Dorm Rats by Michelle L Levigne


Dorm Rats by Michelle L Levigne
Growing Up Neighborlee

Publisher: Uncial Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (323 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Lanie and her Lost Kids friends continue growing into their semi-pseudo-superhero powers and responsibilities, and learn more about what it means to be a guardian of the odd little town of Neighborlee. Sometimes that meant protecting the rest of the world from the everyday weirdness and magic around them.

The transition from high school to college is marked with challenges and mystical, magical attacks from outside Neighborlee’s borders. When the academic game-playing and politics of the local college are used to run a questionable experiment on the entire freshman class, Lanie is there in the middle of it. Sometimes those who realize there’s something strange going on aren’t as enchanted as Lanie and her geek friends, and it takes a lot of fast talking and faster maneuvering to keep the lid from blowing off the entire town.

The threats grow bigger and the enemies grow meaner, but it’s all in a day’s work for the guardians of Neighborlee. This is home, and they’re willing to pay the price. Sometimes, they do. With their lives.

The really big questions remain: Why are they the way they are and how can they do the things they do? At least when they mess up and use their talents in public, most people don’t even notice. It’s just part of the background weirdness of Neighborlee, Ohio.

 

Dorm Rats is the continued story of Lanie, one of the lost kids of Neighborlee. Lanie and her brother Harry have been adopted by the Zephyrs, a hippie style couple who are famous for the books they write about the weird and wonderful. Lanie and her lost kid friends have special powers and these help them in their self appointed roles as guardians of Neighborlee.

The setting and characters have been very well developed, so much so that I read this book in one day. I honestly could not put it down. I liked the way Lanie’s growing from teenager to young woman involved uncertainty and happiness as she and her friends, both guardians and normal people, grew to adulthood. She came across as a real person and her interaction with her fellow guardians seemed to have the usual teasing aspect of people in their teens.

I did have one moment of surprise when the main character was in England and mentioned eating biscuits which are not generally sold in England. Probably wouldn’t mean anything to someone not familiar with the country, but it did interrupt the flow of the story for me and it took me several minutes before I could get back into the flow again.

To finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and felt totally immersed in the story. Definitely a “live inside the story” type book.

I Dream To Be by Rebecca T. Clark


I Dream To Be by Rebecca T. Clark
Witty Kids When Imagination Talks to You

Publisher: Be Heard Publishing LLC
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (34 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

What does your child Dream To Be?
Meet Jersey – a young girl who loves to dream and imagines that she can be anything….

I Dream To Be

A book that encourages readers to use imagination by dreaming of different occupations.
She encourages her friends to dream with her. She imagines she is an Astronaut, an Engineer, a Veterinarian and much more.

The book ends by asking her friends what do they dream to be.
A fun story that will encourage any reader that possibilities are endless.

It’s never too early to start setting goals in life and thinking about how they could be accomplished.

I loved the fact that Jersey wrote down all of the different types of jobs she could have when she grew up. She even made lists of the kinds of subjects she’d need to do well in if she wanted to work in a certain area. This was such an organized way to approach this topic, and it also fit Jersey’s personality perfectly. She was exactly the sort of kid who would want to put everything down on paper before she could even begin to make a decision.

After sharing a few sentences about every occupation this character dreamed of having one day, each page ended with a short pun or other play-on-words that made me chuckle. It was a beautiful flourish and such an entertaining way to end each section. I wish that this tale had been a little longer so I could have read more of these twists! If the author ever writes a sequel, I will be eager to see where her creativity takes her next.

My favorite section happened at the end when Jersey listed many other jobs and encouraged her readers to brainstorm what their lives would be like if they worked in those areas when they grew up. I was glad to see such a wide variety of possibilities being offered to young readers. There were so many different types of work that kids who have many different types of skills and interests would have a lot of ideas to choose from.

Witty Kids When Imagination Talks to You “I Dream To Be” is an excellent resource for any child who is beginning to wonder what he or she might be when they grow up.

An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale

An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (232 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Stargazer

When your whole world is falling apart, what are the chances you’ll find love in the most unexpected of places?

Livvie feels like she’s losing everything: her two best friends have abandoned her for their boyfriends, her mother continues to ignore her, while her sister, Jules, is sick again and getting worse by the day. Add in the request Jules has made of her and Livvie feels like she’s losing her mind, too.

Her only escape is in the art room, where she discovers not only a refuge from her life, but also a kindred soul in Bianca, the school “freak”. Livvie’s always felt invisible, at school and at home, but with Bianca, she finally feels like someone sees the real Livvie. As the relationship deepens and it comes time to take the romance public, will Livvie be able to take that step?

Livvie’s about to find out if she has what it takes to make the tough decisions and stand up for herself—for the first time in her life.

How far can you be pushed before you give up your quiet life and take a stand?

