Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre


Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (36 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

In a faraway village there lives a farmer with his wife. The summer harvest has failed and winter already arrives. So, how should they feed their three sons? The idea arises to fetch wood in the northern forest. They could dry it, sell it from door to door and earn some money to buy food.

Frede knows that his parents are doing their best, but is it enough to withstand the most barren period of the year? Together with his brothers, Rhune and Folke, he wants to visit Santa and ask him for help. But, first they must travel through that extensive forest where the evil Elf King lurks.

One bad harvest can seriously hurt anyone who makes their living through farming. Only time will tell if Frede and his family will have enough food to get through the winter.

Frede was such a brave boy. He faced all kinds of dangers while he was trying to travel to Santa’s house, yet he never gave up no matter how difficult his journey became. He kept pushing on even when it looked like there was no way to win. I especially enjoyed seeing how he reacted to the elves he met on the way. Not all of them were friendly, but he didn’t let that stop him.

There were a few editing issues. I noticed multiple run-on sentences and punctuation errors. Some of them took a minute for me to figure out because they could be interpreted in more than one way. A couple of sentences also seemed to be missing important words. If not for these errors, I would have chosen a much higher rating as the storytelling itself was creative and beautiful.

This book was full of magic that refused to be tamed. Everything from the elves to the forest itself was so wildly different from how humans behave that I didn’t know what to expect from them next. This is exactly the kind of storytelling I always hope to find in fairy tales, so I was quite happy with how unpredictable these scenes were. They made my heart beat faster in a good way.

Frede and Santa should be read by anyone who loves Christmas.

Nine Short Chapter Books by Gita V. Reddy

Nine Short Chapter Books by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (161 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

As the title suggests, this is a collection of short chapter books by Gita V. Reddy. The chapters are short and the word count of each book is between 5000 to 7000 words. The book also introduces young readers to different genres. A brief description of each title is given below.

THE HOMELESS BIRDS (Fantasy)

A young bird is left behind by his flock. Unable to fly by direction, he takes the help of a boy, and shares with him the plight of his flock.

THE MAGICIAN’S TURBAN (Magic)

Magic is no bag of tricks, discover two boys after they are trapped in the magician’s turban.

KNIFE AND FORK (Fable)

A monkey spends some time in the city. When he returns to the forest, he is a changed monkey – but not for the better.

DAKSHA THE MEDICINE GIRL (Geography &Culture)

A Himalayan girl who has knowledge of herbal medicine refuses to live away from her hamlet and study in a school. Until a resourceful doctor finds a way.

MAKE A WISH (Fairytale)

Niki had only one wish: to meet a fairy. It comes true and now the fairy wants to grant Niki a wish. What should niki wish for?

KRISHTA, DAUGHTER OF MARTEV (Science Fiction)

Krishta of Planet Ayzeon is a poor student. She comes to Earth to understand the basics of science and becomes friends with a student working in a lab. All goes well until Ikor from her planet wants revenge.

THE FORBIDDEN FOREST (Action and Adventure)

The animals are mysteriously straying out of their habitat. A factory that is shut is working secretly. Are the two connected? Abhi and his cousins find out.

DEARIE (Animal Story)

Everything scares Dearie. When his fear becomes a thread to the herd, he is made to leave. If Dearie must stay survive, he must learn to conquer fear.

THE MISSING GIRL (General Fiction)

Sneha goes missing. The presence of strange car points to a kidnap. But Sneha is having an adventure – an adventure of a different kind.

There’s something for everyone in this collection.

After not being able to fall asleep one night, Ranjan found a lost bird named Vajra who could talk in “The Homeless Birds” and decided to help his new buddy find his family. Ranjan was such a kind boy that I couldn’t wait to find out how he’d react to his magical adventure. I enjoyed seeing how he reacted to everything that happened to him. This felt like a modern fairy tale, and I’m a big fan of that genre. I also appreciated how open-ended the final scene was. It could easily lead to a sequel, but it also gave this reader plenty up to think about if Ms. Reddy doesn’t end up turning this into a series.

