By Starlight by Nancy Lindley-Gauthier

By Starlight by Nancy Lindley-Gauthier
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (194 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The night my best friend Gracie disappeared, I had a nightmare.

A monster loomed from the shadows around the campfire. I ran. The thing stretched after me…

I woke gasping, afraid it might somehow be true. Gracie could always make me feel better – but she didn’t respond to my email. Not that night; not ever.

That’s what lead to my summer camp counselor job here near Gracie’s home. Hiking and canoeing fill every moment but I don’t forget why I’m here. I’m going to find Gracie.

The camp-owner, a famous Native seer, isn’t any help. Her herbal healing and Spirit Bear talisman won’t help find Gracie.

There’s the local ranger and my campers, but will they believe me? I’m alone with this. Somehow, every step toward Gracie takes me nearer to something scary. This is a mystery I must solve.

If the police can’t solve the mystery of her friend’s disappearance, what chance does Kitsai have of doing it?

Kitsai intrigued me from the beginning. She wavered between acting much younger than her chronological age and understanding the mystery of what happened to her friend better than any of the adults around her. The mixture of maturity and immaturity kept my attention focused on this character even when I didn’t necessarily like her as an individual. She isn’t the kind of person who is easy to figure out. To me that’s a good thing to experience while getting to know the protagonist. A little uncertainty goes a long way in keeping my attention.

With that being said, Kitsai’s character flaws were too serious for this particular tale. She makes decisions that should have never been an option for someone in her occupation. Her lack of insight into why these choices were so potentially dangerous made it hard for me to believe that no one else noticed what was going on. The plot’s explanation for it was partially satisfying, but I would have preferred to see way more time spent exploring why she was so often left to her own devices and poor judgement.

The mystery itself was gripping and well-paced. As someone who once lived in British Columbia, it was eerie for me to pick up on the similarities between this piece of fiction and the real life missing person cases from that province that still remain unsolved. In no way it is necessary to know anything about those cases in order to enjoy this story, but I do think it will be a fun bonus for readers who are familiar with them.

It was never clear to me why the romantic subplot was included. There were so many other, more pressing matters for the characters involved in it to address that the romance felt out of place. This would have made good fodder for a sequel if the author ever decides to write one, but it wasn’t a good fit for this particular adventure.

Some people like to live without any modern conveniences when they go camping. Others are much more comfortable having at least occasional access to air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and the Internet. Seeing what happens when various characters get much more or less than they were expecting in these areas provided some much-needed levity in otherwise tense scenes. Including this minor conflict was a good idea.

There are paranormal elements in this book, but they don’t show up right away. The overall themes and tropes are much more heavily weighted toward what one generally expects to find in mysteries and young adult novels. This is the sort of thing I strongly prefer to know ahead of time when deciding what to read which is why I’m mentioning it in this review.

I’d recommend By Starlight to fans of the mystery and young adult genres alike.

Fortune’s Scion by Ann Gimpel

Fortune’s Scion by Ann Gimpel
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (154 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Raised by wizards who never missed an opportunity to remind him of his deficiencies, Ned grows up believing his mage skills are seriously lacking. Conscripted at an early age, he fears it’s a back-handed way to ensure he sustains an honorable death in battle.

Battling prejudice, insidious lies and lack of knowledge about his mage powers—which are really quite different from wizard magic—Ned finds ways to keep going. His first mission away from the wizards teaches him he’s stronger and more resourceful than he thought. Against stiff odds, he learns different isn’t necessarily bad and true love has a way of shining through.

Will Ned complete his mission, or leave the world of wizards behind forever?

Ned’s life has been little better than a nightmare. Even though the wizards have treated him terribly, they are the only family he knows. With the war against the Infernals going poorly, Ned is sent on a mission to find some help. His chance of success is slim, but Ned is grateful for the opportunity to get away from the battlefield. Once he has some distance between himself and the wizards, Ned’s first taste of freedom is intoxicating. Belittled and bullied by the wizards for his entire life, Ned now finds himself in an interesting position. Does he complete his mission and return to the wizards who raised him, or slip away and make his own fate?

It is very easy to like Ned. Despite his upbringing, Ned is a kind young man. Unfortunately, the wizards have all but crippled his self-confidence. I have a soft spot for underdogs, so I found it very easy to cheer for Ned. I can’t believe he has stayed with the wizards as long as he has. I certainly wouldn’t blame Ned if he turned his back on them when given the opportunity.

