The Magician’s Workshop: Volume Two by Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr


The Magician’s Workshop: Volume Two by Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr
Publisher: Wondertale
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (191 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Poinsettia

Return to the world of the Magician’s Workshop: Where Dreams Become Reality.

In Volume Two, the Festival of Stars has finally arrived, and the Color Ceremony is about to commence. As children from all over the islands gather to stand before a puller, one question remains: who will have a Color, and who will be found void?

Rejoin your favorite characters as they step forward and receive a label that will have the power to dramatically alter the course of their lives forever.

After the Color Ceremony, life will never be the same.

First, it is absolutely imperative to read Volume One before reading this installment of the Magician’s Workshop series. Volume Two picks up exactly where the previous book ended, right before the life altering Color Ceremony. After reading Volume One, I desperately wanted to know how the Color Ceremony would go for Kai, Talia, Weston, Kalaya, Kaso, and Layauna. The course of their futures would be determined in a single moment. Each of these characters have grown on me, and I must admit I felt nervous as each of them stood before the puller. Who would have Color? Who would be void? I had to stop myself from rushing ahead to find the answers, and I discovered the truth is much more complicated than I ever could have imagined.

The more I learn about Color, the more convinced I am that the system is flawed. I won’t reveal any names, but some very talented characters are found void. Each time a promising character was found void, it was a breath-stealing blow. I couldn’t believe how unfair it was. However, the more I read, the more it became clear that there are big changes on the horizon for the inhabitants of O’Ceea. Some people are beginning to believe that having Color isn’t nearly as important they have been led to believe. Again, I can’t give too many details, but Layauna’s story convinced me that Color is not the only expression of power and talent. Her experience with the puller and indeed her entire storyline is by far the most disturbing and clearly illustrates that something needs to change. I fear that Layauna, Kai, and the others are pawns in a larger scheme that has yet to be fully revealed. Will the change be for the better or worse?

As I mentioned in my review of Volume One, everyone in O’Ceea has the ability to make projections, which are essentially magical illusions. They aren’t real, but in this installment, there are rumblings of people who’d like to make projections into reality. Most people think this is impossible, but I’m not so sure. I look forward to seeing how this particular plot thread develops.

The Magician’s Workshop: Volume Two is an absolutely delightful addition to the series. The more I read, the more intrigued I become. I am thrilled I had the opportunity to read this installment, and I’m eagerly anticipating the release of Volume Three.

Grimm Remains by Eli Celata


Grimm Remains by Eli Celata
Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (190 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Mammon’s summoning turned Rochester into a beacon for the denizens of Hell. As demon activity increases, Jon settles in for a new academic year, and Jordan moves in as the city’s protector. Unfortunately, the young warlock of Rochester might not be around long if the Devil’s marine legion has a say. Havfine, demonic mermaids, don’t often leave deep lakes and ocean waters. They’re better known for drowning mortal sailors than hunting magic users, but something has sent them upstream from Lake Ontario. When three orphans vanish from a magical sanctuary in Toronto, their caretaker – the Wizard Monday – dredges up a part of Jordan’s and Jon’s father’s history that Jordan would have rather forgotten. In this race against the Bane of Hamelin, more than three souls may be on the line.

Jon’s adventures have only just begun.

The new characters who were introduced in this tale were a nice addition to the cast. While I liked having such a strong focus on Jon when I first met him, meeting so many other magic users really fleshed out the world they all lived in. The number of people who has these abilities was so small that I was thrilled to see so many folks like Jon. It wasn’t something I was expecting to see happen, but it was a great way to push the plot forward.

There were pacing issues, and most of them were due to the plot getting off to such a slow start. As much as I liked the first novel in this series, I struggled to get into this one in the beginning because of how much time it took for anything exciting to happen to Jon or anyone else in his life. There were so many interesting conflicts in his previous adventure that I was expecting him to jump right into them in the sequel. When that didn’t happen, I was surprised and a little confused.

With that begin said, the storyline was solid once things began moving along more quickly. One of the things I enjoy the most about this universe is how much freedom it gives readers to come up with our own theories about how certain parts of it works. The basic explanations of magical society were there again this time, but I liked being able to test my ideas on how it all fit together against what the plot and characters eventually revealed to me. Whether I was wrong or right, it was fun to think logically and methodically about this stuff while I was reading.

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

Grimm Remains should be read by anyone who enjoys modern fantasy.

High Summons by Eli Celata


High Summons by Eli Celata
Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (180 pages)
Age Recommendation:16+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Jon Blythe is sick of waiting for his Yoda. After years of hiding his magic, he’s ready to retire from his mortal life, drop out of college, and jump into the world of demon hunters. He just didn’t really expect a bleach blond bookstore clerk with light up toys for weapons. Unfortunately, Jordan is Jon’s only hope. When rogue magic users come to Rochester with a malicious plan, the odd couple strikes out to save the day. Jordan might not be what Jon expected, but between demons and Econ homework, the demons win every time. Wild nights drag Jon further from normal into the world where his father vanished. Maybe he’s becoming an addict. Maybe magic just comes with a price. Either way, he’s hooked.

