This Body Won’t Break: Part One by Lea McKee


This Body Won’t Break: Part One by Lea McKee
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror
Length: Short Story (110 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The truth doesn’t always set you free.

Orphaned as a child, Joanna has lived her entire life in the care of the New Terra Alliance. On the verge of turning eighteen, Joanna eagerly awaits her release into what remains of society.

It was a beautiful lie.

Joanna was never meant to leave. She is part of the August Harvest, slated to die before the month’s end. With a rogue soldier’s promise to find her a way out, Joanna dares to hope. But if the NTA finds out what she knows, it won’t only be her own life at stake, but the life of the handsome soldier who has vowed to set her free.

Fans of Divergent, The Darkest Minds, and The Handmaid’s Tale will love this dystopian story of twisted secrets, romance, and page-turning suspense.

Killing perfectly healthy teenagers doesn’t make any sense. Then again, many things in this world don’t make sense, and Joanna doesn’t have much time left to figure them all out.

The pacing was so strong that I read the whole thing in one sitting. Every scene made me ask more questions, and I couldn’t stop until I knew what would happen to the characters I’d come to care about so much. I especially liked how much attention was paid to keeping Joanna focused on her goals. No matter what happened, she always pressed forward and kept trying to figure out what was really going on. This made me eager to read the rest of this series once it’s released.

While I appreciated the fact that Joanna had her fair share of flaws, there were a couple of times when the choices she made were so foolish that I had trouble taking her seriously. She didn’t seem to have a lot of common sense even in situations that she should have known were risky. I loved everything else about this tale, so I’m hoping that this will be something that leads to a lot of personal growth for her in the future.

This is the beginning of a serial. There were obviously parts of the world building that are being held back until parts two or later to explain to the audience. With that being said, I was impressed with what was revealed so far. The way this society worked made a lot of sense to me. Yes, the horror elements of the plot made me shudder, but they also fit in well with everything else the audience was taught about who the New Terra Alliance were and how they operated.

This Body Won’t Break: Part One was a wild ride. It should be read by anyone who enjoys dystopian stories.

Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story by Gita V. Reddy


Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Hop, a young grasshopper, makes a new friend. He is Chomp, the caterpillar. Chomp is not like Hop at all. While Hop likes to explore the world around him, and to play in the grass, Chomp only eats. But Hop doesn’t mind because Chomp is a good listener. He visits him often and tells him all about his day.

One day, Chomp stops eating. And then he disappears!

Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story is a simple story children will relate to, while learning about the life cycle of a butterfly.

It is also about friendship, and about accepting differences.

Both boys and girls will enjoy the book.

The illustrations are hand drawn and will appeal to young readers.

You’re never too young to make a new friend.

I’d never thought about the idea of insects having personalities before, but Hop and Chomp changed my mind about this. They were both unique little bugs that had strong opinions about how they wanted to spend their time and who they wanted to spend it with. I’ve been a fan of Ms. Reddy’s stories for a while now, but getting to know these characters so well only made me more interested in seeing what she comes up with next. She had such a creative spin on what grasshoppers and caterpillars would be like if they could speak.

I would have liked to see Hop’s mother spend a little more time explaining what a pupa was and why Chomp was inside of it. Her explanation of it was so brief that I’m not sure it would make complete sense to preschoolers. With that being said, I still enjoyed this book quite a bit and wouldn’t hesitate to read it to my relatives who are in this age group.

The friendship between Chomp and Hop was adorable. Hop’s interest in spending time with his friend only seemed to grow stronger over time, and that made me smile. I also loved the fact that they were such good buddies even though a baby grasshopper’s idea of a good time often isn’t the same as what a caterpillar would want to do.

Hop and Chomp: A Caterpillar Story was a gentle tale that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the market for something new to read at bedtime.

The Gold by Krista Wagner


The Gold by Krista Wagner
Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (97 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Stargazer

Ten-year-old Amanda is constantly teased and tormented in school. Her home life is less than satisfactory where her widower father, who is often away on business trips, leaves her in the care of her indifferent teenaged sister. Worse, not a day goes by when Amanda doesn’t miss her mom. TO escape reality, Amanda creates fantasy stories, but when she discovers a talking golden pebble, her imagined world turns into a new-fangled reality.

Sometimes you just need to know things will be all right.

Ten year old Amanda moves to Idaho with her family after her mother’s death. While trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, Amanda faces the constant tormenting and teasing that occurs at her school. One day, Amanda finds a talking golden pebble on her way home from school and her life changes much more than she could have ever imagined.

