H.A.L.F.: The Makers by Natalie Wright

H.A.L.F.: The Makers by Natalie Wright
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Science Fiction
Length: Full (362 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Roswell. Area 51. The X-Files.

You’ve seen the aliens known as “the Greys” in movies and on T.V. But what if everything you think you know about them is wrong?

And what if the Greys are only the beginning?

On a nondescript planet on the far side of the galaxy, the M’Uktah have evolved from a wolf-like predatory creature into a highly advanced species that has mastered intergalactic travel. They are cultured. Refined.

And hungry…

Non-stop action with a touch of romance…

This book picks up just seconds after the first book ends. While, perhaps the author eventually gives enough information for this to be read alone, I highly recommend starting with the first book to keep from feeling lost. I’m definitely glad I did.

Told from several different points-of-view, right from the start, H.A.L.F.: The Makers thrusts us into an alien invasion of sorts. H.A.L.F. 9 aka Tex has been rescued by his alien cousins, along with his friends Ian and Erika, from the secret government agency that created him. H.A.L.F. stands for Human Alien Life Form and he was created using DNA from the aliens in the Roswell crash.

In the first book, it was pretty clear who the good guys and the bad guys were. This book takes some of that and stands it on its head. Necessity creates some interesting alliances with folks you wouldn’t expect, starting with Jack’s circumstances and the person who ends up helping him.

The friendships between Erika, Ian and Tex also evolve and change and as is typical with teen novels today, there is a bit of a love triangle. It’s all handled very sweetly and one thing I did enjoy was the lack of some of the “rougher” stuff we see in so many contemporary teen novels today, like constant profanity and sex. Of course, our heroes and heroines are pretty busy saving themselves and the world, so don’t have too much time to suffer through the usual angst.

The book is cleanly written, though there a few little things only an sharp eye would catch: repeated words or a bit of awkward phrasings. However, it was very nice to read such a well created and edited self-published book. The author has a lovely voice as well and is well-suited to her chosen genre.

Book one ended on a cliffhanger, and this book is no exception. We see the characters through fixing some problems, only to have more show up and worse … we’re being invaded by aliens who don’t want to help us. They want to eat us.

Yes, I’m looking forward to reading the next book.

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And hungry.

Helm Abomination by Gryffyn Phoenix

Helm Abomination by Gryffyn Phoenix

Helm Abomination by Gryffyn Phoenix
Publisher: Avalerion Books Inc.
Genre:  Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (222 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Some things are better left unseen.

Some hearts are better left unmet.

Living in Helm is a new experience for Verity, she’s the only female in a world of boys. Most of them embrace her as a potential friend, others long for her death, and one … well, one she can’t seem to pin down.

Her new possible boyfriend neglected to tell Verity there’s an ancient prophecy that foretells the end of Helm’s leader at the hands of the mortal veil-seer. A few of the boys fighting beside her feel the best way to keep Haydn alive is to make sure the veil-seer dies.

Verity barely survived her sixteenth birthday. Now she may not live to see her seventeenth.

Helm Abomination shows that finding the love of your life can come at too high a cost.

Helm and Haven, two opposite ends of the spectrum. Think Heaven and Hell placed in Never Never Land with teenage angels half human half various other races, also elves, sprites, dwarves and various other fey creatures. Then add a veil-seer who is all human.

Verity is the veil-seer. The seventeen year old has to learn how to be a veil-seer, she must also be wary of her attraction for Haydn, the leader of Helm and fight off Cass of Haven who is determined to destroy Helm.

Helm Abomination is a “can’t put down” book with many twists and turns in the plot, plus a budding romance and an ancient prophecy. Teenage angst plays its part in the struggle within Helm and the fight between the inhabitants of Helm and Haven – many of whom are twinned between the two places. The characters of Helm are varied but each one has his/her own personality and they all meld together to make a wonderful community.

This is the second book of the series and I want to read book one and the next book, the series really has me hooked. Looking forward to the next instalment.

