This Body Won’t Break: Part One by Lea McKee


This Body Won’t Break: Part One by Lea McKee
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror
Length: Short Story (110 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The truth doesn’t always set you free.

Orphaned as a child, Joanna has lived her entire life in the care of the New Terra Alliance. On the verge of turning eighteen, Joanna eagerly awaits her release into what remains of society.

It was a beautiful lie.

Joanna was never meant to leave. She is part of the August Harvest, slated to die before the month’s end. With a rogue soldier’s promise to find her a way out, Joanna dares to hope. But if the NTA finds out what she knows, it won’t only be her own life at stake, but the life of the handsome soldier who has vowed to set her free.

Fans of Divergent, The Darkest Minds, and The Handmaid’s Tale will love this dystopian story of twisted secrets, romance, and page-turning suspense.

Killing perfectly healthy teenagers doesn’t make any sense. Then again, many things in this world don’t make sense, and Joanna doesn’t have much time left to figure them all out.

The pacing was so strong that I read the whole thing in one sitting. Every scene made me ask more questions, and I couldn’t stop until I knew what would happen to the characters I’d come to care about so much. I especially liked how much attention was paid to keeping Joanna focused on her goals. No matter what happened, she always pressed forward and kept trying to figure out what was really going on. This made me eager to read the rest of this series once it’s released.

While I appreciated the fact that Joanna had her fair share of flaws, there were a couple of times when the choices she made were so foolish that I had trouble taking her seriously. She didn’t seem to have a lot of common sense even in situations that she should have known were risky. I loved everything else about this tale, so I’m hoping that this will be something that leads to a lot of personal growth for her in the future.

This is the beginning of a serial. There were obviously parts of the world building that are being held back until parts two or later to explain to the audience. With that being said, I was impressed with what was revealed so far. The way this society worked made a lot of sense to me. Yes, the horror elements of the plot made me shudder, but they also fit in well with everything else the audience was taught about who the New Terra Alliance were and how they operated.

This Body Won’t Break: Part One was a wild ride. It should be read by anyone who enjoys dystopian stories.

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.

Lovely Scars by Cassandra Jamison

Lovely Scars by Cassandra Jamison
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (246 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Snooping on your boyfriend’s phone is never a good idea. Collins can’t help herself after he unexpectedly commits suicide, but what she finds makes her grateful he’s dead. Collins Carpenter has always been the textbook good girl until her freshman year of college when an unplanned pregnancy with her best friend, Everett, complicates everything. In a desperate attempt to deny her feelings for her child’s father and her jealousy toward his new girlfriend, Collins jumps into a relationship with Brock Webber. Nobody suspects that his good looks and charm masks something quite sinister until after his death, when the things he had been involved in finally come to light. Disturbing and inexplicable events leave Collins wondering if Brock’s spirit is not at rest or if somebody from his past is after her. Somebody who may be closer than she thinks.

Not every man who tries to sweep you off of your feet is going to turn out to be Prince Charming.

Wow, this was scary! I really appreciated the peaceful beginning. It lulled me into a false sense of security before Collins realized that the handsome guy she’d just met wasn’t necessarily who he portrayed himself to be. There were times when I was nearly as shocked as she was by his behaviour even though I’d read the blurb and obviously knew that some unsettling experiences were headed her way. I only grew more apprehensive as the story moved forward and I became less and less sure that my theories about what was going on with Brock were actually correct. Not knowing these things only made him feel more chilling to me.

Collins made a lot of senseless decisions in this book. There were times when I had to stop reading and shake my head because I couldn’t understand why she did so many things that she knew were dangerous or ill-advised. While the plot itself was excellent, I had a tough time connecting to this character because of how little common sense she had.

The romance was beautiful. I desperately wanted the characters involved in it to admit their feelings for each other and find a way to be together. They were perfect for each other in just about every way. One of the biggest reasons why I read this tale as quickly as I did is that I couldn’t wait to find out when or if this might happen. I honestly wasn’t sure what was going to happen with them, and that made it impossible for me to stop reading.

Lovely Scars should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a truly frightening mystery.

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.

