Young Adult

From Frights to Flaws (Alyssa McCarthy’s Magical Missions: Book 1) by Sunayna Prasad

Sunayna Prasad’s From Frights to Flaws tells the story of twelve-year-old Alyssa McCarthy’s unexpected encounter with magic. Alyssa is kidnapped from her home in New Jersey by Beau Dunchap (Master Beau), an evil wizard, and taken to his dark magic center in Fiji. Master Beau plans to kill Alyssa so that he can absorb her strength and fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming France’s dictator, but he quickly realizes that murdering Alyssa will not supply him with enough power. Therefore, Master Beau and his crew kidnap Alyssa’s friends—Hailey, Jasmine, Destiny, and Madison—in order to kill them, as well. With help from a few benevolent wizards and magical creatures, the five girls battle Master Beau and his black sorcery.  

Prasad’s writing is playful and lighthearted, despite the abundance of dark magic throughout the storyline. Each page beckons a reader to open his or her imagination as they take in incredible sights, such as a tiny man made of marble, a potion that adjusts you to new time zones, and a glittery lamb who can break sleeping spells. But while the magical world that Prasad creates is certainly wondrous and full of endless surprises, the book’s characters are disappointingly underdeveloped. Flat dialogue and a pervasive lack of emotion distract from the events unfolding before the reader. Thematically, the exploration of Good’s eternal struggle against Bad is a major part of the story, as Alyssa witnesses, firsthand, the extreme kindness and extraordinary evil that magical powers can yield. From Frights to Flaws leaves readers with questions about the fates of Master Beau and Alyssa, which will both surely be addressed in Prasad’s next book.


Aging Out by L. Lee Shaw

Teenagers Adam, Soosie, and Myron have found themselves thrown together at Pittison House, a government-run youth home whose inhabitants jeeringly call it “the Pitt.” Adam has been there the longest, thrown out of his own home by a mother and a grandmother who could not have cared less about his existence. Myron, Adam’s roommate, is facing family issues of a different sort: he is the son of the biggest crime family in town. Soosie ends up at the Pitt after beating up her older sister, though no one is quite certain what drove her to do it. Though all friendless, the teens find it impossible to connect with one another, their difficult pasts and family trauma throwing up obstacles against genuine friendship. Now, however, they are approaching their eighteenth birthday, which means they will “age out” and be evicted from Pittison House. The teens are given positions at a local long-term care home for the elderly called Soda Spring Care Center, and it is here that they learn more about each other – and about a disgraced journalist named Adah Skelton who has been sniffing around the place and apparently has a vendetta against its inhabitants.

Aging Out is a heady reminder of the value that close family and good friends contribute to our lives. At the novel’s start, one wonders just how far these characters will be able to take themselves, as they all are so deeply damaged by darkness from their pasts that it prevents them from being able to see the happiness in other people. What makes this story so enjoyable, then, is watching its characters work through this pain, while allowing space to acknowledge how our upbringing shapes our lives irreversibly, whether for good or for bad. Though some of the characterization in Aging Out is abrupt – especially in the case of Soosie, whose cold aggression thaws a little too quickly to be entirely believable – this is the type of novel that demonstrates how small stages can tackle big themes, and how stories do not have to be expansive to be powerful.


Rae by Robin Whitten

four stars

Rae jogs across the soccer field to hit the ball. As she runs, a mysterious transformation takes over. She becomes bigger, stronger, and faster with big teeth and dark fur. This turns out to be the beginning of Rae’s adventures, and the first of many “gifts” that she will come to discover. More powers are uncovered when her long-lost father, a Shaman, and Nate, a childhood friend, return to her life. Even her loving boyfriend Samuel reveals a new side of himself. With them comes danger shrouded in secrets, and Rae is determined to use her newfound abilities to help them.

This is a coming of age story about a girl who discovers that she is a shapeshifter and a shaman, with the ability to move between worlds. The writer does a great job describing Rae, and what it would be like to discover new, exciting abilities everyday but at the same time, realizing that you’re surrounded by hidden dangers. Rae is a great character who is caught up in a confusing, difficult situation, but she’s determined to push through, fight, and win. From the beginning to the end, Rae is surrounded by secrets. That’s an essential part of the plot, but many of the secrets feel unnecessary, and not all the secrets are uncovered by the end of the novel. For example, why is Rae in such grave danger? We learn near the end of the book that Rae is the only one who can get a certain object. But Rae’s father doesn’t know that until closer to the end of the book. Also, while the author explains what abilities a Shaman might have, what a Shaman actually does is not fully explained. If these issues were addressed, the book could easily be improved. Nevertheless, it is an exciting and engaging tale about a young girl discovering her new abilities.


Part of Me by Deanna Kahler

four stars

partA young love story like no other, Deanna Kahler’s Part of Me takes readers on a journey beyond the bounds of the physical world. High school senior, Chase tries to live a normal teenage life: have a girlfriend, go on his senior trip, prepare for college. Yet his deep-seated feeling of something missing in his life keeps pushing him to discover what he really wants and who he really is. On his senior trip to the beach, he finally makes an appointment with a psychic and begins to come face-to-face with his future and his past. This experience leads him to work with a past-life regression therapist back home in Detroit. After practical research and a number of regression sessions, Chase finally discovers what he was missing all along.

Part of Me is a fantastic story based on metaphysical and transpersonal principles. Deanna Kahler does a great job expressing the typical reaction of Chase’s teenage friends to the idea of psychics or past life experiences. She shows the deep importance of having a dear close confidant, and how that can make dramatic differences in a person’s life. Kahler also paints a clear picture of the value in opening to new possibilities, ones that can’t easily be explained or understood. The only drawback within Part of Me is in the description of Panama City, Florida. From the description of the city and the beach, it seems clear that the author has not spent any time in Panama City Beach or in downtown Panama City, Florida. Better research and more accurate descriptions of the area would offer more validity to the story. However, the overall plot is intriguing enough to allow for such oversight. Deanna Kahler’s Part of Me is a highly entertaining and mind-opening read for young adults.


You Make Me Happy by Ed Seeberger


519iHe0LtxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In a world full of fairy tales, the misfits and outcasts of the world are often left without relatable characters to shape their own love stories after. The characters in Ed Seeberger’s You Make Me Happy are socially awkward, physically disabled, or ambitious to a fault, but love and companionship all manage to find them, with a few bumps in the road. The book follows the determined and motivated Sharina Milani as she heads to the University of Washington, a step in her ultimate plan to attend medical school. She meets smart and sweet science whiz/teaching assistant Wally Jenkins, whose life experiences makes it hard for him to connect; his foil is the popular, well-moneyed Michael Berenbaum, always aggressively pushing for Sharina’s affection, physical and otherwise, as she remains uninterested. While Wally’s social awkwardness continue to cause friction and misunderstandings with Sharina, the overzealous Michael puts her in danger in more ways than one.

The characters are so real to the author that he has even included illustrations; delightful, bright images that add dimension to his descriptions of the characters, and pop up in moments of great change or growth of feelings in the narrative. Washington itself plays a prominent role in the story, and Wally and Sharina’s trip to Mount Ranier National Park is an emotional high point for their relationship, as well as a love letter to the pines and peaks of the state. However, as Michael becomes the story’s antagonist, his actions become a bit too villainous to be believable. Too many loose ends are left frayed as the book comes to a close, and it leaves the reader without a satisfying conclusion. Nonetheless, there’s still plenty of joy to be found following the characters of Seeberger’s book as they search for meaningful connections.


A Moment in the Sun by Tory Gates

four stars

momentIn the corners of Japan, there are people afraid to live their lives and instead choose to remain stagnant. A Moment in the Sun by Tory Gates spins a unique story about the different types of love and human connections that condemn or save us. On the surface, Rei is a model high schooler – artistic, hardworking, and well-liked. Yet the past she believes she got over, the brokenness she ran away when she lost her family brings out insecurities she can’t seem to shake. Only when she is asked to help rehabilitate others like her does she begin to process the dark place she escaped from. For years Rei existed in isolation, never making contact with the outside world in a desire to disappear. Hidden from society, these hikkikomori or “Dwellers” as Gates puts it, are effectively silenced by their own distress. Though Rei is now supported by her lover Yui and her classmates, she realizes that without public awareness, the Dwellers will never receive the help they need. Even so, it will take all the empathy Rei and the members of her Book Club have to offer and then some. To understand their former member Sho’s similar withdrawal, each member must step out of their bubble and touch a darkness that exists outside of their understanding.

Hikkimoris are a phenomenon unexplored outside of Japan, yet affects as many as a million citizens. In choosing to bring this to a Western audience, Gates parallels the attempt Rei makes to shine a light on the voiceless. Never heavy-handed, the writing both leaves out judgment for each individual’s history, yet points out the excuses beyond shame that trap them. Alongside sensitive souls like Sho and traumatized ones like Rei stand a spectrum of fleshed out characters. Yui’s unconditional love, Rika’s willingness to share her happiness, and ultimately even the privileged Tamiko’s shock into change carries its own weight. Through a mixture of flashbacks interwoven through the slow-paced narrative, the novel is delicate in its handling. As a whole, the reading experience lapses into a midpoint between Western and Eastern cultures that might end up alienating both sides at times. While imperfect, the moment in the sun that Gates paints demonstrates how powerful an open-minded love can be in the face of tragedy and survival.


Eleven Days by Michael Crump


The novel Eleven Days by Michael Crump is about a sixteen year old girl named Itzy and the eleven days that changed her life forever. When Itzy’s great-aunt Dolores is killed in Guatemala where Itzy’s parents are from, the three of them end up going to Reu for the funeral. While in Guatemala with her parents, Itzy hears terrible stories of what it was like during the civil war there in the 90’s and even recently. One day, while going for her daily run, Itzy is attacked by members of the corrupt local law enforcement. She fights back and accidentally blinds one of them. The book tells of her narrowly avoiding going to prison but letting herself and many others down in the process. Eventually Itzy and her family return to the United States where they had been living and Itzy is able to begin to move on with her life.

This book is a wonderful coming of age story that tells of relationships in which a girl is finally respected as an adult, and delves into describing the violence of war and what life is like for the poverty-stricken and oppressed people of Guatemala. It deals with the struggle of self-preservation and protecting two friends at a potential detriment to many, and discusses the heroism of rebel fighters in a conflict that often seems hopeless. While describing a teenager’s life as a normal student and athlete, Eleven Days shows how in a very short period of time a person’s life can be thrown into danger and be completely turned upside down. It is an inspirational tale of an amazing young woman who is strong enough to overcome the violence and disappointment of a traumatic experience and continue on with what seems will be a very fulfilling future.


Like a Hero by Michael J. Bowler

four stars

After their parents die in a tragic car accident, Vincent and his younger brother, Dennis, struggle to find ways to take their minds off of the cards they’ve been dealt. Then Dennis has the idea to create a superhero to finish his dad’s work, which, as a police officer, was to keep the streets and citizens of Los Angeles safe. By day, Vincent works at UCLA in a lab, studying various dangerous drugs and trying to support himself and his younger brother, Dennis. By night, while Dennis is home manning the police scanner, he becomes Invictus, donning a mask and cape and taking to the streets to fight bad guys and help people. When Invictus starts spending more time with two boys who live heartbreakingly tough lives on the streets, Dennis decides to help out in the only way he sees possible—by joining a gang that sells a super-drug that destroys brain cells at a rate that’s 100,000 times faster than that of a normal drug. Dennis hopes he’ll be able to glean information to help his brother shut down the operation, but what he doesn’t realize is that the gang has other plans for him that might cut his mission…short. Will Invictus be able to stop the gang from irrevocably harming the citizens of Los Angeles? Will Invictus be able to save his brother, or even himself?

Like a Hero‘s quick pace and complex characters keep the reader on their toes and begging for more. Michael J. Bowler weaves a compelling story that is highlighted by its diverse characters from different backgrounds, although at times the characters’ lifestyles seemed a little too mature for a young adult audience. And even though the dialogue felt stilted at times, the characters felt alive. At first glance, Like a Hero is a riveting narrative about a superhero fighting to make his beloved city a better place. But it’s even more than a good story. Like a Hero is a call to society to be better and to sacrifice themselves in order to help others—a message that anyone, not just young adults, should listen to closely.


I Know When You’re Going to Die by Michael J. Bowler


The concepts of predestination, of being able to see and affect the future, of having a unique glimpse into the workings of life and death, all pervade the narrative of I Know When You’re Going to Die by Michael J. Bowler. The novel opens on a young man, Leo Cantrell, who is painfully introverted and reserved, serving his local LA homeless population at a mission shelter. He is only sixteen, but he already possesses wisdom, kindness, and compassion beyond his years. He frequents the homeless shelter with such regularity that he knows everyone, and everyone knows him. There’s one man in particular, though, who catches his eye one fateful day. He stares deeply into his soul, and the man endows him with a remarkable gift: the ability to see exactly when and how others will die when he looks into their eyes. The man tells him, “I gave you a great gift, boy. Or maybe a curse.” And for the remainder of the novel, Leo explores whether his newfound ability truly is a gift or a horrible curse. His entire world turns upside down when he’s forced to look into his best friend J.C.’s eyes, and he sees his brutal murder only two weeks in the future. It’s a race against the clock for them to try to figure out how to bend the rules of predestination, prevent the murder from happening, and identify the would-be killer. With the help of the new girl at their high school, Laura, J.C. and Leo attempt the nearly impossible and defy fate. Will their attempts be thwarted? Will they be able to ensnare the potential murderer? Only time will tell.

Because I Know When You’re Going to Die is written in the first-person, Leo’s perspective, the reader enjoys a deep introspective look into his psyche as he processes the implications and repercussions of the ability he didn’t ask for, but nonetheless has. It’s an intimate way to tell such a heart-pounding tale that centers on the ideas of fate, decency, and humanity. Leo grapples with what is right, with what it means to have the power to look into someone’s eyes and see their death. He struggles with whether or not to warn them. Would he want to know, were he in someone else’s shoes? When it comes to his closest friend in the world, though, the choice is clear, and that choice informs and drives the remainder of the narrative into complex and interesting places heretofore unimagined by other novels of the same genre. Death is an inevitability, but this coming-of-age YA novel explores the very real lengths to which we will go to preserve love, life, and all that is precious within those concepts. Beyond the scope of the narrative, the language of I Know When You’re Going to Die captivates and enthralls the reader to the very end. It’s the kind of literary style that gets wonderfully stuck in your head and entreats you to keep reading well past the time you told yourself you would stop.


