The Eureka Key

When middle school puzzle master Sam and history wiz Martina win a contest for a summer trip across the U.S., they discover they’ve been drafted into something vastly more extraordinary. Joining another kid on the trip, Theo, a descendant of George Washington himself, they must follow clues to find seven keys left behind by the Founding Fathers.

Together, the keys unlock Benjamin Franklin’s greatest invention – a secret weapon with the intention of defending the country. Each key is hidden in a unique location around the U.S., protected with puzzles, riddles, and traps. This has kept the weapon safe . . . until now! Gideon Arnold, a dangerous descendant of the infamous Benedict Arnold, is on the chase.

Readers of The Eureka Key will enjoy learning about one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, in this fast-paced story. The action begins from the very first page and never stops. To find a weapon hidden by the Founding Fathers, Sam, Martina and Theo must find clues and answer the riddles left by Benjamin Franklin. With the villain’s goons just steps behind them, the kids must focus on deciphering the clues. Similar to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, each new clue can also lead to a potentially deadly trap which makes for some very suspenseful moments. The clues are based on Franklin’s real inventions and readers will attempt to figure out the clues along with the characters.

While the action drives the plot, both Sam and Martina are well-developed but imperfect characters. Girl Scouts has taught the nerdy Martina to always be prepared, and her quirks make her very likable. At first, Sam laughs at everything Martina packs and teases her for her encyclopedic knowledge, but Sam soon realizes that without Martina he wouldn’t have survived the journey. Sam begins as a reckless troublemaker, but after the near-death journey, Sam asks himself, “So which Sam Solomon was he? The one who hacked into school computers to change his friend’s grades, or the one who did his best to save the country from treachery that went back more than two hundred years?” In the end, Sam’s character growth and maturity will please and surprise readers.

The Eureka Key will appeal to a wide range of readers. Those who love mystery, puzzles, history, and action will enjoy The Eureka Key. Even though the story has many historical facts, they are integrated into the story, and they never read like a history textbook. Some of the characters are descendants of historical figures and one character is a descendant of Benedict Arnold. While some believe Arnold was a traitor, his descendant reminds readers, “History sometimes forgets the truth.” Readers interested in learning more about Benedict Arnold should read George Washington’s Spies by Claudia Friddell. The characters, mystery, and history combine to make a highly entertaining story that will have readers reaching for the next book in the series, The Eagle’s Quill.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A man who Sam calls “Aloha” kidnaps Sam, Martina, and Theo. Sam tries to leave clues for others to follow. “A second later, the loudest sound he’d ever heard nearly split his eardrums open. He yelped, and Martina jumped about a foot. . . Aloha was standing behind them with his gun pointed at Sam’s hat, which lay on the ground with a smoking hole through the brim.”
  • Several times someone points a gun at the kids to force them to comply with orders.
  • To find the eureka key, the kids must answer riddles. If they answer incorrectly, a deadly trap awaits them. While trying to figure out a clue, the kids make a mistake and, “The light around them seemed to flare, and Sam stumbled back, blinking madly. . . Then a scream filled the air. It came from Aloha. . .The orange flowers on Aloha’s shirt burst into red flames. He howled in pain, staggering across the plateau, as the fires took hold.”
  • As Aloha is flailing, “Aloha was still holding his gun; it swung toward Theo as the man twisted and wailed. Theo dodged to the side as a bullet cracked in the air, and at the same moment Aloha’s left heel vanished off the edge of the cliff. He toppled and was gone, his screams lengthening.” Aloha dies.
  • The villain, Flintlock, pulls a gun on the kids. When the kids open a secret door, “Theo snapped upright, driving a fistful of rocks into the man’s stomach.” Theo and Martina run, but someone has a hold on Sam. Then, “Something whizzed past Sam’s face, and then Martina’s flashlight cracked his captor right on the bridge of his nose. The hand around Sam’s arm loosened as the man howled.” The kids escape.
  • To escape a trap, Martina connects an electrical circuit to herself. “Martina’s body shook as if she were a puppet with a madman yanking at the strings. . . Martina dropped to the floor as if the puppeteer had tossed her away and lay there—still as death.”
  • The bad guys and the kids are in a room that has a lot of keys hanging from the ceiling. One of the bad guys, Jed, “grabs a key. Sam was sure he could hear electricity leaping from the key to Jed’s hand. The instant his huge fist closed around the key, he was flung across the room, so quickly he didn’t have time to cry out. He crashed to the floor and lay still.”
  • Sam tries to sneak away from the bad guys. Sam “took two steps toward the way out, only to have a bullet blast into the wooden floor in front of him.”
  • A man falls into a mine shaft. “There was a sharp, panicked yell that started loud and got softer and softer. . . until it stopped.” The man dies.
  • During the revolution, Benedict Arnold left one of his contacts to be hanged.
  • One of the villains slaps “Theo across the face. . . Theo stood as solidly as a deeply rooted tree and didn’t make a sound.”
  • To get Sam to comply, one of the thugs grabs Martina. “He grabbed hold of her arm, clamping his other hand over her mouth and nose. He grinned as she made a startled, choking sound.”
  • When Sam makes a smart-aleck remark, “the back of Arnold’s hand smacked into the side of his face.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Oh my God and Oh, Lord are each used as an exclamation once.
  • Sam thinks someone is a jerk.
  • A man calls someone a pinhead.
  • Martina calls Sam a moron.
  • Heck is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Martina tells Sam about Benjamin Franklin. “Franklin said people should try to ‘be like Jesus and Socrates . . . Sacrificing themselves for the common good.’”

Piratica

Art attends a school for proper young ladies. That is, until she bumps her head and remembers her long-forgotten past. Her mother was Piratica, a pirate queen, and Art grew up on her mother’s pirate ship. Art lost her memory not in a mundane accident, but from an exploding pirate ship that claimed her mother’s life! Now that she remembers where she came from, Art quickly takes on her mother’s mantel and runs away to find her mom’s old pirate crew.

