Spell for Sophia by Ariella Moon

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

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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.

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Action/Adventure, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (392 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 2.5 stars
Reviewed by Lupine

Sometimes danger is hard to see… until it’s too late.

Britt Pfeiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn’t prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants—but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

In exchange for her life, Britt agrees to guide the men off the mountain. As they set off, Britt knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there… and in uncovering this, she may become the killer’s next target.

But nothing is as it seems in the mountains, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

The intense setting of the book, in the middle of a snowstorm on a trip up into the mountains gets this story going. The excitement never stops, whether it’s dealing with an annoying ex-boyfriend or a new handsome stranger, and the overlying threat of freezing or dying at the hands of her captors keeps the protagonist on her toes and the reader turning pages.

​I struggled with the back and forth ​​with the friend​​ship between Korbie and Britt. It didn’t seem genuine nor did it seem deep, as Korbie is one of the most self-centered, bratty girls I’ve ever read about, and Britt is an “independent” spoiled, (and frequently stupid) rich girl who can’t seem to get over her douche bag ex-boyfriend. ​

​Then you have their trip up into the mountains, where they end up getting stranded because Britt didn’t want to pump more gas into the car and then the idea of staying in their fully stocked car with extra food/sleeping bags/gear was less attractive than stumbling around in a massive snowstorm just to maybe find some sort of help in a huge, unknown area of a mountain range.

I think the author wanted the readers to find the two men they find attractive, but I found them creepy.   I really hated the Stockholm syndrome going on…though I liked that relationship than the lost one Britt continues to pine over.  Still, it was disturbing.

Speaking of pining, Britt constantly is thinking about old “cute” memories of her and Calvin together, which distracts from the whole plot line and is annoying. Though it’s not much of a love triangle per se, it just wasn’t necessary. There was plenty of conflict without it and it got to the point where I just wanted to shake her and scream: PICK ONE.

Before you think I hated the book … I didn’t. There was enough action and excitement to keep me needing to find out what happened.  And the
epilogue made everything worthwhile.  It had more character development and true friendship than happened in the entire book.

I’m in the targeted age group for this book, so am writing from that point of view, and I wouldn’t give it to anyone under 13 because of the lusting, and (rather creepy) thoughts and actions with both of the men that Britt LOVES to DEATH and the gory details that describe dead bodies found along with a little language.

Honestly, Black Ice was painfully, horribly interesting. ​

Gideon Lee by Lisa Orchard

Gideon Lee by Lisa Orchard
Publisher: EsKape Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (131 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Lark Singer’s relationship with her mother is prickly to say the least. As she enters a musical competition that could launch her career, Lark also searches for answers her mother would rather keep hidden. Throw into the mix the fact her best friend Bean has been acting strangely, and Lark finds herself launched into uncharted territory. Will her quest for answers sabotage her musical aspirations?

Dreams can provide an endless source of hope if you think they might actually come true. If only Lark knew whether or not to trust hers.

Lark was so self-absorbed that at first I didn’t like her at all. It was hard to understand why someone who seemed to have so much going for her would behave so selfishly at times. Whether we’re kind or snobby, there are reasons why all of us act the way we do. Once I figured out what Lark’s reasons were, I saw her behavior in a brand new light. It made her character development even more special than it would have been otherwise.

There was a lot of material in this tale that was barely addressed. Some of it seemed to be written for mature teens, while other sections seemed more appropriate for readers in late middle school or early high school. To me it felt like the author was attempting to reach both audiences even though the subject matter is much darker than what I’ve typically seen being written for preteens.This book would have easily earned a much higher rating from me had it been expanded into a full-length novel, explored its dark subject matter more seriously, and been clearly meant for older teens. The premise itself was really strong, this just isn’t the sort of thing that should be marketed to such a wide age range.

Not everyone who has a child is actually emotionally ready for that kind of responsibility. Some of the most interesting scenes in this novella explore the relationship between Lark and her mother. Lark’s mother didn’t strike me as a particularly mature adult. In a lot ways they actually behave a lot more like siblings than mother and daughter for reasons that I’ll leave up to future readers to discover for themselves. The realistic consequences of their dysfunctional living situation weren’t pretty, but they were well written.

I’d recommend Gideon Lee to anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming a rock star.