Listen to the Light by Michael J. Bowler


Michael J. Bowler’s Listen to the Light introduces the reader to twelve-year-old Colton Bowman. Colton lives in Northern California with his parents and his older brother, Austin, who is autistic and non-verbal. Colton speaks directly to the reader, explaining that his brother’s behavior embarrasses him and isolates him, especially because Colton tends to punch anybody who calls his brother “retarded” or makes fun of him in anyway. This earns Colton the nickname “Psycho Boy” and eventually even drives away his one remaining friend, Casey. That day, Colton is so angry that he storms into his brother’s room and tells Austin how much he hates him, and that he wishes that Austin would just disappear. Unfortunately, Austin does just that and Colton, eaten up by guilt, withdraws even more, spending every waking hour searching the woods behind his house for Austin. People come to believe, in fact, that Colton killed his brother. Colton, however, has other theories. After making contact with a girl named Keilani, whose autistic, non-verbal brother had also disappeared under similar circumstances, Colton becomes convinced that his brother was abducted by aliens. The truth, however, is even more extraordinary, as Colton learns when his brother returns as suddenly as he disappeared, five years later. Austin has not aged at all and, this time, Colton and his family are not the only ones who want answers.

Listen to the Light is a good story and will keep any reader on the edge of their seat. There are some stumbling blocks, however. For example, the first section of the story, prior to Austin’s return, seems rushed. More attention to detail in this area would shift this from a good story to a great story; specifically, less telling and more showing. The characters are not quite as interesting or compelling as they could be. Furthermore, some of the dialogue is stilted and unnatural, especially Colton’s. He does not sound like an adolescent of the twenty-first century. Nonetheless, the plot moves quickly and readers will want to stay with the story to the very end, despite these issues.


Koolura and the Mayans by Michael Thal


koolKoolura is no ordinary girl. Neither is her best friend Leila. Koolura is a twelve-year-old girl with marvelous powers. Indeed, she keeps discovering new ones. In this third book of the Koolura series, she finds out where they come from and what she is capable of, a realization that may just change the course of history. While visiting Mexico, the girls discover a device which hurtles them back in time to an early Mayan civilization. The Mayans have troubles of their own—the alien Aquari people have all but enslaved them. They need a goddess to set them free. Could Koolura be the one?

In his third installment of this series, Thal, expertly transports the reader through time and promises a nail-biting ride through an ancient civilization riddled with plot twists and turns. Koolura and Leila, our beloved heroines, suffer somewhat from a lack of depth, as it is clear these characters have so much more to offer to readers than what they were able to show. Placed against a richly varied landscape of ancient culture combined with a dangerous alien race, the setting falls just short of believable and leaves the reader with the feeling of having one foot in ancient times and another in the future. The author has woven a dynamic story with a powerful plot, but leaves too much on the table to really make the story live up to its full potential. On a positive note, the strong female leads will appeal to young girls and the author reaches out to deaf & ASL teens, inviting them in and giving them a front row seat to the adventure.


The Fourth Piece: Order’s Last Play, Book One by E. Ardell

four stars

fourthWhile performing a stunt in his family’s pool, Lawrence finds himself caught up in a vision of a guy who is dying. Oddly enough, Devon and Lyle, Lawrence’s older twin brothers, experience the same vision. Although visions and dreams are not uncommon for these brothers who possess psychic powers, this particular vision is very unusual. When Devon enters one of Lyle’s dreams, the twins realize that the young man is their older brother, Evan, who mysteriously disappeared years ago. In order to save their brother, Devon, Lyle, and Lawrence will have to reveal their true identities as they engage in alien warfare.

E. Ardell—a librarian quickly morphing into a rising author—pens a story that appeals to teens in her sci-fi debut. While much of her futuristic plot focuses on familial relationships—particularly between four brothers (Lawrence, Devon, Lyle, and Evan), Ardell emphasizes that some things just haven’t change in the year 2022—in Houston, Texas and beyond. Although now replete with humans and Visitors (aliens), the world continues to have race relation problems, and this time with Vulattos—half-humans, half-aliens. Ardell’s unique plot unfolds little by little as told through three concurrent first person narratives (Lawrence, Devon, and Lyle). Amid psychic weirdness, racial issues, and a Gothic-styled war, Ardell punctuates a little bit of everything expected in a teenager’s world (i.e., sarcasm, comedy, and plenty of flirting that coincides with raging hormones). The Fourth Piece is the first in the Order’s Last Play series. Throwing in a flurry of twists and turns along the way and closing on an interesting cliffhanger, Ardell sets the groundwork for book two, The Third Gambet. A one-of-a-kind story, The Fourth Piece is earmarked to become a favorite teen read.


I Did It for Brian. Teens: Save Our Oceans, Save the World by Kathleen Boucher

four stars

brian“Tied to the ocean by the tragic accident of her older brother, Tina discovers the chains around her heart are woven into the fabric of the sea water.” Fourteen-year-old Tina Armstrong records in her diary the various activities that unfold during the week leading up to her class science project. It was around this time three years earlier that her older brother Brian died in a freak surfing accident. Knowing that Brian loved the ocean, Tina chooses environmental issues dealing with water for her project topic. But since the issues are too broad, Tina turns to her younger brother Steven and Thomas, a boy who she really likes, for help. The collaborative research pays off, especially when Tina and Thomas realize that they have a lot in common.

Boucher’s latest read spurs teen readers to care for the environment. Written in first person, Boucher’s narrative covers an assortment of themes in a few chapters. Top on the theme list is environmental issues (i.e., water, plastic, pollution). Tina’s research includes a flurry of information, such as websites and videos, as well as a “call to action” Facebook page titled Helping the Ecosystem. By providing these links, Boucher offers her teen audience an interactive component and an opportunity for them to not only peruse the material, but also to seriously contemplate their involvement with the environment. Obviously, Tina and her family have experienced loss. Not shying away from the topic of death, Boucher presents a wholesome approach to loss and recovery. Lastly, as with good teen literature, there is teenage romance. Boucher keeps her plot moving by incorporating the above mentioned themes within chapters that shift from Tina’s narrative and diary accounts replete with engaging dialogue, helpful resources, and light romance. I Did It for Brian is an educational and fun read.


The Kingdom of Oceana by Mitchell Charles

four stars

kingdomBrothers always fight, but not quite like Nahoa and Ailani. Fighting between brothers is different when the brothers are princes, heirs to the throne of Oceana. While the two brothers have always had a tenuous relationship fraught with the everyday disputes that siblings encounter, things become even more difficult after Nahoa convinces Ailani to come with him to Waimoku Falls. Waimoku Falls is one of the most forbidden and cursed places on the big island and it is here that Nahoa and Ailani hasten their journey into manhood and destiny. Kingdom of Oceana by Mitchell Charles describes Hawaii five centuries before the modern day. This lush, beautiful, and largely untouched place is brimming with history, myths, and magic. As Nahoa and Ailani journey into manhood they must also choose to protect the integrity of the island and its people or to barter away its natural riches in the name of progress and wealth.

The Kingdom of Oceana is truly a page turner, constantly leaving the reader wanting to know what is just around the corner and how a problem will be solved. Our only complaint is that we were left wanting more. More of the island’s history, more details about the cyclical nature of the families who rule the island, and more journeys. This lack of build up to events can make some things seem very abrupt and without enough explanation. However, The Kingdom of Oceana is truly a pleasure to read and we can easily envision it being transformed into a successful animated film.


Running Through A Dark Place by Michael Bowler


runningThe second book in the Children of The Knight series, Running Though a Dark Place, begins with a young hero’s death and the sacrificial magic that allows him to return. Bowler’s fictional universe combines the chivalry and knighthood of King Author’s Camelot with a modern fight for disadvantaged children’s rights in California. King Author has travelled to the present day in order to fight, along with his son Sir Lance, the societal forces and government institutions that trap foster children in dangerous homes. The children and teens who are involved in the civil disobedience against the government fight tirelessly for their rights as humans and attempt to create a new world where their innocence is preserved. Sir Lance, a young man himself, leads the children as they explore their beliefs, sexuality, and family bonds.

Bowler takes on an ambitious web of characters and plot lines in Book II that is easiest to follow with familiarity with Book I. He does a stunning job in giving a pure voice to underrepresented children in the US foster car system. He also uses social media and modern technology in relevant, relatable ways that offers an interesting juxtaposition to the courtly knighthood of Arthur’s Camelot. At times, the speech patterns of each cultural group become predictable and come across inauthentic because they are not used consistently. Fans of science fiction and social justice will find a fascinating combination of genres in this epic tale that leaves the reader eager for the next installment.


Children of the Knight by Michael Bowler

four stars

michaelThe metropolis of Los Angeles is in big trouble – drugs, violence, and decay plague its streets, and an epidemic of discarded children perpetuates the cycle of crime and dereliction. The adults of the City of Angels are not any help – corruption in the government, police force, and school system only feeds the problem. Homeless loner Lance is adrift in this world, until he meets the legendary King Arthur, who has reappeared to create a new contemporary Californian Camelot in Michael J. Bowler’s Children of the Knight. With Lance recruited as the First Knight of Arthur’s new round table, the two will find unlikely heroes in the unwanted youth of the city and wage a new crusade for rejuvenation and against social injustice through acts of noble insurrection.

Bowler has a distinct writing style and approach to young adult themes, and fans of his other work will instantly feel right at home with this urban fairytale. There is a versatility to Bowler’s imagination that allows the fantastical scenario to breathe and feel real, and his language is flexible while always remaining true to its distinct voice – Bowler’s fluid narration seamlessly reflects the backgrounds, thoughts, and personalities of a host of diverse characters. An insistent and occasionally incorrect usage of older period English may irk some readers, but largely adds a special flavor to Bowler’s relatable fantasy world. Children of the Knight is chock full of action and adventure, but its greatest asset is its depth of emotion and bold confrontation of its urgent themes. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure, Children of the Knight importantly examines and offers a solution to the systemic injustices that affect people across the trajectories of human experience. Bowler addresses a number of serious topical issues head-on – from child abuse, to the corruption of public and government institutions, to the gaze of the media, to the troubled production and commercialization of contemporary American youth culture – to make an inspired and impassioned message promoting the need of equality and fraternity in healthy communities, and the importance of pride, self-acceptance, and faith in healthy individuals. While some of Bowler’s points become a bit belabored and other ideas and characters can seem to fall to the wayside, Children of the Knight is an overwhelmingly imaginative, rich, and exciting experience that is sure to open hearts and minds as easily as it thrill and enchants.


Helen the Transartist: The West Pole by Anita Stairs-Oberlick


helenHelen the Transartist: The West Pole begins its story where the first of the series left off. After Helen learned of her abilities and made herself a new home in the Fifth Dimensions in the East Pole, Helen has begun to devise a plan with Erin (her Cupid friend) to find her parents and to bring them to safety. Though Helen is unsure of their whereabouts, or even if they are indeed still alive, Helen and Erin are certain that they remain in the West Pole, along with six other Transartists that never returned from their journey to the other land. When a few of the Transartists gain word that the evil Queen Narcissa of the East Pole has been defeated, they devise a plan to escape to the East Pole and to transport back to their families. When only four of the Transartists return, it is made clear to Helen and the others in the town that Helen’s parents are still alive, yet still stuck in the West Pole. When an opportunity presents itself in the form of a guaranteed roundtrip ship ride to and from the West Pole, as well as a chance to become “captors” of Narcissa’s sister, Hoardella, Helen and a group of friends seize the opportunity and set off to rescue Helen’s parents. Armed with information from the escaped Transartists, the inside knowledge from Helen’s parents, and the various skills of Helen’s assembled team, a successful trip seems eminent – but how many obstacles will they encounter along the way?

In Helen the Transartist: the West Pole, Anita Stairs-Oberlick creates a world that is fully developed, from the background scenery of the towns through which the characters pass to the action of the scenes that the reader is experiencing on their journey through the novel. Each character has its own developed voice and characteristics, allowing the readers to discern between the characters easily and flawlessly. The story that is created is one that incorporates elements form both childhood and adulthood, and is a story that could be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Young readers will relate to Helen and to her friends, and will be able to connect their experiences with hers. Older readers will be able to relate to the parents of Helen and to the various supporting characters throughout the story. Overall, the novel that Anita Stairs-Oberlick created was one of adventure, heart, originality, and fantasy – and certainly one that will be enjoyed by all.


History with a Grain of Salt: Book Two by Zeno Singer


historyStriving to make the otherwise dusty pages of history glamorous and new, History with a Grain of Salt: Book Two reimagines ancient histories with a sense of humor and wisdom. Covering the age of Troy up until the death of Constantine and his fervently religious mother, Helena, Book Two gives a snapshot of the progression in time from Greek gods to the Christian Jesus. Zeno Singer uses snappy and amusing details to fuel his young readers’ imaginations, such as explaining how the first marathon was run and depicting mythological stories as though they happened in actuality. Singer seeks, in his History with a Grain of Salt series, to evoke the creativity and understanding of students regarding history in order to best teach them and help them to have long-lasting comprehension of the topics.

And for the most part Singer is successful. His chapters are brief, entertaining, and to the point. He covers an exhausting amount of history in what feels like only a few pages brimming with a sense of humor and irony. However, his technique in engaging students critically and comically backfires to a certain extent when it comes to trusting the author’s voice. Some students may not know when accurate information is being given versus imaginative, and will find his “storytelling” confusing rather than informative. That being said, most students are likely to relish Singer’s unique way of telling the stories of ancient cultures and civilizations. This is one series of history books that you won’t want to immediately shelve after having barely skimmed through.


Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot by Michael J. Bowler


warriorA unique perspective from the eyes, emotions, and minds of pre-teens and teenagers on climate change and environmental protection, Michael J. Bowler’s Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot is a fictional story with a profound message.  A Tale of New Camelot is the sixth book in The Knight Cycle series, but can be read as a stand alone novel.  King Arthur came to Los Angeles in modern times and ended up taking Lance as his son.  Now, Lance is 18-years-old and the new King of New Camelot.  Leading the Earth Warriors non-profit places him and all of those he is responsible for in a precarious situation.  Lance has faced threats on his life previously, and with his decision to turn away financial backers, whose companies are actually increasing the problem of climate change, he bravely places himself, the other Earth Warriors and the organization in harm’s way.  Though he was previously successful in getting the Constitution amended, Lance and his fellow EWs continually encounter lack of respect by their elders.

Michael J. Bowler has a way with words as he blends whimsical fantasy with modern dilemmas.  Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot boldly takes the stance, just as the cover also states, that “all life is sacred.”  This powerful message is expressed to Bowler’s readers in a way that can truly reach their hearts and minds by using a voice that teens can more easily relate to.  On top of the deep issue faced in the story in regards to climate change, Bowler eloquently writes about the beauty, strength, intelligence and power of those often tossed by the way side and looked upon as useless misfits.  Young or old, Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot is a wonderful story to dive into while making readers think twice about the health of our planet and the future for the next generations.


Spinner by Michael J. Bowler


spinnerLooks can be deceiving: fifteen-year-old Alex is cherubic, bound to a wheel chair by spina bifida, and his only friends constitute the motley gaggle of ostensible “losers” in his high school classroom for boys with learning disabilities. But in Michael J. Bowler’s Spinner, Alex harbors surprising secrets and abilities: he is gifted with the power to “spin” people, which enables him to absorb the bodily and mental hurt of others. When an evil presence rears its head and a series of grisly murders rocks his Californian hometown, it becomes increasingly clear that Alex is somehow tied to – if not perpetrating – the sordid crimes, and it is up to him and his unlikely pals to get to the bottom of it all before it’s too late.

A true young adult horror novel at first glance, Spinner is suitably creepy and gruesome, punctuated by some truly scary and pulse-pounding moments. Bowler demonstrates that he has a genuine talent for writing, and his passages are clean and clear. Well structured, Spinner unfolds easily, like the script to some lost teen horror film classic. Our illiterate, inner-city heroes are not the clean kids in tidy situations typical to youth fiction, and while some might object that the violence and carnage is graphic, that the language is coarse, that there are instances of teen drinking and teen sexuality, these qualities add a certain authenticity and cool edge to the novel. Spinner’s sincere heart is perhaps its greatest asset: beneath his book’s grim façade, Bowler offers some astute observations about teen life – capturing the doubt and insecurity of adolescence – and addresses important themes for maturing young adults, channeled through realistic character dynamics and comradery. Taking central place at Spinner’s core are complex explorations of the values of teamwork, unity in spite of differences, self-confidence, and – above all – the special power of each individual. While embracing descriptions of the practical aspects of disabilities and thus refusing to romanticize its characters and their predicaments, Spinner importantly shows us that having a disability is not just normal and natural, but can also be an empowering and special part of who a person is. Spinner is not quite a novel geared for everyone, but those that it is intended for are apt to find themselves spoken to directly, meaningfully, and powerfully. For the rest of us, Spinner remains brimming with magic and fun; opening the book is an invitation into a rich and absorbing journey that is hard to refuse.


We Have Your Son by Bridget McGowan


She’s a bit of a tomboy and perhaps, some would say, a loner. She comes from a working class family with strong, working class values, and she couldn’t care less about the name on the label that’s attached to her jeans or sneakers. No doubt about it, Emma McGregor doesn’t really fit in at her haughty prep school, and just when she thinks things can’t get any worse, they actually start to get better. When a handsome hunk walks into her homeroom on the first day of junior year, Emma finds a new, real friend… and a lifeline. Suddenly, her life takes on new shape and becomes fuller, and she gains more friends, and more self-confidence, in the process. But Emma is a bright, stellar student, and even though math might not be her best subject, she soon discovers that things simply aren’t adding up as far as her new friend—and potential boyfriend—is concerned. Jeremy Myles definitely has more than a mere air of intrigue about him, and Emma can’t help but be curious about the gaps and inconsistencies in his stories, not to mention his sometimes strange behavior, extreme secrecy, and occasional unexplained sicknesses or bruises.

We Have Your Son by Bridget McGowan is a very ambitious mixed genre novel that calls together a teenage love story and a suspense thriller. The majority of the book follows the growth of Emma and Jeremy’s relationship and raises red flags that pock the backdrop of Jeremy’s back story. With a title like We Have Your Son, it’s no surprise that that back story involves some elements of kidnapping/abduction, but exactly *what* elements it involves is indeed a surprise, and readers are sure to be shocked by what they discover. That said however, this book does leave a little something to be desired. It tells a great teenage love story, and it tells a great suspense thriller—but all told, it doesn’t necessarily tell them together. What should be two elements of one, interwoven story are presented more as two separate stories with just barely enough overlap to cloak them under the same title.


The Grubby Feather Gang by Antony Wootten


grubbyA story about war without being a graphic tale that actually involves battle, strategic planning or overt violence, The Grubby Feather Gang offers up debatable perspectives of war. Antony Wootten focuses mainly on school age children in his book, but the children’s parents most certainly come into play. It’s 1916 and George continually has to deal with a bully, who seems to sometimes be his friend. Stan often finds unpleasant ways to force George to do his homework, for example. A new girl, Emma, comes to town, and George soon discovers she is a bit mischievous. She devises a plan to get back at Stan for bullying George, but this ultimately backfires. George’s behavior throughout somewhat mirrors his father’s, but this is a sore point for George. The deeper story within is that George’s father is a pacifist and refuses to go to war; therefore, the townspeople bully him as they believe him to be a coward and a traitor. Though in the end, just as in war, it’s not all hearts and flowers, there are friendships built that will last a lifetime.

Fairly well-written, The Grubby Feather Gang is an interesting read and could easily be a great book for discussion on the topic of war and fighting with one’s children or students. George, Stan, and Emma end up in a number of situations that are truly moral dilemmas. Antony Wootten does a nice job of getting the reader to see that each character, including the children’s abrasive teacher, behave in certain ways that one simply cannot understand without digging deeper into the person’s circumstances. The challenges that adults and children face due to war, bullying, and crime are laid out for further discussion if one is willing to take the time to ponder what these things really mean to the lives of the characters and how he or she might have reacted in said situation. A nice read to start a conversation on oftentimes hushed topics, The Grubby Feather Gang is a great book to read together with one’s older elementary to middle and high school age children.


Past Illuminations: Book One by Amanda Ross

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Past Illuminations: Book One follows the fantastical journey of a young girl named Georgette—George for short. Only slightly atypical for a girl her age, George had already set out a great life plan for herself: take AP classes, get into a great college, study hard, keep her head down, graduate, and land a good job. While her friends were worrying about homecoming dresses and finding dates to the dance, George was focusing on university tours and test scores. However, when a glowing blue orb begins to follow her around, everything changes. She discovers that not only has her mysterious and rebellious classmate, Dominic, come from another realm—one inhabited by goblins and werewolves—but her parents have come from there, too! They were exiled long ago and relegated to the human world, but now political unrest stemming from the alleged assassination of a beloved leader forces them to consider sending their only child back into this magical turmoil. Along with a motley crew of mythical outcasts, George must fight a powerful goblin army to rest the truth about the murder of the realm’s former leader away from the shady new regime, and this struggle is only the beginning of her journey: to find the truth, but also to find herself.

For all of its glorious atmosphere, reminiscent of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and its ever-encouraging endorsement of the underdog, Past Illuminations: Book One falls fairly short in character development and consistency. Leaning pretty heavily on staid tropes, the novel fails to flesh out most of its characters in any real way. As it is the beginning of a series, though, there is hope yet for these stock characters to come to life. All things considered, this book is a fun start to a promising series.


The Dragon of the Month Club by Iain Reading


dragonWith dragon varieties abundant in The Dragon of the Month Club, conjuring them should be without incident. Should is the key word. For Ayana Fall and Tyler Travers, newly inducted members of the secretive and highly regarded Dragon of the Month Club, they find themselves anxiously awaiting the 13th of every month. For on that day, the newest conjuring spell is revealed and a new class of dragon can be called forth. However the location of casting the new dragon summoning-spell is in Tyler’s book cluttered bedroom, what could go wrong…the spell for starters. Ayana and Tyler are magically transported into the worlds present in Tyler’s books, breathing life into to some of literatures most fascinating and iconic stories.

The Dragon of the Month Club by Iain Reading throws open the doors to readers of all ages allowing them to fall in love with this story. If you think dragons are all that this book holds, you will be joyously mistaken. Iain Reading takes the reader on an adventure through the pages of Sherlock Holmes to the dessert planet of Arrakis of Dune to 19th century Germanic fairytales. It can be said with a certain level of distinction and notoriety, that no other book bonds together so many stories in such a fashion that is actually readable and enjoyable at the same time. With the title being The Dragon of the Month Club, many might think this is a book strictly about magic and dragons, yet you will find that what’s inside this book will leave you awe struck.


The Tails of Two Dragons Trilogy: The First Tail by T.J. Burgin


first tailIn The First Tail, T.J. Burgin re-imagines beloved Arthurian legends as ancient supernatural stories, all contained in mysterious lores, prophecies discoverable to unique beings—the Spooks. Alice is a young Spook , as spunky as she is loyal to those she loves. She takes us across her multiple lives toward reaching immortality, at which point she is fated to become a terribly powerful creature bound to spill blood: the Red Dragon. When Alice begins to understand her lore, unravel her family’s mysteries, and defend herself against The Last Descendants’ dark plans to destroy her, she must take a perilous path to develop her strongest forces from within.

The First Tail catapults readers into fast-paced action sequences, energized by Burgin’s artistic and compelling prose. Readers will enjoy beautiful images that create immersive environments as Alice jumps between distinct eras in time. Relationships between characters veer toward melodramatic at points, but are not unbelievable. Suspense is well-achieved in flashbacks and in present moments; one quickly wonders about each character’s true motivations in this complex tale. Burgin’s creativity is commendable; the Spooks and all manner of creatures in The First Tail are original, and wield magic unlike the many powers that have come before in formulaic fantasy stories. This book is a fun popcorn read perfect for fans of imaginative fantasy!


Hopeless Reign by Dove Winters


reignGinny is a lot things, but she’s definitely not queen material. She’s never wanted to be queen, and frankly, no one really wants her to be either. Her younger brother, Vian, is much better suited for the throne. Ginny would rather spend her time drinking mead and dancing into the early hours of the morning with her friends. But after a tragic turn of events, she has no choice but to take the crown. Her land is in turmoil and she has no idea who she can trust, but what she does know is that Vian must be saved so their people can have the king they deserve. However, what she doesn’t realize is that she might be exactly what the country needs to survive. And in order to ensure her people’s safety, she may just have to give herself over to the enemy.

Ginny is your typical young and reckless female protagonist. She’s strong willed and a little too quick to speak. At times her actions are predictable, as she falls victim to the YA tropes we’re all so used to seeing. Yet on the whole, she is a well-developed character. She responds to the dangers her country is facing and proves she has matured enough to be trusted, both by her people and the reader. At the beginning of the novel, it seems clear how the rest of the story will play out, but Dove Winters knows how to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. At times the action is too fast paced, but on the whole the novel is well written and intriguing. Hopeless Reign delivers a gripping tale of friendship, courage and loyalty (or the lack thereof).


Two Boys and the Rustlers by Carol Elek


boysIn 1852 California, it was every man for himself, but in Carol J. Elek’s YA tale, Two Boys and the Rustlers, it was a couple of disparate youths who organized a personal rebellion. Beginning in the San Gabriel Valley of East Los Angeles, the author introduces a story of American migration and native communication before a couple of kids take a wrong turn and discover that a most deceitful foreman has taken a few liberties with the family cattle. Surprised yet ready to cash in, the rustlers find value in their uninvited guests and take them on a journey the boys won’t soon forget. Unfortunately for everybody involved, the flimsy plot for lasting wealth leaves a few people six feet under while thoroughly frightening the inherent vice. With plenty of land to roam and potential for new experiences, young Josh and Roberto find themselves in the middle of deadly scheme that will forever alter their formative years.

While the writing of Two Boys and the Rustlers may not inspire one to pick up a dictionary, it may inspire a future writer with its stripped down approach ala Ernest Hemingway. Elek certainly affords the characters a certain amount of depth, however when times get tough, there’s not enough personal background on the two boys for a truly emotional response to the text. Amongst all the death and life-changing events, the young protagonists seem content with their predicament, only to break down at the most opportunistic of times. With that being said, the author stays clear of safe decision-making for the boys and presents realistic scenarios that will challenge the minds of adolescent readers. Given the place and time of Two Boys and the Rustlers, Elek succeeds with her portrait of sunny skies, and the dark subtext will leave a few younger readers biting their fingernails. All in all, Two Boys and the Rustlers moves swiftly and produces a surprising final act.


Oatis and Family by Phil Moore


They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and this feels like an important note to make when it comes to Phil Moore’s Oatis and Family: Life in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Teenage Amanda lost her father tragically just a couple of years previous, and is now being uprooted and moved from the big city to Amish country with her mother and new stepfather. Stan, her stepfather, had to accept this move with his company or lose his job. However, this meant that Amanda’s mother had to sell their home and leave her career as a CPA behind. The drastic cultural difference is a major shock to Amanda and her mother’s systems, but eventually they make concessions. Stan brings home a Corgi puppy in hopes of helping Amanda as she acclimates to her new life in the country. It takes a while, but eventually Oatis, the puppy, weaves his way into the hearts of pretty much everyone he comes into contact with. On one level, his overly mischevious behavior leads Amanda to extra challenges and even trouble, but his unconditional love for his family rises above his naughtiness. Amanda soon comes to realize just what unconditional love and friendship truly means. Oatis is one of her teachers, but her new friends in Pennsylvania Dutch country show her what true friends do for one another as a number of those from her previous life in the city show her just the opposite. Moore paints an endearing picture of embracing others while sharing a mutual expression of compassion and respect.

