Small Saul by Ashley Spires


Small Saul by Ashley Spires
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: Childrens, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

From the creator of Binky the Space Cat, a hilarious story about an unconventional little pirate.

Ahoy there! Will this sweet little pirate find his place aboard The Rusty Squid or will he be forced to walk the plank?

When Small Saul joins the crew of The Rusty Squid, it doesn’t take long for the other pirates to notice something is very different about this tiny fellow. He was born to sing sea shanties, bake pineapple upside down cakes and redecorate, not to hold a sword and plunder. Being rough and tough just isn’t in his nature.

Small Saul learned at Pirate College that pirates only care about three things: their ship, being tough and lots and lots of treasure. Can Small Saul show these ruffians that despite his gentle spirit, he’s worth his weight in gold? With treasure chests of laughs, Small Saul’s high-seas adventure is a light-hearted celebration of individuality, perseverance and being true to one’s self.

If you’ve ever struggled to fit in, keep reading.

This story had so much compassion for kids who have quirky personalities or interests. Small Saul was far more interested in cooking delicious food than he was in being aggressive, and that was only one of the many ways in which he was nothing at all like his peers. I loved seeing the friendly way the narrator treated this character and, by extension, all of the young kids hearing this tale who had their own special ways of relating to the world. There is enough room in the world for every type of personality to flourish, and Ms. Spires did a very good job at making Saul a relatable and wonderful role model for his audience.

I would have liked to see a little more attention paid to why Saul decided to be a pirate in the first place. While the plot did briefly talk about why this character picked a job that was so wildly different from his interests in life, I was surprised by how many other aquatic careers that might have suited him better weren’t even considered when Saul was deciding what he wanted to do with his life. With that being said, this was a minor criticism of a tale that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed the humorous side of being an unconventional pirate. Saul’s shipmates seriously didn’t know what to make of him when he first began sailing with them. He was a kind, sensitive guy who didn’t care about sword fights or stealing treasure. They were stereotypical pirates in every way, from their stinky living quarters to their obsession with becoming wealthy one day. The sharp contrast between him and them lead to several funny moments that made me giggle out loud.

Small Saul should be read by people of all ages who love pirates or who dance to the beat of their own drum.

Fairest by Marissa Meyer


Fairest by Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles 3.5-Levana’s Story

Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (220 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Poinsettia

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death.

Who is Queen Levana?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Levana as the woman who terrorizes Cinder and her band of heroes in her pursuit of world domination, but who is the woman behind the veil? What is her story? Was she always so cruel? The first three books in the series provide very little insight into Levana’s character, but Ms. Meyer drops tantalizing clues throughout the series concerning Levana and her history. My curiosity was piqued and I jumped at the opportunity to read more about this enigmatic character.

I knew before I began reading that Levana’s tale would not be a happy one, but I had no idea just how tragic it would be. Her parents neglected her and her monstrous older sister, Channery, abused her. Even after I learned this, I still have little sympathy for Levana, but I have a better understanding of her motives and the dynamics of her relationships with other characters in the series. Reading this book made Levana more than just a typical evil queen. It made her very realistic.

It is rare to come across a villain as complex and developed as Levana. She is a truly twisted individual who uses her exceptional talent with glamor to manipulate and control those around her, even those she professes to love. There are many times in Levana’s life when she was at a crossroads, and she consistently made bad decisions. Levana deludes herself into believing she is better than Channery. However, I think Levana is actually worse in some ways. At least Channery didn’t try to disguise her actions under the guise of being for the greater good.

It was interesting to finally learn more about Lunar culture, and I have to say it is pretty disturbing. I understand how villains like Levana and Channery could emerge from a world like that. I still would like to know more about the origins of the Lunars’ power and why some are born without it as well as how Lunar society developed.

I highly recommend fans of the Lunar Chronicles read Fairest. Levana’s story is intriguing and adds depth to this captivating series.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires


The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

A little girl and her canine assistant set out to make the most magnificent thing. But after much hard work, the end result is not what the girl had in mind. Frustrated, she quits. Her assistant suggests a long walk, and as they walk, it slowly becomes clear what the girl needs to do to succeed. A charming story that will give kids the most magnificent thing: perspective!

Everyone feels the urge to give up sometimes. Keep reading to find out why they shouldn’t give into that desire.

The main character of this story was such a persistent and inventive kid. I loved seeing her tinker with her invention as she tried to figure out what worked well on it and what could still use some improvement. One of the coolest parts of her journey was that she didn’t figure it all out immediately. It took what was often a frustrating amount of time for her to test all of her ideas, and yet she refused to give up no matter how many times she failed. This was such a great example for kids and adults alike.

