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

 

Tristan Strong Destroys the World

Tristan Strong has returned to his normal life, away from the mythological worlds of Alke and MidPass, where he just helped save African American and African folk heroes and gods from the malevolent King Cotton. But Tristan is suffering from PTSD, and trying to acclimate is more difficult than it looks. Unfortunately for Tristan, his troubles are far from over. A cloaked entity kidnaps Tristan’s Nana in the middle of the night, forcing Tristan to descend back into the world of Alke and MidPass while dealing with his past trauma.

United by new and old characters, Tristan Strong Destroys the World is a solid sequel to the first installment, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. Tristan’s adventures in this book build nicely on the historical and mythological references that Kwame Mbalia established previously. The references to King Cotton, Brer Bear, and the impending doom hanging over Alke and MidPass are meant to reflect on the real-life consequences of the effects of the Atlantic slave trade on African traditions and culture.

Tristan’s role as the Anansesem, or magical storyteller, quite literally brings these folktales to life. The book emphasizes the power of stories and story-keeping as a method of preservation and healing. Although these themes are similar to the previous book, this time Tristan must deal with a new kind of trauma. After watching many of his new friends in Alke and MidPass get injured or die in the previous book, Tristan now faces the aftermath. Tristan’s reckoning with his mental health is mirrored in the villain Brer Bear, who is also dealing with loss but in a much more destructive way than Tristan.

Kwame Mbalia does an excellent job conveying the connections between Tristan’s world and the worlds of Alke and MidPass. When Alke suffers, so does Tristan’s world. The connection emphasizes the historical and mythological links to Tristan’s life and his grandparents’ lives. Tristan’s grandparents, especially his Nana, take on a larger role in this book. When Tristan’s Nana was younger, she frequently traveled to Alke, so she knows many stories and helps Tristan collect folktales.

The events of Tristan Strong Destroys the World lead to a cliffhanger, leaving the reader wanting to discover the next part of the story. The violence shown in this book is not gory, but certain scenes may scare some younger readers. The next book, Tristan Strong Keeps Punching, should continue these adventures and Tristan’s journey through understanding his trauma. Tristan’s story may be based on the folklore and stories that people share, but there is always a seed of truth in these fictitious tales.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Tristan practices boxing with his grandfather, who is much better than Tristan. As a result, Tristan occasionally gets “punched in the face” during bouts.
  • Through his phone, Tristan sees into Alke, the mythological land where the previous book took place. Tristan sees John Henry, one of the legendary folktales, talking to a mysterious figure, who attacks John Henry. Tristan describes, “The monster swung the hammer down in a vicious arc, and the screen went black.” Nothing else is described, and at this point, it is unknown if John Henry survives.
  • Tristan boxes a local boy named Reggie and beats Reggie. Later, Reggie and Tristan argue, and Tristan gets mad. He “shoved the larger boy in the chest with one hand.” But because Tristan is wearing John Henry’s magic boxing gloves, Reggie flies “backward across the barn . . . a dozen yards” away.
  • Tristan and his grandmother freeze time by accident. Tristan realizes that his grandmother is weaving a magical tapestry, while two large cats try to attack her and Tristan. As they are the only two that can move and defend themselves, Tristan tries to stop the cats while his grandmother finishes her tapestry. When Tristan is too late to stop one of the cats, his grandmother throws the tapestry over the cat to kill it. As a result, Tristan’s grandmother is injured. Tristan describes, “She dropped back onto the ground, sending torn pieces of quilt scattering like dead leaves as she clutched her chest.”
  • A monster known as the Shamble Man kidnaps Tristan’s grandmother. The Shamble Man “tossed her over his shoulder like she was as light as a pillow. She fought him. Somehow she’d grabbed her quilting bag and was smacking the Shamble Man upside the head with it.” Unfortunately, the Shamble Man succeeds in kidnapping Tristan’s grandmother, and Tristan must travel to save her.
  • Tristan interrupts the legendary Keelboat Annie while she’s speaking. In response, Tristan’s friend Ayanna “shut [him] up by jabbing [his] foot with her staff.”
  • Ayanna’s friend, Junior, throws a rock at Tristan’s head. Tristan describes, “Something flew through the air and beaned me in the back of the head.”
  • Tristan fights a giant vulture named Kulture Vulture. Tristan describes that he “threw a flurry of punches. Several connected. Kulture Vulture’s bald pink head snapped back, and flecks of mud went flying.” This scene lasts for a few pages.
  • Tristan, trying to distract and humiliate Kulture Vulture, “slapped the giant bird.” This scene is played as a comedic moment, as Kulture Vulture is trying to eat Tristan and Tristan switches fighting tactics. Tristan uses this moment to signal for Ayanna and Junior to throw rocks at Kulture Vulture. This scene lasts for a few pages.
  • The Shamble Man is Brer Bear in disguise. Tristan discovers this, and Brer Bear attacks Tristan. Tristan says, “The giant grizzly exploded across the dance floor, one massive paw lifting me off the ground by the throat and slamming me against the wall behind me, driving the breath out of my lungs and causing pain to shoot through the back of my skull. Ayanna screamed and Junior was knocked aside by Bear’s other paw.” A fight scene ensues for several pages.
  • A final fight ensues between Tristan and his friends against Brer Bear, who is trying to destroy MidPass, Alke, and Tristan’s world. Brer Bear has John Henry’s magical hammer and uses it to attack Tristan. At one point, Tristan “ducked, but the hammer clipped the side of [his] shoulder and sent [him] tumbling head over heels into the waves.” The fight lasts for a couple of chapters.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Light language is used somewhat often. Language includes: loser, trash, butt, loudmouth, clown, stupid, jerk, and fool.
  • Tristan’s friend Ayanna makes a joke about Tristan’s fear of heights. Tristan replies, jokingly, with “a rude gesture.” They both laugh afterward.
  • Tristan’s favorite exclamation is, “Sweet peaches!”
  • Keelboat Annie yells for Ayanna and Tristan to hold onto their “dirt-loving derrieres.”
  • Tristan calls the Kulture Vulture a “foul-mouthed birdbrain.”
  • Tristan and his friends call various monsters names while fighting them. For instance, Tristan and Gum Baby fight a giant called Big Big. Tristan yells at Big Big and calls him “Butt Butt.” Gum Baby has a slew of nicknames for Big Big, including “Bing Bong.”
  • Ayanna calls Brer Bear a “mangy-furred cretin.”
  • Gum Baby spends lots of her time yelling creative insults at her companions. Gum Baby calls Tristan and the others “bumbletongues” and “dunderheads,” for instance.

Supernatural

  • Tristan explains that in the previous book, he punched a hole into a different realm where “Black folktale heroes and African gods walk around like you and me . . . I accidentally brought a diabolical haunt with me, stirring up an even more ancient evil . . . I caught Anansi trying to use all the confusion to gain power for himself instead of helping the people, and this was his punishment.” Many of the folk heroes and gods from the previous book return in this installment, including legends such as John Henry.
  • Tristan explains his role as an Anansesem, “a carrier and spreader of stories,” which is his magic power. Tristan can bring stories to life.
  • Anansi, the mythological spider, makes ghosts appear in Tristan’s grandparents’ barn. All the spirits are from Alke, the mythological land where Tristan’s adventures in the previous book took place. Tristan explains that Alke is “the realm of stories where Black folk heroes and African gods coexisted—peacefully now, I hoped.”
  • Tristan returns to the lands of Alke and MidPass. In these worlds, Tristan is surrounded by magic creatures and magic itself. For instance, Tristan reunites with the “winged goddesses,” Aunt Sarah and Aunt Rose.
  • Tristan’s Nana tells him a story about boo hags, who are “creatures who slip their skin off at night” and “sit on your chest and suck the air from your lungs” while you sleep. Tristan discovers that boo hags exist in Alke and MidPass, and he helps one named Lady Night steal her skin back from a giant named Big Big. Nana also tells Tristan that one way to keep away a boo hag is to call upon a root witch to make a ward to keep boo hags away.
  • Lady Night turns Big Big into a “large wrinkly-skinned weasel” with her magic.
  • Mami Wata, a water goddess, shows Tristan a vision. Mami Wata shows Tristan MidPass as it once was and declares, “It is as it should be.” The vision lasts for a couple of pages.
  • The malicious entity fueling Brer Bear’s hatred is King Cotton’s mask, from the previous installment in the series. It’s a magical mask that “glows green” and feeds on negative emotions already within the being.

Spiritual Content

  • Tristan remembers the words to an “old spiritual” tune as he faces Brer Bear in a final showdown. The song goes, “Who’s that young girl dressed in blue?/ You don’t believe I’ve been redeemed/ Just so the whole lake goes looking for me . . .” These are the lines that Tristan tells the reader.

by Alli Kestler

Behind the Legend: Unicorns

Are elegant, elusive unicorns real, or just a myth? Behind the Legend looks at creatures and monsters throughout history and analyzes them through a scientific, myth-busting lens, debating whether or not the sightings and evidence provided are adequate proof of their existence.

In Unicorns, readers learn about all the sightings and “proof” of unicorns, from stories in history of people like Julius Caesar and Marco Polo who sought unicorns to why they were hunted so fiercely. This book also discusses additional history about the creatures, such as why their horns were so valued in medieval times, their presence in pop culture, and peoples’ ongoing search for unicorns in modern times.

Even though Unicorns is non-fiction, it is filled with many interesting stories explaining how different myths of unicorns started. The book begins in ancient times and goes in chronological order to modern day. Using factual stories, Peabody explains different cultures’ legends including Persia, Greece, China, and Europe.

Unicorn is incredibly engaging and will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. The oversized text and short passages are easy to read. Plus, large black-and-white illustrations appear on almost every page, and they show the reader different drawings of unicorns that appeared in books through the ages. Plus, the illustrations include pictures of some of the historical figures who believed in unicorns.

Peabody explains the reasons that legends of unicorns persisted throughout ancient times. One reason is that “long ago, the idea of investigating a claim or conducting independent research did not exist.” While the book’s cover says, “fact or fiction, you decide,” the book says that today most people believe that unicorns do not exist. Instead, “You may be bummed to learn that many ancient ‘unicorns’ were likely just rhinos, oryx, and narwhals in disguise.” Despite this, readers will be eager to read Unicorns and the book encourages readers to find out more about unicorns by giving a list of more books about unicorns.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • An ancient Greek scholar helped the king. “When Artaxerxes II’s power-hungry brother Cyrus attacked the king with a javelin and nearly killed him, Ctesias rushed in and successfully treated the Persian leader, thus saving the day.”
  • In the early seventeenth century, Giulia Tofana was an “infamous poison peddler.” She sold poison to women “so if they felt trapped in an unhappy marriage—or worse, were being abused, or hurt, by their husbands—they might have gone to Tofana to plan an escape.” Tofana may have caused an estimated six hundred deaths and she “was eventually put to death herself.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • People used to believe a unicorn horn had healing properties. “According to one medieval physician, a horn was an effective treatment ‘for all poisons, for fevers, for bites of mad dogs and scorpions, for falling sickness, worms, fluxes, loss of memory, the plague, and prolongation of youth.’”
  • A physician experimented on two cats. The physician gave both cats poison. “Sadly, the kittens died, but there were some positive outcomes. Starting in the 1600s, educated people began to realize that expensive horns didn’t have medicinal values.”

Language

  • Early scrolls call unicorns “wild asses” and the book refers to unicorns this way a few times.

Supernatural

  • Bones were used to make dice. “Fortune-tellers and vision seekers also consulted early dice to “read the future and make tough decisions.”
  • In Japan and China, unicorns were “considered sacred. Even a fleeting glimpse of the stunning creature was thought to bring good fortune.”

Spiritual Content

  • The Bible mentions unicorns. “The animal doesn’t conduct any miracles, nor does it fly across the heavens wearing a radiant halo. No, the Bible’s unicorn is a very normal, no-big-deal kind of animal. . . If we believe one version of a famous Bible tale, the unicorn also had a reputation for getting a little rowdy.”
  • A “funny Hebrew folktale” talks about Noah’s Ark. When Noah was leading the animals into the arc, the unicorns “refused to listen to Noah. . .. The impertinent horsies try Noah’s patience. With the rains coming and no time to spare, Noah pulls up the plank and closes the arc’s door.”
  • The book explains how different texts describe unicorns. “As for the Bible, many, many writers contributed to the ancient book. The texts of the Old Testament, in which unicorns appear, were originally written in Hebrew, then translated into Greek, then Latin, then into English. Is it possible a language error occurred?”

Amari and the Night Brothers

Amari Peters’ brother Quinton is missing. Without tax records or a single piece of evidence to use, authorities look at the Peters’ family address in the Rosewood low-income housing projects and prematurely chalk the disappearance up to “illegal activities.” Then, Amari gets into a fight with bullies at her school. This leaves Amari without a scholarship and without a sense of belonging, but a ticking briefcase in Quinton’s bedroom closet quickly instills tangible hope that Quinton will return. The briefcase leads Amari to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, a secretive organization tasked with hiding all the magicians, fairies, and supernatural creatures of the world. When Amari joins the organization, she again feels like she doesn’t belong among classmates who already have extensive knowledge of magic. Even more intimidating is the fear and bias that her classmates hold towards Amari’s supernaturally enhanced talent—an ability for magic that has commonly been deemed evil in the supernatural world. Will she find friendships here in this other world, or will she again be judged and half-seen?

It is only through battling bullies, outsmarting Junior Agent Tryouts, and overcoming powerful magicians that Amari can find her brother Quinton and regain confidence in her uniquely beautiful power. Even in the midst of facing all of these obstacles, Amari is eventually able to say proudly, “I’m not the girl who gives up. I’m the girl who tries. The girl who fights. The girl who believes. My eyes open with a burning realization. I’m unstoppable.

Amari and The Night Brothers follows Amari’s entertaining, witty, and strong perspective as she contemplates what it means to belong in a community that continually sets out to ostracize her. While the plot is an action-packed, engrossing story of every magical creature you have ever heard of (from magicians to mermaids, to golden lions and Bigfoot), this intricate plot also works to explore issues of race and class discrimination. In defining Amari’s supernatural power of being a “magician” as illegal and dangerous, this story aims at bringing to light the way that prejudices act to divide our society, as well as how we can aim to overturn them. The result is an empowering and wonderful story of power, love, friendship, and the ability to overcome.

Throughout its narrative, Amari and the Night Brothers addresses issues of racism, classism, and prejudice in an easily digestible ways for young readers. Additionally, this book presents captivating scenes and vivid settings which weave together to create a tangible fantasy world filled with every type of supernatural creature that an imaginative kid could hope for. Dragons, vampires, magical forests, and funny dialogue all paint a narrative that stays action-packed, captivating, and evocative until the end. The story ends in a moment of triumph and reaffirmed empowerment for Amari, while also leaving things open for the potential of a sequel. Amari and the Night Brothers is the perfect book for any elementary to junior high fantasy and action fanatic who is searching for a meaningful and magical story.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Early in the novel, Amari gets sent to the principal’s office for giving a classmate “a tiny shove.”
  • Later in the book, Amari tries to shove another bully, Laura, but Laura twists and pushes Amari to the ground instead.
  • In an act of revenge, Laura attacks Amari at a festival. Amari describes this scene by saying, “Laura dashes forward and kicks out her leg. It’s so fast I don’t even have time to react. I just feel my legs get knocked from under me and land hard on my side. Next thing I know, she’s on top of me, pinning both my wrists above my head with one arm. That means she’s still got one hand free.” Amari escapes after this moment.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the Bureau agents tells Amari that the hotel she stays at has a “killer cigar selection.”

Language

  • In a moment of cyber bullying, Amari’s classmates celebrate the loss of her scholarship by writing comments such as, “We finally took out the trash at Jefferson. Never wanted her here. I heard she used to steal from the lockers. All it took was her dumb brother to drop dead.”
  • In another bullying incident, Amari’s bedroom at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs is vandalized. Someone paints an image of “a Black girl with two X’s for eyes and a stake in her heart NO MAGICIANS ALLOWED is written just below it.”
  • At one point, another peer from the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs calls Amari a freak.

Supernatural

  • The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs covers living beings “passing off as myths.” This includes “trolls and sphinxes, mermaids and oddities you could see with your own eyes and still not believe.” Mainly, the term supernatural covers fantastical creatures and magic, thus a lot of the narrative focuses on supernatural elements. This also applies to a group of hybrids (part-human, part-creature) who invade the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs.
  • Amari is deemed a magician when she places her hand on a Crystal Ball and “a plume of black smoke appears, swirling and filling the ball completely. A crack reaches across the surface.” As Amari stands back, a screen behind the Crystal Ball says, “Talent Enhanced to Supernatural Ability: Dormant Magic to Active Magician (Illegal).” It is in this way that Amari realizes that she is a magician, a role that is considered dangerous in the supernatural world.
  • After she touches the Crystal Ball, the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs has Amari step on what they call a “Magic-Meter,” which looks like a small scale. When Amari steps on the Meter it says that she is at 100 percent, meaning that “every drop of this girl’s blood is magical.”
  • When Amari grows angry at being bullied, “anger surges through me. And then, suddenly, a swirling blaze of fire erupts on the table between me and Laura.” Amari creates the fire with her magic.
  • Amari’s best friend, Elsie, is a weredragon (part-human, part-dragon), and can therefore read auras. Because of this, Elsie can read Amari’s emotions based on the color of Amari’s aura.
  • Amari’s classmate explains that there is another type of magician known as the technologist, which is a magician that can manipulate electronics like phones or security devices. The classmate also describes a Weaver, which can weave together new spells.
  • Amari is given a book of spells called The Spells and Musings of Madame Violet, Foremost Illusionist of her Era. This allows Amari to learn how to practice the Dispel spell, which allows a magician to erase any illusions set by other magicians. Among the other spells in this book is also the Solis spell, which allows a magician to create a ball of light with their hands and the darker, Magna Fobia spell, a spell from the “Magick Most Foul” section of Madame Violet’s spell book, which allows the magician to pull the “very darkest fears from an opponent’s mind to craft an illusion around them that they believe is real.”
  • During her final trial in the Junior Agent Program, Amari shows her illusions to the Bureau, and she creates an illusion of the street in her neighborhood. Then she also creates the illusion of a cloudless, starry night sky and the aurora borealis on the ceiling.
  • A boy shows Amari a whole forest that he created as an illusion using magic. Amari creates her own illusory blossom to this forest that they call the “Amari Blossom.”
  • In order to trick the dangerous plant known as “a Mars mantrap,” Amari uses her magic to create an illusion in which she duplicates herself. This becomes Amari’s tactic in fighting powerful magicians later in the novel.
  • Amari’s brother Quinton and his partner at the Bureau are put under a spell which is said to extract someone’s “life essence,” causing them to suffer “a very slow death.”
  • In order to defeat the magicians that have her brother, Amari sends a spell that not only duplicates herself but also puts a cage of lightning around her attackers.

