Cinder

For Cinder, a reluctantly adopted half-cyborg, daily life has always been a constant struggle toward belonging and acceptance. Inside her home, Cinder is nothing more than the orphan she was as a child, though she can never forget the scientist that rescued her. However, his untimely death has left her with little knowledge of her former life. Unable to know the motivations of the person who initially saved her, Cinder now faces the wrath of a stepmother who uses her as a common mechanic and breadwinner for Cinder’s two stepsisters. Outside her home, Cinder faces an entirely different sort of ill-will; as part-cyborg, Cinder faces endless forms of discrimination from her community in the Eastern Commonwealth of New Beijing, a society that is more than willing to give up any of their cyborg citizens for the purposes of scientific experimentation.

New Beijing faces its own onslaught of problems. Once a powerful and prosperous development, the royal state now faces threats of war from the Lunars, a magical dictatorship residing on Earth’s moon.  Crippled under the wrath of a plague known as letumosis, New Beijing fears that its only hope of survival may rest in its Prince Kai’s ability to marry the Lunar Queen Levana—or else find a cure for the disease that currently holds a 100% casualty rate.

Cinder gratefully avoids both issues of the letumosis plague and New Beijing’s political instability, focusing instead on her own efforts to escape her present living conditions. However, when Cinder’s stepsister, Peony, falls to the disease, Cinder is opted up for a cyborg draft that aims to find a letumosis cure, and is thus driven into the conflicts of her nation head-on. In facing experimentation, Cinder finds not only a connection with Prince Kai, but also faces the truth behind her childhood. In encountering her past, Cinder must now ask: does she think she can change the fate of her world? And, if she loves and accepts herself—her own power—will others accept her as well?

Cinder is a sci-fi fantasy that works to retell the classic story of Cinderella from the lens of an imaginative society filled with political intrigue and social commentary pertinent to our community today. In weaving together the personal struggles of Cinder, the strategic plans of Prince Kai, the wrath of the Lunar population, and the welfare of New Beijing as a collective, Meyer presents a story that keeps readers on the very edge of their seats. Though there are subtle nods towards Cinderella throughout the narrative, Cinder is presented as her own, dynamic character with unique conflicts and struggles.

As a longer narrative with more complex diction, Cinder is a story for junior high and high school readers. It is also important to note that, as a narrative that presents explicit descriptions of death and disease, the narrative may not be suitable for younger readers, particularly considering our present struggles with the COVID pandemic. However, for those readers wanting a thrilling, action-packed, and innovative piece of speculative fiction that works to bring real world conflict to an imagined world, this is the perfect book! Cinder will especially capture the attention of any readers looking to dive into sci-fi fantasy for the first time, as the narrative holds an easily digestible, yet intricate, world that serves as a perfect introduction to the genre. In following Cinder’s journey, readers can also truly see the way invented worlds speak to issues of discrimination, classism, ethics, and power within our present world.

By confronting New Beijing’s societal conflicts as the result of a history that speaks to her own past, Cinder also rises to accept where she has come from—as both New Beijing citizen and cyborg mechanic power—to sculpt her own path in the world with newfound agency. When fate arises, and the wellbeing of a community rests in her hand, Cinder truly shows all readers that empowering themselves is the first step towards empowering their surroundings.

Sexual Content

  • When Dr. Erland praises Cinder for the way her technology falls perfectly in line with her central nervous system, Cinder sarcastically replies, “I’m sure I’ll feel much more grateful when I find a guy who thinks complex wiring in a girl is a turn-on.”
  • Fascinated by Queen Levana’s projected beauty, Kai hesitates when meeting her. Instead, he stares “at the pale, translucent skin, wondering if just touching her was all it would take to destroy a man’s mind.”
  • To stop Prince Kai from announcing his marriage to Queen Levana, “Cinder wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him . . . Though Cinder had intended for it to be a short kiss, she found herself lingering. Hot tingles coursed through her body, surprising and scary but not unpleasant, surging like electricity through her wires . . . the desperation melted and, for the briefest of moments, the ulterior motives were gone. She found herself kissing him for no other reason than she wanted to.”
  • After seeing Cinder kiss Prince Kai, Queen Levana says, “You must misunderstand my culture. On Luna, we consider monogamy to be nothing more than archaic sentimentality. What do I care if my husband-to-be is in love with another . . . woman?”

Violence

  • At the beginning of Cinder, Cinder watches as a baker named Chang Sacha realizes that she has caught the plague. As a result of this discovery, Chang Sacha’s son is taken from her, and a screaming Chang Sacha is led to quarantine by officials. Following this, Cinder realizes that officials are “going to burn Chang-ji’s booth.” Authorities burn the booth until “The baker’s booth had been reduced to rubble and the skeleton of a portable oven.” The scene is described over five pages.
  • While introducing Queen Levana, the queen of the Lunar race, it is mentioned that the queen “murdered her older sister, Queen Channary, so she could take the throne from her. [Rumors from the Eastern Commonwealth community] said [Queen Levana] had her own husband killed too so she would be free to make a more advantageous match. They said she had forced her stepdaughter to mutilate her own face because, at the sweet age of thirteen, she had become more beautiful than the jealous queen could stand. They said she’d killed her niece, her only threat to the throne. Princess Selene had only been three years old when a fire caught in her nursery, killing her and her nanny.” This is the extent of the description concerning the violence incited by Queen Levana.
  • Cinder’s youngest stepsister, Peony, catches the disease that is described when Cinder finds, “a splotch of red, rimmed with bruise purple” on Peony’s collarbone. Peony screams, and cries, before an emergency hover and med-droids take her away to quarantine. At this time, a med-droid tests Cinder for the disease by inserting a needle in her right wrist and drawing blood.
  • In light of Peony’s sickness, Cinder’s stepmother Adri donates Cinder to the cyborg draft (a system where a family’s cyborgs can opt themselves up, or have their family guardians donate them, as bodies for plague testing). In an argument with Cinder, Adri slaps Cinder’s cheek with the back of her hand. In order to escape the droids trying to take her, Cinder swings her toolbelt—known as a magbelt—“against the android’s cranium.” Cinder then smashes the lens of the second android. The last android finally catches Cinder before she escapes and electrocutes her until she falls to unconsciousness. This scene lasts five pages.
  • When unconscious, Cinder has a dream described as this: “Flames. Smoke. Blisters burbling across her skin. Her leg and hand were gone, leaving stumps where the surgeons had attached her protheses. Dead wires dangled from them. She tried to crawl but was as useless as an upended turtle . . . she was surrounded. Other crippled victims writhed among the coals, moaning, begging for water. They were all missing limbs. Some were nothing more than a head and a torso and a mouth, pleading.” This image is described over two pages.
  • Against her will, Cinder is tested at the king’s hospital. In this scene, an android pins her head to the side of a stretcher she is strapped to and uses prongs at the back of her neck to scan her system and note the percentage of “machine” Cinder truly is. The android then proceeds to inject Cinder with the plague. This scene lasts six pages. After being given the virus, a description of the android drawing Cinder’s blood lasts two pages.
  • Attempting to escape the testing lab, Cinder tries to attack the leading scientist on the royal letumosis research team, Dr. Erland. Cinder raises a wrench at his temple, but after speaking to the doctor, she decides against this action.
  • To test Cinder’s system, Dr. Erland pinches a vertebra above her shoulders. At this moment, “Fire and pain ruptured her spine, flooding her veins. She cried out and fell off the table, crumpling to the floor.”
  • Cinder visits her sister Peony in the quarantine section. The setting is described with “the stench of excrement and rot.” Flies fill the room with buzzing, while the patients are “sleeping or staring blankly up at the ceiling, their skin covered in a blue-black rash.” Peony is described with “purplish blotches” all over her arms, “just this side of death.”
  • In the hospital, Cinder also sees Chang Sacha again. Sacha has bluish pigment and a pungent odor. She grasps Cinder’s hand with yellowed fingernails. She asks Cinder to look for her son Sunto, before “the life dulled in Sacha’s black eyes.” Sacha’s death is described over two pages.
  • Following Sacha’s death, Cinder watches as a med-droid arrives and pulls out a scalpel. “Cinder watched, mesmerized and disgusted, as the android pressed the blade into Sacha’s wrist. A stream of blood dripped down Sacha’s palm . . . The med-droid traded the scalpel for tweezers, and Cinder heard the subtle click of metal on metal. She grimaced as the android extracted the small chip. Its protective plastic coating glistened scarlet.”
  • Dr. Erland warns Cinder that she must leave the royal research lab as “Queen Levana will stop at nothing to ensure her control, to terminate any resistance. That means killing those who could resist her—people like you. . . If she were to see you, she would kill you.”
  • Dr. Erland speaks on the murder of his daughter at the hands of Queen Levana. None of the details are described, except that she was killed because she was a “shell,” a Lunar without magic.
  • Cinder returns to quarantine to visit Peony. During this visit, Peony’s “face was ashen, her lips peeling. The dark splotches on her neck had begun to fade to lavender beneath the surface of her ghostly skin. Eyes on Cinder, she pulled her arm out from beneath the blanket and spread out her fingers, displaying their blue-black tips and the yellowish tinge of her nails.” When Cinder tries to raise Peony to administer an antidote, her body goes “limp,” and Cinder “stared into Peony’s empty eyes. Eyes looking past her, through her.” The description of Peony’s death lasts four pages.
  • To stop a med-droid from taking Peony’s ID chip, Cinder “wrenched the scalpel from [the med-droid’s] glove and jammed it into the android’s sensor. . .Cinder barreled over the bed and slammed her fist into the android’s head.”
  • Cinder pulls the chip from her sister herself. Cinder “asked for hurried forgiveness while she grasped her sister’s fragile wrist. She spliced the scalpel into the soft tissue. Blood dribbled out of the wound and onto her glove, mixing with years of grime. Peony’s fingers twitched when Cinder hit a tendon, making her jump. When the cut was wide enough, she peeled it open with her thumb, revealing bright red muscle. Blood . . she dug the tip of the blade in as carefully as she could, easing up the square chip.” This description lasts a page.
  • In a tense conversation with Queen Levana, Kai tries to loosen his grip on a chopstick, “lest he accidentally leap across the table and jab a chopstick into the witch’s eye.”
  • After assuming she was disrespected by a server, Queen Levana orders the servant to turn a blade towards herself, aiming it at the corner of her eye. This interaction ends here, as Kai stops the Queen before she can force the servant to hurt herself.
  • Angered by the new income Cinder has gained from the royal research department, Adri violently mangles and dismantles one of Cinder’s droid friends, Iko. She also asks Cinder to take off her new, machine-made, foot as payment for Peony’s funeral. This interaction lasts two pages.
  • Upon seeing Cinder at the ball, Adri raises a hand over her shoulder to strike Cinder, but Kai stops her with a hand firmly wrapped around her wrist.
  • Knowing that Cinder is Lunar, Queen Levana orders her arrest. A “Lunar guard stepped out of the crowd . . .Without warning, he grasped Cinder’s wrists, pinning them behind her.” Queen Levana then forces Cinder to lift the barrel of the gun to her own temple. When Cinder’s finger pulls down on the trigger, she manages to evade the Queen’s brainwashing just enough to force the gun away from her head. The gunshot shatters a chandelier above. Cinder then pulls the gun at the Queen and pulls the trigger, but a red-haired guard steps up to block the blow. This scene lasts about 15 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Cinder’s stepmother Adri maintains full, albeit reluctant, guardianship of Cinder following the death of her husband. As a cyborg, Cinder faces cruel discrimination and punishments under her stepmother’s control. For instance, Adri often threatens to sell Cinder off “as spare parts.”
  • Pearl, Cinder’s stepsister, also throws cruel taunts Cinder’s way. For instance, on mention of the cyborg draft, Pearl says, “I know a cyborg who could volunteer for plague testing . . . They reimburse the volunteers’ families, wire-head.”
  • In a discussion on whether to marry Queen Levana, the prince of New Beijing, says, “My plan is to not marry her. Diplomacy be damned.”
  • Following Peony’s death, Cinder shouts into her body, “Dammit. Dammit. Peony!”
  • Angered by the fact Prince Kai gifted Cinder a pair of white gloves, Pearl says, “Did you think the prince—no– the emperor would find it in his heart to overlook all your. . . ‘shortcomings’?”
  • One of the girls working for Queen Levana’s attendants, upon meeting Cinder, exclaims, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m an evil, worthless, wretched girl.”

Supernatural

  • At the beginning of the novel, another society known as the Lunars are introduced, with the line, “everything about Lunars was eerie and superstitious.” According to Cinder, Lunars were a society that evolved from an Earthen moon colony, but no longer became human. They contain supernatural powers that allow them to be able to “alter a person’s brain—make you see things you shouldn’t see, feel things you shouldn’t feel, do things you didn’t want to do. Their unnatural power had made them a greedy and violent race.”
  • Describing the Lunar people further, Dr. Erland says, “Lunars have the unique ability to not only detect bioelectricity in others, but to also control it. They can manipulate it so that people see what the Lunar wishes them to see, and even feel what the Lunar wishes them to feel. A glamour is what they call the illusion of themselves that they project into the minds of others.”
  • Upon Queen Levana’s arrival to Earth, an angry protest goes to the palace, but as soon as Queen Levana steps upon the balcony, they quiet. “Slowly, as if sleepwalking, the crowd began to depart . . . So, this was the effect of the Lunar glamour, the spell to enchant, to deceive, to turn one’s heart toward you and against your enemies.”
  • During a discussion about Queen Levana building an army, Prince Kai is given a picture taken on the moon, showing rows of creatures with wide hunched shoulders described as “a cross between man and beast. Their noses and jaws protruded awkwardly from their heads, their lips twisted into perpetual grimaces. White spots erupted from their mouths—Kai could not see them clearly, could not tell for sure, but they gave him the distinct impression of fangs.” These creatures are also thought to hold magic.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

The Beautiful Pretender

The Margrave of Thornbeck, Reinhart, must find a bride– and fast. He invites ten noble born ladies who meet the king’s approval to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks. He’ll use the time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina has only two instructions: keep her true identity a secret and make sure the margrave doesn’t select her as his bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.

Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences.

Like a Hallmark movie, The Beautiful Pretender follows the typical love story plotline. Even though the plotline is predictable, readers will enjoy stepping back into a time when women’s roles were based on their birth. Avelina, a servant in disguise, is a likable character who is learning to express her opinions. Avelina willingly goes into danger to protect others and her courage is an admirable trait. The story has a typical happily-ever-after ending that will leave readers with a warm glow.

Sexual Content

  • Reinhart’s parents “hated each other. . . both of them had lovers.”
  • One of the ladies visiting Reinhart was betrothed to a man who “was given to violent tirades and had impregnated two of his house servants.”
  • Dorothea had a “tryst” with one of her father’s knights. Rumors were that Dorothea was with child.
  • Reinhart talks about his brother who had a servant as a “lover.”
  • Avelina’s maidservant falls in love with another servant. Avelina “wanted to warn Irma that the manservant would break her heart when they had to leave, but she couldn’t imagine Irma would be eager to hear any advice from her.”
  • Reinhart and Avelina hide in a small space behind a bookcase. As they talk, Reinhart thinks, “How good it would feel to turn her face toward him and kiss her.” However, he does not.
  • While Reinhart and Avelina are hiding, she becomes cold and thinks about asking for Reinhart to embrace her. However, she doesn’t because, “Doing such a thing would be an invitation to Lord Reinhart to make her his mistress, and she would never do that.”
  • When Reinhart shows concern for Avelina, “her heart was thumping in a late reaction to wishing she could stand on her tiptoes and kiss him on the lips.”
  • Avelina is dressing Reinhart’s wounds. “She should avert her eyes and not admire his magnificent, broad, powerful-looking chest, and focus only on his shoulder injury.”
  • Before Reinhart surrenders to the enemy, “he took her [Avelina’s] face in his hands, caressing her silken skin with his thumbs. . . He bent and pressed his mouth to hers. He kissed her softly at first, making sure she did not want to pull away. . . Kissing her was achingly sweet.”
  • While locked in the dungeon with Reinhart, Avelina “leaned forward to kiss his cheek, but he turned his head at the last moment and she captured his lips in an intense but brief kiss.”
  • When Avelina agrees to marry Reinhart, “he pressed his lips against hers and kissed her long and thoroughly, not holding anything back.”

Violence

  • Reinhart’s brother, his brother’s lover, and their unborn child die in a fire.
  • One of the ladies ask Avelina to go to the balcony. The lady weakens the balcony railing and Avelina falls. “She flailed out both hands and grabbed the part of the railing still attached to the balcony. . . She clung to the railing with all her strength, her hands gripping the broken railing.” The lady leaves Avelina alone. However, Thornbeck hears screams and saves Avelina.”
  • Avelina and her servant, Irma, leave Thornbeck’s castle during a storm. Once they are away from the castle, “Irma reached out and snatched Avelina’s fur robe off. Then she lifted her leg and kicked Avelina in her side. . . She hit the ground almost before she knew what was happening.” Irma frightens Avelina’s horse, so the horse runs off. Irma leaves Avelina to die.
  • While in the forest, alone, wolves attack Avelina. A wolf “sprang at her, its eyes locked on her neck. She let go of the stick and lifted her arm, crouching at the last moment. The wolf sailed by her shoulder, but its claws raked her forearm as he passed.” Another wolf “sank its teeth into her ankle.”
  • Reinhart hears Avelina’s screams and rushes to help. “He unsheathed his sword and leapt off his horse. The wolf lunged at her throat and Reinhart brought the sword down on its head, knocking it to the ground. . . another wolf caught his sword arm in its teeth. He switched his sword to his left hand and slashed the blade across the wolf’s belly and slung it to the ground.” Both Reinhart and Avelina are injured.
  • A servant, confesses that she killed two lovers and their unborn child because “the duke told me to do it.” Gerhaws says, “I hid in their room, and when they went to sleep, I set their bed curtains on fire.”
  • Gerhaws falls to her death. Her death is not described.
  • While locked in the dungeon, Geitbart mocks Reinhart. “Reinhart lunged at Geitbart. His fist found its mark as it crunched into Geitbart’s nose.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Avelina’s servant, Irma, often appears drunk. One time, Avelina goes to wake up Irma, and “the scent of strong drink assaulted Avelina’s nose.”
  • Reinhart’s brother was drunk the night he died.
  • One of the servants drinks. Someone says, “It is well known that this Gerhaws drinks herself into a stupor in the evenings.” When Avelina sees Gerhaws, the servant “took a small flask out of a pocket in her apron and brought it to her lips.”
  • When Reinhart is in the dungeon, Avelina takes a flask of wine to him.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • The older women in Avelina’s community say, “If you dreamed something three times it was bound to come true.”

Spiritual Content

  • Avelina prays to God frequently. The prayers praise God as well as request something from God. For example, when Thornbeck questions Avelina, who is pretending to be Lady Dorothea, Avelina prays, “God in heaven, I am only a maidservant! What am I saying?”
  • Avelina wonders, “What did it matter if one worshipped at a gold altar or a wooden one, so long as one’s heart and mind were focused on God?”
  • During a dinner, Reinhart welcomes the ladies who are present. He says, “I pray you all enjoy yourselves while you are here, and God will show me which worthy lady among you should be my bride.”
  • Reinhart and the women attend church. During service, there is “a brief homily from the priest on the importance of showing kindness as Jesus did. . .”
  • Gerhaws confesses that she killed Reinhart’s brother. Gerhaws says, “I thought if my lord told me to do it, God would not hold me responsible for it. . . The priest told me it was a sin to disobey my lord, so I did it. I killed the margrave.”
  • Avelina believes, “She [is] a human being, created by God to do good works.”
  • While hiding from soldiers with Reinhart, Avelina prays: “I know that You do not always do everything we ask, so I plead with You to save us. Save us precisely because it is impossible, and because You are god.” The prayer goes on for a paragraph.
  • When Reinhart believes he is going to die, he prays: “Dear Jesus and Lord God, forgive my sins and receive my spirit.” He goes on and asks for Avelina’s protection. He says, “She does not deserve to be punished anymore. . . Don’t let her be mistreated. . . by anyone.”

Hunted

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. After all, her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering its secrets.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters out of their comfortable home among the aristocracy and back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronesses– or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman.

But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. The Beast.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange creature back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of magical creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin, or salvation.

