Brave New Girls: Girls Who Science and Scheme Edited by Mary Fan and Paige Daniels

Brave New Girls: Girls Who Science and Scheme by Edited by Mary Fan and Paige Daniels
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (423 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Dive into a universe of sci-fi wonders.

This collection of sci-fi shorts features a variety of brainy young heroines—girls who engineer, tinker, experiment, and more. Voyage to far-off galaxies with girls who use their science savvy to fix rovers, rescue friends, and protect alien critters. Visit steampunk realms where young ladies put their skills to the test building mechanical wonders and solving mysteries. Trek across sci-fi landscapes with girls who save androids and repair robots. Journey to post-apocalyptic futures where heroines use their tech know-how to bring down overlords and spread the most dangerous thing of all… knowledge. And drop in on a few near-future heroines who use their smarts to take down supervillains and bring a little more understanding into the world.

Proceeds from sales of this anthology will be donated to a scholarship fund through the Society of Women Engineers. Let’s show today’s girls that they, too, can be tomorrow’s inventors, programmers, scientists, and more.

STORIES BY:
T. Eric Bakutis, Elisha Betts, Steph Bennion, Bryna Butler, Margaret Curelas, Paige Daniels, Kay Dominguez, Brandon Draga, George Ebey, Mary Fan, A.A. Jankiewicz, Evangeline Jennings, Jamie Krakover, Jeanne Kramer-Smyth, Stephen Landry, Karissa Laurel, Michelle Leonard, Meg Merriet, Jelani-Akin Parham, Josh Pritchett, Holly Schofield, and Lisa Toohey.

Featuring artwork by Hazel Butler, Sonya Craig, Ken Dawson, Evelinn Enoksen, Ben Falco, Kathy Ferrell, Christopher Godsoe, Evangeline Jennings, Deanna Laver, Jennifer L. Lopez, Jelani Akin Parham, Josh Pritchett, Emily Smith, and Jennifer Stolzer.

There’s no such thing as too much science in these universes.

Morrigan and her niece, Cethlenn, struggled to avoid getting sucked into a black hole in “The Non-Existence of Gravity.” While I can’t say why they ended up in such a predicament in the first place without giving away spoilers, I can say that their reaction to such a dangerous fate made it impossible for me to stop reading. They were so brave and quick-thinking that I simply had to know what would happen to them next, and I was quite pleased with how they reacted as soon as they realized something was terribly wrong.

As much as I enjoyed all of the storylines, there were a few sections that could have benefitted from more development. For example, the premise of “In A Whole New Light” caught my attention right away. Nina, the main character who was biracial, tried to figure out how to make her cousin stop mocking her for her race and interest in the Black Lives Matter movement. Her life was full of many interesting ideas that could have easily been expanded into a full-length novel, although it worked quite well at its current length, too. What I would have liked to see done with Nina’s adventures, though, was to spend more time on how she came up with her futuristic plan to change her cousin’s opinion of black and biracial people. Her solution was brilliant, but it wasn’t exactly something I’d expect the average 15-year-old to pull off. If that part of the plot had been given more time to shine, this would have easily beaten “The 17th Quadrennial Intergalactic Neo-Cultural Expo and Science Fair” as my favorite tale in this collection.

In “The 17th Quadrennial Intergalactic Neo-Cultural Expo and Science Fair,” Alice, Jay, and Hayden were putting the finishing touches on their science fair project when the life support system on their ship suddenly failed. They only had about 40 minutes to figure out what to do before they ran out of oxygen, and none of the adults in their community were around to help them. What an exciting premise that was! These characters had to think hard in order to make any progress at all at reaching their goal to save themselves and everyone else. I spent most of their adventure seriously wondering how they were going to survive and if they would fix their ship in time. It was so interesting to see how the plot unfolded.

I liked this anthology even more than I did the first one in this series, Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets. While they definitely don’t have to be read in order, I would recommend checking out the first instalment to anyone who enjoys this one.

Brave New Girls: Girls Who Science and Scheme was a creative collection of short stories that should be read by both young adult and adult fans of science fiction.

The Border by Steve Schafer


The Border by Steve Schafer
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (342 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Stargazer

One moment changed their lives forever.

A band plays, glasses clink, and four teens sneak into the Mexican desert, the hum of celebration receding behind them.

Crack. Crack. Crack.

Not fireworks―gunshots. The music stops. And Pato, Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys are powerless as the lives they once knew are taken from them.