Felix was already down on his luck when an unfortunate run-in with Art leaves people thinking he is a famous highway robber. Unable to convince the law that he is innocent, Felix is forced to flee for his life. He ends up on Art’s pirate ship, where he is courteously imprisoned. The pirates promise he will be put ashore when they are far enough from London that he cannot turn the pirates into the law. However, as their adventures continue, Felix finds his utter distaste for pirates warring with a growing admiration for Art’s fearlessness.

Piratica honors bravery, loyalty, and a bit of pirate flair. Art is an inspiring character, who is not immune to doubt, but she is unwilling to let it slow her down for a moment. Determined to will her dream of becoming a pirate into reality, her pirate crew cannot help but be swept along by her vision. With a delightful cast of well-developed supporting characters, every scene carries readers along this swashbuckling tale.

Full of fun, adventure, and a healthy helping of piratical ridiculousness, Piratica is a must-read for anyone who loves adventure, pirates, or strong female characters. The silliness is over-the-top, yet remains believable and thoroughly enjoyable. With plenty of action but not much gore, this is an excellent story for readers looking for more exciting adventures who aren’t mature enough for adult content.

Sexual Content

  • A girl kisses Felix as he escapes from a fight. “She kissed Felix so forcefully it knocked him into the chute.”
  • When the pirates reach Africay, “Slender black locals . . . offered them wives. . . Even Art was offered a wife.”

Violence

  • When one of Art’s pirates slanders her, she slaps him. He “raised his fist . . . but Art had ducked Black Knack’s blow with the perfect weaving motion of the trained fighter. Swimming back, she punched him instead with a sharp thwack on the point of his shaveless jaw. Black Knack’s eyes rolled up. He keeled straight over.”
  • A fight breaks out in a bar. “Cutlasses sparkled and fists flailed. Flying bottles and cuts filled the air . . . Art avoided a descending beer mug and shoved off a fighter who had got carried away and was trying to brain her with a chair.”
  • Art and her pirates capture a ship. When the captain tries to fight, “Art kicked him hard in the leg, and he went to one knee. Behind her at once she heard a scuffle, two or three cries, a series of thuds.”
  • Art and her pirates defend themselves when another ship tries to board them. “She fired. The bullet whizzed, unseen, over the sea between the two ships . . . The bullet struck, as Art had meant it to, a smoke-wreathed barrel of gunpowder left on the forecastle. Which blew up like a firework of pink and primrose.” The fight is described over three pages.
  • A pirate shoots Black Knack. “Then Goldie fired. Fire flash. The silliest sound—like a huge twig snapping. Black Knack seemed to jump—that was all—to jump forward—forward—The jump took him right past the hatch . . . it threw him instead to the lip of the cliff. And over.”
  • Art and Goldie duel. “As she sprang, Art saw Mr. Beast rearing, cutlass and pistol in the way, and landed a fist of ringed knuckles at the base of his nose . . . one of those little knives came zipping out, straight for Art’s throat. Art dodged . . . the knife cut her thinly along the right cheekbone. But Goldie, they now all saw, was bleeding at the temple where the hair had been sliced away.” The fight is described over five pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When running away, Art sees the gate porter “drinking hot gin. He never noticed her, and minutes later she was over the wall.”
  • When a highwaywoman comes to a tavern, the owner says “I’ll take a look at your loot, dear, and we’ll drink some gin.” The highwaywoman responds that she wants sherry because “You know I can’t stand the gin.”
  • Art and her crew visit a tavern with “tall tots of rum and liqueurs.”
  • After a victory, Art’s pirate crew “downed everything—rum, wine, the brandies of Africay, the home-brewed lemon ciders, coffee in which a knife could have stood upright.”
  • For their last meal, Art receives “a bottle of wine.”

Language

  • God is used as an exclamation twice. Art’s dad says, “By God, what’s this?” Another time, Felix says “Oh, God.”
  • Devil is used as part of exclamations. Art’s father exclaims, “Why the devil are you smiling?” A man says, “If a woman did such a thing—she was the devil itself.”
  • Funny exclamations are used often. A few examples include “Cat’s Wallopers,” “Goat’s Gizzards,” “Caterwauling Stars,” “Dastardly Custard,” “by the Sacred Pig of Eira,” and “By the Yak!”
  • Variations of damn are used several times. A man says, “You’re damnably late, sir.” Another man says, “Get your act together, and we’ll be off, dammit innit.”
  • Hell is used as an exclamation several times such as “Hell’s Porcupines,” “By the Blast of Hell,” and “Hell’s Kettles!” Also, a pirate calls Art “a hell of a captain”, and once Art asks, “What the hell could that be?”
  • Poo is used twice. A man says, “And poo to you, too!” Another man says, “Poo to you, sir!”
  • A man calls someone a “pompous asp.”
  • When going into a pitch-black cave, Black Knack tells Ebad, who is black, “Don’t you go in, Ebad. We’ll lose you.” Durk turns and slaps Black Knack in response.
  • Bitch is used twice. Goldie tells her pirates, “You lazy pigs—come here and help me finish this bitch.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • A man exclaims, “By the Lord’s Armchair.”
  • One of Art’s pirates says, “I wish to God Molly were here.”
  • A pirate cries, “Fill ‘em full of lead, by the Lord’s Armchair” and another says, “by the sacred Blue of Heaven.”
  • Ebad says, “It’s Molly. By the Lord God. Our Molly Faith.”
  • The pirate Black Knack tells Art, “You’re no girl. You’re a demon. But—a hell of a captain, I’ll give ye that.”
  • Before supper, a pirate says, “Thank you, God, for the gift of greed.”
  • Art finds a message left by pirates. It reads, “We are the Pirate Kind. We live by blood and murder. We end our days on a rope, or under the pitiless acres of the Sea. After which, we are told, we must suffer forever in the Kingdom of Hell, for our Sins.”

by Morgan Lynn

Spy School #1

Ben Ripley’s just a normal, average middle schooler until he finds a man in a tuxedo sitting on his living room couch. Recruited by the CIA and sent to their secretive training school, Ben finally has a chance at his dream job: secret agent! Unfortunately for him, his innate math skills won’t help while he’s battling ninjas, fighting off assassins, dodging insane professors, or just trying not to die on the first day of class.

