Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon by Judy Young


Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon by Judy Young
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Historical
Length: Short Story ( 32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by Astilbe

Outside Beijing, China, in the year 1572, nine-year-old Hu-Wan tends the vegetable garden with his grandfather. Their specialty is growing gourds that are made into ladles and bowls and sold in the marketplace. Each year, one special gourd is made into a cricket cage. This year, it is Hu-Wan’s turn to grow and carve the special gourd. He decides it should be carved into the shape of a sleeping dragon. When Hu-Wan learns that the emperor has died and his nine-year-old son is named Emperor of China, he decides to give the dragon cricket cage to the young emperor to offer comfort and cheer.

A gift doesn’t have to cost money in order to be valuable.

Hu Wan was a very likeable main character. He wasn’t afraid to work hard, he had a gentle personality, and he had a lot of empathy for people near him who were struggling with physical or emotional health problems. With every scene I became even more fond of him. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to him next.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing the ending. It happened so suddenly that I was surprised by the fact it was over. Had it been given as much attention as the beginning and middle of this tale, I would have chosen a much higher rating for this book as I really enjoyed the storytelling overall.

The relationship between Hu Wan and his grandfather was so kind and supportive. What I found most interesting about their family was how much time they spent showing each other how they felt instead of talking about it. The audience had to read between the lines in order to see how much these characters really did care for each other. Finding the small gestures that showed just how close their family was to each other was one of my favorite parts of the plot.

Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon was a captivating story that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something that will make them feel as though they’ve just been transported hundreds of years in the past.

The Time Hunters by Carl Ashmore


The Time Hunters by Carl Ashmore
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (198 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Becky is a typical thirteen year old girl. She likes Facebook, her friends, and plenty of sleep. So when she and her brother, Joe, are invited to stay with their ‘loony’ Uncle Percy at his stately home, she thinks it’ll be the worst summer ever. What she doesn’t realise is that Bowen Hall is also home to a baby Triceratops, two Sabre-tooth tigers and the mythic hero, Will Scarlet…

‘The Time Hunters’ is a thrilling adventure that takes Becky, Joe, Uncle Percy and Will on a quest through time to find the legendary Golden Fleece.

Even the distant past is only a heartbeat away for anyone who has a time machine.

There are many reasons why I like time travel stories. Two of the biggest reasons why they appeal to me have to do with how cool it would be to actually see an extinct species in person or have a conversation with a famous historical person. Watching Becky and Joe do both of these things was a thrill. They really appreciated the fact that they were experiencing things that should not have been possible, and that made me curious to see how they’d react once their adventures became even more exciting.

The beginning was confusing to me because the plot introduced a large number of characters without describing who most of them were or how they knew each other. When this was combined with the limited amount of time the narrator spent explaining what the main conflicts were and why certain characters were acting so afraid, I struggled even more to understand what was going on. There were too many vague hints and not enough exposition.

One of my favorite parts of this tale was how nicely it was paced. There was a lot going on in the plot, and the author kept everything moving quickly from the first scene to the last one. This strong and even pacing made it difficult for me to take breaks while I was reading. Every chapter had something new and exciting in it, and I wanted to find out what secrets all of them held.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure, look no further than The Time Hunters.

Seer’s Fate: Faylands by Annalisa Ely


Seer’s Fate: Faylands by Annalisa Ely
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (46 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Journey through strange lands with stranger companions in this fast-paced fantasy short story, the first of the Seer’s Fate series.

Some adventurer’s guiding force is greed; for others it’s excitement or necessity. Collin Damion just goes where his visions tell him. But now they’re sending him farther than he’s ever gone, into hostile territory where the land itself doesn’t want him. He’ll have to hide every step along the way while trying to help the very people who mustn’t discover him, negotiate unfamiliar terrain, and make nice with magical creatures he’s never heard of before. And this is only the start of a quest that will take him across a continent and into ever greater danger.

But his mission isn’t solo anymore. Each of his companions will have their own motivations, and only together will they reach their goals.

Collin was born different. He’s about to find out what it means to have his special powers and why he isn’t like anyone else in his family.

The plot itself was exciting. I enjoyed the quick pace of it, especially once the individuals who would become Collin’s companions were introduced and their quest really started to get rolling. They sounded like fascinating folks, so I couldn’t wait to see how they’d react to all of the dangerous things they were about to face.

