Island of Shipwrecks
Middle Grade / Juvenile / May 15, 2016

Unwanteds #5. Author: Lisa McMann. Summary: Alex and his friends from Artimé are stranded on a newly discovered island after barely surviving a storm that destroys their ship. And it turns out they’re not alone… Back in Quill, Aaron’s power base grows as he aligns himself with an unlikely ally. Together, the two enact a drastic, risky plan to finally conquer Artimé—a plan that could ultimately leave everyone in both Artimé and Quill in far more danger than Aaron realizes. My Thoughts: Finally, Aaron is getting some deeper characterization. The time after his adviser is killed was at first confusing, but then very gratifying, as our villain finally shows some emotion and motivation. Content Review: Sexual content: One kiss. Some attraction between characters – blushing, glances, talking together – but nothing really happens. Language: One exclamation each of: crud, good heavens, blasted, holy gorillas. Violence: Hook-handed pirate lashes out and cuts a gash in a character’s forehead. A (living) statue is broken into pieces, but then put together again. Character breaks a leg. A woman is dead (action in last book, realization in this) from a panther attack. Character is knocked unconscious by a blow to the head. Mountain gorilla…

Island of Legends
Middle Grade / Juvenile / May 9, 2016

Unwanteds #4. Author: Lisa McMann. Summary: As Alex grows more confident in his role as the mage of Artime, he expands his skills and brings his first creature to life with results that are both painful and wonderful. A team from Artime heads out to rescue Sky and Crow’s mother from underwater Pirate Island and discovers there are more creatures than they ever imagined in the ocean surrounding the islands and not all of them are friendly. Meanwhile in Quill, Aaron faces threats to his leadership as Gondoleery hones her rediscovered magical abilities and Eva and Liam form a secret alliance against him. But Aaron’s distracted with a discovery of his own, a hidden jungle that holds a dangerous secret. His time there yields a startling truth about himself, and a potential opportunity to increase his power. My Thoughts: There’s a little less of the lovely world-building here in a sense; no new spells, no more exploration of Artime. However, we get to venture out into the surrounding sea and get a glimpse of what’s in the ocean around them. The character building is as steady as before, perhaps even stronger; I appreciated how she shows the difficulty of relationships…

Island of Fire
Middle Grade / Juvenile / May 1, 2016

Unwanteds #3. Author: Lisa McMann. Summary: The magical world of Artimé is gone. The Unwanteds have no food, no water, and no hope. And everyone is looking to Alex Stowe for answers. Overwhelmed and feeling totally helpless, Alex knows it’s up to him to find a way to restore Artimé, rescue his captive friends, and free Megan from her voice-stealing necklace of thorns – three impossible tasks. But could help lie with the silent, orange-eyed newcomers? Meanwhile, Alex’s twin brother Aaron continues to build his army in the stark land of Quill, preparing for the ultimate showdown with the Unwanteds. But a shocking twist reveals that Alex and Aaron share a common enemy more dangerous than either could have imagined… (Goodreads summary.) Content Review: Sexual content: One kiss, some talk about whether a character ‘likes’ specific girls. Language: 4 crud Violence: Two men snatch food from a boy and run. A prisoner is kept tied up in the cupboard most of the day. A girl who was captured is dragged away and the boy has to be kicked down to keep from following them out. High priest sends his own father to be executed, but then rescinds the order. A…

Coraline
Middle Grade / Juvenile / April 30, 2016

Author: Neil Gaiman. Summary: Coraline’s often wondered what’s behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her “other” parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures. My Thoughts: Told through the simple voice of a fairly young girl, this is a shivery horror story. It combines elements of various fairy tales together in a child’s telling, creating a story with moral without moralizing. Top marks. Content Review: Sexual content: None. Language: None. Violence: A child is locked up in a cupboard for a little while; two rats are killed; a child is chased around by a hand.  

