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Friday, February 26, 2010

Island Sting by Bonnie J Doerr

Island Sting by Bonnie J. Doerr
Publisher: Leap books,
Genre: Action/adventure, contemporary
Length: Full Length (276 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Kenzie didn’t expect her first summer in the Florida Keys to be murder. Cute guys, awesome boats, endangered species, gun-toting thugs...

When city girl Kenzie Ryan moves to a Florida wildlife refuge, she plunges straight into an eco-mystery. Kenzie trades New York streets for Keys pollution cleanup, and now, instead of hailing cabs, she’s tracking down a poacher of endangered Key deer.

Her new home does have some benefits—mainly Angelo, an island native, who teams up with her to nab the culprit.

But will they both survive when the killer turns from stalking deer to hunting humans?

Environmentalism leaps to the fore in this absolute page-turner by Bonnie Doerr. I love the fact that a couple of young people are trying to make a difference in the survival of an endangered species. Island Sting is a fantastic adventure with far more meaning than most.

Young Kenzie Ryan, a recent arrival in Florida, stumbles into a desperate situation and finds herself trying to rescue a wild deer.

Island Sting kicks off with a desperate effort and near drowning. Kenzie has all the reason in the world to be grateful to the good-looking (bronzed with wavy dark hair and a rock-start face!) and obviously very capable fellow who helps her – who is just a tad mysterious too.

It is not long before Kenzie stumbles into the local deer-poaching operation. Fortunately, she’s become friendly with the equally horrified guy, Angelo, who is as disgusted by the slaughter and as determined to catch the poachers as she is. Their chief issue isn’t so much the ability to work together, as agreeing on exactly who they are pursuing.

Many creatures other than the tiny Key deer gain Kenzie’s interest, from the Hawksbill turtles to the terrifying turkey buzzards. Doerr presents area ecosystems in part of the plot with great clarity; her descriptions never slow the pace at all. She hammers home her eco-message rather thoroughly, but it certainly is part of Kenzie’s motivation.

The plight of the deer, the beauty and overall feeling for nature and that sense of common-sense naturalism extended by the very-likable Angelo all add to the impact of the eco-message here. Some of the beauty of nature contrasts sharply with some of the less-civilized aspects of life in The Keys.

The overall sense of life in and around the local wildlife refuge is something of an exotic locale- far different from the many high-school hall YA’s I have read of late. Some aspects are a bit predictable, but nonetheless Island Sting offers an absolutely gripping plot line. The great characters and constantly fast pace of action make it a page-turner. Writing style suggests it is most appropriate for younger teens, but the lively action offers broad appeal.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Beautiful Dead, Book 1 - Jonas by Eden Maguire

The Beautiful Dead, Book 1 - Jonas by Eden Maguire
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (279 pgs)
Rating: Aurora Best Book
Reviewed by Fern

Not alive. Not dead. Somewhere in between lie the Beautiful Dead.

Something strange is happening at Ellerton High. Phoenix is the fourth teenager to die within a year. His street-fight stabbing follows the deaths of Jonas, Summer, and Arizona in equally strange and sudden circumstances. Rumors of ghosts and strange happenings rip through the small community as it comes to terms with shock and loss.

Darina, Phoenix’s grief-stricken girlfriend, is on the verge. She can’t escape her intense heartache or the impossible apparitions of those that are meant to be dead. And all the while the sound of beating wings echos inside her head...

And then one day Phoenix appears to Darina. He tells her that she must help Jonas—the first of the four to die—right the wrong linked to his death. Only with her help can Jonas finally rest in peace. Will love conquer death? And if it does, can Darina set it free?

Not alive. Not dead. Somewhere in between lie the Beautiful Dead.

Every once in a while, a reader will come across a book that changes them. Perhaps it’s the characters that seal the deal. Or maybe they are blown away by the prose and the attention to detail. There are numerous things that can enhance the experience, be it an emotional scene, a brand new concept, or imagery that is impossible to shake. In Eden Maguire’s poignant and unforgettable first novel, Beautiful Dead, Book 1 – Jonas, you get all of those things – and more.

