Restless in Peaceville by Pippa Jay

PEACEVILLE
Restless in Peaceville by Pippa Jay
Publisher: Lycaon Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (124 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Welcome to Peaceville, population 2067 and rising…from the grave…

Luke Chester has had enough. He’s the school geek, the girls laugh at him, he’s lost his dead-end job at the pizza place, and in the midst of the world’s messiest divorce his parents don’t even know he exists. An overdose of his mom’s tranquilizers and a stomach full of whiskey should solve all his problems…

But they don’t. Instead, Luke finds himself booted out of the afterlife for not dying a natural death, with nowhere to go but back to his recently vacated corpse and reality. How the hell is he going to pass for one of the living without someone trying to blow his brains out for being one of the undead?

And it just gets worse. He’s got to fight his own desperate craving to consume the living, evade the weird supernatural hunter who’s having a field day with the new undeads rising, and there’s this creepy black shadow following him around. Add to that the distraction of female fellow undead Annabelle burning to avenge her own murder, and clearly there’s no rest for the wicked. Jeez, all he wanted to do was R.I.P.

Not everyone gets a second chance, but Luke is one of the lucky ones.

What I found most interesting about Luke was how quickly his biggest personality flaws showed up in the first few scenes. I prefer reading about protagonists whose weaknesses are serious and can’t be easily overcome because it leaves so much room for character development. This book definitely gave Luke plenty of room to grow and change in his afterlife. For that reason alone, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping the author will consider writing a sequel. There is room for it if she decides to do so!

Two characters regularly shifted between a close, platonic friendship and a romantic relationship. They were well-suited for either option, but I would have preferred it if only one was emphasized. It was a little confusing to move back and forth between the two so often in a story this size. There wasn’t enough time in it to explain exactly why these characters were conflicted about what kind of relationship they wanted to have with one another because there were so many other things going on at the same time.

The pacing was excellent. I had a hard time taking any breaks from reading it, especially later on when the tension reached its peak. While I would have loved it if this tale was twice as long, the length the author chose worked incredibly well for her premise. She struck a good balance between giving brief glimpses of Luke’s past and pushing him further ahead on his quest before time runs out.

Restless in Peaceville is a smart twist on the zombie genre. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves the dark side of paranormal fiction.

All the Broken Pieces by Cindi Madsen

PIECES
All the Broken Pieces by Cindi Madsen
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, YA
Length: Full Length(331 pgs)
Age recommendation: 13+
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lupine

What if your life wasn’t your own?

Liv comes out of a coma with no memory of her past and two distinct, warring voices inside her head. Nothing, not even her reflection, seems familiar. As she stumbles through her junior year, the voices get louder, insisting she please the popular group while simultaneously despising them. But when Liv starts hanging around with Spencer, whose own mysterious past also has him on the fringe, life feels complete for the first time in, well, as long as she can remember.

Liv knows the details of the car accident that put her in the coma, but as the voices invade her dreams, and her dreams start feeling like memories, she and Spencer seek out answers. Yet the deeper they dig, the less things make sense. Can Liv rebuild the pieces of her broken past, when it means questioning not just who she is, but what she is?

What starts out as a very mysterious and hidden plot eventually turns into a roller coaster of intrigue and deceit as Liv tries desperately to unravel her past after a tragic accident claims her memories.

I really enjoyed the plot; I thought it was the best part of the book considering how I am usually able to guess how things will turn out, and the author kept slamming doors of possibility in my face as I kept guessing and being wrong. It’s a wonderfully done piece. My only complaint would be the obnoxious girl who, of course, ran the school and was the popular one. She was rather stereotypical, when it comes down to the mean girl type.

Liv was an excellent main character. She had a great development, and I enjoyed watching her try and fit back into the real world and her new life after such a little time to recover. She had curiosity and spunk that made me giggle, and she usually had a reason to cry, so wasn’t a whiny heroine. She possessed strength, especially in the end, when she finally discovered the real reasons behind her mental battles and odd dreams.

Spencer was as equally well done for a brooding teenage boy trying to erase the mistakes in his life and redo his world. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about him and what he did for Liv in her destroyed life, picking up all the broken pieces and gluing them back together.  A good book that has me looking for more from this publisher and author.

The Revenge Artist by Philip Hoy

Girl writing at her desk at school
The Revenge Artist by Philip Hoy
Publisher: Lycaon Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (172 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A bullied teen embarks on a dark journey of revenge when she discovers the power to make bad things happen by drawing them.