Two young friends named Ismail and Hassan met a magician and tried to figure out his secrets in “The Magician’s Turban.” Was the magician cleverly tricking them, or was he really capable of making things appear and disappear out of thin air? I was fascinated by how hard these characters worked to learn the answer to this question, especially during the scenes that honestly could have been explained either way.

“Knife and Fork” was a fable that showed what happened to a monkey named Bholu who heard rumors about what life was like outside of the forest and couldn’t wait to find out if they were true. After he returned from his adventures, he tried to teach the other monkeys about what he’d seen. The lessons in it were a little hard to pick out since all of the characters had flaws that made it hard for me to relate to them. I would have liked to see more examples of their good sides so that it would easier to understand where they were coming from.

The title of “Daksha the Medicine Girl” told me almost everything I needed to know about the premise. Watching her settle into a long, snowy winter in her isolated mountain village made me wonder what would happen to her before spring arrived. I liked seeing how brave she was when something frightening happened just after the first big snowfall that kept anyone from going for help. She was a kind and mature girl for her age, and it showed.

Niki decided to find out if fairies were real once and for all in “Make a Wish” by using her birthday wish to meet one. After being told by the fairy she could make another wish, she had to choose what to ask for next. The problem she tried to solve was one that most kids never have to think about, so I was curious to see if it would really be solved and how the fairy would react to such an unselfish request. This was something that adult readers may enjoy just as much as the intended audience.

“Krishta, Daughter of Martev” followed a boy named Suraj who had to stay after class to make up missing chemistry schoolwork from an illness he had developed earlier in the year. While I liked seeing how these characters met and discovering what Krishta wanted from her new friend, the pacing was so slow that I had trouble staying interested in the plot. I struggled to keep reading it because of this.

In “The Forbidden Forest,” Uday introduced his friend to his cousins and planned out a fun visit for all of them. After getting into some minor mischief, they decided to play detective and find out if any of the adults were secretly committing crimes. I enjoyed this character’s playful sense of adventure. He was good at paying close attention to his surroundings, and that made for some entertaining storytelling.

Anyone who skips around in anthologies should read “Dearie” first. It was about a delicate fawn named Dearie who had to learn a lot of lessons about surviving in the forest as he grew up. This was by far my favorite story here because of much the main character changed between his birth and who he was as an adult. Life isn’t easy for wild animals, and Dearie had to work hard to stay safe once he was too big to be protected by his mother. Many of the rules he learned can apply to humans, too, and that was yet another reason why I liked this one so much.

Sneha sent her whole neighbourhood into a panic after she failed come home on time one night in “The Missing Girl.” Some of the details of what really happened to Sneha made me wonder if kids would try to recreate what happened to her. I wouldn’t have a problem giving this to older children who understood why her choices could be so dangerous if they were repeated in the real world, but I’d be cautious about sharing them with anyone who was impressionable or impulsive. With that being said, she did have a charming personality and a real knack for figuring out problems.

Nine Short Chapter Books was a creative collection that I’d recommend to any young reader who is ready for longer pieces of 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.

Tractor Mac Saves Christmas by Billy Steers


Tractor Mac Saves Christmas by Billy Steers
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Every year, the whole town looks forward to the Christmas tree lighting, but this year, a blizzard has struck. The snow starts to fall more and more heavily, and soon, Tractor Mac and his pals are snowed in at the barn. Farmer Bill and Sibley the horse are supposed to be on their way to the center of town with the tree, but when they get stuck in the blizzard and it looks like the ceremony will have to be called off, Tractor Mac saves them and the whole holiday celebration.

A little bit of snow can be festive over the holidays, but a full blizzard might be able to stop Christmas celebrations altogether.

The animals that lived on Farmer Bill’s farm made me giggle. They were very good at starting entertaining conversations and keeping Tractor Mac focused on doing his job by explaining what could go wrong if they didn’t start plowing right away. My favorite scenes were the ones that showed how Tractor Mac responded to them and what happened when the snow began to fall even faster. The more worried these animals became, the more amusing they were as well.