Spiritual Content

  • At one point, Amari goes to visit the Department of Good Fortunes and Bad Omens, and the director of the Department reads the constellations for her. In this scene, the director plucks stars from the sky to place in Amari’s hands, and then has Amari scatter the stars again in order to tell her future based on her unique constellation. The director also speaks to the “spirit” of the stars, stating, “Every natural thing exists in two places, both here and there. If we are physically here, then we are spiritually there. Likewise, if the stars are physically out there, then it only makes sense for them to be spiritually here.”

by Hannah Olsson

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

Seventh-grader Tristan Strong lost his best friend, Eddie, in a bus accident, and Tristan is dealing with grief as well as guilt because he thinks he could have saved Eddie. Now, all Tristan has left from Eddie is a journal where Eddie was recording a bunch of stories. With the journal and his grief in hand, Tristan’s parents send him to live with his grandparents in Alabama to recover.

Then a creature shows up one night and steals Eddie’s journal. Tristan is sent on a chase to the Bottle Tree where he ends up punching a hole in the MidPass, a magical world filled with black American folk heroes. The only way Tristan can get back home is to help the gods find Anansi to seal the hole and end the war in the Alke and MidPass. Easy enough, right?

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky introduces black American folklore like John Henry, High John, and Brer Rabbit, plus older tales such as the story-weaving spider Anansi. In this book, they are gods living in their own world adjacent to Tristan’s world. The mythology includes strong ties to the slave trade and slavery. For instance, the main antagonists, Uncle Cotton and the Maafa, embody greed and enslavement, and monstrous bone ships carry the terrible and haunting memories of enslaved Africans who suffered and died in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The importance of memory and storytelling are key themes that come to life through the folklore and history of this story. Tristan discovers that he is an Anansesem, which means his ability to weave stories is imbued with magical qualities that bring the stories to life. His abilities keep history and mythology alive. History and mythology are intertwined, and readers will see how they influence each other.

Tristan also deals with his own grief over the death of his friend Eddie. Tristan’s memories and Eddie’s journal keep those memories alive. Through Tristan’s memories and Eddie’s ghost, Tristan learns how to cope with his grief. He will always be sad that his best friend is gone, but using the journal and his storytelling abilities, Tristan can continue to live his own life while honoring Eddie’s memory.

Storytelling is one of the most important themes in Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, and it serves as a constant reminder that stories keep histories and memories alive. Oral storytelling is one of the oldest practices, and Mbalia taps into that intensely human need to share experiences in a beautiful and creative way. Tristan’s story encapsulates the fun, adventurous elements of traveling to a new world where gods come to life and mythology runs rampant. The heart of this book, however, is in the memories and experiences that have survived and are now shared through Tristan’s eyes.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Tristan comes from a long legacy of boxers. Boxing-related violence, like punching, happens. For example, Tristan notes that in his first fight, he “got knocked flat on [his] butt. Twice.”
  • Tristan has gotten into several fights at school. Tristan notes, “At least I’d held my own in those school fights.”
  • A legend named Gum Baby threatens Tristan for following her. She says, “If Gum Baby had more time, she’d wear out that hide of [Tristan’s], up one end and down the other.”
  • Gum Baby tries to beat up Tristan. Tristan narrates, “it took everything I had to shield myself as her tiny fists and feet pummeled me.”
  • Tristan tells Gum Baby that if she loses Eddie’s book, he’ll “turn [Gum Baby] into an incense holder.”
  • Tristan accidentally nearly knocks Gum Baby over. In response, she grabs the hood of his sweatshirt and yells, “BUMBLETONGUE, GUM BABY GONNA WHOOP YOU LIKE YOUR BUTT’S ON FIRE!”
  • Tristan uses his boxing abilities to protect himself against magical monsters. Tristan describes that during a fight with the fetterlings or magical shackle-snakes, “I ducked its attack and slammed home an uppercut. Another slithered up and I snapped two quick jabs and a hook.”
  • Other characters use weapons against magical monsters, including staffs and swords. Tristan uses magical boxing gloves gifted to him by John Henry. In one battle, Tristan punches a fetterling, and “it exploded, showering [Tristan] with broken bits of chain and fluff.” These fight sequences often last a few pages.
  • Tristan’s best friend, Eddie, died in a bus crash, and Tristan couldn’t save him. Tristan tells his friend, Ayanna, about the crash. Tristan narrates, “We drove over a bridge and hit a patch of ice . . . We slid into the other lane, right into the path of a truck . . . I saw that the bus was hanging over the edge of the bridge . . . Eddie was in the back corner, trapped between two seats, struggling and failing to free himself. He asked me to save him . . . I still see his hand reaching for me. I didn’t move I was so scared. I was scared of falling, of drowning in the water below. I didn’t wanna die.” Tristan spends several pages telling the full story.
  • Much of the mythology in the book is influenced by the effects of slavery. For instance, Tristan meets two immortal women with wings. He describes, “Nana used to tell me stories about how over in Africa, before the horrors of slavery, people used to fly all the time . . . Then came the chains and ships, and pain and whips, and the people’s wings fell or were torn off.”
  • There is a magical war being waged in Alke, and there are many casualties. Ayanna tells Tristan that she “had to go talk to some of the Midfolk… . . . had to tell some families that we weren’t able to find their loved ones.”
  • Tristan activates a magical statue while being chased. To do this, Tristan picked up Gum Baby and “threw the best spiral [he’d] ever tossed in [his] life. Like, fifty yards, easy. I should’ve played football.”
  • Tristan and his friends go into the mountains looking for the Story Box, but the mountains have several layers of protection against intruders, including laser-shooting rocks. As they fly in on their magical raft, Tristan describes, “Silver and black lightning bolts were being hurled at us by giant black stone towers with jewels at the tops.”
  • The horrors of slavery are baked into the folklore throughout the book. Sometimes, Tristan gets a glimpse at different scenes hinting at this. One of the obvious moments is when the god, High John, shows him, “Old trees and Mississippi suns. Auction houses and Congo landings.” At these images, Tristan says, “I didn’t recognize any of the images and yet I knew them all.”
  • Gum Baby slaps Tristan across the face because, as Gum Baby says, “Ain’t no time for sleep . . . Gum Baby got missions and stuff.”
  • Giant poisonous brand flies swarm the Ridgefolk in the mountain. Tristan describes the scene, saying, “Everywhere a brand fly landed, skin sizzled and welted. Victims tried to peel the flies off, but whatever type of poison those flying iron monsters carried, it was potent. After a few feeble attempts to free themselves, the Ridgefolk crumpled to the floor paralyzed. Fetterlings snapped cuffs around their wrists and ankles and tugged them out the door.” The attack from all the monsters in this scene lasts for a chapter.
  • High John cuts up a massive monster with his magical ax. Tristan describes, “It wasn’t pretty. You ever see a twig get caught beneath a lawnmower? Or tree branches fed into a wood-chipper? Yeah.”
  • The poison from the brand flies infects Tristan’s friend, Ayanna. When they find her again, “she’s not breathing.” They bring Ayanna with them when they flee the mountain. Chestnutt, another companion, is also in a magical coma due to the poison.
  • Tristan and the surviving gods fight the Maafa, a magical entity built upon pain that consumes all that it can. Tristan sees the others fighting and describes, “But the refugees from Midfolk fought, too, for their very right to live, though they were far from home. John Henry, the raft line wrapped around his waist so he could use both hands, swung his hammer like he was back drilling through a mountain. Left and right, up and down, the hammer fell on the fetterlings with the rash of metal on metal. No flourishes, just a steady rhythm.” The battle lasts for several chapters.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Light profanity is used throughout. Profanity includes chumps, sucks, dumb, stupid, idiotic, nimrod, and loudmouth.
  • Tristan calls Gum Baby a “doll baby,” and she attacks him. She calls him a “giant turtle-faced thistle-head.”
  • Tristan’s go-to exclamation is “sweet peaches.”
  • Tristan sees a place called the Golden Crescent from the air. Tristan says, “Holy—” but is cut off by some of his companions.

Supernatural

  • This is a book about mythology, specifically West African mythologies that include “Nyame or Anansi.” There are also many African American folk legends, including “High John, John Henry, and Brer Rabbit.” These legends are gods. Tristan interacts with these immortal beings frequently, and they all do a variety of magic. They also live in magical realms that Tristan visits.
  • Rick Riordan, the author of the Percy Jackson series and head of Riordan Reads, has a preface in this book. Riordan pokes fun at Greek mythology, saying that “you can’t swing a gorgon’s head in any bookstore without hitting at least a dozen Greek-myth-inspired books.”
  • Tristan’s best friend, Eddie, dies before the start of the book, and Eddie leaves Tristan his journal. Eddie’s journal emits an “emerald-green glow” that Tristan realizes only he can see.
  • The first page of the journal is blank when Tristan received it, but Tristan soon notices that “a weird symbol appeared to be stitched” into Eddie’s journal. It is assumed that it appeared out of nowhere.
  • Nana tells many stories about mythology to Tristan. When they arrive on the farm, Nana tells Tristan about haints. She says that they’re “evil spirits . . . Lord knows, plenty of those ramblin’ about.” Haints show up throughout the book.
  • There is a baby doll in Tristan’s room at his grandparents’ house. One night, Tristan hears weird noises, and he turns his flashlight on. When the light hit the baby, it “rotated its head.” The baby doll is a legend called Gum Baby, and she talks to Tristan. In Anansi’s stories, Gum Baby “was a doll Anansi used to trap an African fairy while he was on a quest.”
  • Tristan punches the Bottle Tree, ripping a hole in the sky. “The punch smashed into the large blue bottle near the top, shattering the glass…Out of the corner of [Tristan’s] eye, [Tristan] saw a shadowy shape ooze from what was left of the broken bottle on the ground and creep along the grass…a chasm ripped open at the foot of the tree. A giant sucking sound filled the clearing like air rushing toward a hole.” Tristan and Gum Baby fall through the hole as they try to save Eddie’s journal.
  • Ayanna describes Tristan’s world and her world, Alke, by saying, “Alke is the dream to your world’s reality. The tales, the fables, the things you think are made up, they exist here. We aren’t just stories—we’re real, with hopes and dreams and fears just like you.”
  • Eddie’s spirit comes back through his journal several times throughout the book. Tristan describes, “The journal pages spun and coiled in the air until they formed a humanoid figure.” Eddie saves Tristan from the fetterlings, which are metals snakes with shackles for heads. He also speaks to Tristan occasionally.
  • Tristan is an Anansesem, or a magical storyteller. John Henry explains that when Tristan tells stories, “something special happens.” Tristan is able to bring the stories to life or summon them with his words, and this happens several times throughout the book. For instance, when Tristan tells a story about him and Eddie, the clouds around him “swirled and stretched into a diorama. Two cloud boys—one slightly larger than the other—crept into a large nimbus of a building.”
  • The god High John pulls Tristan’s soul out of his body and brings him into a spirit realm where they can talk privately. They fly on the back of High John’s giant crow, “Old Familiar.”
  • In the popular stories about High John, he would take “slaves’ spirits on trips of happiness and joy and wonder, all while their bodies remained on the plantation and continued to work.”
  • There are forest fairies, the Mmoatia, who know plants and healing remedies. They “have taken a shine to [Tristan].”

Spiritual Content

  • Before a battle, John Henry says, “Give me strength.” Tristan “was confused until [he] realized it was like a prayer before battle, and [Tristan] gulped. When gods prayed, things were about to get real.”
  • Inside the mountain, the council within calls upon their ancestors for guidance. Tristan notes, “I could see through them. ‘They’re spirits,’ I mumbled.”
  • The diviner in the mountain tells the ancestors that Tristan “has the blessing of gods and the spirit of the imbongi . . . I can feel it.”
  • Tristan is afraid of heights, and while flying around on a magical flying saucer he “mumbled prayers in seven different languages.”
  • There’s a legend about High John in which he “fell in love with the devil’s daughter. In order to win her hand, the devil told him he had to clear an enormous field, plant corn, then harvest it, all in one day.”

by Alli Kestler

Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes

War between the devas and the demons is imminent, and the Otherworld is on high alert. Fourteen-year-old Aru Shah and her friends are sent on a mission to rescue two “targets,” one of whom is about to utter a prophecy that could mean the difference between victory and defeat. It turns out that the targets, a pair of twins, are the newest Pandava sisters, though the prophecy says one sister is not true.

When the Pandavas fail to prevent the prophecy from reaching the Sleeper’s ears, the heavenly attendants ask them to step aside. Aru believes the only way to put the shine back on their brand is to find the Kalpavriksha, the wish-granting tree that came out of the Ocean of Milk when it was churned. If she can reach it before the Sleeper, perhaps she can turn everything around with one wish.

Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes brings India’s mythology to life in an engaging and suspenseful story that pits good against evil. Readers will meet the constellations, Saturn, a dismembered crocodile, and other deities. As Aru, her Pandava sisters, Aiden, and Rudy (a prince) try to stop the Sleeper from winning a war, they travel through the skies (literally) in a fast-paced adventure that is at times heart-stoppingly suspenseful as well as mixed with humor and heart.

Two new Pandava sisters enter the scene, but they play a secondary role. However, readers will enjoy Nikita’s fashion sense as well as her ability to make plants grow into weapons. Her sister, Sheela, adds interest because of her ability to tell prophecies. Even though the two sisters do not have a starring role, their inclusion adds several fun elements to the story. Because of the large cast of characters and their backstories, Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes should only be read after the first two installments of the series.

Each one of Aru’s group has family issues that make them feel unworthy; some of them also feel unloved. Because Aru’s father gave up his family and became the Sleeper, Aru feels “a terrible ache of loss” as well as a “confusing mix of anger and pity and pain.” While the story explores the hurt of being unloved by a parent, it doesn’t offer platitudes to explain away the pain. By the end of the story, Aru is full of rage, which will leave readers wondering what will happen next.

Even though the characters fight several battles, many of them are won through optical illusions. While the battle scenes are suspenseful, the descriptions are never bloody or gory. While the story is appropriate for younger readers, the complicated plot, large cast of characters, and the mythological gods, goddesses, and monsters make the story best for strong readers.

Anyone who enjoys an excellent adventure should read Aru Shah and the Tree of Wishes. Aru and her friends are relatable characters who are willing to enter dangerous situations in order to defeat the Sleeper. The ending doesn’t wrap up any story threads but ends with a surprise twist and a cliffhanger that will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, Aru Shah and the City of Gold.

Sexual Content

  • Aru and her friends are sprinkled with “glittering dust” that “forces out secrets.” Rudy yells, “I’ve never kissed a girl. Once I practiced on a gem, but I choked on it!”

Violence

  • A rakshasa is a demon “with the body of a man and the head of a bull.” The rakshasa tries to take a girl. Aru and Mini attempt to stop the demon, and “he flung out his other hand, and an S-shaped piece of onyx came hurtling toward Aru. The weapon writhed as it flew, emitting shadows that obscured her vision.” A shadow “wrapped itself around Mini’s ankle while another slipped under her sneakers, trying to dislodge her show suckers.”
  • During the attack, the girl is on a Ferris wheel. Using magic, Mini makes the Ferris wheel turn, “slowly, then fast and even faster until its lights blurred. . . The rakshasa’s grip loosened and he tumbled, his bull head knocking against the metal spokes as he dropped from one rung to the next.”
  • When the rakshasa tried to open the door of the Ferris wheel, Aru “let loose. Electricity rippled around the door. . . He howled as a surge of lightning shot through his arm, sending him crumpling to his knees.” Someone trips the demon who “let out a terrifying roar right before he knocked his head on a telephone pole and promptly passes out.” The demon battle is described over six pages.
  • While going over the Yamuna River, Aiden, Brynne, and Rudy drink the water. Later, Aru and Mini see their friends in the river water “swirling in a tight knot, their heads dipping in and out of the water. . . In fact, they seemed, well . . . dead.” Mini saves Aiden, Brynne, and Rudy. However, the goddess erases Aru’s mind so no one knows that Mini saved them all.
  • Two yali try to kill Aru and her friends. “The second yali lunged at them, trying to reach the pillar.” Bryn creates wind that “roared through the air, and the creature hit a pile of stones with a hard thud.” Aru and the others, including the yali, all live. Their bartering and fighting is described over 7 pages.
  • The king of the birds orders the birds to attack Aru and her group. Aru cast a lightning bolt that transformed into a net. A swath of birds is caught in mid-flight. They squawked as they dropped to the forest floor, squirming beneath the mesh.
  • During the battle against the birds, “Aru, Brynne, and Aiden channeled everything they could at the flock—concentrated tornadoes, winnowing electrified blades, and bolts of lightning. When a large percentage of the birds had fallen away, Mini replaced the veil of invisibility with a violet shield.” The force field gives the other birds a “powerful conk to the head.” The fight is described over 6 pages.
  • When Saturn looks directly at something it bursts into flames. When he was looking for a beetle, “his gaze went everywhere at once. One glance and a palm tree hissed as it went up in flames. One blink and the pit of broken musical instruments burst into flames, filling the air with the twanging of popped guitar strings.” No one is injured.
  • A plant bites Aru’s finger.
  • The story ends in a multi-chapter battle. While trying to save Sheela, an invisible enemy threatens the group. “Aiden raised his scimitars only for something to hurl him backward, slamming him against a boulder.” The group attempt to defend themselves. “Nikita spread out her arms, and the fence of roots and thorns exploded outward. Something yelled in pain.”
  • When they find Sheela, she “appeared, gagged with a shadow and bound with silvery ropes. Her eyes looked frantic, but she held up her chin.”
  • When a pair of naga try to “snake toward the group,” Rudy “borrowed one of Aiden’s scimitars and skewered the ends of their tails to the ground. They screamed and hissed, coiling back on themselves.”
  • Trying to protect herself and her friends, “Nikita slammed her palms together. Roses of every size and color cascaded down her body like a ball grown unfurling. Their branches reached for the shadows and grew around the Sleeper, trapping him in a net of thorns.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Oh my gods” and “Oh gods” are both used as an exclamation once.
  • While on a bridge over the Yamuna River, Aru thought, “Gods, she was thirsty.”
  • Heck is used twice.