Evelyn Hernandez is a high school junior who reads Shakespeare for fun, sews her own dresses, and keeps a sketch journal of her daily life. When varsity quarterback Garvey Valenzuela breaks her heart, she sends him to the emergency room with a busted hand.

Add black magic to her résumé.

The Revenge Artist is the story of a bullied teen who embarks on a dark journey of revenge when she discovers she has the power to make bad things happen by drawing them. The novel explores the emotional pain, isolation, and self-hatred caused by bullying and cyber-bullying in particular as it follows the self-destructive path taken by one teen attempting to defend herself from bullies.

Evelyn is temporarily empowered by her ability to hurt others, “Don’t you know? I’m a witch… a real, honest to God, black-hearted, evil witch!” and this is what keeps her from seeing that her true power comes from her loyal and caring nature, the love and support of her friends and family, and most of all, her intelligence and creativity.

They say karma catches up with everyone eventually, so what’s wrong with helping it show up a little early?

Evelyn’s character development was strong. She has a good balance of flaws and strengths, several of which played an important role later on in this tale. I really enjoy it when authors tie their protagonist’s personalities so strongly to the plot because it leaves a lot of room for the main character to grow emotionally as a result of his or her experiences.

There were some pacing issues early on. Approximately the first third of the book was used for character development as well as setting the scene for everything that happened later on. While all of the background information I learned in this section was important, the blurb lead me to assume that I’d be reading something that moved along more quickly. In some ways these two portions felt like entirely different stories due to how they were paced and the issues they spent the most time focusing on. It would have been helpful to have a few more glimpses of the excitement to come in the first chapter or two in order to bridge the gap between Evelyn’s ordinary life and what happens to her after her big betrayal.

The conversations Evelyn has with her friends sometimes switched from English to Spanish for a phrase or sentence. I recommend taking the time to translate them to anyone who isn’t fluent in Spanish because they were so well written and informative. It was fun to get to know Evelyn and her friends from these brief exchanges as they often showed sides of these characters’ personalities that were otherwise hidden.

The Revenge Artist is an intriguing choice for anyone who knows what it’s like to be teased or bullied in school.

The Dark of the Moon by Samantha Allard

DARK
The Dark of the Moon by Samantha Allard
Publisher: Lycaon Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (96 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A missing brother, werewolves at war, and she’s stuck in the middle. Rachel might not be your average girl, but even she has her limits.

Rachel Valentine isn’t your average girl.

Three years ago her brother disappeared, and Rachel went off the rails quite spectacularly. Now she is trapped in a nunnery because she accidently blew up half the science department at her old school. One night she sees her long-lost brother in the crowd behind a reporter on television. There’s no mistaking who he is, but getting her parents to believe her is a different matter. It leaves her one option: break out of the nunnery and travel to London to track him down.

She’s about to find out that things are never that simple and there are some secrets that are impossible to believe.

Nothing can stop this girl’s mission. Or can it?

Yes, Rachel has a prickly side, but underneath that is someone who would do absolutely anything to help her brother. Her strong attachment to her sibling is what first made me like her, and her kind, ethical personality soon gave me other reasons to root for her as well. Developing such a strong moral code makes up for a lot of personal flaws. While Rachel definitely has more than her fair share of them, this made her feel like a real person to me.

There were some plot holes that I noticed later on in this tale. One of the characters suddenly possesses a skill that had never been mentioned before. I would have preferred to have much more information about where this skill came from and why it took so long to show up. It would have also been helpful if more time had been spent explaining why everyone reacts to this event the way they do. Certain parts of it briefly made me wonder if there was a prequel that hadn’t shown up on my Internet searches for this title.

As a fan of the werewolf sub-genre, it’s always interesting to see how authors visualize this part of their books. Ms. Allard struck a smart balance between describing her version of werewolf culture and showing how humans who aren’t accustomed to it would realistically react to the less savoury parts of it. It was fun to see this world through her eyes.

Give The Dark of the Moon a try if you enjoy contemporary werewolf stories.