Everything changes when Ned saves Amanda’s life. Even though she is a complete stranger, Ned doesn’t hesitate to put his own life at risk to save her. It is the first indication that Ned is made of stronger stuff than he realizes. As Ned experiences love and kindness for the first time in his life, he starts to see the world differently, making his decision regarding his mission very clear. I must say, it was a pleasure to watch Ned grow into a strong and courageous man.

The world Ned inhabits is interesting and filled with a variety of unique people and creatures. However, I feel that the story needed a lot more detail to fully round out the mythology that Ms. Gimpel crafted. As I read, there were several times when I found myself frustrated when details were sacrificed in favor of a faster pace. I wanted to know more about mages, wizards, and how the Earth got into such a terrible state. Sometimes a bit of explanation was provided concerning these topics, and sometimes they were completely glossed over. Despite this issue, I will say that Ms. Gimpel always provided enough information to keep the plot moving smoothly and avoid confusion.

Overall, I think Fortune’s Scion is a good book. Ned is a great character and I truly enjoyed watching him grow into a fine young man. I recommend Fortune’s Scion to anyone looking for a fast paced fantasy with a touch of romance.

Rebirth: Scrolls of Eternity Book One by J. Morgan

Rebirth: Scrolls of Eternity Book One by J. Morgan
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Short Story (80 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Patrick Hughes’ idea of field trips didn’t include armed robbers and Egyptian gods, but that’s just what he got. Accidently assuming the mantle of Horus, the Egyptian God of War, he is about to take Superhero 101 for extra credit. With the help of his substitute history teacher, who just so happens to be Anubis God of the Dead, Patrick takes a crash course in what it takes to be a hero. Too bad time is running out. Sutekh the God of Chaos has his eye on taking over the world. Unless he gets the hang of being a superhero and quick, getting an F will be the least of Patrick’s worries. Will Patrick’s first test at being a superhero be his last, or will he become the hero he was born to be?

Anubis and Horus are sure that Patrick can be a hero. Unfortunately, Patrick doesn’t share their confidence.

I immediately sympathized with Patrick. He’s a typical kid trying to survive adolescence and all its awkward glory. Before being endowed with superpowers, his biggest concerns were keeping his best friend, Galen, out of trouble, and trying to get Rose to notice him. As I watched Patrick stumble through his life, it was easy for me to remember that time in my life. While not everyone will share Patrick’s obsession for all things science fiction, I imagine other readers, young and old, will be able to relate to Patrick’s struggle feel comfortable in his own skin.

Unfortunately, Patrick’s life becomes much more complicated when he’s chosen to be a superhero. His childhood is brought to an abrupt end as he finds himself facing Sutekh, who has had years to formulate his plan to take over the world. Patrick only has days to learn how to use his new powers. The physical and mental exhaustion from training with Anubis as well as the strain of keeping secrets from his family give a realistic feel to the fantastic events of the tale. Consequently, I was able to fully immerse myself in this thoroughly enjoyable story.

I do wish some of the other characters had been a bit more developed. Patrick’s life is full of eccentric friends and family that have a lot of potential, especially his best friend Galen. I have a feeling Mr. Morgan has only scratched the surface where that particular character is concerned. I hope to learn more about Galen and the other secondary characters in the future.

Rebirth has a very satisfying conclusion, but Mr. Morgan leaves the door open for other adventures. I enjoyed reading about Patrick and his first exploit so much that I’m already wondering what Patrick will face next. Will his next challenge be other Egyptian gods, creatures from other mythologies, or something else entirely?

Reading Rebirth was a pleasure. It is a fun, fast paced tale sure to delight readers who enjoy superheroes and the classic struggle of good versus evil. I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment in this exciting series.

Hotline Girl by K. Dawn Byrd

Hotline Girl by K. Dawn Byrd
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational, YA
Length: Short Story (85 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Hollyhock

When the school counselor asks Abby to work a counseling chat line, she begs her to choose someone else. When Race, Abby’s three-year crush, begins using the chat line to talk about his girlfriend problems, can Abby be impartial when she really wants to tell him to dump her?

Race notices Abby after she has a complete make-over. He begins to spend more time with her and feels like a cheater because he likes the hotline girl too. How can he like two girls at once?

Abby is thrilled when Race begins spending time with her, but she’s crushed when he tells the hotline girl that he likes her and wants to take her out. Is he a player? Will he even want to be with her when he finds out that she is the hotline girl and knows all his deepest secrets?

