Sugar Lump by Megan Gaudino


Sugar Lump by Megan Gaudino
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (209 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Seventeen-year-old travel blogger CC is stuck on a never-ending road trip with her wanderlust-addicted father. When her dad lands the job of his dreams in Sugar Lump—wedding capital of the world—CC finally finds a place to call home. Complete with two quirky best friends and a quixotic guy to crush on, Sugar Lump is more shades of perfect than she can possibly count. But when CC accidentally overhears the mayor complaining that she has to “take out” a rogue employee for not fulfilling the terms of his contract, the idyllic town’s facade crumbles. Devastated by the possibility of having to move yet again, CC discovers everyone has been keeping a massive secret from her—including her own father.

Many communities have secrets, but most of them aren’t quite as big as the ones hidden in Sugar Lump.

The town of Sugar Lump honestly sounded like the perfect place to live when I was first introduced to it. I adored how friendly and helpful everyone was, especially when it came to helping new residents settle in and figure out all of the little quirks that make every community unique. This kind of genuine hospitality only made the events later on in this tale even more unsettling than they would have otherwise been.

It took a very long time for the plot to develop past the point of introducing the characters and exploring the idyllic community they seemed to be living in. As much as I liked getting to know CC and her friends, it wasn’t easy to stay interested in what was happening to them because of how slowly everything was moving. I started reading with the expectation that I’d love this book, so I was surprised and disappointed by how much I had to struggle to keep reading it.

CC was an interesting girl. I liked the fact that she was so oblivious to the thought that something odd might be happening in the town she’d just moved to. While there were definitely times when I wanted to text her and ask her how in the world she could accept everything she heard and saw without questioning it, this part of her personality wasn’t something that she could easily change. Her sometimes naive approach to life did have its endearing side.

Sugar Lump should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a slow-burning mystery.

See by Lee Ann Ward


See by Lee Ann Ward
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (221 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4.5 star
Review by: Orchid

Carlie Henson is pretty, popular, and an All-American girl. She has a gorgeous boyfriend and a mother who lives to keep her safe. Probably because everyone is drawn to Carlie…including the murderers she has the ability to identify when she looks in the eyes of their victims. Keeping Carlie’s secret is pretty simple when all she has to do is avoid dead people. But when a cheerleader at her high school is murdered and the killer seems to have gotten away with it, Carlie knows what she has to do. With the help of her boyfriend, Dillon, she devises a plan to see what she must, no matter her personal safety. But when Dillon is the one who’s injured in the showdown with the killer, Carlie vows to never help anyone again…until the next young woman attacked is her best friend, Jenna.

A nice, scary story which had me sitting on the edge of my seat wondering whether Carlie would survive her psychic abilities. How does an almost sixteen year old cope with being able to see a murderers face in the eyes of his victim? Scary enough, but the murderer is also drawn to her by some sort of psychic link.

I liked the way Carlie’s life carried on despite her need to either hide her abilities or put them to good use. Despite telling her boyfriend Dillon she will not lie to him, she does and justifies it by saying it’s for the best, but then has to face the consequences.

The author paints a great character picture of Carlie and Dillon, plus her new friend Jenna. The story has a nice balance between the normal life of a teenager who’s trying to come to terms with her parents divorce, and wanting to help with the nastiness that’s going on around her.

I have to admit, at first I didn’t think I’d like this story, but as I got further into the book it hooked me, making me want to find out what happened next. Good book, satisfying ending and well written.

Escape from Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth


Escape from Witchwood Hollow by Jordan Elizabeth
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Full Length (180 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Everyone in Arnn – a small farming town with more legends than residents – knows the story of Witchwood Hollow: if you venture into the whispering forest, the witch will trap your soul among the shadowed trees.

After losing her parents in a horrific terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, fifteen-year-old Honoria and her older brother escape New York City to Arnn. In the lure of that perpetual darkness, Honoria finds hope, when she should be afraid.

Perhaps the witch can reunite her with her lost parents. Awakening the witch, however, brings more than salvation from mourning, for Honoria discovers a past of missing children and broken promises.

To save the citizens of Arnn from becoming the witch’s next victims, she must find the truth behind the woman’s madness.

How deep into Witchwood Hollow does Honoria dare venture?

Anything can happen when someone gets lost in the woods.

Ms. Elizabeth did an excellent job of blending multiple genres together into one storyline. It was equally a ghost story, a mystery, and a science fiction novel. I honestly couldn’t narrow it down any further than that because of how all of these elements of the plot worked together to show what happened to every character who accidentally or purposefully found themselves in Witchwood Hollow.

