Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel


Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (226 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

High school student Paul Coleman’s life is an ordinary one. His existence takes a turn for the extraordinary when he and his best friend, Rory, are attacked by a winged demon one day. The demon, which calls itself Hekla, possesses the power of sound, and kills Rory with its scream. Paul survives, but the force from the blast has left him mainly deaf. A year later, Paul is out of school, working part-time, and is fearful of going deaf forever. Although he has learned sign language well, he wonders where his life will go. All that changes when Montague (Monty) Trillian, also known as Master Fantastic, enters his life and requests his services as a sign language teacher for his daughter, Myrna. Paul accepts, and soon finds out that Trillian is not just any magician, but an Elementalist, one capable of wielding the four elements of Earth with ease. He can also open portals to other worlds, and often does so, visiting those of earth, water, and fire. Many adventures follow, and Paul and Myrna grow close, but Hekla returns and demands Myrna be given to her. It seems that Myrna is the product of a union between Monty and Hekla, and like all mothers, she desires to protect her own. Now, Paul must do everything he can to save Myrna from being used for a fate far worse than death, and only the abilities of Master Fantastic can save them all—or can they?

There’s more to magic tricks than you might think.

This book had one of the most attention-grabbing beginnings that I’ve ever read. The demon’s attack on Paul and his friend was terrifying and life changing. Yes, there were grisly moments to it, too, but the gore had a purpose and it fit into the rest of the storyline beautifully. What made this scene even more powerful was how severely it affected Paul’s life long after that day ended. He reacted with just as much trauma as anyone would after seeing the violent death of a friend. As difficult as it was to see this character in so much emotional pain, it also pulled me into the plot and made it impossible to stop reading.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about the romantic subplot was how much the characters involved in it had in common. I can’t remember the last time I read a tale about two deaf or hard-of-hearing people falling in love, so it was nice to see it happen here. The similarities between these characters didn’t end there, though. Everything from their senses of humor to their ideas about how to spend their free time was so complementary that I wanted them to end up together as soon as I realized there was a spark between them.

The world building was fantastic. This was true not only for Earth but also for the other places that Paul and his employers explored every time a portal opened. Every single setting was described in such great detail that I felt like I’d been there myself once I finished reading about them. Any one of them would have made me want to give this story a five star rating. The fact that this happened so many times made it impossible for me to pick any other rating!

Master Fantastic is a must-read for anyone who loves magic in any form.

Pup and Bear by Kate Banks


Pup and Bear by Kate Banks
Publisher: Schwartz and Wade
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

You are not my mother, said the wolf pup.
I am not your mother, said the polar bear, but I can cuddle you and keep you safe.

Here is a picture book that celebrates differences and promotes kindness , sure to resonate with the many fans of the beloved classic, Mama Do You Love Me? During the ice melt that follows an Arctic winter, a wolf cub finds himself spinning out to sea on a sheet of ice. He awakes lost and alone to an unfamiliar smell: a polar bear. And while the polar bear is not the wolf’s mother, she takes him on her back to her den, where she feeds him, keeps him warm, and does everything a mother would do. Time passes, the cub grows into a wolf, and soon it’s time for him to venture out into the wide world alone. Years later, the now grown wolf comes upon a tiny lost polar bear cub–and the cycle begins again. With poetic prose this beautiful picture book about the love and kindness of a stranger is sure to touch a deep chord, particularly with parents and children who have found each other in unexpected ways.

This is the best children’s book about growing up with a non-biological parent that I’ve ever read.

First of all, the polar bear loved her son with all of her heart. She treated him with kindness no matter what was going on in their lives or how he was behaving. When he told her that she wasn’t his mother, she agreed with him and honored his feelings on the matter. At the same time, she also gave him all of the attention that a wolf pup needs to grow up big and strong.

I deeply appreciated the versatility of the plot. The narrator did explain where the wolf pup came from, but it was a situation that doesn’t really have any parallels to how human children end up living with people who didn’t give birth to them. New families that are formed through adoption, fostering, step-parenting, guardianship, and many other non-traditional avenues can easily interpret this tale to suit their unique circumstances no matter how they ended up together.