A charming tale, Oatis and Family: Life in Pennsylvania Dutch Country is not only easy to read, but it will warm your heart and help you recognize how easy different cultures could learn to accept each other if only they were willing to compromise. The cover doesn’t do justice to the endearing little story within the pages of this book. In fact, Phil Moore has done a very nice job of creating a story that will immerse you into country life with little effort. On the downside, the suspenseful events are extremely mild, and aren’t that likely to hold your attention. In an odd way, they too are sweet alongside the rest of the story. Filled with innocence and gentle humanity, Oatis and Family will transport you to a place where you fall in love with a little puppy, backward country folk, and a young teen exploring her future.


Mystic Village by J.D. Fortier


mysticMystic Village by J.D. Fortier is a young adult fantasy that is based in eighteenth century Ireland. The tale opens up by introducing the two main characters, Garth and Ariel, who live in a stone house in an Irish village. Ariel is reading to their children, Bree and Peter, by the fireplace, and it appears to be a typical cozy evening. The mystery begins when Garth is suddenly overcome with a feeling of urgency to venture out into the cold, winter weather and walk to the village. Once there, Garth crosses paths with a mysterious figure lurking in the shadows. He dismisses the thought of who, or what, it could be, and immediately heads to speak with his friend, Thomas.

Mystic Village is the perfect story for anyone who has ever been interested in, or curious about the mythical folklore of Ireland. Fortier clearly did a lot of research for this book, and that is evident in how the story stays true to the landscape and history of Ireland. The author did an excellent job implementing the Irish dialect into the characters’ speech, and readers will be sure to notice the accent written into the characters’ dialogues. While reading this adventurous tale, the audience will be transported into the storyline through the characters mysterious and magical lives, which the author describes with careful detail. At times, however, it felt as though the author put a little too much emphasis on minor details that were not extremely significant, causing the story to move a bit slowly in some places. Mystic Village is written for young readers that are looking for a fun filled reading adventure. This tale will be sure to entertain its audience with Irish mythology, while educating readers on the history and folklore of Irish culture.


Constance of Kent Street by Steven Yuresko


Set in Brooklyn at the turn of the century during the industrial revolution when America was rapidly changing, Constance of Kent Street by Steven Yuresko touches on the major life events of Constance from the ages of seven to ten. At the beginning of the novella, Constance, like every seven year old child, is headstrong and selfish. Angry at her parents for not giving her a pony for Christmas coupled with the fact that her (at the time) worse enemy, Amy, received a pony, Constance is the quintessential ungrateful child sulking in the corner. However, as the months progress, Constance encounters some of the evils of the world with death becoming an all too familiar acquaintance to the young girl. Thus, Constance quickly matures into an insightful child. By the end of this story, Constance learns important life lessons that every child must eventually accept.

Constance of Kent Street is much darker than one would initially think when beginning this story. Upon picking it up and beginning during the Christmas season with a child secretly munching on cookies while waiting for Santa Claus, one expects a lighthearted tale about a pretty middle-class girl without a worry in the world. However, Constance encounters some sad events that she does not fully grasp as a child, but the reader can acknowledge how dismal they are. Between her father losing his job and developing an issue with alcohol, almost being molested, and then witnessing the man’s death at the hands of the police, or waking up in the middle of the night to encounter the grotesque face of little boy who died of consumption, Constance witnesses some terrors of life in a rapid succession that most children do not have to deal with. Yuresko does a good job at balancing Constance’s child-like view of the world while showing what is really happening to the wiser adult reader. The novella is a classic coming of age story with a main character who becomes wise beyond her years.


Guardian of the Gauntlet by Lenita Sheridan

gauntletOpening with a verse from Matthew 25, Lenita Sheridan’s Young Adult fantasy Guardian of the Gauntlet highlights the importance of personal convictions guided by faith. At the center of the narrative is the charming Prince Denir of Thalon, and the magical powers afforded to him through a gauntlet glove. While roaming the kingdom of Harroway, Denir comes across two admiring sisters, but of course, only one will prove to the ideal match. Once Denir recklessly and willingly makes one of the girls disappear (at her request), the mischievous Mecandel and witchy Bogwina attempt to swipe the coveted gauntlet. However, one can only utilize the powerful glove through a perfect fit. When a teenage boy named Isryk jumps into the picture, all of the characters must come to grips with reality and let go of their secret fantasies…at least a little bit.

The characters of Guardian of the Gauntlet are well rounded for the most part, and author Sheridan infuses bits of romantic dialogue with a touch of comedy. It’s a fun read, so much so that one may desire a more complete description of the magical settings themselves. The narrative’s emphasis falls primarily on the inner desires of young Camari, while an important character like Denir appears more like an idea than a fully realized Prince. Early on, he makes a girl disappear but doesn’t have the intelligence to return her to her natural form before rushing off to battle. Naturally, the two younger girls continue to swoon over him. The story takes a sharp turn for the better, however, once Camari teams up with a bumbling guide, and the inherent message of appreciation comes shining through.


Envenom by Jay Chris

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 10.20.21 AMJay Chris is the mastermind behind Envenom, a teen and young adult, dystopian novel. America is no longer the land we now know it as. Instead, a deadly virus ripped through the country almost two decades ago leaving behind poverty and chaos. Eventually an autocratic man took control, but he rules with little compassion for others. He has granted permission for a handful of cities to exist, but the citizens are not allowed to contact those from other cities. Chris’ main character, Kelvin, is only eighteen, but because his brother and father were captured a few years prior to the story he works hard to help support himself and his mother. Yet, is that enough for him? Kelvin has the characteristics of a rebellious teen, but one that is ready to take a stand and make a difference. He ends up being selected by the leader of his city to join a special team for a life-threatening expedition. And, in the midst of everything he develops romantic feelings towards one of his fellow team members.

Jay Chris’ Envenom offers you everything you might be looking for in a young adult novel. You will discover a dismal existence of humanity, a bit of violence, suspense, mystery, and a touch of young love. The most frightening part of this intriguing storyline is that it is plausible enough for you to recognize that it could happen in your lifetime. What if? Envenom is an entertaining read, and though it may not be infectious it will most likely leave you anxiously awaiting the release of Jay Chris’ next book.


Nine Ways to Empower Tweens with Emma and Elliot by Kathleen Boucher 


Nine Ways to Empower Tweens with Emma and Elliot by Kathleen Boucher is an empowering and helpful book that aids young adults to grow their self-confidence and learn about how to interact with others out in this big wide world in which we live. It teaches important morals such as urging kids not to be afraid to try something new in fear of making a mistake. This book gives young adults the tools necessary for them to reach outside of their comfort zones in order to succeed in life. Separated into nine different chapters, including: how to speak confidently, start each day with gratitude, using vision boards big and small, how to get rid of anger and frustration, learning about time and focus, the importance of work ethic, first impressions and interviews, self-talk matters, and start each day with love in your heart, Boucher presents all of the different trials and tribulations that young people have to overcome in order to succeed.

In this book, Emma and Elliot are the guides through each of the nine topics that the author covers, giving their own life examples in order to display how these issues can affect one’s self esteem. Another thing that is nice about this book is the fact that Emma and Elliot have differences that allow readers to relate to one of them over the other, or at least to have two different examples to compare themselves to. For example, Elliot dreams in black and white while Emma dreams in color. The fun and colorful illustrations help accentuate the text, which is organized in easy to follow lists, paragraphs, and even questions that cause the reader to reflect upon themselves. All in all, this is a helpful and inspiring book for young adults to use to improve their outlook on life.


Koolura and The Mystery at Camp Saddleback by Michael L. Thal


Koolura Akopyan just graduated from the sixth grade, and, for the most part, she seems like any other “tween.” She likes popular music, movies, gossiping with her friends, and spending time with cute boys. But there’s much more to this young Armenian gal than meets the eye—and, when you find out her secrets, you’ll be shocked, surprised, and thoroughly entertained. Koolura and The Mystery at Camp Saddleback is the second entry in Michael L. Thal’s Koolura series, which finds the familiar protagonist summering at an exclusive camp where mischief and mystery abound. Like any other kid at a new camp, Koolura has to deal with the personality conflicts she has with the other girls, as well as with the downright dirty tricks the male campers play on them from the nearby “Boys’ Mountain.” But some of those tricks are a little too dangerous and underhanded, and, when their lives are threatened, repeatedly, Koolura and her camp friends realize that someone else is to blame…but who? Using her intelligence, problem-solving skills, and incredible psychic gifts, Koolura slowly but surely gets to the bottom of things and figures out who’s causing the ruckus at camp—and, after all is said and done, she forgives the perpetrator and moves on to further forge the friendships created during her compelling coming of age.

Koolura and The Mystery at Camp Saddleback by Michael L. Thal is a short, simple story that’s sure to appeal to readers in their preteen and early-teen years. Young minds will be able to easily grasp the language and plot, and will readily identify with the main character’s very real struggles with dating, peer pressure, and other important social issues. So, too, they’ll be able to learn from Koolura’s use of her psychic gifts—while they might not be able to fly, teleport, or travel through time like Koolura, tween readers will be empowered by her ability to look within herself and rise to the challenges before her and will be encouraged to develop their own strengths. That said, parents should make sure that their children are mature enough to read this title, as it addresses sensitive topics such as discrimination. In particular, anti-Semitic terms are used on rare occasion—so, parents may want to confirm that their children are aware of the pressing concerns surrounding use of such words.


Endor: The Final Chapter by John R. Garland


John R. Garland’s adventure novel Endor: The Final Chapter is a fun cross between Brian Jacques’ Redwall series and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. In a colorful land where enormous dragons, talking mice, fairies, wizards, and magic are not uncommon to see, a long-lasting battle against Gundermire and all evil is being waged. Garland weaves a mystical tale with unexpected heroes, memorable battles, and unfortunate loss. As Endor and Erg fight their way to Castle Daemon, allies are found in unexpected places and the world is slowly becoming a better and safer place for everyone of all shapes, sizes, and fur-color to live. However, the battle is not an easy one and when defeat is such a distinct possibility, heroes must rise to their full potential in order to save their world. Perhaps Garland himself says it best in the novel’s introduction, “Near failure and narrow victories will keep you on the edge of your seat”.

Garland’s novel, while fun and entertaining, can also be a little unsurprising and lackluster at times. His characters are only page deep and some of them can be hard to connect with and care for. Perhaps because Garland previously wrote poetry and short stories, his writing feels somewhat choppy and disconnected this go around. However, Garland’s creative mind and love of writing does still shine through in the end, and this inventive adventure serves well as the last book in his series, capping off the Endor trilogy with style.


Endor’s Adventures by John R. Garland

four stars

Picking up right where the first book Endor the Wizard left off, Endor’s Adventures, the second book of the Endor trilogy follows Endor as he travels to the neighboring country of Dame where he must try to forge an alliance with the citizens there so that they will agree to assist him in going up against the evil Gundermire and the armies of Crindleland. Endor works with the head wizard of the Dame people, who goes by the name of Erg, to try to come up with a solution so that the good people of their lands are not forced into servitude of the evil forces which are trying to overtake them. A great companion to the first book, this novel can also be enjoyed even if you have not read Endor the Wizard, as the author does a good job of creating a whole new tale that is riveting all on its own.

The short chapters make for easy reading, this book could appeal to young adults who are reading smaller chapter books on their own, or it could work well as a story read by parents to younger children. Garland is clearly a lover of fantasy, and he uses his talent to create a world in which young readers will be able to fully immerse themselves within. There are a lot of new characters in this book, and while they add to the story tremendously, sometimes it’s hard to keep who is who straight. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable tale of magic, wizardry, and banding together in the name of good to defeat the treacherous evil that lurks on the innocent.


The Divine One by Danielle R. Mani



Delilah Simms, a high school senior, is riddled with problems. Besides dealing with incessant bullying at school, Delilah is overwhelmed with feelings of guilt from the death of her three-year-old sister. Thinking that she caused Darcy’s demise, Delilah is unaware of her mom’s guarded secrets that explain what really happened. To top off the list of Delilah’s trials and tribulations, her dad moves out. While out running one morning, Delilah is rescued from a couple of stalkers by River Spencer, a supposed college-aged student. River immediately gets involved in Delilah’s troubled life, and overnight the two fall in love. There are aspects of River’s life that leave Delilah unsettled and her uncertainty leads to a bit of investigation. After a long discussion with River, Delilah learns the startling truth – something that she least expects – about the man that she loves.

The first book in The Divine One series, Mani’s debut novel combines the realities of school and home with spirituality in a unique paranormal twist. Rising author Danielle R. Mani writes with a flair that is uncommon in much of young adult literature today. Without the use of vulgarity and lustful salacious scenes, Mani draws readers into the world of an ordinary teen who wants nothing more than to experience love and peace amid her difficult circumstances. Mani skillfully incorporates irony by creating main characters (Delilah and River) who, in spite of their personal problems, are far more peaceful than the surrounding sea of people engulfed in selfishness. Mani keeps her third person plot continuously moving by alternating chapters with scenes depicting Delilah’s home and school life, her relationship with River, her mom, and friends, as well as River’s life. Poignant and thought provoking, The Divine One is both a great beginning to a new series and a refreshing addition to young adult literature.


Jay in the Journey by Hilary Hawkes

four stars

A short novel targeted towards preteens and young adults, Jay in the Journey tells the story of a young man named Jay who has a form of Autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. His condition makes it hard for him to socialize with other people, especially with his peers who are the same age as he is. When he and his father move to a new town and Jay has to start attending a new school, he is scared to interact with the new kids, afraid that no one will like him. However, he does make a friend in a girl named Abby. After his rough first day, he returns home and begins to play his favorite computer game, called ‘The Journey.’ Somehow, the monster game sucks Jay into it, and he finds that Abby has become a part of the game as well. They have to try to escape the game monsters, the Groundlings, and figure out a way to make it back to the real world. Through his adventures in the game, Jay finds a newfound confidence in himself that will help him maneuver through life in the real world.