As an enthusiast of the paranormal, it’s not often I find something that shakes the foundation of the genre and provides a glimpse of something extraordinary. In this, you are introduced to a new breed of zombie, revenants referred to as the Beautiful Dead. Brought back to the land of the living – what they regard as the far side – each are given a strict amount of time to settle the mystery surrounding their deaths. If they succeed, they will be granted peace to rest. If not, they will return to an endless limbo, set adrift in the place between life and death. Aided by a multitude of powers, they exist under one ruler, their overlord, and his will is law. Never have I read a concept so brilliant, and as the story progressed, impossible to tear myself away from.

When Darina learns of these alive, yet dead, beings, with her beloved boyfriend, Phoenix, existing amongst them, she is willing to do anything it takes to remain inside their circle by his side – including putting her own safety at risk. What occurs next is the piecing together of a jigsaw puzzle, starting with Jonas – one of the four classmates who have died within a year. His time is nearly up, and finding his murderer is the only way to see him off to the other side. Determined to unravel the mystery, Darina soon discovers the road to salvation often results in the path to destruction. So many things occur, all of which I refuse to spoil, but suffice it to say all of the characters, including those who are not the beautiful dead, leave a lasting impression.

Yet, even with the exceptionally presented elements of suspense, teen angst, and troubled pasts of the cast, it is the doomed love affair between our heroine and her deceased beau that makes Beautiful Dead so hauntingly beautiful, to the extent that you’ll think of Darina and Phoenix for hours following this particular installment’s completion. Young love is often tragic, but never has the sacrifice to experience it been so extreme. For no matter what Darina does to aid and assist her lost love, ultimately, he will have to go, and she will have to face a future without him. This certain truth is always present, and even as they cling desperately to the time they are given, you can’t help but hear the clock ticking in the distance.

It is impossible to praise Beautiful Dead as I so long to, so I am doing the one thing within my power to convey just how exceptional this story is by rating it as an Aurora Best Book. Ms. Maguire has cemented herself as an author who stands apart in a genre saturated with sparkling vampires, werewolf tribes, and characters who couldn’t grasp the eccentricities of love if it stared them in the face. I cannot wait for the second story in the series, Book 2 – Arizona, and will be the first in line to purchase my copy on release day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Miles to Go by Gracie C. McKeever

Miles to Go by Gracie C. McKeever
Publisher: Awe-Struck E-Books
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 16+
Length: Full Length (181 pgs)
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Orchid

Innocent and courageous, embittered and sexually precocious--together teens Chris and Tori discover that they have miles to go.

Tori dresses in black and also has lots of jewelry hanging from her clothes and her ivory colored body. Chris has an athlete’s body with soft brown Neorican skin. His life revolves around the athletic track.

Both Chris and Tori run the track each morning. Chris because he is on the athletics team and also wants to beat records. Tori runs to exorcise the things that plague her from the past.

This unlikely duo become close, despite many misunderstandings. Tori’s ex boyfriend doesn’t believe they’re over and he makes life complicated for them. Include family problems on both sides plus friends who interfere out of concern, and it’s surprising Tori and Chris get together at all.

The question is will they stay together? Drugs and violence influence their decisions, and both have hidden secrets from each other. Will they even want to stay together?

Miles to Go is an unusual book. The story is told by both Tori and Chris with a look inside each of their heads to see what and how they think. It proves all romances are not sweetness and light, and opposites can attract. At first Chris seems to be a nice young man, dedicated to his sports and getting good grades. Various events make him bend to fit the circumstances but he doesn’t lose the basic principles of his life.

Tori on the other hand is mixed up, thinks she knows what she wants, but is really a very confused young lady. One thing pulls her above the norm and that is her determination to do well and graduate early. Neither she nor Chris will let anything interfere with their studies.

