If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed by Denise Vega


If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed by Denise Vega
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

If you have a monster that won’t go to bed, don’t bother asking your parents to help. They know a lot about putting kids to bed, but nothing about putting monsters to bed. It’s not their fault; they’re just not good at it. Read this book instead.

It will tell you what to feed your monster before bed (it’s not warm milk), and what to sing to your monster (it’s not a soothing lullaby), and what to read to your monster to send him off to dreamland in no time (the scarier, the better).

Just make sure you don’t get too good at putting monsters to bed—or you might have a BIG problem on your hands!

It’s much easier to get a monster ready for bed if you follow all of these steps.

The main character was such a persistent kid. I enjoyed watching her take her of her pet monster while helping him get ready to go to sleep. They had a close relationship, and it showed in how kind she was to him even when he didn’t want to follow the rules. She clearly loved him a lot. That made me like her even more than I already did.

A few of the scenes in this book were a little too gross for me. For example, monsters need to have a snack before bedtime. While I was expecting the monster to eat something that humans would never touch, the description of the little girl grinding up the ingredients of his snack was really vivid and made me want to turn past that page quickly.

With that being said, I did enjoy the less disgusting bedtimes routines that all good monsters should stick to. The very first scene where the monster hid behind the couch and looked completely uninterested in ending playtime and getting ready for bed made me giggle. I couldn’t wait to find out if he’d be more cooperative once the main character had explained all of the effective methods for encouraging him to calm down and begin to think sleepy thoughts.

If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed was a gently scary book that I’d recommend to anyone who is trying to make bedtime a little spooky.

Be Brave, Little Penguin by Giles Andreae


Be Brave, Little Penguin by Giles Andreae
Publisher: Orchard Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (42 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Little Penguin Pip-Pip would love to join in with all his friends swimming in the sea, but there’s just one problem . . . he’s scared of water. Can Pip-Pip overcome his fears and finally take the plunge? This irresistible story shows that sometimes all it takes is a little bit of encouragement — and a whole lot of heart — to finally make that leap and be BRAVE!

Be Brave, Little Penguin is the eagerly awaited new picture book from the creators of the bestselling Giraffes Can’t Dance. Written in true Giles Andreae style, this feel-good rhyming story portrays a positive message of confidence and self-esteem. Illustrations filled with humor and warmth by Guy Parker-Rees will help make this touching tale a family favorite.

 

Everyone gets scared sometimes.

This story was full of empathy. Not only was the audience given the chance to understand why Pip-Pip was so afraid of jumping into the water, the narrator also talked about the fact that everyone is frightened of something at some point in their lives. It was a brief message, but it was also an important one. Feeling alone can be one of the worst parts for someone who needs to admit that they’re afraid of something. The sooner kids realize how common this is, the better off they will be.

There was a scene early on where Pip-Pip was teased for being too frightened to jump into the ocean. While the taunts were mild and ended pretty quickly, I do wish the other penguins had been a little nicer to Pip-Pip. This was an incredibly minor complaint, but the inclusion of this scene would make me a little hesitant to recommend this book to kids whose anxiety includes thoughts about other kids making fun of them.

With that being said, I adored the way this character’s parents reacted to his fears. They were so warm and supportive of him while also encouraging him to find out if the things that made him worry were actually likely to happen. I also appreciated the way Pip-Pip’s mother taught him to imagine happy things happening to him instead of only focusing on what could go wrong.

Be Brave, Little Penguin is a must-read for anyone who has ever been worried about trying something new.

Dorm Rats by Michelle L Levigne


Dorm Rats by Michelle L Levigne
Growing Up Neighborlee

Publisher: Uncial Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (323 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Lanie and her Lost Kids friends continue growing into their semi-pseudo-superhero powers and responsibilities, and learn more about what it means to be a guardian of the odd little town of Neighborlee. Sometimes that meant protecting the rest of the world from the everyday weirdness and magic around them.

The transition from high school to college is marked with challenges and mystical, magical attacks from outside Neighborlee’s borders. When the academic game-playing and politics of the local college are used to run a questionable experiment on the entire freshman class, Lanie is there in the middle of it. Sometimes those who realize there’s something strange going on aren’t as enchanted as Lanie and her geek friends, and it takes a lot of fast talking and faster maneuvering to keep the lid from blowing off the entire town.

The threats grow bigger and the enemies grow meaner, but it’s all in a day’s work for the guardians of Neighborlee. This is home, and they’re willing to pay the price. Sometimes, they do. With their lives.