This is an inventive and entertaining book that children and young adults will find to be an easy read. The fact that the main character has Asperger’s, a condition that not a lot of young people are aware of, is a nice touch, as readers can become familiar with what it means as they follow along with Jay on his journey. Kids understand how difficult and frustrating school can be, and if you are scared to share your time with others, the only real thing that makes school bearable, then you are bound for a rather poor time. The fantasy elements of Jay and Abby getting sucked into the game brings the story to another level, that will help balance some of the deeper themes involved. All in all, this is a stellar book.


Beyond Violet by Hilary Hawkes

four stars

When you first start reading Beyond Violet, it appears to just be another pseudo journal written from a preteen point of view. And then you begin to realize something. You begin to see how important this book could be. Ellie is a twelve-year-old girl with the usual issues of people her age. She has friendships to maintain, and the stress of being a seventh grader. She has family and homework and a duck named Crispie. She has an autistic older sister named Lucy and a mother dealing with a crippling cycle of depression. Ellie knows that her sister is different from other people, but she’s always been in her life and Ellie is used to Lucy. Her mother’s depression is far harder on her than Lucy’s autism because she doesn’t understand it as much.

Using the journal of a twelve-year-old girl to highlight important issues of Autism and mental illness is what makes this book special. It introduces these issues to children in a familiar and fun manner. At times however, it felt more like a propaganda pamphlet for a charity than an actual piece of fiction. More insight into the lives of the characters would be beneficial to the story, especially further explanations of Ruth and her motives. Why did she work for the Rainbow Clinic? Did she have a personal experience with mental illness? While Ellie usually operated in a realm of confusion over her mother’s condition, she didn’t seem to respond with her own feelings of neglect or sadness. The book could be significantly longer if it followed the family for more time. It just seemed like too brief of a glimpse to fully understand the family dynamic, but there is no doubt that Ellie could be seen as a source of inspiration for children dealing with similar challenges.


Wonderboy by Tom Conyers


Jack lives his life in a fantasy world. His imagination takes him to fantastic places and shows him wonderful things, but it is a lonely world in which he lives. His mother and brother disapprove of this pastime, and he doesn’t have a friend to join him on these adventures…but that is soon to change. The farm next door has been empty and boarded up for as long as Jack can remember, but now the owner has returned. Mel has spent her life traveling the globe, and has now settled in her mother’s childhood home. She knows almost instantly that Jack is a kindred spirit, and although he is a bit reluctant at first, they soon become inseparable. Jack and Mel have a connection that many people never experience. Their almost telepathic bond helps them through the harsh realities of life. External forces and narrow-minded people begin working against them, and the events that unfold will change everyone.

Tom Conyers takes us on an emotional journey with Wonderboy. He perfectly portrays the innocence of childhood and the damage a few words can do. The story draws you in before you know it; making it extremely hard to put down. Amazing writing and characters that are so human they seem real help you forget that you are reading a book. The juxtaposition of the children’s innocence and joy with the adult’s cynicism and arrogance is done with an expert hand. This is a story that makes you think. It entertains while teaching and reminding us to be careful of what we say and do- something the characters have to learn themselves. Each character is on a journey and Conyers takes you along for the ride. You are in their heads and get to watch them grow and change as the story progresses. You experience the turmoil in each of them. It almost feels like you are a shadow following these people around instead of reading about them in a book. Wonderboy is a book that will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you angry. But most of all, it will make you think.


Helen the Transartist by Anita Stairs-Oberlick


Helen Robley is a 12-year-old living in the Sisson Home for Girls. She has grown up believing she is an orphan, and although she loves her Aunt Judy and Miss Amanda, she feels there is a part of her missing. But that is all about to change. One morning Helen wakes to find a strange piece of paper tangled in her hair. It appears to be a ticket, but to where? The words on the paper make no sense, but as Helen learns more about the ticket she found, she begins to realize she has a special power-she can move and change people and objects through her drawings! Using the ticket as her guide, she finds herself in a place called the East Pole in the Fifth Dimension. The East Pole is full of all the creatures adults don’t believe exist. She learns she is a Transartist, and she was sent to Earth for protection against the evil Queen Narcissa. Now Helen must learn to use her powers to save herself and her new friends, as well as find out what happened to her parents.

Helen the Transartist catches your eye with the cover, and the writing inside doesn’t disappoint. The story flows seamlessly and is good for children as well as adults. There is a wonderful originality to the book. Anita Stairs-Oberlick has taken the fantasy genre and used it in a completely new way. She brings the creatures of our childhood to life and lets us sneak a peek into their lives. We see where they come from, how they live, and so much more. You can tell that she put a lot of thought into every word she wrote, and her story and characters reflect that. Helen is depicted as a girl who thought she was just like everyone else, only for her to be thrust into the middle of a new world with new dangers. She is happy at the East Pole, but she still misses Aunt Judy and Miss Amanda. Helen the Transartist is a charming book that would entertain everyone young and old. The story is captivating and fun, with twists and turns to keep you guessing, and the characters are beautifully written. Every page of this book is amazing. Anita Stairs-Oberlick has created a world that you will want to learn more about!


That Truthful Place by Patty Lesser

four stars

A fascinating story with an out of this world plot, That Truthful Place grabs you from the very beginning. Author Patty Lesser writes about a young boy, who suddenly gains telepathic abilities upon his thirteenth birthday. He unexpectedly falls into a coma the night of his birthday only to wake up in the hospital a few days later with the ability to hear others’ thoughts. This experience is fun and exciting even though it is also a bit scary and overwhelming. Before long, young Alex learns that he is not the only thirteen-year-old with this new gift. In fact, there are a number of other new teens that experience just what he did. They form a very supportive and close-knit group as they secretly communicate with one another telepathically. But, how did this happen? What does it all mean? Will others discover their secret? And, just what is the reason behind it all?

Patty Lesser does a very nice job composing a young adult story of fantasy, suspense and adolescent friendship. That Truthful Place is a book that makes you want to keep reading, as lying it down is hard to do. As you read, you will come to a point of deep concern for the group of young teens as the suspense continues to increase. This is a story that won’t leave you wanting for more. It is filled with intrigue and possibilities that will stretch your imagination. Lesser developed a story that shines a beautiful light on the struggles of typical thirteen-year-olds merged with an unexpected supernatural gift, and in doing so, she shares with you a story you can’t wait to finish.


Coriander Jones Saves the World (Volume 1) by Kim English


41xerUds+kL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Thirteen-year-old Coriander is headed to camp again this summer – but this year may very well be her last.  Raised in a lower income neighborhood in Florida, Coriander has lots of things on her mind – annoying younger siblings, her friend Sam’s increasingly bizarre behavior, figuring out her archenemy Olivia’s next devious scheme – and none of them include a supernatural plot to end humankind once and for all.  But that is exactly the sort of situation Coriander and her friends find themselves thrown into when a tranquil bus ride becomes a battle royale. The kids are awakened to the looming threat posed by “the Old Ones,” a group of ancient deities that seeks to return to our world and make humans pay for forgetting about them.  The only obstacle standing in their way is a mystical barrier known as “the sieve” that serves as a deterrent against rogue spiritual beings. Whether or not she believes in them, the Old Ones threaten to end not just Coriander’s quiet life, but the lives of everyone she loves around her.  In order to stop them, she’ll need to harness her newfound ability to communicate with otherworldly beings and call a truce with an old enemy.  If Coriander wants a relaxing summer vacation, she’ll have to deal with a few things first.

Young readers will go wild over this new middle-grade fiction series.  Though Coriander Jones deals with similar themes and characters as other series like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, English has managed to create a singularly entertaining cast of heroes and foes.  Coriander is perhaps the pluckiest heroine to grace middle-grade fiction since Lucy and Susan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  The book also handles, with particular aplomb, the situation of lower income families across the country, which can be difficult for parents to discuss with their children, but the understanding and empathy of which is vital to the proper growth of our youth into responsible, kind-hearted adults.  Overall, this proves to be the start to a promising new series.


The Lupine Effect by Kayla Speciale

four stars

A sixteen year old orphan, Ellie Ringer has not had an easy life so far. Emotionally disturbed due to her parents’ mysterious death when she was only a young girl, she acts out in distress quite often, recklessly and violently alienating herself from the other people around her. The Lupine Effect by Kayla Speciale tells the story of Ellie finding answers about her life, while finding more questions simultaneously along the way, as she discovers that she has the ability to transform into a wolf. On the night that she changes, Ellie escapes the orphanage and begins her life as a half wolf/half human hybrid amongst others like her that she finds living within the woods. The fellow kids she comes to know that are just like her, Todd (the leader), Amber, Luke, and Kip teach her about being a wolf, which causes Ellie to find some sort of solace. It doesn’t last long however, as Ellie discovers that all of her friends parents died in the same mysterious way as hers did. The teenagers come to realize that it’s due to their wolf like transformation abilities that their parents were wiped out, just as they learn that there are others out there who wish to cause them harm.

The Lupine Effect has a little bit of everything, elements of young adult fiction, science fiction, and fantasy too. Speciale does an excellent job of making her main character, Ellie, a dynamic character that has flaws, fears, and frustrations. The supporting cast of teen wolves that Ellie meets in the woods are also well rounded and make swell additions to the narrative. With an abundance of vampire novels on book shelves, it’s refreshing to see a tale about wolves like this existing in a similar sphere, yet existing in an original realm all its own. There are moments in the novel that could be more polished, but overall it is engrossing read that young readers and lovers of supernatural tales are sure to thoroughly enjoy.


The Essence: A Ghost Story in Three Days by Vel Grande

four stars

The Essence: A Ghost Story in Three Days by Vel Grande is a collection of three mini-novellas. Each mini-novella covers one day during the long weekend in which teenager Alyssa is left in charge of her two little brothers, Bradley and Sean. Alyssa was expecting trouble – but not trouble in the form of ghosts and a magic wand. Unfortunately, that’s what she gets when she discovers that ‘the Buddies’ have left Sean with possession of what could be the key to the Nothing, home of the ghosts. Though Sean is convinced that the Buddies are friends, Alyssa isn’t so sure. The kids are in over their heads – but how do you explain to your parents there are ghosts in the house? Soon all three kids are drawn into a mystery they’re not sure how to solve, and they need to find the answer now, before their parents get home.

Filled with dynamic characters and a spooky mystery, The Essence is nearly a perfect ghost story for pre-teens and younger teens. While Grande’s habit of telling instead of showing may be off-putting to older readers, it’s perfect for younger readers. In addition, Bradley may be thirteen, but his actions perceive him as being younger – and therefore easier for younger readers to relate to. The Essence is great for readers who are ready to move up from beginning chapter books and enjoy mysteries, but are not quite ready for series like Goosebumps. And, unlike many other books, parents won’t need to worry about the content as, at its core, The Essence is just a wholesome ghost story with a little bit of humor.


Beyond the Attic Door by Tracy Del Campo

four stars

Beyond the Attic Door is an exciting short novel for younger readers that tells a tale which is reminiscent of traveling through the magical wardrobe to Narnia. At the same time, this story is very different from anything C.S. Lewis ever wrote, although there are similar religious tones present in both narratives. Author Tracy Del Campo’s story follows eleven year old Lulu and her seven year old brother Buddy on their adventure through a mysterious attic workshop door they discover while visiting their grandmother in the Missouri countryside. The door leads them through a portal that causes them to travel through time, which in turn teaches them about the meaning of faith. Throughout the story ideas of evolution versus creation are discussed, and the reader is taught about many facets of Christian ideology. Coming in at under a hundred pages, the novel is fast paced, and readers will find themselves turning the pages rather quickly as they follow along with Lulu and Buddy through their time-bending escapade.

Written in a way so that the story is easily accessible for readers of all ages, Beyond the Attic Door contains a great deal of content even though its length is on the shorter side. With an engaging story that also includes ideas about religion and faith, Tracy Del Campo has created a narrative that is sure to make readers think. The setting in 1925 is richly described, and the change caused by the attic door which sends our main characters on a journey through time is also written in a lush manner, which will pull readers into the story, and keep them until the final page.


The Sorrow of a Crescent Moon by J Wagoner


On a family trip to New Orleans, Jamie gets the chance of a lifetime. While wandering around a store their first night there, he meets a strange woman who seems to look through him instead of at him. She says he is special, and asks him if he would like to see her city the way she does. Shy and uncertain of what to say, Jamie accepts the gift she gives him- a smooth, blank rock. She tells him to sleep with it under his pillow and keep it with him at all times. With dreams of becoming the superhero he has always wanted to be (and picking out cape colors) he does as he is told. When he looks at his rock the next morning he realizes it is no longer blank- it says “FAMILY.” Thinking it was a trick rock he laughs it off…until he starts seeing shadows of seemingly ordinary people. Each new day brings a new word and new shadows. Listening in on the conversations between his shadow and others, he learns things about the world that sometimes he wished he hadn’t, but he also learns that no matter how bad things get, there is always hope.

The Sorrow of a Crescent Moon is a book that, even though it is billed as a children’s book, works for all ages. It covers some heavy topics (like depression, homelessness, death, etc.) but it does it in a way that is gentle enough for children. It also helps adults remember to be understanding, compassionate, and hopeful. The story is packed full of morals and lessons that we all want our children to learn. Wagoner has made the 8-year-old main character someone we can all relate to and appreciate. Jamie is wide-eyed, innocent and genuine. He is shy, quiet, and uncertain, but mostly he thinks life is good. So when he sees the pain and sadness that others have he begins to question how fair life really is and whether or not it is worth it. He also begins to hate his new ability and doesn’t want to see more suffering. As an adult reading this book you are reminded of a child’s innocence. As a child reading this book you are learning the same lessons Jamie is.


