E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke


E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (37 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Meet E.C. Max, a lovable know-it-all. He has many misadventures while solving everyday problems using science and technology. His inventions and experiments usually have wacky, unexpected results.

Slap that mosquito as you read how Max deals with pesky pests in E.C. Max, Kid Genius Critter Camp!

If not for the bugs that bite and sting, camping would be the perfect vacation. Can E.C. figure out a way to solve this problem?

E.C.’s invention was creative. He put so much thought into making something that would shoo mosquitoes, ants, and other critters far away from him and his dad. There are a few different things these insects don’t want to be around, so he made sure to include all of them in his invention. The only thing I liked more than reading his description of it was seeing if it really worked once he had a chance to test it.

There were a few minor pacing issues in the beginning. E.C. needed some time to explain who he was, why he was a kid inventor, and where he got all of the equipment he used. While I enjoyed reading his funny and informative explanations of all of these things, they did slow the plot down a little bit.

With that being said, I was hooked on this story as soon as E.C. and his dad started their camping trip. The main character and his dad had so many fun experiences once their tent was set up and they had time to explore their surroundings. I liked seeing how they passed the time in the woods and what they thought of their father-son trip. They really seemed to get along well together.

E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp should be read by inventors and science-lovers of all ages.

She’s Like a Rainbow by Eileen Colucci


She’s Like a Rainbow by Eileen Colucci
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (299 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

“The summer I turned ten, my life took a fairy tale turn.” So begins Reema Ben Ghazi’s tale set in Morocco. Reema awakes one morning to find her skin has changed from whipped cream to dark chocolate. From then on, every few years she undergoes another metamorphosis, her color changing successively to red, yellow and ultimately brown. What is the cause of this strange condition and is there a cure? Does the legend of the White Buffalo have anything to do with it? As Reema struggles to find answers to these questions, she confronts the reactions of the people around her, including her strict and unsympathetic mother, Lalla Jamila; her timid younger sister, Zakia; and her two best friends, Batoul and Khalil. At the same time, she must deal with the trials of adolescence even as her friendship with Khalil turns to first love. One day, in her search for answers, Reema discovers a shocking secret – she may have been adopted at birth. As a result, Reema embarks on a quest to find her birth mother that takes her from twentieth-century Rabat to post-9/11 New York. Reema’s humanity shines through her story, reminding us of all we have in common regardless of our particular cultural heritage. SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW, which will appeal to Teens as well as Adults, raises intriguing questions about identity and ethnicity.

 

As soon as Reema adjusts to one new skin color, her complexion changes yet again. Will she ever discover why this is happening?

While this book had a large cast of characters, I never had any trouble remembering who was who. I appreciated how much attention Ms. Colucci paid to all of the small details of her characters’ lives. She made them come to life so vividly in my mind that I was able to keep track of everyone even when multiple new people were introduced at the same time.

The pacing was slow. As fascinated as I was by the premise, it was difficult for me to stay interested in the storyline at times because it took so long for the main character to find any clues at all about what was happening to her skin or whether or not she had actually been adopted. It was interesting to read about the ordinary details of her daily routine like what she ate for meals, but there were so many of these scenes that they slowed down the plot and distracted me from the mysteries of this character’s life.

Reema had a complex and difficult relationship with her mother that included a lot of conflict between them as she was growing up. Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that showed how this relationship evolved as the main character began to make her own decisions in life. I found it intriguing to see how things changed between mother and daughter over the years. Watching Reema attempt to understand why this part of her life was so complicated was one of my favorite parts of this tale.

I’d recommend She’s Like a Rainbow to anyone who is in the mood for something thought provoking.

Which is p and Which is q? by Gita V. Reddy


Which is p and Which is q? by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Grandpa brings a box of wooden letters for Minki to practice her ABCs. He spells out words and Minki picks out the letters from the set. She enjoys doing this except that she isn’t able to tell p and q apart. So when Grandpa spells out p-i-g, she picks q, i, and g. For q-u-e-e-n she picks p,u,e,e,n and for q-u-i-l-t, she takes out the letters p,u,i,l,t.

Because Minki has so much trouble with p and q, she throws them out of the window. Angry and hurt, p and q stomp away to Word Fairy and announce they are never going back.

With p and q missing, many words become meaningless. Now nobody can say ‘please’ because it has turned into ‘lease.’ The police station and the post office can’t function and the queen must go into hiding!

Which is p and Which is q? is a fun story about an important issue.

Children between the ages 3 to 7 make occasional letter reversals while reading or writing. This is more likely to happen with letters that are mirror images of each other – like p and q, b and d, n and u. It doesn’t mean the child is dyslexic or has a learning ability. With practice and some clues, as the letter shapes become more familiar, children get over the confusion.

Learning the letters of the alphabet isn’t always easy.