In the Snows of Haz by Maxine Janerka

In the Snows of Haz by Maxine Janerka
In the Snows of Haz by Maxine Janerka
Publisher: Pronoun
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Small towns keep their secrets well, and snowy, isolated Haz Gate is no exception. But when a wealthy stranger from the capital is murdered in the night and one of her students stands accused, schoolteacher Linna Nyx has to dig through deceptions thicker than the snow in midwinter to piece together the truth, and comes face to face with a killer who would destroy not only Linna’s peaceful existence, but the very order of the Empire itself.

Not every small town is peaceful and sleepy.

What I liked the most about the world building in this tale was how quickly it happened. I first noticed it in the opening scene, and it only grew stronger as the storyline progressed. There was actually a point when I wondered if I’d accidentally stumbled into the middle of a series because of how complex the society Linna and the other people around her lived in was. While this didn’t turn out to be the case after all, I appreciated how much effort the author put into making the setting feel so multilayered.

The cast of characters was so large that I never got to know any of them well. This was true even for the main characters because the narrator had to spend so much time introducing the secondary ones and explaining what everyone was currently doing. I would have preferred to learn more about the personalities of Linna and Esmine, her student, as they both seemed like fascinating individuals. Unfortunately there simply wasn’t enough time for me to do so because of everything else that was going on at the same time.

The mystery elements of the plot were handled nicely. It was especially interesting to see how slowly the clues were shared with the audience. While there ended up being more than enough of them for me to figure out what was happening before the characters solved the mystery, I was still intrigued by how it all unfolded. There was so much going on with the fallout from the murder that I couldn’t wait to see how the characters dealt with all of it.

In the Snows of Haz should be read by anyone who enjoys a good mystery in a fantasy setting.

Resonance by Erica O’Rourke

Resonance by Erica O'Rourke
Resonance by Erica O’Rourke
Book Two of the Dissonance series
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Teen, Romance
Length: Full Length (448 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Lupine

As a Walker between worlds, Del is responsible for the love of her life—and the fate of millions—in this thrilling sequel to Dissonance.

Del risked everything to save Simon, and now he’s gone, off in another world with no way for Del to find him.

She’s back at the Consort—training to be a Walker like everyone in her family. But the Free Walkers have other plans for her. This rebel group is trying to convince Del that the Consort is evil, and that her parents are unwittingly helping the Consort kill millions of people. The Free Walkers make Del the ultimate promise: if Del joins their fight, she will be reunited with Simon.

In agreeing, Del might be endangering her family. But if she doesn’t, innocent people will die, and Simon will be lost to her forever. The fate of the multiverse depends on her choice…

I thought this book was much better than the first, which is saying a lot because I really liked the first book quite a lot!

Even better, there were some issues from book one that I disliked with the main character that the author has drastically improved upon with some excellent character development in the plot. There’s a lot of twists and turns in this sequel and it kept the pages constantly turning for me.

Del has gotten over what I consider the “annoying teenager in love” stage and she’s actually approaching the situation with Simon in a relatively mature way without losing her youth, so to speak. She still acts like the headstrong teenage girl that she is, but she’s grown up quite a bit and isn’t as rash or lovestruck or whiny as she was before.

The plot is just amazing and I have to applaud the author on the complexity of what she’s written because it’s just beautiful and she’s done it in a way where you can appreciate the plot and have a connection with the characters as well. I’ve seen too many books focus too much on the world building side of the spectrum and leaves the emotional bonding with the character in the dirt, but she hasn’t done that and I think that’s why I like it so much. It’s a great read and so worth it.

The romance is even better and that’s coming from a teenaged girl (me!) who can’t stand most relationships in books because one or both of them is stupid in some way. Granted, Del and Simon are both teenagers and they’ll have their moments but no one is perfect and I like where their relationship has gone over the span of the two books.

I’d totally recommend it to anyone because it should appeal to just about any reader of any age.