Then they are seen by the gunmen. They run. Except they have nowhere to go. The narcos responsible for their families’ murders have put out a reward for the teens’ capture. Staying in Mexico is certain death, but attempting to cross the border through an unforgiving desert may be as deadly as the secrets they are trying to escape…

Do any of us truly value the life and opportunities that we have? Even by reading this review you have so many more opportunities than others in the world.

The Border is a first person account of the ruthless killing, drug trafficking and greed that proliferates portions of Mexico near the United States border. The four teens lose everything they have ever known when they are caught in the crossfire of a drug war near the border. After they are pursued and a bounty is listed for their capture or deaths, they are forced to cross the border into U.S. territory.

What comes next is heart rendering; the close connections that the friends forge, the shift from living life to simply surviving shows a different side of human nature and a dark reality that we often try not to dwell on. This story brings that reality into perspective and forces the reader to see and understand the pain that each of the characters experience.

Faced with setback after setback, the teens forge ahead with dreams of what life in the U.S. will be like. The author does an amazing job at character development through the entire story. Not a single character remained unchanged, in fact, the author highlights how the characters reflect on their own psychological changes after choices are made that impact the survivability of the entire group.

Just when it seems like everything will be okay, more adversities stand in the way; then when it seems like all hope is lost, there is still the beauty of the human spirit to overcome those adversities. This story brings to life the current political turmoil and debate of immigration but places it in a very different light then what many of us are accustomed to seeing.

Make sure that you do not miss The Border if you want to understand what truly drives the human spirit to push on when all is lost!

The Dreaming Spires by William Kingshart


The Dreaming Spires by William Kingshart
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (140 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Aloe

What do you do when the troll at the end of your garden tells you everything you ever believed in is a fantasy and your fantasies are reality?

When Jake moves from California to his new school in Oxford, he knows he is going to a different country, but he doesn’t realize he is entering a whole new world.

His first clue is when Gorm, a nine-foot, three-thousand-year-old Irish gnome, appears at the foot of his garden and gives him three special powers—powers that are of absolutely no use to him—or so he thinks.

But when things start getting really weird and Jake discovers that there’s an ancient prince from Tír na nÓg who is out to get not only him and the girl he is in love with but the whole of mankind, too, he also discovers that the powers Gorm has given him are more useful than he could ever have dreamed possible.

Jake knew that moving from California to England would mean some changes in his life. What he didn’t realize was just how much it would change and what direction that change would make…

The author has a very good imagination and when he introduces a nine foot tall gnome who is always eating while visiting, it’s just the beginning of strange creatures vexing Jake. He’s told he’s a changeling. He’s given a necklace from his mother (the one he never knew), and he’s told about his powers. He’s not impressed by the powers. He can’t turn invisible or anything. But the ones he gets are the ones that will help keep him alive!

The pace of the story is fast and there’s action on almost every page. He has a bully after him, a girl he’s interested in, and a good friend that stands by him in thick and thin. He’s going to need him.

He has more than one quest, he’s facing danger from the fae world, and his fae brother is trying to kill him. In the meantime, he has to convince the powers that be to change their minds and stop drilling in the ocean. The points he makes about the climate changes and the damages humans are doing to the earth are real. With no changes, we might see the type of collapse Jake was trying hard to stop.

It reads fast, is a fun read, has lots of fantastic characters and you find yourself rooting for Jake, even if he is the underdog. Sometimes just sticking with it makes a difference. He’s trying to save the girl he loves, so he has a good cause. Young readers will want to be as good as he is with a sword or bow.

Mirror Me by Tara St. Pierre


Mirror Me by Tara St. Pierre
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (188 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Hannah McCauley doesn’t look at herself in the mirror anymore.

After a rebellious past, she now attends a strict private school in a new town, where her recently divorced mother has put her on social lockdown. No driving. No bad grades. No skipping classes. No unapproved friends. No makeup. No boys. And the subject of her best friend from her old school is definitely forbidden.

Hannah is being punished for something that happened a year earlier, something that she would like to put behind her. But strange occurrences frighten her, and she’s accused of breaking rules and doing other terrible things without any recollection of them. No one believes her, so she starts distrusting everything, even her own reflection.

Is she being haunted by her past? Stalked by someone with a grudge? Or is it all in her head? If she doesn’t figure out what’s happening fast, her existence could end up irreparably shattered.

Forgetfulness is one thing. Losing track of huge chunks of time is quite another.

