An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale

An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (232 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Stargazer

When your whole world is falling apart, what are the chances you’ll find love in the most unexpected of places?

Livvie feels like she’s losing everything: her two best friends have abandoned her for their boyfriends, her mother continues to ignore her, while her sister, Jules, is sick again and getting worse by the day. Add in the request Jules has made of her and Livvie feels like she’s losing her mind, too.

Her only escape is in the art room, where she discovers not only a refuge from her life, but also a kindred soul in Bianca, the school “freak”. Livvie’s always felt invisible, at school and at home, but with Bianca, she finally feels like someone sees the real Livvie. As the relationship deepens and it comes time to take the romance public, will Livvie be able to take that step?

Livvie’s about to find out if she has what it takes to make the tough decisions and stand up for herself—for the first time in her life.

How far can you be pushed before you give up your quiet life and take a stand?

An Unstill Life is a deep journey into the life of Livvie, a fifteen-year-old girl with more than her share of life’s problems. Her sister Jules is sick with cancer and Livvie’s mother is preoccupied with the medical diagnosis. Hannah and Mel are Livvie’s two best friends, but boys become the major obstacle and distraction that tears the three apart. Livvie finds herself isolated and overwhelmed with everything going on.

An Unstill Life is a perfect view of how fast everything can spiral out of control. Kate Larkindale balances difficult topics with true to life emotions. The descriptions of events, emotions and reactions that each character has is directly on point and plays out smoothly within the situations presented. Issues of bullying, discrimination and even deep rooted domestic frustrations are cleanly addressed in an honest way.

The story, while told from the point of view of Livvie, really is something that could happen in most families. Events from both home and school are intricately interwoven to provide a great immersive plot that draws the reader in and makes it difficult to put the books down. Each event that piles onto Livvie’s daily life, is reflected in the change to her personality. The author takes great care in showing the transition and shifting of Livvie’s personality throughout the pressure, frustration and difficulties that she endures.

The dialog between characters is strong and flows naturally. Each character has a strong back story that unfolds throughout the story, including the mysterious Bianca. Each secondary character has strong personality development throughout the story as well, showing a depth to the storytelling that Kate exhibits.

If you enjoy an enveloping psychological look at life and how fast things change to shape and mold who we are-make sure you don’t miss An Unstill Life.

Escape from Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth


Escape from Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Full Length (180 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Everyone in Arnn – a small farming town with more legends than residents – knows the story of Witchwood Hollow: if you venture into the whispering forest, the witch will trap your soul among the shadowed trees.

After losing her parents in a horrific terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, fifteen-year-old Honoria and her older brother escape New York City to Arnn. In the lure of that perpetual darkness, Honoria finds hope, when she should be afraid.

Perhaps the witch can reunite her with her lost parents. Awakening the witch, however, brings more than salvation from mourning, for Honoria discovers a past of missing children and broken promises.

To save the citizens of Arnn from becoming the witch’s next victims, she must find the truth behind the woman’s madness.

How deep into Witchwood Hollow does Honoria dare venture?

Anything can happen when someone gets lost in the woods.

Ms. Elizabeth did an excellent job of blending multiple genres together into one storyline. It was equally a ghost story, a mystery, and a science fiction novel. I honestly couldn’t narrow it down any further than that because of how all of these elements of the plot worked together to show what happened to every character who accidentally or purposefully found themselves in Witchwood Hollow.

While it was incredibly interesting to see how the town of Arnn had changed from one century to the next, I do wish that I’d been able to get to know the characters better than I did. It was confusing to move between three different time periods. Each one of them had a fairly large cast of characters to introduce to the reader, and they all had complicated plots to unravel as well. I met several unique characters in each era, but I felt like I never had the chance to learn more than pretty basic basic information about their personalities and origins. It would have been nice to dive into their lives more deeply.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this book was how it explored grief. All of the characters had been through some kind of trauma or loss, and all of them were working through the long-term consequences of that. It was fascinating to see how people in different eras thought about their grief and what kinds of coping skills they used to get through it. These scenes were as poignant as they were beautiful.