The Right Hand Rule by R.M. Clark

The Right Hand Rule by R.M. Clark
Publisher: Indigo Sea Press
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Science Fiction/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (100 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Amy, Amanda, Marshall, and Ziggy expect their middle school to be empty on Saturday morning so they can get ready for the regional science fair. They don’t expect a botched experiment to attract a horde of time-displaced ancient Mayans when their unusual science advisor, Frederick Froth, goes missing. Now the four must use their must use their unique science skills and work together as they grapple with a Mayan War god, the Dark Rift and the principles of science to rescue Mr. Froth.

Science fairs aren’t supposed to be this exciting or dangerous.

The dialogue made me smile. This wasn’t the kind of tale that required a lot of it. The author did seem to have an intuitive understanding of when it definitely was needed, though. All of the scenes that required at least one conversation had exactly what they needed. Keeping these conversations to a minimum made me appreciate the ones that were used. If the author added one to a scene, I immediately knew that there was a very good reason for it to be there and paid close attention to what the characters were about to say.

I would have liked to see more time spent showing Ziggy, Amy, Amanda, and Marshall’s personalities. All four characters blended together in my mind as I was reading because there were so few clues about what was unique about any of them. The few hints that did exist were also hard to connect to the right person because there were so many main characters in this book.

It was fascinating to see how the main characters used science to come up with possible solutions to the problems they faced as they tried to rescue their teacher. Their logical approaches to even the most surprising plot twists made me excited to see how it would all end, especially in the last chapter or two when the pacing really picked up speed. These sections were sometimes funny and always well done.

The Right Hand Rule is a good choice for anyone who is in the mood for something surprising.

Mercy’s Prince by Katy Huth Jones

Mercy’s Prince by Katy Huth Jones
Mercy’s Prince by Katy Huth Jones
Publisher: Quinlan Creek Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance
Length: Full Length (422 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: Best Book
Review by: Myrtle

As second son of the King of Levathia, seventeen-year-old Valerian desires the quiet life of a scholarly monk. But when he fails to save his older brother in battle, Valerian must instead become crown prince.

While a traitorous knight schemes against him, Valerian meets Mercy, a pacifist Healer with whom he can speak mind-to-mind like the great dragons. Their bond emboldens Valerian to seek out the legendary dragons and ask for their help against the monsters who killed his brother.

Can Valerian survive the traitor’s assassins long enough to find the dragons? And if he does, can he convince them to lay aside their hatred of humans and help him save the land from destruction?

Prince Valerian has it in his heart to become a scholarly monk, living in the shadows of his older brother, Waryn, Levathia’s beloved prince. But when his brother is killed by the mysterious Mohorovia Horde, Valerian finds himself heir to the crown. How can a peaceful man rule a kingdom in the midst of history’s greatest war?

Upon the death of his brother, seventeen-year-old Valerian acquires the ability to See a person’s thoughts. It is sometimes heartbreaking to experience the unspoken words meant for him, including those of his father and his brother’s best friend/best knight, Sir Caelis. Just as the reader begins to settle into life at “the Keep” with Valerian, we are introduced to fourteen-year-old Mercy and her village of peaceful people. The Brethren, as they are known, feels a higher obligation to the God of Peace, which forbids them taking up arms against any living creature. Mercy’s gift of healing, and of being a seer herself, is inspirational! But with each believing their way is right, a clash between “the Keep” and the Brethren changes life, as they know it, for everyone. “Peace is a noble goal, but when war comes upon Levathia, pacifists are the first to suffer.”

But the true battle is not between “the Keep” and the Brethren … Bring in the Horde, Mohorovia’s lizard-like creatures who swarm in masses, add swords and battle-axes, and dragons both big and small, and this fantasy world swells to epic levels!

At the true heart of the story is an irresistible romance that buds, blooms, and bursts forth like a rose in springtime. And it is just as sweet.

The vivid descriptions and immense character development in this wonderful YA Fantasy is beautifully breath taking. Everything from the depictions of villages and festivals, to Valerian’s princely bedchambers, to the clothing, food, and medicinals came from a highly skilled writer’s hand. The details of this wonderful story keep me enthralled page after page. This is one of the best stories I have had the pleasure of reading in a long time.