Hannah was a smart girl. I enjoyed seeing how much effort she put into solving all of the problems that came her way. She was persistent even when nothing was going her way, and that made me admire her. Her insistence on figuring out solutions was also a nice contrast to her faults. I wouldn’t have expected someone who was occasionally flighty to also have this side to her personality. It was interesting to see how those parts of her fit together, especially since they ended up working together so nicely.

There were pacing issues. Hannah spent so much time dancing around the mystery of her past that it slowed down the descriptions of what was currently going on in her life. While I fascinated by what she might have done to make her mother so angry and mistrusting of her, I was also frustrated by how much time it took for the plot to move forward or to reveal even small hints about her big mistake.

The dialogue was well done. Hannah and her friends spent a lot of time bantering back and forth. Their conversations often made me grin, especially in the beginning when they talked about light-hearted stuff like what their plans were for after school. They seemed to get along with each other nicely, and that made their dialogue even better than it already was.

I’d recommend Mirror Me to anyone who likes mysteries that take their time to share their secrets.

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.

Fitting In by S.E. Walker


Fitting In by S.E. Walker
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (140 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Charlotte Finnegan James desperately wants to fit in. Her parents encourage her to act like everyone around her, but Charlotte always feels like an outsider looking in. When men come late one night to “take control” of her, Charlotte knows fitting in will forever be impossible.

After being placed into a military boarding school, a name change is the first step in taking control of her own life. Finn’s differences are evident, no matter how hard she works to appear normal. Finding a sympathetic soul in Taber McCoy helps Finn execute her plan to escape the school.

Can she continue to hide her true self from the world? Will she find sanctuary with her aunt? Can she and Taber stay ahead of the men in black following them on their race across the country?

Being special has its perks, but it definitely isn’t always an easy life.

The mystery of Finn’s true identity made it impossible for me to stop reading this tale. She knew so little about it at first that I couldn’t begin to guess what secrets were hidden in her past. I really appreciated the fact that this part of the plot was hidden so completely. It made it even more fun than it would have been otherwise to slowly gather more clues and try to figure out who or what Finn was.

There were a few mild pacing issues in the beginning. The introduction to Finn’s world took up more time than I was expecting. While it was nice to get to know everyone so well, this did leave less time for plot development later on than I would have liked to see. With that being said, this didn’t stop me from enjoying this book in general.

Taber and Finn were both intelligent and courageous teenagers. I especially liked the fact that they spent so much time thinking about things that could possibly be a roadblock to their plans and trying to come up with solutions to them in advance. This is exactly the kind of behavior I love to see in characters in these kinds of stories. The final scene gave me the impression that there may be a sequel on the way. If this is true, I can’t wait to find out what Finn and Taber will do next and if they will continue to be so level-headed in the face of danger.

Fitting In kept me perched on the edge of my seat. I’d recommend it to anyone who has any interest at all in the culture of military schools.

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.

Beautiful Enemy by Vanessa Garden


Beautiful Enemy by Vanessa Garden
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (111 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When June’s best friend takes his own life after years of bullying, she’s devastated—but mostly angry. Josh was the sweetest boy June had ever known, and in her mind, the popular kids at school are guilty of murder. When an anonymous online poster starts threatening Josh’s bullies on social media, and then killing them off one by one, June secretly feels a little glad. That is, until she becomes next on the killer’s list. Forced to forge an unlikely bond, June and Beau, star football player and king of the cool kids, must work out who is behind the killings before it’s too late.

 

Not every death is a peaceful or happy one.

The character development in this story was wonderful. Both of the main characters were well developed and had excellent reasons for behaving the way that they did. Given that some of the murders were pretty unusual, knowing this much about the protagonists was a very good thing because it helped me to understand why they acted in the sometimes strange ways that they did once their friends and classmates began to die.

One of the things that surprised me about the plot was how often it cut away to a new scene just as something exciting was about to happen. For example, a scene where one of the characters was suddenly attacked abruptly ended in the middle of the action. I found this confusing and was never able to figure out why the most interesting sections were cut short so often.

June was a brave girl. I especially appreciated how determined she was to figure out why people she knew kept dying even after she realized that uncovering the truth could be dangerous for her. She remained strong no matter what happened, and that made me admire her.

There was a fairly big plot hole that had to do with the aftermath of Josh’s death. While I can’t go into any more detail about it without giving away spoilers, this was my main reason for choosing a three star rating for this tale. The fact that this part of the plot was barely explored or explained at all bothered me because of how important it was to the storyline in general. I was expecting the characters to be way more curious about how it worked than they were.

