The Gold by Krista Wagner


The Gold by Krista Wagner
Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (97 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Stargazer

Ten-year-old Amanda is constantly teased and tormented in school. Her home life is less than satisfactory where her widower father, who is often away on business trips, leaves her in the care of her indifferent teenaged sister. Worse, not a day goes by when Amanda doesn’t miss her mom. TO escape reality, Amanda creates fantasy stories, but when she discovers a talking golden pebble, her imagined world turns into a new-fangled reality.

Sometimes you just need to know things will be all right.

Ten year old Amanda moves to Idaho with her family after her mother’s death. While trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, Amanda faces the constant tormenting and teasing that occurs at her school. One day, Amanda finds a talking golden pebble on her way home from school and her life changes much more than she could have ever imagined.

The Gold is an inspiring story that asks us to look at the world with new eyes-open to both the ways that the world impacts us as well as how we impact the world. Each character has depth and a history, even when they appear in a few events. I absolutely loved how the author explained what was going on when Amanda would look away, or how Amanda perceived the stares or the various studying eyes of the other students. I found myself rooting for Amanda to be open to others having a change of heart, but Amanda would often find herself misinterpreting the situation as much more dire than it truly was. The dialogue was smooth and easy to read, and the situations that Amanda found herself in were believable.

Amanda’s relationship with the golden pebble is fascinating on many levels. Simply, Amanda misses her mother and her sister, Jane, who steps in to replace the loss of their mother, ends up being cruel to Amanda without realizing her own internal pain and struggle. As the pebble forces Amanda to examine the world around her, she begins to see more of what is in both nature and human nature.

I found The Gold to be an exciting read for readers of all ages, not just younger readers. The Gold holds the reader to looking at that which is in the world, not just what is in our immediate perception. I highly recommend reading The Gold by Krista Wagner; it will inspire you to take another look at what truly makes up the world!

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.

Last Voyage a the Vengeferth by G.A. Schindler


Last Voyage a the Vengeferth by G.A. Schindler
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (130 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

An adventure tale pitting man against nature. The Vengeferth pirates meet a great white shark, then they’re capsized by a rogue wave. Seven crewmen escape the overturned ship to spend months a’ sea in a smallboat. During that time they share stories from their lives. They encounter the Crazy Cousin, a foundering ship with a broken pump and a belly full of water. And she has more problems.

Anything can happen when the only thing standing between you and bad weather is a single ship.

What an adventure this was! The wave that capsized the Vengeferth made me shudder, but it was what happened to her crew afterwards that kept me so interested in the plot. The stories the characters told about their previous lives were just as entertaining as their attempts to live on almost nothing but raw fish for months on end while they waited to be rescued.

I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters. There were a lot of them, and the narrator didn’t spend quite enough time explaining what everyone’s job was on the ship. This made it hard to remember who was who and which backstory belonged to which character. It would have been helpful to have more time to absorb this information before their troubles started. I often had to stop and double-check this stuff to clear up my confusion.

To be honest with you, it did take me some time to get used to the dialect that the characters spoke in this tale. Once I did, though, I really liked how colorful it was. Sailors definitely wouldn’t worry about speaking proper English, so it made perfect sense for them to speak so casually. I’m glad I took the time to figure out what they were saying in the beginning. It quickly became worth that little bit of extra effort.

Last Voyage a the Vengeferth was a wild adventure that I’d recommend to anyone who is looking to sail the high seas.

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!

Hunt for the Horsemen by Gita V. Reddy


Hunt for the Horsemen by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Suspense/Mystery, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (101 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

An Indian Palace full of secret chambers and hidey-holes.

A Treasure Hunt game more than a century old.

And a family gathering of one hundred and fifty people!

Twelve- year- old Sandy, who has always lived in the U.S., is visiting Amrita Mahal, the family palace. She joins the other children of the erstwhile royal family in the Hunt for the Horseman, a game like none other because it involves looking for an ivory toy- the Horseman- in secret compartments and hidey-holes.