Fans of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast will love Hunted which takes place in medieval Russia and follows the original Slavic fairytale. Spooner expertly weaves parts of the original folklore while taking an in-depth look at Yeva, who often feels discontent. When Yeva’s father dies and the Beast takes her captive, Yeva’s thoughts often revolve around killing the Beast. Instead of being portrayed as perfect, Yeva’s emotions are more complicated because she feels both hatred and compassion toward the Beast. She is also admirable because, no matter how dire the situation, she never feigns comfort or lies to herself about her circumstances.

Unlike Spooner’s book Sherwood, Hunted has a much slower pace because Yeva spends much of her time alone hunting. Also, when the Beast holds Yeva prisoner in the dungeon, she is alone most of the time. Since much of the conflict comes from Yeva’s inner thoughts, there are few moments that are truly action-packed. Despite this, Hunted is an engaging story that looks at one’s deepest desires. Through Yeva’s experiences, the reader will come to understand that most people have more than one nature and they can take several paths that will lead to happiness.

Hunted will delight readers who like to explore a character’s thoughts and feelings. Even though the story focuses on Yeva, Beast’s emotions are also explored through letters that he’s written. While at the Beast’s castle, Yeva and Beast are alone, which limit’s the story’s perspective. Despite this, Hunted will transport you into a magical world full of danger. Readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings should also read the Once Upon a Con Series by Ashley Poston.

Sexual Content

  • Yeva agrees to marry Solmir. “Solmir freed one hand from Yeva’s grasp and lifted it to take hold of her chin in his fingers. He leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers, the briefest of touches before he pulled away.”
  • After Yeva returns home, she is not invited back into society because “no one quite knew what to make of her, whether she had spent the winter with an unmarried man under a curse or if she’d spent it in the bed of a wicked monster.”
  • When the Beast turns back into his human form, Yeva kisses him.

Violence

  • Yeva’s father invested in a caravan of goods. He gets word that all the men were killed. “Barbarian swords in their guts, heads piled in the wagon and burned. All the goods stolen or destroyed.”
  • Yeva finds her father’s body in the woods. “She uncovered his bow, then a few feet farther she found his pack, the leather torn and the contents strewn about beneath the snow.” She believes the Beast killed her father.
  • When Yeva sees a wolf in the woods, “she swung her father’s bow around and drew it in one smooth movement. The arrow flew straight and true. There was a bone-shaking roar of fury and pain that threw her to the ground with its intensity, and then the shadowy giant bounded off through the wood.”
  • The Beast pretends to be injured, and Yeva prepares to kill him. “The Beast lunged at her, knocking the ax aside with a blow that numbed her from the shoulder down, arm falling uselessly to her side. . . The impact of the Beast’s body hitting hers sent her head snapping forward out of its concealing hood, as it lifted her from her foot.” Yeva is knocked unconscious and taken captive. She wakes up “chained underground with broken ribs and no light.”
  • Yeva tells a story about a young man, Ivan, who had jealous brothers. “They killed Ivan in his sleep and cut his body into pieces.” Later, a wolf “ate his treacherous brothers whole.”
  • Unknowingly the Beast has been kindly caring for Yeva. But when Yeva tries to see the Beast’s face, “something huge flung itself at her, knocking her back onto the ground. Her head struck hard enough to stun her, despite the carpet to cushion it.” When Yeva discovers her helper is the Beast, “Yeva’s hand closed around the knife, and with a scream she brought her arm up in an arc, sinking the knife to its hilt in the Beast’s shoulder.” The Beast is injured, but not critically.
  • Yeva’s dog Doe-Eyes attacks the Beast. The Beast “gave his great body a shake that dislodged the dog and sent her flying. Yeva’s heart shriveled, then snapped as Doe-Eyes collided with a tree and dropped into a heap in the snow, unmoving.”
  • Yeva sneaks into the Beast’s bedroom one night to kill him. “The knife stabbed deep into this throat and hit bone, and Yeva gasped aloud as she jerked the knife sideways, trying to slice. . . There was blood everywhere, blood on the rug and blood spattering the wardrobe. . . A final breath. And then he was still.”
  • A woman who married young discovered that “her husband wasn’t a good man. He hit her when she didn’t do everything exactly to his liking. . . He always hit where it wouldn’t show, until one day he lost his temper and blackened her eye.” The woman stayed with her husband because he made her feel “so special, so loved.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Yeva uses willow bark as a pain reliever.

Language

  • “By God” and “good love” are both used as an exclamation once.
  • When Yeva returns home, she tries to break her engagement with Solmir. He yells, “If you think I give a damn—sorry—about the silly rumors people whisper in the streets, you must not think very highly of me.”

Supernatural

  • The Beast takes Yeva to a magical wood where she meets Lamya, who is both a woman and a dragon. She also “discovered tress that had faces, voices, peeping at her one instant and gone the next.”
  • Yeva meets a fox named Borovoi, who will only answer three of her questions. Borovoi leads her to a frozen pond. When Yeva falls into the pond, she sees “a rotting face loomed out of the blackness at her, boney arms pulling her close.” Yeva almost drowns but is able to pull herself out of the pond. Later, Yeva learns that the pond “belongs to one of the Rusalk, a girl killed long ago by a lover or father or brother. She appears to men as their heart’s desire to lure them to their deaths.”
  • After Yeva kills the Beast, she is surprised when “the Beast’s gaping throat knit itself together neatly, as though she was watching a seam ripping in reverse. His lungs filled with one great, wet, rattling breath, and he coughed more blood onto the rug.” Yeva discovers that the curse will not allow the Beast to die.

Spiritual Content

  • Yeva doesn’t want to tell her sisters the truth about a man’s interest in her. Yeva “prayed they wouldn’t ask her again what she knew, for she couldn’t lie to them.”
  • When Yeva readies herself to leave, she gets Solmir to promise to take care of her sisters. She prayed “he didn’t change his mind.”

The Golden Braid

The one who needs rescuing isn’t always the one in the tower.

Rapunzel can throw a knife better than any man. She paints beautiful flowering vines on the walls of her plaster houses. She sings so sweetly she can coax even a beast to sleep. But there are two things she is afraid her mother might never allow her to do: learn to read and marry.

Fiercely devoted to Rapunzel, her mother is suspicious of every man who so much as looks at her daughter and warns her that no man can be trusted. After a young village farmer asks for Rapunzel’s hand in marriage, Mother decides to move them once again—this time, to the large city of Hagenheim.

The journey proves treacherous, and after being rescued by a knight—Sir Gerek—Rapunzel, in turn, rescues him further down the road. As a result, Sir Gerek agrees to repay his debt to Rapunzel by teaching her to read. Could there be more to this knight than his arrogance and desire to marry for riches and position?

As Rapunzel acclimates to a new city, she uncovers a mystery that will forever change her life. In this Rapunzel story unlike any other, a world of secrets and treachery is about to be revealed after seventeen years of lies. How will Rapunzel finally take control of her own destiny? And who will prove faithful to a lowly peasant girl with no one to turn to?

Other than Rapunzel’s name and long hair, the story’s heroine doesn’t have any of the magical elements of the Rapunzel fairytale. While the beauty of Rapunzel’s hair is discussed throughout the entire book, her hair has no real significance. Gothel has made Rapunzel keep her hair covered because it will attract men, and Gothel has also taught Rapunzel to distrust all men. When Rapunzel meets Gerek, a knight, she thinks, “He was also handsome. But her mother had taught her not to regard fairness of face, especially in men. It was a tool they used to manipulate weak-willed women into giving them what they want.”

Predictably, Rapunzel falls in love with Gerek, the first knight that she meets. When Rapunzel admits that she loves Gerek, a friend tells her about a tragic event and then says, “Only God could heal our pain. . . That is when I began to understand that he [her husband] was only a man—a very good man who loved me, but a man nevertheless. He was not God. So I stopped trying to make him the god of my life, expecting him to bring me healing, and started expecting perfect love and satisfaction from God alone.”

Readers who enjoy Christian Fiction will find the many references to God and the Bible heartening. However, the plot has few exciting moments and instead is a gentle love story. While Rapunzel is a sweet and caring protagonist, she is not necessarily unique or memorable. If you’re looking for an easy-to-read romance, The Golden Braid, will take you into the time of Knights and chivalry. If you love fairytale retellings the Once Upon a Con Series by Ashley Poston may be a better choice.

Sexual Content

  • Rapunzel’s mother always makes her cover her hair. Mother says showing her hair is “indecent… If you go around letting men see your head uncovered, your hair on display, you will see what it will get you. A broken heart and an illegitimate child.”
  • When Mother was young, she fell in love with a man. She explains, “I believed he loved me. But it was all a lie. He got me with child, and then I never saw him again.”
  • A girl suggests that Rapunzel should wear something revealing to attract Gerek’s attention. She says, “He doesn’t have to marry you. If you have his baby and he claims it, you get money out of him, or a nice house, or a position in the church for your child, if it turns out to be a son.”
  • Rapunzel discovers that her mother is “the illegitimate child of Duke Wilhelm’s father.”
  • When Lord Claybrook’s men take over the castle, Rapunzel wonders, “Would Claybrook force Margaretha to say vows and then force himself on her? If he wanted to hurt her, that would be a good way to do it.”
  • While traveling together, Gerek and Rapunzel share a horse. Rapunzel wonders, “His hair was so dark and thick. What would it feel like to touch it? He seemed to be staring at her lips. Was he imagining what it would feel like to kiss her? Because she was.”
  • Gerek wonders what it would feel like to kiss Rapunzel. “What would she do if he put his hands on either side of her face and kissed her lips? Probably slap him.”
  • Gerek professes his love to Rapunzel and then, “He leaned down and hovered, his breath on her temple. Then he pressed his lips to her check.” They kiss several times.

Violence

  • While traveling, two men attack Rapunzel and her mother. “The scarred man clamped his hand over Mother’s face.” Another man “grabbed [Rapunzel’s] face, his fingers biting into her cheek, smothering her screams. . . She had to get free, had to help her mother. She yanked a hand up and slammed her fist into the grinning man’s throat. Next she brought her knee up and struck him between the legs.” The scene is described over two pages.
  • Gerek, a knight, comes to Rapunzel and her mother’s rescue. The attackers saw his “drawn sword and they halted. One man turned and ran left, the other right.” Gerek is able to apprehend one of the men. The scene is described over two pages.
  • While traveling with the prisoner, Gerek’s saddle breaks and his horse falls on him. Gerek is trapped and has a broken ankle. “He twisted around to see the prisoner pull Gerek’s long knife out of his saddlebag. . . The prisoner hovered over Gerek with that strange, angry smile. He raised the dagger, aiming for Gerek’s throat. Something flew past, above Gerek’s head. The hilt of a knife was sticking out of the prisoner’s upper arm.” Rapunzel saved Gerek’s life.
  • Rapunzel kills a chicken for dinner. “She held it as far away from her body as possible, then squeezed as hard as she could and slung the chicken’s body around and around by its neck while counting to ten, breaking the neck and strangling it at the same time.” She chops off the chicken’s head and lets the blood flow onto the ground.” The death is described over a page.
  • While walking to the monastery, the man who attacked her on the road follows her. “The man grabbed her hair and jerked so hard, her feet left the ground and she landed on her back. . . He struggled to get something off his hip, then held up a knife—her knife.” Gerek hears Rapunzel’s screams and comes to her rescue. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Gerek’s father killed his wife and then himself. After an argument, Gerek’s father “hit her, then pushed her down the stairs. She was dead, her neck broken, by the time she reached the bottom.”
  • Gerek is afraid that he will be like his father. “He had a terrible temper. When he was angry, he would hit anyone who got in his way. He killed his favorite hunting dog just because the dog let a fox get away. He beat me, he beat the servants, he beat his wife. And I am his son.”
  • Enemy forces take over the castle. Gerek sees “Two of the men drag the guard’s limp body to a nearby shed. They soon emerged. . .”
  • Rapunzel sees two of the enemy guards walking with one of Duke Wilhelm’s guard, who had a bloody face.
  • A man named Balthasar attacks Rapunzel. “He lunged at her and closed his hands around her throat. Rapunzel raised the knife and sliced across both his forearms.” She locks herself in the linen room. Later, Balthasar threatens Rapunzel with a knife. “He lurched toward her, but she threw herself on the ground and closed her hand over the object, which was indeed the other knife. She brought the blade up as she twisted her body around to face him—just as he threw his body on top of her.” Balthasar dies.
  • Gerek attacks the enemies’ guards. “Gerek roared his battle cry and ran at them. He struck the first one with all of his strength, bringing his sword down and knocking the man’s sword to the ground.” Duke Wilhelm’s guards manage to regain control of the castle.
  • When Gerek finds Rapunzel locked in a tower, he tries to free her. “Gothel lunged at him with the long knife blade. Gerek swung his sword. His blade connected with hers and knocked her knife to the ground. . . Then he grabbed Gothel by the arms and pulled her hands behind her back.”
  • After Gerek restrains Gothel, she tells him, “I stabbed Reginald through the heart, and I’ll do the same to you.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • After being attacked, Gerek gives Rapunzel some red wine. “She took it, and the sharp scent of the red wine filled her nose. . .The taste lingered on her tongue and wasn’t as pleasant as she thought it would be—it was rather like drinking vinegar.”
  • Duke Wilhelm’s servants put poisonous berries in the wine that is served to Lord Claybrook and his men. They become ill, but no one dies.
  • Rapunzel’s mother, Gothel, gives her a sleeping potion and then ties her to a cart. When Rapunzel tries to escape “pain suddenly crashed through the back of her head as if something hit her. Then everything went black.” Rapunzel wakes up locked in a tower with no door.

Language

  • “Oh, heavenly saints” is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Rapunzel often prays to God and thinks about God’s words. For example, when Rapunzel and her mother are attacked, Rapunzel prays, “O Father God, send your angels. Send your archangel with his flaming sword.” When a knight rides up on a horse, Rapunzel thinks he was sent by God.
  • Gerek is left at a monastery. Rapunzel leaves without saying goodbye. A monk tells Gerek, “God will repay her for saving your life.”
  • While recovering from his injuries, Gerek wonders, “Why would God give him a new arm and leg, or even miraculously heal his old ones? They would likely be healed on their own in six weeks. . . Besides, God probably wanted to teach him patience.”
  • A monk asks Gerek to teach Rapunzel to read. Gerek says, “I do not wish to succumb to temptation any more than you do. I have taken a vow of chastity as well, a vow to never know a woman before marriage, and I have promised myself that I will never marry a peasant girl.” Despite his protest, Gerek teaches Rapunzel.
  • Gerek plans to teach Rapunzel to read by using the Bible. She is concerned because “a priest once told me that people who have not said their vows or been consecrated to God should not interpret the Bible for themselves.” Many of the passages that Rapunzel reads appear in the book.
  • Rapunzel memorized the verse, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
  • The Bible teaches Rapunzel that “God was like a loving father. She never had a father, and she’d never thought of God like this. All her life she had heard God described in many terms—holy, almighty, righteous, even vengeful.” Rapunzel contemplates the verse over a page.
  • Gerek is a Christian and he thinks about his “Christian duty. Jesus had given his life for others, and a knight must do the same, and nothing was nobler than saving a young woman.”
  • After Gerek prays, a verse comes into his mind. “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your path straight.”
  • After Rapunzel disappears, Gerek attempts to find her. Unsure where to look, Gerek goes to a church to pray. “When Gerek looked up, the crucifix was glowing.” Then he hears God’s voice. “Take the north road toward Thornbeck and listen for my instructions.”

Thornwood

For years, Briony has lived in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Rosalin, and the curse that has haunted her from birth. According to the curse, on the day of her sixteenth birthday, Briony would prick her finger on a spindle and cause everyone in the castle to fall into a 100-year sleep. When the day the curse is set to fall over the kingdom finally arrives, nothing—not even Briony—can stop its evil magic.

You know the story.

But here’s something you don’t know. When Briony finally wakes up, it’s up to her to find out what’s really going on, and to save her family and friends from the murderous Thornwood. But who is going to listen to a little sister?

Thornwood looks at the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty through the eyes of the little sister. While the villain in the story is clearly the fairy queen who cast the spell, she doesn’t make an appearance until the very end. Instead, the suspense is created by the Thornwood branches that attack the castle’s inhabitants. When Briony and a group of acquaintances try to defeat the Thornwood branches, a fairy tells Briony, “The Thornwood will disappear once Rosalin dies in it.” At one point, Rosalin considers sacrificing herself to the Thornwood to save the people she loves. However, Briony is the true hero of the story because she perseveres until she finds a way to defeat the fairy queen without sacrificing her sister.

Adding Sleeping Beauty’s sister to the story is an interesting premise, however, the sister relationship is spoiled by Rosalin, who has few redeeming qualities. For the most part, Rosalin is too caught up in her looks and the prince to notice her sister. When Rosalin talks, her statements are mean and dismissive. For example, when Briony tries to help Rosalin, Rosalin tells her, “Why don’t you just leave. Nobody needs you here. Go annoy someone else.” Plus, Rosalin constantly makes fun of Briony’s hair describing it “like mud that’s been stirred with bathwater” or “a mass of frizz that’s been hit by a lightning bolt.” Anyone who has been a victim of bullying will be saddened by Rosalin’s behavior, especially because Briony already feels ignored and unimportant. Despite this, Briony never gives up on trying to help her sister.

In the end, the Royal family is not portrayed in a positive light. The parents are clueless fools, Rosalin is self-centered, and the family doesn’t consider the feelings of others. However, by the end, Briony wonders, “Had we even thought about anyone but ourselves? We had acted like this was our story. Like the other people in it—everyone in this castle, and outside it, too—were minor details we didn’t have to pay attention to.” The conclusion has a typical happy ending that attempts to show that your station in life doesn’t determine your worth. However, if you’re looking for a fabulous fairy tale, you should leave Thornwood on the shelf and instead read The Prince Problem by Vivian Vande Velde or the Royal Academy Rebels Series by Jen Calonita.

Sexual Content

  • In order to wake Rosalin, a prince kisses her. Briony sees the kiss and thinks, “I wish I had gotten there thirty seconds later. . . It wasn’t a gross kiss. Just a peck on the lips—polite and distant—and then the prince stepped back from the bed.”
  • The story implies that Rosalin and the prince kiss. Briony “looked pointedly away and caught Edwin doing the same. We both snickered.”
  • When the prince thinks Rosalin is about to die, he professes his love and then kisses her. Briony thinks, “This time, the kissing was gross.”
  • After the castle is free from the Thornwood, Rosalin “claims that she only ‘likes’ the electrician who had been modernizing the castle, and she’s ‘not interested in getting serious with anyone right now.’ I mean, she’s already kissed him more times than she kissed Varian, back when she thought he was her destined husband.”

Violence

  • While Briony searches the castle, the Thornwood grabs her. “Something snapped around my wrist, driving sharp spikes into my skin. . .The branch that had grabbed me yanked back so hard that I was dragged towards the window. . .the branch pulled, slowly and steadily. Thorns dug into my wrist with sharp stabs of fiery pain.” Someone saves her. The scene is described over three pages.
  • When Briony, Edwin, Rosalin, and the prince try to leave the castle, the Thornwood attacks. “The ground around Edwin exploded, clumps of dirt flying as barbed vines broke through the earth. One wrapped itself around his ankle. . . another snapped around his wrist. . . Edwin had been pulled to the ground, and a thorny branch was crawling up his arm over his shoulder.” The Thornwood attacks everyone except for the prince. Rosalin’s fairy godmother saves them, but Edwin is seriously injured. The scene is described over six pages.
  • When the fairy godmother gets Edwin out of the Thornwood, Edwin is a “bruised and bloody creature. . . He was unconscious, his clothes in shreds and stuck to his body with dried blood.”
  • The Thornwood gets into the castle. The branches attack Rosalin. Briony “lunged for them and grabbed the largest, pulling at it with my bare hands. It could have encircled me easily, but it was too busy trying to get to Rosalin.” When they get Rosalin free, Briony, Edwin, and the prince run into a tower.
  • When they get to the tower, “A thorn snagged my [Briony’s] hair and pulled several strands out, with a burst of pain that brought new tears to my eyes. I wrenched myself free, into the golden light.” The tower scene is described over five pages.
  • Briony traps the fairy queen. But then, “She reached out and grabbed me by the throat. . . she lifted me from the floor, and I couldn’t’ breathe. I tried to scream, but couldn’t do that, either. Panic filled me as I struggled to draw air into my lungs and no air came.” Rosalin and Edwin save Briony.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • After sleeping for over 100 years, Rosalin discovers that the castle is surrounded by thorns. “There are some princes that come there [the village] to try to fight their way through the Thornwood and wake the beautiful princess sleeping in the castle. They need a place to sleep. . . and lots of ale.”
  • Before the castle fell asleep, Edwin was apprenticed to the blacksmith. The blacksmith “was not a good man. He got angry a lot, and drunk, and he let the other apprentices—”
  • When Briony goes to the apothecary, she finds it to be a mess. “The pots on the shelves were knocked over sideways or smashed on the floor. . .” Someone suggested that people were looking for wine and didn’t find it.
  • When the prince finds an empty jug that smells like alcohol, he says, “Someone in this castle is very drunk right now.” Later, the royal wizard shows up to the ball drunk. He tells the king and queen, “I have been working great and terrible magics to figure out a way to release us from our plight. I had to partake of wine so I could access the depths of. . . um. . .”
  • The prince offers Rosalin a bite of her birthday cake. When she refuses the cake, he eats it. Then, “his eyes went wide. He fell over sideways, straight as a log. The fork with its remnant of cake flew out of his hand, skittering across the dance floor. . .” The cake had been poisoned.