I honestly didn’t think the hot sex scenes were necessary as the strong bond between the two was evident without including this. This was definitely a book written for the older teenager to enjoy and possibly relate to, especially if they like something a little out of the ordinary.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Risky Business by Julie Kimbrell

Risky Business by Julie Kimbrell
Publisher: Hearts On Fire Books
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (174 pgs)
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Orchid

Eighteen year old Dru Stevens is very independent. She and her mom have been on their own for the past fifteen years, since her father died. She doesn’t want anyone’s pity or help, especially not a guy. She continually struggles with being very short and is constantly gets into fights over it. Since her mom hasn’t dated much and Dru swore off guys, their both surprised when her mom falls in love with a cop. Then along comes, Casey Daniels, the first guy to ever catch Dru’s eye. Too bad he thinks she’s a kid, even after she tells him otherwise. After a rocky start and proof of her age, Can Casey convince her to let him into her life.

Eighteen can be an awkward age, but not for Dru. She and her mother have been self sufficient since Dru’s father died and her main aim is to win a scholarship. She earns money working at a local restaurant and tries not to get too mad when people comment on her shortness of stature. Most people think she’s about twelve or fourteen years of age. This causes confusion when her muffler drops off and is returned by a gorgeous hunk who assumes she is driving illegally.

She arrives home where her mother reveals she has been dating a cop for some months without telling Dru in case nothing came of it. Both her mother and Mike, the cop, seem sublimely happy. Mike is widowed with a fourteen year old daughter who goes to Dru’s school.

At work Dru finds the customers from hell have landed in her section. First a man who seems intent on starving his kids, then a blonde “Barbie” doll and her friends. To top it all Casey, the man who returned her muffler, also turns up for a meal.

Risky Business is funny and sad at different times. Passion plays a very big part in Dru’s life, even though she insists she doesn’t want a boyfriend. Her temper is uncertain and she struggles hard to keep it under control. Her attraction for Casey seems to be going nowhere as he still believes her to be underage. Add to this her two best friends who are always there for her, and her mother’s romance which appears to be heading for wedding bells and Dru’s life is definitely changing. But is it for the better?

I truly like this book, but at times I felt something was missing. It seemed as if the author didn’t always tell us the full story.

Both Dru and Casey are strong characters and I really sympathized with Dru’s attitude to life, love and everything. She is delightful and full of life. Casey, although a strong macho man, has a lot to learn about female emotions, but is still a strong man determined to protect those he loves.

This book is certainly suitable for twelve years and up. It is fun, fast paced and a very enjoyable read.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tagged by Mara Purnhagen

Tagged by Mara Purnhagen
Publisher: HQN Teen
Length: Full Length (208 pgs)
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Suns
Reviewed by Dandelion

Can Kate Morgan stand up for herself—without being labeled a snitch?

Kate is just as confused as her best friend, Lan, when she arrives at Cleary High to find the building's been "tagged" with a life-size graffiti mural. Could the culprit be one of their friends or classmates? And is the kind-of-amazing creation really vandalism, or a work of art? She's tempted to stay out of it—mostly because, as the police chief's daughter, she's worried about being labeled a snitch. But when the same mysterious graffiti starts appearing throughout the state, putting more pressure on the authorities to catch the vandal, her investigative instincts kick in.

Now Eli, Kate's favorite coworker at the local coffee shop, is MIA. With Lan preoccupied with her own boy troubles, Kate needs to figure out some things on her own. Like why she can't stop thinking about Eli. And what she will do when all the clues about the graffiti point to someone she's close to…

Author Mara Purnhagen tackles the typical teen angst issues in her YA novel Tagged – falling for the wrong guy, trying to figure out where you fit in, dealing with the school’s superficial drama queen – while combining them with a rather unconventional subplot. Kate is our heroine, an average high school junior who spends her time hanging out with her best friend, Lan, serving lattes at the local coffee shop, and trying to figure out along with everyone else in town who’s been spray-painting life-size gorillas on buildings in Cleary, South Carolina. In the middle of the gorilla controversy, Tiffany Werner, the school’s golden girl, is holding the birthday party of the century – and it’s being filmed by MTV, so every teen in town wants an invitation. Tagged follows Kate as she tries to keep her sanity and her integrity while also falling for her co-worker, Eli, who just happens to be not-quite-broken-up-with his girlfriend, Reva.

