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.

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.

Stealing Magic by Alex C. Vick


Stealing Magic by Alex C. Vick
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (250 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Jax is a fourteen-year-old magic-taker from Androva. He’s also a rule breaker. He should not have opened a portal to our world in daylight, no matter how fed up he was with the rules, or how interested he was in Shannon.

Shannon considers herself to be ordinary. She loves escaping into fantasy books, but she never actually believed in magic. Not until the day she opens her eyes to find herself surrounded by it. And that boy, the one with the green eyes, who winks at her before he disappears into thin air. Who is he? Where does he come from?

When Shannon first touches the silver force field created by Jax, a treaty is broken, giving an ancient enemy the chance he needs to regain his power. The two teenagers don’t have much time to figure out what is going on, and they’re going to need all of their combined magical ability to stand a chance of surviving.

The next ten days will be the most exciting and terrifying of their lives (so far!).

The Legacy of Androva is a series of contemporary fantasy books for lower young adult / upper middle grade. The stories are self-contained, with no cliffhangers in between books.

Shannon’s nap is about to end with something other than a sweet dream.

The dialogue was nicely written. I liked seeing how much attention the author paid to giving each character a unique voice. Jax and Shannon had unique speaking styles that immediately told me which one of them was talking when a new scene began with a quote from one of them. That is something I always enjoy finding in stories, so it was nice to have it.

The pacing was quite slow. As interested as I was in the idea of harvesting magic and meeting people from another planet, it was difficult to keep reading at times because of how long it took for the plot move forward. There were multiple points where the plot stopped progressing altogether in order to explain certain parts of the backstory or how a certain spell worked. As nice as it was to have those pieces of information, I would have really liked to see more time spent developing the plot and speeding up the pacing of it so that I could felt more concerned about how it would all turn out.

With that being said, the spells in this book were fascinating and not really what I’d expect to see in your average fantasy tale. I can’t talk about most of them in detail without giving away spoilers for the storyline, but all of them were spells that I sure wished I could cast. The one for cleaning your teeth, for example, was a lot of fun.

Check out Stealing Magic if you like creative fantasy novels set in the present day.

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.

Girl Without a Face by Medeia Sharif


Girl Without a Face by Medeia Sharif
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (135 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Destiny awakes with amnesia. She’d been driving on a wet road, about to leave flowers at a memorial marker of a deceased classmate, when she almost met that same fate.

Her mother, Mildred, is beyond restrictive, and she doesn’t want Destiny to have her cellphone back. A nurse sneaks it into her room, but it’s useless without the passcode. After her hospital stay, her mother becomes physically abusive.

Destiny and the boy she’s developing feelings for decide to drive around to spark her memory. She’s positive she crashed near a memorial marker. When they find the place in question, and when Destiny remembers her phone’s passcode, nothing is as it seems—and Mildred is crazier than she first thought.

 

Destiny’s life is full of things that don’t make any sense. If only she knew if this was a side effect of her amnesia or if there’s another explanation for it.

The flashbacks to Destiny’s life before the accident were well done. I especially enjoyed seeing how they changed as her body continued to heal from the accident and her mind was better at going back and exploring those pieces of her past despite the fact that her memory was so spotty. The evolution of it all made me want to keep reading.

There were a few big plot holes that were never explained, especially when it came to Destiny’s time in the hospital after her accident and how certain parts of that experience played out. I would have really liked to spend more time on that part of the plot so that I could understand it better. What the plot did reveal was fascinating, but it left me with many more questions than I had answers.

Destiny was such a brave girl. Some of the best scenes in this tale were the ones that showed how she reacted in a crisis. She almost always kept a level head and thought rationally about what her choices were in that situation even if she didn’t have a lot of them to begin with. This is something I love seeing in young adult books, so I was glad to find it here.

I figured out the mystery very early on because of how many clues the narrator discovered after she woke up in the hospital. It would have been nice to either have them spread out more evenly through the storyline or to have fewer of them in general. I was disappointed by how little effort I had to put into piecing everything together.

