Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Snobbity Snowman has everything a snowman could possibly want: a shiny hat, freshly-picked noses and enough pride to last a lifetime. In fact, he is so egocentric that he can’t even see when his life starts falling apart.

What disasters must take place to open his charcoal eyes? To help him see that pride and possessions cannot bring true happiness? Will he defrost his chilly ego and embrace the warmth of friendship? Only Snobbity can tell.

Depicting winter in rich and whimsical tones, Snobbity Snowman’s quirky characters and unexpected twists promise to leave a lasting impression on all its snobbulous readers.

Nobody likes a snob, even if that snob is a snowman!

The vocabulary in this story was very advanced for this age range. There were several words that the average 6-year-old won’t know, but I liked the fact that the authors provided so many context clues about what those terms mean. I’d recommend reading this aloud as a group so that those terms can be explained if the clues don’t give enough hints. With that being said, it was a pleasant surprise and it’s definitely something that will work well for young readers who would like to be challenged a little bit.

It would have been helpful to have more examples of how Snobbity behaved before his makers moved away. He had such a terrible reputation in his neighborhood that I was expecting to see him spend more time looking down on the people who lived nearby before his circumstances began to change and he got a taste of his own medicine. While there were examples of his bad attitude, having more of them would have made the final scene much more meaningful.

The conclusion was well written and completely satisfying. Some of the earlier scenes involved people treating Snobbity very poorly, so I was curious to see how his life would turn out after they were finished mistreating him and he was left alone with nothing. The lessons he learned in life only became clearer once I saw how his tale ended. I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to it.

Snobbity Snowman was a heartwarming book that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something kindhearted.

Interstellar by J.S. Frankel


Interstellar by J.S. Frankel
The Titans of Ardana, Book 3

Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (215 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Martin Calder and his girlfriend Dana—no last name given—are back. Their powers are now known to the general public, and their wish is to help out those who need it.

However, those in the law enforcement world aren’t so accepting. Reduced to starring in their own reality show—and messing it up—other, more urgent matters take precedence. The weather has changed, and the sun has started to turn blue. Although it’s a physical impossibility, it has happened. The Earth will freeze in a matter of weeks if nothing is done, and only Martin and Dana can help.

Their journey takes them back to Ardana, Dana’s home world, in search for answers, and subsequent searches send them on a quest across the galaxy where they meet vampires, energy-sapping rays, cat-mole people, and a boy-not-a-boy who may be the answer to everyone’s prayers.

Sometimes, giving everything isn’t enough. Sometimes, you have to give more than that—even your life.

Some problems really are black and white. If Martin and his friends can’t warm the sun up again, everyone will be doomed.

The premise caught my attention immediately. There are plenty of science fiction books out there about global warming, but very few of them talk about what would happen if our sun stopped giving out heat. I was mesmerized by this idea and couldn’t wait to see how it might play out and if Martin would be able to reverse the process before he ran out of time. The more I learned about the rapidly cooling sun, the more curious I became about why it happened and what could be done to save everyone.

There were some mild pacing issues. They were especially noticeable after the narrator had caught the readers up on the important backstory. I expected the plot to need some time to speed up while that was happening, but it remained a little slow for me even after the characters had begun trying to figure out what happened to the sun. With that being said, the pacing problems weren’t serious and I did enjoy the storyline quite a bit overall.

One of the many reasons why I’m such a big fan of Mr. Frankel’s books is that he always comes up with fascinating scientific advances and devices in the worlds he imagines. This tale was no exception to that rule. Not only did the characters find creative ways to stay warm while their sun cooled and their world began to freeze, Martin also stumbled across some science experiments along the way that were as unique as they were attention-grabbing.

This is part of a series, but it can be read as a standalone work.

Interstellar should be read by adult and young adult fans of science fiction who are in the mood for something inventive.

Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story by T.L. Branson


Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story by T.L. Branson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (58 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Kingdoms rise and fall by the blade.

For Davion Callum, that blade is closer than he’d like. Ever the pawn in a scheme of epic proportions, he is given a choice to stand beside those who would wield him as a weapon or defend those who would call him friend.

When the lines blur between ally and enemy, all is not as it seems. Will he uncover the truth? And what will he do when he does?

Orphans don’t have anyone they can rely on if they make a mistake, so failure isn’t an option for Callum.

