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 Jewel Tree by Lee Summers


The Jewel Tree by Lee Summers
Publisher: SevenOaks
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (90 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

At the heart of THE JEWEL TREE is an heirloom so precious that the last remaining members of the Ryder family will do almost anything to keep it in their possession.

But how long should a young girl work to earn back the emblem of her mother’s soul? And is any task to menial?

When Leda sees the hummingbird charm dangling from wealthy Lord Caitiff’s shriveled earlobe, she swears she will labor a year and a day to reclaim it. She is prepared to do whatever the old man asks–until the day he asks too much.

In a world of dark curses and ancient grudges, Leda and her handsome young uncle are sometimes hard pressed to distinguish between appearance and reality. Not all that glitters is gold–and gold is never worth more than flesh and blood. This mini-novel about the redemptive power of love will delight readers who appreciate a little magic in their lives.

Magic is everywhere if you know where to look for it.

Ms. Summers has a beautiful writing style that works perfectly for the fantasy genre. Her descriptions of the scenes were so vivid that I almost felt as though I were working next to Leda and her uncle, Alexander, as they attempted to earn back the charm that had been created in her mother’s honor. I also appreciated how much time this author put into showing the audience what Leda and Alexander, were experiencing and why the acted the ways that they did. All of those little details she added to her story made it come alive for me.

The ending felt rushed. So much time was spent building up the conflicts that I was surprised to see how quickly they were resolved. It would have been nice to watch the characters struggle more to find the solutions to their problems, especially when it came to the curse and how that affected everyone. If not for this issue, I would have chosen a much higher rating as I loved the storyline up until the last scene or two.

The character development was well done. Everyone changed in important ways between the first scene and the last one. It was interesting to see how and why they grew as a result of the things that happened to them, especially since their transformations were explained so clearly. I can’t say much else about this without giving away spoilers, but it was one of my favorite parts of this book.

The Jewel Tree should be read by everyone who enjoys fairy tales.

The Ugly Girl Party by Ann Herrick


The Ugly Girl Party by Ann Herrick
Publisher: Chaucer Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (118 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars

Review by: Astilbe

Faith’s wish to get off to a good start at her new high school is shattered on the first day, as she quickly discovers that drop-dead gorgeous Hunter and friends decide she lives in the “wrong” house and wears the “wrong” clothes. They systematically harass her and seem determined to make her life miserable. She fantasizes about how she’ll get even some day when she is a famous singer/actress, but meanwhile just wants to make it through the day.She meets a couple of possible friends, but finds it hard to trust anyone.

When maybe-friend Julia tells her about the upcoming talent show, Faith is determined to win in order to impress her tormentors. Then nice-guy neighbor Riley invites her to the homecoming dance. She’s excited to go until she gets there and realizes that something is up–something terrible. And when she reacts, she finds herself in danger of being suspended from school. Faith questions her own goals, decisions, and values as she struggles to find her way.

It’s never easy being the new girl at school, but Faith has a few extra challenges that most of her classmates do not.

Faith was a well-developed and interesting character. I really liked the fact that her flaws were so important to how the story progressed. Instead of being something minor and forgettable, they were actually serious issues that changed the way she saw the world and pushed her to do and say things she might not have otherwise done and said. Seeing Faith’s positive and negative sides only made me like her more because of how completely I got to know her and how much I could empathize with some of the things she struggled with.

I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters in this story. Faith met so many different kids at her new school that I sometimes forgot the names of the people who were friendly and who were snotty to her. It would have been nice to focus on a smaller number of characters so that I could get to know them better.

Some of my favorites scenes involved the time that Faith spent with her talkative little sister, Erin. They had their share of disagreements like all siblings do, but they genuinely cared about each other at the end of the day. They also shared a lot more in common than either of them might have wanted to admit. Both of these things made it so much fun to see what would happen to these sisters next.

I’d recommend The Ugly Girl Party to anyone who would like to read a story about bullying and trying to fit in.

Before the Dawn by Courtney Rene


Before the Dawn by Courtney Rene
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (99 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Seventeen year old Abby can’t shake the darkness that continues to haunt her since her escape from the Hunterz. She can’t let it go. Questions continue to circle. Questions no one will answer. Who are they, really? Why do they hate the wolves so much? The answers could be found in a young boy named, Sam. He may be from the Hunterz, but he smells of wolf. Derek wants to believe her, and tries to help, but Abby still hasn’t learned how to accept help from others. Her relationships with her mother and father continue to deteriorate, but Derek is a puzzle. Some days he’s exactly what she wants and others he is all that she despises. Being a shifter isn’t as simple as she thought it would be. The wolf part is easy. It’s the human side that needs a little work.

