Sugar Lump by Megan Gaudino


Sugar Lump by Megan Gaudino
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (209 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Seventeen-year-old travel blogger CC is stuck on a never-ending road trip with her wanderlust-addicted father. When her dad lands the job of his dreams in Sugar Lump—wedding capital of the world—CC finally finds a place to call home. Complete with two quirky best friends and a quixotic guy to crush on, Sugar Lump is more shades of perfect than she can possibly count. But when CC accidentally overhears the mayor complaining that she has to “take out” a rogue employee for not fulfilling the terms of his contract, the idyllic town’s facade crumbles. Devastated by the possibility of having to move yet again, CC discovers everyone has been keeping a massive secret from her—including her own father.

Many communities have secrets, but most of them aren’t quite as big as the ones hidden in Sugar Lump.

The town of Sugar Lump honestly sounded like the perfect place to live when I was first introduced to it. I adored how friendly and helpful everyone was, especially when it came to helping new residents settle in and figure out all of the little quirks that make every community unique. This kind of genuine hospitality only made the events later on in this tale even more unsettling than they would have otherwise been.

It took a very long time for the plot to develop past the point of introducing the characters and exploring the idyllic community they seemed to be living in. As much as I liked getting to know CC and her friends, it wasn’t easy to stay interested in what was happening to them because of how slowly everything was moving. I started reading with the expectation that I’d love this book, so I was surprised and disappointed by how much I had to struggle to keep reading it.

CC was an interesting girl. I liked the fact that she was so oblivious to the thought that something odd might be happening in the town she’d just moved to. While there were definitely times when I wanted to text her and ask her how in the world she could accept everything she heard and saw without questioning it, this part of her personality wasn’t something that she could easily change. Her sometimes naive approach to life did have its endearing side.

Sugar Lump should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a slow-burning mystery.

Fairest by Marissa Meyer


Fairest by Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles 3.5-Levana’s Story

Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (220 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Poinsettia

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death.

Who is Queen Levana?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Levana as the woman who terrorizes Cinder and her band of heroes in her pursuit of world domination, but who is the woman behind the veil? What is her story? Was she always so cruel? The first three books in the series provide very little insight into Levana’s character, but Ms. Meyer drops tantalizing clues throughout the series concerning Levana and her history. My curiosity was piqued and I jumped at the opportunity to read more about this enigmatic character.

I knew before I began reading that Levana’s tale would not be a happy one, but I had no idea just how tragic it would be. Her parents neglected her and her monstrous older sister, Channery, abused her. Even after I learned this, I still have little sympathy for Levana, but I have a better understanding of her motives and the dynamics of her relationships with other characters in the series. Reading this book made Levana more than just a typical evil queen. It made her very realistic.

It is rare to come across a villain as complex and developed as Levana. She is a truly twisted individual who uses her exceptional talent with glamor to manipulate and control those around her, even those she professes to love. There are many times in Levana’s life when she was at a crossroads, and she consistently made bad decisions. Levana deludes herself into believing she is better than Channery. However, I think Levana is actually worse in some ways. At least Channery didn’t try to disguise her actions under the guise of being for the greater good.

It was interesting to finally learn more about Lunar culture, and I have to say it is pretty disturbing. I understand how villains like Levana and Channery could emerge from a world like that. I still would like to know more about the origins of the Lunars’ power and why some are born without it as well as how Lunar society developed.

I highly recommend fans of the Lunar Chronicles read Fairest. Levana’s story is intriguing and adds depth to this captivating series.

The Return of Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel


The Return of Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (234 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

High school graduate Paul Coleman’s life is anything but ordinary. It has been only a few months since he, Myrna Trillian, his girlfriend, and her father, Montague, an Elementalist/magician, destroyed a demon named Hekla that wanted Myrna for a purpose almost too diabolical to believe. Hekla had used the power of sound to kill Paul’s best friend, and her attack left Paul with very little ability to hear.

Montague is now gone, having died in the final battle against Hekla. His last feat of magic was to open a portal to Vann, a water world, where Paul and Myrna now live. Paul is mostly deaf, and Myrna is totally deaf, having been born that way.

However, things take a turn for the weird when Myrna suddenly starts hearing as a normal person would. She also exhibits the ability to open portals to other worlds as her late father did.

