Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne @alexadonne #bookreview #scifi #fantasy #YA #retelling

Carries Book Reviews

Title: Brightly Burning

Author:  Alexa Donne

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Page Count: 405

My rating: 4 stars

About the book:

Stella Ainsley leaves poverty behind when she quits her engineering job aboard the Stalwart to become a governess on a private ship. On the Rochester, there’s no water ration, more books than one person could devour in a lifetime, and an AI who seems more friend than robot.

But no one warned Stella that the ship seems to be haunted, nor that it may be involved in a conspiracy that could topple the entire interstellar fleet. Surrounded by mysteries, Stella finds her equal in the brooding but kind nineteen-year-old Captain Hugo. When several attempts on his life spark more questions than answers, and the beautiful Bianca Ingram appears at Hugo’s request, his unpredictable behavior causes Stella’s suspicions to mount. Without knowing who to…

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Review: 5th Grade Screams: The Roaming Dead by Frank Livingston and Janee’ Livingston

Sempiternal Books

IMG_E6396“‘Remeber how we talked about the type of man you hoped I’d grow up to be in our man talks? Well, I want to be the type of man who fights for kids who don’t have anyone fighting for them-‘” 

5th Grade Screams: The Roaming Dead follows a group of uniquely named kids. Jean, Nix, and new kid Eddy, (real name Earth) live in the town of Bellybutton. After a meteor shower, a non-terrestrial pathogen is released into the atmosphere causing all that died within the last year to be reanimated.

This is a super cute middle-grade read, simply bursting with quirky and unique characters. It’s a story about acceptance and understanding. 5th Grade Screams has valuable lessons geared toward kids but important for all ages. In a simple way, the Livingstons remind us of the importance of bravery and standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. It was…

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The Dollmaker of Krakow – R.M. Romero

My Life, Stolen by Books


In the land of dolls, there is magic.
In the land of humans, there is war.
Everywhere there is pain.
But together there is hope.

Karolina is a living doll whose king and queen have been overthrown. But when a strange wind spirits her away from the Land of the Dolls, she finds herself in Krakow, Poland, in the company of the Dollmaker, a man with an unusual power and a marked past.

The Dollmaker has learned to keep to himself, but Karolina’s courageous and compassionate manner lead him to smile and to even befriend a violin-playing father and his daughter–that is, once the Dollmaker gets over the shock of realizing a doll is speaking to him.

But their newfound happiness is dashed when Nazi soldiers descend upon Poland. Karolina and the Dollmaker quickly realize that their Jewish friends are in grave danger, and they are determined to help…

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The Latchkey Kids: 3 The Parents Come Home – Andrew by Vivian Munnoch

The clerk looks like he is ready to confront him and accuse him of stealing something, even though he hasn’t done anything.

Andrew walks around the store, trying to be invisible.  He can feel the store clerk watching him and, when he risks a quick look at the clerk, sees the man is watching him suspiciously.  The clerk looks like he is ready to confront him and accuse him of stealing something, even though he hasn’t done anything.

“I just want to keep warm without having to go back home and wait alone for Mom and Dad to come home,” he thinks, feeling dumb just thinking about it.  “What’s there to be afraid of being home alone?  There’s nothing there.”

Andrew is afraid someone might find out.  “I’m too old for this kind of little kid scared of nothing stuff.”

The clerk’s suspicious stare is making him more nervous.  He’s starting to feel panicky; scared of being caught even though he isn’t doing anything wrong.

He tries to pretend he’s shopping, hoping the clerk will leave him alone.  He looks around him and grabs something off the shelf without looking at anything but the price tags below the items on the shelf.  It has to be something he has enough money to pay for, and he doesn’t have very much.  He has no idea what it is that he grabbed.

He’s only buying it to show that he’s not there to make trouble.

Andrew shuffles up to the counter, keeping his head down, and puts the object on the counter.

“Are you really going to buy that?” the clerk asks with a smirk.  He still looks suspicions and is eying Andrew with a distrustful look, judging him either insane or a criminal, depending on his reaction to the question.