With all the crazy combat and intense classes, Ben starts to miss his normal life and regrets accepting the spy school’s invitation. After learning the CIA is using him to discover an evil mole within their organization, Ben has an opportunity to prove to everyone that he’s capable of saving the day. Joining forces with Erica Hale, the top spy in the school, the duo hunts down the nefarious double-agent under the CIA’s nose. After cracking codes, stealing secrets, and dodging bullets, Ben and Erica realize the mole is closer than they think! Will Ben and Erica stop the mole before their master plan is complete?

Spy School is a non-stop spy thrill ride. From car chases in Washington to killer ninjas in math class to fighting off an assassin with a tennis racket in his underwear, it seems Ben Ripley never gets a break at his new school. However, with the intense, heart-pounding action sequences, Gibbs manages to keep the action appropriate for young readers.

Although Ben Ripley isn’t a super spy, middle school readers will relate to his insecurities and desire to fit in. Ben moves to a new school and has trouble making friends because both bullies and teachers pick on him. The administration uses him to find a flaw in their organization, and no one thinks he can succeed. As the story progresses, readers root for Ben as he fights off bad guys, makes friends, and grows confident in his spy abilities.

Fans of espionage thrillers will enjoy Spy School with its fast-paced action, witty jokes, and plot twists. The story of friendship, self-determination, and self-belief will entertain readers as it teaches positive lessons. Readers will learn the importance of being themselves and that everyone has value. With its tame violence and mild language, the Spy School series is a good precursor for other espionage series, like The Theodore Boone series and The Gallagher Girls series. Altogether, Spy School is an engaging story for readers that will keep them on the edge of their seats with its intense action scenes and surprise ending.

Sexual Content

  • Ben has a crush on Erica. When they first met, Erica tackles Ben to the ground and Ben thinks to himself, “The girl sitting on my chest appeared to be a few years older than me, fourteen or fifteen, with thick dark hair and incredibly blue eyes… She even smelled incredible, an intoxicating combination of lilacs and gunpowder.” However, Erica is often cold to Ben, and there is no “romance” in the story.

Violence

  • When Alexander Hale and Ben arrive at Spy School, Alexander knows something is wrong. The campus was quiet when it “ought to be crawling with people right now.” Ben gets out of the car and runs as “something crackled in the distance. A tiny explosion erupted in the snow to my left. Someone was shooting at me!” Alexander shoots back as Ben reaches the dormitory door. Ben runs into the dormitory area and “something suddenly swept my feet out from under me. I landed flat on my back. A split second later someone dropped on me, sheathed entirely in black except for the eyes. Each knee pinioned one of my arms to the ground.”
  • During the fight, Ben meets his attacker, Erica Hale. Erica is a fellow student who hands him a taser and commands him to follow her as they head to the Nathan Hale Administration Building. As they head up the stairs, Erica notices two enemy agents, so she commands Ben to cut through the library and make it to the principal’s office. Erica attacks them and Ben runs into the library as “gunfire raked the carpet behind me and splintered the doorjamb as I lunged for safety.” Ben heads up a spiral staircase and “a bullet pinged off the banister just as I reached the third floor.”
  • Ben notices a black-clad man clutching a machine gun darting toward his staircase. Ben grabs a book from one of the shelves and drops it from the railing. “From below came the distinct thud of book colliding with a skull, followed by the grunt of the assassin collapsing.” As enemy agents start to surround him, Ben quickly finds the principal’s door. Ben throws himself against the locked door. Ben “flipped on my taser and jammed it into the keypad. The tiny screen flickered as I shocked the system. Then the electricity overloaded, and every light in the hall blew out, plunging me into darkness.” Ben makes it into the principal’s office where Alexander Hale, Erica, and the principal inform him he just failed the first test of Spy School. This scene takes place over 15 pages.
  • After talking in Professor Crandall’s Introduction to Self-Preservation class, Professor Crandall tests Ben’s knowledge with a pop quiz. Crandall opens a door by the podium and three ninjas vault through. They are clad in black from head to toe and armed to the teeth. As Ben tries to escape through the back door, “a throwing star embedded in the door. I spun to find the ninjas creeping slowly up the steps. The one in front spun a pair of razor-sharp sai knives. The other two twirled nunchucks.” As Ben runs away, he hears something whistling through the air behind him. Ben “turned to find a nunchuck quickly closing the gap between the ninja who’d thrown it and my forehead. This was followed by an absolutely incredible amount of pain.” Ben is knocked unconscious. This scene takes place over two pages.
  • During the school’s annual war game, Ben is chased by an attacker he recognized from Chemistry 102: Poisons and Explosives. Ben jumps down a snowy slope head first as “a paintball whistled past my ear and splattered a rock.” Ben lands on rocks below, feet first, as his attacker levels a gun. All of a sudden, “a red paintball nailed her in the helmet, splattering all over her faceguard.” Zoe, one of Ben’s friends and teammates, shoots the attacker in the head.
  • Then, Ben and Warren decide to attack the other team’s flag on the other side of campus. There’s only one problem, the enemy team has Bullseye Bailey, the best sniper “rumored to be able to decapitate a flea with a bullet from a mile away.” As Warren distracts Bailey, Ben becomes distracted, and Warren ends up covered in blue paint. “As this happened, something burst out of the snow on our side of the mill, away from the action. It took me a moment to realize it was a person. Someone who’d somehow dug through the snow to within mere feet of the guards without them noticing.” Erica appears from out of the snow and captures the flag before anyone realizes what has happened.
  • As Ben is held in the school’s security room, he watches as Alexander and a team of agents surround the enemy on campus. “Video images were now coming up faster and faster as the agents tried to track everything that was happening on the surface at once. I caught glimpses of the enemy hurtling past cameras in the woods, teams of CIA agents en route to the dormitory.” The agents attack the enemy and “a dozen nets were launched at once. Four hit their target, while two took out agents who got caught in the crossfire. The enemy went down in a heap, tangled in nets, then rolled over to find fifty agents converging on him with guns raised.” However, the enemy turned out to be Mike Brezinski, Ben’s best friend. At that moment, “an explosion blew the steel door off its hinges behind me… Sedation darts took out the agents at the monitors before they could even reach for their guns.” Another dart nailed Ben in the shoulder. This scene takes place over four pages.
  • Murray tries to escape the school, but Ben orders Murray to stop or he will shoot him with his M16. “Murray froze and turned around, allowing me to see he also had a gun in his hand. He aimed right back at me.” Murray opens fire and the first bullets hit a tree two feet to Ben’s right. Ben returns fire, hitting the roof of the Hale Building. “The ice on the steep peaked roof had frozen into a crust several inches thick. Both my bullets pounded into it, sparkling a network of fractures. A few small glaciers calved free and rocketed off the roof, knocking a dozen massive icicles loose from the eaves en route.” Ice flattened Murray, who is arrested. This scene takes place over two pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Ben calls Chip a jerk. Erica says, “Jerks hang you up from the flagpole by your underwear. They don’t blow up schools.”
  • Ass is used one time. Ben tries to break into the principal’s office by slamming himself against the door. However, “It was locked. I bounced off it and landed on my ass in the hall.”
  • Ben tells Erica how someone tried to coerce him into hacking the school’s mainframe. Erica says, “And thus would’ve kept his hands clean. Doing something stupid isn’t so stupid if you can get someone else to do it for you.”
  • In an attempt to save his own life after an assassin sneaks into his room, Ben tries to ramble on about how to break into the CIA’s mainframe. The assassin detects Ben’s lies and says, “I’m not an idiot. And I’ve run out of patience. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
  • Chip doesn’t believe Ben took on an assassin all by himself and says, “He’s a dork. If that had been a real assassin, he’d be dead.”
  • During Chip and Ben’s fistfight after the war game, “dozens of students and faculty had just returned from the war game only to find us writhing about on the floor like a couple of idiots.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Matthew Perkey

