Stumped by Kate Larkindale


Stumped by Kate Larkindale
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (246 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Seventeen-year-old Ozzy has a super-hot girlfriend who’s ready to take their relationship to the next level. Tonight. At the lake. But a missing condom scuttles his plans for seduction. Furious, Ozzy takes his girlfriend home and drives off—into the path of an oncoming truck. He wakes up with both legs amputated above the knees. When his girlfriend runs out gagging after one look at him, Ozzy knows he’s a hideous freak. He’s convinced he’s blown any chance of having a real relationship with a girl. Determined to prove he can still be a man despite his disability, Ozzy throws himself into dumping his virginity, but finds there’s a limited number of people willing to touch legless dudes in wheelchairs. His obsession takes him into an underworld of brothels and escort services where he discovers the difference between sex and intimacy, and that sometimes the price is much higher than a sex worker’s fee.

The only thing more troublesome to Ozzy than losing his legs is how many times he’s tried and failed to lose his virginity.

Ozzy’s character development was fantastic. His sarcastic response to his accident was funny, but it was also completely believable. He’d suffered a huge loss at a time when he wasn’t at all emotionally prepared to deal with the his disability or how his life was going to change now that he had two amputated limbs. While he definitely had his fair share of flaws, I soon came to love Ozzy’s boldly honest and complex personality.

My only criticism has to do with the descriptions of the many secondary characters that were introduced during the course of the plot. I got to know Ozzy’s mom and siblings pretty well, but there were so many other people who moved in and out of his life that it was hard at times to remember who everyone was, how they were connected to him, and what they looked like. Had there been a smaller cast, I would have chosen a much higher rating for this tale as I loved everything else about it.

As I hinted at earlier in this review, this story was quite humorous. It dealt with so many difficult topics that the last thing I ever expected to do while I was reading it was to start laughing. I was pleasantly surprised the first time it made me chuckle, and I was even happier when this trend continued up until the very last scene.

Stumped was a hilarious and thought-provoking book that I’d recommend to anyone who has ever dealt with serious medical problems or wondered what it would be like to go through that sort of experience.

Perdition by Lindsey Ouimet


Perdition by Lindsey Ouimet
Publisher: Evernight Teen Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (214 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

After the death of her stepfather, Michaela Reilly’s family picks up and moves from the bustling city of Miami to a tiny speck of a town in the middle of nowhere Georgia. Starting over is always hard, but when you’re stuck with an emotionally wrecked mother who won’t even look at you and the responsibility of practically raising your younger brother and sister, it’s even more difficult. Life in a small, rural town is a lot different from what she’s used to. Beaches are replaced with lazy, shaded rivers. Six lane highways with dirt roads. And Levi, the cute preacher’s son, with intentions as pure as his smile, takes the place of a string of shallow, meaningless hookups back home. Some things remain the same no matter where you go, however. Like the way a cute boy can make things seem not so bad, or how when you fall in love—You. Just. Know. It’s too bad it’s not only the good things that are universal. Bad things can follow you, no matter how far away from them you run. Secrets always end up hurting people. A troubled past will come back to haunt you. Michaela has both.

It’s not easy being the new family in a small town, especially when your siblings are biracial and your mom is a single parent.

Bullying isn’t just about being teased or called names. It can negatively affect every part of a person’s life, and the consequences of it can be very serious. I liked seeing how much attention Ms. Ouimet paid to just how destructive something like this can be for someone who is being harassed day after day. She wasn’t afraid to dig deeply into her characters’ lives to show how seriously they were being harmed and what it feels like to be treated so terribly.

I feel that the romance in this story moved far too quickly. While I liked both of the characters who were involved in it, they jumped into a relationships so quickly that I didn’t have time to find out what it was they found attractive about each other. It would have been nice for them to explore some common interests or something first so that I’d understand why they suddenly wanted to spend so much time together.

Not everyone deals with grief and trauma the same way. One of the things I enjoyed the most about this tale was how much time it spent exploring how Michaela was coping with all of the painful things that had happened to her in the recent past. Some days were definitely better than others for this character, and I appreciated how honest the storyline was about that. These scenes shaped Michaela’s personality in all kinds of interesting and thought-provoking ways.

Perdition should be read by anyone who loves summer romances.

