The Border by Steve Schafer


The Border by Steve Schafer
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (342 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Stargazer

One moment changed their lives forever.

A band plays, glasses clink, and four teens sneak into the Mexican desert, the hum of celebration receding behind them.

Crack. Crack. Crack.

Not fireworks―gunshots. The music stops. And Pato, Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys are powerless as the lives they once knew are taken from them.

Then they are seen by the gunmen. They run. Except they have nowhere to go. The narcos responsible for their families’ murders have put out a reward for the teens’ capture. Staying in Mexico is certain death, but attempting to cross the border through an unforgiving desert may be as deadly as the secrets they are trying to escape…

Do any of us truly value the life and opportunities that we have? Even by reading this review you have so many more opportunities than others in the world.

The Border is a first person account of the ruthless killing, drug trafficking and greed that proliferates portions of Mexico near the United States border. The four teens lose everything they have ever known when they are caught in the crossfire of a drug war near the border. After they are pursued and a bounty is listed for their capture or deaths, they are forced to cross the border into U.S. territory.

What comes next is heart rendering; the close connections that the friends forge, the shift from living life to simply surviving shows a different side of human nature and a dark reality that we often try not to dwell on. This story brings that reality into perspective and forces the reader to see and understand the pain that each of the characters experience.

Faced with setback after setback, the teens forge ahead with dreams of what life in the U.S. will be like. The author does an amazing job at character development through the entire story. Not a single character remained unchanged, in fact, the author highlights how the characters reflect on their own psychological changes after choices are made that impact the survivability of the entire group.

Just when it seems like everything will be okay, more adversities stand in the way; then when it seems like all hope is lost, there is still the beauty of the human spirit to overcome those adversities. This story brings to life the current political turmoil and debate of immigration but places it in a very different light then what many of us are accustomed to seeing.

Make sure that you do not miss The Border if you want to understand what truly drives the human spirit to push on when all is lost!

The Undernet by J.S. Frankel


The Undernet by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (232 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Milton (Milt) Edwards, eighteen, high school graduate and gamer supreme, lives for the next game to be played on the internet. His friend, Simon Smith, is no different, and together they rule the world of war simulations and zombie invasions.

When Simon tells Milt about the newest site he’s heard of—the Undernet—Milt is intrigued. However, when Simon turns up dead shortly after telling him, Milt is determined to find out why. Was it the Undernet, a shadowy cyber world, or simply a maniac with a vendetta? He is soon recruited by Ramon, a former prisoner turned FBI hacker, and Larry Caldwell, an FBI agent. Ramon introduces Milt to the Darknet, and soon the clues fall into place, or at least Milt thinks they do.

Against the counsel of his girlfriend, Roberta Jones, Milt goes deeper and deeper into the netherworld known as the Undernet, finding out that reality isn’t what he thinks it is. More deaths happen, and when Milt discovers the truth behind who killed Simon—and others—it may be too late. Log onto the Undernet. Don’t think about logging out.

Not everything on the Internet is friendly or light-hearted.

The premise leapt out at me immediately. As a longtime fan of Mr. Frankel’s work, I was curious to see what his take on the Undernet would be. I was quite happy with how he used this plot device to introduce Milton to a part of the web that few people even knew existed. It was every bit as interesting and unsettling as I’d hoped it would be.

I would have liked to see a little more character development with Milton. He experienced many frightening and surprising things during the course of this book. While I was pleased to see that he changed and grew as a result of some of them, others didn’t seem to affect him much at all. It would have been nice to have more time to explore this and to see if he ever did evolve in those areas as a result of the scary stuff he discovered.

This tale was full of horror. The Undernet was filled with people who enjoyed all kinds of violent hobbies. The narrator didn’t shy away from sharing his impressions of them with the audience in vivid detail. It was something that the plot required, and I’m glad that the author faced his subject matter head on. With that being said, this also isn’t something that should be read by anyone under the age of sixteen because of how grisly it was.

The Undernet is a great choice for anyone who is in the mood for something dark.