The Riddle of Prague by Laura DeBruce

RIDDLE
The Riddle of Prague by Laura DeBruce
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Paranormal, Action/Adventure, YA
Length: Full Length (212 pgs)
Age recommendation: 16+
Rated: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

When 18-year-old Hana Silna travels to Prague to reclaim her family’s ancestral home, she finds herself on an unexpected adventure in a city brimming with ancient secrets. She discovers a riddle by the infamous alchemist Edward Kelley that claims to lead to a long-last flask. The contents of that flask could change the fate of the world. When a ruthless enemy kidnaps her family, Hana has to find the flask to rescue them. On her quest she meets a mysterious man with a penchant for poetry, a Gypsy girl with a haunting past, and Alex, the motorcycle-riding son of a U.S. diplomat. Alex — who’s trying to save his sister from a crippling disease — joins Hana on her race across Bohemia to find the hidden flask. It’s hard to trust anyone when the stakes are this high — especially when surrounded by experts at deception. There’s only one flask and Hana desperately needs to find it.

Reported in the first person and abruptly in-the-moment, The Riddle of Prague is intriguing but also, often, disorienting.

Hana, raised in America, is strongly motivated to visit The Czech Republic (home of her ancestors and still some family.) She bumps into unusual characters, and unclear circumstances, right from the start. As we are wondering if she drank a spiked drink, she’s already on to the next challenge. Hana is an incredible heroine: brave yet understanding, clever, but willing to listen. She’s such a real person, her character alone is enough to keep you reading.

Fast, unpredictable and in your face, I found the story confusing at times, as much action (and thought) is neither described nor unexplained, and only made clear as one progresses with the story. Readers must willingly be confused and move forward, nonetheless.

The backdrop, and the historic references, are interwoven into the story simply beautifully. The fantastical Flask with its mysterious, hoped-for healing powers ties the paranormal elements very nicely to the history of the place, and adds a certain depth to the mystery. With a hint of romance and (much) more than a hint of danger in the quest, this book, Debruce’s first in her Quicksilver Legacy Series, offers a little of something for everyone, and leaves us all waiting for book 2.

Very readable, and fans of the paranormal might want to give The Riddle of Prague a try.

Spell for Sophia by Ariella Moon

SOPHIA
Spell for Sophia by Ariella Moon
Publisher: Astraea Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (228 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sophia Perez-Hidalgo’s survival depends upon her mastering magic and the supernatural before her lawless parents and their vengeful boss catch up to her. How far must she flee to escape them forever? Sophia runs until she’s out of stolen money, then… Fate delivers her into the arms of Louisiana teen Shiloh Breaux Martine, and his grand-mère, a reclusive voodoo priestess living deep in the bayou.

Breaux knows Sophia is trouble — but he’ll travel through time, battle zombies, and risk his bright future to protect her. While Ainslie, best friend extraordinaire, will jeopardize her sanity to find and aid Sophia. When friendship, magic, and love are not enough, Sophia will have to save herself. But first, she must believe she’s worth saving.

No one can outrun all of their troubles.

It was interesting to see the narration jump back and forth between Ainslie and Sophia. This isn’t something that’s easy to do well, but it worked for this story. There was so much going on that certain scenes would have been much more difficult to describe from only one point of view. Writing it this way was a good choice.

There were a few too many characters running around. It was sometimes difficult to remember who was who because so many different people were introduced in a short period of time. Something as simple as a list of major characters and short descriptions of how they were all connected would have been really helpful.

With that being said, the plot itself was easy to jump into. I’m curious to one day see what happened in the earlier books in this series, but I understood what was going on in this one perfectly without any advanced knowledge of Sophia’s incredibly difficult childhood. The flashbacks gave me more than enough information to understand why she acts the way she does.

Sophia is described as someone who has had extensive training in spell casting, so it wasn’t easy for me to understand why she made so many mistakes when practicing magic. There was nothing in the rest of her character development that would explain why she had so much trouble learning new things though. As a reader, it was distracting to try to figure out why this might be the case while also paying attention to everything else that was going on.

The romance was well done. The characters involved in it had strong chemistry. More importantly, they genuinely seemed to like one another as friends first. This is something I consider to be vital in any romantic storyline because friendship is such a big part of what makes relationships last in the longterm. Luckily the characters involved in this one have a bond that runs much deeper than physical attraction.

Spell for Sophia is a good choice for anyone who likes contemporary fantasy.

Citadel of Fire by Matthew Wolf

MEDIA KIT CoverArt_Citadel_ebook2

Citadel of Fire by Matthew Wolf
Publisher: Self
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
Length: Full (562 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rated 4.5 stars
Review by Poppy

Seventeen-year old Gray is descended from a legendary hero known as a Ronin and haunted by his forgotten past. He returns home to a wizards’ keep, unaware he is now labeled a murderous traitor for killing his best friend.

