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.

Shadow Eyes by Dusty Crabtree


Shadow Eyes by Dusty Crabtree
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Inspirational, Paranormal
Length: Full (334 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Stargazer

Iris thought she could ignore the shadows…until they came after everyone she loved.

Seventeen-year-old Iris Kohl has been able to see both dark and light figures ever since a tragic incident three years ago. The problem is, no one else seems to see them, and even worse…the dark figures terrorize humans, but Iris is powerless to stop them.

Although she’s learned to deal with watching shadows harass everyone around her, Iris is soon forced to question everything she thinks she knows about her world and herself. Her sanity, strength, and will power are tested to the limits by not only the shadows, but also a handsome new teacher whose presence scares away shadows, a new friend with an awe-inspiriting aura, and a mysterious, alluring new student whom Iris has a hard time resisting despite already having a boyfriend. As the shadows invade and terrorize her own life and family, Iris must ultimately accept the guidance of an angel to revisit the most horrific event of her life and become the hero she was meant to be.

 

Have you ever wondered what unseen forces move throughout our world which we do not see?

Iris Kohl began seeing weird “shadows” that seemed to impact how people relate to each other and the world around them around her fourteenth birthday. Iris mostly just tries to stay away from these strange entities, but when a few very personal events occur, it forces her to re-evaluate what these shadows are and what they want. Within the school year, Iris meets her new English teacher that seems to almost sense these strange figures as well. Iris begins to wonder if there is more going on than she originally imagined.

Shadow Eyes is the initial story in a series focused on Iris and her abilities to see and interact in the world around her. The plot is strong and character development and emotions are right on point. I did find myself frustrated from time to time wondering what happened on Iris’s fourteenth birthday, but this was finally revealed at the end of the story.

Dusty Crabtree does an excellent job of bringing in the reader to the center of the story. The various plot twists and foreshadowing cause the reader to consider and then reconsider what is happening within the story and Iris’s life. While the main story focuses on Iris, the secondary characters including Iris’s close friends and family members each have a strong backstory that is integral to the overall plot in which Iris the focus.

The editing is clean, and the story flows nice without being too descriptive or wordy. Everything that occurs or is described has a place within the story. Aside from the frustration of being left in the dark with events surrounding the fourteenth birthday, this was a nearly perfect read!

If you have ever wondered what lurks just outside our line of vision, be sure not to miss Shadow Eyes!

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.

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.

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.

E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke


E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (37 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Meet E.C. Max, a lovable know-it-all. He has many misadventures while solving everyday problems using science and technology. His inventions and experiments usually have wacky, unexpected results.

Slap that mosquito as you read how Max deals with pesky pests in E.C. Max, Kid Genius Critter Camp!

If not for the bugs that bite and sting, camping would be the perfect vacation. Can E.C. figure out a way to solve this problem?

E.C.’s invention was creative. He put so much thought into making something that would shoo mosquitoes, ants, and other critters far away from him and his dad. There are a few different things these insects don’t want to be around, so he made sure to include all of them in his invention. The only thing I liked more than reading his description of it was seeing if it really worked once he had a chance to test it.

There were a few minor pacing issues in the beginning. E.C. needed some time to explain who he was, why he was a kid inventor, and where he got all of the equipment he used. While I enjoyed reading his funny and informative explanations of all of these things, they did slow the plot down a little bit.

With that being said, I was hooked on this story as soon as E.C. and his dad started their camping trip. The main character and his dad had so many fun experiences once their tent was set up and they had time to explore their surroundings. I liked seeing how they passed the time in the woods and what they thought of their father-son trip. They really seemed to get along well together.

E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp should be read by inventors and science-lovers of all ages.

