George Washington’s Socks

When five kids take a walk along Lake Levart late one night, a mysterious wooden rowboat beckons them aboard. As if in a trance, they all step inside. But what they don’t realize is that this enchanted boat is headed back in time—to the time of George Washington. And their neighborhood lake has been transformed into the icy Delaware River on the eve of the battle at Trenton. Matthew, Quentin, Hooter, Tony, and Katie experience the American Revolution firsthand and learn the sobering realities of war. But how will they ever find their way home?

The first six chapters of George Washington’s Socks are slow, but readers who stick with the book will be glad they did. Matt and his friends time jump and end up in the middle of George Washington’s rebels crossing the Delaware. The rebels are preparing to attack the enemy, in a surprising way. Matt is soon separated from his sister and his friends and marching to battle. Along the way, Matt befriends Isaac, who didn’t join the Army because he believed in the cause, but rather because he needed to help support his younger siblings. While marching with Isaac and the other soldiers, Matt gets firsthand experience with the difficult situations that the rebels faced. Once Matt jumps into the past, he’s in for an action-packed adventure.

George Washington’s Socks gives readers a close look at war; while none of the descriptions are bloody, Matt sees several people whom he considered friends die. During the war, the rebels faced danger, death, and harsh conditions and yet they carried on. Seeing these experiences changes the way Matt views the rebels and the enemy. For example, Matt sees some of George Washington’s rebels being disrespectful to a Hessian soldier that they killed. “Matt suddenly felt sick to his stomach. He hated to see them acting so badly, for these were his rebels. They were the special brave men that he had always dreamed about and suddenly they seemed neither special nor brave.” Because of his experiences, Matt realizes that the line between good guys and bad guys isn’t always clear. Instead, “there’s no such thing as just good guys fighting bad guys. It seems like there’s good and bad on both sides.”

George Washington’s Socks will appeal to history lovers and readers who want a great time travel adventure. Even though the story focuses on colonial America and the Revolutionary War, the story highlights the kindness of others and has pockets of humor. In addition, Matt is a compassionate and relatable protagonist who learns that history books do not tell the whole story. Readers who enjoy historical fiction and want to learn more about the Revolutionary War should read Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776 by Laurie Calkhoven.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Adam Hibbs was supposed to take the kids to safety, but “Adam Hibbs lay bleeding, with his head resting in Hooter Melrose’s lap. It seemed the young corporal had been standing in a boat looking up the shore when he stumbled and fell onto his bayonet. . . Adam Hibbs was not expected to live the night.”
  • Two Indians find Matt alone in the woods. “One raised a tomahawk while the other held a bow with a long arrow pointed directly at Matt’s heart.”
  • When Katie wanders off, Hessian soldiers find her. When Matt and his friends discover the group, “Matt took a deep breath and reached for a musket. Tony and Hooter did the same. At the sound of their footsteps, the Hessians swung around and drew their swords. . . The soldiers waved their swords and shouted until Matt and the boys put their hands over their heads.”
  • A Hessian soldier, Gustav, was helping the kids when there was “the sound of musket fire.” The kids “looked on in horror as Gustav cried out in pain, for a musket ball had ripped through his back. He took a step, then fell forward, toppling to the ground with his face in the snow.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the soldiers has “sour rum breath.”
  • A young soldier is eating snow when he says, “I wish we had a small beer to wash it down with.”
  • A soldier’s father “has a likeness for rum. . . He spends most of his day in the tavern.”

Language

  • One of Matt’s friends asks if Matt’s grandfather is “a little bit batty.”
  • Several times the soldiers refer to the enemy mercenaries as “Hessian pigs.” They are also said to be “blood-thirsty.”
  • While traveling to attack the enemy, Colonel Knox says, “We’re hours behind because of this damn storm.”
  • When Matt decides to stay close to his dying friend, a soldier calls Matt a “little fool.”
  • After killing Hessian solider, a man refers to the dead man as “scum.”

Supernatural

  • Matt’s grandfather tells a story about a friend, Adam Hibbs, who disappeared. Adam “was out on the lake in a rowboat, a rowboat my grandpa had never seen before. . . Grandpa ran to the tent to get a lantern. But when he got back to the lake it was too late. Adam Hibbs was gone, disappeared, boat and all, and no one to this day knows what happened to him.”
  • When Matt and his friends see a mysterious rowboat, “he was the first to come under the boat’s spell. It was the same desire to board the boat that he’d felt when he first saw it. . . Smiling, as if in a trance, Matt reached for an oar.”
  • After their adventure, Katie tells the rowboat to take them home. A soldier is surprised when it looks like the kids “disappeared into thin air. . . They were in a boat on the beach and suddenly they started to spin around and then they vanished!” The general thinks the soldier imagined it because of his “harsh whisky breath.”
  • While the kids were gone, no one missed them because, “a person traveling through time can experience days, weeks, and even years, and then return home to find that he’s only been gone a few hours.”

Spiritual Content

  • A soldier thinks Matt and the kids are enemy spies. The soldier says, “God forgive the cold Tory heart that would send children out to face the dangers of this night.”
  • General Washington says, “God willing, we’ll all live to remember this night.” Later he says, “God granting, the day will be dark.”
  • When Matt’s friend dies, a man says, “He’s no longer here, but in God’s glorious kingdom.”

 

Save the Sanctuary

Former Army rescue dog, Sgt. Rico, a bomb-sniffing Malinois, is on his first mission in Washington, D.C. to save The Sanctuary animal shelter from the evil Mr. Mocoso. But does Rico have what it takes to lead the Pawtriots to victory and save his fellow canines?

Throughout the story, Army values—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage—are demonstrated through the animals’ actions. In addition, the importance of putting the mission first is reinforced when Chaps, a disabled military dog, gives his life so his friends can escape. In the end, it is the military’s values that allow Rico to become a hero by helping him realize that “soldiers don’t give up on themselves and they don’t’ give up on their fellow animals.”

Army sayings and terminology are used throughout the story. For example, when Rico feels like giving up, another military dog says, “I need you to embrace the suck.” Each time an army word or phrase is introduced, Rico explains what it means. For example, Rico explains that north south is “Army-talk for ‘nodding your head when you understand something.’”

Each chapter starts with the location, date, and military time which makes it easy to follow the timeline. Black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 6 pages and show the animals in action as well as some of the dangers they face—including the villain, rats and crocodiles.

Even though Pawtroit Dog is an illustrated chapter book, it hits on some difficult topics that may upset readers. For example, the dog catchers, which are called “Snatchers,” chase after the animals with the intent to capture and kill them. However, the animals manage to stay safe because they help each other and work as a team. The overall theme that is reinforced repeatedly is “it doesn’t matter if you’re small, young, weak, or even missing a leg—it’s what’s on the inside that counts. You have to have heart! That’s what makes a true Pawtriot.”

Save the Sanctuary is an action-packed story that revolves around two, three-legged military dogs. Readers will enjoy seeing Rico’s growth from a despondent dog to a true hero with a mission. Readers who want a patriotic story that is told from a dog’s point of view should put this highly entertaining story on their reading list. If readers like Pawtroit Dog, they should check out the G.I. Dogs Series by Laurie Calkhoven, which is also told from a dog’s point of view.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While on a mission, Rico accidentally sets off a bomb. “The explosion was so loud that for two weeks all I could hear was ringing in my ears. . . The blast took away my front left leg and my sense of purpose. And worst of all, it took Kris away from me.” The blast is illustrated and shows Rico and Kris being thrown from the impact.
  • Mocoso was angry with his pet monkey, Simon. “He grabbed Simon by the throat and squeezed him so hard that he turned blue. Simon managed to escape and nobody’s heard or seen him since.” Later, Rico finds out that Simon is at the zoo.
  • In order to intimidate Rico, Hans (a dog) approaches Rico and “presses his big wet snout against mine, but I don’t back down. Then he pushes me. I stumble to the ground because I don’t have the balance I used to without a front leg.”
  • The Snatchers “snatch up” the animals from the sanctuary and take them to the pound. Rico watches “as they snatch up each of my fellow animals with pole nets and lock them up in cages, one by one.”
  • While at the pound, “the Snatcher grabs the helpless cat by the scruff of its neck and hauls it away.” Rico realizes that the pound is a “kill shelter. If an animal isn’t adopted in thirty days, then that’s the end of the line.”
  • The animals break out of the pound and run from the Snatchers. The Snatchers finally locate the animals and try to capture them. Rico sees “the Snatchers tear through the woods and start racing towards us. Three of them have hand cannons that shoot nets. A Snatcher fires one at use and I watch it fly through the air.”
  • The animals make mud balls and hurl them at the Snatchers. “Penny quickly sends another one across the field, hitting another Snatcher in the face and sending him tumbling to the ground.” Rico and Sawyer create a diversion. Rico and Sawyer “weave in and out across the field as the Snatchers try to snag us with their nets.” The animals go into the sewers to escape the Snatchers. The scene is described over four pages.
  • While in the sewers, the animals are surrounded by rats until “suddenly a deafening roar breaks the chaos of the chase. . .The ground shakes and the water ripples as a massive reptile, the size of a crocodile, covered in scars and sludge stomps his way towards us.”
  • A dog named Chaps tries to stop the reptile from hurting the others. Rico sees Chaps. “He’s exhausted struggling to catch his breath and has cuts all over his snout.” Chaps gives Rico his prosthetic leg and then Chaps gives Rico “a soldier’s salute and turns to face the Beast. We all watch as he charges right at the massive reptile . . . I knew that was the last time any of us would ever see Chaps. But he went out like a true soldier and put the mission first.”
  • The animals break into Mr. Mocoso’s mansion in order to find a will. When Mr. Mocoso sees them, “Simon swoops down from the chandelier, sending Mr. Mocoso to the ground knocking him out cold.”
  • Mocoso’s Doberman Pinschers surround Rico, but then his friends arrive and surround the Pinschers. Rico tells his friend, “Franny, tie them up so they can’t follow us. And don’t worry, once Mr. Mocoso wakes up, he’ll free them.”
  • When Franny ties up the Pinschers, she uses an electrical wire. The wire starts a fire, and Rico saves Mr. Mocoso and his dogs.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Two mean dogs, Hans and Heinz, call Rico a “three-legged freak.”
  • Heinz calls the animals at the sanctuary knuckleheads.
  • One of the animals calls Mr. Mocoso a jerk.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

The Red Fox Clan

Picking up where The Royal Ranger: A New Beginning left off, this next installment continues the story featuring young apprentice Maddie and the student-turned-master, Will Treaty. The time has come for the next generation to assume the mantle and become protectors of the kingdom of Araluen.

After passing her third-year assessment as a ranger’s apprentice, Maddie is called home to Castle Araluen. Forced to keep her ranger training a secret, Maddie feels trapped by her role as a princess of the realm and longs to find a way out. But there are whisperings of a new threat to the kingdom. The mysterious Red Fox Clan, a group of anarchists who don fox masks, have threatened Castle Araluen, and they question Princess Cassandra and Madelyn’s succession to the throne. Will they unseat Cassandra and Madelyn and take the throne for themselves?

In order to set up the conflict, the book’s chapters alternate between different points of view —Madelyn’s, Horace’s, and Gilan’s. In addition, The Red Fox Clan introduces new characters and brings some characters from the Brotherband Series into Madelyn’s world. The introduction of characters and conflict slows the pacing because there is little action. However, readers who have already become fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will enjoy seeing familiar characters from a different perspective.

Like all the Ranger’s Apprentice books, The Red Fox Clan ends with an epic battle. Even though the Araluen must fight the rebel Red Fox Clan, they do not kill for the fun of it. Several times in the battle, the Ranger Gilan has the opportunity to kill enemy fighters, but he chooses not to. After one fierce battle, the rebels begin to retreat and Gilan stops his men from shooting at the fleeing enemy. While men die, the story never glorifies killing others. Instead, Gilan chooses to show mercy to the enemy.

The start of The Red Fox Clan has little action or adventure; however, readers will be glad they continued reading because of the exciting conclusion. The conclusion does not resolve any of the story’s conflicts but instead ends with a cliffhanger. Readers will be eager to read the next book in the series, Duel at Araluen. Despite having 14 books in the original series, readers will find The Royal Ranger Series’ action isn’t stale and repetitious; instead, Maddie’s struggle varies enough that readers will still be guessing what will happen next. Readers who love action, adventure, and noble characters will enjoy The Royal Ranger Series.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maddie and Ingrid are traveling to Castle Araluen when two robbers stop them and demand their valuables. Maddie shoots a lead shot at one of the robbers and hits his bow. “The broken limb flew loose, and then stopped by the string, flicked back and smacked the man across the jaw, raising a bleeding weal there. He cried out and staggered back. . .” The man grabs his knife and Maddie shoots again. The shot “hit him on the point of his shoulder, smashing the bone and bruising the flesh.”
  • One of the robbers “swing[s] wildly with the cudgel” trying to knock Ingrid off the horse. “Ingrid leaned out of the saddle, wielding the riding crop and bringing the heavy stone pommel crashing down on top of his leather cap . . . his eyes glazed and he simply folded up like an empty suit of clothes.” The man is knocked unconscious.
  • When one of the robbers tries to flee, Maggie’s horse “slammed his. . .The impact sent the man tumbling in the grass, rolling over several times before beginning to rise, groggily to his feet.” The man takes out his knife and goes after the horse, so Maddie uses her sling to shoot the man. “The scream was torn from him as the lead shot slammed into his forearm, breaking the bones there.” The men are tied up and taken to the jail of a nearby village. The scene with the robbers is described over 3 ½ pages.
  • The Foxes, a rebel group of men, attack an Araluen army as they forge a river. The Araluen army shoots a volley of arrows. Four of the enemies “screamed and fell. Another volley slammed into the enemy formation. More men fell.” At the end of the battle, the Foxes “were nursing their wounds and reluctant to move from the cover of the trees. . .eleven of their comrades lay where they had fallen.” The attack is described over four pages.
  • The rebels again send men to cross the river. The Ranger Gilan’s “arrow plunged down in a shallow arc and struck the lead swimmer in the right shoulder. The man let out a cry of agony and stopped swimming.” The man survives, but another rebel is “hit in the chest . . . he cried out once, threw up his hands and sank without a further sound.” Another rebel is injured when an arrow hit “his arm with its razor-sharp warhead, and blood started reddening the water around him.” After one man dies and three are injured, the rebels retreat. The skirmish is described over three pages.
  • As the Araluen army flees, the Ranger Gilan stays at the river. When the rebels send a man across the river, Gilan shoots an arrow but the next “arrow was even quicker. It slammed into the unprotected breastplate with the full force of Gilan’s massive bow behind it. . . ripped through the breastplate and into the man’s body.” When Gilan begins shooting “a volley of six arrows” the enemy retreats.
  • The Foxes again attack the Araluen army. Someone shoots at one of the leaders. “The arrow flew in a whimpering paragola, then struck home in the center of the rider’s chest, hurling him backward over the horse’s rump and leaving him lying still on the grass.”
  • During the skirmish, one of the Foxes’ sergeants looks at his men, and “the man next to him fell with an arrow through the top of his leather helmet.” The Foxes quickly retreat into the woods.
  • The Araluen army hides out in an old fort. The rebels stage an attack, trying to climb over the walls. “The bows thrummed with the ugly sound of release, and a few seconds later, six arrows slammed into the men crouched downhill.” As the arrows hit the men, they “cried out in pain and staggered back, clutching at the cruel barbed shafts that transfixed them.”
  • During the attack, Horace and a Fox commander fight. The commander “hacked wildly at Horace. There was a ringing clash of steel on steel as the two blades met. . . Horace’s sword darted out, fast as a striking viper. The super-hardened, razor-sharp blade cut through the man’s chainmail overshirt as if it wasn’t there . . . Horace jerked his sword free and rammed his shield into him. The Fox commander fell backward. . . crashing into the men on the ladder behind him.”
  • As the rebels begin to retreat, “the archers took up their bows again and began to pick them off as they slipped and staggered down the hill. Gilan shook his head wearily, sick of the slaughter.” Gilan orders his men to stop shooting. The battle is described over six pages.
  • Maddie was spying on the Fox Clan. Someone sees her and the men give chase. Maddie runs. As men charged toward her, “a shaggy form burst around the corner of the church, behind the men. Maddie’s horse, Bumper, slammed his shoulder into him and sent him flying. He dealt with a second in the same way, crashing into him with a sickening thud.” Maddie is able to escape.
  • The Red Fox Clan enters the castle through a bridge. “The rider drew his sword and cut left and right, killing them where they stood.”
  • Damon, the Red Fox Clan leader, tries to catch the queen. When the queen sees Damon, he has a “blood stained sword in hand and blood staining his doublet.”
  • In order to protect the queen, Maikeru and two men sword fight. One man “lunged at Maikeru. . . His sword was deflected immediately, and as he staggered slighty, the katana slashed quickly across his neck and he fell, a choked scream rising to his lips. His companion watched in horror. . . Maikeru went on the attack. Once again the deadly katana found its mark and sliced through chain mail and flesh. The second man fell, lifeless to the bridge.”
  • After Maikeru kills several men, the Red Fox Clan leader orders his men to kill him with arrows. “The two bows thrummed almost in the same instant. . . But the other [arrow] slammed into his chest, high on the right side. . . The two men shot again and two more arrows slammed into him, both hitting vital spots.” Even though Maikeru dies, the queen is able to get to safety because of him. The scene is described over three pages.
  • When the queen and her staff are safely closed up in a castle tower, Damon and his men try to smoke them out. When that doesn’t work, a man tries to use a ladder like a bridge to enter the room. Using her sling, Queen Cassandra attacks. “The shot slammed into [the attacker’s] left knee with a sickening crack and smashing bone and tendons.” The man falls to his death. Several men are killed in the same way.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • At a festival, “barrels of wine and ale were propped up on trestles to ease the collective thirst.”

Language

  • Maddie is upset that a “damn nanny goat nuzzled [her cowl] aside and started chomping.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • A man wants to start a rebellion. He tells the crowd, “For thousands of years, our country was guided by a law that said only a male heir could succeed to the throne. . . And it was a law that respected the will of the gods.” A man wonders why people “accepted so readily the concept that this was a law approved by the gods.”

George Washington’s Spies

Everyone knows George Washington, but do you know his biggest secret? By the end of 1776, the British army had taken over New York City. General George Washington and his army were on the run, but he had not lost hope—he had a plan. With the help of a trusted friend, he created a ring of spies. They used codes, invisible ink, and more to spy on the British and pass along information . . . but could they do it without getting caught?

George Washington’s Spies teaches about the Revolutionary War and introduces some of the men who helped defeat the British. Readers will be fascinated by George Washington’s spies and their close connections to one another. The book introduces two of the most famous men of the Revolutionary War—Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold. While the story doesn’t dig deep into any one person’s history, it will leave readers wanting to learn more. Readers can learn more about the Revolutionary War by reading the graphic novel series Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale and Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776 by Laurie Calkhoven.