Dangerous criminals are out to grab the palace. This could be the last chance the children may have to find the elusive horseman. Meantime, as the court hearing nears, the thugs start dangerous games.

When it looks like everything is lost, the Horseman saves the palace……

Read for a rollercoaster ride of fun, thrill, adventure, mystery, and more.

There’s never been a family reunion more adventurous than this one.

My favourite part of this book were the descriptions of all of the delicious things that Sandy and her family members ate during their visit. Every dish sounded incredible, and I liked the fact that the narrator spent so much time talking about what kinds of food were in them. This made it easy to imagine what it would be like to have a vacation in that castle because of how much time the characters spent thinking about their next meal or looking forward to a favorite treat.

The big thing holding this story back from receiving a higher rating was how many characters it had. So many of them were introduced that I had a tough time remembering who everyone was, especially when it came to people who only showed up for a few of the scenes. It would have been nice to have a smaller number of Sandy’s relatives to focus on so that I could get to know them and her better than I did.

The search for the Horseman was so exciting. There seemed like there could only be a certain number of places to hide something like that in a palace, so I was curious to find out why no one has found this toy yet. I had a few different theories about where it might have been stashed away. It was fun to compare them to what the main character found as she and her cousins moved from room to room.

Hunt for the Horseman should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a playful mystery.

Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music by Darlene Foster

amanda-on-the-danube-by-darlene-foster
Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music by Darlene Foster
Publisher: Central Avenue Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short (120 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Aloe

Twelve year old Amanda Ross finds herself on an elegant riverboat with her bestie, Leah, cruising down the beautiful Danube, passing medieval castles, luscious green valleys and charming villages. When she is entrusted with a valuable violin by a young, homeless musician during a stop in Germany, a mean boy immediately attempts to take it from her.

Back on their cruise, Amanda struggles to keep the precious violin safe for the poor prodigy. Along the way, she encounters a mysterious monk, a Santa Claus look-alike, and the same nasty boy.

Follow Amanda down the Danube, through Germany, Austria and Hungary, as she enjoys the enchanting sounds of music everywhere she goes. She remains on the lookout though, wondering just who she can trust.

Amanda is excited. Her family and she are meeting her English friend and her parents to take a boat trip on the Danube. She’s from Canada and Leah is from England so they don’t get to see each other as much as they would have liked. They’ll have lots of sights to see, good music and museums and historical sites galore. What could go wrong?

This book can be read alone but if it’s a good fit for your child others are out there and more will be coming. The author does a good job of writing an interesting story that will keep a child’s attention without being condescending. The mystery is realistic and entertaining. These points make a good book for young ones.

Amanda and Leah are visiting the cities they stop at with their parents. They are allowed to wander alone as long as they stay together. Leah is there but she’s almost always texting with friends at home. That annoys Amanda a bit. Amanda keeps running across the same boy in their travels. He finally hands her a violin case and asks her to keep it safe. That’s going to be harder than it sounds. She hides it well but it’s obvious someone is after it.

As she asks questions she learns more about the violin and also more about the boy. Without trying to, she’s managed to get entwined in a case where thieves are after the violin because of its value. It’s the boy’s only connection to his family and he doesn’t want to lose it. Amanda has her work cut out for her, but she’s up to the task. Recommended.

Inheritance by Joan Cleveland & Marisa Cleveland

MediaKit_BookCover_Inheritance
Inheritance by Joan Cleveland & Marisa Cleveland
Publisher: Simeris Alliance
Genre: Middle Grade, Paranormal
Length: Full (183 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

His destiny is to save humankind. But first he must survive middle school…

The descendants of the fallen angels never had it so good. At twelve, Grayson Lahash is thrust into an unfamiliar world where battle lines balance precariously in favor of good over evil, and his unexpected arrival and fallen heritage may be just enough to tip the scales.

But as Grayson uncovers the secrets of his past, he must decide if he’s willing to risk everything for the destiny that is his to inherit.