She’s Like a Rainbow by Eileen Colucci


She’s Like a Rainbow by Eileen Colucci
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (299 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

“The summer I turned ten, my life took a fairy tale turn.” So begins Reema Ben Ghazi’s tale set in Morocco. Reema awakes one morning to find her skin has changed from whipped cream to dark chocolate. From then on, every few years she undergoes another metamorphosis, her color changing successively to red, yellow and ultimately brown. What is the cause of this strange condition and is there a cure? Does the legend of the White Buffalo have anything to do with it? As Reema struggles to find answers to these questions, she confronts the reactions of the people around her, including her strict and unsympathetic mother, Lalla Jamila; her timid younger sister, Zakia; and her two best friends, Batoul and Khalil. At the same time, she must deal with the trials of adolescence even as her friendship with Khalil turns to first love. One day, in her search for answers, Reema discovers a shocking secret – she may have been adopted at birth. As a result, Reema embarks on a quest to find her birth mother that takes her from twentieth-century Rabat to post-9/11 New York. Reema’s humanity shines through her story, reminding us of all we have in common regardless of our particular cultural heritage. SHE’S LIKE A RAINBOW, which will appeal to Teens as well as Adults, raises intriguing questions about identity and ethnicity.

 

As soon as Reema adjusts to one new skin color, her complexion changes yet again. Will she ever discover why this is happening?

While this book had a large cast of characters, I never had any trouble remembering who was who. I appreciated how much attention Ms. Colucci paid to all of the small details of her characters’ lives. She made them come to life so vividly in my mind that I was able to keep track of everyone even when multiple new people were introduced at the same time.

The pacing was slow. As fascinated as I was by the premise, it was difficult for me to stay interested in the storyline at times because it took so long for the main character to find any clues at all about what was happening to her skin or whether or not she had actually been adopted. It was interesting to read about the ordinary details of her daily routine like what she ate for meals, but there were so many of these scenes that they slowed down the plot and distracted me from the mysteries of this character’s life.

Reema had a complex and difficult relationship with her mother that included a lot of conflict between them as she was growing up. Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that showed how this relationship evolved as the main character began to make her own decisions in life. I found it intriguing to see how things changed between mother and daughter over the years. Watching Reema attempt to understand why this part of her life was so complicated was one of my favorite parts of this tale.

I’d recommend She’s Like a Rainbow to anyone who is in the mood for something thought provoking.

Which is p and Which is q? by Gita V. Reddy


Which is p and Which is q? by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Grandpa brings a box of wooden letters for Minki to practice her ABCs. He spells out words and Minki picks out the letters from the set. She enjoys doing this except that she isn’t able to tell p and q apart. So when Grandpa spells out p-i-g, she picks q, i, and g. For q-u-e-e-n she picks p,u,e,e,n and for q-u-i-l-t, she takes out the letters p,u,i,l,t.

Because Minki has so much trouble with p and q, she throws them out of the window. Angry and hurt, p and q stomp away to Word Fairy and announce they are never going back.

With p and q missing, many words become meaningless. Now nobody can say ‘please’ because it has turned into ‘lease.’ The police station and the post office can’t function and the queen must go into hiding!

Which is p and Which is q? is a fun story about an important issue.

Children between the ages 3 to 7 make occasional letter reversals while reading or writing. This is more likely to happen with letters that are mirror images of each other – like p and q, b and d, n and u. It doesn’t mean the child is dyslexic or has a learning ability. With practice and some clues, as the letter shapes become more familiar, children get over the confusion.

Learning the letters of the alphabet isn’t always easy.

My favorite scenes happened after the letters p and q ran away to go live with Word Fairy. They were so determined to stay with her forever that I couldn’t wait to see how the fairy would respond to them once she realized that they never wanted to go back to Earth. This was a very creative spin on the topic, and it made me smile.

Minka mentioned some letters other than p and q that are easy to mix up. I would have liked to see her either spend more time talking about how to tell the difference between those other letter or save them for a sequel. Talking about them without going into detail seemed like it could be confusing for young readers. With that being said, exploring those letters would be a very good place to begin with a sequel if the author is hoping turn this into a series.

The memory trick that Minka’s grandfather shared at the end of this story to help her remember the difference between these two letters was a smart one. He made it easy to remember by turning that trick into something a kid can easily imagine happening. It’s not something I’d ever heard of before, but it made a lot of sense.

Which Is p and Which Is q? is an adorable picture book that I’d recommend to anyone who has a young child in their life who needs help remembering the differences between similar letters like these.

