The Magician’s Workshop: Volume Two by Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr


The Magician’s Workshop: Volume Two by Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr
Publisher: Wondertale
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (191 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Poinsettia

Return to the world of the Magician’s Workshop: Where Dreams Become Reality.

In Volume Two, the Festival of Stars has finally arrived, and the Color Ceremony is about to commence. As children from all over the islands gather to stand before a puller, one question remains: who will have a Color, and who will be found void?

Rejoin your favorite characters as they step forward and receive a label that will have the power to dramatically alter the course of their lives forever.

After the Color Ceremony, life will never be the same.

First, it is absolutely imperative to read Volume One before reading this installment of the Magician’s Workshop series. Volume Two picks up exactly where the previous book ended, right before the life altering Color Ceremony. After reading Volume One, I desperately wanted to know how the Color Ceremony would go for Kai, Talia, Weston, Kalaya, Kaso, and Layauna. The course of their futures would be determined in a single moment. Each of these characters have grown on me, and I must admit I felt nervous as each of them stood before the puller. Who would have Color? Who would be void? I had to stop myself from rushing ahead to find the answers, and I discovered the truth is much more complicated than I ever could have imagined.

The more I learn about Color, the more convinced I am that the system is flawed. I won’t reveal any names, but some very talented characters are found void. Each time a promising character was found void, it was a breath-stealing blow. I couldn’t believe how unfair it was. However, the more I read, the more it became clear that there are big changes on the horizon for the inhabitants of O’Ceea. Some people are beginning to believe that having Color isn’t nearly as important they have been led to believe. Again, I can’t give too many details, but Layauna’s story convinced me that Color is not the only expression of power and talent. Her experience with the puller and indeed her entire storyline is by far the most disturbing and clearly illustrates that something needs to change. I fear that Layauna, Kai, and the others are pawns in a larger scheme that has yet to be fully revealed. Will the change be for the better or worse?

As I mentioned in my review of Volume One, everyone in O’Ceea has the ability to make projections, which are essentially magical illusions. They aren’t real, but in this installment, there are rumblings of people who’d like to make projections into reality. Most people think this is impossible, but I’m not so sure. I look forward to seeing how this particular plot thread develops.

The Magician’s Workshop: Volume Two is an absolutely delightful addition to the series. The more I read, the more intrigued I become. I am thrilled I had the opportunity to read this installment, and I’m eagerly anticipating the release of Volume Three.

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

If You Were Me and Lived in Germany by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Children’s Reader
Length: Short (30 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Stephanotis

Join Carole P. Roman when she visits the beautiful land of Germany in the newest book of her informative series. Learn about the varied customs and cultures. Travel to the central Europe to discover what you would eat and do for fun. See the land 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.

I always enjoy the If You Were Me books by Carole Roman and this is the first one about a country I’ve actually visited.

All the books in this series are very entertaining (yes, even for adults). I learn something new from each one I read, so I think they’re an ideal resource for teaching children about different cultures and countries.

This one focused on where Germany is located, its capital, what your name would be, and then described what you would eat, places to see, and even Oktoberfest. A couple of interesting facts I learned after reading this book were that the oldest sun observatory was built 7,000 years ago in Germany. And that Germany is, in fact, home to the oldest savings bank.

Once again another fun read and I recommend them to you especially if you have a child working on a school project or even if you homeschool your children.

Grimm Remains by Eli Celata


Grimm Remains by Eli Celata
Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (190 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Mammon’s summoning turned Rochester into a beacon for the denizens of Hell. As demon activity increases, Jon settles in for a new academic year, and Jordan moves in as the city’s protector. Unfortunately, the young warlock of Rochester might not be around long if the Devil’s marine legion has a say. Havfine, demonic mermaids, don’t often leave deep lakes and ocean waters. They’re better known for drowning mortal sailors than hunting magic users, but something has sent them upstream from Lake Ontario. When three orphans vanish from a magical sanctuary in Toronto, their caretaker – the Wizard Monday – dredges up a part of Jordan’s and Jon’s father’s history that Jordan would have rather forgotten. In this race against the Bane of Hamelin, more than three souls may be on the line.

Jon’s adventures have only just begun.

