Citadel of Fire by Matthew Wolf

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Citadel of Fire by Matthew Wolf
Publisher: Self
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
Length: Full (562 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rated 4.5 stars
Review by Poppy

Seventeen-year old Gray is descended from a legendary hero known as a Ronin and haunted by his forgotten past. He returns home to a wizards’ keep, unaware he is now labeled a murderous traitor for killing his best friend.

Now he must cross a dangerous desert full of thieves, mythical beasts, and other magical unknowns, all to return to a home that may be his demise. At the same time, a poisonous evil seeks to convert the world to their dark mantra, “strength is life, weakness death.”

Gray may have hero’s blood in his veins, but how can one kill a belief?

I’m a huge fan of fantasy novels, and this book absolutely fits the bill.

I didn’t know this was the second book in a series when I picked it up, and I admit to being confused for a bit because the action here starts right off the bat. We meet several groups of people in the first few chapters and learn about things that were clearly important to the story (like the “spark” and the ronin and more) that were a little too ambiguous for me to get immediately. However, I hung in there and got a big payoff.

The characters were so amazing and well drawn, the writing crisp and descriptive but never dull and the plot solid. The author skillfully wove in information tidbit by tidbit and kept me reading and longing for more. I didn’t realize, at first, that Gray is the lead here, because there are other characters given just as much space. I like Gray though, and he’s the reason I have every intention of going back and reading book one to catch up. He’s an interesting anomaly, as is the woman he meets near the beginning, Faye, who I really, really liked. I don’t think I was supposed to like her quite so much, but her self-confidence, smart mouth and swagger really spoke to me.

There’s a touch of LOTR here. At first, when he mentions the nine kings, I felt that was a deliberate nod to Tolkien and his nine kings (who ultimately became the ring wraiths). I wasn’t sure if I should be irritated or not, but honestly aside from their number, they are nothing like those LOTR kings.

It was interesting to watch the author merge all the various groups of people together and see how they were able to overcome much to work against defeating a common foe. The author truly created amazing characters who were real, flawed and unique, and although the plot was certainly gripping, it was those characters who kept me completely invested in the story and turning pages.

I have little negative to say here, other than the fact this didn’t stand alone as strongly as one might hope. But that doesn’t matter … book one is out there and just asking to be added to my library. Then I’ll be all caught up and waiting for the next in the series very eagerly.

I highly recommend this book (and the first) to any reader who loves epic fantasy. There is so much depth here and truly great writing. I’m never certain what to expect from self-published works but this one was clean, well written and worth every penny. It’s a book I’ll want to read more than once, as I’m certain I missed things here that will only add to the richness of the story.

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All Things to Everyone by Aldred Chase

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All Things to Everyone by Aldred Chase
Publisher: Self
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Short (141 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Fifteen year old Paul Blake is not looking forward to spending quality time with his grandmother, who has never taken an interest in him. This time however, things are different because he reveals to her an ability to see the supernatural. She wants to train him but she is not the only one who is keen to help him develop his talents. He soon realizes that he can’t be all things to everyone and he will have to make some difficult decisions. His choices will lead him into a terrifying fight for survival that will test his skill and courage to the limit. All Things to Everyone is the first book in the Sinister Sydney Series: stories where the supernatural pierces the thin skin of modern life in Sydney.

Paul Blake is an unusual person – but possibly not quite as unusual as he at first believes. You see he has these abilities, and they do seem pretty singular. They set him apart, a little too much. He also is not having the easiest time of it, as his Mom uproots them and they end up living with ‘Gran.’

Gran, as it turns out, is not the boring old lady he believed her to be. It starts with her cane …

While this charming tale kicks off in a friendly, conversational tone, it does not have most gripping of openings. We can see Paul has reason to less than satisfied with life, but really, he’s a nice enough guy. Even his Mom and Gran aren’t so disagreeable. Just as you start to believe that probably nothing much is going to happen, they sit down for tea and suddenly, you realize that Aldred Chase has lured you, the reader, right in.

