E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke


E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (37 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Meet E.C. Max, a lovable know-it-all. He has many misadventures while solving everyday problems using science and technology. His inventions and experiments usually have wacky, unexpected results.

Slap that mosquito as you read how Max deals with pesky pests in E.C. Max, Kid Genius Critter Camp!

If not for the bugs that bite and sting, camping would be the perfect vacation. Can E.C. figure out a way to solve this problem?

E.C.’s invention was creative. He put so much thought into making something that would shoo mosquitoes, ants, and other critters far away from him and his dad. There are a few different things these insects don’t want to be around, so he made sure to include all of them in his invention. The only thing I liked more than reading his description of it was seeing if it really worked once he had a chance to test it.

There were a few minor pacing issues in the beginning. E.C. needed some time to explain who he was, why he was a kid inventor, and where he got all of the equipment he used. While I enjoyed reading his funny and informative explanations of all of these things, they did slow the plot down a little bit.

With that being said, I was hooked on this story as soon as E.C. and his dad started their camping trip. The main character and his dad had so many fun experiences once their tent was set up and they had time to explore their surroundings. I liked seeing how they passed the time in the woods and what they thought of their father-son trip. They really seemed to get along well together.

E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp should be read by inventors and science-lovers of all ages.

Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson


Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Puffin Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

All anyone wants to talk about with Mama is the new “ding-dang baby” that’s on the way, and Gia is getting sick of it! If her new sibling is already such a big deal, what’s going to happen to Gia’s nice, cozy life with Mama once the baby is born?

Adding a baby to the family changes everything, and who’s to say it will be for the better?

The main character was such a sweet and adorable kid. I enjoyed seeing how she reacted to the excitement of her family as they all prepared for the new arrival. One of my favorite scenes involved a cousin asking this character if she wanted to hold that relative’s baby. Mia definitely had strong opinions on this topic, and she wasn’t at all afraid to share them with anyone who was listening.

I was a little surprised by how long it took Mia’s mom to realize that her daughter was feeling jealous and uncertain of the baby that was on the way. She was such a loving and attentive parent in general that I wondered why she didn’t notice the first time Mia was uneasy around this topic. With that being said, she was still a doting mom and this is a minor criticism of a story that I otherwise thought was really well written.

Jealousy is a tough emotion to deal with no matter how old someone is. It can be even more difficult for young children who haven’t much experience managing it yet. This topic was handled with humor and sensitivity in this tale. What made the storyline even better was that it gave such a positive example of how to handle this feeling without feeling overwhelmed by it.

I’d recommend Pecan Pie Baby to any family who is expecting a new addition soon.

Halloween Night on Shivermore Street by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso


Halloween Night on Shivermore Street by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (33 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

There’s a Halloween party on Shivermore Street, and everyone—from dancing mummies to musical witches—is coming. There’ll be whipped-cream-covered ants, pumpkin carving, apple bobbing, and a special surprise when the masks come off at the end of the night. This is a party you don’t want to miss!

Anything can happen on Halloween, especially for kids who’ve stumbled upon a special party being thrown for it.

The descriptions of the party these characters attended were fantastic. The food was every bit as odd as I’d expect for something thrown for witches, ghosts, and werewolves. In fact, the only part of it that I liked more than the descriptions of what they ate were the games they played. With such a wide variety of magical creatures hanging around, there had to be something for everyone to enjoy. Luckily, there was!

I would have liked to see a little more attention paid to the rhyme scheme. There were a few times when narrator tried to get words to rhyme that didn’t quite fit together or that were slightly off beat for what was going on in that scene. The plot would have worked even better if the authors hadn’t stuck to this pattern so firmly, although this was a mild criticism of a story that I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit.

Wow, the ending was fantastic. It matched the tone of the rest of the book beautifully. The twist in it made me grin, especially once everything was revealed and the characters reacted to what had just happened to them. This is the sort of book I’d love to read to my young relatives because of how much fun it would be to see their reactions to the final scene.

If you’re in the market for something deliciously spooky and creative, Halloween Night on Shivermore Street is a great choice.

The Day My Fart Followed Me to Hockey by Ben Jackson and Sam Lawrence


The Day My Fart Followed Me to Hockey by Ben Jackson and Sam Lawrence
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (42 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

If you and your child love to read together, then you are going to love reading along with Timmy and his Fart as they play hockey together!

The Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey is a beautifully illustrated journey of Timmy and his best friend the Little Fart as they attend Timmy’s first hockey tryouts. Chaos and laughter ensue as the Fart attempts to help out his best friend the only way he knows how.

If you enjoy reading funny books with beautiful illustrations and love having your child read along with you, then make sure you grab The Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey.

Discover and giggle along with Timmy and his best friend on their exciting day at the hockey arena!

Everyone farts, but only some people get to carry their gas around with them forever.

Little Fart was full of great advice for Timmy. I especially liked how positive and encouraging he was when Timmy began to worry a lot about whether or not he’d make it onto the hockey team. This isn’t something I ever thought I’d say in one of my reviews here, but that fart was a very loyal friend. It was adorable to watch these characters figure out how to help Timmy feel better so his tryouts would go well.

The only piece of constructive criticism I have for this story has to do with its editing. I noticed multiple sentences that had punctuation errors in them. Some of them were missing commas, and others had more commas than they actually needed. As this was a picture book, the errors stood out to me even more than they usually would because many pages only had two or three sentences on them.

With that being said, the storyline itself was hilarious and fantastic. I giggled out loud more than once when I was reading it. The scenes that showed Little Fart trying to understand why Timmy was anxious and how he could help his friend feel better were just as funny as they were heartwarming. I also liked the fact that the fart jokes were silly instead of gross. This was the perfect angle to take for a story that was about so much more than passing gas.

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

The Day My Fart Followed Me to Hockey should be read by anyone who is in the mood to laugh.

Soul Siphon by T.L. Branson


Soul Siphon by T.L. Branson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (20 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by Astilbe

Alexander Drygo, king of Sunbury, is reeling from the loss of his wife. Despite his best efforts using an incredible power, she is no longer among the living.

When a rival kingdom seeks to take advantage of this delicate time in Drygo’s life, he is thrust into a battle for the future of his kingdom.

Can he save his people where he could not save his queen?

There’s no room for hesitation in a battle for your city and your very life.

This was a beautifully descriptive story. The author showed the characters and setting in such vivid detail that I couldn’t stop reading it. At times it felt like I was watching a movie play out in my mind instead of reading words on a page. I happily lost myself in the plot as I waited to discover what would happen next and whether the main character would successfully beat back his enemies.

I would have liked to see a little more time spent on character development, especially when it came to everyone other than Alexander. While I was quickly able to figure out what a brave and stubborn man he was, it was more difficult for me to determine what the personalities of the people around him were like. Had the plot given me a few more clues about their personalities, this tale would have easily earned a much higher rating from me as I loved everything else about it.

The battle scenes were fast-paced and exciting. Alexander was clearly skilled in sword fighting, so I was eager to see how he’d handle both the easier fights in the beginning as well as the big one he’d need to win to defend his city and his people. The more I saw of his swordsmanship, the more respect I had for him as a king as well as a person. He knew exactly what he was doing and what he’d need to do to win.

Soul Siphon kept me glued to my seat until the final scene. This is a fantastic choice for anyone who is in the market for a spellbinding adventure.

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.

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.