I Love You More Than Moldy Ham by Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis


I Love You More Than Moldy Ham by Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis
Publisher: Abrams Books
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When a young monster sets out to create a gourmet dinner for someone special, he squelches through marsh and muck to find just the right ingredients, from beetle knees to plump slugs to chicken teeth! But who is the dinner for? A surprise awaits his special loved one and readers alike!

Monsters aren’t always scary. In fact, some of them are downright sweet!

The narrator compared the love he had for his mother to all kinds of disgusting things, from boogers to sweaty feet. Reading about all of the strange items he were collecting as he talked about his feelings for his mom made me really curious to know what he was planning to do with all of it. The longer the list grew, the more impatient I became to see how it would all turn out.

I would have liked to see the main character be given a name at some point. While I definitely liked the fact that this character was relatable to both boys and girls, it felt odd to me to read about a friendly little monster without knowing something as basic as what his mom called him. They had such a special relationship that I would have loved to know that detail about him.

One of my favorite parts of this story was how much effort the writer put into rhyming words that I never would have thought to stick together. They were pretty clever, and they made it impossible for me to stop reading. While some of those words will probably be unfamiliar for this age group, there were plenty of clues in the illustrations and other parts of the rhyme to help them figure out it.

I Love You More Than Moldy Ham made me giggle. It should be read by anyone who is in the mood to get a little grossed out while talking about love.

The Very Stuffed Turkey by Katharine Kenah


The Very Stuffed Turkey by Katharine Kenah
Publisher: Cartwheel Books
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (36 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

A Thanksgiving story featuring a large turkey with a big problem…

…he’s been invited to EVERYONE’S home for dinner!

With five homes to visit — Horse’s, Pig’s, Sheep and Goat’s, Cow’s, and Mouse’s –Turkey knows there’ll be a ton of food to eat. But there’ll also be friends and their families who can’t wait to celebrate the holiday with Turkey! Can this very plump bird make it through every meal without bursting?

A silly, read-aloud story featuring food, friends, and one hilarious turkey!

Turkey’s eyes are much bigger than his stomach. How will he ever be able to eat five Thanksgiving dinners in one day?

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this tale was that the menu at every friend’s house depended on what kind of animal they were. For example, the horses served foods like oat cakes and carrots because those are things that real horses eat. It was a lot of fun to see what each animal’s version of Thanksgiving dinner would be. Some of the dishes they served were pretty creative, and it made me grin to think of them baking such special meals for themselves and for Turkey.

I would have liked to see the main character feel able to say no to more food when he was completely full. He ate to the point where it was physically uncomfortable for him. While I’m all for enjoying good food over the holidays, I also think kids should be encouraged to listen to their bodies and wait before they eat more if their stomachs begin to hurt. There will always be leftovers on holidays like this one!

The friendships between all of the animals were so sweet and supportive. I especially liked seeing the kinds of games they played after one meal ended but before the next one began. Everyone played very nicely together and were great role models for the audience. This is something I really like finding in stories for preschoolers and young children.

I’d recommend The Very Stuffed Turkey to anyone who is looking forward to Thanksgiving this year.

Katie Saves Thanksgiving (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin


Katie Saves Thanksgiving (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin
Publisher: Picture Window Books
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Pedro’s and JoJo’s families are on their way to Katie’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. But they get stuck in a snowstorm, and the Woos’ oven suddenly breaks. Katie wonders what kind of Thanksgiving it will be without sweet potatoes, pie, and most of all, friends.

Sometimes everything that can go wrong does go wrong all at once.

The chances of an oven breaking at the same time that a friend’s car gets stuck in the snow are low, but this sort of thing can happen. Seeing how Katie reacted when everything that made Thanksgiving special to her was taken away made me smile. She was such a good role model even though she was terribly disappointed by the change of plans. This can be a hard thing for people of all ages to handle, but she did a great job of expressing her sad feelings without allowing them to ruin her day.

There was a plot hole in this story that was never resolved. It involved what happened after Pedro and Jojo’s vehicle became stuck in the snowstorm. I was expecting the characters to spend more time on this problem than they did, so it was surprising to see how little attention that part of the plot received.

One of my favorite sections of this book happened while Katie and her family were trying to decide what to do on Thanksgiving now that their friends were no longer on the way and they couldn’t cook the foods they normally liked to eat then. Not only was the choice they made a kind one, it fit perfectly into the spirit of Thanksgiving and what it means to truly celebrate this holiday.

Katie Saves Thanksgiving was a short, cute read that I’d recommend to anyone who has ever had something go wrong during the holidays.

I’m Not Afraid of This Haunted House by Laurie Friedman


I’m Not Afraid of This Haunted House by Laurie Friedman
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Simon Lester Henry Strauss is not in the least afraid of any haunted house, but there is something else that terrifies him.

Not everyone is afraid of the same thing, but just about everyone is frightened by something.

I really liked the balanced way the narrator handled fear. None of the characters were ever treated poorly because of what scared them. Their fears and their emotions in general were treated like the normal part of life that they are, but there were also examples of characters facing things that others found too alarming to deal with. It was interesting to see how all of the characters responded to scary things and what happened when they disagreed on how they should respond to certain experiences.

