Into the Storm

After their victory in Texas, the Pawtriots are en route back to their home in Washington, DC. But when a massive storm on the Atlantic Ocean rolls in, Sergeant Rico and his unit are forced to take shelter on a mysterious island in the Caribbean.

While on the island, the Pawtriots meet M—the leader of the island’s animals. M tells them the story of the thrice-cursed pirate Sea Wolf, his crew, and his ship, the Calico Jack. When Sea Wolf and his crew are brought back to life, it’s up to the Pawtriots to defeat the pirates and return peace to the island.

While aboard a Coast Guard Ship, Rico and the Pawtriots meet two brothers: Jet and Jag. While Jag is a “hard-liner” who follows all the rules, Jet breaks rules at every opportunity. The two dogs add interest to the story, but they also give mixed messages. At times rules are followed, but others believe “that some rules are meant to be broken.” Sometimes breaking the rules cause problems, but other times breaking the rules is the only solution.

Rico and the Pawtriots follow Army morals. For example, to save the Pawtriots, Rico agrees to serve Sea Wolf. Rico thinks, “When I was in the Army, there were times when sacrifices had to be made for the greater good and the sake of the mission. This is one of those times.” Because of Rico’s leadership and courage, the Pawtriots are successful in eventually defeating Sea Wolf.

Into the Storm begins by recapping the events from the previous book, Everything is Bigger in Texas. While chapter one is heavy on the military lingo, the sayings are explained. For example, Rico explains that “debrief you” is “Army-talk for ‘getting up to speed on the details of the mission. . . and quickly.’” Despite this, younger readers may struggle with the advanced vocabulary such as makeshift, flotilla, interceptor, and liaison.

Each chapter starts with the location, date, and military time, which makes the timeline easy to follow. Black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 6 pages and show the animals in action as well as some of the dangers they face—including Sea Wolf, the Kraken, and the various characters. The back of the book also includes the Soldier’s Creed, and a glossary of Army terms.

the Pawtriots fight and defeat supernatural pirates, and throughout the story, Rico leads his unit and reinforces the importance of duty, respect, courage, and helping others. As the Pawtriot Dogs Series progresses, readers will have to remember a large cast of characters whose personalities are not well developed. Readers will enjoy Into the Storm because it is a suspenseful story that follows a group of heroic dogs. Dog-loving readers who want more fun adventures should add the Puppy Pirates Series by Erin Soderberg to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sea Wolf throws Jet off a tower. Rico says, “All I can do is watch as she crashes into a cluster of tall trees below, helplessly clawing at the branches in a desperate effort to slow her fall. She hits the ground hard. . .”
  • Sea Wolf commands his crew to attack the Pawtriots. The fight is not described, but Rico is captured and put in chains.
  • The Pawtriots must face a kraken that has “twelve long, slimy tentacles with suction cups that can pull your skin clean off and fangs that will rip you to shreds.” Rico describes how “a tentacle sweeps my legs out from under me. . .the wet rock presses up against my fur. I try to wrestle free from the Kraken’s grip on my tail, but it’s useless.”
  • Someone kills the Kraken to save Rico. Rico sees “Penny, who has Sea Wolf’s sword in her paw. It’s covered in Kraken blood.”
  • The Pawtriots are in a cavern that starts to collapse. Rico is the last to exit. “I am squeezed in between rocks. . . I wiggle my body and shimmy as fast as I can, falling out of the tunnel onto ground just as the tunnel caves in completely.”
  • Sea Wolf makes the Pawtriots walk the plank. As they struggle to remain afloat in the ocean, they are saved.
  • To defeat Sea Wolf, the “Pawtriots don’t hesitate, and in an instant, they’ve swarmed the Cutthroats, engaging them in fierce paw-to-paw combat.” No fighting is described.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Sea Wolf calls someone a “treacherous bilge rat.”
  • Sea Wolf calls his crew, “Yellow-bellied sapsuckers.”
  • Sea Wolf calls his former first mate a “backstabbing traitor.”

Supernatural

  • Rico and the Pawtriots end up on a cursed island. While there, a cat tells the story of the “Thrice-Cursed Pirate Sea Wolf” and his ship, the Calico Jack. Sea Wolf’s sword, ship, and crew were cursed. Sea Wolf’s “very soul was trapped inside the eternal flame. . . If the bell were ever to be run, then Sea Wolf would have until sunset to raise his crew, his ship, and retrieve his sword before the flame dies out and Sea Wolf with it.” Someone rings the bell and reawakens Sea Wolf and his crew.
  • When Sea Wolf reappears, “his eyes are bloodshot, and the moon paints his gray fur with an ominous glow.”
  • Sea Wolf’s “strength grows with each passing minute that his lungs draw breath.”
  • The Sea Wolf’s first mate was cured with immortality. She says, “Being alive forever gets old. I’m tired. Very, very tired. And the only way I can rest is if Sea Wolf rises and falls.”
  • In the end, Sea Wolf is defeated and “Sea Wolf vanishes.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Fall of Hades

Now that the small island nation of Tuvalu has become the base of Dr. Hatch’s operations, Michael and the Electroclan plan to stop him by taking down the Elgen’s floating treasury, a ship named the Joule. In addition, Dr. Hatch’s remaining loyal electric children have turned against him. Before Hatch can have them executed for treason, Michael wants to rescue them, along with the innocent Tuvaluan citizens who have become prisoners on the island the evil doctor renamed “Hades.”

For Dr. Hatch, it seems like things are finally falling apart due to his number one in command, Welch, disappearing with the help of Quentin, his former favorite electric child. However, Hatch’s feelings change when he learns of the Electroclan’s plans. The Electroclan have enlisted a captain named J.D. to help them sink the Joule – but J.D. is on Hatch’s side. Hatch allows J.D. to go along with the Electroclan’s plan to infiltrate the island so the Electroclan is in his grasp.

A bloody battle ensues at a prison in Hades during an intense storm. A few of the Electroclan, such as Tanner and Gervaso, die in the fight. At the end of the book, Michael climbs a tower to get struck by lightning. The subsequent massive explosion ends the battle, though Hatch escapes from the island. The Joule is destroyed and Hades has fallen, but Michael, the symbol of hope for the resistance, is gone.

This installment of the Michael Vey series dedicates a large amount of time to the story’s minor characters, often skipping from the action to flashbacks or other characters’ dilemmas. While it can be distracting from the main plot, readers who have followed the story until now will want to keep reading to see if Michael can finally defeat Hatch. Because Michael is fighting an all-out war, the events may be difficult to connect to, but readers will likely sympathize with Michael’s motives. Michael believes that the best sacrifice is the one made for others, even if isn’t successful. He says, “I’m fighting a battle for humanity. Of course, I could die and not win any victory, but I think that’s got to be worth something too.”

Though this book ends with Michael’s disappearance, picking up the last book is a must. The most moving part of the story is Michael’s climb up the tower, where he reflects on the journey he has taken with his friends and family. “So many memories. Most of them recent, it seemed. I suppose I had lived more life in the last year than most people live in eighty. That was good. Because I knew mine was coming to an end.” The final book of the series, Michael Vey: The Final Spark explores what motivation remains for the Electroclan once Michael is gone and whether they can keep the fight alive in Michael’s memory.

Sexual Content

  • As part of Welch’s backstory, we learn that he fell in love with a girl named Mei Li despite the Elgen’s rule forbidding romantic relationships. Welch stays with her while he’s on the run, and they kiss.
  • Michael and Taylor are dating. They kiss a few times.
  • When Nichelle is getting a tattoo, the artist says, “What do you need, babe? I have a special for the ladies as long as it’s on lady parts.”
  • Jack recalls a time when he sent a girl a text that got him in trouble. “I sent a text to a girl that said I wanted to kiss her. Her father ended up on my doorstep with the police. The autocorrect had changed my text to I wanted to kill her.”
  • A captain named J.D. who is assisting the Electroclan takes an interest in Taylor. He calls her beautiful and kisses her hand. He says, “I might just have to keep this one for myself.” Michael remarks that Taylor looks uncomfortable with the comment and when he shakes the captain’s hand, he shocks him.
  • When the Electroclan find out that captain J.D. has sold them out, Taylor says, “he sold us all out for money. He wants the million-dollar bounty on Welch, and he asked Hatch if he could own me. As his pet.”

Violence

  • Michael tells a story about a railroad worker who was forced to decide between killing his son or killing innocent people to illustrate his dilemma in fighting the secret war against the Elgen. “There was a man who was in charge of switching the railroad tracks for the train. It was an important job because if the train was on the wrong track, it could crash into another train, killing hundreds of people. One evening, as he was about to switch the tracks for an oncoming train, [the man] suddenly heard the cry of his young son, who had followed him out and was standing on the track he was supposed to switch the train to. This was the dilemma – if he switched the tracks, the train would kill his son. If he didn’t, the people on the train, hundreds of strangers he didn’t even know, might die. At the last moment, he switched the tracks. The people on the train went on by, not even knowing the disaster they had missed or the little boy who had been killed beneath them.”
  • In a flashback about Welch’s past, Welch remembers the time when he was a delivery boy on a job bringing pizza to the Elgen headquarters when he stopped an ex-employee from vandalizing the building. “The vandal sprang from the garden, sprinting diagonally across the building’s front walkway in Welch’s direction. Instinctively, Welch dropped his pizzas and took off to intercept the man… Welch leveled the guy, who was barely half his size, with a waist-high tackle. Then he picked him up by the waist and carried him over to the front entryway, where there were now three security guards rushing out of the building… The [vandal] suddenly tried to free himself from Welch’s grasp. Welch belted him across the face, knocking him out.”
  • Torstyn, one of the electric children, is tortured by Hatch in a cell that is meant to keep him uncomfortable, including lights that are always on. There is also a screen that plays a video of rats devouring animals or humans every 15 minutes. Torstyn also has a RESAT on, a torture device specifically engineered for the electric children. Hatch uses it to cause him pain when he tells Torstyn that he intends to feed him to the rats. Hatch also tells Torstyn how he will die. “If you cooperate with me, I will see that you are anesthetized before going into the bowl. You will not feel those little mouths, bite by bite, eat away your life… I can also promise you that if you don’t cooperate, I will make sure that your vitals are well protected so that the furry little creatures will have to gnaw their way up your body cavity to end your life.” Hatch also says, “It was medieval torture, you know. During the Inquisition, the torturer would place rats in a cage on top of a prisoner’s body, then put hot coals on top of the cage. The rats would burrow through the body to escape the heat… If you fail to help me, you will be terrifyingly aware of every rat’s bite. Your head and eyes will be caged, so you can see your own skeleton as the rodents strip the flesh from your legs and arms to the bones. You will witness your own slow consumption.”
  • When Quentin says that Michael Vey might be able to stop Hatch, Hatch replies by saying that he will feed Quentin Michael’s flesh. Hatch later says, “Today I will feast on my enemy” when he learns that Michael is coming for him.
  • When Quentin is put in a monkey cage like the former Prime Minister, he glimpses the former Prime Minister. “He looked more animal than human. He was pale and ill and had lost enough weight that his ribs seemed to stretch his skin. He was covered with filth and fleas and blood, as he bore dozens of bite marks [from the monkeys].”
  • Taylor’s father, Mr. Ridley, is shot in a confrontation with recreational hunters near the ranch the Electroclan are hiding at. Michael shocks them in retaliation. “I pulsed, and a massive blue-gold wave of electricity exploded, knocking Taylor and all four of the hunters to the ground… In the dark I could see something black around Mr. Ridley’s stomach.” Taylor also uses her powers to hurt the hunters. “The hunters were all on the ground rolling around, moaning in pain… two of them started screaming.”
  • The doctor that arrives at the scene wants Michael to cauterize Mr. Ridley’s bullet wound by shocking it. “I looked down at the mass of blood. The bullet wound was about the diameter of a dime and slightly ragged… I pulsed. Mr. Ridley’s body tensed… I could feel his blood boil against my finger. The pungent stink of burning blood filled the air.”
  • A few of the kids, including Michael, Jack, Ostin, and Nichelle, get mugged on their way back from a tattoo parlor. Michael attacks the mugger. “I blasted him up against the wall of the building behind him. His gun went off from the pressure of my pulse, but the strength of my pulse stopped the bullet in midair. The man fell to the ground.” He is only knocked unconscious.
  • Taylor and Jack punish a guard who hurt McKenna when the Elgen tracked them down. “She closed her eyes, and the man began shaking. When she stopped, he had a blank expression. Suddenly Jack walked up to the man and punched him, knocking him over… Then he walked around punching each of the terrified guards.”
  • When the Electroclan rescues Quentin, they have to dispose of some guards. Michael shocks them. “I reached out and pulsed. A massive wave blurred the air, sizzling with the rain it devoured. Both of the guards were knocked off their feet.”
  • When J.D. reveals that he gave them up, Zeus and Michael want to hurt him. Though they don’t, J.D. says that Hatch intends to kill them and has “special plans” for Michael: Hatch intends to eat him with a special cannibal fork used by the Fiji people called the ai cula ni bokola. J.D. says, “The general plans to serve you for the feast to celebrate the end of the resistance.”
  • A long battle ensues on the island of Tuvalu for control of a prison. Gervaso, the head of the resistance’s military operations, is shot and sacrifices himself in his final moments. “A gun opened fire, hitting Gervaso in the chest and knocking him back onto the dock… Gervaso feebly lifted his handgun but was hit two more times by Elgen bullets as the squad stepped up onto the dock… The front guard, barely older than twenty, walked on the blood-soaked dock until he was next to Gervaso. He pointed his gun at the back of Gervaso’s head. ‘Good-bye, man.’ Gervaso rolled over to look the young guard in the eyes. In his hand Gervaso held a grenade, its pin already pulled. ‘Yeah, good-bye.’ ‘Hit the deck!’ the guard shouted, but it was too late.  The grenade blew, igniting the chain of explosives. The entire dock exploded in a blinding flash.”
  • At another point in the battle, Michael is terrified due to the gruesome scene. “The dark grounds below us were chaos. The screaming of fallen prisoners echoed amid the hellish landscape of rain, smoke, and fire. The Elgen forces flowed in like demon shadows, darkening a courtyard lit only by gunfire or grenades. Occasionally, lightning would strike, illuminating the grounds for a second, like a strobe, capturing the dying and killing in frozen, violent stances.”
  • During the battle, to turn the tide in their favor, Ostin releases the rats who then eat the Elgen soldiers. “The ravenous rats swept across the yard in a powerful, glowing surge, running at guards, drawn to them by the smell of death and meat… The swarm of rats broke against the men like a wave hitting the shore, covering and devouring them, pouring over each other, as the guards were stripped of their flesh… The sounds of screams and machine guns echoed in the distance.”
  • Tanner, one of the electric children, dies in battle when they are being bombed. Michael is with Tanner in his final moments. “Through the smoke I could see Tanner lying on top of a desk against the west wall. His arm was dangling over the side, and I could see blood dripping from his fingers… He was mostly covered in the chalky plaster of the wall, except where the red of his blood had seeped through and stained his clothes and the dust crimson. There were holes all over his body. Shrapnel… Somehow Tanner was still conscious. His chin quivered, and a thin stream of blood fell down from the corner of his mouth… He looked into my eyes. Then his gaze froze and his hand went limp.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hatch occasionally drinks alcohol. He also takes sleeping pills in unhealthy amounts.
  • It is mentioned that Welch’s parents were drug addicts. Later, when asked to drink alcohol, Welch declines. He says, “My biological father was an alcoholic. I figured I inherited his genes.” Eventually, Hatch forces Welch to have a glass of alcohol when he becomes part of the company. He takes a sip of wine.
  • Welch smokes once in the book. Welch says, “I hope I get to die slowly of cancer.”
  • J.D. admits that he gave up the Electroclan because he needs money for drugs. His former friend, Gervaso, calls him a “junkie.” J.D. replies, “After I got shot saving you, they put me on painkillers. I got addicted. When the painkillers stopped working, I needed something stronger.”

Language

  • Occasionally the kids use insults like “stupid,” “freak,” and “idiot.”

Supernatural

  • The focus of the Michael Vey series is on seventeen Electric children with electricity-related powers. A full dossier is available in the front of the book. For example, Michael can pulse like an electric eel, Mckenna can create light and heat, and Taylor can use electrical brain signals to read minds.

Spiritual Content

  • Michael thinks about dying occasionally in the book. “Lately I’ve been wondering where Wade is – you know, the whole death thing. Life after life. Where do we go after we die? Or is this it and when we’re done, we’re done? I don’t know. It’s possible that Wade and my father are hanging out right now, watching us. Cheering us on. Maybe… I guess one day everyone finds out what death is about.”
  • When Hatch finds Welch, he remarks on it spiritually. “Hatch couldn’t believe his good fortune. ‘And to think I said there is no God.’”
  • Jack once says “choke on that karma.”
  • Michael quotes from the Bible. “As we walked off the dock onto the island, I felt a dark, eerie feeling of desolation. A line from the Bible came to me: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
  • When Tanner is dying, he comes to terms with killing others. Michael says, “It wasn’t your fault. It was never your fault. Hatch made you do it.” Tanner replies, “Maybe. . . God will see it that way.”
  • When Michael climbs the tower, he shouts “to the gods of lighting” to strike him. He also says, of getting shocked, “I felt what it feels like to be God. But I’m no god.”

by Maddie Shooter

Dark Waters

Until next time. That was the chilling promise the smiling man made to Ollie, Coco, and Brian after they last outsmarted him. And as the trio knows, the smiling man always keeps his promises. So when the lights flicker and a knock sounds at the door, there can only be one explanation: he’s back and a frightening new game is afoot.

