The Last First Daughter by Abbie Fine

The Last First Daughter by Abbie Fine
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (262 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Lindy is the only surviving member of the First Family.

During the first television broadcast in a decade, direct from the White House, terrorists attack. Eighteen-year-old Lindy escapes thanks to her secret service officer, Henry, and now finds her country under the control of a cruel, oppressive regime—and she and Henry the targets of a countrywide manhunt.

Using fake identities and Lindy’s engineering skills, which allow her to build a network of radios, Lindy and Henry join a group planning to fight back against the new regime. Lindy must decide if she can sacrifice the relationship closest to her heart, her safety, and possibly her life to give millions of others hope for their future, and take back the White House.

The only way to stay alive is to keep running.

One of the things I liked the most about this book was how much common sense all of the characters had. When they were in dangerous circumstances they paid close attention to their surroundings and took all of the precautions they could to stay safe. This is something I always enjoy finding when I’m reading about people who live in places where there’s no such thing as a hospital or police station in every community anymore. I would be cautious in that kind of environment, so it’s nice to read about characters who take the same sensible approach.

The romantic subplot felt completely out of place to me. There were so many serious and time-sensitive things going on in Lindy’s life that I really didn’t understand why she was spending so much energy on her crush. This behavior didn’t fit her personality, and it also felt odd in a plot that was so full of other conflicts. While I liked the idea of these characters eventually exploring the possibility of a relationship, it would have worked better in a sequel that didn’t have so many other storylines happening simultaneously.

Lindy was a brave and resourceful young woman. The world she lived in was a dangerous one, and she knew just how quickly things could go terribly wrong for her if she made the wrong move. I really liked seeing her adjust from life as the sheltered daughter of a world leader to the one she lead as someone who was always on the run. She handled that transition really well.

There were pacing issues. This was something I noticed most heavily in the middle of this story. Lindy and Henry spent so much time planning their next move in that section that I had trouble keeping up my interest in what would happen to them next. As much as I liked seeing how seriously they took the various steps in their mission, I would have preferred to see them begin to carry them out much more quickly than they did.

With that being said, the world building was well done. I was especially interested in the scenes that talked about how ordinary people survived after they realized they could no longer count on the government for any kind of help at all. Farming is a difficult profession, and the narrator got that point across nicely while also showing the upside of people being required to grow or trade for everything they needed.

I’d recommend The Last First Daughter to anyone who is looking for romantic science fiction.

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Goblin, a cheerful little homebody, lives in a cosy, rat-infested dungeon, with his only friend, Skeleton. Every day, Goblin and Skeleton play with the treasure in their dungeon. But one day, a gang of “heroic” adventurers bursts in. These marauders trash the place, steal all the treasure, and make off with Skeleton—leaving Goblin all alone!

It’s up to Goblin to save the day. But first he’s going to have to leave the dungeon and find out how the rest of the world feels about goblins.

The world looks completely different when it’s viewed through the eyes of a goblin.

This was such an inventive twist on what happens in the typical fantasy tale. I’d never thought about what the average quest must look like from the perspective of the monsters whose homes and lives are turned upside down. What humans see as an adventure had a completely different meaning when the storyline focused on how they disrupted the quiet life of a goblin and skeleton who never meant to do any harm to anyone.

Goblin was such a loyal friend to Skeleton. I loved seeing them spend time playing together in the beginning, and I couldn’t wait to find out if Goblin would be able to rescue his buddy from the humans who kidnapped him. The thought of them never seeing each other again made me sad. I hoped Goblin would find a way to figure out where Skeleton had been taken, but I had no idea how that might happen. The further away from home his journey took him, the more curious I became to see what would happen next.

I really appreciated how understated the message of this tale was. It had a lot of important things to say about the dangers of negative stereotypes and how everyone should treat people they don’t know, but the narrator never sermonized the points they were trying to make. Instead, the audience was given many opportunities to see what happens when someone jumps to the worst possible conclusion without taking any time to reflect on what is really happening around them. This is something that adult readers can enjoy just as much as kids because of how open-ended the questions the narrator raised were and how much freedom the audience was given to think about what they’d read.

