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.

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.

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.

Just Another Quiet Little State by J.S. Frankel


Just Another Quiet Little State by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (293 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Teenager Gabe Common and his girlfriend, Millie Themmes, have moved back to Chumsville, the place where the magic that changed them started. Although they attempt to move on with their lives, some forces in the world will not let them. For one, the ambient magic still exists, and this time it has spread across the state of South Dakota. In fear, the president authorizes the military to contain the Changed, those transformed into something other than human. Additionally, civilian militias are out to kill the Changed. Once again, Gabe has to lead the residents of Chumsville and fight the intolerance around them, even at the cost of his life. It comes down to not only a battle for acceptance, but also one of survival. The only question is whether Gabe and his friends can survive the upcoming conflict.

How would you fight a foe who was many times bigger and stronger than you are?

The romantic subplot was handled well. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how Gabe and Millie’s relationship has developed over the years. They have been through a lot together since their bodies were transformed by ambient magic, but every crisis only seemed to draw them closer together. I liked watching them work together so closely, and I was pleased with how well they got along with each other.

This tale would have benefited from having many more details included in it. While the plot was just as fantastic as I would expect from Mr. Frankel, I had a lot of trouble picturing what was happening in many scenes because the narrator didn’t describe the events in them as vividly as he had earlier on in this series. It was almost as though I were listening to him retell it later on instead of experiencing the plot twists alongside him. I desperate wanted to give this story a much higher rating, but this issue prevented me from doing so.

While the world building in this series has always been excellent, it was even better than normal this time around. I especially appreciated all of the references the narrator included to various events that have happened in the United States over the past year or two. They made the plot even more meaningful than it would have otherwise been, but they were also subtle enough that I suspect they’ll still feel fresh and relevant years from now.

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

I’d recommend Just Another Quiet Little State to anyone who loves contemporary science fiction.

Interstellar by J.S. Frankel


Interstellar by J.S. Frankel
The Titans of Ardana, Book 3

Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (215 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Martin Calder and his girlfriend Dana—no last name given—are back. Their powers are now known to the general public, and their wish is to help out those who need it.

However, those in the law enforcement world aren’t so accepting. Reduced to starring in their own reality show—and messing it up—other, more urgent matters take precedence. The weather has changed, and the sun has started to turn blue. Although it’s a physical impossibility, it has happened. The Earth will freeze in a matter of weeks if nothing is done, and only Martin and Dana can help.

Their journey takes them back to Ardana, Dana’s home world, in search for answers, and subsequent searches send them on a quest across the galaxy where they meet vampires, energy-sapping rays, cat-mole people, and a boy-not-a-boy who may be the answer to everyone’s prayers.

Sometimes, giving everything isn’t enough. Sometimes, you have to give more than that—even your life.

Some problems really are black and white. If Martin and his friends can’t warm the sun up again, everyone will be doomed.

The premise caught my attention immediately. There are plenty of science fiction books out there about global warming, but very few of them talk about what would happen if our sun stopped giving out heat. I was mesmerized by this idea and couldn’t wait to see how it might play out and if Martin would be able to reverse the process before he ran out of time. The more I learned about the rapidly cooling sun, the more curious I became about why it happened and what could be done to save everyone.

There were some mild pacing issues. They were especially noticeable after the narrator had caught the readers up on the important backstory. I expected the plot to need some time to speed up while that was happening, but it remained a little slow for me even after the characters had begun trying to figure out what happened to the sun. With that being said, the pacing problems weren’t serious and I did enjoy the storyline quite a bit overall.

One of the many reasons why I’m such a big fan of Mr. Frankel’s books is that he always comes up with fascinating scientific advances and devices in the worlds he imagines. This tale was no exception to that rule. Not only did the characters find creative ways to stay warm while their sun cooled and their world began to freeze, Martin also stumbled across some science experiments along the way that were as unique as they were attention-grabbing.

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

Interstellar should be read by adult and young adult fans of science fiction who are in the mood for something inventive.

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.