If you like epic tales from the days of old, and you enjoy love stories unlike any other you might have read, and think you might want a burrowing dragon (or a giant one) thrown in here and there, this is most assuredly the story for you!

Catalyst by Lydia Kang

Catalyst by Lydia Kang

Catalyst by Lydia Kang
Publisher: Penguin
Length: Full Length (400 pgs)
Genre: Science Fiction
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Lupine

In the past year Zel lost her father, the boy she loves, her safety, and any future she might have imagined for herself. Now she, her sister, and the band of genetic outcasts they’ve come to call their family are forced on the run when their safe house is attacked by men with neural guns. But on the way to a rumored haven in Chicago, Zel hears something–a whisper from Cy, the boy who traded himself for her sister’s safety. And when she veers off plan in order to search for him, what she finds is not what she expected. There’s more to their genetic mutations than they ever imagined…aspects that make them wonder if they might be accepted by the outside world after all.

Catalyst contains the main characters we all love and know from the first book in the series, Control, along with some new people introduced into the plot.

I enjoyed this book much better than the first, mostly because I got to see the characters develop significantly on this new journey. Zelia and Cy have been separated, and once they find each other again they have to be on the run from the government. I do find that the tension between Cy and Zelia is well written. I usually hate it when two people fight over their relationship, because the excuses for that fight are typically shoddy and really don’t hold up under scrutiny, and it’s just a bunch of drama that didn’t need to happen. In this case it really felt like it was a building block in their relationship and I really liked how that went down.

I admire the sacrifices that Zelia made for her new found family, even though she hasn’t known them all that long, it shows a depth of character I like. They fight to live in this new world offered to them.

This was a very satisfying conclusion to the series.

The Tower and the Assassin by J F Parcher

The Tower and the Assassin

The Tower and the Assassin by J F Parcher
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult
Length: Full Length (174 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Aloe

What started out as a simple trip to dusty, boring museum has become more than Tom Vogenson had bargained for. After a fateful encounter with a mysterious artifact, he finds himself kidnapped by a society of wizards and transported against his will to a world on the verge of reviving a centuries old war. While learning about his unique and mysterious abilities, he is also targeted for death by a mysterious kingdom of assassins who fear his powerful presence may upset their secret plans. Adding to the complexity, Tom finds himself forging a relationship with a young girl, who may or may not be the unwilling tool of the assassins herself. In order to save himself and his new friends he will have to master his newfound powers and figure out friend from foe, before its too late.

He’s getting really tired of walking around San Francisco with his cousin. After all, they had a car available. Why walk? Pretty soon, he’ll have more to concern him. An innocent guided tour of an old building is pretty boring until he looks in the mirror. He sees more than himself in that mirror. And he’s soon sent through another door that takes him away from his world…

This story moves fast and is exciting. The author does a very good job of weaving his words and drawing your attention. Young adults should really enjoy the storyline. I’ve just finished reading this book and am already to read the next one!

Tom doesn’t understand where he is, how he got there, or what he’s supposed to do now that he’s there. He quickly finds out this is a world where life doesn’t count for much. While waiting for the person to transport him to the Tower, he witnesses a fight where a young woman is killed. He even manages to get involved when he shouldn’t have. That’s a not a good start.

He has new skills to learn, new friends to make and new enemies all in the first day. He’s haunted by the girl he saved but she’s an assassin and he can’t even speak to her. She’s from the other side. She manages to let him know they have a chameleon in their midst. But every time he runs into her, there is a fight around them and bad things happen. He wants to be on the side of right, but how does he know which is right? Murdering people is obviously bad. She doesn’t seem to be like that, though. Is that because he doesn’t want to see her that way?

It starts out as training and escalates to war before the story ends. You’ll find yourself flipping pages and wondering where the author is going next. I’m anxious to read the next installment in this series. It grabs you and you want to know how it’s going to all work out or if it won’t.

