Sugar Lump by Megan Gaudino


Sugar Lump by Megan Gaudino
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (209 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Seventeen-year-old travel blogger CC is stuck on a never-ending road trip with her wanderlust-addicted father. When her dad lands the job of his dreams in Sugar Lump—wedding capital of the world—CC finally finds a place to call home. Complete with two quirky best friends and a quixotic guy to crush on, Sugar Lump is more shades of perfect than she can possibly count. But when CC accidentally overhears the mayor complaining that she has to “take out” a rogue employee for not fulfilling the terms of his contract, the idyllic town’s facade crumbles. Devastated by the possibility of having to move yet again, CC discovers everyone has been keeping a massive secret from her—including her own father.

Many communities have secrets, but most of them aren’t quite as big as the ones hidden in Sugar Lump.

The town of Sugar Lump honestly sounded like the perfect place to live when I was first introduced to it. I adored how friendly and helpful everyone was, especially when it came to helping new residents settle in and figure out all of the little quirks that make every community unique. This kind of genuine hospitality only made the events later on in this tale even more unsettling than they would have otherwise been.

It took a very long time for the plot to develop past the point of introducing the characters and exploring the idyllic community they seemed to be living in. As much as I liked getting to know CC and her friends, it wasn’t easy to stay interested in what was happening to them because of how slowly everything was moving. I started reading with the expectation that I’d love this book, so I was surprised and disappointed by how much I had to struggle to keep reading it.

CC was an interesting girl. I liked the fact that she was so oblivious to the thought that something odd might be happening in the town she’d just moved to. While there were definitely times when I wanted to text her and ask her how in the world she could accept everything she heard and saw without questioning it, this part of her personality wasn’t something that she could easily change. Her sometimes naive approach to life did have its endearing side.

Sugar Lump should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a slow-burning mystery.

Regen by Cassie Greutman


Regen by Cassie Greutman
Publisher: Greutman Media
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (326 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Life is finally shaping up for Trisha. For the first time, she’s with a foster family she doesn’t hate. Her new school is decent, and she even has a boyfriend. Until the night she finds herself waking up in the woods covered in blood, a bullet hole in her dress. Without her fae abilities, she’d be dead, but now the Faerie Council has given her an ultimatum. She has to help find an escaped fugitive, or be taken to Faerie, a place her missing mother told her horror stories about. Now, Trish has to keep her day job a secret from her foster parents, join forces with the ex-boyfriend who killed her, and hunt down a dangerous criminal before he comes into his powers. Should be a piece of cake.

Trisha has been abandoned by her mother and gone through a multitude of foster homes – and she actually likes her latest foster parents. Her dark secret is that she is a fae and part of being fae means she heals really quickly, although now she has been killed. To her surprise she regenerates. I presume this is where the title of the book comes from, although it is not very clear at first.

The book is reasonably written and the story flows well although there are a few unbelievable events when her foster parents read her the riot act, then give in without a murmur. The ending left a lot of loose ends which I found very irritating. The idea is a good one, but it did not go deep enough or follow through on hints about her past which makes it an incomplete story.

I liked the theme of the story, quest to find a criminal; only Trisha can help; several false leads. On the whole, it was pleasant read and quite a good story.

Cress by Marissa Meyer


Cress by Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles Book Three

Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (550 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Poinsettia

In this third book in Marissa Meyer’s bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth.

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl trapped on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s being forced to work for Queen Levana, and she’s just received orders to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is splintered. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a higher price than she’d ever expected. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai, especially the cyborg mechanic. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

Is Carswell Thorne the hero Cress has been waiting for?

Born a shell, a Lunar without power, Cress was given up by her parents when she was only days old. Sybil, Queen Levena’s second in command, imprisoned Cress on a satellite orbiting Earth and uses her hacking abilities to manipulate and spy on the governments of the planet. However, Sybil never counted on Cress caring for the Earthens she spends her life watching.

