Up The Tower by JP Lantern

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Up the Tower by JP Lantern
Publisher: Brainstorm Publishing
Genre: Futuristic/Sci-Fi, Dystopian, YA
Length: Full (247 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

In the dystopian slum of Junktown, death is commonplace, trust is a liability, and friendship is a curse. But disaster brings everybody together. A cloned corporate assassin; a boy genius and his new robot; a tech-modified gangster with nothing to lose; a beautiful, damaged woman and her unbalanced stalker—these individuals couldn’t be more different, but somehow they must work together to save their own skin. Stranded in the epicenter of a monumental earthquake, there is only one way to survive. These unlikely teammates must go…UP THE TOWER.

Up the Tower offers us the events following a disaster in the future City of St. Louis. There is that which is familiar in any American city – the ordinary lives, the everyday events. Then there are the futuristic elements, like the mega-corp of the police department, and cultural ones, as well. Then, there is the sudden life-altering change, showing us the impact of the disaster on individuals.

The opening sets the stage, from a distant, perhaps arms-length perspective. I felt interested, yet uninvolved. Abruptly–and this author can handle “abruptly”–we plunge into the ‘ordinary’ lives of these future people.

The quick, frank yet conversational style can occasionally become quite confrontational and tense. Yet, some things are reported matter-of-factly; we accept the strict classes of people almost without second thought. You’re a shareholder–in luck! Or no–a gangster, too bad. It’s the luck of draw, or what you can afford to pay for in this not-quite-familiar future world.

We meet ‘Ore’ first – horrible and horrifying as she is, you do kind of feel for her. She’s tough, but maybe she is what her world made her? Even Victor (I mean, he’s an assassin!) manages not to be a simple, black-and-white character. You can understand his effort to avoid thinking of the dead people; we want to believe some part of him cares. All Mr. Lantern’s characters are distinct beings; more than distinct, they are unique and …well… incredibly individual.

There is even a romance mixed in, along with a sense of character’s insecurity- perhaps a sample of the style is the best way to share:

Today was Gary’s day. He could feel it in his bones. Somehow, someway, he’d run into Ana. He dressed with vigor. Form-fitting khakis. A button-down shirt. His hair slicked back into a neato pompadour. Leather jacket hanging loosely around it all, hiding the outline of pudge that had been steadily building ever since he finished high school. He looked killer. He looked hip. He was neato, daddy-o. That was how they said it, right?”

Strange world though it seems, anyone can identify with Gary’s hope, as well as his efforts to fit in.

Events in Up the Tower are important, yet are given less attention. It is the results that are important. Even the disaster at the start is merely reported, not so much lived and felt.  Junktown, within St. Louis, is central, but never well described.

The style is far from my favorite, but Author JP Lantern manipulates readers emotions like a magician. In fact, but for a few moments of confusion here and there, I might well have assigned it five stars. Although listed for young adult readers,  anyone of any age who likes the genre should enjoy Up the Tower.

Blue 52 by Elaine Cantrell

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Blue 52 by Elaine Cantrell
Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Genre: Paranormal (Time Travel), Science Fiction (Futuristic)
Length: Full (368 pgs)
Heat: Sensual
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

“First Lady Kills President Lovinggood”
December 29, 2018

Thirty years later Hank Lovinggood embarks on a quest to prove his mother’s innocence and punish the killers who took his family from him. Together Hank and lovely physicist Kathryn Sinclair confront an implacable, twisted, merciless enemy who’ll do whatever it takes to hide the truth forever.

If you like a good time travel story (with a twist … since none of the times in this story are contemporary — the earliest was 2018) and some sweet romance, then Blue 52 might be a good choice for you.

I enjoyed this book, primarily for the characters. While Hank and Kathryn are the main characters, Ms. Cantrell populates the book with plenty of colorful, three dimensional secondary characters. Hank’s grandfather is great, though his grandmother annoyed me pretty consistently. I loved his father, when we finally get to meet him. Definitely presidential material!

The plot is relatively complex and although even 2048 feels pretty similar to current day, there are enough things put in that the reader is made aware that things aren’t contemporary, from longer life spans to … well… time travel.

The author’s way with words is great, and it really kept me turning pages. She’s not heavy handed with description, but I could always picture where I was. The romance is sweet, and while the couple do consummate their relationship, it’s off the page.

I thought the ending was handled very well, and I was pleased at how the author handled the effects of time travel. Yes, things were changed in the past, so the future was also changed, but it all made good sense to me.