Mr. Branson sure knows how to write an exciting battle scene. It’s one of the biggest reasons why I look forward to reading his stories, and this one was no exception to that rule. I deeply enjoyed seeing how Callum reacted to sword fights and battles in general. He was a courageous character in even the scariest circumstances, and that made me want to see him spend even more time in battle.

The romantic subplot felt completely out of place. I was surprised when it suddenly popped up because the main character had spent most of his time up until that point simply trying to survive. Since he hadn’t resolved any of the conflicts that were threatening his safety, it didn’t make sense to me for him to suddenly be thinking about romance when his life was still in danger.

Callum’s character development was handled nicely. He only had a limited amount of time to show the audience how he’d changed as a result of his experiences, but I noticed several subtle changes in his behavior as he learned from his past and grew as a person. It was rewarding to see him mature before my eyes. I’m hoping he will appear again in a future tale from the author so that I’ll be able to continue watching him become the man I saw glimpses of today.

Midnight Blade: A Soul Stones Story should be read by anyone who in the mood for some medieval swordplay.

Immortal Matrix by Marisa Chenery

Immortal Matrix by Marisa Chenery
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (107 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

In the year 2217, Amarah is a donor for the Immortal Matrix, practically a slave, owned by a pharmaceutical corporation. Almost eighteen, she’s destined to be joined to a recipient to keep them young and fit while she does all the work. Her life is grim, except when it comes to a boy in her pod, Dyer, who means more to her than is allowed. Amarah and Dyer are sent to the pool of donors early, and their lives and feelings for each other are put to the test. She gets caught up with a group that wants to end the Immortal Matrix, and soon will find out how strong she really is, and how far she’ll go to keep Dyer as her own.

Amarah’s life has always been tightly controlled by the people who own her. Only time will tell if she’’ll ever get the chance to do something as simple as kiss the boy she likes.

This was such a descriptive tale. I could vividly picture what every room Amarah visited looked like because of how much time was spent showing the audience how they were laid out. The level of detail was even more valuable for the frightening scenes. Some of them made me shudder due to how easy it was to picture the scary stuff that was happening in them.

The cast of characters was so large that I had trouble keeping everyone straight at times. Had this been a full-length novel, there would have been plenty of room for the character development that would have made it easier to remember who was who. As it was written, though, everything happened so quickly that I didn’t always recall who was who because of how many different characters there were to get to know and how few scenes there were to explore all of their personalities and backstories. If not for this issue, I would have chosen a much higher rating as the storyline itself was well done.

Speaking of the plot, I enjoyed how much time the author spent showing what Amarah’s life was like in her pod. Every detail of her existence was meticulously planned by the employees of the Immortal Matrix, from what she learned to what she ate to what kinds of exercise she did. I was intrigued by the idea of someone growing up in such a restrictive environment. The more I read about it, the more curious I became to find out what would happen to this character once she was moved to the adult unit and if she’d ever find a way to make her own decisions.

Immortal Matrix should be read by anyone who likes the dark side of science fiction.

Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards


Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (286 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: Best Book
Review by: Orchid

Fairy tales are simply tales, told and re-told, but changed over time. It has been four months since Maggie learned the dark truth behind the tale of the Princess and the Pea and freed Princess Lindy from the cursed Emerald. Lindy is now back in the past where she belongs, queen of her tiny Scandinavian country, and Maggie is a fully reformed ex-stalker. Except … she can’t stop doing internet searches on Lindy and her country. One morning, Maggie wakes to find history turned on its head. Apparently, you can’t destroy a centuries-old curse without consequence. In order to prevent the changes in history from wiping out the present, Maggie resurrects her stalking gene and learns that fairy tales don’t stay dead for long. Or at all. Back in 1623, Lindy is juggling a threat to her family, a handsome new guard she’s not supposed to have feelings for, and a cursed Topaz with ties to the tale of Thumbelina. When past and present collide, Lindy and Maggie are brought together again, and another of Andersen’s tales turns from twisted fiction to chilling fact.

Welcome to Valestenia, a 17th century country on the tip of modern-day Sweden. Queen Shalyndria has been kept in slavery for four hundred years, but now she has returned to her own time and finds herself thrust onto the throne.

Maggie is a present day teenager who had a hand in releasing the Queen from slavery. Shalyndria’s brother, Garon, has come forward in time as he and Maggie have fallen in love.

