Black and White by Nick Wilford

Black and White by Nick Wilford
Publisher: Superstar Peanut Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (155 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Orchid

What is the price paid for the creation of a perfect society?

In Whitopolis, a gleamingly white city of the future where illness has been eradicated, shock waves run through the populace when a bedraggled, dirt-stricken boy materialises in the main street. Led by government propaganda, most citizens shun him as a demon, except for Wellesbury Noon – a high school student the same age as the boy.

Upon befriending the boy, Wellesbury feels a connection that he can’t explain – as well as discovering that his new friend comes from a land that is stricken by disease and only has two weeks to live. Why do he and a girl named Ezmerelda Dontible appear to be the only ones who want to help?

As they dig deeper, everything they know is turned on its head – and a race to save one boy becomes a struggle to redeem humanity.

Wellesbury and Ezmerelda live in Whitopolis in the country of Harmonia. This is a white city with no dirt, no pain, no emotions. When Mallijnger, a boy reportedly from a demon city appears suddenly in the middle of the road, his arrival causes uproar as he is dirty and full of disease; in fact, he is dying.

The book is full of mystery and excitement as Wellesbury and Ezmerelda decide to investigate Mallinger an his origins to see if they can find a cure for his disease and save him. What they find is beyond their experience and also uncovers a whole disturbing aspect of their own lives.

At first I thought I wasn’t going to like this book but the more I read, the better it got. There were high points and moments when I was caught by surprise. The biggest surprise was at the end of the book, but I’m not going to reveal the spoiler, just lets say it’s well worth reading to the end. An intriguing idea which has been well thought out.

Jake and the Dragons of Asheville by Brian Kacica


Jake and the Dragons of Asheville by Brian Kacica
Publisher: Magic Penny Press
Genre:: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (221 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Orchid

BoM LASR YA copy

In a small, sleepy town in North Carolina, thirteen-year-old Jake Winston has discovered he carries a unique genetic trait; one that a covert government agency will stop at nothing to obtain. After the tragic death of his father, a local firefighting hero, Jake’s absent grandfather returns and sends him on a journey into the gated forest at the edge of town, bringing Jake face-to-face with a family of ancient dragons thought long extinct.

Determined to grasp the power of the blood flowing through Jake’s veins, the agent from the secret ONX facility begins killing every dragon in his path. This forces Jake in the middle of a battle between the government and the dragons of Asheville, where the true potential of his power is revealed.

Jake Winston adores his father so when the man dies, he is devastated. His grandfather tries to help, but he finds it difficult to explain things to Jake.

Deep in the forest the government is hiding a secret facility where they are capturing and experimenting on dragons. For some reason Jake becomes a person of interest to these experimentalists and he needs his grandfather’s help to escape their clutches.

A good book (of course if must be good if it has dragons as part of the story!), well written and has clues to what is hidden in Jake’s family’s past. I liked the way the story started off as a normal family holiday followed by tragedy. After this Jake is virtually on his own until his grandfather helps him.

A different way of looking at dragons and their interaction with humans. While not a book I couldn’t put down, it was definitely one I had to read to the end.

Raise the Curtain by Kirby Hall


Raise the Curtain by Kirby Hall
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (239 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Seventeen-year-old Alexa Cross is desperate to get to Broadway, but when she receives a failing math grade, hopes of a scholarship disappear. Now she’ll need her father’s help to achieve her dream. The only problem is he doesn’t consider her choice of careers to be sensible and after the pain her family has suffered, Alexa can’t go against his wishes. Trapped between a family she loves and her love of the stage, Alexa will have to find another way to achieve her dream or settle for what her father wants.

West Howell does his best to keep his head down and go unnoticed. It’s easier to be cut off than to try to explain to people why he’s so screwed up. After all, he can’t afford to get into any more trouble. When he’s recruited to tutor the hot, prissy girl from math, he never expects to fall in love with her. Or that she might be the one person who can relate to him.

Together, they may find a way to heal each other and get what they both desperately need, as long as Alexa’s father doesn’t decide that the one thing worse than his daughter’s love of the stage is her love for West.

Review:

He’s supposed to be nothing more than her tutor, but love doesn’t always follow the rules.

I absolutely loved the romance between Alexa and West. They had plenty of time to get to know each other really well before anything even remotely flirtatious happened, and they had such compatible personalities that I couldn’t help but to hope they’d end up together. I also enjoyed the fact that two people who came from such different backgrounds could discover that they had far more in common than either of them would have ever guessed. Figuring out what similarities they shared was an interesting experience for me as a reader because of how long it took and how well it explained why these two characters would be attracted to each other.