The really big questions remain: Why are they the way they are and how can they do the things they do? At least when they mess up and use their talents in public, most people don’t even notice. It’s just part of the background weirdness of Neighborlee, Ohio.

 

Dorm Rats is the continued story of Lanie, one of the lost kids of Neighborlee. Lanie and her brother Harry have been adopted by the Zephyrs, a hippie style couple who are famous for the books they write about the weird and wonderful. Lanie and her lost kid friends have special powers and these help them in their self appointed roles as guardians of Neighborlee.

The setting and characters have been very well developed, so much so that I read this book in one day. I honestly could not put it down. I liked the way Lanie’s growing from teenager to young woman involved uncertainty and happiness as she and her friends, both guardians and normal people, grew to adulthood. She came across as a real person and her interaction with her fellow guardians seemed to have the usual teasing aspect of people in their teens.

I did have one moment of surprise when the main character was in England and mentioned eating biscuits which are not generally sold in England. Probably wouldn’t mean anything to someone not familiar with the country, but it did interrupt the flow of the story for me and it took me several minutes before I could get back into the flow again.

To finish, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and felt totally immersed in the story. Definitely a “live inside the story” type book.

A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis


A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length Short Story (44 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Edna the penguin only knows the three colors that surround her: white ice, black night, and blue sea. She is convinced there is something more out there. So she sets out on a quest—a quest for color. When she finally finds what she’s been looking for, it’s everything she hoped for and more. But that doesn’t mean she will ever stop looking.

A little exploration is a good thing for a curious penguin like Edna.

Edna was such a brave main character. I loved her adventurous personality, especially once she’d wandered far enough away from home that she began to see things that no one else in her flock had ever imagined might exist. She wasn’t about to stop until she’d figured out what she was seeing and how it all worked. This made me like her even more than I did when I first met her.

The ending was a bit of a letdown. The first scene gave a lot of hints about what Edna would find when she went on her quest to discover what colors existed in the world other than white, black, and blue. I was surprised by how the narrator interpreted those hints because of this. It wasn’t what I was expecting to find at all, and I would have appreciated a better explanation of why it all turned out the way it did.

There was a creative plot twist about halfway through this tale, however. I hoped for something exciting to happen, and the way this scene was written made me pretty happy. It fit it beautifully with what Edna had dreamed about in the very first scene, and it also include some humor as well. If the whole plot had been written this way, I would have given it a much higher rating.

I’d recommend A Penguin Story to anyone who is looking for something new to read at bedtime.

Just Another Quiet Little State by J.S. Frankel


Just Another Quiet Little State by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (293 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Teenager Gabe Common and his girlfriend, Millie Themmes, have moved back to Chumsville, the place where the magic that changed them started. Although they attempt to move on with their lives, some forces in the world will not let them. For one, the ambient magic still exists, and this time it has spread across the state of South Dakota. In fear, the president authorizes the military to contain the Changed, those transformed into something other than human. Additionally, civilian militias are out to kill the Changed. Once again, Gabe has to lead the residents of Chumsville and fight the intolerance around them, even at the cost of his life. It comes down to not only a battle for acceptance, but also one of survival. The only question is whether Gabe and his friends can survive the upcoming conflict.

How would you fight a foe who was many times bigger and stronger than you are?

The romantic subplot was handled well. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how Gabe and Millie’s relationship has developed over the years. They have been through a lot together since their bodies were transformed by ambient magic, but every crisis only seemed to draw them closer together. I liked watching them work together so closely, and I was pleased with how well they got along with each other.

This tale would have benefited from having many more details included in it. While the plot was just as fantastic as I would expect from Mr. Frankel, I had a lot of trouble picturing what was happening in many scenes because the narrator didn’t describe the events in them as vividly as he had earlier on in this series. It was almost as though I were listening to him retell it later on instead of experiencing the plot twists alongside him. I desperate wanted to give this story a much higher rating, but this issue prevented me from doing so.

While the world building in this series has always been excellent, it was even better than normal this time around. I especially appreciated all of the references the narrator included to various events that have happened in the United States over the past year or two. They made the plot even more meaningful than it would have otherwise been, but they were also subtle enough that I suspect they’ll still feel fresh and relevant years from now.

This is the third book in a series. It can be read on its own or out of order.

I’d recommend Just Another Quiet Little State to anyone who loves contemporary science fiction.

Thunder Horse by Eve Bunting


Thunder Horse by Eve Bunting
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When a girl receives a small horse from her aunt, she doesn’t quite know what to do with it. It turns out that this horse is a very special horse: it has wings.

