Be Brave, Little Penguin by Giles Andreae


Be Brave, Little Penguin by Giles Andreae
Publisher: Orchard Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (42 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Little Penguin Pip-Pip would love to join in with all his friends swimming in the sea, but there’s just one problem . . . he’s scared of water. Can Pip-Pip overcome his fears and finally take the plunge? This irresistible story shows that sometimes all it takes is a little bit of encouragement — and a whole lot of heart — to finally make that leap and be BRAVE!

Be Brave, Little Penguin is the eagerly awaited new picture book from the creators of the bestselling Giraffes Can’t Dance. Written in true Giles Andreae style, this feel-good rhyming story portrays a positive message of confidence and self-esteem. Illustrations filled with humor and warmth by Guy Parker-Rees will help make this touching tale a family favorite.

 

Everyone gets scared sometimes.

This story was full of empathy. Not only was the audience given the chance to understand why Pip-Pip was so afraid of jumping into the water, the narrator also talked about the fact that everyone is frightened of something at some point in their lives. It was a brief message, but it was also an important one. Feeling alone can be one of the worst parts for someone who needs to admit that they’re afraid of something. The sooner kids realize how common this is, the better off they will be.

There was a scene early on where Pip-Pip was teased for being too frightened to jump into the ocean. While the taunts were mild and ended pretty quickly, I do wish the other penguins had been a little nicer to Pip-Pip. This was an incredibly minor complaint, but the inclusion of this scene would make me a little hesitant to recommend this book to kids whose anxiety includes thoughts about other kids making fun of them.

With that being said, I adored the way this character’s parents reacted to his fears. They were so warm and supportive of him while also encouraging him to find out if the things that made him worry were actually likely to happen. I also appreciated the way Pip-Pip’s mother taught him to imagine happy things happening to him instead of only focusing on what could go wrong.

Be Brave, Little Penguin is a must-read for anyone who has ever been worried about trying something new.

Dorm Rats by Michelle L Levigne


Dorm Rats by Michelle L Levigne
Growing Up Neighborlee

Publisher: Uncial Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (323 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Lanie and her Lost Kids friends continue growing into their semi-pseudo-superhero powers and responsibilities, and learn more about what it means to be a guardian of the odd little town of Neighborlee. Sometimes that meant protecting the rest of the world from the everyday weirdness and magic around them.

The transition from high school to college is marked with challenges and mystical, magical attacks from outside Neighborlee’s borders. When the academic game-playing and politics of the local college are used to run a questionable experiment on the entire freshman class, Lanie is there in the middle of it. Sometimes those who realize there’s something strange going on aren’t as enchanted as Lanie and her geek friends, and it takes a lot of fast talking and faster maneuvering to keep the lid from blowing off the entire town.

The threats grow bigger and the enemies grow meaner, but it’s all in a day’s work for the guardians of Neighborlee. This is home, and they’re willing to pay the price. Sometimes, they do. With their lives.

The really big questions remain: Why are they the way they are and how can they do the things they do? At least when they mess up and use their talents in public, most people don’t even notice. It’s just part of the background weirdness of Neighborlee, Ohio.

 

Dorm Rats is the continued story of Lanie, one of the lost kids of Neighborlee. Lanie and her brother Harry have been adopted by the Zephyrs, a hippie style couple who are famous for the books they write about the weird and wonderful. Lanie and her lost kid friends have special powers and these help them in their self appointed roles as guardians of Neighborlee.

The setting and characters have been very well developed, so much so that I read this book in one day. I honestly could not put it down. I liked the way Lanie’s growing from teenager to young woman involved uncertainty and happiness as she and her friends, both guardians and normal people, grew to adulthood. She came across as a real person and her interaction with her fellow guardians seemed to have the usual teasing aspect of people in their teens.

I did have one moment of surprise when the main character was in England and mentioned eating biscuits which are not generally sold in England. Probably wouldn’t mean anything to someone not familiar with the country, but it did interrupt the flow of the story for me and it took me several minutes before I could get back into the flow again.

To finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and felt totally immersed in the story. Definitely a “live inside the story” type book.

A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis


A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length Short Story (44 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Edna the penguin only knows the three colors that surround her: white ice, black night, and blue sea. She is convinced there is something more out there. So she sets out on a quest—a quest for color. When she finally finds what she’s been looking for, it’s everything she hoped for and more. But that doesn’t mean she will ever stop looking.

A little exploration is a good thing for a curious penguin like Edna.

Edna was such a brave main character. I loved her adventurous personality, especially once she’d wandered far enough away from home that she began to see things that no one else in her flock had ever imagined might exist. She wasn’t about to stop until she’d figured out what she was seeing and how it all worked. This made me like her even more than I did when I first met her.

The ending was a bit of a letdown. The first scene gave a lot of hints about what Edna would find when she went on her quest to discover what colors existed in the world other than white, black, and blue. I was surprised by how the narrator interpreted those hints because of this. It wasn’t what I was expecting to find at all, and I would have appreciated a better explanation of why it all turned out the way it did.

There was a creative plot twist about halfway through this tale, however. I hoped for something exciting to happen, and the way this scene was written made me pretty happy. It fit it beautifully with what Edna had dreamed about in the very first scene, and it also include some humor as well. If the whole plot had been written this way, I would have given it a much higher rating.

I’d recommend A Penguin Story to anyone who is looking for something new to read at bedtime.

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.

Thunder Horse by Eve Bunting


Thunder Horse by Eve Bunting
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When a girl receives a small horse from her aunt, she doesn’t quite know what to do with it. It turns out that this horse is a very special horse: it has wings.

As the horse grows and grows, so does the girl’s love for it, but as everyone knows, sometimes you have to let go of those you love so they can grow in their own way. But you can always hope they come back to you someday.

Eve Bunting’s Thunder Horse is a beautifully crafted tale that will work its way in to the hearts of readers, and the good thing is, they never have to let it go.

Sometimes loving someone can lead to painful decisions down the road.

What beautiful storytelling! I deeply enjoyed the way the author wove her lesson into the plot. She had an important message to share with the audience about allowing loved ones to make their own choices. The story was always more important than the message, though, and that made her point even clearer than it would have been if she’d paid less attention to creating a captivating and thought-provoking storyline before anything else.

The main character’s name was never revealed, and I found that odd and distracting. The audience knew the names of everyone from her teacher to her aunt to the small horse she was given in the first scene. It would have been easier for me to connect with this character if I knew what her family called her, even if she was only ever referred to by a nickname.

With that being said, I still liked the main character quite a bit. She was a clever, sensitive girl who clearly loved her magical horse quite a bit. Knowing from the very beginning that she’d have to say goodbye to him at some point only made me more eager to find out how she’d learn to adjust to life without him and if there was any way for her to figure out how to have a happier ending than the one her aunt warned her about.

Thunder Horse was a unique modern fable that I’d recommend to adults and children alike.

Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon by Judy Young


Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon by Judy Young
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Genre: Childrens, Historical
Length: Short Story ( 32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by Astilbe

Outside Beijing, China, in the year 1572, nine-year-old Hu-Wan tends the vegetable garden with his grandfather. Their specialty is growing gourds that are made into ladles and bowls and sold in the marketplace. Each year, one special gourd is made into a cricket cage. This year, it is Hu-Wan’s turn to grow and carve the special gourd. He decides it should be carved into the shape of a sleeping dragon. When Hu-Wan learns that the emperor has died and his nine-year-old son is named Emperor of China, he decides to give the dragon cricket cage to the young emperor to offer comfort and cheer.

A gift doesn’t have to cost money in order to be valuable.

Hu Wan was a very likeable main character. He wasn’t afraid to work hard, he had a gentle personality, and he had a lot of empathy for people near him who were struggling with physical or emotional health problems. With every scene I became even more fond of him. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to him next.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing the ending. It happened so suddenly that I was surprised by the fact it was over. Had it been given as much attention as the beginning and middle of this tale, I would have chosen a much higher rating for this book as I really enjoyed the storytelling overall.