Rangers of the Wilderness by William T. Klaus

four stars

On a planet similar to Earth, there is a culture of people who seemingly stopped evolving industrially.  Yet, living like humankind did during the middle ages seems to make them happy.  In Rangers of the Wilderness, the reader will discover a plot that is focused on a secret society of guardians for the country.  These protectors were called rangers, but after many years of protecting the lands the rangers were destroyed by their own government.  The few surviving rangers made the decision to reform by creating a secret school and recruiting orphans to become their students and rangers-in-training.  Secrets abound within the grounds of the ranger school though.  There seems to only be a handful of young trainees, but is that really the case?  Are there others?  What secret society within the woods surrounding the grounds have the top rangers promised to protect?  To top it off, one of the original students has gone missing and no one knows what happened to him.  Will the reader find out in the end?

Author, William T. Klaus, writes an interesting tale filled with youthfulness that focuses primarily around young male adulthood.  For the most part, the other world in Rangers of the Wilderness appears to be strikingly similar to the planet Earth.  Yet, the author suggests fairly early on in the story that there are other beasts in existence – beasts that might not be like creatures on Earth.  Klaus knows how to peak the reader’s interest with a plethora of intriguing possibilities from the secret school, to dwarves, to missing students, to potential wild beasts and beyond.  One drawback of this book, however, is that there are numerous grammatical errors.  These can make the writing confusing at times.  Nevertheless, the plot is colorful and easy to follow; therefore, the reader can easily be captivated and ready to turn the page.


Blue Speaks Eternally by Victoria Wagner

four stars


A fabulous book with a powerful call to action, Blue Speaks Eternally tells the story of Kip the blue whale, whose family is preparing to make their annual migration up the Pacific coast to the calm waters of Alaska.  Kip is twenty-three years old, which means he’s quite young when you consider that most blue whales live to be eighty to ninety years old.  As a young whale, Kip is still learning about the world he lives in, both the watery domain he inhabits and the human cities not far away on land. Through conversations with other animals – including sea lions, harbor seals, beluga whales, and dolphins – as well as human fishers and environmental scientists – Kip discovers that the planet is changing dramatically around him.  Sea animal populations continue to decline, and though intergovernmental organizations have placed limits on the hunting of whales, illegal poaching still threatens the stability of whale communities around the world.

Blue Speaks Eternally is an important book for people to be reading, especially young people, since it is up to them to shape the future for the better.  Wagner definitively lays out the sad state of affairs for many fish and ocean mammals: lives ended by hunting and overfishing, mating and family rituals interrupted by military sonar and undersea detonations, increasingly polluted waters and the growing scarcity of food.  Yet despite this strikingly grim picture, Blue also shows that there is hope for a positive future in which our species is able to live in harmony with the world around us.  For any lover of ocean life, including younger readers who this book is sure to appeal to, this is a must-read.


The Long Hairs by John Paz

The Long Hairs is a portrait of suburban adolescence – and all of the accompanying insolence, scheming, dreaming, and merrymaking – as seen through the eyes of protagonist James “Jimmy Chek” Mikolajczyk, a self-identifying “long hair”, or (“authentic”) rocker. It unfolds in snapshots that highlight Jimmy’s life, broken up into very digestible chapters. With the honest straightforwardness of a confessional memoir, John Paz’s novel follows Jimmy on a journey in and out of schools, correctional institutions, friendships, relationships, criminality, parties, and hard work across the suburbs of Seattle in the late 1980s.

Easily eschewing the schmaltzy tropes of the typical Bildungsroman, Jimmy’s story is much more about providing slice-of-life insight into a teenager’s thoughts and experiences over a few years than it is about his evolution into an adult. We are thrown into a tumultuous world of delinquency, drugs, rock music, and the loss of virginity, but The Long Hairs never really attempts to explore why kids can get up to so much trouble, or make a greater statement on youth, culture, growing up, or sexuality – Jimmy does mature a bit, but it can feel that we don’t really participate in or understand the critical dynamics of his development. Instead, the focus is on providing frank insight into the pragmatic operations of this young demographic through realistic dialogue and relationships; the novel is grounded on real speech patterns and personalities we recognize from our own pasts. The story is colored by historical and cultural markers; abundant are references to music – rock and its harsher subgenres especially – although there is not enough of a taste of the feeling of the cultural scenes to make them resonate much with readers not already familiar, or to give Jimmy’s world a lot of personality. Similarly, the descriptions often want for poetics; new elements, like characters, are always introduced with the same tired, descriptive formulae. In fact, The Long Hairs operates a bit like a teen movie, for better or for worse – the limited and conventional depictions can make these teens in Seattle feel slightly like they could almost be anyone, anywhere. But unlike pop teen products, The Long Hairs easily avoids the glamor of endless keg parties and spirited looting in favor of more down-to-earth flavors. If a bit bland, the prose is largely crystal clear; the writing is crisp and easily self-propels forward. The situations in which Jimmy finds himself, from keggers to run-ins with the law, are all truly exciting and amusing without being over the top, cheesy, or glitzy. Furthermore, The Long Hairs still manages to let a warm and genuine sentimentality shine naturally through. It is a book of honest feeling, humor, and thrills that – rather than dissecting or preaching – leaves us very fond of Jimmy and all of his antics.


Kalima: The Secret of the Jungle by Nestor Eguez

Kalima: The Secret of the Jungle by Nestor Eguez is a chapter book about a zebra that is perfect for preteens. Kalima is the last descendant of a very special line of Zebras that has been around for a very long time. This kind of Zebra is well known for being protectors of the herd, and always staying alert. She lives in the jungles of Kenya, where she has recently been made an orphan due to a lion attack that killed off her parents. Her grandmother becomes her caretaker, as she is an old and wise Zebra who holds great knowledge. During the night her grandmother tells her stories and legends of her ancestors. These stories entertain Kalima very much. As Kalima grows, she realizes she is different from the other zebras, as she cannot run very fast and her sense of smell isn’t strong. Her grandmother tries to convince Kalima that she is special and will find her gifts, but as of yet, Kalima has yet to be convinced of what her true calling really is.

The first of a trilogy, this book introduces us to Kalima and the world in which she lives. The length of the book is perfect for younger readers, and the pace of the narrative builds upon itself in just the right manner. Kalima is the kind of character that children will be able to relate with easily, as she is trying to find her place in the jungle, just as young people are aiming to learn about themselves and find out who they are destined to be. Although there were no illustrations included in the copy of the book we received, the colorful videos that tell portions of the story that the author has posted on YouTube make a nice addition to the tale.


Shanti and the Magic Mandala by F.T. Camargo

Shanti and the Magic Mandala is a book filled with action that tells the story of six teens who are specially chosen to fight an evil force and restore order to the world.  The story is filled with the dreams and visions of the characters, with angels and gods guiding them on their adventure.  Shanti, Helena, Antonio, Nasir, Tadao, and Itai are the young people in the alliance that is formed, each of them from different cultural backgrounds. They are led to meet through supernatural visions and learn of their mission and of their identities in a past life where they were guardians of the planet. Soon the characters discover who their enemy is, a power hungry group called the Children of Satan, and quickly realize they have to do all that they can to stop them.

Shanti and the Magic Mandala is fast-paced, interesting, and holds the reader’s attention the whole way through-even more so in the second half of the book than the first.  There is a highly spiritual and supernatural element to the story that uniquely blends with the very realistic lives of the six teens.  The main characters are portrayed as likeable and courageous, which helps keep the reader wanting to see how they will overcome the challenges of their adventure. Though at times the book can be a little repetitive, and the blending of the characters’ religious backgrounds can feel somewhat forced, overall it is a captivating and fun story that is a good read for young adults.


Santa Rita Stories by Andrew J. Rodriguez

9781478736981Carlos is a young Cuban on the cusp of adulthood from the seaside town of Santa Rita.  Life here is as picturesque as you might imagine: plenty of fishing, drinking, and games by the beach, idyllic panoramas wherever you set your gaze, local traditions and gossip and folklore – and the town drunk, an elderly man by the name of Pedro who entertains Carlos with tales from his own life and from those he’s merely heard about.  Pedro lives in an abandoned mill filled with used books and newspapers – he has to keep his mind sharp, after all – and survives seemingly on just a brew he makes using rum, water, and a dash of brown sugar scraped up from the docks.  At fifteen years old, Carlos has yet to face the sort of hardship that Pedro himself has been through (though Carlos might be quick to tell you that grade school is enough of a hardship as it stands).  Through story, Carlos learns about Pedro’s past and gets free lessons in things like honesty, enterprise, and how to kiss a girl properly.  As the unlikely pair delves deeper into Cuba’s cultural annals, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between past and present, fact and fiction.  Carlos and Pedro learn that everyone has something to learn from others, and time – when bisected and crystallized in powerfully resonant tales – reveals itself to be simply an illusion.

Santa Rita Stories, Rodriguez’s impressive fifth work of fiction, is at once evocative of and nothing like anything else we’ve read.  The structure of the novel – a core story involving Carlos and Pedro with small vignettes strewn throughout – affords it a general lightness that keeps readers flipping pages just when other similar novels begin to wear thin.  What’s even more impressive is the magic Rodriguez manages to work around the many fleeting characters that appear throughout Pedro’s tales.  Round rather than flat, these are people you would want to meet in real life.  Fundamentally, Santa Rita Stories tells us that it is impossible to draw quick conclusions about a person; what makes us beautiful or intelligent or capable are the many moments that compose our lives.


Horror at Hope Horse: Never Give Up by Lyndal Cushing


Lyndal Cushing’s novel Horror at Hope Horse: Never Give Up tells the story of Ice Rhineguard, a gifted horse trainer, blind since the age of seven. Ice lives at Hope Horse Ranch, where he works with abused horses, his lack of sight giving him a unique ability to work with both animals and people. Hope Horse is also a haven for Ice’s childhood friend, Lauren, who endured years of abuse at the hands of her father, and the kindly, maternal M, Maureen Webber, who cares for both Lauren and Ice, as well as Ice’s teenaged protégé, Justin. This idyllic setting is quickly spoiled by the arrival of new trainer, Dahvid Ghiara. Dahvid quickly comes between Ice and Lauren and delights in tormenting Ice. Dahvid’s behavior, however, is quickly overshadowed by the supernatural forces that seem set on hurting Ice and those he loves. Ice finds himself locked in a battle to protect those he cares about and the horses he rescues, even if it means sacrificing his own life.

The story is compelling and Cushing’s characters are interesting and sympathetic. Unfortunately, Cushing’s novel suffers from a lack of editing. Many of the episodes in which Ice is tortured by supernatural entities are repetitive, and do nothing to advance the plot or enrich the story. This is true for other parts of the story as well. For example, a subplot involving Scarlet St. John, a little girl blinded in a car accident, and Ice’s work with her, though interesting, seems to have little to do the overall story. Furthermore, the ability of the Dahvid character to so quickly come between Ice and Lauren, two characters who are so intimately connected, lacks plausibility. Finally, the story is undermined by the many grammatical and spelling errors. Nevertheless, the story is gripping, and readers will want to follow the characters to see how the mystery unfolds.


The Tale of Hearts and Dragons by Diane Roy


Diane Roy spins a very interesting tale of ordinary creatures actually being exceptionally extraordinary. Filled with colorful creativity and blossoming friendships, The Tale of Hearts and Dragons moves at a quick pace – almost too quickly at times. Magical creatures such as a pink lion, a wise old owl, and magnificent dragons, alongside what one would typically consider normal creatures, battle against the evils of humanity so that the secrets of magic can be passed down. From the beginning, the little lion, Hearts, and her friends, Ginger and Randall face traumatic life changes and are forced to explore new surroundings, lead their lives differently, and make new friends. As the years go by and Hearts grows into her magic skills, she comes to understand the vital importance of her purpose. Yet, more than that she enjoys a life that is filled with laughter and love as well as friends from various species. This story expresses how easy one can grow to love another like a brother or sister no matter what he or she looks like or where they come from.

The Tale of Hearts and Dragons is filled with fun and loving experiences, but it is not an easy book to read, as the author does not use quotation marks when the animals speak. This can make the story confusing at times. It is not a good example of grammatically correct writing. It is filled with run-on sentences, and jumping so quickly from one scene to a totally different scene may leave the reader wondering what happened. However, if the reader is just looking for an interesting tale of magic and mystery, then this can be a very enjoyable book to read. One should not see it as a model of high quality grammar, punctuation and writing, but, instead, overlook that to enjoy this fun tale of a little, pink, magical lion.


The Red Sheet by Mia Kerick

Mia Kerick’s, The Red Sheet, is a laugh-a-minute story about Bryan Dennison’s coming of age transformation. Literally overnight, Bryan goes from big high school jock and ultimate tool bag, to mature young adult who recognizes the importance of being an individual and paying attention to the feelings of others. With this bizarre overnight transformation comes a strange desire to wear a cape. Specifically a red cape. Specifically a red cape like Superman wears. While Bryan does not understand his sudden obsession, it comes to represent the important and drastic changes in mindset that he has undergone. He becomes a leader and representative for those whose voices normally get lost in the noise of high school drama. He becomes the nerdiest jock there is. Throughout Bryan’s transformation the reader is pushed to wonder if his changes are permanent, if he can truly change the high school environment, and what happened the Saturday night before he became a new person.

While the language in Kerick’s writing can often be strong and sometimes offensive, it is realistic and honest, an accurate and uninhibited representation of what twenty-first century high school life is like. Bryan’s approach to the reader is unique and engaging, his struggles and sorrows becoming just as important and stressful to the reader. Kerick touches on poignant topics such as bullying, divorce, gayness, and identity. The Red Sheet is a must read for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider.


Backyard Horse Tales 2: Frosty and the Nightstalker by Jackie Anton

A great book for horse lovers of all ages, Backyard Horse Tales 2: Frosty and the Nightstalker by Jackie Anton is a well-put together book that both entertains and informs. The narrative follows Frosty, a playful Appaloosa colt who begins to undergo strange experiences when he has visions of an earlier time. Switching from the late twentieth century to the 1870s, the reader is taken to witness the life of another Appaloosa who lives with the Nez Perce Native American tribe. While Frosty has been told he has an old soul, the story of the horses in the late nineteenth century live very different lives from what Frosty does. Are these visions coming as a result of the collective memories of Appaloosas? Or is something more complex causing the horse to undergo this strange incidence of fluctuation?