Escape from Witchwood Hollow should be read by anyone who is in the mood for something thought provoking.

Prophecy Awakened by Tamar Sloan


Prophecy Awakened by Tamar Sloan
Prime Prophecy Series

Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full (346 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Poinsettia

On the first day of her new school all that shy, wounded Eden wants is to finish her senior year and escape to college. It can’t be too much to ask for, can it?

Noah has spent two years not knowing why he failed to come of age as every one of his ancestors has. Two years drifting aimlessly, searching for direction…

When the two meet the connection is instantaneous and undeniable. A connection that has Eden running and Noah burning to know more.

A connection destined to be the catalyst for a prophecy that neither knew existed.
A prophecy others are willing to kill for.

As families rupture and struggle to realign, as their hearts connect and ignite, Eden learns to trust. But with their love and life on the line, Eden must find the power to believe.

Prophecy Awakened is the first book in Tamar Sloan’s Prime Prophecy Series. If you enjoyed Stephanie Meyer, Lauren Kate or Maggie Stiefvater, then you’ll love a series that captures their best traits in an epic, captivating story of a love that defies boundaries.

Eden has one goal, survive her senior year.

Eden just wants high school to be over. While Eden is a bright and kind young woman, she’s never been popular at any of the numerous schools she’s attended as her mother moved them from place to place. Eden doesn’t think Jacksonville High will be any different. Eden has no idea just how wrong she is.

Eden is a very likable character. She’s intelligent, considerate, attractive, and deeply cares for animals. Many students want to be her friend when she arrives at her new school. Unfortunately, Eden’s fractured relationship with her mother and her experience at her other schools has made her extremely hesitant to trust others. Everything changes when she meets Noah.

Eden and Noah have an intense connection from the moment they meet. Instant connections can be problematic in that they are hard to believe. However, Ms. Sloan orchestrates the tension between Eden and Noah very well. Eden does everything she can to ignore Noah and the spark of attraction between them. Noah is very gentle and patient with Eden. He knows what he’s feeling is special and he is persistent in his pursuit of her heart without being overbearing and pushy. Once Eden stops fighting her feelings for Noah, I really like that they had time to get to know each other. Even though Noah and Eden are not normal teenagers, I enjoyed watching them do normal things like watching movies and doing school projects. It made the story and their relationship feel realistic. Unfortunately, Eden and Noah’s world is soon rocked by tragedy, and their budding relationship is put to the test. They are both forced to make some tough decisions. Will their relationship survive?

Prophecy Awakened moves at a steady pace as the tension gradually builds. Little by little I learned more about Noah and his family. Eden and her abilities remain a mystery for most of the story. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that Eden has a very special way with animals, one that she doesn’t fully understand. I’m not even sure that Eden’s mother is aware of Eden’s power. I’m definitely curious and hope to learn more in the next installment.

I must admit I was hoping to learn more about the prophecy. There is just a vague hint about it at the end of the book. I did expect there to be some sort of mention about it since the title is Prophecy Awakened. However, this book is devoted to building the relationship between Eden and Noah. I have a feeling that something big is on the horizon for the young couple, and I sincerely hope they are strong enough to survive whatever comes their way.

I enjoyed reading Prophecy Awakened. The characters are solid and likable and the story is compelling. I look forward to reading more about Eden and Noah in the next book.

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Snobbity Snowman has everything a snowman could possibly want: a shiny hat, freshly-picked noses and enough pride to last a lifetime. In fact, he is so egocentric that he can’t even see when his life starts falling apart.

What disasters must take place to open his charcoal eyes? To help him see that pride and possessions cannot bring true happiness? Will he defrost his chilly ego and embrace the warmth of friendship? Only Snobbity can tell.

Depicting winter in rich and whimsical tones, Snobbity Snowman’s quirky characters and unexpected twists promise to leave a lasting impression on all its snobbulous readers.