Readers who find history boring will still enjoy George Washington’s Spies. The book is good for reluctant readers because it uses short chapters and has large black and white illustrations that appear every 5 to 9 pages. While the book is easy enough for young fluent readers, the content will be interesting to older readers as well. The end of the book has an appendix that includes photographs, bonus content, and links to primary source materials.

George Washington’s Spies makes reading about history fun. The Totally True Adventures Series introduces readers to different historical topics such as The Curse of King Tut’s Mummy, and Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse. If you’re looking for a book series that entertains as well as teaches, the Totally True Adventures Series has many options to choose from. If you’re a history buff who enjoys learning about early America, then George Washington’s Spies is the perfect book for you.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • George Washington and 150 colonial soldiers were sent to defend a British Fort. “Washington, forty of his men, and twelve Indian comrades discovered soldiers hiding in a rocky glen nearby. No one knows which side fired first, but a skirmish began and within minutes, thirteen French soldiers were killed. . .”
  • The battle at Fort Duquesne “was a disaster for the British. Braddock was killed along with over half the Redcoats.”
  • Several people are executed, but their deaths are not described.
  • Nathan Hale was “hanged by his British captors.”
  • One man decided to become a spy when he returned home and “found his father beaten and his family terrified.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

None

Pax

Twelve-year-old Peter regrets when he and his father abandon Pax, his pet fox, in a forest two hundred miles away from home. Pax has been part of their family since Peter lost his mother five years ago, and the two friends were inseparable. To Peter, “leaving Pax hadn’t been the right thing to do” so he sets out to bring Pax home. Not far into his journey, Peter fractures his foot, and Vola, a veteran who lost a leg and knows the cost of war, forces him to stay at her cabin until he can walk again.

Pax, with the help of the local foxes, travels through the forest to find Peter. At first, he struggles with living in the wild, but he befriends Bristle and Runt, who teach him about hunting and survival. However, the foxes get into a tiff with soldiers, including Peter’s father, who is gearing up for an unspecified war. As Peter and Pax try to reunite, they are changed by their experiences.

Each chapter alternates between Peter’s and Pax’s perspectives, which allows the reader to understand their bond. In Pax’s point of view, the foxes speak in italics because “fox communication is a complex system of vocalization, gesture, scent, and expression.” The “dialogue” in italics attempts to translate their eloquent language. Switching the point of view adds interest to the overall narrative as the main characters reflect on the five years they have known each other.

Peter faces his limits but resolves to find Pax amongst a brewing war. Peter’s recovery time with Vola helps him gather his scattered thoughts and focus on finding peace within himself, his relationship with his father, and his relationship with his late mother. Older elementary school readers will relate to Peter, who must consider if he should leave Pax in the forest, effectively putting his childhood behind him, or keep Pax and move forward without knowing their future. By the end of the story, Peter learns that “his fox belonged to [Bristle and Runt]. And they belonged to Pax. Inseparable.”

While Pax has several light-hearted moments, it hits on grim topics, including war, death, grief, and betrayal. The descriptive, violent content may shock sensitive readers. Even though there are minimal effects of war on the humans, the foxes are threatened with violence at every turn. Despite this, the story’s slow pacing gives respect for each character. In the end, Peter has found his peace, and Pax has found another place to belong. The story’s conclusion is bittersweet; nonetheless, it demonstrates the inseparable, yet distanced friendship between Peter and Pax.

Pax is a raw and entertaining story suited for more mature readers. The alternating chapters begin with an illustration of Peter or Pax, and other black and white illusions are clustered in the beginning, middle, and end. The illustrations will help readers visualize the story’s characters and events. Readers looking for a compelling, but tamer story about how war affects animals should read Survival Tails: World War II by Katrina Charman and Judy, Prisoner of War by Laurie Calkhoven.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Gray, an older fox, mentions, “When the war-sick arrive here, [his] family will have to move nearer to those colonies or go north, into the mountains.” The soldiers would come into the forest and clear the land for war. While traveling through the forest, Pax watched “the war-sick spread out along the riverbank, rolling out more wires, digging more holes, and burying more dark boxes under the hot sun.”
  • Throughout the story, the foxes hunt frequently. “In a second, Bristle’s head reappeared, and in her jaws was a wood rat. She leaped clear of the grass, bit through the rat’s neck, then dropped it to the ground.”
  • Pax recalls a story about two foxes. “A mated pair of foxes, struggling with something that reminded Pax of his pen—steel, but with jaws and clamps instead of bars. The steel jaws and the white snowy ground were smeared with blood.”
  • Bristle tells Pax about her parent’s death from a gunshot. Just before Bristle and Runt’s mother reaches the chicken coop, “steel jaws sprang out of the earth with such speed that the air snapped. Our mother screamed. The clamp held her front leg.” Their father tries to help their mother, but “the human raised the stick, and in front of our eyes our mother and father burst into blood and fur and shattered bones spattered over the snow.”
  • Peter steals Vola’s knife because he thought she might kill him. Peter “found the knife she’d left . . . the knife he’d stolen grew heavier across his thigh.” Later, she confronts him about her missing knife and scolds him for thinking she would harm him. “My tools? I have twenty acres of trees to care for. And I’m a wood-carver. You thought they were weapons?”
  • Vola says she has post-traumatic stress disorder from being in a war. “People around me, they called it PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, from being in the war. . . I had forgotten everything that was true about myself.”
  • While in the military, Vola killed someone. “I killed someone. . .  probably killed a lot of people, or at least contributed to their deaths . . .” She regrets killing him, saying, “Even though he had grown up in a different country—we might have had something in common. . . But I’d killed him, so now we would never know. I searched his body, not for weapons, but for clues to who he’d been.”
  • An unnamed fox injures Gray. “The challenger ignored the peaceful greeting and sprang, hitting the old fox hard in the flank and pinning him down, then sank his teeth into Gray’s thin neck. . . The puncture was deep.”
  • An explosion kills Gray. “Gray tripped. Instantly, the scorched-air smell sizzled up from the spot like an earthborn bolt of lightning, and at the same second the riverbank exploded. . .The old fox was still. . . The scent of Gray’s death was on Pax’s fur, but the foxes knew already.”
  • Lightning strikes Bristle and Runt. Bristle’s “beautiful brush was burned to a black crust” and Runt lost a hind leg. “Where Runt’s hind leg should have been, where the neat black-furred leg and the quick white paw should have been, there was only a shredded red mess on the blood-soaked leaves.” Peter finds the hind leg, thinking it belongs to Pax. “Fleshless and singed, but still he knew it was a hind leg. . .” When Peter finds his father, he “pressed the fox leg into his father’s hand.”
  • The towns that Peter walks through are vacant because they had been evacuated due to the impending war. Peter “had traveled on roads though vacant towns, past abandoned schools and playgrounds and neighborhoods spookily silent without their squeaking tricycles, their car radios, their pickup ball games.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • An employee in a hardware store “took a drag on his cigarette” while speaking with Peter. The man “stubbed out his cigarette” when following Peter around the store.
  • Vola says she will give Peter “something for the pain, something that’s legal to give a child. . .a measure of willow bark. . . Aspirin in the wild.”

Language

  • Peter’s mother calls the rabbit that stomped on her tulips a “little devil.”
  • Several times, Vola uses the word “dyableman,” a Haitian Creole word meaning damned.
  • Peter uses “holy dyableman” once.
  • Vola says her first prosthetic “scares the devil out of [her]” and “scares the devil out of the crows, too, apparently.”

Supernatural

  • Peter refers to Vola as “witchy.”

Spiritual Content

  • Peter refers to the baseball field as “holy.”
  • Vola describes her concept. “It’s a Buddhist concept. Nonduality. It’s about one-ness, about how things that seem to be separate are really connected to one another. There are no separations. . . All these things are separate but also one, inseparable.”

by Jemima Cooke

Salt to the Sea

Set during the end of World War II, Salt to the Sea follows the story of four refugees seeking shelter from the rampages of war. With the rapid advance of Soviet forces against Hitler’s Reich in Poland, Latvia, East Prussia, and Lithuania, thousands of refugees flood toward the port of Gotenhafen with the dim hope of escape. For these thousands, Gotenhafen is a chance to flee the inevitable onslaught and destruction created by the oncoming Soviets. Amidst this hurried procession of souls are four teenagers who witnessed the innumerable tragedy wrought by war. Each teen is from a different homeland and has a different background, yet all have equally dangerous secrets.

Joana is a nineteen-year-old Lithuanian expatriate who previously spent the entirety of the war as a conscripted nurse, tending to wounded and dying soldiers. Florian is an eighteen-year-old Prussian thief and forgery master wanted by the Nazis because of his shameful past. Alfred, also referred to as “Frick”, is a delusional seventeen-year-old Nazi Kriegsmarine soldier who is attempting to overwrite his troubled past through enlistment. Emilia is a fifteen-year-old Polish refugee running from the destruction of her homeland as both the Nazis and Soviets hunt her and her countrymen. Each character carries their own mysteries, whether shameful or perilous.

Salt to the Sea is told in first person point of view, with the main narrative being split between the four characters. Each chapter shifts from one character’s point of view to another, creating a cleverly knitted narrative that explores the ongoing tumult of their lives. Although each of our four protagonists have their own agendas, the audience can sympathize with each character as they struggle to not only survive but to also find themselves.

Salt to the Sea is a fast-paced, intense, and emotional story that will have readers gripped to the very last page. Sepetys does an incredible job weaving multiple narratives into one effortless adventure. Each chapter provides the reader with an increasingly dark understanding regarding the horrors of war and the vast challenges that refugees must overcome. As this book follows the inevitabilities of war, there are distinct violent moments and deaths which Sepetys has written to be intentionally jarring.

Although distressing and dark, Salt to the Sea tells the hopeful story of refugees fighting for a better future and their personal growth along the way. Salt to the Sea is a must-read for all those interested not only in history but also in the human condition as Sepetys colorfully illustrates the horrors of war.

Sexual Content

  • There are references to rape or other non-consensual sexual content. A passing elderly refugee asks Joana if she carries any poison. The woman says “I understand. But you are a pretty girl. If Russia’s army overtakes us, you’ll want some [poison] too.”
  • While on the boat, Joana kisses Florian. “She stood on her toes, took my face in her hands, and kissed me.”
  • When she was fifteen, Emilia became pregnant when she was raped.

Violence

  • While fleeing through a snow-laden forest, Florian kills a Russian soldier who was harassing Emilia. Florian “stood in the forest cellar, my gun fixed on the dead Russian.” The killing was not described.
  • Multiple references are made to Hitler’s Final Solution. “Hitler aimed to destroy all Poles. They were Slavic, branded inferior. . . Hitler set up extermination camps in German-occupied Poland, filtering the blood of innocent Jews in the Polish soil.”
  • While fleeing westward, Soviet planes drop bombs on top of forests which poses an immediate threat to Joana, Emilia, and Florian. “The bombs began falling. With each explosion, every bone in my body vibrated and hammered, clanging violently against the bell tower that was my flesh.”
  • Joana mentions the wartime atrocities committed by the Soviets. “Women were nailed to barn doors, children mutilated.” In addition to such terrors, Soviet soldiers were infamous for raping and pillaging entire villages, which involved the wholesale slaughter of male populations and the rape of a village’s women.
  • Eva, another refugee, references the potential violent fate of Emilia’s father. Eva says, “The senior professors in Lwów, they were all executed.”
  • While fleeing, Emilia saves Florian by shooting a wandering German soldier. The soldier “had a gun. He was pointing it. [Emilia] jumped up and screamed. Bang.”
  • Joana and a group of refugees stay at a deserted manor. Prior to this, soldiers brutally slaughtered the residents in their sleep. As Joana explores the rest of the manor, she discovers the house’s previous tenants and exclaims, “Dead in their beds. They’re all dead in their beds!” The bodies are not described in detail.
  • On their way to Gotenhafen, another refugee laments that the Soviets “shot his cow.”
  • While approaching the Frauenberg, the Soviet air forces shell the road. “A cluster of human beings behind us exploded with a bomb.”
  • As Joana and her group of refugees cross an icy river, one refugee falls through the ice and joins other unfortunate souls trapped beneath the frozen surface. “The ice in front of Ingrid was red, frozen with blood.”
  • Sepetys makes multiple mentions of refugees and their suffering, such as parents missing their children, or the children being abandoned.
  • Joana, a nurse, cares for the wounded on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Joana “would get these wounded men on the big ship.”
  • The Wilhelm Gustloff is struck by three Soviet torpedoes causing the ship to sink, killing thousands of refugees, including children. As the ship tilted deeper into the water, a passenger said, “The woman was right. We were all going to drown.” As the ship sinks, the ocean is strewn with dead bodies floating amidst the wreckage. “Thousands of dead bodies, eyes wide, floated frozen in life vests.”
  • A mother attempts to throw her child to a lifeboat, yet the baby tragically drowns. “The dark air was full of screams” of thousands of drowning men, women, and children.
  • Alfred attempts to throw Emilia off the raft, yet in doing so accidentally he kills himself. Alfred slams his head against the metal raft and falls into the freezing depths of the surrounding water. “Alfred was sent tumbling, crashing his head against the metal raft with a deafening scream”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Before the start of the book, Florian is wounded with shrapnel which he sterilizes using vodka. Florian “turned the top of the soldier’s flask and raised it to my nose. Vodka. I opened my coat, then my shirt, and poured the alcohol down my side.”
  • Joana and Florian share cigarettes in a moment of respite from danger. Joana “pulled out a cigarette and ran it through my fingers, trying to straighten it.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Daniel Klein

 

Slaves of Socorro

Hal and his fellow Herons return home to Skandia after defeating the pirate captain Zavac and reclaiming Skandia’s most prized artifact, the Andomal. With their honor restored, the Herons turn to a new mission: going to Araluen. But soon after they arrive, news comes of a Skandian wolfship attacking a village and enslaving twelve people.

With the help of the ranger Gilan, the Herons set off to track down Tursgud—leader of the Shark Brotherband and Hal’s constant opponent. Tursgud has turned into a pirate and a slave trader, and the Herons are determined to save the twelve Araluen villagers from him. The Heron crew sail into action. But finding Tursgud and freeing the slaves proves more difficult than the Herons ever imagined.

The Slaves of Socorro begins slowly, as it starts with the Herons returning home. When they are given a mission, the Herons travel to Araluen. Along the way, they see Tursgud’s ship and give chase, but Tursgud is able to slip away. Determined to find Tursgud, the Herons travel to Socorro. This causes the first half of the book to lack action and suspense, and readers will be glad when the Herons finally arrive at their destination.

The pace picks up in the second half of The Slaves of Socorro. Flanagan vividly builds the world of Socorro, which adds interest to the story. As the Herons come up with a plan to free the Araluens, Ingvar agrees to pose as a slave. His imprisonment shows his willingness to make sacrifices for strangers. Ingvar’s kind nature and loyalty are admirable. The Herons also highlight the importance of working as a team, as well as embracing each person’s strengths.

Fans of the Ranger’s Apprentice Series will cheer as Gilan joins the Herons on their mission. However, fans will be frustrated when several scenes depict Gilan in an uncharacteristic way. Gilan is not the only new character added to the story. Kloof, a misbehaving dog, joins the crew and adds humor to the otherwise serious story.

In typical Flanagan style, the book concludes with an epic battle that is somewhat bloody. Tursgud and his crew all die; however, their deaths are not celebrated. Even though many people die at the hands of the Herons, they intentionally try to disable their enemies instead of killing them when possible.

Slaves of Socorro may start off slowly, but the second half of the book is full of action as the Herons save the Araluens from slavery. The story’s difficult vocabulary and detailed sailing scenes make the Brotherband Series best for strong readers. Readers will enjoy the friendship between the Herons, Thorn’s gruff behavior, and the unexpected plans that Hal comes up with. Readers will be eager to begin the next book in the series, Scorpion Mountain, which will add another character from the Ranger’s Apprentice Series.

Sexual Content

  • When Lydia finds out that Karina and Thorn are going to a celebration together, Lydia sings, “Karina and Tho-orn, sitting in a tree-ee. Kay-eye-ess-ess-eye-en-gee.”
  • Thorn asks Karina to the celebration. Later, Thorn tells Hal, “Just wanted you to know, there’s been no . . . funny business between me and your mam. No . . . hanky-panky, if you know what I mean.”
  • Before Thorn sails off on a mission, Karina “threw her arms around Thorn’s neck and kissed him soundly on the mouth. For a moment, Thorn was caught by surprise. Then he responded eagerly.”
  • One of the saved Araluens thanks Hal and then “leaning in, she kissed him on the cheek.” When Lydia snorts, Thorn asks, “What’s got your undies in a twist, princess?”