Nobody Likes a Goblin was the most creative children’s story I’ve read so far this year. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Cast No Shadows Anthology

Cast No Shadows by Jordan Elizabeth, Derek McFadden, Grace M. DeLeesie, Ashley Pasco, Al Dorantes,‎ Kae P. Quinn, Tracina Cozza, Heather Talty, James McNally, Gloria Slade, C.K. Raggio, A.F. Plant, W.K. Pomeroy, A. Elizabeth Zumchak, Misha Murphy, Joan O. Scharf, Nicole Green, Lorna MacDonald Czarnota, Jeremy Mortis, Amy L. Gale, Lisa Oak, Rachel Pond, Grant Eagar, Clare Weze, Molly Jauregui, Christine Baker
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Holiday, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (479 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Welcome to the shadowed woods, where the trees breathe with ghosts and the wind whispers of the past.

Twenty-six authors take you through haunted houses and cemeteries with tales that will chill.

Beware the dark, for the spirits await you.

No two ghosts are like in this anthology! Just like humans, they can be sad, frightening, sentimental, and even kind.

“Ghostly Affection” followed the friendship of a ghost child and a little boy name Tommy she first met when he was sent to live at the foster home she’d been haunting. They grew up together but were always bothered by the fact that Tommy was the only person who could see her and that neither of them ever noticed other ghosts in the same predicament. The plot twists were really well done. I didn’t see most of them coming, and the ones I did figure out in advance still managed to surprise me in many other ways. What made them even better was how they were all resolved in the last scene. It was the perfect ending to something I enjoyed quite a bit.

This collection was uneven. There were stories I loved just as they were and others I thought could have used more polishing. “Moving In with the Ghost” was one of the ones that could have benefited from some extra development. As much as I liked the idea of a family knowing in advance that they were moving into a haunted home and choosing to live there anyway, Daniel and Geri sure didn’t take that warning seriously. These characters weren’t developed enough for me to know if this was unusual for them or if they were unwilling to take advice in general. Not being sure what their personalities were like in general made it hard for me to empathize with them once paranormal things began happening in their new home.

In “Graveyard Dust,” Emma realized she had special powers after both of her parents died. She began to have conversations with her mother’s ghost in the graveyard. Eventually, she began to make plans to attend a dance after getting advice from her mother and the other spirits. What I enjoyed the most about Emma’s life were all of its references to a famous fairy tale that were embedded into it. Seeing how the author reinterpreted those scenes to better fit the paranormal genre made me smile.

If you’re looking for something spooky, Cast No Shadows is a good place to start.

The Bad Easter Bunny by Isabel Atherton

The Bad Easter Bunny by Isabel Atherton
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Every spring the Easter Bunny frolics through every neighbourhood in every city to hand out candy and toys to children. The problem is he feels a total lack of gratitude from them. He’s getting sadder and sadder, and in turn his once bright-pink fur has gone a depressing shade of blue. His fur really does reflect how he is feeling inside. When a group of highly excitable children knock him to the ground, he sees all of the colors of the rainbow and settles on a hopping red color. The Easter Bunny is furious! He’s tired of being taken for granted and has decided to become the Bad Easter Bunny.

He sets about smashing toys, eating all the candy, and making a big mess of the neighborhood. But a simple “thank you” from one little girl on a scooter makes the Bad Easter Bunny regret his actions. A small hug and sharing a piece of candy makes the Easter Bunny turn a happy pink, and he promises to be bad no more. In this fun and quirky children’s book, Stéphanie Röhr’s magical illustrations show how one good bunny turned very bad–and how important gratitude can be.

The rules apply to everyone, even rabbits.

