Majesty

Power is intoxicating. Like first love, it leaves you breathless. One young woman is born with it. After centuries of kings on the throne, Queen Beatrice is the most powerful woman America has ever known. So why does it feel like she’s lost so much?

Her sister is born with less power. Heir, spare, whatever. The American people will always think of Princes Samantha as the part princess. So she might as well play the role, right?

Some are pulled into the Washington’s world. Nina Gonzales longs for a normal life—whatever that is. But disentangling herself from Prince Jefferson’s world isn’t as easy as she’d hoped.

And a few will claw their way in. There is only one crown that can be captured in this generation, and Daphne Deighton is determined to have it. She will take down anything—or anyone—that stands in her way.

American Royals continues the drama of the three Washington children. The story is told from multiple points of view including Beatrice, Samantha, Nina, and Daphne. Each person’s point of view is uniquely different and allows the reader to understand each person’s thoughts, which are often different than their actions. This leads to well-developed characters who are flawed and relatable.

The second and last installment of the American Royals Series focuses more on each character’s love life and less on politics. The story is full of steamy kissing scenes, heated arguments, and the confusion that comes with young love. One character’s story is like Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew with a modern twist. Unlike many romance novels, Majesty doesn’t end with a happy-ever-after for everyone. Instead, the book ends by showing the complicated and messy nature of love. The reader is left with this message: “real love comes from facing life together, with all its messes and surprises and joy.”

If you’ve ever wished a prince would steal your heart, American Royals: Majesty should be on your must-read list. The American Royals Series has well-developed characters, a unique premise, and several plot twists. However, if you’re looking for a book with less alcohol and sexual tension, The Selection Series by Kiera Cass would be a tamer choice.

Sexual Content

  • Even though she is engaged to Teddy, Beatrice kisses Connor. After an argument, Connor “grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her. There was nothing gentle or tender in the kiss. Connor’s body was crushed up against hers, his hands grasping hard over her back as if he was terrified she might pull away.”
  • Ethan declares his love to Daphne. Then Ethan “leaned down to kiss her. . . She felt like she’d been on a torturous low simmer for months, and now she was finally alive again.”
  • Nina and Ethan kiss several times. For example, after eating pizza, Nina and Ethan kiss. “Ethan’s touch grew firmer, his hand moving to trace the line of her jaw, her lower lip. The air between them crackled with electricity. . . Nina leaned deeper into the kiss, her grip tightening over his shoulder.” The scene is described over a page.
  • Samantha and Marshall begin a “fake” relationship. While at a party, they end up in the pool. “One of Marshall’s hands had looped beneath her legs, the other braced behind her back. . . Then he brushed his lips lightly over hers. . . Sam kissed him back urgently, feverishly. She had shifted, her legs wrapped around his torso, her bare thighs circling the wet scratchy denim of his jeans.” The scene is described over a page. After this, they kiss several more times.
  • After spending an evening together, Beatrice “pressed her lips to [Teddy’s]. Perhaps out of surprise, his mouth opened beneath hers, letting her tongue brush up against his. . . She tugged impatiently at his shirt, trying to pull it over his head, but Teddy tore himself away.” Teddy stops Beatrice because she has had too much to drink.
  • After Teddy encourages Beatrice, she kisses him. “She turned and pulled his face to hers, dragging her hands through his blond curls, kissing him with everything that was aching and unsettled in her.”
  • Samantha tells Marshall how she feels about him. Then, “Marshall stood up in the moving carriage, bracing his hands on the wall behind Sam, and closed his mouth over hers. Sam arched her back and leaned up into him.”
  • After Teddy and Beatrice proclaim their love for each other, they kiss. “Beatrice tore her mouth from his only to tug his blazer impatiently from his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. Teddy fumbled a little with her dress, struggling with its tiny hooks. . . His breath caught when he saw her in nothing but her ivory lace underwear.” The scene is described over 1 ½ pages. The two have sex, but it isn’t described.
  • On Beatrice’s wedding day, her first love, Connor, shows up. Beatrice is startled and, “Connor, seeing her parted lips, leaned in to kiss her. She didn’t resist. . . The sheer Connorness of him overwhelmed her senses. . . Then reality crashed back in and she pulled away, her breathing unsteady.”

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are many, many events where alcohol is served to both adults and minors. For example, on a spring break trip, Nina and her friends drank “cheap beer.”
  • During boat races, alcohol is available. “Long queues had formed behind the scattered bars that sold mint juleps.”
  • At a museum event, alcohol is served. A worker “was pushing a catering cart, and Sam heard the unmistakable clink of jostling wine bottles.” Sam grabs “a bottle of sauvignon blanc from the cart.” Sam and a man she just met take turns drinking straight from the bottle. “The wine had a crisp tartness that settled on the back of her tongue, almost like candy.”
  • In the past, Daphne “had slipped a couple of ground-up sleeping pills into Himari’s drink.” Her friend, Himari, climbed “a staircase in her dazed, disoriented state—only to fall right back down.” The fall put Himari into a coma.
  • At a party hosted by Jefferson, minors drink alcohol including vodka. Jefferson’s old rowing team shows up, already drunk, shouting that they needed him for a “round of shots.”
  • Teddy takes Beatrice home to meet his parents. Beatrice explains why she usually doesn’t drink, “I can’t afford to get drunk and publicly make a fool of myself.” However, she drinks “the grapefruit thing” and gets slightly drunk.
  • The Russian ambassador told Beatrice, “That while beer and wine muffled and muted your emotions, vodka revealed them.”
  • During a historical reenactment, Marshall talks about his ancestor, the king of Orange joining America. Marshall says politicians from the past, “bickered over terms for weeks. Then, when they finally signed a treaty, they got roaring drunk.”
  • During a celebration, Marshall teaches Samantha about a game. If you lose, as a penalty “you get a choice. You can either sweep the steps of your local post office or buy a round of shots at your local bar.”
  • Jefferson and his best friend “got drunk for the first time together, that night we accidentally had all that port and ended up puking our guts out.”

Language

  • Profanity is seldom used. Each word of the following words is used several times: ass, badass, damn, and hell.
  • Beatrice’s secret boyfriend yells, “When you’re making choices about our future, I want a damn vote!”
  • Nina tells her lab partner, “Not to brag, but I kick ass at assignments.”
  • God and Oh my god are used as examinations a couple of times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • one

Ashlords #1

Ever since the Ashlords were gifted phoenix horses by their gods, they’ve raced them into battle, on hunts, and now at the world-renowned Races.

Elite riders from clashing cultures vie to be crowned champion by honing their ability to create and control phoenix horses, which are made of ash and alchemy—they’re summoned to life each sunrise and burst into flames each sunset. But good alchemy only matters if a rider knows how to survive the brutal nights. While murder is outlawed, breaking bones and poisoning the ashes of your competition are legal, even encouraged. Eleven riders will compete in this year’s races, but three of them have more to lose than the rest.

Imelda is a Dividian—too poor to afford the cost of entry until her alchemy videos created a media storm that throws her headfirst into the competition as a fan favorite.

Pippa is an Ashlord—the ruling class—and the expected winner. But when she falls for a competitor, will she ruin her chances of inheriting the crown?

Adrian is a Longhand—known for their vast wealth and failed rebellion. He is a symbol of revolution and the last chance for his people to rise against the Ashlords.

Ashlords is an intense book that questions the role of the ruling class, the Ashlords. The story is told from the point of view of three characters—Imelda, Pippa, and Adrian. While Imelda’s and Adrian’s chapters are written in the first-person point of view, Pippa’s chapters are written in the second-person point of view. While this helps distinguish Pippa from the other characters, using “you” is disconcerting. And even though the reader understands the characters’ motives, none of them are relatable.

In the process of setting up the Ashlords’ world, Reintgen piles on a lot of information about the characters’ complicated society. In addition, there are many references to the Ashlords’ gods helping them win a war, but the backstory isn’t fully developed, which causes confusion. Some readers will struggle with the amount of information that is packed into the first part of the book.

Readers who are drawn to the Ashlords in the hopes of reading a good horse story will be disappointed. Instead of focusing on the horses, the Race’s brutal fight scenes take center stage. The book’s descriptions of the Ashlords’ religion and politics also becomes tedious. While the book discusses class differences, the reason the Longhands want to revolt is unclear. Ashlords focus is on the impending revolution and the violence of the Race. If you want a good horse story without violence and war, Ashlords is not the book for you.

 Sexual Content

  • On Imelda’s birthday, an Ashlord overlord named Oxanos forces Imelda to dance with him. Imelda dances with him but embarrasses him during the dance. She thinks, “He asked for the dance, and we all know how he intended it to go. He wanted to press his hips to mine for a few minutes. He wanted to make my father’s skin crawl, to bury my family’s honor with a smile.”