Crooked Kingdom

When Jan Van Eck, a member the Merchant Council of Kerch, hired Kaz Brekker and his team to infiltrate the infamous Ice Court to extract the maker of the drug jurda parem, no one believed they really stood a chance. Yet Kaz, Inej, Wylan, Jesper, Matthias and Nina pulled it off, even if it was just barely. They extracted the drug maker’s son, Kuwei Yul-Bo, and were ready to receive the money that would make all their dreams come true. At least, until Van Eck betrayed them all and kidnapped Inej.

And the problems don’t stop there. Ketterdam has become a dangerous city, one that sees old and new enemies stream in to get a hold of Kuwei’s knowledge of jurda parem. To corner Kaz and his team, Van Eck will force the group to test their loyalties and use up all the wit they have to offer. With nowhere to run, there’s only one option available to Kaz: fight back.

While wanted posters display Kaz and his crew, the six are busy planning and plotting to find a way to get everything they’re owed. They’ll save Inej, get Kuwei out of the city, and make Ketterdam theirs again. One way or another, they’ll even the score.

Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom is just as fun and exciting as the first novel. Building off their trip into the Ice Court, Crooked Kingdom delves deeper into the main conflict between Kaz’s crew and Jan Van Eck. From the very beginning, the claustrophobia of Ketterdam, its sense of despair, and its dwindling hope take center stage, laying the foundation for the story to push the main characters into finding their own way out of the hole they’ve found themselves in.

That’s where the main theme of standing up for yourself comes in. Learning to fight for yourself in a cruel, greedy world comes across easily through Kaz’s determination to see his crew properly rewarded for helping stop the production of jurda parem, the drug that enhances Grisha power. This theme also comes through with the other five main characters, like Inej’s desire to hire a ship and go after slavers or Wylan’s realization that he needs to overcome his father. It’s safe to say that each member of Kaz’s crew is a role model in their own right. Each person grows stronger from the trials they encounter.

Overall, Crooked Kingdom is a wonderful follow-up to Six of Crows. This sequel is definitely a must-read. The book is chock full of action, suspense, and plot twists from beginning to end. The main cast of characters really shine in the hectic moments of the plot. While the pacing can feel relentless at times, that only raises the stakes.

Sexual Content

  • When going over the plan to con Smeet, one of Kaz’s targets, Kaz tells the others, “Smeet never cheats on his wife.” During the job, Wylan thinks when he sees Nina, a member of Kaz’s group, “She was dressed in a sheer lavender gown rigged with some kind of corset that pushed her cleavage to alarming heights, and though she’d lost weight since her battle with parem, there was still plenty of her for Smeet to grab onto.” And, again later on, Smeet “was ogling those guns almost as much as Nina’s cleavage.”
  • When thinking about her past as a working girl, Inej, Kaz’s love interest, thinks, “The man with sharp teeth like a kitten who had bitten at her breast until she’d bled.” Later, when thinking about the worst client she had, Inej thinks, “because when the man who smelled of vanilla had begun to kiss her neck and peel away her silks, she hadn’t been able to leave her body behind.” Finally, when her thoughts stray to Kaz, Inej thinks, “What if he had come to her, laid his gloves aside, drawn her to him, kissed her mouth?”
  • When Inej is attacked by Dunyasha, an assassin, Dunyasha says, “I hear you whored for the Peacock.”
  • When confronted by a group of thugs, Nina tells the leader, “‘I’m fast enough to make sure you never’ —her eyes gave a meaningful slide below his belt buckle—‘raise a flag on West Stave again.’”
  • When thinking about his first few nights in the Barrel, Wylan remembers, “The couple in the room above him were fighting. The couple in the room below him were definitely doing something else.”
  • Later, Wylan remembers how a man told him, “Young dollop of cream like you should be able to make fine coin on West Stave.” When Wylan thinks about getting help from his father, he thinks, “But he would sell himself in the pleasure houses of West Stave before he’d ask for his father’s mercy.”
  • When Wylan first met Jesper, his “first thought was that this boy had the most perfectly shaped lips he’d ever seen.”
  • When waiting to meet Ravkan Grisha, Matthias is alone with Nina and thinks, “It was too easy to imagine himself kneeling like a penitent before her, letting his hands slide up the white curves of her calves, pushing those skirts higher, past her knees to the warm skin of her thighs.”
  • When Jesper meets Wylan in the music room of a hotel, he “moved slowly, deliberately, kept the kiss quiet, the barest brush of his lips, giving Wylan the chance to pull away if he wanted to.” Then later, when Jesper sees Kuwei standing in the doorway, he asks, “Do the Shu not kiss before noon?”