There’s a wolf inside of Abby that can’t wait to get out again.

Lilly, Abby’s aunt, was such a kind person and wonderful role model for her niece. She brought a sense of stability and calm to Abby’s life that was desperately needed. Every time Lilly entered a scene, I smiled because I knew she was going to make everything feel alright again. She was by far my favorite character in this tale.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing Abby’s personality. She spent a great deal of this story being angry. While she had good reasons for feeling that way so often, it was hard to get to know the other sides of her personality because of it. I would have loved to see more examples of how she behaved when she was in other moods, too, so I could discover the rest of her as well.

The shifter society was fascinating. I really enjoyed seeing how it all worked, especially when it came to how men and women relate to each other in this world and all of the double standards that they have about what men are allowed to do but women are not. Abby’s reactions to those sections of the plot were exactly what I’d expect from her. It was as interesting to see her act the way I thought she would as it was to explore why so many of the men in this universe accept the status quo.

This book is the third in a series. I’d recommend reading the first two instalments before jumping into this one.

Before the Dawn should be read by anyone who enjoys stories about shifters.

Webster: The Unhinged Edition by Anne Wentworth


Webster: The Unhinged Edition by Anne Wentworth
Publisher: Blue Swan Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (105 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Webster Harmon has a gift. When the veils come down, spirits show themselves, and he can communicate with them. Tandy, the woman who runs the group home where he lives, manages to find out about his gift and reports Webster as being mentally ill. As a result of this, Webster is sent to a psychiatric unit.

After being released, the only reason for returning to the group home instead of risking a life on the street, is Webster’s love for Beth, one of the other teens living in the group home. Beth is the one person who makes life with Tandy tolerable.

On his way back to Tandy’s, Webster meets Reggae. Reggae’s been living on the street since his uncle died, so Webster brings him along to see if he can stay at the group home. When Webster returns, he finds Beth terrified because Tandy wants to send her for a trial to live with a couple who may have less than honorable intentions.

With the help of his new friend Reggae, Webster is determined to keep Beth safe. When the spirits reveal Tandy’s secrets, Webster decides to make his move to get all three of them out of there and to a better life–even if it means using his gift to break the rules.

Not everyone cares about what happens to teens in foster care. If Webster and his friends are going to be saved, they’d better take fate into their own hands.

The friendship among Webster and the two other teens currently living in their group home, Beth and Reggae, was so strong. One of the reasons why I enjoyed seeing these characters work together to get out of their terrible living situation so much is that all three of them genuinely cared about each other. Their friendships were so strong that I couldn’t wait to find out if they were successful and if they’d find their happy endings.

There were many pacing issues in this book. The plot moved quickly in some scenes and pretty slowly in others. This made it harder for me to stay interested in the storyline because of how often the pacing changed and how much that affected every other part of the story. Some of the scenes felt rushed, while others didn’t have enough time to explore all of the issues that the characters were dealing with.

It was nice to have some helpful and empathetic adults in a young adult novel. I especially appreciated the fact that the kind adults in Webster’s life played such a big part in it. This wasn’t just one scene. There were many opportunities for this character to meet people who were nothing at all like the abusive woman who ran the group home where he lived.

I’d recommend Webster: The Unhinged Edition to anyone who is interested in books about foster care or the supernatural.

Wyshea Shadows by Geoffrey Saign


Wyshea Shadows by Geoffrey Saign
– Divided Draghons Book One

Publisher: KiraKu Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult
Length: Full (307 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Age:  16+
Rating: Best Book
Review by: Orchid

A hundred-year-war that won’t end…

Three young women sworn to kill each other…

Famere, the wyshea butcher, seeks vengeance with loyal mythic beasts called shadows, Jennelle, commander of the Northerners, fights for her people’s survival using brilliant strategies, Camette, a wild divided draghon, searches for her kidnapped lover…Famere, Jennelle, and Camette must discover who is friend or enemy, who is responsible for the hundred-year dark sky and death mists, and if the men they adore will still love them.

From the award-winning author of WhipEye Chronicles comes the new epic fantasy series, Divided Draghons—an action-packed thriller with mystery, romance, and battles set in a world as beautiful, dangerous, and mysterious as the three heroic women—Famere, Jennelle, and Camette—who must fight for their people’s survival and the men they love.