The new characters who were introduced in this tale were a nice addition to the cast. While I liked having such a strong focus on Jon when I first met him, meeting so many other magic users really fleshed out the world they all lived in. The number of people who has these abilities was so small that I was thrilled to see so many folks like Jon. It wasn’t something I was expecting to see happen, but it was a great way to push the plot forward.

There were pacing issues, and most of them were due to the plot getting off to such a slow start. As much as I liked the first novel in this series, I struggled to get into this one in the beginning because of how much time it took for anything exciting to happen to Jon or anyone else in his life. There were so many interesting conflicts in his previous adventure that I was expecting him to jump right into them in the sequel. When that didn’t happen, I was surprised and a little confused.

With that begin said, the storyline was solid once things began moving along more quickly. One of the things I enjoy the most about this universe is how much freedom it gives readers to come up with our own theories about how certain parts of it works. The basic explanations of magical society were there again this time, but I liked being able to test my ideas on how it all fit together against what the plot and characters eventually revealed to me. Whether I was wrong or right, it was fun to think logically and methodically about this stuff while I was reading.

This book is the second in a series. It can be read on its own or out of order.

Grimm Remains should be read by anyone who enjoys modern fantasy.

If You Were Me and Lived in The Ancient Mali Empire by Carole P. Roman

If You Were Me and Lived in The Ancient Mali Empire by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Children’s Reader
Length: Short (68 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review by: Stephanotis

Join Carole P. Roman as she travels back in time to visit the exciting Ancient Empire of Mali in Africa during the 1300s. Learn about the varied customs and cultures. Travel to the past to discover what you would eat and do for fun. See the land and its rich history through the eyes of a youngster like you. Don’t forget to look at the other books in the series so that you can be an armchair time traveler.

The blurb on the back of this title says that you should check out this series so you can be an armchair traveler, and that’s exactly how I feel each time I read books in this series.  In this case, not just a geographic traveler but a time traveler too. This one focused on the Mali Empire. I hadn’t read anything about it prior to reading this title so let’s just say I learned a lot. Ms. Roman manages to pack a ton of information into these short reads and they’re always nicely illustrated too (this time by Mateya Arkova).

This book not only described what life would have been like but also tells you about how the empire shaped modern day Sudan.

The area was an important part of the trading route for both China and Europe and one thing I learned was it was rich in salt and gold…both of which were important commodities. Both government and religion played vital roles in society and shaped the future of this region.

Once again a fascinating read for both adults and children. If you homeschool children I think these books would make a good resource for your at home library.

Soul Awakening by Paul Lonardo

Soul Awakening by Paul Lonardo
Publisher: Inkspell Publshing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short (53 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Orchid

Something otherworldly is happening in a small Texas town.

As a small Texas town mourns the tragic death of its high school football star, Alecia is struggling to adjust to life without the boy she has dated since sixth grade and thought she would be with forever.

When Braden comes to her as an apparition, she finds herself falling for Riley, Braden’s best friend and teammate. Has Braden returned to spy on her, or for some other reason?

Alecia’s not sure, but she soon realizes she must find a way to accept Braden’s death and welcome love back into her life, or risk losing everything.

The Power of Secret Love changes everything…

Tragedy hits Alecia when her boyfriend dies in an accident. Her mother seems to think she should put the tragedy behind her, while her schoolfriends seem determined to avoid her. Braden was the leader of the football team and because of their loss the team members decide not to play the next important match. Braden’s apparition visits Alecia to ask her to intervene and get the match played, and she begins to wonder about her own sanity.

Although a short novel, this is well rounded and ticks all the boxes needed to make a good story. The author got inside Alecia’s head and showed her thoughts and decisions extremely well. It shows how the tragedy affected her, her fear at going forward from the moment of despair and her acceptance of her loss.

I did feel her mother was a bit harsh and unfeeling, but I believe the author wanted her to appear in this way. Good book.

Before the Dawn by Courtney Rene


Before the Dawn by Courtney Rene
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (99 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Seventeen year old Abby can’t shake the darkness that continues to haunt her since her escape from the Hunterz. She can’t let it go. Questions continue to circle. Questions no one will answer. Who are they, really? Why do they hate the wolves so much? The answers could be found in a young boy named, Sam. He may be from the Hunterz, but he smells of wolf. Derek wants to believe her, and tries to help, but Abby still hasn’t learned how to accept help from others. Her relationships with her mother and father continue to deteriorate, but Derek is a puzzle. Some days he’s exactly what she wants and others he is all that she despises. Being a shifter isn’t as simple as she thought it would be. The wolf part is easy. It’s the human side that needs a little work.