Mystified by her sudden transformation, Paul needs to know more, and so does Myrna. They return to Earth and find it under attack by a group of winged demons from Hekla’s home world, Sithros.

They also find that Monty has somehow been resurrected, and while trying to solve that riddle, they also have to fight against legions of winged aliens who think nothing of slaughtering millions. It will take everything the trio can come up with to fight against an alien horde that will stop at nothing to conquer—and destroy.

Nowhere on Earth is safe anymore.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that described exactly how violent and brutal the winged aliens were. Yes, these passages were the reason why I added the horror tag to this review as the descriptions of those attacks could be pretty detailed at times. They suited the tone of this tale nicely, though, and gave Paul all of the urgency he needed in order to try to stop them before more innocent people were hurt or killed.

After the nonstop action of Master Fantastic, I was a little surprised by the mild pacing issues I noticed in this sequel to it. The occasionally uneven pacing wasn’t distracting enough to prevent me from enjoying the plot, but it did steal my attention away from what was happening to the characters often enough that I thought it should be mentioned in this review. I expected the pacing to be slower in the beginning as the narrator was explaining what had happened earlier on in Paul’s adventures, but I wish it hadn’t happened again after that point.

I was impressed with how much care was taken in showing how Paul’s deafness affected his daily life. It wasn’t something he necessarily thought about every day, but it did change the way he reacted to certain situations. Just like in the first instalment in this series, he encountered some people who understood his disability and others who were jaw-droppingly ignorant about it. Paul’s reactions to the way others treated him suited his personality perfectly. He had excellent reasons for all of the different responses he gave to their kindness, rudeness, and everything in-between those two possibilities.

This is part two of a series, but it can be read as a standalone work.

I’d recommend The Return of Master Fantastic to anyone who has ever dreamed about visiting a distant world.

Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel


Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (226 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

High school student Paul Coleman’s life is an ordinary one. His existence takes a turn for the extraordinary when he and his best friend, Rory, are attacked by a winged demon one day. The demon, which calls itself Hekla, possesses the power of sound, and kills Rory with its scream. Paul survives, but the force from the blast has left him mainly deaf. A year later, Paul is out of school, working part-time, and is fearful of going deaf forever. Although he has learned sign language well, he wonders where his life will go. All that changes when Montague (Monty) Trillian, also known as Master Fantastic, enters his life and requests his services as a sign language teacher for his daughter, Myrna. Paul accepts, and soon finds out that Trillian is not just any magician, but an Elementalist, one capable of wielding the four elements of Earth with ease. He can also open portals to other worlds, and often does so, visiting those of earth, water, and fire. Many adventures follow, and Paul and Myrna grow close, but Hekla returns and demands Myrna be given to her. It seems that Myrna is the product of a union between Monty and Hekla, and like all mothers, she desires to protect her own. Now, Paul must do everything he can to save Myrna from being used for a fate far worse than death, and only the abilities of Master Fantastic can save them all—or can they?

There’s more to magic tricks than you might think.

This book had one of the most attention-grabbing beginnings that I’ve ever read. The demon’s attack on Paul and his friend was terrifying and life changing. Yes, there were grisly moments to it, too, but the gore had a purpose and it fit into the rest of the storyline beautifully. What made this scene even more powerful was how severely it affected Paul’s life long after that day ended. He reacted with just as much trauma as anyone would after seeing the violent death of a friend. As difficult as it was to see this character in so much emotional pain, it also pulled me into the plot and made it impossible to stop reading.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about the romantic subplot was how much the characters involved in it had in common. I can’t remember the last time I read a tale about two deaf or hard-of-hearing people falling in love, so it was nice to see it happen here. The similarities between these characters didn’t end there, though. Everything from their senses of humor to their ideas about how to spend their free time was so complementary that I wanted them to end up together as soon as I realized there was a spark between them.

The world building was fantastic. This was true not only for Earth but also for the other places that Paul and his employers explored every time a portal opened. Every single setting was described in such great detail that I felt like I’d been there myself once I finished reading about them. Any one of them would have made me want to give this story a five star rating. The fact that this happened so many times made it impossible for me to pick any other rating!

Master Fantastic is a must-read for anyone who loves magic in any form.