The romantic subplot was sweet. I liked both of the characters involved in it, and I liked them even more when they were spending time together. They brought out the best in each other in so many different ways. I couldn’t wait to find out if they’d end up together in the end.

Girl Without a Face should be read by anyone who is in the mood for something intense.

The Ugly Girl Party by Ann Herrick


The Ugly Girl Party by Ann Herrick
Publisher: Chaucer Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (118 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars

Review by: Astilbe

Faith’s wish to get off to a good start at her new high school is shattered on the first day, as she quickly discovers that drop-dead gorgeous Hunter and friends decide she lives in the “wrong” house and wears the “wrong” clothes. They systematically harass her and seem determined to make her life miserable. She fantasizes about how she’ll get even some day when she is a famous singer/actress, but meanwhile just wants to make it through the day.She meets a couple of possible friends, but finds it hard to trust anyone.

When maybe-friend Julia tells her about the upcoming talent show, Faith is determined to win in order to impress her tormentors. Then nice-guy neighbor Riley invites her to the homecoming dance. She’s excited to go until she gets there and realizes that something is up–something terrible. And when she reacts, she finds herself in danger of being suspended from school. Faith questions her own goals, decisions, and values as she struggles to find her way.

It’s never easy being the new girl at school, but Faith has a few extra challenges that most of her classmates do not.

Faith was a well-developed and interesting character. I really liked the fact that her flaws were so important to how the story progressed. Instead of being something minor and forgettable, they were actually serious issues that changed the way she saw the world and pushed her to do and say things she might not have otherwise done and said. Seeing Faith’s positive and negative sides only made me like her more because of how completely I got to know her and how much I could empathize with some of the things she struggled with.

I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters in this story. Faith met so many different kids at her new school that I sometimes forgot the names of the people who were friendly and who were snotty to her. It would have been nice to focus on a smaller number of characters so that I could get to know them better.

Some of my favorites scenes involved the time that Faith spent with her talkative little sister, Erin. They had their share of disagreements like all siblings do, but they genuinely cared about each other at the end of the day. They also shared a lot more in common than either of them might have wanted to admit. Both of these things made it so much fun to see what would happen to these sisters next.

I’d recommend The Ugly Girl Party to anyone who would like to read a story about bullying and trying to fit in.

Perdition by Lindsey Ouimet


Perdition by Lindsey Ouimet
Publisher: Evernight Teen Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (214 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

After the death of her stepfather, Michaela Reilly’s family picks up and moves from the bustling city of Miami to a tiny speck of a town in the middle of nowhere Georgia. Starting over is always hard, but when you’re stuck with an emotionally wrecked mother who won’t even look at you and the responsibility of practically raising your younger brother and sister, it’s even more difficult. Life in a small, rural town is a lot different from what she’s used to. Beaches are replaced with lazy, shaded rivers. Six lane highways with dirt roads. And Levi, the cute preacher’s son, with intentions as pure as his smile, takes the place of a string of shallow, meaningless hookups back home. Some things remain the same no matter where you go, however. Like the way a cute boy can make things seem not so bad, or how when you fall in love—You. Just. Know. It’s too bad it’s not only the good things that are universal. Bad things can follow you, no matter how far away from them you run. Secrets always end up hurting people. A troubled past will come back to haunt you. Michaela has both.

It’s not easy being the new family in a small town, especially when your siblings are biracial and your mom is a single parent.

Bullying isn’t just about being teased or called names. It can negatively affect every part of a person’s life, and the consequences of it can be very serious. I liked seeing how much attention Ms. Ouimet paid to just how destructive something like this can be for someone who is being harassed day after day. She wasn’t afraid to dig deeply into her characters’ lives to show how seriously they were being harmed and what it feels like to be treated so terribly.

I feel that the romance in this story moved far too quickly. While I liked both of the characters who were involved in it, they jumped into a relationships so quickly that I didn’t have time to find out what it was they found attractive about each other. It would have been nice for them to explore some common interests or something first so that I’d understand why they suddenly wanted to spend so much time together.

