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.

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.

Priestess by Deidre Huesmann


Priestess by Deidre Huesmann
A Modern Greek Myth 2
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (194 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Poinsettia

Trapped on Mykonos, Azalee makes a deal with a god of death: find him Desdemona, and he’ll bring Joel, the love of her life, back to her. But her attempts are thwarted at every turn by an infuriating High Priestess, who touts great political pull and seems to have sinister plans for Azalee’s future.

Shipped back to Illyria, Joel is imprisoned beneath the Kurios’s quarters, where he’s unwittingly reunited with his dangerous elder brother, Deimos. Joel wants to rescue Azalee, but Deimos is determined to prove that Joel must break his pacifism to do it.

Though on opposite ends of Greece, Azalee and Joel’s decisions continue to twine across the threads of fate. Will fate bring them together, or are they destined to remain apart?

Can Azalee trust the gods?

The fates brought Azalee and Joel together, but now everyone seems to be conspiring to keep them apart. Determined to be reunited with Joel, Azalee makes a deal with Thanatos, a god of death. I was wary of this relationship from the start. The gods always seem to have ulterior motives and aren’t often concerned with the mortals they hurt along the way. Will Thanatos truly bring Azalee and Joel together, or will the gods continue to keep them apart? I must mention that Priestess picks up where the first book, Blistered, ended. To enjoy Azalee and Joel’s story, I recommend reading Blistered first.

When I finished Blistered, Joel and Azalee’s situation was far from ideal, but they seemed sure they would soon find their way back to each other. However, in this installment, things have quickly gone from bad to worse. Joel is imprisoned in a cell similar to the one he rescued Azalee from with one key difference. His brother Deimos is in the cell across from his. I’m not quite sure what to make of Deimos. He certainly has a colorful personality. Charming and flippant one moment, and deadly serious the next. I have a feeling that Deimos’ attitude is a front that masks deeper issues. Joel doesn’t have good memories of him, but I’m wondering if there is more to the story that Joel remembers or knows. I look forward to watching the brothers reconnect.

Niribelle has also been harshly punished for failing her mission. While I can’t say that I’ve grown to like her, I do actually feel bad for her now that I know more about her situation and family life. I will say that Niribelle provides a shocking plot twist, that I’m sure will come back to haunt her in some way.

When Azalee reaches the temple of Selene, it isn’t what she expected at all. The High Priestess takes an immediate and intense disliking toward Azalee. The priestesses are strongly discouraged from making friends with each other. I found this strange and very unsettling. However, Azalee does manage to make one friend, Emilia. Azalee and Emilia both know that something is wrong at the temple, and it has something to do with the High Priestess. Neither can figure out exactly what the problem is. One thing is certain. Azalee had a very strong connection with Selene before coming to the temple. It stands to reason her connection should be stronger at the temple, but once there, she can’t seem to hear the goddess at all. What is blocking Selene from communicating with her priestesses?

As if dealing with the vicious High Priestess wasn’t bad enough, Azalee also has to fend off the unwanted attention of Theseus, a very rich and powerful man. Theseus believes that if he and Azalee were to have a child, it would bring strength and peace to the Chertz people. Theseus is vain, selfish, and arrogant, and it would be very easy to write him off. However, the more I read, I think there is more to his character that has yet to be revealed. He treats Azalee terribly at times, but however misguided his actions are, I think he truly believes he is doing the right thing for the Chertzes.

Azalee and Joel’s situation is even more precarious at the end of this installment than it was at the end of the first. They are desperately trying to reach each other, but there are so many obstacles standing in their way. I fear they have a long hard road to travel before they will finally be able to be together. However, I’m still holding out hope that they will find their way to a happy ending. I eagerly anticipate reading the third and final book in this series!

Blistered by Deidre Huesmann


Blistered by Deidre Huesmann
A Modern Greek Myth Volume 1
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (183 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Poinsettia

Bearing the Curse Azalee wants a home—one that isn’t a cold, dirty prison deep within the earth. Even if she wanted to escape, she can’t walk in sunlight. Her skin will burn and flay, blistered by a god. Defying the Fates Joel wants to get her somewhere safe. Both are outcasts, shunned, and forbidden from taking proper Greek names. He breaks her out of an underground prison, and they flee toward Mykonos. Angering the Gods The battle-worn Kurios sends Niribelle after them. She’s gorgeous, she’s cunning, and she seems to have a thing for Joel. She arrives armed with Hecate’s magic, and blessed by Aphrodite’s beauty. Inciting the War Soon the three teenagers discover one horrifying thing: Mykonos will be no paradise. 14+ due to adult situations

Is Azalee and Joel’s connection a blessing or a curse?