It was interesting to see what happened after the Easter Bunny showed everyone how angry he was with them. There was so much empathy in this tale and the response to him in general. It wasn’t something I was expecting to find at all, so I loved stumbling across it after the first scene had ended. Sometimes there is a lot of frustration and pain behind even the biggest and most dramatic displays of emotion.

One of the biggest conflicts of this story wasn’t dealt with fully. Yes, the Easter Bunny had a very important lesson to learn about controlling his anger, but the message about admitting one’s faults would have been even stronger if the kids had been expected to apologize for their behavior as well. After seeing how ungrateful they were for their Easter presents, I was expecting them to spend much more time dealing with this bad behavior than they did.

With that being said, I did appreciate the things the narrator had to say about how every person and rabbit in the world can only ever control how they behave. Sometimes others do infuriating things, but it’s always important to keep following the rules no matter what everyone else is or isn’t doing. This can be a tough lesson for adults to learn, much less young children. Teaching it to preschoolers is a very smart idea, and I liked the way the author went about showing why everyone should worry about their own behavior before paying attention to anything else.

I’d recommend The Bad Easter Bunny to anyone who is in the mood for something thought provoking.

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (48 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

An inquisitive fox sets off on a seafaring voyage with a crew of deer and pigeons in this enchanting tale of friendship and adventure.

Marco the fox has a lot of questions, like: how deep does the sun go when it sinks into the sea? And why do birds have such lizardy feet? But none of the other foxes share his curiosity. So when a magnificent ship adorned with antlers and with a deer for a captain arrives at the dock looking for a crew, Marco volunteers, hoping to find foxes who are as inquisitive as he is that can answer his questions. The crew finds adventure and intrigue on their journey. And, at last, Marco finds the answer to his most important question of all: What’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to?

Marco can’t stop wondering about how the world works. Will he find the answers he seeks?

One of my favorite things about this book was how curious Marco was about the world. Not only he was a very smart fox, he was a persistent one as well. He never stopped asking questions even when the other animals around him didn’t understand what he was asking or didn’t know how to respond to him. The better I got to know him, the more I hoped that he’d figure out all of the stuff he couldn’t stop wondering about.

I would have liked to see the fantasy elements of this story explained better. Marco and the other animals regularly did things that animals normally aren’t capable of without any explanation given for how or when they learned to do that stuff. It felt odd to me to ignore this since it played such a huge role in how the plot developed. Even a sentence or two that talked about where their abilities came from would have been enough of an explanation for me.

Anything can happen when a ship is sailing on the ocean. I enjoyed all of the plot twists that snuck up on the characters while they were exploring their world. Some of them made me laugh, and others made me wonder how Marco and his friends would solve the problems they faced while they were traveling. If Ms. Slater ever decides to write a sequel, I’d sure like to find out what happens to these characters next.

The Antlered Ship should be read by anyone who is in the mood for an adventure.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles Book Two

Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (452)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Poinsettia

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of Marissa Meyer’s bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

Can Scarlet trust Wolf?

Scarlet has a good life living with her grandmother on a farm in France. She loves living in the country and working the land. Everything changed the day her grandmother disappeared, and Scarlet is the only one who suspects foul play. When a mysterious man named Wolf claims to have information about her grandmother, Scarlet is skeptical. Desperate to find her grandmother, Scarlet and Wolf form a fragile partnership. As Scarlet digs deeper into her Grandmother’s disappearance, she realizes her grandmother has many secrets, secrets others will kill for.

Scarlet is a great heroine. She’s smart, determined, and fiercely loyal. Even though the odds of finding her grandmother are slim, she never gives up. Her strength and persistence are admirable. She’s also very kind. Scarlet is the kind of woman who gives people a chance. This is especially true with Wolf. She has no reason to trust him, but Scarlet sees something good in him.

I must admit I find Scarlet and Wolf’s romance a bit strange. Understandably, it took them a while to warm up to each other. However, once they did, they seemed to have an instant, powerful connection. At first it didn’t feel very realistic to me, but I was warming up to the idea by the end of the book. I’m curious to see how their relationship will develop as the series progresses.