Battlefield by J.S. Frankel


Battlefield by J.S. Frankel
The Titans of Ardana 2

Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (235 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Martin Calder and his girlfriend, Dana—no last name given—are back. Possessing superpowers, Martin joins up with Dana to fight crime throughout their adopted city of Baltimore. Fighting crime on Earth is easy, but when an old enemy from Dana’s world, Ardana, returns to wreak havoc and seek vengeance, it will take more than anyone can possibly give to defeat him. Sometimes, though, giving everything isn’t enough.

Every day is a new battle when you’re fighting an impossible strong alien.

My review of the first story in this series talked about Martin not having much character development in it. It made me happy to see how much he grew in this sequel. His basic personality remained the same, but he matured in all kinds of wonderful ways. It was especially intersting to see how he changed as a result of some information about his past that came to light. I can’t say anything else about that part of the plot without giving away spoilers, but I liked how Mr. Frankel connected this character’s past and present. Martin’s evolution made perfect sense because of it.

I would have liked to see Dana get more attention from the plot. She was such a strong presence when they first met that I was a bit surprised by the less active role she played this time around. If these characters get the chance to share more of their adventures, I hope she’ll be given more chances to shine. Dana has a lot of talents, and I’d love to see her show them off. With that being said, this is a minor criticism of something I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit.

One of my favorite things Mr. Frankel’s writing style is how well he writes action scenes. He has a way of drawing a reader into the middle of a battle so completely that I can never stop reading when one of them begins. I simply have to know how it ends, and there were a lot of those moments in this tale! It was especially interesting to see what kinds of weapons the aliens used. Some of them were nothing like what humans have. They made the fight scenes even more exciting than they already were.

This book is the second in a series. It can be read a standalone work, although I would also recommend checking out The Titans of Ardana if you had a good time with this one.

If you like adventure, take The Titans of Ardana 2: Battlefield for a spin.

The Titans of Ardana by J.S. Frankel


The Titans of Ardana by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (230 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Martin Calder and his girlfriend, Dana—no last name given—are back. Possessing superpowers, Martin joins up with Dana to fight crime throughout their adopted city of Baltimore. Fighting crime on Earth is easy, but when an old enemy from Dana’s world, Ardana, returns to wreak havoc and seek vengeance, it will take more than anyone can possibly give to defeat him. Sometimes, though, giving everything isn’t enough.

Celebrities often really are just like us once you get to know them, but Van and Dana aren’t like most famous people.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this tale was how quickly Martin was introduced to Dana and Van’s big secret. I was expecting everyone to dance around the topic for quite a while, so it was refreshing to see how quickly that extraterrestrial surprise was revealed so that everyone could move on to more pressing matters. It made me wonder what other surprises Mr. Frankel might be hiding up his sleeves, and I couldn’t wait to get to the next chapter so I could discover them.

There wasn’t a lot of character development in this book. While I liked Martin quite a bit, I was surprised by how little he changed throughout the course of the plot. He basically remained the same guy he was in the first chapter despite some pretty scary and unexpected things happening to him. I noticed the same lack of personal growth in the other characters, too. If not for this issue, I would have picked a much higher rating as the storyline itself was exciting and fun.

The romantic subplot was so sweet. Not only did I like both of the characters who were involved in it, I thought they’d make a great couple and hoped that they’d stay together for good. They had a lot in common and their personalities complemented each other nicely. I also appreciated the fact that these characters got to know each other as friends first before either one of them made a move.

The Titans of Ardana should be read by teenage and adult readers who find aliens interesting.

Just Another Quiet Little City by J.S. Frankel


Just Another Quiet Little City by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (234 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Magic is in the air, and it makes the rules. Teenagers Gabe Common and his girlfriend, Millie Themmes, have settled in Angels Camp, California. As a high school dropout with little education and no future job prospects, Gabe is forced to work as a sideshow attraction with Millie at his side. They spend their days taking people on airborne excursions, and Gabe longs for some stability in his life.