But before the three friends can unravel the smiling man’s latest nightmarish scheme, they set sail on Lake Champlain, where it’s said Vermont’s very own Loch Ness monster lives. Brian is thrilled. He hasn’t sailed since visiting family in Jamaica, and even the looming threat of the smiling man can’t put a damper on what is guaranteed to finally be a day of fun—even if it is awkward being stuck on a boat with his former best friend, Phil, and his new best friends, Coco and Ollie. But when the crew finds themselves shipwrecked on a deserted island and hunted by a monster on both land and sea, fun becomes the last thing on their minds. The smiling man has at long last set the stage for a perilous rematch. But this time, Brian is ready to play.

Unlike the first two installments of the Small Spaces Quartet, Dark Waters’ worldbuilding isn’t as believable. When the kids go through a rain squall, they are transported behind the veil. However, at first, the kids refuse to believe they are in danger. While the story implies that the smiling man is responsible for the kids’ plight, he never makes an appearance. Instead, the ghost of a man who died hundreds of years before is one of the central figures. While the ghost’s story thread explains the mysterious island, the man’s appearance does little to advance the plot. Likewise, Brian’s friend Phil is added to the cast of characters. However, he does not add any depth to the story.

Readers will also miss Ollie, who quickly fades from the story because she refuses to leave her sick father’s side. This allows Brian to take center stage. Unfortunately, Brian doesn’t use his knowledge to beat the smiling man. Instead, Brian and his friends do little more than run from both the ax man and the snakes. Brian never interacts with the smiling man. Even though Brian keeps his friends safe, but he doesn’t discover a way to get off the island.

Through Phil’s character, the story hints that honesty is important. This is reinforced when “Brian belatedly realized that if you told a lot of lies, even if it was for a good reason, like trying to keep people safe, it started to get hard to trust that other people were telling the truth.” Despite this, Brian and the other kids never tell the adults the true reason they are on the island. Another negative aspect of the story is that Ollie makes a bargain with smiling man in order to save her father’s life. However, she makes this decision without consulting anyone else, she hides her actions until the last moment, and the conversation between Ollie and the smiling man is not described. The conflicting message is confusing and leaves the reader wondering what would have happened if the kids had been honest.

In the end, Dark Waters is disappointing because the kids do little to solve the problems that arise. Plus, the characters’ behaviors are not consistent. Readers who loved the first two books in the story may have a difficult time wading through Dark Waters, especially because the dynamic between Ollie, Coco, and Brian changes which is one of the main appeals of the series.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A giant water snake jumps out of the water. “The silver thing lunged, mouth wide, going for Phil’s hand. Would have gotten it too. If Mr. Adler hadn’t put his whole arm in front of Phil, shoved him unceremoniously to the deck, and gotten bit himself instead. . .”
  • The water snake attacks the boat, causing it to begin to sink. “A groaning of metal as though—as though something big was trying to get into the boat. Or get farther into the boat. Metal shrieked. . . Rising out of the murky, swirling water. A giant pink mouth, wide open packed with teeth as long as his forearm.”
  • When the water snake attacks the boat, it is implied that it killed Phil’s uncle, Mr. Dimmonds. “Their bags, full of all their gear, were floating already in the surge. And . . .and there was Mr. Dimmonds’s blue-striped beanie, floating too. . . the beanie sank. It had tooth marks in it.”
  • The kids put a decoy life raft into the water and “then there was a sudden boiling froth of water under the decoy raft, and the whole thing went flying into the air. A snapping mouth attached to a glittering silver body came flying up after it.”
  • The kids and two adults board a life raft and float toward an island. When they near the island, they see “a dripping silver head, a mouth crowded with teeth, rearing up out of the water. The head was bulging and barnacles, the eyes huge and filmy and blank. The mouth opened wide.” Everyone makes it safely onto the island.
  • Phil realizes that Brian remembered what happened with the scarecrows (in book one). Upset, Phil “punched him. It wasn’t a very good punch, more a shove, but it took Brian by surprise and dropped him.”
  • While exploring the island, the kids find a cabin with a skeleton in it. “The rest of the skeleton was covered by a blanket, except for one arm. The skull lay on a moldy pillow, fallen sideways, turned toward them.”
  • The “ax” man, who turns out to be a ghost, offers to “ax” the kids. He says, “Better the ax than what’s coming for you.”
  • While the kids are in the forest, they hear the chime of metal. Then, Brian sees “ten feet of snake had unwound itself from a branch overhead. Its open cotton-pink mouth was four feet away, jammed with teeth.” The kids run and climb a tree.
  • The snake starts to climb the tree so Brian tried to “break off a pine cone, and hurl it down. . . the pine cone bounced off the snake’s nose.”
  • The kids, who are still stuck in the tree, need to get the snake to leave, so Phil “grabbed the last flaming pine cone, and pitched it down with a lot of force and accuracy right into the thing’s eye. . . Now the snake was really enraged . . . it lunged higher yet, wrapping its body around the trunk of the tree, jaws going wide. . . Phil pitched the log straight into the snake’s open mouth. . . Then the jaws slammed shut and the snake recoiled, all the way back down to the ground.” The kids finally escape.
  • The kids find a captain’s log that talks about a sailor who was “lost while attempting to cast a fishing line just offshore. The monstrous snake reared up out of the water and snatched him.”
  • The captain’s log tells about some of the men who tried to leave the island in a boat. “Grieved to report the destruction of the lifeboat Emily, with all hands. . . then a smashing sound as the boat was flung into the air. The men came down into the water, and they had not chance even to drown, for the serpent plucked them out like so many fish and swallowed them down.”
  • The ghost tells the story of how his men died. “They hadn’t made it to the boat at all, they were just gone—swallowed whole, like rabbits.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • In total oh God, oh my God, and Jesus are used as exclamations six times.
  • Freaking is used twice.
  • Brian calls the snake a jerk.

Supernatural

  • Ollie’s watch helped the kids in the last two books, but this time, “after a second, as though the watch—the ghost of Ollie’s mom—whatever animated the watch—was reluctant, the screen shifted and became a compass.”
  • In each book, the kids go into a different world. “. . . Mist and water and through mirrors, that was how you went from world to world.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Red Rover

On a car ride back from the beach, sixth grader Amy Tanner notices something strange by the side of the road. It’s a blindfolded dog, muzzled with duct tape. He’s tied to a post with a rusty chain. Concerned for the dog’s safety, Amy quickly convinces her parents to pull over, and the family frees this mystery dog, who they suddenly feel compelled to name Rover. Before long, Rover has charmed his way into the Tanner family home. He especially bonds with Amy’s younger sister, Katie, who seems to hear Rover’s thoughts in her head. 

Despite the Tanners’ excitement about having a new dog, Amy begins to notice unusual things happening around Rover. Electronics malfunction. Pets and humans that he dislikes freeze, wide-eyed, as if possessed. And, when Rover is forced to attend the school science fair against his will, a gory “accident” occurs, leaving the rats of a rival project dead. It slowly becomes clear that Rover has strange psychic abilities. Even Amy’s ever-logical parents begin to see that something is wrong.  

The Tanners attempt to tame their dog and, when that doesn’t work, to drop him off at a shelter, but they are unsuccessful. Eventually, Amy is left with no choice but to track down Rover’s previous owners and figure out how they were able to free themselves from this creature. This journey is how Amy meets the grizzled diva Miss Dola, who helps Amy and her family perform a ritual to weaken Rover. After a dramatic confrontation, they are able to drop him into the sea. He sinks to the bottom, gone for good. Or is he? 

A key theme in Red Rover is dealing with bullies. A girl from school named Valerie Starr frequently makes fun of Amy, and Amy draws a direct comparison between this rival and Rover. In the latter half of the book, Amy is willing to do almost anything in her power to spend less time around her dog. She relishes her hours at school. She goes on walks. She spends extra time in the bathroom. “Anything that took time out of her morning, she was good at. Anything to keep her up here, on the second floor, away from him.” Amy, for her part, dislikes the person that she’s become. Once a dog-lover, she now catches herself hoping for Rover’s downfall, a relatable struggle for anyone who’s endured bullying. She just wants to be free.  

Because Red Rover is told entirely from Amy’s perspective, frustration and fear are also key elements of the plot. While Katie blindly adores Rover and their science-minded parents don’t even consider psychic powers a possibility, Amy picks up on Rover’s sinister energy almost from the beginning. As the novel progresses, Amy becomes more and more frightened of Rover. This fear is what drives the plot forward and initially puts Amy at odds with her family. Readers will share Amy’s terror as suspense slowly builds, until the final confrontation at the end of the book where Amy’s “sharp, unspeakable terror curdle[s] into rage” and she must defend her younger sister from Rover’s attack. 

Although Red Rover is a bit slow at times, the story of a girl who lives in fear in her own home will resonate to any child who has had to deal with a bully, especially one that they seemingly can’t escape. With believable characters and a strong final act, Red Rover presents a powerful narrative about standing up for yourself, protecting the people you care about, and following your gut even when no one else believes you.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Amy and her family first encounter Rover, he is tied to a fence by the side of the road and has visibly been mistreated. A rusty chain is “looped tightly around [Rover’s] neck and clasped with a padlock,” and a dirty rag is “tied tight over the dog’s eyes.” Additionally, a “thick loop of duct tape” is “wrapped around [his] muzzle, holding [his] mouth shut.” 
  • A tall girl confronts Amy and demands that she hand over her ice cream money. Amy wishes she had the courage to “shove” the girl aside or “[throw] a punch.” The confrontation ends nonviolently when the tall girl looks Rover in the eyes and suddenly “lurche[s] forward” and “vomit[s] across the concrete.” 
  • When Amy brings Rover to the science fair, he becomes agitated and launches a telekinetic attack against the rats from a different project’s terrarium. The rats begin “slamming their bodies against the sides of their plastic cage, shrieking as they [throttle] themselves back and forth, back and forth.” The inside of the plastic terrarium rapidly becomes “smeared with blood.” 
  • Amy has a dream of Rover’s face “rotting away, revealing a skull.” 
  • While at a sleepover, Amy learns that her father just “fell and hit his head on the kitchen floor” and that there was “blood everywhere.” It is implied that Rover is responsible for the accident. 
  • Rover lures the family’s other dog, Stormy, into the street, and Amy jumps in front of a car trying to save him. Amy gets Stormy safely to the curb, but the car bumper “punche[s]” Amy in the side. She then “[flies] to the asphalt, rolling over twice and feeling the grit of the road beneath her scrape her elbows and knuckles raw.” 
  • While on a drive, Amy sticks her head out of the window and Rover tries to roll up the window “like a slow guillotine.” Amy is able to pull her head back inside just in time. 
  • Amy and her family attempt to drop Rover off at a shelter, but he escapes and returns home. Upon calling the shelter, they learn that the animals there “all just died at once.” It is implied that Rover used his powers to kill them. 
  • Rover attacks a professional dog whisperer by psychically throwing him through an exploded window. The dog whisperer lands in glass and sustains “dozens of cuts on his exposed arms and face.” 
  • Rover uses an “invisible force” to choke Amy, but he is distracted when Amy’s younger sister offers to feed him Greek honey cake. 
  • Amy burns out one of Rover’s eyes with a stick of sage, and the wound is described as “oozing a thick black liquid that sizzled as it hit the floor.” 
  • During a final confrontation, Rover throws furniture, pets, and family members around the house with his mind. He corners Amy and her sister in the attic, but before he is able to attack, Miss Dola appears and “stab[s] all three syringes down into the back of the dog’s neck.” This immobilizes Rover and they are able to lock the creature in a cage, which they eventually push into the sea.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language  

  • Amy mentally refers to herself as a “weak little idiot” when she hesitates to defend herself against a bully. 
  • In a fit of rage, Amy calls her younger sister a “brat.” 
  • A boy calls his brother a “dingus.” 

 Supernatural 

  • Rover possesses psychic abilities, which are slowly revealed over the course of the book. He is able to control electronics, move things with his mind, and even psychically kill other creatures. 
  • The family employs a supernatural ritual in order to break the bond between Rover and Katie. The ritual involves a string of leaves, three black candles, three medical syringes filled with a clear liquid, a “small black book with a gold triangle on the cover,” and a slice of Greek honey cake. 

Spiritual Content 

  • Miss Dola believes that Rover may be an incarnation of the three-headed canine beast Cerberus, a figure from Greek mythology. 

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever

Fifteen-year-old Justin and his friends Bobby and Gabe are amateur filmmakers . . . very amateur filmmakers. Their previous horror movies have gone unnoticed on YouTube (aside from a few derisive online comments) and no one seems particularly interested in their filmmaking endeavors. But after a minor setback during the trio’s recent vampire movie, Justin decides it’s time to pursue something new. Something ambitious. Something like making the Greatest Zombie Movie Ever.

Although Bobby and Gabe are immediately along for the ride, Justin’s plan to write, produce, and shoot the best feature length zombie movie of all time quickly hits a few roadblocks. For one thing, the trio has only a month to finish the project before Gabe leaves for the summer. Plus, they have no budget—just a highly dubious script that they cobbled together over two sleepless nights. But the boys’ luck turns around when they are able to get Alicia Howtz—the most popular girl in school and Justin’s longtime crush—to play the movie’s lead zombie-hunter Veronica Chaos, as well as secure a $5000 investment from Justin’s surprisingly cutthroat (and possibly mafia-affiliated) grandmother.

Despite a number of problems on set, the crew pushes forward with making the movie. With the help of a colorful cast of characters—including Bobby, Gabe, Alicia, Bobby’s Uncle Clyde, some extras in zombie makeup, and a twelve-year-old documentarian named Spork—Justin gives the film everything he has. It’s a noble effort, but in the end, Justin doesn’t complete this task the way he originally intended. When he is caught trespassing on school property, his principal threatens to suspend him unless he can get A’s on all his final exams. This puts his film on hold as Justin desperately scrambles to avoid repeating a grade. Five months later, when he does eventually complete the movie, it’s seventeen minutes long and mostly voiceover.

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever is told from Justin’s perspective and, as a result, it’s a film nerd novel through and through. The text is punctuated by references to famous zombie movies and tropes, that Justin takes inspiration from. George A. Romero, director of Night of the Living Dead, comes to Justin in a vision to assure him that his scheme to film the final half hour of his movie in one shot will work. Additionally, Justin and his friends argue about whether they should include “fast zombies” or “slow zombies” in the movie; then they list good and bad zombie movies that have included each type. While non-zombie-appreciators might not understand these references, their placement does not detract from the story.

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever deals primarily with the themes of sticking to your goals and persevering in the face of adversity, but this novel also explores when it’s time to call it quits. Throughout the book, Justin emphasizes the importance of finishing his zombie movie, but he also makes it clear that he has other priorities. After a problem with production, Justin worries that the only way to complete the movie is if “everybody was willing to skip school for two weeks. . .They weren’t . . .Nor was he.” Justin ends up sidelining the movie when he’s forced to choose between it and his education. However, he does eventually finish his film, even if the final product is much different from what he originally planned.

While the plot of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever is not especially heavy on depth, this teen horror-comedy is a wildly entertaining exploration of zombie filmmaking, with a unique cast of characters and a heavy helping of relatively harmless comical mayhem. It’s the perfect book for teens who want a light read, especially if they are interested in zombie movies.

Sexual Content

  • During auditions, a student asks if her shirt will stay on in the movie.
  • The script includes a romantic relationship between Alicia’s character and a male lead. Justin is somewhat jealous of the two actors’ chemistry due to his own crush on Alicia, but a friend reminds Justin “it’s not like they’re slobbering all over each other through the whole movie. There’s one kiss at the very end, and they’re both covered in guts, so Alicia probably won’t be that into it.”
  • While on set, Gabe asks out Alicia’s friend, Daisy, but she turns him down because she “only dates directors.” Gabe dejectedly alerts Justin of Daisy’s availability, but Justin scoffs at this idea and reaffirms his crush on Alicia. When Gabe still insists, Justin says, “It doesn’t matter right now because unlike one of us, I’m here to make a movie, not a baby.”
  • Two actors share “a gentle kiss” at the end of the movie. Due to technical difficulties and much to Justin’s chagrin, this scene has to be refilmed several times, and the crew notes that Alicia and the male lead’s shots are especially “passionate.”
  • After he promises to complete the movie, Alicia gives Justin a kiss on the cheek.