Paul is fast acting and circumstances are, well, reporting actual circumstances might reveal too much; but circumstances are both and strange and unpredictable all at once. No spoilers here: you have to read All Things To Everyone to find out the details. Once you reach the stage where unpredictable things start to happen, you will not be able to tear yourself away.

The story does ramble around, from hauntings to disappearances; some motivations are unclear (in fact, it isn’t always easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys) but the characters are interesting, and events unexpected!

Suffice to say All Things to Everyone is unpredictable and fun; and runs the gamut from the weird to the grotesque. This is a great fun read for anyone really, its not just for kids! Also, kudos to the cover design–it fits wonderfully!

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Up The Tower by JP Lantern

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Up the Tower by JP Lantern
Publisher: Brainstorm Publishing
Genre: Futuristic/Sci-Fi, Dystopian, YA
Length: Full (247 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

In the dystopian slum of Junktown, death is commonplace, trust is a liability, and friendship is a curse. But disaster brings everybody together. A cloned corporate assassin; a boy genius and his new robot; a tech-modified gangster with nothing to lose; a beautiful, damaged woman and her unbalanced stalker—these individuals couldn’t be more different, but somehow they must work together to save their own skin. Stranded in the epicenter of a monumental earthquake, there is only one way to survive. These unlikely teammates must go…UP THE TOWER.

Up the Tower offers us the events following a disaster in the future City of St. Louis. There is that which is familiar in any American city – the ordinary lives, the everyday events. Then there are the futuristic elements, like the mega-corp of the police department, and cultural ones, as well. Then, there is the sudden life-altering change, showing us the impact of the disaster on individuals.

The opening sets the stage, from a distant, perhaps arms-length perspective. I felt interested, yet uninvolved. Abruptly–and this author can handle “abruptly”–we plunge into the ‘ordinary’ lives of these future people.

The quick, frank yet conversational style can occasionally become quite confrontational and tense. Yet, some things are reported matter-of-factly; we accept the strict classes of people almost without second thought. You’re a shareholder–in luck! Or no–a gangster, too bad. It’s the luck of draw, or what you can afford to pay for in this not-quite-familiar future world.

We meet ‘Ore’ first – horrible and horrifying as she is, you do kind of feel for her. She’s tough, but maybe she is what her world made her? Even Victor (I mean, he’s an assassin!) manages not to be a simple, black-and-white character. You can understand his effort to avoid thinking of the dead people; we want to believe some part of him cares. All Mr. Lantern’s characters are distinct beings; more than distinct, they are unique and …well… incredibly individual.

There is even a romance mixed in, along with a sense of character’s insecurity- perhaps a sample of the style is the best way to share:

Today was Gary’s day. He could feel it in his bones. Somehow, someway, he’d run into Ana. He dressed with vigor. Form-fitting khakis. A button-down shirt. His hair slicked back into a neato pompadour. Leather jacket hanging loosely around it all, hiding the outline of pudge that had been steadily building ever since he finished high school. He looked killer. He looked hip. He was neato, daddy-o. That was how they said it, right?”

Strange world though it seems, anyone can identify with Gary’s hope, as well as his efforts to fit in.

Events in Up the Tower are important, yet are given less attention. It is the results that are important. Even the disaster at the start is merely reported, not so much lived and felt.  Junktown, within St. Louis, is central, but never well described.

The style is far from my favorite, but Author JP Lantern manipulates readers emotions like a magician. In fact, but for a few moments of confusion here and there, I might well have assigned it five stars. Although listed for young adult readers,  anyone of any age who likes the genre should enjoy Up the Tower.

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Heart on a String by Susan Soares

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Heart on a String by Susan Soares
Publisher: Astrea Press
Genre: Contemporary, YA
Length: Full (186 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 4.5 stars
Review by Poppy

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Marissa tells lies.

