If We Were Stars by Eule Grey

If We Were Stars by Eule Grey
Publisher: NineStar Press
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The final countdown begins in three hours.

Blimey. The last thing Kurt wants is to wear a space helmet, and, no, they didn’t plan on saving the world either—Not before their eighteenth birthday anyway. Who’d have thought friending a lonely alien would lead to the Cape Canaveral launch pad.

Best friends since they were ten years old, Kurt O’Hara and Beast Harris tackle the typical teenage challenges together: pronouns, AWOL bodies, not to mention snogging. A long-distance relationship with an alien named Iuvenis is the least of their troubles.

Kurt loves programming, people-pleasing, and yellow dresses. Most of all, Kurt loves Beast.

Beast adores elephants, protest marches, and Kurt. Rules?—Nah. Humanity’s way down on Beast’s list of to-dos.

Beast and Kurt, Kurt and Beast. The end. Exactly how their love turns into a scene from Red Dwarf is anyone’s guess. Spaceships? NASA at the doorstep? No biggie. As long as they’re together, Kurt and Beast can survive anything.

Except, apparently, lift-off. Because nobody considered sensory issues, did they? Nope. NASA never made adjustments for neurodivergent astronauts. Unbelievable.

Will science be enough to blast Kurt and Beast—unlikely superheroes—into space to save the planet? Or will it take something much more extraordinary?

Neurodivergence is a gift.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored how autism affected Kurt and Beast’s lives in both positive and negative ways. It was interesting to read along as Kurt described their childhoods and how they struck a balance between finding ways to fit in when necessary while also remaining true to themselves. This is something everyone needs to learn how to do, of course, but it can be more challenging for people who stick out from the crowd and don’t always have an intuitive understanding of which rules to follow and which ones can be broken.

I struggled with the transition to a new narrator at the end of this book. Kurt was someone I enjoyed getting to know better, and their replacement didn’t have much time to become well-rounded due to how quickly they were introduced before the storyline began to wrap up. It was also disappointing to lose touch with Kurt just as they were about to meet the aliens and arguably have the biggest adventure of their lives, especially since earlier scenes had hinted that something tragic was about to occur.

The romantic subplot was nicely written. It fit into the themes of this tale seamlessly and made me hope that both of the characters involved in it would live happily ever after as they truly seemed like a great match for one another. This was a good example of how to include romance in a science fiction adventure in ways that enhanced both the science fiction and the adventurous elements of the plot.

If We Were Stars was a creative take on what it might be like to meet aliens.

Alice in Wonderland by Lena Heide-Brennand

Alice in Wonderland by Lena Heide-Brennand
Publisher: Brennand Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Lena Heide-Brennand’s dark and poetic interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” is an enchanting and captivating one where Alice’s dreams take a rhythmic and playful form. In this adaptation, Heide-Brennand has seamlessly blended the atmospheric visuals from the 1915 film version with her own unique mixed media artworks. These original artworks transport us into a world of dark and gothic beauty, infused with steampunk Victorian vibes and a subtle touch of horror undertones. The result is a visually stunning experience that sets the mood for a darker and more mysterious atmosphere, capturing the essence of Alice’s strange and twisted dreams.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Heide-Brennand’s version is the poetic narrative style. Alice in Wonderland unfolds as a 112-page long poem, where every line is meticulously crafted with end rhymes. This poetic form not only pays homage to the original story, first published in 1865, but also adds a lyrical touch that enhances the enchantment of Alice’s magical journey. However, be prepared for a departure from the traditional children’s versions of Alice’s adventures. In Heide-Brennand’s adaptation, Alice’s dreams take her through scenes and encounters that are far more eerie and dark. The artist delves deep into the recesses of Alice’s imagination, exploring the hidden depths of her subconscious, and visually bringing forth characters and settings that are both mesmerizing and haunting. As you turn the pages you will encounter twisted versions of familiar characters like the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts, and the Hatter. These iconic figures, rendered through Heide-Brennand’s unique artistic lens, take on a new life and add layers of complexity to their personalities.

