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Friday, January 29, 2010

Listen by Nancy Coffelt

Listen by Nancy Coffelt
Publisher: Westside Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (212 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Suns
Reviewed by Fern

The lives of three people intersect unexpectedly in this unique, compelling story. There’s Will, an eighteen-year-old living alone since his mother died and his drug- and alcohol-addled brother was put in jail. Then there’s Kurt, a troubled, fourteen-year-old loner still reeling in the aftermath of his mother’s abusive boyfriend’s death, and his part in it. And there’s Carrie, a middle-aged schizophrenic who “hears” the thoughts of the abused and neglected neighborhood animals she rescues and brings home. When Carrie and Kurt connect, she agrees to pay him for each “stray” cat or dog he delivers. But when her “rescuing” goes one step too far, events spiral dangerously out of control. Told from alternating viewpoints, Listen is the haunting story of three people dramatically thrown together by fate, each struggling to come to terms with their harrowing past.

I can honestly say that I have never agonized over a book review like this. More than once, I’ve sat in front of the PC in an attempt to convey what I experienced while reading Nancy’s Coffelt’s dark and poignant story, Listen. A book that explores the most closeted facets of life – mental illness, child abuse, isolation – and shares them via the voices of characters who stay with you for days after you’ve left them behind...whether you want them to or not.

Listen begins via the voice of Will, an eighteen-year old who has lost his mother and brother due to tragic circumstances. As he sits in front of his computer, writing in his journal, you sense his need to connect with something – even if it’s the blackness of the screen with the flashing cursor in front of him. Oddly enough, it is this isolated soul that will be considered the most “normal” of the characters. Kurt, the second voice we meet, is a boy on a one-way path to destruction, while Carrie, the schizophrenic animal collector, is slowly descending into a second bout of madness.

The connection between them is serendipitous, as are the similarities. All of them are alone, harbor dark secrets, and long for something they’ll never have. In Will’s case, he wants emotional interaction. Young Andy wants to be loved by his absentee father, and Carrie wants to be forgiven for a horrific tragedy in her past. As the story progresses, you’ll delve deeper, peeling back layer after layer. Beneath the surface, you may or may not find what you expect. That’s the beauty of the work, and what makes Listen unforgettable.

Personally, I believe the reason Listen is difficult to review is that the material touches on the most disturbing recesses of the human condition. After all, monsters surround us each day. You don’t need a closet or a tight space under the bed for them to hide. Fathers, mothers, brothers, and neighbors are just as dangerous, if not more so, that figments of the imagination. In Will and Kurt’s situation, they’ve each had loved ones violate their trust. So it’s difficult to watch as Kurt begins a reluctant friendship with Carrie and you’re well aware of her descent into the grips of schizophrenia after refusing to take her medications. While repressing her illness, she’d never harm Kurt. But as the edges fray and she loses her grip on reality, she becomes someone else entirely. It’s like an oncoming train wreck you see but cannot prevent.

You’ll want to warn the characters, to tell them to get off the track, but are helpless to do so. Instead, you watch the events unfold, unable to turn away upon impact. I had a good idea of what was bound to happen early on, but even knowing what was to come didn’t adequately prepare me for the reality of it. When the dust settles, and you are left with the wreckage, the reader realizes that despite all of the headway the characters have made in their lives, they are still inevitably alone. That’s the singular human tragedy of life. No matter whom you surround yourself with; ultimately, there is only you.

I have nothing but praise for the style of writing and pace of Listen. Although it’s the first story I’ve read without chapters, I felt the page breaks worked and created a nice flow from the viewpoints of the characters. I couldn’t put the story down from start to finish, and even carried this book with me into the movie theatre as we waited for the lights to dim before the feature (I also read as we drove to and from the location, if that’s any indication of my interest). The characters are engaging and the plot is beautifully woven, snaring your attention and refusing to let go.

The recommended age for this story is 14+, but I’d consider upping that by a couple of years, or better yet, giving Listen a read and judging for yourself. Though the material is dark, Ms. Coffelt has a beautiful voice and twines a tale you won’t be able to shake for days. It’s powerful in that it’s thought provoking. I spent hours discussing this book with friends who haven’t read it, and even then I couldn’t find the proper words to adequately express just how I felt. Oftentimes, a dark impression lasts much longer than a prismatic one. When you find something like that, you don’t dismiss it or put it away.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Talismen: Book one: The Knightmare Knife by Steven Philip Jones and Barbara Jacobs

Talismen: Book one: The Knightmare Knife by Steven Philip Jones and Barbara Jacobs
Publisher: Mundania Press LLC
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (179 pgs)
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Orchid

Colin Sinclair, Reggie Sinclair, Ollie Steele, and Timmy Shannon have never had a dream in their lives, but on their twelfth birthday they share the same nightmare about a vicious dragon and a mysterious orange-haired girl.

The next day strange things begin happening to the boys. Monsters appear in school water fountains. A hellhound prowls city streets. And a green man dressed in gold stalks the boys. Danger is suddenly everywhere and it is closing in all around them. Fast.