Coming Out Catholic by Alex Dunkin

Coming Out Catholic by Alex Dunkin

Coming Out Catholic by Alex Dunkin
Publisher: Prizm Books (Torquere Press)
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, GLBT
Length: Full Length (174 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Like all good Catholic boys I care what Jesus thinks. Jesus — both the man and the faith. Following him makes me happy. There’s just one issue… I think I’m gay. Well, it’s hard to be sure while going to an all-boys school. It could be a matter of simply liking what I know, and really, oh so very much liking what I see all day — guys. Being gay and Catholic can’t possible work together. Can it?

Coming Out Catholic follows a year in the life of a private Catholic school student as he comes to terms with his sexuality. Armed with sarcasm and his best friend Mark, he prepares to take on the school thug and the awkward social encounters plaguing his late teenage years.

Confronting himself and his family are just the beginning of his trials. He finds he must find solace with his sexual desires without surrendering any of his faith. He loves both too much to deny either one, but when the time comes he will have to decide if he must turn away from one and prepare to succumb to a life of denial, or if, by some miracle, he can find acceptance for both within himself.

Sometimes there is tension between religion and the sexual orientations of people who aren’t straight. Is this how life has to be, though?

The protagonist was an incredibly funny and self-aware person. He was so well-developed that I actually briefly wondered if this novel was based on a true series of events. While this doesn’t seem to be the case as far as I can tell, that didn’t make me enjoy it any less. I only wish that I could have spent more time with this narrator!

This is a minor criticism, but I would have loved to learn the main character’s name. Not knowing what it was made sense in the beginning because the story was written from a first-person perspective. I did find it odd that no one ever said his name as the plot progressed, though. There were a few times when the flow of conversation really should have lead someone to say it.

One of my favorite things about this tale was how it dealt with stereotypes. The main character was still figuring out who he is as a human being, so there were certain things he didn’t have opinions about yet. His identity was explored with humor and honesty. There is definitely something to be said for acknowledging stereotypes without assuming that they are always true!

I was so interested in finding out what happened next in Coming Out Catholic that I read the whole book over the course of a few days. This is a great choice for anyone who has ever felt deeply conflicted about something important in their lives.

Krystal’s Calling by Melissa Solorzano

KRYSTAL
Krystal’s Calling by Melissa Solorzano
Publisher: Forever More Publishing
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Action/Adventure
Length: Short Story (142 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Krystal enters adulthood on her eighteenth birthday, and to have her life change forever as Mother Earth marks her as her daughter. Together Krystal and Courtney leave on a calling, unsure of where they’re going or what lays ahead.

Krystal awakens on her eighteenth birthday to discover her life will change forever. Mother Earth has decided to awaken something inside her that the realm is in need of, as dark forces seek to do harm.

As a half-elf, Krystal is now an adult and can make her own choices. Her first calling comes, and she must leave her home to start a journey she hopes will have her following in her father’s footsteps. With her best friend at her side, Krystal rides away from their childhood home to an unknown destination that could shape her destiny.

It’s much easier to focus on the freedom that comes with growing up than it is to think about all of the responsibilities that come with it. How will Krystal adjust to the new rules in her life?

One of the things I look for in a protagonist is someone whose faults could actually have a negative effect on the plot. Krystal definitely fits this bill. Knowing that she isn’t perfect, and, more importantly, that there’s a chance she could make a big mistake that unravels all of the good she’s trying to do was helpful. I liked what the author did with this character’s personality and development.

There was a lot of telling instead of showing in this novella. It was especially noticeable in the dialogue. I learned almost everything I know about Krystal’s importance to her people through conversations with her mother. It felt odd for these two characters to go into so much detail about this part of their lives when no one else was around because all of it was stuff their whole family had been aware of for a very long time.

I’ve always had the impression that elves are absolutely horrified by modern human technology, so it was intriguing to see something written about their race that was set in the present day. Ms. Solorzano struck a delicate balance between portraying the quiet, nature-loving elements of their culture that I’d expect to see while also showing how they might thrive in the twenty-first century.

Figuring out the most appropriate age recommendation was really tricky. Krystal acts much younger than her chronological age for reasons that I never figured out. The writing style included playful plot twists that are much more common in middle grade fiction, yet there were also explicit sexual content that I’ve only ever seen written for mature teens. It’s quite unusual to see these kinds of things included in the same book. I even briefly wondered if Krystal had some sort of learning or developmental disorder due to certain things that happen in the first few scenes. Had the author provided even a brief explanation of what was going on here, I would have felt comfortable giving this tale a higher rating.

