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.

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.

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.

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.

Day Moon by Brett Armstrong


Day Moon by Brett Armstrong
Tomorrow’s Edge Book One

Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Inspirational, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (376 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Stargazer

BoM LASR YA copy

In A.D. 2039, a prodigious seventeen year old, Elliott, is assigned to work on a global soft-ware initiative his deceased grandfather helped found. Project Alexandria is intended to provide the entire world secure and equal access to all accumulated human knowledge. All forms of print are destroyed in good faith, to ensure everyone has equal footing, and Elliott knows he must soon part with his final treasure: a book of Shakespeare’s complete works gifted him by his grandfather. Before it is destroyed, Elliott notices something is amiss with the book, or rather Project Alexandria. The two do not match, including an extra sonnet titled “Day Moon”. When Elliott investigates, he uncovers far more than he bargained for. There are sinister forces backing Project Alexandria who have no intention of using it for its public purpose. Elliott soon finds himself on the run from federal authorities and facing betrayals and deceit from those closest to him. Following clues left by his grandfather, with agents close at hand, Elliott desperately hopes to find a way to stop Project Alexandria. All of history past and yet to be depend on it.

In making the world accessible for everyone-sometimes there are those who manipulate that accessibility to ensure their own motives are achieved.

Day Moon is an extraordinarily written book that follows Elliott, a college student, working on adding written books to Project Alexandria, a computer system designed to make all human knowledge accessible to all throughout the world. Through the course of his work, Elliott begins to notice that an original copy he possesses of Shakespeare’s plays is startlingly different than the electronic copy in Project Alexandria. It is not a huge jump to realize that there are those that would alter human records to reflect a different body of knowledge than one currently possessed.

I love the mystery and suspense surrounding Elliott. The plot unfolds so smoothly and seamlessly that it envelopes the reader in mystery and suspense without the overtones of immediate suspense. The strengthening and breaking of friendships between Elliott and his friends throughout the journey also leads to must suspense and suspicion. In a world where science and electronics have all but pushed out religion, Elliott finds himself looking deeper and deeper inward to understand the various riddles within Project Alexandria.

The dialogue is strong and the descriptions are thorough; in fact, some of the best character interaction involves the look or action rather than words. Brett Armstrong shows a definite understanding and appreciation for human communication, especially when cloaked within suspicion. The story is not overly violent or graphic, but finds the right amount of description and suspense to catch the reader and propel them into the story without going over the top.

The reality behind Day Moon is one that should seriously be considered since the similarities with our own technology and records certainly follow a similar path to the one described within Day Moon. The technological impact within the society and culture of the story could very well be on the horizon for our own society as well. While Day Moon is the first of the Tomorrow’s Edge Trilogy, it ends at a point that leaves the reader desiring to go to the next book, but not feeling unfulfilled as some trilogies do. It stops at a point that is perfect to give the reader an opportunity to pause, catch their breath, and then make the move to pick up the next in the trilogy!

If you are into an enveloping suspense story that shows you what could be with just a hint of human manipulation, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Day Moon!

Justice Unending by Elizabeth Spencer


Justice Unending by Elizabeth Spencer
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (185 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Poinsettia

Within the walls of the Bastion, it’s an honor to become a host for an Unending—the bodiless, immortal spirits who rule the country. But for Faye, it meant her sister would have to die. When Faye sneaks into the Mother Duchess’s manor, she just wanted to see her sister one last time. Instead, Faye finds a manor in chaos, a murdered man, and an Unending assassin named Aris who needs a new body—Faye’s body—to bring the Bastion to its knees. Now Faye’s harboring the Bastion’s most wanted criminal. And if she wants to live, she’ll have to escape the Duchess and her immortals, all while keeping Aris from harming anyone else. There’s just one problem—Aris is not the villain. And now Faye is the only one who can help her stop the Duchess before anyone else—and especially Faye—has to die for the Unendings’ whims.

Faye just wanted to say goodbye.

The Unending rule Faye’s world, but she never imagined that her sister would be claimed by one. Everything happens quickly and Justine is whisked away before Faye’s had a chance to properly say goodbye. Sneaking into the manor brings her face to face with Aris, the mad immortal. Is Aris really the villain, or is something sinister going on in the Mother Duchess’ manor? Will Faye discover the truth or is she simply a pawn in an ancient feud?