An Unstill Life is a deep journey into the life of Livvie, a fifteen-year-old girl with more than her share of life’s problems. Her sister Jules is sick with cancer and Livvie’s mother is preoccupied with the medical diagnosis. Hannah and Mel are Livvie’s two best friends, but boys become the major obstacle and distraction that tears the three apart. Livvie finds herself isolated and overwhelmed with everything going on.

An Unstill Life is a perfect view of how fast everything can spiral out of control. Kate Larkindale balances difficult topics with true to life emotions. The descriptions of events, emotions and reactions that each character has is directly on point and plays out smoothly within the situations presented. Issues of bullying, discrimination and even deep rooted domestic frustrations are cleanly addressed in an honest way.

The story, while told from the point of view of Livvie, really is something that could happen in most families. Events from both home and school are intricately interwoven to provide a great immersive plot that draws the reader in and makes it difficult to put the books down. Each event that piles onto Livvie’s daily life, is reflected in the change to her personality. The author takes great care in showing the transition and shifting of Livvie’s personality throughout the pressure, frustration and difficulties that she endures.

The dialog between characters is strong and flows naturally. Each character has a strong back story that unfolds throughout the story, including the mysterious Bianca. Each secondary character has strong personality development throughout the story as well, showing a depth to the storytelling that Kate exhibits.

If you enjoy an enveloping psychological look at life and how fast things change to shape and mold who we are-make sure you don’t miss An Unstill Life.

Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell


Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Genre: Childrens, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

They say there’s a girl
Who lives by the woods
In a crooked old house
With no garden but gloom.

She doesn’t have parents.
No one knows her name.

But the people in town
Call her Wee Sister Strange.

Like Emily Winfield Martin’s bestselling Dream Animals, here is a bedtime read-aloud sure to entrance young listeners. Each evening, as the shadows grow long, Wee Sister Strange climbs from her window and runs into the woods. She talks to the owls and rides on a bear. She clambers up trees and dives into the bog. She is searching for something…. She looks far and wide, over forest and marsh. What is it she seeks? Why, it’s a wee bedtime story to help her fall asleep!

Just because the sun has set doesn’t mean it’s time to go to sleep quite yet.

The descriptions in this book were vivid and beautiful. One of my favorite parts of it had to do with the main character’s origins and how the people who live nearby reacted to her unusual habits for a girl of this age. There were just enough details to explain what was going on without making her life seem any less whimsical than it was. I also liked the fact that the author left plenty of room for a possible sequel here. While I don’t know if she’s planning to write it, I’d sure like to read it if she ever does.

All of Wee Sister Strange’s adventures made me smile. I was intrigued by the idea of a young child wandering around in the dark, especially since she was so confident in every corner of the woods. The forest was her playground in so many different ways. This wasn’t necessarily something I was expecting to find, so I was thrilled to see how much she loved doing everything from talking to the animals to going on a late-night swim.

After spending so much time hinting at what the main character was searching for when she ran through the woods alone at night, I couldn’t wait to get an answer to this question. The ending not only satisfied my curiosity, it fit in perfectly with the general tone of this tale. While the blurb does give away part of it, I also appreciated the fact that it left some of the final scene a mystery. It was nice to be pleasantly surprised once I reached that part of the storyline.

Wee Sister Strange was one of the most creative bedtime stories I read this year. It’s a must-read for children and adults alike.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi


The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The new kid in school needs a new name! Or does she?

Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.

The only thing scarier than being the new kid in class is feeling rejected.

All of the adults in Unhei’s life were supportive and kind. They listened to her when she talked about the anxiety she felt over having a name that was so different from the American names of her classmates. I especially liked the fact that they took her seriously and worked hard to help her feel better about having a name that other kids didn’t know how to pronounce. They couldn’t have been more encouraging of her when she began to wish she could pick a new name for herself.

The friendship the main character developed with Joey, one of her classmates, made me smile. He barely even knew her, but he still tried his best to make her feel included and understand why she felt the way she did from the beginning of their friendship. His kindness made a huge difference in her life, and I enjoyed seeing how much work he put welcoming her to her new country.

Unhei experienced some mild teasing in the beginning because none of her new classmates knew how to pronounce her name. What I liked most about that scene was how much care the author took in showing why the other kids reacted that way. It was definitely a painful experience for the main character, but digging into the reasons why her classmates weren’t being very nice to her helped to set the stage for everything that happened later on.

The Name Jar was a beautiful tale about acceptance and diversity that I can’t recommend highly enough. I loved every single moment of it.

Shadow Eyes by Dusty Crabtree


Shadow Eyes by Dusty Crabtree
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Inspirational, Paranormal
Length: Full (334 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Stargazer

Iris thought she could ignore the shadows…until they came after everyone she loved.