The Gold is an inspiring story that asks us to look at the world with new eyes-open to both the ways that the world impacts us as well as how we impact the world. Each character has depth and a history, even when they appear in a few events. I absolutely loved how the author explained what was going on when Amanda would look away, or how Amanda perceived the stares or the various studying eyes of the other students. I found myself rooting for Amanda to be open to others having a change of heart, but Amanda would often find herself misinterpreting the situation as much more dire than it truly was. The dialogue was smooth and easy to read, and the situations that Amanda found herself in were believable.

Amanda’s relationship with the golden pebble is fascinating on many levels. Simply, Amanda misses her mother and her sister, Jane, who steps in to replace the loss of their mother, ends up being cruel to Amanda without realizing her own internal pain and struggle. As the pebble forces Amanda to examine the world around her, she begins to see more of what is in both nature and human nature.

I found The Gold to be an exciting read for readers of all ages, not just younger readers. The Gold holds the reader to looking at that which is in the world, not just what is in our immediate perception. I highly recommend reading The Gold by Krista Wagner; it will inspire you to take another look at what truly makes up the world!

The Dreaming Spires by William Kingshart


The Dreaming Spires by William Kingshart
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (140 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Aloe

What do you do when the troll at the end of your garden tells you everything you ever believed in is a fantasy and your fantasies are reality?

When Jake moves from California to his new school in Oxford, he knows he is going to a different country, but he doesn’t realize he is entering a whole new world.

His first clue is when Gorm, a nine-foot, three-thousand-year-old Irish gnome, appears at the foot of his garden and gives him three special powers—powers that are of absolutely no use to him—or so he thinks.

But when things start getting really weird and Jake discovers that there’s an ancient prince from Tír na nÓg who is out to get not only him and the girl he is in love with but the whole of mankind, too, he also discovers that the powers Gorm has given him are more useful than he could ever have dreamed possible.

Jake knew that moving from California to England would mean some changes in his life. What he didn’t realize was just how much it would change and what direction that change would make…

The author has a very good imagination and when he introduces a nine foot tall gnome who is always eating while visiting, it’s just the beginning of strange creatures vexing Jake. He’s told he’s a changeling. He’s given a necklace from his mother (the one he never knew), and he’s told about his powers. He’s not impressed by the powers. He can’t turn invisible or anything. But the ones he gets are the ones that will help keep him alive!

The pace of the story is fast and there’s action on almost every page. He has a bully after him, a girl he’s interested in, and a good friend that stands by him in thick and thin. He’s going to need him.

He has more than one quest, he’s facing danger from the fae world, and his fae brother is trying to kill him. In the meantime, he has to convince the powers that be to change their minds and stop drilling in the ocean. The points he makes about the climate changes and the damages humans are doing to the earth are real. With no changes, we might see the type of collapse Jake was trying hard to stop.

It reads fast, is a fun read, has lots of fantastic characters and you find yourself rooting for Jake, even if he is the underdog. Sometimes just sticking with it makes a difference. He’s trying to save the girl he loves, so he has a good cause. Young readers will want to be as good as he is with a sword or bow.

Oh Susannah: It’s in the Bag by Carole P. Roman


Oh Susannah: It’s in the Bag by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (34 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 5+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Stephanotis

From award-winning author Carole P. Roman comes a new chapter book featuring Susannah Logan, a young student having a very bad day.

It all begins with homework trouble and an invitation to a sleepover that she doesn’t want to go to. Would you want to go to a sleepover in a creepy house? Rather than dealing with her problems, Susannah stuffs them into her backpack. But how much can a backpack take? Will she be able to confront her worries before the backpack bursts? Or will she just continue to hide them away?

Join Susannah and her friends in this story sure to charm busy young readers everywhere.

I’ve read many of the If You Were Me books by this author so it was fun to see that Ms. Roman has written her first chapter book.

It’s a cute read and one I know that children will love reading or having read to them.

The main character Susannah hasn’t finished her homework, has parents who always seem to be in a hurry, she hates oatmeal, isn’t fond of bananas yet one is in her school bag. And unlike the other kids at school, she can’t decide what book she wants to read. This all somehow causes her bag to get fuller and fuller until the zipper breaks and the bag gets stuck under the bed.

It’s a funny tale but with a message that sometimes what we perceive to be true isn’t always the case. Susannah’s parents might seem busy but they have time for her and that we all face the same dilemmas in life and it’s always parents who come to the rescue…if you let them.

A fun read that I think would be great to read during the summer break with your children or grandchildren as they get ready to head back to school.

