Sisters Fate by Jessica Spotswood

Sisters Fate by Jessica Spotswood
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: YA, Paranormal, Alternate Reality
Length: Full Length (368 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

A fever ravages New London, but with the Brotherhood sending suspected witches straight to the gallows, the Sisters are powerless against the disease. They can’t help without revealing their powers—as Cate learns when a potent display of magic turns her into the most wanted witch in all of New England.

To make matters worse, Cate has been erased from the memory of her beloved Finn. While she’s torn between protecting him from further attacks and encouraging him to fall for her all over again, she’s certain she can never forgive Maura’s betrayal. And now that Tess’s visions have taken a deadly turn, the prophecy that one Cahill sister will murder another looms ever closer to its fulfillment.

In an alternate 1900s New England, suspected witches are sent to the gallows–although they are hardly the witches of olden days. No, these are gorgeous contemporary girls with lives, loves, and special powers. They’d use the power for good, if they could–like curing disease–but they are in a world where helping someone means putting themselves at risk.

Spotswood’s characters simply shine. The good in their hearts speaks louder than any special magic skills, readers can’t help admiring them and sympathizing with their plight. These are not the dark characters found in some tales: no, in fact, Cate’s specialty is healing magic. Tess, who can foretell, seems always the sweetest and most vulnerable of the sisters, Maura… oh, dear, Maura. Sisters can be sisters! In a family of remarkable closeness Cate and Maura have their differences – different approaches to try to achieve the same thing, only here, those differences might lead to disaster.

Cate struggles not to lose boyfriend Finn, who has no memory of her, while being true to her sisters. Finn is a simply wonderful, real, heartfelt character; readers will adore him.

Spotswood’s New England is both familiar and entirely strange: geographically the same and yet, a magical world that is scene to the struggles between powers.

Although part of a series, this can be read and understood as a stand-alone. Reading this makes me regret not starting at the beginning! Although a ‘paranormal,’ Sister’s Fate, so character-driven, will have a wide general appeal and might well draft a few new readers to the genre! Beautifully written.

Suspicion by Alexandra Monir

Suspicion by Alexandra Monir
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (295 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lupine

Mysterious. Magnificent. Creepy. Welcome to Rockford Manor.

“There’s something hidden in the Maze.” Seventeen-year-old Imogen has never forgotten the last words her father said to her seven years ago, before the blazing fire that consumed him, her mother, and the gardens of her family’s English country manor.

Haunted by her parents’ deaths, Imogen moves to New York City with her new guardians. But when a letter arrives with the news of her cousin’s untimely death, revealing that Imogen is now the only heir left to run the estate, she returns to England and warily accepts her role as duchess.

All is not as it seems at Rockford, and Imogen quickly learns that dark secrets lurk behind the mansion’s aristocratic exterior, hinting that the spate of deaths in her family were no accident. And at the center of the mystery is Imogen herself–and Sebastian, the childhood friend she has secretly loved for years. Just what has Imogen walked into?

I loved this book beyond belief – and that’s saying something for me.

Suspicion had me hooked from the cover to the final page, and considering how much I read and how picky a reader I can be, I have to applaud the author for excellent writing. It was an interesting trip through modern day royalty and mystery, along with a little romance thrown in. Though there was only one slow spot near to the middle, where ends were being tied, there was nothing else in the least bit negative I could say about it. The characters were wonderful and developed, easy to identify with, and the setting was beautiful and easy to picture, along with a little magic.  The plot twists were endless and incredibly difficult to predict as well.

I loved this book so much!  I’m a new fan of the author and can’t wait until she writes more.

Tales from the Rainbow Bridge by A. Abbie Aardmore

Tales from the Rainbow Bridge by A. Abbie Aardmore
Publisher: R.M. Meluch
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (142 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Tales from the Rainbow Bridge is a story of heartbreaking loss and joyous reunions as told by Zack, a dog, the greeter at the Rainbow Bridge, as he waits for his own beloved companion to take him the rest of the way home. The endings are all happily ever after, but you must cry to get there.

There aren’t many things in this world that are eternal, but love is one of them.

Zach’s backstory was achingly beautiful. He was the perfect narrator for this tale. I could feel his love for his human as well as his grief at being separated from her for so long. The bond between person and their dog can be an incredible thing to see. What made it even more interesting in this case is that everything the reader learns about their life together is shared through the mindset of a dog who doesn’t always understand human culture.