Supernatural

  • Magic is used often. For example, after catching several rakshasas, Aru and her friends decide to take them to the Court of the Sky. In order to restrain them, Nikita “stretched out her hand and green light radiated from her fingertips. The sidewalk trembled as weeds between the cracks grew taller, multiplied, and spread outward until they had formed four rectangular cushions on the ground. . . Vines snaked out from Nikita’s tiara and grew several feet long before they snapped off and wound around each of the rakshasas, binding them tight.”
  • Aru is given a key that will unlock all things. The key is “in a sense, alive, and it might demand something in return for its services.”
  • Nikita and the other Pandavas meet in each other’s dreams.
  • While crossing the Yamuna River, the river “called to her like a lullaby” making Aru desperately thirsty for its waters. While there, Aru and Mini meet the goddess of the river whose “long black hair was pinned back with fish teeth and dotted with pearls. Around her neck and wrists she wore writhing snakes brighter than any jewels.”
  • Nakita makes clothes with magical elements. She makes Aru pants “where the coiled-up sticky threads were disguised as embroidery.”
  • Aru finds a jewel that is “a receptacle for thoughts, emotions, memories.” The jewel shows Aru her father’s memories. When the stone is pressed on, “something like a hologram emerged from the jewel, rending an eerie sequence of scenes in front of them.”

Spiritual Content

  • Aru is the daughter of thunder and lightning.
  • Aru and the other Pandavas are reincarnated. Nikita and her twin are “the reincarnations of Nakula and Sahadeva, the brothers famous for their beauty, archery and equestrian skills, and wisdom.”

 

The Maze of the Menacing Minotaur

Zeus the Mighty and the gods of the Mount Olympus Pet Store are exhausted from the sweltering heat. In order to restore Greece to a cooler temperature, Zeus and Poseidon team up to defeat the menacing Minotaur. As Zeus and Poseidon argue their way through the Minotaur’s Maze, they meet an unlikely ally. However, the minotaur isn’t the only threat. The bully Sinis, a Harpy, and the soothsayer Phineus all want to teach Zeus a lesson. Is there any way Zeus and Poseidon can work as a team and make it out of the maze alive?

Join Zeus the hamster, Athena the wise cat, Demeter the loyal grasshopper, Poseidon the proud pufferfish, and Ares the treat-loving pug on their newest adventure.

In The Maze of the Menacing Minotaur, everyday objects become the relics and monsters of ancient Greece. Boyer uses imagination and comedy to bring the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur to young readers. A high-action plot, humorous situations, and black and white illustrations blend to make a fun series that will keep readers turning the pages. Each illustration shows the Greek gods, which gives the reader a visual and helps them understand the plot and the gods’ emotions. Large illustrations appear every 1-5 pages.

The second installment of the series focuses on Zeus and Poseidon, who both want to call the shots. As the two learn to work together, they discover that the soothsayer Phineus is really Cronus, who wants to teach Zeus how to be a better ruler. According to Cronus, a leader should “delegate” instead of lead others on adventures. Cronus says, “Why, I had your minions running all over Greece, doing my bidding. And I didn’t have to lift a paw. That’s how you rule.” However, Zeus realizes that it is important to work as a team and allow others to make decisions.

The Maze of the Menacing Minotaur takes the reader on a fun adventure and introduces Greek mythology. Readers that are unfamiliar with Greek mythology will want to read the historical information about the Olympians, Theseus, and the Minotaur that appears at the end of the book.

The Zeus the Mighty series is perfect for young readers who aren’t ready to jump into The Percy Jackson series. The Maze of the Menacing Minotaur will not only have readers eager to read, but it will also spark their interest in Greek mythology.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A Harpy tricks Zeus into jumping into a ladle. Poseidon and the Harpy play tug-of-war with Zeus. Zeus “held fast, caught between the lord of the sea and a fiend of the sky. Zeus’s paws ached. They began to slip… He released his grip and plummeted to the ground… Zeus flopped onto his back…”
  • When Zeus upsets Poseidon, “Poseidon had poked Zeus’s rump with” a spear.
  • With Poseidon’s help, Zeus attacks the Minotaur (a furnace). Zeus “took a deep breath and heaved the spear, burying its tip directly into the orange pit of the beast’s nostril… He pulled on the spear, but it was stuck up the nose of the beast… The Minotaur’s teeth began to unclench, exposing the black pit of its mouth. The boiling gale increased, blowing bits of animal fur dislodge from the Minotaur’s teeth.” Zeus is able to extinguish the Minotaur’s fire.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Zeus calls Poseidon “puff-’n-stuff” and “fish lips.”
  • Periphete calls Zeus a rodent.
  • A Harpy calls Zeus a “flea-ridden fool.”
  • Zeus calls Sinis a jerk, and Demeter calls him a “blowhard.”
  • Twice, Cronus calls Ares a fool.
  • Zeus uses “oh gods” as an exclamation one time.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Oddyssey

Sometimes it feels like Oddonis can’t do anything right—especially compared to his perfect twin brother, Adonis. But this time, Oddonis really messed up. He accidentally turns his father, the all-powerful king of the Gods, Zeus, into a giant baby! Now Oddonis must assemble a team and journey to the underworld to reverse the curse and rescue Mount Olympus. Along the way, he’ll have to overcome a series of dangerous obstacles—like his obnoxious brother, his own self-doubt, and the horrible farts of his best friend, Gaseous! Can Gods as unlikely, unusual, and unheroic as Oddonis and his friends really save the day?

Unlike most stories, The Oddyssy’s heroes are not perfect, beautiful, or even brave. Many readers will relate to Oddonis who struggles with feelings of inferiority. Despite this, he agrees to travel to the Underworld and talk to Hades in order to reverse the spell. Throughout the journey, Adonis wants to use strength to attack his enemies. However, Oddonis and the other odd gods are able to complete the journey because of “their quick thinking, their ingenuity, and their diplomacy skills.” In the end, Adonis learns a powerful lesson: “the power of using your brains, instead of your fist.”

Like Odysseus in The Odyssey, Oddonis must face trials and tribulations on his journey. The fast-paced, funny story gives The Odyssey a unique spin. However, the story uses immature humor that revolves around farts, underwear, and puns. For example, when toddler Zeus goes outside naked, the illustration shows Zeus with a blurred groin. In addition, some of the humor is odd; for example, when Oddonis and his crew go to Mumce’s island, she wants them to call her Mumzy Wumzy because she “wants to be a mommy. Mumzy Wumzy NEEDS to be a mommy. And you will all be Mumzy Wumzy’s children. . . forever!” Oddonis and his crew are able to defeat Mumce by acting like bratty children.

Readers who enjoy The Treehouse Series by Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton and The Misadventures of Max Crumbly Series by Rachel Renée Russell will also enjoy the Odd Gods Series. Even though The Oddyssey is not a graphic novel, it has easy vocabulary, short paragraphs, and humorous black-and-white illustrations on every page. While the story has some juvenile humor, the story will entertain readers and has a positive message about using your brain instead of brawn.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Hades puts Adonis and his friends in a cage that is suspended over a volcano.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Someone calls Oddonis and his friends “Booger Brains!”
  • Oddonis calls Adonis and his friends idiots.
  • Mumce calls Oddonis and his crew “horrible brats.”
  • Toddler Hades says, “Adonis Poopy head!”
  • “Oh my Gods” is used as an exclamation twice. “OMGs” is used as an exclamation four times.
  • Heck is used twice. When Oddonis sees the Cyclope’s he asks, “What the heck is that?”
  • Darn is used twice. When toddler Zeus gets out of the house, Adonis says, “My bad.” His angry mother yells, “You’re darn right, your bad!”

Supernatural

  • Hades tricks Zeus into saying a spell that turns Zeus into a child who acts “as though you’re only three!” When Zeus says the spell, he changes into a demanding toddler. Later, Oddonis tricks Hades into saying the spell.
  • Zeus is a shapeshifter who can “turn himself into whatever he wants by just thinking it.”
  • Mumce changes some boys into pigs. She says, “I taught these naughty boys a lesson: if you act pigheaded, you might end up being pigheaded.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Race to the Sun

Lately, seventh-grader Nizhoni Begay has been able to detect monsters, like the man in the fancy suit who was in the bleachers at her basketball game. Turns out he’s Mr. Charles, her dad’s new boss at the oil and gas company. He’s alarmingly interested in Nizhoni and her brother, Mac, their Navajo heritage, and the legend of the Hero Twins. Nizhoni knows he’s a threat, but her father won’t believe her.

When Nizhoni’s dad disappears the next day, he left behind a message that said “Run!” The siblings and Nizhoni’s best friend, Davery, are then thrust into a rescue mission that can only be accomplished with the help of Diné Holy People, who are all disguised as quirky characters. However, their aid will come at a price. The kids must pass a series of trials that seem as if nature itself is out to kill them. If Nizhoni, Mac, and Davery can reach the house of the Sun, they will be outfitted with what they need to defeat the ancient monsters Mr. Charles has unleashed. It will take more than weapons “for Nizhoni to become the hero she was destined to be.”

Middle-grade readers will relate to Nizhoni, who wants to be good at something but just isn’t. When her emotionally distant father is kidnapped, Nizhoni embarks on a quest to save her father. However, she isn’t alone; Nizhoni’s book-loving best friend and annoying brother join her adventure through the Southwest. On the quest, Nizhoni and her friends meet the “Holy People” as well as some scary monsters.

The fast-paced story combines Navajo mythology with moments of humor, unexpected twists, and timeless lessons about friendship, family, and failure. The importance of hard work and helping others is weaved into the story. Spider Woman says, “All good things come through hard work. If something is too easy to get, it isn’t worth much, is it?”

At first, Nizhoni doesn’t feel like she has the qualities to become a hero. However, Nizhoni learns that she doesn’t need to change. One of the story’s recurring themes is: “Don’t worry about what you’re supposed to be. Just be who you are.” While Nizhoni shows bravery, she is able to defeat the monsters only with the help of others.

Race to the Sun will take readers on an action-packed quest and introduce them to Navajo mythology. Nizhoni is an interesting but imperfect narrator. Readers will relate to Nizhoni’s insecurities and her moments of courage. The conclusion is rushed, and there are several holes in the plot, but this doesn’t take away from the book’s enjoyment. For readers looking for more marvelous mythology books, the following books will delight you: the Storm Runner series by J.C. Cervantes and the Pandava series by Roshani Chokshi.

Sexual Content

  • When Nizhoni’s parents are reunited, they kiss.

Violence

  • Charles tells Nizhoni that he wants her dead. Without thinking, Nizhoni runs “full tilt at Mr. Charles. His startled eyes are the last thing I see before I kick that knife right out of his hand… I’m not done. I head-butt Mr. Charles in the stomach… And for good measure, I execute a perfect elbow strike to the cheek, just like I learned in self-defense class Coach taught in PE last year.” Nizhoni’s dad comes in and stops her.
  • In the past, Nizhoni had to attend anger management classes for “punching Elora Huffstatter in the nose.”
  • Adrien, a bully, and his friends corner Mac. “Mac screams, an animal-like bloodcurdling cry of rage. He slams his hands onto the ground, palms flat… A low rumble rolls across the baseball field, like an army of badgers tunneling through the earth, and then, suddenly, all the sprinklers turn on…” Mac makes the sprinklers shoot at the bullies. “The jets are all pointed at them, zipping back and forth in sharp slashing cuts, or pulsing bursts aimed at their eyes.” The bullies eventually are able to run away.
  • In order to save Black Jet Girl, Nizhoni needs to get by two buzzards. She throws a feather into a fire and “it explodes into a million tiny salt crystals that pop and sizzle. Hot granules fly everywhere… The salt strikes their protruding eyes and they stumble around, screeching in pain.”
  • Some people believe that Spider Woman eats children. However, Spider Woman helps Nizhoni and her friends.
  • Nizhoni and her friends are following the Rainbow road. They enter a corridor surrounded by rocks. When Mac disappears, Nizhoni runs after him. When she finds him, “he’s staring right at me. With big red eyes… He bares his sharp teeth and hisses… Monster Mac takes a swipe at me, and I see that besides having long, pointy teeth, he has long, pointy claws, too.”
  • When Nizhoni sees monster Mac, she turns to “launch a swinging kick right at the monster’s stomach. It lands with an Oomph! I elbow him in the chest and he doubles over. One more kick—this time to his ribs—and he’s down. He’s on all fours, panting.” Monster Mac “becomes a cockroach. It scuttles off…” The fight is described over one page.
  • In a multi-chapter battle, Nizhoni and her friends fight to keep the monsters from returning to earth. “Nizhoni lifts her bow and…release. The arrow flies true, a streak of white lightning that hits the banáá yee aghání in its veiny red eyeball. The monster screeches and veers away…”
  • A banáá yee aghání goes after Nizhoni’s mother. “Mom waits until the buzzard is practically on top of her, and then she swings the sword. Lightning crackles from its tip, slashing the monster’s face. Ligai drops, almost too quickly, streaking under the buzzard and dragging its beak across the monster’s underside, tearing it open.”
  • During the fight, Mac falls off a flying bird. “A shimmery substance unfurls in the air underneath him like a silver net. He falls into the glimmering stuff, and it completely envelops his body, rolling him into what looks like a giant burrito.” Later, Mac finds out that Spider Woman put him in a spider web to keep him safe.
  • When Mr. Rock points a gun, Nizhoni’s mom “launches herself into the air, her sword slashing downward, and Mr. Rock’s gun goes flying—while still attached to his hand.”
  • Mr. Charles shoots an arrow at Nizhoni. “It’s a direct hit right over my heart. I scream as fire radiates through my body… I struggle to breathe, my pulse beating too loud in my ears… I fall to the canyon below.” Nizhoni discovers that she cannot be killed by her own arrow.
  • Nizhoni uses lightning “that’s been building up in my blood. And I blow Mr. Charles to smithereens… And then a sound like a bubble popping. And then more pops as all the banáá yee aghání in the sky above me burst into a blaze of white lightning and turn into ash that rains down on me.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A girl tells Nizhoni that her mom “left us because I was a dirty Indian. Then she made war-whopping noises like something out of a bad Western.”
  • Adrien, a bully, and his friends bother Mac. The bully says, “Marcus Be-gay! Oh, please be gay!” The rest of the boys chant, “Gay! Gay! Gay!”
  • Adrien calls Nizhoni a loser.
  • “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation one time.
  • Heck is used three times. For example, when Mr. Charles meets Nizhoni and her brother, who are a mess, Mr. Charles asks, “But holy heck, what happened to you all?”
  • Nizhoni calls her brother a dork.
  • A buzzard tells his brother, “Don’t be an idiot.”
  • Nizhoni says her mom is “badass.”

Supernatural

  • Nizhoni can tell if a person is a monster in disguise. When she sees Adrien, a bully, “his eyes meet mine and that horrible sensation—my monster detecting—springs to life. The hair on the back of my neck rises, and a chill like the trail of an ice cube scuttles down my spine.”
  • Nizhoni knows the “language of animals” and can see in the dark.
  • Marcus can control water. He tells Nizhoni, “I’ve made water move before. Like in the bathtub.”
  • Nizhoni’s stuffed horned animal comes to life. Nizhoni had “been raised to take seemingly supernatural things in stride. Up to now, talking animals hadn’t been a part of my everyday life, but my shimásání taught me there’s more to the world than we humans can see…”
  • Mr. Charles is a shape-shifter who can look human. He is related “to a nasty kind of monster called a banáá yee aghání. These are vicious bird creatures.”
  • Nizhoni meets a crystal boy, who is made of white crystal rock, and a girl, who is made out of black rock.
  • Nizhoni and her best friend Davery go into a school that is having a prom. They are tempted to stay, but when they leave, “in an instant, the whole gym shimmers and disappears.”
  • Nizhoni looks into a mirror. She “leans forward to press my hands against the mirror, and suddenly the surface is not there anymore… I go plummeting into the glass.” Nizhoni is transported to a glade, “where she can see people, but they can’t see her.”
  • Nizhoni meets the sun, who is “wearing blinding bright armor and carrying a golden shield. And step-by-step on an invisible set of stairs, he appears to be climbing into the sky.”
  • Nizhoni finds her mom, her friends, and others encased in amber. When the amber cases shatter, Nizhoni looks up, and “Mac is standing on a platform, yawning and stretching his arms over his head.” All the people in the amber come back to life.
  • Nizhoni and her friends must fight a group of buzzards, but “only a monster slayer can look into their eyes.”

Spiritual Content

  • Along the journey, Nizhoni meets the Holy People. Someone tells her, “The tricky part is that the Holy People don’t always answer, or at least not in ways that you might recognize. But they are always there.”
  • After Nizhoni’s father is kidnapped, she prays “with all my might that he’s out of that trunk and getting food and water.”

The Quest for the Golden Fleas

Welcome to Mount Olympus, a pet supply and rescue center that sits high on a hill in Athens, Georgia. By day, the overconfident hamster Zeus, wise cat Athena, proud pufferfish Poseidon, loyal grasshopper Demeter, and treat-loving pug Ares are under the watchful eye of their caretaker, Artie, who is obsessed with Greek history. Her favorite podcast, “Greeking Out,” so enthralls her pets with its legendary tales of heroes and heroines that they believe themselves to be the actual megastars of mythology!

Under the cover of nightfall, this gang of gods pursues quests bestowed upon them by the magical, all-knowing Oracle of Wi-Fi. From an accidental plunge into a raging whirlpool (a toilet), to an epic voyage aboard the Argo (a robot vacuum), join Zeus and his minions in this romp through Greek mythology.

The Quest for the Golden Fleas is a strong start to the Zeus The Mighty Series. The hamster Zeus’s arrogance and desire to prove his worth gets him into hilarious situations. Readers will laugh when Zeus and the other Greek gods find wonder and danger in everyday objects. For example, when Zeus and his friends inspect the contents of a purse, they are amazed by the “artifacts” and believe “this relic is surely enchanted.” Similar to the ancient Greek gods, Zeus and Poseidon often disagree, which adds suspense and humor to the story.

Zeus is convinced that finding the golden fleas will prove he is worthy of ruling Olympia. While Zeus looks for the golden fleas, he abandons Demeter, who is being chased by a dragon (an iguana). All of the danger comes to life in black and white illustrations that excellently show the emotions of all of the animals. The illustrations show Athena racing through the store on a robot vacuum and bats chasing Zeus as he wields his shield (a tape measure) and blasts the bats with torchlight (a flashlight). While much of the plot is humorous, Zeus learns an important lesson—friendship is more important than a “furry old Fleece.”