Language

  • Briony uses “oh curses” as an exclamation once.
  • A boy calls Edwin “sniveler.”
  • Rosalin calls Briony an idiot.
  • Rosalin often makes rude comments about Briony’s hair. For example, Rosalin says, “And fix your hair. You look like a Pegasus caught in a windstorm.”

Supernatural

  • The story takes place in Sleeping Beauty’s magical kingdom, where magic exists.
  • The castle is surrounded by Thornwood, a living plant that tries to trap people. When the branches are cut, “they hissed as if they had been burned.”
  • Briony sees a strange bird that “cocked its head and looked straight at me, and then it wasn’t a bird at all. It was a woman—a creature that looked like a woman—with shimmery dragonfly wings whirring behind her back.”
  • After the curse is broken, the fairy godmother throws a birthday ball. “The doors of the kitchen swung open and a cart rolled out. Rosalin’s birthday cake teetered on top.”
  • The prince says a fairy gave him a magical sword that can help him fight off the Thornwood.
  • Briony trips and puts her hand out to catch herself. “My palm landed right on a thorn. I screamed and pulled back. I expected the branches to wrap around my wrist. Instead, they all arced toward the thorn that had pierced my skin. A drop of blood dripped from the thorn’s tip, and one of the branches, swooped low to catch it.”
  • The tower room has a magic spinning wheel. Briony uses the spinning wheel to create magical, gold thread. The Thornwood “seemed to flinch back from the gold thread.”
  • Rosalin believes that the only way to save the castle from the Thornwood is to sacrifice herself, which she considers. Rosalin says, “It needs my blood. Once it has it, you’ll be free. You’ll all be safe. . . Name your first child after me.” Rosalin “thrust both hands into the thorns. Their hiss rose around us, sharp and sibilant and triumphant.”
  • Briony discovers that her blood repels the Thornwood. She “jabbed [her] palm into the spindle of the spinning wheel. It hurt. It really hurt. For one blinding second, the pain was all there was. Then I blinked out tears and saw that the thorns had drawn back even farther, leaving a larger space around the spinning wheel than they had before. My blood had given the spinning wheel power.”
  • Briony realizes that “No one, no prince, no savior, had come to us through the Thornwood. [The prince] had come from it.” Then Briony uses the magical gold thread. She “brought the thread down over his head and around his neck. I crisscrossed the ends and pulled them, making a noose that tightened against his throat.”
  • When Briony puts the golden thread around the prince, he changes. “His body shimmered; his face lengthened; his eyes grew larger. Two wings, blacker than black, snapped shut over his shoulder blades. He didn’t look like a woman, but he wasn’t a man either. He was a creature. A being. A center of power.” The prince was the fairy queen in disguise.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Sherwood

Robin of Locksley is dead.

Maid Marian doesn’t know how she’ll go on, but the people of Locksley town, persecuted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, need a protector. And the dreadful Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff’s right hand, wishes to step into Robin’s shoes as Lord of Locksley and Marian’s fiancé. Who is there to stop them?

Marian never meant to tread in Robin’s footsteps—never intended to stand as a beacon of hope to those awaiting his triumphant return. But with a sweep of his green cloak and the flash of her sword, Marian makes the choice to become her own hero: Robin Hood.

Marian is a captivating protagonist who struggles with deciding what is right and wrong, just and unjust. As a girl, Marian has always struggled to fit into her society because she would rather wield a sword than wait for a knight-in-shining-armor to save her. Even though Marian’s society expects her to act like a lady, Marian knows she will never fit into the typical female mold. One of the reasons Marian loved Robin of Locksley is because he never asked her “to be someone she’s not.”

Even though Robin of Locksley died in the story’s prologue, his voice is not silent. When Marian first dons Robin’s cloak, Robin’s voice guides her. Flashbacks to Robin’s and Marian’s childhood also develop both characters’ personalities. As the story progresses, Robin’s voice recedes into the background, and Marian wonders if she ever really knew Robin. Despite this, Marian deeply misses Robin’s friendship and appreciates that he never tried to change her.

Sherwood quickly grabs the reader’s attention and keeps the suspense high until the very end. The story is full of sword fights, chases, and secrecy. Spooner creates wonderfully complex characters that cannot be judged based on their appearances or their station in life. Readers will fall in love with Marian’s ragtag group of followers as they fight for justice. Through this fight, the story questions whether the law is just. Gisborne is dedicated to the law, but even he realizes “the law will never be just. Perhaps it can come close—so close the line is hard to see. But laws are written by men, who are imperfect by nature, and justice belongs to something beyond the power of men.”

The action-packed conclusion contains several surprises but also ends with a heartfelt scene that will leave readers in tears. In the end, Sherwood is a story that will stay with readers for a long time after they put down the book. Marian’s story reinforces the idea that each person needs to be true to themselves. Even though you cannot fight today’s problems with a bow and arrow, Sherwood encourages you to make an impact on the people around you.

Sexual Content

  • While confronting Marian (who Gisborne thinks is a man), Gisborne said, “You’re of noble birth. Disgraced one too many times with the household servants or else a bastard son banished when you came of age.”
  • Seild, one of Marian’s friends, is in an unhappy marriage. Seild says her husband “prefers the company of women who are too afraid to refuse him.”
  • Robin Hood tells Seild’s husband, “Only a coward leaves his wife alone while he forces himself on the servants.”
  • After Gisborne shares part of his personal life with Marian, she kisses him. “Her lips met his too strongly, the sudden need for him turning her clumsy. . . He held her a moment longer, eyes falling to her lips—and then he bent his head to kiss her. His mouth met her gently at first, but when she leaned close, when her lips parted, when he slipped an arm around her and felt her back arch, he abandoned gentility as utterly as the rest of the façade he’d worn for so many years. . . Her hips moved, tipping up like a beckoning finger, and when he felt her swell toward him he tore his mouth from hers . . . “ The steamy scene is described over two pages.
  • After Marian and Gisborne jump into a river and survive, Gisborne kisses her. “He was kissing the tears from her cheeks when he realized she was shivering, and not from his touch.”

 

Violence

  • During a war, Robin tries to protect the king. The enemy “must have killed the sentries in silence. . . Something thuds into Robin’s shoulder, sending him off balance, and he whirls, searching for the blade he knows is coming. . . It’s then that he feels the fiery lance of pain racing down his biceps and he gasps, sword dangling uselessly from his shoulder.”
  • Even though he is injured, Robin uses his arrow to save the king. “And then a blade crunches into Robin’s side and he’s knocked down against the stone with the force of the blow. He cannot move, cannot feel anything below his rib cage—there is no pain.” Robin dies. The battle is described over four pages.
  • While in the forest, Marian is attacked. “She saw a thick, blunt branch swinging out of the darkness towards her face. She moved without thought. . .The cudgel came at her again, its wielder a shadowy, wild shape that danced in her half-stunned vision.” When Marian pulls her sword, the man stops because “he was afraid.” Marian realizes that the man is Will.
  • Will and Marian continue to fight. “She dropped the weapon as his body collided with hers, and her world narrowed to a frantic staccato of gasps and grunts. . . And then Will got to his feet, and in his hand was Marian’s sword. . . she ducked easily when he rushed her, twisting so that she could land a jab of her elbow into his arm below the shoulder.”
  • During the fight, Marian “struck out at the back of [Will’s] head, momentum half spinning him so she could ready a second blow. But before she could strike, his knees crumpled and he dropped to the ground. . .” Marian ends up saving Will’s life.
  • Marian goes into the forest looking for Will. Two men see her and try to steal from her. While on horseback, Marian tries to run down the thief. “John, now flailing in the leaves, had dropped his staff – Marian threw herself down and snatched it up. . . She had the staff’s tip against Little John’s throat before he could stand.”
  • While disguised as Robin, Marian meets Gisborne. “But then something kindled in Gisborne’s dark eyes, a flash of decision or ferocity, and her instinct took over. She swung her blade up in time to deflect his blow, the clang of steel on steel bringing her back to herself.” After a brief scuffle, Marian runs.
  • Marian, disguised as Robin, hears fighting in the forest. She finds Little John “surrounded by a swarm of the Sheriff’s men. . . Every so often he landed a blow that sent one reeling back, but there were more men than could gather round him at once. . . Gisborne strode up, holding John’s staff, and swung it in a massive arc at John’s head. John grunted and dropped to his knees, his eyes glazed. . .” John passes out because of his injuries.
  • After Marian helps John, a man leaped out at Marian, and “his fist slammed into her stomach. . . She staggered back, all the air driven from her lungs. . . The world around her grew dim, the green-gold of afternoon fading into a deep velvety gray twilight.”
  • Marian as Robin flees from the castle. However, Gisborne chases her. “. . . A hand shot out of the drizzle and slammed into her shoulder. She skidded backward, breath driven from her lungs as she hit the wall. . . Dazed, ears ringing, she forced her eyes to focus in time to see the hand coming at her again. . . She ducked, and twisted, and grabbed for the arm as it passed her, and threw all her weight against the body the arm was attached to and sent it into the wall with a sickening thud.”
  • Marian plans her own kidnapping. After “Robin” drops off the ransom notice, she tries to escape from Gisborne. Gisborne “was moving, lunging at her with shocking speed. . . and then something wrapped around her throat and hauled her backward, chocking. Gisborne had the edge of her cloak, and with a second heave he flung her down to the ground and rolled on top of her . . .” Robin “swung its hilt with all her strength into the side of Gisborne’s head. . .” Robin escapes. The scuffle is described over three pages.
  • While robbing a wealthy man, Robin and her men cut the horses’ traces so the carriage stopped moving. “Little John felled one of the remaining guards with one sweep of his staff, and by the time the other guard reached for his sword, Marian was standing in front of him, bow drawn, arrow just a breath away from his nose.” No one is seriously injured.
  • Seild’s husband, Owen, raises his hand to strike her. Robin Hood shoots an arrow. “Its point pierced Owen’s hand in the dead center of his palm, causing the man to stagger back and fall with a howl of surprise and pain, clutching his wrist with his good hand.”
  • While fighting a war, Gisborne was scarred. He said, “The Saracens poured oil from a jar down my face and tied me over a lamp so that I could feel its heat rising against my skin, and had to hold myself back against the ties or else be burned. . . they cut the bonds. I was too weak to stop myself from falling against the burning lamp.”
  • Marian accidentally drops her Robin Hood mask and a guard finds it. When the guard pulls his sword, Marian shoots an arrow at him. “The force of the arrow’s impact had knocked him back against the wall, and he stayed leaning there, mouth open. . . he moaned and slumped toward the ground.” The guard dies from his injuries.
  • Robin Hood and his men plan to steal gold, but they end up walking into a trap. When Robin Hood realizes it’s a trap, she yells to the others to flee. “One of the guards screamed a moment later as he fell, bleeding from a shallow cut across his face. . .”
  • Robin Hood is left to fight Gisborne on her own. “She swung hard, with the momentum of her whole body, as Gisborne’s next blow came down at her. The force of her parry knocked him back a step, and Marian scrambled back. . . His sword came down like an elemental force, but Marian saw the shift in his feet and the tension in his arm and she was ready. . . Steel met steel with a clash that numbed Marian’s arm.”
  • When Robin Hood flees, Gisborne shoots an arrow. “The point had broken off when she’d rolled, but when she looked down a bloody, splintered thing protruded from her chest. He’d shot her in the back, and the force of it had driven the arrow straight through her. . . His eyes moved from his hand to her face, and then down to the mess of blood and splintered wood at her chest.” As Gisborne looks at Mariam, “something heavy swung into view and collided with the side of Gisborne’s head, knocking him flat.” The fight scene is described over six pages.
  • When Marian is accused of being Robin Hood, she is sentenced to hang. Her men and Gisborne attempt to free her. “. . . Before Marian could recover, [Gisborne] pulled her sideways and dropped her neatly and abruptly off the edge of the platform and into the mud.” Marian is grabbed and pulled underneath the platform.
  • Gisborne fights the sheriff’s men. “Gisborne flung himself down onto the wood to avoid two more swords, spraying blood onto the planks from a gash in his neck.” Marian jumps in to help Gisborne.
  • While trying to free Marian, the scene turns into chaos, which allows Marian and Gisborne to flee. When their pursuers get close, “a hard body collided with hers and slammed her to the ground. . .” As arrows fly toward them, Marian and Gisborne jump off a cliff into a river. The final escape scene is described over ten pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After Marian is told about Robin’s death, a physician gives her something that makes her sleep. Later her maid gives her “herb-laced wine.”
  • When Marian is upset, her maid gives her a “cup of well-watered ale.” The ale has “draught” that makes Marian sleep.
  • Occasionally the adults have wine or mead. For example, Marian thinks back to when her mother would give her father a “mug of watered ale” to ease his tension.
  • Marian runs into a castle guard that was “slumped on one of the tables . . . drunk, and out of his head.”
  • When robbing a wealthy man, John “had liberated a cask of wine.”

Language

  • Damn is used seven times. For example, the sheriff yells at his men, “Kill him—now, you damned slackwits!”
  • Ass is used once and hell is used twice.
  • “God’s bones,” “God’s knees,” “oh God,” “Christ” and other like phrases are rarely used as an exclamation.
  • “Mary’s tits” is used as an exclamation twice.
  • When Will doesn’t want to help Gisborne escape being hung, Alan says, “He just saved her life. You really do have shit for brains.”

Supernatural

  • Some believe Robin’s spirit has returned; however, it is really Marian in disguise.

Spiritual Content

  • When Robin’s uncle died, Robin was told, “Your uncle was much liked, before he went to be with God.”
  • While engaged, Robin and Marian had “never lain together, both too conscious of the laws of God and man. . .”
  • Occasionally Marian prays. For example, when Marian goes to help a friend, she prays, “God what am I doing? It’s Robin—Robin’s the one who should be here.”
  • When Robin’s mother died, “people kept saying [Robin] should be happy she was with God.” Marian replies, “Or I could be like Father Gerolt and give you a sermon about God’s plan. Don’t despair, my child, for it is not for us to know the will of heaven.”
  • After injuring a guard, Marian prays “to God that he lives.”
  • When Marian goes to see the injured guard, a monk tells her, “Now it only remains to wait, and to pray for God’s mercy. If the wound begins to heal, he may live. If the wound poisons his blood. . . he will go with God.”
  • The monk moves with difficulty. When Marian asks after his health, the monk tells her it is a “test God has granted me.”
  • Gisborne tells Marian, “Because the law will never be just. Perhaps it can come close—so close the line is hard to see. But laws are written by men, who are imperfect by nature, and justice belongs to something beyond the power of men.”

 

Burn

Sarah Dewhurst’s life in 1957 changes the moment her father’s hired help arrives at their small farm in Frome, Washington. Instead of a local farmhand looking for extra cash, her father hires a blue dragon with a thick Russian accent who believes Sarah is destined to cause the end of the world.

The first half of the book follows the two main characters—Sarah Dewhurst, a farmer’s daughter, and Malcolm, a trained cult assassin—as they try to prepare for the day of reckoning. Through the dragon’s cryptic messages, Sarah learns she is destined to start a war between dragons and humans.

Malcolm travels from a Believer compound in Canada to Frome. He is sent by the cult’s goddess, Mitera Thea, to kill Sarah. As tensions rise and the two storylines converge, Malcolm activates an old dragon relic, plunging him and Sarah into a world where dragons do not exist. The second half of the novel follows the characters in the new world, where they must race against the clock to prepare a final battle before the entire world is destroyed.

The two characters who have the most growth are Sarah and Mitera Thea, the cult goddess. Sarah, who has spent her whole life fighting racism, doesn’t believe in herself, but she still stands up and fights when her world is threatened. Mitera Thea takes her human-hating tendencies to a whole new level once she turns into a dragon, and sets her sights on destroying the world. But in her final moments, Mitera Thea sees how interesting humans can be when pushed to the limit.

Burn covers several difficult topics such as racism (Sarah is a mixed raced female and her best friend Jason is the son of Japanese immigrants), homophobia (Malcolm falls in love with a young man, Nelson, during his travel to Frome), and abuse (Sarah, Jason, and Nelson all receive abuse from community members). Another tough topic that is touched on is cult worship—Malcolm was raised from his elementary years with the sole mission to kill Sarah Dewhurst. These topics are not described in graphic detail but Burn highlights why racism, homophobia, and cult worship are bad.

Patrick Ness fits seemingly random ideas into his novels and makes them work. However, dimension-hopping alongside Cold War era dragons becomes hard to follow. The build-up for doomsday is rushed and once the mini climax is revealed and the characters are transported to another world, the book begins to lose its luster and becomes confusing. While Ness tackles sensitive topics in ways that fit the setting, the week-long plot and dimension-hopping fall flat.

Sexual Content

  • Deputy Sheriff Kelby calls Sarah a slut.
  • Kelby tries to assault Sarah. Kelby “moved the baton down to the hem of her skirt and started to raise it. ‘No,’ she said.” Someone intervenes before Kelby can do anything else.
  • Malcolm and Nelson huddle for warmth in the truck and are intimate with each other. “Nelson’s fingers didn’t stop at Malcolm’s waistline, where the tattoos did.”
  • “[Love] was not in the preparations Malcom had been given. He’d been warned of predatory men and women who might seek this in exchange for favors, favors like rides to the border.”
  • Because of lies that Nelson was told, he believed LGBTQ sex “would have to be rough. And violent. And full of shame.”
  • Agent Woolf, as a dragon, finds herself pregnant. “Agent Woolf had been very much a virgin. She hated humans far too much to touch any one of them in that way.”
  • Malcolm tries to convince his double in the other world that he is Malcolm. The other Malcom says, “’you’re the first man I’ve ever kissed.’ He frowned, “that’s kinky.’”