If You Were Me and Lived in Cuba by Carole P. Roman


If You Were Me and Lived in Cuba by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short (26 pgs)
Rating: 4 Stars
Age Recommendation: 6+
Review by: Stephanotis

Join Carole P. Roman when she visits the exciting island of Cuba in the newest book of her informative series. Learn about the varied customs and cultures. Travel to the Caribbean to discover what you would eat and do for fun. See the country through the eyes of a youngster like you and understand what life is like in this exciting place.

Don’t forget to look at the other books in the series so that you can be an armchair world traveler.

This time we’re off to Cuba in Ms. Roman’s continuing series of If You Were Me… books.

I’ve lost count how many I’ve read but each one is just as enjoyable as the last. I read this book not knowing a lot about Cuba and by the time I’d finished it, I knew about its capital city Havana, it’s history and Spanish roots.

What I like most about these books is the way they’re told from a child’s point of view and what day to day life would be like if you lived anywhere besides your home town.

These are books that can be read with an adult or without and a fun collection to have on hand for homeschoolers.

I loved that this one focused on places you’d go and things you’d eat. As always, the author provides a detailed glossary at the back to further explain words and expand your know of both the culture and history of the area.

Megan’s Munchkins by Pamela Foland


Megan’s Munchkins by Pamela Foland
Publisher: Sonny’s Legacy Publishing
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (54 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Coming September 12, 2017! Megan’s Munchkins is the first book in the middle grade fiction series Megan’s World. Not everything hidden in the closet is scary, even if it’s furry and has sharp claws! Every teenager’s dream come true and every parent’s worst nightmare, Megan’s Munchkins is a short and sweet tale about a middle-school girl finding, quite by accident, the pet she had always wanted. Plus three more! It’s almost Spring break and adventurous thirteen-year-old Megan Thompson finds four tiny day-old kittens in the park and makes a decision on the spot that will turn her life upside-down. What does a young girl do who has been told by her parents over and over again that she may not have a pet? In Megan’s mind, there is no question. She must save these motherless newborns, even if it means keeping them a secret from her mom and dad. The next five weeks are an exhausting blur of vet visits, endless cycles of feeding schedules, household chores, homework and sneaking around, but Megan has never been happier in her whole life. The kittens grow quickly and begin to venture out into the world beyond the closet. Megan knows it is only a matter of time before her she must tell her parents about her secret. Fate steps in and her secret is discovered. What will happen to her precious babies now?

Keeping a secret for five weeks isn’t as easy as it might sound.

Megan was a smart girl. I enjoyed seeing how she solved the problems that can come with trying to raise four newborn kittens by yourself. My favorite scene involved her trying to get the kittens to drink formula when they were too small and weak to understand what she was doing. She clearly loved her pets quite a bit and spent plenty of time researching everything they would need to grow into strong, healthy cats.

One of the biggest reasons why Megan’s parents didn’t want her to have a pet cat was that they and her older brother were allergic to them. The way this part of the plot was developed didn’t make sense to me because the Thompson family never went into much detail about how severe their allergies were or what would happen if they were exposed to cat dander. As much as I enjoyed the rest of the storyline, I would have liked to see more attention paid to this section.

The relationship Megan had with her brother was warm and friendly. I appreciated the fact that he was so kind to and supportive of her. They seemed like they were very close even though Kevin was much older than his little sister. This isn’t something I see nearly enough of in middle grade fiction, so it was fun to watch siblings get along well.

Megan’s Munchkins was a sweet, gentle story that I’d recommend to anyone who loves cats.

Fitting In by S.E. Walker


Fitting In by S.E. Walker
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (140 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Charlotte Finnegan James desperately wants to fit in. Her parents encourage her to act like everyone around her, but Charlotte always feels like an outsider looking in. When men come late one night to “take control” of her, Charlotte knows fitting in will forever be impossible.

After being placed into a military boarding school, a name change is the first step in taking control of her own life. Finn’s differences are evident, no matter how hard she works to appear normal. Finding a sympathetic soul in Taber McCoy helps Finn execute her plan to escape the school.

Can she continue to hide her true self from the world? Will she find sanctuary with her aunt? Can she and Taber stay ahead of the men in black following them on their race across the country?

Being special has its perks, but it definitely isn’t always an easy life.

The mystery of Finn’s true identity made it impossible for me to stop reading this tale. She knew so little about it at first that I couldn’t begin to guess what secrets were hidden in her past. I really appreciated the fact that this part of the plot was hidden so completely. It made it even more fun than it would have been otherwise to slowly gather more clues and try to figure out who or what Finn was.

There were a few mild pacing issues in the beginning. The introduction to Finn’s world took up more time than I was expecting. While it was nice to get to know everyone so well, this did leave less time for plot development later on than I would have liked to see. With that being said, this didn’t stop me from enjoying this book in general.