Violence

  • Justin threatens to grab a friend “by the ears” and “bash [his] head into the floor” if he doesn’t take Alicia off speakerphone.
  • In the opening scene of his prospective script, Justin describes a helicopter crash “crushing dozens of zombies” and “leaving a thick smear of squished zombies in its path.”
  • In another scene, Justin writes that the protagonist punches a zombie in the face and then headbutts another zombie whose head “shatters like glass.”
  • During a sleepless night, Justin hallucinates his bed threatening to “bite” him “right in half” with “sharp, glistening fangs.”
  • During auditions for the movie, a student mimes swinging a shovel into a zombie’s face while repeatedly shouting “Die!”
  • While filming a scene in a park, Bobby accidentally drops the boom mic on Alicia, hitting her infected eyebrow piercing. In response, she “charge[s]” at him “knocking him to the ground.” Then, Alicia “pick[s] up the boom mic” before repeatedly smacking him in the face with it.
  • When he accidentally runs in front of a driveway, Justin is hit by a car. He wakes up in a hospital bed with both a concussion and a “mangled” arm.
  • During a heated exchange, Bobby throws a carton of chocolate milk at a school bully named Zack. It “douse[s] him like a water balloon.” In response, Zack “raise[s] his fist and step[s] forward.” The situation is diffused before anything more can happen.
  • Due to a misunderstanding, one of the cast members is tased by an elderly woman.
  • Justin’s principal, Ms. Weager, stumbles upon the crew trespassing in the school at night and is so startled by the zombified cast that she falls to the ground screaming. But she quickly stands up again and begins “knocking zombie heads together.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Uncle Clyde uses an e-cigarette.
  • At one point, the crew visits Uncle Clyde’s house to pick up the zombie effects. When he doesn’t immediately answer the door, Justin speculates that he is “probably drunk and unconscious.”

Language

  • Bobby says that he won’t let Justin “wuss out” on offering Alicia a part in their movie.
  • Justin’s boss frequently yells at his employees, and his tirades are often punctuated by the word “dang.”
  • At one point, Justin calls Gabe a “jerk.”

Supernatural

  • Many of Justin’s films center around supernatural creatures such as zombies, vampires, and werewolves.

Spiritual Content

  • A woman in the park tells Justin he should “spend a little less time thinking about zombies” and “a little more time thinking about the Lord.” She later refers to his cast and crew as “cultists.”

by Naomi Brenden

Small Spaces Quartet #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

Soul Riders: Jorvik Calling

Soul Riders tells the heroic tale of four young girls who have been chosen by destiny to save the world from the ancient demon, Garnok, and his band of dangerous Dark Riders. Lisa is a teenage girl coming to terms with the tragic loss of her mother in a riding accident, who has sworn never to go near a horse again. That is, until she met Starshine, a mysterious blue-maned steed who comes to her in dreams.

New on the island of Jorvik, Lisa befriends Alex, Linda, and Anne. Under the guidance of mystical druids, they discover they each have a special bond to their horses that gives them magical powers. While trying to balance school, family, and friendships, they have to figure out what it means to be a Soul Rider. They are attacked by the Dark Riders and the mysterious Mr. Sands and discover that their horses are in danger. Instead of relying on their combined strength, they decide to split up on their quest to find answers. Will it be too late before they realize their mistake?

Jorvik Calling has a unique premise, but the worldbuilding is choppy and confusing. The story focuses on Lisa. However, the story is told in the first-person point of view, but it jumps from each girl’s perspective. Even though there are four narrators, the girls’ voices are not easy to distinguish from each other. In addition, the perspective often changes within a chapter. The change in perspective adds confusion, breaks up the action, and makes the overall story disconnected.

Even though the book is based on the Star Stable video game, readers who haven’t played the game will enjoy the book. However, the video game players will instantly connect with the book because it gives insight into the lore of Jorvik and the myth of the Soul Riders.

All the girls—Lisa, Alex, Linda, and Anne—are unfamiliar with Jorvik’s lore, which allows the reader to learn about the ancient myth. Because of this, the girls are confused when magic begins coursing through them. Despite this, the girl’s supernatural abilities will capture readers’ attention. The unique blend of horses, magic, and the fight between good and evil will make readers curious about what will happen in the next book in the series, The Legend Awakens.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Some boys were bullying Alex’s brother. One day, “she found her brother tied to one of the goal posts with jump ropes.” When Lisa saw a bigger boy, she gestured to him to stop. “The moment Alex raised her hand, she felt a burst of energy, there was a bright flash and the guy staggered back as though he’d been pushed.” The boy falls, and when he gets back to his feet, he runs away.
  • A man in a van chases Anne and her horse Concorde. “The headlights shone like death rays in her eyes. . . The terror at the thought of being run over had left her numb. She saw a pink glow behind her eyelids. It was seeking her out, that light.” Anne embraces the light and then, “the SUV ran through her and Concorde—but she wasn’t there. It was as though she was standing outside herself, looking on.” Anne and Concorde are able to escape.
  • Lisa’s dad, Carl, eavesdrops on his boss. Then, “Carl could see two long shadows. . . And then they were on top of him. Two burly men grabbed him by the arms and dragged him toward the ramp. . .” Carl’s whereabouts are unknown, but Lisa just thinks he is working on an important project.
  • When Derek was going home, a girl on horseback tries to ride him down. Derek realizes “she was in fact aiming to force him off the road . . .He could feel the horse’s searing heat against his leg.” Alex appears and Jessica grabs her arm. “Lightening exploded from Alex’s palm and hit Jessica, who collapsed on the ground.” Alex is left with a bleeding arm.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Oh my god” is used as an exclamation three times. For example, Lisa’s father almost hits a girl on a horse. The girl says, “Oh my god, I’m sorry. I didn’t think there would be any cars out this early!”
  • God is used as an exclamation once.
  • A man uses “by the light of Aideen” as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • The book begins with a creation story about a girl on horseback. “As she rode slowly across the sea, her horse’s hooves tamed the wild waves beneath her. . .She lay the light down on the island, and life and hope poured out of the cold nothingness.” The island had both light and darkness. “A great darkness hides in the depths of the ocean, biding its time, waiting just a little longer.”
  • Pandoria is a “world that co-exists with ours. Pandoria’s unreality seeps into our reality and vice versa. That is the essence of magic.”
  • The soul riders are “chosen girls who share a special bond with their horses. Through that bond, they acquire special powers to help them fight against evil.”
  • Sabine puts a spell over Herman, who owns the stable. Then Sabine “murmured something, and Lisa’s horse, Starshine, collapses.”
  • When Lisa’s horse, Starshine, collapses, Lisa heals him by placing her hands on him. “She placed them on his clammy neck and lay down with her face next to his. . . The birthmark on her cheek prickled and burned. A melody, at once strange and familiar, flowered through her like a trickling brook.” As she sings, Lisa feels an energy that “shimmered blue, pink and purple.” The energy heals Starshine.
  • Starshine breaks his leg. Lisa thought about calling for help, but “then a glow began to fill the air. . . The strange glow slowly rose through the air in twisting tendrils.” The lights dance in a pattern. “Now a strong light was shining from the palm of her hand. . . Beneath her hand, she could feel Starshine’s leg aligning. There was crackling, trembling, and dancing underneath his skin.” Starshine is completely healed. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Lisa meets a woman in the woods. Afterwards, Lisa hears a voice say, “This is your gift. To heal and care for the injured and sick. Use your gift well.”
  • An evil man can speak to Garnok directly through a portal. The man “wants to see those miserable horses (the Soul Rider’s horses) devoured in the eternal prison of Pandoria.” It is not clear who Garnok is.
  • Lisa and her friends take a night ride where they “were going to ride in Aideen’s footsteps and seek the Flame of Jor, the spark that, according to legend, brought life to the island.” The girls talk about the legend. “During an excavation in the Northern Mountains, carvings showing four riders were found on the cave wall . . . a local historian at Jorvik University later identified [the symbols] as a sun, a star, a moon, and a lightning bolt. The symbols are thought to be the source of the Soul Riders’ power and strength.”
  • Lisa sees a vision of her dead mother. “Lisa ran as fast as she could, but she saw her mother fade away before her very eyes.”
  • Linda, one of the Soul Riders, “had known things she shouldn’t have been able to know. . . [Her aunt] called it a premonition, a gift from the gods.” Later, “a darkness spread through Linda. Suddenly, she was no longer in the warm club room . . . but far out to sea. It was dark and cold.” When her friend calls her name, Linda snaps out of the trance.
  • Alex’s horse, Concorde, becomes transparent and slowly fades away. Later, Alex learns that he is in another realm.
  • Anne meets Fripp. “The creature’s fur was blue and shiny; its eyes were large and almost entirely black. Its tail was big and fluffy. If she had to describe it, she would have said it looked like an unusually big squirrel.”
  • Anne discovers that she can create a portal to Pandoria.
    Spiritual Content
  • The Soul Riders are told about druids. “They’re called the Keepers of Aideen and are philosophers, you might say, with a close relationship with the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. . . They live in the service of the goddess Aideen.”

 

The Raven Boys

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Hannah Olsson

 

The Adventures of John Blake: Mysteries of the Ghost Ship

Trapped in the mists of time by a terrible research experiment gone wrong, John Blake and his mysterious ship are doomed to sail between the centuries, searching for a way home. In the modern day, John rescues a shipwrecked young girl his own age, Serena, and promises to help her.

But returning Serena to her own time means traveling to the one place where the ship is in most danger of destruction. Plus the all-powerful Dahlberg Corporation has an ambitious leader with plans far greater and more terrible than anyone has realized. The Dahlberb Corporation is hot on their trail, because only John, Serena, and the crew know Dahlberg’s true intentions. And only they have the power to stop him from bending the world to his will.

John Blake is an interesting character who is brave enough to try to stop Dahlberg from controlling the world. However, John and his crewmates are not well developed. The end of the book has a snippet of backstory for each of the crew. However, none of their backstories is discussed in the graphic novel, which makes the characters one-dimensional.

The large cast of characters causes a lot of confusion, and at first, it’s hard to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. For instance, the introduction of Danielle is confusing. She has been researching the ghost ship Mary Alice, but her interest in the ghost ship isn’t explained until the very end. Plus, it’s unclear why Danielle’s knowledge of the ship is a threat to Dahlberg. Unfortunately, none of the secondary characters are developed enough to understand their motivations or care about their outcomes.

While the publisher recommends Mysteries of the Ghost Ship for readers as young as eight, the graphic novel is not a children’s book. The great lengths Dahlberg takes to rid anyone who he perceives as a threat leads to a lot of violence. Plus, the profanity and dialogue are geared more towards adults than children. Even though the two main characters, John and Serena, are in their teens, younger readers will have a difficult time connecting to them.

Mysteries of the Ghost Ship uses language that makes the book accessible to readers, but some pages are text-heavy and the complicated plot is confusing. The illustrations help propel the story forward, while the spooky nature of the Mary Alice’s illustrations adds a little mystery.

Even though the Mary Alice is a time-traveling ship, the book’s action is almost entirely in the present day. If you want an action-packed graphic novel that is a quick read, Mysteries of the Ghost Ship is a good choice. However, readers who want more developed characters who jump into a particular time period should add Tangled in Time by Kathryn Lasky and the Ruby Red Trilogy by Kerstin Gier to their reading list.

 Sexual Content

  • A crewmember warns Serena about the Barbary Pirates who “take slaves, then make them row, then sell them. Sold to a harem, you know.”

Violence

  • Roger knocks out a man. Then Roger puts a chokehold on a man. Another person swings a knife at Roger. Roger steals a briefcase and then leaves. The fight is illustrated over two pages.
  • When Danielle tries to fly out of the country, men approach her and force her into a room. Roger breaks into the room and begins hitting and kicking the other men. Then, Roger points a gun at one of the men’s heads. Then men are tied to a table and their mouths are duck taped shut. The scenes are illustrated over three pages.
  • Roger recognized a man who is “an expert on enhanced interrogation techniques.” Roger considers the man’s techniques to be torture.
  • After falling off a boat, Serena finds her family and runs toward her mother. One of the villain’s lackeys points a gun at her. Serena and her friend Blake run. They go into a restaurant’s kitchen and when the men follow, Blake and Serena throw food in their faces.
  • As Serena and Blake flee, a man with a gun jumps onto the car. Blake rolls down the window and pokes the man in the eye, which causes him to fall off of the car.
  • Blake talks about meeting Kevin. When the two boys part, a man jumps out and stabs Kevin in the heart. Kevin dies.
  • When the ghost ship travels to the present, men in military clothing board the ship and start shooting. Blake is able to “spring” and “slam” the men, knocking them overboard. The fight is illustrated over six pages.
  • During a party, Blake and one of his crewmates sneak onto the villain’s yacht. A man points a gun at them. Roger punches the man in the face, knocking him out.
  • Roger, Blake, and some of Blake’s crewmen try to sneak into a party. Another man points a gun at the group. Blake confronts the villain and the two get into a fight. Once Blake is able to reveal the villain’s crime, he and his crew jump back into the Mary Alice. The fighting is illustrated over nine pages.
  • The villain shoots a missile at the Mary Alice, but the ghost ship disappears and the missile sinks the villain’s yacht. The yacht sinks and other boats come to rescue the passengers.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes bloody, damn, and hell.
  • “Oh Mother of God” is used several times. For example, when seeing a strange ship, a man says, “Oh Mother of God, protect us.”
  • A father calls his son an idiot and a moron.
  • Oh God and Oh my God are rarely used as exclamations. For example, when a girl falls into the ocean, her mother says, “Oh God!” Later she says, “For God’s sake—the engine! Never mind the damn sails. . .”

Supernatural

  • The ghost ship Mary Alice travels to different times, but the crew cannot control where the ship goes. Blake says, “But I don’t know where we’ll end up. I think Mary Alice does though. . .maybe the wood remembers things we don’t. We seem to end up where we need to be more times than not.”

Spiritual Content

  • When the Mary Alice’s crew hears strange, but beautiful music, one of the crew says, “Jesus Christ. Protect me! Protect me!”

The Ghost

From the day Emily rescued her dog, Zack, they have always shared a special connection—they can read each other’s minds. And since Zack can sense when someone is in danger, they’ve been using their special powers to help save people.

But now Emily and Zack have discovered something new. They can see ghosts! And one ghost, in particular, needs their help. Shocked by her new discovery, Emily is determined to find out who this ghost is and why he is haunting her town. But if Emily and Zack are the only ones who can see the ghost, how can they get anyone to believe them? Will they be able to help in time, or will the ghost be doomed to haunt the earth forever?

The third installment of the Dog Whisperer Series has a unique premise but unfortunately lacks development and action. Emily and Zack save a woman from a fire, but the incident is so out of place that it lacks emotional impact. Likewise, many of the story’s scenes are not developed enough to make the reader care about the outcome. For example, when Emily meets a ghost, their interactions are not exciting. Instead, when Emily talks to the ghost, the ghost gives vague answers that are confusing. Even though Emily helps the ghost, the ending is predictable and lacks action.

Emily, who is biracial and adopted, asks her parents about her birth mother. Emily is upset that her birth mother doesn’t want to meet Emily. Throughout the story, Emily is trying to work through her feelings about her birth mother. To complicate matters, Emily is upset that her birth mother has other children who she did keep. While Emily’s feelings are understandable, nothing is resolved.

Even though Emily is a likable character, readers will find the lack of action and plot development frustrating. The one bright spot is Emily’s interaction with Mrs. Griswold, an elderly neighbor who is a recluse. Mrs. Griswold’s backstory is slowly revealed and the conclusion hints that Mrs. Griswold will begin reaching out to other people. Through multiple characters, a theme is revealed—people are often doing the best that they can in difficult situations, and only by looking deeper can you understand a person’s character.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Emily’s neighbor was in a car accident. “The worst part was that Mrs. Griswold had tested positive for alcohol that night. . . her blood alcohol level was way below the legal limit, and that she had probably had a glass of wine or eggnog at the party.”

Language

  • The store owner, Cyril, calls a boy “a shifty-eyed, squinty little punk” and a “snaggle-toothed punk.”

Supernatural

  • Emily can read her dog’s mind. Emily “didn’t understand it, but ever since the night she had found him, the two of them had been connected, somehow. When he was hungry, she felt hungry.”
  • Zack is a conduit for the ghost. When Emily sees a ghost, “the man suddenly seemed to be surrounded by a small cloud of gray mist—and then he disappeared.” Emily can read the ghost’s mind.
  • Emily can read her cat Josephine’s mind. “Reading Josephine’s mind was always a little bit unsettling.”

Spiritual Content

  • A ghost tells Emily that his dog, “Moved on, at once. Animals have very beautiful souls.”

The Rescue

12-year old Emily has dreams of drowning. She’s being sucked under once, twice . . . until the third night, she realizes it’s not just a dream. It’s really happening to someone. On the rocky shore outside her house, Emily finds a large dog. He’s barely alive, but she’s determined to save him. She can feel his pain—and his determination to live. The dog is brought to the vet and with Emily’s help, he starts to improve.

But is the bond between the girl and the dog, Zack, something more? She can see what he sees and feel what he feels. And Zack seems to be able to read her mind, too. Is it possible that together, Emily and Zack can do more than read each other’s minds? Can they use their powers to help people?

The suspenseful story will pull readers in from the very first word. While the story focuses on the dog’s struggle to heal, it also has enough of Emily’s home life to keep the story interesting. The Rescue gives the reader insight into animal abuse without going into details that may frighten younger readers. In the end, readers will cheer when multiple characters come to Zack’s defense and save him from his cruel owners.

Emily is an extremely likable, biracial character who was adopted by a white family. The story has several examples of racism, such as when a white tourist talks to Emily and the lady assumes that if Emily is “in Maine, that must mean that some nice country family took me in for the summer. You know, to get me out of my deprived, inner-city neighborhood.” All of the examples of racism are kid-friendly and highlight Emily’s feelings. She wishes people didn’t see her “as African-American first, instead of a person named Emily.”