This is a minor criticism of a story I otherwise enjoyed a lot, but I found myself wishing that the main character’s name would have been shared at some point. It felt odd to get to know so much about her without ever knowing what I should call her. Even knowing a nickname for her would have been enough to give this tale a five star rating.

The relationship between the main character and her dog was so sweet. No matter was else was going on in her life, the main character always had time and energy for her dog. They shared a close connection, and I could tell how much they cared about each other by how they acted when they were together.

I’d heartily recommend The Most Magnificent Thing to inventors and amateur engineers of all ages.

The Return of Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel


The Return of Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (234 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

High school graduate Paul Coleman’s life is anything but ordinary. It has been only a few months since he, Myrna Trillian, his girlfriend, and her father, Montague, an Elementalist/magician, destroyed a demon named Hekla that wanted Myrna for a purpose almost too diabolical to believe. Hekla had used the power of sound to kill Paul’s best friend, and her attack left Paul with very little ability to hear.

Montague is now gone, having died in the final battle against Hekla. His last feat of magic was to open a portal to Vann, a water world, where Paul and Myrna now live. Paul is mostly deaf, and Myrna is totally deaf, having been born that way.

However, things take a turn for the weird when Myrna suddenly starts hearing as a normal person would. She also exhibits the ability to open portals to other worlds as her late father did.

Mystified by her sudden transformation, Paul needs to know more, and so does Myrna. They return to Earth and find it under attack by a group of winged demons from Hekla’s home world, Sithros.

They also find that Monty has somehow been resurrected, and while trying to solve that riddle, they also have to fight against legions of winged aliens who think nothing of slaughtering millions. It will take everything the trio can come up with to fight against an alien horde that will stop at nothing to conquer—and destroy.

Nowhere on Earth is safe anymore.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that described exactly how violent and brutal the winged aliens were. Yes, these passages were the reason why I added the horror tag to this review as the descriptions of those attacks could be pretty detailed at times. They suited the tone of this tale nicely, though, and gave Paul all of the urgency he needed in order to try to stop them before more innocent people were hurt or killed.

After the nonstop action of Master Fantastic, I was a little surprised by the mild pacing issues I noticed in this sequel to it. The occasionally uneven pacing wasn’t distracting enough to prevent me from enjoying the plot, but it did steal my attention away from what was happening to the characters often enough that I thought it should be mentioned in this review. I expected the pacing to be slower in the beginning as the narrator was explaining what had happened earlier on in Paul’s adventures, but I wish it hadn’t happened again after that point.

I was impressed with how much care was taken in showing how Paul’s deafness affected his daily life. It wasn’t something he necessarily thought about every day, but it did change the way he reacted to certain situations. Just like in the first instalment in this series, he encountered some people who understood his disability and others who were jaw-droppingly ignorant about it. Paul’s reactions to the way others treated him suited his personality perfectly. He had excellent reasons for all of the different responses he gave to their kindness, rudeness, and everything in-between those two possibilities.

This is part two of a series, but it can be read as a standalone work.

I’d recommend The Return of Master Fantastic to anyone who has ever dreamed about visiting a distant world.

To Wish Upon a Star by Scott MacDonald


To Wish Upon a Star by Scott MacDonald
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (242 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Orchid

Megan Brandt was a shy, lonely teenager secretly in love with a boy in school who didn’t even know she existed. It’s a common scenario that many young girls face and the resolution is typically something simple, like a makeover. Megan’s solution, however, was a little less prosaic than that. She chose to enter into a contract to have her wish fulfilled magically by a bitter and alcoholic 132yr. old Gypsy fortuneteller with a lot of unresolved anger issues. A makeover would’ve been so much easier. Years later, long after the wish had been made, the time had finally come for the people involved to seek out each other and understand the truth of what really happened on that one miraculous night.

 

One of the worst things about being a teenage girl is to be in love with someone who doesn’t know you exist. Megan loves Nick but he doesn’t even look at her. When the chance comes to wish upon a shooting star, Megan thinks of Nick and agrees to the terms of the gypsy who offers her this chance.

Nick is on the football team and is usually surrounded by adoring girls, but on the night of the wish he is stupid and falls from the ferris wheel. He ends up in hospital and is not expected to survive. This makes Megan change her wish at the last minute.

The maxim – be careful what you wish for – is in full force in this book, both for Megan and for the gypsy who also had a life changing event when she wished on the star and is out for revenge.

