The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires


The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

A little girl and her canine assistant set out to make the most magnificent thing. But after much hard work, the end result is not what the girl had in mind. Frustrated, she quits. Her assistant suggests a long walk, and as they walk, it slowly becomes clear what the girl needs to do to succeed. A charming story that will give kids the most magnificent thing: perspective!

Everyone feels the urge to give up sometimes. Keep reading to find out why they shouldn’t give into that desire.

The main character of this story was such a persistent and inventive kid. I loved seeing her tinker with her invention as she tried to figure out what worked well on it and what could still use some improvement. One of the coolest parts of her journey was that she didn’t figure it all out immediately. It took what was often a frustrating amount of time for her to test all of her ideas, and yet she refused to give up no matter how many times she failed. This was such a great example for kids and adults alike.

This is a minor criticism of a story I otherwise enjoyed a lot, but I found myself wishing that the main character’s name would have been shared at some point. It felt odd to get to know so much about her without ever knowing what I should call her. Even knowing a nickname for her would have been enough to give this tale a five star rating.

The relationship between the main character and her dog was so sweet. No matter was else was going on in her life, the main character always had time and energy for her dog. They shared a close connection, and I could tell how much they cared about each other by how they acted when they were together.

I’d heartily recommend The Most Magnificent Thing to inventors and amateur engineers of all ages.

Ebba, the First Easter Hare by Leen Lefebre

 
Ebba, the First Easter Hare by Leen Lefebre
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (80 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

King Stern rules over a dark empire of hares. His brother Atta leaves. Before his love Hulde gives birth to their first child, he wants to find a field of his own, bathing in light. Every day Hulde runs to the frontier, where she stands on the lookout for Atta. But then the baby arrives, too soon.

At a rapid pace, Princess Ebba grows into a smart child. Hulde notices that this curious girl resembles Atta more and more – and that is not a gift. When they discover an abandoned bird’s nest in a rabbit cave, Ebba wants to go on a trip just like her father. But, is she as brave as him?

No one is ever too small or too young to make a difference in the world.

Ebba was such a compassionate and brave character. She lived in a world that was full of danger for hares and other animals, and she knew the risks she was taking when she decided to break the rules of her society. I liked her as soon as I met her, but seeing her decide to break those rules no matter what the consequences would be made me like her even more than I already did.

This story had a slow beginning. Roughly the first third of it was spent introducing the characters and exploring the world they lived in. As interested as I was in what it would be like to be part of a hare kingdom, this didn’t leave enough space for Princess Ebba’s later adventures once she grew old enough to leave her mother. It would have been nice to have more time to get to know Ebba after she discovered what was in the next and decided how she was going to react to it.

The ending made me smile. Not only did it fit Ebba’s personality perfect, it tied up all of the important loose ends of the plot that hadn’t been resolved yet. While I would like to know what happened next in her life because of how much I liked this character, I was also satisfied by what the narrator shared about what happened to her as she grew older.

I’d recommend Ebba, the First Easter Hare to anyone who enjoys fantasy adventure tales.

Cress by Marissa Meyer


Cress by Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles Book Three

Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (550 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Poinsettia

In this third book in Marissa Meyer’s bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth.

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl trapped on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s being forced to work for Queen Levana, and she’s just received orders to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is splintered. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a higher price than she’d ever expected. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai, especially the cyborg mechanic. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

Is Carswell Thorne the hero Cress has been waiting for?

Born a shell, a Lunar without power, Cress was given up by her parents when she was only days old. Sybil, Queen Levena’s second in command, imprisoned Cress on a satellite orbiting Earth and uses her hacking abilities to manipulate and spy on the governments of the planet. However, Sybil never counted on Cress caring for the Earthens she spends her life watching.

Cress is one of the sweetest heroines I’ve come across. Her harsh upbringing could have left her feeling bitter, but while she certainly does resent the way the way she’s been treated, she is remarkably optimistic about the world. Unfortunately, most of what Cress knows about Earth is from the shows she watches on her net screens. When she learns about Cinder and Thorne’s escape from prison, Cress immediately develops a crush on Thorne. She learns everything she can about him and imagines him as a misunderstood hero destined to rescue her. When Cinder and Thorne finally do rescue Cress, it is a dream come true, but can Thorne ever live up to Cress’ fantasy?

Cress is very naïve about love, but this feels realistic considering how long she has been imprisoned. Watching her discover how things work in the real world was bittersweet. I loved seeing the world through her fresh eyes. Everything was new and interesting to her, but the harshness of reality was understandably shocking to Cress at times. However, Cress is stronger than she looks, and I think she handles it all very well considering her situation.