The debut fantasy book from Geoffrey Saign, Wyshea Shadows, is a new addition to the great epic fantasy tradition of Dean Murray, Marc Secchia, and Ava Richardson.

When Famere unexpectedly becomes the Wyshea Guide instead of her proposed bond mate, she also bonds with the shadows who have returned after many decades away. With their help she leads her people to war, earning herself the nickname of Wyshea Butcher.

Jenelle becomes the leader of the Northerners after her father is killed by Famere. These two very intelligent women are the main pivot of the story, each a leader of her people, neither willing to allow the other races of the world to overrun their domains.

There are good books and there are great books, Wyshea Shadows is a great book. It’s too long to read all in one go, but I would have done this if it had been possible. There are male characters in this story, and they play strong roles, but the females are not overshadowed by them. The weaving together of males and females, the different races, magicians and wyshea is skilfully done. This is well crafted with a good flow between the different races and a strong story which is a pleasure to read. Excellent.

Battlefield by J.S. Frankel


Battlefield by J.S. Frankel
The Titans of Ardana 2

Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (235 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Martin Calder and his girlfriend, Dana—no last name given—are back. Possessing superpowers, Martin joins up with Dana to fight crime throughout their adopted city of Baltimore. Fighting crime on Earth is easy, but when an old enemy from Dana’s world, Ardana, returns to wreak havoc and seek vengeance, it will take more than anyone can possibly give to defeat him. Sometimes, though, giving everything isn’t enough.

Every day is a new battle when you’re fighting an impossible strong alien.

My review of the first story in this series talked about Martin not having much character development in it. It made me happy to see how much he grew in this sequel. His basic personality remained the same, but he matured in all kinds of wonderful ways. It was especially intersting to see how he changed as a result of some information about his past that came to light. I can’t say anything else about that part of the plot without giving away spoilers, but I liked how Mr. Frankel connected this character’s past and present. Martin’s evolution made perfect sense because of it.

I would have liked to see Dana get more attention from the plot. She was such a strong presence when they first met that I was a bit surprised by the less active role she played this time around. If these characters get the chance to share more of their adventures, I hope she’ll be given more chances to shine. Dana has a lot of talents, and I’d love to see her show them off. With that being said, this is a minor criticism of something I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit.

One of my favorite things Mr. Frankel’s writing style is how well he writes action scenes. He has a way of drawing a reader into the middle of a battle so completely that I can never stop reading when one of them begins. I simply have to know how it ends, and there were a lot of those moments in this tale! It was especially interesting to see what kinds of weapons the aliens used. Some of them were nothing like what humans have. They made the fight scenes even more exciting than they already were.

This book is the second in a series. It can be read a standalone work, although I would also recommend checking out The Titans of Ardana if you had a good time with this one.

If you like adventure, take The Titans of Ardana 2: Battlefield for a spin.

Drusilla by Melissa Frost


Drusilla by Melissa Frost
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (127 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

What if Cinderella isn’t the sweet and tortured angel everyone believes? Instead, what if she’s the most popular girl at school who is hell bent on making sure her ugly stepsister doesn’t stand in the way of her popularity? A new story unfolds through the eyes of Drusilla…

Being sisters with bright and beautiful Ella is an unending nightmare for Drusilla. That is until the sisters accidentally open a portal to another dimension. The unlikely duo is forced to team up against a swarm of angry sprites, a clan of territorial gnomes, and a few other unlikely creatures. Their new portal comes with a fairy godmother, and there’s even a bona fide fairy tale prince up for grabs. It might take impossible odds to bring these two together, but it’s a story that proves even the ugly stepsister can sometimes be the hero.

Drusilla has a lot to learn before she can hope to find her happy ending.

One of the things I appreciated the most about the characters was how brave they were. Whether they were trying to find the courage to talk to someone they had a crush on or fighting creatures from the other side of the portal, they never backed down from anything important. That’s exactly the sort of thing I enjoy finding in books. It helps the plot continue to flow smoothly, and it’s also something that doesn’t happen nearly enough in young adult fiction.

I didn’t like how pushy Drusilla’s love interest was in this story. His refusal to respect many of the boundaries she tried to set with him made it hard for me to hope that they’d end up together. While I could have forgiven him for making that mistake once or twice, the fact that he did it over and over again without seeming to learn from the past wasn’t a good sign.

The otherworldly creatures who started spilling through the portal were wonderful. Some of them were downright scary, while others seemed like they’d make good neighbors if you didn’t mind some of their eccentricities. The best part of these scenes, though, was how clearly all of the creatures were described. I could imagine exactly what all of them looked and sounded like because of how much time the author spent talking about them.