Ms. Aardmore clearly has a wonderful sense of humor. From what dogs really think of the word “no” to what happens when the atmosphere in the Rainbow Bridge rains shoes, there was a lot of funny stuff tucked between her heartwarming passages. It definitely wasn’t something I was expecting to find, but giggling through my tears made me love the whole thing even more.

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I started crying within a few pages. The stories in this book were incredibly touching, especially the ones featuring dogs whose earthly lives included any kind of mistreatment. There’s a soft spot in my heart for rescued animals, although of course I rooted for all of the dogs as they waited for their humans.

Figuring out the most appropriate age recommendation was tricky. There are some incredibly sad scenes in this tale, but the writing style in those sections seems like it was created with young elementary students in mind. Even incredibly difficult topics are approached in ways that I wouldn’t necessarily expect to find for an audience that was quite a bit older or younger than that. There’s a nice balance between telling the truth and avoiding too many details. This is something I would have loved when I was eight.

Tales from the Rainbow Bridge is a must-read for adults and kids alike.

The Star Catcher by Molly Dean

The Star Catcher by Molly Dean
Publisher: Wild Child Publshing
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Suspense/Mystery, YA
Length: Full Length (239 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

When fifteen year-old Hawke feels fed up with not being able to walk, he escapes in his mind to a misty island filled with moorlands, ancient forests, and monolithic stones: a place where he can move and run and accomplish heroic quests.

His life is turned upside down, though, when he’s thrust into this dream world and finds it real! He becomes ‘Star Catcher.’ The job? Track and collect shooting stars or meteors sent from a more advanced civilization, which have powers that protect the island from approaching evil. He finds many helpers along the way: a serving girl who can communicate with animals and create light, an alluring mermaid, a savvy one-eyed crow, and an old farmer with a secret.

Hawke must also discover what’s going on inside the imposing mansion called Moon House. Why do rooms change? Why do objects mysteriously shift? Who lives inside the old forest behind the place—and why is the Star Catcher forbidden to enter it? And most importantly, who are Hawke and his stars really battling against? An evil genius? A pirate-like group called the Shrikers who have taken over the island? An Ancient Magic? Or, maybe an aspect of himself?

Hawke’s life sucks – his legs are paralyzed, he’s confined to his bed, his father has left, his mother is unhappy and trying to find solace. Hawke escapes the real world and dives into a world of dreams where he becomes the star catcher. He has to catch five stars as they fall from the sky – one every other day – and when he has caught the last star the magic will return to the strange land.

The world of Hawke’s dreams is very well thought out and each trip to find a star is like a different jewel in a necklace. Similar but each an individual in its own right. Hawke is typical of a young teenage boy but Emma, the girl servant at the Moon House, has several different facets to her character. Evil is easy to recognize as it comes in the guise of the Shrikers and Facsimiles but working out who the good guys are takes a little more time.

This story has a smattering of various animals, humans and mythical creatures. They confuse, assist or act against Hawke and as the reader I never knew which way each character would go.

I found this book to be very attention grabbing. At first it dragged a little but once Hawke started his travels in the other world I had to keep reading to see what happened next. While not the usual mystery and adventure, this fantasy certainly has a hint of magic, mystery and adventure. All make this a worthwhile read.

Dancing with Raven by S. G. Rogers

Dancing with Raven by S. G. Rogers
The Young Shakespearean Series, Book One
Publisher: Idunn Court Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (219 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Tori Moss is no stranger to heartbreak. Raised by a foster mother since the deaths of her parents in a horrific accident, she’s poured herself into ballet. A disappointing audition sends her into an emotional tailspin, but it’s the strangely intriguing new guy in school who catches her as she falls. Although Tori and Raven seem to be nothing alike, they share an uncommon ability to see the sudden flood of demons pouring into Los Angeles. When she discovers a plot to bring about the Apocalypse, Tori must decide whom to trust. One wrong step will cost her everything.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to discover that everything you thought you knew about yourself was actually a lie? And what if the truth revealed that you were at the center of a plot to bring about the Apocalypse? This is exactly what Tori Moss has to face and it makes the disappointment of a dance audition seem insignificant by comparison. The audition had been devastating, as a famous ballet director tells her, “You’re a moose. In the corps, your height would draw too much focus. As a soloist, we have no one tall enough to partner you. . . you’re far too big to be a ballerina. Classical ballet is not in your future.” All her dreams are shattered, but then, as the truth of her life unfolds, she discovers things that are much worse, not only for her, but for the entire planet.

