Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon by Judy Young


Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon by Judy Young
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Historical
Length: Short Story ( 32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by Astilbe

Outside Beijing, China, in the year 1572, nine-year-old Hu-Wan tends the vegetable garden with his grandfather. Their specialty is growing gourds that are made into ladles and bowls and sold in the marketplace. Each year, one special gourd is made into a cricket cage. This year, it is Hu-Wan’s turn to grow and carve the special gourd. He decides it should be carved into the shape of a sleeping dragon. When Hu-Wan learns that the emperor has died and his nine-year-old son is named Emperor of China, he decides to give the dragon cricket cage to the young emperor to offer comfort and cheer.

A gift doesn’t have to cost money in order to be valuable.

Hu Wan was a very likeable main character. He wasn’t afraid to work hard, he had a gentle personality, and he had a lot of empathy for people near him who were struggling with physical or emotional health problems. With every scene I became even more fond of him. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to him next.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing the ending. It happened so suddenly that I was surprised by the fact it was over. Had it been given as much attention as the beginning and middle of this tale, I would have chosen a much higher rating for this book as I really enjoyed the storytelling overall.

The relationship between Hu Wan and his grandfather was so kind and supportive. What I found most interesting about their family was how much time they spent showing each other how they felt instead of talking about it. The audience had to read between the lines in order to see how much these characters really did care for each other. Finding the small gestures that showed just how close their family was to each other was one of my favorite parts of the plot.

Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon was a captivating story that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something that will make them feel as though they’ve just been transported hundreds of years in the past.

December Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards


Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (286 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: Best Book
Review by: Orchid

BoM LASR YA copy

Fairy tales are simply tales, told and re-told, but changed over time. It has been four months since Maggie learned the dark truth behind the tale of the Princess and the Pea and freed Princess Lindy from the cursed Emerald. Lindy is now back in the past where she belongs, queen of her tiny Scandinavian country, and Maggie is a fully reformed ex-stalker. Except … she can’t stop doing internet searches on Lindy and her country. One morning, Maggie wakes to find history turned on its head. Apparently, you can’t destroy a centuries-old curse without consequence. In order to prevent the changes in history from wiping out the present, Maggie resurrects her stalking gene and learns that fairy tales don’t stay dead for long. Or at all. Back in 1623, Lindy is juggling a threat to her family, a handsome new guard she’s not supposed to have feelings for, and a cursed Topaz with ties to the tale of Thumbelina. When past and present collide, Lindy and Maggie are brought together again, and another of Andersen’s tales turns from twisted fiction to chilling fact.

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE!

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.

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.

Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards


Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (286 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: Best Book
Review by: Orchid

BoM LASR YA copy

Fairy tales are simply tales, told and re-told, but changed over time. It has been four months since Maggie learned the dark truth behind the tale of the Princess and the Pea and freed Princess Lindy from the cursed Emerald. Lindy is now back in the past where she belongs, queen of her tiny Scandinavian country, and Maggie is a fully reformed ex-stalker. Except … she can’t stop doing internet searches on Lindy and her country. One morning, Maggie wakes to find history turned on its head. Apparently, you can’t destroy a centuries-old curse without consequence. In order to prevent the changes in history from wiping out the present, Maggie resurrects her stalking gene and learns that fairy tales don’t stay dead for long. Or at all. Back in 1623, Lindy is juggling a threat to her family, a handsome new guard she’s not supposed to have feelings for, and a cursed Topaz with ties to the tale of Thumbelina. When past and present collide, Lindy and Maggie are brought together again, and another of Andersen’s tales turns from twisted fiction to chilling fact.

Welcome to Valestenia, a 17th century country on the tip of modern-day Sweden. Queen Shalyndria has been kept in slavery for four hundred years, but now she has returned to her own time and finds herself thrust onto the throne.

Maggie is a present day teenager who had a hand in releasing the Queen from slavery. Shalyndria’s brother, Garon, has come forward in time as he and Maggie have fallen in love.

When Maggie’s computer shows an ever changing history to what she knows to be true, Garon returns to the 17th century to put things right. When he doesn’t return Maggie and her brother Tanner search for Garon and find a way to travel to the past to help.

This book is full of present day travels, historical problems needing to be put right, and the best thing of all – Magic! The characters could be the kids next door, while the new Queen shows the uncertainty of one thrust into the limelight of ruling a country. Even the fantasy characters had me looking over my shoulder to make sure they weren’t real and creeping up on me.

This book is a true fantasy novel. No goblins and elves, or dragons and fairies, this is magic as used by real people (well real in the book) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Brilliant book. Exceptionally good story. A must read.

Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre


Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (36 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

In a faraway village there lives a farmer with his wife. The summer harvest has failed and winter already arrives. So, how should they feed their three sons? The idea arises to fetch wood in the northern forest. They could dry it, sell it from door to door and earn some money to buy food.

Frede knows that his parents are doing their best, but is it enough to withstand the most barren period of the year? Together with his brothers, Rhune and Folke, he wants to visit Santa and ask him for help. But, first they must travel through that extensive forest where the evil Elf King lurks.