While readers may not understand all of the references to Greek Mythology, the non-stop action will keep readers entertained. Zeus and the other gods are all completely different in a loveable way. The unique story combined with the funny illustrations will appeal to young readers. The Quest for the Golden Fleas will spark readers’ interest in Greek Mythology. The back of the book gives historical information about the Greek gods and The Myth of Jason and the Argonauts. For more humorous mythology, readers should add the Odd Gods Series by David Slavin & Daniel Weitzman to their must-read list. For readers who desire a more action-packed mythological story, the Underworlds Series by Tony Abbott will keep you at the edge of your seat.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A colony of bats (Harpies) attacks Zeus. When Zeus tries to turn on the light, “Another Harpy barreled out of the blackness. Zeus blinded it but not before it lashed out and nearly knocked the torch from his arm.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • When Poseidon gets out of his fishbowl, Zeus asks, “What is that fool doing?”
  • An old hamster calls Zeus a coward.
  • Heck is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Zeus opens a portal (a door), he says, “Thank gods.”

Idun and the Apples of Youth

Twelve-year-old Idun is confident that she can take care of the apples of youth–the magical and delicious golden apples that keep all of Asgard Academy’s gods and goddesses healthy and young. But when it comes to sharing her thoughts, Idun feels insecure. Instead, Idun keeps her feelings hidden inside.

When Loki makes a deal with a giant disguised as an eagle, Idun must figure out how to save herself and her magical orchards. How can Idun save the apples of youth so the gods and goddesses don’t age?

Readers will relate to Idun’s conflict: she isn’t sure when it’s best to share her thoughts or keep them secret. Instead of telling others what she thinks, she often stays silent, which causes her to feel hurt and unhappy. Although the conflict is relatable, the story’s plot is choppy and follows the same format as the previous book. Predictably, Loki is “a worm in a rotten apple” and causes the disappearance of the apples of youth. The only surprise is that any goddessgirl would trust Loki not to betray her.

Idun and the Apples of Youth is full of fun apple puns, surprising shapeshifting, and a crush-worthy boy-god. When the apples of youth disappear, everyone begins to age, which brings in some silly situations that will make readers smile. Through her experiences, Idun learns that “speaking up for yourself isn’t necessarily selfish.”

The Thunder Girls series does not need to be read in order; however, readers who are unfamiliar with Norse mythology will want to read the glossary first. The easy-to-read story will keep younger readers entertained as a new villain flies into the picture and traps Idun. Even when Idun is in a perilous situation, she doesn’t sit around waiting for someone to save her.

Readers interested in mythology but who aren’t ready to tackle the Percy Jackson series will enjoy the Thunder Girls series. Interesting characters, fashion, and just the right amount of blush-worthy scenes will keep readers interested until the very end.

Sexual Content

  • A boy might like Idun. “As far as she knew, no boy had ever crushed on her before. The idea that Bragi might like-like her sent a jumble of emotions surging through her—shyness and panic, but also a little thrill of excitement.”
  • Bragi tells Idun, “It’s kind of true that I like you. I mean, like-like you. . .You don’t have to say anything. I just wanted you to know, that’s all.” Idun tells Bragi, “I like you, too.” Then she thinks that she “needed to think about what he’d told her for a while. If a crush was destined to happen between them, it would unfold in its own good time. No rush.”

Violence

  • While walking from a mall in the human world to the school, Idun stops to help a creature. “The creature whipped around to stare at her with its tiny eyes. . . ‘I’ve already found what I was looking for!’ it crowed. ‘Four tasty students! Ringy-ding-ding! And rooty-toot-toots! I’ll grind your bones and steal your boots!’” The girls run from the creature.
  • The large painted friezes that covered a wall come to life. The warriors in the friezes begin to attack. “With resounding battle cries, sculpted warriors hurled food across the room at foes on opposite walls. They grabbed turnips, carrots, potatoes, apples, bread rolls, and whatever else they found for ammo within their paintings.” The food fight lasts for three pages.
  • While on a skiing tip, Loki meets a giant eagle that is fixing a pot of soup. When the eagle begins drinking the soup, Loki yells at him to stop. Loki grabs a ladle and swings it at the eagle. “With one clawed foot, he [the eagle] grabbed the bowl end of the ladle as Loki swung it at him again. As Loki held fast to the handle end, the eagle chanted some sort of magic spell that went like this: ‘Deaked leadked geak!’’’ Loki is unable to drop the ladle, and the eagle flies off with Loki hanging off the ladle. Bragi and Honir ran outside and “they scooped up rocks from the ground and threw them at the eagle, trying to make it let loose of Loki. . . Much to Bragi’s surprise, as he was pondering various schemes, the eagle suddenly released Loki. Oomph! Loki fell flat on his back in the powdery snow.”
  • Loki and Idun plant apple seeds in Midgard. While planting, an eagle “came swooping from the trees toward them. ‘Whoa! Wait!’ yelled Idun as it seized her, hooking one of its claws in the back of her hangerock. At the same time, it lifted the handle of her half-full eski with its other claws.” When Idun yells for help, Loki runs away. The eagle takes Idun captive and locks her in a pantry.
  • Loki, who shapeshifted into a falcon, tries to fly Idun back to the school. When they are close, they see that the students pile sticks and shavings outside the wall. “Luckily, someone managed to strike flint and spark a fire just as she and the falcon dove over the wall. Whoosh! Flames shot up the very instant they were safely past. Hot on their tail, Thiazi the eagle-giant tried to pull back in time to dodge the fire. But without success. Pzzt!” When the eagle-giant saw Thor on the wall, he flew away.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Ymir’s eyeballs,” “Ymir’s nose,” and “Ymir’s elbows” are used as an exclamation. “Ymir was a frost giant who’d lived at the beginning of time. Slain by gods, his various body parts had been used to grown the nine worlds. And for some reason, everyone spoke of those body parts as slang.”
  • Loki calls a boy a loser.

Supernatural

  • Idun and her roommates go into a shop that has clothes that talk. When Freya puts on a cloak, she shapeshifts into a bird. When Freya puts the cloak on, “the new cloak tightened around her. Wings opened up from its sides. . . Freya took to the sky, her legs and booted feet becoming claws, and her head becoming that of a falcon with a sharp hooked beak.”
  • While planting apple seeds, he says a spell to help them grow. “Grow, little seeds. Sprout and blossom. May whatever you bear be healthy and awesome.”
  • When Idun is kidnapped, the students at the school no longer have the magical apples to keep them young. The students begin aging; this includes getting wrinkles, losing their hearing, and other problems that come with age. For example, “Once the most awe-inspiring, powerful god of all, Odin was now bent and frail.”
  • Idun was turned into an acorn that could speak. Eventually, “Loki murmured some magic words and poof. . . Idun was instantly her girlgoddess self again.”
  • The large painted friezes that cover a wall come to life. “These painted friezes cover all of the V’s walls and were peopled with heroic warriors who had died in battle. The warriors had been brought into the friezes by Odin’s Valkyries as painted figures that magically came to life toward the end of every meal.”
  • Freya has a marble that contains cats and a cart. When Freya says, “catnap,” the cats and cart grow. The first time Freya uses the marble she thinks, “if anyone had been watching at that moment, the cats and cart would’ve seemed to instantly disappear. However, in reality, they had only shrunk down to a single cat’s-eye marble.”
  • Freya has a necklace that has a “walnut-size, teardrop-shaped amber jewel dangling from its center. It gave her the power of prophecy.”
  • Loki can shapeshift. He has shoes that “were magic and allowed him to race like the wind, skimming over land and water.”
  • Idun sees Mimir, who “was bobbing up and down atop his water slide. Mimir had become detached from his body sometime in the past. But he—or rather, his head—had been magically brought back to life by Odin. And now that’s all he was—a head.”

Spiritual Content

  • The story focuses on Norse mythology and includes Norse gods and goddesses as characters.
  • The story focuses on Idun, who is the “girlgoddess of youth, and her magical and deliciously sweet golden apples were what kept all of the academy’s goddesses and gods healthy and youthful.” Every day Idun must pick the magical apples. “Plucking them from the trees was a task that only she could do. Because if anyone else—even Odin himself—were to so much as just touch one of the apples while it still clung to a tree, the apple would shrivel and disappear in a puff of smoke.”
  • Idun has a magic cart. “Idun pulled a tiny wooden box called an eski from the pocket of hangerock. When she gave her eski a shake and set it on the ground, it quickly expanded from the size of a single ice cube into a box large enough to hold today’s crop of apples.”
  • According to Norse mythology, “Long ago, the giant Ymir’s bones had become mountains; his hair, trees; his skull, the sky. Even his eyelashes became a wall that encircled the human world of Midgard.”

The Fire Keeper

Living on a secluded tropical island should bring happiness to Zane Obispo. He is surrounded by his family and his friends. Zane is frustrated that he still can’t control his newfound fire skills that he inherited from his father. Zane is also convinced that he is the only one who can save his father, the Maya god Hurakan, who is now in prison. Plus, there is a painful rift between him and his dog ever since she became a hellhound.

Zane and his shape-shifting friend, Brooks, plan to take action and find a way to save Hurakan. But their plans come to a sudden halt when they discover that their island home is a prison. They can’t leave the island. When another godborn shows up, Zane and Brooks know they must come up with a plan to save Hurakan as well as the godborns who are in danger. Zane has no idea how to find the godborns or who would have taken them hostage.

Zane and his friends must race against time and save his father before he is executed. But first he must find the godborns before they can be hunted down and killed. In a world where Maya gods cannot be trusted, who can Zane trust to lead him in the right direction? How can a mere boy save both the godborns and his father?

The Fire Keeper is an action-packed adventure that never lacks a dull moment. As Zane and his friends jump through portals looking for clues to the whereabouts of the godborns, they meet several gods and monsters. Even though Zane doesn’t trust Ah-Puch, the previous god of death, he teams up with the god in a desperate attempt to save both the godborns and Hurakan. The constant question of who can be trusted adds to the suspenseful tone of the story.

Before readers pick up The Fire Keepers, they will need to read The Storm Runner. Zane’s story includes a huge cast of characters—monsters, magical creatures, godborns—which are introduced in The Storm Runner. Another aspect that may cause readers confusion is when Zane and his uncle occasionally mix Spanish words into their dialogue. Although readers should be able to use context clues to understand the word’s meaning, struggling readers may find the mix of English and Spanish difficult. Both The Storm Runner and The Fire Keepers have a complicated plot and an extensive cast of characters which may intimidate struggling readers.

All of Zane’s friends make an appearance in the second installment of the story. The addition of Ren, who is also a godborn, gives the story more humor. Ren is convinced that the Maya gods are aliens, and her refusal to change her mind breaks up the tense scenes. In addition to Ren, Ah-Puch has a starring role in the story which allows readers to see the god of death in a unique way. Some readers may be disturbed by Ah-Puch because he drinks bat’s blood to gain power. For example, he grabbed several bats and “snapped their necks, and turned his back to us as he drank their blood.”

The Fire Keeper brings the magic of Maya mythology to life in a fast-paced, action-packed story that will leave readers with a new understanding of the complicated nature of people (and gods). Zane is a very likable character, who clearly cares about others. The Storm Runner series is perfect for fans of the Percy Jackson series or of Aru Shah and the End of Time. However, Zane’s story takes a more serious tone and lacks the humor of the other series.

 Sexual Content

  • Zane thinks back to when he “almost kissed Brooks last month at the bonfire. Emphasis on almost. It didn’t happen, okay.”

Violence

  • While on the beach, Zane sees “a small shadow, no bigger than a fist, slid over the boat’s edge and began to grow into a tall column. Before I could blink twice, three shadow monsters emerged from the column, spreading their colossal wings. Long insect-like arms and legs sprouted from their swollen, pulsing bodies. . . Rosie exploded into killer-hellhound mode, shooting fireballs out of her mouth and eyes. . . One monster swiped Brooks away, sending her crashing into the violent black sea.” When Ren wakes up, the shadows disappear. The scene is described over three pages.
  • A mud monster takes the shape of Ms. Cab. “This demon version of Ms. Cab reached into her dress pocket and pulled out a small red bird. Using a small knife from the table, she split the bird’s chest open, and a flurry of tiny winged beetles escaped. . .The bedazzled beetles swarmed me [Zane], climbing all over my body, their teeny feet stepping across every inch of my skin, up my cheeks and across my scalp.” Zane surprises the demon when he “swept my storm runner leg across the intruder’s ankles, bringing her to the ground with a loud thud.” Brooks and Rosie show up and help Zane. “Flames erupted from Rosie’s eyes and mouth. . . Bright blue flames engulfed Ms. Cab as her screams rose into the air. . .The thing’s skin dripped to the ground in a sizzling heap of goop that smelled like canned spinach and burning hair. All that was left of Monster Cab was a lumpy statue made of hard, cracked mud, its expression frozen with terrified eyes and a wide contorted mouth.”
  • When Ren dreams, she creates shadow monsters. One of the monsters attacks Zane and his dog. When Zane tries to help his dog, his “spear sailed right through the form and looped back to me. I drop-rolled to the ground, swiping at Top Hat’s remaining stilt with my leg. I connected with nada. . .The shadow reached for me. I tried to scramble away from his grasp, but in a flash, he caught me, clutching my ribs so tightly I couldn’t move or breathe.” Ren wakes up and the shadow disappears.
  • Zane and his group are attacked by bats. “They were bats with curled, flesh-colored claws and crooked fangs. . .The bats landed on me [Zane]. . . Their little claws tap-danced all over my back, up my neck, and across my head. Their mouths pressed against my ears and cheeks, breathing hot puffs of air. . . One of the beasts had his mouth wide open, and he plunged a mouthful of fangs into the back of my hand.” Ah-Puch “stood upright, seizing the bats out of the air with such incredible speed his arms were only a blur.” The bat’s blood gives Ah-Punch more strength and the group is able to escape. The scene is battled over three pages.
  • Zane falls into a trap and when he wakes up, he “couldn’t open [his] eyes. I was blindfolded. I couldn’t move, either—my hands and feet were bound to some kind of tree or wooden pole.”
  • To free Zane, his uncle Hondo attacks the bats. “Hondo whirled, did a backflip, and kicked a few of the bloodsucking beasts in midair before landing. . . Hondo swung his crowbar mightily, but he was losing. The bats attacked him claws-first, tearing at his cheeks and neck.” When it looks like someone might die, Ah-Puch helps. “Then in a whirl of shadow and dust, Ah-Puch surfaced and blindsided the one god with a massive shard of glass, driving it deep into the bat’s ribs and slicking upward with a nauseating ripppppp.” During the fighting, Ah-Puch is attacked by a god. The god “leaped at the god of death, fangs bared. His claws slashed, ripping Ah-Puch like paper. Thick blood spilled onto the dirt.”
  • During the multi-chapter battle, Zane shoots “fire bullets from my hands, aiming precisely for the guy’s eyes. His bat wings didn’t deflect them fast enough this time. He screamed, shook his head, and looked back at us with empty, scorched sockets.”
  • Zane tries to free his father by attacking the villains. Zane “went after them, shooting dozens of fire bullets from my hands and nailing them in the chest, but it didn’t stop their rage. . . Just then, Rosie appeared by my side, blue flames exploding from her mouth as Jordan swept down with ferocious speed, slicking my neck with a razor-sharp claw.” A friend saves Zane.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Someone gives Zane a drugged candy. After he eats it, he feels terrible, and “felt a sharp pain in my back, like I’d been stabbed with an ice dagger. . . Cold sweat dripped down my face, and my insides felt like a giant fist was wringing them out. Uncontrollable shivers gripped me as my mind stumbled over all my memories. . .”
  • Zane walks through a wedding reception, where “a few guys stood in the corner doing shots and slamming their fists on the table. . .” When a waiter comes by carrying “a tray of what might have been champagne,” Zane’s uncle yells, “How about a drink?”
  • After fighting with huge bats and surviving, Ah-Puch drinks “a one-hundred-year-old bottle of tequila.”

Language

  • Crap and heck are used occasionally. For example, when Zane goes through a portal, he lands on a frozen lake. He thinks, “Crap! Crappity crap!”
  • “Oh my gods” is used as an exclamation once.
  • Zane calls people a jerk three times. Zane thinks the gods are “jerks” because “they wanted to be rid of godborns.”
  • Someone tells Zane, “Hey, wake your flojo butt up.”
  • “Holy hell” is used once.
  • Hondo refers to someone as a “moron.”
  • Several times someone calls Zane an “idiot.”

Supernatural

  • Gods and monsters from Maya mythology are real. Ixtab, the queen of the underworld, uses shadow magic to hide Zane from the other gods. However, the shadow magic also makes Zane and Brooks prisoners who cannot leave the island they are living on.
  • Brooks is a nawal (a shapeshifter) who can turn into a hawk.
  • Zane’s dog, Rosie, is a hellhound who can breathe fire. In the previous book, Rosie went to the underworld. Zane can also talk to Rosie telepathically. When Rosie licks a wound, the wound heals. Rosie can also teleport. During the adventure, Rosie sprouts wins and can fly.
  • Zane’s father is a Maya god. Zane is trying to learn how to control fire. “Ixtab had told me that my skin and anything touching it was nonflammable.”
  • Zane’s father gave him a jaguar tooth and “the amulet was fused with the most ancient and potent magic in the universe. I could use the amulet to spirit jump to the Empty, and also to grant any power to whoever I gave it to.”
  • Ren’s mother is a goddess. She can make shadow monsters appear, but she doesn’t know how to control them.
  • Ms. Cab was a Maya seer, but “ever since Ixtab had turned her into a chicken for a short time, Ms. Cab could actually speak bird, which helped them trust her.”
  • Ms. Cab tells about the first humans who were made from mud. “But the people ended up being dumb and weak, so the gods destroyed them.”
  • Ixtab takes Zane to a scrying pool, and tells him, “Souls live inside the sacred waters and help me see things.”
  • Zane must find the Fire Keeper because “the Fire Keeper can read each lick of the flame, each glimmer in the embers. He sees what no one else can—places, people, events—with perfect clarity. Choices and outcomes. He can even manipulate the future.”

Spiritual Content

  • When Zane goes into a church, he can hear people’s prayers through the candles they lit. While in the church, Zane lights a candle and “said a silent prayer.”

Sif and the Dwarfs’ Treasures

Twelve-year-old Sif attends Asgard Academy, but she’s keeping important secrets from her podmates. No one knows that her magical hair allows the wheat crop to grow. When mischievous Loki cuts her hair in a horrible prank, Sif must rely on her podmates and Loki for help.

Sif has a prophetic dream that gives her a hint on how to solve the problem. Sif and Freya must convince Loki to go to Ivaldi’s sons, dwarves who are skilled blacksmiths. Loki must strike a bargain with them to help Sif get her hair back. An overconfident Loki strikes a deal with the blacksmiths, and as part of the deal he could lose his head—literally.