When Maggie’s computer shows an ever changing history to what she knows to be true, Garon returns to the 17th century to put things right. When he doesn’t return Maggie and her brother Tanner search for Garon and find a way to travel to the past to help.

This book is full of present day travels, historical problems needing to be put right, and the best thing of all – Magic! The characters could be the kids next door, while the new Queen shows the uncertainty of one thrust into the limelight of ruling a country. Even the fantasy characters had me looking over my shoulder to make sure they weren’t real and creeping up on me.

This book is a true fantasy novel. No goblins and elves, or dragons and fairies, this is magic as used by real people (well real in the book) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Brilliant book. Exceptionally good story. A must read.

The Girl Before by Cassandra Jamison


The Girl Before by Cassandra Jamison
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short (137 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Miley has only one year left in the foster system and is sent to finish it in the home of an older couple, Anne and Clive Winchester, who are still coping with the death of their sixteen-year-old daughter. Miley is soon drawn into deadly mind games and deception that make it clear that they have their sights set on more than just replacing their deceased daughter. Hidden secrets within the home and chilling revelations about their past bring Miley’s worst nightmare to life.

Miley Fairchild arrives at her new foster home and immediately feels something is not quite right. The man of the house gives out strict punishment for misdemeanors while the woman seems to be trying to make Miley into the daughter she lost.

Things grow even weirder when she discovers the couple have a son who is never mentioned. He’s on the local police force and seems quite friendly. It’s always difficult to make friends in a new school, but some of the students go out of their way to make things unpleasant.

This book is quite intense and has a really unexpected twist The plot is hidden behind a well written story and as the reader I was never quite sure whether I had worked out what was happening., Every time I thought I’d got it right, something else happened and I wondered if Miley was imagining her trials, but then something proved she wasn’t. Definitely a book to keep me on my toes about what’s going on.

Good book, a little gruesome in parts, but definitely a book that took me into the story and kept my attention.

Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre


Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (36 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

In a faraway village there lives a farmer with his wife. The summer harvest has failed and winter already arrives. So, how should they feed their three sons? The idea arises to fetch wood in the northern forest. They could dry it, sell it from door to door and earn some money to buy food.

Frede knows that his parents are doing their best, but is it enough to withstand the most barren period of the year? Together with his brothers, Rhune and Folke, he wants to visit Santa and ask him for help. But, first they must travel through that extensive forest where the evil Elf King lurks.

One bad harvest can seriously hurt anyone who makes their living through farming. Only time will tell if Frede and his family will have enough food to get through the winter.

Frede was such a brave boy. He faced all kinds of dangers while he was trying to travel to Santa’s house, yet he never gave up no matter how difficult his journey became. He kept pushing on even when it looked like there was no way to win. I especially enjoyed seeing how he reacted to the elves he met on the way. Not all of them were friendly, but he didn’t let that stop him.

There were a few editing issues. I noticed multiple run-on sentences and punctuation errors. Some of them took a minute for me to figure out because they could be interpreted in more than one way. A couple of sentences also seemed to be missing important words. If not for these errors, I would have chosen a much higher rating as the storytelling itself was creative and beautiful.

This book was full of magic that refused to be tamed. Everything from the elves to the forest itself was so wildly different from how humans behave that I didn’t know what to expect from them next. This is exactly the kind of storytelling I always hope to find in fairy tales, so I was quite happy with how unpredictable these scenes were. They made my heart beat faster in a good way.

Frede and Santa should be read by anyone who loves Christmas.

Nine Short Chapter Books by Gita V. Reddy

Nine Short Chapter Books by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (161 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

As the title suggests, this is a collection of short chapter books by Gita V. Reddy. The chapters are short and the word count of each book is between 5000 to 7000 words. The book also introduces young readers to different genres. A brief description of each title is given below.

THE HOMELESS BIRDS (Fantasy)

A young bird is left behind by his flock. Unable to fly by direction, he takes the help of a boy, and shares with him the plight of his flock.

THE MAGICIAN’S TURBAN (Magic)

Magic is no bag of tricks, discover two boys after they are trapped in the magician’s turban.

KNIFE AND FORK (Fable)

A monkey spends some time in the city. When he returns to the forest, he is a changed monkey – but not for the better.

DAKSHA THE MEDICINE GIRL (Geography &Culture)

A Himalayan girl who has knowledge of herbal medicine refuses to live away from her hamlet and study in a school. Until a resourceful doctor finds a way.