Andrew looks up at him with a nod, a flush creeping up his neck, and then looks down at the item in question.  He stares at it in horror.

There, for all of the world to see, is a pink box. He feels like it is staring up at him in gleeful accusation, yelling to the store, “HE IS LYING!”

Andrew swallows, feeling suddenly sick with embarrassment, the red flush rising up his cheeks.  He looks around quickly to see if anyone is looking.

The object pictured on the bright pink box looks similar to that bullet shaped lipstick candy, only longer and white.

Andrew doesn’t know what it’s used for, but the word Tampon glares up like an announcement and all he knows is that it’s something very private that boys are not supposed to know about and has to do with women and teen girls and puberty.

The package says it’s a mini pack just for the purse.  He suffers a sudden flash of thought, envisioning having to explain to his mother why he bought it.

Andrew turns redder, his face burning with a flush of shame, and the clerk behind the counter laughs.  His expression shows pain for the boy’s predicament and relief that he isn’t a shoplifter after all.

“Your mom sent you, didn’t she?”

“Yes,” Andrew mumbles, looking down and hoping no one sees him.

He pays for his unwanted purchase and makes a beeline for the exit, running halfway home before he slows down and starts looking for somewhere to ditch the little bag.

When Andrew gets home, the tampon box has been safely disposed of in a random trashcan along the way.  He lets himself back in the house and goes back to playing video games.

He plays for the next hour, nervously listening for the noises from the basement that sent him fleeing from the house. The noises never repeat themselves, but that almost makes it worse because he can’t make himself stop expecting them.

Finally, his parents come home and he can put this day behind him.



The Latchkey Kids: 3 The Parents Come Home – Madison by Vivian Munnoch

“I forgot about Caesar,” she groans, “I have to go past him again.”

The thought of having to go past the dog makes her whole body ache with dread, her muscles unwilling to go on even though she knows it’s the only way.  It will take too long to go the long way around and she is frozen.

With no one at the school to let her in and no idea what else to do, Madison heads back home.  She is getting colder, her fingers and toes are burning and painful from the cold now and she is getting very upset.  She is also going to have to explain to her parents about locking herself out when they get home.

“Assuming I’m not frozen to death by then,” Madison mutters miserably.

She retraces her steps, the walk feeling a lot longer this time, and stops when she reaches Mr. Hooper’s house.


“I forgot about Caesar,” she groans, “I have to go past him again.”

The thought of having to go past the dog makes her whole body ache with dread, her muscles unwilling to go on even though she knows it’s the only way.  It will take too long to go the long way around and she is frozen.

“Come on Madison, you can do this.  It’s only a dog and he’s on a chain that doesn’t even reach past the edge of the yard.  Yeah, only a big mean dog that’ll probably tear you apart and eat you.”

Madison loves dogs, but this one is scary, mean, and large.

She stares at the house and yard, willing the dog to not be outside or that Mr. Hooper comes out and controls that nasty dog.

“Mr. Hooper is as scary as the dog is.  Maybe I am better off trying to sneak past the dog.”

She jumps when the dog pops his head around the side of the house with one loud woof, staring at her from the backyard.

Madison swallows, trying to control her fear.  The dog is only standing there watching her so far.

“His chain doesn’t reach the road, so walking by should be safe, right?”  It doesn’t feel safe.

“Okay Madison, let’s go,” Madison urges herself on.

She takes a first cautious step.

The dog just watches.

She takes two more steps, almost reaching the point where she would be even with the curb in front of the house.

The dog moves, shifting position but not taking a step, and she imagines him coiling to spring at her.

“Just do it Madison,” she mutters, “just go.  Don’t even look at him and just walk right past the house.”

A few more steps and Madison is passing front yard, keeping to the far side of the little road, as far away from Old Man Hooper’s house as she can without climbing over the fence on the other side. Every muscle is stiff and tense.

Caesar just stands there watching her very intently.

“Very hungrily,” she thinks.

When Madison reaches not quite halfway past the back yard, the dog suddenly launches himself at her with a deep growl that becomes a barrage of loud angry barking, bounding after her with powerful strides.

Madison screams and whirls to face the lunging dog, putting her arms up to protect herself from the attack.

