Tuesday, September 7, 2021

We Can Be Heroes by Kyrie McCauley

We Can Be Heroes is a YA inspirational realistic fiction book with a fantasy twist. This book was sent to me by the author and is released today!

Cassie Queen's life was taken by her abusive boyfriend Nico Bell when he took a firearm to school. After, he shot himself. Nobody cared that he was physically abusive and threatened to kill her, because Nico's father runs Bell Firearms, the company that controls their small town. Cassie's friends, Vivian and Beck, are angry. They want to tell Cassie's truth and hold Steven Bell and anyone who caters to him responsible. Beck decides to paint murals throughout the town of Greek mythology symbolic to the truth about Cassie's life and how she fell through the cracks. Oh, and one more plot twist; Cassie comes back as a ghost who lives in Beck's van.

We Can Be Heroes is a powerful, relevant story that illuminates how the rich and powerful can take control of the system. It establishes a clear link between domestic violence and gun control. McCauley paints a picture (no pun intended) of all the signs that were missed leading up to the murder and what should have been done when the abuse started. The police continued to cover up her cries for help because they couldn't let domestic violence be tied to Steven Bell. His father witnessed the abuse, heard the threats, and still left extremely powerful guns within his son's reach.

Having Cassie present as a ghost was a skillful part on the author. Rather than chapters simply explaining what happened in the past, the author created sections for Cassie's poetry, reflecting on her life and relationship with him. Even though she is technically dead, she does have her own character development of growing courage and strength through the activism of Beck and Vivian. We Can Be Heroes embraces the title; anyone can use their voice, art, or writing to make a difference in the world, no matter how powerful the person is you are going up against.

I highly recommend this book!

Title: We Can Be Heroes
Author: Kyrie McCauley
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 368
Series: No
Rating: 5 Stars

Friday, August 20, 2021

Feather Frost (The Dryad's Cede Book 2) and Spring Tide (The Dryad's Cede Book 0.5) by K.C. Simos

Feather Frost
is the second book in the middle grade fantasy series The Dryad's Cede. The author sent me both books and recommended that I read Spring Tide, book 0.5, before Feather Frost.

Spring Tide takes place 400 years before Kindled Embers and Feather Frost, and tells the relationship between Chastain, a wood nymph, and Freddie, a young prince who enjoyed sitting under Chastian's chestnut tree. In Feather Frost, which takes place 5 years after Kindled Embers, Eliza's friend Prince Anders goes missing after an incident in the mountains. Concerned by the state of his chambers, she travels there to rule out otherworldly activity, but soon finds herself accepting the opposite and engaging in a war between the Ice Maiden and the Sea Witch, learning stunning revelations about her past along the way.

The short story of the friendship between Chastain and Prince Freddie in Spring Tide was beautiful, and I loved how the story spanned many years over the developing course of their relationship. While the ending is sad, it is also serene and sweet of how Chastain's legacy lived on. The ending also has an "aha!" moment, as it put some of the events in the first book, Kindled Embers, in greater context. I do wish that I had read Spring Tide first.

Readers not only become invested in finding Anders and saving the world, but in Eliza's wellbeing and personal journey. The foreshadowing was strong in Feather Frost, and many times I gasped aloud at the plot twists and my certainty of knowing where the story was going. The book also has many funny and cute moments that lighten the tone but still uphold the potentially dire outcomes. 

It was interesting to see Eliza's growth in the past 5 years and what aspects of her personality and interests remained the same. Most scenes were vivid and enticing; this is not a book to start reading if its likely that you might be interrupted. The ending of Feather Frost was skillful in that it concluded the series, but it also leaves an opening for there to be another installment in the series in the future.

I highly recommend this series!

Title: Feather Frost and Spring Tide
Author: K.C. Simos
Publisher: K.C. Simos
Pages: 40 and 162
Series: Yes, Book 0.5 and Book 2
Rating: 5 Stars
Goodreads 0.5

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Contingence (The Rover Universe Series Book 4) by C.E. Whitaker III

Contingence is the fourth book in the YA science fiction series The Red Rover that was sent to me by the author. Orion's sister, Kelly, is on the Yellow Rover base. She crashes into the planet Kethyrie, and is taken hostage and tortured. Meanwhile, as the cadets on the Red Rover base try to find the Yellow Rover, Dr. Marius struggles to cope with his deteriorating and dying body.

In comparison to the other three books in the series so far, this is my least favorite of them. This book switched perspectives from basically filler material to Orion's sister being tortured. The extreme shift from mostly uneventfulness to severe pain and torture seemed sudden and unnatural. The detail of the other cultures on Kethyrie is interesting, and Delly's torture and physical and emotional turmoil was well-written and vivid. A parallel can be drawn between Dr. Marius's opioid issue and Delly's torture, but I was disappointed in the other content aboard the ship. 

The amount of unnecessary curse words bothers me. When used in rare occasions, they could sometimes make a point, however when used over and over they become meaningless and show a lack of sophistication and real emotion. I counted 72 instances of cussing. The sexual scenes and their implications felt out of place and shoved in to make the cadets' sections of the book eventful. Not to mention being a distraction, the only other purpose of these could be to elicit emotion in the reader, and for me that was anger and shock.