Talismen: The Knightmare Knife is the first in a series of illustrated Young Adult fantasy adventures that follows Colin, Reggie, Ollie and Timmy -- four boys from Earth -- as they discover they are exiles from the Plain of Imaginings, the land where all dreams and nightmares come from. With the help of a dream warrior name Pratt and his young daughter Jennifer, the four exiles must find their talisman, magical objects that can protect the exiles from the green man, who has a dark and secret need for vengeance. Pratt and Jennifer also hope to guide the boys to a great destiny IF they can master their talismans. For instance, Colin must master a knife that assaults his mind with nightmarish images each time he draws it. Images that include the recent murder of Colin’s father by a mugger with a knife.

Another land. A crystal city. A fire breathing dragon.

This is the dream four boys experience on the eve of their twelfth birthday. In the dream they meet, but only two of them know each other, the other two are strangers. Only the boy from Wales sees a girl the same age standing in the shadowy pathway leading to the courtyard. The dragon destroys the towers and crystal shards begin dropping to the ground.

Then they all wake up.

Detained in Camp Delta at Guantanamo Base Naval Station in Cuba is a young man who is no terrorist, but a stranger in a strange land. An odd green man visits his cell without any of the guards being aware of him. When he leaves he takes the young man with him.

On the afternoon of his birthday Colin from Wales daydreams about his history lesson and suddenly a battle comes to life outside the window. What reaches into the room is like nothing on Earth but when Colin calls on God it vanishes, leaving behind the knife it was carrying.

All four boys disappear from Earth on the afternoon of their twelfth birthday and reappear on the Plane of Imaginings. Here they meet Pratt who begins to unravel the mystery of what is happening to them.

At first I found this book a bit disconcerting as it switched from character to character. This soon passed and the story began to get its hooks into me. Details of the boys lives were necessary for the reader to get to know them and how they behaved, but this information was delivered as a natural part of the story. Each revelation peeled back like a layer being stripped from a parcel. The intrigue kept me reading as I wondered what was going to happen next.

As the first book in the Talismen Series, The Knightmare Knife will have you waiting eagerly for the next instalment of the series. The book sets up the storyline for the series without giving away any of the abundant mystery which is on virtually every page. A true fantasy, but with a difference. This fantasy relies on aliens, magic and a strange land rather than ogres, elves and the like.

By the end of the book I was looking forward eagerly to the next one, wondering if the hints provided in The Knightmare Knife would come to fruition or would the story take an unexpected turn.

Definitely a story of adventure and fantasy for readers of any age. Give this book to your twelve year old or older child on a rainy afternoon as an alternative to computer games. You'll be surprised how engrossed they will become once they start reading.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Enemy Inside by Deborah Marie Brown

The Enemy Inside by Deborah Marie Brown
Publisher: Awe-Struck Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Short Story (83 pgs)
Sun Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Talk about a real-life situation! Marc is caught in the middle of old attitudes and his own beliefs. This is an important story for a teen to read and discuss.

Some stories are tough to tell and tough to read. A handful of those stories make you really think about yourself and your demons. The Enemy Inside is one of those stories.

Ms. Brown takes a touchy topic – the Aryan Brotherhood – and shows how it fits into the culture. She doesn’t suggest joining or support not being involved. Her story, full of rich characters, shows how teens can be swayed by the beliefs of their parents, the thoughts of their friends, and society at large.

I have to admit, this story isn’t for the faint of heart. Although she doesn’t mention in detail anything the group does, you get a definite feeling of the ferocity of their beliefs. I wouldn’t suggest this story for younger audiences because it can be hard to deal with and in some instances, hard to understand.

I liked the dynamics between Marc and his father. Many teens can identify with pressures from family to follow in their footsteps. Everyone should have a chance to make their own decisions. I thought Dylan made a good, positive influence in Marc’s life. The antagonists show that, indeed, the enemy can be in our own family or in our own hearts.

The sweet romance between Marc and Teresa did help buoy an otherwise heavy story. You wanted to see them succeed even when you wanted to shout at the both of them to grow up. Who hasn’t wanted to say ‘oh, grow up’? This story and all the hardships faced by Marc, Teresa, and Peter, show that you can rise above if you believe in yourself.

Although I don’t recommend this story if you want something light, I do recommend this story if you want a novella that will make you think and just might help you change your mind. I give The Enemy Inside 4 suns.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Video Magic by Vikk Simmons

Video Magic by Vikk Simmons
Publisher: Awe-Struck
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Short Story (92 pgs)
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Kimberly Lange is no stranger to competition. She's been trying to catch up to her successful big brother for all of her 16 years. So when she and Marla Monroe compete for the coveted internship on Northrupp High's senior video project, Kimberly's not just trying to grab a chance to work with Greg Winters, the project's dreamy cinematographer. She's also out to prove to herself and to her parents that she's as much a winner as her big brother.

Ever wanted something so bad it hurt? Ever wanted to please so badly, you thought you’d burst? Then you need to read Kimberly’s story: Video Magic.

Ms. Simmons writes a great novella for the teen generation. We all know it’s hard to grow up and even harder to grow up in the shadow of an older sibling. Many teens will associate with Kimberly. I liked the world Ms. Simmons created as well. You felt like you were right there in the action with Kim and her friends—the backbiting, the cliques, the crushes. For me, it was like high school all over again and it was a fun trip down memory lane.