For an enjoyable read with a relatively plausible plot (as long as you can believe time travel is possible), and a sweet and touching romance, I recommend Blue 52. I enjoyed it very much and will be on the lookout for more from this author.

Datura by L.M. Dewalt

Datura by L.M. Dewalt
Publisher: Central Avenue Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (214 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

After nearly a century of wandering the globe alone, Lily finally has everything she never knew she wanted, family, friends, and most of all, their love. As Lily attempts to start her new life, in the lively streets of Lima, Peru, she feels she is constantly being followed. With Ian, her first love and maker, now gone, who is left to destroy the happiness she has finally found? Someone still longs for Lily’s destruction. Vengeance or jealousy threaten to destroy her, and Lily must summon all the strength she can find to protect everything she cherishes against vampires, hunters, and witches.

Lily and Christian marry, but their troubles are far from over. Someone is out to get them. Datura continues the story of Lily from the first book of this series. It can’t be Ian, but Maia has disappeared and Lily believes she might be behind the threats. However no one believes her. Lily and Christian are like many newlywed couples, but Christian also has to cope with being newly made as a vampire. Vampires in this series live useful lives and only feed off the criminal types of the world. Taking an innocent is frowned on.

Their honeymoon turns to chaos when they are attacked by vampire hunters in league with vampires. A shape changer is also involved and Lily finds it difficult to comprehend what exactly is going on.

Once again the book starts at a steady, if not slow, pace but gradually picks up speed and intensity which kept me reading. There are many turns and twists to the story which had me guessing what would happen next. The end surprised me but I won’t say how as that would be a spoiler.

One thing that confused me was the title. When I first saw it I thought this book had a new heroine, but soon realized this wasn’t the case. I spent most of the book wondering when Datura would be introduced. Was it a person? Was it a thing? I felt disappointment when it appeared once only, at approximately three quarters of the way through the book. Brilliant title, but needs to be linked with the book earlier in the story and more often.

On the whole this book is a definite “yes” for lovers of vampire tales. It has that fresh look at an old subject with romance shown more by inference than act, which gives it much more impact. The end of the book indicates there are more in this series and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for them.

Shelter by Harlan Coben

Shelter by Harlan Coben
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (288 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Mickey Bolitar’s year can’t get much worse. After witnessing his father’s death and sending his mom to rehab, he’s forced to live with his estranged uncle Myron and switch high schools.

A new school comes with new friends and new enemies, and lucky for Mickey, it also comes with a great new girlfriend, Ashley. For a while, it seems like Mickey’s train-wreck of a life is finally improving – until Ashley vanishes without a trace. Unwilling to let another person walk out of his life, Mickey follows Ashley’s trail into a seedy underworld that reveals that this seemingly sweet, shy girl isn’t who she claimed to be. And neither was Mickey’s father. Soon, Mickey learns about a conspiracy so shocking that it makes high school drama seem like a luxury – and leaves him questioning everything about the life he thought he knew.

In an instant, Mickey Bolitar’s life is turned inside out. He was living the perfect life with his parents when a car accident takes his father’s life and sends Mickey spinning and grasping for control. Now that he and his mom are somewhat settled, the real chaos is about to begin with the disappearance of his sort-of girlfriend, Ashley. When he makes it his priority to discover what really happened, the race to separate the truth from the lies starts in earnest.

Fifteen and angry, Mickey Bolitar is on a mission. First, he wants to save his mother from the grips of addiction. Next, he wants to put his overbearing uncle, Myron, in his place so he can start to feel like himself again. Lastly, but most importantly, he needs to find Ashley. What Mickey doesn’t realize is how things are going to get a thousand times more turbulent before they finally settle down. During his investigation to find her, he learns a lot about himself and his family, causing him to question many things he’d never considered before. With the aid of his two very odd friends, Mickey solves the mystery and comes to understand a lot about who he really is.

Shelter was an intense and action-packed mystery that was hard for me to put down. The deeper you get into the mystery, the more questions you have. I love it when a novel does that, answering just enough to keep you happy, but not showing all the cards at once.

Mickey and his friends are fun and exciting and really make the story more enjoyable with their presence. The author leaves you with a major revelation at the very end of the story making me hope that another in this series in on the way soon. A definite must-read for mystery lovers of any age.

The Stein & Candle Detective Agency, Vol. 1: American Nightmare by Michael Panush

The Stein and Candle Detective Agency, Vol. 1: American Nightmare by Michael Panush
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Action/Adventure, Historical, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (254 pgs)
Heat Level: 12+
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Water Lily

Morton Candle is a tough guy.