I enjoyed seeing more of Cinder in this book. She is slowly adjusting to the idea that not only is she Lunar, but also Princess Selene. A bit more of Cinder’s history is revealed, and it is heartbreaking. So many people risked so much to save her. That’s a lot of pressure for a young girl to live up to. I believe Cinder is up for the challenge.

I absolutely must mention Cinder’s new friend, Carswell Thorne. Cinder and Thorne find themselves stuck together in rather unusual circumstances, but they make a good team. He is thoroughly entertaining, and always knows how to lighten the mood. I can’t help but like him, and I look forward to seeing him again in the next book.

Scarlet is an excellent addition to this series. I really enjoyed following Cinder and Scarlet’s plots, and they came together beautifully at the end of the book. The switches between viewpoints are very smooth, and it kept the pace moving and the tension steadily building. By the end of the book I was racing through the pages. I will definitely be picking up the third book immediately!

Do Fairies Bring the Spring? by Liza Gardner Walsh

Do Fairies Bring the Spring? by Liza Gardner Walsh
Publisher: Down East Books
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

After a long winter’s rest with little to do,
are the fairies ready to start something new,

Do they use tiny brushes and oil pastels
to paint crocuses, lilacs, and daffodils?

Everyone knows fairies love spring flowers and summer sun, but is it the fairies who wake up the earth as the snow melts? Do they entice the trees to turn green and the flowers to grow? In this charming follow up to Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows, Liza Gardner Walsh, acclaimed author of the Fairy House Handbook and Fairy Garden Handbook, explores the matter in a children’s picture book of rhyming questions. Combined with delightful illustrations by Hazel Mitchell this whimsical book will help children discover the world of fairies and learn to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors.


Spring is right around the corner. How do adults know for sure that all of the plants are going to wake up in time for it?

What an imaginative spin on why and how the seasons change! I especially liked all of the questions the narrator asked the audience about what fairies might quietly be doing at the end of each winter to get ready for the change in season. They added many different types of playful spins to the plot as the questions became more and more creative.

There was one scene that I thought might be a little too dark for sensitive readers in this age group. It talked about what would happen if the fairies refused to wake up the plants one spring, and it would have frightened me a little bit when I was the age of the target audience. With that being said, this was a minor criticism of a story that was otherwise adorable and well worth the read.

My favourite scenes were the ones that showed the fairies digging around in the earth or making sure that every flower was as colorful as it needed to be for spring. The fairies were so cheerful as they worked no matter how long it took to get everything right. It was also very cute to see them consulting tiny books and having conversations with other fairies about what they should be doing next.

Do Fairies Bring the Spring? should be read by anyone who is eagerly looking forward to the end of winter.

Neutral Shades by Xondra Day

Neutral Shades by Xondra Day
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (81 pages)
Age Recommendation:16+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Forced to move and change schools just before his senior year, Greg Reese thinks his life is over until he meets handsome jock, Nick Anderson who is his dream guy in every way.

Sparks fly between the two, but neither are out. When they’re caught in a compromising situation, Greg quickly finds himself dumped.

Moving on isn’t easy, but starting a summer job helps keep a devastated Greg occupied, along with forming a friendship with humorous and cute co-worker, Chris.

Chris is out and makes no bones about it. Greg has an instant attraction to Chris, and coming out now seems to be an option. After all, you can’t hide forever, right?

It’s never easy to move to a small town. This is even more true for gay teens who don’t know anyone in their new community.

Greg was a three-dimensional protagonist who I came to like quite a bit. His impulsiveness and restlessness sometimes got him into trouble, but it also made him an incredibly interesting guy because of how self-aware he was of his flaws. He was always the kind of person who acknowledged his own weaknesses even if he wasn’t necessarily sure how to improve them. This is the kind of character development that makes me wish for a sequel!