Kimberly makes a great heroine. She wants to excel in making the video, but she quickly gets in over her head. How many of us have felt like the world is crashing in on us? Then you’ll know how she feels. I liked the interplay between her and her friend, Carol. Even when they are fighting, you can’t help but want them to be friends anyway. I even liked Marla, who can come across as truly snobby. She added a fun little sense of spice to add cattiness to the story. Although I thought Greg was a bit of a jerk and very hot and cold in the beginning, I came to like him and wanted to know more of his story. I felt like the reader didn’t get a good understanding of his issues.

If you want a fun read that shows you life can be sweet and sticky, but you can live through it, then you need to read Video Magic. I give this story 5 suns.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The January Green and Gold Mystery by Geeta Kakade

The January Green and Gold Mystery by Geeta Kakade
Publisher: Awe-Struck E-Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Short Story (76 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

The super-sleuth Bethany Graham: Beth lives with her mother, Bridget Graham, a single parent. A computer whiz and a word collector, she loves reading. How could Mama arrange an after school Math tutor for Beth, without even discussing the matter with her first?

Sometimes the best thing to do in order to get through boring homework is to find a way to make it fun. Does that involve a feisty elderly woman, a robbery, and math homework that seems really hard? Sure it does, if you’re reading the January Green and Gold Mystery.

I like that this story deals with things a teenager would understand—bullying, homework, single parents, and the stress of life. You can identify with the characters and their struggles to fit in or deal with their situations. Ms. Kakade writes a story that is relevant to teens today and is something they can immerse themselves in.

Beth is an interesting heroine. I like that she’s not overly concerned with boys, makeup, and clothes. She has body issues, which many young girls can relate to. She’d rather read or write. She shows that there is more to life than going along with the crowd.

I also liked Mrs. Naidu. She’s feisty and full of vigor. As she inspires Beth to improve on her schoolwork, she shows her how to improve as a person while never coming right out and saying “I am helping you to be a better person”.

And then there’s the mystery. This story harkens back to the good old series with the Great Dane, but in an intelligent can’t-put-it-down-until-the-last-page fashion.

If you want a story filled with twists, turn, and characters you won’t forget, then you need to read The January Green and Gold Mystery. I give this story 4 suns.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Full Blood by Liberty Stafford

Full Blood by Liberty Stafford
Publisher: Devine Destines/ an imprint of eXtasy Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (205 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Cholla

Bad dreams are plaguing them all and its not just the dhampir who cannot sleep.

Catching them unawares, the Otovic's past returns to haunt them. Vladimir, the vampire father who Daniel has never met, wants him back to join the family. Wants a brother for his full blood brother, Marko, the baby his mother gave to gypsies and never spoke about again.

Marko brings with him a vila, a water sprite with amazing and deadly powers which belie her frail beauty. He has plucked her feathers and she must do his bidding. That is, unless someone can break their bond and return what is rightfully hers.

Money and power surround Vladimir and Marko. Friends are soon purchased including the headmaster of Thomas High where Marko joins the upper school to charm his brother Daniel into a deadly circle of trust. Marko fits in and seems to be the perfect student. Intelligent, hard working, generous. Everyone is unaware of the deadly secret he is hiding, that he would rather drain them all of their blood than spend another minute polluted by their company.

Helena falls for his supernatural charms and spends a fortune on a designer dress to impress him at his party. However, Marko has infected his brother and he begins to change. His moods blacken. His temper soars. His patience shatters.

Little does Daniel know that he will soon need Katarina's help to save his soul as she struggles with his estranged family for power over his soul.

For Daniel, life as a seventeen-year-old dhampir only gets harder and harder by the day. Just as soon as one evil half-brother is vanquished, a second arises to take his place. And to make matters worse, he’s managed to stir up some awful girl troubles as well. Picking up shortly after the end of Half Blood, the second book in the Bad Blood Corpus series takes off at a run.

Daniel’s character grew quite a lot during the first installment of this series, and he takes a bit of a step backwards in this one. However, his regression isn’t entirely his fault and he does redeem himself at the end while beginning to move forward again. He is a complex character and I enjoy being able to watch him ‘grow up’, so to speak. His relationships with his mother, his girlfriend, and his teachers are always interesting to witness as he’s definitely not your typical teenage boy.

Katrina is confirmed as Daniel’s girlfriend in Full Blood and that made me very happy to see them both together as an official couple. They not only work well as a team, but they also complete each other in a way that makes them a solid whole. More than anyone, Katrina evolves the most throughout this story. She learns a lot about herself and steps up when Daniel falters. She shows a lot of courage in the face of adversity and proves that she’s just as good on her own as she is with Daniel by her side.

Ms. Stafford’s characters continue to grow and blossom into the adults they are about to become. I enjoyed getting reacquainted with them and following along on their latest adventure. I’m eagerly anticipating the next in the series just to see where Daniel, Katrina and their friends go! The Bad Blood Corpus series, and Full Blood in particular, is a fun and exciting paranormal read for older kids and adults who are young at heart.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Gardener's Song by J.L. Sharp

The Gardener's Song by J. L. Sharp
Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (197 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Orchid

Life has changed for Silan, the storyteller of the settlement. The world has been reborn and humanity is starting over, however, there are those who wish a return to the industrial age. Nature, more determined than anyone knows, is rebelling and war has torn human settlements apart.

Silan’s parents died in a raid along with many others. The settlement needs to fight back. Now, she and her sister must journey to find the elusive key to the industrial rise and destroy it. Can the friendships they make, the love they find and the magic they learn bring back all they’ve lost?