I enjoyed this book, the storyline was unusual and had a lot of twists and turns which kept my interest alive. Together – apart – together is how the story proceeds and I have to say I loved Rocket, Nick’s dog. The only flaw was the presence of several editing errors. Good read though.

The Boy and the Blue Moon by Sara O’Leary


The Boy and the Blue Moon by Sara O’Leary
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

On the night of a blue moon, a boy and his cat set out for a walk and find themselves on a magical adventure. Together they travel through fields of flowers, forests of towering trees, and lakes of deep dark blue. Flying through starry blue skies, they reach the blue moon. But the blue planet, Earth, calls the explorers home. Safely back in bed, the boy wonders―was it only a dream?

Could you tell the difference between a dream and an otherworldly adventure?

Wow, what a vivid imagination Ms. O’Leary has! I loved discovering all of the marvellous places the main character and his cat visited that night. They saw, did, and heard things that most people will never have the chance to experience for themselves. While I was satisfied by how it ended, I’d sure like to follow these characters again the next time they decide to take a long walk on the night of a blue moon.

I would have liked to see a little more time spent exploring the question of whether the boy was dreaming or if he really had magically travelled around the world and to the moon overnight. His adventures were so creative that they could have been interpreted either way. I certainly didn’t require a firm answer to this question, but it would have been nice to see the main character wonder about it a bit more than he did.

With that being said, I did appreciate the surreal atmosphere of this tale. The boy and his cat’s reactions to all of the astonishing plot twists only made me enjoy them even more. It was so much fun to watch these characters realize that something was out of the ordinary, try to make sense of it, and then decide to enjoy it regardless of why or how it was happening.

I’d recommend The Boy and the Blue Moon to anyone who is in the market for a thought-provoking bedtime story.

Outcasts by J.S. Frankel


Outcasts by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (231 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Mitch Kessler, teenage high school dropout, jobless and mostly friendless, lives a life of solitude, but not by choice. Endowed with the ability to bring wings out of his body as well as claws, and transform himself into a fierce creature of the night, he’s picked up a nickname from the general public that he hates: gargoyle. However, that’s the least of his worries. His girlfriend, Callie, can’t keep her genders straight, his best friend is a spinning top, and his other acquaintance is made of rock. It’s obviously a government plot, but Mitch doesn’t know who’s behind it or why. Worse, various and sundry creations have now appeared out of the woodwork and are out to kill him. Aided by his friends, the four outcasts attempt to find out who’s running the show. They’re out to stop the forces of evil before they can do more damage. That is, if they survive.

Being different from other people is never easy, but it’s especially difficult when those differences are impossible to hide.

The romance between Mitch and Cassie was nicely written. He clearly loved his girlfriend a lot, and it showed. I enjoyed seeing how hard Mitch worked to keep her safe and how much attention he paid to what was going on in her life. Not only did they make a cute couple, they seemed to be perfect for each other as well.

There was only one part of this tale that I didn’t immediately like. The cast of characters was so large that I had trouble keeping track of everyone was after they were introduced. As much as I enjoyed reading the descriptions of all of the people Mitch encountered, it would have been nice to remember them more easily by either having a smaller cast or being able to reference a list of who everyone was and how they knew each other.

I’ve been a fan of Mr. Frankel’s work for several years now. One of the many things I enjoy about his writing is how talented he is exploring sensitive real-world issues through the science fiction and fantasy genres. This particular tale spent a lot of time exploring what it means to be transgender or intersex. It also talked about what it feels like to be a teenager whose sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t clear yet. Mr. Frankel did an excellent job showing how his characters dealt with these questions and why they came to the conclusions about these parts of their lives that they did.

Outcasts is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt as if they don’t belong anywhere.

The Easter Egg by Jan Brett


The Easter Egg by Jan Brett
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Jan Brett’s lovable bunny hero, Hoppi, and her remarkable Easter Rabbit will enchant readers as they pore over illustrations filled with dazzling eggs made by Flora Bunny, Aunt Sassyfrass and others.

If Hoppi can make the best Easter egg, he will get to help the Easter Rabbit with his deliveries on Easter morning. But it is not so easy. Discouraged, he goes into the woods to think when a blue robin’s egg tumbles out of its nest. Hoppi keeps it safe and warm until the baby bird hatches, and when the Easter Rabbit arrives, he declares the empty blue eggshell the very best one to reward Hoppi for his kindness.

Spring is everywhere in gorgeous illustrations framed with pussy willows, flowering vines and flowers. Side borders feature busy rabbits making their unusual eggs and, in a border above, the Robin’s family drama unfolds.

