She’s Like a Rainbow by Eileen Colucci


She’s Like a Rainbow by Eileen Colucci
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (299 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

“The summer I turned ten, my life took a fairy tale turn.” So begins Reema Ben Ghazi’s tale set in Morocco. Reema awakes one morning to find her skin has changed from whipped cream to dark chocolate. From then on, every few years she undergoes another metamorphosis, her color changing successively to red, yellow and ultimately brown. What is the cause of this strange condition and is there a cure? Does the legend of the White Buffalo have anything to do with it? As Reema struggles to find answers to these questions, she confronts the reactions of the people around her, including her strict and unsympathetic mother, Lalla Jamila; her timid younger sister, Zakia; and her two best friends, Batoul and Khalil. At the same time, she must deal with the trials of adolescence even as her friendship with Khalil turns to first love. One day, in her search for answers, Reema discovers a shocking secret – she may have been adopted at birth. As a result, Reema embarks on a quest to find her birth mother that takes her from twentieth-century Rabat to post-9/11 New York. Reema’s humanity shines through her story, reminding us of all we have in common regardless of our particular cultural heritage. SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW, which will appeal to Teens as well as Adults, raises intriguing questions about identity and ethnicity.

 

As soon as Reema adjusts to one new skin color, her complexion changes yet again. Will she ever discover why this is happening?

While this book had a large cast of characters, I never had any trouble remembering who was who. I appreciated how much attention Ms. Colucci paid to all of the small details of her characters’ lives. She made them come to life so vividly in my mind that I was able to keep track of everyone even when multiple new people were introduced at the same time.

The pacing was slow. As fascinated as I was by the premise, it was difficult for me to stay interested in the storyline at times because it took so long for the main character to find any clues at all about what was happening to her skin or whether or not she had actually been adopted. It was interesting to read about the ordinary details of her daily routine like what she ate for meals, but there were so many of these scenes that they slowed down the plot and distracted me from the mysteries of this character’s life.

Reema had a complex and difficult relationship with her mother that included a lot of conflict between them as she was growing up. Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that showed how this relationship evolved as the main character began to make her own decisions in life. I found it intriguing to see how things changed between mother and daughter over the years. Watching Reema attempt to understand why this part of her life was so complicated was one of my favorite parts of this tale.

I’d recommend She’s Like a Rainbow to anyone who is in the mood for something thought provoking.

Which is p and Which is q? by Gita V. Reddy


Which is p and Which is q? by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Grandpa brings a box of wooden letters for Minki to practice her ABCs. He spells out words and Minki picks out the letters from the set. She enjoys doing this except that she isn’t able to tell p and q apart. So when Grandpa spells out p-i-g, she picks q, i, and g. For q-u-e-e-n she picks p,u,e,e,n and for q-u-i-l-t, she takes out the letters p,u,i,l,t.

Because Minki has so much trouble with p and q, she throws them out of the window. Angry and hurt, p and q stomp away to Word Fairy and announce they are never going back.

With p and q missing, many words become meaningless. Now nobody can say ‘please’ because it has turned into ‘lease.’ The police station and the post office can’t function and the queen must go into hiding!

Which is p and Which is q? is a fun story about an important issue.

Children between the ages 3 to 7 make occasional letter reversals while reading or writing. This is more likely to happen with letters that are mirror images of each other – like p and q, b and d, n and u. It doesn’t mean the child is dyslexic or has a learning ability. With practice and some clues, as the letter shapes become more familiar, children get over the confusion.

Learning the letters of the alphabet isn’t always easy.

My favorite scenes happened after the letters p and q ran away to go live with Word Fairy. They were so determined to stay with her forever that I couldn’t wait to see how the fairy would respond to them once she realized that they never wanted to go back to Earth. This was a very creative spin on the topic, and it made me smile.

Minka mentioned some letters other than p and q that are easy to mix up. I would have liked to see her either spend more time talking about how to tell the difference between those other letter or save them for a sequel. Talking about them without going into detail seemed like it could be confusing for young readers. With that being said, exploring those letters would be a very good place to begin with a sequel if the author is hoping turn this into a series.

The memory trick that Minka’s grandfather shared at the end of this story to help her remember the difference between these two letters was a smart one. He made it easy to remember by turning that trick into something a kid can easily imagine happening. It’s not something I’d ever heard of before, but it made a lot of sense.

Which Is p and Which Is q? is an adorable picture book that I’d recommend to anyone who has a young child in their life who needs help remembering the differences between similar letters like these.