Taber and Finn were both intelligent and courageous teenagers. I especially liked the fact that they spent so much time thinking about things that could possibly be a roadblock to their plans and trying to come up with solutions to them in advance. This is exactly the kind of behavior I love to see in characters in these kinds of stories. The final scene gave me the impression that there may be a sequel on the way. If this is true, I can’t wait to find out what Finn and Taber will do next and if they will continue to be so level-headed in the face of danger.

Fitting In kept me perched on the edge of my seat. I’d recommend it to anyone who has any interest at all in the culture of military schools.

Beautiful Enemy by Vanessa Garden


Beautiful Enemy by Vanessa Garden
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (111 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

When June’s best friend takes his own life after years of bullying, she’s devastated—but mostly angry. Josh was the sweetest boy June had ever known, and in her mind, the popular kids at school are guilty of murder. When an anonymous online poster starts threatening Josh’s bullies on social media, and then killing them off one by one, June secretly feels a little glad. That is, until she becomes next on the killer’s list. Forced to forge an unlikely bond, June and Beau, star football player and king of the cool kids, must work out who is behind the killings before it’s too late.

 

Not every death is a peaceful or happy one.

The character development in this story was wonderful. Both of the main characters were well developed and had excellent reasons for behaving the way that they did. Given that some of the murders were pretty unusual, knowing this much about the protagonists was a very good thing because it helped me to understand why they acted in the sometimes strange ways that they did once their friends and classmates began to die.

One of the things that surprised me about the plot was how often it cut away to a new scene just as something exciting was about to happen. For example, a scene where one of the characters was suddenly attacked abruptly ended in the middle of the action. I found this confusing and was never able to figure out why the most interesting sections were cut short so often.

June was a brave girl. I especially appreciated how determined she was to figure out why people she knew kept dying even after she realized that uncovering the truth could be dangerous for her. She remained strong no matter what happened, and that made me admire her.

There was a fairly big plot hole that had to do with the aftermath of Josh’s death. While I can’t go into any more detail about it without giving away spoilers, this was my main reason for choosing a three star rating for this tale. The fact that this part of the plot was barely explored or explained at all bothered me because of how important it was to the storyline in general. I was expecting the characters to be way more curious about how it worked than they were.

I enjoyed the dialogue. All of the characters spoke in very natural ways. There were times when I genuinely felt as though I were eavesdropping on real conversations because of how nicely their words flowed together. Reading the things they said to each other was one of my favorite parts of this book because of that.

Beautiful Enemy should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a fast-paced mystery.

Girl Without a Face by Medeia Sharif


Girl Without a Face by Medeia Sharif
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (135 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Destiny awakes with amnesia. She’d been driving on a wet road, about to leave flowers at a memorial marker of a deceased classmate, when she almost met that same fate.

Her mother, Mildred, is beyond restrictive, and she doesn’t want Destiny to have her cellphone back. A nurse sneaks it into her room, but it’s useless without the passcode. After her hospital stay, her mother becomes physically abusive.

Destiny and the boy she’s developing feelings for decide to drive around to spark her memory. She’s positive she crashed near a memorial marker. When they find the place in question, and when Destiny remembers her phone’s passcode, nothing is as it seems—and Mildred is crazier than she first thought.

 

Destiny’s life is full of things that don’t make any sense. If only she knew if this was a side effect of her amnesia or if there’s another explanation for it.

The flashbacks to Destiny’s life before the accident were well done. I especially enjoyed seeing how they changed as her body continued to heal from the accident and her mind was better at going back and exploring those pieces of her past despite the fact that her memory was so spotty. The evolution of it all made me want to keep reading.

There were a few big plot holes that were never explained, especially when it came to Destiny’s time in the hospital after her accident and how certain parts of that experience played out. I would have really liked to spend more time on that part of the plot so that I could understand it better. What the plot did reveal was fascinating, but it left me with many more questions than I had answers.

Destiny was such a brave girl. Some of the best scenes in this tale were the ones that showed how she reacted in a crisis. She almost always kept a level head and thought rationally about what her choices were in that situation even if she didn’t have a lot of them to begin with. This is something I love seeing in young adult books, so I was glad to find it here.

I figured out the mystery very early on because of how many clues the narrator discovered after she woke up in the hospital. It would have been nice to either have them spread out more evenly through the storyline or to have fewer of them in general. I was disappointed by how little effort I had to put into piecing everything together.

The romantic subplot was sweet. I liked both of the characters involved in it, and I liked them even more when they were spending time together. They brought out the best in each other in so many different ways. I couldn’t wait to find out if they’d end up together in the end.

Girl Without a Face should be read by anyone who is in the mood for something intense.