It is problematic that I only liked half the book. Contingence is emotionally heavy and I was disappointed in how it felt like the plotline came to a halt, a sharp contrast from the intense and fast-paced previous book.

I still recommend the overall series, but I was disappointed in this one and I emphasize this book being for older YA readers due to the mature content. 

Title: Contingence
Author: C.E. Whitaker III
Publisher: C.E. Whitaker III
Pages: 275
Series: Yes, Book 4 of eventually 15
Rating: 3 Stars

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Frequency Of Distress (The Red Rover Series Book 3) by C.E. Whitaker III

Frequency of Distress is the third book in the YA science fiction series, The Red Rover, that was sent to me by the author. 

Instead of making a home on Araneus where the Aphotritons welcome them, the five cadets choose to leave and search for other Rovers in the hope that other humans survived the destruction of the Galicia star system. As they leave Araneus, they are attacked and captured to be slaves by the Draconoires, intergalactic pirates, on the dying planet of Felicity. Escaping this horror will be their toughest challenge yet, and will require more resilience, determination, and bravery than ever before.

"As beautiful as this world is, I’ll never consider it to be my home. Not while my family’s still out there,' Orion said."

Everyone's lives would be a lot easier if the Rover ships could send out a distress frequency call to the others instead of searching countless galaxies and getting killed nearly a dozen times. They have no proof that their families or anyone else from the other Rover Bases survived, and abandon a beautiful world in the hopes that their families are still hovering in space somewhere. If it were me, I might want to put the past behind me and move forward on a safe planet. Maybe, if the cadets knew what was ahead of them, they might have made a different decision. Or, was the horror that they go through worth the value of family? It is ironic that "Felicity" means "great happiness", according to Merriam-Webster. At what cost does it take to be happy in a dying world? 

Frequency of Distress is almost the definition of apocalyptic and dystopian. I loved the uniqueness in the plot, like the alien trapped in a glass tube who's powers stabilize the seismic activity of Felicity. While a familiar concept of being kidnapped and imprisoned as slaves, Whitaker embedded unique and clever details that made the situation original. I admire the teens' inner strength and determination. It is almost impossible to believe their grand escape and seems like something belonging in a Dwayne Johnson or Marvel movie. I admire these kids for their determination to not let the Draconoires break them.

I highly recommend you read this book! I do recommend this book for older YA readers due to some mature content and violence. I look forward to reading the fourth book, Contingence

Read my review of the second book in this series, Clash of the Celestials, here.
Read my review of the first book, The Red Rover: Origins here.

Title: Frequency of Distress 
Author: C.E. Whitaker III
Publisher: C.E. Whitaker III
Pages: 286
Series: Yes, Book 3 of 5
Rating: 5 Stars

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Coming of the Spirits (Spirits Book 5) by Rob Keeley

The Coming of the Spirits is the fifth and final book in the middle grade fantasy series Spirits that was sent to me by the author. Ellie and Clara's plan in 1936 to set World War 2 back on track went awry. Present-day has the Nazis controlling Britain with the powers of the spirit world. History calls upon Ellie one last time, to finally be the Grand Defender and seal the breach between the spirit world and the mortal one. Except this time, Ellie has had enough with others ordering her future. Torn between the past, present, and the future, Ellie's friends from all over the timeline must come together and help her save the world one final time.

A great quote that sums up the book is from the pilot of DC's Legends of Tomorrow: "If we have the power to change the world, don’t you think we have the power to change our own fate?" Especially when the friends across time and worlds come together, it reminded me of that CW show. 

The majority of the series focused on Ellie helping others and bonding with other characters; in contrary, The Coming of the Spirits delved deep into the root of who Ellie is and the events in her life that changed time. Ellie has gone from a child to 18. In that time, she has grown not only physically, but emotionally and mentally. The setting of the books have aged with her appropriately. This the most intense and dystopian of the series. One climatic event was even a bit scary to me with its detailed imagery. As usual, Keeley's descriptions and settings were vivid and real. It is actually hard to believe that it was only 144 pages with how much had happened and how gripping the plotline was.

The series did wrap up surprisingly well. The ending was definitely unexpected. I was not prepared for that change of destiny, and I cannot find any foreshadowing that leads to this shock. While heartbreaking in the moment, I can understand why Keeley chose to end the series this way. While the choice seems almost contradictory to the plotline and previous books, it does attune to a theme of changing destinies and the course of history.

Overall I largely enjoyed the series and highly recommend it. The second book, The Spirit of London, is still my favorite. 

See my review of:
The forth book, High Spirits
The third book, The Sword of the Spirit
The second book, The Spirit of London
The first book, Childish Spirits

Title: The Coming of the Spirits
Author: Rob Keeley
Publisher: Troubador Publishing Ltd
Pages: 144
Series: Yes, Book 5 of 5
Rating: 5 Stars

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Epiphany (The Heir of G.O'D. Book 2) by Harper Maze

Epiphany is the second book in the YA dystopian series Heir of G.O'D that was sent to me by the author. In 4 days, Hailey's comet will destroy the virtual reality world Sol, unless the Heir decides to stop it. Upon getting Ana's visor upgrade and finally being able to see the real-world, she is discovered by the Church of G.O'D. and kidnapped, only to discover that she is Gaiana O’Drae- the Heir. With every group of political and economic power after her for personal gain and betrayals at every turn, she must decide who is worth trusting and live long enough to make the world-changing choice.