To make things worse, there are rumors of a looming attack that could hit Asgard Academy. Sif is afraid that Ragnarok, or doomsday, might be about to begin. Is there any way Sif can save the wheat crops and her beloved school?

Fans of Goddess Girls will enjoy this new series which focuses on Norse Mythology. Sif is a relatable character who has a difficult time overcoming her embarrassing insecurities. She doesn’t want anyone to know that she is a seer—or that she has a difficult time reading. As Sif gets to know her podmates better, she realizes that no one, not even a goddess girl, is perfect.

Sif and the Dwarfs’ Treasures has many positive messages that pertain to younger readers. Odin has created the school in order to get people from different worlds to interact. “[He] wished them to understand and appreciate everyone’s differences.” As Sif learns more about her roommates, she realizes the importance of working together. Sif also knows that looks do not define a person’s (or a god’s) character. Even though “many girls found Loki cute,” Sif knows that “a person’s behavior, not his appearance, was what made him attractive.”

Readers will enjoy learning about Sif, who is a well-rounded and caring goddess. Sif and the Dwarfs’ Treasures has interesting characters and actions, humorous puns, and a sprinkle of crushing moments that will entertain readers. Although many of the characters appeared in Freya and the Magic Jewel, the stories do not need to be read in order. Each book is told from a different goddess’s point of view and allows the reader to see that even goddesses need help from others.

Readers who are unfamiliar with Norse mythology will want to read the glossary first. The story introduces Norse mythology in a kid-friendly way, while still staying true to the original stories. Sif and the Dwarfs’ Treasures uses a relatable character to embed important life lessons in an entertaining story that readers will love. Readers will eagerly look for the next book in the series, Idun and the Apples of Youth.

Sexual Content

  • Freya has noticed Sif and Thor looking at each other and thinks the two are “crushing on each other” because “crushes often start with just looking.”
  • After Sif and Thor have several conversations, Sif thinks, “She likes him, too. As a friend anyway. As far as crushing. . . well. . . time would tell.”

Violence

  • The large painted friezes that covered a wall come to life. When Sif and her friends are eating, “all four girls studied the nearby frieze, [and] an armor-clad warrior reached out of it to grab a dish of lemon-flavored snow pudding from a Valkyrie rushed by with a tray of desserts. With a wide grin on his face, the warrior took aim and then flung the snow pudding at a painting of heroes directly across the room.” A food fight begins. Most of the food being thrown “was directed at warriors occupying friezes on opposite walls, but occasionally the thrown food accidentally hit students, too!” They start a food fight several times in the story.
  • When Loki says a mean joke, Thor gets angry. “In an instant Thor was across the room, his fists balled to punch Loki out. Before he could follow through[;] however, Loki shape-shifted into fire. ‘‘Yow!’ Thor leaped back, blowing on his singed fingers to cool them.”
  • Loki changed into an eagle and stole an apple, “even though he could eat them anytime he wanted in the Valhallateria.” When Loki stole the apple from Idum, she scraped her knee and it was bleeding.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • After Loki plays a mean trick, someone calls him a bonehead.
  • Loki says, “It’s easy to predict events that have already happened. Even a dummy like Thor could do that!”
  • Someone calls Loki a rat.
  • Loki calls a group of students idiots.

Supernatural

  • Sif takes a class on how to read Runes and the students share their “‘rune-words’ meanings and suggest[ed] prophecies that might be connected to them.”
  • In order to hide from Thor, Sif “transformed into a rowan tree. It was one of only two forms she could take, the other being a swan.”
  • When Sif was younger, she was “proud” of her talent at prophecy and tried to use her talent at school. However, soon people started calling her “fortune-tattler instead of fortune-teller.” She also lost her best friend. Sif was trying to help her friend by carving the rune word for brave, but Sif made an error and wrote the rune word for poison instead. When Sif’s friend became ill, the friend’s parents wouldn’t allow them to spend time together.
  • A dwarf chanted a spell, “For one whole day, you’ll zip your lip. Nothing will you say. Nothing will you sip.” The spell makes it so the Loki cannot speak or eat for a day.
  • The large painted friezes that cover a wall come to life. “These painted friezes cover all of the V’s walls and were peopled with heroic warriors who had died in battle. The warriors had been brought into the friezes by Odin’s Valkyries as painted figures that magically came to life toward the end of every meal.”
  • Freya has a marble that contains cats and a cart. When Freya says, “catnap,” the cats and cart grow. The first time Freya uses the marble, she thinks, “if anyone had been watching at that moment, the cats and cart would’ve seemed to instantly disappear. However, in reality, they had only shrunk down to a single cat’s-eye marble.”
  • Freya drinks juice that won’t make her immortal, but will make her “stay the same age.”
  • Several characters are shapeshifters.
  • Mimir, an oracle, only has a head. When Sifi sees him, “suddenly a column of bright-blue water shot through one of the tubular slides to bubble up in a tall, fountain-like spout at eye level. Atop the spout sat a disembodied bald head!”
  • Sif goes to the library to learn about rune spells and charms. One of the things she learns is that “difficult rune interpretations can sometimes be solved through dreams.” Later in the story, she uses the book’s advice and has a prophetic dream.
  • Talking acorns can give students a message. Odin uses one to deliver a message to Sif.

Spiritual Content

  • The story focuses on Norse mythology and includes Norse gods and goddesses as characters.
  • Sif is a seer, a shapeshifter, and also the “girl goddess of bountiful harvest.” Her power comes from her hair; however, how her hair helps the harvest is never explained. When Sif’s hair is cut, the humans’ wheat fields begin to wither.
  • Freya is the goddess of love and beauty. She is also a seer. Another character, Odin, was “the leader of the Asgard gods and the supreme ruler of all the worlds.” (This is not a complete list of the Norse gods that appear in the book.)

Odd Gods

Oddonis may be the son of Zeus, but he’s a little bit odd for a God. He’s so odd, in fact, that he’s not sure if he has any powers at all. And if that isn’t enough, his twin brother Adonis is the most popular, most athletic, and most otherworldly handsome God of them all.

Oddonis’s future at Mount Olympus Middle isn’t looking bright, especially when he makes the last-minute decision to run against Adonis to be class president. With the help of his friends Mathena (Goddess of math and poultry), Germes (God of all things sniffling and snotty), Puneous (the smallest God of them all), and Gaseous (enough said?), Oddonis is determined to win the race, prove that his friends are as good as any Greek God, and maybe, just maybe, find out what his true powers really are.

Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider will relate to Oddonis, who is not handsome, strong, or amazing like his brother, Adonis. Oddonis’s tale features other misfits, including Gaseous, who farts his way through the story. Unfortunately, Gaseous’s farts smell like “feta cheese, a wet ferret, and feet.” Later at an assembly “Gaseous lets out one of those loud, long, air-going-out-of-a-balloon farts, and the auditorium goes crazy.” In the end, Gaseous uses his fart-power to help Oddonis.

Odd Gods has easy vocabulary, short paragraphs, and humorous black-and-white illustrations on every page. Despite the juvenile humor, Odd Gods has several positive messages about the importance of liking yourself (flaws and all). Even though Oddonis was bullied and called names, he realizes that it’s okay not to be perfect. In the end, Oddonis looks at his reflection and thinks, “I maybe even like what I see. . . And that makes me smile.”

Throughout the story, Oddonis finds a unique group of friends, who were often criticized by others. When Oddonis decides to run against his brother, his friends use their unique talents to help Oddonis. Through their experiences, the reader will learn the importance of friendship, forgiveness, and working together. The message is clear: people who are different should be proud of their differences. Even though Odd Gods has gross humor, readers will enjoy the ridiculously humorous story as well as learn some valuable lessons.

Sexual Content

  • Adonis is the “God of beauty and desire.”

Violence

  • On the school chariot, Poseidon “opens his mouth, a tidal wave comes out” and drenches Oddonis and his friend. The illustration shows Oddonis and his friend swimming with fish and crabs, while other gods laugh at them.
  • On the first day of school, Oddonis, Gaseous, and Puneous are in the hall when “Ares and Apollo pick the three of us up, stuff us in an open locker, and slam the door shut.”
  • When Oddonis sticks up for another kid, “Hercules slams his mighty fists down on our table, and before I can say, ‘Where are we going’ –I’m FLYING UP IN THE AIR!” And it’s not just me—Gaseous, Puneous, Mathena, and Clucky and Ducky are flying, too!” The group ends up in the dumpster.
  • While in the dumpster, Gaseous farts and “Boom!!! WHAM!!! Back we land, right at our table, right where we were sitting before.”
  • Adonis, Poseidon, and Hercules are racing towards Oddonis in a chariot. When the chariot gets close, one of Oddonis’s friends “grabs a level next to the steering wheel and pulls hard. One side of the dumpster drops down and empties its putrid payload. . . right on Adonis’s chariot!” The three gods are “coated with stinky slimy slop! (The cafeteria’s ‘Tuna Surprise’ never looked better!)”
  • Oddonis looks in his brother’s backpack and sees a picture of himself being hung on a noose.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Someone calls Gaseous “Fire Butt.”
  • “Oh My Gods” is used as an exclamation twice and also OMG is used twice.
  • The story contains a lot of name calling, including apes, birdbrain, fish face, jerk, weirdos, idiot, dummy, doofus, bonehead, stupid, halfwit, dimwhit, blockhead, and nincompoop.
  • “What the—” is used twice.
  • Heck is used three times.
  • When Oddonis tells Echo, “But now what do I do, do, do?” Echo giggles and says, “You said doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Puneous comes back from a spying mission, Oddonis says, “Thank Gods you’re okay!”

Freya and the Magic Jewel

When eleven-year-old Freya hears a Doomsday prophecy from her magical jewel, she isn’t sure what to make of it. Mere seconds after the prediction, she receives a mysterious invitation to Asgard Academy from the powerful Odin, who commands her to “bring her magic” to Asgard.

With encouragement from her twin, Frey, Freya reluctantly heads out on the new adventure. Freya’s first challenge begins before she even steps foot in Asgard. While trying to navigate the treacherous Bifrost Bridge, she drops her magical jewel off the bridge, and a sneaky pair of dwarves take her jewel down to the world of Midgard!

Without that jewel, Freya thinks she is powerless. But with the help of her pod-mates at Asgard, Freya discovers a world that is bigger and more mysterious than she ever imagined! There, she learns the true terror of Ragnarok, the doomsday that her jewel warned her about, and what it could mean for Asgard Academy if she and her new friends, the Thunder Girls, don’t stop it!

Fans of Goddess Girls will enjoy this new series, which focuses on Norse Mythology. At first, Freya comes across as shallow because of her intense love of fashion and her assumption that everyone male will find her crush-worthy; she is the goddess of love and beauty after all! On the positive side, Freya has a positive attitude even when times are difficult. In the end, Freya learns that her best ability is fostering friendship. Readers will relate to Freya, who wonders if she is “in-like” with someone, and worries about hurting someone’s feelings if she does not like them in the same way.

Freya soon learns that Mason has a crush on her. In order to win her heart, he promises to “rebuild Asgard’s wall to protect her, if only she will give me her heart in return, plus the sun and the moon.” Freya doesn’t want to make the promise, but she knows the Asguard’s wall must be rebuilt. She reluctantly agrees because she doesn’t think Mason can succeed at building the wall. Although this is one of the main plot points, Mason is delegated to the background, so the ending falls flat.

Readers who are unfamiliar with Norse mythology will want to read the glossary first. The story introduces Norse mythology in a kid-friendly way, while still staying true to the original stories. Readers will enjoy the Norse world, Loki’s mischievous pranks, and the fast pace of the story. Although the story lacks depth, the characters are stereotypical, and Freya is not well developed, younger readers will enjoy getting to know Freya and the other Norse god and goddesses.

Sexual Content

  • Mason thinks he has won Freya’s heart. “Then he closed his eyes and leaned forward, puckering up.” Freya gives him something other than a kiss.

Violence

  • The large painted friezes that covered a wall come to life. “At first it was only the blinking of eyes or the twitch of a hand, as if those carved, painted heroes were waking up from a long sleep. . . And because they were all warriors, they immediately went into battle mode. Painted hands grabbed turnips, carrots, and crab apples from painted fields and trees or from platters on carved feast tables, depending on the scene. Arms drew back. Fists punched forth from the friezes. . . The moment food was lobbed out of a frieze, it temporarily turned real.” The kids had to evacuate.
  • Dwarves make a boar that comes alive. “Waving their arms, the four dwarfs chased the boar, trying to shoo it out of their workshop without getting stuck by its sharp tusks. . . Alfrigg wasn’t fast enough, though. Oomph! The board head-butted him in the rear.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Freya has a marble that contains cats and a cart. When Freya says “catnap” the cats and cart grow. The first time Freya uses the marble, she thinks “if anyone had been watching at that moment, the cats and cart would’ve seemed to instantly disappear. However, in reality, they had only shrunk down to a single cat’s-eye marble.”
  • Fraya has a magical jewel that can tell the future. The jewel “had the power to show Freya the future, sometimes it only revealed bits of information. It didn’t always answer her questions, either, so she could never be sure what it did or didn’t know.”
  • A message acorn had “cute faces and hats, and sweet voices.” One acorn “hopped right up into her (Freya’s) palm.”
  • Sometimes characters use vine slides to travel. Freya gives her brother a vine slide, which “could enlarge back into the huge spiral slide for Frey anytime he wished to travel through it. And then shrink anytime he wasn’t using it.”
  • Ice giants appeared normal-sized, but “magically shot up to five times their normal height” and made it snow.
  • While trying to enter Asgard, the Bifrost became hot for the frost giants. “When the frost giants were huge, the bridge probably sensed they were troublemakers and was trying to make them turn back from Asgard by giving them, and only them, a case of hot foot.”
  • When Freya drops her jewel, “gnarled hands reached up and snatched at Brising (the jewel) like snapping turtles. Fingers captured it before it could even hit the ground.”
  • Doors appear in thin air and allow people to travel to different locations.
  • Freya drinks juice that won’t make her immortal, but will make her “stay the same age.”
  • Several characters are shapeshifters. Others can grow bigger.
  • One character has a box that “expanded into a box large enough to hold many apples.”
  • Freya puts her toes and nose against a tree. “Whoosh! Instantly she found herself standing inside a hollowed-out space in the very middle of the tree trunk. . .”
  • One of the characters only has a head.

Spiritual Content

  • The story focuses on Norse mythology and includes Norse gods and goddesses as characters.
  • The main character, Fraya, is the goddess of love and beauty. She is also a seer. Another character, Odin, was “the leader of the Asgard gods and the supreme rule of all the worlds.” (This is not a complete list of the Norse gods that appear in the book.)

A Coding Mission

Ms. Gillian has set up The Makerspace in the library so students can work together on projects. A group of students built a diorama of a labyrinth, complete with the Minotaur and the Greek hero Theseus. A group of students decides they want to make a code to help Theseus find his way out of the labyrinth. What better way to try out the code than use Ms. Gillian’s magic book to take them into the center of the labyrinth? Will the students be able to write a code that leads them out of the labyrinth before the Minotaur finds them?

A Coding Mission, a graphic novel, has a diverse cast of characters that aren’t afraid of showing that they are smart. The story weaves together coding and Greek mythology. The kids, with the librarian’s help, use trial and error to design a code to help them find the way out of the labyrinth. The code is illustrated on a device, so readers can get a general idea of what code looks like.

The full-color drawings are interesting, detailed, and have both white text bubbles that show the characters’ dialogue as well as black boxes for the narration. Words that readers may be unfamiliar with are in bold text, with a glossary in the back of the book. The back of the book also contains directions for making a maze and using an algorithm to solve the maze.

The story has a lot of positives aspects—it teaches vocabulary, introduces a Greek myth, and has wonderful illustrations. Each page contains six or fewer easy-to-read sentences, and the plot moves at a fast pace. For those who want to learn more about coding, the book includes a list of further resources. However, because the story is so short, the characters and the plot are not well developed. More advanced readers will quickly become bored with the Adventures in Makerspace series. However, for readers who are just transitioning to chapter books or are reluctant readers, A Coding Mission will give them a simple, entertaining story that will help them build reading skills.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • When the librarian opens an old book, the librarian and the students poof and enter a labyrinth.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Aru Shah and the Song of Death

Aru and Mini are just beginning Pandava training. But then someone steals the god of love’s bow and arrow, and the thief isn’t playing Cupid. Instead, the shape-shifting thief is turning men into heartless, fighting zombies. The Otherworld is in a panic, and they think Aru is the thief. The gods have decided that Aru must find the weapon within ten days, or both she and Mini will be kicked out of the Otherworld—forever!

Aru won’t be alone on her quest. Along with her Pandava sister, Mini, Aru unwillingly teams up with super-strong Brynne and Aiden, the boy who lives across the street. But Brynne and Aiden are keeping secrets, and Aru isn’t sure she wants them on her team. Still, they must find a way to battle demons and travel through the dangerous serpent realm together.

Getting along with Brynne and Aiden isn’t Aru’s only challenge in Aru Shah and the Song of Death. She must also overcome her own mind, where the Sleeper’s words, “You were never meant to be a hero,” still resonate. Will Aru be able to overcome her self-doubt? Can she prove that she has what it takes to be a hero?

This second installment in the Pandava series takes the reader on a wild ride through the Otherworld. Full of action and adventure, the story adds interesting characters including a crab that is angry that his brother can sing, a handsome boy, and another Pandava sister. Still, readers who fell in love with Mini and Boo will miss them in this book; Boo has a tiny appearance, and Mini spends much of the story in the land of the sleep.

This story highlights the complicated nature of people. Although the villain is clearly acting villainous, the villain is shown to have other sides to her nature. As Aru learns more about India’s history, she discovers that just a hero can also be a monster. The theme is reinforced when Aru’s mom says, “sometimes villains can do heroic things and heroes can do villainous things.” The villain’s story shows that there are always two sides to every story; however, the villain’s past does not excuse their bad behavior.

Also threaded throughout the story are strong messages of treating people with respect, as well as putting others before yourself. Since several of the characters can shape-shift, the reader will see that physical appearances can be deceiving. At one point in the story, Aiden says, “I just don’t think people should be mean to someone because they don’t like the way they look.”

Aru Shah and the Song of Death is a highly entertaining story that brings India’s mythology to life. Because the story has many characters based on mythology, readers not familiar with India’s mythology will need to use the glossary that appears at the back of the book. The different realms of the Otherworld are beautifully described, the gods are diverse and interesting, and the battle scenes are often filled with humor. This book will leave readers thinking about the complicated nature of people and the importance of compassion. As one god said, “Just because something is not fair does not mean it is without reason or even compassion.”

