleaning up the mess, the kids sneak onto the library’s roof to investigate the gargoyles.

Gargoyles Don’t Drive School Buses is perfect for emerging readers who are ready for chapter books because it has easy vocabulary, short chapters, and illustrations. The large, black-and-white illustrations focus on the characters and appear every 2 to 3 pages. The illustrations will help readers understand the plot and also show the comparison between the bus driver and the gargoyles.

While parents might not like all of the kids’ behavior, Gargoyles Don’t Drive School Buses will entertain readers and make them excited about reading. With over 80 books in the series, readers will have lots of books to choose from. Readers who love more monster mysteries may also want to check out The Hide-and-seek Ghost by Dori Hillestad Butler and Ghost Attack by David Lubar.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • At one point, Eddie says, “I think this plan is nothing but pigeon poo. . .”

Supernatural

  • The kids talk about “legends that say gargoyles can come to life at night.”
  • Howie says, “Gargoyles are trapped in stone forever. . . unless they are forced to break the spell of stone to fight off great danger.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Octopus Stew

Ramsey loves to wear his superhero cape, but he never thought he’d ever become an actual superhero. That all changes one afternoon when Ramsey is at his grandma’s house and his grandma decides to make pulpo guisado, octopus stew. When Ramsey and his grandma go to the supermarket, Grandma chooses the biggest octopus in the store. Grandma scrubs the octopus and puts it in the pot, and that’s when the trouble begins.

The octopus grows and grows. When it grows out of the pot, the octopus grabs Grandma and refuses to let her go. Determined to save his grandma, Ramsey grabs his superhero cape. Will Ramsey be able to save his grandma? Or will the octopus have her for dinner?

Ramsey’s tale comes to life in full-colored illustrations that are at times humorous. The oil-painted illustrations pop with bright colors. Young readers will relate to Ramsey, who gets stern looks from the adults in the story. Readers will also appreciate Ramsey’s facial expressions which are full of emotion. The family dog gets a starring role in the illustrations, and readers will love looking for him in each of the story’s pictures. Even though the octopus grabs Grandma in his huge arms, his appearance adds suspense without much little fear factor. The conclusion is surprisingly sweet.

Ramsey’s family is Afro-Latino and the family’s love of telling stories is apparent. The story includes a central foldout that contains a humorous surprise. Octopus Stew would be the perfect introduction to tall tales and will encourage readers to tell their own family stories.

Octopus Stew makes a wonderful read-aloud book because it’s packed full of sound words such as bloop, kerchunk, and thum! The English text intertwines with Spanish phrases and reflects the author’s family, who spoke non-standard Spanish at home. A glossary provides definitions and pronunciations of the Spanish phrases. However, the story’s context clues are sufficient to understand the Spanish words’ meanings.

Even though Octopus Stew is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page of the picture book has 1 to 3 complex sentences. A recipe for octopus stew is included at the end of the book.

Octopus Stew shows how oral storytelling can be fun for families, and the story will encourage readers to create a tall tale of their own. The wonderful illustrations and the unique plot make Octopus Stew an entertaining story that kids will love. In addition, the illustrations have enough detail to capture readers’ attention. Octopus Stew is a family-oriented story that will appeal to a wide range of readers who enjoy the humor, suspense, and surprising conclusions.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A huge octopus grabs Grandma and holds her in the air.
  • The octopus “attacked, spraying ink all over my [Ramsey’s] drawing.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

 

Monsters Don’t Scuba Dive

Howie, Melody, Eddie, and Liza are spending their vacation at Camp Lone Wolf. The kids think that Mr. Jenkins is a werewolf because he is so hairy and he’s super strict. Then, when the kids get to camp, Mr. Jenkins introduces Nessie McFarland, who is going to teach the kids how to snorkel. Nessie loves being in the water and is nervous when she’s on land. Because of her shy demeanor and her strange looks, the kids are convinced that Nessie is the Loch Ness Monster. Will the kids be able to prove that Nessie is a monster?

 Monsters Don’t Scuba Dive will entertain mystery-loving readers. Even though the kids think Nessie is a monster, she is never portrayed in a scary or negative manner. For instance, when the kids fall out of a raft, the monster helps them make it back to shore safely. The fast-paced story never fully reveals whether or not Nessie is a monster. Instead, it leaves enough doubt that readers can make the decision on their own. Throughout the book, the Bailey School kids are reminded that every plant and animal deserves to live out its life in peace, including monsters.

Howie, Melody, Eddie, and Liza are relatable characters who work together to solve the mystery. However, the kids sometimes make bratty remarks to each other. For example, Howie shows his friends a book about monsters and Eddie says, “You have monsters in your head if you think I’m going to read a book on my vacation.” In addition, when the camp counselor is talking, Eddie often whispers complaints to his friends.

Monsters Don’t Scuba Dive allows young readers to wonder if monsters really exist without giving them the heebie-jeebies. The Bailey School Kids Series is perfect for emerging readers who are ready for chapter books because it has easy vocabulary, short chapters, and illustrations. The large, black-and-white illustrations focus on the characters and appear every 2 to 3 pages. The illustrations will help readers understand the plot and visualize the characters. However, Mr. Jenkins is a little bit creepy because he is so hairy and his smile shows all of his teeth, including his eyeteeth that “look like fangs.”

While parents might not like all of the kids’ behavior, Monsters Don’t Scuba Dive will entertain readers and make them excited about reading. Readers who want more monster action should check out the Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol Series by Andres Miedoso and the Notebook of Doom Series by Troy Cummings.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When the camp counselor tells the kids they will learn how to swim, Eddie says, “But this is our vacation. We shouldn’t have to learn a doggone thing!”
  • Eddie calls his friends names such as monster breath, water brains, and octopus brain.

Supernatural

  • None

 Spiritual Content

  • None

City of Villains #1

Mary Elizabeth Heart is a high school senior by day, but by night she’s an intern at the Monarch City police department. She watches with envy from behind a desk as detectives come and go, trying to contain the city’s growing crime rate. For years, tension has simmered as the city’s wealthy elite plan to gentrify a decaying neighborhood called the Scar—which once upon a time was the epicenter of all things magical.

When the daughter of one of the city’s most powerful businessmen goes missing, Mary Elizabeth is thrilled when the Chief puts her on the case. But what begins as one missing person’s report soon multiplies, leading her down the rabbit hole of a city in turmoil. There she finds a girl with horns, a boyfriend with secrets, and what seems to be a sea monster lurking in a poisonous lake. As the mystery circles closer to home, Mary finds herself caught in a fight between those who once had magic, and those who will do anything to bring it back—even if it means creating a few monsters along the way.

This dark, fairytale-inspired world explores the reimagined origins of Maleficent, Ursula, Captain Hook, and other infamous Disney villains. Readers who expect to walk into a world of Disney characters will be disappointed to discover that while the characters are named after Disney characters, they are normal humans. To make matters worse, at the beginning of the story, a slew of characters are introduced, but most of them have only a brief appearance which leads to confusion. In addition, the characters are so underdeveloped that readers will have a hard time connecting with them. While the story is told from Mary Elizabeth’s point of view, her insight into her friends’ true personalities also adds to the confusion.

The setting of the story is unclear because it references the United States in modern day, but it also is a world that magic used to exist in. Like the characters, the world building is underdeveloped. Unlike most Disney stories, City of Villains revolves around teenagers who hang out at bars. Plus, Mary Elizabeth is an intern at the police station which gives her access to some brutal murder cases, including her own family’s murder. For example, the police are attempting to solve a gruesome case that involves a murderer leaving gift-wrapped body parts all over the city.

City of Villains will leave many Disney fans disappointed. The plot takes the reader on a winding and confusing journey through a world with little magic. The gruesome murder scenes, the underdeveloped characters, and the unrealistic conclusion make City of Villains a book that is best left on the shelf. Readers who want a fairytale-inspired story should check out Fairy Tale Reform School by Jen Calonita or the Once Upon a Con Series by Ashley Poston.

Sexual Content

  • Mary Elizabeth and her boyfriend kiss, but the kiss is not described. For example, “James and I pause to kiss while Ursula stops to answer a call on her cell.”
  • When a girl is reported to be missing, the chief of police doesn’t want to investigate. “The last thing I need is drama over a girl who’s probably in a hotel room with someone she met in some club last Saturday night, picking up parasites from the questionable bed linens.”
  • Mary Elizabeth argues with a boy at school. He tells her, “I think what Mr. Iago is getting at is that your need to engage in confrontations with me boils down to attraction and sexual tension. . . if you didn’t have that ugly birthmark and weren’t totally concave in the chest area, I might consider relieving all that tension for you.”
  • While in a bar’s bathroom, Mary Elizabeth sees writing on the wall. It says, “For a good time call Mary Elizabeth.”