The back door of Mr. Hooper’s house flies open with a bang and the old man comes barrelling down the stairs on legs that are little more than sticks covered by loose pants.  He is wearing a stained white undershirt with a hole in it and an unbuttoned plaid flannel shirt that is also stained and torn.  Madison suspects the brown-red stains are the blood of his and Caesar’s victims from cutting them up in his basement to bury them or feed them to Caesar.  His wild eyes, unkempt hair, and grey patchy chin stubble make him look more frightening and wild, like a backwoods crazy man.

Fists clenched, he raises one and shakes it at her threateningly, the other gripping what Madison suspects is some kind of weapon to knock her senseless with so he can feed her to the dog.

“You quit teasing my dog!” he shouts at her.  “Get outta my yard!  Get outta here and leave my dog alone!  You kids are always teasing my dog!”

Caesar reaches the end of his chain and Madison is relieved to see the chain holding strong.  With the chain taught, still pulling and lunging at her, Caesar’s jaws snap as if he is already chewing on her while he continues to bark ferociously.

“I’m not even in his yard,” Madison thinks.  With a scared whimper, she scurries off towards the back lane, putting Mr. Hooper’s house and Caesar behind her as quickly as she can.  The moment she reaches the corner where the little road meets the back lane, Madison breaks into a run.

Behind her, Caesar is still barking after her and she can hear the old man yelling and muttering.

Madison is still shaken by the confrontation when she reaches the fence with the loose board.  She looks up at the fence, picturing for just a moment Caesar breaking his chain and coming after her, pinning her helplessly against the fence while he tears her apart, tearing first through her coat to get to her skin beneath.  She sees its height as an impossible barrier, and then almost panics when she doesn’t find the loose board right away.

“Okay Madison, calm down,” she tries to sooth herself.

Fingers numb with the cold and her toes like numb blocks filled with a distant sharp pain that are there weighing her legs down but somehow detached, not a part of her, Madison tries again, looking for the notch in the board and counting the boards.

Her fingers will not work when she tries to move the board.  Madison pulls her mitts off and blows hot air on her fingers, putting them in her mouth and sucking on them to try to warm them up.  It only makes the pain in her frozen fingers worse.  Putting her mitts back on, she tries again and this time moves the board.

Madison starts squeezing through the board when she hears the sounds of footsteps and heavy breathing behind her, and then the jingle of a dog’s chain.

“That heavy breathing is definitely a dog panting,” she thinks.  “Caesar!  He got loose!”  Terror grips her and she squeezes frantically through the fence, almost falling through on the other side.

She turns as she lets the board fall back into place just in time to see a woman jogging up the alley with a big fluffy white dog.

Madison leans against the fence and lets out a nervous giggle. “It wasn’t Caesar,” she says in relief.

She walks the rest of the way home, each step seeming to take her farther away instead of closer.  The pain in her frozen fingers and toes is getting worse.  She tries walking faster, and it makes the pain in her feet worse but at least she should get home faster. Her nose is burning too now and she walks holding her mitts to her face, blocking the cold and warming her face with her own breath cupped beneath the mitts.  She leaves only a crack to see through between her mitts.

“Will I ever get home?” she moans in despair.

When Madison finally gets home, she is so cold that her hands and feet hurt so much she is crying.  She still can’t get in, though, because she lost her key and locked herself out.  Madison sits on the steps and just cries.

“Are you okay?”

She looks up, startled, to see the woman who lives next door.

“I locked myself out,” Madison sobs.

“You look frozen!” the woman exclaims sympathetically.  “Come inside my house to warm up and we’ll watch for your parents to come home.”

Madison gratefully goes with her.

Inside the neighbor’s house, she is given a warm blanket and a cup of hot cocoa.  Her fingers are too frozen at first to hold the cup.  She sits there, rubbing her hands together, trying to warm them.  When her fingers and toes start to warm up the pain is terrible.  Frostbite had been setting in.  She has to wait for the pain in her fingers to lessen before she dares try picking up the cup of hot cocoa.  She sits there drinking it thankfully and watching a television show that is way too young for her that the neighbor put on to entertain her.

