Just Another Quiet Little State by J.S. Frankel


Just Another Quiet Little State by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (293 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Teenager Gabe Common and his girlfriend, Millie Themmes, have moved back to Chumsville, the place where the magic that changed them started. Although they attempt to move on with their lives, some forces in the world will not let them. For one, the ambient magic still exists, and this time it has spread across the state of South Dakota. In fear, the president authorizes the military to contain the Changed, those transformed into something other than human. Additionally, civilian militias are out to kill the Changed. Once again, Gabe has to lead the residents of Chumsville and fight the intolerance around them, even at the cost of his life. It comes down to not only a battle for acceptance, but also one of survival. The only question is whether Gabe and his friends can survive the upcoming conflict.

How would you fight a foe who was many times bigger and stronger than you are?

The romantic subplot was handled well. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how Gabe and Millie’s relationship has developed over the years. They have been through a lot together since their bodies were transformed by ambient magic, but every crisis only seemed to draw them closer together. I liked watching them work together so closely, and I was pleased with how well they got along with each other.

This tale would have benefited from having many more details included in it. While the plot was just as fantastic as I would expect from Mr. Frankel, I had a lot of trouble picturing what was happening in many scenes because the narrator didn’t describe the events in them as vividly as he had earlier on in this series. It was almost as though I were listening to him retell it later on instead of experiencing the plot twists alongside him. I desperate wanted to give this story a much higher rating, but this issue prevented me from doing so.

While the world building in this series has always been excellent, it was even better than normal this time around. I especially appreciated all of the references the narrator included to various events that have happened in the United States over the past year or two. They made the plot even more meaningful than it would have otherwise been, but they were also subtle enough that I suspect they’ll still feel fresh and relevant years from now.

This is the third book in a series. It can be read on its own or out of order.

I’d recommend Just Another Quiet Little State to anyone who loves contemporary science fiction.

Broken Roots by Michelle Diana Lowe

Broken Roots by Michelle Diana Lowe
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary YA
Length: Full Length (224 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

After her father’s invention earns them millions, sixteen-year-old Teisha Cole moves from London to Florida with her family. Uprooted from the place she loves, she now lives in a broken home full of secrets and lies.

After Teisha’s grandmother dies, her fractured family is replanted in rural England, where a kingpin and his clan are laying in wait. What follows is a dangerous game that brings their house to its knees, as the family’s wealth begins to disappear.

When her father develops a mysterious illness, Teisha turns detective to unravel the truth. Escaping onto the streets and stumbling into the foster care system may be her only hope of survival.

Money changes everything right from the start of Broken Roots.

Written in a first person in a very conversational style, the story is like the main character Teisha’s, true confessions.

She a teen, transplanted from her home and not really enjoying what seems like it could be a great, if different, new life. However, ‘great’ is far from the truth. Sunshine and beautiful beaches hide misery.

Violence begins to mark her everyday. Its a relief to find she has friends, but yet another worry when we realize what they are really like. The ups and downs of Teisha’s life are unpredictable and frightening. She seems a victim of all; of people as well as circumstances.

We have the main character’s take on everything, including some things it’s hard to believe that a teen would know. There is definitely an ‘older’ world view in play here. That said, the older world view, while affecting believability, does contribute to the impact of the plot.

“The digital image of love excites you. Actual love means nothing. That is a major issue…” This sixteen-year-old says to her mother. This, and other of Teisha’s insights seem out of character, although this main character’s style is such that it is as if we are staring directly into her psyche: We may be doubtful, uncomfortable; but also enthralled.

My chief complaint is information overload: some repeated (I feel alone/isolated) and some simply too much. Her misery is very apparent. Her family members have become strangers… she lives in this ‘less than,’ yet idyllic-looking world.

Unique, unpredictable and engaging. Once you start reading Broken Roots it is hard to put down! The mystery adds to its intrigue. For a real change of pace from practically anything that is your usual, add it to your list!