No Place Called Home by Matthew Wooding


No Place Called Home by Matthew Wooding
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (180 Pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+ (Alcohol use/dependency)
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Stargazer

Growing up with everything you’ve ever wanted sounds like a dream, but it leaves Jonjo Wells feeling unfulfilled and hollow. Destined for a life of boardrooms and working weekends, he decides to escape on a gap year. Free of his parents’ rules and expectations, he can finally discover his freedom. But the unsheltered world away from mum and dad is a tougher place than he’s imagined, and Jonjo is faced with a steep learning curve…

Having everything you have ever wanted can leave you wondering what you are missing out on-unfortunately that can leave you with experiences and pain to last the rest of your lifetime.

Jonjo Wells is ready to find out what exists in the world outside of the safety net provided by his rich father. By taking a risk and leaving the country of his birth-Jonjo goes to Canada in search of adventure. Much different from his life in Australia; Jonjo finds that when things go your way easily they can also turn for the worse just as quickly.

No Place Called Home is a fast paced read that does not leave the reader bored since there is always something coming around the bend. Jonjo’s life begins to take on different forms and the Jonjo we see at the end of the story is far different from the spoiled Jonjo we first met. Jonjo’s tale is also heartbreaking in many respects- I was able to identify many choices that I had made that were similar to Jonjo’s and I began wondering if I could have gone down a similar path if things would have turned for the worse.

While the story was great, there were some spelling mistakes and grammar that detracted a bit from the story. The initial meeting and subsequent fast paced relationship with Hannah seemed unreasonable in some regards, especially the few quick interactions with Hannah’s parents seemed to point to either a larger family issue that is not explored fully in the story or a rush on the author’s part to keep the plot line moving.

By far, the deepest part of the story is Jonjo’s continued increased use of alcohol. The justification and subsequent issues that arise create a world in which the reader is able to identify with what is happening. After the accident that occurs at work, costing Jonjo his job, the world begins to take on a whole new view. This new view begins to shape Jonjo and the choices he later makes will solidify the life he begins to lead.

If you have ever taken or considered a gap year between high school and college, I highly encourage you to read this fascinating look at what is truly in the world. This story by far shows how the world can refine and redefine a person in just a year.

Lovely Scars by Cassandra Jamison

Lovely Scars by Cassandra Jamison
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (246 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Snooping on your boyfriend’s phone is never a good idea. Collins can’t help herself after he unexpectedly commits suicide, but what she finds makes her grateful he’s dead. Collins Carpenter has always been the textbook good girl until her freshman year of college when an unplanned pregnancy with her best friend, Everett, complicates everything. In a desperate attempt to deny her feelings for her child’s father and her jealousy toward his new girlfriend, Collins jumps into a relationship with Brock Webber. Nobody suspects that his good looks and charm masks something quite sinister until after his death, when the things he had been involved in finally come to light. Disturbing and inexplicable events leave Collins wondering if Brock’s spirit is not at rest or if somebody from his past is after her. Somebody who may be closer than she thinks.

Not every man who tries to sweep you off of your feet is going to turn out to be Prince Charming.

Wow, this was scary! I really appreciated the peaceful beginning. It lulled me into a false sense of security before Collins realized that the handsome guy she’d just met wasn’t necessarily who he portrayed himself to be. There were times when I was nearly as shocked as she was by his behaviour even though I’d read the blurb and obviously knew that some unsettling experiences were headed her way. I only grew more apprehensive as the story moved forward and I became less and less sure that my theories about what was going on with Brock were actually correct. Not knowing these things only made him feel more chilling to me.

Collins made a lot of senseless decisions in this book. There were times when I had to stop reading and shake my head because I couldn’t understand why she did so many things that she knew were dangerous or ill-advised. While the plot itself was excellent, I had a tough time connecting to this character because of how little common sense she had.

The romance was beautiful. I desperately wanted the characters involved in it to admit their feelings for each other and find a way to be together. They were perfect for each other in just about every way. One of the biggest reasons why I read this tale as quickly as I did is that I couldn’t wait to find out when or if this might happen. I honestly wasn’t sure what was going to happen with them, and that made it impossible for me to stop reading.

Lovely Scars should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a truly frightening mystery.