The Rescue will appeal to many readers because it is a suspenseful story about friendship, family, and helping a dog in need. While Emily is the only character that is well developed, the supporting characters have enough depth to be believable. Another positive aspect of the story is her family’s healthy dynamic and her supportive best friend. The Rescue is an excellent story that teaches the importance of not making assumptions about other people. Emily’s emotional journey will leave a deep impression on the reader. Readers will be eager to see how Emily and Zack use their unique powers to communicate in the next book in the series, Storm Warning.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • There is a rumor that one of Emily’s neighbors “killed her husband.” Later, Emily finds out that the woman was driving when the car crashed, and her husband died.
  • Zack’s owners go to the vet’s office to get Zack. When the owners find out that Zack isn’t there, they become violent. The violence is not described, but, “One of the men even had a baseball bat, and he had just broken the screen on one of the computers with it. . . Dr. Kasanofsky’s shirt was ripped, and it looked like his glasses might be broken, too.” The police escort the men to the police station.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Zack is injured, the vet gives him “medicine to help him sleep, and to make sure he isn’t in any pain.”

Language

  • Cyril, a shopkeeper, calls a man “that lousy roughneck punk” because as a boy, “he had stolen—and promptly eaten—a piece of red licorice from the penny candy section.”
  • While talking to her neighbor, Emily stutters. The neighbor tells her, “Don’t ramble like a ninny.”

Supernatural

  • Emily was having a bad dream and realizes, “it wasn’t a bad dream of hers. She had just been having Zach’s nightmare!”
  • Somehow Emily can read Zack’s thoughts. At one point Emily thinks, “Either she was reading her dog’s mind—or she was crazy.”

Spiritual Content

  • While the vet is treating Zack, Emily’s mother says, “We’ll just have to pray that this is a temporary setback.”

Remarkables

One minute, they’re laughing and having fun at the house next door. The next minute, they’re gone. Like magic. Marin can’t believe her eyes. Who are these teenagers, and how are they able to appear and disappear?

Marin spots the mysterious neighbors the first day after moving to a new house, in a new town. She wonders if she’s the only one who can see the teenagers, but then she meets a boy named Charley, who reluctantly reveals that he knows about them too. He calls them “Remarkables.”

Charley warns her to stay away from the Remarkables—and to stay away from him. Life hasn’t been kind to Charley, and Marin can’t stop thinking about something that happened in her old town. Could the Remarkables help? Or. . . is she supposed to help them? Maybe Marin and Charley can fix everything if they can work together long enough to figure out the mystery of the Remarkables.

Full of mystery, Remarkables is a story about family, friendship, and forgiveness. Readers will relate to the protagonist Marin, who is insecure and wonders if she will be able to make friends in her new town. Because of past friendship drama, Marin wonders if there is something wrong with her. However, by the end of the story, she realizes the importance of communication and forgiveness.

Haddix expertly weaves several plot lines into an easy-to-understand, engaging story. Marin’s family is funny, caring, and a bit overwhelmed with all the changes in their lives. When Marin meets Charley, she learns about a tragic accident that happened in the past and how it still impacts Charley’s present. This connects with an incident that happened to Marin before her move. The conclusion of the story merges all of these subplots and shows that “You can have a good future because the past is over. All you can do is learn from it.”

Remarkables will make readers consider the questions: If you could go back in time and change an event, what would it be? Both Marin and Charley consider the question, and they realize that changing the past could cause unintended consequences. When Marin looks at a past tragedy, she realizes the tragedy ended up inspiring others to do good in the world. The relatable characters, mystery, and message all combine to create a story that is entertaining and thought provoking. The story ends on a positive note as it highlights that despite a past mistake, the future still holds the promise of happiness.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • During a party at the neighbor’s, Charley’s dad put food in the oven and it began to smoke. He didn’t want the fire detector to go off so he removed the batteries. Later that week, a fire broke out and Charley’s friend died. The death is not described.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Charley and his brothers live with their grandmother because his parents are on drugs. His dad “started using drugs. And then my mom did, too. Because he made her unhappy, too. And they wouldn’t stop.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Marin and Charlie see a group of teens. Charlie thinks the teens are time travelers from the past. Marin thinks the teens are from the future.
  • At one point, Marin wonders if “it was a message from God—a vision, like the kind Marin heard about in church.”
  • Charlie “decided that [a dead girl’s] psychic energy lingered in the place where she’d died. . . Her way of haunting people was to show them good things they needed to see.”

Spiritual Content

  • Marin goes to church with her family. When they go to a new church, Marin is afraid no one will like her. She prays, “Please, God. Please, please, please don’t let me start crying here in front of everyone. . .”
  • During church, the pastor starts “reading a Bible passage, one about Jesus being tempted in the desert. ‘So I’m going to hear about even Jesus messing up?’ Marin thought.”
  • Marin’s father prays that the baby begins to sleep through the night.
  • Marin and her friends were having a sleepover. The girls had a fight so Marin went to sleep in the guest room. While there, she prayed, “Please let someone come and I’ll apologize. Please.”
  • One of Marin’s friends was sick. When Marin asked, “Did she have cancer?” Her father replied, “Thank God, no.”
  • Marin’s father has a difficult time finding a job. He tells Marin, “I will quit whining about how my life isn’t going the way I planned it, and I will get back out of bed and try something new! And. . . I’ll accept that God is maybe trying to send me a sign that he needs me in a different place than I thought, and I’ll quit fighting that message. . .”

Lost and Found

Fourteen-year-old Ezekiel Blast is an outcast. No one at his school talks to him. All of his classmates think he is a thief because no one understands his unique talent for finding things. It’s not a superpower—it’s a micropower. But Ezekiel’s micropower has done nothing helpful because when Ezekiel returns a lost item to its owner, the owner assumes he is the one who must have stolen it.

Everything changes after Ezekiel meet Beth. Beth believes his power might be useful. When the two friends are invited to join a group of other teens with micropowers, Ezekiel realizes he is not alone. With Beth’s encouragement, Ezekiel begins testing his micropower and trying to discover how it works.

When a police detective appears at Ezekiel’s house, desperate for any help that will lead to a missing little girl, Ezekiel is determined not to help him. He doesn’t understand his micropower and is afraid of the cops. But when tragedy strikes, Ezekiel knows that he must use his talent to find what matters most.

Ezekiel is a character that jumps off the page and grabs the reader’s attention. Lost and Found is told from Ezekiel’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand his fear, his hurt, and his unusual talent. Beth, a proportional dwarf, befriends Ezekiel and encourages him to join a support group for those who have unusual powers. The interesting premise and the unusual characters will keep the reader’s attention. However, towards the middle of the story it suddenly takes a disturbingly dark turn.

When Ezekiel decides to help find the missing girl, the police officer tells him of disturbing cases of young girls who have been taken, put on a pedophilia pornography website, and then are murdered on screen. When Ezekiel’s friend Beth is kidnapped, Ezekiel is truly motivated to use his micropower to find her. During this time, Ezekiel also wrestles with feelings for Beth. Because Beth is a proportional dwarf and looks like a child, he worries that his romantic feelings for Beth will make him look “like the kind of guy who likes little girls.”

Another disturbing plot twist is when Ezekiel learns that Beth’s mother had died, and Beth hid her mother’s death in order to avoid being put in a foster home. Lost and Found gives the reader insight into the nature of friendship, but the dark content of the book may give readers nightmares. Readers may find many of the facts unbelievable and the long passage of the support group sessions tiring. Fans of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game will be disappointed that Lost and Found is disjointed, and while Ezekiel is a likable character, this story isn’t as expertly crafted as Ender’s Game.

Sexual Content

  • When Ezekiel is called into the counseling office, he thinks that the counselors “all had little windows in the doors so that students couldn’t claim they were molested or abused by a counselor.”
  • When a police officer tries to talk to Ezekiel, Ezekiel walks away. When the officer follows him, Ezekiel says, “If you follow me another step, I’ll go on Facebook and tell everybody about the cop who followed me to school and tried to touch me inappropriately.”
  • Ezekiel’s friend wants to know why he doesn’t return lost items. He gives a hypothetical situation where he goes to a girl’s house to return a scrunchie. Ezekiel says that her parents would “want me on the sex offender registry for stalking their daughter.”
  • Beth tells Ezekiel that girls with “huge boobs” don’t run because they will give themselves a black eye. Then Beth says, “I’ve ruined big busted women for you.” Their conversation about boobs goes on for a page.
  • Beth won’t let Ezekiel inside her house. Ezekiel wonders, “What was the terrible secret she was hiding. That her mother was shacked up with some live-in boyfriend. . . That Beth was the unwed mother of a huge baby that ate whatever it could, including the feet and ankles of visitors?”
  • A police officer tells Ezekiel about girls who have been kidnapped. “The girls these guys kidnap show up right away on child-pornography websites, the ugliest stuff. It gets uglier and uglier and then they get killed on camera. We estimate the whole process takes a week, and then the girl is dead.”
  • Ezekiel is upset that he might have feelings for Beth because “she looks like a six-year-old for heaven’s sake. If by some ridiculous fluke I actually had feelings for her, I’d look like some kind of. . . I’d look like the kind of guy who likes little girls.”
  • When talking about Beth, Ezekiel tells his father, “She may be short, but she was starting to get boobs. . .I wasn’t staring but I’d have to be brain-dead or completely not-male to miss that.”
  • While talking about Beth, a boy tells Ezekiel, “So touch yourself . . .bet you have plenty of practice.”
  • Ezekiel’s father tells a Bible story about Joseph and Potiphara. Potiphara’s wife “got the hots for him and when her husband was out inspecting the troops, she suggested to Joseph that they might do a little hanky. Or panky, the book of Genesis isn’t clear. Joseph said no. She tore her cloak and began to scream that Joseph tried to rape her.”

Violence

  • When he was small, Ezekiel’s mother was killed. He thinks back to her death as, “it was wham, car hits Mom, Mom flies through the air and then lies in a shape no human should ever be in and he knew right then that she would never come back, not even as a cripple.”
  • When Ezekiel was younger, he found a kid’s bike and returned it. He says, “I knew where it belonged because the connection was so strong. Took it back and got the crap beat out of me and the cops were called and they didn’t charge the kid or his dad for the beating I got. . .”
  • The woman who helped kidnap a little girl is found dead. She “was dead on the kitchen floor, stabbed with the big kitchen knife that she probably picked up to try to defend herself. All the blood was hers, though, and so were all the prints. . .”
  • Beth kicked one of the kidnappers, who fell to his death. When Ezekiel finds Beth, he looks at the kidnapper’s body. “And he could see that there was no possibility that his spinal cord was attached to his brain anymore. Which was a moot point because the man’s head had landed on a pile of cinderblocks and much of his brain was a lumpy smear.” Later, Ezekiel thinks how hard it would be for Beth to kill a man, even if he was trying to hurt her. “The kicking, the falling, nearly dying herself, but then seeing the man sprawled there, neck broken, skull spilling out brains and blood.”
  • Ezekiel’s father used to work in a slaughterhouse. “One at a time they [animals] come up the ramp to his position and he kills them and they flop over and slide down to where the process of skinning and gutting them began, other guys turning them from a once-living body into a side of beef.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in an abandoned building, Ezekiel’s father says, “I’m surprised there isn’t a bunch of discarded drug paraphernalia here.” Ezekiel replies, “Most crack dens are more conveniently located, aren’t they?”
  • Beth says that the men who kidnapped her also drugged her. Later she tells another kidnap victim, “I can tell you that the drug they gave us made all the food taste like licking a bicycle tire.”
  • Ezekiel thinks Beth “could probably buy cigarettes and beer without showing i.d.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: ass, asshole, bastard, crap, bitch, damn, hell, pissed, prick, and shit.
  • When Ezekiel told his father that kids were moving to the other side of the street in order to avoid him, his father said, “chalk it up to coincidence, you narcissistic bonehead.”
  • People call others “idiot” occasionally. For example, Ezekiel’s father said, “An expert is just an idiot who used to be pert.”
  • Someone tells Ezekiel, “You’re a jerk.”
  • Ezekiel tells his dad that he wants to go trick-or-treating. His father says he can go, but Ezekiel will look “like a pathetic, greedy teenage moron.”
  • Ezekiel’s father tells him, “stop being a language nazi.”
  • Ezekiel calls a girl in his group, “Juh-anus.”
  • Ezekiel tells a police officer, “I’m a bastard.”
  • Someone calls Beth’s dad a “flaming frankfurter.”

Supernatural

  • Ezekiel meets with a group of kids who have different abilities. For example, one kid’s skin neutralizes odor, while another kid can make people yawn.
  • A boy in Ezekiel’s group can sense spiders. He tells the group, “There are always dozens of spiders within a hundred yards. I’m actually aware of spiders much further off, but it’s more vague.” He can also tell if someone intentionally or accidentally killed a spider.
  • When Ezekiel finds lost objects, he can tell who they belong to and how to find them. During the book, he tries to figure out how his power works.
  • When trying to figure out how to help Beth, Ezekiel thought about Beth and suddenly “he could feel himself falling.” He can feel what Beth was doing and feeling. “He could feel how raw and painful his muscles were, he could see how the skin had been scraped and abased on his arm from the struggle, from trying to grip the rough concrete of the floor.”

Spiritual Content

  • When Ezekiel’s mom was killed, Ezekiel wanted to know where his mother was. Ezekiel’s father said, “‘We didn’t know much about heaven but some part of us lived on after death yadda yadda.’ Ezekiel had listened when Mother took him to church so he was familiar with the idea, and that was not what he was asking.”
  • Ezekiel and his father have a conversation about God. Ezekiel’s father says he believes in God even though he doesn’t go to church. Ezekiel’s father says, “I believe in life after death. I believe the soul goes on.” Ezekiel’s father also keeps the commandments and prays. When the conversation shifts to prayer, Ezekiel’s father says, “If your definition is showing God the yearning of my soul, then yes, I’m praying right now.” Ezekiel’s father says that he prays to be a good father; he says, “I pray about other things. For nobody to lose any body parts while cutting meat. For the strength to not be as snotty with customers as you are with me. And no, that wasn’t a criticism. . .” The conversation lasts for about three pages.
  • When Ezekiel’s father wakes him up early, Ezekiel says, “Dad, God doesn’t wake up this early on a Saturday.”
  • When Ezekiel helps find a kidnapped girl, his father wants him to go to church. His father says, “I also had the crazy idea that you might want to say ‘thank God’ in a house of God.” Ezekiel and his father have a short conversation about God. His father tells him, “I spent a lot of time being enraged with God for not saving your mother. But then I realized that it was my whole family there on the sidewalk, my wife and my only child. I thought about what had been saved for me instead of what had been taken.”

Tunnel of Bones

Cassidy isn’t excited to be in one of the most haunted cities in the world—Paris. While her parents are filming their TV shows about haunted cities, Cassidy doesn’t plan on attracting danger. But when her parents take her to the creepy underground Catacombs, Cassidy finds danger lurking in the shadows.

When Cassidy accidentally awakens a frightening, strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghost hunter and her friends, both old and new, to help her unravel a mystery. As the spirit grows strong, Cassidy realizes that she’s not the only one in trouble. Soon the ghost causes disaster after disaster, which endangers the people Cassidy loves. Can Cassidy stop the angry spirit, or will he haunt her city forever?

The second installment of the City of Ghost series will not disappoint. As Cassidy follows her parents through Paris, Cassidy gets a firsthand look at some of Paris’s ghostly stories. While many of the ghostly encounters could be deadly, Cassidy’s best friend (and ghost), Jacob, is always waiting in the shadows in order to keep Cassidy out of trouble. Readers will enjoy Cassidy’s inquisitive mind and courage.

Cassidy’s adventures take her into Paris’s underground as well as to several of Paris’s landmarks. The adventure is at times creepy and suspenseful, but always interesting. Tunnel of Bones adds several new and interesting twists. As Cassidy tries to help a young ghost remember his past, she begins to wonder if Jacob will also begin to lose his memory of his earthly life. The parallel between the two ghosts adds an interesting dimension to the story.