Violence

  • While working at the police station, Mary Elizabeth learns about a case. “Body parts showing up all over the Scar . . . So far there’s been a thigh, an arm, a hand with the fingerprints cut from the skin. . . they come in these boxes wrapped up like holiday gifts, frozen in dry ice.”
  • A new package arrives. “A hand rests in the center, mist rising all around it as the dry ice burns off. Its fingernails are blackened and congealed blood crusts at the wrist. It’s discolored gray, and the middle finger is pointed straight upward, flipping the chief the bird.”
  • At school there is a scuffle between two boys. “Stone slams into Lucas Attenborough, who pushes him back easily, so Stone falls onto his back, loses his breath, and looks up at us in panic. Lucas gives him a kick that’s more symbolic than painful.”
  • When Mally isn’t invited to a party, she shows up with her pet bird, Hellion. Mally’s bird “flew everywhere, digging his talons into the rose blossom cake, knocking over the vat of ginger beer, pecking into the chestnut-toasted suckling pig.” Later, Mally “cut Flora’s break lines, left a roadkill on Fauna’s doorstep, and bleached Merryweather’s grass.”
  • Mary Elizabeth’s parents and sister are murdered and Mary Elizabeth sees some crime scene photos with “all that blood.” She also learns that the man who killed them “just wanted to know what it would feel like to take lives.”
  • In a vision, Mary Elizabeth sees Mally, who is trying to tell her something. “She is yanked out of the chair. She slaps against the plastic seat and whacks heavily against the floor, and then she slides along, head lolling to the side, eyes unblinking and open.”
  • Bella, a young police officer, accidentally shoots someone. “I was aiming for his leg, but I killed him.”
  • Bella tells Mary Elizabeth about a trucker who “kidnapped a couple people, and then left their remains outside of Las Vegas.”
  • The police arrest a man who “had a kill kit in his vehicle: ropes, hacksaw, trash bags. . . and we found trace elements of Ursula’s blood in his shop and on his clothes.”
  • The person who helped kidnapped Mally and Ursula tells Mary Elizabeth, “I thought they’d be drugged, poked with needles, dosed with forgetful serum, and then returned home. . . I had no idea it would turn out this way, that people would actually be monstrously altered.”
  • While trying to free Mally and Ursula, men try to stop Mary Elizabeth. “I kick the gun out of one man’s hand and then punch and duck and swerve but feel something hit my chin and something else grab me by the back of the head. . .” Ursula jumps into the fight. “She swings her arms out and the men go flying, making hard thudding noises as they hit the wall. She makes a rising motion and the men get up like marionettes, doing jigs. They are horrified and helpless as their bodies are flung to and from.”
  • While trying to escape, Mally “hurls blue lights at him. She hits him and he is singed and within seconds has disappeared.”
  • Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend James’s hand is hit with darts. His hand begins to shrivel. In order to save his life, Mary Elizabeth grabs an ax. She swings “high and brings the ax down, severing James’s hand from his arm. . . He screams as I take off my belt and loop it around his arm tightly as I can.”
  • At the end of the battle, the police show up. “Pieces of broken glass and bodies are strewn everywhere. Medics have begun to collect Kyle’s men one by one and puts some into ambulances, while others are covered in blankets, a signal that they will need to be collected for the morgue.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend is “the son of a drug-lord/murderer.”
  • Mary Elizabeth and her boyfriend see a man who is “wasted.”

Language

  • The teens often call each other names such as doofus, idiot, moron, jerk, prick, loser, and crazy witch.
  • Profanity is rarely used. Profanity includes asshole, damn, bitchy, hell, pissing, and jackass.

Supernatural

  • Magic used to exist, but now the only place that is magical is the Ever Garden. “Once someone tried to sell hot dogs from a cart and was hurled out by a redwood.”
  • Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend shows her a blue ball of light. “So I keep looking at this light until I’m part of it, until I am the swirl and I can see it isn’t just a flat blue. . . It’s alive and beckoning, its fingers reaching for me. Half a second later, the light shoots into my chest.”
  • Due to a magical experiment, Mary Elizabeth’s best friend, Ursula, is changed. “She has tentacles, black ones that look to be part of a backless dress.” At one point, Ursula “changes from a human to an eel to a giant floating jellyfish and back to a human in a matter of seconds.”
  • While looking in a mirror, Mary Elizabeth sees a reflection of a different version of herself. She can step through the mirror into another place. She pushes the glass and “the glass gives, turning opaque like silver satin as my fingers disappear to the knuckle.”
  • At one point, Mary Elizabeth levitates.
  • Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend uses magic to put her to sleep. “He presses his lips against mine and pulls me in close. . . He pulls back, puts a thumb to my forehead. . . ‘Sleep,’ he says, and blue light shoots into my head. The world abruptly fades to black.
  • Mally turns into a “badass” dragon.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

Brute-Cake

With no monsters to fight, Alexander and his friends have drifted apart. The Super Secret Monster Patrol used to protect the town from monsters. Without monsters, Alexander is dreading summer vacation. In order to keep Alexander busy, his father has signed him up for a summer camp at the library.

But then Alexander starts finding super creepy monster cards. He’s convinced that the monsters are back, but Rip and Nikki don’t believe him. When Rip invites his friends over to see his new house, the kids decide to explore the attic. When a brute-cake jumps out of a can, the friends know that they must fight the monster together.

Fans of The Notebook of Doom Series will look forward to reading about the S.S.M.P.’s return. The same monster-fighting friends come together to fight new, non-scary monsters. Instead of having a Notebook of Doom to explain the monsters, Alexander keeps finding monster cards that have important information about each monster. Each card is illustrated on one page and has pictures of the monsters, their habitat, their diet, and more exciting information.

Even though the brute-cake wants to turn other monsters into statues, the spooky scenes are more funny than scary. Every page has large, black-and-white pictures that bring the action to life. The large text is comprised of short sentences and easy vocabulary. The Binder of Doom is a companion series; however, readers who have not read The Notebook of Doom will be able to understand Brute-Cake’s plot. The story’s dialogue and use of onomatopoeias make Brute-Cake a great book to read aloud. Full of friendship, mystery, and a funny fighting fruitcake, Brute-Cake will be devoured by independent readers. Readers who like monsters and adventure should add The Yeti Files by Kevin Sherry to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Rip, Alexander, and Nikki find a monster brute-cake. The brute-cake heats up the kitchen and then “the cake swelled up until it was the size of a baby elephant. Then – WHAM – it socked Rip in the jaw with nut-covered fist. . . Nikki jabbed the brute-cake with her spatula. Crumbs flew everywhere. . . The cake shoved Nikki into Alexander and Rip. They stumbled backward into a rack of pots and pans.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • When Nikki charges the brute-cake, the monster “blasted Nikki with a gush of warm glaze. Instantly, she became a shiny white statue.”
  • Rip and Alexander go after the brute-cake. “The monster yanked an enormous candied walnut from its own gut. WHOOMP! It chucked the nut at Rip.” Rip takes an ant out of his pocket. The ant grows to a gigantic size. The brute-cake tries to crush Alexander. “The brute-cake jumped in the air, directly above Alexander. As the monster came down, Alexander rolled sideways. . .”
  • The brute-cake charged towards Alexander. “Alexander dove aside at the last second. The giant cake rammed into the drill-pickle’s pointy drill and—PLOMPFF! The monster crumbled to pieces.” The last battle scene is described over five pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Rip calls Alexander a “weenie” one time.
  • Crud is used three times. For example, Alexander thought, “This crust crud on my shirt must be icing!”

Supernatural

  • While in Rip’s attic, Alexander opens a tin can. Then, “Plonk! The tin burst open. A small brownish creature leaps out and smacked into Alexander’s shoulder.” The creature runs away.
  • Alexander and his friends find a brute-cake that is “eighty times tougher than a regular fruitcake.” The monster is “bumpy, brown and covered with shiny bits of fruit and nuts.”
  • After the brute-cake falls apart, Nikki comes back to life.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Lintang and the Pirate Queen

Lintang loves her family, but she doesn’t want to be a homemaker. Lintang dreams of leaving her island home. She longs to go on dangerous and daring adventures. When she meets the infamous pirate, Captain Shafira, Lintang wants to join her crew. When she gets her chance, Lintang promises to follow orders. However, Lintang’s curious, impulsive attitude always gets her into trouble.

Lintang discovers that living on a pirate ship can be difficult. Her loyalties are divided when she finds that her best friend, Bayani, has stowed away and is desperate to stay hidden. Lintang knows that Bayani is hiding a secret that could change the world. However, she has promised the pirate queen that she will never lie to her. How can Lintang impress the pirate queen and keep Bayani’s secret at the same time?

Readers will relate to Lintang, who has a difficult time following orders. Despite her best intentions, Lintang gets into trouble time and time again. When Lintang is demoted to a cabin girl, she gains the crew’s respect through her positive attitude and work ethic. During her voyage, Lintang “had turned into Lanme Vanyan (the mother of all monsters), faced a Kanekonese siren, fought a dragon, almost drowned twice, battled a sea serpent, [and] worked as a cabin girl.”

Moss creates a beautiful world full of mythies. Some mythies are friendly and others are deadly. In order to introduce the different creatures, many of the chapters being with a page from The Mythie Guidebook, which describes each type of mythie. The information describes how to eradicate the mythie, their behavior, danger level, and provides a description.

Lintang and the Pirate Queen has non-stop action as Lintang, Captain Shafira, and her crew embark on a dangerous journey where they fight fearsome monsters. The story ends in an epic multi-chapter battle that has many surprises. Because of the complex world, the complicated plot, and the large cast of characters, Lintang and the Pirate Queen is best for strong readers. However, adventure-loving readers will love this tale of friendship and adventure.

Sexual Content

  • Lintang tells a legend about Pero, who “was not afraid of the Goddess of Death.” When he left home, he “packed his bag, said goodbye to his mother, kissed the barmaid, and left.”
  • Avalon is transgender. One of the ship’s crew treats him unkindly. She says, “Avalon pretends she is a boy. I remind her she is not.”

