This Body Won’t Break: Part One by Lea McKee

This Body Won’t Break: Part One by Lea McKee
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror
Length: Short Story (110 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The truth doesn’t always set you free.

Orphaned as a child, Joanna has lived her entire life in the care of the New Terra Alliance. On the verge of turning eighteen, Joanna eagerly awaits her release into what remains of society.

It was a beautiful lie.

Joanna was never meant to leave. She is part of the August Harvest, slated to die before the month’s end. With a rogue soldier’s promise to find her a way out, Joanna dares to hope. But if the NTA finds out what she knows, it won’t only be her own life at stake, but the life of the handsome soldier who has vowed to set her free.

Fans of Divergent, The Darkest Minds, and The Handmaid’s Tale will love this dystopian story of twisted secrets, romance, and page-turning suspense.

Killing perfectly healthy teenagers doesn’t make any sense. Then again, many things in this world don’t make sense, and Joanna doesn’t have much time left to figure them all out.

The pacing was so strong that I read the whole thing in one sitting. Every scene made me ask more questions, and I couldn’t stop until I knew what would happen to the characters I’d come to care about so much. I especially liked how much attention was paid to keeping Joanna focused on her goals. No matter what happened, she always pressed forward and kept trying to figure out what was really going on. This made me eager to read the rest of this series once it’s released.

While I appreciated the fact that Joanna had her fair share of flaws, there were a couple of times when the choices she made were so foolish that I had trouble taking her seriously. She didn’t seem to have a lot of common sense even in situations that she should have known were risky. I loved everything else about this tale, so I’m hoping that this will be something that leads to a lot of personal growth for her in the future.

This is the beginning of a serial. There were obviously parts of the world building that are being held back until parts two or later to explain to the audience. With that being said, I was impressed with what was revealed so far. The way this society worked made a lot of sense to me. Yes, the horror elements of the plot made me shudder, but they also fit in well with everything else the audience was taught about who the New Terra Alliance were and how they operated.

This Body Won’t Break: Part One was a wild ride. It should be read by anyone who enjoys dystopian stories.

Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story by Gita V. Reddy

Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Hop, a young grasshopper, makes a new friend. He is Chomp, the caterpillar. Chomp is not like Hop at all. While Hop likes to explore the world around him, and to play in the grass, Chomp only eats. But Hop doesn’t mind because Chomp is a good listener. He visits him often and tells him all about his day.

One day, Chomp stops eating. And then he disappears!

Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story is a simple story children will relate to, while learning about the life cycle of a butterfly.

It is also about friendship, and about accepting differences.

Both boys and girls will enjoy the book.

The illustrations are hand drawn and will appeal to young readers.

You’re never too young to make a new friend.

I’d never thought about the idea of insects having personalities before, but Hop and Chomp changed my mind about this. They were both unique little bugs that had strong opinions about how they wanted to spend their time and who they wanted to spend it with. I’ve been a fan of Ms. Reddy’s stories for a while now, but getting to know these characters so well only made me more interested in seeing what she comes up with next. She had such a creative spin on what grasshoppers and caterpillars would be like if they could speak.

I would have liked to see Hop’s mother spend a little more time explaining what a pupa was and why Chomp was inside of it. Her explanation of it was so brief that I’m not sure it would make complete sense to preschoolers. With that being said, I still enjoyed this book quite a bit and wouldn’t hesitate to read it to my relatives who are in this age group.

The friendship between Chomp and Hop was adorable. Hop’s interest in spending time with his friend only seemed to grow stronger over time, and that made me smile. I also loved the fact that they were such good buddies even though a baby grasshopper’s idea of a good time often isn’t the same as what a caterpillar would want to do.

Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story was a gentle tale that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the market for something new to read at bedtime.

The Gold by Krista Wagner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rise of the Dawnstar by Farah Oomerbhoy

The Rise of the Dawnstar by Farah Oomerbhoy
Publisher: Wise Ink
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Full (432 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

The seven kingdoms of Avalonia are crumbling and evil is spreading across the land like a plague. Queen Morgana is close to finding a way to open The Book of Abraxas and it’s only a matter of time until she uses the power trapped inside its pages to enslave the entire world.