There were pacing issues in this story. At times the narrators spent so much time describing what was happening around them that it slowed down the plot. This made it difficult for me to stay focused on what was going on despite my interest in the characters’ lives in general. While the long descriptions were necessary in the beginning, they did become less needed as the storyline moved forward and I had a better sense of who Alexa and West were as individuals.

Alexa’s relationship with her dad was complicated and well written. I appreciated the fact that both of them had their fair share of flaws that rubbed the other one the wrong way for completely valid and understandable reasons. There definitely weren’t any perfect people in this family, and that made them very interesting characters to read about.

I’d recommend Raise the Curtain to anyone who is in the mood for a slow-burning romance.

The Jewel Tree by Lee Summers


The Jewel Tree by Lee Summers
Publisher: SevenOaks
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (90 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

At the heart of THE JEWEL TREE is an heirloom so precious that the last remaining members of the Ryder family will do almost anything to keep it in their possession.

But how long should a young girl work to earn back the emblem of her mother’s soul? And is any task to menial?

When Leda sees the hummingbird charm dangling from wealthy Lord Caitiff’s shriveled earlobe, she swears she will labor a year and a day to reclaim it. She is prepared to do whatever the old man asks–until the day he asks too much.

In a world of dark curses and ancient grudges, Leda and her handsome young uncle are sometimes hard pressed to distinguish between appearance and reality. Not all that glitters is gold–and gold is never worth more than flesh and blood. This mini-novel about the redemptive power of love will delight readers who appreciate a little magic in their lives.

Magic is everywhere if you know where to look for it.

Ms. Summers has a beautiful writing style that works perfectly for the fantasy genre. Her descriptions of the scenes were so vivid that I almost felt as though I were working next to Leda and her uncle, Alexander, as they attempted to earn back the charm that had been created in her mother’s honor. I also appreciated how much time this author put into showing the audience what Leda and Alexander, were experiencing and why the acted the ways that they did. All of those little details she added to her story made it come alive for me.

The ending felt rushed. So much time was spent building up the conflicts that I was surprised to see how quickly they were resolved. It would have been nice to watch the characters struggle more to find the solutions to their problems, especially when it came to the curse and how that affected everyone. If not for this issue, I would have chosen a much higher rating as I loved the storyline up until the last scene or two.

The character development was well done. Everyone changed in important ways between the first scene and the last one. It was interesting to see how and why they grew as a result of the things that happened to them, especially since their transformations were explained so clearly. I can’t say much else about this without giving away spoilers, but it was one of my favorite parts of this book.

The Jewel Tree should be read by everyone who enjoys fairy tales.

Oh Susannah: It’s in the Bag by Carole P. Roman


Oh Susannah: It’s in the Bag by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (34 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 5+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Stephanotis

From award-winning author Carole P. Roman comes a new chapter book featuring Susannah Logan, a young student having a very bad day.

It all begins with homework trouble and an invitation to a sleepover that she doesn’t want to go to. Would you want to go to a sleepover in a creepy house? Rather than dealing with her problems, Susannah stuffs them into her backpack. But how much can a backpack take? Will she be able to confront her worries before the backpack bursts? Or will she just continue to hide them away?

Join Susannah and her friends in this story sure to charm busy young readers everywhere.

I’ve read many of the If You Were Me books by this author so it was fun to see that Ms. Roman has written her first chapter book.

It’s a cute read and one I know that children will love reading or having read to them.

The main character Susannah hasn’t finished her homework, has parents who always seem to be in a hurry, she hates oatmeal, isn’t fond of bananas yet one is in her school bag. And unlike the other kids at school, she can’t decide what book she wants to read. This all somehow causes her bag to get fuller and fuller until the zipper breaks and the bag gets stuck under the bed.

It’s a funny tale but with a message that sometimes what we perceive to be true isn’t always the case. Susannah’s parents might seem busy but they have time for her and that we all face the same dilemmas in life and it’s always parents who come to the rescue…if you let them.

A fun read that I think would be great to read during the summer break with your children or grandchildren as they get ready to head back to school.

If You Were Me and Lived in Cuba by Carole P. Roman


If You Were Me and Lived in Cuba by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short (26 pgs)
Rating: 4 Stars
Age Recommendation: 6+
Review by: Stephanotis

Join Carole P. Roman when she visits the exciting island of Cuba in the newest book of her informative series. Learn about the varied customs and cultures. Travel to the Caribbean to discover what you would eat and do for fun. See the country through the eyes of a youngster like you and understand what life is like in this exciting place.

Don’t forget to look at the other books in the series so that you can be an armchair world traveler.

This time we’re off to Cuba in Ms. Roman’s continuing series of If You Were Me… books.