My favorite scenes happened after the letters p and q ran away to go live with Word Fairy. They were so determined to stay with her forever that I couldn’t wait to see how the fairy would respond to them once she realized that they never wanted to go back to Earth. This was a very creative spin on the topic, and it made me smile.

Minka mentioned some letters other than p and q that are easy to mix up. I would have liked to see her either spend more time talking about how to tell the difference between those other letter or save them for a sequel. Talking about them without going into detail seemed like it could be confusing for young readers. With that being said, exploring those letters would be a very good place to begin with a sequel if the author is hoping turn this into a series.

The memory trick that Minka’s grandfather shared at the end of this story to help her remember the difference between these two letters was a smart one. He made it easy to remember by turning that trick into something a kid can easily imagine happening. It’s not something I’d ever heard of before, but it made a lot of sense.

Which Is p and Which Is q? is an adorable picture book that I’d recommend to anyone who has a young child in their life who needs help remembering the differences between similar letters like these.

Oh Susannah: Things That Go Bump by Carole P. Roman


Oh Susannah: Things That Go Bump by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, suspense
Length: Short Story (44 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Xeranthemum

Susannah Maya Logan is not having a good day. She doesn’t want to go to her best friend, Lola’s sleepover. Susannah thinks the house is big and spooky, not to mention the ghost that is said to live there. Lola’s big brother, Kai, loves to tease Susannah with scary stories. Throughout her day, she sees people deal with things that scare them. Her sight-impaired friend, Macy, is terrified of unicorns, of all things. She sees a boy at a party who’s frightened of clowns. Her teacher is afraid of getting a cold. Susannah realizes everybody is scared of something. She wishes she was more like Lola, who is not afraid of anything, or so it seems. Susannah discovers people have different ideas of what is scary and what is not, and only they can determine the difference. Join Susannah as she learns to confront her fears and not let her imagination prevent her from having fun.

Adults that remember Alfred Hitchcock’s belief ‘The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement” can also relate it to young children, especially those that are on the verge of awakening to the bigger world and all its linguistic complexities. We take things for granted; our allusions, metaphors and colloquialisms and idioms. Those are big words to explain that what you hear isn’t always what is meant. Susannah, the heroine of Things That Go Bump learns firsthand how scary life can be as her imagination fills in the gaps for things she doesn’t understand, is worried about or is unknown. This little novella reminded me that our tendency to fear those kinds of things don’t necessarily go away just because we ‘grow up’.

I get the impression that Susannah is a lot braver than she gives herself credit for. She questions even when she’s nervous or confused at times, and her best friend’s brother can sometimes be a huge pain in the neck. I think Kai has figured out how much fun it is to tease Susannah because of her reactions. He’s a typical boy who means no harm; he’s just mischievous with a heightened sense of fun that gets carried away now and again. There is a grin worthy payback at some point in the story and I enjoyed that scene.

I really liked Things That Go Bump and I think it’s great for kids to read, or adults to read with their children because it shows and explains how what we take for granted, what we think is ordinary, isn’t so for kids just learning about how the world works, making even simple things big and scary. I enjoyed the ending when Susannah finally faces her fears about sleeping over at Lola’s house and eventually comes to the realization, after a bit of excitement, that everything is going to be alright. The wrap up made me feel good and assured me that Susannah is going to be just fine.

I wish this book had been available when my own kids were younger; I would have absolutely shared it with them. That’s the best recommendation I can give.

Finding Nine by Suki Lang


Finding Nine by Suki Lang
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (264 pages)
Age Recommendation:16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

This is a story of John, a 16 year old who loses his mother to cancer. During the last year of her life she writes a series of eight letters for her son to read after her death. Designed as a treasure hunt, the letters take John to a place his mother left long ago, where he meets a family he knows little of.

The object of the hunt seems to be to find a perfect spot to place his mother’s ashes. But John soon discovers the letters are his mother’s way of helping him move through his grief, and of letting him know she will always be by his side. The journey he takes is about finding hope in the love of two people who welcome him with open arms. And John’s arrival is a gift never expected but long hoped for by two of the people his mother left behind. Through the natural order of things a son is given the opportunity to fulfill a mother’s last wish and to discover her many secrets yet untold.

Sometimes death leaves everyone who loved the deceased with many more questions than they have answers. This is even more true when someone dies before their time.

The descriptions of the places John went and the people he met were nicely written. I especially liked the scenes that showed where his mother had grown up. He knew so little about her childhood that it was wonderful to see how he reacted to all of the pieces of her past he was finally able to to put together.

There were pacing issues. I noticed them the most after John had read the first few letters from his mom and was beginning to dig deeply into what her life had been like before he was born. As interested as I was in the premise of this book when I first began reading it, it was hard for me to pay attention to the plot at times because of how slowly it moved.