Cress and Thorne make an interesting pair. Thorne has a roguish reputation he gleefully perpetuates, and he’s a wonderful character with a great sense of humor. However, something changes when he meets Cress. She sees him differently, and I think for the first time in his life, he wants to be better and desires to be the hero Cress believes him to be.

The pacing gets faster with each book in this series. Cinder’s team mismatched team of heroes is really starting to come together. The conflict between Earth and Luna is escalating, and Cinder and her crew come up with a daring plan, one that will surely awaken Levena’s wrath.

Cress is a thrilling addition to this series! I’ve come to care about Cinder, Kai, Iko, Scarlett, Wolf, Cress, and Thorne. I’m completely hooked on The Lunar Chronicles, and I can’t wait to find out how it will end. I’ll be reading the next book immediately.

Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan


Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Dad has warned Henry and Eve: If you whine too much, monsters will eat you. Henry and Eve don’t listen, of course. The only problem is, when the monster comes, he can’t find the right recipe for whiny children—and neither can his monster friends! A whiny child salad doesn’t work because there’s paprika in the dressing. A whiny child cake won’t do because the flour spills all over the floor. And whiny child burgers are out of the question because the grill is too hard to light up. Arguments and hilarity ensue. And just when our persnickety monsters decide on the perfect dish…the worst thing of all happens….

Sometimes deciding what to make for dinner is the hardest part of the day. This is true even for monster who are planning to turn human children into the main ingredient of it.

The premise of this tale caught my attention immediately. I’ve always loved children’s fiction that has a dark side, especially if it includes the horror genre in a playful way. The best moments of Eve and Henry’s adventures were the ones that showed what can happen to kids who refuse to stop whining. Not only were they funny, they taught an important message about communicating your needs without whining.

Most of this jokes in this book seemed to be geared to adults instead of kids. For example, one of the monsters decided against baking the children into a cake because she was worried about her bottom being too large and she didn’t want to gain any more weight. This isn’t something that most children think about at all, so it was strange to me to see it included in something that was otherwise written for them.

All of the kitchen accidents made me giggle. Cooking, baking, or grilling a delicious dinner isn’t always as easy as it may seem. It turned out that monsters are no better at any of this stuff than the average person is, so there were plenty of mishaps along the way as they decided how they should prepare the human children they’d just caught.

Monsters Eat Whiny Children is a good choice for anyone who loves snarky fiction.

The Return of Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel


The Return of Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (234 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

High school graduate Paul Coleman’s life is anything but ordinary. It has been only a few months since he, Myrna Trillian, his girlfriend, and her father, Montague, an Elementalist/magician, destroyed a demon named Hekla that wanted Myrna for a purpose almost too diabolical to believe. Hekla had used the power of sound to kill Paul’s best friend, and her attack left Paul with very little ability to hear.

Montague is now gone, having died in the final battle against Hekla. His last feat of magic was to open a portal to Vann, a water world, where Paul and Myrna now live. Paul is mostly deaf, and Myrna is totally deaf, having been born that way.

However, things take a turn for the weird when Myrna suddenly starts hearing as a normal person would. She also exhibits the ability to open portals to other worlds as her late father did.

Mystified by her sudden transformation, Paul needs to know more, and so does Myrna. They return to Earth and find it under attack by a group of winged demons from Hekla’s home world, Sithros.

They also find that Monty has somehow been resurrected, and while trying to solve that riddle, they also have to fight against legions of winged aliens who think nothing of slaughtering millions. It will take everything the trio can come up with to fight against an alien horde that will stop at nothing to conquer—and destroy.

Nowhere on Earth is safe anymore.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that described exactly how violent and brutal the winged aliens were. Yes, these passages were the reason why I added the horror tag to this review as the descriptions of those attacks could be pretty detailed at times. They suited the tone of this tale nicely, though, and gave Paul all of the urgency he needed in order to try to stop them before more innocent people were hurt or killed.

After the nonstop action of Master Fantastic, I was a little surprised by the mild pacing issues I noticed in this sequel to it. The occasionally uneven pacing wasn’t distracting enough to prevent me from enjoying the plot, but it did steal my attention away from what was happening to the characters often enough that I thought it should be mentioned in this review. I expected the pacing to be slower in the beginning as the narrator was explaining what had happened earlier on in Paul’s adventures, but I wish it hadn’t happened again after that point.