The magic is in him if he knows where to look.

The world-building was phenomenal. It reminded me of the first time I read other classic fantasy series like Harry Potter. The ordinary world that Jon grew up in had nothing in common with the hidden, complicated, and sometimes downright perilous society that was his birthright. Watching him switch between attending class during the day and hunting down demons at night that only people with magical powers can see made it impossible for me to stop reading. The more I learned about the different types of magic users in this universe and what kinds of steep obstacles they faced when it came to fighting the supernatural, the more I wanted to know. I couldn’t imagine a more exciting start to a series, and I can’t wait to continue along with it.

Pay close attention to the descriptions of all of the various types of demons that Jon meets when his training begins. This is a very minor criticism of book that otherwise I couldn’t get enough of, but many of them were introduced at the same time so it took me a little while to memorize all of their names and how dangerous they were. It was an important thing to do, though, and once I figured that out it was smooth sailing for the rest of the plot.

Jon was a well-rounded and fascinating main character. Watching him change as a result of his experiences in this novel was riveting. He often acted like a bored and restless teenager in the beginning, but by the end he’d grown up in so many different ways. While this is a young adult book, it’s something I’d recommend just as strongly to adult readers because of how much time the author spent showing how people start to make that transition to adulthood.

High Summons is a must-read for anyone who loves urban fantasy. This is the best new series I’ve started so far in 2017!

Return to the Isle of the Lost by Melissa DeLaCruz


Return to the Isle of the Lost by Melissa DeLaCruz
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Length: 320 pages
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Honeysuckle

The sequel to the #1 New York Times best seller The Isle of the Lost

Mal’s an expert at intimidating her enemies, but she’s broken the habit since leaving her villainous roots behind. So when she and her friends Evie, Carlos, and Jay all receive threatening messages demanding they return home, Mal can’t believe it. Sure, she’s King Ben’s girlfriend now, and she’s usually nice to her classmates, but she still didn’t think anyone would be silly enough to try to push her around.

The thing is, it kind of worked. Especially since she and her friends have a sneaking suspicion that their villainous parents are behind the messages. And when Evie looks into her Magic Mirror, what she sees only confirms their fears. Maleficent’s just a tiny lizard after her run-in with Mal at Ben’s Coronation, but she’s the worst villain in the land for a reason. Could she have found a way to escape? Whatever’s going on, Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay know they have to sneak back to the Isle and get to the bottom of it.

Without its infamous leader, the island’s even worse than when they left it, but the comforts of home-even a home as gloomy as the Isle of the Lost-can be hard to resist for recently reformed villains. Will the kids be able to beat the evil bubbling at the Isle’s wicked core, or will the plot to destroy Auradon succeed?

The Villains are back and they’ll play just as dirty as they have to to force their offspring back to the Isle of the Lost.

Mal and her friends have made a life, a good life, in Auradon, away from their parents and away from the world they were born into where they were expected to grow up to be just as awful as their parents. I thought the author did a good job of making a point in the story about how changing on the outside doesn’t mean anything if there isn’t a change on the inside.

That was my take away from the book. My daughter simply enjoyed the continued story of the four friends and the familiar Disney references. She saw the blurb for the new book coming out later this month and, as someone who wanted to meet more of the villains on our recent trip to Disney than princesses, she was super excited to see who all would likely make appearances for the third adventure for Mal, Jay, Evie and Carlos. My fingers are crossed that Gaston will sing his song!

Return to the Isle of the Lost picks up seamlessly from the first book. Mal and King Ben are still an item and the mean girls in town are still pretty mean, just not “Lost Isle” mean. The plot isn’t terribly complicated and it wasn’t difficult to figure out the direction the author would take to resolve the conflict. I did like that the gang, especially Mal and Evie, show personal growth in this book.

This is a good book for young readers who enjoy an adventure story that isn’t real heavy. Disney purist might have a problem with some of the license the author takes with the beloved characters but it isn’t anything I felt was unforgivable. Parents who like to read what their kids are reading will find it engaging as well. The dialogue is good, funny at times, and the story moves along smoothly to a satisfying end that should lead well into the next book. An easy recommend.

Wyshea Shadows by Geoffrey Saign


Wyshea Shadows by Geoffrey Saign
– Divided Draghons Book One

Publisher: KiraKu Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult
Length: Full (307 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Age:  16+
Rating: Best Book
Review by: Orchid

A hundred-year-war that won’t end…

Three young women sworn to kill each other…

Famere, the wyshea butcher, seeks vengeance with loyal mythic beasts called shadows, Jennelle, commander of the Northerners, fights for her people’s survival using brilliant strategies, Camette, a wild divided draghon, searches for her kidnapped lover…Famere, Jennelle, and Camette must discover who is friend or enemy, who is responsible for the hundred-year dark sky and death mists, and if the men they adore will still love them.