Grimm Remains by Eli Celata


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

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

Jon’s adventures have only just begun.

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

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

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

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

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

High Summons by Eli Celata


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

BoM LASR YA copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Webster: The Unhinged Edition by Anne Wentworth


Webster: The Unhinged Edition by Anne Wentworth
Publisher: Blue Swan Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (105 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Webster Harmon has a gift. When the veils come down, spirits show themselves, and he can communicate with them. Tandy, the woman who runs the group home where he lives, manages to find out about his gift and reports Webster as being mentally ill. As a result of this, Webster is sent to a psychiatric unit.

After being released, the only reason for returning to the group home instead of risking a life on the street, is Webster’s love for Beth, one of the other teens living in the group home. Beth is the one person who makes life with Tandy tolerable.

On his way back to Tandy’s, Webster meets Reggae. Reggae’s been living on the street since his uncle died, so Webster brings him along to see if he can stay at the group home. When Webster returns, he finds Beth terrified because Tandy wants to send her for a trial to live with a couple who may have less than honorable intentions.

With the help of his new friend Reggae, Webster is determined to keep Beth safe. When the spirits reveal Tandy’s secrets, Webster decides to make his move to get all three of them out of there and to a better life–even if it means using his gift to break the rules.

Not everyone cares about what happens to teens in foster care. If Webster and his friends are going to be saved, they’d better take fate into their own hands.

The friendship among Webster and the two other teens currently living in their group home, Beth and Reggae, was so strong. One of the reasons why I enjoyed seeing these characters work together to get out of their terrible living situation so much is that all three of them genuinely cared about each other. Their friendships were so strong that I couldn’t wait to find out if they were successful and if they’d find their happy endings.

There were many pacing issues in this book. The plot moved quickly in some scenes and pretty slowly in others. This made it harder for me to stay interested in the storyline because of how often the pacing changed and how much that affected every other part of the story. Some of the scenes felt rushed, while others didn’t have enough time to explore all of the issues that the characters were dealing with.

It was nice to have some helpful and empathetic adults in a young adult novel. I especially appreciated the fact that the kind adults in Webster’s life played such a big part in it. This wasn’t just one scene. There were many opportunities for this character to meet people who were nothing at all like the abusive woman who ran the group home where he lived.

I’d recommend Webster: The Unhinged Edition to anyone who is interested in books about foster care or the supernatural.

Snow Island by M.Y. Zeman


Snow Island by M.Y. Zeman
Chronicles of a Wererabbit

Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (250 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Vampires, werewolves, unicorns, pterodactyls, and other creatures from myth or brought back from extinction.

A deadly monorail with an insanely cheery Artificial Intelligence tour guide.

A fortune teller’s frighteningly accurate prediction of death…

Snow Island begins five months after Snow Bunny with Snow, now 15, receiving an ominous prediction from a fortune teller. She travels to a mysterious island with Josh, her dads, her friends David and Charlene to find out what happened to the creatures and werewolves that have been disappearing.

Chronicles of Wererabbit—a young adult paranormal/fantasy series about a girl who can shift into a rabbit and her journey to become a hero.

There’s never been an island quite like this one before.

Snow’s character development continued to surprise me in all kinds of wonderful ways. I liked her quite a bit in the beginning of this series, but seeing how she’s changed over the course of the first three tales of her life has only made me love her more than I ever have before. She has such a sweet and playful personality that I always look forward to seeing what she’ll do next.

There was a lot of violence in this story. While I deeply enjoyed the plot itself, I’m cautious about what age range I’d recommend it to because of how often various characters were harmed in sometimes pretty terrible ways. There was a disconnect between scenes like these and the overall tone of the plot that seemed to be written for much younger readers. If the author decides to continue this series, I hope the target audience will be made more clear as the storytelling itself was excellent.

The creatures living on the island that Snow and her companions travelled to were deliciously frightening. All of the descriptions of them were so vivid that I almost felt as though they were creeping up behind me when I read about all of the ways they could possibly harm someone. There were some incredibly creative twists here about what dangerous creatures look like and and what they’re capable of.