However, all things have to change, and change they do when the magic returns with a vengeance. As with Chumsville, their former residence, most of the citizenry of Angels Camp disappear with no rhyme or reason, leaving only fifteen survivors behind. And the changes from human to something else happen once more, this time with frightening speed.

An old friend, Gil Perkins from the FBI arrives as a liaison, and then the army takes over. However, they have another plan in mind, and they imprison Gabe and the other survivors and use them as guinea pigs, trying to copy their powers.

Gabe needs answers, and the answers lie in Chumsville, a small community in South Dakota. He and his friends stage a breakout and make a perilous journey back to where it all started. Once there, Gabe and Millie learn the secret of why the magic happened and have to fight for their very survival.

Gabe’s adventures have only just begun.

My favorite part of this story was seeing how much the main characters had changed since the first time I met them. Gabe’s character development was particularly strong. He learned a lot from his previous experiences in Chumsville, and it showed. To give one example, I really enjoyed seeing how much his confidence in his own abilities had grown. It sure was nice to see him change in this way.

There were some mild pacing issues. I definitely appreciated the fact that the narrator paused early on to quickly summarize what happened in the first instalment in this series, and I’m glad it was written that way. With that being said, there were some times later on in the plot when the narrator’s interjections interrupted the current storyline. I would have preferred to have more attention paid to what was going on in Gabe and Millie’s lives in those sections. This is a minor criticism of an otherwise wonderful tale, though.

The cast of characters was very large, so I was glad to see Mr. Frankel spend as much time as he did introducing and reintroducing all of them. I had a pretty easy time keeping track of everyone because of this. It was fun to see how the original characters from Just Another Quiet Little Town reacted to the new people they met this time around. I’m glad that they were given as many chances as they were to get to know more folks in this universe. Including so many different types of people made such a big impression in my mind of just how complex this world truly is. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in it because of all of the fascinating characters I’ve met in it so far.

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

I’d recommend Just Another Quiet Little City to anyone who loves modern fantasy.

Reunion by J.S. Frankel

reunion
Reunion by J.S. Frankel
Catnip, Book 5
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (201 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Harry Goldman, teenage DNA researcher, genius, and total nerd, is thrown into jail for illegal transgenic research. Freed by the FBI on the condition he works under their aegis, Harry is taken to New York where he meets Anastasia, a cat-girl and the product of transgenic engineering. No sooner do they get acquainted then they are attacked by another creature, a bear which is more than a bear, and are forced to flee for their lives. Along the way, they encounter furries, Doug the Dog, find out that they are more into each other emotionally than they’re willing to admit, and end up in the Catskill Mountains where Harry finds out the shocking truth about how Anastasia was created…and what she was created for.

The danger isn’t over quite yet for Harry and his family.

Harry’s character development was handled wonderfully. He has grown up a lot since I first met him in Catnip, and I’ve enjoyed seeing how all of changes in his life have affected the man he’s become. It was especially fascinating to see how his relationship with Anastasia has matured over the last five books. I can’t say much more about it without giving away spoilers, but it is something to look out for if this isn’t your first introduction to this universe.

My only criticism of this story is a minor one. In the past, this series spent more time focusing on the science fiction and fantasy elements of the plot than fight scenes. I was a bit surprised to see that this didn’t remain the same for the big finale. While I definitely enjoyed seeing how everything else turned out, I would have really liked it if Harry could have had more time to study how transgenic bodies work and what kind of life his hybrid child would probably have as an adult. It was such an important issue earlier on that I thought it would have more time to develop. On a positive note, this was the only plot point in the series that wasn’t wrapped up as neatly as I would have preferred.

The pacing was incredibly strong. There was always something exciting going on, especially once the necessary introductions in the beginning were finished. Mr. Frankel’s ability to keep his characters on their toes is one of the things this longterm fan of his has come to admire the most about his work. I never knew what was going to happen to Harry next, and that made me eager to keep reading.

This is the final instalment in the Catnip series. It can be read on its own or out of order, although I would definitely recommend checking out Harry’s earlier adventures if you enjoyed this one!

Reunion was a wild ride. I’d recommend it to anyone who is in the mood for something action-packed.