The Ride That Was Really Haunted by Steve Brezenoff


The Ride That Was Really Haunted by Steve Brezenoff
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
Genre: Children’s, Suspense/Mystery, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (88 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The trip to the amusement park should be fun. But when Samantha “Sam” Archer and her friends try out the haunted house ride, things go terribly wrong!

This is a field trip that Samantha isn’t going to forget anytime soon.

The mystery was fun to solve. I liked seeing how quickly the first clue was given to the characters and what they did with it once they realized that something odd was happening on this ride. It was also interesting to watch them try to understand what was happening and figure out if their first guess was correct. Samantha and her friends were smart kids, and it showed in how much time they spent trying to solve the problem of what really happened during the ride.

I would have liked to see more descriptions of what was happening in this story. For example, it would have been nice to know more about what Samantha and her friends saw in the haunted house ride after everything began to go wrong and they realized that they’d have to work together to find a way out of that building. The descriptions of those scenes didn’t contain enough details for me to imagine how they played out.

The dialogue was well done. All of the main characters really sounded like kids, from the silly jokes they made about each other to how they talked about the strange things that were happening when they were trying to figure out what was actually going on in the haunted house. There were a few different times when their conversations made me grin because of how playful they were.

The Ride That Was Really Haunted should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a short, lighthearted mystery.

Finding Nine by Suki Lang


Finding Nine by Suki Lang
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (264 pages)
Age Recommendation:16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

This is a story of John, a 16 year old who loses his mother to cancer. During the last year of her life she writes a series of eight letters for her son to read after her death. Designed as a treasure hunt, the letters take John to a place his mother left long ago, where he meets a family he knows little of.

The object of the hunt seems to be to find a perfect spot to place his mother’s ashes. But John soon discovers the letters are his mother’s way of helping him move through his grief, and of letting him know she will always be by his side. The journey he takes is about finding hope in the love of two people who welcome him with open arms. And John’s arrival is a gift never expected but long hoped for by two of the people his mother left behind. Through the natural order of things a son is given the opportunity to fulfill a mother’s last wish and to discover her many secrets yet untold.

Sometimes death leaves everyone who loved the deceased with many more questions than they have answers. This is even more true when someone dies before their time.

The descriptions of the places John went and the people he met were nicely written. I especially liked the scenes that showed where his mother had grown up. He knew so little about her childhood that it was wonderful to see how he reacted to all of the pieces of her past he was finally able to to put together.

There were pacing issues. I noticed them the most after John had read the first few letters from his mom and was beginning to dig deeply into what her life had been like before he was born. As interested as I was in the premise of this book when I first began reading it, it was hard for me to pay attention to the plot at times because of how slowly it moved.

Grief is a complicated subject. I was pleased with how Ms. Lang approached all of the different emotions someone can feel when they lose a loved one. John laughed at some of the stories he uncovered about his mom on his journey. In other scenes he felt everything from sorrow to surprise to anger to nostalgia. It was interesting to see how the author explored what happens when someone has so many conflicting feelings about death and grief.

Finding Nine should be read by anyone who has ever needed to grieve the loss of someone they really cared about.

The Hidden Legacy by Christine Rees


The Hidden Legacy by Christine Rees
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (271 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The curse of premonition follows Faye Lithyer, forcing her to witness death—over and over again. When Faye moves in with her grandmother in Astoria, Oregon, her visions grow stronger. Faye watches a new friend fall victim to a murder in the not-so-distant future and becomes obsessed with preventing it from happening. However, Faye’s insecurity has her undecided whether she should tell her friend about their impending death or hunt down the murderer before it’s too late. Faye will be faced with an epic choice that threatens to expose her abilities. Will she choose to save her friend from a monster or risk becoming one herself?

Having special powers isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be.

The dialogue was nicely written. None of the main characters came across to me as particularly talkative people, so it made perfect sense that they usually tended to get straight to the point when they did have something to say. It was a nice, subtle way of showing the audience who these individuals were without ever needing to spell all of it out.

There wasn’t a lot of character development. Faye and her friends seemed to remain more or less the same people regardless of what happened to them. While there were definitely things I admired about these characters, the fact that they didn’t change much over the course of the plot made it harder for me to root for them. It was difficult to understand how someone could go through the experiences they had and not be strongly affected by them.