Lost in Wonderland by Nicky Peacock

Lost in Wonderland by Nicky Peacock

Lost in Wonderland by Nicky Peacock
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (124 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The Twisted and the Brave, 1

Monsters, serial killers, and imaginary friends—being a Wonderlander can be murder…

Once upon a time, Kayla was lost. Then she found Wonderland, but not the one you know. Run by ex-government agents and funded by an eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire, this Wonderland is the name of a collective of highly trained vigilantes who hunt serial killers. Now Kayla, aka Mouse, works tirelessly alongside her fellow Wonderlanders, Rabbit and Cheshire, baiting dangerous murderers. But even her extensive training hasn’t prepared her for the return of her older brother…

Shilo has spent most of his life in an insane asylum, convinced his mother was abducted by a sinister Alaskan monster who lures the lost away to feast upon their flesh. And now he’s certain that his sister is in the same monster’s crosshairs. But if Shilo is going to save what’s left of his family, he’ll have to convince his sister that maybe, just maybe, we’re all a little mad.

14+ due to violence and adult situations

The police can’t stop every bad guy. Luckily the cops aren’t the only ones looking for them.

Kayla was tough and brave. She wasn’t the sort of character who reveals everything about herself to the audience right away. I appreciated this about her because it gave me the chance to make some guesses about the kind of person she might be before any of my questions were answered. Having to wait for these answers made me like Kayla even more than I might have otherwise because of how much fun I had trying to figure her out.

With that being said, I would have liked to have more information about how Kayla became such a skilled fighter so early in life. The narrator gave a brief explanation of her training, but there were certain things that were barely mentioned at all. For example, I wondered how she could be unusually strong. She was described as thin and petite for her age, so I was never quite sure if her strength came from her body itself or if there was some kind of paranormal explanation for it.

I’ll be honest with you. There were some pretty bloody sections in this tale. All of that violence is why the age recommendation is as high as it is. Those scenes were completely necessary in order to understand why Kayla behaved the way she did, though. They were never gratuitous. All of them had their place in the plot, and I’m glad they were included even though they raised the age limit a few years higher than I might have otherwise chosen.

It was distracting to switch from one narrator to the next one so often. There were so many of them that I sometimes had trouble remembering who was who. This technique would have worked in a full-length novel, but there wasn’t a lot of space in this short story for me to get to know so many different narrators. I would have preferred to stick with only one or two of them.

The Kushtaka, the Alaskan monster, was creepy. The scariest scenes in this book were the ones that talked about what this creature was capable of and how it decided who to hunt next. I’d never heard of this Tlingit legend before so I was very glad that the narrators spent as much time describing it as they did.

Give Lost in Wonderland a try if you enjoy dark urban fantasy.

Shivers by Heather Beck

Shivers by Heather Beck
Shivers by Heather Beck
Publisher: Treasure Cove Books
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Short Story (53 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Feel the chill…

Heather Beck presents Shivers, an anthology of curses and secrets.

Night Of The Vampire
Strange rituals, strict curfews, people who live in constant fear…there’s something wrong in Kristine’s new town of Darscadia; something that only comes out at night to drink human blood.

Long Live The Bonsai
When twins, Caddy and Cody find a bonsai tree in an old attic, they discover that it holds the secret to eternal youth.

The Wildest West
A school trip turns into a nightmare when the class arrives in a ghost town that was once home to three very evil cowboys.

Curses Never Die
Beneath the waters of Hawaii lies a rare and beautiful diamond, but when amateur divers, Erin and Dustin, discover the treasure, they learn the hard way that it’s cursed.

There are all kinds of weird and unexpected things to find out there if you know where to look.

Kristine was so brave in “Night of the Vampire.” I liked seeing how she pieced all of the clues together about what was really going on in Darscadia. What I liked even more than that, though, was seeing how quickly she came up with a plan once she figured out what she was dealing with. She was such a smart main character. While I don’t know if Ms. Beck is planning to write a sequel about her adventures, I’d be interested in finding out what happens to Kristine next if the author does write one.

My favorite story in this collection was “Long Live the Bonsai.” It was such a creative read, especially once I finished the first scene or two and the characters started to get to know each other better. Their conversations were often hilarious. I also liked seeing how Caddy and Cody reacted to the strange, little Bonsai tree once they realized that it wasn’t an ordinary plant. It was the same way I would have reacted in that situation!

There were certain things about “The Wildest West” that I never quite understood. While I liked the fast-paced and exciting storyline, the time travel sections in it weren’t explained well. I would have loved to know more about how that idea in this universe and why the characters seemed to be able to do it so easily. It was such an important part of the plot that I expected the narrator to spend a lot more time talking about it than they did.