(For consistency's sake, I will continue to refer to her as Ana)

This was a huge gamble for her father to take. Create a comet to destroy Sol on her 18th birthday unless she finds out that she is the Heir, can escape all the people trying to kill her, get into his mansion, know what to look for, all in the hopes that she will... press a button? There are a million ways this extremely elaborate plan could have ended horribly. How could he even count on her still being alive? I feel very bad for Ana to have this giant burden on her. 

While I understand the corruption in their world, there should have been a stronger support system for her. One thing I do not understand is the amount of kidnappings and betrayals. While I understand trying to influence her decision, I wish more people treated her with respect and worshipped her the same way they worshiped her father. It is my hope that in the next book that she can rise up and become the leader of the Church of G.O'D and help both the suffering in the real-world and maintain fairness in Sol. Those aren't necessarily critiques, because writing in a way that causes emotions in the reader is helpful for drawing them in longer and making connections with the characters.

I do not know what I would have done in her situation. Honestly, I see the merits of destroying Sol and focusing on present real-life issues such as building safe housing, access to food and water, education, and medical care. On the other hand, Sol is so entwined with their economic society that destroying it with no plan of support ahead of time would be catastrophic. I look forward to reading the next book and finding out what she chooses to do and who she can finally trust to do it with.

I recommend this book and look forward to reading the final one, Exodus! Read my review of the first book in this series here.

Title: Epiphany (The Heir of G.O'D. Book 2)
Author: Harper Maze
Publisher: Harper Maze
Pages: 256
Series: Yes, Book 2 of 3
Rating: 5 Stars

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Rise of the Sidekicks by Charity Tober

Rise of the Sidekicks is a middle grade fantasy book that was sent to me by the author. 12-year-old Ethan Parker attends the Justice Academy school for kids with superpowers. He and his friends are ecstatic for the Sidekick Tryouts competition where the Nexus Guardian superheroes of the city will choose recruits. While he doesn't have powers like super speed or pyrokinesis, he hopes that his tech skills and inventions will impress them. But a week before he can, the "Hero Smasher" tricks the Guardians into leaving and mind-controls the population into surrendering all the supers for neutralization. Ethan and his friends band together to take on the Hero Smasher and his army of mechanical robots.

While a very familiar concept of those with powers banding together to save the city and mind-controlled robots, Tober weaved an interesting plot of the Sidekick auditions and the kids desperate to prove themselves to the Guardians. Irony is, they aren't here to see it. The author also did a great job of character development, overcoming self-doubt and fear. Rise of the Sidekicks is the type of book that can be read over and over again, even knowing the ending. For the author's first middle grade book, it is impressive.

A central theme was also what defines a superhero. Ethan doesn't have flashy powers, and battled the belief that he doesn't have "real" superpowers. His cleverness, tech-savvy skills, and leadership abilities are outstanding. Ethan did remind me of Richard Greyson (Robin), from the Teen Titans, and most others reminded me of those featured in The Arrowverse. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it made the book a bit nostalgic and more enjoyable.

The only complaint that I have is the lack of origin for their powers. Where did these powers come from? Why these families? The Hero Smasher's background story of why he came to hate the Guardians was strongly written, and it made perfect sense. His origin story was great, but I am just missing the piece of people had these powers to begin with. But for middle grade readers, they may not care about that part.

I recommend this book!

Title: Rise of the Sidekicks
Author: Charity Tober
Publisher: Charity Tober
Pages: 315
Series: No
Rating: 4 Stars

Monday, July 5, 2021

FireWorks by Oliver Smuhar

FireWorks is a middle grade book that was sent to me by the author. This tells the story of how Illuka, the koala and Bouddi, the sugar glider, managed to survive the Australian Bushfires (known to the animals as Alinta). After their home and family are dead and destroyed, these two embark on a journey to warn other family herds, making new friends along the way. 

One thing I liked about the book is the pictures of the different animals and the various facts and descriptions of them. Personally, I have never heard of dingoes before. I also learned that the Eastern water dragon can climb trees, and I learned that the scientific name for the red-tailed black cockatoo is Calyptorhynchus. The drawings of the animals are very helpful for imagery, and while black and white, the actual pictures of the bush fires and their impact is also educational. 

I did enjoy the story, and it felt well-written. It is  obvious that the author put a lot of work into the book. I'm not sure that a bibliography fits with a middle grade book, but the sources can be helpful if the reader wants to look up more information. I also love that most of FireWorks' profits go to charity.

One major issue that I have is their name for the fires- Alinta. Coincidentally or not, that is also the name of one of Australia’s fossil fuel energy companies. While the meaning of the name Alinta is fire, there are over a hundred other names that mean fire or flame. It is unlikely that the author, who is Australian, would not know the name’s other connotation. Even if accidental, the political message (fossil fuels = climate change = more wildfires) is too large to ignore. That being said, the target audience is for middle grade readers, and they likely would not understand the connection and the political statement. If intentional, that is an issue in itself of writing for the target audience. Alinta makes the audience seem older, in the YA group, but literally stating the moral of the story is on a different age spectrum, perhaps elementary school. 

