Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Season of Transformation by Jayne Fordham

Published synopsis:

A Season of Transformation is a young adult fantasy/ romance novel set in the contemporary world. It is the story of five young people drawn together to complete a Quest, to protect their town from destruction. In order to defeat the story’s villain, Maxvale, the five virtual strangers must come together and not only forge a bond of trust but become proficient with the ‘abilities’ temporarily bestowed upon them.

In the midst of the lead up to the battle each of the young people has their own personal struggles they are trying to deal with. Lucas, an adopted and bitter teenager struggles to become the person he wants to be whilst developing feelings for Makenna, a rich kid who doesn’t like his attitude. Bonnie is a ‘gothic’ that is dealing with an alcoholic father, Ben the school nerd and Adam the class clown are trying to break free from their high school stereotypes. Can these five teens put their differences aside to defeat Maxvale and save their town?


A Season of Transformation is a modern day Breakfast Club with a paranormal twist. And the story is better for it. When a disenchanted teen, a privileged girl, a shy and lonely goth girl, a geek and a class clown are each given a supernatural ability and told to work together to be strong enough to fight what’s coming, it takes more than practice to make it happen. Each of them needs to confront the issues in their lives that will affect their confidence in themselves to win the battle. As they each face life’s challenges, they find they have more in common than they ever thought, and their prejudices slowly slide away. In their own ways, they become better people. Not just for the team, but for themselves as well.

Jayne Fordham did an excellent job in A Season of Transformation of capturing the thought processes and actions of each of the teenagers. The characters were believable, and in their own ways, very charming. The book has an undercurrent of attraction between several of the kids, but before romance occurs, the characters demand respect and kindness from each other – an important message in YA fiction, paranormal or not.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was engaging and kept me turning the pages to see what was going to happen next. A back door was left open for a possible sequel, and if there is one, I will definitely be reading it. The one thing that holds me back from giving the book five stars, though, is the transitions. Within each chapter, there are time jumps and changes between which character is currently narrating. All of these are appropriate for the book, but there is nothing that cues the reader into the fact that a switch is going to occur. This affected the flow of the book. A simple fix for this could have been an extra space between paragraphs that transition, or even a symbol of some sort between paragraphs. Other than that, I have no complaints. This book deserves four and a half stars!

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Becca Bloom and the Drumsticks of Doom by Rusty Fischer

Published synopsis:

Your drumsticks . . . or your life!

Becca Bloom never knew she had a father, let alone a rock star god who’d sold his soul to the devil for success! Now, with her Dad dead, it’s up to Becca to keep her father’s Drumsticks of Doom from the bloodthirsty demon who wants them back!


Becca Bloom’s boring life turns upside down when she finds out that her absentee father was a rock star the same day he dies. To make it worse, he leaves her a pair of drumsticks that a demon wants back. Badly. When the demon goes after the ones close to her, she has to rely on help from unlikely sources to keep him from taking the drumsticks back.

Rusty Fischer’s Becca Bloom and the Drumsticks of Doom is a fun, breezy read from its quirky title to the final showdown. The title character is not willing to play the victim and she takes things in stride as her world is changed forever. Darren, her secret crush, comes to her aid when things get tough and their relationship develops into a sweet friendship with the possibility for more.

The one bothersome point is the author’s description of Becca as a shy girl with only one friend - who can barely be counted as one. I didn’t think it meshed with the strong willed, skateboarding, sometimes almost fearless, girl in the book. I didn’t get why she would be such a loner and have difficulty making friends. But, that’s a good thing. I liked her better as the book went on and she strayed from the intended depiction. The description of the demon, on the other hand, has you picturing exactly what he looks like in your mind. And being glad that you’re not the one holding the drumsticks! Other than the inconsistency of how Becca is portrayed, I enjoyed reading Becca Bloom and the Drumsticks of Doom. If you’re looking for a quick, light read with a demon twist, this is the book for you.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Her Dear and Loving Husband by Meredith Allard

Published synopsis:

James Wentworth has a secret. He lives quietly in Salem, Massachusetts, making few ties anywhere. One night his private world is turned upside down when he meets Sarah Alexander, a dead ringer for his wife, Elizabeth. Though it has been years since Elizabeth's death, James cannot move on.