This story would have benefitted from more detail. The narrator spent so little time describing the settings and characters that I had a hard time visualizing what was happening and who it was happening to. It was something I especially noticed when the characters were first being introduced and the narrator spent such a brief amount of time describing who they were and what they looked like.

I liked the way the author included so many different intelligent and human-like races in this universe. Humans weren’t the only ones who lived there by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, humans weren’t even the most interesting group of people either! The more I learned about the other races, the more curious I became to find out what they were like and how they were different from the average homo sapian.

While I understand that this is the first instalment of a series, I would have preferred to see more care taken with how the last scene was written. I was expecting to have plenty of loose ends left to be resolved later on in this series, but I was surprised by how abruptly the storytelling stopped in the last paragraph. There wasn’t a sense of closure for any of the conflicts that the characters had been wrestling with. Having even one of them wrapped up in some way would have gone a long way in keeping this reader satisfied.

The dialogue was nicely written. This wasn’t the kind of tale that had a lot of room to spare for long, drawn-out conversations, so I appreciated the fact that everyone kept their chats short and to the point. That was a good choice for something this fast-paced and full of action.

If you’re in the mood for an adventure, go read Seer’s Fate: Faylands.

Eleven Dancing Sisters by Melody Wiklund


Eleven Dancing Sisters by Melody Wiklund
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (218 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Erin has a good reason for sneaking into a fae castle: her sisters—princesses of Erdhea—have been secretly visiting it for months, and she just knows they’re in trouble. Unfortunately that’s not an excuse she can give fae lord Desmond when she gets caught. Because Erin is a princess too, and whatever schemes Desmond has, Erin wants no part of them. Instead, she tells him she’s a simple war nurse, and offers no excuse at all.

Desmond can’t have humans wandering in and out of his castle, not when the Fae’s presence in Erdhea must remain hidden. He needs to know how and why Erin sneaked in. But before long, his concerns about Erin are blooming into interest, then fascination, then something else altogether. Under the eye of a lovelorn fae lord, can Erin keep her secrets? Will she even want to?

The eleven dancing sisters are princesses, but in actual fact there are twelve of them. Patience, who now goes by the name of Erin, ran away from home three years ago to be a nurse in the war. On her return nobody recognizes her due to the horrendous burns to her face and body and the lack of one eye.

This is an intriguing story with the princesses going into the fae realm of Lord Desmond Tyraene. Erin has a cloak to make her invisible and follows them.

Erin is a very strong character but the only way I could believe her sisters didn’t recognize her was due to not expecting to see her in the fae realm. I would have thought the way she spoke or moved would have been a clue to her identity. Plus the reason for her sisters to make a bargain with the fae lord was not a forceful enough temptation.

The story was well written with a strong plot but at times my belief was stretched as the story weakened at times before picking up again. I enjoyed the book and would read another by this author as despite the above, it was pleasant to read.

Escape from Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth


Escape from Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Full Length (180 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Everyone in Arnn – a small farming town with more legends than residents – knows the story of Witchwood Hollow: if you venture into the whispering forest, the witch will trap your soul among the shadowed trees.

After losing her parents in a horrific terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, fifteen-year-old Honoria and her older brother escape New York City to Arnn. In the lure of that perpetual darkness, Honoria finds hope, when she should be afraid.

Perhaps the witch can reunite her with her lost parents. Awakening the witch, however, brings more than salvation from mourning, for Honoria discovers a past of missing children and broken promises.

To save the citizens of Arnn from becoming the witch’s next victims, she must find the truth behind the woman’s madness.

How deep into Witchwood Hollow does Honoria dare venture?

Anything can happen when someone gets lost in the woods.

Ms. Elizabeth did an excellent job of blending multiple genres together into one storyline. It was equally a ghost story, a mystery, and a science fiction novel. I honestly couldn’t narrow it down any further than that because of how all of these elements of the plot worked together to show what happened to every character who accidentally or purposefully found themselves in Witchwood Hollow.