Violence

  • The Oberjarl, Erak, sees Tursgud, “and half a dozen of his unsavory crew members” drinking ale. Tursgud’s “eyes were bleary and he was very much the worse for drinking ale.” When the boys are disrespectful, “Erak raised the cask high, then slammed it down on Kjord’s head. The bottom of the cask gave way and showered the remaining ale down over Kjord’s body and shoulders. . . He [Kjord] sat upright for a second or two. Then Erak grabbed his collar and jerked him up and back off the bench with one convulsive heave.” Kjord is knocked unconscious. Erak tells Tursgud, “‘Now pick that piece of garbage up.’ He jerked his head at Kjord, who was moaning softly. ‘And get out of my sight.'”
  • A man shows up in Cresthaven looking for help. The man says slavers “hit us after dark and caught us totally by surprise. Killed three and took twelve prisoners. The rest of us ran. . . [They] drove us off and sat around drinking and feasting on our food and ale—and burning down houses and barns.”
  • A group of men attacks the Herons. In the fight, Hal uses a large crossbow. “The force of the shot jerked the man’s leg out from under him, and he fell, dropping the bow and clutching at his injured leg.” The Herons create a shield with their bodies. “Four of the attackers went down in the first impact, as the Skandian axes, and Thorn’s mighty club-hand smashed into them. . . The leader looked back in an attempt to rally his men. . . [a crossbow bolt] hit him squarely in the chest. The impact hurled him backwards and crashed into two of his men, dead before he hit the sand.” Many of the bandits are wounded or killed in this eight-page fight.
  • While Ingvar is imprisoned in the slave market, another Slave named Bernardo, bullies him. “Each of his questions was accompanied by a vicious elbow jab into his [Ingvar’s] ribs.” Bernardo’s head jerked back with the first punch. . . Ingvar heard the sound of bones cracking as the man’s nose broke. Bernardo uttered a choked cry, dazed from the rapid sequence of devastating punches.”
  • To create a diversion, Gilan starts a fire in the gold market. As he is leaving, someone sees him and Lydia and calls for the guards. The guards attack and “Lydia took a pace forward and punched her dirk into the soldier’s upper arm. The heavy blade sliced through the man’s chainmail shirt like a hot knife through butter. He felt the sudden burning pain in his arm.” Several of the guards are injured.
  • As Gilan and Lydia flee, the guards continue to follow. “Gilan’s sword shot forward. . . the guard felt the impact, felt the point penetrate his chest and almost immediately withdrew. He felt the hot gush of blood that spelled the end.”
  • Hal and some of the Herons break into the slave quarters in order to free them. When they enter a room, a guard “began to rise, just as Thorn kicked the heavy table over. The two on the side nearest Thorn were caught by a quick back-and-forth sweep of his club, thudding into their skulls and sending them sprawling to either side.”
  • As the slaves try to escape, soldiers “began shooting at the fleeing slaves. . . the would-be escapees began to fall, some crying out in pain, others ominously silent.”
  • While trying to escape, a group of guards corner the Herons and slaves. Hal’s dog Kloof attacks. The guard “yelped in fear as Kloof’s jaws clamped shut on his sword arm with all the force of a bear trap. . .” Then the Herons rush the guards. “Thorn’s small shield slammed full into his face, breaking his nose and cheekbone. The sergeant stumbled backward, blinded by blood and tears, his hands to his face, sinking to the cobblestones, huddled over in agony.”
  • One of the Herons stabs a guardsman who “fell sideways, staring in horrified disbelief at the blood welling from the wound. His chain mail and his sword clattered as he crashed onto the cobbles.”
  • To prevent Tursgud from following the Herons, Hal secretly ties ropes to Tursgud’s ship. When Tursgud tries to follow, the ship is ripped apart, and “the water rushed in and the boat filled and sank. . . One or two heads bobbed on the surface and they could hear their desperate cries. Then they fell silent.”
  • As the Herons flee Socorro, guards use a catapult to throw huge boulders at the ship. The Herons use their own catapult to launch jars filled with pottery shards. The pottery shatters, hitting a guard. The guard “took a jagged, five-centimeter piece in the forehead. It tore a huge flap of skin from his head. Blood gushed out, blinding him, and he threw both hands to his face in pain.” Gilan and Lydia shoot arrows at the guards.
  • A guard accidentally hits a trebuchet, and a boulder fell on the commander who “was still hurling curses at the little ship as it slid past. . . when the huge, crushing weight landed on him. He screamed once, then he was silent.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hal’s mom soaks a “slab of meat. . . in a mixture of red wine and oil.”
  • At a dance celebrating the Heron’s return, wine and ale are served to the adults. “The band seemed to have mastered the art of drinking deep drafts of ale in sequence, so that the music continued, uninterrupted.”
  • The Herons go to Cresthaven to relieve a Skandian crew of duty. Someone tells Hal, “the ale is wonderful.” Before they leave, the villagers throw a party for the Skandians, who drink plenty of ale.
  • Smugglers bring brandy from Gallica into Cresthaven.
  • Wine is served at the gold market.
  • Tursgud and his men had been banned from “several drinking places.” So Tursgud went into a different tavern and “spent the night there, hunched over a table in the corner, repeatedly calling for his ale cup to be refilled.”
  • When the Herons return the Araluens, the village throws a party and offers their guests ale. The Herons drink coffee instead.

Language

  • The Skandians often use their gods’ names as exclamations. For example, when a dog eats a brush, Hal yells, “Let go, you fool! . . . Orlog blast you!”
  • When the Herons approach a damaged ship, Hal says, “Oh Gorlog’s socks, they think we’re going to attack them.”
  • Someone calls the Oberjarl a “silly old fool.”
  • Two brothers argue and call each other names, such as idiot and blithering twit.
  • Several times someone is called an oaf or an idiot.
  • Damn is used once.
  • A guard calls his commander a “son of a pig.”

 Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The Socorrans build prayer towers for their gods. Hahmet is the god of war. Jahmet is the god of love. Kaif is the god of good harvest, fair weather, business and success, and family matters. The Socorrans pray three times a day.
  • The Hellenese believe in the goddess Ariadne.
  • When the Herons rescue slaves, one of them tells Hal, “May the gods bless you for coming.”
  • Someone says, “By Ergon’s tears,” which refers to an obscure Araluen god.

The Legend of the Shark Goddess: A Nanea Mystery

Ever since the war started, Nanea has done her best to follow all the new rules. When she meets a boy named Mano in her grandparents’ market, Nanea is shocked to hear him admit to breaking some rules—and bragging about getting away with it.

When things start to go missing from the market, Mano is the first person Nanea suspects. Nanea is determined to protect her grandparents, but Mano, whose name means “shark” in Hawaiian, seems to be hanging around the market more and more. What can Nanea do to keep her family safe from this dangerous boy?

Nanea’s story focuses on the effects of World War II in 1941. In a kid-friendly way, The Legend of the Shark Goddess illustrates some of the discrimination that Japanese Americans faced. Even though the story takes place after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the story also revolves around Nanea’s efforts to discover who is stealing from her family. As the mystery evolves, Nanea realizes it is difficult to tell if someone is a “good shark or a bad shark.”

Nanea is obsessed with following the rules, which is one reason she focuses on her first impressions of others. For example, when Nanea meets Mano, she is convinced he is the thief because he breaks curfew. Nanea is so focused on proving that Mano is a thief that she never really considers that anyone else could have taken the items. While most of the suspects are not well developed, the story provides enough mystery to keep readers entertained.

The Legend of the Shark Goddess does an excellent job describing Hawaii during the 1940s. Readers will learn many facts about this time period as well as several life lessons. The story focuses on two main lessons: don’t spread rumors and don’t judge others. The repetition of the lessons is a little tedious, but the conclusion helps reinforce the story’s lesson in a surprising way.

Readers who love mysteries may be disappointed that Nanea doesn’t do much sleuthing and there are no clues to follow or riddles to solve. Instead, the story relies on Nanea’s impressions of others to build suspense. However, Nanea’s story is interesting and many middle school readers will relate to Nanea. At the end of the book, readers will find a glossary of Hawaiian words and facts about Nanea’s world. Even though The Legend of the Shark Goddess lacks mystery, readers will still enjoy spending time in Nanea’s world. Readers who like history with a dash of fantasy should also read The League of Secret Heroes by Kate Hannigan.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Nanea often thinks about the shark goddess Ka’ahupahau, “who guarded the entrance of Pearl Harbor with her brother, Kahi’uka. . . She was born a human with fire-red hair. But as a shark, her body could take many forms. She could become a net, difficult to tear. And with her net body, she captured man-eating sharks that entered her harbor.”

Mare’s War

Mare’s War is a Coretta Scott King Award honoree and a tale of family, history, and resistance. Told in alternating “then” and “now” perspectives, the book follows Mare’s time in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and as well as a road trip she takes back home to Bay Slough, Louisiana with her grandchildren in the present day.

The “now” sections are told from the perspective of Octavia, who is 15 and struggling to learn how to drive and fit in as a teenager. She tells about her conflicts with her older sister, Talitha.  Both sisters’ perspectives are given through postcards they write home to their mom and friends. Octavia does come to appreciate Talitha, at one point saying, “I’m actually kind of proud of my evil sister.”  Talitha is nearing her 18th birthday, and (through Octavia’s eyes) the readers see her struggles with boys, friendships, and growing up. Both sisters are reluctant to go on this road trip with their grandmother, thinking it will be boring, but the trip eventually brings the three women together, all with a greater appreciation for each other and their stories.

The “then” sections are told from Mare’s perspective. The story follows her from basic training all the way to Birmingham, England, and Paris, France. After an incident with Toby, a man her mother is involved with, Mare lies about her age to join the Women’s Army Corps. While she worries about her younger sister Josephine, Mare finds freedom and agency through her time in the army. She is relegated to some unsavory jobs as a member of a Black women’s unit.  In addition, Mare compares the discrimination she faces in the Southern U.S. to what she experiences in the military. When she returns home to Bay Slough, she sees how much has changed.

Mare’s War includes themes of family, growing up, and the importance of history. These themes teach readers to understand Talitha, Octavia, and Mare as they learn from each other. The reader sees the various forms of discrimination Black women experience at all ages, from the 1940s to the present day.

Mare’s War is an engaging story and one of the few books that address Black women’s role in World War II. However, the difficult scenes with Mare and Toby may upset younger readers even though these scenes are sexually charged, but not explicit. Mare’s sections use a form of African American Vernacular English, which could be confusing to readers who are unfamiliar with the dialect. At times, the easy-to-follow plot is slow. However, the characters make the story interesting and worth reading.

Sexual Content

  • When introducing Mare, Talitha and Octavia talk about finding her “panties” in the bathroom that have a “fake butt” attached. They describe them as “fanny pants”
  • There are two scenes where Toby, a character from Mare’s arc, makes unwanted sexual advances on Mare and other young women. “Toby been bumping me, touching me, cutting his eyes at Mama when he thinks she don’t see. He’s been talkin’ filth to Josephine…”

Violence

  • Mare’s younger sister Josephine (“Feen”) hides under the bed while Mare and Toby interact. Mare knows she must keep Josephine safe, so she defends herself with a hatchet. “[Toby] smacks me in the mouth before I can get my hand up. Feen hasn’t stopped screaming, but I have. I tighten my hands on the hatchet.” Mama eventually saves Mare and Josephine by shooting Toby, but he survives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Present-day Mare is a smoker, so there are many scenes that involve her and cigarettes.
  • Toby drinks and smokes in ways that impact his personality, character, and actions. Mare describes Toby. “I can smell that nasty pipe Toby always be smoking… his voice is slurred.”
  • While out at dinner, seventeen-year-old Octavia drinks an alcoholic beverage with Kahlua in it.
  • While out in London, Mare and her friends go to a cafe and a club where Mare drinks for the first time. She is 18, so it is legal, but the scenes do depict her enjoying drinking. When she first drinks, Mare says “when I take a sip, it’s not too bad at all.”

Language

  • Dad says Mare drives “like a bat out of hell”
  • When Mare goes out in London, she is racially targeted. Someone says “forgot who you are, n——found out you can get a white girl here. Been seeing you and them other c—ns of yours stepping out with them English whores.” Some of these words appear more than once in this section.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Toby attacks Mare and Josephine, Josephine prays to Jesus asking him save her.
  • While Mare is in service, she communicates with Sister Dials, a religious figure.

by Talia Marshall

 

War Storm

In the splintered Kingdom of Norta, freedom for Reds and newbloods is closer than ever before. Torn between the two princes and the feuding noble Silver Houses, Norta is ripe for the taking. All the Scarlet Guard has to do is clean up the mess Maven Calore made, and create the type of nation that will never discriminate against Reds and newbloods. The first step is to rip the crown from Maven’s head.

In order to change the world, Mare Barrow must ally with Cal, the boy who chose the crown over her. Cal’s betrayal nearly broke Mare, but now she must fight alongside him if she wants any chance at winning freedom. If she doesn’t, Maven will surely overrun them all, and capture her for himself. Maven’s obsession with Mare runs deep, and he’ll stop at nothing to have her again.

For the Reds to rise, they must first go through a war storm. Scurrying from nation to nation and striking deep into the heart of Norta is only the beginning, and there are endless battles in sight. Are Mare and the Scarlet Guard willing to sacrifice everything to achieve the impossible? Or will Maven crush them and their dreams?

War Storm is the final entry in Aveyard’s Red Queen Series, and the story will not disappoint readers. As Mare and the Scarlet Guard are about to secure a future for themselves, they fight intense battles. The action-packed series features different combinations of Silver and newblood abilities, which makes every battle feel unique and fresh. Readers will love how each battle plays out differently than the last.

Of course, all those battles support the theme of war, as nearly the entire continent gets dragged into the civil war between Cal and his brother, Maven. Maven brokers alliances with the powerful nation of the Lakelands, as well as the smaller nation of Piedmont. While Cal allies with the free country of Montfort, the only nation known that allows equality for Reds, newbloods, and Silvers.

The characters in War Storm are strong and interesting. Mare has grown into a girl that’s strong enough to handle whatever is thrown at her. Another fascinating character is Evangeline Samos, Mare’s former enemy, who begins the long journey to overcome her Silver-born prejudices. These strong characters will keep readers on the edge of their seats. While not every main character gets the most satisfying ending to their arc, the ending ties up most of the loose ends and will leave readers happy. Warm Storm is a satisfying conclusion to Aveyard’s Red Queen Series.

Sexual Content

  • Evangeline is in love with her brother’s wife, Elane. Evangeline thinks, “It breaks my heart to know she isn’t really mine.”
  • Evangeline’s brother, tells her that their mother wants grandchildren. “Prodding after grandchildren. She escorts Elane to my rooms every night. I think she might even stand guard outside the door.”
  • Davidson, the leader of Montfort, shares a kiss with his husband, Carmadon. “They embrace quickly, touching foreheads and kissing, before Carmadon backs away.”

Violence

  • During an attack on a military transport, Mare sees Evangeline lift a vehicle. Mare watches as Evangeline “hisses as she raises the heavy transport off the road, revealing twisted limbs and a few flattened skulls seeping brain like popped grapes leaking juice.”
  • During a battle, Kilorn, Mare’s best friend, is thrown off a building. Mare thinks, “The crack and thud of Kilorn hitting the railing below makes me sick.” Minutes later, when Mare gets to Kilorn, he “jolts and hacks, painting the steps with his own blood.”
  • Mare gets revenge on the Silvers that threw Kilorn, killing them with lightning, “I have to look away from the charred remains. Only their buttons and guns remain intact, smoking with heat.”
  • When Iris meets with Cal’s grandmother, Iris pictures, “her grip changing, shifting, and then my skull exploding open, spewing brain and bone all over the transport interior.”
  • Just before being ambushed, Mare sees pine needles floating in the air. One pine needle, “sprouts before my eyes, a sapling growing in midair. It spears a soldier before any of us can react.
  • During an ambush, Tyton kills a lot of raiders with his ability to control lightning. Tyton, “blinks once, twice. Killing anyone within his reach, leveling them with a fury of electricity in their skills.”
  • Iris thinks about the man who killed her father. The man “cut his throat. Attacked him from behind like some honorees dog.
  • Mare kills a man who attacked her. She strikes him with her lightning and “then his face explodes; shards of bone and torn flesh arc forward. His body follows the momentum, slumping over me, and the thunderous touch of electricity returns as quickly as he falls.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • During a dinner party, wine is served. Mare watches as her friend, Farley, “barely nods in thanks when Carmadon fills her glass with rich, almost black wine. She drinks deep.”

Language

  • Damn is used frequently. Mare thinks about Cal’s marriage to Evangeline, “Like us, Volo needs him. Needs his name, needs his crown, and needs his damn hand in that damn marriage to his damn daughter.”
  • Maven called Elane “Evangeline’s whore.”

Supernatural

  • Silvers and Newbloods have unique powers.
  • Mare is an electricon, a type of newblood that can manipulate lightning. Mare thinks, “I hardly know the depths of my own abilities. It’s the same for all newbloods I’ve met and helped train.”
  • Ella, another electricon, “used her own storm to strike the central, furious blue lightning cracking stone.”
  • Mare thinks about her ability to manipulate lightning, “I know what it is to pour lightning into a person, to sense their nerves sparking off and dying. It feels like a small death of your own, an ending you can never forget.”
  • Prince Bracken is a mimic. Iris thinks about his abilities, “If he were to touch me, he would be able to use my nymph abilities, albeit only for a time, and to a lesser extent. The same goes for any Silver.”
  • Jidansais is a telky. Iris thinks about Jidansa, “She used her talky ability to amuse Ti and me as children, juggling our shoes or toys with her mind.”
  • Evangeline is a magnetron, who can manipulate metal. After lifting a military transport, “Evangeline lowers the transport again. With a twitch of her fingers, she rips off one of the doors, allowing those inside to tumble out.”
  • Shadows can manipulate light. Mare sees, “The work of shadows, no doubt, manipulators of light. It sends harsh light and harsher darkness dancing across us all.”
  • Nymphs can manipulate water. Evangeline sees the signs of a nymph attack, “‘Nymph strike!’ I manage to scream as another towering wave crashes—backward.”
  • Evangeline recounts her first time teleporting, “It feels like being squeezed down to my marrow, all my organs twisting, my balance thrown off, my perception turned on its head.”
  • Windweavers can manipulate wind and air. Mare sees, “On the opposite side of the chamber, Radis gestures to Davidson, flicking out one hand. As he does so, a sudden breeze rustles through the Gallery.”

Spiritual Content

  • In the Lakelands, the people worship gods that don’t have faces.
  • Iris thinks it’s a blasphemy to speak for the gods.
  • Iris tries to get her betrothed, Maven, to accept her gods. When he refuses, she thinks, “Nonbelievers are not my problem. I can’t open their eyes, and it isn’t my job to do so. Let him meet the gods in death and see how wrong he was before he enters a hell of his own making.”
  • In Archeon, the capital of Norta, Iris tries to maintain her beliefs. She has, “a small temple—a shrine, more than anything—filled with candles and worn emblems of the nameless gods.”
  • In the Lakelands, the nameless gods are everywhere. Iris sees, “Worn faces, bland in their features, both strange and familiar, look down from the ceiling and walls. Our gods have no names, no hierarchy. Their blessings are random, their words sparse, their punishments impossible to predict.”

by Jonathan Planman

I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944

When Nazi soldiers occupy Poland, Max and his family are taken to a ghetto. Soon, Max’s father is taken away in a cattle car. Left on their own, Max and his sister Zena must rely on each other in order to survive. With barely enough food to eat, the siblings make a daring escape from Nazi soldiers and hide in the nearby forest.

By luck, Max and Zena meet a group of Jewish resistance fighters, who take care of them. After the resistance fighters blow up a train, the Nazis begin bombing the forest. Can Max and Zena survive the fallout of the Nazi Invasion? Will they ever see their father again?

I Survived the Nazi Invasion focuses on how the resistance fighters helped defeat the Nazis. Tarshis uses kid-friendly descriptions to show the Nazis’ brutality. Even though the descriptions are not graphic, the story shows several people dying, which may upset younger readers. In order to survive, Max remembers the Biblical story of David and Goliath, which gives him bravery and hope.

When the Nazis arrive in Max’s town, Max is surprised that some of the townspeople begin to treat the Jews badly. Max’s father tries to explain the townspeople’s behavior by saying, “They have small minds… Jews are different. And some people are suspicious of what they don’t understand.” However, the story doesn’t only show the ugly side of humanity. Instead, it also shows people’s kindness.

Even though Max and his family are able to go to America after the war, Max realizes that “The Nazis had wounded him in other places, too, places he couldn’t see. In his heart. In his mind. He had scars there, too. And he would carry those scars with him for his whole life.” Even though the Holocaust was a time of suffering, Max’s story also shows that some people risked their lives to help Jews as well as the bravery of the partisans. Most of all, Max’s message is to never lose hope.

The story is accessible to all readers because Tarshis uses short paragraphs and simple sentences. Realistic black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the story and will help readers visualize the events. The story also shows people working together to defeat the Nazis. While the story weaves interesting facts throughout, the book also ends with more facts about the Holocaust. The I Survived series gives readers a glimpse into deadly situations without including scary details. Each book is told from a young person’s point of view, which will help readers connect with the narrator.