Faye is a very likable character. She’s very willful and stubborn, which isn’t always convenient for those around her, but I count this as her greatest strength. She has a strong sense of right and wrong, and her determination to stand up for what she believes is impressive. I do wish that Faye had been more willing to listen to Aris. They were sharing the same body, but Faye seemed determined to close herself off from Aris as much as possible. I think they could have avoided a lot of trouble had Faye been willing to listen. On the other hand, I also believe that the journey Faye and Aris take helped form their bond and understanding of each other. The glimpses into Aris’ past were particularly interesting, and I believe that as Faye learns more about Aris, they will be a great team.

The secondary characters definitely have potential, but haven’t been developed fully. At this point, they are mostly a background to Faye and Aris and I never felt that I got to know any of them well. The villains are also interesting, but I would like to know more about them and their motivations as well. The Mother Duchess in particular has piqued my curiosity. She seems to have had good intentions at one time, but her own wants and needs have blinded her to the horror of the society she has created.

I thoroughly enjoyed Justice Unending. The main characters are realistic, their story is compelling, and the pacing is excellent. I sincerely hope that Ms. Spencer has plans for a sequel because I would love to learn more about Faye, Aris, and the Unending.

Harvest Moon by Tonya Coffey


Harvest Moon by Tonya Coffey
A New World – Book one

Publisher: Saguaro Books, LLC
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (218 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Seventeen-year-old Jessa lives in the remote mountains of Kentucky and has always found peace in the forest. Close to her eighteenth birthday, her dad buys her a book and things begin to happen. With her dreams leading her, she uncovers a world within her own with Faeries. They look and act like people she grew up with but she quickly finds she is the one who is different. She is the hidden heir to the throne and the Faeries need her to come home and save them from the Trolls.

If it wasn’t difficult enough for Jessa to move to a different world, she has to marry the man who saved her from the Trolls when all she wants to do is run to his best friend, Micha. With so much to worry about, how can she keep the Faery realm from falling into the hands of the evil Trolls and the Ancients?

Jessa, a seventeen year old girl, lives with her father in the woods. Despite going to school, she leads a lonely life and spends most of her time wandering through the trees or reading books about the faerie world. Immediately before her eighteenth birthday she is kidnapped by trolls then rescued by the faeries. From then on her life takes a totally new path.

Roderick her protector, doesn’t seem to do a brilliant job as she gets kidnapped a few times, although he’s not too bad at rescuing her as long as she helps him.

This is a pleasant book with Jessa finding the truth about her parents and her struggles at coming to terms with who she really is, but despite this being pleasant to read, I couldn’t really get into it. Things weren’t well fleshed out and Jessa didn’t seem to be in any real danger which took away the suspense and excitement. However, this is a good book to read as an afternoon distraction and amusement.

Fox in the City by Daniel Cabrera


Fox in the City by Daniel Cabrera
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (172 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

This is the story of a fox–a fox named Tom. A fox who couldn’t in his wildest dreams imagine what it would be like to stand up on two. To behold and experience all the wonders of the world of man. The lights that light up the ground: The hum of the engines that roar and the fervor that engulfs everyone in the impassioned pursuit of happiness. Could he understand that the most amazing part is not in what we built?

The dividing line between human and animal isn’t always a clear one.

Tom’s character development was well done. It was especially interesting to see how he made the adjustment from being a fox to living as a human child. There are so many differences between those two species that he couldn’t take anything for granted. Everything he knew about the world had been turned on its head, and that made his emotional transformation something I had to keep following until I knew how it would end.

There were many grammatical and punctuation errors. I also noticed a sentences that were missing key words. It was hard to tell what they meant without knowing which word the author intended to use in that sentence. While I enjoyed the storyline itself quite a bit, another round of editing would have made a huge difference in my final rating for this book.

The friendship between Tom and Nora, the human girl he met soon after he was transformed, was beautiful. They were supportive of each other from the beginning. I really enjoyed watching her show him how to survive in the city and seeing how their feelings for each other slowly began to shift as they got to know each other even better. I thought they made a great team and couldn’t wait to see what would happen to them next.

Fox in the City was a creative tale that I’d recommend to anyone who has ever wondered what animals would say if they somehow learned how to speak.