MAKE A WISH (Fairytale)

Niki had only one wish: to meet a fairy. It comes true and now the fairy wants to grant Niki a wish. What should niki wish for?

KRISHTA, DAUGHTER OF MARTEV (Science Fiction)

Krishta of Planet Ayzeon is a poor student. She comes to Earth to understand the basics of science and becomes friends with a student working in a lab. All goes well until Ikor from her planet wants revenge.

THE FORBIDDEN FOREST (Action and Adventure)

The animals are mysteriously straying out of their habitat. A factory that is shut is working secretly. Are the two connected? Abhi and his cousins find out.

DEARIE (Animal Story)

Everything scares Dearie. When his fear becomes a thread to the herd, he is made to leave. If Dearie must stay survive, he must learn to conquer fear.

THE MISSING GIRL (General Fiction)

Sneha goes missing. The presence of strange car points to a kidnap. But Sneha is having an adventure – an adventure of a different kind.

There’s something for everyone in this collection.

After not being able to fall asleep one night, Ranjan found a lost bird named Vajra who could talk in “The Homeless Birds” and decided to help his new buddy find his family. Ranjan was such a kind boy that I couldn’t wait to find out how he’d react to his magical adventure. I enjoyed seeing how he reacted to everything that happened to him. This felt like a modern fairy tale, and I’m a big fan of that genre. I also appreciated how open-ended the final scene was. It could easily lead to a sequel, but it also gave this reader plenty up to think about if Ms. Reddy doesn’t end up turning this into a series.

Two young friends named Ismail and Hassan met a magician and tried to figure out his secrets in “The Magician’s Turban.” Was the magician cleverly tricking them, or was he really capable of making things appear and disappear out of thin air? I was fascinated by how hard these characters worked to learn the answer to this question, especially during the scenes that honestly could have been explained either way.

“Knife and Fork” was a fable that showed what happened to a monkey named Bholu who heard rumors about what life was like outside of the forest and couldn’t wait to find out if they were true. After he returned from his adventures, he tried to teach the other monkeys about what he’d seen. The lessons in it were a little hard to pick out since all of the characters had flaws that made it hard for me to relate to them. I would have liked to see more examples of their good sides so that it would easier to understand where they were coming from.

The title of “Daksha the Medicine Girl” told me almost everything I needed to know about the premise. Watching her settle into a long, snowy winter in her isolated mountain village made me wonder what would happen to her before spring arrived. I liked seeing how brave she was when something frightening happened just after the first big snowfall that kept anyone from going for help. She was a kind and mature girl for her age, and it showed.

Niki decided to find out if fairies were real once and for all in “Make a Wish” by using her birthday wish to meet one. After being told by the fairy she could make another wish, she had to choose what to ask for next. The problem she tried to solve was one that most kids never have to think about, so I was curious to see if it would really be solved and how the fairy would react to such an unselfish request. This was something that adult readers may enjoy just as much as the intended audience.

“Krishta, Daughter of Martev” followed a boy named Suraj who had to stay after class to make up missing chemistry schoolwork from an illness he had developed earlier in the year. While I liked seeing how these characters met and discovering what Krishta wanted from her new friend, the pacing was so slow that I had trouble staying interested in the plot. I struggled to keep reading it because of this.

In “The Forbidden Forest,” Uday introduced his friend to his cousins and planned out a fun visit for all of them. After getting into some minor mischief, they decided to play detective and find out if any of the adults were secretly committing crimes. I enjoyed this character’s playful sense of adventure. He was good at paying close attention to his surroundings, and that made for some entertaining storytelling.

Anyone who skips around in anthologies should read “Dearie” first. It was about a delicate fawn named Dearie who had to learn a lot of lessons about surviving in the forest as he grew up. This was by far my favorite story here because of much the main character changed between his birth and who he was as an adult. Life isn’t easy for wild animals, and Dearie had to work hard to stay safe once he was too big to be protected by his mother. Many of the rules he learned can apply to humans, too, and that was yet another reason why I liked this one so much.

Sneha sent her whole neighbourhood into a panic after she failed come home on time one night in “The Missing Girl.” Some of the details of what really happened to Sneha made me wonder if kids would try to recreate what happened to her. I wouldn’t have a problem giving this to older children who understood why her choices could be so dangerous if they were repeated in the real world, but I’d be cautious about sharing them with anyone who was impressionable or impulsive. With that being said, she did have a charming personality and a real knack for figuring out problems.