UPDATE 7/10/21: Smuhar stated "I had no idea that Alinta was connected to an Australian fossil fuel company. I did not intend to make FireWorks a political statement on fossil fuels and global warming. It’s overall goal was to highlight the reality of the bushfires and their impact on the Australian community." He is currently looking into ways to update the name.

I was conflicted with how to rate this book, but I feel that the issue is great enough to rate it 3 stars, despite enjoying the story.

For a middle grade audience I do recommend this story. 

Title: FireWorks
Author: Oliver Smuhar
Publisher: Mountain Blue Publishing
Pages: 275
Series: Not yet
Rating: 3 Stars

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Gatekeeper of Pericael by Hayley Reese Chow

The Gatekeeper of Pericael is a middle grade fantasy book that was sent to me by the author. 12-year-old Porter is the Kotalla Kan, the next generation of the Gatekeepers, who guard the portal between Earth and the parallel spirit universe of Pericael. He hates spirits, and would much rather play soccer and be "normal" then spend hours channeling them and accepting his fate. When Pericael is threatened by the soul-stealing shaman Raspburn, Porter tries to help his mother banish him, but accidently drags himself and his powerless cousin Ames along with him. He must find his way back home in six days before Raspburn does, and defeat him. Along the way, he learns more about his powers and must learn to embrace it.

I loved The Gatekeeper of Pericael! While the premise of being sucked into a portal and having to find your way home is not very unique, the world-building certainly is. I also enjoyed how it was not information overload; I liked having a sense of mystery of certain aspects of the sprits and learning with Porter along the way. The book reminds me a bit of Avatar the Last Airbender, especially with the connection to the spirits. The plot's blend between familiar and unique was refreshing. The imagery of the fights and Porter's magic was very vivid and enticing. 

Porter's character development was astonishing. He went from despising the spirits and his role in protecting Earth to earnestly joining the King of the Spirits and feeling a sense of pride in his abilities. And for a 12-year-old kid? That is a heck of a ton of pressure to be under, and I enjoyed watching him adapt to it and find new strength to save his friends. While unfortunate circumstances caused his journey, I have no doubt that it helped Porter evolve in his abilities and become a more confident person. I do wish that the same growth was present with some of the other characters like Ames; or perhaps his relative flatness was written on purpose to emphasize Porter's emotions and difficulties?

I recommend this book! 

See my review of another book by this author, Ordiel's Heirs

Title: The Gatekeeper of Pericael
Author: Hayley Reese Chow
Publisher: Hayley Reese Chow
Pages: 186
Series: No
Rating: 5 Stars

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Journey to the Kingdom of No Return (Shelf Life Book 2) by Leslie R. Henderson

Journey to the Kingdom of No Return is the second book in the Shelf Life series that was sent to me by the author. Little Book accomplished his dream of becoming an international best-seller, and is back in the bookstore. But soon, he learns that his shelf-life is running out, and he will be put on sale. Desperate to have more time, he strikes a deal with the lead Space-Arranger to go on a reconnaissance mission to the dark side and retrieve scifi hero Luke Shelfwalker, who has apparently been booknapped to the dark side.

I find it really funny that the video game section is the furthest back in the store that borders the dark side. Is there some symbolism to the dark nature of video games over books? I enjoyed the extension of the setting of the bookstore. The "dark side" actually takes place in the storage room. The assumption would be that nobody cleans out the storage spaces, so the books and other items can stay there forever. The cover is once again amazing, and it shows an actual scene from the story. Henderson also did a great job making that environment creepy; I hate spiders and silverfish. *Shudder*

I enjoyed the subtle humor and frustration, like how Timothy Smithers never puts a book back where it belongs. I understand that frustration completely as I used to volunteer at my local library. Putting the children's section and the ones near it back in order were quite a chore sometimes. It is also true that sunlight can fade the art of a book and can trigger chemical changes in the pages, and many places do try to rotate shifts of what books are in the windows the longest. I also love the comedic and truthful timing of phases like "guns and kids don't mix" (49).

I may be reading too much into this, but one thing I found a bit strange or slightly confusing was that it was never mentioned how many copies of each book there were; one would assume that with how Little Book a best seller that he would have been sold; or he is the only one of x amount of copies that is "alive" and stayed in the bookstore out of luck? Or does each copy of the book have the same memories and thoughts and personalities? Also, one would think that being on sale is sort of a good thing; being right at the front of the store with a compelling price would make it more likely that they would be sold; isn't it ironic that the books are desperate not to go on sale as a last-ditch effort to be sold and want to stay in the bookstore forever? 

I recommend that you read this book and I look forward to reading the next one!

Read my review of the previous book in this series, Never Turn the Page Too Soon.

Title: Journey to the Kingdom of No Return
Author: Leslie R. Henderson
Publisher: Leslie R. Henderson
Pages: 209
Series: Yes, Book 2
Rating: 4 Stars

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Never Turn the Page Too Soon (Shelf Life Book 1) by Leslie R. Henderson

Never Turn the Page Too Soon is a middle grade fantasy book that was sent to me by the author. One day, Little Book's author drops him in the donation cart in the local bookstore and drives away. After crying tears of ink, he finds something shocking; at night when the bookstore closes, the books and the characters in them come to life. He navigates the society of the bookstore trying to prove himself as worthy of shelf space and acceptance as he tries to avoid those who want to send him to the giant shredder.

