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.

Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story by Gita V. Reddy


Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Hop, a young grasshopper, makes a new friend. He is Chomp, the caterpillar. Chomp is not like Hop at all. While Hop likes to explore the world around him, and to play in the grass, Chomp only eats. But Hop doesn’t mind because Chomp is a good listener. He visits him often and tells him all about his day.

One day, Chomp stops eating. And then he disappears!

Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story is a simple story children will relate to, while learning about the life cycle of a butterfly.

It is also about friendship, and about accepting differences.

Both boys and girls will enjoy the book.

The illustrations are hand drawn and will appeal to young readers.

You’re never too young to make a new friend.

I’d never thought about the idea of insects having personalities before, but Hop and Chomp changed my mind about this. They were both unique little bugs that had strong opinions about how they wanted to spend their time and who they wanted to spend it with. I’ve been a fan of Ms. Reddy’s stories for a while now, but getting to know these characters so well only made me more interested in seeing what she comes up with next. She had such a creative spin on what grasshoppers and caterpillars would be like if they could speak.

I would have liked to see Hop’s mother spend a little more time explaining what a pupa was and why Chomp was inside of it. Her explanation of it was so brief that I’m not sure it would make complete sense to preschoolers. With that being said, I still enjoyed this book quite a bit and wouldn’t hesitate to read it to my relatives who are in this age group.

The friendship between Chomp and Hop was adorable. Hop’s interest in spending time with his friend only seemed to grow stronger over time, and that made me smile. I also loved the fact that they were such good buddies even though a baby grasshopper’s idea of a good time often isn’t the same as what a caterpillar would want to do.

Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story was a gentle tale that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the market for something new to read at bedtime.

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.

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.

The Undernet by J.S. Frankel


The Undernet by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (232 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Milton (Milt) Edwards, eighteen, high school graduate and gamer supreme, lives for the next game to be played on the internet. His friend, Simon Smith, is no different, and together they rule the world of war simulations and zombie invasions.

When Simon tells Milt about the newest site he’s heard of—the Undernet—Milt is intrigued. However, when Simon turns up dead shortly after telling him, Milt is determined to find out why. Was it the Undernet, a shadowy cyber world, or simply a maniac with a vendetta? He is soon recruited by Ramon, a former prisoner turned FBI hacker, and Larry Caldwell, an FBI agent. Ramon introduces Milt to the Darknet, and soon the clues fall into place, or at least Milt thinks they do.

Against the counsel of his girlfriend, Roberta Jones, Milt goes deeper and deeper into the netherworld known as the Undernet, finding out that reality isn’t what he thinks it is. More deaths happen, and when Milt discovers the truth behind who killed Simon—and others—it may be too late. Log onto the Undernet. Don’t think about logging out.

Not everything on the Internet is friendly or light-hearted.

The premise leapt out at me immediately. As a longtime fan of Mr. Frankel’s work, I was curious to see what his take on the Undernet would be. I was quite happy with how he used this plot device to introduce Milton to a part of the web that few people even knew existed. It was every bit as interesting and unsettling as I’d hoped it would be.

I would have liked to see a little more character development with Milton. He experienced many frightening and surprising things during the course of this book. While I was pleased to see that he changed and grew as a result of some of them, others didn’t seem to affect him much at all. It would have been nice to have more time to explore this and to see if he ever did evolve in those areas as a result of the scary stuff he discovered.

This tale was full of horror. The Undernet was filled with people who enjoyed all kinds of violent hobbies. The narrator didn’t shy away from sharing his impressions of them with the audience in vivid detail. It was something that the plot required, and I’m glad that the author faced his subject matter head on. With that being said, this also isn’t something that should be read by anyone under the age of sixteen because of how grisly it was.

The Undernet is a great choice for anyone who is in the mood for something dark.

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.

Megan’s Munchkins by Pamela Foland


Megan’s Munchkins by Pamela Foland
Publisher: Sonny’s Legacy Publishing
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (54 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Coming September 12, 2017! Megan’s Munchkins is the first book in the middle grade fiction series Megan’s World. Not everything hidden in the closet is scary, even if it’s furry and has sharp claws! Every teenager’s dream come true and every parent’s worst nightmare, Megan’s Munchkins is a short and sweet tale about a middle-school girl finding, quite by accident, the pet she had always wanted. Plus three more! It’s almost Spring break and adventurous thirteen-year-old Megan Thompson finds four tiny day-old kittens in the park and makes a decision on the spot that will turn her life upside-down. What does a young girl do who has been told by her parents over and over again that she may not have a pet? In Megan’s mind, there is no question. She must save these motherless newborns, even if it means keeping them a secret from her mom and dad. The next five weeks are an exhausting blur of vet visits, endless cycles of feeding schedules, household chores, homework and sneaking around, but Megan has never been happier in her whole life. The kittens grow quickly and begin to venture out into the world beyond the closet. Megan knows it is only a matter of time before her she must tell her parents about her secret. Fate steps in and her secret is discovered. What will happen to her precious babies now?

Keeping a secret for five weeks isn’t as easy as it might sound.

Megan was a smart girl. I enjoyed seeing how she solved the problems that can come with trying to raise four newborn kittens by yourself. My favorite scene involved her trying to get the kittens to drink formula when they were too small and weak to understand what she was doing. She clearly loved her pets quite a bit and spent plenty of time researching everything they would need to grow into strong, healthy cats.

One of the biggest reasons why Megan’s parents didn’t want her to have a pet cat was that they and her older brother were allergic to them. The way this part of the plot was developed didn’t make sense to me because the Thompson family never went into much detail about how severe their allergies were or what would happen if they were exposed to cat dander. As much as I enjoyed the rest of the storyline, I would have liked to see more attention paid to this section.

The relationship Megan had with her brother was warm and friendly. I appreciated the fact that he was so kind to and supportive of her. They seemed like they were very close even though Kevin was much older than his little sister. This isn’t something I see nearly enough of in middle grade fiction, so it was fun to watch siblings get along well.

Megan’s Munchkins was a sweet, gentle story that I’d recommend to anyone who loves cats.

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.

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.