 Violence

  • Sarah describes the racist deputy sheriff in town. “Kelby had thoughts on these issues [of Sarah driving illegally]. Deputy Kelby would be only too happy to find Sarah Dewhurst, daughter of Gareth and Darlene Dewhurst, illegally behind the wheel of a farm truck, and what might he do then?”
  • Sarah recalls the tension between nations. “Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union, threatening to annihilate them pretty much every week these days.”
  • Malcolm faces off against Mounties in Canada. “The first gunshot took out the side flap of [Malcom’s] hat and the middle of his left ear. The bullet reached him before the sound did.”
  • The fight between Malcom and the Mounties takes a drastic turn when a dragon steps into the fight. The mountain police, “exploded in a wash of fire and blood that Malcolm stepped back behind a tree to avoid, not incidentally stepping out of the line of sight of the first man’s gun. He still caught a wave of blood across the side of his face.”
  • Kelby attacks Jason and Sarah in a racially charged fight. “Kelby’s baton lashed out so fast Jason didn’t even have a chance to duck. It hit him on the throat, and he fell to his knees, coughing as if to choke.” Sarah is attacked and “[Kelby] swung the gun, hitting her jaw.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • Malcolm befriends a gay man, Nelson, who tells the story of how his parents kicked him out of the house. “His father had beat him; his mother had told him to never come back.”
  • Dernovich, a detective who is following Malcom, is shot. “The man lay on the floor of the motel room, astonishment on his face along with the blood bubbling on his lips.” He dies from his injury.
  • As both plot lines converge, there is a scuffle and a gun fight involving Sarah, Jason, the sheriff, Malcolm, and Sarah’s dad. “There was so much shouting, [Sarah] didn’t even hear the gunshot, only saw the pistol flip out of Jason’s hand, saw the blood erupt from his wrist. Then a second eruption from his back as he turned from the force of the first.”
  • Sarah’s father is shot. “He also didn’t know he had been shot until he slumped to one knee.” Her father dies from his wound.
  • Malcom and Agent Woolf have a gun and knife fight. “The gun went off as [Malcolm] cut [Agent Wolff], sending the shot astray, his blade going so deep he severed her forefinger altogether.” The fight is described over four pages.
  • Woolf wakes up as a dragon and goes on a rampage, destroying cities, including Seattle. “The first building exploded, her fire blasting out the entire ground floor and bringing down the eight floors above it in an almost slow-motion tumble.” The destruction goes on for seven pages.
  • The ultimate battle between the main group of characters and the first dragon starts. It goes on for twelve pages; most of it is dialogue with violence including gun shots, firebreath, and impalement. Nameless soldiers are killed by fire. Agent Wolff, the dragon, is impaled in the end. “As [Agent Wolff] took in her breath to destroy them, Jason Inagawa, unheard under the artillery, drove a truck directly into her belly, his family’s steel plow attached to the hood. She cried out. Instead of a blast of pure fire, a rush of acid spilled from her mouth.” Her death scene continues for half a page.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Dernovich observes a teen and thinks “he couldn’t be more than seventeen, disappearing into the trees that lined the river, probably to smoke, or whatever Believer teens did to rebel.”

 Language

  • Hell is used once.
  • Fruit, a slur toward gays, is used three times. Queer as an insult is used once.
  • Damn is used four times.
  • Someone says “that little fucker” and “we’re fucked.”
  • Shit/shitbag is used four times. For example, someone says, “the murdering little shitbag.”

 Supernatural

  • Dragons exist during Cold War era America.

 Spiritual Content

  • A major plot point within Burn is the cult of the Believers. They are a group that believe that humans are a nuisance to dragons and that dragons should once again rule the earth. They worship their main priestess, Mitera Thea, who is their “Mother Goddess.”
  • Another major plot point is a half-transcribed prophecy that foretells the end of the world. The location of the catalyst is in Frome, Washington, on Sarah’s farm.
  • Malcolm is a worshiper of the Believers. He was raised within one of their cells in Canada. He prays to Mitera Thea to aid him on his journey. He considers himself a servant to her.
  • The dragons also believe in a goddess. They call the first dragon the Goddess, the one who created and then tried to destroy the dragons with her chaotic magic. They destroyed her dragon form and turned her into a human.
  • A dragon realizes the Believer’s version of the prophecy is interpreted differently than the dragon’s version. “The Believers thought they were giving the world to dragons. A world without humans. They didn’t know what doom they had started.”
  • God and Christ are mentioned four times; the Bible once. “What in God’s name?” and “Christ” are used as an expletive. The Bible is compared to the Believer’s prophecy.
  • Nelson is called “an abomination against God” because of his sexual orientation.
  • Sarah’s dad mentions an old wives’ tale about dragons: “An animal without a soul is still an animal, no matter how many words it’s learned to lie with.”
  • Sarah talks about how kids used to be scared of dragons. Sarah “knew kids at school who prayed every night that they’d wake up in the morning.”
  • Sarah’s dad mentions another tale: “Just because the devil gave [dragons] the gift of speech doesn’t mean you’re talking to anything more than a mostly undomesticated predator.”
  • Malcolm tries to explain aspects of his religion. “Faith is belief without proof. It is a leap, an act of bravery.”
  • The Spur of the Goddess is the talon of the first dragon. It is believed to be a weapon of destruction. It is also a holy symbol.
  • Agent Woolf tries to kill a dragon because “sometimes one must commit even the vilest blasphemy for the greater good. . . ”
  • Malcolm hitchhikes and meets various drivers, “one of them tries to convert him to Christianity.”

by Signe Nettum

Cinderella is Dead

King Manford rules Lille as a tyrant. He ensures women have no rights and are completely under the power of men. Cinderella has been dead for two hundred years and history has twisted her story to make it seem as though she found true love at the ball with Prince Charming. King Manford uses this story to ensure that each 16-year-old girl attends an annual ball where men choose a woman to wed. Many girls grow up looking forward to this day, where they think they will get their chance to find their own Prince Charming.

But sixteen-year-old Sophia is not like other girls. She has always rebelled against the rules and does not have faith in the story of Cinderella. Most importantly, Sophia does not want to marry a man. Instead, Sophia desires to run away with her best friend Erin. Since homosexual relationships are banned under King Manford’s rule, Sophia and a gay man, Luke, attempt to partner up at the ball. But the king discovers their plan, resulting in devastating repercussions for Luke.

Sophia narrowly escapes and goes on an adventure to take down King Manford. Along her journey, she meets and falls for Constance, the last living descendant of Cinderella’s family. Together they discover the fairy godmother, who is actually an evil witch. They also uncover the lies that have been spread about Cinderella, King Manford, and the rules that hold everyone in this patriarchal hierarchy.

Bayron twists a beloved fairytale into an empowering story where women get to decide their own fate and do not need to wait for their Prince Charming to come and save them. Cinderella is Dead is both captivating and moving as Sophia witnesses a seemingly picture-perfect fairytale crumble around her. In order to create a society where girls have the same freedoms as men, Constance says, “we need to burn the whole thing to the ground and start over. The entire system, the ideals that have been woven into society. It all has to go.”

Sophia is a powerful LGBTQ+ woman of color who works to overthrow a corrupt system. Sophia empowers all readers who have been pushed aside by society, making this novel a must-read for any queer teenager. Bayron’s story exemplifies how standing up for yourself and refusing to be shoved aside can truly benefit all people. Sophia’s adventure touches on many difficult subjects such as domestic violence and homophobia. However, these challenges are told in a sensitive way that will help introduce high school readers to the real difficulties and challenges of the world. Sophia is a powerful and personable character that readers will love, root for, and ultimately feel her pain as she attempts to create a just world.

Sexual Content

  • Sophia is upset the carriage ride to the ball would be the last time she would see Erin. Sophia reminisces, thinking that Erin was “the first and only person I’ve ever kissed.”
  • Sophia is harassed by an old man at the ball who “leans in and presses his lips to mine. I try to pull away, but he holds me close. He smells like wine and sweat, and all I want to do is get away from him.” Sophia fought him back as she “steps back and brings her knee up as hard as she can between his legs.” This causes an uproar, allowing Sophia the opportunity to escape.
  • Sophia and Constance share an intimate moment that Sophia describes. “Before I have a chance to overthink it, I press my lips to hers. Her hands move to my neck and face. A surge of warmth rushes over me as she pressed herself against me. There is an urgency in her kiss, like she’s trying to prove to me how much she cares, and I yield to her, unconditionally.”
  • Constance embraces Sophia when she returns from a trip. “Constance presses her lips against mine as she winds her arms around my neck.”
  • When she has to go to the winter cotillion, Sophia says goodbye to Constance. “I lean forward and kiss her, wrapping my arms around her, breathing her in and hoping this isn’t the last time.”
  • Sophia and Constance embrace. “Tears come again, but she wipes them away with the tip of her fingers, kissing my hand and pulling me close.”

Violence

  • Morris, Luke’s schoolmate, makes fun of Luke for being gay, which angers Luke. “Luke’s fist connected with Morris’s right cheek, sending spittle and at least two teeth flying.”
  • At the annual ball, the guards detain Luke. Sophia sees Luke getting “punched in the ribs and doubling over.”
  • A guard makes fun of Sophia’s friend, saying, “I would have offed myself, too, with a face like that.”
  • The local seamstress is falsely accused of helping Sophia escape at the annual ball. She is publicly executed and her head is cut off with an ax. Sophia saw “the seamstress’ head roll into the dirt.”
  • A local man harasses Constance and Sophia which leads to Constance fighting him. “Constance raises her knife and brings the hilt down on top of the man’s head, sending a loud crack! echoing through the alley. He falls face-first onto the ground.”
  • When Sophia plans to murder the king, she says, “I’m going to have to let him get close to me, so I can put a dagger in his neck.”
  • At the cotillion, a man attempts to flirt with Sophia, and a guard attacks him as a result. “As I turn, a guard sweeps in and strikes him on the top of the head with the hilt of his sword. The man collapsed into a heap.”
  • Sophia tries to assassinate King Manford. “In one quick move I plunge the dagger into his neck. I twist the blade the way Constance showed me. He blinks. Standing upright, he staggers, clutching his throat. I jump back, pulling the blade out. I smile at him. I’ve done it. I’ve ended him. Constance said that if I killed him, he would probably collapse into a heap. King Manford doesn’t move. She told me blood would rush from the wound. He doesn’t bleed.” As King Manford is no longer human, there is simply a gaping hole in his neck, but it did not cause him any pain as the hole slowly closed itself.
  • After Sophia’s attempt to kill King Manford, the guards restrain her. “Someone yanks my arm so hard it feels like my shoulder might come out of its socket.”
  • Sophia escapes her cell by attacking a guard. The guard “blinks, confused, as I bring the candlestick down with all the strength I can muster. It impacts his head with a sickening thud, and he falls into a pile, his knees and elbows jutting out in an unnatural way.”
  • Sophia continues attacking guards with her candlestick as she helps others escape the prison. The other prisoners cheer her on saying, “Hit him again!”
  • Amina, the fairy godmother, betrays Sophia and Constance. Constance stabs Amina for her betrayal. “The tip of Constance’s dagger sticks out of Amina’s chest as Constance grips the hilt behind Amina’s right shoulder.”
  • Sophia realizes King Manford is kept alive through magic and sees a bright core in him where the magic resides. She stabs the bright, magical center. “Bright, hot, and crimson like a heatless flame, the light in his chest erupts out of his mouth and engulfs the king’s entire head as he rears back, his hands clutching wildly at the air. A sound escapes his throat, the cries of a dying animal. What is left of his skin begins to shrivel and crack like burned paper.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Sophia considers Helen, a local potion maker, to be a hoax. Sophia thought, “Her potions were probably watered-down barley wine.”
  • Sophia describes the Bicentennial Celebration where every night of the week, “before curfew, people crowd the square to make music and drink.”
  • As Sophia and Erin ride to the annual ball, Erin speculates, “I hear they have tables and tables of food and wine.”
  • Amina, the fairy godmother, frequently smokes from a pipe. “She puffs away on her pipe, a wreath of earthy-smelling smoke encircling her head.”
  • The evil king, King Manford, meets Sophia at the cotillion. Sophia describes him. “From his smell, a mixture of wine and smoke, to the predatory look in his eyes, everything about him repels me.”
  • Amina describes the guilt she felt for betraying Cinderella, Sophia, and Constance. Amina felt “a twinge of guilt about Cinderella, but it’s nothing that can’t be stifled with a full pipe and a stiff drink.”

Language

  • Damn is used occasionally. For example, Sophia’s mother is frustrated with Sophia’s behavior and says she wishes Sophia “would sit down and stop trying to get herself arrested like some damned fool.”
  • Shit is used a couple of times. When Luke sees Morris, his classmate who always bullies him, he says “shit.”

Supernatural

  • Sophia walks past Helen’s Wonderments and thinks about the different potions Helen claims to brew up. The sign outside Helen’s store reads, “Find a Suitor, Banish an Enemy, Love Everlasting.”
  • Amina, the fairy godmother, explains how she learned magic. “All my life I’ve practiced magic. My mother raised me in the craft, taught me from the time I was young.”
  • Amina, Constance, and Sophia plan to use necromancy to raise Cinderella from the dead so Cinderella can help fight the king. Constance explains necromancy as, “It’s when you communicate with the dead.” Amina corrects Constance by explaining, “You have to call the spirit back to communicate with them.”
  • In order to see the future, Amina, Constance, and Sophia complete a divination ritual. In Sophia’s vision she sees Cinderella and the king. Then, the king’s “face transforms into something horrid and rotting – something dead. A ball of white-hot light erupts between us, pulling at the center of my chest. I cry out.”
  • Amina uses a spell to make the guards sleep. Amina describes the spell as “a little sleeping dust to send them to dreamland. . . It brings nightmares. . . The kind you never forget. The kind that haunt you even in your waking hours.”
  • Amina describes a special stone that allows the holder to see into the future. Amina explains, “An alternative to the kind of divination we used at the pond. An enchanted stone, polished up like a mirror. It can be used to see all sorts of things – the future, the present – but they are exceedingly rare.”
  • Amina raises Cinderella from the dead. Sophia describes the emotions of seeing Cinderella as, “A literal ghost is speaking to us, it takes everything I have not to give in to the little voice in my head that is screaming at me to run.”
  • Amina uses magic to create a gown for Sophia. Sophia describes the experience. “The same strange luminescence that clings to it clings to me. I hold my breath as a dress of shimmering silver materializes around me.”
  • Sophia realizes how the king has stayed alive for hundreds of years. When Sophia is imprisoned, the girl in the cell next to her explains, “He siphons the life from your very soul. There is a light, a pull, and whatever he takes from you, he uses to make himself young, to live as long as he so chooses.”
  • Sophia finds Cinderella’s journal which also explains how King Manford used magic to stay alive. Cinderella had written, “A channel opened between us, a connection. I could see right into his blackened heart. Something invisible, something unnatural, surrounds the source of the light. And now I know that there is no hope for me. Or for anyone.”
  • King Manford attempts to draw the life out of Sophia. Sophia describes the experience saying, “I’m dying. I feel the life being pulled out of me in long, rasping draws. A fire ignites in my chest, burning away any feelings of hope or love or happiness. Something tugs hard at my waist, and suddenly I’m sliding backward across the ballroom floor.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Paige Smith

 

 

Piper

Maggie lives in a small village in the middle of a dark forest. Because she is deaf, the people in her small village have shunned her. An elderly woman, Agathe, is the only person who has shown Maggie kindness. In the evening, Maggie uses her imagination to weave stories that Agathe writes down. Despite Agathe’s company, Maggie dreams of finding her fairytale love.

The village is plagued by rats, who are devouring the food and biting the people. A mysterious Piper comes to town, promising to rid the village of rats. Maggie is captivated by the Piper and thinks she has finally met her true love. However, Maggie soon discovers that the Piper has a dark side. The boy of Maggie’s dreams might just turn out to be her worst nightmare…

The graphic novel’s artwork is amazing and beautiful. Jeff Stokely uses a variety of colors that help enhance the scene’s mood. Each illustration highlights the character’s emotions, and the village is painted in vivid detail. Piper’s artwork is by far the best part of the graphic novel; each picture tells so much of the story in detail.

While the artwork is fantastic, both the characters and the plot are underdeveloped. Maggie’s backstory is confusing, and the reason the village shunned her is unclear. Maggie is deaf but has taught herself how to read lips. However, in most of the panels she isn’t looking at the person who is talking, yet can somehow understand their words. Even though the readers should empathize with Maggie, she is so underdeveloped and predictable that her story doesn’t evoke an emotional reaction.

The plot jumps around from Maggie, to the village, and then flashbacks of the past. In addition, Maggie makes up stories about the town folk. The story’s transitions are often awkward and confusing. So little information is given about the Piper that he is difficult to understand. The conclusion is quick and leaves the reader with too many questions.

As a retelling of the Pied Piper, Piper is a dark story that lacks depth. While readers will enjoy the artwork, the actual story and characters are not memorable. However, the story does touch on the theme of greed. When the villagers refuse to pay the Piper for his services, one person says, “So much evil is traced back to greed. And greed makes us choose what we believe.”

Readers who want to add a little fright to their life may want to leave Piper on the shelf. If you’re looking for a spectacularly spooky story, Nightbooks by J.A. White and City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwa would make an excellent addition to your reading list.

Sexual Content

  • Someone asks the rat catcher, “Do you think the rats stop fornicating when you get distracted?”
  • Maggie kisses the Piper.

Violence

  • Rats infest a village. They destroy food and crops. They also bite a baby; the illustration shows the crying child with a bloody bite on the arm.
  • Maggie tells a story about boys that lost a coin. They couldn’t find the coin “so they put their heads in the holes! Their heads become stuck in the holes. The rabbit mistook their ugly faces for cabbage. And it was very hungry.” The last illustration shows the rabbit’s huge teeth.
  • Any angry woman flicks a seed and hits Maggie in the head. Maggie runs away crying.
  • When Maggie and her brother were children, a group of boys shoved them into a barrel, shut the lid, and threw it into a river. A man jumped in to save the children, but Maggie’s brother died.
  • A drunk man yells at Maggie. The man grabs her, pinches her face, and puts his finger in her ear. Maggie falls to the ground and begins crying.
  • After the man yells at Maggie, the Piper uses a dart to put the drunk man to sleep. The Piper throws the man into the river by the water wheel. The next day, someone says, “I warned him, if he was going to stumble about drunk at night, stay away from the river. I was not even thinking of the water wheel.” Another man says, “I never imagined it could take a man’s head off his shoulders.” The illustration shows the man being thrown into the water.
  • A boy gets his shirt caught in a grinding stone. The Piper hears the boy’s yells. The Piper holds a knife against the boy’s throat and says, “It’s not what you did to me that makes me want to kill you.” Even though the Piper is upset that the boy was mean to Maggie, he cuts the boy free.
  • Angry that the village leaders refuse to pay him, the Piper uses his flute to lead the children out of the village. Maggie finds the children and takes them home.
  • The villagers burn the church with the Piper and “many many others” inside of it.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • A man tries to poison the rats, but “it killed all the cats!”
  • When a strange man comes into the village, he says he can get rid of the rats for a price. When he tells his price, a man says, “You must have chugged your drink too quickly.”
  • Maggie tells a story about a blacksmith. His wife “shut him out of their home one winter evening after he’d been out drinking too many nights. In the morning she found him passed out on a stump.” The blacksmith was frozen.

Language

  • Maggie tells the story about a blacksmith. “The drunken fool pissed himself frozen to the stump.”
  • When the village children disappear, one of the women says, “Oh God!”

Supernatural

  • The Piper plays a “cursed flute. Its magic will make anything obey.”
  • The Piper plays his flute and leads the village rats into the river where they die. Four panels show the rats’ death.

Spiritual Content

  • After a wedding, the guests dance near the church’s graveyard. The priest says, “I would think those who have passed would be pleased by the joy of the living… The Lord knows they deserve one evening of merriment.”
  • Maggie’s caretaker says, “We should pray for the well-being of everyone, but it is great fun to imagine how they may seal their own fate.”
  • A man who is cleaning the church window says, “I pray my soul is always like this window, pure and clean.”
  • When a man expresses his fear of the Piper, the priest says, “Ephesians calls us to be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might…not our own strength, or that of a magical flute.”
  • Maggie tells the Piper, “I will pray that they give you what was promised.”

Sink or Swim

Abby and Jonah discovered a magic mirror that takes them into fairy tales. The first two times they traveled to a fairy tale and changed the story by accident. This time, Abby and Jonah promise not to change the fairy tale, but when the magic mirror pulls them into the Little Mermaid’s story, they are determined to help the Little Mermaid because the original story doesn’t have a happy ending.

Instead of being a fun retelling of The Little Mermaid, Sink or Swim has several flaws. In the first few chapters, Abby gives a summary of the first two books in the series. Unfortunately, the summary is uninteresting and jumps from topic to topic. Unlike the previous book, Jonah rarely appears. When he does, he spends all of his time arguing with his sister. Plus, the story contains some inconsistencies that stronger readers will notice. For example, Abby is afraid of the water and has difficulty swimming. Yet, she is able to swim underwater for several hours in order to find the sea witch.

Once Abby and Jonah get to the Little Mermaid’s world, the siblings struggle to find the mermaid. When they do find her, they learn that her name is Lana and that she is determined to be with the prince. When Lana meets the prince he quickly proposes, but then he backs out when he learns that Lana is a mermaid. Despite this, Lana still gives up everything in order be with the prince. Once Lana appears on land with legs, the prince says that he will honor his proposal. Instead of being a cute romance, Lana soon discovers that the prince is shallow. The prince says Lana “just needs to smile, dance, and be beautiful.” When Lana runs from the altar, the prince chooses a girl from the audience and marries her on the spot.