As soon as I read the synopsis that described the perspective being from an inanimate object, a book, I was thrilled. When I was younger I would love writing poems and short stories from the viewpoint of items such as fruit waiting to be picked, or how a trash can felt with each item that was dumped. The concept of the characters coming to life out of the books and having parties and a life at night, and then quickly hopping back on the shelves before opening time was hilarious. There were even police (known as the Space Arrangers) and lawyers. Seeing Dr. Phil was very entertaining. The little details in the story were the best. Never Turn the Page Too Soon was funny and cute; I was smiling and giggling for most of the book.

There was a fear from the books in the store of being shredded by the machine called the LYON. This is not too far from the truth. Bookstores try to send unsold books back to the publisher, but many do not want to pay the shipping costs, and so they ask the stores to dispose of the books instead. Many do not have the resources to work with a recycling center, and the books get dumped out instead. Those that can afford it shred them instead. I used to volunteer in a library, and I know that they tried their best to give away for free the books that weren't being checked out. I actually spent time organizing the donation bins where Little Book was left. The descriptions of how the bookstore worked and the procedures were accurately pictured.

While this book is a fantasy, a lot of it does pertain truth to real-life struggles of being a self-published book. I know the majority of book reviewers do not accept books from self-published authors, and I have never understood why. To me, a book is a book. From reading Never Turn the Page Too Soon, I now know why- to the publishing and literature industry, self-published books are viewed as inferior.

"As for being self-published, only the best of the best belongs in our bookstore. So, if you're self-published, it means you are not the best. And if you're not the best, you don't belong in our bookstore 'cause it means you're not good enough" (pg. 25).

Never Turn the Page Too Soon connects the real difficulties of being an author and book publication with the insecurities that everyone face with the struggle of being "good enough" to be accepted by society and their peers. This need becomes increasingly apparent when kids enter middle school, and even more emphasized and emotionally damaging in high school. This book teaches that no matter where you came from or what you look like, you still are worthy and have potential to make it as far as you dreamed. Little Book was able to earn approval and friendships from his personality and talent despite the prejudice of being an "infiltrator". I loved the ending.

I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading the sequel, Journey to the Kingdom of No Return.

Title: Never Turn the Page Too Soon
Author: Leslie R. Henderson
Publisher: Leslie R. Henderson
Pages: 222
Series: Yes, Book 1 of 2
Rating: 5 Stars

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Dawn Rising (Marked Book 1) by A.F.E. Smith

Dawn Rising is the first in the YA fantasy series Marked. The author sent me this book to review. Alyssia Gale's earliest memory is the car accident that killed her parents four years ago. Since then, her visions have only intensified, transporting her into the lives of four people in pain in the different world of Endarion. Alyssia tries to tell herself that none of it is real, but that becomes impossible to believe when she literally falls through a window into that other world. Rather than focusing on how to get home, she sees a chance for her to help her four "friends" get out of their painful situations. Along the way, she may not only save them, but also learn the truth about who she is and her family.

This book uniquely mixes reality and issues of mental illness, discrimination, abuse, and corruptness with a fantasy world. Alyssia's visions was a captivating take to telling the lives and background stories of the other characters. I did guess the plot twist at the end of who Alyssia really is, and it was enjoyable to see that I was right. What made the journey of them through Endarion amazing was not the setting of the world, but why the characters were there and their motivations for the sacrifices and choices they made along the adventure.

Alyssia is beyond brave, braver than I would be in that situation. Falling through a window and then seeing the people inside her head? I would have been freaking out. Her noble qualities of trying to save them in spite of what might happen to herself are admirable. I did enjoy more reading about Alyssia's life here and in school than in Endarion. While not the best choice, I applaud Alyssia for standing up for herself. I look forward to seeing more of her life in Woodleigh and in her high school in the coming books and her relationship with her classmates. I do not blame Peter for no longer being her friend as he was bullied into doing so. I hope that Colin will eventually get the punishment that he deserves. 

Each character had their own unique challenges and diverse feelings. Oriana struggled with overcoming physical and emotional abuse from her husband and her disgraced healing abilities. I enjoyed her character development of finding strength within herself, and even laughing again. Fabithe is the most interesting of them. His darkened heart from battle set on revenge conflicting with his unconscious desire to have companionship and care for something. Finding a balance between violence and caring was extremely difficult for him, but the most fascinating to watch. ToralĂ© is the most mysterious of the bunch, as the majority of his story is based on him being tortured and locked away for a crime he didn't commit. I look forward to learning more about him in the following books.