To herself, about the fact that her brother abandoned her.

To her grandmother, when she says “everything’s fine.”

To the world when she pretends her mother is at home or working late. When she doesn’t tell them her mother is dead.

She doesn’t even question the wisdom of living in a world built on lies anymore—until she meets Brandon. Unlike Marissa, Brandon faces his grief head-on. As their relationship sweetens, Marissa realizes the value of letting someone in and not letting her grief destroy her. But when her past filled with denial catches up with her, Marissa is forced to tell Brandon her darkest secrets, or risk losing him.

The only thing harder than lying about her life? Facing it.

Aptly named, Heart on a String is one of the most touching books I’ve read in some time. From the start, when Marissa literally finds a heart on a string–a heart shaped balloon stuck in a tree–and “saves” it, I was hooked.

I lost a parent to cancer many years ago. True, I was an adult (a very young one, but still an adult), but it was no less heartrending. Marissa not only loses her mother, though, but also her brother who abandons her. And though her grandmother does her best, nothing can fill that gap in her life.

The strength of this novel was the author’s ability to create real, unique characters that I cared about from the moment I met them. From Marissa, to her grandmother, to her friend, Zoe and, of course Brandon, each person was well crafted, real and exceptional.  Even the secondary characters were solidly three-dimensional. They behaved as I would expect them to, though sometimes I wanted to slap Marissa silly for her behavior and I didn’t always like her. Even then, though, it was well within the realm of possibility. I have a teenaged daughter, and know how incredibly emotional and dramatic they can be.

Brandon was a dream come true. A truly good guy who’s learning to deal with his grief–the loss of a brother–in a much healthier manner than Marissa does the loss of her mom. I don’t want to share spoilers, but I really loved what he did at the very end. I nearly cried happy tears.

Deciding on an age recommendation wasn’t easy, but if your younger teens can handle deeply emotional stories involving the loss of a parent, then there really isn’t any else in this story to worry about.

All-in-all an impressive book. Not without a few things that annoyed (mainly some of Marissa’s behavior), but any irritation was well overshadowed by the emotions the author elicited from me. I cried, I laughed, I empathized and I hoped … the book impacted me and touched my heart. I recommend it.

Dancing with Raven by S. G. Rogers

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Dancing with Raven by S. G. Rogers
The Young Shakespearean Series, Book One
Publisher: Idunn Court Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (219 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Tori Moss is no stranger to heartbreak. Raised by a foster mother since the deaths of her parents in a horrific accident, she’s poured herself into ballet. A disappointing audition sends her into an emotional tailspin, but it’s the strangely intriguing new guy in school who catches her as she falls. Although Tori and Raven seem to be nothing alike, they share an uncommon ability to see the sudden flood of demons pouring into Los Angeles. When she discovers a plot to bring about the Apocalypse, Tori must decide whom to trust. One wrong step will cost her everything.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to discover that everything you thought you knew about yourself was actually a lie? And what if the truth revealed that you were at the center of a plot to bring about the Apocalypse? This is exactly what Tori Moss has to face and it makes the disappointment of a dance audition seem insignificant by comparison. The audition had been devastating, as a famous ballet director tells her, “You’re a moose. In the corps, your height would draw too much focus. As a soloist, we have no one tall enough to partner you. . . you’re far too big to be a ballerina. Classical ballet is not in your future.” All her dreams are shattered, but then, as the truth of her life unfolds, she discovers things that are much worse, not only for her, but for the entire planet.

Dancing with Raven is an action-packed, thrilling story with great characters. I liked Tori a lot and really felt for her pain and her angst as her world is up-ended. She has no idea who to trust, and those who she thought she could trust turn on her as those she distrusted turn out to be allies. Tori’s character is well-developed and I found her to be very believable. The plot has one twist after another. Tori meets a young man, Raven, and discovers that they may not have a lot in common, but they both possess the ability to see demons. As they learn to trust each other, the date for the Apocalypse grows ever closer.