The Sirin Manon changed life on earth. The people who survive divided into two factions. The Ivarin want to return to how things used to be—the use and development of technology. The Iminanlan wish to embrace a new way of life growing their own food and being sustained by the new nature.

Iminanlan twins Marinet and Silan are totally very close to one another. Continued Ivarin attacks on Iminanlan villages drive the twins to travel to the Ivarin mountain fortress. They hope to destroy the source of the Ivarin's power and fulfill the prophecy passed down through generations of their people. They travel through the forest of Fenisaft and meet Fenmisa, the forest guardian. She tells them of the dangers and assistance they will meet on their journey.

The Gardener's Song is set in a future where the world has returned to nature. Unfortunately a small amount of technical knowledge has survived to drive a wedge between those who have survived. The rustic way of life is combined with tradition, prophecies and a mystical being deep within the forest.

On the journey the twins find an enemy who becomes more than a friend and a legend who becomes a master. They must combat fear, separation, danger and the unexpected as they travel across land and water never before explored by their people. And what they find at the end of their travels is not what they expect.

I enjoyed reading this book. At first it seemed a "nice little story" but as I turned the pages I become more intrigued with the difference between the twins and the magic of the forest. They passed through the forest and I became involved with the story as more characters were introduced and the land they were passing through came alive in my mind. The "will they/won't they" aim of the goal of the twins added extra interest.

Between the beginning and end of this book the reader follows as the twins pass through peace, magic, danger, fear and find bravery where they least expect it. Although not truly an adventure story, it has a slight edge readers of this genre will appreciate. In fact it has a little of everything. I would recommend The Gardener's Song if you are looking for a good read with that little bit extra to hold your attention.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mothstorm: Larklight 3 by Philip Reeve

Mothstorm: Larklight 3 by Philip Reeve, David Wyatt (illustrator)
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (387 pgs)
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Orchid

When the festive season arrives at Larklight, so does some unsettling news. A sinister-looking cloud is fast approaching the outskirts of the Known Universe. The closest planet, Georgium Sidus, has but two human inhabitants: the missionary Revd Cruet and his daughter Charity. Their most recent communication read: ‘Great danger . . . imperative that –’

And so, aboard a naval gunship, Art, Myrtle and family bravely go where only one man and his daughter have gone before, to determine the nature of the menacing cloud and rescue the Cruets.

But the evil which awaits them is far beyond their imagining, and it looks as though Mother may have finally Met Her Match. Lucky, then, that Jack Havock is hot on their heels to help in the battle to save the Universe (again) from an evil demigod and its army of blue lizards, who are intent on deposing none other than Queen Victoria to gain control of the Universe.

Moths are gentle creatures—right? Not when they’re in Mothstorm the third in the Larklight series.

On the edge of the solar system a strange cloud appears and the Mumby family get a cry for help from their friends the Cruets. Art and his family decide to investigate, secure in the knowledge Mrs Mumby can protect them from anything. However this time Art’s four-and-a-half-thousand-million year old mother might have met her match.

Jack Havoc arrives for Christmas with Art’s family to find all of them have departed for Georgium Sidus (known as Uranus to those of us less ladylike than Art’s sister Myrtle). He sets off in hot pursuit.

Together the companions must fight the moths, their blue lizard riders and the ruler of them all—the Mothmaker.

Art and his friends soar from one end of the solar system to the other in spaceships driven by alembic combustion. Separated in battle, Art drops onto a planet with a floating surface and underwater inhabitants. The separated friends are eventually reunited and turn together to fight the Mothmaker. But where is Art’s mother and father? No one seems to know.

Once again Philip Reeve has spun a fascinating story set at the time of Victorian England but with a difference. Knowledge of science has to be suspended when reading this books. The Larklight universe has structure and order, but in the way of fantasy rather than science. Art, his family and friends are reminiscent of the rollicking stories of the mid twentieth century, but with humor woven into the story.

Mothstorm is a book that children of all ages will love and that includes adults. It seems this might be the end of the Larklight series, but no doubt Philip Reeve will come up with other amazing worlds and universes to entertain his readers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (320 pgs)
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Asphodel

When a beautiful princess refuses to marry the prince her father has chosen, her father is furious and locks her in a tower. She has seven long years of solitude to think about her insolence. But the princess is not entirely alone – she has her maid, Dashti. Petulant and spoilt, the princess eats the food in their meagre store as if she were still at court, and Dashti soon realises they must either escape or slowly starve. But during their captivity, resourceful Dashti discovers that there is something far more sinister behind her princess's fears of marrying the prince, and when they do break free from the tower, they find a land laid to waste and the kingdom destroyed. They were safe in the tower, now they are at the mercy of the evil prince with a terrible secret.

Thrilling, captivating, and a masterful example of storytelling at its best. The princess’s maid is a feisty and thoroughly modern heroine, in this wonderfully timeless story.

Book of a Thousand Days is loosely based around the little known Brothers Grimm fairy tale called 'Maid Maleen'. Like the original tale a young girl is locked in a tower for 7 years by her father and when released finds her kingdom gone to marauders. Hale recaptures the essence of the story perfectly, while also doing what she does best; she re-conjures the tale as a story for young girls to read and find strength in.