While it was incredibly interesting to see how the town of Arnn had changed from one century to the next, I do wish that I’d been able to get to know the characters better than I did. It was confusing to move between three different time periods. Each one of them had a fairly large cast of characters to introduce to the reader, and they all had complicated plots to unravel as well. I met several unique characters in each era, but I felt like I never had the chance to learn more than pretty basic basic information about their personalities and origins. It would have been nice to dive into their lives more deeply.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this book was how it explored grief. All of the characters had been through some kind of trauma or loss, and all of them were working through the long-term consequences of that. It was fascinating to see how people in different eras thought about their grief and what kinds of coping skills they used to get through it. These scenes were as poignant as they were beautiful.

Escape from Witchwood Hollow should be read by anyone who is in the mood for something thought provoking.

The Girl Before by Cassandra Jamison


The Girl Before by Cassandra Jamison
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short (137 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Miley has only one year left in the foster system and is sent to finish it in the home of an older couple, Anne and Clive Winchester, who are still coping with the death of their sixteen-year-old daughter. Miley is soon drawn into deadly mind games and deception that make it clear that they have their sights set on more than just replacing their deceased daughter. Hidden secrets within the home and chilling revelations about their past bring Miley’s worst nightmare to life.

Miley Fairchild arrives at her new foster home and immediately feels something is not quite right. The man of the house gives out strict punishment for misdemeanors while the woman seems to be trying to make Miley into the daughter she lost.

Things grow even weirder when she discovers the couple have a son who is never mentioned. He’s on the local police force and seems quite friendly. It’s always difficult to make friends in a new school, but some of the students go out of their way to make things unpleasant.

This book is quite intense and has a really unexpected twist The plot is hidden behind a well written story and as the reader I was never quite sure whether I had worked out what was happening., Every time I thought I’d got it right, something else happened and I wondered if Miley was imagining her trials, but then something proved she wasn’t. Definitely a book to keep me on my toes about what’s going on.

Good book, a little gruesome in parts, but definitely a book that took me into the story and kept my attention.

The Ride That Was Really Haunted by Steve Brezenoff


The Ride That Was Really Haunted by Steve Brezenoff
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
Genre: Children’s, Suspense/Mystery, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (88 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The trip to the amusement park should be fun. But when Samantha “Sam” Archer and her friends try out the haunted house ride, things go terribly wrong!

This is a field trip that Samantha isn’t going to forget anytime soon.

The mystery was fun to solve. I liked seeing how quickly the first clue was given to the characters and what they did with it once they realized that something odd was happening on this ride. It was also interesting to watch them try to understand what was happening and figure out if their first guess was correct. Samantha and her friends were smart kids, and it showed in how much time they spent trying to solve the problem of what really happened during the ride.

I would have liked to see more descriptions of what was happening in this story. For example, it would have been nice to know more about what Samantha and her friends saw in the haunted house ride after everything began to go wrong and they realized that they’d have to work together to find a way out of that building. The descriptions of those scenes didn’t contain enough details for me to imagine how they played out.

The dialogue was well done. All of the main characters really sounded like kids, from the silly jokes they made about each other to how they talked about the strange things that were happening when they were trying to figure out what was actually going on in the haunted house. There were a few different times when their conversations made me grin because of how playful they were.

The Ride That Was Really Haunted should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a short, lighthearted mystery.

Day Moon by Brett Armstrong


Day Moon by Brett Armstrong
Tomorrow’s Edge Book One

Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Inspirational, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (376 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Stargazer

BoM LASR YA copy

In A.D. 2039, a prodigious seventeen year old, Elliott, is assigned to work on a global soft-ware initiative his deceased grandfather helped found. Project Alexandria is intended to provide the entire world secure and equal access to all accumulated human knowledge. All forms of print are destroyed in good faith, to ensure everyone has equal footing, and Elliott knows he must soon part with his final treasure: a book of Shakespeare’s complete works gifted him by his grandfather. Before it is destroyed, Elliott notices something is amiss with the book, or rather Project Alexandria. The two do not match, including an extra sonnet titled “Day Moon”. When Elliott investigates, he uncovers far more than he bargained for. There are sinister forces backing Project Alexandria who have no intention of using it for its public purpose. Elliott soon finds himself on the run from federal authorities and facing betrayals and deceit from those closest to him. Following clues left by his grandfather, with agents close at hand, Elliott desperately hopes to find a way to stop Project Alexandria. All of history past and yet to be depend on it.

In making the world accessible for everyone-sometimes there are those who manipulate that accessibility to ensure their own motives are achieved.

Day Moon is an extraordinarily written book that follows Elliott, a college student, working on adding written books to Project Alexandria, a computer system designed to make all human knowledge accessible to all throughout the world. Through the course of his work, Elliott begins to notice that an original copy he possesses of Shakespeare’s plays is startlingly different than the electronic copy in Project Alexandria. It is not a huge jump to realize that there are those that would alter human records to reflect a different body of knowledge than one currently possessed.

I love the mystery and suspense surrounding Elliott. The plot unfolds so smoothly and seamlessly that it envelopes the reader in mystery and suspense without the overtones of immediate suspense. The strengthening and breaking of friendships between Elliott and his friends throughout the journey also leads to must suspense and suspicion. In a world where science and electronics have all but pushed out religion, Elliott finds himself looking deeper and deeper inward to understand the various riddles within Project Alexandria.