As the horse grows and grows, so does the girl’s love for it, but as everyone knows, sometimes you have to let go of those you love so they can grow in their own way. But you can always hope they come back to you someday.

Eve Bunting’s Thunder Horse is a beautifully crafted tale that will work its way in to the hearts of readers, and the good thing is, they never have to let it go.

Sometimes loving someone can lead to painful decisions down the road.

What beautiful storytelling! I deeply enjoyed the way the author wove her lesson into the plot. She had an important message to share with the audience about allowing loved ones to make their own choices. The story was always more important than the message, though, and that made her point even clearer than it would have been if she’d paid less attention to creating a captivating and thought-provoking storyline before anything else.

The main character’s name was never revealed, and I found that odd and distracting. The audience knew the names of everyone from her teacher to her aunt to the small horse she was given in the first scene. It would have been easier for me to connect with this character if I knew what her family called her, even if she was only ever referred to by a nickname.

With that being said, I still liked the main character quite a bit. She was a clever, sensitive girl who clearly loved her magical horse quite a bit. Knowing from the very beginning that she’d have to say goodbye to him at some point only made me more eager to find out how she’d learn to adjust to life without him and if there was any way for her to figure out how to have a happier ending than the one her aunt warned her about.

Thunder Horse was a unique modern fable that I’d recommend to adults and children alike.

The Time Hunters by Carl Ashmore


The Time Hunters by Carl Ashmore
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (198 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Becky is a typical thirteen year old girl. She likes Facebook, her friends, and plenty of sleep. So when she and her brother, Joe, are invited to stay with their ‘loony’ Uncle Percy at his stately home, she thinks it’ll be the worst summer ever. What she doesn’t realise is that Bowen Hall is also home to a baby Triceratops, two Sabre-tooth tigers and the mythic hero, Will Scarlet…

‘The Time Hunters’ is a thrilling adventure that takes Becky, Joe, Uncle Percy and Will on a quest through time to find the legendary Golden Fleece.

Even the distant past is only a heartbeat away for anyone who has a time machine.

There are many reasons why I like time travel stories. Two of the biggest reasons why they appeal to me have to do with how cool it would be to actually see an extinct species in person or have a conversation with a famous historical person. Watching Becky and Joe do both of these things was a thrill. They really appreciated the fact that they were experiencing things that should not have been possible, and that made me curious to see how they’d react once their adventures became even more exciting.

The beginning was confusing to me because the plot introduced a large number of characters without describing who most of them were or how they knew each other. When this was combined with the limited amount of time the narrator spent explaining what the main conflicts were and why certain characters were acting so afraid, I struggled even more to understand what was going on. There were too many vague hints and not enough exposition.

One of my favorite parts of this tale was how nicely it was paced. There was a lot going on in the plot, and the author kept everything moving quickly from the first scene to the last one. This strong and even pacing made it difficult for me to take breaks while I was reading. Every chapter had something new and exciting in it, and I wanted to find out what secrets all of them held.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced adventure, look no further than The Time Hunters.

Broken Roots by Michelle Diana Lowe

Broken Roots by Michelle Diana Lowe
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary YA
Length: Full Length (224 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

After her father’s invention earns them millions, sixteen-year-old Teisha Cole moves from London to Florida with her family. Uprooted from the place she loves, she now lives in a broken home full of secrets and lies.

After Teisha’s grandmother dies, her fractured family is replanted in rural England, where a kingpin and his clan are laying in wait. What follows is a dangerous game that brings their house to its knees, as the family’s wealth begins to disappear.

When her father develops a mysterious illness, Teisha turns detective to unravel the truth. Escaping onto the streets and stumbling into the foster care system may be her only hope of survival.

Money changes everything right from the start of Broken Roots.

Written in a first person in a very conversational style, the story is like the main character Teisha’s, true confessions.

She a teen, transplanted from her home and not really enjoying what seems like it could be a great, if different, new life. However, ‘great’ is far from the truth. Sunshine and beautiful beaches hide misery.

Violence begins to mark her everyday. Its a relief to find she has friends, but yet another worry when we realize what they are really like. The ups and downs of Teisha’s life are unpredictable and frightening. She seems a victim of all; of people as well as circumstances.

We have the main character’s take on everything, including some things it’s hard to believe that a teen would know. There is definitely an ‘older’ world view in play here. That said, the older world view, while affecting believability, does contribute to the impact of the plot.

“The digital image of love excites you. Actual love means nothing. That is a major issue…” This sixteen-year-old says to her mother. This, and other of Teisha’s insights seem out of character, although this main character’s style is such that it is as if we are staring directly into her psyche: We may be doubtful, uncomfortable; but also enthralled.