There’s a lot going on in this story, from a history class discussion about What Is Art to how much teenagers will sacrifice their pride to get a birthday invitation from the school’s rudest and most egotistical student. Kate is a likable character, as are many of the minor characters: the Vietnamese Lan, who always stands up for herself; the aw-shucks Eli, who’s great boyfriend material; Kate’s parents; her coffee shop boss Bonnie; and the collection of students at school round out a realistic cast.

Likewise, the ways the characters act toward each other are believable as well. We’ve all known the obnoxious “princess” who thinks high school revolves around her, as well as the goofy but lovable guys who play the “ham” everywhere they go. Kate’s parents are appropriately embarrassing at times but supportive at others, and she’s a pretty well-adjusted girl herself who manages to do the right thing most of the time, even though it’s not the most popular thing.

So why my hesitation in giving this book a more glowing review? To be honest, I have a couple of concerns about the plot. First, the fact that someone is spray painting gorillas in a Southern town seemed to have potentially racist connotations – yet that’s not something that’s ever explored by the author or any of the characters. Why gorillas? The question is never answered at all in the book. Second, the fact that the mystery of the gorillas drives so much of the plot left me a little confused. I just didn’t care enough about where they might have come from or what their message was supposed to be. Readers are led to believe that there is great significance in the graffiti, but when the true culprit and motive are revealed, it’s more anticlimactic than anything.

So, while I liked the main characters well enough (and I’m a sucker for a sweet love story), it took me a long time to finish this book, because I wasn’t as engaged by the conflicts as I wanted to be. Purnhagen is a solid writer, and I might pick up another book by her, but I’ll be looking for something more substantial next time.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Operation Normal by Linda V. Palmer

Operation Normal by Linda V. Palmer
Publisher: Uncial Press
Genre: Paranormal
Length: Full Length (168 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 Suns
review by Snapdragon

Ally desperately wants "normal" for her half-sister Kayly, something she never had herself thanks to her liberated mom. First on her list of to-dos is contacting Kayly's dad, who promised he'd stay out of Kayly's life just as Ally's own dad once did. When Kat leaves the country on assignment, Ally drops in on the guy to introduce him to his baby daughter. But Kayly's dad doesn't live there--her half brother, Zach, does. And his shocking offer to help Ally find "normal" is nothing compared to what happens next.

Operation Normal, starts off anything but normal, with an abrupt and riveting confrontation. Ally Mills meets the father of her half-sister, and he is far far from what she expected (or hoped) he would be. She’s pursuing some way to make her dysfunctional family function a bit better for her sister though, and the pursuit lands her in the midst of an intrigue, as well as in the middle of love. The intricate family relationships mean that meeting the man of her dreams could be a bit of a concern (until you work out exactly how they are related…)

While we are hoping for true love in one corner, all unexpected, another relationship of Ally’s will present himself… and its more in the way of heart-wrenching than merely surprise. In fact, so many specific incidences (or people) blast in as a ‘surprise’ it’s a challenge to review this without including spoilers. It’s one bombshell after another for poor Ally, and every single one entertains the reader.

The quick pace here is helped by the immediacy of first person point of view, from Ally, a high school senior with adult issues and a vastly mature approach to life, and a truly original approach to problem-solving. ESP and psychic powers play a believable role here, perhaps because Ally simply accepts ESP as another family oddity, right along with a vegan mother who jets off out of the country on occasion.

Ally is intensely believable. The quality of her friendships as well as her trust and appreciation of her friends is one continual standout in this work. Friends and friendship add a just-right dash of heartwarming to this tale that otherwise is largely about personal struggle, obligation, and the duty. Minka, Heath, and even Adele-the-psychic all contribute more than everyday help, but come through for Ally when it really counts.