There was a plot hole that had to do with how the town filled up with people so quickly on such a snowy day. I would have liked to see explained better as it didn’t quite make sense when compared with what was happening in the earlier scenes. Had Tractor Mac or one of his friends told the audience how everyone ended up in town so quickly, I would have given this book a much higher rating as it was otherwise very well done.

All of the characters understood how important it was to work together to solve a problem. I enjoyed watching them figure out how to free Sibley the horse and what the best way was to get the tree to town before the big party started. Cooperation isn’t an easy skill to learn, but it is an important one for kids, adults, and tractors alike to master.

This is part of a series. It can be read on its own or out of order.

Tractor Mac Saves Christmas was a humorous holiday tale that I’d recommend to anyone who likes tractors and other farm equipment.

I Love You More Than Moldy Ham by Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis


I Love You More Than Moldy Ham by Carey F. Armstrong-Ellis
Publisher: Abrams Books
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When a young monster sets out to create a gourmet dinner for someone special, he squelches through marsh and muck to find just the right ingredients, from beetle knees to plump slugs to chicken teeth! But who is the dinner for? A surprise awaits his special loved one and readers alike!

Monsters aren’t always scary. In fact, some of them are downright sweet!

The narrator compared the love he had for his mother to all kinds of disgusting things, from boogers to sweaty feet. Reading about all of the strange items he were collecting as he talked about his feelings for his mom made me really curious to know what he was planning to do with all of it. The longer the list grew, the more impatient I became to see how it would all turn out.

I would have liked to see the main character be given a name at some point. While I definitely liked the fact that this character was relatable to both boys and girls, it felt odd to me to read about a friendly little monster without knowing something as basic as what his mom called him. They had such a special relationship that I would have loved to know that detail about him.

One of my favorite parts of this story was how much effort the writer put into rhyming words that I never would have thought to stick together. They were pretty clever, and they made it impossible for me to stop reading. While some of those words will probably be unfamiliar for this age group, there were plenty of clues in the illustrations and other parts of the rhyme to help them figure out it.

I Love You More Than Moldy Ham made me giggle. It should be read by anyone who is in the mood to get a little grossed out while talking about love.

The Very Stuffed Turkey by Katharine Kenah


The Very Stuffed Turkey by Katharine Kenah
Publisher: Cartwheel Books
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (36 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

A Thanksgiving story featuring a large turkey with a big problem…

…he’s been invited to EVERYONE’S home for dinner!

With five homes to visit — Horse’s, Pig’s, Sheep and Goat’s, Cow’s, and Mouse’s –Turkey knows there’ll be a ton of food to eat. But there’ll also be friends and their families who can’t wait to celebrate the holiday with Turkey! Can this very plump bird make it through every meal without bursting?

A silly, read-aloud story featuring food, friends, and one hilarious turkey!

Turkey’s eyes are much bigger than his stomach. How will he ever be able to eat five Thanksgiving dinners in one day?

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this tale was that the menu at every friend’s house depended on what kind of animal they were. For example, the horses served foods like oat cakes and carrots because those are things that real horses eat. It was a lot of fun to see what each animal’s version of Thanksgiving dinner would be. Some of the dishes they served were pretty creative, and it made me grin to think of them baking such special meals for themselves and for Turkey.

I would have liked to see the main character feel able to say no to more food when he was completely full. He ate to the point where it was physically uncomfortable for him. While I’m all for enjoying good food over the holidays, I also think kids should be encouraged to listen to their bodies and wait before they eat more if their stomachs begin to hurt. There will always be leftovers on holidays like this one!

The friendships between all of the animals were so sweet and supportive. I especially liked seeing the kinds of games they played after one meal ended but before the next one began. Everyone played very nicely together and were great role models for the audience. This is something I really like finding in stories for preschoolers and young children.

I’d recommend The Very Stuffed Turkey to anyone who is looking forward to Thanksgiving this year.

Katie Saves Thanksgiving (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin


Katie Saves Thanksgiving (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin
Publisher: Picture Window Books
Genre: Children’s, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Pedro’s and JoJo’s families are on their way to Katie’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. But they get stuck in a snowstorm, and the Woos’ oven suddenly breaks. Katie wonders what kind of Thanksgiving it will be without sweet potatoes, pie, and most of all, friends.