Prepare to be enthralled by the interplay of light and shadow, and the subtle nuances that breathe life into each character. The dark and scenic mixed media artworks that accompany the poetic narrative serve as windows into Alice’s psyche. With each turn of the page, you will be transported to eerie landscapes, mysterious forests, and intricate settings that mirror the intricacies of Alice’s mind. The detailed craftsmanship and the rich colour palette create a visual feast for the eyes, immersing you in a world that is simultaneously beautiful and foreboding.

Who wouldn’t want to follow a rabbit and go on an adventure?

I appreciated the way the author emphasized the horror themes in this tale. The original was much more subtle about that aspect of Alice’s adventure, but it was an important part of the storyline that made the whimsical scenes even better when everything was mixed together. This was a good introduction to horror for readers who might not be very familiar with that genre yet. It was frightening without ever crossing the line into something gory.

While I know that the author was following a specific meter and rhyme scheme, it would have been helpful to have more descriptions included in this poem. There were times when I would have been confused about what just happened if I wasn’t already familiar with the original Alice in Wonderland, and other scenes remained fuzzy even after that. This dampened my enthusiasm for something I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit.

The puns and wordplay made me smile. I was glad to see that this aspect of the plot was left intact as it is one of the many reasons why this story is such a classic and appeals to people of all ages. Some of these jokes will be more meaningful to adult readers, of course, but all of them can be explained easily for younger folks who want to understand why a certain word or phrase is so funny.

Alice in Wonderland was a creative retelling of the old classic by the same name.

Angelite by Rebecca Henry

Angelite by Rebecca Henry
Ambrosia Hill #5
Publisher: Totally Bound Publishing
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When love is broken and fate uncertain only truth can be found in angelite.

Zinnia’ s fifteen birthday is marked by her move to Ambrosia Hill with her mother Lily. After surviving a wicked Halloween with Ursula Geist and banishing the dark witch to the depth of Lake Cauldron, Lily decides Zinnia needs the protection and guidance of the aunts as she continues her journey as a green witch.

Zinnia’ s dream of moving back to Ambrosia Hill becomes a reality as she is reunited with Billie and is welcomed by the charmed volleyball team as their lucky number thirteen. Zinnia has everything she’ s ever wanted including a coven of witches to practice her green magic with. The Aunts as always, have tricks up their sleeves and prepare to host a surprise kale-pulling gala at Fern House to call forth Lily’ s true love.

Things seem perfect in the Fern House living on top of the tallest hill in a sleepy town until Zinnia meets the new girl, Scarlet at the kale-pulling gala. Scarlet is a ward living with the catholic nuns at Ambrosia Hill Episcopal Convent. Her uncanny beauty and charismatic charm soon win the attention of the charm volleyball team and most importantly, Billie. Zinnia is overcome with a fit of searing jealousy as Scarlet’ s presence emerges a darker side of Zinnia. Strange and unsettling happenings are reported in the town. Cows dry up overnight and a mysterious serpent is seen lurking in Ambrosia Hill, hiding within the tall grass, ready to strike. Zinnia fears she has been cursed when her fate line breaks in two on the palm of her right hand and Zinnia is forced to rely on her inner strength when magic fails her. But who can save Zinnia when she soon discovers that the monster in Ambrosia Hill this time is her?

Moving is an adventure.

I know I’ve mentioned the wonderful world building in all of my previous reviews of these books, but the author once again surprised me with new details. As someone who grew up in a few small towns, I smiled and nodded along as Billie introduced Zinnia to some interesting secrets about the community that Zinnia thought she already knew so well. It happens in real life sometimes, too, so of course it could also happen in fiction! Locals don’t always think to share everything right away with newcomers, especially when it comes to information that may be a little controversial or out of the ordinary. Kudos for the author for keeping me guessing.