If there’s one thing a decent villain needs to be, it’s legitimately dangerous. I was pleasantly surprised by just how frightening the villain in this story turned out to be. The threat to Krystal’s safety is made painfully obvious as the identity of her antagonist is exposed. There is no doubt here at all that this bad guy has terrible intentions.

Krystal’s Calling is a good choice for anyone who really enjoys fantasy stories about elves.

Chicken River Dance by A.N. Irvano

CHICKEN
Chicken River Dance by A.N. Irvano
Publisher: Falling Horse Books
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (242 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Young members of Ryan’s family are killed and he follows an inherent need to crush the crooks that run the killings. He is aided by Cecilia, a girl he has been getting to know for months and her mother, a shaman. Life in the Oakland projects can not move on until the extraordinary and unreal events are able to be questioned. Buoyed by the cultures, conversations, and characters of the people in it, small cultures can survive when small criminals exist.He lets his life’s losses carry him to find that not everything, if anything, can be revolutionized or bettered in this life and time of the American West.

Justice doesn’t always happen automatically. Sometimes you have to seek it out.

At first I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of Ryan. His emotional response to a family tragedy early on in the plot wasn’t at all what I would have expected from anyone who had just experienced such a terrible event. He was clearly incredibly smart and thoughtful, but it wasn’t until the author explained the reasons behind his reluctance to express his feelings that I really came to like this character. Every question I had about him in the beginning was answered in full, and I enjoyed watching his development over the course of this novel.

It would have been helpful to have more detailed introductions of the secondary characters. The actual number of them was just right for something this length, but so little time was spent explaining how everyone was connected to Ryan that it took me a while to put all of the pieces together. It was most confusing when I was trying to figure out who was and was not related to him.

The romantic subplot caught me by surprise due to how quickly it happened. The chemistry between the characters involved in it was strong, though, and seeing how both of them reacted to falling in love added depth to their personalities that would not have otherwise been there. It ended up working quite well with everything else that was going on in this tale.

I would have also liked to see more differentiation between the voices of the various characters. Everyone tended to use the same patterns of speech no matter who they were or what circumstances they found themselves in. The dialogue itself was often poetic. It was especially well suited to Ryan’s personality when he was describing his surroundings or remembering something, but the formality of it was out of place during the most exciting scenes.

Some philosophical questions are much easier to answer than are others. Ryan’s startling self-awareness for someone his age lead to a much deeper analysis of the meaning of life than I was expecting when I started the first chapter. It was especially interesting to see what Ryan had to say about social justice and the tension between the needs of individuals versus the needs of their communities.

Chicken River Dance is the kind of story that I’d recommend to teens and adult readers alike.

For Love of: Tangi by Antonio

TANGI
For Love of: Tangi by Antonio
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (218 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Colt Asbury’s life was good. He was captain of the football team in high school, popular with his classmates, and adored by his family. The only thing missing was someone special to share it with. But, between football and schoolwork he didn’t really have much time to think about romance—no that wasn’t exactly the whole truth. He had thought about it, and decided he wasn’t ready to deal with the ramifications of being gay. But, sometimes things can bubble to the surface in unexpected ways. In just a few minutes Colt’s whole world changes when he accidentally outs himself in front of his homeroom class over a new male student named Tangiers (Tangi) Reynolds. Suddenly he’s the talk of the school, yet all he can think about is Tangi. He’d never felt anything like what he felt when he’d first laid eyes on auburn-haired, green-eyed Tangi.

Still, it’s all too much for someone whose held so much in for so long and it takes its toll on Colt physically and emotionally. Confused and feeling broken down, he tries to find someone he can turn to, but discovers his best friend Mickey has turned against him. The rest of Colt’s friends aren’t even sure what to think about him anymore. His ex-football hero dad, whom he idolizes, and his ex-cheerleader mom are acting strangely too, and it turns out they’ve been hiding a closely guarded secret of their own. A secret shared by some of the parents of Colt’s friends. It will take the help of his younger brother Neil and Tangi’s sister Zen as well as allies in unexpected places to aid Colt in his time of greatest need. And then, there’s still the homecoming dance to think about, a homophobic chaperone to deal with, and a mystery man named Cameron. Will Colt be able to navigate these once calm now troubled waters of his life? More importantly will he be able to embrace a life with Tangi? All he knows is that he’ll give it his best shot for love of Tangi.