In Operation Normal, it’s all far from normal, but somehow, it all seems totally plausible. Perhaps it is the wonderful characters, interesting plot, or the straightforward writing style… whatever it is, this book is entertaining. Do read: 5 suns.

Friday, February 12, 2010

An Audience for Einstein by Mark Wakely

An Audience for Einstein by Mark Wakely
Publisher: Mundania Press
Genre: Futuristic, Sci-fi
Length: Full Length (176 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Professor Percival Marlowe is a brilliant, elderly astrophysicist who's dying, his greatest achievement still unfinished and now beyond his diminished means.

Doctor Carl Dorning, a neurosurgeon, finally discovers a secret method of transplanting memories from one person to another, thanks to Marlowe's millions.

Miguel Sanchez, a homeless boy, agrees to become the recipient of Marlowe's knowledge and personality in this unorthodox experiment, enticed by Dorning's promises of intelligence, wealth and respect, but dangerously unaware that his own identity will be lost forever.

What results is a seesaw battle for control of Miguel's body, as Marlowe learns to his dismay what his lifetime of arrogance and conceit has earned him.

And when Marlowe stumbles upon the shocking procedure Dorning used in desperation to succeed, the professor does what he must to defeat Dorning and redeem himself at last.

An Audience for Einstein is a truly futuristic Science fiction novel. We step back in time to fully comprehend the goals and dreams of one of the chief characters, Astrophysicist Professor Percival Marlowe. Then we meet him again, in his waning years, his achievement as yet incomplete. You cannot help but to sympathize with his increasing frustration, even desperation.

Young Miguel Sanchez (in a collision course with the good professor from the start) is motivated by his circumstances to voluntarily take on the knowledge, education and memory of the aging Professor Marlowe. We readers understand Marlowe’s motivation in imparting these (which on one hand might seem a great gift) because he so desires that his greatest achievement will be reached. The means are brought about by a possibly less-than-ethical doctor, who’s own greatest achievement allows that access to the mind’s memories.

But its never so simple as all that. The gift of mind and memory will result in the loss of the self-–Miguel, as he was, will cease to exist, merely becoming a tool of Marlowe. We see this coming before Miguel, and wait for the contemplative and soul-searching on a journey that must surely and thoroughly affect all three chief participants in the scheme.

The relationship that develops between Marlowe and Miguel is surprising and fascinating. Once or twice, in the war between he who was Marlowe and Miguel’s own personality, the personalities don’t stay quite true to themselves (Miguel especially, has a knowledge level that seems to increase in the struggle to assert itself, then recedes…which appears to be the point, but it seems hardly fair that he both uses and rejects Marlowe’s intelligence, at the same time.) Certainly, the personality struggle is the absolute center of the story, and at the same time, difficult to exhibit coherently. Other characters, like Natalie, offer a different (if limited) perspective on the ongoing impact on Miguel. In addition to the main characters, it’s wonderful to find secondary characters so full and rich and well-developed.

Science is a major component in this original novel which is ultimately about people, choices and identifying right and wrong.

A lot of An Audience for Einstein recalls the older, classic stories of science-fiction. The achievements of the future; the science supporting the goals are almost in sight, and the moral and ethical cost is part of the plot. This work offers a rather dark premise and not surprisingly leads to a rather dark story.

Very satisfying and engaging.I give this story 4 suns.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams by Rhonda Hayter

The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams by Rhonda Hayter
Publisher: Dial (Penguin Books)
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Age Recommendation: 8 – 12 yrs
Length: Full Length (256 pgs)
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Cholla

Abbie Adams and her family come from a long line of witches, and she’s having a tough time keeping it a secret from her best friend and the rest of her school. Especially the day her little brother morphs into a wolf and tries to eat his teacher.