Sarah also has a secret. She is haunted by nightmares about the Salem Witch Trials, and every night she is awakened by visions of hangings, being arrested, and dying in jail. Despite the obstacles of their secrets, James and Sarah fall in love. As James comes to terms with his feelings for Sarah, he must dodge accusations from a reporter desperate to prove that James is not who, or what, he seems to be. Soon James and Sarah piece their stories together and discover a mystery that may bind them in ways they never imagined. Will James make the ultimate sacrifice to protect Sarah and prevent a new hunt from bringing hysteria to Salem again?


After her divorce, Sarah moves from LA across the country to Salem, Massachusetts. Though born in Boston, Salem has the allure of a new beginning and she feels drawn to creating a life there. James is a lonely college professor who has kept his past a secret for many years. When the two meet, James is torn between telling Sarah his secrets at the risk of losing her, or keeping their relationship limited to friendship only. The longer he waits, the more Sarah believes the desire she feels for him is not reciprocated. Forced into a corner, he realizes he must confide in her. When he does finally open up to her, running as far away as possible may be the sanest thing to do, especially as he has become the target of an overzealous reporter. But could she live without the man she has come to care so much about?

Her Dear and Loving Husband is a sweet, romantic book about the endurance of love. Two people find themselves drawn together, but facing what might be insurmountable obstacles, as Salem’s past closes in on them. The imagery created by Meredith Allard of the torment women and their families experienced during the Salem Witch Trials brings the reader to that time, feeling the anguish of those affected by such a horrendous part of American history. The characters are people you would like to get to know – even if you’re leery of the supernatural. The story weaves history in and out throughout the book so that the reader comes away not only with the feeling of enjoying a good book, but with a solid knowledge of a time that may only have been a vague recollection from a US History class some time in the past.

I enjoyed reading Her Dear and Loving Husband very much. The characters had an intriguing innocence to them that worked for the book even with the heavy subject matter that surrounded them. A small drawback for me was that much of the information about the Witch Trials, and the lessons to be learned from them, were repeated several times, which came off as a bit tedious and even preachy at times. The pace was also a bit slow in the beginning but it did pick up as the book moved along. Those things aside, Her Dear and Loving Husband definitely deserves four stars.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Homegrown Muse by Sally Bennett

Published synopsis:

When free-spirited Lyssa Smith exposes a plot devised by "Tank" Turnbull, a powerful land developer, he and his conspirators seek to save themselves by destroying her reputation, ruining her career, and exposing her secrets. Lyssa may be able to salvage her dream of saving her parents' farm with the help of the elusive businessman Dane Callicott, but will this uneasy alliance destroy Lyssa's last hope of freeing herself from her weighty responsibilities?

Still grappling with the failure of his latest venture, the unconventional Highline Resort, Dane is presented with another maverick proposition, but to carry it off he'll need Lyssa's support. Should Dane listen to his muse and risk his family's fortune on another visionary project, or will he be forced to return to the safe but outdated business practices of his father?

Shackled by family expectations, battered by a series of betrayals, and blinded by impossible choices, Dane and Lyssa might very well bulldoze over their one chance for happiness--unless together they can blaze a new trail forward.


Lyssa Smith is a woman with principles and determination. But she’s trying to work from the outside in to make as much of a difference in the land development industry as possible. And sometimes, she ends up alienating some of the people who actually have the money and resources to make the necessary changes. Her life takes a serious wrong turn when several of these people decide they’ve had enough of her high morals and it’s time for her to be out of the industry.

Dane Callicot has the opposite problem. He’s already on the inside, but nobody seems to care about the things he cares about. His life has been mapped out from the day he was born, but it’s not the life he wants. How can he have the things that are important to him in life without alienating everyone he cares about?

Having their own demons to conquer, Dane and Lyssa eventually find that they’re on the same side. Soon after, a business relationship becomes something more when they find in each other the understanding and support they both need. But with so much working against them, the misunderstandings and betrayals keep building up around them.

Homegrown Muse by Sally Bennett is a wonderful, well-written book that had me captivated from the start. The characters grab a hold of you – whether by their likability or their conniving. I found myself rooting for Dane and Lyssa even when I wanted to shake some sense into them both; and I couldn’t wait until the dust settled and those in their way got what was coming to them. I enjoyed the book from beginning to end and I have the lack of sleep circles under my eyes to prove it.