He grew up on the streets of Brooklyn, dodging from mobster-ruled neighborhoods to reform school before the army snapped him up and sent him to Europe to fight Hitler. That’s where he met Weatherby Stein, the scion to one of the greatest occult families of Europe. Weatherby and his parents were being held prisoner by the Nazis, forced to use their supernatural knowledge to aid the Third Reich’s war effort.

Morton Candle got Weatherby to safety, but the kid’s parents didn’t make it.

Now it’s the 1950s.

Weatherby’s a teenager, with his father’s knowledge and a chip on his shoulder from the indignities of the modern world. Morton bumps into him again and they decide to go into the only business they can – paranormal private detectives.

This time, Weatherby and Mort have cases that will take them from a vampire’s decaying mansion to the mob-controlled streets of Havana. They’ll take on roadside attractions gone wrong, hordes of the living dead, and ride against the devil in a high speed car race to the death.

Between them, Weatherby and Mort have a small arsenal and a deep knowledge of matters arcane and bizarre. They’ll need brains and brawn to survive in a world where horror, action and hardboiled noir come together in a cataclysmic mix.

Move over Mike Hammer and Sam Spade, here comes Morton Candle. If you like 1940’s/1950’s detective stories, you are going to love Michael Panush’s The Stein and Candle Detective Agency, Vol. 1.: American Nightmare This is book noir with a paranormal twist. The bad guys are frequently monsters—literally.

Written as a chapter book, with one case per chapter, this is marketed as a Suspense/Mystery, but I think the real target audience is young adults, especially boys age 10 and up, depending of their reading level. As a mother of boys, I know how rare it is to find a good “boy book”–something featuring boys that’s exciting enough to hold their interest but not too graphic to bother their mother. The Stein and Candle Detective Agency, Vol. 1 has monster/comic book style violence that’s perfect for this age group. I think my thirteen year old will love this. The fact that each chapter comes with its own “cover” adds to its appeal and the young adult feel of this book.

My only complaint is character development. Because of the presentation—separate stories for each chapter—there was no particular chronology and therefore, no character growth. If you read each story as a tale in itself, this isn’t too objectionable. But if you read it as a novel, it may bother you. I don’t think it will bother my son at all.

It’s a credit to Mr. Panush that, while reading, I kept “seeing” the scenes in black and white. If you’re a film noir fan or have a son you want to entice into reading, you might want to pick up a copy of The Stein and Candle Detective Agency, Vol. 1: American Nightmare.

Reva’s Quest by Sue Perkins

Reva’s Quest by Sue Perkins
Publisher: Muse It Up Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (74 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Reva and her garden gnome arrive in Fey to fight the evil, Malice. Joined by three quest companions, they travel across the land to Malice’s lair. Only Reva can rid the world of Malice, but their journey brings danger, and she wonders if she will survive. Malice’s evil has invaded many of the animals and these beasts try to stop them reaching their goal. One of the companions begins to act strangely, and Reva must consider the possibility of a traitor in their midst.

Reva’s Quest by Sue Perkins intrigues and entertains. Unexpectedly, what seemed a light setting with fluff for characters — after all, one of Reva’s companions is a garden gnome — actually presents a thoroughly engaging plot, and believable, surprisingly meaningful characters.

The world Ms. Perkins created ensnares and leaves us forgetting to doubt reality. Grumpy Gareth, an actual griffon, the elves … those into fantasy will delight in the array of creatures they find here, and how completely perfect they are in their roles. And Reva’s knight in shining armor seems exactly right. From the first moment we meet him, we start worrying about how she’ll feel about going home eventually. And will she?

Complaints? Early on, this world’s conversations seem stilted, and it takes a few pages for this work to really find its rhythm. It’s worth getting past those first couple pages. Once through the portal we truly arrive in a different world andstory.

Best: Reva makes friends and experiences a trove a heartfelt emotions, and we are right there with her.

Reva’s Quest is fun and engaging and so worth reading.

Gone by Michael Grant

Gone by Michael Grant
Publisher: Harper Teen
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (558 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Peppermint

In the blink of an eye.

Everyone disappears.

Gone.

Everyone except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not a single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Gone, too, are the phones, internet, and television. There is no way to get help.

Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day.

It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen and war is imminent.

The first in a breathtaking saga about teens battling each other and their darkest selves, gone is a page-turning thriller that will make you look at the world in a whole new way.