Coming out doesn’t usually happen all at once. It’s a process that begins when one finally admits the truth to himself and ends when everyone knows. The question is, what other secrets will Colt uncover as he begins to come out to his family and friends?

At first Colt seemed a little too good to be true. He’s a popular jock who fearlessly stands up for other kids when they’re being bullied, an affectionate big brother to his much younger siblings, and a son who idolizes his parents. What I appreciated most about this character, though, was what happened when he revealed his true self. Colt is most definitely a nice guy, but I fully warmed up to him once I realized what was going through his mind as he did all of these kind things. The image people project is often quite different from what’s going on behind the scenes. Getting to know who Colt is when no one else around is ultimately what made me like him so much.

The dialogue in this book was inconsistent. One moment the characters would speak in full, grammatically correct sentences. A paragraph or two later the same individual would reply with a shortened version of a single word. Many people adjust their speaking patterns based on who is around them, of course, but it was jarring to switch so rapidly between slang and conversations that felt a little too stilted given the ages of the people involved in them. It was just as likely to occur with the teenagers as it was with adult characters.

The chemistry between Colt and Tangi is strong. The first taste of love is often the sweetest, and I found their reactions to their growing attraction to one another to be perfect for guys their age. It was fun to see how both of them responded to their first meeting. I can’t say much more about it without giving away spoilers, but it was quite the memorable experience.

I was surprised to see how reluctant the teachers were to address the bullying at Colt’s school given that this story is set in present day. It would have been understandable for them to ignore vague rumours or not notice the subtle stuff, but their refusal to even do something as obvious as break up a fight on school grounds didn’t feel realistic to me. I don’t doubt that some adults are willing to look the other way when a student is teased because of his sexual orientation, but I found it hard to believe that multiple teachers would be willing to ignore such blatant signs of harassment given how easy it would be for someone to record their behavior with a cellphone and get them and the school into serious trouble.

My favorite scenes involved Colt and and Tangi’s families. Both boys have warm, loving relationships with their parents and younger siblings. Neither family is perfect, of course, but I enjoyed seeing how they worked together. It was particularly interesting to see what happens when the families get together for dinner.

For Love of: Tangi made me think about all of the assumptions I’ve made about other people. This is a good choice for anyone who is willing to step into someone else’s shoes for a little while.

Eagle Peak by Elizabeth Fontaine

EAGLE
Eagle Peak by Elizabeth Fontaine
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (191 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Eagle Peak, population 596, has two bars, five churches, and a vibe (or lack thereof) that couldn’t be more different than Sean’s native Minneapolis. Moving to rural small town Minnesota, Sean must leave his life of acting classes, going to all-ages shows, and hanging out with friends, to enter into a world of pep rallies, pick-up trucks and country pop.

Sean’s inclination for heavy eyeliner, black attire, and surly attitude make him an easy target of suspicion, intrigue, and prejudice in the small town of Eagle Peak. But despite Sean’s growing sense of dread and depression, small town Minnesota also offers a lot of firsts: he becomes the love interest of three classmates of which one is a closeted gay boy afraid of his own sexuality, he is surprised to discover and chant with a Buddhist family in town, and he gets in the middle of an abusive father and his town jock son. Sean’s old life of theater, live music, and diverse friends collides with his new life in Eagle Peak, and Sean is left confused about what he thought he knew about small towns, the world he left behind, and himself.

Sean has a definite opinion about what he thinks it will be like to live in the middle of nowhere, but only time will tell if his first impressions of his new home are correct.

Excellent character development made it impossible for me to stop reading. Sean is a well-developed protagonist whose personal strengths and weaknesses reveal themselves almost immediately. What makes Eagle Peak such a great tale, though, is how this development spreads to the secondary characters as well. The author acknowledges certain stereotypes only to turn them upside down just when this reader thought she had everything figured out.

All of the subplots are handled with sensitivity and humor. Ms. Fontaine tackles a lot of tough subjects during the course of Sean’s adjustment to Eagle Peak, but she weaves everything together so deftly that all of the points of conflict feel like natural extensions of the main storyline. My sole criticism of this story involves the way one of the subplots is resolved. Certain parts of it felt a little rushed due to the nature of the problem and how much it affected the character who was figuring it out earlier on in the narrative. This is a minor criticism of an otherwise well put-together plot, though.

It’s difficult to explain what it feels like to live in a small town if you stand out from the crowd in some way, but Ms. Fontaine accurately captures the positives and negatives of belonging to a minority group while living in a rural setting. This is the kind of book I’d heartily recommend to anyone who is curious about this topic.