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An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale

An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (232 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Stargazer

When your whole world is falling apart, what are the chances you’ll find love in the most unexpected of places?

Livvie feels like she’s losing everything: her two best friends have abandoned her for their boyfriends, her mother continues to ignore her, while her sister, Jules, is sick again and getting worse by the day. Add in the request Jules has made of her and Livvie feels like she’s losing her mind, too.

Her only escape is in the art room, where she discovers not only a refuge from her life, but also a kindred soul in Bianca, the school “freak”. Livvie’s always felt invisible, at school and at home, but with Bianca, she finally feels like someone sees the real Livvie. As the relationship deepens and it comes time to take the romance public, will Livvie be able to take that step?

Livvie’s about to find out if she has what it takes to make the tough decisions and stand up for herself—for the first time in her life.

How far can you be pushed before you give up your quiet life and take a stand?

An Unstill Life is a deep journey into the life of Livvie, a fifteen-year-old girl with more than her share of life’s problems. Her sister Jules is sick with cancer and Livvie’s mother is preoccupied with the medical diagnosis. Hannah and Mel are Livvie’s two best friends, but boys become the major obstacle and distraction that tears the three apart. Livvie finds herself isolated and overwhelmed with everything going on.

An Unstill Life is a perfect view of how fast everything can spiral out of control. Kate Larkindale balances difficult topics with true to life emotions. The descriptions of events, emotions and reactions that each character has is directly on point and plays out smoothly within the situations presented. Issues of bullying, discrimination and even deep rooted domestic frustrations are cleanly addressed in an honest way.

The story, while told from the point of view of Livvie, really is something that could happen in most families. Events from both home and school are intricately interwoven to provide a great immersive plot that draws the reader in and makes it difficult to put the books down. Each event that piles onto Livvie’s daily life, is reflected in the change to her personality. The author takes great care in showing the transition and shifting of Livvie’s personality throughout the pressure, frustration and difficulties that she endures.

The dialog between characters is strong and flows naturally. Each character has a strong back story that unfolds throughout the story, including the mysterious Bianca. Each secondary character has strong personality development throughout the story as well, showing a depth to the storytelling that Kate exhibits.

If you enjoy an enveloping psychological look at life and how fast things change to shape and mold who we are-make sure you don’t miss An Unstill Life.

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.

Prophecy Awakened by Tamar Sloan


Prophecy Awakened by Tamar Sloan
Prime Prophecy Series

Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full (346 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Poinsettia

On the first day of her new school all that shy, wounded Eden wants is to finish her senior year and escape to college. It can’t be too much to ask for, can it?

Noah has spent two years not knowing why he failed to come of age as every one of his ancestors has. Two years drifting aimlessly, searching for direction…

When the two meet the connection is instantaneous and undeniable. A connection that has Eden running and Noah burning to know more.

A connection destined to be the catalyst for a prophecy that neither knew existed.
A prophecy others are willing to kill for.

As families rupture and struggle to realign, as their hearts connect and ignite, Eden learns to trust. But with their love and life on the line, Eden must find the power to believe.

Prophecy Awakened is the first book in Tamar Sloan’s Prime Prophecy Series. If you enjoyed Stephanie Meyer, Lauren Kate or Maggie Stiefvater, then you’ll love a series that captures their best traits in an epic, captivating story of a love that defies boundaries.

Eden has one goal, survive her senior year.

Eden just wants high school to be over. While Eden is a bright and kind young woman, she’s never been popular at any of the numerous schools she’s attended as her mother moved them from place to place. Eden doesn’t think Jacksonville High will be any different. Eden has no idea just how wrong she is.

Eden is a very likable character. She’s intelligent, considerate, attractive, and deeply cares for animals. Many students want to be her friend when she arrives at her new school. Unfortunately, Eden’s fractured relationship with her mother and her experience at her other schools has made her extremely hesitant to trust others. Everything changes when she meets Noah.