From the award-winning author of WhipEye Chronicles comes the new epic fantasy series, Divided Draghons—an action-packed thriller with mystery, romance, and battles set in a world as beautiful, dangerous, and mysterious as the three heroic women—Famere, Jennelle, and Camette—who must fight for their people’s survival and the men they love.

The debut fantasy book from Geoffrey Saign, Wyshea Shadows, is a new addition to the great epic fantasy tradition of Dean Murray, Marc Secchia, and Ava Richardson.

When Famere unexpectedly becomes the Wyshea Guide instead of her proposed bond mate, she also bonds with the shadows who have returned after many decades away. With their help she leads her people to war, earning herself the nickname of Wyshea Butcher.

Jenelle becomes the leader of the Northerners after her father is killed by Famere. These two very intelligent women are the main pivot of the story, each a leader of her people, neither willing to allow the other races of the world to overrun their domains.

There are good books and there are great books, Wyshea Shadows is a great book. It’s too long to read all in one go, but I would have done this if it had been possible. There are male characters in this story, and they play strong roles, but the females are not overshadowed by them. The weaving together of males and females, the different races, magicians and wyshea is skilfully done. This is well crafted with a good flow between the different races and a strong story which is a pleasure to read. Excellent.

Snow Island by M.Y. Zeman


Snow Island by M.Y. Zeman
Chronicles of a Wererabbit

Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (250 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Vampires, werewolves, unicorns, pterodactyls, and other creatures from myth or brought back from extinction.

A deadly monorail with an insanely cheery Artificial Intelligence tour guide.

A fortune teller’s frighteningly accurate prediction of death…

Snow Island begins five months after Snow Bunny with Snow, now 15, receiving an ominous prediction from a fortune teller. She travels to a mysterious island with Josh, her dads, her friends David and Charlene to find out what happened to the creatures and werewolves that have been disappearing.

Chronicles of Wererabbit—a young adult paranormal/fantasy series about a girl who can shift into a rabbit and her journey to become a hero.

There’s never been an island quite like this one before.

Snow’s character development continued to surprise me in all kinds of wonderful ways. I liked her quite a bit in the beginning of this series, but seeing how she’s changed over the course of the first three tales of her life has only made me love her more than I ever have before. She has such a sweet and playful personality that I always look forward to seeing what she’ll do next.

There was a lot of violence in this story. While I deeply enjoyed the plot itself, I’m cautious about what age range I’d recommend it to because of how often various characters were harmed in sometimes pretty terrible ways. There was a disconnect between scenes like these and the overall tone of the plot that seemed to be written for much younger readers. If the author decides to continue this series, I hope the target audience will be made more clear as the storytelling itself was excellent.

The creatures living on the island that Snow and her companions travelled to were deliciously frightening. All of the descriptions of them were so vivid that I almost felt as though they were creeping up behind me when I read about all of the ways they could possibly harm someone. There were some incredibly creative twists here about what dangerous creatures look like and and what they’re capable of.

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

Snow Island: Chronicles of a Wererabbit made me grin. I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who is in the mood for an adventure.

The People That Fall Out of Pictures by Anne Wentworth


The People That Fall Out of Pictures by Anne Wentworth
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (171 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Every family has at least one secret, right? Jolene Poetic has just completed seventh grade and thanks to Billy Marsden, is now looking ahead to a rather lonely summer. Jolene has a couple of strikes against her when it comes to making friends. Her Aunt Agatha is mentally ill and her family are considered poor. What Jolene doesn’t know is that this is going to be the most amazing summer of her life and it has to do with the ancient painting on their wall. She is about to be told the family secret and meet The People That Fall Out Of Pictures. Her life and how she sees things will never be the same again.

If Jolene can somehow avoid being bullied again this summer, she just might have a nice vacation.

I loved the way the plot talked about mental illness. Aunt Agatha’s illness was part of who she was, but it wasn’t the biggest or even the most important part of her life. She also had many interests, habits, flaws, and quirks that made her feel well-rounded and like a real person to me. This is something that I’d specifically recommend to kids who have a personal connection to this topic because of how well it explains what it’s like to live with this sort of condition and well as what it’s like to care about someone who is dealing with it.

This book asked many questions about the identities and pasts of certain characters that it either never answered or only answered in part. I enjoyed all of clever hints about theses topics that other characters dropped in the beginning, but I would have liked to have much more information about them eventually. It was disappointing to have so many loose strings left hanging at the end.