This is the first novel in a series called The Young Shakespeareans and it is a thrilling first book. The ending makes it clear that other books will follow, and I can’t wait for the next in the series. But the novel does end at a reasonable stopping point, with many of the mysteries resolved, and the door opening onto the next adventure.

Readers of fantasy and paranormal novels are sure to get caught up in the lives of Tori Moss and Raven Cassidy. I look forward to reading more in this wonderful series.

Journey to Glory by Haley Whitehall

 

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Journey to Glory by Haley Whitehall
Publisher: Expanding Horizons Press
Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Action/Adventure
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Seventeen-year-old Ethan Mire is excited when war is declared and is eager to enlist in the Confederate Army. This is the defining moment of his generation and he wants his chance to achieve glory.

His loyal dog Sam won’t be parted from him. Though he thinks human warfare is madness, he becomes the mascot for the Georgia regiment. His job is to keep the soldiers company and raise morale until Ethan’s first battle gives him a more important mission.

Will Sam follow Ethan only to find the grave?

And who will achieve glory in this Civil War tale?

Is going to battle an effective way to prove that you should be treated like an adult now? Ethan thinks so, but Sam isn’t so sure.

Sam is an insightful co-narrator whose canine perspective made me smile. He doesn’t always see the world the same way us humans do, so it was fascinating to compare his point of view to what I imagine I’d think about the same scenarios. It’s difficult for me to discuss this further without giving away spoilers, but definitely check out the author’s postscript.

The pacing was a little slow in the beginning as Sam describes their homestead and Ethan mulls over his desire to become a soldier. The introduction would have been ideal for a novella twice this length. With that being said, once the pacing picked up I couldn’t stop reading until I knew how it ended.

Ms. Whitehall has a smooth writing style that blends in well with the themes and time period of this particular tale. She knew just when to add in enough details to create vivid pictures in my mind of what was going on without slowing down the plot or distracting me from Ethan’s adventures. This was my first introduction to her work, and I’m looking forward to reading more from her soon!

It took me a while to figure out the best age recommendation for this story. Including the perspective of his dog made it feel like it was written for an audience much younger than seventeen. The protagonist was also described in a manner that I’d expect from someone several years younger than him. He was excited for battle and didn’t seem at all concerned with the danger of it. The age I ended up choosing is firm due to violent content, but I’d heartily recommend this tale to older teens and adults as well.

Journey to Glory was an unforgettable ride. This is an especially good choice for anyone who is intrigued by what it was like for the teenagers who fought in the Civil War.

Escaping the Mirror by Emily P. DeLoach

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Escaping the Mirror by Emily P. DeLoach
Publisher: Self
Genre: Contemporary, YA
Length: Full Length (181 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

When her mom abandoned the family, Evelyn Crayley was left with an alcoholic father, a drug-dealing older brother and the nickname “Evil.” Starting fights at school and getting high do little to ebb the rage welling inside. Her brother, Jim, does his best to protect her from their violent father, but Evil still feels helpless, doomed to live the same kind of white trash life she and her family have always known.

That summer everything changes: her father’s abuse spurs Evil to run away from home, and her budding romance with Jim’s best friend, Dopey, damages her relationship with the brother she depended on. When she is forced to return home again, will Evil’s secrets destroy her? Or will she finally learn that the girl in the mirror can take control of her future?

Don’t pick up this book expecting a light, fluffy paranormal sparkly vampires kind of book. It’s about real kids with real serious problems. It made my heart break (and be very thankful for my own family) to see the things these kids go through.

From the drug use (they smoke pot the way my friends and I drank Coke) to the abuse they suffer, these teens are from a lifestyle I personally was blessed to avoid. But, this author does an amazing job of making it real to the reader. I was right there with them as they try to escape their problems.