What can you do when the guy you’ve been crushing on forever doesn’t notice you’re alive? How about a dazzling makeover? And if that’s not enough to catch his eye, how about helping him solve all his problems through your school’s peer-counseling hotline? That’s the intriguing premise of Hotline Girl, a short, fun, inspirational read from K. Dawn Byrd.

Abby is the sweet heroine at the center of Hotline Girl. She’s smart and funny but tends to keep to herself, content to watch high school from the sidelines. Once she decides to do something about her crush, though, she ditches her baggy clothes and nerdy glasses and joins the fun, quickly changing from geek to chic. Race, on the other hand, is already part of the in crowd. In fact, he’s dating the most popular girl in school just so he can keep up with that crowd, even though the girl represents everything his faith says is wrong. Confused, he reaches out to the school’s hotline to figure out what he should do. Through their anonymous conversations, Abby and Race quickly find common ground, and I liked how their interaction reinforces their faith and helps them grow as characters.

Although I enjoyed Abby and Race’s story, I think deeper characterizations could have made it even better. Race, especially, seemed inconsistent to me. His actions mostly show him to be a strong, centered young man who’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes, yet he’s dating a girl who makes him miserable just to fit in. I think more characterization to show why it was so important to him to be popular could have reconciled those two different sides of him. The story also felt a bit repetitive at times as the point of view switched between hero and heroine, going over the same scenes from each character’s perspective.

Overall, though, I liked how Abby’s story represents the idea that girls of faith shouldn’t settle for anything less than a special guy who shares their beliefs. I would recommend Hotline Girl to any teenager who’s struggling to balance a desire to be popular with the need to stay true to herself and her beliefs.

Unleashed by Jennifer Hartz

Unleashed by Jennifer Hartz
Heroes of the Horde Book One
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Short Story (133 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Six mismatched students at Deacon Proprietary are about to discover the demonic legend of their school’s origin is actually true. Not only have they obtained amazing powers, but they’ve also unleashed the demonic Horde. Now it’s up to these six high school freshmen to stop the Horde before its evil spreads throughout the school and beyond.

Shelly and her twin brother, Mike, along with Maggie, Jimmy, Cooper, and Caitlyn, freshmen at Deacon Prep, learn that the demonic legend surrounding the school’s founding is actually true when Cooper unwittingly knocks a box containing a set of small jars onto the floor, breaking all the jars. The next morning these six students wake up, each with a different power. In addition to acquiring magical powers, they learn that the demon Horde has also been unleashed and it is up to them to defeat this army of demons.

Jennifer Hartz has written a very engaging story. The point of view switches between the six main characters chapter by chapter, which allows the reader to get to know each one in some depth. The six students become good friends, bonding together as they fight off demons, one at a time, then several, and then twenty or more. In between battles, there is the usual teen angst over various romances, which makes the story very real. These students are regular high school students who just happen to have super-human abilities.

I really liked the main characters and I thought they seemed very authentic. And it was definitely helpful to have the different points of view, although sometimes the shifts took me by surprise if the story was in the middle of a battle. I also enjoyed the diversity among the students, both in their individual personalities and in their very different family situations. Jimmy comes from a very wealthy family but his father has remarried and seems to have no time for him. Cooper’s family is very close, but they are also poor and need several jobs just to keep Cooper and his brother in Deacon Prep. Shelley and Mike live with their mom who works several shifts to keep them fed. Their father ran off years ago. Maggie is a devout Christian who spends a lot of time at her church, and Caitlyn has just moved to Pennsylvania and doesn’t know many students yet. I felt that this diversity in backgrounds and personalities really added depth to the story as the students learn to deal with the enormous changes in their lives brought about by the new powers.

Fans of the paranormal and fantasy will certainly enjoy Unleashed. This is the first book in a new series and I look forward to the Heroes of the Horde’s next adventure.

Dragon Ice by Sue Perkins

Dragon Ice by Sue Perkins
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc.
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Short Story (94 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Neisha meets Tane in her dreams but finds out he is real when he travels north to rescue her people from the ice dragons. Unfortunately he is injured on the journey and finishes it trapped in the humans’ underground home. A discovery regarding the ice dragons requires Tane to mediate between the northern and southern dragons and arrange the possible release of the humans. The weather turns to an icy cold winter while Neisha and Tane grow closer together. Will the humans be able to leave their underground home when the warmer weather arrives, and will they all to leave?