My chief complaint is information overload: some repeated (I feel alone/isolated) and some simply too much. Her misery is very apparent. Her family members have become strangers… she lives in this ‘less than,’ yet idyllic-looking world.

Unique, unpredictable and engaging. Once you start reading Broken Roots it is hard to put down! The mystery adds to its intrigue. For a real change of pace from practically anything that is your usual, add it to your list!

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I Dream To Be by Rebecca T. Clark


I Dream To Be by Rebecca T. Clark
Witty Kids When Imagination Talks to You

Publisher: Be Heard Publishing LLC
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (34 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

What does your child Dream To Be?
Meet Jersey – a young girl who loves to dream and imagines that she can be anything….

I Dream To Be

A book that encourages readers to use imagination by dreaming of different occupations.
She encourages her friends to dream with her. She imagines she is an Astronaut, an Engineer, a Veterinarian and much more.

The book ends by asking her friends what do they dream to be.
A fun story that will encourage any reader that possibilities are endless.

It’s never too early to start setting goals in life and thinking about how they could be accomplished.

I loved the fact that Jersey wrote down all of the different types of jobs she could have when she grew up. She even made lists of the kinds of subjects she’d need to do well in if she wanted to work in a certain area. This was such an organized way to approach this topic, and it also fit Jersey’s personality perfectly. She was exactly the sort of kid who would want to put everything down on paper before she could even begin to make a decision.

After sharing a few sentences about every occupation this character dreamed of having one day, each page ended with a short pun or other play-on-words that made me chuckle. It was a beautiful flourish and such an entertaining way to end each section. I wish that this tale had been a little longer so I could have read more of these twists! If the author ever writes a sequel, I will be eager to see where her creativity takes her next.

My favorite section happened at the end when Jersey listed many other jobs and encouraged her readers to brainstorm what their lives would be like if they worked in those areas when they grew up. I was glad to see such a wide variety of possibilities being offered to young readers. There were so many different types of work that kids who have many different types of skills and interests would have a lot of ideas to choose from.

Witty Kids When Imagination Talks to You “I Dream To Be” is an excellent resource for any child who is beginning to wonder what he or she might be when they grow up.

An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale

An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (232 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Stargazer

When your whole world is falling apart, what are the chances you’ll find love in the most unexpected of places?

Livvie feels like she’s losing everything: her two best friends have abandoned her for their boyfriends, her mother continues to ignore her, while her sister, Jules, is sick again and getting worse by the day. Add in the request Jules has made of her and Livvie feels like she’s losing her mind, too.

Her only escape is in the art room, where she discovers not only a refuge from her life, but also a kindred soul in Bianca, the school “freak”. Livvie’s always felt invisible, at school and at home, but with Bianca, she finally feels like someone sees the real Livvie. As the relationship deepens and it comes time to take the romance public, will Livvie be able to take that step?

Livvie’s about to find out if she has what it takes to make the tough decisions and stand up for herself—for the first time in her life.

How far can you be pushed before you give up your quiet life and take a stand?

An Unstill Life is a deep journey into the life of Livvie, a fifteen-year-old girl with more than her share of life’s problems. Her sister Jules is sick with cancer and Livvie’s mother is preoccupied with the medical diagnosis. Hannah and Mel are Livvie’s two best friends, but boys become the major obstacle and distraction that tears the three apart. Livvie finds herself isolated and overwhelmed with everything going on.

An Unstill Life is a perfect view of how fast everything can spiral out of control. Kate Larkindale balances difficult topics with true to life emotions. The descriptions of events, emotions and reactions that each character has is directly on point and plays out smoothly within the situations presented. Issues of bullying, discrimination and even deep rooted domestic frustrations are cleanly addressed in an honest way.

The story, while told from the point of view of Livvie, really is something that could happen in most families. Events from both home and school are intricately interwoven to provide a great immersive plot that draws the reader in and makes it difficult to put the books down. Each event that piles onto Livvie’s daily life, is reflected in the change to her personality. The author takes great care in showing the transition and shifting of Livvie’s personality throughout the pressure, frustration and difficulties that she endures.

The dialog between characters is strong and flows naturally. Each character has a strong back story that unfolds throughout the story, including the mysterious Bianca. Each secondary character has strong personality development throughout the story as well, showing a depth to the storytelling that Kate exhibits.

If you enjoy an enveloping psychological look at life and how fast things change to shape and mold who we are-make sure you don’t miss An Unstill Life.