This book starts off full speed ahead, with Grayson waking in the night to his father packing a bag, his mother unconscious on the floor and some giant guy transporting him to a new boarding school after knocking him out with an injection.

The reader is thrust into a world confusing to us and to Grayson. A multitude of characters are introduced immediately, and honestly I had a little trouble keeping them straight at first. They are each quite unique, though, so as I got to know them better that confusion went away.

The authors do a great job keeping the reader guessing. I wasn’t sure who was “good” and who was “bad” for quite some time, and honestly even that changes by the end. Inheritance is not just action packed, but a good story of the possibility of redemption when we’re will to change our ways.

At its heart, though, it’s about good and evil. Angels and demons. I nearly marked it as and “inspirational” book, because there are Christian overtones to it, but after some thought I opted not to. Still, keep it in mind if that theology isn’t a favorite. It’s not at all preachy and I really enjoyed the way it shows that our behavior molds who we are, not our genetics.

The basic storyline actually reminded me a bit of the Percy Jackson stories … like Camp Half Blood, Grayson attends a school specifically for kids who are special in a particular way (yes, I’m trying to avoid spoilers). I liked that there was that undercurrent of the paranormal, right from the start.

All in all, Inheritance is a good book that should keep any middle grade reader entertained. Pretty fast-paced, well written with a decent storyline. I enjoyed reading it. I think it’s left itself open for the possibility of a sequel, however this story ended very satisfactorily, with loose ends all tied up! Good job and recommended.

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Starflake on Thrill World: Volume 1 by Nicola Cuti

Starflake on Thrill World

Starflake on Thrill World: Volume 1 by Nicola Cuti
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (165 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Thrill World used to be a paradise when it was first built by Jonas Grebe. It contained a children’s hospital, where children from all parts of the galaxy could come to be cured of alien diseases, and while they waited, there was a planet-wide zoo filled with creatures from across the universe and an amusement park packed with rides in the galaxy. But now, the planet that used to be a haven for sick children, has turned into a planet of horror, where evil smugglers roam the streets in search of helpless children. Only Starflake, a Starbabe with abilities, and her human girlfriend, Molly,can break through the barrier of secrecy and save the doom planet. But will this daring adventure cost them their lives? This is the first volume of the adventures of Starflake the Starbabe, the girl who can live in outer space without any need of a space suit.

The universe could be full of alien creatures that humans haven’t discovered yet. The only way to figure out if this is true is to start searching for them.

Starflake had such a bubbly and talkative personality. I really enjoyed seeing how she reacted to all of the strange things that humans do because of how quickly she let the audience know exactly what she thought of what she was seeing. Starbabes are quite different from humans in certain ways, so there were a lot of opportunities for her to be completely surprised and weirded out by how we work. Since these were by far my favorite scenes, this was a very good thing.

There were a few plot holes in this story, especially when it came to where Starflake came from and what she remembered about her past. The characters talked about these topics many different times, but the answers they came up with weren’t consistent. It would have been helpful to know why those answers changed so often. I was really interested in knowing which one was actually the right one.

The alien creatures were another highlight of the plot for me. Some of them were beautiful. Others were dangerous. They were all unique, though, and I had fun picturing what it would be like to meet them in person. Ms. Cuti has a great imagination. Nowhere was this more clear than when she was describing what she thinks life on other planets would be like.

I’d recommend Starflake on Thrill World: Volume 1 to anyone who is in the mood for something out of this world.

Kara by Scott J. Kramer

Kara by Scott J. Kramer
Kara by Scott J. Kramer
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Middle Grade
Length: Full Length (238 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Stargazer

It seems everyone is chasing twelve-year-old Kara. She is running not only from her powerful king and an assassin elf, but also from something horribly evil. She doesn’t know why they all want her or even if they want her for the same reason. She only knows she needs to hide somewhere safe. When King La’ard attacks her home and captures her father, Kara escapes to the Territories where humans are unknown and elves, orcs and dwarves roam the land. She finds comfort and safety with a dwarc named Hambone, Dante a werefox, and Grace the sprite. To get back to the human land of Faldoa and rescue her father, she enlists the help of her new friends and a reluctant wizard. But can she figure out the secret that will save her and those she loves before her enemies catch her?