Violence

  • When Retvenko, a Grisha, thinks about his previous employment, he thinks, “After Hoede had died, the Kerch Merchant Council had let Retvenko take on sea voyages to pay his way out of the indenture.” Later on, Retvenko thinks about his role in a former war. “He’d murdered former comrades, civilians, even children.” When Retvenko is later attacked, he “peeked around the desk in time to see the shotgun blast strike the woman directly in the chest.”
  • When thinking about a past conversation with Kaz about a working girl, Wylan remembers that Kaz said, “Tante Heleen beat her to death.” After that, Wylan remembers, “They were the last words he’d spoken. If he’d talked less, he might have lived.”
  • When speaking to a little girl who could give Kaz and Wylan away, Kaz tells her, “Because if you do, I’ll slit your mother’s throat and then your father’s, and then I’ll cut out the hearts of all these sweet slobbering hounds.” Afterwards, Kaz justifies what he said by saying, “It was that or snap her neck and make it look like she fell down the stairs, Wylan.”
  • When Inej is detained by Van Eck, she thinks about her friend Nina “squeezing the life from a man with the flick of a wrist.” Later, Inej is trying to free her wrists “After what seemed like a lifetime of sawing and scraping and bloodying her fingertips on the shard’s edge.” And, when Inej is about to be tortured, Van Eck tells the torturer, “I don’t want it to be a clean break. Use the mallet. Shatter the bone.”
  • When Jesper and Wylan go to meet Colm, Jesper’s father, “A shot rang out against the walls of the courtyard. Jesper shoved his father behind him as a bullet pinged off the stones at their feet, sending up a cloud of dust.” Later, Wylan tells Jesper, “I’ve got two flash bombs and something new I rigged up with a little more, um, wallop.” When someone sees Jesper, Wylan and Colm fleeing through a library, he says, “I won’t go with you! I’ll kill myself first!”
  • When Nina realizes Kaz has the jurda parem, she tells Matthias that Kaz would “slit my throat” if she tried to take some from him. Later, Nina’s Grisha power doesn’t work. After she killed a guard, she says, “I didn’t mean to kill him.”
  • After the panic about a plague, Wylan muses over how “people were bruised and concussed, and Wylan had heard that one woman’s hand had been crushed when she’d gotten knocked to the floor.”
  • When Matthias is confronted by a Fjredan drüskelle warrior, the warrior says, “You killed my friends. In the raid on the Ice Court.” After that same warrior shoots Matthias, he passes away. “The light vanished from his eyes. His chest stilled beneath her hands.”
  • When threatening Pekka Rollins, the former King of the Barrel, Inej tells him, “I left pretty Dunyasha’s brains dashed all over the Ketterdam cobblestones.”
  • When Kaz threatens Pekka Rollins, he says, “‘I buried your son,’ he crooned, savoring the words. ‘I buried him alive, six feet beneath the earth in a field of rocky soil.’” Later Kaz says, “‘Inej, I could only kill Pekka’s son once.’ He pushed the door open with his cane. ‘he can imagine his death a thousand times.’”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • As with the first book, alcohol is mentioned frequently in the novel.
  • Retvenko, a minor character, is drunk at the very start of the book. At a bar in the Barrel, where the thugs and cheats of the city live, Retvenko realized, “The whiskey had failed to warm him.” Later, when speaking to a barman he thinks, “His Kerch wasn’t good to begin with, and it was worse after a few drinks.”
  • Wylan, a member of the Dregs, has to pretend to be a waiter at a gambling hall. When signaled to serve champagne, he thinks, “He at least knew how to pour a proper glass of champagne without it foaming over.”
  • When thinking about Wylan’s change in appearance, Jesper thinks, “It always left him feeling a little off-kilter, like he’d thought he was reaching for a cup of wine and gotten a mouthful of water instead.” Later Jesper says to Wylan, “I mean, just think of the heights of debauchery we could reach if no one kept this city in check. Champagne for breakfast.” When Jesper and Wylan later speak with Jesper’s father, Jesper thinks, “They’d eat. They’d talk. Maybe they’d drink. Please let them drink.”
  • As with the first book, jurda parem, a harmful drug that enhances a Grisha’s (magic user’s) powers, is a main plot device in the story. Kuwei, the son of the creator of jurda parem, says that he can discover “An antidote for parem.”
  • Nina, a member of the Dregs, comments that she could “masquerade as a jurda parem dealer” as a joke when going over Jesper’s role in a job. Later in the story, Nina thinks about the aftereffects of jurda parem on her body. “She’d still been trying to purge the parem from her body, caught in the haze of suffering that had begun on the voyage from Djerholm. She told herself to be grateful for the memory of that misery, every shaking, aching, vomiting minute of it.” Later, she remembers how she acted towards Matthias, her boyfriend, while dealing with the aftereffects. “The shame of Matthias witnessing it all, holding back her hair, dabbing her brow, restraining her as gently as he could as she argued, cajoled, screamed at him for more parem. She made herself remember every terrible thing she’d said, every wild pleasure offered, each insult or accusation she’d hurled at him.”
  • When trying to use her Grisha power, Nina remembers how her jurda parem addiction affected her. “She’d broken into a sweat from the effort, and as soon as the bruised color faded, the hunger for parem hit, a swift, hard kick to her chest. She’d bent double, clutching the sink, her mind filled with breakneck thoughts of how she could get away, who might have a supply, what she could trade.” Later on, when Nina asks Kuwei about whether the drug affects Grisha power, Kuwei responds, “I don’t know. You took the drug only once. You survived the withdrawal. You are a rarity.”
  • When sneaking into someone’s home, “Nina had suggested drugging the dog’s food.”