Seventeen-year-old Iris Kohl has been able to see both dark and light figures ever since a tragic incident three years ago. The problem is, no one else seems to see them, and even worse…the dark figures terrorize humans, but Iris is powerless to stop them.

Although she’s learned to deal with watching shadows harass everyone around her, Iris is soon forced to question everything she thinks she knows about her world and herself. Her sanity, strength, and will power are tested to the limits by not only the shadows, but also a handsome new teacher whose presence scares away shadows, a new friend with an awe-inspiriting aura, and a mysterious, alluring new student whom Iris has a hard time resisting despite already having a boyfriend. As the shadows invade and terrorize her own life and family, Iris must ultimately accept the guidance of an angel to revisit the most horrific event of her life and become the hero she was meant to be.

 

Have you ever wondered what unseen forces move throughout our world which we do not see?

Iris Kohl began seeing weird “shadows” that seemed to impact how people relate to each other and the world around them around her fourteenth birthday. Iris mostly just tries to stay away from these strange entities, but when a few very personal events occur, it forces her to re-evaluate what these shadows are and what they want. Within the school year, Iris meets her new English teacher that seems to almost sense these strange figures as well. Iris begins to wonder if there is more going on than she originally imagined.

Shadow Eyes is the initial story in a series focused on Iris and her abilities to see and interact in the world around her. The plot is strong and character development and emotions are right on point. I did find myself frustrated from time to time wondering what happened on Iris’s fourteenth birthday, but this was finally revealed at the end of the story.

Dusty Crabtree does an excellent job of bringing in the reader to the center of the story. The various plot twists and foreshadowing cause the reader to consider and then reconsider what is happening within the story and Iris’s life. While the main story focuses on Iris, the secondary characters including Iris’s close friends and family members each have a strong backstory that is integral to the overall plot in which Iris the focus.

The editing is clean, and the story flows nice without being too descriptive or wordy. Everything that occurs or is described has a place within the story. Aside from the frustration of being left in the dark with events surrounding the fourteenth birthday, this was a nearly perfect read!

If you have ever wondered what lurks just outside our line of vision, be sure not to miss Shadow Eyes!

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Tanya Simon and Richard Simon


Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Tanya Simon and Richard Simon
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Genre: Childrens, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (41 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature

A refugee seeking sanctuary from the horrors of Kristallnacht, Oskar arrives by ship in New York City with only a photograph and an address for an aunt he has never met. It is both the seventh day of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, 1938. As Oskar walks the length of Manhattan, from the Battery to his new home in the north of the city, he passes experiences the city’s many holiday sights, and encounters it various residents. Each offers Oskar a small act of kindness, welcoming him to the city and helping him on his way to a new life in the new world. This is a heartwarming, timeless picture book.

No immigrant knows for sure if he or she will be welcomed in their new country or if the place they’re moving to will ever feel like home.

One of the biggest reasons why I chose such a high rating for this story had to do with the blessings that Oskar discovered after he arrived in New York City. I tried to predict what they might be ahead of time. While some of my guesses were pretty close to being correct, I was pleasantly surprised by the authors’ creative approaches to what a child would think of as a blessing. They worked hard to approach this idea from every angle, and it showed.

There was so much kindness woven into this character’s long, chilly walk to his aunt’s house. I loved seeing how the people Oskar met treated him, especially once they realized that he was travelling alone and had almost nothing to call his own. The idea of wandering around in an unfamiliar city can be a bit scary even for adults, so I was thrilled by how much compassion this character found while he was trying to find his new home.

The reference to the Night of Broken Glass was nicely handled. The page that discussed it went into enough detail to show young readers what happened that evening, but it also kept the explanation appropriate for this age group. This is the sort of book I’d happily to read to younger children. At the same time, the hints about that part of German history could also lead to more in-depth conversations about the time leading up to World War II with older kids who wanted to learn more about it.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings was a gorgeous Hanukkah story. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Dragonsoul by Kayl Karadjian


Dragonsoul by Kayl Karadjian
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Full Length (311 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Littlehorn is the last dragon, born into a world that wants him dead.

The dragon’s blue scales and orange eyes are a stark contrast to the dull gray around him. The sky is gray. The ground is gray. Everything is gray, even the skin, eyes, and hair of every other living creature, including humans.

When Denyth, a simple farmer dreaming of a world of color beyond the gray encounters Littlehorn, the two set out on a journey to find the truth of where Littlehorn came from and if there truly is a world of color beyond the gray.

But Denyth isn’t the only human who knows of Littlehorn’s existence. A dragon-hunter named Zero, who has dedicated his entire life to purging anything of color, is coming after Littlehorn to finish the job.

Dragon and human flee together to the colorful land called Evenar, coming across a host of odd, colorful creatures, including a cat-like shapeshifter who can hear the land, a pacifist troll who wields a club the size of a tree trunk, and even a group of walruses who can talk.