From the handmaiden Dashti's journal we see the events unfold that not only lead her Lady Saren to the tower, but also Dashti. Determined to keep an accurate recounting of their seven long years in the Tower, Dashti reports vary from the mundane ("My Lady doesn't recall squinting." pg. 24) to the frightening. Each entry is marked by the number of days they have been stuck inside the tower and Hale does an excellent job of communicating both Dashti's hope that things will work out and her despair that they will never see the sky again.

The book is separated into two parts. There is the first part, which speaks of their time in the Tower and the second part, which talks of the after. In the first part Saren does little more than complain, moan and make Dashti's life more difficult then it already is. The moments of peace that descend are too far between and by the end of the second year even Dashti is becoming sick of Saren's whining. The second part Saren becomes slightly less of a burden. She spends much of the first half of the second part still whining and scared, but a gift from Dashti and a job she is good at lifts her spirits a lot. I liked her better for the job, though what she continually asks of Dashti is beyond the pale.

The villain, Khasar, is despicable and terrifying. He sold his soul for a dark power that gives him an advantage, but makes him as inhuman as possible. How Dashti's deals with him is fitting. Saren's beau, Khan Tegus, is both flawed and perfect at the same time. He breaks his promise to Dashti and Saren, but when the true history between him and Saren is revealed is understandable.

The novel has a distinctly asian flair to it--from the pictures that 'Dashti' draws in her journals to the belief system, but it fits quite appropriately. There is a number of ironic twists, but this is basically a story driven by characters. Like every day life not everything that happens to Dashti is 'adventurous' or 'amazing'. We are basically reading her diary and like any other diary there are mundane things that are important to her, but not necessarily life shattering.

Book of a Thousand Days is a wonderful, amusing and thoughtful book that promotes a protagonist who isn't beautiful, but relies on her wits and her inherent good nature to survive. Dashti really epitomizes the old saying 'do good unto others' because proves it daily.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bitter Sweet by Michelle Levigne

Bitter Sweet by Michelle L Levigne
Publisher: Mundania Press LLC
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (175 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 suns
Reviewed by Orchid

What can a princess do when Prince Charming isn't?

Vevina started out like any fairy tale princess, with a christening and a magical gift and betrothed to a handsome prince from a neighboring country. The only thing she had to worry about was the typical witch or evil enchanter appearing when she turned eighteen.

Then Fallon, her Prince Charming, revealed he was anything but charming. His plots stole nearly everything and everyone Vevina loved, and he tried to make the rest of the world think it was her fault. There was only one thing to do, and that was to beat Fallon at his own game and reveal his lies to the whole world. With the aid of a friendly spirit and the magical healer, Ambrose, Vevina disguised herself and headed into Fallon's country.

But as her teacher warned her, using the enemy's tactics led to complications that even magic might not be able to cure.

Bitter Sweet uses the magic of nature to enthrall the reader. Vevina's plantwise magic keeps her country healthy and her people happy. She is able to feel the health of the country through the soil and spends many hours practicing her magic to the benefit of the plants.

The romance which should be sweet, has a tinge of bitterness. Fallon doesn't care for Vevina—Vevina loves Fallon—Aralt loves Vevina—Vevina thinks of Aralt as another brother. Not quite a triangle of love, but very similar to one. Vevina is the sweet, Fallon is the bitter of this book. In fact the young prince is evil beyond his years. Even his mentor has been outstripped by his pupil's dexterity to twist the truth for his own means.

Questions appeared as I turned the pages. Will Vevina find out Fallon's true nature? Can she refuse to marry him? Will she realize how Aralt really feels about her?

Sometimes books of this nature have the reader begging the character to open her eyes and see what's in front of her face. Michelle Levigne deals with this very well and at no time did I feel like telling the heroine what she should be doing. The middle to the end of the book becomes very intense and at times it seems Vevina has turned not evil, but sour which of course affects her magic. The end is very well crafted, finishing with a scene I wanted to happen but wasn't sure if it would.

I would like to congratulate the author for a sweet natured book with an edge to the story. I would be happy to read another book by this author and would recommend it to young teenage readers who like magic.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Starcross: Larklight 2 by Philip Reeve

Starcross: Larklight 2 by Philip Reeve
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (370 pgs)
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Orchid

Art and his family are invited on a fantastic free holiday to the exotic Asteroid Belt, in a remote part of space near Mars. Taking the train, they arrive to discover that nothing is quite as it seems – the hotel slips curiously back and forth through time, and the guests behave rather strangely too. What is behind these bizarre goings on? It’s up to Art, Jack Havoc and his sister Myrtle (against her will) to get to the bottom of things. But the giant sand clams and man-eating starfish which roam freely nearby are nothing compared to the True Enemy, which is cunning, sinister, and almost unstoppable, and may resemble a hat . . .

I couldn’t believe it when the invitation arrived. A free holiday in the Asteroid Belt sounded too good to be true. Regrettably, it was.

With a hook like that on the cover who could resist reading the second volume in the Larklight adventures? Just when things had settled down and the Mumby’s could enjoy family life again, the universe has another surprise for them.

Art and his family are enjoying a well earned free holiday at the Starcross Hotel in the Asteroid Belt. Art is suspicious when he finds the hotel slips backwards and forwards in time, as does the sea on the beach across from the hotel. There is also the matter of the strange hats. Everyone seems to be wearing them, but as soon as the hats are on their heads, they start to act strangely.