With Avalonia growing more dangerous by the day, Aurora must travel through war-torn lands and deep into the heart of the fae kingdom of Elfi. Her goal is to find a legendary weapon infused with the last of the realm’s ancient magic—the only weapon in the world powerful enough to stop the queen.

Aurora might have survived her first battle against Morgana, but the true fight to save her kingdom and restore her throne has only just begun…

I love YA fantasy and I was very excited to have the chance to read about a teenage girl who was on a quest to save her world. I could tell from the way it started that it was part of a series, but that was fine. I could pick up enough from what was said to know what was going on without being lost. However, the main character, Aurora, made some odd word choices, given that this was a fantasy world and not technical at all– the words just didn’t seem like they belonged (for example, she talked about “stalking” a guy and then made the comment that she felt like she was in a Disney movie). I did a little research and discovered that, in the first book (The Last of the Firedrakes), Aurora had been kidnapped from our world and dragged through a magical portal into Avalonia. I was then able to settle back and truly begin to enjoy the book.

The author has really done a wonderful job of bringing the various characters together– they are well-rounded and developed. I could so see this as a movie – there are some wonderful scenes, such as the times Aurora is learning to use her glamour. There’s excitement and a dash of romance … also a bit of a triangle forming. Aurora is strong, but has some insecurities as well, which makes her vulnerable and easy to like.

There’s some mysteries that Aurora must solve as she attempts to discover what happened to her mother, and she needs to be careful who she trusts on her journey.

I am looking forward to (1) reading the first book in the series to find out how Aurora got where she is today and (2) read the next book in the series to find out how Ms. Oomerbhoy is going to get her out of the situation she left her in (yes, be warned.. there is a cliff-hanger!) I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy with a kick-ass heroine.

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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.

Black and White by Nick Wilford

Black and White by Nick Wilford
Publisher: Superstar Peanut Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (155 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Orchid

What is the price paid for the creation of a perfect society?

In Whitopolis, a gleamingly white city of the future where illness has been eradicated, shock waves run through the populace when a bedraggled, dirt-stricken boy materialises in the main street. Led by government propaganda, most citizens shun him as a demon, except for Wellesbury Noon – a high school student the same age as the boy.

Upon befriending the boy, Wellesbury feels a connection that he can’t explain – as well as discovering that his new friend comes from a land that is stricken by disease and only has two weeks to live. Why do he and a girl named Ezmerelda Dontible appear to be the only ones who want to help?

As they dig deeper, everything they know is turned on its head – and a race to save one boy becomes a struggle to redeem humanity.

Wellesbury and Ezmerelda live in Whitopolis in the country of Harmonia. This is a white city with no dirt, no pain, no emotions. When Mallijnger, a boy reportedly from a demon city appears suddenly in the middle of the road, his arrival causes uproar as he is dirty and full of disease; in fact, he is dying.

The book is full of mystery and excitement as Wellesbury and Ezmerelda decide to investigate Mallinger an his origins to see if they can find a cure for his disease and save him. What they find is beyond their experience and also uncovers a whole disturbing aspect of their own lives.

At first I thought I wasn’t going to like this book but the more I read, the better it got. There were high points and moments when I was caught by surprise. The biggest surprise was at the end of the book, but I’m not going to reveal the spoiler, just lets say it’s well worth reading to the end. An intriguing idea which has been well thought out.

Oh Susannah: It’s in the Bag by Carole P. Roman

Oh Susannah: It’s in the Bag by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (34 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 5+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Stephanotis

From award-winning author Carole P. Roman comes a new chapter book featuring Susannah Logan, a young student having a very bad day.

It all begins with homework trouble and an invitation to a sleepover that she doesn’t want to go to. Would you want to go to a sleepover in a creepy house? Rather than dealing with her problems, Susannah stuffs them into her backpack. But how much can a backpack take? Will she be able to confront her worries before the backpack bursts? Or will she just continue to hide them away?