Violence

  • While walking in the forest, Lintang and Bayani are attacked by a malam rasha. “A night terror (malam rasha) is a humanoid forest mythie in the predator category. It appears as a woman with wooden skins, long dark hair, and a white dress. Instead of arms, it has tree roots, which are sharp enough to dig through flesh.” Bayani’s fey friend, Pelita, helps. “Before it could attack, a ball of white light zipped in front of its face. The malam rasha recoiled, snarling.” Lintang raised her sword and the “malam rasha reared up. It moved to strike with its arm of tree roots, but she stabbed and it retreated. Slash. Dodge. Stab. Dodge. . . Lintang ran to Bayani, shoved him to the ground, and threw herself over him.” When the two are laying on the ground, someone chases the mythie away. The fight scene takes place over four pages.
  • The malam rasha goes to the temple and goes after Lintang. “The mythie barreled into her. She landed on the stone floor, winded. Pelita fluttered out of the way just in time. The malam rasha curled its lip and slashed at Lintang’s stomach. . . The malam rasha tried again, clawing and tearing until the front of Lintang’s sarong was in tatters.” Panna leaves that were smeared on Lintang protected her. Captain Shafira jumped in to help. “Captain Shafira aimed sword blows at the malam rasha so fiercely that it was forced to retreat.” The Captain’s crew assists her in capturing the malam rasha. “Captain Sharfira brought her sword down and chopped off its arm. It released an earsplitting shriek.” The battle is described over three pages.
  • Once the malam rasha is captured, Captain Shafira “directed a kick to the malam rasha’s wooden head, and it slumped, unmoving.” Later when the light of day appears, the mythie “burst into flames, leaving only a silhouette of ash and the broken fishing net.”
  • A predator mermaid uses her power to make Lintang jump into the sea. “Stinging spread across her body, from both the impact and the chill. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore. She was with the mermaids now.” The mermaids try to pull Lintang deeper into the ocean. “Splinters sliced at Lintang’s lungs. Her head felt light. . . She barely noticed the flash of steel, or the clouds of blood in the water, or the fact that the mermaids had released their deadly grip.” Lintang is saved. The scene is described over a page.
  • When leaving the island, Nyasamdra picks up Captain Shafira’s ship. Nyasamdra “let them float in the air. She watched them swirl inside the bubble, her face childlike with curiosity.” Trying to help, a “bird darted past Nyasamdra’s fingers and pecked the bubble. There was a pop, and everyone had to hold on as the ship plummeted back into the waves.” Bayani comes above deck and gives Nyasamdra the correct tribune, then she lets them pass. The scene is described over four pages.
  • A sea serpent attacks Captain Shafira’s ship. The huge serpent tries to break the ship up by squeezing it. “Lintang acted without thinking. She raced forward and shoved a harpoon into the serpent’s mouth to wedge it open. The serpent started to snap but stopped as the dragon’s claw dug into the roof of its mouth and sprayed blood across the deck.” One of the crew members “swung out on a rope, caught the harpoon with one hand, and used the dragon talon to slash the serpent through the neck.” Lintang is injured. The fight is described over three pages.
  • When Governor Karnezis tries to get Lintang to give up Captain Shafira’s location, Lintang tries to escape. “. . . Governor Karnezis snatched her hair. She cried out as he yanked her backwards.” Lintang uses a dart to put the governor to sleep. Captain Shafira and her crew help Lintang escape.
  • Farah and her family helped Captain Shafira when she was injured. The Vierzan counsel sent “people to kill Farah’s family and burn the place down.”
  • While under the sirens’ spell, Avalon attacks a crewmember, Mei. “Avalon lunged. He wrapped his arm around Mei’s throat. . .Mei strained to pull his arm from around her neck. Her round cheeks turned pink. She was suffocating.” A crew member hits Avalon over the head with a frying pan, causing him to pass out.
  • Captain Shafira boards Captain Moon’s ship and the two fight with swords. “The two thrust and parried, each as skilled as the other. A few clashing blades and a clever maneuver later, they’d switched positions. . . Captain Shafira managed to kick Captain Moon’s ankle, dropping her to one knee. Captain Moon blocked an attack while she was down, then stabbed forward so violently that Captain Shafira had to jump two steps down the staircase. . .” When the sirens threaten both ships, the two captains work together.
  • The ship’s dragon awakens. Captain Shafira and Captain Moon bait the dragon, causing it to tear down a locked door.
  • At one point in the fighting, Bayani is “standing on the bridge with the spear side of the khwando pointed at Zazi’s neck.”
  • Lintang jumps in the ocean, then turns into the mother of monsters named Lanme Vanyan. Lanme attacks a dragon. Lanme “sprang, clamping her hands on the dragon’s shoulder. It tried to toss her aside, but she held on and slashed at its wings. They twisted in the air like a whirlwind.” She flings the dragon away and then attacks a siren. “Lanme zipped toward it and bit it beneath the arm. . . The siren tried to crush her with its free hand. She bit its fingers. Bubbles hissed from its mouth, but it didn’t pull back.” The siren swims away.
  • The dragon returns and attacks Lanme again. Lanme “whipped her tail into the air, wrapped it around the dragon, and slammed it onto the waves. The dragon shuddered with the impact, then floated, stunned.” Then, Lanme turns back into a human.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The Vierzans developed a medicine that “kills dangerous things in your body. Stops illnesses, disease; you name it, the Curall fixes it.” When Pelita is sprayed with Curall, she glows brighter. “Pelita’s squeaks turned into tiny shrieks. She sounded like she was in pain. . . And then, as swiftly as a sneeze, a human body burst out of the pixie. A girl lay in Pelita’s place, an Islander barely ten years old.”

Language

  • While practicing sword fighting, Lintang says to her best friend, “You ebony-nosed loobatoon! You brown-tailed barbanees! You blood-eyed ruberrince!”
  • “By the Gods” is used as an exclamation four times.
  • When Lintang scares the ship’s cook, she says, “Mother of monsters, you scared the petticoats off me!”
  • Someone calls another character a gnome.

Supernatural

  • Lintang’s world has various mythies, such as sirens, propheseeds, mermaids—both predator and friendly types. For example, “Propheseeds are sky mythies that take the form of three glowing dandelion seeds. They appear harmless, giggling childishly, and do not physically attack. . . The propheseeds will say your name three times, then, in a form of a riddle or rhyme, give you the time and details of your imminent death.”
  • Those born on the twin Islands have “small, shiny fish scales” on the back of their necks. A ship can only leave the island if they have someone from the Twin Islands. But the island’s mythie guardian Nyasamdra drowns ships “that tried to leave her territory unless they carried someone with her mark.”
  • Sirens are predator mythies. “Like the common siren, it calls for males, but unlike the common siren, it gives power to its victims, making them strong and violent, unable to think of anything but getting close to the mythie.”
  • Mythies did not appear in Lintang’s world until “shooting stars had passed overhead when the mythies arrived. No one knew why the Three Gods had sent the mythies. The creatures had caused havoc throughout the world, but the priest always said in serene voices that the Gods had reasons for everything they did, even if humans could not understand them.”
  • One of the characters is a talking clamshell.
  • Lintang turns into the mother of monsters named Lanme Vanyan.

Spiritual Content

  • People believe in Ytzuam, which is “high above, past the clouds, past the sun, there’s a world in the stars. . . It’s separated from our world by a single thick curtain. There are three Gods who live there: Niti, Patiki, and Mratzi.”
  • As Lintang walks she sees the temple, which makes her think about the gods. “Lintang used to learn about the Gods from the priest there when she was younger, but the only time she visited now was during seasonal festivals.” The three gods are Neti, the creator of the stars, Patiki, the planter of stars, and Mratzi, the harvester of stars.”
  • When Lintang accidentally sets the house on fire, she needs water fast. “Their offerings to the Three Gods had been freshly lain on the stone alter that morning. She reached between a scattering of juicy bubleberries and thin, smoldering sticks of mollowood to take the earthen jug.” She uses the water to help fight the flames.
  • When Lintang fights the malam rasha, she was “praying to the Three Gods that her plan would work.” Then she “dredged up a memory of a prayer from temple. ‘Hear me, Niti, Patiki, Mratzi—Gods of Ytzuam, givers of life, guardians of stars. Please protect us, please don’t let the malam rasha eat us.”
  • People believe that when someone dies, they continue to live. Lintang thinks about her dead grandfather. “Lintang hoped her grandfather’s star, blazing high in the sky” was not ashamed of her.
  • Bayani had died and Mratzi told him that the mythies were human. She then allowed him to return to the living.
  • Lintang trusted the Pirate Queen, but then “prayed to Niti she wasn’t wrong.” Later, when the Pirate Queen decides to stay with Lintang until she gets to her destination, Lintang “sent a silent prayer of thanks to the Gods.”
  • In Vierzan, the people have destroyed the Gods’ monuments because “they think the Gods sent mythies to wipe humans out. . . Now they refuse to pray or build temples or leave offerings.”
  • When Lintang must jump off a building, Bayani thinks she is injured. When he discovers that she is fine, he says, “Thank the Gods, thank the Gods—”
  • When almost drowning, Lintang sees a vision. Shooting stars crashed “through a field of unplanted seeds. . . the impact of the shooting stars scattered seeds throughout the world. . . She saw a man unwittingly absorb one of the star seeds, then he burst apart as a gnome sprang from him.” The vision shows Lintang how humans became mythies.
  • Lintang turned into a mythie.

Scarlett Hart Monster Hunter

Scarlett Hart isn’t afraid of monsters. As the orphaned daughter of two legendary monster hunters, she is prepared to rid the entire city of monsters! The only problem is that the Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities says she’s too young to fight perilous horrors. But that doesn’t stop Scarlett and her trusty butler. They fight mummies, a horrid hound, and save the city from a monster attack.

Scarlett is a plucky heroine who isn’t afraid to fight. With the help of her butler, Napoleon, Scarlett is able to keep her monster hunting a secret. However, her parents’ rival, Count Stankovic, wants all of the monster hunting glory for himself. The Count will try anything to get Scarlett out of the way. Every time Scarlett turns around, the Count is hiding in the shadows, waiting for his chance to get proof that Scarlett is breaking the law. When a group of monsters starts mysteriously manifesting, Scarlett knows she has to risk breaking the rules and being put in jail. She will do whatever it takes to save the city.

Scarlett goes around the city fighting sea monsters, fire-breathing monsters, and gargoyles. Even though the monsters always meet their demise—sometimes in creative ways—the illustrations keep out the bloody gore. Most of the story revolves around battling monsters and the Count. However, Sedgwick includes enough detail and family background to give the story a little depth.

Scarlett Hart Monster Hunter is an entertaining story with elements of steampunk. Even though the action revolves around monsters, no one is seriously injured. The story has many elements that will entertain middle school readers, like the string of funny, creative insults Scarlett uses when referring to the Count. The illustrations use many onomatopoeias, such as, “creak, fazaza, tweak, phut, phut, sputter.” The cartoon-like illustrations use shades of brown to mimic the darker tone of the story.