The imagery was a little scarier than what I’d typically see for this age group. There were references to stuff like blood, guts, and veins. While none of the illustrations for those sentences were gory, this would make me a little cautious about who I handled this tale to. Some kids would love it. Others might find it too frightening, though.

The ending was fantastic. I was expecting there to be a twist in it based on how the main character reacted to the monsters in all of the earlier scenes. It was interesting to see if my theories about what that twist would be turned out to be correct and what would happen to the characters next. This is something I wouldn’t mind reading aloud over and over again. That’s always a nice thing to find in picture books.

I’m Not Afraid of This Haunted House is a good choice for young fans of the horror genre.

Harvest Moon by Tonya Coffey


Harvest Moon by Tonya Coffey
A New World – Book one

Publisher: Saguaro Books, LLC
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (218 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Seventeen-year-old Jessa lives in the remote mountains of Kentucky and has always found peace in the forest. Close to her eighteenth birthday, her dad buys her a book and things begin to happen. With her dreams leading her, she uncovers a world within her own with Faeries. They look and act like people she grew up with but she quickly finds she is the one who is different. She is the hidden heir to the throne and the Faeries need her to come home and save them from the Trolls.

If it wasn’t difficult enough for Jessa to move to a different world, she has to marry the man who saved her from the Trolls when all she wants to do is run to his best friend, Micha. With so much to worry about, how can she keep the Faery realm from falling into the hands of the evil Trolls and the Ancients?

Jessa, a seventeen year old girl, lives with her father in the woods. Despite going to school, she leads a lonely life and spends most of her time wandering through the trees or reading books about the faerie world. Immediately before her eighteenth birthday she is kidnapped by trolls then rescued by the faeries. From then on her life takes a totally new path.

Roderick her protector, doesn’t seem to do a brilliant job as she gets kidnapped a few times, although he’s not too bad at rescuing her as long as she helps him.

This is a pleasant book with Jessa finding the truth about her parents and her struggles at coming to terms with who she really is, but despite this being pleasant to read, I couldn’t really get into it. Things weren’t well fleshed out and Jessa didn’t seem to be in any real danger which took away the suspense and excitement. However, this is a good book to read as an afternoon distraction and amusement.

Brave New Girls: Girls Who Science and Scheme Edited by Mary Fan and Paige Daniels

Brave New Girls: Girls Who Science and Scheme by Edited by Mary Fan and Paige Daniels
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (423 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Dive into a universe of sci-fi wonders.

This collection of sci-fi shorts features a variety of brainy young heroines—girls who engineer, tinker, experiment, and more. Voyage to far-off galaxies with girls who use their science savvy to fix rovers, rescue friends, and protect alien critters. Visit steampunk realms where young ladies put their skills to the test building mechanical wonders and solving mysteries. Trek across sci-fi landscapes with girls who save androids and repair robots. Journey to post-apocalyptic futures where heroines use their tech know-how to bring down overlords and spread the most dangerous thing of all… knowledge. And drop in on a few near-future heroines who use their smarts to take down supervillains and bring a little more understanding into the world.

Proceeds from sales of this anthology will be donated to a scholarship fund through the Society of Women Engineers. Let’s show today’s girls that they, too, can be tomorrow’s inventors, programmers, scientists, and more.

STORIES BY:
T. Eric Bakutis, Elisha Betts, Steph Bennion, Bryna Butler, Margaret Curelas, Paige Daniels, Kay Dominguez, Brandon Draga, George Ebey, Mary Fan, A.A. Jankiewicz, Evangeline Jennings, Jamie Krakover, Jeanne Kramer-Smyth, Stephen Landry, Karissa Laurel, Michelle Leonard, Meg Merriet, Jelani-Akin Parham, Josh Pritchett, Holly Schofield, and Lisa Toohey.

Featuring artwork by Hazel Butler, Sonya Craig, Ken Dawson, Evelinn Enoksen, Ben Falco, Kathy Ferrell, Christopher Godsoe, Evangeline Jennings, Deanna Laver, Jennifer L. Lopez, Jelani Akin Parham, Josh Pritchett, Emily Smith, and Jennifer Stolzer.

There’s no such thing as too much science in these universes.

Morrigan and her niece, Cethlenn, struggled to avoid getting sucked into a black hole in “The Non-Existence of Gravity.” While I can’t say why they ended up in such a predicament in the first place without giving away spoilers, I can say that their reaction to such a dangerous fate made it impossible for me to stop reading. They were so brave and quick-thinking that I simply had to know what would happen to them next, and I was quite pleased with how they reacted as soon as they realized something was terribly wrong.

As much as I enjoyed all of the storylines, there were a few sections that could have benefitted from more development. For example, the premise of “In A Whole New Light” caught my attention right away. Nina, the main character who was biracial, tried to figure out how to make her cousin stop mocking her for her race and interest in the Black Lives Matter movement. Her life was full of many interesting ideas that could have easily been expanded into a full-length novel, although it worked quite well at its current length, too. What I would have liked to see done with Nina’s adventures, though, was to spend more time on how she came up with her futuristic plan to change her cousin’s opinion of black and biracial people. Her solution was brilliant, but it wasn’t exactly something I’d expect the average 15-year-old to pull off. If that part of the plot had been given more time to shine, this would have easily beaten “The 17th Quadrennial Intergalactic Neo-Cultural Expo and Science Fair” as my favorite tale in this collection.