Grief is a complicated subject. I was pleased with how Ms. Lang approached all of the different emotions someone can feel when they lose a loved one. John laughed at some of the stories he uncovered about his mom on his journey. In other scenes he felt everything from sorrow to surprise to anger to nostalgia. It was interesting to see how the author explored what happens when someone has so many conflicting feelings about death and grief.

Finding Nine should be read by anyone who has ever needed to grieve the loss of someone they really cared about.

The Day My Fart Followed Me to Hockey by Ben Jackson and Sam Lawrence


The Day My Fart Followed Me to Hockey by Ben Jackson and Sam Lawrence
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (42 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

If you and your child love to read together, then you are going to love reading along with Timmy and his Fart as they play hockey together!

The Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey is a beautifully illustrated journey of Timmy and his best friend the Little Fart as they attend Timmy’s first hockey tryouts. Chaos and laughter ensue as the Fart attempts to help out his best friend the only way he knows how.

If you enjoy reading funny books with beautiful illustrations and love having your child read along with you, then make sure you grab The Day My Fart Followed Me To Hockey.

Discover and giggle along with Timmy and his best friend on their exciting day at the hockey arena!

Everyone farts, but only some people get to carry their gas around with them forever.

Little Fart was full of great advice for Timmy. I especially liked how positive and encouraging he was when Timmy began to worry a lot about whether or not he’d make it onto the hockey team. This isn’t something I ever thought I’d say in one of my reviews here, but that fart was a very loyal friend. It was adorable to watch these characters figure out how to help Timmy feel better so his tryouts would go well.

The only piece of constructive criticism I have for this story has to do with its editing. I noticed multiple sentences that had punctuation errors in them. Some of them were missing commas, and others had more commas than they actually needed. As this was a picture book, the errors stood out to me even more than they usually would because many pages only had two or three sentences on them.

With that being said, the storyline itself was hilarious and fantastic. I giggled out loud more than once when I was reading it. The scenes that showed Little Fart trying to understand why Timmy was anxious and how he could help his friend feel better were just as funny as they were heartwarming. I also liked the fact that the fart jokes were silly instead of gross. This was the perfect angle to take for a story that was about so much more than passing gas.

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

The Day My Fart Followed Me to Hockey should be read by anyone who is in the mood to laugh.

Fox in the City by Daniel Cabrera


Fox in the City by Daniel Cabrera
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (172 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

This is the story of a fox–a fox named Tom. A fox who couldn’t in his wildest dreams imagine what it would be like to stand up on two. To behold and experience all the wonders of the world of man. The lights that light up the ground: The hum of the engines that roar and the fervor that engulfs everyone in the impassioned pursuit of happiness. Could he understand that the most amazing part is not in what we built?

The dividing line between human and animal isn’t always a clear one.

Tom’s character development was well done. It was especially interesting to see how he made the adjustment from being a fox to living as a human child. There are so many differences between those two species that he couldn’t take anything for granted. Everything he knew about the world had been turned on its head, and that made his emotional transformation something I had to keep following until I knew how it would end.

There were many grammatical and punctuation errors. I also noticed a sentences that were missing key words. It was hard to tell what they meant without knowing which word the author intended to use in that sentence. While I enjoyed the storyline itself quite a bit, another round of editing would have made a huge difference in my final rating for this book.

The friendship between Tom and Nora, the human girl he met soon after he was transformed, was beautiful. They were supportive of each other from the beginning. I really enjoyed watching her show him how to survive in the city and seeing how their feelings for each other slowly began to shift as they got to know each other even better. I thought they made a great team and couldn’t wait to see what would happen to them next.

Fox in the City was a creative tale that I’d recommend to anyone who has ever wondered what animals would say if they somehow learned how to speak.

Dragonsoul by Kayl Karadjian


Dragonsoul by Kayl Karadjian
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Full Length (311 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Littlehorn is the last dragon, born into a world that wants him dead.

The dragon’s blue scales and orange eyes are a stark contrast to the dull gray around him. The sky is gray. The ground is gray. Everything is gray, even the skin, eyes, and hair of every other living creature, including humans.

When Denyth, a simple farmer dreaming of a world of color beyond the gray encounters Littlehorn, the two set out on a journey to find the truth of where Littlehorn came from and if there truly is a world of color beyond the gray.

But Denyth isn’t the only human who knows of Littlehorn’s existence. A dragon-hunter named Zero, who has dedicated his entire life to purging anything of color, is coming after Littlehorn to finish the job.

Dragon and human flee together to the colorful land called Evenar, coming across a host of odd, colorful creatures, including a cat-like shapeshifter who can hear the land, a pacifist troll who wields a club the size of a tree trunk, and even a group of walruses who can talk.