Even though Abby meets all the characters from the original fairy tale, the fairy tale characters are flat. Lana is convinced that she’s in love with the prince and refuses to listen to anyone’s advice. Abby warns Lana, “You’re going to lose everything! Your tongue! Your life! You can’t make a deal with the sea witch! You can’t give up everything that makes you who you are. It’s just not right.” Despite this, Lana still makes a dangerous deal with the sea witch that could end in death.

In Sink or Swim, Lana is neither likable nor relatable. The new ending leaves a lot to be desired. However, Lana is not the only negative character. Instead of being evil, the sea witch is portrayed as a misunderstood mermaid who reverses the spell in exchange for a date with Lana’s father. As Abby tries to negotiate a deal with the sea witch and save Lana’s life, Lana’s father flirts with the sea witch.

Fans of Disney’s The Little Mermaid will wish they left Sink or Swim on the library shelf. Sink or Swim doesn’t have any of the charms of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and all of the characters are lacking depth. The only redeeming value of the story is that it highlights the importance of being satisfied with your life and shows that love at first sight isn’t true love. If you’re looking for more fairy tale stories, Fairy Tale Reform School by Jen Calonita would be a better choice.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In order to undo the spell, the sea witch tells Abby and Jonah to kill the prince. The sea witch says, “I’ll give you a knife. You’ll use the knife to stab the prince in the heart. Then I’ll undo all the spells. Lana can go back to her life as a mermaid.” Abby and Jonah refuse to kill the prince.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the castle workers makes a potion that allows people to breathe underwater. The potion contains “Mermaid’s spit, a tablespoon of water, a teaspoon of club soda, and a pinch of algae.” Abby and Jonah take the potion and swim to Lana’s world.

Language

  • Abby thinks, “the prince is a bit of a jerk, but that doesn’t mean I want him dead.”
  • Abby calls the sea witch a coward.
  • The sea witch tells Abby that Lana is a “jerk! Just like her father!”

Supernatural

  • Abby and her brother Jonah travel through a magic mirror. When Jonah knocks on the mirror three times, “there’s a hissing sound. The mirror starts swirling and casts a purple light over the room. A second later, it’s pulling us towards it like it’s a vacuum cleaner.” When they step through the mirror, they land in the Little Mermaid’s world.
  • The original story of The Little Mermaid is repeated several times and explains that the mermaid exchanges her tongue for legs. In Sink or Swim, Abby is upset when Lana appears on land with legs. Abby gasps “in horror. Since she has legs and went to the sea witch… the sea witch has her…has her…has her tongue.”
  • In order to return home, Abby and Jonah swim into the sea witch’s cauldron. When Abby enters the cauldron, “it squeezes but doesn’t hurt.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

If the Shoe Fits

When Abby and Jonah step through the magic mirror, they travel to Cinderella’s fairy tale. Cinderella has met a prince at a ball and dreams of marrying him. When Abby and Jonah try to help Cinderella, the two siblings accidently change the story and end up making everything worse. Soon, Cinderella’s foot is broken, swollen, and her glass slipper won’t fit! How can Cinderella prove she’s the prince’s true love if her foot can’t fit into the glass slipper?

Abby and Jonah ask Cinderella’s fairy godmother, Farrah, for help, but Farrah isn’t impressed with Cinderella’s desire to have the prince save her. Farrah tells Cinderella, “rescue yourself. You need to learn to stand on your own two feet.” This sends Cinderella on a journey to find a way to support herself financially and free herself from her evil stepmother. Abby and Jonah promise to help Cinderella. Is there any way for Cinderella to become self-reliant? Can Abby and Jonah help Cinderella find her happily ever after?

If the Shoe Fits gives Cinderella’s character a new spin. Cinderella embarks on a journey with Abby and Jonah’s help. This journey allows Cinderella to learn that she doesn’t need a prince to rescue her because she is capable of saving herself.

All the original Cinderella characters make an appearance. However, the fairy godmother doesn’t just grant wishes. Instead, she wants to teach Cinderella a valuable lesson. The two stepsisters, Beatrice and Kayla, are interesting. And the stepmother? Well, she’s just evil. Even though the characters are not well-developed, younger readers will enjoy the new changes in Cinderella’s story.

The original Cinderella was written in French by Charles Perrault in 1697, but Mlynowski uses names and terms that are not consistent with the original story. The fairy tale characters talk like modern-day teens. For example, one character uses the term “knock yourself out.” Another character asks Cinderella, “You don’t mind if I crash your new digs until the wedding, do you?” Even though this doesn’t interfere with the story’s enjoyment, stronger readers will notice the unrealistic dialogue.

The conclusion adds in a dash of magic that will have readers smiling. The ending also shows that girls do not need a man to save them. In the end, Cinderella rejects the prince’s proposal for two reasons. Cinderella tells the prince, “I don’t really love you…not the way Kayla does. You deserve someone who loves you for the right reasons. Everyone does.” Cinderella adds, “Two days ago, there was nothing I wanted more than to marry you. I wanted you to rescue me.” Since then, Cinderella has become self-reliant, and she doesn’t want to give that up.

With a high-interest topic, easy vocabulary, and a smattering of magic, If the Shoe Fits will have younger readers eager to jump into the fairy tale world. More advanced readers, who love fairy tales, should add The Prince Problem by Vivian Vande Velde to their reading list.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In order to steal Farrah’s magic wand, “Beatrice jumps onto Farrah’s back, the wand flies out of Farrah’s hand, and Beatrice and Farrah tumble to the ground. The wand goes rolling across the floor. Betty scoops it up.”
  • In order to get the magic wand out of the stepmother’s hand, Jonah, who was turned into a mouse, annoys the stepmother. She then “swings her foot back and sends him flying across the room. He somersaults through the air and lands in the fireplace.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Cinderella’s stepmother calls the fairy godmother a “fairy freak.”
  • Beatrice pretends to be the prince’s true love. In order to warn the prince, “Kayla-rat scurries up the couch, jumps on her sister’s shoulder and tries to bite her.”

Supernatural

  • Abby and Jonah use a magic mirror to travel into the fairy tale world. When Jonah knocks on the mirror three times, the mirror spins, hisses, and turns purple. The siblings then walk into the mirror.
  • Using the fairy godmother’s wand, “Betty swished toward Cinderella and hurls a zap her way. There’s a burst of yellow sparkle and then Cinderella starts to shrink. She gets smaller and smaller and then even smaller. And turns grey. And grows a tail.” Betty turns Cinderella into a mouse.
  • When Betty turns Abby into a mouse, “All I can see is yellow, and then zoom! The room is suddenly increasing in size. I feel sick. It’s like I’m on a Tilt-A-Whirl. And then—plunk. I’m on my tush with my legs in the air in front of me.”
  • Betty turns the fairy godmother into a lizard. “Farrah yelps as she starts to shrink and turn green and scaly.”
  • Betty turns her daughter Kayla into a rat. “Betty just turned her own daughter into a mouse. A very large, brown mouse with very sharp teeth.”
  • Betty tries to make Beatrice’s foot fit the glass slipper. Betty “points the wand at her daughter’s left foot and zaps it. It resizes all right. It expands… and then it turns orange. It’s a pumpkin.”
  • The fairy godmother Farrah reverses the stepmother’s magic spells, turning everyone back into humans. Then Farrah turns the stepmother and her daughter into birds. “They instantly shrink into two little birds. Two caged little birds.”
  • Abby and Jonah learn that the portal home doesn’t have to be a mirror because a fairy can “enchant different household objects and appliances.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Fairest of All

Once upon a time, a mirror slurped up Abby and her brother Johan. When Abby and Johan are magically transported into the fairy tale world, they don’t mean to change Snow White’s happily-ever-after. Because of them, Snow doesn’t eat the poisonous apple. Snow doesn’t meet the prince. Abby is determined to fix Snow’s story; she’s just not sure how to make the prince meet and fall in love with Snow.

Abby and Johan are complete opposites, which adds humor to the story. Abby needs a plan for everything and constantly tries to curb Johan’s adventurous spirit. The one thing that remains constant is their desire to help Snow. Unlike the original fairy tale, in this story Snow White’s personality is multifaceted. She proves that a girl doesn’t need a prince in order to live happily ever after. Instead of following the traditional plot, Fairest of All takes the reader down a winding path where danger is behind every corner.

Fairest of All is an imaginative retelling of Snow White’s fairy tale. Told from Abby’s point of view, the story’s start is slow, but once the siblings show up at the dwarves’ cottage, the action picks up. With short chapters, easy vocabulary, and an interesting narrator, Fairest of All will appeal to a wide range of readers. The story leaves several questions unanswered, which will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, If the Shoe Fits. More advanced readers should add The Secret Rescuers series by Paula Harrison to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Evil Evelyn tries to give Snow a poisoned apple. While arguing with Snow, Evelyn begins to sweat, and “makeup starts to smear down her face,” which allows Snow to recognize her stepmother. Johan retells the story, “Snow’s stepmom was trying to kill her with a poisoned apple, and that’s why she was wearing a disguise.”
  • Snow explains how she came to live with the dwarves. Snow’s stepmom “sends Xavier, her huntsmen, to kill me. He let me get away, but then I got lost in the forest… I came across the cottage… So I fell asleep on an empty bed, and the next thing I knew, there were seven little people staring at me.”
  • Johan tells Snow that the huntsman “told the queen that he had done it. And I think he gave her the lungs and liver of some animal, pretending it was you.” This comes up several times throughout the book.
  • Evil Evelyn tried to kill Snow using laces. The stepmother “tied them so tight Snow couldn’t breathe. We [the dwarves] came home and found Snow lying on the floor. We untied them just in time.”
  • When Prince Trevor was two, he threw a rock at a stranger.
  • Disguised as a child, Evil Evelyn offers to give Snow a cookie. Snow takes the cookie and her stepmother was “lifting the hammer and swinging it toward Snow’s head.” Abby sees the hammer and she “jumps towards Snow and push her out of the way… At the same time, the young girl’s hammer swings through the air and misses its target.” Evil Evelyn flees.
  • Snow, Johan, and Abby sneak into the castle. If they are caught, Snow says Evil Evelyn will kill them. Then Johan askes, “Do you think she’d eat our lungs and livers too?”
  • In order to try to “fix” Snow’s story, Snow pretends to be dead. As she lays in the coffin, she puts her head on a poisoned pillow. Snow screams. “Snow pops up, the tips of her hair burnt off like she stood too close to a fire.” To get the poison out of Snow’s hair, Abby dumps water on her head.
  • In order to get into the castle, Snow, Abby, and Johan swim the moat. Two crocodiles snap at the three friends. “Baby Crocodile blocks our path from behind and snaps her baby teeth… Mama Crocodile lunges again.” Johan throws stew sandwiches at the crocodile, who gobble them up. The three are able to escape.
  • Snow, Johan, and Abby try to leave the castle. They are on the drawbridge when soldiers appear. Evil Evelyn “aims a bowstring at Snow and pulls the trigger… In what seems like slow motion, he [Prince Trevor] jumps in front of Snow.” Trevor is injured, but Snow is saved.
  • The arrow hit Prince Trevor “square in the chest… Prince Trevor is still standing, but he’s shaking. After a few dramatic moments, his knees buckle, and he falls right over the bridge and into the water. Splash!”
  • Snow is able to drag Prince Trevor to shore. Trevor wakes up and says, “You kissed me. I was dead, and your kiss woke me up.” Snow explains that she didn’t kiss Trevor, but that “it was mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.” The escape scene is described over 10 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Jonah and Abby travel through a mirror and end up in Snow White’s fairy tale. When Jonah knocks on the mirror three times, the mirror sucks Jonah and Abby into it.
  • Time in the real world travels slower than in Snow White’s world. Every hour in the real world equals one day in Snow’s world.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Geekerella

Elle Whittimer is living in an impossible universe. Her father died, leaving her with her awful stepfamily. Now her only connection to her father is through Starfield, an old science fiction television show that he loved so much he started a fan convention for it. These days ExcelsiCon is one of the biggest cons in the country, but Elle hasn’t been back since her father died. Instead, she finds her solace in late night Starfield reruns, posting on her blog, Rebelgunner, and dreaming of the day when she can escape to California and become a screenwriter. When a movie reboot of Starfield is announced, Elle is afraid that her favorite story is about to be ruined. But this movie just might be the ticket to her dreams because this year, the first-place prize for ExcelsiCon’s cosplay contest is a chance to attend the premiere in Hollywood. With a little help from her coworker Sage, Elle decides to turn her father’s old costume into a prize-winning cosplay.

Darien Freeman just landed the role of a lifetime: Federation Prince Carmindor in the Starfield movie reboot. However, as a lifelong fan, he’s afraid he won’t be able to do the character justice. There are already fans, like the blogger behind Rebelgunner, who are convinced that casting a teen heartthrob was a terrible idea. The last thing Darien wants to do is surround himself with a bunch of angry, hardcore Starfield fans, which means he really needs to get out of judging the ExcelsiCon’s annual cosplay contest. When Darien sends a text hoping to contact someone at ExcelsiCon, he ends up reaching Elle. After connecting through a mutual love of Starfield, their anonymous friendship begins to grow into something more. But what will happen when their paths cross on the convention floor?

Geekerella is part modern-day Cinderella story and part love letter to fandom culture. Poston does a wonderful job exploring the ways in which art can bring together creators and fans alike – across time and distance. Themes of love and acceptance are an integral part of the story. At the same time, some darker topics are addressed, like Elle’s mistreatment by her stepfamily and how Darien has lost his personal life to overzealous fans and toxic paparazzi.

At its heart, Geekerella is an adorable fairytale. Even if readers are unfamiliar with fandom culture, they can still have fun picking out the parallels to the classic Cinderella story. Elle is a charming heroine, whose wit and determination make her easy to root for, while Darien’s sweet optimism makes him an incredibly endearing character. When these two lonely souls find each other through a mutual love of Starfield, it’s nearly impossible not to hope that their budding romance will overcome all the obstacles thrown in their way.

Sexual Content

  • Darien says he doesn’t want to think about the “creepy google searches” that male fans of his costar Jessica Stone make, implying that they might be sexual in nature.
  • Elle describes Darien’s face as “annoyingly beautiful.”
  • When Darien takes off his shirt on live TV, Elle says, “His abs and chest beam across Catherine’s plasma TV, piercing through [her] sleepy brain like a ray of hope in this godless universe.”
  • A fan jumps on stage and forces herself onto Darien. “Her mouth connects with [Darien’s] with such force that it sends them both tumbling over the sofa.”
  • When Darien discusses the kissing incident with his bodyguard, Darien says he thought he’d “choke on her tongue.”
  • Darien and his co-star Jessica must kiss for a scene. When Jessica asks where Darien learned how to kiss, he jokes that he’s had “two hours of practice by now.” In the same scene, Jessica refers to herself as “the best kisser in Hollywood.”
  • Elle daydreams about what life in a better universe would be like. “And maybe at that midnight release, I’d see a guy across the theatre dressed in a federation uniform, and we’d lock eyes and know that this was the good universe. Maybe a guy with dark hair and chocolate eyes and—for a moment Darien Freeman flashes across my mind.”
  • Darien thinks to himself that when he was kissing Jessica, he was really thinking about Elle. “The truth is, it wasn’t just when we’d kissed that I’d thought about Elle. I’d thought about her during every step of that dance.”
  • During a text conversation with Darien, a.k.a. Carmindor, Elle describes an episode of Starfield as “the one with the other Carmindor being sexy in the shower.” She then panics and adds, “Not that YOU couldn’t be sexy too.”
  • Elle worries about what would happen if she met Carmindor, a.k.a. Darien, in real life and thinks to herself, “I hate that I’m falling for someone I don’t even know.”
  • Darien refers to Elle as “ah’blena” during one of their text conversations, in the universe of Starfield this is a phrase meaning “my heart.”
  • Darien’s handler says that whoever wrote the negative blog posts about him “has a serious crush.”
  • After filming the final scene for the movie, Jessica asks Darien if he’s thinking about “the absolute sadness that we didn’t make out more?”
  • When Elle meets Darien for the first time, she describes him as “beautiful in person,” but thinks that his personality is “the biggest turn off.”
  • When she enters the cosplay ball, Darien is captivated by Elle. Darien watches “the top of the stairs, the girl with glowing red hair stares down at the rest of us from behind a sparkling golden mask. Her bowlike lips are painted the flaming color of a red giant. She’s beautiful.”
  • As Darien watches Elle enter the ball, he compares the moment to a meet-cute from a movie scene. “But this isn’t a movie, and I’ve already missed my meet-cute. The sky doesn’t suddenly crash in around us. The world doesn’t lose sound. Because this isn’t where I fall in love. I fell in love across the cell signals and late-night texts with a girl I barely knew.”
  • A rude stranger at the cosplay ball insinuates that Elle is simply a Darien Freeman fangirl, not an actual Starfield fan, and tells her that she is “too cute to play dumb” when she gets offended.
  • Elle and Darien share a dance at the cosplay ball and start to fall into familiar banter. “We’re so close, I can feel his breath on my lips, and my heart is tugging, telling me to kiss him even though I don’t know him. Even though my heart, battered and bandaged and taped together, is still rattling from the text a few hours before. But there’s something familiar in the cadence of his words, the way he phrases sentences, the way he articulates thoughts, like a voice I’ve heard before.”
  • Realizing she’s stayed too long, Elle rushes out of the cosplay ball. Darien, having realized who she is to him, chases after her. “His mask has fallen off and I can see the shiner on his nose, dark as a rainstorm, and the alarm in his eyes. The kind where you’re afraid you’ll never see someone again. ‘Wait, ah’blena!’ Ah’blena? I stumble and one of Mom’s shoes slips off.
  • One of Elle’s stepsisters tells her friends that Darien is “way sexier in person.”
  • When Darien shows up at the country club looking for Elle, Chloe throws herself at him. Elle thinks that “flirting comes as natural as breathing” to her stepsister.
  • Darien reflects on seeing the real Elle for the very first time. “I won’t say that she is perfect or that she is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen, but the moment her gaze finds mine, she’s the best part of the universe. She’s a person I would love to spend a lifetime with on the observation deck of the Prospero.”
  • Elle and Darien share a kiss upon being reunited. “‘Ah’…,’ he begins, enunciating every syllable, raising his hand to my chin, ‘blen…,’ tilts my face up, slowly drawing toward me, like two supernovas about to collide, ‘…a.’ And somehow, in this impossible universe, his lips find mine.”
  • Elle and Darien kiss a second time and she describes it as “the kind of kiss that creates [possibilities].”
  • Sage and her girlfriend are holding hands in the limousine before the Starfield Elle says, “I don’t think they’ve stopped holding hands since that day at the country club.”
  • Sage’s girlfriend says she loves Jessica Stone, to which Sage responds, “Maybe we can share her.”
  • When a reporter asks if Elle and Darien are a couple, he tells her, “I want you, ah’blena. I want to try this thing with you, whatever this is. I want you to be my copilot. And I want to ask you before the movie, in case you really hate it.”
  • Darien kisses Elle on the red carpet. “He bends close, despite the crowds, despite the cameras, despite Franco’s nose-diving into his suit pocket where he’s probably keeping a snack, and kisses me. Around us, the flashes flare like the thrusters of the good ship Prospero, sending my heart rocketing into the farthest reaches of this impossible universe.”

 Violence

  • During a fight, Elle’s stepmother, Catherine, hits her. “With a crack, Catherine’s manicured hand strikes the side of my face.”
  • Darien films a choreographed fight scene. “There’s an explosion behind us—bright lights, the actual effects to be added later—as half the ship blows. Calvin lunges at me. I dodge left, grab his right hook, but he powers through it and sends me careening backward. I slam against the floor, pulling my weight back, scrambling to get my feet under me. He picks me up by the collar; I grab his hand and wrench it away. Quickly, I reach for my gun. Too slow. He rams his shoulder into my chest, and I stumble into the console. The entire structure shakes. He grabs hold of my neck and pretends to squeeze.”
  • Elle accidentally hits Darien in the face with a door, causing his nose to bleed. He describes the blood as leaking “into my mouth and down my chin and onto my favorite T-shirt.”
  • Darien gets into a physical altercation with his former friend, Brian. “If one good thing has happened over the last few months of preproduction and soulless salads and four A.M. workouts with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cousin, it’s that I learned to throw a punch. Thumb out, clench fist—swing. Brian stumbles from the force of it.” The fight scene lasts for three pages.
  • Sage tells a dog, “The next time you jump on me I’ll skin you and wear you as a hat!”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Prior to the beginning of the story, Darien was in an accident that prompted headlines to speculate about his health. When he describes the accident he says, “I wasn’t drunk, or high, or tripping on anything besides my own feet.”
  • Darien describes his former relationship with Brian, a friend who sold him out to the paparazzi, as “shoot-the-shit, drinking beer in the back of pickups friends.”