Violence

  • A group meet in order to plan a rebellion, but Maggie confesses to being a traitor. After Maggie grabs a knife, Adrian brings his “elbow up and across. The blow sends her staggering to the ground. . . I have the sword at her neck. She goes still, her chest heaving, eyes wide and defeated.” Maggie’s fate is not disclosed.
  • Pippa is giving an interview when a viewer takes control of a mannequin. “The mannequin lunges out of its chair. . . Your eyes widen as the metallic hand reaches for your throat. . . The machine’s fail safe system hums to life and the hands hang lifelessly in the air, just a few inches from your neck.”
  • In the past, a Longhand entered the Races but, “He was beaten to death just before the second leg began. A team of Ashlords took their time killing him.” The showman who interviewed the Longhand was also killed.
  • After a rebellion, the Ashlords “purged” the Longhands by killing everyone who fought against them as well as 907 first-born children. Adrian’s mother was a first born who was hiding. Adrian’s father “killed the first Ashlord they sent for her. . . She took the blame when they came back since they were going to take her anyway.” The Ashlords kill her, but the death is not described.
  • The Race is a bloody battle to the finish line. Contestants aren’t allowed to kill each other, but violence is expected. The below excerpts do not contain all of the book’s violence.
  • During the Race, Revel, an Ashlord contestant, attacks Adrian. Adrian’s whip “snakes through the air and snaps along the back of Revel’s neck. Revel cries out in agony.” The horses “collide—our legs smashing between flanks—as my horse rips into the neck of Revel’s phoenix. The impact shoves us back apart, but not without blood. It sprays through the air and my horse trembles with excitement.” Revel slows down and stays behind Adrian.
  • Pippa’s boyfriend, Bravos, kills his phoenix. Bravos “sets a trusting hand on the creature’s neck and puts his full weight into a deadly thrust. Metal bites through muscle and past bone, finding its mark. There’s a single, terrible scream.”
  • During the race, Adrian goes to pass Imelda and he brings “the switch across her temple. It’s far from a killing blow, but more than enough to spin her unconscious to the ground.” When Imelda wakes up, she has “a knot on [her] head that’s the size of an apple. I rub at it and wince. Still light-headed, I stumble over to my ashes. . .” Imelda discovers that her horse’s ashes have been poisoned.
  • A group of Ashlords ride up to Adrian. One of the contestants uses her whip to try to get Adrian to “move me right or left. . . I [Adrian] let the whip catch me across the shoulder as I step into a brutal strike of my own. . . My blow crushes the side of her knee, and there’s enough force behind it to shatter everything. Her screams tear the night in two. . .” The other two Ashlords ignore their fallen comrade and instead, go after Adrian. “Two shots to the ribs, another glancing blow off my shoulder.”
  • The Ashlords and Adrian continue to try to injure each other. The girl is “finally back on her feet, and her eyes go wide when she sees me coming. She thrust her baton up, but I sweep low and smash her knee a second time. She screams.” Finally, Adrian stumbles and the two remaining Ashlords attack him. “A shot to the head, quick and dazing. A second to the ribs, a third to the knee. They can’t swing as hard as I can, but that doesn’t stop them from turning me into something small.” When Adrian can no longer fight back, the Ashlords go to help their friend.
  • Adrian sneaks into a cave where the Ashlords are camping for the night. Adrian attacks the closest one, a boy named Capri. “My lowered shoulder shoves him accidentally toward the edge. He screams and I reach for him in a panic, trying to keep him from falling. . . He vanishes with a scream.”
  • After Capri is out of the way, Adrian attacks the next boy. “I sweep the blow left with my off-hand and punch my own baton into his throat. The wood catches him hard and folds him in on himself. . . I bring the switch down on his knee, then his hip, then his nose. There’s no mercy in the strength of my arm or in the accuracy of each strike.” When the boy is unconscious, Adrian leaves.
  • Imelda leaves the Race route and the Ashlords come after her. But Imelda’s people—a group of desert Dividian’s—appear. Both sides begin shooting at each other. Imelda watches “the desperados break forward, then scatter away from the oncoming Ashlord. Her sword bites down, past a raised spear and sends blood splaying out from the throat. The man dies. . .” The battle is described over several chapters and men on both sides die.
  • While traveling through a cave, Pippa discovers an angry wraith. Pippa brandishes a whip. “A crack sounds as the blow lands just above the wraith’s right eye. It snarls.” Pippa whips the wraith several more times and then “the beast disappears.”
  • When Capri steals Adrian’s purebred phoenix, his horse geos up in flames. Adrian “can hear Capri’s screams. The heat’s so intense that I have to stop well away. All I can do is watch as fire consumes both horse and rider.”
  • While racing to the finish line, Adrian was close to winning. But then, “a girl’s ghostly features darken by a savage growl. I’m helpless as an invisible arm wraps around my neck, and the impact wrenches my feet from the stirrups, and something tears me out of the saddle.” Adrian is not injured, but he loses the Race.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a birthday party, the men drink whiskey.
  • While talking about his wife’s death, Adrian’s father “takes a long swallow of wine.”
  • During a racing event, a stranger gives Adrian a drink. When the man isn’t looking, Adrian switches drinks. After taking a drink of the poisoned drink, the stranger dies.
  • During the Race several of the horse’s ashes are poisoned.

Language

  • Damn and hell are used occasionally.
  • Gods and dear gods are used as an exclamation occasionally.
  • A man asks Adrian, “How are you liking this pisshole?”
  • When Imelda’s horse’s ashes are poisoned, she says, “Wormwood. That jackass used wormwood.”

Supernatural

  • Phoenix horses were gifts from the Ashlords’ gods. The phoenixes are made of ash and alchemy, and people mix different components into the horse’s ashes to bring out specific characteristics. Imelda mixes different components into the phoenix’s ashes and then “sunlight spills over the plain. I take a step back and hear the obvious gasp of a creature coming to life. My pile of ash stirs within movement. . . I see my phoenix starting to take form, a dark inconsistent mass. . . I shield my eyes as a glorious figure staggers free of the storm.”
  • At a birthday party, the Dividian children try to catch a dreamnot. When the dreamnots are touched, they disappear. “Only one of the dreamnots in the room is actually the real one. Tradition says that the child who catches it gets to make a wish.” When someone wishes on a dreamnot, “his wish will not come true unless he sets it free again.”

Spiritual Content

  • The Dividians sailed to the Ashlord’s “land centuries ago, intending to conquer. Only we failed. With the help of their gods, the Ashlords defeated our ancestors.”
  • The Ashlords “bow to the gods,” but the Dividians and the Longhand do not worship the Ashlord gods. The Longhands do not worship the gods because the “Ashlord gods offer many things, freedom is not one of them. It is a relationship of bondage.” The Longhands also refuse to make blood sacrifices to the gods.
  • The Ashlord gods include: Fury, the god of strength and bravery; Curiosity, the god who wakes, watches and whispers; The Butcher, the Hoarder, and the Dread. Plus, the creator of progress, the Striving.
  • The Ashlords believe the “Brightness” is the “people’s link to the gods themselves.”
  • One of the Ashlord gods, The Dread, takes over a priest’s body. Adrian sees “the disturbing scars that start at the base of the priest’s neck. A scaled mast treads directly into the skin. Those protective scales enclose the human head completely.”
  • The Dread offers Adrian a boon. The Dread explains, “The blessing I just offered will bring swift healing. Sturdier bones. Less bleeding. It will keep you alive.”
  • Pippa’s mother wakes her in the dead of the night and takes her though a secret passage. Pippa’s mother makes a blood sacrifice. The god “gives an approving nod as she holds it [her hand] out over the alter. In the light of your candle, blood drips over the stones. The Madness licks his lips, tongue slavering.” Pippa’s mother cuts her and adds her blood to the stones.”
  • Pippa is upset that her mother uses a blood sacrifice. Her mother says, “The gods move between our world and the one below. . . In the underworld, our blood gives them power. They take our sacrifices and use them to rule those forsaken lands. In return, they offer us the powers of their world.” The scene is described over three pages.
  • During the Race, a spirit of a girl appears to Pippa. In exchange for her freedom, the spirit agrees to help Pippa win the race. The spirit can sometimes hear Pippa’s thoughts.
  • After Imelda’s horse is poisoned, Adrian prayed that Imelda “doesn’t get herself killed” by riding the horse.

The Cruel Prince

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Sara Mansfield

 

 

 

 

Not-So-Great Presidents: Commanders In Chief

From heroic George Washington to the dastardly Richard Nixon, the oval office has been occupied by larger-than-life personalities since 1789. The position comes with enormous power and responsibility, and every American president thus far has managed to achieve great things. However, each president of the United States is only human—and oftentimes far from perfect. While some men suffered through only minor mishaps during their time in office, others are famously remembered for leaving behind bigger messes.

Take a trip through the history of the presidents and discover each man’s contribution. Historical artwork, photographs, and black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 3 pages. Many of the illustrations are comical caricatures of presidents. The short chapters, large text, and illustrations make the book accessible to readers. The book incorporates some definitions into the text. For example, some politicians start “attacking their opponents—explaining why people shouldn’t vote for the other guy, instead of why people should vote for them. This is called mudslinging.” Even though some of the vocabulary is explained, readers may still struggle with the difficult vocabulary.

Not-So-Great Presidents: Commanders In Chief uses a conversational tone that makes learning about history fun. The book uses many references to popular culture such as the Marvel Universe. For example, President Franklin Pierce “also has one of the most tragic backstories since the Punisher first showed up in Marvel comics.” While the vast amount of historical facts will not be retained, Not-So-Great Presidents: Commanders In Chief introduces history in an educational and fun way, which will keep readers interested until the very end. One of the best parts of the book is that it shows that everyone—even heroic presidents—makes mistakes. The history of the presidents shows that to be a respected leader, one does not need to be perfect.

Sexual Content

  • Bill Clinton was accused of “lying under oath when asked about an inappropriate relationship he had with one of his White House Interns.”

Violence

  • The book talks about different wars and sometimes includes the death count. For example, “The year was 1776, and the bloody fighting of the American Revolution was in full swing.”
  • Several presidents were assassinated, but the men’s deaths are not described in detail. For example, “On July 2, 1881, he [James A. Garfield] was shot at a train station by Charles J. Guiteau, once in the back and once in the arm.”
  • “On September 6, 1901, President McKinley was shot by a deranged anarchist (Leon Czolgosz) while shaking hands with supporters at the international Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.”
  • Andrew Jackson was “notorious for fighting in more than a hundred duels throughout his life—including one where he still managed to kill his opponent moments after taking a bullet to the chest!”
  • President Franklin Pierce “was once arrested, as president, for running over a woman with his horse.”
  • During World War II, America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. “More people died in a split second than there were soldiers killed at the Battle of Gettysburg from both Northern and Southern armies combined. Most of those people were civilians.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • After George Washington served for two terms, “he returned to his farm in Mount Vernon, where he focused on his real passion: brewing moonshine (no joke)!”
  • During the last days in office, President John Tyler threw a party at the White House, and “over three thousand people showed up. Several barrels of wine and eight dozen bottles of champagne” were served.
  • Andrew Johnson was “a reported alcoholic.”
  • Hiram Ulysses Grant became “one of the most famous generals in American history, despite his notorious reputation as an alcoholic. . . Abraham Lincoln even said, ‘I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.’”
  • President Franklin Pierce “could best be described as charming, indecisive, and alcoholic.” When he left the White House, he said, “There’s nothing left to do but get drunk. . . After his wife passed away, he took up binge drinking as a full-time gig and became a hermit. He died of cirrhosis of the liver because of the copious amounts of alcohol he consumed toward the end of his life.”
  • Woodrow Wilson passed prohibition, “which made it illegal to buy alcohol, which a lot of people really hated.”