Just as they think that they have found paradise, they discover a terrible secret: humanity wasn’t responsible for the fall of dragons after all.

Everything is grey, and most call it The Gloom. Zero, leader of the King’s Deprived force, has killed the last colorful dragon and returns to report to King Tayen.

Denyth, a farm boy of the Gloom finds a dragon egg which becomes a very colorful blue dragon, Littlehorn. Needless to say Zero finds out about the dragon and then the chase is on.

This book is brilliant. The difference between the grey Gloom and colorful Evenar are well written and very visual. The playful little dragon gets into all sorts of mischief which provides humor to the story.

The chase from The Gloom to Evenar is cleverly written and I had to read on to find out what happened next. The story took several unexpected twists and turns until it reached a wonderful finale. I have to admit I love dragon stories but I would have read this one if it had been about any other creature or just the humans and the faeries. An exceptionally good book to read.

Soul Siphon by T.L. Branson


Soul Siphon by T.L. Branson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (20 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by Astilbe

Alexander Drygo, king of Sunbury, is reeling from the loss of his wife. Despite his best efforts using an incredible power, she is no longer among the living.

When a rival kingdom seeks to take advantage of this delicate time in Drygo’s life, he is thrust into a battle for the future of his kingdom.

Can he save his people where he could not save his queen?

There’s no room for hesitation in a battle for your city and your very life.

This was a beautifully descriptive story. The author showed the characters and setting in such vivid detail that I couldn’t stop reading it. At times it felt like I was watching a movie play out in my mind instead of reading words on a page. I happily lost myself in the plot as I waited to discover what would happen next and whether the main character would successfully beat back his enemies.

I would have liked to see a little more time spent on character development, especially when it came to everyone other than Alexander. While I was quickly able to figure out what a brave and stubborn man he was, it was more difficult for me to determine what the personalities of the people around him were like. Had the plot given me a few more clues about their personalities, this tale would have easily earned a much higher rating from me as I loved everything else about it.

The battle scenes were fast-paced and exciting. Alexander was clearly skilled in sword fighting, so I was eager to see how he’d handle both the easier fights in the beginning as well as the big one he’d need to win to defend his city and his people. The more I saw of his swordsmanship, the more respect I had for him as a king as well as a person. He knew exactly what he was doing and what he’d need to do to win.

Soul Siphon kept me glued to my seat until the final scene. This is a fantastic choice for anyone who is in the market for a spellbinding adventure.

Ivy Introspective by Kellyn Roth


Ivy Introspective by Kellyn Roth
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Historical
Length: Full (197 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Stargazer

Trapped in a world where she doesn’t belong, twelve-year-old Ivy Knight struggles to keep her head above water as her simplicity is brought to light by her new position as a young lady growing up at Pearlbelle Park.

Worried about their daughter’s inability to fit in, Ivy’s parents decide to send her to McCale House, a boarding school in Scotland for boys and girls like her. However, alone and frightened without her beloved mother, sister, and nurse, Ivy can’t seem to focus.

Will Ivy ever learn what Dr. McCale is trying to teach her? Or will she remain lost in her own mind forever?

Imagine living in a world where you don’t feel you belong at all, very little makes sense and even your twin sister barely resembles you, both physically and mentally. This is Ivy’s life.

Ivy Introspective is a fascinating look inside the mind of a young lady that tries as hard as she can to fit in, but finds that she often just can’t make the connections to what is happening around her. Ivy feels that she is more of a bother and a frustration to those around her than she intends. Ivy Introspective is the second in the series of books by Kellyn Roth featuring Ivy and her sister, Alice, and I was glad that I was able to catch up to Ivy and her adventures. The Lady of the Vineyard is a novella featuring many of the same characters and timeframe in which Alice and Ivy live.

The writing style that Kellyn Roth utilizes is one that I enjoy, and I can see in Ivy Introspective how she has grown as an author. The focused dialogue and deep character history is very enveloping to the reader. The secondary plotline with the father-daughter relationship focused on Posy within Ivy Introspective offers another fascinating look into the world that Kellyn Roth brings to life. The deep research and great understanding of psychological growth of children within the historical period also shows the author’s understanding of how to incorporate the reader into the realism of past events. The editing is clean and the grammar usage is great since it incorporates both what the reader expects as well as the historical time period that the characters reside in.

I found the historical time period the Kellyn Roth wrote very inviting and perfect for the events that occur through the chronicles. I also enjoyed how the reader can begin to understand the views of the world the Kellyn Roth holds, especially from the perspective of both Posy and Ivy. I feel honored that I was able to review, Ivy Introspective since it brought to life many of the views of children and incorporates the deep values of faith and the psychological perspective that we need to work to reach out to those that are different from ourselves and from mainstream society.

I highly recommend that you take a journey with Alice and Ivy and make sure you don’t miss Ivy Introspective!