Sexual Content

  • There is a brief passage when Aru thinks about Aiden’s parents being divorced. She thinks, “Lots of kids at school had divorced parents, and not all families needed a dad and a mom to be whole. Some had two dads, or two moms, or just one parent, or no parent at all.”
  • Aiden’s mother was an apsara, a heavenly dancer. In order to be with Aiden’s dad, she had to give up her place in the heavens. Aiden’s parents are getting divorced, and Aiden wonders, “What if she regrets her life? She gave up everything for my dad. And then he leaves her to marry a girlfriend he met while he was still with my mom.”
  • Because Aiden’s mother was an apsara, Aiden has the ability to smolder. “In stories, apsaras were the ultimate temptation, because they were unnaturally beautiful and magical. . . apsaras have a kind of hypnotic power. They render themselves impossible to look away from, and even make people follow them.” Aiden uses his power to get past the sage’s waiting room.
  • The god of love gives Aiden an arrow. The god of love says, “an enchanted arrow from my own collection, to do with as you wish. But know that you cannot change someone’s free will. And there is no way magical cure for grief. All this arrow can do is open the pathway for love. It doesn’t make someone smitten, and the love doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic.” Aiden uses the arrow on his mother.
  • When Aiden says, “I like you Shah,” Aru’s “heartbeat jittered and she felt a not unpleasant swoosh low in her stomach, like butterflies taking wing.” Aru is a little upset when Aiden then says that he likes her as a friend.

Violence

  • Zombies attack Aru and Mini. Aru “flung Vajra as if it were a javelin. The lightning bolt zapped the wooden peg out of the zombie’s hand, and he pulled his arm back, stung. . . An enchanted flower stall turned its pumpkin vines into a row of exploding jack-o’-lanterns, and the kitchen appliances section summoned an army of wooden spoons to beat a group of zombies over the head.” The attack ends when “fake Aru sent the Pandava girl-jaguar flying back against a wall, where she slid to the floor, unconscious. In a flash of blue light, the big cat turned back into a girl.” The attack lasts for two chapters.
  • As Aru and another girl are fighting, “a blast of wind shot Aru straight up into the sky. Her arms started pinwheeling. She glanced down—that was a huge mistake. Everyone looked like really tiny ants. As she fell, the last thing she saw before blacking out was a pair of giant hands reaching to snatch her out of the sky.”
  • A giant swan attacks Mini and her friends. Mini uses Dee Dee, and “purple light exploded in a burst in front of them. The swan squawked and stomped back. . . Then Brynne morphed. Blue light blazed around her. Where she had once stood, there was now a blue elephant almost as large as the swan.” Elephant-Brynne “charged at the bird.” The scene takes place over eight pages. No one is injured.
  • When trying to get through customs, “the floor opened beneath Aru plunging her into frigid pitch-black waters.” Then a “cold tendril wrapped around her ankle and dragged her under.” Aru discovers that she can breathe and walk underwater. She can also talk to sea creatures.
  • A giant crab tries to eat Brynne, Aiden, and Mini. “The crab reared up, swinging one of its pincers, and Brynne went flying against the wall. She slid down, shook her head, and then got back to her feet. . .” Mini uses a shield, but “the shield broke. Down came the pincer. The four of them rolled in different directions. The crab rotated, trying to catch them all at the same time. . .” During the attack, the crab eats Brynne, who turns into an elephant, which the crab throws up. The scene takes place over seven pages.
  • The serpent king attacks Aru. He tries to bite her, and “his jaws missed her face by an inch. As she pivoted out of the way, Vajra jumped into her hand, fully expanded. Aru threw the lightning bolt. . .Vajra shot forward like an arrow. But Takshaka was faster. His powerful tail whipped out and knocked the lightning bold aside like it was a toy. . . Takshaka’s tail lashed through the air and caught her in the stomach. She crashed into the wall and slid down, shaking her head.” The fight takes place over six pages. Aru and her friends are able to escape.
  • The serpent king tries to stop Aru and her friends. “he zigged and zagged, his great coils winding way up the shelves and blocking the entrance to the ceiling above. . . Takshaka’s fangs lengthened. They were stained yellow, and one was chipped. Venom dripped onto the ground, hitting the floor with a teaming hiss. . . A rush of air hit Aru just as Takshaka lunged.” The wind blows Takshaka backwards. A boy appears and helps the group escape. The scene takes place over five pages.
  • A group of asuras try to block Aru and her group from passing. Aru’s group uses their celestial weapons. “They herded the attackers with invisible jabs, forcing them into a tight circle. Brynne blasted them with wind, and Aru added the finishing touch: a golden electrical net to catch and pin them in place.” The asuras flee as soon as the net is taken off.
  • Sparky will not allow Aru and his group to go into the Ocean of Milk. He challenged Brynne to an eating contest. As he is eating, “his skin, which had always been a bit ruddy, now reminded her of embers. Even his hair, once a rust color, like a bad dye job, had changed. Now it looked multicolored—blue at the roots, orange in the middle, and yellow at the tips. Like a flame. . . Sparky wasn’t some kid with ugly sunglasses and an appetite that could destroy a city. He was Agni, the god of fire. And he was on the verge of consuming them. . . The fire continued to move closer. Aiden raced back toward them. There were soot marks on his face and he was out of breath. . . Waves of fire skirted around them, nearly blistering their skin and blackening the wooden planks beneath their feet. Agni opened his jaws, getting ready to swallow them whole. All Aru could see were searing flames, “the air in front of her heat-warped and furious.” Aru is able to use a godly gift to defeat Sparky. The scene takes place over ten pages.
  • The story ends in an epic, multi-chapter battle scene. When the villain shoots an arrow at Aru, “Aiden dove in front of her. . . The arrow hit him with full force. Aiden crumpled up on the ground.” Aiden turns into one of the heartless. As the battle continues, “Mini aimed Dee Dee at the first line of Heartless, which included Aiden. A burst of violet light blasted them, and they fell to either side. Almost immediately, they started to get back up. . . Aru steadied herself, preparing for his next blow. When it came, Aru fell to the ground. . . Aiden roared, ready himself to plunge his blades straight through her. At the last second, Aru rolled out of the way. Aiden snarled. He tried to life the scimitars to strike again, but they were stuck in the damp sand.” The villain is defeated.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Aru meets Varuni, the goddess changes colors. Aru thinks the goddess is sparkling; “It reminded Aru of champagne. Which was disgusting. The one time she’d sneaked a sip from her mom’s New Year’s Eve glass, it had tasted like rotten soda.”
  • While Varuni is talking to her husband, he implies that Varuni drinks too much. Later in the story, Varuni “sipped on something that looked like tomato juice and had a piece of celery sticking out of it.”

Language

  • “Oh my god” is used as an exclamation once, and “Oh my gods” is used an exclamation twice.
  • “Heck” is used twice.
  • Brynne calls two obnoxious asuras “pigs.”

Supernatural

  • The story focuses on Indian Mythology and includes gods, demigods, monsters, and demons. The back of the book includes a glossary of Indian mythology, so the reader can understand who the mythological characters are.
  • During a fight, a shapeshifter “shifted into a blue world and was carrying a large bow and arrow in her mouth as she ran.” Later the person shifts into the likeness of Aru.
  • Each Pandava has a celestial weapon. Mini has Dee Dee, which can cast a shield of invisibility. Aru has Bajra, which is a bracelet that can turn into a lightning bolt.
  • Aru and the other Pandavas can speak to each other telepathically.
  • When Aru and her group go to see a sage, he is cursing people. One curse is, “May all the chocolate chip cookies you reach for turn out to be cleverly disguised oatmeal raisins.” Another curse is, “May you always fumble with your credit card in Starbucks when there’s a huge line behind you.”
  • When Aru and her group go to the Queen Uloopi’s old palace, they find a cursed place littered with skulls. When Mini touched a skull, “the jaws snapped open. . . nearby another skull—or, honestly little more than a jawbone—laughed and whispered.” Mini goes into a trance which allows her to talk to voices. The voices give Mini the knowledge that she seeks, but then “a serpent tail as thick as a redwood trunk curled around her body and yanked her toward the cave.” Mini is taken to the land of the sleep, “far from the reaches of mortals.”
  • Aru and her group see “huge night-black hounds prowling toward them. Saliva dripping from their jaws. Their eyes looked like round mirrors, but instead of reflections, they reveal moving images.” The hound’s eyes reflect the person’s worst nightmare.
  • When Queen Uloopi is given her heart jewel, “a bright light washed over her, and Uloopi was transformed. . . Her wrinkled skin glowed, and the gray in her hair shone like silver. Her eyes sparkled . . .” When her heart jewel is restored, she is able to catch “up on all the things she hadn’t properly seen.”

Spiritual Content

  • One of the characters is a Rakshasa, which is a “mythological being, like a demigod. Sometimes good and sometimes bad, they are powerful sorcerers, and can change shape to take on any form.”
  • Brynne is part asura, which is why she can shapeshift. She is the daughter of Lord Vayu, the God of the wind, so she never loses her direction.
  • Aru and her friend are looking for someone’s soul song. They find it, and “in the astral plane, the song orb had taken on a strange pulsing glow, reminding Aru that this was actually a part of someone’s soul. Someone had wanted the god of love’s arrow so dearly that they’d been willing to part with their very essence.”
  • Aru has an encounter with the god of waters, who is “known for being as fickle as the sea itself.” She then meets his wife, Varuni, who is the goddess of wine.
  • Aru and the other Pandavas have been reincarnated. However, the reincarnated are not the same person they once were. Aru, who was reincarnated from Arjuna said, “Arjuna and I are completely different people. That’s like expecting Brynne to have the power of ten thousand elephants just because she’s Bhima reincarnated! Or asking Mini to rule a country now just because she’s got Yudhistira’s soul! I’m not Arjuna!”
  • When an enemy of Arjuna appears, he wants revenge. Aru argues, “I mean, that was like a millennium ago. And I’m not Arjuna. We just have the same soul. It’s like getting someone’s hand-me-down socks, honest.”
  • Aru and her friends meet with a sage. “A sage is a very wise person. Aru’s mom had told her that some have special powers, because of their religious focus. Once there was a sage so formidable he put a curse on the gods themselves—he caused them to lose their immortality.”
  • Agni, the god of fire, explains how “I’m a sacred part of every prayer! You know at weddings, that there’s a holy fire for the bride and groom to walk around? That’s me!”

Game of Stars

Twelve-year-old Kiranmala just wants to be normal, despite having been born an Indian princess in the Kingdom Beyond, an alternate dimension. So, when the Demon Queen shows up in her dreams, Kiranmala doesn’t want to listen to the demoness.

After a visit with some all-seeing birds, Kiranmala finally, reluctantly goes to the Kingdom Beyond and finds that the Kingdom Beyond is in danger. A game show reigns supreme, society is fraying, and everyone is running scared or imprisoned. Kiranmala knows her father is behind the game show, but is there any way she can beat him at his own game?

The second installment of the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond Series, Game of Stars takes readers on an action-packed ride through the Kingdom Beyond. The story brings back some beloved characters from the first book and adds new characters as well. This story will be confusing if readers have not read The Serpent’s Secret first!

The story revolves around the Indian culture and mythology, with many of the creatures straight out of Bengali folktales. For those not familiar with the culture, some of the references to Indian food, clothing, and monsters may be confusing as they lack adequate description. The cute black and white illustrations scattered throughout the story help the readers visualize some characters and events, but there needed to be more of them. Although it is exciting to have an Indian heroine, the story may be frustrating to follow for those unfamiliar with the customs.

A drawback to this book is that none of the characters talk like normal people, and much of the dialogue is childish. Some creatures talk in rhymes and riddles, which is fun. However, the characters continually use name calling throughout the story, which adds to the childish tone. For example, someone calls the Serpent King a “scummy snake” and a “pooper-scooper.” Even the Demon Queen’s and the Serpent King’s dialogue makes them seem more like whiny children rather than strong adults.

As Kiranmala travels through the Kingdom Beyond, she considers the nature of good and evil. Through her experiences, she learns that being human or a rakkosh doesn’t define you; instead, it is how people act that makes them good or evil. Throughout the story, Kiranmala worries that she will become evil like her father. A professor tells her, “No one turns good or evil by magic. That’s not how it works. You become evil when you choose to act against your conscience again and again. Being good or evil is about the decisions you make each and every day. It’s not something that just happens to you.

For those who haven’t picked up the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond Series, you may want to try Aru Shah and The End of Time first because it is less confusing but still revolves around India’s mythology. Middle school readers will enjoy the riddles, the funny characters, and the exciting chases.  Overall, Game of Stars is an action-packed story that shows that a strong, smart girl is capable of heroic deeds and saving the prince.

Sexual Content

  • A store vendor tells Kiranmala a story. “Well, when the Raja wasn’t having any heirs, he called upon a rishi, one of those sadhu-sanyasi guys who meditates on the mountaintop and knows all sorts of magic shajik. . . So, anyhoo, this guy gave the ranis a super-magical fertility root to share so they would all have babies.”
  • As part of the contest, there is a promotional poster that shows Kiranmala about to kiss a boy.

Violence

  • Kiranmala sees her imprisoned friend and thinks, “Neel did look terrible. . . he also looked skinny and, weirdly for a half rakkhosh who hardly needed sleep, tired. He had big dark circles under his eyes, a fading bruise on his cheek, and one side of his lip looked puffy, like he’d been on the wrong side of somebody’s fist. . . Both of his wrists were bound in cruel metal shackles. The chain from his wrists led to shackles that bound his ankles too.”
  • When Kiranmala tries to free Neel from prison, Bogli tries to stop her. Kiranmala “let my arrows fly. Unfortunately, about 50 percent bounced right off Bogli’s scales. The other 50 percent that found their mark didn’t’ seem to do much damage, but hung there, kind of boinging” Neel uses a fork to stab “Bogli’s slimy skin.” During the fight, Bogli “smacked Neel hard across the face. Because of his shackles, Neel didn’t have super balance, so he fell hard, unable to use his hands too much to break his fall. . . He got in a blow to the monster’s thigh with both his shackled hands before Bogli flicked him off like a mosquito, then pinned poor Neel under a giant, warty foot.” The fighting continues for nine pages; no one is seriously injured.
  • When Kiranmala takes the Serpent king’s tooth, he tries to get it back by “flinging uneven green bolts of energy at us in between giggles. . . I nocked arrow after arrow in my bow, but they didn’t seem to bother Sesha. And as if the flying bolts of pain weren’t bad enough, at the Serpent King’s cry, the scraggly lawn outside the dentist’s office filled with snakes of all kinds. . . they slithered viciously in our direction, surrounding Ai-Ma in a trice. They hissed and snapped at us.” The scene takes place over two pages.
  • When Kiranmala goes to talk to a professor, he starts throwing fish at her. Kiranmala “found myself being pelted by something wet and slimy. A story of wet of slimy things actually. . . I put my hands up to protect my face, but the onslaught of rapid-fire fish kept flying at me, flapping on my skin with their scaly cold.” The professor stops throwing the fish when he realizes Kiranmala is not a ghost.
  • Soldiers parade Kiranmala past a prison cell, where she sees Neel’s grandmother Ai-Ma, “her shoulders hunched and face grim. There were some disposable teacups hanging from her few strands of hair and little burn marks like someone had thrown hot tea at her. Off her skin hung strange patches of vegetable peels and plastic bags too, like people had been using her as a target for throwing garbage.
  • Kiranmala must pass a test and if she does not, a witch and her sister will “eat you and the prisoner’s livers for a snack! While they’re still in your bodies.”
  • In order to save Neel, Kiranmala must rip off a bee’s wing, but because the bee is the Rakkhosi Queen’s soul, the queen will also die. The Rakkhosi Queen tells Kiranmala, “Do it!” When Kiranmala refuses to rip off the bee’s wing, the Rakkhosi Queen, lunged at me. I screamed. I really thought she’d just had it and was going to kill me, but it wasn’t me she was after. Her sharp talons grabbed the bee out of my hand, and in one swift motion, she tore off its wing. Her scream. . . Deep and horrible, like someone was being cut in two. The demoness dropped the sword and then fell down heavily next to it . . . She writhed now on the floor, her arm at a horrible, unnatural angle.”
  • The Serpent King tells Kiranmala, “I want to kill you and the Rakkhoshi Queen both.” The Serpent King then “shot a bolt at me, encasing me in one of his green orbs of pain and torture. Immediately, I dropped to my knees inside the floating bubble. The sharp, hot pain on my skin and in my bones was so intense, I couldn’t stop from crying out.” Neel charged “at Sesha with his sword raised. They clashed, sword to green bolt, making an enormous explosion of light every time their weapons made contact.” During the fight, Kiranmala must fight a ghost who took Neel’s brothers’ form. The Serpent King uses two stones, and when their power combines, “Neel’s mother was floating up off the ground now, her glowing body losing its form, becoming water and then fire, earth and then air, over and over again.” The battle scene takes place over three chapters. With the help of her friends, Kiranmala is able to free Neel and save his mother.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Crapola and crud are used once.
  • Dang and heck are used twice.
  • Darn in used four times. For example, when Kiranmala sees Neel in prison, she yells, “I’ll rescue you if I want to and you’ll be grateful, darn it!”
  • Throughout the story, there is name calling. For example, a demoness calls Kiranmala Loonie-Moonie, pea-brained tree goat, and a pathetic puppy from Parsipppan.” Someone calls the Serpent King a “scummy snake” and a “pooper-scooper.”
  • Several times the skateboarding resistance is referred to as scum.
  • Neel’s mother calls him an idiot.