The magic in this universe was unpredictable in a good way. It regularly moved back and forth between silly and serious topics. I especially enjoyed the scenes that showed how Jolene and her family lived ordinary lives that were occasionally interrupted by things that could never be explained by logic or science. This was a fantastic choice for a tale that would joke about eating lots of sugary snacks one minute and then switch to discussing something hard like grief the next.

Give The People That Fall Out of Pictures a try if you like magical stories that are set in the present day.

The Magician’s Workshop: Volume One by Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr


The Magician’s Workshop: Volume One by Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr
Publisher: Wondertale
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (250 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Poinsettia

Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is awarded the title of magician and given fame, power, riches, and glory. Journey with a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop.

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

Follow the adventures of Kai, Layauna, and a boatload of other characters as they struggle to grow up well in this fantastical world.

Everyone in O’ceea has magic, but not everyone is allowed to use it.

Mr. Hansen and Mr. Fehr have done an excellent job building O’ceea. It is a very well thought out world filled with magic and a host of interesting characters. Everyone in O’ceea has the ability to make projections, which I think is a very intriguing concept. Projections are magical illusions, and the more skilled a person is, the more realistic their projections are. Projections can’t hurt people, but they can destroy other projections, which can be quite expensive. Consequently, there are restrictions on who can make projections and at what level.

Only the best of the best can study at the Magician’s Workshop, and to even have a chance at entering the workshop a person has to have a color, which seems to be something internal that a person is either born with or not. When a person turns 16, they attend the Color Ceremony where they stand before a puller and it is determined if they have a color or not. Their entire future pivots on that moment. I’m not sure if having a color makes a person’s projections better, and even in O’ceea this seems to be up for debate. I found this all extremely fascinating, and I couldn’t wait to learn more.

I must inform readers that this story is told from the viewpoints of six main characters. Please don’t be intimidated by this. When the viewpoint changes, it is clearly marked and each character’s story is unique. I had no trouble keeping them separate, and I never felt confused or lost. I think telling the story in multiple viewpoints is a great way to expose the readers to different parts of O’ceea without resorting to exposition. The details of O’ceea and the people who live there are woven seamlessly into the plot of each character. As a result, the pacing never suffers.

When I finished reading, I was surprised to discover that I’m attached to all six of the characters for various reasons. I enjoyed getting to know each one as they prepared for the Color Ceremony. Some characters want to have a color. Others would be fine if they were found void. This installment of the series ends on the cusp of the Color Ceremony, and I desperately want to know what will happen to each character.

I enjoyed reading The Magician’s Workshop immensely. I had so much fun exploring the world of O’ceea, and I can’t wait to read the next volume.

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.

Or the Girl Dies by Rachel Rust


Or the Girl Dies by Rachel Rust
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Young Adult
Length: Full (168 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Stargazer

One school project. One kidnapping. One night they won’t forget. Natalie is an honors student with perfect grades. Victor is a drug dealer with a cryptic past. When a school assignment forces them to work together, things quickly spiral out of control. Victor fails to complete his part of their project, so Natalie hunts him down the night before it’s due. But Victor’s kingpin boss interrupts their study date and drags Natalie down into a seedy underworld where anything can be bought and sold—including her. Over the course of one night—while dodging bad guys and trying not to inhale—Natalie discovers shocking truths about Victor. And she’ll need to choose between preserving her perfect academic future and helping him escape his troubled past. Except one final revelation about Victor may be too much for Natalie to survive.

The senior year of high school is all about looking to the future right? What happens when one night can change everything?

When Natalie is paired with Victor for a class project that can make or break her opportunity to go to a prestigious college, she only has a couple of choices. But, when she tries to get Victor to participate in the project she finds that she bites off much more than she can chew.

Natalie comes out of her bubble of the rich life and in one night wades through the dark underbelly of drugs and human trafficking. Each choice that Natalie makes is more difficult than the last. Throughout this one night and into the next day, Natalie is forced to choose between who she should trust and who she can trust.

The author, Rachel Rust, tells the story from the perspective of Natalie in such a way that the reader feels entwined with the decisions that Natalie makes. From the fateful choice of trying to get Victor to do his part of the assignment to the desire to help Victor escape from the murky world in which he has become entangled.

The feelings of Natalie are those which the reader can easily identify with. The dark situations and difficult choices are those which many readers and identify and may have even dealt with personally. While the age recommendation is higher due to adult situations and drug use, this story will resonate with many readers on a personal level.

After struggling through the night, the reader is able to breathe a sigh of relief only to face more twists and turns into the story. The author acts as a fantastic story teller and keeps pulling the reader back into the story. Essentially the author teaches the reader to question those who walk in the world with us, and look at the underlying desires which drive us to struggle through each day.

Make sure you don’t miss Rachel Rust’s fantastic book, Or the Girl Dies!