Eden and Noah have an intense connection from the moment they meet. Instant connections can be problematic in that they are hard to believe. However, Ms. Sloan orchestrates the tension between Eden and Noah very well. Eden does everything she can to ignore Noah and the spark of attraction between them. Noah is very gentle and patient with Eden. He knows what he’s feeling is special and he is persistent in his pursuit of her heart without being overbearing and pushy. Once Eden stops fighting her feelings for Noah, I really like that they had time to get to know each other. Even though Noah and Eden are not normal teenagers, I enjoyed watching them do normal things like watching movies and doing school projects. It made the story and their relationship feel realistic. Unfortunately, Eden and Noah’s world is soon rocked by tragedy, and their budding relationship is put to the test. They are both forced to make some tough decisions. Will their relationship survive?

Prophecy Awakened moves at a steady pace as the tension gradually builds. Little by little I learned more about Noah and his family. Eden and her abilities remain a mystery for most of the story. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that Eden has a very special way with animals, one that she doesn’t fully understand. I’m not even sure that Eden’s mother is aware of Eden’s power. I’m definitely curious and hope to learn more in the next installment.

I must admit I was hoping to learn more about the prophecy. There is just a vague hint about it at the end of the book. I did expect there to be some sort of mention about it since the title is Prophecy Awakened. However, this book is devoted to building the relationship between Eden and Noah. I have a feeling that something big is on the horizon for the young couple, and I sincerely hope they are strong enough to survive whatever comes their way.

I enjoyed reading Prophecy Awakened. The characters are solid and likable and the story is compelling. I look forward to reading more about Eden and Noah in the next book.

Interstellar by J.S. Frankel


Interstellar by J.S. Frankel
The Titans of Ardana, Book 3

Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (215 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. Their powers are now known to the general public, and their wish is to help out those who need it.

However, those in the law enforcement world aren’t so accepting. Reduced to starring in their own reality show—and messing it up—other, more urgent matters take precedence. The weather has changed, and the sun has started to turn blue. Although it’s a physical impossibility, it has happened. The Earth will freeze in a matter of weeks if nothing is done, and only Martin and Dana can help.

Their journey takes them back to Ardana, Dana’s home world, in search for answers, and subsequent searches send them on a quest across the galaxy where they meet vampires, energy-sapping rays, cat-mole people, and a boy-not-a-boy who may be the answer to everyone’s prayers.

Sometimes, giving everything isn’t enough. Sometimes, you have to give more than that—even your life.

Some problems really are black and white. If Martin and his friends can’t warm the sun up again, everyone will be doomed.

The premise caught my attention immediately. There are plenty of science fiction books out there about global warming, but very few of them talk about what would happen if our sun stopped giving out heat. I was mesmerized by this idea and couldn’t wait to see how it might play out and if Martin would be able to reverse the process before he ran out of time. The more I learned about the rapidly cooling sun, the more curious I became about why it happened and what could be done to save everyone.

There were some mild pacing issues. They were especially noticeable after the narrator had caught the readers up on the important backstory. I expected the plot to need some time to speed up while that was happening, but it remained a little slow for me even after the characters had begun trying to figure out what happened to the sun. With that being said, the pacing problems weren’t serious and I did enjoy the storyline quite a bit overall.

One of the many reasons why I’m such a big fan of Mr. Frankel’s books is that he always comes up with fascinating scientific advances and devices in the worlds he imagines. This tale was no exception to that rule. Not only did the characters find creative ways to stay warm while their sun cooled and their world began to freeze, Martin also stumbled across some science experiments along the way that were as unique as they were attention-grabbing.

This is part of a series, but it can be read as a standalone work.

Interstellar should be read by adult and young adult fans of science fiction who are in the mood for something inventive.

Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story by T.L. Branson


Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story by T.L. Branson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (58 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Kingdoms rise and fall by the blade.

For Davion Callum, that blade is closer than he’d like. Ever the pawn in a scheme of epic proportions, he is given a choice to stand beside those who would wield him as a weapon or defend those who would call him friend.