Not everyone deals with grief and trauma the same way. One of the things I enjoyed the most about this tale was how much time it spent exploring how Michaela was coping with all of the painful things that had happened to her in the recent past. Some days were definitely better than others for this character, and I appreciated how honest the storyline was about that. These scenes shaped Michaela’s personality in all kinds of interesting and thought-provoking ways.

Perdition should be read by anyone who loves summer romances.

Before the Dawn by Courtney Rene


Before the Dawn by Courtney Rene
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (99 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Seventeen year old Abby can’t shake the darkness that continues to haunt her since her escape from the Hunterz. She can’t let it go. Questions continue to circle. Questions no one will answer. Who are they, really? Why do they hate the wolves so much? The answers could be found in a young boy named, Sam. He may be from the Hunterz, but he smells of wolf. Derek wants to believe her, and tries to help, but Abby still hasn’t learned how to accept help from others. Her relationships with her mother and father continue to deteriorate, but Derek is a puzzle. Some days he’s exactly what she wants and others he is all that she despises. Being a shifter isn’t as simple as she thought it would be. The wolf part is easy. It’s the human side that needs a little work.

There’s a wolf inside of Abby that can’t wait to get out again.

Lilly, Abby’s aunt, was such a kind person and wonderful role model for her niece. She brought a sense of stability and calm to Abby’s life that was desperately needed. Every time Lilly entered a scene, I smiled because I knew she was going to make everything feel alright again. She was by far my favorite character in this tale.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing Abby’s personality. She spent a great deal of this story being angry. While she had good reasons for feeling that way so often, it was hard to get to know the other sides of her personality because of it. I would have loved to see more examples of how she behaved when she was in other moods, too, so I could discover the rest of her as well.

The shifter society was fascinating. I really enjoyed seeing how it all worked, especially when it came to how men and women relate to each other in this world and all of the double standards that they have about what men are allowed to do but women are not. Abby’s reactions to those sections of the plot were exactly what I’d expect from her. It was as interesting to see her act the way I thought she would as it was to explore why so many of the men in this universe accept the status quo.

This book is the third in a series. I’d recommend reading the first two instalments before jumping into this one.

Before the Dawn should be read by anyone who enjoys stories about shifters.

A Poem for Britain by S.W. Wilcox


A Poem for Britain by S.W. Wilcox
Bards of Fantasia: (Book 1)

Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (124 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

IF YOU EVER WONDERED how future teens might interact with Arthurian figures, in terms of intellect and technology…

Two lab partners trek the coasts of the United Kingdom in 635 AD, encountering prototypes of the King Arthur myths. Their time-travel mission? Change the past just enough to forestall a 22nd century nuclear war. Their main weapon? Music. To meet the greatest Dark Age legends face to face is something any can dream of but few may hope to see.

Yet for young Skall & Dor, the chance of a lifetime is their sole alternative to chaos and despair. But history is a lonely place to pursue justice! Their compound’s fuel all but gone, the two youths are equipped only with their portal-opening device & guitars. The duo then bravely leap into a time gate before school-turned-fortress can cut power to the lab.

Time travel is only for the bravest souls.

The gods and other mythical beings in this tale were a lot of fun. As Dor said, “Gods: first uncaring as stone and then a wreck like teens in love – a mystery for the ages.” I never knew what to expect from them next, and that made me keep reading to see what zany things they’d say or do when or if the main characters crossed their paths again.

This story didn’t include enough details about what was happening in it. I had trouble immersing myself in the plot because of this. It was hard to imagine what the settings looked like or what it would be like to meet the characters because there were so few references to stuff like that. While I enjoyed the fast pacing in general, I needed a lot more information about what was happening with the characters so that I could get to know them well enough to worry about them when they found themselves in danger.

The dialogue was written well. There were a few different times when one of the characters came up with a coy response to something someone else said that made me laugh out loud. I also appreciated the fact that all of the main characters had such unique voices. It was easy to tell who was speaking because of how differently each person spoke. Skall used words in ways that Dor never would, and vice versa.

I’d recommend Bards of Fantasia: (Book 1) A Poem for Britain to anyone who really likes time travel.