The relationship between Hu Wan and his grandfather was so kind and supportive. What I found most interesting about their family was how much time they spent showing each other how they felt instead of talking about it. The audience had to read between the lines in order to see how much these characters really did care for each other. Finding the small gestures that showed just how close their family was to each other was one of my favorite parts of the plot.

Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon was a captivating story that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something that will make them feel as though they’ve just been transported hundreds of years in the past.

The Time Hunters by Carl Ashmore


The Time Hunters by Carl Ashmore
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (198 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Becky is a typical thirteen year old girl. She likes Facebook, her friends, and plenty of sleep. So when she and her brother, Joe, are invited to stay with their ‘loony’ Uncle Percy at his stately home, she thinks it’ll be the worst summer ever. What she doesn’t realise is that Bowen Hall is also home to a baby Triceratops, two Sabre-tooth tigers and the mythic hero, Will Scarlet…

‘The Time Hunters’ is a thrilling adventure that takes Becky, Joe, Uncle Percy and Will on a quest through time to find the legendary Golden Fleece.

Even the distant past is only a heartbeat away for anyone who has a time machine.

There are many reasons why I like time travel stories. Two of the biggest reasons why they appeal to me have to do with how cool it would be to actually see an extinct species in person or have a conversation with a famous historical person. Watching Becky and Joe do both of these things was a thrill. They really appreciated the fact that they were experiencing things that should not have been possible, and that made me curious to see how they’d react once their adventures became even more exciting.

The beginning was confusing to me because the plot introduced a large number of characters without describing who most of them were or how they knew each other. When this was combined with the limited amount of time the narrator spent explaining what the main conflicts were and why certain characters were acting so afraid, I struggled even more to understand what was going on. There were too many vague hints and not enough exposition.

One of my favorite parts of this tale was how nicely it was paced. There was a lot going on in the plot, and the author kept everything moving quickly from the first scene to the last one. This strong and even pacing made it difficult for me to take breaks while I was reading. Every chapter had something new and exciting in it, and I wanted to find out what secrets all of them held.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure, look no further than The Time Hunters.

Seer’s Fate: Faylands by Annalisa Ely


Seer’s Fate: Faylands by Annalisa Ely
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (46 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Journey through strange lands with stranger companions in this fast-paced fantasy short story, the first of the Seer’s Fate series.

Some adventurer’s guiding force is greed; for others it’s excitement or necessity. Collin Damion just goes where his visions tell him. But now they’re sending him farther than he’s ever gone, into hostile territory where the land itself doesn’t want him. He’ll have to hide every step along the way while trying to help the very people who mustn’t discover him, negotiate unfamiliar terrain, and make nice with magical creatures he’s never heard of before. And this is only the start of a quest that will take him across a continent and into ever greater danger.

But his mission isn’t solo anymore. Each of his companions will have their own motivations, and only together will they reach their goals.

Collin was born different. He’s about to find out what it means to have his special powers and why he isn’t like anyone else in his family.

The plot itself was exciting. I enjoyed the quick pace of it, especially once the individuals who would become Collin’s companions were introduced and their quest really started to get rolling. They sounded like fascinating folks, so I couldn’t wait to see how they’d react to all of the dangerous things they were about to face.

This story would have benefitted from more detail. The narrator spent so little time describing the settings and characters that I had a hard time visualizing what was happening and who it was happening to. It was something I especially noticed when the characters were first being introduced and the narrator spent such a brief amount of time describing who they were and what they looked like.

I liked the way the author included so many different intelligent and human-like races in this universe. Humans weren’t the only ones who lived there by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, humans weren’t even the most interesting group of people either! The more I learned about the other races, the more curious I became to find out what they were like and how they were different from the average homo sapian.