Readers who love monster fighting fun and have read The Last Kids on Earth series will miss the humor and friendship that is lacking in Scarlett Hart Monster Hunter. Despite this, Scarlett Hart Monster Hunter is a fast-paced story that is worth spending an afternoon reading. However, readers may want to make sure they aren’t alone in the house when they decide to jump into Scarlett’s spooky world. Monster-loving graphic novel fans should also add Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • When the Count is running after Scarlett, his pants slip down and show his buttcrack.

Violence

  • While walking, a monster jumps out and a man falls into the water and sinks.
  • The Count uses a rocket launcher to fire a weapon that blows up a monster. The scene is illustrated over two pages.
  • Scarlett reads a newspaper article that says, “The Black Dog of Suffolk County. Also known as Black Shuck. Ghost-dog with glowing red eyes. Has caused four deaths this past month alone. Last sighted in Devil’s Hollow.”
  • Scarlett goes to capture the Black Dog. When she shoots at it, the Black Dog attacks her car. When the Black Dog runs off, Scarlett chases it and hits it with her car. They load the dead dog into a sack and put it on top of the car. The scene is illustrated over five pages.
  • When a mummy sees Scarlett and Napoleon, it says, “Urrr. Brains. Fresh brains. . .” The mummy chases Scarlett and Napoleon. A group of mummies appears, trapping the two monster fighters. Scarlett uses her sword and a stage curtain to capture the mummies. The scene is illustrated over five pages.
  • While hunting a ghost, a ghostly bishop jumps out of a closet and chases Scarlett and Napoleon. The Count shoots the ghost who shrivels. “Fzzzzz. Pop.” The ghost disappears. The scene is illustrated over four pages.
  • When the Count takes a picture of Scarlett ghost hunting, she holds a gun up to threaten him. The Count gives Scarlett the camera and leaves.
  • Scarlett follows the Count. When he hears her, he shoots at her. Scarlett shoots back. Then, she throws a container of black spiders at the Count, who freaks out and drops the gun. The scene is illustrated over three pages.
  • Scarlett and Napoleon go to a cathedral and see swarms of living gargoyles attacking people. The Count drives up and begins shooting the gargoyles. When a gargoyle grabs the Count, Napoleon drives into the creature, saving the Count. A gargoyle grabs a boy and Scarlett shoots the gargoyle. The boy falls safely to the ground. The scene is illustrated over 10 pages.
  • Napoleon tells Scarlett about a dance her parents attended. Scarlett’s father and the Count argued over a girl. The Count “went to punch your father. . . Stankovic (the Count) fell over a balcony into a fountain. He was humiliated. Everyone laughed at him. He left in a huff, and no one saw him for months.”
  • When Scarlett and Napoleon are put in jail, someone slams a car into the building to free them.
  • When a group of monsters attacks, several people (including Scarlett and Napoleon) try to stop them. People use a variety of weapons, including a gun, a shovel, and a sword. A giant octopus-like monster with many eyes goes after Scarlett. She jumps in a car with Napoleon and drives away. The battle takes place over 14 pages.
  • Scarlett jumps in an airplane and looks for an octopus-like monster. When she finds the monster, she shoots it. The monster throws parts of a building at the plane. Scarlett drops a bomb into the monster’s mouth and it blows up. The fight is illustrated over 16 pages.
  • When Scarlett is flying home, she sees the Count hit Napoleon with a car. The Count points his gun at Napoleon. Scarlett flies close and the Count shoots at the plane. When Scarlett turns the plane around, she flies close to the Count, who falls off a cliff. He falls into a shark’s mouth. Later, the Count is seen hanging onto the shark’s fin; it is not clear if the Count is a zombie or still living. The scene is illustrated over eight pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Scarlett goes into a pub and orders “a triple whisky and easy on the ice.” The bartender glares at her. Then she says, “Just kidding. Ginger beer, please.”
  • After battling monsters, Napoleon tells Scarlett, “Since you will arrive first, perhaps you could ask Mrs. White to pour me a glass of beer? A large one.”

Language

  • Scarlett exclaims, “leaping lizards, piston heads, and gaskets and cylinder rings.”
  • Scarlett says, “I’m just a great idiot.”
  • Scarlett calls the Count a series of names, including: “pea-brained tire muncher,” “scabby nosed cat eater,” “animal-faced sewer dweller,” “dog-bottomed ferret face,” and “weasel-headed monkey brain.”
  • Scarlett says, “that toad faced Count stole our kill the other day.”
  • Someone calls Napoleon “an old fusspot.”
  • Someone calls the Count a “swine.”

Supernatural

  • Scarlett has a pair of ghost goggles that let her see ghosts. Without the goggles, ghosts “only materialize when they want to scare you.”
  • The Count learns how to bring monsters to life.

Spiritual Content

  • While hunting ghosts, Napoleon takes holy water and Scarlett takes the Bible.

Enter the Core

Max Tilt thinks his luck is finally changing thanks to his great-great-great-grandfather Jules Verne’s unfinished, unpublished manuscript, The Lost Treasures. Using the clues Verne left behind, Max and his cousin Alex were able to bottle the magical healing elements needed to cure his mother’s illness just in the nick of time.

But then Max and Alex discover that the vials were stolen by their former friend, Bitsy. She has plans to use them to save the world, but her plans might be much more deadly than they seem. And so now it’s up to Max and Alex to stop her before it’s too late.

Working against the odds, the two kids glean clues from one of Verne’s best-loved books, Journey to the Center of the Earth. In it, they discover a map to their most dangerous destination yet—the very core of the world. So, now the two cousins are off on their most unlikely, most important quest yet—literally to save the world!

Max Tilt: Enter the Core has everything that adventure seekers could want in a book: non-stop action, interesting clues to solve, and a wonderful cast of diverse characters. Readers will be taken on a heart-stopping hike into the center of the earth where prehistoric creatures survive. As Max and his friends travel down the dark corridors and enter creepy caves, they use their combined knowledge (and a couple of ancient talismans) to safely solve the clues that Jules Verne left behind.

Even though the same villain from the previous books appears, the villain creates suspense and conflict without taking center stage. Instead, the focus remains on the descendants of Jules Vernes and his friend Arne Saknusseumm. The story highlights the importance of doing what is best for humanity, instead of what’s best for yourself.

Because many of the characters appear in all three books in the series, readers will want to read the previous books first. Unlike the previous books, Max Tilt: Enter the Core leaves the topics of death and illness out and focuses on the adventure, as Max and his friends follow Jules Verne’s footsteps as described in Journey to the Center of the Earth. In addition to the adventure, readers will enjoy the interplay between Max and his cousin, Alex.

Max Tilt: Enter the Core has the perfect blend of action, suspense, and interesting characters. Readers will want to read to the very last page. The heart-warming conclusion will leave readers with a smile. Sci-fi and action-seeking readers should definitely pick up the Max Tilt Series.

Sexual Content

  • Someone saw Alex “kiss the lucky fellow.”

Violence

  • When the bus driver tried to help Bitsy with her backpack, she bit him. “For a big walrus of a man, the driver had an oddly dainty scream. He yanked his arm away, Bitsy’s mouth was left with the taste of stale coffee, laundry detergent and old polyester.”
  • Max gets upset and Brandon “grabbed him by the shoulders, but Max turned and kicked him.” Max began taking deep breaths to calm himself down.
  • While in a cave, a “white object dropped to the ground. A bone. Then a grinning white face burst through. As Alex let out a piercing shriek, Max dove to the ground. He covered his head as a cascade of bones and skulls rained on top of him.”
  • While in a cave, Max falls and slips down a passage and a creature grabs him. Max tried to run, but the thing “held Max tight—with arms, legs, or tendrils, he couldn’t tell. But it was smothering him, smushing his face into its fur, lifting his feet off the ground.” Max hits the creature with his flashlight. “As Max tried to wriggle free, he heard a scream. Something sharp stuck his left ankle. . . The beast let out a guttural moan. It let go of Max and he fell to the ground.”
  • A creature grabbed Max with its talons. “Max felt himself rise, in ridiculous pain. He let out a scream that seemed to come up from below his toenails.” The creature drops Max.
  • While in a cave, Brandon falls off a cliff. Later, Max’s group finds Brandon’s body and Brandon cannot be revived. A creature comes towards the body and Alex attacks the creature. “From the front of the creature’s torso, hidden under the thick mass of hair, an orange tentacle whipped forward. It wrapped around Alex’s arm and tossed her to the side like driftwood. She screamed in surprise, her trowel flying away and into the water.” Later, someone else “blindsided the creature from the other side. With a roar like a creaky door, the hairy thing fell back.”
  • When a crowd of creatures comes towards Max and his group, Brandon “went into a pitching stance, kicked, and hurled the rock into the advancing crowd.” There is a lot of screaming and confusion. Something touches Max and “Max yelled in shock, twisting his body always, instinctively spinning and kicking. His right foot landed square in the face of a furry, monkey-like beast with wings. It fell to the ground, whimpering, and immediately ran away.” Then, Max squirts raspberry Gatorade towards a creature’s eyes causing it to run away. The scene is described over three pages.
  • Prehistoric birds appear and try to snatch up Max and his friends. Before the birds can hurt anyone, “Three of the hairy creatures—just like the one who had poured the liquid over Brandon—were picking the birds out of the sky with their tentacles.” The birds fly away.
  • The villain throws “a small black pellet that missed Max by inches, hitting the wall. . .it exploded into fragments and black dust.” A man is killed, but his death is not described.
  • The villain pulled a gun from his pocket and threatened Max’s group. The villain throws pellets at Max’s group, and “it landed about four feet in front of [the door] and exploded.” No one is injured.
  • Max’s group sets off an explosive that collapses a cave. It is implied that the villain and his daughter die in the explosion.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While hiking, Max and his group find a “plastic foil wrapper” of Xantax.

Language

  • Heck is used four times. Several times someone asks, “What the heck is that?”
  • When prehistorical birds appear, someone says, “Dear Lord.”