I would have liked to see more details included in this story. Everything from the physical descriptions of the characters to what the buildings they spent their time in looked like were described so briefly that I had a hard time imagining what everyone looked like and what was happening. This was a little disappointing since the plot itself was so well done. Had more time been taken to describe the settings and characters, I would have happily chosen a much higher rating.

The romance was handled beautifully. I loved seeing Chris and Greg get to know each other. They had a lot of shared interested and similar personality traits. It seemed to me like they’d be a great match. The fact that they waited a while before acting on their attractions only made me more curious to find out if the sparks between them were going to lead to anything longterm.

Neutral Shades is a good read for anyone who is looking for something romantic.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles Book One

Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (387 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Poinsettia

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Cinder has no idea how special she is.

Cinder’s life was as ordinary as a cyborg’s life could be until Prince Kai came to her booth and asked her to fix his android. Cinder can’t help but be drawn to Kai, but she believes he could never feel the same about her, especially if he ever found out she is a cyborg. With a plague raging in the city and Queen Levana of the Lunars threatening war, Cinder knows her life will never be simple again. As Cinder repairs Kai’s android, she discovers a secret that will change everything. Can Cinder get to Kai before he makes a mistake, or will the world be at the mercy of Queen Levana?

Cinder is a very likable heroine. Even though Cinder hasn’t been shown much kindness in her lifetime, she is caring, loyal, and I enjoy her sarcastic sense of humor. I love how she can look at something old, broken, and unwanted and see possibility. If only she could learn to see herself with the same optimism. I will say that it was easy for me to figure out a few of the twists concerning Cinder’s history, but I care enough about Cinder that I eagerly raced through the pages to see how it would all play out.

Cinder’s slowly budding relationship with Kai is sweet. I enjoyed the fleeting moments they had together even though their vastly different stations in life mean those moments are rare. Still, I would have liked to see them find a way to spend more time together in order to deepen their connection. Cinder and Kai are in a very bad situation when this installment ends. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a happy reunion in the next book.

I really enjoyed the premise of this book. I’ve always been drawn to fairy tales and my curiosity was piqued by this science fiction twist on Cinderella. However, after finishing this tale, I have so many unanswered questions. Why are cyborgs treated as second class citizens? Do they have to have a certain percentage of mechanical parts to be considered less than human? I’d also like to know more about Lunars. How did they develop their powers? What is their history? What happens if someone is part Lunar, part Earthen? I can only hope my questions are answered in the subsequent books of this series.

Cinder is a thoroughly entertaining book. It is a unique take on a classic story, and I truly enjoyed getting to know Cinder and look forward to following her adventures again. I’ll be picking up the next book in this series very soon.

Flux by Lucas Pederson

Flux by Lucas Pederson
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full (190 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Bullied teenager Addy Decker has had enough of her miserable life. One night, just as she’s about to end it all, a beautiful boy appears in her bathroom, saving her life. At once intrigued and a little scared, she touches the boy and he opens her eyes to a whole different way of life. Addy finds herself in the presence of the Jaunters, a group of people on a mission to magically time travel to the past and save people at risk, as every life saved brings new life to the dead world of the future. Addy is still wrapping her head around it all when her mom is attacked by a Hell Hound. Alongside her new companions, Addy jaunts to save her, but one of them disappears with Addy’s mom to an unknown destination. Now it’s a race against time, in every dimension, to find the rogue Hell Hound, and Addy’s mom, before a plague is unleashed that will infect the fabric of history itself.

This is an unusual book with an involved story about a young girl who is about to take her own life when a boy arrives in her bathroom to stop her. The second time this happens she follows the boy to a place in the future where young people try to stop evil taking over the world and destroying it.

The girl, Addy, is a strange girl, a mixture of her background and the curves life has thrown at her. Intrigued by the future she still longs to go home.

I’m sure the author knew exactly what was happening, but I have to admit I found this story really difficult to follow. Even though I read through to the end I’m still not sure of the point of the story.

I’ve no doubt other readers will find some depth to the book, indeed I hope they do as the actual writing and grammar was excellent.