When the Earth became overcrowded, settlers were sent off into space to make their way on new worlds. Over one hundred years ago one such group crash landed on an icy plateau, an area which was also home to the ice dragons. The people were forced to live underground in caves because the ice dragons would not allow them to travel through the mountain pass to look for better lands.

Neisha and her community have never known anything other than life underground. She goes outside briefly whenever she can, but the weather is brutally cold and the ice dragons circle around herding her back into the caves. But in her dreams she contacts a young man named Tane. At first she doesn’t think he is anything more than a dream, but in fact, Tane is also a descendent of Earth settlers, in this instance, settlers who arrived on this world fifty years ago, but they landed in the warmer areas. When Tane learns of the plight of Neisha’s community, he and his friend Rik set out to see if something can’t be done to help Neisha’s people, because in Tane’s part of the world there is an alliance between dragons and humans, and they work and live together in harmony.

Sue Perkins has written a wonderful story about dragons and humans. I like the way she uses telepathic communications between the species and also how some humans can communicate telepathically with other humans as well. Neisha is a lovely kind young girl, who is very capable and smart. Tane is an adventurous young man who is intrigued by the prospect that there are not only other humans on the planet but another clan of dragons as well. He overcomes Neisha’s worries with his determination to bring the ice dragon clan into the alliance and save Neisha’s community.

The budding romance between Neisha and Tane is handled delicately and sensitively. Because of the weather and Tane’s broken leg, the two of them spend a lot of time together through the winter, trying to figure out how to save the community. In addition to these two young people, there are also several other well-drawn characters, and my favorite is Shonta, the oldest member of Neisha’s community. She is old, but she is smart and savvy, and certainly game to try something new.

I was impressed with the amount of detail that is given when the community has to plan how to relocate. There are a lot of elements to take into consideration and I felt these planning details are realistic and ingenious. The plot moves rather slowly in places, and while I might have liked a bit more action, the slower more deliberate pace matches both the winter season and the time needed to convince one hundred people to move out of the only homes they have known.

This is a wonderful book about dragons and also the importance of not making assumptions and talking things through. I’m sure that lovers of dragons and fantasy will truly enjoy this book.

Mistaken Identity by K. Dawn Byrd

Mistaken Identity by K. Dawn Byrd
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc.
Genre: Inspirational, YA, contemp
Length: Short Story (110 Pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 books
Reviewed by Fennel

Eden Morgan makes a list of six goals to accomplish in order to have the best summer ever. Getting a boyfriend, which is perhaps the most important goal, becomes complicated when she and her best friend, Lexi, fall for the same guy. Since Lexi is popular, gorgeous, and always gets her guy, Eden thinks she doesn’t have a chance.

Channing Johnson is everything Eden’s ever dreamed of and she can’t believe he just moved in next door. When he starts showing interest in her, she’s overjoyed…until she sees him out on a date with Lexi. He says Lexi talked him into it to repay her for tutoring him. Lexi says they’re in love.

Eden doesn’t know who to believe and is forced to choose between her best friend and the guy of her dreams. Nothing is as it seems and no matter who she chooses, someone will get hurt.

This is an inspirational – with bite. Mistaken Identity deals with faith and friendship. Add in a new boy in town and the faith and friendships becomes sorely tested. In this first effort of genre switch from adult to teen Inspirational the author maintains her fluent writing style, depth of characterisation, and on the edge-of-your-seat action.
By writing in the first person, Ms Byrd allows her readers to get right into her heroine Eden’s head and there you find all the angst and insecurities of the average teen. That said, Eden is no wimp.

When she discovers Lexi, her ‘best’ friend, is nothing of the kind, Eden has choices to make. Does she remain in character or does she make a push beyond her comfort zone and go for what she wants? In Lexi Ms Byrd dramatically highlights the dilemma Christian teens face in today’s ‘because I want it, I can have it’ culture. The tension between Eden and Lexi takes off into the stratosphere when Channing, the new boy, arrives in town.

From a writer as visual as Ms Byrd, it is hard not to imagine yourself there beside Eden, Lexi and Channing. She creates realistic characters and then places them in situations most people can relate to in some form or other, and bingo, the empathy is there between reader and the characters and kept me engaged to the end.

Despite being unfamiliar as I am with the American school culture and atmosphere, I had no problem engaging with her cast.

I’d be surprised if Ms Byrd’s transition to the YA genre does not create a whole new raft of reader/fans for her books. A very good read.