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

Snow Island: Chronicles of a Wererabbit made me grin. I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who is in the mood for an adventure.

Or the Girl Dies by Rachel Rust


Or the Girl Dies by Rachel Rust
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Young Adult
Length: Full (168 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Stargazer

One school project. One kidnapping. One night they won’t forget. Natalie is an honors student with perfect grades. Victor is a drug dealer with a cryptic past. When a school assignment forces them to work together, things quickly spiral out of control. Victor fails to complete his part of their project, so Natalie hunts him down the night before it’s due. But Victor’s kingpin boss interrupts their study date and drags Natalie down into a seedy underworld where anything can be bought and sold—including her. Over the course of one night—while dodging bad guys and trying not to inhale—Natalie discovers shocking truths about Victor. And she’ll need to choose between preserving her perfect academic future and helping him escape his troubled past. Except one final revelation about Victor may be too much for Natalie to survive.

The senior year of high school is all about looking to the future right? What happens when one night can change everything?

When Natalie is paired with Victor for a class project that can make or break her opportunity to go to a prestigious college, she only has a couple of choices. But, when she tries to get Victor to participate in the project she finds that she bites off much more than she can chew.

Natalie comes out of her bubble of the rich life and in one night wades through the dark underbelly of drugs and human trafficking. Each choice that Natalie makes is more difficult than the last. Throughout this one night and into the next day, Natalie is forced to choose between who she should trust and who she can trust.

The author, Rachel Rust, tells the story from the perspective of Natalie in such a way that the reader feels entwined with the decisions that Natalie makes. From the fateful choice of trying to get Victor to do his part of the assignment to the desire to help Victor escape from the murky world in which he has become entangled.

The feelings of Natalie are those which the reader can easily identify with. The dark situations and difficult choices are those which many readers and identify and may have even dealt with personally. While the age recommendation is higher due to adult situations and drug use, this story will resonate with many readers on a personal level.

After struggling through the night, the reader is able to breathe a sigh of relief only to face more twists and turns into the story. The author acts as a fantastic story teller and keeps pulling the reader back into the story. Essentially the author teaches the reader to question those who walk in the world with us, and look at the underlying desires which drive us to struggle through each day.

Make sure you don’t miss Rachel Rust’s fantastic book, Or the Girl Dies!

Not Her Baby by Cassandra Jamison


Not Her Baby by Cassandra Jamison
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (232 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Orchid

When eighteen-year-old Aubrey Dale’s cousin is diagnosed with leukemia, Aubrey volunteers to in-vitro fertilization in order to become a vessel for the donor that will save her life. Now this clean-cut high school student must learn to adapt to life as a pregnant teenager, despite still being a virgin. Things only get more complicated when she falls in love with her best friend, Eli Calhoun, who has just returned from the penitentiary. Rumors soon spread that the insemination story is only a cover up. That’s when the anonymous threats begin. Someone in her small town disapproves of this so-called abomination. The psychological games soon take a twisted turn, putting Aubrey and her unborn child’s lives in danger. Aubrey and Eli race to uncover the horrible truth before it destroys everything.

Aubrey lives with her father and sister. Her mainstay in life is Kailee, her cousin, who has been there for her in all the years since her mother left. This summer a lot happens to Aubrey. Eli, a friend who has been in prison for several years, returns to the town and the friendship threatens to become a deeper relationship . Kailee arrives for the summer, and Brey finds out her cousin has leukemia. Brey offers to be a bone marrow transplant donor but unfortunately she isn’t a perfect fit. She takes the next best option and agrees to have a child with a donor to provide the stem cells needed for Kailee’s recovery.

At first I thought this eighteen year old was being brave in her wish to help her cousin. As the story progresses it becomes apparent she hasn’t really thought things through. One major result will be what to do with the baby when it’s born. At least one lady at her church has definite, but unwelcome, ideas about what will happen to the child.

The attitude of her fellow students at high school make her life more insulated. New students at the school, demean her for their own pleasure, and danger and intrigue from an unexpected source make her life scary and hazardous.

There are several sub-plots to this story which make it all the more intriguing and fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed it.