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently in the novel. Profanity includes words like: ass, hell, bastards, damn, bitch, and fuck.
  • When telling his team about his plan to con a man named Smeet, Kaz says, “So you all need to do everything you can to keep his ass firmly planted at that table.”
  • When debating with Matthias about whether one of their targets will invite Nina back to her room, Nina says, “Like hell he won’t.” When speaking to Wylan about the Smeet job, Kaz says, “We can’t be here when he gets back or the whole plan goes to hell.”
  • When Kaz is musing over a certain type of lock, he thinks, “They were complicated little bastards.”
  • When Jesper talks to Kuwei, he says, “You have that damn travel pack.” Soon after that Jesper says, “There’s only one way out of the tomb, and we’re on a damn island.”
  • When Nina is attacked by a group of thugs, one of them yells, “They’re coming for the Grisha bitch!”
  • When Nina demanded Matthias get her more jurda parem, she tells him, “Then break the fucking door down, you useless skiv.”

Supernatural

  • The Grisha, AKA the magic users, are an integral part of the world of Crooked Kingdom, just like in Six of Crows.
  • Like in the first book, the Grisha are categorized into groups based on their powers. The Corporalki, also known as the Order of the Living and the Dead, include Heartrenders and Healers. The Etherrealki, who are the Order of the Summoners, include Squallers, Inferni, and Tidemakers. The Materialki, who are the Order of Fabrikators, include Durasts and Alkemi. For instance, “A Corporalki could manipulate the human body, not inorganic matter.”
  • Many Grisha are brought into the city of Ketterdam to work “As a treasured Grisha indenture,” though this is more often than not just a masked form of Grisha slavery. Retvenko, a Squaller, thinks about how dangerous it is to be a Grisha. “But when you were a Grisha, even staying still could mean courting trouble.
  • Retvenko, a Squaller, thinks about how his powers will help his job. He thinks, “so the crew would rely on Retvenko to master the air currents and guide the ship calmly to whatever port they needed to reach.”
  • At one point in the past, there was an army of Grisha that fought for the nation of Ravka, called the Second Army. The “young king was said to be handing out pardons like penny candy, eager to rebuild the Second Army, the Grisha military that had been decimated by war.”
  • The Council of Tides, the ruling council of Grisha in Ketterdam, are a very mysterious group of people. “They were supposedly Grisha, but had they ever lifted a finger to help the other Grisha in the city?”
  • Kuwei, the son of the man who made the drug, jurda parem, says at one point, “My father was a Fabrikator. I am just an Inferni.” When Kuwei asks Kaz to get a Grisha to change his appearance, Kaz says, “The only Tailors powerful enough to make you look like someone else are in Ravka, unless Nina wants to take another dose of parem.”
  • Nina is a Corporalki Grisha. When thinking about her jurda parem addiction, she thinks, “They needed her to be a Corporalki, not an addict with the shakes who wore herself out with the barest bit of tailoring.” Later on, when she needs to use her power, she thinks, “Slow their pulses. Send them quietly into unconsciousness without ever letting an alarm sound.” Immediately after that, Nina’s power doesn’t work, “It was like stumbling blind through the dark…Dimly, she was aware of the suggestion of their frames, a trace of knowing, but that was all.”

Spiritual Content

  • Like in the first book, the most mentioned god in the novel is Ghezen, the God of Commerce in Ketterdam.
  • When Retvenko goes to a work assignment aboard a ship, the first mate says, “Ghezen, Retvenko. Have you been drinking?” When Kaz bumps into one of his targets accidentally, he pretends to be a humble young man saying, “Too kind, sir. Too kind. May Ghezen be as generous.” Later, Van Eck talks about his future fortune by saying, “When I leave this world, the greatest shipping empire ever known will remain, an engine of wealth, a tribute to Ghezen and a sign of his favor.”
  • When speaking about Van Eck’s illegal practices, Jesper says, “Isn’t not paying your taxes…I don’t know, sacrilegious? I thought he was all about serving Ghezen.”
  • Like in the first book, the Suli Saints are mentioned again. Inej thinks, when she’s still in the villain Van Eck’s custody, “Saints, what if she was in Van Eck’s mansion?” When Inej thinks about her sins, she muses, “Would her Saints sanction such a thing? Could forgiveness come if she killed not to survive but because she burned with a living, luminous hatred?” Just as she’s about to be tortured by Van Eck, Inej thinks, “Saints protect me. Saints protect me.”
  • The Church of Saint Hilde is a famous sight in Ketterdam. When Kaz tells Wylan where the latter can find his mother, he says, “Well, he’s been making donations to the Church of Saint Hilde for the last eight years. If you want to pay respects to your mother, that’s probably the place to start.”
  • On Black Veil, an island full of graves, some of the graves “bore the stamp of Ghezen’s Coins of Favor… A few were watched over by Ravkan Saints in flowing marble robes. There was no sign of Djel or his ash tree.”
  • Djel, the Fjerdan god, is also mentioned a few times in the novel. When Matthias is reflecting over his past actions, he comes to a revelation. “Now he was sure of nothing but his faith in Djel and the vow he’d made to Nina.”
  • Colm tells Kaz, “You haven’t been Alice long enough to rack up your share of sin.”

by Jonathan Planman

The Fugitive

In The Fugitive, Theo Boone’s class trip to Washington DC goes from normal to interesting in a matter of minutes after he spots the most wanted man in Stratten County: Pete Duffy. Duffy had gone to court in the past for murdering his wife but had escaped due to a mistrial. Theo spots him on their trip and trails the fugitive before talking to his uncle and getting the FBI involved.