Drusilla’s personality and character development needed work as well. She had very few flaws, and the flaws she did have were minor and had little effect on the plot. I wanted to like her, but the portrayal of her as someone who was good at nearly everything she tried made it hard for me to relate to her. She was so close to being perfect that there wasn’t a great deal of depth to her personality. It’s difficult to improve on perfection, so she didn’t really change or grow through the storyline either despite having all kinds of exciting things happen to her.

The dialogue was nicely written. It had clever moments, and there were also a few times when I grinned at the references to classic fairy tales that were snuck into certain scenes. I appreciated the fact that the characters understood they were making these references, too. Having them in on the joke only made everything funnier than it would have been otherwise.

I’d recommend Drusilla to anyone who enjoys modern twists on classic fairy tales.

Rebel Storm Rider by Jennifer Macaire


Rebel Storm Rider by Jennifer Macaire
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Length: Short Story (87 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When intergalactic herders Carl and Ruby Cadet find a Raider baby in a wrecked spaceship, they decide to keep her as their own daughter. Raiders are considered the scourge of the galaxy and the Federation, never having captured a Raider alive, demands they give her up. When Carl and Ruby refuse, the Federation declares them outlaws and sends Raider hunters after them.

The hunters have been given an order: capture the baby alive but eliminate Carl and Ruby if necessary. Despite the danger, the young herders decide to go rogue and flee. Their only hope of saving themselves and the baby Raider will be the space-travelling horses, and the mysterious Horse Passages.

The best way to stay out of trouble is to never stop travelling. Will Carl and Ruby move fast enough to evade the hunters?

Ruby has always been my favourite character in this universe, and this tale only gave me more reasons to love her. It was so much fun to compare her more assertive personality with the fairly timid girl she was when I first discovered the Horse Passages series. While I don’t know if the author is planning to write more about Ruby in the future, I’m sure hoping she will. There is so much more I’d like to learn about Ruby.

There were some pacing issues. The storyline moved quickly in some scenes and slowly in others. As someone who has been loving these books so far, I would have been happy with either pacing style. It was jarring to switch between them, though, and I do wish that the narrator would have picked one of them and stuck with it.

The plot development was great in this tale. I appreciated how much time the author spent exploring how The Federation operated and what it was like to live as a nomadic horse herder. Including so many details about these parts of the plot made it impossible for me to stop reading. I simply had to know more about the worlds that Carl and Ruby moved between!

This is the third part in a series, but you don’t have to be familiar with the first two instalments to enjoy this one. It works well as a standalone story.

Rebel Storm Rider should be read by anyone who is in the mood for an adventure.

Cupid’s Kiss by Jennifer Milne


Cupid’s Kiss by Jennifer Milne
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Cupid was real, and his descendants still walk the earth. Their magical matchmaking abilities don’t come from arrows though, but from their spit. Sixteen year old Amanda Amoretto is one of those descendants and she doesn’t believe in love. After all, if her spit can make people fall in love, it’s just a silly chemical reaction right? It isn’t real.Until she meets a boy she just can’t get off of her mind. But if she kisses him, he’ll fall under her Cupid love spell, which makes it impossible to have a genuine relationship. Her life is turned upside down as the girl who always overthinks everything finds herself a slave to her feelings. Can Amanda resist her feelings? Does she want to? Even if it means living a lie?

Being naturally irresistible isn’t always as easy as it may look.

My favorite part of this tale was the explanation the main character gave of how her ability worked. It was fascinating to see how she described the process of developing a crush on someone and why her saliva could jump start these feelings in a heartbeat. It made me want to know more about Cupid’s descendants!

While I really enjoyed this story overall, there was one part of that I didn’t quite understand. Many of Amanda’s classmates knew how resistant she was to the idea of ever kissing anyone. I was surprised by how common this knowledge was among them as it didn’t seem like the kind of thing she would go around advertising. Amanda was extremely private about her life in general, so it felt out of character for her to let so many people around her know something that would only encourage them to ask her even more questions about why she’d come up with that rule.

The chemistry between Amanda and the boy she met was absolutely perfect. I loved seeing them slowly figure each other out. They had a lot in common, and they were both such kind and smart people that I couldn’t imagine a better match for either one of them. It was impossible for me to stop reading until I knew if they were going to end up together.

Cupid’s Kiss should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a funny romance.