With that being said, it would have been helpful to have more time spent exploring and developing the latest secrets of Ambrosia Hill. It wasn’t until the last 50 pages or so that I learned much of anything about them at all. While I know the author probably wanted to keep some things under wraps for the future, it was a little disappointing for me as a reader to have to wait until the end for even a few of my questions to be answered. It felt like there was a lot more that could have been done with these developments, and I would have happily gone with a five-star rating if they had either been introduced earlier or if several more chapters had been added on to explore what Zinnia thought of them and how they might change her life.

The character development was often slow in the first four Ambrosia Hills books, so I was glad to see it pick up here. Zinnia was given some great opportunities to deal with her jealousy and practice self-control when other people irrationally – or, in some cases, rationally – irritated her. Did she always make the most gracious life choices? Absolutely not, but that was a good thing. Everyone has bad days, and it was refreshing to observe how she behaved when she wasn’t her usually pretty calm and collected self. You can learn a lot from how someone behaves when they’re in a terrible mood, so I’m excited to see where Ms. Henry takes Zinnia and everyone closest to her from this point forward.

This is the fifth instalment in a series that I’d recommend reading in order due to all of the character and plot development that has already occurred in this universe, some of which the narrator assumes the reader already knows.

Angelite made me grin and wish for another adventure with Zinnia.

Sally Mitts Finds A Home – The Story Of A Shy Shelter Kitten by Shain Stodt

Sally Mitts Finds A Home – The Story Of A Shy Shelter Kitten by Shain Stodt
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When little Sally’s family moves away, she is left alone in the world. Wandering unknown streets, our bodacious kitten has adventures both wonderful and scary. When a well-meaning Samaritan finds Sally asleep on their doorstep, they take her to an animal shelter, where she is surrounded by strangers. Lonely and feeling very small, she tries to curl into a ball and hide.
Then Sally felt a warm nudge. What was this?
One of the cats was rubbing against her!
Right through the cage, she felt his soft fur.
And he made the sweetest sound,
a loud rumbling purr.

Life is so much better with a friend! But when Charlie is adopted, Sally feels more alone than ever. Considered unfriendly and unadaptable because she is shy, it looks like Sally may languish in a cage. Until a patient man who won’t go away offers her the chance to trust again. A tender, heartwarming story about courage, love, and a brave kitten’s journey to her new forever home.

Everyone deserves the chance to live happily ever after, especially pets waiting for adoption in animal shelters.

Almost all of the pets my family had when I was a kid were rescues, and we often knew no more than a handful of things about their lives before they came to live with us. Some of my favorite scenes in this story were the ones that explored a few of the reasons why a pet might need to be rescued or adopted. These were such honest and sweet moments that later played out in how Sally and her companions behaved at the shelter and helped to explain why some animals behave certain ways due to their past experiences.

I loved how much space was left for interpretation and discussion. As this is the first instalment in a new series, it made perfect sense for the author to introduce characters without answering many of the audience’s questions about them or tying up every loose end. There were so many opportunities here for the sequels to explain what happened to Sally’s original family, whether she might someday see Charlie the Tailless again, and so much more.

The gentle and empathetic ending made me smile. It was perfect for the little ones who will read this or have it read to them, especially since some of the earlier scenes talked about how hard it can be to be a stray animal in ways that were appropriate, but still sad, for that age group. Ending on a reassuring note was exactly what was needed, and I look forward to seeing what sorts of adventures Sally might have next.

Sally Mitts Finds A Home – The Story Of A Shy Shelter Kitten was a heartwarming tale that made me yearn for more.

Kiki’s Dream by Susan Coryell

Kiki’s Dream by Susan Coryell
Publisher: Two Sisters Press
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Snow – nature’s exotic creation, magical, beautiful, exciting – is only a dream for Kiki who lives in Hawaii. Growing up in Hawaii, five-year-old Kiki romps on the beach all year round. Still, her dream is to experience snow, which will never happen in Hawaii. With excited expectation, Kiki hopes a surprise family trip to Michigan will make her dream come true.