The rest of the story takes place in Strattenburg, the same city where Duffy was originally tried. Theo works with his friends, his two lawyer parents, and the FBI to figure out a way to make sure Pete doesn’t get away this time. The only person who saw Duffy is an illegal immigrant, who is scared of what might happen if he shows up in court. Theo has to convince the witness of the need for justice in spite of his fear because nobody else witnessed the crime, and the trial is resting on his testimony. Also, Theo himself also has to get over his fears of Pete Duffy’s accomplices who are known to be violent and brutal, just like the criminal in question. And he has to do all of this while managing his time with school, his friends, and his family.

The Fugitive is aimed at a younger audience but still contains a few adult themes, especially violence and even murder. Grisham doesn’t go into extreme detail when describing these events, but his choice to include a violent crime paints a more believable story. Theo’s story is an exciting thriller but also manages to include the less-exciting parts of crime that take place in the courtroom, such as having to repeat a trial multiple times due to legal errors like a late witness. After tracking down a notorious fugitive, it’s ironic that the only thing keeping him from imprisonment is a mistrial. Boone and the other characters acknowledge this, and much of the story consists of them creating a strong enough case to put Duffy behind bars.

An important lesson that the book conveys is an appreciation for laws and justice. As much as Theo or anyone else would like to just imprison Duffy because they know what he did, doing so without enough evidence would be a violation of due process. In addition, Theo and his parents do a number of good deeds for society, including volunteering at a homeless shelter, opening up free law practices, and just practicing law.

Theodore Boone provides a funny and relatable character for younger audiences. Besides helping capture one of the FBI’s most wanted, Theo is pretty much an ordinary kid. His character design in addition to the enticing thriller that John Grisham has written results in a captivating crime novel that isn’t filled with violence and gore. Theodore Boone: The Fugitive is an excellent read for any aspiring detective.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A character recounts how John Wilkes Booth “shot the president once in the back of the head.”
  • Pete Duffy was “accused of murdering his wife.”
  • Theo’s uncle Ike tells the story of Joel Furniss, “the first boy from Stratten County to be killed in Vietnam.”
  • Bobby Escobar “saw Pete Duffy sneak into his home at the exact time his wife was killed. And he found the golf gloves Duffy was wearing when he strangled his wife.”
  • Mr. Tweel, a farmer, explains how “About an hour after I get rid of the boys, after I get their names and address, I go back down to the goat pen to check on things. That’s when I saw that Becky was dead.”
  • As evidence, “a large photo was displayed on the screen, and the jurors got another look at Myra Duffy as she was found on the carpet. She was wearing a pretty dress; her high heels were still on her feet. . . the next one was a close-up of her neck, and the detective noticed a redness and slight puffiness on both sides of her neck. He immediately suspected strangulation.”
  • As Theo is marched down the hall by two officers, he compares it to “a man being led to the electric chair, or the gas chamber, or the firing squad.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ike “was sipping on beer and listening to old Motown tunes” when Theo talked to him.
  • Bobby Escobar “likes to drink beer and brings it home.”

Language

  • “Two bozos—Jimbo Nance and Duck DeFoe dropped water balloons from a fifth-floor hotel room.”
  • “Woody and a couple of other clowns booed and hissed as Theo sprinted from the room.”
  • Judge Gantry says to Theo, “Nice work, Theo. Now get your butt back to school.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The bailiff asks, “May God bless this Court,” before proceeding with Pete Duffy’s trial.

by Dylan Chilcoat

 

Night of the Zombie Zookeeper

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

Andres Miedoso is not like that at all. He’s Desmond’s best friend and ghost patrol partner. Desmond Cole and he are excited to go on a field trip to the zoo. They have planned out each and every exhibit they want to go to. They want to make sure they see all the animals. When the field trip day comes, they head to the back of the zoo. But when they see a zombie feeding the giraffes, their plan goes out the window. Instead of enjoying the animals, they’re chasing a zombie.

When it comes to Desmond Cole and Andres, they are opposites. Desmond wants to chase after the zombie, while Andres wants to run in the other direction. Readers will love the two boys who chase the zombie around the zoo. The story has suspense, humor, and a little bit of gross factor—the zombie accidentally dumps goo on Andres. Even though the story features a zombie, it is not scary. Instead, Desmond and Andres discover that zombies make great zookeepers. After all, zombies “don’t mind cleaning up the really stinky number twos! Also, zombies are never grossed out by the slimy, icky food they have to feed the animals.”

Night of the Zombie Zookeeper is the fourth installment in the Desmond Cole series, however, none of the books need to be read in order. The story is told in nine short chapters with easy-to-read vocabulary which is perfect for emerging readers. A black-and-white illustration appears on almost every page. The often humorous illustrations use exaggerated facial expressions so readers can tell what the characters are feeling. Readers will laugh as Desmond and Andres find themselves in unexpected situations. Readers who enjoy Night of the Zombie Zookeeper should also try the Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • A zombie goes underneath water without scuba gear.

Spiritual Content

  • None

Neverwas

Neverwas continues the story of Sarah and Jackson in Amber House, who are not quite the same people. History has shifted thanks to Sarah’s successful rescue of her brother and aunt. As a result, this Sarah’s parents are happily married. There are other changes too, some good and some bad. Jackson’s aunt Ruth is dying. Hathaway’s mother never left him. Sarah’s best friend no longer exists.

The small changes Sarah understands, but there are deeper changes as well from farther back in history. The American Revolution failed. Nazi Germany won the war. North America is split into three countries, with Amber House located in the Confederate-like country where slavery has only recently been abolished.

How could saving her brother and aunt have caused such large changes to history? It makes no sense, and Sarah doesn’t want to fix it. She doesn’t believe that she can fix it. Together, she and Jackson start to unravel what happened—Jackson eagerly, Sarah unwillingly. Together they realize where history went wrong, and that it’s up to them to fix it, again.