To Wish Upon a Star by Scott MacDonald


To Wish Upon a Star by Scott MacDonald
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (242 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Orchid

Megan Brandt was a shy, lonely teenager secretly in love with a boy in school who didn’t even know she existed. It’s a common scenario that many young girls face and the resolution is typically something simple, like a makeover. Megan’s solution, however, was a little less prosaic than that. She chose to enter into a contract to have her wish fulfilled magically by a bitter and alcoholic 132yr. old Gypsy fortuneteller with a lot of unresolved anger issues. A makeover would’ve been so much easier. Years later, long after the wish had been made, the time had finally come for the people involved to seek out each other and understand the truth of what really happened on that one miraculous night.

 

One of the worst things about being a teenage girl is to be in love with someone who doesn’t know you exist. Megan loves Nick but he doesn’t even look at her. When the chance comes to wish upon a shooting star, Megan thinks of Nick and agrees to the terms of the gypsy who offers her this chance.

Nick is on the football team and is usually surrounded by adoring girls, but on the night of the wish he is stupid and falls from the ferris wheel. He ends up in hospital and is not expected to survive. This makes Megan change her wish at the last minute.

The maxim – be careful what you wish for – is in full force in this book, both for Megan and for the gypsy who also had a life changing event when she wished on the star and is out for revenge.

I enjoyed this book, the storyline was unusual and had a lot of twists and turns which kept my interest alive. Together – apart – together is how the story proceeds and I have to say I loved Rocket, Nick’s dog. The only flaw was the presence of several editing errors. Good read though.

Outcasts by J.S. Frankel


Outcasts by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (231 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Mitch Kessler, teenage high school dropout, jobless and mostly friendless, lives a life of solitude, but not by choice. Endowed with the ability to bring wings out of his body as well as claws, and transform himself into a fierce creature of the night, he’s picked up a nickname from the general public that he hates: gargoyle. However, that’s the least of his worries. His girlfriend, Callie, can’t keep her genders straight, his best friend is a spinning top, and his other acquaintance is made of rock. It’s obviously a government plot, but Mitch doesn’t know who’s behind it or why. Worse, various and sundry creations have now appeared out of the woodwork and are out to kill him. Aided by his friends, the four outcasts attempt to find out who’s running the show. They’re out to stop the forces of evil before they can do more damage. That is, if they survive.

Being different from other people is never easy, but it’s especially difficult when those differences are impossible to hide.

The romance between Mitch and Cassie was nicely written. He clearly loved his girlfriend a lot, and it showed. I enjoyed seeing how hard Mitch worked to keep her safe and how much attention he paid to what was going on in her life. Not only did they make a cute couple, they seemed to be perfect for each other as well.

There was only one part of this tale that I didn’t immediately like. The cast of characters was so large that I had trouble keeping track of everyone was after they were introduced. As much as I enjoyed reading the descriptions of all of the people Mitch encountered, it would have been nice to remember them more easily by either having a smaller cast or being able to reference a list of who everyone was and how they knew each other.

I’ve been a fan of Mr. Frankel’s work for several years now. One of the many things I enjoy about his writing is how talented he is exploring sensitive real-world issues through the science fiction and fantasy genres. This particular tale spent a lot of time exploring what it means to be transgender or intersex. It also talked about what it feels like to be a teenager whose sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t clear yet. Mr. Frankel did an excellent job showing how his characters dealt with these questions and why they came to the conclusions about these parts of their lives that they did.

Outcasts is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt as if they don’t belong anywhere.

The Last First Daughter by Abbie Fine


The Last First Daughter by Abbie Fine
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (262 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Lindy is the only surviving member of the First Family.

During the first television broadcast in a decade, direct from the White House, terrorists attack. Eighteen-year-old Lindy escapes thanks to her secret service officer, Henry, and now finds her country under the control of a cruel, oppressive regime—and she and Henry the targets of a countrywide manhunt.

Using fake identities and Lindy’s engineering skills, which allow her to build a network of radios, Lindy and Henry join a group planning to fight back against the new regime. Lindy must decide if she can sacrifice the relationship closest to her heart, her safety, and possibly her life to give millions of others hope for their future, and take back the White House.

The only way to stay alive is to keep running.