I’ve lost count how many I’ve read but each one is just as enjoyable as the last. I read this book not knowing a lot about Cuba and by the time I’d finished it, I knew about its capital city Havana, it’s history and Spanish roots.

What I like most about these books is the way they’re told from a child’s point of view and what day to day life would be like if you lived anywhere besides your home town.

These are books that can be read with an adult or without and a fun collection to have on hand for homeschoolers.

I loved that this one focused on places you’d go and things you’d eat. As always, the author provides a detailed glossary at the back to further explain words and expand your know of both the culture and history of the area.

No Place Called Home by Matthew Wooding


No Place Called Home by Matthew Wooding
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (180 Pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+ (Alcohol use/dependency)
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Stargazer

Growing up with everything you’ve ever wanted sounds like a dream, but it leaves Jonjo Wells feeling unfulfilled and hollow. Destined for a life of boardrooms and working weekends, he decides to escape on a gap year. Free of his parents’ rules and expectations, he can finally discover his freedom. But the unsheltered world away from mum and dad is a tougher place than he’s imagined, and Jonjo is faced with a steep learning curve…

Having everything you have ever wanted can leave you wondering what you are missing out on-unfortunately that can leave you with experiences and pain to last the rest of your lifetime.

Jonjo Wells is ready to find out what exists in the world outside of the safety net provided by his rich father. By taking a risk and leaving the country of his birth-Jonjo goes to Canada in search of adventure. Much different from his life in Australia; Jonjo finds that when things go your way easily they can also turn for the worse just as quickly.

No Place Called Home is a fast paced read that does not leave the reader bored since there is always something coming around the bend. Jonjo’s life begins to take on different forms and the Jonjo we see at the end of the story is far different from the spoiled Jonjo we first met. Jonjo’s tale is also heartbreaking in many respects- I was able to identify many choices that I had made that were similar to Jonjo’s and I began wondering if I could have gone down a similar path if things would have turned for the worse.

While the story was great, there were some spelling mistakes and grammar that detracted a bit from the story. The initial meeting and subsequent fast paced relationship with Hannah seemed unreasonable in some regards, especially the few quick interactions with Hannah’s parents seemed to point to either a larger family issue that is not explored fully in the story or a rush on the author’s part to keep the plot line moving.

By far, the deepest part of the story is Jonjo’s continued increased use of alcohol. The justification and subsequent issues that arise create a world in which the reader is able to identify with what is happening. After the accident that occurs at work, costing Jonjo his job, the world begins to take on a whole new view. This new view begins to shape Jonjo and the choices he later makes will solidify the life he begins to lead.

If you have ever taken or considered a gap year between high school and college, I highly encourage you to read this fascinating look at what is truly in the world. This story by far shows how the world can refine and redefine a person in just a year.

Megan’s Munchkins by Pamela Foland


Megan’s Munchkins by Pamela Foland
Publisher: Sonny’s Legacy Publishing
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (54 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Coming September 12, 2017! Megan’s Munchkins is the first book in the middle grade fiction series Megan’s World. Not everything hidden in the closet is scary, even if it’s furry and has sharp claws! Every teenager’s dream come true and every parent’s worst nightmare, Megan’s Munchkins is a short and sweet tale about a middle-school girl finding, quite by accident, the pet she had always wanted. Plus three more! It’s almost Spring break and adventurous thirteen-year-old Megan Thompson finds four tiny day-old kittens in the park and makes a decision on the spot that will turn her life upside-down. What does a young girl do who has been told by her parents over and over again that she may not have a pet? In Megan’s mind, there is no question. She must save these motherless newborns, even if it means keeping them a secret from her mom and dad. The next five weeks are an exhausting blur of vet visits, endless cycles of feeding schedules, household chores, homework and sneaking around, but Megan has never been happier in her whole life. The kittens grow quickly and begin to venture out into the world beyond the closet. Megan knows it is only a matter of time before her she must tell her parents about her secret. Fate steps in and her secret is discovered. What will happen to her precious babies now?

Keeping a secret for five weeks isn’t as easy as it might sound.

Megan was a smart girl. I enjoyed seeing how she solved the problems that can come with trying to raise four newborn kittens by yourself. My favorite scene involved her trying to get the kittens to drink formula when they were too small and weak to understand what she was doing. She clearly loved her pets quite a bit and spent plenty of time researching everything they would need to grow into strong, healthy cats.

One of the biggest reasons why Megan’s parents didn’t want her to have a pet cat was that they and her older brother were allergic to them. The way this part of the plot was developed didn’t make sense to me because the Thompson family never went into much detail about how severe their allergies were or what would happen if they were exposed to cat dander. As much as I enjoyed the rest of the storyline, I would have liked to see more attention paid to this section.