While it was incredibly interesting to see how the town of Arnn had changed from one century to the next, I do wish that I’d been able to get to know the characters better than I did. It was confusing to move between three different time periods. Each one of them had a fairly large cast of characters to introduce to the reader, and they all had complicated plots to unravel as well. I met several unique characters in each era, but I felt like I never had the chance to learn more than pretty basic basic information about their personalities and origins. It would have been nice to dive into their lives more deeply.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this book was how it explored grief. All of the characters had been through some kind of trauma or loss, and all of them were working through the long-term consequences of that. It was fascinating to see how people in different eras thought about their grief and what kinds of coping skills they used to get through it. These scenes were as poignant as they were beautiful.

Escape from Witchwood Hollow should be read by anyone who is in the mood for something thought provoking.

Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story by T.L. Branson


Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story by T.L. Branson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (58 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Kingdoms rise and fall by the blade.

For Davion Callum, that blade is closer than he’d like. Ever the pawn in a scheme of epic proportions, he is given a choice to stand beside those who would wield him as a weapon or defend those who would call him friend.

When the lines blur between ally and enemy, all is not as it seems. Will he uncover the truth? And what will he do when he does?

Orphans don’t have anyone they can rely on if they make a mistake, so failure isn’t an option for Callum.

Mr. Branson sure knows how to write an exciting battle scene. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I look forward to reading his stories, and this one was no exception to that rule. I deeply enjoyed seeing how Callum reacted to sword fights and battles in general. He was a courageous character in even the scariest circumstances, and that made me want to see him spend even more time in battle.

The romantic subplot felt completely out of place. I was surprised when it suddenly popped up because the main character had spent most of his time up until that point simply trying to survive. Since he hadn’t resolved any of the conflicts that were threatening his safety, it didn’t make sense to me for him to suddenly be thinking about romance when his life was still in danger.

Callum’s character development was handled nicely. He only had a limited amount of time to show the audience how he’d changed as a result of his experiences, but I noticed several subtle changes in his behavior as he learned from his past and grew as a person. It was rewarding to see him mature before my eyes. I’m hoping he will appear again in a future tale from the author so that I’ll be able to continue watching him become the man I saw glimpses of today.

Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story should be read by anyone who in the mood for some medieval swordplay.

Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards


Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (286 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: Best Book
Review by: Orchid

BoM LASR YA copy

Fairy tales are simply tales, told and re-told, but changed over time. It has been four months since Maggie learned the dark truth behind the tale of the Princess and the Pea and freed Princess Lindy from the cursed Emerald. Lindy is now back in the past where she belongs, queen of her tiny Scandinavian country, and Maggie is a fully reformed ex-stalker. Except … she can’t stop doing internet searches on Lindy and her country. One morning, Maggie wakes to find history turned on its head. Apparently, you can’t destroy a centuries-old curse without consequence. In order to prevent the changes in history from wiping out the present, Maggie resurrects her stalking gene and learns that fairy tales don’t stay dead for long. Or at all. Back in 1623, Lindy is juggling a threat to her family, a handsome new guard she’s not supposed to have feelings for, and a cursed Topaz with ties to the tale of Thumbelina. When past and present collide, Lindy and Maggie are brought together again, and another of Andersen’s tales turns from twisted fiction to chilling fact.

Welcome to Valestenia, a 17th century country on the tip of modern-day Sweden. Queen Shalyndria has been kept in slavery for four hundred years, but now she has returned to her own time and finds herself thrust onto the throne.

Maggie is a present day teenager who had a hand in releasing the Queen from slavery. Shalyndria’s brother, Garon, has come forward in time as he and Maggie have fallen in love.

When Maggie’s computer shows an ever changing history to what she knows to be true, Garon returns to the 17th century to put things right. When he doesn’t return Maggie and her brother Tanner search for Garon and find a way to travel to the past to help.

This book is full of present day travels, historical problems needing to be put right, and the best thing of all – Magic! The characters could be the kids next door, while the new Queen shows the uncertainty of one thrust into the limelight of ruling a country. Even the fantasy characters had me looking over my shoulder to make sure they weren’t real and creeping up on me.

This book is a true fantasy novel. No goblins and elves, or dragons and fairies, this is magic as used by real people (well real in the book) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Brilliant book. Exceptionally good story. A must read.

Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre


Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (36 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

In a faraway village there lives a farmer with his wife. The summer harvest has failed and winter already arrives. So, how should they feed their three sons? The idea arises to fetch wood in the northern forest. They could dry it, sell it from door to door and earn some money to buy food.