Sortilege: A Novel of The Empyrean Series by C. M. Cox

Sortilege A Novel of The Empyrean Series

Sortilege: A Novel of The Empyrean Series by C. M. Cox
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: 395 Pages
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Cyclamen

Struggling against a female-dominated society, twin assassins convince their human queen to hunt for the missing Star Queen. On a neighboring planet, an elf searches for meaning in the strange signs that have suddenly appeared to her. Traveling with her companion – tall, green and part plant – their scholarly goals quickly become a riskier gamble. Sortilege is an epic fantasy novel about interplanetary alliances, magic, betrayal and an unimaginable possession.

Sortilege is an action filled fantasy novel set in a world filled with magic and a variety of races including fairies and humans. The world is well defined with lots of interesting characters. In addition, there are relationships that are very complex and in fact the novel opens with a prologue involving one of those, a Producer, a human able to do magic who is the Keeping of a fairy.

The characters are compelling and I was interested in them all. I did find the multiple point of views to be a bit confusing. I felt as if I’d been dropped into a world that I knew nothing about. There is an early story in this series, a short story called Dyad. I haven’t read that, but from the notes I read on it, that is where this fantasy world is introduced and I suspect that I wouldn’t have been as confused if I had read that story first.

The action is fast paced and while the story shifts from one location or thread of the story to another and back again, the action is intense. The novel ends with a real cliff-hanger and I hope that the next novel in the trilogy is published soon. Fantasy lovers are sure to enjoy this series from the very beginning.

Destroying Angel by Missy Wilkinson

Destroying Angel by Missy Wilkinson

Destroying Angel by Missy Wilkinson
Publisher: Prizm Books (Torquere Press)
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (216 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Gates McFarland’s mother has just been proclaimed brain dead by a neurologist. But fifteen-year-old Gates doesn’t believe it’s true, because she hears her mother’s voice in her head. The command is simple: Find my heart. It’s the last thing Gates hears from her mother before the neurologist pulls the plug.

After contacting the Organ Procurement Agency, Gates learns there is no record of her mother’s organ donation. She meets Dr. Ascuitto, her mother’s neurologist. A menacing figure, he threatens to institutionalize Gates if she continues her inquiries.

Determined to find the truth, Gates gets help from John Ed, a street-smart, sixteen-year-old recovering addict. Together, they navigate an underworld of body theft, interstellar drug trafficking and doctors who double as dealers. She finds herself attracted to John Ed’s musical talents and emotional strength even as she is drawn ever-deeper into an alien world accessible only by use of a hallucinogenic spore. Hostile and governed by a sinister waif named Penny, the world holds secrets about Gates’ mother’s death…and the key to Gates’ survival.

Grief does funny things to people, but that doesn’t mean that it can explain all of the peculiar things going on in Gates’ life at the moment.

I’ll be honest here. It took me a quite a while to warm up to Gates due to how her biggest flaws influenced the way she reacted to adversity. She was the kind of protagonist that took a while to grow on me, but once I’d spent more time seeing the world from her perspective I understood why Ms. Wilkinson wrote this character the way she did. Gates has a complex backstory that influences almost every part of her life in the present. In the end, I was glad that she was written the way she was. The more I learned about her, the more I liked her!

There were some pacing issues in the beginning. This book included several subplots that needed to compete for attention during the first several chapters. While they were all incredibly interesting and important for later scenes, it was a little overstimulating to be introduced to all of them so rapidly. It almost felt like there were a few completely different stories being told in the same novel at first. I definitely wanted to know more about all of them, but I would have preferred to have more time being introduced to one of them before the others showed up.

Several of the plot twists caught me by surprise. The hints about them were subtle enough that I didn’t quite piece everything together in time, and this isn’t something that usually happens to me. What I appreciated most about these plot twists, though, was how well they fit in with the clues about what was going on that showed up early on. Everything made logical sense once the narrator showed me what I’d been missing.

Destroying Angel is a good choice for anyone in the mood for something quirky.