Dancing with Raven is an action-packed, thrilling story with great characters. I liked Tori a lot and really felt for her pain and her angst as her world is up-ended. She has no idea who to trust, and those who she thought she could trust turn on her as those she distrusted turn out to be allies. Tori’s character is well-developed and I found her to be very believable. The plot has one twist after another. Tori meets a young man, Raven, and discovers that they may not have a lot in common, but they both possess the ability to see demons. As they learn to trust each other, the date for the Apocalypse grows ever closer.

This is the first novel in a series called The Young Shakespeareans and it is a thrilling first book. The ending makes it clear that other books will follow, and I can’t wait for the next in the series. But the novel does end at a reasonable stopping point, with many of the mysteries resolved, and the door opening onto the next adventure.

Readers of fantasy and paranormal novels are sure to get caught up in the lives of Tori Moss and Raven Cassidy. I look forward to reading more in this wonderful series.

Chase Tinker and the House of Destiny by Malia Ann Haberman

Chase Tinker and the House of Destiny by Malia Ann Haberman
Book 3 of the Chase Tinker series
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Childrens
Length: Full Length (211 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

In Chase Tinker’s world, magic, lies and secrets can be a lethal combination…

For eight agonizing months Chase Tinker’s guilt over the despicable act he committed on Halloween night has been eating away at his heart and mind. Chase’s life gets even more complicated when secrets about the mysterious Relic in the attic are revealed on the eve of a visit from an unwelcome caller. It doesn’t help that this all occurs on his fourteenth birthday!

Despite his problems, his biggest concern is that his family’s Dark Enemy, the Marlowe Family, is becoming more powerful with each passing day, fueled by the energy they continue to pillage from the many magical beings of the world. If Chase and his family are ever going to win, they will need a whole lot of magical help; they must destroy the most evil threat the world has ever known!

Chase Tinker is suffering agonizing guilt because he had to kill his evil cousin in order to save his brother. However, eight months later that guilt becomes the least of his problems. He and his family must fight the Marlowes, not only the Tinkers’ greatest enemies, but the world’s as well. The Marlowes are pillaging magic from all magical beings, bringing destruction and despair on everyone, and it is up to Chase and his family to stop them.

This is the third novel in a wonderful series. I have read the other two, but this novel may also be enjoyed as a stand-alone. The author provides enough background so that a new reader will have no difficulties getting right into the story. That being said, the series is a very strong and exciting one, so personally, I’d recommend reading all the books in order.

The characters are well defined and I really found Chase to be a very sympathetic character. He has to make some very hard decisions, and he makes them with care. The contrasts between his family and his cousins’ is dramatic, and I was pulling for Chase and his friends every inch of the way.

The magical spells seem very real and plausible. I had no difficulties at all believing that Chase could make himself invisible or shrink an unexpected and unwanted visitor so that the visitor would fit in a water bottle.

The story speaks to more than just the fantastical adventures. It also speaks to issues of determining good and evil, figuring out who to trust, acting honorably, and looking out for others. The lessons Chase learns are valuable lessons for our world as well.

The pacing is wonderful and I really wanted to read this novel in one sitting. As I neared the end, I began to worry. There was no way this could end. Sure enough, I came to the end of this novel and discovered that the fourth in the series is the concluding book. The House of Destiny has a reasonable ending, but it also is obvious that things are not resolved, and all I can say is that I hope the author is ready to release the final book in the very near future. I, for one, am sitting on the edge of my chair waiting.

Fantasy lovers will delight in the adventures of Chase and his family and friends. The action is hair-raising, the antics are fun, and the entire adventure is absolutely delightful.

Blue by Lisa Glass

Blue by Lisa Glass
Publisher: Quercus
Genre: Contemporary, YA
Length: Full Length (373 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

Surfing is sixteen-year-old Iris’s world, and when the ultra-talented Zeke walks into her life, it soon becomes her passion.

Over one amazing summer, as she is drawn into his sphere, she experiences love, new friendships, but also loss, with an intensity she never dreamed of.

But is Zeke all he seems? What hides beneath his glamorous and mysterious past? When Iris decides to try for her own surfing success, just as her ex-boyfriend comes back into her life, she will test her talent, and her feelings for Zeke, to the limit…

With July just around the corner, Blue is the perfect summer read, with plenty of surfing action, sun, beach and romance.

