This Body Won’t Break: Part One by Lea McKee


This Body Won’t Break: Part One by Lea McKee
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror
Length: Short Story (110 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The truth doesn’t always set you free.

Orphaned as a child, Joanna has lived her entire life in the care of the New Terra Alliance. On the verge of turning eighteen, Joanna eagerly awaits her release into what remains of society.

It was a beautiful lie.

Joanna was never meant to leave. She is part of the August Harvest, slated to die before the month’s end. With a rogue soldier’s promise to find her a way out, Joanna dares to hope. But if the NTA finds out what she knows, it won’t only be her own life at stake, but the life of the handsome soldier who has vowed to set her free.

Fans of Divergent, The Darkest Minds, and The Handmaid’s Tale will love this dystopian story of twisted secrets, romance, and page-turning suspense.

Killing perfectly healthy teenagers doesn’t make any sense. Then again, many things in this world don’t make sense, and Joanna doesn’t have much time left to figure them all out.

The pacing was so strong that I read the whole thing in one sitting. Every scene made me ask more questions, and I couldn’t stop until I knew what would happen to the characters I’d come to care about so much. I especially liked how much attention was paid to keeping Joanna focused on her goals. No matter what happened, she always pressed forward and kept trying to figure out what was really going on. This made me eager to read the rest of this series once it’s released.

While I appreciated the fact that Joanna had her fair share of flaws, there were a couple of times when the choices she made were so foolish that I had trouble taking her seriously. She didn’t seem to have a lot of common sense even in situations that she should have known were risky. I loved everything else about this tale, so I’m hoping that this will be something that leads to a lot of personal growth for her in the future.

This is the beginning of a serial. There were obviously parts of the world building that are being held back until parts two or later to explain to the audience. With that being said, I was impressed with what was revealed so far. The way this society worked made a lot of sense to me. Yes, the horror elements of the plot made me shudder, but they also fit in well with everything else the audience was taught about who the New Terra Alliance were and how they operated.

This Body Won’t Break: Part One was a wild ride. It should be read by anyone who enjoys dystopian stories.

Incubation by Laura DiSilverio


Incubation by Laura DiSilverio
The Incubation Trilogy Book 1

Publisher: diAgio Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (348 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: Best Books
Review by: Orchid

Bio-chemistry whiz Everly Jax wants one thing: to know who her parents are. Raised with other repo kids in InKubator 9, she has pinned her hopes on Reunion Day, the annual event where sixteen-year-olds can meet or reunite with their parents. When her Reunion Day goes horribly awry, she and her pregnant friend Halla escape the Kube, accompanied by their friend Wyck who has his own reasons for leaving. In a world where rebuilding the population is critical to national survival, the Pragmatist government licenses all human reproduction, and decides who can–and must–have babies. The trio face feral dog packs, swamp threats, locust swarms, bounty hunters looking for “breeders,” and more dangers as they race to Amerada’s capital to find Halla’s soldier boyfriend before the Prags can repo her baby and force the girls into surrogacy service. An unexpected encounter with Bulrush, an Underground Railroad for women fleeing to Outposts with their unlicensed babies, puts them in greater peril than ever. Everly must decide what she is willing to sacrifice to learn her biological identity–and deal with the unanticipated consequences of her decisions.

Bird flu has decimated the world’s population and there are no longer any birds. Everly Jax is a repo kid raised in InKubator 9 where she becomes a bio-chemistry whiz. Ev, her friend Halla and other friend Wyck escape the Kube dome to run from the Pragmatists Government. They intend to travel to an outpost out of the reach of the government, but as none of them have any experience of life outside the dome, they find obstacles in their way that they had never dreamed of.

I started to read this book because I liked the cover but it soon had me under its spell. It’s an extremely well written book with one main plot, which leads to other problems and dilemmas. The three friends have to travel through swamps and ghost towns. At the same time they have to evade the guards who are chasing them and outlaws who want to sell the two women to the breeding labs.

The story is complex but at the same time easy to follow. It was one of those books I started to read and couldn’t put down. By the end of the book I was wondering if the world could actually end up in this situation if a pandemic took place. Highly recommended!

Mirror Me by Tara St. Pierre


Mirror Me by Tara St. Pierre
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (188 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Hannah McCauley doesn’t look at herself in the mirror anymore.

After a rebellious past, she now attends a strict private school in a new town, where her recently divorced mother has put her on social lockdown. No driving. No bad grades. No skipping classes. No unapproved friends. No makeup. No boys. And the subject of her best friend from her old school is definitely forbidden.

