A thin but quick-moving tale of a princess who becomes a pirate.


From the Raven and the Phoenix Pirates series , Vol. 1

Pluchino (Saraynea: Return to the Frostpeak Mountains Territory, 2017, etc.) tells the story of two red pandas—one a princess, the other a pirate—who join up in this middle-grade fantasy series starter.

Raven, the red panda princess of Frostpeak Mountains Territory, has proven very good at beating up any pirates that dare set oar in the harbor. She’s starting to think maybe she needs more of a challenge. Many entries are the same, she notices as she looks over her diary. “I go to the harbor, fight with the pirates, and come back home.…I want to write about something big and awesome…like a real adventure.” Imagine her surprise when then next time she goes down to the harbor, she is captured by pirate hunters mistaking her for a pirate herself! They lock her up aboard their ship, where she meets fellow captive Xifeng, another red panda and a real-life pirate. Xifeng helps Raven escape from the boat under the cover of night, though the two hardly trust one another. Xifeng decides to help Raven get back home—if only in anticipation of reward. As they travel together, Raven realizes that there are many pirate hunters in the world who behave unethically…and even a few pirates who aren’t so bad. When they reunite with Xifeng’s crew, the pirates ask Raven to help them find a population of phoenixes that they believe to be in danger. Princess Raven has finally found the adventure she’s dreamed of, but is she up to the challenge? Pluchino’s prose, like the story, is generally simple but occasionally violent: “The deer and hare who kept Xifeng tied up brought her into the open space. The hare punched her hard on her wound again, forcing Xifeng to her knees as they retreated back through the wooden gate that closed behind them.” While there is an impressive array of species represented (sun bears, clouded leopards, lynxes), the landscapes and physical geography are only lightly described. Though light on character development, worldbuilding, and plot complexity, the book delivers lots of adventure in the form of anthropomorphic animals fighting, sailing ships, and the like.

A thin but quick-moving tale of a princess who becomes a pirate.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79764-637-4

Page Count: 286

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2019

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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