This book is enjoyable for multiple reasons, the main one being the different viewpoints, settings, and timelines that take place in the lives of the horses that are depicted. By following both Frosty, and Nightstalker, we are able to see how horses existed throughout the course of the United States history. Young adults, to whom this book seems to be targeted, will learn a great deal about the history of the west and the Native Americans themselves. Anton has written a one of a kind book, as this piece seems unlike anything else we’ve ever seen in the realm of horse books. The illustrations by Sandy Shipley complement the words very well, and the appendix and vocabulary pages at the back of the book are nice touches that offer up even more helpful information to the reader. All in all, this is an original book that was clearly put together with love, dedication, and great care.


The Hill Brothers Trilogy by Troy Lee Henderson


The Hill Brothers Trilogy by Troy Lee Henderson is group of stories surrounding the three Hill brothers- Simon, Darien, and Edwin- and the relationship between dragons and humans. In Eathed (Book 1) the young boys are exploring when they discover a cave which just begs to be explored. Inside they find a dragon curled up asleep, and run terrified to tell everyone what they’ve seen. Eathed the dragon is old and sick. All he wants is to die in peace, but once the boys find him that doesn’t seem likely. Luckily for Eathed nobody seems to believe the boys, but they still send an old knight to investigate. The ensuing confrontation makes Simon realize that maybe dragons aren’t so bad after all. The two strike up an unlikely friendship that changes how Simon sees the world and dragons. In Erian’s Lair (Book 2), Simon has been away studying for two years when he gets news that his parents have died and his brothers evicted from their farm. In order to spare his brothers from having to work under a master, Simon presents an outrageous plan. He wants to find one of Eathed’s children and prove to humans that dragons aren’t evil. Many adventures await them on their journey, but eventually the brothers find what they are looking for…another dragon. Affaron is the final book in The Hill Brothers Trilogy. Still trying to make peace between humans and dragons, Simon and his brothers are living as fugitives on Affaron.  It seems that neither race is really up for the challenge, but there are those willing to try. Eventually they receive word about a traitor in their midst. Someone they trusted has deceived them. Somehow Simon has to warn the king and find a way to prevent the coup without getting Erian (or himself) killed.

These books are nothing short of charming. They are not very long, but they are chocked full of detail, adventure, and fantasy. These books are great for children and adults; they have everything needed to entertain all. Despite the length you definitely do not feel cheated or feel that the story does not reach a satisfying conclusion. It is not your typical “knight vs dragon” story. Troy Lee Henderson has brought a refreshing twist to this timeless tale. The story of Simon wanting to make peace between dragons & humans is heartwarming and well written. There is also the added bonus of a few sneakily inserted morals that we sometimes need to be reminded of. All in all, The Hill Brothers Trilogy is just plain good: great writing, believable characters, and a fun story. You will not regret reading these books, and you will definitely want to share them with others.


Tier Six by Marci Giebels

A dystopian young adult novel with an interesting and mysterious premise, ‘Tier Six’ by Marci Giebels explores what it means to live life over again and again. Her narrative follows Mark Mead, an eighteen year old boy who is currently in his six incarnation of existence. He serves in the air based division of the World Army, which requires all of his time and attention, leaving him little choice but to follow the orders he is given. The last thing Mark wants to do is be tied down, not when he is desperately longing to be reunited with his soul mate who he was tragically separated from three lifetimes ago. The possibility of finding her seems bleak, and worsens even further when during a mission he is ejected from a shuttlecraft and is therefore stranded in a barren and desolate environment. There he comes to meet the Surface Dwellers, who teach him an unusual and dangerous way to find his true love once again. This leads to the startling truth about what tore him and his lover apart in the first place, as he comes to discover that his current state of reality is more connected to his past lives than he ever considered possible.

I found this to be an engaging premise, and as the novel progressed, I found myself getting wrapped up in the plot, wanting to know what would happen next. Giebels has imagined an interesting world and explores the possibilities of it to her greatest ability, which comes across on the page. The idea of living life again and again, with reincarnation, past lives, and more are themes that are ever present, making the reader reflect on their own lives, their past, and the future that is coming that we have no knowledge of. The star-crossed lover aspect, and of looking for one’s love after being torn away from them is a universal theme that all readers can relate with. Mixing in the dystopian and science fiction elements is a recipe that is tried and true, and Giebels succeeds in creating an enjoyable tale with her novel, ‘Tier Six.’


The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes: Friends Forever by Jeri-Anne Agee

The Life and Times of Birdie Mae Hayes: Friends Forever by Jeri-Anne Agee is about an eight year old girl who lives in Rainbow, Alabama with her family. The narrative follows the adventures of Birdie Mae and her best friend Sally Rose Hope. Birdie Mae has the strange ability to predict when she thinks something bad is going to happen, and unfortunately for her, this feeling comes about on the first day of school when she begins the third grade. Even though her day back to school does not turn out how she intended it to be, with courage and perseverance, and the support of her best friend Sally Rose Hope, Birdie Mae learns that growing up is not always easy, but regardless of the struggles we all face, it is easier to get through the tough times when you have a friend at your side.

The book is divided into eleven short chapters, with black and white illustrations included to help accentuate the story. This would be a great book for middle grade readers as it is longer than the average picture book, but just short enough that it can be read quickly by children. It teaches valuable lessons about friendship and how standing up for yourself and those you care about can often have undesirable consequences. Agee blends in her love for the South into the narrative and creates a relatable character with Birdie Mae. This book could definitely be the beginning of an endearing series that children of various ages could enjoy with their parents, or by reading it on their own.


Where Did Your Heart Go? by Audrina Lane

Where Did Your Heart Go? by Audrina Lane is a sweet, sad, nostalgic reminiscence on teenage years and first loves. The novel’s premise involves Stephanie March, a mother whose daughter, Charlotte, has recently undergone a rough breakup, and her attempts to ease her daughter’s heartbreak through the use of a journal she kept during her first breakup. The book is largely told in flashbacks via Stephanie’s journal entries. Late 1980s music stars like George Michael and Berlin are explicitly referenced multiple times as both prophets of love and comforters of heartbreak. 80’s love ballads may seem comedic today, but Lane’s prose detailing Stephanie’s gawky and romantic teenage years make them seem as relevant to love  and love lost as Regina Spektor’s soul-crushing “Us” at the beginning of the popular lonely hearts film “500 Days of Summer.” Breaking up, as we all know, is hard to do, especially that first love, on which this book centers. Even several years later, Stephanie cycles through love and hate for her very first love affair, James, with startling rapidity.

The differences that Lane brings to breakups during the late ‘80s and 2014 feel simultaneously valid and token. For example, she includes obligatory references to Facebook and Twitter regarding Charlotte’s breakup, yet Stephanie has kept a pen-and-paper journal detailing her lost love, something almost wholly foreign to youth in the digital age. The loss of that first young love is something that almost everyone can relate to. The concept of marrying a “high school sweetheart” that has entrenched itself into American love has fooled and depressed various 15-18 year olds across the nation, as has the addition of the “manic pixie dream girl” in films such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and the aforementioned “500 Days of Summer.” First loves, sadly, rarely work in real life, and this book is a reminder of that sad, maturing fact of pre-adult life. Where Did Your Heart Go? is a book that will make the reader reflect on the loss of that first boyfriend or girlfriend that he or she really thought could’ve been something more. Not every novel will make you feel something genuine, but this one is almost guaranteed to do just that.


Olive Branches Don’t Grow on Trees by Grace Mattioli

Olive Branches Don’t Grow on Trees by Grace Mattioli is a story about a girl name Silvia who has a broken family. Some family members don’t speak with each other and her parents are divorced. Her mother wants to host a graduation party for her little brother with the help of Silvia, which is a struggle to find a way to convince the entire family to join together to celebrate her brother’s success. Readers gain insight into the Silvia’s world as she has constantly moved around to different cities only to be disappointed when struggles appear again. She takes her father to an A.A. meeting where she is faced to confront her demons by listening to a guest speaker who has lived the life she currently lives and experienced the struggles she currently experiences.

This is a fantastic novel for anyone who has had parents who’ve divorced or who feel like they have never found a place that can comfortably call ‘home.’ Silvia’s story is a relatable one for many young adults. This coming of age story gives readers insight into how to grow up in the real world. It also brings up social issues such as the environment, vegan lifestyle, and alcoholism and drug addiction. It is apparent that the author wanted to bring some issues to attention but in a more subtle form. Readers may become offended by the reiteration of the vegan lifestyle in this book as there are some jabs at meat eaters. However, even meat lovers may learn something valuable that works well with their lifestyle. You don’t need to be an extreme ‘green’ activist but simple changes may be able to benefit the planet.


Doomed by Nancy Beaudet

Emerson Winters’ story is one that addresses exactly what it means to not fit the mold, to be an outcast, to be filled with the teenage angst that comes from not knowing what the rest of life will be like. In Nancy Beaudet’s novel Doomed, Emerson struggles in a world that seems to just not want her, but seems to have been made for people who are the exact opposite of her. While her older sister has long legs that seem to go up to her shoulders and an unquestionably perfect waistline, Emerson suffers with being called fat and her self-confidence and body image are crushed. However, when Emerson is around the gentle twenty-one year old Warren she feels different- loved, protected, and maybe even attractive. As Beaudet touches on many of the subjects that make growing up as someone painfully unique so hard, she also encourages the reader to consider whether or not one person should become the sole focus of another person’s life.

While many young readers will surely feel a strong connection to Emerson’s struggle and position in life, Beaudet’s writing can also verge on overly sappy. An emotional roller coaster ride that takes the reader from anger, to sadness, to love, might leave one feeling a bit whiplashed in only one hundred and twenty-five pages. All things considered though, being a teenager is largely about riding the emotional roller coaster, avoiding parents in the process, and ultimately making it out to laugh at the story later.


The East-West Child by Zac Odetunde

‘The East-West Child’ by Zac Odetunde tells the tale of a thirteen-year-old girl named Jade Balogun who is torn between two worlds as she comes of age. Her parents hail from Nigeria, which accounts for her African blood and name; but her friends are all in London, which is where she was born and raised. On top of all this, Jade’s paternal grandmother is staying with her family for a short while, and Mrs. Balogun (senior) is stubborn and determined to make sure her traditional Nigerian beliefs on race, marriage, and family values are heard. With every move Jade makes, no matter how superficial or slight, she is constantly reminded of the divide between her family and social spheres and must decide to which ideals she should adhere. In the end, Jade choses what is right for her and finds a way to balance the differences that once confounded her and complicated her life. However, getting to that point isn’t easy, as the narrative of this book explains.

All told, ‘The East-West Child’ delivers a powerful message, though, at some points, the writing and storyline could be strengthened. The novel is written primarily in the form of dialogue, which leaves out a lot of the descriptive terms and omniscient character insights many readers expect in fiction. Near the end, the storyline progresses at a rather abrupt rate, culminating in a flash-forward arrived at without the details and developments needed for its support. Notwithstanding these things, however, ‘The East-West Child’ is still well worth the read. It addresses important topics like race relations, teen pregnancy, and generational differences from a positive, hopeful standpoint that’s sure to encourage tolerance and open-mindedness in any and all who read it.


Coming Home by Gloria Javillonar Palileo

516IUrHpLILJuan de la Cruz is a young Filipino-American growing up in the eighties, a time shortly following the Civil Rights era in which American citizens whose skin color does not represent the norm are still treated with frightening unfairness. Juan plays video games, enjoys shopping at the mall, and watches television like the rest of American youth.  He is a straight-A student who, on paper, has a bright future ahead of him in whatever career he chooses. Nevertheless, Juan (who would prefer his parents and classmates call him “John”) is waking up to the world around him, where his peers bully him because of his ethnicity, where “coming home” – that is, visiting family in the Philippines – feels more to Juan like leaving everything he knows for a strange and alien land.

Coming Home is an eye-opening read that – depressingly – remains as likely a story today as it did during Juan’s childhood thirty years ago. While racism is an inherently sensitive subject, Palileo frames it in such a way that readers are able to see not only the effects of prejudice, but its roots as well: oftentimes, it is from one’s parents, or classmates, or from the media that one learns to act a certain way toward certain people. Most intriguingly, we see the beginnings of prejudice taking hold in Juan’s parents, who have perhaps begun to mirror the behaviors of other community members. Whatever your lineage or upbringing, Coming Home is a compelling read that will hopefully spur readers into action. In light of recent events taking place in our country, we ought to feel driven to combat racism and prejudice wherever we observe it.


The Brownstone by Julie Brown

This novel follows Lili Wentworth as she  has to overcome forces that keep her  mind on thoughts about spirits, love, responsibility, and loss, with travels to London, Julliard, as well as New York City. When a scandalous truth comes forth from a young dancer, Lili Wentworth’s dream life is shattered, with the revelation threatening to alter it forever. She must re-evaluate her life with the assistance of a family friend. On her journey, she develops loyal friendships and bonds, one in particular which finds her having to decide if she will chase after this deep affection, or leave it behind. Will Lili defeat what threatens her the most, or will she fail and be defeated by her own worst enemy…herself?

The Brownstone, written by Julie Brown is the first book of The Brownstone Series. Many people have suffered from some sort of loss in their lives, for one reason or another. A reader will find themselves spiritually, emotionally, and mentally connecting with the main character Lilli’s life experiences right away, as the author skillfully weaves them through the concepts of life after death, of joy after devastation, healing, and a journey towards clarification. The story is exciting, adventurous, and far from predictable. A reader will find themselves finished reading quickly, as the suspense to know what happens next is increased with each chapter. I absolutely related to and loved this book. It has everything a well-rounded reader could want; adventure, romance, suspense, and a great mix of events and emotions. This is a must read new series from a promising new author.