This is an amazingly well written fantasy which will intrigue all ages. Gone encompasses a plot line that is truly unique from any other story I have read. The concept of children having to fend for themselves is not different, but the author incorporated kids developing powers with animals and morphing into something no one has ever seen, and the result is a compelling world.

This story certainly shows how, no matter what the situation, you will always have your heroes, bullies, and followers. The traits of each child, in what is now known as the FAYZ, are intensified when the adults and older children disappear. These types of personality explosions made the story more entertaining and exciting. It helped to enhance the overall plot and antagonistic conflict between the characters.

Sam is the type of child most parents wish they could raise. He may not realize it, but he’s a born leader who others can’t help but follow. I remember these types of individuals from my adolescence, and they’re the ones who go on into adulthood and become successful. If Sam ever realizes how much power over others he truly wields, he’ll be an unstoppable hero and I cannot wait to see what he can achieve in his life.

While Sam makes an excellent hero, Caine and Drake make excellent antagonists. Caine and Drake’s personalities complement one another perfectly. Caine is methodical, charismatic, and cunning, while Drake is psychotic and dangerous. Just like any set of bullies, they can’t even trust each other. This creates a compelling twist to the conflicts within the story, which of course makes it that much more entertaining.

There are a few words in this story that may be inappropriate for younger children. Additionally, because it involves bullies there are some situations that may seem offensive such as when a child is called a “retard”. While some may not agree with this term, it truly does help in understanding the psychology of the children involved in the story.

This is only the first of many stories about the FAYZ and I plan on continuing the series with my daughter. I know my daughter wishes there were a movie coming out because she would love to see it, but we’ll have to be satisfied by reading the next story.

Dragon Night by Stephanie Campbell

Dragon Night by Stephanie Campbell
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (243 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

The only thing more shocking than discovering that dragons really exist is finding out that you are one.

Ever since he could remember, Ford was treated cruelly by his parents, Liddy and Wicker Forks. He cannot figure out why they hate him so much. It is only when he discovers that his father isn’t really Wicker Forks but instead is a mysterious, red-eyed stranger that he goes on a quest to find his true identity—and much, much more.

As he heads forward down the path of danger and illusion, he uncovers a world that he had never imagined, a world of dragons. Ford must decide who he is—a dragon or a boy—and whichever path he chooses will be his future for forever. After all, once you are a dragon, there is no going back.

Ford always wanted to have some special abilities or powers to make him different from the other folks. You know, superpowers or unusual knowledge or something like that. But he never expected to be as different as he was…

This author does a nice job of creating a fantasy world that seems reasonable. Besides humans, her world holds draconians and dragons. And woe be to anyone who has been sired by a dragon.

Ford only knows his parents treat him like a servant and never offer him any love or support. He doesn’t know why but assumes it must be because they don’t care for him. That’s all he knows until he suddenly finds himself feeling strange sensations and getting extremely hot. He even confuses paramedics trying to help him. After a few sessions of this, he realizes his body is changing. The problem is he doesn’t know to what.

Ms. Campbell writes a busy story with lots of complex relationships between her families of characters and poor Ford. Ford is sixteen and what he’s going through resembles puberty but is much worse. You immediately empathize with him because he’s brought up loveless and has no idea how to help himself. The author adds evil dragons, and draconians who are slaves to the dragons and mixes Ford into the conflict between the two factions. The entire story held my attention and made me hungry to see what’s on the next page and how she would end the story. There’s potential for a sequel here if the author chooses. I’d be happy to read more about Ford and how he puts his life back together.

This is an excellent read for a young person going through life changes who needs a distraction or for someone who enjoys fantasy or stories about dragons.

Panty Raid @ Zombie High by Rusty Fischer

Panty Raid @ Zombie High by Rusty Fischer
Publisher: Decadent Publishing Company
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (116 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Toby’s best friend, and unrequited love, Molly Harper has gone missing. Molly’s boyfriend, “Spud,” thinks he knows where she’s been taken: the mysterious Zombie High, where Spud’s father just happens to be in charge of the top-secret medical facility famous for its work rehabilitating teenage zombies.

Armed with blueprints, passwords, keys and codes, Spud and Toby are ready to make an all-out assault on Zombie High and rescue their fair Molly. There’s just one problem: Toby and Spud are the biggest wimps at Cypress Cove High and need some muscle along for the ride in case any of the zombies get loose.

That’s where Boner and Zack come in. Two of the football team’s biggest players, the jocks are easily conned into joining Spud and Toby on their fictional “panty raid” the minute Spud calls them “chicken” for not accepting his challenge to spend the night at Zombie High.