Rosi’s Company by Edward Eaton

Rosi’s Company by Edward Eaton
Publisher: Dragonfly Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (232 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Stuck in the Revolutionary War and reeling from a recent defeat by the British, Time Guardian Rosi Carol must rally a group of fugitives and prepare them for a final desperate battle. Outnumbered and outgunned by a merciless enemy, outsmarted at every turn by and increasingly wicked Kirk, Rosi must marshal all of her wits and her experience to reverse the course of events, save herself and her few remaining friends, and perhaps find a way home.

It’s much easier to make a plan than to actually carry it out. If only Rosi had more time to hammer out the details beforehand. Of course, that’s not how adventures work.

Rosi’s Time started with quite a bit of backstory, so I was pleased to see this story jump straight into the action. It felt good to keep following the characters on their mission since I was already so familiar with everyone involved. The pacing remained strong from beginning to end. At times it was so exciting that I couldn’t stop reading until I finished just one more chapter.

Once again the character development in this series was not given much attention. Rosi has barely changed at all since I first met her despite experiencing a wide range of things that sure seem like they would have an effect on how most people behave. I grew to like her quite a bit as an individual, but I found it hard to believe that she could remain almost exactly the same person after all she’s seen and done.

There’s a big difference between what it was actually like to live in a specific era and what people remember about it several hundred years later. The most interesting parts of this novel explore some of the assumptions that people living in the twenty-first century make about the past in enough detail that I was curious to see what else I’ve been mistaken about in this time in history. By far the most interesting snippets involved how fast wagons are actually able to move.

I recommend catching up with the beginning of this series before jumping into this one. The storyline is so entwined with book two in particular that it works much better if the reader already knows who is who and why these characters have been thrown into the past.

Rosi’s Company is a good choice for anyone in the mood to dive into a young adult trilogy that’s already been completed.

Rosi’s Time by Edward Eaton

Rosi’s Time by Edward Eaton
Publisher: Dragonfly Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (246 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Rosi Carol has managed to settle into her Uncle Richard’s New England castle, despite having her family’s so-called gift thrust upon her. Rosi has the ability to step through time, which means she also bears the responsibility to be time’s Guardian. Or rather Apprentice Guardian, as her Uncle Richard keeps pointing out. When she and her friends are dragged through a time portal into the past, Rosi must determine not only where they are but when they are and how to restore the timeline.

It’s one thing to read about the past. It’s quite another to suddenly be sucked into it.

Uncle Richard plays a slightly more prominent role in this plot. He was such a mysterious and aloof figure in Rosi’s first adventure that I was pleased to get to know him a little better. The relationship between these two characters seems like it is terribly complex for reasons that have been hinted at along the way. I would have liked to have even more information about Uncle Richard’s gruff persona and why he made certain decisions, but I was glad to finally have answers to some of my questions about him.

Rosi hasn’t grown or changed at all since I first met her. The first novel in this series sets up her personality and history so well that I was sure she would have had a chance to correct — or at least acknowledge — some of her faults along the way by now. By no means do I expect her to be perfect, but it was disappointing to see that she was as self-centered and critical as ever given all of the opportunities she’s had to learn from her experiences.

Some of the most interesting scenes discuss the differences between linear and non-linear time. This concept was addressed in detail in Rosi’s Castle, but I was glad to see them brought up again. I’m so used to thinking about time as something that is measurable, concrete and not able to be revisited that the refresher was helpful.

The pacing was slow at first. It would have worked better if this my was first introduction to Rosi’s world, but as someone who was already familiar with the background information I was antsy for the introductions to wrap up so the real action could begin. Approximately the first quarter of the plot is focused on this material. For me that was a little too much.

While I would have preferred that the most important details from Rosi’s Castle were recapped more quickly, writing it this way does make it convenient to read this book out of order or on its own. The reader doesn’t need to know anything in advance. That is a good thing for this particular series, and I would suggest going back to the beginning to catch up on previous events to anyone who enjoys this tale.

I’d recommend Rosi’s Time to anyone who like time travel stories.