While I understand that this is the first instalment of a series, I would have preferred to see more care taken with how the last scene was written. I was expecting to have plenty of loose ends left to be resolved later on in this series, but I was surprised by how abruptly the storytelling stopped in the last paragraph. There wasn’t a sense of closure for any of the conflicts that the characters had been wrestling with. Having even one of them wrapped up in some way would have gone a long way in keeping this reader satisfied.

The dialogue was nicely written. This wasn’t the kind of tale that had a lot of room to spare for long, drawn-out conversations, so I appreciated the fact that everyone kept their chats short and to the point. That was a good choice for something this fast-paced and full of action.

If you’re in the mood for an adventure, go read Seer’s Fate: Faylands.

Eleven Dancing Sisters by Melody Wiklund


Eleven Dancing Sisters by Melody Wiklund
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (218 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Erin has a good reason for sneaking into a fae castle: her sisters—princesses of Erdhea—have been secretly visiting it for months, and she just knows they’re in trouble. Unfortunately that’s not an excuse she can give fae lord Desmond when she gets caught. Because Erin is a princess too, and whatever schemes Desmond has, Erin wants no part of them. Instead, she tells him she’s a simple war nurse, and offers no excuse at all.

Desmond can’t have humans wandering in and out of his castle, not when the Fae’s presence in Erdhea must remain hidden. He needs to know how and why Erin sneaked in. But before long, his concerns about Erin are blooming into interest, then fascination, then something else altogether. Under the eye of a lovelorn fae lord, can Erin keep her secrets? Will she even want to?

The eleven dancing sisters are princesses, but in actual fact there are twelve of them. Patience, who now goes by the name of Erin, ran away from home three years ago to be a nurse in the war. On her return nobody recognizes her due to the horrendous burns to her face and body and the lack of one eye.

This is an intriguing story with the princesses going into the fae realm of Lord Desmond Tyraene. Erin has a cloak to make her invisible and follows them.

Erin is a very strong character but the only way I could believe her sisters didn’t recognize her was due to not expecting to see her in the fae realm. I would have thought the way she spoke or moved would have been a clue to her identity. Plus the reason for her sisters to make a bargain with the fae lord was not a forceful enough temptation.

The story was well written with a strong plot but at times my belief was stretched as the story weakened at times before picking up again. I enjoyed the book and would read another by this author as despite the above, it was pleasant to read.

I Dream To Be by Rebecca T. Clark


I Dream To Be by Rebecca T. Clark
Witty Kids When Imagination Talks to You

Publisher: Be Heard Publishing LLC
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (34 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

What does your child Dream To Be?
Meet Jersey – a young girl who loves to dream and imagines that she can be anything….

I Dream To Be

A book that encourages readers to use imagination by dreaming of different occupations.
She encourages her friends to dream with her. She imagines she is an Astronaut, an Engineer, a Veterinarian and much more.

The book ends by asking her friends what do they dream to be.
A fun story that will encourage any reader that possibilities are endless.

It’s never too early to start setting goals in life and thinking about how they could be accomplished.

I loved the fact that Jersey wrote down all of the different types of jobs she could have when she grew up. She even made lists of the kinds of subjects she’d need to do well in if she wanted to work in a certain area. This was such an organized way to approach this topic, and it also fit Jersey’s personality perfectly. She was exactly the sort of kid who would want to put everything down on paper before she could even begin to make a decision.

After sharing a few sentences about every occupation this character dreamed of having one day, each page ended with a short pun or other play-on-words that made me chuckle. It was a beautiful flourish and such an entertaining way to end each section. I wish that this tale had been a little longer so I could have read more of these twists! If the author ever writes a sequel, I will be eager to see where her creativity takes her next.

My favorite section happened at the end when Jersey listed many other jobs and encouraged her readers to brainstorm what their lives would be like if they worked in those areas when they grew up. I was glad to see such a wide variety of possibilities being offered to young readers. There were so many different types of work that kids who have many different types of skills and interests would have a lot of ideas to choose from.

Witty Kids When Imagination Talks to You “I Dream To Be” is an excellent resource for any child who is beginning to wonder what he or she might be when they grow up.