That’s also the day her father brings home a kitten. Abbie’s been begging for a cat for months, and she falls in love with that fluffy fuzzball right away. But there’s something peculiar about this kitten, and it just might take a witch like Abbie to figure out what it is.

Being in the fifth grade isn’t easy to begin with, but for Abbie Adams its pure torture. First, she has the world’s worst teacher, Ms. Linegar. Then, she can’t tell her very best friend about her secret – that she’s really a witch. Toss that together with being a witch in a world of mortals and you have a recipe for trouble, Abbie Adams style.

Abbie is your normal fifth grader, aside from her magical powers. She has an annoying little brother, the best best friend ever, and parents you can either love or not, depending on the day. She tries her best to do what’s right but sometimes her eagerness gets the better of her. Her world changes forever when her father surprises her with the gift of a little black kitten one afternoon. The arrival of the kitten, Benjamin, is when Abbie’s determination and witchy powers are put to the true test because there’s something special about her new little friend.

The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams is a great book for kids and adults alike. It takes humor, history, and a mystery and mixes it all together with a bit of mischief on the side. The author has a way with making you laugh while teaching you at the same time. She makes history appealing to young children as well as making her characters real. All throughout the story, Abbie’s internal dialogue lets you know that she’s done things she shouldn’t and that she knows just that – but she also acknowledges the fact that sometimes Abbie just made bad choices and regrets the outcome. And by the end of the book, you’ve solved a problem, learned a bit, and have been taught a bit about being a better child.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Matter of Justice by Steve Alcorn

A Matter of Justice by Steve Alcorn
Publisher: Mundania Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 Suns
Review by Snapdragon

Dani Deucer is a precocious twelve-year-old girl who wants to be a detective. She and her sister Stephanie are spending the summer in Three Rivers, California when Dani meets hobo Mott Simon. At first Dani is afraid of Mott because he’s different – he spends most of his time digging up the town’s flowerbeds! But when Mott is accused of murder Dani sets out to prove that sometimes first impressions can be wrong.

Like Harper Lee’s classic To Kill A Mockingbird, A Matter of Justice is a young girl’s exploration of what it means to be different. It’s also an exciting mystery that will keep readers guessing to the last page.

Book lover Dani can’t help but be a little distracted by the weirdo adult Mott Simon, when he happens to cross her path. She compared him to a river rat and thought he smell like peat moss, and every once in a while, she worried he might not really be a very nice man. Still, she hadn’t been brought up to make fun of people. And she had bigger worries, like what on earth will she do when she actually finishes every worthwhile read in the tiny library? If Dani’s summer sounds a little boring to you, imagine how she feels about living it.

Dani is twelve but she has a strong sense of justice. When Mott lands in trouble, she’s sharp enough to know there’s something fishy about the accusation--even if Mott’s behavior used to “give her the willies.” Let’s face it, and old hobo that likes to dig up flowers-–he’s an easy target for somebody. Dani realizes if she doesn’t help him, no one else will. More, his predicament is an opportunity; an opportunity for Dani to practice her best Nancy Drew type detecting, and figure out what really happened. She has a whole lot of curiosity to focus on something, and figuring out what really happened sure beats following chipmunks around.

Dani has to take on adults and along the way accept a little unexpected help from sister Stephanie. All together, summer in the California town of Three Rivers turns into a real who-dunit for Dani. The mystery takes a while to build into action, but Dani is so amusing, she carries the plot along until stuff happens.

I love the Three Rivers descriptions, from the little town and library to the mountain scenes. Dani and her family are such regular people, they could be anyone’s family. Stephanie is the oh-so typical sister, but still sometimes surprising. Sudden and unpredictable things happen, like a near hit-and-run accident. We know something more is going on in Three Rivers than meets the eye.

Fun and engaging from start to finish, you won’t be able to put down Alcorn’s A Matter of Justice.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Gate Walker by Chris Stevenson

Gate Walker by Chris Stevenson
Publisher: Lyrical Press, Incorporated
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (234 pgs)
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Orchid

Don’t drink and drive, especially when traveling the space-time continuum highway.