Rosi’s Castle by Edward Eaton

Rosi’s Castle by Edward Eaton
Publisher: Dragonfly Publishing
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (200 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Orphaned, Rosi Carol is sent to live with her mysterious Uncle Richard in his eerie castle on the New England coast. Rosi feels even more of an outcast when she discovers the townspeople believe the Carol family has some kind of magical hold over New Richmond. Even her new friends are afraid of her. She soon discovers there may be some truth to the rumors. The castle seems to have a mind of its own with lights turning off and on and doors locking and unlocking with no one in sight. A strange dark cloud has dogged her since the train station. The ghosts of the Widows from New Richmond’s past blame Rosi for their husbands never returning from the sea. Her only allies are a Girl in Black (gone as suddenly as she appears) and Jesse (a paranormal reporter no one else can see). Can Rosi discover what the Widows want? What about the Girl in Black? Can Jesse help her find the answers or is he another big mystery? And why can’t her watch keep proper time?

The nice thing about moving to a new town is that it usually offers the opportunity to turn over a new leaf. If only Rosi knew why all of her new neighbours were acting so strangely around someone they’ve just met.

Rosi has several serious personality faults that reveal themselves early on in the plot. Her strengths were a little more challenging to figure out because they weren’t highlighted quite as much. I’ll admit that it took me some time to warm up to Rosi due to her tendency to judge things before gathering all of the facts, but once I got to know her better I was curious to see what would happen to her next.

It took me a long time to begin to figure out what was going on with Rosi’s uncle and his property. I understand that this is the first book in a trilogy, and I definitely wouldn’t expect the author to give away all of his secrets about the characters so early on. Having a few more clues early on about what Rosi was up against would have been incredibly helpful, though, due to the large percentage of the plot I spent feeling confused.

The atmosphere was deliciously spooky. One of the things I like the most about paranormal stories is how they bend the rules of physics in ways that don’t immediately make sense. Figuring out how and why those rules have been shifted is almost as interesting as learning what lead them to be altered in the first place.

Rosi’s Castle is a good choice for anyone who likes paranormal, young adult fiction.

Silent Circle by Cassandra Larsen

Silent Circle by Cassandra Larsen
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Short Story (138 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

“Most teens get a car for their seventeenth birthday. Me? I get inducted into a freaky coven of witches.”

When Emerson wakes up on her seventeenth birthday, she has no idea that her life will change forever.

After her mother’s inexplicable suicide three years ago, she’s gotten used to the scorn and sideways looks of her classmates. She knows everyone thinks her mother was crazy, and that it’s only a matter of time before Emerson cracks herself. So when Emerson starts seeing things and hearing voices, she begins to think that the rest of the town may be right. That is, until Caiden, an enigmatic guy from her class, tells her that she’s a witch, just like her mother.

But when Emerson nearly kills a girl at a party, she discovers just how dangerous these powers can be. Now it’s up to Caiden to train her before she hurts anyone else.

Most teens get a car for their seventeenth birthday. Me? I get inducted into a freaky coven of witches.

The first sentence of the book describes the story perfectly. First in this series the scene is set, and the characters are truly believable for the setting. There was enough mystery to attract my interest and Emerson, the heroine and trainee witch, had the usual angst of a seventeen year old. What she really needs is to find out why her mother committed suicide. Or did she?

Sebastian, her boyfriend shows jealousy but something about him doesn’t seem quite right. Is he hiding his true self? I believe I solved this by the end of the book, but won’t give my solution here as it would be a spoiler.

Caiden, the witch trainer, is the cause of Sebastian’s jealousy and Emerson feels her boyfriend’s being unreasonable. Caiden could be a love interest, but Emerson has too much going on in her life to concentrate on anyone but Sebastian.

So why do I only give this a 4.5 rating? This is due to the missing words in the text and incorrect grammar throughout the book. If this could be sorted out with a good editing I wouldn’t hesitate to give it a five.

Well done Ms Larsen, I look forward to reading the second book which you gave a preview of at the end of this one.

City of Tigers by Leif Chappelle

City of Tigers by Leif Chappelle
Publisher: Camel Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, YA
Length: Full Length (282 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Raised by his mother in the small town of Havlandsby, young Sigurd watches the projektors make their rounds, keeping the town lit and warm in the dark, cold winters, ensuring that water fills the wells. Their communion with the elements is as old as the world itself, but the projektors are losing their influence, and fewer of them are being born. Their duties are slowly being taken over by inanimate objects—the machinae—and the people they serve are fleeing their homes in droves for the cities.