Iris is at first a very ‘girl next door’ character, which makes it easy to identify with her. She’s heartbroken over breaking up with her boyfriend; she just wants to wallow in her misery and stay holed up in her house. Then she meets a boy who seems too good to be true, and her entire world changes. We get to see Iris reveal new layers of her character and new depths of her surfing talent. She makes great progress through the novel, and blossoms into a poised and committed surfer and a beautiful personality.

The gorgeous boy she meets, Zeke, has done most of his growing up before we get to meet him, but that’s okay, because he is now mature enough to inspire and guide Iris. And he does that wonderfully. The amount of surfing knowledge that Ms. Glass wrote into his character makes him a believable champion, a great sportsman, and a very inspiring individual. He’s just what Iris needs, and that’s why their relationship works so well. It’s worth noting that apart from the external conflicts that hinder their relationship, at least at the beginning, there are also strong inner conflicts that help the reader become even more invested in the story.

I loved how the secondary characters were all well-written, with distinct personalities, and how Ms. Glass created relationships between them that felt very real and genuine. Kelly was the kind of a positive, spunky person I’d love to have for a friend. The interaction between the Francis brothers (and pretty much the entire family) is a joy to watch; and Nanna is a very special individual.

The only thing I’d have liked to see in the story but didn’t is more of the relationship between Saskia and Iris. I liked Saskia from the get-go and I was hoping for the girls to become fast friends. I think if they had, the final conflict would have been even more intense and consequently the resolution even more emotional. However, that’s more of a personal wish than an actual weakness of the story.

The pacing of the novel is flawless, with the last forty pages turning into an utter emotional rollercoaster. The descriptions of surfing, the waves and nature are so breathtaking you can smell the brine and feel the sun on your skin. The language and writing style are equally authentic. Surfing slang and Cornish expressions abound, so I learned quite a few new words.

Regardless of whether you like surfing, or even if you don’t know the first thing about it, you’ll grow to love it after reading Blue.

By Force by Sara Hubbard

By Force by Sara Hubbard
Forever Fae #1
Publisher: Etopia Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult
Length: Full Length (218 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Kidnapping Isame would set them free…

Isame wanted freedom: the freedom to travel, the freedom to explore, but most of all, the freedom to choose the life she wanted over the life—and the husband—her parents had chosen for her. But when Isame leaves home to accept another man’s proposal, she happens across five fierce, handsome warriors. She wonders why they’ve travelled so far from home, but she never imagines their purpose might have something to do with her. Not even after they kidnap her.

Remmie is a man of honor and fierce loyalty. So when his king commands him to find a specific young woman on the island of Copaxa, he’s prepared to obey. But he’s not prepared for the woman to change everything. Isame is special. He can see it from the start. But how can one puny woman make him question everything he’s always known, including the rightness of doing what he’s promised?

Isame doesn’t want to stay in the village and marry the man her parents have chosen for her. She wants her freedom to travel, see other lands, and find her own love. But she has no choice…

Stories about the fae always draw me in but the arranged marriage theme also does. It’s hard enough to stay married to someone when you love them, who wants to be given in marriage to someone you don’t even know? Ms. Hubbard has a smooth writing style that draws you into the story and she gives you tidbits of information as you go along.

You know Isame is different because she heals quickly, too quickly to be human. However, she certainly didn’t expect to get kidnapped by the King’s Warriors. She’s going to get to see different lands and travel great distances but it won’t be as a free woman.

She tries to gain sympathy from her captors by telling them about her life. She gets mostly silence but she keeps trying. Eventually, one of them talks to her and tells her a little about their lives. As they keep travelling the relationship between them begins to change and they start to become friends instead of fiends. There is a bad apple in the bunch, though.

You can tell from what’s said and what’s not that the King wants her for nefarious purposes. The Warriors are not really comfortable with that. If that’s not enough danger in her life, the bad Warrior has been killed for attacking her, but he returns. The reason he returns has to do with her and he’s coming after her.

There’s plenty of excitement while the Warriors and Isame try to find the gypsy woman who wouldn’t share her fortune with her, the bad Warrior is after her, and the King is beginning to wonder why it’s taking them so long to get home.

The ending is magnificent and totally unexpected. This is the first in a new series so you know there will be more to come and I, for one, am glad to see that. There’s a romance blooming and I’m hoping it will be a happy ever after for both of them. Ms. Hubbard has me hooked.

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer
Publisher: Putnam
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery, Young Adult
Length: Full Length (312 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. Just when she thinks she’s found it her mother says it’s time to move again. Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels and will always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

After her mother’s sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she’s never met. She can’t imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

Lyrical, poignant and fresh, The Secret Hum of a Daisy is a beautifully told middle grade tale with a great deal of heart.