Nobody likes a snob, even if that snob is a snowman!

The vocabulary in this story was very advanced for this age range. There were several words that the average 6-year-old won’t know, but I liked the fact that the authors provided so many context clues about what those terms mean. I’d recommend reading this aloud as a group so that those terms can be explained if the clues don’t give enough hints. With that being said, it was a pleasant surprise and it’s definitely something that will work well for young readers who would like to be challenged a little bit.

It would have been helpful to have more examples of how Snobbity behaved before his makers moved away. He had such a terrible reputation in his neighborhood that I was expecting to see him spend more time looking down on the people who lived nearby before his circumstances began to change and he got a taste of his own medicine. While there were examples of his bad attitude, having more of them would have made the final scene much more meaningful.

The conclusion was well written and completely satisfying. Some of the earlier scenes involved people treating Snobbity very poorly, so I was curious to see how his life would turn out after they were finished mistreating him and he was left alone with nothing. The lessons he learned in life only became clearer once I saw how his tale ended. I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to it.

Snobbity Snowman was a heartwarming book that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something kindhearted.

Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell


Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Genre: Childrens, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

They say there’s a girl
Who lives by the woods
In a crooked old house
With no garden but gloom.

She doesn’t have parents.
No one knows her name.

But the people in town
Call her Wee Sister Strange.

Like Emily Winfield Martin’s bestselling Dream Animals, here is a bedtime read-aloud sure to entrance young listeners. Each evening, as the shadows grow long, Wee Sister Strange climbs from her window and runs into the woods. She talks to the owls and rides on a bear. She clambers up trees and dives into the bog. She is searching for something…. She looks far and wide, over forest and marsh. What is it she seeks? Why, it’s a wee bedtime story to help her fall asleep!

Just because the sun has set doesn’t mean it’s time to go to sleep quite yet.

The descriptions in this book were vivid and beautiful. One of my favorite parts of it had to do with the main character’s origins and how the people who live nearby reacted to her unusual habits for a girl of this age. There were just enough details to explain what was going on without making her life seem any less whimsical than it was. I also liked the fact that the author left plenty of room for a possible sequel here. While I don’t know if she’s planning to write it, I’d sure like to read it if she ever does.

All of Wee Sister Strange’s adventures made me smile. I was intrigued by the idea of a young child wandering around in the dark, especially since she was so confident in every corner of the woods. The forest was her playground in so many different ways. This wasn’t necessarily something I was expecting to find, so I was thrilled to see how much she loved doing everything from talking to the animals to going on a late-night swim.

After spending so much time hinting at what the main character was searching for when she ran through the woods alone at night, I couldn’t wait to get an answer to this question. The ending not only satisfied my curiosity, it fit in perfectly with the general tone of this tale. While the blurb does give away part of it, I also appreciated the fact that it left some of the final scene a mystery. It was nice to be pleasantly surprised once I reached that part of the storyline.

Wee Sister Strange was one of the most creative bedtime stories I read this year. It’s a must-read for children and adults alike.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi


The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The new kid in school needs a new name! Or does she?

Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.

The only thing scarier than being the new kid in class is feeling rejected.

All of the adults in Unhei’s life were supportive and kind. They listened to her when she talked about the anxiety she felt over having a name that was so different from the American names of her classmates. I especially liked the fact that they took her seriously and worked hard to help her feel better about having a name that other kids didn’t know how to pronounce. They couldn’t have been more encouraging of her when she began to wish she could pick a new name for herself.

The friendship the main character developed with Joey, one of her classmates, made me smile. He barely even knew her, but he still tried his best to make her feel included and understand why she felt the way she did from the beginning of their friendship. His kindness made a huge difference in her life, and I enjoyed seeing how much work he put welcoming her to her new country.