Just as they think that they have found paradise, they discover a terrible secret: humanity wasn’t responsible for the fall of dragons after all.

Everything is grey, and most call it The Gloom. Zero, leader of the King’s Deprived force, has killed the last colorful dragon and returns to report to King Tayen.

Denyth, a farm boy of the Gloom finds a dragon egg which becomes a very colorful blue dragon, Littlehorn. Needless to say Zero finds out about the dragon and then the chase is on.

This book is brilliant. The difference between the grey Gloom and colorful Evenar are well written and very visual. The playful little dragon gets into all sorts of mischief which provides humor to the story.

The chase from The Gloom to Evenar is cleverly written and I had to read on to find out what happened next. The story took several unexpected twists and turns until it reached a wonderful finale. I have to admit I love dragon stories but I would have read this one if it had been about any other creature or just the humans and the faeries. An exceptionally good book to read.

Incubation by Laura DiSilverio


Incubation by Laura DiSilverio
The Incubation Trilogy Book 1

Publisher: diAgio Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (348 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: Best Books
Review by: Orchid

Bio-chemistry whiz Everly Jax wants one thing: to know who her parents are. Raised with other repo kids in InKubator 9, she has pinned her hopes on Reunion Day, the annual event where sixteen-year-olds can meet or reunite with their parents. When her Reunion Day goes horribly awry, she and her pregnant friend Halla escape the Kube, accompanied by their friend Wyck who has his own reasons for leaving. In a world where rebuilding the population is critical to national survival, the Pragmatist government licenses all human reproduction, and decides who can–and must–have babies. The trio face feral dog packs, swamp threats, locust swarms, bounty hunters looking for “breeders,” and more dangers as they race to Amerada’s capital to find Halla’s soldier boyfriend before the Prags can repo her baby and force the girls into surrogacy service. An unexpected encounter with Bulrush, an Underground Railroad for women fleeing to Outposts with their unlicensed babies, puts them in greater peril than ever. Everly must decide what she is willing to sacrifice to learn her biological identity–and deal with the unanticipated consequences of her decisions.

Bird flu has decimated the world’s population and there are no longer any birds. Everly Jax is a repo kid raised in InKubator 9 where she becomes a bio-chemistry whiz. Ev, her friend Halla and other friend Wyck escape the Kube dome to run from the Pragmatists Government. They intend to travel to an outpost out of the reach of the government, but as none of them have any experience of life outside the dome, they find obstacles in their way that they had never dreamed of.

I started to read this book because I liked the cover but it soon had me under its spell. It’s an extremely well written book with one main plot, which leads to other problems and dilemmas. The three friends have to travel through swamps and ghost towns. At the same time they have to evade the guards who are chasing them and outlaws who want to sell the two women to the breeding labs.

The story is complex but at the same time easy to follow. It was one of those books I started to read and couldn’t put down. By the end of the book I was wondering if the world could actually end up in this situation if a pandemic took place. Highly recommended!

The Border by Steve Schafer


The Border by Steve Schafer
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (342 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Stargazer

BoM LASR YA copy

One moment changed their lives forever.

A band plays, glasses clink, and four teens sneak into the Mexican desert, the hum of celebration receding behind them.

Crack. Crack. Crack.

Not fireworks―gunshots. The music stops. And Pato, Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys are powerless as the lives they once knew are taken from them.

Then they are seen by the gunmen. They run. Except they have nowhere to go. The narcos responsible for their families’ murders have put out a reward for the teens’ capture. Staying in Mexico is certain death, but attempting to cross the border through an unforgiving desert may be as deadly as the secrets they are trying to escape…

Do any of us truly value the life and opportunities that we have? Even by reading this review you have so many more opportunities than others in the world.

The Border is a first person account of the ruthless killing, drug trafficking and greed that proliferates portions of Mexico near the United States border. The four teens lose everything they have ever known when they are caught in the crossfire of a drug war near the border. After they are pursued and a bounty is listed for their capture or deaths, they are forced to cross the border into U.S. territory.

What comes next is heart rendering; the close connections that the friends forge, the shift from living life to simply surviving shows a different side of human nature and a dark reality that we often try not to dwell on. This story brings that reality into perspective and forces the reader to see and understand the pain that each of the characters experience.

Faced with setback after setback, the teens forge ahead with dreams of what life in the U.S. will be like. The author does an amazing job at character development through the entire story. Not a single character remained unchanged, in fact, the author highlights how the characters reflect on their own psychological changes after choices are made that impact the survivability of the entire group.

Just when it seems like everything will be okay, more adversities stand in the way; then when it seems like all hope is lost, there is still the beauty of the human spirit to overcome those adversities. This story brings to life the current political turmoil and debate of immigration but places it in a very different light then what many of us are accustomed to seeing.

Make sure that you do not miss The Border if you want to understand what truly drives the human spirit to push on when all is lost!