Supernatural

  • Max is given “one of the most powerful talismans of the ancients. . . While wearing this talisman, you will always face the true path.”
  • A creature puts “a clear liquid” on Brandon’s forehead and chest. “Brandon’s skin let out a hiss, sending up wisps of green smoke. . . Where the hissing liquid had touched his body, his pale greenish skin was darkening. From a series of thin lines along his forehead and torso, it spread like the branching of nerves, setting off blotches of deep color that grew and joined until he no longer had the same tinge as the lake.” Brandon’s body repairs itself and he comes back to life.
  • Two men drink a serum that makes them immortal. “The serum slowed the body’s aging mechanism—it destroyed the marker that signals the end of life. In curing disease, the curious side effect was eternal life.”

Spiritual Content

  • The plane that Max was on crashed in freezing water. “Saying a prayer, [Max] jumped out the door.”
  • Someone tells Max and his group that they should “Go back to your family and pray for the best.”

 

 

The Sorcerer’s Shadow

In the twelfth book from The Kingdom of Wrenly series, Prince Lucas and Clara go on an adventure in the forest realm of Trellis! All is not right in the forest realm of Trellis. Birds have left their nests, and bears have abandoned their dens, as mysterious magic threatens the natural order of the deep, dark woods. Together with a band of knights, Prince Lucas and Clara set out on an adventure that pits them against a dreaded sorcerer’s shadow. There’s only one problem: How can a shadow be defeated?

Unlike typical royalty, Prince Lucas interacts with everyone regardless of their station. When the prince and Clara see a kid named Petros being bullied, they jump in and help the boy. Even when others avoid Petros, the prince and Clara stick by his side and treat him kindly. The theme of the story is clear: “You must watch how you behave. No hurtful words or calling names. No hateful playground bully games.”

The Sorcerer’s Shadow has a darker, more frightening tone than previous books in the series. Because others have bullied Petros, his anger and hatred has transformed into a shadow beast that can turn people into wooden statues. When Petro gets angry, the beast grows and mimics Petro’s feelings. For example, when Petros cries, it begins to rain. Lucas and Clara help Petros realize that he has a gift—the gift of goodness, forgiveness, understanding, and love.

Readers will be able to relate to Petro who is upset when others treat him badly. The positive message in The Sorcerer’s Shadow is complicated because readers will need to understand the cause and effect of the events. Even though the message might not be clear, every reader will understand that words can be hurtful.

The story’s illustrations are beautifully drawn in black and white and appear on almost every page, which will help readers visualize the story. One of the characters is a lady knight, and although she does not have a large role in the story, she is portrayed in a positive light and appears in several of the illustrations. Easy-to-read vocabulary, dialogue, and simple sentence structure make The Sorcerer’s Shadow a perfect book for beginning readers. Although The Sorcerer’s Shadow is the twelfth installment of a series, the previous books do not need to be read in order to enjoy the story.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Prince Lucas and Clara enter a town, “they heard a ruckus up ahead. The two kids had tripped another boy, who tumbled into a fruit cart, knocking it over. Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries speckled the road.” Prince Lucas and Clara help the boy clean up the mess.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Petros goes to the playground, someone yells, “Get out of here, you clumsy oaf, before you break the whole playground.”

Supernatural

  • No one knows why, but a “dark, ghostly cloud swirled from inside the great oak lift. The vapor formed into a showdown that roared an eerie warning.” The voice tells the town people that “the knights who tried to do some good have now been turned to bark and wood.”
  • The prince learns that Petros has magical powers that he cannot control. Petros didn’t know he had magical powers “until other kids began to make fun of me. The more upset I got, the more bad things would happen. . .When I get angry, the evil side of my powers begin to grow. Now my evil side has grown into a powerful, menacing shadow.”
  • Prince Lucas and Clara try to help Petro focus on his good powers. “Then the shadow reached dark tendrils out that touched Lucas and Clara. Instantly the two of them were rooted in place. Lucas looked down. Their feet had turned to wood.”
  • Lucas learned that he needed to “tame the evil magic with positive feelings!”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Revenge of Magic #1

Thirteen years ago, books of magic were discovered in various sites around the world alongside the bones of dragons. Children born after this so-called “Discovery Day” have the power to use magic.

Fort Fitzgerald has no idea books of magic exist. Then, while on vacation with his father, a giant creature bursts through the earth, attacking Washington DC. The creature grabs Fort’s father, taking him underground. Fort is devastated and dreams of getting revenge. Six months later, a man named Dr. Opps invites Fort to a government-run school to learn magic.

Life at the school is difficult and Fort has no idea who to trust. Everyone is keeping secrets. What does Jia, Fort’s tutor, know about the attacks? Why does Rachel, master of destructive magic, think Fort is out to destroy the school? And why is Fort reliving memories of an expelled girl every time he goes to sleep? Fort must find the answers or more attacks will come–and this time nothing will stop the creatures.

The Revenge of Magic starts with action and adventure that continues to the very end. Many of the supporting characters are stereotypical, including trope roles such as: the bullies, the tough girl, and the closed-mouthed military commander. However, Fort and Cyrus, a clairvoyant, are well-developed and Cyrus’s matter-of-fact tone adds some much-needed humor to the story. Although Fort’s reason for hating the creatures that took his father is understandable, Fort’s focus on revenge may make it difficult for readers to connect with him.

Fort learns more about the attack on Washington DC through a series of memories that are shared with him. Even though the memories appear in a different font, some readers may have a difficult time keeping the past and the present separated. Several times the creatures are able to control humans, and one creature takes over a student’s body, transforming the human body into the alien’s form. In the end, the creatures reveal their desire to return to earth and enslave humans. The large cast of characters, the complicated plot, and several scary scenes make The Revenge of Magic best suited for stronger readers.

The Revenge of Magic is a strong start to a new series. Even though several mysteries are revealed, the ending leaves unanswered questions that will have readers looking for book two, The Last Dragon. Readers who enjoy high-action adventure stories should also try the Simon Thorn Series by Aimée Carter and the Snared Series by Adam Jay Epstein.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Giant hands erupt from the earth and attack. “Enormous black-scaled fingers pushed up through the ground, sending grass, rock, and dirt flying in every direction. A muffled roar sounded from somewhere beneath them, and Fort felt it even through the ground shaking.” As people flee, more hands erupt from the ground. “A noise like torrents of rushing water thundered behind him, and turned to find a nightmare rising from the middle of the Reflecting Pool, a giant black-scaled head covered in some sort of crown. . .More helicopters flew in, this time painted black, and these actually made it close to the creature. A missile rocketed out of one, slamming into its head, but the monster didn’t even seem to notice.”
  • As the hands attack, Fort tries to stay with his father, but “the creature’s hand curled around him, rupturing the remains of the memorial as it descended back into the ground. . . the creature’s massive hand disappeared within the earth, and his father went silent.” The battle takes place over eight pages.
  • Dr. Opps goes to Fort’s house to tell him about the school. When Dr. Opps touches Fort’s aunt, she collapses on the floor. Fort tries to attack Dr. Opps, but “before he could strike, though, something burning hot slammed into his side, sending him crashing across the room into the opposite wall. . . Fort groaned, rubbing his head, then quickly moved his hands around to feel where he’d been hit, finding his shirt blackened and charred by whatever it was that had struck him.”
  • While in the cafeteria, a student put his hand on the metal table. “His hand began to glow. . . Fort didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. His tray began to sizzle, turning white-hot with heat, and he yelped as it burned his hands.”
  • When Rachel sees three boys bullying Fort, she “flicked a finger, and a tiny magic missile slammed into the boy’s stomach, sending him crashing across the table, taking Fort’s burning-hot tray with him. He tumbled into the back wall as the soldiers nearby all leaped out of the way, their weapons now aimed at Rachel.”
  • A creature comes out of the ground and into the officer’s mess hall. The creature was “floating in midair. . . Whatever it was shimmered transparently, like a ghost or even a holographic projection. It wore some kind of opaque crystal armor, but beneath the armor, where a human being’s feet would have been, a multitude of tentacles squealed as they dragged across the floor.” A soldier tries to take Fort out of the room, but the creature turned to follow Fort. Then Dr. Opps “stepped between them, holding the same medallion he’d used on Fort’s aunt in her apartment. . . Dr. Opps shouted, and light shot out from the medallion, some sort of magical burst.” The medallion burst and the creature left. The scene is described over six pages.
  • Three bullies attack Fort in the dormitory. “Fort plowed into the boy, crashing them both to the ground. Blane landed hard, still surprised by the attack, and Fort punched him in the stomach, once, twice, a third time, rage overwhelming his mind. . . Someone yanked him backward, and he lashed out wildly but missed as Blaine rose unsteadily to his feet, one of his hands burning with a deep red flame.” One of the boys sets Fort’s shirt on fire. As the boys continue to threaten Fort, another boy “lunged forward, grabbing Blaine’s hand. The fire was extinguished, and the boy started to yell in pain as some sort of pustules begin to grow on his hand.” Chickenpox began popping up all over the boy’s body, ending the fight. The scene is described over four and a half pages.
  • The three bullies corner Fort. “Bryce’s hands pulsed with red energy, and Fort’s feet froze in place, ice forming on the ground around his boots.” Fort “swung his fist out wildly but only succeeded in almost falling over his stuck boots.” One of the boys sends a “magic missile slamming into Fort’s shoulder even as Fort tried to slap out the fire.” Eventually, a soldier stops the bullies.
  • Fort sees a memory of when Damian created a portal for the creatures to come through. Several students tried to stop the boy. A girl “slid toward Damian on the ground and threw a hand out to grab his ankle. Blue light began to glow from her hand, and the creature in the portal pulled back abruptly from Damian.” During the memory, Fort learned how the attack in Washington DC began. The memory is described over five pages.
  • Later Fort again sees the memory. “Damian stood in the middle of the room, his eyes wide, his mouth hanging open, as a creature out of a horror book floated in the air above him, its transparent and vaguely humanoid body covered in crystal armor, its tentacle fingers locked on Damien’s head. . .” The creature uses Damian to communicate with the humans.
  • When Fort sneaks into the room where the books are kept, a student sees him. The student “leaned forward and grabbed Fort by the shirt, dragging him inside, then threw him down the stairs toward the podium with the books.” The girl throws a fireball at Fort and “he leaped into its path and took the spell right in his chest. Fire exploded all over his torso and face, and he quickly dropped to the ground, rolling around to put it out, trying his best not to shriek in pain in spite of the agony he felt.” Fort uses a spell to lessen the pain.
  • Fort is found in a girl’s hospital room. When he tries to escape, “the colonel grabbed Fort’s arm as he passed, then yanked it behind Fort’s back painfully. Fort immediately stopped short, groaning in pain, as two guards ran into the room.” Two guards take Fort to the disciplinary barracks.
  • Back in the memory, Fort sees “Damian raised a hand and sent a magic missile flying into the doctor’s chest. Dr. Opps went flying, slamming into the nearest wall, groaning as he landed on the floor. Sierra immediately cast Mind Blast, sending it at the creature’s mind, but Damian waved his hand as if batting aside an annoying insect, and the spell seemed to have no effect.” A student, Michael, tried to get Damian to close the portal and threw a fireball. “With no way to protect himself against his own spell, Michael took the fireball right in the chest, letting out a piercing scream. His clothes on fire, he dropped to the floor, rolling to quench the flames, but the magical blaze refused to go out, and the boy continued to cry out in pain.” Michael dies.
  • In an epic end battle, the Old One tries to come to Earth through a portal. One of the creatures takes over Michael’s body. “The shadowy, half-transparent Old One from the officers’ mess pushed its way into Damian’s body, overlapping him completely. . . The boy’s hands and feet stretched out and split into a mass of tentacles, as did his teeth, now protruding from a skull-like helmet. And within seconds, where there had once been a human boy, now there was only an Old One, Damian’s body transformed by the creature into its own form. . . Tentacles exploded out from the Old One’s hand, piercing the two soldier’s minds. They screamed, their bodies shaking violently, only to abruptly go silent and stand up straight. And then they turned their weapons on Fort.”
  • During the battle, “a giant black claw exploded through the floor beneath him, throwing the bed against the nearby wall as a second and third finger rose up around him [Fort].” Fort uses a healing spell to hurt the creature. Fort “wanted the creature to feel pain, as much as or more than what it had put him through when it had taken his father. . . The giant monster roared in anguish as the finger Fort held began to wither away, the muscle dying and the bones crumbling beneath his hand. . . Wrapping one arm around a finger, Fort watched triumphantly as the creature wailed in agony, its head slamming back and forth against the cavern wall.” When the finger goes back through the portal, another creature attacks Fort. “The creature’s tentacles reached out to surround Fort’s head, but this time, they pushed into his ears, nose, and mouth. He tried to scream but couldn’t get any air. . .”
  • The creature is able to create a portal in the sky. The students work together to try to stop the Old One. “. . . Rachel, meanwhile, went to fire another magic missile, but before she could, the Old One thrust its tentacles down towards her. . . One slicked into Rachel’s leg, dropping her to the ground. . .” The students are able to close the portal and the creatures leave. The action takes place over 42 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A student calls Cyrus a “future turd.”
  • A student says most of the Destruction kids are “jerks.”
  • A student calls Fort an idiot and a jerk.