There’s a wolf inside of Abby that can’t wait to get out again.

Lilly, Abby’s aunt, was such a kind person and wonderful role model for her niece. She brought a sense of stability and calm to Abby’s life that was desperately needed. Every time Lilly entered a scene, I smiled because I knew she was going to make everything feel alright again. She was by far my favorite character in this tale.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing Abby’s personality. She spent a great deal of this story being angry. While she had good reasons for feeling that way so often, it was hard to get to know the other sides of her personality because of it. I would have loved to see more examples of how she behaved when she was in other moods, too, so I could discover the rest of her as well.

The shifter society was fascinating. I really enjoyed seeing how it all worked, especially when it came to how men and women relate to each other in this world and all of the double standards that they have about what men are allowed to do but women are not. Abby’s reactions to those sections of the plot were exactly what I’d expect from her. It was as interesting to see her act the way I thought she would as it was to explore why so many of the men in this universe accept the status quo.

This book is the third in a series. I’d recommend reading the first two instalments before jumping into this one.

Before the Dawn should be read by anyone who enjoys stories about shifters.

High Summons by Eli Celata


High Summons by Eli Celata
Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (180 pages)
Age Recommendation:16+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Jon Blythe is sick of waiting for his Yoda. After years of hiding his magic, he’s ready to retire from his mortal life, drop out of college, and jump into the world of demon hunters. He just didn’t really expect a bleach blond bookstore clerk with light up toys for weapons. Unfortunately, Jordan is Jon’s only hope. When rogue magic users come to Rochester with a malicious plan, the odd couple strikes out to save the day. Jordan might not be what Jon expected, but between demons and Econ homework, the demons win every time. Wild nights drag Jon further from normal into the world where his father vanished. Maybe he’s becoming an addict. Maybe magic just comes with a price. Either way, he’s hooked.

The magic is in him if he knows where to look.

The world-building was phenomenal. It reminded me of the first time I read other classic fantasy series like Harry Potter. The ordinary world that Jon grew up in had nothing in common with the hidden, complicated, and sometimes downright perilous society that was his birthright. Watching him switch between attending class during the day and hunting down demons at night that only people with magical powers can see made it impossible for me to stop reading. The more I learned about the different types of magic users in this universe and what kinds of steep obstacles they faced when it came to fighting the supernatural, the more I wanted to know. I couldn’t imagine a more exciting start to a series, and I can’t wait to continue along with it.

Pay close attention to the descriptions of all of the various types of demons that Jon meets when his training begins. This is a very minor criticism of book that otherwise I couldn’t get enough of, but many of them were introduced at the same time so it took me a little while to memorize all of their names and how dangerous they were. It was an important thing to do, though, and once I figured that out it was smooth sailing for the rest of the plot.

Jon was a well-rounded and fascinating main character. Watching him change as a result of his experiences in this novel was riveting. He often acted like a bored and restless teenager in the beginning, but by the end he’d grown up in so many different ways. While this is a young adult book, it’s something I’d recommend just as strongly to adult readers because of how much time the author spent showing how people start to make that transition to adulthood.

High Summons is a must-read for anyone who loves urban fantasy. This is the best new series I’ve started so far in 2017!

If You Were Me and Lived in The Mayan Empire by Carole P. Roman


If You Were Me and Lived in The Mayan Empire by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Middle Grade Reader
Length: Short (54 Pgs)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review by: Stephanotis

Join Carole P. Roman and travel through time to visit the most interesting civilizations throughout history in the first four books of her new series. Learn what kind of food you might eat in Ancient Greece, the clothes you wore in 15th century Renaissance Italy, what your name could be in Viking Europe, and what children who lived during the Han Dynasty did for fun. If You Were Me and Lived in…does for history what her other award-winning series did for culture. So get on-board this time-travel machine and discover the world through the eyes of a young person just like you.