Tunnel of Bones will entertain readers with a good ghost story. The easy-to-read text contains short sentences and offers action, description, and dialogue. Although several ghosts make a short appearance that does not enhance the plot, a little boy ghost continues to reappear which gives the story an air of mystery and unexpected danger. Cassidy’s faithful friends and encounters with frightening ghosts mixed with a dash of humor creates a highly entertaining ghost story. Although Tunnel of Bones can be read as a stand-alone novel, readers will not want to miss the first book of the series, City of Ghost.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, she drops a necklace and begins to look for it. “But before I can reach it, the ghost grabs me by the collar and pushes me back against a tree. I try to twist free, but even though he’s a ghost and I’m not, the Veil levels the playing field.” Cassidy’s friend Jacob comes to her aid. “The ghost looks sideways just as Jacob swings the bucket at his head. The man staggers, black tar dripping down his face, and I gasp, dropping to the ground.” Cassidy uses her mirror to send the man on. The scene is described over three pages.
  • In order to see a ghost, Cassidy climbs onto a roof. When the ghost sees her, he pushes her off the roof. Cassidy is “falling, and somewhere between the edge of the roof and the lawn below, I cross back through the Veil and land hard on the ground beside the crypt. The fall knocks all the air from my lungs and sends pain jolting up through my right arm, and for a second all I can do is blink away the stars and hope I didn’t break anything.” Cassidy’s arm “zings” but she isn’t seriously injured.
  • When Cassidy opens the Veil, she sees a man “in an old-fashioned suit. He lifts an old-fashioned pistol and aims it straight at me, and Jacob wrenches me back out of the Veil before the shot goes off.”
  • The poltergeist opens the back door of a truck and “the contents begin to spill out. Boxes and crates smash into the street, followed by a massive golden frame that hurtles straight towards me.”
  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, she is on a train car. When she changes train cars, she sees a ghost. “And as he turns, I see the knife buried in his stomach. His own hand curled around the blade as if to keep it from falling out. The sheen of blood running down his front.” Jacob drags Cassidy out of the train car and slams the door.
  • While looking for the poltergeist, Cassidy runs into a man. “The man snarls and grabs me, shoving me against a wall of bones that rattle as they dig into my back. I gasp, but I manage to swipe the cap from his head before Jacob lunges at the spirit from behind, hauling him backwards. . . Jacob slams the other ghost into a pillar of skulls. The bones topple with a crash, and the man drips, dazed, to his hands and knees.” Cassidy and Jacob run away.
  • In order to help the poltergeist remember his past, Jacob grabs ahold of the boy. The boy “thrashes, trying to twist free. The air around him ripples and glows red, and the whole tunnel begins to shake as the crimson light spreads over everything, splitting across the floor, the ceiling and the walls of bone. . . The whole ground begins to shake with the force of Thomas’s displeasure. Even the wall of bones to my left begins to tremble and shift.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Someone tells a story about a man that was invited to a party. When the man goes to the party, “he found a party in full swing, and passed the night with music and wine and excellent company. . . And then something hits me. Not the frame, but a pair of hands. They plant themselves against my back and shove, and I stumbled forward to the pavement, scraping my palm as the frame crashes into the stone wall and rains glass onto the street behind me.”
  • Cassidy’s parents are in their hotel room “sharing a bottle of red wine.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Cassidy’s best friend, Jacob, is a ghost and can read her mind.
  • Cassidy can travel through the Veil and the in-between where ghosts live. Cassidy explains, “That’s the thing about the Veil: It only exists where there’s a ghost. It’s like a stage where spirits act out their final moments, whatever happened that won’t let them move on.”
  • When Cassidy goes into the Veil, “the world around me—vanishes. The carnival lights, the crowds, the sounds and smells of the summer night. Gone. For a second, I’m falling. And then I’m back on my feet.”
  • In order to get a ghost to move beyond the Veil, Cassidy holds up a mirror for the ghost to look into. Then she says, “Watch and listen, see and know. This is what you are.” When Cassidy says the words, “the whole Veil ripples around us, and the ghost thins until I can see through him, see the dark thread coiled inside his chest. Lightless, lifeless. I reach out and take hold of the thread, the last thing binding him here, to this world. It feels cold and dry under my fingers, like dead leaves in the fall. As I pull the cord from his chest, it crumbles in my palm. Vanishes in a plume of smoke. And then, so does the ghost.” Cassidy completes the same pattern on two other ghosts, and the ghosts disappear.
  • Cassidy awakens a poltergeist. Cassidy’s friend tells her, “It’s a spirit drawn to spectral energy… It was probably dormant until it sensed yours, Cassidy. . . That cold sensation you’ve been feeling, it is a kind of intuition, a warning that strong spirits are near. . . Poltergeists are wanderers. They’re not stuck in a loop or a memory, and they’re not tied to the place they died.”
  • While trying to understand ghosts, Cassidy calls a friend that tells her “the Veil is tailored to fit the ghost, [and] the place they died, which means it’s essentially tied to the ghost’s memory—that’s what binds it there. So if a poltergeist isn’t bound to the Veil, it’s because—they don’t remember.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Shatter Me

Juliette has always been an outcast. She doesn’t understand why she is different; she just knows her touch is fatal. After being locked in solitary confinement for 264 days, Juliette is shocked when she gets a new cellmate—a boy. Adam wants to be Juliette’s friend, but she doesn’t know if she can trust him. Then, the Reestablishment takes both her and Adam to a new facility.

The Reestablishment has plans for Juliette. Plans to use her as a weapon. Juliette doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Even though Juliette is still a prisoner, she is discovering the strength to fight back. She wants to have a future. With Adam by her side, Juliette plans her escape. When the time is right, will Juliette be able to escape the Reestablishment? Will Adam lead her to a better life, or does he have plans to betray her?

old from Juliette’s point of view, the story focuses on her thoughts and feelings. However, her thought process is often hard to understand as her thoughts are often described using figurative language. There is also no clear transition between her thoughts and what is actually happening in the story, meaning readers may have to go back and reread some scenes to make sure they understand the text.

The story has an interesting premise, but readers will have a difficult time suspending their disbelief. The story never explains why Juliette’s touch is lethal. Since Juliette’s touch is only lethal when her skin touches someone else’s skin, it is hard to imagine that no one has given Juliette a pair of gloves. Instead of helping Juliet protect others, her parents moved around after each disaster. When Juliette accidentally causes the death of a little boy, she is sent to prison and placed in an isolation cell. Once she is placed in the care of the Reestablishment, her main captor always wears gloves to protect himself. If her captor came up with the simple solution of gloves, why didn’t anyone else?

Juliette soon discovers that both Adam and her captor are immune to her touch. Since Juliette revels in the ability to simply touch another person, Juliette and Adam share steamy kisses between the high-action scenes. Although the plot is hard to believe, fans of dystopian stories will enjoy the unique characters as well as the battle of good versus evil. Full of suspense and surprises, Shatter Me is an action-packed story with plenty of steamy scenes. Readers will want to jump into the next book, Ignite Me, to see if Juliette finds freedom or just a different type of prison.

Sexual Content

  • When Adam holds Juliette, she thinks, “I wish I knew the taste of his lips.”
  • While Adam and Juliette are alone, he grabs her and puts her against the wall. Juliette is “trembling everywhere and he’s so gentle, so careful, touching me like I’m made of porcelain and I want to shatter. He’s running his hands down my body running his eyes across my face running laps with his heart and I’m running marathons with my mind. Everything is on fire. . . suddenly his lips are on my neck and I’m gasping and dying and clutching at his arms and he’s touching me touching me touching me and I’m thunder and lightning. . . ” The scene is described over two pages.
  • Adam tells Juliette that he loves her. Then, “his nose is touching my nose, his lips one breath away, his eyes devouring me already and I’m a puddle with no arms and no legs. . . His hands at my waist, gripping my hips, his legs flush against my own, his chest overpowering me with strength, his frame built by bricks of desire. . . He’s everywhere up my back and over my arms and suddenly he’s kissing me harder, deeper, with a fervent urgency that I’ve never known before.”
  • As Adam and Juliette kiss, she slips “my hands under his shirt and he chokes on a moan that turns into a kiss that needs me and wants me and has to have me so desperately it’s like the most acute form of torture. His weight is pressed into mine, on top of mine, infinite points of feeling . . . his lips are falling down my shirt and I don’t understand why I need to wear clothes anymore. . .” Their embrace is interrupted.
  • When Adam kisses Juliette, she gasps “and he’s kissing me, deep and powerful and unrestrained. His arms around my back, dipping my body until I’m practically horizontal. . .”
  • After Adam and Juliette escape, they get to a safe place and Juliette asks Adam to touch her. Then, “my face is in his hands and my lips are at his lips and he’s kissing me. . . His body is almost on top of mine, one hand in my hair, the other feeling its way down my silhouette, slipping behind my knee to pull me closer, higher, tighter. . . He takes my hands and press them against his chest, guiding my fingers as they trail down the length of his torso before his lips meet mine again and again. . . His hands slip under my shirt, skirting my sides, touching me like he’s never dared to before, and my top is nearly over my head when a door squeaks open. We both freeze.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • One of Adam’s friends tries to get him to move to a safer location. When Adam doesn’t hurry, the man shouts, “I mean, shit, man, I don’t think there’s ever a bad time to get naked, but now is probably not the best time for a nooner. So unless you want to get killed, I suggest you get your ass out here.”
  • When soldiers capture Juliette, a man grabs her, and “his lips touch my skin and I actually whimper.” The man tells her, “God I’d love to just take a bite out of you.” Juliette pretends she likes the man’s touch so she can get his gun. The man’s “hands are exploring my body, slipping down my back to feel the form of my figure and it’s all I can do to keep from doing something reckless. . . And he kisses me. Hungrily. Desperately. Eager to break me open and taste me. . . I pull him closer, grab a fistful of his jacket and kiss him as hard as I can, my fingers already attempting to release the first of his buttons. Warner grips my hips and allows his hands to conquer my body.” When Juliette has the opportunity, she shoots him. The scene is described over three pages.
  • When Adam is beaten, Juliette tells him to get better because “I’m going to memorize every inch of your body with my lips.”
  • When Adam heals from his injuries, he wants to be alone with Juliette. When everyone leaves, Adam leans “in and I’m leaning in until I’m practically on top of him and he’s slipping me into his arms and kissing me with a new kind of desperation . . . His hands are threaded in my hair, his lips so soft and urgent against mine. . .” Adam “kisses my bottom lip. Bites it for just a second.” The scene is described over a page.

Violence

  • Juliette thinks back to when the Reestablishment was taking over the country. She remembers “the bad memories. . . Protests. Rallies. Screams for survival. I see women and children starving to death, homes destroyed and buried in rubble, the countryside a burnt landscape, its only fruit the rotting flesh of casualties. I see dead dead dead red and burgundy and maroon and the richest shade of your mother’s favorite lipstick all smeared into the earth.”
  • While in her cell room, guards come in and begin shouting. While Juliette stands there doing nothing, a guard “slams the butt of his gun into my back and my knees crack as they hit the floor. I finally taste oxygen and a side of blood. . . A steel-toed boot kicks me in the ribs, fast, hard, hollow.” The guards shove a gun into Juliette’s cellmate’s face. The guards make the two walk to a new destination. During the trip, Juliette thinks, “I don’t know how long I’ve been walking before another blow to my back cripples me.” When Juliette falls down, “there’s another heavy boot pressed into my back and I can’t lift my head to distinguish who’s speaking to me.”
  • A soldier is accused of “fraternizing with civilians believed to be rebel party members. He has stolen food and supplies from storage units. . .” When the soldier doesn’t deny the accusations, a man “takes a short breath. Licks his lips. And shoots him in the forehead.” The man’s “limbs are bent at odd angles on the cold, concrete floor. Blood is pooling around him and still no one moves.”
  • When Adam was younger, his drunk father took him to school. Juliette watched “a father slap his 8-year-old son in the face. I watched Adam fall to the floor and I stood there motionless as he was kicked repeatedly in the ribs.” While hitting him, Adam’s father screamed, “It’s your fault, you worthless piece of shit.”
  • In order to understand Juliette’s power, a man puts a toddler in a room that has spikes that come through the floor. In order to save the boy, Juliette is forced to touch him. When she does, “his screams pierce through me like I’m being shot to death, one bullet for every second. He’s clawing at my arms, my chest, kicking my body as hard as he can, crying out in agony until the pain paralyzes him.” After the test, Juliette gets angry. “I catapult through the concrete walls. I crush the glass with 10 fingers.” The test is described over four pages.
  • In order to escape, Adam slams “the butt of his gun into Warner’s head. Warner’s gun misfires and Adam catches his arm and twists his wrist until his grip on the weapon wavers. I grab the gun from Warner’s limp hand and slam the butt of it into his face. . .” During the fight, “Adam slams his knee into Warner’s spine. Warner falls to the floor with a muffled crack and a sharp intake of breath.” After Warner is tied up, Juliette and Adam are able to escape.
  • A man tells Adam, “No one should have to wake up in the morning and find dead bodies in their living room, but shit happens. We deal with it, and we find a way to survive.” As the man continues to talk, Adam gets angry and presses “a gun to his forehead.”
  • As Adam, Juliette, and others flee from the Reestablishment, “there are children everywhere, bright colors of small bodies suddenly screaming at our approaches. . . Adam pushes me to the ground just as a bullet flies past my head. He shoots down another door toward another exit, and we run through the ruins towards another exit, trapped in the maze of what used to be a clothing store. Gunshots and footsteps are close behind. . . Adam is breathing hard. He grips the gun in his hand. Pops his head out for a split second and fires. Someone falls to the floor, screaming.” Several people are killed and Adam is captured.
  • Juliette follows a trail of blood and finds Adam, who is “hanging from bound wrists, shirtless, bloodied, and bruised everywhere. His head is bent, his neck limp, his left leg drenched in blood despite the tourniquet wrapped around his thigh. . . His wrists are rubbed raw, bleeding, his body pounded into one piece of pain, his leg bloodied through with a bullet.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • In the past, Adam’s father drove drunk.
  • A man gives Adam’s ten-year-old brother a sleeping pill. The man doesn’t want the boy to see Adam being chased by the Reestablishment.
  • When Juliette escapes, someone gives her a sedative to help her get over her shock. Later, Adam is also given a sedative to help him recover.

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Towards the end of the book, the profanity ramps up and appears on almost every page. Profanity includes ass, asshole, bullshit, bastards, crap, damn, goddamn, hell, holy shit, and shit.
  • “Oh God,” “God,” and, “Jesus” are used as exclamations often.
  • After Adam treats Juliette badly, he says, “I’m sorry I’m such an asshole.” He also tells her, “I was a jerk yesterday. I treated you like crap and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”
  • Someone calls Adam a “sick bastard.”
  • When a man sees Adam and Juliette kissing, he says, “Son of a motherless goat—“
  • One of Adam’s friends refers to Juliette as a “psycho chick.”
  • A man slept in a shed; he described that it “was weird. Crazy shit growing in the place. I almost ate something I thought was fruit before I realized it smelled like ass.”

Supernatural

  • When Juliet touches someone, she drains the life out of them.9 When a guard touches her, “I can hear his anguish, I can feel the power pouring out of his body, I can hear his heart beating in my ears and my head is spinning with the rush of adrenaline fortifying my being. . . My skin is pulsing with someone else’s life and I don’t hate it.” Juliette breaks the connection before the guard is seriously injured.
  • In the past, Juliette tried to help a little boy, but she “killed a little boy in a grocery store simply by helping him to his feet.”
  • Somehow Juliette was able to punch through a steel door. Her “fist flies through 12 inches of steel like it’s made of butter.”
  • Juliette goes to a compound where she meets a man who can move things with his mind. There is also a man who tells her, “Sometimes I electrocute people by accident” and another who is really flexible. He “loops one arm around his waist. Twice.”
  • At the compound, two women are healers—one heals the physical body and the other heals emotional wounds. Yet another person can “blend into the background of any space. Shift myself to match my surroundings.”

Spiritual Content

  • When in a difficult situation, Juliette “prays to God I’m making the right decision.”

The Art Show Attacks!

The students at Eerie Elementary are preparing for their school’s art show. Sam decides to make a dinosaur from clay, but before he can finish his project, Sam and his friends start seeing Orson Eerie everywhere. That creepy mad scientist is determined to spread his power outside of the school, and he is determined to get Sam and his friends out of the way. Orson uses the students’ art to try to stop Sam, and also brings Sam’s clay T. rex to life! Can Sam and his friends stop Orson’s evil plan?

The Art Show Attacks follows the same fun format as the previous books, as Orson uses his supernatural power to throw art-filled obstacles in Sam’s way. Though this story is the ninth installment of the Eerie Elementary series, the story can be enjoyed even if the previous books have not been read. In The Art Show Attacks, Sam and his friends work together to defeat Orson Eerie. Even though the ending is predictable, readers will enjoy the action-packed story. However, the conclusion is unsatisfying and may leave readers questioning Sam’s actions.

Even though the school comes alive and tries to stop the kids from ruining Orson’s plan, the story isn’t scary. While it is said that the school feeds on kids, no kids have actually been eaten. The abnormal occurrences in the book are exciting and contain onomatopoeias that enhance the storytelling. The story contains simple sentence structures, an easy-to-follow plot, and discussion questions at the end that will add to the learning value of the book.