One bad harvest can seriously hurt anyone who makes their living through farming. Only time will tell if Frede and his family will have enough food to get through the winter.

Frede was such a brave boy. He faced all kinds of dangers while he was trying to travel to Santa’s house, yet he never gave up no matter how difficult his journey became. He kept pushing on even when it looked like there was no way to win. I especially enjoyed seeing how he reacted to the elves he met on the way. Not all of them were friendly, but he didn’t let that stop him.

There were a few editing issues. I noticed multiple run-on sentences and punctuation errors. Some of them took a minute for me to figure out because they could be interpreted in more than one way. A couple of sentences also seemed to be missing important words. If not for these errors, I would have chosen a much higher rating as the storytelling itself was creative and beautiful.

This book was full of magic that refused to be tamed. Everything from the elves to the forest itself was so wildly different from how humans behave that I didn’t know what to expect from them next. This is exactly the kind of storytelling I always hope to find in fairy tales, so I was quite happy with how unpredictable these scenes were. They made my heart beat faster in a good way.

Frede and Santa should be read by anyone who loves Christmas.

Nine Short Chapter Books by Gita V. Reddy

Nine Short Chapter Books by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (161 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

As the title suggests, this is a collection of short chapter books by Gita V. Reddy. The chapters are short and the word count of each book is between 5000 to 7000 words. The book also introduces young readers to different genres. A brief description of each title is given below.

THE HOMELESS BIRDS (Fantasy)

A young bird is left behind by his flock. Unable to fly by direction, he takes the help of a boy, and shares with him the plight of his flock.

THE MAGICIAN’S TURBAN (Magic)

Magic is no bag of tricks, discover two boys after they are trapped in the magician’s turban.

KNIFE AND FORK (Fable)

A monkey spends some time in the city. When he returns to the forest, he is a changed monkey – but not for the better.

DAKSHA THE MEDICINE GIRL (Geography &Culture)

A Himalayan girl who has knowledge of herbal medicine refuses to live away from her hamlet and study in a school. Until a resourceful doctor finds a way.

MAKE A WISH (Fairytale)

Niki had only one wish: to meet a fairy. It comes true and now the fairy wants to grant Niki a wish. What should niki wish for?

KRISHTA, DAUGHTER OF MARTEV (Science Fiction)

Krishta of Planet Ayzeon is a poor student. She comes to Earth to understand the basics of science and becomes friends with a student working in a lab. All goes well until Ikor from her planet wants revenge.

THE FORBIDDEN FOREST (Action and Adventure)

The animals are mysteriously straying out of their habitat. A factory that is shut is working secretly. Are the two connected? Abhi and his cousins find out.

DEARIE (Animal Story)

Everything scares Dearie. When his fear becomes a thread to the herd, he is made to leave. If Dearie must stay survive, he must learn to conquer fear.

THE MISSING GIRL (General Fiction)

Sneha goes missing. The presence of strange car points to a kidnap. But Sneha is having an adventure – an adventure of a different kind.

There’s something for everyone in this collection.

After not being able to fall asleep one night, Ranjan found a lost bird named Vajra who could talk in “The Homeless Birds” and decided to help his new buddy find his family. Ranjan was such a kind boy that I couldn’t wait to find out how he’d react to his magical adventure. I enjoyed seeing how he reacted to everything that happened to him. This felt like a modern fairy tale, and I’m a big fan of that genre. I also appreciated how open-ended the final scene was. It could easily lead to a sequel, but it also gave this reader plenty up to think about if Ms. Reddy doesn’t end up turning this into a series.

Two young friends named Ismail and Hassan met a magician and tried to figure out his secrets in “The Magician’s Turban.” Was the magician cleverly tricking them, or was he really capable of making things appear and disappear out of thin air? I was fascinated by how hard these characters worked to learn the answer to this question, especially during the scenes that honestly could have been explained either way.

“Knife and Fork” was a fable that showed what happened to a monkey named Bholu who heard rumors about what life was like outside of the forest and couldn’t wait to find out if they were true. After he returned from his adventures, he tried to teach the other monkeys about what he’d seen. The lessons in it were a little hard to pick out since all of the characters had flaws that made it hard for me to relate to them. I would have liked to see more examples of their good sides so that it would easier to understand where they were coming from.

The title of “Daksha the Medicine Girl” told me almost everything I needed to know about the premise. Watching her settle into a long, snowy winter in her isolated mountain village made me wonder what would happen to her before spring arrived. I liked seeing how brave she was when something frightening happened just after the first big snowfall that kept anyone from going for help. She was a kind and mature girl for her age, and it showed.

Niki decided to find out if fairies were real once and for all in “Make a Wish” by using her birthday wish to meet one. After being told by the fairy she could make another wish, she had to choose what to ask for next. The problem she tried to solve was one that most kids never have to think about, so I was curious to see if it would really be solved and how the fairy would react to such an unselfish request. This was something that adult readers may enjoy just as much as the intended audience.

“Krishta, Daughter of Martev” followed a boy named Suraj who had to stay after class to make up missing chemistry schoolwork from an illness he had developed earlier in the year. While I liked seeing how these characters met and discovering what Krishta wanted from her new friend, the pacing was so slow that I had trouble staying interested in the plot. I struggled to keep reading it because of this.