Myrtle is a bit miffed when Jack Havoc arrives, she hasn’t forgiven him for not contacting her after he left Larklight some time before. Necessity draws the three of them together to try and rescue old friends, defeat old enemies and discover the True Enemy.

Myrtle, Jack and Art are separated when the True Enemy makes his move, but all behave with heroic bravery to fight back and hopefully win the day.

Myrtle remains a well brought up young lady who always follows the path of well bred females. Art is still the cheeky young man who loves to tease his sister, but at the same time is protective of her. Jack is now working for the British Empire and he and his varied crew of aliens are eager to trounce the enemy and win the war.

Once again the story is filled with bravado, derring-do and adventure. Enough excitement and chases to stir any young person’s interest. The train journey through space was intriguing. The logical mind had to be suspended as the train track went from asteroid to asteroid and eventually puffed into the station at the asteroid called Starcross. The story moves from Starcross to the main asteroid station, and out into space, each scene keeping the reader on the edge of the seat and hurrying to read more.

Philip Reeve is an expert world builder and although we know in our world traveling by steam train through space is impossible; he makes you feel that in another world it might just happen. Once again the author has brought Victorian England to life in a very surprising way. To Art and his family their lives are fairly normal. To those of us bound to Earth everything they do is truly amazing.

Starcross is an excellent sequel to Larklight but also can be read alone. Be warned however that to read one is to hunger to read them all. Definitely a book for all ages.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dragon’s Gold by Piers Anthony & Robert E. Margroff

Dragon’s Gold by Piers Anthony & Robert E. Margroff
Publisher: Mundania Press LLC
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (210 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Cholla

When Kelvin was a child, his mother read to him from the Book of Prophecy and he asked what the poem meant. Now he was about to learn.

The Kingdom of Rud languishes under the heel of a usurper; an evil sorcerer has taken the throne in the name of his wicked daughter. Even deep in the forest, away from all power, the people tremble and await the day of prophecy's fulfillment. It cannot come too soon: Charlain and her children are soon to lose their home to the tax collector.

But Kelvin and Jon have other plans. they have found a dragon's territory, where scales of purest gold, shed by the dragon, lie free on the ground for anyone with courage, or innocence, to take.

And the words of Mouvar the prophet echo across Rud.

It all started so innocently, but then, doesn’t it always? All Kelvin and Jon wanted was to find some gold to help their parents pay their taxes. What they ended up with was the adventure of a lifetime. Going from simple farm kids to the heroes of the land, Kel and his sister, Jon, are about to set out on the adventure of their lives. Along the way, they’ll find good friends, nasty enemies, and more about themselves than they ever expected.

Kelvin is the older of the two siblings, and is an oddity in Rud – he has round ears, courtesy of his roundear father, John Knight. Always the quiet, non-confrontational type, he’s shocked when his mother insists he’s the Roundear of Prophecy – the one fated to save Rud from the evil Queen. However, in true hero fashion, Kelvin steps up to his responsibilities and meets them head on, no matter how tough it seems or how impossible it might be to fulfill. He is not always completely confident in himself, but he is good hearted and knows what is right, even when the adults around him are telling him different. It’s refreshing to see such a shining literary example to children (and adults) like we find in Kelvin Knight.

Jon is Kel’s younger sister, who’s only goal in life is to be taken as a man. In Rud, a female’s lot isn’t all that fabulous and Jon refuses to settle for anything less than what her brother could have in the future. So, it’s no wonder she’s tagging along with him on his adventure. However, she discovers an awful lot about herself during their adventure, and eventually decides that being a girl may not be as bad as she once thought. Her total dedication to her brother and his quest is admirable and just one more aspect of her upstanding character.

Dragon’s Gold is a great introduction to the world of fantasy for any young reader as well as any seasoned lover of the genre. Full of action, magic, dragons, and more than a touch of humor, it’s sure to pull you in from the first words and refuse to let you go until the very end. With a well thought out plot, engaging characters, and something lurking around every corner, you’ll never get bored in the land of Rud!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Faerie Rings: The Book of Forests by Diane DeKelb-Rittenhouse

Faerie Rings: The Book of Forests by Diane DeKelb-Rittenhouse
Publisher: Magic Carpet Books
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 10+
Length: Full Length (317 pags)
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Orchid

Rose, Brian and Lily live in Marchland, Vermont where their parents are preparing the family cottage for sale. Rose finds the Book of Faeries, some mysterious rings and then uncovers a hidden, magical door. The three slip through the portal into the land of Faerie where elves, wolves, dragons and other demons surround them. The trio battle a series of dangers-including losing the memory of who they once were-and risk becoming slaves to a world of strange creatures dominated by a Queen who may or may not be a long-lost relation. The reader is irresistibly lured through the magic door along with Rose, Brian and Lily into a dangerous and enchanted land both alluring and treacherous where they must mysteriously find themselves before they can return to the lives they once knew.

The summer holidays for the Seward family should be a happy time. Unfortunately Mrs Seward’s aunt has died and they have the unhappy task of sorting out her home on the edge of the forest. The three children, Rose (14 y.o.), Brian (12 y.o.) and Lily (10 y.o.) are unaware their parents can’t afford to keep the house and intend to put it on the market.