I highly recommend this book and I cannot wait to read the next, The Dark Knife

Title: Dawn Rising
Author: A.F.E. Smith
Publisher: Ironwright Books
Pages: 303
Series: Yes, Book 1 of 5
Rating: 5 Stars

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Behind the Open Door: The Book of Light Book 1 by Sally Gallot-Reeves

Behind the Open Door is a middle grade fantasy story that was sent to me by the publicist. This is the first in a 5-part series. 8-year-old Cassie has always had a vivid imagination- at least, that is what others think. In reality, she can sense vibrational frequencies and travel between different realms. Her talents, as well as her telepathy, become more apparent upon moving to a new home in Maine with a magical history. With her new guide (invisible to everyone else) dog Patrik, she works on helping the elemental kingdom and the fairies. Initially hindered by her family's anger and misunderstanding of her magical adventures, she helps them find enjoyable moments and see the magic within and around them.

The way her telepathy was shown was subtle- the book frequently showed conversations between other people even miles away that Cassie could hear. She could also transmit thoughts (what she calls "mind-wishes") and can hear the rest of people's sentences that aren't said aloud. Reeves did a good job balancing her powers with what could be excused as being observational, instinctive, and a vibrant imagination. The fact that Cassie's powers were not overbearing and obvious helped to the relatability of the story and contributed to the emotional tension in the family. It was exciting to see how her powers evolved and the effects it had on her family and friends. Cassie's mother was especially noteworthy in character development.

Most children have an imaginary companion and engage in elaborate imaginary activities. Even though Cassie's "pretend-play" or imagination is magic and is actually real in this book, various parenting strategies and ways to interact with Cassie have educational value. I took an educational psychology class last semester, and I can say that there is educational value and truth of what the book discusses on how to not only healthily encourage children to have confidence in their creativity, but also to learn the difference between reality and pretend. To find out what I am referring to, read the book! The ending was relaxing and a bit soothing. While there are four more books in this series, it could be a stand-alone. While some people prefer gripping cliffhangers, it is refreshing to see a book wrapped up nicely in the end and feel satisfied. It is a lovely story to read in the evening to relax before bed, and could allow for beautiful dreams. It is also the type of story that is fitting to read many times.

I highly recommend this book and am excited to read the next ones!

Title: Behind the Open Door
Author: Sally Gallot-Reeves
Publisher: Balboa Press 
Pages: 302
Series: Yes, Book 1 of 5
Rating: 5 Stars

Monday, May 17, 2021

Red Blood: Card Holders Book 1 by Kaitlyn Legaspi

Red Blood is the first in a YA fantasy 6-book series that was sent to me by the author. In Neela's world, there are two types of people. The Unbound have powers, and the Bound do not. Despite the Unbound being treated like garbage and living in the slums, they also hold the highest rank in government- decided through a bloody tournament between the Specialists- those with two classes of powers. Neela is an enhancer and a naturalist, and has been using some of her powers for years on the streets as a vigilante. But now that her domain's Card Holder died, she is forced into the competition. Along the way she will not only fight for change in the ring and make some friends, but also encounter dangerous enemies... some all too similar to those who killed her parents.

Neela is intelligent, rebellious, tough but compassionate, and beautifully powerful. Along with no interest in distractions of romance, she reminds me of myself in some ways. I admire her strong moral values of not harming innocent children and never killing anyone. It is rare and honorable to be a vigilante and not kill. This makes the title of the book a bit ironic, as she has a strong distaste for blood. Neela's character development took an interesting shape. Contrary to the norm, she started off as cocky/assertive and guarded, but then gradually became more soft and open. Not that its rare for a character to enter powerful and strong in morals, but this was a bit refreshing and posed an interesting challenge for Legaspi. I am looking forward to seeing how her character will evolve in the following books.

The contrast between the slums and the core of the Queen of Heart's Domain is certainly realistic, and the treatment and societal discrimination brought onto the unbound remind me of our issues of systematic inequality and racism. They are able to hold government not because the people voted, but because of a dire competition. If Neela can win this bloodthirsty tournament, she has a pretty good shot at making some actual change. She's already got plenty of attention. In fact, even if she dies, (I hope not!) good could still come out of it. The plot had strong foreshadowing and was pretty predictable, but it was still exciting to keep reading and see if I was right. One part of the ending that was not foreshadowed broke my heart. At least this will be a series! 

Conceptually, their government structure based on cards makes sense- historically suits in a deck represent the four economic classes of Medieval society. I hope the future books delve more into the cards and their roles- typically the queen of hearts card represents sincere love, which could support the gradual character development of Neela opening herself up to friendships and love. On the other hand, in the roles of government the Heart usually meant the role of the church, Spades for the military, Clubs represented agriculture, and Diamonds represented the merchant/lower class. In Red Blood, the black-backed cards conjure a weapon, which would align with how spades (for the military) are black symbols. That's the only color of their magical spell cards that make clear sense. I also didn't see anything regarding religion in the book, and it would be interesting if in future books the symbolism of the different suits and deeper meanings behind each domain and color of their weapon/magic cards were further elaborated/incorporated. I see a lot of potential here.

Card Holders: Two More Lives will not be out until Spring 2022, and I cannot wait to read it!

Title: Red Blood: Card Holders
Author: Kaitlyn Legaspi
Publisher: Kaitlyn Legaspi
Pages: 343
Series: Yes, Book 1 of 6
Rating: 5 Stars

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Tangled Tongue: A F.U.S.E. Adventure by Jean Husband

Tangled Tongue is a middle grade realistic fiction book that was sent to me by the author. 12-year-old Duff struggles with speech disfluency, and his father invents FUSE, a focused ultrasound electronic. This device sends micro-focused sound waves into sensory-motor systems of Duff's brain to smooth his speech. When the device works, it attracts some negative attention from other scientists nearby who want to steal the rights to the technology. When his father is kidnapped, he manages to communicate with Duff through the FUSE. Duff teams up with an old friend and a new one to get his dad back- no matter the danger. 