Language

  • Heck is used four times. For example, to coordinate D-Day, Eisenhower used “his guts, brains, and a heck of a lot of patience.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed follows Diana of Themyscira (AKA Wonder Woman), a sixteen-year-old who leaves her home island and learns about the modern world. Diana is the only child on her island, which is full of powerful, immortal Amazon women. With no one to share in her experiences, Diana has often felt lonely and confused while going through puberty. Even so, she lives an enjoyable life. The Amazons are happy and ensure that everyone is well-fed and cared for.

When boats full of refugees wash up on the shores of Themyscira, the Amazon women chase them off in order to protect their border. Diana, though, is determined to see the refugees to safety and accompanies them off the island and into the mortal world.

They land in a refugee camp in the Middle East, where Diana sees war, poverty, sickness, and cruelty. Her ability to understand and translate every human language soon catches the attention of UN ambassadors, who give her a visa to the United States. Diana soon finds herself living with Polish immigrant Henke and Henke’s granddaughter Raissa in the Queens borough of New York City.

Diana becomes passionate about helping the children of her new community. As a headstrong and compassionate warrior, Diana finds herself at odds with the forces of injustice and hatred. She must stand up for the truth and justice that she was raised to believe in. While fighting for the rights of immigrants, she finds a new family and home in the mortal world.

With skillful writing and drawing, Laurie Halse Anderson and Leila Del Luca have brought a new and original story to the Wonder Woman character. The full-color illustrations are detailed and visually engaging, with a diverse array of panel layouts for effective visual storytelling. While comics fans will recognize the characters of Diana and the Amazons, this story can be read independently of any other Wonder Woman comic book. Diana’s position as an idealistic fish-out-of-water lets readers gain a fresh, heartbreaking perspective on the injustices of war, poverty, homelessness, and even human trafficking. At the same time, Diana discovers the joys of caring for children, connecting with other teenagers, and partaking in modern culture. Diana encounters food trucks, regional slang, polka dancing, subway transit, and parkour with wide-eyed enthusiasm readers will find endearing.

The story culminates in an exciting fight where Diana uses her superhuman strength to rescue children from a rich and powerful villain. It’s satisfying to see a real-life “bad guy” vanquished so quickly and easily by Diana. Even so, the story will leave readers with the knowledge that change is not always easy, and that the human rights abuses (like poverty and human trafficking) portrayed in this piece of fiction have real-life parallels which are not so easily brought down. The story is political in nature, with a stance that mature readers will recognize as being pro-immigration. The message is optimistic and idealistic, but still emotionally compelling. It makes for an uplifting story that will interest not only superhero fans but also for casual readers who want to read about social justice in the modern world.

Sexual Content

  • At the refugee camp, a woman suggests Diana cover up her Amazon armor (which is sleeveless) with a sweatshirt because “the guards can be dangerous,” implying that she might draw unwanted attention.
  • Diana and Raissa are harassed by men on the street, who whistle and say, “Gimme that sweet candy, baby!” When Diana realizes their intentions, she slams them up against the wall saying, “My aunts would have killed those jerks.”
  • Diana is horrified when she learns about the concept of human trafficking, and even more horrified to hear that children who are kidnapped or trafficked are often “forced to have sex.”
  • Raissa gets into an argument with a rich man who is gentrifying her neighborhood. He taunts her by saying, “You’re hot. I like having pretty girls in my office. Want to be my personal intern?”

Violence

  • An Amazon kicks a refugee who has landed on the shores of Themyscira, saying, “Quiet! You’ve broken our barrier.” The other Amazons scold her and say she has gone too far.
  • A woman tells Diana that before she fled Poland, “Thousands were beaten and jailed for protesting. Including me.”
  • During an encounter with bureaucrats who want to stop her from feeding hungry children, Diana is so angry that she throws a picnic table and breaks it. She is arrested.
  • A fight breaks out when Diana rescues a group of children from human traffickers. The fight lasts four pages. Several of the kidnappers have guns, but nobody is seriously hurt.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When mortals land on the shores of Themyscira, the Amazons give them a “forgetting tea” before sending them away.
  • Diana rescues a group of children who have been kidnapped by human traffickers. The children have been drugged to keep them asleep.

Language

  • Profanity is used very infrequently. Language includes bitch, badass, hell, ass, and shitty.

Supernatural

  • As a child of the Amazons, Diana has superhuman strength and abilities. She tries not to draw attention to these. When Raissa says she saw Diana send two vans flying into the air during a fight, Diana says, “You hit your head. You must have been hallucinating.”

Spiritual Content

  • Diana recalls how the “Five Mothers”—the Greek goddesses Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter, Artemis, and Hestia—created the Amazons. She also recalls how the Five Mothers granted the Amazon queen a child, which was how Diana was created.
  • Diana makes offerings of food at the Temple of the Five Mothers, and says a prayer to each. For example, to Athena, she says, “Athena, grant me your wisdom. Help me be a good Amazon.”
  • Diana feels that “the gods are warning” her with a vague ominous feeling. She says, “The gods are whispering, but I can’t hear what they’re saying.”
  • Diana says that the Statue of Liberty “looks like Hestia, the goddess of family and the home.”

by Caroline Galdi

 

Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Since the ritual that brought magic back to Orïsha, rebel maji have been concentrating their forces in preparation to take down the corrupt monarchy that has oppressed them for so long. Not only have the white-haired maji regained their magic, but nobles inside the monarchy have also begun to gain magical powers, heightening the stakes of the upcoming war.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance picks up shortly after the conclusion of Children of Blood and Bone.  The second installment in the Legacy of Orïsha series showcases the political struggles of the Orïsha’s rebel army. The story is told from the rotating perspectives of Inan, Zélie, and Amari. Inan, the crown prince of Orïsha, returns to his mother’s inner circle and struggles to understand which side he should take in the war. Amari, once the princess of Orïsha, has joined the rebellion and is hoping to lead the people to victory and take her place as their new queen. Zélie has become one of the most powerful maji in the rebellion. While she hones her new powers, she also must grapple with processing the traumas she underwent in the first part of her adventure, which was detailed in Children of Blood and Bone.

Amidst endless political turmoil and battles, the reader will likely find the most compelling part of the story to be the relationships between the characters. Amari and Zélie had a strong friendship in the first installment, but political stressors test their bond. Meanwhile, Zélie’s feelings for Inan, which were romantic in the first book, solidify into hatred. Consequently, Zélie begins a new romance with pirate mercenary Roen, while her brother Tzain continues seeing Amari.

Audiences may find the plot unsatisfying, as its pacing does little to hold the reader’s attention. The prolonged battles are difficult to follow and visualize. Characters talk abstractly about the deaths of soldiers and rebels while discussing war strategy, but this limits the battle’s emotional effect. The most compelling parts of this book are the emotional struggles that the characters experience. Zélie, Inan, and Amari all struggle with anxiety, grief, and the long-lasting effects of trauma. They make messy decisions, and their relationships break apart due to stress. Readers who rooted for the friendships forged in the first book may find themselves disappointed when these friendships fall apart.

The politics are hard to follow, and the constant switch of perspectives makes the battle scenes difficult to understand. Despite this, fans of the first book will be happy to have a continuation of the story. However, they won’t find the same adventure and excitement that made the first book so memorable.

Sexual Content

  • Tzain and Amari share an intimate moment. Amari burrows “back into Tzain’s neck, running my fingers across the new stubble along his chin… He runs his thumb along my jaw, igniting a surge almost as powerful as my magic.”
  • When Roen takes his shirt off, Zélie’s “face warms at the sight of his sculpted muscles.”
  • Zélie sees Inan and remembers his “lips that promised me the world. Hands that caressed my skin.”
  • Inan’s cousin jokingly tells him, “I’ve heard the legends of what greatness lies beneath your robes, but I fear I’m far too pure to see it for myself.”
  • Roen touches Zélie’s face, and she thinks, “Though I don’t want to feel anything, his touch makes an ember flicker in my stomach.”
  • During a romantic moment with Tzain, Amari notices “his sandalwood scent, I realize how much I want him. How much I want more… I imagine what a few hours with him might entail. How his kiss might feel.” When they kiss, their “lips meet, and the rush is so strong it spreads through my entire body. A flutter erupts between my legs as I shift, pressing into him.” They are interrupted and don’t go any further.
  • At a celebration, Amari slow dances with Tzain. “Tzain dips his chin and kisses the top of my head. He places his hands along my waist, making my skin tingle when his thumbs brush a sliver of bare skin.” Later, they leave the party and kiss more. Amari’s “fingers curl the moment his lips meet mine. I sink into him, tasting the sweet remnants of palm wine… I think of how many times I’ve imagined this moment. Imagined being here with him. My pulse races as I slip my fingers under the hem of his tunic.”
  • As they’re about to move further, Tzain makes her stop because he’s afraid she’s only consenting to intimacy because she’s afraid she’ll die soon. Amari says, “I don’t want to be with you because I’m afraid of dying. I want to be with you because I love you.” They take off their clothes and lay on a bed together, but the narrative skips over the actual act.
  • During an outing with Roen, Zélie asks him, “Is this a ploy to get me naked?” Roen says, “You know I don’t need ploys for that.”
  • Zélie sees something and says, “That’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!” Roen tells her, “That’s usually what my lovers say about me.”
  • Zélie and Roen have an intimate moment. Zélie surrenders “to his touch. To the feel of his lips against my ear. He makes me lose myself in his arms, stealing the air from my lungs with every caress. ‘Is this okay?’ he whispers. My breath hitches as he squeezes my waist, hands lingering at the hem of my tunic.” They stop soon afterwards.