Now he must cross a dangerous desert full of thieves, mythical beasts, and other magical unknowns, all to return to a home that may be his demise. At the same time, a poisonous evil seeks to convert the world to their dark mantra, “strength is life, weakness death.”

Gray may have hero’s blood in his veins, but how can one kill a belief?

I’m a huge fan of fantasy novels, and this book absolutely fits the bill.

I didn’t know this was the second book in a series when I picked it up, and I admit to being confused for a bit because the action here starts right off the bat. We meet several groups of people in the first few chapters and learn about things that were clearly important to the story (like the “spark” and the ronin and more) that were a little too ambiguous for me to get immediately. However, I hung in there and got a big payoff.

The characters were so amazing and well drawn, the writing crisp and descriptive but never dull and the plot solid. The author skillfully wove in information tidbit by tidbit and kept me reading and longing for more. I didn’t realize, at first, that Gray is the lead here, because there are other characters given just as much space. I like Gray though, and he’s the reason I have every intention of going back and reading book one to catch up. He’s an interesting anomaly, as is the woman he meets near the beginning, Faye, who I really, really liked. I don’t think I was supposed to like her quite so much, but her self-confidence, smart mouth and swagger really spoke to me.

There’s a touch of LOTR here. At first, when he mentions the nine kings, I felt that was a deliberate nod to Tolkien and his nine kings (who ultimately became the ring wraiths). I wasn’t sure if I should be irritated or not, but honestly aside from their number, they are nothing like those LOTR kings.

It was interesting to watch the author merge all the various groups of people together and see how they were able to overcome much to work against defeating a common foe. The author truly created amazing characters who were real, flawed and unique, and although the plot was certainly gripping, it was those characters who kept me completely invested in the story and turning pages.

I have little negative to say here, other than the fact this didn’t stand alone as strongly as one might hope. But that doesn’t matter … book one is out there and just asking to be added to my library. Then I’ll be all caught up and waiting for the next in the series very eagerly.

I highly recommend this book (and the first) to any reader who loves epic fantasy. There is so much depth here and truly great writing. I’m never certain what to expect from self-published works but this one was clean, well written and worth every penny. It’s a book I’ll want to read more than once, as I’m certain I missed things here that will only add to the richness of the story.

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Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels by Carrie Cross

JEWELS
Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels by Carrie Cross
Publisher: Teen Mystery Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (244 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A deserted mansion perches on a steep hillside, overlooking a rocky canyon. Tattered curtains hang behind broken windows, and a turret stretches toward the sky. Three years ago the wealthy owner disappeared suddenly, leaving behind a house full of secrets: A mysterious note, tantalizing clues, a hidden floor, one piece of a treasure map, and a missing fortune in diamonds.

Thirteen-year-old sleuth Skylar Robbins moves into the mansion with her parents and embarks on a new and dangerous mission. Armed with her detective kit, and with the support of her BFF Alexa and a team of secret agents, Skylar sets out to decipher the clues and find the diamonds. Can she outwit a gang of aggressive bikers and find the hidden jewels before they do? Or will the perils of middle school–like battling ruthless bully Emelyn Peters for the attention of class hottie Dustin Coles–get in her way?

Old houses can carry a lot of secrets, but they’re not always keen on revealing them.

It was a lot of fun to observe Skylar’s relationship with her parents. This was the first time that she’s attempted to solve a mystery while living with them, so there were many opportunities for her sleuthing to be squeezed into otherwise ordinary days. The relationship between mother and daughter was particularly interesting because Skylar and her mom have completely opposite personalities and interests.The occasional disagreements that resulted from these differences were well written and believable.

The character development was also strong. Skylar has learned from her previous adventures and occasionally mentions those lessons as she attempts to solve this mystery. I liked seeing a slightly older and more mature version of this character and am looking forward comparing this version of her with who she will become in the future.

My only criticism of this tale is a minor one. Early on in the plot Skylar’s parents buy a house that’s three times the size of what they actually need. The characters discuss how unusual this decision is, but they never really give any concrete reasons for why a small, nuclear family would have any interest in such a huge home. I would have preferred to see at least one more conversation later in on the plot explaining this decision.

Attempting to solve the mystery before anyone in the plot figures it out is one of the things I look forward to the most with this series. The clues are revealed slowly and methodically. Some of them are easy to figure out, but others require more thought. I’ve really enjoyed puzzling out both of Skylar’s mysteries so far.