What if you lost the only home you ever had? How far would you go to find it again?

Grace and her mother are each other’s family. Going place to place, they never call one place home for long. A terrible accident happens and Grace loses her mother to a fall in the river. For the first time, Grace has to navigate a life that is very different from the one her mother had carved out for them. Her writing, once so precious to her is bottled up inside, just like her feelings. Grace’s grandmother claims her and she struggles to adjust to “The After.”

How can she live without her mother? How can she find her place in a world where she doesn’t belong? She wants to return to her friend and live with her-a place her mother would have approved of. Only the plans we make are not always the ones laid out for us. Grace begins to find this out as she follows clues that lead her to find her new life. There is new friendship, family issues, loss, exploration and just a little bit of romance to be found.

This book was a journey into the mind of a child who has lost everything. Grace’s mother was her world. The small origami paper cranes she folded and the little birds her mother made out of spoons become stars to travel by in this uncharted voyage to find the center of grief and move beyond it. Grace wants no part of her grandmother-the woman who turned her back on her very pregnant mother. She can’t stand the sounds of the river so she stays in the shed, keeping her distance from everyone and everything.

The thaw is slow. Once it comes it unfolds like the petals of a flower in the garden Grace’s grandmother so lovingly tends. We are all a part of each other’s lives. The decisions we make do affect other people and sometimes you make mistakes that you want more than anything to take back. And sometimes you just have to accept the strange things about people are the parts that make them who they are and love them just the same.

This book had me in tears more times than I could count. It is a middle grade read that really reaches into the feelings of devastation you can have when your whole world gets turned upside down. Where is home? Is it a person or a place? The Secret Hum of a Daisy also made me think about imagery of origami birds and the wonderful story of Sadaku and the paper cranes. It also hit on poetry, specifically Robert Frost. Lyrical in the structure of the story and the inclusion of art and poetry, I really felt the exploration and tender unfurling of Grace’s spirit as her new world is revealed to her step by tentative step.

I cannot recommend this tale highly enough. It is a book that could help so many kids deal with grief-and adults too. It made me think of my father and his passing and just how hard it was. I looked for signs from him forever just so I knew he was still up there watching. And you know what? They are everywhere. The ebb and flow of our life is poetry in motion. It is art and substance made real by every breath we take. And sometimes, if you listen there really is a secret hum in the background telling you the way…

You have to read this book.

Thimble Down by Pete Prown

Thimble Down by Pete Prown
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, YA
Length: Full Length (373 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

THIMBLE DOWN is a country village where death and malice lurk the quiet lanes. When the vile, drunken Bing Rumple acquires a gem-laden treasure, violence begins to follow him everywhere. Where did Bing find such a precious jewel, and worse, is someone willing to kill to possess it? In this fast-paced adventure, the village bookmaster, Mr. Dorro, and his young companions Wyll Underfoot and Cheeryup Tunbridge are in a desperate race to find the answer—before death comes to Thimble Down.

Thimble Down is a country village where halflings live. It has a good and bad side of town, just like most real cities do. And Bing Rumple lives on the bad side. When he comes back with tales about fighting goblins with elves and being rewarded with a beautiful jewel, many think the drunken braggart may be lying. When he’s found with an elven knife in his back, everyone thinks the elves are to blame. But are they?

Author Prown is a journalist, magazine editor and plays a guitar. He must have heard this magical story in the music rising from his fingers. This is a very good fantasy with enjoyable characters. The story moves fluently. There is humor, greed, spite, and a bit of hatred as well as love in the story.

Mr. Dorro is the village bookmaster and he has helped solve a case or two before, so he takes an interest in the current murder. He has just acquired an apprentice named Wyll and he’s prepared to do a complete investigation. He doesn’t think an elf put that knife in Bing’s back; why leave it there if it was?

There’s lots of action. Wyll ends up in jail twice, Mr. Dorro meets the elves and finds they are reasonable people even if they want their jewel back. The sheriff almost dies trying to protect the village and find a killer. The Mayor is corrupt. I didn’t know for sure who was behind the killing until the author explained it.

This is a well-written busy book that will hold your attention and make you wish you were there to meet the elves and maybe share a mug of cider with the villagers. It’s written for young teens but this older reader enjoyed it a lot, too. It’s going in my personal library. I’d be happy to read another adventure with Mr. Dorro. He’s a good detective!