To Die For by Betsy Haynes

To Die For by Betsy Haynes
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (102 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Larkin Quinn can’t wait until her heart transplant surgery is over so she can awaken to the beautiful and fun life she’s desired. But from the moment she opens her eyes, her world is dominated by terrifying nightmares where she is trapped underwater and blocked from reaching the surface. She wakes up each time screaming and drenched in sweat.

She needs to understand what these dreams mean. Are they messages from her heart donor? She fears he is demanding his life back in exchange for hers and wants revenge. Even more frustrating is that no one believes her about the nightmares. Why won’t anyone, not even her boyfriend Paul, help her? Larkin has to figure out what is going on with her new heart before it kills her.

She has someone else’s heart. Does she also have a few of his memories now?

Larkin was a sweetheart. Her anxiety over all of the strange things her body started doing after her heart transplant only made me like her more than I already did. Seeing her panic over every little twinge made her feel relatable to me. It was such a normal reaction to a serious surgery that I couldn’t help but to hope she would find a way to relax a little bit soon while also understanding why it was so hard for her to stop worrying.

There were a few mild pacing issues. I would have preferred to see a little more time spent on the main character’s attempts to figure out the identity of her donor and why he died so young. While I really liked seeing Larkin slowly recover after her surgery, those scenes did take up a large section of the storyline. It would have been the perfect introduction for a novel, but it was a bit disproportionate for a short story. This was the only thing holding this book back from a much higher rating as I enjoyed everything else about it.

By far my favorite part of the plot was the mystery of what happened to Larkin’s heart donor. She had so many clues about his fate, but they weren’t easy to figure out due to all of the hospital rules about what she could and couldn’t be told about his identity. I couldn’t wait to find out if she’d discover how it all fit together or why she kept dreaming about scary things that had never actually happened to her.

To Die For kept me on the edge of my seat. I’d recommend it to anyone who would like a science fiction story about something that a few transplant patients in real life have actually experienced.

The Titans of Ardana by J.S. Frankel


The Titans of Ardana by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (230 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Martin Calder and his girlfriend, Dana—no last name given—are back. Possessing superpowers, Martin joins up with Dana to fight crime throughout their adopted city of Baltimore. Fighting crime on Earth is easy, but when an old enemy from Dana’s world, Ardana, returns to wreak havoc and seek vengeance, it will take more than anyone can possibly give to defeat him. Sometimes, though, giving everything isn’t enough.

Celebrities often really are just like us once you get to know them, but Van and Dana aren’t like most famous people.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this tale was how quickly Martin was introduced to Dana and Van’s big secret. I was expecting everyone to dance around the topic for quite a while, so it was refreshing to see how quickly that extraterrestrial surprise was revealed so that everyone could move on to more pressing matters. It made me wonder what other surprises Mr. Frankel might be hiding up his sleeves, and I couldn’t wait to get to the next chapter so I could discover them.

There wasn’t a lot of character development in this book. While I liked Martin quite a bit, I was surprised by how little he changed throughout the course of the plot. He basically remained the same guy he was in the first chapter despite some pretty scary and unexpected things happening to him. I noticed the same lack of personal growth in the other characters, too. If not for this issue, I would have picked a much higher rating as the storyline itself was exciting and fun.

The romantic subplot was so sweet. Not only did I like both of the characters who were involved in it, I thought they’d make a great couple and hoped that they’d stay together for good. They had a lot in common and their personalities complemented each other nicely. I also appreciated the fact that these characters got to know each other as friends first before either one of them made a move.

The Titans of Ardana should be read by teenage and adult readers who find aliens interesting.

The Artist and Me by Hannah Kay


The Artist and Me by Hannah Kay
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (105 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 stars
Review by Quince

Like the colorful strokes of her brush, love changes the canvas of their lives.

Lucas is just a small town writer starting a summer internship at the local paper when Julie blows into town like a cyclone. Legs a mile long, ginger hair that curls delicately to the small of her back and a smile that could generate enough energy to power Carltonville for months on end, she is easily a knockout. Unlike the other girls at the high school, though, she simply is what she is—beautiful, smart, confident and an artist to her core—all facts that cause the girls to hate her and the guys to want her.

By some stroke of luck—or so he feels—she is choosing to give Lucas, the quiet writer guy, a chance. It doesn’t add up, but Lucas isn’t going to dispute it. He just prays to the great God in Heaven that he doesn’t screw it up.