Unhei experienced some mild teasing in the beginning because none of her new classmates knew how to pronounce her name. What I liked most about that scene was how much care the author took in showing why the other kids reacted that way. It was definitely a painful experience for the main character, but digging into the reasons why her classmates weren’t being very nice to her helped to set the stage for everything that happened later on.

The Name Jar was a beautiful tale about acceptance and diversity that I can’t recommend highly enough. I loved every single moment of it.

Shadow Eyes by Dusty Crabtree


Shadow Eyes by Dusty Crabtree
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Inspirational, Paranormal
Length: Full (334 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Stargazer

Iris thought she could ignore the shadows…until they came after everyone she loved.

Seventeen-year-old Iris Kohl has been able to see both dark and light figures ever since a tragic incident three years ago. The problem is, no one else seems to see them, and even worse…the dark figures terrorize humans, but Iris is powerless to stop them.

Although she’s learned to deal with watching shadows harass everyone around her, Iris is soon forced to question everything she thinks she knows about her world and herself. Her sanity, strength, and will power are tested to the limits by not only the shadows, but also a handsome new teacher whose presence scares away shadows, a new friend with an awe-inspiriting aura, and a mysterious, alluring new student whom Iris has a hard time resisting despite already having a boyfriend. As the shadows invade and terrorize her own life and family, Iris must ultimately accept the guidance of an angel to revisit the most horrific event of her life and become the hero she was meant to be.

 

Have you ever wondered what unseen forces move throughout our world which we do not see?

Iris Kohl began seeing weird “shadows” that seemed to impact how people relate to each other and the world around them around her fourteenth birthday. Iris mostly just tries to stay away from these strange entities, but when a few very personal events occur, it forces her to re-evaluate what these shadows are and what they want. Within the school year, Iris meets her new English teacher that seems to almost sense these strange figures as well. Iris begins to wonder if there is more going on than she originally imagined.

Shadow Eyes is the initial story in a series focused on Iris and her abilities to see and interact in the world around her. The plot is strong and character development and emotions are right on point. I did find myself frustrated from time to time wondering what happened on Iris’s fourteenth birthday, but this was finally revealed at the end of the story.

Dusty Crabtree does an excellent job of bringing in the reader to the center of the story. The various plot twists and foreshadowing cause the reader to consider and then reconsider what is happening within the story and Iris’s life. While the main story focuses on Iris, the secondary characters including Iris’s close friends and family members each have a strong backstory that is integral to the overall plot in which Iris the focus.

The editing is clean, and the story flows nice without being too descriptive or wordy. Everything that occurs or is described has a place within the story. Aside from the frustration of being left in the dark with events surrounding the fourteenth birthday, this was a nearly perfect read!

If you have ever wondered what lurks just outside our line of vision, be sure not to miss Shadow Eyes!

Interstellar by J.S. Frankel


Interstellar by J.S. Frankel
The Titans of Ardana, Book 3

Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (215 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Martin Calder and his girlfriend Dana—no last name given—are back. Their powers are now known to the general public, and their wish is to help out those who need it.

However, those in the law enforcement world aren’t so accepting. Reduced to starring in their own reality show—and messing it up—other, more urgent matters take precedence. The weather has changed, and the sun has started to turn blue. Although it’s a physical impossibility, it has happened. The Earth will freeze in a matter of weeks if nothing is done, and only Martin and Dana can help.

Their journey takes them back to Ardana, Dana’s home world, in search for answers, and subsequent searches send them on a quest across the galaxy where they meet vampires, energy-sapping rays, cat-mole people, and a boy-not-a-boy who may be the answer to everyone’s prayers.

Sometimes, giving everything isn’t enough. Sometimes, you have to give more than that—even your life.

Some problems really are black and white. If Martin and his friends can’t warm the sun up again, everyone will be doomed.

The premise caught my attention immediately. There are plenty of science fiction books out there about global warming, but very few of them talk about what would happen if our sun stopped giving out heat. I was mesmerized by this idea and couldn’t wait to see how it might play out and if Martin would be able to reverse the process before he ran out of time. The more I learned about the rapidly cooling sun, the more curious I became about why it happened and what could be done to save everyone.