The conclusion shows Max’s family reuniting during the war, which is unrealistic. While some of the events are too convenient to be believable, the suspense will keep readers turning the pages. Readers who want to learn more about World War II should read Survival Tails: World War II by Katrina Charman. Older readers who are ready for a more in-depth World War II story should read Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While Max and Zena were hiding in the forest, “German planes road through the sky, dropping 1,000-pound bombs that fell with shattering explosions. Kaboom! Enormous trees became flaming torches. Sparks showered down like burning snowflakes…” Another explosion sent Max “flying through the air. His body twisted and turned.” Max lands in a ditch.
  • When Max leaves the ghetto to find food, a soldier drags Max away from the camp. Max’s sister secretly follows them. When the soldier sees Zena, he points a gun at her. “Max’s body seemed to move on its own fueled by a mix of terror and fury. With all his might, Max threw himself against the man. The soldier teetered for a second, and then fell.” The soldier accidently shoots himself in the leg, and Max and Zena run into the forest.
  • A group of Jews blows up a train filled with Nazi supplies. “A bomb exploded in a massive ball of fire. In a flash, the bridge crumbled, its wooden supports snapping like toothpicks. The train’s locomotive seemed to hang helplessly in the air for a moment. And then it started its plunge into the rocky valley hundreds of feet below.”
  • When Max sees a Nazi soldier holding a gun at two people, Max yells at the soldier. “That boiling rage Max had felt earlier came back to him, powering his muscles. He gripped the rock, and with all of his might, he hurled it at the sneering soldier’s head… Thwack. It hit the soldier squarely on the forehead. The man stood in shock, and then stumbled backwards.” One of the Jews shoots the soldier.
  • Max sees a Nazi soldier. “He was small and skinny, and he looked very young… He looked as terrified and confused as Max was.” Before Max can intervene, a Jew shoots the boy, and “the bullet hit the soldier in the chest. And as he fell dead to the ground, his arm jerked. His pistol fired. A split second later, the bullet tore into Max’s side with a searing, blinding pain. Max stared down in shock as blood gushed from a gaping wound.” Max recovers.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A soldier says, “We will find those filthy Jews who destroyed our train.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The Biblical story of David and Goliath is retold. When David fights Goliath, “David lunged forward and grabbed Goliath’s sword and—whack—he chopped off Goliath’s head.” David’s story gave Max hope.
  • When Max is trapped under a tree, as he finally frees himself, he prayed, “he’d see Zena and Aunt Hannah and Martin and Lev waiting for him.”
  • When Max is shot, several people pray that Max would survive.

Stormcaster

Pirate Evan Strangward has been hunted by Empress Celestine for most of his life. Being able to control the weather can only protect him for so long. Now, he’s looking to the Fells for allies to take the fight to the Empress. Evan must warn the queendom that Empress Celestine and her bloodsworn army won’t wait forever to invade.

After four years in Arden, Ash sul’Han is on his way back to his home in the Fells. It’s a chance to see his mother and sister, and all the friends he left behind. But once he finds out his sister, Lyss, was taken by Empress Celestine, he’ll stop at nothing to get her back and save the royal line. Ash might not trust Evan, but he needs the pirate’s help if he wants to infiltrate Celestine’s stronghold and end the war before it gets out of hand.

Stormcaster, the third entry in Chima’s Shattered Realms series, is a wonderful installment in this epic tale. The story primarily follows Evan Strangward and Ash sul’Han. Stormcaster goes back in time to show the beginning of Empress Celestine’s rise to power, as well as Evan’s reason for opposing her. Destin Karn’s backstory is also explored. While this backtracking is extensive, it’s a well-thought-out and interesting addition to the story.

When the backstories are caught up to the present, the rest of the main characters are reintroduced. Ash sul’Han, who was absent from the previous novel, is finally back in the picture. When he makes it home to his queen mother, he finds the world completely changed. Ash is a lovable character, who has matured from his rebellious stage. Now he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family. As he struggles to work his way back into a world he doesn’t recognize, Ash embodies the themes of maturity and loss.

Overall, Stormcaster is a fast-paced ride. Since most of the main characters are back in action, each chapter shows the reader another part of the world, creating a fleshed-out and believable setting. Luckily, the shifting views are easy to follow. The story focuses on bringing together most of the main characters, so they can plan how to stop Empress Celestine. Will Ash finally reunite with his sister? Will Evan be able to take down the Empress that’s been hunting him? Readers will find out in the final installment, Deathcaster.

Sexual Content

  • When Evan and his shipmate Brody look at Empress Celestine, Brody thinks she’s beautiful. Evan notices Brody “was gazing at the young captain in a way that he’d never looked at Evan.” Later, Evan thinks about his love life. “There were other, less complicated lovers in the ports on both sides of the Indio, boys who offered sweet kisses and warm embraces.”
  • Evan and Destin have an ongoing romance. While sitting close together, “Destin put his hand on Evan’s arm, setting his heart to flopping like a beached fish.” However, Destin is afraid of love. “He’d learned his lesson well—that love was as risky as mercy.” Evan thinks, “Do not fall for this dangerous, moody, mercurial boy. It will lead you to heartbreak or worse.”
  • After confiding in each other, Evan “gripped Destin’s coat, arched his body up, and kissed him firmly on the lips.”
  • Destin’s parents have a terrible relationship. Destin tells Evan that his father “kept pounding on my mother—trying to get her to admit to cheating on him. He didn’t want to believe I was really his.” Later on, Evan asks, “If he didn’t love her, then why couldn’t he just set her aside and marry someone else.”
  • When Ash’s mother, Raisa, speaks about her marriage, she says, “I’m glad, now, that I married young, so that Han and I had more time together. It was twenty-five years, but it just flew by.” Later, she tells Ash, “Falling in love in wartime is chancy, just like having children. We’ve had a lot of pain, but a lot of joy, all the same.”
  • Madeleine, younger sister to the new King Jarat, says, “They were talking about all the women they’d had, and would have. Jarat said Father never bedded a wolf, but he would, and even a wolf could be tamed.”

Violence

  • Destin and Evan talk about killing. Destin says, “Killing is always personal. It’s the second-most-intimate thing that can happen between two people.”
  • When Destin and Evan are captured by Destin’s father, the two are forced to fight each other. Evan punches Destin, and then, “Destin somehow wrenched free of his captors, lurched forward, wrapped his hands around Evan’s neck, and began to squeeze.”
  • Adrian talks with his mother, and thinks, “Your daughter Hanalea went into the borderlands, and was murdered. Your son went south, and became a murderer.”
  • Hal fights members of Celestine’s bloodsworn warriors. During the fight with a horselord, Hal “drove his sword beneath his rib cage, all the way to the hilt.” Later, Hal cuts off a man’s head. “The head splashed into the water, but the body continued to stagger around, spraying blood from its severed neck until it tripped over a rock slab and went down.”
  • One of Celestine’s bloodsworn cuts down an old man. “It seemed that one of them wasn’t moving fast enough, because his horselord guard unslung his blade and cut him down.”
  • Destin says his father beat his mother. Destin’s father, “beat her all the time. Half to death, once or twice. Sometimes at court, but mostly at his keep on the Bittersweet. He kept a full time mage healer to patch her up again.”
  • After Evan calls Destin’s father a monster, Destin says, “Oh, he is. He started beating me, too, once I was too big to ignore and still too small to defend myself. . . If I had to do it over again, I’d have opened his throat and stabbed him through the heart with a poisoned blade and cut off his head and hung it over my door.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Hal talks to his former subordinate, Bellamy, at a tavern. Bellamy orders a “Small beer. I’m on duty in a little while. On second thought, I’ll have bingo. A double.”
  • Lyss bumps into Breon. Breon tells her, “There’s a lot of rum around, if that’s appealing.”
  • Destin thinks about King Jarat and his entourage. “They were more than happy to take the young king under their tutelage in the study of drinking, hunting, dicing, wenching, and swordplay.”
  • One of King Jarat’s loyal men comes home drunk one night. Destin sees him as he “stumbled to the garderobe and unbuttoned his breeches, hurrying to unburden himself of excess ale.”

Language

  • Hell is used a few times. For example, when Evan first meets Destin, Destin tells him, “To hell with your bloody books.”
  • Damn is used occasionally. For example, when Evan thinks about his job as a shipmaster, he thinks, “He was damned by his own success.”
  • Bastard is used a few times. Once, “When Destin inquired about Lucky Faros, saying he’d heard good things about the young captain, Kadar had informed him that Faros was an ungrateful, greedy, unreliable bastard he should steer clear of.”
  • Kadar, the streetlord of Evan’s city, tells Destin, “Go suck the Breaker’s balls.”

Supernatural

  • Wizards, also known as mages, are commonplace.
  • Wizards and mages produce a power called “flash” constantly. Destin describes flash, “like a kind of magical vapor that dissipates as soon as it appears. Amulets allow us to accumulate enough to work significant charms. Power transfers to it through skin, when you touch it.”
  • Destin talks about amulets. “They’re used to store and control magical energy, something we call ‘flash.’ There are other magical tools as well, such as talismans to protect against magical attacks, all made by upland clans.”
  • A blood mage is a type of mage that uses blood in their spells. Brody, Evan’s subordinate, says, “They make people drink their blood, and turn them into slaves.”
  • Destin is a mage. Evan notes that Destin “had an entire menu of nuanced magic he could work using his amulet and specific words spoken in the wetland language. Power including immobilization, persuasion, interrogation, and the like.”
  • In Arden, magic is considered a sin. Destin tells Evan, “Back home, magic is considered to be the work of the Breaker, a misfortune, nonetheless, can be put to use for the greater glory of the crown.” He later says, “A mage is a precarious thing to be in the wetland empire, because of the church. The king finds us useful, but he is as changeable as spring weather when it comes to the tension between magic and religion.”
  • Evan is a stormlord, a mage that uses weather magic. When Destin attacked Evan, “A storm surge of magic welled up in him, and electricity crackled across his skin, as if the power that seethed beneath it was leaking out.” Later, Evan “didn’t consciously reach for power, but it came unbidden. Small whirlwinds erupted all around his feet, sucked up a mixture of sawdust and straw, flung it in the soldier’s face.”
  • Jenna is one of the magemarked, a group of people that have unique abilities even among mages. Destin tells Evan about Jenna’s abilities: “She claims to be clairvoyant—that she sometimes sees images of the future, sees people as they really are, or can tell when someone is lying.” Later, he also says, “She heals quickly, and is resistant to flame. In fact, she develops a kind of armor for protection.”

Spiritual Content

  • Kadar, Evan’s former employer, thinks about his gods. He thinks, “It seemed that Omari Kadar, street lord of the Tarvos waterfront, had been abandoned by the gods.”
  • Evan is worshipped by his Stormborn pirate crew. “In the space of four years he’d gone from being a kind of shipboard mascot to being ‘Lord Strangward,’ the central deity of a Stormborn cult.”
  • When Evan and Destin get a new ship, Evan wants to perform a ceremony to the gods. Destin’s mother says, “I hope you don’t plan to sacrifice a goat and make us drink the blood. The goats, I need.”
  • When Ash tells Lila about his mistakes, she says, “If you want absolution, go to a speaker or priest. I’m hardly in a position to give you advice.”
  • Ash’s mother tells him, “Some speakers say that we must wait to be rewarded in the next life.”

by Jonathan Planman

Sergeant Stubby: Hero Pup of World War I

Stubby, a stray bull terrier from Connecticut, isn’t going to let anyone separate him from his human, Bob—not even a war. Determined to stay with Bob, Stubby sneaks onto the ship that is taking American troops to France. Soon Stubby and Bob are whisked off to the front lines of World War I. Stubby does his best to keep up the men’s spirits, and he can also warn the men when danger is approaching. He ends up saving the G.I.s from poisonous gas attacks and a German spy. Eventually, Stubby is promoted to the rank of Sergeant! Through it all, Stubby stays close to Bob as he makes his way across Europe, fighting to defeat the enemy.

Based on a true story, Hero Pup of World War I is told from Stubby’s point of view. Stubby is determined to help the soldiers as they go to battle. Through Stubby’s eyes, the readers will learn about the daily life of a soldier. Not only were the soldiers in constant threat, but they also had to deal with rats and lice. The story tells about life in the trenches as well as the military hospital. Although the story doesn’t go into gory detail about the soldiers’ deaths, Stubby does see the loss of human life and wishes he could do more to help the injured and dead.

Because the story is told from Stubby’s point of view, the human’s personalities do not come to life. Despite this, Hero Pup of World War I will introduce younger readers to World War I. The end of the book has pictures of Stubby and Bob as well as information about what started World War I. The end of the book also has a shortlist of other books for any reader who wants to learn more about animals in the military.

Although Hero Pup of World War I is the second book in the G.I. Dogs Series, the books do not need to be read in order because each book focuses on a different dog’s experiences. Hero Pup of World War I uses kid-friendly language to show the bravery and the hardships that G.I.s faced on the front line. Stubby is a likable character, who truly cares about the troops. His extraordinary life will inspire readers. Stubby says, “If a stray dog from the back alleys of New Haven, Connecticut can help win a world war and shake hands with the president, then anything is possible.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When a German spy comes into the U.S. camp, Stubby barks at him. The spy begins to run, and Stubby follows. “With one last bark, I leaped and planted my teeth in his backside, getting a mouthful of gray serge material. The German was face down in the mud, struggling to get free. I kept my jaws clamped shut. . .Three American G.I.s ran up to us, and I knew it was safe to let go.”
  • The G.I.s made Stubby a gas mask, but it didn’t fit correctly. “In March, we experienced our first poison gas attack. I smelled something strange—something I had never smelled before. . . Bob and I didn’t get our masks on in time. Hours later, when the shelling finally stopped, my eyes still burned and it was hard to breathe.”
  • One morning, the Germans sent storm troopers to rush the American’s front line. “The storm troopers overran the first trench and then advanced to the next. All the American soldiers joined the battle . . . Even the company cook jumped into the trenches and started swinging his meat cleaver at the German soldiers!” Some men were killed, and others were taken prisoners. Stubby is close to an explosive when it goes off. “A piece of fiery metal hit me in the chest. It hurt so much that I couldn’t move. All I could do is howl.” Stubby is taken to the hospital and recovers.
  • During a battle, Stubby tries to find wounded soldiers. When he finds one, he barks until a medic comes. He finds Smitty and “at first look, I thought he might already be gone, but when I licked his cheek, his eyes fluttered and he focused on me just for a second. . . I ignored the blood and snuggled up next to him. . . One tear slipped down his cheek. And then he was gone.”
  • The French and American troops attack the Germans. “There were shells landing, bullets flying and men screaming.” The troops freed a town of Germans.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776

Twelve-year-old Daniel helps his family in the family tavern. When English tea is dumped into the Boston Harbor to protest taxes, Daniel cheers. Then the British arrive, and soon Redcoats are taking over Boston. Soon everyone must take a side—support the British or join the rebels. Daniel’s family serves the British soldiers in their tavern to try to gain information and pass it on to the rebels.

When Daniel’s father leaves to join the fighting rebels, Daniel must help his mother in the tavern and help keep his sister safe. When Daniel overhears a crucial secret, he knows he has to cross British lines to deliver it to his soldier father and General Washington. He knows that liberty is worth fighting for, but is he brave enough to risk his life?

Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776 brings the American Revolution to life through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy. Despite the young narrator, the story is at heart a war story that doesn’t shy away from death. Even though the dead and wounded soldiers are not described in bloody detail, Daniel is deeply disturbed by the battle between the Redcoats and the rebels. Daniel witnesses wounded soldiers dying, which may upset some readers. Although Daniel agrees with Dr. Warren, who said, “Our liberty must be preserved; it is far dearer than life,” watching people die leaves a lasting impact on Daniel.

Even though Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776 shows the importance of the American Revolution, the book is best suited for history buffs. Even though the story focuses on Daniel’s family, the long list of names may become overwhelming to readers. In addition, many historical figures, like John Hancock and Samuel Adams, are mentioned, but they never appear in the book. Readers who already know some of the key figures in the Revolutionary War will enjoy learning about the Boston Revolution through the eyes of a young boy.

Several times, Daniel acts out of fear, then later feels ashamed of his actions. However, Daniel’s father lets him know that the soldiers all feel fear. Daniel’s father tells him, “only the foolhardy are unafraid, Daniel. That’s not what bravery is. True courage is moving forward when you’re most afraid.” The story shows how the courage and perseverance of colonial men paved the way for America’s freedom. Daniel and the reader both learn that “Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages. They’re far more powerful than even the mightiest of armies.”

Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776 shows the brave deeds that led men to fight for liberty and allows readers to understand America’s history. The book ends with historical information about children’s roles in the American Revolution, the historical characters, a timeline, and a glossary. Readers who enjoy learning about America’s involvement in wars should add Calkhoven’s G.I. Dogs series to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Daniel mentions British soldiers trying to desert the military. “General Gave, the military governor of Massachusetts, had threatened to execute all deserters from the British army and any who helped them. More than one soldier was shot on the Common, caught in the act of trying to leave Boston.”
  • Soldiers bring a man into the tavern. The soldiers accuse the man of trying to help soldiers desert the “king’s army.” When the men come in, Daniel’s “father’s hands were underneath the bar, no doubt reaching for the musket that was hidden there.” When Daniel makes a quick move towards his sister, “my sudden movement put one of the soldiers on alert. He swung around and pointed his musket at me. His bayonet was fixed, candle light flickering against the shiny blade.”
  • The soldiers are ordered to tar and feather the man accused of helping soldiers desert. “The soldiers rushed to their task like boys to a game of ringer, only it was a life they played with, not marbles. Some men did not survive such torture.”
  • A man comes into Boston telling people, “‘They’ve done it,’ he said. ‘The Redcoats have fired on the people. . . I’ve seen the dead with my own eyes.’”
  • During a battle, the Patriots seize the hill. Then, HMS Lively began “firing cannonballs in our direction. . . Soon the HMS Somerset and other ships in the squadron joined the warship Lively. . . Cannonball after cannonball pounded into the side of Breed’s Hill and our fort. I’d never seen such a storm of round shot as was poured out us, but our fort stood undamaged.”
  • During the battle, “one soldier became too bold. A private stood tall and raised his arms in the air. The next I saw, his head was gone. I jumped to avoid the smoking six-pound ball that rolled past my feet.” The scene takes place over three pages.
  • The British try to take Breed Hill. “The Redcoats seemed to be upon the very walls of the fort. The solider next to me muttered a prayer. . . Suddenly the Patriots let loose with a burst of fire. Smoke boiled in all directions. The first wave of Redcoats fell. And then the next, and the next. . . When the smoke cleared, I saw just how many bodies they had left behind. Redcoats dotted the hill. Some crawled. Most were still.”
  • Again the Redcoats advanced. “The Redcoats seemed impossibly close to the walls of the fort before there was a burst of fire and smoke and noise. The first wave of Redcoats fell, and then the second. . . A third wave began to fall and once again the king’s men turned and ran. A good many of them were left behind, broken and dead.”
  • When the Redcoats again advance, the Patriots are out of gunpowder. “The first Redcoat mounted the parapet and leaped into the fort. Soon they stormed in from three sides. The Patriots used their muskets as clubs, but they were no match for British bayonets.” Daniel recognizes Dr. Warren as “he defended an exit, making it possible for many of the Patriots to escape. . . I saw a bullet strike his head. Dr. Warren fell.”
  • The Patriots begin to retreat and Daniel finds his father. “It was only then that I noticed my shirt was splattered with blood.” The blood wasn’t Daniel’s, but he watched as “two wounded men hobbled past us, one with a gaping wound in his neck, the other with a gash in his leg.”
  • As Daniel leaves the battle, he “found a man kneeling by the side of the road, moaning. . . Someone had bandaged his wounds, but he was still bleeding fiercely. He opened his eyes, but did not see me. . . He slumped over and fell into me. Dead.” Daniel vomits and runs from the scene.
  • As Daniel tries to get to his father, three men stop him. “I raised my hands to show them I was unarmed and prayed they would not shoot. . . They lowered their guns and after many questions gave me leave to go.”
  • While trying to leave Boston, Daniel runs from soldiers. “A musket fired, and then another, but I kept running. Something hit my shoulder. A bullet whistled past my ear.” Daniel runs and then hides behind a bush. “My shoulder burned. My fingers found a hole in my jacket but no blood. The bullet had only grazed me.” As he was hiding, “Too late, I saw a flash. The next thing I knew, my hat was blown off.” Daniel is frightened, but not injured.
  • The Redcoats hang one of the Patriots. Daniel sees “a man sat on top of a horse with his hands tied in front of him and a noose around his neck. The rope was attached to the strong branch of an oak tree. . . A crowd of soldiers and others jeered at the man. They urged the hangman to hurry, shouting for blood. . . The hangman slapped the horse’s rear and it lurched forward, out from under the barber. His legs dangled and the rope tightened around his throat. . . The barber’s legs danced, searching for purchase.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Daniel’s family owns a tavern, which the British soldiers have made their headquarters. Daniel’s family “filled their tankards and their bellies.” While serving the man, “Father quietly surveyed the room while he drew ale and poured rum. . . There was a low rumble of voices, and the occasional call for drinks, but all was peaceful.” The tavern and soldiers are mentioned drinking ale and rum many times throughout the book.
  • When soldiers point a musket at Daniel, his mother says, “There’s no call for any of this. . . Come, finish this nice meal I’ve made for you. A free glass of rum for all.”
  • After the battle, one of the Redcoats “walked into the tavern after camping on the hill for two nights, his breeches splattered with blood, and ordered a glass of rum.”
  • While Daniel was getting water, he sees a couple of Redcoats “laughing so hard they fell into the other. Drunk, I thought, and up all night.”

Language

  • After a battle, one of the Redcoats says, “Kill the sorry cowards! Kill them!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When the men prepare for battle, the Reverend Mr. Langdon says a “long and fervent prayer.”
  • When Daniel leaves the tavern, his mother tells him, “god be with you, Daniel.”
  • When Daniel’s sister becomes ill, “we watched and prayed, hoping for the best.” Later, Daniel “wondered if Father knew of her illness and prayed he did not.” His sister recovers.
  • In order to listen to the Redcoats, Daniel hides and “prayed their voices would reach my ears.”
  • When a man is taken prisoner, Daniel’s mother tells him, “We must remember him in our prayers.”

Legends of the Sky

Milla has heard the dragon legends. She has seen the dragon murals. But everyone says the dragons who used to rule the skies are gone forever.

Servant girl Milla witnesses a murder and finds herself caring for the last four dragon eggs. She tries to keep the eggs’ existence a secret, but soon, the eggs are in Duke Olvar’s possession. When the dragons hatch, Milla and her friends vow to stay with the dragons and protect them from harm. Milla and her friends try to learn how to care for their dragons, but it soon becomes clear that the dragons must belong to the city, not to the Duke.

Tensions in the city are growing due to Duke Olvar’s dislike of anyone who isn’t a Norlander, like him. The Duke wants to control the city and continues to put restrictions on those of Sartolans descent. In order to protect the Norlanders, the Duke decides that “anyone of Norlander descent got to wear a black dragon badge on their clothes—the Duke’s own symbol. Everyone else had to wear a badge in the shape of a ship, to show they were newly arrived.”

Soon Milla and her friends find themselves in the middle of a battle between the Duke’s soldiers and the Sartolans. How can Milla and her friends keep the dragons safe? Should they join the battle or stay safely tucked away in the Duke’s mansion?

Flanagan builds a complicated island city that is under the Duke’s tight control. As Milla learns more about dragons, she also discovers that the Duke will do anything to bond with one. The Duke wants control of the dragons, so he keeps Milla, her three friends, and the dragons in the dragonhall. While under the Duke’s watchful eyes, Milla’s friendships begin to fracture.

Told from Milla’s point of view, readers will fall in love with Milla and her dragons. Milla is a complex character who struggles to do what is right. Milla struggles with her inability to help her Sartolans friends. Readers will understand Milla’s problems with her friends, her hope for the future, and her desire to keep her dragons safe.

Politics, deadly intrigue, and dragons combine to make a fast-paced story where danger hides in the shadows. The story’s complex plot and the violent conclusion make Legends of the Sky the perfect book for confident readers. With shifting loyalties, new friendships, and the struggle for power, The Legends of the Sky explores the topics of power, discrimination, and friendship. Through Milla’s point of view, the reader will come to understand that discrimination hurts everyone. Legends of the Sky is a beautifully written, action-packed story that will leave readers wanting a dragon of their own.

 Sexual Content

  • Tayra is upset when she finds out that her father has arranged her marriage to Vigo. After she gets to know him, the two are playing when Taya “reached up and kissed Vigo.”

Violence

  • Milla is hiding in a tree when she sees a man killed. “A gloved hand pressed a knife against the cloaked man’s throat. . . His knife dug into the flesh of the man’s neck. A thin trickle of blood ran down the blade. . . Afterward, she [Milla] still saw the sudden spray of scarlet against a terracotta pot. She heard the heavy slump as the body hit the ground.”
  • When the dragon eggs begin to hatch, the duke “lifted the egg, and broke it against the surface of polished wood . . . the egg shattered with a damp crunch. The duke pulled it apart, flicking away pieces of shell with his fingers. He lifted up a limp body streaked with blood. . . The dragon didn’t move.”
  • A woman tells a story about the past when “Rufus murdered his cousin Silvano. . .” The murder is not described.
  • An “idiot” soldier accidently started a fire in the prison. The guards flee without trying to help the prisoners escape. Milla and others try to help the prisoners escape. The prison “was ablaze, sending plumes of smoke and fire shooting high into the night sky. . . There were bodies scattered across the dockside. Some were moving. A few were not. . .Six people had died that night.”
  • When a dragon named Heral flies over the city, a soldier shoots an arrow at it. “One arrow buried itself in Heral’s side. He screamed. A plume of fire shot from his open mouth.” The dragon blows fire towards the soldiers. “Now the archers screamed, arms raised in feeble defense. Milla saw bows burning, arrows torched in midair. A man leapt into the sea, ablaze.” Tayra is able to help her dragon. “Tayra pulled the arrow cleanly from the flank: a shallow wound, but a bloody one.”
  • During an argument, the duke “struck his wife across the face.”
  • A riot breaks out. During the fighting, Milla “almost stepped on a dead soldier. A man in the duke’s livery, on his back, staring sightlessly at the gray sky.” Milla takes a shield from a dead soldier. As Milla tries to reach her friends, “A sword crashed down on her shield with such force that she fell, winded, then rolled to avoid the next blow. . . She struck back, catching the soldier low, in his thigh. She slammed her shield in his face and he fell, lost under feet that danced and stamped and leapt to stay alive.” During the fight, the duchess is killed and Milla is injured. The riot is described over three pages.
  • Milla and her friends try to flee the island. Soldiers try to stop them. When Milla got onto the boat, she heard “the clashing of steel, followed by a scream of pain. She twisted to look. One man lay on the floor. Nestan was upright, clutching his sword arm, dark red blood seeping through his fingers.” Another one of Milla’s friends, Simon, “had his wooden staff that he used to parry and block. With a grunt, he twisted it around and landed a hard blow in the man’s gut with one end. . . Simon slammed the broadside into his chin. He slumped to the ground, unconscious.”
  • The book ends with an epic battle. Tayra “let her arrows fly faster than ever. . .” Tayra, her dragon, and Vigo fight side by side. “They cut through the duke’s forces, leaving a trail of ash and black-clad bodies so that Carlo’s army found their way clear.”
  • During the battle, someone grabs Milla, and “her injured ribs burned in agony. . . Black dots danced before her eyes, and she struggled not to pass out.” Milla is able to get away, and she “grabbed a chair and flung it at Richal Finn, aiming for his sword arm. He stumbled but didn’t fall.” Milla’s dragon used his bulk to pin Richal Finn down. Richal Finn fights back and “he kicked out viciously, catching Iggie square on his leg wound. The wound gaped open, right down to the bone: it gleamed palely through, making Milla feel sick.”
  • The duke grabs his sword and threatens to smash the dragon eggs. Isak “threw his whole body weight at Olvar [the duke] and pushed him aside. Duke Olvar pushed Isak away, sending him staggering backward.” In order to protect her eggs, the dragon “blasted Duke Olivar with a massive stream of fire. Olvar caught the worst of it, but Finn’s clothes also burst into flame. He fell to the floor with a hideous shriek.” The battle is described over 13 pages. The duke dies.
  • The story alludes to the fact that the duke used to hit his wife, Serina. After Serina is injured, Milla “watched his [Serina’s son] work, remembering what Serina had said about all the times her son had tended to her injuries. She didn’t ask how Serina had gotten those inures. She didn’t need to.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • An angry boy yells at his father, “You’re not even a soldier, not anymore. We only have your word that you ever were. You probably hurt your leg falling down drunk outside a tavern.”
  • Milla sees a man on his way to teach fighting skills to a girl. She tells him, “I’ll have a skin of ale cooling in the well for you afterward, shall I?”
  • A girl plans to go to a party. She was “planning to borrow a bottle of sweet Sartolan wine from her parents’ stall for the street party.” Later, the girl tells Milla that the wine helped her make some friends.
  • A woman tells Milla a story from the past, when the dragonriders had a disagreement. A dragonrider named Rufus “laced their evening meal with poison: just enough to send Karys and her cousin Silvano into a deep sleep. They awoke in the dragonhall to find themselves in chains.”
  • When Milla goes to visit a friend, the woman poured them “a small measure of sweet Arcosi wine.”
  • Someone gives Milla gifts, which include wine.
  • When Milla is put in jail, her friends poison the guards. “We baked treats for the guards—a special reward for their hard work. . . they’ll sleep all day, sore head tomorrow. Josi knows her poisons. . .”
  • The duke poisoned a dragon, but “the poison wore off after half a day.” However, when the dragon awoke, she was “in chains.”

Language

  • A soldier calls a group of prisoners “Sartolan scum.”
  • A woman calls recent arrivals “filthy dock rats.” Later someone says, “Dock rats! Throw them into the sea.”
  • When the duke orders soldiers to clear the docks of people, Milla yelled, “Where the hell are you going to clear them to?”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The duke talks about the past, when his people fled their home country. He says it had been “Fifty years since our prayers were answered and we found Arcosi waiting for us.”
  • Occasionally, Milla sends out a prayer, but she never mentions a specific god. For example, when she sneaks out of the house, she “sent a prayer out into the pale morning. . .” Later Milla “prayed that Nestan would listen to his daughter now.” Milla prays twelve times throughout the story.

The Battle for Skandia

Still far from home after escaping slavery in the icebound land of Skandia, young Will and Evanlyn’s plans to return to Araluen are spoiled when Evanlyn is taken captive. Though still weak, Will employs his Ranger training to locate his friend, he but soon finds himself fatally outnumbered. Will is certain that death is close at hand, that is until Halt and Horace make a daring, last-minute rescue. Their reunion is cut short by the horrifying discovery that Skandia’s borders have been breached by the Temujai army—and Araluen is next in their sights. Only an unlikely union can save the two kingdoms, but can it hold long enough to vanquish a ruthless new enemy?

Readers familiar with the Ranger’s Apprentice series will want to continue Will and Evanlyn’s epic journey through Skandia. The Battle for Skandia brings the four friends together—Halt, Horace, Evanlyn, and Will. In order to help the Skandians defeat the Temujai, Will and his friends join the fight. Unlike the previous books, The Battle for Skandia deals with strategy and tactics as Halt leads the Skandia forces in the fight against the Temujai army. Readers will learn more about the Skandiam’s traditions and bravery as their forces face the Temujai army. The contrast between the Araluens’ culture and the Skandian’s culture is interesting and sometimes humorous.

Unlike the previous books, The Battle for Skandia deals more with politics and preparation for battle, which slows the plot down. The story ends with a very long battle where many men die, including the leaders, the soldiers, and the slaves. Even though Evanlyn is a princess, she also helps to defeat the Temujai army. Throughout the story, the characters show the importance of loyalty and courage. The heartwarming conclusion holds some surprises. The Battle for Skandia highlights the importance of working together for the greater good. Although the story’s flow is choppy as it jumps back and forth between different characters’ perspectives, readers familiar with the series will want to know how Will and Evenlyn escape the dangerous threats that seem to lurk behind every corner.

Sexual Content

  • The commander of the Temujai has a concubine; however, she is only mentioned once.
  • There is a brief mention of Halt’s banishment. Someone explains that Halt was drunk when he said that the king was “the issue of an encounter between your father and a traveling hatcha-hatcha dancer.”

Violence

  • When checking her traps, Evanlyn “sensed rather than heard, the movement in the trees behind her and began to turn. Before she could move, she felt an iron grip around her throat, and as she gasped in fright, a fur-gloved hand, smelling vilely of smoke, sweat, and dirt clamped over her mouth and nose, cutting off her cry for help.” When Evanlyn tried to struggle, “her kicks were ineffective as she was dragged backward. Finally, there had been an instant of intense pain, just behind her left ear, and then darkness.” The man takes her back to his camp and ties her to a tree.
  • When Erak was sent to collect taxes, he “opted for a more direct course, which consisted of seizing the person under investigation, ramming a double-headed broadax up under his chin and threatening mayhem if all taxes, every single one of them, were not paid immediately.”
  • Halt and Horace find dead men at a guard post. When they investigate, they find “ten others, all of them killed the same way, with multiple wounds to their torsos and limbs.” The men were “shot. These are arrow wounds. And then the killers collected their arrows from the bodies.”
  • A man prepares to kill Evanlyn. Will comes to her rescue. Will shoots an arrow. “The bow gave a slight twang and the light arrow leapt away, arcing swiftly across the intervening space and burying its point into the soft flesh of the warrior’s wrist.” Horace arrives and “interposed himself between Evanlyn and the man who was trying to kill her and, in a series of flashing sword strokes that bewildered the eye, he drove the other man back away from the girl.” Five men are killed, and one man is taken as a prisoner. The scene is described over four pages.
  • When Halt and Erak spy on the enemy, they are caught and must run. Halt shot his arrow and “the heavy shaft went home. The Tem’uj fell backward in the snow, his own shot half a second too late, sailing high and harmless into the top of the pines.” As they run, Halt continues to shoot arrows, killing a man who “lay in the snow in the center of a widening circle of red.”
  • A slave is dragged in front of a group of Skandian leaders. In order to get her to talk, Slagor “moved quickly, stepping down from the platform and drawing his saxe knife in one smooth movement. He held the razor-sharp blade below the woman’s chin, pressing it into the flesh of her neck with not quite sufficient force to break the skin.” As Slagor yells at the woman, the group notices “angry welts across the woman’s face. Obviously, she had been recently beaten.” When the woman cringes away, “Slagor’s man grabbed a handful of her hair to stop her and she cried out again, in pain as well as fear. He raised the vicious-looking whip over his head, ready to bring it down.”
  • When the Skandians began fighting the Temujai, “Huge axes rose and fell and more horses came down, with tortured screams. Will had to shut his ears to the sound of horses in agony.”
  • When the Temujai attack the Skandians, the Skandians send a “shower of spears, rocks and other missiles from the Skandian line. Most of them fell short of the galloping horseman.” Some of the Temujai horses were stuck by stakes.
  • During the battle, “Will watched as one group of sixty quickly slung their bows, drew sabers, and darted into the Skandian line in a slashing attack, killing a dozen men.”
  • Will directs the archers to shoot towards the enemy. “Men and horses screamed in pain as they crashed to the ground. . . Those who were unhurt by the arrows were confronted by their comrades and their horses tumbling and rolling headlong. And as each stricken man fell, he took another with him, or caused his neighbor to swerve violently. . .” As the fighting, “the archers were exposed to return fire for no more than a few seconds. Even so, under the constant barrage of arrows from the Temujai, they took a few casualties. . . More horses came down, more riders tumbled out of their saddles. . . Haz’Kam’s son, with one arrow through his right thigh and another in the soft flesh between neck and shoulder, lay across the body of his horse.” Haz’Kam’s son is able to deliver a message to his father before he dies.
  • The Temujai try to take out Will’s archers. “Will studied the mass of riders. He had seventy-five archers still standing in the line, several of them lightly wounded. They had lost eleven men, killed by Temujai arrows, and a further fourteen had been wounded too seriously to keep fighting.” Will’s archers fired arrows and “then suddenly, the air around him was alive with the hissing sound of arrows and all along the line his archers were falling, some crying out in pain and shock as others more ominously, silent.”
  • As the Temujai get close to Will’s archers, they fire. “The arrows tore into his men, killing or wounding seven of them.”
  • A Temujai soldier threatens Evanlyn. When Will sees Evanlyn in danger, he grabs his saxe knife and threw it at the enemy. “The big knife took Nit’zak under the left arm just before he began his downward cut. His eyes glazed and he crumpled slowly to one side, lurching against the earth wall of the trench, then sliding down to the hard-packed earthen floor.” The battle is described over 49 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When taken to her kidnapper’s camp, the men ignore Evanlyn. The six men “ate and drank, swigging what was obviously a strong spirit from leather bottles.”
  • Will thinks back to when he was addicted to warmweed.
  • When Halt is talking to Erak, Halt “poured himself a glass of the brilliant red wine and drank deeply.”
  • After the battle, the Skandians have a three-day period of mourning, “which in Skandia, took the form of a lot of drinking and much enthusiastic recounting of the deceased’s prowess in battle. . . The traditions were sacred to Skandians—particularly traditions that involved a lot of drinking and carousing late into the night.”
  • After the Temujai army is defeated, Halt and the Skandians discuss how to keep the Temujai from trying to return. As they talk, Halt “took a sip of the rich Skandian beer.”