Azalee’s life has never been close to resembling anything normal. As a child, she was an outcast. After she was blistered, she was thrown into an underground prison by her own parents. When Joel comes to rescue her, Azalee is understandably skeptical. After all, she’s never even known basic kindness. Azalee’s desire to be free is stronger than her doubts so she reluctantly leaves with Joel. However, it isn’t long before they are joined by Niribelle. I didn’t trust Niribelle from the first moment she appeared. Her whiny and superior attitude grated on my nerves. I couldn’t help but wonder what her true motivations were and how much damage she would do to Joel and Azalee’s quest.

Azalee is a likable character, but she can be very abrasive. She and Niribelle fought constantly while Joel made futile attempts to stay neutral and keep the peace. I must say that I’m rather surprised that Joel didn’t see through Niribelle’s attitude sooner. While it is clear he tries to see the best in people, he is also very smart. Niribelle shows her true colors on multiple occasions yet he persisted in making excuses for her. I found this hard to swallow.

Azalee and Joel’s budding friendship and romance perfectly balances the animosity between Azalee and Niribelle. Azalee is very guarded, convinced no one could truly care about her. However, Joel is so genuine, honest, kind, and patient that she gradually begins to trust him. I loved watching them get to know each other, particularly when Joel takes the time to teach Azalee how to read. The little things Joel did for her every day thawed Azalee’s heart bit by bit. I enjoyed watching their feelings grow so naturally that before they realized it, they had fallen in love. However, no one, not even the gods, is likely to look on their relationship with favor.

I do wish there had been more details provided about a couple of issues. I’d like to know more about the Chertz and Spinel. How did these two groups come to be, and why do they hate each other so much? I’d also like more explanation on why some children weren’t given Greek names. Clearly it is meant to shame them, but why? Because the child was conceived unexpectedly? This doesn’t make much sense to me.

I also have an issue with the fact that there are no good parental figures. Most of the adults are absolutely horrible and completely devoid of love and compassion. Familial bonds are nonexistent. I realize I’m not getting a picture of the entire culture, but the families I’ve met so far are beyond dysfunctional.

Despite these issues, I really enjoyed reading Blistered. The pacing is excellent, the plot is compelling, and Azalee and Joel are wonderful characters who are easy to cheer for. I must warn readers that this installment ends on a “to be continued” note. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that Azalee and Joel are relatively okay, but their situation is far from ideal. I will be picking up the second book immediately because I absolutely have to know what happens next!

The Magician’s Workshop: Volume Two by Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr


The Magician’s Workshop: Volume Two by Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr
Publisher: Wondertale
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (191 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Poinsettia

Return to the world of the Magician’s Workshop: Where Dreams Become Reality.

In Volume Two, the Festival of Stars has finally arrived, and the Color Ceremony is about to commence. As children from all over the islands gather to stand before a puller, one question remains: who will have a Color, and who will be found void?

Rejoin your favorite characters as they step forward and receive a label that will have the power to dramatically alter the course of their lives forever.

After the Color Ceremony, life will never be the same.

First, it is absolutely imperative to read Volume One before reading this installment of the Magician’s Workshop series. Volume Two picks up exactly where the previous book ended, right before the life altering Color Ceremony. After reading Volume One, I desperately wanted to know how the Color Ceremony would go for Kai, Talia, Weston, Kalaya, Kaso, and Layauna. The course of their futures would be determined in a single moment. Each of these characters have grown on me, and I must admit I felt nervous as each of them stood before the puller. Who would have Color? Who would be void? I had to stop myself from rushing ahead to find the answers, and I discovered the truth is much more complicated than I ever could have imagined.

The more I learn about Color, the more convinced I am that the system is flawed. I won’t reveal any names, but some very talented characters are found void. Each time a promising character was found void, it was a breath-stealing blow. I couldn’t believe how unfair it was. However, the more I read, the more it became clear that there are big changes on the horizon for the inhabitants of O’Ceea. Some people are beginning to believe that having Color isn’t nearly as important they have been led to believe. Again, I can’t give too many details, but Layauna’s story convinced me that Color is not the only expression of power and talent. Her experience with the puller and indeed her entire storyline is by far the most disturbing and clearly illustrates that something needs to change. I fear that Layauna, Kai, and the others are pawns in a larger scheme that has yet to be fully revealed. Will the change be for the better or worse?

As I mentioned in my review of Volume One, everyone in O’Ceea has the ability to make projections, which are essentially magical illusions. They aren’t real, but in this installment, there are rumblings of people who’d like to make projections into reality. Most people think this is impossible, but I’m not so sure. I look forward to seeing how this particular plot thread develops.