Violence

  • A lot of the battle scenes are magic-centered. For example, when Amari launches an attack on the enemy in battle, she magically “strikes them in an endless blue wave.”
  • Later in the battle, someone uses magic to turn the army’s mounts rabid. “Soldiers scream as they’re flung form their panthenaires’ backs. The riders foam at the mouth… A rabid panthenaire sinks its fangs into its soldier’s throat.”
  • While discussing military strategy, someone floats the possibility of the queen using innocent villagers “as shields.”
  • Zélie recalls how the mercenary Roen “once told me that his torturers carved a new line [in his arms] every time they killed a member of his crew before his eyes; twenty-three tally marks for twenty-three lives.”
  • As Amari begins to practice magic, she finds it painful. “Midnight-blue tendrils shoot from my fingertips like sparks from a flint. My palms sting as my skin splits. My scars rip open at the seams… I stumble into the mirror. Crimson smears across my reflection. Blood trickles down my chest as I fall to my knees.”
  • During a battle, the royal army releases majacite gas into the air, which is toxic to maji. Maji “scream like their nails are being ripped off.” A maji’s skin “sizzles and burns. He struggles to scream as he chokes on the black smoke.”
  • Zélie is hit by the toxic gas and describes how “smoke burns my skin like a branding iron… The poison sears the skin of my calf. Another cloud hits the scars on my back.”
  • The rebellion uses a large stone dome as their base of operations. Amari watches the queen use magic to collapse it. The queen “punches her fists into the ground. The earth splits open at her touch… Screams fill the dome as Nehanda’s fracture cuts across the sand… Then I hear the crack. The crack cuts through the dome’s wall… The dome crumbles.”
  • While recklessly riding her lionaire, Zélie crashes and nearly falls off a cliff. “I claw at the sky as I fly toward the forest. My body smashes through wiry branches before slamming into a tree. I wheeze as my chest collides with hard bark. My ribs fracture with a loud crack. Blood flies from my lips as my vision blacks out and I tumble to the ground.”
  • In their dreamscape, Zélie sees Inan “hold the scarred flesh of his abdomen as if it still leaks blood. I can almost see his memories coming back to him. The pain of his father’s sword driving into his gut.” He is physically unharmed. The wound he is remembering was detailed in the first book.
  • During a magical dreamscape, Zélie gets mad at Inan and makes “black vines tighten around his throat, cutting off his words as he chokes. Blood drips down his back, oozing as the jagged bark scrapes into his skin.”
  • While escaping the palace, Inan punches guards in the throat. The guards “wheeze… their grips loosen and I break free, ignoring the way they scream.”
  • Inan watches from a distance as Lagos comes under attack. “Countless balls of fire arc through the air. They explode when they hit the ground… Screams ring through the night as the firebombs ravage Lagos all at once.”
  • When Inan uses magic, he raises his hand “and my magic explodes with such force I hear the bones shatter in my arm.”
  • Inan sees someone from the royal military kill a maji by injecting them with majacite. The torturer says, “Do you know what it feels like to have majacite in your veins? First it blocks the illness you call a gift. Then it burns you from within.” Inan watches as the torturer “yanks the girl’s head to the side, exposing her neck… The girl cries out when the needle pierces her skin. She tumbles like a brick, body seizing in the dirt as the majacite kills her from within.”
  • During a fight, a fellow rebel maji attacks Amari with magic. “A cobalt cloud roars from [the maji’s] hand, searing into me. The cloud engulfs my mind like a match ignited in my skull… Her magic feels like thousands of nails drilling through my bones.” The fight is described over three pages.
  • The maji tells Amari during the fight, “Kill your vile family. Kill yourself.”
  • Amari fights the maji, and she screams “as I dig my hand into [her] hair and pull, driving my elbow into her temple… I straddle her body as a cobalt blaze ignites in my hands.”
  • When Zélie encounters Inan, she attacks him. Zélie shifts her “weight, twisting Inan’s sword from his hands. Before he can react, I extend my blades. My spear slices through his side… I drive my knee into his gut.”
  • Inan gets into a fight with a trusted friend. Inan pulls “a dagger from my belt, throwing it at his thigh.” The friend stops the dagger with magic, avoiding injury.
  • Zélie is caught in a massive chain of explosions and falls into water. “My ears ring from the string of explosions. I can’t see anything. Falling rocks slice through my skin… The collision knocks precious seconds of air from my lungs.”
  • A character loses a limb in the explosions, and “his severed arm lies underneath the boulder.”
  • A character dies when a column of earth is magically thrusted through his stomach. His “eyes bulge as it punctures his stomach… he slumps forward as blood leaks from his gut, pooling onto the silver floor.”
  • A maji summons a magical gas during battle. “The gas unleashes its attack, launching the wall of death… The cloud moves like a wave, crashing over everything in its path. Birds squawk as they try to escape… One’s wings fold as it’s flung into the cloud. The second it’s hit by the gas, its body shrivels. It plummets to the ground.”
  • Zélie watches the gas hit a young mother. “Blood shoots from her mouth on impact. Her skin shrivels as it turns black. I see the moment she realizes that she won’t make it. The baby falls from her hands.” The mother dies, but the baby is safe.
  • A maji attacks Amari. The maji “opens her hands and dark shadows of death shoot forth. Pain rips through me as they wrap around my body and my throat.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Roen has “a cigarette tucked between his teeth.”
  • The rebel maji drink palm wine during a celebration. Amari takes a cup and joins in a toast.
  • During the celebration, “music and laughter bounce against the sanctuary walls. Palm wine runs free.”
  • A couple makes a scene during the celebration. As a man tells a woman, “I love you!” the woman says, “You’re drunk!”
  • Amari doesn’t drink palm wine because “Father wouldn’t drink before battle. Neither can I.”
  • Inan drugs the queen by putting her own sedatives in a flute of wine.

Language

  • A piece of fabric is “not fit to wipe a leopanaire’s ass.”
  • “Gods” and “my gods” are used as invectives infrequently.
  • “Skies” is used frequently as an invective. For example, “What in the skies?”
  • Maggots is a slur that refers to the white-haired maji. People in the royal family often use the slur as a hateful pejorative.
  • Twice, specific gods are invoked by name: “For Yemoja’s sake” and “By the grace of Oya.”
  • Dammit is used four times.

Supernatural

  • Several chapters concern the effects of a ritual wherein Zélie binds her lifeforce to that of another maji. Zélie “used the moonstone to connect our lifeforces. But without a blood sacrifice to bind our connection, neither of us can survive.” While they are connected, if one sustains an injury, both of them will suffer.
  • An elder volunteers herself in a blood sacrifice. “Blood magic spreads inside her, glowing through every vein… With the final chant, the shine around her becomes too bright. She lights up the night like a comet flying through the sky.” Instead of physically dying, the elder magically disappears. This ritual marks a turning point in a battle and gives the rebel maji enormous advantage over their enemy.
  • Zélie and Inan meet in a dreamscape, a magical landscape that exists only in their dreams.

Spiritual Content

  • Much of the spiritual content concerns the magic system, and there is little separation between the spiritual and the supernatural. Maji get their powers from the same gods that they pray to.
  • In a moment of hopelessness, Zélie thinks that her dead mother “was wrong to keep me on the earth.” The spiritual beliefs are as real as the magic system, and Zélie previously met her dead mother during a magical ritual. The existence of an afterlife is treated not as speculation, but as fact.
  • Zélie says, “From the gods comes the gift of life… to the gods, that gift must be returned.”
  • Zélie says, “This is destiny. The gods don’t make mistakes.” She’s referring to her new role as a maji with the rebellion.

by Caroline Galdi

The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World

The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World switches between the perspectives of Billy and Lydia—two teenagers who live in a poverty-stricken area in the Pacific Northwest called Fog Harbor. After their high schools merge, the two outcasts form a strange friendship. As they learn more about each other, strange things begin to happen around them: they experience unexplainable weather events and earthquakes, and they see apparitions that nobody else sees. The narrative borders on magical realism, as the strange events that plague the narrative seem to be tied to the characters’ personal and emotional journeys.

Lydia, whose mother disappeared when she was a child, is emotionally closed-off and spends all her days in the makeshift dance studio behind her father’s bar. Billy lives in a decrepit house with his emotionally abusive grandmother, where he spends all his time watching therapy talk shows on the 24-hour Alcoholics Anonymous TV channel. The setting of Fog Harbor is set in a larger world that serves as an exaggerated parody of late-2010s America, where the president has been replaced by a king. Savvy readers may recognize the King’s mannerisms and policies, as the figure seems to be a caricature of America’s 45th president, Donald Trump.

Caleb, who is Billy’s uncle, Fog Harbor’s most famous resident, and one of the world’s most notorious musicians, frequently speaks in interviews about his upbringing in poverty-stricken, drug-addicted Fog Harbor. When Caleb—a heroin addict who has been through rehab several times—disappears following a violent breakdown and shows up in Billy’s attic, Billy is tasked with keeping a secret and is forced to reckon with his family’s dysfunctional past. Meanwhile, Lydia begins to take dance lessons for the first time and is followed around by a small apparition that seems determined to make trouble for her.

The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World is as wordy as its title, with many wonderful lines and genuinely touching moments in the main characters’ central friendship. It is honest and discomforting in its depictions of a small town ravaged by poverty and drug addiction. Whether or not readers recognize their own hometowns in the foggy surrealist landscape, they will find the characters’ narrative voices compelling and achingly human.

Despite the harsh language and troubling subject matter, this narrative shines, especially in its portrayal of the main characters’ innocence and unwavering hope in the face of despair. Billy’s dogged determination to see the best in everyone is a heartrending and almost blinding contrast to his grandmother’s neglect and his family’s history of addiction. Lydia’s outer sarcastic façade hides her inner sensitivity and unhealed trauma at having lost her mother. Secondary characters like Lydia’s father and Billy’s grandmother create a cast of irresponsible adults who are imperfect and real.

Despite its political undertones, The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World is not quite a call to action or to political revolution. It’s something more subtle—perhaps a call to be kinder to one’s neighbors—but it’s engaging and surprising in the way it delivers this message. This book is the perfect read for a curious older reader who’s looking for a unique, high-quality literary narrative.