A few hours later, Madison’s mother arrives home.

The neighbor notices the car in the driveway.  “Someone is home at your house.”

Madison looks up at her with fear in her eyes.

“I’m going to be in trouble for locking myself out,” she thinks.  “Worse, my parents are not going to trust me to be home alone now.”

“Do you want me to go with you?” the neighbour asks sympathetically, seeing her fear.

“No, I can manage,” Madison says unhappily.  Her mind is working, thinking through what she will say to her parents.  She gets up reluctantly.

“Thank you for letting me wait here, and for the hot cocoa,” she says as she pulls on her coat and boots at the door.  She waves goodbye as the woman closes the door behind her.

Madison trudges home reluctantly.  “I’m going to be in so much trouble,” she thinks again miserably.  “They’ll make me go to a babysitter now.  I’m too old for babysitters.”  She opens the front door to find her mother frantically searching the house and calling her.

Hearing the sound of the front door and the thud of Madison’s boot dropping on the floor, her mother rushes to the door.

“Where have you been?”  Her voice is as anxious and harsh with worry as the expression on her face.

Madison shifts nervously, standing there with one boot on and one off, her coat open, and hat and mitts dropped carelessly on the floor with her backpack.

She looks down at the floor, not wanting to meet her mother’s eyes.

“I lost my key,” she mumbles quietly.

“What?  Look up at me when you speak. What did you say?”

Madison huffs in frustration, not wanting to repeat herself.  She looks up at her mother, her mother’s worried look making her want to hide.

“I got locked out.”

“How?  Where is your key?”  She advances on Madison.  “Take your jacket off, give me your backpack.  Where is your key, Madison?”

Madison lets her mother take the offending backpack.  She takes off her other boot and jacket while her mother searches the backpack.

“I don’t know.  I got home and I couldn’t find my key.”  Her voice is cracking and sounds small, making her sound years younger.

She stands there watching her mother pull stuff out of her backpack, shaking them out and finally dumping the rest of the contents on the floor in a mess.

“So where were you?”

“I was next door.”  Madison decides not to tell her that she walked all the way back to school and then home again before finally ending up next door.

The front door opens behind Madison and her father walks in.

“What’s all this?” he asks, looking down at the mess scattered on the floor and at his wife rifling through Madison’s backpack.

“Madison locked herself out.  She lost her key.”  Madison’s mother doesn’t pause in her search of the backpack and its contents.

Her father takes his shoes and coat off, hanging up his coat, and gives Madison a disappointed look.

That look makes a red flush burn her cheeks.  She would have preferred anger to his disappointment.

He shakes his head. “Did you check her backpack and coat?”

Her mother looks up at him with an annoyed look.

He picks up Madison’s coat from the floor and searches the pockets, feeling along the bottom hem in case it somehow slipped through a hole in the pocket into the inner lining.

Madison just watches.  There are no holes in her pockets.

“How did you lock yourself out?” her father asks while he searches the coat.  “This was a pretty big responsibility we trusted you with.  I guess you just aren’t ready for it.”

“There is no key,” her mother exclaims, dropping the violated backpack on the floor.  “I guess we were wrong.  You just aren’t responsible enough yet.”

She turns and heads for the kitchen.

“Mom, I am. I’m twelve,” Madison begs, following her.  “What are you going to do?”  She has a pretty good idea what her mother is going to do and she is mortified at the idea.

“Mom, no, please, I’m too old for babysitters.”

Her mother picks up the phone and digs her little phone book out, turning on Madison.  “What if the neighbour wasn’t home?  Where would you have gone?  It’s too cold out; you could have froze or had frostbite.”

Madison blushes at the memory of her freezing walk and the pain of frostbite in her fingers and toes.

“I’m finding you a babysitter.”  Her mother starts flipping through the little phone book.

“Mom, please,” Madison begs, fighting the tears she can’t stop.  Twelve is too old to go to daycare or a babysitter.  Too old to cry.  How can she show them she’s old enough if she cries like a baby?