I think this might be one of my favorite of the If You Were Me books by Carole Roman. I’ve enjoyed all of them but I thought this was full of facts that I never knew and I think children will find it a fascinating read that will encourage them to find out more about the civilization.

This book not only described what life would be like if you’d lived as a Mayan but the author touched upon Mayan practices that I’d never read before like parents binding their baby’s heads in order to get the sloped forehead that the Mayans found attractive.

I especially liked the last section that grouped together all the Mayan achievements and contributions to society including them preparing the most accurate calendar, and also performing brain surgery.

Two other interesting facts I found out from reading this book were that the most important contribution they made to mathematics was the concept of zero and that they mapped the night skies without using a telescope.

This is a book I highly recommend for not only your only enjoyment but I think it would make an ideal gift for your children or grandchildren too.

A Merchant in Oria by David Wiley


A Merchant in Oria by David Wiley
Publisher: Willow Wings Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (56 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Firion is a young merchant descended from generations of merchants. His first big break comes along when he sets out to trade with the wealthy dwarven kingdom of Oria. He has always dreamed of visiting this grand kingdom, having heard his father describe it in detail a hundred times while he was younger. But when Firion arrives in Oria, he is jarred by the details present that contradict with the image etched into his mind. Something dark and sinister seems to be afoot in Oria, but Firion knows he is no hero. He is just a simple merchant, and what can an ordinary person do in the face of danger and deception?

You’re never too young to make a difference.

The world building was fantastic. Everything from what it was like to meet a dwarf to how Firion reacted when their village didn’t match his expectations of what dwarven society was supposed to be like made me want to know more about what was happening in this world. There were so many small but vivid details included about the characters and settings that there were times when I felt like I was watching a movie instead of reading a book.

I was disappointed by the abrupt ending. The beginning and middle were so exciting that I was surprised to see how the author wrapped everything up. There were some issues I was expecting to be difficult to solve based on how they were written about earlier on, so it came as a shock to me to see how they were resolved. If not for this, I would have chosen a much higher rating as I really enjoyed the beginning of Firion’s adventures.

This book was pretty funny. No one was safe from the narrator’s quick wit regardless of what role they played in the plot or how much the audience liked them. That made this something that I didn’t want to stop reading. It was amusing to see who would be gently ribbed by the narrator next, especially when it came to characters who generally play serious roles in this kind of tale.

A Merchant in Oria should be read by anyone who loves fantasy stories set in the distant past.

A Poem for Britain by S.W. Wilcox


A Poem for Britain by S.W. Wilcox
Bards of Fantasia: (Book 1)

Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (124 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

IF YOU EVER WONDERED how future teens might interact with Arthurian figures, in terms of intellect and technology…

Two lab partners trek the coasts of the United Kingdom in 635 AD, encountering prototypes of the King Arthur myths. Their time-travel mission? Change the past just enough to forestall a 22nd century nuclear war. Their main weapon? Music. To meet the greatest Dark Age legends face to face is something any can dream of but few may hope to see.

Yet for young Skall & Dor, the chance of a lifetime is their sole alternative to chaos and despair. But history is a lonely place to pursue justice! Their compound’s fuel all but gone, the two youths are equipped only with their portal-opening device & guitars. The duo then bravely leap into a time gate before school-turned-fortress can cut power to the lab.

Time travel is only for the bravest souls.

The gods and other mythical beings in this tale were a lot of fun. As Dor said, “Gods: first uncaring as stone and then a wreck like teens in love – a mystery for the ages.” I never knew what to expect from them next, and that made me keep reading to see what zany things they’d say or do when or if the main characters crossed their paths again.

This story didn’t include enough details about what was happening in it. I had trouble immersing myself in the plot because of this. It was hard to imagine what the settings looked like or what it would be like to meet the characters because there were so few references to stuff like that. While I enjoyed the fast pacing in general, I needed a lot more information about what was happening with the characters so that I could get to know them well enough to worry about them when they found themselves in danger.

The dialogue was written well. There were a few different times when one of the characters came up with a coy response to something someone else said that made me laugh out loud. I also appreciated the fact that all of the main characters had such unique voices. It was easy to tell who was speaking because of how differently each person spoke. Skall used words in ways that Dor never would, and vice versa.

I’d recommend Bards of Fantasia: (Book 1) A Poem for Britain to anyone who really likes time travel.