Supernatural

  • Barngoma and Bangomee, are birds with human heads. When Kiranmala sees them, “they didn’t speak out loud but somehow, their words slipped into my brain. . . their voices floated into my head in a weird, nasal unison.”
  • Barngoma and Bangomee use their power to hypnotize Kiranmala. “They opened their eyes wide, and again, I felt like I was falling into their swirling rainbow irises. Those swirly, whirly birdie eyes somehow pulled me out of myself so much that I actually felt separated from my body and spirit. . . Falling into the giant birds’ eyes was the wackiest, weirdest thing. I felt like I was flying through a movie on super-duper fast forward.” When she is in a trance, she sees her friend imprisoned and can interact with him.
  • Barngoma and Bangomee create a wormhole that takes Kiranmala to the Kingdom Beyond. Kiranmala advises, “If you have never driven an auto rickshaw through a rip in the fabric of space-time created by two giant, hippopotamus-sized birds, I strongly recommend wearing a bike helmet when you do.”
  • Kiranmala learned that “rakkhosh were actually, in some weird, interdimensional way, the same thing as back holes.”
  • Bolga was “born from a well of dark energy.” She has “webs between her toes, gills along her neck, and webbing fanning out beneath her giant arms.”
  • Kiranmala sees the birth of the Chintamoni and Poroshmoni stones. When she enters the wormhole, “the last thing we saw floating by us in space-time were some gods and demons churning an ocean of milk. They pulled on a familiar-looking snake wrapped around a mountain that operated as a churn. Out of the ocean rose medicine and poison, light and dark, good and evil, and then a sparkling white stone and a glowing yellow one.”
  • Kiranmala explains “the power of Chhaya Devi’s vials. They held the shadows of trees inside. Once freed, the shadows reconstituted themselves like expanding sponges. Super-powerful, tree-shaped magic sponges, that is.”
  • Kiranmala is able to understand parkkhiraj horses.
  • Kiranmala and Neel are able to communicate through the moon’s reflection. Neel says, “When I look up at the moon through the cell window, I can see you reflected there.”
  • Kiranmala has to face ghosts, which is dangerous because “looking at a ghost face-to-face while it was calling me would make my soul forfeit for the taking.”
  • Before Kiranmala dives into the ocean, someone “spun some sort of land rakkhosh dryness spell over me so that my clothes, pack, and weapons would stay dry and I dived into the water.”
  • Kiranmala goes to a hotel and sees a ghost, who was carrying its head. Later, she discovers that the hotel is alive.

Spiritual Content

  • The story focuses on Indian mythology, including mythological monsters and demons.

 

The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande

Professor Fauna hears a news report about something that has completely drained the blood from a cow’s body! The professor thinks a chupacabra may be the culprit. Professor Fauna bursts into Elliot and Uchenna’s classroom and flies them to Laredo, Texas.

Once they arrive in Texas, the kids team up with local kids Lupita and Mateo, their brilliant mother Dr. Alejandra Cervantes, and their father Israel. However, helping the chupacabras isn’t the only problem. The people of Laredo are also angry about the building of a border wall. Is there any way to help this divided community? Can the Unicorn Rescue Society save the bloodsucking creature?

As Uchenna and Elliot search for clues that will help them find the chupacabras, they also learn the complicated issue of building a border wall. When talking about the border wall, Professor Fauna said that a border wall is intended to enforce the law, but it is also, “dividing communities and families who have always lived on both sides of the border.”

The kids also meet Andrés, who is having a difficult time because he is separated from his parents. Andrés was born in the United States, but his parents weren’t, so they were taken to a detention center. The story shows that people can disagree about the border wall but still be friends. In the conclusion, the theme is made clear; “Governments create borders. But for families—of chupacabras and people—borders just keep them apart.” The author’s view on immigration is made clear; although it ties into the story, the story only shows one side of the argument.

The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande has a well-developed plot full of suspense and adventure. The addition of the Cervantes family allows readers to learn about the Mexican heritage. Although the story takes a more serious tone than the previous books, readers will enjoy the interaction between the characters. In the end, the story highlights the importance of working together despite differences. The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande is an entertaining story that could be used as a starting point for a good discussion on immigration.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The chupacabra runs into a flea market where it, “leaped from the table and slammed into an elote cart, knocking it over. Corncobs and kernels and cream and liquid chili went spraying all over the asphalt.” At one point an, “elderly woman . . . threw a charger at him.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Heck” is used twice.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Uchenna and Elliot go to the Cervantes’s house, they see a niche that has a statue of the Virgin Mary. The Cervantes’s also have an, “alter to our abuela. . . She was the family matriarch.”

Sasquatch and the Muckleshoot

Elliot wants life to be normal. Uchenna wants adventure. But when Professor Fauna takes the kids to the Pacific Northwest on another mission in the Muckleshoot territory in Washington, they discover that film crews have arrived in masses. The news crews want to find Bigfoot. But the news crews aren’t the only danger. The Schmoke brothers plan to clear the forest. Is there any way the Unicorn Rescue Society can help keep the Sasquatch hidden? Will the Sasquatch’s territory be destroyed by chainsaws?

The third installment of The Unicorn Rescue Society has the same lovable characters and the same evil villains. As the group heads to the Pacific Coast, the narration shows a strong love of nature and teaches the importance of taking care of the natural world, which includes logging responsibly. When the group arrives at their destination, they meet Mack, who shares the Muckleshoot’s culture.

Mack shares some of the Native Americans’ history, including how the “white folks. . . believed the white way of life was superior.” Because of this belief, the whites forced the Native Americans to give up their languages and customs. The white called this, “Kill the Indian and save the man.” Now the Native Americans are using some of their casino money to buy back the land that the whites stole from them. Even though the story shows the Muckleshoot people care for the forest and the animals, much of the dialogue seems to promote a political agenda instead of teaching about the Native American culture.

Sasquatch and the Muckleshoot is not as enjoyable as the first two books because the plot focuses less on the adventure of helping the mythical creature. The professor and kids do very little to help Mack find a solution to help the Sasquatch. In addition, the absent-minded professor is taken to the extreme. Even younger readers will have a hard time believing that the professor is so clueless that his plane runs out of gas. And how many times can the professor crash land his plane without anyone getting injured?

Readers will enjoy the black-and-white illustrations, funny puns, and the way Mack calls Elliot by a variety of names such as “Screams A Lot.” Other positive aspects of the story are the diverse characters and the use of Spanish and Lushootseed words and phrases. Sasquatch and the Muckleshoot has some humorous scenes, and readers will enjoy watching Elliot overcome his fear. Unlike the first two books in the series, Sasquatch and the Muckleshoot is missing much of the action and adventure that made the first two books fun to read.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Four men capture the professor. The professor is, “smacked on the face with his shoe, but the others quickly grabbed his arms and legs. He struggled, but their hands were strong as tree roots.” The men tie up the professor.
  • When Uchenna, Elliot, and a friend dress up like Sasquatch, men try to grab them. The men, “grabbed the three juvenile Sasquatch and tried to wrestle them to the ground. The small furry ones fought valiantly, striking out with their fists and kicking the shins of the hard-hatted attackers. But they were overpowered and pinned to the mossy forest floor.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Darn” is used once.
  • A news reporter calls someone an “idiot.”
  • One of the characters knew someone in middle school who was a “real jerk.”
  • A man calls someone a “fool.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Storm Runner

Zane keeps to himself because other kids tend to tease him about his limp and because he walks with a cane. But he doesn’t mind, because he spends his days exploring a nearby sleeping volcano with his dog. One evening, as Zane is exploring the volcano, a plane with twin engines crashes. Even stranger, as the plane was going down, Zane thought he saw a monster in the cockpit.

Things get more complicated when a girl named Brooks shows up demanding that Zane meet her at the volcano. Zane follows the beautiful girl who leads Zane down a twisted path. Soon Zane is running from monsters controlled by the Maya god of death. According to an ancient prophecy, Zane’s decisions may allow the god of death to escape a prison that is centuries old.

Zane soon realizes that magic, monsters, and Maya gods are more than just fables. In a web of secrets, the Gods are trying to manipulate Zane to their own advantage. Zane tries to do what is right, but what does a flawed eleven-year-old boy know about stopping the destruction of the world? In a battle against good and evil, is there any way Zane can win against a Maya god?

The Storm Runner brings the magic of Maya mythology to life in a fast-paced, action-packed story that will leave readers wondering who can be trusted. Despite being self-conscious about it, Zane doesn’t let his disability deter him from trying to save the world. Although some of Zane’s decisions are questionable, his imperfections make him a truly relatable character.

Zane is not the only well-developed character; the story contains a cast of interesting characters including giants, demi-gods, and even an overprotective mother. The Storm Runner is perfect for fans of the Percy Jackson series or Aru Shah and the End of Time. However, Zane’s story takes a more serious tone and lacks the humor of the other series.

 The Storm Runner contains elements common to other mythological fantasy books—for instance, a boy discovers that his father is a god and must travel to strange places in order to save the world. Despite these similarities, this story effectively brings Maya mythology to life through an exciting series of events.

The length of the story, the complicated plot, and the extensive cast of characters may be overwhelming for some readers. The first third of the story introduces a lot of people, gods, and situations that cause the pace to drag. Despite a slow start, the monsters, the magical creatures, and the relationship between the characters make The Storm Runner an exciting adventure well worth reading. Readers will root for Zane as he fights evil, and they will pull their hair in frustration as Zane makes well-intentioned, but stupid decisions. In the end, readers come away with the powerful message that a person’s flaws don’t define them.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A demon attacks and kills Zane’s dog and then attacks Zane. The demon, “grabbed me by the arms, sinking its long claws into my flesh. I screamed in pain and fell to the ground . . . Slime sizzled through my shirt sleeve, burning my skin like acid.”
  • Zane finally stabs the demon with his cane. “It sank right into the creature’s gel-like body, and there was a disgusting sucking sound as the cane disappeared inside. . . I blinked as the monster dissolved into a dark pool of thick mucus. . .” The scene is described over four pages.
  • A creature tries to kidnap Zane. “While my uncle tussled with the alux, she hauled me back through the bank and out the front doors, then stuffed me in the car.” The creature “jerked Mom’s head back by her hair and mimicked her desperate voice.” Brooks turns into a hawk and picked, “up the monster by the back of its neck. . . Brooks shook it hard like it was her mouse prey and she was trying to break its neck.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • Ah-Puch eats a creature. He “scrambled to clutch the thing. Bones snapped. Then he brought it to his mouth, bit its neck, and sucked all the blood from it before tossing the drained corpse to the cave floor below. . . “
  • Demon runners attack Zane and Brooks. When Zane tries to escape, “The hair reached me, climbed my body, and wrapped itself around my neck, covering my mouth and pinning me to the asphalt.” Zane is able to jerk “my guy’s neck back” and “his thick-skinned neck ripped open easily.” Hondo threw a screwdriver that wedged into the demon’s skull. The demon’s “face began to crack like dried mud, crumbling to the ground to reveal. . . a blue-skinned monster head. Green veins throbbed and budged.” The fight takes place over six pages.
  • Twins who were fathered by a god are grabbed by creatures. “The creatures holding Bird and Jordan folded their wings tighter and tighter. Each of the twins’ faces puckered like their heads were being sucked dry. Their skin turned gray, and purplish veins spread beneath. Their eyeballs bugged out and turned dark red.” The creatures take the twins away.
  • Zane throws a spear at Ah-Puch’s bird. “Muwan released a terrible scream and started tumbling through the air. I watched in horror as she crashed into the bare trees below. They shook on impact, their sharp branches splitting her open.”
  • The final battle takes place over several chapters. Ah-Puch and his demons attack Zane and his group. Demon runners attack Ah-Puch’s army. “They shrieked, leaping onto the back of Ah-Puch’s little army with amazing force. Teeth gnashed. Claws ripped. Hair chocked.” Finally, Zane turns into a jaguar and Ah-Puch turns into a snake. Zane attacks, “launching myself onto his neck as we hurtled over the step’s edge, down, down, down. . . As I sank my teeth into his slimy scales, I prayed that he didn’t bleed maggots. He did. They poured into my mouth as he screamed.”

 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One night, Zane’s uncle Hondo drinks beer and smokes cigars.

Language

  • Crap and heck are used often. One example is when Brooks shows up at Zane’s house, he wonders, “How the heck had she found me?”
  • “Oh God” is used as an exclamation a few times.
  • A monster attacks Zane and his uncle. His uncle asks, “What the hell was that little thing?”
  • Someone tells Zane, “Believe me, when I catch the idiot bonehead who let Ah-Puch out, I’m going to send him spinning into the center of the Milky Way.”

Supernatural

  • Gods and monsters from Maya mythology are real. Brooks explains, “Myths are real, Zane. Well, most are. And gods are very real—an important part of the universe and its balance.”
  • The first creature, a demon, has “pasty bluish gray” skin. “Its bloated body was covered in patches of dark hair. Cauliflower-like ears drooped down to its bulging neck.”
  • Brooks is a nawal (a shapeshifter) who can turn into a hawk.
  • Ah-Puch, the Maya god of death, disaster, and darkness, is trapped in a magical artifact until Zane lets him out. Ah-Puch “looked like a bloated zombie with decomposing gray skin with nasty black spots, and he had a dark, twisted smile. He wore this weird helmet that had eyes hanging off it, the eyes of the people he’d recently killed.”
  • Ms. Cab works as a psychic and is a Maya seer. A god later turns all seers into chickens.
  • Zane discovers that he is the son of a Maya God. He can spirit jump, which allows him to leave his body and appear in another realm.
  • Pacific, the keeper of time, helps Zane.
  • When going to a party, Zane and his friends wear enchanted clothes that “fix all imperfections.” When they get to the party, a “gray-bearded skeleton materialized. . . Eyeballs floated in his eye sockets, and he wore a long white tuxedo jacket with a dead red rose pinned to one of his silk lapels.”

Spiritual Content

  • Zane gets a scholarship to attend a Catholic school. When Zane gets into trouble at school, his punishment is “ten rosaries, detention for a week, a call to Mom, and an apology to the jerk I’d torpedoed with my cane.”
  • After an explosion, Zane’s mom says, “Thank the saints, he’s safe now.”
  • Zane sent “a prayer up to the saints and anyone else listening.” Later in the story, he says a couple of Hail Mary’s.
  • Zane splashes holy water on a picture of a demon.

The Sword of Summer

Magnus Chase isn’t your average 16-year-old kid. After a terrible incident that killed his mother, Magnus was forced to survive on the harsh streets of Boston for two years. Then everything changes, and not necessarily for the better when Magnus discovers the truth about his parentage. This knowledge is dangerous, and after attempting to outmaneuver his suspicious Uncle Randolph, Magnus lands in more trouble than he ever has before.

Escaping who he believes to be evil, Magnus falls into the hands of his worst enemy, a fire giant named Surt. Magnus dies and his soul is sent to Valhalla, the hall of warriors who will fight with Odin during Ragnarok (the end of the world). This is the beginning of an unlikely story of emotional growth, the development of strength, and the family found in friendship.

Fans of Rick Riordan’s previous works will be pleased as they travel into a fascinating world of Norse mythology. A character from the beloved Percy Jackson and the Olympians series even makes a cameo, making a fun crossover between magical worlds.

This family-friendly adventure is an exciting ride throughout. The characters are well developed and believable, but the sheer amount of characters may become confusing for less attentive readers. Nevertheless, even the timidest readers will enjoy this story as it is filled with well-placed humor. The plot is action-packed, leaving readers excited to turn the next page.

Although this book is entertaining and amusing, there are battles with monsters throughout the book that may upset some readers. The battles are not told in gory detail, but characters are injured and must deal with the consequences of their battles. Ultimately, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer is a delightful read full of humor, action, and magic.

Sexual Content

  • Samirah has an arranged marriage to Amir Fadlan. When Magnus questions her feelings on the matter, Sam responds, “Ugh! You don’t get it. I’ve been in love with Amir since I was twelve.”
  • Every time a giant comes to barter or make a deal with Freya, the goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility, and gold, they always ask for her hand in marriage.
  • Magnus’s father Frey lost the Sword of Summer because he fell madly in love with a frost giantess. The only way that he could heal his heart was by offering the Sword of Summer to Skirnir.
  • Freya has lots of dwarven children. Every time she wants jewelry made by dwarves, she goes to Nidavellir and marries a dwarf in exchange for their craftsmanship. These one-day marriages each end with a child. This interaction is not described beyond this, but it is acknowledged that Blitzen is a child of Freya and a dwarf.
  • Magnus describes his first kiss when he is involuntarily given mouth-to-mouth by a goat. “My only previous experience with kissing had been with Jackie Molotov in seventh grade, behind the bleachers at a school dance…. Anyway, with apologies to Jackie, getting mouth-to-mouth from a goat reminded me of her.”
  • In the past, a son of Loki was sent to Valhalla and fell in love with the lead Valkyrie, Gunilla, but he “betrayed her. Turned out she was a spy for [Loki]. Broke her heart.”
  • After Halfborn nearly sacrifices his life for Mallory in battle, they are on good terms, and it appears that there may be romance in the future for them. “As my hallmates headed back home, I was happy to see Halfborn Gunderson slip his arm around Mallory Keen’s waist. She didn’t even cut his hand off for doing so.”