Sometimes everything that can go wrong does go wrong all at once.

The chances of an oven breaking at the same time that a friend’s car gets stuck in the snow are low, but this sort of thing can happen. Seeing how Katie reacted when everything that made Thanksgiving special to her was taken away made me smile. She was such a good role model even though she was terribly disappointed by the change of plans. This can be a hard thing for people of all ages to handle, but she did a great job of expressing her sad feelings without allowing them to ruin her day.

There was a plot hole in this story that was never resolved. It involved what happened after Pedro and Jojo’s vehicle became stuck in the snowstorm. I was expecting the characters to spend more time on this problem than they did, so it was surprising to see how little attention that part of the plot received.

One of my favorite sections of this book happened while Katie and her family were trying to decide what to do on Thanksgiving now that their friends were no longer on the way and they couldn’t cook the foods they normally liked to eat then. Not only was the choice they made a kind one, it fit perfectly into the spirit of Thanksgiving and what it means to truly celebrate this holiday.

Katie Saves Thanksgiving was a short, cute read that I’d recommend to anyone who has ever had something go wrong during the holidays.

I’m Not Afraid of This Haunted House by Laurie Friedman


I’m Not Afraid of This Haunted House by Laurie Friedman
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Genre: Children’s, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Simon Lester Henry Strauss is not in the least afraid of any haunted house, but there is something else that terrifies him.

Not everyone is afraid of the same thing, but just about everyone is frightened by something.

I really liked the balanced way the narrator handled fear. None of the characters were ever treated poorly because of what scared them. Their fears and their emotions in general were treated like the normal part of life that they are, but there were also examples of characters facing things that others found too alarming to deal with. It was interesting to see how all of the characters responded to scary things and what happened when they disagreed on how they should respond to certain experiences.

The imagery was a little scarier than what I’d typically see for this age group. There were references to stuff like blood, guts, and veins. While none of the illustrations for those sentences were gory, this would make me a little cautious about who I handled this tale to. Some kids would love it. Others might find it too frightening, though.

The ending was fantastic. I was expecting there to be a twist in it based on how the main character reacted to the monsters in all of the earlier scenes. It was interesting to see if my theories about what that twist would be turned out to be correct and what would happen to the characters next. This is something I wouldn’t mind reading aloud over and over again. That’s always a nice thing to find in picture books.

I’m Not Afraid of This Haunted House is a good choice for young fans of the horror genre.

Harvest Moon by Tonya Coffey


Harvest Moon by Tonya Coffey
A New World – Book one

Publisher: Saguaro Books, LLC
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (218 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Seventeen-year-old Jessa lives in the remote mountains of Kentucky and has always found peace in the forest. Close to her eighteenth birthday, her dad buys her a book and things begin to happen. With her dreams leading her, she uncovers a world within her own with Faeries. They look and act like people she grew up with but she quickly finds she is the one who is different. She is the hidden heir to the throne and the Faeries need her to come home and save them from the Trolls.

If it wasn’t difficult enough for Jessa to move to a different world, she has to marry the man who saved her from the Trolls when all she wants to do is run to his best friend, Micha. With so much to worry about, how can she keep the Faery realm from falling into the hands of the evil Trolls and the Ancients?

Jessa, a seventeen year old girl, lives with her father in the woods. Despite going to school, she leads a lonely life and spends most of her time wandering through the trees or reading books about the faerie world. Immediately before her eighteenth birthday she is kidnapped by trolls then rescued by the faeries. From then on her life takes a totally new path.

Roderick her protector, doesn’t seem to do a brilliant job as she gets kidnapped a few times, although he’s not too bad at rescuing her as long as she helps him.

This is a pleasant book with Jessa finding the truth about her parents and her struggles at coming to terms with who she really is, but despite this being pleasant to read, I couldn’t really get into it. Things weren’t well fleshed out and Jessa didn’t seem to be in any real danger which took away the suspense and excitement. However, this is a good book to read as an afternoon distraction and amusement.