“You just aren’t ready yet for the responsibility of getting yourself to school and home,” her father says, entering the kitchen and pacing angrily.

The tension in the air between them all is heavy.  Madison watches helplessly as her mother is determined to find a babysitter and her father continues pacing angrily and scolding her and complaining about the locked door.  She doesn’t even hear his words anymore, seeing only the teasing and taunting at school when the other kids learn she’s going to a babysitter.

Madison looks at her father, usually her biggest ally when her mother is set on something and is being unreasonable.  She has no ally there now.  Madison isn’t sure if he is angry with her, himself, or at the door that kept her from getting into the house.

Madison is mortified.  “Babies go to babysitters,” she thinks.  “I’m old enough to be home alone.  I’ll show them!” Her heart sinks. “But how?”

With no mature options, she resorts to what has always worked in the past.  Madison cries and begs them to give her another chance.

This goes on for some time, a battle for who has more stamina.  Her mother keeps threatening to send her to a babysitter, her father pacing angrily and lecturing her, and Madison keeps crying and begging for another chance.  Finally, her parents wear down first and relent.  Madison is given another chance to show that she can handle the responsibility.



The Latchkey Kids: 3 The Parents Come Home – Kylie by Vivian Munnoch

“Please don’t let him know I’m home,” she pleads silently. 

She can hear him out there, tipping things over, letting them fall, while he searches for a hidden key. 

Kylie listens in fear to the doorknob being jostled.  She knows it’s her father trying to get in.  She expects to hear the sound of breaking glass at any moment.  She inches up cautiously to a window, staying low below the bottom edge, and carefully rises up just high enough to peak out.  She needs to see, to know where he is.  She is terrified he might see her.

He tries the front door first, and then moves around the house.  He tries a side window.

Kylie skulks through the house, following him around.  She almost steps into a bedroom doorway, catching the dark motion at the window barely in time and darting back, pressing herself against the wall.  Her heart is pounding so hard in her chest it feels like it’s going to come right through her rib cage and out through her chest.

His face is pressed against the window, looking in.  He moves on to the back of the house.

Kylie sneaks into the bedroom and looks out, trying to see where he went.  She moves on, following him to the back of the house, going into the kitchen now.  She wants more than anything to look out and see what he is doing, but is terrified he will see her.

“Please don’t let him know I’m home,” she pleads silently.  “He hasn’t tried yelling through the door and pounding on it, so maybe he doesn’t know.  Maybe he thinks the house is empty.”  She crouches against the back door, below the window level, listening.

She can hear him out there, tipping things over, letting them fall, while he searches for a hidden key.  She almost jumps and screams at the sudden shaking of the back door when he tries to open it, rattling the doorknob and shaking the door in its frame.

Kylie fights the tears, trembling, and holding her hands tight over her mouth to keep her whimpers from being heard on the other side of the door.

The rattling-shaking of the door stops.  She can hear him muttering, but not what he is saying.  He walks off, back around the house, trying another window.

Kylie scrambles away from the back door, staying low, peeking around a bedroom doorframe before scampering past the open doorway.  She sees the dark shape of his form moving past and scampers into the room, ducking beneath the window.

She breathes deeply, holds her breath, and slowly rises up to peek cautiously out the window.  She just catches her father moving out of sight, continuing on to the front.

Kylie scampers through the house to the front.  She slips into the living room, staying down and against the wall, inching to the front window.  She rises up against the wall beside the window where she is hidden by the partially open curtain, peaking through the small crack between the curtain and window frame.

She holds her breath, watching him walk away and get back in his car.  He turns his head and looks back at the house, and just for a few heartbeats Kylie is positive he sees her, that he is staring at her.  Then he starts his car and drives away.

She feels sick with fear and weak with relief.  She sinks to the floor and sits there sobbing.

“I wish I was dead.  I wish I was never even born, that I never even existed,” she whimpers miserably.

After that, Kylie sits in a dark corner waiting for her mother to come home, scared her father will return and break into the house.  It feels like time has stopped and will never move again while she endlessly waits.