One of the things I liked the most about this book was how much common sense all of the characters had. When they were in dangerous circumstances they paid close attention to their surroundings and took all of the precautions they could to stay safe. This is something I always enjoy finding when I’m reading about people who live in places where there’s no such thing as a hospital or police station in every community anymore. I would be cautious in that kind of environment, so it’s nice to read about characters who take the same sensible approach.

The romantic subplot felt completely out of place to me. There were so many serious and time-sensitive things going on in Lindy’s life that I really didn’t understand why she was spending so much energy on her crush. This behavior didn’t fit her personality, and it also felt odd in a plot that was so full of other conflicts. While I liked the idea of these characters eventually exploring the possibility of a relationship, it would have worked better in a sequel that didn’t have so many other storylines happening simultaneously.

Lindy was a brave and resourceful young woman. The world she lived in was a dangerous one, and she knew just how quickly things could go terribly wrong for her if she made the wrong move. I really liked seeing her adjust from life as the sheltered daughter of a world leader to the one she lead as someone who was always on the run. She handled that transition really well.

There were pacing issues. This was something I noticed most heavily in the middle of this story. Lindy and Henry spent so much time planning their next move in that section that I had trouble keeping up my interest in what would happen to them next. As much as I liked seeing how seriously they took the various steps in their mission, I would have preferred to see them begin to carry them out much more quickly than they did.

With that being said, the world building was well done. I was especially interested in the scenes that talked about how ordinary people survived after they realized they could no longer count on the government for any kind of help at all. Farming is a difficult profession, and the narrator got that point across nicely while also showing the upside of people being required to grow or trade for everything they needed.

I’d recommend The Last First Daughter to anyone who is looking for romantic science fiction.

Cast No Shadows Anthology


Cast No Shadows by Jordan Elizabeth, Derek McFadden, Grace M. DeLeesie, Ashley Pasco, Al Dorantes,‎ Kae P. Quinn, Tracina Cozza, Heather Talty, James McNally, Gloria Slade, C.K. Raggio, A.F. Plant, W.K. Pomeroy, A. Elizabeth Zumchak, Misha Murphy, Joan O. Scharf, Nicole Green, Lorna MacDonald Czarnota, Jeremy Mortis, Amy L. Gale, Lisa Oak, Rachel Pond, Grant Eagar, Clare Weze, Molly Jauregui, Christine Baker
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Holiday, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (479 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Welcome to the shadowed woods, where the trees breathe with ghosts and the wind whispers of the past.

Twenty-six authors take you through haunted houses and cemeteries with tales that will chill.

Beware the dark, for the spirits await you.

No two ghosts are like in this anthology! Just like humans, they can be sad, frightening, sentimental, and even kind.

“Ghostly Affection” followed the friendship of a ghost child and a little boy name Tommy she first met when he was sent to live at the foster home she’d been haunting. They grew up together but were always bothered by the fact that Tommy was the only person who could see her and that neither of them ever noticed other ghosts in the same predicament. The plot twists were really well done. I didn’t see most of them coming, and the ones I did figure out in advance still managed to surprise me in many other ways. What made them even better was how they were all resolved in the last scene. It was the perfect ending to something I enjoyed quite a bit.

This collection was uneven. There were stories I loved just as they were and others I thought could have used more polishing. “Moving In with the Ghost” was one of the ones that could have benefited from some extra development. As much as I liked the idea of a family knowing in advance that they were moving into a haunted home and choosing to live there anyway, Daniel and Geri sure didn’t take that warning seriously. These characters weren’t developed enough for me to know if this was unusual for them or if they were unwilling to take advice in general. Not being sure what their personalities were like in general made it hard for me to empathize with them once paranormal things began happening in their new home.

In “Graveyard Dust,” Emma realized she had special powers after both of her parents died. She began to have conversations with her mother’s ghost in the graveyard. Eventually, she began to make plans to attend a dance after getting advice from her mother and the other spirits. What I enjoyed the most about Emma’s life were all of its references to a famous fairy tale that were embedded into it. Seeing how the author reinterpreted those scenes to better fit the paranormal genre made me smile.

If you’re looking for something spooky, Cast No Shadows is a good place to start.