Language

  • Damn is used occasionally. For example, when Horace returns home, someone says, “Damn me boy, but you’ve done us all proud.”
  • When Will’s horse acts up, Halt says, “what the devil. . .”
  • “Gorlog’s teeth” is used as an exclamation once.
  • “By the gods” is used as an exclamation.
  • “My god” is used as an exclamation. When Will returns home, someone says, “My god, I thought we’d never see you again!”
  • Hell is used as profanity. For example, Halt plans to go spy on the enemy. When Halt tells Erak to “wait here,” Erak says, “To hell with waiting here.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The Skandian leader “had sworn a blood vow to the Vallas, the trio of savage gods who ruled the Skandian religion, in which he promised death to any relative of the Araluen King.”
  • In the previous book, Halt helps a dying Scandian by giving the man his weapon. “Shandians believe that if a man died without a weapon in his hand, his soul was lost forever.”
  • When he discovers that Erak has arrows, Halt says, “Thank the gods for the Scandian habit of hoarding everything.”
  • During the battle, “Erak breathed a quick prayer to the Vallas.”
  • During the mourning period, one of the Skandians says, “Ragnak died in battle, as a berserker, and that’s a fate that every true Skandian would envy. It gains him instant entry to the highest level of their version of heaven.”

Judy, Prisoner of War

Judy, an English pointer, is dedicated to helping humans on her ship. She has an uncanny ability to tell when danger is near. Her ability to warn the men of trouble makes her the perfect dog to be a part of His Majesty’s Royal Navy. She serves along with her human companions during World War II.

When the enemy sinks Judy’s ship, she and her fellow soldiers become prisoners of war. The conditions are harsh. The men lack food, so Judy hunts rats and lizards to share with the humans. Often the men’s morale is low, so Judy does what she can to lift their spirits. As the Japanese begin to lose the war, the POWs are given less food and more beatings. Can Judy figure out a way to keep her human companions and herself alive?

Told from Judy’s point of view, Prisoner of War gives a unique perspective of World War II. The story is based on a true story and covers the time period between 1936 through 1946. Because the story takes place over a long period, readers may have a difficult time keeping track of all of the events and the different humans that Judy meets. Although Judy’s point of view is interesting, the story often reads like a history book.

Judy eventually finds a human best friend, Frank, and is completely dedicated to him. However, readers will not get a clear picture of Frank’s personality. Although it is clear that Frank goes out of his way to make sure that Judy is able to stay with him, the story doesn’t portray the deep feelings that the two have for each other.

Prisoner of War takes the events of World War II and makes them more kid-friendly; however, the events of World War II may upset younger readers. Even though the war’s brutality isn’t described in detail, people are mistreated and people die. Through Judy’s eyes, readers will see that the war was full of destruction, but there was kindness as well.

Anyone who enjoys history should read Prisoner of War because the story is based on a true story. Historical information and pictures of Judy appear at the end of the book. Even though the story is not fast-paced, Judy’s story is interesting and will ignite readers’ interest in learning more about the events that happened during World War II. If you prefer action-packed stories, Survival Tails: World War II by Katrina Charman would be a good choice; similar to Prisoner of War, Survival Tails: World War II is a World War II story that is told from an animal’s point of view.

 Sexual Content

  • Judy met a dog named Paul. “Paul took one look at me and fell in love. . . But I played hard to get. He spent a lot of time showing off to get my attention whenever I was on deck or on the riverboat. . .” The humans have a wedding ceremony for the two dogs. “Paul and I had a three-day honeymoon on the Gnat . . .” Judy finds out that she’s going to have puppies.
  • While Judy was a prisoner, she went into the jungle to hunt. “On one of my nighttime treks into the jungle, I met a nice dog and we spent some time together. And boy was Frank surprised when he discovered I was going to have more puppies!”

Violence

  • Judy tried to stay away from the Japanese soldiers because they would kick her. Judy watched as Japanese soldiers attack Mr. Soo, a storekeeper. “And tonight there was a whole group of them yelling and throwing things around Mr. Soo’s shop. Mr. Soo tried to get them to stop. When he did, they started to hit him. He was already on the floor, bleeding, when I ran through the back door to the shop. . . One gave me a kick and another threw something at my head. Then a third one grabbed me by the neck and carried me outside.” Eventually, the soldiers leave and neighbors help Mr. Soo.
  • Pirates try to attack a ship called the Gnat. The pirates try to catch the ship with a rope. “The minute that rope hit our prow, the Gnat’s machine guns opened fire. Even so, the shadowy figures rose and tried to board our ship, only to be met with more gunfire.” The Gnat is able to get away.
  • The Japanese bomb Chinese cities. “One million Japanese soldiers, backed by Japan’s navy and air force, were on the outskirts of the city. Planes dropped bombs on the Chinese, and they were forced to abandon Shanghai.”
  • The Panay was sent to help civilian Americans leave China. “Suddenly, bombs started falling all around them. Three oil-carrying ships were hit and set fire. And the Panay . . . sank to the bottom of the river. Most of the people on board made it to safety on the lifeboats, but the Panay would never sail again.” During the attack, the Ladybird “had been hit repeatedly. Some of my friends were killed. Many more were injured.”
  • A Japanese sentry sees Judy, and “he screamed and raised his foot to give me a kick, but I danced out of his way. Then I rose up on my hind legs and growled at him. . . He grabbed his rifle and leveled it at my head.” One of Judy’s human friends helps by throwing the Japanese sentry into the river.
  • Japanese planes search for battleships. Two battleships are spotted by a Japanese submarine. “Bombs soon rained down on them from the skies while torpedoes hit them from under the sea. In just two hours, England lost any ability to stop the Japanese in the Pacific.”
  • When some British soldiers need to be rescued, a unit goes into the jungle to look for them. One man was “shot in the leg.” The man is taken to the hospital.
  • A Japanese seaplane “dropped a bomb over the Grasshopper, but luckily, it missed. The children hid their heads and screamed, and I watched as the seaplane turned to head for the Dragonfly. It dropped a bomb close enough to cause damage.” Later more planes arrive and, “Boom! The bomb hit the part of the ship where most of the women and children were staying. I had been with them just seconds before.” The survivors abandon the ship and swim to shore.
  • Later someone tells how “the Dragonfly had taken a direct bomb hit, and then two more. Explosions ripped the boat apart while sailors desperately tried to launch a lifeboat and rubber life rafts. . . the water was filled with men, clinging to rafts or bits of wreckage. The planes returned to shoot at them with machine guns. Bullets ripped across the surface of the water while men dove below to try to stay alive.”
  • A crocodile snaps at Judy. “Ouch! I danced back just in time to escape its giant jaws, but it managed to slash my shoulder with its claws before it escaped into the river.”
  • Some of the prisoners steal rice. When the Japanese search the barracks, the prisoners are worried that the Japanese will discover the rice. Judy comes to the rescue. She goes to a graveyard and digs up a skull, “and then I race back to the barracks. You should have seen the kickers’ [soldiers’] faces when I ran in with a human skull between my teeth! They screamed and yelled while I made three loops around the room.”
  • While a prisoner, Judy had to “hunt at night, and I brought Frank everything I caught and killed so we could share.”
  • The POWs were crammed into a ship. While they were sailing, torpedoes hit. “First one explosion and then another. Smoke and steam filled the cargo hold. Saltwater poured through the ship’s hull. . . POWs who tried to climb on lifeboats were kicked away with boots or rifle butts.” The men were later rescued.
  • While working as a POW, the men were beaten. “The guards shouted orders no one could understand and then beat the men for not understanding. Sometimes they beat the men just because they were bored and wanted something to do.”
  • A guard tries to shoot Judy. She “saw a flash and dodged out of the way just in time before dashing back into the jungle.” Judy stayed hidden until it was safe to come out.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi

Everyone had forgotten about it. The Americans are fighting the Russians. The British and French are starting to rebuild their countries. The Japanese are experiencing an economic boom. Germany is being split into two. The world had moved on and forgotten the world’s worst genocide—the Holocaust.

At the end of World War II, Adolf Eichmann, the head of operations of the Nazi’s Final Solution, disappeared without a trace. After sending millions of innocent people to their deaths, Eichmann said goodbye to his wife and sons, walked into the German countryside, and vanished. Sixteen years later, an elite team of Israeli spies is sent to Argentina with one goal in mind—capture and secure Eichmann and bring him to trial in Israel.

Faced with an impossible task, a lawyer, a forger, a doctor, a pilot, and a team of Israeli agents risk everything to capture the architect of the Holocaust. If they are caught, the team could face decades of imprisonment or even death by Argentinian Neo-Nazi groups. However, they have to take the risk–they must take Eichmann to Israel to remind the world of the Holocaust’s victims.

The Nazi Hunters will leave readers on the edge of their seats as it tells the thrilling, harrowing, and true tale of how a team of Israeli spies was able to secretly capture one of the top Nazis decades after his disappearance. Complete with photographs, maps, and top-secret documents, Neal Bascomb tells the story in a cinematic light that will engage readers and get them interested in reading nonfiction.

With his nonfiction novel, Bascomb not only shows readers how traumatic and terrible the Holocaust was but also the far-reaching effects of the genocide–affecting not only its Jewish victims but also the Jewish generations to come. After 16 years of silence, Eichmann’s trial highlighted the true nature of the Holocaust and allowed survivors to openly share their experiences in Nazi concentration and work camps.

Even though The Nazi Hunters contains historical information, the story is fast-paced and reads much like a spy novel. The story is exciting, and the pictures that are scattered throughout the story will remind readers that the events and people are real. Descriptions can sometimes be gory, such as with Eichmann’s hanging, but Bascomb uses the violence to show readers how brutal the Holocaust was and to ground the story in reality. With the countless number of names and historical events, young readers may have a difficult time following the story’s main characters. But, The Nazi Hunters is a fantastic book for middle school readers, rounding out their knowledge about the Holocaust by showing its everlasting effect on world politics.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In December of 1959, Nazi sympathizers attacked Jewish synagogues and citizens in West Germany. “In the following days, anti-Semitic attacks and demonstrations broke out across West Germany, and police were stationed outside synagogues and Jewish cemeteries to prevent further desecrations. In total, 685 Jewish locations throughout the country were vandalized. These were more than the isolated actions of a few hooligans, and Jewish leaders in West Germany made it clear that the scene ‘evoked pictures that bring to mind the November days of 1938,’ referring to Kristallnacht.”
  • When initially capturing Eichmann, “Malkin burst forward, one hand reaching out to keep Eichmann’s right arm down in case he had a gun. His momentum, mixed with his target’s retreat, sent them both pitching to the ground. The agent seized Eichmann as they rolled into the shallow, muddy ditch that ran alongside the road.” Malkin and another agent eventually restrain Eichmann, placing a hand over his mouth so he can’t scream. Then, they throw Eichmann into the backseat of their car.
  • After the car is one hundred feet from Eichmann’s Argentinian house, Aharoni warns him, “Sit still and nothing will happen to you. If you resist, we will shoot you. Do you understand?”
  • After finding their father missing, Nick and Dieter bought three guns and “broke into a Jewish synagogue in the city, guns at their sides.” However, their father is not there and they continue searching.
  • While Eichmann was imprisoned and awaiting trial in Israel, “the prison commandant feared not only that Eichmann might commit suicide, but also that there might be an attempt on his life. His food was always tasted before serving, and his guards were carefully selected so that none of them had lost a family member in the Holocaust.”
  • After the news was released of the Israeli spies’ capture of Eichmann, some Argentinian neo-Nazi groups were eager to seek revenge on local Jewish Argentinians. “Some in Argentina were eager. Unable to strike against them directly, right-wing groups took their revenge on the local Jewish. Tacuara carried out the worst of these attacks, beating up several Jewish students at the University of Buenos Aires and chanting, ‘Long live Eichmann. Death to Jews.’ One student was shot, and later in a vicious assault, Tacuara radicals branded a swastika onto the chest of a teenage girl whose father was suspected of having helped the Israelis.”
  • The book describes Eichmann’s 1962 hanging. “The two guards hit their buttons, and the platform opened with a clang. Eichmann fell ten feet into a room below without a sound. The rope went straight, snapped, and then swayed back and forth. A doctor moved into the chamber, took Eichmann’s pulse, and declared the Nazi dead.” After he is hanged, Eichmann is cremated, and his ashes are thrown into the sea so that no shrine or tribute can be made to him.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When leaving Argentina on an airplane, Eichmann has to be sedated in order to not cause trouble. “The doctor slid the needle into a vein and attached a tube. Then he delivered the sedative. Eichmann soon faded, mumbling, ‘No, no. I don’t need it.’”
  • While imprisoned in Argentina and awaiting transport to Israel, “Eichmann had spoken of his love for red wine, and Malkin thought that it wouldn’t do any harm to give him a glass. . . Malkin poured a glass of wine and placed it in Eichmann’s hands. The prisoner drained his glass. Malkin sipped at his wine. He put a record on the turntable and then lit a cigarette for Eichmann. Flamenco music filled the small, stuffy room. Eichmann drew deeply on the cigarette until it was almost at its butt.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Upon capture, Eichmann reveals that he knows a bit of Hebrew. Aharoni stops him from speaking, saying that, “The words were the beginning of the Sh’ma, the holiest prayer in the Jewish religion, recited in the morning and at night by the faithful. It was a prayer spoken at the hour of death, and millions, millions, of Jews had come to utter it because of Adolf Eichmann.”
  • After saying a quick prayer, Eichmann’s last words were, “Gentlemen, we shall meet again soon, so is the fate of all men. I have believed in God all my life, and I die believing in God.”

by Matthew Perkey

EndGames

Blue arrives in the capital city of Altalus, where she is determined to find her friend Crow, the boy who was created to be a flying war machine, and Jack, the engineer who built him. But soon she is inadvertently kidnapped by Snow and Red, twins from the enemy side of their ten-year war. They set off on a dangerous adventure that brings them to the front lines of the war, and eventually realize that they must work together to help end it. But with larger, more powerful forces at work, the fight for peace and survival will be more difficult than they ever imagined.

The majority of EndGames’ plot focuses on the war between Goswish and Grimmaea. However, readers may have a difficult time following the story because of the abrupt transitions. The story jumps from scene to scene causing readers to struggle with keeping up with the new characters and all of the new information. While NewsPrints focused on Blue and Crow’s relationship, in EndGames the two are separated and have little contact. Readers will miss the interaction between the two.

Even though the story is recommended for readers eight and up, younger readers may not be able to understand the more mature themes that appear in the book. The story is very anti-war and shows the dangers of using children to fight an adult’s war. EndGames also shows how governments only print news that is beneficial to them. Instead of being concerned with the truth, many newspapers only spread the government’s propaganda. The newspaper only runs an important true story when “the truth happens to sell even better for the Bugle.”

Unfortunately, EndGames tries to accomplish too much. The story has themes of imperialism, gender roles, and discrimination as well as an anti-war message. EndGames features both a blind character and a transgender character. A female aviator tells Blue, “Oh I’ve always knon I was a boy. . . Other people just didn’t know it yet.” However, the transgender reference is brief and awkward.

Although the artwork is stunning, younger readers may be confused because of the quick transitions. Even though the illustrations help tell the story, some scenes are still confusing. The frantic pacing allows the story to skip over information that may have made the scene’s action clear.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While flying, two airplanes shoot at each other. A plane is knocked out of the sky by “friendly fire.” No one is injured. The scene is illustrated over six pages.
  • When another country’s Navy appears, a soldier uses a weapon in an attempt to “destroy that machine before your Goswish troops can get it back.” The weapon hits a target and starts a fire. The soldier is shown celebrating the destruction. The scene is illustrated over six pages.
  • As airplanes approach, the army is told “to protect Goswing, we must destroy Grimmaea!” Airplanes are shot down and fall into the ocean. The scene is illustrated over four pages.
  • Blue is left on unstable land that is being consumed by lava. Blue falls into a crack in the ground, but is saved.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Goose Butts!” is occasionally used as an exclamation.
  • Heck is used once.
  • Someone calls Blue an “idiot.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

The Grand Escape: The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century

At the height of World War I, brave Allied and German forces battled on land, air, and sea. During these battles, captured Allied soldiers and pilots were sent to the dangerous web of German prisons where they were neglected, beaten, and robbed. The most troublesome prisoners of war were sent to

Holzminden – an inescapable landlocked prison designed to break prisoners. The prisoners are in the middle of Germany, locked down by armed guards and barbed-wire fences. The camp’s ruthless commandant, Karl Niemeyer, enforces the camp’s cruel rules. Escape seems impossible for the rag-tag prisoners.

Faced with a Herculean task, a group of determined Allied soldiers and pilots defy the impossible, daring to escape the prison by building a tunnel right under Niemeyer’s nose. Scraping away mere inches of dirt every hour, the team tunneled through the prison’s foundation underneath guard towers, dogs, barbed wire fences, and into a nearby farm. As Niemeyer becomes suspicious of a possible escape, the team of escapees works tirelessly forging documents, smuggling in supplies, and bribing guards. The hardest challenge of escaping Holzminden was yet to come for the 29 men—making it back home undetected through war-torn Germany.

The Grand Escape will leave readers on the edge of their seats as they read the true story of how a team of Allied prisoners banded together to escape Germany and became an inspiration for their fellow countrymen during World War I’s darkest hours. Bascomb does an extraordinary job bringing the story to life. His vivid details, page-turning suspense, and well-developed research alongside photographs, maps, and diagrams of the tunnel and prison camp make the reader feel like they are actually in the tunnel escaping with the prisoners.