Supernatural

  • During the attack on Washington DC, someone tried to take control of Fort’s body. “Fort watched his actions helplessly, almost from a distance, like he was staring down at himself from the wrong end of a telescope.”
  • Dr. Opps has a silver medallion that allows him to speak to others “mind-to-mind.” This medallion allows Dr. Opps to show his memories to Fort.
  • In the past, books were found that “contained formulas. The formulas, when read out loud, unlock previously inaccessible powers within the human body.” The use of the books allows some characters to gain the power of destruction, the power of healing, or clairvoyance.
  • In order to find out which power Fort can access, he must read a spell from one of the books. When Fort says a destructive spell, “immediately, power flowed through his body and out of his hands, setting them aglow.” He only makes a small flash. When Fort reads a spell from the healing book, “Fort’s hands seemed to lower in temperature, and he felt some weirdly cold energy leave his fingers and pass into the man’s arm. . . the cut had disappeared.”
  • Kids who were born on the day that the books were found can read them. Those before that day cannot read the books.
  • A student explains healing magic to Fort. “Healing is restorative, meaning it restores something to an earlier state. If you think about it that way, reattaching a leg is just putting something back where it belongs. The magic. . . encourages the leg to become what it used to be, one complete bone.”
  • Fort uses an “Ethereal Spirit” spell on himself and other students. The spell turns their bodies “ghostlike” and allows them to walk through walls. When he uses the spell, “at first, the magic made each of them glow a bit, which wasn’t exactly the best for sneaking round. But gradually each of them grew more transparent until he could see right through the others, and the glow disappeared.”
  • Sometimes Fort can hear others’ thoughts.
  • Healers can heal disease as well as give some a disease. Someone gave Fort the flu, and another student healed him. The student ran her hands “over his head and chest, and the energy passed into his body, immediately curing him of the flu.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Ruins of Gorlan

Will doesn’t know who his father is, but he has always believed that his father was a knight who died in battle. Will wants to join Battleschool and be like his father. But when it’s time for the fifteen-year-old to get accepted as an apprentice, Will is disappointed that his request to join Battleschool is denied.

Will’s only choice is to become a Ranger’s apprentice. The Rangers’ shadowy ways have always made Will nervous. Will doesn’t understand that Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom who fight the battles before the battles reach the people. Halt, a gruff Ranger, begins to train Will, but neither realizes that a large battle is brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, Morgarath is prepared to win at all costs.

The Ruins of Gorlan paints a vivid and realistic picture of medieval times. As a Ranger’s apprentice, Will learns how to blend into the background in order to gain information; he also learns how to defend himself. Horace, a Battleschool student, is the target of intense bullying. Even though he is training to become a knight and defend the kingdom, Horace falsely believes that bullying is part of Battleschool’s initiation process. The two apprentices’ friendship gradually changes. As the boys begin to understand each other, their relationship evolves into a strong friendship. The story uses a third-person omniscient point of view to focus on Will’s and Horace’s thought processes, which allows the reader to understand their actions.

 The Ruins of Gorlan has many positive aspects: well-developed characters, a believable setting, and realistic, exciting conflicts. As the apprentices learn new skills, the reader comes to understand the importance of hard work, perseverance, loyalty, and honor. The male friendships that are forged give the reader insight into the importance of respecting others and never gloating. Because of their training, both Will and Horace learn how to develop their individual strengths. In the end, Will sets his childhood dream aside because he realizes that becoming a Ranger will bring him more happiness and satisfaction.

The story’s long descriptive scenes and advanced vocabulary such as quartering, gyrate, tumult, and debilitating, make The Ruins of Gorlan perfect for strong readers. Full of action, adventure, and boy-bonding, the story will keep the reader’s attention until the very end. With fantastical monsters, honorable characters, and an epic battle at the end, The Ruins of Gorland tells an engaging story while teaching that one should never “judge a man by his position in life.”

Sexual Content

  • Someone retells a story about one of the wards letting rabbits loose in someone’s study. The person says it was disruptive because, there was “a male and a female rabbit, my lord, if you take my meaning. . . And as I said, my lord, it was spring.”
  • A boy meanly tells Horace, “Baby’s a Ward brat. Mummy ran off with a riverboat sailor.”
  • While out with his former ward mates, a girl kisses Will. “Her lips on his were incredibly, indescribably soft. Hours later before he finally feel asleep, he could still feel them.”