When Zack and Boner show up to accept the challenge, however, they don’t come alone; they bring their two girlfriends, Lilac and Haley, along for the ride. With events spiraling out of control and zombies lurking around every corner, will Toby and Spud even survive their night at Zombie High, let alone rescue Molly?

While Zombie High’s not quite the higher level of learning you might think, it is a zombie rehabilitation center which has, surprisingly enough, had some success by way of Zombie Panties. When Toby’s best friend – and secret crush – disappears, it’s up to him and her boyfriend, Spud, to find her. Trouble is, they kind of already know where she is… at Zombie High. Even with backup, things don’t go quite as planned as there is more than just one plot afoot. Will any of them make it out alive? Or even undead?

Toby is your typical geeky teen. He’s awkward, he’s clueless, and he’s a little bit oblivious. He’s also awfully endearing in an annoying, hormone-infused, kind of way the more time you spend with him. Toby is nothing you’d expect once you get to know him better. As his internal struggles surface while dealing with lies, betrayal, and zombies, you really start to like the guy because he has real heart. I love the fact that, just when you think you have him – and his friends – figured out, they throw you for a complete loop and do something unexpected.

Fighting alongside Toby are two jocks and their girlfriends who are hoodwinked into thinking they are just going for a late-night panty raid over at Zombie High. Joke’s on them when they run into more than some electronic cattle-prod underwear, however. It’s a lot of fun to watch the BMOC go from being the in-crowd to being reduced to a puddle of quivering boy-man when faced with their worst nightmares. These sidekicks are having their shining moment one minute and an epic ‘doh’ moment shortly after. The jock half of these sidekicks, especially, bring some added comic relief to the mix.

Panty Raid @ Zombie High reads a lot like one of those old horror B-movies, but in a good way. It’s silly, it’s campy, and it’s a whole lot of fun wrapped into one adventurous zombie story. It combines the horror and disgustingness of a zombie attack with high school drama and lots of humor. Highly entertaining and a little more than a tad gross in parts, Panty Raid @ Zombie High is an enlightening twist on the newest zombie craze for sure.

The First Time by Various Authors

The First Time by Cyn Balog, Lauren Bjorkman, Leigh Brescia, Jennifer Brown, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Janet Gurtler, Teri Hall, Cheryl Renee Herbsman, Stacey Jay, Heidi R Kling, C. Lee McKenzie, Saundra Mitchell, Jenny Moss, Jackson Pearce, Shani Petroff, Carrie Ryan, Sydney Salter, Kurtis Scaletta, Jon Skovron, Kristina Springer, Rhonda Stapleton, Charity Tahmaseb, Jessica Verday, J.A. Yang, and Lara Zielin
Publisher: Jessica Verday, Kindle Edition
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (560 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Honeysuckle

You never forget your first…

In THE FIRST TIME, 25 young adult authors contribute 25 stories all about firsts: first loves, first kisses, first zombie slayings, and more. Featuring New York Times bestselling authors Carrie Ryan and Jessica Verday, plus a host of others. From humor to horror, and everything in between, these stories will make you laugh, cry, cheer, (and maybe even scream) as you experience something brand new from the authors that you love.

What do a zombie apocalypse, a cart princess and a goldfish have in common? They are three of the twenty-five themes represented in this intensely compelling anthology that delves into the experiences of The First Time.

There’s something here to satisfy almost anyone’s preference when these twenty-five super talented young adult writers collaborated on this seductive literary work. I say seductive because once you start reading you won’t want to put it down. The stories draw you in and bring your emotions to the forefront wither you’re laughing, cringing, crying or cheering. Some of the stories end on happy notes, others leave the reader suspended on a cliff hanger, still others give hope for the future and two or three simply end. It’s almost as if the writers gave us an extended story prompt with expectations we’ll finish the story our way. It’s both exciting and frustrating.

In particular, siblings Danny and Julie’s story left me in tears of the “what’s next?” in Carrie Ryan’s A Game of Firsts. As did Hope’s story in Sweet Truth by Stacey Jay. I NEED to know how the author envisioned these stories continuing and more importantly, how they end.

There are several funny stories where I was laughing out loud at the antics and the dialogue of the characters. Kristina Springer’s Cart Princess is a humorous take on a young girl’s first job working in a grocery store. Who ever imagined there was a dating hierarchy in the convenience shopping arena? Certainly not Veronica. You’ll love how she manages to break the ice with the hot produce guy.