Avalon Labrador is convicted and sentenced to die for her husband's murder. In a twist of fate, before the sentence can be carried out, an odd priest informs her that she is being given a second chance to right the wrongs of the past. Avalon must die, but before she does, she must also give birth to a part of herself.

Avy Labrador doesn't know what to make of the odd twists life has thrown her way since she turned eighteen. All she knows is that something isn't right and it has to do with the death of her mother and her husband many years ago. As if an odd priest, powers she never knew she had, and a brand new magician boyfriend aren't enough to turn her life upside down, she finds her own life in danger as she tries to solve a crime that happened more than three decades ago and prevent a new one from occurring.

Will Avy accept her fate and learn to become a Gate-Walker in order to clear her mother's name and find the real killer?

An eighteenth birthday should be celebrated, but Avy's party comes to an abrupt end when her Uncle Drake arrives home. First he tells her friends to leave, then he tells Avy she should strike out into the world on her own. He provides her with a large cheque and a letter from her real mother.

Avy is the biological daughter of Avalon who was married to Drake's brother. Avalon was sentenced to death for her husband's murder. Many years and appeals later the execution had to be delayed when it was found Avalon was pregnant. Avy's mother died giving birth to her and no one knew who her father was. Drake and his wife adopted the baby, Avy.

She finds a job with Sebastian, a magician. She enjoys the work and also feels an attraction for Sebastian. The letter convinces Avy of her mother's innocence. Avy is determined to clear her mother's name - but how?

Father Janus, an acquaintance of Sebastian, tells Avy she is a Gate Walker and can travel through time and space. He instructs her to use this ability to find the real murderer and stop more evil happening. Avy's response is total disbelief - then Janus walks through a wall and doubt creeps into her mind.

With the help of Sebastian and Chubby, a prison guard who knew and adored her mother, Avy sets out to learn how to use her new skills and prove her mother's innocence. They also have to keep one step ahead of the mysterious individual who is following their every step.

Gate Walker is a captivating book. Mystery, magic and the paranormal blend together in a perfect mix. The story holds the imagination and although Avy's abilities would not be believed in the world as we know it, between the covers of Gate Walker they seem very natural.

Avy acts much older than her eighteen years, but at times her youth shows through. She uncovers a lot of information about the people who were around at the time of the murder. In the process she also discovers information about her uncle which refers to his illegal activities in the present time.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to fantasy enthusiasts who also like romance. Romance readers would find this story very much to their liking as the paranormal abilities add excitement and intrigue. Young Adults of sixteen years an over would also find this to their liking. Definitely a book I would read again and again - I keep coming back when I really enjoy a book. Well done Chris Stevenson, have you written any more books like this? If so I'd love to read them.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Goose Girl (Bayern Book 1) by Shannon Hale

The Goose Girl (Bayern Book 1) by Shannon Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: Adventure Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (383 pgs)
Rating: 5 Suns
Reviewed by Asphodel

Anidora-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kilindree, spent the first years of her life listening to her aunt’s incredible stories, and learning the language of the birds. Little knowing how valuable her aunt’s strange knowledge would prove to be when she grew older.

From the Grimm’s fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she could become a queen, Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original and magical tale of a girl who must understand her own incredible talents before she can overcome those who wish her harm.

The original fairy tale that Goose Girl is based upon, The Goose Girl, is followed faithfully throughout this novel. Hale does an excellent job of expanding upon that tale and adding her own elements without making the additions seem superfluous. Ani (or Isi as she spends much of the book called) isn't a character to take lightly, but she doesn't come off as annoying or 'all-powerful'. Her growth is what makes this book so enjoyable.

Ani isn't like other princesses in that she doesn't act spoiled or enjoy being the center of attention. She has self-confidence issues, as well as an uncertainty about her purpose in the world. After her hand-maiden's (Selia's) betrayal and the knowledge that relying too heavily on 'magic' only ends in disaster, Ani takes her life in her own hands and begins to become a stronger person. She accepts that she had taken everything for granted in her old life and from then on proves that she isn't useless.