The Magician’s Workshop: Volume Two is an absolutely delightful addition to the series. The more I read, the more intrigued I become. I am thrilled I had the opportunity to read this installment, and I’m eagerly anticipating the release of Volume Three.

Not Her Baby by Cassandra Jamison


Not Her Baby by Cassandra Jamison
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (232 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Orchid

When eighteen-year-old Aubrey Dale’s cousin is diagnosed with leukemia, Aubrey volunteers to in-vitro fertilization in order to become a vessel for the donor that will save her life. Now this clean-cut high school student must learn to adapt to life as a pregnant teenager, despite still being a virgin. Things only get more complicated when she falls in love with her best friend, Eli Calhoun, who has just returned from the penitentiary. Rumors soon spread that the insemination story is only a cover up. That’s when the anonymous threats begin. Someone in her small town disapproves of this so-called abomination. The psychological games soon take a twisted turn, putting Aubrey and her unborn child’s lives in danger. Aubrey and Eli race to uncover the horrible truth before it destroys everything.

Aubrey lives with her father and sister. Her mainstay in life is Kailee, her cousin, who has been there for her in all the years since her mother left. This summer a lot happens to Aubrey. Eli, a friend who has been in prison for several years, returns to the town and the friendship threatens to become a deeper relationship . Kailee arrives for the summer, and Brey finds out her cousin has leukemia. Brey offers to be a bone marrow transplant donor but unfortunately she isn’t a perfect fit. She takes the next best option and agrees to have a child with a donor to provide the stem cells needed for Kailee’s recovery.

At first I thought this eighteen year old was being brave in her wish to help her cousin. As the story progresses it becomes apparent she hasn’t really thought things through. One major result will be what to do with the baby when it’s born. At least one lady at her church has definite, but unwelcome, ideas about what will happen to the child.

The attitude of her fellow students at high school make her life more insulated. New students at the school, demean her for their own pleasure, and danger and intrigue from an unexpected source make her life scary and hazardous.

There are several sub-plots to this story which make it all the more intriguing and fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Woofed Cookies by Greg Bauder


Woofed Cookies by Greg Bauder
Publisher: American Star Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (20 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

A boy, Peter Moon, gets a puppy for his birthday that has an unusually sensitive stomach. Time and time again the puppy comes through for him in tight and often frightening situations. The story is spiced with humour and shows how resourceful the boy is by using his dog’s special attributes.

A little vomit can go a long way.

Peter acted exactly how I’d expected a boy in his early teens to act. Everything from his obsession with getting a pet dog to how annoyed he was when his mom asked him to do chores was spot-on. He was silly at times, too. Watching him bounce through all of those moods gave me a very clear image of what kind of person he was in so many different ways.

This story told the audience what was going on instead of showing us what was happening in them. It would have been helpful to have more detailed descriptions of Peter’s adventures with his dog. They got into all kinds of mischief together, but I had trouble picturing what was happening to them because everything happened quickly and with so little time spent describing what it would be like to actually be part of those scenes.

The dialogue was nicely written. I liked the fact that every single character had such a unique way of speaking. No two people in this book sounded alike, and that made their conversations a lot of fun to read. It was easy to pick out who was talking when a new scene began, and it was also easy to make good guesses about the kinds of things they’d say once I got to know them better.

I struggled when it came to picking the right age recommendation for this tale. Some of the trouble Peter got into sounded like stuff a much younger boy would do, but there were also some scenes where he experimented with certain things that are much more common for teenagers to try. Fourteen seemed like a good compromise between the mature content in those scenes and the goofiness of the rest of the storyline.

Woofed Cookies should be read by anyone who has ever been surprised by what their pet is willing to eat.

The Separation by Stormy Corrin Russell


The Separation by Stormy Corrin Russell
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (206 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Orchid

In a world where men and women live on separate sides of a massive wall, seventeen-year-old misfit Eroyn Fairchild has always been too busy with her broken family to wonder why they live the way they do. When a man from the other side breaks through, Ero holds him hostage, hoping for a ransom large enough to pay for her Elder Grace’s treatment. Things get more complicated as the man is followed by two others who make Ero question everything she’s ever known about her life. As Ero searches for the truth, the lines between right and wrong blur, leaving her to choose between saving her city and saving herself.

After the war between the sexes, men and women live in separate conclaves. Ero works as security on the fence between the male and female compounds and one night discovers two men have broken through to the female side. One of these men is her brother and together they find out all they have been told is a lie.