While sorting through Great Aunt Edith’s things they find three lovely rings and each child receives one as a memento of Edith. While their parents are out the children also find “The Book of Forests” and their adventure begins when the book helps them to open the Green Door into the land of Faerie.

Rose feels responsible for her younger siblings, and her magic at first seems to allow her to do this, but it is not as strong as Lily’s and cannot be relied upon. They are found by the Faerie and Queen Mab reveals the Seward’s are distant grandchildren of her daughter Gwenhafar who was banished to the world of man many centuries before. The children are tested and Lily appears to be the true heir to the throne. The Queen assures them she can return them to their own time at the instant they left, so they settle down to enjoy and learn about the land of Faerie. Unfortunately unrest and distrust is taking over the land and Queen Mab needs to solve her problems as well as assure her people all is well now that the heirs have returned to Faerie.

Allegiance is also given to the Queen by wolves, serpents, cats and many other types who can all change to human form when required. Rose is headstrong and finds herself in trouble more than once, but her friendship with Eamonn, brother of the wolf chief, saves her from too much peril.

Fantasy tales always catch my imagination and this is one of the best. It has the magic and mystique of the land of Faerie, but remains believable because Faerie is built with similar constraints to the world we know. The story provides.

This book holds the attention and stirs the imagination. Handsome heroes, strong warriors, nasty mindless flits and huge ever hungry trolls, they are all within the covers of The Book of Forest and weave together to make a truly enchanting read. Plus Rose, Brian and Lily get the chance to be treated as royalty and dress up in fine clothes. Even the Seward’s cat is not as it appears in the everyday world of Vermont.

Told from Rose’s point of view it also reveals how a fourteen year old girl manages to solve her difficulties and protect her siblings.

A truly captivating book for any age. I would recommend this to any lover of fantasy as a book that must be read.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Freaksville by Kitty Keswick

Freaksville by Kitty Keswick
Publisher: Leap Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full (290 pages)
Rating: 5 Suns
Review by: Cholla

I didn't go looking for trouble, but it found me anyway...

Too young to die. I had to act. I had to think. My pulse knocked hard. My brain wouldn’t function. This was all my fault…mine. I’d brought danger to Gillie with my stupid freakish gifts. If I’d never followed Josh, none of this would have happened. We would be safe in our boring routine. Josh’s lips would never have brushed mine. I’d never have known his love. My heart wouldn’t feel crammed beyond capacity. We wouldn’t be trapped in Bridges Auditorium with two crazed teenage werewolves…. Even with my dying breath, I wouldn’t veer from my heart.

Death by wolves, bring it on.

High school sucks when you live in Freaksville, also known as Stony Creek, CA. And what would make living there so much better? Special powers enabling you to see the future. Right? Not quite. At least, not as far as Kasey Maxwell is concerned. After having been blessed with the ability to see the future on her sixteenth birthday, things haven’t quite been the same for her. Armed with her sharp wit and her best friend, Gillie, Kasey does the best she can to just muddle through.

Kasey is your typical teenager. She thinks her parents haven’t a clue; her best friend is the greatest ever, loves to gab on the phone and believes that shopping can cure anything. She is also a total and complete crack-up. Using humor as both a defense mechanism and as a way to bolster her courage when it’s flagging, she’d be one of those girls you loved to hang around. Although she has a tendency to complain (what teenage girl doesn’t?) and underestimate herself, she has a strong support system in her parents and her best friend. And with them, she knows that she can overcome anything thrown at her. Psychic powers and all.

Josh Johnstone, British hottie supreme, is in California on an exchange program. He’s wise to Kasey’s act and refuses to let her get the best of herself if he can help it. He’s confident, courageous, and harboring a secret of his very own. Having grown up with a supernatural secret himself, he’s just what she needs to grow and become more secure with her abilities. Armed with a quick wit of his own, he and Kasey make the perfect couple. Their teasing, yet flirty conversations are engaging and entertaining, as well as very real-to-life.

Freaksville is a laugh-out-loud chronicle of Kasey Maxwell’s venture into ghost hunting, all things paranormal, and her first real boyfriend. Written as a series of blog entries, complete with comments, Ms. Keswick not only moves the young adult novel into the modern era, but also hooks the readers with her fun, flowing style and irrepressible sense of humor. From her witty chapter headings to the mystery surrounding the ghosts inhabiting the school’s theater to all the yet-unmentioned surprises lurking within, the author will capture your attention and hold it hostage until you’ve reached the end. A highly enjoyable read that left me anxious for the sequel.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Cinderella Swap by Linda Palmer

The Cinderella Swap by Linda Palmer
Publisher: Sugar and Spice Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (175 pgs)
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Fern

When high school sophomore Ren Montgomery rescues a shy teenaged girl from a bully, she has no idea that the girl’s big brother, senior Dugan Donovan, is her secret crush. He not only thanks her in person, but drives her home, which should be the beginning of a wonderful relationship. Unfortunately Ren’s mom, a juvie judge, greets Dugan by name, which is never a good thing since it means she first met him in court. Though Ren is ordered to forget the boy, she can’t. Her secret psychic gift—a flash of color that reveals the soul—tells her that Dugan is as good on the inside as he looks on the outside. And while she’s perfectly happy to have a secret boyfriend, Dugan will not cooperate. It’s mutual need that finally brings them together. But will their “Cinderella Swap” remain strictly business?