Hannah is being punished for something that happened a year earlier, something that she would like to put behind her. But strange occurrences frighten her, and she’s accused of breaking rules and doing other terrible things without any recollection of them. No one believes her, so she starts distrusting everything, even her own reflection.

Is she being haunted by her past? Stalked by someone with a grudge? Or is it all in her head? If she doesn’t figure out what’s happening fast, her existence could end up irreparably shattered.

Forgetfulness is one thing. Losing track of huge chunks of time is quite another.

Hannah was a smart girl. I enjoyed seeing how much effort she put into solving all of the problems that came her way. She was persistent even when nothing was going her way, and that made me admire her. Her insistence on figuring out solutions was also a nice contrast to her faults. I wouldn’t have expected someone who was occasionally flighty to also have this side to her personality. It was interesting to see how those parts of her fit together, especially since they ended up working together so nicely.

There were pacing issues. Hannah spent so much time dancing around the mystery of her past that it slowed down the descriptions of what was currently going on in her life. While I fascinated by what she might have done to make her mother so angry and mistrusting of her, I was also frustrated by how much time it took for the plot to move forward or to reveal even small hints about her big mistake.

The dialogue was well done. Hannah and her friends spent a lot of time bantering back and forth. Their conversations often made me grin, especially in the beginning when they talked about light-hearted stuff like what their plans were for after school. They seemed to get along with each other nicely, and that made their dialogue even better than it already was.

I’d recommend Mirror Me to anyone who likes mysteries that take their time to share their secrets.

Black and White by Nick Wilford

Black and White by Nick Wilford
Publisher: Superstar Peanut Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (155 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Orchid

What is the price paid for the creation of a perfect society?

In Whitopolis, a gleamingly white city of the future where illness has been eradicated, shock waves run through the populace when a bedraggled, dirt-stricken boy materialises in the main street. Led by government propaganda, most citizens shun him as a demon, except for Wellesbury Noon – a high school student the same age as the boy.

Upon befriending the boy, Wellesbury feels a connection that he can’t explain – as well as discovering that his new friend comes from a land that is stricken by disease and only has two weeks to live. Why do he and a girl named Ezmerelda Dontible appear to be the only ones who want to help?

As they dig deeper, everything they know is turned on its head – and a race to save one boy becomes a struggle to redeem humanity.

Wellesbury and Ezmerelda live in Whitopolis in the country of Harmonia. This is a white city with no dirt, no pain, no emotions. When Mallijnger, a boy reportedly from a demon city appears suddenly in the middle of the road, his arrival causes uproar as he is dirty and full of disease; in fact, he is dying.

The book is full of mystery and excitement as Wellesbury and Ezmerelda decide to investigate Mallinger an his origins to see if they can find a cure for his disease and save him. What they find is beyond their experience and also uncovers a whole disturbing aspect of their own lives.

At first I thought I wasn’t going to like this book but the more I read, the better it got. There were high points and moments when I was caught by surprise. The biggest surprise was at the end of the book, but I’m not going to reveal the spoiler, just lets say it’s well worth reading to the end. An intriguing idea which has been well thought out.

Raise the Curtain by Kirby Hall


Raise the Curtain by Kirby Hall
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (239 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Seventeen-year-old Alexa Cross is desperate to get to Broadway, but when she receives a failing math grade, hopes of a scholarship disappear. Now she’ll need her father’s help to achieve her dream. The only problem is he doesn’t consider her choice of careers to be sensible and after the pain her family has suffered, Alexa can’t go against his wishes. Trapped between a family she loves and her love of the stage, Alexa will have to find another way to achieve her dream or settle for what her father wants.

West Howell does his best to keep his head down and go unnoticed. It’s easier to be cut off than to try to explain to people why he’s so screwed up. After all, he can’t afford to get into any more trouble. When he’s recruited to tutor the hot, prissy girl from math, he never expects to fall in love with her. Or that she might be the one person who can relate to him.

Together, they may find a way to heal each other and get what they both desperately need, as long as Alexa’s father doesn’t decide that the one thing worse than his daughter’s love of the stage is her love for West.

Review:

He’s supposed to be nothing more than her tutor, but love doesn’t always follow the rules.

I absolutely loved the romance between Alexa and West. They had plenty of time to get to know each other really well before anything even remotely flirtatious happened, and they had such compatible personalities that I couldn’t help but to hope they’d end up together. I also enjoyed the fact that two people who came from such different backgrounds could discover that they had far more in common than either of them would have ever guessed. Figuring out what similarities they shared was an interesting experience for me as a reader because of how long it took and how well it explained why these two characters would be attracted to each other.