Snow makes any day a little more magical.

This was the first time I have ever reviewed a picture book for Long and Short Reviews about a child who has never seen snow before so far as I can recall. Kudos to Ms. Coryell for coming up with such an uncommon idea for this age group. It certainly grabbed my attention immediately, and I was intrigued to see how Kiki would react to cold weather after spending her entire lifetime so far in such a warm and sunny place.

With that being said, I was disappointed by how little time was spent showing what Kiki did after she and her family arrived in Michigan. There was such a huge buildup to this moment in her life that I was expecting a large portion of the story to focus on how she felt when she saw snow for the first time in her life and what she might have been surprised by during that experience. If those scenes had been given more space to develop, I would have happily gone with a much higher rating as everything else about her adventures was adorable.

What a playful child Kiki was. I enjoyed her bubbly personality and her endless curiosity about the world. The narrator captured what it can feel like to be five years old and have a strong desire to try something new and exciting nicely. While I don’t know if the author was thinking of turning this into a series, there is certainly space here to do so if she wishes and this reader would be interested in more.

Kiki’s Dream was sweet.

The Lighthouse Back Home by Jodi L. Auborn

The Lighthouse Back Home by Jodi L. Auborn
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

It’s been a year since 11-year-old Dylan and his family moved to the lighthouse his father had inherited in Maine. After finding a human skeleton in the woods one day, Dylan and his friend, Alex, are astonished when a mysterious artifact sends them back in time to the year 1893.

Stranded in the past, with Dylan’s sailboat as their only way home and Alex posing as a boy, Dylan seeks help from his old friend Matthias, the town lighthouse keeper. Despite Matthias’s reluctance, they settle into his seaside cottage where they make a new friend, face a deadly storm, and try to blend into their confusing new world. But when a sinister local family discovers their secret, they find themselves held captive by a cruel and remorseless old sailor with secrets of his own. Can Dylan and Alex find their way home and uncover the facts about an unsolved crime involving murder and stolen treasure?

Time travel is a wild ride.

The mystery was slow to unfold but satisfying once Dylan and Alex began to figure out possible reasons why they’d been thrown back in time. I had no problem waiting patiently for them to begin piecing the clues together. Honestly, I liked the fact that the author allowed more pressing matters to be resolved like where the kids were going to sleep at night and how they’d find food before they turned their attention to figuring out why they were in the late 1800s to begin with. That was definitely the most sensible thing to do, and it gave this reader plenty of opportunities to come up with my own theories along the way.

I struggled with the slow pacing at times. As much as I appreciated having extra time with the characters, I think this tale would have been stronger if it had been closer to the length of “Matthias: The Ghost of Salvation Point” which was about 100 pages shorter. There were multiple scenes that, while interesting to read, slowed down the plot and character developments enough that I couldn’t justify giving this a higher rating even though I was initially thrilled to have another chance to see what Dylan had been up to.

With that being said, I did enjoy the many comparisons the characters made between life in 2014 and 1893. Imagine explaining a cell phone, a Spider-Man t-shirt, or an airplane to someone who has never seen anything like that stuff and who has no cultural context for what they mean! Ms. Auborn did a great job of highlighting the social difficulties of adjusting to life in another century and explaining just how much the world can change in roughly 120 years.

This is the second book in a series that does not have to be read in order. If you like this one, though, do be sure to check out Dylan’s first adventure as well.

The Lighthouse Back Home was an adventurous read.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Publisher: Ember
Genre: LGBTQ, Contemporary, YA (Ages 14+)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Based on true events—and narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS—Two Boys Kissing follows Harry and Craig, two seventeen-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teens dealing with universal questions of love, identity, and belonging.

Two boys kissing and so much more.

This book has been singled out as something to be banned, but I disagree. This book was fantastic. Yes, there are two boys kissing in this book, but it’s so much more. I liked the variety in the book, the characters and the tone. This isn’t an easy book to read. The author tackles hard topics–boys kissing, transgender issues, depression and thoughts of suicide. It’s not easy. But it’s worth the read.