Frede knows that his parents are doing their best, but is it enough to withstand the most barren period of the year? Together with his brothers, Rhune and Folke, he wants to visit Santa and ask him for help. But, first they must travel through that extensive forest where the evil Elf King lurks.

One bad harvest can seriously hurt anyone who makes their living through farming. Only time will tell if Frede and his family will have enough food to get through the winter.

Frede was such a brave boy. He faced all kinds of dangers while he was trying to travel to Santa’s house, yet he never gave up no matter how difficult his journey became. He kept pushing on even when it looked like there was no way to win. I especially enjoyed seeing how he reacted to the elves he met on the way. Not all of them were friendly, but he didn’t let that stop him.

There were a few editing issues. I noticed multiple run-on sentences and punctuation errors. Some of them took a minute for me to figure out because they could be interpreted in more than one way. A couple of sentences also seemed to be missing important words. If not for these errors, I would have chosen a much higher rating as the storytelling itself was creative and beautiful.

This book was full of magic that refused to be tamed. Everything from the elves to the forest itself was so wildly different from how humans behave that I didn’t know what to expect from them next. This is exactly the kind of storytelling I always hope to find in fairy tales, so I was quite happy with how unpredictable these scenes were. They made my heart beat faster in a good way.

Frede and Santa should be read by anyone who loves Christmas.

The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan


The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre: Middle Grade, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (112 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Experience the magic of authentic giving in this holiday classic from the Newbery Award–winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall.

All year long Lily and Liam look forward to the holidays at their grandparents’ farm. It’s always the perfect trip: walking to the lilac library, trimming the tree, giving gifts. But this year, thanks to a white cow alone in the meadow, things will be different. This holiday, Lily and Liam will find out the meaning of a special gift.

This holiday classic from a beloved author rings in the season by celebrating the joys of family, community, and true giving.

No one should be lonely over Christmas, not even a cow!

Lily was a kind and compassionate girl who obviously loved her younger brother a lot. It was heartwarming to see how hard she worked to make him feel better about White Cow being all alone in the barn, especially once she realized that he wasn’t going to give up until he figured out how to find a friend for that lonely cow. Some of the most memorable scenes showed what happened after she decided to help him track down another cow before Christmas arrived.

I would have liked to see more time developing Lily and Liam’s characters. There were a few times in the plot when I wondered if Liam was supposed to be written as a kid who was living with an invisible disability because of how difficult it was for him to accept change and how determined he was to follow the same routine every day. Lily’s strong urge to protect her brother was also something that caught my attention. While all of these things could have simply been normal parts of their personalities and not hints about how a family dealing with special needs might experience the world, it would have been nice to know for sure how I should be reading that.

One of the nice things about living in a small town is how people in rural areas can look out for each other. I really liked seeing how the adults in that community quietly looked out for Lily and Liam. These kids were obviously known to be the visiting grandkids of a certain couple, and I enjoyed seeing how they tried to reach their goal while being surrounded by adults who were keeping a friendly eye on the situation.

The True Gift is something I’d recommend to anyone who loves animals.

Nine Short Chapter Books by Gita V. Reddy

Nine Short Chapter Books by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (161 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

As the title suggests, this is a collection of short chapter books by Gita V. Reddy. The chapters are short and the word count of each book is between 5000 to 7000 words. The book also introduces young readers to different genres. A brief description of each title is given below.

THE HOMELESS BIRDS (Fantasy)

A young bird is left behind by his flock. Unable to fly by direction, he takes the help of a boy, and shares with him the plight of his flock.

THE MAGICIAN’S TURBAN (Magic)

Magic is no bag of tricks, discover two boys after they are trapped in the magician’s turban.

KNIFE AND FORK (Fable)

A monkey spends some time in the city. When he returns to the forest, he is a changed monkey – but not for the better.

DAKSHA THE MEDICINE GIRL (Geography &Culture)

A Himalayan girl who has knowledge of herbal medicine refuses to live away from her hamlet and study in a school. Until a resourceful doctor finds a way.

MAKE A WISH (Fairytale)

Niki had only one wish: to meet a fairy. It comes true and now the fairy wants to grant Niki a wish. What should niki wish for?