Island of Silence
Middle Grade / Juvenile / April 30, 2016

Unwanteds #2. Author: Lisa McMann. Summary: The battle is over. The magical barrier between the dreary land of Quill and the fantastical world of Artimé is gone. Now residents of both places are free to mingle, but tensions are high. The artistic warriors of Artimé struggle to forgive those in Quill who condemned them to death, while the Quillens attempt to recover from the shock of Artime’s existence, the loss of their leader, and the total collapse of their safe, orderly world. 14-year-old Alex Stowe has recovered from his physical wounds since his death-defying role in Artime’s victory, but his confidence is shattered. He battles self-doubt after Artimé’s beloved mage, Mr. Today, makes a stunning request, which is further complicated by the mysterious arrival of two silent, orange-eyed teenagers. Meanwhile in Quill, Aaron is devastated by his fall from grace and seething with anger toward his twin brother Alex. Spurred by rage, Aaron recruits a team of Restorers and devises a masterful plan of revenge that will return him to power…if no one gets in his way. My Thoughts: Lisa McMann has ratcheted up the tension another notch, bringing Aaron in much more prominently and giving us a little more…

The Unwanteds
Middle Grade / Juvenile / April 22, 2016

Unwanteds #1. Author: Lisa McMann. Summary: Every Year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their graves. On the day of the Purge, identical twins Alex and Aaron Stowe await their fate. While Aaron is hopeful of becoming a Wanted, Alex knows his chances are slim. He’s been caught drawing with a stick in the dirt – and in the stark gray land of Quill, being creative is a death sentence. But when Alex and the other Unwanteds face the Eliminators, they discover an eccentric magician named Mr. Today and his hidden world that exists to save the condemned children. Artime is a colorful place of talking statues, uncommon creatures, and artistic magic, where creativity is considered a gift… and a weapon. My Thoughts: The writing is clearly directed to a middle-grade level, but I still enjoyed the story for myself. By the end many characters were well-filled out and interesting conflict set in place for later. The world was interesting, although without much background – no doubt more of that will come in later books. There was no romance among the teenagers except for one…

The Girl Who Could Not Dream
Middle Grade / Juvenile / April 8, 2016

Author: Sarah Beth Durst Summary: Sophie has lived all her life just above the dream shop where her parents work. She can’t dream alone, but when she borrows a dream from the dreamshop she can dream it – and coax things, and animals, out of the dream with her when she wakes up. This is how she acquired Monster, her devoted pet. And it’s a good thing he loves her so much, since she doesn’t have any other friends. But when her parents go missing, along with most of the bottled nightmares, Sophie may not be able to do this on her own – she needs allies, and fast. But are all her allies quite trustworthy? My Thoughts: A deliciously wry, humorous middle grade book I would recommend to younger fantasy lovers. Durst sets us in a solid, intriguing world and brings on the action. Here your deepest fears can come to life… but is this a threat or a tool? The characters lampshade and laugh at their own speeches and life lesson declarations, and Monster’s irritation with some of the clichéd dream characters is wonderful. In fact, Monster is one of the best sidekicks I’ve seen in a children’s book….

The Unicorn Girl

Author: M. L. LeGette Summary: Leah Vindral is suffocating–trapped in her own skin. In a land where magic is feared, magic saved her from death … but it came with a terrible price. Marked forever, she is shunned and isolated by those she loves most. Brimming with bitter rage at those who abandoned her, Leah flees from her childhood home only to be swept into an impending war: Mora, a wicked witch, has been imprisoned for years, waiting like a spider in the folds of her web for the chance to regain the powers once stripped from her. It is there, while she waits, that she learns of a strange young girl … a girl who can speak to unicorns. Now Leah must save the country that shuns her, for if Mora returns to power, all will be lost. But can Leah, who is so frightened and confused herself, find the strength to save them all? (Summary from Goodreads.) My Thoughts: There wasn’t anything wrong with The Unicorn Girl. It was just… bland. Generic. The writing style felt stilted and stiff, with ‘ly’ adverbs liberally scattered. There were elves – tall people with pointed ears who live in a shining castle, and…