It was interesting to read the author’s concept of this world with men and women living separately and babies being conceived by IVF although it appears records are kept of the fathers of each child. It’s amazing how different history to the truth can evolve when the descendants are not told the truth. This world is well built with rules, ceremonies and procedures which must be obeyed and apparently the only contact between the to halves of the compound are through special liaison people.

This is really Ero’s voyage of discovery finding out about her world, the men’s world and the true history of the past. There is a budding romance, but this has not developed by the end of the book. I liked how the original horror of males – instilled in her by her upbringing – is gradually replaced by acceptance that they are not the monsters she’s always believed. A good, different, book with a lot of tension throughout.

The Coterie Declaration by Richard C McClain II


The Coterie Declaration by Richard C McClain II
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (161 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Arrested for hacking, socially awkward and speech-impaired sixteen-year-old Dakarai Holt is sentenced to two years at Sheffield Academy, an exclusive juvenile rehabilitation facility. Within the first two hours, Dak is subjected to mandatory brainwashing. The academy’s enforcers, the R.A.T. SQUADS, patrol Sheffield to ensure each student’s full compliance. Gacheru, Dak’s roommate, pressures him to drink a tonic that conspicuously counteracts Sheffield’s indoctrination. This places Dak in the middle of many adversarial and explosive situations. Additionally, Dak becomes knotted in a clandestine plot involving the Secretary of State and a mysterious group who goes by the name, The Coterie. While at Sheffield, Dak must find a way to survive the R.A.T. SQUADS’ terror, the annexation of a remote island, and battle his own inner demons.

Dak is the son of a wealthy man but this can’t help him with his anthropophobia which developed at the age of 5. In fact he hasn’t spoken since then. His world consists of hacking large amounts of money in a Robin Hood style of theft. He is eventually caught and sent to Sheffield, a weird place of detention which seems to be run by ex prisoners trained as guards. All the inmates wear headphones which are meant to brainwash them. Dak becomes aware that something is going on in the background, something illegal and possibly highly dangerous.

This is a science fiction book with a deep down mystery woven into the story. For a sixteen year old Dak is very computer savvy and it’s only when he’s set up by the FBI that he gets caught. Most of the book consists of Dak’s internal thoughts and how he interacts with the world and those around him. This sounds as if it would be boring, but it’s definitely not. The plots and sub-plots took me to many different scenarios and each time I thought I’d discovered what the end would be, another sub plot came along to drag me in another direction. I’m normally a fantasy addict but this science fiction book certainly intrigued me.

What Every Girl (except me) Knows by Norah Raleigh Baskin

What Every Girl (except me) Knows by Norah Raleigh Baskin
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (125 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

I’m assuming I’ll turn into a woman someday whether I know anything about being one or not. But being womanly is something you definitely have to learn. Girls probably don’t even know they’re learning it. But one thing for sure is that it has to come from a mother.

And a mother is one thing I don’t have.

***

Unlike most kids faced with the prospect of having a stepmother, Gabby Weiss isn’t the slightest bit resistant to the idea. Gabby wishes her father would hurry up and marry someone who knows more about womanhood than she does, someone who understands her obsession with all that is happening (and, worse, not happening!) to her body. For a while, it seems as though her father’s girlfriend, Cleo, might soon be filling the role of mother, but when things fall apart, Gabby has to find her own solution. So she travels to the last place she remembers seeing her mother, searching for a memory. But what she finds is something even better.

 

There isn’t an official handbook for growing up, so Gabby might have to make one up as she goes along.

Gabby’s character development was nicely done. She matured a lot from the beginning of this tale to the end of it. I especially liked seeing how she slowly began to understand certain things that had completely flown over her head in the first few chapters. This was such an interesting way to show how this character was changing because it focused on both the small and the big signs that she wasn’t a little girl anymore.

The only thing holding this story back from a higher rating was how many characters were included in it. There were so many different people to get to know that I often accidentally mixed them up. This was especially true when it came to Gabby’s classmates. Most of them didn’t play a big role in the plot so it was hard to keep all of them straight.

The relationship between Gabby and her older brother, Ian, was wonderfully complex. I really enjoyed seeing how they reacted to each other. Sometimes they argued like all siblings do, but at other times they were surprisingly sweet. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones where these two characters danced around the topic of their mother’s death. While I can’t say much more about that without giving away spoilers, it was fascinating to see how Gabby and Ian handled their grief so many years after losing their mom.

What Every Girl (except me) Knows should be read by anyone who suddenly feels like they’re growing up quickly or who remembers what that stage in life is like.