In “The 17th Quadrennial Intergalactic Neo-Cultural Expo and Science Fair,” Alice, Jay, and Hayden were putting the finishing touches on their science fair project when the life support system on their ship suddenly failed. They only had about 40 minutes to figure out what to do before they ran out of oxygen, and none of the adults in their community were around to help them. What an exciting premise that was! These characters had to think hard in order to make any progress at all at reaching their goal to save themselves and everyone else. I spent most of their adventure seriously wondering how they were going to survive and if they would fix their ship in time. It was so interesting to see how the plot unfolded.

I liked this anthology even more than I did the first one in this series, Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets. While they definitely don’t have to be read in order, I would recommend checking out the first instalment to anyone who enjoys this one.

Brave New Girls: Girls Who Science and Scheme was a creative collection of short stories that should be read by both young adult and adult fans of science fiction.

Megan’s Munchkins by Pamela Foland


Megan’s Munchkins by Pamela Foland
Publisher: Sonny’s Legacy Publishing
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (54 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Coming September 12, 2017! Megan’s Munchkins is the first book in the middle grade fiction series Megan’s World. Not everything hidden in the closet is scary, even if it’s furry and has sharp claws! Every teenager’s dream come true and every parent’s worst nightmare, Megan’s Munchkins is a short and sweet tale about a middle-school girl finding, quite by accident, the pet she had always wanted. Plus three more! It’s almost Spring break and adventurous thirteen-year-old Megan Thompson finds four tiny day-old kittens in the park and makes a decision on the spot that will turn her life upside-down. What does a young girl do who has been told by her parents over and over again that she may not have a pet? In Megan’s mind, there is no question. She must save these motherless newborns, even if it means keeping them a secret from her mom and dad. The next five weeks are an exhausting blur of vet visits, endless cycles of feeding schedules, household chores, homework and sneaking around, but Megan has never been happier in her whole life. The kittens grow quickly and begin to venture out into the world beyond the closet. Megan knows it is only a matter of time before her she must tell her parents about her secret. Fate steps in and her secret is discovered. What will happen to her precious babies now?

Keeping a secret for five weeks isn’t as easy as it might sound.

Megan was a smart girl. I enjoyed seeing how she solved the problems that can come with trying to raise four newborn kittens by yourself. My favorite scene involved her trying to get the kittens to drink formula when they were too small and weak to understand what she was doing. She clearly loved her pets quite a bit and spent plenty of time researching everything they would need to grow into strong, healthy cats.

One of the biggest reasons why Megan’s parents didn’t want her to have a pet cat was that they and her older brother were allergic to them. The way this part of the plot was developed didn’t make sense to me because the Thompson family never went into much detail about how severe their allergies were or what would happen if they were exposed to cat dander. As much as I enjoyed the rest of the storyline, I would have liked to see more attention paid to this section.

The relationship Megan had with her brother was warm and friendly. I appreciated the fact that he was so kind to and supportive of her. They seemed like they were very close even though Kevin was much older than his little sister. This isn’t something I see nearly enough of in middle grade fiction, so it was fun to watch siblings get along well.

Megan’s Munchkins was a sweet, gentle story that I’d recommend to anyone who loves cats.

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.

A Merchant in Oria by David Wiley


A Merchant in Oria by David Wiley
Publisher: Willow Wings Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (56 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Firion is a young merchant descended from generations of merchants. His first big break comes along when he sets out to trade with the wealthy dwarven kingdom of Oria. He has always dreamed of visiting this grand kingdom, having heard his father describe it in detail a hundred times while he was younger. But when Firion arrives in Oria, he is jarred by the details present that contradict with the image etched into his mind. Something dark and sinister seems to be afoot in Oria, but Firion knows he is no hero. He is just a simple merchant, and what can an ordinary person do in the face of danger and deception?

You’re never too young to make a difference.

The world building was fantastic. Everything from what it was like to meet a dwarf to how Firion reacted when their village didn’t match his expectations of what dwarven society was supposed to be like made me want to know more about what was happening in this world. There were so many small but vivid details included about the characters and settings that there were times when I felt like I was watching a movie instead of reading a book.

I was disappointed by the abrupt ending. The beginning and middle were so exciting that I was surprised to see how the author wrapped everything up. There were some issues I was expecting to be difficult to solve based on how they were written about earlier on, so it came as a shock to me to see how they were resolved. If not for this, I would have chosen a much higher rating as I really enjoyed the beginning of Firion’s adventures.

This book was pretty funny. No one was safe from the narrator’s quick wit regardless of what role they played in the plot or how much the audience liked them. That made this something that I didn’t want to stop reading. It was amusing to see who would be gently ribbed by the narrator next, especially when it came to characters who generally play serious roles in this kind of tale.

A Merchant in Oria should be read by anyone who loves fantasy stories set in the distant past.