I was impressed with how much care was taken in showing how Paul’s deafness affected his daily life. It wasn’t something he necessarily thought about every day, but it did change the way he reacted to certain situations. Just like in the first instalment in this series, he encountered some people who understood his disability and others who were jaw-droppingly ignorant about it. Paul’s reactions to the way others treated him suited his personality perfectly. He had excellent reasons for all of the different responses he gave to their kindness, rudeness, and everything in-between those two possibilities.

This is part two of a series, but it can be read as a standalone work.

I’d recommend The Return of Master Fantastic to anyone who has ever dreamed about visiting a distant world.

When the World Is Full of Friends by Gillian Shields


When the World Is Full of Friends by Gillian Shields
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books
Genre: Childrens, Historical
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When the world
is full of friends,
the fun and laughter
never ends.

Albert, Tom, Flossie, and Pipkin love to play. And while they have fun inventing games together, their biggest wish is to have friends to share them with. One day, something magical happens. A family of squirrels moves in across the stream! They could be the perfect friends–but how will they cross the stream?

With a little help from Father Rabbit, Albert, Tom, Flossie, and Pipkin will discover just how wonderful it is when the world is full of friends. This touching story from the revered team behind When the World Is Ready for Bed and When the World Was Waiting for You will warm the hearts of readers young and old.

Sometimes you have to put some effort into making a new friend.

Making new friends definitely isn’t always as easy as it seems, especially when it requires solving a problem first. I liked the fact that Albert and his siblings had to plan ahead of time how they might accomplish their goal and then work together to try to achieve it. That’s a good message to share with this age group, and all of these rabbits were excellent role models.

The plot was a little thin. While I was expecting a sweet and gentle tale that was meant for a young and sensitive audience, I would have liked to see the rabbit family work harder to figure out how to cross the stream so they could meet their new friends. There simply wasn’t enough conflict as it was written to keep me interested in reading. Even one more attempt at solving that problem would have been enough for me to choose a much higher rating.

Albert and his family were so cooperative with each other. I enjoyed seeing them brainstorm possible ways to cross the stream safely as a group. They listened to each other nicely and took everyone’s opinions into consideration before they tried one of their ideas. I also appreciated the fact that they explained why some ideas might work better than other ones. Their reasoning made sense, and it also helped me keep reading until the end.

When the World Is Full of Friends would make a peaceful bedtime story.

The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith


The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (64 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The Fox and the Star is the story of a friendship between a lonely Fox and the Star who guides him through the frightfully dark forest. Illuminated by Star’s rays, Fox forages for food, runs with the rabbits, and dances in the rain—until Star suddenly goes out and life changes, leaving Fox huddling for warmth in the unfamiliar dark. To find his missing Star, Fox must embark on a wondrous journey beyond the world he knows—a journey lit by courage, newfound friends, and just maybe, a star-filled new sky.

Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and the art of William Blake, The Fox and the Star is a heartwarming, hopeful tale which comes alive through Bickford-Smith’s beloved illustrations, guiding readers both young and grown to “look up beyond your ears.”

Sometimes best friends come in the most unusual combinations. For example, a little fox can meet up with the star who shines on him every night to explore the forest and spend quality time together.

Fox’s friendship with Star was well-developed and beautiful. I’d never imagined a wild animal paying any attention to the night sky before, so I was curious to see how their connection worked and what would happen to them next. The more I read about their unique bond, the more I wanted to know. Ms. Bickford-Smith included a lot of emotion into those scenes, and that made this friendship something I want to read about over and over again.

There were a few things about the plot that I never quite understood. For example, where did Star go when Fox could no longer find his friend? The narrator danced around this question a lot, and the answer that was provided didn’t satisfy me. I would have preferred to see more time spent exploring this because of how important it was for Fox’s quest to figure out what happened to his buddy.

The ending was perfect for this whimsical story, though. It was every bit as poetic as the beginning and the middle had been, and that made me smile. I felt like it was written for adults just as much as it was for kids. That’s something I always like to see in children’s books. There’s nothing like being able to reinterpret the same scenes in different ways as a reader grows older.

The Fox and the Star should be read by anyone who loves fairy tales.

What Time Is It There? by Christine Potter


What Time Is It There? by Christine Potter
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (167 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Orchid

BoM LASR YA copy

Just over a year ago, Bean and Zak headed for colleges two thousand miles apart, promising to write, but to see other people … until Bean fell for the wrong guy and Zak fell off the planet. Now, Bean’s got two weeks’ worth of Zak’s year-old letters that she still can’t bear to open—and a broken heart. Her new best friend, a guy named Amp, wants her to read the letters and be done with it, but he may have his own reasons for that. When Sam shows up at Bean’s school unexpectedly and Bean tumbles into the 19th century from the cellar of a ruined church, things start making a bizarre kind of sense. That is, if she can just fit all the pieces together again…

On the surface Bean seems like an ordinary college girl, but she has a secret. She can travel in time. During her first year in college new events and people make Bean forget the love of her life and now she regrets it. Unfortunately Zak has now disappeared, although she sees him when she travels.