Nine Short Chapter Books was a creative collection that I’d recommend to any young reader who is ready for longer pieces of fiction.

The Animals’ Santa by Jan Brett

The Animals’ Santa by Jan Brett
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When Big Snowshoe tells Little Snow that the animals’ Santa is coming with presents for everyone, Little Snow wants to know who he is. The animals say they have never seen him. Maybe he’s a badger, a moose, a polar bear, or a wolf, they tell him. But this spunky little rabbit thinks they are just fooling him.

On Christmas Eve, Big Snowshoe finds a way to see the animals’ Santa when a Snowy Owl in a red cap swoops down with a pack full of presents. Never again will an excited Little Snow doubt that there is an animals’ Santa.

It’s hard to prove that someone exists or what they might look like if no one has ever seen them.

The characters spent the perfect amount of time thinking critically about what kind of animal Santa would be. They had a few important clues to work with, and they made sure to examine them from every angle to figure out who he really was. I enjoyed watching them work so hard to solve this riddle. It was especially interesting to see how they reacted to the fact that no one had ever seen what kinds of tracks Santa leaves in the snow.

There were way more characters than I’d typically find in a short story. While I soon figured out who everyone was, it did feel a little odd to keep switching perspectives as the animals debated the topic of which species Santa came from. With that being said, this was a minor criticism of a tale that I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit. It was an adorable read, and I do plan to go back and experience it again before the Christmas season ends.

The ending fit the tone of this tale very nicely. I especially liked the fact that it could be interpreted in more than one way. This was something the characters had been doing for the entire storyline, so it made a great deal of sense for the readers to be given our own chance to decide if we agreed with the characters’ theories about what Santa might look like or not.

The Animals’ Santa is a wonderful choice for any child who enjoys solving riddles.

State of Emergency by Mary Hallberg


State of Emergency by Mary Hallberg
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (157 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

17-year-old Dallas Langdon is fighting off zombies with a pizza cutter. Dallas has always loved zombie movies. But when she catches a real live (erm, dead) musician eating a man’s intestines backstage after the show, she knows her movies have become a reality. And what do characters in zombie movies do? Seek shelter. Fortunately, Dallas’s eccentric uncle owns a farmhouse in Chattanooga, an eight hour drive from New Orleans. It’s on top of a steep mountain, surrounded by electric fences, and cut off from the worlds of the living and the dead. Dallas’s parents, still safe at home, laugh at her idea over the phone. Her friends only agree to join her because it’s fall break and they could use a mini vacation anyway. But then Dallas’s best friend is killed by a zombie horde when they’re attracted to her ringing cell phone. Civilians think their reanimated loved ones simply have the flu, leaving them alive (well, undead) and rapidly increasing the zombies ranks. And since minors can’t buy guns, Dallas’s only weapon is a giant industrial pizza cutter she swipes from a gas station. George A. Romero never mentioned anything like this. With one friend dead and no zombie survival guides to help her, Dallas and her friends must get to Chattanooga before joining the ranks of the undead themselves.

The world is quickly changing from a relatively safe place to an extremely dangerous one. If Dallas is going to survive it, she’ll have to adapt without a moment of hesitation.

Most zombie stories don’t spend a lot of time explaining why people are coming back from the dead or what caused all of their weird symptoms. I was happy to see that Ms. Hallberg decided to break this rule, especially once the characters understood what made someone a zombie in this universe and how they should change their habits in order to reduce their chances of becoming one themselves.

The character development wasn’t very strong, especially when it came to Dallas. Despite all of the frightening and life-altering things that happened to her, she didn’t change a whole lot from the first scene to the last one. This struck me as odd and a bit disappointing. There were plenty of opportunities for her to grow as a person, so I was surprised by the fact that she didn’t take advantage of them.

One of my favorite parts of the storyline were the clippings of news articles that the author included in several of the chapters.They added a sense of urgency to the plot, especially once the mainstream media realized that the reports of people coming back from the dead weren’t a hoax or a joke. It was interesting for me as a reader to see how the tone of these articles changed, too. They mirrored Dallas’ reactions to the new world she lived in, and they made for some engrossing reading as well.

State of Emergency should be read by anyone who loves a scary zombie tale.