Cress is one of the sweetest heroines I’ve come across. Her harsh upbringing could have left her feeling bitter, but while she certainly does resent the way the way she’s been treated, she is remarkably optimistic about the world. Unfortunately, most of what Cress knows about Earth is from the shows she watches on her net screens. When she learns about Cinder and Thorne’s escape from prison, Cress immediately develops a crush on Thorne. She learns everything she can about him and imagines him as a misunderstood hero destined to rescue her. When Cinder and Thorne finally do rescue Cress, it is a dream come true, but can Thorne ever live up to Cress’ fantasy?

Cress is very naïve about love, but this feels realistic considering how long she has been imprisoned. Watching her discover how things work in the real world was bittersweet. I loved seeing the world through her fresh eyes. Everything was new and interesting to her, but the harshness of reality was understandably shocking to Cress at times. However, Cress is stronger than she looks, and I think she handles it all very well considering her situation.

Cress and Thorne make an interesting pair. Thorne has a roguish reputation he gleefully perpetuates, and he’s a wonderful character with a great sense of humor. However, something changes when he meets Cress. She sees him differently, and I think for the first time in his life, he wants to be better and desires to be the hero Cress believes him to be.

The pacing gets faster with each book in this series. Cinder’s team mismatched team of heroes is really starting to come together. The conflict between Earth and Luna is escalating, and Cinder and her crew come up with a daring plan, one that will surely awaken Levena’s wrath.

Cress is a thrilling addition to this series! I’ve come to care about Cinder, Kai, Iko, Scarlett, Wolf, Cress, and Thorne. I’m completely hooked on The Lunar Chronicles, and I can’t wait to find out how it will end. I’ll be reading the next book immediately.

The Return of Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel


The Return of Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (234 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

High school graduate Paul Coleman’s life is anything but ordinary. It has been only a few months since he, Myrna Trillian, his girlfriend, and her father, Montague, an Elementalist/magician, destroyed a demon named Hekla that wanted Myrna for a purpose almost too diabolical to believe. Hekla had used the power of sound to kill Paul’s best friend, and her attack left Paul with very little ability to hear.

Montague is now gone, having died in the final battle against Hekla. His last feat of magic was to open a portal to Vann, a water world, where Paul and Myrna now live. Paul is mostly deaf, and Myrna is totally deaf, having been born that way.

However, things take a turn for the weird when Myrna suddenly starts hearing as a normal person would. She also exhibits the ability to open portals to other worlds as her late father did.

Mystified by her sudden transformation, Paul needs to know more, and so does Myrna. They return to Earth and find it under attack by a group of winged demons from Hekla’s home world, Sithros.

They also find that Monty has somehow been resurrected, and while trying to solve that riddle, they also have to fight against legions of winged aliens who think nothing of slaughtering millions. It will take everything the trio can come up with to fight against an alien horde that will stop at nothing to conquer—and destroy.

Nowhere on Earth is safe anymore.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that described exactly how violent and brutal the winged aliens were. Yes, these passages were the reason why I added the horror tag to this review as the descriptions of those attacks could be pretty detailed at times. They suited the tone of this tale nicely, though, and gave Paul all of the urgency he needed in order to try to stop them before more innocent people were hurt or killed.

After the nonstop action of Master Fantastic, I was a little surprised by the mild pacing issues I noticed in this sequel to it. The occasionally uneven pacing wasn’t distracting enough to prevent me from enjoying the plot, but it did steal my attention away from what was happening to the characters often enough that I thought it should be mentioned in this review. I expected the pacing to be slower in the beginning as the narrator was explaining what had happened earlier on in Paul’s adventures, but I wish it hadn’t happened again after that point.

I was impressed with how much care was taken in showing how Paul’s deafness affected his daily life. It wasn’t something he necessarily thought about every day, but it did change the way he reacted to certain situations. Just like in the first instalment in this series, he encountered some people who understood his disability and others who were jaw-droppingly ignorant about it. Paul’s reactions to the way others treated him suited his personality perfectly. He had excellent reasons for all of the different responses he gave to their kindness, rudeness, and everything in-between those two possibilities.

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

I’d recommend The Return of Master Fantastic to anyone who has ever dreamed about visiting a distant world.

Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel


Master Fantastic by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (226 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

High school student Paul Coleman’s life is an ordinary one. His existence takes a turn for the extraordinary when he and his best friend, Rory, are attacked by a winged demon one day. The demon, which calls itself Hekla, possesses the power of sound, and kills Rory with its scream. Paul survives, but the force from the blast has left him mainly deaf. A year later, Paul is out of school, working part-time, and is fearful of going deaf forever. Although he has learned sign language well, he wonders where his life will go. All that changes when Montague (Monty) Trillian, also known as Master Fantastic, enters his life and requests his services as a sign language teacher for his daughter, Myrna. Paul accepts, and soon finds out that Trillian is not just any magician, but an Elementalist, one capable of wielding the four elements of Earth with ease. He can also open portals to other worlds, and often does so, visiting those of earth, water, and fire. Many adventures follow, and Paul and Myrna grow close, but Hekla returns and demands Myrna be given to her. It seems that Myrna is the product of a union between Monty and Hekla, and like all mothers, she desires to protect her own. Now, Paul must do everything he can to save Myrna from being used for a fate far worse than death, and only the abilities of Master Fantastic can save them all—or can they?

There’s more to magic tricks than you might think.

This book had one of the most attention-grabbing beginnings that I’ve ever read. The demon’s attack on Paul and his friend was terrifying and life changing. Yes, there were grisly moments to it, too, but the gore had a purpose and it fit into the rest of the storyline beautifully. What made this scene even more powerful was how severely it affected Paul’s life long after that day ended. He reacted with just as much trauma as anyone would after seeing the violent death of a friend. As difficult as it was to see this character in so much emotional pain, it also pulled me into the plot and made it impossible to stop reading.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about the romantic subplot was how much the characters involved in it had in common. I can’t remember the last time I read a tale about two deaf or hard-of-hearing people falling in love, so it was nice to see it happen here. The similarities between these characters didn’t end there, though. Everything from their senses of humor to their ideas about how to spend their free time was so complementary that I wanted them to end up together as soon as I realized there was a spark between them.

The world building was fantastic. This was true not only for Earth but also for the other places that Paul and his employers explored every time a portal opened. Every single setting was described in such great detail that I felt like I’d been there myself once I finished reading about them. Any one of them would have made me want to give this story a five star rating. The fact that this happened so many times made it impossible for me to pick any other rating!

Master Fantastic is a must-read for anyone who loves magic in any form.

To Wish Upon a Star by Scott MacDonald


To Wish Upon a Star by Scott MacDonald
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (242 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Orchid

Megan Brandt was a shy, lonely teenager secretly in love with a boy in school who didn’t even know she existed. It’s a common scenario that many young girls face and the resolution is typically something simple, like a makeover. Megan’s solution, however, was a little less prosaic than that. She chose to enter into a contract to have her wish fulfilled magically by a bitter and alcoholic 132yr. old Gypsy fortuneteller with a lot of unresolved anger issues. A makeover would’ve been so much easier. Years later, long after the wish had been made, the time had finally come for the people involved to seek out each other and understand the truth of what really happened on that one miraculous night.

 

One of the worst things about being a teenage girl is to be in love with someone who doesn’t know you exist. Megan loves Nick but he doesn’t even look at her. When the chance comes to wish upon a shooting star, Megan thinks of Nick and agrees to the terms of the gypsy who offers her this chance.

Nick is on the football team and is usually surrounded by adoring girls, but on the night of the wish he is stupid and falls from the ferris wheel. He ends up in hospital and is not expected to survive. This makes Megan change her wish at the last minute.

The maxim – be careful what you wish for – is in full force in this book, both for Megan and for the gypsy who also had a life changing event when she wished on the star and is out for revenge.

I enjoyed this book, the storyline was unusual and had a lot of twists and turns which kept my interest alive. Together – apart – together is how the story proceeds and I have to say I loved Rocket, Nick’s dog. The only flaw was the presence of several editing errors. Good read though.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer


Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles Book Two

Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (452)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Poinsettia

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of Marissa Meyer’s bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

Can Scarlet trust Wolf?