The writer and the artist—pen and paint. Is this story a masterpiece that will stand the test of time or will it fade with the summer sun?

The Artist and Me is a really short, quick read. It is a story about first love, one summer and heartbreaks. The story revolves around Lucas and Julie’s relationship. Lucas is a small town boy dreaming of becoming a writer. It is the beginning of a summer and he’s just started an internship at a local paper. Soon a new girl is in town, the daughter of local paper owner – Julie. Julie recently lost her mother and has moved in with her father. Julie likes to paint, and in Lucas’ eyes she is the most beautiful creature on the Earth, but also the most unreachable one. But miracles do happen and soon Julie and Lucas begin to date. After that, the story pretty much follows their dating and relationship.

As I already mentioned this is a short story that. I enjoyed it up to one point toward the end of the story. At that point Julie stars to act really strange. Also I did not like how story ended, and really didn’t see the point in that kind of ending. Still, the writing was solid and the plot interesting.  My dissatisfaction was a personal thing, and it may not be the same for you.  Give it a try and let me know!

What Every Girl (except me) Knows by Norah Raleigh Baskin

What Every Girl (except me) Knows by Norah Raleigh Baskin
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (125 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

I’m assuming I’ll turn into a woman someday whether I know anything about being one or not. But being womanly is something you definitely have to learn. Girls probably don’t even know they’re learning it. But one thing for sure is that it has to come from a mother.

And a mother is one thing I don’t have.

***

Unlike most kids faced with the prospect of having a stepmother, Gabby Weiss isn’t the slightest bit resistant to the idea. Gabby wishes her father would hurry up and marry someone who knows more about womanhood than she does, someone who understands her obsession with all that is happening (and, worse, not happening!) to her body. For a while, it seems as though her father’s girlfriend, Cleo, might soon be filling the role of mother, but when things fall apart, Gabby has to find her own solution. So she travels to the last place she remembers seeing her mother, searching for a memory. But what she finds is something even better.

 

There isn’t an official handbook for growing up, so Gabby might have to make one up as she goes along.

Gabby’s character development was nicely done. She matured a lot from the beginning of this tale to the end of it. I especially liked seeing how she slowly began to understand certain things that had completely flown over her head in the first few chapters. This was such an interesting way to show how this character was changing because it focused on both the small and the big signs that she wasn’t a little girl anymore.

The only thing holding this story back from a higher rating was how many characters were included in it. There were so many different people to get to know that I often accidentally mixed them up. This was especially true when it came to Gabby’s classmates. Most of them didn’t play a big role in the plot so it was hard to keep all of them straight.

The relationship between Gabby and her older brother, Ian, was wonderfully complex. I really enjoyed seeing how they reacted to each other. Sometimes they argued like all siblings do, but at other times they were surprisingly sweet. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones where these two characters danced around the topic of their mother’s death. While I can’t say much more about that without giving away spoilers, it was fascinating to see how Gabby and Ian handled their grief so many years after losing their mom.

What Every Girl (except me) Knows should be read by anyone who suddenly feels like they’re growing up quickly or who remembers what that stage in life is like.

Trouble Returns by Nancy Oswald


Trouble Returns by Nancy Oswald
Publisher: Filter Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Full (207 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Aloe

Trouble Returns is the third installment in the Ruby and Maude Adventure series.

Eleven-year-old Ruby is in an unbelievable amount of trouble. Trouble in school, trouble with the Sisters of Mercy, trouble with her cat named Trouble, and trouble with Pa after he proposes to the school principal. In 1896 Cripple Creek, Colorado, Ruby narrowly escapes death, and her donkey, Maude, steals the story with an unexpected surprise.

Ruby is not real good at staying out of trouble. She defends herself and her animals from those who would harm them, just like any good tomboy would do. The new schoolmarm is not impressed by that so she gets punished. When the teacher talks to her father, Ruby feels so bad. But she has reason to feel even worse. Her Pa decides she needs a mom and he’s going to date the teacher!

This is written in the style of the old classics. She’s a girl whose mother died earlier in her life and she and her Pa travel the land and sell candlesticks and camp. Now they’re in a cabin and he’s looking for a mother for her.

Ruby’s companions are a mule named Maude and a cat named Trouble. She has a good girlfriend named Lizzie.