Black Holes by Brian Bodman

Black Holes is a novel about Scott Dee, a punny class clown teenager whose whole life is irrevocably and astronomically changed by the unexpected death of his girlfriend, Marianne. A few days after a meaningless tiff that has them not speaking, Marianne sees Scott across the street and, without looking, makes a run for him. Scott’s attempt to stop her lands him in a coma, but Marianne is killed. While in a coma, Scott discovers that he has an out-of-body power to access the Quantum Universe. Through photon-driven thought that occurs at the speed of light, Scott begins to form a plan to manipulate time and space and save Marianne’s life. However, it soon becomes apparent that Scott is not the only one who possesses these powers and that these powers could be used for evil. Scott quickly comes to the conclusion that he needs to learn more to use his abilities to protect the past and save the future.

At times, the plot of Black Hole can be difficult to follow, with unusual concepts such as space and time travel, telekinesis, the existence of the soul, and particle physics playing important roles. The overall theme of time as malleable and changing, yet ever passing also gives Black Holes a rather cryptic feel. With no obvious chapter markers, it can be hard to tell just how much time is passing– is it the blink of an eye or two thousand years? Nevertheless, the narrative is one that readers may find appealing, if they are looking for an interesting story to get lost within.


Vanished from Dust by Shea Norwood

‘Vanished from Dust’ by Shea Norwood is the first in a series of supernatural adventure tales that center on two eighth-grade friends, Eric Stark and Kyle Barrett, as they race to save their fictional hometown of Dust, Texas from impending doom. Eric Stark would love to be just a run-of-the-mill eighth grader trying desperately to fit in with his classmates and avoid his daily tormentor at school, Greg Coffey. Instead, he is plagued by visions of “phantoms,” tall, pitch-black figures with glowing red eyes that appear periodically and only to Eric. Or so he thinks. Eric and Kyle spend the bulk of the story unraveling the great mystery lurking underneath Dust and connecting the dots between the town drunk, the phantoms, the mysterious disappearance of a young girl and why everyone in Dust seems to be exhausted at all hours.

Norwood’s descriptions throughout the book are simple and effective. There isn’t much frill or flourish in the story’s language and it only runs a trim 158 pages. Norwood is also able to carefully craft the character differences of the two best friends; the cautious, shy introvert Eric and the more brazen, often-courageous Kyle. The differences in the home lives of the children are a very effective way of subtly characterizing the two boys. Eric is an only child, his mother and father are together, and they have plenty of money. Kyle’s father isn’t around and his mother works tirelessly (Kyle mentions late in the book that she never misses work) to support him, his older brother and younger sister. Where the book lacks is pacing. While the book balances phantom encounters with Greg Coffey confrontations with scenes that build Eric and Kyle’s friendship very well in the first 90 pages, the second half of the book relies almost solely on Eric and Kyle’s investigation of the mysteries of Dust. These scenes, while necessary and sometimes effective, are either strung too close together or are too far apart to keep up the pace as the book’s climax approaches. ‘Vanished from Dust’ is a fun, quick read. Norwood has written his characters extremely well and has spun a mystery well worth the day or two it will take most readers to finish this book.


Roscoe Jack of Gateway Farm by Ken Bangs

Imagination and a curious Jack Russell terrier run wild in Ken Bangs’ inspirational novella, Roscoe Jack of Gateway Farm. Just as the hot woods of East Texas can be cruel, the land once served as a beautiful dream thanks to the work of Ken Bangs and wife Trudy. The loving couple rescued endangered dogs and watched as they learned valuable life lessons about fear, trust and faith on Gateway Farm. Roscoe Jack has been abandoned by his owner and must find a way to survive after the death of his sister. A simple twist of fate transforms the life of the Russell Terrier and he finds himself at Gateway Farm amongst new furry and curious friends. However, Jack is not yet a member of “the posse” or “Gateway 6-pack.” He must pay some dues and learn the laws of the land. Ken and Trudy watch over strong-willed Roscoe as he encounters a talking Catfish named Blue, shadows “The Master” and proves that it ain’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

The 92 pages of Roscoe Jack offer a message of hope and strength during adversity, however Bangs injects plenty of comedy along the way, which gives the novella a wider reach. The author knows how to poke fun at himself (The Master!) and creates sparkling personalities for his characters. One can only smile at the antics of little Roscoe, the mischievous Blue and a self-described “pirate” pup with the propensity to call others “dude.” The life lessons are often spelled out for the reader, sometimes too much, but the style is perfect for a young audience. However, given the amount of violence, albeit the harsh truth of farm life, the text may not be for everybody. The talking animals allow Bangs to expand the world of Gateway Farm, however the rules of the game may need to be tweaked for future stories.  Despite the flaws, Roscoe Jack of Gateway Farm is a brisk, easy read and somewhat of a breath of fresh air. The beauty of life shines bright by acknowledging the dark aspects as well.


I Wish by E.B. Tatby

iwish-tatby-ebook-webI Wish tells the story of Kenza, a young Moroccan-American girl from Nebraska whose father likes to tell her tales about jinns and other spirits – tales that Kenza thinks are pure fiction until one night a jinn shows up in her bedroom!  Intelligent and rational, Kenza’s first instinct is to dismiss the spirit as a hallucination, but when even Kenza’s dreams start taking on a life of their own, she is left with no option but to try and figure out why she’s suddenly receiving so much otherworldly attention.  Through flashbacks, Kenza discerns that she somehow shares a connection with a girl named Jamila who lived and died in Morocco centuries ago.  Jamila fought and defeated (or so she thought!) an evil entity with the help of her jinn allies, one that seems to have reawakened and started messing with Kenza’s life in the present day.  Amidst all of this supernatural mischief, Kenza has to contend with bullies at school, a somewhat unrealistic crush on the ghost of a dead boy, and the growing realization that her life is slowly becoming much more complicated than she had hoped – in more ways than one.  Doesn’t a teenager have enough problems without adding poltergeists to the pile?!

wish I had discovered this book earlier.  Tatby’s awesomely inventive tale is an example of what middle-grade and young adult fiction should be: fun, accessible, imaginative, and well paced.  Kenza is a charming lead character whose reactions to events in her life are both realistic and humorous.  Tatby has also done an excellent job of writing about the relationship between a teenager and her parents, illustrating the fact that, though family life is often rife with tension and turmoil, true family always has each other’s back.


Endor the Wizard by John R. Garland

7068186This charming (and charmed) story for young readers draws inspiration from epic bodies of work, like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, blending the traditional elements of fantasy with the educational and instructive components that is essential to forms of storytelling like folklore and fables.  As a young boy, Endor was raised in the magical woodlands of Greysmire, his native country, by a brethren of elves and fairies, learning and perfecting their magic while he matured into a grown man.  Confident in his abilities, Endor now roams the land wide and free, where he seeks to improve the lives of his people.  But a wizard’s reputation in Greysmire is not a sure thing, and the village folk initially draw back from Endor in fear.  Endor is able to win their trust and learns of a growing threat to the north: an evil wizard by the name of Lord Gundermire, who seeks to make war with the south using a combination of dark magic, fell creatures, and foul trickery.  Soon, Endor is placed at the head of the warfront, his country’s best hope for survival against the encroaching forces of evil.  If he is defeated in battle, it will spell the end of everyone in Greysmire.

Endor the Wizard is full of heart and humor, with fully imagined characters like Endor himself and his two animal companions: TK, a brave and curious owl, and BW, a kind but meek mouse.  The story is arranged as a series of vignettes, lasting only a few pages each, which would make this wonderful reading material for parents and their small children.  The language itself, though not difficult, is vivid enough also to appeal to older readers, and the world of Greysmire will surely draw you in.  If at the end of Endor you still hunger for more, you’re in luck!  There remain two additional installments in the series, and we encourage you to check them out.  During Endor’s journey, readers will learn several of life’s simple lessons, such as valuing honesty over treachery, remaining loyal to your friends, and, above all else, eschewing darkness to follow in the light.


A Tragic Heart by S. Elle Cameron

A Tragic Heart by S. Elle Cameron tells the story of Taylor Caldwell, a sixteen year old girl who has been struggling with depression. Her unfortunate hardships change and evolve when she starts a relationship with her high school crush, Mason, and they eventually decide to get married, even though Taylor’s family strong disapproves. For a short time, her life dramatically gets better and she finds happiness with the man of her dreams at her side. Unfortunately, the good times do not last for long, as unforeseen dramatic events cause her world to crumble all around her.

This novel follows a young girl trying to find meaning in life, while she tries to understand her true self and conquer her inner demons which often seem far too much for her to overcome. Cameron explores the usual themes that are so often present in a teenager’s life, and also adds in the typical elements of love triangles and the struggles of growing up. Switching back and forth between good times and bad, the author takes the reader on a roller coaster of emotion, as she crafts this tale of a troubled teenager coming of age, offering twists and turns on many pages to keep the story fresh and engaging. The characters created in this book are the kinds that will be remembered, as they are realistic and raw, the kind you will either love or hate. For a young adult novel, the subject material is rather dark, and is not to be taken lightly; especially as the ending itself is rather tragic. Nevertheless, this is the kind of tale that will stay with you after the book comes to its conclusion.


Confessions of a Nerdy Girl by Linda Cousine

Wilhelmina Eugenia Shisbey is the thirteenth documented person in the world to have H-SAM, highly superior autobiographical memory, a condition that allows her to remember the exact weather patterns that occurred and the breakfast cereals that she ate on an exact day, even if it was years ago. Between H-SAM, her surgically corrected cleft lip, her thick glasses, and her pride in her eraser collection, Willa is, well, a total nerd. Or so she believes at the beginning of Confessions of a Nerdy Girl. Thirteen year-old Willa struggles against the cruelty of being considered different and unpopular in middle school, but Willa’s story is one of perseverance and the importance of a good and genuine soul. With these traits Willa fights the injustices that exist within the walls of Orange County, California’s Triton Middle School. Willa becomes a leader for the individuals who know how sad and disheartening it is to eat lunch alone or feel like you just don’t belong.

Confessions of a Nerdy Girl is a heart-warming book with a message that could be applied in any middle school throughout the country. The story touches on sensitive topics such as homosexuality, physical handicaps, and bullying. Willa’s trials, mishaps, and triumphs alternately leave the reader cringing, laughing, and cheering her on, and Willa’s actions and good heart make her into the life-changing everyday superhero that all thirteen year-olds should aspire to be like. Confessions of a Nerdy Girl will have you turning pages until you finally have to ask yourself, “How do I get my hands on the sequel?”


Facing the Tide by Kyle Freelander

It’s hard enough to lose one of your best friends, but when you lose them at a young age as a teenager, while in the midst of discovering who you really are, the loss itself hurts even more. Becca is a seventeen year old girl who loves horses, and although she has aspirations of her own, she’s always been the shy one, staying within the shadows of her livelier friend Lanie, whose personality shines freely. This all changes when a terrible accident occurs, shifting Becca’s life and changing everything she’s ever known. She finds help from a few unexpected characters, including Lanie’s older brother, a strange therapist whose methods seem peculiar, and Christian, the boy that Lanie and Becca both have feelings for. In the end, Becca has to forge a new path and find her own way, without her best friend by her side.

Facing the Tide by Kyle Freelander is a startling and intoxicating young adult novel that has the ability to explore the dynamics of a friendship between two teenage girls, filtered through the lens of both triumph and tragedy. Freelander balances the deeper parts of the story by including moments of humor and happiness in a successful way. The characters, especially Becca and Lanie are fully developed and their personalities fully come alive on the page. The love the girls have for horses also comes through, adding another element to the narrative. All in all, this is a well written book that any teenage girl will easily relate to, and enjoy.


Ray Ryan by Aiden Riley

Starting off with the death of his mother, the protagonist of this novel, Ray Ryan, which is also the title of the book, written by Aiden Riley, feels at a loss, not quite sure how to go on after experiencing such a harrowing interruption of life. Time doesn’t stop though, as the years pass him by, changing the setting from the early nineties, to the later ones, before settling upon the new millennium, Ray Ryan is no longer a small boy, but rather an adolescent who is transitioning into becoming a young man. He’s not the biggest kid around the town of Nottingham, but he makes his presence known through the words he speaks, and through the dream of becoming a writer that he yearns for so desperately. His world is turned upside down when his best friend makes a horrible decision, causing him to gain the kind of enemies no one would ever want to have. All the while, Ray strives to go on, learning about himself as he continues to grow and change, aiming to help those around him who have lost their way.

This is an entertaining story about a boy growing up, facing adversity along the way, but still persevering in the end. It’s a tale of loss, love, and looking ahead to the future, while remaining grounded within the day to day fears we all face. Riley chronicles Ray’s journey from boyhood to his current place in life in a well paced and endearing way. That’s not to say the narrative isn’t filled with trials along the way, because it certainly is, but the characters described in this story are the kind that the reader is bound to be rooting for. All in all, this is an engaging and enjoyable read that examines what it’s like for a young boy to become acquainted with the realities of life.


Frankie’s Angel by Lisa Dekis

When seven-year-old Frankie loses her mother unexpectedly, she feels like the entire world is crumbling around her. In the short novella ‘Frankie’s Angel’ by Lisa Dekis, the reader is confronted with the story of a young girl who struggles to deal with the death of the person she was closest with. From the funeral and on, Frankie withdraws into herself, not wanting to face others, or the reality that the world has handed her. Luckily for Frankie, a guardian angel comes to her rescue, who is able to guide her towards a life where she will refuse to give up. The angel’s words litter the page, but the question arises within the reader: ‘Is Frankie’s angel a true angel, or just a mere figment of her imagination that she has created to cope with the loss of her mother?’ This novel contemplates the agony a young girl is faced with when dealt such a detrimental blow to her understanding of life, all the while giving hope that in time, things will find a way to go on, and be okay.

This novella is described as being ‘a child’s tale of loss and recovery,’ and it is just that, as it succeeds in capturing the true essence of how a child would deal with death. Dekis herself explains that she too, like Frankie, lost her mother at a young age, and it is apparent from the love that she pours into the character of this brazen young girl with fiery red hair that she has created. The story is an enjoyable read overall, however some issues that were brought up could have been expanded upon. The ending is mildly abrupt, but it leaves the reader wanting to know more about what will happen to Frankie, which the author plans to reveal in later works. All in all, this is a well-written tale about how sometimes in order to overcome the loss of death, the youngest of souls must dream in unusual ways in order to move on.