This is the sequel to Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hill, but it can be read as a standalone novel. The most important background and character information from that story is briefly recapped in this one.

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels has made me eager to read more about Skylar’s adventures. I’d heartily recommend this tale to anyone who is a fan of mysteries or the young adult genre.

Sisters Fate by Jessica Spotswood

FATE
Sisters Fate by Jessica Spotswood
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: YA, Paranormal, Alternate Reality
Length: Full Length (368 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

A fever ravages New London, but with the Brotherhood sending suspected witches straight to the gallows, the Sisters are powerless against the disease. They can’t help without revealing their powers—as Cate learns when a potent display of magic turns her into the most wanted witch in all of New England.

To make matters worse, Cate has been erased from the memory of her beloved Finn. While she’s torn between protecting him from further attacks and encouraging him to fall for her all over again, she’s certain she can never forgive Maura’s betrayal. And now that Tess’s visions have taken a deadly turn, the prophecy that one Cahill sister will murder another looms ever closer to its fulfillment.

In an alternate 1900s New England, suspected witches are sent to the gallows–although they are hardly the witches of olden days. No, these are gorgeous contemporary girls with lives, loves, and special powers. They’d use the power for good, if they could–like curing disease–but they are in a world where helping someone means putting themselves at risk.

Spotswood’s characters simply shine. The good in their hearts speaks louder than any special magic skills, readers can’t help admiring them and sympathizing with their plight. These are not the dark characters found in some tales: no, in fact, Cate’s specialty is healing magic. Tess, who can foretell, seems always the sweetest and most vulnerable of the sisters, Maura… oh, dear, Maura. Sisters can be sisters! In a family of remarkable closeness Cate and Maura have their differences – different approaches to try to achieve the same thing, only here, those differences might lead to disaster.

Cate struggles not to lose boyfriend Finn, who has no memory of her, while being true to her sisters. Finn is a simply wonderful, real, heartfelt character; readers will adore him.

Spotswood’s New England is both familiar and entirely strange: geographically the same and yet, a magical world that is scene to the struggles between powers.

Although part of a series, this can be read and understood as a stand-alone. Reading this makes me regret not starting at the beginning! Although a ‘paranormal,’ Sister’s Fate, so character-driven, will have a wide general appeal and might well draft a few new readers to the genre! Beautifully written.

Left Behind Book One: The Forbidden Voyage by R. Anne Polcastro

BEHIND
Left Behind Book One: The Forbidden Voyage by R. Anne Polcastro
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (197 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What would you do if everything you were taught about your home planet was a lie?
What would you do if you were Left Behind?

ENDIRION is a thirteen year old boy like any other. Except his skin is green and it glows. And he doesn’t have any hair on his head or anywhere else on his body. Oh and he lives in a cave underground. But so does everyone on the poisoned Mother Planet. There is little to eat and what they do have is as mutated as the people themselves. Fuel is scarce and technology exists only in history books.

Or so they are told.

When Endirion and his classmate Harlo are sentenced to hard labor at the Dump they see things that go against everything they have ever known about their planet. Determined to find out the truth the boys set off on a dangerous journey that pits them against angry marshals, mysterious animals, mutant humanoids, and lands them in the belly of a Monstruwhale. It is a harrowing quest that takes them down remote tunnels, across the Lake of Fire, into the Madlands and a whole new world.

Not every authority figure is trustworthy. Figuring out which ones can be trusted is a lot harder than it looks, but Endirion thinks he’s up to the task. Is he right?

There’s a difference between having a good idea and following through with it to its logical conclusion. I was intrigued by the premise of this book right away. It was gratifying to see how well the original concept held up as the plot progressed. Every twist added valuable information to what I’d learned in the blurb about this universe. More importantly, each one also made me more curious to see how it would all tie together in the end.

I would have liked to see more character development in this tale, especially when it came to Endirion. Given his insatiable curiosity and short temper, I was surprised to see how little he changed over the course of the plot. He experienced harrowing adventures and yet didn’t seem to learn anything from them. It was never clear to me why this was the case.

This was a highly detailed story. It took the time to explain everything from what mutated food tastes like to what it’s like to live in a damp, dusty cave. These passages were a lot of fun to read because they made it so easy to imagine what it would be like to live in this society. It isn’t somewhere I’d particularly like to visit, although I am curious to know what the deer jerky that Endiron despises actually tastes like!

I’d recommend Left Behind Book One: The Forbidden Voyage to anyone who has ever wondered what humans might be like in the distant future.