The suspense will keep readers turning the pages until the very end. However, the book discusses some of the atrocities of World War I, including the intense violence and hatred between the German and Allied soldiers. Some descriptions are graphic; therefore, the book is not for the faint of heart. This book is aimed at older readers who have some pre-existing knowledge about World War I and the development of modern aircraft. Nonetheless, The Grand Escape is a terrific nonfiction book that will teach readers to persevere through hard times.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Cecil Blain and Charles Griffiths are sent on a mission to find warehouses in Germany, they are shot at by German artillery. “A shell rocked one plane on the port side of their formation, but its pilot recovered. Another cut confetti-sized slits into the wings of Blain’s plane, and shrapnel pinged against his engine cowling.” Although no one is injured, Blain and Griffith’s plane sustains heavy damage and they are forced to land behind enemy lines where they are soon held as prisoners.
  • On a bombing run, English pilot David Gray and his machine-gunner are ambushed by Böelcke. A “close-quarter rake of bullets from Böelcke ripped through Gray’s engine and shredded an aileron. Propeller stopped, balance control lost, the plane plummeted into a spin.” Gray and his gunner are both severely injured, with broken bones and lacerations covering their faces, but they manage to survive, crash landing behind enemy lines.
  • Holzminden’s commandant, Karl Niemeyer, is easily angered and loves to both psychologically and physically torture his prisoners. In one instance, he “ordered a guard to fire at prisoners in the barracks building who were mocking the Germans during their morning drill marches.”
  • Private Dick Cash was “ordered across no-man’s land in an early morning assault on the strategic German stronghold at Bullecourt. The Australians faced withering heavy machine-gun fire in their approach to the enemy lines. During the attack, Cash was shot in the chest. The bullet punctured his left lung, but he continued ahead. A series of mortars threw him first skyward, then sideways. Shrapnel pierced his back, and many of his teeth were knocked out before he landed in a shell hole, boots first.” However, Cash manages to “survive the maggot-infested squalor” and is sent to Holzminden after recovering in a German hospital.
  • At another camp, Harold Medlicott and Joseph Walter were murdered, but the German guards lie to prisoners, saying they were shot on the run. The guards return to camp with two stretchers covered in dark sheets and “while several British officers distracted the guards watching over the bodies, another officer rushed up and threw aside the sheets. Medlicott’s and Walter’s bodies were riddled with over a dozen bullets and stabbed with several bayonet wounds.” The British officers realize that Medlicott and Walter were not shot while escaping, but brutally murdered by their captors.
  • While escaping to Holland, a border guard sees Bennet and Campbell-Martin and starts to fire. “The crack of a rifle echoed behind as they charged headlong into Holland. The first shot and the next missed. They ran and ran until they splashed into the Dinkel River in free Holland.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • On their way to a new POW camp, the guards and prisoners stop at a train station restaurant and form a temporary truce where “the British bought every bottle of wine behind the bar, some of them a lovely pre-war vintage.”
  • During a Christmas party at Holzminden, “Douglas Lyall Grant, of the London Scottish Regiment, supplied a cellar’s worth of bottles that he joked cost more than a night out at London’s swanky Carlton Hotel.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • On the night of the escapes, “A religious man, Butler muttered a short prayer before pushing his kitbag into the tunnel and following it in.”

by Matthew Perkey

The Girl the Sea Gave Back

For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.

For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? When their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.

The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a Vikings-inspired story that is bloody and brutal. The story focuses on both Tova and Halvard’s points of view and continually jumps between the two character’s perspectives. Because the story switches points of view, there are often times when the same scene is retold from another character’s point of view. In addition to switching points of view, the story also flashes back into each character’s life. The always-changing point of view and the flashbacks makes the plot both choppy and confusing.

Although the story focuses on Tova, she is not an easy character to relate to. It is clear that the Svell dislike her; however, the reason for their fear is never explained. In the beginning, Tova seems content to follow orders and do what she is told. Although she does not like foretelling death, she doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions. Of the two characters, Halvard is more likable and interesting. He constantly doubts his worthiness but is willing to take risks to save those he loves.

In the end, The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a tale of war and fate. Long bloody battles propel the story forward, and although there is plenty of action, the characters lack development. Even though war is described in detail, it is not glorified. Instead, the story makes it clear that peace is difficult to obtain, but it is worth working towards. Halvard learns that “war is easy. It comes again and again, like waves to a shore. But I lived most of my life driven by hate, and I don’t want that for my grandchildren. Or yours.”

Although beautifully written, The Girl the Sea Gave Back lacked in world-building and will leave the reader with many unanswered questions—both about the characters and what will happen to the warring tribes. The complicated story uses graphic imagery that will leave some readers squeamish. Only strong readers who are looking for a Viking-inspired war story should read The Girl the Sea Gave Back.

Sexual Content

  • One of the woman warriors “had never been motherly in nature and though she’d had several lovers through the years, she’d never had children.”
  • In a brief moment alone with Tova, Halvard “took a step toward me and my heart kicked in my chest, the blood running faster through my veins. . . He leaned down, hiding me in his shadow as he pressed his lips softly to the corner of my mouth. His hands wound around my waist and for a moment, I melted into him.”

Violence

  • As a child, Tova went into town, and “something hot hit my face and it wasn’t until I reached up that I realized it was blood—a prayer to their god, Eydis, to ward off whatever evil I might bring. I still remember the way it felt, rolling down my skin and soaking into the neck of my tunic.”
  • When two tribes meet, the chieftain’s brother betrays him by attacking the other tribe’s chieftain. The man “suddenly reared back with the sword, launching it forward with a snap, and it sank into Espen’s stomach. The tip of its blood-soaked blade reached out behind him where it had run him through.” The two tribes fight. Halvard tries to protect his friend, Aghi. Halvard “twisted my sword in an arch around me to catch him in the gut. He tumbled to the grass and I lifted the blade before me, thick blood dripping onto the golden grass.” During the battle, Aghi is stabbed with a knife. “Aghi doubled over and it wasn’t until he hit the ground that I saw it. The handle of my knife was lodged between his ribs. I swallowed a breath as bright, sputtering blood poured from his lips and when I opened my mouth, I couldn’t hear the sound of my own screams.” As the battle continues, Halvard plunged the blade into Bekan’s heart. His head rolled back and he gasped, coughing on the blood coming up in his throat. . .” Many people die during the 12 pages of battle.
  • When the Svell lose the battle, Vigdis is upset and attacks Tova. “. . . He screamed, shoving Jorrund aside and snatching up my arm. He threw me back and I hit the ground hard before he came over me, taking a handful of my hair into his fist. . .” Vigdis threatens to set Tova on fire, but she convinces him that she can still be useful so he lets her live.
  • When Halvard was a child, his village was attacked and he was captured. Some of the captives were tied behind a cart. “The rope cut into the skin around his wrist and his arms ached, blood trailing up into the sleeves of his torn tunic. The woman tied beside him had fallen before the moon had even risen above the treetops and her lifeless body dragged over the ground beside him.” Halvard was saved by his brothers.
  • When the Svell attack a village, Tova could hear the screams. “The light of dusk caught the glistening of wet blood on armor and the warriors passed us. . .” The man Vigdis was looking for was not in the village, so “Vigdis lifted his hand, rearing back and swinging his arm to slap me [Tova] across the face. I fell to the ground, my hands sliding over the wet soil as my mouth filled with blood.”
  • Halvard thought back to his childhood when the Svell attacked his village. Most of the dead “weren’t even wearing their armor or their boots, cut down as they tried to flee in the dark. They’d been sleeping when the Svell came out of the forest and set fire to their homes. . . The bodies of people I’d known my whole life had been strewn throughout the village bright red blood staining the crisp, white snow. . .”
  • At the end of the battle, friends of Halvard appear and save him when “arrows suddenly fell from the sky, arcing over my head and hitting their marks before me. Svell warriors hit the ground hard. . .”
  • Halvard and his men approach the destroyed village and find “bodies still lying where they’d fallen in the fight.” Halvard sees a Svell warrior and “the blunt side of the blade caught him in the jaw. The sword fell from his hand as he tumbled backward, sliding on the stone until he rolled over the threshold, landing in the mud outside.” More Svell appear and “Asmund lifted his ax, stopping the man’s blow overhead, and slammed his closed fist into his face. . . Asmund kicked him in the chest sending him backward.” When it looks like Asmund might die, Halvard “let the knife in my other hand sink back behind my head and slung it forward, letting it fly handle over blade through the air, it hit its mark finding the flesh between his shoulder blades, and he fell face-first into the dirt at Asmund’s feet.”
  • When Tova refuses to cast the stones, “a man’s face appeared over me before he bent down low, lifting me back to my feet. He didn’t even look up as a sob wracked my chest. His hand took hold of the neck of my tunic. . .” The man drags Tova to the meeting place and “he shoved me inside and I toppled forward, sliding on the ground. My palms scraped against the dry, cracked mud. . .” A man threatens to kill her if she does not read the stones.
  • During the final battle there are many deaths. The battle is described over multiple chapters. “An axe flew over my [Halvard’s] head, catching a Nădhir woman behind me, and she was knocked from her feet, hitting the ground hard. I stood just in time to catch the man who’d thrown it with my blade, dropping him with one strike. . .” When a woman attacks Halvard, “I brought my axe down onto her shoulder and she fell to her knees, reaching for Fiske. He toppled backward, driving his sword up to impale the woman with it. The length of the blade shone with blood as Fiske pulled it from where it was wedged between her bones and stood, heaving.” As the battle rages, Tova joins in. “A man crashed into the mud behind me, Halvard’s knife buried in his chest. He coughed blood as I pulled it free and got back to my feet.”
  • During the battle, a Svell man tries to kill Tova. “In the next instant, his knife was swinging wide, catching me in the arm. . . Before he could bring the knife down, I rolled to my side, covering my head with my hands. The blade ripped into my other arm, the edge of the iron hitting the bone, and I cried out.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Tova is injured, Jorrund has to stitch the injury. “Her blood shone on the needle as Jorrund pulled the thread in one long motion and tied it off. When a tear finally rolled down her cheek, he gave her another drink of the sour ale. She swallowed it down until the burn in her throat reached her chest.”
  • While preparing for a battle, the Svell drink ale. “Outside, the Svell gathered around smoking fires, drunk on ale and eating what would be for some of them a last meal.”
  • When a woman warrior is injured, she is given ale to help with the pain.
  • During a ceremony to make Halvard the new chieftain, Halvard cuts his palm and allows the blood to pool in a cup. The other leaders then drink the blood.
  • The night before the final battle, Halvard and his family drink ale.
  • After the battle, some of the warriors were “drinking our winter stores of ale.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Tova is a Truthtongue and uses runes to tell the future. Before she drops the stones, she chants, “Eye of the gods. Give me sight.” After she throws the stones, she interprets them.

Spiritual Content

  • The story revolves around the Spinners of Fate who “sat at the foot of the Tree of Urṍr weaving the density of mortals.” When Tova was born, her mother consulted the Spinners of Fate and they told her what would happen in the future.
  • Different tribes believe in different gods. Although the gods’ names are mentioned, there is no explanation of how the gods are different from each other.
  • Jorrund is the tribe’s healer and the “interpreter of Eydis’ will.” When he finds Tova on the beach, he thinks Tova is an omen for Eydis.
  • The people believe in an afterlife and refer to it often. For example, a man’s “only child was taken to the afterlife and there she’d wait for her father until he took his last breath.” When a person dies, their body is cremated so they can travel to the afterlife.
  • While preparing to meet another tribe’s leader, a man says, “we’ll make a sacrifice at dawn and ask Eydis to give us her favor.”
  • People, including Tova herself, think that Tova “was a living curse. A betrayal to the Svell god. . . She was a scourge. And there were many that wanted her dead.”
  • When Halvard’s friend Aghi dies, Halvard thinks that he would also like to die in the battle because “it was an end that the gods would favor.” Because Aghi’s body could not be cremated, Halvard performs a ritual. Halvard takes his knife and “I wound my fingers tightly around its blade before I slid it against my calloused palm. The hot blood pooled in the center of my hand before I pressed my finger into it, carefully writing Aghi’s name across the face of the stele.” Someone says a prayer and Halvard thinks, “It had been a long time since I’d prayed to Thora or Sigr. Not because I didn’t believe in them, but because I wasn’t sure they listened.”
  • Someone tells Halvard the story of Truthtongues. When one of the god’s sisters dies and is buried, the god “swore vengeance of the Spinners for taking her life. As an offering, the Spinners gave Naṍr a mortal child with the mark on her chest. They called her the Truthtongue and promised that every woman born into her lineage would have the ability to read the runes and see into the future.”
  • When the Svell were ready to attack a village, Tova tells a man, “There isn’t a single god who looks favorably upon dishonorable killing.” Tova feels guilty that she helped the soldiers find the village. She thinks, “I hadn’t planned the massacre in the glade but it was my rune cast that had justified it. . . I had always known that I was cursed. That something dark had marked me.” Tova thinks she was sent out of her village because her god didn’t want her.
  • The characters often pray to their gods. For example, during a ceremony, a man shouts, “We ask you, Thora and Sigr, to entrust your people to Halvard, son of Auben.”
  • Before battle, a man says a prayer. “We call upon you! We ask for your protection and your favor as we take the fjord!” The tribe’s healer then “dropped the torch at his feet and the flame caught the pitch, writhing over the grass in the paths he’d laid. . .It was an ancient symbol, the shield of the fallen Svell warrior.”
  • As the warriors are praying, Tova thinks, “But there was no one I could call upon. No one who was listening. Instead, I made my plea to the Spinners. I asked for their forgiveness. I begged for their help.”
  • When Tova offers to cast the stones for Halvard, he refuses by saying, “I don’t want to know. I trust the gods.”
  • The night before the final battle, Tova doesn’t pray to a god. “Instead, I prayed to the woman in my vision.” Later, she discovers that the woman in the vision was her mother.
  • When Tova meets her mother, her mother tells her, “The Spinners brought us here to find you. But we don’t know yet what other purpose they have for us. We won’t know until they tell us. . . Mortals and gods cannot be trusted to obey the warnings of the Spinners.”

Unravel Me

Juliette has escaped from The Reestablishment, who wanted to use her as a weapon. She no longer has to hide her love for Adam. But even though Juliette can now make plans, she can never be free from her lethal touch. And even though she doesn’t want to hurt people, she cannot contain her power, and others continue to suffer at her hand.

Juliette doesn’t decide if she wants to join the resistance until Warner threatens her friends. When her friends are taken captive, Juliette knows she must join the fight. But she is haunted by her past and terrified of her future. In the end, Juliette may have to choose between her heart or saving lives—including Adam’s.

Although Unravel Me has an interesting premise, readers will find it difficult to connect with Juliette because she cannot look past her own needs. Not only is Juliette whiny, but she also constantly berates herself and apologizes for her actions. Instead of focusing on understanding her power, Juliette allows her powers to take control, which leads her to hurt others. Instead of taking action, Juliette repeatedly says she’s sorry, but the apologies lack depth because she does nothing to learn how to control her power and prevent further harm.

The evil leader, Warner, reappears in the second installment of the series. Although Warner is self-centered and craves power, Unravel Me tries to paint him in a more positive light. Soon Juliette is confused by her growing attraction to the man who tried to kill Adam. Even though Juliette is trying to understand Warner, the three-way romance just doesn’t work. Juliette was so devastated when she hurts others, but she is somehow willing to overlook Warner’s killing nature. Instead of feeling sorry for Warner, the reader will be left confused. How can Juliette have intense romantic feelings for a power-hungry man who is willing to kill to get what he wants?

Unfortunately, Unravel Me spends so much time delving into Juliette’s emotional pain and indecision that other characters never have the opportunity to make more than a quick appearance. Instead, readers will have a difficult time caring about what happens. Although the story is unique, there are just too many plot twists that don’t make sense. Readers may want to consider leaving Unravel Me on the shelf. If you’re looking for a fast-paced story with a sprinkle of romance, try A Little in Love by Susan E. Fletcher or the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie.

Sexual Content

  • Adam kisses Juliette. “His left hand is cupping the back of my head, his right tightening around my waist, pressing me hard against him and destroying every rational thought I’ve ever had . . . Somehow I end up on top of him. He reaches up only to pull me down and he’s kissing me, my throat, my cheeks, and my hands are searching his body, exploring the lines, the planes, the muscle . . . This moment. These lips. This strong body pressed against me and these firm hands finding a way to bring me closer and I know I want so much of him. I want all of him. . .” The two only stop kissing when Juliette’s power begins to hurt Adam. The scene is described over five pages.
  • Juliette asks a man if he spied on her when she was changing. He replies, “. . .you are definitely not my type. And more importantly, I’m not some perverted asshole.”
  • Warner shows Juliette a tattoo on his lower back. She thinks, “I want to study the secrets tucked between his elbows and the whispers caught behind his knees. I want to follow the lines of his silhouette with my eyes and the tips of my fingers. I want to trace rivers and valleys along the curved muscles on his body.”
  • Warner asks Juliette to run away with him. Then he grabs her, and she feels “his skin against my skin and I’m holding my breath. . . I don’t say a word as his hands drop to my waist, to the thin material making a poor attempt to cover my body. His fingers graze the soft skin of my lower back, right underneath the hem of my shirt and I’m losing count of the number of times my heart skips a beat.” Then he kisses her and “he traces the shape of my mouth, the curves the seam the dip and my lips part even though I asked them not to. . .” When he kisses her, she thinks, “His lips are softer than anything I’ve ever known, soft like a first snowfall, like biting into cotton candy, like melting and floating and being weightless in water. . . He kisses me again, this time stronger, desperate . . . His lips touch my bare stomach. . . He’s leaving a trail of fire along my torso, one kiss after another, and I don’t think I can take much more of this. . .” Juliette freaks out and Warner leaves. The scene is described over ten pages.