Dating the It Guy by Krysten Lindsay Hager


Dating the It Guy by Krysten Lindsay Hager
Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: Full (266 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 stars
Review by Poinsettia

Emme is a sophomore in high school who starts dating, Brendon Agretti, the popular senior who happens to be a senator’s son and well-known for his good looks. Emme feels out of her comfort zone in Brendon’s world and it doesn’t help that his picture perfect ex, Lauren, seems determined to get back into his life, along with every other girl who wants to be the future Mrs. Agretti. Emme is already conflicted due to the fact her last boyfriend cheated on her and her whole world is off kilter with her family issues. Life suddenly seems easier keeping Brendon away and relying on her crystals and horoscopes to guide her. Emme soon starts to realize she needs to focus less on the stars and more on her senses. Can Emme get over her insecurities and make her relationship work? Life sure is complicated when you’re dating the it guy.

Can Emme learn to trust herself?

Emme’s relatively simple life became much more complicated over the summer. First her grandma has a severe stroke, and then her grandpa begins showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Even though she’s going through a rough time at home, Emme catches the eye of Brendon, the most popular guy in school. Emme has always admired Brendon, but can’t believe his interest in her will be long lived. Brendon isn’t perfect, but he always strikes me as sincere. Yet, Emme continues to doubt him whenever possible. I kept wondering when Emme stop letting her past experience cloud her judgement.

Emme is a very likable character. Watching her try to balance school, family, and romance felt very realistic. I also like that she’s a regular girl with believable strengths and weaknesses. She isn’t the smartest in her class, and she isn’t super popular. However, she’s caring, loyal, and I truly enjoyed watching her interest in writing grow.

Brendon and Emme make a sweet couple, but I must admit that I was very frustrated by Emme constantly second-guessing Brendon. I understand her previous relationship ended badly. Anyone would be hurt by what she went through, and it would be hard to move on from that. However, instead of seeing Brendon for who he is, Emme over analyzes everything and frequently jumps to conclusions. When they inevitably get into a fight, she places all the blame on him. This happens several times, and it got old after a while. Emme kept saying that she and Brendon had a deep connection, but didn’t seem to be willing to have an honest conversation about her feelings with him. Despite this issue, I liked watching Emme and Brendon get to know each other. When Emme stopped worrying about everyone else, I could see a happy ending waiting for the young couple.

I’m glad I read Dating the It Guy. Emme is a well-rounded character and the romance is sweet. Fans of young adult romance might want to give this book a try.

Stumped by Kate Larkindale


Stumped by Kate Larkindale
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (246 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Seventeen-year-old Ozzy has a super-hot girlfriend who’s ready to take their relationship to the next level. Tonight. At the lake. But a missing condom scuttles his plans for seduction. Furious, Ozzy takes his girlfriend home and drives off—into the path of an oncoming truck. He wakes up with both legs amputated above the knees. When his girlfriend runs out gagging after one look at him, Ozzy knows he’s a hideous freak. He’s convinced he’s blown any chance of having a real relationship with a girl. Determined to prove he can still be a man despite his disability, Ozzy throws himself into dumping his virginity, but finds there’s a limited number of people willing to touch legless dudes in wheelchairs. His obsession takes him into an underworld of brothels and escort services where he discovers the difference between sex and intimacy, and that sometimes the price is much higher than a sex worker’s fee.

The only thing more troublesome to Ozzy than losing his legs is how many times he’s tried and failed to lose his virginity.

Ozzy’s character development was fantastic. His sarcastic response to his accident was funny, but it was also completely believable. He’d suffered a huge loss at a time when he wasn’t at all emotionally prepared to deal with the his disability or how his life was going to change now that he had two amputated limbs. While he definitely had his fair share of flaws, I soon came to love Ozzy’s boldly honest and complex personality.

My only criticism has to do with the descriptions of the many secondary characters that were introduced during the course of the plot. I got to know Ozzy’s mom and siblings pretty well, but there were so many other people who moved in and out of his life that it was hard at times to remember who everyone was, how they were connected to him, and what they looked like. Had there been a smaller cast, I would have chosen a much higher rating for this tale as I loved everything else about it.

As I hinted at earlier in this review, this story was quite humorous. It dealt with so many difficult topics that the last thing I ever expected to do while I was reading it was to start laughing. I was pleasantly surprised the first time it made me chuckle, and I was even happier when this trend continued up until the very last scene.

Stumped was a hilarious and thought-provoking book that I’d recommend to anyone who has ever dealt with serious medical problems or wondered what it would be like to go through that sort of experience.