The antics of the animals, Ruby’s fights with boys and girls, and the fact that she has testify at court about a man who tried to kill her keep your attention all the way through. Ruby keeps hoping her Pa will change his mind about the wedding, but no…

Ms. Oswald’s story flows easily off the pages into your mind. There are a lot of unexpected situations in the story so you can’t wait to see what will happen next. The author does a nice job of bringing everything together and ending the story well. I’m sure you’ll be looking forward to the next adventures Ruby will be having, just like I am, when you’ve read it.

Car Trouble by Jeanne DuPrau

Car Trouble by Jeanne DuPrau
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (83 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Duff Pringle has bought his first car. (Used.) He’s got six days to drive 3,000 miles cross-country to California and start a new hi-tech job that will make him wealthy. (Sort of.) Nothing can stop him. (Or can it?)

Uh-oh . . . CAR TROUBLE.

Duff’s Ford Escort barely makes it a hundred miles from home before breaking down. What’s he supposed to do? He’s promised his new boss he’ll be there by Monday. But he’s also promised himself that he’ll make this journey by car, so he can really see the country. Using his laptop and some quick thinking, he pieces together a way to continue his trip. What he doesn’t plan on are the people he meets along the road. There’s Stu, a hitchhiker with a secret; Bonnie, an aspiring singer with a con artist for a mother; two thugs looking for a trunkful of cash; and Moony, the terrier prone to carsickness.

What could possibly go wrong on a simple road trip?

The dialogue was nicely written. Every character had a unique voice that suited him or her well. I had no trouble telling who was speaking because of how much time the author put into showing the audience the differences between how everyone spoke and what kinds of things they generally did and didn’t say. This made getting to know the characters easier than it might have been otherwise. It also gave me a good idea of what kinds of people they were because of what they liked to talk about and how they treated each other with their words.

Duff made a lot of bad decisions in this story. He was described as someone who was intelligent and resourceful in the beginning of it, so I had a tough time understanding why he kept making choices that I would expect any smart person to recognize as dangerous. Had this happened once or twice it would have been understandable. The fact that it happened over and over again, though, strained credibility.

Despite these issues, I did enjoy this book’s sense of humor quite a bit. Duff’s naive approach to life provided plenty of opportunities for laughs. He was so good at misinterpreting signals and small signs that something was off about a situation that I looked forward to seeing what he would misunderstand next and if he’d finally catch on to what was really going on around him.

Car Trouble should be read by anyone who is looking for something humorous.

February Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading

Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (253 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Aloe

BoM LASR YA copy

Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold is the thrilling first installment in a new series of adventure mystery stories that are one part travel, one part history and five parts adventure. This first installment of the Kitty Hawk Flying Detective Agency Series introduces Kitty Hawk, an intrepid teenage pilot with her own De Havilland Beaver seaplane and a nose for mystery and intrigue. A cross between Amelia Earhart, Nancy Drew and Pippi Longstocking, Kitty is a quirky young heroine with boundless curiosity and a knack for getting herself into all kinds of precarious situations.

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE!

Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading

Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (253 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Aloe

BoM LASR YA copy

Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold is the thrilling first installment in a new series of adventure mystery stories that are one part travel, one part history and five parts adventure. This first installment of the Kitty Hawk Flying Detective Agency Series introduces Kitty Hawk, an intrepid teenage pilot with her own De Havilland Beaver seaplane and a nose for mystery and intrigue. A cross between Amelia Earhart, Nancy Drew and Pippi Longstocking, Kitty is a quirky young heroine with boundless curiosity and a knack for getting herself into all kinds of precarious situations.

She’s been flying since she was a baby so she thinks nothing of taking off in her plane to study humpback whales. She wrote a convincing enough project she got funded. She has friends to stay with. All she needs to do is follow the whales, mark their routes, and take photos. That does not include snooping around a campsite of strangers…

Mr. Reading offers you a look at the past and the present. She’s in an area close to the gold rush days of Alaska. He ties that into the story very successfully and the facts are good. Having read Yukon gold history in the past, what he offers is true look at how awful the conditions were everyone was trying to get there first.

Since Kitty has met several new friends in Alaska and she hears the tale of the boat that burned, blew up and sunk near an island. It was supposed to have a load of gold on it and many people are still trying to find that. When she sees men near the area, she wonders if they are looking for the gold. She should have left well enough alone.

This story flows well, Kitty is a good strong young lady who need all her skills and judgement to get out of the situation she’s in. As she travels with the band of brothers who captured her, she learns about Jack London and other Alaskan gold miners.

It kept my attention and made me wonder what the author would share with us next. It was a very good read and he gives you more reference information at the end of the story. If you haven’t heard of all this history, it should lead you to reading more. That’s a good thing. All in all, the story won’t bore you.