The conflict between Erin and Dustin in “Curses Never Die” was handled well. I could understand both of their opinions about what they should do with the diamond. Seeing why they thought the way the did was a big part of why I enjoyed this story so much. Both of them stayed true to their personalities, and that made it really interesting to see how they reacted to what happened later on in the plot.

Shivers was scary in a fun way. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes being frightened.

The Silent End by Samuel Sattin

The Silent End by Samuel Sattin
The Silent End by Samuel Sattin
Publisher: Ragnarok Publications
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense, Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Length: Full Length (391 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Sorrel

In a mist-soaked town in the Pacific Northwest three teenagers find themselves pitted against an unearthly menace that dwells beneath the foundations of their high school…

Eberstark is an outcast and he’s tired of pretending everything is fine. His mother disappeared almost a year ago after a long battle with depression. His father is conducting experiments and running around town in the middle of night with a mysterious man known only as The Hat, ranting to Eberstark about beasts no one else can see.

Then on Halloween night, Eberstark, alongside his only friends Lexi and Gus, discovers something in the woods to challenge his father’s apparent insanity: a wounded monster. Rather than stir the town into a frenzy, the three friends hide the creature and are pulled into a web of conspiracy, dream-logic, and death. Faced down by living trucks, mirror-dwelling psychopaths, and hellish entities who lurk behind friendly faces, Eberstark, Lexi, and Gus find themselves battling to save not just themselves, but the soul of their quiet little town.

Typical school life offset by strange occurrences that mystifies these friends.

I don’t read as much YA as I used to since it has been difficult for me to find a book that I like. However, this was definitely one I liked!

This book is about friendship and how strong it can become. This book showed me that it doesn’t matter how different you are from each other, you can still become friends. The book starts out with two best friends (Eberstark and Gus) and a ‘maybe’ friend (Lexi ).

When Lexi finds a monster its near death, there starts a mystery that had me scratching my head trying to decide where it is going to go from there. What outrageous thing was going to happen next? The parts that seemed outrageous made sense in the end.

This is first and foremost a young adult horror. Truly, the fright factor is pretty intense. But it’s more than that. It’s realistic for today’s youth. Nothing is glossed over. It kept my interest and I wanted to read more and more of the book.

One thing I loved about this book was that the characters are very different from each other. For example, Gus was the brains while Lexi becomes the muscle within the group. The dialogue is well written and easy to follow.

The end was surprising. I truly couldn’t have guessed that it would end the way, but it did. And it was good. Easy recommend for YA readers looking for something fresh and scary.

The Bargain by Michael J. Shell

The Bargain by Michael J Shell
The Bargain by Michael J Shell
A Vertigo Novel
Publisher: Self
Genre: paranormal, suspense, occult/horror, young adult
Length: 224 pages
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Stephanotis

Several years after Mr. Pike’s mysterious visit, Jenna and Jackie have settled back into their everyday lives. On Jenna’s fourteenth birthday, her friend brings a spirit board to the sleepover and Jenna believes that she has contacted her dead mother.

It soon becomes apparent that the spirit is anything but Jenna’s mother. When her father is gunned down in front of her, Jenna makes a bargain with the strange spirit to save her father and herself. What Jenna does not consider is that a deal like this carries a steep price, one that only she can pay.

This is the third book it the Vertigo series that I’ve read and it was interesting to see how the main character, Jenna Parker, has grown physically and mentally since book one.

Jenna is now fourteen and I think the author did a great job making her character fit into a teenager’s likes, dislikes, and how they begin to view the world through a different perspective. However, Jenna isn’t your average girl. She has special abilities that she only really discovered in book two. This time around, she’s more her own person which often leads her into trouble.

I’ve always enjoyed reading about Jenna and the other cast of characters in this series. The dialogue is very natural sounding, there’s a nice flow to the stories and the pacing is spot on. I’ve never really been sure if this series is for young adults, adults or both, but after reading this installment, I think I’d recommend it to young adults. It has suspense, the occult, lots of what’s going to happen next, that I feel this age group will enjoy. There’s also the opportunity to relate to Jenna as she moves from tween to someone who’s trying to deal with their parents, step-parent and all while trying to find their place in the world.