Faye’s relationship with her grandmother was so sweet. While her grandmother was only in a select number of scenes, it was heart-warming to see such a positive relationship between a grandparent and grandchild. One of my favorite parts of this book happened in the first scene when Faye was warmly welcomed into her grandmother’s home. It was a beautiful introduction to both of these characters, and it only made me want to read more.

One of the other things I found confusing about this tale was how many different characters it followed. The group of friends Faye connected with was just large enough that I sometimes had trouble keeping track of everyone’s backstories and how they all knew each other. While I liked everyone as individuals, I would have enjoyed getting to know a smaller number of them much better rather than learning a little bit about all of them.

With that being said, I did appreciate how well everyone in Faye’s social circle looked out for each other. They genuinely seemed to care about one another, and it showed. This isn’t something I see nearly enough of in the Young Adult genre, so I was pleased to meet a group of friends who were as close as these characters were.

I’d recommend The Hidden Legacy to anyone who has ever felt out of place after moving to a new area or when trying to make some more friends.

Mirror Me by Tara St. Pierre


Mirror Me by Tara St. Pierre
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (188 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Hannah McCauley doesn’t look at herself in the mirror anymore.

After a rebellious past, she now attends a strict private school in a new town, where her recently divorced mother has put her on social lockdown. No driving. No bad grades. No skipping classes. No unapproved friends. No makeup. No boys. And the subject of her best friend from her old school is definitely forbidden.

Hannah is being punished for something that happened a year earlier, something that she would like to put behind her. But strange occurrences frighten her, and she’s accused of breaking rules and doing other terrible things without any recollection of them. No one believes her, so she starts distrusting everything, even her own reflection.

Is she being haunted by her past? Stalked by someone with a grudge? Or is it all in her head? If she doesn’t figure out what’s happening fast, her existence could end up irreparably shattered.

Forgetfulness is one thing. Losing track of huge chunks of time is quite another.

Hannah was a smart girl. I enjoyed seeing how much effort she put into solving all of the problems that came her way. She was persistent even when nothing was going her way, and that made me admire her. Her insistence on figuring out solutions was also a nice contrast to her faults. I wouldn’t have expected someone who was occasionally flighty to also have this side to her personality. It was interesting to see how those parts of her fit together, especially since they ended up working together so nicely.

There were pacing issues. Hannah spent so much time dancing around the mystery of her past that it slowed down the descriptions of what was currently going on in her life. While I fascinated by what she might have done to make her mother so angry and mistrusting of her, I was also frustrated by how much time it took for the plot to move forward or to reveal even small hints about her big mistake.

The dialogue was well done. Hannah and her friends spent a lot of time bantering back and forth. Their conversations often made me grin, especially in the beginning when they talked about light-hearted stuff like what their plans were for after school. They seemed to get along with each other nicely, and that made their dialogue even better than it already was.

I’d recommend Mirror Me to anyone who likes mysteries that take their time to share their secrets.

Raise the Curtain by Kirby Hall


Raise the Curtain by Kirby Hall
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (239 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Seventeen-year-old Alexa Cross is desperate to get to Broadway, but when she receives a failing math grade, hopes of a scholarship disappear. Now she’ll need her father’s help to achieve her dream. The only problem is he doesn’t consider her choice of careers to be sensible and after the pain her family has suffered, Alexa can’t go against his wishes. Trapped between a family she loves and her love of the stage, Alexa will have to find another way to achieve her dream or settle for what her father wants.

West Howell does his best to keep his head down and go unnoticed. It’s easier to be cut off than to try to explain to people why he’s so screwed up. After all, he can’t afford to get into any more trouble. When he’s recruited to tutor the hot, prissy girl from math, he never expects to fall in love with her. Or that she might be the one person who can relate to him.

Together, they may find a way to heal each other and get what they both desperately need, as long as Alexa’s father doesn’t decide that the one thing worse than his daughter’s love of the stage is her love for West.

Review:

He’s supposed to be nothing more than her tutor, but love doesn’t always follow the rules.

I absolutely loved the romance between Alexa and West. They had plenty of time to get to know each other really well before anything even remotely flirtatious happened, and they had such compatible personalities that I couldn’t help but to hope they’d end up together. I also enjoyed the fact that two people who came from such different backgrounds could discover that they had far more in common than either of them would have ever guessed. Figuring out what similarities they shared was an interesting experience for me as a reader because of how long it took and how well it explained why these two characters would be attracted to each other.