The Art Show Attacks is an entertaining story that continues Sam’s struggle to defeat Orson Eerie. As each book in the Eerie Elementary series follows the same basic format, readers progressing through the series may become less entertained with the predictable sequences. Younger readers who enjoy the Eerie Elementary series should also add The Notebook of Doom series to their reading list. The Yeti Files by Kevin Sherry is another humor-filled series that fans of Eerie Elementary should try.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While in art class, Sam’s clay “reached out and grabbed him! It yanked Sam’s face SMACK down into the clay. Sam couldn’t escape! His clay project had grabbed hold of his face! Sam whacked at the clay until—POP! He burst from the blob, gasping for air.”
  • A painting of Orson Eerie comes alive and tries to capture Lucy. “The hand yanked Lucy’s backpack off her shoulder and hurled it onto the floor. . .” The hands then try to grab Sam, but he “leapt back as the hand swatted at him. Lucky ducked as the other hand swiped at her. . . The fist pounded the floor. . . Antonio swung a long brush through the air like a ninja with a sword but—WHACK! One fist smacked the brush away!” The kids fall through the ceiling, but are not hurt. The scene takes place over seven pages.
  • Sam’s clay dinosaur comes to life. “The T. rex was as big as the real thing! Its giant jaws chomped as the dinosaur stomped toward the hall monitors. . . The T. rex’s tail snapped in the air. Its tiny clay eyes looked right at Sam . . . The monster roared.” The dinosaur begins throwing coins at the kids. “The three friends ducked as the T. rex’s tail slapped against the floor. SMACK! Its tail whipped the change toward them. Nickels and quarters pounded the walls . . . Quarters smacked into Antonio’s shoulder.” In order to stop the dinosaur, the kids use hair dryers to dry the clay. The scene takes place over 13 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Orson Eerie founded Eerie Elementary 100 years ago. The school is alive. “It was a living, breathing thing that fed on students. And Sam, the hall monitor, was the school protector. . . He could feel when something was wrong. . . Orson Eerie found a way to live forever—he became the school. He was Eerie Elementary. And Eerie Elementary was a monster. . .”
  • Sam’s hall monitor sash drags him down the hall and into a secret room. “The sash pulled so hard, it jerked Sam off his feet. . . Sam soared past the computer lab, and then the sash flung him down the hall.”
  • A school wall begins to weaken. “The three friends stepped back as the bricks began to move and slide on their own. . . Suddenly, the sash yanked Sam forward. . .” The three friends find a picture of Orson Eerie.
  • The students’ art comes to life and tries to steal a jar of money from Sam. Sam, Lucy, and Antonio “could not believe what they were seeing. The stick figure slowly peeled itself off the paper. It landed on the floor and began trotting toward them. . . A painting of a tree flung the jar up a flight of stairs. It was caught by a doodle of an elderly woman.” The scene takes place over five pages.
  • The paint from students’ artwork begins to flow and a river of paint rushes towards Sam, Lucy, and Antonio. “. . .The friends were swept up in a flood of thick, wet, multicolored paint. . . The instant Sam had the jar in his hands, the rushing river of paint began to dry up. Globs of paint leapt up onto the wall and back into their paintings. Blank canvases were full of color again!”
  • Gray ooze begins coming out of the cracks in the school, and the people have to leave the auditorium.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

 

Escape to the Mesa

Stacy and her wolf family know it’s important to protect each other and the animals of the taiga. After a fire rages through the forest, Stacy and the wolves try to avoid humans at all costs. But when a reporter takes a picture of one of the wolves, animal researchers begin searching for intelligent wolves that raised Stacy. Stacy and her pack know they must leave the forest and escape to a place where no arctic wolf has ever gone before: the desert.

The mesa is unlike anything the wolves have ever seen. With no source of freshwater, the group knows they must find a place to hide. Even though they are in unfamiliar territory, the group still finds animals in need of rescue. When the wolves find themselves in new situations, Stacy discovers that the wolves have hidden abilities. As Stacy tries to help keep her pack safe, she must enter the human world, which makes her wonder—where does she belong?

Stacy is a relatable character who loves her wolf family and the wilderness. Stacy and the wolves learn about the mesa, including what plants are safe to eat as well as some of the dangers that lurk in the desert. Although the plot is similar to the first book, the new setting helps keep the story interesting. Stacy tries to avoid humans, but she has several encounters with people that show them in a positive light.

Like the first book of the series, Escape to the Mesa has non-stop action, danger, and a unique plotline that will keep readers turning pages until the very end. Parents and teachers will appreciate Escape to the Mesa because of the educational value. Not only does the story highlight the need to care for nature, but it also helps readers gain new vocabulary skills. The book contains some difficult vocabulary such as cacophony, cladode, hoodoo, and podzol; however, these words appear in the glossary at the back of the book. Another positive aspect of the story is the black-and-white pictures that are scattered throughout the book.

Escape to the Mesa’s conclusion has a hopeful tone that highlights the importance of preserving nature. Because the story is the second book in the series, readers should read Guardians of the Taiga first because there are several characters and plot points that are introduced in book one. The book ends with a selection of other reading material—the inspiration for one of the characters and an interview with an animal expert.

Escape to the Mesa will appeal to a wide range of readers including those who love animals, daring characters, and action. Readers who enjoy this series should add the Simon Thorn Series to their list of must-read books.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When a wolf is trying to help a porcupine, the porcupine shoots quills at it. “The wolf turned toward her [Stacy] with a face full of quills and whined softly, crouched down in the long grass.
  • Stacy finds a crashed helicopter that had “a few white bones among the ashes, and Stacy felt sick at the sight. Humans had died here.”
  • A researcher shoots a wolf with a tranquilizer dart.
  • Stacy and the wolves are swept away by a flash flood. “Stacy tumbled over and over, losing track of which direction was the surface. Her arm scraped stingingly along the side of the canyon. Stacy’s chest felt like it was burning. She needed to breathe, soon.” Everyone survives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Stacy and the wolves are able to communicate, and the wolves can perform some human-like tasks.
  • A dog can communicate with bats through echolocation and is also able to understand Stacy’s words.
  • Some of the wolves have supernatural abilities. Basil has “superwolf speed” and can run “incredibly, unnaturally fast.” Noah can breathe underwater and Addison can read.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Heartwood Box

Araceli’s parents wanted her to have a normal, American senior year, so they sent her to stay with her Great-Aunt Ottillie. Araceli is supposed to be focusing on school and getting ready for college, but she thinks that her aunt’s old Victorian home may be haunted. Araceli can feel someone watching her, and it doesn’t help that her great-aunt still leaves food out for her husband that has been missing for twenty years.

Araceli’s great-aunt isn’t the only creepy thing in town. Local businesses are plastered with missing posters. The townspeople are watchful and suspicious of each other. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city walls that no one talks about. When Araceli begins getting letters from the past, she thinks someone is playing a nasty joke on her.

When Araceli’s friend disappears, she is determined to find out what is going on. In order to solve the mystery, she must investigate the other disappearances as well as the secretive lab. But someone is willing to go to great lengths to keep their secrets hidden. Can Araceli uncover the conspiracy or will someone make her disappear?

The Heartwood Box is an immensely enjoyable, complicated story that will have readers guessing until the very end. Told from Araceli’s point of view, the creepy town comes alive. Although Araceli isn’t the most relatable character, her story is compelling. The supporting characters are not well-developed but they help move the plot along at a fast pace. For those who love character-driven stories, The Heartwood Box might disappoint.

This story is a mix of science-fiction, mystery, and historical romance. The multiple plots may leave readers confused unless they pay close attention. Not only is Araceli falling in love with a World War I soldier, but she is also trying to fit in at a new school and solve the mystery of the town’s disappearing people. The end of the story ties all of the threads together in a satisfying, if somewhat implausible, conclusion.

Aguirre also throws in the theme of colorism. Several times in the story, Araceli talks about colorism and gives examples of how dark skin people are treated differently than whites. At one point she thinks, “I wish America cared the same about Black and Brown girls, but there’s a lot to do yet.” Even though Araceli is bi-racial, this theme is not well fleshed out.

Readers looking for a unique time travel mystery will enjoy The Heartwood Box, which has several surprising twists at the end. Some of the vocabulary is difficult, but the majority of the story is written in easy to understand language. Although the ending is rushed, the book will captivate readers who enjoyed the Ruby Red series by Kerstin Gier or Passenger by Alexandra Bracken.

Sexual Content

  • When Araceli has a friend over to the house, her aunt says, “You can watch TV in the parlor if you want. I do trust both of you, but it would be disrespectful for you to go upstairs.” Araceli thinks to herself, “Oh my God, if I wanted to hook up with Logan, I’d go across the street. He already said his parents aren’t home.”
  • In a dream, Araceli is able to see soldiers who are on a ship. She hears, “a slick skin-on-skin sound that I identify as a soldier jerking off, trying to be stealthy about it.”
  • While talking to a boy, Araceli thinks, “He’s thirsty for me. I’ve seen the look enough to recognize it, but I pretend not to know. . .”
  • When Araceli is sitting in a car with a boy, her aunt “saves me by flipping the porch light on and peeking out the front door, likely to make sure we’re not getting hot and heavy in her Plymouth.”
  • While in a dream, Araceli meets a soldier and, “I can touch him in this dream, so I do. There’s no reason to hold back. When he drops his weapon and opens his arms, I slide into them like I belong there. . . I stretch up on tiptoe and cup his face in my hands; I feel the heat of his skin, the scruff on his chin and jaw. Then I press my mouth to his, light and soft. He drags me closer and kisses me like our lives depend on it, all heat and desperation. . . We kiss and cling until I can barely breathe.”
  • When Araceli’s aunt and uncle see her sitting in a car with an older man, her uncle asks, “Is there something you need to tell us? We won’t judge you. Grown men who entice young girls should be ashamed.” Araceli tells them that the man was a family friend.

Violence

  • The town sheriff physically abuses his son. The abuse is not described, but Araceli sees the bruises. When the boy gets to school, she “can see his lip is busted, and his face is swollen on one side. At a minimum, someone slapped the shit out of him, and it looks more like he took a few hits to the face.”
  • In a letter, a soldier writes about his experiences. “France has become hell on earth, no way around it. Great tunnels in the dirt, piled high with bodies and you can’t tell a Jerry from a Brit from a Sammy. . . Death makes every soldier the same. Nobody is coming for those men, not to give them services or say a few words or even to bury them. The birds pluck out their eyes. . .” The soldier also writes, “I killed my first Jerry and threw up afterwards. . . My friend John took one in the gut, bad way to go. Took him hours to go west, and we were all freezing next to his body in a trench during that first long hour of hate.”
  • Araceli thinks back to the past. “The kids are protesting, shouting, waving signs. A shot rings out. The student leader goes down, bleeding from his head, and it’s all mayhem, all running and screaming.”
  • Someone tells the county sheriff to kill someone. The sheriff says, “You’re trying to give me a kill order? I can’t believe you think you bought me for fifty thousand.”
  • Araceli and her friends are trying to destroy mechanisms that create the ghost light. A man sees them and Araceli “rush[es] toward him, and everything else is instinct. With the hammer, I knock whatever he has out of his hand, and then I swing again, as hard as I can, right upside his head. His body goes flying, tumbling down the hill and into the water with an ominous splash.” The man dies.
  • Araceli and her friends are chased by guards who shoot at them. Araceli’s “heart thunders in my ears as more bullets spray the area. I get stung on a ricochet and a sharp pain slices across my calf. Shit, it hurts. . .” One of her friends is shot. “His voice comes out liquid with blood and breathy from his struggle for air. . . Jackson gives me a sad smile, his teeth stained with blood. . . He goes limp in my arms. . . Jackson’s blood is all over the soil and the stones, staining my hands and the suit he made to protect us.” The scene takes place over seven pages.
  • After Araceli’s friend dies, she jumps on an ATV and tries to escape. The guards, “snap shots at me as they can, but it’s not as easy from the back of an ATV, firing at a moving vehicle.” She crashes, and a man “twists my arms behind me and binds my wrists with what feels like a zip tie, then drags me out of sight. . .I taste blood from where my lips split against my teeth.” The man gags her and then puts her in a cell. The scene takes place over 4 pages.
  • Over a radio, Araceli hears “the sound of a Taser discharging and the impact of a fist hitting flesh.”
  • As Araceli and Dr. Perry try to get to the lab’s control room, Dr. Perry “slams into three guards coming around the corner. His weapon flies out of his hand. . .” Araceli shoots a guard in the belly and “the guard screams and topples over. . .” Dr. Perry shoots a guard. Later Dr. Perry shoots two more guards “neatly, two chest shots, two clean kills.” Eventually, someone shoots Dr. Perry. “Slugs slam into the blocks, shaking the cement. . . He’s down, bleeding from several wounds. . . He manages to shoot three of the four, and I fire on the last one while he’s reloading. . .” Dr. Perry dies. The scene takes place over four pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • As Araceli goes through town, she thinks about her past homes. “I can’t remember ever living in a freestanding house. There will be no rooftop garden parties here, no barbeques that draw out the neighbors so that we grill whatever’s on hand, and I take beer from the cooler without anyone asking how old I am.”
  • While in the past, Araceli goes to a Halloween party and gets drunk.
  • Araceli goes into a pizza place where some adults are drinking beer.
  • A girl’s mother is put on depression medication after her son disappears.
  • In a letter, a soldier says that while passing through England, they stopped at a town and some men got “puking drunk.”
  • When a boy is teaching Araceli to drive, he tells her, “You’re going really slow. If you’re not careful, you’ll get pulled over. Only people who are slightly high drive this much below the limit.”
  • Araceli is given a document that has information about the Heartwood box. A researcher had an “unfortunate addiction to hallucinogenic drugs.”
  • Araceli sends a note to the past, but wonders if the person receiving it, “was stoned when he got my note, laughed and rolled a joint with it.”
  • A boy’s grandfather only talked about a girl he once loved when he “had a little to drink.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, asshole, bitching, crap, damn, dammit, fricking hell, holy shit, piss, pissed, shit.
  • Araceli meets a boy and thinks that he is “kind of a dick.”
  • When Logan’s father gets home, he yells at his wife and asks, “Where the hell is he? I told him to come straight home from school and look after the fucking yard.”
  • OMG is used twice. Oh my god is used six times. Oh god and Oh Lord are both used once.
  • When her aunt gives her snacks after school, Araceli thinks, “I swear to God, I’m starting to like pretending I’m five. . .”
  • Araceli describes her mood as, “grumpy as hell.”
  • Araceli thinks, “I’ve experienced some shit in my life, but I can’t say I ever lived in a haunted house. Until now.” Later she thinks, “This house is so damn haunted.”
  • A boy is wearing a shirt that says, “Get in line B*tches.”

Supernatural

  • While in her aunt’s house and at school, Araceli feels a chill. She also feels as if someone is watching her.
  • Araceli has vivid dreams where she goes into the past and can interact with a World War I soldier. When she is dreaming, no other people can see or hear her besides the soldier. However, after one dream a picture of World War I changes. When she dreams, she can find the soldier because “there was a tug. . . I feel that same pull now, delicate and tenuous. . .”
  • Araceli goes into the attic, and “before I get to the pull cord, it’s tugged by an invisible hand until the distinctive click, and the light flares on.”
  • Araceli finds a treasure box that allows her to communicate with a World War I soldier. They write letters back and forth. Araceli also puts small objects like mint and antibiotic ointment into the box.
  • The town has “ghost lights” that make people slip into another time.
  • When people disappear, their loved ones leave out food for them, which also disappears.

Spiritual Content

  • When Araceli wakes up after being asleep for days, her aunt says, “Thank God.”
  • Araceli thinks about her parents who “aren’t religious. My mom’s agnostic and my dad is a lapsed Catholic, so I was baptized and that’s about it. . . We go to mass once a year at Christmas, and it’s a somber occasion in most of the countries I’ve lived in.”
  • Araceli goes to church with a friend, but the service is not described. While there, a woman says, “Everyone is welcome in God’s house.”

The Collectors #1

Van notices things. He keeps his eyes open and finds all sorts of things that other people don’t notice. A marble in the grass. A tiny astronaut with one arm raised. But Van is small and most people don’t notice him.

One day, Van notices a girl and a silver squirrel stealing a coin from a fountain. But what’s even stranger is that the girl notices Van. When Van sees the silver squirrel stealing a birthday wish, Van decides to follow the squirrel and find the mysterious girl. What he finds instead is a dangerous place where wishes are real. He discovers that the Collectors steal wishes and put them away before they can come true. But soon, Van realizes that not all wishes are good, and some good wishes can have dangerous consequences.

Beautiful descriptions create an enchanting mythology around wishes. Van’s curiosity, powers of observation, and desire to do what is right lead him into a world of trouble. Van isn’t sure who to trust—Mr. Falborg who is friendly and seems kind or the Collectors who are shrouded in secrets. This conflict lasts until the end of the story and leads to an unexpected conclusion.

Van’s character is not only well developed, but he is also unique. He must use a hearing aid and often has difficulty communicating. Van struggles to understand people who don’t face him as they speak or when they speak too quickly. Throughout the story, Van has to work out what he thought someone said and translate it into what they most likely said. Having a main character with a hearing impairment allows readers to understand Van’s disability. At one point in the story, Van gets angry, asking, “Why does everybody think I want to hear the way THEY do!?” Van shows that he doesn’t need to be “fixed” and be like everyone else.

The Collectors explores the idea of power and unintended consequences. When it comes to Wish Eaters, “It’s not a matter of good or bad. It’s not about kindness or evil. It’s not even a matter of intentions. You can mean to do good and still do terrible things. . . If you give someone, anyone, too much power, enough power that they can control everyone around them—then you run a terrible risk.” The Collectors is a fantastic book that has magic, suspense, humor, and a talking squirrel that is obsessed with the smell of food.

This kid-friendly mystery is suspenseful, but not scary. At one point in the story, Van wonders if Wish Eaters are, “more dangerous than a bunch of guys who steal me out of my bed in the middle of the night and angle me over a bottomless pit?” Strong readers will want to pick up The Collectors to find out the answer.

Sexual Content

  • A boy thinks that Van’s mother and his father are “probably kissing.” When the boys go to spy on their parents, they discover that “Their hands were very close together, but their lips were several inches apart.”