There are a few of things that keep me from giving Homegrown Muse an all-out five, though. As much as I wanted Dane and Lyssa to come together, it seemed odd that they had known and worked closely with each other for years without a romantic spark until now. It would have seemed more realistic if both had harbored at least some romantic feelings or attraction that had simply never been acted upon. Also, the secret that Lyssa’s parents kept from her was troublesome for me. I can understand the point of view of the characters in the book, but it still rubbed me as somewhat selfish and harsh. A point that did not really affect my rating of the book but still bothered me was the prejudice and racism that dominated some of the characters’ lives and made them even less likable in my mind. Perhaps it is my Midwestern naivety of the business and social climate of the Southwest United States. But if the opinions set forth in Homegrown Muse are truly indicative of those in the Phoenix area, the city will never make it to my ‘possible places to move to’ list. Let me add, though, that Sally Bennett did not support either the prejudice or the racism, but rather seemed to be showcasing the ramifications of both. I give Homegrown muse four and a half stars.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

In a Celandine World by Catherine Thorpe

Published synopsis:

Willow Jane has a secret. She's in love with the Boogeyman. He comes to her in her dreams. Lately he's been speaking to her while she's awake. She doesn't know why he comes to her, or how it is that she loves him. She's never even seen him.

Until now.

She's accepted crazy. She's accepted isolation—heck, she's even welcomed it.She'll do anything to be with him.

But now Betts Willoughby is on to her. The mysterious wife of the village butcher watches her. She knows things. She believes things—things that are even crazier than Willow.

The truth is going to come out. A truth that has long been forgotten. A truth that was concealed in a manuscript in the 12th century. An impossible truth. A dangerous truth that will blow Willow's secret wide open—leaving her scrambling to save the only man she could ever love.


Willow Jane knew that she was different from everyone else. Since she was a child, her parents have worried for her sanity, and so has she. But crazy or not, Willow has always known without a doubt that she loved the man that came to her in her dreams. Now an adult, it’s time to figure out the truth about who he is.Moving to a small cottage in England, she is suddenly amongst people who may be crazier than she is. Can she trust anyone in the village with her secrets? How do the Willoughby’s, the village butcher and his wife who have taken her under their wing, fit into the world of her dreams? And then there’s the mysterious gardener who no one seems to see but her. Will the answers she seeks put her in danger of losing more than her sanity?

In a Celandine World, Catherine Thorpe challenges some of human kind’s most basic religious beliefs. What if the religious leaders of the world have been intentionally misleading people? What if they hid the truth in order to further their own power? This fear is as old as religion itself. Once the pagan religions that worshipped and respected the earth and its people were wiped out, religion often brought with it battles of power as witnessed by the history of the Romans and Christians, the Christians and the Jews and Muslims, the Holy Crusades, and even the battle between science and religion. The list goes on and on. Catherine Thorpe does an excellent job in her book of arguing the point of view of her characters and making the reader feel the truth of their beliefs.

I will be honest and say that I only truly began to enjoy the book about two thirds of the way through. Catherine Thorpe is an excellent writer and is able to paint a clear picture of details and the internal turmoil of her characters. But what was difficult for me during the first two thirds of the book was that the majority of the writing was focused almost exclusively on describing these things, to the point where I almost did not continue to read the book as it was not moving forward in plot. No matter how well written, too much detail can be as detrimental to a book as too little. The same can be said for creating mystery. A reader’s curiosity and interest can waver if the plot does not move along at a steady pace. How much is too much or too little information will always be based on personal opinion, but in mine, I feel the book would have been better served with the ‘less is more’ philosophy in detail and a healthier dose of progress in the earlier parts of the book.

That being said, once the book finally started to come together and the pace picked up, I was glad I kept reading. The characters became much more engaging and the story kept me turning the pages way after my bedtime to finish the book.If the first two thirds of the book had been written as the last third, not finishing the book would never have crossed my mind.

I give the book three stars.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Land of Nod, The Artifact by Gary Hoover

Published synopsis:

Jeff Browning is a teenage boy who, following the mysterious disappearance of his father (a brilliant physicist), finds a portal in his father’s office that transports him to another dimension.

The dimension is populated by fantastic and dangerous creatures and also an advanced society of humans. That society, while very different from those on earth, is oddly similar, in some ways, to the society in which Jeff grew up.