The polar bear’s deep respect for the wolf pup’s biological family was yet another reason why I adored this story. She acknowledged their presence over and over again as her child grew up. His origins were always part of their lives in some way. He always knew that he was a wolf and that his adoptive mother was not.

By far the best scene was the final one. I can’t say much about it without giving away spoilers, but it was the perfect ending to the wolf pup’s unique upbringing. It made me desperately wish for a sequel even though all of the most important loose ends had already been tied up. If Ms. Banks ever writes that sequel, I will be the first person in line to read it!

Pup and Bear was a joy to read. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Goblin, a cheerful little homebody, lives in a cosy, rat-infested dungeon, with his only friend, Skeleton. Every day, Goblin and Skeleton play with the treasure in their dungeon. But one day, a gang of “heroic” adventurers bursts in. These marauders trash the place, steal all the treasure, and make off with Skeleton—leaving Goblin all alone!

It’s up to Goblin to save the day. But first he’s going to have to leave the dungeon and find out how the rest of the world feels about goblins.

The world looks completely different when it’s viewed through the eyes of a goblin.

This was such an inventive twist on what happens in the typical fantasy tale. I’d never thought about what the average quest must look like from the perspective of the monsters whose homes and lives are turned upside down. What humans see as an adventure had a completely different meaning when the storyline focused on how they disrupted the quiet life of a goblin and skeleton who never meant to do any harm to anyone.

Goblin was such a loyal friend to Skeleton. I loved seeing them spend time playing together in the beginning, and I couldn’t wait to find out if Goblin would be able to rescue his buddy from the humans who kidnapped him. The thought of them never seeing each other again made me sad. I hoped Goblin would find a way to figure out where Skeleton had been taken, but I had no idea how that might happen. The further away from home his journey took him, the more curious I became to see what would happen next.

I really appreciated how understated the message of this tale was. It had a lot of important things to say about the dangers of negative stereotypes and how everyone should treat people they don’t know, but the narrator never sermonized the points they were trying to make. Instead, the audience was given many opportunities to see what happens when someone jumps to the worst possible conclusion without taking any time to reflect on what is really happening around them. This is something that adult readers can enjoy just as much as kids because of how open-ended the questions the narrator raised were and how much freedom the audience was given to think about what they’d read.

Nobody Likes a Goblin was the most creative children’s story I’ve read so far this year. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman


Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (128 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Written by New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by UK Laureate Chris Riddell, this new edition of the thrilling, wintry Nordic tale weaves a truly magical story of legend and adventure that will grip and enchant readers from beginning to end. This new edition is heavily illustrated and has an oversize trim, much like the New York Times bestselling The Sleeper and the Spindle.

Odd, a young Viking boy, is left fatherless following a raid, and in his icy, ancient world there is no mercy for an unlucky soul with a crushed foot and no one to protect him. Fleeing to the woods, Odd stumbles upon and releases a trapped bear…and then Odd’s destiny begins to change. The eagle, bear, and fox Odd encounters are Norse gods, trapped in animal form by the evil frost giant who has conquered Asgard, the city of the gods. Now our hero must reclaim Thor’s hammer, outwit the frost giants and release the gods…

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

I liked Odd from the first moment he first appeared in the plot. Not only was he a brave kid, he was kind and compassionate as well. He’d been through several difficult experiences before his journey began in this tale, but he didn’t allow those memories to overshadow all of the happier times he hoped were on the way for him.

The adventures that Odd had with the Norse gods he met while spending time alone in the woods were fantastic. Their quest was an exciting one. Asgard was full of all sorts of unusual and wonderful things that have never existed here on Earth. One of my favorite parts of their visit to that land happened at a pool of water that Odd and his friends visited right after they arrived there. It set the scene nicely for everything that happened after that point, and it was also a lot of fun to imagine what it would be like to visit that pool myself.

There’s nothing better than witty dialogue, and this book was full of it. The gods all had funny takes on how they should speak to a young boy who was far away from home and a little frightened. They definitely didn’t seem like they were used to spending time with human children at all. This made some of their conversations with Odd sound delightfully strange, especially when they were trying to reassure him but completely missed the point of what was scaring him.

Odd and the Frost Giants is the perfect choice for anyone who loves fairytales or adventure stories.

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

BoM LASR YA copy

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!