The dialogue is strong and the descriptions are thorough; in fact, some of the best character interaction involves the look or action rather than words. Brett Armstrong shows a definite understanding and appreciation for human communication, especially when cloaked within suspicion. The story is not overly violent or graphic, but finds the right amount of description and suspense to catch the reader and propel them into the story without going over the top.

The reality behind Day Moon is one that should seriously be considered since the similarities with our own technology and records certainly follow a similar path to the one described within Day Moon. The technological impact within the society and culture of the story could very well be on the horizon for our own society as well. While Day Moon is the first of the Tomorrow’s Edge Trilogy, it ends at a point that leaves the reader desiring to go to the next book, but not feeling unfulfilled as some trilogies do. It stops at a point that is perfect to give the reader an opportunity to pause, catch their breath, and then make the move to pick up the next in the trilogy!

If you are into an enveloping suspense story that shows you what could be with just a hint of human manipulation, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Day Moon!

Seeker by Sarai Henderson


Seeker by Sarai Henderson
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (190 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Orchid

Six months ago, Hunter’s life turned upside-down. Seeker is dead, a tragedy that’s left Hunter empty and alone. Talon, an agency of superhumans, now looks to her for leadership. When several agents are found dead with mysterious injuries, she has no choice but to track down the killer herself or risk the lives of her teammates and friends. Hunter finds herself in Arizona, where things turn deadly, sending her right into the hands of the one person that could take everything from her—her mother. Forced to do Mother’s bidding, Hunter does the only thing she can … she survives. One grueling day at a time. Will Hunter become the next victim of the killer who has taken so many of her friends’ lives? Will she become the murderous telepath Mother wants her to be? Or will she somehow find a way out of this deadly situation full of so many risks?

Sasha’s code name is Hunter and she’s a telepath. Along with friends like herself she tries to save those who don’t know how to handle their telepathy and psychic abilities. Unfortunately, there are others who want to capture and use the telepaths for experimentation and also use them for illegal ends. Sasha’s psychic sense is prophetic dreams but she wonders if they are telling the past or the future, and if they are what has happened or what might happen.

This is a fascinating story of good and bad, with surprising events popping up when least expected. Well thought out psychic abilities, some I’d never heard of before, piqued the interest and helps the story along. I enjoyed the book although at times the grammatical and spelling errors interrupted the reading flow. I feel the book would benefit from more editing to bring it to a final polished state. Despite this the plot and characters were strong enough to allow me to enjoy the book from beginning to end.

The Hidden Legacy by Christine Rees


The Hidden Legacy by Christine Rees
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (271 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The curse of premonition follows Faye Lithyer, forcing her to witness death—over and over again. When Faye moves in with her grandmother in Astoria, Oregon, her visions grow stronger. Faye watches a new friend fall victim to a murder in the not-so-distant future and becomes obsessed with preventing it from happening. However, Faye’s insecurity has her undecided whether she should tell her friend about their impending death or hunt down the murderer before it’s too late. Faye will be faced with an epic choice that threatens to expose her abilities. Will she choose to save her friend from a monster or risk becoming one herself?

Having special powers isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be.

The dialogue was nicely written. None of the main characters came across to me as particularly talkative people, so it made perfect sense that they usually tended to get straight to the point when they did have something to say. It was a nice, subtle way of showing the audience who these individuals were without ever needing to spell all of it out.

There wasn’t a lot of character development. Faye and her friends seemed to remain more or less the same people regardless of what happened to them. While there were definitely things I admired about these characters, the fact that they didn’t change much over the course of the plot made it harder for me to root for them. It was difficult to understand how someone could go through the experiences they had and not be strongly affected by them.

Faye’s relationship with her grandmother was so sweet. While her grandmother was only in a select number of scenes, it was heart-warming to see such a positive relationship between a grandparent and grandchild. One of my favorite parts of this book happened in the first scene when Faye was warmly welcomed into her grandmother’s home. It was a beautiful introduction to both of these characters, and it only made me want to read more.

One of the other things I found confusing about this tale was how many different characters it followed. The group of friends Faye connected with was just large enough that I sometimes had trouble keeping track of everyone’s backstories and how they all knew each other. While I liked everyone as individuals, I would have enjoyed getting to know a smaller number of them much better rather than learning a little bit about all of them.

With that being said, I did appreciate how well everyone in Faye’s social circle looked out for each other. They genuinely seemed to care about one another, and it showed. This isn’t something I see nearly enough of in the Young Adult genre, so I was pleased to meet a group of friends who were as close as these characters were.

I’d recommend The Hidden Legacy to anyone who has ever felt out of place after moving to a new area or when trying to make some more friends.

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

BoM LASR YA copy

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!