Evelyn, “Evil”, had strikes against her from the time she was born. Her mother, in a psychotic episode, tries to kill her–an event witnessed by her brother Jim. From that day on, Jim is Evil’s protector–from everything, but he tries especially to protect her from their father. Unfortunately, his “protection” leads her to a state of dependency as she turns to him for everything.

This is a very character-driven book and I really came to care for Evil, Jim, and Dopey (Jim’s best friend). The young people have to come to grips with who they are, what their relationships are, and how to adjust to the changes that are going on around them and within them.

Kudos, Ms. DeLoach, for a book reminiscent of my generation’s Judy Blume books… books that did not shy away from real life and real life problems.

What’s It to You? by Judy Irwin

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What’s It To You? by Judy Irwin
Genre: Middle Grade
Length: Full length (104 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Rose

What if nothing was the worst thing you could do?

For 13-year old Tim Stockdale, it’s all about keeping his head down and fitting in with the friends he’s managed to make at his new school. His older brother, Eli, is the opposite. He’s trying to set up a Gay-Straight Alliance at his high school, where he’s a junior. Even though the school board is against it, Eli’s not afraid of what the fallout might be.

So when Tim’s new friends start to bully a kid they think is gay, Tim’s torn – he doesn’t want to do anything to risk being cast out of the crew. But when Eli is hurt in a protest, Tim’s own failure to do anything starts to get under his skin. Will he find his way at his new middle school, and figure out what’s really worth standing up for?

Ms. Irwin has brought us a story about a young teen trying to find his way in a new school–walking that fine line between being part of the crowd or standing up for what he knows is right.

Tim’s family has moved to another part of town–putting Tim in a different school. His older brother, Eli, is able to remain at the high school, where he is trying to set up a Gay-Straight Alliance.

The kids at the new school aren’t very friendly and Tim finds himself reaching out to the only people who are nice to him–a self-professed “anger guy” and his buddies. Unfortunately, they not only have anger issues, they are bullies. While Tim doesn’t join in the bullying; he just stands there and does nothing. He feels badly about it, but doesn’t want to be alone.

And therein lies the essence of what this book is about … for kids, when does doing nothing become just as bad as the bullying itself? Tim has some tough choices to make and Judy Irwin captures those choices and this age group very well. I could identify with Tim being in a new place and trying to fit in. Especially as a kid, this is so hard.

It was quick, easy read– I read it in one night–and it was interesting to see not only the relationships with the kids at the middle school, but also the interactions between Eli and Tim as well as between the boys and their parents. Ms. Irwin has a good handle on this age group and it certainly makes her books more real and readable.

There are more books in this series–I’m looking forward to reading the others.

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Aundes Aura by Ryan Sullivan

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Aundes Aura by Ryan Sullivan
The Válkia Chronicles Book One
Publisher: Self
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (252 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Rose

Since their father was taken to the dungeons of the capital city, Eoin and Saera have had to fend for themselves. If Eoin can find an apprenticeship in the capital, they can work on freeing him.

But Saera is afflicted with an evil goddess’s light, and when her Aura flares up in the middle of the street, the power-hungry Church Regency are quickly on their heels, keen to eradicate the threat.

With more than the Regency after them, their only hope is to relinquish the Aura. Making alliances they would never have dreamt of, they find themselves swept up into a struggle against the kingdom they once called their own.

This book is the first of a series, but according to the author the books are all going to be standalone. I hope there is a lot of crossover between characters however, because I really enjoyed getting to know the characters in this book.

The main characters are Saera and Eoin, siblings who are always there for each other–and it’s not always easy because Saera has been “gifted” with powers from one of the deities of the land. In the kingdom they live in, this is definitely a problem. Their only chance of survival comes from getting to another kingdom–one that is more tolerant of the Auras than their own. But, that’s easier said than done.

Mr. Sullivan has created a wonderful world and I’m very much looking forward to his next book in this series. And, like I said, I certainly hope I get more opportunities to see the characters in this book. I was sorry to put the book down once I was finished.