Join Susannah and her friends in this story sure to charm busy young readers everywhere.

I’ve read many of the If You Were Me books by this author so it was fun to see that Ms. Roman has written her first chapter book.

It’s a cute read and one I know that children will love reading or having read to them.

The main character Susannah hasn’t finished her homework, has parents who always seem to be in a hurry, she hates oatmeal, isn’t fond of bananas yet one is in her school bag. And unlike the other kids at school, she can’t decide what book she wants to read. This all somehow causes her bag to get fuller and fuller until the zipper breaks and the bag gets stuck under the bed.

It’s a funny tale but with a message that sometimes what we perceive to be true isn’t always the case. Susannah’s parents might seem busy but they have time for her and that we all face the same dilemmas in life and it’s always parents who come to the rescue…if you let them.

A fun read that I think would be great to read during the summer break with your children or grandchildren as they get ready to head back to school.

If You Were Me and Lived in Cuba by Carole P. Roman

If You Were Me and Lived in Cuba by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short (26 pgs)
Rating: 4 Stars
Age Recommendation: 6+
Review by: Stephanotis

Join Carole P. Roman when she visits the exciting island of Cuba in the newest book of her informative series. Learn about the varied customs and cultures. Travel to the Caribbean to discover what you would eat and do for fun. See the country through the eyes of a youngster like you and understand what life is like in this exciting place.

Don’t forget to look at the other books in the series so that you can be an armchair world traveler.

This time we’re off to Cuba in Ms. Roman’s continuing series of If You Were Me… books.

I’ve lost count how many I’ve read but each one is just as enjoyable as the last. I read this book not knowing a lot about Cuba and by the time I’d finished it, I knew about its capital city Havana, it’s history and Spanish roots.

What I like most about these books is the way they’re told from a child’s point of view and what day to day life would be like if you lived anywhere besides your home town.

These are books that can be read with an adult or without and a fun collection to have on hand for homeschoolers.

I loved that this one focused on places you’d go and things you’d eat. As always, the author provides a detailed glossary at the back to further explain words and expand your know of both the culture and history of the area.

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.

Fitting In by S.E. Walker

Fitting In by S.E. Walker
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (140 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Charlotte Finnegan James desperately wants to fit in. Her parents encourage her to act like everyone around her, but Charlotte always feels like an outsider looking in. When men come late one night to “take control” of her, Charlotte knows fitting in will forever be impossible.

After being placed into a military boarding school, a name change is the first step in taking control of her own life. Finn’s differences are evident, no matter how hard she works to appear normal. Finding a sympathetic soul in Taber McCoy helps Finn execute her plan to escape the school.

Can she continue to hide her true self from the world? Will she find sanctuary with her aunt? Can she and Taber stay ahead of the men in black following them on their race across the country?

Being special has its perks, but it definitely isn’t always an easy life.

The mystery of Finn’s true identity made it impossible for me to stop reading this tale. She knew so little about it at first that I couldn’t begin to guess what secrets were hidden in her past. I really appreciated the fact that this part of the plot was hidden so completely. It made it even more fun than it would have been otherwise to slowly gather more clues and try to figure out who or what Finn was.

There were a few mild pacing issues in the beginning. The introduction to Finn’s world took up more time than I was expecting. While it was nice to get to know everyone so well, this did leave less time for plot development later on than I would have liked to see. With that being said, this didn’t stop me from enjoying this book in general.

Taber and Finn were both intelligent and courageous teenagers. I especially liked the fact that they spent so much time thinking about things that could possibly be a roadblock to their plans and trying to come up with solutions to them in advance. This is exactly the kind of behavior I love to see in characters in these kinds of stories. The final scene gave me the impression that there may be a sequel on the way. If this is true, I can’t wait to find out what Finn and Taber will do next and if they will continue to be so level-headed in the face of danger.

Fitting In kept me perched on the edge of my seat. I’d recommend it to anyone who has any interest at all in the culture of military schools.