Imagine a world where humans, mystical creatures and wizards all live; now imagine that the human world is isolated from the rest of the world by a large wall and a deadly fast river. Kara is a young girl who returns to her home to find her house in flames and her father in the custody of the Witch Guard. Kara’s only option is to flee; what she does not know is that when she is knocked unconscious after she falls into the river she crosses from the human world into the land of the Territories.

The Territories are where magic, mystical creatures and wizards live apart from human interaction. Kara works to understand this strange new land that she has heard of only in stories a child. Since magic is forbidden in the part of the world that Kara lives, she is astounded at what can be done.

The author has a talent for complex storytelling. The overall plot seems simple at first, yet becomes deeper as betrayal, treachery and greed enter the scene. The characters have complex pasts and more than once I found myself understanding and even agreeing with why even King La’ard would stop at nothing to capture Kara and make his world stable again.

Each character is thoughtfully crafted and has a strong place in the story, from Hambone- Kara’s initial contact in the Territories to Katrena the dark elf who takes an interest to Kara trespassing into the Territories for her own twisted goals. The character interactions are strong and dialogue is clear and concise. Action scenes that occur are detailed and dramatic. Even the plot twists hold strong, I found myself surprised more than once at choices made and how they would eventually turn out for the characters.

The ending of the story leaves the reader to understand that the author has more planned in the world of the Territories. My response is: bring it on! This was a great read and an awesome adventure into a deep and complex world!

The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan

The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan
The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, middle grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (384 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rated: 4 stars
Age Recommendation: 10+
Review by Lupine

How do you punish an immortal?

By making him human.

After angering his father Zeus, the god Apollo is cast down from Olympus. Weak and disoriented, he lands in New York City as a regular teenage boy. Now, without his godly powers, the four-thousand-year-old deity must learn to survive in the modern world until he can somehow find a way to regain Zeus’s favor.

But Apollo has many enemies-gods, monsters, and mortals who would love to see the former Olympian permanently destroyed. Apollo needs help, and he can think of only one place to go . . . an enclave of modern demigods known as Camp Half-Blood.

Once again, Rick Riordan has come out with yet another book exploring the ancient history of the Romans and the Greeks. He has done an excellent job incorporating more of the historical facts that we all love to learn through his humor and his silly attitude.

Through the voice of Apollo, who has recently fallen from Olympus due to something he did against Zeus, Rick narrates a tale full of Apollo’s ego, woe, and general confusion as to being almost, if not fully, mortal.

A new problem has arisen for the camp, yet something is different about the timing of it. Mr. Riordan’s books have mostly all taken place in the summer, when all the cabins are full and all the demigods are at camp. This time, it’s the dead of winter, and there’s hardly anyone there. Apollo gets to know some of his children a little more, including Will Solace and his boyfriend Nico di Angelo.

Being at camp kind of opened Apollo’s eyes up a little, which I really liked. He showed vulnerability and a kind of confusion as to why he wasn’t just as great as he used to be. Having an ego completely crumble like that was both interesting and exhausting as Apollo had to work through (sometimes complaining the entire way) teenage issues that a millennials old god wouldn’t have to deal with such as: hunger, hair, acne, clothes, sleep, hormones, and the like. Coming from someone who also has to be the best at everything, I understood his frustration when he couldn’t do something that he was supposed to be good at, like shooting a bow or playing an instrument. Even losing his supernaturally good looks took a toll on him, and overall I liked how being as small as he was made him realize the impertinence he had with the rest of the world. Previously, he would kill or destroy whole cities without the blink of an eye. I loved the character development he went through, including the relationship he had with Meg.

He grew past the first impression of irritation and really started to like her as a small child, and then had to deal with the problems of betrayal and heartbreak. The whole book was an excellent character development wrapped up into a funny plot and historical fact, and was well worth the read.