There were pacing issues in this story. At times the narrators spent so much time describing what was happening around them that it slowed down the plot. This made it difficult for me to stay focused on what was going on despite my interest in the characters’ lives in general. While the long descriptions were necessary in the beginning, they did become less needed as the storyline moved forward and I had a better sense of who Alexa and West were as individuals.

Alexa’s relationship with her dad was complicated and well written. I appreciated the fact that both of them had their fair share of flaws that rubbed the other one the wrong way for completely valid and understandable reasons. There definitely weren’t any perfect people in this family, and that made them very interesting characters to read about.

I’d recommend Raise the Curtain to anyone who is in the mood for a slow-burning romance.

The Jewel Tree by Lee Summers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitting In by S.E. Walker


Fitting In by S.E. Walker
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (140 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Charlotte Finnegan James desperately wants to fit in. Her parents encourage her to act like everyone around her, but Charlotte always feels like an outsider looking in. When men come late one night to “take control” of her, Charlotte knows fitting in will forever be impossible.

After being placed into a military boarding school, a name change is the first step in taking control of her own life. Finn’s differences are evident, no matter how hard she works to appear normal. Finding a sympathetic soul in Taber McCoy helps Finn execute her plan to escape the school.

Can she continue to hide her true self from the world? Will she find sanctuary with her aunt? Can she and Taber stay ahead of the men in black following them on their race across the country?

Being special has its perks, but it definitely isn’t always an easy life.

The mystery of Finn’s true identity made it impossible for me to stop reading this tale. She knew so little about it at first that I couldn’t begin to guess what secrets were hidden in her past. I really appreciated the fact that this part of the plot was hidden so completely. It made it even more fun than it would have been otherwise to slowly gather more clues and try to figure out who or what Finn was.

There were a few mild pacing issues in the beginning. The introduction to Finn’s world took up more time than I was expecting. While it was nice to get to know everyone so well, this did leave less time for plot development later on than I would have liked to see. With that being said, this didn’t stop me from enjoying this book in general.

Taber and Finn were both intelligent and courageous teenagers. I especially liked the fact that they spent so much time thinking about things that could possibly be a roadblock to their plans and trying to come up with solutions to them in advance. This is exactly the kind of behavior I love to see in characters in these kinds of stories. The final scene gave me the impression that there may be a sequel on the way. If this is true, I can’t wait to find out what Finn and Taber will do next and if they will continue to be so level-headed in the face of danger.

Fitting In kept me perched on the edge of my seat. I’d recommend it to anyone who has any interest at all in the culture of military schools.

The Lyons Orphanage by Charlie King


The Lyons Orphanage by Charlie King
Publisher: New Generation Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, paranormal
Length: Full (220 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Orchid

Sam Watkins, an orphaned young teenager, possesses the ability to read the minds of almost everyone he meets.

Howard Lyons, the owner of the orphanage where Sam has lived since he was a baby, has been reluctant to let Sam leave the orphanage.

Unable to read the mind of Mr Lyons, he takes it upon himself to investigate the reasons behind the owner’s decisions and learn more about the origin of his ability, his parents and the potential of his power.

However, Sam’s investigation and mind-reading abilities reveal a power struggle at the top of a faltering orphanage between Mr. Lyons and his assistant Natalie.

Sam’s involvement in this conflict leads him to look for ways to save the orphanage and uncover the true motivations of both the owner and his assistant while trying to learn about his past.

Lyons Orphanage was a good place for parentless children to live, until it started going downhill. Mr Lyons was the owner and operator of the orphanage, with Natalie his second in command. One of the orphans is thirteen year old Sam. This boy who has a secret…he can read minds.

As the year progresses Sam and his friends realize all is not well with Lyons Orphanage and they set out to solve the problem.

This story is very intense in its delivery. Told from Sam’s point of view, at times it makes the orphanage appear like something out of a Charles Dickens novel, at others a modern place. Mr Lyons Is a secretive man who won’t tell Sam about his background and prevents the boy from finding foster parents. Other children come and go, but Sam stays in the orphanage.

I liked this book, but didn’t get enthralled by it. The story didn’t really get exciting until near the end so it took perseverance to continue reading. Worth the read to the end.

Warrior by Deidre Huesmann


Warrior by Deidre Huesmann
A Modern Greek Myth 3
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full (231 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Poinsettia

While Azalee recovers from her stabbing, the High Priestess continues to lord over her. Azalee begins to feel her situation is hopeless once the Mother of Mykonos declares her mistrust of the Blistered child. With few allies, she makes desperate moves to gain some sense of control. In Athens, Joel and the others come to the dreaded realization that Joel is also a chosen mortal by a very unlikely and malicious god. Joel will have to sacrifice his beliefs to reach Azalee—and even that may not be enough. As their fates intertwine, trust is tenuous, promises are broken, and blood is spilled. Azalee and Joel can succumb to the gods’ twisted games…or challenge the fates.