I really enjoyed the story! While it is just 162 pages, a lot happened and was suspenseful and fascinating. Duff's character development was strong, and I liked watching him become more confident, stand up for himself, and even embrace openness to new friends and forgiveness outside of the soccer field. Duff's bravery and love for his father was strong, and I love that he never gave up hope. Kids can be more resourceful than adults give them credit for. The book is mostly fun to read, and the kidnapping is not gory or anything like that. Tangled Tongue could also create an interest in STEM. 

I like this cover better than the other version, but they still need some work, especially as the style of the art makes it seem for a younger audience and easier reading level than it can be. While I understand the symbolism, it also is a bit misleading with the illustration of the tongue when stuttering is usually caused by abnormalities in the pathways in the brain responsible for language, not controllable by moving your tongue differently. 

I won't go into the technicalities of the specific differences of gray and white matter and fractional anisotropy, but the book actually does a good job of condensing some of the science into an easily understandable way. Focused ultrasound neuromodulation, the basis of the FUSE invention in the book, is currently used to treat psychiatric disorders, traumatic brain injuries, dysmotility disorders, chronic pain, and epilepsy. Neuromodulation is actually fascinating and is one of the fastest growing areas of medicine. Most research supporting non-invasive neuromodulation's use for speech impairments and stuttering use transcranial direct current stimulation, as focused ultrasound is rarer and mostly proven for behavioral disorders, however there is no reason not to assume that it could still work. In the future, these devices could become much more prevalent in society. The book was also realistic in which letters people who stutter struggle with the most.

I recommend that you read this book and I am excited to read the next book whenever it is ready!

Here's information on the technology if you are interested: 

Title: Tangled Tongue: A F.U.S.E. Adventure
Author: Jean Husband
Publisher: Jean Husband
Series: Yes, Book 1
Rating: 5 Stars

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Patient from Silvertree (Silvertree Book 1) by Marian Dribus

The Patient from Silvertree is a YA realistic fiction book that was sent to me by the author. 40 years ago, a brilliant scientist named Peterson invented a new drug to treat cancer. However, his experiments were unethical, and so he went to jail. Sixteen-year-old Lisa's father is an oncologist. One day an old friend of her father's comes to visit, delivering an ultimatum to treat her cancer with the drug Peterson invented. When he agrees to illegally treat her, it draws unwanted attention that puts Lisa and everyone she loves in danger. 

The Patient from Silvertree is one moral dilemma after another, where nearly each impossible decision brought them one step closer to losing their conscience or humanity. This story goes down a darker path of medical ethics and the life-and-death sacrifices one is willing to make for the ones they love- or the ones they loathe. While I tend to love inspirational stories, ones that show the darker side of humanity are just as- if not more- important.

Graham, one of the main antagonists, is my favorite character. He is not evil, but is held in an impossible situation and is forced to commit horrific acts. He does have a moral compass and seems to do his best to avoid violence. I love it when the "villain" has internal conflicts. I hope in the sequel his backstory is revealed. The book also touches on emotional issues, which were mostly depicted realistically. As far as the romance between Lisa and Josh goes, it was predictable, but also pressured and unusual. For the plot, that turns out to be an advantage.

This was one of the more interesting, skillful endings that I have read in a long time. Quite the contrary from happily ever after, this ending is perfect for the story's darker tone and setting with a perfect balance between resolution and the unknown. At the end of the day we want all the bad guys to be caught and the good guys to win- but is that realistic, or purely a false hope? I would argue that the cover needs to be adjusted to highlight that ominous focus, but that is the only critique I have.

I highly recommend this book and am excited to read the sequel that takes place four years later, The Scientist's Daughter

Title: The Patient from Silvertree
Author: Marian Dribus
Publisher: Marian Dribus
Pages: 275
Series: Yes, Book 1 of 2
Rating: 5 Stars

Monday, March 8, 2021

Kindled Embers (The Dryad's Cede Book 1) by K.C. Simos

Kindled Embers is a middle grade fantasy story that was sent to me by the author. When 12-year-old Eliza's foster father Jonas, a war hero, is falsely accused of stealing the Royal Pearl, she helps Jonas escape. Eliza decides the best way to clear his name is solve the theft themselves by following the riddles left behind.

Kindled Embers is a cute, fun story, but it also brought up a significant amount of moral issues and lessons. One of which surrounded what makes us worthy of being loved or receiving kindness. Differences in social class were very clear as a lesson of being kind and valuing everyone regardless of social standing was present. How adults behave does effect children; they are not invisible and are effected by the social environment. 

As far as the characters go, Eliza's personality and intelligence does fit with her age of 12, and she is relatable to how I was at that age. Even at 12 years old Eliza could see wrongdoing and injustice in her world. Eliza reminds me of myself at that age, always curious, enthusiastic, and determined. The plot was not predictable, and I was surprised and satisfied at the end. Personally, I don't believe a second book is needed, but I look forward to reading it. 