Violence

  • As part of the world-building, an old battle is described. The armies fought, and “with attack and counterattack and massive loss of life. The Slipsunder was a shallow river, but its treacherous reaches of quicksand and soft mud had formed an impossible barrier. . .” The losing army retreated.
  • When the cook saw Will steal some cakes, the cook hit him “on the head with his wooden spoon. Will grinned and rubbed his head thoughtfully. He could still hear the CRACK! made by the spoon hitting his head.”
  • Three bullies force Horace to do pushups. As one of the boys insults him, “His foot shoved viciously into Horace’s back, siding him sprawling on the floor.”
  • Horace becomes angry and “he turned back to George and gave him a heavy shove in the chest.” Then Will tricks Horace into riding a horse. The horse quickly bucks him off and then the two boys fight. “In an instant, Horace scrambled to his feet, his face dark with rage. He looked around, saw a fallen branch from the apple tree and grabbed it, brandishing it over his head as he rushed at Tug [the horse].” When Horace again tries to hit Tug, “Will was on him. He landed on Horace’s back and his weight and the force of his leap drove them both to the ground. They rolled there grappling with each other, each trying to gain an advantage. . . Blood ran down the bigger boy’s face. Will’s arms were hard and well muscled after his three months’ training with Halt. . .[Horace] drove a fist into Will’s stomach and Will gasped as the air was driven out of him.” An adult finally breaks up the fight.
  • A wild boar attacks “with an infuriated scream, he threw off one of the dogs that still clung to him, paused a moment, then charged at the hunters with blinding speed.” A knight was ready with his spear. “The boar had no chance to turn. His own rush carried him onto the spear head. He plunged upward, screaming in pain and fury, trying to dislodge the killing piece of steal. . . With one last screaming roar, the huge boar toppled sideways and lay dead.”
  • After the boar is dead, another one attacks. Will shoots arrows at it. “The arrows stuck out of the boar’s thick hide like needles in a pin cushion. They did no serious harm, but the pain of them burned through the animal like a hot knife.” The boar goes after Will. “Screaming in fury, the huge animal spun in its tracks, skidding in the snow, and came at him again. . . The boar came at a trot, fury in its red eyes, tusks slashing from side to side, its hot breath steaming in the freezing winter air.” Will’s horse, Tug, goes after the boar. “Tug’s hooves caught the pig n the ribs and, with all the force of the pony’s upper legs behind it, sent the boar rolling sideways in the snow.” Finally, Halt shoots an arrow at the boar. “The boar reared up in midstride, twisting in sudden agony, and fell, dead as a stone, in the snow.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • The three bullies are upset that Horace “made a fool of the entire Battleschool” because Will had to help him during the boar hunt. “Jerome shoved him against the shoulder as he spoke, pushing him back against the rough stone of the wall.” One of the boys puts a “heavy hessian sack over Horace’s head before he could resist, pulling a drawcord tight so that he was contained from the wait up, blinded and helpless.” The bullies continue to hit Horace. “On and on it went as he writhed on the ground, trying in vain to escape the blows. . . they continued until, gradually, mercifully, he fell still, semiconscious. . . He ached and hurt viciously in every part of his body.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • After the bullies beat up Horace, they go to find Will. They tried to put a sock over Will’s head, but Will “dived forward toward Alda, rolling in a somersault that took him under the sack, then letting his legs sweep around, scything Alda’s legs from under him so that the bigger boy went sprawling. . . Jerome brought his cane around in a ringing crack across the back of his shoulders. With a cry of pain and shock, Will staggered forward, as Bryn now brought his cane around and hit him across the side. . . Instantly, the three Battleschool apprentices crowded forward, ringing him, trapping him between them, the heavy canes raised to continue the beating.” Horace appears to help Will.
  • Halt sees the boys fighting and stops the fight. However, one of the bullies, Alda, is defiant and disrespectful to Halt. Alda “felt a searing pain as Halt stamped backward with the edge of his boot, catching the apprentice’s foot between the arch and ankle and driving into it. As Alda doubled over to clasp his injured foot, the Ranger pivoted on his left heel and his right elbow slammed upward into Alda’s nose, jerking him upright again and sending him sprawling back, eyes streaming with the pain. . . Halt’s larger knife, razor edged and needle pointed, was just under his chin, pressing lightly into the soft flesh of this throat. . . The knife pricked a little harder against his throat and he felt a warm trickle of blood sliding down under his collar.”
  • After Halt takes care of Alda, he makes the other two bullies face Horace, individually. “Then, as he [Horace] blocked Bryn’s fourth stroke, he flicked his wooden blade down the length of the other boy’s cane in the instant before the two weapons disengaged. There was no crosspiece to protect Bryn’s hand from the movement and the hardwood drill sword slammed painfully into his finger. With a cry of agony, he dropped the heavy stick, leaping back and wringing his injured hand painful under his arm.” When Bryn tries to stop fighting, Hale says “If he’s going to be a baby, I suppose you’ll just have to paddle him.” Horace likes the idea and, “then he proceeded to whack the older boy’s backside with the flat of the drill sword, over and over again, following him around the clearing as Bryn tried to pull away from the remorseless punishment.”
  • Next, Horace faces Jerome. “Jerome was driven back by a whirlwind of forehands, backhands, side and overhead cuts. He managed to block some of the stokes, but the blistering speed of Horace’s attack defeated him. Blows rained on his shins, elbows, and shoulders almost at will.” When Jerome drops to the ground, and covers his head, “his backside was raised invitingly in the air. . .” Will kicks him in the butt.
  • Halt then throws the cane to the injured bully, Alda. During the fight, Alda drops his weapon and “stood defenseless before Horace.” Horace then hits Alda in the jaw. “Will’s eyes widened slightly as Alda came off his feet and hurtled backward, to come crashing down in the cold snow beside his two friends.” The bullies are exiled from the fief. The bullying and fighting scenes are described over 10 pages.
  • A group of men which includes Will, travel to find Halt and the Kalkara. When they see the creature, it has a “cluster of arrows that protruded from its chest. There must have been eight of them, all placed within a hand’s breadth from each other.” The injured Kalkara went after the men. “The sharp iron penetrated, smashing through the matted hair. The force of the charge drove the Kalkara from its feet and hurled it backward, into the flames of the fire behind it. . . Then there was a blinding flash, and a pillar of red flame that reached ten meters into the night sky. And quite simply, the Kalkara disappeared.”
  • Halt was injured and his “leg, numb where the Kalkara had clawed him, was beginning to throb painfully and he could feel the blood seeping past the rough bandage he had thrown around it. . . He was wounded and unarmed. His bow was gone, smashed in that first terrifying charge when he had fired arrow after arrow into the first of the two monsters.”
  • Halt comes out of his hiding place to warn the men about the Kalkara. Halt “brought his knife hand up, back and forward in one smooth, instinctive memory throw, seeing the target moving in his mind’s eye, mentally aligning the throw and the spin of the knife. . . It took the Kalkara in its right eye and the beast screamed in pain and fury as it stopped to clutch at the sudden lance of agony that began in its eye and seared all the way to the pain sensors of its brain.” As Halt ran towards the men, “screaming a blood curling challenge, it leapt after him. . . The massive arm swung, catching Halt a glancing blow and sending him rolling forward, unconscious.” The baron steps between the beast and Halt, but the monster “slammed its talons into Arald’s exposed back before he could recover from the stroke. . . Arald grunted in pain and surprise as the force of the blow drove him to his knees. . . blood streaming from half a dozen deep slashes in his back.”
  • Will dips an arrow in a flammable substance, sets it on fire, then shoots the Kalkara. “The monster beat at the flames on its chest with its paws but that served only to spread the fires to its arms. There was a sudden rush of red flame and in seconds the Kalkara was engulfed, burring from head to toe, rushing blindly in circles in a vain attempt to escape. . . Then the screaming stopped and the creature was dead.” The fight with the Kalkara is described over 10 pages.
  • Halt describes the battle that Will’s father fought in. Will’s father “killed one [creature] with the spear, then another smashed the head of the spear, leaving Daniel with only a spear shaft. So he used it like a quarterstaff and knocked down the others—left, right! Just like that!”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While cooking, “a generous dash of red wine” was added to the vegetables.
  • While talking to Sir Rodney, “Karel reached across and poured himself another tankard from the jug of beer that was on the table between them. . . He finished the last of his beer in two quick drafts. . .”

Language

  • Three boys continuously bully Horace and call him “baby.”
  • Damn is used eight times. Halt says that Will is “a damn good shot already.” However, most of the time damn is used to describe the Kalkara as the “damn thing.”
  • When a boy compliments Jenny, she tells him, “You are a complete idiot.”
  • When Will shows up at the castle with an urgent message, the men-at-arms, stop him from entering. When Sir Rodney sees this, he yells, “What the hell do you think you’re doing, you idiot! Don’t you recognize a King’s Ranger when you see one?”
  • When he hears a Kalkara’s “hellish” scream, the baron exclaims, “Good God, what is that?”
  • When the Kalkara bursts into flame, someone asks, “What the devil was that?”

Supernatural

  • A group of Kalkara are on the hunt. Halt describes them. “Think about a creature somewhere between an ape and a bear, that walks upright, and you’ll have an idea of what a Kalkara looks like.” The creature has red eyes and “if you look into its eyes, you are frozen helpless—the way a snake freezes a bird with its gaze before it kills it.”

Spiritual Content

  • When trade masters were choosing new apprentices, Will prayed “that one of them would relent and accept him.”

 

The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare

Princess Magnolia is excited. Excited and nervous. She’s going to the Interkingdom Science Fair today to present her poster about seeds and plants. Even better, when she arrives, she sees that her friends are there too! Princess Honeysuckle made a mole habitat, Princess Sneezewort has built a blanket fort, and Tommy Wigtower has a talking volcano that’s saying “EAAAAT!” Wait, what?

Instead of a volcano that spews lava, Tommy’s volcano has a goo monster living inside. But every time the goo monster tries to eat or find a new home, the goo monster gets yelled out. The goo monster needs a new home and the Princess in Black is willing to help. Will the Princess in Black be able to defeat the goo monster?

Although the science fair is the scene of the story, the story only has a smattering of science. In one part, in order to carry the goo monster, the princesses must figure out how to distribute the weight. The science portion introduces some basic concepts but does not go into confusing detail. This story also highlights the importance of working together.

Readers will love the princesses who are prim and proper when they need to be, but they are also a little bit awkward. Even though the Goat Avenger only makes a small appearance, he adds humor to the story. The Goat Avenger loves to “wage battle.” When the Goat Avenger “wages battle,” he uses a duster to tickle a monster back to his home.

The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare is an excellent book for beginning readers. Colorful illustrations appear on almost every page to help readers visualize the story’s actions. The chapters are short with easy-to-understand language. Each page has eight or fewer sentences that appear in large font. The monster of the story is more humorous than scary. Even though The Princess in Black and the Science Fair Scare is the sixth installment of the series, readers do not have to read the previous books to understand and appreciate the story.

The easy text and the detailed illustrations will make younger readers want to read the story over and over. The illustrations are sometimes funny, but they always do an excellent job of capturing the character’s emotions. If you’re looking for a high-energy, enjoyable book with strong female characters, then The Princess in Black series should be added to your reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The hungry goo monster eats Princess Mongolia’s poster. Then “the goo monster and the Princess in Black waged battle. Volcano Rumble. Bucket Bash! Twinkle Twinkle Little Smash.”
  • The goo monster jumps into a mole habitat, but “the moles and the goo monster couldn’t all fit in there. The moles felt jammed. The moles felt crammed. The moles bit the goo monster. It yelped. It leaped out of the mole habitat.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Tommy accidentally makes a goo monster. The goo monster hides in Tommy’s volcano.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Major Monster Mess

Welcome to Kersville, a town with a spooky history and a collection of ghosts and spirits who are major mischief-makers. Most kids spend their days without ever seeing or dealing with a ghost, but some kids get stuck with a haunt. When that happens, they call Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol. There’s no job too spooky, icky, or risky for Desmond.

Andres Miedoso is not like that at all. He is Desmond’s best friend and ghost patrol partner. Desmond Cole loves the cafeteria food, but Andres always brings his lunch. Unlike most schools, the lunch at Kersville Elementary is great. Desmond always has a plate heaping with food. When a cafeteria worker smells Andres’ lunch, strange things begin happening. Andres soon wonders if a monster is after his lunch.