I found this story fascinating. What at first seems to be a straightforward tale of time travel turns out to be far more sinister. I love the way Bean’s friends play a major part in the story, those from her past and the present. From day to day events, to Thanksgiving and Christmas I followed Bean and her friends as they tried to work out where they were going with their lives. Bean has the added problem of where is Zak?

A good story, a little slow at first, but intriguing and fast paced once it gets going.

Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel


Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (226 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

High school student Paul Coleman’s life is an ordinary one. His existence takes a turn for the extraordinary when he and his best friend, Rory, are attacked by a winged demon one day. The demon, which calls itself Hekla, possesses the power of sound, and kills Rory with its scream. Paul survives, but the force from the blast has left him mainly deaf. A year later, Paul is out of school, working part-time, and is fearful of going deaf forever. Although he has learned sign language well, he wonders where his life will go. All that changes when Montague (Monty) Trillian, also known as Master Fantastic, enters his life and requests his services as a sign language teacher for his daughter, Myrna. Paul accepts, and soon finds out that Trillian is not just any magician, but an Elementalist, one capable of wielding the four elements of Earth with ease. He can also open portals to other worlds, and often does so, visiting those of earth, water, and fire. Many adventures follow, and Paul and Myrna grow close, but Hekla returns and demands Myrna be given to her. It seems that Myrna is the product of a union between Monty and Hekla, and like all mothers, she desires to protect her own. Now, Paul must do everything he can to save Myrna from being used for a fate far worse than death, and only the abilities of Master Fantastic can save them all—or can they?

There’s more to magic tricks than you might think.

This book had one of the most attention-grabbing beginnings that I’ve ever read. The demon’s attack on Paul and his friend was terrifying and life changing. Yes, there were grisly moments to it, too, but the gore had a purpose and it fit into the rest of the storyline beautifully. What made this scene even more powerful was how severely it affected Paul’s life long after that day ended. He reacted with just as much trauma as anyone would after seeing the violent death of a friend. As difficult as it was to see this character in so much emotional pain, it also pulled me into the plot and made it impossible to stop reading.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about the romantic subplot was how much the characters involved in it had in common. I can’t remember the last time I read a tale about two deaf or hard-of-hearing people falling in love, so it was nice to see it happen here. The similarities between these characters didn’t end there, though. Everything from their senses of humor to their ideas about how to spend their free time was so complementary that I wanted them to end up together as soon as I realized there was a spark between them.

The world building was fantastic. This was true not only for Earth but also for the other places that Paul and his employers explored every time a portal opened. Every single setting was described in such great detail that I felt like I’d been there myself once I finished reading about them. Any one of them would have made me want to give this story a five star rating. The fact that this happened so many times made it impossible for me to pick any other rating!

Master Fantastic is a must-read for anyone who loves magic in any form.

To Wish Upon a Star by Scott MacDonald


To Wish Upon a Star by Scott MacDonald
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (242 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Orchid

Megan Brandt was a shy, lonely teenager secretly in love with a boy in school who didn’t even know she existed. It’s a common scenario that many young girls face and the resolution is typically something simple, like a makeover. Megan’s solution, however, was a little less prosaic than that. She chose to enter into a contract to have her wish fulfilled magically by a bitter and alcoholic 132yr. old Gypsy fortuneteller with a lot of unresolved anger issues. A makeover would’ve been so much easier. Years later, long after the wish had been made, the time had finally come for the people involved to seek out each other and understand the truth of what really happened on that one miraculous night.

 

One of the worst things about being a teenage girl is to be in love with someone who doesn’t know you exist. Megan loves Nick but he doesn’t even look at her. When the chance comes to wish upon a shooting star, Megan thinks of Nick and agrees to the terms of the gypsy who offers her this chance.

Nick is on the football team and is usually surrounded by adoring girls, but on the night of the wish he is stupid and falls from the ferris wheel. He ends up in hospital and is not expected to survive. This makes Megan change her wish at the last minute.

The maxim – be careful what you wish for – is in full force in this book, both for Megan and for the gypsy who also had a life changing event when she wished on the star and is out for revenge.

I enjoyed this book, the storyline was unusual and had a lot of twists and turns which kept my interest alive. Together – apart – together is how the story proceeds and I have to say I loved Rocket, Nick’s dog. The only flaw was the presence of several editing errors. Good read though.