Scarlet has a good life living with her grandmother on a farm in France. She loves living in the country and working the land. Everything changed the day her grandmother disappeared, and Scarlet is the only one who suspects foul play. When a mysterious man named Wolf claims to have information about her grandmother, Scarlet is skeptical. Desperate to find her grandmother, Scarlet and Wolf form a fragile partnership. As Scarlet digs deeper into her Grandmother’s disappearance, she realizes her grandmother has many secrets, secrets others will kill for.

Scarlet is a great heroine. She’s smart, determined, and fiercely loyal. Even though the odds of finding her grandmother are slim, she never gives up. Her strength and persistence are admirable. She’s also very kind. Scarlet is the kind of woman who gives people a chance. This is especially true with Wolf. She has no reason to trust him, but Scarlet sees something good in him.

I must admit I find Scarlet and Wolf’s romance a bit strange. Understandably, it took them a while to warm up to each other. However, once they did, they seemed to have an instant, powerful connection. At first it didn’t feel very realistic to me, but I was warming up to the idea by the end of the book. I’m curious to see how their relationship will develop as the series progresses.

I enjoyed seeing more of Cinder in this book. She is slowly adjusting to the idea that not only is she Lunar, but also Princess Selene. A bit more of Cinder’s history is revealed, and it is heartbreaking. So many people risked so much to save her. That’s a lot of pressure for a young girl to live up to. I believe Cinder is up for the challenge.

I absolutely must mention Cinder’s new friend, Carswell Thorne. Cinder and Thorne find themselves stuck together in rather unusual circumstances, but they make a good team. He is thoroughly entertaining, and always knows how to lighten the mood. I can’t help but like him, and I look forward to seeing him again in the next book.

Scarlet is an excellent addition to this series. I really enjoyed following Cinder and Scarlet’s plots, and they came together beautifully at the end of the book. The switches between viewpoints are very smooth, and it kept the pace moving and the tension steadily building. By the end of the book I was racing through the pages. I will definitely be picking up the third book immediately!

Neutral Shades by Xondra Day


Neutral Shades by Xondra Day
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (81 pages)
Age Recommendation:16+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Forced to move and change schools just before his senior year, Greg Reese thinks his life is over until he meets handsome jock, Nick Anderson who is his dream guy in every way.

Sparks fly between the two, but neither are out. When they’re caught in a compromising situation, Greg quickly finds himself dumped.

Moving on isn’t easy, but starting a summer job helps keep a devastated Greg occupied, along with forming a friendship with humorous and cute co-worker, Chris.

Chris is out and makes no bones about it. Greg has an instant attraction to Chris, and coming out now seems to be an option. After all, you can’t hide forever, right?

It’s never easy to move to a small town. This is even more true for gay teens who don’t know anyone in their new community.

Greg was a three-dimensional protagonist who I came to like quite a bit. His impulsiveness and restlessness sometimes got him into trouble, but it also made him an incredibly interesting guy because of how self-aware he was of his flaws. He was always the kind of person who acknowledged his own weaknesses even if he wasn’t necessarily sure how to improve them. This is the kind of character development that makes me wish for a sequel!

I would have liked to see more details included in this story. Everything from the physical descriptions of the characters to what the buildings they spent their time in looked like were described so briefly that I had a hard time imagining what everyone looked like and what was happening. This was a little disappointing since the plot itself was so well done. Had more time been taken to describe the settings and characters, I would have happily chosen a much higher rating.

The romance was handled beautifully. I loved seeing Chris and Greg get to know each other. They had a lot of shared interested and similar personality traits. It seemed to me like they’d be a great match. The fact that they waited a while before acting on their attractions only made me more curious to find out if the sparks between them were going to lead to anything longterm.

Neutral Shades is a good read for anyone who is looking for something romantic.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer


Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The Lunar Chronicles Book One

Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (387 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Poinsettia

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Cinder has no idea how special she is.

Cinder’s life was as ordinary as a cyborg’s life could be until Prince Kai came to her booth and asked her to fix his android. Cinder can’t help but be drawn to Kai, but she believes he could never feel the same about her, especially if he ever found out she is a cyborg. With a plague raging in the city and Queen Levana of the Lunars threatening war, Cinder knows her life will never be simple again. As Cinder repairs Kai’s android, she discovers a secret that will change everything. Can Cinder get to Kai before he makes a mistake, or will the world be at the mercy of Queen Levana?