Neverwas is a strong second book in the Amber House series. Though it lacks the beautiful imagery that made the first book a delight, Neverwas is based on an interesting “what-if” concept that will hook readers. The story explores what might have happened if the American Revolution failed, and the ripple effects it would have on world history; these changes keep the story interesting enough to keep the pages turning. The authors also did a wonderful job developing the alternate-Sarah. Sarah is still clearly herself, yet there are changes to her personality and how she views the world, changes that are there due to the fact that her parents are happily married, her aunt is alive, and other small alterations to her past.

This Sarah is not as likable as the Sarah in book one. The Neverwas Sarah is not as strong, she can be frivolous and clueless, and she would rather bury her head in the sand than try to change history again. But with Jackson and her brother urging her on, she does a commendable job of pulling herself up by her bootstraps, and in the end, she does all she can to rectify history and bring a better future. Overall, Neverwas has a theme of helping others, even when the cost to yourself may be great.

 Sexual Content

  • When a boy sees that he and Sarah are under the mistletoe, “his lips softly brushed my cheek.”
  • In an echo of the past, Sarah sees two people whose “lips met in a kiss that made me look away.”
  • In another echo, “A man had Maeve pinned against the wall. She was struggling to get away from him, but he had her arm twisted up behind her back. He kissed her. Hard. A possessive, violent gesture.” She is rescued, and tells him, “I should kill you, Ramsay. Just know if I ever see you on my property again, I will shoot first and swear you tried to rape me later.”
  • Jackson kisses Sarah once. “His lips met mine. Gently—so gently—but also fiercely. As if this belonged to him. As if he had waited for it. As if there was nothing in the world but that kiss. It could have lasted forever and it would have ended too soon. My first kiss.”

Violence

  • Deirdre finds a female slave who was “a tumble of limbs, her face battered and bloody.”
  • Sarah lives in an alternate world where Nazi Germany won the war and still exists. She is furious when a Nazi comes to her family’s Christmas party. “In seventy-five years, the Nazis had wiped out all the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and disabled people in Europe.”
  • Jackson hits his head and has a seizure as a result. “He got to his feet abruptly, bumping his head hard against the mantel. He lifted his hand to his temple and brought away fingers wet with blood. Then his head jerked backward as he crumpled to the floor…his left arm and leg began to shake, and a trickle of blood oozed from his nose.”
  • A racist man asks Jackson, “What happened to you, boy? Half a lynching?”
  • Jackson and Sarah are attacked. “Jaeger raised a hand, and a blade into view. He stabbed it into Jackson. I saw the crimson of blood spreading all around the wound.” Sarah later shoots Jaeger. “Jaeger staggered back, sinking to one knee, his hand clapped to his shoulder. He brought his hand away to see; it was covered with blood.”
  • When a Nazi tries to stab a Jew, another man’s “hand came up and slammed into the Reichsleiter’s face…then [the Reichsleiter’s] face sank into the circle of backs surrounding him. The crowd seemed to swallow him. His protests ceased. The thud of blows continued.”
  • A man tries to kill Nyangu. “She reached out with claws and slashed his face…She grabbed the door frame and leapt up, jamming her bent legs forward to hit the Captain’s midsection with her heels. He doubled over, gasping, and she jerked loose, scrabbling up and away.”
  • When the Captain tries to kill her, Nyangu throws a sack of poisonous spider eggs at him. The spiders hatch, and “I saw tiny spiders swarming his face. Hundreds of them. More. They filled the claw marks down the cheek. They crawled along the lashes of his staring eyes.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Sarah describes a bow of hers as, “hanging drunkenly to one side.”
  • A boy teasingly asks Sarah if she has “been sampling too much eggnog” when she spaces off.
  • In an echo, Sarah sees a man who “wavered slightly on his feet, and I understood he was drunk.”

Language

  • “God,” “Good Lord,” and other variations are used as exclamations frequently. For example, Sarah’s mother says, “Oh, my God.” Another time Rose exclaims, “Lordy, child.”
  • “Holy Jesus” is used once. A man says, “Holy Jesus, I just about lost my lunch looking at you.”
  • A boy calls himself a “git.”
  • “Damn it” is used twice. A sheriff yells, “Stop, dammit! You come back here.”
  • Sarah’s brother tells her, “You always get the crappy fortunes.”
  • “Bitch” is used in a poem once, referring to a dog. “A restless hound intent to make her bed…one chance there is to bring this bitch to heel.”
  • When a Jew calls a Nazi a murderer and grabs his arm, the Nazi says, “Unhand me, you filthy Jew.”
  • A news report in a Confederate-like state says, “The only known casualty is a negro youth who is presumed to have set the blaze.”

Supernatural

  • Sarah can see visions of things that happened in Amber House’s past when she touches items from its past, such as a doorknob or Christmas ornament. They are called echoes.
  • Jackson can see pieces of the future and different possible futures.
  • Sarah can feel where Jackson is, even when she cannot see him. She can use this strange sense of “Hotter, Colder” to find him.
  • Sarah finds an evil coin that a man used to change the future. “It seemed almost to squirm. My mind’s eye exploded with telescoping images…I felt possessed, attacked…violence surrounded them, every form of corruption, every kind of death, and I was drowning in it.”

Spiritual Content

  • Sarah’s family goes to a Catholic church service. The service itself is described very briefly; the morning is treated more like a social outing.
  • A girl says, “Merciful Lord” and “crossed myself to ward off evil,” when she finds a nearly dead woman.
  • A little girl says she doesn’t like the story of Pandora or of Eve from the Bible. Her grandmother says, “I used to think that too, Annie. But then I thought, what if we should be grateful to Pandora and Eve instead of blaming them? What if they did exactly what God wanted them to do—to choose choice itself? To bring change and chance into an orderly world.”
  • Sarah has her fortune told by a woman who says she is Catholic. The woman owns The New Dawn Metaphysical Bookshop and says, “Person can’t help it if she can see things other people can’t.”
  • Sarah’s aunt says, “Maybe God is an artist. He saw something deeper. And you must be here to help Him lay it bare.”

by Morgan Lynn

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