In the Company of Crazies by Nora Raleigh Baskin

In the Company of Crazies by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Publisher: Untreed Reads Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (84 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Stargazer

Thirteen-year-old Mia Singer thought that she had it all under control. Sure, her grades were slipping a little bit (well, really, more than a little), and she couldn’t explain her occasional compulsion to shoplift, but things weren’t that bad. Then the sudden death of a classmate affects Mia in a way she can’t quite define—and she goes one step too far. At their wits’ end, Mia’s parents place her in an “alternative” boarding school. Away from her parents and surrounded by trees, space and students whose problems she can’t completely comprehend, Mia has no choice but to learn about herself.

With insight and sympathy, Nora Raleigh Baskin focuses on the universal feeling of being a misfit, showing that sometimes the path home is as unexpected as it is challenging.

Some books leave you re-evaluating your life and the lives of those around you, this is one of those books.

Mia Singer is in a downward spiral. Her grades stink, she is caught shoplifting and quite frankly, doesn’t care about what is going on in her life or her family. Mia isn’t a bad kid, Mia just is having a hard time with some life transition.

Mia is sent by her family to a special “school” to help with her attitude and outlook on life. Needless to say, this is one reform school or boarding school, whatever you want to call it, that is completely unlike what you would expect.

The reader sees the world through Mia’s eyes. Through flashbacks we get to see what happened and we start to understand the choices that Mia made. Mia is a girl who is trying to make her way through the world. The story tends to be a little darker in some aspects, but this is where I found the magic. We get to see the world through a different set of eyes, we see the darkness out there, and then appreciate how good life may be for us.

Mia’s experiences are very similar. She learns about “cheating life” and she sees others who have a life so very different from her own. Mia begins to understand a little more about the other students who at first seemed so weird and “alien” to her. As a reader we begin to understand that those who walk life’s journey with us are not all that different from us, but they may just show it in a different way.

I am honestly glad that I had the opportunity to read In the Company of Crazies, the author does a great job of causing the reader to re-evaluate the world. I hope that you will consider taking a strange journey with Mia and also walk In the Company of Crazies! I am grateful that I did.

The Lady of the Vineyard by Kellyn Roth


The Lady of the Vineyard by Kellyn Roth
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Historical, Inspirational
Length: Short (81 Pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Stargazer

A choice between familiar pain and new love …

Judy has lived with her egocentric mother since her parents divorced when she was a baby. When her father, Troy Kee, shows up at her sixth birthday party and whisks her away to his vineyard in France, Judy is more than happy to go with him. But Adele, Judy’s mother, isn’t quite ready to give up her daughter. Can Judy forgive Adele? More importantly, can Troy?

A sweet novella set in Europe, the year of 1938, this sweet story is sure to delight loves of light-hearted historical/literary fiction.

Why can’t life just…. Be?

This is one of the glaring questions in Kellyn Roth’s story, The Lady of the Vineyard. Adele, the mother of six year old Judy, just wants things to be the same. Troy, Judy’s father, has been out of the picture for the past six years and suddenly reappears-taking Judy along with him back to the vineyard where Adele and his relationship disintegrated.

This is a fun story where the conflict and issues of marriage bleed into the fear of commitment and then come steamrolling out to cause turmoil in an otherwise smooth relationship. Judy initially chooses to return to the vineyard with her father and Adele attempts to adjust to life without her daughter. Both Troy and Adele begin to see life from different angles.

Kellyn Roth does a great job at the historical landscape; while there could be more emphasis on the social and political events occurring at the time, there is still much description of the lives that are lived. The emotional angst the Adele struggles with comes to the surface throughout the story which leads to an understanding of her struggles with Judy’s father.

This is a great story about love, emotional turmoil and the desire to set things right again against a backdrop of political unrest. The world of Judy is overturned while her parents struggle to deal with their confusing relationship and the great changes that are occurring. There are some editing mistakes from time to time, but it does not detract from the overall flow of the story.

If you have read the Dressmaker’s Secret (The Chronicles of Alice and Ivy) by the same author, you will notice some subtle similarities. I would highly recommend comparing the two books to understand the depth and writing complexity that Kellyn drives home.

I am sure that you will enjoy The Lady of the Vineyard, it is a smooth take on an otherwise complex relationship in a difficult time based in an unstable country! All of this is a setting for an adventure that is built for everyone to understand!