While this could be read as a standalone book, I do think you should read the other two books to get the most out of the characters and plot. Will there be a fourth installment? It looks like the author went with an opening ending so it’s possible we’ll see Jenna again.

At First, You Hear the Silence by Mark Fuller Dillon

At First, You Hear the Silence by Mark Fuller Dillon
At First, You Hear the Silence by Mark Fuller Dillon
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Historical
Length: Short Story (19 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

At thirteen, Philippe can see his father trapped in a world of secrets and silence, a world with no place for honesty or courage. But when the walls of that world fall apart, and something from outside breaks in, the silence becomes a warning shout… and Philippe will be tested in ways his father could never imagine. This is a dark modern fantasy, suitable for Young Adult to Adult readers.

There is such a thing as too much silence. Philippe is about to discover why this is so and what happens when the birds stop singing.

The descriptions of everything from the place where the main character lived to what his pets looked like were incredibly vivid. At times I felt as thought I were watching a short film instead of reading a story because of how clearly I could picture every single scene in my mind. This is the kind of writing I love to read because of how much fun it is to step inside of the author’s imagination for a little while and see the world through his eyes.

While I really enjoyed the ending, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting to happen based on the foreshadowing that happened earlier on in the plot. It would have been helpful to have some more information about what was going through the narrator’s mind during these scenes as it definitely seemed like something the author was doing intentionally. There simply wasn’t quite enough time spent showing how these things were connected for me to fully understand why everything was wrapped up the way it was, though.

Wow, this was one eerie tale! What I liked most about it was how much time Philippe spent slowly building up to explaining what happened to him. His descriptions of ordinary things like his relationships with his pets and his long list of chores were such a unique introduction to all of the strange things that were about to happen. They made the big reveal so spooky and exciting that I couldn’t stop reading. I simply had to know what happened next!

I shuddered my way through At First, You Hear the Silence. This is a great choice for anyone who loves being scared.

Allan Westerfield: Off-World by Anderson Atlas

Allan Westerfield Off-World by Anderson Atlas
Allan Westerfield: Off-World by Anderson Atlas
Publisher: Synesthesia Books
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (144 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The Jibbawk is a dark creature, a shadow almost, with glowing eyes. It hunts humans for sport or revenge or hunger, no one knows really. We do know it’s not from Earth and that its cunning arises from a ruthless nature. And there are more dangers on this far-away planet called Lan Darr, more dangers than can be counted.

Off-World is a spine tingling adventure, with exciting twists & turns. A perfect and inspiring read for 10 and up.

Meet Allan Westerfield. He has lost so much: his Olympic dreams, his parents, the use of his legs, his voice. When life is at its bleakest, its darkest, Allan and his uncle are almost drown by a flash flood. Allan must save his uncle, even if it’s the last thing he does. Allan crawls for help, a seemingly insurmountable task for a paraplegic.

Without warning, Allan is transported to planet Lan Darr by the least likely thing, a flower.

He is lost, hopeless and confused. Will he get home? Will his uncle die alone in a cold, dark forest? No. A fire erupts inside Allan. In a blaze of utter resilience, Allan finds his voice, his soul and his heart. He escapes the creepy Jibbawk and the Lithic Furies and Killian Crow.

No one has met anyone like Allan before, and they never will again. He is Allan Westerfield: adventurer, comedian, nephew, friend, paraplegic.

You never know what you’ll find on a faraway, alien planet.

The world building in this tale was really well done. When the main character was suddenly transported to Lan Darr I felt like I’d travelled there with him. Everything from the plants to the animals to the cities on that planet was just as otherworldly as I’d expect it to be. I especially liked the fact that a lot of the places and lifeforms weren’t like anything you’d ever find on Earth. They were truly unique.

What I found confusing about this story was that it didn’t include enough details about what the characters looked like. Allan met so many creatures and human-like beings on Lan Darr that I had trouble keeping track of all of them. Knowing more about what these aliens looked like would have made it easier for me to remember who was who. My mental images of all of them were never very clear.

This was one of the scariest middle grade books I’ve read in a long time. The main character was constantly surrounded by danger, but it wasn’t always clear to him or to me where the biggest threats were coming from. Seeing Allan react to these circumstances made his adventures even more interesting than they already were because the plot didn’t give us any breaks from the tension. The entire storyline was intense in a good way!

Allan Westerfield: Off-World was a wild ride. I’d recommend it to anyone who is in the mood for an adventure.