Violence

  • When Juliette sees Adam being experimented on, she freaks out. She punches “my fist right through the floor. The earth fissures under my fingers and the reverberations surge through my being, ricocheting through my bones until my skull is spinning and my heart is a pendulum slamming into my rib cage.” After her anger is spent, Juliette sees that her “skin is torn and blood is everywhere and I can’t move my fingers. I realize I’m in agony.”
  • After taking hostages, the supreme commander demands to see Juliette. When she arrives, “He’s pinned me against the wall by the throat, his hands carefully sheathed in a pair of leather gloves, already prepared to touch my skin to cut off my oxygen, choke me to death and I’m sure I’m dying, I’m so sure that this is what it feels like to die, to be utterly immobilized, limp from the neck down. . . He lets go of me.”
  • Later, the supreme commander tells his son, Warner, to kill Juliette. When Warner points the gun at his father, his father says, “Shoot me. . . So much talk and never enough follow-through. You embarrass me.” Warner’s father “backhands Warner in the face so hard Warner actually sways for a moment. . .”  Then Juliette grabs Warner’s father’s neck and thinks, “I’ve pinned him to the wall, so overcome by a blind, burning, all-consuming rage that I think my brain has already been caught on fire and dissolved into ash.” Juliette shoots the man in both legs and she is “entertained by the horror in his eyes. The blood ruining the expensive fabric of his clothes. I want to tell him he doesn’t look very attractive with his mouth open like that but then I think he probably wouldn’t care about my opinion anyway.” One of Juliette’s friends pulls her away before she can kill Warner’s father. The scene is described over four pages.
  • In Juliette’s diary, she talks about the day she was taken to the prison. The guards “handcuffed my hands behind my back, the one who strapped me to my seat. They stuck Tasers to my skin over and over for no other reason than to hear me scream but I wouldn’t. . . They slapped me awake even though my eyes were opened when we arrived. Someone unstrapped me without removing my handcuffs and kicked me in both kneecaps before ordering me to rise. . . I really can’t remember the part when they dragged me inside.”
  • In a skirmish between the resistance and the Reestablishment, the Reestablishment’s soldiers “are unloading round after round, shooting at anything that could be a target. . . One man has his hands to the ground, freezing the earth beneath the soldier’s feet, causing them to lose balance. . .” One of the men collects a whirlwind of particles and forms a cyclone. When he lets go, “the soldiers are shouting, screaming, running back and ducking for cover but most are too slow to escape the reach of so much destruction and they’re down, impaled by shards of glass and stone and wood and broken metal but I know this defense won’t last for long.” Juliette uses her powers to cause an earthquake, which allows the resistance fighter to escape. The scene is described over six pages.
  • The Reestablishment gathers a group of citizens together to kill them. In order to try to help the citizens, Juliette and her friends discuss their options. While they talk, they see “27 people lined up, standing side by side in the middle of a big, barren field. Men and women and children of all different ages. . . One of the soldiers fires a shot. The first man crumples to the ground. . .” During the scene, Juliette’s “eyes are locked on a little girl who can’t be much older than James, her eyes so wide, so terrified, the front of her pants already wet from fear and it rips me to pieces. . .” Juliette and her friends shoot at the soldiers and they “see one [bullet] find its mark in a soldier’s neck. . . We’re dodging the bullets aimed in our direction and I see Adam dropping to the ground, I see him shooting with perfect precision and still failing to find a target. . . 3 soldiers go down almost instantly.”
  • During the fight, Juliette sees “dead dead dead is everywhere. So many bodies mixed and meshed into the earth that I have no idea if they’re ours or theirs. . . I’m tackled from behind. Someone pins me down and my face is buried in the ground and I’m kicking, trying to scream but I feel the gun wrenched out of my grip. I feel an elbow in my spine. . .” A soldier points a gun at Juliette, and “I’m only clawing at his covered arm, at the muscle he’s bound around my neck and he shakes me, shouts at me to stop squirming and pulls me tighter to cut off my air supply and my fingers are clenched around his forearm, trying to fight the viselike grip he has around me and I can’t breathe and I’m panicked. . . I’ve crushed all the bones in his arm. . .” Someone hits Juliette on the head, making her “almost entirely unconscious.” The scene is described over 10 pages.
  • Warner’s father shoots Juliette in the chest. She thinks, “My heart has exploded. I’m thrown backward, tripping over my own feet until I hit the floor, my head slamming into the carpeted ground, my arms doing little to break my fall. It’s pain never thought I could feel, never would have even imagined.” Juliette doesn’t die from the wound.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Adam talks about his father, who would only come around “to get drunk and beat the crap out of someone.” After Adam’s mother died, his father would “come by just to get piss-drunk. He used to force me to stand in front of him so he could throw his empty bottles at me.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Towards the end of the book, the profanity ramps up and appears on almost every page. Profanity includes ass, asshole, bullshit, bastards, crap, damn, dumbass, goddamn, hell, holy shit, jackass, and shit.
  • “Oh God,” “God,” and “Jesus” are used as exclamations often.
  • Juliette remembers the world before the Reestablishment took over. She “remembers the pissed-off skies and the sequence of sunsets collapsing beneath the moon.”
  • When Adam tries to tell Juliette how he feels, he ends up saying, “Jesus. What the hell am I saying. Shit. Shit. I’m sorry—forget that – forget I said anything. . .”
  • One of Juliette’s friends yells at her. “And I should kick my own ass for it, but I feel sorry for you. So I tell him I’ll help. I rearrange my entire goddamn schedule just to help you deal with your issues.”
  • One of Juliette’s friends says, “Jesus. How early is it? I would kick a soldier in the crotch for a cup of coffee right now.”
  • When someone calls a man a “fetus,” the man gets angry and says, “I am mad. I’m pissed off. And I’m cranky as hell because I’m tired. And hungry. And I need more coffee.”
  • Someone says Adam’s father was being a “dick.”

Supernatural

  • Many characters have special powers. Juliette is trying to learn how to harness her energy. “Our gifts are different forms of Energy. Matter is never created or destroyed. . . as our world changed, so did the Energy within it. Our abilities are taken from the universe, from other matter, from other Energies.”
  • When Juliette touches someone, she drains the life out of them.
  • The first book in the series explains how Juliette goes to a compound where she meets a man who can move things with his mind. There is also a man who tells her, “Sometimes I electrocute people by accident” and another who is really flexible. He “loops one arm around his waist. Twice.”
  • At the compound, two women are healers—one heals the physical body and the other heals emotional wounds. The healers “can set broken bones and repair bullet wounds and revive collapsed lungs and mend even the worst kinds of cuts.”
  • Another person can “blend into the background of any space. Shift myself to match my surroundings.”
  • Adam discovers that he can project his ability and can disable others’ abilities.
  • Adam’s brother can heal quickly.
  • Warner can sense other people’s emotions, which allows him to know when someone is lying. He can also be a conduit to transfer other people’s energy.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Price of Duty

Jake Liddell is a war hero. During a fierce firefight, Jake risked his life to save his comrades. Now, the military is considering awarding him a Silver Star—a huge honor for any soldier. Jake, injured and confused, returns home. His military family is proud of his service and sacrifice, but Jake is beginning to question everything his family brought him up to believe.

The memory of war haunts him. As he recovers from his physical wounds, he wonders what direction his life will take. His famous grandfather wants Jake to return to the battlefield to fight again. Others want him to speak out against the military system. Jake was raised to believe that fighting for one’s country was a moral obligation, but that was before he saw the horrors of war and the death of his friends. Will Jake decide to return to the battlefield or will he fight to get out of the military?

Jake’s story makes it clear that war is nothing like the movies or like playing Call of Duty. Instead, war is brutal, bloody, and deadly. “There’s no heavy metal soundtrack when you’re in a firefight. The terror is real. The pain is real. Death is real.” Price of Duty does not glamorize war, but instead paints a bloody picture of the physical and emotional wounds that soldiers face. Jake’s story shows the gruesome decisions soldiers have to make in order to survive and the hardships that come afterward.

 Jake knows someone has to fight in order to protect America’s freedom, but he is conflicted because the cost of war is so high. His experiences have made him realize that “There is no glory in war. There is no honor in killing. No matter where they send you to fight, innocent people will die.” Even though the cost of war is high, Jake believes that “for all the things that are wrong with the military, we still need and depend on it to protect us.”

Price of Duty explores the tragedy of war as well as the idea of an all-volunteer Army. Even though no one is forced to join, many feel the military recruits children through the ROTC program. “We’ve just changed the method of conscription. We let economic forces compel minorities and have-nots to gamble their bodies and lives for a slim shot at a better financial future.”

Jake’s story is engaging from the very first page. As Jake struggles with his time in the war, the reader will feel the devastation of soldiers making life and death decisions. The events in the story are described in vivid detail and may shock some readers. Price of Duty will definitely stay with readers for a long time. Anyone who is thinking about joining the military should read Price of Duty. It accurately portrays a soldier’s sacrifice and shows the complexity of military service—the honor, the death, the sacrifice, and in the end, the reason why some choose to join.

Sexual Content

  • Jake’s ex-girlfriend, Erin Rose, began dating an older boy. The two “got serious really fast. By the time he enlisted after graduation, Erin Rose (then going into tenth grade) was pregnant.”
  • When Jake and his girlfriend park in a secluded place, he wonders if his girlfriend is thinking about another man. He wonders if she had parked in the same place with someone else.

Violence

  • Jake flashes back to his time in Iraq. An IED hit the Humvee Jake was in. When the soldiers exit the vehicle, the enemy shoots at them. Jake is injured by shrapnel. As he crawls out of the Humvee, he hears “intense machine gun and small arms fire bashing my eardrums. Supersonic lead bees whizzing past. . . The hot air stinks of gasoline and sulfur. A fusillade of bullets rip into the ground, spraying grains of dirt into my face and mixing with the blood in my eyes.” Jake can hear his friend screaming “somewhere to my right, where a lot of enemy fire is coming from.”
  • After a suicide bomber hit a Humvee and “blew the guys inside to smithereens,” Jake’s squad had to go “find the pieces. All of them. He wasn’t talking about the pieces of the Humvee.” Jake and his partner puked. As they were gathering the body parts, Jake found a detached hand.
  • During a firefight, Jake can’t reach his injured friend. Jake throws “a flashbang over the wall, then jumps up and hustle[s] thorough the closest opening. The pain from my wound slows me down, but I’m totally juiced on adrenaline. . .” Jake shoots two men and then, “something smacks into me from behind and knocks me flat on my face. It felt like a sledgehammer. . . Whap! A round slams into the ground inches from my head, kicking dirt into my eyes.”
  • During the battle, Jake has to “toss a smoke grenade around the corner. Instantly there’s rifle fire and rounds slam into the wall near me. . .” When Jake shoots his M-16, “there’s a grunt and a thud. . . I head up the stairs, stepping over the body of a dead sniper. . .” As the firefight continues, Jake wonders how to get to his wounded friend.
  • During a firefight, Jake breaks into a house where shots are coming from. “Inside, a woman screams. . .” Jake discovers that the shooter is “a scrawny kid. Can’t be more than twelve. . . I grab [the rifle] by the forestock and rip it out of his hands. The kid cowers. . . strangely, he’s not looking at me. Instead, he’s staring across the room.” The boy’s father is “soaked with blood” and dying. Jake goes to the window and “I plug the one closest to me, but the other has time to get off two shots. The next thing I know, I’m hurtling backward. The SOB got me.” Jake is injured. When a medic finds Jake, the medic “shoots me full of morphine and dresses my wound with QuickClot, bandage, and tape.”
  • While soldiers cover him, Jake runs to his friend, Skitballs. “His anxious eyes are open, a little glassy. A bubble of blood slowly forms in one nostril, then pops. He’s lying in this open sewer, enveloped in the stink of human waste, the mush around him reddened by his blood.” Skitball dies from his wounds.
  • Jake’s unit is sweeping for landmines when one goes off. “We all flinched, then looked around. A ball of black smoke rose from the next gulley over. ‘Ahh! Ahh! Ahh!’ came the screams…Morpiss’s anguished cries were like shock waves. They blew through you, tearing you up inside…” Morpiss survives but loses both legs and an arm.
  • Insurgents attack the base. “Ka-boom! The explosion was so big and close that the shock waves knocked a few guys out of their beds.” The soldiers go outside and “bullets whizzed and pocked into the walls. Men shouted.” Jake and another man, Brad, need to get to the guard tower. Jake “felt my scrotum contract. Even with suppressive fire, we’d be running right under the insurgents’ noses. . . I followed Brad, running as fast as my legs would carry me, praying I wouldn’t get hit. Lead whizzed past us and kicked up dirt around our feet.” Jake and Brad throw grenades into the guard tower and then went up. “The scene inside the tower was gruesome. Mangled bodies, blood, parts of bodies. The acrid stink of smoke.”
  • During an attack on the base, three children shoot at the soldiers. “They were skinny, all knees and elbows, not even old enough to have whiskers.” None of the soldiers want to shoot them, but “when we still didn’t return fire, the other two jumped to their feet and started towards us again.” A soldier finally shoots the kids, but their death is not described.
  • One of the soldiers, Brad, writes a suicide note. “I was going crazy at home. You knew because you walked into the bathroom and I was sitting there with a gun in my mouth. You have no idea how many times I did that when you didn’t walk it…I’m looking at my rifle right now and wondering for the millionth time what hot brass tastes like.” Later in the story, Brad locks himself in the “crapper.” Jake tries to talk to him. “When the gunshot came, a couple of guys jumped. I felt like the bullet had gone through me, too. Someone ran to get a cutting tool. I sat in the hot, dusty sunlight and sobbed.”
  • While on guard duty, a woman approaches the base. When she refuses to stop, a solider kills her. The woman drops a bundle. When the soldier goes to investigate, they find she was carrying a burned baby that needed medical help.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Jake returns home, he takes anti-anxiety meds. When he sees a crowd of people, he gets anxious and explains, “…even with the pills, I’m still wound tight like a spring.”
  • After being in the warzone for months, “more than a few guys were taking pills for sleeplessness, loose bowels, and anxiety.”
  • When he gets back home, Jake goes to a party where beer, tequila, and spiced rum are served.
  • When a soldier’s girlfriend broke up with him, he “sobbed, wiping his eyes and nose on his sleeve.” To calm down, “he washed down a couple of pills because there was no hooch allowed.”
  • Jake and his sister eat a meal with their grandfather. His sister orders “a Long Island iced tea. I have a Patrón on the rocks with a lime wedge. We may be underage, and the General may be a straight arrow, but the one exception is the rule of booze. Real men and women drink.”
  • Some of the soldiers are given pills for night terrors. When Jake was in the hospital, “I tried to stop taking them, but my nightly yelling woke the other patients on the ward. So I started again.”
  • After a soldier steps on a landmine, he is given morphine for the pain.
  • The army gives soldiers sleeping pills. “The Army provides soldiers with a selection. The short-term variety gets you about four hours of shut-eye. The medium-term pill is good for six. And then there’s Sleeping Beauty, a twelve-hour sleep-like-a-baby dose that leaves you feeling the next morning like you’ve been raised from the dead.” Jake discusses the addictive qualities of the pills. “Pretty soon guys had so many meds inside them that they couldn’t think straight, couldn’t feel straight. So what did the docs do? Gave them anti-depressants and anti-psychotics to stop all of the other meds from driving them crazy. After a while, guys were taking seven or eight different pills a day. With no one monitoring them.”
  • To deal with the stress of a parade, a veteran filled his water bottle “from a flask.”
  • When having dinner with his grandfather, Jake thinks, “I’m a tequila man, but in the General’s company, it’s the rule of bourbon. The only choice you have is which brand. . .”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, bastards, bitch, crap, crapper, damn, hell, and pissed.
  • Goddamn is used two times. After Jake returns home, his father asks Jake if he’s okay. Before Jake can reply, his grandfather answers, “Of course he’s okay, he’s a goddamn war hero.”
  • When a soldier is injured, he screams, “Oh Lord, Jake!”
  • While eating in the mess hall, the soldiers hear a “clang!” One of Jake’s friends was “going fucking nuts, ranting like a madman and smashing a metal tray against the edge of the table.”
  • Jake wakes up sweaty from a bad dream and “there’s that split-second fear that I’ve pissed myself in my sleep. But it’s never urine. It’s always sweat.”
  • Oh my god is used several times.
  • Someone tells Jake, “Don’t play dumb white cracker with me. . .”
  • To get the attention of enemy soldiers, Jake yells, “Hey douchebags.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Jake is shot in the back, but is uninjured. He thinks, “Thank Almighty God and ceramic body armor.”
  • When soldiers have to leave the FOB, “we knew it might be the last time. We all had good luck charms. Some soldiers smoked, some joked, some dipped and spat, and some got on their knees and prayed.”
  • Jake thinks the army recruiters lie in order to get people to join the army. Instead of being like a party, “You go in, make a couple of friends, and then pray you’ll all make it out alive.”

 

 

Susanna’s Midnight Ride

Sixteen-year-old Susanna Bolling is struggling to cope with the realities of the American Revolution. She, along with her mother, are the sole residents and operators of their tobacco plantation (and the slaves who work it). Following the death of Susanna’s father and her older brothers’ entry into the American army, Susanna and her mother rely on each other for emotional support and companionship.

Susanna and her mother act as each other’s rock as they are tasked with running a plantation and supporting themselves. Susanna eventually braves the dangers associated with espionage and courageously sneaks into the woods. Alone in the middle of the night, Susanne goes to warn the American Army and General Lafayette of British movements and plans. She braves miles of deep forest riddled with dangerous branches and rattlesnakes. She reaches the American camp and meets with the general but gets desperately lost on the way back home. Is there any way Susanna will be able to sneak back home unnoticed? Will she be captured by the British soldiers?

Susanna’s Midnight Ride is engaging because the reader is encouraged to relate to Susanna and put themselves in her shoes. The reader is left to wonder if they would have the strength to support their mother in a time of crisis or the courage to risk everything to do the right thing. The author characterizes Susanna in a likable and relatable way, so that the readers are empowered to believe that courageous acts are possible for anyone with dedication and loyalty. Susanna’s story shows that fear does not determine if someone is a hero or a coward. Susanna is absolutely terrified to go on her journey but is so determined to help the American cause that she goes into the night regardless.

Susanna’s Midnight Ride is based on historical fact, with a few embellishments, exclusions, and adjustments to make this story suitable for a younger audience. The characters and plot are well developed and highly relatable, and the short chapters will encourage reluctant readers. McNamee creates an engaging story; however, some sections will challenge growing readers. For example, some of the phrases used by General Lafayette are in French, and the reader must use context clues to fully understand his meaning.

The negative representation of slaves on the Bolling plantation may upset readers. An older slave shouts and berates a younger slave for desiring freedom and states, “If I got to be a slave and mu children got to be slaves, I want to be their slave!” This storyline ends as over time the younger slave returns to the Bolling Plantation happily, saying that, “I done made a big mistake leaving the plantation.”

Susanna’s experiences highlight the importance of determination and loyalty. McNamee utilizes a real person’s story to realistically illustrate these lessons. Susanna’s Midnight Ride is a suspenseful and highly engaging story that will encourage readers to learn more about history and be confident when making difficult choices.

Sexual Content

  • Susanna’s cousin often speaks about handsome men and often whines about the “cluster of handsome lads” who she could marry “if it weren’t for this dreadful war.”
  • Susanna describes a prospective suitor, Joseph, who was killed during the war. Susanna thinks, they would have had “lovely red-haired children.”
  • Susanna once flirted with the British soldiers occupying her home and chides herself for “acting as coquettish” as her flirtatious cousin.

Violence

  • Following the death of her son, Joseph’s mother describes her fear that he may have been “dumped into a mass grave” and that she had “nightmares of butchered boys piled in together and left to rot.”
  • Susanna briefly describes the circumstances of the “tragic loss” of her older sister and baby niece. Her sister dies in childbirth “when a baby’s head is too large to pass, there is precious little even the best doctor can do.”
  • A “terrible disease” killed Susanna’s younger sister and left “Mother disfigured with pock-marks all over her face.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Susanna’s mother plots to distract the soldiers by “topping off their drinks again and doling out another round of shots.” She did this so that “they shall sleep like the dead tonight.”

Language

  • Profanity is used sparingly. Profanity includes poppycock, bugger, arse, darn, rubbish, drat, bloody. Each word is used once or twice.
  • The phrases “god awful” and “godforsaken” are used frequently, around 20 times in total.
  • The following words are used as insults on rare occasions: maggot, ninny, tomboy, swine, no-good bum, loggerhead, locust, brute.
  • The words “negro” and “negroes” are used at least once per chapter as characters describe enslaved people.

Supernatural/Spiritual Content.

  • Religious references are almost constant, and are frequently positive or celebratory. For example, during the spinning bee, Susanna proclaims, “God is surely smiling down on his daughters of Liberty today.”
  • McNamee also refers to the Grim Reaper a handful of times. For example, Susanna describes her family’s luck, “The Grim Reaper operates by a code of fairness, the ultimate fallacy. Death follows no rules at all.”
  • There are also constant references to “souls” throughout the story. For example, an older man describes all of the “lost souls” resulting from the war.

by Meg Oshea

 

 

 

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