Violence

  • Magnus engages in a battle with the fire giant, Surt. “I smacked Surt in the head with my rusty sword. . . The blade didn’t seem to hurt him, but the swirling flames died. . . Then he punched me in the gut.” Later in the battle, “Surt kicked me in the ribs and sent me sprawling. . . Surt must have kicked me hard enough to trigger a near-death hallucination.” After a brief time period, Magnus’s sword begins to act on its own and guides Magnus’s actions. “It spun in an arc, dragging my arm along with it, and hacked into Surt’s right leg. The Black One screamed. The wound in his thigh smoldered, setting his pants on fire . . . Before he could recover, my sword leaped upward and slashed his face. With a howl, Surt stumbled back, cupping his hands over his nose. . . Just as he reached me, my sword leaped up and ran him through.”
  • Magnus describes his death. “I actually died. One hundred percent: guts impaled, vital organs burned, head smacked into a frozen river from forty feet up, every bone in my body broken, lungs filled with ice water…. It hurt. A lot.”
  • When getting a tour of Hotel Valhalla, Magnus is “pushed down as a spear flew past. It impaled a guy sitting on the nearest sofa, killing him instantly.” The guy is already dead, so this is just a temporary “death” as he will regenerate in a few hours.
  • Magnus and all those who inhabit Hotel Valhalla observe how newly inducted einherjar (inhabitants of Hotel Valhalla) died. In one video, a warrior “saved a bunch of kids at her village school when a warlord’s soldiers had tried to kidnap them. She’d flirted with one of the soldiers, tricked him into letting her hold his assault rifle, then turned it on the warlord’s men . . . The video was pretty violent.”
  • Mallory is excited to “see the new boy get dismembered.”
  • The einherjar participate in practice battle exercises to prepare for Ragnarok, when the nine worlds will fall. One of these “battles” is comically described, but each “death” is also shown. Many characters get shot, punched, or stabbed to “death” in the heat of battle.
  • In a dream, Surt threatens Magnus by saying, “When we meet again, you will burn, son of Frey. You and your friends will be my tinder. You will start the fire that burns the nine worlds.”
  • Samirah attacks Magnus after he leaves Valhalla. “She charged from behind the concession building and kicked me in the chest, propelling me backwards into a tree. My lungs imploded like paper sacks.”
  • An eagle drags Magnus away from his friends to convince him to do something for him. “The eagle veered, slamming me into the fire escape. I felt my ribs crack, like vials of acid breaking inside my chest. My empty stomach tried unsuccessfully to hurl.”
  • When Blitzen competes in a dwarf craftsmanship competition, Magnus acts as his bodyguard. “A random dwarf charged me from the side-lines, swinging an axe and screaming, ‘BLOOD!’ I hit him in the head with the hilt of my sword. He collapsed.”
  • Otis, a goat who belongs to Thor, marvels at Magnus’s talking sword. Otis exclaims, “I’ve never been killed by a talking sword before. That’s fine. If you could just make a clean cut right across the throat-”
  • For Odin to learn the secrets of the runes, he sacrificed an eye and “fashioned a noose and hanged himself from a branch of the World Tree for nine days.”
  • Magnus attacks and kills two giantess sisters. Magnus threw a knife and, “The spinning steak knife hit her in the chest. It didn’t impale her . . .She lowered hands, grabbing instinctively for her chest, which allowed Jack full access to her nose. A second later, Gjalp was lying dead on the floor next to her sister.”
  • The book concludes with a giant final battle in which warriors of Valhalla fight fire giants and attempt to rebind Fenris’ wolf. Within this battle, several warriors get hurt and three Valkyries die, including Gunilla. “Blitzen was so angry—between the Wolf gloating about his dad’s death and Surt stealing his fashion ideas—that he howled like Crazy Alice in Chinatown and rammed his harpoon right through the giant’s gut. The fire giant stumbled off, belching flames and taking the harpoon with him.” “Halfborn Gunderson buried his axe in the breastplate of a giant. X picked up another fire-breather and tossed him off the side of the ridge. Mallory and T.J. fought back-to-back, jabbing and slashing and dodging blasts of flame.”
  • Magnus’s Uncle Randolph is poisoned by Loki. “Randolph smelled the poison before he felt it. Acrid steam curled into his nostrils. The side of his face erupted in white-hot pain. He fell to his knees, his throat seizing up in shock.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Magnus thinks, “Random police and park rangers I could deal with. Truant officers, community service volunteers, drunken college kids, addicts looking to roll somebody small and weak—all those would’ve been as easy to wake up to as pancakes and orange juice.”
  • The mead of Valhalla doesn’t contain alcohol as it is magical goat milk that tastes like a mixture of delicious flavors. However, this topic makes Magnus share his own experience with alcohol. Magnus says, “Yes, I’ve tried alcohol, thrown up, tried alcohol again, thrown up.”
  • The god Aegir is a brewer who “spends all his time at the hops shop, or going on brewery tours with his buddies…. He’s always talking about microbrews. He has a cauldron a mile wide!”
  • Magnus and his friends go to Nabbi’s tavern and the dwarves that he travels with order mead (not the Valhalla kind).
  • Thor, the thunder god, “loved drinking mead.”
  • When the group comes across giantess sisters, the enormous monsters are drunk. Magnus thinks, “They’d obviously been hitting the mead pretty hard.”

 Language

  • Profanity is used a few times throughout the book. Profanity includes ass, dammit, crap, and idiot.
  • Many characters exclaim, “Gods of Asgard” and “gods” as a form of profanity.
  • When Gunilla introduces a new video system that shows how einherjar die, “the warriors cheered and banged their mugs, drowning out the sound of Sam cursing next to me.”
  • Magnus is angry towards a Valkyrie that he dislikes and thinks, “No, but your dad was apparently a jackass!”
  • While trying to escape Valhalla, “Mallory cursed in what was maybe Gaelic. Our little hallway group was a veritable United Nations of Cussing.”
  • When attempting to arrange his dead body, Magnus’s “hands had come unclasped so I appeared to be giving everybody the finger.”
  • When Blitzen talks about his mother’s requests, he says, “She wants her damnable earrings.”
  • Thor could “cuss like a drunken, creative sailor. ‘Mother-grubbing scum bucket!’ he yelled (or something along those lines. My brain may have filtered the actual language, as it would’ve made my ears bleed.)”
  • Magnus wants to comfort Hearthstone. “I wanted to hug the poor guy, bake him a batch of cookies, and tell him how sorry I was about his crappy childhood, but I knew he wouldn’t want pity.”

Supernatural

  • The story exists in a world where Norse mythology is real, including all of the gods, heroes, and monsters. For example, Magnus is the son of Frey, the god of peace, fertility, rain, sunshine, and summer.
  • In the beginning of the book, Magnus doesn’t understand why Blitzen hates daylight. He says, “Maybe he was the world’s shortest, stoutest homeless vampire.”
  • Two magical, evil wolves broke into Magnus’s apartment and killed his mom when he was fourteen. “From the hallway, two beasts emerged, their pelts the color of dirty snow, their eyes glowing blue.”
  • Surt is a fire god and has powers. “Around Surt, flames began to swirl. The firestorm spiraled outward, melting cars to slag heaps, liquefying the pavement, popping rivets from the bridge like champagne corks.”
  • Due to Magnus being a demigod, he has magical abilities. He doesn’t have a problem in extreme temperatures, can walk through fire, can heal others, and mentally communicates with horses.
  • There is a vala who is a “seer. She can cast spells, read the future, and… other stuff.” She can also read/use the runes, which is a form of non-inherited Norse magic.
  • Hearthstone is an elf, and Blitzen is a dwarf. Their identity gives them special abilities like fashion sense, craftsmanship, and rune magic.
  • As an einherjar, Magus acquires super strength, has more muscles, and has accelerated healing.
  • Heartstone uses rune stones and eventually becomes a runemaster. These stones allow him to perform magic, usually to help his friends on their quest.
  • The group encounters Mimir, a disembodied head who floats in water and knows the secrets of the nine worlds.
  • The Sword of Summer is a magical weapon that Magnus wields. It can speak and fight on its own. Magnus transforms it into a stone on a chain that he wears around his neck. Magnus “could easily pull it off the chain. As soon as I did, the stone grew into a sword. If I wanted it back in pendant form, all I had to do was picture that. The sword shrank into a stone, and I could re-attach it to the necklace.”
  • Valkyries can fly, camouflage magically, and teleport back to Valhalla in a poof of light.

Spiritual Content

  • Norse gods are real, but they are not worshipped. They are treated more like characters than all-knowing deities.
  • Magnus describes the place where his funeral occurs. “It was set up like a chapel: three stained glass windows on the back wall, rows of folding chairs facing an open coffin on a dais. I hated this already. I’d been raised non-religious. I’d always considered myself an atheist.”
  • Magnus says, “If there is an Almighty God up there, a head honcho of the universe, He was totally laughing at me right now.”
  • Samirah is Muslim and wears a hijab. When arguing with Magnus she says, “A good Muslim girl is not supposed to hang out on her own with strange guys.”
  • Thor is described as watching television religiously. Then Magnus says, “Can I say a god did something religiously?”

by Morgan Filgas

The Wizard’s War

When Evan and Cleo jump into a book, they find themselves thrust into a quest to save the kingdom. In order to save the kingdom, they will have to fight elves, trolls, and the mighty Golden Dragon. Danger comes from many places, and the two are not sure who they can trust. Only magic will end the war, but will it help them find the right key and return home?

This fast-paced fantasy contains many fantastical creatures that will enthrall younger readers. Danger lurks around every corner, which keeps the suspense high throughout the entire story. When Evan and Cleo meet the manticores, there are several fun riddles that readers can try to solve. Because of some overlapping plot points, The Wizard’s War should be read after the first two books of the series.

Throughout the story, Evan and Cloe show their bravery, brains, and devotion to each other. Working together to defeat evil is the main theme of the story. King Ledipus’s words reinforce this theme when he says, “Today we start a new chapter in the world, one where all creatures—humans, elves, manticores, dwarves, dragons, and even trolls—live in harmony. We will work together to build a future where all can find happiness.”

The story contains a lot of dialogue and short descriptions that help keep the story interesting. A full-page illustration appears in every chapter. The story contains magic wands and magic spells, which are clearly fantasy and not part of the real world. The Wizard’s War will be a hit with readers looking to take a trip into another world. The ending contains a cliffhanger that will leave readers reaching for the next book of the series—The Titanic Treasure.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Elves throw a net on Evan, Cleo, and Vixa. “They struggled but it was no use. Even Vixa’s blade couldn’t cut the net.” The elves take the captives to the queen. “The elves tied up Evan, Cleo, and Vixa and led them to a platform made of logs.” The queen orders the elves to let them go.
  • A group of trolls uses a catapult to fling “a fiery lump” at Evan, Cleo, and Vixa. “The fireball roared past them.”
  • Cleo and Evan try to escape the trolls by riding on a railroad cart. The trolls follow them in their own cart. “One of the trolls leaped into their cart and bared his yellow teeth. He growled and swung his club with the force of a sledgehammer.” Cleo slows the cart and s out of the cart. “Evan curled his legs under the troll’s chest and kicked up. The troll lifted into the air just as the cart shot under a low bridge. His head smacked into a beam and he flew out of the cart.”
  • When another troll attacks, Cleo “kicked the troll in the face. The creature swung his club. It whizzed past Cleo’s head and smashed the hand brake to splinters.” Cleo causes the troll’s cart to flip and “the troll flew forward and smacked into the tunnel wall.”
  • Someone jumped onto a troll’s back and “yanked on the troll’s ears. . .”
  • A dragon attacks Evan and Cleo. “Another flame spewed from the dragon’s throat. . . Evan rolled away and crept behind a statue of an ancient king.” During the attack, the dragon’s “tail whipped around and hit Cleo.” The battle takes place over a chapter.
  • During the final battle, dwarves, manticores, and others fight to defeat the evil villain. The manticore and dragon fight. “The manticores clawed and bit and let their spikes fly. The dragon swung her tail like a club.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The library under the school has a magic portal that takes people into books. When a person travels into a book, they become a character in the book.
  • When Evan and Cloe become characters in a book, Evan is a wizard and Cloe is a moon elf.
  • An evil character controls the king and his daughter through a headband that uses “dark magic.”
  • One of the characters is a manticore, which is a “lion with bat wings, and the end of its tail was covered in sharp spikes.”
  • Tannis wants Vixa to find the Dragon’s Orb because it “has the power to control dragons.”
  • Cloe poured a “silvery liquid onto Daruis’s wing. The leathery skin began to mend. She took the rest of the potion and poured it into Darius’s mouth . . . The manticore seemed to swell with strength.”
  • When Evan uses a spell, “orange light fired out and hit the troll in the face. Daisies sprouted from the troll’s head, and his nose started blinking like a holiday light.”
  • During the story, several of the characters smash a crystal that opens a magical doorway.
  • Evan uses the “Monstrous Transformation spell,” which makes him become large.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Hidden Oracle

There is no way to punish an immortal god, right? That is what almighty Apollo, god of the sun, thought, but he is quickly proven wrong as his father, Zeus, casts him down to the mortal world as a powerless, friendless, and—even worse—ugly sixteen-year-old boy named Lester Papadopoulos. As if it can’t get any worse, Apollo (now Lester) can’t even remember how he incurred Zeus’s mighty wrath.

With nowhere and no one to turn to, Apollo lays his trust in a runty twelve-year-old girl named Meg and the teenage demigods that reside in Camp Half-Blood. There he seeks help from the campers, including some of his own children, and begins to discover disturbing secrets that may endanger those he grows close to.

Fast-paced and witty, The Hidden Oracle is a humorous read for younger and older readers alike. Fans of Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus series will rejoice as Riordan once again paints a world of mystery and mythology that enthralls readers. However, the book touches on sensitive topics such as sexuality and battle violence that may be of concern for some parents. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining novel that is well worth the read.

Sexual Content

  • Apollo mentions his hope that Meg does not develop a crush on Percy Jackson.
  • Apollo has two loves of his life that he mentions several times throughout the novel. Both of his relationships ended in tragedy. One of his loves was Hyacinthus, a strong hero who happened to be a man. The other love was Daphne, whom he dreams of and describes as having, “those lips I had never kissed but never stopped dreaming of.” Due to losing these loves, he swears off marriage as others “had never possessed my heart” as his true loves once had.
  • Apollo encounters some of his demigod children at camp Half-Blood. When he meets each of them, he remembers the romantic relationships that he had with their parents. “To my teenage self, our romance felt like something that I’d watched in a movie a long time ago—a movie my parents wouldn’t have allowed me to see.”
  • Apollo is embarrassed by the attention of some female campers, and he says, “My face burned. Me—the manly paragon of romance—reduced to a gawky, inexperienced boy!”
  • Nico di Angelo and Apollo’s son, Will Solace, are dating. Apollo has no problems with their relationship because he has had “thirty-three mortal girlfriends and eleven mortal boyfriends? I’ve lost count.”
  • Apollo once created a child with another man.
  • Apollo “accidentally saw Ares naked in the gymnasium.”
  • One of Apollo’s former girlfriends, Cyrene, got together with Ares to get revenge on Apollo.
  • Apollo argues that gods are almost always “depicted as nude, because we are flawless beings. Why would you ever cover up perfection?”

Violence

  • When Apollo crashes on Earth, a group of hoodlums beat him up. “My ribs throbbed. My stomach clenched . . . I toppled out and landed on my shoulder, which made a cracking sound against the asphalt.” His opponents pull out a knife, but it is not used. One of the boys “kicked me in the back. I fell on my divine face. . . I curled into a ball, trying to protect my ribs and head. The pain was intolerable. I retched and shuddered. I blacked out and came to, my vision swimming with red splotches.”
  • A lightning wielding cyclops kills one of Apollo’s sons. The death is not described.
  • Percy, Meg, and Apollo get into a car crash in which their car is totaled. No one is seriously injured.
  • A mythical grain spirit called a karpoi bites the head of a nosos clean off in one chomp.
  • Meg slaps Apollo’s face to wake him from a dangerous trance. He promptly vomits afterward.
  • Meg “poked Connor Stoll in the eyes and kicked Sherman Yang in the crotch.”
  • There is a famous story about Apollo in which he slays the mighty monster Python. He “killed Python without breaking a sweat. I flew into the mouth of the cave, called him out, unleashed an arrow, and BOOM!”
  • There is a legend about Apollo “skinning the satyr Marsyas alive after he challenged me to a music contest.”
  • After a dangerous camp activity, “Chiara had a mild concussion. Billie Ng had come down with a case of Irish step dancing. Holly and Laurel needed pieces of shrapnel removed from their backs, thanks to a close encounter with an exploding chainsaw Frisbee.”
  • Two satyrs die attempting to retrieve and bring the Oracle of Delphi back to Camp Half-Blood. Their deaths are not described.
  • Apollo wishes that he could have “picked a nice group of heroes and sent them to their deaths.”
  • Apollo and Meg battle killer ants who attack in groups, snap through Celestial bronze, and spit acid. “Meg’s swords whirled in golden arcs of destruction, lopping off leg segments, slicing antennae.”
  • The pair meet a geyser god that suggests that they do not jump in his water unless they “fancy boiling to death in a pit of scalding water.”
  • A man almost stabs himself to obey the orders of his master, Emperor Nero.
  • Apollo attempts to fight Nero and “let out a guttural howl and charged the emperor, intending to wring his hairy excuse for a neck.” Later, he fights one of the emperor’s bodyguards and “spun Vince like a discus, tossing him skyward with such force that he punched a Germanus-shaped hole in the tree canopy and sailed out of sight.”
  • There is a large battle near the conclusion of the novel in which many characters fight a giant mechanical statue. It is described over several chapters and many are hurt in the process, but the ending is victorious for the heroes.
  • Nyssa slaps Leo in the face because he was missing for several months.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ambrosia is the food of the gods and their immortal bodies allow them to eat it as their normal food. Demigods eat ambrosia if they are sick or injured because it instantly heals them. However, if mortals attempt to eat it, they burn up inside and possibly combust.

Language

  • “Crud” and “darned” are each used once.
  • Meg tells Apollo that he has landed in Hell’s kitchen and he thinks, “It seemed wrong for a child to say Hell’s Kitchen.”
  • Apollo is dragged across a river, “scolding and cursing.”
  • Many demigods mutter ancient Greek curses when they are angry.
  • A demigod calls a friend, “Idiota,” when she does something wrong.
  • Many characters use the expressions, “thank the gods!” and “oh, gods.”
  • Percy “yelped a curse that would have made any Phoenician sailor proud.”

Supernatural

  • Most of the characters are demigods and have magical powers that they have inherited from their godly parent. For instance, Meg can control elements of nature (plants, soil, grain spirits, etc.) because her mother is Demeter, the goddess of agriculture.
  • Many Greek mythological creatures and monsters appear in the story.
  • Nico, the son of Hades, uses his powers to sit with his boyfriend by saying that the “zombies stay away” if he is seated near him.
  • It is mentioned that Leo died and then came back to life. The details of this event are found in one of Riordan’s previous books.
  • When a demigod is claimed at Camp Half-Blood, a glowing symbol appears above their head to show their parentage.  This happens to Meg during the campfire ceremony.
  • Some trees in the woods of Camp Half-Blood are the ancient Grove in Dodona, which is a powerful force that whispers prophecies. Finding this grove is the catalyst for the majority of the novel’s plot. The wood from these trees was used for the mast of the Argo, which could “speak to the Argonauts and give them guidance.”
  • Meg tells Apollo about a looming threat to which he responds, “I had been hoping she would say something else: giants, Titans, ancient killing machines, aliens.”
  • Magical creatures emerge from the woods to aid Apollo in his quest to stop the evil Emperor Nero. “The shimmering forms of dryads emerged from their trees—a legion of Daphne’s in green gossamer dresses . . . They raised their arms and the earth erupted at their feet.”

Spiritual Content

  • In this book, the Greek gods are real and have a presence in the world. All of the legends about them are true, and they are immortal. The main character is a god who has been turned mortal.
  • The source of the gods’ powers is their presence in the minds of humankind, and if they are forgotten they will eventually fade. “Gods know about fading. They know about being forgotten over the centuries. The idea of ceasing to exist altogether terrifies us.”
  • It is discussed how in ancient Greece, priests tended and cared for the sacred Grove of Dodona.
  • When the character of evil Emperor Nero is introduced, Christians are mentioned as being scapegoated by him. In response to these accusations, he says, “But the Christians were terrorists, you see. Perhaps they didn’t start the fire, but they were causing all sorts of trouble.” A terrifying event is then mentioned in which Nero had “strung up Christians all over his backyard and burned them to illuminate his garden party.”

by Morgan Filgas

 

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