In the sixth installment of the Desmond Cole Series, Andres takes center stage as he tries to find out why he comes home smelling like a monster. Another conflict is introduced when a shadow keeps trying to take Andres’s lunch, which is made up of traditional Hispanic foods. Major Monster Mess has a lot of aspects that will have younger readers turning the pages. Besides featuring a ghost that lives in Andres’s basement, there is also the threat of monsters, as well as the mystery of the shadow. As usual, Desmond and Andres discover that there is little to fear when it comes to monsters. Even though they may have scary appearances, they have good intentions—to cook the students of Kersville a delicious lunch.

The Major Monster Mess has a unique and humorous plot that has mystery and a satisfying, unexpected conclusion. The story contains just enough gross factor and scary monsters to keep readers turning the pages. Even though The Monster Mess is the third book in the Desmond Cole series, readers do not have to read the previous book. The story is told in ten short chapters with easy-to-read vocabulary; perfect for emerging readers. A black-and-white illustration appears on almost every page. The often humorous illustrations use exaggerated facial expressions so readers can tell what the characters are feeling. Readers will laugh as Desmond and Andres find themselves in unexpected situations. Readers who enjoy The Scary Library Shusher should also try the Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • On the way to school, a black shadow tries to take Andres’ lunch. “A black shadow streaked across the ground and flew right behind me! Then something grabbed my backpack and wouldn’t let go! The shadow was trying to pull me off my bike.” Andres pedals into a brier bush and the shadow “yowled and let go.”
  • While in the cafeteria, a black shadow tries to take Andres lunch. “. . . There was no way I was going to let some monster tear it away from me. So I fought back. The next thing I knew, we were in a tug-of-war. . .Before I knew it, he had pulled me into the air. We zoomed around the lunchroom while the monsters kept eating their food, splattering glop all over the place.” Desmond tries to help Andres and they both end up in a pile of goop. “It was filled with apple cores, pencil shavings, and toenail clippings.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Zax is a ghost that lives in Andres’s basement.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Knights vs. Monsters

A group of knights has fought dinosaurs, but now they are searching for the holy grail. Sirs Erec, Bors, Hector, the fearsome Black Knight Magdalena, and Mel the archer are all ready for a real adventure. So, when an enchanted ship appears, they do the only thing that makes sense—they board it.

The ship takes them to the Orkney Isles, where Queen Morgause plans their demise. Once the knights are out of the way, she can dethrone King Arthur. With the help of her children, Queen Morgause puts her plan into action. Each night when the sun sets, a mist will bring a hoard of monsters. As the knights face the monsters and try to keep the village safe, they must defeat a vampire, werewolves, ogres, and a host of other strange and terrible creatures.

The exploits of the knights began in Knights vs. Dinosaurs, but the tone of Knights vs. Monster is darker and more sinister. In order to kill the knights, Queen Morgause uses her black magic to conjure deadly monsters. While the first book in the series focused on the knights learning the importance of working together, Knights vs. Monster highlights the gloomy Scottish island, and a mother who is willing to sacrifice her children in order to gain more power. Adding Queen Morgause to the plot kills the humorous banter of the knights which helped make Knights vs. Dinosaurs so enjoyable.

Like the first book in the series, Knights vs. Dinosaurs blends graphic-style illustrations with a unique adventure. Black-and-white illustrations are scattered throughout the pages, and there are several graphic-novel style battles that are illustrated over multiple pages. The story is fast-paced, gloomy, and full of surprises. However, some of the monsters seem out of place. For example, a vampire appears and bites a woman and Erec then conveniently steps in a sunbeam and disintegrates. Once the vampire disappears, there is no mention of what happens to the people who were bitten. The story arch ends abruptly, leaving the reader to wonder how the scenes fit into the overall story.

The knights engage in battle after battle, but unlike Knights vs. Dinosaurs, the characters do not learn from their experiences. The story ends with an epic battle that brings the villagers, the knights, and most of Queen Morgause’s children together to defeat evil. The introduction of the Scottish mythological creature the nuggle adds interest to the end battle. Knights vs. Dinosaurs should be read first, because it introduces all of the main characters, and understanding the characters’ backgrounds will increase the reader’s enjoyment. Even though Knights vs. Monsters has a darker tone, readers will still enjoy the action-packed scenes and the fight between good and evil. Anyone interested in King Arthur or the battle between good and evil should pick up Knights vs. Monsters; the unique story will not disappoint.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While on a boat looking for the holy grail, monsters appear out of the mist. “An enormous hairy arm with fiendish claws burst from the mist and sliced Erec’s garment. . .”
  • As the Black Knight was searching, “an enormous tentacle whipped through the mist and wrapped around her legs, knocking her to the ground. She dropped her sword but still held the knife. The Black Knight slashed at the tentacle but could not quite reach it. . . An arrow pierced the tentacle. The mysterious beast roared.”
  • While at sea, a kraken attacks the ship. “The crew held on to whatever they could grab as the kraken pitched the ship through the air. It landed hard in the water, splintering on impact.”
  • After landing on an island, a brute kicked Erec.
  • Monsters attack a village, and the group of knights go to the village to help. “Screams, yells, gasps, and various breaking noises filled the thick air. They approached the village gate, and the strange mist swallowed them. Cries for help seemed to come from every direction.”
  • When Mordred tries to stop Mel from joining her friend in the fight, she shoots an arrow at him. “Mel’s arrow pinned Mordred’s sleeve to the oak wardrobe behind him.”
  • While helping the village, “Hundreds of small, big-eyed, biting creatures swarmed Erec, pulling his clothes, nibbling his ears, and dragging him backwards until he tumbled over the wall. . . Erec thrashed, tossing several beasties against the wall. But more came. More always came.”
  • A monster attacks Magdalena. “The monster growled, struggled to its feet, and swung its ax.” Bors joins the fight and “he buried his sword in the monster a second before its ax reached the Black Knight.”
  • During a conversation, Gareth calls Magdalena a traitor. Then, “Magdalena’s leg swiped out so fast no one was sure what happened. But Gareth was flat on his back in the road with Magdalena standing over him.”
  • Monsters take over the village at nighttime, and the knights try to defend the city. “Erec chased a nasty-looking goblin through the village, finally cornering it by a wall and slaying it. . .” As Erec walked towards a house with a lit candle, he saw Greer sleeping. “And a rail-thin, pale figure with a bald high-domed head, pointed ears, and wide eyes was leaning over her. Its lips parted, exposing two long, sharp fangs. With a rat-like squeak, the fiend bit Greer on the neck. . . Erec lunged, but the monster held up one hand, its long, spidery fingers outstretched. An invisible force threw Erec back.” The monster uses his magic to drag Erec around until Eric is able to break the spell. “It squealed as they scuffled. Erec got a few good punches in.” The fiend changed into a bat, bit Erec, and was eventually defeated when a sunbeam touched it. “The fiend disintegrated into a small pile of dust.” The scene takes place over five pages.
  • A man pressed a dagger against Erec’s throat.
  • The bi-clops wakes up and “its mighty hand shot out and grabbed Bors by the throat. Mel rolled out of the way as the bi-clops tossed Bors against the rocks. It stood and the monstrous head roared. . . The bi-clops lifted Bors off the ground, held him high above its heads, and prepared to throw him over the cliffs.” Mel shoots the bi-clops, and “the creature gasped, dropping Bors to the ground. For a moment it wavered, then fell by the rocks.” The battle takes place over three pages and when it is finished, Bors is back to himself.
  • A giant appears and threw a man over a hill. “More monsters came. They were all sizes and shapes. Some had flaming heads. Some had no heads at all. . . All stood frozen as the colossal, unspeakable horror oozed out of the rubble, tentacles flailing, the din of a thousand screams blasting out. . . The Horror rose to full height and then paused suddenly. . .The blade of a sword slicked out from inside the belly of the beast. The Black Knight emerged, covered in slime but victorious.” The battle takes place over three pages.
  • Using magic Queen Morgause “pointed at Gorp and flicked her wrist. Mist engulfed him in an instant, lifted him from the ground, and blew him over the cliff’s edge to the sea below. . . Morgause snapped her fingers. A galloping sound echoed from the moors. . .” Nuggles appear and when Queen Morgause runs, the knights climb on the nuggles’ backs and give chase. The scene takes place over seven pages.
  • When the knights chase Queen Morgause, a ship appears. When Mel tried to board the ship, “the nuggle dove under the waves. Mel slipped from its back, but the nuggle’s seaweed tail wrapped around her leg and dragged her down into the darkness.” Merlin appears and helps the knights.
  • Morgause creates a whirlpool, but Merlin “leapt from the boat. A great whale surfaced and Merlin landed upon its back, riding the whale toward Morgause and the whirlpool. . . the whale’s mighty tail slapping the water and knocking the nuggle over. Morgause and Mordred hung on. Merlin and the whale attacked again. As they fought, both the nuggle and the whale were sucked into the center of the whirlpool. It swirled and churned around them.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Bors calls one of his companions a “dunderhead.”
  • Bors tells Erec, “But you’re out as leader if you make any boneheaded decisions.”

Supernatural

  • The group of knights takes a ride on an enchanted ship.
  • A man transforms into a beast. “The man’s tunic was, in fact, ripping open, his body contorting, fur sprouting all over him. His nose had grown long like a snout, his eyes turned golden, his teeth sharpened into fangs.”
  • Some of the monsters include a vampire, sword-wielding skeletons, and winged harpies. Mordred makes a potion that turns Hector into a bi-clops, which is a two-headed cyclops.
  • Queen Morgause goes into the center of the circle of stones and uses magic. “She raised her arms slightly, and the stones began to glow with a sickly green light. Mist swirled at her feet, rising slowly from the ground.”
  • Queen Morgause conjured nuggles, which are like horses but “its hooves were webbed and clawed. But it was the eyes that most set the creature apart. The eyes of the beast were not at all the kind, thoughtful eyes of a horse. They were black, empty, remorseless eyes of a shark.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

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