When the lines blur between ally and enemy, all is not as it seems. Will he uncover the truth? And what will he do when he does?

Orphans don’t have anyone they can rely on if they make a mistake, so failure isn’t an option for Callum.

Mr. Branson sure knows how to write an exciting battle scene. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I look forward to reading his stories, and this one was no exception to that rule. I deeply enjoyed seeing how Callum reacted to sword fights and battles in general. He was a courageous character in even the scariest circumstances, and that made me want to see him spend even more time in battle.

The romantic subplot felt completely out of place. I was surprised when it suddenly popped up because the main character had spent most of his time up until that point simply trying to survive. Since he hadn’t resolved any of the conflicts that were threatening his safety, it didn’t make sense to me for him to suddenly be thinking about romance when his life was still in danger.

Callum’s character development was handled nicely. He only had a limited amount of time to show the audience how he’d changed as a result of his experiences, but I noticed several subtle changes in his behavior as he learned from his past and grew as a person. It was rewarding to see him mature before my eyes. I’m hoping he will appear again in a future tale from the author so that I’ll be able to continue watching him become the man I saw glimpses of today.

Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story should be read by anyone who in the mood for some medieval swordplay.

Immortal Matrix by Marisa Chenery

Immortal Matrix by Marisa Chenery
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (107 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

In the year 2217, Amarah is a donor for the Immortal Matrix, practically a slave, owned by a pharmaceutical corporation. Almost eighteen, she’s destined to be joined to a recipient to keep them young and fit while she does all the work. Her life is grim, except when it comes to a boy in her pod, Dyer, who means more to her than is allowed. Amarah and Dyer are sent to the pool of donors early, and their lives and feelings for each other are put to the test. She gets caught up with a group that wants to end the Immortal Matrix, and soon will find out how strong she really is, and how far she’ll go to keep Dyer as her own.

Amarah’s life has always been tightly controlled by the people who own her. Only time will tell if she’’ll ever get the chance to do something as simple as kiss the boy she likes.

This was such a descriptive tale. I could vividly picture what every room Amarah visited looked like because of how much time was spent showing the audience how they were laid out. The level of detail was even more valuable for the frightening scenes. Some of them made me shudder due to how easy it was to picture the scary stuff that was happening in them.

The cast of characters was so large that I had trouble keeping everyone straight at times. Had this been a full-length novel, there would have been plenty of room for the character development that would have made it easier to remember who was who. As it was written, though, everything happened so quickly that I didn’t always recall who was who because of how many different characters there were to get to know and how few scenes there were to explore all of their personalities and backstories. If not for this issue, I would have chosen a much higher rating as the storyline itself was well done.

Speaking of the plot, I enjoyed how much time the author spent showing what Amarah’s life was like in her pod. Every detail of her existence was meticulously planned by the employees of the Immortal Matrix, from what she learned to what she ate to what kinds of exercise she did. I was intrigued by the idea of someone growing up in such a restrictive environment. The more I read about it, the more curious I became to find out what would happen to this character once she was moved to the adult unit and if she’d ever find a way to make her own decisions.

Immortal Matrix should be read by anyone who likes the dark side of science fiction.

State of Emergency by Mary Hallberg


State of Emergency by Mary Hallberg
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (157 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

17-year-old Dallas Langdon is fighting off zombies with a pizza cutter. Dallas has always loved zombie movies. But when she catches a real live (erm, dead) musician eating a man’s intestines backstage after the show, she knows her movies have become a reality. And what do characters in zombie movies do? Seek shelter. Fortunately, Dallas’s eccentric uncle owns a farmhouse in Chattanooga, an eight hour drive from New Orleans. It’s on top of a steep mountain, surrounded by electric fences, and cut off from the worlds of the living and the dead. Dallas’s parents, still safe at home, laugh at her idea over the phone. Her friends only agree to join her because it’s fall break and they could use a mini vacation anyway. But then Dallas’s best friend is killed by a zombie horde when they’re attracted to her ringing cell phone. Civilians think their reanimated loved ones simply have the flu, leaving them alive (well, undead) and rapidly increasing the zombies ranks. And since minors can’t buy guns, Dallas’s only weapon is a giant industrial pizza cutter she swipes from a gas station. George A. Romero never mentioned anything like this. With one friend dead and no zombie survival guides to help her, Dallas and her friends must get to Chattanooga before joining the ranks of the undead themselves.