The Cinderella Swap is a story that is much deeper than a reader may initially expect. To be certain, having a heroine fall for an unobtainable hero with a juvie record is intriguing. There is a ton of angst and heartache just waiting to happen. But author Linda Palmer takes things up a notch by adding a dash of pulse-pounding suspense and a pinch of the paranormal to keep us on our toes.

From the start, you’ll enjoy the voice of Ren, the outspoken yet kind-hearted heroine. She’s a girl who knows what she wants, even if everyone–including the boy in question–tries to tell her to find someone else. Fortunately, her ability to see the soul shades, aka the auras of those around her, tells her what she already knows. The drop-dead gorgeous Dugan isn’t a bad guy at all, regardless of his past. She just has to find a way to get past his defenses and prove to her authoritarian parents that he’s changed. It’s during one of their encounters that Ren meets Bo, Dugan’s boss and mentor. One touch–and a flash of deadly soul shade black–warns Ren that Bo isn’t who he seems. She isn’t sure what to make of what she discovers until she notices Bo’s interest in Payton, Dugan’s young and impressionable sister, and things take an unexpected turn.

Without risking giving anything away, I can tell you that when the story delves into the darker elements and themes, I couldn’t stop reading. Ms. Palmer has done a wonderful job of merging youthful romance with mystery. You’ll have an idea of what’s going on, but I can guarantee that you won’t see what’s coming. The beginning sets up the romance, while the suspense hits near the half-way mark. I soared through the pages, anxious to see where the journey would lead, and didn’t stop until I finished.

The material itself is tightly written and flows nicely. Though written for young adults, I thoroughly enjoyed The Cinderella Swap, and recommend it to both teens and parents alike. Be sure to pencil this delightful story onto your TBR list.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Ring by Bobbie Pyron

The Ring by Bobbie Pyron
Publisher: Westside Books
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (253 pgs)
Sun Rating: 5 Suns
Reviewed by Fern

Plagued by slipping grades and a budding criminal record, Mardie’s heading down a path of self-destruction she can’t seem to avoid. Unlike her perfect older brother Michael, who does everything right according to their father, Mardie can’t meet those high expectations. But when she discovers a girls’ boxing club at the gym, Mardie’s drawn in by the fighters’ fearlessness and strength. Having already lost her parents’ trust and shunned by her boyfriend and even her best friend, the ring is the only place left where no one judges her. Angry and hurt by the state of her life, Mardie can’t wait to start throwing punches. But her wise and patient trainer, Kitty, a former boxer who’s coached her share of troubled teen girls in the ring, shows Mardie that boxing isn’t just about fighting—it’s also about strategy and mental discipline—the things that make a fighter into a winner. Mardie begins to apply the lessons she’s learned in the ring to her battles at school and especially at home, where she finds she’s not the only one struggling for acceptance. And, as she trains for her upcoming championship bouts, Mardie hopes to find a way to make her parents proud. Filled with exciting sports action, The Ring is an inspiring story of a girl learning to believe in herself.

The image of a girl in a plain white tank top with a pair of tomato-red boxing gloves trimmed in satiny black–the simple title, The Ring, placed directly in the center of her chest. Simplistic yet somehow provocative; her arms are up, her chin is tucked to her chest, and though you can’t see her eyes, you can perceive her readiness to take on the world.

This was my first impression upon opening Bobbie Pyron’s inspiring and unforgettable coming of age story The Ring, and I’m delighted to report that much like the image that engaged my attention, I couldn’t put this fantastic tale of teen angst, love, forgiveness, acceptance, and learning to believe in yourself while getting comfortable in your own skin, down.

The troubled young woman presented in the beginning of The Ring is not a pretty sight, and at times, you won’t like our misunderstood heroine very much. Mardie isn’t perfect by any stretch. She’s selfish, she’s rude, and she’s hateful to those that love her most. But ultimately, that’s what makes her so real. Because really, what teenager doesn’t strike out at those closest to them in an effort to gain notice?

Are Mardie’s parents really so bad? No. But she truly believes that they are, to the extent that she continually lashes out and makes the entire family miserable. No one is safe from her rage. Not her idealistic father, her understanding step-mother, or her “perfect” brother who just so happens to have a weighty secret of his own. In her quest to eradicate the emptiness that is consuming her, Mardie attempts to drain away the happiness of those around her, even as the guilt of doing so devours her soul. The story isn’t always easy to read, especially when Mardie is at her worst. But there is a beauty in the darkness of the material, and by the end of the first page, I was transfixed.

By peeling off the taint that shrouds Mardie slowly, Ms. Pyron allows us to witness her gut-wrenching decline and consequent rebirth. The bitterness that blankets her is stripped away layer by layer, revealing an insecure girl who is desperate to be loved and praised. It is then that you learn Mardie’s choice of company and thoughtless actions are fueled by her intense desire to belong. In her journey to self-discovery, Mardie introduces the reader to a dazzling and memorable cast of characters. You’ll love Mardie, her parents, her brother, and the exceptional supporting cast that make The Ring so much more than your average uplifting tale. So many individual stories are entwined, and in a six-degree kind of way, come together perfectly at the story’s conclusion. I can’t reveal too much, but as I went into the story blind, I can honestly say I feel that is the best way to experience it.

This is only the beginning of a bright and amazing future in author Bobbie Pryon’s career. The Ring is a definite must read that no one should miss.