 Language

  • Elle uses the phrase “Nox’s crack” in place of a curse. The Nox are a race of aliens from the Starfield
  • Anon, the director of the Starfield movie, tells Darien that he has “brass balls” right before he films a stunt sequence.
  • Darien describes one of his lines as a “kiss ass goodbye.”
  • Elle describes sitting inside the food truck on a warm day as “hot as balls.”
  • Sage refers to Elle’s stepsisters as “the hell twins.”
  • Sage describes Princess Amara’s character arc as a “crappy subplot.”
  • When Elle first sees Darien in person, she thinks to herself, “Holy Federation Prince, Batman. It’s Darien effing Freeman.” This is one of three times this phrasing is used as an exclamation.
  • Miss May, one of the people running ExcelsiCon, says that Elle gave Darien “a snowball’s chance in hell.”
  • When Sage enters ExcelsiCon, she says, “Holy shit.”
  • Darien uses the word “fracking” in place of an f-bomb.
  • Darien tells Brian that he’s “not trying to be a dick.”
  • Elle calls the stranger harassing her a “left-testicled Nox.”
  • During his fight with Brian, Darien imagines a headline describing the incident: “DARIEN FIGHTS WITH SLEAZY PAPARAZZO AND MURDERS HIS ASS.”
  • During an argument with his father, Darien asks, “Why the hell insure my abs anyway?”
  • Sage tells Darien that she has been grounded by her mother, adding, “like hell I am.”
  • Elle says that her stepmother got rid of all of her Starfield memorabilia, including “one hella rare Pez dispenser.”
  • Elle tells Darien that she will make his life “a living hell” on her blog if he screws up Carmindor.

 Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Elle describes herself as sending a prayer to “the Lord of Light or Q or whoever is listening.”

by Evalyn Harper

 

Cloaked in Red

So you think you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl with the unfortunate name and the inability to tell the difference between her grandmother and a member of a different species? Well, then, try your hand at answering these questions: Which character (not including Little Red herself) is the most fashion challenged? Who (not including the wolf) is the scariest? Who (not including Granny) is the most easily scared? Who is the strangest (notice we’re not “not including” anyone, because they’re all a little off.)? Who (no fair saying “the author”) has stuffing for brains?

Vivian Vande Velde retells the story of Little Red Riding Hood and gives the story eight new endings. The stories aren’t truly a retelling because they take a small portion of the original story and weave it into a new and often strange story. The author makes fun of the original fairy tale, but her own versions of Little Red Riding Hood are flat and unexciting. Instead of digging deeper into Little Red Riding Hood’s life and character, the author doesn’t add any new insight or meaning to the original fairy tale.

The beginning of the story makes fun of the Grimm’s vision of Little Red Riding Hood, and the author seems to go out of her way to portray Little Red Riding Hood in a negative light. In all of the stories, Little Red’s name changes, which is not only confusing but also makes it hard for the reader to connect with the character. In addition, Little Red is an unlikeable character in all of the stories. She is either stupid, self-absorbed, or a witch.

Readers who love fairy tales, both the original and retelling, should leave Cloaked in Red on the shelf. Vivian Vande Velde’s versions of Little Red Riding Hood are uninteresting, strange, and difficult to read. Instead of reading Cloaked in Red, grab a copy of Seeing Red by Sarah Mlynowski or Misfit by Jen Calonita; both books are excellent retellings that have a strong female character.

 Sexual Content

  • A girl was wandering in the woods when a group of boys sees her. One boy asks, “Care to give us a kiss?” Then the boys formed a line and the girl kisses each boy. The girl then rides away with one of the boys.

Violence

  • When a wolf attacks Little Red Riding Hood, she “realized that the wolf’s sharp nails had not only pulled the cloak off her, they had ripped the fabric. She smacked the wolf’s muzzle, hard. . . The wolf backed away, his muzzle stinging.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A woodcutter finds a girl sleeping in the woods. The woodcutter assumes that the girl had “too much to drink.”

Language

  • Little Red Riding Hood repeatedly calls the wolf stupid and then says, “I bet your own mother was sorry she ever had a stupid excuse of a lunkbrain like you.” Later she calls him a “stupid clod.”

Supernatural

  • A woman makes a doll. When the woman wishes for a daughter, the doll comes alive.
  • In one story, Little Red Riding Hood is a witch and her grandmother is a werewolf.
  • When a vampire appears, Little Red Riding Hood “uttered a magic spell and transformed him into a frog—a pale, sickly-looking frog.”
  • A fairy godmother accidentally cast a spell on a cloak making it smart. The cloak can think, repair itself, as well as adjust its size.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

A Tale Dark & Grimm

Hansel and Gretel were once children who had to run away from their own scary story, but when they flee, they find eight other scary fairy tales that they must endure. As the children run, they encounter witches and warlocks, hunters with deadly aim, and a baker with ovens that are just right for baking children. . .

Gidwitz retells the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, plus expertly weaves pieces of other fairy tales into Hansel’s and Gretel’s story. Like the title suggests, Gidwitz’s version of Hansel and Gretel is both dark and grim. Many scenes are described in bloody detail, and there is no shortage of scary characters, including an evil witch, the moon, and the Devil. Parents and many adults are portrayed in a negative light, which is the main reason Hansel and Gretel continue to run away. They just can’t seem to find a family that has caring parents.

A Tale of Dark and Grimm describes a world full of terrible monsters, evil humans, and violent death. Readers who enjoy being frightened will want to jump into Hansel and Gretel’s fairy tale story. However, younger readers may be so frightened that they will crawl into their parents’ beds for many nights to come. This unique look at Hansel and Gretel will give readers a better understanding of the original fairy tales as well as add some surprising twists.

In the story, Johannes, a faithful servant, explains the importance of understanding others. He understood the king and queen in the “ancient sense. I understood. . . I planted my feet beneath them and took upon my shoulders their burden—their choice, their mistake, and their pain.” The story highlights the importance of forgiveness, but also acknowledges that a person may not be ready to forgive.

Throughout the story, the narrator breaks in and warns the reader about parts that may be upsetting. For example, Gidwitz writes, “if you’re feeling sick to your stomach because of all the blood, now’s a great time to stop.” The narrator’s voice adds humor as well as breaks up tense scenes. A Tale of Dark and Grimm is broken up into short, easy-to-read sections. A Tale of Dark and Grimm is highly entertaining, frightening, and at times humorous. Readers looking for a scary story will enjoy the Hansel and Gretel retelling and will cheer when the two children are able to defeat evil and finally return home.

Sexual Content

  • The king sees his servant, Johannes, bent over the unconscious queen, “and with his two rotten teeth, bit her lip until he drew blood. Then ever so tenderly, the unhandsome man sucked three drops of blood from her lips with his mouth.” Johannes did this because a prophecy told him it was the only way to save the queen’s life, but the king didn’t know this and sentences Johannes to death.

Violence

  • Johannes kills a horse because of a prophecy. Before the king could mount the horse, “Johannes slipped onto its back, drew a blade, and cut the horse’s throat, soaking its silken coat with warm, red blood. It collapsed to the ground in a heap.”
  • The king sentences Johannes to death. “The executioner lit his torch and brought it to the pyre, its sparks leaping eagerly at the dry timer. . .” Before the king can kill Johannes, Johannes reveals the prophecy and “when he had, he turned to stone, from the core of his heart to the top of his head. And he died.”
  • The king “beckoned Hansel and Gretel to his side, drew a sword from its place on the wall, and cut off their heads. Their lifeless bodies dropped to the floor.”
  • A woman tries to cook Hansel. She puts him in the oven. “He was cooking. And he did smell just like a chocolate cake, because he had eaten so much of it since coming to the baker woman’s house.” Hansel tricks the woman into coming into the oven, and he is able to escape and lock the woman inside. “The baker woman began to sweat more. Her face was burning.” Hansel ignores her pleas and leaves with his sister.
  • In order to open a door, Gretel “picked up a sliver of ice, as sharp as a knife, and brought it down on her middle finger, severing it from her hand. . . Gretel’s face was white and her voice trembled. . . She was bleeding swiftly from where the finger used to be, but she stood and walked, resolute and grim, to the door of the mountain.” She uses her finger to open the door.
  • While living in the wild, Hansel acts like a wild beast. One day after killing a dove, he returned home. “Blood covered his arms and his face, and he carried in his hands the broken, eviscerated carcass of the white dove. . . Then he looked down at the dead bird. He noticed that his arms were covered in blood, and his shirt was stained with a mix of blood and berry juice.”
  • A hunter sees Hansel, who looks like an animal-boy. The two stare at each other, and “there was a snap and a hiss like a snake. An arrow flew through the air—a straight, simple harbinger of death. Hansel watched it all the way to his chest, to exactly where his heart was. It buried itself there. He felt a searing bolt of pain and fell to the forest floor.” The hunter takes the beast-boy to town. “The huntsmen dug their knives into the beast’s skin just below the jaw and began to run their blades between the fur and flesh. Their hunting knives shone red as clumps of meat and animal hair stuck to their blades. . .” When they peel the skin back, they discover, “The blood-soaked form of a boy.” Gretel was freed from the body and given to a lord and a lady to care for.
  • A man was playfully throwing Gretel in the air, when she hit a branch. “She cried out in pain. When he lowered her to the ground, red blood was running in a narrow rivulet down her face. Her forehead had struck the branch and left a deep cut just above the eyebrow. She was having trouble seeing out of her left eye through the steady stream of blood. . .” Gretel meets a man who, “Invites girls to his house, and he reaches down their throats and rips their souls from their bodies, and he traps the souls in cages in the form of doves, to let them rot under his eaves. Then he hacks the girls’ bodies to pieces to make our supper.” She watches as the man, “threw the girl on the oaken table, and from a nearby cupboard produced a filthy iron cage. Then he reached his hand into the girl’s mouth until his arm was buried deep in her throat. Slowly, painfully, and with great struggle from the girl, he pulled forth a beautiful white dove. . .” Gretel watched the man “hack the girl’s body into bits and toss each piece in the boiling cauldron. The blunt butcher’s knife rose and fell, rose and fell. He licked the blood from his hands and sent piece after piece sailing into the pot.”
  • When Gretel tells the towns folk about a murder, “the young man leaped from his chair and began to chant the words of a dark curse, but before he could finish someone came up behind him and knocked him unconscious with a tray of sausages.”
  • A dragon attacks a village. “At the end of that first day, one town was utterly gone, and hundreds and hundreds of people were dead.”
  • The dragon comes back and attacks. “Its mouth opened wide and snapped down on a woman with a bow. She hadn’t even moved to defend herself. There hadn’t been time.” The dragon drinks wine that Hansel and Gretel left for him. When the dragon is drunk, Gretel hit it with an ax. “The dragon screamed. . . It pierced Gretel’s head like a spear.” The dragon chases Gretel, who scurries up a tree. “The dragon flew closer to Gretel. It snapped at her feet. Gretel could smell its hot, horrible breath; see the blood and the foam mingling between its long, sharp teeth; hear the beating of its enormous heart out of time with the beat of its enormous wings.” During a chase, Gretel “plunged the dagger into the dragon’s neck with all her might.” The dragon scene, which includes descriptions of the dead bodies, is described over 15 pages.
  • Gretel discovers that her father was the dragon, and chops off his head. “Hansel’s sword took off their father’s head at the neck and sent it rolling across the floor and into a corner of the room. The king’s headless body fell on top of Gretel.” A baby dragon climbs out of the king’s body, and “Hansel flung himself at it, striking its skeletal body with his sword. One furious blow broke its back. The next decapitated it completely. . . He raised the sword and brought it down again and again and again, until the evil little creature was nothing more than a mess of black, pulpy pieces on the floor.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Gretel sees a man who “Stood with the other men, drinking beer from a great mug and laughing about this and that.”
  • A lord had a secret weakness—gambling. “At night, he would sneak out of the house and go to alehouses to gamble.”
  • A village gives Hansel a gift—a cart filled with barrels of wine.

Language

  • A raven said, “good god, that’s terrible!”
  • The devil uses hell as a curse word three times. For example, when the Devil loses his glasses he asks, “Where the hell did I put them?” Another time Hansel, disguised as the Devil’s grandmother, pulls out a strand of the Devil’s hair. The Devil yells, “What in hell was that?”
  • The Devil yells at his grandmother, “Damn it, Grandmother! Can you stop your infernal singing for one bloody instant?”

Supernatural

  • Johannes’s stone statue tells the king how to save him. Johannes says, “You must cut off the heads of your children, and smear my statue with their blood. And then, and only then, will I return to life.”
  • After the king smeared Johannes’s statue with blood, Johannes came alive. Then he, “placed little Hansel’s head back on his body, and little Gretel’s head on hers, and instantly they began to leap and play as if nothing had happened, and as if they were not covered in blood.”
  • A man is upset with his sons and wishes “they would all just turn into birds and fly away” and they do. Later, they turn back into boys and return home.
  • When Hansel is injured, a man uses a piece of magical twine to heal the wound. He took the twine, and “wrapped it around her head, so that it ran crosswise over the cut. . . And when he took the twine away and wiped the blood form Gretel’s face, she saw that the bleeding had stopped and that her head no longer hurt at all.” Later in the story Gretel uses the twine to heal someone else.
  • Hansel travels to hell and jumps into the fire. “Pain. Greater pain than he could have imagined. Burning so terrible and unnatural that every inch of Hansel’s body screamed to get out of the fire. . .”
  • The moon is alive and likes to eat children.

Spiritual Content

  • The queen goes to church to pray. When she goes back to the castle, she told the king, “I can barely pray. I think only of Johannes and how we killed him.” After the queen agrees to kill their children, the king exclaimed, “Thank God you said that!”
  • When Hansel and Gretel meet a woman who lives in a candy house and feeds them well, Hansel asks, “Do you think this is Heaven?” Gretel replies, “It must be Heaven.”
  • A lord gambles with the devil. “If you gambled away to the devil. . . you are damned to excruciating pain for all eternity, no matter what you do, no matter how good you are, or how many times you ask, ‘Please pretty please with a cherry on top?’ the Devil will never, ever, let you out.”
  • When a dragon attacks a village, a woman says, “My priest said it was once a man, but now he’s possessed by a dragon-spirit.”
  • After the dragon attacks, the queen sees Hansel and Gretel. She runs to them and says, “Oh, thank God you’re safe!”
  • The queen goes to the church to pray. When she returns, she tells her children, “Oh, I can barely pray. I think only of the dragon, and of our poor kingdom.”

 

Seeing Red

Abby wants to go to her friend’s sleepover party. When she asks the secret mirror in her basement to take her to the party, Abby ends up in a fairy tale—Little Red Riding Hood.

Abby and her brother want to warn Little Red Riding Hood about the big bad wolf, but when they get to Little Red’s grandmother’s house, they are met with a big surprise. How will they be able to avoid becoming a wolf snack?

Seeing Red is a fantastic, fun retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. The retelling adds diversity by describing Little Red Riding Hood as having “brown skin, and dark brown bangs that fall into her eyes.” Little Red Riding Hood’s real name is Lali, which means ‘red’ in Hindi.

Both Abby’s grandmother and Lali’s Dadi (grandmother in Hindi) are well-developed characters that diverge from the stereotypical grandmother. Abby’s grandmother is adventurous, while Lali’s Dadi struggles with the need to have others help her. Through Dadi’s words and actions, readers will get a small glimpse into the difficulties associated with growing older.

The introduction of the wolf, Owen, is a delightful surprise. Instead of being a typical villain, Owen becomes a wolf that a person can understand and sympathize with. Owen is “hungry and cold, and my family is mean to me, and the horrible hunter has been chasing me for years.” Owen’s sister and two brothers are important parts of the action. The theme of standing up for family is integrated throughout the story. In the end, Abby realizes “I’m lucky to have been born into such an amazing family—and Owen is lucky to have made his own.”

The woman (and girls) in the story are portrayed as caring, capable people. Mona, who helps save the day, is a policewoman, a firewoman, and a doctor. Although she appears for only a short time, the reader will come away feeling as if girls can do anything.

Although Seeing Red is part of the Whatever After series, the story can be enjoyed without reading the previous books. Seeing Red uses short sentences, dialogue, and onomatopoeias to create an easy-to-read, fast-paced story that will engage readers. The story contains many unique twists compared to the original story, which adds interest. The characters are never stale, but have interesting personalities that come to life. The story contains humor, heart, and teaches about the importance of standing up for yourself, as well as your family.

Sexual Content

  • Jonah has his first crush. He thinks Lali is “so sweet.” When Jonah and Lali meet, Abby thinks, “Is Jonah blushing? Yes! His cheeks are pink. I can practically see cartoon hearts shooting out of his scrawny chest as he sneaks another peek at Lali.”

Violence

  • When Jonah goes through the portal, he accidentally lands on the huntsman’s head, knocking him out.
  • The huntsman strikes a wolf named Owen with an arrow, which puts Owen to sleep. The huntsman says, “It will be easier to kill him back at my treehouse. With the sun setting through the windows, it’s the perfect way to spend an evening. Murder at sunset! It’s the best.” The huntsman “throws a limp Owen over his shoulder and heads for the door.”
  • In order to help Owen, Lali’s grandmother, “throws her cane up, up, up at the door. And somehow it hits the hunter square in the head. He falls backward into his house. Plunk!”
  • A wolf pack surrounds a group of people and threatens to eat them.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The huntsman’s arrow had a sleeping medicine, which makes Owen “wobbly from the effects.”

Language

  • One of the wolves calls her brothers “fools” and “idiots.”
  • Abby thinks the huntsman is a “jerk.”

Supernatural

  • Abby and Jonah have a “magic mirror in our basement. When we knock on it three times at midnight, it pulls us inside and whisks us into a fairy tale.” Maryrose is a fairy who’s “trapped inside our mirror. She’s the one who takes me and Jonah into different fairy tales.”
  • When Abby, Jonah, and Nana enter the portal to return home, “It’s like we’re on a Tilt-A-Whirl.”
  • Abby and Jonah discover that “going into stories runs in our family!”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Stolen Crown

When Ellie and the League of Archers save Maid Marian from execution, the group hides in Sherwood Forest. They dream of helping the poor by building a farm in the middle of the forest, where the baron cannot reach them. In order to make their dream come true, Ellie and the League plan on stealing from the rich.

Ellie and her friends keep Robin Hood’s legacy alive, by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. However, everything changes when Ellie witnesses King John’s murder. As Ellie flees the castle, a boy helps her escape and pleas to be allowed to join the League of Archers. When Ellie leads him to the heart of Sherwood Forest, he causes conflict among the members.

Then rumors reach Sherwood Forest—the baron plans to kidnap the crown prince. Will the League be able to unite in order to stop the baron’s plan?

The second installment of the League of Archers has less action than the first. The majority of the plot focuses on the power struggle between Ellie and the new member of the group, Stephen. The infighting of the group and the group’s thuggish behavior make the story less enjoyable.

Like the first book in the series, The Stolen Crown’s plot is difficult to believe because Ellie has the responsibilities of an adult but does not show the maturity and insight of an adult. Even though Friar Tuck and Maid Marian are both invested in building a farm for the poor, Ellie is left to make decisions better left to the adult. The two main adults in the story are not well developed and have little interaction with Ellie, which makes the story seem shallow.