Oh Susannah: Things That Go Bump by Carole P. Roman


Oh Susannah: Things That Go Bump by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, suspense
Length: Short Story (44 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Xeranthemum

Susannah Maya Logan is not having a good day. She doesn’t want to go to her best friend, Lola’s sleepover. Susannah thinks the house is big and spooky, not to mention the ghost that is said to live there. Lola’s big brother, Kai, loves to tease Susannah with scary stories. Throughout her day, she sees people deal with things that scare them. Her sight-impaired friend, Macy, is terrified of unicorns, of all things. She sees a boy at a party who’s frightened of clowns. Her teacher is afraid of getting a cold. Susannah realizes everybody is scared of something. She wishes she was more like Lola, who is not afraid of anything, or so it seems. Susannah discovers people have different ideas of what is scary and what is not, and only they can determine the difference. Join Susannah as she learns to confront her fears and not let her imagination prevent her from having fun.

Adults that remember Alfred Hitchcock’s belief ‘The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement” can also relate it to young children, especially those that are on the verge of awakening to the bigger world and all its linguistic complexities. We take things for granted; our allusions, metaphors and colloquialisms and idioms. Those are big words to explain that what you hear isn’t always what is meant. Susannah, the heroine of Things That Go Bump learns firsthand how scary life can be as her imagination fills in the gaps for things she doesn’t understand, is worried about or is unknown. This little novella reminded me that our tendency to fear those kinds of things don’t necessarily go away just because we ‘grow up’.

I get the impression that Susannah is a lot braver than she gives herself credit for. She questions even when she’s nervous or confused at times, and her best friend’s brother can sometimes be a huge pain in the neck. I think Kai has figured out how much fun it is to tease Susannah because of her reactions. He’s a typical boy who means no harm; he’s just mischievous with a heightened sense of fun that gets carried away now and again. There is a grin worthy payback at some point in the story and I enjoyed that scene.

I really liked Things That Go Bump and I think it’s great for kids to read, or adults to read with their children because it shows and explains how what we take for granted, what we think is ordinary, isn’t so for kids just learning about how the world works, making even simple things big and scary. I enjoyed the ending when Susannah finally faces her fears about sleeping over at Lola’s house and eventually comes to the realization, after a bit of excitement, that everything is going to be alright. The wrap up made me feel good and assured me that Susannah is going to be just fine.

I wish this book had been available when my own kids were younger; I would have absolutely shared it with them. That’s the best recommendation I can give.

Finding Nine by Suki Lang


Finding Nine by Suki Lang
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (264 pages)
Age Recommendation:16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

This is a story of John, a 16 year old who loses his mother to cancer. During the last year of her life she writes a series of eight letters for her son to read after her death. Designed as a treasure hunt, the letters take John to a place his mother left long ago, where he meets a family he knows little of.

The object of the hunt seems to be to find a perfect spot to place his mother’s ashes. But John soon discovers the letters are his mother’s way of helping him move through his grief, and of letting him know she will always be by his side. The journey he takes is about finding hope in the love of two people who welcome him with open arms. And John’s arrival is a gift never expected but long hoped for by two of the people his mother left behind. Through the natural order of things a son is given the opportunity to fulfill a mother’s last wish and to discover her many secrets yet untold.

Sometimes death leaves everyone who loved the deceased with many more questions than they have answers. This is even more true when someone dies before their time.

The descriptions of the places John went and the people he met were nicely written. I especially liked the scenes that showed where his mother had grown up. He knew so little about her childhood that it was wonderful to see how he reacted to all of the pieces of her past he was finally able to to put together.

There were pacing issues. I noticed them the most after John had read the first few letters from his mom and was beginning to dig deeply into what her life had been like before he was born. As interested as I was in the premise of this book when I first began reading it, it was hard for me to pay attention to the plot at times because of how slowly it moved.

Grief is a complicated subject. I was pleased with how Ms. Lang approached all of the different emotions someone can feel when they lose a loved one. John laughed at some of the stories he uncovered about his mom on his journey. In other scenes he felt everything from sorrow to surprise to anger to nostalgia. It was interesting to see how the author explored what happens when someone has so many conflicting feelings about death and grief.

Finding Nine should be read by anyone who has ever needed to grieve the loss of someone they really cared about.