After Sigurd’s mother dies, he joins the exodus to Tigrebyn, the City of Tigers, where he must fend for himself among the petty thieves and heartless merchants. Finally Sigurd meets Ragna, who has taken it upon herself to track and protect the remaining projektors, now punished for practicing the ancient art of projeksjon and labeled conspirators against the Crown. Sigurd’s particular art is nothing as mundane as bringing forth light, warmth, and water. Sigurd can command the very air to transform the sounds in his head into complex musical compositions, conducting an invisible orchestra of instruments and effects.

The professors at the University, who answer to the Queen, wish to use Sigurd’s gift to invent the greatest machina yet—but first they must bend the young man to their will.

Sigurd never knew his father. When his mother dies, they tell him he will have to go live with his uncle, her brother. He doesn’t like that idea, so he leaves the village and moves to the city. You can hide in the city, can’t you?

This story is a mix of machina and magic; the machina are almost steampunk in nature and the magic is done by projeksjon. The author has created a world with have and have-nots. Those that are part of the castle and the university have the machina. Those that don’t live there have to depend on their own skills to get along. The gap between the two groups is large and those who are at the bottom resent it.

Sigurd catches their attention by using a power he doesn’t know he owns. He has also found two more children his age, a brother and a sister and they have unusual powers. They also aren’t aware of it. Not knowing what they are capable of is dangerous. Sigurd somehow causes a fire in the square and becomes a wanted terrorist. He’s still not even sure he’s done it, but he has to hide.

This is a long convoluted tale. The children are caught in the middle because they are orphans. The queen and her consorts are playing games with other people’s lives. Sigurd becomes friends with the lady that leads the revolutionary group. You never really know what’s going on or who’s who.

The author’s words flow well, the story keeps you interested and wondering, and it’s a fast ride to the end. I’m afraid I’m not sure I understood the ending. It was odd to me and left me wondering about the other characters. Maybe I missed something as I read or maybe I needed a more obvious explanation, but I didn’t get it. I did enjoy the read, the world building and the characters. That made it worth reading. Why don’t you give it a try and see what you think?

Love’s Prey by Meg Xuemei X

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Love’s Prey by Meg Xuemei X
Publisher: Silver Wheel Publisher
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (201 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Xirena’s life has never been an easy one. Deemed a thief, a brute, and a slut by one’s own family and schoolmates might take its toll on your average fifteen-year-old, but Xirena makes no apologies. Then she meets seventeen-year-old Kai, smoking hot and hell-bent on seducing her. But Xirena isn’t having it. Kai must prove to Xirena that his attraction is something more. When he does, Xirena opens to him. Softens around the edges.

Problem is, Kai’s ex-girlfriends are none too happy about this. They won’t allow anyone, especially an outcast, to have the boy they want and will stop at nothing to ruin Xirena. But Xirena stands her ground even if it means wrecking her one and only chance of escaping these backwoods forever.

Love is an incredibly powerful thing. Can it really heal every wound though?

Xirena’s abusive home life reveals itself almost immediately. Some of my favorite scenes in this book show how she’s learned to survive in such a dysfunctional environment. The coping mechanisms that work for her at home don’t always get the same results from emotionally healthy people. Knowing this part of her history so early on also made Xirena’s character development even more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

This book is full of poetry. The characters quote classic pieces of it to each other from memory and sometimes even write new ones. It was surprising to see it pop up in contexts that really surprised me. Most of the poetry I’ve read doesn’t cover the kinds of topics that it does in this tale. While the dialogue in those sections was beautiful, it was also distracting. I was never quite sure if it was intended to be a stylized version of how these characters actually speak or if I was supposed to assume they were literally speaking those exact words.

The budding romance between Xirena and Kai is sweet. The fact that he was older than her and much more worldly made me raise an eyebrow at first, but I was quite pleased to see how respectfully Kai treated her. He is careful to never cross the boundaries Xirena sets with him. That made me like him even more than I would have otherwise.

I’ll be recommending Love’s Prey to the people I know who don’t usually read stories about romance or teenagers. This is a solid introduction to either genre for anyone who is curious about them but not sure where to begin.