Cinder is a very likable heroine. Even though Cinder hasn’t been shown much kindness in her lifetime, she is caring, loyal, and I enjoy her sarcastic sense of humor. I love how she can look at something old, broken, and unwanted and see possibility. If only she could learn to see herself with the same optimism. I will say that it was easy for me to figure out a few of the twists concerning Cinder’s history, but I care enough about Cinder that I eagerly raced through the pages to see how it would all play out.

Cinder’s slowly budding relationship with Kai is sweet. I enjoyed the fleeting moments they had together even though their vastly different stations in life mean those moments are rare. Still, I would have liked to see them find a way to spend more time together in order to deepen their connection. Cinder and Kai are in a very bad situation when this installment ends. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a happy reunion in the next book.

I really enjoyed the premise of this book. I’ve always been drawn to fairy tales and my curiosity was piqued by this science fiction twist on Cinderella. However, after finishing this tale, I have so many unanswered questions. Why are cyborgs treated as second class citizens? Do they have to have a certain percentage of mechanical parts to be considered less than human? I’d also like to know more about Lunars. How did they develop their powers? What is their history? What happens if someone is part Lunar, part Earthen? I can only hope my questions are answered in the subsequent books of this series.

Cinder is a thoroughly entertaining book. It is a unique take on a classic story, and I truly enjoyed getting to know Cinder and look forward to following her adventures again. I’ll be picking up the next book in this series very soon.

Dating the It Guy by Krysten Lindsay Hager


Dating the It Guy by Krysten Lindsay Hager
Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: Full (266 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 stars
Review by Poinsettia

Emme is a sophomore in high school who starts dating, Brendon Agretti, the popular senior who happens to be a senator’s son and well-known for his good looks. Emme feels out of her comfort zone in Brendon’s world and it doesn’t help that his picture perfect ex, Lauren, seems determined to get back into his life, along with every other girl who wants to be the future Mrs. Agretti. Emme is already conflicted due to the fact her last boyfriend cheated on her and her whole world is off kilter with her family issues. Life suddenly seems easier keeping Brendon away and relying on her crystals and horoscopes to guide her. Emme soon starts to realize she needs to focus less on the stars and more on her senses. Can Emme get over her insecurities and make her relationship work? Life sure is complicated when you’re dating the it guy.

Can Emme learn to trust herself?

Emme’s relatively simple life became much more complicated over the summer. First her grandma has a severe stroke, and then her grandpa begins showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Even though she’s going through a rough time at home, Emme catches the eye of Brendon, the most popular guy in school. Emme has always admired Brendon, but can’t believe his interest in her will be long lived. Brendon isn’t perfect, but he always strikes me as sincere. Yet, Emme continues to doubt him whenever possible. I kept wondering when Emme stop letting her past experience cloud her judgement.

Emme is a very likable character. Watching her try to balance school, family, and romance felt very realistic. I also like that she’s a regular girl with believable strengths and weaknesses. She isn’t the smartest in her class, and she isn’t super popular. However, she’s caring, loyal, and I truly enjoyed watching her interest in writing grow.

Brendon and Emme make a sweet couple, but I must admit that I was very frustrated by Emme constantly second-guessing Brendon. I understand her previous relationship ended badly. Anyone would be hurt by what she went through, and it would be hard to move on from that. However, instead of seeing Brendon for who he is, Emme over analyzes everything and frequently jumps to conclusions. When they inevitably get into a fight, she places all the blame on him. This happens several times, and it got old after a while. Emme kept saying that she and Brendon had a deep connection, but didn’t seem to be willing to have an honest conversation about her feelings with him. Despite this issue, I liked watching Emme and Brendon get to know each other. When Emme stopped worrying about everyone else, I could see a happy ending waiting for the young couple.

I’m glad I read Dating the It Guy. Emme is a well-rounded character and the romance is sweet. Fans of young adult romance might want to give this book a try.