As Jeff looks for clues regarding what may have happened to his father, he is accused by some of being a spy while thought by others to be a prophesized figure . . . who may be the key to victory in a developing war.


Jeff Browning is a fourteen year old boy trying to make his way through life after the disappearance of his father, a brilliant scientist. Longing to find clues as to where his father, who is presumed dead by the police, could be, Jeff searches his father’s office. There, he finds a strange machine that opens a passage to what looks like another world. Sure he will find his father in this strange land, Jeff decides to investigate. He suddenly finds himself in a forest filled with giant insects, man-sized birds and snakes with three feet wide heads with no way to get back home.

Gary Hoover does a great job describing this world, creating a vivid picture in the reader’s mind of what Jeff is seeing and feeling. The civilization mirrors that of earth in many ways - for instance, the people speak English. Yet, there are unique differences in technology and social structure that make it a fascinating place to be. Power struggles and the threat of a war make it also a dangerous place to be.I enjoyed reading about this new world and, giant insects aside, I wouldn’t mind living there with its flying cars and showers that dry you off without the need of a towel.

Land of Nod, The Artifact is a nice escape into a different dimension and the story is well-written and interesting. There were a few things, though, that held me back from giving the book a full four stars. There is a lot of illusion to Jeff having abilities that would save the day, but in the end, it seemed there was more hype than substance. For instance, Jeff is able to move large obstacles blocking an escape route, but often does not show enough strength to protect himself in other situations. That’s a shame, because Jeff has the potential to be a strong and captivating character. I hope that there are sequels to Land of Nod, The Artifact that allow him more room to grow into the character that is alluded to throughout this book.

Another thing I questioned was Jeff’s age. I believe that Gary Hoover did an excellent job of describing the insecurities and doubts a fourteen year old boy would have; but in this story, Jeff was looked to by adults to come up with solutions to problems he knew nothing about – such as in politics and war. He was taken maybe too seriously by the grown men in the Land of Nod without having proven himself to be capable of such leaps of faith. If he was a few years older, closer to being an adult himself, this may have seemed a bit more plausible.

All in all, I enjoyed Land of Nod, The Artifact. I think it is a nice, quick read that is both entertaining and action-packed. It definitely has the makings of a good series. I give this book three and a half stars.

Purchase Land of Nod, The Artifact by Gary Hoover

Friday, July 1, 2011

The House of Sherbet by Simon Dale

Published synopsis:

Thirteen year old Jake spends Christmas with his parents at the Oakhouse, the once grand, now decrepit home to his grandfather. Jake quickly begins to realize that the Oakhouse and Granddad Sherbet are not all they seem. On Christmas Eve, Jake's parents disappear, only to reappear six inches tall and having been turned to wood. 

Granddad Sherbet, together with his octogenarian friends, prepares to steal Jake's youth and nascent magical powers.


Jake is a soon to be thirteen year old boy who has the idea in the back of his mind that he may not be normal. Flashes of power sometimes surface when he feels threatened or angry. It’s not until forced to spend his Christmas holiday, and birthday, at his grandfather’s, that he realizes there may be some truth to his having magical abilities. Unfortunately, not until after his grandfather has changed his parents into six inch wooden statues and threatens to use Jake for his own evil ends.

Simon Dale can weave an excellent tale of young adult horror and the supernatural. With strange wooden people brought to life, a dilapidated old house that radiates power, an ancient tree that holds secrets, and creepy old men bent on taking over the country, the main character’s world as he knows it explodes around him and he is caught up in a fight for his life. As the story unfolds, The House of Sherbet grows into a nail-biting tale that makes you want to keep turning the page to see what happens next.

The House of Sherbet is a great read. The characters come alive in your mind and the scenes created are detailed and vivid, bringing the reader to an eerie world of dark magic. And amongst all that, Simon Dale also manages to capture the feelings of a thirteen year old boy experiencing love for the first time - and the wide range of emotions that go with it. There are a few scenes that might be too much for very young readers, but teenage and adult fans of the horror and paranormal genres will enjoy this book. It did get off to a slow start, and, I must admit, I did expect more at the end than delivered, but the story still managed to reel me in and keep me hooked. I am happy that the door is left open for a sequel. Other than the minor issues mentioned, The House of Sherbet is an excellent novel and deserves four stars.

Purchase The House of Sherbet by Simon Dale