“I’m going to have to explain to Mom how I lost my coat and boots,” she moans.  “I have another hat and mitts I can wear. They’re old and worn out, and Mom fixed the mitts a few times, but that was my only coat and boots for winter.  What am I going to wear tomorrow?”

Kylie is startled by a sound at the door.  She freezes; her stomach knotting and her heart pounding hard in her chest and feeling like it skipped a beat.  “Is he back?”  She is terrified.

Relief floods Kylie when she hears the familiar jingle of the way her mother always jingles her keys just before she unlocks the door, followed immediately as the door opens by her mother’s voice calling her and her younger sister’s babbling mid-sentence about what she did today.

“Kylie, what are your coat and boots doing on the front step?” her mother calls out as she comes in the house.

Kylie is confused.  “Coat?  Boots?”

She gets to her feet and goes to see what her mother is talking about.  She stops, staring in confusion at the clothes her mother is holding out to her.  “I can’t believe it,” she thinks numbly, “there is no way any of those girls would have brought back my clothes.  So how did they get there?”

“Well?” her mother insists impatiently.  “Why are they on the front steps?”

“I don’t know,” Kylie says, staring in wide-eyed confusion at the bundle that is her coat wrapped around her boots and stuff.  Tears pop to her eyes.  She can’t hold them back.

“How did they get there?” she thinks wildly. “Did he leave them? But, if Dad left them, that means he was following me. He followed me to the park, watched them beat me up and take my stuff, and he did nothing.  Nothing to help. He left me walking home like that.  No, even Dad wouldn’t just watch and do nothing, would he?  Would he leave me to maybe die walking home in this cold?  No, I don’t think he would.  Then who?  How?”

Seeing her distraught look and her red swollen eyes, her mother knows immediately that something is wrong.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, concerned.

Kylie looks up at her mother, her face twisted with all the fear and sadness she has been feeling for the past few hours and it all pours out about being beaten up at the park, how her coat tore, and the three girls stealing her clothes and leaving her to walk home without them in the cold.  She chokes on her tears and stumbles over the words when she starts telling her mom about her dad trying to get into the house.

Her mother listens, horrified.  She is more upset about her ex-husband coming to the house than about the girls in the park, but she can deal with only one of the problems.

“We’ll go to the girls’ houses and talk to their parents,” she says.

“No!”  Kylie is stricken by the idea.  “That will only make them bully me worse!”

“We can’t just let them get away with this,” her mother insists.  “And, they left you without a coat or boots in this cold?  Something has to be done about it!”

“Please mom, no,” Kylie begs.  “Don’t you remember the last time?  Their mothers believed them, not us.  They wouldn’t believe those girls were bullying.  They were even worse to me for months after!”

Her mother looks at her, taking in the strain and fear no mother wants to see in her daughter’s eyes, and realises she’s right.  Saying anything will only make things worse for Kylie at school.

When she had confronted the girls’ parents before they had sided with the girls, believing their story and saying Kylie made it all up and that she was the bully.  The bullying did get worse after that.  When she complained to the school, the principal pretended to sympathize and promised to talk to the girls and did nothing about it.  But she could tell the principal believed the three girls stories that Kylie made it all up.

“I wish I could pull her out of that school and send her somewhere else,” she thinks unhappily, “but how would she get to school?  The other schools she could go to are full and wouldn’t take her when I tried.  We would have to move and I just don’t have the money for that.”

She sighs, feeling helpless to protect her daughter.

“Well, let’s take a look at that coat,” she finally says, closing the discussion about dealing with the bullies.  She is relieved because she doesn’t have to deal with a confrontation with the other girls’ parents.  But she still has the bigger problem, keeping them safe from her ex-husband.

One thought just doesn’t fit, however.  She cannot reconcile how the coat and boots ended up on the front steps.

“Kylie, if those girls took your coat and boots then how did they end up on the steps?”

“I don’t know,” Kylie says miserably.  “I guess someone must have seen what happened.”

“And they did nothing to help?”

“They brought my stuff back at least.”

Kylie’s mother frowns, not satisfied with that explanation.  She unrolls the coat and together they look for the tears.  It won’t look very good, but it will have to be mended so Kylie can wear it to school tomorrow.