I enjoyed the dialogue. All of the characters spoke in very natural ways. There were times when I genuinely felt as though I were eavesdropping on real conversations because of how nicely their words flowed together. Reading the things they said to each other was one of my favorite parts of this book because of that.

Beautiful Enemy should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a fast-paced mystery.

Girl Without a Face by Medeia Sharif


Girl Without a Face by Medeia Sharif
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (135 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Destiny awakes with amnesia. She’d been driving on a wet road, about to leave flowers at a memorial marker of a deceased classmate, when she almost met that same fate.

Her mother, Mildred, is beyond restrictive, and she doesn’t want Destiny to have her cellphone back. A nurse sneaks it into her room, but it’s useless without the passcode. After her hospital stay, her mother becomes physically abusive.

Destiny and the boy she’s developing feelings for decide to drive around to spark her memory. She’s positive she crashed near a memorial marker. When they find the place in question, and when Destiny remembers her phone’s passcode, nothing is as it seems—and Mildred is crazier than she first thought.

 

Destiny’s life is full of things that don’t make any sense. If only she knew if this was a side effect of her amnesia or if there’s another explanation for it.

The flashbacks to Destiny’s life before the accident were well done. I especially enjoyed seeing how they changed as her body continued to heal from the accident and her mind was better at going back and exploring those pieces of her past despite the fact that her memory was so spotty. The evolution of it all made me want to keep reading.

There were a few big plot holes that were never explained, especially when it came to Destiny’s time in the hospital after her accident and how certain parts of that experience played out. I would have really liked to spend more time on that part of the plot so that I could understand it better. What the plot did reveal was fascinating, but it left me with many more questions than I had answers.

Destiny was such a brave girl. Some of the best scenes in this tale were the ones that showed how she reacted in a crisis. She almost always kept a level head and thought rationally about what her choices were in that situation even if she didn’t have a lot of them to begin with. This is something I love seeing in young adult books, so I was glad to find it here.

I figured out the mystery very early on because of how many clues the narrator discovered after she woke up in the hospital. It would have been nice to either have them spread out more evenly through the storyline or to have fewer of them in general. I was disappointed by how little effort I had to put into piecing everything together.

The romantic subplot was sweet. I liked both of the characters involved in it, and I liked them even more when they were spending time together. They brought out the best in each other in so many different ways. I couldn’t wait to find out if they’d end up together in the end.

Girl Without a Face should be read by anyone who is in the mood for something intense.

Or the Girl Dies by Rachel Rust


Or the Girl Dies by Rachel Rust
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Young Adult
Length: Full (168 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Stargazer

One school project. One kidnapping. One night they won’t forget. Natalie is an honors student with perfect grades. Victor is a drug dealer with a cryptic past. When a school assignment forces them to work together, things quickly spiral out of control. Victor fails to complete his part of their project, so Natalie hunts him down the night before it’s due. But Victor’s kingpin boss interrupts their study date and drags Natalie down into a seedy underworld where anything can be bought and sold—including her. Over the course of one night—while dodging bad guys and trying not to inhale—Natalie discovers shocking truths about Victor. And she’ll need to choose between preserving her perfect academic future and helping him escape his troubled past. Except one final revelation about Victor may be too much for Natalie to survive.

The senior year of high school is all about looking to the future right? What happens when one night can change everything?

When Natalie is paired with Victor for a class project that can make or break her opportunity to go to a prestigious college, she only has a couple of choices. But, when she tries to get Victor to participate in the project she finds that she bites off much more than she can chew.

Natalie comes out of her bubble of the rich life and in one night wades through the dark underbelly of drugs and human trafficking. Each choice that Natalie makes is more difficult than the last. Throughout this one night and into the next day, Natalie is forced to choose between who she should trust and who she can trust.

The author, Rachel Rust, tells the story from the perspective of Natalie in such a way that the reader feels entwined with the decisions that Natalie makes. From the fateful choice of trying to get Victor to do his part of the assignment to the desire to help Victor escape from the murky world in which he has become entangled.

The feelings of Natalie are those which the reader can easily identify with. The dark situations and difficult choices are those which many readers and identify and may have even dealt with personally. While the age recommendation is higher due to adult situations and drug use, this story will resonate with many readers on a personal level.

After struggling through the night, the reader is able to breathe a sigh of relief only to face more twists and turns into the story. The author acts as a fantastic story teller and keeps pulling the reader back into the story. Essentially the author teaches the reader to question those who walk in the world with us, and look at the underlying desires which drive us to struggle through each day.

Make sure you don’t miss Rachel Rust’s fantastic book, Or the Girl Dies!