KRISHTA, DAUGHTER OF MARTEV (Science Fiction)

Krishta of Planet Ayzeon is a poor student. She comes to Earth to understand the basics of science and becomes friends with a student working in a lab. All goes well until Ikor from her planet wants revenge.

THE FORBIDDEN FOREST (Action and Adventure)

The animals are mysteriously straying out of their habitat. A factory that is shut is working secretly. Are the two connected? Abhi and his cousins find out.

DEARIE (Animal Story)

Everything scares Dearie. When his fear becomes a thread to the herd, he is made to leave. If Dearie must stay survive, he must learn to conquer fear.

THE MISSING GIRL (General Fiction)

Sneha goes missing. The presence of strange car points to a kidnap. But Sneha is having an adventure – an adventure of a different kind.

There’s something for everyone in this collection.

After not being able to fall asleep one night, Ranjan found a lost bird named Vajra who could talk in “The Homeless Birds” and decided to help his new buddy find his family. Ranjan was such a kind boy that I couldn’t wait to find out how he’d react to his magical adventure. I enjoyed seeing how he reacted to everything that happened to him. This felt like a modern fairy tale, and I’m a big fan of that genre. I also appreciated how open-ended the final scene was. It could easily lead to a sequel, but it also gave this reader plenty up to think about if Ms. Reddy doesn’t end up turning this into a series.

Two young friends named Ismail and Hassan met a magician and tried to figure out his secrets in “The Magician’s Turban.” Was the magician cleverly tricking them, or was he really capable of making things appear and disappear out of thin air? I was fascinated by how hard these characters worked to learn the answer to this question, especially during the scenes that honestly could have been explained either way.

“Knife and Fork” was a fable that showed what happened to a monkey named Bholu who heard rumors about what life was like outside of the forest and couldn’t wait to find out if they were true. After he returned from his adventures, he tried to teach the other monkeys about what he’d seen. The lessons in it were a little hard to pick out since all of the characters had flaws that made it hard for me to relate to them. I would have liked to see more examples of their good sides so that it would easier to understand where they were coming from.

The title of “Daksha the Medicine Girl” told me almost everything I needed to know about the premise. Watching her settle into a long, snowy winter in her isolated mountain village made me wonder what would happen to her before spring arrived. I liked seeing how brave she was when something frightening happened just after the first big snowfall that kept anyone from going for help. She was a kind and mature girl for her age, and it showed.

Niki decided to find out if fairies were real once and for all in “Make a Wish” by using her birthday wish to meet one. After being told by the fairy she could make another wish, she had to choose what to ask for next. The problem she tried to solve was one that most kids never have to think about, so I was curious to see if it would really be solved and how the fairy would react to such an unselfish request. This was something that adult readers may enjoy just as much as the intended audience.

“Krishta, Daughter of Martev” followed a boy named Suraj who had to stay after class to make up missing chemistry schoolwork from an illness he had developed earlier in the year. While I liked seeing how these characters met and discovering what Krishta wanted from her new friend, the pacing was so slow that I had trouble staying interested in the plot. I struggled to keep reading it because of this.

In “The Forbidden Forest,” Uday introduced his friend to his cousins and planned out a fun visit for all of them. After getting into some minor mischief, they decided to play detective and find out if any of the adults were secretly committing crimes. I enjoyed this character’s playful sense of adventure. He was good at paying close attention to his surroundings, and that made for some entertaining storytelling.

Anyone who skips around in anthologies should read “Dearie” first. It was about a delicate fawn named Dearie who had to learn a lot of lessons about surviving in the forest as he grew up. This was by far my favorite story here because of much the main character changed between his birth and who he was as an adult. Life isn’t easy for wild animals, and Dearie had to work hard to stay safe once he was too big to be protected by his mother. Many of the rules he learned can apply to humans, too, and that was yet another reason why I liked this one so much.

Sneha sent her whole neighbourhood into a panic after she failed come home on time one night in “The Missing Girl.” Some of the details of what really happened to Sneha made me wonder if kids would try to recreate what happened to her. I wouldn’t have a problem giving this to older children who understood why her choices could be so dangerous if they were repeated in the real world, but I’d be cautious about sharing them with anyone who was impressionable or impulsive. With that being said, she did have a charming personality and a real knack for figuring out problems.

Nine Short Chapter Books was a creative collection that I’d recommend to any young reader who is ready for longer pieces of fiction.