There were pacing issues in this story. At times the narrators spent so much time describing what was happening around them that it slowed down the plot. This made it difficult for me to stay focused on what was going on despite my interest in the characters’ lives in general. While the long descriptions were necessary in the beginning, they did become less needed as the storyline moved forward and I had a better sense of who Alexa and West were as individuals.

Alexa’s relationship with her dad was complicated and well written. I appreciated the fact that both of them had their fair share of flaws that rubbed the other one the wrong way for completely valid and understandable reasons. There definitely weren’t any perfect people in this family, and that made them very interesting characters to read about.

I’d recommend Raise the Curtain to anyone who is in the mood for a slow-burning romance.

The Jewel Tree by Lee Summers


The Jewel Tree by Lee Summers
Publisher: SevenOaks
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (90 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

At the heart of THE JEWEL TREE is an heirloom so precious that the last remaining members of the Ryder family will do almost anything to keep it in their possession.

But how long should a young girl work to earn back the emblem of her mother’s soul? And is any task to menial?

When Leda sees the hummingbird charm dangling from wealthy Lord Caitiff’s shriveled earlobe, she swears she will labor a year and a day to reclaim it. She is prepared to do whatever the old man asks–until the day he asks too much.

In a world of dark curses and ancient grudges, Leda and her handsome young uncle are sometimes hard pressed to distinguish between appearance and reality. Not all that glitters is gold–and gold is never worth more than flesh and blood. This mini-novel about the redemptive power of love will delight readers who appreciate a little magic in their lives.

Magic is everywhere if you know where to look for it.

Ms. Summers has a beautiful writing style that works perfectly for the fantasy genre. Her descriptions of the scenes were so vivid that I almost felt as though I were working next to Leda and her uncle, Alexander, as they attempted to earn back the charm that had been created in her mother’s honor. I also appreciated how much time this author put into showing the audience what Leda and Alexander, were experiencing and why the acted the ways that they did. All of those little details she added to her story made it come alive for me.

The ending felt rushed. So much time was spent building up the conflicts that I was surprised to see how quickly they were resolved. It would have been nice to watch the characters struggle more to find the solutions to their problems, especially when it came to the curse and how that affected everyone. If not for this issue, I would have chosen a much higher rating as I loved the storyline up until the last scene or two.

The character development was well done. Everyone changed in important ways between the first scene and the last one. It was interesting to see how and why they grew as a result of the things that happened to them, especially since their transformations were explained so clearly. I can’t say much else about this without giving away spoilers, but it was one of my favorite parts of this book.

The Jewel Tree should be read by everyone who enjoys fairy tales.

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.

Beautiful Enemy by Vanessa Garden


Beautiful Enemy by Vanessa Garden
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (111 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When June’s best friend takes his own life after years of bullying, she’s devastated—but mostly angry. Josh was the sweetest boy June had ever known, and in her mind, the popular kids at school are guilty of murder. When an anonymous online poster starts threatening Josh’s bullies on social media, and then killing them off one by one, June secretly feels a little glad. That is, until she becomes next on the killer’s list. Forced to forge an unlikely bond, June and Beau, star football player and king of the cool kids, must work out who is behind the killings before it’s too late.

 

Not every death is a peaceful or happy one.

The character development in this story was wonderful. Both of the main characters were well developed and had excellent reasons for behaving the way that they did. Given that some of the murders were pretty unusual, knowing this much about the protagonists was a very good thing because it helped me to understand why they acted in the sometimes strange ways that they did once their friends and classmates began to die.

One of the things that surprised me about the plot was how often it cut away to a new scene just as something exciting was about to happen. For example, a scene where one of the characters was suddenly attacked abruptly ended in the middle of the action. I found this confusing and was never able to figure out why the most interesting sections were cut short so often.

June was a brave girl. I especially appreciated how determined she was to figure out why people she knew kept dying even after she realized that uncovering the truth could be dangerous for her. She remained strong no matter what happened, and that made me admire her.

There was a fairly big plot hole that had to do with the aftermath of Josh’s death. While I can’t go into any more detail about it without giving away spoilers, this was my main reason for choosing a three star rating for this tale. The fact that this part of the plot was barely explored or explained at all bothered me because of how important it was to the storyline in general. I was expecting the characters to be way more curious about how it worked than they were.

I enjoyed the dialogue. All of the characters spoke in very natural ways. There were times when I genuinely felt as though I were eavesdropping on real conversations because of how nicely their words flowed together. Reading the things they said to each other was one of my favorite parts of this book because of that.

Beautiful Enemy should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a fast-paced mystery.