I highly recommend this book!

Title: Kindled Embers (The Dryad's Cede Book 1)
Author: K.C. Simos
Publisher: K.C. Simos
Pages: 132
Series: Yes, Book 1 of 2
Rating: 5 Stars

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Project Bold Life: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success by Edward M. Kopko

Project Bold Life is a self-help guide to living a happier, more confident, and overall bolder life through their formula (a committed goal from the Bold Life Pillars (Pi), plus a stretch specific goal (S²) and an Action Plan (Ap). PBL=Pi+S²+Ap). Written by accomplished businessman and entrepreneur, Project Bold Life aims to help one transform their doubts and challenges into boldness and success. This book was sent to me by the company.

Self-help and motivational books are tricky when trying to be relatable and differentiating between lecturing, teaching, and simply giving advice. However, Project Bold Life did find a balance between this. Project Bold Life is broad enough for the messages to be relevant for almost all, but also specific enough so that they can be followed through. I also like how the advice and steps the book offered were explained in relatable, understandable parallels with Ted Talks, events in history, and songs. 

From word clouds to cartoons, the illustrations are both helpful, cute, and relevant. The cartoon to the right is a reference to how stress can be positive; diamonds cannot form without high stress and pressure. 

I enjoyed the empowering tone behind the Fall off the Horse Plan chapters, where one envisions what types of falls and issues they could have, with steps on how to get back on and people who will help them. Often, many books strive for positivity in goal setting and mindset, but fail to address what happens if something goes wrong. 

While this is a review of the book, I did look up the website, quizzes, and worksheets that the book mentioned. The worksheets are very specific in terms of goals for each day, each month, and each year; this provides a higher likelihood of it actually working. The website, projectboldlife.com, is more helpful than the book in my opinion in terms of helpful stories and precise steps. Project Bold Life certainly has some good ideas, but not most of what is in the book is not necessarily original.

I felt that the book spent too long explaining how and why it was/will teach the Bold Life Formula/steps and not enough time actually teaching it. I also wish that the features on people who completed the Bold Life Formula were longer and more detailed. I was unrealistically expecting a style similar to Chicken Soup's books. 

I do think this book and the website can help many people.

See this video on the project and the different pillars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlmKgeQklUY

Title: Project Bold Life
Author: Edward M. Kopko
Publisher: Edward M. Kopko
Pages: 268
Series: No
Rating: 4 Stars

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Signs in the Dark by Susan Miura

Signs in the Dark is a YA mystery thriller novel that was sent to me by the publisher. 17-year-old Haylie Summers is kidnapped one night after getting a text that (supposedly) came from a classmate she liked, Nathan. Now she is tied up, gagged, and blindfolded for ransom. While Haylie tries to stay alive and piece together why she ended up there, Nathan tries to clear his name and fight to get Haylie back by any means necessary. Oh, by the way: Haylie is deaf.

Nathan is selfless and caring. He risked his life to find Haylie. Some might call him rebellious; I call him heroic. I have no doubt that he would make a great firefighter. Haylie is bright and a wonderful girl despite her being deaf. She leads mostly a normal life, and Signs in the Dark does tackle some audism and other stereotypes. I liked the diversity of characters' personalities. Mr. Kingsman, the hilarious and nutty neighbor, is my favorite supporting character. Particularly with Mr. Kingsman, I enjoyed the emphasis on how people are not always how they seem- or speak, for that matter. Haylie's involvement in the local Wildlife Rescue Center was a nice touch, especially with the signing gorillas.

The plot made sense, which is sometimes a concern with mystery novels. I enjoy watching crime shows like Chicago PD and NCIS, and as far as kidnappings go Signs in the Dark portrayed the crime and the kidnappers well. However, I will say that at times it felt like information-overload, and the reader can easily interpret and come to many of the drawn-out conclusions and explanations. Never underestimate the intelligence of the reader!

Title: Signs in the Dark
Author: Susan Miura
Publisher: Vinspire Publishing
Pages: 203
Series: No
Rating: 4 Stars

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

High Spirits (Spirits Book 4) By Rob Keeley

High Spirits is the fourth book in the middle grade fantasy series Spirits. This book was sent to me by the author. Evil spirits have impersonated King Edward VIII and his girlfriend, and are bent on preventing World War II and helping Hitler. Due to Ellie's involvement in the new connection between the spirit world and mortal world, she is sent back in time again- this time, to 1936, to keep history in order. 

The educational value is strong, and I personally did not understand the significance of who Edward VIII was until now. While I did have some knowledge of the relationship between England and Germany prior to the war, it is surprising to me that the action of getting married became the pivoting factor between WWII and a Nazi-controlled Europe. For all the times Keeley could have chosen to write the book on, 1936 was a great pick to drive home how unstable history is. 

My critique is how short all the books are, especially this one in particular. The ending fight felt rushed, and I wish there was more suspense. 

I do recommend this book and look forward to reading the next, The Coming of the Spirits.

Title: High Spirits
Author: Rob Keeley
Publisher: Troubador Publishing Ltd
Pages: 129
Series: Yes, Book 4 of 5
Rating: 4 Stars
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