The ending of the story is predictable and unsatisfying because the baron is not severely punished for his crimes. The one positive aspect of The Stolen Crown is the message that everyone deserves a second chance. Unfortunately, the League of Archers series will be easily forgotten once it is read.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The king is murdered. When the king was poisoned, “one brawny hand was propped on the table, the other was clutched around his neck. . . He groaned again, fingers clawing at his throat, then slumped over the table, eyes and mouth stretched grotesquely wide.”
  • Ellie is caught trying to steal and a soldier tries to capture her, but she “parried the blade away with her poker, sending it flying toward a knot of shocked nobles.” After a chase, Ellie is able to escape unharmed.
  • Ellie and the League of Archers attempt to stop a coach and steal valuables. A group of men tries to stop the kids. When a man tries to grab one of the League of Archers, he “loosed an arrow into the unprotected spot under his arm. . .” The fighting takes place over four pages, but no one is seriously injured.
  • When a nun tries to lock the League of Archers in the convent and hand them over to the baron, another nun, “pushed Mary Ursula so hard she fell backwards onto a pile of flour sacks.
  • Ellie and the League of Archers break into a man’s house in order to steal from him. When an elderly man sees them, one of the league hits the man on the head. “There was a hard, sickening thump. The old man’s eyes went empty and he slumped to the ground.” One of the league points an arrow at the man and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t hand over the valuables. The man complies.
  • When Ellie and a group of her friends attempt to steal a valuable crown, there is a brief battle with soldiers. Ellie hits one soldier with an arrow.
  • Ellie and Stephen sword fight. In order to win the fight, Ellie fires a shot, and “her arrow shot clean through the flesh part of Stephen’s sword hand, between thumb and index finger. A fine spray of blood fizzed up.” As Ellie begins to walk away, Stephen shoots an arrow, but it hits another girl instead of Ellie. The girl is injured, but not seriously.
  • When the baron sees Ellie, he tells her, “But I won’t show you the mercy I gave to your mother—no quick drop and a broken neck for Elinor Dray. You’ll hang on a short rope, so I can watch you die slow.” The baron then throws a dagger at Ellie. When the dagger misses, the baron uses a sword, and “the sword ran through the cloak this time, pinning Ellie to the wall.” The fight goes on for four pages, and Ellie is able to escape.
  • When Ellie and the League of Archers try to free a prisoner from the baron’s castle, the guards try to stop them. A guard tries to choke a girl, and “Ellie stopped him with an arrow just below his throat, serious enough to scare him, but not deadly.” The group is able to escape the castle without anyone dying.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When a noblewoman talks badly about the king, her companion warns her to stop. The noblewoman replies, “Oh, he’s too drunk to hear us.”

Language

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Several of the characters live in a convent and the life of a nun is described including going to prayer.
  • One of the nuns blesses the baron. She says, “May the Lord guide you on the road to Nottingham! May he make our path straight, though it be winding, and may the king be as honored by your illustrious presence as we are.”

League of Archers #1

Elinor Dray and her friends idolize Robin Hood. Calling themselves the League of Archers, they illegally hunt on Lord de Lay’s land. Although the game is scarce, the meat they obtain is used to feed their families and help the poor. One night, Ellie meets a man in the woods who has been shot with a poisoned arrow. When Ellie takes the man to the nunnery, Ellie discovers the man’s identity—Robin Hood. And the abbess of the nunnery is Maid Marian.

When Maid Marian’s secret is revealed, the Lord de Lay arrests Marian and blames Ellie for Robin Hood’s death. The villagers believe Ellie is a traitor to the poor and vow to hunt her down. Living as an outlaw, Ellie and the League of Archers attempt to clear Ellie’s name, free Maid Marian, and keep Robin Hood’s legacy alive.

Action-packed and full of battles, League of Archers has a strong female protagonist, who wants to do what is right. As Ellie fights to stay alive, she struggles with the need to hurt the baron’s guards in order to stay alive. Ellie truly cares about the needs of others and often wonders, What would Robin Hood do? Throughout the story, the hero Robin Hood is not portrayed as a perfect hero, but as a man who makes mistakes. Although many of his great deeds of legend are true, many of his deeds are exaggerated. However, it is clear that Robin Hood, flaws and all, is still a great man.

Despite the high-interest topic of the story, the plot is complicated and not necessarily believable. The character’s dialogue is not true to the time period, and the storyline is not historically accurate. Even though junior high readers may not pick up on all of the inaccuracies, some will question how a twelve-year-old girl was able to successfully use Robin Hood’s bow.

Friar Tuck, Maid Marian, and the League of Archers—all of them could have been interesting characters. However, none of them are developed into individual people. Ellie is the only character whose thoughts and feelings are shown, but her conflict lacks more specific details that would explain how she came to be a master archer who wants to be like Robin Hood. Ellie and the League of Archers go into battle after battle with grown guards and although the violence is not described in gory detail, there is blood, pain, and death. The many battles are what drives the suspense in the story and keep the reader interested in the outcome.

If a reader is wildly interested in the topic of Robin Hood, League of Archers will interest them. The fast-paced plot with many battles will entertain readers. Reluctant readers will want to leave this book on the shelf because the detailed descriptions are cumbersome and slow down the plot’s otherwise fast pace.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Ellie’s mother was caught poaching because they “needed to eat. But her mother was caught, dragged in ropes to the baron’s castle. The village was invited to watch as an executioner made Ellie an orphan at the baron’s command.”
  • Ellie witnesses Robin Hood being shot with an arrow. When it happens, “Ellie saw the bright red of the arrow’s fletching, and the way it pierced the stranger’s shoulder like a knife through meat. A bloom of dark blood spread across his cloak as he dropped to his knees.” The arrow was poisoned and, “the skin around it bubbled like fat atop a pot of soup.” Robin Hood dies from the wound.
  • The baron’s men enter the covenant in order to arrest the abbess. When the abbess resists, a novice is grabbed, and the baron’s guard, “pressed the flat of a knife to Ellie’s throat . . . The blade was cool against her skin.”
  • The baron parades Ellie around town, accusing her of killing Robin Hood. A riot begins, and Ellie tries to escape. When Ellie’s friend tries to defend her, a guard whips him. Later, when Ellie tries to defend herself, “the guard’s knife pierced the heavy blue dress, drawing a gasp from her as it cut into her skin. She felt a trickle of blood mingling with sweat in the small of her back.”
  • A mob of people throw rocks, mud, and horse dung at Ellie. In order to escape, Ellie grabs a guard’s wrist and “yanked the blade from his hand, then wheeled around and struck him with Robin’s bow, still clutched in her other fist. He fell sideways off the cart. . .” Ellie escapes.
  • While traveling, a friar is attacked by guards. The friar hits one guard on the head with a bottle. When three other guards appear, the friar fights back, but is wounded. In order to help, Ellie “pulled an arrow from her quiver and strung it on her bow. It flew straight and true and hit the guard in the eye before he could bring down his knife. He fell down dead. The fighting takes place over four pages. Another guard is injured when “Alice flung a knife that caught him between two ribs, then he fell.”
  • A group of drunk men tries to capture Ellie. The League of Archers helps Ellie. “Jacob yanked a pitchfork from one of the men and swung it like a scythe, forcing others to run clear. . .” A man grabs Ellie and “had wrapped an arm around her neck, squeezing until stars exploded in front of her eyes.” Ellie and the League are able to escape.
  • The gamekeeper shoots arrows at Ellie and the League of Archers. In order to save her friends, Ellie shoots the gamekeeper. “She swung the bow to the right and released the string. Her arrow slid neatly into the gamekeeper’s hand.”
  • A man grabs Ellie in order to take her into the village and hang her. “He grabbed her roughly by the shoulders and stood her up, facing the door.” The man also tied up Ellie’s friends. In order to escape, Ellie “took a breath and drove her head straight into his nose. He screamed and reeled backward, clutching his face. Blood spurted through his fingers.”
  • When trying to free one of the baron’s prisoners, the guards try to stop Ellie and the League of Archers. Someone hits a guard over the head with a club. Ellie shoots at a guard, and “one of her arrows found the meat of a man’s leg as he swung his sword at Marian’s exposed side. A second shaved a slice off a guard’s ear as he tried to hoist Alice over the side of the drawbridge. Then he dropped her, one hand lifting to feel the blood running down her face. She turned on him savagely with her knife.” In order to save her friends, Ellie lets “the arrow fly and watched as it slid into the heart of the guard lowering the gate.” The battle lasts over a chapter.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Several characters are given ale or wine to drink.
  • One of the characters makes “home-brewed liquor,” selling it to the villagers. He is often drunk.
  • Ellie and her friends go into a tavern. While there, “she watched a man slap a woman’s hip as she delivered his tankard, and another one crash down drunkenly from his chair.”
  • Ellie and the League of Archers come across a group of drunk men who are patrolling the forest.

Language

  • Someone uses “Oh, God” as an exclamation.

Supernatural

  • When talking about Robin’s silver arrow, which never missed its mark, the friar said, “I’m a religious man, so talk of magic doesn’t sit right with me. But there’s something about that arrow. There was never any questions it would find its way to where Robin intended.”
  • A woman tells Ellie her fortune by casting “a handful of dry brown bones.”

Spiritual Content

  • Several of the characters live in a convent and the life of a nun is described including going to prayer. Ellie also says the “compline prayer.”
  • The baron chastises Ellie. “‘God made us men in his image girl,’ he said. ‘You should show your betters a mite more respect.’”
  • A friar tells Ellie, “Whether he’s a saint or a sinner is not for us to say. . . We must trust in God to sort it out.”
  • One of the characters tells Ellie, “But there are some who, like you, would go to any lengths to save the abbess’s life—and I believe God is on their side. And justice, too.”
  • When a woman wants to tell Ellie her fortune, Ellie asks, “Is fortune-telling not a tool of the devil, Mother Barkbone?” The woman answers, “The devil and I walk different byways. . . I respect his power just as I respect that of God’s. But I worship the things I can see, the spirits who speak back to me. Those of the land, those of my ancestors. They guide me true and would never lead me into the devil’s mouth.”
  • Ellie tells someone who committed murder, “I forgive you. May God, too, have mercy on you.”

A Little in Love

Thenardiers are strong. They are cruel. They steal. Eponine is a Thenardier. But she longs for more than a life of heartlessness. She dreams of a world filled with kindness and love.

When Eponine tries to show kindness, Mamam punishes her. When Eponine tries to show her mother affection, Mamam flinches. Mamam wants her daughters to be cruel and steal—from anyone. The only thing that Eponine’s parents care about is money and getting it any way they can.

When Eponine’s father kills a bishop, the family must flee. The family ends up in Paris, where Eponine desperately searches for goodness in the world. However, when her family ends up cold, starving, and out of options, Eponine wonders if being cruel is the only way to live.

A Little in Love captures the reader’s attention in the first few sentences and remains captivating until the end. The world Eponine lives in is described in wonderful detail and the characters are believable.

The story is told from Eponine’s point of view which allows the reader to feel her emotions and understand her struggles. Her personality drives the book. By the end of the story, the reader will fall in love with Eponine and cry when her story ends.

This story is based around Les Miserables; however, no background information is needed. Those who have a tender heart may want to avoid reading A Little in Love. Although the story is entertaining, the content is very dark and cruelty runs rampant in Eponine’s world.

Sexual Content

  • Eponine sees women that, “had pained their faces and they lolled in doorways. . .” Her father says the “harlots” are their kind of people.
  • A character in the book tells Eponine, “Love? It’s a myth. But there’s money in it. You’re not ugly. You could sell a kiss or two.”
  • A man kisses Eponine. But it was not a gentle kiss. “Montparnasse pressed his lips against mine and clutched at my dress and he pushed me against the gravestone very roughly and his tongue filled my mouth so I couldn’t breathe.” She then breaks free and runs away from him.
  • Eponine meets a woman who is in prison. The woman said, “I sold what no woman should ever have to sell.”
  • When Eponine realizes her sister likes Montparnasse, she wonders, “Perhaps she hadn’t run away from his mouth, as I had done. Perhaps she actually wanted to feel those hands. . .”

Violence

  • When Maman has a boy baby, she tells the family to leave the baby to die because she has always hated boys. Eponine thinks her mother hates boys because “she had two brothers and they used to beat her. Her father beat her too.”
  • When Eponine’s father tries to steal from a bishop, her father kills the man and runs from the law.
  • Eponine’s father talks about the law finding him. “They’ll put shackles on me, if they find me!  They will hang me or take me to the guillotine—and you too.”
  • Several of the characters talk about the executioner, “who works the blade—and he gets to keep the silver crosses or gold rings that the jabbering fools bring out with them. Once the blade drops, he pries these treasures out of their still-warm hands.”
  • One of the characters talks about murdering people. “If they’re very old, then what harm have you done? They’d have died soon anyway.”
  • At the end of the story, there is a rebellion. People die. Eponine sees a body. “His eyes were open. His chest was open too—like a red, wet cave.”
  • When a soldier points his weapon at Marius, Eponine, “threw my right hand across the end of the musket and pulled it toward myself.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The family in the book runs a tavern. The patrons as well as the adult family members drink.  There are several references to drunks throughout the book.

Language

  • Eponine’s father calls her a “bitch.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Eponine wonders about intuition. “Some people think it’s the voice of God—but what about the people who say there isn’t a God at all?”

The Stepsister’s Tale

Jane and her sister should live like nobles; they are after all ladies of a once-rich family. Despite their struggle to survive, Jane’s mother refuses to acknowledge the desperate state of the family. Jane and her sister are forced to take care of all the household chores, as well as care for the livestock and garden.

Jane doesn’t think life can get much worse until her mother suddenly appears with a new husband who has a spoiled daughter. Then the unthinkable happens, Jane’s step-father suddenly dies, leaving behind more debt and his demanding daughter. In order to provide enough food for her family, Jane must reach out to a mysterious group of wood people.

With a mother who doesn’t accept reality, two sisters to feed, and winter coming, Jane wonders if hunger will claim her family. When a surprise invitation to a royal ball is delivered, she begins a plan to get rid of her step-sister once and for all. However, this Cinderella story doesn’t end with the typical happy-ever-after.

The Stepsister’s Tale will pull readers into Cinderella’s time period. Although the tale has some similarities to Cinderella’s story, The Stepsister’s Tale is fresh and interesting. Told through the eyes of Jane, the reader can easily empathize with Jane’s struggle and her desire to provide for her family even if it means going against her mother’s idea of how a lady should act.

The ending of the tale is surprising but will leave the reader with a smile. The Stepsister’s Tale would be suitable for junior high readers as well as entertaining for more advanced readers. Because the story is a retelling of Cinderella and is also a unique, tame love story, the Stepsister’s Tale will appeal to a large range of readers.

Sexual Content

  • Jane shakes the hand of a boy, and she wishes the contact would continue. Then the boy “brought her hand to his lips . . . and kissed it gently. It was over so quickly that she thought she must have imagined it.” After he leaves Jane, “lingered in the hall, looking at the back of her hand, which his lips had touched. It didn’t look any different, although it tingled; and when she pressed her own lips to the spot, she tried to imagine what it would have been like if instead of that swift kiss, he had pulled her to him and bent his head to her face and—”
  • While at a fair, a boy kisses Jane. “His lips were on hers, and he was clasping her waist and gently pulling her closer to him . . . He turned his head and kissed her palm and then her forehead, and then each eyelid and then her mouth again.” The kiss ends when some girls see Jane and cruelly make fun of her.
  • When Jane is kissed she thinks, “it felt as though that kiss was something she had been waiting for, and the warm thrill of it made her forget, for a moment at least, the pain in her feet . . . ”

Violence

  • During this time period, poachers are taken by the king’s men. A boy tells how the king’s men try to trick people into poaching. “They slit the back of a deer’s hind leg so that it can do no more than hobble, and leave it near a path.” The king’s men then watch for someone to catch the dear and the poacher is taken away.
  • Isabella has to run away from the king’s men who are chasing her.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The king throws a party where alcohol is served.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • There is a short conversation about fairy-people. A character tries to explain why the fairy people harm people. “If we do something they don’t like, they’ll do something to pay us back, or if they’re bored, they’ll play a trick just to be irritating. Any harm isn’t done on purpose.”
  • There is a brief mention of the fairy people exchanging a human child for a changeling.

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Breath of Eyre

Going to an exclusive prep school isn’t a dream for Emma. Instead it’s a lonely existence. With no friends, a father who is distant, and a step-mom who thinks she needs therapy, Emma doesn’t think life can get worse. Emma escapes her dreary life by reading Jane Eyre and dreaming about her crush on her English teacher.

As her sophomore year begins, Emma gets a new roommate, Michelle, who offers friendship and relief from her loneliness. However, when Michelle is accused of setting a barn on fire, Emma must decide if the friendship is worth fighting for.

Then a bolt of lightning hits Emma and sends her into the nineteenth century and the body of Jane Eyre.  As a governess, Emma finds peace and soon finds herself attracted to Mr. Rochester. Soon, Emma isn’t sure if she wants to live in Jane’s world or her own.

A Breath of Eyre has Emma jumping for her prep school to the world of Jayne Erye. The premise behind the book is interesting and will keep the reader wondering what happens next. Although A Breath of Eyre referes the book Jane Eyre, it is not necessary to read it to understand A Breath of Eyre. However, the book may be more enjoyable to those who have read Jane Eyre.

Many of the events in the book are typical of a teen novel. Michelle goes to a prep-school and is an outcast because she is on scholarship. The prep-school girls are vicious, but the teachers are afraid to discipline them because their parents have money. There is also a love triangle.

Mont throws in an interesting twist when Michelle travels between worlds; however, the book still lacks loveable characters that draw a reader into the story. The reader will smile because of the sweet conclusion of the book, but getting there will take some effort.

Sexual Content

  • One of the girls at school talks about her father who was a rich man who “took a liking” to her mother. When the man’s wife found out, the girl’s mother was fired.
  • Emma is at a party when Gray tries to kiss her. “I’d always imagined my first kiss being in the middle of a meadow under starlight . . . Not standing drunk with Gray Newman at the side of a building.”
  • Emma thinks back to when Gray almost kissed her. “The heat from his body had felt like fire. His lips had been inches from mine.” She then thinks, “I would have given anything for him to try to kiss me now.”
  • Emma and Gray talk about the problem with dating someone and then being friends afterwards. Emma wonders if Gray has slept with another girl, and then she imagines him with another girl, “her head on his shoulder, his hands running through her hair, and thoughts of being ‘just friends’ a distant memory for both of them.”
  • When Emma and Gray dance she, “wanted to bury my head in the warm hollow of his neck.  His hands gripped my hips, while his lips grazed my hair . . . I was in intoxicated by the moment, by the promise of something I’d only imagined before.”
  • Gray tells Emma that he slept with a girl who he had been going out with for six months.
  • Emma and Gray are parked in a car when he pulls her towards him. “. . . I was straddled across his legs . . . His shirt was open a little . . . I slipped my hand inside and pressed my palm against his heart, where his pulse beat hard and steady against my fingertips . . . The kiss grew deeper, warmer and wetter and more intense until I wasn’t thinking about anything other than the kiss. Letting myself fall head first into the white-hot madness of it…Other parts of my body began to engage, and I was all heat and light, tugging at his shirt, digging into his back, burrowing myself into the hollow of his neck.”
  • Emma has a daydream where Gray is kissing her and “There is a moment of unbearable tension as we hover mere centimeters from each other—waiting, wanting—and then pure release as our lips collide, sending sparks of heat and light through every limb down to our fingers and toes.”
  • Emma and Gray kiss often throughout the book. The feelings of the kiss are described in detail.  One scene describes it as “blistering hot.”

Violence

  • A man is attacked by a woman. His arm was, “soaked in blood.” The man said, “She tried to suck my blood. She said she’d drain my heart.”
  • In a dream world, Emma’s mother throws herself off of a roof. “I watched as this dark-plumed thing descended, wings outstretched, then shielded my face to avoid seeing her smash against the stones.” The building is then engulfed in flames.
  • Emma’s father talks about when his wife, “came here to this beach and she walked right into the ocean with her nightgown on.” He then tells Emma about how her mother left a suicide note.
  • Gray talks about when he got into a fight and hit his friend in the face.
  • A girl’s mother, “slapped her hard and quick against the cheek.”
  • Gray tries to commit suicide. Emma saves him, but in the process almost drowns.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Emma asks her friend if he stopped lifeguarding because he’s been, “too busy doing keg stands and scoring with the fraternity chicks?”
  • Emma’s grandmother drinks old-fashions and doesn’t like it when her drinks get low.
  • Several of the girls smoke pot in the school’s barn.
  • Emma and Michelle go to a party and, “slurp wine coolers like they were Gatorade.” Other students were, “sniffing out alcohol and drugs.”
  • Emma tells Gray that she is not interested in him because he spends his free time with his “head in a beer bong.”
  • On the way to a dance, Michelle and her friends drink champagne out of the bottle. Michelle encourages the driver to drink because he has to drive, “less than half a mile.”
  • Gray tells Emma about when he went to a party with his best friend’s sister. They both had been drinking, and the girl decided to go skinny dipping. The girl went into the water and never came out. Her body was never found.
  • When Emma is upset, her grandmother gives her a sip of tea with liquor in it.