Eagle Peak is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt out of place. It captures the maelstrom of emotions that accompanies this experience well and is something I will be rereading again soon.

The Last Three Words by Ashley Heckman

TheLastThreeWords

The Last Three Words by Ashley Heckman
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (65 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Seventeen-year-old Christian Marx never belonged anywhere but with his best friend Maye. Life with her beats the hell out of the dingy apartment he shares with his neglectful mother. Mom may be blood, but Maye and her little sister Rowe are family. Life would be perfect if only Maye loved him the way he loved her.

Last night, she did. Today, she’s dead—a tragic accident no one could have predicted.

With Maye gone, it’s up to those she left behind to figure out how to move on. Only one person can drag Christian away from the ledge. Only one person can save Maye’s little sister from making a huge mistake.

Sometimes the only way to un-break yourself is to fix someone else.

Love is eternal. Sometimes so is grief.

What surprised me the most about this book was how Christian’s emotional attachment to Maye pops up in the most unexpected places. This is not a particularly sentimental novel, yet from the very first scene there are understated cues pointing to a bond that even death can’t sever. Sometimes grief amplifies deeply seated personality traits, and the author does a great job quietly showing how everyone who loved Maye reacts to her death in emotionally healthy and unhealthy manners.

The narrative switches among three different first-person perspectives and occasionally jumps from the present to the past. While these techniques provide important background information, there were times when I found all of the shifts jarring. They happened so often that they sometimes slowed down the progression of the plot. In addition, the voices of the three characters who describe what has or is happening to them sound so similar that had they not been labelled I would have had a difficult time telling them apart.

For a story of this length restricting the point of view to one – or, at most, two – narrators would have freed up more space to explore what happens to Maye and how her family and friends honor her memory and learn to express their grief. The concept is intriguing, but as it was written I spent too much time adjusting to new speakers for a piece of this length.

The paranormal elements in this tale are subtle and well-suited to the storyline. They play their role in what happens without ever overpowering the often fragile connections between the characters. By far the most compelling scenes occur when the ordinary world brushes against forces it doesn’t necessarily understand.

The Last Three Words is a stunningly accurate portrayal of grief. I’d recommend this book to anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one or who would like to step inside the head of someone who is grieving in order to better understand why they sometimes act in seemingly illogical ways.

A Deal with the Enemy by Jessica Ennis

ENEMY
A Deal with the Enemy by Jessica Ennis
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (17 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

All-American Brenden has a crush on the weird boy at school. Brenden’s best friend Alex is also gay, so that’s not the problem. The problem is that Alex hates Brenden’s crush with a fiery passion. Can he prove to Brenden that he’s a good enough friend to support Brenden no matter what? The price may be more than he or Brenden are willing to pay, though, when Brenden’s crush stumbles upon their deadly secret and nearly dies in the process.

Best friends don’t always agree on everything. Sometimes being a good friend means figuring how to respond to choices you may not necessarily agree with.

What initially piqued my interest about the personalities of Brenden, Alex, and Alan in particular is how each one of them responds to changes in their environments. No one is ever too old to be curious about his or her environment, but how each reacts to new experiences says a lot about the kind of person they are as individuals.

This story includes a fairly large cast of characters for something this length. I had trouble remembering who was who as I read, especially since some individuals are interchangeably referred to by their first and last names. Once or twice I mixed up the backgrounds of key characters which made things even more confusing. I ended up making a list of characters and reading through the story more than once. Both of these tactics helped me figure out what was really going on, but it would have been a more enjoyable read had the author focused on a smaller group of students.

There were some pacing issues at the beginning that were almost entirely caused by the inclusion of more characters than could easily be accommodated by a tale of this size. More time than usual was spent introducing everyone, and while I would have preferred the discovery to happen sooner once the plot does reach that point it is well worth the extra wait.

It’s difficult to discuss the second half of the plot without inadvertently giving away spoilers, but sufficed to say what happens to Brenden and his friends quickly reinvigorated my interest in their fates after a slow beginning. If I could rate this section on its own it would earn a much higher rating than the one given to the entire book. The pacing picks up nicely and much of the time spent on explaining the relationships among and between certain characters earlier on makes much more sense.

A Deal with the Enemy is a good choice for anyone who likes to see how classic sci-fi/fantasy and romance tropes are expressed when the two genres are mixed together.