Brave New Girls: Girls Who Science and Scheme Edited by Mary Fan and Paige Daniels

Brave New Girls: Girls Who Science and Scheme by Edited by Mary Fan and Paige Daniels
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (423 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Dive into a universe of sci-fi wonders.

This collection of sci-fi shorts features a variety of brainy young heroines—girls who engineer, tinker, experiment, and more. Voyage to far-off galaxies with girls who use their science savvy to fix rovers, rescue friends, and protect alien critters. Visit steampunk realms where young ladies put their skills to the test building mechanical wonders and solving mysteries. Trek across sci-fi landscapes with girls who save androids and repair robots. Journey to post-apocalyptic futures where heroines use their tech know-how to bring down overlords and spread the most dangerous thing of all… knowledge. And drop in on a few near-future heroines who use their smarts to take down supervillains and bring a little more understanding into the world.

Proceeds from sales of this anthology will be donated to a scholarship fund through the Society of Women Engineers. Let’s show today’s girls that they, too, can be tomorrow’s inventors, programmers, scientists, and more.

STORIES BY:
T. Eric Bakutis, Elisha Betts, Steph Bennion, Bryna Butler, Margaret Curelas, Paige Daniels, Kay Dominguez, Brandon Draga, George Ebey, Mary Fan, A.A. Jankiewicz, Evangeline Jennings, Jamie Krakover, Jeanne Kramer-Smyth, Stephen Landry, Karissa Laurel, Michelle Leonard, Meg Merriet, Jelani-Akin Parham, Josh Pritchett, Holly Schofield, and Lisa Toohey.

Featuring artwork by Hazel Butler, Sonya Craig, Ken Dawson, Evelinn Enoksen, Ben Falco, Kathy Ferrell, Christopher Godsoe, Evangeline Jennings, Deanna Laver, Jennifer L. Lopez, Jelani Akin Parham, Josh Pritchett, Emily Smith, and Jennifer Stolzer.

There’s no such thing as too much science in these universes.

Morrigan and her niece, Cethlenn, struggled to avoid getting sucked into a black hole in “The Non-Existence of Gravity.” While I can’t say why they ended up in such a predicament in the first place without giving away spoilers, I can say that their reaction to such a dangerous fate made it impossible for me to stop reading. They were so brave and quick-thinking that I simply had to know what would happen to them next, and I was quite pleased with how they reacted as soon as they realized something was terribly wrong.

As much as I enjoyed all of the storylines, there were a few sections that could have benefitted from more development. For example, the premise of “In A Whole New Light” caught my attention right away. Nina, the main character who was biracial, tried to figure out how to make her cousin stop mocking her for her race and interest in the Black Lives Matter movement. Her life was full of many interesting ideas that could have easily been expanded into a full-length novel, although it worked quite well at its current length, too. What I would have liked to see done with Nina’s adventures, though, was to spend more time on how she came up with her futuristic plan to change her cousin’s opinion of black and biracial people. Her solution was brilliant, but it wasn’t exactly something I’d expect the average 15-year-old to pull off. If that part of the plot had been given more time to shine, this would have easily beaten “The 17th Quadrennial Intergalactic Neo-Cultural Expo and Science Fair” as my favorite tale in this collection.

In “The 17th Quadrennial Intergalactic Neo-Cultural Expo and Science Fair,” Alice, Jay, and Hayden were putting the finishing touches on their science fair project when the life support system on their ship suddenly failed. They only had about 40 minutes to figure out what to do before they ran out of oxygen, and none of the adults in their community were around to help them. What an exciting premise that was! These characters had to think hard in order to make any progress at all at reaching their goal to save themselves and everyone else. I spent most of their adventure seriously wondering how they were going to survive and if they would fix their ship in time. It was so interesting to see how the plot unfolded.

I liked this anthology even more than I did the first one in this series, Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets. While they definitely don’t have to be read in order, I would recommend checking out the first instalment to anyone who enjoys this one.

Brave New Girls: Girls Who Science and Scheme was a creative collection of short stories that should be read by both young adult and adult fans of science fiction.