I adored Ani turned Isi. She never quite let herself become an angst-machine, doesn't wallow in self-pity and someone come save me woes. She makes a plan, finds it to be flawed in the extreme and makes a new plan. She's persistent in her belief that she needs to get back to her Kingdom (Kildenree) and tell her Mother the Queen about her hand-maiden's treachery. Once the imposter princess' plans for Kildenree and Bayern are revealed, she redoubles her efforts in order to save lives.

The isolation and aloneness that Isi feels, first as the Crown Princess of Kildenree then as Isi the Goose Girl, is keenly felt throughout the novel. Its not that Isi didn't want to make friends, or have people to talk to, but her experiences have taught her that betrayal lies around every corner, something she could no longer afford. As she grows to know the other animal keepers however she begins friendships that are true and lasting--Enna who feels a kinship with fire, Razo with his quick wit and humor. In the forest as well she met people that she felt comfortable with--Finn and his mother Gilsa, who help her when she is injured and sick.

Her romance with Geric is the least covered plot development in the whole of the book I think. Its not that it was sudden or abrupt, or felt rushed, but its simple just another piece of her tale. Their connection was real and their conversation was easy banter. I enjoyed seeing their interactions because during them Isi really proved how far she had come from the beginning of the novel when light chatter at a tea party tangled her tongue.

The finale was heart breaking and filled with courage. Isi may not have had the power of 'people-speak' (a magic that makes the user's words seem like the truth), but she had the power of understanding. She knew the people she was fighting with and for, she understood their fears and strengths, knew she could count on their support and love. They didn't fight just because they were her friends, they fought because they believed in her ability to help everyone.

Goose Girl is a wonderful, shining example of young adult literature that doesn't take growing up lightly. Though a fantasy with magic and royalty, Goose Girl is really a book about a girl who learns her own value through adversity and pain.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Divided Loyalties by Vikk Simmons

Divided Loyalties by Vikk Simmons
Publisher: Awestruck Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Short Story (84 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Before John Higheagle came into her life, sixteen year old Trisha Braedon thought she had it all under control: school, her college scholarship, and her parents divorce. But the gentle, charming newcomer, with his environmental causes and crusading spirit, isn't like anyone Trisha had ever known.

Gossipy and amusing, Divided Loyalties, drops us right into the deep end with young Trish Lee. She’s a good student with plans for college, a good friend, and an interest in the one guy should probably stay away from.

Jon Higheagle, eco-nut extraordinaire, does not know when to quit. Trish knows from the first her family will detest him, that Nita is already interested in him… and that his goals, chiefly for the environment, are admirable. His approach--whether arguing with the lunch lady or taking to the picket line-–worries her some.

Funnily enough, the two are similar in some ways, neither completely recognizing that the other is equally driven. Trish is a very responsible person with a serious goal of a college scholarship. Jon is driven by environmental concerns and a desire to pull the community into more environmental awareness. The background for this story--the high school and the events around the ‘green’ movement--are offered in a wonderful, fresh way. You won’t stop wondering what will happen next.

Friendships are vital and Trish and Nita’s bantering is incredibly real and believable. The more intense Trish is, the more devoted to work, school and grades, the more Nita tells her to ‘lighten up some.’

Occasional explanations of our main characters' thoughts/reflections threaten to slow the pace at certain points. Trish’s relationship with her mother is never effectively shown, nor do we understand their various ‘misunderstandings’, although these are described on several occasions. However, the always engaging dialogue really carries the story. A slow moment here or there is not too much of a distraction, as so much about this tale is unpredictable and unexpected.

Simmons' conversational style brings all that was familiar about high school back into sharp focus. Somehow, its all a lot more entertaining through the eyes of Trish and her friends, than I remember it actually being! You don’t have to be a young reader to enjoy Divided Loyalties.