Sexual Content

  • Billy sometimes watches a show called Sexy Sober Survivor, where “fashion models go to rehab, except the rehab is on a deserted island…and they’re naked the whole time.” He wonders “whose job it is to put all those black bars on their interesting parts,” and “inevitably started thinking about what’s under those black bars, and then things got awkward again, and I had to excuse myself and go upstairs to my room, and hope… that this won’t be the time the house decides to finally collapse on me.” When the firefighters dig him out, he won’t be trying to “hide my boner when my arms are pinned under this thousand-pound beam.”
  • A therapy-TV personality sometimes tells “the story of how she used to be a prostitute who lived in a van by the river.” The reader never actually learns the story.
  • Lydia remarks that her peers are “just hoping they’re not the one who gets pregnant… as if babies and death are things you catch, as inevitable as a cold.”
  • While walking home, Lydia is harassed. “‘Looking good, baby,’ some douchebag yells out of a truck.” She gets them to go away by shouting, “Hi, I have AIDS and gonorrhea and a very small tail fused to my spine. Want to fuck?’”
  • The book frequently references a fictional YA series called “Unicorns Vs. Dragons,” where the hero “keeps his unicorn love interest chained up in his mountain cave to ‘protect her,’ which strikes Lydia as ‘rape-y.’”
  • The King, America’s dictatorial monarch, “ordered up a girlfriend, kind of like how [Lydia’s dad] ordered up a wife from the Philippines.”
  • Billy’s grandmother used to tell him “how I’m just a late bloomer and that’s good because it’s better that I stay her sweet boy as long as possible instead of turning into a sex-crazed pervert too early like most guys do.”
  • Caleb, Billy’s uncle, supposedly “got a girl pregnant when he was fourteen and Grandma had to pay for the abortion because no one else would.”
  • Billy recalls how, upon being approached by a tour bus for photos, Uncle Caleb’s friend Gordon “whipped out his penis and started peeing in the tour’s direction.”
  • In an interview, Uncle Caleb’s girlfriend recalls how “the sex that night was amazing.”
  • In another interview, the girlfriend “starts kissing [Caleb], and then she straddles him right there on the couch and starts unbuttoning his shirt, and then the interview is over.”
  • Caleb says he once “screwed an old lady for a case of beer.”
  • Lydia recalls how a regular in her father’s bar “has been staring at me since I was thirteen… he feels the need to tell me I’m pretty enough to be a supermodel.” Lydia finds this “gross because it proves that he’s looking at me the way drunk lonely men look at girls that are way too young for them. This is not a healthy environment for a teenager.”
  • A local says, “I heard [Billy’s] mom was still turning tricks long after she was showing.”
  • Lydia tells Caleb, “I guess you think all women should dress like your girlfriend and drip sex diseases everywhere they go.”
  • Lydia, after experiencing an emotional moment with Billy, thinks, “This is probably something close to how people feel after they sleep with someone and regret it.”
  • Billy thinks, “I would probably jump at any opportunity to do anything the least bit sex-related with an even non-beautiful girl who miraculously wanted to with me.”
  • Billy says, “I think giving someone art is just about the most intimate gift a person can give, except for maybe sex toys or something.”
  • A teacher tells Billy about “some kind of magic stone egg she bought from her life coach that she puts in her vagina, which I’m pretty sure is illegal for her to talk to me about.”
  • Lydia kisses Natalie, a girl from her dance studio. “I lean in and feel the world expanding as my lips touch hers. I feel everything pulse open and wash clean.”
  • In the epilogue, Billy lives with his girlfriend. Billy says, “It’s not even like we spend all our time doing hanky-panky (though that is a large percentage of what we do).” The reader is never given a clarification as to what hanky-panky is.

Violence

  • Billy recalls how his grandmother “threatened to smack my chin, even though these days, smacking chins is mostly considered child abuse.”
  • Much of the violence in the story is observed by the main characters when their high schools merge. Billy’s grandmother suggests he bring a steak knife to the first day of school.
  • Students have to use plastic utensils now because “a girl stabbed a guy last week with her fork.”
  • During a fight at school, “one guy pummels another… and then blood starts flying.”
  • Billy recounts how a kid in his class “got so mad when he had to put his phone away that he started punching a teacher in the nose.”
  • Lydia throws a glass at a drunk man at the bar. “The glass barely misses his face as it smashes into the wall behind him.”
  • During his public breakdown, “Caleb’s tiny, sweatpantsed figure is swinging a guitar around, chasing his bandmates, who are fleeing off the stage… Then he throws the guitar into the audience, then the mic stands, then the drums, and the muffled voices turn to screams.”
  • In another public appearance, he “tears the mic off his shirt, jumps out of his seat, and smashes his beer bottle on the camera.”
  • Billy’s grandmother tells a journalist to kill himself.
  • A news report says that the King “accidentally bombed the wrong village somewhere this morning and killed a few thousand innocent people.”
  • Caleb’s girlfriend expresses a desire to “bomb all of Washington State west of Olympia so they can give it back to the trees.”
  • Billy’s neighbor, who is in an extremist religious cult, threatens another resident with “one of those big scary guns people only use in wars and mass shootings and starts chasing the guy down the street.” Billy watches the scene from his porch, and the situation de-escalates over three pages.
  • Caleb recalls how Billy’s grandfather “smashed up the house on a regular basis.”
  • Billy thinks that if he expressed his true environmental opinions, the locals would “probably murder me and tie my dead body to a tree and write on it with blood, ‘Are you happy now, tree hugger?’”
  • A riot breaks out over an announcement regarding logging rights in the forest. “One man pushes another, who falls into another man behind him, who falls into another, who falls into another man behind him, and then all hell breaks loose, the crowd a flurry of pushing, punching, shouting, glass breaking, and random things on fire.” Billy watches it on TV.
  • School is let out early because of a bomb threat.
  • Lydia tells Caleb, “If you try to commit suicide in my house, I will fucking kill you.”
  • In addition to verbal abuse, Billy’s grandmother hits him. This only happens once in the narrative, but it is implied to have happened before. When Billy tries to approach her after she’s heard a distressing news story, “She spins around, whacks my arm, lunges, and even sitting on the couch she’s strong enough to push me to the floor.”
  • The King drops a nuclear bomb in the Pacific, causing a tsunami to destroy most of Fog Harbor. The climax of the book follows the characters as they race to higher ground. Many people survive, but a loss of life is implied.
  • “Cult Girl” points a gun in a reporter’s face to get her to go away.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • An old town rivalry is rumored to have started with “opium-crazed mill workers.”
  • Billy’s town has “the highest per capita heroin deaths in the state.”
  • Billy says he’s never been tempted to do drugs because “I’m not cool enough to be straight-edge, and I’m not smart enough to be a nerd, so mostly I’m just sober out of fear.” His grandmother often tells him “that addiction is in my blood and I’m a junkie waiting to happen, and I figure going through withdrawal once as a baby is more than enough.”
  • Lydia’s father runs a bar, so she spends most of her time there. “Technically, it’s against the law for me to be in here since I’m underage, but no one cares about laws like that here.”
  • Caleb smokes cigarettes and weed. While hiding in the attic, he enlists Billy to buy him weed from his old friend and dealer, Gordon. Billy doesn’t want Caleb to relapse, but Caleb says, “In the great scheme of things I’ve done, weed is barely a drug.”
  • When visiting Gordon to buy weed, Billy watches him take “some kind of contraption with water in it from the table, grips it between his legs while the hand of his good arm holds a lighter to it, inhales, and exhales a giant cloud of sweet, but slightly rancid-smelling smoke.”
  • Billy completes the drug deal and receives “a plastic baggie of dry greenish-brown clumps” (marijuana).
  • During a later drug deal, Gordon hands Billy a beer and offers him “molly” and “nitrous cartridges.” Billy doesn’t drink the beer or take Gordon up on his offer.
  • When Caleb smokes all his weed and falls asleep, Billy wonders, “Can someone die of a marijuana overdose?”
  • Caleb tells Billy to ask his drug dealer “where to get some dope.” Billy tells him, “I’m not going to help you kill yourself. If you want heroin, you can leave this attic and get it yourself.”

Language

  • Fuck, shit, damn, hell, goddamn, and asshole are used frequently. Bitch, bastard, crap, and “screw you” are used infrequently.
  • Lydia works at a fast-food restaurant called “Taco Hell.”
  • A regular at Lydia’s father’s bar calls Billy “retarded.”

Supernatural

  • Some of the events that surround Billy and Lydia seem supernatural. During one of the final scenes, while the town is being threatened by a natural disaster, Lydia and Billy see unicorns and dragons running through the streets. “What looks like a dragon and two unicorns run by, way larger and way faster than anyone in costume could possibly be.” The narrators never get a good look at the creatures.
  • A small girl nobody else can see follows Lydia around, often kicking her or breaking things.
  • A fan asks Billy if he is Caleb’s ghost.