I liked the various characters and seeing how they handled different situations. My favorite characters are the ones who came before, the ones telling the story. Their wisdom and wistfulness, along with their frankness, was the best part. They don’t mince words and I loved it. I liked the commentary.

This is a book everyone should read at some point. It’s sweet at times, endearing, sad and heartbreaking, but it’s realness is what really shines through. Recommended.

Bad Dog by Mike Boldt

Bad Dog by Mike Boldt
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Childrens (Ages 5-10), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

The differences between cats and dogs have never been funnier! In this hilarious new story from the illustrator of I Don’t Want to Be a Frog, a little girl really, really wants a dog . . . but gets a cat instead!

“Look what I got for my birthday! A pet dog!” says a little girl holding a . . . cat? Rocky doesn’t listen or obey like all the other dogs. (Because Rocky is a cat.) And Rocky hates her leash and doesn’t seem to like other dogs. (Probably because Rocky is a cat.) And rather than play fetch, Rocky prefers to . . . lick between her toes? Ew. Rocky is a bad “dog”! BUT Rocky doesn’t bark, and is so cute when she sleeps in sunny spots. Maybe Rocky IS a good dog? (Or, you know, maybe Rocky is a cat.)

Cat lovers and dog lovers alike will howl with laughter at this little girl’s willful insistence that her cat is a dog. The hilarious ways in which cats and dogs are different are brilliantly illuminated with each turn of the page and will leave young readers and their grown-ups giggling.

The baddest dog around…who isn’t really a dog.

I liked this short story about a little girl who gets a great present. I liked the writing in this story. It’s fun and goes along at a great clip. The little girl is a great narrator. It’s fun how she deduces that her dog isn’t really a dog. Kids would love the way she figures that out and how sometimes we think we know what we know, and we really don’t.

If you want a book to make you laugh and will be one to read over and over, this one is for you. Give it a try.

Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl by Tedd Arnold

Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl by Tedd Arnold
Publisher: Cartwheel Books
Genre: Childrens, (ages 6-10), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Fly Guy has met his match, and her name is Fly Girl. Fly Guy can do fancy flying. Fly Girl can do fancier flying. Fly Guy can eat gross stuff. Fly Girl can eat grosser stuff. Fly Guy can say his boy’s name–Buzzzzzz! And Fly Girl can say her girl’s name–Lizzzzzzz! Fly Guy is totally impressed, and totally smitten. Will Fly Guy and Fly Girl get married and leave Buzz without his dear pet?

Fly Guy and Fly Girl??? How cool!!

I liked this series from the start and this addition is fantastic. The writing is crisp and fun. It easily kept my attention, and the drawings are great, too. I liked the message of this story—find friends everywhere. Don’t be afraid to make friends. You might have a lot in common!

If you’re looking for a fun book to read with your child, then this might be the one for you. Check it out.

As a Little Child by Catalina Siri

As a Little Child (Come Into the Agape Boat) by Catalina Siri
Publisher: Tellwell Talent
Genre: Children’s, Inspirational
Review by Rose

I was inspired by Jesus to write this book. In combining nature and the sacred word of the Bible, my intention is to take the reader into a place of contemplation of the wonderful things God has created for the care, nourishment, and enjoyment of His creation, especially humanity. This book’s central theme is the character of love of our heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this book is an introduction to young children to the knowledge of the God of the Bible, who is unknown to most of the Christian circle and the world at large. God is the source of Agape and He is inviting all to receive Agape from Him through His Son Jesus.

I loved the illustrations in this book, and I feel just those would be an excellent way for parents to use this book in expressing the message…that God loves all children. It expresses agape (pure love) as a river that all people can access.

I found the wording itself to be a little on the old side for the target audience of small kids, but it would be a good start for parents to put the message in their own words. The author also includes Bible verses that back up the text and the message of the story, as well as a glossary in the back to also help parents explain the story to their kids.

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