Language

  • Elise says, “The new girl must be lesbo, because she can’t stop staring at us.”
  • Hell, ass-hole, damn, hell, pissed off, and shit are used in conversation.
  • Two roommates tease each other about getting, “enough Johnson.”
  • Michelle says, ‘I need to get away from these Lockwood bitches.”
  • Emma thinks about going into the hallway but is afraid it is, “occupied by a pissed-off ghost.”
  • A teacher is discussing a book and tells the class, “every once in a while, nature has to kick our ass to show us who’s boss.”
  • Gray is upset that a teacher wiped a tear off of Emma’s face. “He’s a teacher for God’s sake.  What’s he doing touching you? If I was your father, I’d kick his ass.”
  • Michelle ask Emma, “Why are you being so nice to me? I’ve been such a bitch.”

Supernatural

  • After Emma is struck by lightning she becomes Jane Eyre and lives her life for a short period. Later in the book, when Emma is stuck in a burning barn, she again begins to live Jane Eyre’s life.
  • Emma’s grandmother said, “your mother called out to me the night she died. I don’t know how, but somehow, her voice reached me . . . that night I woke up with this panicked feeling, like someone had just taken out a giant chunk of my heart.”

Spiritual Content

  • Emma thinks about her body and lack of curves. She thinks, “Despite nightly pleas to a God I only half believed in, I remained a disappointing five foot three.”
  • One of the characters believes in Voodoo and tells Emma about papa Legba’s vẻvẻ, which is a symbol to attract spirits to earth. Emma has a necklace that looks like a vẻvẻ.
  • Emma uses an incantation and ask Papa Legba to. “open the door for me. Father Legba, open the door to let me pass through.” Emma then goes to a “dream” world where she meets her dead mother.
  • Emma’s friend tells Emma not to mess with voodoo. The friend says she doesn’t believe in it, “but it’s kind of like God. I don’t believe in him either, but he still scares me.”
  • Emma thinks, “I had not been raised in a religious household, although my father did believe in giving thanks and asking forgiveness. Now I said a simple prayer for help. I don’t know who it was intended for—was I praying to a great Christin God to send me a guardian angel?  Was I praying to Papa Legba to guide me back though the door between worlds? Or was I praying to the Universe to help me find the path of my own destiny. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I just knew I couldn’t make it on my own.”

A Phantom Enchantment

Emma has been looking forward to spending her senior year of high school in Paris. When she arrives, she and her friend Elise are excited to learn the culture and participate in an Opera writing competition.  Then Flynn and Owen show up in Paris and the conflict heats up.

Elise doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to date a cute French boy, but she also doesn’t want to give up Owen.

Then Emma’s boyfriend, Gray, goes missing and is presumed dead. Emma travels through a mirror and is able to talk to Gray, but the Gray in her dreams is dangerous and depressing. In an attempt to get over Gray, Emma begins spending more time with Owen. Soon Emma must face Elise’s jealousy and her own growing attraction to Owen.

As Emma’s dreams continue to frighten her, she decides to stay away from the mirror, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling Gray’s presence. And then a series of accidents makes Emma wonder if Gray’s Ghost wants revenge.

Although A Phantom Enchantment takes place in Paris, the setting does not add to the story. So much of the story revolves around Emma and her American friends, that the French culture takes a backseat to the teen drama. Even though Emma and Elise are in a Paris boarding school, none of the French students make more than a ripple in the story.

Even though the story parallels the Phantom of the Opera, this also does not add to the enjoyment of the story. By the time Emma’s story reaches book three, both her story and conflict feel old. Thus, reading A Phantom Enchantment became a chore, and Emma’s story came to a welcome end.

Sexual Content

  • Emma and her boyfriend talk about a night they spent on the beach and she asks, “You mean the night we almost had sex?”
  • A drunk Flynn sleeps in Emma’s bed. The next morning he wakes up concerned that they had sex, and he didn’t remember it.
  • Emma thinks about Owen who had his heart broken when Michelle, “revealed that she was gay. Then I led him on by kissed him, and worse by kissing Flynn a couple months later.”
  • Emma wishes she could be, “more like Elise, sampling cute men as one might sample macarons.”
  • Owen leans close to Emma. “He wanted me to be the one to initiate. He wanted me to want more. And I did…as difficult as it was not to press my body into Owen’s and kiss him hard on the mouth, I drew away.”
  • Elise tells Emma, “I know you were probably saving yourself for Gray . . . I just want to remind you that you’re human. And you’ll never be this young and hot again.” Elise tells Emma to, “wear something sexy, and try to get lucky.”
  • Else worries that she will become unfaithful like her mother, who cheated on her husband.
  • Emma and Owen kiss and she was, “dazed by the feel of his tongue in my mouth, dizzy from the sheer cinematic splendor of it.”
  • Emma and Owen make out. “I was a puddle of sensation, letting his mouth crash over me like a tide…We didn’t’ actually have sex-neither of us had prepared for this-but it didn’t matter. The end result felt the same as we lay in bed next to each other, nearly naked and spend, feeling desire twine though our limbs.”

Violence

  • The book refers to the storyline of Phantom of the Opera and how, “a scene changer had been found dead in a cellar, hanging from a beam.”
  • A Christmas tree falls and hurts Elise and Owen. Emma wonders if Gray’s ghost had something to do with the accident.
  • Gray pins Emma against the wall and yells, “You know what fucking happened to me!” He makes it clear that he would like to have sex with her, but she is unwilling. Gray ends up leaving.
  • A character talks about how he set fire to a girl’s room because he was jealous that she was with another man.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are several scenes where the characters are seen drinking and are drunk.
  • Flynn dreams of smoking pot in front of Jim Morrison’s grave, so Emma and Owen go with him so he can fulfill his dream. Although Emma does not smoke pot, Owen does.

Language

  • One of the male characters had, “to take a piss.”
  • Elise says that she has been “a bitch lately” and then apologizes. She also call another student a “douche.”
  • Gray yells, “Well, love is (a joke). The fairytales tell you otherwise, but it’s all bullshit. Happily ever after is a fucking lie.”
  • Profanity is scattered throughout the book. The profanity used includes: holy shit, Oh my god, smartass, and bastard.

Supernatural

  • Emma uses a voodoo spell to bind her and Gray together.
  • Emma is able to send her spirit self though a mirror and interact with Gray who had been lost at sea. Several times in the story Emma thinks she can feel Gray’s presence following her.
  • Several items go missing which is blamed on the Bastille Ghost.

Spiritual Content

  • One of the characters is a practitioner of voodoo and a believer of spells.
  • Emma prays to God, and she repeats a verse, “Dear Saint Anthony, please come around. Something’s lost that must be found.”
  • Emma says, “Sometimes I wished I believed in God in that unequivocal way others did. While I did believe in a cosmic force that had played some role in our creation, I had no idea what form it took or how much it actually intervened in human endeavors.”

A Touch of Scarlet

Emma’s life is a mess. Her boyfriend Gray broke up with her. Her roommate, Michelle, isn’t talking to her. She is lonely and isolated at her exclusive prep school. Then things get even stranger when she goes into a trancelike state and enters the world of the novel The Scarlet Letter.

In a moment of weakness, Emma kisses her roommate’s boyfriend, which causes her classmates to exclude Emma even more. Emma wants to feel brave, but instead, she’s heartsick over her breakup with Gray, worried about her estranged relationship with Michelle, and wishing her life didn’t parallel The Scarlet Letter.

When Emma finds out that Michelle is gay, Emma tries to help Michelle come out into the open and stop hiding her secret. The second half of the story follows Michelle’s struggle with discrimination and fear.  However, as the story is told from Emma’s point of view, the reader doesn’t get to see Michelle’s emotions. Although it is clear that Emma cares for her roommate, the battle isn’t Emma’s so it lacks emotion and suspense.

A Touch of Scarlet’s best moments are when Emma goes into the world of Hester and The Scarlet Letter.  When Emma watches the plot of the book unfold, she learns that each situation can be viewed from different perspectives and that forgiveness and honesty are important in life.

The book delves into the voodoo religion, showing how to make a hex. Another troubling portion of the story is when Emma learns how to leave her body and travel to The Scarlet Letter’s world.

Emma is shown to be a troubled teen who is trying to deal with life’s complications. She makes mistakes but cares for her friends. Plus, whe does not have sex or do drugs. However, several of the characters are seen drunk, smoking marijuana, and having sex.

Sexual Content

  • Throughout the book Emma kisses three different boys.
  • Emma and Gray kiss many times throughout the book. In one scene Emma tells Gray that, “My dad worries you’re going to steal my virginal innocence.” Even though Emma considers having sex with Gray, she does not.
  • Emma and Gray make out. She describes the sensation of Gray touching her.  “My body lit up like a pinball machine. Before I knew it, I was lying on the ground, my dress hitched up around my waist, with Grey’s body shifting on top of mine . . . I tore at his shirt, trying to undo the buttons with cold, nervous fingers . . . A part of me wanted to go for it—to lose myself in the moment.”
  • Emma and her roommate, Michelle, talk about how Michelle cheated on her boyfriend.  Michelle says, “It was a little more than kissing . . . I had to tell someone. It’s been eating me up inside.”
  • After a breakup, Emma kisses her roommate’s boyfriend. “Then we were really kissing, his lips on my lips, his hand gripping the back of my neck.”
  • Michelle’s roommate struggles with the fact that she is gay, but she doesn’t want anyone to know about it.
  • One of the characters tells about when she accidently told her friends that her cousin was gay. “Chelsea got all weirded out and Amber flipped because apparently—news to me—she had hooked up with him a few times the summer before. So Amber starts telling me he’s going to hell . . . I feel like vomiting, partly from drinking too many margaritas and partly because I’ve just realized my friend are complete assholes.”

Violence

  • Emma thinks about her mother who killed herself by walking into the ocean. Emma has dreams where she sees her mother walking into the water and Emma tries to save her. “I plunged to the bottom, trying to dive under the tumult, but the waves kept careening over me.”
  • Emma travels to the world of the scarlet letter. Abigail sticks a large needed into her belly and then accuses Elizabeth of being a witch. Elizabeth is arrested when, “the constable finds a poppet with a needle in its belly and accuses Elizabeth of using it as a voodoo doll.”
  • While playing hockey, Emma purposely hits another girl with a hockey puck. “I watched in fascination as it sailed through the air, seeming to hover in slow motion right before it connected with Elise’s exquisite cheekbone.”
  • When Gray finds another boy at Emma’s house. Gray wants to, “smash his face in.” Emma tells him, “You should be thanking him, not trying to smash him to a bloody pulp like some macho dickhead.”
  • In her dream world, Emma is chased by a mob of women who fling mud at her. “Fear and adrenaline surged through me as I ran through the forest, hearing their haunting voices behind me and feeling the pelts of mud at my back.”
  • Emma and Flynn kiss. “His mouth tasted earthy and sweet, like smoke and sage. And then I surrendered to the kiss, allowing him to draw me in, one hand on the back of my neck, the other making its way down my waist.”
  • In her dream world, someone tries to burry Emma alive and turn her into a zombie. “After he poured the last of the dirt on me, he reached in his basket and pulled out one last red rose, which turned black in his hands. He threw it onto my makeshift grave and laughed, ‘this is your fate.”
  • In biology, the class must dissect a cat. Michelle deskins the cat. One of the lab partners tells Michelle not to cut too close to the cat’s tail. The girls laugh when Michelle says, “I wouldn’t touch this cat’s anus with a ten-foot pole.”
  • At the end of the book, the girls find out that their male headmaster had an “inappropriate relationship” with a student when the headmaster worked at an all-male school.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Emma gets back to school she thinks, “Lockwood girls didn’t like their parents sticking around any longer than necessary, anxious to break out the booze for the first-night celebrations.”
  • Emma pulls out her cell phone, “looking down at it like a drug addict staring at a fix.”
  • Flynn drinks often, as well as smokes a joint, which is passed around between several others.
  • Flynn’s “father is an asshole and his mother is knocked out on prescription drugs half the time.”
  • Throughout the book, several characters drink as well as talk about things that happened when they were drunk.
  • Emma’s grandmother drinks often. Once the grandmother is admonished, “You’ve had enough whiskey for three people.”

Language

  • A boy asks someone, “When are you two lovebirds going to get off your asses and join us on stage?”
  • After the school finds out the Emma kissed her roommate’s boyfriend she is called a “bitch” and a “slut.” Emma says she is “sick of the slut-shaming.”
  • Emma’s friend is called a “dyke” several times in the story.
  • “Oh my god” and variations of “asshole” are used often.
  • When someone sees Emma and Flynn kissing, he says, “what the hell, man?” Flynn replies, “I’m such a fuck-up.”

Supernatural

  • A major part of the plot is that while running, Emma goes into a trance like state and enters the world of the book The Scarlet letter. After the first time Emma enters the world of The Scarlet Letter, she wonders who she saw. “Ghost lingering in a parallel universe, caught between my world and their own?”
  • Emma is told that she must be careful in her dream world because, “a voodoo priest can put people into trancelike states, and then bury them alive . . . they steak their ti-bone-ange (soul) thus depriving them of free will and conscience. That’s how zombies are created.”
  • Emma learns a “black magic” spell to remove a person “from your path.” Later in the story, Emma and her friends cast the spell. Emma is told, “a hex is just a formal way of putting a wish into the universe.”
  • At a slumber party, the girls play Bloody Mary.  Emma is freaked out when she sees, “Gray’s face, flickering in the candlelight . . . Behind him was a find aura of red, almost like Hester’s ghost was standing behind him.”
  • Emma learns how to send her spirit into the dream world while her body stays in one place. “I imagined myself a dolphin, half of my mind shut down to let me rest; the other half active and alert. It was this second half I sent out wandering.”

Spiritual Content

  • Michelle says that God hates her because she doesn’t believe in God.
  • Michelle’s aunt is “part dream interpreter, part voodoo practitioner, and all around wise woman. She believed in the spirit world and claimed to communicate with the dead.”
  • Emma goes and stands in the same spot where she was hit by lightning. She wonders, “If God would be audacious enough to strike the same place, and person, twice.”
  • When Emma is having her dreams, she is told that, “The Haitian people believe you have two parts of your soul-le ti-bon-ange, or your little angel, and le gros-bon-ange, your big angel. Now the little angel is like your shadow soul.  It’s only visible in dreams or visions, and helps you communicate with the spirits or the loa, kind of like your conscience. But the big angel is your fate soul, the one that determines your destiny or prophesizes your future.”
  • Emma goes to Easter service. “I hadn’t been to church since Christmas, and I felt a little guilty about it. It wasn’t’ that I didn’t believe in God, more than I questioned what kind of God he was.  Anyone who’s lost a parent must go through this crisis of faith, asking, How could a merciful God take my mother away?”
  • Emma thinks, “Michelle claimed to be an atheist, with science her only religion. She often scoffed at Darlene’s voodoo beliefs, but deep down, I think Michelle had some faith of her own, even if it didn’t conform to any church or institutions view of the cosmos.”

No Good Deed

Ellie Hudson is on her way to the Olympics. All she has to do to qualify is participate in a competition in Nottingham. However, a gold medal quickly becomes the least of her concerns when she gets lost below Nottingham Castle and ends up in medieval England.

Frantic to get home (and wondering if she’s suffering from a psychotic breakdown), Ellie is found by a knight in shining armor—literally. Her passport, iPhone, and modern education aren’t exactly useful for surviving in medieval England. Her archery skills on the other hand…might just help her face down a tyrant, join a band of outlaws, and help feed a kindly group of nuns. While the final resolution leaves something to be desired, this is a delightful tale written in a light and enjoyable tone that will leave readers waiting breathlessly for Connolly’s next tale.

Sexual Content

  • When Eleanor makes a comment about James’s body, her friend says, “If you’re defrocking a cleric, little Robbin, you’re a bigger sinner than any of us.”
  • When James puts his arm around Eleanor, she gets distracted. “It was distracting when I’d been trying to keep my thoughts closer to the center of the friend zone.”
  • While at a party, a man doesn’t recognize Eleanor and she assumes it “because his eyes never got any higher than my chest.”
  • While at a party, Eleanor is “checked out” by a man.

Violence

  • Soldiers try to capture Eleanor. As she runs, they shoot arrows at her. When she is caught, she notices a head on a spike, which causes her to jump into the river around the castle to avoid the same fate.
  • When soldiers capture Eleanor, “A soldier’s big hand shoved me between the shoulder blades.”  Eleanor then describes her condition. “My body ached, I had new bruises on my arms and shoulders, my wrists were rubbed raw.”
  • Eleanor is sentenced for her crimes. Someone explains that the sentence, “means the accused is weighed and lowered into a pond, where God will judge his innocence.”
  • In order to prove her innocence, Eleanor is forced to shoot a turnip off of her friend’s head.  The sheriff tells a soldier, “cut that archer’s throat if she deliberately misses again.” Eleanor is able to hit the turnip and save herself.
  • When Eleanor goes into the forest to get an arrow, two men taunt her. One of the men tries to hit her with his staff. “Gigantor gave a pissed-off kind of roar—I barely managed to duck as the big man swung his staff at my head. The unyielding wood came close enough to part my hair.”  When Eleanor ends up in the river, the men think she is dead. She then gets the upper hand and is able to defeat them. No one is seriously injured.
  • The sheriff’s soldiers go into the covenant and destroy the tables of food the nuns had prepared for the poor. They also take the nuns’ goats.  Eleanor thinks, “I hoped all three of them got head-butted in the nuts.”
  • In order to get the nuns’ goats back, Eleanor gets into a fight with two men. One of the men was hit with a rock and knocked out. The other man was hit with a quiver. “The blunt hit Will in the ass, which had to hurt like hell.”
  • Trying to save the nuns’ goats, Eleanor gets stopped by a Lord. When he threatens to take the goats, Eleanor shoots his horse and the Lord falls to the ground. Eleanor ties him up.
  • The sheriff was planning on chopping off a twelve-year-old’s head for treason, until Eleanor intervenes.
  • Eleanor shoots a would-be assassin and saves a life.
  • The prince makes a doctor drink from a glass vial. The vial most likely contained poison.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mead is mentioned.

Language

  • Profanity is scattered often throughout the book. Most of the profanity is in the main character’s thoughts and speech. Profanity includes “asshole, hell, dammit, badass, pissed, jackass, shit, son of a bitch.”
  • When soldiers try to capture Eleanor, she “ran like hell.” As she begins to run, she goes through horse manure but figures she was already “in deep shit” so a little more wouldn’t hurt.
  • When the soldiers falsely accuse Eleanor, she thinks, “Those lying bastards.”
  • When Eleanor tricks the sheriff, she thinks, “Holy Crap. That actually worked.”
  • After getting ill, Eleanor wakes up in a convent, but thinks she is in a hospital. “Then I moved my head. God, I must have one hell of a concussion, because I’d had the weirdest dream about church bells and ministering angels.”
  • Several times Eleanor calls someone a “jackass.”
  • When Eleanor hits a man who attacked her she thinks, “Payback’s a bitch.”
  • Eleanor describes the chief forester as having a “don’t-dick-with-me-attitude.” Later she tells him, “your boss is a rat bastard.”
  • One of the characters says his name is Fitzhugh. Then he explains that “The ‘Fitz’ is the Norman way of saying ‘bastard of.’”
  • When Eleanor attacks a Lord, he yells, “Give me your name, you treacherous cur, so I can dig up the graves of your mother and father and piss on their bones.”

Supernatural

  • Eleanor goes through a dark tunnel and when she comes out the other side, she is suddenly in the fifteenth century. No explanation is given for how she mysteriously traveled back in time.

Spiritual Content

  • After getting out of a difficult situation, Eleanor thinks, “I’d asked the universe for a lot today, but I sent up one more prayer: Please don’t let the place be too far.”

 

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