Spiritual Content

  • Billy’s neighbors are in a cult. Billy often sees the neighbors’ child—a girl his age— in the window, and he refers to her as “Cult Girl.”
  • Cult Girl and her family attend “some weird church in a trailer by the freeway that says women are supposed to stay in the home and kids should be kept pure and not have any contact with sinners, aka everyone else.”
  • When Billy gets the chance to talk to Cult Girl, he thinks, “For all I know, the only history she’s ever been taught is stories from the Bible. She might still think the Earth’s flat.”
  • Later, Billy asks Cult Girl what happened after the Biblical great flood. Ruth says, “The waters took a while to recede, but then there was a brave new world to conquer… Then God invented rainbows. But it’s just a story. God also said He’d never make it flood again. But He lied… God made it flood because He realized He made a mistake and humans were evil and needed to be destroyed.”
  • Lydia’s father, who is going through a “Wicca phase,” tells the kids, “Samhain is the ancient pagan holiday marking a time when the boundary between this world and the spirit world thins and can be more easily crossed… I can tell you some incantations you can use to summon the spirits.” The kids don’t take him up on his offer.
  • Billy says, “No one ever taught me how to pray, but I did it anyway. I got on my knees and everything. I asked God or whoever to protect my uncle and keep him safe.”
  • A group of kids at school form a “morning prayer circle table,” where they stand up from their seats and shout, “Who’s in the house? J.C.’s in the house!” Billy thinks, “Who in their right mind would thank God for any of this?”
  • A teacher tells Billy about “chakras and crystals.”
  • Lydia calls Christmas “a marketing conspiracy in the guise of a religious tradition I don’t even believe in.”
  • During an emergency, a girl from Lydia’s dance studio runs away from her parents because they “kept praying. It was driving me crazy.”
  • Caleb goes to a Thai meditation retreat and says he wants to become a monk.
  • Billy says, “Apparently that Buddha guy that Caleb likes came up with the idea [of living in the moment] way before therapists did.”

by Caroline Galdi

 

We Set the Dark on Fire

We Set the Dark on Fire takes place on the fictional island of Medio, where a wall separates the poverty-stricken coast and the wealthy inland. Medio has rich mythology about a complicated love triangle between the Sun God, the Moon Goddess, and a human woman. The myth ends with the three entities marrying each other in a holy trifecta. Because of this myth, wealthy inland families customarily marry their sons off to two wives: a “Primera” and a “Segunda.” The Primera functions as a “political” wife who manages her husband’s social appearances and accompanies him at public functions. The Segunda is the mistress who is responsible for bearing and raising the husband’s children.

The story centers around Dani, a seventeen-year-old girl who is graduating from finishing school and is about to start her life as a wife. Despite graduating at the top of her class, Dani is worried about taking her place in the household. Political riots have made the police paranoid, and she is worried that the increased security will reveal that her identification papers are forged. Her parents are from the coast and have risked everything to put her in finishing school.

Dani is soon married off to a powerful political figure in one of the richest families in the Capital. She is the Primera and her school rival, Carmen, is the Segunda. She has little time to settle into household life before being approached by a rebel spy group, La Voz. The spies give her fresh papers so that she can pass a checkpoint, but in return, Dani is dragged into a world of political tensions and intrigue. Soon, she finds herself steeped too deep in her husband’s family’s corruption and is forced to confront ugly truths about the family she has married into. While dealing with espionage and lies, Dani must use all her wits to conceal her own secrets, which include her forged identity, her alliance with La Voz, and a budding romance with Carmen.

We Set the Dark on Fire is an original, well-written story. Mejia navigates a complicated political plot deftly. The story’s twists and turns may become confusing at times, but the narration avoids losing its thread. The prose is poetic and brings Dani’s character to life. The reader will soon be invested in the world of Medio’s aristocratic gender politics where Primeras are expected to show no emotion. Dani, who has been training for years to assume the role of Primera, is well-accustomed to showing no emotion. The layers of composure beneath that she hides add texture and detail to the narrative. She is excellently characterized.

The emotional core of the novel is formed from two main elements. The first is Dani’s relationship—and eventual romance—with Carmen. The tension and forbidden love between the two wives is excellently written, and readers will root for the couple as the stakes get higher and the lies get thicker. The second element is Dani’s love for her hometown. Although she was sent away to school at age twelve and never returned, Dani has a strong love for Polvo, the simple town where she spent her childhood. Upon entering the aristocracy, Dani discovers that she is disgusted by the excess and wealth that her new family can afford. Although she looks back fondly on her time in Polvo and wishes she could live there, she knows that Polvo is racked with poverty and that the police terrorize its citizens.

American readers may notice that the world of Medio draws certain parallels to events on the news. The island is divided by a wall meant to keep certain people out; the police are brutal towards the poor; the culture features Spanish words and foods. The narrative never makes the allegory overly obvious, but the book is deeply political. In one scene, Dani feels regret that she can have fun at all when so many people are suffering. Her guilt and class consciousness will strike a chord with many readers. While the book puts strong moral themes into conflict, the reader likely will not feel patronized or preached to; rather, they will simply want to know what happens next.

Sexual Content

  • Dani and Carmen’s new husband frequently looks at Carmen in suggestive ways, “raking his eyes over her body in a greedy way.”
  • Carmen wears revealing clothing. “Carmen was never underdressed—unless you counted too much bare skin. Today’s dress was plunging.”
  • A seamstress measures Dani and Carmen for new clothes, and Dani is nervous about undressing in front of another person. There are moments of uncomfortable sexual tension. “Carmen in clothes was ridiculous, but in nothing but her underwear she was, objectively, a work of art. She was all circles and curves, all dark amber and soft edges.”
  • In a lie to cover up her communication with La Voz, Dani tells Carmen that she fired a gardener. Dani says, “I heard him talking about you. About your figure in your dress and how he’d like to . . .  well, you get the point . . . I let him go for saying inappropriate things.”
  • In the shower, Dani fantasizes about Carmen. “There was a heat building deep within her. Deeper than her muscles or her bones or her pounding pulse. It was a primal, secret ache that she’d never allowed herself to feel before this moment. Her fingers knew where to find the source of that feeling, and when they went wandering, Dani didn’t stop them. . . In only a few moments, she was lost to the sensations.”
  • After being attracted to each other for a long time, Dani and Carmen finally kiss. “Their lips met like swords sometimes do, clashing and impatient and bent on destruction, and Dani thought her heart might burst if she didn’t stop, but it would surely burst if she did.”
  • Dani and Carmen’s husband are accused by his parents of having an affair. “If you’re going to have an affair, at least be discreet, for Sun’s sake. The years between marriage and moving your Segunda into your room are long, but . . .”
  • Dani and Carmen’s husband kisses Carmen “longer than he should have been allowed, especially when they weren’t alone.” Dani imagines “the places a kiss like this could lead. The places they would necessarily lead, if Dani was still here when it was time for them to produce a child. But would Mateo really wait that long?”
  • Dani and Carmen spend an intimate night together, and Dani is nervous about what Carmen expects. “She was a Segunda, of course; maybe kissing wasn’t enough. Dani tried not to balk at the thought of clothing coming off, of touching someone else the way she’d barely touched herself . . . she wasn’t ready. Not yet.” Carmen reassures her that she doesn’t expect anything sexual. “Don’t worry about that, okay? If we want to . . . when we’re ready . . . we’ll talk about it. But for now, I just want to do this until I get dizzy.” The narration skips over the rest of the night but implies that they continue making out until morning.
  • After their night together, Dani observes herself in the mirror. “She didn’t look like a Primera anymore. She looked like a girl who knew the taste of lips and tongues. A girl who had wondered what was next.”
  • Dani spies on two minor characters, José and Mama Garcia. “Whatever José had been about to say, it was swallowed by Mama Garcia as she claimed his mouth in a passionate kiss. One that clearly wasn’t a first between the two.”

Violence

  • The police use firearms and deadly force. During one chapter, Dani and Carmen have to navigate through a market where a confrontation is taking place between the police and La Voz. The police fire several times and create havoc, but the “long, shallow scratches on her neck were the least of Dani’s worries. There had been blood on the pavement as they’d left the marketplace…” Later, she learns that her main contact within La Voz was shot. “‘Just a scratch,’ he said, but a complicated web of bandages spread across his chest and down his left arm, telling a more sinister story.”
  • Members of La Voz gather in the market with torches to burn it down. Dani barely escapes in time and suffers severe burns. “The figure watched, mask expressionless, as she rolled on the stone stage, trying desperately to put out the fire that had taken over her every thought and feeling. When the flames finally died, the fabric of her expensive dress had become one with her skin, and when she tugged at it her vision went black in spots, coming back slowly to reveal an inferno where she had just been standing.”
  • A member of La Voz holds a knife to Dani’s throat and threatens her life. “The knife pressed harder against her throat, kissing her skin until it broke.”
  • Dani is pulled away from a car that explodes with people inside of it. “Carmen slammed into her from behind, knocking the wind out of her. She didn’t say a word as she scooped Dani up into her arms and flat-out ran back to the car. The whining was deafening now. Above them, the air seemed to grow thinner, the stars too bright. Carmen threw her painfully to the ground behind the hired car, barely covering Dani’s ears with her hands before the darkness exploded all around them.”
  • A member of La Voz holds a gun to Dani’s head, but then empties her clip into a burning car instead of shooting her.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Playing cards only come out “when the men at a party got too deep in their expensive liquor and one of them had something to prove.”
  • Dani recalls her school roommate “dizzy with drink from the Segundas’ legendary last-night party. She’d been loose and smiling, drunk on her own triumph as much as the rose wine.”
  • The women of the aristocracy frequently drink sangria together, though never to the point of impropriety.
  • When Dani’s husband catches her in his private study, he has her sit down and drink “a clear liquid that smelled like an open flame.” He is already drunk and slurring his words. Dani gets a “pleasant buzz” and stumbles a little while leaving.

Language

  • Occasionally, characters will swear on the Sun and Moon gods and say, “For Sun’s Sake.”

Supernatural

  • Dani recalls her mother’s proficiency in telling fortunes with a deck of cards. “Her mama told the women of the town of small illnesses that were coming: a jealous eye on a child; a husband growing too fond of the fermented pineapple rind most families brewed in the dirt patches beside their houses.”

Spiritual Content

  • Dani views the world through her own religion, which differs from the religion of the inner island. While the inner island focuses on “large gods,” such as the Sun God and Moon Goddess, Dani sees small gods everywhere.
  • For example, during a tense moment, “Dani closed her eyes and muttered a half-forgotten prayer to the god in the air, to the goddess in the flames. Keep calm, she beseeched them. No one around her would understand. Her parents’ gods weren’t in fashion—only the bearded visage of the Sun God, who ruled masculine ambitions and financial prosperity.”
  • These invocations of small, unnamed gods appear throughout the narration and often serve to illustrate what Dani is thinking or feeling.

by Caroline Galdi

 

 

The One

As Maxon’s Selection has been narrowed down to the final four girls, competition between the girls is tight. America has noticed her growing love for Maxon, and her jealousy grows as she watches the other girls get closer to the man she loves. The King, however, will do anything to make sure Maxon doesn’t choose America, since she is from a lower caste, and the king can’t manipulate her. The King has started pressuring her to leave the Selection. Plus, America’s previous love, Aspen, has started working as a castle guard, and his presence threatens to unravel the progress Maxon and America have made in their relationship.