In “The Forbidden Forest,” Uday introduced his friend to his cousins and planned out a fun visit for all of them. After getting into some minor mischief, they decided to play detective and find out if any of the adults were secretly committing crimes. I enjoyed this character’s playful sense of adventure. He was good at paying close attention to his surroundings, and that made for some entertaining storytelling.

Anyone who skips around in anthologies should read “Dearie” first. It was about a delicate fawn named Dearie who had to learn a lot of lessons about surviving in the forest as he grew up. This was by far my favorite story here because of much the main character changed between his birth and who he was as an adult. Life isn’t easy for wild animals, and Dearie had to work hard to stay safe once he was too big to be protected by his mother. Many of the rules he learned can apply to humans, too, and that was yet another reason why I liked this one so much.

Sneha sent her whole neighbourhood into a panic after she failed come home on time one night in “The Missing Girl.” Some of the details of what really happened to Sneha made me wonder if kids would try to recreate what happened to her. I wouldn’t have a problem giving this to older children who understood why her choices could be so dangerous if they were repeated in the real world, but I’d be cautious about sharing them with anyone who was impressionable or impulsive. With that being said, she did have a charming personality and a real knack for figuring out problems.

Nine Short Chapter Books was a creative collection that I’d recommend to any young reader who is ready for longer pieces of fiction.

The Animals’ Santa by Jan Brett

The Animals’ Santa by Jan Brett
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When Big Snowshoe tells Little Snow that the animals’ Santa is coming with presents for everyone, Little Snow wants to know who he is. The animals say they have never seen him. Maybe he’s a badger, a moose, a polar bear, or a wolf, they tell him. But this spunky little rabbit thinks they are just fooling him.

On Christmas Eve, Big Snowshoe finds a way to see the animals’ Santa when a Snowy Owl in a red cap swoops down with a pack full of presents. Never again will an excited Little Snow doubt that there is an animals’ Santa.

It’s hard to prove that someone exists or what they might look like if no one has ever seen them.

The characters spent the perfect amount of time thinking critically about what kind of animal Santa would be. They had a few important clues to work with, and they made sure to examine them from every angle to figure out who he really was. I enjoyed watching them work so hard to solve this riddle. It was especially interesting to see how they reacted to the fact that no one had ever seen what kinds of tracks Santa leaves in the snow.

There were way more characters than I’d typically find in a short story. While I soon figured out who everyone was, it did feel a little odd to keep switching perspectives as the animals debated the topic of which species Santa came from. With that being said, this was a minor criticism of a tale that I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit. It was an adorable read, and I do plan to go back and experience it again before the Christmas season ends.

The ending fit the tone of this tale very nicely. I especially liked the fact that it could be interpreted in more than one way. This was something the characters had been doing for the entire storyline, so it made a great deal of sense for the readers to be given our own chance to decide if we agreed with the characters’ theories about what Santa might look like or not.

The Animals’ Santa is a wonderful choice for any child who enjoys solving riddles.

November Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke


E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (37 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Meet E.C. Max, a lovable know-it-all. He has many misadventures while solving everyday problems using science and technology. His inventions and experiments usually have wacky, unexpected results.

Slap that mosquito as you read how Max deals with pesky pests in E.C. Max, Kid Genius Critter Camp!

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE!!

Tractor Mac Saves Christmas by Billy Steers


Tractor Mac Saves Christmas by Billy Steers
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Every year, the whole town looks forward to the Christmas tree lighting, but this year, a blizzard has struck. The snow starts to fall more and more heavily, and soon, Tractor Mac and his pals are snowed in at the barn. Farmer Bill and Sibley the horse are supposed to be on their way to the center of town with the tree, but when they get stuck in the blizzard and it looks like the ceremony will have to be called off, Tractor Mac saves them and the whole holiday celebration.

A little bit of snow can be festive over the holidays, but a full blizzard might be able to stop Christmas celebrations altogether.

The animals that lived on Farmer Bill’s farm made me giggle. They were very good at starting entertaining conversations and keeping Tractor Mac focused on doing his job by explaining what could go wrong if they didn’t start plowing right away. My favorite scenes were the ones that showed how Tractor Mac responded to them and what happened when the snow began to fall even faster. The more worried these animals became, the more amusing they were as well.

There was a plot hole that had to do with how the town filled up with people so quickly on such a snowy day. I would have liked to see explained better as it didn’t quite make sense when compared with what was happening in the earlier scenes. Had Tractor Mac or one of his friends told the audience how everyone ended up in town so quickly, I would have given this book a much higher rating as it was otherwise very well done.

All of the characters understood how important it was to work together to solve a problem. I enjoyed watching them figure out how to free Sibley the horse and what the best way was to get the tree to town before the big party started. Cooperation isn’t an easy skill to learn, but it is an important one for kids, adults, and tractors alike to master.

This is part of a series. It can be read on its own or out of order.

Tractor Mac Saves Christmas was a humorous holiday tale that I’d recommend to anyone who likes tractors and other farm equipment.