Violence

  • When Van discovers where the Collectors conduct their business, a man threatens him. The man says, “Do not come back here. Do not mention anything about us, or about this place, to anyone. We will be watching you. . . And if we find out that you have spoken of us, you and anyone you’ve told will have to be . . . removed.”
  • Two dark-coated men kidnap Van. “Someone tugged a black cotton bag over Van’s head. Van felt the jostle of being lifted over the window. . . He tried to scream, but the bag seemed to trap the sound inside his own head. . .” Van is not injured.
  • Van’s mother is hit by a car. Van sees her “leg was bent at an impossible angle.”
  • Collectors try to capture a Wish Eater that “was larger than a city bus.” The monster charges at Van. “Van could hear its huffing, hungry breath. . . Cell doors rattled as it charged by.” The Collectors chase after the Wish Eater. “The beast spun. Its whipping tail knocked several people off their feet. Its teeth snapped at two others, catching and tossing them backwards.” The scene takes place over 4 pages. No one is injured.
  • Someone makes a wish that puts Van in an underground train tunnel. Van was, “standing on the tracks. He was deep, deep below the earth. There was not a platform in sight . . . There was no safe space to escape to, and no time to run.” Van is uninjured.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation once.
  • Someone calls Van a moron.
  • Someone calls Van a “little idiot.”

Supernatural

  • The Collectors are a group of people who “see things normal people don’t see and hear things they don’t hear. We live longer than normal people can live. We don’t get born. We’re wished.”
  • The Collectors take people’s wishes and put them in bottles so that the wish can never come true. Pebble explains that people’s wishes shouldn’t come true because “Do you want to get trampled by dinosaurs? Do you want an eight-year-old boy to be king of the whole world? Do you want every food in the world to taste like chocolate ice cream?”
  • A wish is an unpredictable thing because “wishes are extraordinarily hard to control. And once a wish becomes a dead wish, once no limitations remain, once that wish is nothing but magical energy—it becomes an exceedingly powerful thing. It is pure chaos.”
  • Wish Eaters can be of various shapes and sizes. One Wish Eater was “a giant, roaring, rippling beast. It was shaped like a stretched-out crocodile, with a thrashing tail, a triangular head, and a long . . . long . . . impossibly long snout full of jagged, needle-sharp teeth.”
  • If a Wish Eater eats a wish, the wish comes true, if it is a “variable wish. A living wish. An authentic wish. A wish with its roots in the magic of millennia.”
  • When Van wishes to go somewhere unnoticed, a toy sleigh and reindeer come to life and grow. The sleigh “hung in the night air just outside his bedroom window, twinkling with a haze of pearly mist. It swelled and stretched until it was the size of an actual sleigh, and the plastic reindeer were as big as real reindeer, and the plastic Santa that turned its cheery smile towards Van was just the right size for a jolly old elf.” The sleigh takes Van to his destination.
  • Someone makes a wish that makes Van let Wish Eaters out of their cage. “Panic spread through Van’s chest. What was he doing? Why was he doing it? And how was he doing it without even trying? . . . Something was controlling him. Van realized it with a dizzying jolt. Something else was moving him . . .”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Dream a Little Dream

Liv is used to strange and new things. For all of her life, she has bounced from city to city as she moved from one place to another. This time she and her sister, Mia, are packing up their belongings for England because their mother has garnered a teaching position at Oxford University. Little does she know that this move will be the strangest yet.

Liv finds herself thrust into a world of gossipy blogs, a rich new family, and vivid dreams that make her question her reality. She soon finds herself entangled in bizarre dreams in which she is led to the most popular boys in school, one of which is her new “brother.”  Before she can even adjust to her new life, she is swept away into deals with a demon to free the boys from a terrible fate. Liv’s curious mind drives her closer to the heart of the mystery of the dreams as she searches for the truth underneath all of the madness.

Dream a Little Dream is an entertaining and suspenseful novel that leaves readers on the edge of their seats as they wonder what will happen next. Many of the characters are introduced at the same time, which causes confusion.  However, the story has a creative and engaging premise that is very enjoyable. The reader is able to discover this new world along with Liv and relate to her confusion, fear, and curiosity. The book has a surprising plot twist that adds to the enjoyment of the novel, but what follows that event leaves much to be desired. The attempt to leave room for a sequel ruins the ending and causes the reader to be confused rather than curious about the next installment in the series. Additionally, the novel describes how characters conduct rituals to make deals with a demon, which may be concerning to some parents.

Sexual Content

  • Liv’s mom has a relationship with an English lawyer, who makes her happy. They are described as kissing a few times, but nothing more than that.
  • Florence is described as having, “voluptuous breasts.”
  • The school blog wrote about sports and said, “Aesthetically speaking, those sloppy shirts they wear are the worst (even polo kit has more sex appeal), but all the same I don’t object to the sweaty sight of our four musketeers.”
  • In one of the “dreams”, Henry and Liv hold hands. They also discuss kissing, but only briefly.
  • In reference to Jasper’s dreams, “Most of the people in his dreams are stark naked.”
  • Liv’s mom talks about how when she was fifteen, she “was sitting up at night writing poetry. I was unhappily in love. . . At that age you fall in love with someone else every three weeks.”
  • Liv tells Anabel that she looks like Botticelli’s Venus, to which she responds, “Yes, but only when I’m standing around in a seashell with no clothes on.”
  • Anabel says that Arthur is the great love of her life and that, “it was like a tsunami rolling over us. I knew we were meant for each other, I knew he was the man I’d been waiting for all my life.”
  • Mia and Liv jokingly say that they have an “Operation Marrying Off Lottie” in which they will find their au pair a soulmate so she’ll have something to do when they don’t need her anymore.
  • Grayson and his girlfriend Emily kiss at a party intensely to the point which Liv thinks that it is, “kind of embarrassing to watch.”
  • Liv and her friends walk into a cinema and find a couple in the top row of seats in the dark. The man “began frantically adjusting his clothes . . . he came storming down the steps, his shirt still unbuttoned.” When the woman comes down, Arthur says, “How nice to see you again, Mrs. Kelly . . . and give your husband my regards if he happens to be at the party too.”
  • The four boys repeatedly ask Liv if she is a virgin. It is later revealed that she is.
  • Anabel breaks the rules of the game by having sex. She then has to forfeit and her dog is killed by the demon. It is later revealed that she killed her own dog with poison in order to trick the boys.
  • In the dream world, Henry and Liv kiss several times. They are not described in detail, but are usually described as “soft kisses.”
  • A gossipy girl talks about Arthur and says, “I get goosebumps whenever I set eyes on him. But Henry Harper is totally sweet too. And sexy.”
  • Henry and Liv make out during her sixteenth birthday party. “For a few seconds I forgot to breathe, then I felt my arms rising and going around his neck of their own accord to draw him closer. We weren’t kissing cautiously now, but much more intensely.” They all so make out during a school dance. “I’ve no idea how he did it, but when he kissed me nothing else mattered.”

Violence

  • When Liv went to a middle school in Berkeley, California, a girl gang, “had threatened to force my head into a toilet.” They later actually do shove her head into a toilet and it is described in detail in one of Liv’s dreams. These bullies also say that they squash people’s hands in doors.
  • In a dream, Henry sees his old cat. “He looked just the way he was when I last saw him: all-over blood and with his guts coming out . . .”
  • In one of her first vivid dreams, Liv repeatedly hopes that Lottie won’t show up with a hatchet.
  • In a nightmare, there is a group of enraged basketball fans. Liv says, “It sounds like they are going to kill him any moment now!” The mob begins to chant, “Burn him now, burn the traitor. Burn him now, not a day later!”
  • Liv jokingly remarks about London and says, “Street gangs indulging in shoot-outs the whole time, sex fiends lurking in front gardens, and isn’t that Jack the Ripper just coming around the corner.”
  • During a ritual, Liv, Grayson, Arthur, Jasper, and Henry all take turns cutting their hand with a hunting knife and dribbling their blood into a Chalice full of red wine. This scene is described in detail over several pages.
  • Liv has many dreams about Hamlet after she sees the play, and in these dreams, there are references to the stabbings and deaths of many of the Shakespearean characters.
  • During her sixteenth birthday party, Liv requests that Mia stop her from looking like a “lovelorn sheep” in any way that she can. Mia decides to distract her anytime she looks at Henry in that manner. “I was black and blue around the ribs and had been hit by assorted flying objects: several chestnuts, a spoon, and a blueberry muffin.”
  • Arthur intends on offering Anabel as a human sacrifice in the dream world in order to satisfy the demon. This never happens, but later in the novel, Anabel captures Liv with the intention of killing her as a virginal sacrifice to the demon.
  • When Liv tries to stop what she thinks is the sacrifice of Anabel, she “swung up my right foot and caught him just under the chin as I jumped. Still in the air, I turned at an angle of 280 degrees, and when I landed, my left forearm caught him in the stomach.”
  • An iron torch holder falls on Liv and she blacks out. Following the incident, she has to get several stitches.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • At the airport, Liv is stopped for suspicion of drug smuggling because a drug dog smells something in her backpack. It is just German cheese with a strong odor, but the ordeal causes Liv a lot of embarrassment.
  • On several occasions, Jasper helps himself to some of his mother’s sleeping pills in order to remain in the dream world longer.
  • Liv’s mom is accused of smoking pot when she was fifteen, but she defends herself by saying, “Nonsense. I never smoked pot until I went to college.”
  • Grayson tries to deter Liv from going to a party by telling her mother, “These parties are rather wild. I mean there’s a lot of alcohol flowing, and what with Liv being only fifteen.”
  • Liv describes Arthur’s house as looking like “a private clinic for the drug-addicted kids of millionaires.”
  • Jasper makes drinks that contain large amounts of alcohol during an important scene that lasts several pages. He is also later described as “tipsy.”
  • During a party, Arthur drinks gin straight from a bottle.
  • The British teens that Liv meets tell stories of when they were drunk on Halloween.
  • In one of Anabel’s dreams, Arthur walks toward her heroically while carrying a bottle of wine.
  • A drunk truck driver killed one of Anabel’s ex-boyfriends. The accident is not described.
  • At the school dance, Jasper “had somehow managed to get tipsy, although there were no alcoholic drinks.”
  • Anabel and Arthur leave the school dance under the guise that she is terribly drunk. They are actually setting a trap to lure Liv, so Anabel can kill her for the virginal sacrifice.
  • At the conclusion of the novel, Anabel is “lying in a hospital bed in Surrey, stuffed full of mind bending drugs and tied down.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently throughout the novel, including hell, bloody hell, shit, and damn.
  • “God,” “my God,” “thank God,” and “oh my God” are used frequently as swear words.
  • Grayson is described as a “stupid show-off” and later as an “idiot.”
  • Mia thinks that her aunts named Gertrude and Virginia have “shitty names.”
  • Liv strongly dislikes Persephone and says that she, “follows me around everywhere, talking to me the whole darn time!”
  • A character is called a “midget.”

 

Supernatural

  • During a ritual, Liv, Grayson, Arthur, Jasper, and Henry all take turns cutting their hand with a hunting knife and dribbling their blood into a Chalice full of red wine. This scene is described in detail over several pages.
  • Liv does not believe in “unlucky numbers any more than I believed in horoscopes, or four leaf clovers and chimney sweeps that brought you luck.”
  • The main characters of the novel conjure a demon and in return for freeing him, have immeasurable power and their dearest wish granted. “If you followed the rituals in this book, Anabel claimed, you could conjure up an ancient demon from the underworld, a demon that could help you gain immeasurable power and grant your dearest wishes.” Their immeasurable power is in the form of dreams in which they can control what happens with a simple thought and enter the dreams of others to learn their deepest secrets and desires.
  • The initial approach to conjuring the demon was not serious. “Conjuring up a demon on Halloween . . . It was fun . . . it seemed to me as harmless as telling your fortune by reading tea leaves. No one expects the tea leaves to develop an independent life of their own and come tormenting you in your dreams by night. Or go about murdering dogs.”
  • When Liv wakes up from a horrific nightmare, her family comes running to make sure that she is okay. Florence asks her, “Did you see a ghost?”

Spiritual Content

  • To upset Florence, Liv makes sarcastic suggestions as to the horrible things that she and her family might be. She says they are, “hopelessly disorganized, or a kleptomaniac, a Republican, a Jehovah’s witness, or anything.”
  • The demon that the group conjures is the “Lord of Shadows and Darkness.” Anabel believes that he is all-powerful and dedicates herself to him like a god. This devotion stems from a time period in her youth when she and her mother were a part of a satanic cult.

          by Morgan Filgas

 

All that Burns

Emrys’ job was to secretly guard the prince, not fall in love with him.  However, loving him was a choice—one she gladly made, even when she had to give up her fairy power and immortality to be with him.  The mortals distrust her because they think she cast a spell over the young prince.  Now they want her and her fairy sisters dead.

To make matters worse, an old prisoner of Mabb’s has escaped and is determined to kill the royal family.  No one knows who the prisoner is or what he will do.  When Richard is abducted, no one knows if the enemy is a mortal or a fairy.  Emrys and Richard’s sister try to figure out what has happened to him, but they must do it in secret, because in a world where fairy and mortals mix, it is impossible to know who to trust.

All that Burns is an interesting story that focuses on Emrys’ love and the loss of her power.  Richard is worth all she has given up, but she still questions everything—her decision to give up her power and her new place within the mortal world.  At times, Emry’s inner conflict overshadows the story’s action and suspense.  In addition, many of the characters have lived thousands of years and reflect on their life in Camelot.  Thus anyone who is not familiar with King Arthur and Camelot may be confused.  One bright spot in the story is Richard’s sister Anabelle who is fiercely devoted to finding Richard and returning him to Emrys’ arms.

Sexual Content

  • When Richard touches Emrys she says it, “reminds me—in a faint and aching way—of magic. The way a spell burned just under my skin.    Waiting to explode.  This is what his touch does to me.  Every time.”  And then they kiss.
  • Richard’s touch slides down Emrys’ collarbone, his hand sinks into her hair and they kiss. “Richard’s breathe scarves my neck and his kisses trail down, forging new paths all the way to my collarbone . . . Want rises inside me, like the first surge on an unleashed spell.”  When Emrys reaches for the zipper on her dress, Richard “goes rigid.”
  • Another time Emrys kisses Richard and her, “hand slides up his chest and draws him closer.”
  • When another man kisses Emrys, she compares his kiss to Richard’s kiss.

Violence

  • Emrys is plague by dreams of the fall of Camelot. She sees a field that has turned to mud and is, “churned and mixed with the blood of a thousand men.  Full of flailing horses, snapped spears, and knights carved each other to pieces with crude metal.”
  • A mob of angry mortals chase Emrys and are run off by a Black Dog, which is a soul feeder. The Black Dog, which eats mortals and fairies alike, corners Emrys, but doesn’t eat her.
  • Emrys and Richard are attacked by men in black jackets and ski masks. A man presses a knife to Richard’s face and puts a cloth over his face that makes him go still. Emrys escapes only to see a Black Dog coming to get her.
  • One of the king’s guards shoots the fairy queen with electricity, the only thing that can kill a fairy.
  • When the veiling spell is broken, Emrys and the princess are chased by detectives.
  • People burn an effigy of Emrys over a fire barrel.
  • Emrys and Richard are put into a room underground, where they are told they will die when the building above them is blown-up.
  • Emrys and Richard are chased by the Ad-hene, but someone comes to their rescue by using magic to slice a staircase in half. Then the palace of Westminster is blown up, crushing the Ad-hene.
  • In the end the fairies corner Morgaine le Fay, who runs into tunnels that loop and cannot be escaped.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Emrys is under a veiling spell, she describes her steps as, “if I’ve had too many gin and tonics. I guess I am drunk in a way, reeling under so much magic after so many months without it.”
  • When inviting an enemy to dine at her table, the princess said, “I was thinking more along the lines of spiking his drink.”

Language

  • Richard tells Emrys, “the thought of losing you scares me shitless.”
  • In a fit of panic the prince’s sister uses magic and then says, “Oh shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.”
  • “Crap” is used once.

Supernatural

  • There are fairies, spirits, and spells.

Spiritual Content

  • None

All that Glows

Emrys, a fiery Faery, was sent to London to guard the prince from the Old One who is out to destroy the crown.  Emrys is to guard Prince Richard, “Britain’s notorious, partying bad boy and soon-to-be king.”  Richard’s wild ways attack soul-feeding Green Woman, but also Emrys.

In a move that goes against every Faery rule, Emrys reveals herself to Richard and finds herself falling in love with the mortal.  Now she is in a fight against time to discover who the Old One is so she can keep Richard safe.  And if she can keep him safe, she will have to make the ultimate choice—loving Richard or keeping her magic.

 All that Glows is an entertaining story that has suspense, love, and intrigue.  Although others see Richard as an unruly party boy, the reader gets to see the side of him that is unsure and lonely.  As the novel progresses, Richard becomes more and more likable as he grows out of his boyhood partying ways and into a man worthy of being king.

There are several fights between Green Woman and Emrys, and the story ends with a final battle between the faeries.  These scenes add suspense and the reader is allowed to imagine these scenes unfolding since they are described without graphic or gory details.  Like the fight scenes, the love scenes are also tame.   Richard and Emry kiss and Emrys admires Richard’s physique, and although there is sexual longing, the two do not act on this desire.

 All That Glows is an excellent story.  However, there is a fair amount of scenes that revolve around clubbing, alcohol, and sexual desire that may be inappropriate for younger readers.