As the Selection wears on, rebels against the monarchy are becoming restless and threaten to overthrow the kingdom along with the caste system. Members of the Northern Rebels sneak into the castle and ask for Maxon and America. The rebels strike a deal with them on the promise that if the caste system is ended once Maxon becomes king, the Northern rebels will keep the Southern, more violent and ruthless rebels, at bay. Can Maxon and America trust the rebels? Or will the rebels overthrow the monarchy before the Selection even ends?

Readers will be kept on the edge of their seats in this final installment of the Selection series. The book’s twists and turns will help to drive the plot as America and Maxon make their way to the end of the Selection. This third and final book of the series picks up in excitement and romance that was lacking in the second book, The Elite. Though this book is very entertaining, readers will want to have read the previous two books of the series to understand the dynamic characters, the competition between the girls, and the Selection process as a whole.

America is once again shown as the headstrong, powerful woman that was introduced in the first book of the series. Entertaining characters from the previous books will make their appearances, along with new, well-developed characters that add excitement and more diversity to the plot. Themes of friendship, family, and standing up for oneself are seen throughout the story and will help to encourage readers to stand up for what they believe in. With the book’s heavy focus on America’s family and friends’ love and support, readers will recognize that with the support of their own friends and family, they can do anything.

The One has many surprises and a satisfying conclusion. Readers will want to have the first book of Cass’s continuation of the Selection series, The Heir, on hand.  The Heir jumps 20 years into the future, where readers learn more about Maxon, America, and their children.

Language

  • Damn is used twice.
  • Darn is used once. When he proposes, Maxon states that he’s had the ring for a long time and, “I’ve been sleeping with that darn thing under my pillow.”
  • After there is a misunderstanding of whether or not America has seen Maxon without his shirt on, Celeste is upset and yells, “‘You slut!’”
  • Hell is used three times.
  • The king threatens Maxon, saying that he will force America to go home. The king says to America, “I’ll give you some time to find out where you stand. If you won’t do this, then rules be damned, I’ll be kicking you out by Christmas Day.”
  • Maxon describes himself as being “an absolute ass.”

Sexual Content

  • Competition is rising between the girls, and in order to get ahead of one another, they begin to make physical advances towards Maxon. America begins to think about what she’s done with Maxon and is concerned that, “According to the king, the other girls were making advances toward Maxon—physical advances—and he’d said I was far too plain to have a chance of matching them in that department.”
  • America attempts to seduce Maxon by dressing in a revealing dress. After dinner, Maxon comes up to her room to talk. As he comes into her room, “he focused on me, his gaze traveling up my exposed leg.” They sit on America’s bed and talk, as America continues her attempt to seduce him. “Sliding my hands down Maxon’s arms, I guided his fingers to the zipper on the back of my dress, hoping it would be enough.” They talk some more and Maxon eventually leaves the room. The encounter lasts for three pages.
  • After coming up with a plan to make the king like her, America and Maxon kiss. “With an impish grin on his face, he (Maxon) came very close and gave me a long, slow kiss.”
  • In an argument between the girls, America focuses the attention on Celeste by bringing up an encounter where she saw Celeste and Maxon together. America says, “Celeste was half-naked up against him in a hallway!”
  • During an argument between the girls, someone mentions how far they have gone with Maxon physically. Kriss then questions, “We need to clear this up. Who has done what with Maxon?’”
  • As she is recounting the argument with the other girls to Maxon, America explains to Maxon why she mentioned that she had seen Maxon without his shirt on. America states that “‘The girls know I saw you without your shirt on…now they just think we were in the middle of some big make-out fest.’” She continues to explain that, “‘They (the other girls) know I was your first kiss. And I know everything you have and haven’t done with them.’”
  • America walks in on Maxon kissing one of the other girls. America sees “the back of Maxon’s head as Kriss’s hand slid just barely into the neck of his suit. Her hair fell to the side as they kissed, and, for her first, it seemed like it was going really well.”
  • Maxon and America sneak out onto the roof of the castle while it’s raining. “I raised my face to Maxon’s, placing a hand on his cheek, pulling him down for a kiss. His lips, wet, met mine with a brush of heat.” They kiss several times and the kiss is described in detail.
  • Celeste and America discuss Maxon. Celeste says Maxon is “cute. And a great kisser.’”
  • While Maxon and America are in the back of a truck, they “went over a pretty jarring bump, and he grabbed me. I felt our noses brush in the dark, and the urge to kiss him came unexpectedly fast.” Their kissing is described for about a page.
  • America meets a girl named Paige who lives on the streets and makes money through prostitution. Paige explains to America that, “Just this week I found a group of girls. We work together and share all the profits. If you can forget what you’re doing, it’s not so bad. I have to cry afterwards.”
  • Maxon is telling America how he feels about her. Maxon begins to describe his feelings, and “a devilish smirk came to his face. He moved his lips to my ear. ‘I can think of a few other ways to show you how you make me feel,’ he whispered…I trembled as he ran his open lips over a tiny patch of skin, his breath so very tempting.” This encounter lasts for two pages.
  • When Maxon proposes to America, she “laughed in shock and started giving him kisses and giggling between each one.” Their intimacy grows more intense as, Maxon’s “lips traveled down my neck as he loosened his tie, throwing it somewhere near our shoes.” During their encounter, kissing is described in detail and they somewhat undress before stopping. This lasts for three and a half pages.
  • Aspen walks in on Maxon and America sleeping next to each other in bed. Aspen is alarmed and America is embarrassed. Maxon says, “Don’t be embarrassed. It’s not as if we were naked. And it’s bound to happen in the future.”
  • Maxon starts to leave America’s room after talking about their future. Maxon stops as he is leaving and “tackled me (America) on the bed, covering me with kisses.” This scene continues for half a page.
  • Aspen finds America and Maxon sleeping next to each other. Aspen says to America that he, “‘just can’t believe you slept with him.’” However, nothing happened between America and Maxon.
  • Maxon and America kiss after Maxon is shot. Then America “bent to kiss him. It was every kiss we’d ever had, all the uncertainty, all the hope.”
  • After the battle, one of America’s maids, Lucy, goes to find the boy she loves. After finding him in the hospital wing, Lucy “fell into his arms, kissing his face over and over.”
  • Maxon finally gives America a ring after the battle is over. Maxon kisses America, and she “felt my life settle into place.”
  • A girl talks about what the night after Maxon and America get married will be like. She jokes, “‘Wait until tonight.’”

Violence

  • Southern rebels attack them while America and Maxon are outside the castle with their Northern rebel allies for a meeting. The Southern rebels pull guns on them and as they are trying to escape, America is shot in the shoulder. America “looked down, and in the faint glow of a streetlight, I saw something wet coming from a rip in my sleeve. I’d been shot.” The scuffle occurs over three pages.
  • A girl name Paige finds America in an alley after she is shot. Paige explains her story of how she ended up on the streets. Paige said, “Two weeks after Dad died, she (her aunt) started hitting me. I had to sneak food because she said I was getting fat and wouldn’t give me anything to eat.”
  • Southern rebels overrun the castle in an attempt of taking over the monarchy. Many people are injured or killed. America recounts the invasion as she “watched in confusion as a red-marked guard walked up behind Celeste and put a bullet squarely through the back of her head. The screaming and gunfire exploded at once. Guttural shouts of pain filled the room, adding to the cacophony of chairs screeching, bodies hitting walls, and the stampede of people trying to escape as fast as they could in their heels and suits.” This battle lasts for seven pages.
  • During the attack on the castle, Maxon jumps in front of a bullet for America, and it hits him in the chest. America “scurried under the table to find Maxon breathing with great labor, a large red stain growing across his shirt. There was a wound below his left shoulder, and it looked very serious.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • People are drinking alcohol at a Christmas party. America describes her involvement in the party. “As the relatives started getting tipsy on eggnog, I slipped away, not up to pretending to be jolly.”

Spiritual Content

  • America prays to God after Maxon is shot. She “pinched my eyes together, begging God to keep him alive.”

Supernatural Content

  • None

by Kate Kucker

All Fall Down

Three years after her mother’s death, Grace is sent to live with her grandfather, a powerful ambassador who is too busy to spend any time with her. Thrust into a new situation, Grace isn’t sure who to trust. Grace has never been close to her childhood companion, Megan, and wonders why she would want to help her. Her new friend Noah claims to want to be her best friend. Her brother’s best friend Alexei says he’s watching out for her out of obligation. Are they really her friends or do they have other motivations for staying close to Grace?

Grace wants to keep out all thoughts of her mother’s death, but visions of her mother keep appearing.  While Grace’s grandfather wants her to put on a pretty dress and attend functions at his side, Grace doesn’t seem to be able to stay out of trouble. When the mysterious Scared Man from her past appears, Grace overhears his plans to kill. Convinced that the Scared Man is responsible for killing her mother, Grace goes on a mission to stop him from killing again.

Grace narrates her own story, which allows the reader to see into her troubled mind and understand her terror. Grace believes that others think she is crazy because she witnessed her mother’s death; despite appearing completely normal, she struggles with panic attacks and visions of her mother. Grace saw her mother being shot in the chest, so why does everyone say the death was an accident?