The relationship Megan had with her brother was warm and friendly. I appreciated the fact that he was so kind to and supportive of her. They seemed like they were very close even though Kevin was much older than his little sister. This isn’t something I see nearly enough of in middle grade fiction, so it was fun to watch siblings get along well.

Megan’s Munchkins was a sweet, gentle story that I’d recommend to anyone who loves cats.

Growing Up Neighborlee by Michelle L Levigne


Growing Up Neighborlee by Michelle L Levigne
A Neighborlee, Ohio Novel
Publisher: Uncial Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (282 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Lanie was a Lost Kid–a toddler found by the side of the road, with no one to claim her. She ended up in the Neighborlee Children’s Home, where her long journey to become a semi-pseudo-superhero began. She and her friend Kurt, and later Felicity, made up the “rules” for what they were and what they could do as they went along. Most of the time, they borrowed them from comic books.

Lanie could kinda-sorta fly and move things with telekinesis. Kurt could invent and make broken machines work when all mechanical laws said they shouldn’t. Felicity gave off uncontrollable EM bursts and controlled dogs. Where the trio came from and how they got to Neighborlee faded into the background when faced with the really big questions: Why were they the way they were and how could they do the things they did? Were they aliens? Genetic experiments? Mutations? Should they look for a spaceship? Should they fear the Men in Black or the CIA?

Adventures and misadventures tested their imagination, their loyalty, and their courage as they explored their abilities and their world. And one thing became perfectly clear: the Lost Kids were as necessary to guard Neighborlee from the rest of the world, as they were vital to protect the rest of the world from the everyday weirdness and magic of Neighborlee.

Lanie is an orphan being brought cup in the Neighborlee Children’s Home. She has special talents she keeps hidden until she finds she is not the only one who can do special things. Neighborlee is a  ​wonderful place, part magic, part goodness with a dash of greediness. At the heart of the magical part of Neighborlee is Divine Emporium a shop that decides if you are worthy to enter and purchase it’s unusual but exquisite goods. Divine’s is run by Angela who is an enigma.

I love this book. Told in the first person by Lanie, it brings to life a wonderful town and all its inhabitants, both good and, well, no​t​ really bad, just misguided. It also has a twinge of the unexpected. Lanie is found in a lane all buy herself, but obviously has been well looked after. No paren​t​s were found but she discovers she is not the only one of the “lost children”. Some have been adopted but many remain in the Neigborlee location.

This story is wonderfully put together and well written. It is one of those books that left me feeling warm and cozy and wanting to read more. Can’t wait for the next one.

Stealing Magic by Alex C. Vick


Stealing Magic by Alex C. Vick
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (250 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Jax is a fourteen-year-old magic-taker from Androva. He’s also a rule breaker. He should not have opened a portal to our world in daylight, no matter how fed up he was with the rules, or how interested he was in Shannon.

Shannon considers herself to be ordinary. She loves escaping into fantasy books, but she never actually believed in magic. Not until the day she opens her eyes to find herself surrounded by it. And that boy, the one with the green eyes, who winks at her before he disappears into thin air. Who is he? Where does he come from?

When Shannon first touches the silver force field created by Jax, a treaty is broken, giving an ancient enemy the chance he needs to regain his power. The two teenagers don’t have much time to figure out what is going on, and they’re going to need all of their combined magical ability to stand a chance of surviving.

The next ten days will be the most exciting and terrifying of their lives (so far!).

The Legacy of Androva is a series of contemporary fantasy books for lower young adult / upper middle grade. The stories are self-contained, with no cliffhangers in between books.

Shannon’s nap is about to end with something other than a sweet dream.

The dialogue was nicely written. I liked seeing how much attention the author paid to giving each character a unique voice. Jax and Shannon had unique speaking styles that immediately told me which one of them was talking when a new scene began with a quote from one of them. That is something I always enjoy finding in stories, so it was nice to have it.

The pacing was quite slow. As interested as I was in the idea of harvesting magic and meeting people from another planet, it was difficult to keep reading at times because of how long it took for the plot move forward. There were multiple points where the plot stopped progressing altogether in order to explain certain parts of the backstory or how a certain spell worked. As nice as it was to have those pieces of information, I would have really liked to see more time spent developing the plot and speeding up the pacing of it so that I could felt more concerned about how it would all turn out.

With that being said, the spells in this book were fascinating and not really what I’d expect to see in your average fantasy tale. I can’t talk about most of them in detail without giving away spoilers for the storyline, but all of them were spells that I sure wished I could cast. The one for cleaning your teeth, for example, was a lot of fun.

Check out Stealing Magic if you like creative fantasy novels set in the present day.