There were some mild pacing issues. They were especially noticeable after the narrator had caught the readers up on the important backstory. I expected the plot to need some time to speed up while that was happening, but it remained a little slow for me even after the characters had begun trying to figure out what happened to the sun. With that being said, the pacing problems weren’t serious and I did enjoy the storyline quite a bit overall.

One of the many reasons why I’m such a big fan of Mr. Frankel’s books is that he always comes up with fascinating scientific advances and devices in the worlds he imagines. This tale was no exception to that rule. Not only did the characters find creative ways to stay warm while their sun cooled and their world began to freeze, Martin also stumbled across some science experiments along the way that were as unique as they were attention-grabbing.

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

Interstellar should be read by adult and young adult fans of science fiction who are in the mood for something inventive.

In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson


In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Sophie lives with Mama and Daddy and Grandpa, who spends his days by the window. Every day after school, it’s Grandpa whom Sophie runs to.

“Here I am, Grandpa!”
“Ah, Sophie, how was your day?”

As Sophie and her grandpa talk, he asks her to find items he’s “lost” throughout the day, guiding Sophie on a tour through his daily life and connecting their generations in this sweet, playful picture book from Richard Jackson, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist and Laura Ingalls Wilder Award winner Jerry Pinkney.

The best part of every day happened right after Sophie arrived home from school.

Sophie had such a warm and kind family. I enjoyed seeing how they interacted with each other during the average day. They all loved each other a lot, and it showed. It was especially interesting to see how this character’s parents balanced taking care of their young daughter with also looking after the grandfather. They did a wonderful job of showing how a multi-generational household can nurture everyone who is part of it.

The conversations between Sophie and her grandfather were pretty repetitive. While I’d certainly expect some repetition in a children’s book, it would have been nice for their conversations to vary more from one day to the next, especially when it came to how they started the next round of this game. Reading almost the exact same conversation between them in every scene makes me hesitant to read this story again.

With that being said, I really liked the guessing game itself that Sophie and her grandfather played every day after school. He found some creative ways to hide common objects in places that I’d never think to look for them. Watching her try to find his “lost” possession was as entertaining as it was heartwarming. I found it interesting to attempt to figure out where those items were before flipping the page to see if I was right.

In Plain Sight should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a gentle tale about the fun games a grandparent can play with his grandchild.

Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story by T.L. Branson


Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story by T.L. Branson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (58 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Kingdoms rise and fall by the blade.

For Davion Callum, that blade is closer than he’d like. Ever the pawn in a scheme of epic proportions, he is given a choice to stand beside those who would wield him as a weapon or defend those who would call him friend.

When the lines blur between ally and enemy, all is not as it seems. Will he uncover the truth? And what will he do when he does?

Orphans don’t have anyone they can rely on if they make a mistake, so failure isn’t an option for Callum.

Mr. Branson sure knows how to write an exciting battle scene. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I look forward to reading his stories, and this one was no exception to that rule. I deeply enjoyed seeing how Callum reacted to sword fights and battles in general. He was a courageous character in even the scariest circumstances, and that made me want to see him spend even more time in battle.

The romantic subplot felt completely out of place. I was surprised when it suddenly popped up because the main character had spent most of his time up until that point simply trying to survive. Since he hadn’t resolved any of the conflicts that were threatening his safety, it didn’t make sense to me for him to suddenly be thinking about romance when his life was still in danger.

Callum’s character development was handled nicely. He only had a limited amount of time to show the audience how he’d changed as a result of his experiences, but I noticed several subtle changes in his behavior as he learned from his past and grew as a person. It was rewarding to see him mature before my eyes. I’m hoping he will appear again in a future tale from the author so that I’ll be able to continue watching him become the man I saw glimpses of today.

Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story should be read by anyone who in the mood for some medieval swordplay.