A gatefold surprise reveals the Easter Rabbit.

Only one rabbit can win this competition. Which one will it be?

Hoppi and his friends all came up with some very creative ideas for their Easter eggs. I loved seeing how everyone interpreted the contest and what they decided to make as their entries. It would have been hard for me to choose a winner if I were the judge because all of them did such a wonderful job of baking, building, painting, or otherwise decorating their eggs.

I would have liked to see a little more time spent on the ending. It happened very quickly, and it didn’t answer all of the questions I had about how this competition worked. For example, it was never clear to me why the rabbits started this tradition in the first place. If the backstory had been filled out a bit more, I would have chosen a perfect rating as I deeply enjoyed everything else about it.

One of the biggest reasons why I loved this story so much had to do with how all of the characters handled the competitive nature of the contest. While every rabbit obviously wanted to win, they treated each other with so much kindness and respect while they were working on their projects. Any rabbit who needed help with his or her entry was given it without hesitation, and that made me smile. They were excellent role models for the preschoolers this tale was written for.

The Easter Egg was a heartwarming tale that’s perfect for the Easter season.

Sophie Washington: Queen of the Bee by Tonya Duncan Ellis

Sophie Washington: Queen of the Bee by Tonya Duncan Ellis
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Middle Grade
Length: Short Story (90 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

Sign up for the spelling bee? No way!

If there’s one thing 10-year-old Texan Sophie Washington is good at, it’s spelling. She’s earned straight 100s on all her spelling tests to prove it. Her parents want her to compete in the Xavier Academy spelling bee, but Sophie wishes they would buzz off.

Her life in the Houston suburbs is full of adventures, and she doesn’t want to slow down the action. Where else can you chase wild hogs out of your yard, ride a bucking sheep, or spy an eight-foot-long alligator during a bike ride through the neighborhood? Studying spelling words seems as fun as getting stung by a hornet, in comparison.

That’s until her irritating classmate, Nathan Jones, challenges her. There’s no way she can let Mr. Know-It-All win. Studying is hard when you have a pesky younger brother and a busy social calendar. Can Sophie ignore the distractions and become Queen of the Bee?

This is a wonderful little book that really captures the character and interactions not only between schoolmates, but also with siblings. I have a younger sister and can remember the love-hate relationship we had as we were growing up.

I especially liked the message about working hard to achieve your dreams. This is, I think, a message that all children need to hear. They also need to see that in life, not everyone wins. There was a winner and there were losers…that’s life and a good lesson.

Sophie is a well-developed character and the other characters, although not as developed as Sophie, are fully drawn and not just stock characters. The setting of Texas also serves as an extra character, and the author does a wonderful job introducing us to the area and making this reader feel like she was actually there.

Strongly recommended for ages 8 and up.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Do Fairies Bring the Spring? by Liza Gardner Walsh

Do Fairies Bring the Spring? by Liza Gardner Walsh
Publisher: Down East Books
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

After a long winter’s rest with little to do,
are the fairies ready to start something new,

Do they use tiny brushes and oil pastels
to paint crocuses, lilacs, and daffodils?

Everyone knows fairies love spring flowers and summer sun, but is it the fairies who wake up the earth as the snow melts? Do they entice the trees to turn green and the flowers to grow? In this charming follow up to Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows, Liza Gardner Walsh, acclaimed author of the Fairy House Handbook and Fairy Garden Handbook, explores the matter in a children’s picture book of rhyming questions. Combined with delightful illustrations by Hazel Mitchell this whimsical book will help children discover the world of fairies and learn to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors.

 

Spring is right around the corner. How do adults know for sure that all of the plants are going to wake up in time for it?

What an imaginative spin on why and how the seasons change! I especially liked all of the questions the narrator asked the audience about what fairies might quietly be doing at the end of each winter to get ready for the change in season. They added many different types of playful spins to the plot as the questions became more and more creative.

There was one scene that I thought might be a little too dark for sensitive readers in this age group. It talked about what would happen if the fairies refused to wake up the plants one spring, and it would have frightened me a little bit when I was the age of the target audience. With that being said, this was a minor criticism of a story that was otherwise adorable and well worth the read.

My favourite scenes were the ones that showed the fairies digging around in the earth or making sure that every flower was as colorful as it needed to be for spring. The fairies were so cheerful as they worked no matter how long it took to get everything right. It was also very cute to see them consulting tiny books and having conversations with other fairies about what they should be doing next.

Do Fairies Bring the Spring? should be read by anyone who is eagerly looking forward to the end of winter.