The world is quickly changing from a relatively safe place to an extremely dangerous one. If Dallas is going to survive it, she’ll have to adapt without a moment of hesitation.

Most zombie stories don’t spend a lot of time explaining why people are coming back from the dead or what caused all of their weird symptoms. I was happy to see that Ms. Hallberg decided to break this rule, especially once the characters understood what made someone a zombie in this universe and how they should change their habits in order to reduce their chances of becoming one themselves.

The character development wasn’t very strong, especially when it came to Dallas. Despite all of the frightening and life-altering things that happened to her, she didn’t change a whole lot from the first scene to the last one. This struck me as odd and a bit disappointing. There were plenty of opportunities for her to grow as a person, so I was surprised by the fact that she didn’t take advantage of them.

One of my favorite parts of the storyline were the clippings of news articles that the author included in several of the chapters.They added a sense of urgency to the plot, especially once the mainstream media realized that the reports of people coming back from the dead weren’t a hoax or a joke. It was interesting for me as a reader to see how the tone of these articles changed, too. They mirrored Dallas’ reactions to the new world she lived in, and they made for some engrossing reading as well.

State of Emergency should be read by anyone who loves a scary zombie tale.

She’s Like a Rainbow by Eileen Colucci


She’s Like a Rainbow by Eileen Colucci
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (299 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

“The summer I turned ten, my life took a fairy tale turn.” So begins Reema Ben Ghazi’s tale set in Morocco. Reema awakes one morning to find her skin has changed from whipped cream to dark chocolate. From then on, every few years she undergoes another metamorphosis, her color changing successively to red, yellow and ultimately brown. What is the cause of this strange condition and is there a cure? Does the legend of the White Buffalo have anything to do with it? As Reema struggles to find answers to these questions, she confronts the reactions of the people around her, including her strict and unsympathetic mother, Lalla Jamila; her timid younger sister, Zakia; and her two best friends, Batoul and Khalil. At the same time, she must deal with the trials of adolescence even as her friendship with Khalil turns to first love. One day, in her search for answers, Reema discovers a shocking secret – she may have been adopted at birth. As a result, Reema embarks on a quest to find her birth mother that takes her from twentieth-century Rabat to post-9/11 New York. Reema’s humanity shines through her story, reminding us of all we have in common regardless of our particular cultural heritage. SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW, which will appeal to Teens as well as Adults, raises intriguing questions about identity and ethnicity.

 

As soon as Reema adjusts to one new skin color, her complexion changes yet again. Will she ever discover why this is happening?

While this book had a large cast of characters, I never had any trouble remembering who was who. I appreciated how much attention Ms. Colucci paid to all of the small details of her characters’ lives. She made them come to life so vividly in my mind that I was able to keep track of everyone even when multiple new people were introduced at the same time.

The pacing was slow. As fascinated as I was by the premise, it was difficult for me to stay interested in the storyline at times because it took so long for the main character to find any clues at all about what was happening to her skin or whether or not she had actually been adopted. It was interesting to read about the ordinary details of her daily routine like what she ate for meals, but there were so many of these scenes that they slowed down the plot and distracted me from the mysteries of this character’s life.

Reema had a complex and difficult relationship with her mother that included a lot of conflict between them as she was growing up. Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that showed how this relationship evolved as the main character began to make her own decisions in life. I found it intriguing to see how things changed between mother and daughter over the years. Watching Reema attempt to understand why this part of her life was so complicated was one of my favorite parts of this tale.

I’d recommend She’s Like a Rainbow to anyone who is in the mood for something thought provoking.