Sexual Content

  • When Richard looks at Emrys she describes the feeling as, “the strange jolt that seized me when our eyes met.”
  • When Richard takes Emrys to a club, Emrys thinks, “I hate the way he’s looking at me, all slow and squinty, like he wants nothing more than to get his fingers on the zipper of my dress.”
  • Richard kisses Emrys. She describes it as, “a nameless desire in the way he kisses me.  I feel it rising in me as well, swelling like clear, triumphant notes.  He pulls me closer, his kiss growing deeper, a never-ending crescendo.”
  • When Richard kisses Emrys, “it’s so easy to lose myself in the feel of him. His tongue just barely grazes the edge of my lips.  My hands slide up around his neck, anchor in his shaggy hair, pull him closer.  With a single finger he traces the ridged pathway of my spine all the way down to the small of my back…It’s like being in another universe, a time apart.  Nothing else in the world matters but how he’s touching me, making me move.”
  • In another scene, Richard kisses Emrys and she savors, “the taste of him, rest in his warmth . . . he pulls me closer . . . our kisses grow bolder, deeper. Forging new ground . . . I lose myself in his kiss.  In its perfect glowing feeling.”
  • Richard, “leans in closer, so that I feel his breath grazing my check. Deliciously hot.  Here (away from the bed’s feathery sheets), I think it will be easier to stop.  I let our lips collide, press soft into each other . . . ”
  • In another scene when Richard and Emrys kiss, she describes it as, “it’s like I’m diving into him, swimming down, down and never coming up for air. And I never want to.  His tongue grazes mine, inviting me deeper.  To places I could never go in the presence of so many watchers.”

Violence

  • A Green Woman (soul feeder) tries to sink her teeth into the prince. “The teeth beneath her mottled lips grow ragged, meant for tearing tendon from bone. “ Emrys throws herself at the soul feeder.  She then uses her magic to throw the soul feeder, “back with such force that the stall door crumples around her body.”
  • While in the restroom, a man comes in and approaches Emrys. “He’s less than an arm’s length away when he reaches out, his fingers twitching and eager.”  Richard hits the man and stands, “over the howling drunk as he writhes on the floor clutching his face and his awful, running nose.” When the man again reaches for Emrys, the drunk prince knocks him out.
  • After the fight in the club, Richard shows his sister his injured hand. She replies, “Well, you must have had one hell of a good reason to hit him.”
  • When a Banshee (soul feeder) tries to seduce Richard’s friend, Emrys jumps at her, “only dimly aware of the scattering remains of beer glasses and sloshed whiskey.” Emrys throws a spell at the Banshee taking away her voice. Then Emrys’ hands, “envelope her (Banshee), crushing over her larynx.” As she is holding the Banshee, Emrys puts a spell on the soul feeder so she cannot talk about what happened.
  • A Banshee and a Black dog attack Emrys and another fairy. However, Emrys uses a banishing spell to make them flee.
  • Emrys goes into a club to try to question a Green Woman. The Green Woman throws a spell meant to kill Emrys.  Instead it hits a girl.  “The girl’s body lies close to my feet . . .  Her eyes are open—but there’s nothing behind them.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The prince goes to a club several times through the story. In each club scene there is drinking.  In one scene, the bartender says, “All the girls buy him drinks, and he gets drunker than a jilted woman on her wedding anniversary . . . he’s gonna get us shut down for all that underage drinking.”
  • While at a club, the prince dances and, “amber liquid sloshes from the top of his beer bottle. . . ”
  • When Emrys tells Richard that his life is in danger he, “emerges with what he’s hunting for—a bottle of whiskey and a weighty crystal glass.”
  • After Richard’s father dies, Richard has a hard time coping. He says, “. . . just a few weeks ago I was at Eton and my biggest worry was whether or not the prefects would find my stash of booze.”
  • When the fairy queen asks Emrys to report on Richard’s behavior, the queen asks, “How’s the prince coping? Drowning in the neck of a liquor bottle?”
  • Richard gets so drunk that he passes out.
  • At a dinner party, champagne and wine, “flows abundantly” and, “the crowd of faces grows increasingly flushed and the laughter grows volumes louder by the hour.”

Language

  • Richard says “bloody hell” after being attacked by a soul feeder.
  • After a night of partying, Richard’s father yells, “I’ll go to hell and back before I let you spend twelve months pissing in the corner of some pub.”
  • When Emrys shows herself to Richard he says, “Shit. I’ve gone crazy.”
  • Richard and Emrys get into an argument. Richard yells, “Maybe that (being dead) wouldn’t be such a bad thing!  Then you’ll be free and you won’t have to babysit me and wipe my ass every second of the damn day!”
  • In an argument, Richard’s sister yells, “Like hell I am,” she huffs. “You don’t just get to tell me I have a flipping Faery godmother and that we’re being attacked by some old thing and then go traipsing off into God-knows-where.”
  • Damn and hell are used several times.

Supernatural

  • There are fairies, spirits, and spells. Throughout most of the book, Emrys uses a veiling spell, which makes it so mortals cannot see her.
  • Emrys uses a banishing spell to keep people away and a spell that wipes people memories. She uses a variety of other spells as well.
  • Emrys talks about Henry VIII and the ghost of his wives as, “disturbed, unrested souls—cluster around, haunting him in all their vehemence.”
  • There are Tower ravens, “prophets clad in black feathers” that warn Emrys that someone is out to kill all of the royal family. In another scene, several of the Tower ravens go to Emrys to warn her about the Old One. They tell Richard that the Old One is, “coming for your crown and head.”
  • Emrys explains soul feeders. “There are spirits whose powers are strengthen by a mortal’s death…They like to hunt in the cities, usually at night.”
  • Banshees suck out mortals’ souls with a scream. They can also shape shift into weasels, stoats, hares, and crows.
  • A Green Woman appears as a beautiful, green-clad blonde to seduce and kill men.
  • Emrys explains that royal blood contains blood magic that can be transferred, which is why the Old One wants to kill him.
  • Emrys explains that there are many types of supernatural creatures including Herne the Hunter, who is a very old spirit who guards the woods of Windsor.

Spiritual Content

  • There’s several references to “the Greater Spirit.” One of the characters tells Emrys, “may the Greater Spirit go with you.”
  • Emrys promises to erase a Black Dog’s memory and tells him, “I swear it by the Greater Spirit.”
  • After Richard’s father dies, Richard says, “Sometimes I wonder if he’s watching me . . . I wonder if he likes what he sees.”
  • Emrys looks at the Thames and thinks, “In dusk’s illuminating glow, the surface of the Thames looks less full of sewage and debris and more like the mighty brown god it once was.”
  • When a faery dies, Emrys says, “We do not know what lies beyond this plane. We can’t imagine where our sisters might be now—yet we know they aren’t gone.”

Gasp

The vision has been passed on to another, but who?  If Jules passed the vision curse to Sawyer when she saved him, isn’t it logical to think that Sawyer passed it on to another?  And is it Jules’ responsibility to help the next person since the vision curse started with her?

Jules and Sawyer go on a search to discover if the vision curse has been passed to another.  After searching and finding the next victim, all they want to do is help.  But the victim’s overbearing mother doesn’t believe in the curse and doesn’t want Jules and Sawyer anywhere near her daughter.  With few clues to go on, Jules and Sawyer attempt to prevent tragedy.  And in the end, they find out that the vision curse refuses to be ignored.

Gasp has enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested.  Jules and Sawyer, with the help of their friends, try to help the next victim of the curse which allows the author to throw many surprises into the storyline.  Unlike bang, gasp focuses more on the mystery of the curse, and less on the romantic relationships between characters, which makes gasp a very enjoyable read.

Sexual Content

  • Jules thinks that her older brother’s crush on a cute guy is “fun” to watch develop.
  • Trey said that a boy, “touched my face and kissed me.” Later in the book, Jules watched Trey kissing the boy.
  • When Sawyer kisses Jules she, “feels like the fire is inside me now.”
  • Jules’ sister asks her if she is ‘sexting.”
  • In one scene that lasts approximately three pages, Jules tells Sawyer to pull over the car. When he does she straddles his lap and then begins touching his face and, “nipping his lips with my teeth, drawing the tip of my tongue across his.”  They then makeup and she unbuttons his shirt.  “I guide his hand up my side and press it against my bra, and through the fabric his thumb stumbles over my nipple.”  In the scene, “his torso jerks and shudders and his gasp turns into a low moan.”  Then Sawyer said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t even know that could . . . you know, happen, without actually, you know. Touching it.”
  • When Jules’ mom asks where she’s been, Jules thinks, “I try to think of something other than Sawyer spooged his pants so we called it the night.”
  • Jules, Sawyer, and Trey are teasing each other when Sawyer says, “Aw, man. I thought Ben would cure you of this desire to force homosexuality on me for your own selfish whims.”
  • When Sawyer is putting on a wetsuit, Jules yells, “I can’t wait to see your package in that suit.”
  • Jules’ father asks her if she is pregnant.
  • Jules and her father discuss his affair.

Violence

  • The story reviews the school shooting that happened in bang. One of the victim’s wounds are described—“only her guts were ripped up, and the shreds sewn together. She still has tubes going into her arm—pain meds and antibiotics . . . ”
  • Jules thinks about the first vision when she saw Sawyer’s face in a body bag.
  • Jules, Sawyer, and their friends help the victims of a ferry accident.
  • Jules goes back to the scene where she was mugged and describes what happened.
  • Jules asks her father about the “years of never knowing if we were going to come home to find that you killed yourself.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • They talk about how the victim of the school shooting is “heavily medicated” by pain medication and that when Trey was in the hospital, the pain medications make troy “emboldened.” They say the medication makes a person “stoned.”
  • When walking on a boat, Trey’s walk is described as, “like a drunk.”

Language

  • Jules said spring break being over, “sucked balls.”
  • Rowan’s sister calls her a “grammar whore” and later said, “don’t be a douche.”
  • When Jules father can’t be found she thinks, “He’s a douche for making you worry. Maybe it would be best if he does just go kill himself, so we can get on with our lives.”
  • Jules wonders if her teacher thinks she’s “batshit crazy.”
  • When Jules thinks Sawyer is dead she goes to school where she doesn’t, “want anybody infiltrating it (her grief) with their fake-ass, digesting bullshit.”
  • Profanity is used often throughout the book. The profanity used includes the following: shit, fucking, Oh my God, damn it, pissed, holy shit, and Jesus futhermucker.

Supernatural

  • The story revolves around a person who sees a vision of a tragic event. The vision changes based on if the person is finding clues to help the potential victims or if the person is on the wrong track.

Spiritual Content

  • When Jules feels like she has failed the victim, her brother says, “You didn’t fail. The victim failed.  We are not God.  Or dog.”
  • Jules rolls her eyes to the Jesus in the sky.
  • The victim said, “I guess since you and Sawyer didn’t get shot, we figured you had some mystical protection or a guardian angel watching over you or something.”
  • When the group of teens is talking about the ferry accident, Trey said, “Hey, let’s not bring God into this.”
  • Jules’ parents will not discuss the fact that their son is gay. Jules and her brother don’t go to church because, “if their church won’t accept my brother, they can’t have me either.  Plus her parents, “religious fear runs deep.”

Bang

Fear:  that’s what Sawyer feels. And Jules can understand why. After all, she is the one who gave the vision curse to Sawyer.  Now Sawyer and Jules must decide if they are going to risk their lives trying to stop a tragedy.

Book II of the Visions series adds more involvement from Jule’s brother Trey.  Jules loves her brother, and it’s easy to see why.  He’s good-natured, loyal, and teases his sister about her love life. The relationship between Trey and his sister adds depth and delight to bang.  However, both Sawyer’s and Jules’ relationship with their parents is dysfunctional and full of distrust.  Sawyer’s grandfather hits him, in the past, his mother had an affair, and Sawyer lies to his parent so he can spend time with Jules and try to solve the mystery of the vision.

At the beginning of the book, the language is mild with words like “crap” and “friggin.’” However, it doesn’t take long until the cursing (and the make-out scenes) increase in frequency and intensity. Another troubling aspect of the book is Jules’ sisters’ romantic relationship. Her sister decides to fly to New York to stay with a boy she met at soccer camp, all without her parents knowing about the trip until she’s left.

bang loses a lot of the suspense that was contained in the first book, crash.  Instead of focusing on the mystery of the vision, bang delves into Jules’ relationship with Sawyer as well as their family relationships.  Although Jules cares deeply about her siblings, she is disrespectful and deceitful to her parents.  None of the characters consider confiding in the adults in their life.  Instead, Sawyer, Jules, and Trey band together to try to stop a tragedy from happening.

 Sexual Content

  • Jules sneaks out of the house where she receives her first kiss which was the, “most weirdly amazing feeling.”
  • When Jules sees her boyfriend, he tells her that he’d like to kiss her but only, “runs his thumb across my lips and looks at me so longingly it hurts.” Later Jules presses, “a finger to his lips and watch his eyes droop halfway in response,” and, “his gaze lingers and burns.”  When her boyfriend leaves she thinks, “At this rate, we’ll have, like, nine babies by the end of our senior year.”
  • There are many scenes where Jules and her boyfriend make out, which involves kissing and caresses each other. In one scene Jules thinks, “I really want to see that chest once more.”
  • In another scene, the two make out and they are, “kissing and panting and touching each other, starving and lusty and steamy hot . . . he presses against me, his chest against my chest, our feet finding spaces every other, and his thighs squeezing mine. And suddenly, I realize that what’s pressing against me is not all thigh, and I am secretly amazed and a little shocked by it being there, doing that.”  She describes being, “intoxicated by his fervor and the overwhelming electric, psychedelic aching in my loins.”
  • While joking with his sister and her boyfriend, Trey says, “I’m not into incest, thank you. However…If you ever, you know, want to experiment.” Sawyer replies, “Maybe I could bang all the Demarco siblings.”
  • At school, a girl who likes Sawyer comes up to him and, “sticks her boobs out.” She asks him to Spring Fling and promises they can, “make out behind the bleachers like when we were a couple.” Sawyer tells the girl he is gay, and she gets upset and asks, “I made out with a gay?” and “Were you gay when we made out?”
  • Jules father asks her, “What do you want to say that I don’t already know? That you’re pregnant?”  Jules is angry that her father, “thinks I’m out there banging people left and right.”
  • Jules thinks about her father’s past affair, and she talks about it with others.

 Violence

  • Jules boyfriend talks about how his grandfather used to hit him.
  • Sawyer has a gruesome vision of a school shooting where eleven people are shot. He describes the scene of the shooting and how the “faces are blown into bits.”
  • A college campus was vandalized and someone spray paints a stop sign so that it reads, “Stop fags.”
  • The college campus shooting is describe in detail over four pages. Several people are shot.  One of the shooters jabs a gun between a boy’s eyes.  There is a fight between the gunman and several others, which is described.  “I kick the crap out of her arm that holds the gun, and I whack the shit out of her face with my cast . . . I kneel on her fucking head as she screams.”  Trey shows up and is shot.  Jules watches as he sinks, “to the floor, leaving s streak of red on the wall behind him.”
  • Trey says, “All I can remember is someone screaming ‘Die, fag!’ in my face, which really, you know, sucked. Then I took one look at the blood spurting out of my arm” and he passed out.
  • In the hospital, several characters discuss the events of the shooting and the injuries of the victims.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While in the hospital, Trey is given morphine for his pain. He acts goofy and, “a little drunk on morphine.”  Later when Trey talks about going to a pricey private school that she knows her family can’t afford,  Jules thinks, “there’s always the power of morphine to make your forget about the minor details of your life.”
  • Jules, “scared the hell out of Trey when I tell him that he totally threw himself at a college boy while under the influence of morphine.”

Language

  • Cursing is frequent. The cursing includes crap, dang, shit, damn it, fucking and pissed.
  • Jules uses Oh my God and Oh Christ as profanity.
  • Jules wonders when she became an “insecure loser” and thinks, “back when I accepted the fact that I was a total psycho.”
  • A character says jokingly, “tell the two-timing lunch whore I said hey.”
  • When Trey is frustrated, he says, “for shit’s sake, Jules.”
  • Jules brother, Trey, is jealous that both of his sisters have a boyfriend and he doesn’t. When his sister talks about sneaking out of the house and flying to New York to see him, Trey says, “Fuck…Why the hell not.  Why the hell not.”
  • Jules’ sister jokingly tells her, “You ruin this for me, and I will ruin your face, bitch.”

Supernatural

  • Jules talks about, “the vision isn’t a total fix; it’s a chance to change a bad thing to something less bad . . . the vision’s gone. You did what you were supposed to do. Maybe . . . maybe those people needed to go through that experience in order to become the people they’re meant to be, you know?  Maybe the experience triggers something inside of them that will help them become great.”   Sawyer replies, “And maybe it’ll make them dependent on prescription drugs, or want to kill themselves.”
  • Jules asks Sawyer, “You think the vision gods, or whoever, gave us these changes so we can end up watching the people we save turn into drug addicts?”

Spiritual Content

  • One of Jules favorite sayings is, “thank dog for that.”
  • Jules finds a newspaper article that reports about a protest lead by a cult preacher who’s been, “shouting about gays taking over the government, and he’s been ragging on U of C lately because their rights group have been picketing the guy.” The preacher has been getting his followers and, “saying God wants his cult to rid the country of homosexuality.”  Sawyer asks, “So you think our shooters are some outsider cult followers of the raving lunatic, coming to campus to . . . do God’s will?”
  • When Jules talks about the news article she asks, “Who would want to believe in a God like that? If God is not, like, totally in love with all the people he created, why would anybody want to believe in him?  Five things a real God should be:   Not a hater.  2. That about sums it up.

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