In Romeo and What’s Her Name by Shani Petroff we meet Emily who agrees to be the understudy to the lead in her best friend’s play. Why not? Understudies almost never have to perform, right? Wrong! I could totally relate to Emily’s predicament which made the story all the more hilarious.

What if you were the only non-super born into a family of superheros? Jane knows first hand how it feels but don’t count her out…someone has to be the bait to draw out the baddies. Once Burned, Twice Shy by Jessica Verday is a very funny novella with a sweet romance in the end.

Next, step out of your comfort zone with Rhonda Stapleton’s Heart On. Matt’s first date with Jessica doesn’t go quite the way he imagined but the future is looking pretty bright.

If you tend to lean towards the young adult books that are sweet with happy endings you might enjoy Green Glass Reflection by Cheryl Renee Herbsman, Selling Mr. Peanut by Lara Zielin, Turn Here by Jackson Pearce, Evan and Penny by Jenny Moss or Against the World by Jennifer Brown. Each story is unique as it is sweet.

As a daughter and a mother I could empathize with the generation gap between Alex and her mom in Turn Here. In this story they take an impromptu road trip across Georgia when Alex comes upon a pre-programed GPS meant for someone else. Their story proves it’s both the journey as well as the destination that matters. For this mother/daughter duo the roads they travel emotionally are more important than the ones lead by the GPS.

Evan and Penny was another of this group where I had no trouble connecting with the heroine. Penny is average. Actually, her word is “mediocre”. Really, she’s simply normal in a family where you’re not celebrated unless you do something to stand out. I liked that Penny met someone like Evan and was given a fun day. No judging. No pressure. A very sweet beginning.

I was inspired to consider possibilities and other points of view in The First Goldfish of McKinley High by Sydney Salter, The First Time I Got Stranded in the Really Big Empty by Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Two of a Kind by Janet Gurtler, When Skies are Gray by Leigh Brescia, The Trouble With Firsts by Charity Tahmaseb, Azalea by Kurtis Scaletta, Kissing The Dog-Faced Boy by Saudra Mitchell, Freedom by Cyn Balog and Perfect Firsts by J.A. Yang. There are few cliffhangers among this set and several surprises.

Two of a Kind and The Trouble with Firsts were two of my favorites. Ms Gurtler does an amazing job of painting her hero, anti-hero really, Fab, as a jaded drug using son of a famous rocker. He’s seventeen and pretty much on his own. Fab has lived so hard and seen so much in his young life he’s forgotten what it feels like to be innocent…until he met Molly. The premise is clever and the ending…hopeful.

In The Trouble with Firsts by Charity Tahmaseb, friends Mattie and Ian learn a timely lesson about realizing the value of loving what’s right in front of you rather than what you think you might want. Ms. Tahmaseb is a terrific writing voice that truly brought this story to life. There is some pretty funny dialogue in this one that kept it from being overly serious. Considering the tension surrounding stories that come just before and just after, it was refreshing.

There are several paranormal and/or futuristic stories included in this book including Looking Through One Eye by Jon Skovron, Premeditated Cat by C. Lee McKenzie, The Corridor by Teri Hall, Fly to Me by Heidi Kling and The Shark King by Lauren Bjorkman. I saved these for last because I think these may have been my favorite genre explored within the anthology. It’s hard to say which one or ones I liked best because they’re all so different and entertaining. I will say I would love to read an extended version of The Shark King and The Corridor. So many unanswered questions and so much room to expand on these stories.

Fly to Me both stole my breath and left me with hope for the future. Told in first person it begins in a turbulent future set in Paris, France. The young people of the world are being taken and transformed against their will. Though a few seem to welcome the change when it comes other less fortunate few do not accept the change well and become hideous hybrids; not man and not quite beast. I cried for much of the beginning and breathed a sigh of hopeful relief when the story came to a close. I won’t say it’s a happily-ever-after but it’s the best these characters can hope for. It was enough.

You might think with twenty-five different authors there might be one or more stories that weren’t up to par with the others. That wasn’t my experience at all with The First Time. These talented and creative storytellers cover a wide variety of genres and writing styles and yet they complement one another. If the anthology had been structured to only include contemporaries or only comedies it wouldn’t have been the same emotional ride for the readers. If you try to read this whole book in one sitting it will certainly feel like you’ve been on a roller coaster. For that reason, I would suggest reading two or three stories at a time. Simply enjoy the beauty and creativity of each writer’s voice and the direction they take on the “First Time” theme. I for one have added a boat load of new writers to my TBR list to check out. Pick up your copy today and be prepared to take one more amazing adventure after another.