Full of suspense, interesting characters, and plot twists, All Fall Down is an entertaining story that will leave the reader reaching for the next book in the series. For those who enjoyed the Gallagher Girls series, All Fall Down will not disappoint. However, All Fall Down has a more serious tone with more violence. Although the violence is not described in gory detail and is appropriate for younger audiences, Grace’s mother’s death is described in a detailed flashback. Even though the book is written for readers as young as twelve, as the series progresses there are some readers that will not be ready for the more mature themes.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Feeling overwhelmed, Grace runs from the house. As she backs out of the door, a “hand grabs me from behind” and she lashes out. “A cry rises up my throat, primitive and raw, and then I’m pushing and lunging. Falling. As I land in the rosebushes, I can feel the thorns of a rosebush tearing into my skin, clinging to my clothes.” In her panic, she hit the Russian ambassador, giving him a bloody nose.
  • While Grace is sleeping, a boy sneaks into her room and tries to wake her up. Startled, “I wrench the boy’s hand farther back, holding his thumb with my other hand.” After they talk, they sneak out of the house to attend a party.
  • Grace is told a story about a royal family that was murdered. The person speaking says, “The people stormed the palace and dragged Alexander and his family from their beds.” No other description is given.
  • Grace thinks that the Scared Man is going to kill the Russian president so she jumps off a balcony. When she jumps, “everyone is watching as I hurl myself over the railing. Even the U.S. Secret Service can do nothing but watch as I fly through the air and crash onto the Scared Man’s back.” Later she finds out that the Scared Man was holding a cell phone, not a gun.
  • Someone tries to kill Grace. “There’s a fence at my back. I can’t move any farther, and that is when the prime minister lunges for me, grabbing my arms in his massive hands, squeezing like a tourniquet. . . I can’t think anymore, so I just start kicking, screaming.” She struggles with her attacker, “when my elbow makes contact with his nose, I hear a sickening snap and feel the warm gush of blood on the back of my neck.”
  • Grace witnessed her mother’s death. “. . . I am standing there, watching my mother fall, bloody and broken. . .” The person who tried to help her was injured. “Blood rains down his face. His left eye is swollen shut. And the skin on his left cheek is almost black with blood, singed skin, and a rugged cut that runs from brow to jaw.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Grace takes prescription pills that help her deal with anxiety. Several times she refers to the pills. When she has a panic attack she doesn’t want anyone to find out because, “It will be just like after (her mother’s death). With the pills and the shrinks and the looks.”
  • After Grace jumps off a balcony and lands on the Scared Man, she is given more medication. The medication makes her act differently. The medicine makes Grace shake “my body like a pendulum that can never quite stop moving.”
  • Someone drugs Grace so that she will go to sleep. After she takes the drugs, she thinks, “I want to argue and demand answers, but it is all I can do to focus on the glass that is falling, shattering on the floor. Two seconds later, I follow.”
  • Grace’s grandfather “pours himself a drink, I can tell it isn’t the first of the night. The way things are going, it almost certainly won’t be his last.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

See How They Run

Finding the truth about her mother’s murder was supposed to bring Grace peace. But the past still haunts her. Grace realizes that her mother carried secrets of her own, but there are those who want those secrets to stay buried. And there is someone who is willing to kill to make sure the truth never comes out.

Grace knows there are century-old secrets surrounding her family. The only thing she doesn’t know is who to trust in her search for the truth. And when a U.S. citizen is murdered on Adria soil, Grace realizes that death is just a tool that a powerful person isn’t afraid to use.

Full of suspense and intrigue, the second installment of the Embassy Row series will captivate readers and pull them into the mystery surrounding Grace. See How They Run focuses less on Grace’s friends, and their absence makes the story less interesting. Grace doesn’t trust her own decision-making skills, and often refers to her “crazy” nature. Her complicated character adds suspense to the story. The addition of Adria’s history and the murder of a royal family creates an eerie atmosphere.

For those who enjoyed the Gallagher Girls series, See How They Run will not disappoint. However, See How They Run focuses on the death of a royal family and the murder of a young man. Even though the violence is not described in detail, the story makes it clear that someone is willing to kill innocent people.

Sexual Content

  • At a party, a boy kisses Grace. “He is leaning closer and closer. I close my eyes and feel his lips brush mine.” The kiss ends when she shoves him back.
  • Alexei and Grace kiss. The first time they kiss, Grace thinks, “Spence kissed me. But this is more. More intimate. More gentle. More emotion pounds through my veins than anything any boy has ever made me feel.”

Violence

  • An integral part of the plot revolves around a revolt that happened 200 years ago. During the revolt, “The king, the queen, two princes and a baby girl who wasn’t even a month old yet. Five of them. They pulled them from their bed, and they killed them.” The family was murdered and their bodies were hung from the palace.
  • When Alexei finds out that Spence kissed Grace, Alexei “turns and pulls back his arm in one smooth motion, dropping Spence to the ground with a single blow. . . They tumble and twist and brawl closer and closer to the party.” The fight lasts over several pages, but no one is seriously hurt.
  • When Jamie finds out that his friend kissed Grace, he “doesn’t say a word of warning. He just hits him.” Spence’s head jerks but he stays on his feet. The boy doesn’t hit back and Jamie leaves him with a warning to leave his sister alone.
  • During the festival, a drunk man recognizes Alexei. Then a mob of people attacks him and Grace. “The first fist that hits Alexei knocks him nearly off his feet. He doesn’t see it coming. . . I can feel myself getting pushed, almost knocked to the ground. I lash out, kicking a man in the knee as he lunges at Alexei. But two other men are already upon him.” During the attack, Grace is stabbed in the side.
  • Someone bombs a car. It is unclear if the driver was killed in the explosion or if the vehicle was unoccupied.
  • Someone stabs Jamie. “. . . I see blood that covers Jamie’s shirt. He’s trying to press against the wound with his free hand, but it’s not working. My brother is going to bleed to death, die right in front of me.” A helicopter arrives to take him to an Army hospital in Germany. It is unclear if he will survive his wounds.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • In the past, Grace has been given medication for anxiety. When she has a bad dream, she blames it on “the meds that I’m not taking.”
  • During a festival, a man walks by Grace and her friends. She comments that the drunk’s “breath smells like liquor.”
  • When Grace is stabbed, someone tends to the wound and then gives her “a small glass bottle” with medicine in it to help with the pain.
  • Grace does not want Alexei to turn himself in to the authorities, so she drugs him. “His hand goes limp . . . His legs wobble. But thankfully we are out of view of the street by the time he passes out completely and falls, sprawling on the weeds.”

Language

  • A character, “mumbles something that I think must be the Russian equivalent to Oh my freaking goodness.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Take the Key and Lock Her Up

Death is no stranger to the royal family of Adria. Centuries ago, the royal family was murdered, which changed the political landscape of Adri. However, the infant princess survived and was hidden; those who hid the child wanted her to take her rightful place as queen. Now, two hundred years later, there are still some that believe the princess’ descendent should sit on the throne.

Grace discovers that the princess’s blood runs through her veins. If people find out that Grace is a lost princess, the news could spark a revolution. Some people want to use Grace as a pawn, others want to silence her forever. Grace must figure out a way to save herself and the people she loves. Danger and deceit hide around every corner, and if Grace fails, she will pay with her life.

Take the Key and Lock Her Up is the exciting conclusion to the Embassy Row trilogy. The third book in the series ramps up the suspense because Grace isn’t sure who wants to help her and who wants to kill her. The romance heats up, but the kissing scenes are tame and appropriate for younger readers. Even though the book is written for readers as young as twelve, there are some readers that will not be ready for the more mature themes. For younger readers, the content may be disturbing because there are several scenes that focus on a mental institution and how the drugs affect the patients. In addition, Take the Key and Lock Her Up has more violence than the first two books because there are several factions that want Grace dead. The ending of the story is a bit predictable, but that doesn’t detract from the story’s enjoyment.

Sexual Content

  • Grace and Alexei kiss five times throughout the story. The first time, Grace brings “my free hand up and weave my fingers into Alexei’s dark hair, pull him close, and kiss him. Like maybe it’s the last thing I’ll ever do.”
  • Alexei kisses Grace. “. . . Alexei’s lips are on mine, and I’m not aware of anything anymore. It’s different from the kiss on the bridge. There’s no urgency now. . . This is about now—right now. No future and no past.”
  • Alexei and Grace kiss. “. . . His lips are on mine and my fingers are in his hair and everything fades away, the streets and the darkness. . .”

Violence

  • After Grace is drugged and taken to an unknown location, she escapes. “I just pick up the candlestick and throw it over my head as hard as I can . . . I can hear the chaos behind me, cries of pain and fury and fear.”
  • Someone is trying to capture Grace. In order to help her, Alexei throws a man over a bridge.
  • When a man tries to grab Grace, Alexei fights him. Grace watches “him twist, launching himself over the bigger man, and in a flash Alexei has his arms around his neck and he’s squeezing . . . The orderly slumps as Alexei cuts off his . .” At the same time, an orderly tries to drug Grace, and she throws her “hands up, catching his wrist with both hands, pressing up as he presses down.” She makes the man put the syringe in his own leg, and she and Alexei are able to escape.
  • Grace’s friends blow up a car. “Flaming debris fills the yard. Windshields are smashed. Tires are flattened.” No one is injured.
  • For no reason, a woman attacks the prince. She “slaps him hard across the face and starts kicking and clawing.” Several people pull her off of him.
  • Someone poisons the king, and he “pitches awkwardly forward and crashes down the massive staircase. . . (he) has landed, limp and broken, on the polished parquet floor.”
  • When Grace discovers a secret, someone hits her, knocking her out. Later, this person shoots a man in the chest, “and he drops to the ground.”
  • When a woman attacks Grace, her son shoots her. “The gun is tumbling from his hand as his mother crumbles, blood-soaked, to the floor.” The woman survives.

 

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Grace drugs someone’s tea. When Grace drugs the person, “she slumps slowly to the ground, getting mud and grass stains all over her pretty white suit.”
  • A guard drugs Grace. When it happens, she feels “a pinch in my neck. I turn to see a guard behind me holding a syringe.”
  • While walking down the street, Grace passes some drunk people and goes by a café where people are drinking wine.
  • Alexei’s mother was in a mental institution, where she was prescribed drugs. Grace thinks, “I don’t know what they were giving her at that facility, but I can imagine. I know better than anyone that the medicine can be far worse than the disease.”
  • A woman is put in a mental intuition where she is given a vial of medication. Grace thinks that the medicine is “supposed to feel like peace, like bliss. But to me they always felt like your heart was covered with frostbite. They made me so numb I actually burned.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

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