Azalee no longer lives in the corrupt temple, but she is far from safe.

Azalee’s desperate attempt to contact Joel and her other friends left her defenseless, which resulted in her nearly fatal stabbing. More vulnerable than ever, Azalee is not only at the mercy of Theseus, but the High Priestess as well. Azalee still hasn’t completely figured out the source of the corruption at the temple, but she’s getting closer to unraveling the mystery. However, every move she makes puts her in danger. Will Azalee survive long enough to be reunited with Joel, or will the High Priestess silence Azalee forever? Warrior is the final book in this trilogy. Reader wishing to enjoy this book absolutely need to read Blistered and Priestess first.

I am constantly amazed by Azalee’s strength. She never once gives up fighting even when facing seemingly insurmountable odds. She always stands up for those who can’t protect themselves, and she fights to protect the other priestesses at the temple even though they never showed her the slightest hint of kindness. She roots out the truth of the corruption at the temple at a great personal cost because it is the right thing to do. Azalee is the kind of woman I’d be proud to call a friend.

Meanwhile, Joel is fighting just as fiercely to find Azalee. As Joel and his unlikely band of friends travel toward Azalee, they are constantly attacked by other Spinels. Joel’s pacifism is sorely tested, especially when a very violent god makes him a chosen mortal. Will this god’s presence be a blessing or a curse?

I enjoyed learning more about Deimos and his history. As I predicted, there is more to him than meets the eye. However, Joel’s memories of Deimos are skewed. I would have liked to see Joel and Deimos come to a clearer understanding of each other, but sadly, I’m not sure they will ever have that chance.

Of all the characters in this series, Niribelle has changed the most. I found her thoroughly unlikable in Blistered, but as the series has progressed, I must admit that she’s grown on me a bit. I’ve come to respect her. Niribelle continues to surprise me with her ability to make difficult decisions with ruthless determination. I hope she can live with the consequences of her actions.

Azalee and Joel’s reunion is bittersweet. I knew it was going to be difficult, and as I neared the conclusion, it was clear that a sacrifice of some sort would have to be made. However, I never imagined it would take the form it did. It simply never occurred to me that such a thing was possible, and yet when it was over, it made complete sense.

I’m delighted I had the opportunity to read this compelling trilogy, and I have relished the chance to watch Azalee, Joel, and the others grow and change as I followed them on their journey. I highly recommend this entire series.

Beautiful Enemy by Vanessa Garden


Beautiful Enemy by Vanessa Garden
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (111 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When June’s best friend takes his own life after years of bullying, she’s devastated—but mostly angry. Josh was the sweetest boy June had ever known, and in her mind, the popular kids at school are guilty of murder. When an anonymous online poster starts threatening Josh’s bullies on social media, and then killing them off one by one, June secretly feels a little glad. That is, until she becomes next on the killer’s list. Forced to forge an unlikely bond, June and Beau, star football player and king of the cool kids, must work out who is behind the killings before it’s too late.

 

Not every death is a peaceful or happy one.

The character development in this story was wonderful. Both of the main characters were well developed and had excellent reasons for behaving the way that they did. Given that some of the murders were pretty unusual, knowing this much about the protagonists was a very good thing because it helped me to understand why they acted in the sometimes strange ways that they did once their friends and classmates began to die.

One of the things that surprised me about the plot was how often it cut away to a new scene just as something exciting was about to happen. For example, a scene where one of the characters was suddenly attacked abruptly ended in the middle of the action. I found this confusing and was never able to figure out why the most interesting sections were cut short so often.

June was a brave girl. I especially appreciated how determined she was to figure out why people she knew kept dying even after she realized that uncovering the truth could be dangerous for her. She remained strong no matter what happened, and that made me admire her.

There was a fairly big plot hole that had to do with the aftermath of Josh’s death. While I can’t go into any more detail about it without giving away spoilers, this was my main reason for choosing a three star rating for this tale. The fact that this part of the plot was barely explored or explained at all bothered me because of how important it was to the storyline in general. I was expecting the characters to be way more curious about how it worked than they were.

I enjoyed the dialogue. All of the characters spoke in very natural ways. There were times when I genuinely felt as though I were eavesdropping on real conversations because of how nicely their words flowed together. Reading the things they said to each other was one of my favorite parts of this book because of that.

Beautiful Enemy should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a fast-paced mystery.